Tag Archives: love

Think About a Verse

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

—-Deuteronomy 6:4-5

 

  • What difference does it make that the Lord is one, not many?
  • The founder of Islam, Mohammed, claimed that Christians are polytheists. Why do you think he said that? This is supposedly the reason he founded Islam. How would you explain to a Muslim that we believe that God is one God?
  • Why do you think Jews consider this verse so important? Do you think this verse has any special importance?
  • Why do you think the Lord asks for love in this verse rather than some other form of attachment such as loyalty or obedience?  How does a request for love differ from loyalty or obedience or even submission?
  • Where in the New Testament do you find an explanation of the love that comes from God? How does that call forth the response of love for God?
  • If this verse were hidden in your heart, when might you want to take it out and cling to it?
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How Do Christians Find Common Ground With Muslims?

When the director of liturgy for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., planned a worship service for Muslims to pray to Allah within the sanctuary of the cathedral, the fraud that is the pseudo-virtue tolerance was clearly shown for what it is. Suicide. Surrender. Self-immolation.

Every Christian knows that the God we worship, the Mysterious Three in One, is one God in three Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every Muslim knows that the god he or she worships is “Allah,” who is one and only one and Mohammed is his prophet. Christians and Muslims have no common ground on which to pretend that they share something except for the genetic connection of Ishmael and Christ with Abraham. Both Ishmael (ancestor of the Arabic families that founded Islam in the 7th century after Christ) and Isaac (ancestor of the Jews through whose genetic line Christ was born) were sons of Abraham. The genetic connection is no foundation for any interfaith dialogue, because there is no common ground between Christianity and Islam. Mohammed himself made that clear. He thoroughly believed that Christians had become polytheists and idolaters, and if he were alive today, he would call the idea of interfaith dialogue with Christians “anathema.”

Explaining the decision to open the doors of the cathedral to such a service, representatives of the Cathedral said, “Leaders believe offering Muslim prayers at the Christian cathedral . . . demonstrates an appreciation of one another’s prayer traditions and is a powerful symbolic gesture toward a deeper relationship between the two Abrahamic traditions.” Such a statement is completely without justification, because it implies that the core of the two religions is Abraham. Abraham is not the point. Abraham is a human being whose genes have migrated through descendants such as Mohammed and Jesus. Never at any time did those descendants worship Abraham. Mohammed spend part of his life claiming to be a Christian, but he felt that Christianity had become polytheistic. If he had ever understood Christianity, he would have known better, which calls into question whether he could ever have been a Christian at all, but that is not the real issue. The issue is that Mohammed founded a religion that worships a god it calls Allah, and that god is not the God by whom the world was created and through whom Christ came to bring salvation to the world.

Therefore, the notion that Islam and Christianity have something to discuss is ludicrous, since they do not worship the same God. When factions in a Christian group such as the Catholic Church have disputes over whether women are to be ordained, they discuss their differences in the context of listening to the same God for guidance. When Muslims and Christians discuss prayer, they do not have any common ground on which to stand, because each stands before a different god. In the eyes of Christians, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one approaches God except through him. In the eyes of Muslims, there is no god but Allah. This difference is irreconcilable. The only way there can be any discussion of prayer is for one party or the other to reject its own god.

The sad part of the whole story is that in the eyes of the Muslim world, Christians have rejected their own God. Muslims would never permit Christians to pray in a mosque, because to do so would make the mosque unclean. Muslims have such a strong perception of the “uncleanness” of Christians that when Pastor Saeed, a prisoner in Iran, was taken to an Iranian hospital for medical treatment, the doctors and nurses refused to touch him because he was “unclean.” To Muslims, to be Christian is to be unclean. Muslims are taught to regard Christians the way Brahman Hindus regard the Dalit (the untouchable caste).

