Do You SEE the Other Side of the Tracks? (Luke 7)

One of the most picturesque sayings that has developed in the English language is that of “the elephant in the room.”  This of course speaks of an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.

There are at least two elephants in the room in the following account from Luke chapter 7 …

Luke 7:36 – When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

This entire scene is strange to our modern, western sensibilities. But if you understand eastern culture, a big dinner was a community affair. Everyone in town knew about, and anyone in town might just walk in and stand in the background and watch what was happening. It would be rude in the extreme to throw anyone out or lock others outside.

So among those who were in the room at the dinner hosted by the Pharisee what a woman of ill-repute, known to be so by the locals who would assume Jesus did know this. “Reclining at table” meant that they laid on their sides on couches, with feet extending away from the formation of low tables in the center – onlookers standing beyond. At the feet of Jesus is this woman grieving over her sins, anointing the feet of Jesus with an aromatic perfume, creating a plethora of sounds and smells that must have been rather disruptive – elephantish even!

Just as the Pharisee named Simon ponders to himself that Jesus has no concept of who this awful woman is, or he’d send her away or drop-kick her head, Jesus asks a question of him. He starts out by identifying the elephant in the room – Do you see this woman? What a question! Duh! Everyone sees the woman! But the question should have the emphasis on the word SEE. Did Simon really SEE this woman for the human soul that she was … a broken person in need of a new life.

And then Jesus drops the bomb on the other elephant. Though invited to the dinner, Simon did not do the normal and typical social graces of welcome regarding anointing and foot washing of guests. Jesus was invited, but he was really not welcomed. The awkward hostility was obvious, though nobody was confronting it.

We’re not like Simon, are we? Or are we? I don’t think many of us have a hostile attitude toward people who are very different, but perhaps we might not be terribly different categorically speaking if we are merely “indifferent.”  Maybe we look across the tracks, and maybe with minimal judgment if we think at all about what we see. But do we cross tracks out of compassion and love? Should we not want to be in warm relationship with Christians who are simply different by race, culture or economics? Should we not desire to see the grace of Christ reach to unsaved folks very different than ourselves, knowing that the only hope of a meaningful life in this world and life at all in the next world is dependent upon their relationship with Christ?

Elephants in the room can take up a lot of space. How about we clear out the pachyderms and look to God to use the opened space to pack our fellowship with all of the diversity to be found in the race – the human race – for which Jesus gave his life. We need to SEE across the tracks, which will likely make us GO across the tracks.

Son of a Tax Collector! (Matthew 9:9-13)

You’ve probably often heard someone introduce something they’re going to say, like … “I’m not a whatever, nor the son of a whatever, but I am a something, something, something.  One of my favorites in this genre is to say that, “I’m not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, and I work for a non-profit, but I will predict that something, something…”

So, full disclosure here, I’m not a tax collector, but I am the son and the grandson of a tax collector!  It’s actually true. In the rural township where I grew up, my father was the municipal tax collector for 28 years, whereas his father did it before him for 32 years. It was an elected position, but I don’t think anyone ever ran against either of them over the entire six decades.

This township now has a municipal building with an office for the tax collector and all else that involves the local government. But prior to that time and during the years of my childhood, the tax collection took place in the dining room of our home. There my dad had a desk, a filing cabinet and a safe. Every year there was the annual sending out of the tax notices. It was the one thing regarding dad’s part-time job that I was required to participate in helping. He would sort out all the bills and envelopes, and I would have to do something like fold them all and put them together by sealing the envelopes and applying the stamps. It took multiple days to get the task accomplished. I hated it!

People could pay their taxes by mailing their checks. But for some reason particularly in those days, folks would come to our house and frequently even pay with large amounts of cash. My mother would often have to take their payments when people came at hours my father was at his regular job. I would estimate that we had an average of 3-4 visits at our home every day of people paying taxes. Often they would stay and chat for a long time. Most folks were very nice and understood that my dad was simply the collector, not the assessor.

But a tax collector in Palestine in the time of Christ was not just a collector, he was a self-appointed assessor as well. There was an amount the Romans needed to receive, but if he wanted to charge more and keep the difference, the Romans didn’t care. The abuse was well-known. Thus there was no person quite so reviled as a tax collector – a publicly-recognized and deputized cheat! And from the point of view of Jewish religious leaders such as Pharisees, a tax agent was the ultimate sinner. To have any social association with such a person was to have their sin rub off on you!

Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Essentially the same text is repeated also in two other gospels: Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32.)

The quote in verse 13 is from Hosea 6:6 – For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.  This is a passage where God through the prophet is rebuking Israel for the nation’s lack of repentance and a true heart for the Lord. Though they went through the motions of sacrifice, it had no depth or meaning since their hearts were cold.

My whole Christian life has been lived within the tension of how to rightly apply this sort of passage we look at today, versus understanding others such as 2 Corinthians 6:7 – Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”  There is something to be said for both sides, and I believe there is a way to harmonize them.

My earlier life was in the surroundings of very, very conservative people. We didn’t drink alcohol or even go to any place that would serve it. Other than the most comedic of films, we never went to the theatre; and we had many friends who would take a stand against going EVER – arguing that even seeing a good film, even a Christian-produced one, was to support the vile industry and the theatre operation.

Certainly I was shielded from some very bad things that took down more than a couple of my high school classmates, yet I also became increasingly aware that I knew very few unsaved people. A pastor can work in the ultimate bubble, being consumed day and night by the needs of the church. The only unsaved people you might meet are those who randomly happen to wander in the doors. And living in the country, I had few neighbors with whom there would ever be much conversation.

So, while at my previous ministry in a historically VERY conservative church, I decided to take a risk and “cross the tracks.” This was during the time of my life when I was running marathons and entering road races, so I decided to join the local running club. Of all places, they met in a Knights of Columbus building which was essentially a bar (that was much used during the meetings). It was great to build relationships with those folks, several of whom are friends to this day. As well, it gave me a platform of relationships to host a five-mile race that our church sponsored, which I used as an evangelistic event in the running community (I went to seminary with two of the top marathoners in the world at that time and had one of them come and speak. One of our club members – a woman – would later run in the Olympics in Seoul.).

Some evangelism and some relationship building with Christians who are much different than ourselves may happen naturally. But after decades now of doing this church thing, I’m ever more convinced that very little of either happens without intentional effort. That is the passion of my heart relative to choosing and presenting this series.

I want us to do more crossing of tracks, more eating with tax collectors, etc.  We’re going to work to build relationships with the families and community of the nearby elementary school. We’re going to look to build relationships with some of the ethnic churches in town. And I am desirous of us ultimately being a much, much, much more diverse congregational family than we are right now. Can it happen? It is difficult … and won’t happen without intentionality. I’ll need some people who aren’t afraid of going to some new places and around some different people.

Guest Speaker – Mr. Zacchaeus (Luke 19)

Most of you reading this will not remember the occasion, but the biblical character Zacchaeus made a guest speaking appearance at Tri-State Fellowship over 17 years ago in August of 2000. In the spirit of our theme this week of looking at people through the eyes of Jesus, here is another story of one person finding the grace of Christ reaching to him when others had nothing but disdain. I was able to search through my computer and pull up a transcript of his message that day, so here it is …

Hello, My name is Zacchaeus. How’s that? What did I just hear one of you call me?  Shorty?  OK – So I’m a little bit vertically challenged!  Huh?  Another voice … “Napolean complex?”  Sorry, don’t know him or who you’re talking about. I know of Alexander the Great, but … What was that you said there in the back of the room? … Yo, calling me a “little punk” … put up your fists; I’ll show you what you’ve just insulted! …

Nah … sorry! Forgive me. For years, I’ve been a fighter. Though not a big guy, I could fight dirty! People would say, “Don’t mess with the little dude; he’s one nasty guy.”  So to make a living, I took on a job for which I was perfectly suited: tax collector for the Romans. Now I had the power of the Empire at my back. They didn’t care how much extra I charged people, so long as they got their cut. I could cheat people out of extra money, and if they didn’t pay, they’d have to deal with Roman authority at their door. It was a sweet deal for me.

But … I’ve changed. Truly I have. The Apostle Paul calls it “sanctification.”

My story is in the Bible – Luke chapter 19. Many of you probably know of it and of the broad details of my life story from a children’s song about me … “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he; he climbed up into a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see …”

Have you ever wondered why I was really up that tree?  It was more than just being a shrimp! It certainly was not normal for a wealthy, well-dressed, businessman to be downtown, at noon, climbing trees, and hanging out on limbs.

Let me take you back to my town … to Palestine, to Jericho … my home.

One day I went out at dawn on my typical sort of route to collect the Roman taxes (and my own), and I pull out my Google Calendar to see who I needed to visit (actually, in 2000, Zacchaeus said he was pulling out his “day-timer”).

The first house I came to was a small shanty with weeds and broken steps. Obviously these were impoverished people, but that wasn’t my concern. I was there because of the word “unpaid” marked by the names of the inhabitants.

There stood a frail, timid man who said, “Who’s there?’  And I quickly realized the man was blind. “I’ve come to collect the taxes,” said I.  And he began to explain that his predicament left him unable to pay the taxes. He promised he would pay, that he merely needed 30 days.  Ugh! I gave him the extra time, but said to him, “Blind man, you show me the money in 30 days, or you will be not only blind, but homeless as well!”  I stomped out.

At the second house I met up with a “yellow” woman, looking as if all the blood had drained out of her. She presented with a mere skeletal frame, tight skin like leather, brittle finger nails curled over the tips; her hair was all matted-down on her boney skull.  “Mr. Zacchaeus,” she said. “I know who you are and why you are here. I’ve had a blood disorder for 12 years. My husband left home, my insurance is cancelled, my inheritance is used up. Please give me 30 days to make matters right again.”

At the third house was a woman standing outside whose eyes were fixed on a nearby hill. Two children were clinging to her worn and tattered dress. Suddenly I heard this blood-curdling cry, and I saw something between a man and beast running through the gravestones of a cemetery. The woman said, “Every day I come to this place and hope my husband will see me and come home; he was not always like this. But chains won’t hold him anymore and he can’t be controlled. DEMONS!”

