First Anniversary Of My Open Heart Surgery. Let’s Celebrate

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Image result for Celebrate images public domainSpeaking of it being June, it was one year ago today, that I received triple bypass surgery. Between January 2107 and June 4, 2018, I had a heart attack and 4 strokes. The last stroke was during my heart surgery. That’s pretty scary. The only after effects of all those attacks on my body, are scars on my chest and legs, loss of vision in half of my left eye, and trouble remembering names and names of places. My speech is not slurred. My long term and short term memory are good. I’m not as quick remembering things. I used to be really good at quizzes and memory games. I could think of things quickly. I’m not as quick as I used to be. It’s kind of like the way you lose a step in football or tennis when you get older. But this is with my mind. I can still recall things, it just might take me a minute to process the question. But all things considered, I’ll take it. The heart specialist told me that it’s not uncommon for a patient to die if they have a stroke during heart surgery. Ok, I’ll take a bit of blindness and a slower recall of historical information. And, with the names, it’s not like I don’t recognize people. It’s just embarrassing, when I’ve known someone for years and suddenly their name is gone. Still, what’s a little embarrassment in the great scheme of things.

For a year and a half, I was so sick. I tell people all the time, that it’s like I was asleep. I have very few memories of what happened during my sick time. I remember being a lot of trouble for my wife, if we went places to sight see, or shop. I was always having to stop and rest, and often spraying my heart meds. Poor lass, couldn’t have had much fun.

We live two or three blocks from the Church of Christ, where I’m the minister, and I couldn’t even walk it without stopping to rest. I remember that Sundays took a lot out of me. Preaching in the morning and at night was almost more than I could do. I had to start taking Mondays off, because I couldn’t get out of bed.

But now, a year on, I feel great. I still need to do some work to get seriously fit. I need to lose some more weight, but I’m losing it. Last week, I walked down to Buckpool harbor and back with my grandchildren. There were no problems. I’ve walked up and down all the stairs over at Brodie Castle. And, I’m awake. I feel like I was asleep, and I’m awake. So today, I’m celebrating. Life is not to be taken for granted. We live in a beautiful world. Especially up here in Moray. From the Sea to the Mountains, and every mile in between. We are surrounded by some amazing views of nature. And let’s not forget all the wonderful people we meet. Life really is a blessing.

But what about after. What would have happened to me, if my stroke during surgery had been fatal. Sure there would have been a sense of shock for some of my friends, and all the folk at church. Probably my wife would have been pretty upset at me. And I hope, a little sad. But what about me?

I am 100% confident of what would have happened to me. I would have awakened with no pain, in a place even more beautiful than Moray. I would never know a moment of sadness or illness, or pain ever again. Not because we all go to a better place, but because Jesus promised a forever of joy for ever single person who would put their Faith in Him. He is the creator of the world we live in. He died on a cross because we sinned, and he didn’t want to be separated from us. And he rose again, to conquer death. Not just once, in his case. But for all of us. And I made the choice many years ago, to give my life into his care. For that reason I know what will happen to me when I die. I know I’m not perfect. I’m not even close. Just ask my wife. But I am forgiven. Like the apostle Paul, For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

And what about you? On this anniversary of my surgery I have to ask. There is a funeral going on right now in Buckie. I saw the cars. There have been quite a few recently. Yikes. What if one of them next week is yours? What if your family and friends dress all in black and weep at losing you. What happens to you? Have you made preparations? Do you have a will? Do you KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt what your future will be? You can. Seriously. I’m not joking. You can hand the keys over to Jesus right now. You can say, Jesus, I need you. I surrender. You drive from now on. And I can tell you, from experience, that new life with and from Jesus is even better that waking up after surgery. I’m glad I’m alive. I love my life. I love this town. I even love all the rain. And it’s much easier to love it all, because I know that even after it’s all behind me, life gets even better.

We’d love to have you visit us at Church sometime. We talk about things like this. You don’t have to dress up. Wear something. Otherwise you might get arrested. But you don’t have to get all dressed up. Sometimes people think you have to put on fancy duds to come to church. No Way. You can. Some people do. Heck sometimes even I do. But not always. Come as you are. We meet at 11 a.m. At the intersection of West Church and Pringle streets. We also have a meeting at 6:20 sunday evenings. You’d be welcome at either…or both. If you have a church home, I encourage you to go there. But if you don’t you are more that welcome to visit with us.

