What Does It Mean To Lay Down Your Life for Your Brother? 1 John 3:16-18

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:16-18

When we hear Jesus laid down his life for us, usually the first thing that comes to mind is his crucifixion. Jesus died for us on the cross…that is what laying down his life looks like. I think John is letting us in on a little more to the story than just the crucifixion. Notice what he says next, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

John tells us that, like Jesus, we ought to lay down our lives for others. No surprise there, but notice the example he gives of what this looks like. He doesn’t tell of a Christian dying for another Christian. John’s illustration of how to lay down your life for others is to help someone in need. The truth of the matter is, few of us will ever die for another person, while all of us have the opportunity to put others first on a daily basis.

That brings us back to Jesus. When did Jesus lay down his life? It started well before the cross. It started when he invited a tax collector to follow him, even though he knew people wouldn’t like it. It started when he got an adulterous woman out of being stoned, even though he knew it would cost him. It started when he raised Lazarus from the dead and the plots to kill him started to swirl. It started back when he told them he would tear down the temple and raise it up again in three days but they didn’t understand him and were angry with him for saying such things.

The point is, Jesus laid down his life all along the way. The ultimate demonstration was in the cross but the reality is, it started way before that. The cross was the natural progression of a life that was already given up for others. So when we are called to lay down our lives for others, don’t get all focused on dying for someone else and never put this into practice for lack of opportunity. Realize that laying down yourself for others is about how you value people and how you see yourself.

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Easter, Bodily Resurrection and the Immortality of the Soul

One really common belief across religions is that existing comes with an inalienable right to continue to exist in perpetuity (forever). That is called the immortality of the soul. That view didn’t come from Judaism or Christianity but from the Greeks. Socrates and Plato both influenced this idea and it has had a heavy influence in Christian circles even still today. It is popular but is it scriptural that all souls are guaranteed eternal existence? Matthew 10:28 says it is entirely possible for God to destroy the soul. Revelation 20:14-15 call hell the “second death”. If these people have already died and are being judged and condemned to hell to die a second time and death is the cessation of life, it is entirely possible that they are consumed and gone forever (some call that the annihilation view of hell). But it only makes sense that your right to an eternal soul does not trump God’s sovereignty or ability to destroy your soul if He so wills it. Instead, many have opted for Plato even where it contradicts scripture.

The Greeks believed there was a body/soul dichotomy. The body was temporary and evil. The soul was eternal and good. So when you die, in some sense, you got an upgrade because your body was no more…decayed and never to be useful again. There was no interest in this body after death because when you die, the Greeks thought, the very best part of you lived on. Many Christians have adopted that idea and it has resulted in the belief that heaven is a place of disembodied souls like in the old hymn “Home of the Soul”,

“If for the prize we have striven,
After our labors are o’er,
Rest to our souls will be given,
On the eternal shore.”

And then, speaking of heaven in the Chorus,

“Home of the soul, beautiful home,
There we shall rest, never to roam;
Free from all care, happy and bright,
Jesus is there, He is the light!
Oft in the storm, lonely are we,
Sighing for home, longing for thee,
Beautiful home of the ransomed,
beside the crystal sea.”

Resurrection
In this view, heaven is a place of disembodied souls that live eternally with God. But is that biblical or is that just pagan Greek philosophy intermingled with Christian doctrine? This view fails to capture what the New Testament teaches us about the resurrection. What happens to the soul after we die? The Greeks believed the soul lived on in the afterlife as a shade/shadow of your former self. Jews and Christians believe in a general resurrection at the end of time and in the meantime your soul was at rest (there is disagreement on what the intermediate state consists of).

So here is the question – Jews and Christians believe in a general resurrection…the question is, “What is raised?” If you believe heaven is a place where disembodied souls live with God forever then you must insist that souls are being raised and that when 1 Thessalonians 5 says “The dead in Christ will rise” that souls are rising to meet Christ. Rising from what? Rising from the ground? The souls must have left their resting place, returned to the ground (where they were buried??? and then rise up from there)? That certainly seems strange. What is more, if you think souls are eternal AND heaven is about disembodied souls then why does scripture talk about resurrection giving us new life? You are already as alive as you would be, under that theory, as a disembodied soul. And, what does it mean for Christ to conquer death if there is no sign in our lives of that ever being the case? If our bodies suffer eternal decay, that certainly doesn’t seem like much of a victory over death (1 Cor 15) to me.

But if our bodies are raised the whole thing makes sense…death is not the victor, decay doesn’t have the final say and the effects of sin are reversed! The scriptures speak with continuity and clarity on this. Jesus was our forerunner. Jesus was raised in the body. He ascended to heaven bodily. Do you think he ascended bodily but checked his body at the door of heaven or do you think he will be the only guy in the room with a body in heaven? Or is it possible (and scriptural) that our bodies will be raised just like His? That is what the ancient Jews believed, what the New Testament teaches and what the early Christians believed as well. But somewhere along the line we let ancient Greek philosophy cloud our view of all of this, even when it contradicts scripture.

Kids, Play and the Power of Narrative

millionmilesI have been reading Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, highly recommend it. This book is Miller’s reflection on working with producers on the movie version of Blue Like Jazz. Turns out, life isn’t like the movies…most of us wouldn’t make good movie characters. As Miller reflects on their take on his life and the producers’ need to spruce up his story a bit he realized his own need to live a better story than he had been living. Great book. I will share more thoughts on it later.

While reading this book I have been more in tune with the power of story.Turns out, it’s everywhere…everyday. This evening the our boys, ages 2 & 4 were playing. As I listened to the imaginative things they were saying, it dawned on me that when children play they create stories. Play is their work and that work often involves one of two things: the construction of false play narratives that are impractical and impossible. Second, play often co-opts existing narratives and changes some of the essential components of the narrative to be more appealing to them or try things out…like when they say things to their stuffed animal or younger brother that they hear their parents say.

So I hear the boys playing in Elijah’s room. Elijah is standing on his big firetruck. It was parked up against the wall, right under a brown tree we had painted in the nursery. Missy painted this tree when we set the room up for Jonah as a family tree, to be able to teach the kids where they came from. After we painted it, we hung pictures of family members on its branches so we could teach them who they (the kids) are, who their relatives are and where they came from.  So back to Elijah. He is perched up on the side of his firetruck, his back to the wall and says…”I’m Jesus!” Jesus on a tree, right? He is playing Jesus. Jonah says, “Put out your arms.” It was stunning. We painted that to show them where they came from. The tree hasn’t ever shown it more clearly than today when looking at that tree reminded me that God put his own Son on the cross for us. It is where we came from. It is part of who we are.

What happened next was play that was a reflection of real life…it wasn’t meant to be that but it taught me something important that I won’t ever forget. Moments later, Elijah got into a plastic bin and Jonah proceeded to push and pull Elijah around the house in that bin. He said it was Elijah’s car and he proceeded to “drive” him around the house. Aren’t we like that? One moment it is about the cross and identity and things of great significance…the very next we are back to our silly and senseless games! It is like going to church on Easter just to go back to life as usual on Monday. One moment, we are attentive to the story of the cross and the next something mundane and silly doing some sort of adult equivalent of pulling a 2 year old around in a plastic bin.

ElijahBin

Mass Shootings: Christian Perspective on Prevention and Reaction

I am posting this here over from a facebook status update I put up this morning that created a pretty lengthy conversation. Here is a little bit of my perspective on this. You can put armed guards all over the place and that will deter crime. That is on the prevention side of the equation. If you bring people to Christ and give them a place to belong/transform lives to be more Christ like, that is also on the prevention side and that gets deeper into the root causes of these things. You can also treat mental illness as preventative means. But you will never get everyone and you will never prevent everything. We can reduce these things (and have over the last 5 years as violent crime has gone down every year since 2007) but we will never eliminate them.

Second, we have to differentiate between addressing symptoms and addressing the actual problems. Armed guards and legislative action by the government are aimed at symptoms, not the actual underlying condition. You cannot legislate immoral people to be moral people. You cannot legislate the heart or spiritual transformation. When all you do is address symptoms instead of getting under the surface and address the real root causes you will be largely ineffective. It is like trying to dry up a runny nose when there is an allergen that is actually causing the nose to run. You keep going outside and playing in piles of leaves and keep taking your runny nose medication until you are blue in the face. It is just not an effective way to treat the real, underlying issue. There will be some effect, sure but it won’t be as big of an effect as we might desire.

Third, the church is the missing piece here. The church works on the prevention end (changing lives) and informs the reaction end (how do we present ourselves when these things happen). The church/Gospel can do more than slap bandaids on severe lacerations…we can and do change lives. I am sure there are names of people who would have done similar things as these mass murders but were reached by a Christian somewhere and got their lives turned back around.

Hopefully some of that perspective is helpful.

The Humanity of the Unborn: The Ancients Understood It For Two Reasons

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will eat curdsand honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and
choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.” – Isaiah 7:14-16

This verse shows that 2700 years ago there was no confusion that pregnancy involved a human baby in the mother’s womb who has the potential to grow and to learn.

“The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now with child and you will have a son.” – Gen 16:11

Here an angel has just told Hagar she would give birth to Ishmael, explicitly stating that pregnancy by its very definition involves a child, two people mother & child…not just mother (as is all we seemed to be concerned with today). This was recorded roughly 3360 years ago by Moses but the origin of the story is older than that.

How is it that for thousands of years no one was confused over a pregnant woman having a child in her womb? People who had no technology, no scientific advancement, and no doctors degrees or PhDs in biology had this one down. Fast forward to today. Now we have all sorts of technology that confirms the humanity of the child in the womb and even allows you to view that child and watch it in 3D/4D move around all while in the womb and now all of a sudden we are so confused as to what exactly a fetus is and whether or not “it” is alive or a human. Strange, don’t you think?

The ancients understood this for two reasons:
1 – Common Sense: Scripture tells us these are children but are we really that foolish to need to be told that? Common sense tells us that so clearly that the ancients didn’t need a doctor to explain the humanity of what was in the womb. The answer to that question goes back to a few posts back on the narratives that we use to make sense of the world around us. Our society has rejected God’s narrative of the sanctity of human life. It does not value God as Creator who is intimately involved in his creation…caring for it and loving it. Once you fully embrace post-modernism you remove the teleological/eschatological component from impacting and informing our understanding of human life.

For reference:
Teleology = “the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose”

Eschatology = “a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind; specifically : any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment”

2 – Faith in God & the Narrative of Scripture:
In other words, where this world is headed and what God has to do with it and say about it no longer matters once you remove all truth and replace it with relativism. People become agnostics who don’t really land anywhere. So what does all this matter if at the end of it all there is no God and that he really isn’t coming back to judge the world? And as was said in a previous comment, how does one evaluate the value of life whether one’s own life or the life of others from the post-modern perspective? What does it matter if you destroy life if you don’t believe God created the world and that he “knits babies together” in the womb as Psalm 139 tells us. The truth is, God is intimately involved in His creation but people ignore it, reject it or haven’t been taught it. Once you lose that piece, the rest falls apart.

Privacy & The Death of Community

Yesterday, something tragic happened to one of our neighbors. There was police tape everywhere and police all over their yard. I went out to speak with one of the officers that was next to our yard and he really couldn’t tell me anything at all. Some years ago I would have known that officer by name and he would have known me. We would have had a very open conversation about what happened with our neighbor. What is more, we would have known that neighbor better and the whole community would have been out in our yards talking about what happened. Instead, the story makes the local news for a couple of news cycles and then just goes away. We tried reaching out to this couple but they were reclusive. They wanted their privacy. They didn’t want anyone in their business and know I guess I know why. It is a shame.

Another place privacy is emphasized is in our hospitals. Privacy is highly valued in our hospitals. In hospitals, privacy has moved from a value to a right in the passing of HIPAA regulations. There is one hospital in our city that will not tell you whether or not someone is a patient there over the phone. If you walk in the door and ask at the desk they will tell you if they are there. We asked why that was their policy and they told us that over the phone they wouldn’t know if we had a bomb or something. I wondered if they figured they could tell if we had one just by looking at us in the lobby. It makes no sense. What is more, making it difficult for ministers and family to find out about their loved ones decreases the amount of social and spiritual support those patients are going to receive. On the flip side it probably reduces infections too though, right?

Bottom line, we value privacy often to the detriment of our communities. We want distance, boundaries and slow the flow of information or information at the pace I want it to be released at. We do that because we value our privacy. Now, that is not all bad. Privacy is important. I don’t think any of us want all kinds of people knowing every detail of our lives. The problem is not privacy but how far we have swung the pendulum resulting in a growing disconnect in our communities so that we really don’t know each other any more. It is entirely possible to have privacy and community. We just haven’t found the balance.

The Real Face of Abortion…What Would It Take to Change Your Mind?

I have wrestled with whether or not to post this. Just a warning…this is not for the faint of heart. All I ask is that the comments not get into political wrangling but stick with what is really going on here.

Last week I saw something I hadn’t ever seen before. I saw a picture of an aborted baby. It was graphic. It was gruesome. It was bloody. It was sickening. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Is this really what is going on? I went to google images and typed in “aborted baby” and hundreds of equally disgusting pictures filled my screen. There were pictures of dead babies next to tubs of bloody water. Tiny dead babies that could fit in your hand. Big babies that looked like they were asleep in a pool of blood…almost like they would have been just fine if someone hadn’t killed them. It was too much to handle. I hesitate to write this here. It is nasty but it is real and it happens every single day.

