Monday, September 24, 2012

September 23, 2011 - Spiritual Gifts - The Three R's - Compassion

Luke 10:25-37

Do you remember the first time you told someone I love you?  Not a parent, a child, or a sibling, but someone you were dating.  You were probably very nervous, weren’t you?  I vividly remember the first time I told Tanya I love you.  We were in the courtyard of Hart Hall, the dorm where she lived at Milligan College.  I was really, really nervous.  Not because I doubted what I felt, but I worried she didn’t feel the same way.  What happens if you tell someone I love you and their response is okay; thanks?  That would be discouraging, wouldn’t it?

What happens if love has no expression?  What happens if love is not made visible in any kind of way?  Love, to be love, has to pass from one person to another person.

As we continue our study of spiritual gifts we are moving to our final category of gifts – Redemptive gifts.  Redemptive gifts are those that make a redemptive, or life-changing, difference in the life of another person.  The redemptive gifts are – compassion, giving, miracles, healing, and faith.  Today we will study the redemptive gift of compassion.

For our text we turn to the well-known passage in Luke that is the parable of the Good Samaritan.  We are using the NIV, which uses the word pity in verse 33, where other translations use the word compassion.

The setup for this parable is very important.  A man who was an expert in the religious law comes to Jesus one day and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus tells the man he is to love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

In response to what Jesus tells him, the man does a typical legal maneuver – he begins to get into a discussion over the legal definition of terms – and who is my neighbor, he asks.  You can hear the haughtiness in those words – oh yeah?  And just who is my neighbor?  The man was seeking to evade his responsibility to be compassionate towards others.  There are certain people he doesn’t want anything to do with, so he tries to hide behind an evasive legal tactic.

The man knows that when Jesus uses the word neighbor he’s not simply talking about the people that live next door or down the street; he’s talking about everyone, including those he doesn’t want anything to do with.

1.  Compassion is love made visible.
It’s important for us to define compassion.  I think we generally think of compassion as an emotion, such as empathy or sympathy.  But compassion, in the Biblical sense, is something far deeper than empathy or sympathy.  Compassion, the way Jesus defines it, is putting love into action and stepping directly into the lives of others to work on their behalf to bring a positive change to those lives. The way that love is expressed is through compassion.

This is what the Samaritan did for the man who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead along the road.  When the Samaritan saw this injured man, he demonstrated compassion; that is, he did something about his condition.  Compassion is love with hands and feet.  Compassion is taking love out of the theoretical realm and putting it into the practical reality of everyday life.  Compassion is not just saying the words, but putting those words into action.

We often use the word moved.  We might say I was moved by that song or I was moved by those words.  Moved is a great word to use, because it is an action word.  Moved is a verb.  It means we are touched deeply by the condition of another person and we are literally moved into action.  Compassion begins in the heart, where we are moved by the plight of another, but it is not true compassion if it remains in the heart.  Compassion must move from the heart to the hands and feet, making a difference to another person.

 2.  Compassion is entering into the suffering of others.
Did you know there was no word in the Greek language for compassion?  The writers of the gospels had to make up a new word for what Jesus was seeking to communicate.

Interestingly, the word compassion means to suffer with. Now, right there is a problem.  We expend a lot of energy minimizing suffering, so why would we want to enter into suffering?  Because it is the way of Jesus, to put it quite simply.

In our time, one of the great examples of entering into the suffering of others is certainly Mother Teresa.  Working with the poor and destitute of Calcutta, India, Mother Teresa devoted her life to bringing help, in the name of Christ, to the poorest of the poor.

Not everyone can be Mother Teresa, but everyone knows someone who needs us to step into their lives, and into their struggles.

Jesus told this man to go and do likewise.  He wasn’t going to let him off the hook.  Jesus pushed this man to go and be compassionate to others.

3.  Compassion is what brings healing to our suffering world. 
It’s a hard world in which we live.  It’s a tough world, and it seems to be getting tougher.  It takes a lot just to take care of our families and ourselves.  Who has the time, energy, and resources to worry about others?  Sometimes we don’t believe we do, but that is the calling of Jesus.

It would be far easier, I suppose, to protect ourselves from the suffering in the world.  It would be easier to guard our hearts, but entering into the suffering of others is what brings the hope of healing to our suffering world.  Compassion takes the risk of being involved in the lives of others, of walking with them through their pain and struggles, and doing so means we make ourselves vulnerable to their pain.  But this is exactly what God did in Christ – he became one of us to walk with us through our struggles, and our pain, and our difficulties.

