Do You Love Me?

Jim Cymbala recently remarked that, “our people will pay good money to go hear some Christian musician but they won’t come to meet with Jesus for free.”  This stinging rebuke points to something deeper than Christians with misplaced priorities.  It points to Christians who have a problem with love – or more precisely, a lack of it.

 

When Jesus proclaimed to His followers that the greatest of all commandments was to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind (Mt 22:37), He was not only prioritizing the most important of all Biblical commands, but He was declaring that the fundamental relationship binding us to Him is one of love.

 

What does loving Jesus mean?

 

Jesus tells us in the Gospels that loving Him does not consist in saying, “Lord, Lord!” but in doing the Father’s will and in keeping His words (Mt 7:21-29).  When we speak of loving another person, we mean that we seek the good of the person loved.  It means that we desire and seek to procure that person’s well-being. However, there is no good that we can desire for Jesus that He does not already have. Hence, for Him, all the loveliest qualities of loving are subsumed in that simple act of “doing the Fathers will.”

 

How can we cultivate love for Jesus?

 

            Jesus is not merely a historical figure, a philosophical concept or a remote invisible Deity.  He is truly God yet truly man.  He is a living person who is a “you” and a “friend.”  He is someone who can be loved and someone who reciprocates our love!  The saints have given us multiple examples of this love relationship.  Paul’s love for Jesus was such that he wished to be released from the body in order “to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23).  The Apostle John often referred to himself as that “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). On the eve of his martyrdom, Ignatius wrote, “All I desire is Christ . . . I seek Him who died for me, I desire Him who rose again for me”!  How can we cultivate this level of love for Jesus as well as this level of awareness of His love for us?

 

There are no married couples who cultivate their love for each other in exactly the same way.  Each couple has their own preferred way that works best for them. However, there are common means that can be witnessed in the lives of all married couples who seek to cultivate a deeper love relationship.  The same is true in the cultivation of love for Jesus.  Individually we might have our preferred means, but there are certain common means that Christians have used for centuries in developing such love.

 

One of the primary ways saints have cultivated love for Jesus is through the means of grace: studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, contemplation, good works toward our fellow man, singing to the Lord (private worship) and receiving Holy Communion.  The faithful pursuit of these means will enable us to “know (experientially) the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (comprehension)” (Eph. 3:14-19). It is important to add that these practices must be enabled and aided by the Holy Spirit. The most brilliant and acute Christological analysis, void of the Holy Spirit, will reveal nothing transformative nor increase our love for Him.  Jesus is not revealed by “flesh and blood,” that is to say by human brain-power and research, but by “the Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16:17).  It is the Holy Spirit who reveals Jesus to us and enables us to love what we see in Him.  It is the Holy Spirit that brings life to what would otherwise be dead works.

 

The Apostle John provides another way to increase our love for Jesus.  In 1 John 2:5 we learn that, “whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” My studies in spiritual formation have taught me that formation in Christlikeness is oriented toward explicit easy obedience.  It is also true that as we go deeper in obedience to Jesus we increase our ability and capacity to love Him.

 

Jesus gave us insight in how to love Him more in the Sermon on the Mount. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Mt 6:24).  John tells us to, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).  There is a law of moral affinity and it will develop in us either a love for Jesus or a love for this present world depending on what we set our affections upon.  There is no middle ground or safe zone where we can love them both. If you wish to grow in your love for Jesus, then the love of this present world can have no place in your heart.

 

Someone has said that at the end of life we shall be examined about love.  If that is true, the question we face might be, “How much did you love Me?”  In light of such a possibility, it could be profitable from time to time to let the question of Jesus to Peter, “Lovest thou me?” speak freely to our inner man to see if we can honestly respond,   “Lord thou knowest that I love thee.”

Christ Came Down At Christmas

At the close of the First World War, Prince Edward of Britain visited a hospital that was caring for thirty-six of Britain’s greatest war heroes. The Prince was taken first to a ward of twenty-four men. Before leaving, he asked, “Are there not others?” The nurse responded in the affirmative, but she had questioned whether or not the Prince wanted to see those who were more seriously wounded. Demanding to see them all, he was taken to another room of eleven men. The Prince was stunned at the awful condition of these noble defenders to the Crown. He was moves to tears as he offered each and deepest appreciation for his noble service.

