I’m always very proud of the people at our church for the way they are so generous and so quick to help people in need. Not only are we active in the community with service events like road cleanup’s, feeding the hungry, doing yard cleanups, repairing homes and much more, but we have also helped people individually. We have, on occasion, paid someone’s rent when they’re in a jam. We have bought gas for people who weren’t able to afford it. We’ve given away food and bought meals for people in need. But for all that, there are many times that I have said no to helping people, at least in the way that they want.
As a church, it’s not an infrequent occurrence for someone to walk in to the office and ask for money. These are people who we do not know and who have no connection to our church. They have never worshiped with us, served with us or even set foot on the property before. All they have is a story that is usually impossible to verify and a stated need. I often try to find a way to help these people that does not involve simply handing them cash. Sometimes I will offer them food or other material help. Sometimes I will refer them to organizations our church supports that offer financial assistance after careful screening. I find that, most of the time, the ones in genuine need will accept that help. The people who will not accept that help instead offer reason after reason (sometimes very long and convoluted) why only cash will solve their problem. 9 times out of 10 I do not give it to them.
There are some who would condemn me for not helping those people. In fact, I have been condemned, usually by the person whom I am turning down. I’ve been called unchristian, cold-hearted and a string of other invectives. However, even friends and family who look upon me much more kindly may find themselves asking if I’m doing the right thing. They may apply the adage, “what would Jesus do?” Believe it or not, so do I!
Jesus, being in very nature God (Philippians 2:6), could always see right to the heart of things. In fact, he could literally read what was in people’s hearts. And so, he had a remarkable way of cutting through people’s nonsense. We see this in the example of the woman at the well. He immediately called her out on the poor life choices she had made when she hides the truth regarding her “husbands.” (John 4:17) We see it also when Jesus confronts the lame man and boldly ask him if he even really wants to be healed because he had opportunity to be healed before and yet wasn’t.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
Unfortunately, we are not able to see into people’s hearts like the Son of God can. So the answer to the question, “what would Jesus do” is not always something that we ourselves actually CAN do. However, I am also reminded of something else Jesus said. He told his followers to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” I believe that teaching, as well as the example that Jesus himself set when it came to helping people, provides us with the answers we are looking for.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Matthew 10:16 (ESV)
Jesus does indeed set us the example of helping and healing people out of love. In fact this was most often applied to those that the rest of society found unlovable and unworthy of help. So when it comes to helping people we must be “innocent as doves” and help those who truly need it in spite of whatever social stigmas may be attached to them. However, Jesus also sets us the example of looking into people’s hearts and finding out their true motives and the true story behind how they ended up where they are in life. While we cannot see directly into people’s hearts, through conversation and questions we can dig deeper into the stories of the people that we meet so that we can help to identify their real needs, and not just their stated need. I believe this is being “wise as serpents.”
I do not believe Jesus ever refused to help someone who truly wanted and needed the help. Neither do I believe we should refuse to help those who need it. What I believe is that we should seek to give them the help they actually need. Unfortunately, what people want from us is often not the help they actually need. Furthermore if we were undiscerning about the help that we give, it would hamper our ability to give help to those who need it. For example, if I gave cash to everyone who stopped by the church and asked for money, we would not be able to support other organizations in the community that give more help to more people with our dollars. In fact, as word got out, we would soon run out of money altogether! In other words, by attempting to give everyone what they want or think they need, we would end up helping fewer people.
So yes, we are a church that helps many people both directly with cash and material donations and indirectly through supporting other organizations that give help. But we are also a church that sometimes says no to stated needs because that may not be the help they really need. I believe that is what Jesus would do.
A wicked person listens to deceitful lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue. (Proverbs 17:4)
Guys, we have a real problem here. We have a problem with the truth. And I’m not just talking about society at large, I am talking about Christians. We have become a bunch of liars, and what is even more disturbing about that is that most of us seem to be OK with it. We need to stop!
