Category Archives: Religion

Prayer

In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom
 and the power
 and the glory forever.
      Amen.

—Matthew 6:9-13

I will admit that I am not one who formally prays a lot. I believe God hears my thoughts, just as he would prayers said in silence. There are definitely things I think about that maybe I wish God didn’t hear, but I think we all have “impure” thoughts. I regularly communicate with God, and I should follow the example of the Lord’s Prayer better. When I was growing up, the men who prayed in my church used pretty standard language for their prayers. I knew when my preacher, who was known for his lengthy prayers, started thanking God for the flowers and the trees in nature, he was nearly finished. We had another man who rambled on and on with no direction. When I had to give a prayer, it was basically the same prayer from memory, just as my father always did when he gave the closing prayer at church.

Jesus gave us clear guidance for praying which did not include the “vain repetitions” I was all too familiar with when growing up in Alabama. In Matthew 9:5-8, Jesus said: 

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

Jesus told us that prayer is a private matter. My sister’s in-laws and many others I know who like displays of piety insist praying before a meal in public. They insist that everyone join hands and bow their heads as someone says the prayer. For most of these people, they are mostly showing a display of their piety like the hypocrites in the synagogues the Jesus tells us about. I have no problem with saying a silent prayer before a meal or praying aloud at a private family gathering, but I have a problem with people who merely want to show how Christian they can be. In the case of my sister’s in-laws, they are very negative people, who consistently denigrate others for not doing as they believe they should. However, they are often doing those same things or overlook things in family members that they condemn in others. In my opinion, if you are going to be pious, follow Christ at all times, not just when people are watching.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us the prayer that became known as the “Lord’s Prayer.” The model prayer, as it is also called, takes only 15-20 seconds to say, yet is filled with deep meaning. This prayer perfectly summarizes our faith and what is expressed in the Gospels. On his reflection on this prayer, St. Cyprian of Carthage, a third-century bishop wrote, “My dear friends, the Lord’s Prayer contains many great mysteries of our faith. In these few words, there is great spiritual meaning, for this summary of divine teaching contains all of our prayers and petitions.” Jesus ends the prayer by adding “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 9:14-15) This last part is often incorporated into the Lord’s Prayer by some Christians.

Philip Yancey, a Christian author who writes about questions and topics of faith that matter to both believers and doubters alike said, “Prayer is not a means of removing the unknown and predictable elements in life, but rather a way of including the unknown and unpredictable in the outworking of the grace of God in our lives.” Yancey was born in Atlanta and grew up in a strict, fundamentalist southern church. When Yancey was one year old, his polio-stricken father died after church members suggested he go off life support asserting that faith in God would heal him. This and other negative experiences with a rigid church contributed to Yancey’s losing his faith at one point.

For Yancey, reading offered a window to a different world. He devoured books that opened his mind, challenged his upbringing, and went against what he had been taught. A sense of betrayal engulfed him. “I felt I had been lied to. For instance, what I learned from a book like To Kill a Mockingbird or Black Like Me contradicted the racism I encountered in church. I went through a period of reacting against everything I was taught and even discarding my faith. I began my journey back mainly by encountering a world very different than I had been taught, an expansive world of beauty and goodness. Along the way, I realized that God had been misrepresented to me. Cautiously, warily, I returned, circling around the faith to see if it might be true.”

How does a man who’s been through all Yancey has, draw close to the God he once feared? He spends about an hour each morning reading spiritually nourishing books, meditating, and praying. This morning time, he says, helps him “align” himself with God for the day. “I tend to go back to the Bible as a model because I don’t know a more honest book,” Yancey explains. “I can’t think of any argument against God that isn’t already included in the Bible. To those who struggle with my books, I reply, ‘Then maybe you shouldn’t be reading them.’ Yet some people do need the kinds of books I write. They’ve been burned by the church or they’re upset about certain aspects of Christianity. I understand that feeling of disappointment, even betrayal. I feel called to speak to those living in the borderlands of faith.”

Faith is the essential element in our relationship with God. Jesus says that if you have faith, you can command a mountain to jump into the sea. He also taught us that we must ask in his name, which is why many end prayers with “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”  He says that for our prayers to be answered they must be in accordance with God’s will. John 15:7 says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” Prayer is a great privilege allowed by God. We can be heard by God through Christ, and God commands us to ask him to intercede on our behalf. God has a plan that involves us that is accomplished through Him answering our prayers. Sometimes that answer is yes, and sometimes it is no. However, we always receive an answer. As the saying from the 1773 hymn by William Cowper goes, “God works in mysterious ways.”

All the teaching of Jesus on prayer taken together points to a life of faith. We must have faith that we are in line with the will of God, and He will answer us if we have faith and accept His answer. Mark 11:24 says, “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” This verse seems to be saying that God will grant any request we make of Him as long as we believe, but there are limitations on what God is willing to provide and we are bound by the laws of nature and the universe. Prayer is not a means by which God serves us. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Therefore, prayer is a means by which we serve God. Prayer is not a means by which we get our will done in heaven, but a means by which God gets His will done on earth. 

We are all in need of prayer and the comfort praying provides. James 5:16 states, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James is encouraging us to express our dependence on God, which is done through prayer. In previous verses, James asked his readers to respond to trouble by praying to God, to respond to cheerfulness by singing songs of praise, and to respond to illness or spiritual weakness by asking fellow Christians to pray for them. James believed that Christians should surround themselves with other Christians. We need fellow believers with whom we can trust and be vulnerable. That does not mean we should only surround ourselves with believers. We need diversity in our relationships in order to grow. 

