1 John 2:7-11 – Love, Not Hate

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing, and the true light is already shining.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. (New International Version)

It ought to be abundantly clear that hate has absolutely no place in the Christian’s life. Hate is never justified for any individual or group of people. There are no exceptions.

Love, however, is the consummate Christian virtue. The highest of all truth in Christianity is the grace that is bestowed on us through the love of God in Christ. We, in turn, reflect our Lord’s grace by loving others, no matter their gender, race, creed, or ethnicity.

Yet, we are all familiar with hate. Everyone has hated another, and others have hated us. Unfortunately, hate is ubiquitous throughout the world.

Let’s face it: You and I have people we just don’t like. And maybe for good reason. After all, if you are being gaslighted by someone, or have been abused, mistreated, or oppressed by a person or group, then it takes no effort in disliking them, even to the point of despising them in your heart.

As much as other people need to change, the Apostle John places the burden of change to fall on us who claim the name of Christ. Love must begin somewhere. Let it begin with me.

The bald fact of the matter is that we cannot change another person. We can only control ourselves, and a lot of us don’t do a very good job with that. Christians are to learn to speak and act in the loving ways passed on to us through the gospel. We are to become skilled in the ways of Jesus, which is the way of love.

I fully understand this is not easy. In fact, it is downright hard. Forgiving another, even ourselves, can be a long painful process. Making the choice to love again, or love my enemy, is no small thing. Love must always be our default and de facto response to everyone. Otherwise, our hearts will grow cold and hard. And we will become the very people we despise.

There is a shadow self, dwelling within us all. There are murky places in our hearts where darkness resides. We cannot afford to ignore those places. If we pretend there is no shadow self and keep up appearances, then we actually give the darkness power to come out of us through hateful speech and actions.

The “shadow” is a concept first coined by the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung (1875-1961). Jung describes the shadow self as those aspects of our personality we choose to reject and/or repress. In other words, we all have parts of ourselves we don’t like—or that we think others won’t like—so we stuff those parts down into our unconscious psyche.

So then, the shadow self is a collection of things we toss into the closet of our hearts, lock the door, and forget about them. But they’re still there. And they still exert a great deal of influence from inside that dark closet.

We must be willing to face the shadowy parts of ourselves, to face the dark thoughts and feelings of secretly harming another (or ourselves), nursing a grudge, harboring bitterness, or holding onto an offense, as if it were a security blanket.

Whereas some may believe all our unwanted emotions, thoughts, feelings, and experiences are tightly hidden, they are not. Instead, the telltale sign of the darkness slipping out sideways into the world is hate. And that insidious hate typically takes the following forms:

  • Harshly judging or criticizing others by taking a superior posture over another. The critic, however, doesn’t know they are really castigating themselves.
  • Rebuking others as a common practice. Pointing out another’s “sins” is only a projection of one’s inner darkness onto the other.
  • Having a quick temper. Getting angry and belittling those who cannot fight back or respond is really self-loathing slathered onto someone else.
  • Being the victim in every bad situation. Victimization is a terrible thing. And when someone who isn’t really a victim claims to be one, it diminishes and invalidates the help that true victims need. This is the shadow self’s insecurity coming out – needing attention so that the incessant pounding from the inside of the heart is silenced.
  • Doing whatever is needed to get what you want. If that entails being mean, nasty, and hateful to achieve a desire outcome, then that is what is done.
  • Expressing implicit biases and prejudices. Anyone different is a threat to the shadow self. That other person might expose what’s inside me. So, the other gets treated with subtle digs, demeaning behaviors, and discouraging speech to keep them from getting close.

We need healing from this awful malady of hate.

The good news is that light is also available, and within us. Even in the blackest of hearts, there still remains the little spark of God’s image, way down in there. And it only takes a small Bic lighter to penetrate the darkness.

God’s glory is brighter than the brightest sun. A mere glimpse of such glory is more than enough to lay any heart bare and dispel the darkness.

The love of God in Christ is meant to be received, and then given to others. Fortunately, God has an inexhaustible storehouse of grace, mercy, and love – which means we can keep receiving and keep giving. We’ll never run out.

The shadow self sees only scarcity, so it holds onto resources in the belief there may not be enough. The true self, however, living into the grace and mercy of Christ, rightly discerns that God’s kingdom is a place of abundance. We are enhanced, not diminished, whenever we do the opposite behaviors of the shadow’s propensity to hate:

  • Encouraging and helping others. Pointing out another’s strengths and affirming their good behavior is a liberal practice in God’s kingdom.
  • Showing empathy. Being able to put oneself in another’s shoes, along with the willingness to sit with another’s pain, are common practices of the loving Christian person.
  • Doing whatever is needed to build up the community for the common good of all persons.
  • Including others, especially those who are different than me, by making room for them at the Table and giving them a voice.
  • Forgiving others, just as Christ forgave us.

The believer need not be blinded by hate but can love from a place of healthy self-awareness.

Loving heavenly Father, I thank you for looking beyond my faults and loving me unconditionally. Forgive me when I fail to love others in the same way. Give me eyes to see the needs of the difficult people in my life and show me how to meet those needs in a way that pleases you and glorifies the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 – Parable of the Lost Son

Prodigal Son by Wayne Pascall

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So, Jesustold them this parable….

“A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me.’ So, he divided his assets between them. After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle. Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. So, he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger! I will get up and go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.”’ So, he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him. Then his son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. ’But the father said to his slaves, ‘Hurry! Bring the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let us eat and celebrate,because this son of mine was dead, and is alive again—he was lost and is found!’ So, they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. So, he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening. The slave replied, ‘Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.’ But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, but he answered his father, ‘Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.’” (New English Translation)

Lost people matter to God.

In the story of the lost prodigal son, that son hit rock bottom and rehearsed a speech he would give to his father when he came back. He never got to finish it, because the father interrupted his confession of sin and got the celebration going! 

We celebrate the things that are important to us. Lost people matter to God so much that it is a cause for a great celebration. God’s grace steps in and takes over, erasing past guilt and bringing radical forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Prodigal Son by Kaye Redman

Today there are literally tens of thousands of children who have walked away from their upbringing in faith, and even many times, literally walked away from their family of origin. Their parents know the feeling of standing at the window, wondering how their prodigal daughter really is, and longing for their prodigal son to come home. 

So, what do you do when you are the parent of a prodigal? How do you deal with the pain and the estrangement of a wayward son or daughter? 

  • Don’t expect a prodigal to be Christ-like. If the son or daughter is not a Christian, they aren’t going to act like one. Exhortations to stop drinking cheap wine, cease partying, not get a tattoo, or even go to church is not only useless, but it can also be harmful. Behind all the speech or behavior of a prodigal that might make a parent cringe, there is a world of hurt. The heart is sick or broken. Prodigals need to be treated as fellow humans and equals.

He was pierced because of our rebellions
    and crushed because of our crimes.
    He bore the punishment that made us whole;
    by his wounds we are healed.
Like sheep we had all wandered away,
    each going its own way,
    but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes. (Isaiah 53:5-6, CEB)

  • Welcome a prodigal home. It is possible (and necessary!) to remain connected in relationship, even if there are differing values or practices between parents and prodigals. In other words, don’t make it hard for a son or daughter to come home. Yes, there are instances when parents need to clarify and maintain boundaries, but those instances are actually rare.

In most cases, if a daughter smells like weed or an ashtray, just spray her jacket with Febreze and change the sheets when she leaves – but let her come home. If you find out she’s pregnant, then be with her and take her to her twenty-week ultrasound.

If a son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on women and liquor, then forgive his debt as you’ve been forgiven; don’t give him any more money—and let him come home. If in doubt, always go with grace.

