This Cat Jesus Is a Bad Mother (shut yo’ mouth!)

Advent Season is here! I know that there a few churches that don’t follow the liturgical calendar, so people who are part of those churches don’t fully get Advent. Advent is simply an old word that means “coming.” Advent Season is the time leading up to Christmas when we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah. Each week we focus on a different Advent theme. This week let’s talk about love.

My problem with love is that the world gets it completely wrong. Love is often seen as sappy. It’s touchy-feely. But what happens when the feelings fade? We can’t base any reality on feelings because they come and go like the tide. You can wake up one morning and not “feel” love towards your spouse (especially if you’ve had a fight the night before). But next week you can feel like the luckiest person alive to have your spouse in your life. I go through periods of liking and not liking my own kids (a lot of it depends on their behavior)! But those feelings are not an appropriate way to determine my behavior.
If feelings were the basis for our behavior, we would only be good when we feel positive things towards others. When the feelings fade then we would bail on the relationship.

That’s garbage.

shaft1Jesus gives us a different understanding of love. It’s not some sappy, touchy-feely emotion. I don’t think that was Jesus’s personality at all. He was a hard-workin’ man. The Greek word in the Bible for Jesus’s occupation is tekton, which is simply translated “builder.” Looking at construction in the Ancient Near East, it’s highly likely that Jesus did a lot of work with stone. He’s not a soft man at all. He’s hard, toughened, with rough hands. He’s the man. He’s like John Shaft – this cat Jesus is a bad mother (shut yo’ mouth!). I’m just talkin’ about Jesus (oh, I can dig it!). When Jesus talks about love it’s a very concrete, real thing that is about sacrifice – not about feelings.

He said:

I have loved you as the Father has loved Me. Abide in My love. Follow My example in obeying the Father’s commandments and receiving His love. If you obey My commandments, you will stay in My love. I want you to know the delight I experience, to find ultimate satisfaction, which is why I am telling you all of this. My commandment to you is this: love others as I have loved you. There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends. (John 15:9-13)

Love isn’t weak and soft – it’s tough as nails and enduring. The greatest expression of love is self-sacrifice. This is heroism at its finest, and we understand that. Our art is FILLED with examples of heroic sacrifice as a symbol of genuine love.

This kind of Love is what Jesus is talking about.

Real love says, “I got your back.”
Real love says, “You’re not fighting alone.”
Real love says, “I will jump on the grenade if it means you survive.”

THIS is how we kick off Advent – with this kind of raw, powerful, action-based discussion of love. Jesus came to give us this kind of love. This is EXACTLY what the Apostle Paul was trying to tell the church in Rome:

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

There was nothing we did to deserve God’s love. We didn’t earn it. But God shows the depth of His love by self-sacrifice even when we were broken and unworthy. Jesus was the kind of guy to jump on the grenade for us so that we could carry on in the fight.
But it doesn’t end there. The real question comes to our response. Now that we have received this kind of love, how will we take it to the world around us? As believers called by His name, we need to be examples of love in this world. Regardless of feelings, which are transitory, we need to be people of love – people who are known to be self-sacrificial for the behalf of those around us.

Love is not my feelings. Love is concrete behavior. Love is Spock sacrificing his own life while telling Kirk, “Live long and prosper.” This is how God treated us. Now let’s be those kind of people to the world.

The Worst Valentine’s Presents EVER!

Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day!

love-903178_1920Regardless of who St. Valentine actually was (yes, he was a real person in human history), the day has become a day for Americans to demonstrate romantic affection towards one another.

As is the custom with significant others, I had in mind to buy wife wife a gift to demonstrate my own affection. Our conversation when something like this:


That got me thinking, “What do other people think are the best AND worst gift ideas for Valentine’s Day?” So at church we did something a little different and had some breakout groups. Half the room was to come up with the BEST gifts and the other half was to come up with the WORST gifts.