The people who are leaders in the National Cathedral have abdicated their right to be called Christian leaders, because they clearly believe that it is fine to reject Christ in order to be hospitable to Muslims. They have, furthermore, demonstrated complete ignorance of Islam by permitting such an event inside a Christian church building. If they do not yet know that Muslims around the world now believe that Islam has conquered that building and subjugated it to Allah, they are not paying attention. No Christian prayers are or ever will be permitted in Muslim holy sanctuaries, and when Muslim prayers are offered in a sanctuary, it is henceforth subject to and dedicated to Allah. Mark Christian, a former Muslim who has been disowned by his family since he received Christ as an adult, says, “In Islamic tradition, supremacy is demonstrated to all by practicing Islam where Christianity or Judaism once reigned. This is what animates the building of mosques on the holy sites of other religions. It is a conqueror’s philosophy.” Watch for continuing efforts for Muslims to worship and pray in the Cathedral. Watch for Muslims to attempt to expand the area they use. Watch for enhanced efforts to shield their view of the cross or the stained glass windows or any other Christian symbolism in the gradually expanding space where they will be allowed to worship Allah in a house dedicated to worship and service to the Triune God under the guise of tolerance.

Americans are bombarded daily with demands that they show tolerance. This word is touted as the opposite of hatred and bigotry. Actually, it is the tool of hatred and bigotry. In the name of tolerance, affronts to religious liberty, freedom of speech, and other personal liberties are being accepted culturally, because in the name of tolerance training, activists for a variety of agendas are permitted to club their opponents with arrest, fines and even re-education. Expressed this way, tolerance simply becomes hatred and bigotry expressed by the winning agenda.

The opposite of hatred is actually love. It is love that transforms people and relationships from confrontation to respect. People who have suffered insults and been treated as less than human do not really want to be simply tolerated. That is what Hindus do with the untouchable caste in India. To this day, and Americans may find this very surprising, a Hindu of the Dalit caste, the untouchables, need not aspire to a middle-class life, let alone to political leadership or national acclaim in any field. Yet the Dalit are tolerated. It is against the law to shoot one down in the street, for example, or to force one into slavery in a household. The days of unfettered abuse of a Dalit are over, more or less. Still, the Dalit are pointed out as Dalit and recognized as Dalit. All citizens have heightened awareness of what a Dalit is. To initiate interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians is to accede to the necessity that Christians become the Dalit in a culture operated by sharia law. This “historic” prayer service is interpreted by some as a step forward in cordial relations between Christians and Muslims. Those who think that way ought not to plan to hold their breath until the Muslims extend an equivalent invitation.

The proponents of the interfaith dialogue initiated by allowing Muslims to pray in the National Cathedral while being protected from all the signs and symbols of what that cathedral is about are simply heightening our awareness of the Muslims. At the same time, they are unwittingly heightening Muslim awareness of the weakness of Christian affection for their God. Those who believe that we must surely have something in common with Muslims and we must exert ourselves to uncover and work with that something are clearly willing to create something for common ground if none exists. They have made common ground out of a section of the cathedral sanctuary where Muslims cannot see the cross of Christ. It will be enlightening to see what Muslims do with that common ground.

Christians who want to prevent anyone from seeing the cross of Christ have, in my view, a very strange way of expressing their faith. The Bible teaches me that the cross is evidence that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. The Bible teaches me that all of us find our common ground at the foot of the cross, not out of sight of the cross. The Bible says that the mission of every Christian is to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them all the things Christ taught his disciples. When we do that, I believe that we will all find common ground in the heavenly throne room of the God who dwells in ineffable light, where the slaughtered Lamb sits at the right hand of the Father, where the Holy Spirit reigns and calls forth the praises of angels and myriads of myriads of the faithful in heaven. Now that is what I call common ground!

 

Come on — Grow Up!

What we learn from 2 Peter 1:1-11

There are as many versions of Christianity as there are people to explain them. One of the more deceptive versions was thrown my way during a vigorous online conversation about the desire of homosexuals to appropriate the word marriage to describe their unions. I was accused of discrimination when I refused to use the term marriage as if its definition included same-sex unions. My accuser asked how I could claim to be a Christian, since Christianity is supposedly all about love. I was accused of being unloving because of my rejection of the campaign for marriage equality.

