Shout for Joy
2 John 4-6
2 John is one of the three letters by the apostle to his Christian friends. It is interesting that in the brief compass of three verses John writes three times of “walking in the truth.” Obviously he uses the verb in a metaphorical sense because one doesn’t literally “walk” in a concept. The point seems to be that they carry on their daily life in a steady and unhurried manner. They are to “walk” in the truth, not “run” or “skip through.” So much good can be said of a faithful and steadfast life that moves ahead each day under the control of a calm spirit. It is a little bit like the childhood fable of the tortoise and the hare – the hare may be a bit more exciting, the tortoise is the one that gets the job done.
Apparently John had gotten word that some of the younger members of the assembly were “walking in the truth,” content to live balanced lives that showed a commitment to their parents in the Lord. This is how God had instructed the church to live. There may be times for quick action but as an ongoing policy it is the tortoise believer who gets there first. The Father had commanded, not suggested, that this was the way to live as a believing Christian.
In verse 5 John reminds the “dear lady” (the feminine form of the word “Lord”), that is, the church body, that from the beginning God’s desire for the members of the assembly was that they would “love one another.” The importance of love for one another in the church is absolutely basic. Believers are redeemed not simply so they will go to heaven, but so, by the beauty of their mutual concern for one another, they will display a quality of life that will attract others into a relationship with God. (John makes the same point in his gospel: 17:21, 23).
In verse 6 John explains what he means by love. As he puts it, love is a life walked in obedience to all that God had commanded. To love God is to do what God has said. That is simple yet profound, brief yet all-inclusive. In God’s world clarity replaces complexity. The “commands” of which Jesus speaks are not military regulations but loving concern for others. That’s what lies at the heart of God’s desire for man. His plan is that we become like him. We are made in his image for one major reason, and that is so we can relate to him in a personal sense. He wants us to know him
Obviously, we will not remember the date we went through the experience we call birth. It was by birth that we entered once and for all the human family with its awesome role in being the doorway to the eternal joys of heaven or the eternal fires of hell. This is how Scripture presents the alternatives necessary involved in our human condition — triumph or tragedy. Granted, that sounds a bit dour, but it prepares the way for the explosive joys of stage two, and that is where we will let this discussion take us.
Nicodemus was an impressive first century intellectual, a leader in the Jewish community that provided leadership in matters of spiritual importance. but with all his learning he revealed to Jesus an uneasiness about this new exposure to truth - “Master, we know . . . because . . . BUT” (John 3:3). Jesus made - it all very simple, “To enter this world requires a physical birth; to enter the spiritual world requires a spiritual birth - it is called being “born again.” Under normal circumstances this term should not be difficult to understand: “again" means another time, and “born” means to come alive. Then why did the learned clerics have trouble with the concept? And the answer is that it did not fit into to their ecclesiastical system. We always discard the unnecessary. Learning requires an openness and if what you have already have “learned” in an area makes a new insight unreasonable and therefore not worth pursuing, you will have created your own intellectual graveyard.
Now, back to spiritual birth. The term is metaphorical and can be used to describe entrance into a new phase of almost anything. While at birth we are not simply physical, the biblical text speaks about a spirituality in the area that God inhabits. To be born again spiritually means into that realm. So the Christian faith identifies every human being and having entered that divine relationship and is therefore bound for the eternal joys of Heaven or remaining in an eternal state of alienation and bearing. So when Jesus said that a person had to be born again he was speaking of something of incredible importance. It follows that in our ministry the Contemporary Christian concern for the welfare of the other should be of central importance. I ask, ” Have you been born again?"
“The prospect of the righteous is joy; but the expectations of the wicked come to nothing” (Proverbs 10:28).
Before we turn to the joy associated with righteousness and the disappointment thatlies ahead for the wicked it will be helpful to identify the terms we are using. The proverb compares two kinds of people, the righteous and the wicked. In commenting on other proverbs I have defined the righteous as those who consistently do the right thing. They are not a small group of super-saints that have achieved a level of moral perfection so lofty that we have to declare them righteousness (sinless). Over against that unreal expectation, the righteous are those who consistently do the right thing. In the other category are the wicked, those who consistently choose the more nefarious and shocking alternatives. They could be those who live a corrupt and scandalous life, or the more genteel who display the polite forms of wickedness such as greed, envy, and ill-will. In either case the future is not bright. While the categories are clear-cut there are degrees of righteousness as well as degrees of sinfulness.
