Ten Questions The Good Samaritan Never Asked

good samaritan image

Almost everyone is familiar with the story in Luke 10.  A traveler is on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he’s fallen upon by thieves.  They beat him, rob him, and leave him half dead.  By chance, both a Priest and a Levite happen to be traveling down the same road, but when they see the man, they pass by him on the other side.  Finally a Samaritan passes by, sees the man in distress, and has compassion on him.  He goes to him, binds up his wounds, and gives the man medicine.  Then laying the man on his very own animal, the Samaritan brings him to a nearby inn, where he pays the innkeeper in advance to take care of the man, and offers to pay any other expenses the innkeeper might incur before the Samaritan can return.  Jesus ends the story with the question, “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Last Friday’s attacks in the city of Paris have left the world reeling, and left nations like our own asking the legitimate question, should we be willing to take refugees from Syria and other ISIS endangered countries, given the fact that some of those refugees may be terrorists in disguise?

I won’t pretend that the question is easy to answer.  As Christians we’re commanded to love our neighbor, but that doesn’t mean we invite sociopaths and murderers in for dinner.  Also, there is an aspect of loving our neighbor that means not allowing dangerous people to get close enough to them to do harm.  If you saw a well-known murderer on your street, it would be loving and neighborly to call the police.

I also understand that for many Christians,  it’s not that they don’t want to help the refugees, but given the decision-making of our government lately, they simply don’t trust them to vet and background check the refugees as thoroughly as they need to be.

Still, I can’t shake the words of Christ as I consider the question, “which of these proved to be a neighbor?”

Let’s look at the similarities.  First, the man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho.  This was a notoriously dangerous road, inhabited by bands of marauders and criminals.  We might be so bold as to call it “war-torn.”  Second, through no fault of his own, the man is attacked.  Apparently he had to travel through the area, and even though he seems perfectly ambulatory, he is overtaken by a larger force.  He’s been outnumbered, he’s been victimized, and now he’s lost everything.  They’ve robbed him and taken all that he has.

Along comes a Priest and a Levite.  Now in most Jewish stories, these would be the good guys.  They both serve in the Temple.  They both worship Yahweh for a living.  If anyone is going to help, it’s these guys. But they don’t.  They pass on the other side.  And it’s important to remember that they had perfectly legitimate, even reasonable excuses for doing so.  Jesus said that the thieves left the man half-dead (ESV).  That presents two problems for these professional worshippers.  For one, touching a dead body would leave them ritually unclean.  If the man is already dead when they go to check on him, then they’ve rendered themselves unable to serve in the Temple.  Likewise if he dies while in their care.  Practically speaking, they are making the practical, prudent choice to leave the man alone.  But neither practicality nor prudence make them the hero of the story.  That moniker falls to the least likely candidate, the Samaritan.

Now if the Priest and the Levite were the typical good guys in a Jewish story, then the Samaritan was the typical bad guy.  The Samaritans were a group of mixed-race Jews who had rebelled against the rightful king, been defeated gentile invaders, and then intermarried with those invaders.  To make matters worse, they had adopted many of the idolatrous practices of their gentile invaders and mixed them into the worship of Yahweh.  This was their worst sin by far, and for it, the Jews hated them.  One writer says that the Jews thought the Samaritans were “heretics and half-breeds.”  There is no way that the Samaritan was going to be the hero of this story.  And yet…

Jesus has a way of turning things on their head.  He has a way of making us see the world in a different light, His light.  Jesus said the Samaritan was this man’s true neighbor.  The Samaritan is the hero, and he became the hero because he never asked these nine questions…

  1. Aren’t there Samaritans back home that could use my help?  Shouldn’t they come first?
  2. I don’t know anything about this man.  What if he wants to do me harm?
  3. Circumstances being what they are between our two peoples, is it really wise for me to help him?
  4. Some of the Israelites are bad men.  What if this man is one of them?
  5. How much is this going to cost me?  Couldn’t that money be spent better elsewhere?
  6. Shouldn’t some of the other travelers on this road share the cost of helping the injured man?
  7. Is it really in the best interest of my people/nation to help this man?
  8. What if the wounded traveler doesn’t fit in at the inn?  What if he causes a disruption?
  9. This man looks like he was perfectly healthy before he was attacked.  Why didn’t he stand up for himself?
  10. Maybe I should ask if he worships the same God I do before I agree to help him?

