Posts tagged ‘Love’

What Does God Ask of Us?

In Matthew 21, the religious leaders are becoming increasingly incredulous toward Jesus. He has just ridden into Jerusalem triumphantly, receiving the praise of adoring throngs. He has also wrecked the temple’s shadow economy by driving out those who were buying and selling there. And He has outwitted and outsmarted the religious leaders after they tried to question Jesus’ authority. Now, Jesus moves on to tell these same religious leaders a story:

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. (Matthew 21:28-31)

Jesus tells a story about a father who has two sons. The first son initially verbally spars with his father, but ultimately does what his father asks. The second son pays lip service to honoring his father, but refuses to do what his father asks.

This story is meant to be about the religious leaders, for, although they pay lip service to God, they do not do what God asks. The question that is still hanging in the air at the end of Jesus’ story, however, is this: what does God ask? Jesus’ answer, as He explains His story to the religious leaders, is fascinating:

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. (Matthew 21:31-32)

This, Jesus says, is what God asks: to believe. Jesus puts it this way in John’s Gospel: “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent” (John 6:29). And yet, this is what the religious leaders refuse to do – to believe in the One God has sent. The religious leaders are so busy following religious rules that their righteous looking actions become the sum total of what they think God wants from them. But God does not need their righteous actions, for He already has all righteousness. So, He simply asks for faith – to stop believing in ourselves and to start believing in His Son. But this is what the religious leaders refuse to give. Faith is the one thing the religious leaders do not do.

The tax collectors and prostitutes to which Jesus refers know they can’t trust themselves, for they have already destroyed themselves. So, instead, they put their faith in One they hope can rescue them from themselves. Thus, they, and not the religious leaders, are the ones who, though they may spar with God, ultimately do what God asks them to do.

Where is your faith? Do you do what God asks of you? It turns out that what God asks you to do is not something you do at all. It’s Someone you trust.

In Christian circles, we will often talk about pointing people like tax collectors and prostitutes – the so-called “broken” and “bad” people of society – to Jesus, because they need Him. This is most certainly true and this is, in fact, something we should do. But let us not forgot that, in Matthew 21, it’s the tax collectors and prostitutes who are pointing religious people like us to Jesus, because, as it turns out, anyone can point someone to Jesus because anyone can have faith in Jesus.

My prayer is that you do.

January 20, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Hatred, Kindness, Truth, and Love

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Credit: hurk from Pixabay 

This past Wednesday, Jews across the world celebrated Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. But things turned deadly for a group who gathered to celebrate at a synagogue in Halle, Germany, when a gunman tried to force his way into the house of worship. He was not able to breech the doors, but still managed to kill two people nearby. The gunman has since confessed that he was driven by anti-Semitic beliefs.

This shooting, of course, is deeply saddening – not only because of the devastation the community of Halle has endured, but because it really isn’t that shocking that this shooting occurred. Shootings like these have become all too frequent as hatred like this shooter’s has become all too common.

But hatred does not need to carry the day.

In another story that made the rounds this week, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was criticized when she was spotted sitting next to former President George W. Bush at an NFL game last weekend. Some accused Ellen of betraying her politically and morally progressive bona fides by being friendly with a conservative former politician. For her part, Ellen vigorously defended her friendship with Mr. Bush, explaining on her show:

I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have … Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, “Be kind to one another,” I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean, “Be kind to everyone, it doesn’t matter.”

I believe Ellen is generally correct here. But I also know that Jesus’ call goes much further than Ellen’s comments. He not only calls us to be kind to others regardless of whether we are like or unlike them, but to actually “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Ellen confronted her detractors with a commendation of kindness. Jesus challenges the world with His command to love.

Love, of course, does not mean that we cannot vigorously debate and disagree. Indeed, we should. The truth is worth our debates and disagreements. But defending the truth and loving others are not mutually exclusive propositions.

This takes us back to the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement reminded Israel of a dark truth: they were sinners who deserved death. Animals were sacrificed on this day as a picture of what human sin deserves. But the Day of Atonement also revealed to Israel God’s great love for them. For He gave to them what they did not deserve and could not earn – forgiveness and life. Truth and love met on the Day of Atonement.

