The present distress has taught us many lessons. Early on we saw that many of our fellow citizens were determined to keep a ready supply of paper goods on hand, so much so that even now signs in the store remind us not to hoard. Along the way we learned that you cannot have too many cough drops or vitamins or even old fashioned aspirin tablets.
More seriously we also learned that you cannot have too much access to healthcare when you really need it. A corollary to this is that we have come to appreciate the work done by all the folks who work in hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices. Their normal days are hard enough but then imagine adding the pressure the virus has put on the system. We realize that we cannot have too many people who have chosen to be nurses, doctors, medical tech and helpers of all kinds. Thank God for all of our medical people.
In a more general way times like these make us realize that you really cannot have too many people who love you. We know there are folks out there who are alone. For the longest time we have not been able to come and go to the hospitals and nursing homes to visit as we all once did on a regular basis. Then there is the separation that many experience out of a combination of distance and caution. Of course the love is still there; we just have to find different ways to show it.
On the subject of folks and love, let’s turn that equation around for a bit. We often think about having plenty of folks who love us but even more important is that we have plenty of folks to love. We often quote Jesus from John 13:34: “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Note that the Lord did not emphasize living in such a way so as to encourage others to love you. Being loveable is certainly a very good idea. But the commandment from Jesus is for those who are His disciples to love one another. Now we do not miss the point that if we do love others that others who are following the directive will ultimately love us. We can only love others; we cannot make others love us.
Indeed, some folks miss the point of Jesus’ words altogether. I know this because I’ve met with many folks who have the complaint that people do not love them like they should. Some say “My wife doesn’t love me like she should” or “The people at church do not love me like I ought to be loved.” Another variation on this theme is “People are not friendly to me.”
Well, there is nothing new in this old preacher’s response: I always suggest that they forget about what they think they are not getting in the way of love and attention and start loving others. Such folks must learn to forget about the love they think they receive or do not receive and concentrate on just giving love to others. John 13:34 does not involve a ledger of examples of love coming in and going out.
Indeed, the Christian life has nothing at all to do with a balance sheet of love given and received. It is all about doing all the giving you can do and let the rest take care of itself. We remember the complaint of the selfish Christian who wondered what the church had done for him lately. Nothing like that could be more distinctly removed from the proper spirit of the Christian faith. Our job is to love one another without concern for a return on that investment. The Lord will take care of all of that.
So, no, we cannot have too many people to love. We cannot get through bad times or good without people to love. And if you are alone for the moment, look around. It will not hard at all to find someone who can use a kind word, a call or an act of loving kindness. Such acts of love make the gloom of the very worst of days disappear.
Well the virus made a visit to Ginger and me. We have been blessed thus far to have a mild experience with it, much milder than many folks have experienced. We are thankful. So many of our friends and fellow citizens have suffered serious symptoms and wide ranging consequences of this virus. We must continue to pray for them and help when we can. Ginger and I appreciate the many kind words and offers of help.
I cannot help but think about the spiritual implications of this virus and what it is doing to folks. We all know that this is just a reminder of the truth that is always before us: life, as sweet as it is, does not go on forever. As James said, “yet you do not know what tomorrow may bring. What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes away” (4:14).
It may seem to be somewhat negative to bring this reality to mind. But we get ourselves in all sorts of trouble when we turn our backs on the reality of life. God is the Designer of life and He designed into life the ability to teach lessons that we must learn if we are to live this life properly. Keeping the truth that life is a vapor in mind helps us value each moment we have.
Another thing that comes to mind in times like these is that God is always with us. Remember Paul‘s great sermon on Mars Hill recorded in Acts 17. He told the learned gathering that God had “made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us; For in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (17:26-28).
The passage teaches us that God made us and this world and that He is fully aware of the scope of possible interactions between the two creations. We cannot allow ourselves to be surprised by the challenges of this life. God has allowed multiplied thousands of examples to flood everyone’s experience to remind us of the nature of this existence. God knows we will have tough days. We must allow those days to push us closer to God. He is, after all, right close.
