This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. [John 15:12-13 (NLT)]

climbing asterWhile every thesaurus says that hate is the opposite of love, I’m not so sure. Authors like Wilhelm Stekel, John Le Carré, Rollo May, Elie Wiesel, and George Bernard Shaw have said that indifference (or apathy) is the opposite of love. Disagreeing, Reverend Billy Graham said the opposite of love is selfishness.

Hate, apathy, or selfishness? Since apathy is lack of concern or interest in anything and selfishness is lack of concern or interest in anything but oneself, I thought back to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Although its purpose was to define the identity of one’s “neighbor” to the lawyer who asked, the parable also illustrates what it means to love.

Let’s start with the bandits. They probably didn’t hate the man they attacked and, had they simply been indifferent to him, they would have ignored him. While they weren’t interested in his well-being, they were very interested his property and they wanted it. Rather than hate or apathy, it was selfishness that made them take everything the man possessed. Their self-centered attitude was “What’s yours is mine, and I’ll take it!”

We then come to the priest and Levite. We have no reason to suspect they knew the victim and hated him. But, had they truly been disinterested, the priest wouldn’t have crossed to the other side of the road upon seeing the wounded man nor would the Levite deliberately have walked over to look at him. Both men took an interest in the wounded man and then deliberately chose to ignore him. Rather than hate-filled or apathetic, they refused to help the man out of selfishness. More concerned about themselves and their journey than the welfare of a dying man along the side of the road, their self-centered attitude was, “What’s mine is mine, and I’m going to keep it.”

Then we come to the Samaritan. As a Samaritan, he certainly had reason to hate the Jewish victim, but he didn’t. Rather than being indifferent to the man’s condition or selfish with his time and resources, he was generous. His philosophy was that of love: “What’s mine is yours and I will share it.”

When thinking of hate or even apathy as the opposite of love, like the priest and Levite, we can tell ourselves that, as long as we didn’t hurt someone, we obeyed the command to love. But, when we think of selfishness as the opposite of love, far more is asked of us. No longer passive, love demands more than simply not hating or harming someone. Love requires effort; it is a giving up of self and a giving of self to another.

After writing that selfishness was the opposite of love, Billy Graham asked, “Will you ask the Holy Spirit to free your life from selfishness and fill you instead with His love?” Will you?

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” but the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” [Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Dear children, let’s not merely say we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. [1 John 3:18 (NLT)]

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I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me. Save me, Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues. [Psalm 120:1-2 (NIV)]

canna - bandana of the evergladesFeeling wounded by an unwarranted condemnation, I was struggling with forgiving what to me were slanderous words. The peace that accompanies true forgiveness eluded me as the memory of the accusation haunted me. In comparison to the betrayals, deception, and abuse I’ve managed to forgive in my 74 years, this barely qualified as a misdemeanor. Nevertheless, my integrity had been called into question. Wounded in a way I never expected, I struggled to forgive.

I kept scratching at those hurtful words the way a child does a mosquito bite and, every time I did, it just got worse. Granted, there are far worse things than a false accusation but, sometimes, it’s the little things that are hardest to forgive. That my accuser hadn’t apologized helped fuel my resentment. Bringing my problem to God, I asked why I couldn’t let this slight go. Why was I allowing someone else to make me miserable over what really wasn’t worth losing sleep over?

As I prayed about it, God brought me to Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Psalm 120 and his words about slander: “Those who have felt the edge of a cruel tongue know assuredly that it is sharper than the sword.” Aimed at our sense of honor, slurs and disparagement can be shot privately, polished up, and delivered with subtlety; nevertheless, they are tipped with poison. “We could ward off the strokes of a cutlass, but we have no shield against a liar’s tongue,” continued the famed 19th century preacher.

Pointing out that stirring up the allegation only makes it spread, Spurgeon continued: “Silence to man and prayer to God are the best cures for the evil of slander.” The Apostle Paul tells us that, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” [1 Cor. 4:12-13] Heeding the words of both Charles Spurgeon and Paul, I chose silence and prayer. My best response to the attack was quiet integrity rather than any of the sharp retorts filling my mind because the only One who needed to know the truth about me already did!

As for that missing apology—when Jesus told Peter to forgive seventy times seven times, He never set an apology as a prerequisite! As Christians, we are to have forgiving hearts, regardless of the circumstances. We must forgive with as much grace as God has forgiven us! We can’t do so on our own power but we can with God’s! As I resolved to be a peacemaker, God empowered me to forgive the offender.

When we are slandered it is a joy that the Lord knows us, and cannot be made to doubt our uprightness: he will not hear the lie against us, but he will hear our prayer against the lie. [Charles Spurgeon]

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. [Matthew 5:9-11 (NIV)]

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monarch butterflyAnd if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. [1 Peter 3:15b-16 (NLT)]

In the epistle we know as 1 Peter (written between 60 and 64 AD), the Apostle offered encouragement to early Christians who were encountering persecution for their unorthodox beliefs. Rather than being intimidated by people or afraid of their hostility, Peter counseled them to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of their lives and ruler of their hearts. Although that acknowledgement was in their hearts, he warned these believers to be ready with their answer should they could be called upon to explain the source of their hope and faith. The Greek word used was apologia which meant a speech in defense and was the term for making a legal defense in court. As if they were in a court of law, Christ’s followers were to be ready with a well-reasoned reply that adequately addressed the issue at hand while doing it in a humble and respectful way. Throughout his letter, the Apostle also addressed the conduct of Christians regarding their relationship with God, government, business, society, family, and the church. He advised his readers to live their lives in a way that would prove their opponents’ accusations unfounded.

I used to wonder how I would answer someone if they wanted to know the reason for my faith or the source of my hope. Should I keep religious tracts in my purse or a couple of pertinent Bible verses handy? I then remembered an old joke about the little boy who asked his father where he came from. The dad hemmed and hawed as he struggled with a rather long-winded and confusing explanation of the birds and bees. When done, the little boy looked at his father quizzically and said, “I was just wondering since Billy says he’s from Baltimore.” As the father learned, sometimes the simplest answer is the best one. If ever asked, the only explanation I’d need is that my hope comes from Jesus, from trusting in God’s promises, and from my conviction that God’s plans for me are for good and not disaster. Moreover, if and when such a question arises, I’m sure the Holy Spirit will be there to put His words in my mouth.

Thinking about Peter’s words, I realize that nobody has ever asked about the source of my hope or reason for my faith. While I’ve had people compliment the little diamond cross I usually wear, no one has ever asked why I wear it. I’ve had people ask where I purchased an outfit, who cuts my hair, what make of shoes I’m wearing, the kind of camera I use, and even the brand perfume I wear. Although I’ve been a walking advertisement for Tommy Bahama, Mimi’s Salon, Naot Shoes, Canon, and Prada’s Infusion d’Iris, I doubt that my devotion to Jesus is as discernable.

Perhaps, instead of worrying about how I would answer a question about the source of my faith, hope or love, I should be more concerned with why I’ve never been asked such a question. I wonder if it’s because, while my appearance (and even my scent) are evident, my faith in Jesus, my hope in God’s promises of forgiveness and salvation, and my love for God and my neighbor aren’t nearly so obvious in the way I conduct my life. They should be!

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. [John 13:35 (NLT)]

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.[Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT)]

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Treat other people exactly as you would like to be treated by them—this is the essence of all true religion. [Matthew 7:12 (PHLLIPS)]

turtleOnce upon a time, a father gave his daughter a painted turtle. One morning, she ran to her father in tears and sobbed, “My turtle died!”  Wanting to bring a smile back to his little girl’s face, Dad promised the reptile a lovely funeral after which he’d take her to their favorite fast-food spot for a happy meal and toy. When that did nothing to stop the flow of tears, he upped the ante by proposing to follow lunch with the latest Disney princess movie. As the sobbing slowed, he then promised they’d stop at the mall where she could ride on the merry-go-round and Ferris wheel. With only a few whimpers remaining, Dad topped off his offer with a promise to stop on the way home for a double scoop ice cream cone. Thrilled to finally see a smile on his daughter’s face, the relieved father reached into the tank to remove the dead turtle only to discover that it was alive and well and just had been enjoying a turtle nap. When he joyfully reported, “He’s not dead!” the disappointed girl’s response was, “Then can we kill it?”

