Long Exposure

“Writing about the Christian life . . . is like trying to paint a picture of a bird in flight. The very nature of a subject in which everything is always in motion and the context is constantly changing — rhythm of wings, sun-tinted feathers, drift of clouds (and much more) — precludes precision. Which is why definitions and explanations for the most part miss the very thing that we are interested in. Stories and metaphors, poetry and prayer, and leisurely conversation are much more congenial to the subject, a conversation that necessarily also includes the Other.”

– Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places


I came across this quote this morning while reading the most recent post on internetmonk.com. 

I really like what Chaplain Mike said later in the post:

Jesus did not make God known by giving his disciples a “body of knowledge” from which they could formulate doctrines. He did it partly by teaching, yes, but that teaching was the farthest thing from academic.

  • It was not “doctrinal,” but incorporated fully into daily life, experience, ministry — more like apprenticeship than classroom, more like field training than book study.
  • It was told “slant” — in ways that prompted curiosity, imagination, questions, even befuddlement and resistance in those who were privileged to receive it, not in easy to learn propositional summaries.
  • It was relational, the kind of “knowing” that is shared between persons, which cannot ever be systematized, despite our many efforts to produce “how to” books about such bonds as marriage, parenting, or friendship.

One commenter agreed, saying, “We need cool heads and warm hearts. Study tends to overheat the brain. It leads to hot heads and cold hearts.”

Amen.

Responding with Grace

The SCOTUS ruling and announcement about same-sex marriage blew up my Facebook account.

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Lots of people have lots to say. Most of it isn’t all that helpful. In fact, some of it is simply hateful. But here are two examples of responses from two friends of mine on Facebook. One’s a Christian, and one’s not. But they both gracefully acknowledged the tension and spoke with grace towards others they might not fully agree with. I love that I can call these two gentlemen my friends.

From my Christian friend, Rory:

“Marriage can be hard. In a marriage, love only wins when you consistently, over a long period of time, make the sort of choices that don’t always feel “lovely” or “winning.” It requires commitment, a long-term perspective, humility, a willingness to consider someone else over yourself, a willingness to prepare for the possibility and responsibility of raising children, a denial of consumerism and selfishness and cheap promises, and an investment into and from your community.

Above all it requires the conviction that there are very, very few things, perhaps only death or sustained / serious infidelity, that truly amount to acceptable reasons for ending a marriage. This might mean that over the years you discover that you’ve actually married a few different “people” rather than the one person to whom you spoke vows. It is only under these conditions (and more) that marriage truly acts as a fundamental building block for society, as the SCOTUS mentioned in their ruling yesterday.

So, to same-sex couples who can now marry: sincere congratulations, but also, welcome to the long, good, hard struggle. I hope, for the sake of our children and grandchildren and societal flourishing, that you are in this for the long haul, and that as a result of more people having access to legal marriage we can start to see more of the benefits to society that marriage provides. It will be good to have more allies in the struggle against broken commitments, no-fault divorces, and children who are orphaned / parentless / shuffled-around-between-warring-parties / all that.”


From my non-Christian friend, Eric:

“To those who are disappointed by yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on the legality of gay marriage, I hear your anger. I don’t share it, but I hear you. I understand that you feel disgusted and horrified at the sin you feel this country is permitting, and that you may not feel the same pride in our nation as so many of us do at this moment. You have every right to these feelings and to continue disapproving of homosexuality, although you will likely face significant challenges from others each time you express these thoughts. I expect that these challenges will become stronger in the months and years to come. I truly hope that you won’t use these challenges as a reason for extricating yourselves from our collective society.

If you can find it in your hearts to forgive those who you feel are misguided, sinful, and deceived in their feelings of love for another person, I hope you will do so. It will bring you peace. I also hope you may find the courage to direct this anger and disgust toward other fights. Your anger and faith are ideal weapons for fighting poverty, sickness, violence, and hatred in our own communities and across the globe. I’m certain you will find many more allies in these fights than you have in your fight against gay marriage — you would have my support and my allegiance, at the very least. If you can bring the same level of organization and dedication to these other battles, I guarantee that we will have every chance of creating a truly just and loving world.

