“Visiting Israel changed my life but not in the way you think,” a retiring professor said at a ceremony honoring his years of service. “Because of terrorist threats, there were very few tourists in the area, so I found myself virtually alone on a bus in Jerusalem with a young Palestinian tour guide.”
“Obviously bitter, the guide decided to unload all of his people’s problems on me. At one point the bus turned down a small side street, he pointed and said, ‘that home once belonged to my family. We lived there for many years, until the Jews came. We were thrown out and put into a refugee camp. Promises of compensation never materialized. Our family received nothing.’”
“As the tour continued our guide pointed to other houses and business once occupied by Palestinians, now owned and operated by Jews. ‘They took our land, our homes, our businesses and even our self-respect. We have been stripped of everything and no one seems to care.’”
“For the first time,” the retiring professor said, “I began to realize that the Jews were not the only ones being oppressed. The Palestinian people have legitimate problems of their own that are crying for recognition. As a university professor, I was in a position of influence. Maybe God was calling me for such a time as this.”
“So, I have spent the last sixteen years writing letters and articles explaining the plight of the Palestinian people and urging the necessity of looking at both sides of this difficult situation.”
After a long pause, the professor continued, “I must confess that in this task, I have failed completely. I worked hard to deal with a difficult worldwide problem and accomplished nothing. I believe we are all called as Christians for a special task and in that task we will usually be unsuccessful, therefore, we will become depressed and depression is the darkness that often accompanies serving God.”
The retiring professor was depressed and by the time he finished speaking, we were depressed. But the amazing part is that he was right… sort of. We likely will not take part in resolving problems between the Jews and the Arabs or any other global events. When we die the world will probably be the same dangerous place it is right now. If you think about it, a little depression seems warranted.
Maybe it’s best to not think about it. We should simply do our work, raise our family, watch the news, take our vacations, enjoy a few pleasures and not take any of this other stuff too seriously. Who am I to think that I can actually impact society? After all, how much can one person or one organization do?
“The world is so big and I am so small. What can I possibly accomplish as a follower of God? Are we called by God for a mission… only to fail?”
Are you getting depressed yet? You are not alone. For generations, others have asked the same question. “What can I do?” 1 John is a beautiful letter in the Bible written for a church once filled to overflowing with the enthusiasm of serving Jesus Christ but now becoming discouraged and beginning to ask serious questions about their ultimate mission and even about the identity of God.
“The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life. This one who is life from God was shown to us and we have seen him.” (1 John 1:1-2)
This is so important! John, the letter writer, proclaims that God is alive and extraordinarily aware of what is happening in the world and with His church. How does he know? “We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands.” In other words, if God is alive and still in control then our lives have purpose and meaning. We really are called by God for a mission… if only we truly knew and understood what that mission was? There is an answer from 1 John but we must go to another page.
The professor concluded saying: “I worked hard to affect a meaningful ministry in the Middle East and accomplished nothing. I believe we are all called and within that call we will usually be unsuccessful, therefore we will become depressed and depression is the darkness that accompanies serving God.”
Are you getting depressed yet? If so, you are not alone. For generations, others have asked the same question: “Am I called by God for a mission… only to fail?” 1 John is a beautiful letter in the Bible written to offer encouragement to a church once filled with enthusiasm but now discouraged. “The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen.” (1 John 1:1) God is alive and extraordinarily aware of what is happening in the world and we are a crucial part of God’s plan.
John answers the question very simply: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God.” (4:7) That’s it? “Love one another?” It sounds like something from the old hippie generation in San Francisco: “Happiness is to love everybody!” (Give me a break, Larry!) It does sound kind of corny… doesn’t it? Maybe it all depends on how you define the word love.
Most of us tend to use “love” to define an intense feeling. “I love my spouse. I love to watch football. I love chocolate ice cream. I love my church.” Love based on feelings makes a good romance but any marriage with too much emphasis on feelings alone is a one-way ticket to divorce court because feelings tend to rise and fall. People who love a church based on feelings, change churches every two or three years because feelings alone don’t quite capture the meaning of… love, as defined by God.
Is God saying love one another like we are supposed to have feelings of love for everyone? I have a confession to make. There are a few, (only a few?) hopefully very few people that I don’t feel much love toward. Actually, I don’t like their attitude or their personality. In fact, I don’t love them at all. But as a preacher, shouldn’t I love everyone? I felt so guilty. What does God mean by “love one another?”
“God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love. It is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10) God’s love goes way beyond feelings and becomes a covenant, a divine commitment and an atoning sacrifice. In a word, it is also called grace.
U Love is… an act of faith that enables the world to see God through you.
U Love is… an attitude of grace towards those you would normally dislike.
U Love is… a commitment to stick together when feelings are no longer enough.
U Love is… a discipline requiring a consistent willingness to be obedient to God’s will.
U Love is… often a sacrifice, willfully putting someone else’s needs before your wants.
“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us and his love has been brought to full expression through us.” (4:11-12) As we learn to love God… God’s love is expressed through us toward others.
Larry, this is profound but being a loving person offers no help to the depressed professor who could not resolve the Middle East crisis. How can God call us to a mission only to experience failure?
But, did the professor really fail? In love, he offered an act of faith that enabled us to see the world with different eyes. He displayed grace toward a forgotten people. He made a commitment to stick by his promise. The professor consistently wrote letters and articles about the crisis. He often sacrificed his time and energy. I left his presence changed. For me and others, his mission was a total success.
What about you? Are you seeing yourself as a failure when God has other ideas? After all, God never called us to change the world. That is His job! We are simply to be obedient by offering others the same wonderful gift of love God has given us. A word of kindness or a deed of compassion may not solve the world’s problems but it could change a life and it’s the best way I know to serve God. We have no reason to be depressed or discouraged. “I write this… so that you may know…” (5:13)