Lord of the Rings, Good; Harry Potter, Bad; Really?

Why is it that so many Christians love Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and vilify Harry Potter (HP)? I ask the question because to my way of thinking there is no significant difference between the two works of literature. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic work we have a story of good versus evil, friendships forged in a struggle for the future of world. It is set in a world in which wizards, spells, magic, and violence abound and in which good eventually triumphs. In J.K. Rowling’s series of books we have a story of good versus evil, friendships forged in a struggle for the future of world. It is set in a world in which wizards, spells, magic, and violence abound and in which good eventually triumphs. So help me out here. Why do Christians generally approve of LOTR, even writing books and teaching seminars on it’s Christian themes, and berate HP as evil, corrupting of children and somehow part of a satanic plot to turn children into wizards and witches?

I think much of the answer has to do with Christians not using the critical thinking skills that God has given us and falling victim to some of our ugliest prejudices and fears. The first major difference between the two works is their authors. Tolkien was a known, safe, respected commodity. He was an Oxford professor and close friend of the nearly sainted C.S. Lewis. That in itself probably earns him a pass in the minds of many Christians. Tolkien simply carries an aura of respectability. Of course it doesn’t hurt that his Roman Catholic faith is seen as a backdrop to his work. Rowling on the other hand was a complete unknown, which immediately causes the conspiracy theorists among us to go searching for some deep dark plot. Her instant success, far beyond that of Tolkien, certainly caused even further hand wringing and even jealousy among some. The final ugly part of this is that as a woman writing about magic and wizards she became accused of being some sort of witch herself. After all, how could she have possibly written such a  popular book, without some sort of evil force behind her?

I think that a second factor in the differing reactions has to do with timing. Tolkien’s work came out in a time when Christians still engaged the art and literature of the culture. Christians actually read things like Dickens and Poe and Dostoevsky. They did so with eyes wide open and minds engaged, searching for the great themes of life and faith. What they found was stories of redemption, forgiveness, faith, perseverance, honor, and hope. LOR is just that kind of work. Rowling had the misfortune of writing in a time when many Christians have retreated into a spiritual ghetto. It is a place where people only read “Christian” books, listen to “Christian” music, and watch “Christian” movies, all with only your “Christian” friends. We have our own “Christian” television, radio, theme parks, schools, even plumbers and real estate agents. All one needs to do is slap a symbol of a fish on your business card and you have instant credibility in the “Christian” ghetto.

In ways that are ultimately damaging to the cause of Christ many Christians are closing their minds to the timeless truths of God that are found outside the ghetto. One example would be that most Christians have never and will never see the movie, Hotel Rwanda. Yet it may well be one of the most “Christian” movies ever made. It is about self sacrifice, forgiveness, love, redemption and struggle in the midst of a sinful, fallen world. It is a movie of hope in the heart of darkness.

The final nail in the coffin for Rowling and HP is certainly that fact that children were seen as her target market. Tolkien did not write for children in spite of the fact that LOTR is incredibly popular with adolescents. In fact, Tolkien chided his friend Lewis for writing The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, because it was aimed at children. That was a step down to Tolkien. Because HP is so much about children and for children, the conspiracy theorists had a field day. It only added to the fear that Rowling was somehow secretly looking to lure children into a life of wizardry and witchcraft and away from Jesus. It is a sad day when Christians are guided by fear, rumor, and prejudice.

I long for the day when the majority of the Christian world will once again engage the major cultural works of history with a critical and not a jaundiced eye. We need to look for those great truths and themes that the Bible teaches and that show up regularly in the best artwork, literature and film. We need to find the themes of forgiveness and redemption, of sacrifice and love, and instead of railing against the artist, use those themes and the way they touch the human heart, to point people to Jesus. Paul did this in Athens when he quoted Greek philosophers as a stepping stone to talking about the creator of the world. But of course to do that, you need to know what those Greeks said and then see how it can lead to Jesus. And that my friends means we must use the brains God has given us, to point people to Him, for His glory and honor.

I look forward to hearing about someone who came to Christ because they read Harry Potter and a Christian friend used that to point them to Jesus.

Saved: FROM something or FOR something?

