The Measure of a Day

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On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan,as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 – Luke 10:25-27, NIV –

I measure days all wrong sometimes.

I like to be productive, useful, and successful–all very good, God-honoring things to be. The trouble comes when I start to think that one particular kind of productivity outweighs the others.

Countable things, particularly.

I like to lay out those responsibilities on a piece of paper, turn them into a to-do list, and check my way through the day. It’s very satisfying to make those check marks. So satisfying, in fact, that I can forget that there are other ways of measuring the success of a life.

When I get to a day when nothing seems to get checked off the list, it is easy to feel like a failure. To a girl who is tempted to measure her worth by her productivity, a list without checkmarks is a sure sign of inadequacy.

When my performance-driven soul gets tied up in knots about all the “important stuff” that hasn’t been finished, I have to remember.

Sometimes I tell it to myself. Other times, someone takes my hand and reminds me why I’m on this earth. Sure, Jesus tells us to do our work well. But what is our main work? What am I here for, after all?

To make sure my to-do lists are perfectly marked off, every day? Primarily to dust the furniture, exercise, clock time at my job?

Or to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:29-31)?

Some of the things on my list are important. They are even necessary to loving God with all of myself (Colossians 3:23). But do I really believe that, at the end of the day, they are the most vital parts of my life?

I don’t think I really believe that.

It’s possible to get so caught up in my to-do lists that I forget that the people around me are way more important than my agenda.

When I get discouraged about how little I’ve accomplished some days, I need to take a step back for a better look. Have I taken the time to look someone in the eyes while they tell me something important to them? Have I given out hugs and kisses, told the “old, old story” once again?  With my life, have I painted a living picture of the grace that I’ve been given? Have I loved, with all my heart and soul, mind and strength?

If so, my day has been undoubtedly full and rich and complete.

“Some think love can be measured by the amount of butterflies in their tummy. Others think love can be measured in bunches of flowers, or by using the words ‘for ever.’ But love can only truly be measured by actions. It can be a small thing, such as peeling an orange for a person you love because you know they don’t like doing it.”
— Marian Keyes —

There is something so compelling about a life centered around love of God and neighbor. Maybe it is the step out of “life” into “life abundant.”

I will probably always make to-do lists. God has given me jobs to do each day, and the little insistent voices of these lists help me remember my responsibilities.

But, when I get to the end of the day and inevitably find some piece of work that still needs to be done, I can set aside my notepad and pen and embrace the living to be found outside the neatly checked boxes.

I think I’ll call it “living outside the box.”

Or, better yet…

Loving outside the box.

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.”
― Bessie Anderson Stanley

 

 

 

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What You Don’t See

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“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

– C.S. Lewis –


A friend and I were talking this week, pondering about how we view others. We decided that, much of the time, we don’t really see them.

Not the biggest piece of them, anyway.

I see only what I want to see, I suppose. The outside words and actions. Motions and syllables. Annoying things. Pleasing things.

Over and over, I condemn someone in my heart. Sometimes I assign a motivation to their bad behaviors. Other times, I keep my distance, because I just don’t want to get involved in their baggage. Judging, I judge myself.

Because, often, I do the exact same things I condemn others for doing.

A while back, I got irritated at someone for trying to tell me how to do something. I can do it myself, I inwardly argued. Don’t you think I’m smart enough to figure this out?

Of course, not long later, I was on the other side of the picture, making sure someone in my family knew exactly the right way to accomplish a task. Because obviously I am the sole Guardian of the Right Way to Do Everything.

What I condemned, I did myself.

“Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Romans 2:1-4 –

For some reason, I am so much easier on myself when it comes to sin — or even preferences — than I am on others. If I want to be bossy, fine. But far be it from you to try to be bossy. You shall rue the day.

But one day, a person you silently judged will open up to you in spite of your internal condemnation, and they will tell you a bigger story.

Oh, their sin won’t suddenly be okay, but you will see a much larger story than you imagined.

One day you will wake up and see that you didn’t see them before, not at all. You shouldn’t excuse sin, but your heart will be humbled by the knowledge that you probably wouldn’t do any better if you were in their shoes.

Instead of the cardboard cutout you thought they were, your eyes will open to a real, blood-pumping, soul-scarred human being, with all of the dozens of motivations, complexities, moods, circumstances and problems that you face in your own life.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

So, next time you get angry, next time you are wronged for the hundredth time, next time the flaws of another person shine through in all their terrible blatancy, remember.

You were an enemy. Yet still Jesus, very God of very God, died for you.

You were not lovely. But He took you anyway, to make you lovely.

You were not worthy. But He has made you an heir with Him.

The well-known literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird has this to say about our predisposition to judge:

“Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?”
― Harper Lee

Proverbs 8:13 pronounces it shameful to give an answer before the question has even been spoken. How much more foolish is it to pass sentence on the “wrongness” of those around us before we have even understood them?

Sin is not excusable. It never is.

But if God can step out of paradise to touch feeble dust-creatures with His glory, how much more can we extend His love to those around us.

Their worthiness is not the issue.

In truth, we can see ourselves in them, as if we were looking in a mirror. It is not that they are less bad. It is that we, when we truly see them, also see that we’re not as good as we’d like to think.

But our Savior is good.

So today, pray for grace to really see. When people inevitably rub you the wrong way, stop and look beyond your nearsighted perspective. What you find out may surprise you. It will most certainly bring you to your knees in humility and thankfulness for the mercy of our great God.

Oh Father, give us eyes to see those we meet. Our families — those most familiar to us, but so often still unseen. Our neighbors — those whom God has planted us beside. Our fellow church members — co-heirs of the grace in which we live abundantly. The great, unmet horde of unseen — those we never stop to see or hear or know.

Help me see those I meet as you see them. Needy. Flawed. And just as much a candidate for Your unearned love as I am.


“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”
― Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

 

 

 

Love Beyond Flannelgraphs

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“Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way.

A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ “

Luke 10:30-35, CEB


The parable of the Good Samaritan is a well-worn path for me. Those horrible “religious” Jews ran away from the problem; the good “unclean” outcast stayed to love. I can almost see my childhood’s flannel board now: the resolute Samaritan, and the man lying pale and bandaged across the back of a compliant donkey.

This story is nearly as reminiscent of Sunday school as John 3:16 and goldfish crackers.

I’m not sure whom I always identified with in the story. Maybe the Samaritan, because of course I would stop to help, right? Or perhaps I always focused on the robbed Jew, the man lying splayed on the rocky soil. Poor guy. Yeah, I’d want someone to help me too.

But I don’t think I ever once identified with the Jews that did not stop. Reading Gary Inrig’s The Parables recently, I came upon this passage:

“We should not make the mistake of thinking these are ‘bad’ men. No, not bad, but busy. For them, and too often, for me, people in need are problems, interruptions, nuisances. They intrude awkwardly on my privacy. They deflect me from my duty. They distract me from my responsibility. They keep me from my pleasures. I agree that they need help, and I hope that someone does help. But not me, not now, not here. I have a different agenda.” – p. 37

Oh. Oh, I see. To my shame, I see I am the priest that crossed to the other side, the Levite who skirts around, every time I do not stop for my neighbor.

“And who IS my neighbor?”

This time I take the part of the questioning teacher, the student of God’s law whose query prompted Jesus’ parable. “Ahem. Teacher. So we’re supposed to love God and our neighbor. But who is my neighbor?” I’m sure he felt very smug, thinking, Yes, let’s clarify. Because of course there are limits to love.

Or, to rephrase….

“Isn’t there someone I don’t have to love? This sounds pretty involved. Where can I draw the line? When do I not have to stop and take pity? When can I cut back on this love business? I mean…really, you can’t expect me to love everyone all the time, can you?”

And Jesus answers with a powerful story that we have reduced to a flannelgraph lesson promoting the moral standards of the nice Samaritan--an impotent, sanitized repackaging of a radical love:

And here seems to be the thrust of the story: When a need appears on the path, Love stops.

To the best of its ability, Love lends a hand.

“The Lord is deliberately and carefully shocking his audience. His hero is a despised Samaritan, a man who does not pass by, whatever the pillars of jewish religious society might do. However, it is not his nationality that sets him apart, but his compassion. He doesn’t see anything the other two didn’t, but he feels something they didn’t. ‘He took pity on him.’ All of the normal hostility between Jew and Samaritan is swept away as he allows what he sees to affect his emotions and actions. Strikingly the word translated here ‘pity’ is used elsewhere in the gospels ply of the Lord Jesus. He, above all others, is the model of compassion.” – The Parables, p. 38

In his book, Mr. Inrig points out, “The central question is not ‘who is my neighbor?’ but ‘what is my duty?’ Again our need is not to define ‘neighbor’ but to become the kind of person who cannot pass by on the other side…Am I concerned about calculating the limits of love or about caring for hurting people? The theologian is thinking about his responsibility; the Lord wants us to seize the opportunity. The theologian is thinking about himself; the Lord directs us to the sufferer” (p. 40-41).

In Christian communities, debates still rage. How do we help the needy? Are there people that we have a higher obligation to love and care for than others? How do we help people if they won’t better themselves? Should we give money to that homeless guy that makes minimum wage with only a  scrawled cardboard sign and a grocery cart? How do we balance safety with radical love?

Certainly, wisdom should come into play. The focus of the story is not mindless care–the focus is deliberate love. If loving someone means not giving them certain things, or not enabling them to continue in a particular lifestyle, that is not less loving than binding up a bleeding man’s wounds. And, certainly, there are Biblical priorities–God, then biological and church family, and then those outside the faith.

But–at least for me–the problem is not in the exceptions or the complications.

The problem is in the application.

” This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him?

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.”

– 1 John 3:16-18, CEB –

A man who doesn’t show practical love for his family by doing his best to provide for them is betraying his faith (1 Timothy. 5:8). A Christian who does not have compassion on his fellow heirs in Christ is demonstrating a dearth of love. A man who passes by is showing that he really doesn’t understand the kind of grace that throws away convenience, propriety, reputation, comfort, and possessions just to stop and do something.

We quibble over terms.

Christ came in and acted.

We, of all people, were surely not His neighbors: More inferior to his Divinity than an amoeba is to a great blue whale. More adversarial to his kind advances than a Jew would be to a helpful leper. A cosmos, in a sense, separated us from Him–a world gone amuck, millions of sins piled like stones between the life of God and the life of man.

And us, unaware of it, ran straight into the den of robbers and gave ourselves over to the beatings of the sin we chose, until we lay bloody on the roadside. Utterly hopeless. Utterly undesirable.

But He had compassion. Desiring us! What love is this? He stopped. And, at the cost of His life, bound up our wounds.

It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
    and our sufferings that he bore,
    but we thought him afflicted,
    struck down by God and tormented.
He was pierced because of our rebellions
    and crushed because of our crimes.
    He bore the punishment that made us whole;
    by his wounds we are healed.
 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
    each going its own way,
    but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.

– Isaiah 53: 4-6 –

We can make wonderful excuses. We can say we’re too busy. We can say that we don’t owe them anything.

Jesus could have done that too.

But He went out into the highways instead.

With such a Savior, how can we hold back for one more minute? Today, my neighbor is the person in front of me–my roommate, my boss at the office, my brother, the cashier at Wal-Mart, the lady walking her dachshund down the neighborhood sidewalk.

How can I not love them? How can I just pass by?


“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”

– Augustine –