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A home in your microwave

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

The microwave oven for homes was first sold in America in 1952, and it’s changed our lives so much that sociologists call us the “microwave society.”

I’m old enough to remember when popping popcorn meant getting out the popper, putting in the oil, stirring in the kernels, and waiting five or ten minutes. Then the world discovered Jiffy-Pop, popcorn and oil inside the foil, ready to shake over a stove. When’s the last time you saw some Jiffy-Pop? Do you even know what I’m talking about?

Today popcorn comes in microwave bags. And we get impatient that it takes two minutes to cook.

This morning I bring you this thesis: the greatest threat to our families and relationships today is the microwave. Not in our kitchen—in our hearts.

Restaurants now have entire rooms for cell-phone users, so people can eat and work and thus save time.

“Sink Eaters Anonymous” is an actual support group for people who are so busy they eat their meals standing over the kitchen sink.

John P. Robinson, director of the Americans’ Use of Time project at the University of Maryland, says that the value of time has clearly surpassed the value of money in our society. Tell us something we don’t know.

As we begin looking at relationships today from a biblical perspective, let’s begin with their place in priorities. What does our culture value today? Doing more, faster, better, so we can have more and be more. But Jesus disagrees. According to him, our cultural values are exactly backwards. And unless we get our priorities right, our relationships will forever be wrong.

So, what should we value most today? Let’s ask Jesus.

From Jericho to Dallas

The lawyer asks Jesus the famous question: “Who is my neighbor” (v. 29). And Jesus replies not with principles but with a parable, the greatest story in all of Scripture.

A man is “going down” from Jerusalem to Jericho—2,300 feet above sea level to 1,300 below, a drop of 3,600 feet over 20 miles. This was one of the most dangerous highways in the world, and is still so today. I’ve traveled it twice, and felt safe in a bus during the day; I wouldn’t want to walk it alone, even today. Especially today.

But this man does (v. 30). And you know what happens to him.

But there’s good news—a priest is coming! The “church pastor,” the “man of God” has arrived. The man who stands before God in the temple, bringing the sacrifices of the people to him. Suppose your car is broken down in a parking lot near the church, and you see me come by. You’d expect me to stop and help, and you should.

Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. Not long ago I saw a woman trying to change a flat tire on her car outside Walgreen’s, down from the church. I stopped to help—we got the car on the jack, up in the air, and the old tire off. I was just about to put the new tire on when the jack collapsed! It was not a good thing. No one was hurt, fortunately, and my call from mechanic to minister was strongly reinforced.

Well, this priest doesn’t even stop. Why not? Numbers 19:11 says that if he touches a dead body, he’ll be ceremonially unclean for seven days. This wounded man is getting in the way of his job, his religious responsibilities. So he leaves him to die.

But all is not lost—a Levite comes by next. The man who keeps the temple, who helps the priest. A staff member, deacon, Sunday school teacher today. But he’s too busy to stop as well—he has work to get done.

In one of John Maxwell’s books, he tells about a new staff member at his church who walked by a group of people on Sunday morning to get to his office. He later confronted the man, who said, “I had work to do.” Maxwell responded correctly: “These people are your work!” This priest and Levite didn’t get it. Many of us don’t.

Finally a Samaritan comes along. Now all hope is gone.

As you know, the Samaritans hated the Jews, and vice versa. This man will probably rob what the wounded traveler has left, maybe kick him or beat him, certainly leave him to die. But no. He is “filled with pity.” He uses his own clothes to bind the man’s wounds, and pours his own oil and wine (very expensive first-century medicine) on his injuries. He puts him on his own donkey (while he walks), placing himself at the mercy of these same robbers. He brings him to the inn, pays for his room, and promises to pay any other charges the man incurs.

Imagine that your car breaks down near the church—I stop by, fix it so it will drive, go with you to the repair shop, pay for the repairs, and promise to pay for any other work the car ever needs. Has anyone ever done that for you?

Jesus says we should “Go and do likewise.” How? What does his story say to our “microwaved” homes and hearts and lives?

Choices to make today

How do we “go and do likewise”? There are several simple choices we must make today. Our first decision, foundational to all the others: value people as God does.

People are eternal; nothing else in this world is. Not our jobs, our possessions, our status or significance. One day the only real estate we’ll possess is a little piece of ground, six feet deep. And even then someone else will tend it, because we’ll be gone.

So we are commanded to value people, for only they have eternal souls. The Samaritan got this right. He valued this wounded Jew more than his clothes, or oil and wine, or donkey, or safety. He valued this man as God does.

