Tag Archives: Jesus’ great commandment

What the World Needs Now is Love

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love;  it’s the only thing there is just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love.  No, not just for some, but for everyone….”      Diana Ross sang this top selling record in 1965  as the nation was deep in the quagmire of Vietnam and  the nation was being ripped apart by internal disagreements over the war and the Civil Rights Movement.   This was the decade that saw the assassinations of  John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. It was a turbulent decade.   It was a violent decade.   It was much like the decade of which we are now a part.

I think about death a lot these days.   It seems it is always lurking around the corner and ready to pounce on me when I least expect it.  But I do not fear it because I believe in a loving God who will receive me as a father receives his child—with open arms and unconditional love.  In the Parable of the Prodigal  Son Jesus  told of this kind of love and in the Sermon on the Mount he tells how we need to love others unconditionally in the same way the Father (God) loved the Prodigal Son.  In the Sermon he says:

“You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and  hate your enemy’, but I say to you ‘ Love your enemies  and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your father in Heaven.'”   (Matthew 5:43-44)

In a world torn by hatred and violence; divided by LGBT gender issues; fearful of each othere to mass shootings and listening to the prophets of hatred and gloom;  where the rich grow richer at the expense of the poor; where children go to bed hungry every night while surrounded by plenty; torn by differences in religion and race—-the solution of love is the only solution.

The word ‘love’ in English can have many definitions.   The Greek and Hebrew languages do a much better job in defining a more precise meaning.   The  Hebrew word ‘hesed’ is always used to express God’s unconditional love for his children.  In Greek there are several words we translate in English as love.  

In Greek, eros is the word for physical love and sexual love.   philos is the Greek for love of brother and sister— love for family members.  The Greek word  agape is translated “love”  and is the Greek word for unconditional love—love that loves with no expectation of return.  This is unconditional love-— the love that loves us  regardless of any return of love by us.   This is the way God loves us and the way we are told by Jesus to love our neighbor in the Great Commandment:   You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul,mind and strength; and your neighbor as yourself.    

What we need in this fractured and torn world today is LOVE.   UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.    We have tried the other ways—power  as military  and economic might;   hatred;   exclusion by building walls to shut others out; arming everyone to carry guns. How have they worked for us?   Not well!    The only solution we have not tried is  Unconditional Love.  Such Love put into action is a mighty force.    Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahtma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, St. Francis of Assissi and Jesus all lived by this kind of love and were a mighty force for change in their time.  They practiced agape love to the best of their ability.   Although severely and hurtfully opposed by the forces of power, in some cases jailed, beaten, and finally for King and Ghandi assassination and death—their lives and work remain a testament that love in action is a mighty force to change a fractured and torn world toward a more just and peaceful world.

Love is important!  It is what the dangerous, hurting, hatred and strife-turned world needs.   Have you ever considered what would happen if the United States used even half of the billions and billions spent on maintaining our military might and developing the means to kill our enemies to show  our love to them ?   Never underestimate the power of love to change enemies to friends.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love;

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. 

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

No, not just for some, but for everyone!!

Needed: A Cultural Sea-Change

In a recent post written about the mass shootings in America and the escalation of violence in our country,  I wrote that every time there is a shooting those who are leaders—mayors, police chiefs, governors, all the way up to the President of the United States say:   “This is enough —this must stop.”  But it does not stop—-and it won’t  stop until there is a sea-change in our culture.  What might that cultural change look like?  I’d like for you to think about that with me today….

One of the major changes must be in how we define success.  WE MUST HAVE A NEW DEFINTION OF SUCCESS.

Our current culture defines success as power.  It scorns failure, powerlessness, and any form of poverty.  It rejects all human vulnerability and seeks dominance instead.  Our definition and image of success is POWER.  Our political leaders in the current election are seeking to project a strong, secure, invulnerable image of power and control.   Dominance is what the American people are demanding and what Trump is exploiting  when he calls for “making America great again.”

What is the change in definition of success that we need?   It is found in the Gospel—the good news that Jesus brought, taught, and modeled for the world through his life and ministry.  We have thoroughly missed the gospel message about the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought as seen, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew (cf Matthew 6 and 7).  He brought his message to a culture like ours that was dominated by Rome.   The Romans worshiped power and maintained their power with the sword and with fear.   They punished those who rebelled against them by hanging them on crosses for days until they died by sword.   They called Caesar their god and among the gods they worshiped were Jupiter—the god of the thunderbolt and Mars, the god of war.  Into this harsh and fearful world Jesus brought a different way to live as a society.

The Sermon on the Mount praises those who his society looked down on.   “Blessed are the Poor”  he taught—not the rich but those on the bottom of the social ladder.  “Blessed are the Meek”—not the strong and powerful but those who are weak and vulnerable.   “Blessed are the merciful” —those who show mercy to the poor and vulnerable rather than trampling them under foot.  “Blessed are the peacemakers”—not the generals who wage war but those who seek peace over the destructiveness of war and strife in society.   “You have heard that it was said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say to you;  Do not resist an evildoer  If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one also.’ ”  You have heard that it was said ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ but I say go you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

This is a completely different way of living and turns strength and domination way on its head. It is a sea change in the status quo. True success would be a nation where poverty ceases to exist; where there are no children going to bed hungry; where people receive adequate medical care as needed; where laws are passed to benefit the common good and not just the few who are rich; where civility is practiced and people listen to each other; where color of skin and language spoken and religion practiced make no difference; where those who lead are servants of all and people are honored for strength of character and not for the money they make or the power they have;  where love and compassion are freely practiced; and where people help others rather than scorn their helplessness.

We today have thoroughly missed the point as did Jesus’ followers .   That is why Jesus says in Matthew 21:31 that “prostitutes, drunkards, and  tax collectors (hated in Jesus’ time) are getting into the Kingdom of God before the chief priests and religious elders.”

This is not an easy prescription to heal a hurting and hostile world. It will be achieved gradually and only as we turn to God for God’s strength and aid.  Jesus warned his disciples of the difficulty of the changes needed to live in the Kingdom of God on earth when he said “the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction and many take it,  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and few there there are who find it”. But Jesus also told his disciples “with God, nothing is impossible.”

GOP Convention: The Epitome of Hypocrisy

I believe that the epitome of hypocrisy was seen this past week when the GOP convention leaders asked Governor Kasich to  waive the open carry law in Ohio so that their national convention could be gun-free.   It appears that when it is their lives that are endangered by guns  they suddenly become gun control advocates while denying the same protection to others.  I was bemused that Kasich used their own G.O.P. position in replying  that current federal  law and the U.S. Constitution does not allow a governor to do so.

Their request for a ‘no-gun’ convention flies in the face of the GOP’s  current legislative position, which is to not even allow debate on any bill that would curb the right to bear arms–including any type of arms or ammunition such as AR-15s and  armor-piercing shells with extended magazines.   It is the epitome of hypocrisy that the G.O.P. convention goers do not want to operate under the rules they have set.

The G.O.P. and the “Trumpsters” are now reaping the results of what they have been sowing the past years after they took control of the legislative branch of government.  They have played the politics of fear to the hilt, they have sowed divisiveness and hatred.   They have refused compromise making governing almost impossible.   Now the country is reaping the results of their policies of negativity and advocacy of divisiveness.

In Donald Trump they have found a demagogue who will take their divisive and inflammatory causes to new heights and expose them to what happens.   Hand in hand with the NRA they have created a gun culture that leads to what we see is happening today in our country–an explosion of mass shootings in theaters, schools, malls, and other places that call for police protection which leads to calls for mass police intervention, which leads to further killing of police officers in ambush now these past two weeks. They have “sowed the wind” and are now “reaping the whirlwind.”

After each shooting event those in power say “This must stop!!”   but it doesn’t stop.   And it will not stop until there is a deep cultural change in this country away from the gun  culture and fear and disregard of human life to a culture that  values human life–that is inclusive of all and does not scapegoat  those who are different;  that sees all human life as sacred;  that practices respect for differences of opinion in politics and deals with difference of opinion without attacking the character of the one with whom we disagree;  in short; that lives the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor as we love ourselves.

The roots of the problem in America go far deeper than race relations to human relations.  If we continue to ‘sow the wind’  we will continue to “reap the whirlwind” as we are now experiencing! (Hosea 8:7)

Seeing God in Ourselves and Others

The way we see God is the way we see ourselves ; and the way we see ourselves is the way we see others.    

In the Book of Genesis we read:  “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  (Gen. 1:26-27)

We are all created in God’s image.   So how do we see God, and therefore our own self-image and the image of others?     This is a crucial question.    For example, if we see God as  a mighty King who lays down the rules and severely punishes those who disobey them by committing them to Hell for eternity—-then we see ourselves as sinners who are always falling short of the rules and worthy of punishment.     We will also see others as evil people like us who cannot be worthy of going to Heaven unless we do the prescribed repentance ; unlovable and not to be trusted.

The Biblical answer to the question—-How do we see God and therefore ourselves and those others around us?—is simple.    When I turn to the Gospels, I find that God gave us an answer to that question in Jesus.    IN JESUS GOD WAS GIVEN A FACE AND A HEART!!  It’s called “the incarnation”.   The God Jesus revealed was and is a God we could love and who loves us back—-because Jesus by his life and ministry and teachings has shown us that God is love!  GOD IS LOVE is the central attribute that stands behind all the descriptions of God in our Bible.    

Read the 13th chapter of I Corinthians:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing.   If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body, so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing…. (I. Cor. 13:1-3     

Paul writes that if we are brilliant speakers, have vast knowledge , have faith capable of moving mountains, willingly  give our bodies as sacrifices AND DO NOT HAVE LOVE—all is worthless.

LOVE IS THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING.    LOVE DEFINES GOD.   Therefore I  must ask  these questions for you to ponder--Is your God a God of love?   Does love direct all that you are as a person?     Do you love those around you because you see in them the image of God—-Love?

Think about it!

Churches Survive by Saying “Yes” to new ideas

If you want your church to survive and see the next decade, figure out how to say “yes” to new ideas.  

I still receive newsletters from many of the churches I’ve served, and when I do I always check two things:  (1)  The calendar of activities ; and (2) the attendance figures, if given.

As I look at the calendar of activities I am saddened to see the same things that they were doing when I was there—10, 15, 20 years ago are being done today.   Same old, same old. year after year after year!   As I look at attendance, it is steadily dwindling for these churches  And church membership rolls are losing more to death than gaining new Christians.

There is a connection between the above two.  I believe that the only way to turn things around is for the church to start saying “yes” to some new ideas.    Actually the ideas are not new at all.    Somehow between now and the time Jesus spent on earth the church has forgotten the message that Jesus brought. Jesus’ message was one of proclaiming something new—The Kingdom of God on earth—a new and transforming way to live according to the principles found in the gospels  and his life and ministry that was summarized in the Beatitudes in Mathew.   His message about living in the Kingdom was a complete turning upside down of all the rules and regulations and greed and hatred and exclusiveness of the temple religion and the way people related to each other at his time —it was the  good news,  a gospel of love of God, neighbor.  Jesus message proclaimed that God loved all peoples, especially the poor, the widow, the outsider, the excluded, the homeless, the sick,, the mentally ill, foreigners, those at the “bottom of the barrel in society.

Those disciples and early Christians who followed Jesus attempted to live out these ideas.    That is why we read in Acts that religious authorities were complaining about them—“these Christians have turned the world upside down.

Groups of followers of Jesus gathered together and received the Holy Spirit and then were guided by that Spirit of God in all that they did.      They gathered often  to help each other live out the “Great Commandment” that Jesus said summed up all the foregoing law and prophets:   “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength;  and your neighbor as yourself!.    They were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts speaks often of Jesus’s followers being “filled with the Spirit—the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples that  would come after he departed the earth and would be their counselor and their guide and inspiration.     Filled with this Spirit, from the day of Pentecost,    the disciples and the early church  did things that seemed impossible, for example—Peter, who had denied Jesus in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial,  boldly proclaimed  the resurrection and the Kingdom of God at the risk of his life.   Followers of Jesus  endured persecution and death in order to stay faithful to this one, Jesus, who had changed and transformed their lives, and worked together to spread the good news of God’s transforming love and the new way of living in the Kingdom of God.

What we need to say “yes”  to is the Holy Spirit.   We need to say “yes” to welcoming the Spirit into our lives individually.   We need churches who say “yes” to the Holy Spirit and look toward the Spirit’s guidance.   The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and churches  that are full of the Spirit of God are churches that survive and grow because they are not into religion but into transformation.

