How All of Your Christian Life Can Come to Nothing


We got a catalog from Oriental Trading Company this week, and my son noted that most of it contained kitschy Easter stuff, some marketed to Christians. He was put off by how the message of resurrection can be co-opted and turned into plastic baubles meant to be “inspirational” yet bought wholesale for pennies on the dollar. Good for him.

We Christians can fall into clichés and kitsch easily, and no passage of the Scriptures has suffered the Chinese-made “inspirational” bauble treatment more than this one:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
—1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ESV

The problem for us is, like the plastic bauble, we have turned this chapter in the Bible into a sentimental saying that we don’t entirely believe. Whatever it may contain, that something meant to change us instead bounces off our Teflon hides, and we go about being whomever we were before we encountered 1 Corinthians 13.

Here’s the upshot. That passage states that we can live out an entire Christian life and have it come to nothing for one reason: We didn’t love people.

The thing about love is that it asks something of us. If you say you love someone, you need to do something about it for it to be real. It’s not enough to speak words. Some kind of action is demanded.

How did God the Father show love? He sent Jesus. How did Jesus, God the Son, show love? By dying on the cross on our behalf and rising again. How does the Holy Spirit of God show love? By coming to dwell within believers in Jesus, guiding them into all truth and changing them into the likeness of Jesus.

Too much of the Christian life has become little more than words. But if we claim to love other people, there must be some action associated with that love.

If Facebook postings are any indication, Christians have a lot of people in this world they hate. Love, HateThe funny thing about hate is that all you have to do to make it effective is to express it. To be a lover requires more than words, but just give voice to hate and you’re a hater. That’s all hate requires.

If Christians are to change the world, it’s time we stopped kidding ourselves about hate and love. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for them, not hate them. And loving an enemy demands some sort of action from us on behalf of those enemies. All hate requires is our brutal opinion.

One of the most notable questions in the Bible is “Who is my neighbor?” A man thought he’d stump Jesus with that question after Jesus said we should love our neighbors as ourselves.

Perhaps the better question for Christians today is “Who is my enemy?” If there is any question of enemies, again, a random sampling from Christians posting on Facebook would be enough to generate a long list of foes.

“Who is my enemy?” Ask the question. Now, as a Christian, find a practical way to show love toward that person or group.

Because nothing under the sun is more stupid than to fool yourself into thinking you’re a Christian when your lack of love in action—to both friends and enemies—proves otherwise.

Killed All the Day Long


Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
—John 11:25-26

As a younger man, my favorite book was The Journals of Jim Elliot, the personal writings of the famed missionary/martyr. Elliot was always a hero of mine. He and four others were speared to death by aboriginals in Ecuador, people they were trying to reach with the Gospel.

Only recently, They didn't fire their guns...though, did I read an interesting fact: Elliot and his companions carried guns, yet they chose not to fire them in self-defense. Instead, they took the spears and died.

The simple question: why?

Many believe that Elliot and his friends chose to die rather than kill others who, not knowing Christ, would be doomed to hell. They gave up their perceived right to life to keep others  from eternal death. They loved strangers more than they loved their own lives.

When I look around the American Church, I don’t find that mentality. If anything, we are Americans, first and foremost, and our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness trumps any idea of forgoing that right to save another from the lake of fire. Our enemies deserve to burn in hell; they’re our enemies, aren’t they?

Yet the Kingdom of God has different rights than the kingdoms of this earth. For instance, here’s one of the realities of the Kingdom of God:

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
—Romans 8:36

Paul then notes that this reality makes us more than conquerers.

But we don’t think that way. Our view is that retaliation against our enemies and those who intend to harm us is our right as Americans. Yet Paul says it is for God’s sake that we lay down our lives.

An eye for an eye was most definitely the Old Testament way, as was the sword. But I struggle to find any evidence that the New Testament incorporates that same thinking:

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
—Matthew 26:52

When the inclination is to pick up the sword rather than the cross, then we live by the sword. And we in America most definitely live by the sword because we see it as our right to wield it.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
—Matthew 5:11-12

Persecuted didn’t just mean opposed, unless Isaiah’s being sawn in two can be considered mere dissent on the part of those who  “persecuted” him.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
—Matthew 5:38-39

What part of “Do not resist the one who is evil” do we not understand?

“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.”
—Matthew 5:44

Isn’t “Hate your enemies and counterattack those who persecute you” more the way we live? Don’t most of us think a chromed Dan Wesson .45 with a walnut grip a better response to one’s enemies than prayer? Don’t we all smirk when someone offers that we  should “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out”? Well?

