Mini Sermon: Matt 22, “What is the Greatest Commandment?”

Love, sure, but during an election year?

A fresh preface to my essay, “The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: icy relations among God’s people.” I include here not only things I observe in others, but principally the things I’d like to root out of my own heart.

The Lord’s return may – or may not – be near, but no-one who reads church history would conclude that we clearly live in the last days. There are relatively no more wars today than throughout history (probably fewer), no more frequent earthquakes, no worse famines. And we have 2000 years of unloving actions on the part of the church to make our current lack of love seem mild by comparison.

Still, Jesus warned us in Matthew 24 that part of the future apostasy will be that “the love of most [believers] will grow cold.” And while 2016 isn’t necessarily the end of history, the fact that it is a political season gives us pause to gauge our level of charitableness.

The Evil One wants to freeze your helping hand

The Evil One wants to freeze your helping hand

The Enemy is pleased to put our love on ice, and he uses arguments both old and new to entice us to join in with him.

A few of his LIES:

“If you really have the truth, then you have the right to be reckless in how you present it.”

“If you feel charitable toward the needy, that is just as good as actually doing something to alleviate their needs. E. g., if you ‘share’ a post about starving children, that’s as filling as a sandwich.”

“Violence is tolerable, so long as it is doled out against the Other, not Us. Because They probably deserve it.”

“Using bad words, even from the pulpit, is okay, since if we love people, we need to get their attention, and fast.  If not curse words, then at least use sheeple, wingnut, moron, etc. Oh, and again, this is cool so long as it’s against the Other, not Us.”

“If you want to help a woman with an unwanted pregnancy, don’t worry about saving the child she is bearing.”

And conversely, “Keeping her from ending a pregnancy is the sole expression of love we need to show toward her.”

Take up your cross and follow Christ refers to abstract, spiritual things, not our daily behavior toward other human beings, and certainly not to our behavior on social media.”

“Hasty and off-the-cuff responses are sweeter to the tongue than slow-brewed wisdom.”

“It’s okay to hate the haters.”

“Well, they started it!”

“Those victims probably deserved it and shouldn’t complain, Our victims are faultless.”

“When people encourage us to act with respect to others, that’s just a ploy of the Politically Correct to shut us down.”

“We should love ‘our own’ first (family, neighborhood, race, religion, tribe) and others less.” [Note: Charity begins at home, while a Christian truth, is perverted when in Satan’s hand.]

Cynicism is a favorite of Hell, to despise the sinner, to make the Other the focus of evil in the world and the butt of “Well, what do you expect of Them?” The fruit of cynicism is sarcasm, sneering, suspicion, contempt, and given time, hatred. Love teaches us remain vulnerable, and endure and even embrace the pain that results from being witnesses to wickedness.

Christ was the one who was “oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isa 53:7), and he invited us to take up our cross and follow him, even during presidential elections, and he gives us the mighty Holy Spirit to rewrite the code of our mind to enable us to do it. This is what separates Christian charity from mere pleasantness or good manners.

But from all indications, Christian love apparently is meant to follow some weird liturgical calendar, by which the church allows us to lay it aside in 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020, etc., you do the math. That’s why Francis’s prayer of self-dedication, “grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand” (see more below), strikes us nice and Christ-like, but only applicable outside of election seasons. Don’t eat meat on Fridays is sooo medieval; Don’t be charitable every four years is the new fashion!

I urge myself, and invite you, to take Francis at his word, in the run-up to the November election and in any season:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

CLICK to go to The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: icy relations among God’s people.”

“Should we be loving during election years?” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, San José, Costa Rica

False teaching – a corrosive, toxic, contaminant

This is how false teaching arrives:

A man with a white lab coat and rubber mallet in his pocket protector arrives in order to “heal you.” And just think, you didn’t even know you were sick! Still, after hmms and haws, he pull a bottle of medicine from a pocket, holds your nose and chucks a spoonful down your throat.

At this point, you gag and retch and run to the sink, where you empty your stomach.

“Ah,” says he, “the case is worse than I had thought! A double dose is what you need!”

You swallow, and retch twice as violently as before and drop to your knees.

“It’s obvious that you stand in need of my remedy worse than most. A triple dose is called for!” You choke it down, falling prone on the floor, your face drained of color, wheezing and tear-streaked.

A peddler of strange elixirs, potions which cannot be bought in just any store; he’s a trickster, and he usually charges plenty for his wares – probably money, definitely a chunk of your soul.

Why must we defend true doctrine and reject the false? I hope it’s not just that we can satisfy our own fussiness. I’ve seen those who love to make things “even”, but for their own mental and psychological satisfaction, as Carl Sandburg wrote in a favorite poem of mine:

The abracadabra boys – have they been in the stacks and cloisters? Have they been to a sea of jargons and brought back jargons? They foregather and make pitty pat with each other in Latin and in their private pig Latin, very ofay. Do they have fun? Sure – their fun is being what they are… (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/238494)

Anal Retentive 5_3True doctrine is not ensuring that our system has all its “t”s crossed and “i”s dotted, nor ducks arranged in order of color and height. Truth speakers need not be pickers of nits or splitters of hairs. Rather, it is making sure that we follow God’s truth and avoid the “teachings of demons” (1 Tim 4:1): the Evil One oversees a factory with round-the-clock shifts, a production line of ideas to draw people away from God. The collection he’s brought out this year is nothing new; they’re old lies, spray painted with this season’s colors. (more…)

A Pastor’s Love for the Flock [Studies in the New Covenant]

The first great commandment for the Christian is to love God, the second great commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matt 22:34-40).

The first great commandment for the Christian pastor is to love God, the second to love one’s neighbor, and especially one’s flock. A pastor must represent Christ to other people, principally in love.

N. T. Wright gives a wonderful 2-minute video on what he wants the next generation of pastors to learn (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lluSgq8sK3E). He gives three points:

1. Know the Bible backward and forward in the original languages.

2. Spend serious time in prayer.

3. Love people. Of the last he says: “…I want you to learn how to love people. Some people [who are pastors] are naturally loving and they may need to learn other dimensions. Some people are a bit shy and don’t quite know how to do it or they don’t terribly like people that much.”

I believe that Prof. Wright would agree with what I’m going to add: that Christian love is not something one picks up naturally, or by learning other dimensions, or (and I say this as a natural introvert) by getting over one’s shyness. Christian love is a supernatural manifestation of God’s presence. This means that it may be experienced only if God is at work, and where God is not already at work, love is a counterfeit:

1 Thess 4:9 – “Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” This speaks of God’s inner teaching.

Col 1:3-5, 8 – “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel…[Epaphras] told us of your love in the Spirit.”

And of course, Gal 5:22 – “the fruit of the Spirit is love.”

Q. Is this person loving? A. There's no way to tell from the picture.

Q. Is this pastor loving? A. There’s no way to tell from the picture.

Despite what our culture insists, love has nothing to do with being an extrovert; it has everything to do with the Spirit’s work in us, no matter our “personality type”.

If it is authentic, Christian love is a miracle. It is on a par with Jesus giving sight to the blind man or the apostles healing the lame man. The path to be a loving person is to admit one’s own weakness and total inability to manufacture agape, and to throw oneself upon God’s mercy.

Those who take the other route will find no power for carrying out God’s plan. Mere courtesy, self-confidence, friendliness, warmth, personality, and – heaven help us all – platform charisma, all of these without the presence of God’s love are an illusion, a sham and a deception. They will serve only to harm your people and cheapen the gospel.

“A Pastor’s Love for the Flock,” Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica