eyes wide open: an eight week study
Week 1 April 10-16
You and I are called to be part of something so much bigger than ourselves. Our world knowingly or unknowingly is crying in desperation for what lies deep within our soul: the life-giving gift and the eternal hope we have received in Jesus Christ. In a world where death is all too common; hatred drives war and actions of violence; drugs steal young lives; and fear roams in the shadows of our streets, the light, life, peace and hope Jesus gives is so needed.
The crisis in our families, city and world is palpable. We must stand up for what matters most: life! Whether it is by guns or drugs, it does not matter: a life snuffed out early is a life lost. In 2013, the county reported a record 124 fatal overdoses. The number of overdose deaths in 2014 are still being tabulated by the coroner’s office, but through Nov. 30, nearly 90 had been ruled ODs, with half caused by heroin (2.7.2015 Rockford Register Star). As a matter of fact, 2014 ended with 97 deaths by overdose and 2015 ended down slightly to 91 overdose deaths. These numbers could have been higher but thankfully deputies arrived in time to administer Narcan and saved lives. Addicts’ lives matter. Black lives matter. Every life matters.
Jesus is all about life and living. When some people think about the Christian faith all they imagine Christians care about is heaven. Jesus came to give us life that is abundantly filled with the love, peace and joy God intended that begins now. John writes about Jesus: in him was life, and the life was the light of all people (1:4). Advocates for life invest in the needs of others, including our neighbors. We speak up when a word for life needs to be spoken. We speak truth when a life may be at risk.
The great commandment calls us to love God completely with our thoughts, words and actions and love our neighbor (Luke 10:27). Love is more powerful than fear, hatred, jealousy or anger. This type of love we receive from God is unconditional and does not expect to receive love or kindness in return. We love because it is the right way to live. It is God’s vision for the world God created. It is only in God that we can flip the script of our newsfeeds that point to escalating fear and violence.
God can win the day but it takes courageous people of faith to stand together for life. There are no “throw away” people – people who do not matter or whose life is so messed up that we turn our back. Love dares to believe that it is never too late for God to work a miracle in an otherwise screwed up life. Love looks beyond economics and outward appearance to prayerfully call out God’s life restoring potential. To see the potential requires eyes wide open.
The theme of this eight week study is: Keep alert (eyes wide open), stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). As you revisit the paragraphs above, you will find the same ideas that are reflected in these verses. These are bold and strong words similar to the brazen faith and love shown by Jesus. For ideas on how to imprint this verse into your heart and day, see Appendix 1 at the end of this book.
If we are to see the people that God sends us to love, serve and give witness, we must have our eyes wide open. The brutal fact is that God often puts people in our path different than ourselves and they could be easily missed. Just think for a moment about Jesus stories and you will see that as a religious leader Jesus entered into a conversation with people other religious leaders missed or wanted to avoid.
Ground Work: Read Luke 18:1-43
Jesus tells the story of the widow (18:1-8) who takes on the unjust judge by standing up, being strong and courageous. This was unheard of in a culture which was male dominant, where women were voiceless. Add to that, she was a widow so she had lost all representation and support. This story illustrated the persistence and courageous prayer Jesus encouraged his followers to practice.
A scorching judgment came from the lips of Jesus toward all who are self-righteous and have an attitude toward others (18:9-14). Could it be more obvious where love was absent in this story? Jesus casts this story in the temple. Is there any place where we should practice love, humility and hospitality more than in church?
Have you ever seen someone give the “stink-eye” to a mother with a crying baby or a child making child sounds in worship? Is it more important for a church to be young family friendly or only have adults in the room so we can pay attention to the sermon? Note that the followers of Jesus like secret service agents tried to keep the parents and kids away from him. The disciples failed to see how God wanted to bless these parents and their children by the hands of Jesus (18:15-17).
It takes courageous faith especially for people with solid finances to seriously believe that all we have has come from God. The more we have the easier it is to think that what’s mine is mine. It comes down to this: we either follow and trust God or trust ourselves and give God our left-overs, if anything at all. Jesus is talking about surrender of our whole life (18:18-30). If we surrender and view our possessions as a gift from God, what fun we can have being generous, blessing others and enjoying life too. As a cross reference, check out Matthew 6:19-23.
The followers of Jesus were stern once again when they heard the call for help from a blind beggar by the side of the road (18:35-43). This man showed courageous faith when he refused to be hushed by Jesus’ disciples. The disciples’ eyes were not open to see that God valued the life and needs of the blind man. Jesus asked the man what he wanted and restored his sight just as he had asked.
It all begins with God. This belief statement runs counter to American evangelical thinking which wants to take the credit for making our own decision to follow Jesus. In a sacramental church (the sacraments have the command of God and the promise of grace) God initiates and acts and we respond in faith. The God of the Trinity claims us as God’s children in the sacrament of baptism. The command of God is: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:18-20a). The physical element of baptism is water. Through the promise of God in Scripture and the element of water, God receives us as children of God.
The command of Jesus in Matthew 28 is to make disciples of all people. The instruction on how to form followers of Jesus is two-fold: first of all, introduce a person to Jesus – who he is, how he teaches us to live, his demands and expectations on our life if we are going to be part of God’s desire to turn this world inside out for good and for God. Additionally we are to practice this faith – pray, listen and take to heart Jesus’ teachings, worship, generosity, serve others and above all love unconditionally. The second part is to be baptized in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus (Romans 6:3-5). Baptism launches us on a lifelong journey of following and serving the Lord as we love, serve and give witness to the amazing love of Jesus.
The command of God is also spoken by Jesus concerning the holy meal of communion: While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26-28). The physical element is bread and wine. The amazing grace of this meal is that as we eat and drink we receive the gift of forgiveness. This meal is all about relationships: God fills us with love and forgiveness. Filled with the body and blood of Christ’s love and forgiveness in our body as we leave the table, we are sent out to live his love and forgiveness with the people we meet.
“My father called the police on me when he found my drug paraphernalia and I ended up in Ogle County jail,’ said Micah Young. He had started doing drugs at age 12. For the next ten years he did it all, including heroin. He hit rock bottom when his father turned him in” (taken from “A Second Chance” article in the Salvation Army Winnebago County 2012 Newsletter). January 15, 2011. Micah started the road to a clean life on May 30, 2010. Day by day, by the grace of God, Micah has been clean for six years.
I remember the day as if it were yesterday. It was Saturday January 15, 2011. It was a cold January morning. I was doing Adopt-a-Block visiting Janette and Alex Griesman on Grand Avenue when multiple sirens blew by outside. I left quickly having an inkling what may be going down. As I walked brusquely down the street and as I arrived, Phyllis Steiner burst out of her house and yelled, “Jordan is dead!” It was a heroin overdose of another 27 year old. Hearts were ripped apart by a life stolen by addiction.
Grace was filled with family, young 20-something friends and neighbors who came together looking for support, to pay respects to the family and to grieve. God showed up in these painful hours and offered sanity and hope. Micah was there on work release from the Salvation Army where he was in work therapy treatment for his addiction. We met in Founder’s Hall during the luncheon. God had plans for Micah and for Grace and it was good!
I want to dispel any misnomers by saying that Micah grew up in a stable home with his dad where he was loved and received good support and care. Micah is very social, a decent student who never was abused or bullied nor bullied anyone. When Micah put his mind to it in high school, he got good grades. There were no circumstances to blame why Micah started experimenting with marijuana. It just happened and it happens like that for many. Smoking pot led eventually to heroin, $90,000 worth of heroin in Micah’s last year prior to jail and the Salvation Army.
On his first Sunday at the Army, Micah attended the required chapel service. While he was sitting there lost in his thoughts during the message, a warm fire began at his toes and rose to the top of his head. This happened three times during the service. Later that night as he sat on his bunk trying to figure out what had happened, he recalled offering a “foxhole prayer” in jail: please do whatever it takes to get me out of this jail.” Micah testifies that this was the beginning when the Lord called to him to faith. Up until this time Micah did not know the Bible, or the story of Jesus and was never involved in a church. This was a whole new experience for Micah.
In addition to the great work that Micah did for Grace as our custodian over three years, he has influenced for good and for God many young people. His love of the Lord is evident as is his love of people. The next few chapters in Micah’s life are not yet written but it will be good because God is good and his hand is on Micah.
- In Luke 18:1-8, the judges’ eyes were opened by the widows’ persistence. What do you see as you ponder this story?
- In Luke 18:9-14, the tax collector would not even look up when he prayed yet the eyes of Jesus were upon him. What do you observe? Is there a similar lesson regarding the value of children and faith in 18:15-17?
- What clouded the vision of the rich man in 18:18-30? The story does not tell us what the rich man did with Jesus’ instruction only that it was a big challenge. Is there anything getting in your line of vision of following Jesus? What can we learn as a church about the way we treat people in 18:35-43? What about homeless individuals who come occasionally? Or mentally or emotionally challenged individuals?
- It all begins with God. How is this true in your story of faith? How about in Micah’s story?
 Apology of the Augsburg Confession, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, p.219.