Loving Truly and Truly Loving – you can’t have one without the other

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:16, 19.)

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Disney and Your LGBT Neighbors

In taking Beauty and the Beast from animation to live action, Disney has chosen to portray Gaston’s sidekick LeFou as a possibly gay man (the evidence is ambiguous). Some people are outraged.

Yet apparently no one is bothered that Lumiere in the original animated version was a womanizer.

Lumiere the womanizer

Nor with the even more problematic main theme which is that Belle is in an abusive situation that can only be put right if she stays committed to it so that her true love will eventually transform the beast into someone who treats her right.

Putting the abuse dynamic and Lumiere’s character aside for purposes of this post, Disney’s decision to bring a possibly gay character into a film is clearly another indication that being gay or lesbian is losing its pariah status. Does Disney’s choice also demand a response from those who belong to Jesus Christ?

I think so, but my suggestion might not be what you’re expecting.

Looking to Jesus as our example of how to embrace people

Who were among society’s pariahs when Jesus ministered in Israel?

Prostitutes – Jesus allowed one to touch him in ways that shocked the religious leadership.

Gentiles, especially women – Jesus healed the daughter of a woman who kept begging for a miracle until he said yes.

Enemy Soldiers – Jesus declared one Roman officer to have more faith than anyone he’d met in Israel.

In each of these situations consider how the Jews around Jesus must have responded, especially that last one where they heard that Jesus considered a foreigner to have more faith than any of them!

So what should we do when it comes to the ever-increasing visibility of lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and other people who identify as LGBTQIA, a classification that some still consider lesser people, a group that some still want to treat as pariahs?

Get ready to love and embrace

One thing to keep in mind is that there were people in Bible times who were also gay and lesbian. Can you imagine an army the size of David’s with not a single gay soldier in it? The statistics make the odds astronomical, at least. And all those crowds who came to hear Jesus preach; surely some of those thousands were lesbian or gay. Think too about people in your own life today. Are you sure no one at work, no one you went to school with, no one in your family is gay?

The real issue is not that movies portray gay characters, because art has always imitated life. Actors, plumbers, lawyers, football players are each professions with all sorts of people in them. In fact, take any profession you like and you’ll find LGBT people are members of it. It’s no good pretending otherwise; you’d just be denying reality.

A lot of people find this topic uncomfortable. Perhaps you were raised to think this should never be spoken of, to wish you never had to think about it, and you’d like never to have to talk to your kids about it. Yet that would mean ignoring the people God has put in your life. God calls you to love them just as you love people you’re comfortable being around.

So do as Jesus did. Spend time with people, get to know them, and show them God’s love. After all, it’s not really like you’re going to meet anyone new. Gays and lesbians and others are already among your family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances, and among people from church as well. It’s just a matter of now knowing that.

And of showing people what it means to have a relationship with Jesus, who loves them just as much as he loves you.

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The Answer’s Always Bacon

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Oh … You Can’t Get to Heaven

We took a lot of car vacations when I was a kid.

A lot.

We’d drive thousands of miles pulling a trailer behind the wagon. For the kids who got to sit in the “way back” as we called it, that meant staring straight at a trailer for thousand of miles. How could we stare straight at something trailing along behind us? Because the way back of our station wagon looked like this:

The rear seat folded flat for cargo or up for passengers, which meant the whole car looked something like this with the rear seat in passenger position.

That middle portion was the back seat and the rear portion is the way back. Depending on mood, the way back was at times highly coveted even if offering a limited view.

Another way to pass the time besides stare at the front of the trailer to our rear, though, was through song.

Singing the Miles Away

In the olden days cars didn’t come with mp3 jacks and video players. In my childhood we didn’t even have tape players. Just radio.

The radio only provided a distraction from the tedium as long as there were radio stations whose broadcasts reached our car. Satellite radio hadn’t been invented, and even FM stations were not yet available on car radios. Just AM stations, some of which operated on the lowest of watts out in those small towns we passed through.

So we sang our own songs.

Well, not really our own but songs that everyone could join in, even the youngest (me). These were mostly sing-along type songs. “When the Saints Go Marching In” would be followed by “You Are My Sunshine” and invariably we’d sing “Oh, You Can’t Get to Heaven.”

Last night I had a dream where that last song featured prominently. What was the dream about and how did the song prominently feature? I have no idea on either score. But I woke up wondering why the song insisted people can’t get to heaven.

“Oh, You Can’t Get to Heaven” is sung in a call and response format with everyone joining together on the chorus, like this:

Oh, you can’t get to heaven
(Oh, you can’t get to heaven)
On roller skates,
(On roller skates,)
‘Cause you’d roll right by
(‘Cause you’d roll right by)
Those pearly gates.
(Those pearly gates.)

Oh you can’t get to heaven on roller skates,
‘Cause you’d roll right by those pearly gates.
I ain’t gonna grieve my Lord no more.

The song continues for as long as you can come up with ways to not get to heaven. It’s a silly song, but worth a look for one important purpose: the truth of the gospel in it.

Because the truth is you can’t have a right relationship with God by any means of your own: roller skating or otherwise. The only way to come to our heavenly Father is through Jesus and the work he’s already accomplished for you.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14:6.)

Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” …  And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:9-10.)

Your right relationship with God is sealed once for all by the work of Jesus in fulfilling all God willed, and that will never change.

Jesus answered, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25, 28-30.)

So not only is Jesus fulfilling the Father’s will, but he is fulfilling his own since he and the Father are one. This is his plan for you, and he’s not letting you go.

And that’s worth singing about.

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Top Three Ways Procrastinators Set Priorities

procrastination-priorities***

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Heresy and Blasphemy in Counseling the Abused

[This post appeared three years ago and generated heart-wrenching comments from people who have similar experiences to that of the young woman mentioned in the opening paragraph. I thought it worth returning to.]

A New York Times article included an alarming comment from a young woman who said she’d gone to a counselor at her Christian university regarding sexual assaults she’d suffered while young:

The person who supposedly counseled me told me if I reported a person like that to the police, I was damaging the cause of Christ, and I would be responsible for the abuser going to hell. He said all of my problems were as a result of my actions in the abuse, which mostly took place before I was 12, and I should just forgive the abuser.

You can see the bullying tactics evident in this type of “counseling”:

  • Don’t report it. Think of how that will harm the body of Christ.
  • Besides, any problems you’re experiencing now are because you didn’t handle it correctly when you were only 12 years old.
  • In fact, everything about this is your fault because you haven’t forgiven the one who preyed upon you. Shame on you for not being a forgiving person!

If this young woman’s report is true, then shame on that counselor.

Going to Hell

One other thing about this bullying that jumped out at me is the part about hell. Note what the woman said she was told:

If I reported a person like that to the police … I would be responsible for the abuser going to hell.

There is so much wrong with that counseling. It plays upon a victim’s emotions, it serves to protect the abuser, and (as I argue here) it’s heresy. Whether this particular counselor actually said it it or not – and the Times article doesn’t report a response from the counselor, unfortunately – this isn’t the first time I’ve run across this misbegotten doctrine of salvation and hell.

Bottom line: no one’s actions are sending another person to hell. The Bible explains that under the New Covenant each person is responsible for his or her own sins.

In those days people will no longer say, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes — their own teeth will be set on edge. (Jeremiah 31:29-30.)

It’s right there in the Bible, everyone is responsible for their own sin. So how can anyone teaching the New Covenant gospel of Christ say that a victim of another person’s sin is responsible for that person’s destiny, whether to eternal life or eternal death?

They can’t.

Any assertion that reporting a sex abuser means the victim has now consigned the abuser to hell is completely unbiblical. It’s also a horrible thing to say, trying to put that responsibility on a person who has already suffered. And that makes it doubly un-Christlike.

Jesus … went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” …

He [said] to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21.)

If there is a Christian college advising its students that reporting abuse will lead to the abuser’s eternal damnation, it is completely missing the point of the ministry of Christ and should close its doors immediately rather than continue in this blasphemy and heresy.

After all, using Christ’s name to protect the abuser at the expense of the victim is blasphemy and promoting this teaching about hell and damnation is heresy. Both of them – blasphemy and heresy – hurt the very people who should instead be ministered to and comforted in Christ’s name.

Blasphemy and heresy – what a college curriculum.

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All Heroes Have Historically – or at Least Etymological – Been Women

[For Women’s History Month, an archived post on heroics.]

When I think of heroic women I think of them as heroes, not heroines.

For one thing, the name Hero has been a woman’s name far longer than the English language has been around. And for another, any time a word that means a single thing is divided up in spellings to denote sex or gender there is a danger of making the word mean less when applied to women. Or even worse, it might tell women they can’t be heroes at all and better look to men for the heroism.

Both are reason enough to use the word “hero” for women and men both. That way you can recognize a hero when you see one no matter what she or he might look like.

To illustrate:

HeroSo if you’re wondering what a hero might look like, there she is.

Happy Women’s History Month. I plan to celebrate by reading a bunch of articles about heroic women over the next 31 days. Here are a couple to start you off:

Harriet Tubman

Molly Pitcher (Mary Ludwig Hays)

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Singing the Blues for Lent

[Updated from the archives for today, the first day of Lent 2017.]

In the Lenten season of 2013 Keri Wyatt Kent blogged through her book Deeply Loved – 40 ways in 40 days to experience the heart of Jesus. I took her up on her invitation to reflect on the topic of The Blues.*

Keri begins Chapter 15 of her book with a passage from The Message:

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God. (Psalm 42:11.)

Here it is in the NIV:

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Keri goes on to recount some songs from her childhood when the Sunday School class would sing about being “happy, happy, happy, happy, happy” all the time in Jesus. It reminds me of a hymn we used to sing as adults too:

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day!
(Isaac Watts, Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?, ca. 1707.)

Now I’m sure that when Watts first wrote those words back in the dawn of the 18th Century everyone understood that he meant “happy” not as an emotion but in its more classical sense of contentment or enjoyment of good fortune. Nowadays, though, the word usually means nothing more than the opposite of sadness and, with that limited definition, admonitions to be happy in Jesus set us up to feel like failures: our feelings become a barometer of our spiritual condition.

What a load of hooey.

Singing the Blues

From Job to Paul, the Bible is full of examples of God’s people – at times – not possessing a smidge of happiness. What do we do at those times? The Bible gives instruction:

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you. (Psalm 55:22.)

and,

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7.)

Keri points out that these are times – just like our happy times – when God wants us to speak to him honestly. And we should also remember, along with the writer of Psalm 42, that God constantly watches over his own:

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me. (Psalm 42:6.)

When our hearts are troubled, when we’ve got the blues, Keri points to Psalm 42 and suggests:

So you could pray, “God love me.” Or “God, sing over me all through the night.” You could simply reflect in wonder on the fact that God looks at you with love 24/7, and that he adores you and there is not an ounce of shame or guilt in that love, pure and constant. (Deeply Loved, p. 81.)

Still, it’s when we are feeling down that we might have the hardest time accepting that there is never any shame or guilt in how we appear before God. Yet it’s so blessedly true!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1.)

God never condemns his people, you included. Why should you try to lay a guilt trip on yourself that God never lays on you.

Say Goodbye Feelings and Hello God

Solomon said:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1.)

And get this – neither feeling happy or sad is a reflection of your standing with God. Both are possible for God’s people, and in either situation there is a perfectly appropriate response:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. (James 5:13.)

Bottom line: Your feelings don’t define your relationship with God.

Feelings and Relationship.jpg

That relationship is defined instead by the finished work of Jesus Christ:

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23.)

Seasons Come, Seasons Go, God remains

Feeling happy or feeling the blues, the truth is that God is with you right where you are now. He always will be.

Because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5.)

That makes me happy.

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*Of course, this post is only about the transitory experience of feeling down, what people commonly think of when they say they have the blues. There’s a big difference between feeling blue and the medical condition known as clinical depression. See also, Anxiety Needs.

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Ode to a Spleen – organic humor

ode-to-a-spleen***

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Of Pastors and Judges – innocent until proven guilty

My response to Doug Wilson’s uncalled for and unpastoral satire on dealing with abuse allegations:

The Presumption of Innocence

“Innocent until proven guilty” isn’t merely a high-sounding phrase; it’s a legally binding presumption in criminal cases. Even the word “presumption” has legal significance. In jurisprudence (the philosophy of law) a presumption is a limitation or a requirement placed on a particular type of case or procedure within a case. When it comes to presuming innocence it governs the evidence in a criminal trial.*

If not proved otherwise, the presumption means that the presumed prospect – in this case innocence – prevails and the person is conclusively (no longer presumptively) considered innocent. The judgment must be to acquit the accused person of the charge. (The presumption of innocence should not be mistaken for a finding of factual innocence, though.** That finding can be achieved through another process in court but not by way of jury verdict.)

Of course, if the charge is proven then the jury is to find the person guilty, the presumption having been overcome by the weight of the evidence. This is how evidentiary presumptions work in court.

The presumption of innocence applies to trials, though, not to earlier hearings such as setting bail. Bail is set on the type of charge the person is facing, the person’s record, public safety and the risk of flight. These factors don’t need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt but merely to be considered as to whether there is some evidence supporting a conclusion one way or another. Judges apply a lesser standard in these pretrial matters than at trial.

Why hold a short lesson on the jurisprudence of presumptions? To differentiate courtroom procedure from the pastoral role in the kingdom of God.

Pastors Who Presume

Joseph suffered one of the most striking false accusations recorded in the Bible. Potiphar’s wife wanted to bed him, he refused her, and in retaliation she told everyone that Joseph tried to rape her. Potiphar, Joseph’s master, threw him in prison on his wife’s word alone. (Genesis 39.)

This is how it works when one is a slave. There is no presumption of innocence. There’s accusation and imprisonment.

slaves-and-presumptionsThe point of Joseph’s story, though, is not about false accusers but about how God sustained Joseph through it all and brought him to a place of greater influence and responsibility because of it. What Joseph told his brothers about their own betrayal of him might as easily have been said of the false accusation of attempted rape: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20.)

Rather than focus on the point of the account in Genesis 39, Pastor Doug Wilson recently wrote a blog post turning it around on the accuser. (Potiphar’s Wife, Survivor.) It is a satirical piece that presents Potiphar’s wife as a blogger posting her story in the same style of victims of physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse whose experiences are reported on blogs in the present day.

While this may be satire, there is no hint of humor in it. Mr. Wilson is hitting back at those who bring false accusations and at those who believe them to the further detriment of the falsely accused.

Is there no place to call out false accusations? Sure there is. Is it a pastor’s place to do so by relying on a passage with a different point entirely?

No.

First, as noted, the point of Genesis 39 is not to focus on the false accusation but on what God did in Joseph’s life and what God did for all of Israel through Joseph.

Second, by writing this satire in language so closely copying true accounts as to be indistinguishable from them Mr. Wilson invites his readers (whether inadvertently or not) to see all accusations as suspect and untrustworthy.

This isn’t even how it works in court. A presumption of innocence doesn’t say the accuser is considered a liar until proven otherwise. It merely provides that once the case gets to trial the side bringing the charge – the prosecution – has to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt before the accused can be convicted. That is, the evidence must overcome the presumption at trial in a court of law.

A Pastor’s Study Is Not a Courtroom

If someone who has been abused or sexually assaulted decides to seek help from a pastor, the last thing they’d want to read on that pastor’s blog is a post like Mr. Wilson’s. How could the person already feeling overwhelmed help but wonder if they will be met with an expectation they prove themselves before help is given.

It’s not that pastors must assume every person claiming to have been harmed is actually a victim. Pastors have to exercise discernment just as anyone else would. Yet pastors must be pastoral in how they deal with the people God has put in their congregations.

Also, today Mr. Wilson wrote a defense of his post on Potiphar’s Wife, saying its purpose was to reveal certain dangers. He writes at one point:

Now if an ordinary victim of a crime is seeking for some reason to have her status upgraded to priestess-victim, one of the tell-tale signs is that she will demand to have her story automatically believed. (No Goddess Can Ever Save Us.)

Again, there is nothing pastoral in this defense. He does not reach out to the “ordinary victim” (whatever he means by that) who expects to be believed and receive pastoral care. He doesn’t seek out how to care for someone who is hurt and expresses herself in a way that perhaps he does not understand. He does not urge pastors to get the training they need to understand such expressions from people who have been hurt in unimaginable ways. No, he calls them priestess-victims.

The response is not to be “Prove it and then I’ll help” or “I’ll help you but I better not find out you’re making this up.” The pastoral response is “How can I help? Let’s talk this through so I understand better what you need, since I have some professional resources for people facing what you’re talking about.” And if appropriate, the response can include “Do you mind if I talk to your spouse?” Sometimes the appropriate question, though, is “Have you called the police yet?”

Judges don’t counsel people who claim to have been abused nor those who claim they’ve been falsely accused. Judges provide a neutral forum for the charges to be presented, evidence heard, and a judgment rendered. At times that judgment will be a conviction and at times an acquittal because sometimes the charges are true, sometimes they’re not, and sometimes the evidence doesn’t clearly show one way or the other.

A pastor provides a different forum, though, where the pastor is ready to listen, to guide and to protect if necessary. A pastor’s study is where all receive pastoral care: those who are wronged and those who wronged them, as well as those who are falsely accused and those bringing false accusations. I fear a post such as Mr. Wilson’s does little to invite anyone into such a forum.

It’s just not pastoral.

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*There are other legal presumptions as well. For example, a person not heard from for a particular number of years (the length varies among jurisdictions) might be presumed dead unless there is evidence to the contrary. Of course, there must be evidence proving the person has not been heard from to then create the presumption the person is dead.

**Scottish courts allow three verdicts: Guilty, Not Proven, and Not Guilty. The first verdict is a conviction, the intermediate verdict is meant to convey a lack of evidence, while the third is a statement that the jury considers the person innocent of the charge; the second and third verdicts are both acquittals.

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Please do not discuss past or present court cases or investigations in the comments, thanks. (I’ll be monitoring the comments carefully on this point.) Today’s post is about pastors being pastoral. Here’s one explanation of how being pastoral requires credulity at times: Begin with Belief.

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