In today’s world, few Christians are practicing unconditional love in any specific way. Some Christians have a bad habit of judging others, which is not their place. Many Christians ignore Matthew 7:1-3, which says “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” Because we fear the judgment of others, we’re too afraid to be vulnerable to others. We need a world in which we can offer support and without judgment to others in need. The world would be a far better place if more of us prayed for each other. After all, James writes, prayer works. God listens and responds. Prayer is powerful and effective because God hears and takes action. 


The Parable of the Two Sons

“A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. 

– Matthew 21:28-32

The Parable of the Two Sons is a parable told by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. It contrasts the tax collectors and prostitutes who accepted the message taught by John the Baptist with the “religious” people who did not.

The first son initially disobeyed his father’s command by refusing to work in the vineyard, but later he repented and obeyed. In the end, he did the will of his father. While his earlier refusal was a sin, the father was willing to accept the son’s repentance and allow him to serve anyway. So, the son was credited with doing the will of the father in the end. The first son was forgiven, just as we will be forgiven by God, Our Heavenly Father, for doing what is right.

However, the second son did not do the will of his father, though he agreed to. His agreement was a lie, and his failure to go was evidence that he never intended to do the father’s will. So not only did the second son fail to obey the word of his father, but he also lied about his intentions, which showed him to be a hypocrite.

The moral of this parable by Jesus is the second son was a picture of the hypocritical Pharisees, who claimed to do the will of the Father in Heaven yet did not obey God’s word. Jesus says that these men will not be in the Kingdom of God, while lessor Jews like prostitutes would be in the Kingdom because they repented and accepted Jesus as the Messiah, which resulted in their forgiveness. 

So, the first son exemplifies sinners who will enter into Heaven by repenting and obeying the Gospel. In contrast, the second son represents the hypocrites, the self-righteous religious leaders who talk about serving God but live in disobedience to God’s Word. In this example, the people who look the least religious will enter God’s kingdom ahead of religious leaders, because, in the end, they did God’s will.

The parable reminds us that actions speak louder than words. Many churches and Christian organizations claim their mission is to spread Christianity and God’s love, but many times, they only spread hate, especially when it comes to homophobia. There is a spiritual battle today among Christians. Some of us believe in Jesus and His Great Commandment from Matthew 22:37-39:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

However, instead of following God’s Word, some follow false teachers Jesus who warned against in Matthew 7:15-20:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, you will recognize them by their fruits.

Today’s false teachers (among other fanatics out there) erroneously profess their delusion that our current president is sent from God. They claim he is like King David in the Old Testament. But what does that mean, and how could they possibly conceive of such nonsense? According to the Old Testament, David had a weakness for women. As David conquered surrounding territories through a series of wars and his kingdom grew, he took on more wealth — and more wives and concubines. His descent into sin began one night when David was on his palace’s rooftop and saw a beautiful lady named Bathsheba bathing. She was married to Uriah the Hittite, a soldier fighting in David’s army. This did not discourage David, and he sent messengers to get her. When she was brought to him, he seduced her, and she became pregnant. To cover his sin, David arranged to have Uriah killed while the soldier was fighting a group called the Ammonites. In 2 Samuel 11:14-15, David wrote a letter to one of his commanders telling him to “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” After Uriah was killed, David took Bathsheba to be one of his wives.

We are told God was furious with David and sent a prophet named Nathan to deliver David a message: “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.'” (2 Samuel 12:10) The remainder of David’s rule was filled with tragedy. David and Bathsheba’s first child died. (But their second child, named Solomon, survived and later became king of Israel.) David also faced multiple rebellions, including one led by his son Absalom. While David succeeded in stopping the rebellion, Absalom was killed in battle, and David mourned his death. In David’s final year of rule, fighting broke out over who would succeed him. To resolve the issue, David had to get up from his deathbed to announce that Solomon would be king.

David was undoubtedly flawed, but we are told that David loved God no matter his later flaws, and God loved David. The problem with the comparison is that David and Trump are nothing alike. While Trump would like to be king, he is not. Trump also gained great wealth through dishonest business conquests; he is not a great warrior or leader, as David is said to have been. Trump is a philanderer just as David was, but Trump does not love God. Trump consistently lies, cheats, steals, and flaunts the laws of our nation. His evangelical followers are completely deceived by a dangerous con man. They cannot conceive that he could do any wrong because he claims to be anti-abortion. Abortion seems to be the only word that makes people who claim to follow Jesus disregard everything Jesus taught over an issue Jesus never discussed. We know that abortion was practiced in biblical times. In his Theaetetus, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato mentions a midwife’s ability to induce abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. So, while it was a known practice, Jesus never discussed it or even alluded to the practice. 

When the history of Trump’s presidency is written, it will not look kindly on him or his administration. It will also not look kindly on Trump’s evangelical supporters, just as it does not look kindly on the antebellum Christians who used the Bible to justify slavery or any myriad of other offenses to God advocated by people who profess to be Christian. No matter how pious they claim to be, these evangelical Trump supporters will always be on the wrong side of history. Just as Matthew 7:21-23 says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Those of us who love our neighbor as ourselves and believe in equality and charity are derided continuously by the evangelical Trump cultists for supporting a party which believes in egalitarianism, social equality, protecting the environment, and strengthening the social safety net through liberalism. These are all things that align with the teachings contained in the Sermon on the Mount. As Democrats, we support voting rights and minority rights, especially LGBTQ+ rights, multiculturalism, and religious secularism, while Trump supporters advocate fear, anger, discord, and discrimination. I know there are some Democrats for whom Joe Biden was not their first choice. Still, just as the first son in the parable went to work in the vineyard after telling his father he wouldn’t, we need to rally around Joe Biden to defeat Donald Trump no matter who we initially supported. However, we cannot be like Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, who derided Trump before he became president, but now cannot show enough support for him. They are like the second son who said the right thing initially and opposed the egomaniacal bully, but currently support him and have turned against everything they professed they believed.

