Another opportunity to chat with George Penk on the Forum!
I recently got the chance to do a radio interview on a show called The Forum with George Penk on Life FM in New Zealand. It was a lot of fun talking with George and getting a chance to interact around some ideas which I have written about recently!
The topic from our first broadcasted conversation is around 'Loving Your Enemy'.
On this Valentine's Day, when we celebrate love, let's also remember that Jesus challenges us to be WAY more loving than any of us would choose if left to our own ways and means.
Check it out!
On Valentine's Day, kids give and receive cards to one another. Restaurants are filled with couples. Those of us who are in relationships (and wish to remain in them) purchase cards, candy, flowers, etc and give them to those who we love.
It is a celebration of love, as evidenced by all the hearts and cherubs adorning the seasonal aisle in our local stores.
I'm not here to complain about the holiday. Love is a wonderful concept for us to celebrate, and the opportunity to give nice notes and gifts to others (even at a huge markup) is a good thing.
But love is more than red hearts and naked baby angels. It's more than spending quality time with a special someone.
In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul tells us just how much more:
Wow. To quote the movie Anchorman, 'that escalated quickly'.
The hastag 'shoutyourabortion' started trending today, and already I'm seeing one side angrily shaming the 'feminazis' who are also angrily lashing out at the 'trolls' who are condemning them.
As a Christian who doesn't let any political party tell me what I should think and what position I should take, how do I handle something like this?
I like to think in terms of stories, and I've been trying to think of a good story in the scriptures that helps me frame this argument. Is it John 8 where an adulterous woman is dragged before Jesus to be stoned?
I don't think that's a perfect representation, because in this case, there's not a silent party who knows they have been caught doing wrong. Both sides are pointing at the other and shouting for the rest of us to stone them.
Is it like 1 Kings 3 where King Solomon is asked to determine the real mother of a certain baby and he cleverly suggests cutting the baby in half to determine the true mother when she, in compassion for her baby, offers to surrender her rights?
This doesn't seem to fit either, as neither side seems to have a great deal of compassion for the other side.
I settled on a story in Luke 12. It's also quite imperfect in some ways, but the principle may help us here.
Jesus has literally just finished speaking about how each person has great value to God when a man shouts out, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” (v.13)
Jesus responds to the man in the next verse. “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” He then starts to talk about how dangerous greed is.
Here are the principles in that story that I think are very meaningful to us as we process our modern day arguement:
1.Jesus isn't going to let us play the game of putting him in the middle of our arguments.
It's hilarious to me that Jesus asks, 'who made me a judge over you to decide such things'. I mean, come on, he's God in the flesh. There's no one more qualified, yet he refuses to play this game of 'take my side against him'.
When we argue for or against abortion on moral grounds (is it better to have an abortion than to let a child live in a home with unfit parents or poverty, etc), we're essentially trying to get Jesus on our side and against the other side. He is Lord and Savior, not a pawn in our own personal chess game.
2.Get rid of your desire to condemn people and choose to love them instead.
Jesus' warning to the man who asked about greed doesn't exactly apply here, but I believe our willingness to arrogantly condemn others would receive a similar reaction. Jesus was telling the man in question that he valued money more than a relationship with his brother.
Do we value 'being right' more than showing love and compassion and acceptance to a son or daughter of God?
In Ephesians 6:12, Paul makes it crystal clear that our enemy is never other people. Even if somebody else is completely wrong or immoral or evil, you are not excused from treating them with love.
If you do not believe abortion is healthy for anyone involved, then look for ways to resolve the underlying problems rather than using shame as a tool which can never actually improve anything:
- Volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center
- Teach literacy and job skills at a local school or youth center
- Look into adoption
Give people hope and assistance instead of scorn. Follow the example of Jesus who did not condemn us, but rather called us to something better.
The old saying says that honey catches more flies than vinegar. Father Greg Boyle says that 'nothing stops a bullet better than a job.'
What are you doing to reduce abortions in a way that gives dignity to women rather than attempting to disgrace them?
