Do you know what is most important in the Christian life?
Most people have their pet doctrine. They teach about divorce and remarriage; they stand up against human trafficking; they strongly oppose homosexuality; they picket abortion clinics and hold pro-life rallies.
But are those things the most important things to talk about?
When I was 16 years old, I wrote an article entitled, “Is the Headcovering for Today?” I laid out the case from 1 Corinthians 11 that a woman ought to cover her head. And I still believe that a woman should cover her head when she prays or prophesies, just as God has instructed.
However, one thing that I taught in this article was that a headcovering gave protection to a woman and her family—that demons had to leave her alone if her head was covered. After all, the Bible said that “a woman ought to have power on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10), and the best explanation I had heard was that this meant that the bad angels would leave her alone, and the good angels would protect her.
But recently, I was talking with God about headcovering, and He showed me that, for some people, the headcovering had become a lucky charm.
Worse yet, I myself had perpetuated the mentality that turns a headcovering into a lucky charm, and I had to repent. The article is no longer available.
But how does a head covering become a lucky charm?
Think a moment: what do we call an object that is supposed to protect the wearer from evil spirits and bad luck? It’s quite common in some cultures and religions. We have a name for it: a lucky charm.
I said in my article that the headcovering was not a lucky charm, but I actually, in the end, did believe and teach that it was a lucky charm that would protect the woman and her family. When we say that a head covering is supposed to bring protection to the wearer, we turn it into a lucky charm that supposedly:
Protects her from physical harm
Protects her from evil spirits
Helps her prayers be answered better
Signals to the world that she is a Christian
Folks, that is not Scriptural. I don’t care what testimonies you’ve heard. I don’t care what experiences you have had. It is wrong to adopt the mentality of the heathen and tell women (or imply) that the headcovering is a “scarf of hidden power” when God has not said so.
God never actually said that a headcovering would bring any type of protection. He just said that a woman should have power on her head because of the angels. It never says anything about protection. After all, God never said what a headcovering would look like. What if a woman didn’t wear the right type? Or what if an ungodly woman covered her head? Would the angels protect her just because she had something on her head?
The purpose of head covering (and uncovering, for the men) is to bring glory and honor to God, not to protect the wearer.
Ignore the testimonies
I am well aware that there are testimonies out there about how the headcovering brought protection to its wearer. However, of what I can remember, in many cases, there was not a clear correlation between the headcovering and the incident of protection.
In other words, if a headcovered woman is approached by a robber, but he suddenly doubles over with pain and runs off, we can’t give credit to the headcovering. In the end, it was God who protected her. We don’t know from this testimony whether God would have still protected her if she had been bareheaded.
I want to be clear: just because a woman covers her head at all times, she is not necessarily viewing the headcovering as a lucky charm. It is when the piece of fabric itself is supposed to bring protection and spiritual power to the wearer and her family that it becomes a good luck charm.
It’s time for repentance
If you have fallen prey to the “lucky headcovering” mentality, I urge you to repent of it. God does not want us to dabble in witchcraft by hanging lucky charms on ourselves. It’s not that you must repent of covering your head, or telling your wife that she should. What you need is a heart change from believing that a woman gains special spiritual power from a piece of cloth on her head.
I also urge you to ask God to show you His view on 1 Corinthians 11 and head covering. What is it really all about? What is the purpose? When must we observe it?
I read your article about modesty, entitled “What Should I Wear?” I want to commend you for your passion and desire to serve the Lord.
However, I want to share with you some things that God has been teaching me about modesty. I was once just like you (okay, okay, I was once you), and I was passionate about telling women to be more modest. I had made a commitment not to look at immodestly dressed women, and I wanted to reduce the number of women that I couldn’t look at. In the summertime, especially, there were many women who revealed too much skin for me to look at: tank tops, shorts, low-cut tops, sun dresses, swimsuits, etc.
Jesus says that a man who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in his heart. I don’t want to be guilty of mental adultery. I believed that if I looked too long at a woman who was wearing something like what I mentioned above (immodest clothing), I would lust, and I needed to look quickly away if I saw a woman dressed that way. Sometimes I would have to talk to one of these women, so I would either focus in on the woman’s face or look somewhere else to avoid my eyes shifting to any forbidden areas, because that would be lust or the next thing to it.