Let us be like the first son! Let us follow through and support Joe Biden because he is what this country needs right now. Contrary to the beliefs of the evangelical Christian right, we are loved by God, and we will prevail.


Telling Our Stories

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

– James 3:1

Our brains seem uniquely adapted to making sense of experiences through stories. We tell stories and listen to them not just in our daily conversation, but on the news, in the movies, and in novels. The Bible is filled with stories to help us make sense of the world around us. Most of Christ’s teachings are done using parables. Perhaps even more than the stories we tell in our daily lives, biblical stories and parables invite us to reflect on our most profound experiences whether of God, our families, our community or the terrors and pleasures of life. In other words, these stories aim to make us think about important matters. Rather than telling us how or what to think, they force us to find out what we believe and how to respond. If we’re lucky, we are rewarded with insight and perspective we would otherwise miss engrossed as we usually are in more commonplace matters. 

When studied together, biblical stories help join us to others and shape our identity as a community. These sacred stories are less concerned with facts and details than in the “truth” of experience whether of a moral, a spiritual, or a psychological nature. They teach us about the human condition and the many ways in which human beings have encountered God. They teach us how we might best respond to God in our own lives.

The Bible also contains many stories about individuals who face life’s difficulties leaving home and traveling long distances to meet uncertain futures. Some flee to escape the murderous rage of brothers or abuses heaped upon them. Others are abandoned by lovers. They have journeys just as we do. These individuals are recognizably flawed, and we are meant to identify with them. How these characters handle the events of their lives and God’s role in supporting them through such trials are among the stories’ essential lessons for the reader. 

As a blogger, I tell stories in each of my posts. Sometimes, the story is about my life; other times, the story is about history. Even the “Picture of the Day” tells a story. It’s the old English adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” When it comes to telling our own stories, we must ask ourselves some questions: Why do we tell our story? How do we tell our story? Which story do we tell? And, to whom do we tell? When I write a post about my life, I consider each of these questions. Storytelling can be powerful, but sometimes it’s just entertaining. Other times, I hope, they are thought-provoking. Storytelling can connect us in many ways, and they can teach us about the many truths in life.

The Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote, “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a person. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” When we as LGBTQ+ individuals tell our stories truthfully and honestly, we can change people’s attitudes and make the LGBTQ+ community more visible. Through our stories, we show the need not only for the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in all aspects of society, but also for the gifts LGBTQ+ people have to offer to ourselves and to others. Sometimes, this includes digging deep to find the courage to come out, and to give ourselves grace and forgiveness for our past mistakes.

American screenwriter, producer, and actress Lena Waithe said, “I’m writing my story so that others might see fragments of themselves.” What she says in her quote is a large part why I try to be as open and honest about my life as possible. Whether I am telling about my own of coming out journey, living as a closeted gay man in the South, my work and teaching career, the journey of my faith, or my struggles with headaches and depression, I tell these stories, so others might realize they are not alone. The most important thing is to be honest in our stories.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” –John 8:31-32

Telling stories can be a liberating experience for the teller and the hearer. It can provide us with a catharsis which can be valuable in its own right. And yet, if we want to bring about change, catharsis alone is insufficient. They can inspire, empower, and educate us. They can lead us and those around us to action.

How can our stories lead to action? When we begin with the end in mind, our stories are powerful engines for change. When I tell a story, I always wonder: how will my readers respond? When someone hears how I was afraid in the beginning to tell my friends I am gay, will they realize they too should find someone with whom they can truly trust before taking the first step coming out? When writing about how something as simple as going to an LGBTQ+ event by myself can be daunting because of social anxiety, will others empathize and see themselves in that situation? Will they have the courage to go it alone when necessary? When I share how my faith and sexual orientation have informed and enriched my life, does it show other Christians that churches should be inclusive and allow LGBTQ+ people to participate fully? When I tell stories of the incredible support from my straight friends, will others take steps to be vocal and visible allies? 

Sadly, the often, overriding, public narrative of LGBTQ+ lives is one of shame, sorrow, hurt, heartache, and injustice. Read most LGBTQ+ novels from before approximately fifteen years ago, and you will see they are all about hardship. The earliest gay fiction always ended badly. The first gay book I ever read was the 1956 novel, Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin. While the book is noteworthy for its complex representations of homosexuality and bisexuality, the book ends with David’s mental pictures of Giovanni’s execution and his own guilt. Nowadays, and especially within the male/male romance genre, stories often have a much happier and hopeful ending. With the changes taking place around the world for LGBTQ+ rights, there is hope out there.

A popular counter-narrative to the one of despair is that of normalcy. When people say, “The people in the gay community are just like everyone else; we just happen to be gay,” it’s well-intentioned, but if we’re really honest, it’s incomplete. We are not just like everyone else, and we should value these differences. Equality and unity are not the same as conformity. When we only tell sad stories or stories of normalcy, what stories are we leaving out? How can we relate the real harms we have suffered, and the real injustices which need to be corrected without hosting a pity party? How can we tell stories of our strength and resiliency while noting that our differences are part of what make us beautiful?

Finally, to whom should we tell our stories? We must take our stories to the places where they are not heard. Sharing our stories is inherently a form of activism and must always be a personal decision. No one is required to come out nor share their story. Safety and survival should be the priority. For those of us who can come out and want to, when we take our stories to unpopular places, we bring truth and justice with our mere presence. Where do our stories need to be heard? We can tell our stories at work, in our schools, in organizations we work with, to our friends, our family members, extended family, neighbors, and our blog readers. 

How do you share your story? 


God Has a Plan

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

—Jeremiah 29:11

As we journey through a tumultuous 2020 and enter into an unknown of what the rest of 2020 will bring us, it is helpful to remember that God has a plan for our lives. Jeremiah 29:11 is just such a reminder.