The compassion of Jesus would not leave people to their difficulties and troubles, but reached out to them, in spite of the difficulty. 
How much easier life would be to withdraw into the safety and seclusion of our own lives, but how much poorer is the world when we do so.

One of my favorite movies is Places in the Heart.  The movie features Sally Field, Danny Glover, John Malkovich, Ed Harris, and other great actors.  It is set in Texas in the 1930s, and opens with the song Blessed Assurance sung by a church choir.  Sally Field’s character is married to the sheriff, who is accidently shot and dies.  She has two young children and must try to keep their home and farm.  She struggles to raise a crop of cotton and puts together an unlikely collection of helpers.  They face almost every imaginable obstacle, and there is a lot of heartbreak along the way.  Time doesn’t allow me to go into all the plot developments, but everything culminates in the final scene, which takes place in a church sanctuary.  The minister is preaching from I Corinthians 13, while the members of the congregation are sharing communion.  What’s interesting is seeing the congregation as the camera pans down across the pews.  There are some characters who had been enemies, now seated side by side, sharing the bread and the cup.  And the final two characters on camera – both of whom had died during the course of the movie – were now seated next to each other on a church pew.  It was the sheriff and the young man who accidently shot him, sharing together the bread and the cup, and the final words of the film come from the young man to the sheriff – peace of God.

It’s a beautiful scene, where people are brought together through the power of love.

Our world is not going to improve on its own.  The suffering of people will not go away without action.  It is compassion that will heal our world.

Monday, September 17, 2012

September 16, 2012 - Spiritual Gifts - The Three R's - Assisting

Matthew 25:40

When I was in seminary I had the opportunity to serve as an interim Student Minister in Lawrenceburg.  After the year of being an interim I spent another seven years as an Associate, and greatly enjoyed my ministry there.  During my interim year, I worked with Dr. James Cox, who was serving as the interim pastor and chaired the preaching department at Southern Seminary.  Dr. Cox was very gracious to me and was a wonderful mentor.  As we traveled between Louisville and Lawrenceburg we had a lot of time to talk and he taught me a lot about writing sermons and preaching.  He even taught me it was okay to be nervous.  One Sunday evening, just before worship began, he was showing me something in the program.  I noticed that his hand was shaking a bit and asked him Dr. Cox, do you still get nervous before you preach?  Surprisingly, he said yes.  Dr. Cox had written numerous volumes about preaching and had preached all across our country and in other countries, and yet he was still nervous about preaching at a Sunday evening worship service.  That made me feel a lot better!  I still remember one of his sermons.  Dr. Cox preached that everyone has everyone has their personal Bible.  Our personal Bible is not a particular translation or edition, but one that we put together in our mind, and that Bible contains our favorite passages.  In that sense, a personal Bible is something that is very positive.  We ought to have passages that our meaningful to us and that we turn to on a regular basis.  But the negative aspect of having a personal Bible is we leave a lot out, and perhaps we leave some passages out of our personal Bibles because they are difficult and challenging.  Today’s verse is a tough one to include in our personal Bible.

In the passage from which this verse comes, Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells of the final judgment, which, in these verses, is based upon how people care for one another, in particular, those who are hungry, thirsty, in need of shelter or clothing, sick, or in prison. 

This is a very action oriented passage, much like James 2:14-26, which says, What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.  Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?  For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

As we continue our series of messages about spiritual gifts, this morning we come to the gift of Assisting.  In our present day and age, it is a gift that is much in demand.  The challenging economic conditions of the past several years have left many people struggling, and in great need.

A recent study by the U. S. Department of Agriculture revealed that a growing number of Americans are now “food insecure,” which means they do not have enough food to adequately feed their families.  The study did not, unfortunately, receive much media attention.  I heard a passing mention of it on a news program and had a difficult time finding many references to it on the internet.  Talking about difficult times is, evidently, difficult.

Our church receives an increasing number of calls asking for assistance.  I assume other churches have noted this increase as well.  In growing numbers, people are turning to churches in search of help in making ends meet.  We do not, unfortunately, have the resources to meet every request that we receive.
The requests are rising because greater numbers of people are slipping into poverty.  The face of what some call the “new poor” is one many of us would recognize – they are our friends, neighbors; maybe even the person we see in the mirror.

