For She Loved Much


The story begins with a prominent community leader inviting Jesus to a party at his house.  (Luke 7:36) Jesus went, of course, because that’s what Jesus did. He didn’t refuse anyone who gave him an invitation.

Jesus was most often found on the streets, in parks or local cafes engaging in small groups with impromptu crowds, but he was equally comfortable in larger, more formal crowds at churches, colleges and public meeting halls with politicians, priests, academicians. Jesus wouldn’t refuse any request to meet and be with people wherever he went. So Jesus went to the party.

Jesus had risen quickly to popularity. No one really knew that much about him, where he came from or what his credentials were, but anyone who was anyone knew about him by now. Many people wanted to meet him. He would be a draw to Simon’s party.

Of course, people alternately loved him or hated him. Few people were neutral about Jesus. Some people hung on every word he spoke, while others questioned everything, wondering what his intentions were, skeptical of everything he said or did.

We don’t know much about the particular party to which Jesus was invited or the host of the party, other than this name, Simon, and the fact that he was a prominent man in the community. One of the few things we really know about the party is the scandal that took place there.

Simon was a well-known leader in his community. His home was open to friends and neighbors. He was generous with his prominence, wealth and lifestyle. He loved to entertain. Inviting Jesus would be a hip thing to do, given the grass roots popularity  of Jesus.

Inviting Jesus might would be viewed as scandalous by some of Simon’s peers, but he considered himself to be different than them. He fancied himself more open-minded than that. He wasn’t afraid of a little controversy.

But Simon wasn’t at all ready for what would happen next. While his home was an open invitation to friends, colleagues and neighbors, no one who was not of a particular type would dare, surely, to enter those halls dedicated to showing off the influence, prominence and wealth to which Simon had attained. People who had not attained, or at least aspired to attain, a certain stature certainly wouldn’t think of it…. or would they?

Continue reading “For She Loved Much”

Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 3

The world isn’t fair, but the world is designed nevertheless to accomplish the purpose of God.


Job was a “righteous man” (as far as people go), but he wasn’t very sympathetic toward other people going through tough times. We realize this only when his friends mirror the advice to him that he gave to others. (See Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 1) It’s easy to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to. It’s easy to be “good” and religious when things are going well. When the tables turn, however, our attitudes and perspectives change. (See Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 2)

The Book of Job is an example that religious people, and good people, generally, sometimes have a hard time sympathizing with people going through tough times. We tend to think that they deserve what they get for making bad decisions, doing bad things or just being unwise.

The truth is, though, that bad things happen to “good” people; and sometimes, “bad” people don’t get what they deserve. Life isn’t fair, as I say often to my children.

Job thought of himself as righteous, and he was righteous – at least more righteous than most. He was proud of his goodness and attributed the good fortune he enjoyed to his moral character and wise living.

Job and his friends looked down on others who suffered hardship, believing that the hardship they suffered was the just fruits of their bad decisions, bad character and lack of wisdom and faithfulness toward God.

Only when the tables turned did Job wake up to the fact that life isn’t fair. He may have been a better man that most or all of the people he knew, but that didn’t prevent calamity from overtaking him. The hollow advice he had given others (live right and all will be well) rang false when the shoe was on the other foot.

Of course, goodness and badness are relative in human terms. We often only think of goodness and badness in human terms, and we fail to appreciate that God’s standard of goodness is on a completely different level than ours.

Jesus made that clear in stating that “only God is good” (Mark 10:38), words that Paul echoed when he said no one is righteous, not a single person. (Romans 3:20)

Again, we have to look to Jesus to understand God’s standard of goodness (perfection). He explained the standard in the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus demonstrated that standard in his own life.

