June 11: Available to Those in Need

Read Luke 10:25-37

“I’m too busy.”  “I’m too important.”  “I have a pressing appointment.”  “He is from the wrong side of town.”  “His injuries are well beyond my first aid training.”  “Surely someone else will stop.”  “Maybe he is just pretending to be hurt.”  “Looks like he is bleeding!  You can’t be too careful these days.”  “Helping him may require a financial investment I can ill afford.”

I wonder what rationale the priest and Levite used as they passed by this beaten, battered, and bruised “needy neighbor.”  After all, they were the religious people.  They were the ones you would expect to demonstrate concern.  But, they had their reasons…whatever they were.  They didn’t stop.  Even if the man’s needs were clearly beyond the time, resources, or expertise they had, they didn’t send help in their place.  They just crossed to the other side of the path and likely pretended to not notice him.

But the one who got it right was the one we wouldn’t expect.  He was a Samaritan and the needy neighbor was a Jew.  These two had differences that went back generations…even centuries.  If you are familiar with the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s, you have a feel for the ways these two groups of people felt towards one another.  Their theological differences separated them significantly.  Those differences could have been reason enough for the Samaritan to make an even wider berth around the needy neighbor than his predecessors.  Nevertheless, the Samaritan…the one with the aberrant theological perspective felt compassion for the man.  He understood this neighbor thing.

You have probably noticed it too.  Many people without a heart for Jesus have a heart for people.  And, in some instances, they are more responsive…more available than those who claim to be Christ followers.  We should applaud that about them.  Even though all of mankind is fallen, there is still a marred, residual grasp of the image of God and concern for those who bear that image.

How much more accentuated should that be among those who know Jesus?!  How much more available should you be to the needs of those around you…starting with your family…and extending to others?!

Take note of those you may pass by today!

sbk

June 10: Available for Family

Read Matthew 19:13-15

Jesus is the Son of God, Creator of the universe, and the One who holds all things together.  As if that isn’t important enough, He stepped into the very world He created through the incarnation.  And during His earthly ministry, He taught and performed miracles.  He both gathered quite a following and created quite a stir.

People with even a fraction of His stature today would have a security force protecting them and booking agents limiting and capitalizing on their public appearances.  Not so with the Christ.  If He was anything, He was available to people…free of charge.

  • While the disciples wanted to chase away parents and their small children, Jesus said, “Let them come!”  (Matt. 19)
  • While others saw the Twelve as insignificant and unlearned men, Jesus intentionally chose to spend time with them (Mk. 3).
  • While the Pharisees complained about the way He spent time with those of reputation, He said, “You should be celebrating this!”  (Lk. 15)
  • While some tried to quiet a blind man calling out for help, Jesus turned and healed the man (Lk. 18).
  • While most Jews would have taken a detour around Samaria, Jesus passed through the region, reaching out to a woman in need of hope (Jn. 4).
  • In the end, Jesus was even available to a woman who reached out in desperate need of healing and touched His cloak (Matt. 9).

That same availability that Jesus demonstrated is something that you, as His follower, should also reflect.  Granted, you are likely a busy person with important responsibilities.  And, it is possibly true that there is neither enough of you nor enough time in a day allowing you to be available to every person for every need.  But make sure you are available for your family!  Make sure that your spouse receives your focused attention.  Give to your parents the honor that is due them.  Your children need face time with you.  And, beyond that, other relatives that are your own flesh and blood are deserving of your time.

Paul uses strong language to describe those who are not available to their families:  “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  (1 Tim. 5:8)  Ouch!

Family, here I am!

sbk

June 9: Peak Times for Availability

Read Deuteronomy 6:1-25

It had been 4 decades of wandering, 40 years of anticipation, more than 14,000 days of walking, waiting, and watching.  Finally, the people of God were just a river’s width away from the land God had promised them.  In spite of the years of preparation, still there was much to do…or rather much to say.  Deuteronomy represented Moses’ last instruction before they would cross the river and his own final words before he would die.

If they heeded Moses’ words, they could expect

  • Generational faithfulness (v. 2a)
  • Longevity (v. 2b)
  • Ease of living (v.3a)
  • National growth (v. 3b)

But the starting point for all of those appealing benefits were individuals and families.  Individuals were to personally love God with pervasive devotion.  And then, they were to share the truths of God in the natural ebb and flow of life.  This biblical teaching was to be impressed on, talked about, tied to, and written on…  In other words, find every possible way you can to communicate it to those around you.

Not only was it to be communicated in every possible way, but it was also to be communicated in every possible timeframe.  That requires availability.  The specific times referenced in this passage represent critical timeframes of family life.  Ones that you can capitalize on for family connection and instruction.  Do you take advantage of them?  Do you seek to be available at these important times?

“When you sit at home…” Meal times can be a valuable time to get the family together.  Do you try to aim for one meal a day or on several days out of the week when everyone is at the table?

“When you walk along the road…”  Travel time brings together a captive audience in close proximity.  With modern technology, this can be a time where every family member is doing his/her own thing with a cell phone, iPod, and earbuds.  Or you could take a few minutes of technology break for meaningful conversation.

“When you lie down and when you get up…”  Morning time and bed time also represent critical connection time for you…especially with young children.  You can develop important routines that include Bible stories and prayer.

Bottom line, your availability, particularly at critical times of family life is important!

sbk

June 8: “Onebelievable” Agreement

Read John 17:1-26

On the night prior to His crucifixion, Jesus prayed.

Oh, yes, most people know that.  In fact, many could even almost cite some of the words of His prayer:  “…may your will be done.”  That prayer was in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was uttered just prior to His arrest.

There was still another prayer.  This one was longer.  It came earlier in the evening.  It took place in another location…somewhere between the Upper Room and the Garden.  And it had a different focus.  This prayer, the one you read in John 17, is often referred to Christ’s “High Priestly Prayer.”  It is His longest recorded prayer, and it gives us insight into His priorities prior to His crucifixion.  The prayer is divided into three important sections…each with its requests.

  1. Christ’s prayer for Himself (vv. 1-5).  Jesus asked the Father to restore to Him the glory that they had shared in eternity past.
  2. Jesus prayed for His disciples (vv. 6-19).  He asked the Father to keep them in His name…and to keep them from the evil one.
  3. Jesus prayed for all future Christ followers (vv. 20-26).  He prayed that they would be one.

(Insert pregnant pause here.)

You see the significance of that third prayer focus don’t you?  Jesus was praying for believers of every generation and location.  He was praying for believers who call Grace home today…and for those at the church down the street, around the corner, on the other side of town, and half way around the globe today.  And His prayer was for unity.  Agreement.

This isn’t an agreement that discards differences.  Instead, it is one that weights their value.  Do they lie at the core of the gospel?  Our devotion to Christ?  The integrity of the Scriptures?  Those are high value.  Are they more on the fringe?  Do they have more to do with methodology?  Yes, we may hold to those with good reason, but are those differences ones that should result in name calling and suspicion?

I hope you noticed what is at stake.  Christ’s prayer for our oneness was rooted in part in His desire “that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (v. 21).

sbk

June 7: Legal Disagreement?

Read 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

We disagree with others at various levels and with various responses.  Some of our disagreements seem to be over trivial things and we are able to just dismiss them from our minds and move on.  At the other end of the spectrum, however, are those seemingly HUGE disagreements at the core of who we are.  These are the ones that cause us to put our boxing gloves on and start swinging.

It is that latter type of disagreement that Paul addresses in today’s reading.  Believers were experiencing that kind of dispute with one another in the Corinthian church.  That happens, you know.  I have observed it and I am guessing you have too.  There are disagreements about joint business ventures, about services rendered, about payment due.  There are disputes over possessions and properties, about wills and inheritance.

What should two believers do when they experience that kind of dispute?  Thankfully, those in Corinth were not donning boxing gloves and entering the ring.  But neither was their hiring of lawyers and entering into courtrooms the proper course of action either.  This public display of Christian conflict was to their shame.  This judgment granted to unbelievers was contrary to God’s plan.  It would have been better to just swallow hard and be cheated and mistreated.

Now, if/when you experience disputes at that kind of level…disagreements that can neither be overlooked individually nor resolved together…the right course of action is indeed to invite the involvement of others.  But make sure that the right “others” are included.  Seek out godly, impartial, discerning people from the body of Christ, who are able to help you find solutions.  Allow them to do more than to weigh in through opinions and suggestions.  Up front, give them the permission to be directive in next steps.

Don’t forget that unity in the body of Christ is of such importance that Jesus prayed for just that in some of the last hours prior to His crucifixion.  He prayed that we would be one (Jn. 17:20-23).  This unity is one of the strongest evangelistic tools at our disposal.  When it is missing, we must take right steps to restore it!

sbk

June 6: Help in Finding Agreement

Read Philippians 4:1-23

Each generation that opens the Word of God has the privilege of discovering those, like Paul and Timothy, Ruth and Naomi, who together accomplished great things.  The descriptions of the Scriptures have caused many to offer to these dynamic duos hero status.

