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Majoring on the Minors

Majoring on the Minors

The Bible is the most read book in the history of mankind and in 2 Timothy we are told that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Note that it said ALL Scripture. It is not hard for us to see the profitability of the gospels, the usefulness of the epistles, and the equipping that comes from books like Proverbs. But when we come to the middle of the Scriptures we come to what are likely the least understood and most skipped words ever written. Yes, I am talking about the prophets and especially the minor prophets. Though the word “minor” is in reference to the length of the books, I think it is easy to see these books as having minor relevance for our lives. 

They have weird names, confusing and sometimes even disturbing imagery, and at face value we struggle to see their relevance to modern-day life. So why even try to read and understand these strange books? When we treat the minor prophets as of minor importance, we forfeit much wisdom and beauty. And though not an exhaustive list, I want to look at three of the prophets and the message that reoccurs throughout the rest. 

 

God’s Justice in Nahum

One of the most repeated questions in the Bible is “how long, O Lord?” and perhaps you have joined in that cry. We do not have to look hard to find a world saturated with sin and suffering. Any time we hear the news there are examples of war, disaster, abuse, etc. If we worship a just God, “how long” will he seemingly do nothing about these headlines? The prophets do not give us a timeline, but they reveal to us the character of a God who takes into account the sins of his people and the sins against his people. 

The book of Nahum’s focus is the city of Nineveh in the nation of Assyria, which was used by God as an instrument of discipline against Israel for their rebellion against him. Though an instrument of God, Nineveh was not innocent of sin in their treatment of the Jews. In response to the wickedness of Nineveh we are told “The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will never leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:3). This passage references God’s self-description of himself from the book of Exodus, but with slight differences. Hundreds of years prior, the Lord revealed himself to Moses as “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34). 

So why does Nahum focus on God’s power and justice instead of his love? This is because God’s power and justice are not distinct from his love, they are aspects of it. If we worshiped a God who did not take evil and injustice into account, he would not be a God worth worshiping. If God was a capricious God who angrily annihilates his enemies, we would be hopeless. The prophet Nahum helps us see a God who perfectly holds justice and grace in balance, and therefore we have hope. 

 

God’s Sovereignty in Habakkuk

Another question we have likely asked of God is “are you there? If you are, do you care?” Amidst our suffering we like to have an understanding of the reason for the pain we experience. We want a diagnosis so we can get a prognosis. Sometimes the answer is not always that clear. Sometimes when we get an answer it’s not the answer we expected or wanted. In these moments we are tempted to doubt that the Lord truly has things under control. 

The prophet Habakkuk was weary of seeing the people of God engage in outright rebellion against their God, and he wants to know if God is going to hold them accountable. God’s response: “I am going to send Babylon as my tool of judgment.” Initially Habakkuk becomes even more enraged with this solution. Babylon? They are even more wicked than Israel! The Lord responds to the prophets’ understandable confusion with: “But the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Note that he does not say the righteous will live by knowing the time, place, and purpose of all things. No, he says they will live by faith. God will use Babylon to overthrow Judah but he will also hold Babylon accountable. 

As the book comes to a conclusion, we find the prophet no longer lashing out at God but instead we see a resolute dependance: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though the flocks disappear from the pen and there are no herds in the stalls, yet I will celebrate in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). We have and will continue to see such times when there is “no fruit on the vine,” but when we look to the prophets we have the invitation to join in a long history of prayers of trust that come from confused and hurting hearts that find their peace in an all powerful, victorious God. 

 

God’s Faithfulness in Micah

At other times, we are so humbled by the glory of God that we ask “how could God still want to do anything with a sinner like me?” Many have asked a similar question; upon approaching the throne room of God in a vision, Isaiah said “Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). After seeing a miracle of Jesus, the disciple Peter said to him “Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). How could God’s faithfulness endure my unfaithfulness? 

