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"Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth." - Luke 5:27 (NIV)
A friend of mine has great seats at Rupp Arena for UK basketball games. I mean - you can smell the players - great seats. He’s taken me to several games and it’s incredible watching from that view. You also see a lot of famous folks sitting nearby and walking around by the court. One time when I was with him, Magic Johnson walked in front of me. I noticed him coming towards me. When he got to me, he looked directly at me, locked eyes with me, and then smiled that huge Magic smile at me. At me! No one else. In a room of 24,000 people, Magic Johnson looked directly at ME! I don’t remember any of the game after that because I was noticed by one of the greatest basketball players of all time. (I’m sure Magic tells about the time Chris Hahn looked at him!)
There’s power in being noticed. Someone else locking eyes with me tells me that I’m not invisible. I’m here.
Levi was hated. Everyone hated tax collectors and Levi was really good at his job which didn’t help. He had a tough exterior, but being hated and feeling invisible cuts deep into the soul. People didn’t “notice” Levi. They avoided him.
Along comes Jesus. In a crowd of people, Jesus notices Levi and locks eyes with him. At that moment, Levi’s tough exterior melted. It was a breakthrough. The only other person to ever look at Levi like this was his mother. And now Jesus had Levi’s attention.
It’s nice to be noticed. Who do you know that needs to be seen?
- There’s power in being noticed. Today, make an effort to look up and notice everyone around you. Lock eyes with them and smile. You don’t have to say a word. Let your eyes and your smile do the talking. Your attention may be the breakthrough someone else desperately needs.
"Follow Me,” Jesus said to him." - Luke 5:27 (NIV)
I was in a store recently and heard this man start yelling at the young clerk behind the counter. I moved closer to see what was going on. With foul language, the guy was telling the kid to cancel his account. Another worker came over to help. She was young and spoke kindly to the man, only to be met with some of the rudest words I’d ever heard spoken to someone for no reason. I wanted to grab the guy and shake him. The girl disappeared into the back. I suspect she needed to collect herself and wipe the tears from her eyes. The situation ended and I went looking for her so I could balance out his mean words with kind words. When I told her she had handled herself well and encouraged her, her face lit up and she smiled. She needed to hear something kind in order to forget the mean things that jerk had said to her.
Words can hurt and words can heal.
Most of the words Levi heard spoken to him were hateful. Sadly, he was probably used to hearing people say, “Get away from me you dirt bag!” But after Jesus locked eyes with Levi, He spoke to him. Jesus’ words were different. They weren’t condemning. They weren’t mean. They weren’t hateful. They were kind and invitational. “Follow Me,” Jesus said. Jesus’ stare was a breakthrough to Levi’s soul and His words were like medicine to his heart. Two words and everything changed for Levi.
- You get to choose whether your words are a burden or a blessing. Continue what you started yesterday as you took notice of people. But today, add a few words of kindness. “You look nice today.” “Great job with that presentation.” “I’m proud of you.” Keep it simple and positive. You may even hear some kind words come back your way.
"and Levi got up, left everything and followed him." - Luke 5:28 (NIV)
My friend Cathy goes to Southland and loves Jesus. She is one of those servants who works behind the scenes and most people will never know who she is or what she does and Cathy is fine with that. One of the places Cathy serves is at the local jail. Each week, she leaves work and faithfully makes her way into the detention center to give her time to the ladies who live their lives behind bars - overlooked and forgotten. Cathy listens to them, encourages them, and loves them. Cathy sends me emails with updates of how the ladies she ministers to respond to her investment in their lives. She tells them about Jesus, shows them Jesus by her actions, and then the ladies respond by following Him. Cathy has watched countless women leave their former way of life behind for a better life in Jesus. She’s seen these ladies move from bondage to freedom. From isolation to friendship.
When we encounter Jesus, we must respond.
Jesus noticed Levi, spoke to him, and invited him to follow. Now it was Levi’s turn and he didn’t even have to spend one minute thinking about it. He stood up, left his life behind, and followed Jesus. That was it. No lightning bolts or thunder. No orchestral crescendo. No big to-do. No parades. He simply shut his ledger and left. He didn’t even turn off his calculator! Levi’s response revealed what he’d desired for a long time - a better life - one with meaning and purpose - one where he could be valued and add value. Jesus offered it and Levi took it. See ya old life!
- How have you responded to Jesus? Are you waiting for the lightning and thunder to get you to really follow Jesus? Think about how quickly this “sinful” man responded to Jesus. He left it ALL behind in an instant to follow Jesus. What do you need to leave behind to really follow Jesus? Get up and follow!
"While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with Him and His disciples." - Matthew 9:10 (NIV)
Aaron has dedicated his life to helping people find Jesus. Specifically, Aaron invests his time and energy in helping athletes and coaches find Jesus. Do you know what he does? He hangs out with them. He serves them. He encourages them and acts like Jesus with them. Do you know where he does this? On their turf. Aaron goes to where the athletes and coaches are rather than expecting them to come to him. I’m sure Aaron has heard some rough language and been around some crude behavior. But even though those actions aren’t reflective of Aaron’s character, he continually puts himself into the world of those who need Jesus so that he can help them find Jesus.
People who need Jesus are the ones who need to be around Jesus!
Levi (Matthew) decides to follow Jesus and he follows Him right through doors of his own home. Matthew throws a big party and people from his former life and his new life show up. He texted his entire contact list and said, “My house, Saturday. Lots of food. Leave your calculators at home! LOL!” And they all showed up.
When Jesus gets to the party, it looks like a scene out of “Animal House.” He doesn’t tell His disciples that they can’t be seen with that group. He doesn’t grab Matthew and scold him for bringing these characters into his new life. No, Jesus loves it. It’s His kind of crowd. Jesus meets those who need Him right where they are.
- Are you venturing out to rub shoulders with lost people or do you find yourself hanging out within the confines of your own safe world? Jesus spent time with Matthew on Matthew’s turf. In the next week, determine to put yourself in a situation where lost people hang out. Talk with them. Encourage them. Be kind to them. Look for opportunities to be Jesus with them.
"On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." - Matthew 9:12 (NIV)
My friend Jani started a ministry called “Natalie’s Sisters”. They fight for women who have been sexually exploited. Jani and her crew don’t just hang out with these ladies, they step up for them and defend them.
On their Facebook page, one lady commented, “This organization and the ladies are absolutely amazing and they really saved my life. [They] are a blessing and I know this myself through my own personal experience. I was a very broken unhappy young lady and [they] walked into my life and helped me glue my broken pieces back together. They do and will work with you. I wanna let you ladies know that you are doing an amazing job with everything that you do and keep up the good work. Some of us/these ladies really need it THANKS!”
Natalie’s Sisters defends people who are looked down on by everyone else. They speak value into them - value that God created them with but that has been taken from them.
Jesus defended people that the Pharisees labeled as “sinners.” He didn’t just hang out with them, He took up for them. He made it clear that His mission was to call these “sinners” - people like Matthew - not religious people, to a life with Him. They need Jesus.
All week, I’ve been challenging us to be like Jesus - to help people move from isolation to friendship. People need Jesus and you may be the only Jesus someone encounters.