And then, there are Euodia and Syntyche.

The only biblical reference to these two is one that describes them as unable to get along with each other.  They were unable to agree and their disagreement was known to others.

Now before you place them alongside of evil people like Pharaoh of Egypt in the days of Moses or next to Judas in the days of Jesus, take note that there are some positive things said about them.

  1. They were believers.  Paul describes them as among those whose names were recorded in the Book of Life (v. 3).  I am sure that you realize it, but I will state it clearly:  disagreement happens even among followers of Jesus!  You are not immune to it.
  2. They had been active servants of Christ.  Earlier, they had worked right alongside of each other and of the apostle for the gospel’s sake.  Again, it is obvious, but even passionate servants of Christ can experience disagreement.

But, unfortunately, positive Christian testimony is damaged when people are aware of believers that cannot get demonstrate agreement…both in the family and in the church.  And disagreement is contrary to the plan of God for His children.

So what do you do if there is tension with someone?  What do you do if it seems that you just can’t see eye to eye with another believer?  Paul encourages the two to take action.  He pleads with both of them individually to take the initiative.  If you wait for the other person…whether family member or fellow Christian…to make the first move, you may wait a long time.  Show some initiative in your pursuit of mutual agreement.

Meanwhile, Paul also encourages the involvement of a nameless person he refers to as his “true companion.”  This third party was to offer Euodia and Syntyche help in finding common ground.  Don’t be afraid to invite someone to help you sort through or mediate your differences so that you can experience the unifying agreement God desires.

sbk

June 5: Are You Able to Relax in Disagreement?

Read Romans 12:9-21

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  (v. 18)

When it comes to family life (not to mention all relationships), the above verse is one of the most important you and I can seek to apply.  It is simultaneously a call to activity and a call to relaxation; a call to do and a call to wait.

Peace is the goal towards which the Spirit of God is directing us.  His desire is that we experience peace with everyone:  peace with a spouse, peace with children, peace with parents, peace with siblings, peace with grandparents, peace with extended family members…peace with everyone.  Peace is much more enjoyable than tension.  Being able to converse with another person is preferable to avoiding him/her.  Having a real smile in an encounter is better than one artificially pasted on.  God wants genuine heartfelt concern rather than the fake, “how are you?” when we don’t really care.  Peace is the goal.

With that as the goal, God calls us to activity.  We are to do everything we can to pursue peace.  When tension, conflict, and disagreement arise, we are called to action.  What will that look like?  It could be any number or combination of things.  Give up the avoidance.  Let the other person know how much you were hurt.  Apologize for what you said.  Forgive from your heart.  Those are just a sampling of possible responses.  The key, however, is that you do your part.  Don’t necessarily wait for the other person to make the move.

But then here comes the relaxation part.  When you have done all that you know to do…all that you can do…all that the Spirit of God prompts you to do, you can put your head on your pillow in peace.  Words like “if it is possible” and “as far as it depends on you” make clear that there is more to experiencing family peace than just your response.  You cannot control how a family member responds to your peacemaking efforts.  When you have done your part, you can wait, pray…and relax.

With whom do you need to take action?  Are there relational tensions, where you, having done all that you can, need to stop trying to control and start to relax?

sbk

June 4: Kind Disagreement

Read Acts 15:36-16:5

I have to admit that I was initially reluctant to direct our attention to this passage.  After all, our focus this week is on the value of agreement in your family and in life in general.  Unfortunately, what plays out in the Scripture reading today is exactly the opposite.  It is not just a difference of opinion.  No, Dr. Luke (the author) describes it as “sharp disagreement.”

Although Paul and Barnabas were both committed to the mission, they were unable to find common ground on the method.  Should they include John Mark as part of the ministry or not?  Joseph, nicknamed Barnabas or “Son of Encouragement,” felt strongly about it.  Perhaps by his very makeup, he was able to see John’s future potential and what could be developed.  He wanted to take him along.  Paul, however, had deep convictions too.  He remembered the past.  Vivid in his memory was the day when John, on missionary journey #1, had just up and left, abandoning them.  He couldn’t imagine including him this time.

Rather than experiencing unity, the two were miles apart on this issue.  Rather than heading out together, they parted ways.  Yes, the ministry was multiplied, but their hearts were divided.