In the book of Micah we are shown a holy God who appears in an unholy land and as a result, “The mountains will melt beneath him and the valleys will split apart, like wax near a fire, like water cascading down a mountainside.” (Micah 1:4). But in the “last days” it says that instead of a melting mountain, God will draw to himself those from many nations who will come to the mountain of the Lord where “He will teach us about his ways so we may walk in his paths” (Micah 4:2). And what are the ways of God? They are what God commands of his own people: “to act justly, to love faithfulness and to walk humbly with your God.” Throughout the prophets we see God enact perfect justice while maintaining faithfulness to his people. Therefore, we can come humbly to God because he “will vanquish our iniquities” and “will show loyalty to Jacob and faithful love to Abraham, as you swore to our ancestors from days long ago” (Micah 7:20). God has every right to hand us over to our sin but his faithful love overwhelms our rebellion. 

 

God’s Justice, Sovereignty and Faithfulness Is For Us, Too

The prophets are difficult to understand, there is no getting around that, but that does not mean we should avoid digging for the gold that each book contains. We forfeit too much hope and comfort if we do. Each of the prophets reveal a God who has ordered history for his glory and deserves our reverence. I pray that as we enter this new year, intentional time spent in study of the prophets will lead to new and greater insights into the character of our great God. Let us not neglect the hope and awe that the prophets beckon us to. 

Mercy for a Murderer

Mercy for a Murderer

I have been thinking a lot about the story of Cain and Abel recently. I think one of the reasons that so much of God’s word is written as a narrative is because stories are easy to remember and meditate on. And as we meditate on the story, we ask questions and examine it from different angles and begin to notice new things.

That’s when God shows me things about himself that I hadn’t seen as clearly before. It’s like there’s something beneath the surface that God really wants us to see, but it takes a little work to find it. And when we find it, God’s beauty and majesty shine even brighter than they did before. I hope you’ve had this experience.

 

Why Didn’t God Put Cain to Death?

That brings me back to Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Like many Bible stories, it raises more questions than answers. Why did God favor Abel’s offering over Cain’s? Where is the door where sin is crouching? Who are the people Cain is worried will kill him? Where did Cain’s wife come from? What is the sign that God makes for Cain? 

But the question that stands out, and has revealed the most about God’s character is this: Why didn’t God put Cain to death? Just a few chapters later, God will declare that murder is a capital offense (Genesis 9:5-6). This will be repeated in the laws to Israel:

“Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:12)

“Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:17)

“You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death.” (Numbers 35:31)

If God’s standard of justice is that a murderer should be put to death, was God being inconsistent with his own standard when he spared Cain’s life? 

 

The Tension of God’s Justice and Mercy

I don’t think this is a trivial question. It’s not as simple as, “those laws came later.” Because if God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8), then his standards do not change. And even if it would be unfair to hold humans accountable to a standard they are not aware of, surely he would hold himself accountable to it.

So why didn’t God put Cain to death? I don’t know that we can say for sure. But this story highlights a tension in the Bible between God’s mercy and his retributive justice (giving people what they deserve). It is God’s prerogative to have mercy on whom he will have mercy (Exodus 33:19). And what this story seems to highlight is that God really wants to show mercy. 

It’s not that God never chooses retributive justice. Just keep reading the rest of the Bible, not to mention the flood story that follows a few chapters after Cain and Abel! But it seems that God doesn’t have to choose it in every circumstance it could be applied. Perhaps in some cases it is better not to. In God’s wisdom, he can decide that perfectly. And in this case, by his wisdom, he decides it is better to have mercy on Cain.

 

What About Us?

What about us? When we have been wronged, are we eager to “throw the book” at the perpetrator to see them experience the consequences of what they’ve done? Do we rejoice when someone who has broken the law gets caught and punished?

I am not arguing that there shouldn’t be laws, or that there shouldn’t be punishments. What I am saying is that it takes wisdom to know how to apply them well. God seems to be eager to show mercy when it is wise to do so, and maybe we ought to be more eager to be merciful as well. Rather than our consuming thought being, “I hope they get what they deserve” may we instead look for ways to demonstrate mercy wisely. 