“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” John 4:23

When I listen to much that passes for Gospel preaching these days I get the very clear impression that the Gospel is all about me, my happiness, my comfort, my freedom, and my being delivered from the effects of sin that would send me to Hell. Certainly there is an aspect of the Gospel that is about our being delivered from the punishment due us because of sin. But that is a far cry from the common message that makes being a Christian all about my happiness. I wonder if the American ideal that we are to be free to pursue, “life, liberty, and happiness” has not crept into our understanding of the Gospel. Preachers call people to accept Jesus into their hearts so that they can be forgiven and be assured a place in heaven and so they can experience all the wonderful happiness that life can offer.

The problem is, this is so incredibly short sighted. At best it leaves people thinking that since they have punched their ticket to Heaven and are saved from Hell, then it is just a matter of waiting for that day. At worst it progresses into a theology that says God wants you healthy, wealthy, and full of happiness and if you are not then something is wrong with you. What this completely misses are two major points; it is not about accepting Jesus into your heart. It is about giving Him complete control of your life. And it is not only about what you are saved from. It is about being saved to a life that follows Christ and lives for Him, no matter what.

When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well he made it clear that God was calling people to Him for a purpose. That purpose was to be people who worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. That is an active thing. It is about giving your life to Jesus and seeking to glorify Him everywhere, everyday. In that sense it is fulfilling our original created purpose. We were made to be stewards of creation and to life in a relationship with God that honored Him. The redemption that we experience in Christ is intended to get us back to that relationship. We are to be people who exercise dominion over the earth and our lives so that God is honored.

Often times that honoring comes most, not in the times of our lives that are sweet and easy and pleasurable, but in the times of hardship and struggle. When the Apostle Paul was in prison in Rome, he wrote a letter to the Philippians. In it he commends them because his imprisonment, rather than making them fearful, has actually encouraged them all the more to share Christ with others. He even commends them for their willingness to endure hardship for the sake of Christ. In that suffering they share in the fellowship of Christ. They count it a sign of their faith and a privilege to suffer for Jesus. How different is that from the so called Gospel preached today that says if you suffer it is because you don’t have enough faith.

We have been saved for a purpose, a life lived in honor of Christ. We are to worship Him with our lives everyday. We are to honor Him with our service. We are to rejoice in all things, even, especially in the midst of hardship. We are to count it all joy when we suffer for His name sake and for the advancement of the Kingdom. That is Provocative Christian Living. It is living out the Gospel in a way that causes people to ask, how can you do that? It causes people to long for a faith like that in their own lives. It rings far more true and is far more powerful than the weak, distorted Gospel they have heard and tried and found wanting.

If You Love Him, It Will Show

It is a strange phenomenon to me that followers of Jesus need to be encouraged to tell others about Him. There seems to be an almost universal reluctance on the part of Christians in the west to tell other people that they love and follow Jesus and that the listener should love and follow Him as well. This reluctance seems to violate both the command to love God and the command to love your neighbor.

What is perplexing is that love is not something that we need to be told to express. Think about a close friend who suddenly met the love of their life. Did you have to drag it out of them, this information about this new, life changing relationship? Of course not. In fact, the reality of the existence of their beloved probably oozed out of every pore in their body. They couldn’t help but talk about the one they loved. Or think of the parents of a new born. Their love for their child just beams from their face. They don’t need to be encouraged or coached to tell others about their beloved child. Love that involved your heart, mind, soul, and strength will be abundantly obvious to everyone who knows you.

If we truly love Jesus in a first commandment way, then the effort would be to try and hide that love. The work would be found in trying to think or talk about something other than our love for Jesus. In a related way, if we truly loved our neighbor, then we could not help but let them know of our beloved Jesus. If you are in love and you also have a best friend, you are desperate for your beloved and your friend to know one another. Their relationship brings you even greater joy.

If what I have said is true, that our love for Jesus should just pour out of us, and out love for our neighbor should compell us to introduce them to Jesus, why is evangelism so lacking in our day? Why do we spend millions of dollars and hours trying to convince people to tell others about Jesus and give them the latest easy gimmick to use in the process? I think the answer may be found in another question. How much do we really love Jesus?

People know that I love my wife. It is obvious that I love my sons. They way I talk about them to others makes that clear. That is the way of love. So I can only conclude that in some way we really do not love Jesus as we should. Oh we are grateful to Jesus for our salvation. We are thankful that we can go to Him in times of trouble. We enjoy being able to get blessed in times of corporate worship. We are relieved that we can look forward to heaven and not hell. But do we really love Him? As the Bible tells us, we know by the fruit we bear. If there is little evidence of our love for Jesus then maybe the fruit is not there.

