Entering into God’s neighborhood: Witnessing to Anyone, at Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere. Luke 5:27-32.

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?
The people that you meet each day.”

At social events, doctors and nurses and Lawyers and Accountants and other professionals like auto mechanics are often pulled aside by people who have health-related, legal, bookkeeping, money investment and car repair questions.

Likewise, building contractors, electricians and carpenters are often asked for free simple inexpensive FIY advice about people’s home improvement projects.

In a similar way, pastors and laity are drawn into spiritual conversations at sporting events, on airplanes, in marketplaces, in restaurants, and around campfires in summer, or at the ends of freshly shoveled driveways in winter.

Reading and studying the Bible shows that Jesus used every time and place as an opportunity to witness to his faith, his hope, his love in His Father in Heaven.

Sometimes his conversations happened at night, as with Nicodemus (John 3).

In today’s verses from Dr. Luke’s Narrative, the Pharisees and teachers of the law criticized Jesus for mingling and talking with Tax Collectors and hanging out with “sinners” too unclean to even associate with. Jesus sternly reminded them just as doctors tend to the sick, he came to call ‘broken’ sinners to repent.

Some of us would much rather leave spiritual conversations to pastors. As laity we would rather “remain anonymous on vacation” “fly under the radar” about being a Christian who is always supposed to be ready to share of their hope in God. (1 Peter 1:13-14, 1 Peter 3:14-16)

A Christian tradesman cringed when a fellow contractor walked up to him from behind and then asked if he was “one of those ridiculous “bible thumpers.”

The contractor was teasing, and testing and his tone was very disrespectful.

Standing up straight, the tradesman looked into the eyes of the contractor, took the opportunity to smile and say, “Yes, I’m a Christian, thank you for asking!”

And then later over their lunch breaks a meaningful conversation followed.

Let us all remember that we are sacred space, in the Holy Presence of God.

In the name of God, the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

To whom will God show himself through you today? The Spirit of Christ calls us to be ready to give an answer anytime, anywhere (1 Peter 3:15). Are you ready?

Luke 5:27-32Amplified Bible

Call of Levi (Matthew)

27 After this Jesus went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi (Matthew) sitting at the tax booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me [as My disciple, accepting Me as your Master and Teacher and walking the same path of life that I walk].” 28 And he left everything behind and got up and began to follow Jesus [as His disciple].

29 Levi (Matthew) gave a great banquet for Him at his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others who were reclining at the table with them. 30 The Pharisees and their scribes [seeing those with whom He was associating] began murmuring in discontent to His disciples, asking, “Why are you eating and drinking with the tax collectors and sinners [including non-observant Jews]?” 31 And Jesus replied to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but [only] those who are sick. 32 I did not come to call the [self-proclaimed] righteous [who see no need to repent], but sinners to repentance [to change their old way of thinking, to turn from sin and to seek God and His righteousness].”

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

The gospel teaches us to help those who are suffering especially from sin and ignorance. Instead of blaming and shaming others for their shortcomings and weaknesses, we are challenged to lead them to the way, the truth and the life.

Imitating and Modeling Jesus, our lifting their spirits up by acknowledging, teaching and showing good deeds is one of the teachings of today’s gospel.

With these acts, the one who stumbles and gets up and the one who teaches and helps both receive blessings from our Heavenly Father.

Matthew 10:40-42Amplified Bible

The Reward of Service

40 “He who receives and welcomes you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 He who receives and welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous (honorable) man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 And whoever gives to one of these little ones [these who are humble in rank or influence] even a cup of cold water to drink because he is my disciple, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”

By our Baptism, with all of who we are, we freely enter into God Neighborhood.

By our Baptism, with all of who we are in our Savior Jesus Christ, we reluctantly, begrudgingly, enter into our own neighborhoods, into our own communities.

By our Baptismal Covenant, as Christians, we are challenged to actively express our faith, hope and love in the gospel which depicts possessing zeal for service.

With “cups and bottles of Living Water” in hand, we are expected, we are each covenanted to God to impart our knowledge especially regarding our mission to those who are incapable and unfortunate, even “while we are on our vacations.”

