The Paperclip Award

220px-One_red_paperclipThe paperclip is only thought of when nothing else will do. Years ago we awarded one person each year The Paperclip Award, a paperclip. The award criteria was simple. A paperclip was a person who, though often in the background, could always be counted on for just the right word or act of encouragement at just the right time.

I don’t think we realize just how much and how often people need a paperclip – they need encouragement. There is never a lack of people around us who seem to delight in offering despair!  But a good encourager is hard to find.

Even in the best of times life can be overwhelming and living in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic for over a year now is hardly the best of times. It is easy to despair of making a difference and to lose hope.  It is easy to become so self-absorbed with our own needs that we forget to think about what other people need.  I don’t think we realize just how much some people struggle to get through each day.  People need encouragement to make it – they need a paperclip!

In his book Winning Life’s Toughest Battles Dr. Julius Segal quotes a report from the National Institute of Mental Health that says

“Many of our daily conversations are actually mutual counseling sessions whereby we exchange reassurance and advice that help us deal with routine stresses.”

We all need our hearts uplifted.  We all need hope and encouragement.  Paperclips make it their purpose to offer encouragement and hope to others; it drives them.  How different would our relationships be if being encouraging was our motivation?

Author Muriel Anderson says that four of the most important words in her life are “Of course you can.” She says that her father always knew how to say those words at exactly the right time.  She had a dream of being a writer and had begun to try her hand at writing articles, hoping maybe the local newspaper would publish them.  She was thinking of all reasons why it couldn’t, and probably wouldn’t happen.  She was young and inexperienced; the local paper was on a tight budget; they rarely bought freelance material.  She told her father, “I doubt I can get this article published.” He said, “Of course you can.” And she did — this is what launched her career as a writer.

Those simple words from her father were enough to encourage her to keep trying. Her father was her paperclip!

Being a paperclip really is that simple. Look for ways you can encourage people.  Chances are there is someone close to you who needs a good word from you. Maybe it’s your “significant other” or a friend or a someone at work or a classmate.  Start thinking: “How can I be their paperclip?

  • As a parent I can tell you that no matter how old you are (I’m as old as dirt!) your parents need a paperclip every now and then.
  • As a son I can tell you that no matter how old you are your children need a paperclip every now and then.
  • As a brother I can tell you that no matter how old you are your siblings need a paperclip every now and then.
  • As a husband I can tell you that no matter how old you are your spouse needs a paperclip every now and then.

Adopt the paperclip motto of Mother Teresa, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”

The paperclip. When you need to bind pages of paper together nothing else will do. Most of the time the paperclip sets on the desk or hides in a drawer, ignored until needed. But when needed it never disappoints.

And The Paperclip Award in your life goes to…

Continue reading “The Paperclip Award”

The Marble Maze

It is January 1, 2020. The first day of a new year and a time of making resolutions. I make the same resolution every year: to better integrate what I believe and what I practice.

Back when the iPhone was a novelty it came with a game called The Marble Maze. In order to get the digital marble to fall into the digital hole you had to get it through a digital maze by tilting the iPhone back and forth and getting things lined up just right. Integrating faith and practice is very much like playing the marble maze game. I’m an academic at heart. I love teaching. I love new ideas and chasing their implications. But I’m not the stereotypical ivory tower academic. I think ideas really matter and I especially think what I believe should determine how I live. But, like getting the marble through the maze, integrating faith and life takes awareness, commitment, focus and adjustment. It takes a lot of tilting to get through the maze of life with an integrated faith and practice. This frustration is nothing new.

Jesus, in the book of Revelation, said this to the church in Ephesus: “I know your works, your toil and patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles, but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (emphasis added).

Apparently the Ephesians aced doctrinal orthodoxy (they could tell false apostles from true) and excelled at hard work, but they had lost their first love. It is a bad thing to know what we believe, but to practice it without love.

Which is better – to believe the truth or to love our neighbor? Neither! It is a false choice. Faith and practice should be integrated.

We live active lives. But just concentrating on our actions can make us shallow. Time pressures us to live by what’s expedient. Faith provides the corrective by reminding us that the quick and easy action is often the wrong action. Knowing what we believe matters to the way we live and people are starved for it.

