following Jesus means dying for those who hate us

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Category : different, faith

All the news for the last week has been about a church that says it’s going to burn the Koran in retaliation for the proposed Mosque near Ground Zero.  And as the weekend draws closer, a handful of other churches are saying that they will do the same.

I hate writing about things like this.  I really do.  The whole purpose of R3 is to help people understand what it means to live out a life of faith.  The purpose of R3 is not to tell you who to vote for or what social policies you need to implement.

Jesus was very clear about church / state issues.  Render unto Caesar what is his, and render unto God what is His.

But there are times when I feel the need to talk about current events.  Like this church down in Florida.  We can disagree about whether a mosque should be built in NYC.  We can even disagree if it’s okay to burn books (the Koran or otherwise.)  But what we can’t disagree about is how Jesus called us to live – and that’s sacrificially.

He’s called us to live a life of sacrifice in service and in love of our neighbors.  And I can’t see any way that burning the Koran lives out those principles.

Jesus was always patient, loving, kind, generous, and merciful to people who were the furthest away from God.  In fact, the further away from God you were, the more Jesus had patience for you.  It was the religious elites – the self proclaimed keepers of religious law – that Jesus came down on.

If we take that model and apply it to the mosque / Koran burning group, who are those furthest from God?  And who are those that are proclaiming to be the keepers of religious law?

If this church was serious about making a difference, it would set up mission trips to the Ground Zero mosque.  It would bring people in by the truckloads to build relationships with the Muslim men and women going into that mosque.  They wouldn’t inflame the religious beliefs of another group.

Paul, who was one of the most gifted missionaries of the Early (or otherwise) Christian church, never attacked the Greeks for their beliefs.  Instead he used their own culture, their own logic, their own religion as a way to highlight the differences between his God, and their gods.  He told stories not about distant, angry gods, but about a merciful, loving, fatherly God.

Stephen, one of the first Christian martyrs, prayed for the forgiveness of the very people who were throwing large rocks at him.  As those stones slowly beat him to death.

Do any of those examples look like burning a Koran?

Because they don’t to me.

When I see Jesus, I see a God who sacrificed everything to reach out to those who despised him most.  If you aren’t doing that, then you don’t know God nearly as well as you think you do.  And if you think burning a book is a good way to show God’s love, then maybe you don’t know God’s love nearly as well as you think you do.

As Americans we may have the right to act like idiots and offend people in unnecessary ways.  But as Citizens of the Kingdom of God, we don’t have that luxury.  We’re called to love people, at a cost to ourselves.  That’s what shows God’s character to the world.  That’s what separates us from other religions.  That’s what shows His glory.

This guy in Florida, and others like him, couldn’t be further from God’s truth, and for that reason, I pray for them.

photo provided by flickr user MelB

quote of the day: Dietrich Bonhoeffer – forgiveness

Category : God, faith, live for the eternal, living a life of faith, love, taking action

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship wrote:

“Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.  Jesus does not promise that when we bless our enemies and do good to them they will not despitefully use and persecute us.  They certainly will.  But not even that can hurt or overcome us, so long as we pray for them….We are doing vicariously for them what they cannot do for themselves.”

unconditional love

Category : God, different, faith, love

 

I am still fighting a cold, the flu, or ebola.  I can’t really tell which.  The way I’ve felt makes me think it’s all three.  Which means that for better or worse there has been a lot of channel surfing.  Okay, that’s mostly for the worst.  Especially when you land on one of those so-called day time talk shows. 

One show had a young guy yelling into the camera that he didn’t get someone pregnant and that it was all a trick.  He knew the child couldn’t be his, because he knew the girl had been sleeping with someone else too.  His closing argument was, “why should I fall in love with a baby that’s not mine?”

Let that sink in for a moment.

We live in a world that operates out of quid pro quo mentality.  If that baby is mine, then I will love it.  We forget just how harsh that can be.  What would have happened if Joseph told Mary, “why should I fall in love with a baby that’s not mine?”  That’s a reasonable response isn’t it?  The baby wasn’t his.  It surely complicated his life.  Plus he was well within his legal right to not only divorce her, but to have her put to death.  Yet he didn’t.

