Tuesday, October 31, 2023

A Halloween Invitation

We're using this week to bring together some of the things we've been talking about for the past little bit in this space about the intersection of faith and culture and how to engage the world without entertaining it. Halloween is a great example of all of these things. So here we are.

We said yesterday that Halloween is a time in which the roles are a little bit reversed - the world is more open than it usually is, and it's the church that has historically been more closed. 

So the question is: what do we do with today? 

Do we dress up? Do we take our kids trick-or-treating? Do we hand out candy? Do we hand out tracts? Do we give candy to kids in costumes we think are appropriate? Do we have a dialogue about the devil? Obviously, we know that we don't summon demons, involve ourselves in the occult, or the like. But beyond that, what is a Christian to do on Halloween?

Simply put, have fun. 

Yup. I said it. Have fun. Go out and do whatever it is that is fun for you, as long as it honors God. Want to dress up? Dress up. Pick your costume wisely, then dress up. Want to welcome trick-or-treaters? Flick your porch light on and grab a bowl of candy. Bonus points if you have something for the adults, too. Want to take your little ones out? Take them out. (Bundle up - it's cold this year, at least where I live.) 

We spend so much of our time trying to figure out what we think God would approve of or not approve what, what is "good" or what is "right" or what is "appropriate" for a Christian that we think that these are the things God is looking at, too. We have created Him in our image and though we usually start by believing we care about the things He cares about, it isn't long before we are convinced He cares about the things we care about. Which is how we got to the place where we're afraid to have fun because heaven forbid God see us enjoying ourselves on "the devil's holiday" or whatever. 

You know what I think God sees when He looks out across the overwhelming majority of cultural Halloween celebrations? 

I think He sees what I said yesterday - a world that is more open than it is on any other day of the year. Literally any other day. 

He sees neighborhoods with porch lights on and front doors open, ready to welcome even the strangers. He sees candy and trinkets freely given. He sees sidewalks with friendly faces, even hidden behind masks sometimes. There's something about Halloween - if you see a glove dropped on the sidewalk on any other day, you think how unfortunate it is that someone lost their glove. On Halloween, when everyone is out and about (and those who aren't are in and welcoming), you pick up that glove and you walk around looking for a one-gloved neighbor who might have dropped it. You'll carry that thing around all night. 

Demons and devils and ghosts and the paranormal and whatever else aside, Halloween brings out the best in us as neighbors. As brothers and sisters. As fellow human beings. 

We betray ourselves sometimes in how worried we get about a day that is so open like this - all the time we spend talking about whether someone's going to put drugs or needles or who-knows-what-else in our kids' candy, mapping out where all the sex offenders (or just creepy folks) live, doing all that we can to make this wide open world feel comfortably small for us. 

But I think when God looks at it, He sees how wide open it is. And He rejoices. I think He rejoices! On this, the so-called "devil's holiday," the world seems to be getting it more right than on any other day of the year. Isn't that ironic? But I think God rejoices that at least we're getting it right. 

And I think He wants His people to participate. He wants us to be here for it. He wants us to show up and be neighborly on the day when, finally, the whole world is being neighborly. 

You don't have to evangelize today. You don't have to drop tracts. You don't have to preach. Let your love and neighborliness do the preaching. Seriously. Just be present. 

Because a crazy thing happens when we take advantage of open doors without barging through them - we start to establish the kind of relationships that lead to all of that other stuff later. And more naturally. We get to know the folks we haven't known before, even the ones who live right on our street. And as we get to know them, they get to know us. And they can see something in us. They can see something in us that maybe they want to know more about. We become less of a mystery to them, and them to us. And we start finding opportunities to be neighborly more than once per year. And that is how the message of God truly spreads. 

Today's the day. 

So what are we, as Christians, supposed to do with it? Go have fun. Embrace the openness of the world. Rejoice. 

And...be slightly amused. Because even though it kind of looks like it, the truth is that the world doesn't have as much of a monopoly on this day as they think.  

Monday, October 30, 2023

A Prime Example

We've been talking for a bit about culture, the world, and the church and how exactly we're supposed to engage without entertaining, while also evangelizing (often without words) and keeping our hearts pure. And if that's all got your head spinning, well...this is a great week for it. 

Because we can pull a lot of these things together - and even go deeper - with a little thing called "Halloween." 

Ah, Halloween. A day that has been dividing Christians and the world for quite a long time. Or so. 

The Christian fear is that Halloween is a day of devil worship. It's a day for demons. It's a day for celebrating everything that is dark and demonic and the antithesis of everything that Jesus lived for. It's a day when the world sets itself on fire and dances in our faces, flaunting everything that we've worked so hard to eradicate. Celebrating wickedness and debauchery. 

There are witches, for crying out loud. Didn't God say something about not having witches?

We don't know what to really do with Halloween sometimes. On one hand, we don't want to celebrate what the world celebrates. We don't want to participate in the paranormal, in the ghost hunts, in the ouija boards, in the summonings. And for several generations, the church has simply chosen not to participate. 

The church has chosen to sit this one out. The church has chosen to raise its children to not celebrate this day, this devil's day. This holiday of the world. We have taught our children that it's just no good and that God doesn't like it and so we don't do it. 

On the other hand, as Halloween has continued to develop culturally over the years, it's...fun? It's a great opportunity for fellowship. There are parties with fun costumes, a chance to get lighthearted with ourselves and with those we love. There are fun games like bobbing for apples. There are opportunities to knock on neighbors' doors (or have them knock on yours) that we haven't met before or that we don't spend enough time with. The little cartoon ghost cut-outs, the black cats, the hand-carved jack-o-lanterns are cute. And they're fun. And we want to have fun. 

The whole world seems open on Halloween in ways that it's just not on any regular day on the calendar. The world is open, and it's the church that has historically been closed. It's this weird sort of thing because on the major two holidays on our calendars - Easter and Christmas, which the world celebrates right along with us (although in different ways) - it's the church that is open and draws the world in. But on Halloween, it's the world. 

Can we get drawn in?

Is it okay with God if we get drawn into something that the world is doing? Is it consistent with our Christian values to dress up and ring doorbells, or to flick on our porch light and hand out candy? Can we go to a party? Can we put a giant skeleton in the yard? (I hear the 12-foot skeleton is the thing this year.) Can we carve a pumpkin? 

*Okay - slight interjection. I have seen some stuff going around on social media for a few years about how we, as Christians, are just like jack-o-lanterns because God comes along and scoops out our icky insides, carves a new smile on our face, and puts a light in us for us to shine. Puke me some pumpkin guts, folks. If you've been around this blog for any length of time, you know how I feel about the church trying to "baptize" culture. If you haven't been here for long, know this: I hate it. It's junk theology. 

Anyway - can we? What do we, as Christians, do with Halloween? Obviously, we can't summon demons or invoke the name of the devil. That's foolishness. But is anything else on the table?

Do you see how this question relates so much to the things that we've been talking about for several weeks already? Well, we'll put some skin on it in the coming days. 

The short answer is...there's a lot more to even culture's Halloween than you probably realize.  

Friday, October 27, 2023

A Conversation

Loving fellowship, laughing with those who laugh, crying with those who cry, and being present is enough. It is. I grieve when I think about how many in the church believe that it isn't evangelism unless you have a conversation about Jesus and salvation. Brothers and sisters, let me be clear - loving one another is evangelism. Jesus said plainly, they will know we are Christians by our love for one another. Not by how good we are at having a conversation about Jesus. 


I think sometimes, it's important to have the conversation. It's important to talk about the things that we believe and know and understand, in contrast to the things that may be presented by our encounters in life.

