“Love your enemies?” Oh, Jesus was probably just being sarcastic.

I’m kidding, of course.  I don’t think Jesus was being sarcastic when He commanded us to love our enemies.  I used that title to point out two things:

  1. It is easy for people to play games with scripture if they don’t follow some basic rules.  Most scripture-twisting isn’t as transparent as above, but it is just as error-filled and destructive.
  2. The Bible passage in question is so challenging that our minds can work overtime trying to ignore it.

First, I’m reminded of Dalmatian Theologians who think that the Bible is only inspired in spots, and that they are inspired to spot the spots.  I also think of Advanced Dalmatian Theologians, who add the myth that God is also changing spots and adding/removing spots, and, oddly enough, He is only telling theological liberals and progressives.   They use phrases such as “God is still speaking,” but they don’t mean that God still speaks through his Word (that would be a true statement).  They think He is still revealing new truths to the church and changing doctrines taught in the Bible.

So if they can play that game, why not use it to avoid the hard lessons Jesus taught, such as loving our enemies?  Why not pick that as one of the verses that you don’t think Jesus really said?  That would sure make life easier!

Second, this passage has to be one of the most challenging in the Bible. 

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Love your enemies?  Pray for your persecutors?  Those seem impossible!  And Jesus really drives the point home by telling us how it takes almost no effort to love those who are loving us.  Non-believers can do that, so we haven’t really accomplished anything until we go beyond it. 

Then He tops it off by saying we must be as perfect as God!  If anyone reads that as a checklist, such as Note to self: Be perfect like God, then I think he’s missed the point.  We should aim at perfection in obedience, of course, but unless one is delusional that command should take you to the foot of the cross.  I can’t be perfect for 10 minutes, even when I’m sleeping.

Another challenge is using the word love in the proper context.  The love Jesus referred to is not a pampering, indulgent love, but the agape love where you have someone’s long term best interests at heart. 

It doesn’t mean you roll over and give your enemies whatever they want.  Loving your enemies doesn’t mean you stop loving your friends and neighbors as well.  For example, you still need a justice system to protect people from criminals.  There is nothing un-loving about that.

And if you really love your enemies you’ll want them to know some eternal truths, such as how they are sinners in need of a Savior and that if they die without faith in Jesus then they’ll spend eternity in Hell.  I think it is safe to say that the people who had Jesus severely beaten and nailed to a cross could be described as his enemies.  So was He all huggy-kissy with them?  Hardly.

John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.

If you love people enough to tell them the truth they may think you are the enemy.  When Paul scolded the Galatians for false teachings they didn’t appreciate it. Did that stop him?

Galatians 1:9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Galatians 4:16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?

A close friend’s career was damaged by a non-believing co-worker, yet he found a way to pray for him.  It made an amazing difference in his life, as it liberated him from hatred. 

How do you manage to love your enemies?

The Apostle Paul: Two major salvation lessons

There is a fabulous paradoxical combo-lesson about salvation from the life of Paul: (1) If someone as bad as Paul can be saved, then so can we and (2) If someone as good as Paul needed to trust in Jesus to be saved, then so do we.  In other words, he was so bad but not beyond salvation and so good but couldn’t earn salvation.

I was reading Philippians last night and thinking about how I like the Apostle Paul.  I appreciate his writing and especially his passion in conveying the word of God.  He gets a bad rap for allegedly being anti-female, but if you read him properly and in the context of his culture, he was quite the feminist (in the good sense).  A woman in a Bible study once said, “I don’t like Paul.  He’s a chauvinist.”  I thought to myself, “I’ve got bad news for you.  You’re wrong, and he wrote much of the New Testament.” 

Paul had perhaps the most dramatic conversion experience ever.  He went from a full-time job of persecuting Christians to being the greatest evangelist for Christianity of all time.  That would be like Osama Bin Laden quitting terrorism to head up the Anti-Defamation League.

Paul’s life has at least two great lesson about salvation, though it is powerfully important how different they are:

1. If someone as awful as Paul can be redeemed, there is hope for us.  Jesus’ sacrifice covers all our sins if we will only repent and believe.  In Acts 9:5, Jesus said that Paul was persecuting Christ himself.  Paul went about terrorizing, jailing and murdering Christians as his day job.  If his sins can be forgiven, so can yours.

2. If an outstanding Jew like Paul still needed Jesus to be saved, then so does every other human on the planet.  Consider Philippians 3:4-6:

. . . If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” 

Paul had the ultimate Jewish resume — part of the chosen people, well educated, zealous, very righteous on human terms and so much more.  He had all that going for him but He still needed Christ.  If such a stellar Jewish person like Paul had to have faith in Jesus to be saved then, then so do we.  (Side note: What makes any Christian think we shouldn’t witness to Jewish people?)

Don’t swallow the stereotypes.  Read Paul (and more!) and learn for yourself.  Rejoice in the truth that just like him, you need to be saved and you can be saved.

Here’s a pro-choice position I support: School choice

This is some encouraging news out of L.A., where 250 of 800 public schools are going the charter route — Cracking the education monopoly.  It must have been difficult to overcome the anti-choice union opposition.  Good for these parents!

We have a winner . . .

tactics. . .in the contest to give away a copy of Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl: Matthew from iPandora is the winner!

My youngest daughter picked a number at random to determine the winner.  She is part way through the book herself and knows a few of the tactics (Full disclosure: I offered her a $20 incentive to read it). 

Matthew’s energetic entry, while much appreciated, did not play into the decision:

Ohh Ohh, Pick me! Pick ME!

Congratulations, Matthew.  I’ll send you an email separately to get your address.  Thanks to everyone else who entered.  I’ll have another giveaway soon.

Even if you didn’t win I encourage you to consider reading the book. Greg Koukl leads Stand to Reason, my favorite apologetics ministry.  They have a great balance of grace and truth, chock full of great bits of knowledge but just as much focus on how to think clearly and how to use an artful manner to convey that knowledge.  If you aren’t listening to their Podcast I encourage you to check it out.

The tactics aren’t manipulative.  They focus on asking questions and listening, so you are sure you aren’t misstating someone’s views and you know why they believe what they do.  Then you use questions to point out any flaws in their reasoning.  He coaches you on how to avoid “steamrollers” who are pushy and won’t listen to you.  He also provides many examples of logical fallacies you’ll encounter when talking with people about Christianity.

I’ve used these techniques a lot — mostly in person, because online I tend to take shortcuts and get too fact-heavy (not that I’m using a wise strategy in those cases).  These tactics have helped me navigate conversations with multiple people from virtually every religion, cult or non-religion (e.g., atheism) without starting any jihads. 

Perhaps I shouldn’t mention this, but the tactics would work for non-Christian convictions as well.  They are pretty universal.

Roundup

I am not making this up: Dave Barry on free speech and his opinions about a quote of his being banned from a campus dorm room door.  What a bizarre place American universities have become.  Politically Correct nonsense and the “right not to be offended” are beyond parody.  He is correct that people are rightly afraid to say what they think.  In just a generation we’ve lost true free speech.

Video of “Christian” community organizing group chanting “Hear our cry, Obama” and “Deliver us, Obama.” 

I have such contempt for liberal theology and how it advances views opposite of those of Jesus on virtually every major issue.  They can’t even get the “help the poor” part right, as they ask the government to take money from neighbor A to help neighbor B instead of just helping neighbor B themselves.

But to take phrases like “Hear our cry, Lord” and “Deliver us, Lord” and substitute Obama’s name for “Lord” is a new low for them.  But hey, at least they are being honest about whom they worship.

Why do the Heathen rage?  — Some good tips on how to respond to International Blasphemy Day.  I’m sure they’ll give equal time to Islam.

First, take no offense. Refuse to play into the game plan of those sponsoring International Blasphemy Day.  The Lord Jesus Christ was and is despised and rejected of men.  Our Lord bore the scorn heaped upon him by his enemies. Christianity is not an honor religion. Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are not commanded to defend his honor, but to be willing to share in the scorn directed to him. Is the servant greater than his master?

. . .

Second, mourn the blasphemy. The warning of Jesus is clear — blasphemy has eternal consequences.  The worst form of blasphemy is the refusal to hear and believe the Gospel.  For that sin there can be no forgiveness. We must mourn the blasphemy, not because honor is at stake, but because souls are at stake with eternal consequences.  God will ultimately and perfectly defend his honor.  On that day, there will be no escape for unrepentant blasphemers.

Third, see this observance for what it really is — an unintended testimony to the existence of God and the foolishness of those who deny Him.  The sheer foolishness of a blasphemy contest with t-shirts and mugs betrays the lunacy of it all.  They can do no better than this?  One testimony to the power of God is the fact that his self-declared enemies come off as so childish and manic. The heathen rage and God sees the foolish grasshoppers.

Their stated goal was to:

In the words of the RNS report, the goal is “to expose all religious beliefs to the same level of inquiry, discussion and criticism to which other areas of intellectual interest are subjected.”

I would have no issues if that is all they really wanted.  But they tip their hands with the blasphemy contests. 

Guest post: The Day of the Covenant

Welcome to another guest post, this one by Michael (aka Racing Boo).  I enjoy Michael’s thoughtful and often humorous comments so I asked him to do a guest post on a topic of his choice.  I hope you read and enjoy a fascinating look in to the history and politics of South Africa. 

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December 16 is a public holiday in South Africa, celebrated officially as such for more than a century. Today it is called the ‘Day of Reconciliation’, but for most of those years it was known as the ‘Day of the Covenant.’ It was on this day in 1838, on the banks of the Ncome River in what is now the Kwa-Zulu Natal province, that the Boer leader Andries Pretorius led the people under his protection and leadership in making a vow, binding on future generations. If God would deliver them from the attacking Zulu impis (fighting units), they would henceforth celebrate the day as a Sabbath, and build a church to honour his name.

The Boers were farmers (that is the literal meaning of the word) who had left the frontier farms of the Cape Colony to escape the British rule that was entrenched by the early 1800s, and the endless border wars with the native Xhosa. They were strict Calvinists, descended from French and Dutch settlers who had fled religious persecution in those countries during the preceding two centuries. The British had little time for them, and offered them no protection, so they took their cattle and all their possessions loaded into their ox wagons, which were houses on wheels, and began the trek northwards. That word, perhaps the only word from the Afrikaans language to make it into mainstream global English, means ‘to pull’ or ‘to move’ in the sense of moving from one area to another, in this case boldly going where no (white) man had gone before.

They soon encountered other indigenous tribes of the region, in particular the mighty Zulu nation, the ‘people of the sky.’ The Zulu king at the time was Dingane, who had come to power in 1828 after assassinating his famous and even more notorious half-brother Shaka. One of the Boer leaders, Piet Retief (my wife Nadia is a direct descendant of one of his daughters), left the area of the Tugela River in February 1838 in the hope that he could broker permanent boundaries for the Natal settlement with Dingane. At the royal kraal near present-day Eshowe, an agreement was signed, ceding land in return for the recovery of some 7000 head of cattle stolen by a rival local chief, Sekonyela. Dingane then invited Retief and his men (there were about 100 in total, including his son) to a feast, which lasted several days. They were obliged to leave their weapons outside the enclosure.

Dingane put on a military display for his guests, but the climax of this was not a friendly goodbye. From a nearby hilltop, during a sudden silence, Dingane raised his stick and shouted “Bulalan’ abathakathi!” – Kill the Wizards! There are eye-witness accounts from the Zulu side, as well as one Boer who managed to escape with his life as he had been left outside the kraal to guard the weapons. One can only imagine the fear and terror of that moment, enhanced by the ululating kikiza cry of the women. Retief was apparently the last to die, and he fought back to the last breath.

The reasons for this massacre (apart from Dingane’s treachery, that is) are the subject of much speculation. It is believed that Retief may have unwittingly broken an obscure tribal law by retaining some of the cattle recovered from Sekonyela. Another explanation is that on the night before the massacre, the Boers had rounded up some of their horses outside the kraal in preparation for departure the follwing day. Dingane would have heard the sounds of the hooves at night, and there was a belief that wizards of the white race rode on horses at night. Whatever the reasons, the white settlements of Natal were now in trouble. Dingane sent his impis to attack several encampments, including one at Weenen where 500 men, women and children were killed. The settlers then called for help from another Boer leader, Andries Pretorius, asking him to leave the Cape Colony and come to their aid against the Zulu.

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Atheist debater objects to his own book being quoted

Wow, this is one of the more bizarre debating events I’ve heard of.  See the video of Debate 101: the Schooling of Dan Barker.

Dan Barker has made a career out of being a  former minister.  The skeptics love guys like him and Bart Ehrman.  I mean, you can easily ignore all the people who convert from atheism to Christianity (a la yours truly) but if you catch a few going the other way that is the ultimate proof of Christianity being false, eh?

The weirdness occurred when Barker interrupted James White when White quoted Barker’s own book, which was for sale in the lobby of the venue where they were debating (so it wasn’t like Barker had repudiated it).

The debate was whether Christianity is just a copycat religion.  That argument is really bad on many levels, but what was worse was how Barker rudely and proudly objected to his own material being quoted.

Also see Dan Barker: Yes, I’ve Made the Same Argument for Seventeen Years. So What?