Is It Okay to be Gay for Christians?

If I may start at the end and work backward, I’d like to begin this with a quote from the end of Karen Keen’s book on this subject: “The end results surprised me. Rather than a black-and-white answer, I heard God saying ‘freedom.’ Not the kind of freedom that celebrates licentiousness, but the kind of freedom that loves you no matter what, even when you don’t measure up.” In a nutshell, this conclusion resonates in my heart as well.

That being said, let me point out places where I question the logic in Karen’s lines of reasoning in her book, Scripture, Ethics, & The Possibility Of Same-Sex Relationships. It would take hours—possibly even a book—to adequately discuss and counter all her arguments (at least the ones I disagree with, which aren’t all of them, of course! 🙂 ), and I am open to discussing any points or details she’s written about, but for the sake of this post not turning into an alternate doctoral thesis, let me address her four main topics:

1. Attending to the overarching intent of biblical mandates
2. Engaging in a deliberative process for creation ordinances
3. Discussing honestly the feasibility of celibacy
4. Reflecting on the fall in light of science

1. I agree that the overarching intent of biblical mandates is to provide for the common good of all people, and the law can be summed up in “Love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:36-40). Where we disagree is in what it actually means to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus expanded on that in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (See also John 14:21 and John 15:10). Our love for God is proven by our keeping his commandments, but in the spirit of love, not without it. (See the beautiful description of what love in action looks like in 1 Corinthians 13.) 1 John 5:3 enlarges on this: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” If we truly love God with all our hearts and souls, even the terribly difficult things we endure for his sake will not grieve us, because we understand that our self-sacrifices are done out of love for Him and for the good of others . . . which fulfills God’s mandate.

God’s commandments were given to us for our good and for the good of others. God created us; He understands us; He has given us commandments to train us in the way of godliness. “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:5). Love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith will naturally follow from the prayerful practice of God’s commandments, and it will also result in knowing what true love for others looks like. True love will persevere through failure, but true love doesn’t condone breaking commandments for the sake of accommodating someone else’s failures. Jesus never broke any of the commandments. He fulfilled the law, although he had compassion on the failures of others. To break any of God’s commandments is a failure to love God and our fellow man, and it comes from a lack of faith. From Genesis through Revelation, God is trying to teach us to trust Him to solve our problems rather than break laws attempting to find our own “better” solutions. He doesn’t want us to take matters into our own hands, like Sarah, to make things “turn out right.” They won’t! When we disobey, we open the door to failure, not success. Compassion unhinged from righteousness creates evil, not good. God calls us to overcome evil with good, not succumb to evil because persevering in good is too hard.

Before moving on to her second point, I do want to applaud Karen for her honesty in reporting: “The Old Testament authors speak only negatively of same-sex relations” (17; see Lev. 18:22;20:13 and Deuteronomy 23:17-18). She goes on to explain, “In the New Testament, all mention of same-sex relations is negative” (18; see in particular Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10). Karen goes on to ask: If both the traditionalists and the progressives agree that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong, “then why the debate? Doesn’t that mean the Bible says same-sex relationships are wrong?” (19). I would say, “Yes! Preach it, sister! 🙂

However, Keen goes on to suggest that the authors of the biblical books may not have had insight into all forms of same-sex relationships, so they “may not” have been addressing homosexuality generally. To me, that is like saying that the Bible always condemns adultery . . . but it may not have been addressing some of the extenuating circumstances. For instance, what if your spouse has an incurable illness and is no longer sexually available? Based on how difficult it is to be celibate, might the Bible turn a blind eye to the man who seeks to relieve sexual tension and find some comfort with another woman in that devastating situation? Or, what about many single people who have the same sexual urges all of us experience but have not been able to secure a mate? What about the widows and widowers who yearn for sexual release? What about those who are imprisioned and can’t be with their spouse? So far, our society does not make exceptions for extenuating circumstances, and although most Christians would feel compassion, no one would deem such behavior godly or to be celebrated.

2. Our response to the second issue is directly connected to our view of the Bible . . . and man’s first temptation: “Hath God said?” (Genesis 3:1). The basic issue is whether or not the Bible’s teachings were superintended by an all-knowing God whose precepts were and always shall be an immutable standard for life and conduct, or whether the scriptures were written by various men who were limited in their understanding, bound by cultural issues, and not aware of current scientific theories, rendering their ideas no longer binding or sufficient. Karen feels we can improve on some of them to better meet the needs of modern people.

