Who is my Neighbor?

Probably one of the best-known parables of Jesus is the story of the Good Samaritan.  You remember I’m sure, but allow me to paraphrase the story for you: a man was traveling and fell among thieves, he was beaten and left for dead.  Now, a preacher came by and saw him, he said ‘hello, nice to see you’ but was late for a meeting so he walked by the other side.  Then a fellow Arkansan came along and saw him, he said ‘How ‘bout them Hogs…Wooo Pigs, Sooie!’ but was in a hurry to get to the Razorback game, so he went by the other side.  Finally, a hip-hop homeboy who happened to be a Muslim rolls up on him… (Now here’s where the story gets strange), he turns down his jam box, gets out of his car with the 20-inch rims and he of ALLpeople is the one who stops to render aid to the fallen man!  Not only that, but he takes him to the hospital ER and uses his own credit card to pay for the man’s medical treatment! – YOU REMEMBER, I said I was paraphrasing the story, right?

The point of the story is to illustrate that being a neighbor is not just saying nice things to people but actually doing what needs to be done in order to help!  Who is my neighbor is a question that is still being asked today in a myriad of different ways and situations that Christians are confronted with daily.  Maybe it’s being asked by the co-worker who is under pressure on the job.  Maybe it’s the classmate who is being bullied at school.  Perhaps it’s a single mom who is at her wit’s end with what to do with her demanding child.  The question’s being asked… but what will our answer be?

One can look at the parable from many different angles.  Some would argue that the preacher was doing some very important work that was for the GREATER GOOD, so you can’t really blame him for passing by!  Others would argue that this was the ‘BIG GAME’ & you can’t reasonably expect one to miss it after all, we all deserve a little R&R in our busy lives, don’t we?  The fascinating thing about this story is that in the end Jesus doesn’t draw a conclusion on the matter He asks each person to contemplate the illustration and He simply says in Luke. 10:37, “… now you go and DO likewise

When we think about ‘growing God’s Kingdom one person at a time’ we must remember that we are truly ambassadors for Christ.  We represent daily what it means to be a Christian and we can do more to influence others to Christ by our actions than by our words!  When we think about it, maybe the question isn’t ‘who is my neighbor?’ but rather ‘AM I THE KIND OF NEIGHBOR I OUGHT TO BE?’

~ John Phillips Jr ~

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WEEDS IN THE FIELD

While Jesus told tons of stories about the nature of his kingdom, one of the most powerful ones is found in Matthew 13 alongside several others. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away” (Matthew 13:24-30) When the wheat began to grow the weeds appeared with the wheat. The workers asked the owner if they should go out and pull up the weeds. He told them not to do so since in pulling them up they would also uproot much of the wheat, but to wait until time for harvest and then the harvesters would gather the weeds out first and throw them into the fire then gather the wheat.

When Jesus explained the parable to his disciples he said the kingdom is the world, the one who planted the good seed was the Son of Man and the good seed was the people of the kingdom. The one who sowed the weeds was the devil. The harvesters are the angels and the harvest will be at the end of the world when the angels gather out of his kingdom all that offends to cast them in the fire so that the sons of the kingdom may shine like the sun in His kingdom.

There are many great lessons from this story but let me focus on a couple. One is the fact the children of God, the disciples are the good seed or the wheat. We often want to go back to the parable of the sower and make the seed the word. But it is we, the disciples that must grow, spread and increase the harvest for the Lord. Now the weeds that are sown all around the disciples of the Lord will always torment us. The devil is constantly busy sowing weeds in the kingdom so that there will indeed be those around us who claim to be disciples themselves but who seem to always be leading people away from what is right rather than to the right.

How are we as followers of Christ to handle the problem of weeds? Many times in church we lose focus on the wheat because we see so many of the weeds in the field and believe we must do something to destroy all the weeds. Many times the preacher or the leaders of the congregation become experts in killing weeds. They have studied weeds and know where they went wrong and are intent on driving them out of the church or kingdom of the Lord. The sad thing is when we begin to focus on the weeds; it invariably leads to taking the eyes off the wheat, which is the people of God, the Disciples of Christ. Now think about it. What if the wheat farmer becomes so intent on killing weeds that he neglects the wheat? He may have very clean fields, but not much wheat.