Why should I fall in love with a baby that’s not mine? 

Imagine if that was the standard God used!  Thank God (literally) it’s not.  God acts out of love not because we deserve it or can earn it, but because love is who God is.  It’s a defining characteristic.  And the closer we move towards God, the more we begin to be defined that way. 

Christianity is founded on a scandalous message.  But it’s a message that’s scandalous not just because of who was involved, but also because of their actions.  2,000 years ago people who loved God made radical decisions that went against the world’s wisdom.  They made decisions to love people no matter what.  Today, people still make that same choice.

When you see someone in your life in need, don’t say “why should I love them, they aren’t mine?”  Instead, say, “I love them, because that’s who God is.”  Or as Brandon Heath says, Lord “give me your heart for the ones forgotten.  Give me your eyes so I can see.”

who is God?

Category : God, different, faith

 

I was pondering something the other day: have you noticed that God is never described by the stuff he has?

He’s never described by his sweet baseball card collection, or his Steeler bobblehead memorabilia.  He isn’t even described in terms of the kingdom he rules.  (When’s the last time you read an article about Bill Gates that didn’t tell you how wealthy he was?) 

Instead God is defined by the characteristics that make him who he is: love, patience, compassion, justice, truth.

But when someone says to me, ”who are you?”  I usually respond by telling them what company I work for, my educational background, maybe where I live.  I rarely, if ever, describe my personality or character traits.  I even quantify my life in terms of stuff.  Whether it’s readership at R3 or who my friends are, I’m always trying to use material things to define myself. 

But that shouldn’t determine who I am and what I’ve done. 

Greg Boyd says that Christians have one job in this world – to look like Christ.  If that’s the case, maybe we need to spend more time defining ourselves by our characteristics and less by the stuff we have.  For me that looks like worrying less about defining blogging success as pageviews, and more about impacting people’s lives. 

What does it look like for you? 

patience in practice

Category : God, Matthew, choice, different, taking action

   

A certain cable company (rhymes with “Time Warner”) has been causing me difficulties ever since I decided to downgrade my cable subscription.  Each day it seems to get worse. 

  • On Thursday they collected my old digital converter box and reclaimed my cable modem (hence no Friday post).  I have high speed internet through them still, so this was a mistake. 
  • Their mistake forced me to sit in my apartment waiting for them to deliver a new modem for 12 hours on Friday.  They never showed up.
  • Saturday I didn’t talk to them – so no bad news.
  • On Sunday I learned they can’t make it to my apartment until Wednesday. 
  • This morning (when I finally had some working internet at work) I learned that they also shut down my e-mail address.  And since I’m looking for a new job, this is a bit of an issue!

Now I find myself with a choice: On the one hand I’m furious.  There’s a big part of me that wants to scream, “I didn’t cause any of this, why do I have to deal with it?!”  On the other hand I just wrote a prayer to God asking for patience.  Apparently God was listening, because there’s no doubt now have the perfect opportunity to work on my patience!

As Christians we’re called to live differently.  We aren’t supposed to respond like someone who doesn’t have that relationship with God.  Our lives are supposed to have a different feel to them.  Or as Jesus says, people will recognize our faith by the “fruit” we produce.  (Matthew 7: 20).  The problem is, at least for me, I don’t always want to live that way. I don’t always want to respond calmly, or patiently, and certainly not lovingly.  Sometimes I just want to get in there and argue to “prove” just how right I am.

But is this how Christians are supposed to act?

The times Jesus lost his temper with people were the times they were dishonoring God.  It was never when they were struggling with their own problems, or their own sins.  Jesus always had love, mercy, and compassion for those people.  And that’s how we have to deal with people as well.

No one at the cable company was trying to ruin my service intentionally.  No one wanted me to have a bad day.  In fact, their whole job involves listening to angry customers yell at them.  What kind of a toll does that take on someone?  So while I was angry I took this as an opportunity to minister to people.  While I never said, “hey I’m a Christian, God loves you!”  I did try to be calm, not raise my voice, and get things handled in a civil way.  It was an opportunity to submit to service, rather than exercise my pride (something I do all too often).

Christians aren’t called to be walked all over, but we’re not called to be jerks either.

God’s love

Category : God, choice, love

   

Have you ever loved someone so much that all you wanted to do was talk to them?  But because they were angry and frustrated they were avoiding you.  The thing is, they weren’t really even mad at you.  They were just upset at things in their life.  No matter what you tried, they wouldn’t talk to you.  They believed talking to you would mean having to deal with their anger, and it was easier to just keep quiet.

And as you sat there, you knew that all you really wanted was simply to talk to them.  Sure you’d have to talk about the problems bothering them at some point.  But it didn’t have to be right away.  You just wanted to spend some time with them.  To enjoy their company.  To love them. 

And as they avoided you, your heart broke.

I wonder…

Is that how God feels when we stop talking with him?

loving debt

Category : God, hope

       

What is it that makes people do revolutionary things like starting ministries, helping the poor, and loving the broken?  Why is it that someone would be willing to sacrifice everything and follow God into the unknown? 

For me that answer is simple, and it’s the same answer Jesus gave when a sinful woman poured perfume over his feet – “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47

What drives your relationship with God?

reader comment: will God forgive me?

Category : God, love, reader comments

   

Reader Eduardo Flores sent in this comment:

“Douglas Kelly from Reformed Theological Seminary said, “The only thing we can offer God is Christ’s obedience“. When we meditate on that, we find the beauty of that statement. As Isaiah 64:6 says, all our rightgeous acts are like filthy rags  to God (NIV). The only thing that God sees in us (those who are united to Christ) is Christ’s obedience and love for the Father. That is the only reason we can come to Him.”

It’s easy to start thinking we can impress God.  As humans we try to impress people on a regular basis.  We get used to people responding positively towards us when we tell jokes or work extra hours.  We’re so used to it that we hardly even think about what we’re doing. 

But stop for a minute and consider God.  Do you really think he’s someone we can impress with our behavior or ceremonies?  Do you think God really has a musical preference?  Does he like knock-knock jokes?  Is he impressed when you work 70-hour weeks?  Those are just “things” and God is not a God of “things” he’s a God of relationships.  The bottom line is this: there is nothing we can do to impress someone who has existed for all time.  And even if there was, he’s seen it by now! 

The minute we start believing God is impressed by our methods, our music, our prayers, or our language is the moment we separate ourselves from God.  The more distance we have between us, the harder it is to establish that relationship.  By focusing on “doing” we are telling God that we are more important than he is.  And how could that ever be true?  In the end, the best we can hope to “do” is to love God.  And fortunately that’s what God asks of us.  He doesn’t ask us for fancy prayers, or elaborate ceremonies.  We don’t need a stand up routine or polished resume to get into Heaven.  He just wants us to love him in our hearts.  Because he knows if we do that our lives will never be the same. 

relating to David

Category : David, God, hope, love, old testament

   

There are some people in the Bible that I can relate to better than others.  David is one of those people.  And let me be upfront, it is not because I carry a sling!  So who was David?  Not only did he ultimately become the king of Israel, he was also this courageous, adventuresome, bold man – this is the guy who volunteered to fight the precursor to Arnold Schwarzenegger after all…  David had a lot of guts.  And, well, I decidedly lack guts.  I would have been one of those soldiers cowering in fear, not the one challenging a behemoth.  So I can’t really relate to his acts of bravery or leadership.

What I relate to is how often David screwed up.  David, like all of us, made some bad decisions.  Now that’s something I can identify with!  In perhaps his most well known screw-up he not only sleeps with the wife of one of his soldier’s (and gets her pregnant), but in order to cover up his affair he has the soldier killed.  

David had many other sins as well, such as pride, lust, a temper, and rebellion towards God.  Not exactly the stereotype we have when we think of “godly” men.  So why is David so important?  What is it about David that made God love him so much?  He certainly doesn’t sound like a particularly good role model! 

At the core of David’s story is encouragement and hope.  What separates David from Saul (the previous king of Israel and someone God rejected), is that every time David was confronted with his sin, he honestly, fully, and completely turned to God to seek repentance. David admitted that he screwed up, and he asked God for help. 