Jesus went well beyond the Ten Commandments by directing people to look inward. We don’t satisfy God’s ultimate standard by refraining from murdering people or committing adultery, for instance. That’s only scratching the surface. Perfection requires that we refrain from harboring anger in our hearts towards others, refrain from casting insults and thinking them fools. (Matt. 5:21-26) Perfection means not even looking at another person with lust in our hearts. (Matt. 5:27-28)

Jesus went much, much further still. Perfection isn’t just what we should refrain from doing; perfection is demonstrated in affirmatively loving people. And, it’s not enough merely to love family friends and people good to us.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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 do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48)

Perfection requires love, the kind of love God demonstrated in Jesus. In Jesus, God emptied Himself of His power, privilege and position to become one of us, and He submitted Himself to the point of laying down His life for our benefit. (Phil. 2:6-8) When Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for others (John 15:13), Jesus backed those words by doing exactly that.

Job and his friends had no sympathy for people going through hard times because they thought more highly of themselves than they should have. They thought they were better than they were, and they thought heir goodness (or lack thereof) should result in reward in this life. But it doesn’t. That is the harsh reality.

When the tables were turned on Job, he came to realize that it didn’t matter that he was “better” than others. He became aware that bad things happen to “good” people, and sometimes “bad” people reap good things they don’t appear to deserve. Job and his friends felt comfortable in a world in which they thought they could earn good things with good behavior, and Job is undone when he realizes the world God made doesn’t work like that.

Continue reading “Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 3”

The Observation of an Atheist Historian: What Makes Christianity Stand Out Among World Religions


The radical quality of the love of Jesus stands out over and above all other examples. I have written on this before (the Christian expression of the Golden Rule compared to other religions). Most other world religions express some concept of the Golden Rule, but not in the way that Jesus did.

Other world religions state the Golden Rule in a limited way, such as not doing things to others that you would not want them to do to you. It’s the idea of refraining from doing evil. Under that concept of the Golden Rule, we simply need to avoid doing evil to our neighbors. There is no compulsion to do good to them. Ignoring your neighbor would be perfectly acceptable on the this principal.

Most major world religions do not express Golden Rule positively, as Jesus did: do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Doing unto others is an affirmative duty. Simply refraining from doing them evil is not the concept of the Golden Rule expressed by Jesus.

Jesus made this clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable begins with a man who was robbed and left injured on the road. A priest and Levite (the priestly cast of Judaism) walked by the man on the other side of the road, ignoring him, while a Samaritan (an outcast to Jews) crossed the road to tend to the injured man. The good Samaritan was the example of the person who demonstrated love for a “neighbor” because he didn’t just ignore the injured man lying in the road.  The idea of the Golden Rule that Jesus expressed includes an affirmative duty to do  good.

To be fair, some religions come close to an affirmative expression of the Golden Rule, which I affirm in the previous blog piece, but there is one additional expression of the Golden Rule that stands alone: that is the concept of loving even our enemies and doing good to those who intend evil toward us and do us harm.

I think of these things as I pause from listening to Douglas Murray in a discussion with Esther Riley on the Unbelievable? podcast with Justin Brierley, the host. (See Douglas Murray and Esther O’Reilly – Christian Atheism and the search for identity. The video is embedded below.)

Douglas Murray, an atheist and openly gay man, makes the observation that most Christian tenets can be found in other cultures, save one: that is the principal that of loving and forgiving even our enemies. Loving and forgiving our enemies is the ultimate statement of the Golden Rule. Even when we have enemies who intend to do us harm, and even when they actually do us harm, Jesus says, “Forgive them.” The conversation got into some recent examples of that expression of love and forgiveness that I will explore.

Continue reading “The Observation of an Atheist Historian: What Makes Christianity Stand Out Among World Religions”

Christians On Social Media


Peter said, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense [apologia; apologetics] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

This is the tenor and main point of the article, CHRISTIANS ARGUING WITH CHRISTIANS ON SOCIAL MEDIA: A REAL INTEREST IN THE SALVATION OF THE LOST?….

I encourage you to read it. I put it here that people would read it, and that I would be reminded of it and read it again myself.

It’s far too easy to say things on social media that we wouldn’t think of saying face to face with someone in conversation. If we are not responding to people with gentleness and respect, as Peter urges us, we are not responding in love. We might as well not respond at all.

