Jesus and Proposition 8

Yesterday, thousands of people joined demonstrations and rallies in major cities across America to protest the passing of Proposition 8 in California two weeks ago. I have friends and family who participated in those rallies in California, Texas, Oklahoma, and New York. This is an extremely controversial issue, with people taking strong stances on either side. And with the heated discussions going on and people becoming defensive and angry, I couldn’t help but ask myself what Jesus thinks about all this. To ask that cliched question, What would Jesus do?

For those who are not news junkies, Proposition 8 was a state question on the California ballot during the election on whether to amend the state constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. It passed with 52% approving and 48% against, effectively removing the legal standing of thousands of already-married same-sex couples, and denying the future ability of gay men and lesbian women to form permanent legal bonds. In the process, it denied them access to many civil rights and benefits offered to heterosexual couples. In a word, it defined them as second-class citizens. Defenders of the amendment argue that it merely codifies what is already our traditional and religious understanding, and is critical to protect our families and preserve our valued traditions. Similar initiatives passed in other states as well.

I’m breaking my own rule here in discussing social or political topics. The mission of Cafe Inspirado is to encourage people and bring them into a more fulfilling life with God. But at the risk of offending friends on both sides, my gut tells me that there are seriously hurting people out there who need some reassuring words, people who feel shoved aside, rejected and despised — by society, their own families, the Church and by God. And while some will likely see things differently than I do, if we call ourselves followers of Christ, I think we should examine his attitude and actions towards those who were socially or religiously unacceptable in his day, and let them serve as our model.

Some obvious passages from Sunday School lessons come to mind. In one scene, Jesus is teaching in the Temple, and some teachers of the Law drag before him a woman caught in adultery. They quote the Law to him, “Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” In words burned into our cultural memory, Jesus responds, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone” (John 8:7).  And as the accusers leave in shame, he tells the woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and sin no more.” Jesus’ message: Though the religious rules and establishment condemn you, I do not reject you.

At another point, when asked by an expert in the Law what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus encourages him to love God and to love his neighbor. “Do this and you will live.” But the man, still unsatisfied, wants clarification. “Who is my neighbor?” Then comes the famous parable about the Good Samaritan who takes care of a wounded man after all the religious people of the day had ignored him. And Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer, “Which of these was a neighbor?” The lawyer replies, “The one who had mercy”. Jesus then instructs him, “Go and do likewise”. (Luke 10:25-37)  Samaritans were despised by Jews back in those days. They were racially impure, descendents of captives brought from Babylon and other places by the king of Assyria who intermarried with the Jews still remaining in the land. They practiced a different form of the Old Testament faith, even having a temple of their own, and the religious defenders of pure Judaism considered them “unclean”. Yet Jesus chose one of them as our example for the life we should live. Jesus’ message: though others find you unacceptable, I call you neighbor.

In another account, on the long walk back to Galilee from Judea, Jesus stops and asks for water from a Samaritan woman at a well — to her great astonishment. “How can you ask me for a drink? For Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9) Yet the people of that Samaritan town welcome him, and he and his disciples stay with them for two days. And because of his teachings, many become believers. Jesus’ message: though society labels you unclean, you are valuable to me.

In each of these instances Jesus overlooks the stricter interpretations of the Law, and emphasizes what is in his heart: mercy and compassion, not condemnation or pushing unpopular groups further away. Establishing redeeming relationships was more important to him than being legally righteous. In fact, Jesus was even accused by the more traditional Jews of his day of being a drunk, glutton, partier, even demon possessed because he hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors (corrupt officials), and other socially unacceptable people. Far from ostracizing them further, he welcomes them. And instead of the religiously observant, these outcasts become his favorite people — one of them, Matthew, even becomes one of his chosen twelve.

To approach this topic from a different angle, no one grounded in the Faith can deny that there are genuine believers out there who call Jesus their Lord and also happen to be gay or lesbian. Whether or not we approve of their actions, whether they are caught in sin like the adulterous woman, these believers are brothers and sisters of Christ. They are joint heirs of the Kingdom, washed in his blood, righteous and pure in God’s eyes — whether they threaten our traditional values or not. Who are we, any of us, to point our fingers? Disagree or disapprove, we might. But I am sobered by the certain future of standing before this same Jesus at his Throne of Glory and being examined by him. “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Mt 25:40).

If Jesus were physically present in America today, what would he do? Would he be casting votes to deny modern-day Samaritans basic rights enjoyed by others? Would he stand today with the defenders of tradition? Did he in the past? Would he join in civil protest, picket or carry signs at demonstrations to overturn cultural norms? In my opinion, the answer to each of these questions is No. My reading of the Gospels does not paint a picture of Jesus as a social activist. He did not lobby the Sanhedrin, he did not rebel against Rome or even his own religious leaders. He instructed, he coached, he challenged conventional interpretations. And in their synagogues, he taught God’s love and brought people’s attention away from the letter of the Law which kills, and drew them to the spirit of the Law which gives life. And he demonstrated this in his own personal life. Not with picket signs, but in acts of love, kindness, compassion, and mercy. Yesterday, if he were here, would he have been protesting at City Hall? Probably not. But he would be in our churches, confronting those of us who claim to be God’s chosen, standing in our faces, and asking each of us in his quiet and loving voice, “Who is my brother?”

