There certainly a lot of angry tolerant people out there right now. Have you noticed? The news is filled with righteous indignation from tolerant people. I want to state upfront, that this not attack on any person or group of people. It is a call to “look at the log in our own eye,” as you will see by the end of this piece.
I'm the type of person who notices trends. The driving habits of citizens in Chicago, the propensity of Nashvillians to walk on the wrong side of the street, and my uncontrollable grin when the local coffeehouse is serving Guatemalan. Tolerance is trending, or should I say trendy right now. Everyone is talking about it, not just the media. Everyone. Tolerance is the new “cool.” Everybody wants to be seen as tolerant. Now, don't get me wrong, tolerance is a good thing. A very good thing. We've seen what intolerance leads to in our history books and today's news.
Yet, I can't help but wonder if people are more worried about being seen as tolerant than actually worrying about how to be tolerant. I think there are a few things that have gone askew here. First, it looks like the definition of the word may be shifting. In the past, it meant looking at someone without judging their actions. “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” if you will. Lately, it seems like the slogan has shifted to “hate the sin, destroy the sinner.”
I'm looking at this from my Christian world view, of course. My God commands me to love others whether I approve of their words or actions or not. It's not my gig to judge. Though, if I'm honest, I certainly have to repent of that particular sin from time to time. We all judge, Christian or not, the actions of others. Especially with people or groups we don't see eye to eye with. We see sin even if we refuse to acknowledge it exists. That's why we get mad at actions and words we don't agree with because we can't tolerate them in others.
But, if I'm being tolerant, in the old sense of the world, then why am I so mad that Joe disagrees with me? It's because a new sense of the word is slipping into our consciousness. This is where the title's question comes into play.
We all know from school, that Narcissus was the son of a god in Greek mythology who died because he fell in love an image of himself in a lake. The image was a reflection in a watery mirror and what he saw was a reverse image of himself. I think that's what may be happening here. We're looking in the mirror smugly reminding ourselves of how tolerant we are. But we are seeing a reflection, not the real thing.
Let me use an analogy. If you hear someone called righteous, what comes immediately to your mind: that person is “self righteous.” Somewhere along the line, being righteous went from meaning being a good person beyond all doubt to the worst kind of hypocrite imaginable. Righteousness has become its reflection, self righteousness. We look in the mirror, smiling at how tolerant we are even though the reflection reveals the darkness in our hearts. Our own inability to just love others and tolerate them even when we disagree with them on something. We try to discredit or even destroy, them instead of understanding them or where they are coming from.
If I'm honest with myself, it's actually very simple. I need to take the log out of my own eye. Here meaning letting go of my self love. Only then will I be able to pull the splinter out of my brother's eye if he wants or needs my help. The commandment to love others as we love ourselves covers a multitude of sins.
To my brothers and sisters, victims of dispersion from their homes in the Middle East, Africa, and beyond. Those who now suffer persecution for the sake of the faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, your afflictions break the collective hearts of the Bride of Christ. Know that we pray for you that the afflictions of the afflicted will not last forever. By the grace of the Father, who saved us by the suffering, death, and resurrection of whom we place our trust, Jesus Christ, the plans of evil will not prevail. Neither in the short run or the long, as we together, run the marathon of life to the finish line. That is, the gate of heaven, which this present darkness will not be able to enter through.
I thank the savior of the world that we have been deemed worthy to not only serve as a living remembrance of the mercy and grace of a loving Creator, not merely physical figures, but figures of the eternal light of Christ's love. A light that evil so abhors, that it struggles night and day, year after year, to extinguish that light through any device or horror it can imagine. Yet, every single light that is momentarily extinguished (death is but a doorway to eternal glory) fans the flame of faith for those candles that remain.
You are the flames that cannot be extinguished. Even though evil saw salvation coming through the words of the prophets, it could not stop it. How unthinkable, it must have seemed, that the promised light of the world would be beaten beyond recognition, mocked, and finally crucified. And yet that light, our savior, Jesus Christ, did more than survive he conquered death. How unthinkable, it must have seemed to the disciples, that this would shortly come to pass. And yet it did.
Christ predicted that the world would treat his followers as they were about to treat him. How unthinkable the prospect of suffering for merely proclaiming salvation to those around them. And yet they were, first by the same religious authority that handed over their Lord to the Romans, and then by the Roman Empire at large. Our brothers and sisters in the first dispersion not only suffered persecution but were killed as well through crucifixion and the lions of the Colosseum in Rome. But in the end, that same empire that sought to extinguish their flame became the champion of the Church. Praise be to God!