I think that stopping to consider whether we would say something face to face that we are about to say on social media is a good litmus test. We live in a reactionary world, and social media exasperates the problem by giving us the instant gratification of an immediate response for every thought the crosses our minds.

We need to be more self controlled than that. We need to be more self-sacrificial,  sacrificing that desire for the immediate gratification for the good of the Gospel. We can pick up our crosses and follow Jesus in this social media age by dying to that desire for the instant response.

We need to be salt and light. Salt accentuates the taste of food, but it does that subtly. Too much salt overwhelms and destroys the flavor of the food. Just the right amount accents and brings out the flavor. People are much more apt to take notice of what we say and take it to heart if we say it with gentleness and respect, as Peter admonishes us.

Light illuminates. Too often we demonstrate a great deal of heat without a great deal of light. It isn’t our job to convict people of their sin or even to convince them of the rightness of our positions. The Holy Spirit is well-equipped to do the convicting in peoples’ hearts. We just need to be faithful to speak the truth, but do it in love – always in love.

God’s word does not go out and come back void, but our idea of how people should respond and what it means that God’s word does not come back void may not be accurate.

When Isaiah was given the commission to speak God’s word to the people in the Temple, he was told that he would speak, but people wouldn’t listen. It wasn’t Isaiah’s responsibility to make sure they listened. It was his responsibility simply to speak and to let God do His work. If nobody listened, still Isaiah was being faithful in what God called him to do.

Are we always speaking God’s word? We are finite beings. We might not always have it right. We should have the humility to realize that.

Our love for other people, on the other hand, is always “true”. How we treat people will always shine through and have an impact. Our greatest apologetic is the love of God. Love covers a multitude of sins.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

 

The Face of Love


“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[1]

This is an iconic, timeless description of what love is from the Bible. This passage has been quoted at countless weddings. Most people are familiar with the “love passage”, even if they have no familiarity with the Bible itself.

We know there are different kinds of love. There is the intimate love between couples, erotic love, the love between parent and child and brotherly love among friends. These kinds of love sometimes overlap. For instance, the love between married couples, at its best, incorporates something of all of these types of love.

Perhaps, the most popular notion of love today is the love between two people – the Disney type of love at first sight and love ever after. A mix of erotic thrill and passionate commitment.

Google “love”, and images of young, good-looking men and women goggling each other is what you will find. This love is almost mythical in its ubiquitous celebration in popular culture, and it’s, perhaps, just as mythical in reality. Few, if any of us, really experience the love that we collectively aspire to (as demonstrated by the money we spend on love-themed entertainment ).  And, those of us who have “felt” this kind of love all know how fleeting it is.

This kind of love involves commonality of interest and affection. It’s a two-way street. When the commonality ceases and the affection is lost, the one-way street can only operate so long – especially in a society that emphasizes the emotional value of love. We build in a qualifier to the age-old phase, “til death do us part”: when the affections die, I am outta here!

Other kinds of love include the love of parent and child and brotherly love – the love between friends who have common bonds of experience, interests and friendship. Though the entertainment value is much less than the former, we all instinctively know that this kid of love is good. It is very good.

Friendships, still, can be fragile. Rare is the friendship that survives indefinitely. Even familial love, including the love between parents and children, can die on the rocky shores of turmoil and circumstances that tear it apart and undo it. I see this constantly in my practice of law, representing people in the administration of their estates.

The biblical definition of love is something different altogether.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[2]

None of these descriptors of love depend on affections. They are timeless in that respect. They describe a love that is not qualified. The very next statement in this passage is that “love never fails” (or never ends).[3] In other words, this kind of love never dies.

Do you know this kind of love?

Continue reading “The Face of Love”

Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 1)

Love is a key component to understanding the problem of evil.


I introduced the problem of evil in a previous blog post, looking at God in light of the evil in the world. My writing is prompted by the discussion series being conducted by over 800 churches in the Chicago, explore God, taking on some of the big questions about faith.