In order to face the challenge of these increased needs, I believe it is important that we –

1.  Partner with other churches and organizations. 
This month I start a term as the leader of our local Ministerial Alliance.  I have two goals that I really want to stress during my term, and I would appreciate your prayers about these two areas.  First, it is my goal to increase the participation in the Ministerial Alliance.  I don’t know how many churches there are in Shelby County, but only a fraction of them are involved in the Ministerial Alliance.  As I’m out driving around the community I take some time to stop in at other churches to invite the ministers to come to the meetings.  I’m trying to increase the involvement to help with the second goal, which is getting the churches to work together to meet the needs of our community.  As Disciples, we emphasize unity between churches, and I believe that it’s important not only because it is a part of our heritage, but it is the only way we can make an adequate response to the needs that surround us.

There is no need for us to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to helping others, and there is certainly no reason to “go it alone.”  I am very grateful for what our congregation does, but I think we can multiply our efforts by joining with others.  There are ministries and organizations in our community doing great work, and we should join with them in their efforts.  The Open Door of Hope Men’s Shelter, led by Lee Bean, is doing great work.  We have members of our church who prepare meals each month.  Last week Henrietta Hardin spent the night sleeping in a box as part of an effort to raise funds for the shelter.  At the beginning of the evening Lee Bean introduced a man who was a desperate alcoholic living in a cemetery.  Through the work of the shelter he was sober and preparing to start a new job.  Operation Care and CASA are two more of the ministries, and there are others doing very important work.  Can we offer volunteer and financial resources to help them in their work, and in doing so expand the ministry of our own congregation?

2.  Speak on behalf of those who are struggling economically. 
Like many of you, I watched a good deal of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.  I heard a lot of talk about the middle class, but not much about the poor.  There were some words used by both parties that alluded to those who are struggling, but it’s difficult to win an election talking about the poor.  As God’s people, recognizing the value of every individual and knowing the mandate given by Jesus to care for “the least of these,” we should speak up for those who have very few political champions.

Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets often reminded those in power of the importance of caring for the poor.  Ezekiel, speaking about the city of Sodom, says that city’s sin was this –  This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:49).  That’s not how most people think of Sodom, is it?  Ezekiel is very blunt about the failure of the people of Sodom to care for the poor.  Isaiah says Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58:6-7).  Deuteronomy says Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land." (Deuteronomy 15:11).  We could go on and on with references from the prophets.

3.  Keep these words of Jesus in front of us.  
These words are a powerful reminder to the important work to which we are called.  As we are in the midst of election season, we must remember that a great deal of politics is about self-interestwhat are you going to do for me?  But as Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:4, each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Those words are in antidote to the rampant self-interest of our day and remind us not to forget others.

I was told years ago that one of the first lessons a minister must learn about serving a church is to pay the rent.  This person said you have to learn to pay the rent every month and once you’ve paid the rent you can pursue the things you would like the church to do, but pay the rent first.  What he meant by paying the rent is this – find out what people expect of you and meet those expectations.  To put it even more bluntly – learn what makes people happy and work to keep them happy.

I’ve been in ministry a long time, so I understand why someone would make such a statement.  And I understand that keeping people happy makes life easier.  But I would like to do more in life than simply pay the rent.  Wouldn’t you?  And wouldn’t you like to know that our church is doing more than simply paying the rent?  I think it would be a tragedy to one day sum up my life by saying, what did I do with my life?  Well, I paid the rent.

Keeping these words of Jesus before us is a guarantee that we will do more than simply pay the rent.
We need the words of Jesus in front of us so we don’t get lost in our own lives.  All of us face difficulties in life, and at times those difficulties are very stressful and very challenging.  When we have those times the temptation is to withdraw into our own lives and overlook the suffering that is in the world around us.  Jesus draws us ever back to the need that is in the world.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

September 2, 2012 - Spiritual Gifts - The Three R's: Teaching

Acts 11:19-26

For several years I’ve been teaching one class period per week at the Highlands Latin School in Louisville.  It’s been an interesting experience for me.  It’s a Christian Studies class, and there are three grading terms.  I ask my students to write a paper each term and in the final term I require them to read one of their papers to the class.  They don’t like that very much, but I think it’s good for them.

My first year teaching I spent a lot of time grading the first term papers.  I tried to measure each paper against what I thought was the student’s ability.  One of the young ladies was a very good student, but I gave her a B for her first paper.  I didn’t think it reflected her best work.

