The Samaritan Spirit

Good SamaritanOne of the most familiar and oft-referenced stories in the Bible is the narrative surrounding the Good Samaritan. The story may seem to be out of date when we think of our modes of travel today in contrast to the way people traveled 2000 years ago.

The principles of altruism, however, are the same today as in the time of the Samaritan, the hero of this story. Jesus emphasized three actions that I believe are timeless in living the Christian life. Here is what we should do when we find a person in need.

TIME. The Samaritan gave the injured man his time. I’m sure he was as busy as the priest and the Levite who chose not to stop and give assistance. But he realized the needs of the helpless and hurt man took precedence over whatever else he was traveling to do. Sometimes the best we can do is give our time. Simple acts like playing a game with a child or stopping to check on an elderly person who no longer lives an independent life may be the best action to take.

SKILLS. The second act of the Samaritan was to use what first aid skills he had. He was not a physician or a professional first responder. But he did what he could with the skills that he had. According to Luke 10:34, the Samaritan  “… 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.”Perhaps our skills are only to hold the person’s hand or maybe provide food and make the person comfortable. But we are instructed to do what we can.

PROVISION. The last action the Samaritan took was to provide money to care for the man. The story continues in verse 35:  “The next day he took out two denariiand 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.’” He paid for his room and board and whatever expenses he might incur. In today’s dollars, one writer guessed two denarii would equal about $150. The third action might not be possible for some, but we might provide a meal or encourage the person to spend the night in our home. For some, money might be the best action he or she can take. Perhaps you are one who always has extra money on his or her person for emergency situations such as this one in our story; perhaps what you provide is comfort in a different way.

The Good Samaritan story tells us who our neighbor is and what actions we should take to help. Our neighbor is anyone in need and we can help him or her with our time, our skills, and our money.

What Do You Leave Behind?

Johnny Appleseed    John Chapman planted so many apple seeds that he became known as  Johnny Appleseed. For 50 years he traveled the Midwest planting seeds; Johnny Appleseed festivals are in several states each year. A statue in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati shows him lifting a seedling in the air. He took with him apple seeds wherever he traveled. He was one of the country’s first nurserymen.

Wherever he went, he left behind apple trees. His legacy is the apple. When people think of apples, they think of him. As Christians, what do we take with us wherever we go and what do we leave behind?

In college basketball, you can often tell who trained the coach because of the kind of offense or defense the team uses. The apostle Paul left behind churches he helped establish. In Troas, he left behind Eutychus, alive, who had been assumed dead after falling out of a window while listening to Paul preach (Acts 20:10). Dorcas left behind the clothing she had made for others (Acts 9:36-38). Jesus left behind a small band of followers who changed the world by sharing the good news which he had taught them to deliver.

Batsell B Baxter  My style of preaching goes back to Batsell Barrett Baxter, a main speaker for “Herald of Truth” radio program and my Bible professor at Lipscomb University. All of us have been recipients of skills, techniques, and information left behind by our mentors, parents, and teachers.

You can tell where a tornado has touched ground by the damage to homes, cars, and trees. Recently we visited the Smokies and everywhere we went in the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, area you could observe the burned out fields, forests, and homes left behind by the forest fires that destroyed hundreds of acres of land. So you can leave behind bad, such as a fire, as well as the good, such as the seeds Johnny Appleseed left.

The impact of what we leave behind wherever we go may not be as obvious as apple trees, but in the words of John Allston, “The only thing you take with you when you’re gone is what you leave behind.”

True Grit

 

1955 GRIT

In the fifties, GRIT was a weekly newspaper that my mother bought faithfully. As a child, I was always impressed with its importance because my mother would sit down and immediately start reading. It was sold for a dime and  contained some news, women’s fashions, a comics section, human-interest stories, and recipes.

The word “grit” has stuck with me over the years. It is not a word often used to describe someone and is not a word found in the Bible. “True Grit” was also the title of a popular movie for which John Wayne won an Oscar for Best Actor. Even his name in the movie, “Rooster Cogburn,” connotes grit.

However, I believe some scriptures fall under the umbrella of grit. The word means holding steadfast to a goal even when there are bumps in the road. Progress is often slow, but it may matter more than knowledge, skill, or luck.

Paul had grit, as the reader can tell in I Corinthians 9:27:  “No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

True grit is a trait we Christians seek because the phrase combines biblical terms such as “press onward” and  “…fought the good fight.” Here are some ways to develop true grit:

Understand that God is in charge, no matter what. Great leaders in the Bible were great because they showed grit by their actions. Abraham lived in tents, Moses wandered in the wilderness with the rest of Israel, and Deborah was a judge and prophetess who led the Israelites during a difficult time. All of these showed grit.

