As people become more divided, this division has found its way even into the body of Christ. From one united group at Pentecost as described in Acts chapter 2 to thousands of different sects today, the body is fractured to the point of shattering.

I called this blog “Shatterpoint” for two reasons. First, I am a huge Star Wars fan and second, as a Star Wars geek, I knew that the Shatterpoint technique, lorewise (recently declared non-canon by Disney), didn’t just represent a “win” button–it goes deeper than that.

The idea behind a shatterpoint (also called a “fracture”) is that there are individuals who can see where things come together and note the weak points. In an object, a shatterpoint could be used to, well, shatter the object. In events, a shatterpoint can be used to alter events to cause them to transpire differently than they might have had the shatterpoint not been perceived and affected. In events, though, these shatterpoints often exist for only the briefest of moments, meaning that any action has to occur at just the right time or the moment is lost forever. Most often in Star Wars, shatterpoints are used in order to defeat enemies… but that does not mean that an individual could not use the same technique to benefit allies or prevent them from coming to harm. Quite the opposite: there are occasions in lore when that is precisely how it is used.

So why, besides the fact that I do like pop culture and the Episode VII premiere is two weeks away (you can’t see me, but I’m doing a happy dance) am I spending two paragraphs on a fictional technique in a fictional universe?

faimgBecause Han Solo is awesome, that’s why.

Because even fiction and pop culture have lessons we can learn if we’re willing (both Marvel and DC Comics have been putting important themes in their comics for decades). Every moment in time is a moment that we have to affect the outcome of an event–for ourselves, for another, for the body of Christ. Every word we speak or action we take pushes events and pushes people–either towards God or away from God–and that is true even within the body of Christ.

How does this relate to the body of Christ? The human body has 270 bones at birth. By adulthood, this decreases to 206 bones. The body of Christ has approximately 38000 sects (low estimates say 25000, high estimates say 43000. Most moderate estimates agree on the 33000-40000 range, putting the number comfortably around 38000), with most saying they they are the true Church. But what does Scripture say about who is a member of the body of Christ?

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. …so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 25-27

…you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord. Ephesians 2:19-22

There is one body and one Spirit …speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. …we are members of one another. Ephesians 4:4, 15-16, 25

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Colossians 3:15

What is notable about this is that Scripture is not in the habit of repeating itself unless there is something important, something necessary for the reader/hearer to grasp above all other things. We see this with the commandment of Jesus to love and we see it again here with the establishing of the fact that there is one body with many functioning parts.

Waitaminnit–You mean to tell me that the priests and pastors who have told me that if I’m not a member of their denomination and a member of their specific church body (as opposed to the church down the street that is a part of the same denomination) are wrong? They are teaching as doctrine the traditions of men? And Scripture–Jesus Himself, actually–has something specific to say about that?

Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” Matthew 15:7-9

Oh wow–it’s like this Jesus fellow–and not the guy behind the pulpit–is the head of the Church or something ! Whoda thunk? And He says that if His Spirit teaches me, I’m going to be able to sort all this out real quick (paraphrasing, of course).

Jesus gave us a whole bunch of examples of spirit versus letter of the Law as well. First, we have the example of the Samaritan woman with five husbands and the man she was currently with wasn’t her husband. Under the Law, that’s a stonin’. Well, okay, she was a Samaritan and they weren’t really considered proper Jews, so maybe that one doesn’t count…

Well, what about the woman caught in adultery? Caught in the very act. The Law is super clear about that–even says it more than once. Huh? Oh. You have to bring the man and the woman out. And how did they catch her in the act, anyway? And have two or more witnesses as the Law demands? Well, crap. Yeah, ok, that one doesn’t quite mesh up with the letter of the Law in every way, either when you get right down to it. 0 for 2. Hmm…

Oh! I know! Jesus Himself–the only human to ever have kept the Law perfectly, without stumbling in even the smallest part–healing (which was considered work for a Prophet)–on the Sabbath. Well, what does the Law tell us about working on the Sabbath?

…Huh. And yet, Jesus is the only human in the entire history of all humanity to have kept the Law in its entirety, even though the letter of the Law would seem to indicate that He broke it right here. 1 for 3…

Moving on, David. Man after God’s own heart who slept with a guy’s wife (and she knew exactly who she was and who she was married to because her family members served on his council–go read thourgh his list of advisers and pay close attention), then killed the guy. Nice guy, David (to be fair, he did repent). Ate the showbread, which is one of those big no-no’s that’ll get you struck dead. Yet Jesus was all like “hey, it’s cool. He did the righteous and right thing there.” Uh… you lost me with the “not struck dead instantly when he touched it” part there, Jesus…

On top of that, the letter of the Law was really quite clear about what a person put into their bodies. Jesus said that it wasn’t what went into a man that made him unclean but what came out of him. Wait, what? How can that be? The letter of the Law is very specific, so Jesus is advocating breaking the letter of the Law again? But…

Ok, maybe He’s talking about the Talmud there. The Talmud is called law, but it is, in a nutshell, ancient Rabbinical writings which, in Orthodox Judaism, constititute the basis of religious authority. A Karaite will emphatically tell you that it is man’s law; it is not God’s Law as given to Moses and written down–it’s not Torah. It is presumed that the Talmud (or giving the Talmud the same divine authority as Scripture) is what Jesus refers to when He speaks of teaching as doctrine the traditions of men (something which the modern church is also guilty of–the Christian Church has its own problems with teaching as doctrine the traditions of men).

So why is there such a perceived inconsistency between Jesus’ words and deeds–that the only Man ever to perfectly keep the Law in its entirety also seems to have not followed the letter of the Law on several occasions? Moreover, why did Paul and the Apostles do the same thing–not separating themselves from Gentiles, not forcing the Gentiles to be circumcised and follow Mosaic Law to the letter?

Could it be that love is the spirit of the law? And that by acting in love and deliberately choosing to love (because it is a choice and an action as well as an emotion), we are fulfilling the Law? Could this be what Jesus meant when He said that to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves was to fulfill the Law?

