Christmas on a Supermarket Floor

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It was a day of running errands. Lisa was in Christmas baking mode and my day was spent getting last minute gift cards, fetching lunch, and making runs to the store for more sugar, shortening and a few items for Christmas Eve dinner. It was the during last run to the market that I came across a sight that changed my perspective of the holiday.

I was in a hurry and after grabbing my shopping cart I quickly headed to the back of the store, moving down the leftmost isle and turning right. To my surprise, there in front of me an elderly woman lay flat on her back, surrounded by two women, each of whom were trying to find her pulse. I left my cart and rushed forward. “I am  Family Doctor, what’s going on?”

“She collapsed, I think it was a seizure!” said the younger of the women, her fingers on the woman’s neck over the area of the right carotid artery, “I think I feel a pulse.”

I looked down at the woman. She was clearly unconscious. She was breathing in a labored fashion, gurgling with each breath. “She’s breathing, so she has a pulse,” I replied, “Has 911 been called?” A man nearby siad that he had just seen the paramedics pull up outside the store. As she was breathing and the paramedics were on the scene I realized there was nothing I could do for her as a physician. I stood back as the paramedics took over her care.

As I watched them attend to her the thought went through my mind, “Merry Christmas…” Whatever her plans were for Christmas, they had certainly changed. I wondered about her family, and if she was going to be in the hospital over the holiday. My heart ached for her. I found myself saying a prayer for the woman as they loaded her onto a stretcher and wheeled her away.

I have thought of her often today, for her story reminds me of the fragility of life and the futility of human plans. Regardless of the intensity of our efforts or the thoroughness of our preparations, stuff happens. Everything we desire and hope for can evaporate in a moment. Christmas is not a time of year we like to think about such things but for people like the woman in the market, these thoughts can be thrust upon us.

In such moments the true message of Christmas is profoundly relevant. Christmas is not about gifts, music, cookies, or even getting together with family. Christmas is about the birth of the Christ child, the One who came to die for the sins of the world, the One who came to save us from our sins. It is He who gives us hope, He who promises peace, He who we celebrate.

It is because of the Savior that we can be hopeful in any and all circumstances, the reason we we have hope in the darkest moments. Whether we find ourselves on the floor of a supermarket, or in a bed in a hospital, it is the true story of Christmas that keeps despair at bay.

We have hope and peace, “For unto us was born that day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Merry Christmas

Bart

Getting our Faces Eaten

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It is amazing what comes into my mind during Bible study. This week it was a quote from Jonah Goldberg, one of my favorite writers, “Bears want to eat your face.” The quote was from a column he wrote about our culture’s tendency to think wild animals are cute and cuddly, even though when given the opportunity most would eat us.

The verse that triggered this mental wandering was Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Jesus was talking to the 12 apostles as they were preparing to go out into Israel proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven. He taught them that while the news was good, the response of the Jews might be hostile. They would be like sheep, the world would be like wolves.

Sheep were to be wise, careful and shrewd. They were to be as nice and as polite as possible to wolves, do everything they could to appease them. Regardless of their efforts, when all was said and done, the wolves would still want to eat their faces.

So it is with Christians in the midst of a hostile world. We can be kind, humble, gentle and nice, as accommodating as possible, and people will still hate us.

Jesus told his disciples that in spite of their shrewdness and innocence they would still be charged with crimes, publicly flogged, and called to give account before governors and kings. Families would turn against one another, and they would be widely hated by others. All of this for “his name’s sake.”

This called to mind the recent story of Peter Vlaming, a Christian school teacher in Virginia. A girl student in one of his 2017 classes returned in 2018 claiming to be a boy. Peter wanted to be respectful but did not want to support or encourage something he thought was wrong. His solution was to address the student by her new chosen name but to not use male pronouns. He thought it was a reasonable compromise. As shrewd and as innocent as he was trying to be, it was not good enough. The wolves ate his face.

The student was participating in a class room exercise in which she wore virtual reality goggles, and therefore could not see where she was going. Seeing her about to walk into a wall, the teacher called out to warn the newly “male” student saying, “Stop her before she walks into the wall!” In his haste and concern he moenmtarily forgot to use the patients name and instead used the pronoun that the student had rejected.

