Tag Archives: Bible

Let’s Discuss a Few Things

AM17-logoWith the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting starting this week I’ve been more active than usual on social media recently in an effort to raise awareness regarding the negative impact that the Convention’s position on LGBTQ issues has on LGBTQ people. While I am pleased to see organisations like Faith in America taking a very bold approach to directly engaging the Convention on this problem, I have also seen concerns raised by Christians as to just what those of us who support the LGBTQ community are trying to accomplish in raising these issues with the Convention. I wanted to take a few moments to address those areas in hopes of clarifying a few misunderstandings.

Area # 1 – We Want to Rewrite Scripture

The issue here, as I understand it, is that as the Bible calls homosexuality sin (see Leviticus 18 and 20) and we want the Convention to treat LGBTQ people in general, and LGBTQ youth in particular, with the same openness and respect they show to everyone else, we must therefore want to rewrite Scripture in order to remove these passages and any others similar to them.

Speaking for myself, I have no desire to rewrite Scripture and I would not support anyone who does. I have spent the last year praying and searching through the Scriptures in order to find room there for LGBTQ people as they are and for who they are and in a positive light. We have room in a “Christian” worldview for everyone else, so why not them, too? It’s a sad commentary on our Christian culture today that I had to do that, but I am grateful for the experience because it’s given me the confidence I need at times like this to speak out. I wanted to be able to love them for who they are and as they are without trying to force them to change anything (because I strongly believe they don’t have to) but at the same time I wanted to remain rooted in the core tenants of my own beliefs (such as respect for the authority of Scripture). For me, it was Romans 1 and 2 and Genesis 1 that opened my eyes. In addition, there are interpretations of Scripture, valid interpretations, that provide positive room in the Christian worldview for LGBTQ people. Again, it’s sad that we even need to be told this, but there you have it.

I’ve heard it said many times in church, “Come as you are.” We even have worship songs along that line. All we’re asking is that the Convention take LGBTQ people as they are, no strings attached, without trying to force them to change or trying to convey the idea that they even need to.

Area # 2 – God Said It So It’s Binding

I’ve heard this one repeated often in the last few days, and it honestly pisses me off. The gist of it is that God has said in His Word that same-sex attraction is a sin and sorry but if we’re going to obey Him than we have to tell LGBTQ people that who they are is sinful in God’s eyes and they need to repent of it.

If you ever have the privilege of meeting and getting to know members of the LGBTQ community, you’ll find very quickly that they have been through hell. Many of them have spent years coming to terms with who they are and how they feel. Some have spent most of their lives doing so. And once they have come to terms with it, they’ve given up everything to live as who they are.

When we come across a person like this, who’s quite likely been rejected by everyone close to them, the best, most-loving response we have is, “I’m sorry, but I’m bound by obeying God to tell you that He hates who you are?” (Or something to that effect.) I mean, really, that’s the best we’ve got? Not an ounce of compassion or understanding or even the slightest effort to see life through their eyes? Not even the tiniest attempt at respecting them enough to say hey, maybe you are born this way? If that’s the best we have then I fear we’ve become no better than the Pharisees of old, who “load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46 NLT) The really sad part is that we actually think we’re being loving when we do this.

In Conclusion

If we really want to be loving, if we want to really represent this Jesus we claim to know, then we need to change the Convention’s policies to let these people into our churches as they are and without trying to force them to change. Talk to them. Get to know them. See life through their eyes. They are truly beautiful people, made in God’s image just the same as you and me. Any response we make that values the legalities of Scripture more so than the heart of the person in front of us only makes us more into Pharisees (the one group in the New Testament, remember, that Jesus opposed more than any other; not a group I want to be a part of).

Now that we’ve clarified a few things, what’s stopping us from loving and accepting these people as they are?

More Thoughts on the Bible and Gender

31118_000_005_05What are we missing in the Creation story as found in Genesis? What isn’t there that we might not realize isn’t there because we take it for granted that it is? The short answer is a lot. We fight tooth and nail over creation and evolution, for example, yet do we stop to consider whether or not what we’re advocating is supported by the text? We can make the same mistake with regards to gender in Genesis 1 and 2. Granted, the Bible contains many other passages dealing with gender in one form or another, but this is where it starts. There is a lot to go on here in the text, but as I realized the other day we’re actually missing a big piece of the puzzle.