In a world full of challenges, in a time like ours, we can’t settle for a heavy and fixed religion.   We cannot contain God’s Spirit in such boxes as we build and call churches.     They are not churches—-they are buildings.  Jesus did not come to build a new religion, but that is what we have done.   Instead of following him on the Way we have turned Jesus into a religion.   As Rohr says:   ” We worshipped Jesus instead of following Him on the same path”

Jesus transformed lives on a hillside,  in a house, wherever people gathered.   He reached out to ALL people and told them and showed them that God loved them not just in words but in actions showing the love..  To be loved by God is to be transformed, and to be transformed is to reach out to others in God’s name and seek their transformation.

When the church accepts the “new” idea that their mission is one of changing and transforming lives and sees it’s mission as one of changing and transforming the lives of those around them by  following the teachings and example of Jesus, then, as in Acts:   “the Lord will add daily to their numbersl

Congregations that are full of God’s Spirit are full of people!

Love God or Fear God?

I’m almost 80 years old and like most people my age I was taught by my church that I needed to fear God, in the usual meaning (as I interpreted it) of being scared of God.  God was described as King, Judge, and living in Heaven which was far from me in some uncertain place and above and apart from the earth.   God was surrounded by the “heavenly hosts” of angels who sang and worshipped him 24/7/365 and was often pictured as  just waiting for someone like me to do something wrong so he could punish them. God was “up there watching me” to make sure I was a good boy.    This entire picture reminds me of the song that was popular during the late 1900’s introduced by Stan Philips called “God is Watching You.”  It goes through many of life’s situations, always followed by the refrain “God is Watching You, God is watching you!  From a distance God is watching you.”   It also reminds me of the Bette Midler song:   From a Distance, God is watching you.”

How those who claim to follow Jesus have managed to twist and mangle the picture of God that Jesus brought!     The picture of God we get through the life and teachings of Jesus in the gospels is not one of a wrathful, vengeful person just waiting to punish us in the fires of Hell if we don’t behave, but it is a picture of a loving father as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.    God is like the father in that parable who rushes out to hug and kiss and welcome home the wayward son who is broken in spirit and body.     God is a forgiving God.   God is a loving God.

“In Jesus, God was given a face and a heart.   God became someone we could love.” as Richard Rohr puts it in one of his daily devotions.    God is one  who desires relationship and to whom we can relate.    And this God is not far away in some place called heaven, but is around us and within us and beside us all the time.   We cannot, not live in the presence of God.  But as Jesus shows, living in God’s presence is a good thing.   And the Apostle Paul amplifies that in Romans when he says that nothing can separate us from God’s love.   And Jesus declares in the Gospel of John that “God is love.”

We have today, too often domesticated the Gospel and made it into a means of keeping social order and control.    A fear-inducing God is what is needed for control of society.   But a God of love is who we need if we are to be transformed and rise above all the hate and greed and cruelty that we see all around us.    Love is a greater motivator than fear any time.

The words I would give you today are these:     Do not fear God!    Love God!   Seek God’s presence.   Be aware that he is always there for you and will never abandon you.

So how do we love God?    The only way we can love God is to love what God loves!     And that is everything in creation;  everyone, including you and me.   It is as Jesus reminded the one who asked him how can I earn eternal life—-in the words of the Shema of ancient Israel:      “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, body and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”   We show our love for God as we show our love for others.    When we love our neighbor we love God.   Amen.

Walking in another’s Mocassins

There is an old Indian proverb that says, in effect:   ” Never judge another person until you have spent a day walking in his moccasins.”     A recent update of that appeared in Facebook  as a sign saying:   “ Be kind to everyone, you don’t know their story.   And Ellen signs off The Ellen show each day saying:   “Be Kind to each other”!!However, it seems a lot of us have more of a built-in  tendency to judge than we do to be kind to each other.

For example:   We see someone in dirty clothes, carrying all he owns on his back in a plastic sack, unshaven—-and we judge in many ways:    We judge that he is dangerous; we judge that he’s probably an alcoholic or on drugs;   we judge that he is ill educated and uncouth; we judge that as a human being he is a drag on society.    Who hasn’t exhibited one or another of these judgments?

