Minding my own business
John 21: Master, what’s going to happen to him?
John finishes his story of Jesus with the account of an early morning, and private, encounter with the resurrected Savior. Our Lord and his disciples have breakfast together and then Jesus and Peter go for a walk. Peter, who denied the Lord three times, is now asked three times if he loves Jesus. Each time, as a result of his declaration of love, he’s given responsibility in the Kingdom. By the third time, though, Peter is burdened with the repeated question. Jesus responds by explaining to Peter that his love will be his source of strength in difficult days ahead. He’ll be a prisoner and will be led to places he doesn’t want to go. In the midst of such a trial, Peter will find strength in his love for the Lord. Meanwhile, following along is the disciple John. Everyone knows John is Jesus’ favorite and Peter wants to know what’s coming for him. Jesus, though, isn’t going there with Peter. Peter needs to worry about Peter and not about the beloved disciple. I think we tend to concern ourselves with what God is doing in the lives of others too much. We forget that we aren’t called to make Christian clones of ourselves but are to “feed the sheep” and let the Master handle the rest of it. That doesn’t mean I’m not concerned when I see someone struggling or has even lost their way. Of course I’m concerned. Still, I need to be careful to love them and encourage them to follow Jesus and not be too focused on exactly how the Lord might want that to happen in their life.
Take Away: I love others and want to see them allow the Lord to lead their lives, but my main concern is to keep things clear between myself and the Lord.
Listening to Jesus pray
John 17: Father, it’s time.
This great prayer of Jesus has three parts. The first section concerns our Lord’s relationship with his Father. All that has happened and will happen is done for the purpose of displaying the glory of God, a glory shared by Father and Son; a glory that has existed since before the world began. Second, Jesus prays for his disciples. He’s going to depart, but they’re going to stay. His purpose of bringing glory to the Father will now be their purpose. Jesus prays that everything about his disciples will accomplish that purpose and that they’ll be protected from all that might distract from their mission. Third, Jesus prays for future believers. Again, there’s a prayer for unity of heart and purpose. Our Lord prays that the believers will give evidence that Jesus is the one sent from God because of his love for us. Jesus concludes his prayer by asking the Father to gather all believers to himself, where they can bask in the glory of the Lord, united in love for God and for one another. This passage, my friend, is holy ground. We’re allowed to listen in to a conversation within the Godhead. We witness the Son’s communion with the Father and then, we’re invited into the conversation. It’s humbling to be allowed in this place today.
Take Away: God’s people are considered “insiders.” What an honor!
Love and hate
John 15: Make yourselves at home in my love.
On this night prior to the crucifixion Jesus talks to his disciples in terms of love and hate. He warns them that the same people who hate him will hate them. That hate won’t be about them as much as it will be about Jesus. His disciples will be so much like their Lord that those who hated him without cause will hate them without cause. Jesus also encourages them to be “at home” in his love. What an interesting phrase. To be at home is to feel secure and comfortable. It’s to be with family and friends, giving support and receiving the same. Jesus tells his followers to enjoy that kind of comfort in his love. He’s committed to love us even though he already knows our weaknesses and failings. While it’s true that I stand amazed in his love it’s also true that I have every reason to depend on it and to relax in it. So, there you have it. Out in the world we’re strangers, treated unfairly by people who don’t even know why it is that they don’t like us. On the other hand, we’re upheld by the undeserved, beyond-understanding love of Christ. All in all, it’s a pretty good situation.
Take Away: I want to be comfortable in the love of Christ.
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.
You’re getting warmer
Mark 12: You’re almost there, right on the boarder of God’s kingdom.
I’ve been in a few discussions with people who want to play “stump the pastor.” The exchange usually starts with something like, “Being that you’re a preacher, let me ask you this…” and off we go to some burning theological issue like where Cain’s wife came from. In this passage, Jesus deals with the same level of discussion. The Sadducees bring him their old worn out “whose wife is she?” question that they’ve used for years. Others want Jesus to go out of a limb about paying taxes. Standing on the sidelines is a religion scholar with a question. It too is an old one that the rabbis like batting around. Of all the commandments of the Old Testament, which is the most important? Jesus looks the man in the eye and gives him a serious answer. The number one command is that we’re to love God with every fiber of our being. Jesus even goes so far as to throw in a bonus answer. The number two command is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This scholar deals with issues like this every day and he responds that he’s concluded the same thing and, in fact, he’s never heard the answer stated so well. Jesus says to him that he’s almost there, just a short step from the kingdom of God. This exchange is so refreshing. On a day when people are lining up to play “stump Jesus” we meet a man who’s on a legitimate spiritual journey. He’s done a lot of thinking about these things and needs just a gentle nudge to close the deal and commit his life to the Lord. Jesus instantly recognizes the difference between the cat and mouse game of the Sadducees and a sincere question from a real seeker of the truth. My prayer for all those who sincerely seek that they’ll find not only the answers to their questions, but, even better, as it was for this good man so long ago, the Answer to the greatest need of life.
