Posts tagged ‘Love’

Who Do You Wear? And Who Wears You?

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At red carpet events where stars show up and don their sometimes eccentric and other times striking outfits, there is a question that has become a staple for reporters to ask when these stars first flash their fashion for the cameras: Who are you wearing?

For most of us, people don’t care what we wear much less who we wear. But when an outfit costs tens of thousands or, mind-bogglingly, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars, people want to know which designer can command such a sky-high price.

One of the most mind-boggling outfits in the ancient world was the one worn by the high priest of ancient Israel. God gives instructions for the design of the high priest’s outfit to Moses:

Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve Me as priests. Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron to give him dignity and honor. These are the garments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash. Have them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen. (Exodus 28:1-3, 5)

The pièce de résistance of the high priest’s garb came in the breastpiece he would wear:

Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions – the work of skilled hands. Make it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen. Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. The first row shall be carnelian, chrysolite and beryl; the second row shall be turquoise, lapis lazuli and emerald; the third row shall be jacinth, agate and amethyst; the fourth row shall be topaz, onyx and jasper. Mount them in gold filigree settings. There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes. (Exodus 28:15, 17-21)

This breastpiece tells us who the high priest wore – he wore Israel. His breastpiece had twelve stones that represented the twelve tribes of Israel. He would stand as an advocate for the people before God, and to present the people to God. His breastpiece reminded everyone in Israel that he wore the people proudly.

One of my most treasured possessions is my wedding ring. I wear it as a symbol, much like the high priest with his bejeweled breastpiece, that I am proud to be Melody’s husband. My ring reminds me that I am wear her as my wife at the same time I hold her in my heart. Likewise, I am deeply touched when I see Melody’s wedding ring on her finger because it is a symbol that Melody is proud to my wife. She wears me as her husband at the same time she holds me in her heart.

Who do you wear? Who are you proud of? Who do you speak of often? Who do you hold in your heart? And who wears you? We all need someone to wear us – not because we are some renowned designer, but because being worn proudly and being spoken of fondly by someone means being loved by them. And love looks good on all of us.

October 4, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

What Is Lost Is Found…Finally

In a story that could have been dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter, after a 24-year search, Guo Gangtang of Liaocheng, which is in northern Shandong Province in China, was reunited with his 26-year-old son, who was kidnapped when he was just two. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Guo’s son, named Guo Xinzhen at birth, disappeared on Sept. 21, 1997. He had been playing at the door of his home while his mother cooked inside, according to interviews the elder Mr. Guo has given over the years.

A frantic Mr. Guo and his wife, along with family, neighbors and friends, fanned out across the region to search for the boy. But after several months, the effort waned. That was when Mr. Guo attached large banners printed with his son’s photo to the back of a motorcycle and set out to find the boy on his own.

“Son, where are you?” the banners said, alongside an image of the boy in a puffy orange jacket. “Dad is looking for you to come home.”

But now, after crisscrossing China on ten motorcycles for nearly two-and-half decades, Guo did come home. Through tears and hugs, the family reunited.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable about a lost sheep:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:4-6)

Jesus spins a touching story of a shepherd who refuses to give up his search when one of his little lambs becomes lost. But this story is not really about sheep. It’s about us. Jesus explains:

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:7)

When we wander off in sin, we have a loving heavenly Father who doesn’t just crisscross a country, but crisscrosses heaven and earth in His one and only Son, who searches for us so that He can reunite us with God.

Guo’s story and Jesus’ parable invite us to ask: who do we know who has wandered away from our family or from God’s family? Even if they’ve been away for a long time, all hope is not lost. A call, a note, or a conversation over coffee may be just the thing needed to invite them back into the fold. People are always worth searching for. How do I know? Because God searched for you and me.

I’m thankful I was found.

July 19, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Anger and Forgiveness

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A new study published in the Oxford Journal of Gerontology finds that those who work to resolve arguments quickly – or avoid arguments altogether – improve their long-term health. Researchers from Oregon State University found that the longer a person lets an unresolved conflict linger, the heavier and more significant it begins to feel. Robert Stawski, the senior author of the study, explains:

Everyone experiences stress in their daily lives. You aren’t going to stop stressful things from happening. But the extent to which you can tie them off, bring them to an end, and resolve them is definitely going to pay dividends in terms of your well-being. Resolving your arguments is quite important for maintaining well-being in daily life.

