Exploring Psalm 23 as a Dangerous Psalm

the20lord20is20my20shepherd The following is an exegesis of the 23rd Psalm. It’s not a formal exegesis and I won’t be referencing commentaries or doing extensive research on it, but I hope you will find it inspiring and helpful nonetheless. Inspiration and formatting came from a previous blog I wrote last year on the Lord’s Prayer. You can view that blog here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/exploring-the-lords-prayer-as-a-dangerous-prayer/

The Lord is My Shepherd – A Shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep. He practices sacrificial self-giving. His job is not glamorous, if anything it’s a thankless job, but He is really an unsung hero. He protects His flock from wild animals and other dangers. Likewise, He protects me from the dangers of this world. He protects me from my enemies, from the Evil One, and even from myself. He personally looks after me and watches over me.

I Lack Nothing – Our culture teaches us to never be content with what we have. It teaches us consumerism, the accumulation of wealth, and always getting more. With God, we don’t need anything other than what He has already given us. Everything is a gift. We are entitled to nothing. The Apostle Paul writes, “if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Timothy+6%3A8-10&version=NIV) . We have iPhones, laptops, fancy vacations, and multiple bank accounts and we still aren’t content. God has given us wonderful friends, opportunities, and jobs, and still we want new cars, more friends, and more prestige. We’ve become so accustomed to Jesus’s death that we can often forget what a truly astonishing sacrifice this was on His part. Jesus is enough, but often our hearts have a hard time believing it and our heads have a difficult time computing it.

He Makes Me Lie Down in Green Pastures – He encourages me to rest. He tells me when to take a break. I find safety in Him. I don’t have to be afraid of the wild beats when He’s around so that causes me to feel so secure when I am with Him that I can close my eyes and fall into a deep sleep. Forget about the pasture being greener on the other side – it is greener with Him.

He Leads Me Beside the Still Waters – I’m a woman of action. I like waterfalls and running water; but there’s also something refreshing about the water lapping at your ankles, the perfect temperature for wading in it, so clear that you can see the bottom. It embraces you, it sings you a lullaby.

He Restores My Soul – When was the last time your soul truly felt refreshed or restored? It’s easy for us to get caught up in our hearts being broken, wounded, and sore rather than healed and rejuvenated. Our culture is obsessed with self-care, but we so often ignore soul-care. How can we allow God to begin to take care of our innermost beings? How can we begin to cultivate soul-care? God restores our souls by letting us engage in the things we live. In the beauty of art, the gracefulness of poetry, and the liberty of music, but the catch is that we have to make time for those things in order for our soul to be re-balanced.

He Guides Me Along the Right Paths For His Name’s Sake – As humans, it is so easy for us to get caught up in what we want to do that we forget what God is calling us to do. The truth is, that when we walk with God and when we allow His desires to become our desires, we will always end up walking in the right path.   The Scriptures tell us that whether we go to the right or to the left, we will hear a voice in our ear saying “this is the way, walk in it!” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+30:21). The problem is, that we hear that voice and then choose to ignore it. We begin to think that our ministries are all about us, when in reality they need to be all about Christ. Christ puts opportunities in front of us in order that we can serve others and show them His love, not so that they can serve us.

Even Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death – Being a Christian does not exempt us from difficulties, disaster, disease, and death. Being a Christian does not make us immune to suffering, sorrow, and cynicism. To the contrary, Christ Himself promised us a life of hardship if we truly choose to follow Him. He said it wasn’t going to be easy, we wouldn’t be cool, many people wouldn’t like us, and some of us…well… we might even face persecution. Jesus said, “if they hate you, keep in mind that they hated me first” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+15%3A18-27&version=KJV). This is a stern warning to us that if we possess the Spirit of Christ life will rarely be easy. Walking through the shadow of death is inevitable, but there is hope.

I Will Fear No Evil, For You Are With Me – There is hope because Christ is with us in the valley. While going through the difficult seasons in our lives will be unpleasant and upsetting, Christ promises to use it for good. We might not be able to see what that good is right now, and at the moment we might become frustrated, flustered, and faced with fear, but when we step back and allow the Holy Spirit to use it to benefit future generations, He will. Personally speaking, I can attest to a very clear time in my life when after a season of profound darkness and despair I began praying and giving the Holy Spirit full permission to use my struggles for a higher purpose. As I prayed and placed this possibility into the hands of the Father, the Holy Spirit acknowledged my prayer and then provided me with several opportunities I did not seek out on my own in which I could provide great comfort to others. Looking back, I can now see how even though at that time God may have seemed absent, that He was so present with me and that He was already determining exactly how to change this experience into something good.

Your Rod And Your Staff, They Comfort Me – The rod and the staff are symbols of both authority and tenderness. Knowing that God is there with us and that He is acting as the guardian of our souls can provide us with comfort. We know that we don’t have to be perfect in order to be lovingly embraced. We know we are completely safe and secure in the hands of God.