As a Christian, I, too, have a Day of Atonement. But it did not happen on Wednesday of this last week, or on a special day that rolls around once a year. Rather, it happened on a Friday 2,000 years ago and serves as the once-for-all atonement that I need for every one of my sins and that the world needs for every one of its sins. The apostle Paul describes this Day of Atonement thusly: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood – to be received by faith” (Romans 3:28). The cross was my Day of Atonement. And Jesus is my sacrifice of atonement.

What truth does Jesus’ atonement teach me? That I am a sinner in need of forgiveness. As Paul writes, just verses earlier: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Why did Jesus become a sacrifice of atonement for me? Because He loves me: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). In Jesus’ work on the cross, truth and love meet.

It strikes me that the synagogue shooter could have used both some truth and love. The truth is that his anti-Semitism is deeply sinful. He needs to know that. But he also needs love – a love that would lead him to put down a gun and instead pick up a cross and follow the One who loves everyone.

October 14, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Pursuit of Something Greater Than Happiness

I’ve heard it more than once from someone who feels weighted down by life’s doldrums: “I just want to be happy.”  Happiness, it seems, is many people’s decisive goal and good.  And who can blame them?  Our nation has as its sacrosanct trinity life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We hold it as self-evident that we should be able to do whatever makes us happy.

But this begs the question:  What does make us happy?

If you believe behavioral scientist Paul Dolan, being a single woman without children is a highway to happiness that too few have travelled.  In an article for The Guardian, Sian Cain reports:

We may have suspected it already, but now the science backs it up: unmarried and childless women are the happiest subgroup in the population.  And they are more likely to live longer than their married and child-rearing peers, according to a leading expert in happiness …

Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics, said the latest evidence showed that the traditional markers used to measure success did not correlate with happiness – particularly marriage and raising children.

The article goes on to explain that men benefit from marriage more than women, mainly because men take fewer risks, earn more money, and live longer when married.  Conversely, women who are never married, according to Professor Dolan’s research, are healthier and live longer than women who are married.

On their face, Professor Dolan’s conclusions sound open and shut.  But the waters become muddied as the article continues:

The study found that levels of happiness reported by those who were married was higher than the unmarried, but only when their spouse was in the room.  Unmarried individuals reported lower levels of misery than married individuals who were asked when their spouse was not present.

Other studies have measured some financial and health benefits in being married for both men and women on average, which Dolan said could be attributed to higher incomes and emotional support, allowing married people to take risks and seek medical help.

Wait.  What?  So it’s not that unmarried women are happier than married women per se, it’s that they’re less miserable?  Less misery does not equate to being happy any more than having fewer cancer cells after chemotherapy equates to being healthy.  Moreover, other studies show, as this article admits, that marriage does bring certain benefits, including better health.  So, which is it?  Are unmarried women healthier or sicklier?  Are they better off or worse off?  The evidence, at best, seems inconclusive, which means that one can’t help but wonder whether Professor Dolan is following the evidence or manipulating it as he formulates his conclusions.

Beyond the evidentiary and interpretive questions surrounding Professor Dolan’s study, there is an even larger philosophical question we must consider:  Should happiness really be our goal?  I’m not arguing that happiness is not good; I’m just not sure it’s ultimate.  Many of history’s most compelling figures – from Socrates to Joan of Arc to Abraham Lincoln to Harriet Tubman to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Winston Churchill to Jesus Christ – sacrificed personal happiness for lasting impact.  Dionysus, it turns out, may be a great addition to life, but if you make him the goal of life, you might just forfeit the very happiness he purports to promise.

C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, personifies Eros, which is romantic and sensual love, as saying, “Better to be miserable with her than happy without her.  Let our hearts break provided they break together.”  Sometimes, misery that loves its company is better than happiness that is shallowly self-indulgent.  And this is true not just of erotic love, but of every kind of love.  Just ask the parent who stands by a wayward and wily child or the child who cares for an aging and ailing parent.  They will testify to the righteousness of and strange fulfillment that comes from a willingness to endure misery for the sake of love.

The biblical word for love that endures misery is “longsuffering.”  God is willing, the Bible says, to suffer long with His rebellious people because He loves them.  And in Jesus, He is willing even to suffer long for His rebellious people because He loves them.

Hopefully, your love is not miserable.  In fact, if it is, I would encourage you to seek help.  Just because love that is willing to endure misery can be good doesn’t mean that it is.  Have someone speak into your life who can tell you candidly whether the misery you’re experiencing is nobly selfless or just plain stupid.  With this being said, I am thankful that I have a Savior who was willing to be miserable on a cross for me.  That, oddly enough, brings me great happiness – and thankfulness.

June 3, 2019 at 5:15 am 4 comments

Terror Strikes New Zealand

Members of the public mourn at a flower memorial near the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch

Credit: RTE News

“The wages of sin is death,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:23.  These words were horrifyingly instantiated this past Friday when a terrorist gunman opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50.  The crime was, in every way, monstrous.  Minutes before he went on his rampage, he emailed top government officials a rambling and incoherent manifesto, outlining his ardent white nationalistic beliefs.  He then strapped on a helmet camera so he could livestream his attack on social media.  Finally, he shot many worshipers at these mosques, which included several children, at point blank range as they cowered in corners.

If anyone ever doubted the dastardly death that sin – including philosophical sin like white nationalism – can bring, now would be the time to become a true believer in the devastations of depravity.

Near the end of the book of Genesis, we read of a man named Jacob and his twelve sons, the favorite of whom is Joseph.  Joseph’s brothers, Genesis 37:4 says, “hated him” because of his status as his father’s favorite son.  Their hatred eventually spawned a plot among the brothers to kill their kinsman.  And they would have, were it not for a last-second intercession by one of the brothers, Judah, who decided it would be more financially advantageous if, instead of killing Joseph, they sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:26-27).

Hatred is an acid that eats up the soul.  This is why the Bible’s consistent and continuous call is to love – and not just to love those who are like us.  The Bible’s consistent and continuous call is to love those who are very different from us and even hate us.  As Jesus puts it:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … 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? (Matthew 5:44, 46-47)

White nationalism explicitly tramples on Jesus’ command.  It not only fails to love its enemies, it actually creates enemies where there need be none and becomes an enemy to those who do not fit its arbitrarily contrived ethnic and philosophical strictures.  It trades the foundational and universal sanctity of life for a hackneyed and exclusionary solidarity of race.

Blessedly, love did manage to rise up and break through when hatred was spraying a hail of bullets into two mosques in Christchurch.  48-year-old Abdul Aziz was at the second of the mosques.  He was there with his four children to pray.  When the terrorist began firing in the parking lot of the mosque, rather than running away, Mr. Aziz ran into the lot with the only thing he could find – a credit card machine.  After firing off many rounds, the terrorist returned to his vehicle to grab a second weapon, and Mr. Aziz hurled the credit card machine at him.  The terrorist then fired off another series of rounds at Mr. Aziz, who managed to protect himself by ducking between cars.  When the terrorist returned to his vehicle yet again to grab yet another weapon, Mr. Aziz found one of the guns he had dropped and, after realizing it was empty, threw it at the windshield of the terrorist’s car.  The windshield shattered.  The terrorist was spooked.  He sped off.  And many lives were saved.

Mr. Aziz explained, in an interview with The New York Times, “I was prepared to give my life to save another life.”  That’s love.  And it stopped hate dead when hate was trying to speed death.

Christianity teaches that there was another man – a perfect man, who was also God – who was prepared to give His life to save other lives.  His name was Jesus.  And He not only was prepared to die.  He did die.  And He not only saved lives by His death.  He bought for us eternal life with His death.

“The wages of sin is death,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:23.  But he continues: “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In Jesus’ death, love killed hate.  May this be our confidence and our conviction as we mourn the tragic losses in Christchurch.

March 18, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments

The Case of Jussie Smollett

Jussie Smollett

Credit: Wikipedia

An affirmation of the inherent dignity of humanity is a bedrock in any functioning society.  This is why our nation’s founders unapologetically argued, “All men are created equal.”  This is why Scripture – from front to back, from creation to restoration – celebrates and upholds the value of every life.  People are created, Scripture says, “in God’s image” (Genesis 1:27) and are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  The dignity of humanity is part of the reasoning behind Jesus’ golden rule: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).  Just as we expect to be treated with respect and esteem by virtue of our humanity, we ought to treat others likewise.

Sadly, the same human dignity the Bible upholds has been the dignity we, as humans, have violated.  Racism in the forms of sketchy shootings and startling yearbook photos has violated human dignity.  So has homophobia in the forms of bullying and lynching.  We have plenty of work to do when it comes to loving each other better.

There is a difference, however, between uncovering evidence of racist and homophobic problems and creating evidence of these problems.  This is what Jussie Smollett, an actor in the hit show “Empire,” is accused of doing.  Mr. Smollett initially claimed that, while walking home one night in Chicago, two men attacked him by wrapping a rope around his neck and pouring bleach on his face, all while shouting racist and homophobic slurs.  The story, on its face, was shocking and deeply disturbing.  No one should ever be attacked because of their race or sexual orientation.  But it didn’t take long for Mr. Smollett’s story to begin to unravel.  Prosecutors now say that Mr. Smollett staged the attack, paying these two men to jump him, and even sent himself a threatening letter laced with slurs beforehand, all in an attempt to boost his acting career and command a higher salary.  This, of course, presents us with a whole new set of problems.

In the twentieth century, there lived a self-styled archaeologist named Ron Wyatt.  Mr. Wyatt claimed to have found everything from the Ark or the Covenant to chariot wheels at the bottom of the Red Sea, which he dated from the time of the Pharaoh during the Israelite exodus.  These would have been spectacular finds – if they were real.  But they weren’t.  To this day, people debate whether Mr. Wyatt was sincere and incompetent or a charlatan and malicious.  Either way, his fake archaeological finds, even if his intent was to bring attention to the truthfulness of Scripture, did not bolster Scripture’s credibility.  They only provided fodder for those who doubted Scripture’s accuracy.

What is true of fake archaeological finds that supposedly support the Bible is also true of staged racist and homophobic attacks.  A manufactured instance of racism and homophobia does not help the case for the reality of a broader racism and homophobia.

People often have very deep feelings, on all sides, on the current state of race relations and the treatment of those who identify as LBGTQ.  It is incumbent upon Christians to seek to understand people’s feelings and positions and to engage in sensitive, non-combative conversation, drenched in love, for the sake of mutual understanding and societal reconciliation.  But it is also okay, as a part of these conversations, to study and analyze facts around evils like racism and homophobia, as best as we can know them.  Facts are our friends.  And facts do not need our help.  Our job is not to create facts, as Mr. Smollett has done.  Our job is listen to them and learn from them.  For when we understand reality better, we can love each other deeper – both by empathizing with each other’s pain and by speaking to each other the truth, even when that truth is difficult, in the name of the One who is the truth (John 14:6).

Both our charity and our honesty are needed if we hope to move toward a better society.

February 25, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Dating Apps For People Who Don’t Want To Date

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Dating isn’t what it used to be.  In fact, in some circles, dating just isn’t.  Apps like Tinder and OkCupid have begun to admit as much in their advertising campaigns.  Lisa Boons explains in an article for The Washington Post:

If you’ve seen ads for OkCupid or Tinder recently, you might notice something conspicuous: There’s little mention of love or partnership.  Instead of trying to convince users that their perfect match is just a click or a swipe or a wink away, OkCupid and Tinder are touting the joy of meeting new people yet remaining unattached…

 Appearing amid ads for Etihad Airways and Hulu, Tinder’s shows a gaggle of diverse young people throwing their hands in the air and roller-skating under dreamy pink and blue neon lights – as if footage from a night out has been put through the Amaro Instagram filter.  “Single is a terrible thing to waste” is superimposed over the carefree images.  They skate in single-file, alone together – no one holding anyone’s hand…

The dating app’s other ads proclaim: “Congrats on your big breakup”; “Single does what Single wants”; “Single never has to go home early.”

In other words, Tinder, along with OkCupid, are dating apps for people who don’t want to date.  That seems strange.  But it is also dangerous.

Last month, The Cut, which is the fashion blog of New York Magazine, published a heartbreaking letter sent to its advice columnist:

I feel like a ghost. I’m a 35-year-old woman, and I have nothing to show for it…

I have no family nearby, no long-term relationship built on years of mutual growth and shared experiences, no children.  While I make friends easily, I’ve left most of my friends behind in each city I’ve moved from while they’ve continued to grow deep roots: marriages, homeownership, career growth, community, families, children. I have a few close girlfriends, for which I am grateful, but life keeps getting busier and our conversations are now months apart.  Most of my nights are spent alone with my cat (cue the cliché)…

On top of that, I’m 35 and every gyno and women’s-health website this side of the Mississippi is telling me my fertility is dropping faster than a piano falling out of the sky.  Now I’m looking into freezing my eggs, adding to my never-ending financial burden, in hopes of possibly making something of this haunted house and having a family someday with a no-named man…

I used to think I was the one who had it all figured out.  Adventurous life in the city!  Traveling the world!  Making memories!  Now I feel incredibly hollow.  And foolish. 

It turns out the carefree, single lifestyle apps like OkCupid and Tinder are promoting is the same lifestyle that leaves many with hollowed souls and deep regrets.  OkCupid’s advertisements, which these days are emblazoned with the acronym “DTF,” referring to commitment-free promiscuity, don’t actually deliver the carefree joys and ecstatic pleasures they promise.

God’s words to history’s first single man were: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  So, for Adam, God fashioned Eve, who became his wife.  Though this is certainly not a mandate that every person should marry – Jesus Himself was, after all, single –  it does testify to the reality that the very order of creation cries out for companionship.  And it does mean that ripping certain experiences, like sex, out of the companionship and covenant of marriage by declaring that one is “DTF” is a recipe for disaster.

Make no mistake about it: marriage and family come with many burdens.  An adventurous life in the city and traveling the world are often out of the question for those who spend their days baking chicken nuggets, doing dishes, administering baths, and reading Goodnight Moon for the ten-thousandth time.  But, for all the burdens marriage and family present, these burdens, when they are carefully considered, have a funny way of beginning to feel like blessings.  A family to spend your life with and to give your life to fills your heart in a way that a life sans this often cannot.

Keep this in mind the next time you pick up your phone to swipe right.

December 17, 2018 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Midterms 2018

I read somewhere that there’s an election tomorrow.

Actually, unless you haven’t turned on any TV, scrolled through any social media feed, or driven anywhere and seen any billboards or yard signs for the past few months, it’s difficult not to know that there’s an election tomorrow.

For a midterm election, the rhetoric has been unusually hot.  The stakes feel unusually high.  And, if early voting reports are any indication from across my home state of Texas, people are turning out in record numbers because they are unusually engaged.

Sadly, though much of the voter turnout is surely driven by a sense of civic privilege and responsibility, at least some of it is driven by fear and anger.  The thought of having the “other party” or the “other candidate” in power – whichever or whoever the “other party” or the “other candidate” is for you – terrifies and enrages some folks.  Civic privilege and responsibility take a backseat to despising and disparaging one’s political enemies.

George Washington, in his farewell address of 1796, warned:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.

Sound familiar?

Do we live in a political climate marked by “the alternate domination of one faction over another”?  Do we ever engage with and exhibit a “spirt of revenge”?  George Washington calls this kind of political fist fighting “a frightful despotism.”  Why?   Because rather than honestly and thoughtfully debating the ideas and principles necessary to maintain any robust republic, we begin to bludgeon and berate other people we see only as evil enemies.  We trade our humanity and humility for indignation and domination.

Early each Saturday, I go for a 5 am stroll, cup of coffee in hand, around my neighborhood.  This hour of the morning may seem crazy, especially since it is the weekend, but it can’t be that crazy – or, at least, that’s what I tell myself – because I’m not the only one out walking.  Each Saturday, my neighbors a couple doors down are also out, walking their dog.  We wish each other a good morning and, occasionally, we catch up on neighborhood news.

I noticed the other day that in my neighbors’ yard is a sign for the Senate candidate from Texas for whom I did not vote.  I have some deeply held principled differences with this candidate and I gladly voted for his opponent.  And yet somehow, despite our differing candidate preferences, my neighbors and I still manage to like each other and care for each other and talk to each other.  Why?  Because the same principles that lead me to vote in certain ways also remind me that it is “self-evident that all men are created equal” and are therefore worthy of my respect and care even if I disagree with their political positions.

I’m not averse to good political humor and satire.  Sometimes, it’s the only way to stay sane in what can often feel like a political circus.  I am also all for folks arguing forcibly and persuasively for positions, principles, and even particular politicians as they see fit.  And I think it is honorable to go out and vote.  And tomorrow, we’ll have the opportunity to do just that.  But remember, through every joke that is made, debate that is had, and vote that is cast, we are still called to love our neighbors.

I read that somewhere too.

November 5, 2018 at 6:15 am Leave a comment

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