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. 

John 12:20-36 – Tuesday of Holy Week

Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Some Greeks were among those who had gone to Jerusalem to worship during the festival. They went to Philip (he was from Bethsaida in Galilee) and said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”

Philip went and told Andrew, and the two of them went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory. I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains. Those who love their own life will lose it; those who hate their own life in this world will keep it for life eternal. Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am. And my Father will honor anyone who serves me.

“Now my heart is troubled—and what shall I say? Shall I say, ‘Father, do not let this hour come upon me’? But that is why I came—so that I might go through this hour of suffering. Father, bring glory to your name!”

Then a voice spoke from heaven, “I have brought glory to it, and I will do so again.”

The crowd standing there heard the voice, and some of them said it was thunder, while others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

But Jesus said to them, “It was not for my sake that this voice spoke, but for yours. Now is the time for this world to be judged; now the ruler of this world will be overthrown. When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (In saying this he indicated the kind of death he was going to suffer.)

The crowd answered, “Our Law tells us that the Messiah will live forever. How, then, can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”

Jesus answered, “The light will be among you a little longer. Continue on your way while you have the light, so that the darkness will not come upon you; for the one who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Believe in the light, then, while you have it, so that you will be the people of the light.”

After Jesus said this, he went off and hid himself from them. (Good News Translation)

Today is another step in our journey together with Jesus. The path we are on together leads to a cruel cross. For the past six weeks the Christian has been on a Lenten walk. To keep the long sojourn going, believers focus on spiritual discipline, prayer, and repentance. 

Shadow

Along the way we come face-to-face with the shadow parts of ourselves. We discover that within us there is the pull to hold-on to unhealthy rhythms and habits of life. There is an inner push to arrange our lives with the fragmentation of disordered love.

Our reflexive response to things we do not like about ourselves might be to either use sheer willpower to change, or to try and manage our brokenness – as if we could boss our spiritual selves out of the darkness. However, the problem and the solution are much more radical than we often would like to admit.

While on this journey, Jesus invites us to die to ourselves. The pull and push of sin cannot be managed or willed away – it must be eradicated and completely cut out, like the cancer it is. Transformation and new life can only occur through death. 

A tiny little seed can grow, break the ground, and develop into something which provides sustenance for others.  It does no good to remain a seed in the ground. The little kernel must change beyond it’s current recognition if it is to reach for the sky and become food for the world.

Suffering

Christ is the ultimate example of the one who died to himself and for us. Only through suffering and death did he secure deliverance and freedom from sin, death, and hell. By his wounds we are healed. Through his tortuous death, new life became possible – because there must be a death if there is to be a resurrection; there must be suffering before there is glory.

Through dying to self and following Jesus, a transformative experience happens. As we change, mature, and produce a crop, we bring the kind of spiritual sustenance the world so desperately needs. Following Jesus, leaving all to walk with him, is true repentance and authentic discipleship.

Perhaps you protest, thinking I’m being too forceful or insistent about this Jesus stuff. Yes, you have perceived rightly. Within some corners of Christianity, a wrongheaded notion has developed that believes suffering is not God’s will.

Jesus, however, is insistent that dying to self is necessary. And it hurts like hell. It’s a hard teaching to absorb when you so desperately want things to be rainbows and unicorns. Suffering, whether we like it, or not, is the way of Jesus:

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9, NRSV)

We are not above our Master. Christ’s life on this earth, before his crucifixion and death, was marked with suffering. Jesus learned obedience through struggle and adversity. The Lord himself did what he is now asking us to do.

Christ gave himself up to do the Father’s will. Jesus offered loud cries and tears and submitted to what the Father wanted. We must do no less. We don’t get to choose which parts of Christ’s life and teaching we will observe and which ones we won’t, as if Jesus were some spiritual buffet line. 

All who live for Jesus will follow him into the path of suffering, of death to self, and of new life through the power of his resurrection. In Christ’s own words: “Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  We must…

Surrender

We have hundreds, maybe thousands of small decisions every day with the use of our time, our money, our energy, and our relationships. If we have tried to fix what is broken inside of us, we will likely just try to hastily fix the problems and the people in our lives, then move on with getting things done on our to-do list. 

Instead, we have the invitation to surrender. We have the opportunity to create sacred space for solitude and silence, prayer and repentance. Take the time to (in person or virtually) sit with a person in pain and listen.  Reflect on how to use your money for kingdom values. See your life as a holy rhythm of hearing God and responding appropriately.

Sacrifice

Holding-on to our stuff and time is the opposite of sacrifice – it’s avarice. I understand that you and I are not Jesus – our sacrifice and suffering are not efficacious, that is, it doesn’t deliver other people from sin. Only Christ’s death does that. Yet, we are still called to sacrifice:

“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24, NRSV)

Pleasure is not the summum bonum of life. Our lives are not meant to be lived solely for minimizing pain and maximizing comfort. Jesus has extended the call to view our workplaces, communities, neighborhoods, and families as our mission field of grace to a world in need of basic human kindness and attention – which takes sacrificial love on our part.

Christianity isn’t a religion that’s for people who have neatly packaged theological answers and certainties to all of life’s questions. Rather, Christianity is a dynamic religion of learning to follow Jesus, discovering how to die to self, and struggling to put Christ’s teaching and example into practice. 

The way of Christ is often characterized by a three-steps-forward, two-steps-backward sort of reality. The road is zig-zags with plenty of potholes. Those who don’t struggle are in big trouble. However, those who go through the pain of dying to self for the sake of their Lord, find that the harvest they produce leads to eternal life.

May you struggle well, my friend.

Almighty God, your dear Son did not ascend to joy until he first suffered pain; he did not enter glory before he was crucified. Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it as the true way of life and peace, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.

Amos 6:1-8 – Against Complacency

Woe to you who think you live on easy street in Zion,
    who think Mount Samaria is the good life.
You assume you’re at the top of the heap,
    voted the number-one best place to live.
Well, wake up and look around. Get off your pedestal.
    Take a look at Calneh.
Go and visit Great Hamath.
    Look in on Gath of the Philistines.
Doesn’t that take you off your high horse?
    Compared to them, you’re not much, are you?

Woe to you who are rushing headlong to disaster!
    Catastrophe is just around the corner!
Woe to those who live in luxury
    and expect everyone else to serve them!
Woe to those who live only for today,
    indifferent to the fate of others!
Woe to the playboys, the playgirls,
    who think life is a party held just for them!
Woe to those addicted to feeling good—life without pain!
    those obsessed with looking good—life without wrinkles!
They could not care less
    about their country going to ruin.

But here’s what’s really coming:
    a forced march into exile.
They’ll leave the country whining,
    a rag-tag bunch of good-for-nothings.

God, the Master, has sworn, and solemnly stands by his Word.
    The God-of-the-Angel-Armies speaks:

“I hate the arrogance of Jacob.
    I have nothing but contempt for his forts.
I’m about to hand over the city
    and everyone in it.” (The Message)

A fool is one who either cannot or will not see that their personal actions have communal ramifications. Arrogant people are shortsighted, and when there is no immediate consequence to their selfish actions, they quickly assume everything is okay.

Perhaps we are fools – not so much because of any heinous sins – but because of our great indifference toward the mass of humanity across the world, as well as the neighbor across the street.

If there is any foolishness with the Christian, I submit to you that it could likely be because we believers have abjectly avoided the Old Testament minor prophets as some anachronistic judgment of the past which has little to do with living in today’s New Testament grace.

It is high time that Christians, especially Western Christians, take the entirety of their Bibles seriously through a hard examination of the prophet Amos.

“Morally, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings. Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself; in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel

Those with power and privilege nearly always believe that what is good for themselves is good for everybody else. In their pride, they either cannot or will not look under the ghost of Christmas Present’s robe. The boy Ignorance, and the girl Want, are out-of-sight, out-of-mind, for the foolish person of indifference.

The issue is not one of actually possessing wealth and influence. After all, the Lord God is wealthy and influential beyond anything we can imagine. The real issue is how we have obtained such things and whether we seek to use them for the common good of all people, and not just for myself or people just like me.

It will not do to be a simpleton and toss out flippant phrases such as, “If they want money they can get a job,” “They’re just lazy and unmotivated,” “The government takes plenty from me for those people,” “They could be self-sufficient if they really wanted to,” “They should be happy that I give them a [minimum wage] job,” “The poor are uneducated…addicts…drug seekers…unreliable…” And on the blustering goes, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Those, and many more statements like them, are nothing more than mere projections of the privileged few upon the masses. Truth is that addiction, debt, ingratitude, and laziness are marks of the rich and powerful in the same way you can find them anywhere. What’s more, projecting and deflecting are endemic of the mind that either cannot or will not engage in critical thinking and avoid logical fallacies.

Such persons are unaware that their luxurious eating and drinking in the dining room of the Titanic will suddenly be their last meal. Their complacency is their ruin.

Many of us tend to see the sins of others rather than our own sins. So, reading Amos, we may reflexively think of “those people’s sins, back then,” or, the sins of “other people.” Yet, as Jesus suggests in the Sermon on the Mount, when we interpret the law, we should first examine the logs in our own eyes, rather than starting with the slivers in our neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

The place to begin with giving Amos an honest hearing, is to look inwardly at our own shadow selves. The lack of self-awareness is the beginning of all callousness, complacency, and conceit.

“Unfortunately, there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it.”