What we like to advocate based on these passages is that God makes us as men or as women. Nothing else. Not transgender, not lesbian, not gay. Man or woman. But here’s the thing. Like I mentioned in a previous post, in Genesis 1:27 we get “male” and “female.” The Hebrew word from which we get “male” translates roughly as “remarkable,” which makes sense when you consider the male sex organs. Without being too graphic, they’re prominent. They stick up. You “remark” on them because you notice them. The Hebrew word for “female” here translates roughly as “pierced,” which when you consider the physical act of sex makes perfect sense.

That’s the only description of male and female that we get in Genesis 1. It’s a physical description, written as if one was standing there observing these two people. That being said, notice what it doesn’t include. It says nothing, for example, about what’s going on inside their heads. I also mentioned in a previous post that sex or gender (however you want to term it) is deeper than mere biology. There’s not a hint of that in these descriptions. What we get is the most basic physical description and little else.

The big piece of the puzzle I referred to earlier is something along the lines of what we’ve been discussing but which you might not even notice unless you were looking for it. Last week an article I stumbled across on Facebook pointed out that definitions of gender change from culture to culture. What constitutes a man in one culture is not necessarily the same as what constitutes a man in another culture. We learn to be men or women, at least initially, based largely on culturally established norms. These norms can and do change over time but we as children exist within them and learn from them even as we may question them. Our parents did the same before us, as did their parents before them and so on.

What I noticed when I looked in Genesis 1 is that there are no parents for Adam and Eve to learn cultural norms from. If you accept the biblical passage (and if you don’t that’s fine), Adam and Eve are the first. There is no established culture for them to learn from. It just doesn’t exist. They are, put simply, making it up as they go along. To be sure, they’re learning directly from God himself, but that doesn’t change the reality that culture as we understand it simply doesn’t exist.

Now why is that a problem? Simple. We like to read our own cultural understandings back into the text as if that is what the text was talking about and it’s not. We can’t read our own cultural concepts of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman back into Genesis 1 because culture as we understand it doesn’t exist. It’s not there.

How then can we justify using Genesis 1 to attack people who don’t fit in to our cultural norms? Maybe it’s time that we stopped twisting the text and instead tried to fit ourselves into its norms. If we don’t, we’re missing out on more than we realize.

 

When will we learn?

In taking the time to reach out to the LGBTQ community over the last few months, I’ve learned that we as Christians can often have a skewed idea of what those who disagree with us are trying to achieve when they disagree with us. We tend to look closely at what we stand to lose if they were to gain a more dominant voice in society than we have, and then we combine that analysis with our own fears and conclude that these people are the enemy and must be opposed no matter the cost. The end result is that we come off looking kinda stupid given what we profess to believe.

I was reminded of this last week when I stumbled into a Facebook discussion of whether or not Christians in the U.S. are actually being persecuted for their faith at present. The general consensus was that it can and does happen but that more often than not what we term persecution is simply those we disagree with responding in kind to how we’ve treated them. Buried in that discussion was what prompted me to write this post. One gay man made a statement that stopped me in my tracks. I’ve heard many different perspectives from other Christians as to what, in general, LGBTQ people want. There have been some who honestly say it’s about civil rights, others who say they’re trying to force their agenda on us, and still others who say that it’s about indoctrinating everyone who disagrees with them. What no one has said before was what this man pointed out, that all he really wanted was for those who disagreed with him to respect his right to live as he sees fit. He was aware that people out there may never actually see gay marriage in a positive light. While that did hurt, he said the important thing was not necessarily to change their minds but rather for them to respect his right to hold the views that he does and to live by them. In turn, he would treat them based on whether or not they did.

As a Christian, that made me think. It’s such a simple thing. As we believe in a God who gave us free will we should be the first to show respect when others exercise that free will even if we don’t agree with how they’re doing it. And yet we’re not. Too often we’re the least respectful people involved. Why is that? Are we afraid? Have we forgotten the God we claim to know? How hard is it really to do something as simple as respecting the choices of others? And when will we learn that doing so will be a far greater testimony to Jesus than any impassioned defense of traditional marriage will ever be? What saddens me even more is that we can’t even see that this is in our best interest as well. If we can legislate in discriminatory ways based on our beliefs, the LGBTQ community can do likewise when the political winds shift. And yet we can’t even see that.