The New Testament writer James wrote that, “Judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13, CSB). 

After all, as Christians we are the objects of God’s incredible mercy. If we were to demand strict retributive justice over others, we would be condemning ourselves, since the just punishment for our sin is death (Romans 6:23). Thank God that he has been merciful to you and me!

May God grant us wisdom as we seek to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful. Even if it means being merciful to a murderer like Cain.

How to Rediscover Lost Values with MLK

How to Rediscover Lost Values with MLK

One of my personal traditions is to listen to my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr speech each year on MLK weekend. While not as popular as “I Have a Dream” or “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” my favorite speech, entitled “Rediscovering Lost Values,” embodies the compelling moral vision of King and the broader African-American church that we celebrate each year on MLK day. This speech was actually a sermon delivered at Detroit’s Second Baptist Church before the Montgomery bus boycott that elevated him to a national stage. It reminds us that before King became the renowned activist and public persona, he was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was his deep faith commitments of the latter that propelled him to become the former. The sermon’s correct diagnosis and searing critique of modern western culture’s moral relativism, in both theory and practice, is as relevant today in 2023 as it was in 1954.

King begins by asserting that, as modern people, “the means by which we live, have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live.” The profound problems we face in our world today cannot be solved by more information or more economic resources, both of which we have more of today than any society in human history. No, the problem lies within the hearts and souls of human beings and results from leaving behind the value of there being a God-given moral fabric to our universe. King likens this to the story of Joseph and Mary accidentally leaving behind Jesus as a boy in Jerusalem while returning to Nazareth (Luke 2:41-52). If we are to move forward as a society, we must go back to rediscover these foundational spiritual and moral values.

The problem is that we have forgotten that God created our universe with moral laws every bit as true as physical laws. Even if you don’t understand Newtonian physics, you know that if you jump off a tall building the law of gravity means that you will fall to the ground and die. Certain things are right and certain things are wrong, in every time, place, and culture, precisely because God made it so… 

It’s wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong! It’s wrong in America, it’s wrong in Germany, it’s wrong in Russia, it’s wrong in China! It was wrong in two thousand BC, and it’s wrong in nineteen fifty-four AD! It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong! It’s wrong to throw our lives away in riotous living. No matter if everybody in Detroit is doing it. It’s wrong! It always will be wrong! And it always has been wrong. It’s wrong in every age, and it’s wrong in every nation. Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. 

Yet, King points out, we think we can disobey God’s moral laws and not face the consequences. He says that we live by an 11th commandment that supersedes the other 10… “Thou shalt not get caught.” You can break any command you want, so long as you don’t get caught and face negative consequences for it. We have deceived ourselves and forgotten the biblical truth that “You shall reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7). This is the result of forgetting the moral foundation of the universe, and the God who upholds it.

At this point you may be amening just like the congregation at Detroit Second Baptist back in 1954. This is when King shifts the focus from our broader culture to the church. He observes that even believers can unintentionally forget God and leave him behind, just like Jesus’ parents accidentally forgot him back in Jerusalem on their way back to Nazareth. It is easy for Christians to “pay lip service to God and not life service.” We create false gods out of materialism or political ideologies that affirm us and how we want to live, and we use those idols to distract ourselves from the real God of Scripture who places moral demands on us and holds us accountable. 

All too often, Christians are passionate about either personal holiness or communal justice, while neglecting the other. King and others in the African-American Christian tradition show us there is a strong moral foundation that should lead to both. There is much the broader church can learn from them. We should seek to know the God who created this moral universe, and follow him by his grace.

This MLK weekend, I encourage you to take some time to read or listen to one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons. Let’s remind ourselves of the moral foundation of God’s created order, and how we follow the God who upholds it.

