Wednesday, November 26, 2014

You Did It To Me

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to Me."  I have always understood that helping the "least of these" was in reality helping Jesus.  Recently I have come to realize that when I judge or criticize my brethren I do it to Jesus Himself.

When God looks at His children today, he sees billions of people selfishly divided and opinionated. He sees people who were created in His image to be like Him, to love mercy and do justly and walk humbly. He sees people who claim to follow Jesus and yet can't see when He, "the least of these", needs their help.

We as Christians have been given a message to spread around the world, but we have failed. We have passed judgment on many of those around us. We say "they don't deserve the love of God; they don't deserve my time, because they are no good.

Instead of judging others, we need to look into the mirror of God’s law of love and recognize how bad we really are.  James 1;23,24 says, "if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

We need to look into the mirror of God’s law and see ourselves as we really are instead of spending our energy judging others.  When we judge or criticize our brethren we do it to Jesus Himself.  The good news it that our God is patient with us.  2 Peter 3:15 says, "Remember that we are saved because our Lord is patient".

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Golden Rule

One of the best known sayings of Christianity is the Golden Rule; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In Matthew 7:12, Jesus actually said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Most Christians really believe this. They would not only agree that it’s correct to treat others right, but also believe in showing deference or respect or kindness.

But there’s one area of life where it seems that Christians forget the Golden Rule, and that’s politics.  I’m amazed by how many Christians become completely uncivil when it comes to discussing politics. In everything else they are polite but once they start talking about politics or politicians they become vicious.  It seems that they forget that the Bible says in Romans 12:10, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”

Many devout Christians become mean, critical, and bitter when they talk about politics. Insults, name-calling, bitterness, and slander are the order of the day.  They don’t seem to remember that the Jesus they claim to worship said to “love your enemies”.

I think that social media is partly to blame.  People post things on the internet they might never say.  I don’t believe that Christians shouldn't have opinions on politics or that they shouldn't express them.   I’m very grateful that I live in a country where free speech is a basic human right.  I’m happy that there are Christians who care about their country, and that some involve themselves in the political process.

But does it have to be so full of hate?  It is all right for a Christian to express an opinion on politics such as, “I think X is a poor President, Senator, Congresswoman, Candidate.”  A Christian has a right to feel that way. But we have all seen some Christians cross the line from opinion to attack, insult, and slander.  Much of it is hateful and malicious.

Look at the Facebook posts of some Christians. When they talk or re-post, ask yourself if it’s possible they've ever read Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be with grace.”

In Matthew 12:34 Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” We as Christians can’t escape the reality that our words (or Facebook and Twitter posts) reveal our true character.   “For by your words,” Jesus said, “you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37) I have never read in the Bible where Jesus said, “But when it comes to politics and politicians, feel free to be as mean, vile and ugly as you want.”

When Christians say/post/share ugly words, thoughts or pictures about people on the other side to support their political position they are talking about people that Jesus loves, people that Jesus died for.  There is a real person behind those words.  When someone says that all of any group is/says/does/thinks/behaves/believes/hates/loves/etc., they are saying that about real people, not just ideologies, not just platforms, not just issues, not just politicians.

I’m sure that there is a way for Christians to engage in the political process and political discussions while still manifesting the Spirit of Jesus.  If Christians consistently showed the Spirit of Jesus in their political discussions instead of being mean or harsh it would be a powerful witness.

Nicolas N. Scott Eulogy

Eric Scott delivered this Eulogy at Nick Scott's memorial service. He graciously gave me permission to post it to my blog. Whether you knew Nick or not, Eric's eulogy is powerful and really made me think about the way I view people. Please take a few moments and read his words.

Eulogy for Nicolas N. Scott
by Eric Scott
Ph.D student in Computer Science
George Mason University

The last few years of Nick’s life were hard. Certainly harder than anything I've been through. There is no way to sugar coat it: as a homeless man in Oklahoma City, Nick suffered a lot. At Nick’s age, he should have been looking forward to an open-ended vista of possibilities. The American Dream, with all its hopes and promises, should have been tantalizing him with its optimism. And on his good days, Nick did dream of future success the way a young person should. He dreamt of getting his G.E.D. and going back to school, of making enough money to pay back everyone he had ever hurt, and of becoming a lawyer and helping people in situations like his.

But most days, Nicolas was trapped in a sense of futility. Robert Frost described an old man in a similar position in one of his poems, “The Death of the Hired Man.” Young as he was, it could easily have been Nick, Nick who lived as an illegal immigrant in his own country, barely eking out a living as a hired hand. Frost writes of him:

So concerned for other folk,
And nothing to look backward to with pride,
And nothing to look forward to with hope,
So now and never any different.

If there’s one thing that I've consistently heard from Nick’s friends and acquaintances over the years, it was that he was truly concerned for other folk. Nick did many things that he regretted, some things as innocent as stealing food to survive, and some things less easy to forgive. I don’t know what it’s like to be locked in the cycle of hopelessness that so many people living in poverty experience from day to day. I’m told that money loses value when there is never enough of it. There is a certain logic to irresponsibility in situations where human flourishing is rare and precious.

But people never lost value for Nick. Nick was a passionate believer in compassion and empathy. Nick stood in judgment over himself for his failures to do justice to people and their experiences. And he stood in judgment over me, over society and criminal justice, and over the church. The one person I never heard him criticize was his late mother, Tilly Scott, who for Nick embodied a complete and unconditional regard for the well-being of her son.

Nick went back and forth on his religious beliefs. Life on the street doesn't afford much luxury for debating academic arguments about God and theology. He didn't know what he believed, but he read his Bible regularly, and Nick seemed to genuinely feel that Christ was often more present in the homeless shelters and jail cells of Oklahoma City than in its churches. He tried many times to explain to me his belief that there is good in everyone, a source of dignity even in what most of us would consider broken and violent souls. Nick knew convicted murderers that he believed were among the most profound representatives of Christ-like compassion that you could find.

A few weeks ago the minister at my church in Virginia delivered a message on forgiveness, and challenged everyone in our congregation to forgive one person that week, and to ask forgiveness from someone. Things were tense between Nick and I at the time. He’d told some fibs while trying to get my family to help him with rent money, and I was feeling pretty stern. It was a busy week for me, and I procrastinated on my homework, but finally I told Nick that I forgave him, and that supporting him was what was most important to us. He died that evening.

Because of my minister’s challenge, I have the comfort of knowing that Nick’s last words to me were of gratitude. That week, his family had chosen to love him unconditionally. He told me that it meant a lot, and that he would try to do better toward us.

But what I failed to do, and what I wish I could do now, is ask Nick’s forgiveness. Not just for the times I wasn't there to help him. I want Nick’s forgiveness for being slow to learn how to see the dignity in every human being. It is always far easier to judge the homeless than to help them, even with family. On Nick’s behalf, I challenge all of us, myself included, to see the Christ in those in need. We have to go beyond feeling sorry for others, and build relationships that allow us to truly understand them. Nick is no longer here for us to learn to love, but his belief in love is something we can carry on now that he is gone.

Grace Happens All Around Us

Popcorn and Candy

Grace seems to often pop up in places that I never expect it. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that simply stated "Grace Happens". It is true. Grace happens. It happens all around us. Often we are too busy to notice.

A few years ago grace happened to me on Halloween. My wife had bought lots of candy in preparation for the kids she was expecting to come to our door. She was prepared to give candy, and lots of it, to anyone who rang her doorbell. She waited with anticipation, because she loves to see the kids in their costumes. The doorbell rang for the first time. She went to the door and opened it with a bowl of candy in her hand. There stood two kids, but they didn't have anything to put candy in. They didn't say trick or treat. They stood there with a long stemmed rose in their hand. "We are not asking for candy", they said. "We want to give you a rose".

Unexpected grace. Out of the blue. I never thought that on Halloween someone would come to my door and give me something. I think that is a key to understanding grace. We Christians often focus on the fact that grace is undeserved. That is true, it is undeserved. If you deserved it, it wouldn't be grace. But not only is it undeserved, it is unexpected.

I think that is what Paul is trying to get us to see when he wrote in Ephesians 3:8, "to me, who am less than the least deserving of all the saints, this grace was given". He seems to be almost unable to believe that grace was offered to him. It was unexpected. Maybe that is why he talks about grace more than any other Bible writer.

