Pastor to people
2John: My dear congregation, I, your pastor, love you in very truth.
Compared to some books of the Bible, 2John isn’t much of a “book.” It’s more of an “email.” It’s just a few lines, written as a quick placeholder for a congregation by their pastor. He’ll fill in the material in person. He greets them by declaring his love for them. I can’t help but think, as I read this opening line, that’s it’s a beautiful thing when a pastor loves his or her congregation “in very truth.” Because of that love-based relationship John starts his note to them by encouraging them, telling them how happy he is with them. Anyone who thinks the pastor’s job is to “tell it like it is” and “set people straight” needs to spend some time here. John tells his church how much he loves them and how pleased he is with their faithfulness to Christ’s command that his followers love one another. It’s only after doing that that he moves on to warning them about some false teachers who are taking advantage of gullible Christians. He has more to say to them, but until he can be with them personally, he thinks this little “email” will do. The brevity of this letter speaks volumes about the friendly, loving relationship between this pastor and his congregation. I can’t help but think that sometimes saying less is saying more.
Take Away: Pastors need to love and appreciate the churches under their charge. Churches, on the other hand, need to love and appreciate pastors who lovingly care for them.
Good for what ails you
1John 3: For God is greater than our worried hearts.
John moves to his favorite topic: love. Frankly, he sees love as a cure-all, good for what ails us. Are we at odds with our brothers and sisters? Love will fix it. Are we struggling in understanding God’s purpose for us and in grasping what Jesus has done for us? The key is love. When we see countless wrongs in the world and wonder what should be done about them John says the key component in our response is, you guessed it: love. The test of love proves or disproves our relationship to this God who is love. As his love is allowed into my life — as it’s allowed to influence how I feel about, well, everything, its then that I know I’m where God wants me. For many of us our greatest challenge is loving self. I, more than anyone else, know my faults and failures. It may be that I’ve been verbally abused and have come to believe that what was said to me and about me is true. Possibly, deep in my psyche is the belief that if anyone really knew me they’d see so many flaws that they’d never love me. John tells me that that’s simply untrue. The One who knows me best, who “knows more about us than we do ourselves” loves me with a powerful, sacrificial love. He thinks I’m worth loving, worth dying for. As I accept his love for me, and his evaluation of me my relationship with myself changes. Once again, even as I struggle with my own self-esteem, the answer is love.
Take Away: Love is the greatest.
Putting Jesus on display
1Peter 2: Treat everyone with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.
Being a Christian in a non-Christian society has its challenges. Sometimes Christians are viewed with suspicion and other times with contempt. Peter says it’s up to us to correct the mistaken views of our faith. We do that, not by standing up for our rights or debating to prove our point or by withdrawing from society. Instead, we take our spiritual lives out to the streets and let our faith be seen by anyone who cares to look. We treat people well, granting them dignity no matter what their station in life. We treat one another well, refusing to sink to petty infighting over minor differences of opinion. We live as people who reverence God, unashamedly putting our high regard for the Lord on display. Finally, we conduct ourselves as good citizens, not using our citizenship of heaven as an excuse for neglecting our duties as citizens of the country in which we live. The result is that people who don’t know much about our religion will come to respect us. That, in turn, will open the door for us to have a real influence for Jesus. We don’t try to win people by beating them over their heads with our Bibles. Rather, we win them by putting the Jesus we serve on display in our lives every day and in every situation.
Take Away: People are drawn to lives that reflect the real Jesus.
What does it mean to have a genuine relationship with Christ?
Philippians 3: I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally.
