Posts Tagged ‘loving your neighbor’

If there is something sad that characterises how we approach difficult or controversial issues in the age of internet memes. It is that the extremes move to center stage and gain all the attention. The pithy, mic-drop sound bite becomes the be all and end all in the debate. Emotion packed retorts push out any chance for real dialogue and the process of using our brains to do the hard work of thinking becomes replaced by visceral, knee jerk reactions.

Nowhere is this more evident today than the argument over the fate of Syrian refugees in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris that resulted in the deaths of more than 120 people. On one end of the spectrum is a view that sees every Muslim as a Kalashnikov toting, bomb vest wearing, destroyer of the western world. On the other end of the spectrum is a view that sees every refugee as an innocent child, or elderly woman, on the verge of starvation being left to die by heartless, angry racists. Those positions either focus on the need to protect ourselves from terrorists by keeping all refugees somewhere other than where we are or the need to supposedly be like Jesus and welcome all of them without hesitation. Those on the protection end of the spectrum are castigated by the other side as being hypocritical, unchristian, violators of Jesus command to love others. Those on the welcome them all in end of the spectrum are castigated as being foolish, weak, idiotic, and naive.

At the risk of being run over from both directions and castigated by each end of the spectrum, let me suggest that both are wrong and both misunderstand the teachings of Jesus.

First, both are wrong in thinking that memes, sound bites, 140 character tweets, and Facebook postings are the way to have a dialogue about this issue. Those things may make us feel like we stuck it to the “other” side and allow us to puff out our chest and claim the moral or intellectual high ground. But that is a fantasy and self deceiving. It does nothing for the refugees.

Second, both are wrong in thinking that this is an all or nothing issue. It has become normative in the debates of today’s issues, whether they be political, moral, social, or religious, to make a simplistic either/or argument for a complex problem and leave no room for a both/and solution. I have a theory that the reason this is a growing trend has to do with us becoming intellectually lazy. It’s just easier to make something an either/or issue and entrench ourselves in our ideologically or emotionally driven position than it is to actually engage our brains, look at the bigger picture and acknowledge that the other side may have a point or two worth considering.

Third, as this discussion enters the religious world and invokes Jesus I find that there is a major failure to wrestle with the totality of what Jesus taught. Calling people to embrace all refugees with open arms because Jesus was a refugee may tug at emotional heart strings or promote guilt but it is hardly presents a viable biblical answer for dealing with something as chaotic and even terrifying as several hundred thousand refugees on the borders of your country. Telling people they are unchristian for being afraid in that situation does nothing to help them get over their fear. On the other hand, the calls for no refugees what-so-ever fails to take into account that Jesus was serious when He said to love our neighbors and our enemies. He made those statements knowing full well that such love was dangerous and risky and yet fully expecting us to obey Him.

So what is the answer? I think it is to be found in the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:16 when He sends the disciples out into a dangerous world to do ministry. He said,“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  Jesus acknowledged that the world is dangerous. That did not mean we withdraw and hide for our own safety. Rather, He intento On the other hand He did not advocate naively rushing off willy-nilly without considering the danger and taking some precautions. Jesus did not propose and either/or solution. He proposed a both/and solution. What He proposed was that we be both gentle and wise.

So how does that apply to the current crisis? Be gentle by taking every step we can to care for refugees, provide shelter, food, clothing, medical care and as followers of Christ, bring the message of the Gospel, make disciples and plant churches among refugee communities. It also means be wise, do what is necessary to make sure, as much as we can, that wolves in the midst of those sheep are prevented from using this crisis to make their way into our midst and spread greater evil.

It is equally easy to say either, “welcome them all” on the one hand or on the other hand “welcome none of them”. Both positions are in my mind, lazy, simplistic, and only make things worse. The hard answer is to think through what it would take to be wise and gentle at the same time and then do that. Governments need to do the work of protecting their people. Paul makes that clear in Romans 13. Followers of Christ need to do a better job of loving people. Do I even need to quote chapter and verse for that? Both need to find a way to work together better which, in a time of hyper-separation of church and state, may be the hardest part of all. As governments do the work of finding the wolves in the midst of the sheep, so the sheep can be taken in and cared for, there needs to be a place for the church to come and help provide some of the love and care that refugees need. But that means Christians must be willing to take the risk of serving those refugees and possibly being confronted by a wolf in the process. Now that is something I am confident Jesus would do.

