The Tribulation of the Cross, Part 2

When we read Matthew 24:13 – “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” – what do we think of?  I’m currently reading a book about the life of Queen Elizabeth I of England that focuses on her life before becoming Queen, and there is a lot that reminds me of Matthew 24:9-10, which says, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”  Elizabeth’s older sister Mary, a Catholic, pursued often violent methods to purge the country of Protestantism[1], as chronicled in the sensational book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs[2], which soon became the 2nd most-read book in England after the Bible.  John Foxe listed story after story of Protestants being tortured, burned alive, and persecuted in other extreme ways that sometimes are what we think of reading Matthew 24:13.

But there is more to the context than that.  Matthew 24:11-12 say, “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”  This idea of love growing cold is immediately before “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  In a martyrdom scenario, enduring is not the same as living, so enduring means something other than staying alive.  So, what does a Christian endure in order to be saved?

When Jesus was on the cross and said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” in Luke 23:34 I believe He was modeling this endurance.  On the cross, the lawlessness of the world had increased to the point where God Himself was abandoned and killed by a populist mob, fueled by a conspiracy of religious and political leaders.  All of Christ’s followers were scattered like sheep without a shepherd, yet He continued to love.  Yet, instead of calling upon an army of angels and freeing Himself from the cross, He forgave.

Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that while lawlessness is increasing, “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”  Jesus said in Matthew 24:6 that “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”  In opposition to this, false prophets will tell us to be alarmed and they will tell us that there is so much lawlessness that we need to do something other than love God and love our neighbor.  Some of these prophets will claim to be the Christ (Matthew 24:5), but they will insist on a path other than that of the cross.  Perhaps using a Facebook post fed through a heartless algorithm, they will say “The time is coming when good people will have to do bad things to very bad people,” even though Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44)

Repeating yesterday’s post, when I’m struggling to face the world as I see it, I ask about 3:16, “Exactly which world did Jesus love enough to die for?”  The answer is this one.  Not just the part of it I get along with or that I’d pick to be in my Facebook feed if I had full control.  Sometimes bearing our cross is just being willing to love those Christ loved, even when we don’t want to, and even when they hate us as they hated Him.

Praise God that Christ loved me, because I too easily find people I’d really prefer to stay away from, but if Christ had taken that approach, maybe He would have never come down to earth to die for me.

Father, forgive us, for we do not know what we do.  We praise You that You endured to the end for our sake.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32


[1] At other times and places, Protestants have persecuted Catholics, or each group has fought among themselves.  This is only one example among (sadly) many.
[2] I’m planning a history post for next March 20, the first publication date of this book in 1563.

The Tribulation of the Cross, Part 1

Do you ever get so frustrated with the world that you just want to check out?  I certainly do.  For example, as a blogger who posts to both Facebook and on WordPress, for me it is a lot easier to keep up with WordPress, since I can choose to see only what I want to see.  Facebook, on the other hand, exists to sell advertising and sometimes the best advertising is the kind that sparks emotion – even (or especially) bad emotions.

While Facebook is great for keeping up with friends and family, it recently started adding a ton of posts with statements like “The time is coming when good people will have to do bad things to very bad people,” along with other sarcastic, angry, and bitter political posts.  After a few days they must have tweaked their method again, and most of these went away.  Like many, I like to have my comfortable space where I’m in control, and I didn’t want to be on Facebook while knowing they were trying (and, sadly, succeeding) at manipulating my emotions.  I started feeling sarcastic, angry, and bitter, which was by their design.  Sometimes I ask myself why I am even there?

Some surprising advice comes in Philippians 2:6-8, where Paul writes about Jesus that, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  In times when I want to check out from the uncomfortable parts of living in this world, these verses remind me that Jesus, as God, might have taken an attitude of preferring to stay in a comfortable space where He could be in control, but instead He jumped into the mess that is this world we see every day to show the world what love is.

Another verse that calls this to mind is the familiar John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

When I’m struggling to face the world as I see it, I ask about 3:16, “Exactly which world did Jesus love enough to die for?”  The answer is this one.  The world He died for is the one where sex, anger, bitter tribalism, and political partisanship sells.  The one with a lot of sarcastic, angry, and bitter people.  The one with a lot of people who are more like us than we’d usually like to admit.  The one where it’s easy for our love to grow cold if we focus on the problems, and not on the cross, where God took the punishment for all of it.

To be continued tomorrow

My 3 Rules of Writing

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Dear fellow travelers,

After a long stretch of daily posts, the blog went silent for a day.  The reason wasn’t that there was nothing to write about.  Ironically, the reason was that sometimes the topics I most want to write about are the hardest ones to do.  Around the time I launched the blog, I decided each post should meet 3 criteria as a way to keep myself disciplined not just to regular writing, but to the type of content I wanted to post.  It’s my blog, after all.

My objective is that every post should be Compelling, Clear, and Charitable, meaning:

Is it about something that matters eternally, and is written in a way that connects emotionally and is worth reading? (Compelling)
Is it logical and makes sense, or is it likely to be misunderstood? (Clear)
Is it written in love, to build up whoever reads it? (Charitable)

In a way, these criteria are just a modified version of Ephesians 4:15-16, which says:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16

The compelling and clear parts are the “speaking the truth,” and the charitable part is the “in love” part.  However, the three criteria are not equal.  If I am compelling and clear, I might come across as clever, smart or a good writer, but without charity, “I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).  Without love, I’ve done it wrong, and therefore being compelling and clear should be tools used in service of being charitable.

