This week's Bible Study - November 6, 2016
Quotes of the Week:
Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them.
William Arthur Ward
Make the most of your opportunities. I have followed all kinds of sports at all kinds of levels. Occasionally you have a powerhouse team that could pretty much squash any other team at almost any time. However, in many leagues, teams are evenly matched and it often comes down to which team makes the most of opportunities that are presented. It may be when a call goes their way and they are able to capitalize. Or, it could be the game gets setup to where a play can make all the difference in the world. Berkley and I watched a lot of baseball and one of the most telling statistics is batting average when runners are in scoring position. For example, a player may get a double every time they come to bat, with the exception of when anyone is on base. They may end up with a high average, but do very little to help their team win.
As believers, we are not playing baseball, but there is a corollary of batting with runners in scoring position. For example, there are many who are very spiritual when they are in the confines of a church group. There is a lot to be gained by being around other believers, but we are to be salt and light to our world. Our mission is to be witnesses. If we don't take advantage of sharing our faith when 'runners areA in scoring position", are we really be witnesses? Are we willing to take stands for our faith when it is not 'easy'?
In the past week, we elected a new President, Donald Trump. Some people are ecstatic and others are horrified. Certainly, he didn't say things he should have in his campaign, and he said much that he should not have said. It has been interesting to hear believers on either side. However, this lesson is less about the President Elect and more about you and I. I would submit that we have an opportunity to be witnesses in how we respond to events of today and tomorrow.
This opportunity is not about you or I willing something to happen. If any of us goes out to do something for God on our own, we miss the point. We have been given the Spirit to guide us. We need to be praying for guidance and direction and not just going out on our own. Actually when we pray for guidance, we will see many more opportunities.
We should also realize that these opportunities are not merely to lure people onto 'our team'. At times, we tend to forget of the power of the gospel. It has the power to produce a changed life and I would submit that there is nothing more powerful. We gladly share with others our new purchases and advances in technology. For example, I was diagnosed with ALS and if someone came up with a cure, you would have to believe that it would be news that would impact the lives of so many living with ALS. But I have to say that the cure for ALS pales in comparison to the power of the gospel, both for now and eternity.
This passage begins as an ordinary day. Peter and John were going to the temple at the time of prayer. At the same time, a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gates, where he had gone every day for many years to beg from those entering the temple. I have been on mission trips in the past and have noticed in some places that there are many beggars, with all sorts of physical infirmities that beg outside of some churches. This shocked me, but I noticed that many people walked past them, as if they didn't exist. Why do you think they go there to beg? Are they thinking that they are more likely to receive at the temple, as opposed to the market?
I've read that the beggar had been coming to the temple for as many as 40 years, on a nearly daily basis. You would have to think that the friends that carried him there each day would do that for as long as necessary. We don't know if they attended the temple or what exactly. What do you think the beggar had seen for 40 years? I would imagine that he was accustomed to being passed over. It is likely that he had even been passed over by Jesus. Can you imagine how he and others in his position may have felt when someone else may have been singled out by Jesus or His disciples and healed of their infirmity? Although we may not be able to relate to the beggar directly, how do you feel in the midst of your own tragic circumstances when Jesus seems to work for others, to correct their situation and you are still stuck in the mire of a disease or broken relationship or whatever you deal with? On an aside, isn't it funny how we remark that God is good when things work out for one person, but are silent when they don't work out for another? The beggar returned each day, day after day, and was passed over routinely. It is doubtful that he expected anything differently on this day.
A key point to be made is that the opportunity given to Peter and John was because they were trying to draw near to God. The same applies to our situation today. We may look for opportunities, but are we seeking God regularly? If you had to be honest about the amount of time you sought God in the last week, what would you say? Do you simply go to church out of duty, or do you see that as part of your mission or purpose? Simply being at church does not imply that you are truly seeking God any more than going to the zoo implies that you are an animal.
The beggar asked Peter and John for money. We read that Peter looked at the man. Perhaps Peter saw this man as God saw him, and not as he had seen him before. This pause, to look at the man, could become an interruption to their day, or it could be seen as an opportunity. However, when he stopped and looked at the man, something changed. Is there somebody that you need to stop and look at today? Peter asked the man to look at them, and he did, surely expecting to receive something. I would imagine that the beggar routinely avoided eye contact, as that was likely humiliating to look up and ask for a handout.
The beggar was expecting a handout, perhaps coins, cash or gift cards (or silver or gold), but Peter didn't have that. However, he said he would give him what he did have. And, Peter told him that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. Peter took him by the hand and helped this man, lame from birth, to walk. It was noteworthy how Peter got involved in helping this man, rather than just saying the words and standing back. Now, for the vast majority of you who read this, walking is no big deal. I used to be like you, but now even standing with help is difficult and I can barely shuffle or pivot. If I was given the ability to walk, things like balance and how to walk would have to be learned again. This man had never walked, but he jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then the man went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping and probably high fiving people along the way, praising God. People saw him and recognized him as the one who would sit begging at the temple gate. They were filled with wonder and amazement.
