Monthly Archives: January 2017

An Open Letter to the Churches and the Leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention

Following the Pulse massacre in Orlando last year, I reached out to the LGBTQ community through an open letter published here. The deaths of those 49 people prompted a flood of support from the Christian community as a whole, but I had trouble with the actions of my fellow believers both because it took the deaths of almost 50 people to get us to show love to the LGBTQ community and because, not long after the event had faded from the headlines, we returned to our usual less-than-charitable stance towards this community as a whole. So I reached out then, and I have continued to reach out, to try to show these people who Jesus really is and that they matter to Him. It has been a difficult thing to do, at times, as we as Christians have caused them a great deal of hurt. I was, however, privileged to get to know various members of the LGBTQ community through social media, and even more privileged to be allowed in to begin to understand their hopes, fears, and hurts. With that as a background, I now want to reach out to the denomination in which I was ordained.

The conversations I have been privileged to be a part of have given me much to ponder. Our two groups can and do disagree on much, yet a constant theme was the pain that we as Christians have caused. In responding to that pain I was forced to reflect on my own worldview, and that process has brought me to examine the Southern Baptist Convention’s official position on these issues. It is to that position which I would like to now speak. To put it bluntly, I am concerned that in being so zealous to defend the authority of Scripture we are in reality making mistakes which cause us to fail the very lost people we claim to be most concerned about.

I disagree with much of the Convention’s official position on these issues (can we, as but one voice in this culture, really say that the government’s adopting our beliefs on same-sex marriage is for the public good?).[1] There are two mistakes in particular that I wish to address. The first mistake we are making illustrates the real-world consequence of the overzealous commitment to Scripture which I believe we as a denomination have at present. Before examining that in detail, however, I would first like to state that I share a commitment to Scripture as the inerrant, infallible Word of God. That being said, when such a commitment is devoid of compassion for the lost it does little more than turn them off to the Jesus we represent. Allow me to explain. In a resolution published in 2012 entitled “On ‘Same-Sex Marriage’ and Civil Rights Rhetoric,” representatives of the Convention stated, “we deny that the effort to legalize ‘same-sex marriage’ qualifies as a civil rights issue since homosexuality does not qualify as a class meriting special protections, like race and gender,” and furthermore, “[we] oppose any attempt to frame ‘same-sex marriage’ as a civil rights issue.”[2] These statements are rooted in an error on judgement on our part. The term “civil rights,” by definition, refers to having the freedom to live your life as you see fit. The members of the LGBTQ community should have, by that right, the same freedom to be themselves that you and I enjoy in this country. That alone makes same-sex marriage a civil rights issue, one that we refuse to respect. I have to contrast this stance with our stance on religious liberty, which as the same resolution outlines we do see as a civil rights issue and are willing to fight for. In short, we appear to be willing to fight for our own rights but not those of others, and that is a problem. (The Golden Rule apparently doesn’t apply anymore.)

I have to also say that, while I explicitly disagree with that stance, I understand why we take it. Putting homosexuality into the same protected category, so to speak, as race and gender would put us into a theological quandary that we would very much like to avoid. If one can be born black, or born female, then adding homosexuality to that list implies that we believe on can be born with same-sex attraction, and even suggesting such an idea gives most of us pause. The biblical evidence points us to the conclusion that same-sex attraction is a choice, and if Scripture is wrong about that then what else is it wrong about? And so out of fear of that slippery slope, we avoid the issue altogether and double-down on our biblical argument, all the while either not caring about the hurt we cause or being unaware of it.

I say unaware of it because that’s what I believed at first. In the conversations I’ve had with members of the LGBTQ community, the question, “Why do you people hate us so much?” has come up a lot. Truth be told I didn’t really have an answer for it. Christians do attack the civil rights of these people, that much is clear, yet those actions do not reflect the Jesus that I know and so after stating as much in these conversations I would usually conclude to myself that the Christians involved are well-intentioned but very badly misguided. And then I came across the resolution mentioned above, where the country’s largest Protestant denomination spells out the logic behind denying a group of people basic human rights. If that’s not hateful, then I don’t know what is. We are not unaware of what we are doing. We’ve thought it through, enough to make it part of our official position on the matter, and that’s scary. In no manner could our position ever be construed as representing the Jesus of the Bible.

The second mistake we’re making has to do with what we are communicating to the world regarding LGBTQ individuals in general. Article III subsection 1 of our constitution states that “churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse, homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.”[3] Furthermore, our list of position statements also states that “homosexuality is not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.’ The Bible condemns it as sin. It is not, however, unforgiveable sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals.”[4] Two aspects of this position are troubling. First of all, to sum up, if a group of believers is at all nice to homosexuals then they can’t possibly be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. We hate these people so much that not only do we not want them as members in our churches but we’ll kick out anyone who disagrees. Secondly, we are communicating to a group of sinners, the very people Jesus came for, that in order to be accepted by Him they must change who they are. Nothing in all of Scripture supports such a belief. In fact, the exact opposite is true. There is nothing any of us can do or change in order to make ourselves acceptable to God, and that is why Christ’s work on the cross is so necessary. In short, we can’t save ourselves no matter how much we change. The LGBTQ community, however, apparently needs to change in order to be saved. As Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus takes us as we are. Why can’t we do the same for LGBTQ individuals?

My goal in raising these points is not to start controversy or to simply criticize the Convention’s position but rather to encourage Southern Baptists to think through how what we communicate to the world hurts those we are supposed to care about. And if you can show me from Scripture that my perception of the Convention’s position as outlined above is in error, by all means please do so. Too often in the last few months I have had to apologize for the actions of my fellow Christians. I would much rather be able to explain that we as believers are not actually doing the things we have been accused of. Sadly, however, my fear is that I am not wrong in this. My fear, ultimately, is that we are failing the very lost people we should be looking to bring to Jesus. (And please hear me when I say that I am not asking us to change our worldview simply to suit the beliefs of others. If, however, aspects of that worldview bring us to cause pain to others, and not because “they are blinded from the truth” or some other biblical excuse but simply because we have taken things too far, then that is a problem with our worldview and one that needs to be addressed.)

We as a Convention can do better in how we treat the LGBTQ community. Simply respecting their position on civil rights would be huge start, and one that does not have to pose any theological quandaries for us. How hard is it for us be respectful even while we may disagree? Just as importantly, we can act to welcome these individuals to fellowship in our churches and ensure that we no longer disown those Christians who try to treat them with love and respect. The people who make up the LGBTQ community are just that, people, like you and me. If for no other reason than that we owe them respect in our behavior. There is no Scriptural justification for doing otherwise.

In Christ,

Pastor Mike

 

[1] “The Southern Baptist Convention Passes Resolution on Gay Marriage,” Denny Burk, last modified June 16, 2015, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.dennyburk.com/the-southern-baptist-convention-passes-resolution-on-gay-marriage-sbc15/.

[2] “On ‘Same-Sex Marriage’ And Civil Rights Rhetoric,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2012, accesed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1224/on-samesex-marriage-and-civil-rights-rhetoric.

[3] “Constitution,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2017, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/

aboutus/legal/constitution.asp.

[4] “Position Statements,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2017, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/positionstatements.asp.

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Mobile Strike, Childhood Dreams, and the Grind of My Life

maxresdefaultI guess it shouldn’t surprise me, what with my being a member of several gaming related groups on Facebook (mainly related to Star Trek Online, my all-time favourite MMORPG), but most of the ads on my Facebook feed right now are for different games.  The one that keeps popping up more than most is Mobile Strike, which if the hype is to be believed is the #1 downloadable game right now (or something to that effect; it must be a big deal if Arnold Schwarzenegger is associated with it). What gets me most about the different ads for this game is how blatantly they try to sell the experience. The ads take you from playing a game on your phone to actually being a hero in combat, leading your forces and fighting for domination. What gets me about that approach, in particular, is that it’s just not true.

I will readily admit I love computer games. Whether I’m trying to outsmart the computer players in Civilization V, or boldly going where no man has gone before on the bridge of my ship in Star Trek Online, playing through computer games is a very diverting hobby for me. Part of the appeal, to be sure, is simple stress relief (blowing shit up is a hell of a lot of fun), but part of it is also the chance to vicariously live out a story that is dramatically different from my own. Take Star Trek Online, for example. The way the game works, you can create multiple characters (if you so choose), but each one progresses through what is more or less the same storyline. In my case, having created 5 different characters, this means that I’ve played through most episodes of the story at least 5 times. There’s actually one particular episode I’ve played through a grand total of 15 different times (playing multiple times with each character means that you get better gear for each character). By that point, however, there really isn’t much of a story left anymore, meaning that I’ve spent countless hours creating a story to go along with the story that’s already present in the game. I can tell you who each of my characters are, what their personalities are like, what their life stories are, and even why they chose the name for their ships that they did.