Again upon leaving the room the Prince remarked that if he had counted right, there was still one more. The nurse remonstrated rather strongly about seeing the last one since that veteran was in isolation and his condition was so critical. The Prince demanded a visit. The nurse protested that the situation of the man might truly be unbearable to the royal visitor. Edward would not be dissuaded and was soon standing by the bedside of the dying hero. He was not prepared, however, for what he saw. The brave soldier had taken the worst of a fiery explosion. Much of his body had been either blown or burned away. His face was disfigured beyond recognition. The stench of death lay heavy in the room. The Prince shuddered as a wave of horror swept over his soul from what he saw.

However, after a moment to regain himself, the Prince leaned over the bed, and calling the soldiers name, told him who he was. The old warrior’s eyes twitched; and the stub of an arm on the right side of his body jumped in an effort to salute. Prince Edward stooped down in the tenderest tones poured out the deepest thanks on behalf of his country. Then stooping lower, he kissed the disfigured brow of the dying soldier. This was a condescending moment for the noble Prince of the English throne.

There is a greater One, however, who has stooped far lower to plant the kiss of redemption upon the execrable and wretched brow of lost humanity. Oh what incomparable condescension! The King of Glory came down. He wrapped himself in the fading garment of our humanity and pitched his fleshy tent in silence on straw in a stable under a star. Why did he come? He came to save! How would he save? By identifying completely with our humanity, yet remaining the sinless Son of God.

You see, God had created man but he had never been a man. He had watched men toil, but he had never blistered his own hands with a carpenter’s tool. He had never felt the onslaught of the tempter, or had his soul been pierced with the sorrows of life. He had seen men sink into the hopeless depths of the grave, but He had never felt the cold grip of death or spread His omnipotent shoulders on the bottom of a sepulcher. But He would yield Himself to be judged and unjustly condemned at Pilate’s bar, so that we might be acquitted at the tribunal of heaven. He took our place and was crucified as a despicable wretch, so that rebellious sinners might be reconciled to God and sent forth as kings and priests. He suffered the sting of death, yet He broke the bars of the grave so that we might cry, “O death where is thy sting? Oh grave where is thy victory?”

Why did Christ come down? He came down that His mysterious Incarnation might reunite us to God; that His Atonement would purchase our justification; that his death would become the spring of our eternal life; that His resurrection would be the pledge of our glory; and His ascension the triumph of our souls!

Hallelujah! Christ came down at Christmas!

High Places

Mention the name “High Place” and God reaches into His vocabulary and uses a word that expresses His most severe moral disgust – “abomination.” Mentioned over a 100 times in the Bible, the high places were originally centers for Canaanite idol worship. Located on mountain tops or elevated pieces of ground (hence the name high place), some of the most detestable things imaginable took place in the worship of false gods. Even before the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into Canaan, Moses commanded them to demolish all the Canaanite high places … “or they shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell” (Numbers 33:52, 55). Yet despite Joshua’s passionate destruction of such places, these pagan worship centers continued to plague the nation of Israel (Judges 2:12-13, 17; 1 Kings 14:22-24).
Tragically, it was Israel’s leaders who allowed worship on the high places to continue. King Solomon actually built high places for gods such as Ashtoreth, Milcom, and Chemosh (1 Kings 11:6-7). King Jeroboam established high places in Bethel and Dan so the northern tribes would not travel to Jerusalem to worship the true God (1 Kings 12:25-33). In their time each leader in Israel and Judah had to decide what he would do with the high places. When a good King would come to power, he would rid the land of idols and demolish the high places (II Kings 18:4; 23:4-20). Evil Kings, like Ahaz and Manasseh, would give full support to the high places and even offer sacrifices on them (II Kings 16:4; 21:1-3).
Over time the scriptural record notes that even among the good Kings “the high places were not taken away” (I Kings 15:14; 22:43; II Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4; 35). The surrounding cultural pressure to be like the other nations was so strong that most of Israel just “winked” at the remaining high places. Eventually, these high places became so entrenched in Israel’s culture that they seemed normal. They were so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things were, that even the best of Kings did not think to remove them. So the old high places that were an abomination to God became the “new norm” for the nation Israel.
Is there a lesson here for today’s Church? Have we accepted things into our lives (the way we behave and think) and into our culture (the values that we embrace) that at one time were considered an abomination to God? Are there issues we have grown so weary of opposing that we have simply yielded to the surrounding culture and subtly accepted them as the “new norm”? I believe the answer is yes and I believe these things are our “high places”.

“Sensuality” is one of our High Places
If we could transport Christians from the past into our present day, I think the thing that would surprise them most is how much at home we are and how tolerant we have become with the pervasive sensuality of our culture. Sexual perversion is not new to the Church. To be certain the church has always had to fight against sexual sin. It is on every list of vices in the Bible. It heads the list of things the Apostle Paul says are not fitting for a Christian. Yet today, mainline denominations are on the fast-track of accepting, even celebrating, homosexuality, same sex marriage and all other manner of sexual perversion. Even though most evangelical Christians still oppose these more blatant sins, they are far too accepting and tolerant of the sexual crudeness, vulgarity and carelessness of today’s world. Even worse, many entertain themselves with movies, television programing and novels that celebrate homosexuality, marital infidelity, fornication and nudity while often mocking purity and abstinence. This has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to cry against it. This has become the new norm!
One of the most visible indicators of the churches acceptance of this “new norm” is the immodest dress of America’s Christians. Actually the two are tied closely together. Whenever a sense of modesty is lacking, human sexually becomes fatally trivialized. And when human sexuality is reduced to consumer merchandise, the display of the body becomes the main billboard to advertise its sexual value. Even though the problem of immodest attire is widely acknowledged, few church leaders (men or women) offer guidance and biblical instruction. Their fear of becoming legalistic or offensive keeps them silent while the voice of a fallen world has no such inhibitions. This is one of our high places.

“Spiritual Mediocrity” is another High Place
With the proliferation of electronic media the average Christian has available to him more preaching and teaching – more information about the Bible and Christian living than ever before in the history of the world. We are clearly the most informed Christians that have ever lived! Yet one leading American pastor was forced to ask himself, “Why is today’s church so weak? Why can we claim more people with more conversions but have less and less impact on the surrounding culture? Why are our Christians indistinguishable from the world?” Dallas Willard’s response to this dilemma is interesting. He claims that it is not in spite of what the church is teaching but precisely because of it! He goes on to say that the church has pitched its message too low! It has offered a form of “miserable sinner” Christianity that tells believers we are but miserable sinners and that moral failure is expected. Hence we offer a gospel of “sin management” where the essence of the gospel is simply the forgiveness of sins – a message that neither offers nor expects any real transformation of life and character. As a management expert would say, “This system is designed to yield the results it is getting.”
This low level of spiritual living has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to expect anything else. This has become the new norm! But you can be assured of one thing; this is not the true gospel! The gospel not only offers the forgiveness of my sin but the real transformation of the heart! It clearly teaches that through the power of the Holy Spirit and the abundances of God’s grace we can live in full obedience to the commands of Jesus – “not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (I Cor. 15:10).

“Worldliness” is a High Place
I am using the term “worldliness” in the Biblical sense as to how people “think” and subsequently “behave” (Rom. 8:5-7; 12:2) The word for world (kosmos) means an order or an arrangement of things. Hence we can define the world as “Human ability organized historically and socially into a system where humans use natural ability (their own resources) to achieve what they want and to promote what they value, a great deal of which is in active hostility to God.” The Bible defines “living in the flesh” in much the same way. When the New Testament speaks of those who live in the flesh it speaks of those whose lives are oriented around themselves and who know only their own resources. A “man of the world” or someone who “lives in the flesh” is someone who thinks and acts from a point of view that leaves God out of the equation. To them the only reality is the temporal – what they see, touch and know.
True Christian living is the antithesis of this. Christians place the eternal over the temporal. They live from an alternate reality. Their life is drawn from divine resources. This way of living is in significant contrast to the world and has two major implications for the Christian. First, he thinks differently than the world thinks! His thinking is not limited to the confines of mere human understanding. He doesn’t determine his course of action by what Godless men say, no matter how brilliant it sounds (Psa.1:1). Second, he behaves differently than those who are of this world. He doesn’t seek after the “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes” nor is he controlled by the “pride of life.” To him the world is “passing away” and lacks permanence. Hence he “sets his affection on things above” and “stores up treasure in heaven.” This makes his life recognizably different; distinctly unique from everybody who is not a Christian (Matt. 5:47). He is in the world but not of the world.
The only problem here is that the description I just wrote of the Biblical Christian is not recognizable, much less acceptable, to the average Christian today! Our obsession with the material, our addiction to more, our love of the good life and our captivation with this modern day Sodom hardly receives a slap on the hand by even the most radical of prophets. Worldliness has become so common, so ordinary, so much in keeping with the way things are, that many Christians have ceased to it see as a problem. This has become the new norm!
The high places of our lives may be varied and unique but they are all equally despised by God. We may have changed the words we use for them but God still uses that same old word from long ago – abomination!

