Monday, September 23, 2013

September 22, 2013 Nurturing A Healthy Heart - Love

Galatians 5:22-23

On June 25, 1967 television reached an historic milestone.  The first live, worldwide satellite broadcast took place, a two-hour special filled with musicians and other artists.  Closing the show was the Beatles, singing All You Need Is Love, which would reach number one a few weeks later.  As much as I love the song and appreciate the sentiment, I can’t really agree.  Love doesn’t pay the electric bill or the mortgage.  I don’t think it would work if, at the grocery, I told the clerk at the checkout that I would offer a hug and some love in lieu of payment.  Some couples are disillusioned when they discover that in spite of their great love for one another, life’s mundane matters and pressures are a reality.  We don’t live on that wonderful cloud of romantic love all the time, do we?

But love is undoubtedly the most powerful force in our lives.  It is the subject of numerous movies and countless songs.  It has inspired artists and authors since the beginning of time.  We all long for it, and sometimes we find it, thankfully.

As we conclude our series of messages on the Fruits of the Spirit, we come to the first one in the list, that I have left for last – love.

As I began this message I have to confess that my first thought was what is there left to say about love?  Well, there’s a lot actually.  In our larger culture love is seen most often through the lens of romantic love.  That’s a wonderful gift, certainly, but there is more to love than just romance.  I want to try and briefly cover some of the most fundamental definitions about love from a Scriptural perspective.

1. Love is the greatest value – Matthew 22:33-40

33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.
35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I continue to be amazed at the media attention Pope Francis attracts, and the reasons why he attracts the attention.  His call to a greater expression of love to people, avoiding becoming entangled in theological disputes, or being defined by what the church would oppose draws a lot of attention.  What he has done is to call for a greater expression of love.  And that becomes, literally, front-page news.  Imagine that.

We all know this passage from Matthew.  It’s one of the foundational passages of the gospel.  Perhaps we’ve heard it so many times that we lose the impact of Jesus’ words.  The Pharisees and Sadducees, in their swollen sense of importance and pride, come to Jesus and, in essence, challenge him to declare that laws and rules are the supreme value to a life of faith.  Jesus turns the conversation into a challenge not just to the Pharisees and Sadducees, but to every person who adopts a life of faith.  Never forget, he says, that the supreme value of faith is that of love.  Nothing supersedes love.  Nothing.

Some people see Christianity as a system of beliefs and regulations about behavior.  There are, certainly, particular beliefs that belong to our faith, and there are standards of behavior, but there is one primary regulation, one supreme law, and it is love.

While some people want to make faith about laws and regulations, we must remember that doing so creates legalism, where people want to dictate how we should think and how we should behave, but there is only one law, and it is love.

2.  Love is not reciprocal.  Matthew 5:43 – 47.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

If we think about it, most of the people we love are people who love us.  That’s just natural, isn’t it?  And it is certainly love when we love someone who loves us.  But the kind of love of which Jesus speaks, what we call agape love – the kind of love expressed by God – is not dependent upon whether or not someone loves us in return.  It is not a transaction – you do something for me, and I’ll do something for you.

It’s easy, most of the time, to love those who love us.  Another person may occasionally irritate us, but we love them and they love us, so we don’t worry about it.  But how do you love someone who doesn’t love you in return?  Jesus says this is one of the most defining qualities of the kind of love he advocates – love others whether or not they love you in return.

At the Last Supper Jesus demonstrates this so powerfully.  There he was in a room with his disciples, a group composed of those about to do one of three things – deny him, betray him, or desert him.  What did he do, in spite of his knowledge of what was to come?  He takes a bowl of water and washes their feet in an act of love and service.  Their love was shaky or missing, but Jesus loved them in return.

3.  Love is challenging – I Corinthians 13:4-8.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

I have done a lot of weddings over the course of my ministry.  At many of those weddings I have read I Corinthians 13, which is such a powerful and eloquent statement on love that we call it, simply, the love chapter.  At the heart of that chapter we read these words – Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails (I Corinthians 13:4-8a).

Imagine using those words as a template for everything we say and do in life.  Imagine the difference it would make in our lives and in the lives of others.  Imagine the hurts that would be erased.  Imagine the healing that would take place in relationships.  Imagine the heavy burdens that would be lifted.

