Keeping Sin in Perspective

This post by Matt Moore was timely in the wake of Kim Burrell’s statements earlier this week. Matt shares his thoughts on feeling that homosexuality was somehow different than any other sin, and how that mindset can undermine the potential for growth in one’s relationship to Jesus:

http://www.moorematt.org/not-an-anomaly/

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This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

saltimages

The title of this post is a bit misleading – it actually should read more along the lines of “This is why we cannot have meaningful relationships and conversations.”

Earlier this week, singer Kim Burrell in a video, predicted that homosexuality and those “who play with it in God’s house will die in 2017.” She also spoke about “the perverted homosexual spirit” in her sermon. (She has since stated that her comments were taken out of the context of her message, and that she holds no hatred for gays or lesbians.) The comments made in her original video came to the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who cancelled Kim Burrell’s upcoming scheduled appearance on her show.

And I don’t blame her (DeGeneres) for taking that step.

Once again, someone who is a follower of Christ was found to take homosexuality out of the greater context of Scripture and twist it into a something unrecognizable. Predicting the death of anyone in this or any other year is beyond the pay grade of any disciple of Jesus.

I believe that there are several reasons behind this type of thinking:

  1. Bad teaching.
  2. Resentment
  3. A Lack of Discussion Regarding Sexuality in the Church

Let’s take a closer look at these…

1. Bad Teaching

At this point in the history of the church, there really is no excuse for this. There are more resources available than there have ever been. (You can find a list of some of them under the “Resources” tab of this blog.) For Kim Burrell to have said these things, it seems that she has spent little time in understanding how homosexuality is addressed in Scripture, and how God works in the lives of those who have experienced same-sex attractions, or any other sin for that matter.

Singer and songwriter Keith Green once said, “This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls on the earth!” We have a responsibility to learn about the issues our culture is concerned with today in order to reach the souls of those around us with the Gospel.

2. Resentment

Sometimes it seems as though Christians speak out recklessly in regards to homosexuality in particular because of a resentment of the wider cultural acceptance of those who identify as gay or lesbian. It is as if lashing out with words you would never hear applied to any other sin is done in a terribly misguided effort to take back ground in some way.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I’m thankful that people are able to be more open about their same-sex attractions in our culture – I don’t want to go back to where we were. It is good for people to be able to walk down the street without being afraid of getting beat up. It’s good for people to be able to go about their days at work or running errands on eating meals with friends without harassment. It was not a good thing to treat homosexuality as a cultural taboo.

Christians always walk in two worlds – we live here on earth as citizens of another Kingdom. It makes no sense to waste time railing against our status as expatriates. This world is not our home, and we have the privilege of showing those around us what it is like to live a life of freedom and love in Christ. When others see His love in us, they will want to join in the call to know and glorify God.

3. A Lack of Discussion Regarding Sexuality in the Church

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6

Kim Burrell lost her opportunity to meet Ellen DeGeneres, to appear on her show, and to have any kind of conversation or build any kind of relationship with her because she chose to pick out homosexuality as a sin deserving some kind of special punishment from God. Her theology was wrong, and it will take some time and effort to ever have that kind of opportunity come her way again (if ever.)

Without discussions about sexuality – whether about homosexuality or heterosexuality – within the church, room is created for bad teaching and resentment to build, instead of wisdom and contentment in Christ. Too often people are afraid to bring up the subject in a Sunday School class or Bible study, and their conversations end up being seasoned with flamethrowers instead of salt.

Salt is known to be one of the basic human tastes. (The others are sweet, bitter, sour and savory.) According to Wikipedia:

“As taste senses both harmful and beneficial things, all basic tastes are classified as either aversive or appetitive, depending upon the effect the things they sense have on our bodies. Sweetness helps to identify energy-rich foods, while bitterness serves as a warning sign of poisons.

According to Lindemann, both salt and sour taste mechanisms detect, in different ways, the presence of sodium chloride (salt) in the mouth, however, acids are also detected and perceived as sour.

The detection of salt is important to many organisms, but specifically mammals, as it serves a critical role in ion and water homeostasis in the body. Because of this, salt elicits a pleasant taste in most humans.

Sour and salt tastes can be pleasant in small quantities, but in larger quantities become more and more unpleasant to taste.”*

I’ve made the mistake of adding too much salt in recipes, and the results were inedible. When we fail to use wisdom and discernment in our conversations, we make relationships with people who don’t know Jesus unpalatable. (Now, of course, we know that some people may find the message of the Gospel hard to digest – but that is not what is happening in this example with Kim Burrell.) We need to spend time learning within our fellowship groups how to address questions surrounding sexuality in a Biblically sound and compassionate way. I believe that Kim’s words would have been different if she had spoken to other mature Christians first.

Here are some suggestions:

Invest some time in learning more about what the Lord has to say about our sexuality in general, as well as about homosexuality. (Again some excellent resources are listed on the Resources tab of this blog.)

Spend some time listening to those who have experienced same-sex attractions. Ask questions just to gain insight into the perspective of other people.

Find other Christians who are interested in learning more about how to reach out to people around them who are involved in the LGBT community, and talk about your concerns and questions. Invite someone to come speak to your small group on the topic, and ask your church staff for more teaching to be made available so you can ask your questions within the Body of Christ.

There are ways to speak about sexuality without alienating people – and those conversations are best when they are earned. We need to be involved in serving everyone around us, and being ready to give thoughtful (not bland), graceful answers when opportunities do arise. Here is one example that I thought was very good – you may recall that there was an article raising a controversy about Chip and Joanna Gaines late last year, where it was noted that they attend a church in which the pastor has addressed homosexuality as a sin. Just this week, Chip has posted the following response on his blog…it is well worth taking your time to read:

https://magnoliamarket.com/chips-new-years-revelation/

Instead of decrying the state of being attacked and misunderstood, Chip Gaines has asked us all to raise the level of the conversation. He asks us to be considerate of one another and give one another breathing room. It is possible to lovingly disagree and work alongside each other in a community. Let us look for opportunities to do that in this new year.