To some people, the word love is their definition of Christianity. Their definition of love is an amorphous refusal to hurt anyone’s feelings, because of perceptions that Jesus would not do that.

The word love is one of the essential characteristics of Christianity, but its definition would not please those who simply want Christians not to hurt the feelings of same-sex couples who want to say that they are married. You can find the Christian definition of love in 2 Peter 1:1-11, where Peter writes about the way Christians mature. Love is at the pinnacle, not the root of a Christian’s maturity, and the love which grows in a maturing Christian is not defined by the avoidance of hurting other people’s feelings. In polite society, respect for people’s feelings is part of common courtesy, but even polite society does not call for anyone to be bludgeoned into a betrayal of conscience over the prospect of hurt feelings. Polite society actually expects all participants to be mature and principled individuals who would not attempt to compel anyone to betray his conscience.

The text listed above is a letter from Peter to a church, and it begins with a greeting:

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
2 Peter 1:1-2 ESV 

The next few verses reference Jesus our Lord repeatedly. It is important to keep that in mind as you read: 

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
2 Peter 1:3-5 ESV 

It is the divine power of Jesus our Lord that has provided everything we need for life and godliness. To recognize the thrust of these verses is critical. Jesus our Lord is central to everything Peter is saying. In fact, Peter is introducing here the concept that he will subsequently develop, namely that mature Christians partake of the divine nature. In short, the goal of our maturity is to become more Christ-like, and Peter says that if we use the things Jesus our Lord has given to us, we will actually achieve that goal. He proceeds immediately to tell us how that can happen:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV  

How can we become more Christ-like? We make an effort. I have a little sticky note on my desktop that says, No one expects to attain to the height of learning, or arts, or power, or wealth, or military glory, without vigorous resolution, strenuous diligence, and steady perseverance. Yet we expect to be Christians without labour, study, or inquiry.” This statement is attributed to William Wilberforce, the one-man bulldozer who succeed in his tremendous effort to end the slave trade in the British Empire. He would completely scorn the idea that a Christian can legitimately claim the name of Christ without making an effort to mature in the faith. A recent Barna study said that less than 10% of the people who self-identify as Christians believe the most foundational principles of Christian faith. They don’t believe that the Bible is the Christian’s guide for faith and life. They don’t believe that Christ lived a sinless life. They don’t believe that Christ’s death was necessary. They don’t believe that salvation is through Christ alone. Most of the people who claim to be Christians have not made the slightest attempt to mature in that faith. In this passage, Peter assertively refutes any notion that touchy-feely love for everybody is Christ-like love. 

Peter says that if we want to be like Christ, we need to grow up. We need to get past the idea that simply being nice is being like Christ. It will take work, effort, energy. It begins with faith, the foundation. “By grace you have been saved through faith.” (Ephesians 2:8 ESV) After that, we need to work to mature in virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, and brotherly affection. None of these facets of a mature Christian are easily developed. If we want to be healthy, we must learn a lot about food and a lot about exercise. A healthy body is not easily developed, either, but that objective pales by comparison with the effort required to become more like Christ.  

What do we need to work on?

  • Virtue, called goodness in other translations. Some writers call it “excellence of moral character.” In this context, a virtuous person is a person who studies and emulates Christ’s standards for behavior. Remember how he said it was right to do good on the Sabbath? Remember how he called the prostitute to repentance after shaming her accusers. This virtue is not self-centered judgment of the rest of the world, but it is an uncompromising commitment to God’s standards.
  • Knowledge This term makes sense to everyone. Nobody attains knowledge by sitting in the same room with a pile of books. Learning anything takes work. Reading, thinking, listening to people who know more than we do. It is experience, mature emotions, strong personal relationships, and intellectual understanding.
  • Self-control Everybody knows what this is, and nobody has any right to claim to have mastered it. It is the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent. It is the will to eat what is needful and to reject the temptation to devour everything in sight. It is the personal discipline to take time for God, even when friends or business opportunities tempt us to skip prayer time “just for today.” It is the ability to choose what is right rather than what is appealing.
  • Steadfastness This word is not used frequently in current discourse. Other translations use the words endurance and perseverance (my personal favorite). Endurance is probably the best contemporary term for the underlying Greek word. This quality is the ability to keep going when it is hard and to persist despite pain or deep weariness. It is the word that powers Christ’s promises in the book of Revelation to “the one who conquers.” (Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26, 3:5, 3:12, 3:21, 21:7) Christians can expect that the world will push back against them, and they need to be able to keep the faith anyway. Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.” John 15:18
  • Godliness This word explains itself. Being like God. Piety. Faithful devotion. This quality includes fervent devotion to prayer, the lifeblood of faith. Many people say, “Pray for me,” but most of them are shocked when we actually pray. I try to make a habit of sending a prayer back by email when someone asks, and most are happily surprised at such immediacy. A godly person is a faithful worshiper, but the godly person also loves people deeply. My grandfather’s piety and godliness showed in his ever-loving, ever-giving behavior toward everyone he met.
  • Brotherly affection Some translations use the word “mutual affection” or may use “brotherly kindness.” These terms avoid confusion about the word love. The Greek word is philadelphia, a word that became the name of the Pennsylvania city affectionately called “The City of Brotherly Love.” Brotherly affection or mutual affection is the kind of love that glues a congregation together. It is the basis of helping one another with kindness and respect and concern for one another’s needs. 

Here are six qualities the can only be nurtured by great effort. What may truly shock the reader however is this: The word love, the love of Christ, the love Christ manifests in our lives as his faithful and obedient servants, is at the pinnacle of all this growth. We start with faith. We work very hard on qualities of a disciple, and in the end, we learn how to love like Christ. Christ’s love, the love that is the foundation of our salvation and the power of Christ’s sacrifice, is not some nebulous, feel-good emotion that might equate with the love of peanut butter cookies. The love we grow into is love that is so powerful and consuming that we are able to look sin in the eye, identify the sin, and still love the person enslaved by it.  

LGBT advocates say that it is ugly discrimination when Christians say that homosexuality is sin. That accusation could not be further from the truth. It is deep love for people, all people, including those enslaved by homosexuality, that allows Christians to recognize sin and call it what it is. It is love for Christ, love for all people, and the self-respect that grows out of gratefulness for the gift of salvation that allows Christians to reject sin and refuse to participate in it, even at great cost. It is love for people and a commitment to share the rescue plan God has given through Christ for Satan’s slaves that leads Christians to recognize the sin and share the hope Christ gives with those enslaved by Satan. 

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:1-11 ESV)

The key statement in this closing section is the statement “if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” It just makes sense. Mature people in any discipline have better judgment. Those who mature in Christ not only improve their judgment, but they also develop a stronger, richer relationship with Christ. They can count on Christ to guide them past any deficits in their judgment. 

Some people think that Christians are the members of a religion, and they define all religions the same way: beliefs, worship practices and sacred texts. No religion is really that narrow, but Christianity cannot be limited in any sense to such a definition. Christianity is a way of living. Christians live in relationship with the living Christ. They don’t engage in manipulative rituals that supposedly guarantee wealth or fertility or rain. That is not what Christianity is about. The message of Christianity is life with Christ, for time and space and for eternity. It is a way of living, not a set of rules. Peter explains the structure of that way of life in this passage. Those who take his teaching to heart will grow and mature both in the qualities he names and in their relationship with Christ.  

You could sum up his message in a few words: Grow up! It is a life’s work.  

Which if these qualities will be first in your plan for growing in Christ?

 

 

 

A Hymn for Meditation

hymnalCrown Him With Many Crowns 

1. Crown him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon his throne;
Hark! how the heav’nly anthem drowns
All music but its own:
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless King
Through all eternity.

‎2. Crown him the Lord of love;
Behold his hands and side,
Rich wounds, yet visible above,
In beauty glorified:
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye
At mysteries so bright.

‎3. Crown him the Lord of peace;
Whose pow’r a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease,
Absorbed in prayer and praise:
His reign shall know no end;
And round his pierced feet
Fair flowers of Paradise extend
Their fragrance ever sweet.

‎4. Crown him the Lord of years,
The Potentate of time;
Creator of the rolling spheres,
Ineffably sublime:
All hail, Redeemer, hail!
For thou hast died for me:
Thy praise shall never, never fail
Throughout eternity.
 

  • Where in the Bible do you find an image of Christ with many crowns? (See Revelation 19:12,16) Why do you suppose one crown is not enough?
  • The imagery of the “Lord of love” is that of the crucified Christ. (See Revelation 5:6-10) Why would angels be unable to bear the sight of Christ crucified? Can you bear that sight? How does it feel to know that Christ suffered so horrifically for the love of you?
  • Who doesn’t long for peace? What can ever bring peace to nations? What can ever bring peace to families? What can ever give peace to tormented individuals? What might it mean to absorb wars in prayer and praise? How might that concept change the way you pray?(See Psalm 46:9, Psalm 72:5-17, Isaiah 2:4)
  • Christ is God who is, who was, and who is to come? What does it mean to you in your daily time-bound life to know that Christ reigns eternally? (See Romans 8:34, 1Peter 1:12, Revelation 5:9)
  • We must visualize Christ when we pray, because our physical eyes cannot see him. Is Christ crowned in glory the image you see when you pray? Does that image change the way you pray? Do you sing and make melody in your heart to Christ on his throne?

 

 

When Secularist Meets Christian

When I was seventeen, I met an avowed atheist. He had more luck talking to me than I had with him. He challenged me to read Atlas Shrugged and I did. I challenged him to read the New Testament, and he didn’t. I learned something about the way atheists think about life in time and space. He chose not to learn about life with an eternal frame of reference.

The problem is that I live in both the time/space universe where the atheist lives and the eternity/infinity universe where God lives and reigns. I acknowledge the existence of the atheist’s universe, but he does not acknowledge the existence of the eternal/infinite realm. He interacts with the spirit world he denies just as often as I do, but he denies all the evidence of that interaction.

We who live at the intersection of time and eternity in relationship with Christ are flummoxed by people who reject the whole idea of a spirit world. We feel shut down, because we are not sure how to start talking with someone who simply rejects everything that shapes our daily lives. It isn’t an imaginary problem, but even though we must face and deal with the problem, we need to remember that God is not hindered by the same issues that stop us in our tracks. Whether or not atheists allow us to talk with them we always must remember that God is not daunted by anyone’s unbelief. Who knows how many times Nicodemus scoffed at the whole idea that God could have come to earth in the flesh before he sneaked out one evening to talk with Jesus?

The culture of the USA is growing increasingly secular, which means that more and more people in our world consider any form of religion to be useless twaddle. Secular thinkers consider that at best religion is the same kind of comfort we might derive if someone drew a smiley face on a post-it and stuck it on our computer display at work. At worst, they look at September 11 and at the escalating violence that seems to be overwhelming the Arab spring and conclude that it would be better for the whole idea of religion disappear.

If we take our Christian faith seriously, we are disturbed by these developments. We feel some fear that government policies shaped by secular thinking might attempt to shut religion out of our culture altogether. We worry that the protections we assume were intended by our Founders in the First Amendment may be redefined to restrict our freedom to exercise our faith. If we truly believe that Jesus has commanded us to make disciples by teaching other people what Jesus taught us as we go about our daily lives, then we worry that our freedom to engage in that task will be diminished in a secular culture. Further we worry that even though we may be free to speak about our faith, people will generally dismiss us as slightly batty rather than consider what we have to say. If we are honest, we would prefer an acerbic engaged conversation to a condescending or indifferent shrug.

The biblical guidance for living faithful lives in a secular culture is not so different from that for living faithful lives in a culture dominated by a religion. The nature of our stresses is different if our testimony is challenged by somebody else’s god than if it is challenged by the denial of all gods. No matter the challenge, our response is always the same. Christ told us exactly what to do.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [1]

Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.[2]


[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mt 5:43–44). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Re 2:10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.