By Dr. Donald Whitchard
This past Memorial Day weekend I enjoyed the company of the love of my life as we took a day trip to the suburbs of Tulsa and visited craft stores, second hand shops, and book stalls. We live in the city of Muskogee which, as you have probably heard on the news, is in the midst of horrific flooding. There has been a state of emergency in all seventy-seven counties here in Oklahoma. We have gone through tornadoes, floods, lightning strikes, torrential rainstorms just this month of May alone. We drove over the turnpike near our house and saw the flood water up close. It was just a few feet away from coming over the road. Needless to say, we drove cautiously for a few miles until the threat of high water was behind us. President Trump called our governor, Kevin Stitt, and told him that help was on the way. Our state Baptist convention is gathering aid and supplies for the region, and I have no doubt that we’ll be paid a visit by Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team shortly. It wouldn’t surprise me if the President stopped here when he gets back from his overseas visits and hands out food and other items to those affected by the flooding. Our church is getting involved with various forms of assistance and Christian agencies are waiting for FEMA and the insurance companies to survey the situation and put values on lost items. Once that is done, we’ll have crews ready to go to affected houses and begin cleaning them up and pulling down sheetrock where needed. Let me pause here to answer the atheist or skeptic who may have come across this website and questioned where God was in the midst of all of this in a sarcastic tone of thought. I ask a favor of you. Think about what you’re feeling now. Yes, it is a tragedy and you may want to speak out in anger. That’s your right. My attitude towards you is that you would come down here when the authorities give the “all clear” sign, to bring some friends, cleaning supplies, water, linens, clothes, and a desire to work with people who have faults and may not be able to answer every question, but will love you and demonstrate how a child of God reacts when their world seems to crumble, trusting that He will make all things new, including your life if you will but let Him. This goes for public servants who need to just settle down and get among the people and know that while we get frustrated with you, we will do our best to love and pray for you.
There are two groups of people I sometimes have trouble with, whether they say they are saved or not, and that are those with an arrogant attitude and those who whine and complain constantly. I see some of this demonstrated in the group known as millennials and those that know better but still haven’t grown up despite age and opportunity. This and the state of the world in general has robbed me of something that should be a part of my nature as a child of God, and that is to love them in Christ. The problem with people, when you get down to the foundation, is that they are not saved and are impossible to love and be empathetic with when they display attitudes and actions that are ugly and detrimental to the character they could have if but they only turn to Jesus. I just find it plain hard to love people, and that is something that I have to work on if I’m to be an effective witness and see things according to God’s plan. Those of you who are reading this and feel the same way I do, it is time to take a step back and evaluate our walk with God and do some soul-searching.
Frankly, there isn’t a lot of love in the Christian world. It’s easy to point fingers and condemn sinful behavior. It’s another thing to get our hands dirty and pick these people up out of the gutter that they think is comfortable and beneficial to their well-being and show them that they can be free in the salvation of Jesus Christ. Our anger and attitude have a lot to do with how the world sees us. If we’re exhibiting emotions contrary to what the LORD expects of us, it gets hard to demonstrate the reality of what life in Christ is all about. I believe that love in action is stronger than just saying it to someone. Words are fickle, but what we do will speak volumes. I have been convicted of this in just the past couple of days. My past columns have been a mix of complaining and the desire for holy vengeance to come on the heads of these depraved pagans, eagerly looking forward to their expulsion into the Lake of Fire. While the Scriptures tell us that this is indeed their eternal fate, we should not take the attitude of glee, but of sorrow, knowing that they had every opportunity to repent and instead, wasted their lives chasing after things that really didn’t matter. This is a problem for me when I think of the shenanigans pulled by the “health and wealth” preachers on TV. I really don’t have much love for these people, but I should be concerned enough that they would come to their senses and repent before it’s too late. The $54 million dollar jet that one televangelist wants you to buy for him can’t be put into a hearse or mailed to heaven. I truly hate their greedy, manipulative deeds and teachings, but sometimes I wonder, if they really at one time, did have a relationship with the LORD, and they strayed from the attitude of service and devotion to the point of seeing their call as a money making enterprise, or were they really ever saved in the first place? Frankly, the fruit that they produce is spoiled and a warning to them can’t come too soon.
The secular world and the religious world have taken off the masks of benevolence and tolerance and have done their best in these last days to march us into a thought process of forced compliance. It’s either think like we do or we’ll hurt you. There is no tolerance for independent thought or discussion. The idea of “live and let live” is anathema to the ideological fanatic who will not rest until everybody agrees with him on pain of death or banishment. Now do you see why I have a hard time loving anyone with this attitude? We have people who mock love and are content with animal-like behavior towards the innocent and helpless. We see this in the public schools and state colleges, in businesses, some churches, and those who take sadistic delight in terminating life in the womb and outside, damning anyone who has the audacity to challenge their demonic methods. The world delights in inflicting pain and misery upon those who will not compromise their principles or beliefs. We see this in the world’s attempts to kill us off through persecution. What they don’t realize is that trying to get rid of us who are believers in Christ has never worked despite everything they have done. They stop and see that many of us will lay down our lives for Jesus and this will be used by the Holy Spirit to convict them and save their souls. If our ancient brethren had complained and damned their tormentors, their claim to love and pray for the lost would have been seen as a mockery. We need to remember that it was probably a persecuted believer who prayed for Saul at some point in the story that led to the Damascus Road. Our Lord Jesus took it from there and we know the outcome.
This is probably an educated guess at best, but think on this. Just a few years before, these believers had heard about the character of Jesus, Who, while on the cross, prayed for His enemies and forgave them in the midst of horrific torture and humiliation, listening to the demonic mockery of the crowd and the religious leaders who had howled for His death at the court of Pilate just a few hours earlier. Now, we have to remember that Jesus is God in the flesh and is all- powerful. If He wished, He could have destroyed this world and the universe with just a word and would have been perfectly just in doing so. Twelve legions of angels were ready to come and rescue Him and destroy the world. When we stop to think that one angel killed 180,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night due to the prayer of King Hezekiah and the intervention of Almighty God, what could 72,000 angry angels do to us as a world? We tend to underestimate the absolute love God had for His creation, who hated Him, to come down, live among us, live a sinless life, and willfully take the sins of all people upon Himself to pay our penalty for disobedience and rebellion. The loving sacrifice that our Lord Jesus did for us needs to silence once and for all the ludicrous idea that we can somehow make ourselves right with God in our own power.
One of my heroes was an educator and motivational speaker named Leo Buscaglia, who went around the world emphasizing the fact that without love, we cannot survive or have any part of our lives make sense or produce valuable meaning. Without love, we’re all guilty of the crime of self-centeredness and megalomania. In his years as a teacher, he observed that learning without the comfort of someone loving that student in spite of themselves only produces people who would be comfortable building gas chambers and ovens for those whom they considered to be of little value because they hadn’t learned enough facts or figures or refused to see them as fellow human beings. Love, learning, faith, and belief are all part of the human experience. To dismiss love is to make someone merely a learned animal devoid of a conscience or conviction for wrongdoing. Without love based on a biblical worldview, any attempt we make to share the Gospel is a waste of time and energy because it would be reduced to merely an empty promise of a changed life. There would be no need for evangelism without love. Paul did not write the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians because he had to take up space in his letter and it sounded good. Our Lord Jesus demonstrated love by His words and work in which no one could find fault except for the never-ending griping Pharisees who had to get someone to invent a charge against Him at His illegal trial. Remember, our LORD lived in a world of rank paganism and unspeakable sexual deviancy, corrupt emperors, bribed officials, harsh soldiers, incestuous relationships, religious fanatics, hypocrites, foreign occupation, and constant hatred towards Him and His teachings. Yet, He was love demonstrated and uncompromised and did not hesitate to point out sin and correct abhorrent behaviors. To love someone without expecting change in them is to approve the behaviors that got them into trouble in the first place.
Everyone who encountered Jesus was never the same, and that should include us who are having trouble imitating Him in this wicked world. The Christian life is a combination of word and work. It’s like marriage. I can say that I love my wife, but if I don’t show it by taking care of her and seeing to her needs, all of that talk is empty. If I could advise any young couple who are planning to marry, I would say that love is more than mere physical attraction and succumbing to lustful behavior when the opportunity strikes. Love is demonstrated when you take care of each other when illness occurs, when you set aside time with your friends in order to just listen to how each other’s day went, to pray and seek God’s direction together, to agree on matters and when that doesn’t happen, wait until things are in place before bringing it up again. Love means growing old together and taking your vows seriously, experiencing episodes of sick kids, diaper changes, wiping away tears and accidents, staying up until everyone is safe inside the house, never going to bed angry and to make up when tension arises, checking up on friends and locations, cheering everybody on when they are playing, sitting up listening to how your teenager’s heart was broken by a fight and ending of a relationship, walking them down the aisle to give them away to their new spouse, going to church and demonstrating the love for God in your life, leading your loved ones to Christ, supporting them in important decisions, giving advice, grieving over the death of a pet or relative, going on trips, and when the time for your departure is at hand, to embrace your loved one and cry briefly, knowing that you will see them again in heaven, where there will never be separation or sorrow again. Real love, based on a love for God and His word, produces a life that when all is said and done, our Lord Jesus will then embrace you in glory and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your LORD.”
Dr. Buscaglia passed away in 1998, but in one of his last televised presentations, said something that has stuck with me all these years. He said, “Love is a verb. You have to reach out and grab it!” That truth works for everybody who is sick and tired of arguing and just plain being ugly towards one another. I was listening to an old song by Jackie DeShannon on You Tube a few days ago, called “What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love.” When I heard it, I could imagine it as a hymn that needs to be sung by anyone who longs for more than mere existence and motion and is tired of all the anger and hatred. God, in His magnificent wisdom, will even use a pop song to convey a truth. He used Leo Buscaglia, not even a preacher, but an education professor, to spread the necessary truth that life is a gift from God and what you do with it is your gift to Him. Right now, take a few minutes to just thank God that He hasn’t given up on you yet, and that He would whisper in your spirit, “I love you. Now go tell everybody I feel the same way about them.” If today is the day that you decide to do what He says, go and love despite the attitude of the world around you. Isn’t that what we’re going to do with each other in eternity? The question is, “Why wait?” The souls of men are not won to the LORD by theology alone, but by how we perceive ourselves as useful instruments in the hands of the Lord Jesus, demonstrating Christ-like love until that day when the trumpets sound or death comes for us. It’s what He expects, after all. firstname.lastname@example.org
Don was born and raised in the true Cajun Country of Louisiana. He holds a Bachelors Degree in History from Louisiana College, a Masters Degree in Christian Education from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Theology from Andersonville Baptist Seminary in Georgia. Don has served as a pastor, interim pastor, high school teacher, and hospital chaplain over the past thirty years. He currently serves as a volunteer chaplain (2008-present) with St. Francis Hospital and also served as the pastor/teacher from 2013-2016 at the Gospel Rescue Mission, both of which are here in Muskogee. He was called to Meadowbrook in February 0f 2017 and began his ministry in March of that year. He has also served as President of the Muskogee Baptist Association’s Pastors Conference, which is a weekly meeting that presents speakers and ministry ideas and concepts to church leaders in the greater Muskogee area.
Don’s top priority is to see that the good news of Jesus Christ is shared with our lost and hurting world and that the people of God are taught sound doctrine and preparation for our Lord’s soon return.