I Will Never Be Biblically Correct

I went to a local public meeting a few months ago that really crushed me.

It was a meeting in which a few local business owners and residents submitted a petition to city officials to have our two-year old emergency homeless shelter moved out of their part of town. And while this fact alone was frustrating enough, as it seems no one ever wants the homeless in their part of town, it was even more confounding when I walked into this public airing of grievances and realized that the people who were heading up this initiative were church-going Christians.

Sharing this story is difficult for me. The last thing I want is to come across as sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, or as if I don’t make mistakes or have lapses in judgment. I do. I make many mistakes. I have had significant lapses in judgment over the years. So the last thing I expect is perfection in myself or others.

More than anything, I just want people in the church to be like the Jesus they profess to follow. 

But it seems that much of American Christianity has increasingly abandoned the way of Jesus as the model for how we live our lives. And this one story is indicative of our larger problem.

When the life of Jesus is not the singular template we use to pattern our lives, as Christians, and then to pattern our churches, we end up with a lot of people and groups with Christian labels, but nothing that really looks like Jesus.

This may seem like it ought to be common sense, but for many in the church, it’s actually not.

I saw a conversation the other day that perfectly illustrates the fundamental flaw of not making Jesus the exclusive pattern by which we, as Christians, pattern our lives. A daughter and stepmother were having an honest conversation about her church-going stepmother’s Islamophobia. When the daughter replied that her stepmother’s posture toward Muslims looked nothing like Jesus, the stepmother responded by saying that she would rather be “biblically correct” than “politically correct.”

Do you see the problem here?

“Biblically correct” can be used to justify virtually any position a person wants to take on any issue. Being “biblically correct” can be used, and has been used, to justify racism, slavery, ethnic cleansing, war, gender inequality, religious triumphalism, and every other divisive, exclusionary, hate-filled ideology that one wants to perpetuate. And that is exactly why the Bible should never be the central template of our faith, because it can be cherry-picked to construct and validate the ugliest and most hideous aspects of humanity while enshrouding it with a “Christian” label.

The truth is that hiding behind the phrase “biblically correct,” is actually a convenient way for those who wear a “Christian” label to completely ignore Jesus.

If a “Christian” was truly seeking to be “biblically correct,” they would look exclusively to the one who is referred to as the “author and perfecter of our faith.”

And that is Jesus.

But making Jesus the model for how you live, rather than just a convenient label for your religious group, is not a welcome experience when it challenges the way you think and how you see the world.

That is why it is psychologically easier for the religious to operate within a “biblically correct” faith space where the Bible is selectively applied. Because you can continue to believe, support, and perpetuate narrow, hateful, and xenophobic worldviews, while still going to church and singing your hymns, without ever having to come face to face with a Jesus who calls you out of your hard-hearted and fear-based religiosity.

Can you hear me?

It’s not enough to say, “But didn’t we preach each Sunday in your name? Didn’t we sing your praises at each service? Didn’t we wave our arms in the air and experience your presence? Didn’t we attend Sunday school or small group each week to learn more about you? Didn’t we study and memorize the Scriptures while always having your name on our lips? Didn’t we pray morning, noon, and night to you?”

The hard reality, in Jesus’ own words, is that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord will enter this kingdom. Only the person who does the will of God.”

And what he is saying is that, even though a person may go through the right motions and say the right words, you will never enter into the present reality of God’s fullness for your life unless you pattern your life after Jesus and be doers of God’s will on earth.

I think it is obvious that we desperately need a transformative experience that can only come by making Jesus our singular template, our exclusive pattern, in our lives and our churches. We need people who care more about presently following the way of Jesus than hiding behind religious pretense. Because when we make Jesus our center, we begin to discover how radically different the way of Jesus is than our Bible-centered religious constructions.

And the difference is night and day.