In Luke 6:31, Jesus says, “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” We’re sending a hell of a message by our example right now. We treat others like crap,  I then cry persecution when they treat us as we treated them. When will we learn? Not, I’m afraid, before it’s too late for those we are supposed to care about the most (and quite possibly for ourselves, too). In the end, what they are trying to achieve is nothing more than to have the very respect we already owe them.

The Last Few Weeks

hqdefaultSeveral weeks ago, I published here an open letter to the Southern Baptist Convention on the subject or our treatment of the LGBTQ community. In that time, I have forwarded this letter to every Baptist organization I can think of that is in the public eye and therefore in a position to do the most good (including, among others, the North American Missions Board, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the Baptist Press). Given how touchy we Christians can be on the subject of homosexuality, I expected to get a flurry of responses. What I got instead was silence. Our stance that the concerns of the LGBTQ community do not represent a civil rights issue is causing nothing but hurt and we don’t even want to talk about it.

When I finally did get a response from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), I was able to understand better the logic and the reasoning behind our position as a Convention on the civil rights issue, the so-called “bathroom debate,” and trans people in general. I have to say that from a theological standpoint, I found little to fault with it. It fits the theological worldview that many Baptists share. That being said, the Convention’s position has one major flaw. If you’re an LGBTQ individual reading this, you’ll know better than anyone that you don’t share that worldview. You approach this entire subject from a completely different angle, so to speak. And that’s fine. The flaw in the Convention’s position is that we don’t even bother to acknowledge that difference. We have our reasons for seeing things as we do, we want you to come around to see things our way, and that’s that. For example, I read through one article that was provided to me by the ERLC about how feeling like your actual gender doesn’t match your physical gender is a diagnosable medical condition called gender dysphoria, and it’s our job as Christians to love you through that struggle until you come to a place where the gender you feel you are matches the gender you physically are. So this thing which you say makes you who you are, well, as the Convention sees it, it just means you’re confused. Basically, you’re mentally ill.

Without being too blunt, like I said I understand the theology behind the Convention’s position, but how the hell are we supposed to love and respect you, to be ambassadors for Christ and show you that he loves you enough that he died to get you back, if we can’t even acknowledge and respect where you’re coming from?

What we have here, in essence, are two completely different cultures (something else I think we as Christians have a hard time understanding). It’s long been an issue in church history that it’s not enough for us to try to share the Gospel but we have to bring along our culture as well. The Apostle Paul dealt with it in the New Testament. He wrote the Letter to the Galatians to oppose those who believed it wasn’t enough simply for Gentiles to believe in Jesus but they also had to keep the Jewish law (including circumcision). And 1500 years later, when church missionary efforts were headquartered in Europe, those who brought the Gospel around the world were notorious for bringing European civilization along with it. In short, we have a bad habit of believing that in order for you to be acceptable to God, you also have to become like us. What we forget is that every time we try that, all we do is hurt people. That, more than anything else, is what I think is driving the Convention’s position in this area.

And I know there are those who will read this and say that how we treat the LGBTQ community is not a cultural issue at all, that Scripture is very clear on this matter and that pretty well determines how we interact with you. Our job is not to enforce our beliefs on you, or to try to convince you to come around to seeing things our way. Our job, as representatives of Jesus here on Earth, is simply to take you as you are and love you as you are in hopes that through that you see his love for you. Anything that gets in the way of that not only hurts you but also stops us from being about the very thing that we are supposed to be about here in this world.

Please hear me when I say that taking you as you are does not mean for me that you are confused or mentally ill. It also does not mean that I view the reality of you being gay, or lesbian, or trans, or whatever, as a reality that only exists inside your head. It means that I will love and accept you as gay, lesbian, trans, or whatever. As a Christian I can do no less.

Politics and the Kingdom of God

us-flag-crossI have to admit that I’ve been trying to stay as far away from all this election drama as possible. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve tried. Being a Canadian living in the South as a permanent resident, I can’t vote anyways (rightly so), and it’s easy to tell myself that the whole thing doesn’t affect me much. It obviously does, just like every other person living in the United States, but the overall effect is one of having a front row seat to the house burning down.

