Loving the enemy

My church is doing an in-depth study of the gospel of Luke. One of the most challenging spiritual lessons, on loving your enemies, is found in Luke chapter six, verses 27-36.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Luke 6:27

Jesus explains why we should love our enemies – because God is kind to the wicked and to the ungrateful. Anyone can love their friends. God expects more of us. We are to be merciful to others just as He is merciful to us.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.

Luke 6:32-33

Scot McKnight wrote about loving the enemy is his book, Living the Jesus Creed. He says that the enemy Jesus has in mind is the person who has wronged or wounded us. McKnight says that loving the enemy often begins in the mind and the memory. When you remember that you have been wronged, you can either “enjoy a feast of condemnation, the feast that never satisfies” and thereby let the enemy define you or you can let Jesus define you through grace.

Your enemy may be a person who hurts you. Your enemy may be a person who rubs you the wrong way or pushes your buttons. It may be a person whose interests are diametrically opposed to yours.

It has been fifteen years and I have not forgotten how wounded I was by a conflict with a coworker. We were so different! I have always been hardworking, conscientious, and dependable. The younger coworker was a slacker who always had an excuse for not doing his job. I was put in charge of training him. I couldn’t ignore his negligence of his job responsibilities. Large bills were not getting paid. I complained to the boss. The boss listened to my concerns but never held the coworker accountable. Instead, he acted like an indulgent parent and accused me of being contentious.

This conflict went on for months. I tried to deal with it on my own. I read self-help books. I spoke to a counselor. And yes, I indulged in a feast of condemnation that did not satisfy. I knew that I was becoming the kind of person God does not want me to be. I became critical and unkind to the coworker. I gossiped about him to friends. The conflict brought me to my knees. I resigned from my job but not before wounding my boss by telling him what I honestly thought of him.

McKnight reminds us that in the face of the enemy, we see an eikon of God – a person made in God’s image. Instead of “shrinking the other person to the size of our personal villain,” we should see them as someone whom God loves. To love the enemy is to see their humanity.

With time and lots of prayer, I learned to see the humanity of my enemies. I saw that the younger coworker was not a villain but the product of his upbringing. I saw that the boss was a good man with a personality unlike my own. I knew that I was not above reproach and that God has forgiven me for my role in the conflict. It didn’t define who I am.

Loving your enemy doesn’t mean that you forget that you were wronged. You can still condemn the wrong. But you should remember that God forgave you despite your own wrongdoing. With the grace of God, we can turn the memory of wounds into grace. We can pay God’s grace forward by offering it to others.

Jesus said to pray for those who mistreat you. McKnight suggests praying that God will make the enemy into the person God wants them to be. Lord, as I remember the hurts of the past, I remember how merciful you were to me. Thank you for using that difficult experience to teach me. I pray that you will make A and B into the people you want them to be.

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Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash

A Disciple of Jesus Christ Rejecting and Resisting Christian Nationalism

Something has been bothering me and I have to get it off my chest. A couple of days before the Presidential election, a member of my old church shared a post from a former pastor in which he wrote, “This week I will be voting for the sanctity of life, for religious liberty as understood by our founders, for the sanctity of marriage, for our constitutional order and original intent, and against the growing influence of socialism and cultural Marxism in our nation.” This statement disturbed me because it is a clear example of Christian nationalism and a Christian endorsement of Donald Trump, a man who is the antithesis of Jesus Christ.

I can’t believe that after four years, I am still asking myself, how can Christians support a man whose behavior is the complete opposite of Jesus Christ? How can they accept his racism, xenophobia, hatred and cruelty? While many Christians complain that our culture has taken Christ out of Christmas, sadly many Christians have taken Christ out of Christianity.

The man who made the Christian nationalist endorsement of Trump is now the president of a Christian university with the ability to influence thousands of young minds. For years, I looked up to the woman who shared his post and admired her for her caring ministry. Now I see her as just another Christian who conflates religion with politics. It is disappointing and disheartening but I should not have been surprised.

Conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

Christians Against Christian Nationalism

I just read Drew Straits’ review of the book Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, by Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry. The authors describe four orientations to Christian nationalism – Rejecters, Resisters, Accommodators, and Ambassadors – and confirm what I have observed in too many of my Christian friends: it’s all about power and not about true religion. As Strait wrote in his review, Christian nationalism is about acquiring and using political power to influence “issues like Islam, immigration, abortion/patriarchy, militarism, gun control and sacrificial allegiance to the flag…”

Obsession with power explains why Ambassadors and Accommodators overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election while overlooking the many ways that Trump’s personal life is at odds with Christian ethics. Again, Trump’s personal religious piety is of little significance—what matters is that he pulls the right ideological levers to shape America into the image of Christian nationalism, to reclaim a mythical past. 

Drew J. Strait

I knew after the 2016 election that I was in the minority of Christians who oppose and resist the wickedness of Donald Trump. Since then, I have been encouraged to hear from other followers of Jesus Christ who believe that political ambition is not more important than being true to our Savior and sharing his inclusive message of love and redemption.

