Posts Tagged love

Evil Schemes and Generous Plans

This post was published a couple of weeks ago on the Compassion International Blog, but I thought I’d run it here as well for those who missed it.

“…the schemes of the schemer are evil; He devises wicked plans To destroy the poor with lying words, Even when the needy speaks justice.” (Isaiah 32:7 NKJV)

I can’t think of a more accurate description of poverty.

The evil one, the wicked schemer, devises wicked plans against the poor, and he has been highly successful. Over half the world’s population is a slave of his plan. This wicked scheme called poverty has stolen hope, killed dreams and destroyed lives.

He has spoken lying words to those caught in his scheme. He has told them they don’t matter. He has made them believe they are all alone in their suffering. He has deceived them into thinking their situation will never change. They no longer dream or aspire to anything better, because they have believed his lies.

Imagine, billions of souls caught in the greatest destructive plot in history! Who will help them? Who will save them?

Look at the next verse,

But a generous man devises generous things, And by generosity he shall stand. (Isaiah 32:8 NKJV)

The answer is us.

Me, and you, and all who call themselves by the name of the Lord. The answer is generous people, devising generous plans. Those generous plans are the antidote to the schemes of the enemy.

I’m thinking about generous people who plan and pray and devise ways to help the poor. The family that fasts a meal a week so they can sponsor a child. The student who bypasses a few lattes so she can feed the hungry. The church groups who pool their resources so they can make a difference.

Those are generous plans. They exist to speak the truth into the lives of those who are enslaved by the enemy and his lies.  They exist to bring light to their darkness, and hope to the hopelessness of his wicked scheme.

It’s not an easy fight, and it takes sacrifice and humility and persistence. But just think what might happen if enough generous people decided to use their intelligence, skills and resources to devise enough generous plans! Maybe we could defeat the wicked scheme called poverty once and for all.

So what is your generous plan?

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Which One Are You?

Taken as a whole, the teachings of Jesus are the most subversive, radical, counter-intuitive philosophy ever thrust upon the human condition.  The statement “Love your enemies” alone could inspire many volumes as we seek to apply its weight and gravity to all areas of life and civic interaction.

The same could be said for Jesus’ parable known as “The Good Samaritan”

I think it’s the most radical story ever told.  If you don’t know the story, read it here.

Most interesting to me is Jesus’ choice of characters.  There’s the Priest and Levite, men known for their strict adherence to religious rule and ritual.  Men who would have had more than sufficient means to take care of the injured man.  Men who, had they understood the teachings of which they so proudly considered themselves experts, would have been compelled to stop.  But they didn’t.

No explanation of why, no mention of prior engagements or work that was more important.  They simply didn’t stop  But Jesus took it one step further.  Not only did they not stop, but they passed by on the other side of the road.  They altered their path so as to avoid the suffering of the wounded man.  They went out of their way to ignore him.  It’s not simply that they didn’t stop, but that they knew they should stop and didn’t.

Then there’s the Samaritan.

That word “Samaritan” just doesn’t carry the emotional weight for us that it carried for those who heard it from Jesus’ lips.  I don’t think Jesus could have chosen a more controversial protagonist for His story than a Samaritan.  To say these people were hated would be a gross understatement.

There was a racial and religious hatred centuries old between the Jews and Samaritans, dating back to the Assyrian occupation of Israel during the 8th century BC. When the Assyrians conquered Israel, they settled conquered peoples from other lands in Samaria, Israel’s capitol.  These pagans over the years intermarried with the native Jews left in Samaria, creating a race of what the Jews considered to be “half-breeds.”  The hatred and antagonism was present when Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity.  In fact, just thirty or so years prior to Jesus telling this story, Samaritans had entered the temple in Jerusalem during Passover and desecrated it by spreading human bones in the porches.

Jews hated Samaritans.  They were racially impure, their food was considered as unclean as swine flesh, their religion was illegitimate. In fact, when the Pharisees could think of no greater insult to hurl at Jesus, they called Him a Samaritan.  Even Jesus’ own followers couldn’t believe He was talking to the Samaritan “woman at the well.”

And so Jesus chose a Samaritan to stop and help the wounded man.  A Samaritan showed compassion on a Jew.  A Samaritan did what the “righteous” priest and Levite would not: he stopped and helped. He treated the man’s wounds, took him to a local inn and provided for his care and recovery.  He promised to return and make sure the man had recovered and the bill was paid.  He didn’t just stop and help, he committed himself to a man who hated him.

Jesus could have chosen anyone.  It was His story.  He could have made the man a fisherman, a commoner, even a leper.  But He chose a Samaritan.

