Proverbs 16:2 tells us that “All a person’s ways seem pure to them…”

People usually do what they think is right.  They do not think of themselves as being the bad guys.  Like the Nazis in series 1, episode 1 (first aired September 14, 2006) of “That Mitchell and Webb Look,” a comedy sketch show on the BBC, they are slow to recognize reality and shocked when they finally have to ask themselves, “are we the baddies?”

When I told an anti-Semite that he was filled with hate, he was outraged at the accusation; he couldn’t recognize that his statements against Jewish people were hate-filled.  He couldn’t comprehend how he was living in contradiction with the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

How could that be?  How could someone ever be so clueless?

Well, what motivates a lynch mob?  Anger, obviously.  A desire for vengeance.  But why? 

Because the members of the lynch mob perceive that a wrong has been committed that needs to be righted. That justice needs to be served. Their action springs from “righteous indignation.”

When a certain general referenced a drone strike as “righteous” it wasn’t because he believed that killing an innocent aid worker and seven children was a good thing.  He thought the strike was good because he thought he was getting back at the ones responsible for killing 13 Americans.

A desire for justice is motivated by a love for those who have suffered wrong. The lynch mob seeks to protect the vulnerable from an oppressor. Their hatred for their opponents is a result of their love for the victims and their love of justice and righteousness.  Righteous indignation is a consequence of love, but far too often it’s “love in all the wrong places.”

Too often justice isn’t.

This is why God tells us “vengeance is mine, I will repay.”  This is why the prophet Isaiah wrote that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags”.  We may think we’re doing what is right.  We may think we are doing a good thing.  All too often, even our best efforts simply suck.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Our best ideas, too often, turn out to be “here, hold my beer” stories.

Stephen dies a martyr because of “righteous indignation” on the part of the religious establishment.  They thought they were doing God a favor.  They were certain they were being “righteous.”

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I’ve been misgendered my entire life.  For the record, I am a biological male and identify as such.  But my first name is Robin. 

I was named after the baseball pitcher for the Phillies (1948–1961), Robin Roberts.  He spent the latter part of his career with the Baltimore Orioles (1962–1965), Houston Astros (1965–66), and Chicago Cubs (1966). He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976. My father loved baseball and most other sports and was an excellent softball pitcher himself while he was in the Air Force, playing on base teams and winning trophies.  So it makes sense he would name me after a baseball pitcher he admired.

When I was about four we were living in New Mexico; my father was in the Air Force (he made a career of it and went to Vietnam twice).  The base was having a Christmas party and my parents signed up for it so I could get a present from Santa.

The part came, and I got my gift—and it was a doll, because my first name is Robin and 87 percent of the people in the United States are female and so they just assumed…and they didn’t have any boy’s toys left so I either got the doll or nothing.

This was to become a lifetime norm.  During the early days of NASA’s space activity I excitedly wrote to the agency when I found out I could get free literature—some sort of newsletter as I recall—about our space activities.  I was so excited when it came, except that it was always addressed to “Miss Robin Nettelhorst.”

As I got older and entered puberty, it wasn’t long before I started receiving free tampon samples in the mail.  This lasted through college and eventually once I got married I was able to pass such items on to my wife.

My senior year of high school the first day of class the teacher of the English class I was in was taking role and when he got to me, he said Miss Nettelhorst.  I responded with “that’s mister.”  He did it the next day, too; my response was the same.

Having endured all of this through my entire childhood and through high school, when I got my first checking account, I did not use my first name.  Instead, I went by my initials, “R.P. Nettelhorst.”  I had made a decision that on all correspondence and any interaction where I was not face to face with someone, I would not use my first name.  All my subscriptions, all my correspondence, I just used my first two initials with my last name.  Then, = when I began writing and getting published, I decided that I would not use my first name in my byline.  Instead, I’ve always used R.P. Nettelhorst.

Even here on my blog, I don’t use my first name, nor do I use it on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.  Again, unless I’m face to face with someone, I just don’t do it. 

And yet, I don’t think ill of those who make the mistake—after all, it is a reasonable one given the percentages.  And I don’t say mean things to the people who make the error, nor do I condemn them or think that they should suffer for making the mistake.  Because mistakes like this are really of no great importance in the broader scheme of things and are easily fixed.

I do not feel that I am being disrespected just because someone chose or chooses the wrong prefix or pronoun to reference me.  It is an easily rectified error and it has not harmed my life in any substantive way that I can tell.

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What Would Satan Do?

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Afraid of the Dark: What Suffering Tells Us About God

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The Bible in One Verse

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Blackerby’s Wonderful Traveling Machine

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Love Your Neighbor: No Exceptions

“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

This quote is widely attributed to James Baldwin, but was, in fact, coined by Robert Jones, Jr. on August 18, 2015 on Twitter.

I’ve seen similar postings, with similar sentiments, by many on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  It sounds profound if you don’t think about it for more than two seconds.

In reality, it is a profoundly dangerous and horrible way of looking at life. It easily justifies the very thing it wishes to prevent: hatred and dehumanization.

The Bible can be summarized with one verse, Matthew 7:12 “do to others as you’d have them do to you,” elsewhere worded as: “love your neighbor as yourself.”  A religious scholar seeking to justify himself asked Jesus, “who is my neighbor.” (Luke 10:25-37) The quote by Robert Jones, Jr. would argue that my neighbor is a person who is kind to me; otherwise, that person is not my neighbor.  But that is not the definition that Jesus gave.  We cannot control how others act toward us, but we can control how we respond to them.  Robert Jones, Jr. apparently thinks we should do to others as they do to us.  Not quite what Jesus had in mind.

Jesus had some words regarding this very human attitude:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48). 

God showed his love for us in that he sent Jesus to die for us while we were still his enemies. (Romans 5:6-11) Jesus forgave the people who were crucifying him (Luke 23:34), and so did the first Christian martyr, Stephen, forgive those lynching him (Acts 7:60).  It is human nature to not love those who are cruel to us.  God asks us to not act according to our human nature.

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In the Garden

There is an old hymn from 1912—more than a hundred years old—entitled “In the Garden.”  It was written by C. Austin Miles, an American songwriter.  It became popular thanks to its use by the evangelist Billy Sunday.  Later, it was performed by such well-known artists at Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Perry Como, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson.

The lyrics are probably familiar:

I come to the garden alone,

While the dew is still on the roses;

And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,

The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,

And He tells me I am His own,

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice

Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;

And the melody that He gave to me

Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him

Tho’ the night around me be falling;

But He bids me go; thro’ the voice of woe,

His voice to me is calling.

In John 18 Jesus walks with his disciples to the nearby Garden of Gethsemane.  It still exists today as a garden, dominated by olive trees old enough to have been there on that night when Jesus was arrested. Jesus and his disciples had frequently been to that garden on the Mt. of Olives and together had spent a lot of time there praying.  On this final gloomy night, although his disciples were physically present with Jesus, for all practical purposes he spent his last hours alone: they just kept falling asleep.  It had been a busy week, after all, and it was very late at night.  Several of his disciples were fishermen, who were more accustomed to arising early in the morning than staying up late. Night owls, they weren’t.

Jesus’ experience on his final evening reminds us that in our darkest moments we will be just as alone as Jesus was.  That is, his closest friends were there, but only barely.  It mirrors my own experience more than twenty years ago when our foster son died; people did their best, but there’s only so much that anyone can do for you when everything crashes down around you.  Several people informed me explicitly that they simply couldn’t be there for me.  Those that didn’t abandon me were about as helpful as Jesus’ disciples were to him on that final night.  Not because they didn’t care, but because they can’t crawl into your head with you.

But, Jesus’ experience reminds us, too, that we really aren’t alone.  Jesus spent that night in deep conversation with his Father, which echoes the words of the best-known psalm:

Even though I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

            God never leaves us or abandons us, even through the worst moments of our lives.  And no one can be closer or care more desperately than him.

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The Kingdom and Suffering

The seventeenth century philosopher and theologian Gottfried Leibniz argued that if God is good, loving, and powerful, then this must be the best possible world, because what other kind of world would such a deity create? 

The problem, of course, is that we can imagine a better world.   One of the common clichés people mutter at us in our times of grief when a loved one passes on is, “well, she’s in a better place now.”

So, if there is such a better place, such a better world, then why is there this one and why do we have to be in it, if God loves us so much?