But notice the challenge in those words.  The good news is that love is the supreme law, but here’s the difficult news – sometimes love is really, really tough.  Love is tough because as people sometimes we can be difficult to love.  And sometimes we don’t always agree, we don’t always have the same perspective.  We have values and beliefs that clash and all of these differences test love.

Love is challenging.  Love isn’t for wimps.  For all the beauty and wonder of love, love is tough.  Love is the single greatest challenge in our lives.  Love will challenge us to forgive in spite of our hurts.  Love will challenge us to reach across the divide of hurt and heal a broken relationship.  Love will challenge us to embrace a wayward child or an indifferent parent.  Love will ask of us what we don’t believe we can do, but the power of love will challenge us to do so.

We talk about falling in love, and we do fall in love.  But agape love is not automatic, it is a practiced love.

4.  Love is visible – I John 4:19-21.

19 We love because he first loved us.
20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.  For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
21 And he has given us this command:  Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 

You can’t fake love.

It is so tempting to want to sort people into so many categories and then determine which groups we will love and which ones we will not love.  As the people of God, that is not our option.

It is so sad to see churches deciding they will be the gatekeepers of God’s kingdom, sorting and picking and choosing who they will deem worthy of love.  Jesus railed against such an attitude, and it was his acceptance of all people and his unfailing love for all people that brought him into conflict with, of all people, religious people. 

Everything, Jesus says, hangs on love.  Everything Jesus said goes back to love; everything he did was based on love. 

Paul says that love never fails.  I believe that.  I have witnessed a lot of heartbreak because of people failing love.  I don’t think there is a person here who hasn’t felt the heartbreak of someone failing love.  And one of the great tragedies that occurs when people fail love is the scars that are created - scars that cause people to pull back from one another and create a failure to trust and create an atmosphere of hurt and bitterness.

We may fail love, but love itself never fails.  Love calls us ever higher.  Love calls us to live with grace rather than judgment, love calls us to forgiveness rather than bitterness, it calls us to move beyond hatred, it calls us to go places we would not ordinarily go, it calls us to people we would normally shun, and it asks of us what we sometimes feel we cannot do; but love will still ask of us all those things and more.

Monday, September 16, 2013

September 15, 2013 Nurturing A Healthy Heart: Self-Control

Galatians 5:22-23
James 3:2-12

Next week we will complete our series of message on the Fruits of the Spirit.  Today’s is the last in the list – self-control – but we’ll do the first one in the list – love – for the final message.
Sometimes we use the expression saving the best for last.  In this case, I think Paul placed the toughest one in the last at the end.  Self-control is tough. 

Back in the late 60s and early 70s there was a series of studies sponsored by Stanford University.  Called the Marshmallow Test, it took groups of children and offered them a choice – a marshmallow, or a cookie immediately – or a bigger reward if they could wait for fifteen minutes or more.  Out of hundreds of children in the tests, less than a third were able to exercise self-control to get the reward.

Interestingly, in the follow-up tests done in later years the researchers found that the group able to exercise self-control did better in life.  They had better grades, better test scores, and did better in life in general.

Businesses understand our struggle with self-control.  They tempt us with impulse buys, the items as you come in a store or at the checkout line.  If you have a young child, you know the frustration of standing in the checkout line while your child is tugging at you to buy all those impulse items.  Why don’t they have spinach or broccoli in the checkout line?  I listened to a radio program recently about the psychology that goes into the layout of a grocery store.  What are the two most common items people travel to the grocery to purchase?  Bread and milk.  And why does everyone run to the grocery to purchase bread and milk when a big snow is coming?  I go to get ice cream, Milky Ways, and Pop-Tarts.  If I’m going to be snowed in, I’m not going to survive on bread and milk!  Where do you find the milk in a grocery store?  All the way in the back, so you have to walk by other items in the hopes that you will get more than just the milk.  Where do you find the bread?  Close to the back, in the bakery, where you walk by tables of cookies, cakes, and other tempting items.  The layout a grocery store is designed to take advantage of our lack of self-control.

There are many ways we can go with self-control, but this morning we’ll look out just a few.  The first one comes from our second Scripture reading, from the book of James.  It is one of the most difficult types of self-control –

1.  Self-control in what we say.
Who hasn’t regretted something you said?  Regret over what we say is probably one of the top regrets in all of our lives.

