Explore the Bible: Neighbors

The Explore the Bible lesson for March 7 focuses on Luke 10:25-37.

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  • The Explore the Bible lesson for March 7 focuses on Luke 10:25-37.

The attorney who questioned Jesus as recorded in this text had ulterior motives, according to Luke. Like many others during Jesus’ public ministry, he was trying to set Jesus up to say something that would cut against the grain of traditional Jewish theology of that day and thereby discredit him.

Jesus didn’t take the bait but instead turned the question around. He asked the lawyer what he understood the law—the Pentateuch or first five books of the Bible—to teach. “How do you read it?” Jesus asked.

The lawyer said he understood the law to instruct us to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor using how we would want to be loved as the measurement of true love. Jesus told him that his answer was correct.

Follow a formula or follow Jesus in love?

Over time, it would seem that too often we have pole-vaulted over Jesus’ answer. We have taught and preached and studied the text. Yet, when attempting to lead others to Christ, we default to the so-called plan of salvation instead of taking to heart the story of the man who rescued the victim of a brutal crime.

Accept Jesus by praying to receive him into our hearts. Repent by turning from our sins and, last but not least, confess our faith to others. Yet, if we look closely, Jesus never simplified God’s intention to redeem mankind. I didn’t know that for longer than I care to admit, even as a pastor.

I was baptized twice in my home church. Once as an 8-year-old and again as a 12-year-old. The reason I got baptized the second time, I can now see from the vantage point of over half a century, was because I doubted my first attempt at “getting saved” wasn’t sincere or correct or something.

So, I walked the same aisle, filled out the same card, stood in a receiving line and shortly thereafter I was baptized by the same pastor in the same baptistry. The odd thing was that, on the way home from my second baptism, I began to doubt my salvation again.

The doubt hamstrung me for decades, through college and seminary and my first pastorates. Yet, despite those doubts, I’d ask others to “get saved” the same way.

All to Jesus I surrender

I now know that accepting Jesus means simply releasing our life, all of it, to Jesus, hoping that he can make something good out of the mess we’ve made of things.

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Repentance is an easier word to say than practice. By definition repentance is a turning from sin. The problem is that total, complete repentance is absolutely impossible without the power of Christ in us.

One of the most troubling prayers I’ve ever heard people pray is something like, “Lord, please help me leave my sin at the church door so I can worship you genuinely.”  Jesus never asked such. Jesus would ask us to bring all of ourselves into the house of worship, our sin and all, so that, when we confess Christ, we aren’t holding anything back.

We are asked to confess our faith in Christ to others. For some, such a public display of a very sincere faith is virtually impossible, especially if it involves walking the aisle of a public worship service. That is a practice built more on 19th century evangelism than Scripture. Confession is, first, a way we live long before it is anything we do.

When I baptized my youngest son decades ago, he said, “Dad, I’ll be baptized, but I will not walk the aisle of that church first.”  It occurred to me that our baptism is our confession. I baptized my son as he, by being immersed, made his confession of faith.

Now, in my mid-60s, I find that acceptance, repentance and confession are not one-off events. They demand daily practice, every single day. Loving God means loving others.

Tenderly calling us home

An elderly woman came to see me in the Pastor’s study when I first became her pastor. She said, “I want you to know the story behind my face when you see me.”

She went on to tell me that her husband was a hopeless alcoholic. However, out of respect for her or fear of judgment or whatever, he refused to bring liquor into their home.

The nightly routine for them was for him to go outside, even on the coldest days, hide in the unheated shed and drink a pint of the hard stuff. The entire time, his wife stood at the back door and pleaded with him to come in the house. She never quit calling and he never went in the house while drinking.

Years later, she called and asked me to perform his graveside service. After it was over, standing over his grave and with a peace that passed all understanding, she told me that her husband had accepted Christ and even stopped drinking. That was in large part due to her unwillingness to stop calling him home.

The lawyer asked a very telling question. He wanted to know what he had to “do” to “inherit” eternal life.

I wonder. Do you think he ever discover that you don’t have to do anything to “inherit” eternal?  An inheritance is a gift or it’s something other than an inheritance.

We don’t work our way into the eternal home God built for us. All we need do is accept it as the gift it is.

Glen Schmucker is a writer and blogger. He has served as a Texas Baptist pastor and as a hospice chaplain.

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