Who is neighbor?

People who rise to success seem to have a similar trait in common. They didn’t give up. You’ve heard this time and time again, over and over. “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” The little engine that could and others . . . Our culture, as many others, are inundated with stories, myths, and fables of those who refused to give up.

Giving up is a result of discouragement, sometimes discouragement comes because we don’t believe that our objective is possible, sometimes it’s because we feel like a failure, and the more effort we put into a thing, the more like a failure we will feel. So in the end, it’s easier to just give up and stop putting in effort. But let me pause for a minute, and switch ideas- I promise I’ll come back.

In Luke 10, we find a fascinating and slightly ironic story of Jesus educating a lawyer on the law. The lawyer starts out with asking about the commandment to love God with all of your ability, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus answers his question that if he does only that, he will be saved. The lawyer then counters,

“Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers with the story of the good samaritain. If you’ve never read it, I invite you to read it now. (Luke 10:30-36) At the end of the story, Jesus asks, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”

Did you notice the difference?

The Lawyer wanted to know who should I love according to the law. “Who is my neighbor?”

Christ answered and asked, “Who was the neighbor?”

The lawyer wanted to know what was required of him. What should I do? What is my duty?

Jesus answers by demonstrating, it’s not about what you’ve done, or what you do- but who you are?

The fascinating principle here, is that even though the law says “love your neighbor” according to Christ, we should understand that to mean, Be someones neighbor. Be a person who loves.

So let us return to our thought of the path to success. Life isn’t about how much you do, or what you can accomplish. It’s not about finding the absolute borderline of your “duty” and going no farther.

Life is about who you become at the end of it.

The secret to success isn’t about doing something and succeeding at it. It’s about being a person who perseveres until they achieve success. Once we have that in mind, failure does not come as often. If you redefine success in this way, it is hard to become discouraged. If you can look in the mirror and know who you are, that you are a person who is better than they were before, then you are a success.

We can’t control the results of our good work, but we can control our determination to continue good work.

Just like that lawyer learned, life isn’t about fulfilling a specific requirements but about becoming a person who fulfills them by nature. Success isn’t mustering up the courage to keep going as much as it being a person who simply lives a life of perseverance because that is who they are.

And also much cattle

I don’t know about you, but other than wishing my dog would be in heaven, I always imagined that the animals were pretty unimportant. Yes, you can call me heartless, but I always seemed to think that since the animals didn’t have souls (or so I think) that they were just as unimportant as the rocks or anything else in the landscape.

The Bible teaches us differently. On several occasions, God mentions the idea that He values animals.

One classic example is Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” God speaks of sparrows, an animal that we do not regard worth much at all, and God says that He notices every time one dies. The King of the universe notices when a bird dies. That’s powerful.

Another time, God is speaking to Jonah about Nineveh. He says, “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”

God doesn’t want to destroy 120,000 people if He doesn’t want to. And did you catch the last part- almost like it was thrown in at the end? He didn’t want to destroy the cattle. God cared about the herds of cattle as well as the people.

In proverbs 12, we find, “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” I think in this verse we find the summary and the application of this thought. As a god-fearing person, we should treat animals with respect.

Yes, God created them for us to use and enjoy, but we should not use our authority and dominance for cruelty. Christians should be at the forefront of many causes for treating animals with respect. I’m not speaking of refraining from eating meat, which was allowed and commanded in many places(1, 2, 3, 4), but there is a decency with recognizing that animals do have worth. And not just to us, but to God as well.

Animals should be treated with kindness. It’s one way we show our respect for God and His creation.

I challenge you, take a moment to consider if there are ways you can honor God more but treating the lives of His creatures with more kindness or respect.

Do you love death?

I’m pretty sure anyone reading this  would answer a resounding “no!” Well, perhaps not. There are a few fringe groups of people who may announce that they have a loving relationship with death. But since they haven’t died, there is only so much they can say. Death does carry a fascination for most people, but they say they love death, they probably don’t understand the nature of it.

But do you know that you can metaphorically love death.

You might be thinking, I love life. I don’t want to die! But in reality, you’re living a life that will bring you death.