Many Christians know and cling to this verse by itself. But when we understand its historical and literary context, most will find that it takes on a more profound, more relevant, and even more powerful meaning for their lives. Context is always important in understanding a passage of scripture. Often scripture is taken out of context and given a meaning entirely different from its intended purpose. 

For historical context, Jeremiah spoke these words to Jews. They were under the domination of the Egyptian and then Babylonian Empires. Under the Babylonians, the Jews were sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. We can only imagine what it would be like to live under your enemies’ domination and then to be forced by those enemies to leave your homeland and settle in a foreign country. 

For the literary context, the previous chapter tells us that Jeremiah has just denounced the false prophet Hananiah. God had commanded Jeremiah to wear a yoke as a sign of the impending captivity, humiliation, and servitude of the Jewish people by the Babylonians. Hananiah told the people that God would break Babylon’s yoke, freeing the people to return home within two years. To make his point, Hananiah took the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and broke it as a token that the yoke, which had been imposed by Nebuchadnezzar on Israel, would also soon be broken.

Hananiah’s prediction sounded reasonable at the time. This event occurred in about 594 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar was occupied in a battle against Egypt and could pay little attention to his client-state Judah. Rumors spread that Babylon was weakening. So, Hananiah’s message undoubtedly sounded appealing to the people, but it was a lie. God commanded Jeremiah to tell Hananiah to replace the wooden yoke with an iron one. The yoke to be endured by the Israelites would be stronger than the former one had been. Jeremiah prophesized that Jewish people would live in Babylon for at least 70 years. He is warning them so that they would settle down, build houses, marry, and even pray for the city’s peace and prosperity in which they now found themselves. 

When understood in context, we discover that the words of Jeremiah 29:11 were spoken to people in the midst of hardship and suffering; people who were likely desiring a quick rescue like the one Hananiah tried to persuade them to believe. But God’s response is not to provide an immediate escape from the problematic situation. Instead, God promises that He had a plan for the Jewish people to succeed in their current circumstances. 

When facing difficult situations today, we can take comfort in Jeremiah 29:11 knowing that it is not a promise to immediately rescue us from hardship or suffering, but rather a guarantee that God has a plan for our lives. Regardless of our current situation, He can work through it to help us thrive and give us hope for the future.

Furthermore, Christians can take comfort in knowing that God promises to be there for us in the most challenging situations. For in the verses immediately following Jeremiah 29:11, God proclaims through Jeremiah that when you “call on me and come and pray to me… I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 19:12-13).


Restore

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalms 23:3

Have you ever emerged from a long hot shower and felt completely restored? Maybe it’s when you first wake up in the morning and hop in the shower and you feel refreshed and ready for the day ahead. Maybe it’s after a good workout and you are tired and sore, but you take that long hot shower and you step out feeling like a new person. God can do that for us too. Maybe you are sad or frustrated after receiving bad news. Maybe you are going through trying times I think we’ve all experienced trying times to some degree during 2020 and the pandemic. God can act as our long hot shower to refresh you and restore your faith. Always remember that God wants us to appreciate life even when we’re going through tough situations. Next time you’re in one of those situations, whether a family member is sick, you’re out of work, or things just aren’t falling into place, remember that God has a bigger plan for you.

The world is facing inescapable challenges: a rapidly changing climate, the risk of nuclear conflict, trade wars, a rising China, and an aggressive Russia, millions of refugees seeking shelter and security, and attacks on universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. Our next leader must repair our relationships with our allies and stand up to strongmen and thugs on the global stage to rally the world to meet these challenges. We can reclaim our longstanding position as a moral and economic leader of the world.

Today, we are in a battle for the soul of our nation. With the Black Lives Matter Movement, LGBTQ+ discrimination by the current administration, the health and welfare of the citizens of the world during this pandemic, and the last 3+ years of the Trump Administration, we are at a dangerous crossroads. Do we allow a Christian Right that props up a leader without morals and who lacks compassion, or do we try to restore the soul of the United States? Right now, we need to remember who we are. We’re Americans: tough, resilient, but always full of hope. It’s time to treat each other with dignity. Build an economy that works for everybody. Fight back against the incredible abuses of power we’re seeing. It’s time to dig deep and remember that our best days still lie ahead if we elect a true leader who is filled with empathy, compassion, and Christian faith. We must win the battle for the soul of the nation to preserve the dignity of the Republic.


Complaining to God

You will be in the right, O Lord, when I lay charges against you; but let me put my case to you. Why does the way of the guilty prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

Jeremiah 12:1

So much is happening in the world today. We have a president who is incapable of sympathy or remorse. There are too many who follow his cult of personality, even to their own detriment. While we know he was guilty of no less than bribery and many other high crimes and misdemeanors, the Republican Senate acquitted him and allowed him to remain in office. He has put the nation’s security and health at risk for his own personal gain, whether that be for his wealth or his ego. It does seem that the treacherous are thriving as Republican leadership does everything they can to subvert the election process while saying they are doing so to preserve the fairness of the election. It should be apparent to anyone that they are grasping at anything to stay in power. 

The massive falsehoods and misinformation that comes from the current administration is staggering. In a White House briefing this past week, the Huffington Post’s Senior White House Correspondent, S.V. Date, bluntly asked the president “Mr. President, after three and a half years, do you regret at all, all the lying you’ve done to the American people?” Confronted with Dáte’s question, the president tried to play dumb and responded with a question of his own. “All the what?” he said. Dáte responded, “All the lying, all the dishonesties.” Again, Trump acted confused asking, “That who has done?” to which Dáte replied, “You have done.” Instead of answering, Trump cut him off and called on another journalist. In July, the Washington Post reported that the president had told more than 20,000 “false or misleading claims” over the course of his presidency. He continues to lie about the coronavirus epidemic, election fraud, and called into question Kamala Harris’ citizenship status.

We are in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, and too many leaders are doing nothing to help ease the pain and suffering it has caused. They merely continue to spread lies and misinformation. They are rejecting science and causing people to lose their lives because they won’t support medical experts and scientists. They scream about their personal freedoms while trying to take away the freedoms of minorities, those of the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone else they disagree with. They are hypocrites, and they seem to not care that they contradict their own words. We are living in a time when name calling is common, and there is a false belief of privilege by many in society. Why can’t we be a better society? Kindness seems to have left this country and has been replaced by a sense of entitlement at the expense of those who are kind and caring.

Our distress over there being so much evil in the world is often mixed with being downtrodden by the awful events surrounding us. And in these times, and under our current difficulties, let us consider how we should behave during this time of suffering. I pray that the nightmare of the current administration will end. To do so, we must look towards a righteous man like Biden, instead of a man who mocks others for praying. We have to elect Biden as president to lead us to a new era of kindness and empathy. We must do our part. We must vote on November 3rd and make sure that our votes count.

The verse above asks, “Why does the way of the guilty prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” When we are most in the dark concerning what God’s allows, we must keep our faith in God, believing that he will never wrong us, and that for whatever reason, we are experiencing the current trials and tribulations, it is for a higher good (at least I hope so). When we find it hard to understand God’s dealings with us, or others, we must look to the truth as our first principle and abide by it: The Lord is righteous. We have to keep the faith.

I have never liked mixing politics and religion, but when I came across this verse, I had to write about how it applies to us today. God is in the right, and He will get us through this. So, please forgive my mixture of politics and religion today.


Appearances

Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.

—John 7:24

The seventh chapter of John recounts Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles, the possibility of his arrest, and the debate as to whether he is the Messiah. The book containing this chapter is anonymous, but early Christian tradition uniformly affirmed that John composed this Gospel. To put the above verse into context, let’s first look at John 7:14–24. These verses describe a strong spiritual challenge issued by Jesus against the religious leaders of Jerusalem. Jesus makes the point that obedience is a necessary aspect of learning. The resistance of the Scribes and Pharisees is ultimately a matter of rebellion, not knowledge. In the same way, Jesus criticizes their hypocritical attitude towards His miracles. This concludes with a powerful statement about the need to use ”right judgment,” rather than shallow appearances.

Some prefer the term “discern” as opposed to “judge” as a way to delineate between what we are supposed to do, which is to wisely and honestly evaluate without hating or doing God’s job of condemning, and the other kind that we are admonished to avoid. It takes a kind of judgment to put our faith in Christ. We see him. We judge for ourselves whether we think he is who he says he is, and we act accordingly. This is what Jesus is hoping for when he tells them, “judge with righteous judgment.”

In Matthew 7:1-4, Jesus states: 

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?

When only Matthew 7:1 is quoted out of context, it gives the impression that Jesus simply said, “Do not judge.” However, Jesus is saying that not only should we not judge others; we should also first look at ourselves and realize our own flaws. Jesus’ frequent teaching was that we should not be superficial in our assessment of other people. However, it is crucial that we separate what is good from what is evil. The kind of judgment or judgmentalism mentioned in Matthew 7:1 is a way of playing God and making ourselves an idol by hating others for what we are judging in them.

Matthew 7:24 follows a direct challenge to the spiritual authority of Jerusalem’s religious leaders. Jesus had been attacked for healing a man on the Sabbath, but Jesus is telling them that God wants us to work to help others at all times, and if that means healing someone on the Sabbath, then He will do so. The Jewish leaders who were self-righteous would not look past the external to see the reality of what was happening in and around Jesus. In 1 Samuel 16:7, it is stated:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Jesus criticized the Jewish leadership because they were unable to make the connection between doing God’s work of circumcision on the Sabbath and healing a whole body or whole person on the Sabbath. They loved the letter of the law but did not understand the spirit of the law. People love to focus on appearances because they can feel they are righteous without having to let God into their hearts, which is where sin dwells and those feelings would be painful and toilsome to deal with.

Despite the Bible not mentioning Jesus receiving any formal religious education, Jesus bewildered his critics with his religious knowledge and understanding. He accused them of hard-headedness. In John 5:39–40), Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” He also accused them of disobedience. In John 7:17, Jesus declares, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.” Furthermore, He even accused them of attempted violence in John 7:19, when He admonished them by asking, “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” The result which was seen in the next few verses, the people of Jerusalem began to wonder if Jesus was being allowed to preach because the authorities were powerless, or because they had come to believe Him. John 7:25–26 states:

So, some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, “Is this not the man whom they are seeking to kill? Look, He is speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to Him. The rulers do not really know that this is the Christ, do they?”

 That crisis of confidence spurred the Jewish leaders towards drastic measures to silence Christ. Jesus’ life and words were a threat to the Jewish leaders’ way of life. They seemed to love their way of life and understanding of the world more than they loved God. It was all too easy for them to find reasons to dismiss Jesus so that they could dismiss what he said.

In summary, Adam Clarke (1762 – 26 August 1832), the British Methodist theologian and biblical scholar, wrote in his biblical commentary that:

Attend to the law, not merely in the letter, but in its spirit and design. Learn that the law which commands men to rest on the Sabbath day is subordinate to the law of mercy and love, which requires them to be ever active to promote God’s glory in the comfort and salvation of their fellow creatures; and endeavor to judge of the merit or demerit of an action, not from the first impression it may make upon your prejudices but from its tendency, and the motives of the person, as far as it is possible for you to acquaint yourselves with them; still believing the best, where you have no certain proof to the contrary.


