the great distraction

the great distraction
a few weeks ago i was in a conversation with a friend about the use of the Bible in our Christian faith.  i sometimes get criticized for not using the Bible enough, in that i am not that excited about exegeting passages intellectually.  i definitely believe in the value, challenge, and beauty in the Bible, but i will be honest–i think we waste valuable time focused on picking apart passages and talking about the Bible that could be better spent on actually living the Bible.

Jesus–God incarnate and a Jew–obviously had a high value of the scriptures.  he referenced them often in the gospels.  yet, so often when he did he used it to make a point to the pharisees and those clinging to religiosity–the law is easier than love.   it just is.  it is much easier to have a rule book of the do’s and don’t and hold others to that first (and usually ourselves second) instead of practice the ways of tangible love.  he talked about God desiring mercy over sacrifice (hosea 6:6), setting captives free (luke 4:18), and loving God and our neighbors (luke 10:27).  he called out people who elevated a long list of rules above restoring dignity. he pointed out the travesty of judging others & hypocrisy by calling us to our own log instead of our brother’s speck.   he made clear that he came to set people free of the law to fulfill the law (as Love set in motion) instead of keeping them entrapped to its constant snare of self-righteousness. one of his most pointed & angry discourses is in matthew 23, the “woes to the pharisees”.  here’s some of what he says:

“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (v. 4).

“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues” (v. 5-6).

“Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (vs. 8, 11-12).

“Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either” (v. 13).

“For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith…You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!”  (vs. 23, 24).

“First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness” (vs. 26, 28).

yikes, those are some strong words. words i think we all should consider listening to because none of us are exempt from the tendency to control people & limit God.

i think the most powerful one is:  “for you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.”

i do think the enemy–Satan, the evil one, whatever-you-want-to-call-the-forces-of-evil-against-the world–is often gloating at how much time we spend picking apart & defending passages of the Bible.  it’s a great distraction that prevents us from opening the door to the Kingdom of God.  as i’ve said before, while we’re talking about theology, the world is crying out for hope. yeah, it’s much easier to spend a lot of time talking about the greek word for “pastor” than actually engaging in in-the-flesh relationships with people.  it protects us.  it insulates us.  it gives us something to focus our mind & energies on.

but ultimately it distracts us from the bigger work at hand–bringing resurrection & hope to dark places in this world.  intense dialogue on different opinions about Bible verses tend to be dead ends.  it’s why i usually don’t spend much time on them; going toe-to-toe on scripture only usually lands people in a nasty place and i’m just tired of spending time on it when there are many more important things to focus on.

we make a lot more room for the Kingdom of God when we suspend our need to defend correct doctrine & center our hearts, attention, and practices on  loving other people, humbling ourselves, and sacrificing our need to be “right”.

we honor the Word of God by offering presence and cups of cold water and taking our hands off the need to control or convince–trusting the Holy Spirit & and that some kind of transformation, no matter how big or small, usually happens.

people are set free.

honestly, i think that was what Jesus was getting at in the gospels–turning our tendency toward being distracted by rules & regulations & doctrine upside down.  

over and over he said his ways were going to be way harder and would require more of us than following the letter of the law.  loving our enemies, setting down our stones, touching lepers, advocating for the voiceless, giving up our power & ego & need to be right, receiving and giving grace is heavy lifting.

but what Jesus challenges us toward.

i don’t want to be caught up by minutia, distracted by defending things that don’t matter.

i don’t want to get caught up in conversations & time-suckers & online theological disagreements that distract me from hanging out with people who are looking for love & hope, not scriptural discourses.

i don’t want to only talk about the Bible & what this or that passage means to whoever’s interpreting it.

it’s not that those things have no value at all, but they can tend to be great distractions to Love.  and honestly, i think the world is tired of it and are waiting for Christ-followers to set down their Bibles and start living what’s in there instead.

i’d much rather engage in living the Bible face to face, heart to heart, life to life–with all its risks, all its dangers.  yeah, i want a practical theology. 

God, help us stay focused on you and not be distracted by details that draw us away from Christ’s love & life & hope. 

 

 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

24 Comments

  • well said, my friend. and i hope you are protected from any stones that may come your way in this space for having the courage to challenge one of our evangelical sacred cows.

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    • LOL Phyllis so true!! Kathy is a good catcher plus she can digg and dive in a blink of a eye!!

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  • I agree with Phyllis. This does need to be said. I’ve come to believe that many have turned the Bible into an idol by focusing on it rather than on doing what Jesus told us to do. I refuse to participate in the Bible studies that the women of my church do. They spend time filling in the blanks in the workbook rather than going out and doing kingdom work. The fellowship is nice but you can have fellowship while working in a soup kitchen or visiting inmates. I like how you put it, “engage in living the Bible, face to face, heart to heart, life to life” and “bringing resurrection & hope to dark places in this world.”

