Who is my neighbor?

 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

———–

The point that Jesus is trying to emphasize is a widening concept of the term neighbor. In an overly religious setting the walls of ‘neighbor’ were defined very strictly. Jesus steps in to say that anyone in need, no matter what differences you have, is a neighbor in need of God’s grace and your concern.

And this thought has called, encouraged and sent Christian missionaries around the world for hundreds of years. We have concluded (rightly) that anyone in need is our neighbor. We have taken Jesus’ message to heart.

But in our zeal to fulfill this call we have forgotten something that is hugely important to Jesus: our actual neighbors.

Picture your house, apartment or living quarters. Make a grid like a tic-tac-toe board and put yourself in the center.

If each section of the grid were a neighbors house, could you list the eight closest people that live next to you? What else do you know about them? Can you list everyone in the house? Are they more than casual acquaintances; would you actually consider them friends?

The times I’ve done this have shown that less than 50% of people can name a majority of people around them and very few can name all eight. The speaker this last weekend shared similar results.

In our Christian passion to share our faith with the whole world we have forgotten those that live immediately around us. We have become blinded by going to all the world that we have forgotten the immediacy of those around that need to hear about Jesus.

This is one reason I push missional theology. It forces us to wrestle with the way we think of “Christian missions.” The job isn’t always ‘to go’ to exotic places and eat different food. Sometimes Christ’s call is to stay and be with those he has put around us. It’s to know about Bill and Brenda. Have them into your home and be more than fence sharers, be real neighbors. Love them into the Kingdom.

The Golden Telephone


A man in Topeka, Kansas, decided to write a book about churches around the country. He started by flying to San Francisco and started working east from there. Going to a very large church he began taking photographs and making notes. He spotted a golden telephone on the vestibule wall and was intrigued with a sign that read, “$10,000 per minute.” Seeking out the pastor, he asked about the phone and the sign. The pastor answered that the golden phone is, in fact, a direct line to Heaven, and if he pays the price, he can talk directly to God. The man thanked the pastor and continued on his way. He continued his quest and visited churches in Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago, Milwaukee, and around the United States, he found more such phones with the same sign and the same explanation from each pastor.

Finally, the man arrived in Texas. Upon entering a church, behold, he saw the usual golden telephone. But THIS time, the sign read: “Calls: 25 cents”!? Fascinated, the man sought out the pastor and asked, “Reverend, I have been in cities all across the country and in each church I have found this golden telephone, and have been told it is a direct line to Heaven, and that I could use it to talk to God…. But in 20 other churches, the cost was $10,000 per minute. Your sign says 25 cents per call. ….Why is that?

The pastor, smiling kindly, replied:

“Son, you’re in Texas now and it’s a local call.”

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Treating People Like Jesus

McDonalds really seems to be at the crossroads of American life. Rich and poor gather under the golden arches for cheap food that is quick and tasty. Their slogan could just as easily be, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to eat cheap.” I’ve seen business suits and birthday suits at McDonalds, it attracts everyone.

English: The official logo.
English: The official logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was at a discipling group today at one of our local McDonalds. While I was waiting for the group members to show up, I had someone join me at my table and he proceeded to hand me a couple of napkins and some hand sanitizing wipes. I (without looking up from my book) said thanks and kept reading. He handed out more napkins and wipes to the surrounding tables before returning to sit down next to me. When he noticed that I didn’t use the napkin as a coaster, he felt the need to pick up my cup and do it for me.

That got my attention and I knew this guy was serious about wanting to have some company, so I put my book down and waited for what was next. In our next few minutes together (about 15) here are the topics we covered:

  • Getting an ID from the government
  • Police
  • Colorado
  • Colorado’s nice residents
  • Kansas
  • Looooosiana
  • New York and New Jersey (he was born in both places)
  • California
  • Missouri
  • Colorado’s nice residents
  • Texas
  • The DMV
  • And how nice everyone in Colorado.

The two most repeated phrases of our conversation were, “You know?” (I didn’t, which got me in trouble on a number of occasions) and, “It’s just such a pain in the ass.” (I pretended to know).