Solomon turns first to those who have decided to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. They are committed to making right choices. Every ethical decision is a chance to say by what you do that God’s way is best. Not only at the end of one’s life journey but all along the way the result of that mind-set is sheer unadulterated joy. One dictionary defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.” That comes close, but even then when we try to define it, it seems to diminish the true experience. I find that joy sneaks up undetected. It can’t be scheduled it can only be experienced when it happens. The joy of the Lord is pure, uplifting, and deeply satisfying. It is the atmosphere of heaven. We’ll be breathing it forever. But there is joy along the way as well for every believer.
As for the wicked, the future holds no rewards. Solomon says that the expectations (the hopes) of the wicked “come to nothing.” They don’t pan out. This, of course, is for them a great disappointment. While the righteous are blessed with a joyful fulfillment of their dreams and aspirations, the wicked mourn a life contrary to the will of God. How good of God to guide us in a way that is pleasant for the present and will ultimately break out in eternal joy. That is not true for the wicked. For them life turns out to be nothing but preparation for eternal disappointment. Solomon, you’ve done it again! We’d like to sing, so how about, “Praise Gods from whom all blessing flow.” It is time for us to lay hold of the joy that not only awaits us but is ever present. In one of his oft-quoted remarks C. S. Lewis chides the weakness of our desires, writing, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us . . . We are far too easily pleased.”
Several years ago I started assembling pictures for the previous year and putting them in a series of yearly albums. Looking at yesterday’s YEAR FIVE I note that I had described our home in Anacortes as a “Sanctuary for Reflection and Growth.” That certainly was the intention of my wife Rachel and her husband Bill as they went to the top of a hill overlooking the San Juan Islands and chose this particular site for a future home. In time, as I joined the project by a marriage, that became my passion as well.
Returning to that designation of what we wanted our home to be I would like to say something about each of the three pivotal words. First, reflection. I have spent my professional life in higher education, and that at every level, from a newly minted assistant professor up through the ranks to full professor and then on into administration (if that is still “up”). During this time I have changed my mind about what I consider to be “higher” education. Earlier it was all about the data of a field, one set for medicine and other for law. You were as accomplished in your chosen field as you could remember its relevant facts. Now I tend to look at the entire field of what can be known not as something to memorize but as something to understand in terms of the interrelationships of its various parts. This calls for reflection, and reflection lies at the heart of all genuine learning. May it become central once again in higher education.
The second point is obvious, it is when we reflect on what is crucial that we experience genuine growth. Unfortunately as a nation our attention has been turned increasingly to what doesn’t really matter. A long time ago media discovered the appeal of those issues and body parts that man found more intriguing and when that is read in dollars it is easy to understand the direction of culture.
I believe that whenever people are willing to turn their attention to serious consideration of what is of ultimate importance they will find themselves in a “sanctuary,” a “holy place.” I choose not to restrict the term to its ecclesiastical sense but use it also in the broader context of what is genuinely meaningful to you as you reach ahead for a deeper meaning in your experience of life. We do not treat the “holy” in our life is though it were not.
The other evening on Shark Tank" Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, came up with a bit of advice that struck me as right on target. He said, "Never take advice from anyone who doesn't have to live with the consequences." Granted, it probably will never go down in history as one of the fifty best quotes of all time, but before you dismiss it, let's give it a moment.
Advice comes easy. Just "ask and you will receive" (to borrow a biblical phrase). Almost everyone has an answer to any question you might ask. Where is the best place to live? What should I do to stop a run-away horse? Why should I get my news from the Internet? How can I get this thing opened? It is so easy to get advice from those who will not be affected by your decision. And that, precisely, is the problem. There is something about the human specie that enables us to provide quick answers to issues that don't affect us. I know that if I have a cup of rich coffee late in the evening, it will be almost morning by the time I drop off to sleep. So, I give up late evening coffee. But if you should ask me whether YOU should have a cup at 11 PM, I might say, "It's up to you,” or, "Why not!" Why don't I exercise concern for you and ask how drinking coffee late in the evening affects you? The answer is that by nature we are hopelessly egocentric. Your reaction to coffee is not all that important to me. We came into the world that way and progress is either slow or nonexistent. Christian theology calls it "the fall.” God made us in his image – that is, that we might sustain a relationship to him. But when the primal pair decided against God's restriction at the "advice" of the Tempter, they transitioned to a condition in which they were doomed to live primarily, if not absolutely, for themselves.
