Tag Archives: Compassion

Family of Faith

As I looked outside my window this morning I observed a family of turtles basking in the warm sun, cuddled together on a rock by the pond. It was the first time I had seen them this season and their presence brought to mind a few of my favorite Bible verses about family: mine and God’s alike. Those verses follow below, along with a couple thoughts of my own.

Joshua 24:15 – “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” What an incredibly relevant verse for today’s world. Joshua spoke those words after challenging the tribes of Israel to put away their false idols and return to the Lord, and serve Him alone. As I watch America embrace and serve countless idols, turning its back on God in the process, I am reminded of Joshua’s steadfast faith in the Lord. We, too, must remain faithful to God and not submit to the various forms of idolatry that the world offers us. At times you may find it difficult to resist the world’s temptations; in those moments seek the strength of the Lord and know that He gives you the power to overcome in times of trial and tribulation. (See 1 Corinthians 10:13 and 2 Timothy 1:7).

Luke 12:52 – “From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against – or two in favor and three against.” Jesus spoke these words to an innumerable crowd of people fascinated by His teachings and miracles. He wanted to make clear to them and His disciples the considerable cost they would incur for following Him as Lord – a topic He spoke about so frequently that He later encourages the multitudes to ‘count the cost’ before committing themselves to Him. The world hated Him and would hate His followers as well (see John 15:18-19). Consequently, His followers would experience contempt, persecution, rejection, discrimination, hostility, violence, imprisonment, and in some cases death. Sadly, some endure these actions from family, so entrenched is their hatred for Christ. I know firsthand how heartbreaking such a response is from family members. But we must not soften our faith or diminish our love for the Lord just to appease family. Instead pray earnestly for them as you stand steadfastly in faith.

Galatians 6:10 – “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone, especially to those in the family of faith.” One of the hallmarks of the Christian life is love for others, regardless of whether we like them or how well we know them. That love reflects our faith and draws a jaded and broken world to Christ. And it is expressed in action. Scripture tells us, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (James 2:14-16, NLT). Absent a generous outpouring of love, our faith fails. In fact, ‘faith without works is dead and useless” (James 2:17b, NLT). And the apostle John reminds us, “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:12, NLT).

And our love towards others must be especially pronounced for those who share our faith. John provides clear guidance on this: “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:16-18, NLT). Cultivate a lifestyle of generosity and compassion for those in need, especially those of the household of faith. Then you will live out your faith fully.

Ephesians 2:19 – “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.” In the passage preceding this verse, the apostle Paul explains that Jesus has unified Gentiles and Jews into one family, the body of Christ. In Christ, there are no Asians, Africans, or Americans; only fellow believers and followers of the Lord. 

Under the old covenant, Gentiles were on the outside looking in. But now, with Christ, we belong. We are citizens of God’s Kingdom and valued members of God’s family. That, my friends, is an uplifting truth that I pray gives your soul sustenance the rest of the week. Take time to reflect on it before you go to bed tonight and as you get up tomorrow morning – and rejoice in your membership in God’s family.

A different perspective on a controversial topic

Much has been written about whether state laws compel Christian business owners to perform services (e.g. cater, photograph, or bake) for gay weddings and if so whether states should pass new laws providing a faith-based exemption from such obligation. Instead of adding my voice to the thousands who already have expressed a view on this aspect of the controversy, I encourage Christian business owners to consider the following when deciding whether Jesus wants His followers to offer professional services at those weddings.

1] First, let’s remember our primary objective as Christians, especially Evangelicals, is to share the good news of Jesus Christ and His love and resurrection with a lost and broken world. A serious commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission compels believers to identify chances to connect with the lost and dying. For Christian business owners this should translate to pursuing enthusiastically opportunities to do business with those who do not know the Lord. Doing so allows them to demonstrate to customers the love, mercy, kindness, and grace of our Savior – by their behavior and the manner in which they conduct business.

It ought to excite us, then, when nonbelievers want to patronize our businesses because it allows us to establish and nurture long-term relationships with them. Such relationships can eventually lead to conversations about faith, the Bible, and Jesus. What a tremendous opening for the gospel.

Unfortunately, many Christian business owners refuse to capitalize on opportunities to build authentic relationships with nonbelievers, especially those in the LGBT community, simply because they disagree with their lifestyle. In doing so they do the gospel and the Great Commission a serious disservice and miss a prime opportunity to share Jesus’ love and truth with those who need Him. Their refusal to provide professional services at gay weddings also intensifies the animosity the LGBT community has towards Christianity and undermines efforts to reach them with the good news. Is that really what the Lord wants?

2] Second, let’s remember one of the most powerful lessons of Jesus’ ministry. When He joined Matthew the tax collector at his house for a feast attended by numerous sinners, religious leaders were horrified. How could anyone claiming to speak for God surround himself with such despicable reprobates? Didn’t He realize that socializing with such people condoned their sin and celebrated their lifestyles?