You can probably tell by now that something wasn’t well with my new acquaintance, and the longer he sat across from me the more potent the smell of alcohol became. He was out of it enough that after my discipling group (an hour and a half long) I saw him again having a conversation with a bird statue a few blocks down (yes conversation, not monologue).

He even drew me a picture.

Towards the end of our time together he began to berate and yell at another customer as he was leaving McDonald’s because the guy at my table was convinced that he was the governor of Colorado and couldn’t figure out why he didn’t want to have a conversation with him.

Since the moment we first began to talk I had a nudge to engage his guy and talk to him. I kept hearing in my mind, “Treat this guy like Jesus.” Which of course meant that I would need to act like Jesus.

How do you extend grace, fellowship and company to someone that drunk, disoriented and out of it all together? I had Matthew 25 running through my head:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

I knew that this is a guy loved and created in the image of God. I needed to treat him as such, but thinking about it and doing it are two different things. Given his current state it was going to be even harder. Here are some things I thought about that I think are helpful. I, in no way, think I was perfect and don’t think I’ve covered everything well. I’ve got room to grow and hope that God continues to shape me so I do better next time. Here are three things I think we need to practice better.

  1. Talk to them. There were several people that either blew off his presence or mocked him. A couple of tables snickered and pointed fingers as he talked. Engaging him and talking to him validates his humanity. Even in an inebriated state he needs to be treated humanely.
  2. Offer help. When he was talking about going to the DMV, he showed me the address he needed to go. I offered to help him find it. Though I was met with an angry outburst (because he knew the way), the point is that we should offer to go the extra step. Spend voluntary time with him.
  3. Offer to pray. This is an opportunity I’m ashamed to say that I missed. Part of it was because I barely got a word it, but most of it was because I wasn’t assertive enough. I could have offered to pray with him and his struggle to get to the DMV.

———-

Please comment below and add to the list. What other suggestions do you have?

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Should Christians Get Tattoos? What Does The Bible Say?

From the “Cruciformity Stations on Skin” at Xnihilo Gallery in Houston, Texas

There is a lot of conversation now days in regards to tattoos. A lot of people are asking questions as to whether or not they should get a tattoo.

You can find arguments on both sides of the issue, and both can be very convincing.

The problem I have with the whole argument against is how they are basing their reasoning.

How can you base your arguments on ONE scripture in Leviticus 19, but completely ignore this one, or this one?

When it clearly says in Leviticus 19:37, “Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the Lord.”

The last time I checked, we are no longer offering physical sacrifices because Jesus Christ Himself became THE sacrifice for us.

So….What does it all mean?

It comes down to this…the Bible is unclear about whether or not one should get tattoos, and any one touting the whole ‘the Bible is very clear about tattoos’ argument, are merely spouting their opinion.

I would encourage any Christian who is considering getting tattooed to do the research for yourself, earnestly pray about it, then determine whether or not it is for you.

NEVER take someones word for it, whether it leans toward your beliefs or not. Research it for yourself. Know what you believe and why.

Here are a couple of links to read on the subject.

What Does The Bible Say About Tattoos? RelevantChristian.org

To Tattoo or Not to Tattoo / RELEVANT Magazine

**UPDATE**
Another Great article on Tattoos!

Feel free to let us know what you think.

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Going to Church is NOT the Answer!

Having a relationship with Jesus Christ is!

You can attend all of the church services you like, from here till Jesus comes back and it won’t do you a bit of good UNTIL you have a relationship with Him!

You don’t need better lighting, bigger buildings, or cooler graphics….you need to know Jesus intimately.

I know some who will claim they have a relationship with Jesus, but what would happen to them if they were unable to attend their church? How would their relationship with Jesus be? Almost non-existent? Maybe so.

So many equate their relationship with Jesus by the church they attend or how often they attend. Not only that….their perception of Jesus depends on what their particular church teaches or believes…NOT on what they themselves have sought out in God’s word and know to be truth. That is scary! This is also why we have a weak kneed Christiandom today.

I for one have grown weary of trying to be Christian Politically Correct and not offend anyone for standing up for what I believe…especially when what I believe is based on sound biblical foundation.

And if i am wrong…I am not ashamed to admit it.

We don’t need more programs, better lighting, cooler graphics, bigger buildings, or hipper/younger leadership.