The first day of the second term I began the class by talking about the papers, and immediately, the young lady’s hand shot into the air.  Dr. Charlton, she asked, are you going to be more fair when you grade our next papers?  I noted that she was making more of an accusation than asking a question, but asked why she thought I was unfair.  Because you gave me a B, she said.

I don’t think she would say I have the gift of teaching.

As we continue our series on spiritual gifts, we are continuing with the gifts that I’ve placed under the heading of Revelatory gifts.  Revelatory gifts are those based on something God reveals to us – a flash of insight or some measure of knowledge that comes from God rather than from our own understanding.  Two weeks ago we talked about wisdom, which I presented as a way of life.  Last week was knowledge, which deals with how we think.  Wisdom and knowledge, in the spiritual sense, are about much more than what we know. 

The same is true of the gift of teaching.  The spiritual gift of teaching is more than just presenting facts and information to a room full of students.  The spiritual gift of teaching is the ability to present spiritual truths to people.  We teach in several ways.

1.  By Word.
Does anyone remember their third grade teacher?  My third grade teacher was Mrs. Marsh.  While I know that the lessons she taught our class are buried somewhere in my brain, I can only remember one specific thing she ever said to me.  One day my friend Ronnie Crupe and I were walking out of the room, to go out to recess or lunch, and Mrs. Marsh stopped us and asked us to wait for a moment.  After the rest of the class had left the room Mrs. Marsh told us I hope to see the two of you when you are grown, because I know you are going to grow up to be fine young men.  Now, my suspicion is we were bad that day and it was her way of trying to instill some good behavior in us.  But I’m not sure.  I do know, though, that the fact I can remember those words all these years later is testimony to the power of the word.

Teaching is done by word, and the words we use can teach different things.  Mrs. Marsh chose words that were a very powerful affirmation of my friend and me.

Our Scripture reading for this morning tells us that Barnabas and Paul – who at this point was still called Saul – spent a year in Antioch teaching those who were new to the Christian faith.  It was important to teach about Jesus and his teachings and what that meant for their lives.

Ironically, in a society that values education so highly, in churches we seem to be losing our way a bit when it comes to teaching by the spoken word.  Most people are now connected to a church through worship, and while that is important we are less connected to teaching through the spoken word.

A couple of years ago, after my home church had called a new minister, I asked my mom how’s the new minister doing?  She had a hesitation in her voice, so I asked her what is it that you don’t like mom?  Her answer was very interesting.  She said he doesn’t really preach.  He gives Bible studies on Sunday morning rather than sermons and they are not the same.

I thought that was a very interesting observation.  A sermon and a Bible study are two very different things.  I approach preaching differently from how I approach a Bible study.  A Bible study is more of a teaching time, where you can ask questions and answer questions, where you can go into far greater detail, where you can have a discussion.  A sermon is more of a broad-brush stroke.  There’s not enough time to go into details in a sermon and so it’s not really designed to be a teaching time in the same way as a Bible study or a Sunday School class.  So be sure and sign up for the Bethel Bible study class I will be teaching on the Old Testament!

2.  By Deed.
While the spoken word is important in teaching, so is our personal example.  We teach by word but also by deed.

Faith is more often caught than taught goes the old saying, and many of us have learned a great deal about faith simply through the observation of others.  We often refer to faith as a walk.  We call it a walk because it is a way of life, faith coming alive in the way in which we live and in the observation of the lives of others we learn a great deal.  Luke tells us in our Scripture reading for today that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26).  The name first used for the followers of Jesus was actually those who followed The Way (Acts 9:2 and 22:4).  It was a way of life.
Paul wrote at least two letters to Timothy.  In his first letter to Timothy, in chapter one, he says I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also (I Timothy 1:5).  Lived – it was something observed.

When I was an associate in Lawrenceburg back in the ‘80s I taught a Sunday School class called the TEL Class.  TEL stood for Timothy, Eunice, and Lois.  The class members were a group of ladies who were the oldest members of the church.  They were a great group to teach, although I’m not sure what I really had to offer to them by way of teaching.  I learned far more from them than they could have learned from me.  To listen to their stories and to observe the manner in which they lived their lives was tremendously influential to me.

When Paul writes to Timothy and mentions the faith of his mother and grandmother, he is acknowledging the powerful influence of a person’s life and character upon others.  Timothy lived a life of faith because he observed the importance of faith in the life of his mother.  His mother lived a life of faith because she observed the importance of faith in her mother’s life. 