So must we. People come before possessions. Listen to this remarkable statement from the Song of Solomon: “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned” (8:7). In other words, wealth cannot buy love. Put people before possessions.

God valued you enough to send his Son to die for you. If you’re good enough for God, you’re good enough for me. Be clear on this: people come first. In a secular, materialistic, self-centered and self-absorbed society, we must refuse the popular culture. We must value people as God does.

Now, how do we value people? Our second choice: give your best to that which matters most.

The Samaritan gave his best resources to this injured man—his oil and wine, his donkey, his time, his safety. He gave his best to that which matters most. So can we.

Would your family say they get the best part of you? Or have you already given so much emotional energy to your work, your day, that you are done before they see you? When is the last time you sacrificed your time for them? The last time you turned down a request at work so you could give that time and energy to your family or friends?

For two years I’ve chaired a missions study committee for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. I didn’t know the group would meet primarily on Fridays, my one day of the week to be with Janet. So, before I could preach this sermon I had to decide that I’ve served on my last such committee. I want to give my best to that which matters most.

Decide right now that you will reserve your best time and energy to those who should matter most to you.

Now, how do you give this best? Our third choice: spell love, “time.”

The priest had no time for this hurting soul; neither did the Levite. Neither did the Samaritan, but he gave it anyway.

In our time-crunched culture, our greatest possession and currency is time. Would you rather someone ask you for some money, or for some time? We now pay people to change our oil and wash our cars, to launder our clothes and mow our grass. In north Dallas, people pay others to do their shopping, run their errands, and even walk their dogs. All so we can save time.

For what purpose? For what people? When did you last sacrifice some time so you could be with the people who matter to you? When did you leave the job undone, so your family wouldn’t be? When did you last give time you didn’t have, rather than fitting people into your calendar?

Recent surveys indicate that, on average, the American father spends a maximum of six minutes a day with his son or daughter. If I asked people close to you, would they say that they come first with your time? Spell love, “time.”

Our fourth decision today: never give up on people. This Samaritan didn’t; neither can we.

Who are you ready to quit on today? Your brother or sister, kids or parents, colleague or neighbor? It is always too soon. It is always too soon to decide that God cannot redeem this situation, that he cannot heal this hurt, that he cannot restore this home. The Samaritan refused to give up on this man left for dead. We must likewise refuse to abandon the hurting people we know.

Ben Carson grew up in a Detroit ghetto. He was an angry young man, failing everything in school, one of the kids society gives up on. But his single-parent mother wouldn’t give up on him. She made him and his brother read two books every week and write reports for her. Ben didn’t know she couldn’t read the reports with her third-grade education. But he did the work, and his life began to change. He moved from the bottom of his class to the top. Today he is the Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. His gifted hands have saved countless lives. He volunteers every week in the inner city, and his story has touched millions.

I heard him at a National Prayer Breakfast say, “We came over to America in many different boats, but we’re all in the same boat now. And if one part of the boat leaks, we all go under.” Never give up on people.

Our last decision: start now. This is the only day you have. If the Samaritan had decided to come back tomorrow, there would have been no one to come back to. Who should you pray for and about, right now? What wounded person do you know?

If it all depended on this day, would you be a priest and Levite, or a Samaritan? It does.

Conclusion

Why did Jesus tell us this story? Because he’s the best neighbor in all of history. Because he is the Samaritan who stopped for every one of us when we were beaten by sin and left for dead. Because he bound up our wounds with his own, and paid for our room in the inn with his life. Because he loved us more than this world, more than pain, more than life itself. And now he calls us to do for each other what he has done for us.

I love Frederick Sampson’s story about his summer on his uncle’s farm. He told the story at an evangelism conference I attended, and meant it to illustrate the priority of evangelism over work around the church.

The first morning, his farmer uncle rousted him out of his bed in the hayloft at 4:00 in the morning, and got him busy cleaning out stalls, sweeping floors, chopping wood, heating water, doing what the house required.

Finally Fred was done, and started back up to the hayloft to go back to sleep. His uncle stopped him and asked where he was going. Fred said, “I’ve finished my work.” His uncle put his finger in his face and said, “I’m going to tell you something, and don’t you ever forget it. What you do around the house is chores. What you do in the fields is work.”

As I said, Fred meant the story to tell evangelistic truth, and he’s right. But for our purposes today, he’s exactly wrong. What we do in the “field” is chores, my friends. What we do at home is the real work.

How’s your work going today?