The other reason I’ve tried to avoid it has to do with the hate I’ve seen spewed by supporters on both sides. The focus this go round seems to be less on the substantive issues and more on demonizing one side or the other for displaying whatever faults we’ve picked up on this week. For what it’s worth, I disagree on points made by both candidates, and if I could vote I’m honestly not sure which one I’d pick. (I’d probably go with Trump if I had to, as Clinton doesn’t strike me as the trustworthy type, but even then I’d have my concerns.) I also firmly believe in the adage that political discussions on social media don’t accomplish much other than to end friendships, so the bottom line is I’ve tried to stay out of it.

I watched enough of the third debate the other night to know that part of the focus was on how the candidates would make use of expected Supreme Court vacancies when it comes to issues like abortion and gun control. Their responses were about what I expected. I mean, Trump obviously isn’t going to try to load the Court with liberal judges and Clinton isn’t going to go for super-conservative ones. Given this focus, I wasn’t surprised to find on Facebook yesterday a number of posts in reference to the issue. What I was surprised to find was that one of the points made in one particular post was that, as believers in Christ, we need to vote for the candidate who will put in place Supreme Court justices who will “protect your right to your relationship with God.” (And for the life of me I wish I’d saved the link to this because I can’t find it again anywhere, but I guess that’s what I get for checking Facebook on my lunch break from my phone.)

Think about that for a moment. I live in the South, where there’s a church on every corner (and more than a few in between, depending on where exactly you go) and the culture is to a large extent saturated by the Church. We have Christian bookstores and Christian radio stations, and it often seems a point of note for a business to call itself “Christian”. And now we have someone encouraging us to vote for the one we believe will protect our right to our relationship with God.

The God of the Bible, the one we claim to believe in, is the God of 400 billion suns. The God of sunrises and sunsets and mountains and trees and everything else you can see. He is the one who sustains all of this. Hebrews 1:3 (ESV) tells us that He “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” As Matthew 27:51 records, when Jesus died on the cross, “behold, the curtin of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” His death on the cross, and His resurrection, forever opened the Holy of Holies, the place of the very presence of God, to all those who come to Him by faith. Hebrews 7 supports this by showing that Jesus’ shed blood guarantees that relationship. The price of reconciliation was paid out once and for all.

And yet apparently we need a political figure to guarantee our right to that relationship. The truth is, as I hope you can see, that we don’t need that guarantee from any political figure (see Psalm 146:3 for that one). The Gospel advances, and relationships with God flourish, even in places where the political climate is overtly hostile to Christianity. There are, right now, believers working to spread the Gospel in the Middle East, for example, where if recent news reports are to be believed, they are dying for their efforts to do so. We need a political figure to guarantee our right to many things, but not to that relationship. That relationship was locked in, so to speak, by Someone who lasts a lot longer than any mere political figure.

So what do we need a political figure to protect? We need one to protect our right to attend church openly, to have our Christian bookstores and Christian radio stations, and to have all the other things that make up our Christian culture. I don’t take those freedoms lightly, either. All you have to do is look at the wars which were fought to protect those freedoms to know that they didn’t come cheap. That being said, however, they’re not the point. If you take a look back over the course of church history, it should very quickly become apparent that while the Church has been good at dishing out persecution (and I’m not glossing over that), the normal state of affairs for the Church seems rather to be one of being persecuted. The chapter of the story we find ourselves in here in the West (it’s not just in the United States) is an encouraging one, to be sure, but a weird one in the grand scheme of things.

It makes me wonder, honestly, if there’s actually two kingdoms at play here, one being the Kingdom of God and the other being the kingdom in which we have the right to, in essence, live our lives as Christians as we choose to. It also makes me wonder if these two kingdoms aren’t always necessarily the same. In voting along the lines hinted at above, are we trying to protect the one kingdom while missing out on, or even damaging, opportunities for the other kingdom to advance? If we fight to keep the United States as a “Christian” nation, do we not communicate to those who don’t share our beliefs that they’re not welcome here? Do we need to force others to accept us and our Christian beliefs and practices in order to still have our Christian beliefs and practices? I would assert, given how Christianity has not only survived but thrived over the last 2000 years, that the answer to those questions is no. (More food for thought: How do we combine the desire for this to be a “Christian” nation, if that means what I’ve just outlined, with the biblical reference to God’s desire for “all to come to repentance” as outline in 2 Peter 3:9?)