That’s all I’ve got for now. We’ll talk again soon. But for the rest of this week…..I’m out.

Rocky and The Cornerstone

cornerstone1 Peter

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Wow, it’s great to be back after a week away. I had hoped maybe to record an episode while I was out, but that didn’t happen.  I missed you.  I think I mentioned in episode 35 that Brittan and I were going to a Church Planting retreat and I’ve got to tell you, it was better than advertised. We came out of that retreat fired up and ready to run. I’m so glad we went.

Thank you for your kindness and patience while we were away. But here we are back in the camper and ready to look at 1st Peter.

Let’s start by taking a look at the author. Even though, he only wrote the two letters that bear his name, Peter is one of the most well known Jesus followers in the world, and certainly one of the most beloved.

We learn from the Gospels that Peter was a fisherman by trade and that he was introduced to Jesus by his brother, Andrew who was a follower of John the Baptist. Peter almost instantly became one of Jesus’ closest confidants.  Over the three years they were together , Peter was the source of many displays of great faith, as well as one of the great betrayals.

Peter is the only one of the disciples who was willing to get out of the boat and walk on water. It was Peter who declared, You are the Christ, the son of the living God. It was this declaration that got his nickname, ‘Peter’, or, ‘Rocky’.  He is the follower who produced a sword on the night Jesus was betrayed and waded in, however awkwardly, to defend his Lord.

Yet, that very night, it was this same Peter who committed an act of treason as egregious as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot.

As Jesus is being tortured and tormented by the priests, Peter denies ever having even met the Nazarene. The last time, he swears on oath, he does not know Jesus. At that moment, a rooster crowed and Peter remembered Jesus’ prophecy that the Big Fisherman would deny him; a prediction repudiated and refuted by the apostle. Luke says that as the rooster crowed, Jesus turned and looked at Peter.

Do you get that?  Jesus was close enough to hear Peter’s adamant denials. Right when Jesus needed a friend the most, Peter, said, ‘Him? I have no idea who that is?  You must be mistaking me for someone else?’

Later when Jesus has been raised, the angel tells the women, “Go tell my disciples, and Peter, that I’m alive.”  Mark is the only writer to recall that little detail, but remember, Mark is writing Peter’s memories of Jesus.  No doubt those two words, and Peter, stung like a burning sword. Peter had openly told the world that he was not one of Jesus’ followers, and Jesus took him at his word.

John records that a few weeks later, Jesus took Peter aside and asked him 3 times (one for each denial), if Peter loved him.  Three times, the last one with tears, Peter declares his love. Jesus welcomes him home.

Perhaps, I’m overstating the obvious, but that story can be our story. Many of us have done all we could do to distance ourselves from Jesus. Some of us by our words, some by our actions; but each of us, no matter how loud or vile our betrayal, can be welcomed back into the fold.

I know, because I was one who spent decades professing

discipleship and proclaiming His glory, then at the first real test of my faith, I abandoned ship. I spent years living a life that screamed denial and making a mockery of all I once professed. I will tell you that story another day. I look back on those years with regret and great embarrassment, but in the end, He healed my broken soul and gave me back my seat at the table and my voice to proclaim His greatness and His grace.

It was not to faithful John, or to any of the other apostles, but to Peter Jesus gave the priviledge of delivering the first Gospel message, on the day of Pentecost that saw more than 3k people come to Christ. I’m sure many of those in the crowd were among those who had heard him deny ever knowing Jesus. Now they hear Peter say, ‘This Jesus, whom you crucified, has been made both Lord and Christ.’  Wow.

Peter is also the one chosen to be the first to openly preach to a gentile audience.

God will do the same for you, for me, for any of us. He still makes beauty from ashes.

Eventually, the maniacal Nero, has Peter executed for his refusal to renounce his Christ and Peter is crucified, albeit upside down.

This is the Author of the two open letters that bear his name.

I must confess, the first letter has some things that I find rather diffuclt get my head around. Later, down the road, we will take a few weeks and unpack some of the more challenging passages, but for now I just want to look at one place. That’s 1 Peter 2:6-8.

1Pe 2:6  For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

1Pe 2:7  So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”

1Pe 2:8  and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

 

Let’s park here for just a minute, because Peter is addressing one of the issues we’ve all dealt with. Why is it that many people reject the Gospel?  The simple truth is, the message of the cross just doesn’t fit the world view of literally millions of people. Paul said it this way, ‘It’s a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles.’

