The Head and the Heart—Integrating Affections and Reason

“I can’t stand that girl…”
“Why?”
“She trusts her feelings too much; it’s like she never actually thinks things through.”

Have you ever heard a conversation like this?
I have.
Conversations where people bash feelings and exalt thinking.

Well, I have personally come to think that feelings aren’t the bad guy. However, thinking doesn’t have to be villainized to arrive to that conclusion either. The head and the heart aren’t enemies—they’re friends.

People always seem to present this false dichotomy. It’s either thinking or feeling, reason or affections, logic or passion. Even one of my favorite personality indicators, Myers-Briggs, splits people into two groups. There’s the people that make decisions based off of cold hard data (thinking) and then the people who decide what to do based on how they feel that they themselves and others may respond to the decision (feeling). It seems that human beings seem to be hardwired to be this way. Like the example at the beginning, there’s people like the girl who “trusts her feelings” and people like the one who believes people should “think things through.”

But, what if it’s not either/or, but both/and?

I think that thinking and feeling are a lot more interconnected than we may believe. Continue reading “The Head and the Heart—Integrating Affections and Reason”

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Alcohol, Tattoos, and Circumcision

What do tattoos, alcohol, and circumcision have to do with each other? I promise it wasn’t just a link baiting title that you see so often on Facebook and other places nowadays. Honestly, I think that Scripture has something to offer when dealing with all three of these topics in a similar way.

In case you’re new to church culture here in America, there is a constant debate going on as to whether Christians should be participating in certain things. Two of the things at the forefront of this debate are tattoos and alcohol. “Should Christians get tattoos? Is that something that a genuine disciple of Jesus could do? What about alcohol? Can someone love the Lord and still drink a glass of wine for enjoyment?” For some, the answer is no and for others the answer is yes. My goal with this post is not to provide an answer either way.

Rather, I want to look to a certain situation in the Bible that might can reveal some wisdom when dealing with such things. Whether it’s alcohol, tattoos, or some other activity that Christians debate over, how can we find a way work out our differences and find unity in disagreement? To find a possible answer, we look to our third category: circumcision.

In Acts 15, Christians do a really funny thing. They gather together ask basically ask the question, “Can God do what God just did?” It actually sounds eerily similar to what a lot Christians ask today. But, that’s besides the point. In Acts 15, they hold a council after Gentiles begin to receive the Holy Spirit and are saved. Their claim, in verse 1, was that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Repeating their point in verse 5, the Pharisees were claiming that circumcision is absolutely necessary in order to be a genuine believer.

However, Peter began to explain how God showed no distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles, the circumcised and uncircumcised. After all, God knows the heart and gave them the Holy Spirit that he had given to the Jewish Christians. Salvation wouldn’t come by bearing the “yoke” of their ancestors. Rather, all people are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Barnabas and Paul began to chime in and support Peter in his declaration. Circumcision was absolutely unnecessary in order to gain salvation.

They couldn’t have made their point any clearer. In order to be a genuine follower of Jesus, circumcision is of no importance. However, in the next chapter, something very interesting comes up. This is what Acts 16:1-3 says:

Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

What is this? It seems as if Paul goes back on everything that was said at the Jerusalem Council the chapter right before. Which is it? Is circumcision necessary? Or is it something Christians should practice? While this is a dramatic example, I think what we see here can help us a lot when we approach debated activity, such as alcohol, tattoos, and other things.

Again, I’m not trying to prove whether these things are acceptable. I have my opinions, but what I’m trying to find is something that can go beyond mere agreement and disagreement. And I think we that thing here in Acts 16.

What if this episode with Paul and Timothy shows us that, perhaps in order to reach a wider community of people, we have to make sacrifices that have nothing to do with our state of salvation? In other words, Paul obviously didn’t think that Timothy was any less of a Christian for not being circumcised. He proved that he believed such in Jerusalem. However, Paul wanted Timothy to have credibility with the Jews and knew that, since they knew his father was a Gentile, they might discount him.

Therefore, Timothy was circumcised. Not in order to be saved. Not in order to be more holy. Not in order to find favor in God’s eyes. But rather, for the result that “the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.” Timothy participated in something that had nothing to do with his salvation in order to be a credible witness to a group of people who both need Jesus and perhaps would have dismissed him had he not bore the signs of their image of a “faithful and genuine” believer. The point isn’t that they are justified in thinking that way. According to Paul a chapter earlier, they aren’t. However, Timothy loved this community of people enough to facilitate to their views at the time in order to be a better witness to them.

So what can we learn here?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking ourselves whether tattoos or alcohol or whatever is something Christians can participate in. Maybe we should be asking, “In this particular context, is the something we should be participating in?” For the record, I am of the persuasion that the particular examples I use, tattoos and alcohol, are okay if treated with responsibility. And I think that makes my point even stronger.