Maybe, just maybe, we’re fighting for the wrong kingdom. Maybe we’re trying to hard to protect our right to go to church that we’re missing out on being the church.

 

What’s He like?

the-leap-of-faithOK, so it has been a few weeks since I posted on here last, and the simple reason for that is that I’ve been kicking around a fair bit the question of what Jesus is like. There are so many ways it’s possible to answer that question, but the last thing I want to do is give an answer that’s little more than religious platitudes. If you think about it, this is perhaps the question when it comes to Jesus. “Who is He, and what’s He like?” is a question on which so much else rides.

Think about it. Every time someone says “God is _____,” how hard is it to look at your own life, or at the world around you, and respond with “Then why does _____ happen?” I don’t have to look that far to know that this isn’t that hard to do. “If God is good, then why did He allow me to get hurt the way I did?” One I’ve seen a lot from conversations on LGBT Facebook pages is some version of “If the God of the Bible is so loving, then why are His followers so unloving?” Long story short, there’s a lot riding on these questions.

Even for me, one who professes to know Jesus, to say that it’s difficult to find answers to those questions is a hell of an understatement. My wife and I spent the first 3 years of our marriage living apart, and then another year patching up the damage that did to our relationship. And the people behind that whole blow up a while back were committed Christians. I still don’t know the why behind much of that, and I’m not sure I ever will. Trusting Jesus for my salvation was easy. Trusting Him enough to be vulnerable myself, to live life and not shrink back from it, and to be myself in all that means, is something I’m not sure I’ll ever really be able to do.

So back to the question. Who is He? There have been a lot of answers put forward to that question over the years, based on a number of different interpretations (one young woman on Facebook last week said He was a “Jewish socialist”), but the main place I’m looking for my answer is the Bible. I have my reasons for that, as you might expect (and no, it’s not just because the Church says so; I make an effort to question Church positions on different things based on what I see in the Bible, and I would encourage you to do likewise). The short answer is that I believe in the Bible Jesus has made the effort to reach out to us, which means it’s a pretty good place to start. (Nature is another good place to look; you can tell a lot about the artist by what they choose to create.)

So who is He? There are many things He shows us about Himself in the Bible, but here are just a few. In Romans 8:1, He tells us that if you know Him, there’s no condemnation in how He looks at you. In 2 Peter 3:8-10, He tells us that if you don’t know Him, His one desire is that you would come to know Him. In the records of His crucifixion, He shows us just how far He went to win us back and make that relationship possible again after sin had broken it off. And in 1 John 4:10 and Romans 5:8, He tells us that His love for us has absolutely nothing to do with our own efforts. He loves us because of who He is, and because of who we are.

Does that love change if you’re white or black, or depending on the country you live in, or whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or what not? I have to say no. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate His love is limited to a select few, or in contrast, kept from a select group or two.

Does that knowledge make it easier to trust Him…? I hope so, although I do have to admit from my own life, like I said, that it can still be so hard. Lately I’ve been reading a book by N.T. Wright called Surprised by Scripture, and one of Wright’s observations is that, once we come to believe the resurrection of Jesus actually took place, it opens up a whole new world for us. I have to admit that there are days when I’m not sure I’m ready to live in that world just yet, even though I will readily admit that I believe what Jesus says about Himself in the Bible is true. As I mentioned in my last post, this trust is also a daily thing. It will come, I believe, given time.

I have to throw in a little plug here for the Misfit Discussion Forum, which should be up and running by the end of this week. This question, “Who is Jesus, and what’s He like?” will be the first one up there, and I am really interested in hearing your thoughts!

Is He real?

7387-cross_dark_sky_evil.630w.tnOne of the things I’ve noticed throughout all of the crap that my wife and I have gone through in the last few years (and there’s been a lot of it) is that how I view God tends to determine how I handle the crap. If I see Him as loving and close to me, for example, it makes the crap easier to deal with (although it doesn’t make it go away, that’s for sure), whereas if, for whatever reason, He seems distant or I think He’s pissed at me for one thing or another, it makes the crap that much harder to deal with.

