Instruction

Instruction

I wrote this initially as a breakout of Genesis 1:27. It began as notes from which I was going to post a small video, and it wound up growing legs of its own. Shortly after that, it ran off into the sunset flailing wildly about in my Google Docs until it became the post you are reading now.

Without some context, this may seem very Star Wars, where it starts at Chapter IV, a New Hope. So if you're reading this, I'll link the original video and comments right here. In the previous discussion on video, I dove into the opening section of the passage, breaking down the first mention of God creating. I have to wonder how many commenters watched the video I posted or simply didn't read beyond the words "gender fluidity." If you're reading this, I implore you to watch the whole thing.

I ask this because I caught a lot of heat for that post for merely posing a question. The idea was to get thoughtful feedback on the first section as I understood it from the translation resources I have available to me. What I got instead stopped just short of pitchforks, cries of heresy, and the piling up of wood below a stake. Some of that toned down, but not all of it.

My being only a high school graduate doesn't help matters. People tend to believe they know more than you do when they have more schooling than you do, regardless of the subject matter. I found it helpful to remember that a prominent Methodist-based university was founded by a man who had no formal higher education. That certainly helped ... along with a healthy dose of humility because, well, I'm only a high school graduate. What on earth do I know about anything, am I right?

I began by stating that I was sectioning out the verse and taking it a bit at a time. That was called out because I didn't explain the entire verse all at once. That devolved further because I did not eventually arrive at a conclusion that validated the commenter's suppositions. I did my best to explain that, as a pastor, you sometimes break thoughts and concepts out in chunks. From there, you assemble the whole and draw a conclusion. To me, it's an analytical methodology that has born much fruit. Reading books like the Expositor's Greek Testament or any other significant Bible commentary will show you this is commonplace, acceptable practice.

The next complaint was going back to the original Hebrew text. I provided examples as to why the deep linguistic dive was necessary compared to just reading the English translation (which one?). To be honest, I still don't know if it made sense to the person posting, but they can't say I didn't try.

To be fair, my interpretations may very well be wrong and I am absolutely humble enough to admit that I am not N.T. Wright (high school education only, remember?). If you've read to this point and are willing to dismiss my commentary on those grounds, I'm completely fine with that. Bear in mind, however, that's why I do my due diligence asking other, more experienced and educated pastors their thoughts and conclusions. In light of all this, I believe this interpretation holds water. Your mileage may vary.

The reason I feel it necessary to detail all of this is that it points out the massively polarizing effect gender fluidity has on discussions. To be sure, this post may not receive any kinder responses from some. But I'm posting it nonetheless because if I don't, something deep in my gut will not go away.

Without further adieu, here's part 2. (Admit it, you sang that).

 

Plows, Furrows, and Hebrew

As translated in the NRSV, we read, "In the image of God, He created them." The Hebrew for this is "Besalem Elohim bara otow." Here's where we encounter our first issue because both the NIV and NRSV use the pronoun "them," but the KJV uses the pronoun "him." So you're wondering, which is it?

Actually, you're probably wondering why you should care about this at all. Stick with me, though. The difference between "them" and "him" is crucial. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance links "otow" to the word "eth" which appears 846 times in the Bible. That's a lot, right? When we look at one example that is right around the corner from Genesis 1:27, we find 2:15 where the word is rendered as "him." Them? Him? Who cares?

You should that's who.

Genesis was written by a man at the comparative dawn of Hebrew history. This was an extremely patriarchal time in their culture. As such, it's essential to look at the difference in pronouns.

Both the NIV and NRSV, to varying degrees, use gender-normative pronouns. That's not a bad thing, by the way. Still, when you look into a resource like Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, you find that the pronoun should refer to the subject of the original verb. The original verb is "created," and the subject of that original verb was "ha'adam" or Adam - the man. The reason that difference is significant is that in Benner's Ancient Hebrew Lexicon, you find the pronoun should read as a "plow point."

