Sunday, May 19, 2013

Love Your Neighbor

An expert in the law asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was.  Jesus told him, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

We're supposed to love our neighbors.  Okay, so who are they?  Everyone around us it seems - even those people that we aren't that fond of.  And what exactly does it mean to love them?  We can get a pretty good picture from Paul's letter to the Corinthians.  In his letter he says,

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  

"If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  

"If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

"Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

"Love never fails."

With these words in mind, how can we integrate them and let them affect how we live and interact with our neighbors (spouse, kids, family, friends, actual neighbors, strangers, coworkers, political figures, religious figures, widows, orphans, the poor, and so on and so forth)?  We often hear these words when someone gets married, but they don't just apply to those joined in marriage.  Here's what I'm thinking.

We have to be patient with those around us - when we're driving, when we're waiting in line, when our neighbor's dog is barking, when somebody's music is too loud, when someone close to you makes the same stupid choice for the nth time, when somebody does something that really pisses you off...

We must be kind.  This seems to go hand-in-hand with patience because it's not easy to be kind when we have no patience with someone.  This means that we just need to be nice.  Smile at people.  Give them a kind word.  Help them.  Be the person that brings joy instead of hurt.  Keep those mean thoughts to yourself.  Encourage someone instead of tearing them down.

Don't envy what someone else has or does.  What profit is that?  It's just poison in your heart.  It's okay to want things and to work for things, but it's not okay to let that consume us.  Envy brings jealously and hatred, but not much else.  You're still in the same position.  And in the same vein, don't let pridefulness drive you to boasting about what you have or do.  What is the point of boasting?  Isn't it to cause people to envy your position in life?  We shouldn't desire to cause something in someone else that will grow jealously and hatred in their hearts.  Jeez, what an awful thing to do if we really think about it!

We shouldn't be rude to all those people around us.  This takes us back to being patient and kind.  It's so easy to be rude because so often we are very focused on ourselves.  But imagine how it feels when someone is rude to us.  It hurts, and it makes us mad.  In not being rude, we can save someone else from experiencing those feelings.

Don't be self-seeking in your relationships with others.  We shouldn't use people.  Instead, we should seek to benefit them.  We should ask ourselves, "How can I make this person's life better by my interactions with them?"

Inevitably, people are going to make us upset.  That really goes without saying.  My father always says that relationships are messy, and it's true. However, we should not go easily to that place of anger with people.  Christ tells us that we should forgive, and forgive, and forgive.  Again and again.  If we love someone, we can't run around being angry with them all the time.  And hand-in-hand with forgiveness of those things they do to us is not keeping a record of those wrongs they do against us.  Just like envy, keeping that record of wrongs only festers a feeling of bitterness and hurt within us.  We can't let go, and we can't move on.  We are stuck in the past and in a dark place.  In love, we have to release those things.

Lastly, we must seek to protect our neighbors by keeping them from evil and lies.  We should protect them by not gossiping about them or telling untruths.  We should protect them by trying to see the best in them and seeking to give our best to them.

No matter what, we must persevere in our love for our neighbors.  No matter what obstacle because this is what Christ calls us to do.  This is the second greatest commandment - to love our neighbors - and Paul tells us what that means.  It's hard.  It seems impossible.  Yet, we have to try and try and try.  We have to ask God for his mercy because people suck sometimes, and the last thing we want to do is love them.  I really think it's only through Christ that we can love others in this way.  We know that man has no greater love for another than to lay down his life for that person.  To love others in this way is really to lay down your die to your sinful nature and only to love.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


God doesn't want us to harm each other, but he gives us the freedom to do so.

We can choose to benefit each other, or we can choose to hurt each other.  I go about my daily life, and I try to be kind to others, or at least keep my bad thoughts to myself.  However, I could, at any moment, choose to hurt someone else.  I could hurt them emotionally or physically.  I could do anything, and God, most likely, would not stop me.  Why?  He won't stop me because he gives me free will.  He lets me choose my path and my actions - good or bad.

In a vacuum, that's no problem, but we don't live in a vacuum.  My actions cause reactions.  What I do will usually impact someone else.  It's like we're a bunch of marbles pinging around and hitting each other.  Unfortunately, sometimes we crack or destroy the other marbles, which wouldn't be a big deal if those marbles weren't actually people.

We are cracked or destroyed when people do any number of terrible things.  As humans, we can kill one another, rape one another, lie to one another, steal from one another, gossip about one another, abuse one another, and on and on.  We have the capacity to do unspeakable things to those around us, and God gives us that free will.  He doesn't do that because he is bad or because he wants those things.  He gives us free will, and he asks us to choose what is right, but he doesn't force us.  It's our choice.  It's up to us.

You can choose to murder others by setting bombs and blowing them up at public gatherings.  You can choose to kill innocent children by going into their school and shooting them down.  You can choose to deliver live babies in your clinic and then sever their spinal cords in order to get rid of them.  You can choose to do all those things, but you can also choose to do none of those things.  Instead, you can choose to shield, and heal, and care for others.  You can choose to love others.  You can choose to protect the lives of those with whom you share this earth.

With our free will, those are the things we should choose.  Those are the things that God wants us to choose.  Therefore, let us choose godliness.  Let us choose everything that is good, and holy, and righteous.

I also believe that it is not our natural inclination to do good.  I believe that we are less than perfect, and therefore, we tend to think about what will benefit us the most.  This leads to selfishness and selfish actions big and small, but it doesn't have to end there.  We can ask God to help us.  We can ask him to help us love, care for, protect, promote, uphold, maintain, heal, save, and uplift those around us.  If we ask, he will help us.  If we seek him, he will answer.

So, for real, we need to seek him.  We need to ask for help.  We need to say, God, help me love you with everything I have, and help me love others as myself.  That's what he wants, so I can guarantee he'll give us a hand.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

But even if he doesn't...

King Nebuchadnezzar creates a golden statue, tells everyone they have to worship it, and also says that if they don't, he'll kill them.

Then enter some guys who must have had a beef because they tell the king, "But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Of course, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego won't worship this idol because they worship the one true God.  Consequently, the king has these three guys come out, and he gives them another chance to bow down.  He tells them, basically, do it or die.  If you ask me, he seems a little prone to anger and rash behavior, but moving on...

Well, these guys go ahead and say, "King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from You Majesty's hand."

I read this, and I think, yeah Nebuchadnezzar, in your face.  God can save them from you.  You don't scare these guys. Ha!

Then I continue reading, and they say, "But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

Wait, what?  What was that?  You said even if he doesn't...You mean, even if he doesn't, you won't be angry and bitter and hate him and stop believing?  You won't curse him and ask him how he could do that to you after you were so faithful?  You won't say, "What a joke!  I never should have believed.  What a waste of time!"

Because, man, I think that's how I would react.  I would probably think, seriously, I talked you up and you just let me die?  How could you do that to me?  Don't you love me?  Why wouldn't you want to save me from that pain and from the cutting off of my life?  How could you watch as someone harmed me?  What's wrong with you?  How could I believe in a God who would let that happen?  I'm pretty sure that is exactly what I would say.

I want that though, man.  Seriously.  I want to be able to say, "I know that God can deliver me from any terrible thing that could happen to me, and yet, even if he doesn't, even if something happens and it is ridiculously horrible, I will still worship God, and I will still give up my life in service of him."

That blows my mind though, and I feel like I'm not there, and I don't know how to get there, but that's where I want to be.

(Daniel 3)