To my friends who are thrilled with this ruling, and especially to my gay friends for whom this changes everything, congratulations! This has been a long, and difficult, and uphill climb from the start. It’s so incredible to see these accomplishments come into being, when they often seemed so far from the realm of possibility. Your expressions of love, tolerance, and acceptance are a joy to have in this world, and I am so happy that you now have these equal rights in the eyes of the law. Whether or not you choose to marry, keep this spirit of love in your heart for all people. Celebrate this ruling, and celebrate your love. Please remember that those who oppose you will not change their hearts and minds by being told they are wrong. Their hearts and minds will only change by seeing you love and be loved. Stay vigilant, stay beautiful, and let us continue our push for equal rights and opportunities for all.”

An Example of Vulnerability and Empowerment

Recently at my church here in Omaha, we had a video presentation from a married couple at our church. It was a very honest and vulnerable story of their marriage — and the brokenness they have experienced in it and the lessons they’ve learned through it.

Here it is:

After the video played there was a definite sense of heaviness that filled the room. I doubt there was a dry eye to speak of. People clapped in appreciation of their transparency and their vulnerability. When the pastor got up on stage afterwards he recognized the sense of heaviness that was present in the room. He appropriately told us to all take a deep breath in, and then a deep breath out.

After the sermon we have communion together as a church. There are about six stations where two people hold a loaf of bread and a cup of wine/grape juice. I noticed that Roger and Denise were at one of the stations. I thought that was a beautiful thing.

I thought it was beautiful because it exemplifies what I believe to be empowerment. They put themselves in a vulnerable spot. They bore the darker moments of their lives with us as a congregation, and now to the world via the internet. Yet, vulnerability is not simply sharing personal, shameful, or embarrassing information about yourself. It is a reaching out for connection while telling such information, not knowing how others might respond. But having Roger and Denise serve communion (a sober celebration and reminder of the death of Jesus Christ and an anticipation of his coming again), it allowed them to serve the people of the church to whom they just bore their souls. It allowed the church to affirm them as our fellow brother and sister despite their messiness. They were empowered as they served communion to others in the church and spoke “this is Christ’s body, broken for you” and “this is the blood of Christ, shed for you” to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

A beautiful thing. And an example of what empowerment looks like. The leaders of the church created the environment for this couple to be empowered, and the congregation truly empowered and affirmed them as they came up for communion.

Journey to the Cross: Thursday

I did write most of a post for Tuesday and the Bible is very quiet about the events of Wednesday. I would have finished my post if I hadn’t been spending over two hours trying to convince my two and a half year old to stay in bed. But that’s where I’m at in life right now and I’m just not going to be able to post about Tuesday and Wednesday at this point. And really, today isn’t going to be much better.

But Thursday of Holy Week is an incredible day. The Last Supper, the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal, the mobs.

I decided that I wanted to try and share a part of what happened that day to my kids. I pulled out the Jesus Storybook Bible and opened to the page about the Last Supper and the part where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. I got a basin of warm water and a cloth and we read the story together. I told them that Jesus told us to love everyone in this world. And sometimes that means we have to do things that aren’t pleasant or fun. So I washed Micah’s feet with the damp cloth and showed him how Jesus did that with his disciples. Then I had him wash Ezra’s feet with the cloth like I had done for him. It ended up being a very precious time for me. I grabbed a quick couple shots on my phone, and I’m so glad I did.

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Journey to the Cross: Monday

[This is part two in a series I’m doing following Holy Week in the Book of Mark. You can see part one here.]

Jesus Curses a Fig Tree and Cleanses the Temple

Here we get to see the beginning of a classic example of a “Markan Sandwich.” Mark was a very intentional writer. He often used a literary device than many people refer to as the sandwich method. Really it’s just a chiasm (half of the letter chi in Greek – or X in English). He starts off the story by talking about Jesus and a fruitless fig tree. He seemingly randomly gets very upset about it not having fruit (even though it was not the season for figs, as Mark notes), and then curses it. Then the story quickly moves to Jesus getting angry in the temple.

Mark 11:12-19

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree,“May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

The temple story seems to make sense. People were setting up businesses and ripping people off in a place that was meant was for true worship and prayer. The worship and events that took place in that temple were a far cry from what Jesus believed should have been happening. But what in the world was up with that whole ordeal with the fig tree? It seems so random, unnecessary, strange. But the story doesn’t end there. But before looking ahead what conclusions could been drawn? It’s got to be related to Jesus’ actions in the temple somehow, right?

I’m going to include the rest of the sandwich even though it happens the next morning.

Mark 11:20-25.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

So in the morning they’re walking along and they come across the fig tree again. Only this time, the tree is withered from the roots. Peter recognizes the tree and remembers what happened the day before. And then we get a very interesting, and perhaps a bit confusing, lesson and conclusion from Jesus.

But this is the bottom half of Mark’s sandwich. And he’s written this story the way he did with a purpose.

Ok, this is what I think is going on:

Jesus is hungry. He wants something to eat. He sees a fig tree from afar and it has leaves on it. I’m no expert on trees, but from what I have been told about fig trees, if a fig tree had leaves showing it often would have fruit, because figs generally grow before the leaves appear and often have multiple crops. It was a bit early in the season for a fig tree to have fruit, but since it had leaves it wasn’t crazy for them to expect it to have figs.

Ok, so that deals with the question of why Jesus would be mad that there weren’t figs in the tree even when it wasn’t in season. But why does he curse it? It seems to be a bit of an overreaction. I guess Jesus must have been really hungry. No. That’s not really what I think is going on. I think Mark wants us to hold onto this story and the questions is raises. That’s why he tells the story the way he does.

Jesus then goes into the temple. He had quickly visited the temple courts the night before and looked around. But it was late, and even though he was probably mad by the things he saw, he didn’t want to get into it then. But I bet he stewed on it that evening, though. He had gone from being praised as king to going to the temple and seeing merchants scamming people within the temple courts before Passover.

When Jesus came back into the temple, he didn’t just wander around and look at the people. He was angry. He walked in and started driving people from their merchant tables. Both those selling and those buying. He overturned tables, flipped over the benches of those selling doves. He stopped people from carrying merchandise around. He was mad. But then he began teaching them. I wish we had everything he said, because I don’t know how you go from flipping over tables to teaching or preaching, but I have a feeling he wasn’t sitting down and perfectly calm as he taught. I’m sure his voice was raised and he was very stern.

Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’

I feel like this is the statement that everyone remembered. It’s the quote that everyone remembers the next day. Like everyone is hearing him teach and he drops that line and half the people are like, “Oooooh, snap!” and the other half just get really mad because he’s talking about them. (Kind of reminds me of Obama during the 2015 State of the Union address when he came back with that witty quip after Republicans clapped after he said he had run his last campaign).

Anyway, Jesus was not happy with Israel’s empty worship and their scamming shortcuts to religious rituals. He let them know about it. And this event is commonly referred to as Jesus cleansing the temple.

The next morning they pass that fig tree again and Peter is shocked to see it dead already. In his defense, that would be shocking. Also, I’m pretty sure this is the only time Jesus does something supernatural in a destructive way. (Let me know if I’m incorrect in this in the comments). But that makes it stand out to the disciples and probably should to the reader as well. So what’s up with it?

This is not the only time a fig tree is mentioned in Scripture. And a fig tree is sometimes symbolic for the nation of Israel. Here it would make sense for that to be the case in this context. A fruitful fig tree would be representative of a blessing and prosperity, and a fruitless fig tree, and especially one that is cursed and withered, would be representative of judgment and rejection.

As Jesus publicly condemned Israel’s worship in the temple, he symbolically condemned the nation of Israel through the cursing of the fig tree.

And this is how we see the two stories come together. It takes a bit of investigation, but it’s all quite reasonable (and fun). But then we have Jesus’ response to Peter and the disciples. There’s a lot going on in this short passage and it sounds very promising at first, and a bit scary by the end. He says,

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Because this is not a perfectly clear passage and it is the conclusion to Mark’s sandwich, I am confident that I am going to miss a lot of what is meant in this passage. At face value it seems to promote a prosperity gospel message. If you pray to God you can get whatever you want as long as you believe hard enough. If this were the only passage in the Bible that dealt with prayer, then maybe one could conclude that (but find their prayer life extremely frustrating), but I am very confident there is much more going on here than simply thinking we can just pray and get whatever we want. What would that have to do with all that just happened with the fig tree and the temple?

There are probably all sorts of interpretations, but I think that taking this passage in context is probably pretty important. This is how I understand it:

Jesus is not talking about any mountain. He’s talking about the mountain that the temple is located on. It stood in opposition to the kingdom that Jesus was ushering into this world. The fig tree was symbolic of Israel, and stood in opposition to Jesus and to the true worship of God. He cursed the fig tree and he cleansed the temple. He was throwing that mountain into the depths of the sea. We too, when things stand in the way of true worship of God or the purposes of his kingdom in this world, can command such things to be thrown into the depths of the ocean. Our faith must be in God and his kingdom. There may be opposition to Jesus and his ways on this earth, but don’t doubt. Have faith in God and those mountains will be removed, but that doesn’t mean things are always going to be easy. By the end of the week Jesus would be crucified on that mountain. (Perhaps another hidden irony in the passion narrative?) Surely there is a lesson in that as well. (Like I said…this passage is probably rich in meaning and depth. Just a few years after Mark wrote this book the temple was destroyed, so there may be hints of prophecy that I am missing, too.)

There is probably much more to be said and drawn from this passage, but that’s just a basic interpretation.

And now we come to the last verse:

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Of course this is part of Jesus’ teaching we were just looking at, but I think this verse stands out. Forgiveness is central to understanding the Christian faith, and so I think this is an important verse that should not be overlooked.

It is more important to make sure that we are at peace with others, that we have forgiven others for anything and everything, than it is for us to worship God if harboring any unforgiveness in our hearts. To ask for, or even expect God’s forgiveness while harboring unforgiveness is a slap in the face to God. How can we ask God to do something for us that we are not willing to do for others? That mimics the faulty and hypocritical worship of the Jews that Jesus was condemning. If we want God to forgive us, then we should forgive others. It’s an act of faith. It’s an emulation of God’s greatest gift to us.

I have written a few other posts about forgiveness if you want to read them you can here and here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journey to the Cross: Sunday

Jesus Enters Jerusalem as King (Palm Sunday)

The most significant week for Christians is the week of Easter, often called Holy Week. I thought it would be neat to look at this week from the perspective of Mark. Next year maybe I’ll choose another Gospel author to follow along with. I’ve always liked Mark, though. He’s short and to the point. Yet, he includes interestingly specific details that the other authors do not.

Palm Sunday has always fascinated me. The whole passion narrative is thick with irony. The passion narrative in Matthew contains perhaps the most examples of the ironies of the last days of Jesus’ life, but Mark has them, too.

Here’s what happened on Sunday of Holy Week as found in Mark.

Mark 11:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

It starts off in an interesting way. As they get to the Mount of Olives, a set hills just outside of the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus tells two of his disciples to go get a donkey colt in the town just ahead of them. He knows that it’s there. He knows what the disciples should say to anyone who asks about what they are doing.

Jesus shows he knows everything that is about to happen. Nothing is a surprise to him. The fact that he knows a colt was tied to a doorway was not just a good guess. It had been prophesied and he knew that it was there.

I wonder what the conversation looked like between the disciples on the way there.

“Uh…so let me get this straight. We are going to get into town, assuming there is a colt that hasn’t been ridden and we’re just going to…take it?”
“Yeah…I guess so.”
“Let’s just hope no one is around. I really don’t want to have to tell them that we are taking it and we’ll return it later. What if they say no?”
“Hey man…Jesus knows what he’s doing. There’s a reason he’s telling us to do this.”

Sure enough, when the disciples got to the nearby village there was a colt tied to a doorpost. As they untied it people ask them what they are doing. Another conversation I would love to see…

“Hey! What are you doing?”
“Uh, don’t worry. We’re not stealing it. The Lord needs it and will bring it back shortly.”
“Um…ok? But it has never been ridden before.”
“Perfect! We’ll bring him back in a bit.”

Then they bring it back to Jesus and throw their cloaks over the back of the colt and Jesus sits down and begins riding into Jerusalem. The people around recognized Jesus and began throwing down their cloaks on the road and went out to the fields and brought back branches and spread them around (hence Palm Sunday).

They celebrated Jesus as King. They shouted “Hosanna!” That is a shout of celebration, a “hurray!” so to speak. It can mean “Save, please!” too. They celebrated as the people of Israel once celebrated David, the greatest and most famous of all the Jewish kings of the past. They celebrated Jesus as their savior – but not a savior from death and sin, but of politics and religion. But they were praising and celebrating a Jesus they had hoped for and wanted, not the Jesus they needed. The people celebrated and were basically worshipping Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem. But by the end of the week some of these same people would be screaming for him to be crucified.

Jesus knew that. He knew that the praises that sprang from the lips of these people were accurate and true, but void of their true meaning. Herein lies the irony of Palm Sunday. The praises the people say are indeed true. He is there to save them. He has ushered in the coming kingdom of David. It was right for them to say these things, but they didn’t understand what they were saying.

What must have that been like for Jesus? To hear people say things that were true, but to have the people not know what they were saying or singing or praising. Perhaps it’s similar to many Sundays around the world. We sing songs filled with meaning and theological truths and oftentimes have no understanding of what we are singing. Our words are empty. We may even understand what we are singing, and allow the words to have meaning in that moment — but by the end of the week we are cursing Jesus and slapping him in the face by our own actions, thoughts, words, and behaviors.

But Jesus sat there and accepted their praises. I’m sure the disciples loved being with him then. Proud to be with someone so respected, so worthy of praise. He was loved. They probably felt so special, very important. But by the end of the week, they too would desert Jesus and even deny knowing him.

And thus begins Holy Week.

 

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Yesterday I was sitting amongst a group of people desiring to be more involved in their neighborhoods – how to better love our neighbors. I believe those sitting around the tables all had the desire to better live into what Jesus said the most important commandments in all of Scripture were. Briefly, let me give the context.

In Matthew 22:34-40 this scenario occurs:

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

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

Jesus was the perfect example of this. He lived a life that exemplified living into these commandments wholly. As we talked about what loving our neighbors looks like practically for us, people who are not perfect by any means, a question arose:

“What does it mean to follow Jesus?” 

People went around the room and said what they thought it means. Eventually my wife gave an answer that she and I had just discussed the day before.

When it comes to Christians not wanting to seem judgmental, but still not approving of a certain “lifestyle” or action people often use the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” It’s one of those phrases that sounds nice, but just doesn’t work. There are a number of problems with the idea that we can truly separate the two.

My wife and I had come across a comment made on Facebook from a non-Christian summarizing what they understood Christianity was supposed to be all about. We both agreed that the person seemed to hit the nail right on the head, and decided that we probably couldn’t have said it any better ourselves. So when the time came, my wife spoke up to the group and summed it up what it means to follow Jesus by using the same words from that person on Facebook:

“Love the sinner; hate your own sin.”

 

Pride and Prejudice

I’m thankful to be a part of a church where the pastor has the courage and the faith to provoke his congregation to love. He not only teaches through the words of his sermons, but through his attitude, humility, and compassion. We have been studying the book of James over the last month or so, and this past week’s sermon dealt with James 2:1-13, which says:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Although in the context of the people James was writing to the issue was accepting a rich person with favoritism, Pastor Bill contextualized it for us by flipping it around. (I think, in part, because we, unlike the early church, are rich.) We are likely to have prejudices towards certain types of people, whether they be different ethnically, racially, economically, sexuality, theologically, or even in gender. He spent some time explaining Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink which in part discusses about our prejudices toward blacks and whites. We have prejudices than unintentionally creep up into our perceptions of people. They affect how we treat people, how we act around people, and how we think.

He gave examples of some of the prejudices he’s had to confront in his own life. He was very honest. The way he discussed his prejudices was appropriate and helpful. (And in my opinion, that’s a hard thing to do.) He talked about how he regretted that a woman answered the phone at a car mechanics because he didn’t think that a woman would know as much about car repair as a man would. He mentioned how when he hears a person with a southern accent, he for some reason assumes that they are not as intelligent as a person with a northern accent. He explained his discomfort when he first moved into Andersonville and mingled with the sizable LGBTQ community that exists there.

He’s had to confront himself about these. And he challenged us to do the same. In the church setting he explained that we shouldn’t give preferential treatment to people we agree with or have prejudice towards those we are not like. He gave the example of how charismatics and non-charismatics react toward each other. He mentioned how people feel toward those in the LGBTQ community. And it was here that I felt he was being bold, knowing that people may feel uncomfortable or that he is caving to the culture by saying that we should not judge those in the LGBTQ community, but love them.

He talked about how the church’s stance on traditional marriage hasn’t changed, but that doesn’t affect our ability to love others. He talked about what it was like to go to gay parties for the first time after moving into Andersonville. It was uncomfortable for him at first, but then he realized that these people are people. They are made in the image of God just the same as any other person. They have the same fears, issues, and goals as we all do. And then he said something that shouldn’t be ground-shaking or incredibly insightful, but in the current evangelical culture we just don’t hear it like we should.

We don’t have to agree with people to love them.

To love others doesn’t mean we agree with everything they do, believe, say, or think. But in a Christian culture that splits and splinters over minor theological and even non-theological differences, the statement is truly counter-cultural. And yes, that’s very sobering. But growing up with a father who was quick to judge others and after spending four years submersed in the Independent, Fundamentalist, KJV-only, Baptist crowd in Pensacola, Florida this was so refreshing that I found myself overcome with emotion during the service. Tears welled up.

It just shouldn’t be a profound statement within the church to say that the fact that someone is not like us shouldn’t change the fact that we should love them with the love of Jesus Christ. But right now, here in 2014 – it is.

So he challenged us to look in ourselves. What prejudices do we have — even unintentionally? We must learn to confront those prejudices and overcome them by loving all people. If we are blind to our own prejudices, then we should make an intentional effort to love all people well. We must determine to love others better.

If we judge people, James explains that we can expect to be judged in the same manner that we judge others. Mercy is better than judgment. I believe it is better to be quick to love others and give mercy than it is to judge others. As I have said before, it is better to err in love than it is to err in haste judgement. We should love others the way we want God to love us.

Jesus was pretty clear about this as well in His “Sermon on the Mount.” In the Lord’s prayer, something many people have memorized, there is this statement:

And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

That’s a dangerous thing to pray to God for someone who is not very forgiving.

Jesus also says this later in his sermon:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

It seems pretty clear. James says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Our daily challenge to ourselves should be to be loving others better, resisting judgment. The judgments that we should be making are those of our own hearts. That’s a hard thing to do, though. It’s a scary thing to do. It’s a lot easier to just compare ourselves to others or to judge others whom we deem as worse than ourselves. We should pray that very vulnerable and dangerous prayer that David prayed to God in Psalm 139:

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.”

