Do This in Remembrance of Me?

original photo credit: steakpinball via photopin cc
original photo credit: steakpinball via photopin cc

It’s easy to get confused when trying to understand how the Mosaic Law relates to the New Covenant of grace. I am intrigued by Romans 4:14-15 (NASB):

For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

Our initial reaction upon reading this verse might be to think that it is impossible to sin now that we are free from the requirements of the Mosaic Law. We would do well to consider the context of this passage. Paul was writing to Jews about both Jews and Gentiles, and how they were to respectively gain their right standing before God. His point was that Jews could not be justified by their age-old reliance upon obedience to the Law. This does not mean, however, that the Christian faith is entirely void of all laws.

The kingdom of God is governed by one primary law—the royal law:

 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. James 2:8 (NASB)

Jesus raised the bar even higher in John 13:34 (NASB):

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

City of Brotherly Love
photo credit: micholitzii via photopin cc

This is where our second Greek word for love, philia, comes into play. And in case you were wondering, this is where the name Philadelphia finds its roots as the city of brotherly love—although I’m not exactly sure how accurate that description is in our day. I’ll be perfectly honest here—the problem isn’t limited to the city of Philadelphia; I think that very, very few professing Christians pay any serious attention to Christ’s command for us to love our brothers and sisters of the faith with the same measure of love modeled by Jesus.

Why do I feel this way? Well, it may have something to do with the fact that heaping judgment and contempt on other Christians is more of a common practice than a rare exception. What we don’t seem to understand is that Jesus is personally affected by our treatment of His covenant children. (see Matthew 25:31-46). Whenever I look down my nose with contempt at one of my Christian brothers, I might as well have Jesus Himself in my sights. What a scary thought!

What happens when we transgress God’s royal law of love? We heap condemnation upon ourselves—especially when we profess our devotion to the New Covenant in Christ.

photo credit: Evan Courtney via photopin cc
photo credit: Evan Courtney via photopin cc

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (NASB)

Does it really matter how we treat the body of Christ–our New Covenant brothers and sisters? Absolutely! Do you truly want to honor God with your life? Let love govern your behavior–all of it.

The topic is worthy of far more time and effort than a single blog post and so I will address it with more detail in my next book. For now, however, these are essential thoughts to ponder. The King of the Universe cares more about our love—or lack thereof—for one another far more than most of us will allow ourselves to believe.


Why Gun Control Misses the Point

photo credit: John Steven Fernandez via photopin cc
photo credit: John Steven Fernandez via photopin cc

“The findings were disturbing….” So goes the beginning of a paragraph in an article about the Pulitzer Prize winning report (Assault on Learning) by the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding violence in the Philadelphia school system. After reading further, I could not help but agree—it is all very disturbing!

More than 30,000 serious incidents were reported in the district over a five-year period. On an average day, 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or made victims of other violent crime. As large as those numbers seem, they didn’t represent the full gravity of the problem. Many violent incidents went unreported. Some attacks were carried out by children in the earliest grades.[1]

How many students are there in the district? According Susan Snyder—one of the lead journalists in the story—we are talking about only 146,000 students.[2] The significance of the problem becomes even greater when we recognize that schools are gun-free zones. In other words, very little of this violence had anything to do with firearms.

In one particularly sad case, more than 30 Asian students were brutally beaten by their fellow classmates—most of whom were African American. This type of situation was identity related and it stems from the third primary root of our fallen natures that contributes to violence—our quest for glory. Of the three roots mentioned—self-centered lust, the desire for control, and the quest for glory—the quest for glory is probably the most difficult for us to comprehend.

Adam & Eve had been created in the very image of God, and, being clothed in His glory, they were naked and unashamed. However, by choosing to seek a sense of goodness independent from their Creator, our ancient ancestors quickly found themselves naked and very much ashamed. Painfully separated from the King of Glory, the unhappy result was a glory deficiency which is now inherent to the entire human race.

Glory is fleeting . . .
photo credit: Brett Jordan via photopin cc

From a very young age, it becomes every person’s goal to find a sense of significance through his or her performance, appearance, possessions, etc. It is in the fickle court of human approval that we seek to find significance. As we enter the world of comparisons and judgments, our value as human beings depends upon our ability to measure up to the ever-changing standards of our individual subcultures. In the high school scene, for example, those who meet current standards of beauty and athletic performance become wildly popular, while those who fall far short of the standards find themselves condemned as objects of scorn.