In church we need to remember the point Jesus made. We can’t get the weeds out of the field. If we try we will destroy much of the wheat, the disciple crop at the same time. Leave them alone until the harvest and the angels of God can gather them without a single mistake. Too often when we try to get the weeds out we actually take out many struggling disciples who are trying, growing, but still weak and need help, encouragement and love. The Lord at the end of the harvest is the only one to handle some things.

Leon Barnes

Practical Example of Kingdom Living

It’s easy to adopt a motto or mission statement that sounds good and is catchy to those who hear it; it’s entirely another matter to live out that mission statement in practical daily examples of Christian love.  And yet, I see many examples of our mission statement, “Growing God’s Kingdom, one person at a time” on display in a variety of practical ways throughout our congregation.  Let me tell you about one of them.

William Riles is a mild mannered older black gentleman who has been a part of our congregation for many years.  He’s got what some might say is a ‘unique’ speaking style that requires a discriminating ear to fully understand what he’s saying sometimes.  A working class man all his life, William has had his share of struggles.  He suffered a stroke some years back and lost his wife of many years to cancer.  Yet, his outlook on life has been to focus on what he can do for others instead of the ‘woe is me’ attitude that so many display these days!  When someone is sick or hospitalized from the congregation, William is there to give a word of encouragement and cheer.  When a project is in need of volunteers, William is one who can be counted on to pitch in.  When a name is added to the ‘Prayer List’ William is sure to call seeking an address or phone number so that he can send a card.  If someone needs a ride or has a yard that needs to be mowed; if there’s a funeral near or far, William quietly goes about doing the things that make a tremendous difference for good!

He’s not a deacon, he doesn’t head up a ministry and if I weren’t writing about him you’d probably not know many of the things he does – because he doesn’t look for or want the attention of others.  But if he weren’t here quietly doing what he does in his own humble way; we’d be missing out on a great blessing! Jesus said in Matt. 20:25-28, “…whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister...”

While it’s very important to attend worship services, hear sermons and attend bible classes, the old adage is certainly true, “people won’t care how much you know until they first know how much you care!”    I believe that the work of ‘growing God’s Kingdom one person at a time’ is carried out each time people like William, do the little things in the lives of others that makes a difference for good and shows us a practical example of God’s love in ways that touch people’s lives in a deep and meaningful way.

~ John Phillips Jr ~

Doing the right thing in an odd situation.

A friend and me were recently discussing awkward situations where stepping out in faith was required and what it was like to “do something” by faith. He told the story of a time when he was working on food prep with a few others in a kitchen at a restaurant on a day that a co-worker was out sick.
The coworker who was out sick for the day was someone who had some issues – not a “normal” person, but someone who would often say the “wrong” thing, or speak inappropriately because she was socially awkward and had a background that was different that most.

He said as they stood there working, some of the other workers began to talk about her and her shortcomings, giving examples of things she’d done wrong or of things she had said that they found to worth making fun of and ridiculing. It was a “fun” gossipy, slandering, conversation.

My friend said that as it went on for a while, it was more irritating than anything and that, just for kicks, he decided to do something different. He spoke up and said, “Yeah, __________ does have a lot of problems. Let’s pray for her” and he bowed his head and prayed openly for the girl and her issues asking that God would help her “get better” and “do better” in life, etc.

It was one of those weird, split-second things where what started as a kind of a joke turned serious quickly and that everyone else, including him, took praying for the absent girl very seriously and with a sense of genuineness. 

When he looked up as he wrapped up his prayer, everyone around the table had assumed a prayer posture – heads bowed, some with hands folded together – and were joining him in prayer and in concern for the odd girl who was absent.

After that moment, the conversation changed, people’s attitude changed, including my friends. He said that it was amazing how doing the right thing – praying for someone instead of talking about them in hurtful ways – actually had an powerful impact on everyone – on him, the absent girl and his coworkers.

I think sometimes we think that seeking God’s kingdom among us means something “bigger” and involves planning and money and a team and goals, when in reality it means taking God at his word and doing the normal, everyday good things that he puts in front of us to do.

That day had a powerful impact on my friend because he saw God at work in everyday life and it is a great reminder that we all have moments like that in which we can serve others in simple, real ways. Look for those places in your life where you can act, where you can speak and grow God’s kingdom.