Carl Jung

There are two practices which can help illumine our inner person, thus opening the way to greater compassion for others:

  1. Listen to your self-talk. What’s going on in your mind? Is it a series of negative thoughts that make you feel like crud? Or do you also consider gratitude and positive thoughts? Take a couple of minutes each day to sit in silence and listen to the tone of your inner voice. It might even help to write down your thoughts so that you can get a better idea of what they are truly like. If we cannot listen to ourselves, we won’t be able to listen to the voice of others – which means we’ll never really understand other people.
  2. Pay attention to your feelings. Emotions are barometers of how we are truly doing, as well as flags which signal what we are supposed to be paying attention to.For example, a warm feeling in your face might mean you’re embarrassed; ‘butterflies’ in your stomach can mean you’re nervous; or clenching your teeth might mean you’re angry. Stuffing emotions or trying to avoid them will inevitably lead to hardness of heart.

I suggest focusing on these two practices while you are reading the prophet Amos. That’s because reading the prophets never leaves us the same. They evoke lots of self-talk and plenty of emotion. This is the path to better understanding the prophet’s message.

God of the prophets, and of all living things: We are all hungry in a world full of abundance. Give us the grace and awareness to see the abundance of our world and to acknowledge our sins of greed and fear. Give us openness of soul and courageous, willing hearts to be with our sisters and brothers who are in need. We ask for your intervention on behalf of every person hungry for earthly food and hungry for the taste of the Spirit of God.

We give thanks that we can be part of your compassion for all people. This world is blessed with enough food for every person to eat and be satisfied. And we can all feed on the bread of Christ, as God makes a home in our hearts. We are in awe and wonder your great love for us, that we are invited and urged to participate with you in the care of our brothers and sisters. In the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Acts 7:30-40 – Full Acceptance, Not Partial

“After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.

“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’

“This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.

“This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people. ’He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.

“But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and, in their hearts, turned back to

Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ (NIV)

We humans are a confusing paradox of sinner and saint. We are majestic people, created in the image and likeness of a good God. We are also profoundly fallen, touched by sin in every area of our lives. Our hearts exist with both light and darkness, having the capacity for both incredible altruism as well as inexplicable evil.

So then, it will do no good to retreat into binary definitions of people as being either good or bad. No, we shine and shadow at the same time. What really gets us into a terrible mess is when we ignore or deny our shadow selves. We then demonize the other while claiming purity for ourselves.

This is precisely what occurred with Stephen and a group of his fellow Jews who refused to acknowledge their shadow side. And it resulted in Stephen’s stoning and death. Whereas Stephen lifted and brought to light the unseemly aspects of their collective heritage, the people wanted nothing to do with it. In our present day, the response might be something like, “Quit being so negative. We focus on the positive. Expel this recalcitrant troublemaker once and for all!”

Oy. Acceptance cuts two ways. We must accept both our blessings and our curses. And acceptance of reality will not occur apart from a solid self-acceptance of who we are and how we are feeling in any given situation. On the practical level, it works something like the following story…

Several years ago, I went on a leadership retreat in the Canadian wilderness. We were so far out in the sticks that we needed special first aid training before leaving because if someone got severely injured it would be hours before any medical attention could be received. There was no cell phone service, no towns, no anything except mile after square mile of wilderness. 

One day, it was very windy and several of us were on a lake canoeing to a destination. It was late May, which means the water was still ice cold in Canada. One of the canoes capsized and we had to act quickly and deliberately – which was no small feat in a stiff wind. More than fifteen minutes would result in hypothermia for the two people in the water.

I did not like being in that situation. In fact, I didn’t much like the Canadian wilderness. Too many black flies and giant mosquitoes for me. My shadow side was coming out. But here I was, and I had to accept the reality I was in. One of the lessons I learned in that moment was that acceptance can sit alongside other reactions and emotions.

For example, a person can be outraged by an injustice, as Stephen was, and accept that it is a reality. Acceptance does not mean complacency or giving up. We can accept something while at the same time trying to make it better.

I also needed to accept what was happening inside of me. I was cold and worried. Trying to push those feelings away would have only added to the stress of the situation. If I failed to accept what was true about myself, I would be less able to deal with the situation, and so, would compromise my ability to help two people at risk.

I needed to accept the whole circumstance, including myself. Accepting what is inside gave me more influence over the situation, not less. Self-acceptance became the key to acceptance of unwanted conditions, and more importantly, acceptance of one another as human beings.

In that moment of rescuing two people (which ultimately proved successful) I became aware of a part of myself – the part that gets afraid and irritated – and chose not to stuff it or deny its existence. I became the guy who talked to the panicked people in the water and kept them as calm as possible so that the others could get them out. I was able to do my part to help fearful people because I acknowledged and accepted my own fear.

Unlike my situation, however, Stephen’s experience ended in martyrdom. Just because we respond rightly is no guarantee that everything will work out for our benefit. Rather, we say and do the things we must say and do, while leaving the results to a sovereign Lord. It is our responsibility to work on ourselves, not others. And acceptance is the path to get there, all of it, not just part of it.

Jesus, let your mighty calmness lift me above my fears and frustrations. By your deep patience, give me tranquility and stillness of soul in you. Make me in this, and in all things, more and more like you. Amen.