3.  Our words and deeds become a living testimony to in teaching about faith.
I have done a lot of funerals over the years, and I am often called upon to officiate at funerals for people I have never met.  I do my best to talk with the family to gather some information about the individual’s life so I can personalize the message.  It’s surprising that sometimes people have nothing to say about the person.  Maybe it’s the shock of the moment, but sometimes people just sit there and struggle to come up with anything to say about the person’s life.

That’s a difficult moment to experience, and it’s made me think about how others would summarize my life.  I certainly hope it wouldn’t be difficult.

Someone came by the office this week and had a copy of an obituary printed in the Courier-Journal.  I made a copy of it because of one line that was so unusual.  It sounds odd to say, but we had a great laugh over this obituary.  It remained on my desk for a couple of days and I eventually picked it up and read the entire obituary.  The person had obviously written it himself, before passing away, which is not a bad idea, actually.  I’ve written my own funeral message and it’s called Now That I Can Say What I Really Think.  Do you want to know who gets mentioned?  And how?

Listen to what this person wrote, with a few edits I made – It’s been a wonderful life, but it is time to say goodbye.  I was born on July 12, 1942…My body died on Tuesday, August 22, 2012.  These are the highlights of my life, my wife…my four children.  Their spouses are the easiest I reared and I love them very much.
My next highlight (and this is the part that struck us as odd, and we assumed it is an “inside” joke) is my unintelligent, homely, and untalented grandchildren.
Next are my dear sisters…I want to say a special thank you to my friends of over 50 years…
I want to speak of all my aunts, uncles and first cousins who nurtured me as a boy.  I want to remember St. Polycarp which was the Camelot of parishes.  My widow and I cannot afford to list all their names.
My job resume:  The dairy home delivery business, that taught me you can come to work at 2:30 a.m. and be in a good mood.  The Human Relations Commission (professional and fun-loving co-workers), Pharmacy tech, driver…I cannot leave out the community of St. William’s warm and peace loving people that weekly rejuvenated my commitment to Christianity.  It is because of this family, co-workers at these jobs and other jobs, and our cadre of couple friends that I can say the most important thing for you to remember is IT HAS BEEN A FUN RIDE.  Amen, thanks, Dan (Courier-Journal, August, 2012).

What will your life teach others about you, and about faith?  Someone is going to summarize my life, and your life.  What will our lives teach?

August 26, 2012 Spiritual Gifts - The Three R's: Knowledge

Colossians 2:1-6

I am sorry to admit that for a lot of years I was not a very serious student.  I was not a serious student in high school or college.  I had four semesters of Greek in college, and for each of the first three semesters I received a grade of D-.  My final semester I received a D.  My professor was Dr. Henry Webb, a great teacher, and I probably frustrated him since I wasn’t a very motivated student.  At the end of my final semester of Greek I thanked Dr. Webb for giving me a D, saying Dr. Webb, I appreciate the D you gave me in Greek.  I know that was a gift.  Dr. Webb replied, Oh no, you earned that D, but those D minuses were gifts.

Knowledge has not always been my specialty, unfortunately.

Last week we studied the spiritual gift of wisdom.  In that message I spoke about wisdom as a way of life.  This morning, as we continue our study of spiritual gifts, we come to the gift of knowledge. 

In comparing wisdom and knowledge last week, I said knowledge is a collection of facts and information, which is probably the primary way we would define knowledge.  Knowledge means we know a lot of stuff.  Knowledge is important, no doubt about it.  In this day and age, a quality education and the accumulation of knowledge is of critical importance.

I believe it’s important to know as much as we can about Scripture and theology and the history of the church.  But when we speak of knowledge as a spiritual gift, we are talking not so much about having a lot of information in our minds as we are talking about the way we think.  Jesus said we ought to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37 and Luke 10:27).

Wisdom deals with how we live, but knowledge deals with how we think.
Whether we know it or not, and whether we want to admit it or not, our thinking is not as independent as we often believe.  Our thinking is shaped and molded by a combination of influences, and the aim of the gospel is not only to transform how we live, but to transform how we think, because how we live is in direct relation to how we think.

This morning I want to offer three areas where faith should reshape the way we think –
1.  The way we think about God.
2.  The way we think about others.
3.  The way we think about ourselves.

