Friday, March 31, 2023

We Are the Revival

 The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.

-Luke 10:2-3 (NIV)

To be real honest, I’ve been struggling all week with this post. Since Monday, when Audrey Hale walked into The Covenant School in Nashville and murdered three 9-year-olds and three adult staff members, before being killed by responding police officers. Hale carried at least two “assault-type rifles” and a handgun. 

    Sometimes I think part of the problem in this social media world that we’ve created is that everyone has a take on everything, and an unlimited platform on which to share those takes. So maybe it would be better to do what Josh did with our church’s social media — post a statement, then go dark for the week. Sometimes it’s best not to say anything in situations like this: just pray and try to minister to people who are hurting. Otherwise you can come across as trying to use a tragedy for your own purposes. 

     But then I heard a Tennessee Representative say, “We’re not gonna fix it.” The fuller quote was, “It’s a horrible, horrible situation. And, we’re not gonna fix it….Criminals are gonna be criminals.” He went on to draw a comparison to his father, who fought in World War II, telling him, “If somebody wants to take you out, and doesn’t mind losing their life, there’s not a whole heck of a lot you can do about it.”

     Makes you wonder if his father would say that he fought for a country in which kids going to school and soldiers going to war carry the same level of risk.

     Obviously, this Representative knows that there are some things that can be done. There are easily-available statistics that offer some idea of a direction that could be taken. There’s no instant fix that will immediately take every gun out of the hands of every bad guy, but the absence of an instant fix doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be done. When he says “We’re not gonna fix it,” he doesn’t mean we can’t, like the guy who told me that my 20-year-old water heater was not repairable and needed to be replaced. He means we won’t. Which is par for the course, I guess, and something for Tennessee voters to consider.

     If he’d stopped there, I wouldn’t have written this. But he tried to justify his giant “Meh” with Christian theology:         

“I think you got to change people’s hearts. You know, as a Christian, as we talk about in the church, and I’ve said this many times, I think we really need a revival in this country.” 

     OK, depending on what you mean by “revival,” I might agree with that. But, come on. There are politicians all over this country who want to ban books and legislate against homosexuality or transgenderism even being mentioned in schools. They’re not waiting for “revival” or trying to change people’s hearts; they’re actively trying to pass laws that directly affect students. But where school shootings are concerned, well, let’s just hang in there and pray and maybe God will change some hearts. Just tell the kids to duck in the meantime.

     And I think God must be wondering why in the world we don’t use the sense he gave us, and the resources he blessed our nation with, to do what’s right and at least try to protect the children who depend on us.

     This Representative was asked how he’d want his own daughter protected at school, and his response says a lot about why he just throws up his hands at tragedies like the one at The Covenant School. 

     He said, “Well, we homeschool her.”

    Please listen, ‘cause this why I wrote this: It’s not Christian to elect to hide from the evil and darkness in the world around us. If you roll into the fetal position with the people you care about most and say, “Oh well, nothing to be done until God brings us a revival,” then please don’t pretend you’re anything like Jesus. He never looked away from the sorrow, pain, and evil in the world around him. He didn’t throw up his hands and say “We’ll never fix it.” He didn’t say “Let just wait for revival, let’s just wait for God to change hearts.” He went around trying to change them. He taught. He reminded people to love their neighbors as they loved themselves. But he didn’t stop with that. He called out hypocrites when he saw them, embarrassed them. And he pushed back evil wherever he was, in whatever ways it was destroying human beings; he healed, he cast out demons, he raised the dead. He didn’t wait for revival. He was the revival. 

     And here’s the thing: he sent out his disciples to do and be the same. He sent them - us - to heal and preach. He told them to feed the hungry, and then helped them do it. He didn’t give them the option of not engaging with the world; he sent them, in the power of his Spirit, to declare that the kingdom of God has come — and to do its works.