Another example:   There are few teachers who haven’t had to endure the insult of this little rhyme:   “If you can’t do, teach.   And if you can’t teach, teach others to teach.”    As one who both taught and taught future teachers I find this highly derogatory and insulting.   Society has seemed to always look down on teachers as failures who can’t do anything else—as evidence that they usually make very little money, which is the way we judge success.    They are people who must be closely watched by administrators and the state to make sure that they are “held accountable.”   We chide them because they have the summers off.  (they are usually working another job to make ends meet during the summer).   They are at the mercy of school boards and administrators because they no longer have tenure protection.

Now let’s spend a day walking in a teacher’s moccasins—–This person gets up at 5 a.m. so he can make it to work by 7 p.m. with a 30 minute commute.    He arrives at work, makes some coffee for his colleagues and then walks back to his cubicle where he begins to get books and supplies and graded papers  together and carefully goes over the class plans he has for the day.   He has a class to teach in American History, one in European History, and three freshmen English classes (English is outside his major)  Five classes in all with each class having an average of 30 students.   He teaches each class in a different classroom—one of the Freshmen English classes is taught with computers and the other two are not.   His classrooms are located in different spots scattered over a large high school campus.   He must prepare carefully because after each class he must run by his office during a 10 minute passing period to collect materials and books for the next class.   At the end of the day he is exhausted, but today there is more.    He rushes home and changes into a Park Ranger uniform, straps on his 38 revolver, and drives to the San Diego Wild Animal Park where he will work from 4 p.m. until midnight.   He arrives home after midnight and goes to bed and gets up at five the next morning and begins it all over again.   The next day  will be a good day—-he doesn’t have to work the second job—-but he does have a huge pile of papers to grade and prep to do at the end of that day.

This was a day in my life as a teacher at a high school in California. At the end of the school year I had to look forward to working my second job full time during the summmer.     It was during the economic period where inflation was surging and wages were not, and I had a family to support—-two children, one in high school and one in college.  So I had no choice but to work two jobs.

Things have not changed that much today!.    Prices still are going  up.    Teacher’s salaries are not.   Schools don’t receive the money they need so teachers do more with less and teach multiple subjects, some outside their area of expertise.   They teach them to students who have been told that teachers don’t know what they are doing.   That  if they “had it” they would be in “real jobs” amaking “real money” and therefore be successful.  .    The governor doesn’t trust teachers nor do the state legislators in Kansas.   Teachers  have no security from administrators who do things to them to get rid of them like my administrator did to me that year that I just described above.   The Kansas legislators and governor got rid of the tenure law last year.

WALK IN THESE SHOES FOR A DAY OR A YEAR  AND SEE IF YOUR CRITICISM OF TEACHERS IS STILL THE SAME.

I am retired now and sitting at the check-in-table at the Lord’s Diner here in my home city of Wichita.   The Diner is open 7 days a week to feed the hungry in Wichita and usually there are over  500 people eating each evening, including many children.    Many of them are carrying all their belongings on their back.   Look in many of their eyes, even their children, and there is a deadness, a loss of hope in many.

My wife sits alongside me and since I am diabetic, before we are finish I need to go get something to eat.   I reluctantly leave her and sit inside on the other side of a glass wall as I eat so I am able to keep watch on her.   (There’s my bias—-I think she is in danger because she’s dealing with homeless people.)   As I watch, a very tall, black-headed “motorcycle dude” with a scraggly beard and a handkerchief on his head came in.    I took one look at him and thought “that is a mean-looking dude”.    He came in and got his food and sat at the end of the table where I was eating.    I was surprised to see that the first thing he did after being seated was to fold his hands, bow his head, and I saw his lips moving in prayer.

We got to talking and he shared some of the story of his life with me.   He told me how blessed he was because he had just found a place to stay in a warm garage (it was winter) and he was better able to do what he liked to do.   As we talked his story unfolded that what he liked to do was to rescue homeless people who were on the verge of committing suicide..    He recounted the number of times and some of the ways he had reached out to homeless persons who were ready to end their lives.    He took them in, made sure they got something to eat, let them stay with him and tried to talk them out of suicide.  He said he was usually successful, but lost some.   He said he felt that was his ministry and I assured him that it was indeed a ministry—-a God given one.   He had found a way to put his faith in God into life-saving action.

HOW MANY OF US HAVE A LIFE STORY TO MATCH  THIS?

Do you still think that this man is a “drag” on society?  That he is dangerous and uncouth after hearing his story?   How many of us can say that we work at saving lives every day?   KNOWING HIS STORY MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE.