Finding the middle road
3John : Model the good.
Second John is written to a congregation and one of the primary themes there is a warning concerning false teachers who take advantage of well-meaning Christians. Third John is written to an individual named Gaius and one of the primary themes concerns this otherwise unknown believer’s good heart and hospitality to traveling Christian teachers. One letter then provides balance to the other. Christians aren’t to be gullible and stupid as we live in a world that has more than its share of wicked, predatory people. At the same time we aren’t to be so afraid or so calloused that we lose sight of what it means to be people of God who model our lives after one who “went about doing good.” Apparently that’s what’s happened to one man who’s mentioned by John in this letter. Diotrephes, who “loves being in charge” learned the don’t-be-gullible lesson so well that he forgot the practice-hospitality lesson. In Gaius, then, we meet a man who’s found the middle way and his hospitality to God’s people prompts the writing of this short letter. One of the challenges of the Christian life is avoiding the extremes mentioned in this letter and finding the balance where we “model the good.”
Take Away: Christians have to find the balance between being easy targets of those who take unfair advantage of others and, at the same time, being caring, compassionate people.
Drinking from a fire hose
Luke 6: Our Father is kind; you be kind.
Reading the Sermon on the Mount is like trying to get a drink from a fire hose. It’s not like the parables in which there’s a story followed by the lesson. Instead, there’s one wonderful, challenging, powerful concept after another. As I try to write a devotional for each chapter of the New Testament the challenge is not finding something to write about. Rather, it’s trying to dip into the huge stream of material and grab just one concept out of all the concepts and get my mind and heart around it. Right now I’m focusing in on how our Lord says we’re to relate to our enemies. I can’t help but note that Jesus doesn’t talk about how we’re to respond “if” we have enemies. He apparently takes it for granted that some folks aren’t going to like us and some will go so far as to wish us harm. What am I to do about such people? First, Jesus says, I’m to pray for them (“respond with the energies of prayer”). Second, I’m to return good for evil (“practice the servant life”). Third, I’m to have genuine love for them (“love your enemies”). Fourth, I’m to go easy on them (“be easy on people”). Fifth, I’m to realize I’m not so wonderful myself (“wipe that ugly sneer off your own face”). The key to my relationship to my enemy, according to Jesus is “kindness.” The measure of that kindness is the kindness our Father shows to us. “Oh Lord, let me live a life that reflects your kindness to me, even when I deal with people who aren’t very kind to me.”
Take Away: The Lord is quite interested in how we treat people who don’t treat us well.
Communicating with kindness
Proverbs 15: Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.
Several years ago I started watching a news talk show on CNN named “Crossfire.” Every day a conservative and liberal team of hosts interviewed a guest who was caught in their “crossfire.” Depending on the guest, one host played “good cop” and the other played “bad cop.” I found the show to be unique and interesting. That program has influenced a lot of TV news and we see programs similar to it all the time now. Aside from TV though, I don’t think “Crossfire” influenced society as much as it reflected society. Kindness and gentleness is out and “Telling it like it is” is the approach of the day. On the internet I’ve seen people who I’m sure are fine, caring Christians in person who can however, when on line, cut and slash with their words without mercy. I think there’s a great need for kindness in society. Most people don’t need to be put in their place nearly so much as they need to be treated as people of value. Whether we’re talking about how we conduct ourselves while driving in traffic or how we speak to the slow moving clerk at Walmart God’s people ought to lead the way in this. We’re to be “helpers” and “healers” and not “wounders” and maimers.”
Take Away: When under pressure or when somehow operating “out of the box” our words are windows to our hearts.
Peacemaking can be hazardous business
2 Samuel 10: I’d like to show some kindness to Hanun, the son of Nahash.
There’s a bit of a mystery here. The only other Nahash we have in Scripture is a brutal king who was going to partially blind the men of a village in Israel. His threat energized Saul’s early leadership of Israel. It’s unlikely that the man named in this story is the same one. In some way unknown to us the Nahash mentioned here showed a kindness to David, possibly during his time in exile. David, now settled as king, hears of Nahash’s death and sends representatives to express his sympathy to his son, Hanun. However, Hanun takes them to be spies. He humiliates them and sends them back to David. This event sets off the war that’s described in this chapter. Although these events happen on a large scale, such things do happen in everyday life too. We try to do the right thing, to be peacemakers, only to be rebuffed. Happily, such things don’t have to always end in war. Had Hanun not responded as he did, an alliance might have been formed here, similar to what Israel formed with Hiram of Tyre under Solomon. Probably a larger reminder is that even our best intentions can sometimes backfire. My responsibility is to be a peacemaker and, as Paul writes in Romans 12, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” As we see here, it isn’t always possible, but it should be our first effort.
Take Away: More often than not it is possible to live a peace…as the people of the Lord we’re to make that our priority.
2 Samuel 9: Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, taking all his meals at the king’s table.
David remembers his friend Jonathan. He and David stood together in the dark days years earlier. At that time they made promises to one another and David hasn’t forgotten those promises. When David learns that Jonathan has a surviving son he seeks him out. Mephibosheth is lame and has had no contact with David, yet David treats him with respect and kindness. Mephibosheth, obviously, has done nothing to earn anything from David. In fact, as the grandson of Saul, he might still have a claim on the throne in the eyes of some people. Most kings of that era would make it their first order of business to wipe out all his predecessor’s heirs to the throne. David, though, does the very opposite. He returns all Saul’s wealth to Mephibosheth and then gives him an honored place in his own household. David’s action here reminds me of the unmerited favor the King has shown to me. Like Mephibosheth, I’ve done nothing to make myself worthy of this great kindness. And, as David reached out to Mephibosheth because of Jonathan, so has the Lord reached out to me because of Jesus.
Take Away: All the people of the Lord are recipients of the unmerited favor of God – unworthy, but made welcome in his household.
Close encounters of the Third Kind
1 Samuel 24: There was a cave there and Saul went in to relieve himself.
I know this isn’t the most inspiring statement in this story, but it is attention getting. David and his men have retreated to En Gedi, an area with lots of good places in which to hide. Saul has received a tip concerning David’s location, so he and his army are working through the region, searching for David. Saul knows he’s closing in on David, but has no idea of how close he actually is. Then, as happens at inopportune times, nature calls. There are no rest stops in the area, so Saul picks a convenient cave for privacy, dismisses his aids, and enters by himself, never guessing that David and his men (likely a patrol and not the whole 600) are hidden farther back in the cave. Talk about catching a man with his pants down! At this point it will be very easy for David to strike Saul down. His men see this as a golden opportunity to kill Saul, but David sees it as a chance to show mercy and to prove his respect for the person God placed at the head of the nation of Israel. David cuts off a piece of Saul’s laid aside robe. Then, as Saul rejoins his troops, David appears at the mouth of the cave Saul has just departed. The fringe of the robe proves that David has spared Saul’s life and, temporarily at least, Saul’s heart melts. Centuries later one of David’s descendants will declare the principle that directed David’s action that day. He said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Before the Sermon on the Mount was ever preached David illustrated it at the cave in En Gedi.
Take Away: Don’t the right thing sometimes means we let a golden opportunity to force the issue pass by.