A Little Context For Me

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Why Christians Are To Blame For SCOTUS Marriage Decision

Okay, now that we good Christian folk have all had a chance to lament the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, I think it is time that we took a moment to consider our culpability in the situation. I know this really eats into your allotted time to wail about the evils of our society, but getting honest is a huge part of the Christian faith.

And I think it is time that we got honest about how we paved the way for this decision. Now there are a million and one things that we have screwed up royally, I plan on addressing several of them in the future, but right now I want to focus on one.

We have tried to turn Jesus into the Easter Bunny.

Not even Santa Claus, but the freaking Easter Bunny. Santa, at least, demands good behavior for rewards, but the Easter Bunny, he don’t care. All he demands is that go to sleep and you get all the feel good goodies you want.

We have told the world they should love him because he is soft and snuggly. We have said that he wants you to have your best life now, and that he doesn’t care what you do just as long as he can put a smile on your face, he’s happy bouncing in and out of your life.

The Jesus we showed the world doesn’t even care enough to stop you from facilitating your own demise. In fact, he will help and he will praise you while you do it because isn’t that what wanted? Isn’t he the one who filled your basket with desire, sexual or otherwise, so that you can indulge in it to your heart’s content?

When we started preaching love without holiness, grace without discipline, mercy without judgement, we started preaching a false gospel that only caters to the whims of the selfish. We began with money, because who doesn’t want more? We claimed that God wanted us to prosper financially, and we justified by calling God good and declaring that a good God did not want his people to be without this fundamental necessity for happy life. It was an easy sell. We all bought it.

Our views of God began to warp just tiny bit. It was easy to push aside those passages that talked about Jesus not having a home or caring for the poor. We found other verses that suited our cause so much better, and we began to declare them over homes, our families, and ourselves. We told the world that riches were not evil, and Jesus really didn’t mean it when he said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. The love of money was certainly evil, but we sure didn’t see any reason not to love the things it bought us.

We were trained and groomed to use the Bible as shield against our detractors, and we became proficient in making converts to this gospel of self-fulfillment. Soon money wasn’t the only thing that this message could be applied to. We began to add marriage to the list, God didn’t want me to spend my life being unhappy or so the tale was told, and divorce became a valid option for all, not just those for whom it was not a choice. We tacked on “me time” and called it boundaries, when the reality was we just didn’t want to be burdened with a friend’s need. We found ways to justify fornication, but we never called it that. We knew that God just wanted us to love and be loved.

We stopped serving God and we started serving ourselves. Even church became an experiment in self-gratification (you have no idea the amount of control I used not to use the proper term here), worship was too loud, too slow, too new, too old, and too boring. It offends my sensibilities and tastes, so therefore it could not be of God, because he wants me to be happy. Sermons became pep talks, pop psychology, and self-help seminars so that we could be empowered to live the life Jesus died to give you. We were encouraged to live life more abundantly, but defined according to our new god of happiness.

And oh, how we have served that god! So many lives offered on his alters!

And we served with such devotion that the world caught our fervor. They became excited about this soft and lovable god who gave his people only sweet things and never required a thing in return. They took up his cause and began to evangelize in the streets, in the cities, and on the hillsides. “You were created to be happy! You know our god loves you when you are happy! You deserve happiness and you must fight for it because it is your right!”

Some of the new followed our example, and they still worshipped their god in the Christian churches. They found evidence of him in our sacred books, and they even prayed to him the name of our Lord Jesus. Those who refused to honor their right happiness became hypocrites, legalists, unenlightened, and bigots, and the god of happiness began to look less and less like the God of the Bible.

You want to know who to blame for the Supreme Court decision? Look in the mirror. Point the finger at Christians who failed to live their faith with integrity and who sacrificed the God of the Bible to the god happiness. Blame those who knew better and didn’t care, those who placed selfish desire above obedience, and those who refused to experience the pain of conviction when confronted with the truth of the Word.

See the God of the Bible never prioritized happiness over maturity. He never condoned our selfishness, and he never praised us for meeting our needs. Instead, he asked us to love him above all other things including happiness and self-fulfillment. He said he wants to be the center of our world and life, he wants to be the source for all good things we have and experience, and he wants us to know the beauty of growing in him so that we can share that beauty with the world.

The God of Sinai is cuddly. The God who took out the prophets of Baal wasn't interested in sweet things. The God of who lead the children of Israel through the desert did just show up when they had a tummy ache, he was there through the hard times and the bad but he demanded that the people honor him with their hearts and their actions, and he hasn't changed. The God of the Bible is still the same, it was just us who tried to create him our image in an attempt to avoid the pain of growth.

It's time we repent, and we let him be God of our lives again, even when it doesn't make us happy because when we do there is once again hope that we can change the world - and maybe get it right this time.

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A More Thoughtful Response To SCOTUS Decision

A good friend who always has a balancing and healthy perspective on the issues I address, pointed out to me that yesterday's post about the SCOTUS decision seemed dismissive of the gravity of the situation. And as usual, I could not argue as she was right.

I did not address any of the possible, and I believe inevitable, negative outcomes this will create for the Church. There is no doubt in my mind that things are going to get a whole lot uglier before they get better, and I think that as Christians we should be prepared for what is around the bend.

Now, I am in no way claim to be a legal expert, nor do I pretend to be familiar with all the intricacies of the laws of our land. What I offer is my opinion based on my knowledge as a student of the Bible and history.

What I do know about our nation’s laws is that they can be rewritten to be acceptable to the changes of time and culture to better reflect the social attitudes of our day. The ability to make these changes was integral part of the design from the start and has been used to make some very positive changes in our country. Women’s right to vote and racial equality are just two issues that come to mind without a second cup of coffee. My point is laws change, even constitutional laws change, and to bank on them as the source of our security is absurd and naïve.

And it isn’t always that the laws have to change, it is simply that interpretation of the laws are changed. After all, if you compared many of the selfies posted on social media, they clearly fit the standards of pornography of the Comstock Act of 1873 and would have been grounds to arrest about half our nation. However, over the years styles and fashion changed so the definition lewd and obscene changed and as such laws had to be changed to accommodate public demand. Now you can show your butt online as long as you have a string over the crack, and by law it is not considered to pornographic.

There is a very similar evolution going on in our laws that dictate the relationship between church and state, and the SCOTUS decision is going to accelerate that evolution.

The first, most obvious reason, is that the Bible teaches homosexuality is wrong. I know there are a ton of convoluted arguments to the contrary, but let’s go with the plain reading of the text as offered in Scripture.

Now if we believe that freedom of speech is a protected act in the US then you have never studied censorship laws – speech is only as protected as it is deemed proper under societal dictates. Whereas Clark Gable once caused a scandal by “not giving a damn”, no one even blinks at such phrases today. However, say that for a man to lie with another man as woman is an abomination, and presto! You have crossed over into hate speech, and do you know what isn’t protected under freedom of speech?

If you guessed hate speech, you are right.

Freedom of religion also will not spare us the consequences. All that is needed is apply the term abusive to any religious practice and it can come under fire, particularly when it involves minors, and this isn’t a bad thing. When we have men like Warren Jeffs marrying off teenage girls to the men his church, legal action should be taken. However, where do we draw the line and who determines what abuse is? In California, reparative therapy for a child dealing with same sex attraction is considered abusive and has been banned. Other states are sure to follow as homosexuality is now considered to be normal part of our society and culture.

To me the almost obscene footnote in all of this has become a major issues among Christians, and that is the idea that churches will lose their tax exempt status. Ladies and Gentlemen, I hate to break to break it to you that is going to happen. When we have churches who voluntarily decided to run themselves corporations instead houses of prayer we asked for it, and I am not going to waste time feeling sorry for reaping the consequences of what we have sown. There are greater issues on the line than money, and if you think that God has to have a tax break to be present in this world, your god is pretty small and probably not worth worshipping, and definitely not able to handle the real issues of our world.