“Engaging in a deliberative process for creation ordinances,” in common parlance, is suggesting that even that which was ordained at the time of creation—such as God creating male and female as complimentary halves of a marriage unit—is now up for debate and possible reinterpretation. In part, Karen justifies this by saying that science has disproven the Genesis account of creation. For instance: “Instead of Adam and Eve, the data indicates Adams and Eves” (86) and makes the assertion that the scientifically approved “Y-chromosome Adam” [as the progenitor of all living males] “was not the only Homo sapiens alive in his time nor the first. In other words, he is only the father of male lineages that happened to survive to the present” (86).

To me, it is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about the authority of Scripture with someone who no longer believes the biblical accounts are accurate. For instance, Keen claims that “both science and Genesis indicate that bodily decay and evil existed prior to Adam” (87). Evil pre-existed the fall: The serpent tempted Adam and Eve to sin. However, the Bible clearly teaches that “by man [Adam] came death, by man [Christ] came also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21). Yes, evil existed, but not the principle of death and decay working within the bodies and spirits of Adam and Eve.

Keen’s theory that same-sex attraction may be simply variation in species development rather than natural fallenness is based on a failure to understand the clear teaching of Genesis. Keen says  Genesis indicates that bodily decay predated the fall because Adam and Eve were forced out of the garden to keep from eating from the tree of life. This is faulty thinking. At the time they were cast out of the garden, they were in the process of decaying, but that is because they had already sinned. The Genesis record is explicit: God said they would die if they ate from the forbidden tree. Death was the result of failing to believe and obey God. Keen can imagine that scientific “evidence” proves death and decay were already present, but there is nothing in the Bible to support her claim. To the contrary, the Bible makes clear that death came as a result of disbelief and disobedience. Also, no ethical scientist would purport to be able to “prove” via any scientific examination of non-existent remains that this woman, named Eve, was predisposed to death before disobeying God. Scientific theory is based on present-day human genetic programming, which according to the Genesis account was changed by the fall rather than predating it. Sending Adam and Eve out of the garden lest their decaying bodies continue to live forever in a state of spiritual death was a mercy! It is only through being born again spiritually that we receive eternal life, and it is only through the process of physical death and resurrection that we will inherit a new, incorruptible body.

The book is filled with hermeneutical inconsistencies. As a couple of examples, she compares homosexual behavior to someone who has Tourette’s. This isn’t even close. Homosexuals make conscious choices to engage in what comes naturally to them. The tics of those with Tourette’s are not controllable by the patient any more than an epileptic can control his seizures. Also, likening people who have a homosexual preference to those who become left-handed as an amoral, natural variation is incompatible with any consistent interpretation of scripture. The 700 elite troops from Benjamin who were left-handed were praised in Judges 20:16, and God used Ehud, who was left-handed, to deliver Israel from the Moabites. Being left-handed is never condemned in the Scripture, whereas homosexual behavior is never approved but always condemned.

3. Okay, let’s have an honest discussion on the feasibility of celibacy. Keen reports: “I came to a greater appreciation that no evidence exists that it’s possible for all people [to remain celibate], I saw that setting a bar that cannot be reached renders the mandate meaningless and perpetuates spiritual and psychological trauma for the person trapped in that impossible situation” (113). This is the voice of reason apart from faith and the Judeo-Christian moral code, because the God of the Bible does demand perfection in all areas: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). The purpose of the law is to make us realize our inability to attain perfection and to bring us to faith in Christ as our only hope for salvation: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Hebrews 4:12). The fact that we can’t keep the law does not “render the mandate meaningless,” however. Instead, it should drive us to Christ for help, as we are taught a few verses later: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Hebrews 4:16). To say that we can’t keep the law perfectly makes it “meaningless and perpetuates spiritual and psychological trauma for the person trapped in that impossible situation” is logical to an unbeliever, but not to a person of faith. Reason without faith is not Christianity. It is agnosticism.

