Paul wrote to the church in Colosse, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love” (Colossians 2:1, 2 ESV). There is something special about being together with people, face to face. Paul recognized this multiple times to multiple Christians. He often longed to be with people in person, and that was a two way street. When the Ephesian elders met Paul at Miletus, “there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again” (Acts 20:37, 38).
These encounters went well beyond just a surface-level friendship. To be sure, Paul wanted the church at Colosse to know how great a struggle he had for them and those at Laodicea. Paul labored for the people he knew. He struggled for them. Paul made it clear that he did not want to “rob” the Christians he served. He was a tent maker. He did not ask for money, because he felt that would hinder his ministry. Consumerism was not of any interest to Paul struggled, and gladly so, for the sake of his fellow man.
It does Christians well to work hard–even to struggle–for the sake of others. It communicates that our relationship is not shallow and that the other person is worth struggling for. But most importantly, Paul emphasized that, “though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5). We struggle for others to ensure the firmness of their faith. This is (and should always) be motivated by our love of God and love for others.
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Jesus, in one sentence, summed up the Law and the Prophets: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 ESV). That’s it. This is known as the “golden rule” of the Bible. But what exactly does this mean?
Were it not for the Law and the Prophets, it would be very easy to misconstrue this rule, which is what many people do. “This is the Law and the Prophets.” It’s not like the Law and the Prophets. It’s not based on the Law and the Prophets. It’s not abstractly linked to the Law and the Prophets. It is the Law and the Prophets!
The Old Testament tells us how to care for our neighbors. It’s not some profound mystery. Truth is not something we need to go on a treasure hunt for. We don’t have to go searching for ways to be compassionate to others. The Law and the Prophets are the plumb line that keep our souls in check. If people are threatening the safety of our neighbors, put yourself in the shoes of that neighbor. If people are hungry and begging in the street, put yourself in the shoes of the hungry person. If someone is experiencing abuse, put yourselves into the shoes of the abused. Ask, what would I need from my neighbor in this time of desperation?
If we can answer that question truthfully, we are close to the heart of God. The world can use people who adhere to the Golden Rule, and we have the freedom to be those people!
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The past week was a great reminder of just how many people in our congregation really get Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24 ESV).
In the past week I’ve witnessed people selflessly give of themselves–both their time and their money–to help others who are in need. I was teaching the Bible class when literally half of the class abruptly got up and walked out. At first, I wondered what I said to offend them. In my ten years of teaching and preaching here, I’ve never had a group just up and walk out. Then I saw the reason–a recent widow walked in the door and they ran to embrace her, cry with her, and pray over her. My heart smiled at the disruption and it reminded me of how well our congregation loves others.
Several people personally handed me money to help various people in need. Others quietly gave and did not let their left hand know what their right hand was doing. We received a beautiful card in the mail from a church member who lives in another state. I’ve heard of so, so many stories of people who have received phone calls, visits, emails, and even money from church members.
This congregation is heeding the words of Jesus to deny yourself, pick up your cross daily, and follow Jesus.
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The message is clear that there is a great cost of being a disciple of Jesus. Christians are promised persecution and there is so much we need to sacrifice. One of the costs (and great blessings!) is taking care of the poor. With the cost comes reward. Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32-34 ESV).
The Bible is pregnant with references to caring for the poor–to those in desperate need. Those who are sojourners, poor, oppressed, and destitute, are described in the Bible as our neighbors. We are commanded to love and care for our neighbors, to lend to them and not expect anything in return.
Caring for the poor comes with a cost, but is not meant to be burdensome. In fact, over and over we are told to give joyfully and to lend with an open hand. When we store up treasure in heaven, we do so by helping those in need. Jesus took it so seriously that, in a scathing dialogue, he specifically mentioned the sorting of the sheep and goats by whether they cared for the poor and sick or not. These are not suggestions in the Bible.
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Themes are a great way to walk through the Bible with a different lens and they help us focus in on something that’s really important. I like annual themes because it makes sermon writing have purpose and direction. As I thought about where we are as a congregation and where our culture has shifted over the last few years, it became abundantly clear that God was whispering that people need to be loved so they can see Jesus!
With so many stories about abuse, sexual exploitation, and the dramatic rise in drug overdoses and sex scandals, the church is in the absolute best position to reach out to their neighbors. While some are bent on preaching about the woes of the world, Jesus took a different approach. He lived out the greatest commandments–loving God and loving your neighbor. The command to love is as old as time. Jesus told us that all the law and the prophets are hinged on these two commandments. I’d say that makes them pretty important. . . the most important!
I love how blunt John was when he makes the distinction between children of God and children of the devil: “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).
In 2018 we will commit to practicing righteousness and loving our brothers and sisters. There will be no excuse for not doing so. We will share testimonies of lives that are transformed, and we will let God do his miraculous wonders!