A friend of mine commented that he was preparing to do a certain thing. His intention wasn’t to do something bad but it seemed to me that there was a superior course of action. In an off handed remark I asked, “Have you asked the Lord about it?” His response was, “Oh, the Lord understands.” Later, I found myself thinking about the exchange in view of my own life. How often do I do whatever I want to do with the attitude: “It’s okay, the Lord understands.” Tell you what; I don’t treat my wife that way. When I’m thinking about taking some out of the ordinary action I talk it over with her. Most of the time I could probably go ahead and she would “understand” but the thing is that we have a relationship with one another that includes our respecting each other and valuing one another’s opinions on things. Surely, I should have a similar respectful, intimate relationship with the Lord. There’s a place for prayers along the lines of, “Lord, I’m thinking about doing this, what do you think?” The Apostle says he gave up a lot of stuff that he might have a personal relationship with Jesus. If I want to have a vital, real, living relationship with Jesus one of the things I must give up is having a self-willed, presumptive attitude toward him.
Take Away: Do we treat the Lord as a real person or as some abstract idea?
A secret to the victorious Christian life
Ephesians 4: I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that leads to nowhere.
God never calls people to be half-hearted, costing along, distracted followers. He’s given us everything we need, in fact, abundantly more than we need to live victorious Christian lives. With this in mind we’re to take it all and run with it. There’s no need for fits and starts, stumbling and struggling back to our feet. Rather we’re to confidently move forward on our spiritual journey. Some folks don’t get it. Rather than moving forward they wander along, taking detours in which they’re in real danger of totally losing their way. So, how can I best get on and stay on track? The Apostle frames it in terms of relationships. He describes the victorious Christian life as one filled with “acts of love” and in which things that strain our connection to our brothers and sisters in Christ are quickly recognized and resolved. After all, he reminds us, we’re traveling this road together and we’re connected in our mutual love for our Master, Jesus. If I fail to love and allow little things to fester in my relationships with God’s people, I become one of those half-hearted, distracted Christians who are in danger of wandering so far from the path that I become lost in the darkness.
Take Away: We really do need each other.
The Perfect Sermon
Matthew 5: Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
In one glorious Sermon Jesus sums up the life to which God calls us. In every word we hear pure gold. It’s in retrospect that I realize that this beautiful, perfectly constructed Sermon challenges me at every level of my life. This chapter of the Sermon touches on everything from how to be blessed, to heavy topics like murder, adultery and divorce. Jesus deals with the promises we make and our relationships with our enemies. Obviously, the religion he teaches isn’t merely about “me and God.” Just about every word in this perfect Sermon is about “me and you.” It concerns my relationship with people I like (and maybe like too much according to the section on adultery) and people I don’t like (I’m to settle things with my old enemy quickly before things get even worse). He sums up this first part of the Sermon by teaching me to live “generously and graciously.” Rather than protecting my turf I’m to think the best of people and be generous in my dealings with them. This pretty Sermon has teeth. It’s supposed to work out here in the real world. And, just so I clearly understand the measure of this gracious, generous life style, Jesus tells me that I’m to treat others in the same gracious, generous way God treats me. I need to spend a whole lot of time here at the Sermon on the Mount.
Take Away: The Christian life is as much about “me and you” as it’s about “God and me.”
Malachi 3: Return to me so I can return to you.
If my relationship with God is strained or even broken today there’s a remedy. When, like the Prodigal Son, I come to my senses, rise, and return to my Father I find that he’s been waiting for me all along. What a relief it is to know that the Lord doesn’t hold a grudge against me. Rather, he patiently reaches out to me, calling me to himself. When Malachi states this spiritual fact of life to his congregation, someone asks for more information on this “returning” business. Exactly how do they do that? The prophet has an answer ready. A sure sign that a person’s returning to God is honest repentance on their part. In Jesus’ parable, the Prodigal is honest with himself and with his father. He’s messed up and he wants to make things right. He knows he doesn’t deserve re-admittance into his father’s household as a son, so he’ll take what he can get. That, my friend, is honesty. In this passage, Malachi points out that they’ve been dishonest with God in the stewardship of their possessions. He tells them that, for them, honesty with God means admitting their failure in this matter. This business of bringing sick and blind animals for sacrifice has to be stopped, confessed, and made right. Their practice of shortchanging God with their tithes has to end and be corrected. That’s what repentance is all about: confession and change. Through his prophet, the Lord says, “If you’ll return to me in repentance, I’ll return to you and bless your life in wonderful ways.” When a nation as a whole makes things right with God, Malachi says, it’ll be voted “Happiest Nation” and be known as a “country of grace.” That’s a good place to live.