His meaning couldn’t be any clearer. 

The Samaritan who stops is better than the Priest who doesn’t.  The half-breed, unclean, reject who has mercy is better than the morally righteous person who doesn’t.

Jesus is clear in His teaching, and the essence of that teaching boils down to one word: love.  And the outcast “sinner” who loves is, according to this parable, more a part of the Kingdom than those who appear to keep all the rules except one: to love.

There is no other rule in the Kingdom.  Jesus said all the law and the prophets could be boiled down to love. So any rule or moral obligation that does not result in love is not scriptural.  Any “religious” person who does not love is simply wearing a facade.  He’s a fake.  He who does not love is not a follower of Christ.

Everything is upside down in the Kingdom.  The last become first.  The poor become preferred.  The rejects get moved to the front of the line.  The sinner who deserves death gets life.  And the “Samaritan” who stops and helps is better than the “Priest” who doesn’t.

Which one are you?

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Jesus Loves Jerry Sandusky

It’s not just a shocking title to get you to read this post.

It’s probably not something very popular to say these days.  The horrendous deeds of a sick man have rocked not only the Penn State football program, not only the sports world, but our entire culture.  They have brought down a legend and challenged to the core the institutional idolatry of entertainment and sports so rampant in our culture.

But God loves Jerry Sandusky.  Not just “kinda loves”.  He deeply, passionately, completely, and eternally loves Jerry Sandusky.  Thousands of years ago, when the world was without form and void, God new Jerry would fall into his trap of lust and darkness, and He moved heaven and earth to send His Son to die for Jerry.  And when Jerry was in that shower stall (and who knows where else) God’s heart broke with love and compassion for Him, just as it does over his victims.

But I’ll tell you what’s most shocking to me about this whole tragedy is the reaction I’ve seen from most of my Christian friends.  “Fry in hell” or some similar sentiment are words I’ve heard more than once, and those who didn’t say the words showed them on their faces.  I’m not being self-righteous here, I’ve thought it too.  We act as though we’d be happy to see Jerry Sandusky face eternal damnation for what He’s done.  And while we’re at it, throw in all the other perverts, drunkards, and sinners!


What do we have to gain by Jerry frying in hell?  Do you think that man hasn’t been living in hell every day of his life?  Will the world suddenly be free from pedophiles if we hang Jerry in the public square?  Or will it just make me feel better to see a sinner punished for his sin?

Guess what…I have skeletons in my closet too.  And so do you.  They might not rise to the level of Jerry’s, but I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t want them exposed publicly.

And guess what…God loves you just as passionately, deeply, unconditionally and eternally as he does Jerry Sandusky.  He’s looked beyond your lust, my greed, our self-righteous pride and accepted us.  Yet somehow we take pleasure in the fact that we’re not like the Jerry Sandusky’s of the world.  We’re part of the secret club that gets a free pass.  But not him…not after what he’s done.

I think we’re all a lot more like the brother in the Prodigal Son story than we’d like to believe.  We’re the good kids, and it’s not fair that the rebels, sinners and losers are embraced by the Father just like we are.  We’re angry that they get a ring and a feast when they finally come to their senses and come home.  They get a free pass, and it’s not right, is it?

You can keep your accusations that I’m being soft on sin, or that I don’t care about the victims of his crimes.  You and I both know that’s not true.  It’s a horrible thing that’s happened, and lives have been ruined.  But if you want to think that about me, then so be it.  If you think I should burn in hell with Jerry, so be it.  If you want to obfuscate the issue with doctrinal arguments or politics, so be it.

But I’ve made my choice.

And just like Jesus I’m casting my lot with the sinners, losers and those who deserve His love the least.  I don’t know Jerry Sandusky, but I’m throwing open the door to him to experience the unconditional love and grace that can be found by falling on the mercy of a Jesus who died for people exactly like Jerry.

And while I’m at it, all the other prostitutes, pedophiles, porn addicts, adulterers and anyone else trapped in a darkness they feel like they can’t escape are welcome as well.  Fall at the feet of Jesus and experience what apparently most of His people aren’t willing to offer…love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

There was once a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery, a sin punishable by death in Jesus’ day.  The religious leaders seemed to have the same reaction most Christians have today:  stone in hand, ready for action.  And I seem to remember Jesus staring down her self-righteous accusers until, one by one, they walked away.  Then Jesus said the same words He’s said to so many sinners since then…words that ring down through the ages to sinners like you and me and, yes, even Jerry Sandusky:  “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

So Jerry Sandusky, I don’t care what they say, you can be forgiven.  You can start over with a clean slate before God.  Sure, you’ll have to bear the consequences of your actions, whatever they may have been.  But you can be free of the guilt and shame and self-inflicted torture I’m sure you’re going through.