Hypocrisy

Then in the audience of all the people he said unto his disciples, Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts; Which devour widows’ houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.

Luke 20:45-47

On Friday, I wrote about my mother’s Southern Baptist pastor passing away from COVID-19, and I admitted that I have two prejudices: Republicans and Southern Baptists. Besides the unwelcoming nature of Southern Baptists, I thought I would explain why I think they are the modern-day equivalents of the scribes and the Pharisees that Jesus laments about several times in the Gospels. The Pharisees and scribes were upset because they believed the people were abandoning the purity of the covenant that Jews had made with God. They believed that Jews in the Roman Empire were being lax in their morality and in their obedience to the commandments of God. So, they sought to draw together and draw apart from the masses and to set a moral example. These were the conservatives of the day. They had a high system of honor and virtue, and they committed themselves to obeying God. Yet, they outwardly professed their faith the loudest, but they secretly did not follow their own beliefs and morals. They were hypocrtites.

Growing up in the South, the religious right was often centered around the Southern Baptists. They are the largest Protestant denomination, and they tend to be the loudest. Of course, there are other denominations that follow suit, but it is often the Southern Baptists that try to speak for all Protestants and condemn those who do not believe like they do. One reason for this is their seminaries and universities, and another reason is because of the press the annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) receives, especially when it comes to their views on the LGBTQ+ community.

In its history, the SBC has issued several resolutions in which it rejects homosexuality as a lifestyle and refers to it as a “manifestation of a depraved nature”, “a perversion of divine standards and as a violation of nature and natural affections” and “an abomination in the eyes of God.” It opposes same-sex marriages and equivalent unions. The SBC has urged churches not to show any approval of homosexuality; however, it also holds that “while the Bible condemns such practice as sin, it also teaches forgiveness and transformation, upon repentance, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” But that is only if a person turns away from the sexuality that they were born with. I personally think it is a gift from God. The SBC doesn’t even allow the term gay Christian because they say that even if you are celibate you cannot identify as both gay and Christian at the same time. The SBC only allows members of the LGBTQ+ community to worship with them if they denounce their sexuality.

My sister and I were raised in the Church of Christ. My father was far angrier at my sister for converting to being Southern Baptist when she got married than he ever was for me being gay. Yet, to show you how filled with hate he has become, he and my mother now attend a Southern Baptist Church. When I was growing up, he hated to even step foot in one of their churches. My mother was raised a Southern Baptist but claimed years ago that she was truly a member of the Church of Christ where we attended. I just don’t understand the sudden change in them. The only excuse I can find is because the church is convenient to where they are now living, and all my parents’ friends and neighbors attend that church. I find it disgusting that they would attend a church that is part of such a hate filled denomination. They think I will attend with them the next time I am home. I will not be. It will probably cause some strife, but I will not budge on this. I have been to a Baptist Church a few times in my life, and I always felt an evil surrounding me.

I am probably being a hypocrite on this because the Church of Christ is no better when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues. However, there are fundamental differences between the Church of Christ and the Southern Baptist Church. Most importantly, every congregation of the Church of Christ is independent. Southern Baptists claim the same thing, but they have the Southern Baptist Convention that governs all their churches and the denomination’s doctrine. The Church of Christ has no equivalent. Each Church of Christ could decide on their own to affirm the LGBTQ+ community because the elders of the church are in charge, but the Southern Baptist must abide by the doctrine of the SBC. Therefore, while I hold no hope for the SBC ever changing their stance, I do believe that the Church of Christ could and should. Will it ever happen? I can only hope and pray. One day, Christianity will accept the belief in a true universal love of God and will act accordingly.


Salt and Light

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

— Matthew 5:13-16

Every Christian is called by God to be an influence on the world around them. Jesus began teaching this concept early in his ministry when he told his disciples he would make them fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19) Then, in the Sermon on the Mount, He used the illustrations of salt and light. (Matthew 5:13-16) They both have properties which affect things around them. Salt enhances flavor and is used as a preservative. To ‘be salt’ means to deliberately seek to influence the people in one’s life by showing them the unconditional love of Christ through good deeds. Light is a symbol meaning awareness, knowledge, and understanding. To ‘be light’ is to be a witness to others concerning the truth of God’s Word especially about who Christ is and how He died and rose again for our salvation.

These two images used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, are one of His main teachings on morality and discipleship. They immediately follow the Beatitudes and are often interpreted as referring to Jesus’ expectations of his disciples. The general theme of Matthew 5:13–16 is promises and expectations.

The first verse of this passage introduces the phrase “salt of the earth”:

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

— Matthew 5:13

The value of salt, especially in the ancient world cannot be underestimated. Roman soldiers received their wages in salt. The Greeks considered salt to be divine. Mosaic Law required all offerings presented by the Israelites to contain salt. (Lev. 2:13) When Jesus told his disciples they were “the salt of the earth”, they understood the metaphor. While the universal importance of salt is not as readily apparent in our modern world, the mandate Jesus gave to his first disciples is still relevant and applicable to His followers today.

What are the characteristics of salt which caused the Lord to use it in this context? I believe it is about preservation and keeping faith fresh. Those first disciples would have been intimately familiar with this function of salt. Without refrigeration, the fish they caught would quickly spoil and rot unless packed in salt. Once salted, the fish could be safely stored and used when needed. 

We have been given a wonderful privilege to be the salt of the earth, but Jesus gave us a warning. The second half of Matthew 5:13 states: “But if salt loses its taste, how would its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men.” Jesus did not say we can lose our salvation; He said we can lose our saltiness. When salt is contaminated it becomes corrosive and poisonous. Salt cannot even be used in the field, so it has to be thrown on the road. The Roman general Scipio Aemilianus Africanus plowed over and sowed the city of Carthage with salt after defeating it in the Third Punic War (146 BC) to prevent the city from ever flourishing again. Whether that happened or not is up for debate, but the idea of sowing the land with salt as a punishment for its inhabitants was widely known. Therefore, if we allow disobedience, carelessness, and indifference to rule our lives, we have become contaminated salt and have lost our worth.

