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

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

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/

10 Truths

Matt Moore writes an encouraging post on his blog, sharing 10 truths that those struggling with same-sex attraction would do well to keep in mind:

http://www.moorematt.org/10-empowering-truths-for-the-same-sex-attracted-christian/

These truths actually apply to anyone struggling with chronic temptations, so feel free to pass his post along!

Words Have Meaning

green bookIt’s a Book – You Can Read It

Last week, in the wake of the terrible shooting in Orlando, there was a good amount of political grandstanding. I don’t typically comment on matters of homosexuality and politics, as I find that there is a lot of wasted time, energy, money and God-given talents wasted in the political “culture war” arena. Divisions have been made along party lines, spurred on by the support of lobbyists who are the real winners, while those who send them money feel the self-assurance that they’ve helped “their team.” Instead of investing in this, I try to find ways to build bridges across the things that divide us, and often it’s not hard to find ways in which we can all be on the same team.

To that end, I bring you this caveat: If someone makes an outlandish claim based on Scripture that just doesn’t sound right, you might want to take some time to actually read that particular part of Scripture for yourself to double-check, rather than print something untrue in the New York Times, or some other publication of your choice.

Sigh.

On June 15th, the New York Times posted a piece by Jeremy W. Peters and Lizette Alvarez entitled “After Orlando, a Political Divide on Gay Rights Still Stands.” Included in this article is the following sentence:

“A Republican congressman read his colleagues a Bible verse from Romans that calls for the execution of gays.”

Whoa – wait – what? There is no such verse in Romans.

As mentioned above, I understand that there are people on the liberal and the conservative side of the spectrum who love to stir things up and make outlandish statements in order to get a reaction, and hopefully gain funds. But this is the New York Times, a newspaper, reporting the news. And the book of Romans in the Bible is available for free online and at your local library – it is not difficult to get a copy and read what it actually says. And in no way is there a verse in Romans that says such a thing.

Words have meaning, and books contain words that you can read, and gather meaning from those words. Several Christians were taken aback by the false claim in the Peters and Alvarez piece, and did a good job of correcting this error and more in the following articles:

http://www.getreligion.org/getreligion/2016/6/16/classic-mz-when-it-comes-to-christianity-101-the-new-york-times-flunks-out-again

http://thefederalist.com/2016/06/17/new-york-times-claims-romans-calls-for-execution-of-gays/

This is not the first time that the NYT has gotten some basic facts about Christianity wrong, as Mollie Hemingway pointed out in the Federalist article, (the second link above). In the past the NYT has reported that, “…Jesus is buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, that Easter marks Jesus’ ‘resurrection into heaven,’ that St. Patrick is known for banishing slaves from Ireland, or that William Butler Yeats is the author of the Book of Hebrews.”

The subtitle of Hemingway’s article is, “Religious illiteracy among journalists is reaching crisis levels.” I’m not sure if it’s at a crisis level, but it is certainly at an embarrassing one. There are plenty of ways to mis-report the news – let’s try to get back to accuracy, a do a bit more reading before we do our reporting.

 

Signs of Hope in the Midst of Grief

P1180179_2This past weekend we have witnessed horrible events that still hang heavy on my heart and mind.

On Friday evening, after singing at her concert, Christina Grimmie was shot and killed while signing autographs for her fans. Her brother tackled the shooter, who then turned the gun on himself, taking his own life.

Then, the news early Sunday morning shared the loss of 20 people at a gay bar in Orlando, with tens more injured. By that afternoon, the death toll had risen to 50, and I’ve heard since that 53 lives were lost.

Stunning, again, such loss – these were people with promise, going about their lives peacefully. They had no reason to think that this would be their last time heading out the door, seeing their families and friends, or hearing their last song.

As soon as I learned of these incidents, I prayed for their friends and families. Yet the sorrow has lingered longer than the headlines. I have a friend who lives near Orlando who might have been in that club, but thankfully was not. Just yesterday I learned that my aunt went to church with Christiana Grimmie in NJ, and shared that their pastor spoke of her loss on Sunday morning.

One thing that I have noticed that brings me some hope in the midst of this is the reaction from the Christians around me. Online, the first news I had of the story was from the post-gay community, who are united in grief and in prayer. At Sunday School the first prayer request that morning was for those involved in the shooting in Orlando. Ugly words have been rare, and there has been much less hesitation to reach out in love.

I pray that this is a sign of maturity – long past due – in the church as a whole. I encourage anyone who knows someone in the LGBT community to voice your sadness, and ask those around them how they are feeling / what they are thinking about what happened.

After the shooting that took place at a prayer service Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC on June 17th, 2015, (where a shooter sat with the church members for an hour before standing up to kill nine people) I remember the next time that I went to church, for the first time, I wondered what would I do if someone came into the sanctuary with a weapon. Would I be hit instantly, or would I be able to duck under cover? What about my husband, what would I do if he was injured? Would I be able to help anyone?

No one should have to think about these kinds of questions going to church, or to school, or a movie theater, a mall, or a gay bar.

There have been a variety of reasons behind these mass shootings in the US – mental illness, racism, extremist Islamic terrorism, etc. In every case, bringing a gun into a peaceful assembly of people is an act of cowardice. It will not advance any cause, or resolve any problem.

I have seen a (very) few people decrying prayer as a response to these incidents. At first I was taken back by this, after all – how can prayer hurt? There is in our culture the belief that prayer is mere sentiment; a well-wishing, fleeting thought aimed vaguely at the sky. And for some, sadly, that is all it is – a notion of the mind, dissipating into thin air. But for those who know the Lord personally, prayer is communication with the Creator of the Universe, a direct connection with a supernatural, holy, and awesome being who bends low to listen to us. There is an underestimation of the power of prayer, and the impact this conversation can have on the individual praying.

But if that disapproval of prayer is actually a disappointment, a frustration with those who pray and turn away unchanged, or not motivated to put their prayers into helpful action, then I can understand, and even agree.

One way that I’ve found useful in turning my prayers for an end to these mass shootings & for peace into practical action is supporting the work of Americans for Responsible Solutions (http://americansforresponsiblesolutions.org/).

You may remember that on January 8th of 2011, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head while at a public gathering with constituents. Six people were killed and nineteen injured in that incident (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabrielle_Giffords). Since that time, Gabrielle and her husband Mark Kelly have started Americans for Responsible Solutions to address the complicated matters surrounding gun violence in this country. Both Mark and Gabrielle are gun owners, and do not advocate overturning the Second Amendment of the Constitution. The legislative actions they do support address a variety of issues surrounding gun violence in a variety of ways, and I believe that they are common sense ways we can agree on that will help. Please consider looking into their proposals and supporting this work.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

Letter from Jackie Hill Perry

My thanks to Jackie Hill Perry for her honest and open letter…

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/love-letter-to-a-lesbian

“The struggle with homosexuality is a battle of faith. Is God my joy? Is he good enough? Or am I still looking to broken cisterns to quench a thirst only he can satisfy? That is the battle. It is for me, and it is for you.” ~ Jackie Hill Perry