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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Open Hearts! Open Souls! Open Lives! Open Hands! Open Hope! Open Faith! Open Doors! Living into God’s Time!

At the beginning of the year, I sensed the Lord’s urging for me to grow in the area of prayer. To set aside focused time to pray expectantly. Since this time, I have been praying with and for those who dare to show, share the same passion for growing and maturing into the image of God by praying. We pray for each other, twice a week first thing in the morning for people we both know, and we do not know, for (un)believers around the world as well as many other things. 

One of the beautiful things that has come from our time together is that our prayer has morphed into a time of being directed by the Lord rather than us bringing a grocery list of items to petition Him with. In other words, we have definitely gotten very bold and have grown in our ability to pray as He directs.

We gather together with our Pastor. We hear, and we listen as we read Scripture text together. I deeply believe that the things we have learned and experienced together can clearly be gleaned from this short simple verse in Colossians, “Be earnest and unwearied and steadfast in your prayer [life], being [both] alert and intent in [your praying] with thanksgiving” (Colossians. 4:2 AMPLIFIED). 

Colossians 4:2-4 Amplified Bible

Be persistent and devoted to prayer, being alert and focused in your prayer life with an attitude of thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us, too, that God will open a door [of opportunity] to us for the word, to proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I have been imprisoned; that I may make it clear [and speak boldly and unfold the mystery] in the way I should.

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

Throughout the length and breadth of our Christian life, we are entreated to continue steadfastly in prayer, to pray continuously, to present our needs before our heavenly Provider, to lift up others to the eternal throne of grace, and to bend our ear to His gentle promptings.

This is entreaty proposed by the Apostle Paul to the followers of Colossae whom he has never met, as a duty and responsibility, and yet it is the greatest privilege given to the believer – to come, gather before the throne of grace with petitions, prayers, and pleas for our fellowman and for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain between man and God had been torn, and we are called upon to enter the holy place. We are to bring, in our hands, our hearts, our hopes, the needs of others, together with our grateful thanks, and to offer them in humble reverence before the feet of our Father in heaven.

The Apostle Paul was a man who devoted himself to pray for the saints and to continue steadfastly in prayer. In this verse, he calls the believers in Colossae to continuously, continually discipline, devote themselves into becoming prayer warriors, “devote yourselves to prayer…” he writes, “keeping alert in prayer, with an attitude of thanksgiving.” Open hearts! Open Souls! Open God’s doors!

Discipline! Devotion to prayer meant to continue steadfastly in prayer by their coming to the throne of grace for mercy to find help in times of need. We are to persevere in prayer… to commit to pray and not to give up, especially when the answer seems a long time in coming. We are to persist in prayer, even when we are faced with mounting difficulties and discouragements, we are to pray daily – to pray without ceasing, to take up our cross daily and to saturate it in prayer. 

Prayer is to become as regular as our breathing, but too often prayer is the first Christian ‘duty’ to be dropped when life starts to close-in on us, or time seems to be at a premium. Often, an irregular prayer life is the first slippery step on the downward path to complacency, carnality, and an ineffective Christian witness.

Our discipline and devotion to Prayer is our means to maintain an unbroken and continual fellowship with our heavenly Father, His Son and the Holy Spirit and unless we develop persistence in prayer and devote ourselves to praying, we are in serious danger of becoming lazy, disinterested, compromised in our faith.

Personal discipline and devotion to prayer is to ensure that every piece of our spiritual armor has been prayerfully strapped on. In Ephesians, Paul calls us to, “Pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and stay alert in prayer, with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18-19)

Prayer is not sitting for a few minutes with hands folded, and eyes shut tight.

Prayer is the tool we have been given to prepare us for the work God has called us to do and to ensure that we are well-prepared when faced with a crisis.

Prayer is not meant to be saved solely for a rainy or snowy day or only used in case of an emergency. Prayer is our connection; it is our lifeline to the Lord, we should continually discipline ourselves, develop an attitude of ceaseless prayer. 

