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Archive for August, 2009

He Said “Thank You”…

As I was moderating a twitter-stream the other day, I posted a tweet that said, “Today is the day the Lord has made… Have you said ‘thank you’?” I got a couple of responses from that and an interesting number of retweets – apparently it was good for a thought in some peoples minds. But (like many things) it got me thinking:

Do you (yes, you reader) – do you say thank you before you ask for something – from God, from your boss, from your staff, from others?

and

Do you realize that having a grateful heart may keep you from needing a transplanted one?

It struck me as I contemplated this that just before Jesus commanded Lazarus to rise from the dead, ┬áhe thanked God for always hearing his prayers. In one of His final prayers, He thanked the Father for giving him Peter, John, James, Mary, Martha, and the rest of his ‘staff’. Jesus went through life with a thankful heart. Every prayer, and even the prayer that he taught his followers to pray, were full of thankfulness.

In this way He was showing us that gratitude is a key element of leadership because gratitude means an open heart, a listening heart, a faith-filled heart. how could anyone be a leader without faith and gratitude in a Higher Power or have abetter future built on better ways?

One of the most breathtaking sights in San Diego is the sunset on the beach. As the sun sinks slowly into the horizon, hundreds of seagulls stand and turn quietly to bid farewell. Pelicans fly by in formations, perfectly spaced and shaped, skimming just the top of the waves in the sunset salute. On the bridge across from the beach, thousands of birds line up on the electrical wires, all sitting and facing the sun, saying good-bye to the day. I like to think that they perhaps are also silently saying, “Thank you, God, for declaring that even the sparrows shall be fed.”

That image is so powerful that I can still see it in my minds eye after being away from it for many years now.

So I pose the question again: “Today is the day the LORD has made. Have YOU said Thank You yet?”…

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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect. ”

Like many of you, I have done a lot of driving in my life. And in all this driving I have learned the importance of a good map. For me a “GOOD MAP” is one that contains as much detail as possible. I want to know what roads are best, where I can stop to find food or a motel or gas or a rest area. I want to know which roads are fastest, shortest, newest, straightest, most scenic. I want to know where there are tolls, where traffic congestion is likely to occur. For this reason I am a firm believer in AAA. Their trip tiks fulfill all these requirements and they are easy to read and custom made for my trip. All this is to say that I have found that a good map is a necessity on any road trip if I want to get where I am going.

The Bible speaks of life as if it were a journey or “road trip” in which each decision we make takes us down a different road. Many times within its pages scripture gives us the same sort of advice we would find in a “TRIP TIK” guiding us in our choices roads and stops as we travel along on our life journey. That familiar verse from Psalms says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light upon my path.” It says, “…in all your ways … in all your roads….acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” In Matthew, Jesus warns us to choose the right road in life when He says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” But perhaps the most well-known reference to our journey along the “road of life” is in our text for today where our Lord instructs us to go two miles if someone forces us to go one.

You are probably very familiar with these words–the whole world is. I think everyone has used the expression “Go the second mile!” repeatedly in their lives. But what do these words really mean? What was Jesus saying in this small bit of advice for travelers?

Well, let’s pause and remind ourselves of the background here. Remember that Palestine was an occupied country. Rome enforced its rule over the people of Israel with garrisons of solders stationed throughout the country. And Roman Law said that these occupying troops were permitted to force any Jewish citizen to do their bidding. This is what happened to Simon of Cyrene, when he was compelled by Roman soldiers to bear the Cross of Jesus. According to this law a Roman soldier could ask a Jewish citizen to carry his pack for him a distance of one mile. Law obligated them to this first mile of servanthood. Jews hated this, and so when they were forced to obey they did so with bitterness and obvious resentment. So Jesus’ statement here is quite revolutionary. If you were compelled at spear point to carry the pack one mile, do so but then go one more—-two miles!!!

And over the years I have felt that this was our Lord’s way of teaching you and me that as we go down the road of life we are look at the tasks we are given—-even the unfair ones—-as opportunities to serve others cheerfully as we reflect the love of Christ in our attitudes. First mile things are obligations—ordinary things but the second mile things should be seen as opportunities to show our love for people. And certainly that is part of what Jesus was teaching here.