Ephesians 4:24 reminds us that we are to: “clothe [ourselves] with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness.” It’s easy to focus on the word “righteousness” and turn this verse easily into a teaching on moral character. Instead let’s ask ourselves what it means to be created “according to the likeness of God?” To answer that the natural question that begs to be answered is “Well, what is God like?” It seems that by exploring the nature of God (theology), we can begin to see what God expects of (and is doing in) a believer. The deeper our understanding the less likely it seems that true righteousness is a list of qualities that roughly matches our notion of a righteous character, working to realize that list of qualities, and calling it good. We love the simplicity of lists. We love the tangible, the workable. Unfortunately, I just don’t think Ephesians 4:24 yields itself to a simple workable list. It reveals a much deeper truth.

The very image of the Godhead is being restored in me/us by the grace of God. That image in us somehow involves a mutually interactive community of agape love within the Godhead. Thinking about having that image restored in me makes me think about not just my individual righteousness but the righteousness the my communities. Then the “payoff” question comes: Does my faith community reflect the image of God? Is that image being restored in us? Can anybody see it? Can we?

In the end, if our beliefs do not pierce our hearts, they are pretty useless. But when they do pierce our hearts they restore our souls. We must ponder our beliefs for them to pierce our hearts. Pondering is a kind of mixed activity. It’s more than prayer, but prayerful. It’s more than study, but studious, slow, reflective. It’s meditation in the classic sense of the word.

If you’re not pondering your beliefs like this now, the beginning of a new year is a good time to begin. Join me in the quest to integrate faith and practice.

The Holidays can be Lonely

If the holiday season goes from joyous to lonely, well, join the club. Loneliness is epidemic in our society and for some the holidays just makes them feel more alone than ever. There are lots of reasons for this but in this post I’m going to focus on some “biblical therapy” from Psalm 25.

The Psalmist David was often a truly lonely man. When this emotion overwhelmed him he counterintuitively reaffirmed his belief that the Lord is worthy of his trust: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.” This lonely man reaffirms one fundamental thing. He is unequivocally convinced that the Lord is worthy of his trust. Almost. Immediately he adds “Do not let me be put to shame,”

 Allow me paraphrase that for you: “Don’t let me be embarrassed, Lord, by the fact that I trust you. Plenty of people look at my circumstances and say, ‘Where is your God?’. They’re going to delight in the opportunity to increase my loneliness, Lord. Do not let me be embarrassed. Don’t let me down.”

He next affirms his belief that the Lord shows the way to those who are willing to follow:  “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me our paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” He firmly believes that the Lord guides into truth all those who are willing to learn. He is absolutely convinced that the Lord delivers from trouble all those who trust him. Yet in this dark night of the soul, as St. John of the Cross would describe it, he has to remind himself of these things because the darkness comes flooding in. Strong emotion, if we’re not careful, can cause us to lose sight of what we truly believe.

He next affirms that the Lord is merciful: “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.” He believes the Lord is merciful because he’s proven himself over and over and over again in the past.  David is a member of the covenant people which means he understands that God has chosen Israel to be his unique people. God chose Abraham. God chose that out of Abraham would come a people for himself through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. He took an initiative and established a covenant with these people, and he had been merciful to them. He also know that the Lord’s mercy does not mean instant gratification. Israel became slaves in Egypt, but the Lord led them out – after 400 years.  Israel crossed the Red Sea only to wander in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years, but the Lord provided for them. The Lord brought Israel into the Promised Land and defeated all their enemies. The Lord gave them riches they didn’t earn. He gave them bountiful crops they had not planted. The Lord proved himself merciful over and over again – on his timeline not theirs.

So in the dark night of his soul, in his loneliness, in the intense inner turmoil of his heart, David reflects on the fact that God has proven himself merciful. This is what we have to do. 

David also affirms that the Lord will give forgiveness to the repentant.  I find it interesting that when he’s consumed with loneliness, when he’s distraught, he becomes concerned about the sins of his youth: “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.” I have no doubt that he’s confessed these things many times and realizes the damage they have done to his own life. He’s come before the Lord and sought the Lord’s forgiveness for them. But in the dark night of his soul, the Evil One is reminding him of these things. And he prays, “Lord, remember not those things. As far as the east is from the west, remove my sins from me.”