In recent years, God has been teaching me about these things. I have realized that I was wrong. I took down that article that you wrote, because it was teaching things that God didn’t want me to teach. In His grace, God has been showing me that the things you wrote do not work, and are false.
So now I’d like to share with you some things that I wish someone would have told me when I was your age.
The Concept of Modesty is a Farce
Teaching about “Biblical modesty” centers around one word in the entire Bible: “modest”, in 1 Timothy 2:9: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array…” From that one word, I made all sorts of conclusions about what a woman should or shouldn’t wear.
But when I investigated it in Strong’s Dictionary, I discovered that the Greek word doesn’t mean “modest” as we think of it in relation to clothing, but “orderly” or “decorous”. It is not referring to how much of the body is exposed.
This is the only verse in the Bible where God commands women to dress in “modest” apparel. As I just mentioned, that word “modest” is a mistranslation, at least in modern-day English. (It could, after all, have meant exactly the right thing 400 years ago.)
This verse is the only basis for requiring women to dress modestly or to cover a certain amount of their body. But the farthest you can take it is that women should be modest-minded (“shamefaced and sober”), and wear orderly clothing that is appropriate to the situation they are in. There is no basis for saying “This is modest” and “This is not”, or for condemning women for wearing certain types of clothing.
In other words, there is only one verse in the entire Bible that commands “modesty”, but that command does not actually exist. There is actually no Biblical command to dress modestly.
God Has Not Said that We Must Cover Certain Parts of the Body
It took me a long time to come to grips with this fact: God has not commanded that any part of the body must be kept covered!
Of course this doesn’t mean that God wants us to walk around naked. What it means is that there is no Biblical basis for commanding women to cover certain parts of their body. I have not found any Scripture, for example, that says that women must never show their shoulders or upper arms. Biblically, then, we can’t tell women who wear sleeveless shirts that they are sinning.
I know that you will react in disgust to this, Joel, but God never even commanded women to cover their breasts. While I would not recommend that women go around topless, we cannot say that every woman who has a little cleavage showing is a sinner, because there is no specific command that she is breaking.
God Does Not Want Us to Judge Others by the Outside
When I was your age, I judged women by their clothing. Those who wore modest dresses and skirts were Godly women or at least better than the society around them. Those who wore tight, revealing clothing were wicked mental prostitutes. I knew that they were dressing that way because they wanted me to lust after them, which was disgusting.
In John 7:24, Jesus said, “Don’t judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” He does not want us to judge someone based on how they look, but what is in their heart. He was speaking to people who were rejecting Him because they didn’t like the looks of His ministry, but failed to grasp His divine heart.
Recently, God has been pounding into me that I must not use someone’s external appearance to judge their spirituality. Since He has not commanded that any specific part of the body must be covered, I cannot condemn anyone for revealing anything. I know that some women probably do dress to get men to lust after them, but I know that not every woman in tank top and shorts is a slut. Furthermore, God has not commanded me to stay away from immodest women. It’s my job to preach the Gospel to every creature, regardless of what they are or are not wearing.
God Has Not Said that Women Cause Men to Lust after Them
One misconception is that an immodest woman will cause men to lust after her. Joel, you perpetuated this kind of mindset when you wrote, “I would submit that since it is adultery for a man to lust after a woman, any woman who wears revealing or suggestive attire is a mental prostitute, whether she intends it or not.” This is so wrong. This is putting false blame and guilt upon the guiltless woman who just wanted to stay cool in 95 degree heat.
Women do not cause men to lust after them by revealing skin. They may tempt men to lust, but God has never said that women can cause men to lust after them by revealing their bodies. This is huge. If a woman can cause (force) a man to lust after her, it means two things:
The man is not responsible for lusting—he couldn’t possibly help himself.
It is possible for a woman, by the way she dresses, to force a man to commit adultery with her, even if she is a Godly woman who would never commit adultery.
I am disgusted, now, by the guilt trips that people place upon Godly, pure-hearted women, telling them that if they dress a certain way, they will cause men to lust after them. God never said that. He only told the men that if they look upon a woman to lust after her, they have already committed adultery in their hearts. He said nothing at all about what that woman might be wearing.
