You’ll Move to Africa for Jesus, But You Won’t Help Me Move Across Town?

movingOkay, I know I’m sticking my foot into it now, ’cause I’m guilty of this most of the time myself. But how many times do we lay claim to a deep spirituality and a love for God yet turn a blind eye to the difficulties of other people around us? In my case, it looks more like “sure, I’d love to sit with you and chat about deep theological issues, but if you don’t mind, please don’t trouble me with your messy life.”

You know that story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible? It’s a bit troubling to me. I don’t like it, because it places demands on me that are inconvenient. But here’s the bottom line: if you want a real relationship with the Eternal God, it will only go as far as your involvement with other people.

In that story, in Luke 10, a religious expert comes to Jesus and asks his advice. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Sounds heavy, but really the guy is just expressing the emptiness he’s feeling inside. He knew his Bible; he lived it as best he could. He was an expert. But something was still missing; he knew it, but he just didn’t know what it was. So he asks the guy who had become famous for his connection with Heaven, who’d healed all kinds of diseased and injured people, who’d set people free from dark forces in their lives. Surely, he would know. And Jesus, being the good Jewish rabbi that he was, turns the question back on the man: “What is written in the Torah; how do you read it?” And the man responds with the classic and correct answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” “That’s right,” Jesus affirmed, “do this and you’ll have life.”

Standard Answers Won’t Do

But it was the standard answer the man knew his entire life. And it wasn’t enough. So he probes deeper, “but who is my neighbor?” Basically, I believe the man is asking Jesus to show him how to make it work. “What does this look like in real life? How am I supposed to do this?”

And then comes the famous parable. A man is walking from Jerusalem to Jericho and gets way-laid on the road by robbers. He’s beaten and left half dead on the side of the road. Two religious types, a priest and a Levite, walk by, see him laying there, and cross over to the other side of the street to avoid him. But a Samaritan sees him and has pity on him. He walks over to him, cleans his wounds with wine and oil, bandages him up, places him on his donkey and takes him to an inn where he pays the inn-keeper to care for him. Which of these acted as a neighbor to the beaten man? Obviously, the Samaritan. The point is simple enough, and the religious expert gets it.

Catch the Details

But there is some really rich subtlety in this story we might easily miss. Jesus describes the beaten traveler as “half dead”, and I’m struck by his choice of words. I think they’re deliberate. After all, the original question he was asked concerned obtaining eternal life. So the word-play involving life and death would be striking. And our impression of the two men in the story who walked by, ignoring the injured man, would naturally be one of revulsion. “How cold-hearted. How hypocritical. And they call themselves ‘religious,’ that priest and Levite. That wounded man may be half dead, but those two guys are completely dead inside. The Samaritan, on the other hand, taking compassionate action to help the man, now he is fully alive, fully in-tune with his humanity. He’s the one with ‘true religion’; he’s obviously got a clue about what true godly life is all about.” In Jesus’ deliberate choice of words, we can already see what is involved in “inheriting eternal life.” It’s not about what happens to us after we die; it’s not just about life in the “age to come.” It’s about the quality of the life we live in the here and now. We can go around as religious zombies, dead to those around us, or we can live a rich, fulfilling life involved with others. When God’s life invades us, it will change the way we interact with people.

And look at what that Samaritan man actually does. He sees the beaten victim and is immediately moved by compassion. In the story, this is the first reference to any kind of emotion, any type of personal connection with the robbed man. The Samaritan is emotionally engaged in the situation and with his fellow human being. Next, he cleans and bandages the man’s wounds, he touches the man. He gets his hands dirty. He is now physically as well as emotionally involved in the man’s plight. Then he puts the man on his donkey and takes him to a place where he can recover. That means he has to walk. He gave up his own comfort to help the man; he readily puts up with the inconvenience. And finally, he even pays the man’s medical bills. This Samaritan was fully engaged in the situation — emotionally, physically, materially and financially. He knew what life was all about. He had what that original seeker was missing.

Full Impact

The full impact of this can be seen when we go back to the answer Jesus elicited from the religious leader. What is needed to participate in the divine life? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength … and love your neighbor as yourself.” In answer to the man’s follow-up question, “But how do I do this?”, Jesus shows that loving God is inseparable from loving people. If we are supposed to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, then those are exactly the same qualities we must use to involve ourselves with others. Like the Samaritan, we must love others with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. That is what loving God is really about.