It is very rare that anyone studies the Christian message thoroughly then decides against Christ. More often, it’s a knee jerk reaction based on preconceived notions.  For that crowd, regardless of the facts, or rebuttal to their objections, they’ve made up their minds ahead of time and those minds are now closed. Most have a ‘pet’ topic, be it, hypocrites in the church, creationism, exclusivity of the Gospel, supposed contradictions in the Bible, the existence of pain in the world, a rejection of the doctrine of Hell, or one of a handful of other popular memes, and they smugly regurgitate canned objections but never stick around for honest investigation.

Instead, they get loud and start name calling, which is nearly always the fallback tactic of those whose argument is weak.

It’s really sad, but that’s the real world. There are times when we need to patiently stick with it, because the skeptic is a loved one, but there are other times, we need to, as Jesus said, ‘wipe the dust from our feet and move on.’ The message of Christ is a precious cornerstone to the lives of many many others and we need to keep moving to find those individuals.

Look through the book of Acts and take note of the number of times, Paul gave up on people and moved on.  There is no value in drilling a stone in search of blood.  The harvest is plentiful. Jesus said so, but we’re not going to harvest sweet water from salt springs.

First Peter is packed with great insights into God’s promises to His children and establishing our identity in Christ.  Take time this week to read it. It is deep water, but clean and cool for parched hearts.

And, that’s all I got this week. I can’t wait to dig into 2 Peter next week.  In that short letter Peter is going to be swinging for the fence. Don’t forget to send your questions and thoughts via email or on the comments section of the show notes. Until then, Be blessed and be a blessing

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Episode 14 – Every Day, Every Way, Every Where

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Acts 5:40-42

The Gospel is rarely politically correct – Verse 40

A weird Rejoicing – 41. Apostles weren’t masochists, they merely understood that God trusted them.

Verse 42 – Every Day, Every Way, Every where.

Day after day, they never stopped

teaching and proclaiming

in the temple courts and from house to house

note: Chapter 6 begins, In those days, when the number of disciples was increasing. – The Gospel WILL bear fruit.

Next week – Route 66 begins. Gospel of Matthew

Episode 13 – Prime Directive Part 4 –

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Luke 10:1-11

  1. A model for world evangelism.
  2. There’s nothing wrong with the harvest, there’s just a shortage of farmers.
  3. Step 1. Pray. Bless
  4. Step 2. Stay Remain in the same house
  5. Step 3. Care. Heal the sick. Find a need and meet it. Find a hurt and heal it. Meet physical needs
  6. Step 4. Share. Announce the arrival of the Kingdom.

Seek Heaven. Identify with community. We’re not a hit and run, one night stand kind of kingdom.. Meet felt needs. They can only be truly learned by being there and identifying. It’s only when a community can see how much care that they will care about what we say. But in the end, all the praying and caring in the world, only matters once we share the Gospel.

Here’s a link for the 1984 edition of the NIV Bible

Thanks for stopping by; Please use the comments section for questions or feedback. We love interacting.

Radio Show Episode 12

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Show Notes

Conversions in Acts

Chapter 2 – Pentecost

Chapter 8 – Ethiopian Official

Chapter 9, 22, 26 Saul of Tarsus

Chapter 10 – Cornelius,

Chapter 16 – Lydia, Jailer,

Someday will do a study on baptism, but today we want to merely show how intimately it is tied to receiving the Gospel. In the 21st century we have made conversion a private inner arrangement where we say a prayer and at sometime in the future we may, or may not, make that decision public. We have no examples of that in the New Testament. Even the commission itself says nothing about going and leading in sinners prayers, but rather going and baptizing. At it’s core, Baptism is the place where disciples publicly claim a change of allegiance. I was a follower of Moses, Diana, Apollo, myself, now I am a follower of Jesus. There are no examples of a delayed decision to baptism. It’s immediate in every case. Pentecost is a feast day, lots to do, yet 3000 people took time from preparations to wait their turn to be dunked in water. The Gaza road is a desert, the only water would have been standing pools or runoff streams. The Jailor was in the midst of pandemonium in the wee hours of the morning. Something about this Gospel demanded immediate action.

