Living Deep

My church just started a new sermon series called Living Deep, which will be based on First John, a letter written by the apostle John. My pastor said this book is challenging to preach about because there are no stories and no characters. It is deep. It is luminescent.

To live a deep and meaningful life, you have to dive deep. In the first sermon, Pastor Brad told us about his scuba diving trip in Maui. He described an experience that was beautiful and unforgettable. I have never been scuba diving so I can only imagine how beautiful and awe-inspiring it is. I do know the joy that comes from experiencing the beauty of nature. I do know the joy that comes from knowing the deep, deep love of Jesus.

God is light. In him, there is no darkness at all.

How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.

This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

He who has the Son has life.

Here’s to diving deep and experiencing the deep, deep, luminescent love of Jesus!

via Daily Prompt: Luminescent

The Light of the World

Many names and phrases have been used to describe Jesus – the Messiah, Savior, Lord, Master, Teacher, Emmanuel (God with Us), the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, and the Son of Man. Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world.’  I love thinking of Jesus as light because his ways are such a dramatic contrast to the darkness of the world. The world seems darker to me now than it ever has; the contrast between Jesus and those who claim to follow him has never seemed starker.

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. – John 1:4-5

Jesus warned about how bad things would be. He warned of false prophets. He warned of wolves in sheep’s clothing. He said that family members would turn against each other. He warned us to be on guard against deceivers.

I’ve grown accustomed to seeing a lack of reverence for God and Jesus from atheists. God isn’t real to them and the version of Christianity that most of them see isn’t real either. Too many people who claim to follow Jesus are just actors, hypocrites.

Jesus saved his harshest criticism for people who pretended to be righteous. Today, modern-day hypocrites are not just pretending to follow Christ, they are committing blasphemy, insulting or showing a lack of reverence for Jesus Christ, the Word who was with God from the beginning.

Below are some of the most offensive, outrageous words I’ve seen lately on social media. The author suggests that the president is a light, a savior against darkness. The author suggests that because the current Cabinet holds Bible studies, it does not have “complete disdain for everything right, everything good, for anything of God.” But the unrepentant president’s most ardent supporters display disdain for God as they lavish praise on a man who is the antithesis to the one true Light of the World, Jesus Christ.

Already a light has appeared. Just when it seemed the darkest, when evil and corruption were taking over our world and the weak and poor were being trampled on… the most unexpected thing happened. God entered into our world in the most unexpected way.

And even the most casual observer can tell which administration holds weekly Bible studies and which administration had complete disdain for everything right, everything good, for anything of God.

Author – unknown blasphemer

The one true light of the world entered the world in an unexpected way, as a humble, servant leader. The devil offered to give him all the kingdoms of the world and Jesus said no. Instead, he endured ridicule, beatings and death on a cross to demonstrate his love for the world.

The light of the world said that the greatest commandment of all is to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The light of the world said to do to others as you would have them do to you. He said to love your enemies and bless those who curse you.

The light of the world did not seek revenge against his enemies. He did not make fun of the disabled. He did not try to enrich himself on the backs of his creditors. He did not abuse and demean women. He did not lie.

I write all of this because Jesus is the light of the world. The message of Jesus is love. If what you’re hearing from anyone who claims to be righteous does not reflect light, it is not of God.

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. ( 1 John 1:5-6)

The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:4-6)

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. (1 John 2:9)

Glory to the light of the world.

 

 

 

Love Will Prevail

Someone posted a 22 minute video of the “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. I couldn’t watch more than a couple of minutes of it. It made me sick to my stomach. I know that I’m not alone in being upset about the hatred directed at blacks and Jews. It’s vile and disgusting. As a nation, we should be better than this.

Many people have spoken out about the false equivalency the president made between the behavior and character of white supremacists and that of counter-protesters. He said there was blame on both sides. He said that some of those people were “fine people.” But there is nothing fine or good about people who hate people of another race, religion, sex, or nationality. There is an evil darkness where their hearts should be.

