Many years ago on this blog, I regularly shared stories of real life chronicles. Sometimes they had a spiritual edge and sometimes I shared them for the sake of sharing them. Today something happened that was worthy of a story.
On Wednesdays through Fridays I drive a school van. There are three hours from drop-off to pick-up. In order to save me a drive back to Eldred, I developed a routine this winter in which I started to exercise during that time.
This morning was no different, but I was concerned about the rain that might be coming. I had my phone, my wallet, and the key to the van I was driving and headed out for a walk after I dropped off the students. I parked in one of the parking lots for University of Pittsburg – Bradford. They have a great little paved walking/running/biking trail. What I did was walk a mile out to the end of the trail, turned around and walked another two miles, which took me into the downtown of Bradford, turned around and walked the mile back to the van. When I got back to the van, I looked for my key and discovered it was missing. What was I going to do?
When pulling into the parking lot, I noticed that the pastor’s husband (who works maintenance at UPB, was working in that parking lot. He was still there when I got back. I told him I had lost my key somewhere along the trail. I had already finished 4 miles and really didn’t want to do another 4 miles. Fortunately there was a student worker with them who took me out in one of the small maintenance vehicles. I should have had her start on the last part of the trail I walked. But we searched the first two miles I walked first – then went to the second two miles. About a half mile passed where my van was – there it was – my key to the van. I picked it up and she drove me back to the van. I was thankful for the help, because nobody was obligated to help me. It most definitely saved me some time. It was a great example of what we at Chick-fil-A called Second Mile Service. I was so excited that they helped me and that I found my key. The rest of the day was uneventful compared to that.
25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
27 The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
Luke 10:25-37 New Living Translation (NLT)
Following hard on the heals of last week’s passage comes this nugget from the gospel writer Luke. It’s a question that many people have. One of the religious leaders came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Maybe it was a trap – maybe the leader really wanted to know.
Jesus answers the man with question. Isn’t it annoy when someone asks a question to your question? But Jesus knew this man knew the answer. Jesus asks the man, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The ball was now back in the religious leader’s court. He quotes from the Shema (a traditional Jewish prayer.) “Listen, O Israel God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (See Deuteronomy 6:4-5, New Living Translation) – this is part of the law of Moses. Then the man moves on and says, “AND ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus says, “Good answer! Now do this and you will live.” The man had quoted what Jesus said in another gospel when asked what is the greatest commandment. Perhaps this man was there at the time and remembered what Jesus said.
Luke tells us that the man asked another question to justify himself – and perhaps trap Jesus. “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus purposely tells a story that would get the man’s attention. The protagonist of the story is a Samaritan, someone who would not be well thought of by the Jewish people. It’s a story of mercy. The Samaritan shows a Jewish man mercy, when the Jewish men who passed by didn’t. Jesus finishes the story by asking, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by the bandits?”
The man replies, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus now replies very similarly to the “Do this and live statement.” Now he says, “Yes, now go and do the same.” Interestingly enough this passage was discussed on our Wesleyan Pastors Facebook group this week. Some would say that Jesus is advocating a works-based theology. I don’t think so. This dual-pronged approach of loving God and loving people is evident throughout the scripture. Even as we look at the Ten Commandments. The first 4 deal with our relationship with God – the last six deal with our relationships with people. Jesus, when he said we should love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and love our neighbor has ourselves, is simply paraphrasing the Ten Commandments.
We should love God with everything we have and love others the same way. Imagine a world where those who claim to be Christ-followers would do this. I imagine the world would be radically different.
The Wesleyan Methodist Church was started on this principle of holiness – this dual-pronged approach of loving God with all we have – and loving others. This idea also shows up in the book of James:
27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
Again caring for others – having mercy and compassion is not in conflict with loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Sometimes we really struggle with things being “both/and”. As if we can’t love God with all of our heart and care for others.
Just a few paragraphs later James talks about those who break just one of the Ten Commandments, break all of them. Then James writes these convicting words:
12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. 13 There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.