I find it really interesting that these days, we have days, weeks, sometimes even years between initial decisions and baptisms. Often, we even have classes to make sure ‘candidates’ understand what they’re doing, whereas in the book of acts, there is no such thing. They don’t have a theology of conversion, in fact, as the stories are told, baptism is virtually synonymous with conversion. My personal testimony is this. I was 10 years old when I followed Christ and was baptized. I remember the youth pastor came to visit and hold a ‘class’. I remember zero about that visit. All I knew was, I wanted to follow Jesus, so I was baptized. I got Jesus as a 10 year old. I got theology much later (and some of it was wrong).

Here’s what I want you to do. Go back and read all of the accounts of conversions in Acts. How do they look in side by side comparisons to how ‘decisions’ look today. Are we calling for radical discipleship in the same way the early followers were? Are we getting radical results?

Please share you thoughts. Go to the show notes and use the comments section. Or email me directly. I would dearly love to dialogue with you.

Podcast Episode 11

empty tomb

 

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Sermons in Acts

There is one theme that runs through every sermon in the Book of Acts: The Resurrection of Jesus.

For Jewish Audience the Resurrection establishes Jesus as Messiah

For Gentile Audiences the Resurrection of Jesus, establishes the fact of life after death and that Jesus will be Judge of eternal destiny

Sermons

Acts 2 – Peter on Pentecost, Resurrection establishes Jesus as Messiah

3- Sermon following Lame man at gate – Resurrection establishes authority of Jesus as Messiah

5 – Before Sanhedrin, Jesus as messiah (Not a sermon actually, but a defense FOR preaching)

7 – Stephen on Trial – Jesus is Messiah, resurrection is more implicit than explicit.

10 – Peter before Cornelius, Jesus raised and is Judge of all, life after death.

13 – Paul in Antioch of Pisidia – Resurrection establishes Jesus as Messiah

17 – First 5 verses summary of Paul’s sermons Thessalonica, Jesus as Messiah. Later in Chapter, Paul’s sermon in Athens, Resurrection, Jesus as Judge of all, life after death.

23 – Not a sermon, but Paul uses Resurrection as a defense to create dissention  between Pharisees and Sadducees

24 – Defense before Felix – Resurrection is key to Gospel

26- Paul’s Sermon of Defense before Festus and Agrippa – Jesus is Messiah.

Conclusion: The importance of the doctrine of Jesus’ Resurrection cannot be overstated. Take that event out and there is no Christianity at all. See I Corinthians 15. IMO, Evangelism works best by beginning with the Resurrection and working backwards. Once Jesus is in place, all other teaching and doctrine falls into place.

Please leave you thoughts in the comments section. See you next week.

 

The Church’s Prime Directive – Rediscovering The Bible Online Radio Show – Episode 10

commissionEpisode 10 – The Prime Directive

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What is the #1 Purpose of the Church?

Glorify God?

Show God’s Love via Acts of Mercy?

Live a live of Holiness?

I suggest it is found in the Great Commission

Great Commission in all 4 Gospels and Acts

Matthew 28:19,20

Mark 16:15,19

Luke 24:46,47

John 20:21

Acts 1:8

 

Diagram of Great Commission in Greek

Make Disciples (command)

Go (method) (participle – carries weight of command it supports)

Baptize (method) (participle – carries weight of command it supports)

Teach (method) (participle – carries weight of command it supports)

 

 

America 2.0 – An Episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, or a New Mission Opportunity?

Planet of the ApesRemember the ending of the original “Planet of the Apes” movie with Charlton Heston? It was so dramatic with Heston’s character falling on his knees in the sand and cursing the human race as the camera pans out to show a nearly destroyed Statue of Liberty, half buried in sand and water.

The film was universally seen as part Science Fiction, part morality play, but who among us dreamed it was also part prophesy?

The America I grew up in is gone; relegated to TV Land nostalgia and reviled as an ignorant, unenlightened piece of human history. America 2.0 is here. It looks similar to the original, but nearly everything beneath the skin has changed. For those of us who grew up in the first one, America 2.0 is like being in a parallel universe or waking up in an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone.”

In the new world, Morality has been transformed into something personal, situational and democratic. We used to speak of truth, right and wrong, good and evil; now it’s Your/My truth, or how we identify.