 

More Resources:

Rediscovering Lost Values

Is Reconciliation Possible? A Lesson from Africa

Is Reconciliation Possible? A Lesson from Africa

On December 26, 2021, one of my personal heroes passed away. Desmond Tutu was the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and he died at the age of 90. Tutu led the church through a time of intense suffering, and also led the way in offering reconciliation and forgiveness.

Tutu was a leader of the church in South Africa during the time of apartheid, which means “apart-hood” or “separateness.” Apartheid was essentially a racial caste system with the white South African minority at the top and the black South African majority at the bottom. Land was stolen from black South Africans, cities were segregated into rich and poor based on skin color, and the system was enforced through state-sponsored violence, in particular by a brutal secret police force. The system lasted from the late 1940s until the early 1990s.

When the apartheid system fell and Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, South Africa was faced with the problem of how to deal with their past. One option would be to hunt down all the perpetrators: those who had upheld the system by passing unjust laws and overseeing sham trials, and those who committed violent acts in order to enforce it. This option was rejected because it would likely hinder reconciliation, and potentially continue a never-ending cycle of retribution.

Another option was to simply move on. To proclaim amnesty for the perpetrators and get on with life under a new and better political system. But this option was also unsavory: it would provide no accountability, no justice for the victims, no repairing of what had been broken.

South African leaders settled on a third option. They formed what was called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and Desmond Tutu was tabbed to lead it. The goal of the TRC was to uncover truth and foster reconciliation and forgiveness. All perpetrators of apartheid violence, even those who had committed the most heinous acts, were given two options: make a full confession of your crimes before the Commission and receive amnesty, or be liable to criminal charges if they were eventually uncovered.

There was one more important element for those who chose to confess their crimes before the TRC. The confession would be televised live across the country, and families of the victims would be invited to attend in person. In order to be forgiven in the eyes of the new political regime, the truth had to be publicly proclaimed.

When I think about the unfolding war in Ukraine, about the challenges here in the United States that have to do with increasingly clashing worldviews, or how to move forward from the various injustices that mark our own history, I see the principles behind the TRC as an intriguing model.

This is not to say that the TRC fixed all the problems in South Africa. Or that it would be realistic to set up the same kind of commission in the United States. I’m not offering a solution to the problems that plague our country. But I do want to spark our imagination. For reconciliation to happen, the truth must come out. Reconciliation involves both confession and forgiveness. It involves examining ourselves and confessing the role that we have played. And what’s so interesting about the TRC is the role that the church played.

Desmond Tutu was picked to lead the TRC in part because a proper theology, a right understanding of both God and humans, was needed to pursue the work of reconciliation and forgiveness. Hear him describe the role of theology in the work of the TRC:

 

So frequently we in the commission were quite appalled at the depth of depravity to which human beings could sink and we would, most of us, say that those who committed such dastardly deeds were monstrous because the deeds were monstrous. But theology prevents us from doing this. Theology reminded me that, however diabolical the act, it did not turn the perpetrator into a demon. We had to distinguish between the deed and the perpetrator, between the sinner and the sin….  If, however, they were dismissed as being monsters they could not by definition engage in a process that was so deeply personal as that of forgiveness and reconciliation…. 

 

I realized how each of us has the capacity for the most awful evil – every one of us. None of us could predict that if we had been subjected to the same influences, the same conditioning, we would not have turned out like these perpetrators. This is not to condone or excuse what they did. It is to be filled more and more with the compassion of God, looking on and weeping that one of His beloved had come to such a sad pass. We have to say to ourselves with deep feeling, not with a cheap pietism, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

 

And mercifully and wonderfully, as I listened to the stories of victims I marveled at their magnanimity, that after so much suffering, instead of lusting for revenge, they had this extraordinary willingness to forgive….This is a moral universe, which means that, despite all the evidence that seems to be to the contrary, there is no way that evil and injustice and oppression and lies can have the last word. For us who are Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof positive that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, that light is stronger than darkness, that laughter and joy, and compassion and gentleness and truth, all these are so much stronger than their ghastly counterparts.

