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NOT A Suggestion....

Those that attended our camp prior to 2010 remember my mother—they all called her Nan. Sadly, this Mother’s Day, I regret Greg, Tommy and Tyler never knew her. She would have loved them—and certainly spoiled them each, as most grandmothers do.  My sons are poorer for not having known her,  until they meet her in glory—-and they will.

She made thousands upon thousands of her special chocolate chip cookies, helped in our kitchen, and headed up transportation for many summers. She played in the camper/staff tennis tournaments and even won one year!  Her mirth, laughter, faith, support of our ministry, dedication to her children and love of God were inspiring. I don’t know of anyone that knew her that did not love her.  She was ever cheerful and rarely uncharitable.

For the last ten years of her life my mom battled Alzheimer’s  and was not been able to return to the camp or enjoy a conversation with her children, grandchildren, my sons or any of her friends. But Heaven is a happier place today and Nan is once again able to be with those she loved; she passed away three years ago, surrounded by three of her daughters as they sang, prayed, loved and wept for her.

What a pity my boys did not have a mother like mine—one that taught me how to play tennis, hold my tongue, act like a gentleman and even control my temper.  She showed me how to behave in friend’s home, how to make myself do what I did not want to do, but needed to do, and how to worship.  I am not saying that I have always followed her directives, but she did teach me and show me how to live.  Sometimes I got it right.

To this day I can still recall how it grieved me to disappoint her!  She expected great things from all of us and demanded that we lived up to our God-given abilities and the privileges to which we were born.  To my knowledge she never asked for help but always was ready to give it. She was not one to gossip, but could quickly put the lid on it if her kids attempted to throw mud at others.  Never one to try to impress others and quite confident in who she was, she chose as her closest friends ladies  in our church and neighbors who shared her understanding of humility.

To a large extent, I entered the Christian ministry because of her ministry to me.  Within a few years of graduating from college, in fact, all three of her sons became ministers of the Gospel. Her legacy lives on.  God blessed my siblings and me with a wonderful mother.  So happy mother’s Day you Nan—-I look forward to a grand reunion and lots of your cookies soon….

And today’s message is connected to Mother’s Day, I think you will agree.  It’s about the one and only command that Jesus gave: My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you…. This is my command: Love each other.”  John 15:12 and 17, NIV

If you were at the adult Bible study this past Wednesday, you will recall that we talked about this verse.  But it’s so compelling and applicable for our generation, that I felt led to talk about this again today. There’s nothing, in my opinion, that’s holding back evangelism, or the renewal of our churches so much as a neglect of this command.  Whenever Jesus mentions something two times it means, pay attention!

You might be against illegal drugs, or promiscuous sex, or our liberal college campuses, or the politicians that seem to have no moral compass, or the insanity of authoritarian regimes around the world.  But what are you for?  Is the ideal society one in which all other people treat others just like YOU treat people? Do you yearn for a community where everyone is as kind, compassionate and understanding as you are.  Do you want your children, or the youth that attend this church to take on your morals, your opinions, your values, your habits—-and I mean by that, the good habits as well as the ones you keep hidden?

So take this little test:  If I asked you to nam a “mean” person that you know, does anyone come to mind? I have to ask myself: Would anyone ever conjure up my name…. or would your name as the first person someone thought of they when asked to name a mean, or unkind, person?   And then, at the end of the day, I need to ask myself: “When was the last time I did something really mean?”  Meanness…I’ve seen it a lot this year.  It was on full display in a Manhattan Court house this past week.  It seems reign unchallenged in our Congress and Senate.  Have you ever listened to the rantings of Keith Obermann or Cornel West when asked their opinion about anything. They’re just mean.  Okay, it’s easy to throw stones at the people that make millions of dollars being mean, on TV.   But about you and me?

Fortunately, our role models are not Mr. Obermann or Mr. West, our model is God Himself.   And, God does discipline us  and He makes the threat of eternal punishment painfully clear in the Bible  But God is not mean.  God shows anger and is recorded as having some “regrets” about creating mankind; more than once He said that He was fed up with men’s disobedience. (See Genesis 6:6-7, NIV). But neither of these instances would be described as “mean.” Meanness is a human trait—not a godly one. You might think that Hell is a pretty mean thing, but it is not something God created for His entertainment, but rather the ultimate “warning”—it is His way of discouraging the self-destructive of mankind.

The flesh and blood representative of God was His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus got angry…disappointed…frustrated at times.  But no one that knows Jesus, or has read anything He did or said, could ever call Him mean!  The word “mean” should never be used to describe anyone of us in this room.