The question is not a trivial one, either. If you’re the praying sort, how do you know who’s on the other end of your prayers? Better yet, how do you know anybody is on the other end at all? And if you’re not the type to pray, why start if there really is nobody on the other end to hear you? When I was asked a few years back to teach a Sunday School class at the church we were at at the time, I was told that when it came to prayer I was to teach these kids how to pray. To be honest, that request pissed me off. There are uses for prayer that is more scripted (praying through the Psalms can provide a voice to things we don’t know how to express, for example), but at its heart prayer is just a conversation with God, and if you can talk and listen then you can do that. What is of greater importance is how we view the person we’re talking to. Is He even there? Does He care? Is He even listening? (My apologies if this seems like covering old ground. This one’s kind of important.)

Whether or not there’s someone on the other end when we pray is a matter for faith more than anything else. There are reasons to believe, sure, but unless you find them convincing they may not be enough by themselves. So, is He real? The Bible itself can help us find an answer to that one. In the letter of 1 John, the Apostle John is writing to a group of Christians who’ve been caught up in believing that salvation comes not through trusting Christ but rather through “secret knowledge”. It’s the way he begins his letter that’s important for our purpose here. He says in 1 John 1:1-4, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Take a close look at these verses and notice how many times the senses come into play. Twice the writer refers to what they have heard, four times to what they have seen, and once to what they were able to touch. Let that sink in for a minute. (When biblical writers emphasise something that often in such a short space, it functions as a sort of divine highlighter. This is something you don’t want to miss.)

What John is up to here is laying the foundation for when he later responds directly to those who are trying to mess around with the Christians he’s writing to. Basically he’s saying, “This is why I can talk to you about this,” or better, “Here’s my authority.” And where does that authority come from? It comes from the fact that John was there, and the fact that he constantly talks about “we” means he wasn’t the only one. These people were there when Jesus performed His miracles, and they were there to hear His teaching. In short, they saw that He was real, and for that reason John could call out those tried to change the minds of the Christians he wrote to.

So is He real? Those who heard Him speak and saw what He did when He walked this earth certainly thought so. I realise this doesn’t answer the second question, that of what He’s like, but this is one question that is worth answering well. An off the cuff answer just won’t do, so we’ll take that issue up in the next post.

Jesus and Awkward Moments

In honour of Church for Misfits going life, this is one I’ve been working on for months now but for one reason or another never got around to publishing. I pray there’s something here for you!

woman-wiping-feetI’ve been reading through the Gospel of Luke lately, going slowly, maybe a chapter or two at a time (which is an amazing free form approach to studying Scripture), and what I’ve observed is that, within the space of six chapters or so, Jesus has three separate dinner invites from the Pharisees. When one considers that the Gospel writer, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, had a say not in just what was recorded but also in how it was put together, that’s not a coincidence, and it’s worth taking a deeper look at. Knowing that the Pharisees hate Jesus, and are eventually directly responsible for His death, why does Jesus sit down to a meal with them on three different occasions?

The first part of this little mystery is in the story of the first dinner invite in Luke 7, and as we look into this, keep in mind two “why?” moments. Starting off, in verse 36, we’re told, “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.” Now for what prompts this invite, we have to look in the verses that come right before this passage. Starting in verse 24, Jesus talks about John the Baptist, and in a roundabout sort of way, compares the Old Covenant with the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God. When He says in verse 28, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he,” He’s indicating that in the Kingdom of God, anyone who accepts His sacrifice by faith gets in. The Pharisees, in contrast, were the ones in control of first-century Judaism. They were the ones, so to speak, who decided who was in and who was not, and as Luke tells us in verse 29, they were not happy with what Jesus was saying. Seven verses later, after a few more pointed remarks from Jesus, one of them invites Him to dinner.

Now think about this for a second. Put yourself in the Pharisee’s shoes here. You’re one of the religious elite of your day. One of the powerful. A man of authority. And along comes this man who starts to gain support with the people and who directly challenges that authority. In this situation, the very first thing you do is invite Him to dinner. Why? (This is the first “why?” moment.)

Scripture doesn’t give us any direct insight into the motivations of the Pharisee in question here (we’re told in verse 40 that his name is Simon), but human nature being what it is, it’s not too hard to speculate a little. Simon, and the Pharisees in general, likely wanted to explain the facts of life to Jesus. “We’re in charge here. You’re not. The sooner you recognize that, the happier we’ll all be.” With that background in mind, let’s have a look at what we’re told about this dinner meeting.

We’re not actually told much about what happens during the meal. In fact, the only thing we’re told, starting in verse 37, is that “a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” Some translations have “woman of the city” translated as “prostitute,” which gives you an idea of this woman’s reputation. As the story unfolds, we’re told that Simon is aware of her reputation and although he doesn’t say anything directly, he mentally criticizes Jesus for the respect He shows this woman. Jesus calls him out on this and defends the woman’s actions. The end result has Simon looking like the world’s worst dinner host and probably feeling pretty foolish, while the woman’s actions are praised. 

The second “why?” moment has to do with the woman herself. Namely, why on earth is she present at this meeting? Her and Simon are about as far apart on the social scale of the day as the Earth is from Pluto. Luke 7:36 indicates that this whole dinner invite for Jesus was Simon’s idea, meaning his house is the likely venue for it, and given that extreme social disparity, the only way this woman is staying there, let alone getting in the door, is if Simon is OK with the idea. All we’re told in this passage is that she “learned [Jesus] was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house,” but not how exactly she learned that information. This is the second “why?” moment, and answering this one helps us to answer the first.

Regardless of whether or not she learned of the dinner directly from the Pharisees, she’s there because Simon wants her to be. And that means that she’s bait. If they can’t explain the facts of life to Jesus, maybe they can embarrass him through her and discredit him enough that He’s no longer a threat. Pick it up again in verse 39. Watching Jesus, Simon says to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” The gist here is that if Jesus is a legitimate prophet, He’ll respond to this woman in a certain way. Failure to do so means He’s not actually a prophet.

This, then, is the situation as we get to the end of this dinner story. The unnamed woman is weeping at Jesus’ feet, Simon is waiting to see what Jesus will do, and Jesus is once again the centre of attention. What will He do? While we’re pondering that one, what would you do? I don’t know about you, but I hate awkward moments. Whether it be a prank, or a joke, or just a set up, my first thought is always to get out of there as fast as I can. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and I’m gone. Is that what Jesus does?

We see in verses 40-43 that Jesus does nothing of the sort. Through a pointed illustration, He calls Simon’s behaviour out. Simon is from the upper end of the social scale, as we’ve noticed, yet as Jesus goes on to point out in verses 44-47, Simon hasn’t even observed the social niceties of the day. Forget loving. Simon’s the host who won’t make small talk, who won’t offer appetisers before dinner, hell, who won’t even shake your hand as you come into his house. The woman, in contrast, has done all of that in her own small way. The story ends with Him praising her actions (she’s the prostitute, remember? This can’t have exactly endeared Him to those looking on), and ultimately concludes with Him telling her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

So what, then, is the point of all this? (My apologies for the length; sometimes it’s worth going into detail for nuggets like this.) The point to all of this is that Jesus is the same way with you and with me. No matter what rung on the social ladder we occupy (this includes the church social ladder as well), Jesus never condemns. He takes us as we are when we come to Him. He never condemns. Never criticises. Never marginalises. He has more concern for this woman than He does for His own reputation, remember? As Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Not when we had it all together. Not when we were perfect. But while we were still broken. While we were still lost.

I can promise you one thing. If you come to Him, He will never condemn you. Never.

 

BIG Changes Coming!

website-under-construction_8329I would like to take a moment to announce that there will be some changes coming to Far North Encouragement in the next few days.

In the last 2 days I have seen firsthand the damage and the pain that result when we as Christians try to marginalise those we don’t agree with. Put simply, it hurts. Far North Encouragement will therefore become Misfit Church, a place for the marginalised and a voice for their concerns. If you’re gay, lesbian, queer, transgender, or anything else that falls under the LGBTQ+ category, or you’ve got long hair and live in a very conservative community, or you just feel unaccepted by the Christians around you, then there will be a place for you here.

In 1 John 2:10-11 the apostle John says, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” The word translated here as “hate” actually means more along the lines of “fails to love” when you look at the context. That’s what we’re doing as Christians when we marginalise people, and that’s why I think this place needs to grow a little. (I don’t want to fail to love anybody, you know?) If nothing else, you’ll find here a place where you’re loved as you are.