 

I had a seminary professor who was what I call a true liberal. By that I mean, she really believed in and lived according to the idea that we all have the liberty to hold our own opinion of things, live by them, and express them. Our differing opinions, when shared and engaged, make us wiser and stronger. To her, disagreement was an opportunity for learning and growth. Being a true liberal she was always open to hearing what others said and even when she disagreed with them it was as a learning experience, characterized by respect in the midst of disagreement. The disagreements could at times be serious and important, from the nature of God, to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, or even if the crucifixion was necessary for the forgiveness of sin. In a seminary those are hot topics and could at times produce a shower of sparks in debates between liberals and conservatives. But not with this professor. She had the respect of the conservatives because she would engage in serious dialogue and treat others as people made in God’s image and worthy of being treated with dignity.

During this latest cultural tempest over Chick-fil-a, their position on homosexual marriage, the protests and counter protests, I have often thought of that professor and wondered to myself, “where have all the liberals gone”. You may think that I am just not paying attention because clearly there are lots of them. Many of them are planning a kiss-in protest at Chick-fil-a stores across the country today. But that is not what I am talking about. I don’t mean people who are morally liberal as opposed to conservatives or evangelicals. I am talking about true, philosophical liberals who really do believe that everyone has the right to their own opinion, expression of it, and their version of truth. Those liberals are few and far between today. What I find in their place are people who are morally liberal but philosophically conservative. What do I mean by that? Simply this, a true liberal would not attack you telling you that your position is wrong and you are a hateful person for holding it. They would simply tell you that they disagree, and then tell you what is true for them and works for them. They would simply acknowledge that it is different from what you think or believe. What I see in the outrage against Chick-fil-a is a philosophical conservatism that says, your position is wrong, it is untrue, incorrect, and in fact dangerous, and hateful. In a rather obvious twist, obvious to me at least, I find many liberals engaging in the exact hate speech that they accuse Dan Cathy of spouting. Just this morning I read the report of on Arizona CFO getting fired after he posted a YouTube video of himself berating a Chick-fil-a drive through attendant over the company’s position on gay marriage.  So my request to liberals everywhere is simply this, be a true liberal. Be consistent. If you really want to live as if there are no, or few moral absolutes, as if people should have the liberty to do as they want, then you must allow the conservative the liberty to hold their positions just as you do. You have no philosophical grounds on which to tell them they are wrong for the positions they hold. Liberalism is about liberty, the liberty to think and believe and express whatever you want. Dan Cathy should have that liberty as should anyone else. It even gives mayors of major cities the liberty to say things that they later regret and realize they need to clarify or retract.

But I also want to say a few things to my conservative and evangelical friends. If you truly think that there is right and wrong, good and evil, and that there are moral laws we should follow, then follow them. Start with what Jesus said was the most important, love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Such love is not confined to feeling all warm and fuzzy about someone. The biblical kind of love, the Jesus kind of love, is the kind that acts lovingly, even when you don’t feel like it. If you are a conservative or evangelical then ask yourself these questions. Is there a LGBT person who considers you a friend? Is there an atheist who knows that they can talk to you about anything and that if they were in trouble at two in the morning they could call you without hesitation? Is there a Muslim or Buddhist who respects you because you first respected them? Is there anyone who is of a radically different lifestyle from you who knows that you love them because you have consistently served, encouraged. prayed for them, and treated them with respect and friendship? If the answer is no or you are not sure, then I suggest you skip waiting in line for your chicken sandwich and go do something that builds a bridge and demonstrates the love of Christ. I am pretty sure that Dan Cathy would gladly give up the profit on the sandwich if he knew you were investing in the life of someone who desperately needs to know that Jesus and you, love them.

