Truth and Grace Make the Safest Place- Helping Christians with Same Sex Attraction

This is a helpful article on how churches can become safe places for people with same sex attraction to experience love and hear truth.

In my opinion, the folks at the Public Discourse consistently offer thoughtful and academically challenging resources on moral issues affecting our culture.

Some big ideas in this essay:

  • When Christians profess to believe the Bible, yet compromise on sexual ethics it is confusing for people searching for redemption. The author of this article (a lesbian) writes about the journey she took with a friend, “Both of us were confused, wondering whether we should continue to embrace our lesbian identity with abandon, give it up for our faith, or try to have it both ways by twisting the Scriptures and suppressing the voice of conscience.” Sadly, in the name of compassion some Christians in their lives were unwilling to tell them the truth. This added to their troubles.
  • When we open our mind to sin, we open it up to deception. We lack objectivity when we try to wrestle with our own hearts, and often embrace bad ideas to rationalize what we want.
  • Telling people the truth in love does NOT hurt them, it helps them. Trying to encourage people by confirming them in their sin hurts them. Sin is always bad for you. All sin is bad (MY sin is bad for me). This is especially true of sexual sin.  And this includes the many different kinds of sexual sin, even the more acceptable varieties (like the Sports Illustrated soft-porn swimsuit edition).  This includes anything outside of the bounds of a committed, monogamous marriage of husband and wife. When pastors and churches teach a Biblical ethic on sexuality combined with mercy and grace, that is good medicine.
  • People that experience same sex attraction but want to honor God with their sexuality don’t have many places to go. The gay movement wants them to embrace their desires as their identity. Many in the church are also compromising and bending their message to the whims of the culture. There aren’t many places that will talk about repentance, AND also give you a helping hand in the process.  And not enough churches that do speak the truth are also prepared to walk as fellow sinners saved by grace with their brothers and sisters in this messy journey.
  • One of the best lines in the essay, when talking about sexual sin:   “Don’t single out homosexuality, but don’t leave it out either.”

 “Don’t single out homosexuality, but don’t leave it out either.”

The loudest voices in the propaganda machine would insist that the article I am referring to, as well as my comments above, constitute hate speech.  Which is interesting that an essay by a struggling lesbian giving advise to the church would be considered hate speech.  But none of this is hateful. And anyone who has ever experienced real hate-speech will know the difference.  And one of the big parts of becoming a grown up is learning the difference between people that hate you and people that disagree with you.

Source: Rending the Rainbow Veil: How to Make Your Church a Safe Space for Christians with Same-Sex Attraction | Public Discourse

You Need To Go To Church

You need to go to church. Sometimes people say ridiculous things about Jesus and Christianity. And here is something crazy: Christians can be the worst of all at this.

Here is one of the most ridiculous things I have heard believers say, “You don’t need to be a part of a church to be a Christian.” Some nuance is needed to pick this statement apart because there are some christians that are separated from the body of Christ. But when I have heard this statement the overall meaning is that we can do this on our own… that we don’t need to give or receive fellowship.  That we can live as amputated limbs without the rest of the body.  Well, below is one of my attempts to Biblically deconstruct this idea. Here are some notes and a link to a sermon I recently preached on this.  At the core of this message is the truth is that Christian community is tied to the work of Jesus on the cross and in our lives.  The need for fellowship and worship is much bigger than “being a good Christian.”

Hebrews 10:19-39 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Community starts with understanding what Christ has done for us. This is true because sin has separated us from God and one another. And the most important work, the first work is to repair the breach that our sin has caused between us and our God.

Sin separates us from God, and God from us. And sin also separates us from one another. God’s righteousness has barred us from his presence. And because our consciences are defiled, being in the presence of God is no longer pleasurable. We now run from him rather than to him. The OT temple worship was a depiction of this situation. We are separated from God’s presence, but he has made a way for us to return and be cleansed.

The work of Jesus (especially v. 19-21), as described in this passage, shows us 4 things that are the foundation of Christian community.  We cannot separate the way we relate to God from the way we relate to other people.

1.     We are welcomed. We have bold access to God’s presence because of the sacrifice of Christ. His blood has cleansed us. We are no longer banished. This is not because we have become good enough or worked hard enough. This is purely because of his work on our behalf.

2.     We are clean. Our hearts have been sprinkled by his blood. We are washed and forgiven and our consciences can be at peace. What the Old Testament animal sacrifices could only depict, Jesus has accomplished. We no longer need to be controlled by guilt and shame.

3.     We are secure. A promise is only as good as the one who makes it, and we are safe and secure because he who promised is faithful.

4.     We are in process. Though we are forgiven and accepted completely, there is much work to be done in us, on us, and through us.  And this work is explained (in part) in this passage.  God is at work in us through other believers. We desperately need them to help and encourage us.

Continue reading You Need To Go To Church

Jesus Friend of Sinners

Rabbi friends

I was recently invited to give a devotional at a pastor’s meeting where we discussing outreach and the importance of loving our neighbors.  The general text of my talk is below:

Luke 5:27-32

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. 

29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (ESV Bible Translation)

In this passage, we see that Jesus has rescued Levi… one of the worst kinds of men, he was a tax collector. He was most likely a Jewish man, probably from the tribe of the priests. He should have been receiving tithes to fund worship in the house of God, instead he is a traitor… taking taxes to give to the Romans.  And most tax collectors also committed extortion.

But Levi has come to follow Jesus.  And he will become one of the most of the most influential men in the history of the church. He is the apostle Matthew. We still read his gospel.  This is what Jesus Christ does, he takes the people that we look down on, people that are hopelessly corrupt and despised… and He saves them and gives them a great calling. He makes them sons and servants of God. This should give us hope. God might even use someone like you!

