Fundamental Lies: Abstinence

5 12 2017

Abstinence was a term I heard in church long before I even knew what sex was.  I mean, I heard the term and I knew I wasn’t supposed to participate in such an event, but in my ignorance, I thought it was some sort of thing that people did at parties.  Bad people.  Boy, was I wrong!  Then, I found out what it really was, and after my horrible embarrassment, I was reminded that I should remain abstinent until marriage.

From many different directions, I heard about abstinence.  I heard about all of the diseases you could catch from school.  They showed me the terrible pictures, and they still do show the pictures to 8th graders each year.  In church, I was told that marriage is the only context in which God approves sexual activity.  According to what I valued, I took more of what my spiritual leaders said to heart, rather than questioned it.  And I took the evidence of STDs as God’s signal to his people that sexual activity before marriage was wrong.  Without question, I followed my spiritual leaders, and it never occurred to me that they would lead me astray, after all, they were following God.  It never dawned on me that they couldn’t be trusted to tell me the truth.  I expected them to guide me and never lead me wrongly.

It just so happened that all of the churches in the area gathered together and they decided to have an event that is called “True Love Waits.”  If you don’t know what it is, it’s an abstinence-advocating program.  Their main purpose is to press upon students in middle and high school that they are instructed by God to remain sexually pure until marriage.  They passed on their belief that the only person that I was to have relations with, was the person that I would marry.  I was taught that this was God’s will for my life.  They combined this event with studies that led up to this event, all about being pure and having right intentions and of course, abstinence itself.  So weeks and weeks went by and we “studied” a particular passage that my particular spiritual leaders found and decided to use.

What I was Told:
They decided to use the story of Tamar and Amnon as their chosen source text.  We studied this story in several sessions.  In the sessions, we talked about Amnon wanted Tamar, and they told me it was a consensual relationship and they chose to sleep together before they got married.  After it was over, there was a hatred that was given by God to show God’s disapproval of sex before marriage.  I accepted this version of the story without question as gospel, because that was what I felt like I was supposed to do.  Even after I left this leadership and transitioned to a new period of my life, I hung on to that belief concerning sex.

Deconstruction:  So, what DOES the Bible Say?
Part of deconstruction is thinking about what people have told you all of your life, and figuring out what you think.  It has grown very important to me in the recent years, that I know what I believe and why I believe that.  I grew older and started needing to examine the belief system that other spiritual leaders had put in my life, and I compared that to what I thought and felt was truth.  One of the ways that I have done that is in companion to studying the word of God.  I have remained studious about studying what the Bible says.  If you want your belief system challenged, then start reading the Bible and use your personal relationship with God to determine if those beliefs are correct.  It’s an evolving process, one that I am still doing to this day.  Sometimes, what the Bible says and teaches really disturbs my soul, and it is very different from what I’ve been taught.

So I was reading the other night because I am journeying through the Second Book of Samuel in my personal time and as I started reading, I was excited to read a familiar story.  Except, it was very different.

2 Samuel 13 1-22 (NIV)
In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar,the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.  Now Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He asked Amnon, “Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” “Go to bed and pretend to be ill,” Jonadab said. “When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’”  So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.” David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat. “Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom.  But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”  “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.  Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”  “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”  But he refused to listen to her.  He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.”  So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.  Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.  When King David heard all this, he was furious. And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.

The Differences, Do they really matter?
Between what I was told and what is really there, I notice several differences.  The first of which is that Tamar and Amnon are brother and sister.  The way it is written leads me to think that they are not biological brother and sister, but at least half-brother and half-sister.  They share the same father, David, and have different mothers.  It doesn’t give us much insight into their background other than that.  In Hebrew law, it is forbidden for siblings to have relations.  But don’t take my word for it, you study and figure it out for yourself.  The error that my spiritual leaders made, is that they did not mention this familial relationship that these two had.  In choosing to ignore this fact, they taught instead that this was an appropriate relationship.  Does this matter?  Yes!  Absolutely!  You’re not dealing with a relationship among adults that could one day marry, you’re dealing with step-incest.  By not including this fact, they completely ignored the violation of this Hebrew law.

The second truth that I see here that is different from what I was told is that this was a rape, not consensual.  Here, Amnon fell in love with her, and my leaders were correct in that he loved her.  However, my spiritual leaders failed to mention that she did not return his affections.  She protested.  The only reason that they had sex was because he forced himself on her.  It is evident in the scriptures that otherwise, they would not have had relations.  Does this difference matter?  Yes!  This text clearly says that it is wrong to rape other people, and it is absurd that we have to have a law (in my opinion) in the Hebrew Bible that tells us that it is wrong to rape someone.  We see here a Biblical principal being violated, and the belief that someone’s purity is worth keeping sacred and special.