A Tribute to Wingrove Taylor

This past May, the Board of Trustees of God’s Bible School and College gave a sad farewell to its longest serving member Dr. A. Wingrove Taylor. At age 92, Dr. Taylor felt that he did not have the physical strength necessary to continue his role as a Trustee – a role that he filled with distinction for 44 years.   His interaction with the board was always professional, his contributions profound and his influence powerful. No man alive, who has not actually been an employee of the school, has had more impact on the life of this institution than Wingrove Taylor.

The Taylor connection to GBS began in 1905 with the arrival to campus of Irene Blyden (Dr. Taylor’s mother).   She was from the Caribbean Island of Sabba. It was at GBS that she met another student from the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts, Richard Taylor, who came to GBS to prepare for the ministry. Some years later they married and gave a lifetime of service to the development and expansion of the Pilgrim Holiness Church on the Caribbean Island of Nevis.

Wingrove came to GBS in 1948. He enrolled in the Christian Workers Course but eventually moved to the college where he completed two diplomas in music, a ThB degree and a BA degree. He graduated with honors in 1953. He returned to the Caribbean where he gave 41 years of service as a pastor, District Superintendent, College President, Field Superintendent and finally as the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Holiness Church of the Caribbean. Dr. Taylor served as an annual camp evangelist for the GBS Camp meeting for almost 40 years.

Dr. Taylor had a remarkable influence on thousands of GBS Alumni and friends through his pulpit ministry and personal counsel. His influence on me personally was profound. Immediately after I became President Elect in December of 1994, he asked me to accompany him to the “old” men’s prayer room. We sat down in a couple of chairs and he talked to me about the value of prayer in the life of a leader and then prayed for me. In the following 20 years, I have turned to him again and again for wisdom and advice.

Dr. Taylor was gifted in so many ways. He was a musician, singer, scholar, author, preacher and administrator. He was peerless; he was fearless; he was orderly (he once told me that next to his Bible Roberts Rules or Order was his most treasured book); he was saintly; he was professional; he was careful; he was logical; he was Biblical; he was sensitive; he was sensible; he was authentic. However, the greatest gift he has given to me and to all who know him, is not what he has done in ministry, but what he has become while doing ministry.

The people I have put on a pedestal and felt they were worthy of emulation have been very few indeed, but Wingrove Taylor is one of them!

Ain’t Anybody Gonna Cry?

Healthy Christians have an appropriate balance of up-reach (worship), in-reach (spiritual formation) and outreach (evangelism). If we lack any one of the three we lack the kind of spiritual health taught in scripture. If we fail to give proper attention to any one of them, it will create a deficit or imbalance in the other two. We need the vigorous engagement of all three to be all that God wants us to be. With that in mind, I want to focus on the one that troubles my spirit and prompts this article – outreach.

God wants to work through you and me to reach a lost world. It is one of the primary roles we fill as Christians. It is true that we were made to enjoy an intimate relationship with the triune God but it is a working relationship! Just as Jesus was sent by His Father into the world on redemptive business, so we are being sent by Jesus to work in the family business – the business of saving lost men. This is our job! It is the primary reason given and illustrated in the book of Acts for the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). He was given to fortify us with the kind of power necessary to testify of Jesus even in the face of death. Yet, while 80 percent of Christians believe they have a duty to share Christ with others; and 75 percent believe they can effectively carry out that duty; over 60 percent make no endeavor to witness to or win the lost. This is appalling! James S. Stewart put it this way, “The threat to Christianity is not atheism, materialism or communism. The greatest threat to Christianity is Christians who are trying to sneak into heaven incognito without ever having shared their faith.”

