Contrasts

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27-36 (NIV)

Contrasts can be interesting to examine. Comparison of one item to a different one can result in some enlightening findings. Remember those assignments or test questions which invited you to compare and contrast two ideas, philosophies, arguments, or physical items? The assignment or question is designed to test your observations and ability to show the knowledge which you have in regard to those things being placed before you. Contrasting items can also be helpful in making decisions.

Jesus often taught using contrasts. His teachings were to show the greatest contrast in life, the contrast between God’s way of living and the human way of living. Whether Jesus was contrasting ways to lead, to love, or to make choices, he always explained God’s way versus humanity’s way. In our passage he sits up a series of contrasts. These contracts have to do with revenge, greed, generosity and love. Jesus is presenting how humans normally respond to one another versus how God responds and desires us to respond. The teaching here is difficult since it appears to stand in opposition to what humans consider to be natural.

As children of God, we are a contrast to the human understanding of life. Love instead of revenge, punishment, and fairness is counter to what we may declare as right. We do not see the equity in what Jesus proposed here. A fear of being trampled and used by others causes us to bristle at the instructions Jesus gives. However, Jesus is telling us that by always acting and responding out of love as demonstrated by the Father, we come out on top. There is nothing easy in Jesus’s words but we are given a standard which we must work toward every day.

Hospitality

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:1-3 (NIV)

“The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers, ” is the definition which you will find if you Google the word hospitality. There are individuals who have the gift of practicing hospitality in their lives. All of us have the capacity to extend hospitality to others but there are ones who do so with great ease and comfort. They appear to have a knack for anticipating and fulfilling the needs of anyone whom they encounter. This gift becomes even more appreciated when a person is experiencing a crisis or some difficult situation.

The Bible is full of stories and exhortations regarding hospitality. In review of these, one comes to the conclusion that God sees the exhibition of hospitality as an expression of love. The exhortation found towards the end of the letter to the Hebrews pairs hospitality with love. The visiting of prisoners and care for those suffering also are seen as expressions of love for one another. A reminder is given that when a person offers hospitality, he/she may be extending it to a messenger of God. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story of caring for others and says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

We are told by our Lord that we are to demonstrate hospitality to others. Welcoming another into our space is the starting point of offering hospitality. Then we should be attuned to the needs of our guest, visitor or stranger. Anything which we can do to meet their needs should be done. Showing hospitality toward others can have a positive impact on another’s life of which we may never be aware. Extending hospitality is also one of the expressions of God’s love to a world where doors are slammed in people’s faces way too often. So practice hospitality whenever you are given the opportunity.

Standing Accused

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8:2-11 (NIV)

There are rules which are necessary to ensure order and safety within a society. Where there are rules, there are usually consequences for anyone who breaks a rule or set of rules. This is the basis for a legal system which then has courts and judges who interpret the rules, determine if a rule has been broken, and if so, establish the consequences. On the surface this appears to be rather cut and dry, simple to understand and enforce. However, anyone who has experienced or observed the legal system knows there are a lot of nuances and mitigating circumstances which come into play. Additionally, interpretation and appropriate consequences can lead to quite differing opinions.

Jesus is presented with a rule and consequence situation in the passage for today. This passage is part of a section of John’s gospel which is not included in all the ancient manuscripts but the actions of Jesus here seem to fit how we witness Jesus respond elsewhere. The experts on the Mosaic law bring a woman to Jesus who they claim has committed adultery. We are not told about any evidence or details to support their accusations. Instead, we hear them ask if the prescribed consequence as decreed by Moses should be administered. Based on Jesus’s initial reaction toward them, it seems Jesus is aware of their attempt to entrap him. After continued effort is made to get Jesus to give an answer, Jesus stands and says that the one who is without sin should begin the delivering of the prescribed consequence. No one begins stoning the woman because no one can claim to be without sin. After all have left and the woman acknowledges to Jesus that she has not been stoned by anyone, Jesus, the only one without sin, shows mercy.

Humanity is eager to judge, condemn, and exact punishment upon one another. Often we act as judge, jury and executioner when in our opinion someone has broken a rule. Jesus’s actions and statements should stop us in our tracks. Jesus reminds us that before we are so quick to pass judgment and exact punishment, we should examine our own lives. One can almost hear Jesus say the words we  were told when pointing at someone else’s actions as a kid, ” Remember when you point a finger at someone, you have three pointing back at you.” Like in this passage, we frequently do not even know the whole story. We may not be privy to the aspects of another’s life and circumstances. Rules are established for the good of everyone but caution should be taken as we interpret those rules, apply them to others, and punish those who we judge to have broken them. It is best if we enforce rules in our own lives first and foremost. 

He Is Alive

We are over halfway through the Easter Season as we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Easter. Today I invite you to consider what it may have felt like to be one of Jesus’s disciples on that Easter morning. After all which they had witnessed, many had scattered. A small group had sheltered and hidden in fear of being rounded up for a similar fate as Jesus experienced. Today’s song carries us inside one of the hiding places early in the morning after the sabbath. 

What would have been your fear?

How would you have responded to Mary’s story?

When you saw Jesus, what would your thoughts have been?

What causes you to fear about being known as a Christ follower?

Old Versus New

33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”

34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

Luke 5:33-39 (NIV)

A custom around weddings is one regarding what a bride wears on her wedding day. The saying which guides the custom is… “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a sixpence in your shoe.” This is an Old English rhyme, which if followed, is to bring good luck to the marriage. Many of us enjoy old sayings and customs. They bring a sense of comfort to us. In fact, even the progressives among us have some level of desire to hold on to something from the past. By doing so, we are able to be a bit grounded as we experience change and newness. The issue which can arise is when we hold on so tightly to the past that we lose the possibilities of the future.

Jesus brings this issue to the forefront during one of his frequent encounters with the Pharisees. He had just called Simon, Andrew, James, John and Levi. Levi, a tax collector, holds a banquet in Jesus’s honor where many of his fellow tax collectors attend. The Pharisees take issue with Jesus and his disciples eating and drinking with tax collectors, undesirables. Jesus explains he has come for the sick, not the healthy. Then the Pharisees question why Jesus’s disciples do not fast according to the customs. Jesus again explains that while he is present there is no need to fast; after he leaves there will be plenty of time for fasting. Jesus then tells a parable about putting old wine in new wine skins and the folly of such an action. He concludes with a statement pointing out how people tend to prefer the old. Jesus is speaking about preferring old customs and attitudes which leads to being left out of the possibilities of the new which are before them.

As mentioned above, the old can bring comfort and a grounding. There are important times for such things. But caution should be taken that holding on to the old and familiar does not lead us to lose out on the opportunities of the new. Scripture tells us that the Lord is doing a new thing. We must be alert to what the Lord is doing. There are possibilities each day which the Lord creates. If we are focused solely on our previous customs and attitudes, those possibilities will pass us by and we will be left wanting. Find strength in the old to experience the new. Remember what is old was new at one time.

Love Demonstrated

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

There are behaviors and skills which are second nature in life. Then there are behaviors and skills which must be taught. Breathing, sleeping, and walking are examples of second nature skills; albeit, walking is a progression and requires self-teaching. Riding a bicycle, swimming, and placing others’ needs first are all examples of skills and behaviors which must be taught to us. Certain forms of love, or at least demonstrations of love, fall in the latter category. We need examples placed before us so we are able to understand how to appropriately demonstrate our love for others.

In the portion of the letter which we have read today, we are made aware of the love of God as demonstrated to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus gave an example of how to express a deep level of love for others. Humanity had the need to overcome sin and the result of sin, death. Because of God’s deep love for all of humanity, in Christ the need was met through the actions on the cross. This was a profound action taken to demonstrate the level of love God has for each one of us. The writer here then gives the example of one of us witnessing someone who has a material need. If the witness has the means to meet that need but does not, she/he is not demonstrating God’s love within them. We are to look to Christ’s example to teach us how to express God’s love. This expression is not in words but in actions.

The passage from today is convicting to many of us. We easily say that we love each other, including strangers, in Christ’s love but our actions often fall short. Christ gives us the example to learn from which teaches us that God’s love is not about words but is found in the actions of God. If we claim that we love one another because God has loved us, yet when given opportunities to exhibit that love through our choices and actions, the truth is not in us. Love as defined and shown by God is a love of action. May we learn and follow this truth.

Casting Nets

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11 (NIV)

Most of us wish to relax after putting in a full day of work. We desire to come home, have some dinner and then engage in one of our favorite past times to unwind from the day. Some evenings we have home projects to complete or events to attend before we can begin our relaxation time. The last thing we wish to do is return to work activities.

