While a battle is raging one can see his enemy mowed down by the thousand, or the ten thousand, with great composure; but after the battle, these scenes are distressing, and one is naturally disposed to do as much to alleviate the suffering of an enemy as a friend. –Ulysses S. Grant, “Personal Memoirs”
“One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” –Joseph Stalin
“I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.” –Lucy, in “Peanuts”
Pastors, young ones in particular, have to conquer this challenge or forever pay a huge price. It’s one thing to love a crowd, but another entirely to love that quarrelsome family, the cranky old curmudgeon, the gossip in the congregation, the unwashed homeless guy who wandered into your service, and the deacon who is dead-set on making you unemployed.
“God is Watching.” –sign over the door of Gwen Williams’ home in Picayune, Mississippi.
John Ed Mathiston told his congregation in Montgomery, Alabama a story about kindness.
“Not long ago, a man from the Middle East walked into a new car showroom and asked to speak with a particular salesperson. The receptionist called for him, the fellow walked to the front, and they greeted each other.
The foreigner said, “I’d like to buy some trucks.”
Some trucks. That caught the sales guy’s attention.
“What did you have in mind, sir?”
“I want to buy 750 heavy duty trucks and 250 pickups.”
The salesman is stunned. Surely someone is pulling a prank. This cannot be happening.
The Middle Easterner pulls out a letter of credit with a huge American bank. It is legitimate. This is the real deal.
“Lord, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38).
Robert Schuller founded the Crystal Cathedral in California and hosted television’s “Hour of Power” broadcast, making him the “media pastor” to countless millions who would never have entered my church. He wrote books, did a lot of good, did much that was questionable, and drove us traditionalists out of our collective minds.
My favorite Robert Schuller story: When he was a kid, his mother taught him piano. Once, in the middle of a recital, his mind went blank and he forgot the rest of the piece he was playing. There was nothing to do but walk off the stage in humiliation. Later, his mother gave him some great advice. “Any time you mess up in the middle of a piece, end with a flourish and no one will ever remember what you did in the middle.” Schuller would look at his congregation and say, “Some of you have messed up in the middle of your life. But my friend, you can still end with a flourish if you start now.”
It’s a great story and makes a fine sermon illustration.
“Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Luke 22:42
God sends no road map to His obedient; we walk by faith. He gives no GPS to the faithful so they will always know where they are and what’s going on. They will see “through a glass darkly,” but walk on.
Thy will be done will be their guide.
Those four words.
Take the Lord Jesus, for instance…
The best thing in the Bible might be Exodus 34:6-7.
And the Lord passed before (Moses) and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation. “
It’s the best because it’s God’s self-revelation and it reveals Him to be pure love. Exodus 34:6-7 is the Old Testament corollary to I John 3:8,16 which say “God is love.”
Exodus 34:6-7 is the best because it’s quoted all through the Old Testament. Moses prayed it in Numbers 14:18. Nehemiah sang it in Neh. 9:17. Joel held it out as the reason God’s people could expect revival, in Joel 2:13. David sang it in Psalms 86:15, in 103:8, and in 145:8. Jonah complained about it in Jonah 4:2. And we find fleeting quotes from it throughout Jeremiah, such as in 32:18.
“He honors (God) who has mercy on the needy” (Proverbs 14:31). “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what He has given” (Proverbs 19:17). “The poor you always have with you, but Me you do not have always” (Matthew 26:11).
Scripture has a lot to say about God’s people caring for the needy. But it can be twisted and made to say something other than was intended.
A friend sent me a letter from a disgruntled church member who was complaining that after he lost his job the church did not pay his bills and support him. The friend says the church gave him a great deal of help and “I personally gave him money.” But it wasn’t enough for the guy, who is now slamming the Lord’s church and wondering “Where is Jesus after 2,000 years?”
I suggested my friend ask the guy how many needy people he assisted when he had a job.
I think we know the answer.
“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (I John 3:14).
You see those Christian people meeting in that little cluster there? They’re a strange lot, aren’t they? They have odd customs and their own language, and some can be perplexing. Okay, I want you to love them.
You say it’s hard? Friend, you don’t know the half of it. But that’s what you’re going to be doing.
And when it happens, when you find yourself cherishing this oddest of people on the planet, that’s when you will know you are born again and destined for eternal life.
But not until then.
There is one way and one way only you are going to be able to love all Christian people. You’re going to have to be born again.
You’re. Going. To. Have. To. Be. Born. Again.
Because you cannot do this in the flesh.
Romance comes in all shapes and sizes.
Love does what it wishes and will not be confined to our formulae nor our fences.
The Hollywood slander is that only the young and beautiful fall in love, that somehow the plain and the aged are outside the bounds of this most wonderful experience in life. It’s a lie, of course, as is so much of what Hollywood peddles.
I’ve just finished David McCullough’s account of the settling of Ohio when it was the “far west” in the American experience. The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West is a slow read, one I had to make myself stay with. Scattered throughout the story, however, were delightful episodes, worth the effort of reading the book.
Ephraim Cutler (1767-1853), one of the earliest settlers and a champion for a hundred reasons, was widowed at the age of 40. The death of his wife left him with four small children. Interestingly, however, before her death, Leah chose Ephraim’s next wife. We will let McCullough tell the story…
“If you love me….” (John 14:15)
We do love the Lord, right? We would love to express our love to Him in His own love-language, right?
We love Him because He first loved us, right? (That’s I John 4:19).
The question then is “How exactly do we express our love to Him?” With flowers and candy? With huge gifts? Quick prayers before bedtime? Maybe if I’m baptized and join the right church? Should I tithe? Should I read the Bible through? Go to Sunday School?
What does He want? What would make Jesus feel loved?
The Old Testament answer to the question…
The prophet Micah was wrestling with this very question when he asked, “With what shall I come before the Lord? And bow myself before the High God?”
That is to say, “What possible thing could I do on earth that would please God in Heaven?”