Here in America 2.0 ‘Religion’ is bad and has been supplanted by ‘Spirituality’ as the preferred philosophy of the day. This NEW spirituality is tolerant of every world view except one based on the Bible, even if that world view wants to eliminate the one they hold.

The people of this new America have a different perspective on Government and our relationship to it. They look differently at social institutions like marriage and the family, as well as matters of life and death.

America 2.0 creates, embraces, enforces or overturns laws based on democracy and popular opinion rather than the constitution. I am not sure the Constitution is relevant to America 2.0 other than in some quaint, historic way.

It’s a strange feeling to live in a place where so much looks and sounds familiar, even comfortable, but beneath the surface is fundamentally different than what I know. Sometimes I become disoriented and confused, unable to get my bearings.

Looking back, I’ve had some of these emotions before. Thirty Five years ago, I moved from my familiar Old Kentucky Home, to the already Post Christian, United Kingdom, and my world was dumped on its head.

The U.K. was stunningly beautiful and offered great opportunity.  The language was (mostly) the same, and on the surface the changes in culture were only slight. I thought adjusting would be a snap. Boy Howdy was I wrong.

I should have taken a cue from the fact that they drove on the opposite side of the road as I was used to doing, that there was a different way of thinking.

As the days slipped into months, the differences piled up, and I went into what’s called, Culture Shock. The Brits generally viewed EVERYTHING differently than I did. To one degree or another, culturally, socially, educationally, spiritually, morally, economically and politically, I was in unfamiliar, often uncomfortable, territory. The only similarity seemed to be that the British Politicians were just as stupid as American ones; just with differently cut suits.

Slowly, it dawned on me that I was the outsider and if I was ever going to reach people with the Gospel, I was going to have to accept that and would need to make some adjustments and learn to communicate in ways that were understood by the wonderful residents of my adopted country.

On the whole, I was able to adapt, and had a delightful 13 years in Great Britain (mostly spent in Scotland).

Those of us who are Christ Followers would be way ahead of the game, if, instead of railing against how our country has changed, and wasting time and energy trying to recreate the America of our past, would recognize we live in a different country; the one I call America 2.0, and treat it like a mission field.  (How’s that for one complex sentence? Grammar Police, beware! Oops, too late.)

If I understand my Bible, and I think I do, our citizenship is in Heaven. We are foreigners here, and don’t fully belong.  We are ambassadors of another Kingdom. We are here to promote the benefits of our home and encourage emigration from here to there (Remember, Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), and that Peter reminded us in 1 Peter 2:11 that we are ‘strangers and aliens in this world’).

There are going to be many uncomfortable encounters as our world views collide. We must stay focused on our task, sharing good news and setting captives free.  Paul reminds us in his second letter to Timothy that ‘a soldier does not get entangled in civilian affairs, but does his best to follow the orders of his commanding officer (4:2). Jesus’ Good News never changes, and sharing His hope and love is our singular mission. As men and women respond to Him, cultural, moral and even political challenges will work themselves out.

I urge the Church, to focus on people over culture shift, to keep the main thing the main thing. These things I’m suggesting are counter intuitive to what many of us have grown up believing related to faith and patriotism. I dare say, many of us, especially those of us on the social, political and religious ‘right’ side of the spectrum, have a hard time separating our Christianity from our patriotism. As a result, we lean towards conflating a ‘revival IN America’ with a ‘revival OF America’.  The culture that WAS America has moved away. Whether it was better or worse than this America 2.0 is of no consequence. The Church, if we are truly the Church, we were foreigners then, just as we are aliens now.

We used to sing a song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”  I’m challenging the body of Christ to return to that philosophy.  As I understand the Bible, it is by HIS stripes, rather than the stars and stripes, that we are healed.

I went to Scotland as a Christian Ambassador, not an American one. It was not my place to get involved in their political wrangling. It was my job to preach Christ and Him crucified.

As Christ followers, we are not citizens of America OR America 2.0. What good does it do when we are obvious foreigners to them? We don’t even speak the same moral, spiritual or political language.

It is my deep conviction that we would do a better job pointing the citizens of America 2.0 to the true freedom of the Kingdom of God, rather attempting to turn the whole culture of a country back to a system that didn’t work any better than the one they’re trying to create now.

If you’ll permit an overly simple analogy, there is very little value in telling people not to play with matches if they’re house is already on fire.  Our task, if you will, is to rescue people from the flames. We can worry about putting out fires, and fire safety after the rescue is completed.

