Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Question of Masturbation

Hi folks,

We're talking about sex these days. And, not surprisingly, I've gotten several questions about masturbation.

Of course, if I was smart, I'd leave this question alone. But why start now?

Besides, every single person, and many married folks, struggles with (or at least wonders about) this issue. So why shouldn't we talk about it? For crying out loud...we're all just humans.

When I was a new struggling Christian, I raised this topic with my pastor. I was told in no uncertain terms that God struck Onan dead for masturbating. Yikes! That was worse than what the nuns at Catholic school told me. They said people who "stroke their penis" sometimes go blind or become retarded (seriously). I was taught this in third grade as part my catechism! At the time, I had no clue who this "Master Bation" was, no clue why anyone would want to stroke their penis in the first place, and no idea why God would be so angry when they did it. But I got in a lot of trouble for spontaneously laughing when the nun said "penis." I knew what that was, and seeing this old wrinkly angry-faced nun, dressed in her full nun outfit (this was back in 1966) say the word was more than I could handle.

Anyway, at some point I read the passage about Onan for myself (Gen. 38:1-10) and discovered my pastor had somewhat mislead me. It’s true that Onan was punished by God because he “spilled his semen on the ground” (Gen. 38:9). But he didn’t do this by masturbating. He was engaged in sexual intercourse when he did this. At the last minute, the text says, Onan would pull out and spill his semen. Not only this, but the reason he was punished had nothing to do with the mere fact that he "spilled his semen." He was punished because he was violating his ancient duty to procreate with his deceased brother’s wife.

The Bible actually says nothing about masturbation – which itself is pretty interesting, since the Bible addresses just about every other aspect of sex. Not only this, but it's not like masturbation is a recent invention. As a matter of fact, it's frequently mentioned in ancient writings -- even in texts older than the Bible. (For example, I recall reading an ancient Sumerian text in grad school that dated around 3000 BC that mentioned the god Enki creating the Nile River by ejaculating. Gross!)

Now, does the Bible’s silence mean that masturbation is okay? Not necessarily. There are other considerations that come to bear on this.

For example, Jesus taught that lusting after someone in your mind is as sinful as actually having sex outside of marriage – though, of course, the social consequences of the latter are much worse than the former. This means that people who are committed to surrendering their lives – and therefore their minds – to the Kingdom must strive to purge their minds of fantasies of sex outside of marriage. And this clearly rules out masturbating the way most people usually masturbate – escaping into their own fantasy world where “anything goes.”

But what if someone was disciplined about what they fantasized about when they masturbated? What if they only envisioned sex within the context of marriage covenant? Is that permissible?

Many notable Christian authorities – including (to my surprise) James Dobson - say yes. This is perfectly natural, they argue, and is the right way to relieve sexual tension prior to marriage, thereby helping single people stay chaste. Others, however, would say no, for even if one’s mind is fantasizing about marriage, the reality is that the person is expressing their sexuality outside of an actual marriage covenant.

I weigh in on the side of the first school of thought. But I would give three words of caution.

First, as in all areas that are ethically ambiguous, it’s important that each person seeks God’s will for them on this matter. Just because something is permissible doesn’t mean it’s God’s will for your life. Out of his infinite wisdom, the Lord forbids for some what he allows for others. On matters such as this, therefore, every person must answer to God on their own (Rom. 14).

Second, I believe it's important that people not allow masturbation to become habitual. Among other problems, habitual masturbation sets a precedent that can never be realized in marriage. Sexual tension is part of married life, for a couple’s sex life is affected by a multitude of practical factors. So, even if it’s permissible for single people to sometimes relieve sexual tension as they dream about a future marriage relationship, I encourage them to not fall into the trap of habitual instant gratification.

Finally, I believe it’s important for married people to refrain from masturbation, except perhaps in exceptional circumstances where they’re separated from each other for long periods of time. The purpose of sexual tension is to motivate couples to pursue one another. When one partner relieves sexual tension through masturbation, it obviously undermines this motivation to some degree. As Paul puts it, people who have entered into the “one flesh” covenant have a duty to regularly have sexual relations – that is, to regularly re-experience the sign of the covenant. And anything that works against this is not beneficial (I Cor. 7: 1-5).

Well, I tried to think of some clever way to end this blog, but all the puns that come to mind seem inappropriate. (Maybe I am becoming smart!) . So I'll just end by quoting my favorite SNL (Saturday Night Live) character, the infamous church lady...

"Well... isn't that special?"

hope this helps


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Why Sex is a Big Deal

Hello internet friends,
I preached a sermon on chastity today at Woodland Hills Church. You can access this sermon and all past sermons HERE. What I tried to show is not just that God warns us to preserve sex for marriage, but why God takes this strong stance. Why is the right use of sex such a big deal to God?

I wanted to help people see just how off our culture’s recreational view of sex is (see my previous blog on our culture's "recreational view of sex").

I made four main points.

First, Jesus and the rest of the Bible teach that when two people engage in sexual intercourse, they become “one flesh.” Jesus says, “they are no longer two, but one.” And "what God has joined together, no one should separate” (Mt 19:5-6). Intercourse clearly involves much more than two people getting physically intimate with each other. God himself is involved in creating a new “one” out of the two. This new oneness reflects the love and ecstasy of the Trinity and is the foundational covenant between humans in the Bible. The welfare of couples and of society hangs on honoring and protecting this new “one flesh” reality that God creates.

Second, Paul indicates that this “one flesh” reality is created whenever two people have sexual intercourse. “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh’” (1Cor. 6:16). Even when the partners intend sex to be purely recreational – as when one has sex with a prostitute – it still creates this “one flesh” reality! Something profoundly spiritual, metaphysical and foundational is going on, even when the parties are “just having fun.”

Third, intercourse is the sacred sign and seal of the marriage covenant, for it symbolizes the “one flesh” reality God has created with the two covenant partners. This is why in Scripture and in the Jewish tradition, a couple wasn’t considered married until they’d had intercourse. In traditional Jewish weddings, the couple would go off to have sex after exchanging vows and the post-wedding celebration couldn’t begin until they returned – until the covenant was sealed with the sign. This is also why in the Old Testament, if a man had sex with a virgin outside of wedlock, he was commanded to marry her (Deut. 22:28-29). Since he’d already sealed the marriage covenant, it was believed he had an obligation to live up to the covenant.

This means that sex is anything but recreational. There is no such thing as “casual sex” from God’s perspective. Whenever two people engage in sexual intercourse, they are, in effect, sealing a sacred covenant that was meant to never be broken. Even when the sex is with a prostitute, as we saw, the “one flesh” marriage principle of Genesis applies (1 Cor. 6:15-16). And this is the same “one flesh” principle that Jesus says makes “the two, one” and that should never be broken (Mt 19: 6).

Finally, we need to know that throughout the Bible, the sign of a covenant was considered part of the covenant. To violate or desecrate the sign was to break the covenant itself. And God took such violations very seriously.

Anyone who violated the Abrahamic covenant sign of circumcision, for example, was banished from the Israelite community. Anyone who violated the Sinai covenant sign of keeping the Sabbath was put to death.

When we violate or desecrate the sacred sign of the marriage covenant, we are violating the marriage covenant itself. We are inviting pain and misery on ourselves, those we have sex with, and on society as a whole. This is perhaps why Paul treats sexual sin more severely than other types of sin (I Cor. 6:13-20). Unlike other sorts of sin, sexual sin involves violating the most sacred and foundational covenant God gave for humans to enter into with one another. When we casually tear apart what God joins together, it has negative effects on us and others we can hardly begin to calculate.

Here's a few of the more obvious consequences. One out of five Americans has an STD. Almost 40% of kids in America are born out of wedlock, which contributes to poverty, crime and violence, especially among young people. Over 40% of all marriages end in divorce. There were 1.2 million abortions last year. Ironically enough, sexual dysfunction is on the rise in America (thank you sexual revolution!). Millions have emotional and psychological scars from their promiscuous activity. I would argue there’s a connection between the massive promiscuity of our culture and the fact that Americans are more depressed, suffer more psychological disorders and see therapists more than any other country on the planet.

I would even go so far as to suggest that our moral decadence is partly responsible for the wrath we’ve incurred from Muslim extremists. Without in any way condoning their violence, one of the main reasons they see America as “the great Satan” is because of how we’re influencing the rest of the world with our debauchery. It's undeniable that wherever American influence is evidenced, sexual morals loosen. They disdain our “freedom” because to them it's inseparably wrapped up with freedom to have sex outside of marriage. When they hear George Bush announce that we're going to expand "freedom" around the globe, what many hear is Satan announcing he's going to spread debauchery around the globe.

Out of his passionate love for us, God is calling Kingdom people back to honor the sign of the marriage covenant. He’s calling on us to revolt against the pervasive debauchery of our culture and manifest the beauty of God’s original design for sexuality.

This involves sacrifice and, for some, a certain amount of suffering. But that is what the Kingdom is all about. For the Kingdom always looks like Jesus, manifesting the character of God by his willingness to suffer out of love for others and to honor the will of his Father.

But it's also the way to true wholeness, abundant life and profound joy.

Revolutionaries, live in the way of Jesus. Honor God with your bodies.


The preacher

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I never watched the sitcom Friends much, but I came across a quote yesterday that reminded me of one of the few episodes I did watch. Monica asked a friend whom she’d begun having sex with: “Can we still be friends and have sex?” “Sure,” he replied. "It’ll just be something we do together – like playing racquetball.”

I think that pretty much sums up what sex has largely become in our culture. Racquetball. A nice form of pleasurable recreation. It's so pervasive in our culture that to call it into question -- as I will do here -- is to come across to many as moralistic, repressive, Victorian and just down-right unenlightened.

I've been doing some research on sex for my book Revolting Beauty, and what I'm finding is head spinning.

For example, did you know that roughly 65% of American teens today experience sexual intercourse before graduating from high school, while an additional 10 to 12% have experienced oral or anal sex without intercourse? (It turns out most young people today don’t regard these latter activities as “having sex”). By the time they get married, only about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men are still virgins, and the percentage that have not had oral or anal sex is even smaller than that.

Sadly, as with all other facets of American life, statistics on the sexual behavior of professing Christians don't vary much from the general populace. In fact, research suggests that being involved in an extra-curricular sport does more to lower the rate of sexual activity among teenagers than does attending church.

The stats on porn are in some respects even more mind-boggling. Revenues from the porn industry topped 13 billion in 2006, which is more than the revenue from professional football, basketball and baseball combined. For the last several years, “sex” has been the single most common word fed into internet search engines. Every second, 372 new internet users start typing adult search items into search engines. Every 39 minutes a new pornographic video is being created in the United States. Close to half of all guests at major hotel chains watch adult films, accounting for nearly 70% of their in-room profits. A 2004 survey revealed that 44% of U.S. workers with an internet connection accessed porn websites while on the job. Whereas porn was once seen as a strictly male thing, today one in three visitors to porn sites are women.

Voyeuristic racquetball.

Here too the evidence suggests professing Christians differ very little from the general population. For example, some recent research suggests that about 50% of all Christian men and 20% of Christian women regularly use pornography. A study of 5 Christian college campuses disclosed that 68% of the men had viewed porn during the school year. A 2000 Christianity Today survey revealed that about a third of all clergy had visited porn sites within the last year. I could go on and on.

This feels overwhelming to me. It feels completely out of control -- because it is! What implications does this have for me as a pastor? Am I really to believe that more than half of the single people in my congregation are sexually active and that half the men and a fifth of the women are into porn? It would be arrogant to think otherwise, but I also can't conceive of it.

Lord, what do we do about this?

I know that screaming shaming Bible verses at people doesn't help. Plenty of churches do this, but the stats speak for themselves. It's not what's needed.

What's needed, I believe, is that we've got to help people get free of the incessant cultural brainwashing that leads us like a herd of cows to accept that sex is no different from racquetball. We've got to help people see that sex was designed by God to be the precious sign of the most important covenant two people can make with each other: the pledge of marriage. And, perhaps most importantly, we've got to help people see that the racquetball philosophy of sex is ugly bondage while the sign of the covenant view of sex is beautiful FREEDOM.

Now -- how do we do that?

I'm working on it.

Pray for me to get God's wisdom on this...

and to not feel overwhelmed.

Walk in the way of love.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

it's movie review time

Heh folks, let's lighten things up a bit here and do some movie reviews. It’s been a while, so I’ve got a number to go through (in no particular order).

Rendition: *** Reese Witherspoon has come a long way since Legally Blond (which I LOVE). This is her most dramatic role, and she does it superbly. Meryl Streep is arguably the best actress alive, and she plays a marvelous self-justifying villan in this movie. The show poignantly raises the issue of “extraordinary rendition” which allows our government in “extraordinary” circumstances (which are ambiguously defined) to arrest and torture citizens (overseas of course) without due process. It’s also a good statement on the cyclical nature of violence. It’s brutal and hard to watch – but it needs to be.

Death at a Funeral: **** The single funniest movie I’ve seen all year! You have to see it twice because you'll miss a lot of the dialogue from laughing so hard the first time through.

Gone Baby Gone: ** A smart thriller with a super surprising twist. This is a brutal movie that is extremely hard to watch, especially since it involves a little girl getting kidnapped. But it raises, in a poignant and brilliant way, a very difficult ethical question. You’ll leave the movie debating this one (but I can’t tell you what the ethical question is without giving the movie away).

Love in the Time of Cholera. A fascinating movie that finally gives a definitive answer to the age old question: Just how truly awful can a Hollywood movie be? [Hence zero stars... and I'd give it negative stars if they existed]. I can't think of a single redeeming quality to this pathetic excuse for a movie. The acting was so terrible I wonder if this was a failed attempt at a farce. The character development was non-existent. The producer offered the audience no reason to care about what happened to these uninteresting and unlikeable people. The show is packed with silly gratuitous sex scenes that you'd think were produced by a sex crazed 13 year-old boy. We walked out after an hour, and that was 59 minutes of pain I'd like to spare you. (Honestly, I started disliking this show 60 seconds into it). I ascribe unsurpassable worth to the producer, but unsurpassable worthlessness to this film.

The Bourne Ultimatum: *** Just a good old “how-will-he-get-out-of-this-mess?” thriller. About as good as a movie in this genre ever gets.

The Kingdom: ** Yes, another brutal movie that is hard to watch. It’s main value, I think, is that we can’t opt out of the violent tit-for-tat game of the world unless we become thoroughly disgusted with it and convinced of its futility. This movie will help move you in this direction, if you’re not already there. The very last scene of this (overly long) movie is positively brilliant.

Into the Wild: *** The true story of a well-to-do kid who left it all behind to “find himself.” He ends up dying in the Alaskan wild. Slow moving, but very well told. The layers in this film are incredible. I saw this story as a powerful commentary on the destructive deception of individualism. We’re conditioned to think that the way to find ourselves is by getting alone – when in fact, as this man learns, too late, “no man is an island.” We are our relationships.

Fried Green Tomatoes: ****+ Okay okay, so it's not a new release. But I just watched it for the fifth time last week and was reminded of how beautiful this movie is. Yes it’s a “chick flick” – but I also liked Notebook. Best movie on friendship ever made.

300: ** True story about Spartan valor against all odds. Totally gross, but it does a good job bringing viewers into the military society of ancient Sparta. You can either respect the courage of these warriors or disdain their stupidity for thinking that their willingness to slaughter and be slaughtered would make a lasting difference in history.

Greg Boyd, film critic at your service.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Did Calvin Kill Servetus?

Hi folks,

The last two blogs have generated a bit of a stir. Good! If what I’m saying about the centrality of Calvary-looking love is right, we need a major paradigm shift on how we view orthodoxy – which in turn should effect who we see as the “heroes” of orthodoxy.

My contention is that, while we can and should continue to appreciate the theological insights of people who were involved in torturing and killing people, we should not regard them as heroes of orthodoxy – for they were guilty of the worst heresy imaginable. If we continue to esteem killers as heroes, we can’t help but have our vision of the beautiful Kingdom polluted. Of course, none of our heroes are perfect. But I would think, at the very least, they should not be guilty of the worst heresy imaginable. If we wouldn't make a person who denied the Trinity a hero of orthodoxy, we shouldn't make anyone who kills in Jesus' name a hero either.

A few have questioned my claim that Calvin was responsible for Michael Servetus’ murder. One person argued that Calvin actually tried to stop his execution.

It’s true that Calvin didn’t want Servetus burned alive. He advocated for him to be beheaded. But there’s no reputable Calvin scholar I know of who denies Calvin wanted him executed.

Calvin himself had told his colleague Farel that if Servetus ever returned to Geneva, he’d “never permit him to depart alive, provided my authority be of any avail.” After the burning, Calvin said, "Many people have accused me of such ferocious cruelty that (they allege) I would like to kill again the man I have destroyed. Not only am I indifferent to their comments, but I rejoice in the fact that they spit in my face." Elsewhere Calvin said, "Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt.”

Even Calvin’s staunchest defenders (such as B. B. Warfield) grant that Calvin was ultimately responsible for Servetus’ death. They simply minimize his culpability by saying he was “a man of his times.”

I regard this response to be very weak. Jesus and the early Christians lived in very violent times yet refused to conform to them. And there were many Christians during Calvin's time (the 16th century) who argued that the use of violence is inconsistent with the teachings of the New Testament – including Calvin’s former friend Sebastian Castellio and all the early Anabaptists. Not only this, but by most accounts, Calvin’s enthusiasm for the use of force to uphold what he regarded as right doctrine and behavior went far beyond most other religious leaders of his time – including, very often, his own Geneva council.