But you know I think there is more “travel advice” in this verse than this. There are deeper truths here for us. I think that in this familiar passage of scripture, Jesus has given us some great tips that will help us avoid at least two “potholes” in the road of life that lays ahead.

So this morning let us look at two “travel tips” found in this text and apply them to the journey we take down the roads of 2009.
A. For one thing, I think Jesus was saying that I must be careful to walk the first mile in the Christian life before I attempt to walk the second.

Remember, the first mile was required. Jews were obligated to walk it. They received no special honor or attention by fulfilling this task. No one would notice. Everybody had to do this. And this may sound strange but I think it can be very tempting for us to leapfrog the first mile of obligation to get to the second mile of opportunity. Because it is attractive for us to get to the extraordinary before we’ve been faithful in the ordinary. Have you ever met people who would love to be involved in spectacular areas of ministry, the popular well-known events that yield high glory, but not be interested in the unknown, ordinary things? They want to do the “2nd Mile” because it is noticed, but not the “1st mile” which often is not.

Leonard Bernstein the famous orchestra conductor was asked, “What is the most difficult instrument to play?” He replied, “Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.” And Bernstein is correct because often these first mile things are vital things–necessary things.

Jesus taught that the first mile of obligation was vital but often we avoid it because “first mile” things are behind the scenes unnoticed. We are to be willing to serve even if no one but Him notices, because when we serve others we are serving Christ Himself.

Martin of Tours was a Roman Soldier and a Christian. One cold winter day, as he was entering a city, a beggar stopped him and asked him for alms. Martin had no money, but the beggar was blue and shivering with cold. So Martin gave him what he had. He took off his soldier’s coat, worn and frayed as it was. He cut it in two and gave half of it to the beggar. That night he had a dream. In it he saw the heavenly places and all the angels and Jesus in their midst. He saw Jesus wearing half of a Roman soldier’s cloak. One of the angels said to him, “Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?” And Jesus answered softly, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”

So we must not avoid the first mile of obligation for in bypassing these little things that seem “least” we are passing by an opportunity to serve Jesus Christ Himself. And that is a turn in the road that no Christian should miss for when we avoid the little things we miss real opportunities to serve God.

So, check up on yourself. Does the mileage record of your life’s journey show that you have been yielding to the temptation to leapfrog the mile of obligation to get to the mile of opportunity?

The second bit of travel advice Jesus gives us in this passage is this:
B. Jesus warns us not to assume that we ourselves can accomplish the second mile that He talked about.

It is enjoyable to go farther and to do more for people—if they respond positively. It can be greatly rewarding to do acts of kindness—for people who appreciate them. We all like that kind of affirmation. But look with me at the context of this command. In His instruction to go the second mile, Jesus was not referring to appreciated acts of unusual kindness. Let’s review. Just a couple of verses prior to this statement, Jesus said: “Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Think about it. Suppose a right-handed man is standing in front of another man, and suppose he wants to slap the other man on the right cheek. How would he do this? Well, unless he goes through the most complicated contortions, and unless he empties the blow of all force, he can only hit the other man’s right cheek in one way—WITH THE BACK OF HIS HAND. Now according to Jewish Rabbinic law, to hit a man with the back of the hand was twice as insulting as to hit him with the FLAT of the hand. Jesus was talking about our response to a deadly, calculated insult. He is saying that when this happens we must not retaliate or even resent it.

So when Jesus told us to walk the second mile He was talking about a Christian person facing people who don’t like him, who don’t appreciate what he does; and who, when he does them good, may go off and laugh at him. Remember, “Love your ENEMIES…and pray for those who PERSECUTE you.” Now I have yet to find a person who on His own strength can keep up that kind of Christian response for very long. So, in going the 2nd mile Jesus is calling us to the impossible task of being so different from non-Christians that our goal is to be “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect”? , Jesus is hinting that we can be unrealistically optimistic about our ability to travel the second mile.

We cannot go the second mile on our own strength. Jesus said that, “…IF a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” So as you chart your course for this next year remember Jesus’ advice.

* Don’t skip the first mile. Don’t avoid those ordinary, unseen things. They are vital—even though they are usually not all that glorious. Remember that when we minister to people in these “unseen” ways Scripture says we are ministering to Jesus Himself!
* Walk the second mile….not only when it is appreciated, but when it’s humiliating, not only for people whom you love but for people you have a hard time loving.

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