The study found that, if possible, it is best to resolve a conflict the same day it arises. Dr. Stawski added:

The extent to which you can tie off the stress so it’s not having this gnawing impact at you over the course of the day or a few days will help minimize the potential long-term impact.

Of course, this insight of resolving conflict within a day is not new to this study. Long before there was this study, there was the apostle Paul who wrote:

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Unresolved anger is dangerous, Paul writes – not only emotionally, but spiritually. It gives the devil himself a foothold in your heart.

As a pastor, it is not uncommon for me to have a conversation with someone who is nursing a grudge and stewing in anger. And, to put it bluntly, they’re miserable. The problem is it’s difficult to stop a feeling. When I become angry, I don’t consciously choose to become angry. Anger just, well, happens. But even if I don’t consciously choose to become angry, I can consciously choose to calm down. I can talk to a friend who I trust to give me perspective. I can talk to myself and remind myself that my anger solves nothing. I can talk to the Lord and ask Him to bring me peace. And I can forgive. To quote the apostle Paul again:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

In other words, even if you can’t stop anger from bubbling up in your heart, when it does, you are called to get rid of it as fast as you can. But how? Paul tells us in the very next verse:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Anger, Paul says, is nothing forgiveness can’t fix. Yes, forgiveness is hard. Choosing to release a grudge against someone when they have hurt you is a heavy task. But anger is dangerous. And it’s heavy, too. So, choose what is better for them – and for you. Choose forgiveness.

April 26, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Name-Calling

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One of the most common responses to last week’s vice-presidential debate that I heard was that of a sigh of relief. It was noticeably mild-mannered compared the first presidential debate held a week earlier. Both President Trump and Vice-President Biden came under sharp critique for their name-calling of each other. Check out these headlines:

‘Will you shut up, man?’: Debate devolves to name-calling as Trump derails with interruptions

First Trump-Biden Presidential Debate Devolves Into Interruptions, Name-Calling

First Presidential Debate Turns Into Fighting and Name-Calling

Quite apart from politics, name-calling, in general, concerns me. As anyone who has been badgered or belittled on a school playground knows, sticks and stones may break some bones, but names can also hurt you.

Last week, as I was preparing to lead a study on Isaiah 1, I came across this passage:

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to Me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure.” (Isaiah 1:10-11)

Isaiah encourages the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah to hear the word of the Lord. Historically, the prophet writes these words around 740 BC. The towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, however, were famously destroyed by fire and brimstone some 1,300 years earlier. They no longer exist. So, to whom is Isaiah speaking?

Here, the famed cities are being invoked metaphorically to refer to the rebellious people of God – the Israelites. Isaiah is making the point that the wickedness of the Israelites has become so great that they might as well be the people of Sodom and Gomorrah – cities renowned for their depravity. In other words, Isaiah is calling the Israelites names.

Name-calling seems to be an awfully unbecoming behavior for a prophet of God. And yet, what sounds like disrespect at first is actually an act of desperation. He asks earlier:

Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. (Isaiah 1:5)

Isaiah longs for the Israelites to repent before they become afflicted by God. Isaiah’s name-calling, then, is not meant to insult, but to implore. The prophet is imploring people of Israel to understand just how precarious their spiritual situation really is. So, he uses the most jarring example of systemic and sanctioned sin he can think of: the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Of course, this is not the only time Isaiah calls the Israelites names. Later in his book, he writes:

But now, this is what the LORD says – He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

God calls the people of Israel names to help them understand their sin. But He also calls them a name to promise them redemption from their sin:

Mine.

I’m not big on name-calling, but that’s a name I’d love to be called by God any day. Because of Christ, I know I am. And because of Christ, you are too.

