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

Woe to You, Christians!

Let me tell you a story I recently heard.

A preacher was recounting a time several years ago when, during the “invitation hymn” after the sermon, a lady came forward to be baptized. Now the preacher had previously heard about this lady, as he had been told that she was currently living with her boyfriend, who was a member of the church. As they stood together in front of the congregation, the pastor reflected that he knew he “needed to confront her about her sinful relationship.”

And that is exactly what he did.

As they exited to change clothes and prepare for the baptism the preacher cornered her and said, “There is no way I can baptize you unless you quit living in sin.”

The couple gave him their assurances that they wouldn’t live together. The lady was baptized. And they never went back to his church again.

I wish I could tell you that a story like this is an anomaly, an aberration.

But it’s not.

I remember a time, when as a young man, I overheard chatter among people in my church about a lady who was wearing a mini-skirt and how she needed to be told to dress modestly in the “House of the Lord.”

As soon as the service ended, an elder of the church approached the young woman, who by the way had never been to our church before, and told her that if she was going to come back she needed to dress appropriately.

She never came back.

How have so many churches ended up comprised of “righteous gatekeepers” who believe it is their responsibility to manage and control who enters through the gates?

It is eerily reminiscent of Jesus’ strong words to the Pharisees when he said, “You shut the door of the kingdom of God in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

The absolutely fascinating thing about the words of Jesus, which ought to serve as a lesson to many, is that the very people who believed they were righteous insiders, were actually not even on the inside at all.

In fact, they were on the outside and preventing others from entering.

What do you think about that?

The Kingdom of God, of which Jesus spoke, is all around us, but it is a reality into which we enter, changing our hearts and giving us new eyes to see the world.  The Kingdom of God is the present, in-breaking reality of God’s presence in our lives. A reality, that once embodied, looks like the life of Jesus, a life ruled, not by heavy-handed laws and rules or by “who’s in and who’s out,” but by grace, love, and invitation.

And the door to the Kingdom of God is always open and there is not one religious person or leader who can stand in the way of you entering. There is not one religious leader who can decide whether you are in or out. There is not one religious leader who can keep you from a seat at the table.

The religious may stand on the outside and try to close the door, and prevent others from entering, but Jesus opens wide the door of God’s Kingdom and invites us all to a seat at the table with him, without judgment or condemnation.

No matter your background, your present life situation, your socioeconomic status, your level of education, your appearance, your diseases, your addictions,  your afflictions, your offenses, your burdens, your heartache, your despair, or even your past or present sins, there is no single person, not one religious person, not one holier-than-thou person, not even the most theologically-minded, well-respected, or studied preacher who can keep you from the love of God, who can keep you from God’s forgiveness, who can block you from entering into the kingdom of God, or who can take away your seat at the table of invitation.

You are an honored guest. You have been invited.

In another instance, I heard the same preacher recall a funeral he was to give to a 19-year old young man he did not personally know, but whom he soon found out was a biker.  As the preacher was on his way to the funeral, he detailed his approach to the funeral home, seeing a parking lot full of “stereotypical [bikers] with long hair and tattoos all over the place, right there in public smoking their joints and drinking a [beer] with several of them having their girls along with them dressed immodestly on the back of their bikes.”

And as I listened to these heartbreaking words and the tone in which they were spoken, all I could think was- Would Jesus be riding passed these bikers and their “immodestly dressed girls” in judgment based upon how they look and then thinking how he needs to preach the Gospel to them when they come into the funeral home- or- would he have gone out to them, embraced them, listened to their stories of how they knew the young man, and then told them about the beautiful invitation and present reality of God’s kingdom and how they may enter in.

To me, the answer is clear and evident throughout the Gospels. Jesus was always at the table of invitation with various sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes.

As followers of Jesus, we have not been given the task of shutting the door or preventing “sinners” from entering into the Kingdom of God.