 

 Those who had strutted about arrogantly in the days of apartheid, dealing out death and injustice… had never imagined in their wildest dreams that their involvement in machinations and abominations hatched out in secret would ever see the light of day…. Now it was all coming out, not as wild speculation or untested allegations. No, it was gushing forth from the mouths of perpetrators themselves… Those ghastly and macabre secrets might have remained hidden except that this is a moral universe and truth will out.


And the victory was for all of us, black and white together – the rainbow people of God.”  (Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, 83-87)


The work of reconciliation is costly. It is costly for perpetrators, because it means confessing the truth about what we’ve done, and the harm that we have caused. And it is costly for the victims, because it means revoking our claim on justice and retribution. Oftentimes what is lost can never be replaced.

But we follow a Messiah who bore an inconceivable cost to reconcile us to himself. Who, while hanging on the cross in great physical agony, asked for his Father to forgive those committing the greatest act of injustice of all time (Luke 23:34). 

The Apostle Paul tells us that we who trust Jesus are now agents of his reconciliation in the world (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). May we learn from the humility and creativity of Desmond Tutu and our South African brothers and sisters in Christ as we go about that work in our world today.

Four Lessons St. Patrick Has for the American Church

Four Lessons St. Patrick Has for the American Church

It is unfortunate that St. Patrick has become synonymous with wearing green to avoid being pinched, dyeing rivers green, and consuming large quantities of beer while pretending to be Irish. Little is widely known about the tremendous influence that this man had on the nation of Ireland and western Christianity. Patrick is easily one of the most successful Christian missionaries of all time. The indigenous Christian movement he started took root where missionaries had failed. Patrick’s influence grew to even re-evangelize much of western Europe in the centuries following the chaos of the Dark Ages and the decline of the institutional Roman church. His success is especially remarkable considering this was all done without any aid from other institutions of political or cultural power. As the current American church declines and we are in an increasingly post-Christendom world, we would do well to listen to voices like his.

The Life of Patrick

Patrick was born in roughly 389 AD to upper-middle-class parents in the British part of the Roman Empire. This was only a few years after Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and Christendom was established. Patrick’s father was a Christian deacon and a member of the city council, both highly respected roles. His grandfather was a priest, so it would be fitting to characterize his family as a pious one with high social standing. Despite this, Patrick described his own Christian upbringing as nominal at best.

A drastic change to this life of privilege happened when Patrick was 16. A band of Irish warriors raided his town, and he was taken away to Ireland, outside of the Empire, in captivity. He worked as a slave herding pigs for six years. Finally, apart from his complacent life where he tacitly accepted nominal Christianity, Patrick was forced to consider the ramifications of his faith. In his own words, “the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief.” He began to pray daily and call out to God to sustain and deliver him. His interaction with the religious beliefs of the Irish also strengthened his faith. Their belief in multiple gods and spirits that roamed throughout the land needing to be appeased aroused a deep sense of peace from the security he had in Christ.

After spending six years in Ireland, he received a vision that encouraged him to escape. While sleeping, he heard a voice tell him to rise and find a ship to take him home. He awoke, ran down to a nearby port, and found a ship that took him away from Ireland. He went to Gaul (modern day France) and spent some time learning and living at a monastery in Lerins. Although he felt called to live a life with common men, during this time he developed a strong appreciation for the monastic rule of life. When he left the monastery he returned to Britain to be reunited with his relatives. Later, at the age of 48, he received his version of the ‘Macedonian call’ (Acts 16:6-10). In a dream an angel brought him letters from his former captors in Ireland, and he heard their voices cry out “we appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” After consulting with the bishops of the British Church, he was ordained a bishop and sent out to Ireland in a missionary band.