Look for the positive in life experiences. Jesus responded to the woman caught in adultery by saying, “Go and sin no more.” He did not dwell on the sin she had committed, but rather how she could live the rest of her life.

Find role models who demonstrate the traits of grit. Look for people who inspire you to be a better person and to persevere by the way they live.

John Glenn was a true American hero. He was the first American to orbit the earth and was a distinguished pilot during World War II, as well as serving as U.S. Senator for 24 years. Certainly he demonstrated grit. It is probably no accident that he watched the movie “True Grit” ten times.

Perhaps President Reagan described grit best when he spoke of the seven who perished in the Challenger disaster: “They had that special grace, that special spirit that says, ‘Give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.’”

A Larry Bird Connection

I recently read a novel set in the French Lick and West Baden area of southern Indiana. It brought back personal memories of high school basketball and playing in several of the small towns in that part of the state. Specifically, one of the gymnasiums I remember best was Springs Valley, which in the early sixties was new and ahead of its time in the quality of flooring, lighting. and overall design. We basketball boys were in awe when we went out on the floor.

But what impressed me most is what happened in that same gymnasium about a dozen years later. Larry Bird played his high school basketball at Springs Valley. Larry Bird and I played on the same basketball court!  Can you believe that!

He and I have something in common. We are connected.

Okay—so the connection is a little bit far-fetched or extreme, but the connection is there. I began thinking about how we often identify a place, a person, or an event with a connection we have.

Connection is a key word in our Christian walk. We want to be connected to Jesus Christ in every way possible. This was the way the early church grew. The early disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). Paul and Barnabas taught and preached Jesus for a year there, with much growth. Why?  Because they not only taught about Jesus, but they sought to be like Jesus in every way possible. The people could tell they were connected to Jesus.

Paul sought to do this in all of his mission work. To the church at Corinth he wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). In other words do all you can to connect with Jesus in every possible way. Earlier he wrote, “Be imitators of me” (I Corinthians 4:16.) He was not being arrogant at all, but rather he was so connected with Jesus that all of his actions and words sought to show Jesus living in him. This was his mission as he spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

That is a great example for us. When we consider all the connections we have in this life, whether big or small, let us keep uppermost in our thoughts and actions to connect with Jesus and the way He lived. Seek to imitate Jesus Christ.

Don’t Forget to Wave

rupert-brookeThe poet Rupert Brooke set out to travel by boat from England to America. All the people on deck had someone there to see them off—except him. Brooke felt very alone. Watching the hugging and kissing and good-byes, he wished he had someone to miss him.

The poet saw a youngster nearby and asked him his name. “William,” he replied.

“William,” he asked, “would you like to earn a few shillings?”

“Sure I would!  What do I have to do?”

“Just wave to me as I leave, “ the lonely man said.

Rupert Brooke wrote later, “Some people smiled and some cried, some waved white handkerchiefs and some waved straw hats. And I? I had William, who waved at me with his red bandana for six shillings and kept me from feeling completely alone.”

Loneliness is a pervasive problem in our culture. One in five Americans suffer from persistent loneliness according to The Huffington Post. From the very beginning, loneliness was a problem. Adam was alone and God gave him someone to spend his life with (Genesis 2:8, 18). I learned from a film on listening that for one tribe in Africa, capitol punishment is to withhold human contact from that person.

A ministry we can all be a part of is to help people cope with loneliness. Pay attention to the people who live alone. Make it a point to call or ask him or her to have coffee with you. Or invite yourself over and bring a pastry. If you know someone in a convalescent home, pay him or her a visit. I heard of one individual who made it a point to occasionally visit a nursing home and ask at the main desk which residents never had visitors. Then he would get the names and room numbers and stop by for a short visit.

I try to smile and speak to people I meet on the street. Sometimes I will nod and wave at another car approaching a four-way stop. I strike up conversations with servers in restaurants, checkers at the grocery store, cab drivers, and cashiers at service stations. You never know when all a person needs is a kind word, a smile, or a wave.

Even Jesus felt loneliness. Alone in the garden, Jesus wanted his three closest friends to go with him in his darkest hours before his crucifixion (Luke 22:39-46).

You may not feel comfortable initiating a conversation with a stranger, or know what to say when you visit someone you don’t know very well. But in some form or another, you can always wave.