When we enter into the faith and become a Christian, we don’t embark on a private spiritual journey. We become a part of a worldwide community called the Church. Modeling after the founder of our faith, Jesus himself, we are called to live in a manner of self-sacrificial love. Perhaps we should examine what that might practically look like when it comes to issues like these.

For example, though I personally think that tattoos are fine, I probably won’t get one. Because I think it makes me more holy? Or because I think those who have them aren’t saved? Of course not! As Peter and Paul both said, we’re saved by grace through faith. However, I know for a fact that there’s many churches who wouldn’t allow me to preach or minister at their church if I were to get tattoos.

Are they justified in that belief? I personally think not. But, that isn’t my point. My point is that I don’t mind demonstrating self-sacrificial love for them and avoiding getting a tattoo in order to be a better witness to them. Not to mention that in many foreign countries, tattoos are seen as a sign of evil. If I were to go to a Muslim country and they were to write me off immediately because I had tattoos, I would start to feel pretty selfish.

The same applies with alcohol. Though I personally think alcohol in moderation is acceptable, there are many churches who think alcohol is inherently sinful. In fact, my own church leans in that direction. However, I respect the pastors of my church and want to be an effective witness in my church body. Therefore, I abstain alcohol, especially around those whom I know are personally convicted that it is a sinful thing. Whether or not they are justified in their belief is a different matter. Since I’m called to have self-sacrificial love for them, I’m okay with participating in abstinence from alcohol, just as Timothy was willing to participate in circumcision.

My point, then, is that maybe we should treat alcohol, tattoos, and other things similar to them in the same way that Paul treated circumcision. Abstaining from those things don’t make us any better or holy or acceptable to God. Salvation comes through faith by grace! However, in a community that is so much larger than ourselves and with a call to live in a sacrificial way, no matter our thoughts on those issues, we should be at least willing to metaphorically go under the knife and be circumcised, if our particular situation calls for it.

Perhaps, our actions may even make it possible that our church are “strengthened in the faith and increas[ing] in numbers daily.” Isn’t that the goal? Let’s focus less on what we can do and worry about what love has called us to do.

Faith, Hope, and Love: In Memory of Bethany

Faith, Hope, and Love: In Memory of Bethany

When I was a kid, my mom became pregnant with a little girl. I was 6 years old and I can’t explain how excited I was to get a baby sister. For so long, it had just been me and my little brother. A house full of guys. Having a girl around the house was going to be a big change, but a really exciting one. My parents ended up naming her Bethany Faith Baggott. I just couldn’t wait to hold her in my arms.

I remember the baby was due in two weeks. I was so excited, I couldn’t contain myself. However, one day, I came home and I saw my dad. It was the first time that I ever saw him cry. I knew that something had to be wrong. My parents told me that something unexpected had happened to Bethany. They had to look me in the eye and tell me that she had died in my mom’s tummy. I wasn’t going to have a little sister anymore. At eight and a half months, my mom had a miscarriage.

I was six, so I didn’t know the extent of it. However, I knew that my sister had died. I knew that she wasn’t going to be brought into this world. We went to the hospital for them to take her out of my mom. They placed her pale, lifeless body in my arms. I had anticipating holding her in my arms… but not like that. Everything that I had been taught in Sunday School about Jesus coming to give us life came into question. If Jesus wants us to live, then why did my baby sister die? All I knew is that it didn’t make any sense to me. And I knew that I was really sad.

However, I was blessed to have such strong parents. I don’t know what it would have been like if they hadn’t have fought that battle so maturely. They assured me that even though Bethany had died, God is still good. They said that even though I didn’t have a baby sister, I would always have a heavenly Father that loved me. I may have been disappointed, but God never fails us.

Later on that year, my parents got some great news. My mom was pregnant again. And it just so happened that it was a baby girl too, as we later found out. We were finally going to have a baby sister after all. To me, that was God telling me that he is faithful.

I know that not every miscarriage story turns out like that, and it doesn’t have to in order for God’s faithfulness to remain. But it did work out like this for us. And I heard God’s whisper in it too.

On July 27, 1999, my mother gave birth to Breanna Hope Baggott. First, God gave us Faith and the sting of death took her away from us. It almost took away our faith. Having faith can do that to you, because it requires a trust, a type of vulnerability, that can lead to pain.

But, then God gave us Hope. God gave us hope. He reminded me that in the worst situations, God remains faithful still. In the bleakest of moments, he is good. In the darkest of events, he is light. God was there, and he had always been there.