     He sent them out, he said, “like lambs among wolves.” Our children shouldn’t be the lambs sacrificed to the teeth and claws and guns of predators because we should be in front of them. People who follow Jesus don’t get the luxury of being safe and comfortable. We should be engaged with the world around us, with the people around us who need to be healed and loved and cared for and forgiven, who need to know the good news of God’s Kingdom. And if we suffer wounds from the wolves in the process, just know that our Lord did too. 

     As a matter of fact, how we take those wounds can be eloquent witness to the kingdom of God. Heal when you’re welcomed, Jesus says, and bear the wounds you receive with grace and limp away when you’re not. Either way, Jesus says, “be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.” 

     The problems in our world that so many Christians point to now — “woke” people, creeping socialism, Islam, gay and transgender rights — are smokescreens for the real problems. Sadly, many of those problems are in pews on Sundays. Entitled people who, in the name of Jesus, point fingers at everyone else and wring our hands over how bad things are. Those of us who go to church on Sundays but are absolutely useless to the kingdom of God the rest of the week. Those of us who actually think that the rights some rich white guys said we have in a moldy document two centuries ago is the only subject worth putting ourselves on the line for. 

     It’s frankly embarrassing that a United States Representative would try to excuse his inertia by saying that his church tells him that what’s needed is revival. We are the revival. If we believe in Jesus, how could we think  otherwise? If we believe that his Spirit is in us and among us, how could we imagine anything else? Jesus didn’t seem to think the kingdom needed strategists telling us what to wait and look for, or politicians amassing power; he said to pray for “workers” to be sent into the harvest field. And he also said to “go” — because it’s not enough, I guess, just to pray for workers. 

     “Like sheep among wolves.” It won’t be easy. It wasn’t for Jesus, either. No one would give the sheep much of a chance. But we aren’t ordinary sheep. Or, more precisely, our Shepherd is no ordinary shepherd.

     Don’t believe anyone who says that there’s nothing to be done about the evil in our world. Believe our Lord, who says, “Go.” Who says, “Heal.” Who says, “Preach.” And who says, “The kingdom of God is near.” Near. Not someday when revival comes. Not someday in heaven. Near. Now.

     We are the revival. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

All the Church's Knotted-Up Treatment of Women

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

-2 Corinthians 5:16-20 (NIV) 

I've been reading Beth Moore's memoir, All My Knotted-Up Life. If you don’t know her, Moore is a very well-known Christian author and teacher. Her books and seminars have touched millions of people. But the last few years, she’s been somewhat outspoken about her denomination’s handling of sexual abuse scandals. For her trouble, she’s been publicly mocked and bullied by denominational officials. So much so that last year she left that denomination. 

     Historically, the church’s record on our treatment of women isn’t good. The church has blamed women for the Fall. Targeted women in (literal) witch hunts. Counseled them to go back and be “better wives” to the men who abused them. Told women who couldn’t or didn’t have children that they were missing out on their highest purpose. Excluded them from having a voice in the work of God’s kingdom and the life of the church. Argued that they should not be allowed to get an education, vote, work outside the home, or receive equal pay. Gaslighted them when they raised their voices against abuse. Women have been considered by the church temptresses who lead men astray, fragile china dolls to protect, emotionally childlike, or strident and aggressive. Pretty consistently, when you look at the battles women have fought in the public sphere in America, you find the church on the wrong side. Oh, we’ve come around in most cases, but usually only after the force of law and public opinion has pushed us to the side of right. 

     Sure, we’ve quoted biblical texts to support our misguided positions. Those texts are there, and they say something, and those who find authority in the Bible are right to try to figure out what they say and how to go about obeying them. I used to think that, in most cases, wrongs done to women by the church have been done out of a desire to obey the Bible, protect women, or both. I’m not so confident about that any longer. Especially not when you see how women who have spoken out about abuse have been treated by male church leaders.

     But to the degree that it is those seemingly limiting texts that have led us to be wrong in our treatment of women, I think the mistake has been in letting those texts color the way we read other passages — or obscure them entirely. So, without dismissing those texts, let me remind you of a few others that should be taken just as seriously, and maybe be seen as more primary, in teaching the church how to treat women.