Once when Jesus was about to heal a man, He asked if the man beleived. The response was facsinating, “Lord, I beleive. Help my unbelief.” Maybe we need to say something similar when it comes to our love for Jesus. “Lord, I love you. Help me in my lack of love.”

Provocative Contentment: Is God Really Enough?

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13

My wife teaches at a Christian school and several years ago each teacher was asked to pick a verse from the Bible that was to be their guiding verse for the year. When this was published along with their profile, I noticed then nearly 30% of the teachers chose “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” as their verse for the year. My first thought was that I didn’t know teaching elementary students was so tough. But it also got me thinking more about that verse. Many people, not just elementary school teachers go to those words for strength in time of hardship and struggle. They are great words of hope.

But when we look carefully at the passage it is astounding to realize that we are usually only focused on half of the story. Sure Paul says that in times of hunger or struggle or suffering, he has learned to be content with God and to find strength in Christ to endure. But at the same time Paul says that he has also learned to be content when things are going great, he is well fed, and life is just cruising along. In those times he has also learned to survive by depending on the strength that Christ gives. Now you may be thinking, well anyone can learn to be content when life is good. How hard can that be? Actually it is harder than you think. One of the effects of sin is that when we have “enough”, we very quickly become dissatisfied with that and we want more. In many ways it is the same as the diminishing return a drug user gets over time. After awhile the body becomes used to the drug and the impact is felt less from the same amount. So in order to achieve a high, the user needs more and stronger doses. The same thing happens with the good times in our lives. For the moment we are content. But after awhile the effect wears thin. We find that we need the next cool thing, the next new product, the next amazing experience. We get bored and easily discontent.

Paul understood that in order to be truly content in both abundance and want, the only answer was to depend on Christ for His strength. In essence that means being content with Christ no matter what our physical and emotional circumstances are. For Paul it was ultimately all about Jesus. He said earlier in the letter that whether he lived or died really didn’t matter, as long as Jesus was glorified. Paul discovered that everything else paled in comparison to the joy of knowing Jesus. For Paul, God really was enough to make his life full and complete. If he had abundance then the goal was, how can my abundance bring Glory to Jesus and me closer to Him. If he had little then the goal was, how can my poverty bring Glory to Jesus and me closer to Him. No matter his life situation, for Paul it always came back to the Glory of God and being in closer fellowship with Him.

In that regard, God was enough for Paul. Jesus and the strength He offered, was really all Paul needed or wanted. Nothing else mattered because nothing else gave him purpose, or joy, or security, or status. Are you that content? If God suddenly made you poor, would you be just as happy as if you were rich? How often have things given you contentment that was temporary, only to discover that after awhile you wanted more. That nice house that seemed so big and wonderful. When did it become unsatisfying? Was it when your friend or sibling bought a newer, bigger house? The same can be asked of your car, new dress, cell phone or vacation experience.

In some ways it is the times of blessing that are hardest to deal with because we don’t think we need the strength of Jesus. Yet those are the most dangerous times. we get sucked into a delusion of being just fine spiritually because we are just fine physically. We need to cling to Jesus all the more in our abundance and blessing. Paul knew that for himself. We need to know that for ourselves.

Being Lost Inside the Pyramid of Khafre

The opening cut into the bedrock at the base of the second pyramid at Giza was barely a meter high by a meter wide. I got down low and proceeded in, down the 30 degree slope, doing a near duck walk for about 30 yards. At the bottom it leveled out and the ceiling opened enough that I could walk upright as long as I kept my head bowed, looking to the floor. After about another 60 yards it was back to a sloped passageway heading up, a mirror image of the first. After thirty yards I stood up and stepped into a room about the shape of a Monopoly hotel piece, rectangular, 45 feet by 15 feet, about 45 feet high at the peak. The room is the burial tomb of Pharaoh Khafre, son of Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid. The room is empty with the exception of a large stone coffin at one end. It once contained the mummified remains of the pharoah. It is hot, and humid inside and smells of too many tourists and too little ventilation. It is a tomb and though empty, still feels and smells of death, and a certain amount of futility at the efforts of humans to insure their immortality.