In What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey wrote, “Like fine wine poured into a jug of water, Jesus’ wondrous message of grace gets diluted in the vessel of the church.” Yancey quoted David Seamands, who noted that many evangelical Christians fail “to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness” and fail “to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people…”

I believe in the sanctity of life and I believe in the sanctity of marriage. And yet I know that Christians and non-Christians alike, fall short of the glory of God. No law and no government can change the hearts of people; only God can do that. I do not live in fear of socialism and cultural Marxism.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

I will not be dismayed by Christian Nationalism. I reject it and I resist it.

I want people to see the love of Jesus reflected in me.

I want to live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness.

I want to give out God’s unconditional love, grace and forgiveness to others.

With all of this in mind, I will be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people and for those who have not seen the love of God in the church.

I will put on the full armor of God so I can take a stand against the devil’s schemes.*

I will stand firm, with the belt of truth buckled around my waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with my feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 

In addition to all this, I take up the shield of faith, with which I can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. In this stand against Christian Nationalism, I will take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

*Ephesions 6:10-18

My Daily Prayer: The Jesus Creed

For Lent, my church has been studying The Jesus Creed, a book based on the response Jesus gave when a scribe asked, “Which commandment is the greatest of all?” We were challenged to get into the habit of reciting the Jesus Creed everyday, morning and night. I tried and failed.

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:29-31

The first part of Christ’s response is the Shema, a Jewish prayer. Jews recited this prayer morning and night: ‘Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One’. Jesus added the command, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ giving it great importance. Even people who do not believe in Jesus know this great command. They watch as too many Christians fail to practice it.

Loving your neighbor as yourself is one of the greatest challenges of life. Even more so, when you understand that your neighbors are not just your friends but also your enemies.

May this be my daily prayer. God, I love you with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and with all my strength. Lord Jesus, help me to love as you taught me to love.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

God cares, do I?

The last lesson of the truth project was by far the best. In most of the other lessons, Dr. Tackett outlined a divisive cosmic battle between those on the side of God’s truth and those who believe the “pernicious lies” of the world. The Truth Project approaches truth from a religious right, Us versus Them worldview. In this lesson, titled “Community & Involvement: God Cares, Do I?” Tackett finally got to a central truth of Christianity – God commanded us to love one another.

The central premise of the lesson is that because God cares about the needs of the people, we need to care about others as well. When Jesus was asked, which is the greatest commandment, he responded, “‘Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

The Heart of God

Here, at last, The Truth Project zeroed in on the heart of God. Though God is exalted above all others, He especially has a heart for the needy and the lowly. God cares about those who are considered the least among us.

Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
    though lofty, he sees them from afar.

Psalm 138:6

We learn about the heart of God when we look at Jesus. Anyone who has seen Jesus, has seen the Father (John 14:4-9). Jesus was gentle and humble. He did not use his equality with God as something to use for his own advantage. Instead, he took the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Seeing others as God sees them

Tackett said that we should see others as God sees them and recognize that we all have eternal significance. He quoted C.S. Lewis, who wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” Everyday, we interact with people who are full of incredible potential. We should take each other seriously and remember that we are all on a journey of eternal spiritual significance.

In this lesson, I finally saw what was missing in the other lessons – love. It was moving to see the tears in Tackett’s eyes when he spoke about God’s love for ordinary people. I wish that The Truth Project had made the love of God the central theme and not just the last word.

My Critique of The Truth Project

One of the discussion questions asked, “do you have any closing comments about our twelve weeks together and the ground we have covered?” I’m glad they asked. While The Truth Project includes a lot of scriptural content, for me that did not make up for the errors in their teaching.

Either/Or, Us versus Them Thinking

The purpose of The Truth Project is to contrast the truth claims of God with the lies of the world. In lesson one, Dr. Tackett presented a list of supposedly opposite words that illustrated his binary thinking about the battle for truth: Unity vs. division. Diversity vs. unification. Roles vs. jealousy. Responsibility vs. blame. Authority vs. rebellion. Delegation vs. tyranny. Freedom vs. bondage.

The truth is, not everything is black or white. Not everything is knowable. Diverse communities can be unified by common values. While submitting to authority is generally a desirable thing, when those in authority abuse their power, rebellion may be necessary.

I couldn’t help but notice that there are words in Tackett’s list that are not opposites. When he suggests that “roles” are the antithesis of “jealousy” and “responsibility” is the antithesis of “blame,” he seems to be attributing motives to people he does not know. In doing so, he does not acknowledge the complexity and diversity of human thoughts and behavior.

The Truth Project leaves no room for a both/and worldview. You either believe like Dr. Tackett or he claims that you believe lies. One of the best examples of this was the lesson on science in which Tackett made his case against evolution. The study guides says that “fallen man ignores the plain evidence of objective scientific inquiry and promotes the atheistic philosophy of evolutionary theory primarily because he is determined to do as he pleases without answering to a higher authority.” Here again, Dr. Tackett ascribes bad motives to people he does not know. Many Christians simultaneously believe that God is the Creator and believe scientific evidence.

Comparing human institutions to the Holy Trinity

In several of the lessons, Tackett spoke about social institutions that he believes reflect the divine design of God – the family, the church, the government, labor, community, and the relationship between man and God. For example, Tackett believes that families were designed by God to be triune in nature. He equates the relationships and roles of husband, wife and children to the Father, Son and Spirit, based in part on Ephesians 5:22-33, which says that wives should submit to their husbands.

I take issue with The Truth Project’s claims about the divine design of social institutions because it glosses over the sinful nature of man and the fact that God gave mankind the freedom to exercise dominion over our world. Where are the biblical examples of social institutions that reflect God’s perfect unified nature?

The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All individuals fall short of the glory of God. All families fall short of the glory of God. All governments fall short of the glory of God. All churches fall short of the glory of God.

Thinking Christians can fix the world

Finally, The Truth Project promotes the idea that if Christians just take a stand against the lies of the world, we can fix it. Tackett says that if believers want our government to be based on biblical principles, we must carry on the “experiment” of our Christian forefathers.

In The Truth Project’s worldview, I see legalism at work – the belief that we can earn salvation by obeying God’s commandments and that keeping God’s laws is an end in itself. Legalists sometimes err by making up their own rules and pretending that they are God’s.

The legalist focuses only on obeying bare rules, destroying the broader context of God’s love and redemption in which He gave His law in the first place.

3 Types of Legalism, from R.C. Sproul

Even if all families consisted of a husband, wife and children, even if the only form of government on this planet was theocratic, even if all secular schools were banished from the earth and the ten commandments were prominently posted where everyone could read them, people would still lie and cheat and steal and murder and commit adultery. And even those who outwardly appear to be righteous, law abiding citizens would still have hearts that are not right with God.

The truth is only God can transform people. God changes people from the inside out. God changes hearts.

What did I get out of The Truth Project? Not what Focus on the Family would hope, I’m sure. I choose to not look at the world as a battleground. I believe that God wants me to see the world as He see it – with grace-filled eyes.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrew 12:15

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Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Deep and Wide

When I was a kid, we used to sing a song called “Deep and Wide.” Deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing, deep and wide. We used our hands to illustrate the deep and wide part as children love to do. But as a child, even though I believed that Jesus loved me, I had no comprehension of how deep and vast that love is.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)

Before his life-changing conversion, Saul fought the spread of the gospel. He threatened to arrest and take the Lord’s disciples as prisoners. But on the road to Damascus, the Lord confronted him asking: “Saul, why do you persecute me?” After his encounter with Jesus, Saul became Paul, one of the greatest proponents of the gospel. It was his mission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles – to the very people he had once condemned.

The apostle Paul understood the “boundless riches of Christ.” With great enthusiasm, he wrote to the Ephesian believers about the great mystery that had been revealed to him (Ephesians 3:6): that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Because of Jesus, those who were once shut out of God’s promises were able to approach God with freedom and confidence.

As a child, I would not have understood the mystery that Paul was so excited to reveal. The word “gentile” was not in my vocabulary. There was no need for it; everyone in my small hometown was gentile. I was never excluded from the promises of God because of my heritage.

As a child, my knowledge of the love of Jesus was quite simple. He loved me because he loved all the children of the world. He loved me because he is good. He loved me because he is merciful. I was shy and self-conscious and felt like I didn’t fit in but God loved me just as I am. Even as a child, I knew that I could approach God with confidence because he knew me.

As an adult, I have seen the ugly side of humanity – the ways we fight with and hurt each other and treat others as less than ourselves. I see how we delight in building walls instead of bridges. I see how superficial we are in the ways we judge one another – on the basis of skin color or beauty or social status.

Now I see how radical the love of Jesus truly is. I see it in the way he told us to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us. I see it in the way he chose the despised Samaritan as the exemplar good neighbor – not the priest or the holy Levite. I see it in the way he responded to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees when they brought the adulterous woman before him hoping to trick him:

Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?

Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

The love of Jesus is a love that is so wide and long and high and deep that it extends to everyone. There is nothing about us that he does not already know. He sees right through to the mess inside of us and loves us anyway.

As an adult, I am rooted and established in the love of Jesus and yet I don’t fully grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is. It’s hard to find the words to describe the love of Jesus. Amazing. Unchanging. Unfailing. Ridiculous. Scandalous. Just call it what it is. Call it Grace (Unspoken).

It’s the light that pierces through you
To the darkest hidden place
It knows your deepest secrets
But it never looks away
It’s the gentle hand that pulls you
From the judgment of the crowd
When you stand before them guilty
And you’ve got no way out

Some may call it foolish and impossible
But for every heart it rescues it’s a miracle
It’s nothing less than scandalous
This love that took our place
Just call it what it is
Call it grace