The shades of grey are difficult to navigate, no doubt, but it isn’t all black and white. Life isn’t that simple.
I am finding some solace today in the increasingly polarized world in which we live. I can always find some balm in humor! Over the last half decade or more, I have stepped outside the political fray psychologically, taking a seat in the audience and observing the circus. I vacillate from horror to sadness, but there is always humor to which I can turn for solace.
Today, someone posted on Facebook an article with the following clickbait headline: No one blamed Obama during the 2009 swine flu pandemic that killed over 12k! Killer headline, right? It didn’t take another poster to find this gem: Trump in 2014 said Obama was ‘a psycho’ not to immediately cancel flights into the US amid Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
I have not checked the facts, by the way. Does it matter anymore? Doubt everything. That’s just easier!
I have been meaning to “collect” a bunch of articles and memes in pairs that are the exact opposites of each other. For instance, one article might say, “Trump beats up little girls!” While, another article might say, “Hillary Clinton approves of beating up little girls!”
When I start looking for these supremely ironic pairings, I begin noticing them often, but I haven’t found the energy to do the collecting. Democrat says, “Scientists have proven the world is black”; Republican says, “Scientists have been debunked: the world is white.” Each posting is made with the certainty of inalienable truth.
Most people respond with hearty signals of knowing acknowledgment, replying according to the identities and protocols of their particular form of group think. Though one or two brave souls might dare to post rebuttal, this modern ritualistic dance on social media is practiced to perpetuate and strengthen what we already think, gaining the knowing approval of the people “who matter” in a series of empty triumphs over the time and energy it takes to be candid and introspective about truth.
The truth is that there is plenty of rebuttal to be found if one is simply looking for it. For every black, there is a white. It’s easy, of course, to get lost in the myriad shades of grey. And, perhaps, that’s the real problem of modern (postmodern) people. We fear getting lost and sucked down in the shades of grey. If we can “rise” above that gravitational force of contrary facts, virtually skimming the surface lest we get sucked under the waves, we can maintain our preferred position.
Might I dare suggest another course? The shades of grey are difficult to navigate, no doubt, but it isn’t all black and white. Life isn’t that simple.
That isn’t to say that truth doesn’t exist in a postmodern world. Truth is still truth. It just isn’t as simplistic as we prefer it to be.
“Telling people about Jesus is easier than living like him, but the latter will lead us to the cross. When we befriend those outside of the Church walls, we have to actually live out this whole Christian thing, not just talk about it.”
I have often thought that Christians seem to become abrasive in “sharing the Gospel” out of motivation not to be ashamed of the Gospel. We don’t want God to be ashamed of us by being ashamed to share the Gospel, but that motivation, alone, isn’t what sharing the Gospel is all about.
We don’t earn our way to heaven by sharing the Gospel. Salvation is a gift. We can’t earn salvation by sharing the Gospel.
Rather, sharing the Gospel should be the natural extension of who we are, born again as children of God, flowing out of the new life that is budding and growing within us. Sharing the Gospel should be an extension of our lives as we walk with God – not simply something we say.
God is love. Therefore, as children of God, having the lifeblood of God coursing through us, sharing the Gospel should be an expression of that love that He has for us and others.
Too often, it seems, that the stands we take for God evidence something other than love. It comes across as fighting to maintain political and cultural power and position. Or it seems like notching our belts in the category of “I am not ashamed”. Or, like the Pharisees that Jesus always confronted, it resembles self-righteousness.
To be sure, none of us, myself included, are immune from these vestiges of the flesh that live on and die hard within us. So, we need to be uncompromising and unrelenting – like Israelites were instructed as they entered the promised land to drive out the inhabitants – to expose and root out the sin that still lives within us.
Our example, of course, is Jesus, who demonstrated in his life the very nature of God in human form. Jesus got the greatest push back from religious people, but he was a “friend of sinners”, as the great hymn acknowledges. That phrase, friend of sinners, comes from an accusation leveled at Jesus by the religious leaders.
I wonder what influence Christians might have if we were more often called friends of sinners, rather than not ashamed of the Gospel?
Truth in love pulls people up on to safe ground, but truth without love pushes people off the ledge.
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10 ESV
This little tidbit from Paul’s letter to the Romans packs so much into it. God gave Moses 10 commandments, and law followed after law until there were over 600 different laws for the people to follow. Jesus summarized everything in two statements: love God and love your neighbor.
Paul echoes those words of Jesus in Romans when he says” love is the fulfilling of the law” and equating love with doing no wrong to a neighbor. (Mark 12:30-31)
As I read Romans 13:10 this morning, I think about our Christian tendency to preach to the world about sin, a world that does not know God and has not accepted Him. I have heard Christians use the excuse that they are standing up for truth because Jesus says, “Whoever denies me before men, I will deny before My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33) Paul told the Ephesians to “speak the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15) Only Paul was writing to the believers in Ephesus, and he was talking about quipping the believers in the church in ministry and building up the body of Christ.