You see, as much as it makes us feel triumphant that people needed to wait in long lines for a piece of chicken on Wednesday, such triumphalism will not bring people closer to Jesus. Our love and kindness will. That’s not my idea. That’s what the Bible says. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4 It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. It is the love of the Lord that draws us to him. It must be noted that this word kindness is part of Paul’s’ argument against sin in the early verses of Romans. The particular focus of the end of Romans 1 is on homosexual practice and sin. Many Christians trot out those verses and use them to beat over the heads of proponents of same-sex marriage. Yet Paul, for all his strident words against sin, reminds us that kindness is what God most often uses to call us to him. That kindness is first and foremost to be made evident though followers of Christ as we treat others with kindness. That doesn’t mean we say everything is acceptable. It means that we graciously, humbly, lovingly hold to what we believe, including that we believe Jesus calls us to serve and love even our perceived enemies.

We conservatives and evangelicals need to take a page out of the playbook of that liberal seminary professor. We need to treat people, no matter how much we disagree with them, with kindness and respect. We need to demonstrate that we love them and will serve them and sacrifice for them in order to show them the love of Christ. I suspect that if more of us lived that way, there would be a true dialogue and not a parade of useless protests, counter protests, showing support by buying sandwiches or showing disdain by boycotting sandwiches.

I bring this all back to the point of this blog site, provoking a response to the sake of Christ. According to 1 Peter 3:15, Christians should be living life so differently, so hopefully, faithfully, and lovingly, that people who are not following Christ become intrigued by our faith, hope, and love and want to know the reason for it. It is then that we can point people to Jesus and say, “He loves me and because of that, I love you, and He wants you to know that He loves you too”.

What do you long for, yearn for, lay awake at night dreaming about? What do you hunger for? Much of what we yearn and hunger for never becomes reality. When I was a kid I desperately wanted to go to the moon. I could have told you everything about the space program, including every man who walked on the moon and each Command Module Pilot who circled the moon while two of his buddies played Rat Patrol in the Lunar Rover. I had a hunger to go to the moon. Sadly the program was killed long before I ever had a chance to go. Today I am pretty certain that NASA won’t be starting up a shuttle service to Tranquility Base anytime soon so that hunger will never be satisfied.
Jesus says that there is a hunger that can be satisfied but it is not something that most people really care much about. In Matthew 5:6 he said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” At first blush it doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as a chance to hit golf balls on the moon. But the more I think about having a hunger for righteousness, the more appetizing it sounds. Think about it for a moment. What would be different in the world if life was characterized by righteousness? What if people actually did the right thing, treated each other with dignity, watched out for the hurting and weak and generally loved God and their neighbor above all else? We are coming up on an election day here in The States. How different might things be if political leaders actually cared about doing the right thing more than getting elected again and again. For that matter how different would it be if the voters hungered more for leaders who did the right thing than for those who seem to promise the most perks for us? How different would it be if people so longed for righteousness that we would no longer put up with a world in which children starve to death while others grow fat? How different would it be if we thirsted like a dying man in the desert, for a world in which women need never fear being raped?  How different would it be if we yearned for a world in which the color of ones skin was seen as a beautiful example of God’s love of variety instead of a reason to exclude, reject or attack?
Jesus hungers for such a world. It is a world in which human beings fulfill the requirements of our relationship with God and with one another. We are to hunger and thirst for “right relationships” that are characterized by loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. We must never be satisfied with anything less.
But in order to be truly satisfied we must long for a righteousness that is worthy of heaven. For it is only there that we will ultimately experience a relationship with God and one another as it was intended. We must hunger for that heavenly righteousness as a starving man hungers for a crust of bread or thirsting man a moistening of his lips.
That kind of hunger will lead inevitably to the foot of the cross. At the cross I am reminded again and again that I have no righteousness in myself. I can do nothing to satisfy my need for righteousness. I am spiritually bankrupt. Jesus made that clear in the first Beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit. But it is also at that cross that I receive my one true hope. I find that Jesus has gone to that cross on my behalf so that I may indeed be in a right relationship with the Father. And that is at the heart of righteousness. It is being made right with God, being in a right relationship with him because my sin has been forgiven. Jesus promises that if I hunger for that kind of righteousness that I will be filled.
As much as I may look at the world and the appalling lack of righteousness in it, I have to look deep into my own heart first. It is there that I must hunger for righteousness before anywhere else. It is in my own heart and my own relationship with God that I must thirst for right things. It is in my heart of hearts that I must yearn for a love for those around me that knows no bounds.
It is a humbling thing to admit that in our hearts we are just not right with God and others as we need to be. But it is also a very freeing thing. It frees me to become the person I know Jesus wants me to be and to look with expectation and hope to the day when all my hunger and thirst will be satisfied.

