Matthew and the Rich Young Man

“’Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi [Matthew] got up, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:27-28)

What contributed to the difference in the response of Matthew and the rich young man to Jesus’ invitations to follow him?   

Like the rich young man, Matthew was also wealthy, for the gospels describe him as holding a huge banquet for Jesus at his house at which he invited a large crowd of tax collectors and other guests.  Unlike the rich young man, however, Luke says Matthew “left everything and followed” Jesus. 

In contrast to Matthew, when Jesus suggested to the rich young man that he sell his possessions, give to the poor, and then come and follow him, the Gospel reports that he “went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Mt. 19:16-30)

The rich young man was apparently leading an exemplary life for he said he had kept all the commandments.  Matthew, on the other hand, was a tax collector, one of the most despised classes  among the Jewish people, and considered a sinner.  Yet, Matthew was willing to “leave everything” and follow Jesus, but the rich young man was not. 

When my wife and I were in our 30’s we were practicing Catholics, attempting to live out our faith as best we could.  A friend from our parish started inviting me to events that would supposedly renew and deepen my faith, but I declined her several invitations over a period of about a year.   So then she started inviting my wife who agreed to attend what was referred to as a Week of Renewal in the Holy Spirit.  It was a program involving five evenings in a row of talks and prayer.

Although I also declined invitations from my wife to join her, I observed how each evening she came home from the program with great joy.  I was so struck by her reaction to what she was experiencing night after night, that I decided to join her on the final evening.  On that evening, in spite of all my previous reluctance, I met the Lord Jesus in a new and personal way that I had never previously experienced.

It became a watershed moment in my life which led to a renewal of my faith.  I came to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in a fuller way, an increased desire to pray and read scripture, and to serve the Lord as best I could in all areas of my life.  Like the rich young man, I previously was not ready to follow Jesus in a deeper way.  I believe the Lord prepared my heart, through my wife and other circumstances, to follow him anew.  

Scripture does not tell us what eventually happened to the rich young man.  Some writers say there is circumstantial evidence to speculate that he was the Barnabas of Acts 4:36 who sold a field that he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Perhaps the lesson is that the Lord is always calling and he is always preparing our hearts to follow him.  Some of us may take longer to answer the call, but the Lord never stops preparing our hearts and continuing the call.   

 

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Stereotyping Others

“I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (Luke 4:24)

After Jesus was tempted in the desert, the Gospel of Luke tells us that he returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and began his public ministry.  He taught in the synagogues of the region and news started to spread about him throughout the whole countryside.

He came to Nazareth where he had been brought up.  He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and read from the scroll of Isaiah where it is written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of the sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

Then he proclaimed that this scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing.  In other words, he was God’s long awaited anointed one, the Messiah!  At first the people were amazed about his gracious words, but then they started asking, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” They became furious with what Jesus was saying and claiming to be.

How quick we are to judge and stereotype the people in our lives!

Sometimes we do this even with members of our own families or friends with whom we are most familiar.   We form a view or perspective about them, and then if they step outside our perspective or exceed our expectations, we refuse to accept what we see.  If they change, mature or exhibit growth in some way, we have trouble accepting their new state.

We make a judgment about someone based upon our experience with them or judge them by their appearance.

We may recall the TV show, Britain’s Got Talent, in 2009, when a singer from a small village in Scotland, Susan Boyle, appeared on the program.  She was 47, had somewhat of a dowdy appearance and was a bit awkward in her speech and manner.  It was clear that both the judges and the audience had immediately formed a low, almost mocking reaction to her, until she started singing, I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. article-1259588997732-0481bca6000005dc-616016_478x616

Almost immediately, their mockery turned into shouts of approval and a standing ovation for her beautiful voice.  Even one of the judges admitted afterwards he had never been so surprised by the performance of a singer.  Another judge apologized for her initial reaction.  Boyle became an overnight sensation on the internet and around the world.

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged” (Mt. 7:2) How frightening!  God will judge us as we judge others. 

Trusting in God

“How can I be sure of this?” (Luke 1:18)

Zachariah asks this question of the angel Gabriel after Gabriel tells Zachariah that his prayer had been heard and that his wife, Elizabeth, will bear him a son.  Zachariah protests, “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Zachariah’s question is one all too often asked when we get a sense that the Lord wants us to do something that is challenging or hard to believe.  The more daunting the word or decision, the more inclined we are to ask the question.  Also, with the Lord’s involvement, the more likely the course of action he is asking of us will be out of the ordinary and counter to conventional wisdom.

We are looking for assurance and signs, while God is looking for us to trust him. 