You Prepare a Table Before Me in the Presence of My Enemies – Even though it’s easy to get caught up in the injustices done to us, God promises us that He will always work things out for the good of those who love Him (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A28&version=NIV).

You Anoint My Head With Oil – In Ancient times anointing one with oil was one way of signifying priesthood or even monarchy. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+16%3A13&version=NIV). Later on in church history and in the New Testament we see examples of the anointing of oil as being part of healing rituals and special commissioning experiences. As Christians, we can rest securely in the promise of God as our healer and our provider. We can also be reminded that since Christ is King we are princes and princesses by virtue of being born into His family. What an honour and a privilege!

My Cup Overflows – Historically (and presently in some cultures) an overflowing cup signifies the desire of the host to have the guest stay. In many cultures around the world the tea cup will not go empty until it is time for the guest to leave, but for the host to pour so much tea into the cup that it spills over on to the mat or the table sends an even profounder message. It shows us God’s desire to spend time with us and His delight in us spending time with Him. Daily we need to seek the abundance of God for our own needs and to trust that He will show us great things if we only make an effort to learn from Him.

Surely Goodness and Mercy Will Follow Me All The Days of My Life – Many of us who live in affluent societies may be tempted to give precious things that belong to us (like our time, our families, and even our own souls) for the pursuit of money, wealth, fame, or what we perceive to be happiness. Yet, instead of joy, we end with debt, nagging worries, self-criticism and fear following us all the days of our lives. Imagine how much greater life would be if we could place all of our trust in the providence of God. If we can truly depend on Him and His timing and seek a life of service and of quiet prayer then goodness and mercy will naturally become parts of our lives.

And I Will Dwell In the House of the Lord Forever – The eternal reward of all believers is a life spent in union with Christ even after the departure of this life to the next. We can look forward to what heaven can bring to us and we can try to already work towards various ways to bring the Kingdom of God about here on this earth.

 

To read the 23rd Psalm: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+23&version=NIV.

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I Would Have Done Things Differently – A Poem

stairway-to-heaven-at-morning-timeI said:

If I were God for one day,

I would have done things differently.

That child would not have died.

The car accident never would have happened

And my heart wouldn’t have been broken.

If I were God for a month,

Things would have changed.

Men would start fully respecting women,

Poverty would be abolished

And all people would feel loved.

If I were God for one year,

Things would be altered.

Imperialistic structures which oppress the weak would cease to exist,

Wars would completely stop,

And everyone would receive an education.

If only I were God.

And then I realized,

That if I were truly God,

People would cease to fall in love,

Because community would be destroyed

In the name of development building.

People would cease going to church,

Because they will have been forced to love,

And people would cease being saved

Because there would be no more uplifting stories of finding God even in the midst of tragedy.

If I were God,

If I were God, I would have done things differently,

But then humanity would become so focused on grandeur,

That they would forget how to see the beauty in the tinest flower.

There is an innate need inside each one of us to make sense of the world.

In doing this, often God’s plan seems senseless.

We ask God to take away our freedom,

To not bring evil by forcing us to do good,

But the very moment He takes it away,

We fight to regain control.

You see, if I were God, I would have done things differently.

But then I remember,

If I were God,

Things would truly be done differently

But because of my limited finitude the differences would mean things never truly would get done.

So, I leave it up to God to bring about justice, healing, and restoration,

And I leave it up to us to allow God to actually do things differently.

5 Things I Wish My Church Taught Me About Sexuality Before I Turned 25

index In the beginning God created the earth, the sky, the sea, the plants and the animals and He looked around and saw that it was very good. But He still was not content. He wanted someone with whom He could share life more deeply and more intimately, so He created a man named Adam. God was happy with Adam. Adam seemed to fit the job description of being someone who could commune and love God, but this time God wasn’t completely satisfied. He said, “there’s something missing. It’s not good for a man to be alone. He needs community. He needs someone who He can share his time with and give his life completely to.” And so God created a helper for Adam. Her name was Eve. Once both men and women were created, God saw that it was very good. And thus the human race began.

This story is one of the first Bible stories I ever learned and I am grateful that I did. It shows from the outset that God has certain priorities for His children, and these have not changed even several thousand years later. God has intentionally wired us for friendships, for relationships, and for many of us, for marriage. God didn’t design life to be done solo, He desired for us to have people to share our thoughts and feelings with, people who could help to complete us more fully and vice versa. In community, we are given the best example of what Godly relationships should look like and how they can be fostered. The ultimate goal of any Christian community should be to draw each other closer to God and to encourage and build one another up.

I am incredibly grateful that over the years I have been able to take part in these types of communities. I pray that you have, too. Whether these communities were a result of the churches I attended, the Christian universities I went to, or the service opportunities I had where I could live amongst young adults (for a season), I am incredibly grateful for all I have learned in these settings.

Nevertheless, there are a few things I missed out on learning. Mainly related to sexuality. You see, not all churches are comfortable discussing sex and sexuality. Some are, and that’s great. But growing up, I found that sex was meant to be a private matter, something that you would just inherently figure out once you got married. It’s no wonder then that I grew up basically oblivious to sexuality and with many unfortunate preconceived ideas until I was well into my twenties. I’d like to share what I wish my church would have taught me about sexuality here:

#1: We are all intricately woven creations of God. Regardless of whether or not we have a partner, no one can take that away from us.

One of the most popular Psalms reads “For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+139&   version=NIV)

Our worth does not come from being in a stable relationship or even in getting married, it comes directly from the Father Himself. Although in theory all churches would espouse this theology, there is a lot of pressure on young adults to date. Sometimes when a person is in their late twenties or thirties they may even be asked if there is something wrong with them or why they haven’t met anyone yet. Even when statements like “so when are you going to bring home a guy/girl?” or “get a boyfriend/girlfriend” are made in jest, it can make someone who is lonely and desperately seeking marriage feel even more stigmatized. Rather than churches focusing on the pro-creation aspect, we first need to remember that God has a unique plan for each one of us and that first and foremost we are His sons and daughters.

#2: You may go off to Bible College and seminary and still not meet anyone special.

You may laugh or roll your eyes at this one, but you’d be surprised at the amount of students I’ve met in my travels who claim that the sole reason they chose to go to Bible College or seminary is so that they could find someone and get married. While the academy is definitely a great place to meet people who have similar interests and theological leanings to you, its sole purpose is not to be a match-making institution. If that’s all you’re hoping to get out of the experience, you may be solely disappointed when you leave and you’re still single and $100,000 in debt. God, may choose to give you a spouse when you’re in school, but it’s best to remember that the point of Bible College and seminary is to grow academically, to learn how to minister for Christ, and hopefully to grow in your faith as well. It’s not to find that someone special.

#3: You may experience sexual temptations. That’s normal, but you can always choose not to act on those impulses.

Many times our church and our society seems to place a double standard on women than on men when it comes to sexual purity. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, women are seen as a-sexual or able to control their sexual passions better than the men, and unfortunately as a result many women who do feel the stirrings of passion might feel that they are indeed gravely sinning. I believe that since God created us as sexual beings, the majority of us will face various temptations at points in our lives. Rather than berating ourselves for finding someone attractive or for fantasying about another person, we need to step away from the scene, ask God for forgiveness, and then move on. We shouldn’t suppress our natural inclination to want sex, but nor should we act like savage animals when we see a hot celebrity. Churches can’t ignore the fact that for 99% of people, their first inklings for sexual pleasure will likely be pre-marriage.

#4: Sex on your wedding night might not be magical. In fact, it might be awkward, uncomfortable, and even a bit frightening.

Now, I’ll admit that I am single and have never been married so I have no idea what my wedding night will be like; but I think those of us who grew up in the Christian church can attest to ideas like when we get married we will know exactly what to do and how to do it and it will be magical because we will know that we have saved ourselves for this moment. How beautiful will it be to lie beside a guy knowing he is the first guy you will share this time with? I believe that God created sex for our pleasure and as an extension of our love towards one another, but I also know that going from holding hands and nothing more into full-blown intimacy will likely not be an easy tradition. Don’t set your expectations so high or you may be let down significantly.

#5: You may be single and that’s okay too.

As I’ve mentioned in several of my other posts, oftentimes marriage is seen as the highest ideal amongst Christian groups. Many evangelicals simply cannot understand the importance of celibacy and see it as something which will only serve sexual frustration. They may even believe that God doesn’t want to withhold marriage from anyone because He designed us as relational beings. However, when we think things like this we ignore a significant population of people who may feel called to be single or who may end up never being married for whatever reason. As a church, I think we need to work towards the inclusion and embrace of all people. If someone is single in our church, we should think of ways to continue to allow them to be part of service opportunities and to create spaces where married couples and single adults can intermingle with one another. Churches shouldn’t place any pressure on their young adults to date. If the young adult decides to date on their own, then well and good, but we need to wait for God to give them the permission to go ahead rather than to ostracize them and make them feel they have no place in the community.

So there you have it. Church will never be perfect and human sexuality will likely continue to be a hot button topic for as long as the institution exists, but hopefully we will be able to gradually move away from prejudicial viewpoints into an accepting and loving embrace of all.

 

On Cultivating Missionaility and Evangelism (Review of A.O. Green’s Article in a Living Alternative)

lamen

Throughout 2015, Z&P will be highlighting various chapters in the new Living Alternative book co-authored by the MennoNerds collective and published by Etelloc Publishing.  For the first blog post in this series check out: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/a-mennonite-seminarian-turned-pentecostal-intern-re-examines-an-anabaptist-approach-towards-signs-and-wonders/.

