Create in me a clean heart, O God;
restore within me a sense of being brand new.
Do not throw me far away from Your presence,
and do not remove Your Holy Spirit from me.
Give back to me the deep delight of being saved by You;
let Your willing Spirit sustain me. –Psalm 51:10-12
I have updated my website and included a photo of myself (which I have fought against adding). Being technologically-challenged and artistically-impaired, I struggled to change a system that seemed to work ‘good enough.’ But, change I did. I hope you like the new look. For those of you who read my blog via email, visit the site and let me know what you think!
But, as I changed the aesthetics of the site, my heart broke again. And again, I am tempted to fall into war-path patterns that I’m determined for God to change in me. Another LGBTQ teen committed suicide. Another time church culture failed someone struggling to find acceptance and people who would walk a rocky path with her. How many have to die physically or spiritually before we wake up?! Each time someone walks away from faith or commits suicide because of a perverse image of God we project, we fail in Jesus’ commandment to love and make disciples. I read about this girl whose parents rejected her because of their faith, and I want to start swinging the sword. I hear the statistics of LGBTQ teens and homelessness, suicide, bullying and my heart breaks in all too familiar tear-soaked convulsions.
The ‘good news’ and ‘great joy’ of Jesus’ life has to be good and joyous for everyone, or it’s not ‘good’ or ‘great.’ How do we find the promise of joy in God’s presence with such alarming stories?! When will we stop trying to create people into our image of ‘christian’ instead of celebrating the image of God they already bear?!
I wish I knew easy answers and quick fixes for these heart attitudes. For me, I have had to give up ‘Sunday school’ answers and listen to stories from the trenches. I am learning to allow stories from people’s lives to determine how I express Christ’s life. My hermeneutics (there’s a college church word!) have changed from an academic and linear focus of the Bible to a more fluid and relational focus. People and how we relate to each other have to take priority over ‘correct’ and ‘static’ interpretations of the Bible that tradition has ingrained upon our minds. I choose to interpret the Bible through the lens of:
- compassion and mercy.
- Good News and Great Joy for Everyone!
Jesus listened to people and their stories. We get snapshots of him conversing with the ‘less-thans’ in society. He didn’t quote the Bible at them or list all the ways they failed God. He asked them what they wanted (there’s a thought) and never told them they weren’t good enough for God. He encouraged them, healed them, and taught them about God’s vision for their lives and the world. He offered grace to the oppressed. He looked on people’s needs with compassion and mercy–not cynicism and self-righteousness. He gave them hope that the future could be bright, joyous and full of freedom. When I examine Jesus’ way with people, humility floods my spirit. And I begin to view the world from a different perspective. I begin to see how much I relate to life from a holier-than-thou/shame-based view. I see myself as better than some–therefore, more deserving … and I diminish my shortcomings. I see others who have more attention or success, and my mind fills with shame as I exaggerate my own insecurities. When I humbly view myself, I look on others the way I see Jesus looking at those in his culture–weeping, empathetic, sympathetic, and giving all of himself to see life restored–allowing God to determine their path to His heart, and standing between them and the religious hierarchies of the day.
How often have I heard church leaders and church-going people sigh and profess in resignation, “I wish I could accept (fill in the blank of ostracized behavior in any given age: women in leadership, inter-racial marriage, divorce, homosexuality); but the Bible is clear. I can’t go against God. His ways are higher.” We say these things and dismiss the thoughts of injustice and accept powerlessness. In essence, we are saying that we are ultimately more compassionate than God. Seriously?! Even though God implores us to live in relationship with Him and ‘reason’ with Him, we believe we cannot question traditional thoughts of churches?! Even though Abraham bartered with God for people’s lives, we cannot compromise church positions?! We silence the Spirit’s efforts to unveil in us more of God’s image than past generations could exhibit because we have bought a lie that God, as revealed to past generations, has to remain as we have known Him. We don’t allow God to broaden our view of Him, so we don’t build on previous knowledge and encourage the next generation to add their discoveries of faith to ours. Is this the spiritual legacy we want to leave?!
And I fall, once again, into temptation of looking at my brothers and sisters in Christ as the enemy.
… God’s enemy.
… my enemy.
And again, I see my own depravity and hypocrisy. Because in judging attitudes in others, I have also sentenced them to righteous destruction. How to grow and mature in assessing wrong attitudes without pronouncing penalties on their souls is what I hope for this year.
Wars of words have not proven successful in this social media age. Instead of fighting each other to win a debate, can we agree to listen more and quote the Bible less as we navigate these conversations? If we need or desire to quote the Bible to someone, can we quote Jesus more than Leviticus? As we search for ‘biblical’ interpretations, can we focus more on how Jesus interacted with people and less on ‘issues’ and what is ‘unclean’ today? Can we seek the Holy Spirit’s leading in shaping our theology, instead of relying solely on what pastors preach from the pulpit? Can we seek out what is just and merciful, keeping our hearts humble, so that we refrain from shaming people and their actions to win a round in this vicious cycle we continue to feed?
Above all, can we try to remember that it is God’s will that none should perish–making it our goal each and every day to present Christ in a way that helps someone choose to live, and continue to figure out what it means to ‘work out’ our own salvation? Let us treasure our interconnectedness as God’s image-bearers and journey toward unity of the Spirit.
Having someone commit suicide because of church teachings should humble us all into examining how much of the Spirit’s life we express to the world. May we all cry out for God to create a new heart in the Bride of Christ that exudes the joy of living in God’s presence!
I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.