Who is my neighbor?

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If I were to ask you, Dear Reader, what is a good Samaritan, I am confident that many would relate the parable Jesus told that has come to be known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

In case you need a quick refresher, here is my synopsis: Jesus, in response to the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ tells this famous parable. In it a man traveling the 16 miles between Jerusalem to Jericho is robbed and beaten as he traveled. A priest and a Levite, see the injured man and deliberately pass by on the opposite side of him, not giving any kind of help to someone who clearly needed some.

Then comes our Samaritan, a social outcast in this setting, who lends what would have been life-saving assistance at the scene. He then transported the injured traveler to an inn, where he pays in advance for the care the injured man will need as he recovers.

Jesus used this parable to get his questioner to think about who exactly is a neighbor. When the man answered that it was the one who showed mercy, Jesus told him he was correct. But He also told him to go and do likewise.

As I mulled this over today, Luke 10:25-37 was part of my daily bible reading, I too got to thinking about just who is my neighbor. The answer is not as straight forward as I might want it to be. Oh, there are my next-door neighbors; the elderly couple with the seemingly countless grand kids and on the other side the married couple with two young daughters. Across the street is another older couple and a single mom of 2 teenagers. These are my neighbors. We are all on friendly terms and make ourselves available to help one another as needed.

This seemingly fulfills what Jesus is saying, but only to a point. Being ‘neighborly’ is important and should be done with a glad heart, but if it is as far as I take the question of who is my neighbor, it is terribly short-sighted.

If I am to be obedient to the teaching of Jesus in this regard, I must take a much broader view of who my neighbor is. Clearly, Jesus wants each of us to consider all others as a ‘neighbor,’ especially when someone is in need.

Being a good neighbor in the context of what Jesus is teaching is to have the willingness to give of yourself to help another. Under the Lord’s direction, there is no room at all for social bias or injustice. Both the priest and the Levite in the parable were duty-bound to help, yet they passed on the other side of the road, ignoring the need simply because they did not want to get their hands dirty on someone who they felt was beneath them.

The good neighbor in this parable cut through all the layers of dislike, distrust and disdain and simply rendered assistance.

 I would like to think that if I were in there instead of the Samaritan, I would have stopped to help as well. But being honest, I know that the perceived tightness of my schedule has caused me to join that priest and Levite in passing by a need from time to time. Typing these words makes me cringe at my selfishness and I ask God to forgive me of my hard heart. And while I am asking of the Lord, please also prevent judgment to worm its way into my mind.

With this now fresh in my heart, I am confident that should I come across someone in need to today, I will offer assistance. That is right and good of course, but I believe there are still things I can be doing for others even if I do not happen upon someone who has been robbed and beaten. In other words, I can be pro-active in helping out.

For example, there is a soup kitchen here in town that is always in need of volunteers. I also know of a home-bound person who may need a prescription picked up today. Perhaps there is another person that I know is struggling with loneliness. Today is a good day to call to say “Hello, I am thinking of you today.”

My point, to both me and you, is that there is plenty of need out there. We do not have to look to long or far to see it. May I encourage you to be a Good Samaritan today. I believe that when Jesus said, “Go and do likewise,” He included us in that direction.

I would love to hear how you have been moved to help others or perhaps share a unique way others can reach out to fill needs.

Thanks so much for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

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As Jesus walks toward Jerusalem for the last time, He asks His disciples a question that is still relevant for all today: “”Who do you say that I am?”

Click on this link to hear the ‘studio version’ of the message I preached on this question this morning

Thanks for listening. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

You got the job!

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Can you remember your very first job interview? If so, do you recall the feelings that it inspired? I would be willing to wager some of the common ones were: Nervousness, outright fear, and uncertainty, to name just a few.

Then when it was finally over, came the wait, which produced more questions than answers. Did I get it, when will they let me know? If the wait dragged on, then came the inevitable doubt about how you presented yourself or your qualifications.

Thanks for taking this quick stroll down memory lane with me. Now that I have got those feelings stirred up, forget them. As followers of Christ we automatically get the job! The difficult part is not in getting the assignment, rather it is in the carrying it out.

I am speaking about the task(s) God would have us undertake once we have accepted His Son Jesus Christ as Savior. If you would, please read Matthew 25:14-30 for the basis of what I propose today.

The verses mentioned above contain Jesus telling the parable of the talents (a talent was a measure of monetary value). This parable is one in a series the Lord was telling in answer to the question of when He will return to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Jesus has already made it known that no one on earth can know the day or hour of His return. Instead of wasting time worrying or wondering when this will be, Jesus teaches that we should be about our God-given task so that no matter when He returns, He will find us ready for Him.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus explains that God gives us responsibility in this work according to the abilities He gives us. The first two servants are given 5 and 2 of these talents respectfully. Each man then goes to work at multiplying what has been entrusted to them. After a long time the Master returns. He is overjoyed that these two servants have done so well with what he has tasked them with.

It is the person who received only one talent that I can best relate to. In the parable he concocts some lame excuses for avoiding what he has been requested to do by simply burying the talent in the ground. When he is approached by the Master, he is rebuked for his poor attitude and unwillingness to use what had been given him to further the master’s business.

I was headed in a similar direction. From very early on in my Christian life I had been encouraged by my many folks to consider using what God had given me and enter full-time ministry. I heard things like, ‘You have a pastor’s heart,’ and, ‘I find you very easy to talk to.’

My response at the time to these obviously mis-guided people was ‘thanks but no thanks. I have too much on my plate at this time.’ I would then list the many things that I had to see to. This would quiet those well-meaning voices for a time, but none of my excuses could ever completely still the One that kept tugging on my heart.