Please do not go on social media and express pity for the women who have had an abortion. Pity is a form of arrogance. Instead offer compassion. Compassion cares about people whereas pity is thinly veiled scorn.
Ask people to share their story. Learn about why they made their choice, and see if there are ways you can bring healing in places of hurt.
Even if you don't agree with choices people make, you can care about them and what challenges they have had to face.
I doubt anybody goes to get an abortion because 'it seems like fun'. I bet most people take the decision very seriously. I think Jesus would listen to stories of hurt, like he did in Luke 8 with the woman who had a serious health issue before responding with compassion.
This is the Jesus who offered compassion to the people who murdered him. There is no one beyond his compassion, and if we are his ambassadors, we are tasked with sharing that message.
Here's one last story that we should remember: Luke 15 where God compares himself to a Father who RUNS to his child that is returning from a life far from himself.
At one time, we've all been the prodigal. Those of us who have used shame and scorn and condemnation need to be first to return to the home of our Father. Only then can we celebrate the return of others who are seeking an environment of love and rejoicing.
So here's the side I hope you choose in this arguement: Love. Loving the people who are made in the image of God. Let us seek together how to continue inviting the Kingdom of God into our midst
And may the church be the loudest voice of love in our society.
I was reading John chapter 12 today in the Message translation when I got to verses 47-48, where Jesus says this: “If anyone hears what I am saying and doesn’t take it seriously, I don’t reject him. I didn’t come to reject the world; I came to save the world. But you need to know that whoever puts me off, refusing to take in what I’m saying, is willfully choosing rejection.”
Jesus says that he doesn’t reject anybody. But some people reject him.
I look at the infinite patience Jesus had for people who were leading corrupt or broken lives. I wondered how Jesus did that. How could he show such mercy and grace to people that were living in a manner completely opposite to what God had called them to?
I think it’s because they never rejected him. You never see a prostitute or thief or leper that Jesus forgives or heals telling him off; questioning whether he is sent by God.
The people who rejected him were the ones who didn’t think Jesus had the right to forgive and even heal. They didn’t take him seriously. Those were the ones who Jesus had to confront and combat regularly.
It’s very easy to see fault in other people’s lives. But when our response stops being compassion and acceptance, I think we become people who don’t take Jesus seriously.
Sometimes, I feel like my life isn’t perfect because I’m either doing something wrong, or there’s something I’m not doing, or there’s some spiritual secret I haven’t grasped yet.
But I have to remind myself that even if I one day got it all together and became perfect from that moment forward, God wouldn’t owe me a dang thing.
If I act super spiritual for a week, God isn’t up in heaven saying, “well, I guess I have to give him that thing he’s been asking for now.”
If I’m going to let God utilize me, it’s going to be the imperfect version of my that exists now and always will exist.
This is what Paul is trying to hammer home to the Galatians: stop trying to make yourself perfect for God. When you make him part of your life, you become perfect in him.
And that’s when Paul says this:
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)
That’s God’s grading rubric. Did your belief in God lead you to undertake actions based on love?
I think I subconsciously keep a running score on my own Christianity that’s based on how well I’ve avoided sin and done the ‘holy’ things: praying, reading the bible, etc.
I’m not saying that avoiding sin and praying and reading scripture is bad or worthless; I’m saying that’s not what God is primarily after. Those things will come out of a life of faith expressing itself through love.
The best results come when you’re doing things the right way, not when you’re trying to make the outcome look good.
The Roman Emperor Julian (332-363) hated Christianity. He hoped instead to restore the glory of the ancient Roman religion, which worshipped a multitude of deities in the temples and shrines that filled the city.
But Julian saw a problem with convincing the multitude to turn its back on the recently authorized faith: the power of Christian love in practice.
Here’s how he said it: “[Christianity] has been specifically advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers…[The Christians] care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”
In other words, how could a pagan religion hope to gain followers when Christianity is setting itself apart as being far superior through its actions and results?
My how things change.
Is there anybody who looks at American Christianity and thinks first and foremost of the charity it carries out? Of the kindness it shows to the poor and destitute?
It’s far more likely they’ll think of Christianity as being a group of people who want power through politics, don’t like homosexuals and think kids need to be sheltered from secular music and movies or even education.
Who in their right mind would want any part of that? I know I don’t.
Those of us who really love God would say that’s just junk you have to ignore when you’re trying to be a part of the Body of Christ. But from the outside looking in, how can you know that the loudmouth politician, television preachers and bully pulpit pastors don’t speak for everyone?
Instead of gaining clout through the methods of this world: coersion, marketing, spin control, PR campaigns, etc…can we try the method Jesus recommended? Leading through serving?
The whole point of washing the disciples feet in John 13 was to show them that Christians were expected to act differently. Embracing service rather than power.
When Paul talks about living lives that no government could outlaw (Galatians 5:23), he’s again hammering this point home.
Instead of trying to grab power and attention from the politicians and the wealthy, lets serve the poor and powerless.
Let’s give people an alternative to what they see happening in a broken world, not more of the same.
Then, perhaps, some people may begin to say “There is something different about Christians. Something better than what I have going on.” This, I believe, is the example Jesus gave us and the mission we should be undertaking.
In reading through Ezekiel right now, I came across an interesting snippet about Sodom. I frequently hear America compared to Sodom and Gomorrah, with the implication that we will be destroyed due to homosexuality and gross debauchery. But in Ezekiel 16:49, I read this: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
Now let me clarify, I believe (as the bible clearly teaches) that homosexuality is a sin. No doubt about it. But so is heterosexual sex outside of marriage. And adultery. And lying and stealing and pretty much anything else that isn’t loving God and your fellow human beings.
If I was going to hate gay people for their sin, I’d have to hate everyone else, including myself. And that is the exact opposite of what Jesus teaches us.
But in reading this passage, I realized that perhaps all the debauchery in Sodom (like the attempt to rape angels in Genesis 19 - that’s probably not a great idea) resulted due to Sodom’s selfish attitude, which it had cultivated through being completely self-centered and self-serving in all things.
Instead of helping people, they sought to please themselves. And that led them down a path were they ceased to care for anyone other than themselves. Seeking pleasure in any way they could, with no regard for God or fellow man.
This is why they were destroyed.
The wickedness there was a symptom of selfishness, not the disease itself. Maybe the rich were bored and looked for new ways to get off. Or maybe the poor, being oppressed, ended up doing horrible stuff out of despair and a desire to exert some control.
Whether or not God views America as being similar or dissimilar to Sodom, I have no idea. Probably in some ways we’re like them and in other ways we are not. But what I do know is that in my own life I have discovered a great deal of selfishness. I worry about my petty problems more than I worry about life and death problems in the lives of others.
I have clean drinking water, so why should I worry about the 1 billion who don’t? I have plenty to eat, so why should the huge percentage of underfed people in the world impact me? I have a loving family, so why should I be concerned for those in prison or alone in a nursing home?
God, help me not to turn toward my own comfortable situation when I see need and despair and hurt. I want to be a vessel for your kingdom to overcome the gates of hell on this earth.
Do you ever feel like you screw up so much that God must love you only despite how annoyed he is with you?
Or worse, perhaps you view God as a brooding, angry being who tells you that you better love him, or else he’ll throw you into the fire. (David Dark talks about this inThe Sacredness of Questioning Everything).
Yet that’s not what God does. He doesn’t teach us lessons by withholding his love until we ‘get it right’.
He lavishes his love on us, pouring it out, not in an effort to make us feel bad; but rather to draw us to himself.
He does not regulate his infinite supply, but instead he opens it in full.
Next time you’re feeling low, feeling like you don’t deserve the affections of a perfect God, remember this: that he is lavishing you with his love. You only have two choices: to accept it, or to reject it. There isn’t a third option where you can earn it or deserve it.
He is an endless spring. You are a cup. You can either be filled or stay empty. Whichever choice you make, it doesn’t take anything away from the spring. So why not be filled?
Whether or not you deserve it doesn’t matter. He gives it anyways. You just need to accept.