Jesus dismissed their concerns and explained that they (the religious leaders) were far from God, not those who invested time building relationships with sinners.

He reminded His followers, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32, NKJV). Sadly, many believers forget that lesson and refuse to associate with anyone whose lifestyle they disapprove of. Such actions directly contradict Jesus’ message. It is an important reminder for Christian business owners, too, who God may have blessed with a company for the express purpose of reaching the spiritually sick, not to make money, achieve success, and infuriate those who have yet to meet the Son of God.

3] Many Christian business owners argue that if they provide professional services for a gay wedding society will wrongly assume they approve of the gay lifestyle. They insist that such a misunderstanding undermines Christian principles and dishonors Jesus’ teaching. Surprisingly, they often fail to express similar concern that their refusal to provide professional services for gay weddings might be misinterpreted as hateful, judgmental, and laced with condemnation. If society’s misperceptions concern some Christian business owners, then society’s view that we’re hatemongers ought to alarm them most, since that represents the antithesis of Jesus and His message. How can believers make inroads with the LGBT community and a skeptical, secular society when they observe frequent acts of self-righteous antagonism instead of acts of humility, service, and compassion? We need to ditch the self-righteousness and redouble our efforts to humbly serve with compassion.

4] If Christian business owners genuinely believe it is inappropriate to provide professional services for any wedding that contravenes Scripture, they should refuse to photograph, bake cakes, or cater many heterosexual weddings as well. Jesus tells us: “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32, NKJV). Adultery, of course, was proscribed in the Ten Commandments. Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that marriage between a man and a divorced woman (and presumably vice versa) violates God’s standard.

Christian business owners who refuse to provide services for gay weddings but happily offer services for heterosexual weddings involving a divorced party are acting inconsistently. Such hypocrisy suggests the refusal to offer services for gay weddings has more to do with their own attitudes and biases than it does with biblical principles. Of course, I’m not suggesting Christian business owners refuse to provide services to weddings involving a divorced party. I’m simply pointing out the hypocrisy demonstrated when they service those weddings but not gay weddings.

In fact, a Christian business owner genuinely committed to following biblical principles in his or her business must extend those principles well beyond the issue of marriage. They also will avoid providing services to any event that celebrates unbiblical lifestyles such as greed, materialism, idolatry, and dishonesty. Such sins are far more widespread in our country and were consistently and unambiguously condemned by Jesus in Scripture. I wonder how many Christian business owners who refuse to serve gay weddings eagerly serve events at greedy hedge-fund offices, high-end car dealerships that promote materialism, marketing firms that celebrate excess, and political consultants where dishonesty is critical to success? Those Christian business owners who do, I would argue, possess a motivation far less noble than upholding the sanctity of God’s Word.

Again, I’m not suggesting Christian business owners decline to serve hedge-fund offices, car dealerships, marketing firms, or political consultants. I’m simply pointing out the inconsistency that exists in how many of them apply their principles.

5] Many Christian business owners who refuse to provide services at gay weddings insist they are not discriminating and do not hate gays. They simply want to defend the traditional view of marriage. But I wonder if any evidence exists to support that claim. Are they involved in reaching out to the gay and lesbian community and developing strong relationships with them? Far too few links exist between the Evangelical and LGBT communities. If these business owners are true to their word, they will prove it by leading the effort to address this deficiency. Otherwise it’s all talk.

6] Finally, we need to remember that people’s lifestyles and behaviors change after they come to Christ, not before. We need to avoid trying to force change in others before salvation. Such transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Though Christians universally embrace this truth in principle, too often we operate as though we expect sinners to change before we share the gospel. That is unbiblical and counter-productive. Let’s remember our role is to love, serve, and minister to the lost and dying, while the Holy Spirit’s role is to change hearts.

I encourage believers, and especially Christian business owners, to reexamine how we fulfill our role as it relates to reaching the LGBT community with the good news of Jesus Christ. Is refusing to provide professional services at gay weddings really the best way? I don’t think so and doubt Jesus does either.

Are Evangelicals Modern-Day Pharisees?

Jesus’ teaching on love, mercy, and forgiveness has drawn people to Him for two millennia and enjoys universal appeal both within and without the Christian community. His message of hope, peace and joy has comforted those awash in despair, victimized by conflict, and burdened by suffering. But not everyone in Jesus’ day agreed with His revolutionary ideas. His most strident opponents, the Pharisees, were self-proclaimed guardians of religious law who pontificated right and wrong. They demanded the masses follow their directives or risk God’s wrath.

Not surprisingly, Jesus employed fiery rhetoric to excoriate these religious frauds and pulled no linguistic punches. He addressed the sin embedded in their lives and unveiled the hypocrisy of their faith. He exposed them as caretakers of a religious scam perpetrated on a public desperate to know God.

