Loveable Leslie and the Valentine’s Day Parable

Loveable Leslie grew up like any other child. She was quite normal and fun. And she had a heart of gold. While most other kids picked best friends, Loveable Leslie just wanted to love everybody. It was part of who she was – loveable. She learned quickly though that love isn’t always returned. Sometimes love is met with hate and bitterness.

It happened one year during Valentines Day. All the children were to bring in bags or boxes that were decorated and then they would go around the room and put a valentine card in all of their boxes. Loveable Leslie made a very special valentine for a boy that she thought was very special – Tough Tony. On it, she wrote with the best of her ability, “Tony, will you be my very special valentine? Love, Leslie. xoxo”

Tony came back the next day with that valentine in his hand. Loveable Leslie was so nervous she could barely stop shaking. Then Tony did the unthinkable. He signaled the rest of the class: “Hey guys,” he said, “look what that Loony Leslie gave me!” Leslie’s face swelled as red as the valentine in Tony’s hand. She quickly shriveled into her seat. But nothing she did made the moment any less worse. Immediately after school, Loveable Leslie ran home and cried for the rest of the night.

Now – most people would find it hard to love or trust any one ever again after a moment like that. Not only did Tony embarrass Leslie, but he also embarrassed her in front of all of their classmates. It would be understandable if Leslie took a long time to trust again, even at such a young age.

But that moment didn’t faze her.

Even though Loveable Leslie wasn’t so loveable to Tony, she continued to love people. She loved her parents, she loved her friends, and she loved her dog. And sometimes people would take advantage of her. Sometimes they would abuse the love and trust she had for them. But she still loved them regardless. And by the time that Loveable Leslie grew old, she had hundreds of people who loved and cared for her. Through her love towards others she really became Loveable Leslie.

Christ truly taught miraculous things through parables. The way that he was able to use everyday circumstances and situations and transform them into vessels and vehicles of spiritual truth shows what an amazing teacher he was. In the parable of the sower, for instance, we know that Christ isn’t merely giving advice regarding agriculture. We all know that the parable of the sower isn’t about a sower at all, but is about the Kingdom of God.

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)

So what kingdom principles can we learn from the parable of the sower?

The first is about the seed and the soil. No matter how good the seed is it won’t grow in some soil. The fact that there are different soils already tells us that not everyone will receive the message of the Gospel. There will be some that won’t understand it. There will be others that abuse it. Some will even extort the Gospel for their own selfish gain. But when those who understand the message allow it to take root, they will multiply.

Later, Jesus says that blessed are those who see and understand. This is not only talking about understanding the parable, but is also talking about understanding the message of the Kingdom of God. To those who are receptive and allow the kingdom seed to be rooted in their heart, God will give them more of Himself. He will give them knowledge and understanding of His Kingdom. That is why it says later in verse 12, “He who has, more will be given.”

The second thing about the parable of the sower has to do with the sower himself. I like to call him the “foolish farmer.” The farmer is to sow seed regardless of the condition of the soil. The foolish farmer here, much like Loveable Leslie, is acting quite foolishly. Leslie shouldn’t have continued to love people the way she was after being hurt. The farmer, if he knows anything about sowing seed, should know that he is only supposed to plant seed in good soil. But in the parable, Jesus has the sower spread seed all over the place. Any farmer would know that he would be wasting valuable seeds if he were to plant them on rocky soil or amidst thorns. Yet Jesus has the farmer spreading his seed, his livelihood, everywhere, not thinking once of how it might affect his crop.

Here Jesus is teaching a lesson. It is easy to look at some who are lost and not see hope for them ever receiving the Gospel. One might think, “What’s the point,” and ignore this person as a lost cause. “What is the point of wasting time and energy into someone who won’t receive the message anyway?” But here, Jesus is saying that it isn’t the responsibility of the one sharing the Gospel to decide who will and will not receive its message. The sower’s mission and responsibility is to merely plant the seed.

Lastly, the parable teaches that growth only comes through God. Despite the terrible terrain and the farmer’s foolish ways, there was still a magnificent crop that was harvested from the seeds that were sown. This wasn’t due to the soil. It wasn’t due to the farmer. Most of the soil was bad and the farmer was planting seeds like he knew nothing of agriculture. No, the growth of the harvest came by the miraculous power of God.

It isn’t our responsibility to decide who deserves to hear the message of the Gospel. Everyone deserves to hear it. And it isn’t in our power that they receive it. It can only be through the grace of God and the Holy Spirit. We, like Loveable Leslie, just need to keep loving people and sharing with them the Gospel, and by the end of our time in ministry, God will have used us to reach a multitude of people.

