3 John verse 11 (NRSV) Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
I once took a foreign language. The teaching assistant, writing on the blackboard, often misspelled the words she was trying to teach us. It made learning that language even more difficult than learning it on my own would have been. Such teaching made for an aggravating semester. False teachers don’t know what they’re talking about. They make learning who to believe in our lives a chore. John is speaking here about false teachers in the 1st century. False teachers were many back then, and now. Then, as now, they were a problem. Learning to tell the difference between good teachers and bad ones is one of our most challenging tasks in life. There are always many more teachers than we can respect and follow. The easiest way to tell a good teacher from a bad one is by their works. If they are respected and honored as a teacher, and have helped many, that is good. If they own up to their mistakes, even better. If people complain about them, they make excuses for why they acted as they did, and bad things result, watch out! Avoid them if you can, and don’t do what they do.
Holy Spirit, help us to identify good from bad. Teach us how to avoid false teachers. Amen.
Colossians 4:6 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.
Paul is saying above that Christians should always give others’ remarks a “pass,” responding to others as if the other person meant well (even if they did not). Salt was a flavoring, a preservative, and was quite valuable. Roman soldiers were sometimes paid with bags of salt. How might we respond so that every time we speak others thought our remarks had great value and were worthy of being pondered and repeated?
This is a very difficult passage for us in America to deal with right now. Our culture is contentious, stress is ongoing. In the midst of it all, newscasters and others seem to want to divide us into two sides and have the sides go at each other.
In reality, the truth is often much more complex. In my mediation cases, most solutions use points and suggestions from each side. Mediation is harder or even impossible to do when people feel to give an inch is total defeat.
Monitoring speech is especially difficult during this coronavirus shutdown. Many people are under stress emotionally and financially. 24 hours a day even with our loved ones can be problematic. Tempers flair and words get exchanged- and regretted. Paul reminds us to be nice to everyone with our speech, even if others are not nice with us. A high standard indeed for Christians.
Jesus Christ, help us to think before speaking, and to build others up, not tear them down. Amen.
Exodus 7:1 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 7 The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.
When I was 14, I had to give a speech to my English class. I thought I’d memorized it well, but in front of the class I panicked, and forgot everything. Afterwards, I had a great fear of public speaking. A few days ago, I talked to you about Moses and his speaking, how he was a poor public speaker. It didn’t matter to God. God simply made his brother his spokesman. And God gave Moses great power to do what God wanted him to do. God didn’t give me a spokesman. God gave me the ability, over time, to preach. I was not an overnight sensation, but each time I got better, and I continue to improve to this day. Because I believe God had called me to ministry I persevered. Moses did what God asked and so did I. I didn’t run away when God called, and neither did Moses. When you trust in God, God can do great things through you.
Almighty God, give us confidence and the ability to do great things for You. Amen.
1 Peter 5:8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.
To our modern ears, this passage is uncomfortable. The notion of the devil is not comfortable at all. Many Christians don’t believe that there is a Devil whose delight is to make life more painful and difficult. But even if you don’t believe in a devil, there is still a tendency of people to stray from the way God wants us to live, and that tendency is very strong. In this country, most Christians hear words of comfort in church and from our pastors. Peter knew that life is not always comfortable and he taught his followers so they could deal with challenging times. In the early years of the church it faced persecution, and Christians were also trying to figure out why Jesus had not returned. They were tired of waiting. They were saying, “What’s the point of staying on alert?” Peter is exhorting them to keep up the good fight. It is easy for folks to give up their discipline in these COVID-19 times, too. Will the virus ever go away? Will it come back in the fall? In its own way, this time is just as nervous a time as what the early Christians faced. Peter exhorts us Christians today to keep the faith in these challenging times, and not give in to temptation.
God of Peter and Us, You are more powerful than the forces which lead us to temptation. Help us to be good in our lives and strong in our faith. Amen.
Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
When I was a child, I didn’t understand this Proverb at all. I thought “goes before” in this verse meant “go away,” not “go in front of.” In my Glen-translation, at the last second before destruction or fall, people went “Uh-Oh” and lost all their pride.
Come to think of it, my translation isn’t so bad after all. People with pride don’t have the foresight to see destruction heading their way. We pretend we are invincible, even though we are all too human.
Once, when I was about 9, I tangled my kite in a tree. Now I was the best tree climber in the neighborhood, so I had little fear. I scrambled up that elm like a monkey. I was just getting out to the kite string when, WHAM! I found myself on the ground, with the wind knocked out of me. The slender tree limbs had bent, and dropped me on the ground. I had thought I could never fall, that my tree-climbing ability could defy gravity and supple branches. I was wrong. I limped home, my pride destroyed in a single moment.
With most people, pride is self-correcting. Pride isn’t all bad, because confidence in ourselves can allow us to tackle things we might otherwise not. But if that pride isn’t tempered with common sense, then we end up in what my father humorously called a “jackpot.” If we are wise, we let God pick us up when we fall.
Almighty God, help us cling to you and learn our limits. Give us confidence
without being “stuck-up”. Amen.
Romans 7:15 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
I wish I were perfect, at least so I don’t hurt myself and others. It can be miserable when I do, and I do it ‘way more than I want. That is especially true for all of us when we are confined for weeks at a time with a limited number of people, as many of us are. Tempers flare, things are said and done we regret. A pastor friend of mine once said, “I don’t pastor half as well as I know how to.” So it is with all of us, even Paul: we don’t do even the things we know how to do, things that are good and right and true. Such is the human condition. Do we give up? No way! (or as Paul would say, “by no means!”). We must continue to try, struggle and sometimes fail to do the right thing (and we often succeed, too, remember that!). Only when we give up on trying are we certain to fail. So we strive to be good and with God’s help get better each day. We are assured that at the end of our lives, if we remain with God, God’s love will perfect us. If God is for us, who can be against us?
God of Perfection, teach us patience with ourselves when we fail to act out of kindness and love. Help us learn to be perfectly loving. Amen.
Exodus 4:10 Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
The above is the answer Moses gave to God when God asked him to speak for the Hebrews before Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Moses said “I’m not very good at public speaking.” Moses is not alone. Public speaking is the greatest fear that Americans have. But with Moses, it was not the fear of public speaking that got to him. It was his lack of faith. He was afraid when he spoke to Pharaoh that Pharaoh would simply laugh at him, throw him into jail- or worse! He was afraid God was setting him up for failure. When God called them, many prophets of the Old Testament were similarly reluctant to do what God commanded. Yet they were humble enough to follow God, and do what he commanded. We, in the same way, must be willing to follow what God wants us to do, if we are certain God is calling us. Following God’s will for our lives is not always easy, whether we are a prophet or just an ordinary Christian. Moses’ life was not easy. But the things for God and others that he did! So it is for us, when we follow God’s will.
Awesome God, you want what is best for us. Give us the courage to trust you, and follow your will. Amen.