Now, what could be more "him" than the rather phallic symbol of a plow point? This is much more important when you look at the third section of creation in this verse, which is "zakar uneqebah bara otam"... Male and female He created them." This pronoun, "otam" refers to the plural subject of "zakar uneqebah." "Zakar" means, "the one in the family that remembers and passes down family history through story and family name." In a patriarchal society, that's the man who passes along the family name. "Uneqebah" will be broken out in a moment, but combined, this is why "otam" is translated as "they."

Long way around the barn, but we're almost there. 

"Otam" and "otow" are two different pronouns from the same root. "Otow" is the plow. So you need a patch of land for a plow to have some purpose for being, right? Enter the word "uneqebah," which is translated as "female." That word in Hebrew means either "pierce" or "hole." Now you know what the plow was for, right? Because if I have to spell this out further for you, I'm afraid we might go past the boundaries of good taste in polite company.

So here we have a plow, and a corresponding target to pierce. All about genders, right?

But what about those who actually have both sexes? As I asked in the ensuing mess from the original post, who made them? Wouldn't they be here if God made them? "Plow and hole, and self-plowing hole he made them" is how this should read, especially if we're talking about physical genders alone. This omission is the first clue that we're not talking about genders.

Still, many believe this is speaking strictly of genders, so let's travel down that rabbit hole. In the past, hermaphrodites have been called an abomination based on this passage. In modern times, most of the world accepts that they're not. We know that there are species in nature that have both sexual reproductive organs. In fact, some species can shift their gender as needed to match the procreative need. Natural-planned gender fluidity is part of God's toolbox.

The conclusion is that hermaphrodites are not an abomination. They were made just as fearfully and wonderfully as single-gender humans by a loving creator.

More than skin deep

Now that we're done in that rabbit hole, we get to the meat and potatoes. The real problem here is that I have to go to this length at all to explain it. Clarifying that this isn't about penises and vaginas should be something we should openly want to consider. We were made for interlocking like a plow and a hole; that much is true. But to think that the Imago Dei in which we were created for interlocking is strictly about genitalia is to really miss the mark. And two other critical parts of what we are.

First off, God doesn't have a penis, nor does He have a vagina. We use masculine pronouns because of our patriarchal origins. Still, we should use gender-fluid pronouns instead if we want to be accurate. It tends to freak some people out when you do that, though, so I'll just keep using masculine pronouns.

If you don't believe God lacks flesh and blood reproductive genitalia, just go up to His throne and ask Him to show you what it says on His driver's license. I doubt that will work out for you; personally, I think that a being not bound by flesh has zero need for genitalia. The only reason we have it is that it's necessary for our little training exercise we call life on earth.

Think about it. He's a being who can create something from absolute nothingness, which is what the word used for "create" means in Hebrew. That word is never used with anyone else but God. Seeing as God can do that, why does He need anyone or anything else?

Second, we get gender-focused on the "plow" and the "pierce" without taking into account the variety of actual genders. That construct is only mentioned once here, and we fail to focus on the words "He created," which is said not once, not twice, but three different times. That is what we in the business call "comparative importance."

Kidding. I don't know if people in some business call it that or not. But it is vital to compare the mentions of creating. 

By my count, we should talk about the majestic miracle of God's creation three times more than we do the human sexuality we inaccurately zero in on. Yet, we keep having to have this discussion like we're the kid in the movie, "Kindergarten Cop." You know, the one who has to continually remind Arnold that boys have penises and girls have vaginas.

We DO realize sexual organs are temporary, right? Hard as it is to fathom, one day, there will be no use for them in our lives. Eventually, we will get new bodies that can withstand being in the presence of God Almighty? The continual physical-only focus makes me believe we really don't understand that.

So let's focus on God for a bit, OK? We Christians like to talk about people being the image-bearer of God, so what does that mean? I broke out for you earlier that definition, but let's look at God in action. Many refer to God as "The Father." I mentioned that already, but it bears repeating that we have a history of looking at God as a masculine man. But He's not only that.