Many people (including myself) have stated confidently that certain styles of dress “tempt men to lust” or “stumble”. I have seen a couple modesty surveys, and the only thing you can say with confidence is that different men are different. Some men struggle more than others, and some men have no problem with styles of dress that you would find highly immodest. I do not find “immodest” women nearly as tempting to the eye as I did at your age.
You might say that a woman should dress to keep her weaker brothers from lusting after her. But how far should she go? Must she wear a sheet hanging down to the ground, ghost-style, so that no one can see her form and lust after her? You would never promote such a thing, yet some men will lust after women who are dressed very conservatively.
Oh, that God’s people would stop condemning guiltless women who have no evil intentions in their dress!
God’s Point is that Women Need to Adorn the Inside
In both 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:1-6, God’s real point to the women is not to give them a list of do’s and don’ts about the way they dress. His real point is this: “Your true beauty comes from the inside and results in changed behavior. Adorn the inside instead of the outside.”
If a woman truly is dressing to tempt men to lust after her, she needs a heart change, not a clothing change. Then she will stop trying to seduce men. At that point, what she wears is between her and God. He is the One who will guide her in what to wear. If, as a daughter of God, she is led by the Holy Spirit, He will guide her in how to dress to glorify Him and advance His kingdom. It may not be the way that some people think she should dress, but if God is pleased with her, that is all that matters.
This really needs to be the bottom line for both men and women, in everything they do: “Is God pleased with me?” Nothing else matters.
Modesty Isn’t Working
Joel, your dad, who taught you modesty for years, is now working on a book that greatly expands on what I’m sharing with you here. It’s currently over 500 pages of evidence that shows that, if anything, modesty rules increase sexual sin, instead of decreasing it. He’s been working on it for five years, and he hopes to publish it soon. We still have some work to do on it, including recording a music CD to go with the book. It’s called The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.
I can’t summarize the book in this article, but rest assured, if you want more evidence that what I’m saying is true, it will be there.
Joel, I wish that someone had written this letter to me when I was your age. Unfortunately, I can’t rewind ten years and deliver this to my 17-year-old self. So I’m sharing it on my blog in hopes that I can help someone else like you who believes in modesty.
In my last post, I wrote about Jesus being the answer to the horrific abuse that goes on in our Anabaptist communities. While I firmly believe that, I also believe that there is much ignorance and silence about it. This is not helping the situation. In fact, I would say that the secrecy, silence, and ignorance is only compounding sexual abuse in conservative communities.
If we are going to stand up and fight for our children, we are going to have to ditch some misconceptions about sexual abuse that are widely believed in our culture. Here are a few of them:
“Sexual abuse doesn’t happen in our community.”
I’ll admit that when I hear this one, I usually chalk that community up as being infested with sexual abuse. Some Anabaptist communities don’t have as many cases, but it’s safe to say that those communities are in the minority. When people refuse to talk about abuse, (its effects, the symptoms, etc.), it thrives.
“I was abused as a girl, but it didn’t affect me.”
My heart drops to the floor when someone tells me this or something similar. It is the equivalent of saying “I was run over by a train, but it didn’t hurt me.” The person who makes this statement is in a lot of pain, but doesn’t know it or doesn’t want to acknowledge it. It is hard to say, “I was abused and it hurt.” But we really won’t find healing until we choose to acknowledge the pain.
“My children will tell me if something like that ever happens to them.”
Last week, I wrote probably the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. I told the story of visiting a church, and realizing that the pastor was preaching a dead sermon. I said that he was a zombie—a walking dead man—and that his church was a zombie church. I also called Paul Emerson, a prominent preacher in the moderately-conservative Mennonite church, a zombie.
And now, I would like to tell all those who were offended by that post: I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t share God’s words without offending you.
However, not in the least am I sorry that I called anyone a zombie.
The Problem in the Church Today
We have a problem today. If someone gets up and shares something that God has given them—a function that the Bible calls prophecy—and it doesn’t fit with what people want to believe, they shoot it down and ignore it.