This past election cycle voted in major changes for Americans. And with those changes come questions about what is right, what is traditional, what is moral, what is constitutional. Serious men and women of faith will form different conclusions. But it has caused me to ask again that ancient and most basic of questions, “What does the Lord expect of me in this?” And the ancient answer is still the same. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic 6:8)

My purpose in writing this is not to advocate the Biblical or spiritual validity of same-sex couples, nor to argue the sinfulness of such relationships. And although I have formed my own opinion of what Jesus would have done, neither is it my purpose to judge the decision of American voters. But to God’s people, I would ask that they examine their hearts and consider Jesus’ view on the matter. And to those wounded by this decision, I offer the words I think Jesus used to speak in the old days, and still calls out today to those with ears to hear: Come! You are loved, you are accepted by God. Though others reject you, I will never forsake you There is no condemnation, no accusation. You are the ones I came to embrace; you are important to me. The Father is waiting, and has paid all your debts. My Blood is for you. You are righteous and have peace with God. You are a valued member of God’s Family, and are welcome in His Church. Just come!

Persistence is the Locomotion between Faith and Fact

Locomotion: the ability or power to move from place to place

There’s nothing more tantalizing than a half-accomplished goal.  You’ve made significant progress toward the end, you can even see the light at the end of the tunnel.  But you’re not there yet.  Somehow that tunnel exit seems to get farther and farther away. And after all this time, you’re still in the middle, still not done, still have not seen your dream or expectations fulfilled.

I’m still dealing with this cold-thing. It’s been going on for 3 weeks.  It’s not anywhere near being the full annoyance of a regular cold; no constantly dripping nose, no continuous coughing, no energy-draining achiness or congestion.  Yet there’s still this trace of throat irritation that refuses to go away.  And, frankly, it’s been bugging me — beyond the minor physical discomfort.  It’s been like a weight around the neck of my faith.  Where’s my full healing?!

As I was talking this out with God this morning, the thought came to me that I haven’t been persistent in my resistance.  You know, the Krav Maga rule of using any available tool as a weapon.  I’d reached a point of near-comfortable compromise.  I wasn’t hurting, I was functional, the sore throat was barely noticeable except when I get up in the morning before my first cup of coffee.  I’d become complacent.  As for fighting on two fronts, I’d stopped being diligent with the vitamins and echinacea (physical aspect), and I’d grown lax in speaking Scripture to myself — and to it (spiritual aspect).  And as a rule, if you don’t continue to work out, if you are not persistent in your training and conditioning, you become weaker. You lose your advantage, and your enemy can more easily get the upper hand. (Krav Maga again.)

Of course, this is just a wimpy real-life illustration.  The principle is true across the board for all kinds of situations where reality hasn’t quite lined up with a promise God gave you, where faith hasn’t yet turned into fact.  As my pastor recently said in one of his sermons, “the gap between vision and reality is filled by commitment.”  Commitment, persistence, is the driving force to move you from faith to fact, from what you’re believing to its accomplishment.

1. Persistence in faith: continually, aggressively reminding yourself of God’s promise, speaking the Truth (God’s truth, with a capital T) to yourself and to the mountain in your way.  Reality is subject to change.  The entire universe (including your tiny circumstances) is subject to change.  Everything is.  Except God and his Word.  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away”  (Lk 21:33; Is 40:8)   “Facts” are temporary. Truth is eternal.  And if we are persistent enough in the Truth, that Truth will ultimately change those facts.  And frankly, as puny human beings who constantly get distracted and lose faith, we need to constantly remind ourselves — provoke ourselves — with the Truth to keep us focused in the right direction.

2. Persistence in action.  Same principles over and over: Faith without works is dead.  We need to constantly be pulling the triggers in our natural circumstances, doing our part to help release God’s power.  We rely on God’s power for results, but he will not do our job for us.  That’s why we can’t afford to grow lax.  “Be not weary in well-doing for in due season you will reap a harvest if you faint not” (Gal 6:9).

Persistence in faith is not denying the existence of facts that contradict it.  Faith is the internal chutzpah to stare in the face of facts and say “Nevertheless!”   Like Abraham in the Old Testament.  God made outlandish promises to him (and you think your dreams are big?), but Abraham was old and childless.  Nevertheless, “he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead … yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God” (Rom 4:19-20). 

Abraham is our model. He was a man of faith and a man of action.  He knew the key: he didn’t hide from the facts; he faced them.  And persistently praised God for a reality that had not yet materialized — and was actually impossible.  He was persistent in faith.  And although we are not told specifically, I bet Abraham never stopped loving his wife Sarah, never stopped trying to have a son, as God promised.  Eventually, even he grew impatient and tried an alternative solution with Hagar to change his facts.  And there were consequences for his overstepping.  But ultimately his persistence paid off.  And every nation on earth has been touched as a result.