In another translation we are told, “Mercy triumphs over judgement.” James reminds us that there is only mercy for those who have shown mercy to others – which sounds much like Jesus’ statement “that you will only be forgiven if you forgive others.” Several years ago, I did a series on the fruit of the Spirit. When it came to patience, I discovered another word for patience is forbearance – or mercy or compassion.
We are even reminded just after this in the book of James that faith without good deeds is dead. “How can you have faith if you don’t show it by your actions?” James asks. He goes on to say, (and this is my paraphrase) “If your faith does not produce good deeds…it is dead and useless.”
Our faith and action work together – just as love for God and love for our neighbor work together. If we simply love God, we are missing the point. God came to earth in the person of Jesus to save us from our sins – even when we were not worthy of it. If there is anyplace where mercy triumphs over judgement is in the life of the one who has been saved by the grace of Jesus.
So remember – love for God and love for others work together – living a life of holiness requires refusing to let the world corrupt you and taking care of the widows and orphans. Do this and you will live.
I realized that it has been a few weeks since I have written one of these. I was going to write one two Saturdays ago, but don’t know exactly what happened. June was not a strong finish, but I did finish at over 100 miles. July started strong, but an old injury popped up. My Achilles started acting up, so I have pulled back on my mileage and I am stretching to see if I can get everything to behave again. So far I have 17 miles. This morning’s run felt good and the Achilles is behaving. I really concentrated on form this morning – I think that is causing some of the issues because I haven’t been doing core training and I have slopped through some runs – so a little more discipline is in order. So it is time to PRESS ON!
Here we are on the first Sunday of July. The days are now getting shorter, although here in the Brook, we haven’t really seen the shorter days yet, but I’m sure over the next week, we will start to see them. It’s been a hot week. We weren’t here much of the week, but it certainly was hazy, hot, and humid in the Lehigh Valley.
We spent most of the week visiting my mom and dad. One of the things we did was visit several Atlas Obsura sites. We have several traditions when going there. One is mini-golfing at Spring Hill Golf and another is trying to get to Yocco’s. We also hit up White Castle which was fun. Another thing we did was go to the Harvey Mason Trestle – which is part of the Steel Stacks. It is the only remaining part of the former Bethlehem Steel facility in Bethlehem. It was great visiting my mom and dad. On the way home, we stopped at Roadside America, drove by a mini Statue of Liberty on the Susquehanna, stopping at the Bunkers of Alvira, and finally stopping at Wildwood Cemetery in Williamsport – but it was closed. Again it was a great week.
Yesterday I gave the lawn a lick and a prayer. This week I need to get the back section of the property cut – its been several weeks.
We had a good service this morning. I led the musical worship and preached. I had some technical difficulties while preaching, but recovered – thankfully the scripture I needed at the moment was on the screen – that and my mike wouldn’t stay in place. But I was able to recover and the rest of the service went well.
This week I am back to driving school vans. But that about wraps it up. Have a great week.
Here we are on the last Sunday of June. We have had an incredible week. The weather has been wonderful. I can’t remember a stretch of beautiful weather like we have had. The daytime has been sunny – except for yesterday. We have had rain overnight and some rain yesterday, but over all we haven’t had a stretch of weather like this since before winter arrived.
It was a great week of Vacation Bible School. We did the Go Fish Guys, “Backstage with the Bible. While we didn’t have many children, we did have a great time. Here’s a little recap video.
Not only did we have Vacation Bible School, but we had our grandkids here all week. It was great fun – and on both ends of the time together we had Chick-fil-A. Our grand daughter Anna finally got over her stranger danger and we both enjoyed that.
Currently our family is watching Apollo Moonshot. July is the 50th Anniversary of man stepping on the moon.
We had a good worship service this morning – playing the recap video and singing some of the VBS songs as well as doing our regular worship. I preached about Jonah. Our series this summer is called “This Ain’t Hollywood.” We are going to look at some of the stories in the Old Testament.
So, that brings me to the end of tonight’s update. Have a great one!