Man, I didn’t want to be dealing with the devil; so I said to her, “I’ll be back in 30 days, hoping you’ve worked out your situation by then.”

At the fourth house there was a wreath on the door, suggesting someone had died. A lady in black, replete with a dark veil, met me. Inside were many other women crying profusely.  “Zacchaeus, I know who you are and why you are here,” she said. “I’ve been expecting you. But you are a day too late. I had the money for the taxes, but I gave it to the undertaker. My only son died, I’m going now to the funeral. Please come back in 30 days.”

What an awful day for collections! I had nothing to show for my efforts. This had better not be my experience 30 days later in this neighborhood!

30 days later …..

Approaching the first house I found the home much repaired. There was fresh paint, the steps were fixed and the grass had been trimmed. There stood a strong man with aura of authority.

“I am looking for the owner of this house,” I said.

“Yes, that is who I am,” said the burly man.

“No, no,” I replied. “You can’t be. I was here just 30 days ago and the man was blind.” This man was totally put-together, with gray eyes of steel that seemed to look right through you.

“I’m indeed that man; but let me tell you a story,” he said.  “A few days after you were here, another man knocked at my door. This man man told me that Jesus was coming to town and that he could help with my lack of sight. I sat by the road and waited for Jesus to come by. As the crowd noise grew louder I heard someone say that Jesus was coming. And I called out, ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.’  Others tried to quiet me down. But Jesus said, ‘What do you want?’ And I told him that I requested to have my sight restored. Then Jesus said, ‘Go and receive your sight; your faith has made you whole.’”

I didn’t want to hear this sort of miracle baloney and started to leave. But the formerly blind man said before I stepped off his property, “Mr. Zacchaeus, before you leave, do you remember that seeing-eye dog I had? I sold him. Here is your money for the taxes.

At the second home from the previous month I encountered a woman of radiant joy. She sported a fancy hairdo with manicured nails and beautiful color in her cheeks.

“Mr. Zacchaeus, I need to apologize to you,” she said. “When you were here last month I asked for 30 days of mercy because I thought I’d be dead by now. You’d merely find a vacant house. But a friend said that Jesus was coming to town. And so I elbowed my way through the crowds to get close enough to touch him. At that point he said, ‘Who touched me? Your faith has made you whole.’  So Zacchaeus, here’s your money; I’ve been teaching an exercise class at Gold’s Gym.”

At the third home I wondered what surprise might be in store. And sure enough there was the woman with a brand new dress. I thought to myself, “I’m glad she got over the wild man, loser-dude on the hillside. But then a tall, tan and terrific man stepped out the front door. The woman said, “Meet my husband. The last time you were here, he was on the hillside. But he met a man who could tame him – Jesus, who walked in and the demons walked out and into a heard of pigs who went off a cliff and into the sea.”

The man looked at me and said, “Here’s your money; I’ve been selling smoked pork to the Gentiles.”

At the fourth house from the disastrous collections day of the prior month, a cute 12-year-old boy answered the door. I said, “I’m sorry, I must have the wrong home because the house I went to a month ago was in grieving over the death of the only son.”

“No, this is the correct house,” said the youngster. “My mom said you’d be here today … that you’re never late. Yes, I was dead, falling to the same disease that earlier had taken my dad and brother. At the funeral, mom and the mourners met Jesus; and Jesus always turns funerals into resurrections. He put his hand on my chest, and suddenly I was alive. It scared the undertaker so bad that he took back his casket and returned mom’s money. So here’s the payment for your taxes.”

Not long after that day, a man from my town of Jericho said, “Have you heard that Jesus is coming to Jericho? So I ran into town and climbed up a tree along the pathway, not just because I’m a short man in a tall world. But rather it was because of all I’d seen and heard that Jesus had done in the lives of others. I needed to see Jesus to learn if he could fix my blindness, my sickness, my evil oppression, the dead and empty hole that was in me.

Jesus looked up at me and said, “I’m going to your house today.”  Some of those local synagogue folks started to say some of the same things some of you church folks might say about someone who crosses the tracks to connect with downcast people. They said, “Isn’t it awful that he’s hanging out with the sinners!”  But Jesus said, “That’s why I came – to seek and to save those who are lost!”  Jesus met my needs and fixed my hurts.

Most of you nice people look like you’ve already met Jesus. And surely you now know what your job is if you want to be like Jesus. Yes, you need to do what he did – seek lost people. See them as He saw them. Cross the tracks, and in that way you are bringing Jesus to your town.

If you do that, you’re a big person – in the way being big really counts!

We Must Needs Cross the Tracks (John 4)

I presume that the childhood game of the passing of cooties from one person to another was not a phenomenon known only in New Jersey where I grew up. Beyond the simple presumption between boys and girls that the opposite gender embodied cootiedom, a more perverse version went something like this: There were always a few kids who for whatever reason were deemed social outcasts and therefore infected with the ultimate disgrace of possessing “cooties” – a sort of mythical disease of dreadful humiliation that could not only be easily caught, but just as easily transmitted by touching someone else and saying, “Now you have Gertrude’s cooties!”

We have all encountered people who possess some social stigma that makes them outcasts. And in today’s passage about the Samaritan woman at the well, we meet the ultimate case of a person with multiple layers of first century Palestinian “cooties.”

Around these parts of Maryland, it is sometimes true that we pick on the state of West Virginia and its inhabitants. Most of this is in the category of good-natured humor. But imagine if it were so nasty that some people from Hagerstown and Maryland despised West Virginians so much that they would not ever talk with them nor even go through the eastern panhandle. Imagine someone like this who needed to drive home to Hagerstown from Winchester, Virginia. Of course, that is a simple straight shot north on 81 through Martinsburg. But imagine the hatred being such that they went east from Winchester to Leesburg, then north on Route 15 across the Potomac to Frederick, and finally west on 70 to get home – all to avoid even touching the soil of West Virginia!

Wow, that’s strong feeling – and that is exactly how it was for many Jews. The three regions (south to north) of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee were comparatively like the areas of Winchester, Martinsburg, and Hagerstown. Jews travelling between Jerusalem and Galilee would often take a circuitous travel route around the east of the Jordan River to be sure to completely avoid Samaria and its dirty inhabitants.

Though Samaritans and Jews had a common ancestry from the time of Solomon and before, Samaritans were a mixed breed descended from interbreeding with Gentile peoples who had taken the ten northern tribes into captivity in the 700 BC era. The Jews retained the pure blood from those who had returned from Babylonian captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah. This is a macro version of the ultimate family feud! And then add to this a theological dissonance, as the Samaritans had an unusual mix of beliefs.

As we turn to John 4, we see that the early ministry of Jesus was occasioned with much success. People were identifying with it to the extent that even more were being baptized by the disciples than by John the Baptist. This came to the hearing of the Pharisees in Jerusalem, and not wanting the ministry to heat up to a confrontation at this early stage, Jesus decides to withdraw north to Galilee.

John 4:1 – Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

4 Now he had to go through Samaria.  (The King James Version said He “must needs” pass through Samaria.)

It says there in verse 4 that he had to go through Samaria. One might read this as saying he was taking the Palestinian version of the quick Interstate 81 route north to Galilee. Rather, it is more appropriate to see this necessity as a lesson in reaching out beyond the immediate ethnic/religious context to demonstrate that he was indeed to be the savior of the world. In the verbiage of our current series, I might call this a demonstration of “Looking Across the Tracks!”

John 4:5 – So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

As the disciples at midday go into the town of Sychar to buy food, Jesus sits by the famous well of Jacob where he encounters a Samaritan woman of whom he requests a drink. The very asking of a question breaks several cultural barriers – the issue of the Jewish/Samaritan divide, her gender as a woman, and her sketchy character as a woman of ill repute.

John 4:9 – The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Her conversation acknowledges the reality of these divisions. Jesus draws her mind away from the chore of drawing and drinking physical water to that of the spiritual water that quenches the thirst of the soul unto eternal life…

John 4:10 – Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Though both traditions anticipated a messianic figure to come, there were differing ideas about where worship was to be located. Jesus says that though the Jews were correct in possessing the line through which salvation would come, the issue of place would be rendered inconsequential – that true worship would be in the Spirit. And Jesus plainly identifies himself to this woman as the Christ.

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

The disciples are surprised by the whole scene upon their return from the town, while the woman (with incredible excitement that she has apparently spoken to the Messiah) forgets her water jar and rushes into town.

You can almost hear the disciples clear their throat as they start talking about food as if nothing had happened. “We picked up some Chik-Fil-A … some Arby’s two-for-one deals … and some classic big macs…”

Nobody wants to broach the awkward subject of who-was-that-chick-you-were-just-talking-to?

With the woman, Jesus spoke of water. With the disciples, Jesus spoke of food. Both were symbols of something greater, and in both cases the audience didn’t get Jesus’ deeper meaning without further explanation.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

So as the crowds are coming out from Sychar to see what the woman has excitedly been talking about, the disciples are merely concerned with Jesus’ physical well-being. He is clearly refreshed; though they are quite sure he has had nothing to eat from any other source. Jesus tells them that he has “food” about which they do not understand – the nourishment and joy of accomplishing the Father’s will and being about his mission on earth.

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Jesus recites for them what were likely some proverbial agricultural sayings at the time – sort of like how we might say of the weather, “Red at night, sailors’ delight; red in the morning, sailors’ warning” – ‘It’s still four months until harvest’.   Jesus tells them to look up and see the significant harvest now available – possibly even gesturing and drawing their attention to the crowds of people moving toward them from the town. (He’s telling them to look beyond themselves – to look “across the tracks.”)

Planting a garden is great; growing seeds and seeing them emerge is fun; but the best part of it all is actually getting to the harvest and picking those red-ripe tomatoes or large green peppers!  I’d like gardening a whole lot more if I didn’t have to do any of the planting, weeding, or watering. And the disciples were in that category – the prophets and Christ himself had done the hard work. The season of the great harvest had now come with the advent and work of Jesus, the Christ.

And that harvest was even at that moment going to be witnessed by the disciples, as …

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

For two days, Jesus and the disciples stay with these outcast people, and the harvest is great among them as many believe – both based upon the testimony of the woman AND the teaching of the one whom they termed the Savior of the world.