If your Christian experience has found you in a more conservative church that focuses on people asking Jesus into their hearts then you have probably been trained that the Gospel is all about loving God and making sure you will get to heaven. If your experience is more of a church that focuses on serving the poor and needy then you have been trained that the Gospel is all about loving your neighbor and making sure that they experience a bit of heaven right here on earth. Both of those understandings of the Gospel are mutated aberrations of what the Bible really teaches.

I have seen both of these extremes in action so many times that they have almost become cartoon caricatures in my mind. On the one hand you have the folks who regularly come up with some new gimmick for telling people about Jesus. It might be a Christian version of a Rubik’s Cube or multi-colored wrist band, or a little blue booklet that you pull out of your pocket at the most inappropriate times. In some cases it is the obligatory altar call at the end of a sermon. The message may have had nothing to do with the grace of God and the church may have the same 75 people who have been coming for decades, some of whom have walked the aisle multiple times, but we must have a chance for people to pray a sinners pray and punch their ticket to heaven. No consideration is given to the trauma or pain in their lives. No attempt is made to minister to the needs of the poor and broken in order to love them to Jesus. It is all about the message and getting that prayer done.

On the other hand there are growing numbers of people who are serving the needs of the poor and broken. They are offering the cup of cold water, giving shelter the homeless, clothing to the naked, visiting the prisoner, and a host of other wonderful things. This is especially true in the under 30 crowd in Christianity, although it has a long history in the liberal branch of the faith no matter what the age. There is a lot of cool stuff going on, but what you might never hear is anyone actually telling the poor, or the prisoner, or the homeless person that they need to submit to the Lordship of Christ in their lives and follow Him. We can’t say that for fear of sounding exclusive or arrogant and we don’t want to offend anyone.

Neither of those approaches is faithful to Jesus or the Gospel that He preached. When Jesus began His public ministry he gave a very clear picture of what the Gospel is in Luke 4:17-19:

17And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus said that He was sent to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel. They mean the same thing. So the Good News, the Gospel includes both speaking and doing. It is about telling people something and showing people something. You tell the poor the Good News, but you also set free those who are oppressed. It is about redemption. In the Old Testament there is a long history of the idea of redemption. It is about restoring something or someone to its rightful place. Often times people would have to sell themselves into slavery because of a financial disaster in their lives. If a relative came about bought them out of their slavery then that relative was called their kinsman redeemer. The idea was to restore the person to the completeness of what was lost. The got their lives back because someone paid a redemption price. The was certainly Good News to the slave.

Jesus is our kinsman redeemer. He paid the price for our restoration. We are restored through Christ to the relationship with the Father that was lost due to our sin. That restoration is not just about a place in Heaven with God. It is not just about having our lives in this world made better. It is both. The Gospel is holistic. The Good News is that life now and life to come are both to be changed by Christ. The implication of that for people who follow Jesus is that God cares about the spiritual and the physical. He cares about eternity and the here and now. He redeems our soul and our body. If God cares about such things then we should as well. We should be prepared to share the Gospel in word and deed. We should demonstrate the Gospel for our neighbor by showing them the love of Christ as we cloth them, feed them, house them and heal them. We should tell them of the love of Christ for them by proclaiming for them the message of liberty and freedom found in Christ.

That is the Gospel. It is not a lopsided mutation of only preaching or only serving. Jesus did both. He calls us to do both. If we serve people as He did, then like Nicodemus in John chapter 3, people will come to us. They will have been provoked to ask why we are the way we are. Then we can proclaim how we have been set free by Jesus.

I came upon this quote recently. It was written by Dionysius the Bishop of Alexandria in 260AD. He wrote at the conclusion of a five year plague that at its height killed 5,000 people a day and by the end two out of every three inhabitants of the city.

“Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty,
never sparing themselves
and thinking only of one another.
Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need,
ministering to them in Christ,
and with them departed this life serenely happy;
for they were infected by others with the disease,
drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and accepting their pains.
Many, in nursing and curing others,
transferred their death to themselves
and died in their stead.
The best of the brothers lost their lives in this way”

My friends, that is how we change the world. That is how people are drawn into following Christ. It makes no human sense that people would want to give themselves to a religion that asks them to serve people they don’t even know, even to the point of death. And yet, that kind of service was a major reason why the Roman world was turned right side up. Our love of our neighbor, with that kind of devotion and sacrifice, is exactly what tells people that this whole thing of following Jesus must be right. There is no other explanation for an action that is so self-sacrificing. Jesus must really be who he claimed to be if his followers live with such a radical love for God and neighbor. There is substance to our words when our actions are so provocative. Oh that we would have that kind of faith again. Oh that I would have that kind of faith.

The Bible is not nearly as complicated as people make it out to be. Yet, what I have learned is that it is simple enough that the least astute child can understand it’s depths and deep enough that the most skilled of scholars can never fully grasp it’s implications. This verse from Philippians comes to mind as one of the verses that so perfectly fits that reality.

12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13

On numerous occasions I have had people ask me about this verse and wondering if there is a contradiction here. People think that Paul is saying our salvation depends on our good works. They get the fear and trembling part because they usually start trembling when they realize they are not doing a very good job of it. But Paul is not saying that our good works, or being a good person is was gets you into heaven. The problem is, people usually read verse 12 and forget to read verse 13. The verse divisions are great for finding places in the Bible but terrible as a guide to understanding it. Verses 12 and 13 are a complete sentence. To read verse 12 by itself is to only read one half of the thought. We would never do that with any other piece of literature yet we do it with the Bible all the time. Not a good idea.

What Paul is saying is simply this, “When I was with you, you did a great job of living for Jesus. Keep doing this even though I am not there. Work hard at living out the salvation you have been given by God. Why, Because God is working in you and that should be made evident in the way you live.” Paul is NOT saying that you are saved by being a good person. He is perfectly clear in many other places that we are saved by God’s grace and the faith/trust we have in Jesus Christ. The life we live as followers of Christ does not save us, but it should be a life that is consistent with being a follower of Jesus who is saved by God’s grace.

Paul does not say, “work FOR your salvation” or “work AT your salvation” or “work TOWARD your salvation”. All of those would mean that in some way it is your efforts that gain you admission into eternal life. He says “work OUT your salvation”. In other words, live it out. Plan out your life, live out your life, work out your life in such a way that your salvation is obvious. And you need to be so committed to living out the Christ-like life that you are driven to it with an urgency that makes you tremble.

But why such urgency? Why such desperation to live out your salvation? Paul gives the reason, “For God is at work in you”. Why work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Because God is working in you, giving you the will to follow and obey Him. To fail to live out your life as a radical follower of Jesus is to actually work against what God is doing in you. That should cause fear and trembling in us. When we fail to love others in Jesus name, when we fail to be content with what God has given us, when we long for someone who is not our spouse, when we fail to love God with our entire being, we are not simply ignoring something that God has told us. We are actively opposing God and what He is doing.

To simply ignore God could be seen as a passive thing. It is like failing to exercise. We view that as passive. We are not actively trying to hurt our body, we are just not doing anything to actively help it. I think we often look at our Christian life that way. We are passive in it and think that this is somehow acceptable to God because at least we are not actively opposing God. What Paul is saying is that by NOT actively working at living for Jesus, we are by default, actively opposing what God is doing in our lives. In reality, failing to exercise means that you are actually actively working at getting fatter, weaker, and sicker. You have made a decision to do something that harms you. That something is whatever takes the place of healthy physical activity. The same is true of your spiritual well being. To fail to live a life that is committed to a radical love for God and neighbor is to actively oppose the work that God is doing in you. Every time I fail to love God with all I have and my neighbor as myself, I am actively fighting against what God is doing in me as He works to shape me into a more Christ-like follower.

The fact that God has worked in me to grant me grace and faith should motivate me to live for Him with all I am. The fact that God has worked in such as way as to pay the penalty for my sin should cause me to tremble before Him. The recognition that my sin is great but God’s love for me is greater, should cause me to work at living for Him like nothing else I have ever done in my life. I do it, not to earn salvation, but because I have salvation.

I am not a big fan of the WWJD bracelets, simply for the reason that a very good question, “What Would Jesus Do” quickly became a cliche’ and not a way of life. But with that said I have to ask the question about the current economic crisis, “What Would Jesus Do?” It is an important question, especially considering the current human response to it all. Politicians are posturing to get money funneled to pet projects that serve more to win them votes at home than to actually help the economy. Then they express outrage over things like AIG bonuses, only to find that one of their own put that loophole in the bill and they all voted for it. In the meantime people who have their jobs and have no hope that the government will ever really got to helping them, are left frightened and desperate.

Jesus gave His followers some very clear instructions about how to live and how to take care of one another. He said things like,  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34. And just how did Jesus love us? That is simple. He sacrificed whatever was necessary so that we would have all we needed to be in relationship with Him. He died so we could live. As Philippians 2:5-8 puts it,

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The early church figured out how to do this in very practical ways. The Book of Acts tells us that no one in that first gathering of Christians in Jerusalem ever went without having the basic needs of life provided for them.

44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  Acts 2:44-45

This was not government forced socialism or communism. This was Holy Spirit led generosity and sacrifice for the sake of family. Those first Christians understood that they were family in Christ. They were brothers and sisters in the Lord. As family they took care of one another no matter what the sacrifice entailed. People have done things like that for family through out the history of mankind. But usually it was for family by blood. This was for family by Spirit. They didn’t just take care of family. They took care of anyone God put across their path, but they especially made sure that they took care of family. Paul said to “Do good to all men, especially to the household of faith”.

In that first church, if someone was out of work, they would be inviting into someones business to help out. If that was not possible the the people who had food would provide for those who did not. If someone lost their home then others would open their home and give them a place to live. No one was concerned with protecting his own little material bubble. Because they interacted with each other on a regular basis they refused to turn a blind eye to a brothers need. People like Barnabas sold property and had the money used to feed people.

Whether we want to admit it or not, Christians today are as infected by the virus of materialism as the rest of the world. Think of your gut response to the idea of opening your home to give people a place to live. Did you immediately go to the impact on your comfort. Did the very idea of it make you uncomfortable. Did you quickly come up with reasons why your life situation would not allow for that? Okay, what if it was your parents, or your child, or your twin sister who was homeless? Would that change the equation? I would hope so. Now, what about your father in the faith, or your brother in Christ, or your sister in the Lord? They are family too. The response should be no different.

What if you are faced with a need that is beyond you ability to meet. Maybe you have a spare room that someone can move into but you do not have the ability to provide food for them and you. You can’t provide transportation for them or medicine or clothing, then what. In the early church that was simple. They gathered together as the church, house to house. The typical church gathering would have been between 20 and 40 people who where the church at someones house. From time to time the various “House Churches” would come together for bigger meetings, but almost daily they would gather in their neighborhood in a House Church. So the person who was homeless, or out of a job, or sick, would be provided for by a couple of dozen people who shared the load. You might open your house, three other families would take turns providing groceries, someone else would make clothing, someone else would watch the children, someone else would you get their friend who was a physician to come and check on them. It was the people of God being led by the Holy Spirit to meet the needs of the family of God.

Those early Christians were so good at caring for their own that they quickly branched out and started doing the same for the non-Christians who lived near them. Eventually the Roman world noticed this as was put to shame by the sacrificial love of the Christians. Through that sacrificial lifestyle the Roman empire was turned on it’s ear as millions came to Jesus because of the love that we had for one another. Oh to see that happen again!

P.S. Props to Scotty Alderman for suggesting this topic and the next few that will follow the Church in Acts 2

I find it very interesting to consider “worst-case scenarios”. A few years ago I even bought a board game by that name. (By the way, don’t bother getting it. It became the fulfillment of it’s own name) But thinking about the worst-case scenario recently I thought, what would the typical church going American do if attending worship at a church building with lots of other people was no longer an option? What would you do if for some reason it was no longer legal or possible to do so? What if it was still legal to be a Christian, you just could never gather in a group of more than a few people at a time? What if terrorist threat levels meant there were no longer any large group gatherings, not just churches, but sporting events, schools and theme parks and concerts. Sound crazy? Often worst-case scenarios seem to be crazy until they actually happen. Think, The Black Death, The Titanic, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina.

But lets just stick to the church gathering part of this scenario. What would you do? How would you continue to follow Jesus and grow in your faith if you could no longer gather in a “church building” with others? What would you do differently from the way you live your Christian life right now if you had no worship team to lead you, no pastor/teacher to instruct you, no large gathering to make you feel upbeat about your faith? I know that in some cases, maybe even a majority of cases, people would end up with a faith that withers and shrivels beyond recognition. The reason I am sure of that is that for large numbers of people that is the only activity that connects them to their faith.

For those of you who would keep there faith growing and vibrant in such a situation, I suspect that it would look something more like this. First of all you would have a radical commitment to spending a considerable amount of time each day in prayer, worship, and study of God’s Word. That prayer time would be less about giving God updates on you life since He already knows all that, and more about pouring out your love to Him and listening for His voice. The study of His Word would be systematic and not the Bible roulette verse of the day that is forgotten tomorrow. It would probably include writing your thoughts  a journal.

Then there would be the time spent with a couple of other Christians during the week, Maybe you would meet in your home or office or even Starbucks. But it would be consistent and a top priority. That time together would include sharing insights from your time with God, what you learned, what psalm or hymn or spiritual song really grabbed you in your worship time. It might include being honest about areas of struggle in your life and being prayed for, really prayed for, by the others in the group. In between those meeting times you would be on the phone to each other or email one another, urging one another on in love and good deeds.

There would be lots of time in your schedule to meet with that new follower of Christ whom you are mentoring since leading them to the Lord a few months ago. You would be talking with them about what the Lord is teaching them and about the obstacles they are facing recently. You would be encouraging them by letting them know that this is fairly normal after a few months. The early honeymoon of following Jesus, blessing that it is from God, is now winding down and the road is getting a little steeper. But you encourage them with the assurance that you will be with them every step of the way and remind them that the person they led to Jesus last week needs encouraged in the same way when the time comes.

You will head home to get dinner ready for the next door neighbors who you are loving for the sake of the Kingdom. It started when you cut their grass while they were on vacation and then invited them over for dinner once they got back. You thought of loving them that way, because last year when you went on vacation you wished someone had loved you like that. You came home to grass way too high and a refrigerator way too empty. One day while your neighbor was away you remembered Jesus telling us to “love our neighbor as ourselves”.  When they ask why you did that, you are prepared to give a defence for the hope that is within you. You are determined to not say something lame like, “Oh it was nothing” and instead say something like, “Jesus said we are to love our neighbors”.

You would end your day praying for the people in your life who don’t know Jesus. You would pray for open doors to love them with Jesus love and for the chance to answer questions about Jesus that they bring up. You would spend a bit more time reading God’s Word, just as a snack before bedtime since you already ate fully from His Word through out the day.