The fact is, America has been replaced. We live in America 2.0.  I suggest that rather than fall in the waves in despair and anger along with Charlton Heston, that we delight in the pioneer opportunities of bringing God’s Good News to a brand new place.

 

Are Immigrants The American Church’s Greatest Untapped Outreach Opportunity?

World Map DarkI stood transfixed by the sensory overload as I was assaulted by the array of sights, smells and sounds of the open market. I had seen similar markets throughout the world, from Mexico to Mumbai, teeming with people of all ages as they searched for everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to rebuilt household appliances.

Looking around, I found myself standing next to a table overflowing with cockfighting DVDs, while the aroma of taquitos, empanadas and tamales tantalized my nostrils and the sounds of a myriad Spanish dialects flooded my ears with both spoken and musical words.

Like being suddenly awakened from a dream, it took me a few moments to adjust to my surroundings and realize that I was not in Mexico, or Honduras, or Bolivia, or Argentina or any of the countries my travels had taken me. I was, in fact, right here in NW Georgia, just a few miles from our little farmstead.

On any given Saturday, metro Atlanta provides an opportunity to visit, Jamaica, Nigeria, India, S.E. Asia, and a host of Latin American countries without ever leaving the I-75 corridor. The abundance of flea and farmers’ markets in our region can virtually transport us anywhere around the world. It’s like EPCOT without the outrageous admission fees. And I love it!

As someone who has spent much of my adult life as a Christian Missionary, or working for Mission organizations, I can’t help but see an opportunity for the Gospel that in most cases we are allowing to slip by.  So I thought I’d take a few moments and hopefully move it to the front burner.

Recently, David Platt, President of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, and author of the best-selling book ‘Radical’ announced that due to lack of resources, the FMB was being forced to reduce the number of personnel stationed around the world. I’m not a Baptist, but my heart still sank. The fact is, what’s true for our Baptist cousins, is true for the rest of the American Christian Church as well.

If we look under the covers, we can find several reasons why our ability to send more dollars and missionaries has been reduced, and someday soon, I’ll tackle some of those, but for now, I want to highlight a silver lining to our predicament. While we are being forced to cut back on ‘going’ and ‘sending’ (God have mercy on us), the world is coming to us!

Leaving aside the thorny political issue of illegal immigration, the fact is, millions of foreign nationals live in our communities with millions more on the way.  This influx provides the Christian Community with unprecedented opportunities for outreach and service.

Off the top of my head, I’m thinking our congregations could offer English classes, job opportunities, classes in how to find a job, basic literacy, how to budget and handle money classes. We could offer basic services like assisting a family to find housing or basic auto maintenance. We could assist these new arrivals in finding medical care. In fact, what if health care professionals in our churches volunteered time to serve these families in the same way we often go overseas to set up clinics? (Think, ‘Doctors without Borders’ who don’t need to cross boarders).

Perhaps we could begin offering worship and outreach services targeted at immigrant populations, or even planting Churches among them. (For the record and before some of you blow a gasket, yes, I believe in assimilation, but I don’t believe in waiting for that before reaching out with the hope and love of Jesus.). I can close my eyes and see a mighty army of world changers who already understand cultures and languages that would take American nationals years to learn, being sent out from our Churches to places we’ve never gone, or maybe never been allowed to go.

We have the world at our doorstep; and unlimited opportunity to serve in Jesus’ name. We don’t need mission boards or parachurch organizations to reach them.  Our opportunities will vary with the immigrant makeup of our own communities. Where my wife and I live it will be mostly Hispanic, but other places may be Haitian, Jamaican, Indian, Pakistani, Nigerian, Filipino, Chinese, or a host of other nationalities. All we need to do is open our eyes and hearts to discover ‘the fields are ripe for harvest’ right outside our windows.

Our colleges and universities are also home to large numbers of young adults from other places. Many of them are confused and lonely and could use some real friends, even if we do look and sound funny to them. I have been an immigrant, far from what is familiar, and know first hand how wonderful it is to be truly welcomed by someone in my adopted country. The Church should be leading the way in welcoming foreign students.

I don’t mean to bore anyone with a Greek lesson, but when we look at Matthew 28:19, 20 (The Great Commission) in the Greek we find the command is ‘Make Disciples’. ‘Go’, ‘baptize’ and ‘teach’ are participles describing HOW we make disciples. I have some great news, sometimes we don’t have to ‘Go’ very far.  Sometimes the world is no farther away than, well, the other side of our front doors.

