There are times when we have little to give. Yet, if surrendered to God, even our little can go a long way. A warm smile, sincere smile, a kind note, a hug, a conversation over coffee, a listening ear, or an acknowledgment of someone’s existence and worth can go a long way. Society tells us we need “stuff,” but it is the little things that give us purpose and hope.

There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? ~ John 6:9

Genuine love is not for sissies, for it requires self-discipline, commitment, and sacrifice. Even the weakest of fools can scream hatred or pull a trigger. Love, on the other hand, requires incredible strength.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? ~ Matthew 5:44, 46

The Challenge

Typically, challenges and competition feed our egos. Who does not like to have points added to the “one up on you” scoreboard? So it might seem surprising to receive a challenge from the apostle Paul. In one of his letters to believers, he writes,

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. ~ Romans 12:10

Did you catch that? Outdo one another in showing honor. “What? Are you kidding me?” some will say. But think about it, what would happen if each of us tried to outdo one another in showing honor, giving respect, displaying brotherly love? Each of us would receive honor, respect, and love. Each of us would be granted help, encouragement, patience, and the benefit of the doubt. Furthermore, if each of us tried to outdo one another showing honor, we would not have to be concerned about being cheated. It is a win-win situation where each person benefits.

I double dog dare you to outdo showing honor to others. And if you truly want to be a master, let us up the ante. The fact of the matter is we live in a world where people do not strive to outdo showing honor. Some people are outright mean. Yet Paul tells us to repay no one evil for evil, because God will deal with them in due time. But another challenge is given: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

Are you up for the challenge?

The Anatomy of Love

Our society talks a lot about love. It is portrayed in movies, sang about in songs, placed on t-shirts (eg., “I [heart] _____”), and painted on posters (e.g., “Give love a chance” “Make love, not war”). But the love of the world is, too often, romanticized and superficial. After all, many in Hollywood know nothing of devoted commitment of the characters they portray. Music celebrities are often known for their activities with groupies after the gigs. T-shirts are mere pieces of cloth, and those at protest rallies with posters crying out for love are often vessels of hatred, spewing out, “Burn in hell!” Die, you pigs!” “Damn you!” to all who disagree with their position.

The world’s version(s) of love is childish, fairy-tale make believe. The world’s version is like a marshmallow, a squishy puff of sugar. However, authentic love has substance of bone and flesh, so to speak, having an actual anatomy.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Now, let’s consider briefly the anatomy, or structure, of love:

Patient (or long-suffering) – love bears with other’s differences, quirks, and mistakes without becoming quickly annoyed or rejecting hastily.

Kind – love is gentle and benevolent.

Content – love is not competitive; it is not envious when someone else has nor does it boast when someone else does not have.

Humble – love views others with equality of worth; it does not show partiality nor is it filled with contempt for others. Love does not feel superior to others.

Selfless – love does not demand its own way but considers the needs and wants of others. 

Levelheaded / Forgiving – love does not keep tally each time another fails, demanding absolute perfection. Love does not nurse a grudge to keep such bitterness alive.

Righteous / Honest – love does not not delight in evil or harm of others, nor does it take any delight in falsehood, gossip, or slander.

When fleshed out, love has real substance. Genuine love is not for the weak. Any fool can get angry, be rude, refuse to forgive, or desire harm to another. Any fool can scream profanities and derogatory statements in the midst of a rally. And any fool can look upon another with such contempt and hatred easily enough. 

It is easy to betray a friendship when one does not get his or her own way. It is easy to curse another rather than taking the time to understand them. However, what is hard, what is extremely difficult, is having genuine benevolence for others simply because they are human beings, regardless if they are like us, or attractive to us, or even kind toward us.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good …Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:9, 13-21

In the Person of Jesus Christ we have the perfect example of genuine love put into action. Jesus was kind and welcoming to the misfits and outcasts; He was gentle with people’s failures and shortcomings. While the Scriptures do show He was angry on a few occasions, it was always in connection with people’s hypocrisy, injustice, and hard-heartedness towards others; ironically, He prayed for forgiveness concerning those who persecuted and crucified Him.

Genuine love is both benevolent and sacrificial for the sake of others. For all the talk and portrayals of love in our society, do these correspond with reality? How can it when we are so busy flinging mud, refusing to see any common ground; when we have such disdain for others whose political leanings are different than ours; when the “end justifies the means” while destroying others, regardless of any deception or smoke and mirrors, as if injustice can bring about justice?

My friend, love is hard. It requires courage to lower the defenses and resolve to put off our egos. It requires humility to “turn the other cheek” and to consider the needs of others. It requires commitment to hang tight when every part of you simply wants to let go. Only as we are willing to become weak will we truly become strong.

“Hell no! That’s stupid! I’m not humbling myself for nobody!” many will say. Ah, but this is precisely why we are in the mangled, divided mess we are in today. Nevertheless, unless we are willing to humble our own selves, extend kindness, meet on some common ground, and treat others with courtesy and respect, we might as well throw away our banners and burn our placards extolling love and unity. For there is no other way these can be attained. We must study the anatomy of love and put into practice its various elements. Cursing, force, and violence will only  produce more unrest, keeping us in the mangled, bloody mess we are in. Only genuine love will lead us to a productive peace and unity we claim to desire.

Encourage Your Pastor

One of the sad (but true) jokes in churches is that many families will have roasted pastor for dinner after Sunday’s service. However, the pastor who is genuinely called by God and is trying to lead a congregation in the ways of God has a tremendous responsibility. Furthermore, he does so many things behind the scenes ministering to others most are unaware of. Contrary to popular belief, pastors do far more than “just prepare for sermons and preach.” They serve as counselors and comforters, and many are on-call 24/7.

Pastors are not perfect (although they are to be godly). They have feelings and passions. They experience fear, sadness, discouragement, and anger. Many are husbands and fathers trying to be good In these roles (these are difficult for them too), and often people expect their families to be picture perfect. Dysfunction brings their calling, character, and credibility into question.

Pastors must deal with conviction and accountability to God for how they behave and handle the Word of God. They must deal with their own consciences making them aware of their failures and inadequacies. And pastors have “a target on their backs,”  more so than the average Christian, because if Satan can influence them to fall into gross sin and scandalous activities, then congregations can be divided, confounded, and even faith being shipwrecked of some.

I have read of the following statistics:

  • 97% of pastors have been betrayed, falsely accused, or hurt by their trusted friends.
  • 70% of pastors struggle with depression.
  • 1500 pastors quit each month.
  • 10% will retire as pastors.
  • 80% of pastors feel discouraged.
  • 94% of pastor’s families feel the pressure of ministry.
  • 78% of pastors have no close friends.
  • 90% of pastors report to working 55-75 hours per week.

The primary tasks of a pastor is studying/teaching God’s Word and devoting himself to earnest prayer. Christians can say they “love God’s Word,” but pastors make a lot of people mad when they do truly preach God’s Word!

If you have a godly (albeit imperfect) pastor who strives to be faithful to Jesus Christ, His Word, and the Great Commission; and if he seeks to minister to the congregation and is burdened for the souls of people, then you are truly blessed. The Bible says this of such individuals:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. ~ 1 Timothy 5:17 (ESV)

And,

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. ~ Hebrews 13:17

Do you give honor—even double honor—to your pastor? Or do you nit pick his flaws, give him grief because he did not call you on your birthday, and roast him because he preached against your beloved pet sin(s)? If the latter, how is this of any benefit to you? What gain is there in wounding and making the work difficult of one who loves you? Sadly, often pastors pour themselves out (sometimes at the expense of their families) only to meet with continual resistance, roasting, and betrayal from congregants. 

Do you pray for your pastor’s well being? Have you encouraged your pastor (and his family) lately? A gift, a note of appreciation, and the like could be of great encouragement to him. It might even be that needed spark to help him keep from giving up. Encourage your pastor. He experiences the stresses of life and loss, just as you, all the while putting these aside ad he tried to minister to others. The weight and burdens he carries with him you will never understand. He needs your prayers and encouragement more than you can ever know.

Polarization and the Stripping Away of Our Humanity

On their album, Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd has a song entitled, “Us and Them”. The lyrics begin with, “Us and them / And after all, we’re only ordinary men.” This reminds me of a part in Homer’s, The Iliad, when Hector, the noble hero of the Trojans, was home with his family before his upcoming dual with Achilles, the champion of the Greeks.

While the book celebrates the Greek warriors, this scene takes us into Hector’s home, loving on his family, although knowing he might not return to them after the fight. What struck me about this, when I read it in college, was the reality of persons in war. On each side are dads, moms, sons, and daughters. The vast majority do not want to be there, but are there because of duty—for “love of God, King, and country.”

While their cultures might be different, their humanity is very much the same: intellect, emotions, passions, dreams, ambitions, love, affections, fear, etc.

One of the dangerous consequences being recognized, due to modern technology and social media, is polarization. While technology is not fully to blame, it has, indeed, confounded matters. No longer is it simply disagreeing or being divided. It has become demeaning, demonizing, and dehumanizing enmity. We have the Left/Right, liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican, black/white, etc. Mind you, I am not at all promoting pluralism or ecumenicalism, nor am I endorsing complete individualism and autonomy. However, we are becoming a society that strips away the humanity of persons who are not like us and/or who do not think like us.

Some foundational doctrines in Christian theology concerning people are: 1) Created in God’s image, 2) original sin, and 3) Redemption.

First, all people are made in God’s image, and He has placed us in the time and place as He sees fit.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-27

Second, the suffering we see in our world is rooted in original sin; that is, because the first couple sinned, sin is now passed on from generation to generation. We often view racism, violence, perversion, etc. as the problems; however, these are merely symptoms of the “spiritual disease” each of us is infected with.

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” … For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ~ Romans 3:10-12, 22-23

Third, God has a genuine love for fallen humanity and has made redemption possible for all people who are willing to repent of sin and believe on His Son.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. ~ Romans 5:8-10

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:9

Although sin has distorted our desires and perception, it has not eradicated our humanity and worth to God. Yet, how easily—especially with social media—we can slander and demonize others. Regardless of ethnicity, color, or beliefs, we are all but ordinary people. We work, play, love our families, and want to survive. Mind you, none of this is meant to ignore crime or injustice; however, we can be so malicious, injurious, and even murderous with our tongues and posts. The distance from verbal harm to physical harm is not far at all. In fact, Jesus explains:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. ~ Matthew 5:21-22

We are also told,

No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? ~ James 3:8-11

Yet, consider the way people slander, accuse, and dehumanize others on social media. How brutally nasty people can be towards others whose views are different. Too often a distinction is not made between the person and the view. So, going straight for the jugular, so to speak, honest dialogue is not permitted and the person’s humanity is trampled on. As a result, there is no consideration that the other is a person with a past full of various experiences. Furthermore, this is someone’s son, daughter, parent, etc. Dangerously worse still, God’s image, love, and redemption are denied a person. In the end, such polarization makes us like beasts, monsters, and devils ourselves.

We can fight to the death for our opinions, perceptions, and convictions; yet, the Bible tells us:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

Strangely, whenever we seek to dehumanize others, we dehumanize ourselves, too. Sadly, the more our climate becomes polarized, the more our humanity is stripped away.

Golden Opportunities

Recently, after shopping for groceries and putting them in the vehicle, I pulled out of the parking spot. No sooner shifting the gear into drive, I noticed someone’s wallet lying on the ground. I stopped, shifted the gear to park, and got out to retrieve the wallet. I got back into the vehicle so I could park it, and then took the wallet to the customer service desk.

When I retrieved the wallet, various thoughts rushed through my mind. First, the principle of the “Golden Rule.”