All hell broke loose.

The student and her parents were incensed and complained to the school board. The school board voted to fire Peter, rejecting his offer to use the student’s name in place of the a pronoun. Just weeks before Christmas, the father of four was out of a job.

It would be easy for him to wonder what was happening, or where God was. Easy if he had not read Matthew 10. If he had, he would remember that Jesus had told his disciples that things like this would happen. He would see that he had been a lamb amidst wolves, and that he had been called before a court, for his name’s sake. When his story went national, millions of people learned that about a man whose faith in Christ was more important than his job. A man whose faith was real to him.

His story is sobering reality for all who bear the name of Christ. The world does not share our values. Standing up for what we believe may come at great cost. Our faces may get eaten. We will suffer, but we cannot say we haven’t been warned!

Bart

This is my midweek Bible post, shared a little late this week as I was out of town. For those not interested in religious posts, I post on other topics every weekend. If anyone wants to receive my posts in their email, just click the subscribe link on the page

Wanted: Shepherds and Laborers

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Sheep do not have much in the way of defense mechanisms. They can run, they can climb steep hills, and they can gather in a circle (so it is harder for a predator to single them out). That is it. Domesticated sheep require care and attention in order to survive. Unattended they are prone to infections, parasites and predators. They need to be shepherded or they will die.

As Matthew 9 closes, Jesus looks on the crowds that are following him and is reminded of sheep without a shepherd. The were described as “harassed and helpless.” Other translations say the people were “confused and helpless” or “distressed and dispirited.”

When sheep are fearful, threatened or distressed their instinctive response is to gather together for safety. I wonder if it was the sight of the gathered crowds that triggered the analogy in Jesus’ mind. The people who were following Jesus, who formed the mob in His wake, were the common folk. Under worldly oppression from the Roman Empire and its soldiers and spiritually oppressed by religious leaders who told them they were unworthy of God’s blessing because they did not keep the law as they should, they gathered together and followed after Jesus.

They were a needy bunch. A review of the gospel accounts reveals that they were constantly pursuing Jesus, seeking healing, teaching and miracles. So desperate were they that on more than one occasion they did not remember to take food with them when they followed Jesus, forcing Jesus to miraculously feed over 4000 people.

Demanding, needy people can be annoying. It is easy to look at them and think they should be smarter and better. To conclude that they should plan better, prepare better, and take better care of themselves. I have often felt this way when confronted with particularly needy people, sometimes asking myself, “Why are people so ________” (Insert derogatory term here)

Jesus did not do this. When he looked at the needy people He saw them differently than I do. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd, as people in need of guidance, care and direction, people burdened and threatened by the world, gathered together in search of safety, in search of a savior.

Because Jesus saw them in this way his response was different than the one that has characterized me too often. I get annoyed, Jesus was moved with compassion. Deep inside his being, the plight of the people moved Him. It moved Him in a way that led Him to turn to his disciples with a specific request. He asked them to pray that God would raise up workers, workers who would reach out to the crowd and invite them into the kingdom of God. Their downtrodden state, instead of being a cause for dismissal was evidence that God was working in their lives and preparing their hearts to hear the Good News. Jesus saw this.

Jesus, who taught that it was the Poor in Spirit to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs, reminded his disciples that these people, poor and distressed and helpless, had been brought to a place where they could receive that kingdom.

This discussion from my men’s study led me to a simple and clear conclusion. I need to see the world like Jesus does.

Bart

There are no Steps to Success or Happiness

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As with most people, I like clear directions. Tell me the steps to take and the boxes to check in order to achieve success and happiness and I will follow them. Unfortunately for me (and everyone else) life does not work that way.

This has not stopped people from trying. A quick search on Amazon for “steps to a happy marriage” results in books declaring marital bliss can be achieved in 4,5,7,8,9,10,12 or 50 steps. (Why would anyone would pick the 50 step process over the 4 step process?). Christian pastors have apparently imbibed the same Kool-Aid, as a Google search for “Sermon steps to a happy marriage” yielded links to sermons declaring 4,5,7,8,10,12, and 17 steps to happiness.