The third difference that I see here between what my spiritual leaders taught me and the truth of the Bible is that Amnon didn’t hate her because they had sex, he hated her because he hated himself.  Earlier, I told you that I was given the impression that this relationship was consensual.  And after they had done the deed, so to speak, Amnon was filled with hatred.  My leaders said this was because God disapproved of sexual relations before marriage.  Instead, I’d like to think that he hated her because he hated what he had done to her.  He realized that he had done something that could not be undone.   She said to him that what he had done was awful, and to send her away and try to ignore what he had done would be worse.  I had to stop, and look at my Bible and see what she meant by that.  In one commentary, it explains that her robe was a robe similar to what Joseph and other dream interpreters would wear.  She was a virgin dream interpreter, probably respected not only as the King’s daughter, but also because she interpreted dreams and lived a life of purity, and life that was marked in its specialness.  A life that was concerned with being holy and being that example for other people to follow and to look up to.  He had stolen that from her.  I think he hated her because he hated himself, and he realized what he had stolen from her, and the consequences for her.

The final difference I see here is that he was following a crooked example.  Amnon was David’s eldest son and his heir.  David had just had an affair with Bathsheba, and Amnon saw how his dad had tried to cover it up and he didn’t have any consequences to his actions.  Amnon was following a corrupt example.  He probably thought that because he was the king’s son and heir, he would not have any of the moral repercussions of his actions that he had.  But he did.  He immediately realized he did wrong, and he couldn’t make it right by marrying her.  He sent her away, and she went mourning, but he had to deal with the emotional consequences.


This passage doesn’t really deal with sex as a consensual experience, shared by two people in love, but rape.  Rape causes this hatred, guilt causes this hatred.  The hate was not caused by the fact that they had sex out of marriage, but because he ratped her.  My leaders really had it wrong.  I would hope that they wouldn’t intentionally try to lead me astray.  But the fact is, they had a wrong approach to teaching abstinence.


So, I’ve marinated on it, and I’ve arrived at several conclusions in this process:

  1. If you are a spiritual leader, make sure that what you are teaching is indeed Biblical and it is the whole truth.  You will play an important role in someone’s life by being in their life as a spiritual leader.  Take it seriously.  You might be responsible for their blossoming spiritual life or their destruction of their spiritual life.
  2. If you are a spiritual leader, don’t use the Bible and twist it for a cause.  Twist the cause to meet the truth.  You owe it to God, who is using you, to paint an accurate picture of love.  So make sure you do that.
  3. If you are being led by a spiritual leader, don’t make the same mistake that I did and believe them without question.  Test and make sure that they are teaching truth.  Read your Bible, look at their references.  It takes a little more work, but it is so worth it, to make sure you are getting truth.
  4. Don’t follow spiritual leaders as a substitute for your own spiritual growth.  Invest time in prayer, invest in study.  Spend time thinking and trying to figure out the meaning of the scriptures.  Sometimes it’s hard to understand, but discipleship is worth it.
  5. Hold everyone accountable.  Hold yourself accountable if you’re teaching.  Hold yourself accountable for what you’ve been taught.  If someone tells you wrong, then tell them the truth.  Don’t substitute half-truths for whole truth.  Don’t let an agenda be your doctrine.

Conclusions:
Don’t take my word on all of this.  You study this passage.  See what you think.

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It’s Okay to Be Lonely as Long as You’re Free

1 10 2017

Today’s title comes from a Rich Mullins song.  If you don’t know the Rich Mullins story, or you don’t know the following song, at the very least, please listen to that song, or research a little bit about him and his life.

I love that line that I reference in the title.

Something that Rich knew all too well, is the loneliness of life.  Many people know about the loneliness of life.  You see singles post about it on Facebook around Valentine’s Day.  Weddings always have the single people lining up to catch the trophy in hopes that they will be next.  Singleness as a calling is discarded in favor of creating a family and sharing your life with another person.  A lot of people will moan and complain about being lonely, and how they have no one to share it with.  People will slip into a depression over their loneliness.

Even people in relationships find themselves lonely too!  And this is the reason that I write today’s entry.  Despite the fact that I am in a loving, healthy relationship, I too, experience the pangs of loneliness.  I too, deal with the worrisome condition that plagues all of humanity.  My loneliness doesn’t just disappear because I’m in a relationship.  And it’s nothing on the fault of the other party or the nature of our relationship….honestly, loneliness is a concept that exists beyond just being in a relationship.

Loneliness, like sadness, is a universal feeling.  You’ll experience it many times in your life.  Regardless of marital status, loneliness can hit you.  Many people use other people to cover up their loneliness, or to make them feel not so alone.  Unfortunately, this is a band-aid over a bullet hole type of solution.  Having someone there does not permanently solve the problem of loneliness or eliminate the feeling.  You can even be lonely when you’re with other people.  That’s been me this week.  I’m surrounded by wonderful people.  I love the people I work with.  I like my job most days.  I’m constantly improving and getting better at my craft.  I’m very happy at work.  And then the bell rings, the kids go home, the classroom is empty and I’m alone.

