Part 3: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?

When life is hard it is only natural and normal to ask the question, “where is God, in all of this!?”

I’ve been exploring a couple thoughts on that exact question. In Part 1 I suggested that God is ahead of us, inviting us towards a better future, a better way of life. And, like the father in Luke 15, God stands poised to run towards us at the first inclination that we might be ready for repentance.

In Part 2 I suggested that when we are in the Valley of Hard Times that God ALSO is right there, IN the Valley with us. Present, holding us, carrying and sustaining us. Not just waiting on the outside for us to emerge, but in the trenches with us being our strength.

Finally, I’ll offer one more thought.

Part 3: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?
Behind us. Having just shoved us off the cliff and in to the Valley of Hard Times.

What if God isn’t just at the top of the valley, cheering us on, waiting to welcome us home?!
And what if God isn’t just also down in the valley with us, carrying us and sustaining us and holding us…

What if God also stands on the OTHER edge of the valley, the once from whence we came, because it was God who directed us to the valley in the first place?

What if God is the one who actually PUSHED us over the edge?

What?!

Okay, I know that sounds a little crazy. And it probably is. I’m probably wrong about that. And that’s okay.

But I can’t help thinking about it anyways.

Two reasons why.

  1. My own life experiences have given me reason to think that this might be the case.
  2. In Matthew the Gospeler’s opinion that’s exactly what God did to Jesus.

In chapter 4 of Mathew, as he’s about to tell the story of Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days, Matthew writes this:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” -Matt 4:1

Did you catch that?

Jesus was led BY the Spirit of God in to the wilderness.
Yes, sure, eventually he encounters the Satan while he’s out there. But it was the Spirit who sent him there.

Now, to be fair, perhaps God didn’t PUSH Jesus over the edge and in to the Valley. I imagine this leading was more of a gentle prompting. But the point still remains. It was God who initiated Jesus’ entrance in to the wilderness and ultimately in to a time of great temptation.

Have you ever done something that you just felt, in your bones, in your very spirit, was something that God was leading you to do? You just had this sense that this was where God was leading you.

Take this job.
Begin a relationship with this person.
Initiate this conversation.
Go here.
No, no, no… I mean there.

Are you with me?
You been there before?

And then, think back, and examine if any of those situations, those scenarios, those relationships, those life choices eventually went to crap. Just a total backfire. And you found yourself thinking, “wow, did I just TOTALLY misunderstand God on that one? How hard did I swing and miss on that?!”

I’ve been there.
I’m betting you have, too.

But I think that sometimes, even though we end up questioning ourselves and doubting that we really were walking in the direction God was leading us, that sometimes (in our more clear-headed moments) we end up concluding that indeed we had done as we felt led by God.

We entered the wilderness at God’s prompting. Not fully realizing (of course) that it would, in fact, turn out to BE a wilderness. Filled with pain and sadness and rejection and hunger and thirst and temptation.

But we still say it was God’s leading.

And don’t we generally come out of those times stronger than before?
I mean, isn’t every wilderness, every Valley of Hard Times, something that ultimately shapes us and grows us to become a better US?
I don’t know… maybe not every time. That’s likely not true.

But most times. I wager.

Julian of Norwich is one of the most important Christian mystics in church history. She was an anchoress in Norwich, England in the 14th century. An anchorite was essentially a spiritual hermit who would live in a cell, carved in the side of a church, choosing to live a life of prayer and meditation.

Julian said this:

“First, there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!”

Yes.

Just, yes.

I love placing the very FALL itself within the mercy and the grace of God.

After all, we grow most after we fall, right?
We discover more about ourselves after we fall.

If we are to grow, mature, then losing, falling and failing is a requirement. It is a necessary, and even GOOD part of the human journey.

I have always tried really hard NOT to fail.
I won’t start a new effort unless I know I’ll be really good at it.
This is why I put off learning to play guitar for like 3 years. Because I knew I would be awful at it in the beginning. (Brilliant, right?)

But there is grace IN the fall itself. Not just in the getting back up again.

So I guess that’s why I feel that sometimes, when we ask the question: where is God during this incredibly hard season of my life, I just wonder if one possible answer is: at the beginning of it all, prompting you to journey out in to the desert, in to the wilderness, so that you can find a type of transformation that can ONLY happen in the wilderness.

But (to go back to Part 2) God doesn’t just send you packing with a couple loafs of bread and a canteen… No, God is beautifully present IN the wilderness with you. Every step of the way.
IN the darkness.
IN the thick of the trial and pain.
Holding you… sustaining and carrying you…

And (to back to Part 1) God is also ahead of you.
Waiting with open arms… ready to RUN to you, scoop you up, and carry you home. Throwing a party to celebrate the courage it takes to finally repent, to turn around, to decide to live a new way.

Praise be to God, the One who leads, sustains, and invites.

Amen.

Part 2: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?

Part 2: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?
Alongside us. Sustaining and strengthening us. Unmoved by the chaos.

Yesterday we explored one potential response to the question of where is God when life is hard. And we borrowed from the story of the Prodigal Son in suggesting that God is out in front of us with two postures.

1: God calls us forward. Inviting us out of our patterns of unhealth and misery. Beckoning us to a more abundant life.
2: God anxiously anticipates the moment our hearts begin to turn away from the path of destruction and towards the path of life. And in that moment God runs out to grab us, envelope us in love, and lead us back home.

Today I want to explore another idea related to the location of God during the hard times of life.

I don’t think God ONLY stands at the edge of the valley you’ve fallen in to, cheering at you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start climbing up.

Though certainly I think that’s true.

And I don’t think God ONLY waits there patiently, with great excitement at the prospect of you finally getting out. God is not just a cheerleader inspiring us to get back up again, and then there to celebrate with us when we’ve succeeded.

Though I think that’s true.

No, my hunch is that God is actually down IN the valley with us.
Present in a way so that once you’ve reached the lowest of lows and cannot even FATHOM starting to get out of the mess you’ve made, it is in THAT moment that God scoops you up. When you’ve run out of all your energies, exhausted from trying so hard, is when the Grace of God can truly and finally take over.

You know, that whole “God is strongest when I am weakest” sort of thing.

Paul, when dealing with hardships in his life, takes this posture:

10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Cor 12:10

Paul takes a certain delight in the hard times because he knows that is, perhaps, when he is most aware of the presence of God.

And we all know this to be true, don’t we?

When life is going well and we’re in a rhythm of sorts, and there’s really nothing to complain about, then it’s pretty easy to… I dunno… sort of forget about God? To just sort of be like, I got this. Life is good. I’m good. All good.

(I’m not alone in this, am I?)

But when the sh*t hits the fan and everything starts falling apart, well it is then that we start to search for God. To grope around in the darkness, hoping for something secure to grab on to.

And IN that searching, IN that desperation, is precisely God.

If you grew up in conservative Christianity like I did then perhaps you struggle with some of the same religious baggage that I do. And one particularly heavy suitcase is the one that suggests that God can’t stand evil. Can’t stand sin. That God is Light, therefore there is not God-ness in the Dark-ness.

Are you with me?

And so what happens, or what can happen, is that we begin to believe that when we are in the depths of disaster (perhaps brought on by our own propensity to screw things up) we tell ourselves that we have to escsape the darkness in order to find the Light.

That surely God can’t be here, because there is too much “bad” here.

Here’s what I have to say to that: name for me, if you will, the primary tangible spot, the very location, of what amounts to the most horrible and tragic moment of evil and darkness?

The cross on the hill of Golgatha.

Isn’t it?

I mean, that’s how the biblical writers saw it.
That on that cross was the weight of the whole human race’s sin.
The cross: where the full power of sin and shame and evil and death all piled up and were hurled at the Son of Man.

Perhaps the singular most dark moment in history.
And there, right alongside it, right IN it, was the Light.

Jesus stood in the very place of human tragedy and sorrow and pain and suffering and evil.

The cross itself points to the reality that God is present precisely in the moments where you would least expect God to be.

21 the Anointed One, who had never experienced sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might embody the very righteousness of God. -2 Cor 5:21

On the cross was exposed the weight of humanity’s shame and guilt.
The point at which the powers of sin and death were exposed.
Sin was on full display.

And there was Jesus.

(Who, rather ironically, felt abandoned by God. Do you blame him? Don’t you feel abandoned by God at times?  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Clearly God had not forsaken Jesus, for God does not. But even Jesus himself felt the agonizing loneliness that accompanies great sorrow and suffering. But that’s another thought for another day.)

I ask you to pause and go read this post, written by Richard Beck. Specifically because of the section taken out of Elie Weisel’s holocaust memoir, Night.

I’ll wait…

You back?

Wasn’t that a harrowing tale?
And yet also a powerful, powerful image.

So that’s why I think that God does not merely sit atop the valley, waiting for us to emerge. I see (and have experienced in my own life) a presence and reality of God RIGHT IN THE THICK OF IT.

Right there in the valley. In the darkest places.

Where is God when life is hardest?

Exactly there.

Part 1: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?

“Where is God?!”

It’s a common question.
One most often asked when we are confronted with the more ugly side of human existence. We ask about God’s presence or existence or involvement when we witness tragedy and disaster.
We also wonder about it when we go through really hard seasons of life.

Sometimes life is hard because the world is hard. Be it natural disaster, or uncontrollable economic forces, or disease or sickness.

Sometimes life is hard because people are hard. We are the victims of other people’s hatred or fear. We are beaten up, hurt, damaged by other humans.

Sometimes life is hard because we make it that way. Be it bad decisions or patterns of poor choices. Maybe we chose a path of destruction for ourselves, or we are consumed with selfishness, pride, or fear. And so we are in a hard time of our own making.

In all those cases it is natural to ask: where is God?

This is admittedly a HUGE topic. It deserves much more time and thought than what I’m about to give to it. So just know that this Three Part series is obviously not exhaustive. But it might serve to help you (if you are in a hard season of life) to find just a moment of Peace. To discover, if only briefly, where God might be in it all.

Part I: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?
Ahead of us. Both inviting us to a better Way, and ready to welcome us home.

20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. -Luke 15:20

You know the story.
We call it the Prodigal Son story.

Son demands money, runs away, spends it wildly. When everything is lost and the son has hit bottom the son decides to return home. And where do we find the father?

Standing on the porch waiting.
With eyes wide open, toward the horizon, never giving up hope that his son would come home.
Anxiously and excitedly anticipating the slightest hint that his son is done with his prodigal living.
Running. Running out to meet the son.
Embracing. Holding.
Taking by the hand and welcoming the son back home.

Where is God when life gets hard?

Ready and waiting for you to say, “okay, enough is enough. I can’t keep running. I can’t keep wasting my life. I don’t want to live this way anymore. I’m lonely. Scared. Exhausted. I’m ready to change. I HAVE to change.”

That’s called repentance.
And when we just start to show the smallest glimmer of turning-around, there is God.

BAM! Right there, with open arms and an open heart, ready to take us home.

‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

For those hard seasons of life that come about at our own doing, because of our lack of wisdom, or lack of courage, or lack of listening to those in our life who are worried about us, I see God at the edge of the cliff of the valley we’ve made for ourselves just biting Divine nails, anxious for us to wake up.

We are invited to a better way of living.
This was (and remains) the call of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus offers a way of living that John described as a “life of the ages” (or, eternal life). He also calls it an abundant life. This is Life the way it is supposed to be lived. The most human life. The Divine life.

The life of, well, Jesus. The God-man.

When we make a mess of our lives (which is often) God’s posture towards us is one of invitation. Of beckoning and calling. God is ahead of us, pulling us forward towards greater peace and love and beauty and hope.

And the millisecond that we make a move, no matter how small, towards coming back home, the God-of-all runs to meet us. To cover us in Love. To bear our shame for us.

In the Prodigal Story the father runs out to meet his son. The picture here is that the father runs out to meet his son before the son can enter the city and take the long walk-of-shame home. Instead, the father meets the son outside the city walls and adorns him with gifts of the father’s blessing, and then leads his son home. Taking on the shame that ought to have been the son’s.

What a beautiful picture of where God is when life is hard.

Ahead of us. Inviting us to a more beautiful, abundant life.
And also ready to swoop us up, clothe us in grace, and welcome us back home… no matter how far we’ve wandered.

When Jesus Altered Scripture

“Yeshua, would you do the honor of reading the text this morning,” the synagogue attendant softly asked, as his outstretched arm was offering me the scroll.

I walked to the front of the room feeling a strange mixture of excitement and nerves. For the past few weeks I had been traveling around Galilee doing this exact same thing, but today is different. These are my people. This is Nazareth. This is where I grew up. These men here know me, and they know my rather checkered upbringing and all the scandal surrounding my birth.

But still, I’m feeling light today.
I’m feeling full… full of my Father’s Spirit.

After all, it was only a few weeks ago that I returned from my time of fasting and prayer in the wilderness. 40 days of not eating was bad enough, but then I had to spar with the Satan at the end of it. So many temptations… but each time I was able to pull from the Scriptures to resist. Even when the Satan tried to use the Scripture against me, to twist it, I still outfoxed him.

And since then, since getting back to civilization, I’ve been on a roll. People are finally starting to respect me. Admire me. Listen to me.

My hands trembling slightly, I take the scroll and turn around to see the faces of friends, family, and other people I’ve come to know and trust and love. Looking down I could see that I was handed a section from Isaiah.

Phew. I’ve always liked Isaiah. I’ve always felt strangely connected to his words. As though he was able to sense in some way the mission I feel called to. He got me.

As I’m unrolling the scroll I can feel the butterflies inside me speeding up. My eyes come up from the scroll one last time to scan the room. Will these men hear me? Will they listen? Will they respect me like the others have throughout Galilee? Or will I continue to feel their patronizing crooked smiles as they placate me as the “illegitimate son of Mary the UnFaithful.”

Nervous, and seeking escape, I look back down at the scroll, determined to not look up again.

I take a deep breath, and begin to read:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me
because the Lord has anointed me

I knew that was true.
I’ve been more keenly aware of that recently that ever before.
From that strangely beautiful baptism by my cousin John, to the time spent in the wilderness… I definitely feel God’s Spirit upon me.

Anointed… yes, that’s the perfect word for how I feel right now. I read on…

to bring good news to the poor,

Wow… yes… absolutely! I have always felt drawn to the outcast, the forgotten, the poor. Like I said, Isaiah gets me…

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound

This is it.
This is why I’m here.
I just know it.

My whole life has been leading up to this moment, and I can feel it. This is who I am, this is what I’m called to do. Now is the time, I just know it, when God is announcing healing, and love, and freedom… Good news! Okay, Yeshua, keep yourself together… keep reading…

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

And then I stop… mid sentence.
Crap. Hold on… wait…

My eyes are glued to the scroll, refusing to look away just yet.

Proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, yes, good… I’m down with that. So far so good.

But I knew what was next.
I had this section memorized, but somehow it has still caught me off guard.

Suddenly, though I’ve read this sentence and said these words countless times, suddenly it no longer feels… right? Good?

What began, moments ago, as a mixture of excitement and nerves, has now morphed completely. The nerves have partnered with fear and resolutely wiped out any and all excitement. I don’t want to be here any more. This is not going to end well. I can’t read the next line. I won’t read the next line. Everything else resonated so deeply with me… within me… but not this. No, not this.

I stare at the words as I feel the stares of the men around me. I roll them around in my head again and again, refusing to say them aloud:

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… and the day of vengeance of our God.

No.
I can’t do it.

I don’t know exactly what Isaiah had in mind, but right now, in this moment, I don’t agree.

If the Spirit of God is upon me, and if the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor and proclaim the arrival of the Lord’s favor, then that makes sense to me. That I can do.

But I am not here to announce the vengeance of God.
Sorry, Isaiah, that does not resonate with me.
I can’t go there with you.
That’s not me.
That’s not my Father.

I finally compose myself (and, I think, finally closed my mouth… I’m pretty sure it hung awkwardly open this whole time). My mind was made up. Even though everyone will be wondering why I stopped mid-sentence, I know that’s what I have to do.

My fingers found their strength again as I rolled the scroll back up, preparing to return it to the synagogue attendant. He seemed a bit confused as I moved towards him; the rolling of the scroll was complete, but the reading of it obviously wasn’t.

Finding my courage again, and remembering the space I’ve been in lately, walking in God’s Spirit, I turned back around and sat down. Feeling the eyes of all, and sensing that they were expecting me to finish the Prophet’s sentence,  to announce the coming vengeance of God, I slowly scanned the room, making sure I connected with each set of eyes before I spoke next.

Butterflies gone.
Fear chased out by love.
Peace had arrived.

That’s when I said,

“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

- – – – – – -

A creative imagining of Luke 4:16-21

 

 

 

They’re Not Really Talking to ME

You remember that scene from Disney Pixar’s Cars where Lizzie, the rather senile old car, says:

Lizzie: “You keep talking to yourself, people’ll think you’re crazy.”

And McQueen, assuming she was talking to him, says:

Lightnining McQueen: “Thanks for the tip.”

To which, Lizzie comically corrects him:

Lizzie: “What? I wasn’t talking to you!”

Well, as some of you know, last week I participated in launching The NALT Christians Project. I posted this video as part of the initial group of NALT videos.

For reasons I can only conjecture at, my video attracted much of the attention and consumed a majority of the “views.”

Although it’s only about 18,000 views it was/is still a strange experience to stop and think about 18,000 strangers out there looking at me for over 3 minutes. Listening to what I’m saying.

I cannot imagine what it must be like or feel like to be one of those viral-video “stars.”

Anyways, because my video amassed significantly more views than other NALT videos, it also then became the place for the trolls of the interwebs to express their collective disgust at the NALT project in general, but against gay people in particular.

And, as it turns out, any one who might dare suggest the things I suggested in my video.

Wow. People can get fired up!

Of course, I’m not naive.
None of it was surprising.
I know how comment sections work, and typically it is not too pretty.

Here’s a few of my favorite moments from the 300+ comments:

You certainly have no Christian attributes that I can detect. Stop “playing church”, you aren’t a child of God.

[people like this] they’re called false prophets. And as the Bible predicted they’d be everywhere. You’d have to legally call this man a liar, regardless of your stance: he couldn’t have missed 1st Corinthians 6:9

COLBY !!! DUDE !!!! REALLY !!! Who are you trying to fool !!! If I were you I would be carefull on the way I tell people how God is. HE LOVES US!!HE IS LOVE !!! HE IS PERFECT!!! but HE DOES HATE SIN !!! And it is true …. He hates homo activity and says CLEARLY it IS an abomination !!! BTW … ALL Christains should hate sin. (editors note: PLEASE tell me you see the irony here… ha!)

Colby is absolutely a liar, a pretender and a false prophet. The Bible predicted they (false prophets) would be quite numerous in the “end of the age”.. and that time is right now.

This guy is such a liar. It literally says in chapter 6 of Corinthians that homosexuals will NOT enter the kingdom of God. So as a Christian, NO I will not support someone who is not going towards the kingdom of God. The devil supports those who are not going to Heaven, and I WILL NEVER have the same views that the devil has. Period!

Colby. Read up on FALSE TEACHERS. You might also want to give some thought to the souls whose blood will be on YOUR head for teaching a life style that THE God calls sin, is all fine and good. You need to truly seek him my friend because you are completely in league with the enemy of God at this point. In case youre unsure of who that would be I’ll give you a hint, he fell from Heaven as a bolt of lightning. his name in Heaven was lucifer. I’ll pray His for mercy on your children. (editor’s note: my children say, “thank you.”)

Wow. Colby, you need to go back to the Bible and read it again. You are either foolish or you are lost and without understanding. The Bible is explicit on this topic of homosexuality.

Colby is just an actor and someone else is pulling his strings, telling him what to say.

You are so wrong Colby. It not only goes against Gods law, it goes against natural law…. Man is not to lay with other men.Don’t you get that ? How much more simple can God put it ? This is why I have a hard time saying I’m a Christian because of people like you ! I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. You are making excuses for sin

May I suggest you may want to look into purchasing a millstone.

(After I told ^this guy^ that I thought it was mean to tell people to kill themselves, he said) Colby, Jesus Himself stated in Matthew 18:6 that it would be better for you to drown with a millstone around your neck rather than to cause young people to stumble. You are leading young people, by the hand, to eternal torment, and yes, you are correct, that makes me very angry. But not mean. I will fight until my last breath to protect my daughter against the disguised attacks from men like you, wolves in sheep’s clothing attempting to infiltrate my Savior’s flock.

(Then, after I assured him I would never attack his daughter) But you are attacking young people just like my daughter by misleading them to believe that the Bible doesn’t REALLY mean it when It says that “…effeminate, nor homosexuals” shall inherit the Kingdom of God. You can call me a big “meanie” all you want but it was Jesus who suggested that you would be better off with the millstone than doing what you are doing. I find it ironic that you are focused on my “mean” use of His suggestion for men like you as you lead countless young people to hell. (editor’s note: Good point. I suppose it IS meaner to lead young people to Hell than it is to tell someone “go kill yourself.”)

In your video you said “I began to study the Bible.” Sir, lying is a sin.

God is not love, God is just. God does love as witnessed in His son’s sacrifice for our transgressions. To say “God is love” is misleading as love is ambiguous. (editor’s note: did he really just start his comment by saying, “God is not love?”)

(editor’s note: I told a few people I thought they were being mean and unkind. So this person said) This guy would have told Jesus “you have such malice and hatred and negativity” after he would of told them “unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Antichrist means “alternative Christ” in the Greek. This Man loves AntiChrist, a figment of his selfish imagination and is offended by the real Christ.

You (claiming to be Christian) are justifying as ‘okay’ that which is a damnable offense to a Holy God. It’s heretical. Consider this a rebuke. Repent. Seriously. (editor’s note: okay… but ONLY because you said “seriously!”)

You said you couldn’t find in the Bible regarding homosexuality is being condemned. You literally straight up lied. The only people who would fall for your video are those who never read the Bible, this won’t influence Christians who actually follows what is stated in the New Testament. We follow the word of God, not men who changes the word into their own leisure like yourself. Have fun only attracting atheists and people who have already always supported lgbt rights like yourself.

I was encouraged early on to not read the comments on my video, but I’ve found them all to be far too fascinating to ignore. Plus, although I didn’t list them here, there were a handful of very positive, encouraging, supportive and loving comments as well. And a lot more private messages and emails of support and thanks came in, too.

My wife finds it strange that I’m so fascinated by all these people. (editor’s note: it is not strange that my wife finds something I do strange)

Even though the people above have said some really nasty things, and displayed an egregious lack of compassion, and have betrayed their own sorts of ignorance, I have not taken any of it personally. None of these comments have gotten to me. None of them have bothered me. None of them have got me fired up. (I did engage with a few people, if they actually asked a question. But I didn’t dignify a lot of that stuff with any sort of response).

But honestly, the words above and the other couple hundred comments just don’t bother me.

Why?

Because I know they’re not actually talking to ME.

These words are not aimed at ME.
It is not ME they are angry with, or threatened by.

They don’t even know ME.

Their anger, malice, and vitriol is aimed at someone else. Someone who’s hurt them in the past. Or, perhaps, even themselves.

Their fear is driven by whatever system of beliefs they’ve been indoctrinated in to.

Their cruelty is a result of simply not understanding.

But none of it has to do with ME.

I just put myself out there and became an easy target. A place for people to direct their negative energies.

But since I know that none of the above words have anything to do with ME, then it frees me from taking any of it personal. Taking any of it to heart.

Like Lizzie from Cars, if I were to stand in front of some of these people and reply to the words they typed on the comment section of my Youtube video, I know that, if they were honest enough or aware enough, they’d reply with:

What? I wasn’t talking to you!

 

 

(New Sermon) The CHANGE: From Saul to Paul

Here’s the message I gave on Sunday July 7th, 2013.

Coming from Acts 9, I unpack the story of Saul’s Damascus Road Conversion. I paint a picture of the type of person Saul the Pharisee likely was, and then contrast that with who later became known as Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles.

So far, pretty normal and standard.

But then I explore the people groups who were NOT thrilled about Saul’s conversion. And that led us in to some pretty awesome moments, talking about change-in-our-lives.

It was an inspired morning, for sure.

Stream the audio below, or right click the link to download it.

The Change: From Saul to Paul

A Letter from Saul the Pharisee’s Teacher, Gamaliel

Last week I preached a sermon from Acts 9, the Damascus Road Conversion of Saul the Pharisee.

In order to set the stage for where I wanted to go, I needed to paint a picture of the type of person Saul likely was. And, instead of just listing off some random facts/insights, I thought, “hey, it’d be creative and fun to write a historical fictional letter from Saul’s teacher, the Rabbi Gamaliel, as a way to establish the character of Saul!”

So I did.

And it was fun.

I imagined Gamaliel responding to a letter from the Apostle John, where John was curious about the upbringing of Saul because he was a bit uncertain in this new-fangled “Apostle to the Gentiles,” Paul.

Anyways, I wrote out the letter and was going to open my sermon by reading it.

But… as always happens… my sermon got too long. So I had to edit.

And this letter got cut.

However, so as to not waste my creative efforts, I share it here with you all, should you find yourself one day thinking to yourself, “I wonder what Paul was like, when he grew up, and trained to be a Pharisee under Gamaliel?”

A question, I am certain, you ask yourself often.

- – – – – – – – – – – -

Dear Blessed John,

Grace and peace to you from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

While you and I never have quite seen eye-to-eye on that Carpenter from Nazareth, I have always held you dear in my heart as one who, like myself, sees love as the highest way.

I pray this letter finds you well taken care of. We both now are excellent at aging, but nonetheless I find every day a fresh reminder of what I once was is no longer what I am now, and what I once could do with the ease of youth I now fail before I even begin.

But that aside, let me get right to what you have inquired about.

You are hoping that I can provide some insight in to your Brother in the Lord, Saul. From what I can surmise from your previous letter you have only recently met his acquaintance, but have certainly heard talk of him for years. And, from the sound of it, he has become quite the evangelist for your cause. Very excited about this one you call Jesus the Messiah.

And yet you hope, I gather, to understand more fully who this man is and from whence he came. So I shall do my best to tell you about this Apostle to the Gentiles (as some have taken to calling him).

As you know, my grandfather was Hillel, and he was unequivocally the most prominent religious leader of his day. A renowned sage and scholar of Judaism. It should be noted, in fact, that it was he who said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” (It is my understanding that you claim the Carpenter from Nazareth said a similar thing… and if that is so, then perhaps he is not all that bad after all?)

But as I was saying, my grandfather established the premier method of studying and learning Judaism, and it was in his honor that I too opened my own school here in Jerusalem to train up young Jewish men in the ways of the Torah.

It was thus that I became acquainted with young Saul when his father (a Pharisee himself) dropped off the eager young lad at the age of 12 to learn from me at my school.

If you’ve met Saul in person, then perhaps you already know how his given Hebrew name, Saul, stands in stark contrast to his physical appearance.

As you well know, he is named after the Saul of old… our forefathers first King, who was chosen as King because he stood a ‘head taller than all the others.’ And so I imagine that our young Saul’s parents gave him this name with great hopes and expectations that he too would grow to be of impressive physical stature.

And yet, it was clear when the young lad first crossed the threshold of my door that he was not bound for such vertical greatness. He was then, as he is now, the runt of the litter. A head shorter than all the others, one would more accurately say…

But what this young lad lacked for in size he more than made up for it in mind.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Saul came from the city of Tarsus, a city famous for its Stoic Philosophers. So it was no surprise that young Saul showed remarkable skill in the ways of rhetoric and philosophy.

He was brilliant in the arts of debate and logic, out-maneuvering students that had been at my school for more than 5 years!

As all young Israelites do, he had memorized a great deal of the Torah and the Psalms, but his capacity to internalize them and exegete them were unparalleled.

Yet he was, by no means, a humble boy.
No, he was driven, motivated, and determined to be the best.
He connected well with me and the other teachers, even as his ability to make friends his own age was altogether unimpressive.

Debate the merits of imposing Sabbath day requirements on God-fearing Pagans with his classmates? He’d effortlessly lead the way.

But spend the afternoon skipping rocks across the Jordan with his peers? He’d rather copy the Scroll of Isaiah backwards.

He was not a bad kid, but he always had, what seemed, a chip on his shoulder, as though every day his name reminded him of what he was not.

The years went by and he studied, he prayed, and he advanced in Judaism far beyond those around him. When he graduated from my School he was already a full-blown Pharisee, invited to sit at times in the Great Council (of which I resided over for the past 25 years, as you may recall).

It was thus that you perhaps first came to know of young Saul, when your Movement first got under way, and young Stephen (God rest his soul) was needlessly murdered for preaching out about the Carpenter.

(If you recall, I urged the Council against such rash and violent behavior, but alas I could not control them…)

But as I was saying, young Saul, full of determination and with a zealous spirit the likes of which I’ve not seen before or since, saw an opportunity to advance even further in the ranks of the Pharisees.

I recall the look in his eyes every time a follower of the Way would come through town, teaching about the Carpenter. The way his long nose would twitch, and his hands would nervously pull at his sleeves.

He was convinced that to show his commitment to the Great Council and to the other Pharisees that he must hate-with-passion those who followed the Carpenter.

It was in such a rage that I remember seeing him standing there, holding the cloaks of those who hurled their rocks at Stephen… cheering on the attackers, and reviling young Stephen, even as Stephen was shouting out words of forgiveness and grace.

Shortly after that, when Saul came to the Council and requested our blessing to chase down these followers, I remember for the first time being scared.

Saul had always been a bit rough around the edges, and had always had an intensity about him, and always walked around with a chip on his shoulder, but I’d never considered him a violent man.

Zealous, sure.
Passionate, absolutely.

But now, looking back, I can see how for the first time I was worried that he’d go too far. But the hatred (and, sadly, fear) that the Council had against these new Followers of the Carpenter was too great, and so Saul was given authorization to purge the synagogues of Damascus from any and all followers. To capture them and imprison them. To steal them back here to Jerusalem to stand trial.

As he left that afternoon, with papers in hands, I could hear him muttering under his breath… breathing words of hate and disgust.

He’d been a good Pharisee. One of the best, even.
But I feared that this much hate, this much rage, would be too much for the young prodigy.

The rest of that story, as you know better than I, is a remarkable story of redemption and change.

And even though I still disagree with you, about the Carpenter, I must say that as his old Teacher, it brings a peace and warmth to my soul to see Saul, or Paul as he know goes by, turn in to such a loving, kind, generous, and wise man.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May God’s face shine upon you.

Sincerely,

Gamaliel The Elder
President Emeritus of the Great Council in Jerusalem

The Bible is Tricky; Love Shouldn’t Be

(This is the 4th and final post on my series: Why I Write/Post So Much About the “Gay” Issue. Thank you for taking the time to better understand where I’m coming from and why. Make sure to check out Part I: Gay Balloons and Star Wars Legos, Part II: Speaking of Jesus…, and Part III: And Yet it Moves)

THE BIBLE IS A TRICKY BUSINESS

If you think the Bible is easy to understand, you probably haven’t read it.

If you think that historically Christians have basically gotten pretty close to agreeing on how to interpret the Bible, you probably haven’t studied much church history.

If you think that historically Christians have, more or less, not been majorly wrong on some pretty significant issues, then you probably haven’t been paying attention.

At the risk of offending your intelligence right at the beginning, I want to make sure we are not naïve about something. Or, as it likely could be, ignorant.

The Bible is a complex compilation of literature that ranges in different styles; from historical narrative, to poetry, to metaphor, and everything in between. It was composed by humans over the span of possibly a couple thousand years and written in many different cultures and contexts. It was not written in English, so our English copies are a translation of Greek manuscripts (a dead language) which was either trying to translate Hebrew manuscripts (also a dead language) or it was the written recording of the spoken word in Aramaic (also, you guessed it, a dead language). Translators, for the most part, have done their best over the centuries to help the people in their historical context to understand the words written hundreds/thousands of years ago. It’s a tricky business, and we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t think that sometimes people’s biases (theology?) influenced their choice on which English words to use to translate the Greek that recorded the Aramaic that translated the Hebrew.

Furthermore, as if the translation process itself weren’t difficult enough, virtually no two people in history have ever agreed completely on how to interpret every single word/phrase/sentence/verse/passage/chapter/book of the Bible. Followers of Christ have splintered in to thousands of different variations of what it means to be a “Christian.” New ideas and altered interpretations pop up in the scholarly world all the time. The church of 100 years ago would barely recognize the church of today. The church of 200 years ago would barely recognize the church of 100 years ago. And so on. As a result, if you study Church History, you will discover that the Church has been wrong so many times on such major issues that even the drunk old uncle at the family reunion would blush. Just to name a few (in no particular order): polygamy, patriarchy, slavery, witch hunting, astronomy, Inquisition, Nazi Germany, American Colonialism (i.e. Native American genocide), more slavery, various predictions of the End Times, denying women rights, denying colored people rights, beating our children, more slavery, etc, etc, etc. Yes, I realize some of these “misfires” are from what you might call “fringe groups.” But most of them are not. Most of them come from the majority position. And most of them are a result of misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misapplying the words of the Bible.

It is a tricky business, Bible reading/interpreting, and millions upon millions upon millions of men, women and children have suffered throughout human history as a result of God-fearing Christians missing the point. Don’t ever think, for one second, that you or I are immune to missing the point. That you or I are immune to misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misapplying the words of the Bible. None of us are. This is serious, serious (and tricky) business, and SO MUCH IS ON THE LINE.

If you read yesterdays post (And Yet it Moves) then you know that I would add to the above list: “homosexuality.” Millions of us are convinced that the church has misunderstood, misinterpreted and misapplied the Bible when it comes to sexuality and same-sex attraction. And as a result, millions upon millions upon millions of men, women and children have suffered throughout human history.

So why do I write/talk about this issue so much?

Because I think we’ve been wrong long enough.

HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE BIBLE

Many of you have followed my series called UnClobber: The Bible and Homosexuality. Frustratingly I paused that series as we picked up and moved to San Diego and I have not yet gone back and finished it. But I promise within the next month that will happen. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, UnClobber is my effort to go passage by passage through the texts in the Bible that have been used to formulate the position that any expression of same-sex attraction is a sin. Or, to put it simply, that “homosexuality is a sin.”

The bottom line is that this simply is not true.

The Bible does not communicate this message.

We have erred on this just as we have on slavery. Just as we have on astronomy. Just as we have on segregation. Etc, etc, etc.

I won’t try and summarize my thoughts on the Bible and homosexuality here. You’ll have to come back for UnClobber. But I do want to share one insight from the Bible as I close up this series. (For this insight, I am indebted to Matthew Vines and his incredible 1 hour and 7 minute talk on the Bible and Homosexuality. Definitely worth your time.)

TO BE, OR NOT TO BE (Alone, that is)

If you are Christian and still think being gay is a ‘choice’ then I’m here to tell you that you are in the minority position within your own clan. Most conservative Christians have moved or are moving away from that position because it has repeatedly been demonstrated to be false. The prominent position nowadays within the conservative Christian world is this: if you are gay then you are called to be celibate. Just being gay is not a sin, but any expression of gay love is.

In other words, if you are gay then we invite you to be alone.

It is now your cross to bear.

All people are born with certain pre-dispositions to certain sinful behaviors. Our calling is to learn to live in a way that does not give in to those temptations. (I saw this clip from John Piper about homosexuality. After cleaning the vomit off my keyboard I realized this summarizes pretty well the ‘conservative’ position).

Of course, no decent Christian would put it so bluntly (“if you are gay then you are called to be alone”). They would probably point out how a relationship with Jesus can fill that lonely-shaped-hole, or how friendship and Christian fellowship can help us not be lonely, and so on. And all of that is true… sort of.

But check this out.

Although it’s not technically a clobber passage, many people will point to Genesis chapter 2 (and a hyper-literal interpretation to boot) as foundational evidence that heterosexuality is the only God-blessed union. Here’s the perennial nail in the coffin:

21 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. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 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.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

And there you have it. God’s design is for one man and one woman. Clear and simple.

However, when was the last time you backed up a few verses and reminded yourself of why God created the woman for the man?

15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die.” 18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 19 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. 20 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.

Did you catch that?

Man had relationship with God. But still, God said “it is not good for the man to be alone.” So God set about to make a suitable helper for him.

After making a community of creatures for the man, the man still felt alone. None of them were suitable helpers for him. And at that point is when God makes a woman, who is a suitable helper for the man.

Man was alone. In spite of a relationship with God and other creatures. Man was alone.

And God said, “this is NOT good. Many other things have I created lately, and I’ve called them all very good. But this? This loneliness? This emptiness? This lack of relational connectedness I’ve discovered now exists within the pinnacle of my creation? It ain’t good. I got more work to do!”

God himself was not okay with man being alone.

But this is precisely the message that so many in the church say to those in the LGBT community: “Since you are attracted to someone of the same sex, and since that is not a “Biblical suitable helper” for you, then you need to remain celibate. You need to remain alone.”

See the irony?

The church stays hyper-focused on “a man will leave father and mother and be united with his wife” to the detriment of the fact that this relational environment was instituted precisely because it is not good for a person to BE ALONE.

Some would even suggest that a gay person learn to live with (and marry?) a person of the opposite sex. Be a homosexual that lives out a heterosexual life. But I ask you, is that a “suitable helper” for them?

Why do I write about and talk about these issues so much?

Because the Bible has been used for too long to suppress and oppress our LGBT brothers and sisters. It has been used to fabricate an anti-gay theology. It has been misunderstood and misinterpreted and misapplied to the homosexual community. Not only have we ripped the clobber passages out of their historical, cultural and textual contexts (and endured terrible English translations of some words), we have also missed the beautiful thread of relational love that was sewn in to the fabric of what it means to be human: it is not good to be alone, thus saith the Lord. (sidenote: some people throughout history have sensed a special call to celibacy. Nuns, priests, missionaries, etc. This is a unique calling that we dare not impose upon someone else and force them to manifest or try and convince themselves that it is true. Heck, Paul even wrote that “it is better to marry than burn with passion,” but once again we say to our LGBT brothers and sisters, “you CANNOT marry, sorry, you must burn with passion.”)

As a result of my convictions and conclusions about what the Bible says and doesn’t say regarding human sexuality, I am compelled to be a part of sharing the good news of God’s grace and love for all.

THEY’RE REAL, PEOPLE

When I first met Rich, my very dear friend/pastor/boss, and told him my story of how I was fired over my views on sexuality, he asked me this question: “so who is it?”

“Who is what?” I replied.

“Who in your family came out as gay? A brother? Cousin?”

“No one,” I said in return. “I have no gay family members or friends, that I know of.”

He went on to tell me how unusual that is. Most straight folk like myself who experience a transformation in their theological and ideological positions on this issue do so as a result of having to reconcile with the fact that someone close to them has come out of the closet. But that wasn’t the case for me. My path of transformation was not launched by the discovery that someone close to me was gay. Embarrassingly, I had no experience with the gay community and had no gay friends. Instead, it was through prayer, study, contemplation, and being open to God’s guiding Spirit that led me through the years it took for my head and heart to change.

But now? Now I know gay people. Now I have gay friends.

And guess what…

They are REAL PEOPLE, people.

With real stories. Real families. Real passions and loves. Real interests. Real gifts and talents. Real likes and dislikes. Real jobs and real lives.

They are not simply abstract concepts that we can discuss in our ivory towers. That we can pretend to know more about who they are and what they want and what they need than they do.

When you sit and listen to someone share with you how their own family rejected them and kicked them out of the house because they came out of the closet, your heart simultaneously breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.

When you sit and listen to someone tell you about the years they spent running from anything and everything that is good, and wasting their lives on destructive behavior, because they bottled up so much for so long and then fought the most extreme identity crisis you could imagine, your heart breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.

When you have coffee with someone who has to choose between either staying in a relationship with the person they love OR staying a part of their own family, your heart breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.

When you break bread with two women who have been in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship for 20 years and watch them love each other in the same exact way you love your own spouse, but they CAN’T call each other “spouse,” your heart breaks a little and grows a bit bigger.

You want to know why I write so much about this? Why I talk about it, post about it, focus on these issues?

Because my heart has broken too many times, and because it’s also grown three times its size.

After my theological/sociological/philosophical/political transformation was complete, but before I met all my friends in the LGBT community, I was convinced the issues and the theology was worth fighting for.

Now that I’ve met, loved, and befriended the real people behind these issues, I am convinced THEY are worth fighting for.

Yes, the work of the Bible is certainly tricky business.
But the work of Love? That should be far less tricky.

Paul wrote these words to the Philippian church, “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” 2:3,4

Why do I write/talk so much about these issues?

Because I’m tired of looking out for my own interests. I’m a selfish person and Lord knows I’ve done plenty of that in my life thus far.

These are my friends. And they, along with countless others, have experienced enough pain, marginalization, shame, guilt and fear. It’s time that I, and you as well, start looking out for THEIR interests.

IN SUMMARY

Well, I’d like to thank you for spending this week with me. Reading as I share from my head and heart some of the reasons why so much of my online presence has been consumed with the “gay” issue over these past 9 months.

A quick recap:

Why do I write/talk so much about the “gay” issue?

  • Because, practically speaking, this is the first time in my life I’ve been “allowed” to do so. That’s a lot of bottled up energy!
  • Because I’ve discovered I’m passionate about it. And just like you, when I’m passionate about something it tends to be more prominent in life.
  • Because my commitment to follow Jesus has taken me to this place.
  • Because I believe Jesus’ life demonstrated a posture of love, grace, and mercy for the lowest, the outcast, the marginalized.
  • Because I want future-me to be proud of present-me.
  • Because I want to be on the right side of God’s history.
  • Because I believe we’ve gotten this issue wrong as it relates to what the Bible says and doesn’t say.
  • Because I’ve met enough LGBT folk to be convinced they are REAL people, and they are worth fighting for.
  • Because my heart has broken for them, as well as grown for them.

If I may, I offer the following prayer of St Francis of Assisi as a Benediction to close this series.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

And Yet It Moves

BLACK SHARPIES AND WHITE SHEETS

Two years ago, while still working at The Grove, I attended Catalyst West Coast with the other pastors. One of the things the folks at Catalyst like to do is set up an interactive arts area in the chapel for people to spend time meditating, reflecting, worshiping, and doing some hands on interactive stuff. While wandering through the chapel two years ago I was drawn towards a large display of three sheets that created a three-walled box. One side of the ‘box’ was open so that you could walk in and be surrounded by three giant white sheets. Scattered throughout the display were black sharpies, and participants were encouraged to write out a ‘confession’ anywhere on the sheet. There were super bright lights that back lit the sheets and made the box translucent, so that you could read all the confessions from outside the box, but they were all backwards. You had to go IN the box to read them properly. I decided to pick up a sharpie and participate.

Just moments before I visited the interactive stations in the chapel I listened to a keynote address by Dr John Perkins who had marched with Martin Luther King Jr in the Civil Rights Movement. His speech reminded me that the stain on our nation’s history of segregation is still so fresh. People are still alive and walking around who witnessed first hand a country who treated African Americans like second class citizens. I found myself weighed down by the gravity of that thought.

We want to believe we’ve come so far as a nation. But we haven’t.

We want to believe we’ve come so far as a church. But we haven’t.

Sadly many, many conservative churches supported segregation. And prior to that, supported slavery. The Bible was even used to buttress such absurd positions.

And I got to thinking that afternoon of how many followers of Jesus there were during the days of segregation that knew it was wrong, knew that we should not discriminate against people because of the color of their skin, but did nothing about it.

Stayed silent.

And if those people are still alive today (which I’m sure many are), oh how their hearts must break at the stain on their own history. Could you imagine being 80 some years old and having to live with the reality that you were adamantly opposed to racial segregation but you did nothing and said nothing about it back in the 60’s?

I imagine the weight of that guilt and shame would be crushing.

Or, imagine those who were in favor of discrimination at the time (because their church told them to be, or because they interpreted their Bibles so poorly). And now that we “know” how wrong we all were, they must also be crushed under the pain of knowing they allowed a few verses in the Bible to trump their human capacity for reason, compassion, and love.

Anyways, so all those thoughts were fresh in my mind when I walked through the chapel, made my way to the white sheet art installation, and picked up a black sharpie.

Without really thinking much about what I was going to write, I popped off the cap, found a spot high up on the wall (benefit of being almost 6’3”), and followed the lead of my inner spirit as I wrote:

God, I do not want my future self to be ashamed of my present self. I do not want to remain silent and do nothing about discrimination towards the LGBT community. As the world continues changing and we look back on these times 50 years from now and wonder how we could have gotten this issue so wrong, I do not want to have been one of the fear-filled silent ones.

I stepped back from what I wrote and cautiously (fearfully?) turned my head from side to side to see if anyone else saw what I wrote. I don’t know why, but writing that out was somehow a formative moment for me. Even though I only told a white sheet how I felt, it seemed as though this gesture was significant. To actually externalize something like this, to put it out there, outside of simply my own heart and mind, somehow made it more real.

And I realized I couldn’t turn back from that moment.

Even though no one at my church and none of my family or friends knew how I felt on this issue, suddenly I was willing to put this out there for complete strangers to read.

I’m not even certain I knew that I felt this way until I entered that three-walled white sheet box and popped off the cap of that lone black sharpie.

It became evident in that moment that a significant crossroad had not just presented itself in my life but that I had also already chosen the path down which I’d follow.

Why do I talk about this issue so much?

Because I could never live with myself if I didn’t.

I believe with all my heart and mind that history will show the church to be on the wrong side of this issue just like it was with segregation, women’s rights, slavery… heck, we even swung and missed on astronomy! It is imperative that future-Colby is able to look back on these days, when so much is at stake in the LBGT community and people are finally beginning to lessen their grip on homophobic behavior and actions and legislation, and be able to look his grandkids in the eyes and say, “I helped fight for this. I spoke out when it wasn’t popular. I challenged people’s assumptions and helped educate their ignorances. I took an honest look at the Scriptures are realized how badly we’d missed it. I opened my eyes to the discrimination that had run rampant against our brothers and sisters and stood with those who said ‘no more.’”

AND YET IT MOVES

In 1514 the German astronomer, Copernicus, proposed the idea of heliocentric cosmology (which is the view that the Sun is fixed in space and the planets orbit around the sun). This was the complete opposite of geocentric cosmology (which was the view held up until that point, that the Earth was the center and fixed in the universe and the sun orbited Earth).

100 years later the Italian physicist/mathematician/astronomer/philosopher named Galileo agreed with Copernicus’ assessment. The Sun was indeed (and scientifically proven to be) fixed, and it was in fact the Earth that moved in space.

Unfortunately for him, the Bible says otherwise.

According to Scripture, the Earth is fixed and does not move. (Psalm 93:1, 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30, just to name a few). Therefore the official position of the church was geocentrism. So for Galileo to suggest the opposite was heresy.

In 1633 Galileo was summoned to Rome and stood trial by the Inquisition for writing literature that revealed the truth about cosmology. He was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life in house arrest while all of his writings were banned. (quick side note: lest we just blame the Catholic Church for suppressing the truth and silencing people like Galileo, the Reformer himself, Martin Luther, also rejected the evidence of heliocentrism in favor of the above Bible verses.)

Legend has it that, after his recantation in front of the Inquisition, he muttered the phrase, “and yet it moves.”

As if to say, “though I’m forced to reject what is true because of your insistence on a few clearly misunderstood Bible verses, that does not change the reality that the earth moves.”

Fine, we can all participate in this cosmic comedy of errors… and yet it moves.

Sometimes that which is true has a way of hiding itself for centuries. And when it is uncovered, should it threaten the way we’ve always thought/believed about something (or, even more dangerously, should it threaten a few Bible verses), we find ourselves poised in a difficult place. Forced to make a choice between three paths.

Do we, like the Religious Elite, dig in our heels and insist we have not been wrong. Insist that the Bible clearly says such and such and so all other evidences of logic, reason, science or alternative interpretations must be wrong. Insist on protecting the “truth” as we’ve always known it.

Or, do we, like Galileo, open up our hearts and minds to the possibility that we’ve gotten it wrong. We develop new convictions that reject what we’ve always known to be true even though it could be dangerous. But, like Galileo, do we ultimately acquiesce to the powers that be. Do we ignore our conscience, ignore the guiding of the Spirit inside us, and stick our heads in the sand. Not wanting to rock the boat. Not wanting to invite the wrath of the Inquisition. Fearful of what might be lost.

Or, thirdly, do we choose the path of people like Descartes, Keplar and Isaac Newton who boldly moved forward in life within the newly revealed “truth.” Regardless of the cost, there were those that knew that the Bible was wrong (or, more accurately, had been wrongly interpreted) and weren’t afraid to support heliocentrism. Weren’t afraid to speak out and do their part to move the conversation forward.

Homosexuality is not a disorder.
It is not a choice.
It is not something that can be cured or reversed.
A loving, committed, monogamous same-sex relationship is not forbidden in the Bible.
Gay people are not abominations.

These “truths” have been hiding for centuries but have now been uncovered.

The “church” is doing what it has often done throughout history: dig in its heels and insist it is right. Clinging to archaic science. Insisting on weak interpretations. And threatening anyone who dares oppose it.

There are many Christians who have taken the route of Galileo. They have been exposed to these “truths,” have met actual gay people and heard their stories, read material that challenged what they’ve always believed, and discovered how wrong we’ve been. And yet they remain silent. They would rather remain in house arrest, imprisoned within their own consciences, if it means they don’t have to endure the wrath of the Inquisition. Or lose their job. Or lose relationships.

I won’t do that. I can’t do that.

People’s lives are at stake with this issue. This is way more important than the order of the planets and stars. This is about the livelihood of our fellow brothers and sisters. About their mental health and inner happiness. About the rights that have been denied them that all straight people enjoy. About the destruction of their souls as they’ve been told over and over again that they are rotten sinners who invite the wrath of God on their lives and on our nation. This is about saving the lives of thousands of young people each year who would rather kill themselves than face this world that hates them, fears them, tells them they cannot love or be loved, tells them they are broken and deformed, tells them they have failed in their efforts to surrender to God.

IT’S NOT THE SAME, BUT IT IS

I understand that people don’t like comparing the LGBT movement with the Civil Rights Movement. I get it. It’s different in some ways.

But at the same time there are enough parallels, I think, that render it apropos to take principles from one and apply to another. However, even if you disagree and think they don’t belong in the same comparative sentence together, then I still want to ask you this question: imagine you are living back in the mid 1960’s and a friend of yours was spending all her free time at Civil Rights rallys. They were writing their local paper and calling out for equality. They were attending churches and begging people to re-read their Scriptures. They were focusing enormous amounts of time and energy in to ending discrimination in our country. Would you say to them, “hey friend, I know you’re passionate about this, but can you scale it back a bit? It’s like all you ever talk about anymore. I know it’s important, but there are other things in life that are important, too.”

I don’t think, looking back through the lens of history, you would say that.

You would root them on. You would tell them to not shut up until blacks were considered equal with whites. Until all people could eat in the same restaurant and drink from the same fountain. You would encourage them to never give up.

Well then, if you agree with me on some of the issues relating to the LGBT community, then I propose to you that this is THAT important. And I think future YOU would want to say to present ME, “don’t give up. Don’t stop talking about it until gays are considered equal with straights. Until all people can know the same basic rights. Until churches start to open their doors and their hearts to the gay community, and come to see how wrong they are.”

And if you disagree with me on these issues then perhaps you could step back and respect the fact that I, and many others, think this is THAT important. You may not understand it, but you can choose to respect it.

If you’re not tired of reading yet, I invite you to go here and read this amazing blog post from Richard Beck called “The Fence of Matthew Shepard.” He also discusses the commonality between Civil Rights, the Holocaust, and events like the killing of Matthew Shepard. He says this at the end,

Let me tell you what keeps me up at night. My deepest fear in life is that I’m going to end up on the wrong side of God’s history. Like so many Christians before me. My fear is that a moment will come when I am asked to stand up for those hanging on the trees, literally and symbolically, and I’ll respond with “That has nothing to do with me. That has nothing to do with the church.”

UNDERSTANDING MY PRIVILEGE

I am straight. And white. And a male.

These are three things that are true about me, and three things that grant me certain privileges that I did not earn nor ask for. But I have them nonetheless.

Those who have done study in the world of “privilege” have remarked that those in the majority position (i.e. myself) can speak out for minority positions without the immediate assumption or critique that we are speaking out of self interest.

While I certainly don’t want to take away or replace the “voice” of the LGBT community, I must acknowledge the “privilege” that I have in this arena. I can speak out against discrimination of gays and NOT be waved off simply because “I am gay.”

I don’t deserve and didn’t earn this privilege, but I have it nonetheless.

And for whatever reason I have gained a very tiny sliver of influence over an even tinier sliver of people in this vast universe. I have a platform (regardless of how small it is), I have white/straight/male privilege, and I have the firm conviction that we the church have been wrong on this issue for too long. My voice is needed in this conversation. For every 20 people that wave me off as a heretic there might be one young gay guy or lesbian girl who discovers that they are a child of God. Who learns for perhaps the first time that the Bible does not condemn them, that they are not an abomination. And even though they’ve felt that or tried to say that for years, now they have someone else who is saying it with them… for them.

I won’t be like the person who never stood against racial segregation and lives their remaining days in shame.

I won’t be like Galileo who knew the truth about cosmology but chose to renounce it and live alone.

The earth MOVES, people. It MOVES! And I’m not going to utter it under my breath as I walk away in fear. There are too many hurting people in this world for me to sit by and do nothing. Say nothing. Not use my privilege, my influence, my study, my voice.

Why do I talk so much about this issue?

Because it is moving… and I’m moving with it.
While also telling you its moving.
And inviting you to move with it.

I don’t want to be on the wrong side of God’s history.
And I don’t want you to be, either.

Speaking of Jesus…

SO MUCH HOMOSEXUALITY, SO LITTLE JESUS

(This is Part II in a Four Part series addressing the question, “why do I talk so much about homosexuality?” Click here to read Part I: Gay Balloons and Star Wars Legos)

Today I want to come at this question from the angle of how my talking/writing about this issue is related to my following of Jesus. Some of the “criticism” I’ve received has been that I talk about THIS stuff more than JESUS-y stuff.

To help guide this post, I’ll use this email I received a while back from a Pastor friend (I think I can call him a friend… We did have coffee one time together. Although he mostly just wanted to get together to ask me why I gave such a heretical [my word, not his... but it was implied] message at my Alma Mater, Corban University. And we are also FB friends. So I don’t know… I think we are friends). Here is what he wrote:

Colby, Hope this finds you and your family well. Forgive me for a blunt set of questions and statements here but I’m really am curious about something and your perspective on it. I’ve noticed that many of your posts are regarding homosexuality. Question: If you are in fact a believer in Jesus Christ, why then are you focused on that issue? Why not focus on Christ and Him crucified? The Apostle Paul resolved to know nothing else…right? Or could it be that you are not really interested in the person of Christ as much as you are in the act of homosexual behavior? That’s the way that it comes across to me. Jesus loves dirty sinners like me, like all sexual sinners, gossipers, liars… All that to say, I believe homosexuality is sin but i’m very interested in loving them first with Christ’s love and allowing him to convict via the Holy Spirit. You’re totally wrong regarding your view of scripture and how it deals with homosexuality, but that aside, it’s ridiculous that the so called “liberal christians”, such as yourself, are solely focused on this issue and yet still call yourselves Christians. You might call yourselves Homosexualians. Find a new issue already. And I’d say the same to the “religious right”. And I have said it to them. I guess that’s my question: Why are you so focused on homosexuality and not on Christ? Hope you receive that with love.

I think this guy means well. Or, at least, I’m choosing to take my thumb off the scale. I believe he has a passionate heart for God and for God’s people, even if his theological system requires that he fight fiercely against what he sees as “error.”

On one hand this email was pretty jarring, and it annoyed me that he sent it.

But, on the other hand, I can sorta kinda understand the sentiment behind it. Why focus on this issue so much? What about Jesus?

I think others are asking a similar question, even if they wouldn’t word it as harshly or rudely as this guy did.

Instead of replying to him I told him I’d like to keep him anonymous and answer some of his questions here on my blog. So here I go…

“If you are in fact a believer in Jesus Christ, why then are you focused on that issue? Why not focus on Christ and Him crucified?”

Setting aside the passive aggressive dig for a moment, lest there be any doubt, yes I am a “believer in Jesus.” Even more importantly, however, I am a follower of Jesus (for even the demons believe and shudder. So, big whoop for being a “believer.”) I think the false dichotomy expressed in this question exposes a hole in some people’s theological grids. Namely, that to be focused on Christ and him crucified means we do NOT focus on other “issues.”

Say what?

Clearly this guy wouldn’t even hold himself to such a standard. I guarantee you that if you visited his church’s podcast then you would find a variety of different sermon series, messages on different ideas and concepts, talks about all sorts of different aspects of life and faith. Not every sermon would be about “Christ and him crucified.” Not every Sunday would be a Good Friday. (Even if  every message this guy has given is centered in Jesus or comes back to Jesus or has something to do with Jesus. Which would be great, mind you, and is probably true. But that doesn’t seem to be what he is implying or suggesting).

But, anyways, it’s absurd to think that being “focused” on a certain issue means I am therefore NOT focused on Christ. It is precisely because of my commitment to follow Jesus and where he is leading me that I “focus” on this issue.

It is because of Jesus’ love, mercy and grace for all people.
It is because Jesus’ death and resurrection ushers in a new covenant of new creation.
It is because of Jesus’ life and ministry to the outcast, the lowly, the marginalized and oppressed.

In my efforts to reach out to the LGBT community, in my efforts to expose the condemnation and judgment that has been shown them by the church, in my efforts to educate people about the Bible and homosexuality, I believe I AM actually focused on Christ and him crucified.

People like this guy are free to disagree, but that doesn’t change the reality of it.

And the Apostle Paul wrote about many, many issues that were indirectly directly related to Christ and him crucified. Let’s not cherry pick this verse and misapply it too egregiously, shall we?

“Or could it be that you are not really interested in the person of Christ as much as you are in the act of homosexual behavior?”

Setting aside the words of judgment for a moment, let me ask this person a question in return: have you sent similar emails to people who run blogs/Facebook pages/twitter feeds that speak out against sex slavery? Speak out against child abuse? Speak out against pornography? Speak out against ending malaria? Speak out for clean water in Third World Countries? Speak out for ending hunger? Speak out against discrimination against people because of gender or race?

Have you contacted pastors who write extensively within the studies of marriage counseling? Financial advice? Parenting?

Have you emailed Mission Agencies that work to teach English in foreign countries? Work to give micro-loans to people in poverty? Work to build hospitals and orphanages?

My point is this: what is your point?

Simply because a person (like myself) writes a lot about one particular issue does not mean that person is somehow uninterested in the person of Jesus Christ. I imagine if this guy contacted any of the people like what I suggested above who are passionate about and focus on those different issues that they would probably say the same thing I would say…“We focus on this issue, we are passionate about this issue, because we ARE so interested in the person of Christ.” 

Because I love Jesus, I love people.
Because I follow Jesus, I try and live like he lived.
Because I am interested in the person (and indeed the works) of Jesus, I am interested in the things that interest him.

Jesus, I believe, is against discrimination. And so shall I be.
Jesus, I believe, extends mercy, love and grace for all people. And so shall I.
Jesus, I believe, identified with the lowly, the outcast, the downcast, the oppressed, the despised, the hated. And so shall I.
Jesus, I believe, wants people to experience eternal life. Life in the Kingdom of God. And so do I.
Jesus, I believe, is about justice and hope. And so shall I be.
Jesus, I believe, desires mercy and not sacrifice. And so shall I live.
Jesus, I believe, longs for people to know him… which is, to also know peace, and hope, and love. And so do I.

Perhaps this question my pastor friend asked of me would be better asked of HIM.

If you are NOT also contacting all sorts of other people who focus on all sorts of other issues, then why are YOU so interested in homosexuality?

Why does it bother you that someone like me is writing about, talking about, discussing these sorts of issues?

It seems clear to me that it’s because this guy vehemently disagrees with me, and finds my conclusions threatening and dangerous. It feels like he is choosing to hide behind the facade of “why don’t you focus on only Christ and him crucified,” and has merely constructed a straw man in the process. A way to throw “righteous stones,” if you will.

It sounds really good (and probably feels better) to say, “just talk about Jesus… not this other stuff.” It would be much harder to say, “you are wrong to talk about this stuff, because you are WRONG.”

However, he did at least eventually get to the real issue…

“All that to say, I believe homosexuality is sin but i’m very interested in loving them first with Christ’s love and allowing him to convict via the Holy Spirit. You’re totally wrong regarding your view of scripture and how it deals with homosexuality, but that aside…”

Well, I don’t think that IS just an “aside.” I think that’s precisely the reason WHY this guy sent me this message in the first place. And also why I’m guessing he hasn’t sent similar emails to all the pastors and groups of people like I mentioned above.

If you agree that we should end poverty, hunger, malaria, then you’re probably thrilled that people are focused on it.
If you agree that we need to raise awareness on issues like sex trafficking, pornography, and abuse, then you’re probably glad there are people and organizations that focus on just that.
I could go on and on…

I don’t think this guy cares all that much that my Facebook and blogs aren’t littered with (whatever would be classified by him as) “Christ and him crucified.”
His concern is NOT that I’m spending so much energy on a peripheral issue.

It is because he is radically opposed to WHAT that peripheral issue is. And I’m fine with that.

(To be fair, not everyone who has asked me “why do you spend so much energy on this issue” is radically opposed to it like this guy is. So I don’t want to make the mistake and lump in all my critics with this one.)

But, I want to challenge people who feel like I talk too much about this issue to not take a passive aggressive posture and suggest that I just “talk more about Jesus.” Unless you are consistent and send the same critique to those who spend so much time, energy and effort on other “issues.” Like these people, this organization, this pastor, these people, and this organization.

“it’s ridiculous that the so called “liberal christians”, such as yourself, are solely focused on this issue and yet still call yourselves Christians. You might call yourselves Homosexualians. Find a new issue already.”

Again, setting aside the at-least-it’s-not-passive-agressive-this-time judgmental words, I’m not sure what the phrase “so called liberal Christians” means, exactly. Is the assumption that those are mutually exclusive terms? As in, if you are a “liberal” then you cannot also be a “Christian,” hence the wording “so called.” Weird. Do people really think like that?

Is “liberal” such a negative thing that we have decided it is in direct opposition to a life lived in the way of Jesus?

It is clear that this guy does not have very many Christian friends who are liberal. (um, after reading this, would you blame a liberal leaning person for not wanting to be friends? Yikes.)

It’s laughable (and ignorant) to characterize all “liberal Christians” as being solely focused on this issue.

And I still can’t figure out why I cannot call myself a “Christian” and ALSO be focused on this issue? That makes absolutely no sense. How is there any biblical or historical support for such a claim? Are we really to buy in to the line of thinking that says, “you cannot call yourself a Christian if you talk about _____________.”

Have we really lost that much perspective on what it means to call ourselves “Christian?”

Has our list of “essentials” swelled so fat?

It’s not enough to believe “positively” about Jesus anymore, now you must also believe “negatively” about homosexuality, or else YOU CANNOT CALL YOURSELF A CHRISTIAN?!

Holy crap that’s absurd.

No one can possibly really, truly believe that. And if they do then they have zero ground to stand on, no way to support such a claim.

And the suggestion to call myself a “homosexualian,” is, well, so childish that I won’t dignify it with a response. I refuse to stoop as low as it would require to formulate a reply. Moving on…

I also refuse to believe that in order to be a Christian I must only ever talk about “Christ and him crucified” in the overt and direct way that this guy seems to suggest. If you follow me at all then you have zero question as to what compels me to write what I do and to post what I do. The Risen Savior permeates all that I do, and for me to talk about “these issues” is just one of a thousand ways to talk about “Christ and him crucified.”

So, in summary, I wanted to interact with this guy’s email because I know that others resonate with the gist of it (even if most would find the tone and delivery abhorrent. But hey, at least he “hoped I received it with love.”  And, like the Apostle Paul said, “love covers a multitude of sins.”)

I think that buried in his judgmental tone and accusatory language was a genuine curiosity as to why I would want to talk about something so much that is so clearly wrong. Because, like I said, if he agreed with me on the “issue” then I cannot imagine he would send such an email.

IT IS ABOUT JESUS

I am a Pastor.
I am a hack-Theologian.
I am a believer and a follower of Jesus.
I try to orient my life around God and His Kingdom.

It is my pursuit of Jesus and my passion to implement his Kingdom on earth just as it is in heaven that compels me to be a Straight Ally.

The more I love Jesus, the more I love people.
But not just any people. Yes, all people, but some people require a greater effort of intentional love from our part. (Like Jesus said, so what if you love your friends. Even schmucks do that. Go love your enemies… go love the people that are completely different from you. Go love the ‘other.’)

Unquestionably the LGBT community has been discriminated against, marginalized, demonized, and treated as “enemies” to the faith. That reason alone is more than enough for me be a Straight Ally.

But like I said yesterday,

It is my pursuit of Jesus and my passion to implement his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven that compels me to be a Straight Ally.

Why am I so “focused” on this issue?

Because I follow Jesus. And as best as I can tell,  it’s what Jesus is asking of me for my life right now. (More about that on Friday)

_____________

What about you?
What sorts of things and issues do you find yourself talking a lot about because you feel your following of Jesus leads you in that direction?
Have you ever gotten involved in a cause or an issue because your faith compelled you to?