But I confess: I am mean, at times, and there’s no excuse for it.  Are you? People who have been born from above and are in fellowship with Jesus become, should quite naturally, be like Jesus—that is,  not mean,  but kind and gentle. As we take on His nature, we should become less mean, less eager to see others suffer, less anxious for others to get what they deserve—and certainly removed from hopes of getting even or revenge.  And if my occasional mean outbursts don’t cause me personal embarrassment and remorse, something is wrong with my walk with Jesus—and something is wrong with your’s also if you are mean and don’t feel bad about it and repent. People who reject God’s hand of discipline, when they are spiteful or mean-spirited,  will eventually lose touch with God, and the result is that their hearts, without His Holy Spirit to keep them tender, will become hardened. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the pharaohs, dictators, the Roman Emperors all became men that delighted in meanness and denying their captives and enemies any mercy or kindness. They devised weapons and machines with the single purpose of carrying out their meanness. Their hearts were hardened.  Their ears were deaf to God.

Do you expect to see kindness this November as we endure this polarizing election?  I don’t know who will win, but I can say this, if Mr. Trump wins and immediately pardons Hunter Biden, for all of his foolish crimes, we might be on the cusp on a national revival.  Can you imagine the confusion with progressives and the ultra-liberals and those that hate Mr.  Trump if he acted in kindness and compassion towards his political enemies—-if he  forgave and publicly offered a national prayer where he specifically asked God to abundantly bless the men and women in power that truly hate him.  Oh, but what moral courage that would take—only a extraordinary wise man, or intimate follower of Christ could do this. I pray that Mr. Trump, or Mr. Biden, might become both wise and intimate with Jesus Christ before the debates and the election.

Listen to what Paul said: “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, NIV) What a world we would have if Christians alone really did this!  What would happen in our church and my camp if we did that? If we treated every new camper and staff, or every visitor in our church, as if they were more important than we are…..and  how different would we find ourselves? To our shame, we do not do this enough. We display malice. And in my life as a pastor and camp director, I can tell you that two things things  cause people  to be mean: Jealousy and insecurity.

So what’s the cure if you’re envious of others or you feel like you have to look after yourself because the world is against you? How do you combat hate if you’re already a Christian?  Well, these are things that I do that cures me and insulates me from exploding  when I feel anger, isolation, resentment an urge for revenge and hate rising within me:

  1. I bask in the love of the Father and the certainty of His continued approval.   The prayer of Saint Francis is perhaps one of the most perfect prayers ever uttered if you are truly in love with God and certain of His approval.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;Where there is hatred, let me sow love;Where there is injury, pardon;Where there is error, truth;Where there is doubt, faith;Where there is despair, hope;Where there is darkness, light;And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seekTo be consoled as to console;To be understood as to understand;To be loved as to love.For it is in giving that we receive;It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

2.  I trust that by obeying the single command that Jesus made,  I am covered and He will shield me and protect me from those things that might push me off the edge!  By loving others—-particularly those that upset me, He raises me to a new and better way of living.  Oswald Chambers  put it this way: The first thing God does, (as I put my total trust in Him) is forcibly remove any insincerity, pride, and vanity from my life. And the Holy Spirit reveals to me that God loved me not because I was lovable, but because it was His nature to do so. Now He commands me to show the same love to others by saying, “…love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). He is saying, “I will bring a number of people around you whom you cannot respect, but you must exhibit My love to them, just as I have exhibited it to you.” This kind of love is not a patronizing love for the unlovable— it is His love, and it will not be evidenced in us overnight. Some of us may have tried to force it, but we were soon tired and frustrated.

“The Lord…is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish…” (2 Peter 3:9). I should look within and remember how wonderfully He has dealt with me. The knowledge that God has loved me beyond all limits will compel me to go into the world to love others in the same way. I may get irritated because I have to live with an unusually difficult person. But just think how disagreeable I have been with God! Am I prepared to be identified so closely with the Lord Jesus that His life and His sweetness will be continually poured out through Me? Neither natural love nor God’s divine love will remain and grow in me unless it is nurtured. Love is spontaneous, but it has to be maintained through discipline.” (Oswald Chambers)

My friends,  there’s no place for bigotry, prejudice or meanness in the love of Jesus and the family of God. It will not be in heaven—it should not be in this church or at our camp. It is impossible to look down on others when we are at the foot of the cross.

O love eternal, my soul needs and chooses you eternally! Ah, come Holy Spirit, and inflame our hearts with your love! To love -- or to die! To die -- and to love! To die to all other love in order to live in Jesus' love, so that we may not die eternally. But that we may live in your eternal love, O Savior of our souls, we eternally sing, "Live, Jesus! Jesus, I love! Live, Jesus, whom I love! Jesus, I love, Jesus who lives and reigns forever and ever." Amen.

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