The second verse introduces the “City upon a Hill”:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.

— Matthew 5:14

As “salt”, the Christian is to counteract the power of sin. As “light”, we are to illuminate or make visible. Our lives are to be an ongoing witness to the reality of Christ’s presence in our lives. When we worship God with pure hearts, when we love others as ourselves, when we do good without growing weary, we are shining lights. It is important, however, to know it is not our light, but the reflection of the Light of the world, Jesus Himself, people will see in u

The later verses refer to not hiding a lamp under a bushel which also occurs in Luke 8:16–18.

Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

— Matthew 5:15–16

The key idea of the parable is that “Light is to be revealed, not concealed.” The light here has been interpreted as referring to Jesus or to His message or to the believer’s response to that message. Jesus quotes a pessimistic proverb on how the rich get richer and the poor keep losing even the little they have. He later denounces the saying in the next parable in Mark, which alludes to Joel 3:13 in assuring that God’s judgment on the ruling powers will come and holds out revolutionary hope to those resigned to thinking nothing will ever change.

Out of these four verses one of the most famous phrases is the introduction to the “City upon a Hill.” Since colonial times, this phrase has been linked to the colonies which would become the United States. In modern context, it is used in United States politics to refer to America acting as a “beacon of hope” for the world. This scripture was cited at the end of Puritan John Winthrop’s lecture or treatise, “A Model of Christian Charity” delivered on March 21, 1630 at Holyrood Church in Southampton before his first group of Massachusetts Bay colonists embarked on the ship Arbella to settle Boston. Winthrop warned his fellow Puritans their new community would be “as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us” meaning, if the Puritans failed to uphold their covenant with God, then their sins and errors would be exposed for all the world to see: “So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world”. Winthrop’s lecture was forgotten for nearly 200 years until the Massachusetts Historical Society published it in 1838. It remained an obscure reference for more than another century until Cold War era historians and political leaders made it relevant to their time crediting Winthrop’s text as the foundational document of the idea of American exceptionalism.

On 9 January 1961, President-Elect John F. Kennedy quoted the phrase during an address delivered to the General Court of Massachusetts. On November 3, 1980, Ronald Reagan referred to the same event and image in his Election Eve Address “A Vision for America”. Reagan was reported to have been inspired by author Manly P. Hall and his book, The Secret Destiny of America, which alleged a secret order of philosophers had created the idea of America as a country for religious freedom and self-governance. Reagan would reference this concept through multiple speeches notably again in his January 11, 1989, farewell speech to the nation. U.S. Senator Barack Obama also referred to the topic in his commencement address on June 2, 2006 at the University of Massachusetts Boston. In 2016, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney incorporated the idiom into a condemnation of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign:

His domestic policies would lead to recession; his foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president, and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.

During the 2016 presidential race, Texas Senator Ted Cruz used the phrase during his speech announcing the suspension of his campaign. President Barack Obama also alluded to President Ronald Reagan’s use of the phrase during his speech at the Democratic National Convention the same year, as he proposed a vision of America in contrast to that of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Sadly, the United States under Trump and the Republican Party (or the Hypocrite Party as I’ve begun calling them, as it seems much more descriptive of their beliefs) has moved away from being the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and the city upon a hill as they destroy the foundations of the United States.

While reading about “Salt and Light” for this post, I was struck by the belief that to ‘be salt’ means to deliberately seek to influence the people in one’s life by showing them the unconditional love of Christ through good deeds. And yet, as I was researching further, I read numerous articles about how this did not pertain to the LGBTQ+ community. Those so-called religious scholars claimed these verses should be used to condemn homosexuality. For them, “the unconditional love of Christ” only pertains to those who believe in their own hateful views. They can’t have it both ways. 

Jesus warns against hypocrisy in what are known as the “Woes of the Pharisees,” a list of criticisms by Jesus against scribes and Pharisees recorded in the Gospels of Luke 11:37–54 and Matthew 23:1–39. The Woes illustrate the differences between inner and outer moral states. In the New Testament, the Pharisees are people who place the letter of the law above the spirit of the law (Mark 2:3–28, 3:1–6).  In the Gospels, Jesus is often shown as being critical of Pharisees. The Pharisees, like Jesus, believed in the resurrection of the dead, and in divine judgment. They advocated prayer, almsgiving, and fasting as spiritual practices. The argument over the “Spirit of the Law” vs. the “Letter of the Law” was part of early Jewish dialogue as well. 

If we want to follow the spirit and the letter of the law, then we must believe what Jesus tells us. Christians must “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus doesn’t allow us to exclude anyone. We are all God’s children, and we all receive God’s love. So, I will end with this verse:

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

— 1 John 4:7-8


Gleaning

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God….— Leviticus 19:9-10

There is a lot wrong with the Book of Leviticus. It is an archaic set of laws for the tribe of Levi who were designated as the priestly class. However, there are tidbits from which we can learn a few things. One of these is the concept of gleaning. Gleaning is first mentioned in Leviticus 19:9. When wheat and barley fields were ready for harvest, some of the grain was allowed to fall to the ground so the poor could gather what they needed for provisions. Israelite law also required the corners of the fields not to be harvested. The purpose of the law was to feed the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the foreigners. It served as a safety net and resource. 

