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/

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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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

Prepare to be Misunderstood…Again

P1070897It’s still difficult for me to grasp – Donald Trump is going to be our next President.  Of the United States.  Of the choices running for office, I favored Bernie Sanders.  I was going to vote for him in protest against the way that the two-party system has failed to represent the middle class, forming an oligarchy rather than a democracy…until Donald Trump actually won the Republican nomination.  Then I was one of the apparently few Christians who voted for Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8th.  In vain, as I live in a state that Trump dominated during the election, but at least I can sleep a little better knowing that I personally did not contribute to this vile man gaining power.

So here we are…and I’m sad and quite concerned about a number of things with Trump coming into office.  First is his willful denial of the existence and impact of climate change on our planet.  Our nation is already moving so slowly in response to this threat, and we are running out of time to make the changes that are needed to provide a sustainable place for all of us to live.  [For more information on things you can do to help, I recommend the following:  350.org, CCL, Katharine Hayhoe.]

Second, I’m concerned about how the church will respond.  Putting false hope in the office of the President, and on national laws / political platforms rather than our calling to personal holiness can have a corrosive effect on our faith.  I’m afraid that is, at least in part, what has led so many believers to vote for Trump in the first place.  We are warned many times in Scripture not to look for power outside of the Almighty, but time and again we fall for the same thing.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
Psalm 20:7

I’m not saying that we should not look for Godly men or women to serve in our government – by all means we should!  But Trump has made it clear that he is not a Godly man, and that he is not out to serve anyone but himself.  Narcissists in power do not make good leaders.

Third, and more in tune with the overall topic of this blog, I’m concerned about being misunderstood – actually – continuing to be misunderstood*.  In truth, people like myself who have spent years wrestling with our faith and out sexuality, and who have chosen to follow the Lord in setting aside our same-sex desires for His sake – we’ve never really been understood by the culture at large, nor truly integrated into the church in a healthy way.

This morning a headline caught my eye:  “Rachel Maddow chokes up describing Mike Pence’s anti-LGBT policies.”  I’ve never watched Rachel Maddow’s show, principally due to not having a cable subscription.  Whenever I have seen clips of her speaking, however, she has come across to me as someone who is fair minded.  So I wanted to learn more about her concerns regarding our Vice-President elect.

Maddow went on to describe some of the anti-LGBTQ policies Pence has promoted.

“Mike Pence said you should not only take away money from HIV and AIDS programs, he said AIDS funding should be taken away from serving people with HIV and AIDS,” she said, “because instead it should be diverted into government-funded programs designed to cure people from being gay, to try to fix gay people.”

On Pence’s 2000 campaign website, he advocated for spending public funds promoting the broadly debunked practice of attempting to change a person’s sexually orientation from gay or bisexual to straight.

“Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” he wrote at the time.

http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2016/11/watch-rachel-maddow-chokes-describing-mike-pences-anti-lgbt-policies/

Well, great – that makes a lot of sense.  (For me to be fair, I’ve not fact-checked this.  It is possible that Pence is being misunderstood, but Maddow isn’t the kind of person to promote hype, so I’m going to suspect it’s true.)  Yet, the fact that some people who have sought change in their orientation who are also HIV+ seems to have slipped through the minds of both Maddow and Pence.  I’m sure people who are HIV+ would like to remain alive, regardless of their sexual orientation, and I’ve never seen anyone involved in any type of Christian outreach to the LGBT population propose that any government funds be directed their way.  Let me repeat that last part – I have never seen anyone in Christian outreach to the LGBT population ask for government resources, including funds, to support their efforts.  The separation of church and state, in this sense, is a good thing.

And here is where the concern with Pence lies – I don’t want to be lumped in with him and those who don’t quite seem to understand the good experience I and others have had in seeking to submit our sexuality to the Lordship of Christ.  It’s not a good idea to divert funds away from HIV & AIDS programs, and it’s not a good idea to have the government fund the type of counseling I received.  It would be nice to see that counseling for those who want to explore the potential for fluidity in their sexual orientation not be outlawed, as it preserves the right of self-determination.  But preserving and protecting this right and supplying funding are two different things.

Sigh…

The good news is that there continue to be more and more articulate individuals coming forward who are being heard who can help to foster better understanding of the complicated issues surrounding homosexuality.  And that is how I see myself, and my experience – I hope and pray that the story of my experiences will help to understand a bit more of the mystery of human sexuality.  I hope it will spur on better questions and cause people to think and look more deeply into their own lives.  I hope that by speaking out eventually well-meaning people like Pence won’t make such terrible suggestions, and fair-minded people like Maddow won’t be so upset.

So we’ll press on, continuing to share what we’ve learned, in the hopes that eventually, we won’t be quite so misunderstood.  May we listen well, serve much, and earn the opportunity to be heard in the days to come.

 

 

*These are most certainly not my only concerns about the upcoming Trump presidency – his narcissistic character, poor choice of advisors, appeals to the base racist elements running through our country, etc. are all terrible.  There are too many concerns to cover in a blog post, actually.

 

For Parents

What do you say when one of your kids “comes out” to you as gay or lesbian?

Here are some thoughtful things to consider:

12 Vital Things for Parents to Say to Their Gay Child

Trusting Love

Here is yet another great post by Jean C. Lloyd, PhD shared on Public Discourse.

My Same-Sex Attraction and My Brother’s Disease: On Suffering and Serenity

Another Short But Deep Read

Over the past few months I’ve come across some excellent resources that I wish would have been available when I was growing up.  The quality of writing has been on the rise, matching up to the great need of helping the church to grow into it’s calling to walk alongside those who experience same-sex attraction.  I am excited to see how the Lord will use these things to help followers of Christ in the days to come.

Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: How and Why Christians Should Have Gay Friends

by Brad Hambrick

I came across a recommendation for this book recently and added it to my Kindle. I was able to read it in it’s entirety during a long car ride, highlighting passages on almost every page.

The inscription on the first page was striking:

This book is dedicated to those who have felt that their experience of same-sex attraction has left them isolated within or from the Body of Christ.

May this book help the church better embody the gospel we proclaim and be the family of God.

~ Brad Hambrick

I’ve never read a book that was so directly dedicated to me, or to people like me (outside of Scripture, of course!) It took me aback for a moment – to think that the author even noticed that experiencing this temptation can be an isolating experience, often leaving a person feeling detached from the conversations going on in a church group, or even cut off from the gospel – the good news of salvation and redemption itself. To see that the goal of this book was to help end and mend this isolation through the maturation of the church was touching.

As I then read through the recommendations, I came across a familiar name – John Freeman, President of Harvest USA:

Finally, a practical book that helps us engage people as Jesus would! Brad Hambrick captures the heart of what is means to invite into dialogue and relationship people who you might otherwise see as so unlike you that you may not know how to begin a substantive conversation. Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk teaches the lost art of how to talk with people, draw them out, get to know their story and, therefore, know their heart…all of which makes fertile soil for the gospel to take root and flourish!

That is a fine summary of what this book can help one accomplish. I’ve probably mentioned this on this blog before, but the number one question I receive from people after hearing my story is, “How can I talk to my gay / lesbian friend / family member without offending or hurting them in some way?” People really want to show that they care, and they want to love others well, which in and of itself is a world away from the mainstream of the culture I grew up in.   So there is already a great need for a book like this, and Brad Hambrick does indeed do a wonderful job of giving practical help.

It is a short work – only 100 pages, divided into six chapters which build on one another, so it’s worth reading from beginning to end. The last chapter was the most awkwardly worded, which the author acknowledged as it was a compressed fictional conversation, but you could catch the application of what was shared in the previous five chapters enough to justify reading it through.

Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: How and Why Christians Should Have Gay Friends would be an excellent follow up to Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach* for a small group wanting to learn more about bridging the divide between those who experience same-sex attraction and the church at large.

*See the Resources tab for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lenten Meditation

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Luke chapter 23:32-43

 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals—one on His right, the other on His left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up His clothes by casting lots.

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

The soldiers also came up and mocked Him. They offered Him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

There was a written notice above Him, which read: this is the king of the Jews.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Throughout the Spring of this year, and on into Summer, this story has kept coming to mind. Jesus has been nailed to a cross after having been paraded through the town, carrying the spar of His own execution. As He is suffering through the last moments of His life, He is surrounded by jeering voices…

They were the voices of people standing to watch, rulers sneering, soldiers mocking…and even a criminal hanging on a cross alongside Him.

Except this one man – this other criminal. Instead of joining in the sneering, he says the strangest thing…

He confesses to his crime, noting that he and the other criminal there were reaping what they had sown: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.”

But then he confesses that Jesus was different, noting that He was being treated unjustly: “But this man has done nothing wrong.”

There is no record of this criminal meeting Jesus before this time, but he knew enough of Jesus to know that He was blameless, and that He did not belong there alongside of them. And it seems that he had heard, or at least had heard about, the things that Jesus was teaching.

Jesus had taught a great deal about the Kingdom…He had said that the Kingdom is near, and described how life in the Kingdom is different than what people experienced in their current state of Roman rule. He taught about what is required of those who would like to be a part of the Kingdom, and the traits of those who would be left out.*

Now at this point all that talk seemed to be empty words – Jesus was dying, and everything that had been said about Him being a King was literally turned into a joke by almost every person who was there.

Yet this guy – this guilty criminal – looks at the same thing that everyone else who was there saw as a defeat, as the end of Jesus and all the promises of a Messiah – and he sees it differently.

“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”

What? What a crazy thing to say! What Kingdom? Did Jesus look like He was about to come into the headship of a new Kingdom? The criminal saying this was right there, peering across his own outstretched arm at Jesus, who was bleeding from having been whipped and having a crown of thorns placed on His head. He knew pretty much exactly how Jesus felt, at least physically, while he was dying at the same time, in the same way.

“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”

This man has a faith that astounds me. He somehow looks beyond the dying body struggling for breath next to him and finds hope in the perfect, guiltless character of Christ. He believes the sign posted above the head of Jesus is true – that this is the King of the Jews, and decides to put all of his chips in, betting his eternal soul on the man who is about to meet His end. He believes that even there, even then, Jesus has the power to save him, beyond death.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

We, of course, know the end of the story. We know now that Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end. We know that Jesus did not belong there, but He willingly sacrificed Himself for all those who were mocking and jeering in the crowd on the day of his crucifixion, and for all of us who have lived since that day. We know that we are on the mind of Jesus as He has come into His Kingdom, and we who believe in Him are called to be a part of bringing His Kingdom to reign in the hearts of all who will also follow Jesus.

But the faith of this dying criminal startles me. How could he look at the same scene – being in the very midst of what was going on, yet see it so differently? It is a faith that inspires me, and I’m thankful that we can read this story. We have been given so much more to go on, we know the bigger picture, and we have all the more reason to entrust our very lives to Him.

 

* https://sswh.wordpress.com/kingdom-scriptures/