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Pet Bible-Thumping Peeves: “Love your enemies” Does not Apply Here

I repeatedly hear people responding to Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies” by either by claiming I am taking them out of context or conjuring a scenario of my wife and children being raped by a stranger. Let’s unpack those two scenarios for a moment. A. The context of Jesus' words: 1. What is the context of Jesus' words, "Love your enemies"? There are three passages in the New Testament where we find Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies.” They are in what we call the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27, and Luke 6:35. In the Matthew passage, Jesus has just finished speaking of exchanging revenge for graceful generosity. He addressed Mosaic limitations on revenge, turning them into non-resistance as a better response. He addressed being struck on a cheek, being sued for one’s outer garments, being forced into demeaning labor, and having people beg for money as either a gift or a loan. This is the springboard for Jesus’ comments about loving our enemies. He says, “…

Trauma, Fear, and Faith

I had the opportunity to attend a training event where one of the topics was how trauma impacts our lives. It got me to thinking about issues of faith, trust, the ability to live beyond the damaging consequences of our past experiences. One of the TV shows my sons introduced me to is Arrow. There is a lot of violence and glorying in violence, force, and death as the path to accomplish justice. It is a theme the show wrestles with over and over again. At one point, however, one of the characters makes the following comment: “We are afraid of things we don’t know. Especially when we have been living in pain this long, it’s hard to even accept the idea of being happy” (Thea Queen, Arrow S5, E7). That is a very fitting response to repeated trauma. It has to do with the way trauma teaches us to respond to the world around us. It has to do with our struggle to learn to trust others. It has to do with the way trauma interferes with that trust and our need to trust and live with the vulnerab…

Pet Bible-Thumping Peeves: Where Two Or Three Are Gathered

“Where two or three are gathered, there am I in their midst.” I have heard that sentence used all my life to encourage a small gathering that their faithful presence is rewarded with God’s presence. Where do I start? 1- What I do, where I go, and what I think does not impact God’s presence. As the Psalmist declared, “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” (Psalm 139:8) As Jesus said later on in Matthew, “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) 2- The number of people gathered for prayer meeting of Sunday worship is not what Jesus was addressing. God is with me already. If two of us get together, God is already there. God was already with each of us en route, so saying that our gathering makes a difference makes no sense. 3- Jesus was actually talking about people being reconciled to one another. That is the theme of Matthew 18. Jesus was talking about forgiveness and the lengths we should travel for the purpose of being reconciled with one another. …

Samson, The Strong Man

We like strong men. We are enamored of power, strength, and violence, or at least the potential for violence. This is shown clearly in our fascination with Samson, one of the judges mentioned in the Old Testament. What we miss is that while the book of Judges grants Samson's story a lot of space, it does not paint him in a positive light. Samson had everything necessary to have been a great man of God, a redeemer of Israel. What we find in his story, however, is that he abused God's gifts over and over for his personal gratification. It is true that he was responsible for killing many of Israel's enemies due to his great strength. All of his efforts, however, had no bearing on Ancient Israel's security. His feats of strength did not bring peace to the land. They did not grant Israel release from the oppression of the Midianites who attacked Israel to steal its agricultural bounty. I think we are often enamored of strength because we feel if we only had more strength w…

Choosing Identity?

I've never considered myself anything but straight. That said, I have never been in the position to be inside the head of someone who understands themselves as homosexual, transgender, bisexual, or anything along those lines. I am simply not in a position to declare that such a claim is a choice. Meanwhile, I am in the position to say I do not wake up each morning facing a decision of whether or not I will be cis-gender, transgender, heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual today. Perhaps your experience of your own gender and sexual identity is different than mine. As far as I am aware, however, mine is the more normative experience. We simply do not look upon our own sexual and gender identities as mattersof choice. It is not like deciding whether to wear jeans or dress slacks today.
What I do find is that the determinations made by so many who consider themselves something other than binary, straight individuals lead them to take their own lives at much higher than normal rates. They…

Making the Lame a Strong Nation - Micah 4:1-7

God's plans and strategies often don't seem to make any sense. When we hear the terms lame and strong in the same sentence, we might think of physical therapy. That's about the extent of the ways we would associate those terms. Being lame is something we equate with being weak. It refers to muscles or nerves that do not work as they should. It presents us a picture of physical failure, limitation, and the inability to perform as we would like or expect. In Micah's day, it was a death sentence for most. How do you take a group of powerless people and transform them into a strong nation? The Bible is full of texts telling stories of God accomplishing his purposes in unexpected ways, using strategies and people who seem sure to fail. Time and time again, it would appear that what God has planned is doomed to failure. How can an old, barren woman hope to become a mother? How can a band of slaves escape bondage to the world superpower? How could that same band of escaped sla…

Knowing Justice - Deuteronomy 19:11-21 & Matthew 5:38-48

We don't always get our “druthers.” There are some things that life just not present to us the way we would prefer. I want a world without cancer. I want a world without strokes. I want a world without dementia and Alzheimer's disease. I want a garden that does not grow weeds. I want a world without war, violence, racism, greed, and famine. I want a Bible that tells me exactly what I need to hear with no contradiction, wavering, or uncertainty. I want God to play by my rules and accept my priorities. I can keep dreaming. We all can. At the end of the day, however, we have to deal with the reality before us. We don't get to live in Neverland. This is the world we have, and we have to accept it as it is. Today's passage is one of those texts that makes me uncomfortable. Deuteronomy expresses the legal code of Ancient Israel. In some places, it does a good job of presenting God and God's will in a way that Jesus would find acceptable. In other places like this chapter, …