Some of the Best:

  1. Spa Day
  2. Arranged Baby Sitting
  3. Partner’s favorite thing (guitar, car, etc.)
  4. Tickets to a loved event (sports, music, etc.)

And some of the Worst:

  1. Exercise equipment that wasn’t requested (hey, honey, maybe you should work out more…)
  2. Soap
  3. Socks
  4. Waterbed (and when we split up he took the waterbed with him)

Here’s the thing that bugs me about Valentine’s Day: it’s superficial and shallow. It reduces “love” to romantic feelings and affection. Thinking about love in those terms sells short real love. To use the words of the classic rock band Boston, it’s “more than a feelin’.”

So what is love?

John 3:16,arguably one of the best known Bible verses of all time, says:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The way our language is today I hear people talk about the passage as if God loved the world “SO MUCH.” But that is a poor understanding of the word “so.” The real sense of the word means “in this way.” You could rephrase the verse:

For this is how God loved the world – he gave his only Son….

Love is not a feeling. It’s not about affection and romance. Real love is about concrete action the pursues the well-being of the other. Real love can be costly and is demonstrated by self-sacrifice. Jesus says again in John 15:13:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

sky-195430_1920Man, that kind of sacrifice is moving. It’s Jesus on the cross, paying a price we could never afford to pay on a debt that wasn’t his own. We also see examples in our lives. It’s the Marine or Soldier who jumps on a grenade in order to save the rest of the squad. It’s the parent that jumps in front of a moving vehicle in order to push her child out of the way.

But it’s easy to act in loving ways towards people on our side and towards our loved ones. Jesus takes it a step further.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. ~ Matthew 5

We are called to ACT in loving ways towards others – even towards those who might loath us. This Valentine’s Day please celebrate your affection towards your significant other. That’s a god thing. But remember that REAL love isn’t dependent on affection and emotion, which can shift from day to day.

Real love is a self-sacrificial pursuit of the well-being of another.

For reflection:

  • How have you seen self-sacrificial love played out in your life?
  • Have you ever been able to “love” someone even when you didn’t feel like it?

What’s Love Got to Do With It? – An Advent Devotion

True Love?

Let’s face it, we live in a love-saturated culture. Everywhere you turn you see television shows, movies, magazines, books, and other products all designed to get us to buy/watch/read by appealing to our desire to tap into love. It’s especially bad in our music. While I don’t have the exact number, the great majority of songs on the radio have to do with some aspect of love. Can you identify these famous love songs from their lyrics

– Bittersweet memories that is all I’m taking with me So good-bye Please don’t cry We both know I’m not what you, you need….

Yup – you guessed it.

How about:

– There’s a calm surrender To the rush of day When the heat of the rolling world Can be turned away An enchanted moment And it sees me through It’s enough for this restless warrior Just to be with you…

Too easy, right?

One last one – and a personal favorite of mine!

– Shot through the heart and you’re to blame, darlin’…

Of course you know this one!

But when it comes to love, this world has the wrong perspective. Most of the “love” in this world comes down to “what you do for me” – it’s about how you make me feel. Because of this erroneous view, the emotional connections we have make it too easy to move on. When I don’t feel love for you I’m gonna walk away.

But real love doesn’t move on in difficult moments – it holds on and fights for the “other.”

If the world’s perspective is wrong, let’s take a look at the Bible’s perspective. One of the most famous chapters in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13. It’s often called “The Love Chapter.” In this section Paul goes on…and on…and on…and, well, you get it – all about LOVE.

Here’s the kicker: he uses verbs, not adjectives, to talk about love. Love is something to be DONE, not something to be felt. Here it is broken down with a bit of explanation about what Paul is trying to get at.

– Love is patient – it performs the positive act of waiting
– Love is kind – it responds to others with a tender heart
– Love does not envy – there are no intense negative feelings over another’s success
– Love is not boastful – not a pompous windbag
– Love is not conceited – not puffed up. Puffing up the self puts others down
– Love does not act improperly – refers to shameful behavior
– Love is not selfish – doesn’t seek personal advantage over the “other”
– Love is not provoked – doesn’t get caught up or riled up, not irritable
– Love does not keep a record of wrongs – don’t get historical!
– Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth – treat each other fairly
– Love bears all things – protects and covers up what is displeasing in others
– Love believes all things, hopes all things – trusting in God’s care and protection
– Love endures all things – love doesn’t bail out when times get tough
– Love never ends – depite trouble, hardship, or affliction, love perseveres

Jesus’ take on love is even more extreme. It’s not just about action – it’s about selfless action.

– John 15:13 – this is the greatest act of love, putting others ahead of yourself to the extreme.
– John 15:17 – Jesus’ direct command: love each other.

As we start the advent season we often focus on the wrong type of love. Love in Advent isn’t about feeling that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s recognizing that God loves us through His actions. He cares, so He acts accordingly. Christ coming to the world is the greatest act of love because it is putting our needs as His priority.

The flip-side to this Christmas miracle is that we are commanded to pick up and carry this definition of love! We have the opportunity to create God’s kingdom on earth, and it all starts with love – how we treat and prioritize others.

Not to be trite and cliché, but what the world needs now is love. Not a schmaltzy, Coca-Cola version but a godly, biblical version of love as concrete behavior that puts others first and puts ourselves second.

The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn


When you title a post “The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn” you get some people who are convinced you’ve lost your mind. Perhaps they think you’ve just succumbed to a massive ego trip.

But last week my wife and I were listening to Nat King Cole and one of his classics called “Nature Boy” came on. Nat sings of meeting an enchanted boy who tells him, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

And this isn’t a new concept. It’s actually biblical.

From the beginning of Creation to the coming end of the world (no predictions – Jesus says quite clearly that no one knows) – God is all about love. His love for humanity is the driving force behind everything He does. The whole story of redemption is about God’s incredible love for us.

And our response to a loving Creator is a response of love. In the Jewish community, the driving theme is the Shema – the central prayer of the Jewish prayer book. Many Jews recite it twice daily.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

In the New Testament, Jesus reinforces this idea when someone asks him, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus answers, “The greatest is to love the Lord your God and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is love.

And love isn’t a schmaltzy feel-good kind of thing. It’s easy to love someone when there is a warm fuzzy feeling. But that’s not love. In the Bible love is not lip-service and fuzzies. Love is active behavior.

One verse of the Bible many non-believers have heard is John 3:16 ~

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

And in our culture we hear that phrase “so loved the world” and interpret to mean the quantity of God’s love. We read it, “God loved the world SO much…”. but that’s a poor understanding of the word. It’s not about quantity – it’s about action. A better way of phrasing it would be:

This is how God loved the world – that he gave is only Son…

God’s love is something that is demonstrated in a very palpable way.

At one point Jesus tells his disciples:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

But we miss the mark, don’t we? We often decided that we’ll just tolerate (at best) others. We don’t actually LOVE. We don’t sacrifice for others. We give out of our surplus, but not out of our scarcity.

When someone really LOVES something they’re willing to get stupid about it.


But when it comes to loving others we’re not willing to get stupid about it. We’re reserved. In John’s 1st letter he tells people, “How can you not help someone in need if you have the ability? Where’s the love?”

God’s love in us compels us to be people of love towards others.

In the end, Nat King Cole had it right. The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return. It’s the way of Jesus.

In the way we talk to people.
In the way we talk about people.
In the way we treat people.


Worshipping With Fred Phelps

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong /
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong /

If you’ve been around the news today you might have heard that Fred Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, has passed away.

Even CNN did a piece on it.

While the media outlets are trying to report the “news” of it, the reaction of individuals is (so far) pretty slanted towards hate. It’s amazing irony. People loathed Phelps for his hate and, now that he’s gone, they are expressing their own hate. I call shenanigans.

Humanity really is broken.

Here’s the thing – hate and loathing is never okay. When we see people fail and do things we know they ought not to do it should break our hearts, not fill us with our own hatred.