Even if nobody else does, Jesus loves you.

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Planks and splinters

I got a question from someone who read one of my recent posts called “I’m going AWOL.” I thought his question was a good one, it made me think a little and pray a lot about my answer. And I think it’s an important enough issue to answer his question publicly and give all the readers of this blog a chance to be in on the conversation. (By the way, he actually agrees with me, so I’m not “calling him out” publicly or anything.)

Here’s his question:

In the epistle to the Ephesians is written: “and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of the darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11 KJV) That “reprove them” could mean that we as God’s children are entitled and exhorted to confront the ungodly in his/her unrighteousness? 

I gave him my short answer on the blog post, but here is the more complete answer. As always, I’d love to hear from anyone on your thoughts as well.

It’s the sin, not the sinner

The first thing that strikes me about this scripture in Ephesians is that it refers to the “unfruitful works of darkness,” not the “unfruitful workers of darkness.” The focus is on the sinful acts, not those who commit them. It seems to me, our focus these days is more on the sinners around us than the grace of God that has freed us from the bondage to sin.  This idea of “taking a stand for God” has consumed us, and has only served to erect a wall between God and those who need Him most.

It’s me that has to change

The next thing about this scripture is that word “fellowship.” My study shows it would probably be better translated as “participate in.”  This is an encouragement to believers not to participate in the works of darkness that are practiced by those in the world around them. “Don’t live like them, don’t behave like them. You have been redeemed by Christ, everything should have changed. Desires, focus, passions should be directed toward Christ and not pleasing yourself.”

This is not a fight

Then there’s that word “reprove.” Again, I think a better translation would be “expose.” I don’t think this is an invitation to do what we’ve done many times. It’s not permission for us to fight and picket and protest those with whom we disagree. It’s not an encouragement for us to point our bony fingers of judgment at others. Rather, I think it is a challenge for us to live our lives in such a way that, by contrast, the works of darkness around us will be exposed for the evil they are.  By doing so, we earn the right to speak into the lives of others.  When we live lives ruled by love, not judgment, those around us become much more receptive to what we have to say.

The bottom line

Look, I know we are called to “come out from among them and do not touch the unclean thing.”  But that command has nothing to do with “them”, it has everything to do with me.  I do not have to shake my fist at the world.  I just stop acting like them.  I don’t have to point out the sin in those around me, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

The weapons of our warfare are not of this earth.  Our enemy is not of this earth.  Our battle is not with the sinners, the gays, the atheists or anyone else.  We belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.  That’s a Kingdom that has no end.  And it’s a Kingdom that aims to change me first.  It’s a Kingdom that requires me to lay down my life, my dreams, and my hopes before its King.  It requires me to start with my own planks, not their splinters.

The path of love is a slower, more deliberate pace.  It’s a journey, not a sprint.  It’s a lifestyle, not a marketing ploy.  It takes commitment, patience, and…well…love.

If it is a battle, and we’re going to fight against the sin around us, I think love and mercy are much more effective weapons anyway.

Maybe that’s why Jesus used them.

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I’m going AWOL

In case you hadn’t heard, there is a culture war raging around us these days.  Orthodox vs. Secular.  Conservative vs. Progressive.  Call it what you will, we see two distinct world views battling it out in the court of public opinion.  And this culture war has tainted almost every area of our society: our news media, politics and, yes, Christianity.

There are certainly elements of the Christian world who feel it is their God-ordained duty to fight the culture war.  They see America abandoning the “Christian values” they believe have guided our nation since its inception, and are committed to fighting to preserve those values.  They organize and protest, criticize and argue with those whom they feel are leading the nation astray.  I say these words with great care, because for most of my life I have belonged to this group.

On the other side of the table are Christians who equally love God, yet equally fight the culture war in a different way.  They too have a list of morals and ideals they see as eroding, and they blame the “religious right” for leading America down a path of destruction.  Again, I say this with caution and respect, because I have good friends who fall into this group.

Sure, my descriptions are over-simplified and excessively broad.  But they are sufficient for me to make my point.  Actually, it’s more of a question (or series of questions.)

When did God ever call us to fight a culture war?

When did He ever ask us to defend Him to the world around us?  When did God tell us to argue and protest and defend our position?  When did He tell us to marginalize and demonize those with whom we disagree?

Even if we think they are ruining our culture and even if we are convinced the other side is destroying America, where did we ever get the idea that we were to engage in a culture war to defend our beliefs, morals, and traditions?  Have we become so engulfed in politics that we cannot separate them from our faith in Christ?