October 12, 2020 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

Help After Hurricane Laura

When Hurricane Laura slammed into the Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coast border, it cut a path of destruction that will take years to undo. The storm surge reached nine feet in some places. Sustained wind speeds peaked at 150 miles per hour, making it a Category 4 hurricane and tying the record for the strongest winds of any hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana. The scenes of devastation have been hard to look at. So many homes have been ruined. So many communities have been crushed. And even some lives have been lost.

The power of a storm like Laura reminds us of two things. First, it reminds us of the power we don’t have. We don’t have the power to stop a storm like this. We don’t even really have the power to fully prepare for a storm like this. But second, a storm like Laura also serves as a testament to the power we do have. We do have the power to help each other in times of crisis. We do have the power to love each other through seasons of pain.

And, as has been the case after so many other hurricanes, stories of those who have stepped up to help are already emerging – like that of Leonard Harrison, a volunteer with the Cajun Navy, who, while others were fleeing from the storm, drove 14 hours from Wilmington, North Carolina in his F-250, which he calls “Goliath,” to help with water rescues. He wound up rescuing 28 people from perilous high waters. He was using the power he had to help people in need.

While we do not have power over storms, God does. As the Psalmist reminds us:

He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. (Psalm 107:29)

But for all the power we don’t have over storms, we must keep in mind that we do have power after storms. We do have the power to love each other, like Leonard Harrison did. And this power has been given to us by God. As one of Jesus’ followers, John, writes:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. (1 John 4:7)

God has given us the power of His love so we can love each other. As we begin the process of cleaning up from Laura, now is the time to use the power God has given us instead of complaining about the power He hasn’t.

The Gulf Coast is counting on us.

To donate to Hurricane Laura relief, click here.

August 31, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Considering Cancel Culture

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It used to be a term reserved for struggling sitcoms. Now, it’s something that happens to businesspeople, politicians, stars, and journalists.

Cancellation.

Recently, a variety of voices have expressed concern over what has become known as the “cancel culture” that seems to be running roughshod over our society. “Cancellation” refers to an attempt by one group to destroy and discredit some person or some other group with whom they disagree.

In a letter published in Harper’s Magazine, a group of progressive luminaries expressed their concern that:

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. 

It turns out that this letter caused such a stir that some signatories asked for their names to be removed. Why? Because some others who read the letter wanted to destroy and discredit those who signed it. They wanted to cancel those who expressed concern over cancel culture.

Just days after the above letter was published in Harper’s Magazine, an opinion columnist for The New York Times, Beri Weiss, published a scathing public resignation letter, also decrying the pernicious “cancel culture” she perceived to be prevalent and personally directed toward her within the halls of America’s paper of record:

My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m “writing about the Jews again.” Several colleagues perceived to be friendly with me were badgered by coworkers. My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in. There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one, while others post ax emojis next to my name. Still other New York Times employees publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. They never are. 

It is critical to understand that “cancel culture” is not the coin of just one particular political party, culture, or time period. Humans have been cruel to each other and tried to destroy each other when they have disagreed with each other for a very long time. The question is: what do we do about it?

In one sense, we must begin with ourselves. We cannot stop the unscrupulous from being cruel, but we can be measured in how we respond to the unscrupulous. Here are some responses to cancellation to consider:

  • Love. Responding to those who hate you with love is not only biblically orthodox, it’s generally wise. Responding kindly instead of in kind to those who want to destroy your reputation or livelihood will almost certainly throw your enemies off because it is not the response they want or expect. Speaking well of your enemies disarms them and garners the goodwill of others toward you.
  • Humility. If others are angry with you for something you have said or believe, it is worth it to ask: Do they have a point? This question does not assume that the person who is upset with you is completely correct, nor does it imply that they are handling their disagreement with you well. It simply means that they could be right on something even if they are wrong on many things. And if they are right at all, you want to learn from them. As strange as it sounds, those who hate you can also be those who teach you. Whether you’re willing to learn is up to you.
  • Truth. Responding with love and humility does not mean you forsake what you believe to be the truth. Love and humility do not equal appeasement. Even if the person who is trying to “cancel” you refuses to listen to you, others will. Don’t be afraid to make your case.
  • Gentleness. Sometimes, people become offended not so much by what someone has to say, but by how they say it. Don’t argue a point with the deleterious intent of triggering or offending someone else. Instead, argue a point in the hope of coming to a consensus with someone else. A little bit of gentleness in how you argue can prevent a lot of cancellation when you argue.
  • Empathy. As easy as it is to become defensive and upset when someone angrily disagrees with you, it can be just as easy to become cold and calculating when you disagree with someone else. You secretly wish them ill rather than well. You dream of humiliating them in a debate. When they fall prey to calamity, you feel a spark of schadenfreude. Resist these urges. Listen to and learn from those with whom you vehemently disagree. If you want others to give you a hearing, you need to give them a hearing. Cancellation is no better from you than it is for you.