We need to be reflectant….so that when people look at us they see a true representation of Jesus Christ. We should reflect His mercy. His grace. His love. His truth.

We need to live this Christian life with wreck-less abandon. Abandoning ourselves for His will and purpose.

We don’t need more church…we need more God!

Going to church is NOT the answer….BEING the church of Jesus Christ is!

Homeless, Not Hopeless!

Courtesy Getty Images

Anyone who has been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting have uttered or heard these words; “Hi, my name is (insert name here), and I’m an alcoholic.”

Well….let me put a different spin on that infamous phrase and say; “Hi, my name is Jimmy, and I am a former homeless person!”

I know what it is like to be concerned about where my next meal was going to come from and where I was going to sleep that night. I remember finding an old abandoned shack out in the middle of the woods and feeling relief knowing that I would at least have a roof over my head for a little while. I scraped up enough money by selling soda bottles and doing odd jobs at a local mom and pop grocery store, to buy some canned beans and “beanie weenies” to have food to eat. It was not a fun time.

I was 18 years old, homeless, hungry, and alone…and I kept it hidden from almost everyone who knew me. I remember thinking that if anyone knew, they wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me. Even my girlfriend had no idea of my situation….other than I had no car or money….which sure put a damper on the whole dating thing.

My Mom and Dad and the rest of my siblings lived over 1,200 miles away and had no idea of my situation either…well…kind of. I think my Mom knew but she never let on.

I remember vividly having to go once a week and call my Mom collect to check in, (if I didn’t, she would have driven that long 1,200 mile trek and dragged me back to Indiana with her), and I did NOT want to live in Indiana.

Unfortunately, a few months into the new year of 1981, I got word that my Dad’s mom had passed, and that the funeral was coming up soon, and a plane ticket with my name would be waiting at the airport. I was excited and scared at the same time. After all…I hadn’t seen my parents in almost a year, and had been homeless now for most of that time.

I flew in to O’Hare Airport in Chicago and saw my Dad for the first time in a year. I will never forget the look on his face. It was a look of both joy and shock. No doubt joy at seeing his oldest boy again and shock at the way I looked. After all, I was 6 feet tall and maybe 150 pounds soaking wet. Much, much less than my normal 210 pound self. I was in bad shape physically, mentally, and spiritually.

It was at the time, the lowest point of my life. I had lost my job, my car, had no place to live, and had almost lost all hope. Almost!

Fortunately, we serve a God who doesn’t care whether we are homeless or not. According to scripture, He is no respecter of persons. He doesn’t care about position or wealth or even if you have absolutely nothing. He continued to call to me even in my low state, in my darkest time, until I would heed His call and surrender myself to Him completely. The rest is as they say…history.

I have had the opportunity over the last few weeks to get involved with a group of fantastic people who are making a difference in the lives of the homeless. People who are attending to the needs of those who are less fortunate than ourselves. And I can tell you that these people are merely homeless….not hopeless.

There are some among them that are strong, vibrant, willing vessels waiting to be deemed worthy.

There are some among them who are experiencing God and all He has to offer willingly and without shame.

There are some among them that have experienced the move of God so strong that they cannot contain themselves…they have to tell someone…pray for someone…help someone.

So full of love. So full of peace. So full of hope. So full of the Holy Spirit.

Merely homeless…not Hopeless!

(to be continued)

Darkness is Overcome

His light shines through darkness.

His light shines through darkness.

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5

The absence of all color is black, although there are those that would argue this sentiment. I have even had a few artistic folk claim that the absence of color is white and that black is the culmination of all colors. Most have forgotten what they were taught in 8th grade science, color is determined by what we see reflected off of an object. White is a combination of all colors being reflected off of an object. Black is THE ABSENCE OF ANY COLOR being reflected off of an object. Therefore in the same respect, the absence of all light is darkness.

Jesus has come into the world to abolish darkness…to displace the darkness with His light. A light so bright that darkness cannot overcome it. A light so intense that it penetrates to the deepest of depths, to the darkest of darkness….and the light overcomes the darkness.

“In Him was life…and that life was the light of all mankind.”

A life lived in Him shines light to the darkened hearts of those around us. A life lived in Him is filled with love, and that love is what shines so brightly to those in the shadows. That love, that light, overcomes the darkness and allows all of the colors of life to be shown in all of its beauty. Ask anyone who receives Christ for the first time and they will tell you that the whole world looks different…they see things in a whole new light. They see things as God intended them to be. Full of beauty and wonder.

Heavenly Father help us to live a life full of light, shining your love to all who dwell in the shadows of life.

The Godless Church

God has NOT given us the spirit of fear but I’ll admit I’ve been a little fearful of what others might think about what God has called me to do with my life. That was until last Sunday, when I was told I wasn’t allowed to pray with my friends at the alter before church, as we had done for the past year and a half. Maybe, they wanted more order as people where coming in or they just didn’t want the so called distraction but whatever the reason I felt betrayed, ANGRY, then dirty. I walked away asking God to forgive us and have mercy on us as a whole because we have FAILED Him! We have become more concerned with what people think than what God wants.

It was at this moment that the Holy Spirit empowered me to be a voice and to deliver a message of Hope, a hope that says we can change things and bring Him back into our churches but to do this we will have to give Him control.

Are YOU ready to give Him control? You have to ask yourself some tough questions. Do we allow God to do what He wants in our services or do we stick to ‘the program’? I got news for you, God is sick of our machine we call CHURCH and our so called PROGRAMS! Angry, would probably be the best word. We show up, smile, sing 4 songs, pat each other on the back, and go our merry way. When did we stop asking ourselves where “The Lost, The Hurting, The Poor, The Needy, and The Sick are? The answer hurts, they are where we aren’t. They either can’t afford to come to church due to us setting ‘church’ up as only available to middle-class / upper-class America or they come and see a bunch of smiling happy people that have NO problems what-so-ever and leave feeling like they don’t belong.

I feel ashamed, I feel sick for allowing myself to be a part of these atrocities.

I can NO longer stand by and watch a church of 500+ people show up to a social gathering, stay for an hour, shake hands with 3 or 4 people, and leave the same way they came in…it’s disgusting!

I have watched as the spirit of God moves in our worship only to get cut off directly after the 4th song EVERY sunday because it’s 11:25 and we MUST take up the offering and do announcements.

Every sunday we give God the same 15-20 minutes and every sunday I look around when they ask on cue, “is anyone here who needs salvation?” the answer is almost always a resounding NO!

The steps of the alter at my church are clean, spotless, and show less wear than if we had put the carpet there last week. How did it come to this?

When did we feel it was just more profitable for us to close the alters; I mean, all we did at our church is gain 500+ members basically from other churches. They got bored where they were at and so, we where able to obtain massive growth in a very short period of time.

Problem is, now we cater to the numbers instead of God. Our pastors would rather please them than God. So, every week we get more programed, more to the minute on both services, and promise to have you home before the football game starts!

God, please forgive us and allow us to pick up and start over!

In other words, THANK GOD FOR GRACE!

As of this moment, I will NO LONGER stand by and watch us be proud of the kingdom we have built for ourselves, I cannot and will NOT keep quenching the Holy Spirit and where it is trying to lead us as a people!

God help us, because Hell is coming and in the end we will ALL have to answer to why we stood by and did nothing to save those in which Christ came for.

So again, ARE YOU READY…to take BACK our heritage as Christians and allow GOD back into our CHURCHES!!!!!!!!!!!!

It’s time for a REVOLUTION…is anyone with me…let your voice be heard if you feel God tugging on your heart as He is doing mine.

God Bless,

S

What’s Missing From Most Churches Today?

Community, the one thing mostly missing from modern era churches, and the thing most people want most of all.

In today’s media/internet driven, mega church, multi-campus Christianity, community has been lost or long forgotten.

It has been pushed to the background in favor of flashy presentation to suit A.D.D. Christianity.

I have been in conversation as a staff member of a mega church when discussing the problem of people not “sticking”, or as I like to call it, “drive thru” Christianity. We did a good job of getting them in the front door, only to see them go out the back door to the next church or in search of their next experience.

When I read about the New Testament Church, I see a body, or church, that is involved with each other. I see a church that is doing this thing called life “TOGETHER”. They are taking care of one another, loving one another, living in community with each other, deeply relational to one another, knowing each other, encouraging one another.