To put it another way, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but closes his heart against him, how can the love of God be in him?” … “If anyone says ‘I love God’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. … Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 3:17; 4:20-21).

Interestingly, in the Gospel account, Jesus turns the religious man’s question around. Instead of asking “who is my neighbor,” we should be asking, “who can I be a neighbor to?” You can’t claim to have a deep sense of spirituality or a great love for God while at the same time ignoring the needs of people around you. To love God, you must love your neighbor, you must be fully engaged with those around you — emotionally, physically, materially and financially: with your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength. In a word, it’s about relationships. It’s about real human-to-human involvement. If we want a more meaningful life that only a closer walk with God can bring, that’s what we must do. “Now go, and do likewise,” Jesus tells us.

So the next time someone asks you to help them move, you may just have to double-check your initial reaction. “Help you move? Of course I will.”

Persistence is the Locomotion between Faith and Fact

Locomotion: the ability or power to move from place to place

There’s nothing more tantalizing than a half-accomplished goal.  You’ve made significant progress toward the end, you can even see the light at the end of the tunnel.  But you’re not there yet.  Somehow that tunnel exit seems to get farther and farther away. And after all this time, you’re still in the middle, still not done, still have not seen your dream or expectations fulfilled.

I’m still dealing with this cold-thing. It’s been going on for 3 weeks.  It’s not anywhere near being the full annoyance of a regular cold; no constantly dripping nose, no continuous coughing, no energy-draining achiness or congestion.  Yet there’s still this trace of throat irritation that refuses to go away.  And, frankly, it’s been bugging me — beyond the minor physical discomfort.  It’s been like a weight around the neck of my faith.  Where’s my full healing?!

As I was talking this out with God this morning, the thought came to me that I haven’t been persistent in my resistance.  You know, the Krav Maga rule of using any available tool as a weapon.  I’d reached a point of near-comfortable compromise.  I wasn’t hurting, I was functional, the sore throat was barely noticeable except when I get up in the morning before my first cup of coffee.  I’d become complacent.  As for fighting on two fronts, I’d stopped being diligent with the vitamins and echinacea (physical aspect), and I’d grown lax in speaking Scripture to myself — and to it (spiritual aspect).  And as a rule, if you don’t continue to work out, if you are not persistent in your training and conditioning, you become weaker. You lose your advantage, and your enemy can more easily get the upper hand. (Krav Maga again.)

Of course, this is just a wimpy real-life illustration.  The principle is true across the board for all kinds of situations where reality hasn’t quite lined up with a promise God gave you, where faith hasn’t yet turned into fact.  As my pastor recently said in one of his sermons, “the gap between vision and reality is filled by commitment.”  Commitment, persistence, is the driving force to move you from faith to fact, from what you’re believing to its accomplishment.

1. Persistence in faith: continually, aggressively reminding yourself of God’s promise, speaking the Truth (God’s truth, with a capital T) to yourself and to the mountain in your way.  Reality is subject to change.  The entire universe (including your tiny circumstances) is subject to change.  Everything is.  Except God and his Word.  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away”  (Lk 21:33; Is 40:8)   “Facts” are temporary. Truth is eternal.  And if we are persistent enough in the Truth, that Truth will ultimately change those facts.  And frankly, as puny human beings who constantly get distracted and lose faith, we need to constantly remind ourselves — provoke ourselves — with the Truth to keep us focused in the right direction.

2. Persistence in action.  Same principles over and over: Faith without works is dead.  We need to constantly be pulling the triggers in our natural circumstances, doing our part to help release God’s power.  We rely on God’s power for results, but he will not do our job for us.  That’s why we can’t afford to grow lax.  “Be not weary in well-doing for in due season you will reap a harvest if you faint not” (Gal 6:9).

Persistence in faith is not denying the existence of facts that contradict it.  Faith is the internal chutzpah to stare in the face of facts and say “Nevertheless!”   Like Abraham in the Old Testament.  God made outlandish promises to him (and you think your dreams are big?), but Abraham was old and childless.  Nevertheless, “he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead … yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God” (Rom 4:19-20). 