We just need to share the Gospel and trust in Him to bring in the harvest.

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Cat People and Christ Followers – Galatians 2:16

“We are natural-born Jews, not sinners from the godless nations. 16 But we know that no one is made right with God by meeting the demands of the law. It is only through the faithfulness of Jesus the Anointed that salvation is even possible. This is why we put faith in Jesus the Anointed: so we will be put right with God. It’s His faithfulness—not works prescribed by the law—that puts us in right standing with God because no one will be acquitted and declared ‘right’ for doing what the law demands.” –Galatians 2:15-16

Stand-up comedian Demetri Martin is probably the best comedian I have ever heard give one-liners. I don’t know if he is just not a fan of segues or if his brain is full of a bunch of small random thoughts. Whatever it is, Martin knows how to turn one simple thought into something laughable.

For example: “My friend Steve likes cats. People are always saying ‘Oh, Steve’s really a cat person’. No he’s not. If Steve were a cat person it’d be, like, ‘Hey, Steve never goes in the pool’.”

I love this joke because it plays on how we define and describe people. By Steve being a “cat person” most people would assume that he is an avid fan of the fur-balls-whom-shall-not-be-named. But instead Martin turns the idea around and points out that if Steve were a “cat person” he would be half man and half cat… or be a villain who fights Batman – your pick.

Sometimes people get lost in letting the things they do describe and define them instead of letting who they are define them. This is an idea that Paul addresses to the Galatians when he goes over this discourse that he had with Peter.

In the Old Testament, many people believe that what made someone belong to the people of God was if they followed the Law. This is false. The people of God weren’t the people of God, because they followed the Law. They followed the Law (or tried to) because they were the people of God. Make sense? Good. One was part of the people of God in the Old Testament, because they were born into the Jewish nation. God set Abraham apart from the rest of creation and bestowed on him a promise – that He would bless the world through Abraham and that Abraham’s descendants would be innumerable.

The Jews however lost their way. They didn’t follow the Law that God gave them, and because of this, God allowed them to fall into exile. They needed a Savior. That is when Jesus came. Christ perfected the Law in that he obeyed it to its entirety. He came and delivered the people of God from their spiritual bondage through his death on the cross. And after his resurrection, all people were welcomed to be part of the people of God. It didn’t depend any longer on what family one was born into. It didn’t matter if they followed the law. Through Christ’s act of dying on the cross, any one who came to him in faith were welcomed in as God’s people.

Paul’s focus throughout Galatians is not just how one becomes a Christian. The Galatians were already saved. He was concerned about how one continues on after they believe. And he shares here that the people of God are no longer made right with God by following the requirements of the Law.

Many have argued as to whether Paul is refuting the ceremonial law, legalism, or the whole Mosaic Law. Jesus didn’t die solely because of legalism. If salvation was just about legalism, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die. And what would Christ’s crucifixion mean if it only neutralized part of the Law. Though Christ’s death extinguished the ceremonial law, which allowed Gentiles to enter into the Kingdom of Christ, it was extinguished through Christ fulfilling the Mosaic Law in its entirety.

We no longer follow the Mosaic Law.

We now follow the Law of Christ.

Does this mean that there are some things that still apply to believers? Of course it does! Following Christ doesn’t equally Lawlessness. It means a new Law – A new Covenant. Instead of it beginning with birth and ending with legalism, it begins with faith and ends with faithfulness.

The Law was merely a symptom, showing the signs of those who deserved death, and all men were guilty. Paul is trying to show this truth to the Galatians. There are false teachers trying to have them go back to this old way of treating symptoms without being cured. But Jesus already cured the Galatians! They were made right not because they followed the Law, but because they put faith in the faithfulness of Christ.

Don’t follow a set of rules. Don’t think you can get your life right and then come to God. Only through Christ can the guilty be seen as innocent, and only through the power of the Holy Spirit can a sinner be made clean. It all starts with Christ’s death. He died in order that you can be set right with God. Don’t define yourself by any Law or rule or even by church. All those things are chaff if you don’t have Christ. You can have all the looks of a Christian and not be a Christ follower.

Christ has set the world to rights.

Seek him.

Follow him.

Egalitarianism and the Jim Crow Laws of the Church, Part One.

Rosa Parks sat unmoved in her seat. A woman known to be so soft-spoken had apparently had enough. One can imagine how so humbly and quietly she would explain to the driver of the bus that she was not going to move from the seat she was in. What those in Montgomery might have called “separate but equal” was only separate. It surely was not equal. And Rosa knew that it was her right to stand up for what she believed in by staying seated where she was. When she was arrested that day, she probably didn’t realize the impact that she would have on her community and throughout the country. From the day of her arrest for over a year after, the Montgomery Bus Boycott took place, and momentum was building in what we now know as the Civil Rights Movement.

The problem with the Jim Crow Laws was that being separate wasn’t really being equal. The laws were taxing on all people in the African American community. Children were forced sometimes to walk to schools further away because the schools closest to them were for whites only. Some were refused jobs and services merely because the color of their skin. And it took the quiet yet unmoved voice of a meek woman in Alabama to stir the hearts of the people to finally say that enough was enough.

Today, in the church, I feel like there is a spirit of the Jim Crow Laws still alive but manifested within another group within society – women. Complementarianism believes that men and women are equal, but that God created them separately, and, with that, they have separate roles. With this they make sense of passages like that in Colossians and Ephesians where wives are told to submit to their husbands, and passages like that in Corinthians and Timothy where women are told not to speak in church, teach, or be in a spiritual position over a man.

But are men and women really equal if we force different roles on them?

How do we decide what these roles are?

Are they birthed within us or oppressed on us by centuries of conditioning?

And what does the Bible really say about the roles of men and women?

There are many passages in the Bible that can be taken as being for complementarianism or for egalitarianism. I will address important women throughout Salvation History before going into Paul’s letters, where things get more controversial. In this post I will specifically look into the Old and New Covenants. I apologize if I leave anything out, but for time’s sake, I can only write so much. I will try not to sound too scholarly or come across as condescending. Feel free to comment if you want to add to anything I address whether it is positive or negative.

The Old Testament:

In Genesis both man and woman are said to reflect the image of God (Gen 1:27-28). And though Eve was the one who ate the apple, Adam is seen as the type or the personification of sin within the world (see Romans 5) – a man once made in glory contrastingly seen as the carrier of sin in the world. This is seen more theological here rather than historical, but truth be told, I think that about most of Genesis. Genesis is written in the form of a myth – meaning that though many of the things said are true in some aspects, they aren’t meant to be literal or historical (especially the Creation story) so to make doctrinal statements on gender roles solely based on this passage would not suffice for either camp.

Rahab and Ruth are both women of importance in the Old Testament for a couple reasons. The fact that they are women mentioned in the Bible for helping bring along Salvation History is of importance, the higher importance being that neither of them were Israelites. The fact that God would use non-Israelite women to tell the story of how He was working within His Covenant people is phenomenal when considering all its implications theologically. Later, these women will even be included in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospels.

There are also many other notable women worth mentioning in the Old Testament. There are too many for me to mention them all, but here are a few. Deborah is both a judge and a prophetess, and she delivers the Israelites in a way equal to Gideon and Samson and others (Judges 4). Along with that, the prophesy in Joel 2 considering the outpouring of the Holy Spirit talks about it being imparted on both male and female. Esther is another woman of some notoriety, being used by God as a vessel – playing out further the story of Salvation History. There are more women who are of prominence in the Old Testament, but to say much of many of them would be speculation at best.

The Gospels:

The Gospels, believe it or not, have some pretty interesting things to say about women and their potential role in society. In Matthew chapter 1, like mentioned above, there are several women mentioned in Christ’s genealogy – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba (though not by name), and Jesus’ mother, Mary. Luke’s gospel is especially full of instances where Jesus treats women (any person marginalized in society actually) differently in terms of the norm of his day. Luke 8 talks about Mary Magdalene traveling with the disciples. This is enhanced even more in Luke 10, when Mary is sitting with the apostles learning at the feet of Jesus. In this specific reference, Martha, her sister, gets rebuked for getting mad at Mary for not doing what was “assumed” of her by hosting and helping Martha serve the guests.

Also, in Luke 24, Mary and other women are attested as being the first women to witness the resurrected Lord. At the time, women’s testimonies were seen to be of low value (they couldn’t even hold testimony in court!). So, the fact that the Gospel writers include women testimonies in their letters is astounding. These are not only mentioned in Luke, but there are references of women in the other resurrection accounts as well.

The only other Gospel account of relatively high prominence is the Samaritan woman in John 4. In this passage, Jesus talks to a woman who is living in adultery. In this pericope, Jesus tells her that worshipers of God won’t be judged by the nationality they were born in or what Temple they worshiped at, but that God is now looking for people who will worship in Spirit and in truth. In all of the Gospels, this is the most plainly Jesus ever speaks of who he is as Christ and Lord. For him to say that to a woman is again crazy to contemplate!