For too long, Western Christians have sat back, taken the easy and comfortable path of not questioning, and have seldom reached others for Christ largely due to fear of how the other person might react. Surrounded by the false security a maga-church may provide, we fail to truly live out the Gospel of Christ which commands us to feed the poor, to love our enemies, and to work alongside the marginalized.

In A.O. Green’s article entitled “Wine in New Wineskins: The Usefulness of 16th Century Anabaptist Evangelism Methods for Today’s Ekklesia,” A.O addresses the need for modern-day Anabaptist Christians to reclaim our biblical and historical roots as we seek to train up the next generation of faith-believing Christians and as we seek various avenues for proclaiming the Gospel to those who do not yet believe.

In a pinpointing sentence, A.O. boldly states, “At present, some have made a cottage industry out of devising newer expressions of Christianity in the areas of mission and evangelism.”[1] This sentence articulately suggests that many of our churches have become pre-occupied with how we look and how we are perceived by others, meanwhile we may be doing absolutely nothing in terms of helping curb racism, helping support single mothers, or teaching at-risk youth simple job skills.

From a practical viewpoint, I agree with A.O. that simply focusing all of our efforts on a single church building will not win many souls for Christ, if it is also not accompanied by social outreach. To further this thought, I deeply resonate with the words of Justus Menius, a Lutheran polemicist, “misleaders charge that we are not true servants of the Gospel because we are sinners, and don’t practice ourselves what we preach; because we don’t wander around in the world like the Apostles, but stay put and have definite residence and our appointed pay.”[2] This is further compounded by A.O.’s statistical evidence that despite the title many of us give ourselves as followers of Christ, and despite the fact that many of us would agree that evangelism and missions are important, very few of us are actually doing it. In his article, A.O cites Glen Kerr, author of Mastering the Art of Personal Evangelism who suggests that as low as 2% of all Christians are involved with evangelism and an additional 71% do not even support evangelicstical outreaches.[3]

These are troubling statistics, but they sadly do not surprise or shock me very much. As a seminary student, Bible college graduate, and practicing minister, I can attest to how little I personally have done in the way of evangelism despite years of training  in cultural diversity amongst various people groups. I can speak to my own fear of being let down, of not having the answers, and of not knowing what to say. I am constantly embarrassed by my own lack of enthusiasm for such endeavours considering my educational background which included courses centering around the missional church, evangelism, and global awareness when my brothers and sisters in various countries in the world are willing to lose their life for this same Gospel.

The Lord has compelled me of this on several occasions. In the interest of time, I will only highlight two of them.

When I was 19, I began a placement at a local Jewish nursing home interning under the chaplain. I was told that I was to be respectful of all religious viewpoints and whereas I could share my own views if I was ever asked them directly, I was not to impose them upon anyone else. I believe in religious tolerance and try to live a life of mutual respect and fidelity with all, but my heart continued to break for these Jewish seniors as they came to the end of their life. On more than one occasion as an elderly man or woman was approaching their death, they would ask me whether they would be guaranteed entrance into heaven. I would assure them that it would all be okay. I told them they had lived a good life, done all they could, and tried to be faithful to their religious viewpoints. This seldom comforted them. Some of them would press me further, “well, what do you believe?” Instead of sharing the Gospel with them, I would simply turn my head and mutter something along the lines that all religions were equal. One night I received a dream in which these residents were in a burning bus. The bus was full of smoke and I was on the outside. They were shouting at me “why are you standing there? See what you’ve done to us? You could have told us how to get out of here, but you didn’t!” This dream troubled me. From that day on I resolved that I wanted to be a better witness for Christ. I do not want it on my conscience that someone was denied a relationship with the Lord because I failed to let them know about His saving grace and mercy. Of course, I still maintain the understanding that ultimately a person should decide for themselves what they will believe, and it is not for me to guilt someone into my religious practices or instil fear in them; but after that experience, I no longer wanted to be shy about what I believe to be the truth.

My second story took place a year later when I was 20. I accepted a placement as a Day Camp Coordinator at a very liberal church camp where the majority of the staff were atheists and even the director of the camp herself was not a strong believer. One day, I took out my Evangecube (a picture puzzle highlighting the death and resurrection of Christ) and showed it to the campers. After the session, a little girl showed her mom using the cube how Jesus came to save us. Well, the camp director did not think too highly of that. She told me that I had overwhelmed these church kids with too much Jesus and that same day she fired me. Although I was deeply hurt by these events especially because I had tried to present the Gospel in the most respectful of ways without pressuring kids to believe or even talking specifically about hell and fire, I later took comfort in a story that one of my friends at seminary told me. She shared with me about hearing the Gospel message for the first time as a nine year old at a church camp. Although she hadn’t accepted Christ that day, the story stayed with her for years to come. She did not come from a Christian family and was never exposed to Christianity after that one summer, but later as a 15 year old she was invited to attend a local church with her friend. At that church she once again heard the Gospel message. That day she did accept the Lord, but she claims that had her camp counselor not put the seed in her years before it likely would never have happened.