At first, the pang of loneliness wasn’t like a wave.  It was just a twinge.  A small droplet of emotion.  I could curb it.  But if you allow enough drops to build up over time, it becomes a bathtub full of water.   And that bathtub becomes a wave when the drops become rushing amounts of water.  There’s nothing to do about it, but to let yourself drown in it.  In that moment, as I experienced this week, it’s hard to understand why the emotion you’ve pushed down for so long suddenly breaks and you have to figure out how to live with it.  I’ve been hyper aware of my loneliness this week.

I think loneliness because it is a universal emotion, and because we experience it when we’re around people, I think it’s a deeper issue than just being alone.  I think there’s something more to it.  I think these loneliness pangs point us to another fact about ourselves entirely, that this loneliness is a longing for something.  It’s a longing for completion, it’s a longing to be whole.  It’s a longing for something else, something we can’t quite put our hearts on, or understand.

I think it’s a longing for heaven, a longing to be restored from our sinful tendencies to what we were meant to be.  We were not meant to be alone, or to have this lonely feeling, but I think that we were meant to experience completion and wholeness, but sin robbed that from us.  I think that this loneliness pang that we all feel is just another reminder that this life is not what it was intended to be, and it is a residue left behind to remind us of what we were supposed to be.  I think it’s a longing for peace.  I think it’s a longing for communion with other people, deep communion, that’s why we are so adamant to finding someone with whom we won’t be alone with.  I think it’s a longing for community, friendship that doesn’t hurt, love that doesn’t die.  It’s a longing for an absence of fear, and continual trust that things won’t go wrong, but they will go for the better.  I think it’s a longing that we have to see the real self, and who we were meant to be, and not what we are.

I think we can learn from loneliness.  Rich did.  Obviously, he struggled with loneliness, and throughout the duration of his life, he tried to fill up that loneliness with other things.  But finally, he accepted it as a symptom of his human condition, a side-effect of humanity.  I admire him for that.  It takes a lot of strength, strength I don’t currently have, to face your loneliness and realize that you’ll never be un-lonely.  That loneliness is a current state of being that is permanent, until death and restoration.

My prayer is that when you are lonely, you take a lesson from Rich and deal with it, and let yourself experience it, and find solace in the love of Jesus.  Don’t take a lesson from me, where you’re stubborn and you pass the blame and you cry yourself to sleep without seeking the guidance of God.  Hopefully, I’ve made a turning point with this, and will learn from Rich, and will learn from his life.  And hopefully, one day, I will befriend my loneliness and accept it as what I say it is, pulsings to remind me of my heavenly connection.

Love and peace to you all in these lonely times,

mb





New Year, New Goals

24 09 2017

Well, hello there!

Grab yourself a chair!  Pull up a comfy blanket.  Maybe your favorite hot beverage.  Oh?  What’s that you say?  You don’t have a hot beverage?  Well, gimme just a second here.

Okay let me see.  I’ve got some assorted teas here, I’ve got a ton of coffee.  Oh I know the can feels a little on the light side.  Trust me, I have another bag in the freezer.  I’ve also got some of this delicious hot chocolate.  Trust me, it’s super tasty.

You’ve chosen, have you?  Let me get the water.  You go on over there and sit down, make yourself comfy.  I’ll finish up over here.  What mug do you want?  It doesn’t matter?  Okay, I’ll grab my favorite for you.  I’ll grab you a spoon and you’re almost all ready to go.

How’s my year going so far?  I’m so glad you’ve asked.  Honestly, last year was so very good.  It truly was so very good.  I felt like I was growing so immensely much.  I’m honestly excited for this year!  There’s so many good things that I feel are going to happen!  It’s partly all because of you.  Your endless support, reading all of my posts, facebook comments, seeing my pictures, the texts of encouragement….it’s all been so super helpful.  It reminds me that others are supportive and encouraging me.  Seussical was the best musical I’ve directed, and it was so fun!

Your water is ready dear.

Now that you’re back, my current year is going well.  I have a few hiccups, but I’m sure I’ll get them all trained like I want them to be.  But I do want to tell you of my goal for the year.

This year, I’m doing a few things differently than in the past.  I’m going to be finding a new church to attend.  And I’m sure I’ll tell you of those adventures as I go about that.  But my theme for this year, my mantra so to speak, is going to be one single word:  GIVING.

No, I’m not just talking about money, but I’m going to be giving of my time and my efforts.  I’m going to try to not be so selfish with myself and invest in others.  You and so many other people like you have been investing in me, and I haven’t been that encouraging person, that person that is giving and helping.  Where you’ve been helping me and reaching out to me, I want to start doing that for you and for all the people like you that have been loving on me and encouraging me.  Thank you so much.  You have no idea how much each text or phone call meant.  Each offer to help and each reaching out to love on me.  It’s all been so super amazing, and I’m so very fortunate to have as many people loving on me as I do.  But I need to start loving back on others.  Start giving words of encouragement and start reaching out and offering hope.  Letting others know that I care about them.

Are you done?  Another?  No?  Okay, let me take this to the kitchen.

So how are you?  How’s life?

You’re a fantastic person.

I’m so glad that I have you in my life.

Do you know that you’re underappreciated for what you do?

You are worth the extra mile.

I grow so much from you.

Thank you for all you do for me.

How can I help you?

Do you want another?





The Example of Peter

6 07 2017

Context: 1 Peter

The first epistle of Peter is all about the practical ways that we apply our faith in relation to each other.  It has instructions for our attitudes, our way of living, holiness, our  relations to government and leadership, our relationships in marriages, a perspective on suffering, living our lives with freedom and suffering and how we relate to elders.  Mind you, that’s just a quick summary.  It’s very full of information!  Because of what I know about Peter, I’m not surprised that he’s giving practical advice.  More on that later.

I also want to remind you of something:  this letter was written to exiled people who believed in Christ, and not to a church.  Paul wrote his letters to churches, and Peter has written to specific people.  It was probably a personal letter sent to encourage the people that he knew personally.  Notice that he only identified himself by name and not his audience, which to me, communicates that the people he was writing to, Peter wished to remain anonymous.  Perhaps because they were in political trouble, perhaps for their religious beliefs.  And I also want to point out that from this, we we see that Peter knows that they’re in trouble, indicating that this is part of a series of letters probably exchanged with these people.

From this, we also see that Peter, because of the personal nature, we see he had no intentions of the letter becoming part of the canon of the New Testament, a shared experience of all of the writers of the New Testament.  I think that is worthy of consideration and thought.

As a disciple, we know a lot about Peter, and one of the things that I think Peter never got over is how God chose him, despite all of his flaws and dis-beliefs, he was chosen.  His faith, with all of its questions and insecurities were enough to build a church upon.  When he was killed for his beliefs, he asked to be crucified upside down, because he did not see himself as worthy of the same death of crucifixion as the Christ.  He died a martyrs death, for professing his faith, and refusing to renounce it.  His story is something, if nothing else, another story of how God uses ordinary, imperfect people to share his story of love, his gifts of grace.

Today’s scripture comes from 2 Peter 1:3-11.  I’m dividing it up into three sections, and I’ll identify these three sections according to my commentary sections.

vs 3-4:  Promises:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

One of the things that I identify with in Peter, is my constant insecurity over whether or not I am able to be used by God despite my lack of faith, my past or my experiences.  Sometimes, I lack trust, sometimes I lack confidence.  Sometimes, I lack security.  I have major performance anxiety and just anxieties in general.  And Peter man, he constantly failed Jesus.  He denied him three times, he failed to trust him when he was walking on water, and he was selfish.  We sometimes like to puff ourselves up and like to pick on Peter, claiming that we’d be able to walk on water if the Lord commanded us.  Peter, I love you because you’re so human and you’re so relate-able to those of us who are like me.  I believe that if I were in the middle of the sea and God told me to get out of the boat, I’d look around for another boat to jump into, or a life jacket or something.  I wouldn’t get out of the boat in the first place, probably.  My confidence as a disciple is shaken, when I fail to get out of the boat.  And the royal screw-ups of Peter?  On my own, I could never recover from that.

But Peter did!  Look at what he says.  He says that we’ve been given everything that we need by God to live out this life of faith.  Everything  We’ve been given the courage, the confidence, the power and the courage that we need.  We’ve been given this life to live, according to the knowledge of God and who God is, simply because God has called us to be his.  Peter figured it out.  He had been given everything that he needed in order to live out the life that he was supposed to.  Jesus knew that Peter had it, because he identified Peter as the one that he would be building his church on his shoulders.

Wow.  What a promise!  Peter, with his fumblings and stumblings, to be the rock that Jesus would build his church on!  What a big thing!  Peter knew about promises.  One thing that he knew is that he, Peter, broke them.  Remember the last supper?  Where he promised that he would never denounce Jesus?  How, later, he did so three times, only a few hours later.  Through it all, in his lifetime, Peter realized something about promises.  He realized that although he (Peter) couldn’t keep them, God always did.  He probably realized that Jesus recognized the value of Peter long before Peter realized his own value.  When Peter became a believer, Jesus knew he would one day become a leader in the faith because God had already given him the promised gifts he would need.  He would have the gift of leadership, of vision, of commitment, and they were already embedded within Peter when Jesus made that promise to him by re-naming him.  Peter probably didn’t really understand what it meant when Jesus gave him that promise, but like our salvation, he would understand it better later on.

In the same way, I hope that we recognize that we have been given everything that we need to live a godly life, and I hope that we see these things as promises as well.  Promises to sustain, promises that lead, promises that verify our calling and identity.  These are the gifts that sustain us when things get hard.  When I became a believer, I remember praying the prayer, and I was climbing the stairs of the building afterwards, and I felt something.  The only way that I can describe it was like my heart had exploded.  I wasn’t exploding, my heart wasn’t racing, but it was like this great big open spot was now there in my chest.  It was different.  In different times of my life, times of doubt, I have remembered that aftermath of explosion with in me.  And bit by bit, it’s like all of the learning I do, I fill up those spaces.  But that empty space?  According to this scripture, I’m now going to call it my promise.  The promise of things to come.

vs 6-9:  Building Blocks of Growth

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

We are told in churches to grow our faith.  We talk about how we need to grow and get to know God more and how we need to—–well, you get the picture.  I’d like to take you back to the example of Peter.

We know that Peter tried to walk on water and then he failed?  Why did he fail?  Because he got afraid, looked at the water and took his eyes, his trust off of the one who told him to walk on the water in the first place.  Jesus was already there, he was already on top of the water, he told him to jump out.  But Peter lost sight of the one who was leading him.

Let’s contrast that with another Peter story.  Picture it, day of Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit came down as Jesus had promised that helper and it filled the room.  Filled them.  Peter arose, he stands up and begins preaching about Jesus.  From this moment on, he becomes a leader of the disciples, it is because of his words and obedience, that the first church is founded among believers.  Jesus’ promise fulfilled!  Church was born out of Peter, even though he got afraid on the waves.

Woah.  What’s the difference?  How could it go from a sinking, floundering person, a denier of the Christ and a doubter, to being a courageous, strong and secure person who births’ the first church? It’s all because of growth.  I think Peter used his near drowning experience to teach him, his doubts to affirm him, and his denials to motivate him.  Something happened to Peter, and he grew so much.  It seems like the denial would be a hiccup to his growth, because true growth is hardly, if ever, linear, but a maze that is often disorienting.

I love how Peter describes this process through in his letter.  He makes it like building blocks, no doubt representative of his own growth.  Each step is like building blocks.  Each step is because of the previous step.  I don’t have the capacity to expand very much on each of the steps, but I will do a quick summary.  He says that the first step is moral righteousness.  If we are honest, that righteousness step/entry into heaven, is our first motivation and reason for faith.  From that, we grow to knowledge, the mental aspect to our faith.  This is an “academic” understanding of God and scripture.  From that, we realize our need of self-control, because our knowledge exposes places where we still have to become better and more godly.  That leads to perseverance, because self-control, man, it’s a beast.  It’s difficult to stay in control of whatever thoughts or actions that we find difficult to shake.  As we persevere through these sufferings and many more, we move into godliness and understand the purpose of our sufferings.  From that, we develop mutual affection, which from my understandings, means empathy for others and sharing in burdens.  From that, develops love, and love for others is the embodiment of our faith, it’s the way that Jesus said his disciples would be recognized.

Because of these building blocks, Peter says that we continue to grow and we will remain important to the faith, and will will remain engaged, vibrant.  Alive.

Peter also addresses a very different type of believer.  He says that if we don’t build on our faith and grow in the faith, then we are ineffective.  We are nearsighted, we can only see the present troubles right in front of us, not the greater glory.  We can only concern ourselves with the things of the world, because that’s all that we can see.  He calls believers that aren’t growing towards love as blind, because without growth, they cannot see their neighbor as worthy of love.  We cannot see when God is working and moving.  We cannot see how to help others.  And we can never get past our past.  We can never allow someone else’s past to get past their past in our eyes.  We can’t forget, and we can’t forgive.

If we are the latter of the two, there is no growth, and salvation is basically fire protection.  It’s not a changed, transformed way of life.  If we use Peter as an example, the latter is not like Peter’s experience.

vs 10-11:  Go the Distance

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,  and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned earlier, Peter died on an upside down cross, thinking himself as unworthy of the same measure of death as Christ.  The called rock, founder of the church, given a criminal’s death.  After his denial of Christ, all evidence points to that moment being a turning point in Peter’s life and faith.  He grew from that period, and I hope he never returned to the doubting self, but used his experiences to grow.  He remembered the call that Jesus had laid on his life and he did something about it.  He stayed the course and finished his life as the founder of the church.

Because of our growth, Peter says that we should be firm in our salvation and in our growth of God.  That we should not be insecure about our salvation.  If anyone had a chance of being insecure, Peter is among them, and he says that we should be secure.  He didn’t remain insecure, because he already knows where he stands.  He knows his value in Christ.

Which is more than a lot of us can say, because if Peter looked at the church right now, I don’t think he’d see a strong, secure body.  I honestly think he’d liken us to a bunch of toddlers crying because our blankey is in the wash.  He’d call us out because we get our feelings hurt and claim injustice, while our literal neighbors are starving.  I think he’d tell us to get our eyes back on Jesus, and not on the waves, because he knows that’s why he began to sink.  I think he’d tell us to love each other instead of focusing on beautiful buildings and important programming.  I think he’d tell us that our faith and trust needs to be strong enough to not only endure the good times, but also the bad times.  That we can’t abandon our beliefs just because someone hurt our feelings.

But if we stick with it, and we keep a holy growth, we keep our calling close in our minds, then look what God can do through us.  Look what he could do.  After all, it was the denier, the fearful of downing Peter that God built his church upon.  Truly, if God can use Peter, the butt of our scorn to build a church, how could he use us as well?





15 06 2017

Today’s Scripture is Amos 2.

This is what the Lord says:

“For three sins of Moab,
    even for four, I will not relent.
Because he burned to ashes
    the bones of Edom’s king,
I will send fire on Moab
    that will consume the fortresses of Kerioth.
Moab will go down in great tumult
    amid war cries and the blast of the trumpet.
I will destroy her ruler
    and kill all her officials with him,”
says the Lord.

This is what the Lord says:

“For three sins of Judah,
    even for four, I will not relent.
Because they have rejected the law of the Lord
    and have not kept his decrees,
because they have been led astray by false gods,[b]
    the gods their ancestors followed,
I will send fire on Judah
    that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.”

Judgment on Israel

This is what the Lord says:

“For three sins of Israel,
    even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
    as on the dust of the ground
    and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
    and so profane my holy name.
They lie down beside every altar
    on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god
    they drink wine taken as fines.

“Yet I destroyed the Amorites before them,
    though they were tall as the cedars
    and strong as the oaks.
I destroyed their fruit above
    and their roots below.
10 I brought you up out of Egypt
    and led you forty years in the wilderness
    to give you the land of the Amorites.

11 “I also raised up prophets from among your children
    and Nazirites from among your youths.
Is this not true, people of Israel?”
declares the Lord.
12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine
    and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.

13 “Now then, I will crush you
    as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.
14 The swift will not escape,
    the strong will not muster their strength,
    and the warrior will not save his life.
15 The archer will not stand his ground,
    the fleet-footed soldier will not get away,
    and the horseman will not save his life.
16 Even the bravest warriors
    will flee naked on that day,”
declares the Lord.

Taken from:  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Amos+2 

Just to give you some context of why I’m mentioning these scriptures, I am reading through some of the Old Testament prophets, and Amos is my current stop.

To give you some biblical context, let me turn back to Amos 1, to tell you about the writer.  Amos is a shepherd in Tekoa, and while he’s tending his sheep one day, he saw a vision for Israel from God.  Amos’ name means literally burden-bearer.  I haven’t finished reading the book of Amos yet, but just from chapters 1 &2, he’s got quite the load on him. I wouldn’t want to be the one who had to share this message to the people.  He’s calling out the people for what they’ve done wrong and how they’ve wronged the people of God and how they’ve disrespected God.  I imagine that his audience would have rather killed him than to listen to him tell them how much they’ve done wrong.  Often, when you do expose the wrongdoings of the world, you are shunned or disliked.  But share it anyways, if you are so led to do so.  But don’t share it to highlight how awesome you are, but to push someone else closer to their awesomeness.

Anywho, let’s dig into Amos, shall we?

Chapter 2 has two very different groups of people.  And really, Chapter 1 and verses 1-3, is all about how the “outsiders” to God have desecrated God.  And then the rest of chapter 2 focuses on how God’s people are going to face judgement.  So I’d like to divide them in two contrasting sections.

1. God’s Judgement unto the nonbelievers.

First, I’d like to examine what God says he’s going to do with those that don’t believe in them.  God has called out these people for what they’ve done wrong.  There are many wrong doings in Chapter 1.  In almost every incidence, God is bringing down fire upon these people, and destroying pillars of their strength, whether it be a wall, a gate or fortresses.  I don’t think this is without symbolism.

When I was young, one Sunday morning at like 7:00am, my dad woke me up in a start.  He told me to put on my shoes, put in my ears and get outside.  My dad was panicked.  I hurried through everything, as my dad tried to get my sister up, and get her shoes on.  My whole family stood on the front yard as we watched my next-door neighbor’s house catch on fire.  It burned for hours.  When it was over and the fire was put out, nothing was usable anymore.  Later, we walked through the rubble, and the smell of burnt things, it penetrated the air.  We stepped on wood that evaporated into black dust and ask.  Wood that once was strong, and it was now dust.  Crumbling.  Fire destroys matter.  It burns it away until it is no longer any worth.  I was so moved, by the realization that my neighbors had literally lost everything.  It had been burned away.  Useless, worthless, ash.  In the same way, God says he’s going to destroy these entire cities.  He would leave people homeless, hopeless, with nothing.

That fire would destroy their fortresses, their walls.  He would take away every element of their feeling of safety that they had ever had or felt.  He would take away anything that made them feel like they were safe, and would leave them vulnerable to attack.  Essentially, leaving a lamb in the middle of a pit with a bunch of hungry lions.

At first, my thought was WHY?  Why would a loving God do anything like that?  Why would the God who sent Jesus down in love, destroy people through fire?  Why would he do that?  And I get angry that this is not the God that I love and serve.

But if you look at the first sentence for each judgement, God clearly describes what these people have done wrong.

For example, in the circumstance of the people of Moab, he’s judging them because they desecrated the bones of Edom’s king.  I don’t know what this means, or what this means that they did to deserve this, but it was pretty bad.  Edom’s king was seen, from what I understand, as a king of war hero.  So, to put it in context, I think of someone doing something awful to the grave of JFK.

And as I wonder why he would destroy with fire, and break their defenses, I realize it’s a judgement thing.  But, the hope is that they would use these situations to realize that they have put their trust in the wrong things to keep them safe.  I hope that they would realize that they are living their lives according to a sense of non-morality.  I hope that they would use this to turn themselves and change their lives.  But often, when those who have done wrong are called out and punished, they do not turn and change their ways.

2.  God’s Judgement unto the Believers.

When people are loved by God, I’ve heard the sentiment that they believe that they can live whichever way that they want, because God will never stop loving them.  I’ve witnessed this attitude, and it often doesn’t lead people to being good people.  While it is true, I believe, that when God loves you once, he doesn’t ever stop loving you.  The Bible frequently says that we cannot be separated from the love of God.  But I don’t think anyone gets an exception to the expectation that God’s people will try to live by producing the fruits of the spirit in their lives.

That’s kind of the attitude that I imagine Judah and Israel have towards this grace and belovedness.  According to this passage, they seem to think that their special chosen-ness has exempted them from living right, as you should.

This is not true.

Because they have rejected the laws of the Lord, they have not kept his decrees, because they have worshipped false Gods, God will destroy them with fire, and will eat away at the fortresses of Jerusalem.

Because they sell their people and exchange them in case of money, they oppress the poor and deny justice to those who are oppressed.  Because they use prostitutes and share them amongst family members, because they shame the name of the Lord, because they do not honor the offerings given to the Lord, and take offerings for their pleasure.  Because of all of them, God says he will not relent, he will not hold back on his punishment.

But look at all of the things God did for them!  He destroyed the enemies while they were standing there watching, he destroyed their crops, and made it so they cannot grow their food.  He took them out of Egypt, where they were enslaved, and led them throughout the desert, so that he could give them the land of the Amorites.  Not only that!  But he raised up their children to be prophets, he further showed how special that they are to God, and yet, they neglected their chosen-ness.  They desecrated their specialness.  No wonder he was going to destroy them.  No wonder!

Notice, he never says that he will not love them.  He never says he’s going to leave them.  But he does not say that he will protect them from the consequences that are going to happen because they  have done so many wrong things.

3.  No one can escape the consequences.

If we are honest, we don’t like the consequences that we have to face or that we experience.  We like to get off scot-free.  We like to not have to deal with the natural consequences.  I have this student that I taught this year….and nothing ever seemed to be his fault.  He would get called out for something  and immediately, his response was “I didn’t do it.”  In fact, in the last few days of school, I asked him to come to my desk because I was going to ask him to do something and he immediately said “I didn’t do it.”  A lot of times, I imagine that when we experience a consequence, I bet a lot of us look at God with that same expression.  But really, if we get down to it and break it down, we often do the things that deserve those consequences.

If I get caught speeding, which I have done before, I often liked to blame it on that hill or the traffic or whatever to make myself feel better about the fact that I have a state trooper in my rearview mirror.  But the reality is, I shouldn’t have been speeding.  The reality is, that we all are going to have the natural consequences to whatever we’ve done wrong.  No matter how strong we are, how fast we are or how accurate we are, we will not be able to escape that consequence.  Even though every time that I speed, there’s not always a state trooper nearby, you can rest that at some time or another, I will get caught.  Every consequence to what I’ve done wrong may not happen immediately, but it will happen at some time or another.

Closing Remarks

So, what do we do?

We live right.  We make good choices, and we do the right thing.  Nothing else really matters, does it?





Highways and Hedges

14 06 2017

Let’s look at Luke 14 for our Context today:

Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

Sometimes, the scripture that we read, the words that Jesus says, are very hard pieces of scripture to swallow.  This is one of those passages for me.  I first heard this passage when we got one of our new pastors after the pastor who stayed in my church for a long time.  And he preached a message on it that I will never forget.  I remember sitting there, and this pastor was using the month of August, his first month, to focus on evangelism.  And this was one of those passages.  I’ve been visiting a lot of churches lately, which coincides with God’s call for me to go away from my home church to find a new place to serve and be fed.  That’s for another time though.

This passage really has been something that my mind has drifted towards time and time again.  It’s just been emerging in my life over and over again, and so I felt the need to focus on this passage.  When I’m focusing on this passage, I find many parallels in this story.

Jesus is the “certain man”  who is hosting a banquet for many guests.
 He’s the one that has laid it all out.  He has made all of the preparations, prepared the food, found the chairs, clothed the table.  He’s lived the life like we’re supposed to, and he died according to this great plan.  I think we forget sometimes that these stories are not just stories, but they directly relate to the life that we live.

Jesus’ followers make more excuses than actions.  I’m sure you’ve said it before.  You’ve made an excuse, as your reason to not spend time with him.  If you’re anything like me, I make excuses of exhaustion to keep me from doing something.  I make excuses of being tired as justification to be unkind to people.  I make excuses of being too busy to keep me from serving the church.  I’ve heard it and you’ve probably said it.  Jesus hears all of our excuses.  But, let’s examine ourselves for a second.  We’re supposed to be the people that follow Jesus.  We’re supposed to be the worshippers of God.  We’re supposed to be the ones who are learning him and getting to know what it means to be a follower.  We use excuses of other priorities and other commitments to things and people to keep us from being there with God.  We use the excuses of family to keep us from doing the things of God.  If I’m honest, I’ve used my job, my busy schedule and my friends to keep me from doing the things that I am supposed to do with God.

On a corporate level, the church has many excuses too.  We use the excuse of people not being the “right” kind of people for us to love and help.  We say that just because that person is gay or trans, we can’t love them.  Instead, we spew words of hate and hurt.  We rebuke those who need social services, yet the church does not provide meals and homes for those who go without.  The church, us as members, do not invite the homeless in so that we can share our lives with them, like Jesus said to do.  We do not love those who are in prison, because after all, they got themselves there, even though the bible tells us to be there for them.  We excuse ourselves from caring for our neighbor, simply because that neighbor does not meet our standards.  I love the following meme:

Image result for love thy neighbor meme

We like to put qualifiers on grace.  But Jesus didn’t do that.  He didn’t say we got a choice in who we loved or how we loved them, he said to love them.  Period.  That’s it.  That’s the way that Jesus lived.  But we are pious and think that we can say who can get our grace and our love, our food and our presence.  What idiots we are!

God gave us no qualifiers.  He met us where we were.  That’s it.  Let us do the same.

Jesus’ response to our excuses.

So, let’s look at the story.  There were all of these excuses, and yet the food was still prepared.  No one who was invited was coming, yet the food needed to be eaten still.

Let’s think of the invited as church members, people who are supposed to be the ones who are eager to be in the banquet.  Those who are supposed to desire the one that made them.

Unfortunately, we often miss the mark, because the banquet table is full and the plates are empty, seats are vacant, and the host is lonely.

So, Jesus told his servants to go out to the city, go get the disabled, and bring them in.  These are the people who are often close by the church, but do not enter.  THese are the people who know about Jesus, but don’t have much experience in the church.  The people who stay home on SUnday mornings, but they watch church on TV.

Did you see what Jesus did there?  He rejected those who were in the church making excuses and went after those who don’t have that church.  He sends for them.  He gets them.  And they come.

But there was still room.

So he sends out the servants to get those people who are on the highways and hedges, and tells them to get over here, and enjoy the feast.  These are the people who are the “lowest of the low” those who are out there and we typically ignore.  He tells them to come on in, pull up a chair and eat plenty.  They’re foreigners to the gospel, and he tells them to come in.  He tells them to go for it and to come on by.  And everyone ate and enjoyed themselves.

Those are not the people of our modern churches.  These are the homeless, the smelly, the prostitute, the rejected….all of the people that we pretend don’t exist, they do at the table.  All are welcome to the table, but that doesn’t mean everyone is there.

Who do you want to be?

I don’t want to be the invited, who give an excuse for missing out on God.

I don’t want to be the adjacent ones, because they’re the ones that don’t have a relationship in the first place.  They know about Jesus, but don’t have a relationship.

I don’t want to be the highways and hedges, because they’re the ones that have no clue who God is.

I want to be the servant.  In the story, it’s the servants that go out and call everyone to the table to invite them.  It’s the servants who are reporting back to the master.  That’s who I want to be, inviting everyone to the table, because there is more than enough.

Are you a servant?  Are you the invited who miss out?  Are you the adjacent ones who don’t have a relationship?  Are you the highway or hedge?





Message for the Day

12 04 2017

I’m a deaf teacher.  I know many deaf people don’t claim me as deaf because I have two CI’s that I use to hear my students, but the nature of my job as a middle school theatre teacher is that I prefer to be able to hear instead of requiring my students to learn sign language.

When I was going to become a teacher, my supervising teacher told me “You can’t be a teacher, you’re deaf, you won’t be able to hear the kids”.  It broke my heart.

It was the first time, that I’ve ever experienced that type of attitude and recognized it for what it was.  All my life, I’ve heard “you’re deaf, but you don’t sound deaf!” or “I think it’s amazing that you’re able to function….”

I really struggled with it, because all of my life, I’ve been surrounded by people who have always encouraged me and have always pushed me forward to accomplishing the great things that I want to do.  It affected me so badly, I recognize now that I was in a period of depression.

I’m glad to say that I’ve proved him wrong.  I’m glad to say that I am soon to finish up my 3rd year of teaching.  I’m glad to say that I didn’t let that man decide my fate, and impact my choice of careers.  I love my job.  I love what I do.  I bet I love it more than he does.

Don’t let anyone deter you from your dreams.  Don’t let any one stop you.  Don’t let anyone keep you from doing what you want to do.  YOU are important.  YOU are valued.  You are loved.  You have something to offer the world.

-happysloth