I have tackled various aspects of the problem of pain before, but understanding is an ongoing process. I write as a way of working through things. My understanding continues to grow and sometimes to change.

In the previous post, I suggested that we should approach the problem of evil in a similar fashion to the way we approach science,. Not that faith questions are susceptible of scientific inquiry, per se, but the answers aren’t always obvious. Sometimes they take considerable work on our part. We shouldn’t be lazy and give up simply because the work is hard.

As with science, we need to start with a premise. For the theist, the premise is that God exists. For the Christian, the God who exists is revealed in the Scripture. He is a maximal being – maximally great, maximally good and maximally powerful. Of course, this is where the problem of evil arises. (The problem of evil takes on different form, depending on the way each religion describes God. Not all religions describe God as a maximal, personal and volitional Being.)

How can a good and all-powerful God allow evil, pain and suffering to exist in the world? This is the question posed by the problem of evil. Either God isn’t all powerful, the counterargument goes, or He isn’t good.

If we are going to work through the problem, we need to hold to the premises we are given. Is there a way to do that? Can we harmonize these things? I think we can.

Continue reading “Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 1)”

Where Is God in the Messiness of the Church?

I have never participated in a perfect church and have never met a perfect person, yet I believe in a God who is perfect and who is perfecting us, His people.


Toward understanding and healing the wounds of the church, I write this blog piece. The context is the very public struggles of two mega-churches in the Chicago are where I live. Last year, Bill Hybels resigned as the head of Willow Creek Church, after allegations of misconduct came to light. Just today I read about James MacDonald deciding to step down from leadership of the Harvest Bible Church in the wake of a lawsuit and allegations of poor leadership.

The two situations are different, though they both involve allegations against longtime leaders of two of the largest and most prominent churches in the Chicago area. Bill Hybels is accused of inappropriate relationships with women in the church. MacDonald is accused of mismanagement of money, heavy-handed leadership and related allegations. Both situations expose the nature of the human side of the church and the prevalence of sin in the church, even at the leadership level. (The Catholic Church is not alone in this respect.)

In the 1980’s, I became involved in a church that I thought, at the time, was the “perfect” church. It was a vibrant engaging church community. Worship was spirit-led and dynamic. The leadership was charismatic and inspiring. The church community was tight-knit and familial. This church had planted many other churches that were also thriving and growing. I spent 6 years there and knew the church intimately.

It wasn’t as perfect as I first thought, of course. People are people, even people who go to church. Within a year of my leaving to pursue what I believed God was directing me to do next, the church was splintering, disintegrating and falling apart. My pastor, the man who married my wife and I, divorced his wife within a few years of our leaving. Neither he nor his wife are involved in a church today (as far as I know).

We were devastated. This was over 25 years ago, and it still puzzles me. The coming apart at the seams of this church that I viewed as a model of what churches should be impacted me more than I would care to admit.

I realize now that I had invested more of my spiritual capital in the church and its leaders than I should have.

A friend of mine, a fellow church-goer, has been struggling with issues in his church – the leadership in particular. I have listened to him, recognizing the disappointment and disillusionment in his voice. Though I don’t know the details of the issues he has had with the leadership, I do know that he feels cut adrift; he is hurt; his faith is shaken. He has stopped going to church. He isn’t sure he can trust Christians anymore, and he is struggling to make sense of his experience. I can relate.

We left the last church we attended because of leadership, trust and personality differences that affected the people to whom we were closest in that church. Our friends were financially and personally hurt by leadership in the church. We felt we needed to stand with our friends and support them as they drifted away from the church, unable to remain in a church led by people who could not be trusted with their spiritual well being.

These are just the experiences I have had, but I don’t think I am alone in having difficult and painful experiences in churches and with the leadership of churches. Church is a messy business.

Many people turn away from the church and even from Christianity because of similar experiences. How many times have you heard someone say they don’t go to church because Christians are hypocrites? And the fact is that Christians are hypocrites!

But that shouldn’t be the end of the story.

Continue reading “Where Is God in the Messiness of the Church?”