Here’s the kicker for people of faith: Was Phelps saved? In an Evangelical Christian sense, saved simply means that, because of faith in Jesus as God-incarnate and his propitiatory work on the cross, we will spend eternity in the presence of God.

Did Phelps have that faith? He said he did. If he did, does God’s grace cover Phelps’ failings? That’s the whole teaching of grace. What we lack and cannot make up on our own, Jesus covers on our behalf.

If Phelps did have that faith that brings salvation then when we reach eternity we’ll be worshipping God alongside of Brother Fred.

So what’s our take-away from all this?

Ultimately God is the judge of our souls. Rather than waste our time judging the condition of other’s souls and stewing in our own hate, let us strive to embody Christ’s character as best we can.

That means even loving those the world believes to be the least-lovable.

8 Things Every Wife Needs to Do


I believe the Bible calls us to live in mutually submissive and mutually controlling relationships. I am not my own, but I belong to my wife. She belongs to me. I need to submit to my wife’s needs, wants, and desires. She needs to submit to mine. I believe the God calls us to this kind of mutuality.

My wife and I teach a 9 week marriage-enrichment class at our church. In our marriage class we split the men and women into gender breakout groups to discuss questions and issues. Yesterday I shared about asking the women to identify 8 things their husbands do that they greatly appreciate. We also asked the men to identify 8 things their wives do that they greatly appreciate.

**Keep in mind that this is simply a list of things that the men in our class appreciated about their spouses. This is not a “MUST-DO if you want to be a Godly wife” kind of article! Please pack away your guns and your feminism and enjoy what these men appreciate about their spouses.

1. She is organized – Not all men are a mess. Some guys are fastidious. But others of us rely on the organization of our spouses to keep us from being a heaping mess. Wives, if your husband is the kind of guy who needs you to be organized don’t fight it. Embrace it. And know that we really do appreciate the fact that one of us has it together. Men, don’t use this as an excuse to be a slob. She’s not your momma, she’s your wife.

2. Takes good care of the kids – I hate to play into gender stereotypes…but here I go. Obviously it’s not true for all couples, but in my marriage (and for other couples I know) the wife is a better nurturer and caretaker than the husband. For example, let’s talk about puke. When my kids are feeling crummy and start to vomit my wife will be in the thick of it (pun definitely intended). I’ve seen her throw out her hand to catch barf before it can hit other stuff. o_O That is SO not me. Men appreciate the kind of care our wives provide for the kids.

3. Takes care of me when I’m sick – Similar to above, we appreciate it when our wives care for us in our sickness. Honestly, when I’m sick I’m a bigger baby than my kids are. The whole world shuts down when I get the flu. And there she is, bringing me toast, hot tea, medicine, whatever I need.

4. Puts me and the kids first – I’m sure there are plenty of women who are total jerks, but I daily see wives and moms put their families first. It’s an incredible trait that more of us should have. We appreciate it.

5. Gives me space and freedom with my friends – Some of the men in our group felt the need to spend “time with the guys” and appreciated it when their spouses gave them space to do that.

6. Cooks good meals – I’m reminded of the Carl’s Jr./Hardees commercial:

7. Thinks of others before herself
– This is nearly identical to number 4, but someone wanted to reiterate it 😉

8. She’s a great cleaner – Last but not least, one of our guys wanted to share how much he appreciated his wife cleaning the house. While this is an admirable trait, this is not excuse for us to be slobs, men!

Well, there you have it. It’s what our class came up with. You want a healthy and happy marriage? Put in the work to make it that way.

How about you? What else would you add to this list?

If you be so inclined, give me a follow:

Have You Found True Love?


True Love?

We live in a love-saturated culture. It seems that most of the popular songs out there (actually, most of the songs throughout the history of the world) have been about love. Many of these songs even have “love” in the title. Do you know these? Can you name them from some of their lyrics?


