WHEN A FRIEND WAS ARRESTED

Have you ever gotten one of those phone calls, probably late at night, to say that a close friend has been arrested?  It may be another friend of both of you that calls, or it may be the wife, husband or parent of the one arrested or it may well be the friend who calls.  They may be looking for help or just someone who will take care of some things for them that are about to happen.  Sometimes it is a plea for you to help bail them out of jail.  It took place with Jesus when he received word that his friend, partner and first cousin, John the Baptist was arrested,  It was not long after Jesus had gone to John at the Jordan River to be baptized by him.  People from all over the area were coming to hear him preach about the coming kingdom and to be baptized for their sins to be forgiven.  He was not the average preacher or teacher for that day or any other.  He lived in the desert, ate locust and wild honey and wore camel’s hair with a leather belt.  He had pointedly spoken to the religious leaders among the people telling them that they were not living right and if they thought that being the physical descendants of Abraham would make them right with God they were wrong.  God is able to raise up descendants of Abraham from these rocks.  But that wasn’t what led to him being arrested.  He had preached to King Herod about his marriage to Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, telling him that he had no right to her.  It not only angered Herod but it put Herodias into a rage.  She wanted his life for it.  One might think that preaching is a safe life.  But if one tells the truth to others about things that are very personal and sensitive to them, it often leads to angry words and violent deeds.

Look at what Jesus did when John was arrested.  John had been deeply involved in preaching the message of the coming kingdom.  The epitome of his preaching was, “repent and be baptized for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  In Matthew 4:12 it says, “Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.”   Matthew had just recorded the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness where he had spent forty days, fasting and praying.  When Jesus completed the battle with the devil, Satan left him for a time and angels came to minister to Jesus.  Then he heard the news of John’s arrest and determined to go back to Galilee.

It seems to me that Jesus’ actions on learning of the arrest of John give us insight into how to handle those tough situations that arise in life all along.  Focus on what he did for a moment.  First, he went back to Galilee, the area where he had grown up.  Judea was the place for the religious authorities, the temple and the ceremonies.  But Jesus always seemed more at home in Galilee.  The next verse says, “And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.”  In Capernaum is the place where Jesus was at his home, and the crowds gathered so tightly that when four men brought a paralytic to be healed, they had to tear away part of the roof to let the man down in front of Jesus.  This became his new home.  When hard, tragic times come, it often helps to get back to familiar territory among people you already have a connection.  Plus it had the effect of getting him away from the religious leaders in Jerusalem and of Herod.  Jesus was able to carry on his ministry until the proper time came for his death by staying outside Judea where most of the friction was, most of the time.

In Galilee, He took up the work John had been doing.  He began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Jesus always avoided being in conflict in any way with John or his disciples.  When the word got out that he and his disciples were baptizing more than John, Jesus left the area and went through Samaria for a time.  In Matthew 4:23 it says, “He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.  So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them.” He preached the same message that John had proclaimed, but along with the preaching, he did miraculous deeds in healing people who were hurting in all kinds of ways.  When we are struggling in some hard time in life, it is powerful to see the difference it makes for us if we are involved in helping others with their pains and issues.

Finally, Jesus walking along the Sea of Galilee saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  He said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  They left their nets and followed him.  Their lives changed tremendously.  Jesus had close companions that would walk with him throughout his life on this earth.  Nothing helps us more in facing life’s challenges than having others we love, walking along with us and sharing life together.

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IMMANUEL

Merry Christmas to you and all your family.  I pray that you enjoy a wonderful time together for the Christmas season and for the New Year.  The day of a person’s birth is always important.  If someone approached you asking what were the greatest 5 days or 10 days in your life, would the times when your children or grandchildren were born, make the list?  The day when Jesus was born was truly one of the greatest days of all time.  We don’t really know what day that was, but it isn’t the specific day that makes it special but the one who was born on that day.  There were certainly lots of other babies born on that day, but no other child like this one.  God had Isaiah the prophet to tell of that day in Isaiah 7:14 when he promised the Christ would be born of a virgin and would be called “Immanuel” which means “God with us.”  Micah foretold that he would be born in the city of Bethlehem and Isaiah said when he came in birth his name would be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace and Everlasting Father.”

When both Mary and Joseph were visited by the angel of the Lord it was to prepare them for this amazing blessing that was coming.  Most likely they were like everyone else and believed that when the Messiah was born it would be to royal or very wealthy parents and he would grow up in a mansion somewhere.  Mary was even more confused in that the Angel promised the one to be born would come while she was still a virgin.  She asked, “How can this be since I’ve never had sex with a man?”  God’s angel promised it would be the Holy Spirit that came upon her and made her pregnant.  When Joseph learned she was pregnant he thought she had been unfaithful to him with some other man.  God’s angel informed him that the child was of the Holy Spirit and he was to take her as his wife and not have sex with her until after the birth of Jesus.

Jesus birth was like no other birth.  He was born in a stable and placed in the small bin out of which the animals ate, called a manger.  He was born of a virgin.  He was from Nazareth instead of Bethlehem.  All of those things are unusual but that wasn’t what made his birth unique.  It was that his birth was a shout of IMMANUEL.  He would be called “Jesus” which means “God saves us.”  But he would constantly be “God with us.”  In Philippians 2:5-12 his journey was explained.  He was in his nature on an equal with God the Father.  But he didn’t grasp or hold on to that place of dignity.  He became a human and was born among us so he could be the merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God.  He was Immanuel.  He was God who became one of us and walked alongside us in this world.  Even as a man he emptied himself, made himself of no reputation and took upon him the form of a servant being made in the likeness of man.  As a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.  Because of his humble actions God has highly exalted him and given him a name above all names that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

It is amazing that Jesus was only going to be on this earth as a man for a little over 33 years, yet the first thirty of those years were spent in the activity of a very ordinary man.  He learned carpentry from Joseph.  He stayed home to help Mary with younger children after Joseph died.  He lived in a way among the people that he fit in with them and even his own brothers and sisters didn’t recognize him as God in the flesh.  The writer of Hebrews notes that he had in every way to be made like his brothers and sisters.

His mission of walking side by side with people could only be fulfilled if he lived among us as one of us knowing the trials, troubles, and temptations we face on a regular basis.  He demonstrated his humanity to all.  But he also came to show us the Father, John tells us.  He was from the beginning God and without him, nothing was made that was made.  God became a man but didn’t lose his deity in the process.  “In him dwelt all the fullness of deity in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).  He humanity made it possible for him to speak of the kingdom of heaven in terms that were clear to ordinary people who listened to him.  He told stories that were out of the regular lives of the people and tied them to the kingdom of God.

In the process of it all, “He who knew no sin, became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”  He took our sins on him and then paid the price of our sin on the cross.  At the same time, the righteousness of Christ was placed to our credit.  The Son of God became the son of man that sons of men might become sons of God.  He was and is the IMMANUEL.  He is God with us all the time.  The Christmas celebration is great that we can remember the birth of our savior.  But the real celebration needs to run throughout the year on every day of the year.  Jesus Christ never leaves or forsakes us.  In giving his great commission according to Matthew he not only told us to make disciples for him as we go about the world.  He told us to make them of every ethnic group there is, to baptize them into the name of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to observe all that he commands us.  Then he offered the promise, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”  The Savior who is with us now, will bring us home to heaven where we will live in his full presence forevermore.

Praise God for our Immanuel.

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I DESIRE MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE

Jesus had multiple discussions with the religious leaders of the Jews during his earthly ministry.  One came when he called Matthew the tax collector to become one of his apostles.  Tax collectors were seen as traitors to the Nation of Israel and just rejected by the synagogues and by their leaders.  But Jesus didn’t just call him as a follower and apostle, he went to his home to a party thrown for other tax collectors.  The notion you can tell a man by the company he keeps was prevalent in that day as in our own.  So the Pharisees asked his disciples “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  When Jesus heard their questions he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous but sinners.”  They continued asking why he and his disciples didn’t fast like the Jews and their religious leaders and Jesus explained to them that they were trying to patch an old garment with a new piece of cloth and the result would be that the new patch would pull away and the garment be ruined.  He said they were trying to pour new wine into old wineskins and the result would be the wine would ferment and stretch the wineskin and it would burst and lose all the wine.

Think of these two statements for a moment.  The first one was a quotation from Hosea 6:6 which said, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”  Jesus quote was only a part of it, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”  His challenge was for them to go and learn what that meant.  In Hosea’s time, they were set on doing the rituals that God had given them, but had missed out on the heart they should have.  They were intent on offering the sacrifices in just the right way but demonstrated none of the mercy, love, and compassion for those around them who were in need or trouble.  Tying that to the situation Jesus was talking about, they were intent on following their traditions which involved the rejection of people like Matthew and his friends the other tax collectors but not interested at all in showing them mercy, forgiveness or a fresh start on a different way of life.  Jesus, on the other hand, saw the heart of Matthew and even cared deeply for his friends to offer them hope, grace, and forgiveness.It is quite easy to apply the principle involved to our own time and situation. Far too often we are set on things staying the same and not changing anything that we have gotten used to, even though they may have no connection with Scripture and only relate to expediency.  In such times it is easy to think only of what we like, feel or want and show no mercy or compassion for those who are searching for God’s way or even for the young or new in the faith.  Mercy is at the heart of God.  He has always cared more about our mercy to others than in following every ritual we think of.

The second part of this teaching relates to trying to bring aspects of the Old Law into the New Covenant of the Lord.  Sometimes it wasn’t even a part of the law, but only their traditions around the law that they wanted to make certain became a part of the New Law.  Jesus told them they were trying to patch an old garment with a new piece of cloth. They were pouring new wine into old, stiff and hardened wineskins that would burst when the new wine began to expand with fermentation.  In Hebrews 8 the writer quotes Jeremiah 31:31-ff to say that the New Covenant wasn’t like the old one written and engraved on stones.  The new was written on the heart and was known and read by all.  God would be our God and our sins and iniquities would be remembered no more.  In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul compared and contrasted the Old Covenant with the New.  The Old was a ministry of death written and engraved on stones and was being brought to an end.  The New is a ministry of the Spirit and comes with even more glory.  The old was a ministry of condemnation and the new a ministry of righteousness.  The old was like trying to see God and his will through a veil and the New is one that brings freedom and that we should all with unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord, being transformed into His image from one degree of glory to the next by the Spirit of God.

Luke’s account of this same statement adds one thing that I find especially intriguing.  He added, “No one after tasting the old wants the new.”  Even though the New Covenant or Testament is far greater, filled with grace and mercy and for all people alike, when people are used to the Old way of Law, condemnation, limited grace and lots of rules, they don’t normally want to change.  Think about people you know who have lived their whole lives trying to keep every law and demanding that others do the same.  They can’t see grace as overflowing and amazing but only tied to perfection in obedience.  Offer them the picture of grace as presented by Jesus and the New Testament and they will always prefer the Law and condemnation, even when it leaves them always in doubt of their own salvation.

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BEING REAL

“What are they really like when no one is watching?”  “I just never know who I’m going to see each night when my husband comes home.”  “If that guy had a mask for each personality he has it would fill the whole closet.”  You have heard the questions and the remarks as often as I have.  Jesus called this whole kind of thing being a hypocrite.  Interestingly, the word “hypocrite” was the word used for actors who went on stage wearing a mask both to project their voice out to the people and to portray the person they were trying to be.  It is great for an actor to be able to take on different personalities and become that person for a time.  It is a great skill and gives us all kinds of entertainment as well as huge lessons in life.  But when people become such actors in ordinary life it is a completely different matter.  When we are around a person to takes on a different persona in every situation they face, we go away wondering who they really are.

One of the huge things that set Jesus apart from other religious teachers and leaders of his time was that he was the real thing,  all the way to the bone.  Can you imagine someone coming up to him after a day teaching saying, “That isn’t what you said yesterday.”  He was the constant model of stressing what a person IS rather than just what they DO.  In his great Sermon on the Mount, he started with “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs are the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.  Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.  Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  He would go on from this to talk about things that we need to do in his service, but the foundation of it all was about what a person is.

Let’s face the fact, it is near impossible to trust a person in any aspect of life if you believe they are one way with you and something entirely different when they are with other people.  If a person talks tons about God, faith, and family, but in their personal life there is the abuse of power, dishonest dealings and even taking advantage of other people, especially of young, innocent or defenseless people, then something is horribly wrong.  I understand there may be accusations made against another person that they have done something wrong when nothing actually happened.  I’m thankful that the atmosphere is changing so that women are coming out with the charges of men taking advantage of them and then keeping it somehow hidden so that they can go right on doing the same thing to someone else.  Personally, I hope every religious leader, every politician, every manager, every newsperson or any other area of power who has taken advantage of another person sexually is found out and driven from their place of power. The ridiculous notion that such action is private and has nothing to do with what they do in their job is both, insane and ungodly.

Who are you?  Who am I?  Who are we when no one is looking?  Character runs deep!  If we lack character then we may well have a picture of who we are that is totally different from how others see us or even more important, how God sees us.  I know we all have flaws and make mistakes.  But that is a totally different thing than having a pattern of life that we are constantly trying to keep things hidden about us for fear that if it comes out our whole lives will be ruined.  Even the best of people make mistakes, but they don’t try to hide the mistakes or pretend they never happened.  They, upon realizing they did something wrong set about to change it.  It is true that Jesus is the only perfect person that ever lived.  But he calls all who follow him to be real, to be people of character and people who have integrity in all aspects of their life.

I remember having a person say about another person, “I wouldn’t trust them with my wife or daughter, but I trust them with my money.”  The statement stuck in my mind and even at the moment I responded, “If you can’t trust a person in one area of their life, then you can’t trust them period.”  But the other person couldn’t see that at all.  It wasn’t a lot of years after that conversation that I ran into the same person and they said, “Well, I guess you were right.”  I didn’t know what they were talking about at the time.  They went on to remind me of the conversation we had had those years earlier and then said, “Sure enough I shouldn’t have trusted them with my money either.  I lost everything I had with them and he got away like a bandit.”  Trust isn’t something you can give piecemeal.  Integrity isn’t something that we have in one area of life but it is missing in others.  If we have areas of life we want to keep in the dark, it is past time to bring them out and clean them up, making it right with God and other people.  When such things start unfolding from the words of someone else making accusations it will be far more unpleasant and far more difficult to ever regain trust from those around us.  Be real!

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ARROGANCE IN CHURCH LEADERSHIP

The two shortest letters in the New Testament were both written by John, the apostle near the end of the first century.  In many ways, they both deal with the same topics.  They are about hospitality and sound teaching.  The first letter was to the elect lady, which many believe was a local church, but seems more likely to be a godly lady who was a prominent member of the church.  Her home had been a place of hospitality.  The traveling preachers and prophets who traveled about preaching God’s word needed to be taken in by Christians and given a safe and clean place to stay.  She had done exceptionally well in offering such good work.  But she hadn’t always shown discrimination about who she took in.  Many false teachers were going about who refused to stay in the teaching of Jesus.  They kept going on in their messages long past what Jesus said or led them to say.  Those who go on and refuse to abide in the teaching of Christ, John said, did not have God and those who did stay in his doctrines had both the Father and the Son.  John warned the elect lady that by taking in these false teachers and showing them the same hospitality, she did to the ones who were faithful to Jesus she was encouraging them and giving them validity.

In Third John, he wrote to Gaius, another leader in the church.  Gaius was a good man who was also very hospitable and took in those preachers and teachers who traveled in their area.  But there was another leader in the church named Diotrephes, who had a very different spirit.  He refused the teachers who passed through the area and would even cast them out of the church.  John declared that the reason he acted as he did was that he was proud, longing to have first place in the church.  His arrogance led to him spreading ungodly rumors about John and his work as an apostle of Christ.  It is interesting that John doesn’t tell Gaius to deal with Diotrephes but says, instead of that he will deal with him when he comes that way.  He challenged Gaius to follow the lead of Demetrius who is a good man and had a good reputation among all the people.

Have you ever wondered why the New Testament says so much about being hospitable?  The word literally means to entertain strangers.  In Hebrews 13:1 the church was commanded to show hospitality to strangers because some by doing so had entertained angels without knowing it.  But in both these letters, it is clear that being hospitable had to do with those Christian teachers who traveled that way.  They needed a place to stay because the inns that were available were usually not clean, lice-infested and homes of prostitution and crime.  More often the need to take others to ones home and treat them with love and respect had to do with being evangelistic in trying to reach others with the gospel of Christ.

The truth is that hospitality and reaching others for the Lord go hand in hand.  If Christians really desire to bring their friends, neighbors, and associates to Jesus, it is vital they offer them love and acceptance in their home, around their table.  Peter encouraged the Christians he wrote to show hospitality without grumbling.  If we bring others into our homes and grumble about it the whole time, it isn’t going to have any influence either in winning them to the Lord or encouraging them to live closer to the Lord.  When Paul wrote both Timothy and Titus about the qualities to look for in appointing men as elders, he said they had to show hospitality to be good shepherds.

It should be a concern for us all the time as to how we can best show such love and care for other people that they feel accepted and cared for in our presence.  That opens the hearts of others to the great news of Jesus.

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UNITY AND SEPARATION

There isn’t any question God wants His people to have unity.  Jesus prayed that those who live for him would be one, as He and the Father are one so the world would believe that God sent him into the world.  The Psalmist declared, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”  Paul pleaded with the church in Corinth to “Let there be no divisions among you but to be perfectly joined together of the same mind and judgment.”  He pointed to their immaturity in Christ as the reason they were divided in what they were doing.  He challenged the Ephesian church to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Yet in Acts 15 immediately after Paul and Barnabas had gone to Jerusalem to plead for the Jewish Christians not to bind things in the Law on the Gentile converts to Christ, there is a separation of Paul and Barnabas.  Some of the Jewish brothers had gone out from the church in Jerusalem to the places where Gentile churches had been established trying to convince all these new converts that if they really wanted to be Christians they had to be circumcised and follow the Old Law.  In this meeting to solve the problem Peter, James, Paul, and Barnabas had all pleaded with the church to not put this burden on the backs of these new converts that was so heavy they hadn’t been able to bear it themselves.  Even as these apostles and elders made their plea many of those Jews who had turned to Christ were arguing with all their power that it was necessary for these Gentiles to become Jews to be right with the Lord.  Ultimately they agreed to send a letter to the Gentile churches that they were not under the Law and instead needed to agree to abstain from fornication, from things strangled, from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and not to worry about all the other things that had been mentioned to them.  They even agreed to send representatives from the Jerusalem church to travel with Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch to confirm this message to the church.

It was a tremendous victory for them and for the Gentile congregations.  But immediately after all that, Paul and Barnabas got into a huge disagreement.  Paul suggested they go back and visit the churches that had been established and Barnabas agreed but wanted to take John Mark along with them.  Paul was totally opposed to Mark going along since he had started with them on the first missionary journey and turned back.  That disagreement became so strong they parted ways and Barnabas took Mark and went in one direction and Paul took Silas and headed in the other direction.  Why did God choose to have this story to be part of the Book of Acts?  Why not just end the story with the agreement?

Perhaps the Spirit of God was making a point for us to grasp about unity and separation.  When it was a matter of teaching what was true to the gospel it was vital to have the church reach an agreement to not bind things on other people that God hadn’t bound.  But when it comes to matters of opinion and personal differences that lead to people not being able to stay together as partners in preaching the gospel, He wasn’t concerned.  After all, they would both remain loyal to God and to the gospel and both would actually take another person with them to preach and their efforts were doubled because of the separation.  Whether or not their separation was according to God’s will, there is no question both men continued to speak well of each other and both kept on preaching the gospel of Christ.  There is no question but that God used the situation to reach more people for him than would have been reached if they had stayed together.

Think of the reality of how many churches have been started around the world because of a disagreement with someone at the place where they were both worshiping before.  The truth is there have been more congregations started in most cities in the South because of some disagreement between brethren than any other reason.  Most of the time these disagreements had nothing to do with doctrine but with the fact they had trouble getting along with each other.  Many times the result is that both the congregation that was left and the new one started to grow and reach people that neither of them would have had they stayed together.

Who was right and who was wrong in this disagreement?  If you look down the line it seems that Barnabas was right because John Mark became a great and faithful disciple from this point on.  Even Paul wrote that Mark was profitable to him for the ministry.  But it was about what they thought, felt and believed, not about anything God had told them to do.  Unity in Christ doesn’t always mean people agree on everything.  In Romans 14 Paul pleaded with the church to accept those who had disputes over doubtful things but not to allow them to bind those ideas on the church.  The weak brother was never intended to become the standard for the church so that they could hold the church hostage from doing anything since it bothered their conscience.  Instead, Paul pleaded with them in areas like that to not judge each other.  You can’t know another person’s heart.  Leave the judgment to God who does know the heart.  The kingdom of God isn’t about things like food and drink but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit so we ought to strive to live by our conscience but not try to bind that conscience on others that believe differently from us.

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CLOSED EYES

How many times in life have you observed things going on in a family that made it obvious that something was very wrong and that there were things going on that were headed in all the wrong directions?  But then as you watched you thought to yourself, “Are they totally oblivious to what is going on?  Can’t they see all the signs that something is not right?”  Truthfully, there are times when I’ve observed the same kind of thing going on in a church.  It was obvious there were serious problems and that things were headed in the wrong direction but the leaders seemed to be totally in the dark about the situation.

It reminds me of when Jesus started speaking to the people in parables.  Matthew records in Matthew 13:1-23 the parable of the sower, seed and soils.  When he finished telling the story the disciples came to him with two questions.  First, Why are you speaking in parables?  Second, What does this parable mean?  Jesus answered the first question with a quotation form Isaiah 69.  “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see wiht their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”  Jesus told the disciples it was given to them to understand the stories he was telling but not to others.  He then proceded to explain the story that the seed was God’s word and the soils represented the different kinds of hearts that people have who hear his word.

But focus with me on the explanation of why speak in parables.  He spoke in stories or parables so that some could see and some couldn’t see.  Those who wanted to hear and understand would be able to see the point and learn from it.  Those who didn’t want to see would go away confused thinking it was just a story that he told and wondering why he told it to begin with.  I can imagine some walking away saying, “Well he is a good story teller, but so is my grandpa and I think grandpa’s are more entertaining.”  Let’s face it there are tons of things in life we will never see simply because we have closed our eyes to the topic and are determined we aren’t going to learn better.  It happens all the time.  We can become so ingrained in any topic or notion that we refuse to learn anything that is different or doesn’t fit what we already think.  We can even close our eyes to things going on all around us so that we never learn anything different.

Why would we close our eyes on anything?  I think of how often someone says, “I got tired of hearing all the bad things in the news, so I quit watching the news.”  Or, “I only watch the news in this one place because they tell it the way I believe.”  Think of the person who says, “I’ve been visiting all the different churches in the city looking for one that teaches everything the way I believe it.”  Or, what about the parent that looks at their son or daughter that is 16 or 17 years old but all they can see is that they are still their little boy or little girl and so they treat them like they did when they were in elementary school.  Picture the parent whose child comes home in tears and tries hard to tell them what is going on in their life only to be told “I don’t want to hear that stuff.  It just kid stuff and you will grow out of it.”  Sometimes parents find it near impossible to correct anything their child is doing wrong because they did all the same things themselves.  It makes you wonder when in the world they will grow up and act like a parent rather than another teenager.  Sometimes the best thing I can do is be open with the young person of the crazy mistakes I made when I was their age and all the problems and hurts it brought into my life.  You could easily say to them, “I am praying you make better choices than I did.  You have wonderful opportunities to choose the better way and live a better life.”

The fact I close my eyes to what is going on around me doesn’t change a single thing of what is going on.  It is like the kid watching a horror scene on TV or the movie who puts their hands over their eyes so they won’t see it.  But the whole thing is still happening and most of the time they will peek through their hands to get some glimpse of the horror anyway.  Far too often even after closing one’s eyes what they imagine as happening during that time is as bad as what was shown on the screen.

Picture yourself in a situation where opinions are being expressed that are different from what you believe to be true or right.  How do you handle it?  Do you listen intently to try to fully understand where they other person is coming from and use it to examine and rethink what you have believed on the topic?  Or do you clam up and refuse to listen to a thing that is said since you know it isn’t what you think is right already?  Or do you spend the whole time the other person is talking figuring out what you are going to say in response to the degree you seldom hear anything they said because you mind is on how to answer what you think they are going to say?

Think of Jesus and how he dealt with people around him.  Can you think of a time when the Bible records him butting in on what another person is saying to correct them?  Can you remember anytime he refused to listen to what people were saying?  I can think of times when he listened intently even though what was being said didn’t agree with what he said or did.  Think of John 11 when Jesus returned to Bethany when Lazarus had died.  First, Martha came to meet him and immediatly challenged him with the statement, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”  Notice Jesus didn’t start trying to defend himself.  Instead he told her that he would be raised from the dead.  When Mary came with the same words, but fell at his feet to say them, Jesus wept and groaned in his spirit or agonized from the inside.  Neither time did he get on to the sisters for what they said or accuse them of making wrong judgments.  He offered no defence but wept with them about the death of their brother.  He then took them out to the cemetary and raised Lazarus from the dead.

I want to be like Jesus and walk through this world with my eyes wide open, seeing what is there and hearing what is said around me.  I want to listen closely to those who have opinions and ideas that are different from mine, knowing they may be right and I may be wrong.  I want the heart and attitude that says, “If I see I’ve been wrong about a thing I will change immediately rather than trying to defend the status quo or stay with what I have always thought.  God doesn’t change.  His word doesn’t change.  But as a human I change all the time and may well change my mind even on what God has said.

David prayed in the 119th Psalms, “Lord open my eyes that I might see the wonderous things of your word.”  I want always for that to be my prayer from the heart to God.”

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