Lest I seem too harsh, I want to stand on record as having a clear recognition that celibacy is nigh unto impossible for most of us. However, it is how we respond to this challenge that will guide us into the paths of life! If you can be celibate, and want to be celibate, by all means do so! Great good can be accomplished by those who are not distracted by mates and family, and we should all honor and help provide community support for those who feel called by God to forgo the joys (and difficulties) of married life in order to serve God unencumbered.

However, for most of us, the awareness of our own need for sexual intimacy drives us to find a mate, and for those of us who believe that sex was created as the uniquely sacred privilege of marriage . . . well, we become driven to marry! Single people who have been unable to find a mate are not off the hook. Again, I’m sure many people feel compassion toward those who end up involved in sexual encounters outside of marriage, but such acts are never condoned in the Scripture. “Fornication,” which is the basket term for sexual immorality, (and if you use the Greek word, “porneía” it’s pretty obvious that pornography would be included) is always condemned.

Personally, my deep conviction that if I left my husband, Alan, I should remain celibate helped keep me in my marriage, because I knew my chances of remaining celibate for the rest of my life were about zippo. 😦 I would recommend that homosexuals who take the Bible seriously consider this point, because I also firmly believe that “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). If you find yourself attracted to the same sex, and same-sex relationships are condemned as wrong in the scripture (which everybody agrees is true), then please keep taking your temptation to the Lord. People have some plasticity and ability to change. I have only known a couple dozen homosexuals well enough to say this, but of the ones I’ve known, all of them have had some interest in the opposite sex at some point in their life. I know that the dopamine rush from homosexual behavior can light up your brain like a Fourth of July fireworks and permanently rearrange and reshape your brain chemistry, but if you sincerely believe there is no way out except by learning to love someone of the opposite sex (and I do mean “learn,” as an act of the will, just the way most of us have to “learn” to love our heterosexual partner), then you may find that you are capable of forming a heterosexual union. And, eventually, I am convinced (by faith) you can find deep and lasting fulfillment with that partner, whether or not it’s the most erotic relationship you could ever imagine with a same-sex partner. Frankly, if people could be honestly polled, my guess would be that most people are married to someone who was not the single most sexually attractive person they ever met! However, I can say from experience, that sexual attraction is not the best indicator of whom will make the best life-time partner or most satisfying mate. The best mates are those most like Christ. Think about it! There is hope beyond celibacy. No one HAS to refuse attempting to develop a satisfying relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Be honest, but be willing to try. That is your choice!

4. “Reflecting on the fall in light of science.” For a starter, Keen kind of says it all: “Currently, there is no scientific consensus on why people are gay or lesbian” (91). “Genes do not cause a person to be gay” (93). Fact! To date, scientists cannot explain how people develop an attraction to same sex individuals. Obviously, there are a few (very rare) cases of true hermaphrodites (“intersex”—people born with characteristics of both sexes), but the vast majority of people who self-identify as homosexual have no genetic basis for their orientation (at least, none presently known). Research has been able to find some statistically significant correlations between birth order, sexual abuse, and dysfunctional family life, but so far nobody—including gays—can clearly trace the course of their sexual development. In the few personal histories I’ve known, most of them were abused (or allured) by a homosexual and were caught off guard at first but then “fell in love.” Seduction isn’t the whole answer, though! All sorts of people attempt to seduce others (and by far the greatest number—as reflecting the general population—are heterosexual). What makes one person “fall for it” and another shun the seducer/seductress? Our minds and bodies are so intricately interwoven and complex that even we ourselves can’t understand everything that goes on within us!

Despite the “no known reason yet” of science, we are left with the reality that a small percentage of our population definitely experiences same-sex attraction. As a society, how should we respond? Karen’s answer is completely dissatisfying to me! She sees the desire of Christians to see homosexual people become heterosexual as a “lust for perfection” and suggests that we should re-envisioning how we respond. However, Jesus sets the standard at perfection: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and the Bible calls us to holiness rather than simply accommodating sins: “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The Bible never suggests we give up on our efforts to live godly lives, although it does offer forgiveness for us in our failures and imperfections. The Bible never approves simply accommodating natural fallenness with sinful alternatives. For example, someone who feels like they can’t stop lusting isn’t therefore given a free pass to watch porn without any consequences, because there are always consequences for sinful behaviors. To simply say, “It’s okay to be gay” goes against the uniform guidance of scripture on how to provide for a good and just society, and we would do well to heed the Word of God!

