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“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 39: AUGUST 30
JAMES – JUDE
Most of the letters we read today were written by the disciples who were with Jesus during his ministry years, so it’s not surprising to hear some of Jesus’ words repeated in them. Gone are the brash and oftentimes confused young men “of little faith”, and in their place are mighty apostles, strong in word, deed and faith, and teaching others the Way as Jesus taught them.
- A few main themes emerge in these letters. One of them is the unavoidability of suffering. Remember that during the early years, the church was under heavy persecution. Suffering was the order of the day for many believers, either through incarceration, torture, banishment, or death. We will also suffer, if we’re true believers. The world hates us and mocks us (I know, because I used to be one of the haters and mockers), and things will only get worse for us as our numbers diminish and evil expands.
- Suffering is not something anyone willingly does, if they’re sane. Suffering is something to be endured. The letters point out that there are two types of suffering: the type that is earned by error and sin, and the type that comes from being a follower of Jesus. There are also two ways to suffer – the right way and the wrong way. The right way to suffer is as Jesus suffered – totally aware of what was going on and why, but remaining non-combative and silent, knowing it would eventually pass. The wrong way to suffer is probably the way most of us do it (moaning, groaning, complaining, blaming others, etc.) until we remind ourselves of the right way, and then (hopefully) do it.
- As James points out, God doesn’t tempt us or make us suffer; he permits us to be tempted and to suffer. This is done through the wiles of the devil, like it was to Job. God doesn’t do evil; as Jesus stated in the Gospel, God is actually the only one we can legitimately call good; even Jesus refused to be called good. But but God did create evil, just as he created the destroyer. So if you suffer, suffer in silence, knowing you either had the suffering coming as a reward for your error or sin, or you’re being tempted by the devil as a way to prove you. God permits suffering because it has a purpose – to pay an error or sin debt, or to bring you up higher in his Kingdom. In both cases, suffering should not be fought against or cursed, but accepted.
- I know that the unavoidability of suffering is a hard teaching and makes our skin crawl, but it is what it is. You can bet that we’ll be tested on this teaching in the weeks and months to come. The good news is that if the suffering comes from being a follower of Jesus, it’s a cause for rejoicing, like Peter and John rejoiced in Acts. If we suffer for being a follower of Jesus, it means God considers us worthy. There is no higher recommendation.
- Another theme in the letters is a warning against those who have fallen away and are preaching another gospel. As I mentioned in yesterday’s reflection, false prophets are not a 20th or 21st century phenomenon. The early church was just as plagued by them. The letters also warn against imposters – that is, people who pretend to be believers but are not. They impose themselves on the church, but their presence only stirs up trouble. You can easily tell these people because as much as they say they are believers (and they can be very mesmerizing and convincing talkers, like skilled sales people or politicians), their actions speak otherwise. Avoid them and pray for them, but otherwise let them be. They are God’s concern, not ours.
- The doing of faith rather than just the saying of faith is also a big theme in these letters. Talk is cheap. We know Jesus’ parable about the son who said he’d do his father’s will but didn’t do it, and the son who said he wouldn’t do it, but later changed his mind and did it. It was the son who actually did his father’s will, not the son who only said he’d do it, who was justified. A lot of people contacted me to say they would be participating in the Bible read-through, but only a handful have made it this far. People have good intentions, but if they don’t follow through with actions to back up those intentions, their words have no value. THEIR WORDS HAVE NO VALUE. We are not judged by our intentions, but by our actions. We can spout a list of good intentions until the cows come home, but only those things that we make real by our actions are counted as real. The rest is so much fluff.
- John’s letters focus on the primacy of love. He’s not talking here about romantic love, but the love of God that works through God’s children. God is love, so if we are in God and God is in us (as he was in Jesus), God’s love will work through us. This is the very great joy of being born-again
- God working through us is also the only way we’ll be able to love our enemies, because being kind and forbearing to people who purposely hurt us is definitely not something we can do on our own steam. Loving our neighbours and loving our enemies are decisions of the will, which, once made, God then effects by his Spirit working through us. I have been drunk with fine champagne when I was an unbeliever, and I have been drunk with God’s Spirit working through me to love my enemies, and I can tell you with all certainty that being drunk with God’s Holy Spirit is a far greater high. There is none better on Earth. And in Heaven (if we make it there), we’ll live that high all the time.
“‘Twas the night before Revelation…” – if you’ve made it this far in the Bible read-through, you’re close enough to the end of the tunnel that you’re not only seeing the light, it’s illuminating you. You’re bathed in it. Even so, congratulations aren’t in order yet. We still have one more book to get through, and what a doozy of a book it is!
That’s all I’m going to say for now about Revelation. God bless you for your efforts over these past 39 days and nights. Whatever you invest in God’s Word, you’ll get back a million-fold.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.
When God tells us he’ll never leave us or betray us, we need to pay attention.
Jesus says we’re to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength. If we love God like that, we won’t have any love left over for anything or anyone else. What we’ll have instead is caritas, which is the cup-runneth-over kind of love. Caritas enables you to be kind to everyone, regardless of how they are to you, and to treat others as you want to be treated. In other words, caritas enables us to keep the Commandments, including the one Jesus gave us to love our enemies.
Caritas is the by-product of receiving God’s love in return for loving him. When you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, so much of his love pours back onto you that you can’t contain it. That’s where caritas comes from. This overflow love is then meant for you to pour onto others.
The notion of caritas has been bastardized by the world and by the blind to refer to an obligatory form of giving (charity), but real caritas is God’s love overflowing you. You can give caritas to anyone indiscriminately, regardless of whether you know them or not and regardless of whether they hate you or not. God’s love fills you so much that you don’t require love from other people. If everyone in the world hates you but you know God loves you and you feel his love, you have more than enough love for yourself and to share.
When we love God the way scripture invites us to love him, we have no need to look for love in anyone or anything else. People who don’t love God are constantly looking for God-love substitutes, usually in other people, though sometimes also in material things or pursuits. But God made us to love him; we’re hardwired to love him; so if we try to rewire ourselves or override the wiring, we fail. We were built to fail if we try to find love in anything or anyone other than God. This is the failsafe that both drives us toward and brings us back to God, even if we don’t believe he exists.
As an atheist, I believed in love and I believed in truth, but I didn’t believe in God. I thought if I kept looking for love and truth, someday I would find them, though not necessarily in the same place. What I didn’t realize as an atheist is that God is Love and God is Truth, so the desire that drove me to find love and truth was actually the inborn desire for God that was hardwired into me by God himself.
God will never leave us or betray us. These are huge promises. No-one and nothing on Earth can give us these promises and keep them. Only God can. People will always leave you and betray you, just as you will always leave and betray them. You may look the other way and pretend they’re not leaving or betraying you, but you’re only fooling yourself.
Women are very good at this, fooling themselves. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of women I know who haven’t looked the other way while their significant other betrayed them. Most women would rather be betrayed and look the other way than lose their man, and that is just sad.
God will never betray us. HE WILL NEVER BETRAY US. He will neither leave us nor betray us. Imagine the enormity of such promises, and yet you don’t have to imagine, because these promises are real and unbreakable. God cannot break his promise to us. When he says he’ll never leave us or betray us, he won’t. When he invites us to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, we should. The rewards of loving God are infinite and nothing on Earth compares to them.
God is standing there with his heart on his sleeve saying “I love you, and I’ve made you to love me.” He’s not begging you; he’s reminding you that he loves you and that he’s made you to want to love him. The desire you feel to give and receive love is at heart the desire to love God and receive his love in return. You have been hardwired to love God and to receive his love.
In loving God and only in loving God can you find your peace and fulfillment. You’ll have no desire to look for love in others or to expect love from others.
In loving God and only in loving God can you truly give caritas.
On his last night as a human, Jesus spoke in depth to his followers who were gathered with him to celebrate the Passover meal. At some point during the proceedings, he gave us another Commandment – to love as he loved. This was the handing on of the torch from teacher to students, envisioning that they themselves would one day be handing on the torch to their own students, and they to theirs, and so on and so on, all the way down to us.
We now stand with that same torch in our hands, lit by Jesus. And just like those who were gathered around Jesus on his last night as a human, we too are commanded to love as he loved.
But how did Jesus love? (more…)
What does it mean to love one another?
The simple truth is that you can’t really love anyone unless you let God love through you.
That’s the love Jesus was talking about, and that’s the only kind of love. Everything else is fake. (more…)
People who are hurting hurt people.
Happy people don’t hurt people. Happy people want to help people, not hurt them.
We need to remember this when people are mean or rude or cruel to us.
Jesus said that it’s the sick who need help, not those who are well.
Scratch the surface of anyone who is mean or cruel or hurtful in any way, and you’ll find a painful festering sore below.
The greater the pain gets, the more people deflect it to other people and blame other people.
People who are in pain will growl and bite you if you get too close, the way animals will growl and bite you when you reach to help them.
People in pain need prayers, not curses. They need a gentle presence (from a safe distance, if necessary).
Those people who treat you like dirt – PRAY FOR THEM. Don’t tell them you’re praying for them, just PRAY FOR THEM.
And choose to forgive them.
Don’t dwell on their cruelty; dwell on how miserable they must be, not to know God’s love.
That’s a horrible cold dark wretched place to live, where God isn’t welcome.
We are blessed to know God’s love, to live in his brightness and joy and warmth. Each of us who is born again has enough of God’s love to share with all the world and still have love to spare, just like Jesus had enough loaves and fishes to feed the hungry masses and still have leftovers. Each of us has that much love – enough for every human in the world, and then some – if we let go of any lingering resentment, and let God love fully through us.
That’s your job, as a born-again, to love like God loves, to love like Jesus loved, fully and without reserve.
Only people who are hurting hurt people.
Don’t make their pain worse: help them.
One of the easiest ‘sin traps’ to fall into is forgetting that God loves everyone equally, no matter what they do or say.
He doesn’t love what everyone does or says, but he does love whoever is doing the doing or saying.
We need to remember this hard-core fact when we find ourselves repulsed by something someone has said or done. We need to separate the horrible thing from the person doing and saying it. We need to separate the sinner from the sin.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
To do this, it helps to see the sinner as you. It helps to remember that you, at times, also say or do horrible things. It helps to remember that you hope not to be condemned even despite your screw-ups. It helps to remember that God shows mercy to you.
Knowing this, we must also acknowledge that:
- God loves the Muslim suicide bombers who blow up children.
- God loves whoever was responsible for 9-11.
- God loves the guards at the Nazi concentration camps who flicked the gas switch on.
- God loves Judas Iscariot.
This is the God we serve. Our God isn’t someone who hates those who hate him or who hates those who do horrible things. Our God is someone who loves all people equally, even those in hell and those on their way there.
Jesus told us to be perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect.
God loves us.
All of us.
All of the time.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Years ago, when I was an atheist, I went to an abortion clinic. Because the clinic had received so many bomb threats, the front entrance was permanently barred and people had to enter through the rear gate. An armed security guard stood watch. As I went to enter, a man self-identified as a minister and separated himself from the small group of anti-abortion protestors who held permanent vigil there. He quickly moved towards me and tried to push himself between me and the gate. I pushed him back and the security guard intervened. As he was being hauled away, the minister yelled over and over again that I was a sinner and would go to hell if I had an abortion. I yelled back words that aren’t fit to print here, but you get the idea. There was no love lost on either side. What I remember most about this encounter was that it was with a minister and that his eyes were full of hate. That pretty much summed up my impression of Christians in those days.
Today, being born-again, I understand the loathing that the minister must have felt when he saw me make my way to the abortion clinic gate. I understand his hatred of what he assumed I was about to do, and I also understand how his hatred for abortion could spill over into hatred for me. I get it. It’s easy to do, hating the sinner as well as the sin. It’s a classic sin trap.
That’s why we must always be on our guard against it. Come Judgment Day, it’s probably not the big sins like theft or adultery or even abortion that will condemn us in God’s loving eyes, but the sins that slip under our radar, disguised as holy outrage.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
When I was in university, I had to read excerpts from the Bible for a comparative literature assignment. I was an atheist at the time and hated the Bible or anything that spoke of God in a positive way. I thought believers were idiots and I had zero patience for them.
The assignment specifically required me to read passages from Paul’s letter about faith, hope and charity. As an atheist, I had a difficult time reading the New Testament because all the words ran together and I couldn’t make head or tails of what was being said. Trying to read the New Testament for this assignment was no different; none of the words made any sense to me. It was as if they were written in a foreign language that I had no knowledge of.
In discussing the assignment in class, my professor talked about “caritas”, or charity, as a type of love that was distinct from other forms of love. He was a kind man and a diligent instructor, and I can still see him struggling to convey a meaning that can only be understood by people who are born again. I doubt whether he, at the time, was born again, or even if anyone in the class believed in God. I certainly didn’t understand what my professor meant by “caritas”, but I dutifully picked up enough of his explanation to regurgitate it on the exam and get a pass for the course.
Caritas is often translated as “charity”. It means self-less love, the kind that God gives us. God loves us selflessly, even arrogant university students who spit venom at the sound of his name. He gives of himself without expecting anything in return. As an atheist, I could not fathom a type of love that wasn’t feelings-based and wasn’t meant to be reciprocated on some level; to me, love without palpitations and weak knees just wasn’t love. Sure, I understood that my parents and grandparents loved me without palpitations and weak knees, but that was different. I was expected at least to show my respect to them, so in this they got something in return for their love.
But to love expecting nothing in return – what kind of fool would do that? My atheistic mindset had no place for such as concept. To me, the notion of caritas made the idea of God all the more far-fetched.
Muddying the waters even more was my personal experience of the charity industry. I saw charities as seedy organizations whose sole purpose was to separate people from their time, energy, and money. How could these organizations truly be called ‘charities’ if they gave tax receipts for monetary expressions of love? Wasn’t real charity supposed to be done selflessly and without expecting anything in return?
Despite his best efforts, my professor could not bring me to an understanding of Paul’s concept of charity, nor make me grasp why Paul considered charity to be the highest virtue. It was only after I was born again and able to read the New Testament that I started to get a feeling for what Paul meant.
Jesus said to give freely without expecting anything in return, to love your enemies, and to treat other people as you want to be treated. He also tells us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. This is the caritas that Paul was talking about – being kind to people without expecting to be treated kindly in return, and giving freely to those in need without expecting anything in return (including a tax receipt or even a thank-you). And to do it all sincerely, and with a smile in your heart.
To Jesus and Paul, charity simply meant to love as God loves. No palpitations or weak knees are required. Caritas is initiated in us by an act of our will, not a feeling. It is an act that is done for no other reason than that it is the right thing to do; no personal gain is involved. This is the selflessness that my professor struggled to convey all those years ago.
When we say “yes” to caritas, God loves through us. The simple nod of our will gives God permission to work through us so that we can, in fact, love as God loves: fully and selflessly. In saying “yes”, we feel God’s love flow through us, and we know there is no greater love.
HAPPY CARITAS DAY, EVERYONE!