This is significant because, when we think of truth, judgment is not standing far off. Paul is talking to the church in his letters and instructing believers. Paul says, “What business of mine is it to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) (The context is a man in the church who was acting immorally.)
The audience of Paul’s statement about speaking the truth in love seems significant this morning as I am thinking about all the times I have seen Christians blast their neighbors with “truth” on social media with not a lot of love. Social media isn’t like a sniper rifle; it’s like a shotgun. Anyone in front of the blast feels the sting – believers and non-believers alike.
Of course, what of the unbelievers who potentially face judgment for denying God? Do we have a heart for them? Do we care enough to get to know them and establish a relationship with them? When we speak the truth to them, are we speaking in love?
It seems to me that we often emphasize truth over love, and the result is that we tend to speak only the truth. We might as well not say anything at all. I’m afraid we often do more damage than good when we do that.
Asking who is your enemy may seem like a strange way to begin a blog article about loving your neighbor, but bear with me. My question is inspired by a different, but related, question. My question is inspired by the question asked by an expert in the law many years ago: “Who is my neighbor?”
This question followed a theological dialogue between the expert in the law and Jesus in which the expert in the law sought to test Jesus. (See Luke 10:25-29) As Jesus often did, though, the test put to Jesus turned into a challenge to the so-called expert.
The expert in the law asked Jesus the loaded question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered with his own question, “What is written in the law?… How do you read it?” Not to be shown up, the expert in the law answered:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18)
The expert in the law was probably looking for some debate, but Jesus wasn’t interested in debate. Instead, he simply concluded, “You have answered correctly…. Do this and you will live.”
The expert in the law had the tables turned on him. He wanted to test Jesus, but Jesus put the test to him, and now he was in defensive mode. He might said, “Wait a minute!” And then the question followed that leads me to my question, “Who is my neighbor?” If we have to love our neighbors, and if loving our neighbors is the measure for inheriting eternal life, we better know who are neighbors are!
But there is a back story here that leads from the one question to the other question. Apparently, the First Century Palestine Jews had interpreted Leviticus 19:18 to mean, “Love your neighbor; hate your enemy.”
How do we know that? It isn’t found anywhere in Scripture, but Jesus quoted the statement in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy….’” Ah, and now you know where I am going, because Jesus followed with this:
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
Lest there be any doubt who my neighbor, Jesus stretched it so far that love must reach all the way from my friends to my enemies and everyone in between!
And that leads me to the question, “Whos is my enemy that I must love?”
Each one of us bears the imprint of the Almighty God, and out of that one principal flows all the Law and the Prophets summarized in two commandments.
When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment,” he said “the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul”. Ravi Zacharias notes that Jesus didn’t have to go any further. He had been asked what was the greatest commandment, and he answered the question, but he didn’t stop there. He offered a second greatest commandment, which is “to love your neighbor as yourself”. (Matthew 22:36-39)
Why did Jesus go further?
The significance of these two commandments that are the greatest of all, Ravi Zacharias says, is “that you and I are made in imago dei – the image of God. Moreover, this revolutionary idea, that we are created in the image of God, is unique to the Judeo-Christian worldview.
The point is further illustrated elsewhere in the same Chapter of Matthew in a confrontation between pupils of the Pharisees, who were sent to challenge Jesus by asking him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. They were trying to trap him with a question for which there was no good, politically correct, answer, but Jesus was not deterred by their ill will.
Rather, Jesus requested a coin. Someone produced a denarius (a Roman coin) for him. Ravi Zacharias describes the interchange that ensued this way.
“He held the coin out to [the man who gave it to him], and he said, ‘Whose image is on this?’ The man said, ‘Caesar.’ Jesus said, ‘Give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and give to God that which belongs to God.’ The man should have had a follow up question, and the follow up question should have been, ‘What belongs to God?’ and Jesus would have said, ‘Whose image is on you?’”
Jesus told us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we are Caesar in a democracy in which we all participate through the right of freedom of speech.
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law is transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point he has become guilty of all of it…. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:8-10, 12-13)
The immigration issues in the United States are much on everyone’s mind, if for no other reason than Donald Trump and the media are making a big to do about it. Most thinking and empathetic people, however, have watched with some angst as the treatment of families and children crossing the border has brought a moral crisis to our daily awareness.
What should we do with these illegal immigrants and asylum seekers? How should we be treating them and handling the situation? As the videos, photos, stories and reports stream in day after day, we can’t help but notice what is going on and react to it.
How does a Christian respond to the immigration issues that face our country?