Let’s summarize this …

  1. There is a natural way of seeing people who are different than ourselves – by race, culture, lifestyle, socio-economics – and that leads to us staring across the tracks at them if we even notice them at all.
  2. The view of those across the tracks through the eyes of Jesus will cause you to “must needs” go across the tracks and “go through Samaria.”
  3. The message of the gospel is a winning message – the ultimate common denominator – that can break down the divides and make the tracks irrelevant … because …

The fact of the matter is that we all possess the same “sin cooties” as born sinners with a single human family inheritance of separation from God. But a greater truth is that Jesus was not put off by this … that he reached out to people like the woman at the well and to all others, right on down to each of us today – taking all our sin upon himself and paying the price of redemption through his blood.

Unhelpful Categories

For most of this week’s writings and readings, we are going to talk about seeing the world and the people of the world through the eyes of Jesus.

On most occasions, most of us don’t like to be pegged in a category with all the attendant stereotypes that come with most any association, even good things. For example, if you had the academic credentials to go to and graduate from an Ivy League school like, say, Princeton, that would be a nice resume enhancement; but along with it might come some negative expectation that you were therefore a preppie, snooty and elitist personality. When I lived in New Jersey and followed the local professional baseball team on local TV (before the days when you could stream anything), I didn’t like the association of being a Philadelphia sports fan – you know, the crazies who booed Santa Claus off the field!

When we look at other people groups, we need to be careful to not assume that some negative characteristics of a number of folks within that category necessarily define even a small majority of the rest of the folks. The bad apples of any group are those who make the news and cast a cloud over all the rest. You can imagine what I think about prosperity gospel TV preachers and the bad reputation some people ascribe to all pastors because of them! When I start selling miracle prayer cloths for a large price and profit, you can throw me in with those guys. Otherwise, I don’t think I have a great deal in common with them other than being a “preacher” (which is honestly a term I don’t like very much).

If we are going to look across the tracks and beyond ourselves and our own majority people group, we need to leave stereotypical assumptions and presumptions behind. The vast majority of Hispanic people are not connected to gangs and illegal immigration. Neither are the majority of African-Americans involved in crime, drug dealing and street violence. Most of both groups desire to have self-supporting careers and happy families, as do most Caucasian people.

And it can go the other way. At a recent pastors gathering on the topic of race relations and working toward growing multi-cultural church communities, an African-American pastor very vehemently asserted that we white evangelicals wouldn’t give Obama a break, simply because he was black. I really chaffed at that, because I could care less what color a president is; it was the man’s policies that most often put me on the other side of the fence from his views. I did not like getting pegged as from a group where I had no connection whatsoever.

Years ago when a college student in Philadelphia, a friend and I were taking a public transit bus out to the edge of the city near where he lived. The bus went through a wide variety of neighborhoods. At one point a group of young, black men got on, and my friend and I were the only whites on the bus. These guys began to grab us and push us around rather violently, along with all sorts of names and threats. The driver and the rest of the people on the bus were as scared of the gang as we were. We did not retaliate, for that would have been futile, and after a while they got off the bus. It would be wrong of me to impute the wrong-doing of that group onto all African-Americans I have met over the past 40+ years since that incident.

If anyone ever had a justifiable reason to impute anger toward a group of people, it would be Jesus Christ. After all, the sins of every other human were the reason he would go to the cross and suffer and die! Yet Jesus is the one person with the most gracious attitude that we have ever seen toward others. Instead of imputing anger toward mankind, he instead offers the imputation of his righteousness that we may be saved. We then become agents of reconciliation of this truth to those who have yet to receive it (2 Corinthians 5).

So we need to see the world and others through the eyes of Jesus. There are really two groups of people in the world, and it has NOTHING to do with the things that we categorize people by race or socio-economics, culture or whatever. The groups are:

  1. Sinners unredeemed and under the death curse of sin.
  2. Sinners redeemed by Christ from the death curse of sin.

There is the common denominator of sin. Yet there is also another common denominator available – redemption by the work of Christ, the result being that we are one new family in him, regardless of our human designations and categorizations.

So this week we want to talk about the view through the eyes of Jesus … like this account …

Luke 9:35 – Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

Follow God; Don’t Be Whale Puke!

How would you feel today if God called you to go to Pyongyang, North Korea and preach the gospel there? That would be pretty radical, wouldn’t it? It might have you taking the next eastward boat to Spain rather than flying west across the Pacific. And you might even end up being whale vomit like someone else long ago!

It is interesting to compare the heart of Jonah versus the heart of God – the God of the Old Testament with the oft reputation for hating and judging all the nations of the world.

Jonah was a prophet of the Lord who was called to go to the Assyrian city of Nineveh and preach truth and a warning of pending judgment. And you know the story as to how he went the opposite direction entirely, only to end up as whale barf on the shoreline headed toward Nineveh.

Jonah did not run out of fear, but rather out of a distaste for the enemies of the nation. He feared rather that God would show mercy on them!

Jonah 3:10 – When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Jonah 4:1-2 – But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

Relative to our comparison here between Jonah and God, it is seen graphically at the end of the story as to who has the true heart for the world. Jonah went to a hill overlooking the city in hopes of seeing its destruction. Instead, a plant that gave him shade and comfort dies from infestation.

Jonah 4:9-11 – But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

God had more mercy for the animals than Jonah had for the people.

Though there was revival in Nineveh and Assyria under Jonah, it must have lasted only for some period of time. They would take captive the northern portion of Israel, leaving only Judah and Benjamin to be later taken captive by the Babylonians. Out of this mix of Assyrians and the unfaithful, captive northern portion of Israel came a group of mixed lineage known as Samaritans – who were prominent especially in the northern, Galilean region of the Promised Land where Jesus began his ministry, as prophesied …

Isaiah 9:1-2 – Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

The Old Testament is filled with frequent references to a coming Messiah who would be a blessing to the Gentiles and all nations …

Isaiah 9:6 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Look at that last line; this is why it happens … not because of anything other than God’s zeal to see it accomplished!

Isaiah 51:4-5 – “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: Instruction will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.”

The “islands” – used 14 times (of 15 in the Bible) in the book of Isaiah as the prophet speaks of the most remote places where people lived. That is how far the expansive heart of God will reach.

So it is rather clear from the biblical record that God has a heart for all peoples and all nations. And it is not as if God developed a last-minute interest in the nations after the death of Christ. God loved the world beyond any measure that was seen in his chosen people, or anyone else. The God of the Old Testament is a God of grace and love, not merely a god of judgment and fury.

And thus it should be our desire to be like God, to desire to see all peoples come to Christ – and desiring beyond that to be worshippers together with all peoples as one new family.

–           It has always been the heart of God to love people “on the other side of the tracks.”

–           It is the way Christ modeled his life and for whom he died.

–           It is the way the New Testament church was established across all tracks and boundaries.

–           And it is our eternal future in heaven forever.

This is the common denominator that the world wishes to have but cannot find in any other way. While the world struggles to find something that can bridge the boundaries that the “tracks” of all sorts have divided, the church can be a model of this in a way that is far beyond and far better than anything mere man can come up with.

We are seeking more and more as a church to do this in this community. Last Sunday night’s combined worship event with many other churches is one such effort. The #ForOurCity partnership campaign is upcoming. And there is a pretty good chance I’m going to challenge some of you to walk across some tracks with me as an application of our passage this Sunday. You might want to make sure you don’t miss that!

Leaving Stuff Behind to Cross to a New Place (Genesis 12, Exodus 19)

It can be difficult to leave things behind and start out on a new venture of faith. We all like comfort. We appreciate security. I recall the difficulty of leaving the beautiful house we built literally with our own hands in New Jersey in order to answer a call to move to Maryland in 1994. I could look out the window and see the school I went to as a child. Our four little kids had never known any other place. My elderly parents were less than a mile away. Lots of security! But I could still call them on the phone at any time, and it was only a three-hour journey to visit them. I could build another house, and there were lots of new people to meet.

A fellow named Abram was called by God about 4,000 years ago to leave everything and go to some unknown place that God said He would eventually show him. Just pack up Abram and do it! He was to leave his country and all the material successes he had accumulated. The command also was to leave his father’s house – surely meaning to disconnect from some security there. Yet that also meant to put behind idols and man-made deities, as Joshua much later spoke …

And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods”’ (Joshua 24:2)

Abraham responded in faith (though not initially, as the original call came when in Ur, not when in Haran – see Acts 7:2). But Abraham is ultimately commended for the faith he exhibited to get up at age 75 and follow God’s directive …

Hebrews 11:8-9 – By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

But our point today and in this portion of our study is to look at what God was doing. There is nothing apparently special about Abram that commended him uniquely to God to be selected for this task. Perhaps there were some personality traits that would enhance his obedience, but even those abilities we would have to also see as the gift of God. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, it was the initiation of God that is the foundation of all the blessing to follow.

Here again we see the grace of God in the Old Testament and His heart to reach out to all of the world.

God chose to work specifically through one man and his family to bring about God’s great plan of redemption of mankind. And at the time of Abram’s calling, God made a covenant with him that involved promises that were personal, national, and universal…

Genesis 12:1-3 – The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

This is what we call The Abrahamic Covenant. And it was more than just a blessing on one man and his family, and more than the choosing of one nation. The biggest component was the final, universal promise for all the peoples on the earth. Of course this blessing would be the coming of Christ as the redeemer, and it is worked out over time through the selection of the tribe of Judah and the lineage of David.

God kept a focus on this throughout the Old Testament scriptures. If it was up to the Jewish nation to recall or consider how they were a blessing in any way to the rest of the world, it would have been forgotten. And this leads to a next point that demonstrates the forever heart of God for the world.

The nation of Israel was to live essentially as a missionary nation of priests (intermediaries) between God and the rest of the world. God had chosen Israel as His special people through whom to work, but they were to be His instruments of blessing to the rest of the world … not to just hold onto their faith for merely themselves …

Exodus 19:1-8 – On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.

3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.

Israel was to be a missionary nation. As they trusted in the Lord, and as other nations saw that there was no God like Jehovah, other peoples might desire to come and to know and follow the one true God. But Israel never really did much of anything of this sort. They clung to their God without testifying, and actually they were more likely to adopt heathen practices of idols and high places than they were to be missionary peoples.