Take Away: A sure sign that a person’s returning to God is honest repentance on their part.
Lamentations 4: Gold is treated like dirt.
The “gold” Jeremiah’s talking about isn’t the precious metal. He’s talking about the precious people of God. As Jerusalem lay under siege and then fell to the merciless invaders, he saw the most valuable “commodity” of all kicked aside and treated as worthless. When the devastation was finished, he saw people scavenging for a bit of food or even some kind of clothing to protect them from the elements. It was a horrible thing that Jerusalem fell. It was sad that all the valuables from the Temple were broken up and carried off as spoils of war. Worse than those things though was the devaluing of humanity. I sincerely pray that I’ll never see anything like what Jeremiah witnessed. Still, I take seriously the more general truth that’s found here: people are more important than things. I need to give thought to how that truth is demonstrated in my life. It may be as simple a thing as my dropping down on one knee to really listen to a child or it may be quite complicated, for instance, dealing with a boss who frustrates me to death but has deep hurts of his or her own. It’s good to be reminded today that its people who are true “gold.”
Take Away: People are more important than things.
That we may be one
Isaiah 60: I am God. At the right time I’ll make it happen.
Sin separated them from their Maker and destroyed their nation. God sent their enemies to conquer them and then to scatter them throughout the world. Now, the Lord is making plans to gather his people from the four corners of the earth and make them into a nation of especially blest people once again. Isaiah encourages them that it won’t be long now before it happens. What plays out in the history of Israel reflects the larger journey of humanity. We read in Genesis of the fall of the human race in the Garden and the resulting “driving out” that takes place. Later on, Cain’s sin causes him to, again, be driven out. Then, after the Flood God tells the renewed human race to fan out and populate the face of the earth. Instead, they gather at Babylon to build a tower. The Lord confounds their languages, forcing them to scatter into many different people groups. This, though, isn’t the final intention of God. When the time is right, he’ll gather his people to himself. Jesus tells his followers that God wants to make us one. He encourages us that in his Father’s house there’s room for all and that he’ll take us there. Even as Isaiah describes a reuniting of Israel, the larger picture of the Bible describes God’s plan to reunite humanity in an eternal relationship with him. Since that’s God’s plan we can be sure that he’ll “make it happen.”
Take Away: The Lord’s intention is to unite the human race with one another and, especially, with himself.
Taking it out of the church and into McDonald’s
Isaiah 48: But do you mean it? Do you live like it?
I don’t know how a pastor ought to look but apparently I don’t fit the part very well. Because of that through the years I’ve surprised people. I’ll be taking to a man about something, maybe a business deal, and his language will have words and phrases that Christians don’t use. Then, when he finds out I’m a pastor it all changes. I’ve even had people who started off using God’s name in some inappropriate way shift clear over to telling me how good God has been to them. Needless to say, I’m not impressed by such a sudden change of language. In this passage, the Lord’s complaint against Israel isn’t that they refuse to speak the language of God or that they’ve forsaken prayer. In fact, they say and do a lot of the right things. The problem is that none of it is backed up in their lives. They give God lip service and then turn back to their chosen life style. There’s a caution in this for all of us. It isn’t just a potty-mouthed used car salesman or a backslidden Israelite who should be concerned here. I talk the language of “Zion” a lot and that’s as it should be. However, when I’m not being “spiritual” what is it that I do and say? The measure of religion isn’t how loudly I sing in church. All that “religious stuff” has to translate into how I relate to people when I am standing in line at McDonald’s or driving in traffic during rush hour.
Take Away: What we say and do at church needs to be translated into what we say and do outside of church.