Keeping Sin in Perspective

This post by Matt Moore was timely in the wake of Kim Burrell’s statements earlier this week. Matt shares his thoughts on feeling that homosexuality was somehow different than any other sin, and how that mindset can undermine the potential for growth in one’s relationship to Jesus:

http://www.moorematt.org/not-an-anomaly/

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This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

saltimages

The title of this post is a bit misleading – it actually should read more along the lines of “This is why we cannot have meaningful relationships and conversations.”

Earlier this week, singer Kim Burrell in a video, predicted that homosexuality and those “who play with it in God’s house will die in 2017.” She also spoke about “the perverted homosexual spirit” in her sermon. (She has since stated that her comments were taken out of the context of her message, and that she holds no hatred for gays or lesbians.) The comments made in her original video came to the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who cancelled Kim Burrell’s upcoming scheduled appearance on her show.

And I don’t blame her (DeGeneres) for taking that step.

Once again, someone who is a follower of Christ was found to take homosexuality out of the greater context of Scripture and twist it into a something unrecognizable. Predicting the death of anyone in this or any other year is beyond the pay grade of any disciple of Jesus.

I believe that there are several reasons behind this type of thinking:

  1. Bad teaching.
  2. Resentment
  3. A Lack of Discussion Regarding Sexuality in the Church

Let’s take a closer look at these…

1. Bad Teaching

At this point in the history of the church, there really is no excuse for this. There are more resources available than there have ever been. (You can find a list of some of them under the “Resources” tab of this blog.) For Kim Burrell to have said these things, it seems that she has spent little time in understanding how homosexuality is addressed in Scripture, and how God works in the lives of those who have experienced same-sex attractions, or any other sin for that matter.

Singer and songwriter Keith Green once said, “This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls on the earth!” We have a responsibility to learn about the issues our culture is concerned with today in order to reach the souls of those around us with the Gospel.

2. Resentment

Sometimes it seems as though Christians speak out recklessly in regards to homosexuality in particular because of a resentment of the wider cultural acceptance of those who identify as gay or lesbian. It is as if lashing out with words you would never hear applied to any other sin is done in a terribly misguided effort to take back ground in some way.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I’m thankful that people are able to be more open about their same-sex attractions in our culture – I don’t want to go back to where we were. It is good for people to be able to walk down the street without being afraid of getting beat up. It’s good for people to be able to go about their days at work or running errands on eating meals with friends without harassment. It was not a good thing to treat homosexuality as a cultural taboo.

Christians always walk in two worlds – we live here on earth as citizens of another Kingdom. It makes no sense to waste time railing against our status as expatriates. This world is not our home, and we have the privilege of showing those around us what it is like to live a life of freedom and love in Christ. When others see His love in us, they will want to join in the call to know and glorify God.

3. A Lack of Discussion Regarding Sexuality in the Church

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6

Kim Burrell lost her opportunity to meet Ellen DeGeneres, to appear on her show, and to have any kind of conversation or build any kind of relationship with her because she chose to pick out homosexuality as a sin deserving some kind of special punishment from God. Her theology was wrong, and it will take some time and effort to ever have that kind of opportunity come her way again (if ever.)

Without discussions about sexuality – whether about homosexuality or heterosexuality – within the church, room is created for bad teaching and resentment to build, instead of wisdom and contentment in Christ. Too often people are afraid to bring up the subject in a Sunday School class or Bible study, and their conversations end up being seasoned with flamethrowers instead of salt.

Salt is known to be one of the basic human tastes. (The others are sweet, bitter, sour and savory.) According to Wikipedia:

“As taste senses both harmful and beneficial things, all basic tastes are classified as either aversive or appetitive, depending upon the effect the things they sense have on our bodies. Sweetness helps to identify energy-rich foods, while bitterness serves as a warning sign of poisons.

According to Lindemann, both salt and sour taste mechanisms detect, in different ways, the presence of sodium chloride (salt) in the mouth, however, acids are also detected and perceived as sour.