Let me give a more practical example. I have a friend who is like a little brother to me. In the past week, this friend had a choice to make: follow the letter of the “law”–the policy at his job–or do what was morally the right thing to do and still within the spirit of resolving the matter under the circumstances. Had I been in my friend’s shoes at that moment, I would have made the same choice that he made… and been subject to the same consequences.

You see, as a result of his decision to do what was morally right in that situation instead of blindly adhering to policy (written law) regardless of circumstances or situations, my friend lost his job–but the company is treating it as a situation where the company downsized and eliminated his position rather than a termination for cause because the situation was such that even senior management recognized the policy–the letter of the law–did not allow for morality or doing the right thing.

Life is not always “black and white.” There are shades of grey. This is why we have wisdom and discernment. This is why in ancient times, judges such as Moses and Deborah were appointed over the people–judging was part of a prophet’s job. In later times, the people approached kings such as David and Solomon (the infamous “cut the baby in half” judgment whereby Solomon discerned who the child’s real mother was is a fine example of wisdom and discernment). Today, most churches have a system in place to settle disputes before they ever see a court of secular law. And all of this was and is necessary because the letter of the Law does not cover some of these weak points–the Law of Love, however, does. It tells us exactly how we are to behave in any situation: “Love one another. As I have loved you…by this all men will know that you are my disciples.” And love doesn’t keep an accounting of debts owed or wrongs done.

I spoke earlier in this post of shatterpoints and how they can alter events so that they transpire differently than they may have otherwise based on the actions we take in those moments. Each day, every action we take has the potential to be a shatterpoint–we simply don’t know how a kind word or a kind act of intentional love may be the thing that causes a person to choose to take a different path than the one they were planning. I have read tales of how the kindness of a stranger giving his umbrella to a girl leaving her mother’s funeral caused her to realize that there is kindness in the world, that someone cares… and prevented her from committing suicide that night.

Last week, I read a story of a businessman in California who had a chance encounter with a homeless veteran. He bought the veteran lunch and spent a total of about fifteen minutes with this man. As a result, this businessman raised several thousand dollars and gained the support of many volunteers to purchase and distribute tents, blankets, coats, socks, shoes, hats, and gloves to the homeless in his area as well as buy food for them. He additionally was contacted by organizations who build houses for homeless veterans, letting him know that they could get that particular veteran into a home.

In another instance that I read this week, a church ordered pizza during a service. They’d planned on giving a $100 tip. Once the delivery driver arrived, they instead asked him to come onto the stage and each member of the congregation tipped him one by one. That delivery driver walked out of there–in tears–with a $700 tip.. That young man, who had been struggling to stay off drugs, said that the act gave him the thing he’d been missing in his struggle: hope and the knowledge that his life had purpose.

Each of these examples was a shatterpoint–an opportunity to alter the outcome or to cause events to happen differently than they otherwise might have. And each person involved acted in that moment to alter an outcome.

There also is a shatterpoint at this moment where the Body of Christ is concerned, and the actions we take will alter everything that comes afterwards: either to fracture and cause disunity or to prevent harm and schism. We no longer have the luxury of dividing ourselves by sect and traditions of men, nor the privilege of being bickering accusers. But for those who do not recognize this shatterpoint for what it is, the moment will soon be lost forever.

We have a choice every minute of every day: we can follow Caiaphas or we can follow Christ. We can follow the letter of the Law or we can follow the spirit of the Law. We can choose death or we can choose life. And to be fair, we are all human and make mistakes or have bad days when it is hard to control our tongues–that is normal. The question is, are we choosing the way of Caiaphas–the way of death–consistently? If so, then perhaps now, in this time of gratitude, giving, and joy, is the time to do something about that and make the change to consistently choosing to follow Christ and life.

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

She is tossed by the waves, but she does not sink

She is tossed by the waves, but she does not sink

In Paris, 132 people (at last count) are dead. Hundreds more are injured. A coordinated attack on five sites: a concert venue, a football (soccer) stadium, and several cafes where civilians were executed with suicide bombs and automatic rifles in the name of Allah.

And I wonder–what does Allah think of this?

You see, Allah translated simply means “God.” Islam’s leaders reckon that Muhammad descended from Ishmael–the elder son of Abraham, and worship the God that delivered Hagar and Ishmael from death in the desert. The same God who said of Ishmael that he would be a mighty nation and that his hand would always be against his brother, Isaac. In short, Muslims worship the God of Abraham. Allah = Yehovah.

The Indonesian Christians that I have known know this well. In their services, Allah, Yehovah, Yahweh, and God are used interchangeably and they all refer to the God of Abraham, Issac, Jacob…and Muhammad–the Creator and Father of heaven and earth, He Who Is.

We are fighting over two very, very different interpretations of the same God, based on the most ancient of prophecies which came in the form of a blessing from the lips of God himself.

And we are dehumanizing one another in order to do it.

It’s important to realize that there are 1.8 billion Muslims on the planet. That’s nearly 33% of the entire world’s population. If every Muslim were a member of the terrorist organizations involved in these heinous and barbaric attacks inflicted on France, Beirut, Kenya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other places throughout the world, It would require every man, woman, and child on the planet capable of holding and firing a weapon in order to stop ISIS and Al Qaida–and even then, there would be no guarantee that we could. Pause a moment and let that sink in: if every Muslim in the world supported terrorism and terrorist acts, the entire rest of the world would have to band together to stop them and there would still be no guarantee that we could do it.

But a quick Google search tells us that millions of Muslims do not support terrorism. In fact, they actively oppose it. Still, many in the West–and particularly in the United States, I am ashamed to say–classify all Muslims as “terrorists” because of their faith. These people become irate when they feel their own Christian faith is “under attack” due to coffee cups not having snowflakes and reindeer on them…

The 2015 Starbucks Satan Sipper line

The 2015 Starbucks Satan Sipper line

…and these same people vehemently distance themselves from Christian terrorists and hate groups like Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik, Westboro, and Pat Robertson.