Again, I understand that the refugee crisis is incredibly complex, and I don’t suggest we should throw open the borders to any and all without asking questions, checking into backgrounds, and making sure we’re not bringing danger upon our own heads.  But I don’t think we get to call ourselves pro-life, I don’t think we get to call ourselves people of faith, most importantly, I don’t think we get to call ourselves followers of Christ, if we’re unwilling to be obedient to His commands and protect those who need protection, welcome to sojourner, and love our refugee neighbors.

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Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards Testimony On Capitol Hill…

Today, while testifying before Capitol Hill, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards admitted the following under oath:

  1. Richards testified that despite being a non-profit who, in their words, seek to care for women, Planned Parenthood paid her over half a million dollars in salary last year.
  1. Richards testified that exactly NONE of the 600+ Planned Parenthood clinics performs, or is able to perform mammograms, despite the fact that Planned Parenthood, its supporters, Cecile Richards herself, and many, many more have claimed on the record that it did.  The best they can do is refer a woman to a clinic that can provide that service.
  1. Richards testified that she had “never heard of [a] circumstance” where children were born alive after a botched abortion, even though at least two abortion survivors had given their testimony before that very same committee, and Planned Parenthood officials had previously testified under oath that in that situation, their policy was to let the child die. (Let’s also note that despite the blatant and illogical lie, she did manage to distract from answering the actual question, which was whether children who survived failed abortion attempts, would be given medical attention and care.)
  1. Richards testified that Planned Parenthood had made over 127 million dollars in excess revenue, which, to most people, would sound a lot like profit. (I realize that not-for-profit doesn’t mean you never make money but can’t we at least agree that the 86 million they receive from US tax dollars could be cut given the large “excess revenue” they made?)
  1. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Richards testified that 86% of their business comes from performing abortions. This is significant because Planned Parenthood has repeatedly claimed in the media that abortion makes up only 3% of their business. (Pantalones en fuego…I don’t speak Spanish and I would imagine that’s not actually how you’re supposed to write that.)  The point is that Planned Parenthood is NOT a women’s health clinic, as they claim to be, given that they can’t even perform mammograms, one of the most standard women’s health procedure, and in fact get the VAST MAJORITY of their business from killing unborn (and apparently, sometimes, live-born) children.  Defund these murderous liars now!

*The bullet points were borrowed from the Matt Walsh blog and given in a (hopefully) less incendiary way.

How To Develop A Cool, Modern Sermons Series…

Let me begin by saying that most of this is tongue-in-cheek.  It’s a joke.  So relax.

The first thing you need to do, if you want to develop a cool, modern sermon series is come up with a catchy title.  You might think that the first thing you should do when considering a sermon series is look in the Bible, but that’s because you’re more concerned with truth and the valid application of God’s Word.  That’s all well and good, but what WE want is something that looks cool on a T-shirt.  In fact, if you can’t imagine the title of your series on an American Apparel hoodie, then you’re in the wrong ballpark.  Try imagining the title projected across the back of a stage dimly lit by white Christmas lights, then you know you’re on the right track.

The title needs to be something that reaches out and grabs the listener.  In fact, it should probably be focused on the listener entirely.  None of this Gospel-driven stuff, let’s make sure we’re totally man-centered here.  That’s how you grow a church, you know.  One pastor described his approach to sermons by saying, “I start with me, then I move to them, then I move to God.”  Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s how Paul did it too.  Besides, who wants to be bothered grounding our sermons in a single text or passage of Scripture?  If we did that, then people would be able to go home and study it for themselves, and then maybe they wouldn’t need us.

The title of the series also needs to be relatable, so that we can instantly recognize why we might be interested in hearing a series of messages on it, but also vague enough that you won’t have to be bothered sticking to any particular passage or text of Scripture.  Everybody knows that the more passages of Scripture you pull from in a single sermon, the more people will realize you know and have synthesized the Bible.  (There’s a good title by the way, “Synthesize,” nobody will have any idea what it means.)

Let me give you an example.  Let’s call our series “Balance.”  That’s a catchy title, right?  You can already see it screen printed across your deep v-neck t-shirt.  What’s more, it’s compelling enough to draw people in, because who couldn’t use more balance in their lives, but also utterly vague. Balance what?  My work?  My family?  What am I trying to balance?  It doesn’t matter.  You can fill in the rest of the series by talking about YOUR favorite topics and you don’t have to worry about any of that “rightly dividing the Word of truth” stuff.

But here’s the best part about doing a sermon series like this; you’ll sound totally new and fresh and wise, because you won’t be repeating any of that old, boring stuff we’ve heard in churches before.  People will think you’re really deep because they’ve never heard anything like what you’re saying coming from a pulpit before (You’re not still using a pulpit are you?).  Nobody wants to hear a sermon series on the book of Galatians when you can hear one called “In Over Our Heads.”  Nobody wants to hear your vigorous defense of the faith, once for all passed down from the saints, when you can hear one called “Stuck.”  It doesn’t matter that they have no idea what they’re “stuck” in, at least they don’t have to hear verse by verse exposition.