Now, brothers and sisters of the current dispersion in the Middle East, Africa, and beyond, the persecution of the faithful from intimidation and death has returned. Just as those of the first dispersion faced crucifixion and death at the jaws of Rome, now you face murders, and more than that, the most vile murders by decapitation as predicted by John in the book of Revelation. These are the birth pangs signaling the coming death of evil. Satan roars in anger because he knows the time is short, and the knowledge that while he can take away our bodies, he can't take away our souls. They belong to Christ, and by the grace of God, he belongs to us.
I want to encourage you now to continue to hope in the promise of Christ. He suffered and died, as we will all suffer and die. This is the reality of life until evil is taken away at the last trumpet. But as Christ rose and ascended into his glory, we, also, will rise and ascend into his glory. The glory of the patient and persistent in love, the Bride of Christ.
The end of all things is near, at the door. Come, Lord Jesus. Knock and we will answer.
Now, may the peace of Christ that transcends and overcomes both the physical and emotion torments of this present evil, cover you all. Amen.
Phrases we're familiar with include “God is good” and “God is Love.” I use the former often as a way of thanking him for something positive that happens to me. It is a way for me to offer a quick prayer of thanksgiving and praise at the moment it occurs. “God is good” is also a fact in the sense that he created all things to be good and for our pleasure. The fact that the world is in a fallen state and that the original purpose of creation is in a state of diminishing from the introduction of sin until the restoration of all things reminds us that all creation is at war. God is good, remaining untarnished by the evil of sin despite its being everywhere. He is above it all, constant and unchanging. A good we can look up to and count on when things are going well and especially when they are not. We need that eternal good to help us resist the evil that attacks our lives. God is good because he is opposed to evil.
In the same sense, we say that “God is Love” because his essence is the opposite of hate. God is the one we need to strengthen us when those forces, human or spiritual, come against the love we were meant to share with our Father and our neighbors. I'm talking here not about a feeling or a state of mind but a state of existence, or relationship. God is indeed all things to all people and most likely first and foremost, our Father who brought us into existence and loves us like children no matter what happens.
We rightfully call God “Love” because his love for us is eternal and also the power that opposes the hate that sin brought into the world, trying to cause us to feel the loss of that love, if it were possible.
I think it is both good and wise to think of God in these terms because they represent, in part, the nature of our Father, which is, at once, both creator and protector. The embodiment of Love gives, emboldens, and sustains love in the face of its opposite: hate. The embodiment of Good teaches, strengthens, and opens our eyes to the reality of its opposite: evil. I think there is a third attribute of God that fits in with understanding the war we are in, that is, “God is Grace.”
Grace is defined by mercy and forgiveness. The Bible teaches that grace is what we receive through Christ's redemptive work on the cross. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).” It was the attribute of grace that compelled the Father to send his Son (who went willingly) to do the only work that could overcome its opposite: unforgiveness and mercilessness. Grace fights off the evil that wants us to believe we are not forgiven because of our mistakes, and therefore, have no hope of mercy. Grace is the last, best defense against an enemy that smells victory in its war against our souls, and an affront to the author of Love. That is why no matter how bad things are or how hopeless they feel, it is the attribute of Grace that defeats any and all attacks against love and good. God is Good. God is Love. God is Grace.
I heard a sermon about the “circles of love” this morning. The Pastor talked about small circles, including family and friends, and larger circles that included our city, then our state, then our country and so on. It sounds good, loving others and expanding that ability for us to love a wider and wider circle of people to show our love is a worthy goal or endeavor. He really didn’t go on to explain how that love worked in our lives and expanded into our lives other than in the interest of tolerance. Now, tolerance is a good thing, actually it's a great thing. Yet, I found myself thinking “is tolerance the beginning of our ability to love or an end to the means?” Or neither? Certainly learning to be tolerant will make it easier to “feel” love for others we might not necessarily love (or tolerate) otherwise. I’m currently living in my hometown, which by chance, happens to be the headquarters of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, a so- called church that knows nothing of tolerance, and yet, I’m sure they love themselves and their friends and family. In other words, they may tolerate anything that might seem unseemly in each other but that love/tolerance doesn’t manifest itself in how they feel about others outside their particular circle. There must be more to love than merely tolerating others. I hadn’t intended to bring up Westboro BC, but I guess I can’t consider tolerance without its opposite, intolerance. This morning’s sermon didn’t mention intolerance but if love shows itself only through tolerance then it seems to be more a barrier to bad thoughts and actions than an active voice (a verb if you will) that desires to love no matter whether “the loved” appear unlovable at first appearance or over time. Love is an easy word to throw around because, after all, “love conquers all.” Would that it did! The good news is that actually, it does. But to do that, it must really be a love that conquers all. It can’t be merely a feeling of good will or tolerance, or even desire, though desire comes closest of all. Love has to be active, it has to be a verb as well as a noun. Here is why I believe the concept of Christian love, the concept of loving others as we love ourselves, is the strongest, and most accurate conception of a love that can make a difference in our circles both small and great. Loving others as ourselves is an act of putting them on an equal footing with ourselves. It transcends mere tolerance because it envelopes “the loved” with that love we all want for ourselves. It’s a strong kind of love that isn’t only fighting off its inverse, it’s seeking to be an active participant in the life of those who invoke its name.