How can we create a society that can advocate and support for more of what I saw in those pictures? The answer is easy. You create a new reality for people that they can more palatably buy into. Here is how you do that…

Change the language
Language is powerful. Language shapes the way we view things. The media and politicians know this very well. That is why the debate is about “Woman’s rights” and not about “The Right to kill unwanted babies”. The first makes a better bumper sticker than the second. The first sounds better on the evening news than the second. As I looked at those pictures there was one word that I kept hearing over and over. It wasn’t “Choice” or “Rights”. It was the word “NO!” How can you see that and say “YES!” with big smiles on our faces like we are the champion of someone’s rights and we are demonstrating how progressive we are by killing the innocent and helpless? We have sterilized our language and we have pushed the graphic truth of what is happening behind closed doors (the next point on the list). It is tempting to say I saw pictures of “abortions” because that sterilizes things or maybe we call it a picture of an “aborted fetus” because fetuses don’t really sound human. If I say “fetus” it all sounds like it is no big deal, no harm done, right? But if I say I saw a dead baby it might almost make you feel sick or at least deeply saddened. People don’t support things that make them sad so put a happy face on it by turning the issue from killing babies to rights and choices of real women who have real struggles themselves.

Put it out of sight
We condone this sort of thing because we put it out of sight. You will never see the images on the news or in a political ad because it is too disturbing to even look at. Yet we condone it?  If someone walked up to you on the street and said they just saw a dead baby or a pile of dead babies in a dumpster down the street you would be scared. You would call the police. When bodies of dead babies are in public it is gruesome. It would bring you to your knees in tears. So we push it behind closed doors where no one has to see because if you did, you wouldn’t ever want another baby to go through that ever again and the agenda would be DOA. How can something be too disturbing for the general public to see and yet accepted and legitimized and repeated tens of millions of times?

What we celebrate and punish
But it gets worse. There is a gross distortion of reality in this discussion that goes beyond language and space. You can see it by the discrepancy of what we celebrate and what we punish. Kill a baby outside the womb…even just one…and you can get the death penalty or life in prison. You destroyed a life and you deserve to be punished severely. We can’t let people go around destroying life now can we? Heaven forbid if it was a mother who killed her own baby. Society would treat her as if she was less than human and her civil rights are removed as she goes to jail as a monster who killed her own baby. Her face would be all over TV. But have a “standard medical procedure” by a skilled doctor who kills them in the womb and then delivers the dead baby and it is just a doctor helping a woman exercise her rights. She isn’t a monster. It is just being pro-choice. Same baby, same thing done…one is murder and one is just “an abortion” performed on a “fetus”. Carry on…nothing to see here. But there is something to see here. It is gross. It is brutal. It is happening every day all around us behind closed doors. In fact, it has happened over 50 million times since Roe vs. Wade. Sorry to say this but can you imagine how large a pile of dead babies that would be?

What does and doesn’t disturb our society
That sounds terrible but it is reality. We have gotten to the point we are at because people don’t want to talk straight about what is going on here. I can understand why. These things are not easy to talk about. It is all very disturbing…but to some it isn’t disturbing in the least and that is what bothers me the most. What distrubs some more than the killing of babies is that some wouldn’t support a woman’s right to choose. They support killing babies but don’t support abortion and you are a monster who lives in a cave.

You have probably seen countless discussions about abortion on television and the internet. What would you think if in the middle of one of those live broadcasts someone said, “I have brought a few pictures of aborted babies with me. We are going to put those up on the screen for everyone at home to see.” Someone there would stop them. They wouldn’t let that be shown. That is too nasty, too grusome. Too terrifying to show people that. But it is reality. Which is worse…killing 50 million babies or showing a few of their pictures on TV. Why is it that showing pictures of it is too terrible to do but actually killing the babies is no big deal? One would be allowed and praised but the other wouldn’t be proper for television.

Two classes of babies
The gross distortion of reality goes beyond what we celebrate and what we punish. It is also evident by the way we treat these two classes of babies based on where they die. If they die postpartum they have a funeral. If they were murdered, the baby murderer is a monster and their face is splashed all over TV. Meanwhile, aborted babies are treated like garbage. Their bodies are often incinerated as medical waste. Brutal. Nasty. Happens all the time.

What would it take to change your desire from a woman’s right to chose to saving real babies?
So here is the deal…logic and political posturing won’t change people’s minds on this. What is going to change your mind is experience. Since I can’t walk you into the room where an abortion is performed and see the dead baby be delivered and incinerated you aren’t going to get the full  experience. But there is one way to see the real face of abortion. Go to google images and search for “aborted babies.” As you look at those pictures see what words come to mind? Do you hear the words “Choice” and “Rights” or “No, no, no!” What are you going to do about that?

I wish there wasn’t even a need for a post like this but after seeing what I saw I feel the burden of helping others put a real face on this…or, sadly, 50 million faces. I know there are strong opinions on things like this. Even if you disagree with me I hope you really read through this post and considered what is really going on here and not just form your opinions based on whitewashed versions that are meant to distort our sense of what this is really all about.