So we don’t want to be like that. We want to be like Abraham and step out in faith. We should want to be willing to cross tracks and divides of all sorts – to be united with other diverse people who share our common faith, and to reach out near and far to the varied peoples of this world that they might come to know the one true God. This is God’s heart and passion, and we should adopt it as well.

Here is a picture Amy Hunt drew in church on Sunday. She takes notes weekly by listening and sketching the big idea in an artistic way – showing here the heart of God for the world.

In another note, this today is the 1,000th devotional post since we began doing these writings in 2013. You’ve read all of them, right? Remember that you can always search this page by Scripture reference or title and see what Chris and/or I wrote about it. We’ve commented on about one-half of all Bible passages in these posts.

God Could Have Just Walked Away (Genesis 3, Genesis 11)

Critics and folks who are simply hostile toward God or toward the notion of the real existence of a God of love often make much of the Old Testament historical record that relates stories of wrath and vengeance. It seems to give them some profane sense of well-being to render a judgment upon this God that He is like a cranky old man who wantonly zaps people who step out of line. A phrase often used is to speak of “the God of the Old Testament” as if there is first a nasty old God, but then a nice, newer one who took over around the time of Christ.

Let us submit today that it is an appropriate view of God’s disposition in the Old Testament era to view Him rather as a God of grace, and yes … of justice. Our first big idea as to why we should raise our eyes to care about people who are very different than ourselves is that God has always had a forever heart for all peoples.

You might say, “REALLY?  God has always had a heart for all people? Yes, I know he did for the nation of Israel, and then for the church and the gospel to be preached around the world, but what about so much of the Old Testament?”  And it is true that there are more than a few accounts of judgment, even commands to the Israelites to destroy completely some of the evil nations around them.

But what do you expect God to do? These were people groups who had completely turned against God and His revelation to them. They had also completely turned off even the general revelation residue of being created in the image of God – eliminating their consciences and any innate sense of right or wrong – some of them making Hitler look like a pansy by comparison. Infant sacrifice to man-made gods and idols was a rather regular practice among these groups. Annihilation was indeed true justice.

Looking honestly at the big picture we see God’s magnanimous grace on display at the very beginning of the story. It appears immediately after the fall of man through what is termed by theologians as the Protoevangelium. That is likely a new word for most of you. Break it down:  “proto” = first, as is the word “prototype” …. And you can hear the word “evangel” in there – which you likely know references the “gospel” – the “good news” … so this is talking about the first good news.

After Adam and Eve fell into sin and rebelled against God’s command by yielding to the temptation of the Serpent (Satan), God shows up on the scene. God first confronted Adam … who blamed the woman … who blamed the serpent … who looked around but nobody else was there! Actually, he was quite pleased with what he – Satan – had done.

And God addresses them in reverse order with words of judgment about their respective futures …

Genesis 3:14-15 – So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

“You” = Satan, “the woman” = Eve, but the “he” is odd here. Who is this referencing? It can’t be Adam. It is actually anticipating the ultimate offspring of Eve – prophetically looking toward Christ.  Jesus, though he would be stricken on the heel (anticipating the cross), through the resurrection would crush the head of the serpent/Satan.

(My favorite part of “The Passion of the Christ” film was when Jesus is depicted as stepping on the head of the slithering snake in the Garden scene. There is nothing worse than snakes!)

When man fell into sin, God could have let the death consequences fall upon mankind completely, and He would have been just in doing so and simply walking away and letting death take its toll. But in His grace, even there in the garden at the outset of sin in the human condition, He had a plan because of His great love for the peoples of the world. The Scriptures even say that Jesus is “the lamb slain before the foundation of the world.”  Never see God as merely reacting to situations; He is orchestrating.

As mankind increased, so did evil – to the extent that only Noah and his family found grace in the eyes of the Lord. And we know the story of the great flood, as God in grace will begin over with mankind through Noah’s family. God could have justly washed them all away, but He saved one family through the deluge …

Genesis 9:1 – Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.”

At the beginning of the next chapter, it gives the details and names of Noah’s sons and families…

Genesis 10:1 – This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood…

And then chapter 10 ends by saying …

Genesis 10:32 – These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.

And immediately the next chapter begins …

Genesis 11:1-4 – Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Rather than do what God said, they do just the opposite and make a centralized place toward which all people would gather. And again, God must intervene – this time with the confusion of languages.

Genesis 11:8-9 – So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Once more, God could have justly given up, yet again. But He chose to act in grace, reestablishing mankind on the earth with a view toward them walking in relationship with Him. Most will not do that however, neither then nor now. That’s already a lot of divine grace on display, and we’re only 20% of the way through the first book of the Bible!

Yes, God has always had a heart for the peoples and nations of the world. And there is instruction in that for us to consider … we who have had His grace lavished upon us. Let our hearts grow more to be like His.

Why Care about the Other Side of the Tracks?

A corollary English language idiom to our series title phase “the other side of the tracks” is, I suppose, some version of being “on the wrong side of the tracks.”  The picture this evokes is of a person from the wealthy side finding oneself on the other side and thereby feeling in some measure of potential danger. Or conversely, it is the person from the poorer side raising some sort of suspicion by wandering around the richer neighborhood.