Gleaning is an example of how, without capitalism, humans are naturally inclined to share with and care for others. There’s more than enough to go around as long as people are not greedy. We might think of the Native American concept of land ownership. While it is no longer believed to be true that all Native American lands were held communally, there was always a sense of sharing for the common good. The community worked together to feed one another. This is apparent in the sharing of the meal at the “First Thanksgiving.” However, as American society became more capitalistic (as opposed to the original mercantilist economy), American land ownership became particularly important. Usually, land ownership was a criterion for voting. 

Americans pushed Native Americans to adopt private property standards. The Dawes Act of 1887 sought to assimilate Native Americans by, among other things, transforming their traditional uses of, and attitudes about, land and land ownership to the more mainstream American attitude of private ownership and settled farming. Some Native Americans did become farmers convinced that assimilation into white society and having a property deed were their only protections against those who would rob them of their lands. Others rejected the white man’s world of markets, deeds, schools, and Christianity. Encouraging resistance, they deemed the government’s allotment strategy a conspiracy to destroy tribal culture and organization which indeed it was. Native Americans would have been familiar with the concept of gleaning in some fashion even if they did not call it that.

In Judeo-Christian tradition, gleaning the fields is central to the story of Ruth found in the Old Testament. Ruth was a Moabite, the widowed daughter-in-law of the widow, Naomi. To prevent starvation, Ruth gleaned the fields of Boaz: “And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter.” (Ruth 2:2). The example is found again in Ruth 2:23 “So she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest; and dwelt with her mother in law.” Because Ruth was a widow, she had no husband to provide for her. She took the initiative and went out into the fields to take care of herself and Naomi. She was not afraid of admitting her need or working hard. 

Modern Christians can practice the biblical concept of gleaning by allowing others to “glean” from our abundance and to “glean” from God’s Word.

Throughout Scripture we see God blessing people and promising to bless people. But abundance isn’t only for the wealthy. In the book of Ruth, Boaz set this example. He was wealthy and richly blessed. When he learned of Ruth’s story, and of her dedication to her mother-in-law Naomi, he instructed his field workers to drop extra grain on the ground for Ruth to collect. Boaz is an ancient example of sharing abundance which modern Christians can apply today. People often talk about God doing “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us,” (Ephesians 3:20). What does this look like in your current lifestyle? What corners of your field or extra margins could you share?

  • It could be sharing your talents and gifts.
  • It could be giving extra time to help those in need.
  • It could be taking groceries to the local food pantry.
  • It could be giving free space or donations to non-profits if you’re a business owner.
  • It could be giving to charity.

There are many examples of giving what we have to help others. The commandment of gleaning reflects God’s desire for people of means to create opportunities for the poor and marginalized to be productive and contribute to their own well-being. In the Bible, gleaning created a safety net for those who were in need. Many politicians, especially conservatives, do not follow this belief. They use the ideas of gleaning as fearmongering among their followers. They are afraid that laws similar to Christian charity might be applied to the wider world. They fear losing their own abundance.

We glean from the Bible, too. We gather, we acquire, we obtain, we extract. And what we acquire becomes a provision of God’s word for our spiritual nourishment. It becomes words to live by. It applies to us today because like Ruth, we are among foreigners, gleaning the living word of God to sustain us as we apply his truth and teachings in a fallen world. We must keep in mind the latter references that God will glean us one by one threshing out the righteous from the unrighteous.

We should take note that we will glean different concepts, lessons, and boundaries depending on the season we are in. Notice that Ruth gathered for the whole harvesting season. From March to May, she gathered barley; from May through July she gathered wheat. As we grow in our faith, we will have different seasons of harvest. Like Ruth, we need to stay in the fields with other experienced believers to glean what we can from their wisdom. In Ruth 2:8, we see the wisdom and example set for Ruth in this manner. The Lord might say to you what Boaz said to Ruth; “Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens.” Gleaning in the Bible is an important concept that a believer should take to heart and remember. Each time we open the word of God, ask Him what He wants you to glean from His Word today.

Believe it or not, the custom of allowing the poor to glean in the grain fields and vineyards is still practiced by generous landlords in some parts of the world such as in Syria.  Sometimes the owner will send a helper to glean what remains to be given to the poor. The appointed “watchmen,” who are like a type of security guard over the fields, groves, or vineyards, allow the poorest of the poor to glean what the harvesters missed.  Sometimes, a gracious owner will intentionally instruct his workers to leave some of the produce so the poor can harvest it and provide for themselves and their families. This falls within the Pillars of the Islamic Faith, the third pillar zakat, or alms. In accordance with Islamic law, Muslims donate a fixed portion of their income to community members in need. Many rulers and wealthy Muslims build mosques, drinking fountains, hospitals, schools, and other institutions both as a religious duty and to secure the blessings associated with charity. Why aren’t Christians doing more of this? Why do so many evangelical Christians fight against welfare programs by the government? It is because they do not follow the concept of gleaning.

There is still a harvest going on and the Lord God is gleaning the corners of humanity, but it appears to be only the corners of the fields that are left. As Jesus said “For many are called, but few are chosen,” (Matthew 22:14) and so we must understand that “Then saith He unto His disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38).  Sadly, most Christians (less than 1 in 10) have ever entered the harvest fields even once. 

In contemporary societies, it may not be easy to discern how to apply the principles of gleaning. In many countries, land reform is certainly needed so that land is securely available to farmers rather than being controlled by capricious government officials or landowners who obtained it corruptly. In more industrialized and knowledge-based economies, land is not the chief factor of production. Access to education, capital, product and job markets, transport systems, and non-discriminatory laws and regulations may be what less fortunate people need to be productive. Leviticus does not contain a system ready-made for today’s economies. But the gleaning system in Leviticus does place an obligation on the owners of productive assets to ensure marginalized people have the opportunity to work for a living, and those who cannot work are taken care of by those who can. In many cases that is the government. We shouldn’t begrudge someone for needing government assistance.