While the Bible can be selectively used to marginalize and ostracize certain people or groups, Jesus is always on the side of the outcasts, the sick, the afflicted, the despised, and the unclean. While the Bible can be used selectively to make a solid argument for being prejudice and exclusive, Jesus is always welcoming and sharing a table with women, foreigners, drunks, whores, cheats, liars, and deceivers. And while the Bible can be selectively used as support for nationalism, tribalism, ethnocentrism, and religious intolerance, Jesus is always affirming the great faith of people from other countries, sects, and religious backgrounds.

Not only did Jesus affirm the faith, and stand in solidarity with, the homeless, afflicted, and disabled outcasts, he affirmed the great faith of the Greek Syrophoenician woman of a Gentile religion, the great faith of the Roman Centurion of a pagan polytheism, and highlighted the great faith of those who were Samaritan, Canaanite, and Syrian. Even more, Jesus had the audacity to make a Samaritan, a religious enemy of the Jews, the hero of great faith in one of his parables. And he did it at the expense of the religious, who were supposedly favored by God because of their position, title, and chosenness.

Do you not see the irony here?

Jesus called out the empty religiosity of the supposed “chosen and saved,” while elevating the great faith of a man from a different religion.

This is why the religious in America keep Jesus at arm’s length, while embracing a vague, Bible-centered position, because Jesus doesn’t hate the people that they hate. And if that makes you mad or uncomfortable, Jesus is calling you out your empty religiosity, as well, and into something so much deeper and life-giving.

Jesus is not interested in your Christian label, your religious knowledge, the importance of your position, the self-assuredness of your baptism, your saved status, your dedication to weekly rituals, the preservation of your church, the impact on your net worth, or the image that you convey.

He cares only about each of us presently living out the love of the Father to all people, whether it be the homeless in your town or your Muslim brother or sister.

Hard stop.

And that is exactly what he modeled in his life. And the model to which he is calling each of us to pattern our lives.

Peace,

Brandon

More Than An Ocean

There is something I learned when navigating through the vast wasteland of car-sized boulders at 12,750 feet while making my way up the final ascent to Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

People are less than microscopic.

As we climbed upward toward The Keyhole and then turned back to survey the boulder field, now just 1000-feet below us, our tents had become colored dots in a broken sea of browns.

And the people below, were lost in that sea.

Only moments later, after hitting the summit, we looked down again to take in the magnitude of the boulder field. Our tents were now submerged. And the people had drown in its vastness. The car-sized boulders had become bits of sand washed by the enormity of the figurative waves.

From less than a few miles away, boulders had become granules of sand, tents were visibly imperceptible, and people were nonexistent. One could never tell that there were a couple hundred people walking through the boulder field as we stood there taking it in from above.

That’s about as descriptive as I can get in conveying how relatively miniscule and microscopic a person is on a scale that we can even somewhat understand. Because if you can somewhat begin to understand how insignificantly tiny we are from such a short distance on Earth, then you can really begin to appreciate our relative nothingness on a cosmic scale.

Think about this for a second.

If a human being is basically imperceptible from a few miles away, what about our size from the moon, which is about 250,000 miles away? I know that is a huge leap, but seriously contemplate that for a second. If you are microscopic from a few miles, what are you from moon?

Virtually nonexistent. And that is just from the moon.

But let’s take another step.

What about our size from Mars, which is 34 million miles away? Or, our size from Saturn, which is 750 million miles away? Or, our size from the edge of our solar system, which is nine billion miles away?

To put this distance in perspective, the Earth is theoretically no longer visible to the naked eye from the edge of the solar system. The Earth, itself, has become virtually nonexistent.

So what about the size of a human being from the closest star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, which is 25 trillion miles away? To put that distance in perspective, it would take 81,000 years traveling at 35,000 miles per hour from Earth to get there. And lastly, what about the size of a human being from the edge of our expanding universe, which is estimated to be 46 billion times 5.8 trillion miles away?

