Archive for the 'Love' Category

Dare to Be Different

While traveling in Jerusalem, our tour guide thanked us for showing our love for the Israeli people by visiting Israel and desiring to see the holy sites. He then told a story that touched the center of my heart about observing a group of Christians from Africa parading through Jerusalem with signs that read, “We love you Israel.” During that parade, our guide said that he overheard a young boy saying to his father, “I thought the Christians hated us.” Our guide said that he felt a deep sadness to hear this question, for he, too, was a Christian – a Messianic Jew – with a deep knowledge of Israel’s history and culture. And yet, he became instantly encouraged when he heard the father’s response to his boy, which was, “Son, not all Christians are alike.”

This father was teaching his son to be discerning rather than to lump great groups of people into uniform stereotypes based on often misleading or incomplete knowledge. And the whole narrative runs somewhat counter to the narrative we have seen in the past and that we sometimes still see in America today. In America, until very recently, if you would have told people you were going to see Israel or that you actually “love” Israel, you might have had a great number of secular persons trying to debate with you over Jewish “settlements.” “What’s the deal with Israel?” one person asked me several years ago. “Why does our country support them so much no matter what they do?” More recently, if you say you “love” Israel, they lump you into the category of so-called “political Christians,” who are often people with a shallow knowledge of their own worldview, but with a firm conviction that self-described “evangelical” Christians are politically required to show their love and concern for Israel. Our notions of what it means to love or support Israel – and why we might do it – seem to sway dramatically in even recent winds.

In Israel, however, the concept of time and history is much deeper. The Jewish peoples’ idea of what people think of them comes from thousands of years of often supernatural survival, glossed with an indescribable hatred that can only be understood through the lens of the Bible. Unfortunately, many in the Jewish community believe that Christians do, in fact, hate them, a notion that is not altogether assuaged when one looks at history. Whether it stems from the completely misinterpreted notion that Jews killed Jesus, the evil ramblings of insane tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, or more subtle understandings of White Nationalist tenets that are moored to a deeper, if unstated, hatred of Jews, the idea that Christians are not necessarily in lock step with Jews is always just below the surface.

Accordingly, in this blog I am asking for all of us to develop a deeper understanding of Israel and the Jewish people. In some ways, I’m merely asking for a stronger understanding of the Biblical worldview, which would automatically call us to love all humans, including Jews and those who hate Jews alike. But we must never forget the Biblical history, which clearly shows a nation chosen by God to achieve His ends for all of civilization.

It’s a call to an understanding that can ignore whimsical changes in attitudes based on political power. It’s a call to love everyone, but with full knowledge of the special nature of the Jewish community and Israel now and in the future. But mostly it’s a call to love God and to trust Him when he makes promises to whom he chooses. Are we so vain that we think we can either slow or hasten God’s plan?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, history is replete with misunderstanding and even hatred of the Jews, but that hatred is often the symptom of a larger community disease. So, as in all things, I rely on the teachings of the most famous and influential Jew ever to walk the earth, Jesus Christ. He said, “A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

How can we do that? We must continually assess our thoughts and words to keep our hearts, minds, and spirits clean of the kind of hatred too often seen in the world. We must love others, but we must also be certain that the love we share is grounded in the Truth of the Bible and in the Father’s love rather than in some fleeting political notion or worldly desire. We must study the Word, which provides the Truth not only of a people, a nation, and a messiah, but also the Truth of a universal plan designed to save each of us despite our natures.

Most people don’t take the time to develop a worldview that explains the nuances of belief in Jesus. Dare to be different. Dare to dive deep into the faith and develop that worldview. Dig into the Old Testament. Learn about Israel, the Jewish people, and the supernatural story of their existence. Above all else, though, show your allegiance to the teachings of Jesus through your love. Do your part – however small it may seem at the time – to make the statement, “I thought the Christians hated us,” so absurd that no one will utter it ever again.

Are You Awake? Are Your Eyes Open?

We just returned from a blessed dream vacation in Israel for two weeks. I call it a “vacation” even though it was more like an intense college semester abroad. We learned so much, and we connected with the Holy Land in a way that I’m not sure I can even describe (even though I’ll try in future blogs).

Even before I went, though, I’d been praying for revelation on the things happening in our world and here in the USA, and requesting confirmation that my eyes are open and that I’m not blinded by the worldly propaganda I seem to be seeing. Fortunately, I’ve been getting that confirmation, but it only makes my heart ache from seeing the hate and division being sown by so many people, including those professing to be “Christians.” This blog is about “hate,” and the spiritual darkness it causes.