Now, there's a very important caveat buried in here. And that caveat is that we have conversations that stem from what we're actually engaging in, not from the whole grand giant scheme of all things Christ and salvation. 

There's a certain ethic that wants to say, okay, I engaged in your thing, now, you engage in mine. I watched your show/movie/listened to your music, so now, it's time for you to hear me out about something that's important to me. And then, we try to launch into a grand narrative about everything we know about Christ, leading to severe conviction of sin and hopefully, repentance. I don't think the track record of this kind of "evangelism" really pans out. 

I think bringing someone to Christ, or at least to an understanding of Him, is a much slower process that happens across several conversations, not just one. 

So, for example, this tv show that my niece said I definitely wouldn't like because I'm "very Christian" describes itself as having an underlying theme of the Antichrist. Or an antichrist. Or whatever. So it would be rather natural for me, while watching the show or after watching it, to have a conversation with my niece about the biblical truth about the Antichrist, what it represents, how it plays a role in my theology, and so forth. I don't have to talk about Jesus. I don't have to talk about salvation. I don't have to talk about anything but what's been offered to talk about - but I can provide her an alternative perspective on a biblical truth than what Hollywood, having hijacked the idea, can come up with. I can start to introduce her to another story. 

And that's all it really takes - an introduction. Introduce the story. Use a touchpoint from culture, from your engagement. The questions may naturally flow from there. Or maybe a simple seed has been planted and the questions come much later. Maybe we have that conversation and it turns into a dialogue. Or maybe we have that conversation, and six years from now, my niece comes back to me and says, "Hey, do you remember that time we talked about the antichrist? I was thinking..." Whatever happens, it's fine. 

And, it should be said, her biggest memory of that moment will be that we were in it together. 

I hope. 

This is the kind of talking we just need to get better at. This natural kind of talking. 

To spin it another way, a parent in my local city's chat recently asked about a Christian magician who came to our town. Their kid had come home with free tickets, but they were afraid of being "evangelized" and having Jesus "shoved down their throats" if they attended the performance, but their kid really wanted to go. So they were asking about just how much Jesus this magician incorporated into his show. 

My response? Go to the show. If the Jesus aspect of it is not what your family is into, have that conversation with your kid about what you believe and why and how it's different and what's important about it for you.

We've gotten so afraid as a people of engaging anything that doesn't 100% line up with what we already believe, and most of us couldn't articulate what we believe or why any more. But we should be having these conversations. We should be able to have these conversations. They are important. And they are part of being able to engage the culture around us, even if we only ever have the conversation with ourselves. 

Fellowship is enough. It is. Being present is enough. Loving one another is enough. But sometimes, there's an opportunity to talk, too. And when there is, we must be ready to be thoughtfully engaged.   

Thursday, October 26, 2023

With Those Who Laugh

Our culture - and those we love - gives us plenty of opportunities to engage in things that, in our private life, we would never choose for ourselves. As we saw a couple of days ago, the long-standing Christian tradition has been to vocally protest, to stand against things, but this only gives our culture reason to know us only by what we are against. Or maybe, like we saw yesterday, we participate, but we do so with a grumbling spirit, making sure that anyone who might see us knows that we don't want to be here and we would never do this on our own. But, as we said, that isn't really any better. Nor is either the way of Jesus. 

So what, then, do we do? 

There are Christians who whole-heartedly just affirm everything they get into in the world. They call it "love," but it is no such thing. We don't need to spend a whole lot of time talking about what Jesus would say here - because we know that while He loved everyone, He refused to leave them as they were. He didn't just take things as they already came; He always sought to make them better. More holy. More of what they were intended to be. 

Which leaves us back at the question - what do we do?

And I think, we do what love invites us to do. 

We go into the places and engage in the things that love tells us to engage in. And that doesn't mean that we have to enjoy them - though not enjoying them is not a reason to grumble, either. And that doesn't mean that we affirm them - our presence is an affirmation of the one we love, not the thing we happen to be doing. And that doesn't mean that we don't continue to guard our hearts. Certainly, we must remain mindful of the things that we let become part of our lives, even in a temporary sense. Even in the name of love. 

Here's my approach, and take it for whatever it's worth: I have a lot of opportunity to engage in media that isn't my thing. TV shows, movies, music. Whatever. I've even had a couple of folks very excitedly show me some Tik Tok videos. It is what it is. If you were to set up a camera to follow me around all the time, you would find that I would never choose any of these things for myself. They aren't my thing. They aren't the kind of thing my heart is really into. 

But these are my people. These are my folks. These are the ones God has given me (see Jesus's prayer in John). And for that reason, I engage the media. There is nothing unclean in this world for me. 

And while I'm engaging the media, I laugh. I dance. I cry. I hug. Whatever it moves the person I love to, I'm right there with them. 

I'm not laughing because I think it's funny. If you watch me, I'm rarely even watching the media; I'm watching the one I love. And I'm laughing because they are laughing. Because I love watching and hearing them laugh. Because I love that they have joy. I'm dancing not because this music is my jam or because I'm particularly into it, but because the person I love is dancing, and I love that for them. I do! I love seeing them get their groove on and let go of themselves and just have fun. So...let's dance. 

See, in anything that culture invites us to engage, there is a fellowship opportunity. There is a one anothering. There is something about it that draws us closer to someone made in God's image, a brother or sister (by blood or not) that we are called to love. 

Jesus knew it. 

And that's enough for me. 

My niece thinks I won't enjoy this television show she was talking about. She's probably right - I probably wouldn't enjoy it. But I would enjoy being with her. I would enjoy watching her enjoy it. I would enjoy the opportunity to engage with her as she enjoys it. 

And there's not a single dot or tittle in the Bible that is against that.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Attitude Adjustment

As we think about engaging the world without entertaining it, and we establish that there is nothing in this world that is unclean for us, the next thing we really have to look at is our attitude while we're busy engaging the world. 

It's tempting for us to want to try to protect our reputation even while we're out doing the kind of loving that God has called us to. It's important to us that the rest of the world, whoever might accidentally see us, understand that this is not a place we are choosing to be because it's the kind of place we like, so we like to make a big show about not being part of the things we are, ironically, actively doing at the moment. 

I remember many years ago, a friend was talking about how embarrassed she was when she would walk out of the local liquor store with "that brown bag." She made it a point to let everyone know that she was only there to buy cooking wine (or whatever kind of alcohol she was using) and that she really just loves to cook. Then, she'd have long conversations with you about how much she loves to cook and her favorite recipes and how, exactly, she plans on using the alcohol...and how many recipes' worth that bottle would actually be. 

In case, you know, you get the wrong idea about her because she walked out of a liquor store with "that brown bag." 

It's humorous, but we're doing this sort of thing all the time. In the case of what started this conversation, maybe I choose to watch that television show with my niece - the one she's certain I won't like because I'm "very Christian." It's tempting for a lot of Christians to sit there and watch the movie or the tv show or whatever it is and point out everything they don't like about it. Point out every scene that is not wholesome. Wax eloquent about how God's way is so much better than this way and how what they're showing on the screen isn't as enticing as it seems. 

We make it a point, in other words, to engage whatever the world is asking us to engage, but to be extremely vocal the entire time about how much we are not enjoying ourselves. Just so no one gets the wrong idea. 

But if you go into a cultural engagement with the intent to judge it, if you go in having to protect your own reputation to the point that you're so vocal about your displeasure, if you spend all of your time in the world grumbling about the world, you're not really helping your case. You're no better than a Christian who refuses to engage at all.

Actually, I'm just going to say it - you're worse. 

The world has had enough of us looking down our noses at it, like we are so much holier than they are. The world has had enough of us pretending to come alongside them, but refusing to leave our judgment at home. 