He's a warrior, but He's also a nurturer. To our stereotyped roles, He's a Dad when He breaks shields and shatters spears. You can hear the Dad in Him when he says, "I've had enough, all of you stop your bickering and recognize who the real authority in this joint is." (Psalm 46)

But He's also Mom, gently loving Israel back to life like the dew on a lily, talking about his fragrance and beauty. (Hosea 14)

God is vastly more complicated than any of us give Him credit for, and so is Jesus.

The same guy who flipped tables over in the temple also wanted to be Mother Hen to Jerusalem and cried about the rejection he felt.

 

Defining Gender Fluidity

The Oxford Online Dictionary defines gender fluidity as someone "who does not identify themselves as having a fixed gender."

Guess who doesn't identify as having a fixed gender? God. One second, God is like a lion or a leopard to the people, then He's the nurturing dew. Believe it or not, by definition, God is gender-fluid.

What I just said is going to get me a lot of hate, and I realize that. I'm OK with it. God knows no singular gender identification. He shows the gender qualities of both our stereotypical male or female at any given time, whenever it suits His will. You can call what I just said heretical or apostasy all you want, but it's backed up in scripture, and it is accurate.

The problem stems from marginalizing societal perceptions that run quite deep. I remember growing up as a kid and listening to young boys calling other boys sissies. In fact, there was this one time I recall a couple kids getting into a fight and one of the boys using a pretty good snap kick that landed hard on his opponent's thigh. Someone in the crowd shouted, "Hey, only sissies kick!"

They may have believed that only sissies kick, but if you're allergic to bloody noses, a good kick is a solid choice.

Later on in life, we learned to marginalize lesbians as "butch" and made fun of their penchant for being manly and wearing their hair short and wearing flannel. Societal norms said women should be feminine and not masculine, and men should be masculine and not feminine. Let the marginalization of those on the periphery of that statement commence. It's not tough to trace this issue. This was patriarchically birthed in the belief God made us that way when Moses wrote of that problematic plow and a hole in the 27th verse of the first chapter of Genesis.

But He didn't make us that way at all. He made some boys soft and some girls tough. Some people are broken in ways that make them identify with different gender roles because they need to protect themselves. They wear flannel like armor and crop their hair close because they don't want to be targeted.

Or perhaps they just rock that look. I'm not into pigeon-holing anyone, so why don't you ask the butch ones their reasons directly?

Here's the thing. I can sew my own clothes, I'm pretty handy with a needle and thread and a sewing machine. That earned me some critical comments when I was young about being girly. These days I can also make a holster. I made the chaps and the chinks I wear riding my horses, and the cross-draw black powder pistol rig I made for myself is one of the more attention-getting pieces I own.

God made some of us with more masculinity than others, and they just so happen to have vaginas. God made some of us more feminine than others, and it just so happens they have penises. They refuse to say they are male or female, and I, for one, am OK with that. They live on a gender basis with no bias, which allows them to go from the necessity of being more hard-edged to more soft-edged whenever the need arises. And ain't that beautiful?

 

A Creeptastic Crusade

Some folks have their hearts set on roping the sexuality of everyone on the planet into an unhealthy categorization spiral. It looks like, "God loves you, or God hates you based on whether or not you agree with me. Especially when we talk about your sex organs, which I just so happen to enjoy doing more often than you might feel comfortable with. And by the way, even though it's your sexual organs and your relationship with God, I'll be the judge of whether or not you're using them the way they should be used, and relating to God in the way you should be relating to God."

Seriously, they won't give that crusade a rest.

For whatever reason, these folks fixate on the penises and vaginas of the marginalized and then make the lives of these people a living hell.

You can't help but wonder what is in their own background that makes them so interested in the plumbing concerns of another human being. Are they really trying to overcome their personal issues by making other people overcome those issues for them? Didn't Jesus mention something about "Twice the sons of hell" that aptly describes that?

The whole intensive focus is really creepy and kind of worrisome if you ask me.