     For instance, Genesis reminds us of God’s creative intent. Both men and women are created in God’s image .  That’s in the first narrative of the creation of human beings, which says nothing about woman being created out of man. It’s just very straightforward — God created people, male and female, and created them in his image. There’s no evidence of hierarchy, of women being subordinate or secondary or of less importance, and in fact they are absolutely necessary for human beings to follow God’s command that they “increase in number, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” 

     Genesis 2 tells the story from a different point of view, but don’t try to make it say more than it does. In this version of the story, woman is created out of man. Still, there is no hint of subordination. It’s still God who does the creating, not man. Creating her out of him is an acted parable, an answer to the problem of man’s being alone.  God solves the problem by making him a “suitable helper,” literally out of the same stuff from which he is made. 

     Let me repeat: there is no hint of subordination. Though Paul later makes a couple of points about man’s being created first, there is no emphasis on that in this text. That the woman is created as a “helper” doesn’t necessarily imply subordination either; the word is used elsewhere to refer to God. Subordination, if anything, is a consequence of the Fall, not the intent of Creation. What God creates for the man is a partner.

     And, in fact, that’s how the man takes this new presence in the Garden. He calls her “bone of my bone” and “flesh of my flesh,” and the writer makes the obvious connection: this is why a man leaves his family and unites with his wife — he recognizes a partner when he sees one. There is no order to be upheld, no God-ordained roles to preserve. Just partners, companions, living together in God’s world as equals.

     That’s why, by the way, we struggle so much with Jesus’ answer to the question about divorce. The problem is that Jesus isn't answering our question — not really. What he’s responding to is an assumption that a woman can be put aside like an old shoe when she no longer meets with her husbands’ approval. Jesus’ answer is intended to protect women (who in his day had no rights in a divorce) by forcing a man to consider God’s intention in creation, and to see how negating the commitment he’s made to his wife — for any reason — cuts against God’s creative work. 

      Paul, for all the accusations of misogyny leveled against him, is in truth nothing of the kind. Paul believed that, in Jesus, a new creation had come, and that anyone who was in Christ was a part of it. In that new creation, he wrote, God was restoring his good world by reconciliation. In Jesus, God was reconciling the world to himself, and then giving believers in Jesus “the ministry of reconciliation.” It’s our job, in short, to announce that God is reconciling his fragmented creation, and also to act on God’s authority to create reconciliation. And so it’s a part of the church’s mandate that we be careful to speak and act in ways that affirm God’s creative intent in making man and woman companions and partners who bear equally the image of God. It’s a part of our responsibility to affirm, as Paul says elsewhere, that in Christ there is no male and female, but that the two are one because of Jesus. Injustice toward women, even in the name of God or of obeying the Bible, is a relic of the old creation, the “worldly point of view” with which human beings regarded each other before Christ came. In the new creation initiated by the death and resurrection of Jesus, reconciliation and a return to God’s creative intent are in order.

     Like all the rest of our life with Jesus, reconciliation between men and women will have to be lived out relationally, in our marriages, in our workplaces and schools, and in our churches. It may mean letting go of attitudes passed down to us from respected forebears in our families and churches. It will surely require listening to the women in our lives tell their stories, even when what they have to say is difficult to hear. It will surely demand prayer and faith and submission to the work of the Holy Spirit in us. 

     How else, though, can we adequately witness to the new creation, the kingdom of God that has come in Jesus. Why will the world believe us if we can’t get this basic thing right?

Friday, March 17, 2023

"Where the Holy Rubber Meets the Road"

 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written

    “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me 

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

    Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

-Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)

I saw Bruce Springsteen on tour last week, and something’s been nagging at me ever since.

     What happened in that arena for about three hours between Bruce and the E Street Band and their fans was pretty much church. And I don’t mean the old clich├ęs about the audience worshiping the pop “idol.” He wasn’t the focus of the worship so much as the leader — the priest, as one of his old songs imagines — leading an arena full of people in communion with a god who knows their lives and offers them peace, joy, redemption, forgiveness, love, a new start — whatever it is they feel they need.