So what tipped the scale?  Why did I encourage you to read this story?  Well, it is very possible that you have a relationship or two in which you have experienced something similar.  Here comes the lesson for us.  Even though Paul wrote voluminously…more than a dozen letters…and though he regularly reflects on ministry past, missionary journeys, challenges, and people, not once did he bad mouth either Barnabas or John Mark.  On the contrary, Paul, in the book of Philemon, refers to Mark as a “fellow worker” (Philemon 24).  And in the last days of Paul’s life, as he is fully aware of the imminence of his death, the apostle said, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”  (2 Timothy 4:11).

In those relationships from your past where you have experienced disagreement and even a parting of the ways, have you seen it as your mission to spread a bad report about them?  Until the day that you experience reconciliation, can you determine to not verbally destroy them before others?

sbk

June 3: Agreement and a Peace Mission

Read Matthew 5:1-48

Don’t underestimate the serious nature of the tension and disagreement that you experience with others.  It could lead to murder!

Now, don’t roll your eyes and dismiss the idea that you would do such a thing because…

  • You don’t even own a Nerf gun
  • You lack the physical strength to overpower the family cat
  • You are a gentle person who doesn’t even swing at mosquitoes
  • You would never wear even the smallest amount of orange, let alone risk wearing a jumpsuit comprised only of that color

No, according to Jesus, each one of us has the capacity to commit murder through our inappropriately expressed emotion of anger and our insulting words uttered in frustration (vv. 21, 22).

But though we have the capacity to commit anger, we should, instead, seek to have relationships characterized by agreement and peace.  Do you have relationships…possibly even in your family…where a mission of peace is necessary?

Jesus does more here than point out the extreme value of such peace missions.  He also reminds us of the urgency of such missions.  We should seek to settle these relational tensions “quickly” (v. 25).  Resolution of relational tensions should trump even our worship (vv. 23, 24).  To the worshiper who brings an offering, Jesus says to drop the gift and first reconcile with the one with whom he/she is at odds.  Is there a tension that you know exists, but you have been content in saying, “Yeah, I know.  Someday that will have to be addressed.”?  Why not today?

So, Jesus has spoken to the priority of relationships where people get along.  He has reminded us of the urgency of reconciliation. There is yet one final thing worth noting…the one initiating the mission of peace.  Many people operate with the thought, “If they have a problem with me, it is their responsibility to come to me.”  While that is certainly consistent with passages such as Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus also points out the responsibility of the one who knows that a brother has something against him/her (v. 23).  In an ideal world, the two will meet each other in the middle, both pursuing peaceful agreement.  Even if the other person doesn’t initiate it, you can/should!

sbk

June 2: Agreement Over the One Who Unites Us

Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-31

I have observed it often.  Perhaps you have too.

Tensions between so-called Christ followers can be as thick and ugly as those between people who claim no relationship to Jesus.

Those tensions sure were thick in Corinth.  It seems that believers there had rallied around specific spiritual leaders.  There were the “Paul-ites,” the “Apollos-ites,” the “Peter-ites,” and then the “Christ-ites.”  To be sure, each of those leaders had his gifting, his strengths, and his emphasis.  Perhaps it was Paul’s evangelistic fervor that some appreciated.  For others, it may have been the apologetic gifting with which Apollos taught (Acts 18:24-28).  Peter had been commissioned by Jesus Himself with a shepherding responsibility (John 21) that resonated with others.  As a result, people with similar appreciation apparently gravitated towards one another…and away from the rest.

Each of those camps had become like moons circling different planets.  Somehow, they had lost sight of the fact that they were all in the same solar system, orbiting the same sun…or, better said, “Son.”   They had forgotten that their ultimate allegiance was to Jesus, and, in so doing, had splintered the body of Christ.

That was the backdrop for Paul’s admonition to “agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (v. 10).  The thick and ugly tension that was causing a prideful choosing of sides had no place among believers.

The encouragement for us today is no different.  This instruction was not localized in geography or limited in time.  In fact, the very address of the book makes clear that this teaching is not only for “the church of God in Corinth” but also for “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 2).  This is teaching for genuine believers.  While there may be nuances that separate us, we must also remember Who it is that unites us.  While there may be things over which we may disagree, we must remember that we do agree on the person and work of Christ.

Is that easy?  No!  Can I tell you exactly how to make it happen?  No!  Welcome to the holy tension of remembering what you agree on while knowing that there may be significant areas that you see differently.

sbk