His method differed greatly from other Roman missionaries of his time. Instead of forcing conquered “barbarians’’ to convert or waiting for them to come to him as spiritual inquirers, Patrick and his companions would set up a community of faith in each village they visited. They would practice a monastic life of prayer and work, not in a cloister far from society but in the midst of the Irish. As they looked for receptive villagers, the band would pray for the sick, exorcize demons, and mediate conflicts. They were interested in the felt needs of the communities, even regularly praying for fish in the village river. In open-air settings, Patrick would speak about the gospel, using his vast knowledge of Irish culture to communicate the gospel in a way that would connect with them. Parables, symbols, drama, and other visuals were used because of the Irish people’s vivid imagination. Responsive villagers would join the monastic community and partake in their practices.

After a few months, a church would be officially born and the new converts would be baptized. Patrick’s group would leave behind a priest and a few others to continue instruction in Christian doctrine, but take some of the converted villagers with them as they moved on to the next village. It is estimated that Patrick started 700 churches, commissioned 1000 priests, and reached 40 out of the 150 tribes in Ireland, during his 28 year ministry.

Four Lessons for Us

1. The gospel is central.

Patrick’s ministry was rooted in a profound belief that humanity’s only hope was God’s intervention of grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His personal experience of liberation from slavery by divine intervention no doubt made this truth a vivid reality for him. Each of his surviving writings begins with the words: “I, Patrick, a sinner.” This humility was not from self-loathing, but from an honest recognition of his need for a savior. Patrick was zealous to maintain that salvation is a result of God’s work of grace, in opposition to his contemporary fellow British monk, Pelagius, who taught human effort alone was enough to be saved. Patrick’s strong conviction that the unconverted would suffer damnation and had no hope apart from Christ motivated him to return to his former captors to share the good news with them.

The Church today should never grow weary of proclaiming the gospel and trusting in God’s grace. We should take care and not water down the biblical gospel. We must also be zealous like Patrick so that the good news does not become old hat.

2. The gospel changes everything.

Patrick’s missionary bands differed significantly from Roman missionary models by doing their Christian life in the midst of pagan communities. Patrick himself was deeply influenced by the Irish reverence for nature and so developed a sacramental vision of all of life, where the line between the natural and spiritual was paper-thin. Work was an integral part of their monastic life and not a distraction from it. Their concern for the economic realities of their Irish neighbors bolstered their witness.

One of the greatest dangers facing the church today is the unbiblical distortion that creates a sharp sacred-secular divide. This can lead us to believe our Monday work does not matter to a Sunday-focused God. As our culture becomes increasingly post-Christian and the influence of the institutional church wanes, we need to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the particular places He has us the majority of our week.

3. The gospel demands justice and reconciliation.

Similar to the previous lesson, the gospel Patrick preached did not only restore sinners to God but also led them to love one another and pursue justice and peace. In his writing, Epistola, he writes a letter rebuking a nominal-Christian warlord named Coroticus. He had raided some of Patrick’s converts and taken recently baptized women off as slaves. Patrick commands him to release them because he is compelled by “the zeal of God, the truth of Christ… (and) the love of (his) nearest neighbors.” His concern for justice and the flourishing of the Irish was also evident in how he ended the slave trade in that region. Patrick earned the respect of various Irish tribes by acting as a broker for peace to end conflict between clans. His evangelistic effectiveness was integral to his concern for the whole-life flourishing of the Irish.

The American Church would do well to follow Patrick’s footsteps. As we allow the gospel to speak to all of life, it will inevitably move us to work toward a society that is ordered by God’s justice and enables the flourishing of all.

4. The gospel is lived out together.

Though Patrick gets all the recognition and a holiday all to himself, we must never forget that he did not evangelize the Irish by himself. He was not a lone ranger, solo-climber, or solitary pioneer that set out on his own. Patrick owes much of its success to the many unknown members of his missionary bands that evangelized together. They demonstrated a different way of being in community among the Irish that became a compelling witness. Rather than requiring a profession of belief from ‘barbarians’ before partaking in Christian community like the Roman church, they recognized that belonging often precedes belief. Irish inquirers could join their monastic community, “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good” by experiencing the care of His people before making intellectual assent to Christian doctrine.

In a similar way, the American church will go nowhere relying on its celebrity leaders. It takes communities of extra-ordinary believers doing life together so that others can be drawn in to experience the reality that the gospel changes everything.

Let us take time this St. Patty’s day, in addition to any other celebration, to thank God for the work He did through St. Patrick and his friends. Let us also consider how we might emulate him by being a faithful, gospel-centered presence in our communities.

Do You Love Enough to Hate?

Do You Love Enough to Hate?

I have clear and vivid memories of standing over the same baby crib as each of my four children slept. Many times I would enter the room to check on them, admire their peaceful resting state, or wait to see if they would crack an involuntary smile while sleeping. But the clearest memories I have are of simply praying over them. One of my most common prayers is that they would grow to love God and love the things that He loves. 

But there came a time when I realized that I was only praying one side of the prayer coin, so to speak. We fall short if we only love the things that God loves. To be a follower of Jesus who is devoted to His ways and to His kingdom, we must also hate the things that God hates.

In fact, in Paul’s famous words in Romans where he essentially lays out the profile of a Christian, he makes the strong connection between love and hate.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. – Romans 12:9 (ESV)

Isn’t it fascinating that the first thing Paul says regarding the genuine nature of love is about hating something? True love demands hating evil. In a way this is an echo of the timeless words of wisdom found in Ecclesiastes 3. There is a time for everything, including hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8).

We are in such a time when our genuine love demands this kind of hate.

In recent weeks we have witnessed multiple incidents of evil made manifest through racial injustice. Space won’t permit me to share the details of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Christian Cooper, and George Floyd. Not to mention the increased hostility and racism towards the Asian American community in the spread of COVID-19. I encourage you to read about these image bearers who were the victims of racial injustice. But even more than that, I encourage you to love enough to hate.

Love enough to hate that Ahmaud Arbery was killed for being a black man on a run in his own neighborhood. Love enough to hate that Breona Taylor’s life was taken as a result of a no-knock search warrant that had nothing to do with her. Love enough to hate that a white woman called the police on Christian Cooper and leveraged his ethnicity on the call to criminalize him. Love enough to hate that George Floyd lost his life because of the unnecessary and unwarranted pressure placed upon his neck by a police officer.

We must see these situations for what they are. 

They are injustices that should be called out.

A people committed to Jesus and His kingdom, built upon righteousness and justice (Matthew 9:13, Psalm 89:14) must understand justice completely. And that means understanding injustice whenever, wherever, and  whomever it strikes. Our failure to see and hate injustice is evil. 

That is why we must love enough to hate.

As Proverbs 28:5 says, Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it completely. These events, and many like them, should cause us to grieve, lament, cry out, and plead with God to bring justice and peace. 

Our love for the God whose image is imprinted upon every human being should lead us to hate the racist beliefs and behaviors of individuals, including ourselves (James 3:9). Our belief in the presence of powers and principalities in our world should empower us to identify and work against the structures and institutions that perpetuate subtle and not so subtle acts of oppression and inequality (Ephesians 6:12). Our faith in the reconciling power of the gospel should compel us to work toward all matters of justice, be they racial, economic, social, or political (Ephesians 2:11-22). Our identity in Christ should lead us to combat the pervasive white superiority that still lingers in the air of our nation, and perpetuates a divide among ethnicities (Galatians 3:27-29). And our hope in the new heavens and new earth where Christ will be praised by all tribes, tongues, and nations should motivate us to pursue a gospel-infused diversity within our local churches (Revelation 7:9-10).

May the church of Jesus Christ be known, seen, and heard as those who love enough to hate. 

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24 (ESV)