We know that hate has been a big factor in human history since the Fall. And a lot of that hate has been advanced in the name of God. History is replete with wars, disputes, invasions, conquests, etc., by seemingly well-meaning persons hoping to satisfy their own notions of what God wants for the world. Some of these things “done in the name of religion” are what caused me, ultimately, to refrain from using the word Christian at all. Too much worldly baggage. I use “follower of Jesus” instead.

Through biblical history we see people’s insecurities and imperfections flare up when they’re challenged for their beliefs, and I see a lot of that as a root of the hatefulness in our world today. Importantly, I also see how the enemy is blinding people – using what psychologists call “confirmation bias,” which is a powerful motivator for fueling nascent belief. In short, people seek to confirm the beliefs they already have to avoid cognitive dissonance, which causes even physical discomfort. Confirmation of the Truth can be a very good thing, but knowing the Truth of God often means having a fully developed theological worldview, and I’m not sure a lot of followers of Jesus have that to begin with. People will try to confirm what they believe, but if their belief of the Truths of the Bible is only superficial, they will, instead, confirm notions that occasionally (or even often) go against a biblical worldview. This includes hateful notions, and this makes the whole thing very dangerous. In the world, confirmation of hateful notions has led to all sorts of desensitization and horrible atrocities.

In writing to a group of believers, John reminded them of the slippery path toward spiritual blindness caused by hate when he said, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister] is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.” (1 John 2:9-11). Notice the temporal progression: hate causes darkness, and then the darkness causes people to stumble.

And remember, too, that as with all sinful behavior, Jesus set the bar so that we would not be able to justify small or “insignificant” amounts of hatred; even what we might consider miniscule amounts of hate – going even to our thoughts – is sinful to a perfectly loving and righteous God. Indeed, as in other places in Scripture, Jesus corrected our notions of sin by articulating this new bar. For example, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) Love your enemies? Be perfect? Yes, indeed. That’s the bar Jesus set to keep us out of the darkness.

So, in my opinion, just a little bit of hate from a follower of Jesus – such as a random post on Facebook, screaming at another driver, or even wicked thoughts – has the potential to create spiritual darkness, which then causes him or her to stumble further on a myriad of theological tenets. Is it any wonder that a follower might quote the Old Testament out of context when he or she has been blinded by his or her own hateful thoughts? Indeed, is it any wonder that followers might do or say anything unbiblical when even seemingly small instances of hate have blinded those persons to the Truth and Light? If they’re stumbling in the dark, they’re stumbling in the dark. Don’t expect them to do a crossword puzzle. Expect them to break their toe.

We need to be sure that we aren’t in the darkness. To do that, we must pray for revelation of the Light and for recognition of even the smallest of behaviors that can lead to spiritual darkness. Keep your focus on the Lord and his Word. Measure everything against what Jesus taught. Keep your spirit clean. Stay awake. Open your eyes.

Making God a Viable Option

I like science and scientists. As a Christian, I welcome the scientific inquiry because ultimately I think science will prove the existence of God for some people who don’t think we have enough proof already.

But there are a couple things that stand in the way of that. The first is that scientists don’t always consider God to be a plausible scientific hypothesis or theory. Science works by people proposing a hypothesis or theory and then by scientists conducting experiments designed to support or reject the theory. This is good, but if the evidence starts to stack up against a given theory, scientists ultimately have to switch to a new theory. The problem is that if the ultimate question revolves around how our universe was created, there are only a few theories out there. One theory is that God created the universe, but scientists frequently don’t accept that as a valid theory to begin with. That’s why you can have so much evidence staking up against the theory of evolution without anyone saying, “Hey, we need to focus on a better theory.” So far, they don’t have a better theory in the natural world, and God is in the supernatural. So even if we have a ton of naturalistic data pointing to the existence of God (which we do), it’s like that data doesn’t exist.

The second thing that stands in the way of science proving God are certain scientists who really hate God or religion so much that they’ll do about anything not only to keep themselves from considering it, but to keep others from doing so, too.

That’s the case with a guy I heard on Science Friday on PBS recently. He wrote a book about physics, but he simply couldn’t stop from making disparaging remarks about religion and God. Even the title of his book, “The Greatest Story Ever Told So Far” is a dig at those of us who believe in Jesus Christ. He called that “other story” static – which means he has never read the Bible – and a few other things that made me think that even though he’s a scientist, there are simply certain things that he refuses to consider.  I’m just not sure what drives a person to hate God so much that he’ll publicly dis Him, and it’s sad.

