Posts Tagged ‘love God’

At some point the attention of the world will move away from Haiti. It will happen for any number of reasons and probably a combination of them all; disaster fatigue on our parts, some new item will hit the news and replace Haiti, the drama of rescues will subside, the slow work of rebuilding is just not compelling news, or simply we want to get back to our own lives. However, the pain of the people there, the work needed to restore lives, and the opportunity to show the love of Christ will continue for years, maybe decades, to come. With estimates of 200,000 dead this approaches one hundred times as many dead as 9/11 or Katrina. The physical devastation makes Katrina and Hurricane Andrew look manageable.

So how does the Body of Christ respond once the media attention has died and the initial disaster relief is over? Let’s consider what a provocative Christian response would be and make a decision now to do just that. In order to help Haiti in a positive way it will be important that rebuilding happens in cooperation with local Haitians. The world could come in and rebuild everything and leave Haiti with all new infrastructure but no sense of self-worth as a people or ownership of their lives. We would simply be continuing what has become a “welfare-dependent state” that is forced to look to the rest of the world for its sustenance. What needs to happen is for Christians to connect with other Christians in Haiti and come along side them, working together to rebuild their country and their lives in ways that allow them to own the process and the results. We need to go as servants not as the answer people who will solve all the problems.

So where do we start? First we need to look to those groups who are already connected in Haiti that are helping Haitian Churches impact their communities. Through those groups we can come alongside our brothers and sisters who live there, know the community, know the needs, and will carry on the work of Christ when no foreigners are around. We need to help those locals be seen as the ones doing the real work and we are serving them. Groups like Churches Helping Churches, New Missions, and IsleGo are already doing this. They are helping local Haitian Churches make an impact for Jesus. The best thing we can do is commit to help them do that.

Second, we need to have followers of Jesus from all over the world connect to organizations like this and then go to Haiti. They don’t need you there today. There are plenty of first responders and other trained disaster relief people getting there. In fact there is a backlog of people trying to get on the island. But what about four or five months from now? Would you be willing to forgo your plans for a two-week summer vacation and instead go to Haiti for two weeks and serve? Would you be willing to commit to that for the summer of 2010, 2011, and even 2012? That is provocative. That is Christ-like serving.

Third, would you be willing to ask others, even people who are not following Christ to join you on such a mission? Yes even those who do not follow Jesus can be used by Jesus for his glory. Not only that, but Jesus has a way of bringing people into a relationship with himself by first getting them to server others in just such situations. I saw a family of four go on a trip to rebuild homes in Mississippi with a dozen other Christ-followers. On that trip the entire family came to Christ because of the love they saw demonstrated and because Jesus used that trip to break down their walls.

This is certainly one of the greatest disasters in the Western Hemisphere in some time. But it is also one of the greatest opportunities we have had to demonstrate what it means to “Love Jesus With All Our Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength and to Love Our Neighbor as Ourselves”. That is what being a Provocative Christian is all about.

I made the mistake of asking a friend for some book suggestions related to the chapter on worship for the Provocative Christian Living book. He suggested a book that connects our worship of God to our doing justice for the poor, oppressed and enslaved. It was not what I expected but more than I could have hoped for.

The bottom line of Mark Labberton’s book, “The Dangerous Act of Worship”, is that we can’t say we love God if we do not love our neighbor. I know, that comes right out of 1 John 4:20 “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” How we treat our neighbor, especially the poor and oppressed has a direct connection to our worship of God. In short, it is not possible to worship God if we are not concerned about the issues of pain and suffering that are faced by people made in God’s image.

I am reminded of a story of a congregation that was confronted with a dilemma one Sunday morning. Just like every other Sunday morning they made their way from their cars to their seats in the sanctuary. Each one was dressed in their Sunday best, including their obligatory Sunday morning smile and greeting for the other worshipers parading in to worship. What made this Sunday morning different was the man huddled in a corner near the bottom of the steps, outside, near the street. He was dirty and had his own uniquely unpleasant aroma. His hair was greasy and knotted, and covered by a dirty brown beanie pulled low over his eyes. An over-large tattered trench coat kept him warm while one arm remained hooked around a shopping cart loaded with the totality of his worldly possessions. No one spoke to him. Most turned away and made sure not to lock eyes with the man. Children who embarrassed their parents with overly loud questions about the man where told not to pay any attention.