As I reflect back on Christ’s call for us to be missional examples of His kingdom, I am reminded of how often I become preoccupied with my own looks rather than with Christ’s call and command. Frankly, I need to get over myself! I’ve often been surprised at how receptive my non-Christian friends truly are to attending church functions with me, some of which even include outright evangelism. Many of my non-Christian friends are respectful of my beliefs, curious about what the Bible says, and interested in serving alongside me. When I downplay my faith as if it is not important, I realize that I am actually doing them quite a disservice, not to mention being dishonest to my Lord and Saviour.

Perhaps not all forms of evangelism suit you, but certainly one form or method will. Perhaps you have skills in teaching and would be able to help assist in a Catechist class at your church, or perhaps you have hands-on abilities and could serve and live out the Gospel through a placement with Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, or the Salvation Army. Perhaps you have a heart for overseas development, but no interest in going over there yourself. You can support missions even right here in North America through generous donations to Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) or through the Mennonite Church’s Witness Program. Wherever your skills lie, you can help to bring the Kingdom of God about here on this earth. After all, just like A.O. reminded us and just like all Anabaptist likely would adhere to, “faith must be manifested by a holy life of obedience. Salvation…is not by faith alone, but by a faith that obeys.”[4]

Interested in reading more? Purchase Your copy at: http://www.amazon.com/Living-Alternative-Anabaptist-Christianity-Post-Christendom/dp/0989830411.  For more information: http://mennonerds.com/project/a-living-alternative/.

[1] Page 3

[2] Page 6

[3] Page 9

[4] Citing C. Arnold Snyder. Page 10 of Living Alternative

A Love Song – A Poem

write_me_a_love_song___by_tazusajoe37-d3b006r Drink deeply and imbibe,

Drink from the well that won’t run dry.

Drink the love that swells within me,

Drink the sound of waves

Rising to greet the Phoenix of the Sun.

Silently wait in this place,

The calm running over you.

Imbibe and deeply drink.

The cool water quenching your utmost thirst,

The river dancing a thousand dances,

Not one of them alike.

Freely you have been given,

Freely give.

Drink.  Deep.  Deeply drink.

Drink deeply and imbibe.

5 Things I Wish Every Christian (& Church) Would Keep In Mind When Having a Homosexuality Debate

homosexual2Every New Years, I am tempted to write some cliché type of post about looking back over the past year and thinking about the year to come. In the past, I have written these articles, and I definitely do see their value and place as I read the posts that others have created on this topic. It is inherently valuable for us to remember the blessings God has given us in the past and to think about how we can make a difference and serve the needs of others in the year to come. However, this year, I felt compelled to do something different. You see, over the years, same sex marriage, sexual orientation, and how the church can lovingly and faithfully commit to partnerships with these individuals has become of paramount importance.

I know what you’re thinking. Either I’m going to start lovingly embracing all homosexual activity and urging you to do the same, or else I’m going to start gay-bashing.  Actually, my hope is to do neither one of these things. Oftentimes people ask me what my direct views on homosexuality are. For the most part, I am ashamed to say, I have tried to slough off this question. I grew up in an Evangelically conservative church for the formative years of my childhood until embracing Anabaptism as a young teenager. I’ve been quite content in the more progressive style of churches ever since. Perhaps it has been out of fear or out of embarrassment resulting from my own lack of knowledge and understanding on these issues that I have avoided them, but I have consciously made the decision not to unveil my direct views on this blog. The other factor, which is the main reason I have not discussed in detail what I think about the LGBTQ debate is because it is a topic that I am still learning about, still thinking through, and still trying to understand from all angles. Oftentimes, it is easy for individuals to see this as a cop-out. Sometimes peers will argue with me that they know it has been an interest of mine for years and they don’t buy the whole idea that I don’t know where I fit on the whole spectrum yet. And that’s fair. However, what I’d like to suggest to these individuals is that it is not as easy as that. This is a topic that requires grace, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy from all sides. It’s a topic that has split churches, has caused division and dissension, and has created many hurt feelings. Since I am not a practicing homosexual myself and since I don’t have close friends or family who associate with this lifestyle, it makes me want to be increasingly careful when I enter into the debate. I come at it with the understanding that I don’t know what it’s like to be shunned by family, friends, or the church, that I don’t know what it’s like to lose my chance at receiving a pastorate after years of study because I came out of the closet, or what it’s like to be the mother of a child who claims this lifestyle as their own. For all these reasons, it is important for me to try to stand back, to be objective (or as objective as is humanly possible), and to do intensive research both theoretically and more importantly through personal conversations with the LGBTQ community, before I write an in-depth blog post sharing my own thoughts on this topics.