The obvious question is, “Why do so many Christians make no attempt to be a

channel that the Holy Spirit can use to bring someone to Christ?”

Frankly, there are barriers on both sides of the outreach door. Lost people erect emotional, intellectual and volitional barriers that make it very difficult, and at times impossible, for anyone to penetrate. These can be overcome with relationship building, patience and a willingness to answer objections graciously. Barriers for believers can be numerous but the list I have developed in short and to the point.

Intercession

Dennis Kinlaw notes, “Nothing saving ever originates with us. God takes the initiative in everything that is saving”. Yet this God, who alone can save, has chosen not to work alone. He has called us to work with Him in the saving of souls. One of the jobs He asks us to do is to be intercessors (one who causes to meet). Remarkably, God wants someone who will stand between the lost soul and Himself and be a channel of His grace to that lost person. When is the last time you paid the price of soul travail that allowed you to lift the reluctant hand of a lost friend toward the outstretched hand of a merciful God?

Religious Isolation

In a recent interview, Francis Chan said that as a young Christian in high school he used to cry over his friends when he thought about them spending eternity in hell. The same was true when he worked in a restaurant, he used to cry over the waiters and waitresses and pray, “God you’ve got to save these people”. However, after he began working in the church, he didn’t weep very much over the lost. Chan is being very transparent about what can easily happen to any Christian when they isolate themselves within the community of believers. Unless we interact with lost people there can be no outreach through us. There is no impact without contact. You need to ask yourself the question, “How many sinners do I have a close enough relationship to that the Holy Spirit could effectively use me to reach them for Christ?”  If your answer is none, then you clearly aren’t even trying to reach the lost.

It’s not my job!

Pastors regularly tell their congregations that it is his job to equip the church to do the work of the ministry. Congregations often respond (under their breath) that the pastor and his staff are being “paid” to reach people! The end result is that no one feels like it’s their job! Scripturally, the “going” shoes of the Great Commission fit the feet of all believers – clergy and laity alike!

Indifference

My gut feeling is that most Christians just don’t care. Indifference has robbed us of a broken heart for lost people. It has stolen the passion and commitment to do whatever it takes to be an instrument or the means of someone’s conversion. A well-known pastor shared the story of shaking hands with a group of Sunday school kids when one little boy informed him that he was moving and would never be able to come back to his church. The pastor simply patted the boy on the head and continued shaking hands with the other children. Suddenly, the pastor felt someone tugging on the back of his suit jacket. He turned around and there was the same little boy who had announced he was moving. The boy looked longingly into the eyes of his Pastor and said, “ain’t you even gonna cry?”

Does any lost soul know that you care enough to cry? More importantly, does God know that He can reach a broken world through your broken heart?

Hindsight Theology

“A resolution on reflection”

            For years the Psalms were a mystery to me.  There was something untidy and elusive about them that I just couldn’t wrap my head around.  There were exceptions of course – Psalm 23, 34, 100, etc.  Nevertheless, I primarily saw the Psalms as a “spiritual espresso” that one used when one needed a bit of a lift!  It was Phil Yancey that first provided some interpretive light for my “psalm blindness” in his book, The Bible Jesus Read.  He pointed out that the Psalms are primarily personal letters to God and one must read them as an “over-the-shoulder” reader since the intended audience was not other people but God.  In more recent years, my understanding of the Psalms has grown appreciably by reading Dennis Kinlaw’s book, Lectures in Old Testament Theology. This remarkable book helped me to see the Psalms as a treasure trove of profound theological insight into the person and nature of God.

Today, I read the Psalms and thoroughly enjoy the no-holes-barred look into every aspect of David’s life – identifying with many of his emotions and struggles.  However, it is the practical and theological insight that flows out of these experiences that I find most helpful.  David was a master at taking life’s experiences and turning them into a form of Hebrew poetry that is filled with both wisdom and deep insight into the character of God. Obviously, David wrote most of his Psalms after he had experienced the particular trial or difficulty he is writing about.   This allows him to write from “hindsight” and it is out of that reflective “look back” that he offers some practical advice for every spiritual traveler as well as some of the most remarkable insights into the character of God.   I like to call this “Hindsight Theology.”