If I may, I would like to end back at the beginning. God does give us freedom to choose how we will live our lives, including with whom we choose to live them. He has definitely gifted us as humans with a great deal of autonomy, and in this life on earth, we are granted the right to be the master of our own fate in many ways. BUT, God has provided a way of wisdom through Jesus Christ, who is “the Word made flesh” and the living “Word of God.” If you are a believer, then “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). Jesus set us free—but His desire is that we obey his commands (found in His Word, the Bible) because we love HIM. His commands are for our own good, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).

One verse that has really helped me in my own wrestlings with the lusts of my flesh is found in Psalm 16:7, “I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.” The counsels of the Lord in the Bible lead us into the right paths, and his reins (the restrictions that bind us) help us during the times when we are confused and can’t tell clearly which way to go. If you will allow God’s commandments and the reins he puts on us to guide your heart day and night, He will bring you to the place of fullness of joy. As David wrote, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). May God bless and guide us into the Light as we seek to walk by faith. I know it’s never easy to “live godly in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:12).

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:7-14)

Traveling with Togo

Want to snuggle up and watch a heart-warming true story about an incredible dog who was named the most heroic dog in history by Time magazine in 2011? This cold winter weather is perfect for staying inside and being glad we’re not actually out in the blizzards of Alaska back in the winter of 1925, when the event actually occurred.

Togo was released at the end of 2019 and has all the dog prints of a true Disney classic: a PG rating, 8.2 on IMDb, great acting, stunning cinematography from Alaska, and full of suspense, courage, and love.

It’s a remarkable story about Togo, a sickly, undersized husky pup with an oversized ability to get into mischief, the heart of a true survivor, and a passion for his master. Willem Dafoe does a masterful job portraying Leonhard Seppala, the stubborn Norwegian who had to balance love for his wife with his professional wisdom as a musher, where wrong decisions can end in death for both the master and his dogs.

The challenge? To bring serum from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska during the worst winter in twenty years during weather too dangerous for flights. Why? Because a diphtheria epidemic was threatening to wipe out most of the area’s people.

Leonard Seppela and his team of huskies crossing Norton Sound of the Bering Sea

Nome, Alaska, is just 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle and is located on the southern coast of Seward Peninsula at Norton Sound along the Bering Sea. Today, there are fewer than 4,000 living in Nome, but due to people lingering after the gold rush at the turn of the century, in 1925 the little outpost of Nome was the largest town in Northern Alaska.

In order to carry the serum across 674 miles from Nenana (where the serum had been transported via train from Anchorage) to Nome, more than twenty teams using over 100 huskies were organized, and the event was widely broadcast as the “Great Race of Mercy.”

Many of us have watched the movie Balto. This movie immortalized the lead dog who ran the last 31 miles to bring the serum into Nome, but Leonhard (which means “lion-heart”) Seppala and his faithful dog Togo ran the penultimate race: 264 miles, sometimes enduring temperatures of —30°F. with wind chills making it feel like —85°F.!! Until this movie came out, Leonhard and Togo were pretty much the unsung and forgotten heroes.

Julianne Nicholson as Constance Seppela in Togo

The race was not for glory, it was for good, and the most magnificent message for me was watching the love, resolve, and reward for the couple who risked everything to save their community. It was unbelievable to me that they didn’t get the praise and glory they deserved, but I think that is more often true in this life than we will ever know. I am reminded of Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes 9:11, where he laments: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

In our personal pilgrimages through life, few of us are asked to do terribly dangerous and risky things, but all of us are asked to run our race faithfully, for good, and not for glory! But, there is a promise in the example of Jesus, who ran the race before us for joy and for love of God.

May we run our races as doggedly as Togo . . . and like Togo, to please the One we love!

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).

(Disney’s version of the story runs very close to the reality, although they had a somewhat abbreviated, “happily-ever-after” style ending. If you want to read more of the thrilling [scary] details, there’s an excellent Wikipedia article listed below.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonhard_Seppala

2020 Vision

“Twenty-twenty” vision means our eyes can perceive what a person with normal, healthy vision can also see from twenty feet away. I don’t know about you, but it’s been years since I’ve had perfect vision, although thinking about tomorrow being the first day of “2020” makes me wish I could somehow have perfect vision again. If you’ve lost your 20/20 vision, wouldn’t you like that too?!

Okay, so maybe that’s not going to happen for us in this life here on earth, but aren’t you glad we have glasses to correct our vision? I used to think Ben Franklin invented glasses back in 1784, but then I learned Salvino D’Armante made the first pair of glasses 500 years earlier, back in 1284. However, glass has been intentionally produced for more than 3,600 years, and where there is glass, there is likely to be magnification used to enhance eyesight, so I’m not sure if we will ever really know who first used glasses to improve vision. I even heard years ago that a pair of glasses was found next to the imprint of a dinosaur track, although I can’t find any photos to corroborate this claim, so it may be bogus!

Photo taken via Hubble Telescope of Star Cluster Pismis 24 with Nebula

Still, it is certainly true that our human vision is limited but can be improved by magnification. For instance, the Hubble telescope can magnify objects 4,700X, so we can see images of the heavens like this. The universe appears to be perhaps infinitely huge, so we’ll never fully understand it, but it would be impossible for us even to begin exploring outer space without the help of such telescopes.

Fluorescent Endothelial Cells

Similarly, electron microscopes can magnify up to 10,000,000X, allowing us to see images of incredibly small “inner spaces” such as the cells within our bodies. Without the help of microscopes, our understanding of life and how even our own bodies work would be extremely limited.

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles-by Valentin de Boulogne. 1618-1620 AD.

I believe with all my heart (and experience) that the Bible corrects my spiritual vision just like glasses help me see more clearly in this physical world. The Bible, like a Hubble Telescope, helps me catch a vision of the magnificence of heaven, even though I can’t perceive it with my limited eye sight. Through meditating on biblical passages, I can learn about the deepest recesses of my heart and mind. Like a fluorescent microscope, the Bible lights up my inmost being and illuminates my spirit.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day . . . the first day of 2020. My vision for 2020 is to develop 2020 vision spiritually . . . to regain clarity, to focus more intently, and to respond in faithful obedience to the spiritual light I receive. I hope to share some of the highlights with you, and I hope you’ll share what you’re learning with me as well! For starters, have you made any New Year’s Resolutions yet? I’m working on mine, and chief among them is to meditate on scripture daily (which I’ve been practicing for many years) and to memorize at least one psalm per month. For many years after being spiritually born again,* I worked on memorizing Bible verses every day, and I suspect I had closer to 2020 vision back then. Sadly, in the past 15 years or so, I stopped memorizing, and I’m sure that’s effected my spiritual vision. I declare 2020 as my year of attaining spiritual 2020 vision! Want to join me?

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” ( Psalm 34:3).

“Be Thou My Vision”
(Ancient Irish song translated by Mary E. Byrne)

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun
Heart of my own heart, whate’er befall
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

(*If you’re not sure what I mean by the term being “born again,” please click on the “Coming to Christ” link at the very top of this post. Without being born spiritually, no one can even begin to understand the spiritual world and is as blind to spiritual life as a babe still in the womb),

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (62): Condemn Not

I was part of a panel lately on the subject of how to deal with in-laws, particularly during the holidays. Do you cringe at the thought of going home for the holidays because you’ll feel condemned as “not good enough” in some area? If you’re sponsoring holiday festivities, do you worry about “not measuring up?” Alan’s parents died forty years ago, and they were very kind to me, so I was startled by just how real and how difficult it is for most young wives to negotiate the holidays, particularly vis-à-vis their mother-in-laws. Yikes!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be a better mother-in-law since then, particularly in light of this week’s reminder from Jesus: “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). It occurs to me that for many (most?) people there is some ambivalence around Christmas that has to do with unmet expectations and feeling unloved, and most of the conflicts revolve around the questions of with whom and how to spend our precious vacation time.

Ouch! If you’re feeling tense, overwhelmed, and frustrated by just how frantic and unfulfilling the holiday season has become for you, may I recommend this: Continue on as planned this year, but start praying about how to improve the holidays for next time. Observe how you and your loved ones react to this year’s game plan and afterward talk through what happened with your spouse (loved ones, or yourself if you’re single). Strategize about how to make the holidays more of a win/win for you and your loved ones, and start now to lay the groundwork for a happier, healthier, more Christ-like Christmas celebration for next year.