For those who are interested in doing further reading on this topic, here’s a few works I’ve read that I’d recommend:

* Roland Bainton, The Hunted Heretic. I was fascinated with Servetus when I was at Yale and had a number of talks with the elderly Bainton on his book during this time. This man was a walking encyclopedia on the Reformation. (As a side note, he was close to 90 when I met him, yet was sharp as a whip and rode a bike all around town!)

*John Fulton, Michael Servetus: Humanist and Martyr. An excellent overview of Servetus’ life, thought and death (which Fulton sees as a martyrdom)

*Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West. A very scholarly work that includes a good section on how public outrage toward Calvin's murder of Servetus contributed to Christianity finally become a religion that tolerated religious differences. Sebastian Castellio played a major role in creating this outrage.

*Bernard Cottret, Calvin: A Biography. Argues that Calvin was directly responsible for 38 executions in Geneva (other scholars argue he was at least indirectly responsible for as many as 58).

*Robert M. Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvin's Geneva. Kingdon is one of the foremost scholars in the world on Geneva under Calvin. This book, published by Harvard Press, relies entirely on original sources and presents an incredibly harsh picture of Geneva under Calvin’s rule. For example, a number of children were imprisoned, tortured and even executed for being disrespectful to parents (though I'm not certain I got this information from this work).

My point in all this is not to pick on Calvin. His defenders are right in at least one respect: Almost all segments of Christianity were killing enemies at this time, and Christianity had been engaged in this sort of barbarism for a thousand years by the time Calvin came on the scene. Tragically, Calvin's murder is not at all unique in the history of this religion. My point is rather that we need to clearly distinguish the Kingdom of God from all such barbarism. And to do this, we must stop making heroes of Christians who killed enemies rather than loving and serving them, as Jesus taught.

Be a peacemaker,


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Worst Heresy Imaginable!

Wow, I've gotten a ton of feedback on the picture in my previous blog. (I still have forty or so e-mails to get through!) Almost all of the responses (so far) have been positive! I thank God for the folks at Heavenly Sanctuary for coming up with this fantastically edgy picture. I believe it is going to be used in powerful ways for the Kingdom in the future.

I'd like you to consider something.

The New Testament defines agape love by pointing us to Jesus Christ (I Jn 3:16). To love someone is treat them like Jesus has treated you -- dying for you while you were yet a sinner.

The New Testament tells us that the command to love (= looking like Jesus Christ) is the greatest command, encompassing all others ( Lk 10:27; Rom. 13:8, 10; Ja 2:8). It tells us everything else in the law hangs on our fulfilling this law (Mt 22:27-40). It tells us that love is to be placed above all else (Col 3:14; I Pet 4:8). It tells us that everything we do is to be done in love (I Cor. 16:14). It tells us that nothing has any Kingdom value apart from love, however impressive things may be in and of themselves (I Cor. 13:1-3). It tells us that the only thing that ultimately matters is faith energized by love (Gal. 5:6). And it tells us that this love is to be given to all people at all times, including our enemies (Lk 6:27-35) . Indeed, Jesus makes loving our enemies the pre-condition for being considered "children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked" (Lk 6:35). We're to "be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful" (Lk 6:36).

This is simply what it means to look like Jesus Christ.

Now follow me: If love is to be placed above all else, if everything else is to be considered worthless apart from love and if everything hangs on fulfilling this one law, how can we avoid the conclusion that refusing to love even our enemies is the worst heresy imaginable? To miss this all important point renders whatever other truth we may possess worthless.

In this light, we have to ask, who is the worse heretic: Michael Servetus who was burned alive for denying that the Son of God was eternal, or Calvin who had him burned alive? Burning someone alive is not loving them, doing good to them or blessing them (Lk 6:27-28, 35). And without love, whatever other truth Calvin may have been defending becomes worthless. If we're thinking biblically, how can we avoid concluding that Calvin was not only a worse heretic than Servetus, but that he committed the greatest heresy imaginable?

But I don't mean to pick on Calvin. Throughout church history from the time of Augustine (who first justified persecution in Jesus' name), millions of people were tortured and murdered for their alleged heresy. Yet, if we're thinking biblically, how can we avoid the conclusion that the Church that carried out this barbarism in Jesus' name was far more heretical than all the heretics it persecuted?

Ironically, while millions were tortured and murdered for having "heretical" views on things like baptism and communion, there's not one episode I know of throughout church history of anyone so much as having their hand slapped because they lacked love.

Yet, everything hangs on this.

Finally, while we have an obligation to distinguish between what is and is not the Kingdom of God, we have to carefully guard against self-righteousness. Rather than feeling righteous by contrasting ourselves with Calvin or any other Christian persecutors from the past, we have to ask ourselves: Are we guilty of the worst heresy imaginable? Do we do everything in love? Do we place love above all other considerations?

Do we love Osama Bin Laden?

Think about it.

Live in love, as Christ loved you and gave his life for you (Eph 5:1-2).


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Washing Osama's Feet

Brad Cole is a friend of mine who runs a ministry called Heavenly Sanctuary. This ministry puts on Conferences around the country on the Character of God -- and they get it right. This year they hired an artist named Lars Justinen from the Justinen Creative Group to paint the above picture to use on posters advertising their conference. Under this picture they had captions like "Follow the Leader," "God IS Great," and most accurately, "Jesus - Still Too Radical?"

Heavenly Sanctuary had contracts with several malls in the Seattle area to hang these posters advertising their conference, but no sooner had the posters gone up than angry calls began flooding the malls. Many people -- but, it seems, mostly Christians -- were offended at the image of Jesus washing Osama Bin Laden’s feet. There was such an outcry that each of the malls decided to go back on their contract and take the posters down. The Christian College that Heavenly Sanctuary was renting space from to host the Conference also canceled their contract. Brad had to scramble to find a secular venue (which, ironically, had no problems with the poster).

What does this say about how many American Christians envision Jesus? Obviously, the protesters believe that Jesus would not wash Osama Bin Laden’s feet. But Jesus died "not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world" (I Jn 2:2) -- and this obviously includes Osama. So if Jesus died for Osama, how are we to imagine him being unwilling to wash his feet?

What the protest reveals is that many Christians have tragically allowed their patriotism to co-opt their faith. They have allowed their American citizenship to take priority over their Kingdom citizenship -- despite the New Testament's instruction for disciples to consider themselves "foreigners" and "exiles" wherever they happen to live (Heb. 11:13; I Pet 1:17, 2:11) and to consider their real citizenship "in heaven" (Phil 3:20). Many American Christians seem to want a Jesus who will defend their country and hate their national enemies as much as they do. Many want the Jesus of the Middle Ages whom Crusaders called on to help them slaughter -- not serve -- their Islamic enemies. Many seem to want to reduce Jesus to just another version of the tribal gods that have been called on for centuries to bless tribal battles. Most wars throughout history have been fought under the banner of some god or another.

Fortunately, the real Jesus isn't anything like this. Knowing all power had been given to him, John says, he wrapped a towel around his waist and washed the dirty, smelly feet of people he knew would deny and betray him in a couple hours (Jn 13:3-5). Knowing he could call legions of angels to vanquish his foes, the real Jesus rather chose to let them crucify him, because this is what they needed him to do (though they of course didn't know it). Then, with his last breath, the real Jesus prays to his Father to forgive his barbaric torturers -- and all of us (Lk 23:34).

is the kind of power the omnipotent God of the universe uses against his enemies. And this is the kind of power we're to use against our "enemies." It's the power of Calvary-like love.

We're called to imitate the Jesus who washes the feet of enemies, dies for them, and prays for their forgiveness. We are to "live in love, as Christ loved us and gave his life for us..." (Eph. 5:1-2). When we were enemies, Jesus nevertheless ascribed unsurpassable worth to us by paying an unsurpassable price for us. We who claim we are his disciples are called to do the same. We're to sacrificially ascribe unsurpassable worth to all people, including our enemies -- even Osama Bin Laden.

In light of God's servant love toward us, we must be willing to wash Osama's feet -- and pray for his forgiveness.

Jesus says to us:

"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt..." (Lk 6:27-29)

And in case we missed the point, he comes back five verses later and says:

" your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. (How important is this? Read this next sentence carefully). Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Lk 6: 27-29; 35-36).

When we act like our kind Father, we reflect the fact that we are his children.

In Christ, God's been kind to Osama. May we who are his children do the same. May we be encouraged by the above picture rather than offended by it. May we pray, "Father, forgive Osama. He doesn't know what he's doing."


P.S. In case some of the faces on the poster are unfamiliar to you, they are (left to right) German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Tony Blair, England; Kofi A. Annan, UN; Osama bin Laden; George Bush; Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; and Jiang Zemin, former president of China.