An example of this is found in Psalm 40 (read it now).  David is journaling about a time of inward disquiet, deep anxiety or trouble.  What valuable truth comes out of David’s reflections?

Patience is a key ingredient in navigating difficult times.

David says he “waited patiently for Yahweh”.  The Hebrew implies that he waited and waited and waited.  David learned that, “God will avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bears long with them?” (Luke 18:7).  The key in coming through the trials of life successfully is patience.

Patience finds its footing in the knowledge of a faithful God.

             David says, “He turned to me” – “He heard my cry” –   “He lifted me out” — “He set my feet on a rock” – “He gave me a firm place to stand.”  Verse 11 says, “thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me”.  David is testifying to the truth that God will always respond as He does because that is the kind of God that He is.

 Personal transformation is the silver lining behind every dark cloud.

“He put a new song in my mouth, even praise to God.”

                 Horatio G. Spafford, a successful Chicago attorney, Presbyterian Church elder and a dedicated Christian is a sterling example of this truth.  Within a three year period, Spafford lost his only son to scarlet fever, his vast real estate holdings in the Chicago fire and his four remaining daughters in an accident at sea.  Out of the tragedy, Spafford penned the words to the famous hymn, It is Well with My Soul.  It is believed that Horatio took the words “It is well” from the words of the Shunammite woman who lost her only son but was later raised from the dead by Elisha (II Kings 4:26 ).

 Difficult times are not just about us. God can use them to exalt His name and extend His kingdom.

“Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him”.

             As I face this New Year, I am resolved to do a better job of reflecting on the “ups and downs” of life with the intent of seeing God’s loving hand at work in molding me into the image of His dear Son.

The Least of These My Brethren

–May of 2007

The Least of These My Brethren

If you have ever walked through the dark slums of Cairo or Calcutta, then you know the deep inner pain of beholding some of the most destitute people in the world.   Maybe you have visited a hospice in South Africa where AIDS babies lay dying, or an orphanage in Romania where “touch starved” babies appear almost inhuman.  If so, you know that inner ache that defies language.  For most Americans, the closest contact to anything remotely similar to this is passing a homeless person on the street or looking into the empty eyes of a nursing-home patient who has been abandoned by his family, or coming into contact with someone who is severely retarded.   The emotions you feel are only a small reflection of how our Heavenly Father must feel when He looks down upon those He calls the “least of these my brethren….”  He describes who they are in Matthew 25:34-40,

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

God reserves a special place in His heart for the socially disenfranchised, the economically disadvantaged, and the physically disabled.  As a matter of fact, this group is so close to His heart that to serve them is to serve Him, a service that brings the reward of eternal life.  On the other hand, a failure to serve Him by serving them carries the sentence of eternal wrath.  This should not surprise us.   In the book of Deuteronomy we see a God that, “executes justice for the orphan and widow, and…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.”  God also institutionalized a system of compassionate justice for Jewish civil life through such things as the law of gleaning and the Year of Jubilee.  He became angry with Judah when she failed to “share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house” (Isa.58:5-7).

Jesus made it very clear in Matthew 22:37-40 that love for God compels us into compassionate love for our neighbor, and then carefully defined who our neighbor was in the story of the Good Samaritan.   Social compassion is extremely high on God’s agenda.

Historically the holiness movement has had a very clear understanding that true holiness had a strong social dimension. Wesley said, “All holiness is social holiness”; that is, we cannot think that we are holy in our personal lives if that holiness does not motivate us to practice justice, mercy, and compassion.  In the holiness tradition, social compassion is where the central issue of holiness—love—meets the road.  The power to live a virtuous life doesn’t stop within ourselves, but extends outward into our relationships with others. We feed the hungry.  We help the helpless.  We reach out to the orphan, the widow, the weak and the shoved aside.  We look for those who are excluded or neglected because of their social status, or their race, or their background, or their age, or any number of other things, and do all we can to bring them into the social and spiritual network of the community and the Church.

Our civilization will be judged by how we have treated our most helpless citizens.  If we turn away from them, we will extinguish our own light.  If we fail to understand that loving and serving Jesus means loving and serving them, we will be destined to hear these words, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire…for inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not unto me.”