Look for the unexpected today. Look for grace in unexpected places. I know that you will find it. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:14, "the grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant".

Overflowing Grace

No one likes to be stopped by a patrolman and I am no exception.  A while back I was stopped in the town of Point Barre, Louisiana.  As I neared the town the speed limit dropped from 65 mph to 45 mph. I tapped the cruise control and traveled along with several other cars as we slowed down. The next thing I knew, there were blue lights in my rear view mirror. The patrolman must have been shooting his radar right at the 45 mph sign, and he had to pick me out of 4 or 5 cars to stop, as we were all traveling the same speed. The ticket cost me 160 dollars. To say the least, I was not happy. I felt that the ticket was unfair. I had been trying to obey the law and yet I got a ticket.

My situation reminded me of an illustration that I have heard explaining God's grace. Imagine yourself driving down the road, doing 100 mph in a 55 mph zone. A police officer stops you. If he gives you a ticket--that is justice--for you got what you deserve. If he lets you off with just a warning--that is grace--for though you deserved a ticket, he did not give you one.  But what about my situation where I received a ticket for going 5 miles over the speed limit?

There are many Christians who like me in Point Barre feel that they aren't really doing anything all that bad. They are trying to obey the speed limit, which should count for something. They don't see grace being all that great. They are trying to live right. God should realize that.

But many Christians realize that the law has been broken whether they were going 5 miles over the limit or 50. They realize that they deserve a ticket, and are overwhelmed by the unexpected grace. They know that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life" (Romans 6:23).

Romans 5:17 tells us that "if, through one man, death ruled because of that man’s offense, how much more will those who receive such overflowing grace and the gift of righteousness rule in life because of one man, Jesus Christ!

I wish for you overflowing grace!


A few weeks ago my wife and I along with friends attended the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs.  It was a crisp cold evening as we sat there and watched the final scenes of the life of Jesus being played out before us.  As we watched my mind began wondering why it is called a passion play.  When I got back to the motel room I studied the subject.

I found out that in approximately 1175 the word passion was adopted from Old French to Old English to mean the, ‘sufferings of Christ on the Cross’.  By Middle English the word ‘passion’ described a strong barely controllable emotion.  The original meaning of ‘passion’, as the sufferings of Jesus, fell out of common usage in the 1600’s.

I studied the word passion in my Bible concordance.  In King James the word passion, meaning the sufferings of Jesus, is found in only one verse, Acts 1:3   “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

The most common meanings of the word ‘passion’ today is extreme compelling emotion, great anger or rage, enthusiasm or fondness, strong love or affection, and  lust.

Do you know anyone who has a passion for something?  We have just had an election in this country and I found that many people were very passionate about their candidate or political party.

I have met many Christians who are passionate about their beliefs; but do we as Christians have a passion for Jesus?  What is at the top of the list of our life’s priorities?  In Matthew 22:36-39 we read, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We as Christians should keep the Ten Commandments, but if we are not passionate about Jesus and our neighbors it does us no good to keep them.  Our relationship with Jesus is all about priorities.

Matthew 23:23,24 record Jesus as saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

Jesus didn't say not to follow the fine points of the law; But He wants us to focus on the weightier matters.  In John 15:12 He said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”. And to make sure that we understand he repeats in verse 17, “These things I command you, that you love one another”.

How do you think Jesus feels when we lose our passion for him and our love for each other, and replace it with a mechanical form of religion where instead of loving each other we fight with each other?  In Revelation 2:4 He said, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love”.  Does Jesus have something against you, have you lost your first love?  Are you passionate about Jesus?

When you have a passion, others know.  Passion is more than mere formality and habit.  It’s enthusiasm, its strong love and affection.  To have a passionate church full of love for one another we must each one personally become passionate about Jesus.

Do you have passion today; A passion for Jesus who died for you?  1 John 4:10-12 states, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us”.

Jesus endured passion: He suffered for you.  He is still passionate in his love for you.  Are you passionate about Jesus or are your passions in other areas?  Let’s decide today to be passionate about Jesus.