The Happy Surprise

Putting the good book to good use

Saying your prayers

It can be simple, really.

I find myself perfectly content in a slow train that crawls through green fields stopping at every station. Just because the service is so slow and therefore in most people’s eyes bad, these trains are almost empty—I get through a lot of reading and sometimes say my prayers. A solitary train journey I find quite excellent for this purpose. (C.S. Lewis, Letters, edited by W.H. Lewis, (New York: Harvest Books, 1966), p.265. Link)

Slow down. Take the long way home. Say your prayers.

My choice to believe and embrace gay Christians in life and ministry.

This past year, I had to make a heart-rending decision based on how I believe Jesus would handle the touchy topic of homosexuality. I have studied the relevant Bible passages on homosexuality for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I chose to make that study practical and refuse to draw a line I don’t believe Jesus would draw. I can not refuse gay Christians a place in ministry beside me.

Personal disclaimer

My understanding of homosexuality is based on academic curiosity, not personal identification. I am heterosexual. I do not have any gay friends. (Although, I welcome them!) Does that disqualify me from making a statement about what I believe? I thought so for a long while, so I stayed quiet. I thought, What would it matter what I say about the topic if I don’t have to practice it? I still kinda believe that. But, I also believe there are folks who aren’t the Bible geek that I am who won’t devote hours to understanding their own minds. And these folks just might have gay friends and family, or might even themselves be gay. Lending my little voice just might make all the difference in their lives to finding peace with God and man. So, I come out.

Clarification of ideas

Since there are so many personal definitions and misunderstandings surrounding this politicized topic, let me clarify.

First, “gay” and “Christian” are not mutually exclusive as I understand the term “gay.” I believe “gay” in today’s understanding means that a person is attracted to their same gender. It is often referred to as Same Sex Attraction (SSA). Calling someone “gay” does not mean they are having homosexual sex, only that they have homosexual attractions (SSA).

Second, gay people do not choose to be gay. A lot of Christians who are not personally acquainted with a gay person (That would be me) do not understand them.  Simply said, we are very ignorant about the topic and experiences of a person identifying as SSA. So, a few words about being gay. If I were to ask you, “When did you know you were straight?” you’d probably look confused. This is because you never had to think about it. It is completely ingrained in who you are, who your identity is. The same goes for those who identify as SSA. In the same way you were attracted to the other gender and enjoyed the thoughts of building a relationship with them, a gay person does likewise with their own gender. From my reading, I understand that many gay people would, at some point in their journey, give their right arm to be straight. Being gay has caused them emotional angst and in some cases, intense persecution. They would tell you, “You are crazy!” if you think they CHOOSE to be SSA. In fact, thousands have tried to change by attending conferences, having accountability, getting married and having children. The majority of these Christians who are gay (but don’t want to be) will tell you they are not living a homosexual lifestyle, but they are still homosexual. They are gay. It is their identity deep inside.

Have you ever wrestled with the truth of my second point? That being gay is not a choice? I sure have. Let me tell you how I resolved my opinion. Simply put, I believe them.  I can’t know from personal experience, so I choose to take their word for it. Jesus asks me to love my neighbor, and a huge way I show love is by believing the collective voice of the gay Christian community (1 Cor. 13:7). So, in summation, I choose to believe gay people when they say they were born as SSA. Like any other human being, they can answer God’s universal call to follow Christ and can identify as Christian.

Guiding Principle

Now, what I do not want to do is speculate on the sinful reason why some folks are gay. In point of fact, they just are. Because I believe this, I can apply a relevant passage from Jesus’ life. Jesus was asked to speculate on the sinfulness of a blind man’s condition. The pharisees’s opening question reveals the prevalent attitude regarding the physical condition of blindness.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)

You see, the question presupposes a sinful cause. If they had simply asked, “Why was he born blind?” the question would not be relevant to our discussion on homosexuality. They took their query a step farther than seeking a cause for blindness. They wanted Jesus to agree with them that a blind person carries the stain of some sin resulting in his broken eyes. Now do you see the relevance? Jesus knew the cause of blindness, but he didn’t reveal it. Instead, he refused to attribute it to sin. In the same way Jesus did not call out a sin to the Pharisees when they questioned why a man was born blind, I will not point at a sin as the cause of SSA. I believe the same as Jesus.

“It isn’t because this man sinned,” said Jesus. “It isn’t because his parents sinned. (John 9:3)”

Now, we know the causes of blindness, so its hard for us to put ourselves into the Pharisees ignorant shoes. Why did they connect blindness with sin? It could be they wanted a spiritual reason behind all of life’s experiences, which I can identify with. It could be they served the community by presenting judgment in cases like this. We can sympathize with them  because we too are ignorant of the cause of SSA. (Research is underway, with some sound theories; but nothing has been concluded scientifically.) Well meaning Christians link what they view as an aberration (SSA) to either personal or parental sin because, like the Pharisees, their worldview supports spiritual reasons for physical experience. Christian leaders also feel a responsibility to present judgment for the good of their community. Either way, Jesus refused to participate. He assures us that even those with congenital issues can be used for God’s glory.

“This happened so that God’s work could be shown in his life. (John 9:3)”

Praise God! Gay people can accomplish God’s work. And I welcome them to serve alongside me in this pursuit. I choose to follow Jesus’ example and refuse to point to sin as the cause of SSA.

(You may ask: Didn’t Jesus heal the blind man? Wasn’t that what he was referring to as God’s work being displayed in him? In this particular instance, for sure! But if we limit the truth of Jesus’ words to this situation only, then we’d have to conclude the rest of the blind people he didn’t heal are sinful and un-glorifying. And that is absurd. There is a universal truth here we can apply to similar situations.

You may wonder how I can compare blindness to SSA? In your current mindset toward homosexuality, you think this is comparing apples to oranges, yes? You must remember my choice to believe the gay community’s assertion that they were born as SSA, just like this man was born blind.)

Conclusion: I won’t judge.

Up to this point, I have been discussing the attraction of a person born gay, not the physical act between gay persons. Is homosexual sex an acceptable behavior for a Christian when enjoyed inside the bounds of marriage? I think all Christians agree extra-marital sex is sinful, so the question becomes can a gay Christian get married and enjoy physical relations with his/her committed partner. Here’s the deal. I am not gay. Imagining a life of celibacy and loneliness stretched out before me, or anyone who did not wish to be single, breaks my heart. That is brutal, but not impossible. As a heterosexual white woman, there are many things I disagree with that I will not condemn. Gay marriage is one of them.  I honor the hours of Bible study, historical research and prayer Christians on both sides of the gay marriage debate have devoted to understanding God’s will on this issue. I will not exclude one of my Christian siblings because they embrace gay marriage. God is judge. I AM NOT. I will embrace them and all their various serious and not-so-serious sin, and condemn my own sin.

And everything I left out

What about all the verses in the Bible condemning homosexuality, you may be wondering? You notice, I did not start there? The reason is, I don’t believe they are relevant to the modern topic of same sex attraction and committed relationships. The context the Bible addresses in such harsh language surrounds idolatrous worship, sexual abuse and promiscuous immorality. I agree those practices are immoral and sinful.

Further Reading

Torn by Justin Lee

Lifelong celibacy for gay Christians : This link has study on the homosexual passages in the Bible.

The Gay Christian Network

Matthew Vines: God and the Gay Christian : The Biblical Case in Support of Same Sex Marriages

The Reformation Project

May God have mercy on all our souls.

Remember Her

It was as if I heard the words of old.

“Arise. Anoint him. This is He.”

As Samuel before me, I thought. What better place than in the midst of his brothers? I glanced around at his friends; Lazarus, Simon Peter, James and the others.

Two days echoed through me. Did they not hear him? He told us that in two days, he dies. He foretells his death and his kingdom in the same sermon. How could the two relate? And yet, I have seen him bawl life into my dead brother. Can he raise himself? Two days marks something terrible … and wonderful. Death and a kingdom. A king in death. I could not see him go to his kingdom unprepared. My sweaty hand gripped the cool stone of the vial. Anoint him.

Meeting his eyes, I rose and pushed my way around prostrate bodies reclining at the table. I pulled the alabaster jar from the folds of my robe. His eyebrows quizzed me as I uncorked the bottle, turning its end up and letting all the contents slip out into his hair. The brown liquid dripped down his temples and began to gather in his beard and plop onto his shoulders. A warm, earthy musk invaded my nostrils. My hand cupped his cheek, smearing the Nard. His features relaxed for a moment, eyes closed and head upturned toward heaven.

Did I expect loud cries of “Hail the king?” Well, yes. Wasn’t it obvious he deserved a proper anointing?

Instead, silence buzzed my ears.  Then, cries of outrage.

“Stop it!” Judas shouted. “Why waste this perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money used in a more noble fashion!”

“Mary, what are you thinking?” Peter frowned and tried to grab the vial from my hand. My silent action, condemned. My motives, questioned. Shame spewed out over all the wrong things, threatening to invade me. Had I heard wrong? I pulled my hand away.

“Leave her alone!” Jesus scolded. “Why are you giving her a hard time about this?”

He reached for my hand once more and squeezed.

To me he said, “This is beautiful.”

To the others, “She has listened to me and knows I am soon to die. This perfume is for my burial. You have a lifetime to do good for others, but your time with me is limited.”

Two days. I glanced around hoping the others would query him further. But they all bore the dull look of stubborn incomprehension. Neither hearing, nor understanding.

Jesus pressed my hand again in reassurance, and his words brought great comfort to me. “Believe me. What you have done will be remembered and admired wherever the Good News is preached. All over the world!” He smiled.

Two days is not the end, then. But a beginning.

By my own hand, he is Messiah: God’s Anointed.

Anointed One

Jesus’ anointing marked him as Messiah, prepared him for his coming crown, and memorialized the faith-filled ritual of a woman. Though it is often dismissed as little more than preparation for death, there is more to it than mundane burial ritual. The anointing act conjures up sacred Old Testament connotations to ancient heritage, priestly rituals, the consecration of kings, and the prophetic figure of Messiah, which literally means One Smeared with Oil.

A popular designation for the promised future king of Israel was “Anointed One.” This title evolves from God’s method of marking people set aside for a specific purpose and granting them authority. The high priest of the temple was anointed before service. Samuel, the priest and prophet, anointed King Saul and King David. Not only were these men handpicked by God for a special task, they were empowered by the presence of His Spirit and protected by their status as God’s anointed. The prophet Isaiah, looking forward to the future promised king and savior of Israel, names the one who would remove all burdens from his people as the “Anointed One.” Jesus identifies himself as this Messiah in Luke 4:18.

The only place Jesus is literally smeared with oil is by a woman serving as God’s anointing hand. These accounts, told in all four of the gospels, can be interpreted as a singular event with varied editing, or two women at two different times. Either way, the woman (or women) is used to reveal the identity of the Messiah, much like Peter’s proclamation “You are the Christ!” but with one significant exception. Immediately after his declaration, Peter denied the necessity of Jesus’ death, thereby revealing a lack of understanding and immature faith – a lapse Jesus called satanic. The woman’s act reveals complete understanding and mature faith. Not only does she believe Jesus is the Christ, but she accepts that his death is an integral part of his Messianic destiny. Jesus can only gain His throne by his pending death. Hence her anointing is declared by Jesus as preparing Him for the grave. She does not use her voice to declare prophecy, but her symbolic act speaks for her, much like the sign acts* of mute Ezekiel spoke volumes without a word. The woman’s anointing declares her faith that Jesus is Messiah and foretells that he will die to become King of his people.

She anointed Jesus.

It is significant that a woman serves as the anointing agent. Anointing proclaimed kings, ordained priests and heralded the Spirit’s work in the Old Testament. It transferred authority from God himself. The one who anointed and the ritual itself were recorded and lauded as defining moments. God chose this humble woman as His hand to anoint His Son, King. It is easy to let her gender confuse the true importance of this occasion. Her gender clouded the disciples to the true meaning of her act. They belittled her and esteemed her service in monetary terms only, disregarding her spiritual edge.  But the symbolism was not lost on Jesus. He understood and said her act “will also be told in memory of her.” She poured the oil to memorialize him, but he says to remember her.

Have we remembered her?  She is a prophet of God who proclaims by sign act* the future king of Israel. She foretells his impending death by preparing his body for burial. And she establishes her gender as useable by God in momentous times.

She is Mary, the woman who anointed Jesus.

*Sign acts were pantomimes that carried a prophetic message or warning to those watching.

References:

Dr N. T. Wright, Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis, St John’s College, Durham,   September 4, 2004. http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Women_Service_Church.htm.

Susan Miller, The Woman who Anoints Jesus (Mk 14.3-9): A Prophetic Sign of the New Creation, 2006.

When spurs leave you bleeding and jumpy…

Pixabay: Denver Colorado Statue Monument Cowboy Horse Sky

Pixabay: Denver Colorado Statue Monument Cowboy Horse Sky

I have a history with spurs. I’ve been kicked and prodded by well-intentioned Christians hoping to change my direction. Those spurs hurt. I fear them. They leave me confused. I lose my sense of direction and purpose. I thought I was walking the straight and narrow until a sharp jab startles me into flight, and I take a nose dive off the path.

“Spur one another on!” They use Hebrews 10:24 as justification for their punch in my gut. They don’t notice the direction their kick launched me.

Yet Hebrews tells us to apply the spurs to stimulate each other to love and good works. This has never made sense to me, I’ll be honest. The word translated spur or stimulate here means to incite or irritate. When I get irritated, love is not my go-to response, let me tell ya.

Something similar happened to Barnabas. Paul seriously did not trust Mark who had quit the work with Paul once before.  Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance.

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Acts 15:39

So much for provoking the love. That word for sharp disagreement is the same one the author of Hebrews (interestingly, there is a good case it was Barnabas!) used as spur or provoke. They spurred each other in opposite directions. And frankly, that is my response to spurs.

Yet, in Hebrews, the follow up thought to this provoke is to come together with encouragement (Heb. 10:25). I guess the early church had given up on each other.

I wonder if those spurs had anything to do with it?

Today’s church-dropping habit

We are seeing the same thing happen today. People are giving up meeting together. Some people think this is a big problem. Some people have lots of answers:

It’s not really happening.

Its the fault of a watered down message.

We need more authenticity.

They just don’t believe its true.

I’m not going to add my opinion here.

What I am going to do is ENCOURAGE those still faithfully attending church …

…to lay off the spurs.

When you hear someone has stopped going to church, please don’t provoke them. Please try not to be irritating. Please don’t add to their pain or frustrations. Don’t poke them with promises to pray.

Instead, be a soothing balm. Build up your relationship with them regardless of your own disappointment. YOU hang out with them, and not to preach the Bible at them, but simply to BE with them. Love them – that doesn’t mean tell them everything they are doing wrong in the guise of truth. It means enjoy who they are! Encourage them – not to follow your understanding of Biblical instruction – but to be brave enough to explore their soul. Together. And do this together.

Do not give up on being together, but encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:25)

Its time to stop hurting others in the name of doing good.

Hot Diggity Dog! What’s the meat in Ephesians 5:21-33?

I am rabbit trailing off my series exploring the Problem Passages in the Bible surrounding gender roles in family and ministry. This article will step back from the single verse by verse study, and examine the differences of interpretation for the overall passage at the end of Ephesians 5. A great difference between Egalitarian and Complementarian interpretation is not just who should submit and what “head” means, but how to understand the broader literary structure.

Modern academic, instructional writing always begins with introduction to the topic. Reading the first paragraph or the first sentence of the paragraph will let you know what the whole is about. It is natural for our modern eyes to start at the beginning and expect to understand the point quickly. But this is the modern tendency. It is not the rule of the ancient pen.

Instruction, in ancient writ, often placed the meat in the middle with embellishment on either side for emphasis. Like a sandwich. This literary device is called a chiasm, and it is often overlooked when interpreting Biblical text. Brad McCoy writes that “a recognition of chiastic structure leads the interpreter properly to appreciate the pivotal function and the emphatic importance of that central thought unit. (page 10)”

So, when studying Ephesians 5:21-33, it is natural to begin at the beginning and to expect the point to follow the introduction. The main point then being, marriage, with the wife as its introductory focus. It would be easy to conclude that since the wife was introduced first, her role is most important. The correlating and back up point  follows: the husband’s role as head. Because Christ’s relationship with the church is buried in the middle, it is easy to assume that these truths prop Paul’s instruction for marriage described at the beginning and conclusion, with the focus being on the importance of each spouse’s specific roles.

But lets view this passage instead as a chiasm. We must search to the middle to find the point, and use the repeated and reversed (parallel) beginning and end as supporting explanations. Interpreting the verses from the pivotal message at its center subtly shifts the emphasis to the union of the church and its Savior through the metaphor of the body and its head.

What’s the meat, then?

Digested as a chiastic sandwich, Ephesians 5:21-33 is about the body becoming entitled to eternal life by the unity with the head, which is Christ. The husband then, as head like Christ, should invest likewise in his own body – his wife. Love was the motivation behind Christ’s sacrifice, and the husband is pointed to an identical action. There would be no body unless it agreed to join with the head so that it could obtain the head’s  inheritance and rights, mainly eternal life. Likewise, the wife submits to the union with her head as the vehicle by which the head’s inheritance and rights become her own. The goal of marriage then, is to mimic the relationship of the head and body of Christ and the church, primarily through the action of the head/husband. chiastichotdogeph5 copy John Paul Heil ties the chiasm in this chapter to the broader chiastic structure displayed in the entire book of Ephesians which propels the theme of  Christ empowering the church to glorify God. It is “the self-sacrificial love of Christ himself that empowers the “church” to be “glorious,” thus further developing Paul’s doxology that to God be “glory” in the “church…(3:21).” Ephesians : Empowerment to Walk in Love for the Unity of All in Christ (p. 247)  This “serves as the motive and model not only for believers to love one another (5:1-2), but also for husbands to love their wives (5:25).” (p. 248)

Starting with the meat in the middle reveals a slight emphasis change to the head’s empowering of the body by loving union. This understanding melds perfectly with the ancient laws surrounding gender and marriage. Paul was instructing husbands to treat their wives the same as they were treated in Roman culture- with the full inheritance and rights of paterfamilias. Christian wives, as part of the body of Christ, have the full privelegdges as the head (Christ), why should she not be treated as her male Christian counterparts?

More reading on the chiastic structure of Ephesians 5:21-33

Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33 by Marg Mowczko

Is Marriage Really an Illustration of Christ’s Relationship with the Church? Part 2 by Kristen Rosser

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 430 other followers