Why The Command To Love Your Neighbor As Yourself Is So Hard – You May Be Surprised – Hard Teachings Part 2

SamaritanMat 22:39 The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’  (Good News Translation)

Somebody out there is shaking his or her head saying, “I don’t think I’d pick this verse out as one of the hard passages, Sambo. Challenging, yes, but hard?  I think just maybe that farm of yours has had you working too long out in the sun. Just sayin’.”

I totally understand that sentiment. Most sermons and lessons on this text are built around the, ‘as you love yourself’ part. And I get that.  Loving your neighbor sounds vague and nebulous as a stand-alone concept, but by adding, ‘as you love yourself’, it has depth and focus and raises the stakes.

In my opinion, focusing on that last phrase alone misses the mark. I want to spend a moment on the word ‘neighbor’, because I think that’s what makes this command so tough.

When we read those words, “Love Your neighbor…” it’s really takes some effort not to picture Mr. Rogers, in his cardigan, singing, as he changes into his slippers. ‘Neighbor’ is a good guy word. It’s safe. It implies proximity, barbecues,  connection, coffee, relationships worth investing in…or does it?

In Luke Chapter 10, after Jesus quotes this commandment, in verse 29 we read that one of the Jewish leaders asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?’  It is Jesus’ surprising answer that moves this teaching into the ‘hard’ category.

As an answer to this loaded question, Jesus gives an equally loaded response. This is where Jesus tells the famous story of The Good Samaritan. I have absolutely no doubt that the Jewish leaders were outraged when they heard the parable.

Unfortunately, 2000 years of time have separated us from the social and religious context of The Good Samaritan Story and it kind of loses some of its scandalous nature to our 21st century western minds. Please allow me to retell the story as Jesus might tell in in 21st Century Georgia.

“A guy was driving from Nashville down to Atlanta for a big Prayer and Worship conference, when he was mugged at the Georgia Welcome Center just south of Chattanooga on I-75. The poor man was pistol whipped, robbed, stripped, carjacked and left in the parking lot to die.

After a while, a preacher, headed to the same conference, stopped by to stretch his legs at the rest area and saw the man there in a pool of his own blood. He looked at his watch and said, “If I stop here, I’m going to get all bloody and will be late for my sermon. Besides, who knows what kind of guy this is.” Then he drove away.

A few minutes later, a couple of deacons who were also headed for the conference drove into the rest area, but when they saw the victim lying there, they got creeped out and just kept going.

By this time, the poor traveler has lost a great deal of blood, is in a lot of pain and is pretty sure he’s going to die.

Just when he’s about to give up hope, a young Middle Eastern Muslim man pulls up and sees him lying there. The Muslim immediately stops his car, gets on his phone and dials 911. Then while waiting for the ambulance, he does his best to tend to the man’s wounds.

Later, he follows the ambulance to the hospital where he goes to the window and speaks with the E.R. admissions team; “The person just brought in is very badly injured. He has no I.D. or money on him. There’s no way of knowing whether or not he has any insurance, so here.”

At that point, the Muslim stranger pulls out a wad of cash and lays a stack of $100 bills on the desk along with a business card. “If the cash doesn’t cover his bill, this card has my contact information. Call me, and I’ll take care of whatever you are still owed.”

When Jesus finished telling the parable, He looked at the horrified people and said, “Who do you think acted like the injured man’s neighbor?”

“I suppose the one who took pity on him”, someone murmured in reply.

“Exactly,” Jesus answered. “Now you go and do likewise.”

See why I say it’s one of the Bible’s hard teachings? It flies in the face of all our natural, national, religious, cultural and political instincts. But it’s precisely at this point, where our faith claims and the real world collide, that our allegiance to Christ is tested. Real life, real faith, is hard. It is messy and it is counterintuitive.

Remember this next time you want to scream, “Enough! Its time to get rid of those stinking _________, fill in the racial, political, religious, cultural, lifestyle blank.  Every drop of blood that dripped from Jesus’ crucified body was spilled for her/him/them, just as surely as it was shed for you and me.  He loves every single human being as much as he loves me. Wow!

Love my neighbor as I love myself? Man, that’s hard!