In addition, through serving and witnessing, leading others with and towards excellence should be one of our main goals. With this, we are able to share the blessings we have received and at the same time express our gratitude to God.

Matthew 9:36-38Amplified Bible

36 When He saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion and pity for them, because they were dispirited and distressed, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is [indeed] plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 So pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Rabbi Jesus’ religious adversaries frequently criticized him for deliberately associating with people who were suspect in their eyes.

The man, Rabbi Jesus, however, had a reason for this behavior.

He wasn’t associating with sinners to be popular, weird, bizarre, or hip.

The Lord associated with all kinds of people because he acknowledged and loved all kinds of people! He came to redeem the enslaved, find the lost, mend the broken, and reclaim the sinner. Can we, as Jesus’ bodily presence today, strive for anything less than this and still call ourselves Jesus’ Church?

Every single day we look out into the great expanse of God’s own neighborhood.

How much time and effort do we make and take to look into the great expanse, length, depth, height, and width, of our own neighborhoods and communities?

How can we come alongside and engage and help even one of our neighbors who are, or might be, greatly suffering from a lack of faith and hope and love?

Shall we remain “on spiritual vacation” physically silent, let our consciences create its noise or shall we provide ‘presence’ amongst ourselves and others?

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Forgive me, God, my Father, when I opt for security in my acquaintances, and I avoid potentially messy entanglements between my Baptismal Covenant and in my relationships. Please open my eyes to see the lost, the lonely, the forgotten, and the needy all around me. Please use me to lead them to your grace and to help them find their family with your people. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

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Fellow Christians, “As Iron Sharpens Iron,” So You too Can Truly Influence Others for the Better! |Proverbs 27:17

The mightily influential, Late Evangelist Reverend Dr. Billy Graham wrote,

The human soul is a lonely thing. It must have the assurance of companionship. Left entirely to itself, it cannot enjoy anything. God said in the beginning, “It is not good that man should dwell alone” (Genesis 2:18). The creation of Eve was the beginning of human companionship. God’s people are a body, not intended to function separately, not intended to be unconcerned for one another.

The only true body in the world is the Church. The world may talk grandly of brotherhood, but in reality, its philosophy is “each man for himself.” All of God’s children are guaranteed the richest and truest friendship, both here and hereafter. Only in a true friendship and a true love do we find a genuine basis for peace. Only God can break down the national and racial barriers that divide men today. Only God can supply that love that we must have for our fellowman.

We will never build brotherhood of man upon earth until we are believers in Christ Jesus. The only true cohesive power in the world is Christ the Lord. He alone can bind all generations of human hearts together in one genuine love.

Proverbs 27:17 Amplified Bible

17 
As iron sharpens iron,
So, one man sharpens [and influences] another [through discussion].

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Within the Hebrew (Old) Testament, there are many nuggets of wisdom to take in, with whole books dedicated to the subject. The wisest man to ever walk the earth, King Solomon, wrote several books, including Proverbs. Many of these proverbs come in a poetic form; some of them are long, symbolic narratives, while others are but the briefest of couplets full of truth. One such statement is, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

Sometimes these metaphoric statements can be complex and rather difficult to understand, especially when they are taken out of context. Most Christians thinkers believe this statement regarding iron sharpening iron only relates to having a good friend, honesty that improves one’s character and calls out sin in a loving way; though there are some who believe it refers to also someone who brings down another, and argue it is a negative statement.

Either way, the phrase “iron sharpens iron” from Proverbs 27:17 highlights the important truth that people affect and influence one another, words and actions define relationships for better or worse, and they change people, so people need to act accordingly.

What Is the Context Around Proverbs 27:17?

Proverbs 27 falls towards the end of the book, as there are 31 chapters. It is grouped with several other chapters which are labelled as having been written by King Solomon, the son of David and the builder of the temple, copied later by men who worked for King Hezekiah of Judah. Solomon’s reign was around 970-931 BC, while Hezekiah’s was from 715-686 BC, two centuries later.

The verses in Proverbs are chocked full of advice, many of which are about positive and negative interactions and behaviors. Some examples include:

“Let another praise you and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5).

