DON’T DO THIS!

The writers of the New Testament Gospels don’t often give us an introduction to Jesus’ parables, but Luke gives one that grabs my attention and hopefully yours as well. In introducing what is called The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector Luke tells us to whom it is addressed: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable” (Luke 18:9). I’m somewhat convicted by the description of those to whom Jesus is speaking. When it comes to being confident of one’s own righteousness and therefore looking down on everyone else, perhaps we should hear the warning “Don’t do this!”

In the parable that follows this introduction Jesus gives examples of spiritual pride and spiritual humility represented by a Pharisee and a tax collector. In his prayer the Pharisee thanks God that he is not like other people and gives God a couple of examples of his righteous living. The tax collector, on the other hand, humbly asks for God’s mercy because he knows he is a sinner.

Spiritual pride is evidenced by presumption before God, a harsh fault-finding spirit towards others—especially those deemed less spiritual, and a desire to be noticed. It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount when He talked about focusing on the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in your own (Matthew 7:1-5).

Spiritual poverty is the opposite; it is not presumptuous before God, does not look down on others picking at their shortcomings, and isn’t jockeying to be seen by others. The “sinful woman” who anointed Jesus in Luke 7:24-50 is an example of spiritual poverty. (If you have time grab your Bible and read the account.)

Jesus concludes the parable affirming that the tax collector went home justified before God rather than the self-righteous Pharisee. He then adds an observation in the second part of Luke 18:14 all of us might spend some time contemplating: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Who does the humbling of those who exalt themselves and the exalting of those who humble themselves?

I hope none of us are confident of our own righteousness and that we do not look down on everyone else. (The two do go together!) As a matter of fact, I would say “Don’t do this!”

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MY BASEBALL COACH

The man who was my Little League Baseball coach died on Monday. He was my first, last, and only baseball coach. I think I played around eight years for him. Since I am now almost 65 I would guess he had to be in his late 80s.

When I first started playing Little League Baseball my dad was still a weekend alcoholic and not really engaged with my brother and me. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he ever went to watch me play in one of the games. Mr. Nell was not a father figure to me, but he was a man who did a lot for me.

During my years of Little League Baseball we practiced on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and played our games on Saturday mornings. Mr. Nell picked me up at my house for every practice and game and dropped me off at home afterwards. After most games he took us out for ice cream.

His wife was also very involved and his son was on the team. But neither parent treated Timmy any different from the rest of us. Mr. Nell taught us how to catch, throw, hit, bunt, and run the bases; but he taught us much more. His attitude, style, outlook, and gentle discipline set the example for us. I don’t remember a time when he ever went over the top in dealing with any of us or in disputing an umpire’s call.

As much as he meant to me as a baseball coach, that was not the most important thing he did for me. Around the age of 10 one day he dropped me off at my house and said “We’ll see you in church on Sunday Bobby.” I replied, “Mr. Nell, I don’t go to church.” And my best friend chimed in, “Why don’t you come to my church?” My best friend’s church was close enough for me to walk on Sunday mornings.

I went to church the next Sunday morning and have been going ever since. My older brother started going with me and we both became Christians. My mom started going and eventually rededicated her life. And after a few years my dad began going and eventually became a Christian. After high school I went to Bible College and became a pastor. When I was ordained as a Christian minister the elder at my home church who said the prayer was my dad.

Several years later my home church invited me back to preach on Father’s Day. Somehow Mr. Nell found out about it and came that Sunday instead of going to his church. What a privilege it was for me that morning to affirm, honor, and thank both Mr. Nell and my own dad. I spoke by phone with Mrs. Nell Sunday evening from the hospital and she indicated that Sunday meant a great deal to him.

I haven’t seen Mr. Nell in many years but my emotions are stirred by that Sunday evening phone conversation and learning of his passing on Monday. I thank God for Mr. Nell and how God used him to make a huge difference in my life and family. And I hope and pray that God has used me and will use me to make a difference in the lives of others like me.

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THE BOTTOM LINE

THE BOTTOM LINE

Usually the phrase “the bottom line” refers to the net profit gained or lost with a business after expenses. But the phrase is also used in a variety of other contexts to note the essential or most important consideration for an endeavor, decision, or result. What is the bottom line when it comes to following Jesus and serving Him? An exchange between Jesus and the Apostle Peter following his well-known triple denial of Jesus the night He was arrested suggests an answer to the question.