     The fact that the god they were worshiping was ill-defined, and I’m sure even varied from person to person, doesn’t change the fact that in a very real sense worship was happening.

      Part of it, I know, is the way music can, at its best, drive emotions and connect us to other times and places. But there’s more than that behind 18,000 people standing and singing and sharing for three hours in the Church of The Boss.

     I’ve written before about how Springsteen composes songs; he’s said, “The verse is the blues, and the chorus is the gospel.” His faith is complicated, but he has said that he believes in Jesus. And, as someone who’s listened to his music for 40 years or so, I think he is pretty clear on what the gospel is.    

     He writes in his recent memoir of his Catholicism, and the “poetry, danger, and darkness” he absorbed from it. He writes: 

“I laid what I’d absorbed across the hardscrabble lives of my family, friends and neighbors. I turned it into something I could grapple with, understand, something I could even find faith in. As funny as it sounds, I have a ‘personal’ relationship with Jesus…  

He writes about his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, where he still lives with his wife. He says it’s a place 

“where people make lives, suffer pain, enjoy small pleasures…and do their best to hold off the demons that seek to destroy us, our homes, our families, our town. Here we live in the shadow of the steeple, where the holy rubber meets the road, all crookedly blessed in God’s mercy….”

     We’re reading the Gospel of Luke in our Wednesday night Bible study, and the last couple of weeks we were talking about Jesus’ return to his own hometown, Nazareth. Luke says he “found the place” — so he went looking for it — where Isaiah wrote about the proclamation of “good news to the poor…freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind.” He read about setting “the oppressed free” and proclaiming “the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus went on to say to the assembled family and friends and neighbors and enemies, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” This was one of the defining texts for his ministry. His theme.

     In Jesus’ own hometown, people were leading hardscrabble lives in the shadow of the steeple — or, at least, the synagogue. They lived “where the holy rubber meets the road.” And Jesus told them that he had come home to announce the year of the Lord’s favor, the long-awaited good news Isaiah preached that God was going to put things right for hurting people.

     That’s the gospel. It’s where “the holy rubber meets the road.” It’s for the crookedly blessed, for the blind who are given sight, the oppressed who receive justice, the sinners trying to hold off demons. But sometimes we Christians treat it more like a ledger sheet, an accounting tool that lets us see who’s operating at a spiritual profit and who’s at a deficit. We live a disembodied gospel, spiritualized, sanitized of “poetry, danger, and darkness,” and unconcerned with the hardscrabble lives people are living in the shadows of our steeples. But a disembodied gospel is only good news to people who aren’t hurting, whose only need is some assurance of going to heaven when they die. It can also lead its believers to a disregard for the pain and suffering of others. 

     I think that’s how Christians justified slavery, or rooted for the police at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, or today sneer at people concerned about racism or misogyny as “woke.” It’s why we can elect political leaders more on the basis of what we think will make us more prosperous than on who will do what’s just and right. We believe the gospel is about saving our souls, which in our theology are somehow separate from our bodies. We forget that Jesus preached justice and care for the poor, healed the sick, and told his followers to visit those in prison. His actions and his words together painted a picture of the kingdom coming, the holy rubber of the Year of the Lord’s Favor meeting the road, God blessing the most crooked. 

     Crooked. That reminds me of the story in Luke’s gospel of Jesus healing a woman in the synagogue who had been “disabled by a spirit and could not straighten up at all.” Jesus has her come to the front — apparently he wants the worshipers to see her. When he heals her, his words are, “You are set free — released — from your infirmity.” And she stands up and praises God.

     Afterward, when he’s criticized for healing on the Sabbath, he just says that they couldn’t wait any longer; Satan had already kept her bound for too long. For Jesus, the woman’s physical condition and spiritual condition were entangled. Freeing her from Satan meant healing her body and spirit, and it had to happen now

     Maybe our worship services — not just that, our church lives, also — ought to be more like that synagogue service that Jesus disrupted, where we can show each other the ways that we’re crooked without fear, and find healing in the power of the gospel. Where we can identify, not with the religious and powerful and all-together, but with the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. And where we can lay the gospel we preach across real lives so that people can see Jesus come in the power of the Holy Spirit to set us — and them — free.

     I still don’t imagine we’ll fill arenas. That’s not what we do. But those people in the arena the other night were admitting, as they cheered, sang, and danced, that they were crooked, weighed down with pain, bitterness, disappointment, fear, and guilt. They were discovering that, for a few hours, they could stand up. And we can help people stand up. Well, not us — but our Boss, our Lord, certainly can. May they see in us his love and mercy, and may we dance together in the aisles and sing God’s praises. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Little Ones

 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

     Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

     He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

-Mark 9:33-37 (NIV)

I’ve heard it said that sometimes the Bible interprets the reader, and not the other way around. I heard it most recently in a discussion on the story of David and Bathsheba, how where you place blame in that story might say more about you than it does the text. (This uncredited painting housed in the Bowes Museum depicts Bathsheba as being very aware of David’s presence as she bathes, which changes the story drastically.) 

     I think Jesus’ parable of the little child — and it is a parable, an acted one — in the verses above is another one of those places in Scripture that interprets us.

    The parable itself is straightforward. It follows the Transfiguration, where a few of the disciples get a look at who Jesus really is. Then, in rapid succession, there’s a failure by the disciples to drive a demon out of a child — a failure that Jesus holds them accountable for. Then Jesus explicitly teaches his disciples about his coming suffering, death, and resurrection; not only don’t they understand, they’re afraid to ask him about it. Following these two glaring failures, they get caught by Jesus actually arguing about which of them is the greatest — which at that moment is kind of like Cubs and Sox fans arguing about who had the best season last year. 

     In answer to them, Jesus borrows a child from someone — around the same age as the one they had been unable to help — and “takes [the child] in his arms.” He says, “You want to be first? You want to be great? Then you have to be willing to be last. You have to serve, and you have to serve everyone.”

     And then, with the child in his arms, he talks about welcoming “one of these little children” in his name. That’s how to be hospitable to the presence of Jesus, to welcome the Father and his work in the world.

     My son and I saw Bruce Springsteen live earlier this week. Toward the end of the show, he referred to a Milwaukee food bank. He said, “They’re doing God’s work on the front lines.” I think Jesus would agree with that statement.

     “Little children” in this text goes far beyond actual kids, though they would be included. The next thing you hear from the disciples is maybe an attempt to change the subject: “We saw some random dude driving out demons in your name, and we put a stop to it because we don’t know that guy.”

     So, they weren’t able to drive out a demon — but they stop someone who is able to? They’re trying to be gatekeepers. That’s fun, because it distracts from our own failures and lets us promote ourselves, makes us seem greater. So sometimes instead of caring for the little children in Jesus’ name, or at the very least supporting those who do care for them, we argue, denounce, and try to control God’s work. We distract from our failure to welcome “little ones” by finding fault with other efforts to do just that.

     Jesus turns the tables — “How will you feel when it’s you who need help? In my evaluation of things, if someone gives you guys so little a thing as a cup of cold water in my name when you’re thirsty, they’re getting a reward.” Left unsaid is the obvious implication that they should have put aside their egos and been more charitable. He wasn’t the competition.

      Next, he warns his disciples about the danger of causing “one of these little ones” to stumble. We’re back to little ones, children. The obvious context is what’s just been happening with the disciples — they’ve been preoccupied with “greatness” and have 1) failed to drive a demon from a child, 2) responded to Jesus’ teaching about his coming torture, murder, and resurrection by arguing over which of them is more highly ranked, and 3) tried to shut down someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and actually, you know, being successful at it!

     At every turn, their self-interest has put potential obstacles in the path of “little ones” who they should have been serving — in the way their Master does, and will.

