The Opportunities I Don’t See
“Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain . . . a funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son. . . When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion” – Luke 7:11-17 (NLT)
I like this story because it shows how Jesus sees opportunities when others don’t even know He is there. It also shows Jesus is prepared to meet the needs of those around Him, and is even looking for people He can touch. And that’s where this story starts to bother me.
I sometimes think I took too many psychology classes in college. One of the primary teachings among counselors is you cannot help a person unless they want to be helped. And for the most part, this is true. Some people do not want help, and trying to help them anyway ignores Jesus’ teaching about throwing our pearls towards pigs and our sacred advice to dogs who will only bite us back for our efforts (Matthew 7:6).
Still, Jesus saw the opportunities to minister when they presented themselves. Even though the widow may not have known who He was, and may have thought He was just another face in the crowd, Jesus knew this was a divine moment. The widow never begged and groveled and tore at the hem of Jesus’ garment, pleading with Him to raise her one and only son from the dead. Nevertheless, Jesus stopped the procession and ministered to them both.
When you read the Gospels, you’ll see numerous times Jesus seemed to be on the lookout for opportunities to show His love for people by His actions. Continue Reading
“It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have” – 1 Corinthians 12:11 (NLT)
For many people, the Christmas (or Chanukah) season is their favorite time of year. The time spent with family, the abundance of favorite foods, and of course the opening of gifts all make this holiday special.
When I was a kid, I was so keen on getting gifts I would often peel back the wrapping paper to get a peak at what was underneath (and I’ll bet you did, too). After all the gifts were unwrapped, I would head outside to gather with my friends and compare gifts which, in Southern California, inevitably included a few new bikes, a skateboard or two and usually one remote-controlled car. However, it seemed to me that no matter how cool my gifts were, there was always some other gift my friends had that I envied. I guess they felt the same, because we usually ended up playing with the other person’s gifts more than our own.
What bothers me is how often I have this same attitude towards the gifts the Holy Spirit has wisely given to me. Instead of enjoying and showing gratitude for the gifts God graciously gave me, I find myself desiring “other” gifts – gifts I see in people that I, with self-proclaimed omniscience abounding, deem more successful than I am. I figure if I had their gifts then I, too, could have what they have: house, car, job, published book, prestige. You know, all those items that are destined to perish. But by doing so, all I’ve really done is whine, tell God I don’t like my gifts and, in a not-so-subtle manner, suggest He made a mistake. Continue Reading
“I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” – Luke 1:38
This is the scene: Some time after the betrothal of Joseph and Mary, but before they consummated the marriage, the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that God chose her to give birth to the long-awaited Messiah.
This is the question: “How this is possible, since I’m a virgin?”
This is the answer: “The power of the Most High will overshadow you, so the baby to be born will be called the Son of God.”
This is the consequence: According to the Law in Deut. 22:23-24, death by stoning for adultery. According to Gabriel, the birth of God-with-Us.
This is the response: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
This is what bothers me: I don’t know if I would have been as brave as Mary.
She Kept On Not Leaving
“A prophetess, Anna. . .was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day” – Luke 2:36-37
I’ve been preparing for a series of Christmas sermons, and one of those will be on Anna, the prophet who saw the child Jesus at His dedication in the Temple. All day this one particular phrase has bothered me– “she never left the temple.”
Here’s a woman who has been a widow for more years than I’ve been alive, yet she never left the temple. She never fell away or became faithless. She could have given up on God because she was a widow after only seven years of marriage, perhaps feeling neglected by God and society. She could have turned her back on her religion because life wasn’t turning out as she hoped. She could have shouted, “It MUST be someone’s fault. I’ll blame it on God! That’ll teach Him.” But she didn’t. She chose never to leave the temple.
In the Greek language this literally means, “She kept on not leaving.” She wasn’t too lazy to head for the door; she intentionally and actively engaged in not leaving the presence of God. Have you ever had a visitor to your house who “kept on not leaving”? Continue Reading
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. Hebrews 11:8
Abraham’s patient obedience is starting to irk me. He did not own any land, nor had he personally received any as an inheritance, but lived as a tent dwelling nomad, moving from place to place. He waited twenty-five years to see the son God promised him, and never really possessed the land God said his children would inherit.
I keep wondering how Abraham could remain so patient in his obedience. We live in a society that grows impatient if it takes too long for the coffee to brew in the morning, much less wait four hundred years for escrow to close on our new property. Still, Abraham went to Canaan possessing nothing but faith. He didn’t know where he was going, didn’t have a house when he arrived, didn’t own any land to build upon and didn’t know anybody who lived there. It kinda makes you wonder why he would go in the first place.
However, Abraham “when called . . . obeyed and went” (vs. 8). The phrase “when called” translates an action indicating a quick response. In other words, while the call of God was still ringing in his ears, Abraham was packing his bags and moving west.
When was the last time I obeyed the word of God while the sound of His instruction was still ringing in my ears? Continue Reading