The detection of salt is important to many organisms, but specifically mammals, as it serves a critical role in ion and water homeostasis in the body. Because of this, salt elicits a pleasant taste in most humans.

Sour and salt tastes can be pleasant in small quantities, but in larger quantities become more and more unpleasant to taste.”*

I’ve made the mistake of adding too much salt in recipes, and the results were inedible. When we fail to use wisdom and discernment in our conversations, we make relationships with people who don’t know Jesus unpalatable. (Now, of course, we know that some people may find the message of the Gospel hard to digest – but that is not what is happening in this example with Kim Burrell.) We need to spend time learning within our fellowship groups how to address questions surrounding sexuality in a Biblically sound and compassionate way. I believe that Kim’s words would have been different if she had spoken to other mature Christians first.

Here are some suggestions:

Invest some time in learning more about what the Lord has to say about our sexuality in general, as well as about homosexuality. (Again some excellent resources are listed on the Resources tab of this blog.)

Spend some time listening to those who have experienced same-sex attractions. Ask questions just to gain insight into the perspective of other people.

Find other Christians who are interested in learning more about how to reach out to people around them who are involved in the LGBT community, and talk about your concerns and questions. Invite someone to come speak to your small group on the topic, and ask your church staff for more teaching to be made available so you can ask your questions within the Body of Christ.

There are ways to speak about sexuality without alienating people – and those conversations are best when they are earned. We need to be involved in serving everyone around us, and being ready to give thoughtful (not bland), graceful answers when opportunities do arise. Here is one example that I thought was very good – you may recall that there was an article raising a controversy about Chip and Joanna Gaines late last year, where it was noted that they attend a church in which the pastor has addressed homosexuality as a sin. Just this week, Chip has posted the following response on his blog…it is well worth taking your time to read:

https://magnoliamarket.com/chips-new-years-revelation/

Instead of decrying the state of being attacked and misunderstood, Chip Gaines has asked us all to raise the level of the conversation. He asks us to be considerate of one another and give one another breathing room. It is possible to lovingly disagree and work alongside each other in a community. Let us look for opportunities to do that in this new year.

 

 

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste#Basic_tastes

Approachability

Same Outfit, Different Appearance

Earlier in this series on Gender Identity, I wrote: “For quite some time, people couldn’t tell if I was a boy or a girl, and now, even on days when I’m wearing the exact same clothes that I was then, no one questions that I’m a woman. How did I get here from there?”* I would like to explore that phenomenon a bit in this post. Why is it that I can wear the exact same clothes I that I had worn years ago, and yet there are no longer any questions about my gender?

Of course there are some easy cues – my hair is longer, and I wear earrings. However, from some angles you can’t tell what the length of my hair is, as I’m often wearing a hat with a ponytail. And usually my earrings are small and not noticeable. Even from a distance, people can consistently tell that I’m a woman although I might be wearing hiking clothes or some other tomboyish outfit. I suspect that this is due to a factor that is hard to describe in one word. I think it’s because I carry a different air or atmosphere – an attitude or mindset – about me that goes deeper than perfume.

pine

Approachability

The way that I used to carry myself – my posture, eye contact (or the lack thereof), mannerisms, conversation (tone of voice along with my choice of words), was not welcoming to men. I was guarded, wary, and easily triggered. Often, I was a living image of the Heisman Trophy – one arm extended, the other carefully cradling the football. At the same time, I would wonder why men were not asking me out, or taking the time to get to know me better. Well, who would want to crawl over and through all that barbed wire, landmines, moats and traps? It takes courage to ask someone out, and I had put up many layers that were getting in the way.

I thought I was brave, yet in reality I was fearful. I didn’t want to take risks, I wanted guarantees. I assumed that the “right guy” would be the one to prove he could see through my defenses and find the real me. It took a long time for me to see that my defenses were over-the-top, and that I could trust the Lord to be my Shield, my Shepard – He would have my back. When I leaned more on Jesus and became more open, (which took years), it made a great difference.