As diverting and entertaining as all this may be, I have to remind myself that these characters are not actually real. I’m not actually exploring the galaxy on the bridge of my ship. What I am doing is playing a game, which at its most basic level means I am sitting in front of a computer and manipulating pixels on the screen. Mobile Strike is the same thing; the only difference is the screen tends to be smaller. So why, then, do we want to believe so badly, even just for a second, that we’re actually doing what our alter-egos in these games are doing? We must want to, otherwise they wouldn’t use that desire to get us to download these games. Do we hate our lives that much that we’re looking for an escape from them? Or is it something else, something deeper? I mean, what is it about these games that draws us to an opportunity to be someone stronger, someone greater, than who we are at present?

Most of us, I think, would admit that our lives aren’t what they could be. I don’t mean that in the “go out and get a real job” sense, or in the “win the lottery and have everything perfect” sense. When you were a kid, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I work with kids for a living. We did this exercise this past week where I asked them to draw a picture of who they want to be when they grow up, and every single one of them, without fail, drew themselves as a super-hero. I don’t know about you, but I remember having similar dreams. I’d grow up to be someone great, having noble adventures doing something that mattered, and I’d save the day when no one else could. That is the kind of disconnect I’m pointing to when I say our lives aren’t what they could be. I work long hours with kids who more often than not fight me every step of the way, come home at night to eat dinner and watch a little TV, and then go to sleep to get up and do it all over again. In between I work a little on our house, make sure the dishes get done, and try to find a little time to relax with my wife. Doesn’t exactly compare with my boyhood dreams, does it? Think for a minute about your own dreams growing up, and then compare them with your current situation. Most of us are longing for more and we don’t know why, which is exactly why games like Mobile Strike are so popular. Here is a way to be that person you’ve always longed to be, and even better, it doesn’t cost you anything. There’s no chance of getting hurt while you’re out saving the day. It’s all of the glory with none of the risk.

Gaming isn’t the only way we try to fill the void created by this disconnect. We think that if we work longer hours, find something we’re really satisfied in doing, then it will go away. Or maybe, if we have the perfect house with the manicured lawn, then we’ll be past it. Some of us are a little more direct in our approach, and try to drown the disconnect in alcohol or other substances. The more spiritual of us will try to make it go away through church involvement, or something else respectable. Thing is, we can never kill it without killing ourselves, and I don’t know about you but that’s too high a price to pay.

Go back to your childhood dreams for a moment. I don’t know you, so I don’t know what they were, but you do. Is it possible that we have those dreams, and those aspirations, for a reason? What if they’re giving us a glimpse into the reality we actually live in? I know it may sound crazy, but what if, just what if, the reason that we can’t kill the disconnect they help to create is because they serve a very real purpose? Think about that.

Most of us think of Christianity as moral obligations and rules, outdated beliefs about how we’re supposed to live our lives. If you repent of all the right things before you die, you get to go heaven, and in the meantime you get to look down on all those poor souls who don’t believe as you do. It may surprise you to know that, while the Bible does contain rules for living, most of it is story. There’s a beginning, middle, and end, a plot, and a hero and a villain (along with a whole host of other characters). The short version is that God created angels first, only Lucifer rebelled and with a third of all the angels tried to take the throne of heaven by force. They lost and were thrown out of heaven, but they cast doubt on the goodness of God and so he created us, gave us a paradise in Eden and romanced us. Only we rejected him, trusting Lucifer (now called Satan) instead, and so God has done everything he can to win our hearts once more. Jesus is the fullest expression of that love and determination, and the cross is where he actually made it possible. We now live in the middle of the great struggle as God works to win back us and our world from the control of Satan. That is the story of the Bible in a nutshell, and I don’t know about you, but it bears a hell of a lot of resemblance to my boyhood dreams. Could it be that this is the reality which those dreams pointed to?

Maybe we feel like we’re meant to be more because we are meant to be more. We long to matter because we actually do matter. We long for purpose and adventure and romance because that’s what this story is all about, and we’re meant to take our place in that story. I have to also say that I’m not telling you this to enlist support for some cause or another. The idea of “spiritual warfare” has been used by Christians to justify some really dumb things over the years, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. If you’ve identified with any of what I’ve said here, if you feel that disconnect, too, then don’t ignore it or try to kill it. It’s pointing you to something more, to the story that God is telling and to your place in it. Don’t ignore that.

Why are we Christians doing what we do?

19214233-the-word-why-in-red-3d-letters-and-a-question-mark-to-ask-the-reason-or-origin-behind-something-and-stock-photoI’ve written before on here about how I think we as Christians are fighting the wrong battle in the current political climate. We seem to be so excited about having the opportunity to secure our place in society and protect our right to what we believe, and yet we seem equally clueless that the mere suggestion that we intend to fight these battles is turning people off to Jesus. Indeed, in the last week most of the articles on non-conservative news sites that I follow which deal with Christians have focused on our efforts in several states to get lawmakers to pass laws protecting religious freedom which would ensure our rights at the expense of the rights of those we disagree with. I commented to one individual this week that the reasoning behind our actions is simple. We’re afraid. We’ve had a dominant role in society in this country for decades, and we’re terrified of losing that. This being said, I came across something in one of my old seminary textbooks last week that makes me think it might actually be a little bit more complicated than that. What I want to do in this post is explore that rationale somewhat, and hopefully, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ll start to see that we are, yet again, fighting the wrong damn battle.

One of the things I learned from my church history course was that individual perspectives within the church, whether good or bad, have often been around a very long time. A thousand years ago during the Middle Ages, for example, the church had a dominant role in European society much the same as what American Christianity has aspired to over the last few decades. The church at the time was structured around the sacramental system which in turn was based on the belief that certain actions communicated God’s grace to sinners. According to Mark Noll in his book Turning Points, as the church was the agency in charge of these sacraments, its role in society was therefore indispensable.[1] Noll sums this up when he points out that, “with the widespread agreement that salvation was the most important reality, and the further agreement that salvation was communicated through and by the sacraments, it had to follow that the church, as the administrator of the sacraments, should offer a foundation for everything else in life.”[2] In short, there was no area of life, from basic education to political power and everything else in between, where the church did not have a say. (Forgive me if you’re reading this and you ascribe to that system yourself. I am not attacking that system. As the name of this place implies, it’s for people of all backgrounds and beliefs, none of which I would ever attack. I am simply commenting on how society changed because of certain beliefs about that system.)

I know of many Christians who would agree, in theory at least, that such a dominant voice for the church would be a good thing. (I live in the South, where this role for is at least somewhat more of a reality than it is in other parts of the country.) I have also met many non-Christians who are horrified at the thought of this becoming a reality. My focus here is not to get in the middle of that particular fight. Rather, like I said, I am more interested in why we as Christians feel the way we do. To that end, what really caught my eye was Noll’s exploration of the rationale for the church dominance that existed during the Middle Ages. As we’ve already said, the sacramental system was at the heart of that dominance and yet, as Noll observes, “By the time learned theologians got around to providing rationales for the various sacraments and their uses, the system was already pretty much in place.”[3] This is not say that Scripture played no role in that system, but that greater emphasis was instead placed on “the application of general theological principles and worship practices to the varied conditions of earthly existence.”[4] In short, human logic played perhaps the key role in one of the most dominant positions the church has ever enjoyed in a society throughout its history. (That dominance also led to some of the worst abuses of church history, but again that’s actually beside my point here.)

My question for contemporary Christians, then, is what is behind our efforts to protect our position in society at the cost of actually turning people off to Jesus? Is it fear? Our own logic and reasoning? I mean, what could possibly be wrong with God’s own people having the dominant voice in society, right? Church history is full of some very tragic answers to that particular question. I would respectfully assert to you that our current efforts are not God’s doing but the fruit of our own rationales. We are, yet again, fighting the wrong damn battle, and our mistake will cost those watching us dearly in eternity.

Here’s my thing. In Galatians 5:1, we’re told that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Now in case we miss that point, the Apostle Paul has used the same Greek word for freedom three times in one sentence. A more literal translation would “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free into freedom.” As followers of Christ we’re already free, in the only way that really matters. Yet we spend our days trying to impose our standards not only on each other but on the world around us. And they look at us and laugh. Something like half of all so-called traditional marriages end in divorce, yet instead of addressing that problem we put our energy into fighting to make sure that our definition of marriage is the only legal definition. And depending on which source you go to for the statistics, anywhere from one quarter to one half of all LGBTQ youth in this country have attempted or seriously considered suicide at least once. Yet instead of responding to that brokenness with love and respect, we judge and condemn.

We are surrounded by people crying out for help, to know that someone sees them and cares about them. That freedom we have in Jesus puts in the perfect place to respond to that cry with love and compassion, yet more often than not we don’t. That’s the battle we need to be fighting.

[1] Noll, Mark A. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 3rd. ed. (2012, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MA), 116.

[2] Ibid., 117.

[3] Ibid., 116.

[4] Ibid.

You Didn’t Break Me

774ec30a76104ab441466a794653c586There are times in my life, as I’ve written about before, where even as a minister I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in my life or what to do about it or even how to process it. There are also, as I’ve found out these last weeks, times in my life where I know exactly how things are going to turn out and exactly what I need to do, only to find out that things have gone the exact opposite of how I thought they would go, I can’t respond the way I’d planned, and I am, yet again, back to the whole “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do” thing.

Back in December, when we had moved out of where we were living with my wife’s family and I was finally free to be myself again especially with regard to my hair, I got it coloured dark brown with blonde bangs. Being as I’m a natural redhead, and when I’d got it done in the past it was usually some combination of red with blonde highlights, this change was a bit of shock for everybody (myself included). Why did I go out and make such a drastic change? Part of it, I think, was simply wanting to put the past behind me, but a larger part of it was wanting to say, “I’m still here, and I’m still me, and I’m still going to do what I’ve been doing to express who I am.” In short, “You didn’t break me.”

Even as I’ve grown to love my new look (and it does look great!) I’ve found that the anger and the hurt didn’t go away from when I was accused of being gay last August and run out of the house until I got a “man’s haircut” (whatever the hell that was supposed to be). Maybe it was naïve of me to think that it would go away in an instant, but I guess I’d hoped that by moving on outwardly I’d be able to move on inwardly, too.

I’ve always had perfectly straight hair, and I’d had it permed back before that whole blow up and I loved having it curly. One of the things I’d been looking forward to over the last couple of months was finally having my hair long enough again to make it worth getting it permed. Funny as it may seem, I missed my curly hair (and I’ve also found out the hard way that I lack a certain skillset required to curl it myself). Anyways, yesterday I got it permed again, and you know what? I am finally starting to feel like myself again.

Thing is, the shadow of August still seems to linger. I guess I’d thought that by returning to my normal that things would start to normalize inside, too, and I don’t know, maybe it’s too soon, but… Yeah. It lingers. And you know what? I don’t want it to. I don’t want to be the eternally resentful guy, that bitter person that nobody wants to be around. And I’m tired of being wary around others, like I’m expecting another attack. And I don’t want to be so wary of being different and standing out that I just give up and give in to the demands of society that I conform to what everybody else expects. That’s the last thing I want to happen. So what am I supposed to do?

One of the things that kept me going through the months after the blow up where we still lived with my wife’s family was the knowledge that once the trump card was gone, once they could no longer hold over my head the “you’re living with us so you’ll do what we want or we’ll kick you out” card, I’d be able to finally, actually defend myself. I would stand up to them, on an even playing field, and confront them in such a way that they would understand this would never happen again. Those who know me well know that I can be a force to be reckoned with in an argument when I want to be, and I was going to bring all of that to bear on those who were behind what happened in August. Except, we moved out, and… none of that happened. I didn’t do what I’d dreamed of doing for so long. Truth be told, I couldn’t. Part of it is that we’ve needed their help to get established here. The main part, though, was that 2016 was, for both me and my wife, a year full of family drama and strife and accusations. If I’d kept that going through what I wanted to do, there’s no telling when that cycle would have ended.

So now I’m back to where I was before, and not having any idea what to do with all of this. Have I forgiven those involved? I think so. I mean, I don’t hold it against them, now that I’m free again and looking like I want to, so that has to count for something. That may not seem like much coming from a Christian like myself (we’re supposed to forgive everybody, right?) but I’m human, too, and as I’m finding out the healing process can take a very long time and take you somewhere that looks nothing like where you started out from. I don’t want to miss any step in that process, no matter how painful it might be.

Life is still just… different. Will it ever be the same again? I’m not sure. There’s some value in all this, too. I wasn’t kidding when I said this didn’t break me. I’m still doing what I do, reaching out to people from groups that most Christians have just written off. I don’t want anybody to feel the way I did, and to go through that kind of abuse, simply because of who they are and how they choose to express that. In that process, I’ve met some wonderfully open people, people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I’m grateful for that. Other than that, it’s just one day at a time. In my most open moments I have to admit that life will probably never be the same again, but as I’m learning that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. That’s what I hold on to, and if you’re dealing with loss, or hurt, or anything at all that really sucks, I hope you can find a way to hold on to it, too.  We’ll get there, one day at a time.

Life is Messy. Enjoy it!

55482167-angry-father-scolding-finger-pointing-silhouette-vector-stock-vector I’ll be the first to admit that I loathe the idea of standards for how we should live. Anytime someone says to me here’s something I ought to be doing as a good Christian man, I immediately tune them right out. Give me something I ought to be doing, and a week or so, and the odds are good I’ll have a healthy list of times when I didn’t measure up. Now the concept of measuring up is in reality totally alien to what it means to follow Jesus (we can’t ever measure up; that’s kinda the point of the Gospel), but that doesn’t keep us from trying, nor does it keep us from telling others that, as good Christian men and women, here’s what we ought to be doing in life. The saddest part is that most of us will spend a lifetime killing ourselves inside in a desperate effort to measure up to that ought, as we are all aware, on some level anyways, that we are not who we want to be.

This whole struggle hits me hardest in light of passages like Philippians 1:6, where the Apostle Paul tells his readers, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.” If you’ve been around the church much you’ll probably know that we Christians take this passage to explain that we’re not perfect, but God’s working on us, and he’s not finished with us yet! (Insert overly cheerful Christian here.) What hits me with this passage is that I tend to see this whole “good work” thing as a sort of building project with specific steps. If you’ve ever put together one of those shelving units from Walmart you’ll know what I’m getting at. Do it right and at each step the project looks noticeably different than it did at the last step. If it doesn’t look different, something’s wrong. Translated to my life, this means that I assume that at this point next year I’ll be farther along in my struggles, so to speak, than I am right now. And right now I should be farther along than I was last year. If I’m not, I’ve obviously got work to do. For example, I’ll be the first to admit that I get way too defensive sometimes. There are moments when I feel like being defensive is the only thing I have left that I have control over, and so I’ll lash out instead of taking criticism. I’d like to be able to say I do this less than this time last year but that’s not really the case.

Part of what I’m trying to get at here in this post is that a relationship with Jesus is so much more than simply believing the right things and then behaving accordingly. Christianity is about more than just getting with the program, or behaviour management, or even sin management. That being said, the reality is that none of us is perfect and the struggle remains.

I guess that’s why living in a brand new single wide, on a newly cleared lot, has been so eye-opening for me. As I’ve said in other posts, we’re right in the middle of a building process ourselves, and it hasn’t gone anything like I thought it would. Get the trailer installed on the property and your set, right? Turns out that drywall has a tendency to separate a little when taken on the highway. We’ve been in here over a month now and I think (maybe) we’ve finally found the last little defect that needs repaired. And that’s not due to neglect, either. That’s just the nature of this process.

Take our yard as another example. Back in the summer, before the trailer was set up, we spent every Saturday for months out here working on the yard. We built our rock garden. We dug up roots. We leveled it out. We even had my in-laws up here with their tractor and 6-foot rake, going back and forth over the lot to make sure we didn’t miss anything. And you know what? I thought we got it all. When all was said and done, we had a very smooth, very beautiful, acre and a half of dust. It hadn’t rained in months at that point, but not long after we moved in we got all of the rain that we missed and then some. And our yard is a disaster. The runoff has cut these nice little gullies throughout which means that just pulling in the driveway feels like going off-road. And we’ve lost just enough soil to show every single root and stump that we had no idea was there but now shows plain as day. Most of what we did in the summer will probably have to be redone.

Here’s the thing. It’s not our fault. I mean sure we could have put sod down (maybe), but that wasn’t in the budget so it wasn’t an option. What we have in our yard now is the natural result of dirt on a slope mixed with too much water. It’s messy, sure, but it’s ultimately just another step in the process.

Life is messy, too, and I think we can allow ourselves to forget that sometimes. The road to being able to deal with whatever issue you struggle with isn’t always necessarily a straight one, and that’s OK. Sure sometimes we make dumb choices that screw the whole thing up for a while, but more often than not it may not be the result of anything we did or didn’t do. Things may just take longer than we thought they would, or be a hell of lot messier than we were expecting.

The reality of our yard is that it won’t always look like this. Come spring, we’ll get the tractor and 6-foot rake back out and level it out again so we can get grass seed down. That same reality is true for your life, too. If you know Jesus, then the person you are right now and the struggles you currently face won’t always be your reality. (And if you don’t know him, then getting into that relationship can give you that hope, and so much more.) I used to think that even though God has promised to be faithful in this process of living, I’d always get in the way and screw it up. What I’m learning, slowly, is that I can’t screw it up. He’s way too big for that. So go easy on yourself, and enjoy the mess.

Respecting the LGBTQ Community

reach-md             It pains me to think that we as Christians need a biblical case for being respectful to people, but as I interact through social media with members of the LGBTQ community, and watch Christians interact with them in general, this seems more and more to be the case. One of the questions that consistently comes up for me is why on earth we as Christians treat them the way that we do. There are any number of groups out there that we disagree with, and while our responses to different groups have ran the gamut from polite to insane, this particular community is one that we tend to have trouble even being civil with. What I’ve been pondering the last few months is why, and I think I’ve finally come to the place where I can articulate a reasonable explanation.