They feel someone can indeed have life and have it more abundantly. But there's a sharp deviation where they will only allow that if those people don't dare step out of a narrow scope. The rub is that's biblically accurate up to a point. It ceases to be valid when that scope has been approved and sanctified by them, instead of leaving that scope to Jesus and God.

Who are they, other than a group lead mostly by men who believe they are the only ones that can define gender roles? Men who feel they have cornered the market on controlling the thoughts of God almighty - who has no gender and accepts no higher authority, by the way.

On top of that, they still think they're allowed to assign God a gender, too. And man, oh, man. They get pretty tore up when you call God a She. For the record, calling God a She or a Mother is not new. It's been part of mainstream orthodox Christianity for quite some time. However, it made the patriarchy a bit nervous, so it fell out of favor.

The real tragedy here is that there is something about penises and vaginas of other people that make these folk forget about the heart of the marginalized. That's what's at stake here and what we should be paying attention to. Not because I think so, but because that is where God's focus is.

Look, we were made in the complete image of God. Nowhere in the Bible does God specify His physical nature because He doesn't have one. Instead, he embraces whatever the situation calls for. And perhaps we should follow suit.

 

The Embrace

We should embrace the softer side of our characters, and we should not shame effeminate men and masculine women. Maybe if we'd have adopted that outlook that a long time ago, the whole situation wouldn't have devolved into such a hellish mess of harming and suicide. Perhaps unity would have been achieved. You know, like Psalm 133 tells us that God loves so much among His people.  
If your be-all and end-all definition of gender is based on that passage in Genesis 1:27, then I see it like this. People who are gender fluid might be the only ones who are actually living in the image of a non-gender identifying, gender-fluid God.

 

What if it's a test?

The fact that this whole thing has boiled over brings me to one more point. If you've read this far, and God bless you for sticking around, here it is. What if God put all this into play to see if we would seek to reconcile in love like He gave us in the example of Jesus Christ? Or if we'd alienate one another like a bunch of self-righteous ... well ... tools?

Here's the thing. We're putting so much emphasis on physical gender when Paul actually challenged us to place more emphasis on our spiritual nature. Galatians 3:27-28 tells us, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

How can we read that and then throw it out the window so quickly unless there is some preconceived notion we refuse to get past.

I'll admit we're free to refuse to see God's sacred nature in everyone because of what the outside looks like. But in doing so, we deny the basic tenet founded in the first part of Genesis 2:27, namely that everyone is made in the image of God. Blinding ourselves to that because of patriarchal gender-prejudice doesn't make it false any more than sticking one's head in the sands of presupposition will make it true.

We must wrestle with how God has treated people concerning willful gender denial in the past. This is spoken of by no one less than Jesus himself, who acknowledges that some people have no gender. He talked about this in a direct relationship with his teaching on marriage. "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." Matthew 19:2

I guess some folks just can't accept what Jesus said, as much as they say they can.

 

The Heart of the Matter

What all of this comes down to is pretty simple. It doesn't matter what gender stereotype we dress like, who we identify as. Nor does it matter whether we reassign genders of our own volition or have been reassigned by someone else entirely outside of our informed consent. This is all circumcision of the flesh, as Paul put it, and not circumcision of the heart as described in Romans 2:29. Paul didn't manifest this focus out of thin air, he brought it out of Leviticus 26:41, Deuteronomy 10:16 (circumcise the foreskin of your heart), Jeremiah 4:4 (remove the foreskin of your hearts). If you want to place yourself under one law, you put yourself under every law, according to Paul. What's worse, you are telling Jesus Christ that his sacrifice is absolutely useless. By all means, if that is your stance, stick by it. But be prepared to own the unpleasant rejoinder that comes with it from God.

As for my personal belief? I want to do my best to look at humans as God looks at them, by their heart (1 Samuel 16:7). I stick with the grace offered me on the cross as a man oppressed by his own sin in need of a savior, because that reconciles me with God. That gets me to the relationship He wanted with me all along.