Here’s a little imaginary look into the hearts of those of us who are working hard to make Christmas wonderful—those of us who are functional and happy! (BTW, this is based on gleanings from the panel discussion, not the inner workings of my own family, but you get the drift . . .)

From the mother-in-law’s perspective: “I just want to hold my daughter-in-law close, the way Jesus holds us as his sheep. I want to tuck her under my wing and make her a part of our family! I want to celebrate the same cherished traditions that have always made our family so happy together! If we have to share, it should at least be 50/50.” This can also devolve into: “I deserve to be loved and honored this Christmas. I’m doing all the work, so I want to do it my way. Besides, if my son really loved me, he’d be trying to take care of me. I spent the past (XX) years of my life giving everything I had to bring him up the best I could, so I deserve his attention too. His wife just isn’t fair!”

From the daughter-in-law’s perspective: “I don’t want to be absorbed into my husband’s family as if I’m just another child. Husbands are supposed to ‘leave’ their parents and ‘cleave’ to their wife. I am an adult with a new, independent family, and I want to protect that space so we can develop our own traditions.” This can also devolve into: “Besides, I like the way my family celebrates better, so if we’re going to visit, I’d rather visit my parents. If my husband really loved me, he’d defer to what I want! After all, ‘happy wife is happy life,’ so he should be trying to make me happy! My mother-in-law is so critical that I don’t feel comfortable being around her. His mom just isn’t fair!

From the son’s perspective: “I’m not sure what to do! I love my parents and want to honor them, but I also love my wife, and I want to make her happy. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but all the work and tension makes me super tired and isn’t pleasant at all! I go back to work every year more tired than when we left for our ‘vacation.’ It seems like there’s no way to win!”

Jesus: “I came to earth to bring peace and goodwill to all people. Christmas isn’t meant to be about conflict, competition, and condemnation! If you celebrate my coming to earth, please do it in my spirit: “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:2-7).

Can you imagine how the spirit of Christmas would change if we all took Philippians 2 to heart and practiced Jesus’ command to “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37)? Instead of judging and condemning one another as unfair or unloving, let’s focus on Jesus and try to follow in his footsteps, finding ways to put others first and meet their needs! Besides that, there are a world of lonely people who have no one to love OR even fight with this Christmas! 🙂 Can we reach out to some of them? Let’s make Christmas about loving God and loving others. That’s what Jesus did!

(Photo of Yongsung Kim’s picture of Jesus with the snowy lamb used by permission of Havenlight.com. As we celebrate Christmas, may we snuggle into the everlasting arms of Jesus, who will keep us warm in his love!)

Time Mirror

For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:23-25).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (61): Judge Not

This has been a really challenging post for me to write, because by nature I am a moralist, and as I’m slowly learning—also a legalist. So, to figure out what Jesus was teaching—and is (present tense) expecting from those of us who attempt to be his disciples, I studied every verse in the Bible that talks about judging. . . and there are literally hundreds! From Genesis 18:19, where Abraham is commended as someone who will “keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” all the way to Revelation 19:2, where God is worshiped because “true and righteous are his judgments,” the Bible is filled with admonitions about the importance of understanding and keeping God’s laws, of living justly, and doing right.

So, what did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged” (Luke 6:37 ), and “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:1-2)?

The first thing that struck me from studying is that Jesus doesn’t mean, “Don’t attempt to discern right from wrong.” The entire weight of scripture promotes a life of knowing and keeping the “way of wisdom,” embodied in knowing and keeping God’s laws: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:7-9). Being a moralist and a legalist is not all bad. God wants us to know and do what is just and good. “Mind over matter.” “Do right ’til the stars fall.” “Keep on keeping on.” These aphorisms are right and good! Don’t shove your moral compass (the scriptures) into a back drawer; keep your Bible as the GPS on your dashboard!!

The second thing I learned is to distinguish between discerning good from evil and judging people. I think Jesus is saying, “Judge not [people], that ye be not judged [by other people].” So, the standard is personal purity for ourselves while not assuming responsibility for the actions of other people . . . or passing judgment on them. You can call it a “Double Standard” if you want, and I think that’s almost appropriate, but the double standard puts the burden for purity and uprightness squarely on our own shoulders. It is up to us to do right regardless of what anybody else does.