In Proverbs 8:30, the personification of wisdom says, “But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.”

If you hate wisdom, you love death. It’s that simple.

If you filled a room full of people, and asked them, “Do you hate wisdom?” Few to none would raise their hands. But oftentimes we hate wisdom in little ways.

We neglect to listen to our parents. We think that we can have it all figured out. We disregard our pastor’s message. Or our friends advice.

Look at it another way. Are you actively seeking wisdom? Are you looking for wise people to mentor you? Do you spend time searching the scriptures for guidance?

Do you love wisdom?

I would venture to say that for every bit you edge away from loving wisdom, you move towards hating it. The difference between love and hate is not black and white. Sin is missing the mark. There is no in between. Either you hit the mark, or you missed it.

Are you satisfied with how you love and seek out wisdom? Or do you need to work in that area? I challenge you, choose to love wisdom. Live your life searching it out. If you love your life by loving wisdom, you will probably find yourself with more of both.

“Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not . . . For whoso findeth me [wisdom] findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD.” Proverbs 8:33,35

Peter was to be blamed

Two-faced people can be very difficult to endure. They speak one way about you to your face, and then another way when you are gone. This can be frustrating. People are two-faced for many reasons. Maybe they enjoy hating on people. Or they esteem politeness too much. Sometimes it’s because they lack backbone.

In Galatians, we see one instance of this. Galatians 2 speaks of Paul’s meeting with Peter at Antioch. Peter had walked with Christ. Had seen miracles. Had understood salvation. Peter knew the new covenant Christ set up. But Peter lacked backbone. He lacked conviction. And he was allowing himself to act differently depending on which Christians he was around.

There was a disagreement at the time as to whether new believers needed to follow all Jewish law. Specifically circumcision. Circumcision had been done away with by the new covenant, but many Jews wrongly believed it was necessary. Peter would act all friendly to new converts who lived in Christian liberty, but when certain Jews came around, he would pull away from the new converts who weren’t circumcised.

Paul said flat out, “I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” Paul wasn’t having it. He wasn’t going to sit by and allow Peter to live this double life.

Galatians 2 points out that Peter was afraid.

He was afraid of what others might think or say. He was afraid to take a stand.

After Paul confronted him, Peter repented and changed his actions. He took a stand for what was right.

How about you? Do you act differently around different crowds of people? Do you exercise Christian liberty with some Christians, and then abandon them when “more strict” Christians come around?

I challenge you. Take a stand for your beliefs. Don’t make a scene or start a fight, but be open about what you believe and what is right. Don’t be afraid to “look bad” in the eyes of other Christians when you know you are following what the Bible teaches.

Peter was to blame. You don’t have to be.

It’s dead

What if a man told you that is was going to rain very hard, but left his umbrella home. What if someone told you they knew of a stock that would quadruple in value in the next 4 months, but they weren’t investing any money. What if they told you that they really loved a sports team, but were never going to watch a game.

It would be kind hard to believe any one of these people right? There’s an old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” When a person truly believes or cares it shows in how they act. If they “believe” something, but never act on their belief they probably don’t believe it.

It’s the same in the Christian life, God spoke through James, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” God says that if you believe something, but never act on it, your belief is dead. I challenge you to examine yourself, what does your belief in God motivate you to? What is your action as a result of believing in God?

If your belief in God does not motivate you to any action other than a non-believer, then your faith is dead. If you worry and stress, just like a non-believer- then your faith is dead in that area. If you put entertainment and people before the Almighty God- then your faith is dead in that area. As Christians, we must strive to harbor a heavenly mindset. If we say we believe in God, yet don’t act on it, how can we expect anyone to believe us?

I’m sure that if we just took a glance around, we could find people who say they believe God, but never act like it. The important thing is whether or not we see that kind of person in the mirror. And if we do, what we will do about it.

Think about it. If someone told you they believed in God, but acted like He didn’t exist and His promises weren’t real- Would you believe them?

Working with God

In Matthew 28, Jesus speaks to those who labor. He says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you . . .” Think about that for a moment. Take God’s yoke on you. Yoke up with God. Imagine the God of the universe bending his back to lower the yoke for you. Imagine Him doing mindless menial labor- with you.

