“The Bible Says…”

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” — Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV

Pride Month is here, and with it have come more arguments about what “the Bible says.” Some people are arguing that the Bible is “clear” that any sexual orientation or gender identity that deviates from heterosexual, cisgender classification is to be considered sinful, even damnable. Others appeal to Scriptures like Galatians 3:28, which seem to relax such distinctions insisting that in Christ, “there is no longer male and female.” Everyone seems to be hiding behind the text, declaring that it “says what it says.”

Well I have had it.

Yes, the words of Scripture do promote particular views and concepts, but what you do with those is your choice. I get tired of hearing the false sympathy of conservative Christians who imply they *might* believe differently if only the Bible said something else. I am equally bored by liberal attempts to carve an affirmed, homosexual relationship out of Scripture, usually with David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 18.

Horse hockey.

Codswallop.

Nonsense.

All. Of. It.

Such views are attempts to justify pre-existing beliefs by claiming Scripture clearly and objectively supports what the reader thinks. The decision has already been made, usually by way of cultural or familial influences, and we just need the evidence to make it “legit.” This sickening display of confirmation bias runs rampant in Christian circles of all persuasions, and it all amounts to avoiding personal responsibility.

The truth is that the Bible is a very old collection of documents from other countries and cultures. Yes, I believe the authors were inspired by their experience of the Divine, but the language, imagery, and concepts clearly place those authors in a very specific place and time. Therefore, the biblical texts need to be interpreted. 

This is an uncomfortable truth, because interpretation is up to the reader and the reader alone. You choose what to do with what you read in this ancient text, and how you choose to use it will be something you are held accountable for. This isn’t because God is really worried about the Bible, but because our interpretations of it influence our treatment of those who are made in God’s very image and likeness!

We have been sold an insidious lie that to take the Bible seriously means to take it “literally” or at surface level, guided only by the traditional voices of Christian faith. I submit that taking the Bible seriously means taking into account all that went into writing the thing. We must explore the history, cultures, and religious views behind the text, not to “shoot holes” in it, but to actually help it make a lick of sense!

When we do this, there are perfectly valid arguments for maintaining traditional views of sexuality and gender based on long-standing Christian tradition… and for relaxing those distinctions in light of the fact that homosexuals have by and large been proven not to automatically be idolatrous, violent, or exploitative people. What’s left is for everyone to choose an interpretation, and this is where I really want to urge some caution. How you decide to read Scripture will have an impact on other people.

Am I unbiased? NO. But I own it. I also try to base my choice of interpretation on the Scripture quote at the beginning of this article. I ask myself if my interpretation is going to help me better love my neighbor (and thereby God), or not; Will it make me a more generous, peaceful, loving person or not? It is at this point that I want to encourage the same thoughtfulness in all believers before we go spouting off our usual rhetoric regarding our LGBTQ+ people.

If your biblical interpretation has you thinking it’s okay to disown or abuse a gay or transgender child, reconsider.

If your biblical interpretation enables you to disregard the feelings, opinions, and experiences of others because they challenge yours, reconsider.

If your biblical interpretation allows you to act toward others in ways you would never accept for yourself, reconsider.

If your biblical interpretation feels safe, comfortable, and doesn’t challenge you, reconsider.

Whatever your interpretation is, be honest about it. The Bible didn’t grab you by the collar and demand you think the way you do. It’s your choice. It’s my prayer that we all make the right one.

Peace be with you!

From Within

there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defileMark 7:15, NRSV

I’ve always looked at this teaching with an emphasis on the “all foods are clean” thing (Mark 7:19). After all, it means I can enjoy bacon guilt-free and it represents a shift from religious box-checking to a more transformative spirituality. But the last part… the “defilement from within” part… that didn’t truly sink in until recently.

We as humans always look to external causes for our inappropriate actions. It’s never our fault. It’s the unclean “stuff” out there that got us.

We see this when the media crucifies an assault survivor for what they were wearing; we hear it about the victim of a careless police officer for what they may or may not have been doing out so late in that neighborhood OR we see the same logic used to justify the assault on a police officer. After all, there’s this back story…

It’s never our fault.

I’ve done this in my own life. Old habits die hard, and all the more so when changing seems too scary or painful. There was always a reason, whether it be my childhood, my losses, or my depression.

We always look for external sources of trouble and salvation. We don’t want to be responsible for our mistakes because then we might be responsible for fixing them. Jesus rightly criticizes this attitude.

Agreeing with James (4:1-3), Jesus asserts that “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly(Mark 7:21-22). Our desires and our fears produce the evil we enact in the world. Other people or situations may stimulate or add specificity to these things, but our response is ours alone.

Now this is not a guilt trip or a statement about my own perfection. I am simply indicating that this passage has taken on new life for me because I now understand that I must heal what is within rather than waiting for something from without.

When many of us entered into faith, we are taught that God is a Savior, which is true. But what often follows is the expectation that God will do it all, which is actually a blatant denial of free will. God gives us the means and awareness, and He is with us always, but to change and grow and leave behind our harmful practices is our work. We must desire it, initiate it, and see it through while relying on God’s grace to keep us moving with compassion for ourselves and each other as we all embark on our roads to healing.

For me to change, I have to want it. If any of us have habits in need of changing, it must be us that seek to enter into that process with God. God’s already where He needs to be, He’s just waiting on us to meet Him at the station.

Whatever is plaguing your life, and whatever negative habits or behaviors are manifesting in you, I pray that you will know that it is never hopeless or too late. All that you need to make the change is already with you, waiting for you to find that motivation and get started. Is it your relationship with your family, friends, or kids? Your relationship with God or yourself? Are you simply sick and tired? Whatever it is, may the grace of God light a fire within, and may we all choose to take a step into that transforming Light.

Peace be with you!

A Question of Sides

Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” He replied, “Neither; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Joshua 5:13-14, NRSV

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of always having to have a “stance.” Our world is all about finding ways to divide us, usually over issues that provoke our most intense emotional responses. Pro-choice, pro-life, Republican, Democrat, this or that religion, pro-closed borders, pro-immigration reform, pro-gun, anti-gun, cat people, dog people, and the list just goes on and on and on.

It’s exhausting. There is always someone getting angry, upset, or offended. Sometimes, that’s just life, but it’s also the case that the sharp divisions in our society have left everyone’s nerves exposed.

So what are we to do?

I guess we could keep digging our heels in, willing to fall on whatever sword our “camp” chooses for us. We could keep treating one another as either ally or enemy, unable to discuss the deepest issues of human existence because to do so would cause untold relational damage.

Or…

We could not.

Looking to the passage from Joshua’s story, we see a situation in which he puts to God the question we all face. “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” The divine answer is, “Yeah, man! Your side! Definitely!”

Wait…

God’s answer is actually that the Divine is neither of the Israelites nor of their adversaries. God is on God’s side, the side of mercy, justice, and transformation. So I guess the question is whether or not we who claim to be disciples are on that same side…

More often than not, we choose to be on a path other than God’s. In fact, whenever we draw our lines in the sand over and against the other people in this world that God created, we leave the path of righteousness. But good news!

There is an alternative.

Now, the world tells us there isn’t. We MUST decide, otherwise we are wishy-washy, and the issues that follow are our fault. This isn’t true, though.

To choose God’s side is freedom. We are free to hold a variety of positions that put people first, and not our little tribes. We are at liberty to honor one another (and God) with our choices rather than dismissing or demonizing each other.

This doesn’t mean we don’t stand for something. To honor each other and the life we share is not a timid, neutral stance. It’s also not self-glorifying or “sexy,” full of hashtags, angry articles, and half-truths.

I know it’s ironic for me to write a critique of having to pick sides while offering another one, but hey… That’s just how it’s going to have to be. But the difference here is that God’s side aligns us with the welfare and concerns of all people, not just those in our respective “clans,” and I feel like that is an important distiction.

I pray you will choose the third way, rather than the two sides always being peddled by the world. It’s not an easy path, and it won’t make you famous, but I guarantee it can change the world.

Peace be with you!

The Most Important Decision

Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them.Psalm 135:18, NRSV

Everybody worships something. It may not be God, and most often, sadly, it isn’t. Our idols include celebrities, information, politics, institutions (including religious ones), our nations, families, work, money and others.

There are many things we worship, and, as the Psalmist points out in 135:15-18, our lives reflect this. We treat each other in accordance with our idols, and such things hardly cause us to treat one another well. When we fail to honor the One who is known for His compassion and justice (135:14), we also fail to exhibit those traits as a rule. Instead, our love for our neighbor depends on how they relate to the power, wealth, and desires that actually govern us.

For me, Sundays are a day to decide. I worship because I am grateful for my life. Further, I want to renew my commitment to live and love according to my example in Jesus Christ, rather than allowing the many false gods of our time to dictate my thoughts, words, and actions. I may fail at times throughout the week (duh), but I always come back to my center that I may be empowered by God’s grace to try again.

I don’t know where you’re at or what your idols may be. We all have them. I just want to issue an encouragement to make a different choice.

As my Old Testament professor once said, “You become what you worship.” So let’s examine what drives us, and let’s decide to live according to the image of love, for such life has the power to change everything for the better.

Peace be with you!

Back In Action!

But to the Kohathites he gave none, because they were charged with the care of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulders. — Numbers 7:9, NRSV

We just got back from an awesome trip to Colorado. My grandmother turned 90 this week, and we had a great time eating, drinking, and dancing the week away. Believe it or not, that little elderly woman hung in there for 3 hours of Oktoberfest themed dances!

Anyway, this trip also gave me some spiritual insights that I would like to share over the next few days, beginning with this story of the Kohathites from Numbers 7. The other Levite groups receive offerings from the leaders of Israel, which consisted of covered wagons and oxen. The Gershonites and Merarites receive the goods, but the Kohathites, “because they were charged with the care of the holy things,” receive nothing.

One way of looking at this is obvious and practical. Because they were all busy carrying the holy items of the tabernacle, the Kohathites simply didn’t have the capability of taking on even more stuff. For me, though, there is a spiritual teaching here for those of us who try to lead holy lives.

If there is one thing I learned on this trip, it is that we can only carry so much before something has to give. Hauling a backpack, two full suitcases, and four jackets made for quite the waddle to our room in the basement of a lovely rental in Breckenridge. It wasn’t long before the point came when I eventually had to let it all hit the floor.

The same “breaking point” applies to our spiritual lives. There are many things we try to carry all at once, and the burden often causes a disastrous overload. We try to be better people, but we also harbor bitterness, hatred, and a lack of forgiveness. In the pursuit of holiness and “the good life,” we also refuse to let go of our greed, selfishness, and prejudices.

Coming back from this vacation, I’ve realized that I have to be choosy about the things I carry. As with the Kohathites, I cannot expect to bear the love of Jesus in my body if I am also loaded down with a bunch of other distractions. For them, it was the choice to hang on to the holy items rather than receiving oxen and wagons. For me, I must decide to pursue forgiveness, compassion, and loving justice in my life as opposed to clinging to my wounds, anger, and selfish desires.

As we see in Leviticus/Numbers, unholiness cannot remain in the presence of holiness. It is either transformed or renewed. My encouragement for today is for all of us to intentionally decide what we will allow into our finite spiritual space. May we all sift through our wounds and fears to uncover the precious gems of love, healing, and transformation.

Peace be with you!

Make a Choice For Today

I know I normally start things off with a Scriptural quote followed by a topical discussion on how to live faithfully. That’s all well and good, but this is Monday, and I feel we are in need of a short, simple commission before the week begins. After all, how we approach today will largely determine the experience we can expect for this week.

Jesus boils the entirety of Jewish law and religion down to a single “coin” with two complementing sides. Matthew 22:37-39 states that we are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Life lived in faith is life lived in love.

This all seems simple enough, but for some reason we take a passive approach to this central teaching. We already have habits that determine how we react, and more often than not, they conflict severely with the law of love. That jerk in traffic, the office pain, our most annoying family member, or the odd political ad all tend to reveal the superficial effort we put into loving our neighbors, simultaneously exposing how little we think of loving God.

The neat thing about habits, though, is that they can be changed, but it is not a passive process. We can’t just read and recite the words while waiting for something to magically happen. Instead, we must make a conscious decision and effort. Every morning, before we even encounter another soul, we should set our intention to strive for love throughout the day, no matter who or what we face. If we do this every day, we will eventually establish a habit that will lead to greater awareness and transformation in our daily lives.

So today, whether you’ve already screamed your way into society or are preparing to do so, take a moment. Ponder the words of Christ in your mind, feel them in your heart, and envision what it would look like for you to live them throughout your day. I guarantee you it will be a difficult and rewarding process that will enrich your life and the lives of those you encounter. Ultimately, though, the choice is yours.

Peace be with you!