To try to sum this all up, a proactive love, one that actively causes us to embrace ourselves and others is much stronger than a passive love whose strength lies in merely showing goodwill by tolerating others. It's still love but it's not a love that can overcome our emotional and spiritual weaknesses. It takes an active good to defeat an active evil. This is why one of the names of God is literally Love.
I was rereading this particular section of Isaiah tonight, because it is one of my favorites. Beginning with chapter 52, verse 13, Isaiah describes with will happen to the Christ in the hours leading up to the crucifixion, and what it will accomplish for the world in the long run. I have always wanted to see a point by point verse to fruition listing of the prophetic verses in the Old Testament, concerning the Messiah. So, now I'm going to just that with this section of Isaiah, list the verses and how they manifested in Christ's life here on Earth.
52: 13 “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.”
--Jesus was hailed as the Messiah by the crowd gathered in Jerusalem as he entered the city for what would be his last Passover.
52:14 “Just as many who were appalled at him-- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness--”
--During his trial before the Jewish religious leaders, he was blindfolded and hit in the face. He was sentenced to be scouraged (beaten with whips that had sharp bones attached to them) by the Roman guard, who also forced a crown made of thorns into his head. These religious leaders were so appalled by his claims of divinity, that they sought to have him killed.
52:15 “so will he sprinkle many nations and kings will shut their months because of him.”
--Sprinkling of animal blood on on altar symbolized the washing away of the sins of the people in the times before the Messiah. The sprinkling of his blood, by being poured out on the ground because of the beatings, fulfills another prophecy that appears in the next chapter.
52:16 “For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.”
--I believe this is a reference to the disciples only gaining a full understanding of the prophecies of Jesus, and how he fulfilled them, after his resurrection.
53:3 “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
--The religious leaders and teachers of the time, who studied the prophecies, rejected his claim to be their fulfillment in spite of the signs and miracles he performed. Instead of receiving him with joy, they looked for ways to discredit him and sought diligently for an excuse to have him killed.
53:4 “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.”
--Here, Isaiah is predicting that the Messiah would save us of our sins and heal our broken hearts, but at the moments leading up to the crucifixion, he would seem to have been forsaken by God in the eyes of the onlookers.
53:5 “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
--Maybe the most famous verse in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah. The King James Version ends the verse famously “by his stripes we are healed,” meaning the wounds were the marks made by the lashings that spilled his blood onto the ground.
53:6 “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
--You've heard the phrase, undoubtedly, “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” As mentioned in an earlier verse, his blood would be sprinkled as a permanent sacrifice for the sins of mankind.
53:7 “He was oppressed and afflicted yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
--This verse predicts how Jesus will be treated at his trial and being led from the jail, bearing a cross, to the hill where he would be crucified.
53:9 “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in death though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”
--As a convicted criminal, he would be slated to be buried with criminals, but a rich Pharisee convinced Pilate to give him the body, and Jesus was buried in the tomb of a wealthy man.
53:10 “Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.”
--Our sins are forgiven because of the sacrifice to be made. He will rise again, and the will of the Lord that all may be saved is placed in Christ's hands.
Note: I did skip a couple of verses, because they don't mention a specifc prophecy. Isaiah has more to say in verses 11-12, if you want to check them out.
*I used the New International Version (NIV) for this paper.
**the Book of Isaiah was written 700 hours before the birth of Christ.
12/24: This is the time when almost all believers let their faith out for a walk. They post Christmas messages on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media the use the most. Blogs are written, pictures are posted with Bible verses, proclaiming the birth of the Messiah, and people walk around wishing a “Merry Christmas” to people they've never met or wouldn't normally talk to. And we should do that not only to share our faith with each other but also to remind people of the reason they get work off tomorrow and give and receive presents.
Before I move on to want to write about, I want to share my latest t- shirt idea. This shirt would say something like, “You may not believe Jesus is Lord, but He's the reason you're exchanging presents on December 25, so may want to thank him for that.” Yeah, it's a tad bit snarky, but it's true whether the skeptics want to believe it or not.
Christmas, for me, is always a time for trying to put things into perspective. By that, I mean we all talk about and celebrate the birth of our Savior, but I don't know how much we actually stop and reflect on it. I mean, really reflect on it. The Nativity scenes we see and enjoy, when they're not under attack, give us warm and fuzzy feelings on the cold, winter evenings we walk or drive by them. But the fact that they're under attack should remind us that original Christmas day, and the days before and after, were times of the Messiah being under attack. He didn't even get to be born before being targeted by his enemies.
Yet, this is not what I'm primarily thinking about. I'm thinking about the fact that a Hebrew prophet, some 700 years earlier, saw it coming. It begins with Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call his name Immanuel.”
Immanuel means “God with us.” Two chapters later, Isaiah announces, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” There are other prophecies, including where the Messiah will be born (Micah 5:2). The more I reflect on the prophecies of Christ's birth, the more amazed I am that it all came together as predicted so many centuries earlier.
Yet, that is just the beginning of what amazes me. It is the fact that Christ would become the Savior of the entire world is predicted by Isaiah as well. Here is a prophet, almost nonchalantly, stating that the Jewish messiah was coming more than just to restore his chosen people. We shouldn't be surprised, however, since God told Abraham that the entire world would be blessed by his seed.
Here, I want to share a very striking passage. In chapter 49, verse 6, God tells Isaiah “It is too small a thing for you [the Messiah] to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” That it must come as shock to the Israelites would be an understatement of epic proportions. They were the Chosen People after all. As Isaiah wrote, the Father had bigger plans. As a Gentile myself, it's just as shocking. A prophet from a relatively obscure nation predicted centuries ago that the Messiah would be accepted by the whole world. That seems improbable at best. And yet it happened.
Lord, thank you for the bigger picture, that includes salvation available for everyone through Jesus. Thank you thinking about and loving us enough to put together a plan for salvation and for telling us beforehand, so that we can point back to it as some of the many proofs and signs for us reflect on and strengthen our faith as the world continues to fight against the truth about the reason for the season.
I was going to title this blog 2014: The War In Review. But I just finished reading the chapter on evil from Ravi Zacharias' book Jesus Among Other Gods, and I'm thinking a little bit more of the big picture of my experiences over the past several years. One of the things I've been thinking about since I have emerged from the shadows (more on that in a moment) is something I've talked with friends about. That is, you can never really know why you are going through a trial or what you are supposed to learn from it until after you have come out of it. Six months later, I'm still wondering.
From the start, I should mention that bitterness is not a part of the equation. Jesus has healed that wound in me, and it's a large part of how I was able to emerge at all. Looking back, it was a gradual change in how I approached God on a day to day basis. I first rededicated myself to immersing myself in the Bible and the study of theology, two things that have helped me to grow as a person and stay focused on the things that matter. Second, I decided to live a life of gratitude, which meant thanking God each morning for the day, whether I was really feeling grateful or not. For me, that has become a way for me to throw a punch at evil before it has a chance to strike me.
The boxing metaphor might seem a little strange, but I can't think of a single day in my life where I haven't been challenged by something or someone. It could be something as small as someone cutting me off in traffic and my response to it or something bigger like having my pay cut by 25 percent. Peter calls Satan a lion prowling around looking for someone to devour (destroy). Look at your daily life, doesn't it seem like something or someone is constantly trying to undercut your happiness, and by extension, your faith?
That is why I titled this blog Christianity Is A War, because evil, life, or whatever you want to call it, is trying to take our joy away from us. Because if it can do that, it can move on to taking away the joy we have in Christ and then it's on to our very faith. This is serious stuff going on here. We are at war. We can choose to ignore evil but obviously it is not ignoring us.
Back to the shadows. August of 2014 was the breakthrough month for me. I was back in Kansas enjoying my time around my parents, sister, her kids, and the friends I grow up with, while trying to figure out my next move. I was still struggling financially along with all the other issues I was dealing with, but I was home and moving back (in June) was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time. If you get the chance, go back and read my blog Going Home To Move Forward.
I emerged from the shadows, because I changed my mindset, and that mindset first rewarded me with peace, the peace that Paul calls the peace that passes all understanding. At that point, I was still two months away from getting offered a good job, and I could not have pointed to any material thing that made feel like I was emerging from what felt like a life with no hope of getting better. Yet, here I was feeling the peace of God and wondering where eight years of bitterness went.
All is not roses and sunshine, of course. I still have scars (material, physical, emotional, and to some extent spiritual) that are in the long process of healing. But the healing has begun, I believe, because I made the decision to pursue a closer relationship with Jesus and took the stubborn position of being grateful even though I didn't feel like there was a reason to be grateful. One last thought, as the bitterness disappeared, I began to thank God for every good thing that happened to me, no matter how small a thing it might seem to be, and the peace I didn't see coming has remained always near by.