Yesterday, we saw the outrage of a man who has no moral compass. His anger was directed at the people who pushed him to denounce the abhorrent behavior of racists. He showed his true colors. He is a man without morals. His comments shocked many but were absolutely consistent with everything he had already shown himself to be.

Last night, I went to bed distraught about racism, Anti-Semitism and the president’s defiant comments in defense of white supremacists. I prayed for my country. I had a dream that I was at some sort of protest. In my dream, I yelled out, “Jesus will prevail!”

My dreaming self reminded me that even when it seems that wickedness is getting the upper hand, hate will never win. Love is much more powerful than hate. It always has been and always will be.

Love builds others up.

Love consoles.

Love encourages.

Love gives me hope for my country.

Tonight, I pray the prayer of Saint Francis. Lord, in this torn and divided country, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is darkness, let me shine light. Where there is sadness, may I spread joy.

Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Love Your Enemies, Guard Your Heart

I rarely use the verb “hate” when speaking about a person because I was taught that hating people is wrong. Instead, I choose words that basically mean the same thing: I “despise” or “can’t stand” him or her.  Or I use words that are a bit softer than the word hate:  I “dislike” or “don’t care” for the person who rubs me the wrong way. Sometimes I say as Christians often do, that I hate the behavior rather than the person; hate the sin, love the sinner.

The night after the presidential election, I had a dream – a nightmare really – that The Apprentice star was having a victory parade with thousands of people cheering. I yelled out, “I hate him!” My sleeping mind was honest. Over the many months of the campaign, I was so repulsed by the Nightmare’s words that I couldn’t stand to watch him. I still can’t bear to listen to him or see his face for more than a few seconds. I hold his dishonesty, self-centeredness, and meanness in contempt. I despise his self-aggrandizement and his ugliness towards anyone who doesn’t praise him.

But I knew I had to put my anger to bed and accept the new reality, no matter how abhorrent it is to me. Anger is a dangerous emotion that fuels hate and makes it so you can’t see straight. Anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:20, NIV). Even though my anger at bad behavior is justified, I can’t nurse it. Instead, I am called to love and defend the people who are hurt by his anti-gospel message. I put my hope in the gospel, not politics.

The man who starred in my nightmare is not a personal enemy to me but he is an enemy of goodness. He is an enemy of honesty and integrity, justice and mercy for the oppressed, freedom of speech, and the religious freedom of non-Christians. He bullies and persecutes his enemies. I can hate what he does and says but I must have some measure of compassion for him.

How do I love someone who is wicked, especially when I know that God doesn’t like wickedness either? Proverbs says that God hates a perverse man (3:32), a false witness who pours out lies (6:19), a heart that devises wicked schemes (6:18), and all of the proud of heart (16:5). Jesus condemned greed, self-indulgence, pride and hypocrisy. How am I to love a sinner if I can’t see something lovable in him? How do I learn to see the human soul apart from his behavior?

Love Your Enemies

Jesus said that we should love our neighbors and our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45). He even said to pray for those who persecute you. After all, anyone can love people who are easy to love – people who share their interests and beliefs. When Jesus said that we should love our enemies, he did not explain how to do it. Instead, he pointed straight to God. He reminded us that God is kind to both the righteous and the wicked. Loving your enemies is how you show the world that you belong to God. He said that if you don’t forgive others, God will not forgive you (Matthew 6:15).

Jesus illustrated the concept of redeeming, unconditional love in The Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son. The younger son ran off and squandered everything his father gave him, while the older son worked hard and obeyed his father. When the younger son finally came to his senses, he returned to his father’s home, humbled and ready to confess his sins. His father welcomed him with compassion. He was joyful because his lost son came home.

The prophet Jonah knew that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Jonah 4:2). Jonah did not want to deliver God’s message to the wicked people of Nineveh. It made him angry that God was merciful. But God said, shouldn’t I have concern for them? Even the wicked are God’s children and when they repent, he shows them mercy.

Learning from Dr. King

I admire the wisdom, courage, and grace of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who had every reason to hate white people. King fought to end racial segregation and other forms of racial inequality. He was beaten and jailed for his nonviolent resistance to social injustice. Yet he chose to love his enemies. He understood the destructive power of hate. Hate begets hate. If you respond to hate with hate, it does nothing but intensify the level of evil in the universe. He said that at some point, you must have the moral sense to break the chain of hate.

Even when I do my best to put aside anger at his wickedness, I do not feel any warmth or affection for my moral enemy. I can’t empathize with him because I don’t understand or share his feelings. Dr. King explained that God does not expect us to love our enemies in the same way we love our friends. It would be ridiculous to expect people to love their oppressors in an affectionate way.

The kind of love we should have for our enemies is agape. Agape is not philia, brotherly love. It is the highest form of love – an unconditional love that transcends circumstances. Dr. King described agape as an understanding, redeeming love motivated by good will for all men. It is not motivated by any quality of its object. In other words, it does not distinguish between worthy and unworthy people. Agape love does not seek its own good but the good of its neighbor. King described this kind of love as “disinterested” in the sense that you are not loving the person because it benefits you to love them. You love them for their own sake.

Dr. King said that agape originates from the need of the other person – “his need for belonging to the best in the human family.” We are all interrelated as human beings – blacks, whites, Christians, Muslims, atheists, gay, straight, etc. No matter how bad we are, we are never completely depraved. Dr. King said that there is something in our nature that responds to goodness. Just as an evil person like Hitler can appeal to the element of evil in us, someone like Jesus or Gandhi can appeal to the element of good in us.

Pitying My Enemy’s Neediness

I pity my enemy, the gloating man of my nightmare. Pity may seem like a strange emotion to feel for a man who has wealth, power and worldly success. After all, pity is compassion for the suffering or misfortune of others. Though he would hardly be called unfortunate in material terms, he lacks something more precious than gold: love. I think the man who lives in luxury suffers from a lack of self-esteem. You can see it in the way the grand tweeter so quickly tears down anyone who wounds his pride. Perhaps denigrating other people is the only way he can feel good about himself. Perhaps he spends so much time talking about how great he is because inside he really does not believe that he is lovable.

I pity a man who does not love his neighbor – immigrants and refugees. I pity the man who does not have the love for others that is evidenced by fruit of the Spirit: peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. I pity a man who does not know how to forgive. Without love, he is nothing but a resounding gong.

And I know that the odds of redemption are stacked against him. Yes, he won the election. Yes, he reached the pinnacle of power in the United States government. Yes, he lives in luxury. Yes, millions of people worship him. But as Jesus said, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). You can’t worship both God and money. It is really hard for someone who worships wealth and material possessions to build his treasures in heaven.

I pity a man who is afraid to look too closely at himself, to engage in honest introspection, because he is missing the opportunity to know God. He is fighting a battle he cannot win unless he surrenders his distorted sense of self. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity,

The point is, He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble – delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are.

Will my enemy ever realize that the key to becoming the greatest in the human family is humility? That as long as you strut about like a silly idiot trying to prove your worthiness to the world, you will never know God? I am skeptical but have to keep in mind that if even a tiny corner of his heart is open to God’s goodness, my enemy is redeemable.

Guarding My Heart from Hate

Timothy wrote about the terrible times of the last days. The people he describes sound just like my enemy. So while I need to see him as God does, as a lost son in need of God’s redeeming love and mercy, I also have to guard my own heart against his wickedness. I also have to guard my heart against the destructive power of anger.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV)

Learning to love my enemy with a disinterested, redeeming love is going to be hard. But my heart belongs to Jesus and hatred of anyone, no matter how I feel about their behavior, does not sit well in my heart. Above all else, I must guard my heart because everything I do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).