Often the clearest messages from God come to me while I’m doing something mundane or routine. Such was the case at the close of last year as I was helping paint our newest grandson’s room. I was simultaneously listening to the Christianity Today podcast, Quick To Listen and moving my hands and arms in rhythmic motion from paint bucket to wall. I cannot tell you what the topic of the podcast was because I tuned out of the interview early on to focus on one comment made early on by the interviewee. Mark Galli, recently retired editor for CT, commenting on his forth coming book , shared the following:
After years of working in this world, (I) believe that evangelical Christians’ strong suit today is the love of neighbor, be it prayer gatherings to evangelism to social justice to acts of mercy. We talk about God a lot and worship him and pray to him regularly. But on the other hand, relatively few Christians take with equal seriousness the command to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. If we do talk about the love of God, it is said that we love God by loving our neighbor. (From the introduction to the Jan 2, 2020 Quick to Listen podcast)
The month of December has been full in our household this year – full of varied events, concerns, prayers – full of waiting, as is typical of Advent. But the waiting this year has felt more complex and stirred a different response than many an Advent time of preparation. It’s been the waiting of sleepless nights and early mornings and days so full you find yourself living in the moment. It’s been a mixed-bag season of waiting and preparation – of prayers offered and answered. Perhaps it’s best explained through the metaphor of the muddled messages in my December inbox.
December has long seen an increase in the volume of mail one receives in his or her inbox. Whether we are talking about your literal USPS mail box, your email box, or the varied other means by which persons communicate these days (instant messenger, text or other Social Media); inboxes are generally stuffed during December. They contain a myriad of sales advertisements, the usual bills, flyers from local businesses, year end political reports, holiday event notices – and then there are the Christmas greetings. Yes, we still receive a number of cards each December and send several ourselves; even though the trend in Christmas card giving has decreased overall. Picking up the mail on a December afternoon, at the end of the drive way or through one’s email provider, can bring a smile to your face as you read greetings, view pictures and reconnect with friends from miles away to right next door.
Have you ever known someone who has a “giving” nature, but also needs to let you know they are “giving”? I mean, they’d give you the shirt off their back, or the remaining groceries from their pantry; but they would also groan or moan, sigh and fuss all the while. Know anyone like that? In vocabulary terms these folks would be called oxymoron’s – the pairing of two things that don’t appear to go together – giving & hurting while you give. They practice a form of martyrdom giving. It’s a bit confusing when you are on the receiving end of such giving. “Do they want to give this, or don’t they? I’m getting mixed messages!”
“Giving” is the fourth topic of the Red Letter Challenge – a deep dive into the words and teachings of Jesus intended to help us “put his words into practice”. Jesus had a lot to say and model about giving. He talked about it quite a lot and gave us some terrific examples, with the gift of himself being the ultimate one. Jesus’ giving was accompanied by hurt and pain. He gave until it hurt. He gave his all. He gave his life. But Jesus didn’t allow the hurt or pain of the gift to surpass the purpose or love behind the gift.
In his book Embodying Forgiveness author Gregory Jones writes, “forgiveness is a habit that must be practiced over time within the disciplines of Christian community.” He goes on to state, “forgiveness entails unlearning all those things that divide and destroy communion and learning to see and live as forgiven and forgiving people.”* This week, as our congregation explores the theme of “forgiving” in the red letter challenge, I have been drawn back to Jones’ words.
I have often said that among the first steps of discipleship is “learning to be with Jesus”. It is by “being” with Jesus that we become more like him. Attempts to skip over the “being” part of discipleship will result in our “doing” things in our own power and effort – a sure path to disappointment or burnout.
This week in the Red Letter Challenge, a 40 day emphasis we are sharing together at First Baptist – Columbus, our focus is on the words of Jesus that have to do with “being”. Consider just a few of these “being” messages:
“Abide” (dwell/be) in my word.” – John 8:31
“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” – Mark 6:31
You’ve probably heard it said that we homo sapiens are misnamed? Instead of being called “human beings” we might better be called “human doings”. But, as we’re learning in the Red Letter Challenge, our doing flows out of our being.
The following faith practices might be helpful as we reconsider how we are “being” with Jesus:
- Keeping Sabbath
I invite you to join us this Sunday live (9:30 a.m.) or via live stream as we take up the topic “being” and further reflect on Jesus’ words.