Some Good Stuff Coming: 2 Thessalonians

THE MAN OF LAWLESSNESS.

I don’t often comment on how arduous or easy my daily biblical readings are, but Paul’s letters are beginning to blend together. 2 Thessalonians marks the eighth time Paul has jotted his ideas down on parchment and sent it off. They all begin with a formal introduction and a plea for prayer. Then, Paul rambles off some stuff the subject has done well and some stuff the subject could do better. Finally, there is usually one or two things unique to itself – some time spent on a topic that the other letters omit. 1 Thessalonians, as we saw yesterday, gave us a personal look at sexual immorality. Philippians taught us about imitating Christ’s love.

So what does 2 Thessalonians have in store for us?

“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the Man of Lawlessness is revealed…”
2 Thessalonians 2:3a (NIV)

The Man of what now? The Man of “LAWLESSNESS?” (or as a nifty NIV footnote says, “Sometime called the Man of Sin”) Tell me more now please.

“He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2:4) 

So we have this guy in the shadows coming to take on God – to overtake His temple and His followers? I don’t remember learning about THIS guy!

“…The lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.” (2:8b)

God is going to…
There will be overthrown…
Oh wait a minute. This is just starting to sound like Satan talk. Is this “Man of Lawlessness” just euphemism for Satan?

“The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works…” (2:9a)

Wait! They are two separate guys! I think I know what that means…

The Antichrist.

We are getting close to the end of the Bible here, so some apocalyptic prophesizing will begin to drip its way in. And I am honestly just so excited. I think Revelation was the first book of the Bible that I actually read in its entirety, mostly for its fever-dream imagery and prophetic destruction. Who doesn’t get the urge to flip to the last page, just to see how it all ends?

This entry is nothing more than unbridled excitement and joy. We’re a month away from the end people. I needed a gut punch of energy to get me through the sometimes repetitive letters.

And this certainly has done the trick. Some good stuff is coming folks. Hang on.

Sex: 1 Thessalonians 4 – 5

Come on, How Many Times Do We Have to Go through This?

1 Thessalonians is anything but notorious for its rhetoric – quite frankly, I recalled nothing of the book even as I perused the pages once again. It discusses a few topics briefly, but it truly does not dwell on anything with any longevity. Life after death gets a brief mention, ensuring believers they will one day be resurrected. The second coming of Christ gets a reference (and it is increasingly more obvious that Paul thinks it will be happening within his lifetime). Paul also spends some of his time discussing sexuality. I do not normally quote large chunks of scripture for you to read (I pride myself in picking out the tid bits that seem most important so that we can get to the actual blog stuff), but I think it would be important for you to take a gander at what exactly he has to say:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 4:3–8 (NIV)

Anyone who is surprised by Paul’s instruction should go back to the first entry and just start this blog over again. None of the specifics here are new – remain pure, avoid sexual immorality, God will punish – however, the language that Paul uses is much more personal. He says, “control your own body” and says that in sin we do not “reject a human being but God.” Also, Paul addresses fellow Christians here, not repudiated souls without a wisp of morality. He is looking all the finest individuals in the eye and saying, “Have a little impulse control – jeez.”

This has nothing to do with homosexuality; this is about normal human beings not touching one another in lust, until the appropriate time (assumed to be marriage, though I have yet to find that “wait ‘til marriage” verse). To many people, these strictures are draconian, leading to unfulfilling sex lives and incompatibility (if you wait ‘til marriage, well then, how do you know you’ll be a good fit sexually?). Dan Savage must hate these verses.

So let’s assume for a second that everyone – man, woman, queer, straight – decided to live by these rules. We all know that the straight couple is honored by God, but what about the gay couple? Does their mutual and honest affection for one another dishonor God, because it is homosexual? If two men disregard lust and fall in love, then are they not living by the standards set out by Paul?

Now, this is all theoretical, because very few gay men engage in sexual activity exclusively in the bounds of “love.” There are a ton of statistics out there about how promiscuous gay men are and how their sexual habits differ from their straight counterparts. The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry asserts that 28% of gay men have had over 1,000 sexual partners (with a median between 100 – 150) and that only 4.5% of gay men in relationships practice fidelity (compared to 75.5% of straight men). You can accept or deny these numbers as you’d like, but before you go trudging off to the internet, be forewarned that no one really has any definitive numbers on the issue. However, as a very biased participant in the gay community, I will make the anecdotal assertion that gay men tend to be more sexually active than straight men.

Now, we could go on and on about why that may be the case, but I think it will ultimately cloud the point here.

I often hear gay men who are either formerly or never religious taking up arms about the passages in the Bible that condemn their nature. And honestly, I wonder why they care so much about it. After all, if suddenly Christians openly accepted gay people, would they flood back into the church? Would they wait until marriage or would that also be thrown off as an archaic expectation?

I think it comes from insecurity – at least for me. It comes from this idea that I was born in a way that set up an immediate roadblock, one that is far more obvious and shameful than anything else floating around the Christian community. I don’t know – I am so confident and comfortable in my identity now, but still there is that nagging, lagging feeling.

All you can do is just move past it.

Moms: 1 Thessalonians 1 – 3

Good Work Thessalonica.

Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
1 Thessalonians 1:7-8 (NIV)

It started in kindergarten. “Can I go to the bathroom, Mom?” Even at ages five and six, my classmates knew I had committed the ultimate embarrassing faux pas. You see, my Mom didn’t work in my classroom – I had just called my teacher “Mom.”

My face fell as the laughs came on, and she knelt before me in order to hedge off any impending tears. “I take it as a compliment,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite things to hear.” I was instantly relieved when she said that. Her approval meant more to me than that of my classmates, so as long as she remained on my side, I was good.

I have frequently been “adopted” by nearby mothers, beginning all the way back in toddler-hood. In Middle School, my friend Briana and I used to spend our lunches hanging out in Mrs. Nelson’s office – that is, the office of our assistant principal. We’d chat about the goings on in school, or sometimes even just sit there in silence while studying. We even ingratiated ourselves until she let us perform the morning announcements and prayer. She just loved us.

We were also major dorks.

High School brought in a few more Moms – from school and church – but the wider audience meant differing results. I started dating, and the moms of my girlfriends either loved or hated me (those feeling the latter are probably thrilled to hear of my coming out). I had a tall and dominating presence, even though I initially presented as quiet (and got louder and louder the more comfortable I became). I don’t know – some Moms didn’t trust me, sure that I had ulterior motives. Others thought I was a good kid.

No ulterior motives. I hope time (and this blog – and the fact that I’m super gay – just kidding, a normal amount of gay) has proved that.

Now, I have several Moms. I am living with the family of one of them right now actually, tucked away in an immediate suburb of Atlanta. When I feel sick, she offers me an assortment of treatment options, and when I am hungry, she starts heating up foods without even asking me. I taught her son improv for several years, and our formal relationship burgeoned into a personal one over some time. When I came out of the closet, she was there – complete with conversations and support. I even drove with her to Plains, GA, about a month ago to meet the former President Jimmy Carter.

I have other Moms here, too. One funded a short film I wrote and tells everyone I am her son’s adopted brother. She’s a lesbian, and we bond over queer shit. Then another, her son starred in my short film. We text when we’re bored and pop into each other’s head, and we even talk on the phone to catch up, which I hate doing normally but not with her. Beyond that, I have a whole gaggle of Moms from the theater company I associate with – they even call themselves the Drama Mamas. One housed me after a surgery. Another took me in after a horrible panic attack. They all have been there for me in my extreme times of need.

My Mom – my actual birth Mom that is – has never been threatened by it. She often says that she feels grateful for them, for keeping me safe and warm away from home. When all the drama happened after I came out, someone told me that I needed to “make my own family.” I have mentioned that on this blog before. It is true – since I have come out, these Moms have been unbelievably supportive. Most affirm my lifestyle, while some may disagree but  never talk about it. I suppose if one was outright in her disapproval, well then, she wouldn’t be one of my Moms. That would be a difficult hurdle to leap, although not impossible. More likely than not she would just… fade away eventually.

But not my real Mom. Things have been tough, but we have fought to remain relevant in each other’s lives. I feel sad about it often, about how much easier this would be if I just… liked women. I often use it as an excuse… if this was a choice, would I really choose something so obviously against my closest allies?

But we fight and we fight and we fight. We fight for each other and with each other. That’s just what Moms and Sons do.

The Small Picture: Colossians 3 – 4

You Weren’t Alive until Christ. Instructions and Instructions.

“Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Colossians 4:4-6 (NIV)

In December 1998, just a month before my 11th birthday, I learned what the word “impeach” meant. Congress met in order to discuss allegations that President Bill Clinton had committed perjury when denying a sexual relationship with a White House employee in front of a Grand Jury. I was 11, so I didn’t really know what most of those words meant, but I knew the word “impeach.” And I knew why Bill Clinton was certain to have that word thrown down on him.

Because he was the antichrist.

He wasn’t, or at least, no evidence now points to the fact that he was (or is). But growing up, I heard several adults make that assertion. They believed that we were living the end times, and God had sent this charismatic asshole down to Earth to lead us into ultimate destruction. I don’t find it all too surprising in retrospect; most democrats were believed to have come straight from the devil.

Anyway, this idea that Bill Clinton might be the antichrist led a great many Christians to push for his removal from office. They wanted him gone, stripped of all power, so that he might not enact his antichrist-ly ways. In fact, I had heard this rhetoric before – that we can’t allow the United Nations too much power, for the Bible warned of a one-world government – that any electronic banking was evil, akin to the “mark of the beast” – that sweeping currencies like the Euro must be stopped, since a sign of the end times was one world currency.

But that rattled my logical brain. I remember asking one of these conspiracy-led adults – “If God is going to end the world at some point – with an antichrist, one government, one currency – then why do Christians actively fight it?” Their answer was something like, “Oh yeah…” and then the subject was changed.

There seems to be a dissonance in the Christian community about what we are intended to fight. I have mentioned often the conservative push to change laws that reflect “what God wants,” and after nearly 11 months of reading the Bible, I cannot find any evidence that we are called to such big picture action.

Because everything – and I mean everything – in the Bible is about person-to-person relations.

In the latter half of Colossians, Paul gives Christians plenty of advice on how to live amongst one another.

We ought to rid ourselves of anger, malice, etc.
Be kind to your fathers, wives, etc.
Be watchful and thankful with one another, etc.

I don’t know. This is all small picture stuff. This is about how we are meant to live day-to-day within the personal relationships we have. No talks of overthrowing a one-world government or stopping the antichrist from rising to power or even getting gays to stop marrying.

I want to live small picture.

The Church: Colossians 1 – 2

Christ Is the Best. Don’t You Know How Hard Paul Is Working for You? Christ Is Still the Best. Eat All the Pork You Want.

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
Colossians 1:24 (NIV)

Let’s think a little bit about the church – its intended role and its actualization.

And let’s also think about the “church” in a broad sense. I am not commenting on my church or your church or really any specific one (of any of the sects). We can settle something right now: there are good ones and there are bad ones and then there are the inoffensively “okay” ones.

Settled? Good.

As quoted above, Paul believes that the church is the body of Christ, while God is head. We have heard it called the “bridegroom” in the past, a veritable lifeblood for the Christian movement. Paul dedicated all of his letters to the “church” and how they ought to behave amongst one another. In fact, it seems like the focus has shifted entirely from Jesus’ ministry of finding new recruits. Now, they are just learning how they ought to function as a religion with all the administrative and human resources woes that come with it – from orders of service to conflict management.

But churches have had a hard time with PR as of late. Do I need to list them? We can start at the sex abuse scandal at my home church and continue with the widely publicized, decades-old sex abuse scandals with the Catholic church. Some churches have been brash in their fight to maintain Christian ideals in government. Their most vocal fights have been about gay marriage, birth control/abstinence-only education, and abortion, and it is safe to say that at least those former two are losing battles (time will tell if the Planned Parenthood videos affect any real change). These are divisive issues, and standing on one side of them means that you alienate the other half – simple. Furthermore, churches tend to uphold a patriarchal view of society, something that turns off youngsters by the thousands. This all – and more – has led to dipping national confidence in the church as an institution. Trust in the Protestant church has fallen from 65% to 51% in 6 years, and faith in any sort of organized religion is at 42%.

So, we know why churches are becoming more and more unpopular, but does that mean they are unimportant institutions that will slowly fade into obsolescence?

Absolutely, ridiculously no. Regardless of public opinion, churches will always remain a cornerstone of society.

The fellowship piece is a big part of it, but gay guys in bars have “fellowship.” It cannot just be that.
Sure, it gives people a collective sense of morality, but hey, they could just read the Bible to get that, right?
It does good in the world – missions and collections for the poor and such – but many non-religious communities do this.

So.
What is it?

It’s God. It’s a group of people coming together to believe in something completely unseen, to revel in their inability to control the direction of their lives, to think about death and not fall apart, to adhere to something beyond themselves.

And in order to cope, I think you need a community. And a community of people coping together is just another name for a church.

Forgetting: Philippians 3 – 4

Evil Everywhere. Paul as an Example. No Anxiety. Closing Thoughts.

“…One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”
Philippians 3:13b (NIV)

I am really good at forgetting.

I lost infancy instantly – don’t we all? My parents picked up our family and moved within the first year of my life. It was a small house on Juniper Street in one of the less seedy sections of Norristown, but they wanted something bigger. I don’t remember anything about it – the layout, the colors, the lawn. I drove by it once when I was grown to see if it stirred anything within me. It didn’t. The grown visit didn’t do anything for me – I don’t remember what it looks like now.

What does anyone really remember about being a toddler? That must have gone right when I hit middle school or something. I have an initial memory (don’t we all?). There were tarps hanging all around my kitchen and strange men wandering through. My mother stood above me as the strange men went in and out of the tarps. She fed me mush on a spoon. I recalled this later, and my mother said that when we first moved into our new house, they had a wall removed and a counter put in its place. That must have been it.

Childhood left somewhere in college. It must have been the seriousness of it all – suddenly thrust into adulthood, even though we acted like children. It left in pieces. Long bike rides that led to solo trudges through the woods. Playing James Bond against imaginary Dr. No’s with a plastic cap gun. Sure, the information of the memories remained in tact, but the emotions departed. And what is memory without emotion? Akin to personal news reporting. I am not interested in the facts, ma’am. I want them spun so I don’t need to interpret. Send me a pundit.

I gave up on pictures in college; I never cared for mementos. Seriously, ask me to take a picture, and… well… I’ll begrudgingly do it, but I doubt I will ever look at the results late. They’re posed, are they not? Are they reflections of reality? Maybe I ought to reconsider them – they are a reality spun into optimization. This is how we want to remember it, we say.

I don’t meant to be pessimistic – crap. No, not all pictures – posed or not – fetishize reality, and I know that. But they sure as hell look fake to me. If you’re looking at the camera, that means you saw it coming. I’ve never seen reality coming. Have you? I’m just trying to keep up.

Paul sets the tone for the entire Christian movement. He says, forget the past and look towards the future. We all know what he means, right? He is not telling us to think optimistically about the next fiscal year or the perfect girl who is just around the corner. No, he means forget this life and think about the next one.

I am maladjusted. I am unprepared. I am so good at forgetting when all I want to do is remember.

We’re in a constant state of loss, Paul. Do you really need to remind us to forget the past?

Why am I so scared of eternity? Why am I so focused on it? Why does my heart stop when Paul tells me to look forward to it, when everyone else rattles off their blessings, pounding their heels into the carpet of the church, overjoyed at the salvation offered to them for the small price of 80 years (or less)? They close their eyes and pray, speaking in languages dead, gripping the sides of their dresses out of the love, the love, the love, and wonder how they could ever be so lucky as to receive it. But here I am wondering and and sweating and pounding my heels. Is it love? Is this what love looks like? 

Faith and Works: Philippians 1 – 2

A Letter from Prison. A Desire to Move Beyond. Imitating Christ.

I have had Philippians 2 memorized for over a decade now, so I think it will be stuck in my mind for the long haul. I would love to say that the verses are poignant to me in a spiritual way, which would explain why I have held onto them for so long. But the truth is that I had to memorize them in order to go on a high school Mission’s Trip to the Dominican Republic, and for some reason, they just never went away. Give me a pedestal, and I will proudly recount the words to you today (although admittedly, you may not want that).

The passage asks us to imitate Christ through a number of behaviors, such as avoiding selfish actions and “vain conceit.” (2:3) We should not argue, should not grumble. Remember that we are reflections of Christ himself and if we act like it, we will shine like stars in a “crooked and depraved generation.” (15)

We memorized this as a way to focus our minds on that task at hand – Christ-minded service in a foreign country.

The trip went well – long days traveling across the small country, going from village to village, setting up Vacation Bible Schools and services for the locals. We spent a week in a hospital, entertaining the kids before surgery and in recovery, and of course, setting up a Vacation Bible School. Every night, our group found ourselves wandering the streets of some little town, trudging towards a hotel no one else would dare enter under normal circumstances.

I learned shortly after that these trips were meant almost exclusively for our benefit. Sure we did some good, but any significant change that would occur would be within us, not the Dominicans. We were practicing for a life of imitating Christ.

By the end of the trip, each of us had proclaimed “the change.” We would never turn our backs on God.