No, you don't have to like the tv show or the movie or the bar environment or the brothel. But neither do you have to sit there and speak judgment over it. And if you can't help yourself, then just leave. Because you're not doing anyone any good - least of all, God. 

This is something we don't see Jesus do. We don't see Jesus engage a place - actively, openly, responding to an invitation, seeking a sinner engage a place - just to go in and grumble about it. Just to go in and pass judgment on it. Just to make a point to everyone watching and listening that this place is beneath Him and He'd rather be literally anywhere else. He never makes loving someone seem like a chore. He never makes it seem unenjoyable. 

Rather, we see Jesus relaxing with sinners. Breaking bread with them. Laughing. Grieving. Fully entering in, even while His heart is breaking for what this world is doing.

That's the kind of example we need to follow. That's the way we need to be while we're in these places. Fully and wholly there, even if our heart is breaking. Even if it's not the world we want to live in. 

Because it is the world we live in, and if we look right next to us, what we'll see is a fellow image-bearer for whom this little sliver of the world that so breaks our heart is all they know of it. 

Until, of course, we entered in. (I hope.)


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Nothing Unclean

If we're going to talk about engaging the culture without entertaining it, like Jesus did, then we have to start by throwing off some of the myths and heavy burdens that Christianity has bought into for far too long about just what the tough places in this world mean. 

There are many Christians who believe they should never step foot in a bar. They wouldn't be caught dead in a brothel. There's no way they're going to a Pride parade. Too many Christians wouldn't even go to the hospital with a drug addict. Heck, we aren't even visiting the mentally ill without addictions. 

What I'm saying is - Christianity has drawn its lines. 

And we have justified those lines by drawing them even thicker with temptation. We can't go anywhere where we might be tempted into sin. Or might be caught up in it against our will. (Like, for example, if the police were to raid the drug house you're visiting a struggling brother in while you're there and you accidentally go to jail for a bit because of your mere presence there.) 

We put all kinds of language around this. "Living above reproach," which is fancy language for, "What would other people say if they knew I was in a place like this?" "Guarding our hearts," which is fancy language for, "My own dirt might get exposed in a broken place." We could go on and on. The point is - we have drawn our lines and declared our justifications. 

But what it really boils down to is...we don't like unclean places. And we want to feel "safe." 

And these lines and justifications are so engrained in most of us that we can't even fathom going into the broken places because these voices just start shouting really loudly in our heads. We have all of the rationales, and when someone suggests that we go into the broken places, we're sure that God wouldn't want us to do that. We're certain that God's the one who put up these "hedges of protection."

He didn't. 

In fact, if you look at the Scripture, God says just the opposite. A lot. 

Jesus Himself said that it's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. And even though we live in an age where we go to the doctor, the majority of human history has had doctors who come to you. So Jesus could not fathom a doctor who would not go where the sick were. It's why He had lunch with so many sinners. 

Even beyond that, Jesus also said that it's not what is outside of you that makes you unclean, but what is inside you. What gets into your heart. What you let become part of the core of your soul. He was talking about food and about washing hands and so forth, but the truth is the same for the places we go in this world. There is nothing inherently unclean about walking into a bar; it doesn't sully your soul just to be there. If you let the culture get into you and find yourself drinking too much alcohol, that's a problem. But just being there is the same principle - it's not where you are that makes you unclean; it's what your heart is doing there. (So, of course, if your heart is loving one another there, then it does not make you unclean.)

And then, God lowered a sheet from heaven to show Peter that he could eat anything in this world - even the stuff that used to be unclean. This was because Peter needed to go into places that didn't practice the same kosher diet that the Jews did, and it was a point of possible tension between Peter and those he was going to share the message with. If he went into these places and pretended that he was so distinct from them, so far separate that they couldn't even share the same table, no one would ever hear the Good News when he spoke it. The same is true for us. If we keep trying to tell the world that we're so distinct from them that we can't even eat together - that we can't be in the same spaces around the same places - they aren't going to care what we have to say. They won't hear because they won't be listening. 

If this is the example God has given us and Jesus Himself has set, then we must break out of our rationalizing mindset and realize that no, there is nowhere in this world that we can't go. More than that, there is nowhere in this world that God wouldn't have us go if there is someone there who needs His love. 

That's step one. 

(And yes, of course, it is important to understand our limitations as broken, fallen human beings. If you can't personally go to a bar without succumbing to the temptation of an excess of alcohol, then don't go to a bar. Don't go to places on the outside that you know you are susceptible to letting get inside your heart/soul.) 

Monday, October 23, 2023

Engaging the World

Over the long weekend, my niece and I were talking about a television show that she said she really likes. I confessed that I had never seen it and asked what it was about, and she responded with a kind of timid, "You wouldn't like it...." When I asked why she thought I wouldn't like it, she said, "Because you are, uhm, very Christian." 

After a quick second to gather myself, I simply said, "I don't think that means what you think it means." 

My niece has grown up in, and still inhabits, what Christians would generally refer to as "the world." That is, she hasn't really been exposed to church or to Christianity. She hasn't had a lot of close contact with the faith. So what she believes about Christianity is largely shaped by stereotypes, many of which are still being portrayed in popular media. And, of course, probably TikTok. Or whatever. (I'm not really all connected in that way.) 

But it grieved me to hear her say that her understanding of Christianity is shaped by what Christians oppose. The things they can't engage with. The things they won't engage with. The things they sit back and judge and condemn. 

Are we really still living in a world that has this understanding of us?

For me, the faith has never been about the untouchable things. It's never been about judging or condemning the things the world is into. Rebuking them sometimes, sure. Proving them wrong when necessary, absolutely. But not just outright condemning things and refusing to engage. 

I can't think of a single time that Jesus ever said, "That's too sinful. I'm out." Although we do see Him not succumbing to the lowest common denominator Himself. 

That is, He engaged, but He didn't entertain. 

And then, even through the example of Peter, God showed us that nothing in this world is unclean. At least, not in the terms that we should say, "I'm not going there." 

As I reflected on this, which on the surface seemed so simple to me, I realized it was not actually so simple at all. 

On the one hand, I want to live a faith that shows my niece - and the rest of the world - that there's nothing I'm afraid to engage. There's nothing I'm afraid to get my hands dirty with. There's nothing I'm afraid to touch. There's nothing in this world that is "off-limits" in terms of where I can go to meet human beings who bear the image of God in them. 

This is the kind of Christianity that isn't afraid to be seen in a bar, though it wouldn't be drinking to excess. It's the kind of Christianity that walks boldly into a brothel, not to buy a woman, but to free her. It's the kind of Christianity that is somehow there when the addict ODs, but won't ever put a needle in its own arm. This is an important part of what it means to be a Christian, for me - it's being in the dirty, broken, discarded places when a fellow image-bearer needs a brother or sister. 

So let's watch this television show you're really into, kiddo. The one you think I won't be able to tolerate because I'm "very Christian." 

But in the very second that I was thinking this thought, I realized that it's not so easy. 

Because at the same time that I want to show that Christianity doesn't need to shelter itself from the world, I realize that if I look too much like the world that she knows, she will never understand the value of the Christian faith. She will never understand what it really means to be a Christian. She will go from an understanding of Christianity that looks so dramatically different from the world (on purpose) to an understanding of Christianity that looks completely the same as the world. 

And if the faith looks the same as the life without faith, what does that tell the world about Christ? 

It's a tough line to engage. A really tough one. How do you live a set-apart, holy life while engaging a secular world? How do you make that meaningful - both for the world and for the faith? 

We'll dive into this over the next few days and see if we can tease some things out. Because actually, it's more tangled even than this.... 

Friday, October 20, 2023

God's Language

As always, there is an easier way to understand the Bible than attempting to contextualize it according to whatever the prevailing political winds happen to be (and in fact, that's what we've been doing - trying to make the Bible more "politically correct," as if Jesus ever cared about such a thing). 

It goes against everything the world tries to tell us about what it means to be humans living in a particular time in a particular place. It goes against what we think we understand about this thing called "culture." It goes against the message that has been so beaten into our heads on account of contextualization for so many years. 

But it lines up perfectly with everything that we know about God. 

So what is that other way? 

That other way is to believe that God wrote a timeless Word that speaks to us in our own culture in exactly the way that He intended it to without us needing to contextualize it at all. That other way is to believe that our eternal God, Creator of all things, is capable of providing a message for us that doesn't change based on culture. 

Now, the immediate objection to this is, "Well, Aidan, I hear what you're saying, but someone had to translate the Bible for us from Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic into English, and at the point that that happened, it became a cultural product necessarily tied to a specific people, time and place. We can't just ignore that." 

We are not ignoring that. Rather, what we are saying is that it doesn't really matter. What we are saying is that God used that translator to produce this good in the format He wanted us to have. You know, the same way that He used human beings in the first place to produce a Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic good. 

It's a really hard argument to make if you try to say that God inspired the authors of the original Scriptures, but did not inspire the translators just the same. It says something about what you believe about God, and it says quite a bit about what you believe about men. 

Okay, so maybe you accept this point, but it leads only to the next natural question: if God used those translators to give us the Scriptures as we have them, then who am I to say that He's not using the contextualizers to give us the scriptures they're trying to give us? 

Quite simply put, the answer is straightforward: today's contextualizers are taking us further away from the Gospel Jesus, not closer to Him. 

For centuries, the translations that have arisen have been rather close to what the original languages suggest. But no longer are we satisfied just translating language; now, we're trying to translate culture. And in doing so, we are changing the contexts of persons and peoples and the very message of Christ. We are twisting things to make them make sense, not just to make them reflect our language but also to reflect our common ethic. 

And if there's one thing God doesn't care about, it's what the world thinks is right. 

But here we are. 

Which is why I can confidently say that the God who created us male and female is not inspiring a new generation to make His Word gender neutral. The God who created a woman out of a man and gave the two to one another is not inspiring a group of academics and cultural "experts" to declare that male and femaleness do not matter. The God who sent His Son not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, is not now inspiring a whole new generation to abolish it. 

And, I would add, the God who deliberately wrote women into His Story at every major turning point - Sarai, Miriam, Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Phoebe, Lydia, and many others - did not send a team of high-brow academics to "uncover" the "missing" women in the Bible. He already told us plainly that they were right there. 

So that's it. That's my proposal. My proposal is that the easier way is to believe that our eternal God is capable of giving us a timeless work that may have to be translated as languages change, and can be done so by inspired translators the same as the original works were created by inspired authors, but it's a timeless work that doesn't have to be contextualized. 

Because culture has never dictated what truth is. 

Only God has. 

Only God can. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

A Human Experience

We've gone from contextualization with our Bible through feminism and the addition of women into the Scriptures to a gender neutral understanding of the Bible where male and female don't matter at all, and that brings us to the crux of the argument that these gender-contextualizing folks want to make: 

Marriage cannot be limited to only the union between a man and a woman. 

That's a cultural understanding, they say, and culture has changed. That may be how it was in the patriarchal societies of biblical times, but it's not how things are today. That may have been important when virgin daughters were of high economic value and when homosexual relationships were often coercive and abusive, but this is the Twenty-First Century! We don't live in that world any more. 

But if the Bible is gender neutral, if it never really means to identify us as male or female, then it has no ground to stand on in saying that a man leaves his family to cling to his wife. Or vice-versa. In fact, if what happened in the Garden very early on is that God created nothing more than a "helpmeet" for Adam, then what God declared - it's not good for man to be alone - holds whether man finds companionship in a woman or in another man. 

Do you see how the slippery slope of just starting with saying that the biblical culture is outdated for our time got us to the point that culture wants to make? 

This is how the world thinks it destroys the faith. It slowly, quietly, deliberately changes the definitions that Christianity has taken for granted for thousands of years, and then it throws them back in our faces and taunts us, saying that we aren't even living the way that the Bible would want us to live. Then, it prooftexts our Bible for us, through its own lens of contextualization, and shows us that we must be wrong. 

And if we're wrong about that, what else are we wrong about?

It's this kind of understanding - this feminist-turned-gender-neutral contextualization - that has also led the world to hijack other words, words like "love" and "tolerance," and tell us that we're getting those wrong, too. It's this kind of contextualization that has led them to a Jesus who indiscriminately not only loves everyone, but approves of every single thing they do as an expression of that love. A Jesus who has no standards. A Jesus who issues no calls to repentance. 

A Jesus whose Cross is shameful, not victorious. How can it be victorious if there's nothing to gain victory over?

But by the logic the world has followed, starting with the "academic" ventures of a small group of Christians, there is no other logical conclusion. It naturally comes to this point. This makes absolute sense. 

Because if the Bible doesn't say what it means to say when it comes to gender but is only culturally influenced by the time period in which it was written and if he doesn't mean he and brother includes sisters and if there really is no male or female but only companionship and helpmeet, then of course, we have a Mother God who not only tolerates, but affirms every relationship on the merits of its mutuality alone because we aren't having a gendered experience; we're all just having a human experience. There is no other logical conclusion. 

But there is another way.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Gender Neutral

In an age of feminism, we went back through our Bible and added women in wherever we saw fit, concluding that when the Bible says "he," it really means "he and she," and "brothers" means "brothers and sisters." And once we did that, we had a whole slew of persons trying to turn biblical gender on its head who started referring to God as "Mother God" and using the pronoun "she." 

And it didn't take long from there before we decided that really what we were saying was that the Bible is actually gender-neutral. That is, it never actually intends to identify anyone as male or female or make reference to men or women specifically. Never. 

We went on to declare that the Bible was a book written to human beings, neither male nor female, but simply human and that every story must be taken on its human merits, regardless of whether we think - in our narrow-minded, patriarchal understandings - that the main character is "male" or "female." 

And while we're on the subject, didn't Paul say exactly this somewhere in the New Testament? Why, he did! Paul said that in Christ, "there is no male or female." So, there you have it. More proof that the Bible was intended to be gender neutral. And if not the Bible, at least God Himself is gender-neutral. 

When God looks at us, these contextualizers conclude, He doesn't see male or female; He just sees human being. 

Except...that's not what God said. 

That's not even what the Bible says. 

That's not even what Paul actually said, even though he did use those words. (Funny how contextualizers want to take this specific passage most literally out of all of the Scriptures while attempting to say that everything else must be understood through some kind of lens.) 

Here's where the argument gets a little troublesome, mostly because it cannot help but go in a circle based on everyone's starting foundation. See, we say that the Bible is quite clear in that it says God created humankind male and female and that God declared a man would leave his family and cleave to his wife. That seems pretty clear to most of us. 

But then, these contextualizers - the same ones who take Paul 100% literally to prove their point - come through and say, yes, the Bible says that, but only because that's the type of society they lived in. Even those passages, they say, must be contextualized for the society that we live in. We can't just read the words; we have to break them up and determine what they mean.

Then, we say that they mean that there are two genders that God created and created for each other and that somehow, that is important to our experience as human beings, but then, they say that it can't mean that. It just can't. 

So we argue in circles, and it gets us nowhere. For either side. 

So we point out that God's creation of woman was a distinct separate act from His creation of man. That Adam named woman as something distinct from himself, so even from the very beginning, he recognized an important difference between himself and the woman. 