When I was in college I was very put out with one of my professors.  I wasn’t happy about a test and I decided it was his fault that I did poorly, even though I had taken very few notes and had done very little studying.  I was really carrying on to my roommate about his shortcomings as a professor and guess what happened?  He was within earshot and heard everything I said.  Every single word.  As I paused in my rant he walked right past me, but didn’t say a word.  The regret of that moment is still with me all these years; I’ve never forgotten it, and I imagine my professor always remembered it as well.

That moment reminds me of something I once heard about our taking back our words.  It’s comparable to taking a feather pillow and shaking the feathers into the wind and then trying to gather up all the feathers to put them back in the pillowcase.  There is no way to take back words once they are spoken.
James, in his encouragement to exercise self-control over the words we speak really uses strong language.  He compares our lack of control over what we say to the bit that goes into the mouth of a horse to give it direction, or the rudder on a ship, or the small spark that can cause a great forest fire; small items all, but very powerful.  Everything, James says, has been tamed by mankind, except for our words.

Sometimes we say, if it comes across our mind it comes out our mouth.  Self-control would let the words linger in our mind a bit longer to consider whether they really need to be spoken, and would save a lot of heartache.

2.  Self-control in our actions.
We live in a strange culture, as it consistently encourages in directions that are not healthy for us.  We live in a culture that does not encourage self-control.  Why save money now when you can go and buy what you want now?  That’s why we have credit cards, right?  Why wait?  Spend that money now.  If you’re a student, why study now instead of going out to have a good time?  Why worry about what you eat?  Get the box of donuts now and forget about taking care of yourself – you can do that later.  Why worry about any of those things?  In our society the idea of self-restraint and self-control are often viewed as tragically puritanical, as something to avoid at all costs. 

So why worry?  Why not cast self-control to the wind and live for the moment?  Because we can’t forget about the bigger picture of life.  Life is about more than this particular moment, and if we fail to understand how this moment affects other moments, we will fail to understand how we allow our future to be shaped and dominated by impulsive actions. The alternative to self-control is the pain and wreckage of bad decisions brought about by impulsiveness.

The gospels are a continual encouragement to remember that life is about more than just the present moment.  The message of the gospel reminds us to take a long view of life and to think about the consequences of our actions.  Many of us are still sorting out the consequences of actions and decisions from many years ago. 

3.  Self-control in our emotions.
I want to talk about self-control in relation to one emotion in particular – anger.  Years ago I had a really bad temper.  It didn’t take much to really wind me up.  I can still remember the day, many years ago, after losing my cool and yelling at a friend of mine, and realizing I needed to get a grip on my emotions.  I’m not advocating that you become like Mr. Spock from Star Trek, and be totally devoid of emotions, but we can’t allow our lives to be dictated by our emotions, especially the emotion of anger.

In Ephesians 4:26 Paul writes in your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.  Remember that anger is an emotion and is common to all of us, but of all our emotions anger is the most dangerous.  Anger is the emotion that causes us to say things we will regret and it is the emotion that causes us to engage in actions we will regret.

It is difficult also because it is the emotion that can really fracture relationships.

Abraham Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was angered by an army officer who accused him of favoritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that Stanton write the officer a very tough letter. Stanton did, and showed the strongly worded letter to the president. What are you going to do with it? Lincoln asked. Surprised, Stanton replied, Send it. Lincoln shook his head.  You don't want to send that letter," he said.  Put it in the stove. That's what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry. It's a good letter and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now burn it, and write another.
(Today in the Word, February, 1991, p. 9.)

It’s better to burn a letter than a bridge, isn’t it?

Self-control is tough, and perhaps that’s why Paul placed it last in his list of fruits of the Spirit.  It serves as a reminder that these qualities are God-given, and it is through the power of His Spirit that they take root and grow in our lives.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

September 8, 2013 - The Gift of Hope

Mark 5:21-43

The Gift of Hope

When I was in college some of us would travel to the border of Tennessee and North Carolina to climb Roane Mountain.  It’s a beautiful spot.  Near the summit was a path that wound through huge Rhododendrons.  I remember hiking to a point on the mountain that was popular with hang gliders.  Have you ever watched someone jump off the side of a mountain strapped to a hang glider?  It’s one of those moments that makes you feel better about yourself, because you recognize that maybe you really aren’t all that crazy.

