Category Archives: love

The Deepest Change

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
‭Romans‬ ‭13‬:‭8-10‬ NASB

The thing God wants most for us to do is love. Love fulfills every aspect of the Law. So, If we will love our neighbors as we love ourselves, thereby doing no wrong to anyone but doing good to them, we will fulfill the law.

The law is impossible to keep because we’re self-centered. We think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We must become other-centered.

He loves us so much He wants us to love each other.  This is what we have to do to be who God wants us to be.

Since we’re incapable of keeping the law, we must therefore be incapable of loving others on our own. Only by His grace can we be supplied with the love we need to love others.

We need to be transformed by God, and this is one of the deepest changes that must take place in us.

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Show Us What Is Possible

Crystal Kelley and Baby S. - Courtesy of CNN
Crystal Kelley and Baby S. – Courtesy of CNN

Crystal Kelley, a single mother of two who’d recently lost her job, was a surrogate faced with a terrible choice: terminate her pregnancy as the biological parents told her to do, or keep the child herself – a child who had severe medical problems and only a small chance at a “normal” life.  Despite an offer of $10,000 to have the abortion, she chose to disobey the biological parents.

“I told them that they had chosen me to carry and protect this child, and that was exactly what I was going to do,” Kelley said in the linked CNN article.

In the end, Kelley found a home for the child, referred to in the article as Baby S.  She was adopted into a loving family with the means and will to care for her.

There are ethical issues here outside of the issue of abortion.  Some may believe, as the biological parents appear to have, that abortion would have been the most humane choice.  But I believe Kelley chose the highest ethic – the preservation of the life of the child.

As a father and a human being, I understand the difficulty of choosing to bring into the world a child who has little to no chance at a normal life, or even survival.  But I also believe that’s no one’s choice but God’s.

As Baby S.’s adoptive parents stated in the quote above, “Ultimately, we hold onto a faith that in providing S. with love, opportunity, encouragement, she will be the one to show us what is possible for her life and what she is capable of achieving.”

Doesn’t every child deserve that chance?  Would that more people would choose the life of the child.

Fighting the Wrong War?

In case you missed it, we Christians are involved in the Culture Wars.  If you haven’t yet, you’ll probably get your draft notice soon.  You’re not allowed to remain neutral.

So what the heck are these Culture Wars?

The enemy is anyone who stands against biblical values.  The heated battle of the moment – thanks in part to the “news” of Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s views on the subject – is the issue of same-sex marriage.   The weapons of our warfare are outraged words, political wrangling, boycotts, legislative maneuvering.  What’s at stake – as the name suggests – is American culture.

In this war over the culture, biblical values appear to be steadily losing ground.  Is it because we’re not wielding our weapons well?  Is our strategy at fault?  As I mulled this over, at first I thought that perhaps we’re using the wrong weapons.  That’s part of it, but the full truth is much worse.

We are using the wrong weapons against the wrong enemy in the wrong war. The right weapon is the Gospel.  The real enemy is Satan.  We fight for the souls of men and women who are oppressed.

The Wrong War

Why shouldn’t we fight for the culture?  Well, what is culture?  One definition on Merriam-Webster.com is “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”  The culture is not some concrete object or place that we can fight over.  It is a set of ideas and values that finds its origin in the people.  In order for the culture to change, the people must change.

That’s how we got here, remember?  Americans used to hold different values.  Now they hold these values.  Therefore, the culture is what it is.

And the people.  All of us – every man, woman, and child on Earth – are oppressed, enslaved by sin.  (Romans 6:20)

Let’s fight the right war – to free the slaves from sin.

The Wrong Weapons

Our only hope of salvation is the Risen Savior who died to free us from the very thing that enslaves us. (John 14:6)  Therefore, our words hold no sway over the souls of men and women.  Only the Gospel does.  In fact, our words just get in the way. (1 Corinthians 1:17)  We cannot change the values of the people by fighting over them, shouting, making laws, or buying a chicken sandwich.

The Wrong Enemy

Imagine the United States Army during World War II.  The soldiers enter France to liberate the land.  They begin gunning down terrified men, women, and children in the streets.  Meanwhile, Hitler’s forces march ever forward, conquering all the peoples of Europe.  In every moment of the Culture Wars this is what we do.

We are using the wrong weapons to fight against people who are oppressed, and it is their oppression that that has led the culture to dismiss biblical values.  Our true enemy is their oppressor – Satan.  (1 Peter 5:8)

The people are so deceived by his lies that they believe God’s hatred of sin to be bigotry.  They are intolerant of the truth, but it’s because they are enslaved.  We can’t expect them to know and love the ways of God until their chains are broken and He remakes them into His likeness.

Let’s stop all the shouting and political maneuvering.  Instead, let’s pick up the Gospel and fight Satan for all we’re worth to free these slaves.

Woe to you…

Matthew 23:13-30 – “Eight Woes”

I find the Pharisees to be – perhaps strangely – a strong example of how easily human nature comes between us and the truth of the Gospel. The roots of Pharisaism were in a movement meant to return Jews to right belief and right practice at a time when pagan culture (namely Greek) was overtaking their own culture and religious practices (the period between the Old and New Testaments). Instead, as evidenced in Jesus’ words here, they created a set of rules that actually drew them away from what God really wanted.

So, what does this have to do with human nature? Humans like rules. I know, most people would disagree. We don’t want to be told what to do, but think about it. We’d rather have rules that clearly define how we get to Heaven (Be good! Don’t hurt people!) than deal with this ethereal “relationship with God” thing. It’s easier!

Scripture points us to right behavior, but it is also clear that right behavior is meaningless without the right heart. Otherwise, why would Jesus come down on the Pharisees here?

It’s also easier when the rules serve to make me look good without my having to worry about other people.

You see, the Pharisees missed the point – the Law never saved anyone, not even a Jew. The Law existed for the people to maintain relationships with God and one another. Hence, the two greatest commandments:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 22:36b-40

If that wasn’t happening, the Law wasn’t serving its purpose.

Sadly, many Christians – those of us who live under the New Covenant in which Christ has fulfilled the Law – still want it this way. We want the rules.  Even though they don’t teach this way with words, many churches teach this way by example.  It’s not about going to Bible study or Sunday morning worship or putting in time in the food pantry.  Those things are all good things, but they must all grow out of love.

This is not to say there is no place in the Christian life for duty.  Let’s face it.  Sometimes, we don’t feel like doing the things that we know we ought to do.  We should do them anyway because they are our duty as followers of Jesus.

It’s a line that is easy to cross, as the Pharisees show us. We must do our duty, but we don’t just do it for the sake of duty.  We do our duty because we love the God who first loved us and the people whom He loves.

A True Pastor

But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You are the ones who have caused the death of the LORD’S people.” It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” Then they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the LORD, the plague has begun!” Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. But those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah. Then Aaron returned to Moses at the doorway of the tent of meeting, for the plague had been checked.

Numbers 16:41-50

Say what you will about Aaron. He has his own moments of rebellion and failure, of which the golden calf is not least, but in this moment, I am struck by his courage. He shows us something about what a pastor ought to be.

The Lord has finally had enough of the Israelites’ grumbling and determines to destroy them. (You see, when they grumble against the leadership of Moses and Aaron, they grumble against the guidance of God Himself, who directs Moses and Aaron.) I know I probably would have said, “Go to it, Lord! They deserve it!” But when Moses tells his brother to make atonement for the people’s sin, the priest does not hesitate.

It’s right there in verse 47. Aaron “ran into the midst of the assembly.” As fast as he can, Aaron bravely steps between the people and imminent destruction at the hands of a (rightfully) wrathful God. Without regard for his own safety (plagues are contagious!), he acts quickly, doing what he must to deliver the Israelites from the consequences of their rebellion.

In my opinion, Aaron did several things in this one act. First, he showed grace to the people. They deserved what they were about to receive, but he did what was necessary to give them what they did not deserve: continued life. Sounds like someone else I know. (I believe this is what’s known as displaying Godly character!)

Second, he showed that He loved the people. What evidence do I have for this? It is just my opinion, but I find it hard to believe that someone would rush into the midst of a plague-ridden mass of people whom he did not love.

Finally, he showed faith in God’s plan. If he had not believed God’s promise to give the nation of Israel a land of its own, what would have been the purpose of saving them? He shows great trust that God will do what he promised for the descendants of Abraham despite the destruction that occurs here.

Like all of us, Aaron was human, but for at least this moment, he gives us a picture of a true pastor. I pray that all of us – full-time, bi-vocational, paid, volunteer, church staff, or lay-people – who seek to lead the people of God in some capacity would strive to act as Aaron acts here.

Five Books Every Christian Should Read

With my review of Eileen Button’s The Waiting Place earlier this week, this blog is embarking on a new phase that will see a lot more activity and a greater concentration on book reviews.

With that in mind, I’m going to share with you five books I’ve read that I think every Christian should read. (If you’re interested, here’s my list on Amazon.)

  1. The Bible – I know this one probably seems like a cop-out, but too few of us really read the Bible. I struggle with it just like everyone else, but I can say that I read it more consistently now than I ever have before. A few years ago, I prayed that God would give me a greater love for His Word, and He did. (You can read about it here.)It’s the Word of God. It is more important than any other book we’ll ever read, and as it shapes us, it shapes the lens through which we read everything else. We should read it in big chunks and study it down to the briefest statement.I like the NASB because it is a word-for-word translation. The NIV – because it translates ideas more than individual words – is generally easier to read in large sections.
  2. unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons – The information in this book may not be news to some people, but for those of us who have grown up in the traditional church culture, it can be world-altering. David Kinnaman of the Barna Group provides in-depth research into the attitudes and reactions of teens and young adults toward the church.
  3. Crazy Love by Francis ChanunChristian was the beginning of a journey for me and several other folks in my life. God had begun to alter my perceptions of faith and the church not long before reading it, and those changed perceptions were solidified upon reading it. But Crazy Love took it one step further, showing me what I ought to be doing with those new perceptions. It was no longer enough to follow the rules and be part of the institution of the Church. I had to love God with everything, and that love wouldn’t make sense to most people. Read my review here.
  4. Forgotten God by Francis Chan – Yes, it’s another Francis Chan book. Yes, I’m a big fan. But this one was the next step on my journey. The Holy Spirit empowers us to live the life God has called us to live. The Holy Spirit does things beyond imagining. We’ve put Him in a box and written off the miraculous, or – worse – we’ve forgotten about Him altogether. We neglect Him to our detriment and that of the Church as a whole. Read the review.
  5. Radical by David Platt – Pastor of a megachurch in Alabama, Platt challenges us to turn our backs on the American dream and embrace the call of God to go against the culture around us, focusing first on the Kingdom. Though the book has its flaws – it loses some steam in the middle – its premise is powerful, and for me, was the culmination of many things God had been teaching on this literary journey.

Take the time to read these – especially the first! – and you will be challenged. Your perceptions will be altered. And maybe – hopefully – you’ll begin to think a little more like Christ.