Questions For Planned Parenthood And Their Supporters…

The last few weeks have given rise to three different videos, exposing Planned Parenthood’s horrendous practice of selling fetal body parts for a profit.  The videos were produced by the Center For Medical Progress, a pro-life organization that sent actors into the world of Planned Parenthood, posing as representatives of a fetal tissue procurement company.  The videos show shocking evidence that Planned Parenthood not only performs hundreds of thousands of abortions each year (over 300,000 last year), but that they also SELL the mutilated body parts of those babies for a profit (which happens to be illegal).  There is so much I’d like to say to those who still support Planned Parenthood, the abortion industry in general, and those who still support abortion, but I doubt it would be productive, so I simply want to ask you these questions in no particular order.

1. If the aborted child is really only a lump of cells, then why does it have a HUMAN heart, liver, kidneys, brain stem, etc.?

2. If the aborted child is really only a lump of cells, are there any uses for fetal body parts of which you WOULD NOT approve?  Why?

3. If the aborted child is really only a lump of cells, and you’re simply describing the performance of a medical procedure like a heart transplant, then why did you publicly criticize your own abortionist for her “crass” and “heartless” attitude during the recording?  How can it be crass or heartless to talk about a simple medical procedure?

4. If you’re not interested in making a profit, then why is one of your executives haggling over the price of specimens?

5. If you’re not interested in making a profit, and your primary concern is the health of the patient (by which I assume you mean the mother because the other patient in the equation is being killed), then why would you be willing to alter the normal procedure in order to better “harvest” valuable fetal tissue?  Isn’t this a conflict of interest?

6. Isn’t it a conflict of interest to say that you want abortion to be safe and rare, while also making a profit from the product of those abortions?

7. How big of a scandal do you think it would be had this video been about the ASPCA or the Humane Society (or a famous lion named Cecil)?

8. How do you respond to the fact that your founder, Margaret Sanger, was openly and aggressively racist, even going so far as to encourage the forced sterilization of African Americans, with the fact that your organization aborts more AFRICAN AMERICAN children than any other race?  If #blacklivesmatter, and they do, then shouldn’t this be the place you start?

As I said before, there’s a lot more I’d like to say, but we’ll start here.  If you’re in favor of abortion in general, and Planned Parenthood in particular, then I’d really love to hear your answers.

Questions For Gay Couples Seeking The Redefinition of Marriage

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, the hotly debated topic of so-called gay marriage has been popping up in every newsfeed, tweet, Facebook timeline, and news story at an alarming rate. Now for the sake of time I’ll simply say a couple of introductory remarks, then onto the list. First, as followers of Christ we are commanded to love everyone. That may sound cliché. It may sound like a bumper sticker, but it’s true. We are all sinners in need of grace and the sin of homosexuality is no different than any other sin in so far as it separates us from God just as much as hatred, stealing, or envy. Yes there are greater consequences for some sins than others, but nonetheless, when we act like homosexuality is a greater sin than our own, we look like bigots and hypocrites all at the same time.

Second, and along the same lines, to disagree with something or someone is not the same as hatred. And saying you disagree is not the same as hate speech. I disagree with those who think ketchup is an acceptable condiment for a hotdog, but I don’t hate them. I just think they’re wrong. Neither does my opposition to so-called gay marriages mean I hate gay people. I simply do not agree with their choice of lifestyle, and I do not think their choice of lifestyle should co-opt thousands of years of history and culture.

Third, rather than go into a lengthy discussion of my personal position on sex and marriage, I will simply say that I take a traditional, evangelical stance on the subject. In other words, I believe marriage is defined as the lifelong covenant between one man and one woman, and that all sexual activity outside of that covenant is sin.

With all that in mind, here are five questions I have for gay couples seeking the redefinition of marriage. I’m sure there are other questions that will need to be answered, but here are five that I’ve never heard a gay marriage proponent answer.

  1. What does marriage provide that your current lifestyle does not?
  2. Why does this need to go to SCOTUS? Or, why can’t we leave this decision to the individual states?
  3. If you’re in favor of redefining marriage, then what is the standard by which it is redefined? Put another way, to whom or what would you appeal if I wanted to marry my car?
  4. Every culture in history has defined marriage as the bond between a man and a woman. What makes you think you know better or are wiser than all of humanity up until this point?
  5. Biologically speaking, a man and a woman are required for reproduction. How can you argue you’re NOT going against nature?