Of course many folks do not care for the Biblical picture of God. There are circles even within the Christian religion that see God as only beneficial in this life. The idea is that if I have to suffer any at all then God is not doing His job. Invariably all of us have to suffer. The result of that suffering can be the rejection of God. It is not true that God will protect us from all suffering. There is no Biblical example of Him operating in such a fashion. We cannot name a good Biblical character up to and including our Savior who did not suffer.
The sad truth is that people miss the blessing of believing the real truth about God. If we reject the truth about God we will never know God. The only way to know God is to know what the Bible says about Him. The living and active Word teaches us who God is. If we attempt to move through this life thinking that God is simply going to run interference against our problems we will be very disappointed.
So what should we expect from God in times like these. There are three things. One, He provides us the means to look past the immediate to the future. Things may get better and they often do. Two, He provides us the strength to face really big trouble. This strength comes from knowing the Biblical accounts of those who faced problems successfully. And three, He, through the church, provides us a fellowship of faithful believers who help us make it through the toughest of days.
Think with me about the idea of "the difference." In subtraction (if I remember it correctly) the result of the operation is the difference. If the two numbers are close together the difference is small (5-3=2). If they are far apart the difference is big (500-100=400). This may seem a bit silly, but bare with me.
Let's think about the society of which we are a part. There was a time when those who were politically and culturally liberal in this country were not all that far from those who were more conservative. There was a significant difference to be sure but nothing like we see today. People in our Congress could find a way to work together without compromising their principles. Indeed, this country was founded and built early on by people as different from each other as were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Moving to the spiritual, moral and ethical environment of our society it is not hard to see that the gaps between the various groups have widened. There was a time when almost every religious body within what is considered Christianity by most people held the view that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God in the sense that the New Testament presents Him as being. I do not think this could be said today. The differences between the varied theological positions are big.
The problem with this situation is that this is a difference that makes a really big difference. For example, my position and the position of most folks reading this article is that Jesus is God and as the Word became flesh and came to live, teach and die so that we could have access into His grace and salvation (John 1:1-4, 14, Ephesians 2, and so on). To put it plainly Jesus was then, was always before then, and is now and will always be God. There is no "wiggle room" in the Biblical picture of Jesus Christ.
If, however, we look around to the various permutations of denominational Christianity we can see Him described in different ways. Thankfully there are many who do see Him as He is Biblically described but others see Him as a sort of necessary creation of first Palestinian Jews and later the followers of Paul and some of the other apostles. It is argued that these men saw a need for a savior like Jesus and created one using the messiah stories that were popular at that time. There is a big difference between this and the Biblical reality.
There are other, much closer to home applications of this difference idea. What about the difference between a fully dedicated Christian and a person who believes and practices truth but is lukewarm in applying Christian principles to his or her life? When we start thinking about this we must remember that none of us are faultless in our practice of the Christian faith. We all come up short (Romans 3:23).
We look at the difference between a person most folks would consider good and one generally thought to be bad and we see ourselves on the good side. Then we look at folks that are outside the Biblical pattern of sound doctrine and folks we consider to be faithful and we see ourselves in the faithful portion.
Let's use this difference idea another way. What if we consider the difference between what we know is right and therefore what we ought to be doing and what we are actually doing? There is a difference that makes a personal as well as practical difference. None of us can do much about the cultural problems we face nor change the theological history of Christian belief systems. What we can have something to do with is how we practice the faith we know to be true. Perhaps we could all work on the difference between what we know to do and what we are doing. That would make a meaningful difference indeed!
During the COVID-19 pandemic we are limiting our service times.
All Services will be Live Streamed on FaceBook.
Address: 1602 West Hobbs Street, Athens, AL 35611
Phone: (256) 232-4705
If you wish to mail in your contribution, please mail it to:
West Hobbs Street Church of Christ
P.O. Box 506
Athens, AL 35612