Continuous, ceaseless, prayer is not being engaged in a prayer closet 24/7 but is developing an addiction of prayer. It is our initiating a mindset of prayer… of keeping the lines of communication to the heavenly throne-room open and clean, as we walk in spirit and truth and abide in Christ, moment by moment.

During Christ’s ordeal in Gethsemane, a number of the disciples fell asleep when their prayer support would have been so welcome, and they had to be admonished to, “watch and pray – that ye enter not into temptation.” We live in fallen bodies with an inherent sin nature and hindering the prayer-life of the saints is a top priority for the enemy of our soul. “Keep alert in prayer,” we are all charged, “Watch and pray, with an attitude of thanksgiving.” (Luke 22:39-46)

Throughout this epistle, we are challenged to pray, “with thanksgiving”.

Paul opened his letter to the Colossians by telling them, “I give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,” and later he gave thanks to the Father for their great salvation and inheritance of the saints in the light. In chapter 2 we read the saints were, “firmly rooted and being built up in Him and established in your faith – just as you were instructed and overflowing with gratitude and thanksgiving.”

In chapter 3 Paul exhorts the Colossians, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him,” and here in chapter 4 we are instructed to, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.”

Prayer is warmed by worship, petitions are perfected by praise, promises are claimed through a grateful heart, and intercessions are offered in the solemn acknowledgement that we have an everlasting audience with the King of kings and Lord of lords. Prayer should not be the “hit and miss” quick afterthought of a busy believer, but a deeply humbled attitude that permeates one’s whole life.

Prayer should be the in-breathing of our Lord into the inner core of our being and prayer should be the out-breathing of our utter devotion to our Saviour and Lord. Let us try to discipline ourselves to remember that when the prayers of the saints are offered up to the Lord in steadfast faith, combined with grateful thanks and a trusting heart, we have the authority of heaven behind all that we carry into/unto the throne of grace – through His nail-pierced hands and feet.

Be Disciplined and Be Devoted to Prayer

Prayer is a skill; it takes time and discipline and practice to develop. To grow one must practice, which means growth comes from praying regularly. Paul said, “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians. 5:17). Pray without ceasing, pray perseveringly. James said, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b). So, the first key is placing importance on praying. If it is not something you envision as important, you will never be devoted to it. 

Prayer carries with it a great promise from God—an answer, when the prayer is offered in faith according to God’s will. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). This is incentive to pray; learn what God’s will is and pray in faith. When you do you will see results, He will answer your prayers.

Be Watchful! Be Alert and Intent in Prayer

I steadfastly believe God wants all of His Children to pray, because in it is the ability for Him to move and act in and throughout our 21st century world. He has given authority on earth to believers (Matthew. 18:18; Luke 10:17-19) which carries with it a great responsibility. Prayer is truly one of our greatest weapons (Ephesians. 6:18-19) in other words, a prayerless Church is a weak Church

Here’s a few thoughts from great men of faith…

“Only God can move mountains, but faith and prayer move God” E.M Bounds; The Necessity of Prayer.

“God does nothing but in answer to prayer” John Wesley.

“The prayer closet is the arena that produces the overcomer” Paul E. Billheimer; Destined for the Throne.

Pauls instructions are that we are to be watchful, alert and intent in prayer. It is not a last resort, it is our first line of defense.

Be Thankful in Prayer

If devotion and intention get us to the true place where we are praying than gratitude and thankfulness is the key that unlocks the power of prayer. Why?

Because praise elevates you into a different realm of praying. Praise turns the focus off you and onto God; the result is faith and remember the prayer of faith is powerful (James 5:16b); the prayer of faith is answered (I John 5:14-15) and the prayer of faith moves mountains (Mark 11:23-24).

“Praise is the detergent that purifies faith and purges doubt from the heart. The secret of answered prayer is faith without doubt (Mark 11:23)And the secret of faith without doubt is praise—triumphant praise, continuous praise, praise that is a way of life” Paul E. Billheimer; Destined for the Throne.

Let’s Open our Hearts! Let’s Open up our Souls! Come, Let’s Have a Heart-to-Heart Conversation with our Jesus … Let us Open up a brand-new Door!