Then, they come back and say that Genesis was written later than the first few days of creation and the culture that wrote it had established definitions of male and female culturally, so of course, they would word the account in such a way that it looks like two distinct things were created on those days, but in fact (here's where they get you), what God created for Adam was nothing more than a "helpmeet" - a helper - and that doesn't give us qualifying information about gender. We only get gender when we implant culture on top of it. 

So we're back to our circle again. Because what seems plain to one side seems an absolute distortion to the other (in both directions), and there's nothing we can do about this. 

Which is how we ended up with an entire portion of Christianity that insists, even to this day, that the Bible is truly gender neutral and that our apparent gender has nothing to do with our creation, that God doesn't care if we're male or female, He maybe doesn't even notice. 

And that opens the door for the argument they are really trying to get at.... 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023


We're talking about contextualization of the Bible this week, which is just a fancy work for a lot of theorizing that's been done lately that claims that the Bible was a word written by a specific people in a specific time in a specific place and that if we ever hope to understand it, we have to translate those people, times, and places into our own language to get to what the Bible "means." 

And this started, really (at least in its current manifestation), with feminism. 

Feminism set out to put women on an equal par with men across the board, in literally everything that has ever existed. Women could work in the public marketplace, could dress in pants, could play contact sports...we went so far as to have women declaring their ability to pee standing up, just to say that women are equal to men in absolutely "every" respect. 

When this became the public conversation, what happened is that some folks started going back through the Bible and deciding that every time the Bible says "he," what it really means is "he and she." And when it says "brothers," it really means "brothers and sisters." 

See, what they said is that because the culture in which the Bible was written did not value women, because it was a patriarchal society (a society in which men ruled), the writers simply could have no concept of gender-inclusive language. So it's not that they were being specific to men; it's that they just weren't thinking much about women. 

In our time and day, we can fix that! So we started going back through and adding women into everything. 

This is a little complicated. On one hand, we know that Jesus had several female disciples that are very rarely mentioned in the Gospels. Yet, we know this because they are mentioned in the Gospels. We know that the first churches had numerous female leaders, a fact that sometimes gets thrown to the side in history. But, again, we know this because the Bible tells us this. The Bible even names them by name. We know that there were female prophets, even though most of the biblical record refers to the male prophets. But, once more, we know this because the Bible names female prophets for us. 

So while the feminists are screaming that there aren't women in the Bible because the cultures of biblical times didn't value them and are demanding that we insert women, especially where we know them to be, the truth of the matter is...the Bible tells us about a lot of women. By name. In very key parts of God's story. And then, just in case we missed it, names them again. 

Which means that while it might be reasonable for us to assume that there were women in places where they aren't specifically mentioned, it's unreasonable for us to say that the Bible is a patriarchal document that doesn't value women and that it needs culturally updated for our time in this regard. 

Still, we did it. We went back through and added women and sisters to all of our passages. 

And one of the first things that happened as a result of this is that it grew this entire subset of Christians, particularly feminists, who started referring to "Mother God" and using the "she" pronoun in reference to God. This is still around today - and it still creates great divides in the church. Not because God does not have mothering qualities - certainly, He does, and these are referenced frequently throughout the Scriptures. But the divide is caused because in changing the essential reference to God that has been used not just in biblical cultures, but in every Judeo-Christian culture since, we are losing something of the essence of God Himself. (Yes, I said it - Himself.) 

Not only that, but we're opening the door to keep going down this slippery slope. Because here's what happens next... 

Monday, October 16, 2023


If you've been around Christian education (even inside the church) for any length of time in the past 50 years or so, you've probably heard a lot about "contextualization" - the idea that the Bible was written for a specific people in a specific time in a specific place and that it's absolutely best for us to start deciphering that people, time, and place so that we can understand what the Bible is really trying to say, since our people, time, and place are so different from ancient Israel or 1st-Century Palestine. (See how I included both there, given what's going on in the world? We really should talk about "Israel" sometime. But not today.) 

This has been going on in academia, in the universities and seminaries, for much longer than it's been going on in the church. But, to be fair, the church has always been trying to find God's word for her and there's been no shortage of theories and ideas over the past several thousand years. 

Most of them have eventually been discarded and destroyed as heresy, but we really seem to have embraced this particular teaching of contextualization, at least for this season.

And...it's killing us. 

This is why the church is struggling. 

For thousands of years, the church has had this one thing above all others - a beautiful truth. In the face of whatever the world has wanted to throw on it, the church has had this understanding about God, His heart, His character, His love, His vision, His promise, His hope, His grace, His truth that has withstood the test of time. To be fair, it still withstands the test of time, though many in our day and age refuse to hear it or believe it. (That doesn't make it untrue or unvaluable, though.) 

But it is our very insistence on contextualization, which admittedly started inside theology, that is the source of so many of the problems that we are facing today. We created for ourselves a slippery slope, and as the world takes us sliding high-speed down it and throwing our own arguments back against us, we can't stop it. We can't backtrack unless we go all the way back to the very beginning of this quest that we were on and put up a roadblock right there. 

Or so it seems. (It's actually really complicated, which is why I thought it would be fun to write about. Buckle up.) 

Okay, so where even is the starting point, though? What is the first thing that we decided about contextualization, in our current culture, that set us down this path? 

Simply put, it's when we decided that when the Bible says, "he," it doesn't mean just men. When it says, "brother," it often means "brother and sister." It was when we decided that the language in the Bible wasn't inclusive enough for our postmodern, feminist era and decided to go writing women into every story where they weren't specifically mentioned. Because, hey, pronouns. Right? That's just a cultural thing. It's just the way they wrote back then because they valued women so little. 

But...watch this snowball....  

Friday, October 13, 2023

God Trusts

When Israel entered the Promised Land, God had this brilliant idea: He established six "cities of refuge" - places to which the innocent could run and be protected from vengeance, secure to live out their days in the goodness of God and the fellowship of brothers. And then, once God had established these cities, He took them out of the regions they naturally dwelt in, and He gave them to the Levites as their portion. He entrusted those who served Him to live out that service not just in the Temple, but in the world. 

And herein lies an extremely important truth about God: 

He trusts you. 

God knows the calling He has put on your life. He knows the heart He put inside of you. He knows your passion for His purposes. He knows everything about you, and He trusts you to carry out His good will here on earth. 

This is mind-blowing news to a lot of folks, including a lot of Christians. We spend so much of our lives thinking that we are one sin away from screwing everything up forever. We look at ourselves in the mirror and know that we've already blown it. We lie awake at night wondering how God could ever use us, how He could ever do anything at all through us, as messed up, backward, broken, and bruised as we are. 

We beat ourselves up - and do a pretty good job of it - because we don't feel like we're who God wants us to be. We feel like He's disappointed in us. We spend a lot of our time hiding, tucking ourselves away so that maybe God won't even see us. If He doesn't see us, He can't be mad, right? He can't be disappointed, right? 

We are so convinced that God regrets trying to partner with us in His work. We believe, often to the core of our being, that if He had it to do all over again, He wouldn't. He wouldn't choose us. He wouldn't put us in charge. He wouldn't let us be part of this very big thing that we made a very big mess of. 

But when we look at the cities of refuge, the heart of God just comes busting through. And that heart of God?

It trusts us. 

God knows how big refuge is. He knows how big safety is. He knows how big protection is. He knows how much His glory depends on justice, on His ability to execute something like this in His world. He knows that His very reputation depends on how well this goes, that the world is always going to judge Him - at least in part (and often a large part) - by His people. 

And still, He trusts us. 

He trusts us who serve Him, however imperfectly. He trusts us whom He has called, however reluctantly. He trusts us who are trying, however feebly. He trusts us with His glory and His reputation and His goodness and His grace in this world. And He doesn't regret it. 

Someone once said, and it's true, that God knew every mistake you were going to make before He called you, and He called you anyway. God doesn't regret His creation; He loves it. He loves us. He's delighted with us. 

And He trusts us. 

We really are part of His incredible plan. 

Thursday, October 12, 2023

God of Layered Promises

Clearly, we're in the "promises" section of our discussion about God. (And, full disclosure, as I have written this week, I feel like I have written these things before, but I can't find them and, well, this series is part of a project I'm working on.)

Our God is a God of promises. He wants us to keep even the foolish promises we make because keeping our promises says something about Him. And He keeps His promises. In fact, He keeps His promises so faithfully that He won't let us settle for less than the fullness of what He's promised us. He keeps reminding us, over and over again, when we can only see part of it, that there is oh, so much more than this. 

Today, we'll look at another characteristic of God's promise, and that is this: 

God's promise is often layered within another promise. Maybe even His promise for someone else. 

When Israel entered the Promised Land and started dividing the land, they were casting lots for who would live where. God revealed to them which territory would belong to the descendants of which son of Israel (or which of the 12 brothers, if you want to think of it that way), and then, something interesting happens:

God gives a bunch of towns to Ephraim...that lie within the territory He already gave to Manasseh. 

So picture it. God is dividing the land, and He sets aside a portion for Manasseh. And then, He comes back and says, "Okay, Manasseh, this is yours, but I'm giving some of it to Ephraim." And then, He looks at Ephraim, and He says, "This region belongs to Manasseh, but I'm giving some of it to you." 

So whose land is it? 

It's God's. 

Okay, that was the easy answer. The more complicated answer is that it's God's...and it's Manasseh's...and it's Ephraim's. And it's only glorifying to God in being both Manasseh's and Ephraim's, only in their promises from Him being intermingled like that. 

God has truly been about our togetherness from the very beginning. 

This is lost on most of us as our world keeps pressing us that our faith is our own. That what we believe is a private thing. That our relationship with God is just between us and Him. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that there's something about being connected with a church, too, but there's something wholly different about the kind of intimate interconnectedness of God's promise like is described here in the dividing of the Promised Land. 

Neither brother is complete without the other. Ephraim doesn't have a place at all unless Manasseh already holds the land, but Manasseh isn't full in the land without Ephraim. Without each other, one is homeless and the other is empty. Only together is the promise fulfilled for either of them, and together, it is fulfilled for both. 

This is just how God works. This is how God still works. Our promises are often layered within the promises of others so that both can be brought to fullness and God can be glorified. If we don't accept and embrace this, someone is homeless and someone is empty and God's goodness dwells only in shadows.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

God of Full Promises

When we read the Bible, some things happen rather quickly. The stories about the miraculous healings, for example, seem to take but a blink of an eye. Of course, we know that things never happen as quickly as we can read about them - the bleeding woman waited for her healing for twelve years. But we can still get the wrong idea. 

Thankfully, the Bible has something to say about the right idea, too. Namely, the Bible has something to say about the times when the full promise seems really far off. 

And what the Bible says is...it's still coming. 

One of the cool things about God is that He is always reminding us of the full promise even when we only have part of it. 

Early on in Israel's story, we see this a few times as Israel is set to enter the Promised Land. They start dividing the land, and God reminds them that there's more land to their promise than they are thinking about right now. They start to take the land, and they get even more excited about dividing it, and God reminds them again that there's more land to their promise than they are thinking about right now. 

At every step, when God's people are looking at all of the good things that they've got, God keeps raising their chins and calling their eyes to look out and see that...there is more even than this. 

The same is true in the Gospels. 

Jesus is the fulfillment of a lot of promises of God. If you ever take the time to go through and see just how many promises are fulfilled in the life of Christ, it's absolutely astounding. The people of the region of Galilee are, rightfully, amazed every time they see Jesus do something. All of the talk is, "Could this be the guy? Is this the Messiah? Is this happening right before our eyes the way that it looks like it is?" 

Yet, for as much good as Jesus does and for as many promises as He fulfills, even Jesus keeps lifting their chins and pointing them to the horizons. He keeps talking not about what is happening now, but what is still going to happen. He keeps pointing to the big plan - the Kingdom of God - the ultimate promise. 

There's even one point where Jesus just flat out says, "You think this is amazing? Just wait." Just wait until you see the fullness of what God has planned for you. Just wait until you see this whole glorious Kingdom come. Just wait until I come back again. 

Just wait

Because the promise is bigger than even what you see of it right now. 

And I absolutely love this about God. I love that He doesn't let our eyes look down for too long, but that He doesn't take away the joy we have at this moment, either. He doesn't diminish what is already fulfilled, but He doesn't let us settle for the smaller things.

Look up, child. The horizons stretch beyond your wildest imagination and into the deepest, most abundant, most full fulfillment of every good promise God has made. 

And He won't let you forget it. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

God of Promises

We have talked about this before, but it's coming up again in the grand scheme of all things, so it's worth repeating:

Our God is a God of promises. 

He spends a lot of the early part of His story making promises with His people, and He fulfills every single one of them. Even when His promises are meant to come to fruition some time way in the future, He still fills them. Israel waited hundreds upon hundreds of years to see a Messiah, and when He came? Every promise fulfilled. 

So, then, it is important to this God of promises that you and I keep the promises that we make, too. 

Even the foolish ones. 

We kind of talk around this idea quite a bit, trying to make wiggle room where there doesn't seem to be very much. After all, the Bible tells us not to swear any oaths, but just to say yes or no when we mean yes or no and let that be enough. Then, to be persons of our word so that everyone knows that yes and no mean something. 

But look at the Old Testament. There's this story about Israel entering the Promised Land. They are coming up against a whole bunch of foreigners, coming into new lands. And this one group of peoples gets an idea - they will pretend that they are coming from very, very far away - they will dress themselves in ragged, worn-out clothes and carry old wineskins - and then, they will come to Israel and convince them to enter into a treaty so that this people group will not be wiped out, even if they are defeated. 

And the plan works. Israel is so convinced by what they see with their eyes that they don't think it's even necessary to ask God about this one. They'll make the treaty now and deal with the fall-out later. 

But later comes more quickly than they thought it would. Actually, it comes really suddenly, as Israel realizes these are not a people from far, far away but from actually very near, and they've been tricked. 

What does God desire of His people in this situation?

Well, first, He desires that they would have come to Him before they made the promise to this people in the first place. 

But since they'd already made the promise, God's desire...was that they keep it.

It didn't matter that it was a foolish promise. It didn't matter that it wasn't what God would have wanted them to do. The only thing that matters is what God wants them to do now, and God wants them - and us - to keep promises. 

Because He always keeps His. 

Monday, October 9, 2023

God of the World

As Joshua and Israel were standing just on the edge of the Promised Land, they faced one last barrier, it seemed, to entering into God's goodness for them: the Jordan River. It looked like it was the one thing that could keep them away; they weren't looking any further ahead than the raging waters that were right in front of them. 

Of course, we know that God parted those waters and let His people walk through on dry land. Of course, we know that they landed on the other side in the shadow of really large cities that they would then have to fight. But, of course, they weren't thinking about the fight when they were thinking about the Jordan. 

It doesn't matter what cities are on the other side of the Jordan, or how big they are, if you can't even get there. 

One thing at a time, folks. 

But God was already planning for those cities. God was already planning for the other side of the Jordan.

Even though Israel might not have been watching those cities quite yet, those cities were watching Israel. And they saw God part the waters. 

