Straining the Gnat

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

…If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Matthew 12:1-2, 7-14

The Pharisees ignored all the good Jesus was doing. All they could see was minor infractions of Sabbath law. They couldn’t see that a man needed healing and Jesus provided that healing. They couldn’t see the life transformation. They couldn’t experience the joy of God’s Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven in that moment. All they could see was what they perceived to be Jesus doing something wrong. They were so angered by Jesus healing a man that they wanted to kill Him.

Our culture is sick with this same attitude. Social media has made it worse. The one time something goes wrong becomes headline news and we ignore the 99% of the time when things go well.

The recent reaction to the six women who got blood clots is a good illustration of this cultural dysfunction. All six women who got blood clots also got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. So they paused the vaccine to check out the situation and if there was any connection. What we overlook is that 7 million doses have been administered. 7 million. If you try to do the math of how infinitesimally small 6 out of 7 million is, many calculators can’t even show you.

But what does social media and our culture obsess over? It obsesses over the 6 women who may or may not have gotten blood clots from the vaccine, not the 99.99999% of the people who did not. The colloquial phrase is, “We are missing the forest for the trees.”

This is the same on so many issues. Based on TV and the news one would think that transgender individuals are 50% of our population. The truth is that the LGBTQ community is about 5% of the total population. That’s it. 5%. They are massively over-represented on TV shows and in media. And people that identify as transgender are a small fraction of that 5%. Yet, the hispanic community makes up nearly 17% of the American population. When’s the last time you saw the hispanic community talked about that wasn’t about border walls and immigration. If you wanted proportional representation in TV shows, for every one LGBTQ person in a show, you should have 4 hispanics in that same show. It doesn’t happen.

When you start to realize how skewed our perception of reality has become because of media and social media, when you start to actually crunch the numbers, you realize that it’s not about equal representation but about who has the stronger and more forceful political machine.

Does the news cover the 99% of the time that things go well? No. It only covers the 0.01% of the time things go poorly. Our view of the world is becoming skewed. We are spending so much of our attention on the horrible stories that happen a small percentage of the time rather than putting those stories in the larger context. Every local problem gets nationalized by social media as if any problem in one place is a problem everywhere.

Jesus said of the Pharisees, “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel“(Matthew 23:24). This is what is happening to our perception of reality. We tend to spend all our energy on the relatively rare traumatic story and have become blind to the bigger picture. We need to return to putting things in their proper context. We need to focus on all that is going right and not just the times things go poorly. We need more time celebrating the good and less time anxiously trying to problem-solve the bad.


In ministry I often stress to people God’s love for them. Many Christians may know about God’s love cognitively but have never experienced the tangible love of the Father pouring down on them. It’s life-changing! It is so easy to forget not only that God loves us but that “God is love“(1 John 4:8).

Yet, God is not just love. Progressive Christians often stress “God is love” in a way that defines love as “permissiveness,” especially when it comes to sexual sin. For some reason, the progressive wing of the Church wants to hold a hard line on sin when it comes to economics and social justice yet advocates a kind of free-for-all when it comes to human sexuality. I heard one progressive writer say it like this, that when it comes to the LGBTQ issues, they are going to err on the side of love because God is love. Bu what is he really saying? He’s saying, when it comes to LGBTQ issues, he wants to err on the side of permissiveness because that is how he defines love. And God is love. This kind of thinking has led to all kinds of deception.

God is love, but He’s not “permissive” love (if we can even call that love), and He’s not only love. Before we read the phrase “God is love” in 1 John 4:8, we read “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” in 1 John 1:5. And before we even get to 1 John 1, we read in 1 Peter 1:15-16 that God is holy. Not only is God holy but, because of His holiness, we are called to holiness. Here’s what it says, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

God’s love is never in conflict with God’s light and holiness, just as the Father is never in conflict with the Son and the Spirit. We worship a trinitarian God. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We understand that when people start to stress that God is Father but not Son or Spirit, they wander into heresy. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. The Holy Spirit is God the Spirit. While it is a mystery as to how they are “three-in-one,” the tension of this truth must be held. This same thing is true for God being Love, Light, and Holy.

While the Father, Son, and Spirit each express all three of these realities (love, light, holiness), it does seem like each person of the Godhead has adopted one as their specialty. The Father is all about love. 1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  

Jesus, the Son, is all about Light. The Gospel of John speaks of Jesus as Light a few different times. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it“(John 1:4-5). “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world“(John 1:9).

The Holy Spirit, God the Spirit, is our source of holiness. His name even starts with “holy.” The apostle Paul clearly contrasts the difference between living by the flesh and living by the Spirit. The Spirit is the One that fosters in us a holy life as we keep in step with the Spirit.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

Galatians 5:16-19, 22-23

God’s love is never divorced from His light and holiness. The most loving thing God can do is to invite us out of the darkness and into His Light. The most loving thing God can do is call us to be like Him, be holy as He is holy. God is Love, yes. And, God is Light. And God is Holy. All three of these must be held together or our understanding of God (and love) gets warped.

The LGBTQ issue

I was praying while mowing my lawn the other day. I was frustrated that so many people think the biblical stance against same-sex relationships is about bigotry instead of holiness. So I asked the Lord a question and was surprised at His answer (and that He answered so clearly).

In my heart I said to the Lord, “Why do so many people in our culture think the biblical prohibition against same-sex romantic relationships is about bigotry, hatred, and homophobia instead of what it really is–a submission to the biblical sexual ethic…the way God designed human sexuality to operate?”

Those of you who pray know that these sorts of conversations in our heart and mind with the Lord happen instantaneously at the speed of thought. I didn’t actually articulate each of those words in my mind, but instead asked the question all at once.

Though I did ask God this question, I did not expect an answer right then. I was almost asking it rhetorically to the Lord, expressing my frustration with the unfair characterization of those like me who want to maintain God’s design and purposes for human sexuality. It is frustrating to always be so unfairly characterized as a bigot and a homophobe just because I want to adhere to God’s holiness through a biblical sexual ethic.

Within seconds, I heard the voice of the Lord speak to my heart (not audibly, but not exactly “still, small voice” either). He said, “People think that way because for many people holiness is just an excuse to cover their bigotry. They weren’t concerned with holiness when it came to adultery, abuse, pornography and promiscuity. For many people, they say it is about the Bible, but it is really about their homophobia.”

I was shocked! I stopped the mower. I stood still and said out loud, “Oh my goodness.” The Lord gave me a glimpse of what He saw in the Church, what He saw in the hearts of so many conservatives who claim to champion a biblical sexual ethic. Wow!

For some, standing against same-sex romantic relationship IS about God’s word, His sexual ethic, and His design for human sexuality. But for so many, the Bible has been used as a cover–an excuse–to prop up their bigotry. If it hadn’t been the voice of the Lord, I would have assumed this was just another progressive evangelical or mainline Protestant attempt to avoid dealing with immorality by launching accusations of “hate” against conservatives. But this wasn’t that. This was the Lord, heart-broken over the heart condition of His Bride.

It reminds me of how the Pro-Life movement didn’t gain much traction in our country until it proved that it loved the mother and the adopted child as much as the unborn child. The more the movement loves everyone involved, the more credibility its message has. I’m thinking the same thing is happening with the LGBTQ conversation. So long as the secret heart motivation behind standing against same-sex romantic relationships is homophobia and not holiness, we can expect a similar outcome. Yet if the heart-posture of the Church will change, maybe the LGBTQ community will begin to realize they can change too.

Change is possible…for all of us!

Real Change is Possible

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Colossians 3:5-10

Paul was the primary apostle to the Gentiles. He loved that Gentiles were becoming followers of Jesus. He welcomed them into the Church with open arms. Yet, he also saw that they were coming into the Church with all kinds of baggage from their former lives as pagans in a Roman culture. He knew they would need to be intentional about “taking off the old self” and “putting on the new self.” Yet, he believed real change was possible.

We see the same message to the formerly pagan Gentiles who were now Christians in Corinth:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you wereBut you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Paul believed real change was possible from their old selves. He believed change was possible for those who had been involved in sexual immorality, adultery, drunkenness, greed, and yes, even homosexuality.

I agree with Scripture and with Paul. Real change is possible! We don’t have to be trapped in our old life. We don’t have to try to justify our sin. We are new creations in Christ. Brand new! Freedom is available to all who would seek it!

If you are struggling to believe this, particularly about homosexuality and those facing LGBTQ issues, here are some real testimonies of real change: