Monthly Archives: February 2019

Do unto others

It is easy to belittle the overweight man when you eat all you want and never gain a pound.

It is easy to ridicule the chronically ill when you haven’t been sick a day in your life.

It is easy to be exasperated with the parents of a special needs child when you don’t have a special needs child.

It is easy to say, “They just need to spank that kid more” when it isn’t your child.

It is easy to say abuse never happens when it never happens to you.

It is easy to say that sexual assault isn’t that bad, when it didn’t happen to you.

It is easy to say, “I know that guy. He is such a wonderful man. He could never do something like that” if you aren’t the one he has preyed upon.

It is easy to say there is no such thing as a wolf when you refuse to see the sheep’s clothing.

It is easy to rail against welfare and food stamps if you have never been hungry.

It is easy to scoff and mock the one who struggles with same-sex attraction when all of your sexual sins are vanilla and hetero.

It is easy to tell a woman that she has to return to her husband when you have never been in physical or emotional danger.

It is easy to tell a person with anxiety or depression to “get over it” when you don’t have anxiety or depression.

It is easy to say, “Words can’t hurt you” when you have never been subjected to the repeated and regular assault of vicious and contemptuous words.

It is easy to tell another parent how to raise their child.

It is easy to tell your unbelieving neighbor that all they need is Jesus when they are bleeding from wounds you can’t see and couldn’t understand.

It is easy to tell someone that racism doesn’t exist anymore – especially if you are white and middle-class.

What is hard is to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

What is hard is to bear one another’s burdens.

What is hard is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

What is hard is to “esteem the other better than yourself, in lowliness of mind.”

To do what is hard takes patience. To do what is hard means to give of yourself and be quick to hear. It takes sacrifice and love and empathy and kindness.

To do what is hard means we have to put aside our pride and understand that we are not the measure of a man, and our experiences are not the infallible, inerrant final word. To do what is hard means that we must put on Christ,

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Phi 2:6-8)

But in order to do that, we must put to death the old man. It is the old man that is the expert on everyone else’s life. It is the old man that is the busybody and talebearer. The wicked are characterized by scoffing, not the righteous.

The new man is different. He is being conformed to the image of Christ, who never ridiculed, never mocked, never belittled. When the poor and the lame and the blind and the deaf came to him, he healed them. He listened. He fed them. He commanded us to do the same.

Paul said that the only one capable of helping someone with a fault is the “spiritual one” (Galatians 6:1). The spiritual one is the one led by the spirit, filled with the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, patience…”

The spiritual one is the one who has learned how to listen, to walk alongside the wounded. She is the one with patience and longsuffering. He speaks words of kindness and edification, not mocking and ridicule.

It takes the new birth to be a spiritual one.

Until you have learned to listen, study to be silent. You don’t know everything. Until then, pray for wisdom. Be diligent to listen. Quit being afraid of people different than you and don’t fear the reproach of men for doing what Christ commanded.

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Phi 4:5)

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Filed under Pastoral ministry, Patience

I wanna know what love is

Yes, I know. A ridiculous song, and an even worse pick-up line.

That was my work-out music this morning, and then – because, you know, Valentine’s – Susan and I listened to my new Ed Sheeran album.

In one of his songs, he says something like “I can’t love you unless I love me first” or some such thing.

Whatever it was, it was the same sentiment as “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all” which plagued the airwaves in the late 80’s. I am not sure if it was more offensive philosophically or aesthetically, but that is neither here nor there.

It goes back to 1 John.

I just finished preaching through 1 John. You can’t preach through 1 John without meditating on the nature and definitions of love. I like precision, and as a minister I believe we need to be precise in our words. I strive for precision, not sound-bites. So I think about words.

John tells us that “God is love.” Love is an essential attribute of God. God cannot be divested of love any more than God can be divested of Godhead. God’s attributes and his essence are identical, to put it into theological terms.

If you would like to learn more about this (and I think you should) I would recommend this excellent book by James Dolezal.

