The heavens scream out and tell us of God’s surpassing worth (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20). God’s glory is beyond our comprehension. For example, do you know how far away the closest star is (besides the sun)? It is approximately 4 light-years away. A light-year is the length that light travels in one year. Light travels 186,000 miles per second and there are 31,536,000 seconds in a year. A light year is really far. One light year is almost 6 trillion (6,000,000,000,000) miles! So, it takes four years for the light from the closest star to get to us.
The universe is also vast beyond comprehension. Hugh Ross said, “Somewhere around 50 billion trillion stars make their home in the observable universe.” That is impossible to conceive. “A comparison may make it more comprehensible: if that same number of dimes were packed together as densely as possible and piled 1,500 feet high (as high as some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers), they would cover the entire North American continent.”
Jesus and Jihad
I talked to a Muslim friend recently that said Islam and Christianity are ninety-six percent the same. I strongly disagree with him and believe most informed Muslims would as well. There is an irrevocable difference between Christianity and Islam. Some Christian missionaries go and die if need be, whereas some Muslim “missionaries” go and kill if need be. This is because Jesus died and said take up your crosses whereas Muhammad killed and said take up your swords. Jesus promises salvation through justification; Muhammad claims it comes through jihad.
It is important to understand that Jesus (Isa in the Qur’an) is quite prominent in the Qur’an and is held to be a prophet. The Qur’an assumes that its readers will have a working knowledge of Jesus and His teaching (cf. Surah 2:136; 4:29; 5:46). Islam even teaches that Jesus will return and carry out justice and “break the cross.” However, there is a very large contrast between what the Qur’an teaches about religious use of violence and what Jesus teaches on violence. So, let’s look at what Jesus has to say about violence.
Our discussion here should not be limited to bathrooms. It’s not just a problem of bathroom signs and who comes in those bathroom doors. The problem is not just political. If we leave it there we miss the heart of the issue and we fail to care about hearts.
It’s a matter of concern for people and prosperity. It’s a matter of love. And yes it’s a matter of truth. But I feel and fear that the latter has received the emphasis. And it sounds kind of like a noisy gong.
How is this issue related to prosperity? As we think about all-gender restrooms we need to consider the matter from the perspective of love for neighbor and not just moralism or concern for ourselves or even our kids. We need to look at Jesus as the standard of how we interact with people. We should desire to represent Him in this conversation. Not the Andy Griffith Show.
We should have a concern for our neighbors, whether monogamous, transgender, all-gender, because they are fellow human beings created in the image of God. And we don’t want them to miss out on the good design that God gave.
Thus the issue at hand is an issue of prosperity. How do humans prosper and flourish? How and what were we created for? What leads to our ultimate prosperity? What is our ultimate good?
Obviously, what blurs the issue is many believe we weren’t created and we thus have no ultimate purpose. Yet, if God did say in the beginning “it is good” and intends the world to function in a certain way then we shouldn’t want others to miss out on the good God intended even as we realize the world is broken (physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc.). If, however, many of our neighbors our right, if God is not there and He is silent, then it doesn’t matter. Let us eat and drink, let us gloat and indulge in gluttony, let us define our own identity, let us do what we want for tomorrow we die.
But, if as I believe, God did create the world in a certain way, to function according to to certain physical and moral laws then this conversation matters. It matters not just for me, my family, and those that have my same worldview. It matters for all people. It is a matter of being inlined with the laws of the universe, ever as much as we must account for the laws of gravity.
Yet, if we are Christians having this conversations with others, no matter who those others are, we must not be prideful. We must have the conversation in humility and love. We must have it knowing that all of creation groans with longing for redemption. We are all broken. We all struggle (Rosaria Butterfield’s words are helpful).
Love and Concern for People
As we think of and discuss this issue we shouldn’t do it detached from real people. Real people that have real struggles. We should not demonize other people, no matter who those people are. I don’t think Jesus would have done that even if they were putting up new signs on the restrooms at schools. I think Jesus would have seen the masses as blind sheep without a shepherd.
My reading of Scripture leads me to think Jesus would have loved and reached out in love to all people even transgender people (cf. Matt. 23:37). What people still need today is a shepherd, the Shepherd. A loving Shepherd that will lead His sheep to truth.
We must imitate the Good Shepherd. We must love our neighbors even as we disagree with our neighbors. We must be motivated out of love and not out of fear.
How can we who have been loved so much not reach out with love to others?! Are we in a position to judge? Have we removed our log when we reach for another’s speck (cf. Matt. 7:1-6)?
The Kingdom Question
“Hypothetically” if a certain potitical leader did things that didn’t line up with biblical morality and said things like “What is truth?” I don’t think Jesus would have lambasted the political establishment. I think He would have remembered and perhaps reminded us that as Christians our Kingdom is not here. We should not expect it to be (cf. Jn. 18:33ff).
Are you thinking more about the Andy Griffith Show and what our world should be like? Or are you looking at Jesus and what He acted like? Are you expecting to build your kingdom here or are you looking to Christ’s coming Kingdom?*
*Of course, we should not have an uninvolved escapist mentality. We should hold to our biblically informed views (see Politics?).
God incarnated Himself. Became poor, despised. God is the ultimate missionary. He Himself who is the good news, brought good news.
If we are going to be “missional,” i.e. intentionally evangelistic, we must focus on and learn from God the Great Missionary. God’s love is unrelenting and displayed through a vast array of means. It is tangible. It cares. It comes to us. It gives. God’s love is present, active, premeditated.
God’s mission is not disconnected from who He is but expressive of who He is. God’s character, in Christ, literally bled out. God’s missionary heart is not forced but fundamental. God is a God who calls, reaches, and loves the unloving; and He always has been.
We cannot expect our hearts to overflow with missional love unless we meditate on God’s love that we see expressed through the Scriptures. For the good news of Christ to overflow out of our hearts it must daily be in our hearts as good news. We don’t want the gospel and a life of love to be forced, we want it to be so natural that it pours out. We don’t just need our actions to change, we need our character to change. We need to be different. We need to care in ways that we don’t care. We want to intentionally share, not mainly because we have to but because we want to.
We must regularly challenge ourselves by the active nature of mission. God did something. He was not passive. He came. He had a plan (since before the foundation of the world) and He executed it. It cost Him but He carried it out. He opened wide His arms and welcomed in the unloving and hateful world as He hung stretched out on the tree.
We too must be active. We too must enter the world in tangible and intentional ways. We must have a plan and execute it; even if it costs us.
We are ambassadors for Christ, God makes His appeal through us. God speaks through us! So we must implore people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).
In the book of Genesis we read of societal progress. There are advances in technology and the arts. Yet, the problem remains: We have sinful hearts. Thus relationships and truly the world remain fractured. Like humpty dumpty; we can’t put it back together again. The answer to my problem, humanities problem, and the world’s problem is external to us.
One would think that
“Auschwitz destroyed… the idea that European civilization at least was a place where nobility, virtue and humanizing reason could flourish and abound… It seems remarkable that the belief in progress still survives and triumphs… People still continue to this day to suppose that the world is basically a good place and that its problems are more or less soluble by technology, education, ‘development’ in the sense of ‘Westernization.’”[i]
However, today’s problems, like that of all history past, is not solved by advances in technology or even any sort of knowledge or morality. It is solved by a Savior. It is Messiah Jesus that will once and for all eradicate sin and suffering (see e.g. Rom. 11:26-27; Heb. 12:23; 1 Jn. 3:2; Rev. 3:12; 21:1-8, 27; 22:3).
When we control the measures to make a utopian society the way we think it should be, it fails. Whether we control “the stirrings” (e.g. The Giver), emotions (e.g. Equilibrium), everything (e.g. The Lego Movie), or the socioeconomic structure (e.g. The Hunger Games) the result is not paradise; it’s a sort of hell, at least for many. We messed up utopia, we can’t with our fallible minds design a new one. Only our Lord can. He has the only infallible and incorruptible mind. He perfectly balances justice and grace. And He alone can make us and all things new.
So the recent movie and classic The Giver does more than entertain. It teaches us a profound truth, one we would do well to remember: There is no utopian society outside of Christ. We can’t fix it. There have been many botched attempts throughout history. They lay died with their victims.
“Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you’re part of a team…” As catchy as The Lego Movie song is, it is not exactly right. Everything is not awesome, not yet. However, it will be. But not from our own doing (Notice I am not saying we shouldn’t work for social justice. We should! Yet, it will not bring the ultimate and forever peace that we long for.).
Heaven comes down (Rev. 21:2). We don’t, nor can we, build it here. I am with you and Miss America in saying I desire world peace, yet it won’t ultimately come until our Lord does. When our Lord comes He will wipe away all evil, pain, and tears, not some charismatic leader or government (Rev. 21:1ff). Jesus will make all things new. Jesus will bring utopia.
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, come!
Sin is not good. But Jesus is. He will bring the shalom we all desire. Live for Him.
[i] N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 22-23.
The church is a gathering of the redeemed. We are made holy. We were not innately holy. The church is a place where those who know they are sick come to the Great Physician (cf. Lk. 5:31). The church is a monopoly of outcasts. It is filled with struggling ex-thieves, ex-drunkards, ex-adulterers, and ex-revilers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).
The church is (or should be!) a welcoming place for all because we have all been welcomed at Jesus’ own expense. Colossians radically says that in the church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). Who am I, who are you, to say or act any differently?!
True that it may be, the fact that the church is a place for outcasts is not easy. It brings with it, as you can imagine and know, a whole host of problems. So, what can sustain us through the difficulties? Where do we see the type of compassion we need to welcome the outcasts, the people that are not like us, do not think and smell like us, into the church?
What example do we have of compassion? What biblical model can we think of? None other than Jesus Himself! Jesus had abundant riches in heaven yet He left heaven for us and became poor that through His poverty we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). In Philippians, we are told to look not only to our own interests, but also the interests of others (2:4). Why should we do this? Because Jesus, who is God, humbled Himself and took the form of a servant to die for us (vv. 6-8). Our attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus’ (v. 5).
We know from the Gospels that Jesus had compassion on people.[i] He was even criticized by the religious leaders of the day because of the type of people that He reached out to and helped (cf. Matt. 9:9-13; 11:19; 21:31-32; Mk. 2:15-17; Lk. 3:12-14; 5:29-32; 7:36-50; 15; 19:1-10 for example). He ate with tax collectors even though they would cheat and steal from people (Matthew, who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, was previously a tax collector [Matt. 9:9-13]!). He talked to Gentiles who were basically unacceptable foreigners to many people. Jesus ministered to prostitutes and the friends that were closest to Him were not the religious elite but humble smelly fishermen. If we are to minister compassionately, we must imitate Jesus.
He reached out and literally touched lepers (Matt. 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-44; Lk. 5:12-16). Lepers were people with a severe skin disease. They had to call out “unclean, unclean” when they saw people (cf. Lev. 13:45-46), and Jesus touched them! When Jesus walked up to, let alone talked to and touched, the leper, His followers, to say nothing of the religious leaders, would have been shocked, scandalized.[ii] Yet, what is Jesus’ response? Did He turn away? Did He tell the leper to stay back? No. Jesus was filled with compassion (Mark 1:41).[iii] He cared for the outcast. He loved the unlovely even when it was the unpopular thing. Loathsome leprosy is not beyond Jesus’ loving touch.
Think of the biggest outcasts in today’s society—whether to you its addicts, illegal immigrants, poor people, unattractive people, those who have AIDS, so-called “white trash,” or whoever you think of—they are not outcasts to Jesus. He loves them. He reaches for them. No one is past His reach. No one is too sick for Him.