Can you even put your humanity into that kind of perspective? If you are microscopic from less than a few of miles away and next to nothing from the moon, what are you in the universe that is 46 billion times 5.8 trillion miles to its outer edge?

I hate to say it this way, but from a size perspective, we are nothing.

But think about this.

If God created this universe, then is God not larger and even more pervasive than the entire universe? And if God’s very essence, God’s very composition, God’s very DNA is love, then is this love not even more immense and more unbounded than the utter vastness and expansiveness of this universe? Even more, if God’s love is that immeasurable, that unfathomable, that exhaustively immersive, then how do you, as a nearly nonexistent human being, measure up within that love?

If we are nearly nothing in relation to a love that is more expansive, more immeasurable, more unfathomable, more exhaustingly immersive than the universe that it created, then how can we really be that big of an offense to God? How can we really be such vile offenders? Such horrible wretches? Such loathsome reprobates? Such horrible sinners? How can we really be that despised and worthy of scorn? How can we really be that wayward and shameful? How can we really be that deserving of an eternity burning in hell?

To this love, we are none of those things.

We are beloved.
We are worthy.
We are valuable.

And this love continues to pursue every one of us.

The truth is that there is no distance we can travel, no depth to which we can sink, no barrier behind which we can hide where that love is not still with us, is not still holding us, is still not inviting us into its full embrace.

If you think I have gone too far in describing where we stand in relation to this unbounded, immersive, and universal love of God, all you have to do is look at that this love embodied. Because once you see the full weight and measure of this cosmically-sized love poured into a human body, you will finally begin to understand what true love looks like, and how radically different it is from our limited, conditional love.

This is the love of God in Jesus.

And the love we see in Jesus was never repulsed, shocked, or offended by another human being. It is a love that was never fearful of eating a meal with the so-called wicked. It is a love that was never afraid of hanging with prostitutes and whores. It is a love that was never fearful of elevating people who were deemed by the religious as “unclean” or “dogs.” It is a love that was always willing to see great faith in people of different religious persuasions or no religious persuasion at all. It is a love that never took a stand, or needed a platform, or needed to be acknowledged or recognized. It is a defiant love that always did the complete opposite of the religiously-minded when they said, “Don’t embrace them! Don’t befriend them! Don’t serve them! Don’t eat with them! Don’t invite them!”

God’s love is always with those whom the religious believe are undeserving of being embraced, befriended, served, eaten with, or invited in. It is not limited by human barriers or rules of engagement. It is with every person of every race, every ethnicity, every culture, every religion, every lifestyle, every gender, and every “sin group.”

And if this kind of love makes you angry or indignant, then you are more like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day than Jesus himself.

If this kind of love terrifies you for what others will think of you when hanging out with “terrible sinners,” then you have become more religious than a follower of Jesus.

If this kind of love worries you that you are condoning “sinful lives” when you hang out with and serve others, then you do not know the love of God in Christ.

The love of God is radically offensive to those who do not understand it.

The unbounded, immersive, universal love of God is for all people, for all-time and will never be constrained or limited by small-minded, hard-hearted, Spirit-less, microscopic religion that tries to divide it and apportion it by whom they believe deserve it.

God’s love is so much more than a tiny, little ocean washing over us and submerging our limited, finite, and feeble attempts at understanding it. It is beyond universal and we are nothing but lost in it. And when you experience a love like that, you can do nothing but let it consume you. You can do nothing but become that love and share it with everyone without discrimination.

Forever in that love…

Brandon

The Not So Small Things

It was one of those super frigid Indiana nights in mid-February. I hopped out of my toasty car and walked briskly into the homeless shelter for my nightly volunteer shift. Still warming up in the lobby, a young lady, who was staying at the shelter for the night, looked me up and down and whispered, “You’re fly.”

If you are not familiar with urban vernacular, it basically means, “You’re hot.”