Bittersweet memories that is all I’m taking with me. So good-bye, please don’t cry. We both know I’m not what you – you need…


Every night I’m lyin’ in bed holdin’ you close in my dreams, thinkin’ about all the things that we said and comin’ apart at the seams…


Shot through the heart and you’re to blame…


You don’t need money, don’t take fame – Don’t need no credit card to ride this train. It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes but it might just save your life…


The truth is that we often have the wrong perspective when it comes to how we understand “love” – we think about it as a “what you do for me” kind of emotion. It’s not about the other person but really only about how you make me feel. The problem is that these emotional connections only make it too easy to move on. “I don’t feel love for you so I’m gonna walk away.”

But real love doesn’t move on in difficult moments – it holds on and fights for the “other”

Paul’s perspective on love in 1 Corinthians 13 is famous (and probably overused come wedding season) but there’s something to it. So I’m going to talk about it again. I want you to notice the type of words he uses to describe love.

Love is patient (it performs the positive act of waiting)
Love is kind  (it responds to others with a tender heart)
Love does not envy (there are no intense negative feelings over another’s success)
Love is not boastful  (not a pompous windbag)
Love is not conceited (not puffed up, puffing up the self puts others down)
Love does not act improperly (it does not do stuff to shame others)
Love is not selfish (doesn’t seek personal advantage over the “other”)
Love is not provoked (doesn’t get caught up or riled up, not irritable)
Love does not keep a record of wrongs (don’t get historical)
Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth (it treats others fairly)
Love bears all things (it protects and covers up what is displeasing in others)
Love believes all things, hopes all things (it trusts in God’s care and protection)
Love endures all things (love doesn’t bail out when times get tough)
Love never ends (despite trouble, hardship, or affliction, love perseveres)

Did you notice the type of words Paul uses? He uses verbs, not adjectives – love is something to be done.  This is the main point of John 3:16 ~

This is how God loved the world – that He gave is one of kind son…

This verse is not about the amount of love God has but how God shows love – through action!

Love isn’t about feeling warm fuzzies towards others. It’s about behavior. God loves us through His actions. He cares, so He acts accordingly. Christ coming to the world is the greatest act of love because it is putting our needs as His priority.

The flip-side to this divine display of love is that we are commanded to pick up and carry on this definition of love! We have the opportunity to create God’s kingdom on earth, and it all starts with love – how we treat and prioritize others.

Not to be trite and cliché, but what the world needs now is love. Not a schmaltzy, Coca-Cola version but a godly, biblical version of love as concrete behavior that puts others first and puts ourselves second.

Talk it out: Have you been on the receiving end of phony love? How have you seen the real deal?

You Are Not an Island: Created for Community

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at
Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at

There are a lot of creative people in this world, coming up with some amazing creations. But everything that people create has a purpose – a function. Nobody designs something for no purpose. We might laugh at the design and function (like many of the “as seen on tv” gadgets) but there is still a function. When an item doesn’t work according to its design we call it dysfunctional, maybe even broken. Some easily recognizable creations and designs: the light bulb, the Hoover Dam, the Colosseum. They were all created with something specific in mind and they have lasted. But there is one enduring creation that has been around before any of these: humanity. How do we function according to our design?

Most Christians know the story of God’s work in creating. In Genesis 1, every time God creates something He looks at it and sees…THAT IT IS GOOD. But there is a problem – in all of God’s creation there is one “not good” that sets the stage for all of humanity. The only “not good” is that man is alone, and the only solution is for God to create a community for man, from man, to which he is connected and may continue to grow the community. The family is the central core to our understanding of community. We are designed to be in relationship with other people!

Quite simply, family is everything. The individual exists and continues to exist only within the context of the community. When you remove the individual from family that person becomes invisible. As such, removal from the family is no small deal. Equally, while the individual remains within the community, he or she participates in the covering of the whole family; covering that could include physical protection, shelter, food, and the like.