So what are we supposed to do? Well, for starters, don’t sit around wringing your hands as if the world has come to an end. What if it has? Isn’t that the hope and longing of all creation? Our job is to be preparing for it, and I don’t mean by stockpiling a bunch of food and ammo. I mean we should be helping those around us to see God’s glory and goodness so that they might be inspired to seek him, and let’s face it, if we are only showing them a defeated God, why would they want him?

We dive deeper into his Word and we follow the outline he gave a persecuted church so many years ago. For their persecution was far greater than any we face now, and yet, he gave them not only the keys to survival, he showed them how to thrive! He told them how to live their faith in the face of oppressive laws and intolerance for their religion. He didn’t lie to them about how believing in him would make their lives all lollipops and rainbows. Instead, he said that we are blessed in persecution and that we would be reviled and that we should rejoice in it.

We become intentional in seeking our King. For it is in knowing him that we find the strength and humility to live transformational lives. Lives that are not full of self-pity or fear, but lives that recognize the darkness makes the light shine even more brightly.

We surround ourselves with other believers, but we remain available to the rest of the world. We find strength and encouragement through the love and support of those who share our faith, and we use those times as a springboard to live our faith boldly before others.

We educate ourselves on the issues that touch the lives of our loved ones, believers and non-believers alike, so that we can have a ready answer in due season. We have been called to be wise, and wisdom is difficult to cultivate in a desert of ignorance.

We walk in grace and compassion, not anger and bitterness. God has done this for us and when we fail to extend it to others, we fail to deny God’s gift to us.

We speak truth, but we do it in love, fully recognizing that the love that has been given to us is also offered to any who would receive it.

But most of all, we share our stories of how God changed us. For some of us this means being real about struggles in our sexuality, for some this an admission that we don’t know what it is like to face that challenge, but for all of us it call to celebrate the goodness of God’s grace and mercy extended to us no matter what we have faced in our lives.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Why I Am Not Crying About the Supreme Court Decision on Gay Marriage

Today we learned that gay marriage is now legal in all fifty states. There was both much rejoicing and lamenting throughout the land. Supporters of the movement celebrate this new freedom and right within our nation, while Christians vacillate between abject mourning and threats of hellfire and damnation. I will admit that there is a strong temptation for me to join in with my brothers and sisters in Christ, but I am choosing a third option.

I am rejoicing and making a deliberate attempt not to show my butt.

So how is it that a Bible believing Christian can rejoice, you might ask.


My faith was never in the government. I know that my identity as a Christian is not tied to my nationality in any way. God was never hamstringed by any governmental authority. If I start acting as if this affects him in the slightest form, I am basically saying the government is bigger than the God I serve. So excuse me if I fail to deify the Supreme Court justices, but I think that would fall under the heading of idolatry and I try to actually live what I believe. (Success is variable, but the attempt is constant.)

I am rejoicing because Bible believing Christianity will no longer be the default setting for Americans. Faith in the Bible as God’s holy and inspired Word will be an act of decision and living it will be a commitment that requires us to be actively engaged in knowing what and why we believe. Laziness and ignorance will no longer be compatible with calling yourself a Christian. Some of us might actually try reading it now that we know that we can’t count on society to reflect what only the Bible is supposed to teach us.

I am rejoicing because this is a reminder that we are to be counter cultural and, boys and girls, we haven’t been that in years if not decades. Instead, we have embraced the *smaller* sins of our times as excusable and justifiable because everybody else is doing it. Whether it was speeding down the highway at ten over, cheating on our taxes, gluttony, sloth, or turning a blind eye to heterosexual immorality, we failed to live up to the standards that our God has given to us and in doing so we paved the way for this decision. When we confused being our culture with our faith, we stopped putting God first and made belonging to this world an act of worship that denied his right to be Lord of our lives. Maybe this will get our attention, and we will stop half-assing this thing we call Christianity and experience the conviction we should have been sensitive to so many years ago.

I am rejoicing because some people only learn through consequences because now is the opportune moment for God to reveal that his law is perfect. Something that could never happen when the decrees for right and wrong were based in man given law, not divine revelation.

I am rejoicing because I believe that by allowing marriage to become a social contract and not honoring it as sacred covenant we have made Christianity a little more irrelevant to our society. And I think that is a very good thing, in that only those who want to experience God will continue to identify themselves as such. Am I ignoring or downplaying the consequences for thousands of people? No, but I am not discounting my God’s ability to act despite and within the consequences of our decisions.

I am rejoicing because now we have an opportunity to choose our response, and the response we chose will identify us as we really are – bigots who are only faithful when it allowed us to feel superior to everyone else, pretenders who never believed but went along when it was convenient, or authentic believers willing to be unpopular for the God we love. But even in authenticity, there is a choice. For if we are nothing but venom spewing martyrs for a God who has called to live in love and peace, then we are denying our faith in denying the world a witness to his love.

So I will not cry over this decision. God is still in control and his Word will remain true. No one can affect that, but we can affect how his Word is manifest in our lives. That choice is and always was ours, and now we must face it as we have never have before. So what will choose? Bitterness, anger, or despair? Or will you do as he has asked and continue to praise him as the God who was not surprised or defeated by some words on paper?

How big is your God? The response you choose will inform the world.

After this posted, a friend of mine observed that I did not address the gravity of the situation here. I giving her words some thought, I followed up with this:  http://misdirectedmusings.blogspot.com/2015/06/a-more-thoughtful-response-to-scotus.html

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tamar - A Story For Men

As you probably already know, I love to write about the women of the Bible. I love challenging our ideas and beliefs about who they were and what their stories have to teach us. I was excited to take on the story of Tamar as it indisputably one of the most scandalous stories recorded in the Bible. However, I was not expecting to find that how significantly Tamar’s tale radically changed the perceptions of how one relates to God.

Tamar steps into the pages of Scripture in Genesis 38, but to understand the true import of her life and deeds, we have to step back to chapter 37 and follow the ripples she leaves in her wake found most predominately throughout out the rest of Genesis and still felt today. I am just hitting the high point so as always grab your Bible and read it for yourself, follow along, and double check me.

Tamar’s story is begins with an assault on Joseph. While she is yet to be named the stage is being set for vindication before Judah. The sons of Jacob conspire to kill Joseph, their father’s favorite son, but is stopped by Judah who suggests that they sell their brother into slavery instead. He orchestrates a grand cover up. Joseph’s distinctive coat is covered in the blood of young goat, and it is presented to their father, Jacob, with the request, “Please, identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” Jacob is overcome with grief, and Joseph is taken to Egypt.

Chapter 38 opens by telling us the Judah has left his family, taken a Canaanite bride, and raised three sons.  The Bible never specifies why he left his homeland, but scholars speculate it was out guilt and shame for his part in Joseph’s tragedy and causing his father heartache. His sons now grown, he seeks out a wife, and Tamar arrives on set.

Tamar comes to the story with no background or indication of her lineage. She is simply a bride to first Er, who God promptly kills off and then Onan who God also does in – all told in the space of four verses. This is the part of the story where most people get hung up, after all how much more salacious can you get than the Bible’s specific recount of Onan “spilling his seed on the ground”? But this is just prologue for the real story.

For the modern reader, this blunt portrayal of levirate marriage is in and of itself off putting. After all what modern woman can imagine being handed off to her dead husband’s brother or brothers? What we must keep in mind is that levirate marriage was not intended as a cruelty, in fact it was just the opposite. Remember, this is a society of nomads with no city wall for defense, no standing army, and no one other than family to call upon in times of need. Once a woman left her father’s house, he had no financial or societal obligation to care for her. She was at the mercy of her husband’s family, and by including her in the household of her husband’s brother her children retained the rights to all of the first husband’s property. Her new husband was expected to do all the upkeep and management of his dead brother’s belongings so that it could be passed down to the children he would bear in his dead brother’s name. This insured that women were not simply cast aside or forgotten and forced into seeking support through things like prostitution.

Before we dismiss this custom as crude or barbaric, we should also recognize that we celebrate the upholding of this tradition in two separate Biblical accounts. First, in the story of Ruth where Boaz becomes Ruth’s kinsman redeemer and saves her from life of destitution, and then again in our story when Christ becomes our kinsman redeemer so that we too might share in the inheritance as a child of God. For this is the proper term applied to the brother who offers up his sacrifice in the division of property to care for one who is not his own – the kinsman redeemer. When we wrap our minds around this fact, we begin to understand why Onan’s sin was so heinous and worthy of death. Not only did he fail to uphold his duty and obligation to this woman, he did so in a way that that was degrading, abusive, and preyed upon her body to satisfy his lust.

Tamar is promised Judah’s third son Shelah, but she is required to live as a widow in her father’s house until the boy comes of age. She is left in a state of limbo. For while she is living with her father, she is still under the authority of Judah. She is neither married nor unmarried at this point as she technically considered to be the betrothed of Shelah. We do not know how long she lived in this manner, but we are told in verse twelve that it was “a long time after” before she makes her move.

Recognizing that Judah is never going to fulfill his promise to give her Shelah as a husband Tamar decides the dissatisfaction of her undefined state outweighs her fear of possible death, and does something so bold that even I wonder if I had the guts to do what she did. Putting aside her widow’s garments, she dons a veil and places herself at the crossroads waiting for Judah to appear, and ironically, in this place known at as “Open eyes” Judah fails to recognize her. He propositions her, and she haggles with him for a price. Dear Lord, this woman was bold as brass.

He promises her a young goat from his flocks, but she insists he leave his staff, cord, and seal as a pledge of his intentions. Much has been written about the significance of Judah relinquishing these items to a woman he believes is a prostitute. The staff would have probably been covered with carvings that documented his family history and affirmed his position in the community. The cord would have alsoe been custom made to indicate his status. The seal was used to convey his authority and serve as indisputable evidence of identity. Tamar was a smart gal who knew exactly what she was asking for and the boldness of this request shows she was playing for keeps, as she had to be as her life was literally on the line. At this point of the story, I have to wonder if Jacob, the original schemer, would have been proudly amused by his granddaughter-in-law, and we are reminded of Esau who traded away his birthright for a bowl of soup just as Judah now traded away his to satisfy other appetites.

Tamar disappears, using Judah’s own command to fade out of sight in her father’s house, but soon the truth is discovered and whispers reach his ears. Tamar is pregnant and she is pregnant because she has played the harlot. (38: 24). You can almost hear the relief at being rid of her in Judah’s voice as he makes the command that will reveal more to us about who this woman is.

“Bring her out,” said Judah, “and let her be burned.” Genesis 38: 24

Wait, what? The punishment of sexual immorality is stoning, not burning. Why would he demand such a gruesome punishment? The answer is found in Leviticus 21:9

“When the daughter of a priest defiles herself through harlotry, it is her father who she defiles; she shall be put to the fire.”

Ah, how the plot thickens! Tamar is not just any woman, she is the daughter of a priest! And if tradition is correct, not just any priest, the daughter of Melchizedek! Now of all the figures in the Bible one of the most enigmatic is Melchizedek. Here is what we know of him: He visited with Abraham. He is the King of Salem (later to known as Jerusalem). He is a priest of God Most High. (Genesis 14). Christ is identified as a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 7:17).  (This is where I stop myself from racing down a fascinating rabbit trail and get back to our regularly scheduled programming.) If this is true, then Tamar would have been a desirable bride for any family and connects the descendants of Judah to a royal birthright to the throne of Jerusalem that originates from the time of the Flood. (And offers an interesting parallel to the priestly ancestry of Jael.)

Returning to our text – this is where things start to get real interesting.

Tamar hears of her father-in-law’s decree, and she sends the seal and staff to him with the message:

“I am with child by the man to whom these belong.” And she added, “Please, identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.”

If the words, “Please, identify” sound familiar they should. For they are the exact words with which Judah presented Joseph’s robe to his father. The blood of the kid offered up to cover his sin against his brother to appease his appetite for prestige, a kid offered to a whore to satisfy his sexual greed, a life he tried to destroy in Joseph, the lives of his sons taken from him, the deception he committed, and the deception he fell prey to – all running parallel to each other and crashing upon his heart until he declares:

“She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her my son Shelah,” Genesis 38:26

This is a turning point of history. Judah recognizes his wrong and he repents!

We read that and we think, “Sure he did, that is the proper response. You screw up, you repent, and you ask forgiveness. That’s how this thing works.” Let me reach through this screen and shake you while I scream – “NO! NO! NO! IT WASN’T! THIS IS SOMETHING RADICALLY BRAND NEW! NOWHERE IN THE PREVIOUS HISTORY OF SCRIPTURE TO THIS POINT HAS ANYTHING LIKE THIS BEEN SEEN!!!”

Others had accepted God’s love, acceptance, and provision. Others had been thankful and obedient. Others had called out to God for help, but no one else had had the guts to stand up and admit their guilt before God and the world.  Judah alone, out of all the patriarchs, feels sorrow for what he has done, and Judah alone demonstrates how that type of brokenness changes who we are. In Genesis 44, he will stand before the second highest man in Egypt, before the brother he betrayed, and he will offer up his own life for the life Benjamin. He will prove that he has laid aside self-interest and moves through this life with compassion and humility because he learned it at the hands of a woman.

Is it any wonder that Judah was deemed worthy to be the father of the tribe that would bring give birth to our Savior?

So how then shall we view Tamar? Were her actions blessed and divinely sanctioned? I doubt it. As much as I want her to be the shining heroine, she failed to act in faith and resorted to self-reliance in order to achieve justice on her behalf. And while God blessed her with twin boys who would be the pride of a nation, and her name would be praised among the women, she would return to that place of limbo the wife, but not quite wife, of Judah who would never be intimate with her again. (Genesis 38:26) We do not know how the story would have played out if she had made her appeal to God instead of scheming to manipulate circumstance, but the Bible was never big on telling us what should have happened and offers to us instead what did happen. In doing so, we are confronted with the God of redemption who does not erase our mistakes or even our willfulness, but folds them into the pages of history as a testament to his mercy and power to redeem all things.

I believe Tamar is remembered and celebrated for two reasons:

Her story is a cautionary tale for men, not to trifle with the lives of women or fear the consequences. From her life we learn the significance of the kinsman redeemer, and the gravity with which God views such a role. First demonstrated in the deadly consequences of Onan's abuse and negect under the guise of obedience, and then in the blessing of children as she took what was hers by law. For while I do not believe her actions were as God would have desired, he protected her first from Judah's recognition at the roadside and then from his wrath when she dared to expose his shame as Judah, also by right of law, could have commanded her death despite his involvement.

Tamar was the rock against which Judah was broken. She showed him what it was to be the recipient of the sins that he had committed against others. Through her he knew the grief of Jacob in losing his son, through her he knew what it was to be duped and played for a fool, and through he knew what it was to repay evil for evil, but above all he learned the power of repentance and honesty before the Lord and others. I believe that it is for this reason Tamar is remembered, not as example to be followed but rather as the means through which God softened the heart of jaded man. And this is why I call this story for men so that they might not repeat the sins of Judah against the women God has placed in your care.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Jael - Most Blessed of Women

There are just some stories in the Bible that I wish had been written by women. Men are good at giving us the facts, but let’s face it, if you want all the little juicy details, usually you need a woman to do the telling. The story of Jael, for instance, is one of those tales that would benefit from a few additional details. I mean, who was this woman who took down one of the most brutal generals in Israel’s history? What was she like? Where did she get the guts to do something so audacious and bold? I have read her story countless times, and each time I have been left wanting more.

I don’t think you have to be a Bible scholar to know that Jael seems to leap from the pages of history and demand that we acknowledge her as someone special. After all, how many women in the Bible do we see engaged in battle and subterfuge?  And then we have Jael, whose quick and decisive action is among one of the goriest and most celebrated scenes in the Bible.

We know that she was Kenite and married to Heber. They had separated from the rest of his tribe to settle near Kedesh which is close to Megiddo – if that name sounds familiar, it should as it is the same place identified as the Armageddon, a foreshadowing of the bloody future of this place, perhaps? The Kenites are an interesting people unto themselves, as they were the descendants of Moses’ father-in-law who was recognized as priest and one Moses’ trusted advisors. Some traditions trace their lineage to Cain, due to similarities in the two names Kenite and Cain (the connection is far more obvious in the Hebrew) and the belief that they were skilled metal workers, a trade also connected the children of Cain. (Genesis 4:17-22).

If Heber was a skilled metallurgist then that might explain why there was friendship between King Jabin (Sisera’s boss) and himself. (Judges 4:17). Jabin needed someone to make his weapons of war, and who better than a Kenite smith? And that friendship is probably why Sisera felt that Jael’s tents would be a safe place to hide. (Moral number one of this story, your friends’ wives are not required to like you so never assume they do.)

But this also adds an interesting twist to the story – Sisera was at the very least a social acquaintance with Jael’s husband, possibly the primary source of their income. Jael was familiar enough to walk out and greet him, call him by name, so there had been some previous contact between the two. In a society and culture where we picture women as completely subservient to their men, her actions become even more outrageous when we consider that little fact.

If we read only the Judges 4 account, the situation seems rather cut and dry. Sisera entered the tent, Jael covered him, he asked for water, she gave him milk, covered him again, he fell asleep, and she put a tent peg through his temple. However, some scholars to believe that Sisera not only imposed upon Jael for a place to hide, but that he also raped her.

The basis for this view are the multiple references to Jael covering Sisera in chapter four, a common Biblical metaphor sex as I covered in my post about Ruth, and the emphasis placed on violence in Deborah’s song, verses 26 and 27. Particular attention is paid to verse 27 and the repeated refrain:

“Between her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still; between her feet he sank, he fell; there he where he sank he fell – dead.”

If you read my post on Ruth, you also know that the word feet is a euphemism for genitals, and it is believed by some that the first “between her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still” refers to the rape, and the second and third  time refers to Jael turning the table on this man who abused her. Penetration for penetration, if you will.

Adding to this argument is the fact that Deborah even mocks the lust of the Sisera and his men in verse 30a:

“Have they (Sisera and his men) not divided the spoil? – a womb or two for every man;”

“Womb” being the closest Hebrew word for vagina you will find and the word is placed in the mouth of Sisera’s mother as she waits for her conquering son to return from war.

Do I agree with this view? Let’s just say, I don’t dismiss it as a possibility. Sisera was a man of violence, he went to the tent of a women (why not Heber’s tent?), and raping women was considered part and parcel with warfare. We have every reason to believe that he was capable and willing to commit such a heinous act. What I do not like about this view is the fact that it has been used to discount Jael’s bravery and justify her violence, and therefore denying her example as bold woman to anyone who does not have this strong provocation. However, the truth is we will probably never know exactly what happened in that tent and in the end we are left with nothing but speculation to flesh out the bare skeleton of what was recorded in Scripture.

What we should not lose sight of is what do know with certainty. Jael showed courage and strength. She did not let societal constraints or even her husband’s friendship with Jaben to stop her from putting an end to the enemy of God’s people. She risked her life when she opened her tent and allowed him to enter, a risk posed first by Sisera himself and then by her husband who could denounce her for adultery as she had welcomed another man into her private quarters. She did not shy away from the gore of the task, and she did not do it in half measures.

This earned her an extraordinary honor that was reserved for only one other woman in history. Look at verse 24:

“Most blessed of women be Jael.”

There is only one other place in the Bible where this blessing is given, Luke 1:42, when Elizabeth greets the pregnant Mary. I think there is a reason why God chose to link these two women this way. Each of them accepted a role in history that required great courage and posed significant danger to their lives and reputations. Both delivered a death blow to the enemy of God’s people, and I don’t think he wanted us to forget the sheer grit that honoring him would require of them. I don’t think he wanted us to believe that good women are weak women or even proper women. I think he wanted us to know that our service to him would cost us, place us in positions of danger, and cause us to be the subject of scandal of gossip.

I think he wanted us to know and remember the truth. We are daughters of the High Priest. We are have been chosen because he knew we could handle the gore and violence of this life, and we strong enough handle the rumors about what we may have done or what may have been done to us. He expects to eradicate evil when it enters home, even in the guise of friendship and to not be intimidated when the men of this world have formed evil alliances. He promises to redeem our reputations and honor us for being faithful the call he placed on our lives. He sees who we really are and in knowing that we find the strength to deal the death blows to the enemies who threaten his children, and these are the truths, my sisters, which we should cling to as women of God.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Asking My Opinion Rarely Leads To Happiness

Ok, so this isn’t so much a direct question as I was asked to weigh in on this article, 12 Reasons Homosexual Marriage Will Wreck The Nation, by a friend who said,

“Verbiage such as this makes Christians look like a bunch of ignorant paranoid hicks. It also puts people off of God, faith, and the church. There are LGBT couples who are more stable and healthy than most straight WASPS. 
However, I did forward the article to Emily Dixon. Emily is a Christian educator at the collegiate level. Additionally, she is a published author and speaker on Christian Sexuality. I can't wait to see what her take on this is.”

Well, you know the old saying, “Don’t ask for my opinion if you really don’t want it”? I think this is going to be a great example of why we would need such a warning. 

First off, the article is well footnoted with links to supporting articles and historic examples. Kudos to Dr. McDurmon for doing the dirty work that so many of us like to eschew in favor simply spouting our opinions – something of which I am guilty. 

Secondly, I am not in full agreement with each conclusion or, more appropriately, share the same concern if this happens to be the outcome. However, my variance is slight.  

1. Wholesale Revision of Every State’s Family Law, and Related Matters.

This is an unavoidable and logical conclusion to the legal acceptance of Homosexual marriage. When we change what the legal definition of what something is then the laws must be brought into agreement with the new definition. Some laws will only be altered slightly, however, other laws will be radically changed. As I do not have a law degree, I will leave speculation for those better qualified.

2. Closure of Christian and Other Religious Adoption Agencies.

This is happening and the author shares two articles documenting it in Chicago and Boston. Nothing to argue here. 

3. Preaching Against Homosexuality and Counseling of Homosexuals Likely Would Be Prohibited.

Again, already in the works as anything – even the quotation of a Scripture verse is being called hate speech in public circles. Don’t believe me, check out my Facebook page. Sweden and Canada have already declared that the Biblical teaching against homosexuality is hate speech and worthy of jail time. So as Dr. McDumon included the qualifier “likely”, I do not see what there is to argue with.

4. Churches and Others Would Lose Exemption from Federal Income Tax.

Yeah, this is pretty much an unavoidable fact on our horizon. I think it is time we pretty much accept it as a forgone conclusion and prepare our church budgets to take the hit. On the upside, no one will be able to gripe about the church getting special treatment any more. I don’t think this is a bad thing if we are wise about it. Unfortunately, most churches won’t be and a lot of them will be closing their doors. 

5. Legalization of Multiple-Partner and Incestuous Marriages.

People’s objection against this one always amuses me – it’s like there is this line in the sand for even most of the LGBT community where they can point and say, “Oh, I will violate these Biblical statutes, but not those.” Why? I mean, if you are going to start moving the line why stop there? 

Honestly, the only real argument for homosexuality is “this makes me feel happy/fulfilled/and affirmed as a person.” (Why one would feel this way is irrelevant since the Bible is pretty big on denying one’s self. I feel fulfilled after eating an entire chocolate cake, still doesn’t make gluttony all right or less sinful.) If you can justify casting aside on boundary revealed in the Bible, then the next step is to cast off any of the rest that get in the way of personal fulfillment and affirmation. 

And we cannot say that there are not people who believe that happiness is found in relationships that include multiple partners and there are various articles that affirm the right of any adult to have any sexual relationship they desire, including incestuous ones. To deny this is to lack the faculties to read or properly utilize Google.   

6. People of Biblical Faith Would be Driven from Public Office.

Okay, this is going to happen. I don’t think it is the right response to the situation and I think that a lot of Christians are going to be playing the role of martyr by claiming to be driven out of public office. We still have to be in the world, and we have to function within the world. Simply doing ones job such filing paperwork on a marriage license is not the same as offering approval of the marriage. 

7. A Coarsening of Civil Society.

Yes. However, it is the job of parents to help create a tender and responsive heart in their children while also teaching them to deal with issues of society without fear or flinching. The coarsening of civil society does not mandate that we lose all influence in our homes or community. It simply means that we must actively deal with issues we have been content to ignore as “they don’t affect me” has been our excuse to remain ignorant. 

8. Mandates on Businesses to Cater to Homosexual Couples.

Again, already documented as happening. I am divided on this issue as I personally think privately owned business should be able to turn away business that they feel does not reflect their values. It has been going on for a long time, whether it be restaurants with dress codes or flea markets that ask the Jehovah Witnesses to leave. The only difference is this has been touted as a civil rights issue for the LGBT community instead of private ownership and freedom of religion and speech issue. It’s all about the slant.

However, if I had bakery, I would have baked the cake with a smile and taken their money. Because I believe excellent workmanship and customer service is a witness to the community. 

9. Professional Licensing Requirements to Serve Homosexual Couples.

And once again, already documented as happening. Now here is my question, if a lawyer can refuse to defend a murderer they know is guilty as it is a violation of their ethics or conscience, why would not the same rule apply here? And why would you want someone who disagreed with your lifestyle to defend you in court when they could easily throw you under the bus? The same for medical services, really, it does not make sense, unless your intent is to be provoking. 

10. Undermining the Created Male-Female Order.

Yes. However, Christians should bear in mind that this order only applies to those of us who claim to live our lives under the authority of Scripture. We have no right to chastise or correct anyone who does not claim to share our faith. When we try to impose our rules on those who do not respect the source of those rules, we wind up with deservedly bad press.  

11. Loss of Liberty.

I get where he is going, but to build the case with finality would be cumbersome task. It is enough to look at the examples furnished by Dr. McDurmon and note that every society who has embraced homosexuality did indeed abandon any ideas of equality or social justice. A fact that should not surprise anyone since homosexuality is ultimately about satisfying a selfish desire. 

12. God’s Judgment on the Nation.

Yeah, God isn’t big on being disrespected and there will be a price. However, I think the penalty will be far more severe because we have had the audacity to claim that we are a Christian nation while engaging in things that are not very Christian. Please note, I am not saying that this is all going to happen because some people happened to be gay. I am saying it will happen because we all screwed up whether it was in our greed and gluttony, the backbiting and slanderous gossip we all love, or the lazy entitlement attitude that cultivate to an art form. Oh, no, we cannot pin this on anyone group of people when we all shared in the demise of our country. 

We have all created an image of God in our minds that allows to condemn one party while excusing our pet sins. We have said God hates homosexuality and then cheated on our taxes because "God understands." Uhm, no, he doesn't and he's not happy about it. Maybe if all of us who claimed to be Christians started doing what we told instead of what was easier or felt good, the rest of the world might get to see how amazing our God is. Until then, put down your stones. 

Finally, allow me to add this. 

When we speak of marriage we need to start delineating between two separate and distinct entities. One is a government sponsored contract between two individuals. The other is religious sacrament and a God sanctioned covenant between a man and a woman. We should consider very carefully if we want to blur that line between church and state. For if the church can dictate to the state what marriage is, what prevents the tide from turning and allowing the state to dictate to the church the definition of this union? 

I personally believe we should guard that dividing wall between the church and state. It is my belief that recognition of state document of marriage should not be regarded as a sacrament, nor should the sacrament be devalued to the point of a contractual obligation. I recognize that this takes a far greater faith in God, to believe that his will can and will be done without the aid of the government mandates. I also recognize that for many this is leap of faith that is far too great as their faith has been sponsored by God but placed in legislation. 

Ever wonder if that is why he allowed this shake up? I have. 

Please recognize this post has been a response to a question and does not fully reflect my views on these issues. To learn more, check out this link.When Our Faith Offends

A Second Hand Question - Natural Revelation and Multiple Religions

“I believe in God but how come there are so many different religions to believe in? Like how could anyone really be living for the wrong god if they grew up believing in something else, and they have no clue about anything else. Like atheist, and stuff..just because you hear about another religion and people saying it the way to live doesn’t mean they’re going to live that way.”

A friend of mine tagged me in response to this Facebook status, and due to the original author’s privacy settings I was unable to respond directly. So I guess this is a secondhand reader question. I decided to answer in this way so that our mutual friend can share my response with the writer, and I know that this is a common question among believers and non-believers alike.

First, there are several questions being presented here, so let’s divide them up for easier handling. I am also going to arrange them in order of what I consider to be importance.

Q.) “Like how could anyone really be living for the wrong god if they grew up believing in something else, and they have no about anything else(?)”

A.) This was a question that has bothered me since I was old enough to know that people might not hear the message of the Jesus, and I wrestled with it for a long time. It did not seem fair to me that God would punish someone for something they were never taught or saw in their culture.
The problem with this view is that we are limiting God’s power to speak to whomever he wishes however he wishes. We are saying that God can only reveal himself if men and women speak on his behalf, but there are so many accounts that show that God will make himself known to those who really desire to know him.

One famous example is Helen Keller who was blind and deaf from the age of two. After she learned to communicate she was introduced to Phillips Brooks who wrote about their conversation. Keller told him that she always knew who God was and that he was there with her in the silence and darkness. She did not have a name or the proper *Christian* words to use for her experience, but when she was told about Jesus she knew that he was the one who had been with her at this time.

There is another story of the Druids in Ireland who upon hearing the message of the first Christian missionaries declared that they could now end their search for the name of the God they had been seeking. The Romans built an idol to an unknown God as they knew there was a God greater than any they served, and they desired to honor him even if they could not identify him.

Paul address this in his letter to the Romans:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness suppresses truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” 1:16-20

Now I know that is a big chunk of dense Scripture, so let me break it down a little. To me it means that if any of us stopped and really looked at this amazing world that we live in, we would see the evidence of our Creator. And we would not only see that he created a home for us, but he cared about us enough to make it home of beauty and to contain things simply for our pleasure and delight. (Can you say “chocolate”? Beautiful sunsets? The cool breeze on a hot day? The list of the good things he has given us can go on and on.) We might not know his name, but we would know something of his heart for us. We could see it and love him even without being told his story. And as our hearts opened in faith to seek him, we would be come to know him more fully despite the fact that no one told us who he is.

I think this is what happened with Helen Keller – she discerned his presence and she trusted him in the darkness. I think in doing so she learned to recognize him so completely that when Phillips Brooks described Jesus to her she knew he could be describing no one else than the God who had been with her all this time. I think God honored her desire to know him even before she knew his name, and I think God would honor that in anyone who had never been told of his story. Which leads us to the next question.

Q.) “Just because you hear about another religion and people saying it the way to live doesn’t mean they’re going to live that way.”

A.) You are absolutely right. I have studied so many religions trying to understand this world, and I have yet to hear of a new one that even begins to draw me away from the faith I grew up with.

So what would cause someone to change their faith just by hearing about a new religion such as Christianity?

I believe it happens when the people have had a faith in the God their hearts knew to be the real God and we make the introduction. Just like Helen Keller, we share the story of Jesus and they recognize that this is the God they truly want to serve in their hearts. The understand the limitations and shortcoming of the faith they had known before and recognize Christianity as the complete answer to their questions and desire to know God more fully.

Q.) I believe in God but how come there are so many different religions to believe in?

To answer this question completely would require that I write a book or ten. The answer is found in history and cultures that were isolated from the message of Christianity, and in the fact that some people will never accept the truth of the Bible. Some people want to think they can exist without God, that science and reason can answer all the questions of their hearts and close off their hearts to him. Some have intentionally created new religions in order to have a god that will allow them to serve themselves and justify their evil intents. Some people have deliberately deceived others saying that God has spoken to them and used this as a way to get power and prestige.

It is popular today to say that all religions are the same and all religions really serve God. Many people believe that it does not matter which religion you claim as long as you believe in a higher power, but the Bible rejects that claim – as do all other religions, because all religions claim that they are the one true religion and deny the rewards of their faith to anyone who does not follow them.
Once we have been told of the Jesus and his sacrifice for us, we have a choice – to believe and accept Him as the Truth or to reject Him as a lie. There is no in between.

I truly hope this answers your questions or, at least, gives you a starting point to begin seeking out more better and fuller answers to your questions. I confess there are many who could answer this far more eloquently and plainly than I.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

An Angry God, and Other Things We Don't Like To Think About

“Now, let me be, that my anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them” 
 - God (Exodus 32:10a)

Sometimes I think I should start making Christian motivational posters using all the neglected verses. Like this one that you never see hanging on a wall with a picture of sunsets or the children kissing flowers. Why not? Because the image of an angry God stands at odds with our how we like to envision and define him.

We don’t like to think of God as angry or capable of destructive wrath. We want him to be a God of love and tender mercies. We want him healing the sick, blessing the poor, and stroking our hair while he tells everything is going to be all right.

If we have to think of God as angry and prone to violence, we try to frame it in our mind as the response to an exceptionally wicked event. We can almost get behind him smiting the evil sinners – the murders, rapists, and child molesters. Those people surely deserve his wrath, but to us, he will always be the God of Love and love offered with no conditions or boundaries or requirements for we are none of those evil things. We are his children, and we want to believe that he will forever be soothing our nerves and quieting our fears for that is a God easy to embrace.

The thing is that verse – the one that says he wants to destroy *them*- it is talking about his children. You know? The ones he had just literally poured out a river of blood for. The ones that he loved enough to kill every Egyptian first born to save. The ones that he had parted the Red Sea for so that they could pass safely into his provision, and most importantly, his presence.

It would be easy to try and scramble for an excuse for why God would say such a thing. We go back the passage that this verse came from and sigh with relief as we learn that this is a response to the people of Israel worshipping the golden calf. I mean, really how much danger are we in at transgressing that particular little hang up of God? I know I have never been tempted to build an idol nor do I have the means to make one, so I must be safe, right?

I would not be so quick to draw that conclusion. You see a lot of us read this passage and we think that the sin is in the worshipping of a false god, some Egyptian bull deity that they learned of in their time of bondage. We think the sin is bowing before a golden image, and failing to give him their undivided adoration.

The thing is that is not what the problem was, at least, not at the heart of it. Had he told them not to make graven images? Yes. Were they doing exactly what they had been told not to do? Absolutely, but have you ever wondered why he gave such a command and why breaking it angered him so greatly that he was willing to wipe the entire fledgling nation of Israel over what in the grand scheme of things seems to be such a minor infraction of the rules when compared to the wickedness of the nations that surrounded them? Nations that practiced temple prostitution? Nations that offered up their children on bloody alters? Nations involved in witchcraft and necromancy? What is it about this sin that is so heinous to a holy God?

The answer is found in the request for the idol. The people go to Aaron and say:

“Up, make for us gods who shall go before us. As for Moses, this man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Exodus 32:1

A bigger clue is found Aaron’s presentation of the golden calf:

“These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt…Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” Exodus 32: 5b, 6a

Now either these people are dumber than a box of rocks and their memories are so flawed that they can remember the multiple miracles done on their behalf, or there is something going on here that we have often overlooked.

Look at the way the word LORD is written in verse 6. Go check your Bible, if it is a recent translation, you will find what I have recorded here. It will be written in all capital letters. This is not an accident or a mistake, it is a clue that translators have included for us. Any time you find this writing of the word LORD, it indicates that this is the divine name of God as given to Moses at the burning bush.

Even the words here in these verses is the Hebrew term Elohim, another name for God. A plural of honor to convey the truth that he is far greater than any single god could ever be. It is the title used of God in Genesis 1 as he creates the earth and places too many to recount here.

Note the description given to this God of the Golden Calf, he is the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt. The text is very clear, this is not some foreign god or alternative to the God who saved them this is the one and true God who even as they feasted before the calf hovered over the mountain where Moses met with him to seek guidance for this people.

It is true that they defied God’s command in making the calf, but it is also true that they were doing the best to honor this strange and unpredictable God in the only way they knew how. They looked at the rules and they thought to themselves, “This does not make sense. We don’t know how to worship a God who we cannot see, who refuses to appeal to our senses, or offers the comfort of his tangible presence in our lives. This could not be what he really meant. Certainly, it is better that we worship in the only way know how than to be alone in this desert.” So they took matters into their own hands and the tried to make God a little less frightening, a little less overwhelming, and a little less unreasonable.

The sin was not that they failed to worship the one true God. Their sin was in their attempts to define him in terms that allowed them to be more comfortable with his presence. The calf was image they knew and set them at ease as it was part of their lives before encountering this God who uprooted them from all they had known. The calf did not demand that they allowed God to be bigger than their own imaginations or leave them at the mercy of a God they could not define.

If we were brave enough to be honest, this is what we have all done at one time or another. God’s commands didn’t make sense. They defied logic, scientific data, and accepted social norms. We convinced ourselves that he couldn’t really mean what he said, or that he wrote it for someone other than ourselves. Surely, worshipping him in the best way we know how is better than being alone in this desert called life, or so we reason in our heart.

The problem is our finite human imaginations will never be big enough to even come close to an image of God that does him justice. When we try to define him according to our terms he will always end up as lifeless and unresponsive as a chunk of metal, and he is only as beautiful and awe inspiring as we our thoughts can handle with ease and comfort.

And while this god of our creation gives us all the soothes with his reasonable demands, allows us to blend with society, and acts as a talisman against the evils of this world, that god will never be able to love us to maturity, to challenge us to grow in wisdom or grace towards others. That god will never inspire us to dream a dream bigger than ourselves or seek out more than our own pleasure.

The people danced before their idol, and they thought themselves holy and righteous for doing so. Today we dance before idols not seen upon a pedestal, but elevated in our hearts so that we do not have to fear the God we cannot define. The true God will never submit to such limitations, and he does not lower himself to cater to our whims or comfort, because he knows that ultimately, we need the challenge and security found in the God worthy of so much more.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

When Jenner's Story Collides With Mine

As I am wont to do, I started a firestorm on Facebook once again. (If you are enjoying the blog, you might also enjoy following me there and joining in our discussions.) The whole thing started first with a post I shared on the proper response to Bruce, now Caitlyn, Jenner. In the course of discussion, the topic of the accountability of a believer was brought up, and yeah, I was the *guilty* party.

The back story for those of you who were not a part of the original discussion began as a discussion on whether Jenner’s story should have been handled in such a public manner. As Jenner was already a celebrity long before this issue hit the press, I do not see how keeping it private was an option, particularly since the paparazzi had already outed him long before he made his public statements. Given that, I can see why he chose to do the original Diane Sawyer interview, but I will always have a problem with semi-pornographic images on the magazine covers to promote sales, so I have a problem with the Vanity Fair spread which I consider to be nothing but a play for attention.

Now, if this was all I knew about Jenner I would have kept walking. People have the right to freedom of speech, celebrity news will always be news, and I have no say in the decisions that other people make unless I help pay their bills – and as I can barely pay my own that narrows the field considerably. Except for one little thing, Jenner claims to be a Christian.

This one little fact changes the game, and now Jenner’s story affects my story giving me the right to chime in. Please note, I did not ask for this right nor did I seek it out. In my previous post on Jenner, you will find that I addressed my brothers and sisters in Christ and not Jenner, but that was before I knew he claimed to be my brother/sister. (And for clarification, at the time that post was written Jenner had requested to be referred to as Bruce.)

However, this also raises several questions:

1. What right/obligation do we have to discipline a member of the body?
2. Who decides which issues warrant Church discipline?
3. How is discipline administered today?
4. Where does grace and mercy come into play?

And really, these questions just hit the high points of what is a seriously complicated issue. Let’s just acknowledge that upfront.

The first question is easy to answer as Paul dealt with in these passages:

As for you my brothers, do not grow weary in well doing. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and the swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not to even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging the outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? Purge the evil person from among you. 1 Corinthians 5: 9-12

And really, the second question is answered within the last text – sexually immoral, greedy, idolater, reviler (one who speaks abusively), drunkard, and swindler. I love it when the Bible just lays it out there for us, and I think there are a few of these things on the list we should really start paying attention to as we seem to have forgotten everything written here except sexual immorality. And when we do remember, let’s be honest, we only apply it issues such as homosexuality, transgender, and abusive situations outside of marriage while giving adultery and premarital sex a free pass and excuse abuse within marriages – not Scriptural, and not cool.

Is this judgment? Yes, but it is judgement exercised withing the Scriptural ordain realm for believers.

Which brings us to question 3 –

Dear Lord, I wish I knew the answer to this one, but the truth is we Christians have made one big heaping mess out of this thing called Church. There is little to no unity between bodies and, frankly, little cohesion within most of our bodies. Trying to invoke discipline is pretty much pointless, as people who get mad at one church just pack their bags and go the one on the next block.

So does this mean we just roll over and play dead when one of our brothers or sisters is living a life that is contrary to Scriptural mandates, not at all! Rather, I believe that this is where we confront in love and with a broken heart those areas with hope of restoration and healing.

And this plays into question 4 –

I don’t think it is a valid rebuke if there is no compassion in the rebuke. Correction offered with a sense of smug superiority is not the point and runs counter to what Paul is saying. In fact, correction with the wrong heart makes us that reviler and abusive, and therefore warranting the same type of correction we are trying to dole out.

As a personal check, I never approach anyone unless my heartaches over what they are doing to the body or to themselves. A few years ago, a good friend who is active in ministry was involved in some blatant violations of Scripture. The specifics do matter, so don’t ask. It killed me to tell her that I could not be a part of what she was doing because both she and I knew it was wrong. It meant that I had to withdraw my support from her ministry and discontinue her involvement in mine. I made the promise to her that I was there for her at any time she wished to address these issues in her life and would walk with her if she chose to walk away from these things. The memory of it all still stings, and I am still praying that she will make the honorable choice because I miss my friend.

However, I am clinging to these words:

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has not caused it to me, but in some measure – not to put it too severely – to all of you. For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough. So you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.  2 Corinthians 2:5-8

My brothers if one among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wanderings will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19, 20

Did you catch that phrase at the end of the first passage? “Reaffirm your love for him.” That is the one element that I am not seeing in this whole debate. Where is our love for our brother? Real love, not just a blasé acceptance, but love. The concern for what he is doing to himself, and I am not even talking about the surgeries, I am talking about the wounds to his heart and soul that motivates us to keep loving even as we speak the truth. Because real doesn’t hide the truth from another, it calls it like it is holds accountable for our actions so that we might learn to make better choices. It walks with us through the process of healing and doesn’t shy away from our wounds.

But in all there is the need for balance, because real love doesn’t nag and it doesn’t berate us until we can’t emotionally function. It knows when to back off and give us space so that God has clean shot at our hearts. Love knows when to set a boundary that says, “I will not condone or support what you are doing, and so I can’t be a part of this destructive spiral. I am still here for you, all you have to do is call, and I will be there. But while you work this out, I am going to stay out of your way and respect you enough to make your choices but I will not be a party to you hurting yourself or the body of Christ.”

Learning that balance may be one of the hardest things we will do as believers. It is so much easier to get mad and feel righteously indignant over it claiming that we defending our God, but the truth is we were never called to defend God. We were called to proclaim truth, show love, and to shake the dust from our feet when that message is rejected.

Or we find ourselves tempted to fall to the other extreme where love becomes unqualified acceptance of every behavior in an attempt to avoid being harsh and judgmental. We convince ourselves that love would never walk away, it would never call another’s actions bad or evil, and that it would never place consequences on those behaviors. However, when we do this we are neglecting to honor the fact that God is holy and he has called us to be holy, and that means we cannot give even our tacit approval to those things that he calls evil by allowing them to happen in his bride, the Church.

Frankly, this is why I think there is not clear cut answer to that third question. We have neglected the call to holiness because the call to love is far easier. We have chased numbers for our pews and church reports without making disciples. We have pandered to people’s desire for community and acceptance but not ministered to the issues of their hearts. We have treated Church attendance as an equal substitute for an encounter and relationship with our Lord. We have created an entire culture who claim the title without submitting to the authority of Scripture because they were never taught the necessity for it, and in doing so portrayed God as a liar.

As Christians, we made this mess first within our churches and then in world by failing to be a witness of the life changing power of knowing God. It is time we stopped bellyaching about having to clean it up, and just get in there and do the work.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

God Is A Liar - An Emily Rant For My So Called Christian Friends

It is very popular right now to say that you are a Christian. However, just saying that isn’t enough to let you win the contest. You have to add the proper caveats. You have to affirm that Jesus was all about love and peace and forgiveness. You have tell how you aren’t the kind of Christian who judges anyone and that we all have our individual paths to follow in this journey of faith. You have clarify that you do not take the Bible literally or that you are not foolish enough to believe the decrees of an archaic book addresses the social issues of our age. And if you really want to take first place, you have to say it with a bit of scorn for those who do.

Now, I am going say few things that are not all that popular, things that will make me appear foolish to my more sophisticated and enlightened brothers and sister, things that won’t win me any ribbons at that politically correct pageant of faith, and I am going to say them without apology or concern for winning any congeniality prizes.

The god worshipped by those who add all those proper caveats is not the God of the Bible. No matter how much we want to believe it, it simply cannot be true. Somewhere along the way we have bought into the lie that God is all about our happiness and personal fulfillment. We have defined him as the God of Love, Peace, and Joy and cannot imagine him as anything bigger or greater than a God who adheres to our definitions of what love, peace, and joy are supposed to be.

The thing is when we start serving a God that we have defined, even if that definition is based on our favorite Bible verses, we really aren’t serving him. We are serving ourselves. When we start saying that the things I like and the things that make me feel good are the only things he wants us to have, we aren’t let him be Lord.

Like it or not, God isn’t all that concerned with the things you like or even the things that make you feel good, because believe it or not your hurt feelings aren’t the highest thing on his list of priorities. They only rate number one on your list which might be a reason to ask, who are you really serving? God or the god of your emotions?

But, but, but, someone is whining, Jesus was all rainbows and butterflies. He love, peace, and harmony. He wants me to be happy and find personal fulfillment in how he created me.

Uhm, no. He wasn’t and he didn’t, at least not at the cost of truth. He even told us that – I mean, he literally spoke the words telling us that this is a false idea. And we would know that if we ever read anything other than Christian motivational poster and internet memes. Consider these verses: (And while you’re at it, you might want to flip on over to chapter 10, because he gets even more hardcore in that passage.)

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man to if gains the whole world and loses his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” Matthew 16: 24-26

Do you see the words there? Deny yourself. Deny what you are, what you want, what you think is going to bring you joy – deny it. Take up your cross. This doesn’t mean go out and buy some gaudy necklace, or slapping some pious sticker on your car. A cross wasn’t a thing of beauty it was a torture device that ended in death, and you need to pick yours up, and follow him. And where did that path lead? To Golgotha, the hill of the skull, a mountain drenched in the blood, urine, and feces of those who died there. Does this sound like rainbows and butterflies to you?

Sure you can reach out and have your best life now. You can discover who you really and live that life to the fullest, but if you truly believe that Jesus is Lord then you have to accept that following that path means you will eventually lose everything you gain for yourself. Why? Because everything that owes its existence to flesh will die with the flesh, and this is why who you are must not be the creation of your inborn fleshly desires. The flesh cannot create the eternal, and the eternal owes nothing to efforts of the flesh. Paul put this way:

So then brothers we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. . .and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and coheirs with Christ provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:12-14,17

The problem is we have a lot people who are calling themselves Christian and never denying themselves one thing, never putting to death the deeds of the body so that they might live by the Spirit. And there are some of you who are reading this and shaking your heads yes, agreeing with all that I have said while pointing your finger at the other guy, and almost yelling, “I know who she is talking about!”