This means that there was never a time when God didn’t know what love was, for God is love, and God’s knowledge of himself is perfect.

Which leads to the next question – if God is love, and this is identical to his nature, then whom did God love before he created the heavens and the earth. We, of course, do not believe that creation is eternal. There was a time before creation where there was only God – before time and space and angels and men. God is the eternal I AM.

So whom did he love before he created? Love must involve a lover and a loved. There must be more than on person in order for there to be love. So whom did God love? The answer lies in the Trinity.

Jesus prayed,  “For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

So here is where my mind is going after Ed Sheeran and Whitney Houston: is self-love possible? By the very nature of love, the subject must reach out to an object outside of itself. To say that one must love oneself is to say that one must somehow divide into knower and known, subject and object, lover and loved, and turn love back on itself. Is love simply dissociation made into a virtue?

I think we must be precise in our language. Love, by it’s very definition, needs a lover and a loved. Two parties, at a minimum. Narcissus staring at himself at the pool is a mental disorder, not love. He has divided himself into subject and reflection, and has become an object of pity rather than a healthy human in God’s image.

In the words of Dylan – “He worships at the altar of a stagnant pool and when he sees his own reflection he’s fulfilled.”

So what should we call it? Dylan’s image certainly wouldn’t make a good valentine’s card. I don’t think “love” is the right word. It is a mental disorder, not love.

I think I know what they are getting at when they say, “love yourself”. But I would ask for more precision. I think that the world has enough narcissism. But at the same time, a person filled with shame and self-loathing is stuck unable to reach out of themselves to fully love another being.

So there is some truth to saying, “Love yourself”, it is just that the language is wrong.

How did Jesus put it:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
(Matt 22:36-40)

And there, I think, is the key. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. But, it might be asked, how does one do that without first becoming a narcissist?

The answer, I believe, is in the first commandment. Love God.

If you love God, you also recognize and acknowledge the good gifts that God has given you. You refuse to despise and loathe your body, for God made it. You don’t reject the abilities God has given you, but understand that you have many good gifts given to you by your good Father in heaven.

You also know that Jesus came into the world to bear your sin and shame, so that is taken away and you have been born again. You are no longer the “worst sinner you know” but a child of the king, cleansed, sanctified, and in the process of being conformed to the image of God’s son.

This means that you are in the process of becoming more and more beautiful. You are chosen by God, loved by God, given every good gift by God.

So perhaps instead of saying “love yourself”, you should say, “loved by God.”

We love him because he first loved us, after all.

What this does is nip arrogance in the bud, condemn narcissism, and lifts our head above our own reflection to see that there is a whole other world besides the one in our head. There are people out there who need your kindness and love. There are people who need the glass of cold water from your hand and the meal from your larder. There are empty seats at your table. And you can only fill those seats in your heart when you look up and see the beauty and goodness and bounty of our loving God.

Correct perspective also nips shame in the bud. Forgiveness wipes the record clean and the new garments of Christ’s righteousness are made perfectly for you. A bespoke suit.

You are dressed for reception in the halls of the great king, who loves you and gave himself for you.

Isn’t this far, far better than “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”

I apologize for getting Foreigner stuck in your head.

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Liberty

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Gal 5:1)

Let these words sink down into your soul. Grapple them to your heart, bind them as frontlets before your eyes.

You are complete in Christ. You are a dearly loved child of God. The curse of the law said, “Do this and live”. But that ensnared you in an endless cycle of attempting keeping up with a standard that you had already broken. How can you love God with your whole heart when God is angry with you because of your sins.

In the law, you can only approach God as a judge; never as a father.

But Christ fulfilled that law perfectly in your place. The curse of the law was placed upon him and he died instead of you.

And now you are set free. Set free.

Not to fulfill your lusts and to walk in hatred and enmity, but set free to love God and love your neighbor. You can now love freely without fear. You can walk in the commandments of God, which are good and give life and freedom of conscience. And when your conscience is free through the gospel you are free indeed.