Americans pride ourselves on our individuality, our self-sufficiency. “You can’t tell me what to do! I am my own boss, master and commander of my own world, and my actions don’t concern you.” But that’s not how the Bible sees it. From the Bible’s perspective, the actions of one person affect the entire community. That’s why the Apostle Paul tells Christians that if a person blatantly sins and refuses to repent then the church needs to remove that person from the community. One person’s actions and behavior can influence the entire community. We have lost the biblical concept that we are designed for community and function at our best when we are engaged in community with like-minded people.

I enjoy many different games, one of them being bowling. I have my own bowling ball that is drilled for me (left-handers need the holes drilled differently than righties). About 12-13 years ago I was a sophomore in college, and I had finished all of my school work, didn’t have to work at the store that night, and wanted to go bowling. The problem was that I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. So I thought, “Hey, I don’t need anyone – I can go by myself.” So I did. But I quickly learned that it is not as much fun bowling by myself as it is when I’m bowling with friends.

God designed us to enjoy being in community with others! We were created not only to be together but to care for each other. The fall saw human weakness destroy God’s intention. In Genesis, Cain is jealous of his brother Abel and so kills him. When God asks Cain where Abel is Cain responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The implied answer to this question is, “Yes!” That’s how God designed us! As community, we are our brother’s keepers. We are supposed to look out for and care for each other. This was God’s intention with community, and now the church picks up where we destroyed God’s original design. The church is the new family and community in which our lives play out. But our design, being created for community, should play out in practical ways.

First, our design should affect how we behave towards each other in the church. Too often we don’t treat each other well. There’s an old expression: familiarity breeds contempt. We become familiar with people and so we let our public niceness go away. It is more common to be polite to strangers than it is to people we are supposed to be in fellowship with. Have you ever entertained guests in your home? If a child of a guest bumps the coffee table and spills something on the carpet, the usual response is probably something like, “Don’t worry about it – it’s ok.” When everyone goes home, your spouse bumps into the coffee table and spills something and you lash out, “Why can’t you to watch where you’re going? You knew it was there! Why weren’t you more careful?” We bring that same mentality into the church. We are supposed to be a new community, a new family. We are supposed to care for each other and support each other, not tear each other down when we feel wronged or, worse yet, when someone falls short of perfection in some way that aggravates you!

In John 13:34-35 Jesus says:

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Several years ago when we were pastoring in California, my family was planning a Christmas family vacation in Colorado. My brothers and their wives, my parents, and my wife and I were all going to rendezvous in Colorado and spend the holidays together. The weather had different plans and we all got snowed out of Colorado and ended up having to spend Christmas in Southern California without my family. A family in the church invited us over to spend Christmas day with their family. Another family braved a hectic department store two days before Christmas in order to get us some small gifts so that we would have something to unwrap on Christmas morning. It was nothing fancy, but they wanted us to know that we were loved and cared for. That is how the church is supposed to function – loving and taking care of each other as though we are flesh-and-blood kin. It is this kind of love that Jesus says will identify us as his disciples. We are created for community, and that design should affect how we behave towards brothers and sisters in the church.

Second, our design should affect how we behave towards the world around us. As members of God’s family, this church community, we have a God-given task: to let other people know that they are welcomed into the community! The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:19:

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.”

In other words, we have been blessed to be welcomed into this new family, and God has made it our responsibility to welcome others into this new family as well. We cannot afford to cloister ourselves within our beautiful buildings and pat ourselves on the back that we made it into the kingdom. We have an obligation to bring others into the family as well. And, honestly, if we are loving each other the way we are supposed to be loving each other, we will have a hard time keeping people out! Paul exhorts us in Galatians 6:10:

“As we have opportunity we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”

We are not built to be isolated loners but to live and thrive in community. Because we are created for community, God calls us to care for one another and to invite the world around us to experience what genuine, Christian community is all about. So take time to reflect and ask yourself two questions. First, how can I grow and improve in loving the people in my church? Second, how can I actively work for the good of all so that others welcomed into this loving Christian community?