I remember getting on the plane. They had us all seated in the back, and a Bible Study had formed amongst some of the teammates. They were discussing this very passage, the verses before it and after for some context, and about what it truly means to imitate Christ. I turned from my seat, one of those large exit row ones, and tried to join. Just then, one of the leaders got my attention. He asked if I would switch with him, so he could sit next to his wife (who I happened to be seated with). He had a normal-sized seat.

I said no. I was tall – I needed the leg room. I got anxious on flights. He should understand.

He didn’t. He said I ought to act more Christ-like.

Earlier in the letter, Paul says this to the Philippians:

“I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (1:23-24)

I looked around the plane at my bouncy teammates, and it felt like they all held onto this perspective. They longed for Christ in Heaven, and this life on Earth meant little to them. I couldn’t even consider it without getting short of breath. And I think that was when I knew.

I knew I was addicted to life, and I would only go kicking and screaming into Heaven. I’m not sure how Christ-like I could ever be.

How to Be a Proper Christian: Ephesians 4 – 6

Rules upon Rules upon Rules. Spiritual Armor. Moving on to the Next Letter.

“…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
Ephesians 4:1b (NIV) 

All religions come with their stereotypical behaviors, and why wouldn’t they? If a group of people dedicate their lives to a spiritual following, then of course their actions will shift into some identifiable norm according to the statutes commanded of them. Some religions demand stricter behaviors, and so their followers become more uniform.

For instance, it is far easier for you to identify a devout Muslim than a Universalist. The reason is obvious (and no, not because of skin color). Islam requires its followers to participate in structured prayer, precise dress, and a restricted diet. Universalists, on the other hand, have very few (or arguably no) laws governing its people. It is much more of a loose mindset for processing life experiences and turning a kind face to your neighbor.

Mormons also tend to be devout – you can catch them avoiding R-rated movies, abstaining from caffeine, and going on a two-year mission somewhere in the midst of their college years. They are also some of the nicest people you will ever find. You might be able to point a Sikh out from a crowd because of his distinctive dress or identify a Buddhist from her daily meditation and calm demeanor.

So how can we point a Christian out from the crowd?

Paul uses the second half of Ephesians to tell the eponymous city exactly how they ought to act as Christians. We have heard most of what he lists before. Avoid falsehood (4:25). Do not sin in anger (26). Never steal (27). Do not speak unwholesome words (29). Get rid of bitterness and rage (31). Be kind and compassionate (32).

There is some talk of sexual immorality, gossip, unwise actions, and husband-wife relations – all of which you can probably guess the Bible’s stance.

So then, when you see someone kind and gentle, honest and humble – do you immediately think that they are Christian?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The loudest members of a group tend to dominate the conversation, which tends to be why negative stereotypes linger in the memory. Play a game of word association, and you’ll find “Muslim” paired often with “terrorist,” “Jew” with “cheap,” and “Christian” with “bigot.” Every religion fights their own stereotypes, and it’s led some followings to resort to PR campaigns in order to change the public’s view.

I’ve been thinking about what I would look like if I gave in fully to Christianity again. What would that mean for my behavior – would it change my demeanor? Would it be something I could proclaim loudly without embarrassment, or is it something I would leave off my life resume?

Because honestly, I have had some incredible role models of Christianity and some truly damaging ones. I’m only human, so you can guess which ones have lingered.

The Club: Ephesians 1 – 3

The Chosen Ones. The Marriage of Jew and Gentile. Some Prayers.

“…[H]e lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.”
Ephesians 1:8-9 (NIV)

I admired the class clowns growing up. You know the guy, the one who has a quip for every scenario and can make a grown teacher cry. I think I admired him, because I could never ever do what he did. First of all, I was a complete nerd who constantly sought the approval of my superiors, so I wouldn’t have been able to do something that knowingly pissed any of them off. Honestly though, the real reason? I just wasn’t quick enough. Whatever wit required, I didn’t have it, much to my disappointment.

So why I decided to audition for the improv troup in college, I’ll never know. I certainly did not have the skill set, and the bar was set high. This team performed every other Sunday to standing room only crowds (sure, in a 40-seater black box, but whatever). They were the class clowns of their respective high schools, and they were smart. Everyone on campus seemed to love them.

I tanked my audition. They didn’t even give me a call back.

Someone else might have taken that as a sign to move on, but I didn’t want to give up. I decided to go to every single show to study their performances. I read books like “Truth in Comedy” and “Improvise” in hopes of acquiring the “improv thought pattern.” I took classes over the summer at the Philly Improv Theatre, taking the R line from my suburban home to the tiny little theater in Rittenhouse Square. All of this was to prep for my sophomore year, when I would just blow them away at my second audition.