Sadly I am not the only explorer in the tomb. About a dozen others are here, having also paid their five dollars for the chance to glimpse into the past. As I gaze around the tomb I am in the midst of an historians dream, being in a place built 5,000 years ago. I am living large indeed. Suddenly my sense of awe is invaded by the sight of four women. They are obviously American or European. They have begun some sort of spiritual exercise in the middle of the tomb. They stand facing the empty coffin, bringing their arms to their front and slowly raising them together above their hands, deep breath, slow exhale, arms sweep wide and come to rest in front, almost in a position of prayer. Another deep breath, exhale, and the whole process is repeated again, and again, several more times before I finally leave the tomb shaking my head. I begin my duck walk out.

As I make my way out I am struck by the sadness of it all. Khafre built the Pyramid as a way to insure his eternal life. But tomb robbers eventually removed all that was placed within it in order to make such a life possible. His mummy is believed to be at the bottom of the sea off the coast of Spain, sunk 100 years ago on it’s way to the British Museum. Even more sadly I am struck by how lost those four women were, looking for spiritual power and energy in the middle pyramid. There are people who believe that a pyramid by it’s very shape has some ability to grant life giving energy. Yet it did nothing for Khafre. These women were doing nothing more than getting in some stretching exercise inside a smelly grave.

The irony is that just a good days drive away by car and they could have entered another tomb. This one belonged to Jesus, but only for a few days. It is empty now, not because of grave robbers and archeologists, but because of true life giving power from God our Father. He caused Jesus to be vindicated, risen from the grave and take victory over death. We have no need to visit His tomb in order to access that blessing and spiritual power. We need only give Him our lives and trust in Him to raise us from the grave when the time comes.

Many people say that it’s just to hard to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. It is too hard to believe in a God who can do such things, who loves us enough to send His only Son for us. They find it to hard to believe in grace and forgiveness. Yet they can believe that the shape of a pyramid and doing meditative exercises in a tomb can somehow bring you life and enlightenment. How sad and how lost we often are, even in a pyramid with only one way in and one way out.

Why Don’t We Love God More? part 4 of 4

Do you find yourself from time to time treating your sin as if it is no big deal, not as bad as some other people you know? If you do then you will fail to experience the full delight and freedom that comes from the forgiveness God offers. You will always carry around a hidden weight of pride mixed with some nagging guilt. The pride is your own flesh. The nagging guilt is the Holy Spirit trying to bring you to your knees so you can receive the full force of Gods love.
The only way to begin to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength is to admit the depth of your sin. When you come to grips with that, and give up any hope of your own righteousness making the least bit of difference, then you are in position to receive Gods love. Only when you receive that love on that basis, the basis of your own complete and utter sinfulness, are you then in a position to live rightly, for the right reason.

Our reaction to God’s grace is a study in paradox. On the one hand we are extremely grateful for it and know that we need it. On the other hand we are often uncomfortable with it and seem to be concerned that a little too much grace might be a bad thing. We seem to be concerned that there will then be no motivation for living righteously. In some evangelistic presentations the question of what should motivate us to live rightly if we have all this forgiveness and grace is boiled down to a sense of gratitude for our forgiveness. With all due respect to those presentations, my gratitude runs out after a very short while. Certainly gratitude is a factor in obeying Jesus, but it is extremely limited in its effectiveness.

The Bible never speaks of gratitude as the reason for living righteously because gratitude is too weak a motivator. Jesus gives a rather different idea. He said very simply in John 14:15 that we will obey Him, keep is commandments, IF WE LOVE HIM! Love for God that comes as a response to His overwhelming forgiveness is what should motivate us to live differently. But in order to have that kind of love we must know and admit the depth of our sin. We do this not so we can wallow in some spiritual form of self-loathing but so we can understand the depth of God’s love for us. If you are not able to admit on a daily basis, the depth of your sin and the height of God’s mercy, you will not be able to love God with all you are.

Obama/McCain and the Biblical Response

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Romans 13:1

I received an email recently. In fact I received it several times from several different people. Yea, it was one of those emails that has been forwarded about 3 zillion times. The basic message of the email was that the coming election was the most dangerous election in American history and that all Christians needed to unite and make sure that Obama does not win the election, otherwise America is doomed and all sorts of apocalyptic things are going to happen. Oddly enough I heard the same thing from people about Bill Clinton before he was elected and we seemed to have survived his eight years in office without any apocalyptic meltdown.