Wade Poe

What Can I Do?

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15)

Four years ago I’d never left the US; I’d never been on a plane. But I made up for the late start by witnessing 3 sunrises during 30 hours of air time on the way from Little Rock to Singapore. In Singapore our team of five college students taught conversational English using the book of Luke to people the local church had recruited.

After three weeks I came home to plenty of questions: “How many readers did you have? How many people did you convert? Did you get the see any baptisms?”

I remember feeling a little ashamed to say that I didn’t know of anyone who came to a relationship with Christ because of my presence in Singapore. It got me thinking: “What, if anything, did I accomplish over those three weeks and thousands of miles?”

Well…

— I had an excited student come in for her second lesson and inform me that she’d already read half the book of Luke two days after our first lesson!

— I spent 6-8 hours a week with a woman who was studying for an English exam. During one of our conversations she said, “I think God sent you here to teach me about Jesus.”

— I discussed some of the best questions about God and the Gospel I’ve ever heard from a Chinese student who had been taught a general disdain for religion. Even so, he was always excited to be with us, to talk with us, to spend time with us, and even to leisurely beat me at ping pong again! Oh, and he was 10 years old!

God and his Word accomplished a lot. I didn’t do anything special. I just loved people and shared my love for God and his love for me. Like the church in Acts 2, I think we “enjoyed the goodwill of all the people” we were able to spend time with.

Now you might say, “I could never go on a trip like that. I have a job; I have to take care of my family.” You may not have to! BUT as you go you do have to seek out opportunities to love and invest in the people God has placed around you.

One of the students I have been blessed to disciple here at Genesis has been sharing his relationship with God with a friend who is studying here from another country. Through genuine friendship she has seen his love for God and the deep relationship he has with God. Through one-on-one conversations about faith, she recently surrendered her life to Christ! Wherever we go we are to bring good news!

If we love God, we love all people. And if we love people, we invest in them. And as the love of Christ overflows, HE adds to our number daily those who are being saved.
Morgan Hines

“5,000 kids in Pulaski County don’t have a permanent place to call home.”

 

I was shocked. Sitting in my pew that Sunday morning, I tried to picture that many people— 5,000 kids waiting for a family, waiting for God to do something. Foster care and adoption had never been on my family’s radar until that day. Slowly but surely, we believe God started whispering into our lives.

I am proud to say that Central Church of Christ is a church who embraces the idea found in James 1:27 of taking care of widows and orphans (the least of these) when they can’t do it themselves. I have watched from afar many families at Central take in children who are not their own and treat them as a family member through the foster care system. I have seen families adopt children and give them a permanent, loving home to call their own. And for the people who feel they can’t do that, they find ways to give back to the system or serve those foster and adoptive families in creative ways.

About a year ago, my wife and I felt God asking us to build his kingdom by joining the already thriving network of foster care families at Central. After many months, we officially became certified and received our first placement— a 7-month-old girl.

Through this process we have learned much about working in the kingdom. We quickly found out that building God’s kingdom will, in fact, change your own way of life. We don’t have nearly as much free time as we used to and we find our own resources being poured into a child who doesn’t belong to us. Working in the kingdom isn’t always fun. In fact, it’s hard, hard work. But it’s rewarding.

When you grow God’s kingdom, you usually have to sacrifice something of value to yourself so that you can give something of value to someone else. This is so clearly evident in the lives of foster families. And it’s a hard thing to do— but you push on because you know it’s good.

We find ourselves being swept up in the narrative of God more and more everyday. Are we perfect? Far from it. Have we arrived? Absolutely not. But we are growing. When you make an intentional decision to grow God’s kingdom, often you find yourself growing as well.

Psalm 68 says, “God in His holy house is a father to those who have no father. And He keeps the women safe whose husbands have died. God makes a home for those who are alone.” (NLV)

He is a father to the fatherless and he surrounds people who are truly lonely. This is the heart of God. As my wife and I continue to love kids in the foster care system and welcome them into our home, we do so with the expectation that we are aligning our hearts right next to God’s and, in the process, our hearts will eventually look more and more like his.

We want his kingdom on earth to be just like it is in heaven. For us, that starts by joining a movement of people who are loving and embracing 5,000 kids in Pulaski County.