That's the thing about what happens when God acts on behalf of His people - the whole world hears about it. The whole world knows. Joshua 5 tells us that all of the kings of the Amorites and the Canaanite kings in the area had heard about it. Word travels. Every single army that Israel was about to come up against knew what God had already done for His people. 

When they were wandering in the desert, everyone knew that God had parted the Red Sea for them.

We've lost sense of this in our world where we are told that your relationship with God is a private thing, a personal thing. Something that's true for you and not necessarily true for anyone else. 

We don't live in a world anymore that assumes it was God. When our world sees the miraculous, they assume there's a logical, rational, probably scientific explanation for it. Heck, we've even been going back and trying to make science out of the miracles that God performed that others did know about - like the parting of the Jordan River. Science has come out and said that it has to do with the flood season and the tides and the pull of the moon and some bizarre "natural" phenomenon...anything but God. Anything but a miracle. 

So as we go about trying to live our "quiet" lives of faith behind closed doors so that we don't offend the world, which has told us that our faith is meant to be private, what's happening is that the world isn't catching the miracles as much. They aren't noticing what God is doing. Because we're not talking about it and we're not showing it. 

But the truth is the same today as it was in the time of Joshua - when God acts, when God does the miraculous, the world notices. Everyone knows about it. Whether they're willing to admit it or not. Whether they know to call it God or not. They're talking about our miracles. They're talking about what happened. We know that they are. 

Some things just can't go unnoticed.

Friday, October 6, 2023

The Easy Thing

God requires no sweat nor snake oil. He's not waiting on us to help ourselves before He will step in. He doesn't want to be the God of last resort for us. 

But that doesn't mean He doesn't require anything at all. 

What God requires of us is that we swallow our pride and come humbly, knowing He is our only option. He requires that we come knowing that the outcome is entirely out of our control. He requires that we come putting it all on the line...and outside the lines, thinking outside the box because we know this God doesn't live in one. He requires that we know that whatever happens, it's all Him. 

And when we come like that, coming to Jesus is the absolute easiest thing we ever do for our own healing. Seriously. 

It doesn't sound easy because it requires us letting go of so much, and it doesn't sound like anything at all because we aren't actually doing anything. But coming to Jesus is something. And...it's the easy thing. 

I guarantee you that whatever hoops the priests tried to get the broken to jump through were not easy. Have you seen in the Old Testament what folks had to do for just a small spot of mold in their houses? They had to tear out that entire section, clean it, and patch it and make it new again. Just because of a little mold. Now, imagine having an actual affliction! Jesus doesn't pull out the blind men's faulty eyes, clean them, and put them back in; He just heals them.

It wasn't easy for the bleeding woman to visit a thousand doctors. It was a heavy financial investment, a lot of travel (by foot, mind you, across great distances). It was the repeated stripping of her body and exposing the fullness of her shame to someone who would treat her body as an object in whatever passed for medicine in those days, forgetting that there was a woman in that flesh. Jesus neither requires us to expose our shame nor to stand there as an object lesson. 

I don't know if you've ever been prescribed a washing, but prescription washings are too often a layman's exercise in lab chemistry. Even if someone else does the mixing for you, it's still rough. I've been bathing my little dog in a medicated shampoo for a few months, and she has to sit in the tub for 10-15 minutes with this foul-smelling concoction on her, trying not to get it in her eyes, shaking it all over the bathroom, and crying the entire time. I guarantee that Naaman's prescription to dip himself seven times in the Jordan was the easy way.

I love the way the Old Testament says this in this story - if God had asked you to do some really hard thing for your healing, wouldn't you have done it? So why won't you do the easy thing? 

The father didn't have to have any more conversations with the demons. He didn't have to beg them any more. He didn't have to try to make deals with them - and if you have a child in your life, you know you would try making a deal with the devil himself to save your child from the harsh realities of a demon possession or anything else that threatened to kill them. None of that any more. Those were the hard things. He had one conversation with Jesus, and that was the easy thing. 

Again, it's not the thing we think we want to do because it doesn't feel like doing anything, turning our healing over to God and taking it out of our own hands. But it's the only thing we really can do. Even in our own hands, we don't control the outcome, no matter how much research we do or how many good choices we make. So why not put it in the hands of the One who does have the outcome, too? 

I'm telling you, it's not the last resort and it's not nothing. It's the easy thing. And it's everything. And it's the only thing. 

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Sweat and Snake Oil

There's just something human about exhausting all of our other possibilities before we come to God for help. We saw yesterday that this was true even of the biblical characters. (We should say, however, that for many of the afflicted in the Gospels, Jesus wasn't an option...until He was, and we would probably not be wrong to assume that they had tried everything that the Temple and the priests had to offer, as well. But...priests are not God.)

There's something about human nature that just seems to be rogue and independent. That wants to engineer our own way out of things. That wants to put our best foot forward and give our everything to solving our own problems. 

There has even been, for a long part of Christian history, this pseudo-Christian, non-biblical (but biblical-sounding!) teaching that "God helps those who help themselves." That is, if you want God to help you in your life, you have to show Him that you're already doing everything you can to help yourself. You have to show how committed you are to the prayer that you want answered by demonstrating that you're doing everything you possibly can to make sure it is answered through your own strength. For too long, the Christian teaching has been "everything you've got + that little extra bit of God to get you over the hump."

We have to be clear here and say in no uncertain terms: that is not a biblical teaching. That is not a God-honoring teaching. That's not what God has ever wanted from His people. God has never put forth a teaching that says you have to give everything, then let the Cross carry you the last little bit. 

No, what God has always said is that His grace is sufficient; His sacrifice is complete. What God has for you is enough. And no matter how much your human brain wants to think that "enough" is simply bare minimum, it's actually quite full. 

Overflowing, you might say. 

Here's the thing: these folks that we see in the Bible who come to God for healing and get it? They don't get healing because God builds upon all of the things they've already done. They don't get healing because the snake oil almost worked, it just needed a little tiny touch of the holy. In fact, God - nor Jesus - ever commends someone for all that they have already given in pursuit of the healing He's about to give them. Jesus doesn't applaud the blind men for not giving up; He doesn't celebrate the bleeding woman for having driven herself into hopeless poverty in search of this very good thing. He doesn't even mention it. Ever. 

He just heals them. Fully and completely. And I'm telling you - the movement of God is not the capstone of all of our human effort. It is fullness in and of itself. It is complete without all the other thousands of things we've done before we get there. 

The bleeding woman would have been healed by Jesus if she had never spent a dime of her own money or seen a single doctor. The blind men would have received their sight if Jesus wasn't the next thing that held out any hope for them, but even if He was the only thing. The demons were not cast out because they were just one word short of leaving already; Jesus cast them out fully with that one word, start to finish. 

God doesn't want to just build on what we've already done. God doesn't expect us to lay the foundation. He says, plainly, He is the cornerstone, the first block ever laid. And because of that, the whole enterprise rests on this and this alone. All glory, grace, power, mercy, love, healing, strength, forgiveness, all of it - it is all fully and completely and wholly Him

And He doesn't require a single drop of sweat or snake oil to get it.  

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The Last Resort

When it comes to our healing, most of us will run ourselves ragged...and deep into poverty. We will chase every dream, every promise. We will buy every snake oil. We will travel great distances, listen to thousands of voices, spend millions of dollars. We will subject ourselves, and our bodies, and our souls to anything that claims to have a promise. 

And still, we too often come up short.

At this point, a lot of Christians would probably run to the Bible and point out that Jesus is the source of our healing. They would tell the stories of all the healings that God performed, in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and they would encourage us to just run to Jesus right away and be healed. Hallelujah! 

But that kind of reading - and I admit that at times in the past, I have been guilty of this very thing - miss the truth about these stories. They miss the bigger picture of human nature and brokenness. 