With all this being said, we must admit that certain people and philosophies do hold views that are deplorable and unacceptable. But more often than not, destroying people’s lives does not lead to the destruction of their views. Their views, when confronted in anger and vitriol, often wind up being merely hardened. So, instead of trying to cancel those with whom we disagree, we could try something else: we could try persuading them. And we could remember: debating ideas does not mean demeaning people.

People are more than their positions.

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

Racism and Reconciliation

Our nation is hurting.

It was hurting when Ahmaud Arbery was cornered by two men in a truck who shot and killed him in Georgia. It was hurting when George Floyd died after an officer held his knee on his neck for over eight minutes in Minneapolis. And it is still hurting as protests have erupted over the death of these two men.

Many of these protests turned violent and spread across the nation over the weekend – beginning and Minneapolis and then moving quickly to Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and continuing to fan out across many other cities. Businesses have been looted and burned. Communities have been terrorized. In Detroit, one man was even killed.

Did I mention our nation is hurting?

It can be difficult to know how to respond as we watch all of this unfold on our TV screens and in our cities. I myself have grappled with what to say. I also know, however, that, as a Christian, I am called to offer hope to the hurting. So, here are four – admittedly limited and incomplete – thoughts as to how we can respond in the midst of a national inflection point of pain.

We can mourn.

When two men – along with, tragically, many others – die unjustly under racially tinged circumstances, that should grieve us and cause us to mourn. When violent protests shatter communities, that should grieve us and cause us to mourn. The apostle Paul reminds us that we should “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). To take a moment to feel with and listen to those who are hurting, angry, frightened, and confused should be a cornerstone of a Christian ethos. To not empathize with those who are hurting flies in the face of a God who would take on human flesh to experience everything we experience – including hurt, anger, fear, and death itself.

This weekend, I saw a post from a man who regularly walks with his daughter and dog through his neighborhood. He explained how he worries that, if he walks alone, he could be profiled in an unfavorable way because he is a black man. One commenter responded with a bevy of studies and statistics concerning how many African Americans are shot by police and implied that this man’s fears were unfounded. I am all for studies and statistics. They can help us understand trends and identify problems. But to criticize a man’s personal story of fear with studies and statistics strikes me as akin to criticizing mourners at a funeral by bringing actuarial tables to the service and explaining how their loved one’s death falls within a standard variance of mortality rates. Even if it’s statistically true, it’s also emotionally cruel. Let’s take the time to mourn with those who mourn.

We can work for justice.

In his famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed his faith in justice even as he called for justice:

We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Later in his speech, he quoted these words from the prophet Amos:

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)

When injustice is perpetrated, we cannot make excuses for it. We cannot minimize it, rationalize it, or justify it by claiming that there are other injustices that have been worse, so the current injustices we are facing must be no big deal. And we certainly cannot ignore injustice because it doesn’t affect us personally or fit our interests politically. The Fifth Commandment – “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) – was meant to protect Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd just as much as it was meant to protect any of us.

We are a nation whose creed is “liberty and justice for all.” If the liberty of any person is compromised by murder, manslaughter, or any other untoward act that leads to death, it is an injustice that should concern and upset us all.

We can call for peace.

In the same speech that Dr. King called for justice, he also described how he worked toward and fought for justice:

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

Dr. King knew the struggle for justice is not best paved by violent deeds.

The scenes of violence that have erupted across the nation have hurt many innocent people. They have taken eyes for eyes and teeth for teeth, but they have not recovered or restored the lives of Mr. Arbery and Mr. Floyd. Their families are still grieving. Their sons, husbands, and fathers are still not coming home.

In His Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). It is important to understand that peacemaking can be quite different from peacekeeping. Peacekeeping can sometimes imply simply covering for or overlooking sin so that no one gets upset. In other words, peacekeeping can often be an exercise in little more than keeping the status quo. Peacemaking, however, means calling sin what it is and then working to restore peace from the ground up – not with excuses, but by repentance, and not with hatred, but by forgiveness. This is the kind of peace toward which Christians are called to work.

We can love.

Racism is rooted in hatred. To stand against racism, then, we must address the hatred endemic to it. How do we do this? Jesus shows us the way:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

During these months of pandemic, a refrain has arisen: “We’re in this together.” This refrain is similar to the one uttered by Dr. King on the Washington Mall all those years ago as he was fighting the racism of his day:

Many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

Dr. King is right. We cannot walk alone. So, let’s not. Let’s stand shoulder to should, side by side, and arm in arm. Our race may be a part of our humanity, but it is not the sum total of our humanity. Our humanity also includes:

Being somebody’s son or daughter.

Being somebody’s husband, wife, mother, or father.

Being somebody’s friend, coworker, and neighbor.

And being made in the image of our Creator.

These are the ties that bind us.

In a press conference on Saturday, Minnesota’s governor not only mourned acts of violence, but highlighted acts of love. He talked about protestors who had come out not with firebombs, but with brooms, shovels, and wheelbarrows to help their neighbors clean up their communities. They refused to let their neighbors walk alone. They walked together – both to protest injustice and to love each other.

We can, too.

June 1, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Seeking the Good of Others

Cities and states across the country are beginning to reopen. Already, health experts are issuing warnings of a second wave of COVID-19 to come. The Associated Press reports:

From the marbled halls of Italy to the wheat fields of Kansas, health authorities are increasingly warning that the question isn’t whether a second wave of coronavirus infections and deaths will hit, but when – and how badly.

In India, which relaxed its lockdown this week, health authorities scrambled Wednesday to contain an outbreak at a huge market. Hard-hit New York City shut down its subway system overnight for disinfection. Experts in Italy, which just began easing some restrictions, warned lawmakers that a new surge of infections and deaths is coming, and they urged intensified efforts to identify victims, monitor their symptoms and trace their contacts …

U.S. infection rates outside the New York City area are in fact rising, notably in rural areas. 

This is a worrisome prediction. And yet, if a severe second wave does sweep across our nation, Christians can be uniquely positioned to be a force and a source for hope and help.

When the apostle Paul writes to the Christian church at Corinth, he confronts a strain of selfishness that has infected many in the congregation. It seems as though some of the Christians at Corinth have come to believe that just because they can do something, they should do it if they desire to, regardless of whether what they do hurts or offends others. Paul has to remind them that the call of Christianity is not to live for you and your wants, but to live for others and their wellbeing:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

As cities and states reopen, I am thankful that I will be able to patronize businesses I have not been able to shop at for a while. I am thankful that I will be able to go places I have not been able to go for a while. And yet, even while restrictions are blessedly being loosened, I still try to keep in mind those who I am called to serve – my family, my friends, and my congregation. I try to remember that how I handle my own health and safety can directly affect the health and safety of others with whom I come into contact. I may have the right to do many things. But I would rather seek to do the most beneficial things – for the sake of my family and my community.

As Christians, we are called to be neither restless over what will happen nor reckless as we confront what is happening. Instead, we are called to be selfless – always seeking the good of others. As Paul writes a little later in this same chapter to the Corinthians:

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)

Paul shows concern for everyone – for his fellow Jews with whom he grew up, for pagan Greeks who do not worship the God of Israel, and for those who are part of the church of God and follow Jesus. Whether they are like him or unlike him, Paul puts others first, for Paul knows that, when he does so, he is not just being kind, he is witnessing unto salvation.

May we do likewise for others. They need us – and they need Christ.

May 11, 2020 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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

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