If the Kingdom of Heaven is better than here and now, then how can this possibly be the best of all possible worlds?  And if this isn’t the best of all possible worlds, then what does that tell us about God?


What if the Kingdom of Heaven can come about only because of this world?  That is, what if the Kingdom of Heaven requires this world in order to come into existence?  What if, in fact, this world creates the Kingdom of Heaven, so that the Kingdom of Heaven is a consequence of this world?  

The Kingdom of Heaven would then grow from this world and would not entirely—or even at all—be separate from this world.

Some may object to this for various reasons, but ask yourself, what is the Kingdom of Heaven? 

The short answer: it is God’s people.  It is the church.  It is the Bride of Christ.  Therefore, this world is necessary for the Kingdom of Heaven to exist, because it is the people of God living in this world who are and who become that Kingdom.  This then is the best of all possible worlds, since it is the only world that can create or become the better world of the Kingdom—which is paradoxical unless you realize that the Kingdom is co-existent with this current world: the Kingdom, in a very real sense, is now.

Jesus explained it very clearly:

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

When we ask, “is this the best of all possible worlds?” we must recognize that this world includes the Kingdom of Heaven in seed form at the very least. 

Ask yourself this when you peer at Jesus sleeping in the manger, “is this baby the best of all possible human beings?”  The baby is no less the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the World, than the resurrected Lord.  One could say that this world is the baby to the adult that is the Kingdom of Heaven.

An analogy from scripture would be Joseph; after the death of his father Jacob, his brothers were fearful, scared to death, that Joseph would seek vengeance against them for all the awful things they’d done to him, like selling him into slavery, and for all the awful things he’d gone through after that.  So what happened?

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 51:19-21)

Consider, too, that even the death of the righteous—what most would consider an example of the core problem in the issue of suffering being unjust and an affront to the existence of God—is, counterintuitively, considered to be a positive good, a blessing even, based on a few biblical passages.  As I’ve pointed out before, it is death that makes our redemption possible in the first place; our exclusion from the tree of life, God’s concern that we not be allowed to eat from it and “live forever” (see Genesis 3:21-24), was not done because he hated us, because he was mad a us, because he wanted to make us squirm; it was because our being mortal was the only way he could save us: God had to become a human being, become one of us, and then die for our sins.  If human beings were not mortal, he could not die for us and if he could not die for us…then we could not be saved.  This is why Satan and the demons are doomed: they are immortal and beyond help or hope.

We die because God loves us; and love is the core of the Bible, the center of everything. 

Matthew 22:34-40 – Love

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ i 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ j 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

            Love is the core of the Bible. Jesus pointed out that it was on the twin commandments, to love God and to love people, that the whole Bible hung (Matthew 22:34-40).  Paul emphasizes it in his writing, too. He explained that all the commandments in the Bible could be summarized with a single commandment: “love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14).  This concept is also a core concept in Judaism. The story is told of a Rabbi who was forced, on pain of death, to recite the entire Torah while standing on one foot.  His response was to say “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.  All the rest is commentary.” 

Because of love, Christians should be the most optimistic of people. 

The way of the world is to be gloomy, to always expect the worst, to believe that ultimately there is no hope.  The world embraces pessimism.

            The reason we keep going in the face of problems, in the face of setbacks, in the face of discouragement and nothing going right is precisely because of this thing called love.  We keep our zeal, our spiritual fervor, we keep on serving the Lord because we know God loves us.  And his love inspires us to love the people around us, and to press on.

            Think about how a young man or woman feel in the first throws of love.  Nothing else matters.  The world is beautiful and all is right with the world.  Nothing else matters as long as he or she is loved and loves in return.

            That’s what our relationship with God can do for us.  That’s the power of true love.

            What did Paul write about grief, about how we react when someone dies?  Not that we aren’t sad, but that we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Because we know God loves us, we can face the worst without despair.

            We understand that things will work out for our good.  As Paul wrote, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

What does suffering tell us about God?  Counterintuitively: Number one thing that suffering tells us about God: God loves us.  Why?  Because, like our friends when we grieve, he is right there with us.  He not only suffered on the cross for us, he also suffers with us.  And he never leaves us for forsakes us.  Like your loved ones, your friends, your family, God loves you and he is right there with you, grieving with you.  He may say nothing.  You may not feel him.  But he is there. Because he loves you.

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