So why are we so eager to be ensnared again in the endless cycle of “Do this and live”? Why do we spend thousands on books and conferences to tell us all the ways that we disappoint God, that we don’t measure up, that we have failed?

Why do we allow the celebrity preachers tell us that our clothes are too feminine or our voices are too high? Why do we allow the elite to tell us to “quit acting gay” whatever on earth that means? Does it mean that I am not supposed to like poetry and art? Does it mean that the schoolyard bullies were right and I am somehow not a man because I don’t play sports and don’t like hunting and can’t imagine sitting through an entire baseball game, much less playing one?

Why do we allow someone we have never met put us again in bondage by telling us how to submit to our husbands more, be more feminine, be meeker, be better, do more…? And then we pay them for it??

Does this make any sense to you?

God gave us Ten Commandments, and he added no more. As Christians we seek to please God. So here is what is pleasing to God. Love him and love your neighbor. And please quit paying celebrities to tell you how to be more manly, more feminine, more submissive, a better leader, what to eat, what to wear, what businesses to shop at, what businesses to avoid, what music to listen to, what books to read.

Why did we allow someone we never met convince us to never, ever allow our kids to read Harry Potter? Why did we allow someone we never met, who was never ordained and not married tell us to not allow our kids to date? Why did we allow an organization that spent hours and hours watching pornography so they could tell us how bad it is teach us about “family values”?

Does this make any sense to you?

Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made you free.

If you like beer, buy one. If you want to wear a flowered pink shirt because you like the colors, wear it. If you like romantic movies and tear up at the end of Babe when the farmer says, “That’ll do, pig”, then by all means to so and don’t let some half-baked, self-promoting pseudo-guru continue to plague you with guilt because he has rolled his crystal ball and decided that you weren’t manly enough, or feminine enough, or submissive enough, or a good enough leader. (I need a deep breath after that sentence.)

Aren’t you tired of it? Aren’t you tired of the never ending line of rich, popular preachers continually adding more and more to the commandments of God?

Instead of continually searching your heart to see if you desire God enough, look at Christ and what he has given you. Instead of continually searching your wardrobe to make sure you clothes are manly enough, look at Christ, the Son of man and the son of God, and live boldly. Instead of searching the blogs to see if you are a submissive enough wife, simply look to Christ and live.

Stand fast in the life and liberty that he purchased for you with his precious blood.

Every time a new commandment is invented, we sell a little more of our liberty for a mess of pottage. It is the mentality of the slave. Quit making the bricks for Pharaoh. Quit giving these guys clicks. Quit going to their conferences and quit buying their books.

Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made you free.

Look that transgender fellow in the eye and stop being afraid. Take your gay friend to lunch and stop being afraid. Love your wife boldly and quit fearing the opinions of people that you won’t ever meet.

As for me, I will continue to listen to Barbra Streisand and Lady Gaga, if I want to. And Pink Floyd and Queen when I want to, because sin isn’t something you catch off of a record. You might catch me listening to Gorecki or Passenger depending on my mood, but I certainly don’t check the opinion of some blowhard before I decide what kind of music I like. This is what liberty is.

If you look at my library, you will find Calvin and Berkhof, Stephen King and Nora Roberts. And I won’t ask your opinion before I buy a book I like. Because sin isn’t something you catch from reading the wrong books – otherwise Christ would not have died. If we could have been saved from our sins by proper censorship, we would not have needed Christ to die for our sins.

I will wear my sparkly paisley shirt and my lavender tie, and wear my stripey socks and use soap that makes me smell nice just because I want to, and I am created in God’s image and have no problem reflecting his beauty and strength and wisdom.

I will continue to moisturize because I like how my face feels when it isn’t all dried out and I just don’t give a fig anymore if some testosterone-challenged, knuckle-dragging, schoolyard bully thinks I’m effeminate or not. My wife likes me just the way I am and she’s the one who has to live with me.

And more importantly, God calls me his child. He has put my sins far, far away from me and calls me to live in liberty for his glory, and not according to the doctrines and commandments of men.

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Filed under Gospel