Okay, so here is the deal. If we really believe what the Bible says then on a very real level it shouldn’t concern us one way or another if it is McCain or Obama in the White House. Now that does not mean that we should have no opinion and not be involved in the process. Of course we should. Every Christian should vote and speak their mind. But come the morning after the election, whoever is in the White House is there because that is the way God wanted it to be. What could be more clear than Romans 13:1. And remember, Paul wrote those words to people who lived in the shadow of the Colosseum. The people who were in authority over them were dangerous in the extreme and had the power of life and death with no appeal possible. Yet Paul said that those in authority were placed there by God. Jesus said the same thing to Pontius Pilate before Pilate ordered His execution.

What needs to be remembered is that our first century brothers and sisters were able to turn the Roman world upside down, in part because they were the best possible citizens. They kept the laws, respected authority, and served when others would not. As a result, even people within Caesars own household came to faith in Christ.

The bottom line for the Christian is this. It does not ultimately matter who is in the White House, it matters who is on the throne of the universe. And that would be Jesus. Whoever gets into the White House will get there because Jesus let him in. I can live with that.

Christianity in the Land of the Pharoahs

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect on my first visit to Egypt. I had been well briefed by my son J.T. (short for Justin Thomas) who has spent a lot of time here recently. But there is always something about being in a place yourself that opens new horizons and understandings. His time had been mostly with teenagers as a counselor in a sports camp. My time would be with more than 500 pastors from across Egypt. They were coming to receive two days of leadership training from me and Dick Wynn, another staff member at Northland.

My first thought was, what business do I have teaching leadership to men who lead churches in a predominantly Muslim culture. My second thought was, are there really more than 500 pastors and leaders of churches in Egypt? The answer to the first question remains to be seen. The answer to the second was that this was just a small even select group of Christian leaders who were chosen for this training. Each one of them has committed to taking this training and over the next six months, they will train five more leaders. At the end of that time they will return for round two of what will eventually be six conferences on leadership.

Two things have stood out to me as I have interacted with these leaders. The first is their incredible joy. The smiles, and laughter, and enthusiasm that they display is contagious. You cannot help but have your heart lifted being around these people. There is no moaning about being a minority. Not excuses made due to their circumstances. They are simply excited to be following Jesus in this place and in this time. As a result they are doing more, with less, than most Christians in the west would ever dream of doing. Big lesson to be learned on that one.

The second thing that has stood out was their hunger to learn and grow. In Brazil a few weeks ago I saw that same hunger among church planters in the Amazon. But for them, they had very little formal education and the hunger was understandable because they had so little training. Here is Egypt it is different. These are all well educated leaders. Many of them with Masters degrees and seminary training. Yet here they are still hungering for whatever learning and skills they can gain. I contrast that with much of Christianity in the states in which people are becoming almost anti-intellectual. We seem to have forgotten the words of Paul to Timothy that we are to “study to show ourselves approved as a workman who rightly divides, (understand) the Word of Truth” 2 Timothy 2:6

My time with these brothers and sisters in Christ has encouraged me in ways I did not expect. The faith is alive and well here. They have figured out how to be a serving witness in their community. They pour their lives out for the sake of the Gospel. They are growing in unity, more than a dozen different denominations were represented in the group. They love Jesus and their neighbor with a reckless abandon.

I came here to teach but I knew that I would be a learner. I did not know that I would be so inspired and encouraged. Jesus you are good!

Why Don’t We Love God More? pt3

“Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.” Luke 7:44-46

St. Augustine gives is incredible insight into the nature of our heart and the depth of our sin. I remember the first time I read his famous Confessions. At one point Augustine reflects back on a part of his youth when he stole some pears. He confesses that he did not steal them because he was hungry or needed to sell them for money to clothe his mother or family. He stole them simply because he enjoy the sinful thrill of stealing them.
At first I thought that going on for a couple of chapters lamenting your sin for stealing a few pears bordered on the neurotic. But then God brought to mind a similar event from my own childhood. I was about nine years old when my best friend Bobby and I slipped through a hole in the fence that separated my yard from Mrs. Peglow, the widow who lived next door. Mrs. Peglow rarely came out of her house and Bobby and I were convinced that she was over 100 years old. We climbed the apple tree in her back yard like we often did and sat in it eating apples. Sometimes taking only a bite before we threw it as far as we could into the woods behind the house, then taking a bite from another and repeating the process. At first we barely heard the tapping on the second floor window coming from her house. When we looked up it was clear that Mrs. Peglow did not want us in her tree. She especially did not want us taking single bites and tossing the rest of the fruit. But it was also very clear that 100+ year old widow Peglow, was in no condition to come outside and do anything about me and Bobby and the tree. So we stayed in the tree and laughed.