Nevertheless, over the years I have seen that many churches and individuals simply do not “play fair” when it comes to the LGBTQ debate. This isn’t right either. As the body of Christ, I believe we are called to embrace and love all people, to show compassion and mercy, and to bring restoration, healing, and justice to all nations of the earth. As a church, we are called to rebuild and renew not to distress and dishearten. Of course, this doesn’t always mean that there will be no disagreements. Disagreements are a part of life and since the church is made up of imperfect humans, it makes sense that at times various viewpoints will be present. What I’m hoping for, though, is that the church will learn how to have loving dialogue even when they don’t necessarily agree rather than dissension.

If I were to choose one New Year’s resolution for 2015, it would be that I hope to create an inward attitude that welcomes and fosters dialogue and where people feel comfortable sharing with me the things that are deepest to their heart. This doesn’t mean that I can never be discerning, but it does mean that I must try to steer away as much as a possible from meaningless controversies and contentions. It doesn’t mean that I can’t maintain that certain things are biblically wrong or right, but it does mean that I should try to love rather than to judge. It means that I am called to compassion not to criticism. Called to acceptance rather than apathy.

With this viewpoint, I understand fully that I (as one person) will never be able to tackle the whole LGBTQ debate in one blog post with the time and attention it deserves. But even so, I hope that these five points will provide you with some insight so that when someone asks you for your opinion on this topic, you will know how to fully engage and how to agree and disagree in love. Thus, the Kingdom of God can be furthered rather than shut down just because of a theological quandary. Below I have highlighted my top 5 pet peeves when it comes to the unfair assumptions and prejudices individuals can show when they engage in the LGBTQ debate:

brokebackFirst, I’d like to talk to the LGBTQ Community:

**Disclaimer: I’m not providing a blanket statement here that all LGBTQ practicers or all Evangelical Christians are the same. But I’m simply saying: we are all flawed, we all make mistakes, and we all must rely on God for wisdom and strength.**

#1: The Extreme Approach (Gay-Basher vs. Homosexual Lover): Back in October, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a discussion of the LGBTQ community at my alma mater, Tyndale University College and Seminary. I was inspired and deeply appreciative of Tyndale’s willingness to engage with this type of dialogue, the compassion and mercy they exerted, and the honesty and openness that several students exhibited as they shared personal stories of their own struggles. Although Tyndale is a more conservative school and as a result the inclusion of LGBTQ students will likely be a progression rather than all at once, I deeply respect their desire to understand where they are headed as an institution and to respond to the theological and emotional questions this may evoke in their present student body. While some students and faculty admittedly may have fear, suspicion, or dis-ease in addressing this topic, it was evident that even more students found this dialogue to be relevant and important for future church leaders and missionaries to be aware of.

Nevertheless, I must make one confession. During the open question and answer period, I decided to share my thoughts. First, I thanked the speaker for his honesty and affirmed him in his desire to have this type of timely discussion. I also acknowledged the hurt that the church has caused for many individuals in the LGBTQ community and the liberation that young adults can feel when they are invited to explore their sexuality rather than have it shut down. I definitely agree with the speaker that we are the only ones who can speak deeply and personally about our own orientation – no one else has a right to disagree or debate with us about whether we are gay, straight, or bi. Unfortunately, many churches have, and that is one reason several youth have turned away from the church.

HOWEVER time and time again I have heard well-meaning and sincere Christians give their own opinions about why homosexuality is a sin only to have certain (though by no means all) LGBTQ supporters counter back saying this is exactly why this distrust the church. Why can’t these people support them and why must they hate all homosexuals?

Now, let’s take a step back here. This is a personal pet peeve of mine because I believe in differing opinions. I post a lot of controversial stuff on this blog and I often gets criticisms and comments back. Sometimes these comments have no theological backing and are simply someone who believes in the death penalty rather than pacifism and wants to rant on about it. No matter what I say, they aren’t going to change their minds and they do it in the most disrespectful of ways. HOWEVER, 9 out of 10 times, this is not the case. For the most part, when people debate with me on my blog they do it lovingly and they counter my arguments with their own from Scripture, theological training, and life experience. So, when people who are educated and who know what they are saying disagree with me, I have no problem in engaging in a dialogue with them and in opening myself to the possibility they may be right.

Taking it one step further, I am a female and studying to be a pastor. In fact, I have even been employed before as a pastor. Some of my closest friends from Tyndale cannot support this. From their own study of the Word, church history, and their own denominational backgrounds they believe God only called men to be in the ministry. Does this stop them from being my friends? No. They respect what I do (even if they disagree with it) and I respect that they will never see eye-to-eye with me on this issue and we leave it at that.