“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
—Luke 6:40

And how were Christ’s disciples like their teacher? Nearly all died deaths at the hands of those who reviled them. What’s more, the Bible hints that they welcomed such a death. (“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”—Philippians 1:23 / “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”—Revelation 12:11)

“And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
—Mark 13:11-13

Was Jesus ignorant of how those trials would end?  What retaliatory plans did He offer His followers in the wake of their sentencing?

Here’s a good example of one such trial:

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at [Stephen]. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
—Acts 7:54-60

I believe some would have preferred that Stephen, doing his best Chuck Norris, pull out a couple of AK-47s and dust every last person holding a rock. Yeah, man!

Instead, Stephen died praying for his enemies because he knew that vengeance belongs to the Lord alone.

Paul wrote this:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
—Philippians 1:21

In that spirit, I offer this scenario (not for the fainthearted):

One day, your enemies come for you and your Christian family. Instead of reaching for your shotgun, you attempt to share the love of Christ with them. Their response? They force you to watch as they rape your daughter, then slit her throat. Then they put a couple slugs into your wife’s face and do the same to you. For a finale, they set your house to flame to ensure that your young son, who is hiding somewhere inside, doesn’t make it out alive.

A few months later, one of those enemies, having heard the life-filled testimonies and seen the holy martyr deaths of enough Christians,  gives his life to Jesus.

I believe that one of the reasons that such a response on our parts seems so inconceivable is because we don’t really live as if a mansion in glory awaits us. The question of Jesus to Martha that opens this post receives an answer of yes in our heads, but no in our hearts. We love this life too much because it’s the only thing that seems real to us. We can’t see the value in giving that up willingly. Only fools, weaklings, and cowards would do such a thing. Better that we go down with a pistol in hand than be thought impotent against our enemies’ attacks.

Yet Jim Elliot’s holstered gun speaks long after its owner took his last breath.

As an American, all this is foreign to me. It’s not the way I have ever thought or even think now.  I encounter an Elliot or a Dirk Willems and such people exist outside my own worldview box. No, I would prefer to think that Corrie and Betsy Ten Boom pulled out a couple Walther P38s and sent a dozen Nazis to hell before they and their family and their boarders were hauled off to the concentration camps. That the Apostle Paul yanked out a secreted knife and gutted his executioner before the Romans managed to strap him down and remove his head.

But when the room is quiet and it’s just the Lord and me, I realize I think that way because my mind is not as Christlike as I would believe.

So I ask, when they finally come for you and me, will we go down fighting like men who don’t believe in the world to come? Or will we kneel in prayer and die like Christians?

Laying Down “Us” to Reach “Them”


If you were to ask me right in this moment what one thing I would really like to see change in the American Church, it would have to be our devotion to the cause of Us vs. Them.

More and more, it sticks in my craw when I am with fellow Christians and the Us. vs. Them talk starts up. Who are Them ?

Political liberals


Abortion supporters




Other races

Mainline Protestants

The promiscuous

The homeless

The poor

The lost

And so on

That list will look different for different people, but in short, Them are those people who are not Us.

You get into strange conversations with people who always think in terms of Us vs. Them. Try talking with an Evangelical who claims to love Israel yet complains about all the Jews running Hollywood, with its family-unfriendly movies filled with bad language and smutty imagery. A homeless man sleeping outside a churchOr the folks who go on and on about reaching the lost or ministering to the poor, yet who wish the Mexicans would go back where they came from. The disconnect is head-scratching.

I once had lunch with someone who made no pretenses to being a Christian. When I asked her why she liked living where she did, she said it was because the residents were so tolerant of others, not like those rednecks in the Midwest.

Too many American Christians have that same mentality. Its not only irrational, it’s ugly too. And its a large reason why so many people have tuned out the Church here. They know us by the culture war. They know us by whom we oppose. They have no idea of whom we are for. And if they’ve heard that old ’60s-era song “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” they wonder inside when it was ever true. (Maybe back in the ’60s. But then, didn’t we all love each other back in the ’60s?)

Look, there’s not a Christian alive who hasn’t heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. Three-year-old kids who still wet their pants from time to time know that story. How come so little of it ever sinks in? The Us passed by. The Them loved. Jesus smashed the stereotype of Us vs. Them to smithereens in that parable.

Many of the greatest novels ever written contain the archetypal story of the hero who does good because he remembers his roots. He never lets himself forget his humble origins, and that remembering helps him change the world for the better.

I think that one thing Jesus Christ would like to impress upon many American Christians is that each of Us was once Them. And that the people who are most effective for the Kingdom of God are those people who never let themselves forget that truth.

The time of forgetting we were once lost is past, folks. It’s time to start laying down Us to reach Them.