Augustine was broken in spirit because he stole some pears. By comparison I was as wicked as they came. Not only did I steal apples. I trespassed to do it, convinced a friend to do it with me and wasted most of apples in the process. If that wasn’t bad enough i sat in a tree and taunted an old widow woman. Clearly without Christ I am scum. But guess what; so are you! No matter how we try to spin it, we are sinners in deep trouble. Only the grace of God can save us. Before coming to Christ I was, as I like to say, “On a greased pole to hell”. Only Jesus stopped the downward plummet to destruction.

The Pharisee who was Jesus dinner host was oblivious to his own condition condition of sin. All he saw was a woman who was an obvious sinner invading his home and weeping at Jesus feet. When he looked at his own moral standing he incorrectly saw himself as a man far better than her; a man who thought he needed very little from God. The result was that he loved God very little. Jesus was not condoning the little love and saying that his host really was only a little sinner in need of only a little forgiveness and therefore should only be expected to love a little in return. Jesus was forcing his host to come to grips with his own self-righteousness. We know that by the words Jesus speaks about the Pharisees conduct.

Jesus tells Simon the Pharisee that he has been living in a world of self-deception. He has convinced himself that he is a good, moral, righteous person. He is convinced that his sin is little, especially when compared to a prostitute. The message of Jesus is the exact opposite. “Simon” he says, “compared to this prostitute you are a lousy host, a self centered egotist, and a spiritual snob. And at least in the current situation you are a far greater sinner than this woman”. Simon was brought face to face with the startling reality that as good a person as he appeared to be, his sin was deep and his need for forgiveness was vast. He needed to see the deadly serious nature of his own sin so that he could experience the amazing freedom of grace and forgiveness. Only then would he be able to begin to love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. Only then could he begin to love his neighbor as himself. As long as Simon thought of himself as “basically good”, he could always downplay his need for Gods forgiveness. And as long as be saw himself as better than even one other human being, he could hold on to his spiritual pride and look down at that person. But the moment he comes to realize that he is a desperate sinner as well, then he can love them as he loves himself. His love for himself can equal his love for his neighbor when and only when he is broken by the fact that he and his neighbor are equally sinners, equally in need of grace, and equally broken at the foot of the cross.
So the real question is, “how much of Simon lives in your heart and mine”?

Why Don’t We Love God More? pt 2

The Great Commandment is not to love the Lord your God with a LITTLE of your heart, mind, soul, and strength, but with ALL your heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is a command to love God much, very much, as much as possible. But if it is true that people, who are forgiven little, love little, what hope is there for people who have lived a decent life by all human standards and not sinned much? What about those who have lived according to Alfred P. Doolittle’s standards of middle class morality? I can just picture people like Simon saying, “Wait a minute! I tried to live a good decent life and now you are telling me that because I didn’t sin much, that I don’t have much to be forgiven for and so I am destined to not love God enough. That hardly seems fair.”
So what is the answer to this seeming “unfairness” in God? The problem lies in our understanding of our sin. Our human tendency is to evaluate our moral and spiritual standing by looking at other people around us. Invariably we look to the right and see very holy, godly people and decide that they are the exception and we should not be expected to like them. Being the next Mother Theresa is just not what we think we should be expected to do. Then we quickly look down the other end of the moral lineup and see people who we determine are far worse off than we are. Sure we can see Hitler and Stalin and Charles Manson and decide that they are clearly wicked sinners and are in desperate need of either forgiveness or punishment. But even less extreme than that we are always able to find someone who we decide is worse than we are and so we must be okay in Gods eyes. This fits perfectly with a concept in psychology known as the false attribution theory. It basically works this way; we assume the best about our own actions and motives and attribute the worst possible motives and actions to others. When you are driving in your car and someone cuts you off, you assume all sorts of nasty things about him or her; they are a jerk, dangerous, an idiot, they should never have been given a license. But when you cut someone off, it was an understandable mistake, you are so sorry the other driver should understand and be gracious to you.
We do the same with our sin. We think that because we have the best of intentions that our sin is not as serious as that of other people. As a result we think that our need for grace, mercy, and forgiveness is not as severe as that of other sinners. What we fail to realize is that no matter the depth of our sin, we are all the same. We are all destined for Hell without the forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ. Being a sinner saved by grace must never be allowed to become a cliché. They are words that must burn within us and light a fire of desire to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Why Don’t We Love God More? Part 1