Corey Stumne

Seeing the Kingdom Reign

             I am always moved by acts of kindness or heroism toward children – I think most people are – but with recent emphasis on the need for more foster homes and for more funds to aid those in foster care, I’m struck by all the similarities between those who open their homes and hearts to children in need and God’s constant opening of His home and heart (His kingdom!) toward us.

In the Central family alone, we have so many who lay their lives down every day and allow God to pick them up and use them however He sees fit. As I enter the time of life where we don’t have as many children at home, and our life is not as busy with the everyday pull of multiple children’s homework, sports, and social activities, I can see how tempting it would be to just sit back, relax, and allow life to center around me and what I want. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere in the Bible that refers to that kind of rest while we’re here on earth.

Bill and Susie Keesling, at a time when they could have easily justified spending all their time focused on their own family and careers, chose to do more than just that. They chose to become foster parents, and extremely effective ones. They have welcomed sweet baby after sweet baby into their home and life and treated them just as they would treat their own children or grandchildren. They have been present at a crucial time in those babies’ lives in a way that may keep them from suffering some of the emotional anguish that usually goes along with being taken from biological parents. Kingdom living involves placing the needs of others before our own, stepping up to use the gifts God has given us to bless others. Bill and Susie are a wonderful example of what that looks like.

Another example of this kind of kingdom living is Mike and Kyndra Thomas, who give their lives every day to the task of raising children who are not their own to love God and to know the stability and security that comes through serving Him. In addition to focusing on their own family, they are focused on God’s family through having children and teens in their home constantly and showing them how a Godly home works – complete with help with homework, Bible study, family dinners, and game nights.

Finally, there’s Betty Graddy and her adult son, Joe, who, because of the physical disabilities that Joe lives with and the care that he requires from Betty, have had to look at kingdom life from a different perspective. There are many things that they would love to do for others that their life situation doesn’t allow them to do, and many in their circumstance would not have been able to get past that. Not Betty and Joe – they are instead constantly looking for ways to grow God’s kingdom. For them, it is through beautifully written words of encouragement to others, giving of funds to help children go to camp and other important Christian activities, and any other act of service that they can carry out.

Laying our lives down so that God can pick them up and use them to His glory – that’s His kingdom here.

Tammy Beck

WHEN JESUS REIGNS

            Living a life every day with Jesus as king is both a massive challenge and an exhilarating opportunity. One of the great blessings of working with the same group of people over a number of years is that you see numerous people live out their faith in all kinds of ways. One lady in our life stage group that I’ve seen demonstrating her walk with God is Marilyn. Her husband Roger is deaf so she has learned extremely well how to sign for the deaf and used her ability by working for the Deaf School in Little Rock. She turned her knowledge and her signing for Roger through class and worship into a ministry to both sign for others during worship and is now teaching others, including some of our teens to sign as well. She serves as a tremendous example of one taking a challenge in her life and turning it into a tremendous ministry to reach and teach many others the good news of Jesus, who might never have had that opportunity without her help and encouragement.

 

Recently when a young girl at the Deaf School was struggling to adjust to being there and away from home, She took the girl home and made her a guest in their home to show her the love and compassion that she demonstrates in all of her life. Marilyn is a person who longs to lead others to Jesus and to help others around her grow. She not only makes herself available for different kinds of work at church, but is constantly coming up with ideas on how we can better reach more people and improve our ministry to the hurting in our area. She is always looking for good ways to influence those in her family to be active and faithful in the church.

Far too often we think of kingdom living and growing God’s kingdom one person at a time as some big ministry or program that we must all be part of when it is much more likely that a person will take the challenges and even the problems in their own life and turn that into a way to serve and reach out to others. When we deal with a problem every day such as being deaf, we grasp what it is life to live in a world and not be able to communicate with others, as you would like. Taking our challenges and using them to serve others is one of the greatest ways any of us can follow Jesus as our king. Everyone has something that hurts or challenges him or her. It can be a sickness, a failure, a divorce, and a loss of our mate in death, the loss of a job or some addiction that holds us back. Whatever it may be, there are tons of others in the same situation that need someone who understands to reach out to them in love. God can use your challenge just as he uses Marilyn’s every day.

 

Leon Barnes