How to Love Others More

Have you ever had trouble loving people? Is there a co-worker who just grinds your gears? Or an in-law (or blood relative) that knows how to irritate you beyond comprehension?

We all have been there. I know I have. I remember someone I used to work for, and this individual would purposely do some really hurtful actions. I never murdered this individual, but I can sadly say I had so not-so-fond thoughts.

Most people know some of the Ten Commandments, one of which is, ‘You shall not kill.’ (Exodus 20:13, NAB) I’m working on a sermon that addresses this verse. Initially, I was intrigued. I have spent more than half of my life in church and have heard this command numerous times. The excitement of a new study excited me.

So, I set to work. Initially I began with a note pad and pen (which is my custom). However, about five minutes into my research I realized this job required something bigger. So I borrowed a white board from another room and set to work. In about ten minutes I had recorded most of the important material related to my study.18588963_10208822612382542_2713873779717572604_o

It was during this time of research that I found something incredible, and one that, I hope, will enable me to be more faithful in my love of others.

The word used for killing in Exodus 20:13 is רצח. I began looking for other usages of this, and once completed I summarized it with a basic definition of “to deprive of life.” Now, this is a very basic definition, I know. For in some instances, depriving something of life may save others. Or, it could provide the necessary sustenance for continued life. But for my study, I began to look at life in Scripture. Of course, life began in Genesis 1:20-28 with the creation of animal life and ultimately crowned with humanity. (You can check out my thoughts on the creation of האדם in a previous post.) Life, or נפש, is the key to our appreciation and ultimate love for humanity (and animal life too!).

Humans, however, are different. We were created בעלם אלוהים. And so, because humanity is the image of God, our lives are intrinsically valuable. That is, we matter because God matters. Or, God’s image in us makes humanity intrinsically worthy.

Now, it is possible to simply gloss over that. Chances are, you already did. But in the off chance that you are reading this contemplatively, humanity is intrinsically valuable.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political party that makes humanity worthy. It is the fact that they are human.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political paevelyn-paris-33498.jpgrty that makes a human being excellent. It is the fact that they are a human being.

It is not the color of one’s skin, the level of intelligence, or the physical or mental capacity that makes a human being invaluable. It is the fact that they are a human being.

Because “When God created human beings, he made them in the likeness of God; he created them male and female.” (Genesis 5:1b-2a, NAB) That is what makes a human being worthy.lechon-kirb-25696

Now, how does this help us love others more? When we stop looking at people in categories, we start to what is really there: people. She is not a Muslim, she is a human being created in the image of God. He is not queer, he is a human being created in the image of God.

When you and I begin to see God in others, our ability to love them is transformed. That is why Paul could write, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NAB) There is humanity, gloriously and wonderfully bearing God’s image.

Do my words convey my belief that people are created in the image of God? Unfortunately, not always. But I am reminded of the weight of such ill-used words in Matthew 5:21-26. The Rabbis of Jesus’ day had broken the law down to manageable loads. In fact, the commandment regarding killing was boiled down to simple murder. As long as you don’t murder anyone, you’re good! (If these were the true standards, we would be much better off!) But Jesus wouldn’t let that slide. God’s standards are infinitely higher than we could ever imagine. Murder, as expressed in Exodus 20:13, does not involve just the literal taking of life. It goes beyond that to our words, the very basis of our communication to others. Whether it is Raqa or fool, if it does not proceed from the view of love and value, we are in trouble. (By the way, this does not absolve us for confronting errors, for in the next few chapters Jesus does just that, as well as recommending it in Matthew 7:1-5.)

So, are you having trouble loving others? Just see them the way God sees them: image bearers. I am amazed at what I can overlook when I see someone as a person, uniquely, incredibly, and fantastically made בעלם אלוה’ם.

P.S. I do not mean to convey that our own sins and shortcomings do not need to be addressed. When Jesus was speaking with the woman caught in adultery, his words were, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11, ESV) While Jesus saw her humanity, he did not simply condone her sin. Likewise, it would be a mistake in the desire to love others that we would ignore sin in our own lives.

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Gospel Centrality: A Vital Kingdom Mindset

In Ray Anderson’s book, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches, he writes,

In so many places right polity takes precedence over the gospel. Violation of polity may be our modern form of heresy.
[Ray S. Anderson, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches (Downers Grove, IVP Books: 2006), 78.]

In my off day reading, I enjoy reading different theological works, biographies, practical ministry helps, and a variety of other material. But I am always drawn to theology, and in particular, theology in practice.

When I came across this thought I was struck at both its truth and the inherent danger of which us are at risk. First, the statement is true. I personally have experienced it in churches. The way a church functions, the way things have always been done, seem to be an unbreachable barrier to growth and change. We are creatures of habit, to be sure. But we must not allow the comforts of our habits to prevent us from changing and growing. And certainly we should not change simply for change’s sake. Our changes must be one of calculated research, drawing from Scripture and tradition to make positive changes in the lives of our churches.

Secondly, we must always be careful to watch our own lives for this danger. In working with other churches and denominations (which is Scripturally good and commanded) we run the risk of avoiding certain people, groups, or even whole denominations simply for the fact that they do church a little differently than us.

In our efforts to see the Kingdom of God continue to grow in our lives and communities, let us not let polity (or whatever else may come in the way) take precedence over the gospel.

Helpful Tips from the Banner of Truth

I am a subscriber to the Banner of Truth magazine. It is a great blessing, as many of the articles come from sermons preached. They challenge my thinking, warm my heart, and draw my attention and focus to God.

While catching up on my reading of them, I thoroughly enjoyed the July 2016 copy, issue 634. The article is titled, “Evangelising [sic] Muslims: Five Points of Entry” by Peter Barnes.[1] I do not want to review the article; rather, I want to share some of the insights that I gained. I also would like to draw attention to some of the ideas that I have been pondering but have yet to put to paper.

The introduction to the article was perhaps the best portion. Barnes writes, “In seeking to make the gospel known to Muslims, we will struggle if we simply follow the guidelines in the book of Acts.”[2] In my opinion, some Christians overemphasize the Scriptures. Now, before you write me off as a heretic please read my explanation. It is possible to follow the Scripture to such an extreme that it violates proper interpretation. For example, the Bible teaches that witches should be executed (Exodus 22.18). Some people attempt to place this command to the nation of Israel on followers of God today. Of course there is a lengthy discussion that should take place on why believers do not follow this practice, but many pick and choose what to follow from the Tanakh. Some people follow marriage advice from the Torah (such as the teaching on divorce and remarriage- see Exodus 24.1-4), or dressing advice (specifically the Scripture that commands men not to dress like women and women not to dress like men- see Deuteronomy 22.5), but they fail to follow the command to execute witches. On the same line, some people desire to strictly follow the teachings of the New Testament on the church. An example of this can be found in the first chapter of C. Douglas Weaver’s book In Search of the New Testament Church: The Baptist Story.[3]

In accordance with this desire to be Bible-based and Scripture-laced, people want to follow the ‘New Testament guide’. While I definitely believe that Scripture is the foundation of faith and is to be sought and practiced, I also see the truth that it is a book with historical grounding in a specific time and culture. This has profound implications on what we practice and how we practice. Zuck clarifies this thought when he writes, “In approaching the Bible it is a self-evident truth that the Bible is a book. Like other books it is written in languages spoken by people for the purpose of communicating ideas from the writers to the readers.”[4] This seems to have been forgotten by many individuals in the church today.

To bring this circle to a close, let us return to Barnes’ statement in his opening paragraph. “In seeking to make the gospel known to Muslims, we will struggle if we simply follow the guidelines in the book of Acts.”[5] It is helpful to remember that the main method of spreading the Gospel initially (see Acts 2-9) was primarily to and through Jewish individuals. Thus the preaching focused on the Messiah and the teaching of his suffering and death.[6] If we were to strictly follow the practice of the early believers found in Acts, our evangelistic efforts, specifically to the Muslim people, will be borderline impossible. My point is not to delve into the methods of evangelism to the people of Islam. Other writers have done an excellent job at this.[7] My point has more to deal with the need for creative and a freedom for believers to engage in different methods of evangelism. Barnes notes Paul’s various methods as referenced in 1 Corinthians 9.19-23.[8] We need to rely on God’s Word for everything. But we also need to realize that there is freedom within that.