So, when we’re stuck in the middle of a seemingly endless tunnel between a promise and reality, between faith and fact, persistence is the locomotion that ultimately gets us there.

Just something to consider over your morning coffee …

Rules of Engagement Spiritual Krav Maga, part 3

Unlike a bar fight, spiritual Krav Maga — spiritual self-defense — has some basic ground rules.  It’s not a free-for-all, fist-flying, chair-throwing, bad-tempered brawl.  We are servants of a great and merciful God, and we are therefore subject to the rules of his Kingdom.  Still, some of the same underlying assumptions apply.

1. Get in shape.  Like with any martial art, you just don’t jump into it immediately, ready to fight from day one.  There is preparation and training. And there is physical conditioning.  The same applies spiritually.  Spiritual Krav Maga relies on the power of God for its effectiveness, and we must do our part to act as triggers to unleash that power.  That means we have to be spiritually in-shape.  We need to be in-tune with God, solid in our relationship with him.  We have to be prayed up, strong in faith, well-rested in him, and well-fed in spirit.  The story comes to mind of the seven sons of Sceva who tried to imitate Paul and cast out demons. Though they were religious, they didn’t have the relationship with God Paul did.  And they were overpowered, beaten up, wounded, and sent on their way defeated (Acts 19:11-16).  Or, after Jesus and his inner three disciples come down off the hill after his transfiguration, the other disciples are trying unsuccessfully to cast an epileptic spirit out of a boy.  They’re confused by their failure.  Weren’t they doing everything correctly?  But Jesus explained that their faith was weak, that sometimes they needed additional preparation of prayer and fasting before tackling that particular battle (Mt 17:15-21).  And it’s no different for us.  We have to be on sure ground with God; knowing who he is and who we are.  Be prepared, build your spiritual muscles before jumping into a fight.  You have to commit to a life of spiritual discipline if you want to be a skilled fighter — even just to protect yourself and your family.

2. Act only under orders.  We are not ronin, rogues or vigilantes.  We do not go off looking for a fight, or take on battles we have no business being in.  As servant warriors of the King, our job is to accomplish the mission HE assigns to us, not run off with our own agenda.  And this ties in with being prepared mentioned earlier.  We need to be sensitive enough to hear the Spirit’s voice, to discern his leading, to make sure we’re not acting on impulse or misunderstanding.   We have to be confident that what we’re doing is according to his will and his plan for us.  God has the entire battle strategy lined up, and we will only be effective when we’re acting in accordance with that plan.  Because God isn’t going to empower anything he hasn’t authorized.

3. It’s better to fight in pairs.  There’s nothing like having a buddy guard your back when you’re in a fight.  And when the thugs come at you in groups — and don’t they always? — having another set of fists helps even the odds.  The spiritual side of this is the power God has imbued agreement and unity. Like in corporate worship, there is a distinct increase in the dynamic level of God’s presence and power when saints worship and pray together.  There is a special manifestation of his presence when two or three are gathered.  And, as he said, “if two of you shall agree about anything, it will be done for you” (Mt 18:19-20).   Perhaps that’s why Jesus sent the disciples out two by two.  From the very beginning, God ordained that we should not be or act alone (Gen 2:18).  So, find someone to train with; find someone to fight alongside you. Remember, there is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian — and even the Lone Ranger needed Tonto. 

4. Never against people.  This is where spiritual Krav Maga is directly opposed to physical Krav Maga.  We employ physical and material triggers to unleash God’s power, but our weapons are never against human beings. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers …” (Eph 6:12).   People are often used by the enemy as weapons against us, but we must keep in mind that God still loves these people.  And it’s hard to have confidence in God’s support when you’re trying to beat up another one of his kids.  God deals with people; he will be their judge.  That is not for us, nor is it for us to beat them.  When Jesus sent out his disciples, some of them were rejected, thrown out of town, and probably physically abused.  They asked for permission to call down fire from heaven to destroy those people.  Obviously, those people were opposing God and his movement, so they needed to be removed.  (The disciples’ bruised human egos probably had something to do with it as well.)  What was Jesus’ response?  “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Lk 9:55) — or put another way, “that’s the enemy’s way; that’s not how we do things.”   God’s heart is that everyone would come into relationship with him; people are his Number 1 priority.  We need to stay focused on the driving force behind people, and attack that enemy.

There are probably many other underlying rules of engagement, many more principles for effective spiritual combat.  But if we do not master these four basics, we will always be held back from reaching full impact.  Our lives are a spiritual battleground, and the stuff that blows up in our daily lives is just the material shrapnel driven by spiritual energy.  We need to be trained and conditioned, ready for the fight, and we must only act under God’s authority, in accordance with his strategy and plan.  And while we should adopt the aggressive attitude and methodology of Krav Maga, our main fight lies in a different dimension.

Krav Maga !