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

Perfectly Jealous

DSCF5413How can God be Holy, Good, and Jealous?

I remember reading long ago Oprah Winfrey saying in an interview that she was turned off to God after hearing God being described as “jealous.”

“This great minister was preaching on how great God was and how omniscient and omnipresent and God is everything and then he said, ‘the Lord thy God is a jealous God.’ I was caught up in the rapture of that moment until he said ‘jealous,’ and something struck me. I was like 27 or 28 and I’m thinking, ‘God is all. God is omnipresent. And God is also jealous?’ God is jealous of me? And something about that didn’t feel right in my spirit…and that is where the search for something more than doctrine started to stir within me.”

Through the years I’ve come across more than one person getting stuck on this perceived character defect. Most recently a friend shared that God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, “because God was jealous.” (See Genesis chapter 22.)

There are some things I believe those of us who have followed Jesus for a long time take for granted, and this is one of them. It’s obvious to us that God is not jealous of Oprah (neither when she was in her late 20’s, just before she started to host a local morning talk show in Chicago, or now as a successful entertainment mogul.) That kind of thinking can seem silly.

And yet there are, by my count, 25 times in the Bible where God describes Himself or is described as jealous. And elsewhere in Scripture jealousy is pointed out as sinful. So how can God be good, holy, and jealous?

I believe this problem comes down to two things: 1. A misunderstanding of the unique nature of God. 2. The lack of a better term to more accurately describe the type of sinless jealousy that only God can exhibit, due to His unique nature.

(Oh, how I wish I could figure out how to sum up those points more succinctly!)

Ah, well…let’s look at the second point first – the language barrier.

In English we have one word for love that is used quite freely, but can mean many different things. For example, after being married for a few months, my husband and I realized that we needed a different set of bedroom furniture to accommodate the “his and hers-ness” of our clothing. We shopped and found a great set, and about a week after that I walked into the bedroom and had this exchange with my husband:

Me: “I love my new dresser.”

Spouse: “You can’t marry it.”

Me: “I don’t LOVE love my new dresser, I only love it.”

Sigh – it’s easy to see how inadequate the word love is when used as a verb in English. In Greek, there are four words for different kinds of love: agape, eros, philos, and storge. Storge meaning empathy, or affection, philos referring to friendship, eros describing erotic love, and agape is the type of unconditional love which God has for us.

In English we do have two words that describe different types of covetous feelings: envy and jealousy. The difference between the two is accurately defined in one of Homer Simpson’s brighter moments on the long-lasting comedy show:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tmx1jpqv3RA

According to “vocabulary.com” the words are defined as follows:

“You can feel envy about something you don’t have but want, but you feel jealousy over something you already have but are afraid of losing…”*

Right there we see the limitations of both words when it comes to God, because God has everything He will ever need, and He is never afraid. He doesn’t know what it means to want something He cannot have, nor does He ever tremble in fear of loss.

So what does it mean, then, for God to be jealous? Let’s take a look at the following scenario, and see if this illustration helps:

Imagine that you and your spouse have raised your children with love and care – they are your adorable 4 year old twins. You’ve saved up for months for a vacation to Disney World – and your kids are bursting with excitement!

You and your family get off of the plane, find your rental car, set your things down at the hotel, then you are finally off to the massive entrance gate at Walt Disney World.

As soon as you hand off the tickets and pass through, you sigh and start to take in all in – when out of nowhere, a young couple breezes up and takes each of your children by the hand – your children are enraptured and are swept off their feet by the park and by these total strangers, and they go off to have the time of their lives, while you and your spouse follow along behind.

Wait – who ARE these people? What are they doing with YOUR kids? They belong to you! They don’t even KNOW your children…do they have the best interest of your four year olds at heart? They cannot just sweep in and live your life.

Of course, in real life, hopefully your kids would notice that these strangers are not their parents and would cry and call out for you. And the outrage and fear over this kidnapping occurring before your eyes would be overwhelming and keep the feeling of jealousy from registering in your mind.

But it’s this quality of emotion – in the imaginary scenario of your kids enjoying Disney World with total strangers, not paying one wit of attention to the fact that you are not there – the pain of that loss in front of your eyes, the hurt of the fact that your kids forgot that they belonged to you and seem to rather spend their time with strangers, rather than the fear of that loss – this would be closer to the type of jealousy that God feels.

And we do this to God all the time. Even though we may have pledged our lives to Him – called Him our Lord, Savior, Father – we are constantly letting go of His hand and forgetting who we belong to. For while God does not feel fear, He does feel pain.

It would be different if the kids in the illustration above were in their teens and were joined by their good friends at the gate, and went off to enjoy the park with them. Although that might be painful, it is also part of life, learning to let go of the parental role. But it’s not a part of God’s parental role…we don’t outgrow Him as our Father, as our Lord, as the Lover of our souls, indeed, a love that surpasses all earthly loves.

And this leads us back to the first point I made earlier – that we often misunderstand the unique nature of God. There are certain things about being omnipresent, immutable, omniscient, eternal, omnipotent, perfect, etc. that we aren’t able to completely grasp. (I can’t tell you the last time I’ve experienced any of those characteristics myself.) This uniqueness creates a different type of relationship than that which can exist with anyone or anything else on earth.

God looks silly in our clothes – our shoes don’t fit Him.

And it is due to God’s unique character that He has the capacity for a type of jealousy which we cannot (at least not easily) express. This holy – or Godly – jealousy, if you will, has painful and protective qualities, and even grief. It’s an acknowledgement of not living up to the loyalty we’ve promised to God through our acceptance of Him, of our trust in who He is, and His nature, which always is striving for our best. It’s also an awareness of the fact that there is no other source of life, hope, joy, and love that lasts, and that creates a sadness that is also hard for us to comprehend.

There is a passage from a children’s story, and then a passage from Scripture, that might help us to understand this last point regarding grief. In The Silver Chair, Jill Pole has been showing off in front of her friend, Eustace Scrubb, on the edge of a cliff. When Eustace tries to pull her back, they get into a bit of a scuffle, and Eustace falls over the side. (He does not die, but is blown away out of sight.)

Jill spends quite a bit of time crying over this, and when she’s done she realizes that she’s become very thirsty. She discovers a stream, but beside it is a great lion – actually the Lion…

“If I run away, it’ll be after me in a moment,” thought Jill. “And if I go on, I shall run straight into it’s mouth.” Anyway, she couldn’t have moved if she had tried, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.

“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”

…For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink.” …she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.”

~ C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

Imagine for a moment that you are the Lion, and you know very well that there is no other stream. How would you feel if Jill, learning this truth, ran off anyway in search of another means to quench her thirst? If you cared for Jill, wouldn’t it make you angry that she’s trying to drink in tree bark, or sand, or salt water, when you know that these things won’t satiate her desire? Part of holy or Godly jealousy is a sorrow that comes from knowing this – that only God can satisfy.

I’ve felt this type of sad anger with my patients (I’m a Physical Therapist) when they aren’t following the steps that I know will help them heal faster – walking on an unstable broken leg, or not wearing compression gloves that will prevent their fingers from growing webs between them after a burn injury. I’ve seen cases that have healed the wrong way – bone can grow into a person’s muscle belly, and I’ve met people with webbed hands…and that knowledge stirs up a frustrated exasperation when people choose to not listen or comply with medical advice.

You see, God is not so much jealous of us (Oprah Winfrey’s mistake), but rather He is jealous for us. For there is no other stream.

Isaiah 55

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

(NIV)

 

*https://www.vocabulary.com/articles/chooseyourwords/envy-jealousy/