Marks of the New Covenant:

Some people look at what Paul says in 1Corinthians 14 and 1Timothy 2 to say that women should never speak in church or be in a role of leadership, but Joel’s prophesy that is fulfilled in the New Testament at Pentecost seems to differ. At Pentecost, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit was given as a mark of the New Covenant – God’s Spirit now dwelling within each believer. God’s Spirit isn’t just given to men but also to women, and both were expected to exercise those gifts (Acts 2). Acts 21 mentions women who were known for prophesying. Women were seen as an integral part in the early church and were expected to exercise in spiritual gifts, some of which I will specifically note in my next post.

Another mark of the New Covenant was baptism. Baptism at the surface doesn’t seem to be equalizing men and women, but I think that it is a minor theological point that God was putting across at the New Covenant. Let me explain. The people of God in the Old Testament were the Israelites. To be a part of the people of God one had to be born in. The mark to show that one was an Israelite, a follower of God, was specifically circumcision. The mark of circumcision was started in Genesis 15 when Abraham made his covenant with God. God said He would bless the whole world through Abraham. A mild problem with circumcision though was that it was a sign that only the men had within the community.

The sign that a person is now part of the people of God, the church, is baptism. Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward change of status within believers. And all believers, man and woman, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, were all linked in water baptism and by the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The sign was no longer only something that Israelite men could possess, but it was an act that all people could willfully participate in! To be a believer meant to break the tradition of the former practices that separated the people of God from the outside world, and to now embrace the old and “new” traditions which are now to bring all people together in Christ. This is at the heart of the Gospel and almost every other book of the New Testament.

The church today doesn’t have a problem having a woman in an unpaid position. They just don’t call her a pastor but a “pastor’s wife.” But as soon as she is officially recognized and given a salary, the gloves come off. Many within the church also don’t have a problem if a woman works as a children’s pastor (in some churches it is expected!), but they have a problem when a woman is put in a position over men who are her own age. This is inconsistent if one is using 1Corinthians or 1Timothy as a basis for their “complementarian” claim.

Just as Rosa Parks opened the door for the Civil Rights Movement, there are many women who recently have opened the door for women’s rights and women in ministry within the church. Some of the first people to start the Pentecostal Movement in the early 1900’s were women. Aimee Semple McPherson is another woman evangelist who reached prominence in the 1920’s and 1930’s. There are also many women missionaries throughout the years who should not be forgotten either.

There are so many women who have not only impacted the church, but they have impacted Salvation History and the history of the world at large. I don’t think that God has a problem with women in ministry; if he doesn’t have a problem then neither should we. And even though this is only half of the argument, I encourage you to study the subject yourself. Dig into the Scriptures. Study them for yourself. There are so many questions that need answered theologically, philosophically, and psychologically. But let’s not be afraid to push the door open. Things will never change for the better if we don’t question the norm.

Free Will, Faith, and Folly.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” –Romans 8:28-30

Springfield, Missouri’s roads are mapped out like a grid. Almost every single major byway has coordinates facing directly north, south, east, or west. But yet, there are still people who seem to get lost. Oftentimes, I find myself riding shotgun, calling out directions to one of these disoriented drivers behind the wheel. Some drivers don’t trust where I am taking them. I can tell by the way they ask at every intersection if they are supposed to turn or keep going. If they want me to tell them the directions, then why don’t they trust I’ll tell them when to turn when the time is right? Why don’t they have faith in me?

One thing that I’ve been wrestling with these past few months has been defining faith. I’m not talking about faith in God in a salvific sense – the faith that it takes to believe and be saved (Rom 10:9-10; Eph 2:8). But I am talking about trusting in God and allowing him to guide the steps I take. Most of this has been plaguing my mind because of graduation, and sometimes I wrestle and wonder if I am just supposed to do what I think best to do, or if I am supposed to wait until I hear what God through the Holy Spirit tells me to do.

Then one day I remembered this passage in Romans 8 (quoted above). If I am loving God and being faithful to walking the way Jesus did, then shouldn’t things work together for my good? I’m not saying that the Holy Spirit doesn’t give me direction, but maybe I have a little bit more decision than I thought.

I think oftentimes I am the person going on with my life asking God at every intersection, “What am I supposed to do?” Am I showing faith in God in those moments, or am I showing a lack of faith because I don’t trust He is guiding what I am doing in those times? As a Pentecostal, I feel as though we fall short here – asking God for everything what He wants to do, when in reality, if we just stay faithful to Him, His will will be done.

Faith and faithfulness have more of a correlation than we give credit.

Ask yourself if you really trust God, or are you using your questions to God as a façade for, “wanting to know His will.” Have faith that God knows where you are at, and that He will give you direction when the time is right. Remain faithful to Him, because you were called by Him. And if you love God and are called by Him heavenward, then believe and know that all things will work together for your good.