Inside the sanctuary the service was about to begin. Everyone was seated in their normal places, the ones they always sat in, waiting quietly for the pastor to step onto the platform. To the shock and dismay of the entire congregation, the dirty, homeless stranger from outside came stumbling down the middle aisle and took a seat in the front row. No one dared move or say a word. A few minutes of uncomfortable silence felt like an eternity. Just when people expected the pastor to come out to begin the service and maybe deal with the man who was so out of place, the man stood up. He slowly walked up to the platform and had the audacity to step into the pulpit. To the gasps and bewilderment of the congregation, he removed his cap, took off the knotted wig, removed the tattered coat, wiped the grime from his face and revealed himself as their pastor in. All he needed to do was stand there. The Holy Spirit did the rest. People were confronted with their rejection of someone in need as they prepared to tell God how much they loved Him by worshiping as they always did.

It really gets back to what Jesus said about what we do for the sick, the prisoner, the naked, the hungry and the rejected. To the degree we serve them and care for them, we are serving and caring for Jesus. If we fail to serve them and care for them, then we really are not serving and caring for Jesus no matter how many songs of praise we sing or offerings of resources we make.

Buy caring about issues of justice and loving our distressed neighbor, we take worship out of the exclusive realm of the sanctuary or church auditorium. Instead, we find ourselves on the road to making worship a 24/7 act of giving ourselves to God. When we care for, and show love to others, we are honoring God who made them. You cannot honor the creator and dishonor that which he created. If I say I love Picasso but I slap graffiti on one of his paintings, then I am really making a statement about what I truly think of Picasso. If however I really love Picasso, then I will cherish and care for that which he painted. The same is true in our worship of God. If I really want to honor God, then I must cherish and care for that which He has made in His image. It is in that context that doing justice is what God wants from us in our worship of Him. It is summed up in these words from the Prophet Micah:

He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26

What in the world are we supposed to make of these words from Jesus? It seems to be a pretty clear and simple statement but does Jesus really want us to hate our families? When I was a new Christian there was a group that made this verse one of the foundations of their ministry. They convinced thousands of young people to renounce their parents, family and friends and run off and join their group. Most people intuitively sensed that this was NOT was Jesus had in mind but at the same time they didn’t know how to respond to what seemed to be a pretty cut and dried understanding of some clear words from Jesus. As a result lots of folks simply dismissed these words as something we just don’t understand and they instead moved on to more familiar, safe verse about who much God loved them.

But we can’t just ignore what Jesus said. The enemy, Satan, would like nothing more than for us to blow off such provocative verses and refuse to get any deeper in our faith that having a some vague sense that God thinks we are okay. We need to wrestle with what Jesus meant. In order to do that we must first understand what He did not mean. Clearly Jesus would not teach that we are to hate anyone in the way that we normally think of hatred. After all, it was Jesus who commanded that we not even hate our enemies but instead love them. (See  https://provocativechristian.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/provocative-bible-verses-love-your-enemies/) It was also Jesus who said the two most important things you could do were to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Surely we are not expected to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and at the same time, detest our parent and siblings.

Some people try to use this as an example of a contradiction in the Bible and an excuse to ignore all of it. But there is no contradiction. When Jesus says to hate your parents He uses the Greek word,miseo. It is a word that has duel usage. It can in fact mean to despise or detest someone. But it is also used in the Bible and other ancient literature to mean “love less”. Numerous scholars of the Bible concur that in this an many other casesmiseo is used in to mean love one thing less than another. It is a matter of placing higher priority over one thing than another.

With that in mind the meaning of Jesus becomes easy to grasp but harder to live. What Jesus is saying is that there whould be nothing in this world that we love more than we love Him. We are not to love our parents more than we love Jesus. We are not to love our brothers and sisters more than we love Jesus. We are not to love our children, or spouse, or cousins, or next door neighbor more than we love Jesus. In fact He says that we are not to love our own life more than we love Jesus. That shouldn’t surprise us for two reasons. First, God said in the Ten Commandments that we are to have no other gods before Him. In other words, nothing in life is to have more devotion from us than the Lord our God. Secondly, Jesus said that we are to love God with ALL that we have and ALL that we are. The implication is simple, nothing and no one should have a greater place in our heart, and in our devotion, and in our love, than the Lord.

To emphasize the fact that we are to love nothing so much as we love the Lord, Jesus goes on in Luke 14:27 and says “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Those folks who heard those words come from His mouth had to have been stunned to the point of being frozen in their tracks. The image of carrying a cross was vivid to them. Anytime someone was carrying a cross they were on their way to their own execution. They were going to death, just as Jesus was when He carried His own cross. By saying that we are to love Jesus more than we love our parents and that we are to carry our cross for Him or else we are unworthy of being His disciples, Jesus is saying that when it comes to following Him, He wants your all. There is no halfway measure with Jesus. It is full and complete devotion or nothing. It is Jesus first or not at all. It is give Him your life even to the point of death, or not at all.

Sometimes your love for the Lord might mean that you have to say no to your family and yes to Jesus. Sometimes your love for the Lord might mean that you have to turn down a promotion because even though it will mean more money and prestige you know that it will have a negative impact on your relationship with Jesus. Sometimes your love for the Lord might mean that you must sacrifice your comfort and open your home to someone without a home. Sometimes your love for the Lord means you must live with rejection from people whom you care about, or face ridicule from others. You must love them and their acceptance and your comfort and your promotion and your prestige, less than you love Jesus.

So the right thing to say is not, mom and dad; I love Jesus but I hate you. Instead, it needs to be, mom and dad and anyone or anything else, I love you but I love Jesus most of all.

Do you find yourself from time to time treating your sin as if it is no big deal, not as bad as some other people you know? If you do then you will fail to experience the full delight and freedom that comes from the forgiveness God offers. You will always carry around a hidden weight of pride mixed with some nagging guilt. The pride is your own flesh. The nagging guilt is the Holy Spirit trying to bring you to your knees so you can receive the full force of Gods love.
The only way to begin to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength is to admit the depth of your sin. When you come to grips with that, and give up any hope of your own righteousness making the least bit of difference, then you are in position to receive Gods love. Only when you receive that love on that basis, the basis of your own complete and utter sinfulness, are you then in a position to live rightly, for the right reason.

Our reaction to God’s grace is a study in paradox. On the one hand we are extremely grateful for it and know that we need it. On the other hand we are often uncomfortable with it and seem to be concerned that a little too much grace might be a bad thing. We seem to be concerned that there will then be no motivation for living righteously. In some evangelistic presentations the question of what should motivate us to live rightly if we have all this forgiveness and grace is boiled down to a sense of gratitude for our forgiveness. With all due respect to those presentations, my gratitude runs out after a very short while. Certainly gratitude is a factor in obeying Jesus, but it is extremely limited in its effectiveness.

The Bible never speaks of gratitude as the reason for living righteously because gratitude is too weak a motivator. Jesus gives a rather different idea. He said very simply in John 14:15 that we will obey Him, keep is commandments, IF WE LOVE HIM! Love for God that comes as a response to His overwhelming forgiveness is what should motivate us to live differently. But in order to have that kind of love we must know and admit the depth of our sin. We do this not so we can wallow in some spiritual form of self-loathing but so we can understand the depth of God’s love for us. If you are not able to admit on a daily basis, the depth of your sin and the height of God’s mercy, you will not be able to love God with all you are.

The Great Commandment is not to love the Lord your God with a LITTLE of your heart, mind, soul, and strength, but with ALL your heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is a command to love God much, very much, as much as possible. But if it is true that people, who are forgiven little, love little, what hope is there for people who have lived a decent life by all human standards and not sinned much? What about those who have lived according to Alfred P. Doolittle’s standards of middle class morality? I can just picture people like Simon saying, “Wait a minute! I tried to live a good decent life and now you are telling me that because I didn’t sin much, that I don’t have much to be forgiven for and so I am destined to not love God enough. That hardly seems fair.”
So what is the answer to this seeming “unfairness” in God? The problem lies in our understanding of our sin. Our human tendency is to evaluate our moral and spiritual standing by looking at other people around us. Invariably we look to the right and see very holy, godly people and decide that they are the exception and we should not be expected to like them. Being the next Mother Theresa is just not what we think we should be expected to do. Then we quickly look down the other end of the moral lineup and see people who we determine are far worse off than we are. Sure we can see Hitler and Stalin and Charles Manson and decide that they are clearly wicked sinners and are in desperate need of either forgiveness or punishment. But even less extreme than that we are always able to find someone who we decide is worse than we are and so we must be okay in Gods eyes. This fits perfectly with a concept in psychology known as the false attribution theory. It basically works this way; we assume the best about our own actions and motives and attribute the worst possible motives and actions to others. When you are driving in your car and someone cuts you off, you assume all sorts of nasty things about him or her; they are a jerk, dangerous, an idiot, they should never have been given a license. But when you cut someone off, it was an understandable mistake, you are so sorry the other driver should understand and be gracious to you.
We do the same with our sin. We think that because we have the best of intentions that our sin is not as serious as that of other people. As a result we think that our need for grace, mercy, and forgiveness is not as severe as that of other sinners. What we fail to realize is that no matter the depth of our sin, we are all the same. We are all destined for Hell without the forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ. Being a sinner saved by grace must never be allowed to become a cliché. They are words that must burn within us and light a fire of desire to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

It is my contention that if we really loved God in a Great Commandment way, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, then we would be living far differently from the way most Christians currently live. The strange part is that given the level of blessing and abundance that the church in the west experiences, including the freedom we have to worship, you would think that our love for God would be abundantly manifest. You would assume that given the amount of Christian teaching that is available to us through books, radio, television, podcasts, conferences and all the rest, that our knowledge of God and thus our love for God would be uncontainable. So what is the problem? Why don’t we love God more?
I think the answer is found in an event in the life of Jesus and a story he told that deals with this exact question. It comes in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus has been invited to the home of a Pharisee named Simon. It is a dinner party with some of Simon’s closest friends. Because Simon is a Pharisee, one of the religious teachers and strict keepers of every religious rule imaginable, his friends are only the most respectable kinds of people. So there they are in Simons house all feeling good about themselves, how respectable they are and that Jesus, this up and coming prophet is eating with them. Suddenly into the room comes a woman whom they all know to be a local prostitute. She falls at Jesus feet, weeping. As her tears drip off her face and onto his feet, she wipes the tears away using her long, undone hair.
Imagine such a scene in which you are the host. I suspect that your first move would be to intercept this woman or at least get her away from Jesus and out of the house. You might even immediately call the police. Yet in an amazing act of passivity, Simon doesn’t move. Instead he sits and ponders to himself wondering why Jesus would possibly let a prostitute, a sinful woman if there ever was one, touch him, let alone weep and his feet and kiss them.
Jesus looks up at Simon and asks him a question, all the while with the woman weeping at his feet:
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Luke 7:41,42 NASB

Without making any connection to the current events playing out before his very eyes Simon answers,
“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”  “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Verse 43

Simon must have been confused at this point. What does that question have to do with all of this? I suspect that there was a little bit of annoyance at the question, tempered with a touch of spiritual pride when Jesus praises him for his answer. But it was all short-lived as Jesus let the spiritual hammer fall heavy on Simon’s head.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.

I love that opening line in verse 44, “Do you see this woman?” How could he not see her? She has created a scene unlike anything Simon has ever experienced in his home. Yes he sees her with his eyes wide open in amazement.  He sees how she compares to him. His answer would be yes I see her. “I see that she is a whore and I am a religious man who would never associate with her. I see that she has barged in uninvited and I am holding my tongue, keeping my place and maintaining a proper decorum. I am a proper, righteous man and I see that she is a sinner of utmost filth.” But before he can even begin to express any of his thoughts in which he compares himself favorably to “this woman” Jesus goes into a litany of comparisons of his own.

You did not give me any water for my feet so that I could wash, or a towel to dry them when I came into your house. This most basic of the rules of hospitality for a guest and you violated it. Yet she has not ceased to wash my feet with her tears using her very hair to dry them clean. And it’s not even her house! Chalk up one for the prostitute. You did not even great me with a formal kiss on the cheek when I entered your home as a sign that you welcomed me as a friend, yet she has not stopped kissing my feet as a sign of her devotion. That’s prostitute two, Simon zero. Finally, you did not honor me as a guest by giving me oil for my head, yet she has anointed my feet with perfume. Final score: prostitute three, Simon zero.

Simon had to have been spiritually shell shocked at this point. Jesus has just indicted him on three counts of blatant disregard for his guest, a theological and sociological sin in Simon’s day. But if that wasn’t bad enough the worst was yet to come. As soon as he finishes the litany of indictments Jesus says,

47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

The comparison hits it apex. “She is doing all of this” Jesus says, “because she loves me, because she has been forgiven much. Just like greatest of the two debtors in my previous question that you answered so well Simon. She loves much because she has experienced much forgiveness.”  The unspoken comparison that Simon and everyone else in the room are now painfully aware of is that Simon loves “little”. For all his adherence to the religious laws of his day and all his striving to be respectable and righteous, Simon is told that he is guilty of having little love.
Now you might be thinking, but Simon was a good man. He followed the rules. He certainly was not a prostitute or other kind of blatant sinner. He was a respectable guy. Jesus himself compares one who sinned a great deal with one who sinned a little. The woman is the one who sinned a great deal so shouldn’t Simon get some props as the one who sinned a little? He was doing a respectable job, trying hard to be righteous. On the surface you might think so. But there are depths to this story that we rarely plumb.

Check back on Friday for part two and begin to plumb those depths.