When we’re down, the devil is no gentleman. He’ll kick us. One of the ways he kicks us is to remind us of all the things we impulsively did in our youth. Even if we’ve confessed and been forgiven for them all, Satan will go on dragging them up. He’ll whisper, “The reason you’re in this fix is because of all the bad stuff you did in the past.”

Jill Briscoe, a Christian speaker and writer, recounted this imaginary conversation with the Lord: “Lord, do you remember that awful thing I did?”

God said, “No.”

She said, “Lord, you absolutely must remember this.”

The Lord said, “Listen, you are perfectly free to go on remembering that. I have chosen to remember it no more.”

And that, of course, is what forgiveness is all about. David is being convicted of past sins. Satan is making him question the Lord’s mercy.  He prays, in effect, “Please assure me at this time of my intense inner turmoil, of my loneliness, of my affliction. Assure me that I still matter; I’m still significant; you still have something in mind for me.” It’s a healthy thing to know where to turn to reaffirm our faith.

To recap: In the midst of loneliness and turmoil we need to affirm these three beliefs:

  1. The Lord is worthy of trust.
  2. The Lord knows what is best and is working what is good in our lives.
  3. The Lord is merciful.

Ignore evidence to the contrary and hold to these affirmations if you find yourself with holiday loneliness instead of holiday joy!

Caring about God’s creation…

darted elephant
Sedated Elephant with Radio Collar

Working with Son Safaris has increased my appreciation for God’s presence in creation and my recognition of the interdependent relationship between humanity and nature, especially as concern for global climate change grows.

Son Safaris’ staff arrived in South Africa this week to prepare for the summer Mission to Africa teams to arrive. For the next seven weeks they will live at Welgevonden Wildlife Reserve and will engage in many creation care projects side by side with the intern researchers from around the world studying with Wegevonden Research. 

Our main project will be putting radio transmitter collars on elephants to both protect them from ivory poachers and to learn more about the habits of these magnificent animals. You can be part of our care for God’s creation by contributing to the Elephant Radio Collar Fund.

Creation care is a Bible mandate – that means for Bible believers it is not optional. A very short version of why I believe creation care is no more optional than evangelism, benevolence, or any virtue God clearly reveals as His will for us follows..

The fundamental mandate for creation care comes from Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”  Here God places Adam in the garden to “work it and take care of it” (NIV).  Most Hebrew scholars believe a better translation from the Hebrew is “to serve it and to preserve it.” In Genesis 1:26-28, God created humankind to have dominion over the earth. This acknowledgement that humanity is unique among the species on earth does not, however, give license to drive those species to extinction nor is it permission to exploit the planet. In fact the next two verses affirm the right of animals to share in the bounty of the earth’s produce (Gen 1:29-30)

The problematic word in these verses is “dominion”, taken by many to give us carte blanche approval to do with creation whatever we want. But taken in context of Genesis “dominion” is best practiced in serving and preserving God’s creation, in being good stewards of what has been placed in our trust. The story of Noah surely illustrates this when Noah is charged with implementing God’s first endangered species act.

Psalm 104, the great creation psalm views humanity as one species among many animal species, all meant to flourish together (Psalm 104:14-23). In the next verse the psalmist exclaims, “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (v. 24).

God created the world in wisdom and out of love. John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.)tells us that God in wisdom and out of love for the world sent Christ to redeem it 

In Christ “all things hold together” according to Colossians 1:17 (He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.), and “every creature under heaven” is to receive God’s good news that if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. v. 23. 

God’s work in the world, according to Revelation 21:5 (And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”is making all things new” . God will bring about a new creation that does not destroy the old but transforms and renews it. 

Just as surely as the church is the sign of the new creation, is the church mandated to lead the way in caring for creation!

 “The gospel declares that God put us here, that God is here, and that God makes our home here, his home here. The gospel places us in the world that God loved in such a way that he gave his only son on its behalf.…God joins us, down here amongst the malaria-ridden swamps and the dry, overworked hills. God makes our home his home. God declares this planet worth his time and attention.

— Daniel J. Stulac in “Plough Quarterly” No. 4: Earth

Post Super Bowl Reflections

My wife will be the first to tell you that I watch way too much ESPN. I used to love playing and now I love watching sports and just can’t get enough, whether it’s football, basketball, or weightlifting.