That’s the challenge- the command- that Jesus gives.

Paul illustrates this idea in Colossians 1. In verse 27 he says, “Whom [Christ] we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:” Then he continues, “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.”

Paul was working to teach every man. But he wasn’t alone. God was working in him mightily to accomplish the work that was necessary. Notice also that Paul was working according to God’s working. It wasn’t the other way around. Paul didn’t strike out with his own ideas. God worked something inside of Paul, and then Paul operated in the area that God had mightily worked in.

There’s something amazing about the thought of being co-laborers with God. It’s one of the most beautiful things of the Christian life. If you look closely, you can see that God works in us, so He can work through us, so we can work in others, in whom God is working. In reality, it would be simpler if God just did everything. It’s like having a little child in the kitchen who wants to help. It’s easier just to tell them to go play. It’s more work to invest in them and teach them.

But that’s the heart of God. He chooses to allow us to take His yoke. He chooses to work with us, through us, and in us. Aren’t you thankful that God allows you to be a part of his awesome and majestic creation?

Going back to the scripture, think about the specific task mentioned. Spreading the gospel throughout the world. I’ve known people who have, and I myself have, stressed about the great work that needs to be done. So many that haven’t heard. So much to share. It is easy for us to become anxious and worried about our own insufficiency and faults.

Remember God’s words in another part of Scripture, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” – Philippians 4:6 It’s not your responsibility to save the world. It is your job to be sensitive to the leading of the Lord, and obey His will. This is not an excuse to do nothing, but a challenge to do all you can. Not out of fear and anxiety, but out of a calm and faithful heart, filled with dedication to the Father.

When you consider all that must be done, don’t stress, you have a pretty capable coworker. Just ask Him to do what He does best. Work with you, in you, and through you. If you will allow Him, He always will.

It’s in the fine print

We’ve all been there. When you sign a contract thinking you know what you’re getting, but in fact you don’t. That contract that left out the fees. That olive oil that was 95% canola. That used car that wasn’t really represented properly. The world is filled with liars, crooks, and people who just shade the truth a little. And it’s easy to get bamboozled if you don’t read the fine print.

Salesmen like to point the way to the so called “benefits” of trading what you have for their merchandise, and they always seem to leave out drawbacks. It’s just the same way in our spiritual lives. From the earliest record we have, Satan advertises that eating the fruit will make Adam and Eve, “as gods, knowing good and evil.” And he was right. What he decidedly lied about was all the repercussions that would bring.

Eve was deceived and tempted, and Adam fell.

Even today, Satan loves to advertise sin as something that will bring pleasure. And it does, even God says that sin brings pleasure for a season. But in the end it brings complete destruction. That was in the fine print.

Just like your financial life can be destroyed if you make decisions without considering all the consequences, your spiritual life can be destroyed as well. If you look at the world, Satan and those deceived by him will tell you to enjoy this sinful pleasure or that immoral desire, but in the end it brings destruction.

God tells us very plainly. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23 No hidden fees, no fine print, it’s all in the open. Choose God- Choose life. Choose sin- Choose death. It’s that simple.

I challenge you, next time some unrighteous thing seems like fun, or the easier way, remember how things really are. Remember the truth of God’s Word and choose life. God’s looking out for your interests, and He wants you to live an abundant life. Won’t you choose Him today?

“For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” Galatians 6:8

Where’s the seed?

Have you ever looked at a large tree, and wondered where the seed went? It’s a strange question, but consider the absence of the seed. An oak tree doesn’t have a special commemorative plaque on it – “To the acorn that started it all, 50 years ago.” Nope, the acorn is nowhere to be seen. No, only the life of the acorn remains. And the giving of that life meant the ending of that acorn’s existence.

This idea is very similar to the illustration of our Lord Jesus. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” – John 12:24

Imagine if someone planted a seed, but the seed decided that it didn’t want to give up it’s existence. He said, “I’m a seed, I’m a good thing. I don’t want to change. I don’t want to die. Why should I loose my existence or position. Imagine, if all around the world, seeds made this decision. (Ignoring the fact that such things have no personality or decision making ability) Think about the consequences! We would have no food the next year. World chaos would ensue.

