As a child, I thought the “f-word” was “fart.”
In my house, you could pass gas, as long as you didn’t enjoy it . . . or laugh.
My father, the Reverend Dan Hiett, didn’t approve; it was “offensive.”
In Romans 14:13-23, Paul talks about not judging, but judging to never put a “stumbling block” or “offense” in the way of a brother. “Nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.”
He concludes by writing “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
In 1985, I sat in my boss’s office—Reverend Steve. I would soon be a “Reverend” as well. He was confronting me and my assistant, Dave, about passing gas and laughing. We found it to be helpful for getting 10th grade boys to “open up.” We were all quoting Bible verses, a lot of Romans 14.
“Peter, your brothers are offended; it’s wrong to make a brother stumble; whatever does not proceed from faith is sin; Are you certain that you should be farting?” I’d respond, “Nothing is unclean in itself. Maybe the 10th grade boys are offended that you’re making all these rules…”
Actually, it is a rather complicated theological and exegetical discussion.
St Augustine’s first confession in “The Confessions” was stealing fruit from a tree—probably as a 10th grader—not because he wanted the fruit, but because it was forbidden. Perhaps 10th grade boys love to pass gas and laugh because it is forbidden? But perhaps I needed to not let what I “regarded as good, be spoken of as evil (Romans 14:16)?”
It’s a complicated discussion and funny when speaking of farts and bacon, but not so funny if you substitute other created things like gold, wine, marijuana, or gender—suddenly no one’s laughing.
Well, no one was laughing in Steve’s office that day in 1985, until Steve demanded to know why it was “necessary” and I responded, “Sometimes I just have to.” Dave started laughing although Steve wasn’t laughing. In great frustration, Steve looked at me and said, “Well, I sure wouldn’t want to be farting when Jesus comes back…”
It raises a profound question: What will happen when we stand before “The Judgment Seat of God,” “The Judgment Seat of Christ”—Jesus the Christ?
Jesus seemed to violate all sorts of religious scruples and often offend. But strangest of all, he is called “the Stone of Stumbling” and “the Rock of Offense.” Paul just told us so in chapter nine. It’s all confusing. But most confusing is this line, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Faith in what? That passing gas is good . . . or evil?
Perhaps we find Romans 14:13-23 to be so confusing, for we don’t believe Romans 14:11-12; Romans 14:13-23 begins with a “Therefore.” Romans 14:11-12, “It is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give account (logos) of himself to God. Therefore…”
In 1995, as a young and successful pastor of a wonderful and rapidly growing church, I attended the “Toronto Laughing Revival.” It was amazing. The Spirit would fall on people and all manner of things would happen… but nothing happened to me. So, I told God that I would quit the ministry because he obviously didn’t speak to me.
But the last day of the conference, praying with a Pentecostal man and a little Roman Catholic lady, I heard him, audibly (only time that’s ever happened). He said, “Peter you don’t love my bride very much, do you?” Suddenly, I knew that I’d gone into the ministry because I hated the church—hated the church for what the church had done to my father and family; I had somehow vowed to show the church by fixing the church; I had had absolutely no idea. I sobbed uncontrollably… All my “best deeds” were revealed to be “evil deeds.” And yet there was not a drop of condemnation or blame in the voice of the Lord; only the deepest compassion. It was as if Jesus wept through me, for me, and even as me, for about an hour. I was utterly undone, destroyed.
For a moment, I think I stood before the Judgment Seat of God and gave account of my old man, the “typos,” the vessel of wrath, my body of sin and death, my false self, my flesh, my ego.
That evening I laid down on the floor and asked my Roman Catholic friend, Rosemary, to pray for me. I felt tingling in my fingertips as if they were waking from sleep. Then I felt it throughout my whole body, coursing through me in waves. I realized that my wrists were being held in the air by an unseen force. I thought “God is going to break my arms!” I used to always pray, “If I’m out of your will, just break my arms.” It was that day that I had told God I was leaving the ministry for he didn’t speak to me. He didn’t break my arms, but I felt so much love, life, and joy, I sincerely thought I would die. It would’ve been utterly terrifying, except that I somehow realized that I knew him, for he had always known me. Then it was as if God pulled back a curtain, I woke to reality, and he showed me that he was everywhere, all the time, loving me. He was “flannelgraph Jesus.” He had spoken to me through everything from Sunday school teachers to Rock Bands. He wasn’t just a thought in my head but the presence before me and within me. I only desired to praise God, or maybe Jesus desired to praise God, our Father, through me.
For a moment, I think I stood before the Judgement Seat of God and gave account—logos—of myself, the Jesus of myself, my true self, the vessel of Mercy, the New Man, who I am, to God.
Since that day, it’s become increasingly obvious that I am utterly incapable of judging myself, let alone my neighbor. I can’t judge you, but I know that you are far worse than you ever imagined, and infinitely better than you can even begin to believe. I can’t judge anyone, but I can preach that God’s judgment is Good, and hope that everyone would be judged by God. I began to ask God, “Lord, you did it for me, you did it for Paul, why don’t you do it for all?” I think he’s answered, “Good question. Why wouldn’t I do it for all, particularly when I say that I’ll do it for all?”
“’I swear, every knee will bow, and every tongue give praise.’ So, then each of us will give account of himself to God. Therefore, let us not judge one-another any longer… and never put a stumbling block in the way of a brother…”
What’s “the stumbling block?” Well, isn’t it the tree in the middle of the garden, which is Jesus Christ and him crucified, which is the Judgment of God and Word of God?
And how do I place “a stumbling block” in the way of a brother? Isn’t it to say, “Hey, we ought to take more knowledge from that tree, make more laws, so we can judge each other and judge God”?
And how do I preach the Judgment of God? Don’t I just announce, “Christ is risen from the dead”? When we surrender to the living Love of God in Christ, our husband, we bear the fruit of Life.
As I lay on my back in ecstasy, praising God without ceasing, I yelled to Rosemary, “Jesus just called me a dork.” Alarmed, she said “Oh, he wouldn’t say that.” But he did say that; he was speaking my language:10th grade boy language. He said, “Stop being a dork and doubting my love for you.”
“Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Faith in what? . . . No! Faith in whom?
If your faith is in knowledge, you must be trusting yourself, and crucifying the Christ.
If your Faith is in Christ, you must be trusting your husband, and surrendering to Love, which is Life.
I was so intent on justifying myself in Steve’s office because I didn’t believe that I was justified; I didn’t believe that Jesus really loved me.
So, who was wrong and who was right?
We were both worse than we knew, and way better than we could imagine.
But who was wrong and who was right… about farting? I don’t know. And I don’t need to know.
It wouldn’t surprise me to discover I was farting because I hated church (Steve is a wise man).
And it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that Jesus was loving 10th grade boys through me, his body.
And it wouldn’t surprise me, in the least, to discover that both things were happening at once.
But you can’t separate the Good from the evil using knowledge in your head.
That can only happen by standing before the throne.
Stand before the throne; let him show you, his wounds; hear him ask, “Now do you believe that I love you?”
We are his Bride. All humanity will be his Bride. But hardest for me to believe, is that I am his Bride.
“Peter, You don’t love my Bride very much, do you?” That destroys my old man.
“Peter, Stop doubting my love for you.” That’s the resurrection of the New.