The moral of the story is that I would really challenge individuals to not immediately go to one extreme or the other. Don’t immediately assume that just because someone thinks homosexuality is a sin that they hate all gays and don’t assume that just because someone is more liberal in their approach that they themselves must be gay. I don’t think that’s really fair to either party. Instead of jumping to conclusions, we need to enter into careful dialogue.

0D4468EDFFE74847A0685A55B4B2BB6D.ashxNow, I’d like to talk to the Evangelical Church:

#2 and #3: The Out-Dated Scripture Approach AND the Fact that Canada Isn’t a “Christian” Country: Back in my pre-teen years when I was just starting to get old enough to understand politics, I remember there being a great commotion in Canada at that time over the legalization of all homosexual unions. Pastors, lay people, and the ordinary congregant bonded together to write letters to parliament telling the government this should not be the case. Although I may have been too young to really get involved with what was happening at this time, I already had my reservations then and they still have not changed. Here’s why: these individuals were using Scripture verses completely out of context and they were assuming that Canada is a Christian nation (which it is not. Not even close).

I’ll speak to the first issue first. I believe in the infallibility of Scripture and that all Scripture is inspired and God-breathed. (1). I also believe that we need to interpret all Scripture in community looking at the life of Christ Himself and trying to live our lives in such a way that it brings about justice and the Kingdom of God here on this earth. It is hard for me to say that I would rather choose one Scripture over another, although we are all guilty of this. I do know, from my own studies of Scripture, that there are several verses in the Bible which can be interpreted as speaking against homosexuality. Of course, not everyone believes this. Some would argue that these are all just poor translations, that the Scriptures were implying something else entirely, or even that it was written at a different time period and thus it doesn’t matter anymore. These individuals may argue that technically the Bible also says that women should be submissive to men and are not granted the ability to lead or to teach in a church, but that by looking at church history we can see that women have often made invaluable contributions to the life of the church and by studying Scripture we can see that Paul actually was implying something much different than what we read there. I won’t get too much into this debate now as it would take too much time, but I believe that these individuals raise a fair point.

Still, my issue is not with looking at verses which deem homosexuality as sinful, but it’s where those verses are coming from. When these individuals were writing these letters they were often quoting verses from Leviticus (you know, the clean book in your Bible). The two most common verses cited were:

Leviticus 18:22: You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

And Leviticus 20:13: If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

That’s fine, except for the fact that when was the last time you wore polyester, ate pork, or remembered to wear the tassels on your robe? Do you happen to have any tattoos on your body? Did you and your wife sleep in the same bed last week when she was on her period? Yep. That’s what I thought.

Now, I’ll address the second issue. Whether or not your church views homosexuality as a sin is up to them. I believe there are many reasons why a church would believe this based on the Scriptures, however, to tell the Canadian government not to marry gays is simply preposterous. Here’s why: we aren’t a Christian nation. Some older adults believe that we are. They remember the days when they were young and church was the highlight of their week and the Lord’s prayer was said in school, but we don’t live in that time period anymore. Canada prides itself on being completely multicultural and completely inter-religious. As Canadians we try to tolerate and respect all religious viewpoints and freedom of religious is one of our constitutional rites. If you can prove from something other than the Bible why homosexual marriage is wrong, then fine. If you can prove sociologically, anthropologically, or economically why it is a bad idea then I’d love to hear about it, but if all you can offer is a few verses from the Scripture, I’m sorry, that may cut it as far as theological doctrine goes, but it doesn’t cut it as far as political viewpoints should go. If someone started pulling out verses from the Qu’ran, The Tripitaka or the Bhagavad-Gita suggesting that because these books say this or that we should or shouldn’t do this or that as a nation, how many people do you think would follow through with it? I’m pretty sure that politician wouldn’t get any votes. As a Christian, I of course wish to some degree that we all respected and lived by biblical principles, but as an Anabaptist, I am also an advocate of the separation of church and state on all matters. Including homosexual unions.

#4: Using 1 Corinthians 6:9 or Revelation 22:15 Out Of Context: To be completely honest with you, I have heard these two verses quoted in opposition to gay marriage so many times that if I received a dime for each time it was mentioned I would be a rich lady by now. Now, before you get defensive, hear me out. Yes, these two verses are mentioned in the Bible. Yes, they seem to clearly indicate (although as aforementioned there is much debate about the exact translations of these verses) that homosexuality is wrong. But do you want to know something else? They also tell us that many other people are wrong. People who have sex before marriage, people who have affairs, people who practice magic (have you read your horoscope lately?), and people who lie. But that’s not all. Let’s take it a step further. Jesus also told us that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (you know, looking at porn, going to adult entertainment, even becoming a little too friendly with your secretary) and that if we hate someone in our heart we may as well have murdered them (have you been so frosted at someone recently that you flippantly said you wouldn’t care whether they were dead or alive?) (2). The Bible clearly tells us that all of us fall short of God’s standards and that even the best we have to offer is not perfection (3). These verses may point to the fact that homosexuality is wrong, but homosexuality is by no means the most abominable sin. The truth is, that if this list includes all the people who are heading for the furnace, we’re all going to end up there. I believe the point Paul was trying to make does not allow us to become judgmental or “holier than thou”, but to remind us that no one is perfect so we must rely on Christ for full redemption and forgiveness.

