When You Think You’re Forgotten, Think Again.

“The little brother.” That’s what I was known as growing up. My brother Scott was 13 months to the day older than me. We were about as close in age as you could be without being twins.

He’s always been older. Always been taller. Always been a year ahead of me in school and “firsts.” First to get out of diapers. (That’s my assumption.) First to lose a tooth. First to go to school. First to experience Jr. High. First to enter High School. First to get to drive. First to get a job. First to get married. First to have a child.

Being the little brother is not such a great thing. Older brothers seem to think the parents take it easier on the little brother so they can be hard on little brothers. And your parents don’t always cut you much slack. How many times did I hear mine say to my older brother: “Please go play with your little brother. That’s basically the reason we had him.” (OK. I don’t remember them saying that. But it’s a good joke.)

When we’d play in neighborhood pick-up games and would choose teams, being the smallest one there, I’d be one of the last chosen. Last one noticed. I was the “little brother.”

You know that feeling don’t you? You interviewed for a job and made it to the final three but they went with someone else. You were encouraged to try out for the chorus so you did but didn’t make the final cut. You knew a group was getting together on Friday night but they never called you.

You know the feeling. The feeling of being unwanted. We say we’re “left out of the loop” or “didn’t get the memo.” Here’s one you may not have used: “he’s tending the sheep.”

That’s where “the youngest” was when Samuel the prophet came to town. God sent him to Bethlehem to anoint a new king. He went to Jesse’s house and had him line up his sons. The oldest to the youngest. As he passed each one God passed on each one too.

Samuel is a bit perplexed because he is out of options. He asks Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse answers, “There is still the youngest but right now he’s tending the sheep.”

“… he’s tending the sheep, left out of the loop, didn’t get the memo.” That’s where he is because he’s “the youngest.” Not just the little brother. He’s the runt. The Hebrew word is haqqaton. It carries with it the suggestion of insignificance. His society did not esteem him. Even his own family sent him out to the pastures. Even his own father did not think of him when Samuel came calling. No one thought to bring “the youngest” to Bethlehem that day. No one thought much of him at all. Not his brothers. Not his father. Not even Samuel.

But God did. The “youngest” is the one that God tells Samuel to anoint. “Then the Lord said, ‘Anoint him, for he is the one.’ So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him …”

I’m wondering how that last line affected you. Are you wondering what it would have felt like to be this youngest son, left out in the fields, being brought in as the forgotten one, and having Samuel the prophet take his horn of oil and pour it over your head? Can you imagine what it would feel like to have the oil begin to run down your cheeks? Can your heart grasp what it would be like to be chosen?

You are, you know. Those we refuse God will choose. And he chose you: “As you come to him, a living stone — rejected by people but chosen and honored by God…”

What does he see in you that others don’t? Here’s what he told Samuel: “Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” Others may see only the haqqaton. God sees the heart. He sees your heart and mine. It doesn’t matter if no one else does. It matters that God does.

And because he does, you are not forgotten after all.

You are chosen.

Question: When have you felt like the haqqaton?

How Story Can Transform Your Life

Most people love stories. But not all do. One time a number of years ago I had finished preaching when a lady came marching towards me. (It’s never good when a lady comes marching towards you right after a sermon.) The sermon was based in a gospel account, a story of Jesus. She said, “You tell too many stories.”

I said, “I take it you don’t like stories?”

“No,” she said. “You need to teach more Bible.”

“Do you think I should teach more like Jesus, then?” I cast the line and she took the bait.

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

Then I opened to Matthew 13:34: “…and Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables, and he did not tell them anything without a parable…”

Jesus loved to tell stories. In fact, stories are the primary way in which God’s word is given to us. When we come to the Bible we find many stories. They are all important and have something to teach us. But there are two primary stories. Eugene Peterson helps us see these two stories in his book Leap Over a Wall. One is in the Old Testament and one is in the New. The Old Testament story that takes up the most space is the story of David. David’s story is the primary story of the Old Testament. His story requires 66 chapters to be told. His name is mentioned over 600 times in the Old Testament and 60 times in the new. Even a novice reader of scripture would understand that there is something important about this person David.