How To Be More Like Aaron and Hur…

In Exodus 17, the children of Israel are battling the Amalekites while Moses stands, staff raised above his head, watching the battle on a nearby hill.  As long as he stands with his staff above his head, the Israelites win.  But every time he grows weary and puts his arms down, they begin to lose.  Seeing this, Aaron and Hur rush to Moses’ side, find him a comfortable place to sit, and help hold his hands above his head until the battle is over.

There’s a lot to be said here, but for now, try to be like Aaron and Hur when it comes to your pastor.  Here are 4 ways to minister to him.

1.  Pray for him and the church regularly.

I know it sound cliche, but if more people would seriously bathe their pastor in prayer, it would alleviate a world of troubles. It’s simple.  It’s easy.  Why wouldn’t you pray for your pastor.

2.  Give to the church faithfully.

Most pastors make their living from the ministry.  The church pays them a salary and when the church is struggling financially, the minister’s salary is often the very first thing to go.  It’s only natural.  The pastor loves his church and he loves the ministry and he wants to see it flourish.  If that means taking a pay cut, or getting no pay at all, most pastors are more than willing to do it.  But if everyone in the church were to give faithfully, then it wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.  So give faithfully.

3.  Attend the church consistently.

Pastors are only human, and when your pastor gets up to preach to a half-empty church, after a week of intense study, deep prayer, and hard work, it can really take the wind out of his sails.  What’s more, he is thinking strategically, planning his messages over time in order to convey a long-term goal to his congregation.  When you’re not there, you miss out on what he has to say, what he has to teach, and ultimately where he’s leading the church.  Don’t do that.  Attend regularly.

4.  Serve the church actively.

For many pastors, on top of preparing a weekly sermon, the pastor is responsible for organizing the church’s weekly ministries.  I can speak from experience that the single greatest frustration a pastor can experience is when ministry opportunities exist, but there’s no one willing to commit to them.  We can’t do it all on our own.  We need the help of the congregation.

The Confessions Of A Bi-Vocational Pastor

The nature of church planting here in NE Ohio is such that bi-vocational ministry is not only the norm, it is all but a necessity.  Of the 26 or so churches in our local association, I know of only 2 or 3 with full-time paid church staff.  The rest are led by talented, capable, passionate men who split their time between the burden of the Word (a burden we gladly bear), and the burden of a secular job (a burden we necessarily bear).  I have much to say on the topic of bi-vocational ministry, and perhaps I’ll share more at a later date, but for now, here are 10 confessions I think most of my fellow bi-vo pastors would agree with.  I share them not to complain, but rather to help those of you who worship in churches like mine to better share your pastor’s burden, to better lift up your pastor in prayer, and better minister to him in his daily work.

***Not surprisingly, many of these have to do with time or the lack thereof.  I suppose they could merit a blog post all their own but this will suffice for now.

1.  I rarely have enough time (as much as I’d like anyway) to feel properly prepared to preach.

2.  I rarely have enough time to do other ministry tasks like visit shut-ins, discipleship, or evangelism.

3.  I never feel like I have enough time to spend with my family.  This is THE greatest burden on the list.

4.  If I’m not very careful, I can easily become resentful of other people’s free time and finances, especially if I know they’re not supporting the church. There are only so many pictures I can see of your second vacation this year, or your brand new vehicle, or the baseball tournament you attended instead of coming to church before my heart rebels and I have to take it to God in prayer.

5.  When people fail to support the ministry of the church, I have a very difficult time NOT taking that personally.  I’m pouring my life and soul into this and when you don’t take it as seriously as I do, that feels like a personal insult.

6.  I’m even more frustrated than you are by slow growth in the church and/or lack of change in the people to whom I minister.  

7.  I’m really, really tired.  Like, all the time.

8.  I’m working harder at this ministry than anything I’ve ever done before.  We’ve all heard the old jokes about the minister only working one day a week and frankly, they’re not funny.  90% of the work I do is behind the scenes and no one ever knows about it.  That’s ok.  I don’t want recognition.  I just want you to know I’m working really hard because I love this church and I want to see it impact the Kingdom of God.

9.  Financially speaking, I’m just barely making ends meet.  I didn’t go into the ministry to get rich. You won’t see me on TBN.  But Scripture says that the workman is worthy of his wages and that you shouldn’t muzzle the ox while it’s working.  In every church I’ve ever been a part of, there are some people who are doing their best to support the church financially, and others who aren’t.  Those who are make my job easier.  Those who aren’t make it more difficult.

10.  I feel like a failure most of the time.