In light of that, I will not re-enslave others, nor will I suffer them to be re-enslaved, nor will I be quiet about that re-enslavement. Ever. I'm going with Jesus to the marginalized, whether you're with me or not, whether you like it or not.

Three simple rules. If only it was that easy. The name is quite misleading as the rules are indeed simple, but the concept of following those rules is where life gets complex. In a vacuum, following the rules is easy. Doing no harm, doing good and staying in love with God is quite simple when you’re in a cocoon of safety. Place yourself out where the metal meets the meat, and you find yourself under fire and ducking for cover, with the desire to fire back, do harm, and love God when and if you have the time becoming the règle du jour.

out where the metal meets the meat you find yourself under fire and ducking for cover.

 

The love of God is the key component behind these rules, and for that love to exist in someone and radiate out from their self requires God’s other-centric loving nature to be the rule of the day in a person’s life. Love of self has to go by the wayside, as does the love of others as a chief motivator. The chief and principal motivator of love must be the love of God.  Christ focused on this when he said that the greatest must be a servant and the leader must be a slave. We are in service to others, however, we are a slave to God and only God. This belief isn’t just a nice sentiment, but a survival mechanism. Remember, we’re not called to ministry in the safe confines of a church, but rather on the battlefields of the heart. We are promised that fight will be rewarding, but also quite injurious

 

Firmly rooting our lives in the love of God, completely sold out and submitted to it, with an eyes-wide-open view of what ministry truly entails, all three rules will have a snowball’s chance on a Georgia blacktop in summer of being followed. 

 

Fittingly, the first rule is where the first battles are fought. It’s in the rule of Do No Harm that we discover our greatest challenges due to our interests to do great good for God. We can potentially trample those on our team, our congregation, our mission field by being overly enthusiastic, possessed by a god, but not by the one true God. If we are to do no harm, we must put the human hearts of others ahead of the human accomplishments of self. The trouble here is that sometimes these two opposing concepts can come to loggerheads, and the result is collateral damage everywhere. Harm is done, good is not done, and our ability to stay in love with God is jeopardized greatly through a variety of avenues from shame to hubris and beyond. 

 

Balancing proper teamwork means loving God so completely that you trust him with details and intersects, and recognize the individual human need of the congregants and those God is drawing to the church to feel loved, but also of the people within the worship team. Leading requires leaning. Leaning on God, leaning on His ability to coordinate efforts for a positive outcome, and leaning on your team. Leaning on your faith more than on your gifting is what a lot of this comes down to. 

 

love them as God loves them. Something as simple as that. Nothing more, nothing less.

Once you have that down, you can step into the battle to do good. It’s been stated that people will forget what you said, and forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. There’s a massive challenge here in that people must be receptive to the good you wish to do, especially when you’re leading them someplace they don’t want to go, but where they need to be. Doing good for someone requires trust from another person that you’re not the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. In a day and age where polarization is the norm, and people are divisive while shaming others for their lack of unity, it’s not surprising. The first good we need to do for someone before we can do anything else, is to love them as God loves them. Something as simple as that. Nothing more, nothing less, regardless of their response, regardless of their concerns, regardless of how long it takes. It doesn’t matter how lovable or unlovable, how dirty or clean, how deeply broken or together they are, what kind of damage they have done to you or others. Just love them. Not because you have to or are obligated to, but because God chose to love you and them both when your sin was exactly as repulsive to Him as theirs. Only then can you do good. 

 

All of this takes a toll on a person. It’s hard. It’s combat on a soul-deep battlefield and we will be wounded, broken, healed, and sent back into the fray. It’s there that the final rule comes into play. Stay in love with God. Stay connected to the one who gives us life, circling back, spending the night in prayer on the mountain like Jesus, deeply seeking His forgiveness where we’ve not been our best, receiving His rejoicing and favor when we have, and growing in a faithful, humble walk with God. 