Recently I’ve have been trying to cut back little by little. And I’ve also been observing more and more how our American passion for football has become an obsession for many as they worship at the altar of the NFL. Is there really that much difference between the Greek and Roman religion that worshipped gods represented by animals and heroic figures and the hundreds of thousands of people who pack into a stadium to celebrate and cheer on the Bears, Eagles, Falcons, Panthers, Tigers, and Colts?

Nothing on television is growing as far as ratings are concerned because of the popularization of cable television and all of the alternatives out there. But the NFL ratings have annually increased. The Super Bowl is always the highest rated TV program of the year. I just heard two radio commentators discussing the unstoppable popularity of football in America and how across the country regular people like to discuss the NFL whether at work or home or with complete strangers they’ve just met.

Our country worships football. There is no denying it.

It’s disappointing as a Christian fan, but it’s easier to see since my Falcons don’t seem to understand what post-season play is all about and I have less real reason to be obsessed week to week.

And then there’s Kurt Warner and Tony Dungy. Two men who have made their names in this entertainment sport and who are consistently lauded by non-Christians for their impeccable character. They both have received some criticism for minor issues throughout their career but as these men have retired from active involvment, their career epitaph is completely positive and admirable.

They give me hope for sports in general and football in particular, though it’s not like I was seriously considering walking away from being a fan. Their testimonies are great examples of being salt and light. Admired and respected by the world, yet still standing for Christ and being faithful to the truth.  I am jealous. I hope my life can follow that same path. I hope God allows me to be in the world enough to be a light but not of the world so much that I completely blend in.

Promote Love

I have always loved the biblical phrase united in love:  unity and love go hand-in-hand.  One cannot be fully experienced without the other.  Striving for unity in our relationships without a commitment to love is a futile effort.  Hate groups have the appearance of unity but what they have is union NOT unity.  All it takes to form a union is a common enemy, but it takes love for true unity to form.  During World War II the USA formed a union with the Soviet Union against a common enemy – Hitler — but as soon as the threat of Nazism was extinguished, so was our common bond with the USSR and we stopped being friendly.  We were united temporarily against a common enemy, but that was all, what we had was a union, not unity, and even that was short-lived.Some Christians are precariously united over a common enemy — they’re against the latest “badest” thing –but they’re not united in love for one another.  Our Christian fellowship can’t be determined by who or what we’re against.  We don’t need to show the world how much we hate whatever the most current evil issue is.  Instead, we need to show the world how much we love one another and them.  Only then will the world know us as true disciples of Jesus as Jesus said himself…By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34)

Redwood trees can grow as high as 300 feet and yet they have a remarkably shallow root structure.  Do you know what keeps them strong, what keeps them from blowing over in the midst of a storm? Their roots may be shallow, but they intertwine.  Each tree derives strength from the others.  That’s not all.  Each tree also shares its resources with the others.  The trees that are closer to the water are able to give nourishment to the trees that are further away.  Jesus followers are meant to work the same way.  We are to be intertwined, interdependent and united in love.  We are meant to give strength and spiritual nourishment to one another.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “All your strength is in union — all your danger is in discord.” He could have been talking about the Church, couldn’t he?  When we start fighting with one another, we stop being effective.  We need to keep in mind that we’re all in this together, and we need to hang in there with one another.

Mountain climbers are all tied together to ensure that everyone makes it to the top of the mountain. Likewise, we need to stay “tied” to one another to make sure that no one gives up but that every one of us makes it to the top of the mountain!

I think one reason so many people found iconic shows like Cheers, Friends, and Seinfeld so appealing is that these shows demonstrate relationships between people who are united in love. These flawed characters reach us because beneath their selfishness they are committed to each other. (In fact, the conflict between individual selfishness and group unity is what fueled most episodes.) Even though their character flaws are obvious to everyone in the group, they still belong to the group. People like that; they want to experience it for themselves. I like it; I want to experience it!

A driving force in Apostle Paul’s life was to make that happen.  He wanted all Jesus followers to be united with one another in love.  He wanted a church united in love.

Does that ideal drive us as well?  I used to think that the path to unity was common ground but I have come to believe that true unity is formed when we all fall head over heels in love with Jesus! That is what it means to be united in love!

A thousand pianos tuned to one piano will all sound the same.  If the prime piano is in tune they all will be in tune.  If the prime piano is out of tune they will all be out of tune.

It is the same with Christian unity as well.  When we, as a group, are each in tune with Jesus — when we are all committed to following Him because we love Him – we will find that we are committed to one another in love.  But if we are tuned to anyone else or any other cause we may form a union but we will not form true unity.   I believe we will only be united with one another in love when the source of our unity is the source of our love –  Jesus.

Bob Snyder wrote, “Christian unity is not found in uniformity, organization, or a particular church, but rather in Jesus and our commitment to his teachings, and living them out in our lives…It is only as we join together with others who look different than we do but share a common love and commitment to the Truth that is Jesus, that we can know the completeness of the body of Christ.”

A driving force in Paul’s relationships was to help Jesus followers become united in love. Is that what drives your relationships?  I believe the only way to spread unity among fellow Believers is by all of us being more in love with Jesus that we are with ourselves.

Centuries ago Thomas A Kempis made this suggestion, “If Christ is among us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield up our own opinion for the sake of peace. Who is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things? Therefore, trust not too much in your own opinion, but be ready also to hear the opinions of others.”

Can we do that?  Can we bend a little bit for the sake of unity?  Can we pull back just a little bit for the sake of promoting love? Let’s give it a try.  Let’s make promoting unity in love among all who share the Faith a driving force in what we do.


Bring Hope

I don’t think we realize just how much and how often people need hope – they need encouragement. There are lots of people around us who seem to delight in offering despair!  It is easy to look around and get so overwhelmed with life that we give up on anything we do making a difference and lose hope.  We become so self-absorbed that we’re always thinking about what we need, but we forget to think about what other people need.  I don’t think we realize just how much some people struggle to get through each day.  People need encouragement to make it – they need hope

In his book Winning Life’s Toughest Battles Dr. Julius Segal quotes a report from the National Institute of Mental Health that says

“Many of our daily conversations are actually mutual counseling sessions whereby we exchange reassurance and advice that help us deal with routine stresses.”

We all need our hearts uplifted.  We all need hope and reassurance.  Paul made it his purpose to offer hope to others; it drove him.  How different would our relationships be if their driving force were to bring hope to the other?

Author Muriel Anderson says that four of the most important words in her life are “Of course you can.”  She says that her father always knew how to say those words at exactly the right time.  She had a dream of being a writer and had begun to try her hand at writing articles, hoping maybe the local newspaper would publish them.  She was thinking of all reasons why it couldn’t, and probably wouldn’t happen.  She was young and inexperienced; the local paper was on a tight budget; they rarely bought freelance material.  She told her father, “I doubt I can get this article published.”  He said, “Of course you can.”  And she did — this is what launched her career as a writer. Those simple words from her father were enough to encourage her to keep trying.

It really is that simple. Look for ways you can encourage people.  I’ll bet there’s someone very close to you who needs a good word from you. Maybe it’s your “significant other” or a friend or a someone at work or a classmate.  Start thinking: “What can I say to give them a lift?”  As a parent I can tell you that no matter how old you are (I’m as old as dirt!) your parents need a word of encouragement every now and then.  Call your mom and dad, “I’m glad you’re my parents. I know you’re not perfect, but I love you anyway.”  Mother Teresa said, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”  That’s a good habit to get into.

Paul’s purpose was to offer hope by encouraging others. That drove his relationships.  What drives your relationships?


What Can I Do For You?

Snow on Sanford Stadium

For an unprecedented 3rd day in a row the road to our condo is impassable because of ice and snow.  So it was especially nice to hear these words from the 4 wheel drive Jeep owner next door:  “What can I do for you?”

That question and the thought behind it got me thinking about how much of following Jesus is about helping people.  We see this is in the words that Jesus first spoke to Bartimaeus (I am still pondering this same scene from the Gospels): “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

It seems like this question would have an obvious answer.  What would you expect a blind man to say?  From our perspective, it seems easy: A blind man would ask Jesus to take away his blindness.  From Bartimaeus’ perspective, it was much different.  He wasn’t accustomed to asking for miracles.  He was accustomed to asking merely for spare change.  And he was lucky to get that.  He knew who he was; he knew his role in society.  He was a castaway. Most religious people considered his blindness to be the result of God’s retribution.  As the Pharisees said to the blind man in John 9, they would also have said of Bartimaeus: “You were born in sin.”