Rather, we have been given the task of entering presently through the open doors ourselves and accompanying every single person of the world to the table so that they, too, can taste and see just how good the Lord is.

The Kingdom of God is not a place that needs guarded or protected. It’s not a place entered into by the self-described righteous or religious. And it is certainly not a place where the untouchables, outcasts, or unholy sinners are banned or restricted.

The doors to the Kingdom of God are always open wide. There is always an invitation and a seat at the table. And Jesus is always standing there, at the head of the table, with his arms open wide for every untouchable, every outcast, every unholy sinner, every person ever pushed aside or crushed by the religious apparatus, and every single person who has ever been told that God doesn’t love them or that they are anything less than precious, worthy, and valuable.

The invitation into the Kingdom of God and a seat at the table is always there.

You are always, always, always invited.

Peace and love…

Brandon

Killing God to Find God

Human history is a road down which God has painstakingly, patiently, and silently carried a cross.

Throughout the Ages, God has absorbed the insults of his accusers and endured the mischaracterizations of his followers. 

For they have hurled accusations, misunderstood God’s nature and character, and projected their evil hearts, cruel practices, and violent images upon God, saying that God is a hateful, vengeful, tyrannical, authoritarian dictator worthy of a violent and inhumane crucifixion.  

And yet, through the vile mischaracterizations, the evil projections, and misguided accusations across the Ages, God has not opened his mouth, nor has God cried out.

With every strained step bearing the weight of mankind’s judgment from Age to Age, the hostile insults of God being a murderer, child-killer, the tribal warrior, and genocidal maniac battered his body.

And yet God remained silent, mischaracterized, and misunderstood.

With every labored step shouldering the burden of mankind’s guilty verdict from Age to Age, the condemning charges of God being a blood-thirsty, violent, and heartless monster whipped against and tore his exposed skin.

And yet God remained silent, mischaracterized, and misunderstood.

With every pained step from Age to Age, the unrelenting and violent slurs of God hating sinners, God cursing sinner’s lives, and God damning them to Hell bruised his breaking body.

And yet God remained silent, mischaracterized, and misunderstood.

With every brutal and gruesome swing of the hammer into every single rusty nail from Age to Age, the hateful recrimination toward the God who causes suffering and division, the God who abandons and hurts people, and the God who turns his back, unmercifully pierced his hands and feet and prepared him for death.

And yet God, beaten, scourged, bloody, and exposed from Age to Age, remained silent, mischaracterized, and misunderstood as the rugged cross was lifted up triumphantly.

“Here is crucified the hateful, the vengeful, the tyrannical, the authoritarian dictator.”

“Here is crucified the murderer, the child-killer, the tribal warrior, the genocidal maniac.”

“Here is crucified the blood-thirsty, the violent, the heartless monster.”

“Here is crucified the accuser who curses other’s sinful lives and condemns them to Hell.”

“Here is crucified the sinner who causes suffering and division, the sinner who abandons and hurts people, the sinner who always turns his back on others.”

“Here is crucified the chief of sinners.”
The despised, the scorned, the rejected was lifted high and unveiled for all to see- every person from every tribe, every tongue, every nation, and every Age was drawn in to the macabre public spectacle.

But that which was crucified on the cross and scandalously exposed, was more than anyone could have ever imagined.

For all the evil we had collectively ascribed to God, it was, in fact, our very own evil all along. Evil we had cast upon him. Evil we had projected on him. But evil he was willing to bear in shame and disgrace, so that he could triumph over it in a victorious public spectacle.

From Age to Age, God has been willing to absorb and carry all of our evil misconceptions and mischaracterizations of him in silence, in order to finally expose the ugliness and evil of our hearts and, at long last, reveal his true nature and character, in a humble, self-sacrificial, other-centered love that is willing to go to death, even death on a cross, to demonstrate it.

For what we ultimately crucified was ourselves. And what we ultimately discovered was the true heart of God.

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” – Jesus