Approachability is not the same as attractiveness. One can be approachable, yet not attractive. And one can be quite attractive, yet not approachable.

Karl Bonhoeffer, the father of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once described first meeting Paula von Hase at at meeting at the house of physicist Oscar Meyer:

“There I met a young, fair, blue-eyed girl whose bearing was so free and natural, and whose expression was so open and confident, that as soon as she entered the room she took me captive. This moment when I first laid eyes upon my future wife remains in my memory with an almost mystical force.”

~ Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

In reading this, there is very little description of Paula von Hase’s appearance – we read that she was “fair” with “blue eyes.” I’m pretty sure that would accurately describe a good number of women across Germany. Yet we do get a good impression of how approachable Paula von Hase was to Karl Bonhoeffer – her “bearing” and “expression” were captivating. She was “free and natural…open and confident.” Much different than the closed and cautious air I was exhibiting for many years.

[As an aside: Karl Bonhoeffer’s reaction also reminds me of what Alice Von Hildebrand said about what the response of a man to a woman and vice verse is:

“…the proper response of a man to a woman is enchantment, and that of a woman, ‘when seeing a man worthy of being called a man’ is admiration.”

(See the last post on this blog: https://sswh.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/inside-the-outside/) His first impression lasted through many trials. Their marriage by all accounts was happy and lasted through WWII and the loss of several children and other family members who fought against the Nazi regime.]

On the flip side, someone can be quite attractive and yet be intimidating or carry a cold shoulder. Google, “intimidating” and choose images. You’ll see a good variety of examples – I found it telling that what came up in this search were mostly faces rather than animals or objects.

I think that approachableness is a combination of several things – I’d like to focus on two that I’ve not already covered in other posts on this blog: Actions and Mindset.

Actions

Sometimes subtle, sometimes not – I liked the definition of the term, “bearing” that Karl Bonhoeffer used in the quote above. This is from the Apple dictionary:

bearing |ˈbe(ə)riNG|

noun

1 [ in sing. ] a person’s way of standing or moving: a man of precise military bearing.

• the way one behaves or conducts oneself: she has the bearing of a First Lady.

For me, it was easy to read my posture as a huge “back away” billboard, as I used how I moved and rested to physically create space for myself and to put men in particular off. Again, some of this was comical, as during this time I was close to 100 lbs. and under 5 and a half feet tall. At one single’s group, I would carry a book bag with my Bible and note pad in it. I choose a folding chair early and grabbed the one next to it to set in front of me, using it as a desk for my Bible. My feet would rest on the legs of the chair in front, and I was “dug in” to listen and learn. Very attentive, but not very inviting for anyone else to sit next to me and start a conversation.

Think about how you might set yourself up with a book and/or headphones or a pillow and blanket on a plane for a long flight when you hoped to get some quiet rest. That was me in almost any social situation. Looking back now, I realize that I would accessorize for disassociation, distance, and defense. At the time I wasn’t conscious about it.

After starting to put the pieces together, one day I prayed that one of the men in the singles group would sit down next to me. I used a tote bag instead of the backpack, and didn’t spin a seat around to use as a desk. I took time to chat with people in the group, and then simply sat down. I remember feeling rather vulnerable, as silly as that may seem. Within a minute, though, one of the guys in the group – actually the tallest and one of the nicest fellows there – strode across the room and said out loud for all to hear, “Well, I’m going to sit down here next to Dee!” He said it in a tone that implied that everyone else was giving him the cold shoulder, and he felt that the only welcoming place in the room was there next to me.

It was as though the Lord was going out of His way to make sure that I understood that He had heard and was answering my prayer. (And that cracked me up.) My billboard that had read “go way” had turned completely around into, “Howdy! Why not stop and sit a spell?” That was a turn for the better!