And yet, Jesus asked this outcast, “What do you want me to do for you?”  It’s the same question he asked James and John a few verses earlier.  This reflects Jesus’ style of leadership.  It’s not defined by telling others, “This is what you can do for me.”  It is defined by the question, “What can I do for you?”

Jesus calls us to be servants. “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45)  We need to understand that we are here for the benefit of others.

Politicians are often referred to as public servants; the best ones understand this role.  They are elected to do the will of the people they represent.  It is much the same for us.  As we see in Mark 10, sometimes a line needs to be drawn: James and John made an inappropriate request, and Jesus responded by saying, “This I cannot do.”  Bartimaeus, however, came to Jesus with an appropriate request — with a need that Jesus had the power to meet — and Jesus put aside everything else to take care of Bartimaeus.

As followers of Jesus we will receive both types of requests. Sometimes people come to us with requests that we cannot meet.  Sometimes they ask us to pay their bills so they don’t have to work.  Others come wanting our approval for a bad decision, such as an ill-advised marriage, or an ill-advised divorce, or involvement in a wrong relationship.  Others come to us asking (sometimes even demanding) that we give them more than we’re able to give in the way of time and resources.   When this happens, we have to answer them as Jesus answered James and John: “This we cannot do.  You’re asking more than you should ask.”

However, most of the time — the overwhelming majority of the time — those who come to us ask for something we’re able to give.  We must always remember that this is our calling and this is our task: we are here to serve God’s people.  The question we must ask of everyone we meet, regardless of class or status is the question that Jesus asked this blind beggar on the Jericho Road: What can I do for you?

This week has been a weird one. Being snowed it is pretty unusual in Georgia.  But it surely has shown me again the value of saying and hearing “What can I do for you?”.  It shouldn’t take a snow storm to make us realize that this is the essence of our call.  What can I do for you – spiritually, physically, emotionally, financially?

I’m afraid it is still easier for me to ask “What’s in it for me?” than “What can I do for you?” but I am resolved to do better.  How about you?  Do you need help meeting the needs of those you have been called to serve?   Are there children who need mentoring and parents and teachers who need help training them in the way they should go?  Do you want to do something about the homeless situation where you’re serving?  A good start is to ask “What can I do for you?”.  

Do you need help in staying encouraged?  Do you need help in teaching others how to resolve conflicts peacefully, how to love one another unconditionally, how to treat one another with respect and dignity? A good start is to ask “What can I do for you?”. 

God calls each of us to get involved.  A good start is to ask “What can I do for you?”.  Jesus calls each of us to serve those who are serving others on His behalf.  The question we must ask — regardless of the distractions around us — is “What can I do for you?”

What can I do for you?

On being other oriented

I am still thinking about how Jesus treated Bartimaeus in Mark 10.  We must learn to treat people the way Jesus treated this blind beggar if we want to impact our world.  Jesus was able to hear the plea of a helpless, desperate man even though he was surrounded by his groupies.  The roar of the adoring crowd did not drown out the cries of the needy.  He had the burden of a violent death on a cross ahead of him but it did not prevent him from responding to the plight of the desperate. We must train our ears to hear, and our eyes to see, the needs of those near us — in spite of the distractions around us.

To be honest I have to admit that being surrounded by a crowd is often enough to make me oblivious to the needs of others.  Crowds can be distracting. Crowds have a way of keeping us focused on ourselves, particularly if you are a leader.  One day they’re telling you how wonderful you are, and you get intoxicated by their praise.  You start thinking, “You know what?  They’re right.  What a good bunch of people I have around me. These folks are all I need.”  Then the next day they’re telling you how inadequate you are, and you get wrapped up in self-doubt and you start to think,  “Hmmm, maybe they’re right.”  Either way, you stay focused on yourself, not on others.  At least that is my experience.

We must learn not to listen to the crowd — when they cheer us or when they jeer us.  An important verse in this regard to remember is found in the gospel of John 2:23-25:Because of the miraculous signs he did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many people were convinced that he was indeed the Messiah. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew what people were really like. No one needed to tell him about human nature.”

Jesus didn’t allow the crowd to distract Him.  Neither did He allow the burdens of His mission or the certainty of His impending death prevent Him from hearing the cries of the needy.  This is another way in which we would do well to follow the example of Jesus.

It’s not easy. We all carry burdens.  We all have problems.  But if we are to follow Jesus’ example we have to learn to set aside our needs and our worries so we can attend to the needs of others.  It’s tough to do – when you’re struggling with a financial situation, or a health crisis, or tension at home — and people keep coming to you for help.  There are times when you want to say, “Back off!  Leave me alone.  I’ve got problems of my own to deal with.”

I used to live in a small town in North West Georgia, the kind where everyone knows everyone.  I was at the grocery store one morning, in the meat department, waiting in line to buy some fresh ground beef. One of the doctors in the community was in front of me. The woman behind the counter greeted him with, “Good morning, Doctor. I’m glad you’re here.  I’ve got a question.  There’s this bump on the roof of my mouth — can you tell me what it is?”  She then tilted her head back and opened wide so he could get a good look.  He very politely said, “It looks like a [some kind of medical term].  I can give you something for it if you drop by the office.”

One thing I know about doctors is that they don’t like to diagnose patients over the meat counter at the grocery store.  Something else I knew about this doctor, since Adairsville was a really small town, is that he had recently been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  He no doubt had a lot on his mind that day, and yet he very graciously responded to this woman’s request.  I was impressed.  Even though he was facing a crisis, even though she had broken protocol, he treated her with kindness. That’s what doctors have to do sometimes.

An others-oriented lifestyle requires that we never lose sight of our mission — in spite of success or setbacks, in spite of criticism or praise, in spite of our problems or our fears — like Jesus, we can’t allow anything to drown out the cries of those we are called to serve.

Evaluate yourself honestly.  Have you allowed the burdens of the day and the noise of the crowd to drown out the cries of those in need?  I hope your evaluation is prettier than mine.  Thank God Jesus has more time for me than I have for others!

Important People

Mark 10 recounts the story of Jesus healing a blind man named Bartimaeus.  In the story we see how Jesus responded to the need of one desperate man — a blind beggar whose life had been reduced to sitting by the side of the road outside the city of Jericho, asking people for money.  Jesus healed this man, fully restoring his sight.  In doing so, he revealed a commitment to an others-oriented lifestyle that was the driving force behind his ministry on earth.  This is the same kind of lifestyle — an others-oriented lifestyle — that I believe is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Jesus followers.

Here’s the story: (Mark 10:46-52) Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

This is the last healing story in the gospel of Mark.  Jesus had just told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to die; the rest of Mark’s gospel focuses on the events in the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Jesus is about to make his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, riding into town on the foal of a donkey, greeted by a cheering crowd proclaiming, “Hosanna! Glory to the God in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Within seven days he would walk through the streets of that same city carrying his cross piece, beaten and tattered, with a jeering mob behind him, the air still ringing with the echoes of their cries, “Crucify him!”

The movie The Passion of the Christ is a brutally accurate portrayal of what Jesus endured.  He knew what lay ahead of him.  He had already spoken of it.  This was on his mind as he and his band of followers left Jericho that day.

Bartimaeus was a blind man who spent his days begging outside the gate of the city of Jericho.  Somehow he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing his way.  He knew the name; he had heard the stories.  Bartimaeus came to believe that this man was more than just a miracle worker; He was God’s anointed, the chosen one, the Messiah.  He called out to Jesus using a name that appears nowhere else in Mark’s gospel. “Son of David,” he said. “Have mercy on me.”

Bartimaeus called out in faith to Jesus, asking for mercy.  The crowd attempted to make him hush.  They rebuked him for making a nuisance of himself, treating him as society often treats those like him — as one who is expendable, whose needs are irrelevant, whose intrinsic dignity need not be considered.  The crowd no doubt thought that one so great as Jesus wouldn’t want to bother with a blind and helpless beggar.

The crowd, as they so often are, was wrong.  Mark writes that when Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Call him.”  This brings me to the simple point of this blog this morning: To Jesus there are no unimportant people.  If we would follow Jesus our view of our fellow man must be that no one in unimportant. 

I fail at this so often.  I fall prey to seeing people as what they have instead of who they are.  For me it is not so much how much money they have but how much influence they hold that sways me.

How about you?  If a blind street beggar called out to you for help, what would you see?  A worthless homeless man or a man in need of what you have to give? 

There are no unimportant people to Jesus.  On behalf of all us blind street beggars I say “Thank God!”