Kids are naturally selfish and self-centered—just watch toddlers play and notice how often you hear the words “mine” and “gimme.” Children are self-absorbed little creatures, but so are adults—we’re just a bit more civilized in our selfishness. We may not grab, hit, or throw temper tantrums, but we still tend to put ourselves and our wants first. Since that unfortunate day in Eden, mankind has shown a preference for self-interest. We typically see the world only from our viewpoint rather than that of others or, more important, with the eyes of Jesus.

As members of the body of Christ, it is the lives of others that are to concern us. We are advised to share in both the joy and sorrow of our brothers and sisters. Sometimes, however, it seems easier to share in other people’s sorrow than in their joy. Just as the turtle’s fortuitous awakening meant the little girl lost her afternoon of fun, it’s rarely easy to rejoice in other people’s good fortune when we don’t share in it. Jealously, envy and resentment can rear their ugly heads. It’s especially difficult to rejoice when another person got the job we wanted, someone else’s child got the award, another person won the match, a co-worker got the praise or raise, or a friend heard the word “benign” when we heard the words “malignant” or “inoperable.” Nevertheless, regardless of our situations, other people’s good news should always be a reason for our joy.

“Genuine krab meat” isn’t truly crab; it’s an assortment of fish that has been skinned, boned, minced, and rinsed before being formed into the paste known as surimi. Fillers, flavor and color are added and the mixture is shaped into chunks or tubes and cut into blocks or sticks and cooked. Once cut up, it may look like a bit like the real thing, but there is nothing genuine about it. We’re called to love genuinely, even if it means we might have to skip the happy meal, movie, and ice cream. Let there be no imitation Christian love around here—it’s as tasteless and disagreeable to God as imitation crab.

Let us have no imitation Christian love. Let us have a genuine break with evil and a real devotion to good. Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers, and a willingness to let the other man have the credit. … Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad. [Romans 12:9-10,15 (PHILLIPS)]

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If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. [Proverbs 25:21 (NLT)]

rabbit foot cloverWhen the ten northern tribes refused to submit to Rehoboam, they revolted and, by 930 BC, there were two political states: Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judah, the southern one. Both kingdoms suffered from inept, disobedient, and often corrupt leadership but Judah’s king Ahaz (743-728 BC) was one of weakest and most corrupt of all the southern kingdom’s leaders. Because of his apostasy (which included sacrificing some of his sons to Baal), the Lord allowed Judah’s defeat at the hands of Rezin (king of Aram) and Pekah (king of Israel). By the end of the battle, Ahaz lost a son and two of his close advisors and Judah lost 120,000 seasoned warriors. The Arameans took captives to Damascus and Israel’s warriors returned to Samaria with a huge amount of plunder and 200,000 captured women and children they intended to enslave (in spite of its prohibition in Leviticus 25:39-43).

As Israel’s victorious army returned to Samaria with their captives and plunder, they were met by a prophet named Oded. Protesting Israel’s brutal treatment of Judah, Oded told them that it was God who permitted them to wage war and defeat Judah but that Israel went too far in their merciless massacre and their plan to enslave their Judean brethren. After asking, “What about your own sins against the Lord?” the prophet warned that that God’s anger had been turned toward Israel and urged the soldiers to return their prisoners to Judah.

God had allowed Judah’s defeat but, in their rage and frenzy, Israel’s army went too far. Merciless in their slaughter, they’d stepped out of God’s will and Oded told them their rage had disturbed heaven. Perhaps they’d slain men who had surrendered, raped women, burned the crops, or massacred innocent children. We don’t know for sure but we do know that, by the time they reached Samaria, some of their captives were naked and without footwear. Whatever they’d done was beyond what was necessary for a battle victory. This story is often cited by those advocating the Just War Theory—a philosophy that sets forth the conditions required for justly going to war and for the right conduct in a war, one of which is the prohibition of using unnecessary force to attain the objective.