What does this look like day to day? Jesus didn’t come only as an example to us (He came to die for our sins and become our redeemer), but He is the perfect example for us to follow, and in studying the life of Christ, we have many accounts of how he interacted with people—all of whom had character flaws, and some of whom were characterized by immoral behavior. Jesus never shunned anybody! (If you can correct me, please do, but I haven’t found a single instance.) Jesus rebuked those who confronted him with sinful behavior: “Sin no more” (to the woman caught in adultery, John 8:11) and even “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (speaking to his most passionate disciple, Peter, in Mark 8:33). Jesus’s most violent reaction was to the religious leaders who had turned God’s temple into a “den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). Jesus was clearly enraged by the spiritual leaders hypocritically oppressing the people, and he cleansed the temple, but he didn’t lay a hand on anyone . . . anyone. If Jesus—who could have called down fire from heaven to devour evil men—never harmed anyone and only rebuked sinful behaviors, then none of the rest of us ever has the right to attempt to take justice into our own hands and repay evil with evil.

How do I know? Because the scriptures are crystal clear on how God intends for judgment and justice to work:

*God is ultimately responsible for judging: “He cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (Psalm 98:8-9).

*God, as the creator, ruler, and sustainer of Earth, is the only one with the ultimate right to judge: “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:22).

*God is the only one who can judge and execute justice perfectly: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). “For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people” (Hebrews 10:30).

*Furthermore, God does care about good and evil, and He is at work, even though it’s not always obvious to us: “God is angry with the wicked: God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11).

*God has ordained governments and church leaders to serve as judges in disputes between people: “And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him” (Deuteronomy 1:16). Also: “And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:12).

*In situations where we are being personally oppressed, we are free to pray for relief and for God to judge— based on our personal uprightness and innocence: “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee” (1 Samuel 24:12). ” The Lord shall judge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me” (Psalm 7:8).

*Because Jesus did not come to earth to judge, we are relieved of that responsibility at this time also: “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).

*Our responsibility is to teach the Bible to others so they’ll understand right from wrong, because it is ultimately the Word of God in the Bible by which people will be judged: “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

*We are specifically warned against judging other people: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).

* We are reminded that we are also not without sin: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Romans 2:1).

*Instead of being judgmental, we would do well to pray for those who are trapped in sinful lusts, doing everything we can to help them overcome: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

*Instead of being angry and shunning those who are doing evil, we need to learn to be broken-hearted for them, as they will eventually become miserable, whether or not we can observe it from the outside: “Unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil” (Romans 2:8-9).

*Lastly, let’s remember that there will ultimately be a judgment for our entire earth, where good will be vindicated and evil punished: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Revelation 20:12-13).

*Still confused? I am sometimes! But thankfully, if we are believers, we have the resource of the Holy Spirit to teach us how to interact with others, and we can remember that it’s HIS JOB to convict people of their sins, not ours!If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7-8). “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:30).

Defining Your Reality

Want to play a game? What are the first three words you see?

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this puzzling assortment of letters and words. The “game” is to look for the first three words you recognize, so if you haven’t played the game yet and would like to, take just a minute and look until you recognize three words.

Have you found them? According to the game going around, those three words define reality for you. What did you find? Not that it matters, but I found “creation,” “power,” and “family.” I considered how those words might define my reality, but I was a little disappointed. I looked back and found words like “love,” “gratitude,” and “purpose” that I might have preferred. I also found “breakthrough,” “miracles,” “health,” “alignment,” “selfcare,” “lessons,” “connection,” “money . . .” the longer I looked, the more options I found.

Are you satisfied with the first three words you saw?

As a game, it’s fun and a little provocative, but it made me stop and think about this question: If I could have any three words define my reality that I want, which three would I pick? How about you? “Love, grace, and mercy” come to my mind today, but maybe I’d pick three different words if I gave it even more thought.

Our reality isn’t really defined by words on a page, although if we believe something defines us, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, today’s reality doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s reality. In fact, we can change our reality by changing our focus. What if we think hard about what we would like to become, and head in that direction?

“As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).