There’s a verse in 1 Corinthians 13 that I’ve always held dear, maybe for different reasons than others do. Of course, that’s the famous “love” passage. It’s often said at weddings. However, the last verse of that chapter is the most powerful to me. It says:

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

God gave me my sister, Bethany Faith. One day, I’ll be reunited with her in the resurrection. God gave me my sister, Breanna Hope. She’s the most beautiful little girl in world. I can’t imagine what life would be without her. And in both of my sisters, in both the high and low, God gave me himself. He gave me Love.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

God has been all of these things and more for me. I know that, by God’s grace, my little sisters abide. I found God both in the pain and the rejoicing. Both the sorrow and the celebration. Love was found in Faith, and in Hope. Maybe this is what makes Love the greatest of them all.

bb

(Breanna “BB” and I, April 2016)

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

Sex, Sacraments, and Signs of the Covenant

First of all, God is a covenantal God. He relates to his own people through covenants. So what is a covenant? Basically, a covenant is a mutual agreement between two parties. However, it’s very different from a contract.

In a contract, if one party doesn’t come through with their end of the deal, then the other party can withdraw. Covenants, though, mean that no matter what the actions of the other party are, you remain faithful to your end of the agreement. We see this with God so beautifully. He promised to redeem humanity and restore this fallen world. Therefore, he entered into a covenant with his people to do so. In spite of all of our disobedience, God has remained faithful to this covenant and will continue to remain faithful.

To remind us of his faithfulness and our call to be faithful, God does something special. It’s interesting because it seems as if God always accompanies a sign with each covenant that he makes. Think back to Sunday School and the story of Noah and the flood. God made a covenant with Noah that he would never destroy the world again through flood and then he called for Noah to be fruitful and fill the earth. It was two parties entering into a mutual agreement. 

What does God do as a result? He gives them a sign of that covenant. Specifically, he gives them the rainbow. The rainbow was a sign to point to the fact that God was faithful and would keep his end of the deal. It also was a reminder of the fact that we’re called to be faithful to God and keep our end of the deal as well. God does this with other covenants as well.

Now that we’re in the New Testament period, we’re part of a renewed covenant with God. There are two major signs with this covenant. The first is baptism and it’s an act that occurs once at the beginning of the covenant. What does it signify? It signifies passing from death to life,from sin to holiness, and represents a fundamental change of lifestyle. You enter the water one person and then are raised from it as a different person. Baptism basically acts as a symbol for entry into this covenant with God. 

The second sign is the Lord’s Supper (or communion, the Eucharist, etc.). It provides nourishment, both spiritually and physically, since it actually consists of bread and wine. Unlike baptism, this sign is an ongoing thing that is celebrated often, occurring every week in some traditions. The Church celebrates the Lord’s Supper often in order to signify unity with Jesus. We are eating his flesh and drinking his blood. We’re, in a sense, becoming one with him. Through the Lord’s Supper we become one with him. Every time we take it, we are reminded that we are the ones with whom he chose to enter into covenant. In response, we are to live as such.

So, I began to think about these signs of this covenant and I thought about another great covenant mentioned in the Bible: marriage. Though it’s on a different level (being between two humans, not God and humans), it’s still a covenant. It’s a promise to fulfill your part of an agreement whether or not your partner fulfill his or hers. If you notice, the Bible often uses the covenant of marriage as a symbol of God’s covenant with his people.

Then, I remembered something Jesus said when speaking to the Pharisees and speaking of marriage: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

 This verse is found both in Genesis and one of Paul’s epistles, so obviously it’s important. In that verse, I see two signs of this covenant that correlate with the ones found in our covenant with God.

The first sign is “leaving one’s father and mother”. This, like baptism, is a one time event. It happens at the beginning of the covenant. What does it represent? It signifies a complete life change. Before, you are walking through life as a single person. You depend on your parents and you’re responsible for no one but yourself. Then, you are transitioning into the life of a covenantal marriage. In that, you rely on your spouse and you’re responsible for him or her. It’s symbolic for entry into this new covenant, the covenant of marriage. You’re “baptized” into your marriage, so to speak.

The second sign is sex, or “uniting and becoming one flesh.” Like the Lord’s Supper, this is a sign that is ongoing. It continues to occur well after the two have entered into the marriage covenant with one another. What does it represent? Like the Lord’s Supper, it represent unity with one another. The two are becoming one. Just as we take in Jesus through the bread and become one with him, the spouses become one with each other. It provides nourishment, both spiritually and physically, just like the Lord’s Supper. Sex is a reminder the couple has decided to enter into covenant with one another. They each have chosen to commit and love the other.

When you look at sex like that, it becomes a lot more serious. It’s not just something casual. It’s like a sacrament, something that only takes place within a covenant. That’s why I think there’s so much sorrow that occurs when people try to have sex before truly committing and marrying one another. It’s like taking the Lord’s supper without becoming a Christian or being baptized. Sex gets stripped of its meaning and its beauty.

No, I’ve never had sex, and for a long time that was motivated by a number of other things. However, now, I realize that sex is a precious thing. It isn’t something to flippantly participate in. It isn’t meant to be done within a one night stand. It’s supposed to be an ongoing sign of a covenant that has already made. In a very real way, sex is marriage. Every time you have sex with someone, it’s like you’re marrying them. You’re rushing into a covenant, one that you’ll be bound to break if you haven’t fully committed to them. As Dr. James Brownson says, “They must not say, at one point with their bodies and their words, what they are not willing to say with the rest of their lives.”

That’s why casual sex takes a toll on so many people. It’s not just a physical thing. Sex is a spiritual thing. You become connected to another person’s soul. It’s profoundly sacred and holy. Unless we treat it that way, we’ll be in for a lot hurt and a lot of heartbreak. Let us preserve the sacredness of marriage and the beauty of the signs of the covenants that God has made with us and we have made among each other! Amen.

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

Why I’m Not Looking for “My Type”

I was recently faced with the question, “When it comes to girls… what’s your type? What kind of girl do you see yourself marrying?” And that’s a question that I’m not too fond of. Why? Because I don’t know that, when it comes to looking for a future wife, I’m looking too hard for “my type”. And of course people could draw back and ask, “How could you not be looking for your type? What are you looking for then!”

The more I began to think about it, the more I realized that looking for “my type” might distract me from actually finding the one I’m really supposed to be with. First of all, I’m an extremely analytical guy anyway, and an idealist as well. So it would be too easy to dream up the perfect girl and then compare every subsequent girl I meet to this figment of my imagination and then stamp a big “pass” or “fail” on each of them in my mind. But you know what the problem is? If that’s what I were searching for, then I would never find her.

As much as everything in my nature wants to do that, I have to remind myself that there is no such thing as my ideal type. In fact, that’s a very selfish way to think. Because, in that case, am I really looking for a great girl, or just a girl that I’ve fashioned in my own image? It’s funny because the pictures of girls that I always paint in my mind look at lot like me in many different ways. Really, then, it’s an egotistical thing. I don’t want someone else… I want me. 

It reminds me of the cases of idolatry in the Bible. They forsake the true God and fashion an image of God that matches what they think that God should look like. And what always happens to these images? They begin to look, act, and think a lot like the people who made them. I don’t want to create an idol of a girl, someone who reflects me. I want someone who reflects her own, unique beauty.

Another reason that I’m wary of looking for “my type” is that I don’t want to be so wrapped in looking for this girl who meets all my requirements that I miss the real thing. I don’t want to be blinded by my own unrealistic standards of a perfect girl that I pass by the perfect girl for me. I think about the Pharisees and other Jewish people of Jesus’ time. They were expecting a Messiah, and they were even looking for him! But, they were so caught in their own ideas of what this Messiah would look like. They had their own type in mind. He was going to provide military victory over Rome, he was going to vindicate the nation of Israel, he was going to usher in the age to come, etc. They had all these preconceived notions of what a Messiah would look like, but what happened? He came, stared them right in their faces, but they missed it.

He wasn’t their type. But he was the true Messiah that they had been waiting for all along. He looked them in the eye and said, “Here I am”, and they said, “No, we’re waiting for someone else.” And I’m not comparing Jesus to a girlfriend, but the point remains. I don’t want to miss the right girl. I don’t want to be caught up in my own idea of what she should be like that, if she were to look at me in the face, I would look right past her and keep searching for someone else. But, if I hold too tightly to “my type”, I’m afraid that is exactly what would happen.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have standards or some expectations. I’m not saying we should date anyone and everyone in case they happen to be “the one”. I don’t believe there’s “the one”, but that’s a different subject. All I’m saying is that we don’t need to be chasing after something which can never be caught. We don’t need to be looking for something which can never be found. All we need to do is be aware. Be open. Be ready. Don’t let “your type” prohibit you from finding the person that you’ve been looking for all along. Be prepared for them to look you in the eye and say, “Here I am.” And hopefully, you’ll be able to look back at them and say, “I’ve been waiting.”

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

Don’t Look At Westboro… Or Tim Tebow

Westboro Baptist, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart… what do these people have in common? They’re either groups or people who have “made Christians look bad”, either in the past or currently. They’re names from which, whenever they’re mentioned, Christians try to disassociate themselves. If their name pops up, they’ll say, “Well, they may claim to be Christians, but they’re not what being a Christian is really about.” Some people even take a more aggressive approach. A key part of their presentation of Christianity is, “I know that when people think of Christianity, they think of ___________. But let me assure you, we’re not like that.” And then they go on to describe what it’s really like to be a Christian, in comparison to those “wayward Christians”.

My complaint, however, is that I think sometimes we spend too much time saying “Look at those people… we really are not like that,” rather than saying, “Look at Jesus… he really is like that.”

A lot of people would be wary about pointing to a devout Christian and saying, “Look, she embodies perfectly what it means to be a Christian!” And with good reason. Humans are not perfect and will never be until the age to come. Plus, we know that the crux of the “appeal” to Christianity shouldn’t be focused on just any person, but on the Person of persons, Jesus himself. He’s the only one we should point to when trying to describe what Christianity is really like.

