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The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that we should love people just as they are.

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A non-believer recently challenged a believer with this comment: “The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that we should love people just as they are.”  While this is more of a statement than a question, there really is a question behind the assertion.  The question is: “how does the Bible say that we are commanded to love the people around us?” It may be true that we don’t find Jesus commanding us to love people “just as they are” using those exact words.  But what we do find is Jesus modeling this kind of behavior frequently.  In the beginning of Luke chapter 15, for example, where Jesus tells three parables about lost people and lost things, the Bible tells us that “the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him.”  Jesus clearly didn’t push them away, but he received them.  And his reception of them wasn’t just a politically-correct politeness.  In the verse that follows, we see that “the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”  According to the Jewish customs of the day, it was improper and unclean for Jews to associate with and especially to eat with Gentiles (non-Jews) and sinners – since sharing a meal with someone is the height of fellowship and acceptance.  Jesus both associated with and ate with these religious “outcasts” often. (See Mark 2:15, for example where Jesus went to the home of Levi, the tax collector and ate with him and “many” tax collectors and sinners.”)  At this point, it’s important to note that teaching is not just a verbal event.  Just as any modern teacher will attest, students learn by watching their teacher.  Sometimes it’s just easier to SHOW your students what to do rather than use words.  Imagine a piano teacher trying to describe with words how to perform a triplet or a grace-note!  Sometimes words fall short. 

To explore this matter further, consider some of the writings of the apostle Paul.  In Romans 5:8, he writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Clearly God loved us just as we were, if he allowed his own son, Jesus, to die for us – without condition. Jesus came to die for us before he knew whether we’d love him back or ever change at all.  In Galatians 5:14 Paul also writes, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Do we love ourselves just as we are?  You might argue that people don’t love themselves just as they are – otherwise there would be no such thing as a “self-help” book.  But truly, even the desire to fix our faults and better ourselves really arises out of a deep love for self, does it not? Why would we strive to improve something we care nothing about?

That is perhaps a good thought on which to conclude this discussion.  What is “love” really all about?  If the question at hand really is about who we love and how we love them, then what does it mean to love?  Sadly, our society all too often defines love as either an emotion or a feeling that we have in response to someone else’s words or behaviors.  But that is not the picture of Biblical love.  The love that we see in the Bible is a love that has at its heart a deep and unconditional concern for the well being of another person.  So as Jesus demonstrated his love for tax collectors and sinners, he would reach out to them and accept them just as they were, but then he would teach them and help them to change in areas that they needed to change for their own well being.  Jesus did this for them, not for his own benefit.  Someone once said, when speaking of God’s love, “he loves you just how you are, but he loves you too much to leave you there.”  Jesus will meet us wherever we are at.  He comes to us and receives us unconditionally.  However, once we encounter Him, he wants to help us develop into the person that we were created to be – fully realizing all our potential and living according to God’s commands.  This is not a condition of our acceptance, but a result of our relationship with Him.

As Christians, it may seem unbelievable to us that someone would call into question the unconditional love that we’ve become accustomed to, and are defined by, in the Christian faith.  But truly, we must recognize that “conditional,” “qualified,” and “earned” love and acceptance is really how the rest of the world operates.  Let’s use this as an opportunity to love even those who question our freely-given love, and to recognize what a gift and a treasure we’ve been given in learning how to love like Jesus loves!

Q & A: Help me understand “heap burning coals”

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Q: I don’t understand Romans 12:20 and Proverbs 25:22

A: Thanks for a great question!

 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
(Romans 12:20 and Proverbs 25:21-22)

This proverb (and its quote by the Apostle Paul) is a reminder to us of Jesus’ command to Love our ENEMY as well as our neighbor.  (Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”). But the wording is weird – how is heaping burning coals like loving our neighbor?

Solomon (writer of Proverbs) and Paul are really addressing our human desire to return evil for evil – that is to hate someone who hates you and hurt someone who hurts you.  When someone hurts us we naturally want to hurt them back.  We would love to see a heap of burning coals on their head!  But the loving and Christian thing to do is to not act on those impulses, but rather, heed the Lord’s command to love them in return for their sinful actions.  But, because evil disdains good, your enemy will resent even your kind behavior to them!  They are so opposed to you that even something that is done in kindness will infuriate them.  This, of course, is their response and nothing you can control.  But the end result is good – you’ve acted in an upright manner and your enemy’s anger is diffused.  How can they respond to your kindness?  They will be frustrated because they wanted to fight more.  They wanted to pull you into a battle with them and pull you down to their level.  You, however, will have taken the ‘high road.’  Your good behavior will be “above reproach.”  No one will be able to say ill of you and your enemy will have no more fuel for his fire.  The anger will be diffused, your enemy will leave you alone and the Lord will be glorified!  Kindness is the best tool to stop your enemy in his tracks – better than trying to fight him with angry words and actions – OR burning coals 🙂 .

Where is Assyria on the Map?

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Q: Someone recently asked me, “I am having a hard time finding Assyria on the map. Can you help me?” They also admitted that it’s confusing that the Bible talks about Assyria, Syria and Samaria, and the names are kind of similar sounding. 

A: It’s important to note that Assyria is the name of an ancient empire, and therefore modern maps show the names of current nations that are in the same lands that Assyria once occupied.  The area that was once Assyria is now regions predominantly in Iraq, Iran and Turkey. 

Below are some links to online maps that help further clarify by showing the region in ancient times:

How soon after death can someone be cremated?

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Question: The question was recently posed to me: “How soon after death can someone be cremated?  How much time is necessary for any spiritual processes to take place?”  This is an interesting question because it allowed me to share some of our basic understanding concerning our humanity and what happens when we die.  I will share my brief response below.  

Answer: The ‘short’ answer to your question is that the body can be cremated immediately after death is confirmed.  For a little more discussion, however …  Our understanding of humanity is that we’re three-part beings. (Though some will say two, but that’s a bit of semantics on how one distinguishes soul and spirit).  We say that we’re body, soul and spirit.  The body is physical.  Modern (Western) science tries to claim that our life is just a result of chemical processes, neurons, synapses, and impulses.  But, as I’m sure you’d readily agree, that doesn’t begin to explain the full realm and breadth of experiences that people have – near death, after death, life itself: love, sadness, memories, etc. etc.  And that doesn’t agree with the Bible which tells us that God created Adam out of the dust of the earth (physical) but then breathed LIFE into him (spirit).  Interestingly, both the Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament) and Greek (the language of the New Testament) words for “spirit” actually are the same word for “breath” & “wind!”  So we have bodies, but we have the breath of God – Life – in us.  Then there’s the third part – our immortal soul.  This soul is our ‘personhood’ our ‘being’ if you will.  This soul, we believe lives on even after the body has expired.  In fact, on the last day, when Jesus returns, our souls will be reunited with our bodies and we will live forever.  … the part of the Bible that people don’t like to hear, though, is that some will live forever at peace with God, and some will live forever separated from Him.  This relationship that we enjoy with God at the end of our life and the end of days is determined by the relationship we established during our life on earth.  In other words, some have said: at death people get the God of their choosing.  If they want God, they get Him.  If they don’t want God and refused to believe in Him and acknowledge His one and only Son – they have eternity without Him.

So back to the question… Cremation only affects the body.  It can harm neither the soul or spirit.  On the day when Jesus returns, the Bible tells us that God will raise our bodies from wherever they are.  How can he do this?  Well – I can’t explain how he created the universe, or made man in the first place, so I don’t begin to understand how he can resurrect the dead.  I just know that Jesus demonstrated this power both in himself and in others.  He’s the only person/being to ever have lived that commanded life and death.   And so in short, this is our faith and this is our hope. 

 

Q&A: Does the Spirit of God Live in Me?

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You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:9)
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Question: Reading Romans 8:9, should a Christian be worried about whether they have the Holy Spirit in them?

Short Answer:  No. A person who has a repentant faith (in Christ!) and has been baptized is promised in Scripture to have the Holy Spirit in them:Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Longer Answer:  Romans 8:9 can cause people to doubt their salvation because of that tiny little word, “if.”  However, as you can see below, the Greek language sheds some light on this little word.  (Greek is the language in which the original manuscripts of the New Testament were written.) Furthermore, a careful reader of Scripture must always remember to let the clear passages of Scripture interpret less-clear ones.  So in the case of a conditional word like “if” we use the rest of Scripture to help us answer the question. Let’s look more closely at these two points:

  • In English we have different words for “if” & “since.” They convey quite different meanings depending on how they are used.  In Greek, there is a word/particle “ei” … it can be combined with other particles and get slight nuances, but it’s mainly used simply as “ei” … and most commonly translated in English as “if” – but it can just as well be translated as “since.”  Here’s what the Greek dictionary (Friberg Lexicon) says:

a.  eiv conj subord, from eiv  if; whether;  that; if only, surely; since; ei; tij, ei; ti  who(ever), what(ever); ei;per since, if it  is true that ei;ge if indeed (red, italics, underline – my emphasis.)

b.      in the form “ei,” “since” is an allowable translation, but not the most common use.  However, in the form “ei-per,” “since” is the most common use! (see red words in letter-a above)

c.       Note that in Romans 8:9, the first use of the word “if” is in the “ei-per” form!… So Paul is really starting out by saying “SINCE Christ is in you…” So then all of the other “if’s,” though written simply as “ei,” are best thought of with the meaning “since” because of what Paul says before the rest.  In verse 9, therefore, he establishes the certainty of the discussion.  (Consider if the NIV translated that “ei-per” in verse 9 as “SINCE.”  It would read: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, SINCE the Spirit of God lives in you.”) doesn’t that even sound better?  Some translations will say “If in fact,” or “if indeed” to show that a simple translation of “if” is not sufficient.  What I’ve written here show the allowable translation of the Greek word “ei-per” as “since” where the word “ei-per” occurs within the verse.

d.      Think of it… you’re talking to a child and you say, “Don’t be afraid!”  “If you believe in God, then you know there’s nothing to worry about!” You aren’t calling into question whether that child believes in God!  You’re not saying, “you might not believe in God, but just in case you do…” No. You’re simply acknowledging that there’s a choice in behaviors, and one way demonstrates their faith.  In this case, isn’t what you’re really saying to the child: “SINCE you believe in God, then you know there’s nothing to worry about?”

  • And in case the above explanation doesn’t help and/or confuses you.  Or you just find yourself more comfortable letting “if” be “if” and Romans 8:9 remaining uncertain… then let SCRIPTURE INTERPRET SCRIPTURE, and let the Word of God resolve for you whether or not you, the believer, is safe in answering all of the “If’s” in Romans 8 in the affirmative (because certainly “if” is not required to mean “NO,” right?) … Look at the clear word of God in 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;”  In this Scripture the same Paul who wrote Romans makes it clear that the Holy Spirit IS in you (my emphasis).  The believer need not read anything in Romans, or any other Scripture, and wonder whether the Holy Spirit is in them! 

It’s simply a tool of the devil to call into question many things: whether a believer really has faith, rather God is good, whether lost sinners are forgiven and saved, whether Christ’s work is sufficient, etc.  And to that list, we can add the Satanic doubt that is placed in the mind of the believer when reading all the comfort and exhortation in Romans 8 (and others) to question whether the Holy Spirit has really been given and dwells in the believer.   Let us not doubt what God’s Word has made certain.

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