These days, I am ever so grateful that God shows abundant patience with me. When I finally gave up rationalizing my disobedience away and embraced the talent God had given me, my life has been put on the path that I now know was the one God had planned for me.

Like the two who took what the Master gave them and went to work for him, I too have been invited into my Master’s joy. And yes, like in the parable where the obedient servants were then given more responsibility, I have more these days as well. As I remember who it is that tasks me in this way, and that He makes available to me all I need to accomplish it, the joy is on-going.

My last bit of advice on this topic is that you embrace what God gives you to do immediately. Don’t put it off. There are blessings to be had, both by you and those you will encounter. And even if you were not to realize a single blessing as you undertake your Kingdom call, you will have the deep satisfaction in your soul that you are simple being obedient to God’s greater plan.

Lastly, there will be no better place to be than at your God-given assignment should He come back to settle accounts today. I realize that some folks work best under a looming deadline and in the workday world that might be ok. Not so in the all-important call that God gives you. Grab and run with it today! As you do, may you find the indescribable joy that comes from knowing you are right in the middle of God’s will for you!

Be blessed and be a blessing today,

Pastor Chuck.

Four ‘Soil’ Conditions in One Heart

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I remember a homework assignment from the 6th Grade. Our task was to ask our parents what they knew of our family history, particularly what nationalities we had in our bloodlines. The purpose was to better understand the ‘melting pot’ that has made up our society as we studied the impact and influence of immigration on American culture.

Fortunately for me, both my parents had a passion for where their families had come from and had a wealth of information for me. The combination of my mother and father basically made me into four parts: English, French, Irish and German.

Having four parts becomes a wonderful segue into what I’m writing about today, the four types of soil Jesus mentioned in the parable of the Sower found in Matthew Chapter 13.

Actually, saying there are four types of soil is incorrect: there is only one mentioned by the Lord, though it is represented in four different ways. I had the opportunity to preach a message on the Sower last Sunday evening, and I thought I would share some of what I said with you, Dear Reader.

I have taught/preached on the Parable of the Sower in the past, but the wonderful thing about God’s word is that it is truly living and active (Hebrews 4:12). Each time I ponder it for discussion, Holy Spirit tends to show me something I had not noticed before.

This time was no different in that regard. I have often thought of the four soils Jesus mentions as being separate and distinct from each other. This time, I was reminded that God made the soil (earth) way back in Genesis Chapter 1:9-10. After His work on the third day of creation, God declared the land ‘good.’ One soil, good at creation, now having been affected by the circumstances of the fallen world around it. Jesus then describes it in the following ways, a path, rocky, weed infested and finally good.”

Much as I am the product of four nationalities in my physical make-up, if I am to be honest with you, I must admit that all four ‘soil conditions’ can be present in my spiritual life at any time.

In the parable, Jesus describes the first three as being unable to support the healthy and spiritually vibrant life God wants to sow into each of us. The Lord describes this first as a path. I ask: was it always a path? Had been beaten down by years of being tromped on? Remember, Jesus used parables to help us see and learn things. This picture allows me to see where my heart has become spiritually hardened, having allowed circumstances and troubles to take away its suppleness. In this condition, the goodness of God bounces off, gaining no penetration, just like the seeds did on the path. I must be aware of and looking for any places in me that are becoming hardened. Snap judgments and a lack of empathy are indicators of a hard path developing.

The second soil condition mentioned in this parable is rocky. Here, Jesus said, the seeds fell and germinated quickly but because of the many rocks, there was not enough soil to sustain the seedlings life. The soil was too shallow. For me, becoming shallow is a constant threat. As a ‘fixer,’ if I hear of a problem, I want to dive in and correct it. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I must be careful to treat each opportunity more holistically. More often than not, addressing a symptom is not the only remedy required. To look into something more deeply, however, requires me to spend the time and energy to do so. When I don’t, I am more like the rocky soil Jesus mentioned. May we never be so shallow as to not allow the richness of God and His word dwell and grow in our hearts, especially as we are called to minister to others.

The next problem addressed by Jesus is that of weed infestation. He mentioned that the cares of life and the pursuit of the deceitfulness of wealth can choke out the word He wants to sow in us. I have never had trouble seeing how worry can do this. I have struggled with this all my life. I worry about a thing, usually running through my mind all the possible negative outcomes of whatever it is I am mulling over. The old saying often applies to me: Worry is the interest we pay on things that never come to be. Worry is all about me! I have taken the focus off the greatness of God and put myself in His place. It’s as if I’m saying what I have going on is beyond His ability to help with. That is some weed-infested thinking! It is no wonder I flounder in my spirit when I am cultivating that kind of crop.

The deceitfulness of wealth works much the same way. Either I am distracted in my pursuit of more of it or worried about how I will maintain what I have. Both of these lines of thought are again supremely selfish, as I once more put myself in the very middle of the universe.

Jesus saves the best for last, however! He says that some seed falls on good soil where it produces an abundant crop for the kingdom of God. Earlier I mentioned that all soil was good at creation. This tells me that God knew/knows what He is doing! In my case, and hopefully yours as well, He has used the events and circumstances of life to till our hearts into soft and plant-able ground to be used for His purpose. The parts of my soil (heart) that are good are because of His tender care, not because of anything I have done. My part is to be aware of what He is up to, and then to simply ask for His guidance to make even more of the soil that is me to be pliable in His hands.

The Sower, God, spreads only good seed. Though some falls on places that will not receive it or allow it to grow, you and I can, through humble obedience to His will, be a part of the abundant crop Jesus describes! I pray we all have a long and healthy growing season!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck