There are so many conflicting ideas out there regarding spiritual concepts of God and mankind, requirements for faith and obedience, questions about validity and truth.
I am not out to proselytize, but have my own persuasions. It has been a shocking wake-up call as a Christian to watch those persons who claim belief in Christ get on the hate bandwagon drawing upon bold ignorance and trusting in the leadership of certain men, mainly over the past 20 years. Not that these things were not apparent in the past. But the current disturbing trend of hatred toward others who are different is often at the core of my rants on here and elsewhere.
Reality is, for those who claim to believe, what exactly do you believe?
Do you trust a Jesus who never mentioned homosexuality yet is a modern-day warrior leading Christendom against gays, even to their murder? Do you base this on Genesis and the story of Sodom, on Leviticus? Is that where the heart of God toward humanity lies for you, from an entire book you strive to understand and think your pastor knows well enough? You quote “For God so loved the world….” and then support exclusion of gays from that? You know Leviticus condemns same-sex promiscuity so you need know little else, like what the Book of Leviticus is about…?
Let’s look at Sodom for a moment. Are you aware that new Bible translators are rewriting the story for a new generation, making it sound like there is more of a homosexual slant to the story? The last decent translation we can find before the gay hate train came to town was the New International Version of 1984. Still, if on a desert island I would want the long-trusted King James Version of 1612 where, despite the ambiguities of terms, e.g., “if” and “since” and others, and other huge cultural distances between then and now, at least corporate intention lies intact.
So, with these things in mind….
What did Jesus say about Sodom? Did he condemn it? Jesus condemned religious hypocrites who drew near to God with their physical gestures, who heard him preach and failed to believe with their hearts that He is who He is. Jesus almost ‘commended’ Sodom against his generation:
“And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.” Matthew 11:23
“But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” Luke 10:10-12
Apparently, hypocrisy and unbelief are worse than what has critically come to be called ‘sodomy.’ Compound that with inhospitality. When did your preacher last take on this one? Of course it is rejection of the gospel that Christ refers to here, but why a town and not the individual, especially since we don’t often address corporate rejection of scriptural principles. There must be some similarities here and Matthew does address some individualism in 10:14-15.
What makes this even more interesting are these verses:
“Likewise as it was in the days of Lot—they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom fire and sulphur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of man is revealed.” Luke 10:10-12
This metaphor does not even suggest sexual or overtly sinful actions as occurring in Sodom when Lot left it, though, of course, the Genesis account of Lot indicates the city inhabitants’ high level of intent in serious abuses toward others; but, rather, the people of Sodom were engaged in everyday human activities when they were called to task for their waywardness. Surely the daily activities preceding their destruction did not camouflage their errant heart conditions. And so today….
What brought me to this rave is a daily verse I read yesterday in Deuteronomy. These kind of verses abound throughout the book, the scholar knows them and consequently has no excuse for not using them to reveal the heart of God to a world in physical and spiritual poverty.
“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.” Deuteronomy 15:7-8
Interesting. It is hardness of heart and selfishness that block requisite giving among brethren. And wasn’t that the mantra of the so-called Christian candidates running for the Republican nomination and their supporters: Hey, I’ve got mine. Get your own. Yet God does not profit certain believers so that they should withhold anything from other less fortunate believers. Recall Acts as more than a pretty story of a birthed church sharing blessings but as a role model of Christian community for all time.
Remember, Deuteronomy was written to Jews whose rabbis over centuries interpreted verses into meaninglessness with replacement of laws that would profit them with colloquial wealth and prestige, usually at expense of the poor. Deuteronomy 15 with its instructions for meeting the needs of the poor seems to have been forgotten, especially by comfortable, wealthy ‘believers’ among us.
Which one of the professing Christian candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination would you trust for acting fairly on the above verses? Which one of your Christian friends would you trust to act? Do you see Christians ‘openhanded’ and ‘freely’ lending to the poor? To what extent? Note how this has to do with lending, not even giving as God does. God gives and expects the recipient to freely lend here. Lendees pay things back.
Where does this responsibility end, or doesn’t it? Is Christian responsibility negated because these were written for Israelites? Fine, then you must negate Leviticus too since you are not a Levite. Paul said what was their experience is example to us (1 Corinthians 10:11).
The paradox here lies when confronted by choice: Is a Christian most likely to feel righteous before God by giving to her/his church or to a brother/sister in need? Your growing church answers that with its new location, expanding parking lot, pastor pay increase, money for ‘missions’ and yada yada yada. Can we not do both, meet both their needs sufficiently? What about another person who is in constant need? What’s up with that?
Well, it is not the job of the Christian to determine the role God chooses to play in the life of another. You, brother or sister, are not greater than the Apostle Peter, who freaked when he first realized he was going to suffer the fate of Christ and had to be rebuked for trying to relegate John to the same destiny (John 21:20-22). Yet only some Christians are called to lives of steady suffering, often partly so that others may eternally benefit by freely giving to them in their insistent states of need, even down to a cup of water (Mark 9:41; Matthew 10:42):
“Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.’” Mark 12:43-44
“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own….” 2 Corinthians 8:1-3
Some Christians deliberately choose a life of suffering with the poor — as poor — than pursuing the entrapments of wealth. Think Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa, to name a few famous figures. This is an honorable choice and is to be respected as following in the steps of the Savior who owns all, yet did not pursue monetary gain. He had others pay the tab at times (a fish in Matthew 17:27) and had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58).
That, my friend, is poor; and pity the poor souls at the time who thought the Christ wasn’t worth another investment since his condition never improved but actually rode with him all the way to his destruction and the grave — not even his as He was laid in another’s tomb (Matthew 27:59-60).
Christians not pursuing wealth are rare birds among us in the age of prosperity gospels; perhaps pearls of great price stretching across a technological wonderland of things we can buy. Yet they are neither abusers of resources nor poor money managers; but disciplined in their spiritual vision, their lifelong mission, and consequential integrity.
Deuteronomy goes so far as to say that while there will be poor in the land (15:11) there should be no poor among the people of God if believers obey and do their part:
“However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.” Deuteronomy 15:4-5
Ahh, disobedience through hardheartedness or selfishness not only hurts the needy, it cuts off blessing for the one being petitioned. And this is a problem. The Deuteronomy verses are not just an edict to God’s people, they are revelatory: They reveal the heart of God. The Creator is a God of compassion. Jesus knows this and it is why He often brings the Old Testament scriptures to new life for a contemporary audience:
“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:42
A radical new covenant twist on the OT process: Don’t just lend. First: Give. Do not turn away.
Is that what God does, too? Does He give to those who ask Him? Is not that the essence of prayer, even if God may lay the actual burden on the heart? Are we not to cast our cares on Him because He is faithful and will provide? Well, there is a problem there when He seeks to provide through obedient servants but they are distracted by their own derisions and shortcomings. So what?
My understanding of the Scriptures is that humanity has failed to avail itself to a loving God because mankind has found ways to ensure it never happens: laws, commands, suggestions, distractions, and off-topic concerns that tear at the fabric of the heart of God and solve nothing.
Isaiah noted a certain type of religious person:
“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.’” Isaiah 29:13
And these are the people who across millennia and especially today are operating under the banner of Christianity: providers of ‘rules taught by men.’ Strong evidence of this is the war on gays. Whether they inherited their spirituality from ancestors or found something religious to believe in, reality is these religious zealots are as distanced from the verses quoted above in Deuteronomy as they are in Isaiah’s verse: distanced from the heart of God.
And that is where the issue lies. Are we concerned at all about the heart of God, spread throughout the Scriptures, evidenced as in the dictates of Deuteronomy expressed here and beyond? Or are we following some church leader who takes our money to help fight the cultural onslaught of gay marriage advocates and who lives a horrid life of suffering that is easily identified by a busy, overladen schedule of pastorly things to do so the poor guy has no free time to spend with his wife and family? Sheesh!
You know, if so-called Christians had not been so abject to gays as to deny them their civil rights for visiting and support when their lifelong partners were in the hospital dying of AIDS in the 80s, we would not have seen the matter expand to such measures as them demanding equality in marriage. Partnerships are partnerships, and the idea that God is forming holy unions out of civil unions simply because a church is involved is just silly. Yes, marriage was before The Fall. But heterosexuals have tainted it with zillions of reasons why any portent of holiness is little more than mockery.
A youth pastor talked me into coming to his church a few years ago because he said I needed to be there to use my “talent.” Fair enough. I went one night while an associate pastor was giving the top 10 reasons why you marry someone. He mentioned security, companionship, etc. and when he finished I turned to the guy who had invited me and said the speaker gave every conceivable sensible reason for marrying someone except that you marry because you are in love and one with that other person and cannot live life separated from what has become your joint oneness by the hand of God.
We choose to stay stupid.
Face it, sheep are dumb. Interesting thing about ignorance is that it is a choice. Christians can choose to renew their minds (Romans 12:2) and are expected to do so. Letting go of the crowd and familial ties that condemn may not be easy, but for the heart of God to be legitimately expressed, fear must go, hatred must go. Stubbornness and selfishness must go.
Those same church powers that deny the heart of a matter but deal with all the worldly symptoms are what made religious people put the Christ on the cross, and they abound today, but in new designer suits. They are the powers spoken of by Isaiah, and they have no place dictating orders to the heart of the Christian who truly believes God loves all the inhabitants of this world enough to die for them and “is willing that none should perish” (2 Peter 3:9).
Abraham Lincoln was reputed to have said that “God must have loved poor people because he made so many of them.” For the record, whether Lincoln actually said it is not the important part of that sentence; it’s the designed distraction. It’s its outright irrelevance.
Lots and lots of poor people, a vast sea of poor people…. created by a boundless Spirit of love, and every last one of us hungry in our human frailty for the heart of God. If only we will show it.