Lunch with a Stranger

A few weeks ago on a warm July day, a friend and I ate lunch in the outside section of an ethnic restaurant.  As we ate, a man stopped and asked us for money.  My friend responded, “I can’t give you money but we’ll buy you lunch.  Have a seat and eat with us.”  He seemed hesitant to do so , but he took a seat; we called the server to give him a menu and he ordered the special of the day at my friend’s suggestion.

He was not sure what to say or do, but my friend very pleasantly asked about his family and I asked where he was from.  In the course of conversation he told us he had spent the past year in a nursing home and had just been released a few weeks earlier.

We asked him why he had spent such a long time and his answer was, “I have cancer, but the medication keeps it under control.”

We chatted a little more, his food came,  and he started to eat.  Then he said, “You guys are really nice to do this for me.  I have not told you the truth about my condition.  I have Aids and that’s the reason I have been in a nursing home.  It is easier to say I have cancer because people see me differently if I tell them I have Aids.  But you guys are nice and respectful and I wanted to be truthful with you.”

We talked a little longer, he thanked us again for lunch, and we went on our way.

I think it is difficult to know how to respond to those who have no place to live or not enough money to buy food.  People wanting money are camped out at busy intersections with their “homeless” signs as well as on the busy streets of our cities.  Sometimes we ignore them or give them a couple of dollars; sometimes, if we have prepared ahead of time, we give them a bag of personal items from the backseat of our car.

Sharing a meal with a person in dire straits may not only feed the body, but personal conversation feeds the spirit.  After a few minutes, our new friend felt comfortable sharing a part of his personal life that he would not ordinarily share.  He needed food, but he also needed someone to take a moment and show that they cared.

If Jesus were here today and walking our busy streets, I see him eating lunch not in the Banker’s Club but with a beggar in the closest Wendy’s.  I see him stopping and encouraging the one standing on the street corner with his cardboard sign.  Jesus tended to seek out those in need and minister to them as he went from village to village.

He often spoke of helping those in unfortunate circumstances, such as in Luke 6:30-31, part of which we often refer to as The Golden Rule.  The story of the Good Samaritan proclaims that a neighbor is anyone in need (Luke 10:25-37.)

Probably too many times I do not follow through with sharing a meal or taking the time for conversation with a person like the one in this story. I have to admit, however, that I feel the best about myself after I have had lunch with a stranger who has become my neighbor.

A Word Fitly Spoken…

“A word fitly spoken” is one of my favorite Biblical expressions (Proverbs 25:11, KJV). The main reason is that words we use have dramatic impact. For example, just say the word “bomb” in an airport and you will immediately be detained or arrested, and, at the least, probably miss your flight.

One of the most important ways to apply “a word fitly spoken” is with words of affirmation. A conversation I had not long ago dramatically illustrates this point.

As I was walking through the dining area at our weekly church-sponsored free meal for the community, a lady called me aside for a private conversation. She discussed several personal issues and obviously had very low self-esteem. Finally she said to me, “Would you tell me I’m a good person?”

I was so taken aback that all I could do was to say the question back to her. This gave me time to think and finally to respond, “Can we pray about this?” to which she readily agreed. In my prayer, I stressed how important she was to God and to others, and sought God’s help in helping her accept this. This was a conversation I will not soon forget.

One of the most valuable actions we can take is to affirm another person. Such expressions as “You did a good job,” or “You look very nice today,” or “I appreciate what you did for me,” are ways all of us can be a shining light to those around us.

A statement I especially enjoy saying is in response to a child who tells me his or her age. I say, “That is a great age to be!”  I’m usually rewarded with a smile and more conversation.

Affirmations will help a person have a good day and perhaps motivate him or her to pass on an affirmation to someone else.

Several centuries after Solomon wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, NKJV), Paul made a similar point with these words, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt…” (Colossians 4:6a, KJV.)

Let’s work on fitly spoken words, seasoned with a little salt.

What Rooms are in Your House?

When I was growing up in the fifties and sixties in rural southern Indiana, we had a “great room” and did not even know it.  According to “Listing Ups,” a real estate resource, the “great room” combines all the parts of the living room and family room into one big room with high ceilings and plenty of light from windows.

For us this room (without the high ceilings) was literally the living room because except for bedrooms and bath, this room was where we lived and were family.  You see, this room was also the furnace room.  Our coal stove sat in the middle of the room and was attractive to all family members because we could keep warm in   that room.  This room was Mom’s quilting room and we had to navigate carefully around the quilting frames in January and February because that is when she spent much time making quilts.  On Tuesdays this room usually became the ironing room.  Lots of conversation occurred while Mom ironed our clothes she had washed on Monday.

This was the changing room for me in the winter because it was the warmest place in the house to change clothes.  When more than four or five guests came, this became the formal dining room with card tables moved into the space to accommodate everyone.  Mom usually had the visiting preacher for dinner sometime during each gospel meeting and we ate and talked in that space.  Family birthdays were celebrated in that room.

It was the entertainment room because the radio was in one corner and I could get close enough to listen to Red Skelton or follow “The Lone Ranger.”  Later it became the television room where we watched through a snowy screen “The $64,000 Question” and the “Kennedy Nixon debates.” With the radio or television off, on rare occasions it became the homework room.

Today we have compartmentalized much of the activities of the family at home.  We have a separate room for each of the above in many homes.  With the busy lives we live, I’m not sure we have nearly enough family time to eat together, laugh together, pray together, and learn about what each member of the family is doing or has done.

David reminds us in Psalm 90 that our time on earth is limited even if we live several decades.  Our children live in our homes for a short time and then have families of their own.  Our homes need to be places where we can share family time and enjoy helping each other grow and mature physically and spiritually.

Create a schedule where you all regularly spend time around a table eating, playing games, having lively discussions about what you are thinking, talking about school, or working.

It was easier in the fifties and sixties because we did not have the numerous choices families have today.  The examples I gave earlier were not so much choices but a way of life for families growing up in America in that era.  Let’s be sure to have a room where the whole family looks forward to being present and sharing our lives.

–Steve Boyd

Passages

I have preached for the same church for over 40 years. I have watched families go through many passages of life. For example, I married one couple when I first worked with this church and have watched her deal with the death of her father and the aging of her mother. We rejoiced with this couple when their sons were born and now those boys are godly men and husbands and fathers themselves.

I was once a young preacher responding to comments such as “Some day you will be a good preacher,” to currently, “How much longer are you going to preach,  Steve?”  My toddler son is now in his early forties and he and his wife have two children of their own.

Passages of life remind us of how quickly life moves and how little time we actually have on this earth, even if we live to be 90 or 100.

Not many Bible characters give us a full accounting of the passages of their lives, but one whose life is told in stages is Joseph. He was seventeen when he was sold into Egypt. He was 30 when he was made overseer of the famine years in Egypt. He was 39 when his brothers first came to Egypt, and he was probably 41 when the brothers came a second time and then brought  Jacob  to Egypt. Joseph was 110 when he died. At each of these stages he had different roles to play and each period brought with it different responsibilities and circumstances.

We should be grateful to live through each passage. Often you may hear young people say, “I can’t wait until I can drive a car,” or “I want to get out of school and get a job; I’m tired of school.”  As an adult, you hear people say, “Retirement can’t come too soon for me.”  And then as we age you may hear, “I wish I could still….” So often we yearn for the future or live in the past instead of appreciating the present.

Each year of life is special and gives us unique opportunities. Let’s be grateful for whatever age we are and make the most of whatever passage in life we may be in. As the Psalmist wrote, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24.)

 

The Seed Catalog Approach to Life

Winter is just around the corner, and winter always reminds me of  my dear aunt Alma who lived into her nineties. My family and I would usually visit her on any trip to my hometown. In late winter when we visited, what do you think would be a major topic of conversation with a lady who lived by herself on a small farm in Southern Indiana?

It wasn’t about what she did 30 years ago, or what she was unable to do today, or people she had known who had recently died. No, most of the conversation revolved about the seed catalog. She couldn’t wait to start planting seeds. We talked about the kinds of flower seeds she would buy and plant.

Then we got serious about the best kinds of tomatoes. She made the statement on one February visit the previous year she used tomato plants and that the plants didn’t yield the quality of tomato that the ones she had grown from seed had. So this year she was growing her own tomatoes—from seed!

As I left, I couldn’t help but think that one of the reasons she was still active and vibrant was her overall attitude about life. She didn’t dwell on the past and its good times and bad. She didn’t dwell on her aches and pains, but on seed and the beautiful flowers they would produce and the fruits and vegetables that would be abundant the following summer.

What about us?  Do we generally carry with us an overall cheery disposition, always looking with optimism to the future?  Paul said, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:1).  We never read of Jesus’ complaining that there were too many people in the audience, or that the crowds He preached to were too noisy, or that He could not take another day on the road without some rest. He always seemed to be pressing on to a new town, a new audience, and a new challenge.

There is something to be said about visualizing the tomorrows, and pondering the beauty of what those days can bring. Maybe we all need a little more of the seed catalog philosophy of life.

Addressing issues of spiritual significance