If I wasn't a believer and was reading this, I would begin to wonder why God doesn't do these types of things anymore? And some cynical believers might even think if they could make the lame to walk, they would be all about doing that. However, we often confuse our immediate need with our eternal need. Perhaps, that is because it is all we know. Our needs of now are important, because they are near and dear to us. I would love to be cured of ALS, as I know the devastating impact my eventual death will have on those I love. Dealing with a terminal disease with no known cure is tough, because if you lose perspective, you just end up waiting for it to take you (or the one you love). There aren't even any known possible treatments that exist today. It is overwhelming and I would love to be cured. But let me make this very plain, I would not give up eternity for a cure today. With Jesus Christ, we have our eternity solidified.
So, while we make that the lame man walking was the big thing in this story, the bigger impact is what it had on the kingdom of God. It is true that neither you nor I can go around and cure diseases in Jesus' name and fix other issues in lives as if using a genie. But, I would contest that what we do have in Christ if often underestimated. All people need Jesus, whether they realize that need or not.
What can you give others, when the opportunity presents itself? If you think of Peter, he was largely known for his mistakes. I have heard that where he went, people would crow like a rooster. Peter knew that he had failed Jesus, but more importantly, Peter knew of the forgiveness and restoration that Christ offered. We sometimes think that a pristine life is what attracts people, but in reality, people want to see genuineness and not piety. If honest, we all have failed and are in need of forgiveness only found in Christ. When others can relate and see the hope that is found in Christ and how all are in need, we can have an impact on others that far exceeds a lame man walking. Don't lose the hope of eternity by focusing only on the immediate needs of today.
You and I will be presented with opportunities, but we need to be regularly seeking God. You will find that often, what you see as interruptions can be seen as opportunities to impact others. We need to be seeking God so that we can more aptly act on the Spirit's prompting. When we are seeking God, we will often find that we are in right frame of mind to act when we are prompted, as opposed to making excuses. Have you ever noticed how differently you view the events of the day when you have started with prayer and meditation before God? It truly changes the dynamics and often our responses to issues that we encounter.
As much as we would like to heal the lame and cure diseases and fix circumstances magically, we need to realize that we can point to the answer to a larger need. However, let us be careful so as not to minimize the pain that people are dealing with. There is the issue of being empathetic with people's circumstances and not just being cavalier about spiritual needs. For example, in our case, Berkley and I are both strong believers and we know that we are in God's grace and forgiven for eternity. However, that does not at all lessen the pain of what we deal with on a daily basis. Having experienced this side of a disease, I can tell you that same who speak high religious platitudes would certainly turn non believers in this situation away. IF you can't empathize with what a person is dealing with as their immediate need, they will surely be unwilling to listen to what you have to say that can alter their eternity. We should all learn to empathize, so that we can more aptly share the hope we have.
I appreciated how Peter took the man by the hand and helped him up. There will be times when you will need to get your hands dirty and tangibly step in to help. We have been helped by so many people in so many ways. I look at how that has impacted us and have come to realize that when we can help meet needs of others, we gain the ability to be heard in sharing more of our faith. Realize that some of the opportunities that you may be given may involve an investment of your time, energy and love.
The beggar in the story had his immediate need met and we may assume that Peter also shared more of Christ. However, the true impact was on many more who saw the change and were impacted. A changed life can impact many more people that merely see the change. We never know how God will use each person that is reached.
I want to close with a true story that I have shared before. For several years, both when my boys were in the program and even years later, I was involved in Upward basketball as a coach. In fact, Berkley and I coached a couple of teams, not knowing any of the families. Upward has one of the highest potentials to reach families in a community. It is a place where Christ is freely shared and coaches and referees alike try to model respectful behavior. In any athletic contest, there are questionable calls or things are missed and there is the tendency to yell. But, people are watching. A friend of mine from work, who was not a believer, was touched, but not by how you might expect. His kid was playing on one court, but he noticed that the coach on the other court was livid with the official and was actually yelling in his face at halftime. My friend saw this and said that he remarked to himself that these people were no different than anyone else and it was just like the YMCA league. However, the true impact came after the game when the stars for offense, defense, sportsmanship, effort and most Christ like were being handed out to the player. My friend noticed the hothead coach and his team and overheard him apologizing to his team and their parents for his behavior and that he had gone to the referee to apologize. That was what stuck with my friend. It wasn't that these people were perfect, but that they were humble and grace filled. That coach, who had messed up, impacted people more than he ever knew, by modeling humility and asking for forgiveness. Your opportunity may at times be simply how you respond.