I had people tell me that I shouldn’t talk about church leadership that way.
I had people question my ability to hear God’s voice.
I had people who didn’t think I knew what I was talking about.
I have been a Christian for over 20 years. I have seen a lot of things go on within the church in those 20+ years. Folks, the American church is dead.
You ask me: is my church dead? Worse yet, am I dead? Am I one of those zombies that you’re talking about?
I will put it bluntly. If you don’t know whether you are alive or dead, or if you don’t know whether your church is alive or dead, the answer is probably yes, you or your church are a zombie, or at least on the way to being dead unless you or your church make some changes.
Few people question if they are physically alive. The answer is obvious. You know if you are alive. You are walking around, breathing, carrying on conversations.
However, we do have a problem. There are many churches and people who think they are alive, but are not. They are the walking dead. They are zombies. And that’s where prophecy comes in.
Follow after love, and earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)
But if all prophesy, and someone unbelieving or unlearned comes in, he is reproved by all, and he is judged by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed. So he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)
But he who prophesies speaks to men for their edification, exhortation, and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:3)
When God wants to talk to someone, He will generally do it one of two ways. Either He will speak directly to that person, or He will send a prophet. He gives His words to the prophet, and sends the prophet to whoever needs to hear from Him.
This is exactly what God did with the Apostle John in Revelation 3. The church in the city of Sardis was dead. They were a zombie church, appearing to be alive, but actually dead. So Jesus wrote them a letter by the hand of His servant John, and sent it to them:
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars:
I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:1-6)
I don’t know what happened when the church of Sardis received their letter. Can you imagine getting a letter from Jesus, telling you that your church was dead? I hope that they took heed and repented.
Likewise, today, God is still speaking through His prophets. He is sending His prophets to the dead church, telling them to repent. The door of repentance is still open, folks! This isn’t the end! On the contrary, if people will take heed to the prophets and repent, it will be the beginning of new life!
But many people are telling the prophets to shut up.
Hearing from God
One problem we have is that there are many false prophets in the world, and many people who have not heard from God, yet claim that they have. Therefore, many people are skeptical of those who claim to have heard God’s voice and received a message from Him.
Just because there are some false prophets, should we throw out all prophecy? No way! How absurd! Instead, we each need to be hearing God’s voice so that we can recognize when someone is a false prophet. Wait. Everybody needs to hear God’s voice?
Yes. Jesus said:
“Most certainly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn’t come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Most certainly, I tell you, the hour comes, and now is, when the dead will hear the Son of God’s voice; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:24-25)
This does not mean that we hear Jesus’ word one time and come to life. We have to believe on God, not just once, but our entire Christian life. Likewise, “hears”, in the Greek, is in the present, active tense, indicating that it should be ongoing.
The Jews therefore came around him and said to him, “How long will you hold us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you don’t believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, these testify about me. But you don’t believe, because you are not of my sheep, as I told you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:24-27)
When Jesus speaks, His sheep recognize His voice and follow Him. They believe Him because they recognize His voice.
From Genesis to Revelation, we have record of God speaking to people and leading them, over and over again. Why would we think that He has stopped, or that the Bible is the only guide we need in life? Make no mistake: the Bible is God’s Word, wholly inspired by Him. It is infallible and inerrant. We can totally trust whatever we find in it.
But the Bible doesn’t tell you who to marry. Yet, marriage is a decision that can affect the course of history—literally. Imagine if George Washington’s dad had married someone else. Or if Adolph Hitler’s mom had married someone else. If it’s such an important decision, why would we rely on our own feelings and desires? I would sure like some help from the One who knows the future!
Will we make mistakes sometimes? Sure. Will we think that God is speaking when He is not, or miss His leading when He does speak? Sure. I have experienced these things myself. But that is okay! That is part of the learning process! All it means is that we need to continue asking God to teach us to know His voice.
But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13)
God wants us to teach by His Spirit, in the words that He teaches us to say. He does not want us to use human wisdom to teach others. That is fleshly and does not profit. As Jesus said:
It is the spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life. (John 6:63)
An academic sermon is a fleshly, carnal sermon. It comes not from the spirit, but from the flesh. It is based on the fleshly wisdom of men instead of the spiritual wisdom of God. The words of the flesh do not profit us. The spiritual words of Jesus give life. Therefore, if we want to speak life-giving words to others, they must be the words of Jesus, not our own.
Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual discerns all things, and he himself is judged by no one. (1 Corinthians 2:14-15)
Zombie preachers and teachers have told everyone that the only way to judge a message is academically. Don’t go by feelings or impressions. If you can’t find anything wrong with the message academically, then there’s nothing wrong with it.
However, God says that the things of His Spirit are spiritually discerned. We have to be guided by the Holy Spirit in our judgment of a message. A spiritual man discerns spiritually whether or not a message is coming from God.
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He has taken the wise in their craftiness.” And again, “The Lord knows the reasoning of the wise, that it is worthless.” Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come. All are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)
This passage further explains why a zombie sermon is not only problematic, but disobedience to God. God tells us that this world’s wisdom is foolishness with Him, and that a worldly-wise person needs to become a fool so that he may become wise before God. A person can be highly educated, but lack God’s wisdom.
In case you didn’t know, besides being a former pastor at Calvary Mennonite Fellowship near Harrisonburg, VA, Paul Emerson is also the former moderator of Biblical Mennonite Alliance (BMA), a group of Mennonite churches that I used to be part of. He currently is Principal at Elnora Bible Institute, the Bible school of BMA, as well as the editor of The Sword and Trumpet and The FCM Informer (the newsletter of the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites, of which he is also the Executive Director).
And I believe that God led me to write these words in the previous article: “Folks, I’m not going to ‘pretty it up’: Paul Emerson is a zombie preacher.”
How dare I say that!?
Over the last 15+ years, I have listened to Paul Emerson speak. I have read his writings in the Biblical Mennonite Alliance Newsletter. I have read the publications that he has edited. And I have been disturbed. Just yesterday, I read yet another article that he wrote, and I’m even more disturbed. You will read part of it later.
I want to state that what Joel stated about Paul Emerson is true. I have known Mr. Emerson for many years.
George Brunk I handed his mantle and the editorship of the Sword and Trumpet to his son George Brunk II. George Brunk II handed his mantle to Paul Emerson – the pastorate at Calvary Mennonite, the editorship of the Sword and Trumpet, and leadership in the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites.
The false teachings and false gospel of these men have negatively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people. The failures and errors of their teachings are greater and broader in scope than what you have any idea is happening. Sin is running rampant in secret in pious “godly” Mennonite homes, even in the lives of men of renown in the church…
God has been revealing these things to me and I have been in shock that these things are true and that Mennonites are doing them. I will be sharing with you what God has been revealing to me in my book that hopefully will be coming out later this year titled – The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.
As an example of the sin that Dad is referring to, I bring up another piece of evidence: a survey from a Mennonite blog called Radi-Call.
In 2015, Radi-Call ran a survey about media usage, targeting young, conservative Anabaptist people. It was a voluntary online survey, taken by about 250 young people, pretty well evenly split between men and women. 56% were from BMA Mennonite churches.
Here are the results about porn usage:
Folks, this is the fruit of the teaching of Emerson and others like him. It isn’t working! To help you visualize these results, take a look at this picture from the Mennonite Shenandoah Christian Music Camp in Ohio, 2016.
It’s sobering to realize that of the 46 men you see in this picture, only 12 of them, statistically, have never been involved in habitual porn usage. It doesn’t mean that they don’t pick up porn once in a while or struggle with lust. It just means that they have not had a habitual problem. In fact, the true numbers are probably even worse, because this was a voluntary Web survey, not a random-sample phone survey. It’s amazing, in fact, that 74% percent of men were willing to admit that they had, or had had, a porn problem, including 4% who admitted to using porn that day!
Can we blame Paul Emerson for the porn usage of young men in a Mennonite conference that he helped to found, and headed up for 10 years? While he may not be directly responsible, it shows that his philosophies, doctrines, and principles have not helped give young men the victory over porn.