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. ~ Matthew 7:12

I remember thinking if I were to lose my wallet, I would desire for someone to return it to me. From this, I began thinking of the common desire for rewards. Too often, people want something in return for doing what is good and right. Sometimes people’s decision to do good is dependent on whether something is “in it” for them.

I then remembered some words my grandpa had shared with me many years ago, “If you can’t help people, then what’s the point in living?”

I share this not because I am some great, selfless human being. I am not. However, in a world that ridicules the Bible as being irrelevant, how profoundly different our world would be if people were to strive to live by this seemingly simplistic principle to treat and do to others as we would want to be treated and have done to us. May we learn to seize golden opportunities each day as they arrive.

If Our Dogs Were to Sing Some Johnny Cash

I love animals—especially doggies! I believe there is truth in “dogs are a man’s best friend.” I also believe a person who is cruel to animals (or people) is not worth trusting.

Several years ago our family adopted a black lab mix named Jolie. A couple years later we adopted a black pit mix who had been neglected and mistreated. His name was Cash. One day my wife had mentioned Jolie and Cash, and my mind just went running…. Imagine if our pups were country legends. You might hear, “Doggie Kennel Blues” (to the tune of “Folsom Prison Blues”):

“Hello, we’re Jolie and Cash.”

(music starts playing)

We hear the squirrels a-ramblin’,
They’re running ’round the bend,
We ain’t seen the sunshine
Since we don’t know when.
We’re stuck in doggie kennels,
Time keeps draggin’ on.
But we hear those critters running
All over on our lawn.

When we were but just puppies,
Our mama told us dogs,
“Always be good pups,
Don’t ever eat like hogs,”
But we bit Mom in the kitchen,
‘Cause we thought she had pie.
She threw us in the kennel –
We give our sad pup eyes. (Phooey!)

We bet our peoples eatin’
On their nice clean plates —
Fried chicken or grilled pork chops,
Or nice big juicy steaks.
Well we know we had it coming,
We know we can’t be free.
But our peoples eatin’ good stuff,
And that’s what tortures we!

Well if they free us from these kennels,
If that big back yard was ours,
We bet we’d run all over awhile —
We’d run around for hours
Far from doggie kennels,
That’s where we want to stay.
And we’d let those outside breezes
Blow our blues away. 🙂

After writing “Doggie Kennel Blues” a friend of mine told me I should do “Dogs In Black” (instead of “Man In Black”). So I did. And just as Man In Black deals with the struggles of mankind, I thought it fitting that Dogs In Black deal with the struggles of animals (after all, both of our dogs were rescued and adopted through an animal shelter). This is for fellow animal lovers and critters everywhere.

Dogs In Black

Well, you just might wonder why our furs are black
Why you never see bright colors on our backs
And why do our appearance seem to have a somber tone
Well, there’s a reason for the fur that we have on.

We wear the black for the dogs who are beaten down
And all those forgotten all across our town
For all those in the shelters, neglected, or abused
Who want to be loved but are pushed off and refused.

We wear black for those who’ve not heard said
“I love you” from whom they’re loved and fed
For cats and dogs without people who they can call their own
For those without a place to call their home.

Well, some are doing fine, we do declare
Living with their people without a care
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back
Up front there oughta be some dogs in black.

We wear it for the ones who have the mange,
And all the ones abandoned in places strange.
We wear the black for mourning for the pups that could have been
Each week we lose some because of cruel men.

And we wear it for the many who have died
Believing someone cared when e’re they cried
We wear it for another thousand who are chained outside —
Hot or freezing, no concern if they died.

Well, there’s things that never will be right, we know
Critters need lovin’ everywhere you go
But until people start to care and treat their critters right
You will never see us wear furs of white.

Ah, we’d love to have steaks and bones everyday
And tell cats and dogs that all’s okay.
But we’ll try to carry off a little darkness on our backs.
Til things are better, we’re the dogs in black.
__________

“A righteous man cares about his animal’s health, but even the merciful acts of the wicked are cruel.” Proverbs 12:10 (HCSB)