Abraham is our model. He was a man of faith and a man of action.  He knew the key: he didn’t hide from the facts; he faced them.  And persistently praised God for a reality that had not yet materialized — and was actually impossible.  He was persistent in faith.  And although we are not told specifically, I bet Abraham never stopped loving his wife Sarah, never stopped trying to have a son, as God promised.  Eventually, even he grew impatient and tried an alternative solution with Hagar to change his facts.  And there were consequences for his overstepping.  But ultimately his persistence paid off.  And every nation on earth has been touched as a result.

So, when we’re stuck in the middle of a seemingly endless tunnel between a promise and reality, between faith and fact, persistence is the locomotion that ultimately gets us there.

Just something to consider over your morning coffee …

Spiritual Krav Maga (part 2) the adventure continues …

  • Fight on both fronts: spiritual and physical
  • Get aggressive: switch from a defensive to an offensive role
  • Use whatever is at hand as a weapon

Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. (2 Cor 10:3-4)

We live in two realms, two dimensions: the spiritual and the material.  So, to live an effective life, both aspects must be addressed.  The spiritual contains the real power, but the natural is the trigger to release it.  The two must work in harmony.  Action – Impact.  Trigger – Power.   This is the same principle as Faith-Works: without the works, the faith is “dead”, unreleased, and therefore no result is ever realized.

So, in real life, we must seek to act on triggers to release or activate God’s power to generate the results.

What is the trigger for any given situation?  It can be discovered by answering the basic question of “what is in your hand?”   This is a biblical principle.  When God commissioned Moses with the impossible task of freeing the Israelites from the most powerful empire in the world, Moses balked. And God asked Moses: “What is in your hand?” (Exo 4:2-3) That simple staff was the key to confronting Pharaoh, unleashing 10 plagues, parting the Red Sea, and winning battles. And we are instructed,“whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecc 9:10).   When Moses looked at what he had, all he saw was a stick.  God saw a tool he would use to unleash the miraculous.  It is also a key of Krav Maga: use whatever is available as a weapon.

How does this apply in reality?  Two examples from my own life:
1. Financial.  I’ve been working the same job for nearly 6 years now.  And I’ve been diligent and productive — I’ve done it “with all my might,” you might say.  In other words, I strive to be a valuable asset to my employer.  And I wanted a raise.  We don’t get annual cost of living adjustments, but every couple of years the company will do evaluations and give us some token of appreciation — usually in the low single digits.  I wanted more, and honestly thought I’d earned more.  I prayed quite a bit about it, not wanting to get caught up in discontentment or bad attitude, and making sure I wasn’t just being greedy.  I waited till I had some inner “go ahead” from God.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not the most outgoing or aggressive person around. I’d make a lousy salesman.  But I knew I had to force myself past timidity.  And I scheduled a lunch with my boss to discuss my situation.  That lunch turned into an 8 hour meeting, and I walked out victorious.  I got a double-digit percent increase.  (By the way, this was the second time this has happened in recent years, applying the exact same strategy but at different jobs: diligent work to prove my value, prayerful preparation, then respectful but assertive confrontation.  And the results were identical.)

2. Health (my current battle).  Got a cold.  Yeah, sure, a petty thing.  But it can make me miserable and cause me to miss work.  Two fronts: I’m quoting scripture to myself whenever I think about it: “he took my infirmities and bore my diseases, and by his stripes I am healed”, “I will drive sickness out from among you”, “no plague shall come near your dwelling”, “behold I give you power … and nothing shall by any means hurt you”, etc. Whatever Word from God that seems relevant, I’m speaking to myself and my sickness.  That’s the spiritual.  On the physical side, I’m getting rest, not overexerting myself, and I’m taking vitamins aggressively (not your once-a-day half-hearted approach).  Okay, gotta admit, it’s still dragging on.  Going on day 5 now.  But my symptoms are light — noticeably lighter than in the past — and I haven’t needed to take cold meds to get through the day.  I barely need to blow my nose, no sinus pressure, only mild congestion, no cough, no achiness.  Not the miraculous results I’d hoped, but definite improvement none the less.  And I’m not giving up.  Persistence till I win.  “Krav Maga!”

And the adventure continues ….