But then I realized the author’s main issue, which appeared to be in the way in which he perceived “religious” people and religion in general, especially in this new American world of a so-called Christian President who lies and hates all the time (he spent a bit of time talking political). And, you know, he’s got a point. We have done a horrible job at explaining what true Christianity is, and we’ve allowed people to claim they’re Christians even as they act extremely un-Christian. Overall, we’ve allowed so-called “religion” to muck up everything Jesus taught. We’ve also allowed so-called “political Christians” to twist Jesus’s words to achieve certain political goals. And we’ve done a lot of hateful things, all while attending church and Sunday school with the kids. This author is Jewish, too, and so I suppose we’ve also done a pretty poor job at explaining God’s purpose and plan for his chosen people.

So we’ve got to start explaining God in ways that keep scientists and others from recoiling in disgust.  I’m convinced that if we did, scientists like the one on the show would begin to lighten up on trying to get everyone to stop believing, and maybe even consider God a viable theory worthy of scientific inquiry. But to do that, we may need to clean house a bit and toss out some of the “religion” and the Christian pretenders.

This country is being torn apart. Two sides exist that hate each other, and can’t see past their own biases to find solutions. Accordingly, some group has to emerge in the middle to bring them back together; a group that can show that both left and right are both right and wrong for different reasons. A group that can explain why it believes what it believes, and show people how to act in a way that is not hypocritical. That group should be Christians, but we have too many people just giving lip service to following Jesus for anyone to take us seriously.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” If we can convince people we follow the God of love, not hate – love even for those we disagree with – and the God of truth and light, and not falsehoods and darkness, I think people will be much more open to Him. So let’s start where we are. Start looking at everyone – including people who hate God and want you to hate Him too – as if they were you. You know, empathy. The Golden Rule. We believe in the God of love. Now it’s just time we started to act like it.

Yeah, I know, science throws a fit when I say it might “prove” God. Nothing is ever truly provable, science says. But we can at least get to the point where we portray the true God of the Bible through our thoughts, words, and actions. If we do that, we can at least make God a viable option.

Getting God’s Attention

My pastor’s definition of love – the best I’ve ever heard – is doing things for other people at your own expense. It’s a definition that gets at the heart of what Jesus did, and it takes care of that little problem noted by Jesus when he was talking about loving you enemies. He said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners’ love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32) If you find that love is always easy, it’s probably not the kind of love that Jesus was talking about.

Indeed, the kind of love preached by Jesus involves a bit of sacrifice toward people that you – or anyone else – wouldn’t normally sacrifice for. And this kind of love, I think, is epitomized by the guy I recently saw in an HBO documentary called “Ebola – the Doctor’s Story.” It mostly follows Javid Abdelmoneim, a British emergency response doctor working for Doctors Without Borders in an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone.

This guy routinely suited up and interacted with people dying of a disease that has a 50-70% fatality rate for those who contract it. Virtually nobody else wanted to take care of them. So Dr. Javid and a few other extremely rare individuals did. The whole time I watched I was thinking that even if this guy wasn’t a purposeful follower of Christ, he was still following Christ.

Loving the unloved is hard, but I think it really gets God’s attention.

Love and Basketball

This story has been making the rounds on television – I saw it first on the CBS news, so here’s the link:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-high-school-basketball-team-incredible-sportsmanship/

It tells about how a couple of high school boys in Waco, Texas, thought it was sad that the Gainseville, Texas, juvenile correctional facility’s basketball team never had any fans when they came to play. So this time, when the Gainesville Tornadoes came to play in Waco, these two students made sure that the Tornadoes had fans, posters, and even cheerleaders to make them feel like a real team.

Of course, they were already a real team, but it just took a bit of love to help them to fully realize it. A classic definition of the kind of love God expects from us is this: meeting other people’s needs at the expense of our own. I’m sure it wasn’t necessarily easy for the two Waco kids to put this whole thing together, and I’m sure that they could easily have just brushed the whole thing off. But in the end, because of the love showed by the people in Waco, at least a couple of the Gainesville players said they would never forget that day for the rest of their lives. Who knows, maybe it even turned them around.

I work in criminal justice, and I understand the need for empathy to solve the kinds of criminal issues we see today. What I don’t say enough is that I absolutely think that God is really the only way to solve any criminal justice issue. We can talk about cost-benefit analyses, constitutional mandates, and even social science research, but it’s only love for our fellow human beings that will change our future for the better.

Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” but this merely reminds us that the word “least” is really a label that we use in the world. God doesn’t love them any less, but they do offer us an opportunity to show love, mercy, and justice in concrete ways.

As Saints, what we do in the world matters, but the two boys in Waco have shown that you don’t have to dump a bunch of money at a problem or come up with some amazing super-solution to make a difference. All it takes is a bit of love and creativity, and God smiles.


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