The pursuit of glory is so ingrained in the human psyche that for the most part we find it to be entirely natural. But the division it creates and the destruction it wreaks! A group of black students viciously beat 30 Asian students in Philadelphia schools simply because the Asians did not meet the standards of a black identity. Ironically, it was the same mindset used by whites to justify the horrors of slavery for so many years. We can see that at its roots this type of violence has nothing to do with black or white or any other skin color—it’s rooted in an all-encompassing effort to achieve a glory-based identity.

The tree of identity-based violence springs from the seed of contempt. Any time we despise someone who fails to meet our particular standards we commit an act of spiritual violence toward that individual. Physical violence ultimately erupts as we nourish seeds of contempt with the right (or wrong, depending on one’s perspective) environmental conditions.

At its core, the Gospel is an identity message.[3] We find our true significance through our relationship with God, not by our performance, but in our lofty status as sons and daughters of the eternal King of Glory. To abide in Christ is to be clothed once again in God’s greatness, secure in identity and free to be humble.

photo credit: Good Eye Might via photopin cc
photo credit: Good Eye Might via photopin cc

 Will fewer people be killed if our government implements gun control measures? Possibly. Violence and its resulting pain, however, will continue to plague American society until we strike the problem at its evil roots. Once again, the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides the most powerful solution to what ails us!

[1] Susan Snyder, The Press, the Passion, and the Prize, as found in the IUP Magazine, VOL. XXX, NO.3, p. 17

[3] Check out our Search for Me Identity Study for a much more in-depth explanation.

The Hating Game

I’ve heard the standard Christian arguments. “Homosexuals hate Christians because darkness hates light.” “We have a righteous anger about immorality.” “We hate the sin but love the sinner.”

It’s relatively easy to justify our attitudes, but truthfully speaking, all too many professing Christians do feel contempt toward those in the GLBT community. In essence they despise those who embrace or promote homosexuality as a lifestyle. Contempt is rooted in self-righteousness and serves in many ways as the antithesis of love, being therefore a form of hatred.

On the other hand, conservative Christians are often perceived as the dreaded enemy and orthodox Christianity the evil empire ruled by the hate-filled  followers of a capricious, judgmental deity.

Of course, a certain amount of friction is to be expected between these two opposing camps (okay, maybe a lot of friction!). But the vehemence of the contempt and the harshness of the rhetoric have risen to scary heights. Why is this?

Fear! And in many cases, it’s a fear incited and preyed upon by leaders from both camps.

Experience teaches us that most people crave comfort and security. They’re looking for meaningful relationships, decent jobs, nice homes and an abundance of food for the table. Of course, entertainment and material possessions score high on the agenda. Much of this is oriented toward self. They may express concern about the goings on around them, but as long as the bad stuff is out there they have little motivation to do anything more than shake their heads as they mournfully discuss the sad state of the world.

Leaders see life differently. They often think deeply about issues and focus squarely on the ramifications of governmental actions and cultural trends. The always looming challenge for leadership is to motivate the rank and file with a vision to give and to serve.

Now tell me, how better to effectively motivate people than with fear? Fear has a very real way of grabbing our attention and compelling us to do something. If we can convince people that a particular group poses a threat to them and their loved ones, we are better able to motivate them to action.

Adolf Hitler was a master at appealing to what he called the unthinking masses by using propaganda to play upon their fears, in particular, their fear of Jews. Ever so skillfully his regime painted a warped picture of those evil Jews as the root cause of all the nation’s ills. We all know the painful results.

Such propaganda techniques are now commonly used for political leverage with little thought of potential repercussions. The more leaders can demonize perceived enemies, the more resources they will be able to garner for the cause. And while such scare tactics may help win specific battles, in the long run they damage lives by inflaming dangerous passions of hatred and contempt.

The more we allow these efforts to fuel the flames of hatred and contempt in our own hearts, the more we actually begin to resemble the evil enemies we are accused of being. The painted portrayal eventually becomes reality.

I once heard a homosexual activist with conservative Christian roots say that leaders from both camps regularly demonize those on the other side because it is an effective fundraising tool. The more evil and uncaring they make the enemy look, the more money people give.

Photo by mind on fire - CC BY-SA 2.0

Many GLBT leaders continue to stereotype conservatives as hate-filled, homophobic bigots and no small number of conservative leaders continue to portray all with alternative sexual orientations as openly lewd, hateful and militant. Simply add a heartbreaking story about someone whose life was painfully damaged or destroyed by the callousness of the enemy and the propaganda cocktail is complete.

