Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

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 The story may seem to be out of date when we think of our modes of travel today in contrast to the way people traveled 2000 years ago.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.

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

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.

Traveling Far to Discover What is Near

In the well-known story of the prodigal son, he thought his ultimate life objective was far away from home.  “Not long after [he received his inheritance he asked for from his father], the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country, and there squandered his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13).  But he soon realized that the real treasure was back home.  After he was broke and hungry, he remembered how good it was back home (Luke 15:17), and he returned. The prodigal found the treasure of home when he was far away.

We may look forward to a vacation and travel to some distant state or country, but usually one of the best parts is coming home.  At times circumstances require that we be away from our family and friends for a while; that is when we have a new appreciation for spouse, children, parents, neighborhood, and church friends.  We have new joy in being with them again.

Sometimes we seek happiness away from the common  and the ordinary only to discover that  real contentment is found in the routine that has been with us all along.

At some point in life we all have to come to grips with the reality that happiness is not found in some faraway place or a large bank account,  but rather from that which is close by, such as family and special times and places.   As Jesus said, “…a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions “ (Luke 12:15b).

The prodigal son is a warning to us all that we should not have to travel far literally or intellectually to find that what is really important is near.

Snake Handling

We’ve dealt with snakes since the beginning. In the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-5), the snake tempted Eve and prompted her to tempt Adam.

Handling snakes can be deadly. In Acts 28:3 when the viper attached itself to Paul’s hand as he was building a fire, the people waited for him to die; when he didn’t, they assumed he was a god (Acts 28:6). Serpents have often represented the devil or evil. In Numbers 21:1-7, because the people rejected God’s word, they paid for their evil by being bitten by poisonous snakes and died. Imagine having your property infested with poisonous snakes!

But in one sense we are all snake handlers when we consider the metaphorical aspects of snakes symbolizing Satan and evil. These are the temptations we give in to and the sins we have not eliminated from our lives. The Psalmist makes this connection in Psalm 140:3: “They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips.”  Anytime we involve ourselves with temptations, it is like handling snakes; we can be bitten anytime.

In reading about snake handling religion, I found that over 70 handlers have died by snakebite. What deadly snakes do we handle?  John speaks of some of the deadly snake-handlers in Revelation 21:8, “…the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”

The people in Numbers 21 had to look up to the bronze serpent to be healed (verse 9). And the bronze serpent was a type of Christ since Christ was lifted up for man (John 12:32). Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross (Galatians 6:14). The blood of Jesus is the antidote for the venom of sin and is the center of our salvation (Colossians 1:14).

Avoid handling snakes. And when you do succumb to temptation, remember that Jesus is the only way to be saved. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Out on a Limb

A number of years ago, a high school senior in our town took his own life. At his funeral, an aunt spoke of when he was a little boy visiting her home. Her kitchen window was two stories up from the back yard. While she was fixing dinner he climbed up a tree to a limb where he could look in her kitchen window at eye level with her. She was startled, to say the least.

But once he got out on the limb he could not get back down and his father had to climb up the tree and help him down to the ground. Then she said that that was the story of his short life. In the end, he had gotten himself out on a limb and couldn’t get down.

Her point was that many people in life are out on a limb and don’t know how to get down. We need to be there to help them, but, even more importantly, One greater than any of us is always available.

God provides a way down. He sent His Son to die for our sins. There is no way we can earn salvation or deserve heaven as our eternal home. We are out there on a limb, but the Father is there to come and get us and bring us down. That is made possible through  his Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and master. That is the message of the cross. Let’s accept it for ourselves, and then share the message with a lost and dying world.

About Giving Advice: Don’t Do It!

We all have difficulties solving our own problems, but we usually feel pretty confident in knowing how others can solve theirs! Some of us are quick to give advice, which is rarely a good idea. We need to go back to the admonition of James to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). That includes giving advice. A dear Christian lady, smiling, told me years ago, “Steve, don’t give advice. If you give advice and the people take it and it works, they will give you no credit. But if they take your advice and it does not work, they will blame you!” Needless to say, she was doing exactly what she said not to do, but she was right. Even when people ask, be careful about telling them what to do. People get pretty defensive when you start giving advice. The experts tend to agree. Both psychologist Greg Hale and advice columnist Jeffrey Zaslow, author of Tell Me All About It, offer points about advice:  Tread carefully. Pick a calm moment. Pose a series of gently probing questions. Offer suggestions with the preface, “This is something that has worked for me.” The greatest communicator of all, Jesus Christ, usually combined advice giving with other techniques. One of his favorites was the use of questions. For example, he could have simply gathered his disciples together and said, “You have been with me long enough to realize I am the Son of God and it is time for you to affirm that to the people around you.”  But he did not. Instead he used a series of questions, “Who do people say that I am?”  (Matthew 16:13-16)  The disciples have different responses, such as “John the Baptist” and “Elijah the prophet.”  Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). This affirmation was a key moment in his relationship with the disciples and he made it happen with the questioning technique. Paul tells us we are not  to use harsh words, and advice often comes across to people that way (Ephesians 4:29-32). Don’t give advice freely; seek to help others to find solutions to their problems through thoughtful questions and kindness.