Christ calls us to love. Hate isn’t part of the deal. It is a cancer within the Body of Christ that will kill us and everything we hold dear. It is because of hate that 132 people are dead in France, 149 people died in Kenya in April, and 100000 Muslims have been killed by ISIS in the last two years–far more than the number of Christians or Jews that terrorist group has killed. It is because of love, however, that a little girl in Beirut is without a father today. Right before the Paris attacks, Adel Termos tackled a suicide bomber, dying in the process of saving dozens–if not hundreds–of lives. Given pictures taken of his daughter at a ceremony in his honor where she was surrounded by women in hijabs, it is likely that Mr. Termos was Muslim (Lebanon has a high population of Catholics), which proves the point: you cannot judge 1.8 billion people–nearly a third of the world’s population–by the actions of less than one percent, particularly when many of them actively take action against terrorists and terrorism on a daily basis, but American newsmedia often does not show that.

Listen, brothers and sisters, if Muslims don’t have the right to distance themselves from and denounce the hate within their body, then you don’t get the privilege of distancing yourselves from and denouncing the cancerous tumors that attach themselves to our body. Put away the magic funhouse mirror and see the ugliness for what it is. Islam is doing it and it’s time for the Body of Christ to do the same.

In the meantime, nos pensées et nos prières avec tous les Parisiens. Elle est agitée par les vagues, et ne sombre pas.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité – Vive La France.

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On Proselytizing

Over the past week, I have seen a few people tossing Scripture–well, that’s not entirely accurate in every case. Some people use Scripture to edify and encourage, others use it as a baseball bat to the head of folks, while still others use it as a brick to the face of folks (sometimes–oftentimes, actually–out of context) with whom they disagree (and the fact is that if one tries to apply the letter of the Law while neglecting the Spirit of the Law, there will always be conflict–but I will be covering that in an upcoming post…or series of posts).

This saddens me. When Scripture is used to do anything other than correct, edify or encourage, it is damaging. That is the opposite of the intent of Scripture and the direct opposite of the spirit of love embodied in Christ.

I posted this on my Facebook, but it is worth reposting here:

I’m seeing so many people currently who are attempting to proselytize–usually by trying to beat people over the head with Scripture, whether those people are interested or not.

Listen, people who don’t have a relationship with God aren’t interested in whether or not you can copy and paste someone else’s words (words that many people, particularly atheists, are more familiar with than many Christians). If they are in a relationship with you, they are interested in you–and whether or not you know how to apply the principles contained in those words to your daily life.

Calling yourself a Christian and quoting Scripture isn’t an automatic ticket to spiritual authority or being “right” or righteous–in the eyes of man or the eyes of God. “To confess Christ, is to choose His ways, and own them. To profess Christ, is to plead for His ways, and yet live beside them.” (Matthew Mead)

If you want people to want what you have, give them a reason to. Don’t just preach it–live it.

Profession or Confession?

I am reading a book by Rev. Matthew Mead (Full disclosure: Rev. Mead is my ancestor) that presents a simple enough question–provided we understand that simple and easy are not the same thing–are we professors or confessors of Christ? He makes a powerful statement in that book that is something I have hit upon again and again, not only in this blog, but in my dealings with those who say they are Christians yet speak words of hate and perform actions full of hate: “To confess Christ, is to choose His ways, and own them. To profess Christ, is to plead for His ways, and yet live beside them.”¹

Rev. Mead discusses in the book the Scriptural warnings of those who do many things in the name of the Lord–great works, in fact–and yet never attain the prize. They fall short, pleading, “but we healed people, cast out demons, brought many to salvation, built all this in Your Name” and yet even Scripture tells us that the Lord says, “get away from Me, I never knew you.” They had great gifts–they used those gifts to great effect… but they were professors, not confessors. And so they ran the race but did not run to lay hold of the prize as Paul tells us to.

What is a professor? According to Google, it has two definitions, but the primary definition is telling. The primary definition of the word profess as a verb on Google is “to claim openly but often falsely that one has (a quality or feeling).” Merriam-Webster’s Online dictionary phrases the definition of profess as a verb as “to declare in words or appearances only.” Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, and the rest of the early church had another name for this–it is the same word that Rev. Mead uses and the same word that I use. Interestingly, it is the same word that the world uses to criticize the Body of Christ and to turn from God and turn others from God: hypocrite. Perhaps even more interestingly, the world and the Body have something else in common: we use the same amount of venom when we label someone with that word (and I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. Jesus certainly had no tolerance for hypocrisy, nor did Paul, and John the Baptist went so far as to call hypocrites “vipers” and “whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones”–phrases I have actually used on more than one occasion).

Well, then, what is the dictionary definition of a confessor? Google tells us that confess as a verb has three definitions, and that one of those definitions is “to declare (one’s religious faith).” Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary includes this definition and then takes it one step further: “to give evidence of.” You see a professor can declare themselves a follower of Christ all day long and twice on Sunday; a confessor actually gives evidence of their confession in their actions. The confessor embodies the Spirit of the Living Lord. He loves. If you’ve read this blog at all in the past, you’re vaguely familiar with author Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, in which one of the main characters, Kahlan Amnell, is a Confessor. In that series, the Confessors are a group of women whose duty is to truth and justice and who have the magical power to compel people who are suspected of committing crimes to tell the truth through their touch…and their touch is essentially the force of pure and unconditional love. In Goodkind’s series, we also see that force become a very powerful weapon when that which the Confessor truly loves is endangered. In some ways, the Confessors of Goodkind’s fictional world are not unlike what confessors of Christ ought to be in reality: fully committed to truth and justice and the understanding that love–not hate–should be our weapon of choice, not only in fighting battles, but in how we relate to people on a daily basis. We also should not forget to turn that weapon inwardly when it is warranted, holding one another accountable for our own failures to behave according to the commandment of Christ: “Love one another.”