Is there a remedy? Christian theology says, Yes. The gift of God's Son was a sacrifice for our sin (i.e., our egocentricity) to be received by faith so that our initial relationship might be restored. Unfortunately that process is incredibly slow. As we are gradually released from what we became by deciding to go it on our own, we are empowered by the Spirit to do such things as to remind our questioner of possible consequences. In secular terms it is “getting over yourself,” in Biblical language it is “being saved.” And I can assure you that nothing short of a transforming relationship to Jesus Christ can supply the power necessary for a successful conclusion.
There is no question but that Paul was the early church’s great theologian. God took all the native skill that he had given to this converted Jewish Rabbi and joined it with the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit to write the first “text book” on the Christian faith. So the posts on the first chapters of Romans are a bit heavy. But they are strategically important both for the churches to which the letters were addressed but for us in the 21st century as well. Being a Christian is not simply carrying out a set of rules, but a personal involvement with the One who “wrote” them. Theology is not knowing but experiencing. That’s why we need to listen to what Paul has to say about the basis for our Christian living. Stay with us; we’ll get to the how our faith expresses itself in daily life after we understand the why. Accepting Christ is crucial, but understanding what went on between Gethsemane and resurrection morning provides us with the answer to why.
In the section of Romans marked above we see an important sequence. We were “powerless” (v. 6), “Christ died for us” (v. 8), we were “saved from God’s wrath” (v. 9), “we were reconciled” (v. 10), “we rejoice” (v. 11). That story has been told and accepted from the first day in Jerusalem until today all over the world. Countless lives have been forever changed. Faith matures as we learn more and more of what God has done for us in Christ. Today I want to say a few things about reconciliation.
If one begins with the premise that we were created by God for fellowship with him and with one another, the separation is by definition an unnatural and undesirable state. Life teaches us that solitude was not God’s intention for his children and that good relationships with others are deeply satisfying. We were meant to share life together whether in the close ties of marriage or the wider associations such as one finds in a church. One writer notes that the church ”is not a theological classroom . . . but a reconciliation . . . center, where flawed people . . . gather to know and love him better, and learn to love others as he designed” (Paul David Trip). Alienation and separation is not a story of God’s failure in creating what he wanted, but the story of man rejecting God’s provision. We are the prodigal son who knew better than his father. The picture of the father longing for the return of his son mirrors God’s longing for our return to Eden. Over the entire account of the incarnation is the redemptive theme – Reconciliation! It is priceless, it is available. I encourage you to come home to love, authentic friendship, and a deep and lasting joy.
How blessed are those who don’t promote themselves, for to them life yields its rewards,” Matt. 5:5
Standard translations vary slightly in their wording of the third Beatitude (“Blessed are the meek,” Matt. 5:5) but the above translation brings out the intended meaning more clearly. It is from my Jesus, In His Own Words, p. 32.
I ask, “In what way was Jesus meek?” To most contemporary ears, the word “meek” fails to carry the nuance intended by the Greek. When we say that Jesus was meek we don’t intend to convey the idea that he was not quite up to the challenge of life and that he protected himself by assuming a quiet fireside approach that would elicit smiles of approval. The meekness of Jesus was seen in the humble way he gave himself to a life of sacrificial service to God and his fellow human beings. His true strength lay in his ability to resist the temptation of taking over on the center stage of life, but rather to humbly give himself for the needs of others. A. W. Tozer wrote that, “The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he decided long ago that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort.”
Meekness describes the manner in which Jesus set aside what was due him in order to pay the price for the sins that were due others. Meekness is the true strength of a Christ–like person. It washes the feet of others, not because custom calls for it, but because dirty feet need to be washed. The meek do not “promote themselves” because they can use that time more effectively in discovering the needs of others. The self-denying are pleased to live with the welfare of others in view because that way they can use their time for the common good of others.
The life of Jesus displays a refreshing self-forgetfulness. Not once in the gospels do we see him neglect another in order to satisfy a valid personal need. His quiet demeanor was a tower of strength. During the last days of a rewarding 60 year marriage I caught on that total attention to the needs of a failing partner can be life’s greatest joy. As the text says, “to them life yields its rewards.” God has so arranged our affairs so that complete commitment to the needs of another provides the richest kind of personal life. It is by giving that we receive, by dying that we live, and by letting go of personal desire we receive the greatest blessing.