In order to properly practice Biblical nonconformity, it is probably best to imagine the putting on of a pair of eye glasses that filter everything through the Biblical Anabaptist perspective. This thought may aggravate some who are attempting to free themselves from what they call Anabaptist slavery. These are they who desire credibility within the larger evangelical community. The true disciple of Christ is exclusively desiring credibility with the Lord. Nothing else really matters. If, as we believe, Anabaptism is the correct perspective from which to see the world, said eye glasses are in order…
In direct proportion to the loss of practical nonconformity, the whole testimony of Anabaptism will be lost.
This is how error is perpetuated. Jesus has never called us to view the world through an Anabaptist lens! Instead, we are to be led by God in our interaction with the world.
Especially if you are an Anabaptist, this may seem like a small difference. But here’s the thing: even if the Anabaptist perspective is 100% correct, we must not seek to view the world from an Anabaptist perspective! Why? Because then, instead of following Jesus, we are following Anabaptism. In order to follow Jesus, we must listen to Him, not follow Anabaptism or any other denomination, group, or teacher:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
Friends, the quote above from the Sword and Trumpet is the path to spiritual death and zombie-hood.
Jesus Speaks to the Zombie Churches Today
At the beginning, we read Jesus’ words to a zombie church. Let’s go back and review them for the answer of “So what do we do?”:
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee…
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:2-3, 6)
See how great a love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God! For this cause the world doesn’t know us, because it didn’t know him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)
Do you live in fear of God? Are you are afraid of Him—afraid to die, afraid of His judgment, afraid that you’ll make a small mis-step and be brutally disciplined?
Let me assure you: God specifically says that He does not want you to live in fear of Him. There is no need for you to live in fear and turmoil, uncertain if you can trust Him!
In this love has been made perfect among us, that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment, because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:17-18)
If you are born again through Jesus Christ, you are now a child of God. So what is your Father really like? Do you know? Are you sure that you know?
Our culture is a self-centered, narcissistic culture. The mantra is, “You are important! You are special! You can do anything you like!” Some churches have picked up on this attitude and emphasized certain attributes of God that can be made self-serving, such as love, grace and mercy.
This has resulted in a backlash from those who (rightfully) recognize that there is more to God than His love, grace and mercy. (This, by the way, is the camp that I grew up in.) Unfortunately, however, in my experience, God’s love, grace, and mercy are downplayed and ignored, and His anger, wrath, justice, and hatred of sin are emphasized.
In order to understand who God truly is, we must understand His entire nature, lest we fall into the trap of the Pharisees. The Pharisees failed to understand what God was really like. Because they recognized the side of His nature that hates sin and punishes those who disobey Him, they wanted to make sure that no one disobeyed Him. So they made many rules to prevent people from disobeying God, but this resulted in them rejecting God when He came in the flesh. Jesus had to sternly rebuke them:
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, but you bypass justice and God’s love. You ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone.” (Luke 11:42)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23)
In the next several posts, we will examine the love of God and seek to learn what He is truly like. If you want a jumpstart, read 1 John 4, especially this passage:
We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God. We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. (1 John 4:14-16)
Recently, I came across a blog post by a lady who helped start an outreach—to strip clubs. She and four other ladies began visiting strip clubs once a month to give the dancers a meal and gift baskets. Due to other events in her life, she is no longer directly involved, but the ministry has continued.
I was raised to believe that no good comes from places like that. Which is probably true on many levels. (I wouldn’t suggest making it your go-to for date nights)
I was filled (as were many Christian kids) with fear about “places like that”. That “those people” were heathens and doing all kinds of sinful, shameful things.
Which, again, is true of strip clubs.
And many other places.
But, these girls – these lovely, girls – were so…..normal…
…people – that could have been me.
It could have been any of us.
Had my journey taken a few different turns, I very well could have been on the receiving end of that encounter…
“[One of the strippers] said that she was so glad we come to visit them because we’re not like the other churches”
I said, “what did she mean by that?”
She said, “Apparently other churches send them hate mail. ALL THE TIME”
Now, this isn’t about how you ought to go out and start your own ministry at a strip club. This is about seeing people the way that Jesus sees them—the precious individuals that they are.