     “Little ones” — like the people served by that food bank in Milwaukee. “Little ones” — like the children loved and cared for in the name of Jesus by teachers and social workers. “Little ones”— like people whose lives have been scarred and twisted and broken by the work of Satan. 

     The “little ones” Jesus refers to are any of the people who, in a given moment, his disciples need to put their arms around and care for in Jesus’ name. It isn’t intended to be paternalistic. He recognizes that sometimes the tables turn and those who have been the helpers need to be helped. (Jesus himself will, in the near future, need help.) “Little ones”is not a judgment on the value or competence of the person who, in a particular moment, needs looking after.  

     So when I say that, in our city, new immigrants to our country are often “little ones,” I don’t mean that they’re like children, incapable of caring for themselves, or that helping means we get to control them. The fact that I need to say that means that we don’t get it. What I mean is that they’re human beings loved by God who followers of Jesus may need to put their arms around and welcome and help.

     When I say that people of color are sometimes “little ones” in our country, I don’t mean that they should be treated like children. I mean that those of us with privilege and power need to put our arms around them by advocating for their rights when they’re being marginalized, listening and then speaking up when their voices aren’t being heard, and caring about the ways in which their human rights are trampled. 

     In 2023, to hear stories about churches supporting abusive pastors over their victims is disheartening to say the least. To hear about misogyny in the church is shocking. To hear about people who claim to follow Jesus supporting fringe politicians who spout hysteria and promise to preserve rights that are in no way threatened by disregarding “little ones” who are in real danger is maddening.

     If whatever rights, possessions, privilege, or way of life we want to grasp and hold onto causes us to put an obstacle in the path of “little ones”, it would be better for us to cut off our hands. If what we see and want causes us to disregard “little ones,” it would be better if we tore out our eyes. To not welcome “little ones” in Jesus’ name is to endanger ourselves. It’s antithetical to the life of the kingdom of God, and it puts us on the way of destruction. 

      “Little ones” are not a distraction. The cost that helping them may accrue is worth it, because they are the focus of God’s kingdom. I like how Mark points out that Jesus put that child, literally, “in the middle of them.” He made that little one the focus of everyone there. And then he “put his arms around him.”

     May little ones be our focus, too. And may we follow our Lord in putting our arms around them and welcoming them so that we may welcome Jesus and be part of God’s work.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Does Artificial Intelligence Hate Your Values?

 If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

-John 8:31-32 (NRSV)

So, a social media acquaintance of mine recently authored a post with the (intentionally?) shocking title, “AI is taking over the world and it hates your values.”

     This was like the fourth or fifth post on ChatGPT — what my acquaintance called “a highly intelligent, interactive, chat AI” — that I had seen in the past couple of weeks, so I decided to take a look at it. After all, if it hates my values I need to know, right? 

     First, a quick lesson on what ChatGPT and AI — Artificial Intelligence — really are.

     ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chat robot. It’s trained by scouring large amounts of data from the internet, then using human “trainers” to refine the data. It’s able to respond to prompts, answer questions, “converse” about its responses, and even challenge incorrect assumptions. Samples from the website have the AI responding to the query, “How do you break into someone’s house?” by saying, “It is not appropriate to discuss or encourage illegal activities, such as breaking into someone’s house.” (Clearly it doesn’t hate all my values.) When the questioner asks about protecting his house from burglars, the AI comes back with seven suggestions.

     I was interested to put it to another kind of test. I preach most every Sunday, so I wondered how ChatGPT would do at sermon-writing. I thought I’d give a softball assignment for its first try, so I just asked it to “Write a sermon on John 3:16.” Here’s the bulk of the result:

This verse is a powerful reminder of God's love for us. It tells us that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us, so that we may have eternal life.

     But what does it mean to believe in Jesus? Believing in Jesus is more than just acknowledging His existence. It means putting our trust and faith in Him as our Lord and Savior. It means turning away from our sins and surrendering our lives to Him. When we believe in Jesus, we are given the gift of eternal life, and we become part of God's family.