The most significant lesson from the cleansing of the leper story is that even outsiders can experience God’s healing grace. The church is called by this example to reach out to those on the fringes of society. Leprosy in its time was seen as reflecting the presence of sin, so reaching out to sinners is pictured here… Jesus came to save people from sin, any sin, no matter how serious. So the ministry of compassion he reveals here should be matched by the church’s efforts with those that most of society have given up on.[iv]
It is the very essence of Christianity to touch the untouchable, to love the unlovable, to forgive the unforgivable. Jesus did and so must we.
So, are you reaching? If we define lepers as those who are isolated, unwanted, the outcasts of society then who are the “lepers” who live around you today? Who are the “lepers” in your sphere of influence?
As we seek to minister compassionately, we must remember the gospel. We must understand that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10 and see following), and this includes you, me, and the addict. All have sinned and are declared righteous by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23). In fact, the Bible says we were all once vile sinners, a.k.a. addicts, but we have been washed, made holy, and declared righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).
The ground is level at the foot of the cross. We may not have the same addiction, i.e. sin problem, but we all have the sin problem. No, all sin does not look the same and does not have the same consequences (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18; Prov. 5:7-14) but it is all sin against a holy God. May we realize that we ourselves are sinners, even “the chief of sinners,” and say with Paul, “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). May we not be like the prideful Pharisee that puts himself over others (Lk. 18:11 cf. 13-14).
The loving and reaching grace of our humble and exalted Lord should create new Kingdom communities that transform. Even now the Lord is recreating (of course, there is an “already/not yet” aspect to it). Eric L. Johnson points out:
Shame… fosters an avoidance of self-examination and the assumption of responsibility, fear of others and of ‘being exposed,’ defensiveness and aggressive anger; it keeps people from reaching out to others… The revelation of God’s grace and mercy, his love for sinners and the broken and hurting, can therefore be profoundly encouraging and hope-giving. Direct experiences of God’s grace in the gospel can lead to reconfiguration of one’s self-representations, and one’s view of others and the world, and can facilitate a growing honesty and openness with God, oneself, and others, and so can help Christians become more willing to take risks with others.[v]
It is my prayer that we, as the church, would be more and more laid low by the profound reaching grace of God. God pulled us out of the slew of our sin. He pulled us out of death. We were helpless, lifeless. He saved us. May we understand and be humbled by Jesus’ saving work on our behalf and may we reach out as He did; in selfless humble love. We are not better or more righteous than others. We are saved. Saved by grace. We are outcasts that have been gathered for the wedding feast. We have even been given wedding garments. On our own, all of us, would be cast out on our own. Yet, through Christ we are all welcomed.
When we understand this, when the humbling grace of God courses through the veins of the church, it has a healthy symbiotic effect. It creates communities of welcoming and upbuilding.
[i] Eric L. Johnson has similarly pointed out that “scriptural teaching leads us to infer that God is especially committed to those who have psychological damage and desirous of improving their well-being (Mt 9:11-13; 11:19; 18:6; Lk 6:20; 1 Cor 1:26-28; 2 Cor 4:7; Jas 2:5)” (Foundations of Soul Care, 473).
[ii] “Jesus’ gesture made clear that he was not concerned with others’ taboos and dramatically demonstrated that God’s love extends to even the most outcast of society” (Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (Nashville: Boardman Press, 1992), 139).
[iii] B.B. Warfield points out that compassion is the attribute that is most often used to describe Jesus in the Gospels (The Person and Work of Christ [Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950], 96-97).
[iv] Darrell L. Bock, Luke in The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 165.
[v] Eric L. Johnson, “How God is Good for the Soul” in SBJT 7/4 (Winter 2003): 33. He goes on, “People who are especially burdened by their guilt and shame can become especially transformed by God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. In fact, the greater the sense of shame, the greater can be the eventual sense of gratitude and affection to God” (Luke 7:47)” (Ibid.).