In my interactions, I’ve noticed one thing in particular that may explain this stance among Christians. In short, we’re afraid. Let me explain a little. The Bible, as we can be very quick to point out, states that homosexuality is a sin. Those who identify as LGBTQ, as I’ve found out, are quick to point out that their sexual orientation (or whatever term they want to use for it), is part of who they are. It is, more often than not, at the core of who they are. The end result is a disconnect. Conversations between the two groups in general are not going to happen when the views involved are so directly opposed to each other. (That being said, the opposition of these views has made for some unfortunate and spectacular arguments on social media.)  For Christians, and here I speak from my own experience, the dilemma is in how to respond to these opposing views. We can either accept LGBTQ individuals for who they are, or we can stick to our guns that it’s a sin and they need to change. The problem is that accepting LGBTQ individuals for who they are would require us to compromise our belief in the authority of Scripture, and we would never do that. We therefore respond in the only way that our fear says remains open to us. In short, we’re not willing to give a little.

I am not talking about giving up on the authority of Scripture. As a Christian myself, that is a belief that I hold to as well. What I am saying is that this situation is not as black and white people on both sides may say, and there is a hell of a lot we as Christians can do just to be respectful to the LGBTQ community while maintaining our respect for the authority of Scripture.

For example, Romans 1 is one of several passages in the New Testament that touch on the issue of homosexuality. The gist in this case seems to be that homosexuality came about because people rejected God. (If you’re reading this and you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, please hear me out before you jump all over me. I am not trying to comment here on whether or not you were born the way you are or whether it’s a choice or to comment on any other aspect of that particular discussion. That is a conversation for another time, and also one that I don’t have all the answers to. What I am trying to do here is simply show other Christians that we need to change the way that we respond to you.) Romans 2, in contrast, opens by pointing out that anyone who judges another for these things condemns themselves because they are also guilty of rejecting God. As the King James Version poetically puts it, “for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself” (Romans 2:1). The bottom line here, and the first observation that needs to be made, is that as sinners ourselves saved only by the grace of God, we have no place whatsoever to justify responding to the LGBTQ community in condemnation. Our response as a whole sucks, and it needs to change.

How, then, should it change? The second observation that needs to be made is that all people everywhere matter to Jesus. As we read in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.” The word “all” pretty much tells you everything you need to know here. The Apostle Paul touches on this as well in 1 Timothy 2, when he says in verse 3 that Jesus “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It’s not wrong to say that you’ve never met a person who doesn’t matter to God, LGBTQ or otherwise. These people matter to him as much as any other. (Again, it pisses me off no end that we seem to need a reminder on this one, but that appears to be the case.)

Finally, I want to observe that if these people matter, and they do, then we need to accept them and treat them with love and respect. Furthermore, doing so doesn’t require us to change our own beliefs. I think we’re afraid of this more than anything else, that by accepting them we have to admit that the Bible is wrong on the subject and therefore could quite possibly be wrong on every other subject contained therein. In all honesty, that fear could not be farther from the truth. In Romans 5:8, the Apostle Paul tells us, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In other words, Jesus took us as we were. There was nothing that we could do to make ourselves acceptable to him, and we didn’t need to make ourselves acceptable anyways. (That’s not how this whole Christianity thing works.) He took us as we are. Why, then, can we not offer the same grace to others?

We have, I think, become so focused on “defending the faith” and maintaining the integrity of our theology that we have, in essence, written off the entire LGBTQ community. That, my friends, is about as un-Christian as it gets. All we have to do is give a little, set aside our differences and focus on the things that matter. It is in many ways the simplest thing in the world, and yet we just can’t bring ourselves to do it. And why? Like I said, we’re afraid. If, as 1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear,” then maybe we don’t know the love of Jesus as well as we think we do.

The Start of a New Year

happy-new-year2017-55           We don’t yet have internet service at our new place (props to Comcast for continuing to assert that our address doesn’t exist), which means that by the time I get to McDonald’s to use their Wi-Fi it’ll be after the New Year, but for now it’s still 2016. This week between Christmas and New Year’s always gets me in more of an introspective mood than other times of the year. It’s the great pause, you know? The excitement and buildup to Christmas have come and gone and the excitement of the New Year hasn’t come quite yet. For me it’s the time to reflect back on the year that was and to look ahead to the new one.