I am not talking about those times when we may momentarily give into temptation, when we lie because we’ve been caught doing something that we’re embarrassed about or because we are trying to avoid getting into trouble. I’m not talking about the little white lies we tell to protect someone’s feelings. I am talking about lies that we knowingly perpetuate because they support an agenda that we agree with. I am, of course, talking about sharing memes and articles with false information on social media.
Now, you may have chuckled to yourself when you got to that last line. You may think to yourself, surely memes are not to be taken seriously! Surely those are just harmless jokes! Or they just “draw attention” to a subject. Or they are posted to “start a conversation.” Surely it is not important if what they say is true or not! It’s just a silly meme! But I am being dead serious. We have a problem with perpetuating falsehood either by not bothering to find out if it’s true or knowing it’s not true and still sharing it anyway because it makes a point that we agree with and want to convince others to agree with.
But go and learn what this means: ‘Confirmation bias.’ (Not a real Bible verse)
I’ll give you a couple examples. These are all true, and I am not exaggerating. At most I may have changed up a few of the minor details because I’m not looking to call anyone out specifically here. Also, a lot of these have happened more than once with very similar subjects. So it’s possible you might think I’m talking about you when I’m really not, simply because someone else did the same thing you did. But I am willing risk giving offense here because I believe it’s important. So here we go.
Several years ago, someone posted a political meme of Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Osama bin Laden. Now, as common sense should tell anyone, this was fake news. The picture had literally been Photoshopped (created in a photo editing program) and was not genuine. I pointed that out in a comment to the person who had shared it, a Christian, expecting that once they realized that it was perpetuating a blatant lie they would take it down. They did not. In fact another person commenting on the post, who also self-identified as a Christian, said that it didn’t matter that it was fake because, “even if she didn’t do it, it’s something she would do.”
In another example, someone posted a meme about a cancer-causing food. Now, in fact there is some legitimate concern that this might be the case, although it was presented in a very misleading manner that overstated the connection. In addition to the misleading claim about causing cancer, this meme included several other “facts” about the food that were 100% false. Someone in the comments pointed that out, but the person who shared it, also a Christian, said it didn’t matter because the food really might cause cancer.
Both of these are classic and often repeated examples of people tolerating and perpetuating lies because it fits their agenda. And I want to be absolutely clear, that fitting your agenda does not make it OK to lie. Lying is a sin. It is literally one of the 10 Commandments!
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Exodus 20:16
We as Christians, more than anyone, should stand up for the truth. We need to start being more discerning about the things we share and say on social media. We need to be better about calling out lies when we see them even when it is a lie that we wish was true. We need to stop making excuses and we need to break this cycle of blatant misinformation.
You may still make a mistake, everybody does. Even I, as much as I hate this type of stuff and as savvy as I believe I am when it comes to the Internet, have occasionally gotten duped into sharing information that turned out to be false. But when that is pointed out to us, when we are called out on it, we need to own up to it, not make excuses, and take it down. Delete that post! And let’s all get better about vetting and checking the information we share for accuracy before we share it. Don’t just hit the post button because it fits the narrative you believe is true. Actually check first and make sure it is. Trust me, the world will be a much better place if we all do this.
Do not lie. Do not deceive one another. (Leviticus 19:11)
Cruising facebook the other day I came across a Babylon Bee article satirizing Christians who leave a bible tract in lieu of a tip. I wrote the following as a comment on that article, and thought it was worth sharing. In addition to addressing the original subject of the Babylon Bee article, I think it also shows how we can apply the teachings and parables of Jesus to modern issues and circumstances. So, here you go…
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He 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.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: There was a man working two jobs to support his family. While at his second job as a server at Applebees he was having a rough day. He had been on his feet for 12 hours, they were a server short and the place was slammed. He had two last tables. One was full of Christians who stopped in for a meal after Bible study and the second had a man who was an atheist. The first table left the server a legalistic Bible tract that reminded the server what a terrible sinner he was, and no tip. The second table, with the atheist man, saw how distressed the server was, so he left a hundred dollar bill on which he had scribed the note, “I hope this helps.”