In the passage from Luke today, we hear Jesus requesting Simon to return to the work he has been doing all night long. Jesus first asks Simon to let him borrow his boat to go out in the water so he can create some space from the growing crowd. Simon obliges Jesus and Jesus teaches a while from the boat to the people on the shore. After Jesus finished teaching, he told Simon to do something which we all would hate if we were Simon, to start working again. Simon politely explains to Jesus that they had been fishing all night but caught nothing. Simon clearly did not wish to work anymore, he wanted to finish cleaning the nets and rest. While he is not mentioned, we can assume that Simon’s brother, Andrew, is in the boat with them. Simon and Andrew cast their nets once again. This time instead of catching nothing, they caught so many fish that their partners, James and John, have to assist them in hauling all the fish into the boats. Simon realizes Jesus’s power and Simon’s unworthiness to even be near him. Jesus tells Simon and the others not to be afraid of him. He then explains that from now on they will not fish for fish but for the souls of humanity. All four begin to follow Jesus.

Most of us can imagine Simon’s thoughts when Jesus tells him to cast the nets one again. Simon was tired after a long night of work. Simon was frustrated because all the work of casting the heavy nets and pulling them back in over and over had produced nothing.Then comes this man who not only wants to be taken out in the boat, interrupting completion of the last chore of the day which would be followed by a meal and rest, but then says to throw the nets back in the water for nothing. We can relate to Simon because that is how we feel about our fishing for Jesus. Our attempts to invite people to worship, help on service projects, or hear about our faith can feel futile. We get to the point where we want to stop fishing, stop reaching out to others, and just enjoy practicing our faith in our own way. But Jesus says to cast our net one more time, we may be surprised with the results.

Victory

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:50-57 (NIV)

Competition is a part of everyone’s life. There are all forms of athletic competitions. Beauty pageants and performance competitions are held all over the world. Spelling bees, academic decathlons and game shows test skills and knowledge. With the rise of reality television shows, a whole new form of competition has entered our society. Then there is the fact of competition in our everyday lives. Competition exists in the work environment as employees vie for positions, promotions, and raises. Businesses compete against one another for the consumer’s money. The list of life’s different competitive situations can appear to be endless. Competition is not an exclusively human dynamic either. Throughout creation competition exists for food, water, mates and shelter.

The passage which we read today from Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth speaks of a competition. This competition is between life and death. It is a competition not just for the physical nature of humanity as much as it is for the spiritual aspect of humanity. Yes, Scripture tells us that at the point of resurrection, the physical body will be raised and reunited with the spirit just as with Christ but a person’s spirit is even more important to God. The competition was ended by Christ as he defeated death by his destruction of sin and his resurrection. Christ claimed the victory.

For you and me, being given a victory which we have done nothing to earn is amazing. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that God has given us the victory over death through Jesus Christ. We obtain this victory because death is due to sin. Since Jesus wiped away our sin through the cross, there is no need for death anymore. The victory is ours in a competition we could never win. Jesus is the only way we have victory.

Paid In Full

As a continued celebration of Easter, I once again share with you a music video.

How does Jesus’s action on the cross impact the understanding of your sin?

What does it mean to find in Jesus your all in all?

What change do you see possible due to your belief in the Savior?

How will you stand complete in the Lord? What does this “complete” look like?

Feel free to share your thoughts and answers to these questions in the comments.

Such A Time

Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.

So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.

Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”

12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.

Esther 4:5-17 (NIV)

Timing can be key in some situations. Submitting an application for a position at just the right time can make the difference in receiving the position or not. Walking into a coffeehouse at a specific moment can lead to an encounter which may open doors to a new opportunity or relationship. An idea may be well received at one time even if it had been rejected at another time. Timing can be the key to success.

The passage from the story of Esther focuses on timing. Esther had caught the eye of the king and the king chose to make her his queen. This placed Esther in a position which would later serve her and the Jews well. When Mordecai shared the plight of Esther’s people with her, she was hesitant to approach the King because of her fear for her own safety. It is only when Mordecai pointed out the true threat to her and her family’s safety did Esther begin to see the call to action in a different light. Then when Mordecai asks Esther if this is the time for which she has been placed where she is, she springs into action.

Each day we are given new opportunities and new challenges. Some of these are small in perspective while others are significant. God is moving us forward and providing us with choices which may lead us to a position where we can make a meaningful impact. Fear can cause us to hesitate from acting on opportunities that our positions may afford us. Just as Mordecai asked Esther, we must ask ourselves if we may have been placed where we are for such a time as this.