I don’t think I like text messaging very much. Like most of my generation I use it all the time and I’m very comfortable with it, but I just don’t think I like it all that much. I’ve been surprised how much text messaging, messaging on Facebook and the like has become such a big part of what I do as a pastor. Over the years it seems to be one of the best ways of communicating with so many. But I still don’t like it that much because you have to be so extremely careful how you phrase what you write or you run the very real risk of being misunderstood.
You simply cannot express emotions adequately, even with a liberal use of emoticons it still doesn’t work well. You can’t even use sarcasm or subtle humor well. Even the most straight forward of messages can leave a person hanging wondering what the other person really meant. The problem of course is that there is no context for the words, you can’t see the person’s facial features and you can’t hear the intonation in their voice. You’re just stuck with words on a screen and a couple of smiley faces.
What you have to rely on, more than anything else, is what you know about the person you are texting with. Knowing what they are like, how they talk, how they use humor and what your relationship is like with them. Knowing what that person is like makes all the difference in how you interpret the messages you receive.
We run into the same problem when we think about our relationship with God. What messages do we think God is sending us and how doe we picture God? When we struggle with our own temptations and when we succumb to those temptations how do we see God in our mind’s eye, he is glaring down at us with a finger accusing us? When we’ve been unkind or unfaithful, when our temper gets the best of us, is He far up and high in the heavens condemning us? When we suffer from illness or bad life situations do we think that God is punishing us and turning the screws on us because of something we’ve done in the past?
Now listen to the words that the author of Hebrews uses to describe what message Jesus wants us to receive: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Does this sound like a message from God far above us pointing down with an accusing finger, glaring at our sin and turning the screws? No, instead the message He wants us to receive is from a kind and wonderful friend, kneeling down in the muck and mire of existence with us, embracing and encouraging us.
Knowing what God is like makes a huge difference in the way we relate to God. If we think of God in terms of being an angry God, bent on punishing us and looking down upon us in our trouble and sin, in your gut how will you react? Avoidance. Fear. Anxiety. Not wanting to come to worship or spend time in prayer.
But if you know your God as a compassionate and caring friend, an ever present help in time of trouble, one who will come alongside you and build you up. In your gut how will you react? Warmth. Love. Gratefulness. Run to Him. Look forward to being with Him. Wanting to be in His presence in worship and prayer as often as you can.
Let me give you an example. A few weeks ago, I was feeling particularly down upon myself because I couldn’t get rid of these hard feelings I was struggling with against someone that had hurt me. I was feeling pretty and angry. After saying another hurtful word about this person in conversation with a good friend, I said, “I’m sorry, I’m really struggling with this.” She said to me that not only does God understand but He has more grace for me than I even know about. Being reminded about my God in Jesus who is a kind and compassionate friend changed my whole attitude. Instead of only seeing the judgment upon my sin and my own inability to make it any better I saw my kind, wise heavenly friend who lifts me up, strengthens me and moves forward with His grace; what a difference that can make!
It’s like having a bridge to God, no longer is He distant and far off, angry at my sin, but he is close and approachable and I have an encouraging friend to guide me to Him. This is how the author of Hebrews describes what Jesus does as our High Priest. From the ancient Biblical description this is what a priest was called to do. To serve as a bridge between God and humanity, bringing God’s grace and mercy to the people and helping the people respond in repentance and praise for all that God has done. But also to be an encouraging comforter and compassionate friend that embodies the grace God has given and help to make that bridge a reality for the people.
This is the role our High Priest Jesus Christ accomplishes perfectly for us. Upon the cross he stretches out His arms between humanity and God and through His death creates a bridge of mercy that spans the gap between us. Because He is risen and lives and reigns He is a present comforter and help in all of our times of trouble, our friend who knows our weakness because He has suffered that same weakness and comforts and encourages us.
But that is not where our part in this story ends. Remember these words from I Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
In faith you are in Christ Jesus and are his body in this world, his holy priests to bring people to the bridge of faith that is the cross. This is one of the roles of the Christian Disciple that we are God’s priests and I’m afraid that this role maybe scares us or we don’t take it as seriously as we should. Maybe it’s because we think of the pastors as the people who hold that role as priest and it’s their job to bring people to the bridge of faith and encourage them upon it. That is true, but it’s not our role alone. Think of the pastor more as a priest who serves the priests and does this work on their behalf. Like when a player starts coaching, it doesn’t stop the other players from the playing the game does it?
A priest brings people to the bridge of faith sharing with them the love and grace of God, helping them see God in faith not as an angry God who is far off and distant but instead the God of grace who sent His son to build a bridge for us. Our job is to help people interpret the text messages of life in the light of faith and what Jesus has done.
Here is the second and I think so important role, to be a kind, comforting, encouraging friend who by practicing and living out the love of Christ helps to make that bridge a reality. We live in such a hard world and people are hurting so badly that it becomes so hard for them to see God in his grace instead of seeing him in His judgment. But this is so important, because we know God in His love we can show in very real ways to the hurting people of our world what that love actually looks like. Forgiving. Loving. Embracing. Holding fast. Helping them in our imperfect way to see the bridge of grace and know its truth for them. This so neglected role cannot be emphasized enough for your growth as maturing disciples of Christ.
Like my friend who encouraged me when I was feeling down upon myself, she came alongside me with words of encouragement and brought me to the bridge of faith where God’s mercy is found.
Embrace your role and calling as a priest of the Most High God, do this in faith and trust your own High Priest Jesus to guide your way as you strive to guide others to the bridge of faith by showing the love of God.