36 “Which of these two do you think was a neighbor to hard the working server?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
When I first accepted the call to be Pastor of Holy Cross Lake Mary, I was working as a Probation Officer for Seminole County. During my first year or two at the church I would frequently run into people that I had known in my capacity as a Probation Officer. It was always somewhat awkward. Usually we would look at each other trying to remember how we knew one another. When we finally realized how we knew each other there would be an embarrassed laugh and then the person would immediately turn away. But that hasn’t always been the case.
There is someone that’s a member of the church that has remained. They are someone that I interact with quite frequently. In the intervening years I have come to know them very well. I’ve come to see how deep their faith is, how hard they work, and what a servant’s heart they have.
The funny thing is that while I know, in an intellectual sense, that I used to supervise this person on probation, I no longer have any real recollection of that. I do not remember any of our encounters. I cannot picture meeting with them, or talking about their case. Whenever I think of this person, I only know them as this hard-working, faithful person with a servant’s heart.
Now, this is not because I have forgiven them. The truth is, there was nothing for me to forgive. They never personally did any wrong to me. Rather it is simply because I do not, and cannot, see them in that way anymore. It is as if their past is no more and all I see is the new child of God.
I’m pretty sure that is not because of me. I am pretty sure that is because of the Holy Spirit teaching me to see like God sees, because this is exactly how God sees us. He no longer sees us as a sinful disobedient people. Knowing everything, God is aware of our sin. But I think that, like me, he cannot remember it. When he looks at us he sees us as redeemed children of God through Christ Jesus.
You see, that is our identity now. We are made righteous through Jesus Christ and have been restored in a relationship with God. When God looks at us, this is who he sees. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, this is who we all should see when we look at each other. We have all done things that are wrong. We have all had things done to us that are wrong. But through the forgiveness and power of Jesus Christ, we will get to the point where we simply can’t remember them.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36
Sometimes we forget how lost the world really is. For example, I was listening to the talking heads on the news discussing the death of Barbara Bush. They were talking about her and her family‘s faith. They talked about how her faith helped her face death with dignity, and how the faith of her family helped them deal with her passing.
None of this, in of itself, is unusual. What makes it surprising to me is the way in which they discussed these things. I could tell as I listened to them that they were genuinely surprised and impressed that their faith had such an impact. They spoke about it as if they were discussing a foreign or alien concept that they had no idea could actually work! They said things like, “they believe that she is now going to a place where she will see her daughter again” with an air of incredulousness. They seemed genuinely amazed.
Those of us that spend a lot of time in the church, who have Christian friends and who spend time in study of the Word often forget how ignorant people are when it comes to faith. We may think that the gospel and the basic tenets of Christianity are widely known. After all, the vast majority of people that we see and spend time with are Christians and people we know from church, and they know all the same things that we do. But as people’s reaction to the faith of the Bushes shows, many people have absolutely no idea what faith in Christ means, or how much it can change their lives.
In stating this, I am not making any point about the politics of the Bushes. You are free to like or dislike them! But in seeing the reactions of people to how faith deals with death, I am reminded that what the world really needs is more of the truth about faith in Jesus Christ and the benefits that it brings. And while this may, in one way, bring sadness at the thought of all the people that do not know the freedom from fear and shame and guilt that the gospel brings, in another way it should excite us. It shows that there is still work for us to do, and that there is plenty of opportunity for us to share the love of Christ with people who have no idea how much it will change their life. Bringing that gift to people brings joy both to those who receive it, and those who give it.
He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Luke 20:25)
I had an unsettling conversation the other day. It wasn’t because the person did or said anything particularly wrong, but because the story they told made me realize that not only are the divisive politics of the day affecting us as a nation, they are also affecting us as a church. You see, this person (let’s call them Bill) was in an office waiting room where they ran into another person (let’s call them Ted) that goes to our church. Ted began commenting quite emphatically on the current political situation and leadership that we have in the United States. Bill felt completely opposite from Ted, and stated so. At that point Ted said something along the lines of, “oh, I thought you were one of us!”
Now I would like to believe that Ted was being tongue-in-cheek, and was also referring only to political affiliation and not to our church community. Nevertheless, it caused Bill to begin to worry that they were not really a part of our church community if everyone else in our church community felt the way Ted did. You see, whether it was intended or not, Ted made Bill feel as if they were not welcome in our church. However, as I talked to Bill they also expressed that they found it difficult to know that on Sunday there were people sitting in the seats around them that held a political view so diametrically opposed to their own. That was because they felt that the opposing political view was not just an opposing political view, but was actually evil and wrong. That’s a belief that I am pretty sure is shared by Ted as well, only regarding Bill’s political view.
If you think I am being overly careful (as well as a little confusing!) by not being clear about which side of the political spectrum Bill and Ted are on, I will tell you it is because IT DOESN’T MATTER! You can read Bill as a trump loving conservative and Ted as a Trump hating liberal, or vice versa. In fact, we have both types of people in our church community. And while people are free to hold whatever political opinion they may or may not have, this should never become something that divides us as a church.
I could talk about how we need to be able to have political disagreement and discourse without believing the people on the other side are actually evil. Certainly that is true. Regardless, opposing political viewpoints are never something that should divide us as a church. Politics are not what the church is about. And despite what many people believe, on both sides of the aisle, being Christian does not necessitate a certain political view (especially when strictly divided into only two camps).
The number one thing we are called to do as Christians is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and nurture disciples. Jesus said, “Therefor go and make disciples of all nations” which includes both evangelism (making) and nurturing believers in their faith (which is inherent in the understanding of a disciple as one who follows the teachings of Christ). The methods that he gives us to do this are by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Baptizing deals with our relationship with God, and Teaching is mostly about commands to love and serve one another. Neither of those has anything to do with espousing a particular political ideology.
I will digress for a moment to make something clear. Christians are free to participate in the political process. Government is God ordained (Romans 13) and we are free to participate in it. I actually have rather deeply held political views, myself. You probably just don’t know what they are, however, because I set aside my desire to talk about them for the sake of leading people to Christ. But all these politics have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.
“But aren’t we as Christians supposed to stand up for what’s right, oppose injustice, and oppose evil?” Ironically, I have had this question asked by people advocating for completely opposing political ideologies. The short answer is, “yes,” but the longer answer is, “no, not in the way that you think.” Let me be absolutely blunt. Nowhere in Scripture (nowhere!) does Jesus call us to confront and change the world through politics, laws or government.
Jesus lived and taught in his earthly ministry during a time in which governments were truly oppressive. They quite literally enslaved people, and would frequently torture and murder them. And yet, not once did Jesus rail against foreign government and political leaders. Not once did he call for political action. Not once did he call for rebellion, even though his followers desperately wanted him to do so! In fact, His opposition to doing those things is one of the reasons so many people turned against Him. They wanted Him to condemn the Romans, raise an army and lead a rebellion. But His response was always a variation of, “my kingdom is not of this earth,” or “render unto Caesar.” Instead of calling for political action, He called for personal change. He constantly pointed people to basic morality which consists of serving one another in love on the one hand, and to a restored relationship with God the father through Himself on the other. You know, the things that happen through baptizing and teaching. And this focus is something that the community of the church can be united in regardless of political affiliation.
When we come together as a church, we come together as the people of God who have been redeemed and restored by Jesus Christ. Our primary identity is not our politics or political affiliation, but is who we are in Christ Jesus. To be honest, someone’s political affiliation is not something that should ever even come up in the context of the community of the church. It is divisive, and it is a distraction from our true mission, which is to go into the world and make disciples, serving each other in love. We can do far more to better our community by serving than we can by vilifying opposing political views.
So the next time you find out that someone in the church has a different political view from you, even one that you find reprehensible, remember that they are a saved and redeemed child of God just like you are. Remember that they have the same mission as you. Leave the politics at home, and focus on the Kingdom of God.
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. Romans 16:17
Before feudal Japan was united under the Shogun in the 17th century, it was ruled over by three great samurai generals. They were Oda Nobunaga, Ieyasu Tokugawa, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. There is a legendary story that people tell about them which is supposed to illustrate the different personalities of these three generals. It goes like this.
One day, the three generals were meeting together, holding court and having tea. A visiting guest offered the three of them a gift of a beautiful songbird. However, upon receiving the bird, it was found that it would not sing. Nobunaga said, “kill it.“ Hideyoshi said, “teach the bird to sing.“ But Tokugawa said, “wait.“
I think their three reactions have something to teach us about how we respond to problems in our life. Sometimes our first reaction is anger, and to cut the problem (or the cause of the problem) out of our life; to kill it. Indeed, there are times when that can be the correct reaction. However, it can also needlessly cause strife, create new problems, or cause you to miss out on experiencing something good that could have come out of the situation.
Sometimes our immediate desire is to fix the problem. We want to “teach the bird to sing.” This can be a good response at times when we are acting out of compassion and acting wisely. It is a good response when we really can fix the problem. Unfortunately, many times our desire to fix the problem comes out of desperation, or a need to be in control. Sometimes we cannot fix a problem. And in those cases trying to fix the problem can actually make things worse.
Often overlooked is the wise response of Tokugawa. It is true that sometimes people procrastinate when it comes to facing their problems, and this can indeed make a problem worse. It is also true that sometimes the best thing you can do is patiently wait before doing or saying anything. Waiting can prevent a rash response that would make the problem worse. And often times, it can prevent us from making a problem seem bigger than it really is. Sometimes simply waiting patiently and trusting in the Lord, will allow a problem to resolve itself. Or it may help you to see that it might not have even been a problem in the first place.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. Psalm 37:7-8
…one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5)
What is Baptism in the Holy Spirit? You may have heard this term before, and you may even use this term or know someone that does. What does it mean? Is it Scriptural? Is it something we should be using?
It’s a complicated issue, not in the least because many times the debate over “baptism in the Holy Spirit“ is conflated with the debate over supernatural spiritual gifts. There is a debate in Christendom over whether or not spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing continue to be present in the church in the post-Apostolic age. People that believe supernatural spiritual gifts are no longer in use are commonly referred to as cessationists. They believe that after the so-called Apostolic age those spiritual gifts are no longer needed and therefor they have ceased.
The Lutheran Church is not officially cessationist, though some people think it should be. There are many Lutheran pastors who accept that there is room within Lutheran theology to believe that some supernatural spiritual gifts are still occasionally given to people in the body of the church. Nevertheless, we are not charismatic. While we leave open the door of possibility that people can and do receive these gifts, we still do not believe that they are something that should be a focus of our faith. They should not ever be seen as something upon which salvation is based or Christian faith is judged. The question remains, even if we do believe in spiritual gifting, should we be using a term like “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” and should we be seeking after said baptism?
The term does actually appear in scripture, which is one of the arguments for using it. Of course, there is disagreement over how it is used in Scripture, to what it refers, and how those references should be interpreted. There are people that believe so-called baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate baptism which brings supernatural spiritual gifts. Those people have texts which they believe show us that the early church used, believed in and understood baptism in the Holy Spirit in the same way in which modern charismatics do. Most of their texts are anecdotal, by which I mean they are a recounting of events that happened, which are believed to be examples that baptism in the Holy Spirit should be used in the way charismatics do. What I believe they do not have is any direct and clear teaching that supersedes other direct and clear teachings that tell us there is not a separate baptism in the Holy Spirit.