Take Away: Those who aren’t playing games but are serious about God will find real answers in Jesus Christ.
What God expects of us
Micah 6: He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do.
This passage is one of the gems of the Old Testament. Micah asks the rhetorical question: “How can I…show proper respect to the high God?” He wonders if bigger offerings will do it: lots of rams and barrels of oil. He wonders if following the practice of the pagans and offering his child as a sacrifice will satisfy the Lord. Having asked the question he then states the answer. God has already made his desires for the human race abundantly clear. Micah says, “It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.” Micah’s insight into God’s purposes for people is breathtaking. Some have called this the “John 3:16” of the Old Testament. I do well to take this dusty old statement of God’s purpose for humanity and use it as a guide to my life. How am I doing on the “fair and just, compassionate and love” standard set here? Do I have a handle on not taking myself too seriously while taking God very seriously? There’s nothing in the Bible any more “contemporary” than this statement.
Take Away: Am I living up to the standard of the Lord?
God’s man isn’t much like God
Jonah 4: Jonah was furious.
The heart of the book of Jonah isn’t the first part with the oft-repeated big fish story. Instead, it’s the last part. It’s here that we find the motor that drives the story. When the reluctant prophet gives in and goes to Nineveh he does so in fear, not that he’ll fail, but that he’ll succeed. Jonah is nationalistic to the core and he’d like nothing better than for the capital city of Israel’s enemy, Assyria, to be destroyed. Still, with all his failings, Jonah knows a thing or two about God. The priests and other religious leaders of his country may promote a doctrine of Israel having a corner on the Almighty, but Jonah understands that God has compassion on all people. Israel may be the chosen people but that means God wants to use them to bless all the nations on earth, not that God loves them and hates all others. When Jonah runs from God, refusing to go to Nineveh he does so because he understands these things. He understands them, but he doesn’t agree with them. Now that his mission to Nineveh is a success Jonah’s angry with the Lord, not only for sparing his enemies when they repent, but for using him to bring it to pass. In spite of his unique understanding of God, Jonah isn’t much like God at all.
Take Away: God is love.
The power of love
Song of Songs 4: You looked at me, and I fell in love. One look my way and I was hopelessly in love!
Previously I mentioned that some Christians have made this book into an allegory of Christ’s love for the Church. As I said then, I’m not all that convinced, although passages like this do remind me of scriptures like Ephesians 4 where I’m told that: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…and to present her to himself as a radiant church… holy and blameless.” That passage describes Christ’s passionate love for the Church, a love that takes him to the cross. In the portion of Song of Songs that’s before me today, the man describes the power of his love for the woman. In Ephesians I see the power of Christ’s love for the Church. Whether or not Song of Songs is intended to connect me to Christ and his love for us, I’m reminded in this passage of the power of love and the sacrifice one who loves is willing to make for his beloved.
Take Away: “Love” is, ultimately, an action word…real love takes action on behalf of the one who is loved.
Don’t just fall in love with being in love
Song of Songs 2: Don’t excite love, don’t stir it up, until the time is ripe — and you’re ready.
The woman, who co-stars in the opera, is speaking to her “sisters in Jerusalem” and she has some good advice for them. She tells them to wait for the right time and for the right person to be sent into their lives before falling in love. Sometimes young women are more in love with the idea of being in love than they are actually in love. They get emotionally involved with someone who has a very different agenda than they do and the result is, at best, disappointment and a feeling of having been used and cheapened. Song of Songs is a celebration of human love and sexuality — and the two are very much linked. The woman who is loved by the King says, “The real thing is worth waiting for — don’t sell out too soon.” Young women across the ages have faced the temptation to do otherwise but to do so is to accept a cheap imitation that won’t last. In Song of Songs, the opera about love, we’re told: “wait, you’ll be glad you did!”
Take Away: The real thing is worth waiting for — don’t sell out too soon.
God, enjoying life with me
Ecclesiastes 9: God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
I know that a common view of God is that he’s against our enjoying life and that his favorite word is “no!” That is very mistaken. It’s true that God has a lot of “no’s” for us. Then again, a loving father has a lot of “no’s” for his children too. When his toddler picks something up off the floor and is about to put it in his mouth his mom and dad say, in chorus: “No!” Their desire is not to ruin his life, but to protect him from something that might be downright hazardous to his health. Even so, the Lord has some prohibitions for us and every one of them is for our benefit. The other side of the coin is wonderfully positive. When I enjoy some new discovery, or take pleasure in one of God’s many gifts to me; when I laugh out loud as one of my precious grandchildren comes up with a terrific one liner — at that moment God laughs with me. The writer of Ecclesiastes struggles with the meaning of life and is trying to understand just what it is that will bring real satisfaction. However, he has this one just right: “God takes pleasure in your pleasure!”
Take Away: All the joys of life come from our Heavenly Father who takes pleasure in our pleasure.