 

If we don’t, we will end up as another casualty, and potentially so will others to which we were sent to bring the good news. That cost is too high a price not to adhere to the three simple rules, no matter the complexities. 

There was a post about church renewal that involved men recently on a social media channel I monitor. Sidebar: is anyone else seeing a pattern in these blog posts? Hmm.
 
Anyway, this post specifically addressed the decline of men in the attendance at a church not terribly far from the church I serve.
 
The issues the pastor there saw began when she recognized that most of her congregation were female and older and that her church was essentially decorated in a fashion that suited them. As she looked deeper, this trend had impacted areas of the worship service, the lectionary, hymn selection, and more. She made the determination that if she wanted to see growth in the church community, she needed to see masculine growth in her church. She explained the issue and her plan and received buy-in from her team. They changed the decor to be more masculine than the doilies, pastel tone paint and quilts and began balancing the nature of the worship service. They decorated in a gender-neutral fashion that was appealing to both men and women.
 
The net-net is, they experienced growth that was not only in numbers in pews but also in engagement within the church body. Men didn't only show up, they assumed roles serving the congregation within their church. 
 
All in all, it was not well received by this group, which saw this as a return to patriarchy, catering to men's needs, instead of women's needs and the desire to have a gender-neutral church that is apparently only welcoming to women.
 
In order to achieve that sort of removal of any warrior nature from God that are not honoring to the idea of a gender-neutral church, we need to do a few things.
 

Rewrite the script

We'll need to delete the following from the Bible at the very least. We should do so with the understanding that there will probably be more, as the Bible is full of stories that appeal to the masculine, patriarchal nature. These specifically speak to the warrior aspect of God, so its a good place to start if we plan on neutering God of His nature so that it's more palatable to what we expect of men.
  1. Exodus 15:3
  2. Isaiah 42:13
  3. 1 Samuel 1:3, 1:11, 4:4, 7:26, 17:45
  4. Jeremiah 10:16, 31:35
  5. Amos 3:13, 4:13, 5:15, 5:16, 5:27, 6:8, 6:14, 9:5
  6. Micah 4:4
  7. Joshua 5:14
  8. Zephaniah 3:17
  9. James 5:4
We should also seriously scrutinize Revelations for its imagery that has Christ coming with robes dipped in blood, fire emanating from his eyes, and a sword issuing from his mouth, all from the back of a horse, the symbolism of which is that he is not returning in peace, but rather as a warrior.
 
In order to get rid of a masculine viewpoint, we need to get rid many parts of God. That, for the record isn't just ill-advised, it's impossible. Instead, I propose we honor and balance the nature of our church as God is balanced within His own nature.
 

Tipping-Over Point

The biggest issue with this is simple. Its unbalanced approach leads to an unrealistic expectation that men will stand firmly rooted in the power God placed inside them because it removes from them the inspiration and the scriptural backbone of how to be men, to begin with. In other words, don't expect stand up men to fill your congregations if you are removing the inspiration for them to stand in the first place. They have nothing upon which to stand.
 
Men won't be very interested in that, I'm afraid. And it's not conjecture, it's actual fact as congregational demographics often skew female and older.
 
A balanced approach to a worship service and space has to speak to the warrior/protector nature of God, as well as to the nurturing/loving nature of God equally. Not more male, not more female, but equally balanced as God is balanced. When it gets out of balance, you have to re-balance it by attracting those who need to return to balance it. Once back in balance, you can enter a more neutral mode, by speaking harmony into the body from the pulpit and from the activities present within the church, serving everyone.
 
Equally.
 
 

Let's just face facts: finding a church home can be difficult.  Sure for some folks, it's as simple as going to the same place their parents have always gone or finding a faith community that is from the denomination in which they grew up. Sometimes, though, you need to go deeper than your church is going. Other times you need to let Christ go deeper into your soul. The difference is stark, telling, and often scary because of what it reveals about you. Answering questions about your faith is never easy, let alone comfortable, but it is always necessary.