This past year sure was a fun one (and I mean that in the most sarcastic sense possible). My wife and I both took attacks and accusations in ways that I never dreamed we would ever have had to deal with and from people I never would have imagined capable of dishing out such hurt. I’ve found myself in these last weeks, now that we have some distance from all of that, tempted to shut down a little inside, to back off and hide a little from all that heartache. I mean, it’s one thing to be open and vulnerable when you know that getting hurt is a possibility, but it’s quite another to try to be open and vulnerable knowing full well what the reality of hurt feels like.

I’m also self-aware enough (I hope) to know that while isolation and solitude in the short-term may be healthy, in the long-term it can be dangerous. The question is what the hell to do with what I feel. This may sound rather pro-forma coming from a Christian, but I’ve been wondering recently how Jesus dealt with all the heartache he faced. Theologians tell us that Jesus was both fully God and fully man (although no one has yet figured out how that works; I for one believe a pretty good case can be made for the truth of that statement, but that isn’t the point here). According to the Bible, Jesus dealt with the same range of emotions and heartache and temptation that you or I or anyone else who’s ever lived has dealt with. He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35), for example, and he continually sought solitude as a means to recharge from ministering to those around him (Mark 1:35). The Book of Hebrews also tells us that he can empathize with what we go through because he was tempted in every way that we are (Hebrews 4:15). Furthermore, as John 18:15-18 shows, in his hour of greatest need Jesus was abandoned by those closest to him (and who among us hasn’t felt that particular pain at one point or another?) If you want more examples, you can look at the whole story of God reaching out to us. How many times have we rejected him? Grieved him through our actions? If, as Scripture indicates, he feels what we feel, then that rejection has to hurt. And yet he offers himself again and again and again, opening himself up, being vulnerable, reaching out to us in spite of the pain.

Here’s my thing, though. Nowhere in the Gospels do we see Jesus hiding from this heartache. Never does he shrink back from it. The same can be said of God elsewhere in Scripture. And that leads me to the question I’ve been pondering the last little while. How exactly does he pull that one off? I mean, I deal with the rejection of people not understanding what I’m about with this site, for example. This is the South, after all, where unless you fit into a very particular box as a pastor, something must be seriously wrong with you. Jesus deals with a level of rejection that’s infinitely beyond that, and yet it never seems to faze him.

One possible answer to this is that being God somehow gives him a pass on the whole thing, yet that is problematic in view of the biblical evidence that he felt as we feel and was tempted as we are tempted. There must, therefore, be a different explanation.

There is one example from Scripture, in John 8 specifically, that may shed some light on this. Eight times in this chapter (verses 16, 18, 19, 26, 28, 29, 38, and 55) we get a glimpse into just how intimate Jesus’ relationship with God the Father really was. The gist of this chapter seems to be that Jesus and God the Father are one, and this comes out through a back and forth discussion of sorts between Jesus and different groups. Looking at it from a literary perspective, why not just use one example, or maybe two or three, to prove the point? Why have this lengthy discussion that brings out what is essentially the same response from Jesus seven different times? (Granted, this isn’t the sole focal point of this passage; I’m just trying to isolate one element of it.)  One thing that my seminary experience drilled into me is that the biblical writers, working under the influence of God the Holy Spirit, had the choice not just of what information to include in the biblical record but also of how to organize that information. When you come across repetition in Scripture, like the kind we have here, it’s in there for a reason.

So why, then, was it important to highlight the intimacy of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father to this extent? Personally, I think it shows how he was able to live as he did. As we looked at above, he didn’t shrink back from anything, nor did he try to hide his emotions. Jesus’ relationship with God the Father was such that he knew who he was and he knew that he was loved. As a result of that foundation, nothing could shake him.

Like I said, this time of year is one that I tend to not just reflect on the previous year but also look ahead to the coming year. I know I’ve said it before in other posts, but what this revelation keeps bringing me back to is that we’re not meant to live life alone. We need that same level of intimacy with God that we see in John 8. Thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the door is open for us to have it. And I’m not talking about being more faithful in reading your Bible or making sure you’re in church every Sunday morning. If you read through the Gospels, you’ll see that Jesus’ intimacy with the Father ran so much deeper than surface level stuff like that. (I’m not saying those things are bad in and of themselves; I’m just saying we can’t stop there.) As Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, God has set eternity in our hearts. There’s a longing there, a longing for our real home and intimacy with the one we were made for, and if we’ll follow that we’ll find him. It may be in the beauty of a sunset, or the peacefulness of the stars on a clear night, or the touch of the one you love. He speaks to us all in ways befitting our own stories. All we have to do is listen. In Jeremiah 29:13, he says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Maybe that’s not a bad place to be at the start of a new year.