One of the most scandalizing passages in the whole Bible is Matthew 5:43-48.
Nestled within the ever-practical Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivers the following words like a gut-punch to our naturally self-defensive souls:
"43 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." - Ephesians 1:7-10
How many times have you read or heard this passage of scripture? A dozen or more, maybe? Do the words deeply move you, or spiritually affect you? Is there any sort of visceral response when these words are spoken to you?
It is much too easy to "habituate" the good news of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, Christians need to be reminded of the beauty of the Gospel.
"The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me." - John 17:22-23
This passage has been weighing on me for quite some time. Nestled in the middle of "The High Priestly Prayer," it is easy to just gloss over. We have probably read it or heard it spoken dozens of times. But, there are two seemingly insignificant words that make all the difference in understanding what Jesus was truly telling us: "so that."
It is so easy -- too easy -- to become complacent in our daily lives when there is little challenge or discomfort. Within the confines of our "comfort-bubble," we can smugly peer down upon those struggling with things that we are not struggling with. Even the feeling of thankfulness for one's blessings can contort into a feeling of pride that we are more fortunate than someone else.
But in dire times such as these, when disasters or tragedies strip away all pretense, I am reminded of how we are all truly the same by nature.
Following disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it is only natural to start asking the question of God, "Why did this happen?"
Entire communities have been devastated beyond recognition. Families have lost their homes and livelihoods. Recovery will be long and difficult. Why did this happen?
After a massive disaster like Hurricane Harvey, there are thousands of people in need of physical help and spiritual hope. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones, some are desperate after losing their homes. All of them are hurting deeply. Some may already know Jesus, but many do not.
Times such as these present a unique opportunity for the Church as the whole world watches. There are two basic responses that Jesus-followers may choose:
1) Turn in, or 2) Reach out.
Around 2:15pm EST, I will be taking a work-break to watch the total solar eclipse, and I am excited.
I feel like a school boy, giddy to see a science project explode in chemistry class, or something. I have never witnessed a magnificent astronomical event before, and this may be the only time I ever do! I even made my own cereal-box pin-hole projector (mostly because all of the local stores ran out of the solar-safe glasses).
As I was reflecting and daydreaming about how beautiful this event will be, I was struck by how metaphorical a solar eclipse is.
For some, this might be a silly question. But for others, this question shakes the very foundation of our faith.
If God is who He says He is, why does it feel like He is so far away right now? Can He hear me when I pray? Does He care about me and my problems? Why doesn't He just tell me what to do, or make it a little more obvious which direction to go?
These are all valid questions, both for the young Jesus-follower and for the veteran disciple.
Working for a disaster response ministry, I often find myself being humbled by the stories of the people we serve around the world.
Right now in several East African countries, families just like yours and mine are hungry and thirsty. Drought conditions have afflicted many for months upon months. It is dry to say the least. These brothers and sisters understand hunger and thirst much differently and more seriously than I do.
Throughout the Scriptures, hunger and thirst are used as metaphors for the type of disposition we ought to have for God's presence in our lives. I'm afraid I do not yet fully understand the gravity of this in my relationship with Him.
"Patience is a virtue," they say.
Honestly, I wish "they" wouldn't say that! Patience does not come naturally to me -- it is almost always a battle with myself. Dreams of the future and the myriad of unknowns / what-ifs fill my mind with hopes and worries. When someone lets me down or does something disappointing, I find myself lacking patience towards him or her. The suffering in the world begins to overwhelm me and I find myself longing for Christ's return right this instant. But, there always seems to be waiting involved.
Why is patience so hard? Can you relate?