I pulled back a little last week, so I wanted to increase this week. As I look back I was able to get in 6 more miles. I was able to run 4 times this week. This is one of my goals for the rest of the summer – 4 runs a week. This was a week of ups and downs and trying to keep my schedule with some summer school bus runs and trying to avoid the raindrops. But I did good. Yesterday’s six miler was beautiful, but I struggled today. I was planning on a six miler, but just after mile two, I had some dizziness and felt I should back off. Also I didn’t want to be running on the back side of the river trail – which is paved, but not heavily used early in the day. If I ran into trouble, I wanted to be near traffic, so I stayed on the sidewalk and ran back to the Y, where Pam was working out. It shortened my run by 1.5 miles. For the month I am at 88.8 miles, so it looks like I will make 100 miles for the first time this year, but still leave me short of my goal of 125 – which was last June’s total. Still with yesterday’s good run, I feel like I am making progress. That is what keeps me going and pressing on – pressing toward the goal!
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
So they arrived in the region of the Gerasenes, across the lake from Galilee. As Jesus was climbing out of the boat, a man who was possessed by demons came out to meet him. For a long time he had been homeless and naked, living in the tombs outside the town.
As soon as he saw Jesus, he shrieked and fell down in front of him. Then he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Please, I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had already commanded the evil spirit to come out of him. This spirit had often taken control of the man. Even when he was placed under guard and put in chains and shackles, he simply broke them and rushed out into the wilderness, completely under the demon’s power.
Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied, for he was filled with many demons. The demons kept begging Jesus not to send them into the bottomless pit.
There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby, and the demons begged him to let them enter into the pigs.
So Jesus gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned.
When the herdsmen saw it, they fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened. A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been freed from the demons. He was sitting at Jesus’ feet, fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. Then those who had seen what happened told the others how the demon-possessed man had been healed. And all the people in the region of the Gerasenes begged Jesus to go away and leave them alone, for a great wave of fear swept over them.
So Jesus returned to the boat and left, crossing back to the other side of the lake. The man who had been freed from the demons begged to go with him. But Jesus sent him home, saying, “No, go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.” So he went all through the town proclaiming the great things Jesus had done for him.
When I looked at this scripture, my mind went back to a series that I preached while we were in Martinsville, VA. I would say that it was one of my more successful series that I preached while there. It was based on the CD that Casting Crowns released called “Lifesong.” I preached a series of messages taken from the titles of the songs on the CD. Most of the messages included the song. I still remember the reaction I got from this message. This series was before the recession of 2008, but Martinsville experienced it early. Many of the furniture factories and fabric mills had already moved further south or overseas. People were used to dropping out of high school and getting a great paying job…but when the factories moved…they didn’t take the employees with them for the most part. This left people hopeless. It left people with a great distrust of authority…including preachers. Many turned to alcohol and drugs…this was long before the current opioid crisis.
Not only did this effect older people, but it affected teens and pre-teens. Our ministry in Martinsville was a unique one. We had two churches – our Sunday church and our Wednesday night church. While we were there, bus ministry was still a thing, so we would go pick up kids for church, have a time of musical worship, send them to their classes and then finish with a hot meal. Many of our students would not receive a hot meal, except for school. The students came from all sorts of situations.
As you can see, this would leave many people feeling trapped. In many ways our current ministry is in a similar situation. Many like to talk about the urban poor, but not many like to talk about the rural poor. Here in rural McKean County, the opioid crisis is real. It is real in the neighboring counties in both PA and NY. People are looking for ways to break the chains, but they find themselves trapped – whether it be sex, porn, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, etc.
I this week’s passage, Jesus is confronted with a man called Legion – a man trapped with 1,000’s of demons. While he can physically break any chain, he is trapped. How this man ended up demon-possessed we don’t know. We do know that he came to Jesus for help and the demons were afraid. Let’s face it, demons know who Jesus is.
Jesus doesn’t need many words to cast out the demons – after all everything is under his authority. Jesus puts the demons out into a herd of pigs and they throw themselves over a cliff.
What demons do you feel trapped by? It could be any number of things…it could be one of the things that I listed above. Jesus is the one that can set you free. That is His desire, if only we ask in faith.