Love is more important than keeping a daily schedule.  Fortunately, a blog doesn’t have to fill a scheduled hour of airtime in a 24/7 news cycle, where passion and (often faulty) logic dominate.  Yes, I’m not perfect and it happens here too, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

Like the old saying goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  In some cases, charity means silence until I have something else to write, or a better way to write it.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” – Ephesians 4:26-27

An Ethic That Epitomizes Love for God and Neighbor

Photo by Robert Guss on Unsplash

When James 1:27 was written, James wasn’t resorting to hyperbole for mere effect.  He meant what he said, which is: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  James didn’t choose his example haphazardly and he didn’t make such a strong statement just as a nice sentiment for a Hallmark card.  But what does he mean?

Because Jesus said that to love God and to love your neighbor were the greatest commandments, the highest form of religion, James is probably using “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” as the purest, most undefiled form of love.  In James’ time, these were the people genuinely unloved by the world – the ones who fell through the cracks of society.  Not only were they without a husband or parents, but society was not providing for them either and they were truly abandoned “in their affliction.”  Anyone caring for them would get no credit or recognition for it.  Therefore, the only motive for visiting them is love for them.  Pure love, with no impurity or stain from a desire to get something in return.

James specifically refers to “God the Father,” who has always taken His own, and His peoples, responsibility to widows and orphans seriously.  He wants to take care of them, but Psalm 94:6-7 says about the rulers of the nations, including Israel: “They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and they say, ‘The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.’”  They preyed on those nobody cared about, and also boasted that not even God cared.

When any group of people – even[1] one with God’s institutions of His law, temple, priests, prophets, and kings ruling the promised land – neglects the oppressed, their religion is impure and defiled.  All institutions – including ones provided by God – are useless outside of God’s purpose for them.  The temple was a way to approach God by sacrifice, foreshadowing Jesus’ death on the cross, but Judah used it as a way to appease Him so they could do their own thing.  Jeremiah criticized the religious leaders of his day, who thought they were free from judgement because “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD,”[2] treating the temple as more important than God Himself and a reason God would always bless them.  However, God doesn’t want us to follow a checklist of religious observance – He wants us to be His loving family.

Because they replaced love with empty religion, Israel was cast into exile under the Babylonians, and Jeremiah cries in Lamentations 5:3 that “We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows.”  Perhaps God would teach compassion to His people through painful discipline and experience, living like those they ignored.

Unstained
Visiting widows and orphans keeps one unstained from the world when it thinks that it’s ok to leave some behind.  That it’s ok to think we can’t do any better and that God doesn’t see, and that He doesn’t have an answer for it.  That if we follow the letter of the law, or rely on institutions, but not on the spirit of love, God will just look the other way because we tried our best.

Therefore, don’t visit widows and orphans because its popular, because a law tells you to, or for any reason besides Godly love, because when we mix in worldly motives, we risk loving only those who are popular to love or who our government and culture have put in favored positions.  Maybe we even reduce love to a comment about distant people trending on social media at the time, and not those individuals who are actually suffering the most.  These people are often right in front of us.

Heaven is for people who

love when there’s nothing

more at stake than

the person being loved.

It is by ministering to specific widows and orphans in their need that the Christian retains the preservative power of salt and the illuminating power of light to the world.[3]  It’s not the idea, but the actual visiting that is pure and undefiled.  Me writing this and you reading this is only an idea.  But it is a beginning.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Heaven is for people who love when there’s nothing more at stake than the person being loved.  Only Jesus has met this standard, but He has made a Way to Life for those willing to accept His Truth.  Jesus willingly takes our stain on the cross, and gives us His righteousness as a free gift, but only if we actually want His righteousness more than we want our stained world.  In Christ, the Father will change His people into people who care for widows and orphans.  People like that don’t need anything else to make a perfect society.  It’s loving people that make a perfect society, not rules and institutions, and certainly not good intentions that leave people behind.  Paradise will be a society that is pure, undefiled, and unstained, and where the only Institution needed is Jesus, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

No better solution exists than God the Father’s plan to build a family where everyone loves Him and loves their neighbor as themselves, and when we visit widows and orphans, we illustrate the truth that God sees them and cares for them, even when nobody else does.

Visiting widows and orphans is an ethic that epitomizes love for God and neighbor.


Look for more posts based on James 1:27 in the coming Saturdays.  The more I think about the verse, the more implications of it I see.  Next Up: An Ethic That Applies in all Places and Times.  There are always widows and orphans. Also, this series is part of the ongoing Beatitudes series but this one skips to Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.


[1] Perhaps especially.
[2] Jeremiah 7:4
[3] Matthew 5:13-16

Forgiveness and Its Alternatives: A Quint of Quotes #6

Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash

Dear fellow travelers,

Today’s Rewind Wednesday takes a quote I posted last year (do you know which one?), adds four more, and creates another “Quint of Quotes.”  These quints are five quotes somewhat related to each other, but not exactly in agreement.  Hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

“You can have vengeance, or peace, but you can’t have both” – Herbert Hoover, after World War II

“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” -Malachy McCourt, Irish-American actor, writer and politician

“Forgiveness is the greatest miracle that Jesus ever performs. It meets the greatest need; it costs the greatest price; and it brings the greatest blessing and the most lasting results.”  – Warren Wiersbe

“In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.” – Francis Bacon

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” – Jesus, in Luke 6:32-33

See previous Quints and other posts on quotes here.