The Beatitudes are the game plan for life. They prepare us for battle, strengthen us when we need it the most, and protect us from our own selves.
MIt had to happen and it did! Now what could that be? Time to write what you hope will be helpful for others and you just don’t feel like it.
It’s been a tough period of time in life for me, beginning with a fall and it’s consequent broken hip.All to the background music of operations,the strictures of life in the midst of despair. So Bob let’s write something that will encourage, perhaps inspire. Let’s be God’s angel in the dark dungeon of reality. Speak up.
To make it even a bit more difficult I have listening to, and recommending, Wintley Phipp’s great rendition of “It is well with my soul.” With deep pathos he sings “When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say”
. . . and then crescendoes into a triumphant “It is well, it is well . . . with my soul!“ And I know it is, but somehow my soul can’t manage to join in the celebration.
So, where do I turn? And the answer, of course, is Scripture. What is it that God wants to say in a moment like this? Shall I just close my eye’s and chose a page at random, or should I take a moment and talk to my Heavenly Father about it? I have decided on the second option because that has been the right option before. So where shall I turn? What I seem to need is encouragement so I’m turning to David and the Psalms. And what better Psalm than 107!
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good
His love endures forever;
Let the redeemed speak up and tell us their story
How God has failed them never.
Some were in prison, others died at sea
All were brought to their end;
They confessed their plight and cried out to God
They learned on him to depend
He saved them from trouble, stilled every storm
Answered them when they prayed;
They raised their voice in grateful praise
Confessing that they had strayed.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good
Especially in times of stress;
Even though life may turn out to be hard
He’s always ready to bless.”
Reflect on the last two verses; Confess we have strayed and God will still the storm.Though life will have its difficult moments, God is always ready to bless. I’m seeing it all in the larger context of life and his peace is already slipping in. Praise God!
Nowhere in scripture do we have a clearer of more concise definition of the gospel than in Rom. 1:16. The gospel, as Paul puts it, is “the power of God at work bringing salvation to all who believe.” What this says is that the gospel is not a religious statement but an existential reality. Not a lifeless message but a vibrant encounter. You read it or hear it, Yes, but primarily you experience it. It speaks to the heart. Hear the apostle once again, the gospel is “the power of God at work bringing salvation to all who believe.” The gospel is not so much about God as it is God himself at work. It is this dynamic quality that makes the gospel unlike any other message. The famous Dwight Moody, evangelist of the 19th century said the gospel is like a lion; all the preacher has to do is open the door and get out of the way.
That the gospel has a power of its own is so often forgotten. Apologists develop logical plans to prove the truth of the gospel and preachers raise their voices, but all they have to do to convince the unbeliever is to “let it loose.” Paul was struck blind on the Road to Damascus, not simply because of the bright light but because Christ was, as it were, the light. The gospel is not a story about something but the experience itself. Wherever the gospel is proclaimed God is there telling his own story. Narrative becomes reality.
The purpose of the gospel is not to inform but to transform. It is a gospel that ”brings salvation.” The words of the gospel may be discussed but the purpose of those words is to bring salvation. At its core the gospel is not something to learn, but to accept and experience. It is the power that can move us from darkness into light. Man’s traditional approach to salvation was to work hard and earn it. Righteousness, we once thought, was the result of all the good things we had done. As a result we would earn our way into heaven. Not so! insists Paul. The answer is faith all the way – “from first to last.” As scripture teaches: “The righteous will live by faith.”
This basic teaching on salvation is so important and so different from competing ideas because it is securely based in an historical event. Events are not ideas but truth. We now know that what God wants is not our labors but our hearts. It takes humility to acknowledge our weakness and turn with empty hands to One who wants to give us the righteousness that we could never have earned. Free gifts are hard to accept if one is determined to earn them. And freedom asks you to relinquish your proud accomplishments as a ticket to heaven.
I know that theology tends to leave the mind a bit confused but we are not responsible to master it. When we stop for a moment and remind ourselves that God dwells in another and higher realm than ours we see why our understanding is less than we might want. Because a third grader can’t understand the quantum theory doesn’t make the theory wrong. Because the human mind can’t fully understand such things as eternal life – that’s never ending, No, not a long time but NEVER – doesn’t mean that it is wrong, Like the third grader we are not equipped. The good news is that God asks us simply to accept.
Robert H Mounce