 

 

It comes down to a simple game of hide and seek, and honesty is the only way you'll get to the answer as to whether or not you're hiding or seeking. It may feel as though you're seeking, but instead, you're actually using the search as a tool to hide something or keep God at arm's length.

 

The human heart, as Jeremiah so aptly put it, is deceptive. Who can know it, indeed.

 

 

The need to go deeper

Let's say you're genuinely searching for a church home. You might have an idea that a more traditional service would help you open to the Holy Spirit more, or you may feel more open in a contemporary setting. You may want to listen to a preacher who is preaching from a manuscript and you may want a very concrete worship service in place before you. Conversely, you may want a church that flows more freely with the Spirit in its movement, is open to impromptu praise portions and has a more expressive mode of worship. Finding a church that matches your heart is important but there are a few commonalities beyond all of this to keep in mind.

 

The human heart, as Jeremiah so aptly put it, is deceptive. Who can know it, indeed.

A church, first and foremostly, should lead everything back to Christ on the cross. I love sitting in a good bible study and really digging into the exegesis of a passage, getting into the Bible commentaries and even going back to the Hebrew and the Greek original texts and then trying to grasp the root of what is being said in order to determine a perspective that one can overlay onto history in order to see these men and women of faith in a new, and hopefully more human light. At the same time, however, all of this means very little to the average person whose passions lie elsewhere. A church that places deep understanding ahead of the primary principles of finding Christ is getting the cart miles ahead of the horse. 

 

Most people want to know one of two things. Does Jesus really love me, and is my salvation real? These two questions are often hinge points for their faith that they will struggle with on a daily basis. Even in a recent deep-dive in the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary on Isaiah 49 (my chapter), the Spirit brought a thought to mind, "How does this point back to Jesus Christ?" While I love the content, understanding the structural components that link this to other sections, writing mannerisms, etc., if you give this to the average congregant, they'll look at you as if you have six heads, three of which are on fire and at least one of which is catching next.

 

Finding a Christ-focused church means it is open to serving the "least of these" that Jesus called us to in Matthew. If we have the opportunity to move past the basic issues, that's enormously helpful, but the basic communication of the gospel of Jesus Christ, salvation by grace alone through faith alone available freely and to anyone has to be the central point of any church ministry.

 

Not like me

If you struggle to find a church that resonates with you, or you simply don't know where to look, you're not alone. Many people don't know if a traditional church or a contemporary service is where they will feel at home. All those questions that need answering are difficult when we don't know what we're seeking. At this point, it's a bit of Googling about a denomination, social media searching, and eventually you are going to have to attend the church in person. There are a few things to remember here.

 

  1. You don't have to attend there right off the bat. Dipping your toe in the water is just fine, and if anyone is a little too clingy, feel free to step back. Just as in personal relationships, churches should respect boundaries. Feel free to reinforce yours.
  2.  There are internal differences. Not every pentecostal church is overtly worshipful, and not every Roman Catholic church is staid and stoic. Every church body has a personality because it's made up of persons. Knowing this going in is helpful.
  3. Doing homework is fine. It's OK to Facebook stalk the pastor and the church page. It's OK to do your homework. It's OK to call the church and ask to meet the pastor.
  4. Extra credit might not be. It's not OK to show up outside the pastor's house one afternoon unexpectedly. Pastors get weirded out by this, just like you. We just try to act gracious about it.
  5. Expect there to be an undercurrent of drama. You will not find a church that lacks drama, ever. If you do, call me and I'll come attend right along with you. Until then, expect drama, and carry a big bucket of grace. Smear it about liberally.

 

All of this having been said, it's imporant to find a body of believers you can worship with and be free enough that your heart is open to the Holy Spirit. We're all uniquely different, which is beautiful in the eyes of God. The foundation of the church is common, but it's OK if the drapes, siding and roofline of our individual denominations look different. 