Another part of the article that really impressed me was Barnes’ call for peace in discussions. He writes, “We must be kindly interest in them. We ought not begin with a frontal assault on the character of Muhammad or the integrity of the Qur’an.”[9] Since 11 September 2001 the treatment of Muslims has been poor at best and borderline hate crime at worst. And while Barnes’ article focuses on interactions with the Muslim community, the application can be made broader. People of different faiths, genders, sexual orientations, etc., are all treated with contempt and degradation. Paul encourages us to address people “in love”.[10] We commanded to love one another.[11]

Believers should be incredibly careful in their discourse, both personally and digitally. Disagreeing on an issue is not the problem, it is our demeanor. It is no wonder that people do not have a positive view of Christianity when its adherents are so demeaning, arrogant, and rude. Here are some helpful suggestions that I have utilized and have found to be helpful.

  • Never be rude- while this may seem simple, it is profound. I have seen posts referring to those who are voting for Hilary Clinton suggesting that they raise their hands and slap themselves because they are idiots. How in the world is this helpful? Does one actually think that a supporter of Hilary Clinton will see that and suddenly change his or her views? That is almost as ludicrous as posting such a mean-spirited image.
  • Ask questions- generally speaking, questions are much more helpful in interactive dialogue than statements. Of course, it is possible to be rude when asking questions. But assuming we are starting from that point, questions help further mutual understanding. It implies incomplete understanding, and it takes humility to acknowledge that. It also encourages questions from the opposite party, and thus differences and misunderstandings are greatly reduced.
  • Treat that person like you would Jesus- I do not mean bow down and worship them. I do mean that each person you interact with, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, race, age, height, weight, favorite band, and so on, is created in the image of God. That means that every human being you interact with in person or digitally is an image bearer of God Almighty. Treat them that way. Oh, and by the way, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. That is a hefty pill to swallow.
  • Study other people, faiths, etc.- Ignorance means “a lack of knowledge, understanding, or education.”[12] Ignorance is forgivable, but only for a time. If you are attempting to dialogue with another individual, learn as much as you can from that individual’s perspective. If you want to learn more about the Democratic Party, do not go to Fox News. Look into the original sources. Educating yourself on issues, beliefs, and practices will help you understand where the individual is coming from and will help to alleviate misunderstandings.

[1] Peter Barnes. “Evangelising Muslims: Five Points of Entry.” The Banner of Truth, Volume 7, Issue 634, 2016, 7-15.

[2] Barnes, 7.

[3] https://books.google.com/books?id=shbpTq7wqAIC&pg=PA9&dq=new+testament+churches&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjssOya0P3PAhVCGz4KHSugAY8Q6AEIRzAI#v=onepage&q=new%20testament%20churches&f=false. Accessed 28/10/2016.

[4] Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs, Cook Communications: 1991), 59.

[5] Barnes, 7.

[6] Simply peruse through the chapters referenced above and it will become painfully obvious what materials the early evangelists used to spread the good news.

[7] See Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross (Grand Rapids, Baker: 2002) and Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press: 2012).

[8] I preached a message on this titled “Pauline Advice on Blessing Your Block”. You can access that here under that title: http://tnova.org/media.php?pageID=22. Accessed 28/10/2016.

[9] Barnes, 8.

[10] Ephesians 4.15, NIV

[11] 1 John 4.7-21

[12] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ignorance. Accessed 28/10/2016.

Discernment: A Vital Gift

A tree is one of the most beautiful aspects of creation. There is one stem, one trunk, and then there are so many branches and leaves. Each leaf is unique, a incredible work of art. The tree can teach us much. The lesson I want to learn today, however, is that of unity.

Donald Bloesch, a scholar and theologian, writes, “….Christians sorely need the gift of discernment to make the proper evaluations.” [Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works and Gifts, 145.] He is dealing with different variations within Christendom that view the Spirit in diverse ways. 
His comment is so vital for today. There are so many variations, so many denominations, so many view points. Which one is correct? Which one is wrong? The spirit of discernment, mentioned in 1 Corinthins 12.10, needs to be exercised today. We need to discern, to judge in order to determine which view is correct and which view is not.

Another point Bloesch makes is to differentiate between heterodoxy and heresy. He defines the two, “Heterodoxy signifies the elevation of what is peripheral over what is essential in the faith, while heresy leads to a denial of what is essential.” [Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works and Gifts, 145.] It is imperative that, in Christendom, we learn to do this. Is it difficult? Yes. Will it be messy? Of course. But if we are to follow Christ, then we are to seek unity. Harmony, oneness, and “a complex or systematic whole” are words and phrases that describe what we should be seeking.

Too often we make peripheral issues the main focus and lay aside essentials.

I end with these words from the Messiah, and pray that believers may be one, אחד, a God-glorifying harmony.

John 17.20-23

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.