I grew up with an elitist attitude. A person’s outside, I thought, was an excellent gauge of their inside. Good people were clean, neat, and modestly dressed. Anybody who didn’t “look right” was suspicious. And the women who had half of their boobs hanging out on display—well, they were really wicked. In fact, they were to be ignored if at all possible so that I could keep my eyes pure.
Is this really how Jesus wants us to see others? As objects instead of people?
No. Jesus spent time with those who the Pharisees (whose name essentially means “Separatists”) had cast off—to the point that the Pharisees called Him “a gluttonous man, and a drunkard; a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:34)
We have no record of Jesus attacking the sinners who He ate with. They already knew that they were bad people and needed help. He knew that they were actually the ones who would receive His message, not the “religious” Pharisees who should have recognized God when He stood in front of them:
… Jesus said to them, “Most certainly I tell you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering into God’s Kingdom before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. When you saw it, you didn’t even repent afterward, that you might believe him.”(Matthew 21:31-32)
As he sat in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. But you go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:10-13)
The sad part was that the Pharisees were just as “sick” as the “sinners and tax collectors”. But they did such a good job of hiding their disease that nobody besides Jesus knew it. And so they refused to come to the Great Physician and be healed. Many of them are in Hell today because of their stubbornness.
God warns us strongly about treating some people differently than others:
My brothers, don’t hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in; and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say, “Sit here in a good place;” and you tell the poor man, “Stand there,” or “Sit by my footstool;” haven’t you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
In other words, everybody is precious in the sight of God. And that is why Jesus spent time with the sinners: because they needed Him just as much as everybody else.
How can we ever reach the world if we refuse to associate and befriend those who aren’t “our type”? That woman with her boobs half-way out of her shirt needs Jesus just as much as the lady who has everything neatly under wraps. That guy with the long hair, tattoos, and tongue piercing has an eternal soul just as much as the guy in the business suit.
It’s time that we change our perspectives—and our hearts.
Recently, I came across the Facebook profile of a young lady (let’s call her Cindy). Her cover photo showed her in a skimpy bikini. Her profile picture showed plenty of cleavage. Most of her photos on her public profile showed her in tight, very revealing outfits. I was disgusted. Remember, as I said back at the beginning, “…the women who had half of their boobs hanging out on display—well, they were really wicked.”
As I thought about it afterwards, though, God began showing me His perspective on the matter. The truth is, God sees every woman for who they really are. He looks past their clothing and sees what they are really like inside.
Some people (as I have) look at a woman like Cindy and toss her off as a slut and a wicked woman—just because of her clothing. They look at a woman who is dressed “modestly” and judge her as righteous, or at least more righteous than Cindy.
But not God. He looks at the heart and understands what is behind the outside. He knows when the “modest” women are unholy on the inside. He knows what’s inside the woman whose boobs are spilling out of her shirt, and it could possibly be holier than the “modestly” dressed woman.
The next day on Facebook, I read a post that a friend had shared. The lady who had written the original post said something to the effect of, “If you’re one of those ladies with half-naked profile pictures, I will unfriend you because I don’t want your photos showing up when you comment on my posts or when people browse my profile and see my friends list.”
On the one hand, I could understand this woman’s desire to protect the eyes of her friends from immodest women. But after what God had showed me about Cindy, I saw the other, semi-subconscious side: “If you don’t dress right, I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” At least, that was the end result of this lady’s actions.
Maybe that woman with the low neckline is actually desperate for God, desperate for someone to love her, and doesn’t know how to find what she is looking for—and the Modesty People won’t tell her about God because they can’t see anything but boobs. Or maybe—just maybe—she’s closer to God than you are.
It’s time that we stop judging people by the outside and begin treating everybody the same—as people who are precious to God. You know what, guys? Instead of placing so much emphasis on guarding your eyes that you end up being rude to some women, ask God to give you a pure heart that doesn’t lust. “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” (Titus 1:15)
Anna McCarthy, who wrote the post that I quoted at the beginning, closes with these words:
[Jesus] loved then.
He loves now.
But, he can only reach as far as you and I are willing to go.
P.S. As we turn from judging people by their looks, we need to do a better job of looking for the real threat: wolves. Next time, we’ll look at who is the most dangerous type of wolf.