God our Father, You have created us for community, to be involved in people’s lives and to bring blessings to people. Show us where we have fallen short. Show us where we have failed to demonstrate love. Forgive us, and lead us to the place where we can love every brother and sister with the love of Jesus. Amen.

Related Posts:
~ 6 Ways to Build or Demolish Unity
~ Robin Hood Lives: Taking Care of Others
~ 14 Grandmas

Muslims, Murder, & Forgiveness

Love – Forgive - Live

If you haven’t heard by now Nidal Hasan, the Soldier who murdered 13 people and injured dozens others in a mass shooting back in 2009, was finally convicted – found guilty of premeditated murder. You can read about it here. I wanted to take a few minutes to respond because I believe how Christians respond is important.

It will be very easy to let our response focus on the murderer’s religion. He is a Muslim. His shooting spree seemed (at least in part) to be motivated by a reaction to American involvement in Muslim nations overseas. Prosecutors claim Hasan believed he had a jihad duty to kill as many Soldiers as possible. He also yelled, “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great in Arabic) before opening fire on innocents. Yes, there seems to be a strong connection to his Islamic faith.

I know that there will be many individuals (and conservative talking heads) who will want to point out that Islam is not compatible with the West and will always be opposed to Democracy. I’ve heard the arguments that Islam will never truly be peaceful towards Christianity. It is easy to lump all Muslims into a single category. It’s almost a natural reaction because we’ve been at war in Muslim nations for so long. Americans been attacked at home and abroad by Muslims. And I will be totally honest here – I also believe that in the big picture Islam will never be at peace with Christianity.

I do not believe, however, that we can demonize all individuals because of the actions of others. I do not want to lumped together with “Christians” from Westboro Baptist Church. Hasan is Muslim, yes, but he acted alone. The tendency will be to look sideways at all Muslims (indeed, all brown-skinned foreigners) as if any of them, at any moment, might open fire. But let’s not jump to that extreme. Before you know it we’ll be creating internment camps for anyone who is “other than.”

Let’s remember that sick individuals do sick things all the time without greater ties to worldwide movements. When a white teenager opens fire on a movie theater we don’t go around acting suspiciously of all white teens (well, maybe some people do, but in general I think not!). Jump off the bandwagon and turn off Fair and Balanced news outlets and use common sense. Messed up people do messed up things. Don’t fly off the handle – Hasan admitted to the shooting and was found guilty. He will pay – possibly with his life.

From a biblical point of view we need to consider the words of the Apostle Paul:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. (Romans 12:14,17a)

Nidal Hasan committed atrocious acts of evil against dozens of people. There is no excuse. There is no justification. But God calls the faithful to live a different way – without seeking to do damage to the offender, God calls us to bless and to avoid vengeance. We are to pursue forgiveness, in spite of what people do to us. It’s hard to even talk about, much less to live out. Like the Matthew West song says:

It’s the hardest thing to give away, it’s the last thing on your mind today – it always goes to those who don’t deserve – – -forgiveness

There will be hours of talk radio and news reports filled with stories, speculation, and judgments against Nidal Hasan. He will get what is coming to him. Even if you think his earthly punishment is not severe enough we can rest knowing that all of us will one day stand before the Creator of the Universe and give an account for our behavior here on earth. Hasan will. I will. You will, too.

So let’s not focus on hatred and fear and loathing of this sick and evil man. Let’s turn those emotions over to God. If you have to direct your focus anywhere, grieve and mourn with the families that are suffering loss because of this man’s actions. Love on the survivors.



Will the Real Christian Please Stand Up?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

There are many people today who claim to be Christians, but are they? In 1997, 85% of the U.S.A. claimed to be “Christian.” In that survey, people who responded positively included Roman Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and everything else in-between. Can you guess the state with the highest % claiming to be Christian? Utah, with 79.6% claiming to be Christian.