For God has revealed his grace for the salvation of all people. That grace instructs us to give up ungodly living and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this world. (Titus 2:11-12, GNT)

  • Point a prodigal to Christ. A prodigal’s real problem is not sex or addiction, laziness or crime, cussing or ill manners. It is very possible that they simply don’t see Jesus for who he really is. So much Christian dogma or traditional practice might be encrusted on them that they simply cannot experience Jesus Christ’s love. God’s grace is what draws us all to faith – not hellfire preaching or parental badgering.

At one time you were separated from God. You were his enemies in your minds, and the evil things you did were against God. But now God has made you his friends again. He did this through Christ’s death in the body so that he might bring you into God’s presence as people who are holy, with no wrong, and with nothing of which God can judge you guilty. (Colossians 1:21-22, NCV)

We are to all share the same heart of the father in the parable of the lost son – a heart of hospitable love, abundant grace, and open celebration.

Loving heavenly Father, thank you that Jesus showed us your heart of love for the children of this world. Help us to do everything we can so that they will know how much you love them and want them to know your blessing. Thank you for your compassion for those who have strayed from you. Thank you that you are always ready to welcome us back with mercy and acceptance. Amen.

Romans 10:8b-13 – Believe and Confess

“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame. ”For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (New International Version)

Confess with the Mouth

John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Oxford don who became an Anglican priest. He had all the intellectual tools to rightly handle the intricacies of theology and teach the Bible. Yet, when he first started out, there was no heart behind it. 

On a voyage across the Atlantic to America, Wesley spent much of the time on the ship with a group of German pietists – men and women who had a heart behind their practice of Christianity. The Germans deeply impressed Wesley, and he realized there was something important missing from his own religion. 

The ship encountered a storm and Wesley was afraid for his life. But the German believers seemed unfazed, having a heart-faith that John could not explain. He wanted what they had. Wesley was fearful and found little comfort in his religion. So, he confessed to one of them his growing misery and decision to give up the ministry. One of the Pietists advised, “Preach faith till you have it. And then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

John Wesley acted on the advice. He led a prisoner to Christ by preaching faith in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins. He was astonished. Here was a man transformed instantly. Wesley cried out, “Lord, help my unbelief!” However, he still felt dull inside and little motivation even to pray for his own salvation. 

Statue of John Wesley as a young preacher, by Adam Carr, located in Melbourne, Australia

Having returned back to England, Wesley was in a church service listening to Romans expounded by the preacher. He recalled the experience years later: “While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Believe with the Heart

Simply uttering the words with our mouths, “Jesus is Lord,” by itself does not create deliverance and salvation. The heart needs to be involved. Yet, we must also consider the reality that only focusing on the heart, without having the mouth involved, is an insufficient faith. Christian belief has a solid objective real historical base from which our hearts can tether themselves. Christian confession affirms that Jesus is, indeed, risen from death and is Lord of all, having secured salvation for us through his shed blood on the cross.

Consider two hypothetical men at the time of the Passover in Egypt: Eleazar Ben Macaroni and Yakov Yarmulke. Eleazar and Yakov are talking together on the night the angel of death is about to pass through Egypt and the firstborn son in every family would be killed – that is, unless the blood from a sacrificial lamb was over the door of the house so that the angel would “pass over” the house and no one would be killed. 

Passover Angel of Death, by Arthur Hacker (1858-1919)

Yakov says to Eleazar, “Can you believe all that has been happening around here?  It’s all very scary!  All of those plagues, the disaster around us, and now this night!”  Eleazar asks, “Well, haven’t you put the blood over the door?”  “Yes, I’ve done all that – but it all is still disturbing.  My heart is troubled.  What do think will happen?” “Will we be okay?” asks Yakov nervously.  Eleazar responds, “I trust in the promises of God; let the angel come!”

So, when the angel of death came, which house do you suppose lost his firstborn son: Eleazar ben Macaroni, or Yakov Yarmulke?  The answer: neither of them. The angel of death did not come to either man’s house because deliverance is determined by the blood of the lamb and not by the quality or intensity of faith of the person. 

“For me His precious blood he shed – for me His life He gave. I need no other argument, I need no other plea; it is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me.”

My Faith Has Found a Resting Place, hymn by Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (1851-1920)

If we only focus on the heart, our hearts will condemn us. We need to say the words of our faith, to confess them with our mouths, repeatedly, again and again, until we believe them. We are not to wait for our hearts to feel like having faith and living for God, because our hearts can be desperately wicked, and they will keep deceiving us. The heart needs to be informed by God’s Word and accept the words of Holy Scripture by faith:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV)

Have the Heart and Mouth Work Together

We need both a right confession with our mouths and a right confession in our hearts for saving faith. When the heart receives grace, and the mouth expresses the beauty of faith – when heart and mouth work in concert with each other – something beautiful and gracious happens: 

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:13

When Holy Scripture says “everyone,” it means “everyone.” All who cry out to God with their mouths, from a heart desiring God, will be saved. It does not matter whether that call is melodious, sweet, and in tune; or whether the call is a jumbled off-key joyful noise. It makes no difference; both will be saved. 

Only uttering the right words like some magical incantation does not save us. Only sincerity of heart does not save us. One does not achieve salvation through self-effort or trying to be worthy. No one is saved by finding the right combination of words in prayer or having a nice feeling.

Calling on the name of the Lord with both mouth and heart, trusting in the redemptive events of Jesus Christ, is what saves us.

Whether Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, American or Arab, famous or infamous, it is no matter – because salvation isn’t dependent on our looks, our past, or our zeal in doing good works. Salvation is completely from God and freely given to all who call upon the name of the Lord.

Make No Room for Shame

What’s more, all who trust in Jesus Christ will never be put to shame. In ancient Roman society, nearly three-fourths of all the people in the Empire were slaves to the other one-fourth. It was a culture built around the concept of honor and shame. It was shameful to be a slave, and honorable to be privileged, wealthy, and influential with a good Roman pedigree and citizenship. It was beneath such people to interact with those who served them because dealing with shameful people would make them shameful, as well.

Jesus forsook his honorable position in order to hob-nob with us rabble. He became one of us to save us and lift us up with him.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.” 

2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV

Jesus embraced the shame of the cross. Therefore, we need never live in a state of shame ever again. Our hearts need not condemn us. Jesus has already taken care of shame, once for all.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3, NIV)

Put a Focus on Lent

The season of Lent lets us know we are neither brains-on-a-stick nor walking-headless-hearts. We have both heart and mouth, both deep feeling and real intellectual knowledge. Together, they form belief and confession. Lent is an invitation to prepare our hearts for Christ’s passion and resurrection. It includes an examination of our hearts so that we can deepen our piety and devotion to Jesus. And it incorporates confession of Jesus with the mouth.

The good news is this: Jesus is Savior and Lord; he has risen from death; and there is forgiveness of sins and deliverance from guilt and shame through is cross. When all is said and done, people need the Lord.

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” said Jesus. (Matthew 9:13)

Repentance involves both heart and mouth. And Lent is just the season for it, to turn from everything we have previously been living for other than Jesus. It’s an opportunity to start afresh with new life in Christ. It’s enough to make old John Wesley smile from the grave.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Save me from guilt and shame and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Amen.

Leviticus 5:1-13 – The Problem of Guilt

“‘If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.

“‘If anyone becomes aware that they are guilty—if they unwittingly touch anything ceremonially unclean (whether the carcass of an unclean animal, wild or domestic, or of any unclean creature that moves along the ground) and they are unaware that they have become unclean, but then they come to realize their guilt;or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt; or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt—when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.

“‘Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the Lord as a penalty for their sin—one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. They are to bring them to the priest, who shall first offer the one for the sin offering. He is to wring its head from its neck, not dividing it completely, and is to splash some of the blood of the sin offering against the side of the altar; the rest of the blood must be drained out at the base of the altar. It is a sin offering. The priest shall then offer the other as a burnt offering in the prescribed way and make atonement for them for the sin they have committed, and they will be forgiven.

“‘If, however, they cannot afford two doves or two young pigeons, they are to bring as an offering for their sin a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour for a sin offering. They must not put olive oil or incense on it, because it is a sin offering. They are to bring it to the priest, who shall take a handful of it as a memorial portion and burn it on the altar on top of the food offerings presented to the Lord. It is a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for them for any of these sins they have committed, and they will be forgiven. The rest of the offering will belong to the priest, as in the case of the grain offering.’” (New International Version)

“Indifference is the sign of sickness, a sickness of the soul more contagious than any other.”

Elie Wiesel

Guilt comes in two forms: overt speech or action which wrongs another person; or the failure to speak or act when it was necessary to do so.

Oftentimes we think of sin as exclusively wrongdoing – an overt act of disobedience or evil. Yet, sin primarily manifests itself through indifference. The sinner is mostly one who doesn’t get involved. He walks on the other side of the road to avoid unwanted entanglements.

What’s more, sins of the tongue are much more common and prolific than sins of the body. Although hurtful words abound in this fallen world, it is also the absence of speaking up and naming falsehood for what it is that is an egregious sin before God.

The Lord will hold responsible those who are silent in the face of observing injustice.

And, if later, someone becomes aware they were complicit with an injustice through a failure to speak up, they are also guilty.

The Old Testament book of Leviticus is all about maintaining the purity and holiness of God’s people. So, the book is filled with detailed prescriptions on how to handle guilt. Going through a specific and laborious process of dealing with guilt, communicated to the people that this is important. It’s a big deal.

We need, however, to ensure we aren’t using the terms guilt and shame interchangeably.

Guilt is a function of our conscience. It lets us know when we have said or done something wrong or hurtful, or failed to provide help. It’s specific to a particular action or lack of action.

Shame, however, is a function of the “inner critic.” It interprets bad words or actions as we ourselves being bad. It focuses not on actions but on our very personhood in the form of judgmentalism leveled at myself.

Whereas guilt says, “I have done something bad,” shame says, “I am bad.” Guilt serves a redemptive purpose through alerting us that we need to deal with a wrong. Shame, however, damages our spirits through telling us we are flawed and unworthy of love and connection with others.

Because guilt and shame are not the same, they need to be dealt with in different ways:

  • Guilt, if not faced and dealt with, becomes gangrene of the soul. Over time it festers and poisons our spirits, leading to significant emotional and sometimes physical problems. Forgiveness is the primary tool in dealing with guilt. It begins with self-forgiveness and then offering an apology to another and asking for forgiveness.
  • Shame is a vampire that lives in the shadows and feeds on secrets. If shame persists, we withdraw from others and experience grinding loneliness. Therefore, the path out of shame is to openly name our shame and tell our stories. This takes power away from shame and gives it to yourself. In other words, the practice of vulnerability erases shame.

For the Christian, Jesus is the once for all sacrificial offering which forever takes away both our guilt and our shame.

Since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:21-22, NLT)

We must never stop looking to Jesus. He is the leader of our faith, and he is the one who makes our faith complete. He suffered death on a cross. But he accepted the shame of the cross as if it were nothing because of the joy he could see waiting for him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:2, ERV)

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
    will never be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6, NIV)

Guilt and shame are not erased by either ignoring them or by dismissing them as negative emotions. They are handled through the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is grace which grants us amnesty from shortcomings, failures, and sins.

Thanks be to God! Believe this gospel and live in its peace.

Holy and merciful God, in your presence we confess our sinfulness, our shortcomings, and our offenses against you. You alone know how often we have sinned in wandering from your ways, in wasting your gifts, in forgetting your love. Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we are sorry for all we have done to displease you. Forgive our sins, and help us to live in your light and walk in your ways, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.