Does that sound like how you would want to live out your faith if you could no longer go to a building on Sunday with lots of other Christians? Well let me ask the obvious. Why do you need to have a worst-case scenario in order to live out your faith like that, when that is exactly how Jesus wants you to live out your faith, 24/7, no matter what? How provocative would your life for Jesus be if that was the norm and the large gathering was just icing on the cake?

“Then 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. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.” Luke 7:44-46

St. Augustine gives is incredible insight into the nature of our heart and the depth of our sin. I remember the first time I read his famous Confessions. At one point Augustine reflects back on a part of his youth when he stole some pears. He confesses that he did not steal them because he was hungry or needed to sell them for money to clothe his mother or family. He stole them simply because he enjoy the sinful thrill of stealing them.
At first I thought that going on for a couple of chapters lamenting your sin for stealing a few pears bordered on the neurotic. But then God brought to mind a similar event from my own childhood. I was about nine years old when my best friend Bobby and I slipped through a hole in the fence that separated my yard from Mrs. Peglow, the widow who lived next door. Mrs. Peglow rarely came out of her house and Bobby and I were convinced that she was over 100 years old. We climbed the apple tree in her back yard like we often did and sat in it eating apples. Sometimes taking only a bite before we threw it as far as we could into the woods behind the house, then taking a bite from another and repeating the process. At first we barely heard the tapping on the second floor window coming from her house. When we looked up it was clear that Mrs. Peglow did not want us in her tree. She especially did not want us taking single bites and tossing the rest of the fruit. But it was also very clear that 100+ year old widow Peglow, was in no condition to come outside and do anything about me and Bobby and the tree. So we stayed in the tree and laughed.

Augustine was broken in spirit because he stole some pears. By comparison I was as wicked as they came. Not only did I steal apples. I trespassed to do it, convinced a friend to do it with me and wasted most of apples in the process. If that wasn’t bad enough i sat in a tree and taunted an old widow woman. Clearly without Christ I am scum. But guess what; so are you! No matter how we try to spin it, we are sinners in deep trouble. Only the grace of God can save us. Before coming to Christ I was, as I like to say, “On a greased pole to hell”. Only Jesus stopped the downward plummet to destruction.

The Pharisee who was Jesus dinner host was oblivious to his own condition condition of sin. All he saw was a woman who was an obvious sinner invading his home and weeping at Jesus feet. When he looked at his own moral standing he incorrectly saw himself as a man far better than her; a man who thought he needed very little from God. The result was that he loved God very little. Jesus was not condoning the little love and saying that his host really was only a little sinner in need of only a little forgiveness and therefore should only be expected to love a little in return. Jesus was forcing his host to come to grips with his own self-righteousness. We know that by the words Jesus speaks about the Pharisees conduct.

Jesus tells Simon the Pharisee that he has been living in a world of self-deception. He has convinced himself that he is a good, moral, righteous person. He is convinced that his sin is little, especially when compared to a prostitute. The message of Jesus is the exact opposite. “Simon” he says, “compared to this prostitute you are a lousy host, a self centered egotist, and a spiritual snob. And at least in the current situation you are a far greater sinner than this woman”. Simon was brought face to face with the startling reality that as good a person as he appeared to be, his sin was deep and his need for forgiveness was vast. He needed to see the deadly serious nature of his own sin so that he could experience the amazing freedom of grace and forgiveness. Only then would he be able to begin to love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. Only then could he begin to love his neighbor as himself. As long as Simon thought of himself as “basically good”, he could always downplay his need for Gods forgiveness. And as long as be saw himself as better than even one other human being, he could hold on to his spiritual pride and look down at that person. But the moment he comes to realize that he is a desperate sinner as well, then he can love them as he loves himself. His love for himself can equal his love for his neighbor when and only when he is broken by the fact that he and his neighbor are equally sinners, equally in need of grace, and equally broken at the foot of the cross.
So the real question is, “how much of Simon lives in your heart and mine”?