It’s an amazing sight to watch someone soar on the wind with just that little piece of fabric and aluminum frame keeping them from plunging down the side of the mountain.  I may think it’s crazy to jump off a mountain strapped to a hang glider, but I know it’s possible and almost always safe.  But imagine what it was like to be the first person.  Imagine the courage (I guess it would be courage) it took.

Why do people do such things?  Why would someone strap a bungy cord to their ankle and jump off a bridge, or strap a parachute to their back and jump out of an airplane?  I think it’s because we are so in fear of tragedy, and pain, and suffering, and death that we want to do something to make us feel we can conquer those things.  We feel so at mercy to those forces that we are driven to do dangerous things just so we can thumb our noses at tragedy and death and say you didn’t take me today.  I looked in your eye today and walked away and showed you don’t have total control over my life.

There is a very thin veneer to life.  We go through our daily routines trying to ignore the fact that life is fragile and tragedy may be lurking around the very next corner.  One moment life is fine and the next we get a phone call with shocking and tragic news.  One day we feel fine and the next we receive frightening news from the doctor.  One moment someone we love is here and the next they are gone.

This morning, we study a passage from Mark’s gospel about two individuals whose lives had changed very dramatically.  Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee and as soon as he steps out of the boat he is met by a man named Jairus, one of the officials at the local synagogue.  His twelve-year-old daughter is near death, and while he and Jesus are on their way to his house Jairus receives the news that his daughter has died.  Life changed in an instant for Jairus and his family.  Along the way Jesus encounters a woman who had been ill for twelve years.  Mark tells us that she had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse (verse 26).

Here were two characters who understood how life could change very drastically.  One had been dealing with difficulty for many years, while the other was about to enter a life dramatically changed because of loss.

This message – and this passage – is about hope.  The Gift of Hope.  Hope spring eternal in the human breast, wrote Alexander Pope in 1773, and it is hope that has allowed people to survive through the most difficult of circumstances.

The picture of Jairus at the beginning of this passage is almost difficult to read.  Here is a man who comes and throws himself at the feet of Jesus. It’s hard to see people when they reach the point of desperation.  My little daughter, he says, is dying.  You can hear the desperation in his voice.

And Mark simply says that Jesus went with him.  There is no discussion of anything Jesus said; Mark just says Jesus goes along with him.  Sometimes the best thing we can do is to walk with people during their struggles.  There are times we talk too much.  I have been guilty many times of blundering along, trying to give a theological explanation when I should have just kept quiet.  One thing I have learned over the years is that people aren’t always looking for an answer; they just need our presence.  I remember very vividly when my father passed away and we were at the funeral home and people were coming through the line.  My father sang in a choir at the steel mill where he worked, and all the members of that choir came to the visitation in the tuxedoes they wore for their performances.  Very few words were spoken as they greeted us, but I didn’t care; I was just grateful they were there.

This was a great gift for Jairus, just to have Jesus walk along beside him.  Presence is a great gift in the life of another person.  Don’t worry about having the right words to say; just walk with people.

We also notice something that Jesus does not do – he was not judgmental toward Jairus or this woman.  Why is it that people who are suffering are often judged for their circumstances?  There is a reason.  Do you know why people sometimes judge the hurting and those in need?  It’s a way of excusing one’s self from an obligation to help.  If we can find a way to blame people for their circumstances then we can excuse ourselves from helping them.  After natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, there are always some from the religious community who want to judge people, and it’s a very convenient way to be removed from the calling to help people.

By this point in his ministry Jesus was facing a great deal of opposition from the leaders of the synagogues but he didn’t say, you know, you guys have been pretty hard on me down at the synagogue.  I can’t help you because I’ve been treated poorly.

And when the woman touched the fringe of his cloak he didn’t say, why didn’t you come to me sooner?  Why did you wait until you ran through all your money and tried every other solution first?  Why am I always the last resort for people?  Why can’t I be the first resort for a change?

Sometimes we stumble around and it takes awhile before we come to the realization that God wants to be present with us and to help us.  Notice that the woman came before Jesus, trembling with fear, Mark says in verse 33, perhaps because she thought he’s a religious person, and those religious people can be tough.  But Jesus isn’t tough with her, he isn’t judgmental, he isn’t critical; he gives her hope and healing.