 

Maybe it actually is me

This one is the hard one to talk about. Some of us hide from God by saying, "I just haven't found a church that resonates with me yet." I could say it's a cop out, I could say it's pretty fake of a person, except that I've been there before myself. I've been reluctant to go to any church because of how the congregation was in a singular church. Maybe it was something hurtful done or said to us (been there). The devil uses this bruising to keep us away from God, hence my reason for pointing out item number 5 above. Forewarned is forearmed. It could be that church is genuinely experiencing some hard times, struggle and attack. That doesn't mean every church is, and we shouldn't conclude every congregation will be the same as another. 

I could say it's a cop out, I could say it's pretty fake of a person, except that I've been there before myself.

 

And then there's the use of this saying because we're genuinely holding onto our "unchurchiness" (again, been there, done that, have the T-shirt). We'll come up with every excuse in the book to deny going to church because we're either afraid of getting too close to God, or we're enjoying our sin too much to go there. Often it's because of both.

 

Look, I can't solve the dilemma of your soul for you, and I cannot draw, drag, or force you closer to Jesus, as that is God's job and he's way better at it than I am. What I can do is tell you this. Being dishonest with who you are is a life that is misery. Abject misery. Admit the reason why boldly and deal with it from there. Doesn't sound very pastorly, I know, but it's very much biblical. Being lukewarm was never God's plan for any of us, and living in a lie about who we really are will never work for anything that we attempt to do, let alone for our discovering who our identity is in the Lord. If you're having too much fun in your sin to accept that God loves you and could very likely have a better plan for your life, then live that, but also accept the consequences of that. Otherwise, take a bold step and move in the direction of the one who first moved towards you. Either way, "Do your business or get out of the outhouse."

 

Submitting to God and Coming Home

In the end, the greatest feeling is sitting in the chair or the pew, in the home church that suits how the Holy Spirit is guiding you, your faith growing and your glorification of God going through the roof. God's desire and design is that we all experience His majestic power radiating from His throne, causing us to, as Micah put it, seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

 

The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments,

- 1 Corinthians 2:15

... while we who are righteous by the Holy Spirit can discern, examine, search and question things through the Holy Spirit, that is exactly where it ends

I recently had someone use this as an excuse for judging people. A few things of note are:

  1. They said this was Jesus, but it’s actually Paul
  2. It doesn’t refer to what kind of judgment is in evidence
  3. It refers to a righteous man, which they admitted they were not

 

The word “judge” as used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:15 is “anakrinei” and it means to discern, question, examine and search, according to most Biblical Greek lexicons. "Ana" means "completing a process" and "krino" means "to separate." Counter to this concept is Christ requiring us to judge not in Matthew 7:1-2. The word Christ used, “krine” is altogether different in concept, although being the root for the word Paul used.

 

So, while anakrinei means to discern, search, question and examine, krine/krino means to judge and to do so in a final, punitive manner. The point is that, while we who are righteous by the Holy Spirit (the only righteousness we actually have) can discern, examine, search and question things through the Holy Spirit, that is exactly where it ends. Matthew 7 specifically forbade us from standing idolatrously in God's shoes, condemning others for their sins. That is actually a sin, usurping God's place as if you were above God and could step in line in front of him. It's called idolatry, and it's the very first commandment for a good reason.

 

What's more, is that along with the warning not to commit that specific sin, Jesus promised that we would be visited with that self-same judgment, but instead of it coming from man, it would come from God. I don't know how long your arms are, but I guarantee you, they're not long enough to box with God. While God does not enjoy boxing with His children (Ezekiel 33:11), if you want to poke the bear, He's just and will give you the consequences for your actions.

 

Beyond this, Jesus didn't believe that equating oneself with God was a good idea, and it wasn't even the reason he came to earth in the first place. John 3:17 tells us specifically that he came to save the world, not to condemn it. In our efforts to be Christ-like, that's where we should start and end, every single time.

 

Condemnation doesn’t belong to anyone in the flesh, including Jesus. Condemning judgment belongs to God and God alone. Who are we to judge our neighbors? (James 4:12)

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