While in the early years of our marriage, we had three daughters.  Then there was an eleven year gap and we had a son when my wife, Marilynn was 42.  We were thrilled and delighted in him.  Since our daughters were close in age and enjoyed close relationships growing up together, we wanted our son to have the same experience.  Therefore, we were open to having more children so that he too, would have a sibling to grow up with.

In another year Marilynn became pregnant, but the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.  Marilynn had a sense that the Lord still wanted us to have another child.  I didn’t have a strong sense one way or another, but I trusted in Marilynn’s discernment that this was God’s will for us.  He blessed us with another daughter, Emily, who was born with Down syndrome and some serious heart issues.

You might think that with this outcome, our discernment may have been faulty.  Certainly conventional wisdom in our culture thought so at the time.  But the blessings flowing from Emily’s life over the years to our family have far outweighed the burdens.  While I have written about Emily a number of times in these posts, let me just say that her inclination to love, her purity of heart and her joy have had a huge impact on every member of our family.

This past weekend my wife and all four daughters, including Emily, traveled to Kansas City where we  spent the first 10 years of our marriage for a mother/daughter reunion.  Emily who is now 32, entered into a joyous time with her sisters and mother of visiting old home sites where Marilynn grew up, where we spent our first years of marriage, and even Marilynn’s grandparents’ former farm.Kansas CIty

In Jesus’ last discourse to the disciples, knowing that he was about to suffer arrest, torture and death, and that his disciples would all be scattered, he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1)  It was God’s will for Jesus to suffer the cross for our salvation.  God knew the outcome he had in mind – Jesus’ resurrection and the establishment of his church.

Like with Jesus, God knows the outcome he desires for us.  It may involve a piece of the cross, but also an eventual resurrection in our circumstances. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

 

Knowing the Enemy

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  (Eph. 6:12)

During this period preceding Halloween, our culture seems to be fascinated with movies depicting the devil and evil forces, yet seems oblivious to the existence of the devil and the impact of spiritual forces on our personal lives.  We tend to have little knowledge of the enemy of life, and the enemy of God and God’s will for us. 

I have a good friend who spent most of his Army career in defense intelligence serving in Vietnam, Cambodia and in the preparation of Desert Storm.  I have always been fascinated by his stories of how he and his teams were able to develop and provide important intelligence to his superiors that guided our strategies in these various theaters of war.

How ironic that we wouldn’t think of going to war without knowing our enemy and his plans, but yet we don’t even acknowledge that we have an enemy of life and one who is dedicated to defeating the purpose and desire that God has for each of us! 

All are tempted by the evil one — even Jesus in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry; even Peter and the apostles at Jesus’ passion; even Paul who said, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing.” (Ro. 7:19)

I know that I have been tempted at one time or another by all of the capital sins of pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth.  Sometimes I have fallen to these sins.  Sometimes, through God’s grace and mercy, and the power of the Holy Spirit, I have resisted them.  Let me share one example.

As an attorney for an oil company, one of our responsibilities was to represent the company before state legislatures on legislation impacting our company’s operations.  As a result, we would develop and implement the lobbying strategies on the company position developed by our planning department for whatever particular legislation we were attempting to impact.

One of the employees in the planning department started to take it upon himself to critique our lobbying strategies to our management and anyone who would listen to him.  At first his criticism dealt only with one issue, and then it expanded to all issues.  He was becoming a real thorn in our side, and I found myself doing constant battle with him.

Then one day, I came across the above passage from Ephesians and I realized that my battle was not with him as a person, but with the pride that was at work in both of us.  I started to pray for him and that both of us could lay aside our pride and work in greater harmony.  After a few months, I noticed that his responses to our work were less critical.  I began to bring him more into the rationale of what we were doing and why we were doing it.  We eventually became friends instead of rival competitors.

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:27)

Anxiety and Peace

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-7.

St. Paul is basically telling us that prayer guards our hearts and minds against anxiety. 

After returning to work following a week off for the Christmas holidays a number of years ago, I found myself facing several deadlines that all of sudden seemed impossible to meet.  That night I was unable to sleep because of my anxiety over all the pressure I was facing.

Appraisals of performance were due by the end of the week on employees reporting to me.  A speech, integrated with slides and video, for the annual kickoff meeting of our entire marketing department was also due, along with the finalization of our litigation budget for outside counsel.  On top of these things was the general negative fallout from my having declined to take a new assignment a few months earlier that had been proposed by our management.

I shared my anxiety with a small group of Christian men with whom I met every Tuesday evening.  They encouraged me and prayed with me for peace and to determine how I could practically deal with each task.  By week’s end all but one of the appraisals were completed.  The speech was finished and our staff was able to do most of the work on the litigation budget.