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    • thanks, cherie. yeah, i remember the day when i was like “i just can’t sit in another fill in the blank bible study…” i know it is fun & enriching to study the bible but so often the precious time we have each week gets filled up with that & not the more important call Jesus gave to us–to tangibly love. every idol we create is to protect us somehow & help us stay in control–whether that be drugs, alcohol, work, sex, kids, the Bible, church, and a host of other things…even though it’s scarier, i want to keep giving up these idols so i can actually live…pain, muck and mire and all. thank you for sharing!

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    • thanks for reading, my friend from afar, thought you might like this one…

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  • thank you, kathy.

    this was beautiful and very meaningful.

    this is why it took me so long to find god … all those things from others got in the way … my heart and mind saw the flaws (dishonesty?) in the more traditional approach. for me, anyway.

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    • thank you karla. you are blessed with a gift–never being caught up in Bible nuttiness in church. it definitely opens to the door to intersecting with it with fresh eyes & heart. xo

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  • I am again reminded of a favorite quote…

    “It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. We must not use the Bible as a sort of encyclopedia out of which texts can be taken for use as weapons.”
    – C. S. Lewis

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  • Yes kathy!!! I think you hit on something that needs to be delat with a lot more and that is the need to risk freedom and all it entails. Freedom to be wrong and not have all our theological ducks in a row, freedom to stumble and fall and keep getting up again and again. Freedom to accept none of is have all the answers and none of us have a patent on correct interpretation of the Bible and being led by the Spirit. You inspire so much my friend. Why do i hear the * I Have A Dream* speech echoing in my mind as i read your post here?? 😀

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    • thanks robert. freedom is the word that has been the most present for me in this past season. what freedom can mean & how little we are taught to live into it. sure, we hear the “free in Christ” thing but our practices & models & systems don’t actually support real freedom…thanks for sharing, as always, glad for your voice here!

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  • What a great post! I would take this a step further, If we’re not actually following Jesus and living out the Bible, we do not believe it. It’s just religion, just a way to spend time dissecting Bible verses, just a way to make a living, just a way to have power and control over other people.

    Picking apart the Bible makes me think of dissecting a frog. We may see lots of details and small parts, but when we’re done we’ve got one dead frog that’s not good for much of anything.

    Being able to speak impeccable French does not a Frenchman make. Nor does having faultless theology a Christian make. Loving Jesus by loving those He loves would seem to me to be Jesus’ standard.

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    • great analogy on the frog, that’s for sure! beautiful thoughts, as always. it was so fun to hang out!

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  • As a recovering Christian intellectual and former lover of systematic theology, I can not agree more. Living out the ways of Christ in our own lives is much harder than arguing over Scripture. Rachel Held Evans’ blog recently quoted Saint Teresa of Avila:

    “Christ has no body but yours,
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which he looks
    Compassion on this world,
    Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
    Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
    Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
    Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
    Christ has no body now but yours,
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
    Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

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    • thanks my friend, oh how i love that prayer, too. when you taught the other night at the refuge, that to me is the kind of bible challenging i want. i love the bible & the beauty and challenge in it but boy oh boy has the world lost a lot of love & hands & feet while christians are splitting theological hairs!

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  • Kahty,

    I love how your mind works, and how eloquent you are in describing how you choose to live out kingdom. As a partially reformed theology nerd, I am coming to see that the more “right” our theology is, the less helpful it becomes. I really believe that the only theology that has any value is theology that changes lives. Our lives, and more impotantly, the lives of those around us. If our theology is not leading us into deeper relationship and greater lover for others, then it truly is worthless. God bless you and your continued work.

    In Christ’s Service,
    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

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    • thanks my friend, i am with you all the way. oh, i look back on the things that used to matter so deeply to me and kind of laugh. they really were just great distractions, but i also suppose they were part of the process and that season was just part of our story. really thankful for the wild and beautiful movement of the Holy Spirit to call and beckon and challenge us toward love instead of knowledge…hope we can connect live soon, now that the kids are in school i need to take a deep breath and figure out how to coordinate a little fun refuge field trip. ps: thanks for the eloquent and powerful support on that re-thinking the word pastor blog, too. it meant a lot.

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      • Kathy, I am just happy to be able to come along side of such a great ministry. I am really looking forward to being involved in the walking wounded event.

        In Christ’s Service,
        FedEx,
        President,
        Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

        Reply
  • I love this. Reading the Bible, while not a bad thing, hasn’t actually helped me in my whole ‘faith journey’ thing. Actually getting on board; helping people and doing the work of Jesus- maybe this is the key for me.

    Thanks.

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    • thanks eva, for sharing! i’m glad that you are experiencing freedom in action.

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  • While I was on holiday in Italy I had the same thoughts about distractions… wow Kath!!Also my thoughts were like why do people get so hyperfocused by wanting to be healed? I do believe that anyone can be healed..no doubt about that..but it does not always happen! And what about being healed and the next day we can caught a virus or what not…anything in this imperfect body will not be perfect untill our Lord comes back! Yess the focus is to live it!! Why be distraceted by it all..when that is not our most important mission anyway? Thank you so much my friend Kath for sharing and confirming my thoughtsXX

    Reply

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