The tendency to search for a secret formula, the hidden recipe, or the magic steps seems to be deeply ingrained into human nature. Which is what made our study of Matthew 9 this last week so surprising. As we reviewed the actions of Jesus described in the passage it became clear to us- Jesus did not follow a process, He did not check boxes. He had a clear mission, but he did not have a set process for carrying it out.

Several healings are described in the passage. A paralyzed man, a dead girl, a hemorrhaging woman, two blind men and a demon oppressed mute boy. For two of them, Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well”, for the other three, no reference is made to their faith at all. Three of them are healed with a touch, the other two are not. Two of the healings occurred because the sick ones personally sought Jesus out, the other two the seeking was done by someone else on their behalf.

This seems to be characteristic of Jesus. There are several instances in which Jesus is described as healing blindness. In Matthew 9, the blind men called out to Jesus, and followed him, calling out to Him and asking for mercy. It seems that Jesus just kept walking, and that the men ultimately followed Jesus into the house where he was staying. It was only then and there that the men were healed. On another occasion, a blind man called out in the same fashion as Jesus passed by. That time Jesus stopped, acknowledged the man, spoke to him and healed him on the spot.

Similar examples abound in the New Testament. As we discussed the lack of pattern in Jesus’ actions we came to the conclusion that it seemed Jesus was intentionally varying his approach. In so doing he made it impossible for people to put their faith in a process. There is no set behavior that resulted in Jesus responding. The gospel accounts make it clear, it is the person, Jesus, who matters, not a process.

This is a lesson we all need to learn. We need to focus on Jesus, not on process. As my friend John joked Tuesday morning. “If we took away of the books in the Christian bookstore that offered check boxes and processes, the only book left would be the Bible!”

Bart

This is the third post in a series based on insights from my weekly Men’s Bible Study group. Faith based posts are typically shared midweek (this one was a little late), non-religious posts on the weekend. If you want to receive these posts in your email, click on the subscribe link on the page. Comments are always welcomed.

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Do You See Who Jesus Sees?

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Matthew was a tax collector. He made his living by taking money from his fellow Jews and giving it to the Romans. To be more specific, if he was like other tax collectors he made a living by taking more than required from his fellow Jews, giving the required amount to Rome and then keeping the extra for himself. It is not a stretch to assume that he was not a well-liked man.

Tax collectors were despised by the religious leaders, considered unworthy. Which makes Jesus’ choice of Matthew to be one of his 12 closest disciples remarkable. Why would Jesus pick him? Didn’t Jesus know Matthew’s history?

There can be no doubting that Jesus knew. Matthew was sitting in his tax collection booth at the moment Jesus called to him and told Matthew to become one of his followers! Why would Jesus do this?

The Bible does no specifically answer this question but in Matthew’s account of this interaction, found in Matthew 9:9, there may be a clue. Look at how Jesus’ actions are described-

“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.” Matthew 9:9 ESV

Take note of what Jesus is described as seeing. “A man called Matthew.”

Jesus saw Matthew as first and foremost a man, not as a tax collector. It appears that to Jesus, Matthew was a man who happened to be a tax collector, not a tax collector who happened to be man. I think this is how Jesus sees everyone. He sees us as people, created in the image of God, deserving of love, and he desires to enter into relationship with us. What we have done is insignificant when compare to who we are.

Jesus’ attitude was the polar opposite of the attitude of the religious leaders of that time. We see in the passage (and a parallel passage in Mark 2) that after calling to Matthew Jesus went to a dinner at Matthew’s home. They were joined there by several of Matthew’s friends. See how the pharisees described the members of Jesus’ dinner party-

“And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew 9:11 ESV

It seems that the pharisees saw the men and evaluated their worth first and foremost on their past actions, not on their humanity. Their judgmental attitude led to their judgmental response.

Makes me stop and think about how I look at people. When I look at others, what is the first thing I see? What do I see as their identifying characteristic?

If I want to be a follower of Jesus, I need to first see their inherent value as people, created in the image of God and worthy of love.

-          Bart

This post is one in a series of midweek posts based on lessons learned from my weekly men’s bible study. Other posts on non-religious topics are usually shared on weekends.

               

In