If not us, then who?

question-markAs you may have noticed, it’s been a while again since I’ve posted anything on here. Part of that is technical (a storm fried our modem a week ago, and apparently express warranty replacement isn’t quite as fast as I’d assumed it was), but part of it is also due to another storm that’s passed through these parts in the last couple of weeks.

When I first reached out to the LGBT community (and yes, I know that the posts in which I did so were off the site for a few days; more on that in a minute), I assumed that most of the conflict I would encounter would come from those on the other side of the fence, so to speak. I am, for example, very familiar with stories like that of the bakers in Oregon who were forced to pay a $135 000 fine for refusing service to a gay couple, which is not to say that we haven’t inflicted the same sort of pain, or worse, on the LGBT community; rather, it is simply to say that I had no idea what sort of response I would get. And by and large, the few responses I’ve actually had, both on here and through LGBT pages on Facebook, have been far more respectful and informative than I’d ever expected them to be.

What has saddened, shocked, and infuriated me has been the response from my own community. We are the ones who show Jesus to the world, who have been commissioned to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, and yet apparently yet apparently we’re allowed to just write off certain groups as too far gone and leave them to the results of their life choices. In the last few weeks, I have been accused of being gay on multiple occasions, even to the extent of folks wondering if I really love my wife or if I’m gay and just using her as some sort of cover. Now, before you misunderstand my purpose here as some sort of vengeful rant lashing out at those who’ve attacked me recently, let me clarify. Am I angry and hurt by these accusations and the conflict they’ve caused? Yes. That being said, to an extent at least, I was expecting some misunderstanding. I mean, I’ve worn long hair and an earring in the South long enough to know that some people here will always jump to one conclusion or another.

My purpose here is to respond to those accusations from a different perspective. Nothing whatsoever in Scripture justifies writing off a group of people as too far gone or too sinful or too caught up in a certain lifestyle. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating that without Jesus, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all screwed up. Accepting the gift He gives us through salvation doesn’t magically transform us into people who no longer need it and who can justifiably look down in judgement on those around us. That attitude, more than any other aspect of this whole mess, is what royally pisses me off. Who the hell do we think we are?

I mean, I get that we may have no idea how to relate to, or even have a conversation with, members of the LGBT community. In the last couple of months, I’ve seen questions which, even given my theological training and background, I have no idea how to answer. Is it a sin? Scripture leads me to say yes, although it is no different from any other. Is it a choice? Again, based on Scripture I’d have to say yes. Now how do those answers fit with the findings of contemporary science and the views of LGBT people who say it’s not a choice but something which is at the core of who they are? In all honesty, I have no idea. There’s a tension there I can’t resolve (at least not yet), but like I said above, just because we can’t resolve that tension is no excuse for writing off the people on the other end of it. The bottom line is that we’re arrogant and cold, not to mention completely unlike Jesus, if we think such an action is acceptable.

In Romans 10:13-14, the Apostle Paul writes, “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” As believers, we’re not all preachers, but that’s not the point. The gist of this passage is that, unless someone actually goes and shares the Good News of Jesus with the lost, faith is not possible. How are they to believe in Jesus if they’ve never been introduced to Jesus? In short, unless someone builds a bridge and reaches out, the Gospel doesn’t really go anywhere. To be sure, He tells us that His word will never return void (Isaiah 55:11), meaning that God can cross boundaries to reach people without our help. And at the same time, the Holy Spirit has a key role to play as well (John 16:8). All that being said, however, passages like this one in Romans show that He’d still much rather use us.  

That observation leads me to the heart of this matter. If you and I won’t reach out to members of the LGBT community, not in a hateful and condemning way, but in looking past the tension and the controversy to treat those we interact with in a loving and dignified way, then who will? That alone makes this endeavour worthwhile.

As I said at the beginning of this (and I do apologise for the length), the original posts at the heart of this were down off this site temporarily. This is not to say that I do not believe and stand by what I wrote there (I hope you’ve got the point by now that I most certainly do), but rather that I had to whether this storm as well. They are back up, although now that I am (hopefully) a little more wiser after all this I have tweaked them a little to better reflect the tension between these two communities.

Someone has to be the bridge here. We don’t need to agree with the lifestyle choices, or even approve of them, but we do have to show them love.