1.  The way we think about God.

I was watching a TV program a few years ago that featured about four or five people discussing various topics and the discussion turned to God, and specifically, what is God like?  One of the guests described how she perceived of God and another guest turned angrily to her and berated her for believing she could describe God.  No one can really describe what God is like.  But then, concluding his outburst, he said, God is in here (pointing to his heart).  How does one denounce another person for describing God while describing God in the process?

You can’t contain God in language, and that is why Jesus is central to our faith.  Jesus is God incarnate, as one of us, as a real flesh and blood person.  The way we think about God was forever changed because of Jesus.

The heart of our faith is Jesus.  It gives us not something, but someone, to point to and say that’s what God is like.

Jesus often found himself in conflict with the religious leaders of his day because he presented an image of God that they could not accept.  The image of God presented by Jesus was in conflict with the commonly presented image that God was a stern judge, distant and cold in his dealings with humanity.  Jesus presented God’s grace and unconditional love.

2.  The way we think about others.

I’ve decided to give up something – I no longer read the comments on web pages.  Do you ever read some of those?  Wow, there are some people with some real issues out there!  You can post a comment about loving kittens and people bring out the knives to chop you up!

As much as Jesus was criticized for the image of God he presented, he was criticized more harshly for the way he dealt with others.  Jesus dealt with others by loving them, regardless of who they were.  The religious leaders of the time were very exclusive, and refused to relate to many people.  In contrast, Jesus embraced any and all who crossed his path. 

His love and acceptance of people was scandalous to those who wanted to pick and choose who was worthy of God’s love.  It is this characteristic of Jesus that remains so well known, in particularly by those who are outside of the church.  While many people view the church as full of people who are judgmental, they see Jesus as one who is loving and free of judgmentalism.

Central to the ministry of Jesus was the completely radical love and acceptance of people – even enemies.  We have heard the verse about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek so often that it’s easy for those words to lose their impact.

In his essay The Burden of the Gospels, Wendell Berry tells the story of Dirk Willems, a Mennonite who lived in Holland in the 16th century.  In 1569 Willems was under a death sentence as a heretic and was fleeing from arrest, pursued by a "thief-catcher." As they ran across a frozen body of water, the thief-catcher broke through the ice. Without help, he would have drowned. What did Dirk Willems do then?

Was the thief-catcher an enemy merely to be hated, or was he a neighbor to be loved as one loves oneself? Was he an enemy whom one must love in order to be a child of God? Was he "one of the least of these my brethren"?

What Dirk Willems did was turn back, put out his hands to his pursuer and save his life. The thief-catcher, who then of course wanted to let his rescuer go, was forced to arrest him. Dirk Willems was brought to trial, sentenced and burned to death by a "lingering fire."

3.  The Way We Think About Ourselves.

When people come to me for counseling, I always tell them a few things as we begin.  One of the first things I say is that I am by no means a professional counselor.  Counseling is not my gift, so I try to remember to listen as much as possible.  I often find myself talking too much, and then I remind myself – Dave, be quiet and listen.  I am not revealing anything about any counseling sessions, so don’t anyone worry about where I am going with this; I’m simply going to make an observation.  What I observe over and over when I listen to people is this – it’s not really the circumstances that are so hard for people to overcome.  People deal with a lot of difficult circumstances – heartbreaking circumstances.  Those circumstances come and go, but what is difficult is what those circumstances do to the way people think about themselves.  The circumstances leave a residue of defeat that can be imbedded incredibly deep in the heart.  It causes people to think they will never again be successful, or loved, or happy.  They hear a voice deep in their minds that convinces them they don’t deserve any blessings in their lives, and they live bound by those beliefs.

Jesus, so often in his ministry, reached out to those who needed to think differently about themselves.  Zaccheus, rejected by an entire community, but embraced by Jesus, and taught that he could be someone with so much to give.  The woman taken in adultery – we don’t even know her name – still shaking at the fear of being stoned to death, when Jesus reached out to her and said “where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  “No one, sir,” she said.  “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared.  Imagine the power of that moment.

Some people cannot accept the gift of love and grace.  Some, perhaps because of their upbringing, believe they are not worthy of the love and grace of God.  A demanding and demeaning parent may have instilled the idea that God has a similar personality, and convince them that nothing they do would make them loved by God.

Paul writes in Romans 12:2 do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind – allow God to renew your mind, and thus your life, today.