Of course I was taken aback and somewhat embarrassed that she was so forward with me, especially since I was wearing a wedding ring and I had never met her before. But I smiled, stared at the ground to find my equilibrium, and then looked up to sheepishly whisper back, “Thank you, I guess.”

Despite my apparent awkwardness in that moment, she came back at me again, still whispering, but this time a bit more audibly, “You’re fly.”

My face, veiled behind a graying beard, turned red. Whatever chill followed me from the outside was immediately eviscerated by a growing, sweat inducing, warmth. Did someone raise the temperature in this place, I thought. Even more uncomfortably this time, I replied, “Um. Okay. Hey. Thanks.”

My eyes locked in on the floor once again. I became a child hiding behind my blanket hoping no one could see me. The floor was my blanket. If I just kept looking at it, no one would see me, right? Maybe she wouldn’t still be looking at me.

But she was. And she had one more thing to say.

It’s at this point I should tell you that it is impossible, when someone is speaking to you, to discern the difference between the words “you’re” and “your.”

I looked up one last time, and in slow motion, I saw her arm extending and her finger zeroing in on my midsection.

“Your fly.”

And this time it wasn’t a whisper.

An Arctic chill blew passed the gaping hole.

Oh no.

My fly.

I thought I was going to die.

To be honest, it was an appropriate way to end the day. Mid-afternoon I had called my work partner and asked how the day was going. She said that she had slept in and was just running some errands. She had not previously told me she was taking the day off, so I was confused by her response.

After a few silent moments, I hesitantly muttered, “What?”

To which she, a bit too eagerly responded, “I’m just enjoying our company holiday today.”

Yup. I was the only person in the entire company working on President’s Day.

Classic.

It’s amazing to me how the most insignificant, throwaway moments have the potential to become our greatest teachers and catalysts for profound life transformation.

I have been thinking about it for a couple of weeks now. And rather than discarding that day as a series of unfortunate, embarrassing events, what if these moments are gifts that can teach us and help us grow?

For me, it was the momentary realization that I had been too proud in my abilities and my self-sufficiency. I was in need of humility. And there it was, in the most unlikely places, greeting me, ready to teach me, ready to guide me into greater depths.

You may have never thought of it this way, but these small moments are gifts, if we will receive them and let them teach us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, writes that, “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”

He is exactly right.

We pray that the world will become more peaceful. We pray that our country will become more just, equitable, and virtuous. We pray that our culture will become one that honors all life, that looks to the interest of another, and that treats all people with dignity and respect as image-bearers of God. We may even pray that God will use us to change the world.

Yet, while we pray for the big things, we forget to give thanks for the small (and yet really not small) gifts. We neglect the hidden treasures throughout our day that greet us, moment by moment, and that are always there to teach us, and guide us at the soul level.

You are likely familiar with this quote from Tolstoy, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”  Or, this quote from Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Or, this quote from Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things – only small things with great love.”

The truth is that the small things are the key to the big things.

In fact, that is the wisdom of Jesus, as well. He says that the Kingdom of God, or God’s in-breaking presence within our lives, is that which has the power to change the big things. It is the small seed that grows into an invasive shrub that takes over everything in its path. It is again the small seed that has the potential to move the biggest mountain. It is the small measure of yeast that causes the large batch of dough to grow and expand. When God’s loving presence is sown, it begins to take root. It grows and expands invasively through our lives and then into our relationships, our neighborhoods, our communities, our country, and our world.

For Bonhoeffer, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Jesus- to change the big things, one must first be changed.

And that has been my prayer each morning when I first open my eyes while still lying in bed and then my prayer each night as I turn off the light, “Let me be your love. Let me be your peace. Let me be your joy.”

(Even if it takes me learning how to become those things through unzipped pants)

For if my relationships are ever going to change, it begins in me.
If my family is ever going to change, it begins in me.
If my country is ever going to change, it begins in me.
If the world is ever going to change, it begins in me.

And it begins in you, too.

Peace…

Brandon