Posted in coaching

reality bites: who’s John’s lady?

Frank Abagnale is probably the most famous identity thief because of Leonardo DiCaprio’s depiction of him in the movie Catch Me If You Can. In the 1960s, Abagnale eluded the FBI by posing as an airline pilot, doctor, assistant attorney general, and history professor while accumulating over $4 million with bad checks. Well, there is another case of stolen identity in the little letter we call 2 John.

Who did John write to? To the lady chosen by God and to her children whom I love in the truth (2 John 1:1). The lady? Was she a real lady? Or was lady a secret code word for church? Nowhere in the New Testament or in later Church writings do we find someone calling a church a lady (Greek kyria). In fact, no one has ever called congregations ladies” to the present day.

In a first century it was common to address a woman as kyria—much like our formal Dear Madam greeting. Why did John write to her? This lady was chosen by God. To do what? At the time of John’s writing, congregations met in homes. Over time, some cities eventually formed a network of house churches that were overseen by elders. So, John wrote to the lady chosen by God to lead the church gathering in her home.

John refers to the people attending this church as her children (2 John 1:1, 4)—like he calls those he discipled as children nine times (1 John 2:1, 12, 13, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). Where did John get this idea? From Jesus! Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me  so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ (John 13:33). He says it again when he asked his disciples, Children, do you have any fish? (John 21:5). 

The lady was a good pastor. I rejoiced greatly, says John, to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father (2 John 1:4). The lady wasn’t a cheerleader or therapist; she was a herald on behalf of the King. Preaching and teaching God’s word not only calls us to faith in Christ; it is also the means by which the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts. In other words, preaching is not mere instruction; it is through the proclamation of Scripture that God is present among us in Christ through the work of his Spirit.

John had one request: And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another (2 John 1:5). Was the lady’s church not loving each other well? John’s definition of love gives us a huge clue. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands (2 John 1:6a).

Who defines love that way? Jesus. If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15). John is merely restating Jesus’s definition. Notice: By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2-3).

If this definition of love isn’t shocking enough, John pushes it further. Anyone who gets so progressive in his thinking that he  doesn’t hold to this teaching, don’t invite him in and give him the run of the place. That would just give him a platform to perpetuate his evil ways, making you his partner (2 John 1:9-11, MSG). The lady pastor must protect her children like a mama bear with cubs. The pulpit is not a theatrical stage or a platform for personalities or a throne to dispense orders. John reminds pastors that it’s their job to guard the pulpit against those who want to make it more about themselves than the teaching of Christ (2 John 1:9-10).

I love how 2 John ends. Post-talking is fine (I made that word up), but face-to-face conversations make our joy complete (2 John 1:12). Then to top it off, John adds, The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings (2 John 1:13).

What? There’s another lady pastor? Hooray!

Posted in coaching

reality bites: obadiah

Friend or ally. Enemy or foe. What’s the difference? Obadiah shows us.

Judah (Jacob’s descendants) had been feuding for generations with their cousins, the Edomites (Esau’s descendants). Bitter unforgiveness carried over from one generation to the next—until the great, great, great grandchildren had no idea why they hated relatives they had never even met. The cousins were enemies—that is, once an enemy always an enemy. Nothing will ever change that.

PRIDE IN LOCATION. The Edomites lived on elevated mountains, 5000 feet above sea level, which essentially made them inaccessible to invading forces. And yet, “the pride of your heart has deceived you,” God says to Edom, “you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down” (3-4). The Edomites were like eagles; they literally looked down on the lower plains of Judah.

PRIDE IN THEIR ALLIES. Allies may appear as friends, but they’re not. Allies are merely the enemy of your enemy. Merriam-Webster defines “ally” as a verb: “to unite or form a connection or relation.” However, in recent years “ally” has become a noun. So, it is not enough for allies to form a relationship; allies must now actively affirm and advocate. That’s all well and good—until you find out that your connection is faulty. God warned Edom: “All your allies have driven you to your border; those at peace with you have deceived you; they … have set a trap beneath you—you have no understanding” (7). Today’s ally can easily turn into tomorrow’s foe because the connection itself is based on self-interests. So, foes are former allies—which makes allies and foes two sides of the same coin. 

SCHADENFREUDE (schaden “harm” and freude “joy”). Notice when Babylon descends on Judah, the Edomites “stood aloof, on the day that strangers … entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem” (11). They didn’t just say, “It’s none of my business. I’m not getting involved. It’s their problem.” No, they smirked. Harm-joy is the blissful feeling of satisfaction when learning of the troubles or humiliation of another. (No one admits to doing this, of course, but when I do it, I always end up feeling like the coyote in the road runner show). Experts tell us that schadenfreude has been detected in children as early as 24 months and may be an important social emotion establishing “inequity aversion.” (I’ll leave that there for you to sort out).

Does the Lord notice when we secretly delight in another’s misfortune? “Do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress” because the coyote always ends up in his own cockamamie contraption (12-16).

FRIENDS ARE DIFFERENT. They don’t gloat when things bite you in the butt. They lay down their lives for you (John 15:12-15). What a friend we have in Jesus! He’s not our ally. He has our best interest at heart. And there’s nothing we can do to change that.