Dear LIFEhouse Friends,
Some of my friends and people I love the most are Jewish…You know what happens when someone says something like this…
“O, no, here it comes…”
But, in my case I say this accurately because one of my closest friends is Scott Friedman, a Jew, and I also have daily conversations with a whole cohort of Jewish friends at my gym. Occasionally, we go to lunch and dinner together. As I have taught you, when you eat together you are more than an acquaintance. Then, there is one of my favorite women in the world, my sister-in-law, Shari, and my beloved nephew, Avi, and my amazing niece, Emma…All Jewish.
I mention all of this because I am a human being. I am naturally impacted when slaughter and murder affect those I am connected to one way or another. Just like, it is close to home for me and I pray for God’s mercy for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted and murdered in many parts of the world.
But, right now, we are all thinking one way or another about Jewish people after the recent despicable and malevolent slaughter of the innocent in Pittsburgh. We are grieved and, yes, puzzled, because something like this is so rare in the United States. Rare too, because other than Israel, the most welcoming country in the world for Jewish people to live in is the United States.
But, there are always people who do evil and dastardly things in life, including in our own country, and even more close to home, including in our own lives. In fact, at times, the evidence there is a devil can seem to cast a strong shadow over evidence in a loving God. But, if you are honest and observant, you will see that God always shows up in remarkably powerful ways.
So, what do we do? Well there is no “we.” We are all individuals and each has a story. My story includes being your pastor, your shepherd. I have the joy of being a shepherd of people who value me, people who are precious to me, whom I value. My friends, here are some observations I trust will be helpful.
How are we expected to live together spreading good? We all have moral values. Even when people say they have no moral values, that, in itself, is a moral value. So what are good moral values?
Here is what I know.
Here are my moral values.
I follow Jesus.
Frequently you have heard me give a definition of love from the biblical sense. Love is “to seek the good of another within your range of influence.”
We love something when we are devoted to its good or well-being.
It starts with God. Jesus said to love God with everything we have. That comes first. Then he said to love our neighbor as ourself. When we are obedient to our loving Father it is possible to love our neighbor as ourself.
Who do we love? For Christians, Jesus tells us to love each other. This becomes a model for the rest of the world.
Then he expands this when he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s brothers and sisters in the faith and others who aren’t followers of Jesus.
More specifically, your neighbors are those you connect with on a regular basis; those closest to you, beginning in your own household.
And, according to Jesus, before you love your neighbors, created in God’s image, you have to love yourself.
This starts with working for the good of another person who is created in God’s image. In other words, you. Working for your own good. Treating yourself with respect. Being responsible for caring for yourself.
To start with loving yourself means defending yourself against others taking inappropriate advantage over you. You are God’s precious sons and daughters, worthy of love and respect, and God is using you to change the world. You sacrifice your needs for the sake of others, but you also must learn to bargain for yourself so that you don’t end up being stepped on. In the long run this will only make you resentful, vengeful and cruel.
You need to determine how to act toward yourself so that you are most likely to become, and to stay, a good person. It is good for you to be good to yourself to make the world a better place. It is good for you to treat yourself like God wants to treat you. As his precious son or daughter.
A major step in becoming one of those who love their neighbors as themselves is to decide to live compassion. This is made possible by loving God first and seeking his Kingdom.
As we are filled with the power of love that comes from the Holy Spirit, we go beyond anything humanly possible.
Jesus tells us we can love those who hate us and he expects that out of us. Work for the good of those who work against us. You see, how different this is, than what is considered the way of the world?
Jesus makes it clear by saying these very things.
“Love your enemy.”
‘Ask God to bring good into the lives of those who persecute you.’
Now the world around us doesn’t necessarily understand what I have just written. For many today, everything is politicized. The way “politicized” works, is those who disagree with you are demonized and the enemy. This is clearly against the teaching of Jesus.
Lord have mercy on those who politicize everything.
The wisdom of Jesus is so much greater than anything anyone else could possibly teach you, especially if it is politicized. There is a vast difference between teaching wisdom and indoctrination. It doesn’t have to be that way and I know you, as my brothers and sisters, are working hard at not being that way.
Lord have mercy on those who seek to indoctrinate rather than seek wisdom.
Another challenge many people have in our society relates to Judaism. Though you know much of the history of the Jewish people from your studies and what I have taught you, many people have no idea what the Jewish people have gone through for about 4000 years. The history of the Jewish people is not well known.
Anti-semitism has always been a way of life for many, as it is today. In fact it is so accepted all over the world that in many places you can openly hate Jews, and you will not be called on it. For some of you, in your own lifetime, people could openly slaughter Jews and not be called on it.
Lord have mercy on those who hate Jews.
Continue to practice loving your neighbor; those who are near. Live out the ways of Jesus by working for the good of others within your range of influence. As you love, start close to home and personal. And pray for God’s continued presence as he expands that love more and more
Lord have mercy on us all,
16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!
With some of the original disciples it starts with doubt. Can you imagine?
They have lived with Jesus 24 hours a day seven days a week for the last three years. They have witnessed everything. The miracles. God speaking directly from a great hole torn out of the atmosphere connecting heaven and earth. They have seen a man die and then three days later, the same man come back to life, leave the tomb, and keep on going.
Now this man, Jesus, is leaving them. He is entering into the heavens to rule the universe. But before he leaves, he is giving them a final word of encouragement.
They see him, and they can’t help but worship him. This is God himself who has come as Jesus. But, then we get this strange phrase.
“…but some of them doubted!”
Now, what is this doubt? Some versions of the Bible translate this “lingering doubts.” Well if this means I don’t know everything about Jesus and God the Father and the Holy Spirit and how they want the world to turn out, then count me in. This means God is different than anything in the created order. Fair enough. I don’t know everything there is to know about God. In fact, I never will. So, what does that mean when it comes to sharing what I do know with others? It means doubt is not a reason to keep silent.
Once I say, “I trust in God” or “Jesus is my Savior,” everything else I say or do afterward is a witness to my trust.
So, it is not a choice as, “Will I share about Jesus with those closest to me?” I am sharing what I think about Jesus by how I am living my life. It is not possible to not be a witness for Jesus once I say, “I believe.” The only remaining question is, what kind of witness am I?
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Jesus invites us to go with him and bring his compassion to a world of need…
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My neighbor, those who are nearest me, can come from a variety of places. Likely this will be arenas of common focus.
Common Family- immediate household and extended family
Common Community- the neighborhood I live in
Common Interests- work, school, gym- anywhere that connects me to the same people on a regular basis
God shows up in a variety of ways in these venues…
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Jesus has a plan for his people to move out of building-focused faith. As a Christian, when you move out in the world around you, you are dealing with people that might not share your values, but get to see your values in action.
When you bring God’s presence working through you in neighborhoods, school, work, and other locations as a natural part of the rhythm of life, there is a much greater chance of sharing the compassion of Jesus with everyone and sharing the Gospel with those who are receptive.
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In the Bible, salt is a metaphor for friendship and faithfulness. When Jesus calls us “the salt of the world” he invites us to share the compassion and joy of God within us with our neighbors.
Everyone needs a little salt in their lives!
Including how to pray in one easy lesson…