In looking back it is easy to see that I had lost my peace because I had not taken my anxiety to the Lord.  I started worrying and condemning myself for letting things slide.  I was not guarding my heart and mind with prayer to Jesus as St. Paul suggests.   

Jesus encouraged us not to worry but to seek his kingdom and righteousness first.  He said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”  (Mt. 6: 33-34)  He told Martha when she complained that her sister was listening to him instead of helping her with the preparations, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

The boundary between peace and anxiety is a thin line and easy to cross, but we have Jesus as a sentinel to guard our minds and hearts if we choose to call on him. 

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

Unity and Division

“Small wonder that pride gives birth to division, and love to unity.” St. Augustine

As an attorney for an oil company during most of my career, I saw many examples of St. Augustine’s statement play out in the corporate world, particularly in cases of multi-party litigation.

In one such case a west coast oil company had filed a patent on a particular gasoline formula mandated by the state of California.  Since the gasoline formula was required by a state regulation, everyone assumed the formula was in the public domain and could not be patented.  Still, the company who filed the patent brought a patent infringement case against all other refiners selling gasoline in the state, including my company.

So, we had one plaintiff company on one side and a dozen defendant companies on the other.  Sometimes there would be as many as thirty lawyers present at the defendants’ joint counsel meetings.  The pride of supposed expertise of a number of the lawyers made it difficult to establish a unified defense.  As a result, a case characterized by some of the defendants as a “slam dunk,” was lost at both trial and on appeal.

Let me offer another example in contrast to the one above.

When I retired from my company, I went to work for Christians in Commerce, a Christian ministry to the workplace.   After about a year, we brought our executive committee together at a retreat house in northern Virginia to pray about our vision and mission, and the direction the ministry should be taking in the years ahead.

The Executive Committee was made of five people with very diverse business backgrounds, including leadership positions in banking, advertising, insurance, a former international airline pilot and myself.   In spite of our diversity, we all had a love for God, respect for one another and a desire to seek God’s will for the ministry.

We spent the first day primarily in prayer and discussion with the following scripture becoming prominent in our thinking: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)  This gave rise to the belief that God wanted us to expand his kingdom by “being Christ in the workplace.”  We believed he was calling us to encourage and equip Christians to bring the presence of Christ into their workplaces in terms of how work is done.

Our love for God and one another brought a unity of purpose both then and now to our efforts.  After several years this unity has evolved into a vision for Christians in Commerce of “Being Christ in the Workplace,” and a mission, “to encourage and equip Christians to be God’s presence in the workplace by the power of the Holy Spirit, exercising faith, integrity and excellence.”

There is no end to what love of God and love for one another can accomplish! 

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)

 

A Light Burden

IMG_0048“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:30)

Robert Bellarmine, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church in the sixteenth century, asked what is this burden that does not weigh heavy or this yoke that not does not weary.  He says, “It is, of course, that first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” 

Mark reports Jesus’ more complete statement as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)

This is a love that involves all aspects of our being – our heart and soul, encompassing our non-physical nature and inner being; our mind involving our intellect; and our strength, involving our physical actions.  In other words, it is a total and complete love.

I have a friend Paul, whose daughter Maria has been ministering to orphaned children with special needs in Uganda.  Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities there are often viewed as cursed, outcasts, unwanted and unloved.   For the last couple of years, Maria, who is only 20, has been working through the Gem Foundation in ministering to the children.

One thing Maria observed was that a high percentage of the children actually had parents, but they didn’t have the resources or societal support to care for their children and pay for their medical expenses, often leading to maltreatment and abandonment.

So this August, Maria changed her vocation from caring directly for the children to helping to develop an organization that will train, empower and provide micro-finance and employment for parents so that they will have the resources to care for their children instead of abandoning them.

Maria is loving these children with her heart and soul.  She is loving them with her intellect in coming up with the idea to develop the means for the parents to provide for the children themselves instead of abandoning them.  Finally, she is loving them with her strength in the actions she is taking in helping to form this new enterprise with an organization called Imprint Hope Center.

We might ask how this example of the love of God is a light burden.  It is filled with sacrifice and self-giving.  But when love is complete, it is filled with a joy that sustains and transcends personal sacrifice. 

This is how the rest of us, who might never be called to serve children with special needs in Africa, can relate to Maria’s example.   We all seek a life filled with purpose, fulfillment and happiness.  When we truly love God and our neighbor as he commands, our joy is complete and our burden is light.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11: 28-30)