Archive for August, 2011

Recently a friend told me of a conversation he had about God. When the person found out that he followed Jesus she told him she had a list of questions for God. One of them was, “why does God hate Halloween?” My first thought was “wow, I didn’t see that coming”. My next thought was, I am not so sure God hates kids dressing up and getting candy from folks. In fact I wonder if it doesn’t amuse Him on some level. Certainly there are other aspects of Halloween that are not pleasing to God but that’s not the point of this post. It is just to let you know how I got thinking about the question, what does God hate?

It is a very important question if for no other reason than “hate” has become a huge topic in our western culture. We now have a whole category of crimes in which we have ratcheted up the punishment because they involve “hate”. So if a black man kills another black man or a white woman kills another white woman, or a gay man kills another gay man, then it is just plain old murder. But if the black man kills a white man, or white woman kills a black woman, or straight person kills a gay person then we immediately start looking for a hate crime motive. Apparently killing someone you hate is more hideous than killing someone you only dislike or have no feelings about what-so-ever. It is also clear that you can only hate people who are part of some other category of person than yourself, at least as far as hate crime law is concerned. Additionally we have added hate “speech” to the list of crimes. And here is where we really are on a slippery slope. More and more we are seeing people use the “hate” card whenever someone disagrees with the lifestyle, political position, or ideas of someone who is different from them. So now the political discourse is filled with accusations of people being “hate mongers” simply because they disagree with a policy or practice. So if someone speaks about having tougher immigration laws then obviously they are a bigot and hate people from other countries. Or if someone wants to promote what they consider to be a biblical standard of marriage as being between one man and one woman, then they must hate gays and lesbians. Are there people who hold to such positions and do it out of hate? Of course there are. But not everyone who disagrees with someone or something is motivated by hate. Let’s go back to basic logic. Take this line of thinking; People from Boston are Red Sox fans; you are a Red Sox Fan; you must be from Boston. NOT! Similarly, people who hate gays are opposed to gay marriage, you are opposed to gay marriage, you must hate gay people. NOT!

What we see is the hate on any level has become taboo in western culture. Any notion of hate is seen as being barbaric. It is seen to be part of some primitive nature that truly civilized, enlightened people have outgrown. Surely, the thinking goes,we should have progressed beyond hate by now. If we are talking about hating people then yes, certainly as a follower of Jesus I would say that we need to get beyond the hate of people and learn to love people as Jesus has loved us. Both the Old and New Testaments are clear in their instructions to us to love others, even our enemies. But in typical mentally lazy fashion we have taken the injunction to not hate others and have applied it to everything in life. Where as the Bible is clear that hating other people, just because they are different from us, is wrong, we have made it morally repugnant to hate anything. That goes light-years beyond what the Bible teaches and what God does.

The fact of the matter is, there are some things in life that God hates and if we don’t hate them also, then we are not the people Jesus wants us to be. There are enough places in the Bible that speak of things God hates that it is not an obscure concept. Rather, it is central to His very character as God. There are some things that are so odious to God that He hates them. Consider this direct and unambiguous passage from Proverbs 6:16-19,

16 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him:

17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,

18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil,

19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

So let me ask you, Is there anything wrong with hating those things? What would be the opposite of hating them? Surely we don’t want to say that we love “hands that shed innocent blood” or “a false witness that breathes out lies”. Ok so maybe we wouldn’t love them but does that mean we have to hate them? What is the other alternative? I suppose we could be neutral about them, which is simply another way of saying, indifferent, uncaring, unmoved. In some respects that may be worse. Do we really want to be indifferent to the deaths of innocent people? Do we really want to remain unmoved by the death and destruction caused by people who are devise evil in their hearts and are quick to run off and implement those evil plans?  Do we want to be so hard-hearted as to not have the least bit of inkling in our chest that this should not be? Being neutral, uncaring, unmoved, about such things is tantamount to approving of them, but without the guts to actually own such feelings. It is the weaklings way out, the rationalization of the moral coward.

God hates such things. He hates them because of what they do to people. He hates them because they violate his very character of being a God of justice and righteousness who cares for the broken and the downtrodden. He hates them because He is a God who loves those made in His image and to see them wrecked and destroyed by people who love evil causes a righteous indignation to rise up within Him. God hates such things because they are evil. Maybe that is the crux of the problem. We have so diluted our understanding of evil that we have lost the ability to be truly angry over it and the human devastation it leaves in its wake. How can you read about Gaddafi’s family pouring scalding hot water on a nanny because the nanny refused to beat a child and NOT get angry? How can you hear about a family denying water and food to a 10-year-old boy for days until he died of dehydration and not hate such evil? How can you hear of the tens of thousands or more of young girls trapped in the sex-slave industry and not hate what you hear? To not hate such things is to treat the people who suffer under them as less that worthy of our love and concern. We can understand having our hearts break over such things but we need to go a step further. We need to hate such things. Because God hates them too.

But here is the trick. We need to hate such things and at the same time not be consumed by our hate. We need to be people who point to redemption and forgiveness and restoration. Our hatred of evil must become a motivator for good. Our tendency when we hate is to become destructive and vindictive ourselves. We become that which we hate. Maybe that is why so many of us try to avoid any hint of hate. But in God’s case, when He looked at the destruction that sin brought upon humanity, He turned to a plan of redemption, forgiveness, and restoration. He did it by way of the Cross of Calvary. Jesus came and died in order to defeat the things God hates. He did it because He loves those who are caught in the bondage of such evil. In an irony of all ironies, he suffered that death at the hands of people who hated him and for people who hated him. That truly is hating the sin and loving the sinner.

Many of you have been interested in the work that we have been doing in Africa training pastors. Here is an extremely well done 5 minute video that tells the story. Hope you enjoy it, are challenged by it, and inspired.

Pastor Training Video

Dan

It is in the culture of America to give to people in need. I have been on enough short-term mission trips to see countless examples of American generosity. People have always been willing to share whatever they have with people in need. Whenever there is a natural disaster anywhere in the world, Americans do all they can to give to others. Most times, as in the case of a natural disaster such giving can be a good thing. But the indiscriminate giving that typifies so much of aid to the developing world has arguably destroyed more than is has helped. A series of events over the past few years have led me to the conclusion that in the long run the harm done by much of our giving is beyond what we have ever imagined.

A recent trip to western Zambia brought this lesson to light in a tiny village of less than a dozen thatch covered mud huts. A 30-year-old Zambian by the name of Kennedy became a follower of Christ. In the process of getting to know him it was clear that he was both a thinker and a leader in his village. I talked with him, through Bonny our translator, and encouraged him to also be a leader for Christ among his people. He agreed that he wanted to do this but expressed that he had a problem with the Bible.

Me: “Bonny, could you ask him what the problem is with the Bible”

Bonny: “He says he doesn’t have a Bible. But he does have a chicken”

Me: “Ummm are you saying he wants to trade a chicken for a Bible”

Bonny: “Yes”

Me: “Give me a moment” I then quickly spoke to Paul the leader of the mission in Zambia and he assured me that this is how it is done.

Me: “Okay Bonny, Kennedy can take this Bible and when he comes back tomorrow he can bring the chicken”

Bonny: “Kennedy says to keep the Bible and when he comes back tomorrow with the chicken then he will take the Bible”

The next morning it was quickly determined that even though cutting the head off the chicken to make dinner that night sounded exciting, plucking feathers for an indeterminate amount of time was not. Bonny had a further conversation with Kennedy that day making it clear that the white people weren’t sure what to do with the chicken. (I would have loved to have overheard that) So they settled on a small hand-made axe instead. So we exchanged a Bible for an axe.

Now some of you are wondering why we didn’t just give him the Bible. There are two very important reasons. If we would have given him the Bible it would have caused a serious amount of jealousy in the village and created more problems for the Gospel than we could have managed. Secondly, in Kennedy’s culture it is simply understood that you trade for things that you value. He was saying that he highly valued owning a Bible and was willing to sacrifice for it. We needed to honor that.

On the other end of the spectrum, ministries that have gone into places like Zambia and handed out lots of stuff have found that unless they keep giving away stuff, people don’t want to listen to them. A friend reported to me a similar situation on the border between Mexico and Southern California. Ministries from the USA have gotten into a routine of doing weekend mercy ministry trips across the border. These have become so popular that unless you come bringing lots of cool new stuff, you have no audience. It is even reported that some folks don’t even bother doing laundry because a new load of clothing will be given away every weekend.

On a bigger scale, I recently finished reading the book Dead Aid by Dambiso Moyo. http://www.dambisamoyo.com/ Moyo is a Zambian woman with a Master’s Degree from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Economics from Oxford. In 2009 Time Magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. That’s the whole world people! Suffice it to say she has the academic chops and the life experience that should make people pay attention. Bottom line of her book is that the forty years of sending aid to the developing world has actually cause it to be less developed than it was prior to all the aid and actually made people’s lives worse. Just one small example gives us an understanding of why. A big time rock star rightly decides that thousands of children can be saved from death if only they had a mosquito net. So said rock start does a concert, enlists some of his buddies,and calls a press conference. They raise money for a million mosquito nets and promptly work a deal with Acme Mosquito Net Company in the USA and send the nets to children throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. They all feel good about it and move on to their next cause. Meanwhile, within a few years, the mosquito nets are worn out and ineffective. The celebrities have moved on and so now the kids need to find their own new nets. But here is the rub. New nets extremely hard to find in Africa even if you have the money and the price has gone way up. Why? Because the influx of a million or more nets a few years ago put all the little mom and pop net makers out of business and they are now having to receive aid from the World Food Program just to survive. Before they had a nice little business employing a handful of people and keeping three or four families alive. How different would it be if the nets had been bought, a dozen or so at a time from all the little mom and pop mosquito net makers in Africa?

What we need to come to grips with is the difference between relief and development. In the old cliché about it being better to teach a man to fish than give him a fish, there is a certain truth. But look, if the man is starving to death you don’t have time to teach him to fish. Give him a fish for goodness sake. But as soon as he is healthy, start the fishing lessons. Additionally, make sure the fishing lessons use equipment and techniques that work in his environment. Don’t show him how to fish with a fancy $400 fly rod that if it breaks he can never fix or replace. Just because that’s what you would use, doesn’t mean that’s what he should use.

But back to the gifts. It is interesting to note that the Bible says in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” There is a principle at work here. It has to do with the dignity of people and the value of working for something. When we always give to people we run the risk of creating a feeling of helplessness and dependency or worse, entitlement, that becomes a vicious cycle that sucks the life out of people. God created us to be people who worked, achieved, strove, and accomplished things in the world. Kennedy understood that even though he had yet to read the Bible.

So do we never give gifts? Of course not. But we must make sure that they are in the context of a relationship and not simply a way of making ourselves feel good, thinking we have solved a problem when in fact we may have made it worse. God gives the gift of eternal life through Christ. The “through Christ” part is critical. It is through a relationship that we receive such a precious gift.

Me and Kennedy

 

By the way, you may be wondering about the axe Kennedy traded for the Bible. I exchanged 20,000 Zambian Kwacha (about $5) with Paul in order to pay for the value of the axe. It was well worth the trade and it is in my office as a reminder of the value a new follower of Christ placed on having God’s Word to read and study as he seeks to lead his people.