Shoveling Love

LA Times columnist Virginia Heffernan received some pushback.  She wrote about her neighbors shoveling snow from her driveway without her asking.  She labeled what they did “aggressive kindness.”

She apparently despises her neighbors because of their politics.  She compared their act of neighborliness to Hezbollah favors and Nazi politeness. That over-the-top comparison is why pundits hit her.  She also stated the obvious: “Loving your neighbor is evidently much easier when your neighborhood is full of people just like you.”

Her struggle is actually with loving her “enemy,” a startling ethic stated by Jesus. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”  He included that in his call to perfection, a very high bar indeed (Matt. 5:44ff).  How are we to do that?

It helps to realize God loved you before you were ever aware of him, and while you were a spiritual orphan.  “How great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God” (1 Jn. 3:1).  God’s love is empowering. “We love, because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).  C. S. Lewis explains that the Divine gift to man “enables him to love what is not naturally loveable; lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering.”

That empowering love not is not a feeling or speaking, it’s a doing.  “Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 Jn. 3:18) and that includes enemies.  Who is your enemy, anyway?  Maybe someone despises you for your politics or religion.  Maybe your intersectionality score is low.  Jesus didn’t directly address that question, but he did answer this: “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus told the story of a man who did what the religious people wouldn’t.  This man of a despised race helped the victim of a highway robbery.  He did it at a sacrifice to himself.  This Good Samaritan story illustrates Jesus’ charge to love your neighbor. He showed that your neighbor may be a stranger or an enemy who despises you.  Either way, to love is to be like God who loved you first.

Heffernan’s neighbor may have heard Sen. Ben Sasse calling for an end to political feuding.  Sasse said, “You can’t hate someone who shovels your driveway.”  The corollary is that it’s easier to love someone when you are shoveling their driveway.  It’s sacrificial.  It’s in their interest. And that’s why it is God-like.

To love like God loves you is to sacrifice on behalf of others, putting their interests before yours.  Know when to be generous, and allow yourself to be inconvenienced.  Listen more than you speak. Do not let disagreements about religion or politics stop you from being kind.  And maybe you shovel your neighbor’s driveway.

Nature’s God

I have found that the most inspiring use of social media is to enjoy the beauty of creation as posted by friends.  They see, they admire, they share.  Simple formula.  I have done the same.

I have seen the ancient Appalachians framing horses and green pastures.  Hikers on high hills marvel at rock formations and unusual flora. Soaring reds and lavenders trail the setting sun promising, “I’ll see you on the other side.”  Today’s warmth lays aside for tomorrow’s gentle snow. Green holly is bejeweled in red and capped in white.  Now do the daffodils awake so soon?  The hungry honey bee considers the humble chickweed’s purple blossom her royal feast.

I’m no poet, but the Creator is and nature is his scroll.  He beckons you to see what he has done, and marvel.  The Bible says, “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).  If you look at nature and marvel, then you know enough about God to honor him as God.

George Washington Carver certainly did.  He said, “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”  Carver was born into slavery in Missouri.  He became the first black student at Iowa State in 1891, and earned two degrees in agriculture.

As a longtime researcher at Tuskegee Institute, he found alternatives to cotton which was depleting the soil.  He developed hundreds of products from peanuts and sweet potatoes.  He told of his inspiration.  “When I was young, I said to God, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the universe.’ But God answered, ‘That knowledge is reserved for me alone.’ So I said, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.’ Then God said, ‘Well George, that’s more nearly your size.’ And he told me.”

Carver came to faith as a child.  He saw a boy walking to Sunday School.  “I asked him what prayer was and what they said. I do not remember what he said; I only remember that as soon as he left I climbed up into the loft, knelt down by the barrel of corn and prayed as best I could.  That was my simple conversion.”  That’s the story of the esteemed professor who found beauty in creation and truth in its Creator.  Do likewise, and you will have something inspiring to share with your friends!

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psa. 8:3-4).


Foolish Delusion

On a recent episode of “Real Time,” Bill Maher repeated his charge that religion is “mass delusion.”  He has suggested before that science and thinking are opposed to faith.  By framing faith as ignorant, he would convert you to his irreligion.

Here’s the full quote.  “The inconvenient truth here is that if you accord religious faith the kind of exalted respect we do here in America, you’ve already lost the argument that mass delusion is bad.”  He was criticizing delusional conspiracy theories and found a way to disparage Christians in the same breath.  It’s true that outlandish conclusions drawn from random facts and innuendo are not harmless.  But that’s not Christianity.

One of the foundational beliefs of Christianity is that God exists.  Is that ignorant? To answer that, let’s call British professor and philosopher Anthony Flew to the witness stand.  As a longtime atheist he wrote, “It is impossible to establish the existence of God, or even to show that it is more or less probable.”  But in 2004, he courageously announced a change.  He concluded the evidence of modern science indeed establishes the existence of God.

As a new Deist he wrote, “Science spotlights three dimensions of nature that point to God. The first is the fact that nature obeys laws. The second is the dimension of life, of intelligently organized and purpose-driven beings, which arose from matter. The third is the very existence of nature.”  He also pointed to the DNA genome, saying “that it has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together.”

Thank you, Dr. Flew for recognizing the evidence for design and the logical inference that God exists.  We don’t have space to call witnesses to explore other evidence, such as the logic of the material universe requiring an immaterial first cause and the impossible odds of the unguided appearance of the precise parameters necessary to sustain life.  Nor can we explore the questions, how is it we all have an innate sense of morality (how could a material universe that “is” place within us a sense of what “ought” to be?) and why ignore the evidence of the Resurrection of Christ?

The Bible anticipates discussions like this.  It says, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21).  Vocal and influential people may claim to be wise and knowledgeable, while canceling God talk as foolish.  Yet that “foolishness” contains the keys to answering the ultimate questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.  One wonders who is delusional, Mr. Maher.

A Stirring Reminder

Sometimes life reminds us to number our days.  Death does too.  It can stir you to consider what really matters.

Larry King died.  He told Conan, “I don’t believe in an afterlife. I can’t, I just never accepted it.” I respect that, but it’s sad. He continued, “The only hope, the only fragment of hope, is to be frozen and then someday, they cure whatever you died of, and you’re back.”  Once King interviewed Billy Graham about his book “Facing Death and the Life After.”  King asked, “What’s on the other side?” Graham replied, “On the other side is heaven or hell. That’s what the Bible teaches.”

Graham ministered in non-religious, secular settings because Jesus sought out those settings, too.  People wrestle with questions like King asked.  King did not accept the clear answer offered by Jesus. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).  The evidence that Jesus lived after he died is far more reassuring than the “fragment of hope” that a frozen body might be thawed back to life someday.

Hank Aaron died the day before King.  It’s sad that Aaron had to endure such hate even while MLK reminded us of the “promissory note” of American freedom and equality.  How did he cope? He said, “I need to depend on Someone who is bigger, stronger, and wiser than I am. I don’t do it on my own. God is my strength. He lights the way.”  About playing he said, “I felt like I was surrounded by angels and I had God’s hand on my shoulder.”  He had an assurance unknown to Larry King.

Who’s next?  In his typical dry wit, C. S. Lewis reminds those who fear death that “100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased.”  Likewise the Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).  As you ponder that inevitability, these precious promises are such a treasure:  “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23) and “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

Thinking about his destiny Paul writes, “We are of good courage and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).  His friend Peter adds urgency. “I consider it right…to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent” (2 Pet. 1:13-14).  The reminder is that by faith you enter the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ before your “laying aside.”

If you are to be stirred up by life or death, let it be about things that ultimately matter.  Such as your ultimate destiny.