Yet, aren’t we falling into a lot of the same errors when we’re so focused on pointing out “wayward” Christians? The only difference is, instead of pointing what Christianity is supposed to look like in a human, we’re pointing out what it doesn’t look like. The fact still remains that no one is perfect. If we don’t expect “devout” Christians to be an accurate picture of Christianity, why should we be so critical of (and surprised with!) “wayward” Christians when they fail to provide a “perfect picture of Christianity”? The point of not pointing to just anyone is that everyone falls short. And if we really believe this, we shouldn’t allow people to represent Christianity, but we should also be careful not to hold people up to a standard they were never meant to be held to, namely, being a perfect example of what Christianity was about.

Also, if we’re so passionate about the message of Christianity not revolving around any person, but only Jesus, why do we think that that only applies when talking about those who reflect Christ well? If we really don’t want the message of Christianity to revolve around anyone except Jesus, why are we so quick to point out those who have fallen from grace as an object lesson of what Christianity is not like, in order to prove what it is like? If our gospel is really Christ-centered, should we not be just as wary about relying so heavily on shaming people like Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart? Because when people denounce those guys as a “not what Christianity is all about”, they’re committing the same crime as someone upholding Tim Tebow as “what Christianity is all about”. They’re making Christianity about just some person, not about a Savior.

We know from the Bible that the only true representation of God, of the gospel, of Christianity, is Jesus himself. Colossians 1:15 declares that he is ” the image of the invisible God”, meaning that if you want to know what God looks like, look at Jesus. Don’t look at some other person. Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” It goes on to say that Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature. In other words, we don’t look at some woman or man to look at what God is saying to us, as they did with the prophets. The only person we look to is Jesus Christ.

Now, my point is not to say that we should affirm the actions of those who claim to be Christians but act otherwise. Nor am I saying that it’s bad to call wrong “wrong” and right “right”, in the right context. My point is that at no point should the good news of Jesus revolve around an person and the actions of that individual. Whether it be the actions of a righteous person or an unrighteous person, if you’re pointing to someone else other than Jesus to justify the legitimacy of the gospel, then you’re doing it wrong. The fact that C.S. Lewis, one of modern literature’s most esteemed authors, was a Christian is an awesome fact. But it shouldn’t be what I use to bait someone into seeing the good news of Jesus. The fact that Westboro Baptist claims to be a Christian group and yet acts so hatefully towards certain groups of people is awful. But I shouldn’t feel the need to bash and shame them when I’m trying to explain why Jesus and his message is so beautiful. We shouldn’t be looking to either party… only to Jesus!

The point is that the gospel is about Jesus. If we point to him more than we pointed to others, either in a positive or negative way, maybe people would start to see why it’s the greatest news in the world. Maybe if we focused on the only Person worth focusing on, the gospel would make a lot more sense.

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

What About Bikinis?

Summer is coming and, in Christian circles at least, the big question is popping up again all over the place: “What about bikinis?” This season is a time full of pools, beaches, and the lake. And so, it isn’t a question of whether bikinis are going to be worn or not. Rather the question is “How should Christians look at the issue?” One popular blog post has already been circulating, a post written by Rachel Clark at Made In His Image. Though many think that this question should just go away forever and never be discussed again, the reality is that the issue will not just disappear overnight. Therefore, engaging people on this question is necessary. So… what about bikinis?

Firstly, I wanted to make it clear that I am addressing this as a male. Therefore, I realize that my opinions don’t carry the same weight or validity as a woman coming directly from a female perspective. However, I wanted to first address Rachel Clark and her thoughts. The big issue that is addressed is the matter of “lust”. However, unlike a lot of popular Christian articles on this topic, she did acknowledge that guys are the ones with the problem and that ” they should control it”, rather than putting all of the blame on the girl. I also appreciate the fact that she said that girls are to “help out” their brothers in Christ. As the body of Christ, we are to look out for one another and to help each other grow in the faith. But that’s where there may be a problem with her line of thinking.

Clark makes a big deal out of not wearing a bikini as a “sacrifice”. Dressing modestly becomes something that girls must do to look out for the best interest of their brothers in Christ. And though she doesn’t put all of the blame on the girls, she does admit that “part of it is our [girls’] problem”. She sells the message of “boys will notice what you advertise”. Therefore, if you  want guys to notice your personality, smile, or love for God, then advertise that, and not your butt, chest, or any other part of your body. Clark likens girls’ wearing bikinis in the eyes of a guy to a health nut being tempted to eat chocolate cake. Someone then follows them around with the cake as they try to exercise. Eventually, since the cake is being imposed on her, she’ll give in and eat the cake.

To me, there is a huge flaw in this thinking. And I have heard arguments similar to this. “Would you put alcohol directly in the face of a struggling alcoholic?” a person would ask to girls, “Then why would you wear a bathing suit in front of guys who struggle with lust?” Not only are you comparing desire for a food or drink with sexually objectifying someone against their own will, but you are perpetuating the objectification of the woman in an attempt to stop just that! Therefore, you reveal that your primary desire is not to help end the objectification of women, but make it easier for those who are actually objectifying the women. Plus, if you were to be consistent in the analogy between the cake and alcohol, then there is a huge difference between something being imposed onto you against your will (as the analogies suggest) and freely deciding to go to a place where, for example, alcohol is offered or cake is sold.

And I think this is where the solution lies. Remember, the point of not wearing bikinis in the first place was to help out the guys. So, I think many would agree with the sentiment. But, the question is: in what way should girls help the guys out? Should it be by not wearing bikinis? I don’t think that would do much of anything. The problem with the alcoholic won’t be fixed by someone simply not having a beer when he or she is around him. Rather, he would need to get professional help and actually avoid going to places that he knows will stimulate the problem that he has. I think the solution should be the same for those who struggle with lust and objectification of women.

Just like Clark suggests, we should aim to help out these guys. Absolutely. Sisters should want to help their brothers out! However, perhaps helping out a brother who is struggling with lust and the objectification of women should look differently than girls not wearing bikinis. Perhaps it should look like his not going to the beach, where girls are going to be in bikinis. If his lust and proneness to objectify women are that much of a problem, then why should he go to places like that in the first place? He knows what he will be tempted to do. And if he chooses to go anyways, then why does that mean that the girls have to alter their swimwear to facilitate his own problem and perversion? Instead of enforcing an oppressive system of swimwear uniformity amongst women to facilitate these guys with problems, we should aim to get these guys professional help and tell them to actually stay away from situations and places (such as beaches and pools) where their personal problem could become a problem for others.

Blaming girls for the problems and perversion of the guys needs to stop. I would quote Jesus saying for His followers to deal with the plank in one’s own eye before pointing out the speck in the other, but it seems to me that there is not even speck on the other side. Just one big plank. The solution of the problem is not to monitor what girls are wearing, but to deal with those who objectify and lust in the first place. If a guy is going to lust after and objectify women, a little more fabric on their bodies is not going to fix that. A trash bag couldn’t fix that. Telling girls to avoid wearing bikinis in public places where guys will be is like cutting away the branches, but unless the root is dug up, the problem will remain. Not to mention that the same kind of steps aren’t being taken with the swimwear of the men.

So this summer, if you are a guy who struggles with lust or who is prone to objectify women, I urge you to stay away from situations where your own problem might then become a problem to others. You shouldn’t impose your own struggle onto others or expect them to change because of it. Rather, seek help. God can heal you and redeem you. Jesus came to conquer the powers that hold you in bondage. Recognize that this is a real problem and be bold enough to assume complete responsibility, not transferring any of it to any girls. This doesn’t mean that God loves you any less or that you are without hope. God forgives you and loves you. And He also longs for you to love His daughters the way that He does, purely and absent of lust and objectification. When you get to a place where you can see women as fellow humans and not objects of lust, then join them in the fun of the pool, lake, or beach. Until then, there are plenty ways to have a fun summer. Take advantage of that!

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

“What is the role of LGBTQ+ individuals within the church?”

(This is reposted from a blog, “The Ecumenicals“, for which I wrote as a guest this week”)

Jesus, the One around whom the Christian faith is built, instructed his disciples to love one another. After loving God, this was the second greatest commandment. Unfortunately, people who claim to follow the teachings of this subversive revolutionary fail to follow this equally revolutionary command. This is made evident in mainstream Christianity’s history of oppression, hatred, and violence towards the LGBTQ+ community.

A message that started as loving, compassionate, and inclusive is tragically warped into a hateful, spiteful, and exclusive message. Much of the church has adopted an “us vs. them” mentality that goes against the very fabric of the kingdom which Jesus came to establish. People like Westboro Baptist Church (using both the term “baptist” and “church” loosely”) are among these hate groups which twist the message of Christ to perpetuate their own prejudices, hates, and fears.

So, when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, in the midst of all of this hatred and mishandling of the gospel, the question arises, “What is the role of LGBTQ+ individuals within the church?” I take the same position as homosexual Christian, Wesley Hill. His view is that the Church should openly welcome admittedly gay men and women (and others in the LGBTQ+ community). And I wholeheartedly agree with him. The Church has turned away these beautiful humans created in God’s image for too long.

However, Wesley Hill, being homosexual in orientation himself, believes that homosexuality is a deviation from God’s original design. Thus, he believes that all sexual activity should be between a biological man and a biological woman. He describes himself more accurately as a “gay celibate Christian”. While I think members of the LGBTQ+ community should be generously welcomed, Hill and I both share the conviction that sex was created to be fulfilled between one man and one woman.