I find it fascinating that Mark makes sure we have the story of Jesus dealing with these two people linked together.  These are two very different people in, at least in the eyes of society at that point in history.  Jairus, as a synagogue ruler, was a prominent person in the community.  This woman, not even named, would have been very low on the social scale.  She was ill – bleeding for twelve years – and would be unclean.  What Jesus saw was not people on different rungs of the social ladder but two people who had very great needs.  The need of this woman was as great as that of Jairus, and Jesus was going to meet that need even if it brought about grumbling from his disciples.

To the disciples she remained anonymous – “you see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, “who touched me?” (verse 31).  Everybody’s touching you.  Let’s just move on.

We live in a world that is always categorizing and stratifying people, and as the body of Christ we must fight that temptation.  There are no disposable people in this world, not in the eyes of God.

This story turns out well for both Jairus and this woman.  The daughter of Jairus is raised and the woman is healed.  It doesn’t always work out that way, unfortunately.  Sometimes we beg and plead for healing and it doesn’t come.  And when healing does not come, it’s easy to lose hope.  But, as one writer says, Christ did not come to do away with suffering; he did not come to explain it; he came to fill it with his presence (Paul Claudel).

Don’t be afraid, just believe, Jesus says in verse 36.  He wasn’t just speaking to Jairus, but to us as well. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

September 1, 2013 Nurturing A Healthy Heart - Gentlenes

Galatians 5:22-23; Matthew 5:5; 11:28-30

As we have studied the Fruits of the Spirit I’ve noticed an interesting dynamic that takes place.  Each one of these – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – is a quality that we would like to have in our lives, certainly.  As I have worked on each one individually I noticed that certain people come to mind.  Thinking of love, certain people came to my mind as I worked.  Working on joy, certain people immediately came to mind as great representatives of joy, and so on.

This morning we come to gentleness.  I would like for you to take note of who comes to mind when you think of gentleness.  Just let the person or person pop into your mind. 

People come in all varieties.  There are those who are possessed of very strong personalities, who dominate their surroundings and conversations.  Then there are those who are gentle – not weak – but gentle.  They exude such a sense of gentleness that after a few moments in their presence you notice that you feel more relaxed and at ease.

Gentleness may be one of the most misunderstood of words.  Many people think of gentleness as being weak, timid, or passive. This is not the biblical understanding of gentleness.

In fact, the Bible tells us in Numbers 12:3 Moses was a very gentle man, more gentle than anyone else on the face of the earth).  I don’t know about you, but I have never thought of Moses as being gentle.  My image of Moses has always been of a very strong, no-nonsense, type of leader.  After all, it does take a great deal of boldness to confront the Pharaoh of Egypt and demand, let my people go.  Moses did not lead his people to freedom by using gentleness.  When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and found the people had fashioned a golden calf to worship, he did not react in a spirit of gentleness.  His anger flared when he saw what was taking place.

In Matthew 11:29 Jesus refers to himself as being gentle – Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.  I imagine that Jesus was, very often, a gentle type of person.  But he wasn’t all the time, was he?  When he cleansed the Temple that wasn’t gentle.  In John’s gospel, in fact, we read that Jesus made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area (John 2:15).  That image of Jesus fashioning a whip is a very deliberate kind of image.  It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, but one Jesus makes after witnessing all that was taking place, and he has to go and gather the materials needed to make a whip, and all the time you can imagine the indignation arising within him.  Does that give an image of gentleness?  Not to me.

The great philosopher Aristotle defined gentleness as the person who is angry at the right time and never at the wrong time.  I like that description.  It certainly is descriptive of Jesus.

I want to provide three definitions of gentleness this morning.  Gentleness actually comes from one of the most difficult words in the Bible to translate, because it carries a broad scope of meanings.  I want to use three of those meanings to give us the core descriptions of gentleness.*

1. The first meaning is being submissive to the will of God.
This is the idea of gentleness – or meekness – that we find in the Beatitudes – blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth.

It’s not the Donald Trumps of the world who are ultimately the ones who are in control of the world.  What the Scriptures often teach is a reversal of what we see in the world around us – the last shall be first, and the first will be last (Matthew 20:16) and whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (Matthew 20:26).  This reversal of the norm is a reminder that while the world is operating in a particular way, it’s not the way it was meant to operate.  The kingdom of God operates very differently, and the kingdom of God will eventually be established, and those who are submissive to the will of God are the ones who will help bring about the kingdom, because it doesn’t come about by force, but by gentleness, the living example of how we are meant to live.