Let’s be very clear – there are some good people who do good things that are part of the Latter Day Saints or the Jehovah’s Witness organizations. But not everyone who claims to be a Christian really is. In Matthew 7 Jesus says:

21″Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

So if it is possible to say you believe in Jesus but not really be a Christian, and if it is possible to do good things and be a good person and not be a Christian, what are the marks of a true Christian? In his first letter, John tells us that there are 3 marks that identify a true Christian:

1. Truth
2. Righteousness
3. Love

Truth means believing the right things about God and about Jesus. I had a conversation recently with someone who believes in God but doesn’t believe that God revealed himself as a man named Jesus. There are many people who don’t believe that Jesus is God. But the Bible is clear that Jesus, although a man with flesh and blood, was God. I’ve run across many people who have trouble with the exclusive claims of Christianity, but it is what it is. The Bible makes it clear that all roads DO NOT lead to God. There is only one way and that is by faith in Jesus.

Righteousness is the act or conduct of holiness and purity. It really comes down to a personal commitment to follow what God has set out as His standard for behavior. It is not enough to believe in our heads the right stuff about Jesus – our hearts have to follow. And changed hearts yield changed behavior, where we come to the place that we no longer desire to do things our way but strive to be more and more like Jesus.

Love means acting towards others the way Jesus acts towards people. Love is NOT a sappy feeling. In fact, emotion has little to do with love. Emotion ebbs and flows. Relationships would be short-term indeed if we thought of love purely as emotion. As any couple can tell you – emotions can change in a “loving” relationship. One week it’s all good, the next week things aren’t so good. But biblical love is not about emotion – it’s more about selfless service. Love puts the needs and good of the “other” above oneself.

What marks a true Christian? What you believe, how you obey God, and how you act towards people. These 3 items have been repeated over and over and over again all through this letter. In fact, John uses a spiral pattern all through his letter to keep returning to his main points.

1. Truth – …which we have seen with our eyes and which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life… (1 John 1:1)
2. Righteousness – …The man who says, ‘I know him’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him… (1 John 2:4)
3. Love – …Whoever loves his brother lives in the light… (1 John 2:10)

1. Truth – …Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22)
2. Righteousness – …No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him… (1 John 3:6)
3. Love – …If anyone has material possessions and sees is brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

1. Truth – …Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist. (1 John 4:2-3)
2. Love – …Since God loved so us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

At the end of his letter, John writes:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5)

Truth – Jesus is the Christ.
Righteousness – Obeying God’s commands.
Love – is God’s command!

All three marks must be present in a genuine Christian. What happens if you have one mark but omit the others?

1. Truth – we have a word for people who say they believe one thing but don’t act it out – hypocrite

2. Righteousness – When you take care to follow all of God’s commands but don’t necessarily believe the right things or love other people…you’re a legalistic spiritualist (like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day)

3. Love – When you act right towards others but leave our truth and righteousness you’re a social do-gooder, but not necessarily a Christian.

All three marks must be present in a genuine Christian!

So what can you do? What does this mean for you and me?

1. Check what you believe. This one isn’t up to me to convince you, it’s a matter of faith. The Holy Spirit is the one who convinces and convicts us to faith. You cannot simply wake up one morning and decide, “I think I’m going to believe that Jesus is God in the flesh and that his death on the cross was a way for me to be forgiven for my immoral thoughts and behavior.” But if you feel God tugging at you and you say, “Yes, I believe,” then you are holding on to the truth that John talks about.

2. Make sure you’re living in righteousness – that your behavior matches up to the conduct God asks of us. That means when we know that we’re doing something that isn’t right, something that wouldn’t make God happy, we knock it off. That is the simplest way to define obedience. How does Nike define obedience? “Just do it.”

3. Make sure you’re loving people the way God loves people. That means we go out of our way to help meet people’s needs. We sacrifice ourselves to give good things to others.

No one is perfect, and these marks will never be a perfect trifecta leading to the perfect super-Christian. We should, however, see these three marks permeating and defining our lives, so that we are recognized more by these three qualities than by anything else.

How about you? Which mark do you need to see realized more in your life?

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