And what do we know about love? “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. …For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

*Note: every time the word “not” is used in this passage, in the Greek, it is the absolute negative.

Love suffers long and is kind…” Other translations say that “love is patient and is kind.” The Greek here for patient means that one does not lose heart, bears up under offense and injuries, perseveres in suffering misfortunes and troubles, and is slow to anger or punish. The Greek for kind means that one acts benevolently.

Love does not envy…” The Greek here indicates a zeal or ardor in an unfavorable sense–not just jealousy, but indignation. It includes a fervent desire to emulate others–to be like other people or “keep up with the Joneses.”

Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up…” The KJV here uses the word “vaunt,” which means “to boast about or praise, especially excessively–to flaunt.” Love is humble–not prideful or arrogant–and does not require praise or recognition.

…does not behave rudely…” Love doesn’t behave in a manner that is unbecoming…the synonym for this in Google’s dictionary is, no joke, “ugly.” As we say in the South, “God don’t like ugly.”

…does not seek its own…” The Greek here indicates a striving to fulfill one’s own purposes and desires.

…is not provoked…” The Greek here means to exasperate or burn with anger.

…thinks no evil…” Love attributes no harm or malicious intent nor ascribes a quality to someone by virtue of a similar quality in another.

…does not rejoice in iniquity…” Is not cheerful or happy about injustice (especially in the legal sense) or about unrighteousness

…rejoices in the truth…” sympathizes with what is objectively true in any matter under consideration

…bears all things…” to endure silently

…believes all things…” to have faith and confidence in Christ for one’s spiritual well-being

…hopes all things…” to expect and wait for with full confidence

…endures all things…” to stay behind and persevere

As we have seen lately in the press, some of those who profess Christ do not live up to the title of confessor of Christ if we use the definition of love that Paul so clearly lays out for us in I Corinthians 13. They do not act as Jesus acts, nor do they acts as Jesus commanded us to act: Love one another. Love doesn’t seek its own, it does not behave rudely, it is not provoked, it thinks no evil…

We, however–humans–do all of these things and more. And we convince ourselves that we are obeying the will of God because rather than being made into God’s image, we have made God into our image. If your God hates all the same things you do–if your God hates any human being–it’s a safe bet that you’re not only doing it wrong, but that you’ve erected a golden image of yourself and named it God and are worshiping at its feet. This person is a professor–a hypocrite. They will run the race believing they are Olympic champions and still… they will fall short of the crown.

We are called to be confessors. We are called to be the living embodiment of the love of God. Simple, but not easy. If it were easy, we wouldn’t need Him, would we?

¹ Rev. Matthew Mead, The Almost Christian Discovered or, The False Professor Tried and Cast, p. 52, London, October 1661, first printing 1856, public domain

Worship in Spirit and in Truth

In my last post, I talked about love and how living a life of active love changes everything. In this post, I intend to expand upon that a bit and I intend to talk about one of the practical applications of love in our daily lives (or worshiping in truth–through our actions) and why it is so important.

You see, as Christians–followers of Christ–we are not just ambassadors of God on the earth, here to parrot what has already been written in Scripture or said by our teachers; we are the mouths through which God speaks, the eyes through which God sees, the hands through which God acts on the earth… which, of course, brings to mind a song (because I love me some pop culture):

Copyright Jewel Kilcher, Patrick Leonard. Downtown Music Publishing LLC, EMI April Music Inc, Wiggly Tooth Music. From the Album “Spirit,” Atlantic Records, 1998.

In case you lived under a rock in the late 90’s, that song expresses the same point through the lyrics: I will gather myself around my faith/For light does the darkness most fear/We’ll fight not out of spite/For someone must stand up for what’s right/Cause where there’s a man who has no voice/There ours shall go singing/My hands are small, I know/But they’re not yours they are my own/And I am never broken/We are never broken/We are God’s eyes God’s hands God’s mind/We are God’s eyes God’s hands God’s heart/We are God’s eyes God’s hands God’s eyes God’s hands (see above for copyright information).

And what is it that God speaks–or should speak–through us? Life. In Deuteronomy 30:15-19–and I am taking this a little out of context–the Israelites are told to love God, to walk in His ways, to keep His commandments in order to be blessed; they are told that life and death have been set before them and that they should choose life. In John 13:34-35, Jesus tells us how to do this, saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus makes it clear that keeping the commandment to love the Lord and keeping the commandment to love others makes it impossible to break any other commandment:

“But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’
Jesus said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

In Romans 13:8-10, Paul–a former “Pharisee of Pharisees”–specifies that “he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Why do I keep coming back to the same Scriptures over and over? Why do I keep hammering the point about the commandment to love?

Because I keep seeing a cycle of unloving Christian behavior towards those that Christians consider ‘sinners’. Listen: first, unless you know for certain that an individual has put themselves under the authority of Christ and the Holy Spirit, Scripture says they are not accountable to anyone other than God (I Cor 5:9-13)–not you, not me, not former Governor Huckabee or Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis or any other human currently walking this earth who was not born of a virgin. Second, I seem to recall Jesus Himself being very clear on the topic in Luke 7:36-50:

“Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

So he said, “Teacher, say it.”

“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

Love is an action. It isn’t passive. And love is a choice that we make every day in every interaction that we have with ourselves and with others. Paul speaks in Galatians chapter 5–a book that deals almost exclusively with the Law and the dangers of sliding back into the Law and the judgements and curses it pronounces on those who fail to follow it–about the fruit of the Spirit…but not before he also details the fruit of the flesh and the hypocrisy within the Church in verses 19-21: “adultery, fornication (the Greek word here is porneia–the word from which we get the modern word pornography. While often used in the general sense of sexual immorality, it denotes both a kind of prostitution and undertaking such immorality casually. In addition, it carries a connotation of hypocrisy in that the figurative connotation is to be unfaithful to Christ while posing as His true follower. As ancient Galatia was populated by and named for Gauls [Celts] from the Greek province of Thrace, all three meanings could be simultaneously historically valid but it is important to note that most major commentaries agree that Paul is specifically addressing hypocrisy in the Church in this passage), uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” In verses 22-23, Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

Why do I point all this out?

Because, like Paul, I see hypocrisy in the Church. As the Bride of Christ–God’s eyes, mouthpiece, heart, and hands on this earth, we are meant to be welcoming, loving, hospitable, inclusive–we are meant to be living examples of the fruit of the Spirit. At one time, the Church was that to us and for us when we most needed it, and it made all the difference. But we are not that anymore. Today’s Church lacks compassion. More importantly, today’s Church has lost its capacity to choose to love and instead often chooses hatred, contentions, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, and dissensions. If the Church of today had been the Church I encountered as a wounded, hurting, suicidal nineteen-year-old kid more than twenty years ago, my parents would have long since buried a child. Today’s Church is a broken body, and Paul tells us in I Cor 12 that such a thing cannot be if the body is to function properly.

Why should any of this matter?

Because I am not the only soul in the world who has gone through long periods of my life struggling and hurting. Because, although my pain came from a different source and a different kind of lie than the pain we as a church are deliberately and willfully inflicting on so many right now (contrary to the commandment of our Lord to love one another), in the end, it brought me to the same place that kind of deep, abiding pain brings so many others–and only in facing it, acknowledging it, and embracing it as truth was I able to be free.

I have a cousin who, when I was a child, she and her sister were people whom I looked up to (she did not know that, but if she reads this post, she’ll know it now! hehe). As we’ve reconnected as adults (or rather, as I’ve become an adult), it’s been interesting to me to see how similarly we believe on some things, though we have taken different routes to come to those beliefs. Fifteen or sixteen years ago, I would have been right there supporting Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis and others like her, decrying the SCOTUS rulings that have given my neighbors (that’s what Jesus called every other human on the planet for those of you wanting the Cliffs Notes version) their basic human rights and dignity, and shouting down people who are different from me. But as Paul says (paraphrasing), I grew up and I put away childish things. I learned to, as my late friend Ben–the only agnostic I’ve ever met who acted more Christian than most Christians I have known–used to say, “take the cotton out of my ears and stick it in my mouth.” (Not that you can tell by the length of my blog posts!)

It was Ben and his wife Monika who taught me how to listen with care… which is an expressive act of love. You see, listening is not passive. It is an action, just as love is. Listening with care is love in action–it’s how you hear beyond just the words used to hear the truth. And the truth is sometimes more frightening than anything you’ve been taught to memorize and repeat because the truth takes you out of your comfort zone–it stretches you and makes you grow. It changes you. But the truth also sets you free. You see, God does not live in a neat and tidy little box only to be dusted off and taken out when we feel the need or desire to do so. When you put God in a box, He has a tendency to blow the top off and kick the sides down and do something that confounds the understanding. Because we human beings are created in God’s image, we have a bad habit of doing the same thing when you put us in a box.

A little less than a year ago, this cousin took me a little out of my comfort zone when she gave a TEDx talk on the complexities of gender which also addressed the nasty little habit we have of expecting people to fit in the boxes we have constructed for them. It took me out of my comfort zone by introducing me to uncomfortable truths–such as the fact that a practice which we in the Western world decry in other parts of the world happens daily here under the guise of “protecting the psychological well-being of children.” I also recognized my own habit of sorting people into boxes based on appearance–something I’m getting much better at, but still have some work to do on.

mileycyrus11Still in the “Needs Eyebleach” box.

You see, in the Western world, nearly anything is permissible so long as you put it in the context of being “for the children.” Hatred, bigotry, disunity, contentions… all permissible, so long as you are “protecting the children.” But it’s important to remember what Paul said in I Cor 10:23, all things may be permissible, but “…not all things are helpful…not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.”

More recently, my cousin spoke again. She touched on how Jesus handled situations with those who were different from Him–and for Christians, He is our example. Jesus’ judgement was reserved for hypocrites within the church of His day… not one time did Jesus ever judge or condemn any person who was not a Pharisee, Sadducee, priest, or otherwise involved in hypocrisy that made it harder for people of His day to seek and know God. He declined even to judge Pilate or any occupying Roman, simply speaking truth instead. In this recent talk, which is available on her blog, Shifting Parallax under the post “Anunnaki’s Story,” my cousin spoke again about the need to listen with care. She mentioned one of the worship leaders at her church talking about the fact that “part of ministry is radical intentional hospitality” and that such hospitality involves “being mindful of the needs of those who have differences.”

Paul says similar in I Cor 9:19-22:

For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

At about 16:30 in the video (and it is very important for everyone, particularly for Christians, to take the time to watch the entire 30 minutes of the video), Anunnaki begins to speak. His story is moving and it is powerful. It is a firm reminder that, much like God, human beings–who are made in God’s image–do not fit neatly into boxes… and trying to shove a human being into a box that you have created for them simply doesn’t work. As we have seen from news headlines over the past few years, it may even be fatal to them.

You see, Anunnaki is the guy that the world put in a box to “protect his psychological well-being.” He is the guy that some–many, in fact–within the Church would shove back into a box by any means necessary “for the sake of the children.”

But what are we protecting the children from, exactly? My parents were raised in a time of segregated schools. They were eighteen and sixteen, respectively, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and when the Birmingham bombing happened, they were twenty and eighteen, respectively, when Selma and Watts happened, and they were twenty-four and twenty-two, respectively when the Stonewall Riots happened. Yet, despite all of that, I was raised not to see color, but character. I was raised not to care about a person’s sexuality–for a long time, many weekends when I was a kid, my parents had a couple over for dinner and cards. They explained to us that the couple was gay and that they loved each other like Mom and Dad loved each other… it wasn’t a big deal in our house when someone was different. It was only a big deal if their character was suspect–if they treated others poorly, if they lied, cheated, stole or swindled.

So we are protecting the children from loving people unconditionally? Preventing them from loving people as they are? Protecting them from loving diversity when we were all created by God to be unique individuals? We are protecting children from loving as Jesus–and as God Himself–loves?

