The Eyes of Jesus 7-22-2018

July 19th, 2018

A few months ago I watched the movie Forrest Gump for about the 10th time. I was really touched by the character played by Tom Hanks. I believe Forrest Gump could teach us a lot about relating to each other.
This unique person was able to see past all stereotypes and labels we lay on people. He was able to bypass all the games people play. In his own goofy way – he saw goodness, beauty, potential in each person he met. He had a special gift.
I believe Jesus saw people in a special way – I wonder, I just wonder – – if we looked at people today with eyes of Jesus, what would we see?
I. For one thing, I am sure we would see some invisible burdens.
Most people do not carry their heartaches in plain view. They bear them quietly, but they are there nonetheless. The couple in the car just ahead, maybe a father and mother, who are worried about their son. The woman in the super market may be concerned about her health, anxiously awaiting the doctor’s report. That elderly man may have recently lost his wife, a constant companion for more than fifty years. I do not recall who said it, but it is a wise word of instruction; “Be kind to each person you meet, because everyone is having a hard time.” Listen to this little poem:
“Pray don’t find fault with the man who limps and stumbles along the road, unless you have worn the shoes he wears or struggled beneath his load. There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt, though hidden away from view, and the load he bears placed on your back might cause you to stumble, too.”

II. He would also see some extenuating circumstances.
The critics of Jesus often thought he was too lenient in his attitude toward sinners. He came to the defense of a woman caught in adultery. How could he do that, when the Law of Moses clearly states that she should be stoned. He showed compassion toward a prostitute, who bathed his feet with tears and dried them with her hair. They wondered why he would allow a woman like that to touch him. He said to a dying thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” How could he say such a thing?” What right did a crucified felon have to a place in paradise? The difference between Jesus and his critics was a matter of insight. They saw nothing but the failure. He saw the pain and the problems that played a part in that failure.
When a marriage ends in divorce, it would be easy for you and me to be harshly critical. But before doing that, we would be wise to pause and consider. How much do we know about what has taken place in that home across the years? Could there be a long established pattern of abuse, totally unknown to the outside world? When we witness a breakdown of character that leads to public shame, it is easy for you and me to sit in judgment. But once again, we would be wise to pause and consider. No event in life is complete within itself. There is a story behind it. Knowing that story would not excuse the offense, but it well might cause us to judge less severely.

III. One final thought – looking at people through the eyes of Christ, we would see unrealized possibilities.
That is our characteristic attitude toward children. We look at little ones and think of all the things they might become. Jesus had that attitude toward people of all ages. He looked at a rugged fisherman, and saw in him the making of a spiritual rock.
Someone has said; “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Our Lord would heartily agree with that. “He saw a vast crowd, and he pitied them.” If we would look at people through his eyes, beyond all of their burdens and failures, we would see unrealized possibilities.
Let me leave you with this prayer:
Almighty God,

We, who have never known what it means not to have things we desire, need to feel the poverty and hunger and despair among
our fellow men and women.

We, who have felt nothing but the surge of youthful vitality in our body, need to understand what it means to be ill and unable to care for our self.

We, who have never stood alone in the crowd as odd or unacceptable need to sense what it means to be judged and rejected by the color of our skin or sexual orientation.

We, who have never experienced the desperation of a dependence on drug or drink, need to realize the hell of an addiction.

We, who have never really suffered or sacrificed or died, pray that we may become painfully aware of our brother’s and sister’s great need and that we may ache until we have reached out with honest help and compassion.


God’s List 7-15-2018

July 12th, 2018

Have you ever wanted to give God suggestions about how God ought to do things? Not earth-shattering suggestions, perhaps. Just simple things…like the foods we eat. Why not put all the vitamins and minerals in the tasty foods? Save all the fat and cholesterol for spinach and brussel sprouts.
God could also use some advice about the kind of people God calls to do his work. God seems to have this thing about calling very imperfect people. Certainly Abraham was imperfect. Why he once tried to pass off his wife as his sister. And Moses was imperfect. He once killed a man in a fit of anger. Then there was Samson. Look how easily he let a woman lead him. And then David. Adulterer. Murderer. Surely God could have done better. And Jonah – fleeing from God because he hated the people of Nineveh.
For that matter, I probably would not have chosen Simon Peter. Sure he ended up as a rock, but before that he was a wishy washy coward. And James and John. Always jockeying for a place of prominence.
Can you imagine a church board interviewing the prophet Amos!
“Now, Mr. Amos, let’s have a look at your credentials.”
“Yes, your credentials. Where did you go to school? What major theologian has influenced your thinking? Where were you first ordained?”
“Theologian?” “Ordained? Well you see, I’m a shepherd by background. I really haven’t had much formal training. I did work for awhile dressing sycamore trees, if that counts for anything. As for theology, I don’t know that any one person has influenced my thinking. But I’ve seen people cheated in the market place. I’ve seen widows thrown out of their homes. I’ve seen children sold for a pair of shoes. And God has told me it’s not right. God has called me to confront the doers of injustice in society and to proclaim God’s righteousness.”
“Sycamore trees? Righteousness? Well, Mr. Amos, Hmmm…we really were looking for someone with a doctorate. And we would prefer a ministry that was not confrontational.” Poor Amos. He wouldn’t have made it past the first interview. God just isn’t very good at choosing the kind of people who represent God…”Hum” – I wonder?
Pastor Jim Moore recalls when he took a course in pastoral care as a part of his seminary training. One day he was asked to visit a woman in the hospital who had lost her will to live; she had no cards or flowers, and she sat all day in a darkened room. But Jim was terrified. He felt that he was too inexperienced, and that he wouldn’t know what to do. And his nervousness affected his visit.
First he pushed the door open too hard and it slammed against the wall. Next he walked over and accidentally kicked the bed. He stammered, stuttered and said all the wrong things in between long periods of embarrassed silence. Finally he tried to say a prayer, but even that didn’t come out right. He left the room that day with tears in his eyes, ready to quit the ministry. He felt ashamed that this patient had needed him, and he had failed her.
But a few days later Jim went courageously back. Imagine his surprise when he found the woman sitting up in bed writing letters. Flowers and cards were everywhere. She recognized him at once, and began thanking him over and over for the visit he had paid her.
Jim was confused, because he knew he had botched the visit. He had done everything painfully wrong, and he confessed as much to her.
“But that’s just it,” she replied. “I felt so sorry for you! It was the first time I had felt anything but self-pity for months. And that little spark of compassion for you gave me the will to live. As followers, as disciples of Jesus our weaknesses are often blessings in disguise.
Former professional baseball player Roy Campanella, who was confined to a wheelchair following an accident, found an important resource in his faith. He had felt only anguish and despair immediately following the accident, and he spent many nights crying himself to sleep. He healed poorly in those first few months, and one day his physician came in and told him frankly that if he didn’t become responsible for his own healing, he would never recover.
Campanella knew that he would never leave his wheelchair. He knew that he would never play ball again. But he also knew that the doctor was right. All his life he had found help in his faith. And now, from the depths of his despair, he turned once more to the Lord. He had a nurse read him the Twenty-third Psalm, and from that moment, Campanella improved. He knew that God was on his side.
Sometime later Roy Campanella had an encounter with an elderly woman in Florida. He was sitting in his wheelchair at a ball park when he noticed a crippled, elderly woman working her way slowly up a steep ramp. She had braces on both legs and a crutch, but she struggled up the ramp until she reached him. Then panting from her exertion, she looked at him, and then took his hand in hers. And she thanked him for her life.
She had been a patient in the same New Your hospital when he was recovering form his accident. A stroke had left her paralyzed on one side of her entire body, and she had lost her will to live. But the doctors told her about Campanella and his courage and faith in the face of overwhelming adversity. She had been so inspired by the story that she determined to make the effort to live. And now she had traveled over a thousand miles to meet him in person and thank him.
Time after time we have seen people who were physically weak develop such spiritual strength that they have inspired others.

I close:
God seems to have this thing calling imperfect weak people – to be messengers. I believe God knows what God is doing! I wonder if any of us are on God’s list.

Too Good To Be True! 7-8-2018

July 5th, 2018

You’re just too good to be true! You have a great build and a sharp mind! You’re a snappy dresser and a smart looker. You’ve got all the credentials: sociable, sensitive, caring. You’re just too good to be true!
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you be thrilled and overjoyed if someone approached you and marveled, “You’re too good to be true!” That’s how the home folks put it when they heard Jesus teach in the synagogue that Sabbath. As he taught they whispered, “Who’s this guy? Where did he get all the smarts? How did he get the magic touch? He’s better than a chiropractor or a shrink!” They went bananas over him! They were so excited they tripped over one another to get a better look. And when they did?
Someone in the crowd gasped, “That’s that…ah…ah…Mary’s kid, you know, the Mary who takes in the wash!” And someone else chimed in, “Sure, that’s Mary’s kid. Her husband is Joe, Joe whatchamacallit? Their cousins live in the old shack a couple of blocks down the street from us.” Then do you know what happened? They stopped dead in their tracks, shook their heads sadly, and whined, “Too good to be true! We know where he comes from. He’s from the other side of the tracks. Oh, he put on a good show: he fooled us for a minute. We thought he was a real whiz – that he could teach all of us a thing or two. But now we know he’s “too good to be true!”
Too good to be true? What a turnaround! They were silly people back then, weren’t they?
Back then? Has anything really changed? (I hope so).
Someone says, “Hey, you’re intelligent, sensitive, caring. You’re perfect for the job but, uh, we don’t want women in this business. Tsk! Tsk! Too good to be true!”
Or, “My goodness!” You have impeccable credentials. We want responsible people like you living in our building. But, uh, there’s a little problem. Tsk! Tsk! The color of your skin! Oh well – too good to be true!”
Or, “Do you know how badly we need someone to teach these kids? You come with the highest recommendations. But, hmmm, you are one of them aren’t you? Too good to be true! See you!”
It doesn’t take much reflection to realize how our biases change our outlook on the world. First we are impressed with what we see and hear. Then the bias takes over and what we saw and heard we didn’t see or hear. Too good to be true! What are the consequences of bias in these situations?
Jesus’ townspeople lost out because if they had received Jesus into their lives they would have been enriched by his presence. Jesus lost too! He couldn’t be for them what he had intended, and this was his loss. Our biases prevent us from appreciating others’ gifts, which then inhibits them from developing these gifts. After all, without others appreciating our talents, we might not be motivated to develop them. “You’re too good to be true” is either others’ positive assessment of who we are or their dismissal of us altogether! Affirm or deny. The choice is yours.