One of the most common fears I hear people express is their anxiety about the condition of the world, and their perception that things are getting consistently worse, that we are moving away from God, and that we are heading down a road toward destruction.  We are, in the opinion of many, headed southerly, in a handbasket, and very quickly.

I don’t believe that to be true.

For one, the world has always been a mess, and it has been a bigger mess that the one that we currently see.  But faith tells me that God’s kingdom will eventually be established, and I believe we are moving that direction, even if it doesn’t appear to be so.  I think the connectivity of our world magnifies the perception of how bad our world is, but God is doing a lot of work in the world, and I believe he is moving it in the direction he desires it to move.  It may not always appear to be so, but I believe that is true.

This is where the idea of gentleness seems a bit contradictory in Moses and Jesus.  There are people placed in history by God, I believe, who really push his cause forward in a major way.  Moses was certainly one.  As was Abraham, David, and Paul.  Jesus was the pinnacle, certainly.  In our own age we continue to see those who operate in such a prophetic way to demonstrate the justice and healing God desires to bring to the world.  I would place C. S. Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa in the category of those who have moved us forward in our day as people who sought the justice of God, such as Martin Luther King; C. S. Lewis brought the truth of God to so many people by his great gift for writing; and Mother Teresa embodied the call to service.

It’s not easy to be submissive to the will of God, but it is part of the call to being gentle.

2. The second meaning is being teachable.
James 1:21 says that we ought to accept the word that is planted in you.  I believe that is speaking about an investment of teaching in our lives.

If you think about the ministry of Jesus, what did he spend most of his time doing?  Teaching his followers.  It’s not just our age that recognizes the value of learning; Jesus was a supreme model of the importance of teaching and learning.

As you read through the gospels you can find examples of Jesus taking advantage of opportunities to teach his disciples.

Wherever Jesus traveled he would teach his disciples.  Everything became a learning opportunity.  When he was seated by a well and spoke with a Samaritan woman; when people brought their children to Jesus and the disciples complained, that became a teaching opportunity; when the storm came upon the sea; over and over we find examples of the way in which Jesus was constantly teaching his disciples.

It’s hard to make it in today’s world if you don’t seek out an education.  And it doesn’t end when you are done with school; the need for continuing education is imperative.  Faith is no different, but we can become lax in our learning; we can become lax in our seeking opportunities to learn more about the Scriptures and theology.

3.  The third meaning is being considerate.
I am not very in touch with popular culture these days.  I watched about two minutes of the VMA awards last week, and part of those two minutes happened to be Miley Cyrus. Can I just skip the obvious commentary about that moment?  I am out of touch with popular culture because so much of it is coarse, crass, and rude, and it seems that the culture-shapers – those who create reality television, etc. – want to lift up that kind of behavior, but I don’t believe that is most people.  Putting something on TV and in other forms of communication falsely magnifies the importance and significance of certain behaviors.  It is not the norm, I don’t think, and it is not the way most people live and behave.

Gentleness is a way of life that treats other people with kindness, consideration, decency, and respect.

Proverbs 15:1 tells us that a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  Just because someone else is harsh and abrasive, doesn’t mean it’s required for me to be harsh and abrasive.  Ephesians 4:2 says that we should be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Just because someone else is not gentle or patient with others, doesn’t mean I should forsake those important qualities.

One of the interesting stories from history has to do with Attila the Hun.  In the 5th century he was storming through toward Rome.  Nothing and no one had succeeded in stopping him.  If Rome fell, all of Western society would fall.  As he prepared to march on Rome, Pope Leo the Great ventured out to meet him.  There was one man, in front of the army that conquered all resistance as it marched across the world.  One man who came to stand in front of this great army, and the army turned back.
(A Short History of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich, page 49).

History does not give us all the details of that encounter, but one person comes out to this mighty army and they turn away.  It couldn’t have been might that convinced Attila to turn away.  I believe it is the power of gentleness, of a person who is willing to confront the great might of the world with a far greater power.

*William Barclay, editor of the Daily Study Bible Series was helpful in providing insight into the various ways of translating the word for gentleness.