They didn’t let me in. Again. I was absolutely devastated, that I could work so hard to achieve something so relatively small, and yet still fail. But it wasn’t the failure that hurt so much; it was the feeling of being left out. I wanted into their club. I wanted to be one of the guys.

I ended up improvising with a few friends for practice, and we formed our own little team. We wanted to do a show, just to test out our prowess, but had no venue. Then, we got an offer. The team that rejected me twice said they wanted an opener. They wanted to know if we were interested in the spot. We happily agreed.

I was in the club – sort of.

Christianity is an exclusive club, if we are to believe Paul. The middle of the New Testament is dedicated solely to the letters that Paul wrote to various budding Christian communities. The rhetoric of these books stands in sharp contrast to the testimonies of Jesus. He was speaking to the uninitiated, hoping to convert them to his faith. Paul, instead, speaks to the believer – the guy who is already in the club – about how he should act towards his brethren.

It reads like a “rules of initiation” for a club. And the words he uses implies exclusivity. He says God “chose” and “predestined us,” which implies that others have been left out. And the spoils for being chosen are great. He has lavished “wisdom and understanding” on us and has guaranteed “our inheritance” which is eternal life and happiness.

There is mounting evidence that we do not choose God, but rather, He chooses us. And so if we are among the “saved,” we ought to count ourselves lucky. We’ve been predestined for untold fortune.

My little improv troupe garnered a fair amount of attention. We traveled around and performed frequently. We opened the “main” troupe for a year and a half, and I loved the opportunity to put all that work into practice. As it turned out, I was decent with comedy. I would never be the best, but that was okay.

But you know… even after all that accomplishment, most of which I had made for myself… I still wanted to be in the real “club” – the one that had rejected me. Somehow, it just wasn’t the same.

Differing Orders: Galatians 4 – 6

What Is a Slave? Hagar and Sarah. How Do We Minister to Others?

Christians do not have a great reputation.

I think I have started half a dozen blog entries that way, but it is true. Christians may not care at the statement, claiming that God has warned them of persecution. Others might take offense… that liberals have vilified them through no fault of their own. I know a ton of Christ-like Christians who do a wonderful job living out God’s biblical hope for us. And they do it in a way without alienating others. Some are not quite so successful. To me, it always comes to down to judgment. Most everyone will accept a Christian as long as they do “force” their beliefs on others. What exactly constitutes “forcing?” Well, that is a difficult question.

We have seen Jesus and his contemporaries warn Christians against any form of judgment. This has been paired with both outright condemnations as well as commendations for us to take a hard look in the mirror at our own faults. Why then do so many Christians get on pedestals about the popular culture of America and how unbearably non-Christian it is?

The answer begins one place and ends another. First, Christians believe that they are chosen by God. I don’t need to look any further than today’s reading for proof of that. In an eye-brow raising section about Hagar and Sarah – the slave and beloved wives of Abraham, respectively. Paul says:

“These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.”
2 Corinthians 4:24-26 (NIV)

He said “figuratively” before you get in a fuss.

Paul thinks that humanity can be divided into two categories, the chosen and the slave; he demonstrates this with a metaphoric reading of Hagar and Sarah. Now, is he saying slaves are meant to be slaves, because they weren’t chosen by him? I don’t think so, but that’s not the point. Regardless of the status of the “non-chosen,” there is a prevailing belief that God picks His followers out of the lot, and they are special in His eyes.

So. Imagine that your boss picks you out of your crowd of co-workers and says that you are special. I’m sure that would feel pretty spectacular. And it might come with an ego boost worthy of the title.

Secondly, Paul lays this little number on us:

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (6:1)

To His chosen people, God tells us to lead people out of sin “gently.” How can you lead someone out of sin without committing the sin of judgment yourself? I would say that is a delicate balance, and may not even be possible. In order for me to identify a sin in someone, I must first make a value judgment of his or her behavior, right?

But maybe the judgment is small and internal, and it doesn’t involve changing laws and getting up on soapboxes screaming at people.

God’s people are commanded to live by faith and spread the Gospel. To refuse that service would be to deny the chosen status. It would be living down to a God with expectations and an omnipresent eye.

So I remember that in the moments that I feel particularly judged by a Christian, and I don’t take offense to it anymore. Because I do know that it is down with the best of intentions.