Taking it a step further, I have met countless Christian young adults who are not virgins. Some of them have been living with their boyfriend or girlfriend for years, many of them have engaged in pre-marital sex on more than one occasion. Several of them have never repented of this or have said they knew it was wrong but couldn’t help themselves because their passion was too great. I don’t judge these people. I know how hard it is for a Christian to be pure in a sex-saturated world that gratifies the flesh, but when these individuals quote these verses in opposition to same sex marriage, it just seems…well.. hypocritical. How can you suggest that God won’t forgive a homosexual when in the preceding sentence he also condemned you for sleeping with your man or woman? So just don’t go there.

#5: The Whole “Love the Sinner But Hate the Sin” Debate: Friends, I know how easy it is to fall into this trap. In fact, it’s likely the ultimate Christian cliché. While I do agree with it in theory because as Christians we are called to love everyone, I find this is often used as ammo for why we should indeed hate the sinner and hate the sin. Here’s what I mean. Yes, we’re called to become open and embracing communities for all. I will never be able to accept the degradation of women or children, but I am called to pray for and offer support to men and women who find themselves in these forms of addiction. If a church is indeed able to do this and to do it well then I give that church all my respect and admiration. The problem is that too often churches who say things like this don’t actually live by what they are saying. Some churches have excommunicated gay members, have not allowed them into ministry or service positions because they are “living in sin” or have not properly mediated family conflicts when these individuals have come out of the closest. Doesn’t sound very loving to me.

I know of countless stories of individuals (some of whom were serving in ministry at the time) who have either lost their positions or have not been offered a position because they came out. These churches see homosexuality as a sin and thus see the person as a sinner. Surely a sinner can’t serve God, right? Wrong! What about Noah who got drunk and embarrassed himself in front of his kids? What about David who perpetrated royal rape after being hailed “a man after God’s own heart?” What about Peter who denied Christ three times and later was established as the founder of the early church? I have no problem with a church having high standards for their ministers. I believe that’s Biblical (4), but then we need to make the standards equal across the board. What about the pastor who neglects his own family’s needs because he is busy serving the church? Or what about the youth pastor who consistently gets drunk (yep, I’ve met several of those)? All I’m saying here is: don’t put different standards on a homosexual than you would put on a heterosexual.

I once had a young man at Tyndale, a very brilliant fellow who was deeply spiritual tell me: “My problem with homosexuals is that they don’t think there is a way to stop what they are doing. I’m a guy. I struggle with lust and I need to do something about it. Homosexuals say, ‘I’m a guy. I struggle with lust and I don’t need to do anything about it.”

I disagree with this viewpoint, because I don’t think it takes into consideration the very real struggle the gay community goes through. Essentially all human beings, whether they are male or female, gay or straight will at various times struggle with lust to some degree or another. We are all called to behave responsibly and act in fidelity towards one another, but we may not be able to avoid the inevitable temptations that face us. There are some Christian who believe that any and all forms of homosexuality are sins, but, I am not of this persuasion. I believe there is a difference between orientation and practice. I do believe homosexuals, just like heterosexuals, can choose to embrace or shun their love interests. I believe they can choose to live a celibate life. This may be denying them something and it may be prohibiting them from fully living into their sexuality but if they truly felt it was wrong to be married to another man or woman, they could choose other fulfilling ways of living in community as a single person. BUT I don’t believe that people have any control over their orientation. Orientation is something that we are born with, something that we can’t ignore and can’t shun. When churches embrace questioning and allow for dialogue, they are fostering community. When they block out orientation they are doing the opposite.

This blog post has highlighted a variety of themes. It has discussed the importance of being welcoming communities and embracing our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. This is a long and important discussion to have and this blog post only begins to scratch the surface of what has been years of pain and confusion due to the church’s response to the gay community. My prayer is that in 2015 we will begin to reach out more and continue to discuss these matters with each other. I hope that in so doing we will end in love and not in controversy.

**For more information: One of the best websites I have ever come across that deals with the LGBTQ debate from a Christian perspective is the Gay Christian Network: https://www.gaychristian.net/.

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1) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Timothy+3:16-17

2) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5%3A28&version=NIV

3) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+3:23

4) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Titus+1%3A5-9&version=NIV

Leviticus 18:22: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+18%3A22&version=NIV

Leviticus 20:13: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+20%3A13&version=NIV

1 Corinthians 6:9: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+6%3A9+&version=NIV

Revelation 22:15: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+22%3A15+&version=NIV