“As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man” (Proverbs 27:19).

“Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20).

In the middle of these verses is, “iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” However, the back half is sometimes given as, ‘…sharpens the face of another.’ Like many of the Proverbs, it uses metaphor to make its point.

What Does “Iron Sharpens Iron” Mean?

When creating and shaping a metal blade, it is often sharpened, and then it is maintained through its life, by dragging it against a harder metal. Without this periodic maintenance, a blade will eventually become quite dull and less useful.

During the life of Solomon, many weapons, pieces of armor, and tools were made of iron. It would not have been a highly refined version of metal, like steel. It was also not necessarily consistent in how hard or soft it was.

A tool would have been sharpened, ground against something harder, to make it smoother, remove deformities, and to maintain its ability to cut. When iron is scraped against another material in this way, it too becomes more refined. The metaphor in the first half of the verse refers to a common practice with which many of that day would have been extraordinarily acquainted, familiar with.

The second half of the verse explains the metaphor. Like a piece of hard iron will sharpen another piece of iron, the interactions between two people will shape and change one another. Most scholars and theologians interpret this changing as a refinement of character. Being in the presence of a truly strong believer, within their sphere of influence, can help refine another person too.

Earlier verses in chapter 27 reflect this idea, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5-6). An honest acquaintance will lovingly address when someone they care about is doing something wrong or struggling with a decision. 

It is also in alignment with philosophies of behavior encouraged in the New Testament; “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Calling out sin, encouraging each other, and lifting one another up in prayer are all ways of sharpening one another.

Like both metals are altered by the sharpening process, both believers who interact with one another have an impact on each other. If a believer disciples another, they grow as well. Their understanding of the Bible can grow, they can deepen their relationship with God, and each other and have new experiences.

Where Else in the Bible Do We See Believers Strengthening One Another?

God wants Christians to challenge one another and strengthen the community in love as a family and in fellowship (Acts 2:43-47), because they are all the sons and daughters of God. In the New Testament, particularly in the epistles, the writers decidedly, deliberately, put a particularly strong emphasis on it.

Some of these verses include:

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

“So then let us pursue what makes for peace for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).

“But exhort one another everyday, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13).

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:20-21).

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

How Can We Sharpen One Another Today? 

These many ways of lifting one another up mentioned in the Bible still apply today. Singing songs to God together, reading the Word, and praying for one another is a great start. Learning more about one another so as to help each other in their specific weaknesses is a way to be supportive and grow stronger in character. Devoting yourselves to innovatively teaching generations about being a success, about mentoring, modeling for each other Christian character.

Availability is so important. Many serve one another by providing meals, time, and energy in each other’s daily lives. This builds trust, meaning believers can challenge each other in more personal ways, people do not live in a vacuum, and the way they are all positively influenced and treated will leave a lasting impact.

True and lasting friendship seems to be a rare gift these days. Many people have made themselves too busy to truly invest the time and energy it takes to develop significant relationships. Often, we will hear people say to each other, “We’ll have to get together soon”–but it seldom happens, and opportunities are lost.

Individuals and communities want to be taught they can come together and be strong in the Lord, believe in themselves – believe in their diverse strengths, to share hopes and dreams for something better than where they find themselves. As the Lord has promised, there is always going to be a time of a greater future.

It is a tough lesson to learn. It is an even far tougher lesson to devote oneself to communicating and teaching, modeling and mentoring, living and sacrificing for. And this is the lesson of the life and ministry, death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ, who for the joy, which was before Him, endured the Cross!

Good friends are one of God’s greatest gifts. Not one of us is ever meant to go through life alone and without help. God longs to use you as his hands and feet to those he has placed in your midst. He longs to make you a friend as God is a great friend to us, in order to bless others and extend the reach of his kingdom.

God is calling you and me to love our friends “at all times.” He is calling you and me to a lifestyle of service and grace. What friend of yours needs your help right now? Who can we choose to serve over ourselves? What friend is God calling you to influence and love with the love and influence He has shown all of us today?