And to be clear, God is love. He cannot hate or be bigoted because that would not only violate His nature, it would make Him a liar. So is it not the reality that we are not “protecting the children” at all–we are protecting our own comfort levels, our own traditions? Jesus had some strong words about traditions and the Church’s desire to protect the traditions of men over the commandment of God:

Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

Matthew 15:6-9

“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”

He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.

Mark 7:6-9

As an interesting aside, it caught my eye that both times the Gospel writers repeat this, it runs from verses 6 through 9. In Biblical numerology, the number six is significant as being the number which denotes imperfection–it is often ascribed to man. The number nine, however, is significant for its association with judgment–specifically, God’s judgment on a matter.

It is well past time that the Church stopped worshiping the idol of a God made in man’s own image. Having a relationship with God as a follower of Christ means being remade by the Holy Spirit into God’s image. It means being like David–a man after God’s own heart, admitting when we are wrong and correcting that behavior. Only by choosing to love, by welcoming everyone with “radical intentional hospitality” and “being mindful of the needs of those who have differences” will all men know that we are disciples (“disciplined ones”) of Christ.

What would Jesus do? He would love. Everyone He came across. Completely. Without judgement. Without reservation. Without conditions. Without limits.  All four Gospel writers are clear on this point: people came to Jesus as they were and Jesus healed them all–and healing is an act of compassion which can only come from love. If we are to be like Jesus–Whom we claim to follow–then we love people as they are, without hesitation, without conditions, without judgment, without limits. Anything less shows that we are not who–or Whose–we say we are.

Love Changes Everything

(Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by Charles Hart & Don Black. From the musical Aspects of Love [1989] and the Albums Aspects of Love [Polydor Records, 1989] and Love Changes Everything: The Collection [Spectrum Audio, 2012]. This version: “This is Your Life Andrew Lloyd Webber” Season 26, Episode 1; BBC Productions [1994].)

As I have read and listened to many people over the past several weeks regarding issues in this country–abortion, gay marriage equality, transgender issues and equality, racism, the killing of police officers for simply being police officers–this song keeps playing itself over and over in my head, even as I pray for those affected most tragically by these issues. I don’t consider that to be a coincidence.

John tells us that God is love and that if we abide in love, then we abide in God and God in us–that He who loves God must also love his brother. What John is saying here is that our salvation and our love for our brother are not separate. They are one and the same–the true disciple, the true follower of Christ will demonstrate love for others in his actions:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.”

In simple modern English, what John is saying here is that if your relationship with your brother (and Jesus redefined the term “brother” to mean not just those in your home, church community, or neighborhood as it had meant in the Jewish tradition, but every single human being you come into contact with) is not right, then your relationship with God cannot be right. This is further stressed by Jesus’ own words in John 13:33-35:

“Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And in Matthew 5:21-24:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause* shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

*This phrase is not in the Koine (Greek) text. It was added later.

Why is love so important? Why does it change everything? Saul, a “Pharisee of Pharisees,” can best answer that question. He was a master of the Law, a teacher of the traditions of the Law and the traditions of men. He persecuted the early church to the point that he was present at the stoning of Stephen, holding the cloaks of those who killed one of the earliest of church martyrs, and it was on his way to persecute and eradicate this dangerous new sect that he had an encounter with the risen Christ that changed him utterly.

To explain this radical change in terms that modern Americans can understand, the change that occurred within Saul, the Pharisee, the day when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus is the equivalent of the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan holding a news conference to say he will no longer be known as Joe (May God add/increase), but will be called Asa (Healer) from this day forward, that he renounces his past words and deeds, he’s donating all he has to the black charities and organizations, and will be organizing and leading a Black Lives Matter march and rally in Ferguson, Missouri next week. After that, he plans on spending the rest of his life volunteering his time and earnings to help young black men and women improve their lives…which will be easy because he is going to be homeless in a black-dominated neighborhood and trust in the kindness and generosity of the people he spent his life persecuting and oppressing.

That’s what Saul did when he became Paul. That is what we were supposed to do when we answered the knock on the door of our hearts and followed Jesus.

That is what Zach Phelps-Roper, Megan Phelps-Roper, Grace Phelps-Roper, and Libby Phelps-Alvarez (and more than a dozen others from Westboro) have done and are in the process of doing:

But the Church says “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Yes, the Church does. Church tradition does. Jesus never once said that. In fact, Jesus said a lot about following the doctrines of men and attributing those traditions and doctrines to God, but I think my favorite passage on the topic has got to be Mark 7:6-9:

“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

In fact, in Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus explicitly says:

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

And in Matthew 5:43-47, Jesus is very clear, making the point in a couple different ways to drive it home:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?

And to address the other argument I keep hearing, yes, it is indeed true, Jesus does say “go and sin no more.” But let’s look a little more closely at that, shall we? John 8:2-12 has the tale:

“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’ This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’

She said, ‘No one, Lord.’

And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.'”

First, the woman was “caught in adultery…in the very act.” Well, let’s flip on over to the Law. Exodus 20:14 is pretty clear. “You shall not commit adultery.” Ok, yep, they are correct. That’s one of the Big Ten. But I wonder what Jesus was writing there in the dirt. Could it be another part of the Law? Perhaps Deuteronomy 22:22? “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.” Or maybe it was Leviticus 20:10? “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. Maybe it was the question “where is the man with whom she was caught?” Or, “is the man with whom she was caught among you here?”

Second, note that, when Jesus said, “he who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first,” each man there was convicted by his own conscience and left. Then Jesus asked if none of her accusers had condemned her (and note that under Mosaic Law, it required the testimony of two or three witnesses before a matter could be established and a person stoned to death. This means that either at least two or three of those men had to have committed adultery with her or that at least two or three of the men present had to have been aware that she was committing adultery with the man with whom she was caught–and were protecting the man while condemning her for the same crime. Since she does not deny the charge, we will presume it is not a wrongful accusation so one of the other two must be true because Mosaic Law is very clear about the standards for accusation and conviction, as well as about bearing false witness).

Third, she calls Him Lord. Why is this important? Because she has accepted His authority over her to make the next statement, “Go and sin no more.” In calling Him Lord, she has chosen to be accountable to Him and to accept His authority over her life. This is very important to understanding this passage because you might have noticed, in the passage of John 4 with the Samaritan woman, He simply told her she spoke truth when she said she had no husband–that she had had four husbands and that the one she was with now was not her husband. Her response? “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet…” But again, Jesus neither condemned her, nor told her to stop sinning because she did not seem to accept His authority over her at that time, merely questioned if He could be the Messiah. And that is a critical difference.

You see, Paul (formerly Saul) spends a lot of time instructing us. Like Jesus, he continues on the path of love, eschewing the violence, enemy hate, and vengeance that is seen throughout the Old Testament. In fact, Paul, as a Pharisee–a Jew of Jews, so to speak in his day, would not have had anything at all to do with Gentiles, but after his encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus road, is appointed the apostle and evangelist to the Gentiles, bringing them into the promise of Abraham–something that is only possible with a loving God and not a vengeful, enemy-hating Savior come to take wrath on all who have wronged His people (to be sure, wrath does come later, but it’s like a parent giving every possible opportunity for their children to avoid getting a spanking–it is not because it is something that God wants to do or will enjoy doing, but because it is a necessary last resort).

And what is Paul’s specific instruction to us regarding how we are to behave towards those who are not in the Church?

I Corinthians 5 tells us–we are to separate ourselves from sin within the church, not from sin outside the church, because in order to separate ourselves from sin outside the church, we’d need to leave the earth:

“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges.”

In other words, those who have separated themselves from Josh Duggar at this time (including, apparently, his sister Jessa)? They are following Paul’s instructions to the letter. However, when it comes to those outside the church? Paul is very clear here: those who are outside the church have not accepted the authority of God, of His Word, or of the Holy Spirit. Paul is telling us here that he–and we–have no right to enforce upon them the standards of conduct that we have accepted upon ourselves the moment we accepted Jesus into our hearts and lives. Their hearts and their conduct is God’s business–not ours. Their accountability in terms of God’s will is to Him and to Him alone. Our accountability, however, is not only to the Lord, but to one another.

In 1 Corinthians 9 & 10, Paul goes on to expand on this a bit in terms of our responsibilities in conduct towards others, both within and outside the church:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.”

“Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.”

Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”

He continues in 1 Corinthians 12, discussing the matter of how the body of Christ works (because this seems to be an issue today, with members of the Body a bit confused and attacking one another over the behavior of those outside the church):

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.

But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” …But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

And yet I show you a more excellent way.”

…And then Paul comes to the point in 1 Corinthians 13–the same point that John made repeatedly and the same point that Jesus stressed as the commandment:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

I was discussing this subject with a friend last night and we touched on the idea that it sometimes seems that so many of us forget where we came from. Folks who have had abortions now scream to women seeking them that they’re evil and going to hell. Folks who have been in the depths of despair now tell depressed individuals on the verge of suicide that God will never forgive them for such a selfish thing and they’ll spend eternity in hell. Folks who have struggled with the grips of addiction so powerful it consumes everything in their lives now condemn others going through that same struggle as worthless losers. Folks who have had to seek the help of programs like WIC and welfare now sit back and criticize and condemn those who seek the help granted by those same programs, even when those seeking that assistance only use that assistance for the short time that it is intended to be used.

We come to the Lord broken, hurting, spent, used and hopeless. He meets us right where we are, picks us up, puts us back together, heals the cracks, cleans us up, fills us up and gives us hope…and we act like the unfaithful steward who is forgiven a huge debt and goes out and demands payment of a debt that’s less than the cost of a cup of coffee from the guy down the street. We fail to put the Lord in remembrance of what He has done for us–which is not because He has a faulty memory, but because we do–and we demand that those who have not met or encountered the Lord be cleaned up and healed before they meet Him, forgetting that we were as broken as broken gets and He loved us anyway.

I remember going to church and there was a homeless lady, Darlene, who would come every service. She always wanted to sit in the front, but they wouldn’t let her because her clothes were dirty and she smelled awful. She’d try to clean up a bit, but there’s only so much you can do when you don’t have access to laundry and showers regularly. One lady I knew would pick her up every service and bring her and some would pray with her, but by and large, no one would sit near her and few would talk to her because she had some mental health issues going on and she didn’t look pretty or smell nice.

But Darlene loved the Lord and it made me smile to see her during worship because she was as pure and innocent as a child.

But, you know… eventually, Darlene stopped coming to church because of the way most people treated her when she did come.

You see, it isn’t that the “rights!” of the Body of Christ need to be respected because if you read what Paul has to say on the matter, we don’t have any. Even Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not demand anything and did not use their positions to enforce or inflict their will upon anyone else (Daniel in particular–yet another argument that I have heard this week. Listen, my brothers and sisters, y’all need to start actually reading your Bibles, and y’all need to pay attention when you do). They simply disobeyed a law that told them they could not pray to Yehovah and must instead pray to Darius and bow to an image of Nebuchadnezzar, respectively. Nor did Mordecai when he was promoted within Xerxes’ court, nor Esther as Queen: Esther petitioned for her own life and the lives of her people and Haman enraged Xerxes not only by trying to kill the Queen but by “falling” on her in such a way that it appeared to be just a little bit more than begging for his life to Xerxes. Just a thought, but after trying to kill the Queen–even unknowingly, it’s probably unwise to further piss off the King by touching her in any way, shape or form. So also Jesus never demanded His “rights” nor did Paul except for the purpose of evangelizing within the highest echelons of the Roman Empire (as a Roman citizen, Paul had far more rights than most yet only claimed them one time).