The truth is I am talking about us all, because each and every one of us has some area of our lives where we have ignored God’s command to eradicate certain behaviors or ideas. Some of us have reasoned our way around Scripture, citing science and progress as a vindication for ignoring his commands. Some of us have equated love with placating and appeasement, so that we can declare that a God of Love would never ask us to know the pain of trying to change who we are. Some of us have just dressed up our pet sin as a morality so that we can still enjoy a sense of smug superiority while being jerk to the rest of the world.

Look, trusting in God means trusting in everything he said. If we start picking and choosing which of his words we are willing to believe or cast aside based on our delicate sensibilities, we are doing nothing more than calling God a liar. We are saying that I am smarter, wiser, and more loving than God ever was – and if knowing that does not cause you to tremble, you need to check your faith because it is not what you say it is and you are not who you say you are.

The child of a true King does not dishonor him before the world, the child of a great King does not try invalidate his Father’s words, and the child who truly loves his Father will not betray that love through persistent disobedience, even if you supposedly have a great excuse. So tell the world that you like some of the pretty bits of his book, tell them how there are some great moral and ethical teachings to be found in the Christian faith, explain why you have a certain fondness for our ideas, but if you are not actively working to follow his demands to deny yourself, to put to death the deeds of the body, stop lying to yourself and the rest of the world.

And, yes, he is the God of Love but a love so big, so grand, that it compels us to become more than we were so that we might receive it and live it. Who we are, as we are, will never be big enough to do that, and that is why demands so much, and yet so little, from us.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Why I Told My Four Year Old About Condoms - It's Scriptural

“Mama, what is a condom?”

We were at a family member’s house when my four year old daughter decided that she needed to ask this question right now.

The family member, without missing a beat, said, “It’s condominium. It’s a place to live. We just call it an apartment.” My daughter looked puzzled and suspicious, but the family member kept smiling in an assuring manner.

I shot the family member a look, turned to my daughter, and said, “It’s something people use when they are trying not to have babies.”

“Oh,” my daughter said and returned to her Nutella sandwich.

It was the family member’s turn to shoot me a look and indicate that we should leave the room for a moment. I was pretty sure what was going to happen, and I was right.

“Don’t tell that baby that!” she said as the door closed between us and the kids. “She’s too young to know about stuff like that!”

“Evidently not, she asked and I am not going to lie to my children,” I stated. “And it’s not like I gave her the banana demonstration.”

This was just one of the many questions I got asked as parent, and one of the many times I found myself bucking the trend among my conservative Christian family and friends about how I answered them. I decided early in life that I was not going to raise my kids the way so many of my peers and I were raised. That is I was not going to raise them in a Christian bubble that denied or avoided all the ugly out there in the world in an attempt to protect my children’s innocence.

Several things lead me to this decision: My own experience in a marriage where my now ex-husband’s sexual practices were so foreign to me that I did not know how to cope. The number of “good Christian kids” who were first stunned, then shaken, and then embracers of values new and exotic that they discovered when they left their parents’ home, and the large number of these kids who became victims of abuse because they were not prepared to deal with real world.

It was not an easy decision. Friends and family could not understand why I would be so frank with my children about the hard realities of this world, and they were not shy in telling me that I was screwing my kids up by telling them these things. “They are just children,” “They are little girls,” “Babies don’t need to hear that”, or “I can’t believe you told her that” were constant refrains in my life. Nor did the girls make it any easier because they did something that few kids are willing to do to their parents – they asked me the hard questions, and the questions just kept getting harder as they grew older because they knew they could trust me to give them an honest answer.

I won’t lie. It wasn’t always easy and there were times that I had to fight not to flinch. Like the one night my daughter calmly asked, “Is anal sex what you do when you are on your period?” I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that I was the cool mom – and try not to choke on the fish we were having for dinner. (In the meantime, Ty has fallen out of his chair and had small seizure in the dining room floor.) Turns out that the cafeteria conversation among the thirteen year olds at school had revolved around this topic that I was blissfully oblivious to until I was twenty one and married.

So why did I do it? Even when it was one of the most difficult and unpopular things I have ever done in my life?

I never allowed myself to think of my children as “little girls”. They were young women who just happened to be little girls at that time. My job was never to keep them in that state or to hold them in some type of stasis. In fact, my job was the exact opposite of this. My job was to help them become women who could handle whatever the world had to offer them and help them not flinch when confronted by those realities that I could not protect them from indefinitely. Talking about these things at home, where it was safe, where they could consider different and opposing views without outside pressure or threats, where they could ask why this or that was contrary to our faith, or why it might be a danger physically or emotionally, gave them the room to determine their course of action before someone else could present a counter-argument that just made mom look like a naïve relic.

I, also, believe that this is a Scriptural approach to parenting. Stop and consider these verses:

Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, and teach them to your children – reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up; and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and one your gates – to the end  that you and your children may endure, in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to assign to them as long as there is a heaven over the earth. Deuteronomy 11:18-21

What were these words? The Torah, otherwise known as the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures! The laws that God handed down to Moses on Siani, the ones that recorded the history of the Jewish people with all the sex and violence that anyone could want, the ones the described proper sexual expressions, how to deal with bodily fluids, rape, incest, homosexuality, witchcraft, death, burial, childbirth, and so much more! Teaching the Bible, really teaching it and not just doing a cute flannel graph presentation of it, means that we talk about the hard issues with our kids.

I know someone is reading this thinking, “But our lessons need to be age appropriate!” Really? Your ideas of age appropriate or God’s?

Jewish custom dictates that children should begin learning Torah as soon as they can speak, and by the age of 13 they are responsible for fulfilling all the laws contained in the Torah. Now, how can they fulfill what they do not know? And remember we are not talking about the Ten Commandments, we are talking about the entirety of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – not something you are going to cram into a six month crash course. This is why formal training in the Torah began at the age of five.

And we should consider the example of Jesus in Luke 2:41-52 when he was found at the Temple asking questions of the teachers and amazing them with his understanding and answers. What would the standard conversation have been between the teachers and boy of twelve? It would have been about the Torah, double checking to see if his parents had been faithful in their obligation as presented in Deuteronomy. Luke specifically tells us that Jesus was growing/filled in wisdom, both before and after this passage, and in rabbinic debate we find that to be wise was to be “wise in Torah.”

Now this is where I could get lost in a big long lesson about how each part of the Bible hinges on another and that cutting and pasting the pretty parts together while ignoring the messy bits leaves us with nothing but fluff that will not sustain our faith. I won’t, at least not here, but I could and so could anyone who took the time to really study the totality of its message.

Unfortunately, this is what we have done for our kids and we wonder why their faith crumbles the moment they leave home. The issues addressed in the Bible were meant to be taught in the safe and loving environment of the home. They were not to be ignored because they make parents uncomfortable. They weren’t to be skipped over in favor stories that we can give the Precious Moment treatment – no! We are to discuss it all, and when we do we will find that there is no modern issue of sex that is left unaddressed. All the answers and tools our children need to make wise decisions is right there, but if we are shielding our kids from it then we do them a disservice in offering a form of religion without the substance of wisdom.

Furthermore, we need to remember that these words were not given in a sexual vacuum. Quite the contrary, with temple prostitution, the small cramped houses, the agrarian lifestyles, sex was at the center of the ancient world. Daily families would have been confronted by the need to teach wisdom and truth their children concerning this issue. Thankfully, God gave them the means to do so in His Word, and notice what you don't find, you don't find any commands to deny reality or to hide the truth from your children. Instead we are told to discuss these things at every waking moment and teach them to guard their hearts, a command that I believe encompasses the need to guard their trust in our integrity and courage by speaking even the uncomfortable truths. (Proverbs 4:20-27, A passage written by a father to a son and is followed by blunt discussion over the dangers of adultery.)

This is why I don’t worry about the news stories or what TV shows. In our home, they were just an opportunity to dive deeper into what the Bible had to teach us about sex and sexuality. We turned what is tearing so many families apart into a springboard for what brought us closer together, and my children learned three significant lessons from this approach – 1. God is not ashamed or confused by sexual issues. 2. There are answers to be found in His Word. 3. They can always come to me with the hard questions and I won’t flinch because the God I serve doesn’t flinch.

Together we can seek out the answers and there is no shame in having the question or need to fear a world that does not share our faith.

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