It is my contention that if we really loved God in a Great Commandment way, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, then we would be living far differently from the way most Christians currently live. The strange part is that given the level of blessing and abundance that the church in the west experiences, including the freedom we have to worship, you would think that our love for God would be abundantly manifest. You would assume that given the amount of Christian teaching that is available to us through books, radio, television, podcasts, conferences and all the rest, that our knowledge of God and thus our love for God would be uncontainable. So what is the problem? Why don’t we love God more?
I think the answer is found in an event in the life of Jesus and a story he told that deals with this exact question. It comes in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus has been invited to the home of a Pharisee named Simon. It is a dinner party with some of Simon’s closest friends. Because Simon is a Pharisee, one of the religious teachers and strict keepers of every religious rule imaginable, his friends are only the most respectable kinds of people. So there they are in Simons house all feeling good about themselves, how respectable they are and that Jesus, this up and coming prophet is eating with them. Suddenly into the room comes a woman whom they all know to be a local prostitute. She falls at Jesus feet, weeping. As her tears drip off her face and onto his feet, she wipes the tears away using her long, undone hair.
Imagine such a scene in which you are the host. I suspect that your first move would be to intercept this woman or at least get her away from Jesus and out of the house. You might even immediately call the police. Yet in an amazing act of passivity, Simon doesn’t move. Instead he sits and ponders to himself wondering why Jesus would possibly let a prostitute, a sinful woman if there ever was one, touch him, let alone weep and his feet and kiss them.
Jesus looks up at Simon and asks him a question, all the while with the woman weeping at his feet:
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Luke 7:41,42 NASB

Without making any connection to the current events playing out before his very eyes Simon answers,
“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”  “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Verse 43

Simon must have been confused at this point. What does that question have to do with all of this? I suspect that there was a little bit of annoyance at the question, tempered with a touch of spiritual pride when Jesus praises him for his answer. But it was all short-lived as Jesus let the spiritual hammer fall heavy on Simon’s head.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.

I love that opening line in verse 44, “Do you see this woman?” How could he not see her? She has created a scene unlike anything Simon has ever experienced in his home. Yes he sees her with his eyes wide open in amazement.  He sees how she compares to him. His answer would be yes I see her. “I see that she is a whore and I am a religious man who would never associate with her. I see that she has barged in uninvited and I am holding my tongue, keeping my place and maintaining a proper decorum. I am a proper, righteous man and I see that she is a sinner of utmost filth.” But before he can even begin to express any of his thoughts in which he compares himself favorably to “this woman” Jesus goes into a litany of comparisons of his own.

You did not give me any water for my feet so that I could wash, or a towel to dry them when I came into your house. This most basic of the rules of hospitality for a guest and you violated it. Yet she has not ceased to wash my feet with her tears using her very hair to dry them clean. And it’s not even her house! Chalk up one for the prostitute. You did not even great me with a formal kiss on the cheek when I entered your home as a sign that you welcomed me as a friend, yet she has not stopped kissing my feet as a sign of her devotion. That’s prostitute two, Simon zero. Finally, you did not honor me as a guest by giving me oil for my head, yet she has anointed my feet with perfume. Final score: prostitute three, Simon zero.

Simon had to have been spiritually shell shocked at this point. Jesus has just indicted him on three counts of blatant disregard for his guest, a theological and sociological sin in Simon’s day. But if that wasn’t bad enough the worst was yet to come. As soon as he finishes the litany of indictments Jesus says,

47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

The comparison hits it apex. “She is doing all of this” Jesus says, “because she loves me, because she has been forgiven much. Just like greatest of the two debtors in my previous question that you answered so well Simon. She loves much because she has experienced much forgiveness.”  The unspoken comparison that Simon and everyone else in the room are now painfully aware of is that Simon loves “little”. For all his adherence to the religious laws of his day and all his striving to be respectable and righteous, Simon is told that he is guilty of having little love.
Now you might be thinking, but Simon was a good man. He followed the rules. He certainly was not a prostitute or other kind of blatant sinner. He was a respectable guy. Jesus himself compares one who sinned a great deal with one who sinned a little. The woman is the one who sinned a great deal so shouldn’t Simon get some props as the one who sinned a little? He was doing a respectable job, trying hard to be righteous. On the surface you might think so. But there are depths to this story that we rarely plumb.

Check back on Friday for part two and begin to plumb those depths.