This is just a blog, and not a theological treatise, therefore I don’t have the time or the space to review, reinterpret and rebut each passage charismatics use to promote baptism in the Holy Spirit. Instead I will do two things. First, I will simply say that we interpret those passages differently than they do. We believe most of those stories and examples are referring to specific cases or something specific was being demonstrated and that these events were not meant to be an example for all time of how the spirit comes to us. Some of these texts refer to people who only received John’s baptism. Some were people who had been baptized in the name of Jesus prior to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. And some of these examples had specifically to do with the inclusion of Gentiles in the church in which God wanted to make clear the point that the Spirit comes to the Gentiles too. Either way, we don’t think they mean what the charismatics do.
Second, I will share with you a few verses that I believe are very clear and direct teachings that say there is only one baptism and in that baptism we already received the Spirit. The first and most obvious passage is from Ephesians where Paul is teaching us how we are unified as Christians through “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” In light of such a clearly worded and direct teaching such as this, I don’t understand how we could possibly believe that there are in fact two baptisms, a water baptism followed by a potential baptism in the Holy Spirit that only some receive. Not only would this contradict the idea that there is one baptism by literally creating two separate baptisms, but it would also go against the spirit of unity that Paul was talking about since only some people receive this supposed second baptism.
This is further reinforced in the apostle Paul‘s teachings regarding spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians. Again, in a very clear and direct manner, without much interpretation involved, he insists that we have one spirit. We all have this same spirit, and we have it based on faith. For no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the power of this same spirit. We have this equality in the spirit regardless of whether or not we have otherwise received a supernatural spiritual gift.
Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
In addition, the scriptures also make it clear that we receive the spirit in water baptism. Acts 2:38-39 says, “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Furthermore, scripture also states that forgiveness and salvation come through baptism (1 Peter 3:21, Mark 16:16, etc.), and we know also from Scripture that you cannot have forgiveness and salvation unless you also have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you (1 Corinthians 12:3).
I personally believe that God can still give supernatural spiritual gifts even in the post-Apostolic age. And I believe that is scriptural. I also believe it is scriptural to desire those gifts since the apostle Paul enjoins us to eagerly do so in 1 Corinthian‘s 12:31. We must still be cautious, however, not to give them undo importance. They are not a means of grace or salvation. They do not make someone more holy, more spiritual, or more Christian than someone who does not have them. Even when supernatural spiritual gifts are genuinely present, we are not, according to the same teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians, to allow them to become a source of division, or to create different classes of Christians. Therefor, even when we properly understand and apply the “greater gifts,” I do not believe we should use the term baptism in the Holy Spirit to describe how we receive them.
I believe using the phrase “baptism in the Holy Spirit” to refer to a different baptism through which we receive supernatural spiritual gifts sends the wrong message. It teaches that there are in fact two baptisms in opposition to scripture which clearly teaches we are united by one baptism. I also believe it does exactly what the apostle Paul warns us not to do. It creates different classes of Christians, some whom are supposedly more spiritual than others because they have received this supposed special baptism. And I believe it takes away from where our focus should be, which is on the sacramental gift of water baptism, in which we receive the same spirit, receive forgiveness of sins won by Christ, and are adopted into the family of God, becoming his people.
If you have received or been gifted with a supernatural spiritual gift, you may certainly count that as a blessing. If you have not, remember that God has still gifted and blessed you in other ways. But in either case, remember that we continue to share one Lord, one faith and one baptism.
I’m a big fan of a television series called Supernatural. In it two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, hunt monsters. The actor who plays Sam is a guy named Jared Padalecki. Jared has struggled off and on throughout his life with depression. Through his success on the show he has started a charity for people who struggle with depression called Always Keep Fighting1. I follow him on Facebook and he occasionally will launch a line of T-shirts in order to raise money for this charity. His most recent one was emblazoned with the slogan “love yourself first.”