And then we should ask for the mercy we need as David did in Psalm 51:

“Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.”

To do this requires vulnerability before God, it requires us to be honest with ourselves, and both of vulnerability and honesty require humility. Pride is what leads us to judge, to be unforgiving, to not have mercy. We can’t be prideful and truly love well. So maybe we should start by praying for the ability to humble ourselves before others and before God.

Rewarding the Bullies

James 1:19-22

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”


Earlier this week World Vision, one of the top ten charities in the U.S. (they took in over a billion dollars last year), announced that it would now hire gay and lesbian individuals who are legally married in the same way they hire married heterosexual individuals. State sanctioned gay marriages would now not be discriminated against. In a Christianity Today interview entitled “World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages,” Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, discussed their decision. And it was a big one. And they seemed ready for the criticism and reactions that it would receive. I’m sure they knew that many Christians wouldn’t like their decision. Many would speak out against it. But they probably didn’t prepare enough for what it’s like to get gang-bullied by some of the most influential (white) evangelical leaders in America.

Their responses were quick, sharp, and harsh. I consider many of them to be the various “popes” of their respective evangelical communities because of their incredible influence in theological matters and in church conduct.

John Piper, the Reformed “Pope,” wrote this. 

Al Moher, the Southern Baptist “Pope,” wrote this.

Franklin Graham, president of  Samaritan’s Purse and son of Billy Graham – Evangelicalism’s previous generation’s “Pope,” wrote this.

And aspiring “Popes” Trevor Wax and Justin Taylor, from The Gospel Coalition, also added their thoughts on this issue.

When this was all unfolding a couple days ago I thought to myself: Here we go again…

Something happens to disrupt the conservative, white evangelical status quo and the gatekeepers immediately blow their horns, rile up the troops, write blog posts, preach sermons, write and sell books in response, and become all the more influential.

This sort of thing happened just a few years back when Rob Bell’s book Love Wins came out. Multiple contributors responded on The Gospel Coalition website (many without first reading the book), and a whirlwind of discussion, debate, name-calling, finger-pointing, accusing, judging, and damning soon followed. It was like Rob Bell’s detractors were dead set in trying to prove the antithesis to love winning.

Just a few months ago A&E tried to remove key member Phil Robertson from the show Duck Dynasty due to some incendiary comments about homosexuality in an interview for GQ. But the conservative community was outraged. News articles, interviews, sermons, and blog posts were written in response to our “religious freedoms being stripped from us.”

The LGBTQ community was caught up in the middle of a culture war. And ultimately, the side that was fighting for them threw in the towel for whatever reason – money, sponsorship, ratings, change of heart, not worth the trouble – who knows? But they gave up the fight.

And now, World Vision took a bold step to move forward to support Christians who are a part of the LGBT community.

Richard Stearns said in his interview,

This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate, we’re not caving to some kind of pressure. We’re not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We’re an operational arm of the global church, we’re not a theological arm of the church.”

And let me say, I think it is quite okay to disagree with their decision. I can understand why some would have issue with the consistency of their approach to theological matters, but how we react in disagreement matters. What we say and how we say it matters. Especially if we say that we’re followers of Jesus Christ.

Within hours of the announcement reportedly 2,000 child sponsorships had been dropped.

That just doesn’t seem very Christ-like. Even if they start sponsoring a child elsewhere. The poor are not political pawns. But they are being used that way. The influential “gatekeepers” of evangelicalism ran in and bullied World Vision, not only through their words but through their actions – and at the expense of poor children. Is this the love that Christ says that we are to be known by?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

A couple days after  World Vision’s big announcement they reversed its decision, calling it ‘a mistake.’

We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.”

and

We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.”

Once again, the LGBTQ community finds themselves in the middle of a religious and cultural warfare in which a large organization was defending them, then threw in the towel.

And the bullies are being rewarded.

I feel like this is only encouraging the process which is starting to become routine. It’s enabling and empowering the (white) evangelical Popes all the more, whose voices are already a little too loud, whose interpretations and opinions are already a little too revered.