Stories are powerful. Just think about the movies you love. Take Dunkirk for example. There’s no big setup. The opening scene shows a group of soldiers moving cautiously through a street. Leaflets are falling from the sky, dropped from German planes warning them to surrender or die. Before you have time to settle in with your popcorn and coke the soldiers are running for their lives.

And you are too. You’re not quite sure if you are going to survive or how. When the movie ends you have to check to see if you are still breathing. That’s the power of story. Story invites you into its life. Through it we learn what the world is and what it means to be a human in this world.

That’s why the David story takes up so much space in scripture. His story teaches us what it means to be human. And yet David is always dealing with God. In fact, in Acts 13:22 Paul is preaching a sermon and includes David with these words: “… he [God] raised up David as their king and testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my own heart, who will carry out all my will.’”

Look at David’s story and we find that he deals with danger and enemies. He has friends and lovers. He has children and wives. (Too many wives but that’s another part of his story.) He deals with pride and humiliation. He struggles with sickness and sexuality and fear. He’s not a very good parent. His son will have more wisdom to pass on than he. He’s an unfaithful husband.

“How did David ever wind up taking up so much biblical space?” you ask. David gets so much air time in Scripture because what is important about David is not whether he was a great military leader or a great moral character. What is important is that he deals with God. Listen to David’s story and we find someone who is human in every way and yet keeps connecting with God.

After you get to know David, you’ll think, “Now there’s a down to earth guy I can connect with.”  He’s not so different than you or me. We see him fighting, praying, loving, sinning, angry, devious, generous, and dancing…naked. It’s all very human. And it’s all connected to God.

Often we look to a set of rules or moral guidelines and try to squeeze our lives into them. We think that is what a real spiritual life is all about. But God gave us story because story is powerful. Unlike rules that try to shape us from the outside in, stories get inside us and shape us from the inside out.

God took a very flawed and human David and through him wrote a great story that ended up with Jesus. If he used David, he can use you.

And any story connected to Jesus is an epic one.

Question: What do you think it means to be human and spiritual?

 

Steps to Opening Your Door to Your Neighbors

One recent evening our doorbell rang at about 8:00 p.m. You’re probably thinking what I was thinking: “Who rings someone’s doorbell at 8:00 p.m.?” I was in the back room and thought maybe Karen had locked herself out of the house.

Our dog was jumping up and down at the front door so I grabbed her to put her somewhere else so I could answer the door because now I had to answer it. Our door has glass in the middle and on either side. I saw the salesman and he saw me. Stupid glass door!

Outside was a young man selling storm windows for homes. He asked if I’d want to schedule an estimate. I told him it didn’t matter what the estimate was because we would not have the money for the storm windows. He said we could finance it and I told him we like to stay out of debt.

He said if I gave him my phone number they could call and check in with us in a few months to see if we had changed our minds. I said if he’d give me his phone number I’d call him during the evening when he was relaxing at home. Not really. I just told him I saw the number on the flyer he handed me and we’d call if we decided we needed storm windows.

Then I said, “So, I noticed your accent while you were talking. Where are you from?” He replied, “From Egypt.” I said, “I know a guy who spent some time there when he was a young child. His parents had to hide out there for a while.” (OK. Maybe I just thought that. But it would have been a great line!) I asked, “How long have you been in America?”

“Three years,” he said. We talked a bit more and then he asked for a bottle of water, which we usually have, but didn’t that night. I shook his hand and wished him well.

When I went back inside Karen told me our neighborhood Facebook page was full of chatter about the guys going door to door. Already the police and Constable had been called. Some said they were upset with someone coming to their door at that hour of the evening, especially with recent stories of abductions home invasions circulating.

Honestly, I don’t like people coming to my door any time after I get home either, so I understood my neighbors. Sometimes we close the door on strangers due to fear. Sometimes we close the door on our neighbors due to our fears too.

Jesus taught us to overcome our fears and love our neighbors. As we watch him we learn. For example, he called Matthew to follow him and then Matthew threw a party with his friends and invited Jesus. See what can happen? Jesus did not have our fears but we discover a principle with his relationship with Matthew: overcoming our fear of connecting with one person might open the door to other friendships.

But fear of what others think about the people we spend time with might keep us from being good neighbors too. The Pharisees and scribes—the religious people of the day—complained to Jesus’ disciples that Jesus was eating and drinking with “tax collectors and sinners” at Matthew’s party.

Some people God places in our way may not get the approval of some church people. Don’t be concerned about their approval. The only approval Jesus looked for was the approval of the Father. Fear of what others might think can keep us from people Jesus would welcome.  So how do we overcome our fears? Here are some practical pointers that may help.

  • Pray and ask God to help you overcome any fear you may have and replace it with love. Fear of the other person is overcome by love for the other person.
  • Hang out where you can meet others. Jesus was in the marketplace, at the temple, in the village…places where he could see people and get to know them.
  • Give invitations. Jesus did. He said, “Follow me.” “Come and see.” He opened up his life to others. Learn to invite people to your house. You might just start with one neighbor. Like Matthew, they might open the door to others.
  • Accept invitations. Jesus did. To weddings. To houses. To parties. If you get invited, go!

Let’s face our fears of getting to know our neighbors. And let’s learn to be the ones who know how to throw the best parties in our community.

Question: What fear keeps you from getting to know those who live near you?

How to Find Time for Your Neighbor

It had us at hello. No, not some corny line from a movie. The iPhone. On June 29, 2007, the iPhone appeared on the scene and quickly made its way into our hands and spread faster than a California wild fire.

The iPhone basically changed everything. It improved our predictions of what you will find a group of people doing in public places: looking down at their mobile device. Within six years most Americans owned one. It has allowed us to find our way around towns or on trips. With it we can find places to eat and hotels to stay in.

But an advance in technology may have ushered in a decline in relational abilities. Sociologist Sherry Turkle uses the phrase “the alone together phenomenon” to describe what has happened.  Whereas in the beginning of the iPhone age people would huddle together and show each other what was on their phones, now they just look at their individual phones, sucked into whatever world they are seeing on their screen.

Interestingly enough, all of our time saving devices that have entered our homes and workplaces since the iPhone have not saved us time. They have only led us to pack more things into our already busy lives. Ours days are full. Our weekends are full. We live at a pace that leaves us little time to be available for our neighbors who live the closest in proximity to us.

Martha did not have an iPhone, but she had the similar issues. Martha and her sister Mary invited Jesus to their home for a meal (Luke 10). Mary sits at the feet of Jesus while Martha takes care of the house and meal. Martha is “distracted by her many tasks.”

Put yourself in her apron. She’s busy taking care of and serving Jesus. She’s busy. She needs another set of hands to help. And she looks over and Mary is just sitting there at the feet of Jesus. So she does what most of us mature adults would do: she complains to Jesus.

Here’s what he said to her. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Martha get reprimanded for serving while Mary get praised for sitting. In the Hebrew culture to sit at someone’s feet indicates a relationship between a disciple and a teacher.  In that culture, however, women were not students. They were supposed to be in the kitchen being a good hostess. Mary bucked the societal norms to be with Jesus.

We will have to do the same to be with Jesus too. Sometimes being with Jesus means being alone and quiet so we can hear his voice. We need times like that.

But sometimes being with Jesus has to do with being with people like our neighbors. There are many things we can do. But there is one thing that is necessary. Even if it means going against the busy lives we think everyone else is living to be where Jesus has called us to be.

If iPhones have not helped us do this, what will? As Dallas Willard once said, “We have to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives.” Three things will help:

  • First, make the main thing the main thing. Jesus told Martha there were “many things” and “one thing.” The “one thing,” or the “main thing,” is being with Jesus. Make him first in your schedule.
  • Second, eliminate time wasters. If you need some help try these: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, watching TV, surfing the web, or playing video games. My guess is no one will say these are vital to their lives. They’re not evil. They just don’t add much. We need to chip away the excess in our lives so the true beauty can be seen. Jesus saw beauty in God and people. When we eliminate time wasters we free ourselves for both of them.
  • And finally, be interruptible. Jesus was. He had as much to accomplish as any of us. But he had time for interruptions: children, blind beggars, Centurions and a Samaritan woman to name a few. We may need to control some interruptions to a degree, but what if we can eliminate hurry to the point that when a neighbor has time to chat we see that as a divine appointment instead of a disruptive moment.

Face time—not the kind on your iPhone—with your neighbors is proven to bring you happiness.

Question: How can you “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from your life today?