But literal seeds are not the issue here. Our Lord was not talking about corn, wheat, or acorns. The next verse said, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” He was talking about us. Our lives.

Here’s the illustration. In order for you to fulfill your purpose in life, you must give up your identity. You must surrender your rights. You must refuse to follow the world’s calling to pridefully commemorate yourself. As Jesus did, we must give our lives. Jesus laid down His life. As a result, His life now lives in each and every person who accepts Him.

Now it’s our turn. We can’t lay down our lives “exactly” as He did.He’s not asking us to erect physical crosses in our back yard, and go die on them. But we can lay down our lives, our passions, our will, and our personal interests, in the interest of serving and glorifying Him. Yes, we must die, just like that acorn “dies.”

But to lay down your life, and to die to yourself, is the only way to truly live.

An acorn that refuses to die, eventually rots and becomes useless. It is the same with the Christian life. If it is not given completely over to the Father’s control, if the life inside is not allowed to be given out for fear of losing personal identity- its usefulness is limited.

I challenge you, give up your life- in pursuit of glorifying God. Just like there is no limit to the ultimate offspring an acorn can produce if it gives it’s life. There is no limit to the spiritual fruit you can ultimately have a hand in, if you will only fully surrender your life to God, and truly begin to live.

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

What if God made your bed for you?

When you take care of the poor, God takes care of you. Verse after verse in the Bible reiterates this same truth. A person may say that it’s a bad thing to be redundant, but when it comes to important truth, it’s not all that damaging. So, just for good measure, let me say that When you take care of the poor, God takes care of you.

Psalm 41 begins by saying, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.” Pretty amazing truth right? But it goes on. The next verse says, “The LORD will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies.”

Wow, so far you have protection, life, blessings, and deliverance from your enemies! What else could you ask for? Well, the next verse gives you healthcare.

“The LORD will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.” Incredible! God says that those who care for the poor will be strengthened when they are sick! The second part of the verse is a little harder to understand. God will “make his bed” when he’s sick?

I used a concordance on this part and the word for “make” basically means “to change,” so in essence, God will figuratively change the sheets. So in essence, God will make his bed. I’m guessing this has some significance in saying that the period of sickness is over. But let’s not think too much about this, God is obviously saying that the man who gives to the poor will be healthy, and that’s an amazing promise!

Let’s take advantage of that promise today.

I challenge you, consider those who are less fortunate than you are. Ask God to give you the inclination to help others and send people across your path that need help. Obey God, and watch His blessing flow on your life. Give Him the glory no matter what, and let others see His power.

God’s time warp?

Imagine if you could have more than 24 hours in a day. If you could choose to lengthen your day. Throughout my life I’ve always heard people say things like, “We all only have 24 hours a day.” or “I wish I had more time today.” While I was reading the Scripture, I found that it seems that God has provided a way for us to get more “time” out of our day.

In Proverbs 3, Solomon tells his son to keep his commandments. Solomon tells him that the reward for this is, “length of days, and long life, and peace.” Long life and peace are both easily understandable. But length of days, seems a little confusing. How can your day be longer? Is God talking about a time warp for the righteous?

I don’t really think so. I once heard the phrase “length of days” interpreted as the ability to get more done in your day than others.

You see, when you follow the Lord and obey His commandments, He is with you. When Joseph was in Potiphar’s house, he was highly favored, and God prospered everything he put his hand to. I honestly believe that when we follow the commands of the Lord and work for His glory, then we can accomplish far more in a day for Him than we could ever accomplish by ourselves.

So I encourage you, obey the commands of God, and when you go to work in the course of your day, remember who is with you. Ask God to give you length of days. Ask Him to help you get more done in the time you have. You might be surprised how much you can accomplish when God divinely directs you.

Oh, and if you ever need a day to be a few hours longer, don’t be afraid to ask for a few hours. I mean, He did it for Hezekiah, and for Joshua, so why not for you?