Many in the conservative evangelical world might rejoice and celebrate that World Vision “repented” from their original decision. But I think that there is more going on here. To celebrate is to be very short-sighted. I’m afraid that those who see this as a victory are only deceiving themselves (cf. James 1:22).

My friend Rory Tyer, who consistently writes thoughtful posts in response to various cultural happenings, wrote on this topic yesterday.  In the end of his post he asks some good and relevant questions to be considered if we hope to move forward from this pattern. I recommend reading them and considering them.

Obviously, I have not referenced my opinion about whether World Vision’s decision was right in the first place – but that was not my focus in this post. The topic of how the LGBTQ community and the conservative Christian community relate to one another is complicated. American politics has really been infused with evangelical Christianity in ways that are simply not healthy. Thankfully there are organizations attempting to help bridge the gap between these communities.

As we interact with one another, we should continue to listen to one another in such a way that we hear and can grow in understanding of one another. We should AT LEAST do this before pulling our monthly financial support from impoverished children. It’s better to err in love than to err in haste judgment.

Proverbs 29:20

Do you see someone who speaks in haste?
    There is more hope for a fool than for them.”

Flight or Fight?

It seems anymore that Christians love to pick fights. It may not be the Crusades, but the battles being fought today still seem to be devastatingly harmful and unfounded (and should be extremely embarrassing for the Church). The rhetoric I hear seems to explain these fights and battles as necessary for the defense of doctrine and good Christian values. Perhaps what is most ridiculous about this, is that it seems that Christians have just as much internal fighting as they do with the secular world.

While some tend to love to always be eager to fight for what they believe, others tend to run from any sort of conflict. In doing this they tend to hide from any challenges to their faith or worldview, refusing to be challenged or questioned.

Both seem to be problematic. When times of high criticism come or when people start putting up their dukes in regards to faith or values, people tend to respond in the adrenaline induced instinct of either fight or flight.

My new pastor, Bill Shereos,  recently said something I thought was pretty profound regarding this topic:

If you find yourself fighting or fleeing, you need to assess your heart and see if you are motivated by faith or fear.”

And that’s the problem today – it seems that most of the fights that I see happening in regards to doctrine or values seem to be motivated by FEAR. It can be a fearful thing to have your beliefs challenged. We live out our lives based on the values that come from our beliefs. If we find out that our values or beliefs are wrong, that means that the very foundation that we build our lives upon is faulty. And that’s a scary place to find oneself. People will go to great lengths to try and deny that their foundation is faulty. They will attack brutally if necessary. They will run far, far away if it suits them. But I’ve said before a number of times on my blog, if we truly believe that all truth is God’s truth, and we work from that foundation, then if we find out a value or belief we once thought was true is actually false, then we can realign ourselves in confidence, not fear, because the Christian journey is one where we are constantly trying to understand God’s truth and live into that truth. It is healthy to recognize that there are different levels of importance when it comes to Christian doctrine. There is dogma – that which minimally defines what Christianity is. There is doctrine – interpretations of Scripture which define the various faith traditions. There is opinion – interpretations and inferences that you or a smaller group of believers hold to that are not clearly defined in Scripture.

Christians will fight seemingly over anything. Churches split over differences of opinion, denominations are born over differences of doctrine, and people over the centuries have been killed because of not aligning themselves with the dogma of the Church. All of these scenarios are lamentable. Christians are supposed to be known by their love for all people and their faith in an merciful, loving God. But it seems like today Christians are known for their fighting, stubbornness, and fear of change.

When we find ourselves getting defensive, or perhaps wanting to just run away from an issue, maybe we should ask ourselves if we are wanting to fight or flee because of fear. Challenges to our faith are not times to fight or flee, they are times to learn and grow. Sometimes that just requires shutting up, remaining humble, and listening with a desire of understanding how we can better live into God’s truth and live loving others better.