While recognizing these phrases are used as written above, my purpose for the chosen title is not so much to present a scenario of better or worse, richer or poorer … rather I’m speaking of it primarily as what is different – looking beyond ourselves in the largely white, conservative, evangelical church community. At times we will be talking about “across the tracks” differences due largely to racial backgrounds and cultural differences of fellow Christian people. However, at other times the conversation will be talking also about looking beyond ourselves to see people who are yet to trust in Christ and the message of the gospel – be they racially or culturally different than ourselves.

For this series to come home to our understanding and make sense logically, I think we need to lay out the component parts from beginning to end, recalling the map from time to time over the next four weeks (and five sermons). So today is a preview summary.

There really are four major ideas, as listed with the titles and descriptions below. The middle week is a sort of excursus into a supplemental idea …

  1. The Forever Heart of God for the World – God has always cared about all peoples.
  2. Seeing the World through the Eyes of Jesus – Jesus cared about all peoples, not just the Jewish nation.
  3. Centurions Then and Now – Many people are interested in and drawn to the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done to make all peoples one.
  4. The Worldwide Vision and Expanse of the Church – This is the way the church grew – not just Jews, but Gentiles, with the call to take the gospel to the corners of the earth.
  5. On Earth as it is in Heaven – Our final destiny is one where all the nations are represented, so why can’t we live with a taste of that now?

Summarizing that in a sentence as we did yesterday, we can begin to answer today’s question, “Why should we care about people on the other side of the tracks who are different than us?”  The answer is because: This is the forever heart of God, it was the pattern of the life of Jesus, it was the spirit of the spread of the gospel in the early church, and it is our destiny for eternity to be with every tribe of people.

Tracks that Divide

Though I grew up in the countryside of northwestern New Jersey (yes, there is such a place of mostly farmlands in that state!), it was only a couple of miles from another “hub city.”  Hagerstown has often been called “The Hub City” due to all the railroads that come into and through the town. And just as we in this Washington County area live near state borders, I also had the same experience. One could look in several directions and see hills and buildings in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania.

The two closest cities were Phillipsburg in New Jersey and Easton in Pennsylvania – immediately across the river from one another. Actually, there were two rivers (Delaware and Lehigh) that met in this location, along with the Morris Canal terminating across the stream from the Lehigh Canal. In every direction were train tracks and bridges. It really was a hub of commerce, transportation and industry.

These train lines often divided neighborhoods both ethnically and socially. Phillipsburg had predominantly Italian neighborhoods living along the flatland tracks next to the river, along with pockets of other European immigrant populations. When some of these folks would find greater economic success in their lives, it was common for them to “move up on the hill.”  This neighborhood of larger and newer homes was only about a half-mile away, but “moving on up” often meant more separation than merely 150 feet in elevation.

On the Easton, PA side was a neighborhood where my father’s place of employment was located. Working as a bookkeeper for Swift and Company’s meat packing and distribution business, they were located along the train tracks paralleling the Lehigh River. Hanging sides of beef could be rolled straight from a refrigerated train car parked on their rail siding and into the freezers before being butchered further for local distribution. The immediate, surrounding neighborhood consisted of very old homes and was 100% African-American.

Just across the tracks and canal was another neighborhood, not as old though far from new. It was fully populated by Syrian and Lebanese immigrant populations. Varied neighborhoods of German, Polish and Italian peoples dotted the city.

My father had a Sunday afternoon routine of driving into Easton and going to the post office. He would get the company mail from over the weekend and take it to his office to sort out and get a head start on the work week. I would often go with him on this jaunt because I was fascinated by all the trains and his business location. And I remember sitting there and looking out the side office window and across the siding tracks at the black children playing in the yards of the homes immediately next door. Though obviously very poor, they looked to be having a very good time with homemade play objects and games. I would have liked to join them, but, well, you just didn’t do something like that 55 years ago.

So here I am five-plus decades later basically asking the same question as the pastor of a local church. I look out from this place of life and “across the tracks” at African-American and Hispanic churches and see them worshipping God, and it looks like a lot of fun. And I wonder why I can’t go play with them! Or why they don’t come play with me! Why don’t we do church and worship together? The divides are not as profound as 55 years ago, but they are sadly there … at least more than they should be, in my estimation. After all, we have the same Savior – born to a single mom as a Jewish fellow, two millennia ago. That ought to unite us, right?

“Tracks” should not divide genuine people of the evangelical Christian faith from one another. Those tracks are often racial or socio-economic, but it can be other factors as well. Somewhere, someone needs to not only look across the tracks, but walk across them as well. This is the forever heart of God, it was the pattern of the life of Jesus, it was the spirit of the spread of the gospel in the early church, and it is our destiny for eternity to be with every tribe of people. So why it is so hard for us in Hagerstown (and most other places) in 2017?

Through this series I desire for us to get a vision of raising our eyes to see The Other Side of the Tracks – to look beyond ourselves. And along the way there just might be a challenge to actually go walk across the tracks. You might want to stay tuned for that!