Why the LGBTIQ Community should care what the Bible says

The morning that the Supreme Court announced its decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 marked a significant moment for marriage equality.  It did not grant sweeping equality for same-sex relationships, but it at least opened the door and set a marginal line of precedent that, hopefully, will be the foundation upon which a final, national position will be made.  This was something worth celebrating, but it was certainly not the final battle.

The next steps are not entirely clear.  Looking around, I see a lot of people who fully support marriage equality, but I also see a lot of people who oppose gay marriage.  Note the difference; it is not accidental.  Those who support this cause, allies, see it as an issue of equality, that everyone should be allowed to marry whomever they wish.  Two consenting adults should be equally respected and afforded the same legal rights and protections, including the right to be married.  For allies, this issue is “marriage equality”.

The unfortunate fact of the situation is that most of those who oppose marriage equality in this country are Christian.  The only way to have a significant impact on the number of people supporting or opposing marriage equality will be to address that largest population of opposition.  But how do you accomplish that?  The first step is to understand why some Christians are opposed to marriage equality.

I’m going to take some license here and (1) generalize people opposed to marriage equality and (2) speak for them, even though I do not agree with their beliefs.  (You can read some of my thoughts on the subject, if you would like.)  For many of those who oppose this issue, it is not about equality in their mind.  They know the Bible clearly says in several verses that homosexuality is an abomination to God.  Offering legal recognition to a union that is abhorrent to God is not something that should be supported, endorsed, or even an issue on which you should sit on the sidelines.  To these people, homosexuality, as an “act” or “lifestyle”, is a perversion and should not be condoned.  This issue is “gay marriage”.

Most Christians who oppose marriage equality do so based on what they’ve been taught from, or read in, the Bible.  For some this is just an excuse, but for others, it is really about trying to make decisions based on their understanding of God.  This is important, because our understanding of God and His Law shapes our morals, how we live our lives and how we interact with other people.  Even if it makes us uneasy, or it doesn’t agree with what “everyone else” thinks is right, God’s Word is higher than our own opinions or desires.  Even if you believe in a different god, multiple gods, no god, or something other than a god, it is important to understand what the Bible says, to effectively engage a Christian on this topic.

If a Christian believes that the Bible calls any homosexual relationship an abomination, then that needs to be addressed head-on.  If you see someone about to step off the curb in front of a moving bus, it would be reasonable for you to try to physically restrain them, in an attempt to save their life, even if they don’t want your help.  Likewise, if someone truly believes that homosexuality will lead to eternal punishment, they can reasonably feel compelled to try to inhibit someone’s ability to harm himself or herself.  Only by changing the Christian’s understanding of what the Bible says will you open them up to seeing marriage equality as marriage equality, as opposed to “gay marriage”.

When someone quotes the Bible as their basis for opposing marriage rights (or anything related to homosexuality), a frequent response is to attack the Christian back with other verses from Leviticus that the Christian does not follow (“nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together” ~Leviticus 19:19 being the one I see the most).  The flaw in this strategy is that it is antagonistic and frames the discussion as a debate.  This is not going to be effective in changing anyone’s mind.  You are not going to convince a Christian that the Bible is a fairy tale or that it is wrong.  A better approach would be to address the specific verses being quoted and try to help the person see them in a different way.  To do this, you need to understand what the Bible says and why it is being misunderstood.

You will have more successful discussions if you show someone how to read the Bible differently or if you show someone how their understanding is flawed, instead of trying to convince them that their entire belief structure is false.  This can’t be an argument or a debate; no one is going to change someone else’s mind by throwing catch phrases at them.  The key is to help the person understand the truth in the words that they aren’t seeing.

They believe that the words are truth, and above that, they believe that God’s Law stands above all else, even if they don’t always understand it.  God has authority, and just as a child may not know why a parent is telling them to do something, they are expected to recognize the parent’s authority and obey.  This imposes a large burden on one to make sure that you understand your instructions accurately, and that is the key to this approach: show Christians that they have been misunderstanding the instructions, and help them see what’s been written in a different way.  That is how to get Christians to support marriage equality; help them understand that “gay marriage” is not against the Bible, it is not against God, it is not against Jesus.  In fact, loving and encouraging and supporting your neighbor are at the heart of all of Jesus’s teachings.

Just so I’m not misunderstood, I am not saying that it is the responsibility of the LGBTIQ community to drive these changes.  That responsibility lies solely on Christians who do understand the truth of this issue.  We cannot stay silent when our friends or family or church members or pastors/preachers/priests speak falsely.  We have to confront this issue and share our understanding.  We have to stand up and be heard, to engage this topic, and stop hoping that everyone will come around if we give them time.  The reason this post is targeted to the LGBTIQ community and allies is to try to offer some guidance on how to have these conversations, if you’re going to have them.  You are not obligated to change the dominant Christian view of homosexuality, but if you choose to engage someone, if you choose to challenge someone, if you have a friend that just doesn’t get it, this is how you can reach them.  The arguments and debates are not being effective; this is something that may be effective.

God does not hate people for their sexual orientation, or for the person they love, or for the identity they feel in their heart.  God loves everyone.  Every broken, screwed up mess that we all are.  He loves us.  Every single person reading this, He loves you.  He knows everything in your heart, and He loves you more deeply than you will ever know or comprehend.  Anyone who has told you any differently was not representing God, and that is a tragedy.  God does not exclude anyone, even if some of the institutions in His name have.

I know that a lot of people have been hurt by Christians and the “Church”, and that has pushed a lot of people away from trying to know God.  I cannot undo whatever has been done or said, but that is not how God feels, and that is not how all Christians feel, and I am heartbroken that people have been so poorly treated.  I just want to make it very clear that God does not exclude you, and God does not hate you.  God will always welcome you.  If you have ever wanted to know more, or wanted to explore God, I encourage you to do so.

I’m not trying to convert anyone; that is not my purpose in this.  But I also don’t want anyone to walk away from God because they have been given the wrong image of who God really is.  We, as Christians, are supposed to be representing God, to be showing everyone else who He is and how He calls us to live our lives.  We do not always do this well, but don’t let our flaws be the reason that you decide not to search for Him.

 

There are several sources available that can provide some analysis of Scripture.  This specific blog post is rich in information, and the author has a wonderful way of responding to questions with grace and humility.  The rest of his blog is also worth reading, as he tackles several topics of interest.  I highly recommend checking it out if you would like to be prepared to engage someone on this topic.

Building a Reputation

Today I reread a letter I received from the leader of a church in Turkey.  In it, he told the story of how someone had filed a complaint against the church.  The officer assigned to the complaint was the same officer who had arrested a man who had threatened the pastor a year earlier.  When the man was arrested, rather than pressing charges, the pastor publicly forgave the attacker.

When this officer received the complaint, he called the pastor and said, “We know you; you are good, peaceful, and forgiving people.  They complained against you, but we told them that they were wrong in their thinking.”

In a land where Christianity is largely misunderstood, where those who convert to Christianity are viewed with suspicion, even among those in authority, this church is known as a “good, peaceful, and forgiving people”.  By their actions, they are overcoming the widely-believed, strongly-held stereotypes about Christianity and are building a reputation worthy of Jesus.

In America, the Church once enjoyed a reputation similar to that of this small church in Turkey.  We were seen as good, peaceful, and forgiving.  Selfless and ready to help those in need.

However, today, that reputation has largely been replaced by a reputation full of attributes contrary to the character of Jesus.

We have a difficult road ahead of us.  Regaining a reputation worthy of Jesus will not be easy.  But the task is not as challenging as the one faced by the Church in Turkey and elsewhere around the world.

It gives me hope that this small church in Turkey can build a new reputation, one that reflects Jesus.  It means that we, too, can change our reputation.

Let’s live in such a way that people say of us:  “We know you; you are good, peaceful, and forgiving people.”

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Please be praying for the current unrest in Turkey and the ongoing unrest in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

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Few Are Chosen

Yesterday we continued our discussion around the question:  Who does Jesus say will get into heaven?  This week we focused a lot of our attention on the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 22:1-14.

Jesus tells the story of a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to tell those who were invited that the time for the banquet had come, and they all refused.  So the king sent his servants out into the street to invite anyone they found, good or bad, so that the banquet hall was full of guests.  Yet one of those guests was not dressed in wedding clothes, so he was bound and thrown out “into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

“For many are invited, but few are chosen,” Jesus concludes.

This parable confused me for years, and it appeared yesterday that I was not alone.

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In this first century world of honor and shame, turning down an invitation brought shame on the host, the act of which also brought shame on the potential guest.

So to avoid this pending round of shame for all involved, feelers were sent out before a party was ever officially scheduled.  The host, or servants of the host, would visit each potential guest to learn their availability for the coming week or two, or whatever timeframe was being considered.  Once all schedules had been consulted, the host would pick a day when the most people possible would be available.  The host would then let everyone who was available know when the party would be held.

This way, all shame can be avoided.  Those who are unavailable are excluded from the guest list. The host knows everyone on the final guest list is available before the invitation is sent, and the guests have already held that time in their schedules, so that when the invitation comes, they can RSVP “yes”.

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It was at this point that we enter Jesus’s parable.  The guests know that the king is planning this banquet, and know when to expect it to take place.  The king has communicated the plans.  And, if anyone had the authority to say “no”, their schedules were already taken into account.

Except, when the formal invitations arrive, the guests have better things to do.  Though they had essentially committed earlier in this process, they decline to attend when the formal invitation is issued.  When shame is at stake.

So, the king sends out his servants to fill the banquet hall with whomever they can find.  And, by virtue of their attendance, everyone who attended accepted the invitation.

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Accepting an invitation to a wedding comes with certain expectations.  It is expected you will show up, if you accepted the invitation.  It is expected you will be on time (whatever that means within the given culture).  It is expected you will dress and behave appropriately, and generally, it is expected that you will bring a gift of some sort.

Everyone who attended the king’s banquet accepted the invitation.  Yet one man chose not to meet the expectations that come with the acceptance.  He chose not to dress appropriately for the occasion.  And because he did not meet the expectations that accompanied the acceptance, he was tossed out.

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So what of this

“for many are invited, but few are chosen”?

Most explanations I’ve heard for this only consider the verse or two that precede it.  Many are invited, they say, yet one who came was not chosen.  So, with invitation in hand, he was tossed out.  The chosen are those with a guarantee, and without said guarantee, you may be tossed out.

Yet is seems a closing statement like this more appropriately applies to the full story.  It seems that Jesus is deliberate when He speaks and that each word is important.  It seems unlikely that Jesus would have told this whole story if the only key piece was the final few verses.

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According to the culture of the time, you choose the guests you want to attend before you ever schedule your event.  The details of the event are dictated by the availability and preferences of the guests you choose to include.

The king chose the guests around whom he would create this banquet for his son.  Yet those that he chose declined to attend.  So he sent his servants out to invite whomever they found.

Being chosen is not a guarantee.  In this story, the chosen were not even at the wedding banquet (by their own choice).  The focus of Jesus’s closing statement was not on the one who was tossed out.  It was on the many who were invited, even though they were not the original “chosen”.

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The Jewish nation prided themselves on being the chosen people of God.  Yet many of them declined when Jesus said, “Follow me.”

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The emphasis isn’t on the few; it’s on the many.  Although “the chosen people of God” was limited to the nation of Israel, many are invited!  We are invited!

Genealogy or “chosen-ness” does not limit our access to God.

Many, countless, are invited!

Global Day of Prayer for Turkey

Today is the Global Day of Prayer for Turkey.  Please join with our brothers and sisters around the world in praying for the nation of Turkey and for the believers in that land.

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Please pray for the blessing and peace of Turkey in general, as the Lord desires us to bless and be a blessing to all.

Pray the Lord will display His love and mercy to the people of Turkey by pouring out His Holy Spirit upon our land, revealing His glory through healings, signs, and wonders.

Pray the Lord breaks down the lies and the endless disinformation about Christ, the Bible, and Christians that has blinded and hardened hearts in our land.  Pray that God redeems the negative memories of history.

Pray that hearts and eyes are opened to see Jesus as the way, the truth and the life.

Pray for the Turkish believers who are always on the frontline to walk close to the Lord.  Pray for refreshing, emboldening, strengthening, protection, and encouragement.

Pray for more servant-hearted leaders, for good role models, and for faithful laborers.

Pray for the ongoing unity amongst the churches and for its increase and deepening.

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Prayer topics provided by the Alliance of Protestant Churches (Turkey) on behalf of the body of Christ in Turkey

Renewing the Reputation of the After-Church Dinner Crowd

It’s fairly common knowledge that Sunday afternoon is the least sought-after time slot in the food service industry.  If you’ve not heard this before, ask nearly anyone you know in the restaurant industry.  The after-church crowd is known to be some of the most demanding, most critical, worst tipping customers of the week.  Somewhere between the doors of the sanctuary and the doors of the restaurant, any Christian humility, generosity, or kindness is lost.

But surely that reputation is not true of all Christians.  So why do I care what a stranger thinks of me? 

I care because I represent my God.  If a follower of Jesus is seen to be demanding, critical, and ungenerous, then Jesus appears that way, too.  The man who went to “the least”, the outcast, and demonstrated humility, grace, and love, appears to be self-centered and cruel if His followers appear that way.

Within the food service industry, the reputation of Christians is a tragedy.  We are the light of the world.  And yet, instead of seeing God’s light within us, Christians are famous (or infamous) for being stingy, cruel, self-centered, and rude.  And since the restaurant industry is so far-reaching and touches so many lives, we are often seen that way not just within the restaurant industry, but within our culture as a whole.

Some may want to debate whether this reputation is warranted.  But that’s really beyond the point.  If someone thinks I am unkind, arguing will not convince them they are wrong.  I cannot prove I am not unloving through debate.  I must demonstrate through my actions that their impression is wrong.  That even if it does describe others who claim to follow Jesus, it doesn’t describe me.

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The moment I bow my head after my food arrives, I am labeled.  My server expects me to complain about the food and to skimp on the tip.  My server expects me to behave like a “Christian”.  Like Christians are known to behave in restaurants.

But what if I behaved like a Christian?  Like a Christian known to follow Jesus.  Like a Christian who is so overwhelmed by the grace and mercy and generosity that God has so lavished upon me, that I, in turn, lavish it on those around me.

The “standard” tip was 15% when I was young.  It is now closer to 18% to 20%, or more, depending upon the region.  But today, as a Christian, it is assumed I will tip in the 10% to 15% range.  Or maybe less.

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I know many feel that their server must earn their tip.  (Of course, assuming that the server took your order and brought your food, the server did their job.)  But the thing is, if we are seeking to demonstrate God to the world around us, we should be demonstrating His unmerited favor.  His endless grace.  His abundant generosity.  God does not make me earn any of these, so why would I withhold grace unless it is earned?

What if I demonstrate the grace and love and generosity of my God by passing a small piece of that along to my server?  

If an average person gives a generous tip, most servers are pleasantly surprised.  If someone who is “known” to be ungenerous were to give a generous tip, however, that would make an impact.  It is unfortunate that generosity at restaurants from Christians is unexpected.  But that means our generosity is more impactful.

We can start to chip away at this awful reputation of Christians.  For a couple extra dollars, we can begin to overcome the idea that our God is stingy and prideful and unloving.

The issue at stake is the perception of our God.  The issue at stake is whether our God, as He is perceived, is a god worth following.  The issue at stake is whether the attractiveness of our God is evident such that it draws people to Him.  So the issue at stake may be the eternal destiny of my server.

I cannot just leave a Bible tract or walk my server through the Roman Road.  I must demonstrate God’s love to my server.

The righteous give generously.
—Psalm 37:21

Demonstrating the love of God to my server is worth a few dollars.  (It is worth so much more than a few dollars.)  This will have a very small impact on me.  But over time it may have a deep impact on our culture.

So I challenge you, after you have calculated the tip for your server, add a couple more dollars.  Adopt this simple way to tangibly demonstrate God’s grace and generosity.

The Passover Lamb

My family had traveled to Jerusalem for Passover that year, just like any other.  My brother and I were still so young, and Jerusalem at Passover was so exciting.  The atmosphere during the holiday was electric!  Because Alexander and I were “men” (though clearly still boys), our father took us with him each time he went into Jerusalem, leaving our sisters and mother behind with our relatives in the neighboring village.  The day before, while our sisters were helping our mother prepare the Seder meal, we pushed through the sea of bodies with our father, making our way to the towering temple.  Imagine that! – standing before the very building where God dwells among men.  My young mind could scarcely take it in.  We would return the next day to sacrifice our Passover lamb, but for now, we just wanted to stand in the midst of the faithful, so close to the presence of God.

Then it was the first day of Passover, and we were again heading into the city, this time to purchase and sacrifice our lamb.  My brother and I fought our way through the crowded streets, overflowing with pilgrims, toward the city gate.  Suddenly, the atmosphere changed.  What had been charged and electric was now at fever pitch.  Chants and jeers flew past our heads and we strained to understand what was going on.  Alexander burrowed through the crowd as only a small child can, and I was close on his heels.  “Alexander.  Rufus!” our father called, as he raced to catch us.

Suddenly we burst through the crowd and onto the street.  There before us was a man.  Well, almost a man.  His body was bloody and broken like I’ve never seen before.  The image of this tortured man, struggling under the weight of a log as Roman soldiers screamed and whipped him, haunted my dreams for years.  Then, for an instant, the man looked our way.  He looked at us.  Straight into our souls.  I will never forget those eyes.  They were not begging for mercy or pleading for help.  They were simply full of love.  How could this man, under such pain and distress, as his body threatened to fail him entirely, have such love for me?  Only a boy.  A child he had never met.

At that moment, the man’s body truly did fail him.  He fell to his knees, and then to his chest, under the weight of that cruel log.  And the Roman soldiers screamed all the more.  And they whipped him to get him to stand.  But the man did not.  I could see the strain in his arms as he tried to rise under the log.  But he could not.  His beaten, bloody body had nothing left to give.

Suddenly a Roman soldier locked eyes on our father and grabbed him by the neck, pushing him toward the man and his log.  My brother and I were terrified!  What would they do to our father?!  It was our fault – we had raced through the crowd, pushing to the front.  He had merely followed us…  The soldier forced our father to carry that log.  Though terrified for our father, I was secretly grateful that it was lifted off that man who had suffered so much.  Our father carried that log to the place of death, with the bloody, loving man following behind.

When we got there and the soldiers released our father, he wanted to leave quickly, but we begged to stay.  We had to know what would happen to that man.  I wish we had listened to our father.  The cries as each man was nailed to his cross were excruciating.  Haunting.  Watching that crossbar being dragged up the base, with the men hanging from their wrists, steadily jerked up, their raw, torn backs dragging along the upright.  I’ll never erase those memories from my mind.  Eventually, our father put his arm around our shoulders and gently led my brother and me away, leaving the men hanging in the chasm between life and death.

The rest of that day was a fog for Alexander and me, periodically fighting back tears as we remembered the horrific images of that morning.  Confused by the darkness around us.  But I clearly remember that evening.  The three of us had again gone to the temple.  Having offered our Passover lamb, we lingered to be there during the evening sacrifice.  Just as the priest began sacrificing the lamb for the nation, we were all knocked to our knees, as the ground violently shook beneath us.  People screamed and cried out to God.  When the shaking lessened, a priest ran out of the temple, his face ash white.  “The curtain,” he stammered.  “The curtain to the Holy of Holies – it has torn!  From the top…”  Other priests ran in to confirm these wild claims as the white-faced priest stood where he was, terrified.

My brother and I avoided Jerusalem for years after this.  We were terrified to again enter through those gates.  To see the magnificent temple gleaming in the sun.   It was years before I understood what had happened that day.  It was years before that day of horror and death brought me hope and life.  Years before I knew the name of that bloodied man or the love in his eyes or the significance of that Passover sacrifice.