This does not, however, mean that homosexual men and woman should aim to be straight or “pray the gay away”. Just like heterosexual celibate men and woman, Hill makes the point that all people are made for community and fellowship. Much of the American church has made marriage so important that they see all celibate people as second class Christians. This simply is not so. Paul even spends a good amount of time in 1 Corinthians 7 explaining how being single is something he wished more people would pursue. We all need love, and this is especially true for celibate brothers and sisters, both heterosexual and homosexual.

Thus, the Church should not only be welcoming and accepting of members of the LGBTQ+ community, but also make extra provisions to provide community, fellowship, and a loving environment in which the fellow members can do life together as they walk in celibacy. As someone who is not married and does not see getting a spouse as something happening anytime in the near future, celibacy may be a real option for me. I would love to be able to embrace someone of the LGBTQ+ community who shares my convictions and walk that path together.

For too long, the Church has been no place for the LGBTQ+ community.  But, if the Church wants to take seriously the commands of Christ, they need to refigure their approach to these individuals.

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For additional reading, check out Wesley Hill’s book, “Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality”

Why Christians Shouldn’t Be Threatened by “Gay Marriage”

In light of the recent Supreme Court hearings regarding same-sex marriages, there has been much conversation on how Christians should react. With people who support same-sex marriage doing such things as posting an equal sign as their Facebook profile picture, Christians who oppose are making clever reactionary pictures (plus signs, a man and woman holding hands, etc.). But, is the government acknowledging same-sex marriages actually something by which Christians (even the most theologically conservative ones) should be threatened?

My opinion is a resounding “no”. Even if one holds to the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman, then one still should not feel threatened by all that is going on. I’ll explain.

The biggest issue that Christians need to address is the problem of semantics. It is my understanding that the marriage that the government institutes is a very different thing than the covenant of which the Bible speaks and which God established. Honestly, the only things that they have in common are their names, “marriage”. They act as two completely separate things.

The governmental institution of marriage does such things like providing benefits in regards to taxes, estate planning, medical, death, housing, and social security along with other government benefits for the two people who enter into the marriage. That is literally all it does. Christian marriage is a completely different matter, a spiritual covenant acknowledged by God and by the Church. It does not have anything to do with the government or the political realm at all.

Christian marriage does not need to be recognized by the government to be an official marriage. It is only because of the nationalism that is commonly found in the American Church that many Christians have began to enmesh the two together. If one follows this line of thinking, then Adam and Eve were not really married. And if one truly follows a strict version of this line of thinking, then anyone (even Christians) who are married outside of the U.S. are not actually married either. Logically, if one thinks that the way that the American government defines marriage directly correlates with how Christianity in general views it, then no one outside of the U.S. could technically be married, since no one else is under the American government except for America. A Christian marriage does not have to be acknowledged by the U.S. government, or any government for that matter, to be a genuine marriage.

Some people are still led astray because the two still still share the same name of “marriage”. But think about this. What if the government began instituting a weekly ceremony called “The Lord’s Supper”? And what if this ceremony was nothing like the ordinance that Jesus established in the gospels? Would this change how the Church does the Lord’s Supper? Would the traditional/biblical idea or definition of the Lord’s Supper amongst the fellowship of believers be threatened by this governmental institution of the same name? Of course not. Not to mention that even various Christian denominations disagree with the nature of the Lord’s Supper! In the same way, Christian marriage is not threatened by how the government defines marriage.

Not to go too off topic, but why are Christians so adamant about gay marriage being outlawed, yet continue to practice or be indifferent about divorce? This is something that Jesus addressed way more directly than the subject of homosexuality. The most probable answer is the scary reality that homophobia is still rampant in the Church. Perhaps the rally against same-sex marriage is almost an attempt for Christians who are so apathetic about divorce to validate themselves by being really against one thing, while shying away from another issue. Either way, the hypocrisy within the Christian community on this topic obvious.

However, in the end, what I am saying is that, to the Christian who believes that the traditional model of marriage is biblical, marriage is marriage is marriage. It should not matter what the government says or how it defines its own institutions. Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world. Why, then, do so many Christians insist on fusing the kingdom of the earth with the God’s kingdom? Christians shouldn’t be threatened by “gay marriages”. Because, in the end, Christians shouldn’t be threatened by the government at all. Our kingdom is not of this world.

Sacrifice of Love: A Tale Inspired by Peter Rollins

There once was a town full of people who loved and served one another. Whenever a person was sick, three other townspeople would aid the sick one. If a man was chopping wood for his fireplace, two more men would assist him. If a woman was running out of food and growing hungry, five women would cook her meals until she was able to recover. Every townsperson was willing to sacrifice their time and efforts for one another.

The town was full of love and compassion, all because of the founder of the town. He was a bold man and a revolutionary who taught radical ideas of love. He opposed the popular ideas of the era which were centered around selfishness. With his new and refreshing views on loving one another and showing compassion to all, he gained a following. The men and women were so captivated by his ideas that they decided to form their own town, where they would live by his radical teachings. They lived in an environment built on his ideas of sacrificial love.

That happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago and no one knew what happened to the man. Yet, the philosophies of the founder were timeless and continued to persevere.

One day, however, a very old, small book was found in the attic of a building within the town. A few of the townspeople gathered in order to look inside the book and at its content. As they began to read, they discovered that there contained a few pages that were written about founder of the town by a person who lived in the same time as he.

In it, they found a beautiful story of what actually happened to their founder. It said that the surrounding forces were so upset with the man, his ideas, and the town, that they were going to pillage the town and take all of its inhabitants hostage, most likely to kill them. However, the founder of the town bargained with the forces and asked if they would instead simply take his life and leave the people and their town alone. They accepted his offer and brutally murdered him, this founder and great teacher.

The man who wrote this short record was someone who had been so moved by the founder’s actions that he decided to write it down. He couldn’t understand why a man would so selflessly sacrifice himself and give his life for the people of his town. But, the townspeople knew why he would. They put down the book and decided to tell the whole town this wonderful story, now viewing the founder’s teachings of sacrificial love in a completely new light.

Commentary:

I just finished “The Orthodox Heretic” by Peter Rollins. As a tribute, I wanted to write a tale (as he calls them) according to the style of the book. Also, however, I wanted to analyze a concept that he seems to criticize in his book. One idea that he seems stress throughout countless tales is the idea that the salvific message of Christianity often distracts from the call to be compassionate and serve those around you, to show a sacrificial love.

For example, in his tale “Being the Resurrection”, he presents a story of a group of disciples who leave when Jesus is crucified, broken and saddened by the events. However, they start up a community that bases their lifestyle off of the life and teachings of Jesus. This happens for about a hundred years and then they get visited by Christian missionaries. The missionaries begin to explain Jesus to the community and the community in turn explains how they already know of this Jesus and actually live according to His teaching, despite the fact that He died.

The missionaries rejoice and claim, “We have amazing news for you all!” And they proceed to tell of the message of salvation. So then, the people of the community begin to erupt in celebration over this news. However, the leader of the community, an elder, withdraws to a small hut on the fringe of the city as he begins to weep. When asked what is wrong, he says that he they have given their whole life dedicated to living like Jesus, but now he is scared that his children and children’s child will not follow Him because of his radical ideas and sacrificial love, but rather for selfish reasons and personal salvation.

To be honest, this story impacted me greatly. Because it made me look at my motives for following Jesus. And I appreciate Rollins for creating a tale that incited such contemplation. However, I believe that the salvific message of Christ, if properly understood, does not hinder from the social aspect of His ministry, but rather, enhances it.

As we saw in the tale, the townspeople continued in the teachings of the founder. However, when they understood the sacrifice that the founder made himself, it gave new light to his teachings. It was no longer a set of ideas that had been working through the lives of the townspeople, but rather, it was something tangible. They could grasp it and see the result of his own selfless act of sacrifice. The only reason the town in which they practiced his teachings of sacrificial love was in existence was because of his own significant act of sacrificial love.

The point of his sacrifice was not so that the townspeople could celebrate the fact that they were not decimated by the forces that were coming to destroy or to honor him for being so brave. Rather, the founder was working within his own system of sacrificial love. The salvation he provided the town with, then, was not seen as something to celebrate as an end of itself, but rather, as a means to carry on his system of sacrificial love. And he did so by performing the ultimate act of sacrificial love.

In the same way, Jesus sacrificed Himself the ultimate act of sacrificial love. Salvation is a beautiful thing. However, it become toxic when it acts as an end, rather than a means to end. Jesus’ sacrifice, of course, encompasses many things. But, what it was not meant for was to be celebrated selfishly, simply as a means of avoiding hell or something of the like. While we were saved from something (sin), we were also saved to something else (service and sacrificial love).

It would be foolish to say that people could not act in sacrificial love apart from understanding salvation through Christ. However, when His ultimate sacrifice of love is properly understood and the gravity of it and of the message of salvation is understood, it puts everything into perspective. It makes operating in sacrificial love so much sweeter. What is following the teachings of Jesus without knowing and understanding the sacrifice of Jesus?

1 John 3:16 defines love as this, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” It first looks at Jesus sacrificing His life for us and then says that by that definition love, we are to love others. We are to lay down our lives for each other. Salvation is the tangible result of Jesus ultimate sacrifice of which we can grab ahold. When we do, we will view our own sacrifices in a more complete way.

So, while the salvific message of Christianity may indeed be perverted to cause people to be selfish and distract from the command to sacrificially love one another, the message of salvation was never meant to do so. Properly understood, it can add a brand new dimension to the idea of sacrificial love.