In the Right Company

Read Matthew 9:9-13

Many in the world make judgments in regard to others by observing what company the individual might keep. Who the person spends time with and interacts with is viewed as determining the type of person the individual might be. You could say that it is assumed if you hang out with people who have certain behavior traits, you clearly have the same behavior traits.

This is definitely the rule of thumb  which the Pharisees apply toward Jesus. Since Jesus is hanging around tax collectors and sinners, he must be a traitor to the Jews and participate in all sorts of activities which stand in opposition to God.  How far from accurate are their assumptions.

Jesus, as always, takes on the challenge presented by the Pharisees in a direct manner. He indicates that the ones who have the greatest need for healing is his focus. The people with whom he is spending time are the ones who need him the most. They are acknowledging that need by coming to him, seeking mercy and to learn from him. Those who view themselves as not having a need for mercy and what Jesus can teach them, do not come.

Reviewing this interaction between Jesus, tax collectors, sinners and the Pharisees demonstrates for us which group each of us may be a member. Are you in need of mercy and teaching from the Lord? Or do you not have a need for such things? Are you sick and in need of the Great Physician? If you are, then seek out and spend time with the Lord, bring others with  similar needs to the Lord with you. Jesus intends to hang out with those who recognize their need for him. We would be wise to do the same.

Doing and Refraining

Read Romans 7:15-25a

As a child matures, they will test boundaries established by parents and other adults in life. This is a part of the learning process. The testing seems to drastically increase throughout  the teenage years as the child strives to establish even greater independence. Frequently the child will do what he/she knows is wrong in an effort to discover any reactions and repercussions. In a strange way this is necessary for a healthy level of independence to be nurtured. As adults the role is to minimize the risks to the child, and clearly communicate and fairly administrate repercussions.

Paul wrestled with this conundrum as he wrote to the Roman believers. Using himself as an example, Paul. says that he knows what he should do, and even desires it, but he consistently fails to do what is right. He also says the opposite is true, he knows what not to do but does it anyway. A vicious cycle exists. After confessing this reality, Paul indicates only Jesus saves him from this cycle destroying him.

This passage makes it easy for us to relate to Paul. Each one of us understands and lives the cycle which Paul describes. The saving act of Christ is the only thing which saves us from the severe repercussions of our actions. We must continuously learn from this cycle, striving to improve each time we travel around it. Like a child hopefully learns and matures  into an adult who strives to limit the errors in choices, we mature into followers of Christ who do more good as we want and should while doing less of those things we should not. The grace and salvation of Christ will keep us safe as we learn and grow.

Missed Opportunities

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Matthew 19:13-22 (NIV)

There are times in life when an opportunity comes our way but for one reason or another, we do not seize this opportunity. Later, we may realize what we truly missed. Other times we fail to ever have such a realization. Have you ever had such an experience in your life? I know that I have personally allowed opportunities to pass by me.

The writer of Matthew tells of two times an opportunity presented itself during Jesus’s ministry. The first involved children. The children came to Jesus in hopes that he would lay his hands on them and pray for them. The children saw an opportunity and determined to seize it. The disciples were the opposite. Instead of seeing an opportunity to minister to the children and learn from their unbridled faith, they saw the children as a nuisance and tried to send them away. Jesus intervenes, telling the disciples to let the children come to him. He sees an opportunity to teach the disciples about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. He also capitalizes on ministering to the children by laying his hands on them and showing them how important and loved they are in God’s eyes.

The second opportunity shared here does not have such a positive ending. A wealthy man approaches  Jesus to ask him how to ensure he has eternal life. Jesus lists some major commandments to follow which the man claims to be doing already. The man is not convinced that following these commandments is not enough so he seeks from Jesus what else he can do. Jesus instructs the man to sell his possessions, give to the poor and follow Jesus. The man walks away sad because he determines he cannot do this. A missed opportunity has occurred.

These stories cause one to take inventory of missed opportunities in one’s life. When have there been times in which instead of ministering to and/or learning from others, I have seen them as a nuisance and not worthy of my time? When have opportunities to sacrifice or give seem like too high of a price to pay to follow Jesus so I walk away? While no action of mine can take away or guarantee my eternal life, Jesus has already taken care of this for me, the missed opportunities can impact how I understand and live my faith.

How about you? Are you watching for and embracing opportunities to serve and grow in your faith? Be cautious to not see others as a waste of your time because they may be the very ones who can model for you what God is all about. Think carefully concerning what is too high of a price to pay for following Jesus. May the Lord open our eyes to all the opportunities which are placed in our path. May we be like the children and seize every opportunity with Jesus that we are offered.

Learning Opportunities

Two recent events has caused me to reflect upon the importance of learning from individuals who are members of faith communities which are different from my own. Unfortunately, both events share the common thread of hatred and misunderstanding.

The first event occurred almost eight thousand miles away in Christchurch, New Zealand. I am referring to the deadly shootings which took place at two mosques over a week ago. We may never understand what led the man to carry out such an act of hatred. What we do know is that lives were forever changed on that day as we have seen it happen in so many other situations. We also know that one piece of motivation for the shooter was the faith which individuals in those mosques practice.

The second event occurred on my Facebook page. Facebook is good at reminding us about various posts, events, and relationships which have shown up on our timeline. This week Facebook reminded me that on March 26, 2017, I joined others at the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids to show support for my Muslim friends and those throughout our nation. There was fear in their lives due to the announcement of possible deportation of certain individuals who had immigrated from other countries. Words of hatred were being spoken throughout our nation because of fear. We gathered on that day to hear from speakers from a variety of faith traditions. We then encircled the Mother Mosque and sang together to show our solidarity in support of those who practice the faith of Islam.

Until moving to Cedar Rapids, I had little understanding regarding the Islamic faith. I had always been open to learning about other Christian faith communities. However, I had never really had an opportunity to meet and have discussion with a Muslim. After moving to Cedar Rapids, I became part of a congregation which was open to learning and understanding people who were different from themselves. The pastor had met and heard one of the Imams from one of two mosques in our community. She invited him to come and speak on two Sundays to our adult class. I was amazed how much I learned. Then after becoming a member of the staff at the church, I had an opportunity to work alongside the Imam and some of his youth. We began a relationship which was enriching for myself and for the youth whom I was leading. We shared in a variety of service projects and enjoyed some educational opportunities.

These thoughts came rushing back into my mind over the last weeks due to the two events which I mentioned earlier. This has reminded me how important it is for us to take advantage of every learning opportunity we may be given with regard to understanding different faith traditions. Whether that learning takes place within our own faith tradition or when we learn from other faith traditions. This is vitally important because fear comes from the unknown and fear can lead us to do acts of hatred on different levels. By learning from one another, the unknown is taken away along with misinformation. We come to see each other as humans and not as “them.” When fear is replaced by knowledge and relationship, our behaviors show our unity and not our separation.