     This verse also reminds us that God's love is not exclusive. It is available to everyone, regardless of their background or past mistakes. No matter what we have done, God's love is always there for us. All we need to do is accept it and believe in Jesus.

     So what does this mean for us in our daily lives? It means that we are called to love others as God loves us. We are called to show compassion, forgiveness, and grace to those around us. It means that we should strive to be more like Jesus in all that we do, and to share His love with those around us.

I have to say: it’s not bad. Certainly nothing I’d disagree with.

     My social media acquaintance put a question about gender to the AI, phrasing it in a way that made it clear that he expected it to defend from Scripture the “value” that there are two genders. ChatGPT responded with a different set of values, saying that it wouldn’t “provide a defense of something that promotes harmful and inaccurate information about gender identity.” It went on to cite several Christian denominations as affirming gender diversity as part of their commitment to “the dignity and worth of every person as a child of God.”     

     In an interesting twist, several readers who commented on my acquaintance’s post — many of them who identify themselves as Christians — disagreed with his binary view of gender. Which makes me wonder why we’d expect an AI to defend a specific position that well-intended followers of Jesus disagree about!

     It may be true that AI hates some of my values. In this case, though, it affirms one of Christianity’s most fundamental ones — that we should be careful not to cause harm to other human beings. Isn’t “love your neighbor as yourself” sort of a fundamental value of Jesus’? Maybe the problem is that, when we talk about “values,” we’re often talking about something else. I don’t think Scripture uses the word as it’s often used today. 

     Often, I think, we talk about “values” we’re actually talking about who gets to set them for society. That concern comes out later in my acquaintance’s post: “[ChatGPT’s] answer is being filtered by people with a competing worldview.” The problem isn’t that AI hates Christian values, but that it might force us to evaluate alternate ways of seeing the world. (Also known as “living in the world.”) 

     On the ChatGPT website, the designers say, “during…training, there’s currently no source of truth.” What they mean is that there’s no all-inclusive way for the AI to sort and evaluate the tremendous amounts of data it’s dealing with. The human “trainers” can help it along, but that just kicks the can further up the road because none of them have a corner on objective truth either. It’s all in-progress.

     Which makes artificial intelligence very similar to natural human intelligence. 

    When we talk about our own “values,” maybe we should acknowledge that they, too, are always in-process. Healthy people don’t solidify their values and refuse to change them. Their values should change as they learn, grow, and mature. Truth is discovery. And all of that is true for Christians, too.

     Jesus says that it’s in living out his teachings in the worldcontinuing in his word” — that we learn truth, develop values, and are set free to love, to carry our crosses, to care for those around us, to live in God’s love. Continuing. When you think you’ve arrived, think again. Keep listening to Jesus. Keep trying to treat the people around you as he teaches you to. Even Christians don’t receive truth as a one-time download, but more as incremental updates as we learn to continue in Christ’s word in the world we live in. It isn’t always neat or easy.

     Also, other people are doing the exact same thing. There is such a thing as “Christian values,” but we’re all evaluating different data in different ways, so those values aren't nearly as uniform from Christian to Christian as we might think (or wish). There are, for example, earnest believers in Jesus who struggle with not fitting into the gender norms most commonly assumed in churches. There are Christians who do fit the norms, but see people they care about struggling and feel compassion and want them to be welcomed at church as they are. It doesn’t seem to me to be very loving or compassionate to disparage those believers by saying their very real concerns and experiences amount to hatred of Christian “values.”

      I wonder why my acquaintance didn’t ask ChatGPT for biblical support on generosity? Racial equality? Is it because gender is a political hot-button issue? Is it because gender has become a dog whistle for many Christians? And how healthy is that, especially if it disregards one of Jesus’ central values — loving our neighbor as we love ourselves? 

     May we “continue” in the word of Jesus as we live in the messiness and struggle of the world around us. May we “continue” in his word as we learn new things, experience new truths. And may we always be led by the true Christian values of love for God and neighbor.