 

 

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste#Basic_tastes

Signs of Hope in the Midst of Grief

P1180179_2This past weekend we have witnessed horrible events that still hang heavy on my heart and mind.

On Friday evening, after singing at her concert, Christina Grimmie was shot and killed while signing autographs for her fans. Her brother tackled the shooter, who then turned the gun on himself, taking his own life.

Then, the news early Sunday morning shared the loss of 20 people at a gay bar in Orlando, with tens more injured. By that afternoon, the death toll had risen to 50, and I’ve heard since that 53 lives were lost.

Stunning, again, such loss – these were people with promise, going about their lives peacefully. They had no reason to think that this would be their last time heading out the door, seeing their families and friends, or hearing their last song.

As soon as I learned of these incidents, I prayed for their friends and families. Yet the sorrow has lingered longer than the headlines. I have a friend who lives near Orlando who might have been in that club, but thankfully was not. Just yesterday I learned that my aunt went to church with Christiana Grimmie in NJ, and shared that their pastor spoke of her loss on Sunday morning.

One thing that I have noticed that brings me some hope in the midst of this is the reaction from the Christians around me. Online, the first news I had of the story was from the post-gay community, who are united in grief and in prayer. At Sunday School the first prayer request that morning was for those involved in the shooting in Orlando. Ugly words have been rare, and there has been much less hesitation to reach out in love.

I pray that this is a sign of maturity – long past due – in the church as a whole. I encourage anyone who knows someone in the LGBT community to voice your sadness, and ask those around them how they are feeling / what they are thinking about what happened.

After the shooting that took place at a prayer service Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC on June 17th, 2015, (where a shooter sat with the church members for an hour before standing up to kill nine people) I remember the next time that I went to church, for the first time, I wondered what would I do if someone came into the sanctuary with a weapon. Would I be hit instantly, or would I be able to duck under cover? What about my husband, what would I do if he was injured? Would I be able to help anyone?

No one should have to think about these kinds of questions going to church, or to school, or a movie theater, a mall, or a gay bar.

There have been a variety of reasons behind these mass shootings in the US – mental illness, racism, extremist Islamic terrorism, etc. In every case, bringing a gun into a peaceful assembly of people is an act of cowardice. It will not advance any cause, or resolve any problem.

I have seen a (very) few people decrying prayer as a response to these incidents. At first I was taken back by this, after all – how can prayer hurt? There is in our culture the belief that prayer is mere sentiment; a well-wishing, fleeting thought aimed vaguely at the sky. And for some, sadly, that is all it is – a notion of the mind, dissipating into thin air. But for those who know the Lord personally, prayer is communication with the Creator of the Universe, a direct connection with a supernatural, holy, and awesome being who bends low to listen to us. There is an underestimation of the power of prayer, and the impact this conversation can have on the individual praying.

But if that disapproval of prayer is actually a disappointment, a frustration with those who pray and turn away unchanged, or not motivated to put their prayers into helpful action, then I can understand, and even agree.

One way that I’ve found useful in turning my prayers for an end to these mass shootings & for peace into practical action is supporting the work of Americans for Responsible Solutions (http://americansforresponsiblesolutions.org/).

You may remember that on January 8th of 2011, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head while at a public gathering with constituents. Six people were killed and nineteen injured in that incident (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabrielle_Giffords). Since that time, Gabrielle and her husband Mark Kelly have started Americans for Responsible Solutions to address the complicated matters surrounding gun violence in this country. Both Mark and Gabrielle are gun owners, and do not advocate overturning the Second Amendment of the Constitution. The legislative actions they do support address a variety of issues surrounding gun violence in a variety of ways, and I believe that they are common sense ways we can agree on that will help. Please consider looking into their proposals and supporting this work.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

Approachability

Same Outfit, Different Appearance

Earlier in this series on Gender Identity, I wrote: “For quite some time, people couldn’t tell if I was a boy or a girl, and now, even on days when I’m wearing the exact same clothes that I was then, no one questions that I’m a woman. How did I get here from there?”* I would like to explore that phenomenon a bit in this post. Why is it that I can wear the exact same clothes I that I had worn years ago, and yet there are no longer any questions about my gender?

Of course there are some easy cues – my hair is longer, and I wear earrings. However, from some angles you can’t tell what the length of my hair is, as I’m often wearing a hat with a ponytail. And usually my earrings are small and not noticeable. Even from a distance, people can consistently tell that I’m a woman although I might be wearing hiking clothes or some other tomboyish outfit. I suspect that this is due to a factor that is hard to describe in one word. I think it’s because I carry a different air or atmosphere – an attitude or mindset – about me that goes deeper than perfume.

pine

Approachability

The way that I used to carry myself – my posture, eye contact (or the lack thereof), mannerisms, conversation (tone of voice along with my choice of words), was not welcoming to men. I was guarded, wary, and easily triggered. Often, I was a living image of the Heisman Trophy – one arm extended, the other carefully cradling the football. At the same time, I would wonder why men were not asking me out, or taking the time to get to know me better. Well, who would want to crawl over and through all that barbed wire, landmines, moats and traps? It takes courage to ask someone out, and I had put up many layers that were getting in the way.

I thought I was brave, yet in reality I was fearful. I didn’t want to take risks, I wanted guarantees. I assumed that the “right guy” would be the one to prove he could see through my defenses and find the real me. It took a long time for me to see that my defenses were over-the-top, and that I could trust the Lord to be my Shield, my Shepard – He would have my back. When I leaned more on Jesus and became more open, (which took years), it made a great difference.

Approachability is not the same as attractiveness. One can be approachable, yet not attractive. And one can be quite attractive, yet not approachable.

Karl Bonhoeffer, the father of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once described first meeting Paula von Hase at at meeting at the house of physicist Oscar Meyer:

“There I met a young, fair, blue-eyed girl whose bearing was so free and natural, and whose expression was so open and confident, that as soon as she entered the room she took me captive. This moment when I first laid eyes upon my future wife remains in my memory with an almost mystical force.”

~ Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

In reading this, there is very little description of Paula von Hase’s appearance – we read that she was “fair” with “blue eyes.” I’m pretty sure that would accurately describe a good number of women across Germany. Yet we do get a good impression of how approachable Paula von Hase was to Karl Bonhoeffer – her “bearing” and “expression” were captivating. She was “free and natural…open and confident.” Much different than the closed and cautious air I was exhibiting for many years.

[As an aside: Karl Bonhoeffer’s reaction also reminds me of what Alice Von Hildebrand said about what the response of a man to a woman and vice verse is:

“…the proper response of a man to a woman is enchantment, and that of a woman, ‘when seeing a man worthy of being called a man’ is admiration.”

(See the last post on this blog: https://sswh.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/inside-the-outside/) His first impression lasted through many trials. Their marriage by all accounts was happy and lasted through WWII and the loss of several children and other family members who fought against the Nazi regime.]

On the flip side, someone can be quite attractive and yet be intimidating or carry a cold shoulder. Google, “intimidating” and choose images. You’ll see a good variety of examples – I found it telling that what came up in this search were mostly faces rather than animals or objects.

I think that approachableness is a combination of several things – I’d like to focus on two that I’ve not already covered in other posts on this blog: Actions and Mindset.

Actions

Sometimes subtle, sometimes not – I liked the definition of the term, “bearing” that Karl Bonhoeffer used in the quote above. This is from the Apple dictionary:

bearing |ˈbe(ə)riNG|

noun

1 [ in sing. ] a person’s way of standing or moving: a man of precise military bearing.

• the way one behaves or conducts oneself: she has the bearing of a First Lady.

For me, it was easy to read my posture as a huge “back away” billboard, as I used how I moved and rested to physically create space for myself and to put men in particular off. Again, some of this was comical, as during this time I was close to 100 lbs. and under 5 and a half feet tall. At one single’s group, I would carry a book bag with my Bible and note pad in it. I choose a folding chair early and grabbed the one next to it to set in front of me, using it as a desk for my Bible. My feet would rest on the legs of the chair in front, and I was “dug in” to listen and learn. Very attentive, but not very inviting for anyone else to sit next to me and start a conversation.

Think about how you might set yourself up with a book and/or headphones or a pillow and blanket on a plane for a long flight when you hoped to get some quiet rest. That was me in almost any social situation. Looking back now, I realize that I would accessorize for disassociation, distance, and defense. At the time I wasn’t conscious about it.

After starting to put the pieces together, one day I prayed that one of the men in the singles group would sit down next to me. I used a tote bag instead of the backpack, and didn’t spin a seat around to use as a desk. I took time to chat with people in the group, and then simply sat down. I remember feeling rather vulnerable, as silly as that may seem. Within a minute, though, one of the guys in the group – actually the tallest and one of the nicest fellows there – strode across the room and said out loud for all to hear, “Well, I’m going to sit down here next to Dee!” He said it in a tone that implied that everyone else was giving him the cold shoulder, and he felt that the only welcoming place in the room was there next to me.

It was as though the Lord was going out of His way to make sure that I understood that He had heard and was answering my prayer. (And that cracked me up.) My billboard that had read “go way” had turned completely around into, “Howdy! Why not stop and sit a spell?” That was a turn for the better!

Mindset

Even with an attractive appearance and welcoming posture, one can easily exhibit a closed off mindset. My conversation usually revealed a tendency to shut down around men, while being open towards women. I would use harsh, cutting jokes to insult men, and used sarcasm as an offensive and defensive weapon. Again, I was frustrated for years that none of the men around me were making an effort to take the time to get to know the real me. I now see that I had set up terrible obstacles for them to maneuver before they could have a chance to be my friend. It was not fair, and unrealistic to expect of any man.

During a counseling session on this topic, I was challenged to look for opportunities to compliment the men around me. Any man – not just the fellows I was hoping to get to know better in my singles group. I had become so tuned out to men that it was hard! I had never thought of this before, and I’m sorry to say that my mind drew a blank at first. It was a huge blind spot in my life, and obviously needed quite a bit of work.

Fortunately I worked in a field with plenty of opportunities to encourage people. In my sessions with male clients, instead of going for a sarcastic one-liner, I would look for ways to sincerely compliment whatever aspect of the fellow’s character that stood out as they worked to meet their goals. I still kept my ironic sense of humor, which many men would warm up to, but I made an effort to look at the men differently, and to think deeper about what it was that I admired in them. Some were concerned about being able to provide for their families, or how to spend quality time playing with their kids who were too young to understand their injuries. Some showed tremendous resiliency after being in accidents that completely turned the course of their lives around. Some were standing up for injustices in the community around them, others cared for their wives with a deep, sacrificial love that I didn’t know could exist outside of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

And the Lord gently and lavishly encouraged me along the way.

Be more attractive!

Well-meaning women often gave me shallow advice, at times in an attempt to make themselves more comfortable by associating with people who looked and acted just like them. I would hear things like: “Make an effort – try some makeup – put on a dress – wear some perfume” etc. But those suggestions were like telling someone with anorexia to eat more – not hitting the mark by a long shot.

Over the years I learned more about the deeper changes that truly make one more attractive – how to create an open and welcoming space around myself, and how to drop the chip on my shoulder and instead carry an air that a new acquaintance described as “imaginative” and “fun-loving.” Life is better this way – the energy that used to go into keeping my guard up can now be channeled into listening and learning more about other people.

One day on my way into work after getting my hair cut and styled, I complained to the Lord that I was tired of women always noticing and complimenting a new hairdo, and never hearing a compliment from a guy. So, I asked Him to have a guy notice and say something nice about my hair for a change.

Later that afternoon while working with a fellow, in the middle of his exercise routine he said, “I like your new haircut. My wife wears her hair that way.” Another direct answer to prayer. And not only was he complimenting me, he also complimented his wife, and set what he said in the right context of respecting his relationship with her. It was humbling to see God working so directly.

Years later, the same client came in. He had a surgical procedure done that had caused him to temporarily lose his voice, and came in with his wife, who was a pleasure to meet. They had come through a scary medical situation, and I was very glad to see he was on the mend. As he was working on an exercise machine that I was using to test his endurance, he waved me over. “I like your hair,” he mouthed, and shot me a grin, with his wife smiling beside him. I thanked him and had to turn away quickly as tears came to my eyes. It was such a joy to see how they had been sustained through this tough time, and how the Lord also was reminding me of His sustaining love and care for me. He is the God who hears and answers prayer.

 

In this series I hope that I’ve been able to shed a bit of light on some of the complex underlying issues that were a part of my own experiences with and expressions of gender identity, and some of the multiple things that came together that made a difference. If you’ve been reading these articles through I hope that you will think about getting to know a person beyond whatever their appearance may be, and then you might have the opportunity to find out what their appearance means to them. Jesus always looks at us from the inside out – getting closer to Him helps me to see people the way He does. Getting closer to Him means spending time with Him in prayer, in worship, in reading His word, and serving others. When we invest in our relationship with Christ, we’ll be much better equipped to invest in living alongside and loving others.

* https://sswh.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/gender-identity-iii/

Gender Identity, II

I’ve been working on this series of posts for months, but I’ve also been very hesitant to write about this topic. Primarily because, as I mentioned in the last post, it is so easy to look at a person and think that addressing things that can be seen on the outside will lead to changes on the inside. In reality, that is rarely the case. I don’t want to leave the impression that becoming more feminine would lead to experiencing changes in one’s sexual orientation. And I seriously do not wish my own explorations in gender identity to be misinterpreted as some type of definitive standard.

But earlier this week I read this, and it reinforced how important it is for me to at least try to write about this subject, even if I’m not able to be perfectly articulate about it:

http://www.wset.com/story/25061872/little-girl-taken-out-of-christian-school-after-told-shes-too-much-like-a-boy#.UzFYnqKZ3wI.facebook

This poor kid – this could easily be me. (Especially as she’s wearing a Steeler’s shirt – my favorite team!) She’s only eight years old, and doesn’t think of herself as being a boy, according to the interview recorded along with this article. I really can’t see a reason to make a fuss. And it comes across, once again, as though all Christians take a knee-jerk approach to these issues.

In my case, it wasn’t a Christian school that tried to change my appearance, it was my mom. She did not understand my tomboyishness and couldn’t identify with it at all. When she was growing up, she loved dresses and high-gloss shoes with buckles and wore lace gloves to church on Sunday mornings with enjoyment. Those things felt terrible on me. But any kind of boyishness in my appearance was a terrible embarrassment to my mother. I remember when she was introducing my brother and I to someone and said, “This is my son, R___, and my feminine daughter, Debra.” While saying this she stood behind me and had her hands on my shoulders, rather close to my neck, and shook me a bit for emphasis. I got the message.

I would much prefer to speak to people in person about gender identity, as I don’t want anyone else to feel that kind of pressure and discomfort and lack of acceptance that I grew up with. As you are reading, please don’t look for the key(s) to unlock every door that blocks the way for every person who identifies as gay/lesbian/ etc., or who is expressing their gender identity in non-conventional ways. Although I went through changes in my gender identity, I don’t see myself as someone who has achieved some kind of “feminine ideal.” I don’t think that there is one. And frankly, some of what passes for idealistically feminine in our culture today just isn’t healthy.

Instead, as you read I hope that you will be encouraged that this same God who showed His faithful love to me in specific ways through the years also knows and loves each of you and those you know very deeply and intimately. I pray that you will seek Jesus on your own and spend time with Him. He will help you to grow into the wonderful, unique aspect of Christ-likeness that you have been created to reflect.

What is Gender Identity?

Our gender identity is so very subjective. It is culturally dependent – differing due to what country / tribe you are a part of at the time. And it’s time-dependent – different ages hold different styles and ideals in vogue. What was considered really hot back in the day tends to look rather ridiculous now.

It took a long time for me to sort through the complex threads of my identity as a female. I didn’t want to conform to a cultural ideal – either of the secular world or the Christian sub-culture – just for the sake of blending in. I wanted to learn if the Lord wanted me to make any changes at all, or if He would be happy with me just as I was. And if there was a prodding to make changes, I wanted them to come from the inside out – to still feel like “me,” and not feel fake, as though I was dressing up in a costume.

And, as with my sexual orientation, sometimes the church and fellow believers were very helpful, other times not at all. And sometimes I just sabotaged the heck out of myself along the way. But I came to a place of contentment, (where I happen to still be quite tomboyish), with the sure foundation of what it meant to be “God’s woman.” Not forcing myself into current cultural or Christian sub-cultural trends, but an authentic expression of what it means to be a woman in God’s eyes.

For the follower of Christ, the bigger question is, “What does the Lord tell us about what it means to be a woman in His Word?” Let’s spend some time thinking about that…

Your Hair is Like a Flock of Goats

How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
not one of them is alone.

Song of Solomon 4 :1-2

Oh, how I love these verses! It seems as though this was a compliment, back in the day…which absolutely cracks me up. Several things in the Song of Solomon do translate well through the gaps of culture and time, but this isn’t one of them. I love animals, but the beauty of a flock of goats descending a mountain does not work as a flattering remark when I’m heading out for fun day.

So this passage reminds me to not shoot for the nanny goat look when styling my hair in the morning as some kind of benchmark of how the Lord wishes me to appear to the world at large. We need to remember to read the Scriptures as literature – taking the metaphors metaphorically, the literal parts literally, etc.

Holy Femininity

Seriously, then, what does the Lord have to say about what it means to be feminine in His eyes? (Which are the ones that count.)

This is not a comprehensive synopsis, but I found these truths to be very helpful when I was looking at what it meant to be feminine from the Lord’s perspective:

  1. Taking a Spiritual / Kingdom View of People
  2. We are Created Either Male or Female
  3. We are Known
  4. Beauty’s Source

Kingdom / Spiritual View

I do this all the time – look at myself and others as though we’re just people, when really we’re not. We are eternal souls walking around in temporary housing. What we can see is not all there is to life. Three points come to mind about this when we look at the Scriptures:

  1. The eternal overrides the temporary.

Consequently, from now on we estimate and regard no one from a [purely] human point of view [in terms of natural standards of value]. [No] even though we once did estimate Christ from a human viewpoint and as a man, yet now [we have such knowledge of Him that] we know Him no longer [in terms of the flesh]. Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!

II Cor. 5:16-17, Amplified Bible

As believers in Christ – this is such great news! We don’t have to get caught up in the “purely human / natural standards point of view.” There is more to us than what we can see, and we are called to look at everyone past when is visible on the surface. It’s also sobering news, as C.S. Lewis expands upon this train of thought in the closing paragraph of his amazing essay, “The Weight of Glory:”

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat — the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

~ C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” (British spelling)

  1. We will all get new bodies anyway.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.[a] While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

II Cor. 5:1-5, Amplified Bible

More good news – you’re not satisfied with the body you’ve got now – when you have put your faith in Christ, you’ll get a new one! According to II Cor. 5:4, our discomfort with our bodies isn’t completely about falling short of the celebrities and models and bodybuilders we see celebrated in our culture. There is a spiritual restlessness that is there because what we’re living in now is just a makeshift stand-in for the eternal bodies we will one day have.

On the flip side – finding complete contentment with ourselves and our surroundings here on earth isn’t necessarily the goal – finding contentment in Christ regardless of where we are is.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. II Cor. 5:6-10, New Living Translation

There is such a thing as a holy tension – confidently living here, although we’d rather be home with Jesus face to face. But whether we are here or in heaven, our goal is to live out the calling to holiness that God has given each one of us.

  1. No one will be married or get married in heaven.

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’[b]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.

Matthew 22:23-33

This might be taken as either good news or bad news. Marriage is not the be-all or end-all of life. When we take our marriage vows, we often commit to one another, “…till death do us part.” Well, according to Jesus, death will part us. Marriage is an earthly institution, but not a heavenly one, when it comes to us as couples. (There is another sense in which the Church is called the “Bride of Christ….” Rev. 19:7-10, but that is another kind of marriage than what we’re talking about here.)

So if you had dreams of being united with your spouse throughout all eternity – that’s not what Jesus says is going to happen. I realize that this is getting a bit off the track of gender identity – however, it was important to me to think this through as the church can tend to worship marriage as though it was an eternal institution. I was single for a long, long time, and that wore thin on me as I was trying to find my footing in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity. I think it’s important for us as believers to keep an eternal perspective.

Created – Male and Female

We were made different from the get-go, with only two options – we exist as a binary species. I understand that there are movements of people promoting a third or a number of other genders, but I find those are man-made constructs, and create confusion more than bringing clarity.

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Genesis 2:19-25

 

This is the written account of Adam’s family line.

When God created mankind, He made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them.

Genesis 5:1

And of course we’re familiar with the Scriptures that repeat that male and female are united in marriage, without other options being given:

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Genesis 2:24

“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,’”

Mark 10:7

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Ephesians 5:31

When I read these passages I found them to be pretty basic – there isn’t any instruction on how one can be more masculine or feminine within them. But I knew that I wasn’t a eunuch,* and I had been created female.

We Are Known

I found more comfort in knowing that exactly where I was right then, and each day until now, I was known – even beyond my own ability to comprehend myself.

  For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Psalm 139:13-15

In this passage we read that none of us just appear by happenstance. Each of us has been put together in a “fearful and wonderful” way. And as a health care professional, I’ve gotten a bit more of a glimpse into that great truth than the average person. The way our joints are put together, how our heart muscle works constantly throughout our lives without rest – and the mysteries we don’t understand – how cartilage is nourished, how the nervous system could be repaired after it’s severed, etc. It’s all fascinating – we still have so much to learn about digestion, our brains, ageing….on and on.

“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:26-31

Then, just as I’m about to get dizzy with the details of our biology, I come across this passage that really blows me away. The God who put me together in such a fantastic way, cares about me. He takes that intimate knowledge and watches out for me – even counting the number of hairs on my head. And they come and go, and I don’t even feel it! (We lose about 100 hairs each day, on average.)

 

Beauty’s Source

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

1 Peter 3:3-4

There was a great sense of relief when I read the words in this passage. For there I found what I’d suspected was true all along – when it comes to beauty, God cares more about the inside than the outside. It brought echoes of the words Jesus had about “whitewashed tombs” with the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Matthew 23:27-28

The Lord isn’t impressed by those who look sharp outwardly, yet on the inside are steeped in evil inwardly. Neither of these passages state that we shouldn’t make an effort to look good on the outside, but rather that we shouldn’t lean on outward appearances to carry the day. The work that goes into the “inward self” the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit…” is what is God treasures. Now, let’s check what how that verse (4) reads in the Amplified version of the Bible:

But let it be the inward adorning and beauty of the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which [is not anxious or wrought up, but] is very precious in the sight of God.

“Quiet” then means “peaceful” rather than silent. And there is something appealing about women who are peaceful – who aren’t caught up in anxiety – that is relaxingly beautiful in nature.

So this was my summary – no recommended hairdos, clothing, or perfumes – no makeup instructions or guides to the best hat style to wear at this year’s Easter service. When women speak and teach confidently that this is the fashion or that look should be avoided – they aren’t getting it from Scripture.

Instead,  I tried to take to heart these truths from God’s Word. Looking at myself and others from a spiritual perspective, remembering that I’ve been created as a woman, in an amazing way, by a God who knows me better than I know myself. And the beauty that is important to God is about my character, not my outward appearance. Keeping these things in mind and in practice helped me to sort through everything I was seeing and hearing from the well-meaning voices around me about what it means to be feminine. And also acted as a filter to protect me from the controlling or selfish marketing voices eager to get me to try whatever they were pushing or selling. It’s still quite helpful today.

 

 

*What about eunuchs? They are mentioned throughout the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, but as this particular situation did not pertain to me, and as I’m not aiming at writing a comprehensive summary of everyone’s situation, I’m not going into that subject here. This series of posts is about my own journey regarding gender identity.

Jesus Never Said…What, Exactly?

My husband and I love to watch Steven Colbert (and John Stewart).  We don’t currently subscribe to cable so we catch up on previously shown episodes regularly through the internet.  We love the satirical commentary on current events and the way that they are covered in the media.  Mostly, it’s spot-on.  The other evening, though, Steven Colbert passed along this oft-heard critique:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpyxceY5XTo

The argument plays out this way;  “If Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, that must mean it’s OK.”

There are two presuppositions that jump out at me whenever I hear this:

  1. The only part of Scripture we really need to pay attention to are the words Jesus is recorded as saying.
  2. Jesus gave a comprehensive list of what is and is not considered sinful – if He didn’t mention something specifically by name, it’s not important for us to be bothered about.

Let’s take a closer look at those assumptions, starting with the first.

What Jesus Did Say

Read and Think Over His Actual Words

I find it ironic that some will argue that Christians are being hypocritical by picking out only certain commandments to obey and leaving out others in Scripture (see “On Meat and Mixed Fabrics”), yet they will turn around and argue that one could pick out only the words of Jesus as having any relevance.

For one, if we actually take the time to sit down and just read Jesus’ words, we’ll all find things that are quite disturbing.  The call to holiness, to self-sacrifice, to give beyond what you think you’re capable of doing…it’s all weighty stuff.

I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

~ C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock

Secondly, Jesus valued all of Scripture.  He quoted from 24 different OT books (including a few parts that were written about Him.)  He kept the commandments and as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, He actually expanded them.  For the Lord knows not just the sins we commit outwardly, but our innermost, quiet thoughts.  We hear often today about a growing lack of privacy in our culture.  But for those of us who follow Christ, we have been living in a kingdom that acknowledges our King’s ability to hear the things we think but don’t say, and to see the things we consider but don’t actually do.  The Lord can hear and see all of our inner life as clearly as if it were shown on a movie screen.  Christians know that we do not have a private life, and we need to learn to live on a level of internal integrity before a holy God.  (And He can and will help us!)

Thirdly – when you read it, you’ll find that there is nothing in the rest of the New Testament that contradicts any teaching of Jesus.  On the contrary, the apostles are detailing the application of what Jesus taught into the practical daily life of all believers in the various works collected into the NT.  The book of Acts is an historical account of the growth of the early church, the book of Revelation is an account of the vision had by John about the Last Days, and the rest are letters – written to answer questions and encourage new Christians scattered about the Roman Empire.  If Jesus had said that same-gender sexual expression is just fine, and one of the apostles later came up and discredited this somehow, that would be a different story.

The second presupposition mentioned above in the “Jesus never mentioned it” argument, is that whatever Jesus did not declare specifically sinful is free game.

Well, that leaves us with a mess.  Because Jesus never specifically mentioned incest, nor child sexual abuse – two rather important ones that come to mind.  Now, Jesus did teach that we are not to harm children:

And whoever causes one of these little ones (these believers) who acknowledge and cleave to Me to stumble and sin, it would be better (more profitable and wholesome) for him if a [huge] millstone were hung about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.

Mark 9:42, Amplified Bible

And we can infer from this that sexual abuse is included as something that harms children.

In a similar manner, Jesus used a blanket term against sexual sin, as in one of the verses we looked at in the last post:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Matthew 15:19

The term “sexual immorality” as translated from the Greek is porneia, and at times it includes adultery, but here it is set apart from it, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

(a) of “illicit sexual intercourse,” in Jhn 8:41; Act 15:20, 29; 21:25; 1Cr 5:1; 6:13, 18; 2Cr 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5; 1Th 4:3; Rev 2:21; 9:21; in the plural in 1Cr 7:2; in Mat 5:32; 19:9 it stands for, or includes, adultery; it is distinguished from it in Mat 15:19; Mar 7:21;

http://www.blueletterbible.org/search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?topic=VT0001117

This implies that there is such a thing as sexual sin outside of adultery, and we know that includes a number of things.

What Jesus Didn’t Say

The Flip Side – There is Not an Argument from Silence

The only time homosexuality is mentioned in Scripture is in a negative context, in both the OT and NT.  The only option for righteous / approved sexual expression throughout Scriptures is within the context of a heterosexual marriage.

Jesus would have had to correct this – He would have had to say something if this was no longer the case,  if homosexuality was now to be seen as a righteous outlet for sexual expression.  He never did.

There were opportunities, times when Jesus spoke about marriage:

Some Pharisees came to Him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Matt. 19:3-6

I have seen arguments that sexual orientation as a permanent state of being was not fully understood in those days.  But that also comes with the assumption that Jesus was not fully God, all-knowing, existing before the universe and holding it all together in Himself.

He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:17-20

If Christ is ignorant about the existence of same-sex attraction, than He is not God, and no one need pay attention to any of His words.

Truth is woven through the Scriptures, and when one pulls on one thread, even meaning well, it tends to pull apart the entire tapestry.  When I come across these types of arguments, I first look into the Scriptures – and again, I encourage everyone reading this blog to do so for themselves.  Look to see if you can find any positive references to homosexuality, or any affirmations of same-gender sexual expression by Jesus.

And then I think about what I might be willing to trade off in order to justify myself before a holy God.  I cannot live at peace knowing that I twisted the Word to suit myself.  It is God who judges, and it’s through Christ’s death and resurrection that I’m justified.  He has paid the highest price for me, and for you.  We need not look further, for He is love, our hope and stay.

Of Meat and Mixed Fabrics

Have I Got a Book for You

In college, a classmate loaned me a copy of “Is the Homosexual my Neighbor?,” thinking that I would read it and come to ‘see the light’ as it were.  (As I recall, the approach was along the lines of, ‘You’re a Christian?  Here, read this book, it has all the answers so that you can feel OK with being gay.’)  I do appreciate this fellow’s desire to assuage the conflict between my faith and my same sex attractions – he meant well.  But I got the sense that I was a project on an assembly line, and not a person.  (I.e. – Christian = Ignorant / Entrapped / Repressed.  Add Pro-gay Theology Book + Friendship + Exposure to the Real World in Center City Philly = New Identity and Freedom.)  Life doesn’t always work out that way.  The deep roots of my faith and all the thought I’d put into these issues prior to each of us having met were not taken into account.

And we shouldn’t treat people who identify as gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual in this way, either.  It takes time to get to know people for who they are, and we need to respect where they are coming from.  Now, in this blog, I’m severely limited in my ability to do this with anyone who reads these posts.  And I’m sorry – it’s the nature of the medium.  Please do know that when you take the time to post a comment, I think about the person behind the words, and hope to beat back the limitations as best I can.

Anyway, I did read “ITHMN” and I’ve read other gay apologetic works – and as much as I wanted to believe that there was another door that they could open, the reasoning they used always came up short for me.  It was easy to see through the holes in the proposals and re-interpretations of Scripture in these books.

These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards way in broad daylight.

~ CS Lewis, “Fern-Seed and Elephants”

Although Lewis wasn’t addressing books by gay theologians in the essay quoted above, he does bring depth and clarity to the current trend of “recovering the true meaning” of a variety of ancient works, not just the Bible, that one can easily see running rampant through their books.  If you have found yourself taken by the concept that older writers didn’t know what they were talking about, and believe that finding the truth is really up to us in our advanced modern, technically advanced age, I highly recommend you read over and think about the points Lewis makes in the essay:  http://orthodox-web.tripod.com/papers/fern_seed.html

As I’m working through these Scripture passages in this series of blog posts, please note that I’m only aiming to share what I’ve come to know, and not at covering each matter comprehensively.  Again, I first recommend that you take the time to read the words in the Bible for yourself, honestly before God.  Secondly, I can try to address questions in more detail in the comments over time, but here I will ask for your patience with this.  Thirdly, if you would like to read more on these topics, I’d recommend Joe Dallas’ book, The Gay Gospel?  (See the link on the Resources tab under Books.)  And no, I don’t think that all you need to do is read this one book and you’ll be a new person tomorrow.  As I just mentioned, this is a blog – I don’t know you!  It’s just a resource that I’ve found helpful, and you can check it out if you’d like.  Again, I hope it would move you to further study of what the Lord has to say in the Scriptures.

Train of (I Really Don’t Want to Give This Much) Thought

For agnosticism is, in a sense, what I am preaching. I do not wish to reduce the skeptical elements in your minds. I am only suggesting that it need not be reserved exclusively for the New Testament and the Creeds. Try doubting something else.

~ CS Lewis, “Fern-Seed and Elephants”

I’ve seen this train of thought time and time again…

Oh, you think homosexuality is sinful because it’s written in the Bible?

Well, then whey are you eating shellfish / bacon or wearing clothing woven of different fabrics, etc.?

This line of questioning has become a popular way of dismissing a variety of people and ideas involving Christianity.  These prohibitions are actually in the Bible after all – how can people be so stupid as to not see how hypocritical they are if they’re not following these rules?  Isn’t love far more important than wearing a cotton / Lycra blend?  Or eating shrimp?  If you take this at face value, it’s easy to blow off the whole book, and the rest of the Christian faith along with it, seeing how these obvious discrepancies are being willfully overlooked.

But, there is more to the story, and it’s not that difficult to comprehend.  It’s due to something that Christians take for granted as part of their everyday faith.  Hopefully I can shed some light on this here.

In fact – let’s make it very basic – I can give you the answer to this seemingly contradictory dilemma in one word.  Are you ready?

Jesus.

Thank you, and goodnight.

OK, OK, let’s dig a bit deeper.  Pick up a Bible close to you and turn to the table of contents – you’ll see two headings: “Old Testament” and “New Testament.”  That implies that there is a division, that something happened to distinguish the two sections.  The word “testament” comes from the Late Latin testamentum and means, “a covenant with God.”  So there was an Old Covenant, and a New Covenant.

The Old Covenant

The Old Covenant is the covenant between God and Israel, the history and content of which is recorded in the first five books of the Bible.  Basically, it’s the agreement – the contract or the law – given to Israel by God on Mt. Sinai.  You might be familiar with the Ten Commandments, which are a part of the 600 or so laws that came along with this covenant.  These range from things that most everyone can agree on as being wrong (I.e. – killing or murdering another person) to those that seem strange (I.e. – wearing clothing woven of two different fabrics.)

The deal was, one needed to keep these commandments in order to be seen as righteous before God.  And with all of those prohibitions and “must-do’s,” that was a lot of work!  When people would fall short of these standards, the penalty was usually rather harsh – in many cases, death.  And, on a regular basis, the priests would gather to sacrifice an animal (or quite a few animals) to take that death penalty in the place of the guilty parties.

Cheery, eh?  Year after year of not measuring up to the standards of a righteous and holy God, left to face punishment – even death.  What hope is there to break this cycle?

The New Covenant

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Behold – the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

Enter Jesus – and what an intro by John the Baptist.  Jesus came and lived a perfect life – he obeyed the laws, lived up to all the commandments and more.  He then went on to stand in our place as the ultimate sacrifice, the Lamb of God – taking our death penalty so that we wouldn’t have to.

This was a huge, radical shift in how people related to God – no more animal sacrifices, no more death penalties.  Individuals now had access to confessing and repentance of their sins without having to go to a priest who alone had access to enter the Holy of Holies within the temple to plead one’s case.

Yet, that didn’t mean that Jesus was throwing out all of the commands given to us under the Old Covenant.  Let’s look at what He said about this:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:17-20

On first reading, what Jesus teaches us here might sound very discouraging.  “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers…you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Seriously?  The Pharisees and teachers of the law went out of their way to keep all the commandments that they could – and then, they made up more rules on their own just to make it all the more difficult for everyone else.

This passage in Matthew is part of the great Sermon on the Mount.  I recommend that you stop and take some time to read it in total – chapters 5 through 7 in the book of Matthew.  In this sermon, Jesus takes digs at some of the made-up rules that the Pharisees and teachers of the law had set up, and undermines them.  Jesus also takes many of those laws under the Old Covenant that God had given, and raises the standards far above any human’s ability to reach or to monitor.

Read over how many times Jesus repeats, “You have heard it said…” in this sermon.  He takes the commandments to not murder, or commit adultery, and even to love your neighbor and teaches us that: 1. Avoiding even these major sins is not enough, if you are still harboring anger or lust in your heart, & 2.  Even loving your neighbor is not enough, we need to love our enemies too.  Jesus does not throw out the commands to not murder and to not commit adultery, nor does He tell us to stop loving our neighbor.  He takes these commands to a deeper level in our hearts.

The great news is that Jesus fulfilled all of these commands for us, and He will work within us to change our very hearts.  He doesn’t set us up for failure.  He takes up the slack and He carries us home.

Let’s go back to the meat and mixed fabrics questions.  Why don’t we still keep those?  Personally, I tend to look at the question of what commandments under the Old Covenant that we are to continue to keep by asking if the command is an outward law or an inward law?  I get this from Matthew chapter 15:

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’* and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’** But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.  You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain;

their teachings are merely human rules.’”***

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.  What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.  Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them.  “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?  But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Matthew 15:1-20

* Exodus 20:12; Deut. 5:16

** Exodus 21:17; Lev. 20:9

*** Isaiah 29:13

 [As a side note – anatomically our digestive system is really just a series of tubes – our food doesn’t actually enter our body until it gets digested through the walls of the stomach and intestines.  There was a good NPR program about this that I heard earlier this summer.  In it I learned how a doctor discovered how food was digested through the open wound in the stomach of a man who had been shot.  Very interesting…here’s the link:  http://www.radiolab.org/story/197112-guts/]

There are other places where Jesus re-defines things under the New Covenant – on the Sabbath is another one that comes to mind.  But I hope the general concept I mentioned is clear here – the New Covenant is one that is concerned with the heart and the mind – not so much what one eats or the type of material one wears in their clothing.

Food was rather a big deal for the new Christians to grasp.  The first believers had been Jews all their lives.  They had always kept kosher, and didn’t associate with Gentiles.  After Stephen had been stoned to death in Jerusalem, many Christians moved to various corners of the Roman Empire.  But they only shared about Jesus with other Jews.  (With one exception.)  By and large, early followers of Jesus saw Him as a specifically Jewish Messiah.  Until we get to Acts chapters 10 and 11…and the Gentiles become believers filled with the Holy Spirit, and the kosher laws get set aside.  (Hooray for bacon!)  Peter does swing back and forth on this, though – he caves to peer pressure in Antioch, which you can read about in the second chapter of Galatians.  Ironically, it’s Paul, who had been trained as a Pharisee, who calls Peter out on this.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.  And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

Galatians 2:15-16

Peter realizes his mistake, and comes to take a consistent stand on what the Lord showed him back in Acts ch. 10-11.

The reason I mention this is because I think it’s important to note that the change wasn’t an easy one for most people in the early church to wrap their heads around.  Today, however, most Christians just take all of this for granted.  Our Christian Gentile history runs a long way back, and very few of us have a personal knowledge of keeping kosher laws.  And I think that this distance is part of the reason why we don’t have a quick bumper-sticker answer at the ready for this faulty line of reasoning…that because we aren’t keeping all the archaic laws under the Old Covenant, our faith is somehow made moot, having no significance.  And the implication is that all of the commandments are somehow disqualified, except those having to do with loving our neighbor…the Golden Rule.

In reality, that stands pretty close to what Christ calls us to…love is more important than clothing or what we eat.  And the Golden Rule does sum up how we are to treat one another.  Yet, the Golden Rule isn’t all there is.  So often we skip over the rest of what Jesus said as He was talking about what is the greatest commandment:

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

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

Matthew 22:34-40

Loving God comes first, and He gets to define what it means to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  It means we need to love our enemies, to put our love for God first above all other loves.  It means that we learn to love Him with our heart, soul and minds – fully engaged inwardly, not just as an outward show.

Again, Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the outward laws – He lived a life that was holy and without sin, keeping all of those outward commandments for us so that we don’t have to.  And through His death and resurrection, He empowers us to live up to the inward laws – the matters of the heart.  He helps us to make the choices each day that will shape us to become more like Him, to draw nearer in likeness and in approach to the Holy God.

In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at what Jesus said about homosexuality.