We know nothing about Oded and this is the only mention of him in Scripture and yet, in a rare Old Testament occurrence, people actually listened and took a prophet’s message to heart. Agreeing with Oded, four of Israel’s leaders confronted the returning warriors. Warning them that they couldn’t afford to add to their guilt, they told the soldiers to release their captives. That they willingly gave up the spoils of war tells us they knew their vicious behavior had been reprehensible. Their plunder and prisoners were handed over to the four leaders who then provided them with clothing, sandals, food and drink and applied balm and oil to their wounds. After putting the weak and injured on donkeys, they returned their Judean captives safely to Jericho.

Through the years, both Israel and Judah were guilty of wronging one another but, in this amazing act of mercy, Israel tried to right one terrible wrong. Perhaps it was Oded’s reminder that the captives were their brethren. All descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at one time, they’d been twelve brothers! How had they fallen so low as to think of enslaving members of their own family?

While this story is not well known to 21st century Christians, it probably was familiar to Jesus’ listeners when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan—the Judean who was mercilessly attacked and the Samaritan who dressed his wounds with oil and wine, provided him with clothing, put him on a donkey, took him to an inn, and provided for his food, drink, and care. Was Jesus’ story a not-so-subtle reminder that, in spite of all that had transpired between the two territories, the Samaritans weren’t just their neighbors—they were their brethren? Was this a reminder that it’s never too late to right a wrong?

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. … God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:7,9 (NLT)]

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And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” [Matthew 25:40 (RSV)]

brown pelicanWhen writing about the Good Samaritan yesterday, I recalled being asked who represents Jesus in the parable. The most obvious answer appears to be the Samaritan. After all, love that unlimited and sacrificial had to have been supernatural. The parallels are somewhat obvious—both men were merciful, compassionate, paid another man’s debt, promised to return, and were despised and rejected by the Jews. In fact, early commentators like Irenaeus, Clement, Augustine, and Origen found all sorts of allegorical meaning in the story with the injured man representing Adam, the bandits Satan, the loss of clothing as man’s loss of innocence, the wine given the man as Christ’s atoning blood, the inn as the Church, the innkeeper as Paul (or the Pope), and the two coins given to the innkeeper as the Law and the Prophets or the two testaments. While some of Jesus’ parables (like the Sower and the Soils, the Wheat and the Weeds, and the Evil Tenants) clearly are allegories, other are not.

Sometimes a parable is just a parable and The Good Samaritan meets the traditional definition of a parable: “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Rather than preaching about Himself, Jesus was giving a straightforward answer to the question of who is our neighbor and He did it in an easily remembered story that makes its point in a striking way. While the parallels between the Good Samaritan’s compassionate acts and Jesus’ sacrificial love for us are remarkable, we should be cautious of complicating the parable or adding extra meaning where there is none. After all, unlike many of his parables, Jesus didn’t seem to think this one required additional explanation. He simply said, “Go and do likewise!”

If, however, we went looking for a Jesus figure in this parable, perhaps we should consider the Samaritan as an ordinary person and the injured man as Jesus. He was beaten, stripped, abandoned, and left to die, as was our Lord and, like Jesus, after being ignored by the pious Jews, He was accepted by the outcast Gentiles. In this light, perhaps, in a roundabout way, Jesus did answer the lawyer’s question about attaining eternal life. Eternal life isn’t defined by good works—although we can try, none of us can love as lavishly and perfectly as did the Samaritan. But, just as the Samaritan responded to the injured Jew, we can respond to Jesus. And, when we do, we will be given divine empowerment to love God and others.

Reverend Amy Reumann tells of a sermon her grandfather preached to his small congregation; at a mere ten words, it might be the shortest sermon known! After reading Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan as his sermon’s text, her grandfather said, “We all know what this means. Just go do it.” With those ten words, the sermon was over and the pastor sat down. Perhaps we try to complicate this simple parable because we know exactly what it means and we don’t want to do it! Preferring not to get involved, interrupted, or inconvenienced, we don’t want the obligation of addressing the pain, poverty, hunger, hurt, injustice, oppression, loss, affliction, and abuse found in this broken world. Although we are saved by God’s grace through faith alone, let us always remember the Apostle James’ words that faith without works is dead!

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. [James 2:14-17 (RSV)]

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