And since when was Christianity ever intended to become a culture in the first place?  It seems to me it happened about the same time the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion.  Since that day Christianity has enjoyed a place of cultural and political power that has been relatively unchallenged. And even when questioned, it wielded enough influence to quickly eliminate its detractors.  This marriage of politics and religion has been a long time in the making.

So here we are.  The gospel of our Lord Jesus has been reduced to a series of rules and regulations.  The good news of God’s grace on sinful man has been tarnished by our lack of grace for one another.  The One who spent His whole life on earth criticizing religion has become the foundation of yet another religion.  We fight and argue, criticize and divide.  And we do it all in the name of the One who said, “they will know you are my disciples by your love.”

If there is any culture at all to Christianity, it is love.

If there is any moral ethic which we should strive to uphold, it is love.  Mercy, grace, forgiveness…all can be summed up in that one word, love.  Yet our culture war is the antithesis of love. It’s hard to love someone when you are telling them they are ruining the world.  It’s hard to love someone when you constantly criticize their deeply held values.  It’s hard for them to feel loved when they are always wrong and you are always right.

What have we gained?  Have we really changed anything?  It seems to me all we have accomplished is driving a wedge between God and those we think need Him most.  Most people probably wouldn’t have a problem with Jesus if they didn’t feel so beaten down by His followers.

So I quit. I’m going AWOL.  I’m resigning my post in the culture war.  I will no longer fight against flesh and blood, doing battle with those who are not my enemies.  If there is warfare to be waged, I will fight it in prayer.  And I will love those with whom I disagree. I will be merciful to those who I think have gone astray.  I will leave the culture up to the one who transcends nationality, creed, culture and tradition.

He is big enough to defend Himself anyway.

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My way or the highway

Have you ever noticed how the church talks about the concept of “absolute truth?”  For the most part, we use that term as a weapon.  We wield it like a giant spiritual baseball bat to bludgeon anyone who does not agree with us.  If you think differently than what our doctrine clearly states, you are wrong.  And we wast no time or effort in quickly convincing you of that fact.

The funny thing is, I always think of what I believe as absolute truth, not what you believe.

I never stop to consider that those who disagree with me feel as strongly about the “absoluteness” of their truth as I do of mine.  So we let something that should unite us divide us instead.  Instead of rallying around what should be obvious to all, we instead polarize, demonize, and politicize.

It seems we Christians love to look backwards.  We look at the way things have always been done and elevate our traditions to the level of absolute.  Then when anyone dares disagree with us, they become an enemy who must be silenced.  Our truth is better than yours, so we protect ours by eliminating yours.

Why do we have to proclaim truth in such a negative way?

The good news seems more like bad news when it makes you right and me wrong all the time.

In John 14:6 Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the “…way, the TRUTH, and the life…”  So, as His follower, my definition of truth must begin and end with Jesus.  His words, His actions, His example gives me a road-map to follow in my pursuit of truth.  If it looks and sounds like Jesus, then it is truth.

Jesus certainly didn’t beat people over the head with doctrine or dogma.  He didn’t use the truth of who He was as a weapon against the infidels.  The Pharisees did that.  They were the ones excluding and judging, condemning and executing.  They were the ones enforcing every letter of the law, while forgetting mercy.  The Pharisee’s concept of absolute truth said the woman caught in adultery should be stoned.  But Jesus – the truth in human form – said, “neither do I condemn you.” 

So what am I saying?  Am I saying we are wrong to believe in absolutes?  Have I become some sort of relativist?  Some postmodern who believes that all truths are equally valid?  No, I believe in absolutes.  I believe in the absolutes Jesus taught, and they are not that complicated:

I believe that love overcomes evil.
I believe that mercy triumphs over judgment.
I believe we will be judged by how we treat the poor, the oppressed, and the helpless.
I believe “love your neighbor” transcends race, creed, nationality, and bigotry.
I believe loving our enemies is better than hating them.
I believe in returning good for evil, love for hatred, mercy for wrongdoing.
I believe we are never so tall as when we stoop to embrace a leper.

Yes, I believe in absolute truth.

I believe we are all absolutely depraved, and that Jesus came to absolutely redeem all of us to Himself.  And I absolutely don’t get to decide what that looks like.  He is the Redeemer, He gets to decide.  He has redeemed even people I might not like, agree with, or understand.  He is more than capable of revealing the truth of His love to the world He came to redeem.  He doesn’t need me to swing Him around like a blunt object used to beat sinners into submission.

Besides, love is a much more effective weapon anyway, and that’s the truth.

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