Those familiar with the biblical record will remember earlier that night Peter boasted “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:35). He was responding to Jesus’ warning and referring to his fellow apostles. In response to Jesus’ prophesy Peter would deny Him three times Peter insisted “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (verse 35). Jesus, of course, was right and Peter was wrong.

The exchange between Jesus and Peter I find so comforting and encouraging occurred early one morning a few days following Jesus’ resurrection on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The editors of my Bible have the heading “Jesus Reinstates Peter” over the section beginning in John 21:15. Jesus asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” I’m not sure what Jesus meant by “these,” but His question is clear. Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” And Jesus commissions him, “Feed my lambs.”

Two more times Jesus asked Peter the question. And most observers think Jesus asked him three times because Peter had denied Jesus three times. Peter said yes the next two times and Jesus responded “Take care of my sheep” and “Feed my sheep.” We can relate to Peter I’m sure when John tells us “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time” but Jesus was making a point. And the point was, and still is, that the bottom line for following Jesus and serving Him—no matter how miserably we have failed—is our love for Jesus.

In volume 2 of his brief books John for Everyone N.T. Wright affirms, “Here is the secret of all Christian ministry, yours and mine, lay and ordained, full-time or part-time. It’s the secret of everything from being a quiet, back-row member of a prayer group to being a platform speaker at huge rallies and conferences. If you are going to do any single solitary thing as a follower and servant of Jesus, this is what it’s built on. Somewhere, deep down inside, there is a love for Jesus” (p. 165).

I think Wright’s right. What do you think?

Tell us in the comments below and share this post if you think others would be encouraged by it.

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WHO WANTS TO BE ORDINARY?

Most people would probably answer the title question of this post, “Not me,” but I’m not sure I would be unhappy with the designation for myself. Michael Horton’s 2014 book Ordinary was written for Christians who are always looking for the next radical, epic, impactful, life-changing, ultimate, extreme, awesome thing in the Christian life and/or church. Oversimplifying his point, he suggests this hunger keeps us disillusioned and disappointed. His suggestion: “we need a renewed appreciation for the commonplace.”

I had forgotten about Horton’s book until this week I was reading about the apostle Philip in Leon Morris’s commentary on The Gospel of John. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke Philip is included in the list of apostles, but nothing else is said about him. He is mentioned four times in the Gospel of John, and Morris observes “each time he seems somewhat out of his depth, and it is probable that he was of limited ability.” (Who isn’t?)

Philip is mentioned in John 6:7 when he reports to Jesus there is no way they could gather the funds to feed the people. He is mentioned in John 12:21 when he is checking with Andrew about some visitors who have come to see Jesus. And he is mentioned in John 14:8 when in the upper room he requested of Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us” (14:8). Philip was no Peter, James, or John; neither was he a Matthew or Thomas; and Philip was no Judas (thankfully).

But what I find interesting and encouraging is John’s first mention of Philip: “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (1:43). Morris suggests “the fact that on this occasion he did not seek Jesus, but Jesus went to find him may indicate some lack of initiative.” (Perhaps, but not necessarily.)

It is what Morris wrote next that grabbed my attention: “It is so encouraging to reflect that Jesus went out of His way to find this perfectly ordinary Philip and to enlist him in the apostolic band. Some of the apostles were undoubtedly men of great ability, but Philip compels us to reflect that others were perfectly ordinary people. Christ had and has use for such followers.”

I’m wondering if we shouldn’t rethink what it means to be ordinary. I remember a sermon many years ago from Matthew 25:14-40. Translated now in the NIV as “The Parable of the Bags of Gold,” it then was called “The Parable of the Talents.” If you’re not familiar with the account it’s about a master giving three of his servants five talents (bags of gold), two talents (bags of gold), and one talent (bag of gold). In the message the preacher noted “God must really love one talent people—he made so many of them!”

The takeaway from the parable is that the master did not expect the two talent man to perform as the five talent man or the one talent man. He wanted each of them to perform in terms of what he had given them. The one talent man was not judged because he didn’t accomplish what his two colleagues did, but because he did not do anything with what he had been given.

If you’re ordinary you’re in good company. The Lord wants to use you. He doesn’t expect you to be someone else—He wants you to be who He made you to be.

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