It is tempting for modern Christians and, especially, leaders in the evangelical community to ignore potential similarities between us and the Pharisees. Too often we refuse to consider the possibility that we practice faith in a way that mirrors how those religious imposters practiced theirs. We believe ourselves exempt from the lessons of Jesus’ scathing attacks on religious phonies because we view our faith through a self-righteous lens. Jesus’ insight on the subject applies to others but not us, we tell ourselves. Our faith is beyond reproach. Such dismissive treatment of Jesus’ words, however, proves how much we resemble the Pharisees. We disregard this likeness at our own peril.

While a thorough and detailed examination of this topic requires a treatise, this blog aims to identify several areas in which modern evangelicals often mirror First Century Pharisees. Please keep in mind the topic is addressed out of love for the church and concern for its spiritual health. I encourage readers to heed Paul’s words to “examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV). The Pharisees were certain they possessed genuine faith but did not.

One of the defining attributes of the Pharisees’ faith was hypocrisy. They insisted others follow a rigid set of rules but refused to cleanse their hearts from wickedness. Jesus said they “outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28, NKJV). This inconsistency between outward appearance and inward holiness destroys ministries, corrodes faith, impedes the work of the church, and leads to spiritual darkness. God is far more concerned with the condition of our hearts than any verbal profession of faith we make. The Pharisees prayed long, eloquent prayers in public, could quote the Torah with ease, and possessed impeccable religious credentials. Yet Jesus quoted Isaiah in describing them as people who worshipped God in vain because their hearts were far from Him.

Jesus explained that the heart defines a person’s faith not what proceeds from his or her mouth. Hypocrites honor God with their lips alone while true believers honor Him with the heart as well. What flows from your heart? Do deceit, materialism, hate, jealousy, adultery, and gossip reside there and rule your thoughts? If so, ask the Lord to remove those desires and replace them with the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

The Pharisees also reveled in proclaiming judgment on others. John captures an excellent example of this in his gospel account. The Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. Her guilt is certain. Witnesses will testify of her sin. Mosaic Law required death, by stoning. They gleefully want her condemned. She is wicked, contemptible, and worthless they believe. Surely Jesus will agree. But He doesn’t. He tells them the one without sin should throw the first stone and the entire group disperses, aware of their sin. Jesus shows the woman mercy, reveals Himself to her and refuses to condemn her. That is the pattern for us as we interact with a fallen world, instead of rushing to judgment, pointing fingers of condemnation, and proclaiming “Sinner” to those practicing ungodly behavior.

That’s an important lesson for evangelicals and church leaders who insist on decrying the wickedness of Hollywood, public school curriculum, gays, abortion providers, and illegal aliens. Like the Pharisees, many are quick to proclaim the sin of people and want to remind them of God’s pending judgment for their conduct. In the process they forget about Jesus’ example. If we followed His model I suspect we would impact the nation more powerfully. We need to extend mercy, build relationships, and share Christ’s love with folks. Over time we earn the right to speak candidly about Scripture and what it says about specific topics and behaviors. Also, our voice carries far more weight when spoken as a caring friend than as a judgmental stranger. The Pharisees adopted the approach of the judgmental stranger and secured Jesus’ rebuke as a result.

Finally, pride marked the Pharisees’ lives. Consumed with self-righteousness, they demanded the best of everything, insisted on respect, and basked in prestige. In doing so they revealed the condition of their hearts. They desired the things of the world as much as the secularist. But instead of pursuing such lusts via commerce, academia, or government, they used religion as the means to achieve their objectives. Religion was an avenue to secure the status, lifestyle, comfort, and esteem that appealed to them. Rather than pursue genuine humility they exalted themselves. Instead of living selfless lives serving others they required others serve them.

Sadly, a segment of the evangelical community suffers the same fatal flaw. Pride is endemic within the church, perhaps more than any other sin. More than just tolerated it is often celebrated. Increasingly, Christians toot their religious horns. We love to proclaim the depth of our relationship with God, emphasize how He is at work in our lives, and inform others that He revealed some insight to us during a devotional. We neglect Jesus’ counsel to avoid calling attention to our spiritual growth and instead declare it to Christian peers, often in exaggerated terms. Pride prevented the Pharisees from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and having an authentic relationship with God. Similarly, it prevents us from hearing the still, small voice of God and enjoying genuine faith in Christ.

Take time to examine your heart. Do you demonstrate a Pharisaical heart? Do your thoughts and desires reflect the faith you profess or does an inconsistency exist between the two? Are you quick to condemn others and denounce sinners or do you build relationships with them predicated on love, mercy and compassion? Do you exalt your faith before others or is it grounded in humility?

The Pharisees were convinced they were closer to God than others. They were certain of God’s favor on them; that He was well pleased with their faith. In reality they were further from God than anyone because of the hardness of their hearts. Anyone confident he or she bears no resemblance to the Pharisees is likely the one most similar. Pride deceives such individuals.

Take a moment to ask God to show the true condition of your heart. As He does, repent from any sin He reveals. Pray He removes any hypocrisy crippling your faith and any pride corroding your relationship with Him. Request He replace any judgmental attitude with a spirit of gentleness. If you do, He will answer your prayer and you will experience revitalized faith.