It’s all a game of strategy, but in the end there are no winners. And much worse, there are some very big losers. In my next post I’ll talk about the plight of those caught in the crossfire between the homosexual and conservative battle lines. For some the pain is unbearable.

Politics–The Religious Wrong

Creative Commons License 2.0 from angela n.

A new round of elections is quickly approaching, but not fast enough for my tastes. Voting is certainly a privilege, but I find the grossly negative TV ads to be totally gagnaminous. And how I wish I could say something more positive about some of the conservative Christian (of which I am one) dialogue I hear about politics and our government leaders!

Contempt is probably the best word that I can use to describe our unbelieving attitude. Encarta defines contempt as “an attitude of utter disgust or hatred – a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebody or something considered to be worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect.” Wow! That says it all too well!

One of the major problems with contempt is that it carries a poisonous air of superiority. Such prideful thinking is like a toxic ooze bubbling in the hearts of those who profess Christ, serving only to hinder and slow the advance of Christ’s government on earth. The kingdom of God is not of this world—as Jesus was crystal clear in pointing out (John18:36). Perfect arguments don’t win hearts to Christ—love does.

We have allowed conservative talk show hosts to supplant our Bibles when it comes to teaching us how to relate to the world around us. While they may speak truth in many ways, the attitude with which they speak is of at least equal importance.

If the Bible is truly our guide as we say it is, we will follow the Apostle Peter’s command: “Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king.” 2 Peter 2:17 (NET)

The application of this principle in our day calls us to treat all government officials with respect and esteem regardless of how we feel about their policies or methods.

Unfortunately, the application of a truly Biblical approach doesn’t make headlines, polarize people’s opinions or help raise money for our cause. It only serves to advance God’s kingdom—you know, the one that is not of this world.

Recently I’ve found myself drawn to the Book of Daniel, which carries a profound message for the Church in these last days. Chapter two in particular provides an important perspective in our tumultuous political environment. Check out this paraphrased combination of several verses:

“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will raise up an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed—a kingdom that will not be left to another people. It will break in pieces and bring about the demise of even the greatest of human empires. Not a trace of them will remain. But God’s kingdom will become a large mountain that fills the entire earth, standing supreme forever and ever.”

Knowing and believing this compels us to flavor all that we do with God’s patient love! / CC BY 2.0

The Pink Elephant in the Church . . .

Creative Commons License 2.0 from CometStarMoon

It’s there. We all know it’s there. But nobody wants to really be honest about it.

It’s a big problem. Real big. And yet Jesus thoroughly addressed the issue.

It’s one of those things that we readily recognize and yet find difficult to define.

We might call it a spirit of contempt.

Webster’s Online Dictionary defines contempt as: “the act of despising; the state of mind of one who despises”.

In principle we know that not everybody will contribute to our joy. In reality our human tendency is to despise those who offend us, or fall short of our standards.

The Greek orator Demosthenes once said, “Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.”

Most of us want to believe we are naturally loving. However, we feel that contempt is justified when others act in ways that are beneath us and unworthy of our love.

An attitude of contempt carries the underlying assumption of personal superiority. “Did you see that moron? He needs to learn how to drive [like I do]!”

Rather than admit our cold-heartedness and seek the warmth of God’s compassion, we practice a few mental gymnastics to justify our position. The problem can’t be our own lack of love, so it must obviously be the offending party—that person who is too something or other.

Jesus and contempt are two words that never blend. I can’t picture Jesus ever despising anybody. Not only did He teach us to thoroughly forgive our enemies, He backed it up by extending forgiveness to those who nailed Him to that horrible wooden cross.

This unconditional God-love does not come naturally for us. In fact, in many ways it presents a standard that we simply can’t ever seem to meet. That pink elephant as been around for so long that we’ve all come to accept it as a part of the scenery–somewhat like grandpa’s old car that’s been in the back field for 40 years.

From my vantage point I see two primary keys to becoming channels of God’s unconditional love. The first is to know and experience His love for us as individuals. There’s been a lot said in this regard and so I won’t spend much time on the topic.

The other key is to be so filled with His love, strength and presence, that God-type love becomes a part of who we are. We can’t just ask old pinky to leave–he will only be permanently banished as he is displaced by something greater.

Next week we will begin a new series entitled, “Soaring to New Heights.” We all know that there is far more to the Christian life than many of us are experiencing and the time for change is long overdue. Without question you will want to stay tuned as we seek to break away from old patterns and launch more fully into the new life of Christ.