I will be honest, while I thought I understood what he meant by that, there was just something about it that did not sit right with me. As Christians, we are called to put God first and to put others first. That includes loving our neighbors and even loving our enemies. You see it in places like Paul‘s instruction to husbands in Ephesians 5:17, where he commands husbands to love their wives “even as Christ loved the church.” Christ loved the church so much that he sacrificed himself to save us, and so husbands are called upon to make sacrifices for their wives.
This is just one example of how we are called to put others first. How then can we say love yourself first and not have it violate the command to unselfishly love our neighbor? Isn’t it selfish to love yourself first? I think this comic strip from Coffee with Jesus2 can help us find the answer.
I think there is a lot of truth in this. The command to love your neighbor as yourself presupposes that we do indeed love ourselves. For most people this is not a problem, since most of us tend towards selfishness. But for some (and perhaps for all of us at times) it is difficult. It is difficult when we, like Jared, suffer from depression. It can also be difficult because of past life experiences that have taught us to have a low self-esteem about ourselves. No matter what the root cause may be, like the character in this comic strip, if you do not love yourself you will probably not do a very good job of loving your neighbor.
The truth is, God is the one who loves us first! That absolutely means we are worth loving. God sent his son Jesus to die for us, and that says something about our value. So, while I still might not ever wear one of these T-shirts because of how easily it could be misunderstood, it is indeed OK, and even necessary to love yourself first before you can love others. Just make sure you don’t also love yourself last, but follow it up with loving your neighbor.
Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39)
Last week I was reading an article about relations between Roman Catholics and Protestants on Facebook, and a woman commented that “Catholics aren’t Christians.” I always inwardly cringe whenever I hear someone refer to Christians and Roman Catholics as if they are two different things. Oddly enough, I hear this at times both from evangelical Christians as well as Catholics themselves. When said by an evangelical Christian, it is usually said out of a judgmental attitude which assumes that Roman Catholics are not saved and are not true Christians. When said by Roman Catholics, I think they just say it to differentiate themselves from Protestants and identify as Catholics. In either case, it is wrong.
It is wrong, because I believe the invisible church (all those Christians who have been saved by Grace through faith in Christ) can be found in both the Roman Catholic Church as well as protestant churches. The very fact that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ means that we are not saved by our theological correctness, which can be seen as a work, nor are we condemned by our theological mistakes, which are sins for which we are forgiven out of God’s grace.
Despite my feelings on this, I have found myself still being labeled at times as anti-Catholic. I remember once after preaching a sermon on Reformation Sunday a woman approached me and said rather forcefully, “I believe Jesus loves Catholics too!” I replied that I did as well, after which she said, “Well, it would have been nice if you said that” and then walked off. I remember thinking that I had not said anything otherwise! Yet, this woman had been offended, apparently, by my message on the Reformation that Sunday. Why is that?
I think that at least one reason is because I find and admit that there are real, substantive, and important theological disagreements between Protestants and Catholics. The reformation happened for a reason, and while the Catholic Church has moderated some of those beliefs, such as the use of indulgences, to a large extent they still hold to the same doctrines today that divided us during the time of Martin Luther. Things like the power and infallibility of the pope, veneration of the saints, and the addition of good works and obedience to the church as requirements for salvation are still a part of Roman Catholic teachings.
While I condemn the judgment of the faith and salvation of individual Catholics by other Christians, I am still held captive by the Word of God, and cannot accept, support, or agree with many of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. And you know what? That’s OK! We can hold to our beliefs, and accept the importance of these theological disagreements, while at the same time loving our Catholic neighbors and working with them towards common goals that we both share. We also know that all who believe and are saved will one day sit together at the marriage feast of the Lamb as we celebrate his great victory over sin and death, Catholics and Protestants side by side.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)