It is we–Christians–that need to change. We need to be changed–to allow Love to change us. We need to remember “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

We need to follow the commandment to love and we need to remember that it is not the world that needs to change; it is we who need to change the world. Because love changes everything.

Why do we give other people so much control over us–over our thoughts, our feelings, our actions?

I don’t mean people to whom we are rightly accountable; I mean people to whom we owe no other debt than the commandment to love them. And love, contrary to what the world will tell you, does not mean always being “nice.” Love is kind (Galatians 5:22), but love is not always nice.

In order to understand the difference, we must first understand the definition of the words “kind” and “nice.” According to Dictionary.com, the word “kind” means the following:

1. of a good or benevolent nature or disposition, as a person:
2. having, showing, or proceeding from benevolence: (for example, kind words)
3. indulgent, considerate, or helpful: (often followed by to): (for example, to be kind to animals)

According to the same source, the word “nice” has the following definitions:

1. pleasing; agreeable; delightful: (a nice visit)
2. amiably pleasant: (They are always nice to strangers)
3. characterized by, showing, or requiring great accuracy, precision, skill, tact, care, or delicacy: (nice workmanship; a nice shot; a nice handling of a crisis)
4. refined in manners, language, etc.: (Nice people wouldn’t do such things.)
5. virtuous; respectable; decorous: (a nice girl.)
6. suitable or proper: (That was not a nice remark.)

One can be both kind and nice, but one does not have to be nice in order to be kind. Is it kind to be nice to a drug addict and give him ten dollars for a hit? Is it kind to be nice to a person who refuses to work and pay their bills month after month when they’ve refused numerous offers of gainful employment that will support them to a high standard of living? Is it kind to be nice to someone–to be pleasing and agreeable to them–when their behavior is causing severe harm to others? What if their behavior is causing severe harm to children?

Sometimes, the kindest action and the nicest action are not the same action at all. Was Jesus being nice or kind when He flipped the moneylenders tables and said that His Father’s house had been turned into a den of thieves? Was He being nice or kind when he told the crowd wishing to stone the woman caught in adultery :”let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone” and when He told the accused woman herself “Neither do I condemn you… go and sin no more”? Would those actions and words be considered pleasing, agreeable, and delightful to hear? Would you consider them “amiably pleasant”? Was there anything tactful or delicate about them? Nope. Those were pretty direct and blunt actions and words–a sword intended to cut right to the heart of the matter, and swords can be very brutal weapons.

Words are powerful. They create life and death. Scripture says that words created all life. It says that if we bless someone, they are blessed and if we curse someone, they are cursed. Throughout Scripture, there are references to the power of words. It is such an important topic that James, in his epistle, takes a couple of paragraphs to address the issue:

Dear brothers, don’t be too eager to tell others their faults, for we all make many mistakes; and when we teachers of religion, who should know better, do wrong, our punishment will be greater than it would be for others.
If anyone can control his tongue, it proves that he has perfect control over himself in every other way. We can make a large horse turn around and go wherever we want by means of a small bit in his mouth. And a tiny rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot wants it to go, even though the winds are strong.
So also the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A great forest can be set on fire by one tiny spark. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness, and poisons every part of the body. And the tongue is set on fire by hell itself and can turn our whole lives into a blazing flame of destruction and disaster.
Men have trained, or can train, every kind of animal or bird that lives and every kind of reptile and fish, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is always ready to pour out its deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our heavenly Father, and sometimes it breaks out into curses against men who are made like God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Dear brothers, surely this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out first with fresh water and then with bitter water? Can you pick olives from a fig tree, or figs from a grape vine? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty pool.
If you are wise, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about them, then you will be truly wise! And by all means don’t brag about being wise and good if you are bitter and jealous and selfish; that is the worst sort of lie. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, inspired by the devil. For wherever there is jealousy or selfish ambition, there will be disorder and every other kind of evil.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. Then it is peace-loving and courteous. It allows discussion and is willing to yield to others; it is full of mercy and good deeds. It is wholehearted and straightforward and sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.

I chose the Living Bible translation of that passage rather than my preferred New King James translation because of the strong language it uses to make the point: “…the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A great forest can be set on fire by one tiny spark. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It…poisons every part of the body. And the tongue…can turn our whole lives into a blazing flame of destruction and disaster.

Words are powerful. They can be damaging. They can destroy others, and they can destroy our own lives.

I asked a question at the beginning of this post. I wanted to know why we allow others to control us. Why do we give the cruel words of others so much weight, particularly when those folks have no right to that power or influence in our lives? Why do we let those sparks become a fire instead of stamping them out before the sparks can even become a flame? Why do we give the words of others so much power to consume and control us when we know what God’s Word says about us? Why would we take a human’s–every bit as flawed as we are–word over God’s when it comes to influencing our lives, our thoughts, our hearts?

Sometimes I wonder, too, when God’s children bring “a blazing flame of destruction and disaster” on their lives, does He feel badly that He has to allow them to suffer the consequences of their own weakness, even if they don’t or won’t call upon Him or believe in Him? Or is it easier for Him to understand that sometimes, justice and compassion are actually the same thing–something we often understand with our minds, but that our hearts have a bit more of a struggle with.

I’ve seen and heard a lot of cruel, hateful things this week. I’ve seen where a boy was told that he should go and kill himself by another boy–so he did. I’ve seen where someone was manipulated and abused for so long that they finally snapped and nearly physically assaulted their abuser, but stopped just before doing so–and within hours, the abuser began to see things in their own life crumble around them. And though the cruel people in those scenarios are seeing consequences for their actions–albeit on different levels–I’m torn and struggling. Not because I feel that they should not have consequences for their actions–they absolutely should! But because I feel sorry for them because I know what it feels like when you feel like your life is falling apart, and you’re so self-deceived that you don’t know why. And while one half of me says “finally! Justice!” the other half says “I can’t watch this. Be merciful!”

And I’m not actually even sure which response is right–maybe one, the other…but something tells me both are, in the right time. Thankfully, it’s not up to me to decide. I don’t think I could.