Because the truth is that these human characters in these miraculous healing stories...most of the time, they are just like us. 

The bleeding woman who pushed through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus's robe, whose story is told as a wild example of amazing faith...had already spent all of her money and more than a decade pursuing every doctor she could find. Every healing remedy. Every snake oil. She'd tried them all until she'd run out of every single option. Then, there's Jesus. 

The blind men who stood on the side of the road and cried out to Jesus as He passed by - that wasn't the first time in their lives they thought about being healed. That wasn't the first thing they tried. When you live a disabled life, it doesn't just pop into your head one day that maybe this new thing might heal you; you are always looking for the new thing that might heal you. Then, along comes Jesus.

The Bible tells us about a man who sat next to what was supposed to be a healing pool for years, hoping that he would be first one to touch the water, even though that meant someone else - someone else near the pool, who had to have been there for their own healing - would have had to give up their healing to move him toward his. Then, there was God.

In the Old Testament, Naaman had exhausted the depths of his own very advanced nation to try to figure out a cure for his skin disease. He was high up in the kingdom, an officer; he had access to every one of the best doctors and magicians and soothsayers and everyone else who might offer even a glimmer of hope, and he'd come up empty. Then, he goes to Israel to see the man of God. 

There's a father whose child is possessed by a demon, and the minute that father meets Jesus, he declares, "I've tried everything else."

And there it is. There we are. That's us. We've tried everything else. Then, there's Jesus. 

What if...He wasn't? 

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Controlling the Outcome

As we talk about healing this week, we introduced the topic with a true story from my experiences in healthcare. And one of the first things I think we need to recognize about that story is how easy it is for us to want to put healing into our own hands. 

This person I was talking with wanted to make an active decision. More than anything, they did not want the brokenness they faced to be driving their ship, so to speak. So it seemed to them that the best choice was the one they chose and not one that was forced on them.

And that was the entire hesitation. This person felt trapped - having to choose something in order to not have something forced upon them. But the truth about a decision like this is that being forced to choose necessarily forces the consequences upon us. No matter what this person decided, they did not particularly desire either outcome. 

If this person chose the surgery that would end the seizures, they would be forced to live with short-term memory loss. If this person chose against the surgery in favor of their short-term memory, they would be forced to live with the seizures.

Still, throughout our conversation, this person kept coming back to the idea that it was the choosing itself that was important. It was most important, in fact. It was essential to whatever road lied ahead that this person feel some measure of control over their brokenness, even if it wasn't truly healing. 

We are all tempted to do this. In fact, I think it's the easiest decision we make - the decision to decide at all. 

We believe that the best place for our decision to rest is in our own hands, and even if we're faced with a choice we would never want to make, we will cling to that choice until our weary hands give out because it gives us some feeling that we have some kind of control, even when we actually do not. 

No matter what that person chose, they did not control the outcome of their situation. They might choose the surgery, but that's no guarantee that the surgery goes smoothly or that it is even successful. They might choose against the surgery, but that's no guarantee that they don't have a fatal seizure in the next ten minutes. I would even argue that if the person had been able to listen to the doctor and choose rest, there was no guarantee that rest would be the solution, either. 

This is what is so frustrating, and often, so defeating, about the whole notion of healing to us. We can choose between options, but we still don't control the outcome. We can weigh all of the pros and cons, map out our meaning, make our peace, and choose in one direction or another, but we can't force what happens next. 

The addiction may be broken, or we may fight it with every breath for the rest of our life. The chemo may work, or it may just make our hair fall out. The surgery may be successful, or it might miss a few cells. Or we might acquire an infection in the hospital during recovery. Truthfully, we might walk out of the hospital and get hit by a bus. We just can't ever really know.

And that's really what's absolutely paralyzing for most of us. It's not that we don't like the options that are presented to us (though we might not), it's that we know - at some soul-deep level - that we never really know the outcome even if we know the probabilities. We might decide which path we start down, but we don't determine how that path develops just a few steps later. 

That's just too much for most of us. We don't do well with the unknown. We do particularly poorly with it when we try to convince ourselves that we were certain we knew the unknown before it happened...and this wasn't it.

All that our desperate need for a sense of control gets us is a deep anxiety and an unavoidable gnawing that even what we think we know isn't really knowable and no matter how tightly we clench our fists, there remain things that are out of our control entirely. 

Is there a better way? Yes, but it's not easy. (Of course, it's not.) 

Monday, October 2, 2023

Tough Choices

We have been talking about rest, and I want to transition to something else I've been thinking about - healing. We've talked a bit about healing in this space from time to time, and it's a topic I keep coming back to because, well, this world is broken and healing is something that most of us seem to be searching for quite often. 

As I thought about how I wanted to make this transition, a story came to mind that I don't think I have shared in this space, but I think it is safe to do so at this point. 

Let me preface this by saying that I have spent a good measure of time in the past decade working in healthcare. My work has taken me through three different hospital systems and two hospices, which have put me into multiple care facilities, not to mention the healthcare-related conversations that friends and acquaintances have asked to have with me on account of my having worked in these capacities. So as I share this story, protecting all of the details that I need to protect, I think it is safe to say that this story will not be discernible to the average reader, unless you by chance happen to be the other person who was in this room at the time. Thus, I don't believe I am breaking any confidences.

So here goes: 

Once upon a time, I was having a conversation with an individual who seemed to have a very large decision to make regarding their future. The person suffered from a form of epilepsy that had been progressing fairly quickly and destroying their hopes at living a normal life. The consequences of repeated seizures were already devastating and promised to only get worse as the next few weeks went on.

The doctor had come to this person with a proposal. He could fix the seizures for good through a fairly simple, though seldom-used, operation that would essentially sever parts of the person's brain so that the crossed wires would no longer be crossed because they would no longer be functional. In doing so, he said, he would stop the seizures immediately and they would never be a concern again. 

But. There was also a high probability that the surgery would irreparably damage the person's short-term memory. This person would not be able to acquire new information for the rest of their life. They would immediately forget every new person they met, every item they wanted to put on their grocery list, every direction through traffic they received. It could be a complete loss of short-term memory, although it could also be less-than-complete loss. There was a sliver of a chance, though highly unlikely, that the patient's short-term memory would not be affected at all. (Highly, highly unlikely.)

I sat with this individual for a long time, nearly two hours, as we talked through the options. The person was not happy about the idea of potentially even dying within the next six months as a result of the seizures worsening, but neither was the person open at all the idea of losing their short-term memory. The person's most beloved passion in life was movies, and as this person sat there talking about what short-term memory loss would look like in their life, they kept coming back to realizing that they could never watch and enjoy new movies again - they would forget the plot before it resolved and not be able to track even for an hour and a half through the narrative. 

Together, we wrestled with what seemed like a monumental decision for nearly those two hours and got nowhere closer to making a decision (which isn't always the point, mind you, although in this particular case, this person was literally losing time with every minute in which they did not make a decision). 

Finally, after about ninety minutes, this person stopped talking and looked straight at me and said, "There's one more thing." 

The doctor had mentioned, this person told me, that there was potentially one way to slow or even stop the seizures entirely without the surgery - all the person had to do was to incorporate more rest into their life. 

But, this person told me, that was simply "not an option." Rest, they said, was "off the table." It was "not possible."

So here we were, spending two hours wrestling with a decision that might not even be necessary if this person could somehow just find a little more space for rest in their life - but they were unwilling to even try.

Why do I tell you this story? (And this is a true story, by the way.) 

First, to help us bridge the gap between rest and healing. There is definitely a connection there. 

Second, to help us lean into the possibility that sometimes, maybe even often, healing is not as complicated as we try to make it.

Let's talk this week.