Isn’t that what we should be about?

Christ knows us individually. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses and loves us still….because Father created us the way we are….and it is through our weaknesses that He is truly shown.

Embracing our diversity, our individuality, leaning on each others strengths, overcoming each others weaknesses, and loving each other unconditionally, will show the world the true nature of Christ.

Loving Unconditionally.

Mercy unending.

Grace abounding.

Peace beyond understanding.

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How to Love the Church Again

I’m still plugging away at Eugene Peterson’s newest book. I have to admit that it is a little unnerving. His entire thesis of practicing resurrection hinges on his assumption that the church is the place where this, best, happens. The church is, funny thing that the church is, God’s. And we get what he gave us.

I struggle with church nowadays. I belong to a church, but honestly I’m not really plugged into the church I belong to. I work seven days a week and scarcely have time for my own family nowadays let alone someone elses family or God’s family. I spent the better part of my 20’s and 30’s tending to God’s family–to the neglect of my own–and now I have, for all intents and purposes, neither. It’s not funny how irony comes back to bite one in the ass every now and again; mine still smarts.

And Eugene Peterson, one author who has shaped me more than any other single author, is telling me that is the place I most need to be if I am to mature, grow, develop, become and practice resurrection. It’s a tall order.

I am out of sorts being a pew-person, a parishioner, a member of a church and not the preacher in a church. Frankly, I don’t know how people do it week after week–sit there and not get involved. I want so badly to be involved more deeply and yet, for what ever reasons the Lord has, I am prevented from doing so by circumstances involving work and school. It’s not an excuse; it just is. It kills me to be so restricted that I cannot be involved.

I used to spend more time at the church than anyone, now I spend the least amount of time of everyone. There on a dusty shelf in the downstairs part of my house sits a covered in glass ordination certificate…going to waste…going to dust…

Peterson writes,

Church as the body of Christ is not obvious. But neither is Jesus as the savior of the world obvious. We learn to penetrate the obvious ordinariness when we think in terms of inscape and manifold wisdom and shadow work. But for as long as we employ secular values and insist on having church as we think it ought to be, formulating this ‘ought’ from what we see work in our culture quite apart from God, we will never recognize the church that is right before us. For as long as we think that the church is in competition with the world, a way of outdoing the world, we will never get it.

The contrast between world and church in this regard is stark: American culture is doing its dead level best with its celebrities, consumerism, and violence to keep us in a perpetually arrested state of adolescence. Yet all the while the church is quietly and without false advertising immersing us in the conditions of becoming mature to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 145-146)

I think this is part of the reason why I am no longer preaching. I was unable to give a church the church they thought we ought to have: bustling, wealthy, without suffering, without squabbles, without tears, without this; with that. And no matter how much we prayed, those prayers were not answered; no matter how much we implored the people for leadership, none stepped up until it was time to ask me to leave. (That’s courage of conviction; a true understanding of leadership!) No matter how long we waited, we are waiting still.

There is a reason why I’m stuck in neutral right now. I’m not sure what yet, but there is part of me that hangs on just so I can find out what it is. In the meantime, while I’m parked at this rest stop, in park, with the parking brake applied, I’m going to deal with the church we have, the church that is, and sort of observe from the outside for a while. I’m going to pray and listen and learn and grow so that I will never become one of those types of people who think I know better what the church should be, one of those people who, armed with the keen insight of what I think a church ought to be, makes it my ambition to shape the church into my image. I’ll leave that up to the Lord whose church it is anyhow.

Instead, how about the church that is? How about finding a church, being a church, worshiping with a church that just is? That’s what I like about Peterson: he has no illusions about what the church is, and he loves her anyhow. He is perfectly content to teach his readers to accept the church that is broken and wounded and suffering and miserable and full of all sorts of terrible people. He’s fine with that. And so he will love them, pray with them, preach to them, and care for them.

So for all my complaining, maybe this is what Jesus wants me to see. Maybe it is I who was trying to reshape a church instead of loving a church the way the church is. I’m willing to confess that. A major part of this current transition is to learn that very thing: to love the church again. I confess that loving the church is something I have quite forgotten how to do. It’s no easy confession, but I stand by it.

Truthfully, though, I’m not sure I know how.