1. Pray and Meditate upon God’s desire for us to pursue godly friendship. Allow Holy Scriptures to stir up our desire to influence and love friends well today.

2. How can you be a better friend today? In what ways can you and I love those whom God has given us as friends? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to your ways you can better love and influence those around you today.

3. Ask God to empower you to be a friend who loves unconditionally. Ask him to make you more like himself every day. Spend quality time just resting in his presence and allowing his love to fill you and influence you and empower you.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Heavenly, Father, there are times in my life when I need true and genuine friends, a comforting arm, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or even just sensible good advice. But there are no true friends to turn to. No one who I can relate to, who truly understands exactly how I feel. It leaves me feeling broken, empty, and lost. Fill me, Lord with Your divine holy presence. Allow me to feel Your tender, warm embrace wrapped around me, as I sit here and cry out to You. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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Our Holiness with God. What a Friend we [all] have in Jesus! All our Sins and Griefs to Bear. What a [true]Privilege to Carry Everything to God in Prayer!

SIN IS SIN

Today is as good a day as any to do and to say something we are all much too reluctant to do for fear of giving grave offense. We must admit that our society accepts white lies as an excuse, but as children of the Light, we must embrace the truth. A lie is a lie and sin are a sin.  There is no such thing as big sin and no such thing as a small sin. The inescapable truth is SIN is SIN! You and I need to know that a good thing and a right thing might be different. The world may say choose the good thing, but do not risk give anyone offense. But a good and an inoffensive thing is not always the right thing, yet the right thing is always the best option to choose and the right choice for Holiness with God is a good thing!

When you make the right decision for God, people may not like you and they won’t necessarily be happy about your decision. They will probably take an offense you chose relationship God over relationship with them You might face serious personal doubts and start asking yourself, am I doing what God wants me to do? Was that choice the right choice? People around you may not agree with you, because the correct decision usually does not fit into what society says. But when you choose the path of Holiness with God over the unholiness of the world, you choose to do the right thing, you will feel the peace inside of you.

You may very well lose something or someone or everyone who is significant to you, but you will have a SHALOM inside which no one can take away. SHALOM is God’s reward to us, for doing the right thing, because He is pleased by us.

DECIDE TODAY TO DO THE RIGHT THING

We need to decide today that we will choose to do the right things – that we will strive to live in holiness with our God who created us, redeemed us. Remember, without holiness with God, no one will see the Lord, because God is a holy God.

Choose today to train your mind and your soul to do the right things, so when a harder situation comes and suggests you doing something bad, your mind will be more prone to think of a way out. Do not be afraid; God will 100% empower you to do the right thing through the ministry and works of God’s Holy Spirit. Choose to become sin’s worst enemy! Choose relationship, friendship with God.

Hebrews 12:14-17 J.B. Phillips New Testament

In times of testing be especially on your guard against certain sins

14-17 Let it be your ambition to live at peace with all men and to achieve holiness “without which no man shall see the Lord”. Be careful that none of you fails to respond to the grace which God gives, for if he does there can very easily spring up in him a bitter spirit which is not only bad in itself but can also poison the lives of many others. Be [exceedingly] careful too, that none of you falls into impurity or loses his reverence for the things of God and then, like Esau, is [fully] ready to sell his birthright to satisfy the momentary hunger of his body. Remember how afterwards, when he wanted to have the blessing which was his birthright, he was refused. He never afterwards found the way of repentance though he sought it desperately and with tears.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

We are all pretty much aware of what the “right thing to do” is. We are pretty much aware of what is the right thing to do and what is the wrong thing to do. For the most part we know right from wrong because our parents have told us and taught us and instilled in us what they are from the first moments of life.

We learn what is hot and not to touch it because there is a substantial risk of our being significantly burned. So, we learn very early on from Mom and Dad about the consequences of playing with matches and things which bring about fires.

We learn about what is cold and to be careful how we touch really cold objects. We learn how to dress for hot weather and how to dress against cold weather. We learn about the relationship between hot and cold and how to stay healthy. We learn about what is the right thing and the wrong things to do to survive. We learn about what and how to safely touch and how to and how not to touch stuff. We learn the life-essential relationships between what is, is not, safe to touch.

We learn what is safe to say and what is not so safe to say. We learn what it is which will promote friendship and what it is which will promote enmity with someone else. We come to know and understand the right thing to say in the right environment and the right moment to say it – not to give offense but to offer the hand of empathy and friendship, peace, understanding and of trust. We want our understanding of genuine friendship to be the very first priority.

Question becomes do we know what friendships ought to take first priority?

James 4:4-6 J.B. Phillips New Testament

4-6 You are like unfaithful wives, flirting with the glamour of this world, and never realizing that to be the world’s lover means becoming the enemy of God! Anyone who deliberately chooses to love the world is thereby making himself God’s enemy. Do you think what the scriptures have to say about this is a mere formality? Or do you imagine that this spirit of passionate jealousy is the Spirit he has caused to live in us? No, he gives us grace potent enough to meet this and every other evil spirit, if we are humble enough to receive it. That is why he says: ‘God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.’

What is the right choice to make?

What is the “right thing to do?”

What is the “wrong thing to do?”

What is that first and foremost priority?

Friendship with Sin?

Friendship with the World?

Friendship with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Enmity with Sin?

Enmity with the World?

Enmity with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

What is the “right” choice and decision to make?

What is the “wrong” choice and decision to make?

The lines “Right or Wrong” between them are all clearly and severely muddled.

In following the humble, sacrificial, example set forth by the Lord Jesus we are to toss off everything that hinders us, continually, continuously, looking to Him as our example of perseverance and faith (Hebrews 12:1-3). One way to accomplish this is to live at peace with others and to pursue holiness.

Holiness can be defined in two ways. First holiness means consecration and purification, it is the result of being set apart to God (1 Corinthians 1:30, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2). This happens when we choose to enter into a relationship with a good God by faith in Jesus (Acts 26:18, 1 Corinthians 6:11).

Apostle Paul said in Romans, But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Romans 6:22). Holiness is a byproduct of our union with Savior Christ, it is the reward of that union. It is not through natural means that we possess this. Sanctification comes only through Savior Christ Jesus as a gift.

Secondly, holiness is also the effect of being consecrated or being set apart. It is sanctification of our heart and what becomes evident in our daily lives through union with God. It is the outgrowth of leaving behind old desires and pursuing the things of God. Sanctification is a process for the believer (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, 7, Romans 6:19, 22, I Timothy 2:15, Hebrews 12:14).

In the New Testament writings, the process of sanctification or holiness can be understood in these ways, first it is God’s will for the believer (I Thessalonians 4:3). Secondly, it is learned by God and taught by His Word (John 17:17-19, Psalm 17:4, 119:9). Next, the Holy Spirit is the agent in sanctification (Romans 15:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2, 1 Corinthians 6:11). And lastly, holiness must be pursued by the believer (Hebrews 12:14). We are to be built up by our obedience to the Word following the example of Christ Jesus according to the Ministry and works of God’s Holy Spirit who enables this change to happen.

Relationship with Christ and attention to His Word will birth holiness into the natural realm. He has already provided this by faith in Him as you were given everything needed to live as Christ in this world (1 John 4:17, Galatians 5:22-25).

This is why, as believers, we must continually, continuously, zealously, pursue holiness; letting His truth and life-giving Spirit change us from the inside out. Letting what is on the inside of us match what the world sees, a life set apart, sanctified and holy. Without it, others will not witness the Lord working in us.

This is an amazing truth! God has sanctified us and set us apart. He has given us everything we need to live a holy life. We respond by pursuing holiness in every aspect of our talk and our walk with Him. By His Word and by His Spirit we are changed, and everyone around will experience the result of our sanctification!

What a Friend We Have in Jesus – Joseph M. Scriven, circa 1855

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us pray,

God my Creator, God, sole Author of my life, You know well my limitations and shortcomings. You know the depth of my heart and soul, yet You love and chose me. I thank You for Your unlimited and unending and unyielding love in my life. Help me, guide me to live according to Your righteousness and teach me to love Your commandments. Strengthen my feet to walk in Your way. In Jesus’ name. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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