Mindset

Even with an attractive appearance and welcoming posture, one can easily exhibit a closed off mindset. My conversation usually revealed a tendency to shut down around men, while being open towards women. I would use harsh, cutting jokes to insult men, and used sarcasm as an offensive and defensive weapon. Again, I was frustrated for years that none of the men around me were making an effort to take the time to get to know the real me. I now see that I had set up terrible obstacles for them to maneuver before they could have a chance to be my friend. It was not fair, and unrealistic to expect of any man.

During a counseling session on this topic, I was challenged to look for opportunities to compliment the men around me. Any man – not just the fellows I was hoping to get to know better in my singles group. I had become so tuned out to men that it was hard! I had never thought of this before, and I’m sorry to say that my mind drew a blank at first. It was a huge blind spot in my life, and obviously needed quite a bit of work.

Fortunately I worked in a field with plenty of opportunities to encourage people. In my sessions with male clients, instead of going for a sarcastic one-liner, I would look for ways to sincerely compliment whatever aspect of the fellow’s character that stood out as they worked to meet their goals. I still kept my ironic sense of humor, which many men would warm up to, but I made an effort to look at the men differently, and to think deeper about what it was that I admired in them. Some were concerned about being able to provide for their families, or how to spend quality time playing with their kids who were too young to understand their injuries. Some showed tremendous resiliency after being in accidents that completely turned the course of their lives around. Some were standing up for injustices in the community around them, others cared for their wives with a deep, sacrificial love that I didn’t know could exist outside of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

And the Lord gently and lavishly encouraged me along the way.

Be more attractive!

Well-meaning women often gave me shallow advice, at times in an attempt to make themselves more comfortable by associating with people who looked and acted just like them. I would hear things like: “Make an effort – try some makeup – put on a dress – wear some perfume” etc. But those suggestions were like telling someone with anorexia to eat more – not hitting the mark by a long shot.

Over the years I learned more about the deeper changes that truly make one more attractive – how to create an open and welcoming space around myself, and how to drop the chip on my shoulder and instead carry an air that a new acquaintance described as “imaginative” and “fun-loving.” Life is better this way – the energy that used to go into keeping my guard up can now be channeled into listening and learning more about other people.

One day on my way into work after getting my hair cut and styled, I complained to the Lord that I was tired of women always noticing and complimenting a new hairdo, and never hearing a compliment from a guy. So, I asked Him to have a guy notice and say something nice about my hair for a change.

Later that afternoon while working with a fellow, in the middle of his exercise routine he said, “I like your new haircut. My wife wears her hair that way.” Another direct answer to prayer. And not only was he complimenting me, he also complimented his wife, and set what he said in the right context of respecting his relationship with her. It was humbling to see God working so directly.

Years later, the same client came in. He had a surgical procedure done that had caused him to temporarily lose his voice, and came in with his wife, who was a pleasure to meet. They had come through a scary medical situation, and I was very glad to see he was on the mend. As he was working on an exercise machine that I was using to test his endurance, he waved me over. “I like your hair,” he mouthed, and shot me a grin, with his wife smiling beside him. I thanked him and had to turn away quickly as tears came to my eyes. It was such a joy to see how they had been sustained through this tough time, and how the Lord also was reminding me of His sustaining love and care for me. He is the God who hears and answers prayer.

 

In this series I hope that I’ve been able to shed a bit of light on some of the complex underlying issues that were a part of my own experiences with and expressions of gender identity, and some of the multiple things that came together that made a difference. If you’ve been reading these articles through I hope that you will think about getting to know a person beyond whatever their appearance may be, and then you might have the opportunity to find out what their appearance means to them. Jesus always looks at us from the inside out – getting closer to Him helps me to see people the way He does. Getting closer to Him means spending time with Him in prayer, in worship, in reading His word, and serving others. When we invest in our relationship with Christ, we’ll be much better equipped to invest in living alongside and loving others.

* https://sswh.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/gender-identity-iii/