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

Let us pray,

Heavenly Father, I deeply bless You for Your grace and mercy to us. Thank You Jesus that I have the right to lay at Your feet my own needs and those of others. Increase my understanding of the great privilege of prayer which has now been granted to me and all Your children, and I pray that I increasingly devote my life to You in prayer, praise, and grateful thanks. This I ask in Jesus’ name, AMEN.

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God said, Show Me Your Friends and I Will Surely Show You Your Character!

Growing up I remember many times when my parents would be concerned with who my friends were.  One time in particular, they basically forbid me from my continuing to hang out with a couple of guys.  I was not too happy with the situation but knew that disobedience to such a strong prohibition came with very real consequences.  Little did I know but it would only be a few months later my mom told me that they were caught shoplifting.  I am not sure what would have happened to me if I had been there with them – but that was not an issue because of the prevailing wisdom of my father and mother over my own. 
 
My dad never quoted this proverb outright to me – but he must have read it.  More than once my parents would remind me that the company, I keep would have direct, decisive implications upon the character I later would possess. If we walk among the foolish, we risk becoming even greater fools than them. Yet, we cannot help but walk among our fellow citizens – we have no choice other than to isolate ourselves in our homes, in the woods somewhere or deep in a cave. In my own foolishness, I cannot always tell the “ever wise” apart from the foolish.

No matter how highly regarded and wise mankind believes himself to be, he will continue to be the consummate fool in the eyes of someone who does not know him. Jesus came sauntering into our lives and we thought him the drunken fool for doing what he was doing among those he was interacting with. But we did not know Him yet. We did not take the time to get to know him because we all thought him to be the consummate fool. We could not even muster up curiosity.

Pharisees thought him to be the ultimate fool for entering into the homes of the tax collector Levi who would become Matthew. Instead of interacting with the crowds in Jericho, Jesus looked up into the Sycamore Tree and called Zacchaeus down – to share a meal and fellowship and salvation. How did that crowd feel?? Jesus crossed the border of the hated Samaritans. What did the disciples feel?? How did the disciples feel about walking on such ground with their Rabbi in the lead? When we first read such stories, how do we feel about such foolish acts?

After we have read them, studied them, pondered and prayed over them, do we continue to feel, continue to believe they were such completely foolish acts?

Just a closer walk with this ever so dramatically foolish Jesus will make us wiser. Wiser to the lesser ways of my even greater foolishness for not taking the risk, walking even among the most foolish with my Rabbi, walking with my Savior who is Jesus Christ my Lord. Walking among fools reveals my true character!

I am weak but Thou art strong
Jesus keep me from all wrong
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee

“Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be
(Author Anonymous)

Proverbs 13:20 The Message

20 Become wise by walking with the wise;
    hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.

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

Today’s proverb speaks of these very things.  It speaks of a “walk with wise men” versus a “shepherding by fools.” 

First let’s look at the walk with “wise men.”  The one who walks with wise men will be wise.  The word for “walk” here refers to a journey or a walk from one place to another.  The company during this walk was a wise man, or wise men.

Proverbs 2:20 refers to it as a walk with “good men” and a “pathway of the righteous.”  When looking for companions and mentors – we do well to look for people who have walked with God (Who Himself is the wisest companion to have on the roads of life). 

These people are characterized by the apparent fact that they “allegedly” know God.  This they have supposedly “acquired” over a long or short lifetime of pursuing a relationship with Him through “reading and knowing His Word.”  

They have learned by “experience” that obedience to God is the wisest way to walk – and seeing life through His perspective and Word is how to obtain this. 

Look for such people and surround yourself with them and their counsel.  They will counsel you to walk closely with God – and learn to apply His Word to every situation in life.  Their lives will have the sweet smell of God’s favor upon them (even if the world deems them less than a success by their standards). 

Such people will be humble, gracious, loving, kind – and yet strong and willing to stand on God’s principles no matter what.  The blessing for being around such people is that you will become one of them.  The one who walks with wise men – will himself become wise.  One thing I would add to this is that a wise man or woman will look for at least one wise man or woman with some age on them.  The Word makes one wise – but wisdom over time is a rare thing to find.  When you do – befriend the one who has it – and – listen to them often! That is, of course, if the one “wiser than us” we are walking with is truly the wiser.
 
This one who grows wise in the company of wise men is contrasted with the “companion of fools.”  The word companion here is the Hebrew word “ra ah” which means to tend or feed sheep – i.e., a genuine shepherd of one another. 

Here is one who is being shepherded by fools.  He is fed and tended by them – having them lead him into their ways and their paths.  The fools he considers friends and mentors are mentioned in several ways in Scripture.  The word for fool is “kesiyl” and it means a fool or one lacking in wisdom. 

In Ecclesiastes 4:5 the fool is lazy, folding his hands in inactivity as his life wastes away.  In that same chapter verse 13 uses this word to describe a young man who “knows everything” and will not be instructed by anyone around him.  He even mocks those who offer wisdom – preferring the company of His own foolishness to any advice or instruction, sort of like Jesus’ own disciples as they argued among themselves over who would be greatest. (Luke 22:24-30)

Psalm 49:10 refers to this fool as one who thinks his stuff will last forever and lives for it rather than any kind of spiritual pursuit of God. 

Proverbs 1:32 speaks of the fool as one who loves wayward living and not only ignores the wisdom of God – but written earlier in chapter 1 verse 22 ESV we see him hating both the wisdom and the God who gave it.  22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?

Psalm 92:6-7 reminds us that he also mocks the whole concept of God’s justice and judgment.  Proverbs 3:35 reminds us that he displays his godless dishonor like a trophy – and finally Ecclesiastes 10:2 the Teacher says that his heart (that which hates wisdom) is always turning him towards the wrong direction in life. 
 
What happens to the one who has such foolish companions and mentors? 

The language here is a very pointed.  He will suffer harm as a result of these leaders and friends.  The word used here is quite descriptive.  It is the Hebrew word “rua” – which referred to the deafening shout or blast of a horn that took place right before your enemy came upon you in battle. 

Such a shout was called a shout of victory – and to those about to be vanquished – it was the most terrifying sound you can imagine.  Often those who heard it were not prepared for the devastating defeat they were about to receive. 

The psychology of the battlefield. But when the shout rang out – their cockiness would be soon replaced by terror and fear.  Too often that is how the foolish are awakened to the measures of their folly.  They are full of self-confidence and self-congratulation until disaster awakens them to their true state.  The result of their poor choice of companions and commanders is the threat of great ruin. 
 
Unfortunately, some will read this and mock – saying that they are doing fine.  They will even point to a life where everything seemed pretty good for their friends and mentors.  But whether we live in relative comfort, ease, and man-oriented success is not the measure of a man. 

The true measure of a person and the way they lived happens in the twinkling of an eye – in the exact moment after they leave this world.  We are reminded in Hebrews 9:27 that we all have an appointment with death.  This happens only once, “It is appointed for man to die once, then comes the judgment.” 

There is not a second chance – no reincarnation to have another shot.  When we die – we will either be present with the Lord – or wholly absent from His favor forever.  In that very moment it truly will be seen how wise it was to walk with people who are wise.  And ultimately the One Wise Man with whom we should walk is Jesus Christ.  It is by His immeasurable wisdom we will escape so great a peril – so great a judgment – and forever enjoy so great a salvation. Walk with Him – take a risk – be wise – and be blessed far beyond your days on this earth!

When my feeble life is o’er
Time for me will be no more
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom’s shore, to Thy shore

Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be
.

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

Let us Pray,

Holy and gracious God, you are the greatest of all. You are full of wonders that no mere human can comprehend. Lord, I seek to understand you and your ways so that I can live according to your commandments. I pray for your divine illumination in my heart and mind. Help me see what you intend for me to see. Help me understand what you intend for me to understand. Open my eyes and my ears to see you and hear your whispers. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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