It was that simple act that separates David. 

And every time he did that God forgave him.  No matter how badly David screwed up, God forgave him.  This isn’t to say there weren’t consequences to his sins – 1 and 2 Samuel are full of the consequences of David’s sins.   

David’s love of God was so strong, and so complete, that he always turned back to the path of God, no matter how far he strayed from it.  That’s a lesson that all of us can use.  No matter how far from God we’ve become…  No matter how horrible the things we’ve done…  No matter what pain we’ve caused… God loves us.  And if we turn back to him in true repentance, he will always welcome us back.

That’s why I can relate to David. Because David reminds me that no matter what I’ve done, God still wants to know me. 

what I’m reading: Her Agony (Time Magazine)

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Category : God, Mother Teresa, faith, feeding my brain, love, trust

   

Most days I set out with some kind of intentionality behind what I read.  But occasionally I come across something by chance.  And that’s how it was for Her Agony

I had been eating lunch with a friend, when the topic of Mother Teresa came up.  (Up to that day I probably had a total of one other conversations regarding Mother Teresa.)  At any rate, my friend mentioned that Mother Teresa had gone most of her life without feeling the direct presence of God (outside of a very intense period at the beginning of her ministry).  I didn’t know a whole lot about Mother Teresa, so I found that both interesting and encouraging.  Ironically, within a week the  media “broke” the story of Mother Teresa’s intense feelings of isolation. And her “secret” letters. 

Naturally I was curious, but not curious enough to investigate outside of what I ‘heard’ on the news.  I was busy and didn’t think it would have any direct application to me.  It felt like just another attempt to tear down someone who had done good things.  But, as luck would have it, I came across a copy of Time at work.  Sometimes you choose the book, other times the book, er magazine, chooses you!   

While it was publicly known that Mother Teresa felt separated from God, a new book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light outlines just how deep her sense of separation went.  My first reaction to this news was “isn’t that common knowledge?”  Followed by a bit of nervousness at the prospect of a great icon of Christianity leading a dual life. 

I admit to being skeptical about Time and it’s presentation of difficult religious conversations.  But the article does a good job of presenting both the Christian and the secular view of Mother Teresa’s plight. It really captures the depth of her struggles and suggests what those struggles mean to a Christian. Of course it also leaves open the possibility of secular (read: God doesn’t exist) interpretations.  But that’s okay, because I’m interested in the truth, not something simply to make me feel good.

The article itself is striking and conveys how deep her pain must have been.  But one part in particular stood out.  The book’s author said, “[Mother Teresa] was a very strong personality, and a strong personality needs stronger purification [to cure their pride].”  This is something I can identify with.  It’s also a theme you see repeatedly in the Bible.  Paul, one of the great evangelists of the early church, talked about his “thorn” and how God told him his Grace was sufficient.  Sometimes people who are working in the midst of great miracles need an extra helping of humility.  When you are surrounded by God, it is very easy to lose sight of who’s really doing all the heavy lifting in your life. 

Some will look at this book as proof that God does not exist.  But I have to disagree.  I believe God treats each of us according to our own needs, that he interacts with us in ways that match our personalities.  And I think for whatever reason Mother Teresa needed to go through this experience.  Sometimes walking with God does not take you down an idyllic path.

Despite that, I don’t know why Mother Teresa felt as if God were absent from her life.  Perhaps it was to keep her humble.  Perhaps it was her own doing.  Perhaps it was a little of both.  But what I do know is that she acted on her belief in God despite not feeling God’s presence.  And that should be a lesson to us.  When we feel this need to be perfect in our faith, (because otherwise we aren’t “good” Christians) we need to remember that Mother Teresa starkly contrasts this idea.  By learning she wasn’t perfect it makes our own struggles with our own faith seem more manageable.  If someone so remarkable as Mother Teresa struggled with her faith, then maybe my struggles aren’t so dark.

Upon reflecting on this article I have to wonder: wouldn’t it be just like God to use Mother Teresa’s personal suffering to reach, and teach, millions of people well after her death?  Wouldn’t it be just like God that her greatest struggle is what will give the greatest hope to millions of people.  Sounds like it to me…