The gift and mission

Eternal life is both a gift and a mission.

It was a mission for Jesus. Our Lord knew God sent him to proclaim eternal life. That mission was the fulfillment of all God’s law.

Remember that powerful text from Deuteronomy. In it God says, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

God offered life to the people of God. We know that sometimes they took advantage of such a promise and other times they squandered it. They didn’t listen to the prophets’ words. Time and time again they turned to their selfish ways. That’s just like us.

In the fullness of time, God sent Jesus to offer a completed promise: eternal life.
Jesus understood and made it clear that God’s purpose for his life was to share that message. And so he did.

He did when people loved what he had to say. He did so when people wanted to throw him off a cliff. He did as more and more people followed him and as he was executed on a cross.

Eternal life was Christ’s mission and it is our gift.

People assume I love my name so much that I chose John as my favorite book of the Bible. Yes, that would be a John thing to do. After all, John refers to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Growing up, I always wanted a more flashy name. John sounded pretty boring and I never thought of myself as boring.

Then I understood the meaning of the name: Yahweh has been gracious. There’s nothing boring about that!

I love the book of John because it centers on eternal life. And who am I without that? God has been too good for me to not accept such a gift. 

Eternal life, then, remains both a mission and a gift.

Christ offered us eternal life. We received it; we receive it every time we pray. Now, his mission becomes ours. Just as Jesus used signs to show that he was God’s promise, we have signs, too, that point to Jesus.

We may not walk on water, but we forgive. We do so because the love of God compels us. Besides, actually forgiving someone these days may be more of a miracle. We may not be able to make a blind man see, but we can offer compassion and care for him. You and I may never see complete freedom and equity for all people, but we can stand up for the people we do know who face oppression and persecution now.

And our mission isn’t predicated on whether people believe us or not. Again, Jesus took his mission to the cross. We share the news of eternal life simply because it’s the gift we have received.

Stay blessed…john

Be a Mary Lou

Psalm 119 has a nickname.

As the longest psalm and chapter of the Bible, it’s dubbed the Mount Everest of the Psalter. Most of its 176 verses point to the beauty of knowing God’s word. The psalmist knew the joy and blessing of hearing the voice of God.

And he understood how God’s word leads God’s people.

In the psalm, he asked the question, how can young people keep their way pure? They do so by guarding their way according to God’s word. Now, let me ask you a follow-up question. How can young people know God’s word?

You could put the responsibility on young people. Of course, then you’d have to ask who were the young people the psalmist had in mind. I’m convinced it’s not a young person’s obligation. Some take greater pleasure in learning the stories of scripture. They are more engaged in reading and learning to pray.

Most young people, though, need people who have already been young to teach them.

Yesterday, a member from one of our previous churches shared that his mother passed away. Her name was Mary Lou. Ms. Mary Lou was not flashy or over-the-top engaging, but she loved Jesus and she loved children.

She loved my children.

Mary Lou taught Sunday School for all three of the Fletchermints.

I wrote a small testimony on Facebook last night and I wasn’t ready for the swell in my throat that emerged as I did. It’s the same swell that came as I wrote today’s devotional. I’ve known many former church members who have passed away. It’s always sad to hear of their passing.

This felt different. Mary Lou taught my children how to love Jesus.

I thank God for those like her in our churches. One of the concerns I have with the state of the church today is that an entire generation of children is growing up with fewer people so committed to showing them the way of Jesus like she did.

Mary Lou didn’t only teach Sunday School. There were times she sat with the Fletchermints in worship. She always gave them a smile and loved hearing about their schoolwork and sports.

By her own admission, she moved at her own slow pace. If she saw you waiting for her down the hall as she approached slowly, she’d say, “Yes, I am running.” She could be a bit stubborn, too. Again, she always freely shared these self truths! And she didn’t have much to give financially.

I’ve noticed that if you don’t have a lot to give, some people grow weary of dealing with you. They’re less patient with you. You’re used to not getting appreciated.

Ms. Mary Lou offered my family the greatest gift of all: the love of Jesus. She did all she could to show my children the beauty of God’s word and how they can keep their way pure. Today, I give God glory and thanks for Mary Lou. I honor her as a saint of God whose ministry is bearing fruit today. She wore few crowns in this life, but today God gave her an unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4). 

Let me ask you to be ready. You may never teach Sunday school, but will you do all you can to be a Mary Lou to the young people God puts in your life?

Stay blessed…john

It’s not nice to NOT point

In 2012, a group of historians honored Abraham Lincoln in a towering way. On the occasion of President’s Day, they constructed a three-story tall tower of replicated books. There were close to seven thousand books used for the project. Lincoln was the subject of them all!

I remember reading an article about the project. It mentioned there are over fifteen thousand books written about the former president. That there’s only one person who’s walked across history that has more books written about him. Jesus.

If that’s true, then the two most talked about people in the English language represent religion and politics. Go figure.

Of course, Jesus is the primary subject of most New Testament books. Even when he’s not, he kind of is.

The book of Hebrews is all about Jesus. All the Old Testament references written in the letter point to Jesus. Although the author didn’t write in chapters or verses, you can’t read any of the chapters we created without reading about Jesus.

Whether it was Paul or some other person close to the mission of Jesus, whoever wrote Hebrews hoped to encourage people of faith. The book isn’t biographical. It’s not even a testament. Hebrews is a reassurance.

Re because it’s written to people who already knew faith in Jesus. Assurance because it reminds us of the way in which Christ fulfilled God’s covenant. Most likely, Hebrews was writing before the end of the first century. That’s how soon Christians began to grow weary of trusting in Christ.

In a sense, you and I are a tower of books dedicated to Christ.

We may not have written anything about him. But I recall God’s promise told of through the prophet Jeremiah: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). For a world that needs peace, we are the written material that tells of the goodness of God in Christ Jesus.

As the church, we are to point people to Jesus. Not ourselves. Not even John Wesley.Not our traditions, not our favorite songs.

I very much appreciated it when my United Methodist denomination changed part of its membership vows. We used to ask people if they would be loyal to The United Methodist Church. I half-cringed when I would ask that question. Now we ask if you will be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church. That makes a difference.

The difference is that we are pointing to Jesus. He’s the fulfillment of God’s promise.

I read something several years ago that struck me. It aptly described what a lot of the church in the US has become. We aren’t focused so much on Jesus as God’s covenant fulfillment. Instead, we’ve made Jesus a consumable product, maybe just another book to buy:
“Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate, is said to have observed that: In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”

The church isn’t just talking about Jesus. We certainly shouldn’t be selling Jesus. How can we share with the world what God has written on our hearts? Our focus is on living a life centered on a daily communion with the living Christ.

How will you point to Jesus every day so that someone else can experience that kind of fellowship?

Stay blessed…john