After Levi comes to follow Jesus, he is so overjoyed with his new relationship with Christ that he throws a party. He wants all of his friends to meet this Rabbi that is different than any other rabbi… Let me say this, the only way the people in our churches will ever do anything like this, is if they are so amazed and thrilled with Jesus Christ that he is their treasure.

So, Jesus is eating and drinking with tax collectors, and “Sinners.” And the Pharisees protest, they ask the question in v. 30, “Why are you doing this?”  Jesus is so close, and so friendly, with these awful people, there can only be one reason.  He must be supporting them in their sin.

Jesus answers with his own mission statement in v. 32. He is like a doctor that came to help the sick. He didn’t come to help healthy people, but the lost and broken.

I would like to suggest that the Pharisees don’t really have a problem with WHAT Jesus is doing. The idea of telling these dirty sinners that they need to repent is probably OK with them. If he stood on the street and yelled at them, they would probably stand and cheer. No, Their problem is with HOW he is doing it.  How is Jesus calling them to repentance? By eating and drinking with them. He has become friends with them, and through friendship calling them back to fellowship with God. His actions are a living parable of the message of the gospel. God makes his enemies to become his friends.

This doesn’t fit very nicely into our box does it!  In many places in the church people live at the far ends of the spectrum.

Some embrace the lost and “sinners” by becoming friends with them. They want to love and support them, but they don’t offer them any medicine.  In fact, they think that if you suggest that people are spiritually “sick”, then you must be judgmental.

On the other end there are Christians that want to call people to repentance, but they do it from a safe distance. They want to do it the way we are fighting terrorists, with drones. They do it by tract bombing, or doing “outreach” twice a year. They want to do it from a place of moral superiority. They are concerned that getting too close to lost people might get them dirty or damage their reputation.  Though I have probably been guilty of both extremes, I think this second one is far more common among serious christians.

But Jesus does something different, he is able to receive and love people without endorsing or participating in their vices and sins. And he is able to call them to repentance, without alienating them or withdrawing from their company.

Brothers and sisters, this is our great salvation and our great example. And we will never be able to do this if we think we are the healthy and righteous ones. We will only be able to do this when we see that we are the sinners he came to call. When we see ourselves like Levi, completely beyond hope. But thrilled that we have a place at the table- that we have been loved and received by Grace.

 

Photo used courtesy of the University of Washington. 

Argumentative People are Dangerous People

Boxer

There is a difference between having an argument and being an argumentative person.

There are times when we need to “argue” and even “fight” for the truth or an important idea.  But there is a difference between having an argument and being an argumentative person.  In Jude 3 we read, Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”  Jude’s readers were under attack by people that were distorting the gospel of Jesus.  There was a need to fight for the truth, and that is what motivated him to write. Unfortunately, some folks take passages like this as  permission, or even a mandate to fight.  About anything and everything. And this has never been more apparent than during the age of social media.

There will always be enemies to battle.  But the argumentative person has a polarizing effect. They can turn every conversation into a debate and every person into a potential enemy.   In the margin of my Bible at the end of  the book of Titus, I have a list of these passages that all have to do with the problem of being an quarrelsome person.  They are listed below (ESV) with some observations.

I Tim 1:4, 6-7  “…nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith… Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”

This passage strikes me because it points to the danger of speculations. There are some things in scripture that are really clear and really important.  But other things are less clear.  Many Christian movements and denominations are based on speculation.  People fight about the implications of Bible texts, and about the implications of implications.  And strangely the people that know the least about a subject are the quickest to voice their opinion. It has been said, “more heresy is preached in application than exegesis.”  How true. Controversy is more common and more damaging when we wander away from things that are clearest.

I Tim 2:8 “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.

We cannot come to God rightly if we have ongoing problems with our brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, frequent arguments and debates lead to anger and fractured fellowship. It prevents us from entering into prayer the way He intends.

The argumentative person can turn every conversation into a debate and every person into a potential enemy.

I Tim 6:3-5 “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”

Some people crave controversy. This is NOT a virtue.  And these kinds of people love to argue about words. Of course words are important. But these kind of people see words as opportunities to act like lawyers looking for loopholes.  What is startling about this passage is how it describes the fruit of quarreling, “envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction.”  All of the works of the flesh thrive in the atmosphere of controversy.

2 Tim 2:14-16 “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.”

Here we are actually commanded not to argue. And the reason is all the nasty fruit: The “ruin of the hearers,” and “more and more ungodliness.”  An approach to Christianity that is constantly fighting destroys people, and leads to nothing good.  Passages like this should make us pause before entering the fray and ask if it is really worth it.  Being a brawler is not an innocent pastime.

2 Tim 2:24-25 “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”

Here Paul is clear that those in ministry shouldn’t be quarrelsome.  And when they do need to step into an argument they need to do with patience and gentleness.  The intent should always be constructive, one of love and hope for the other person. The desire to destroy others is in conflict is desperately evil.

Titus 3:2, 9-10 “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people…But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.”

Sadly arguments often lead to insults and rudeness.  We move from arguing for the truth, to verbally attacking people.  In the process we lose track of courtesy.  We are to avoid these kinds of controversies. Some things are not worth arguing over because there is little to be gained. They are “unprofitable and worthless.” This is one of the few times in the Bible we are told to avoid people.   “I’m sorry I can’t be around you, you are a trouble maker.”

Tim Keller wrote a helpful series on this called, “Gospel Polemics.”  You can find it here.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of Hartlepool

Quote By Calvin on Unity Among Churches


No not that Calvin, the other one….

Calvin writes, “The pure ministry of the word and pure mode of celebrating the sacraments are, as we say, sufficient pledge and guarantee that we may safely embrace as church any society in which both these marks exist. The principle extends to the point that we must not reject it so long as it retains them, even if it otherwise swarms with many faults. What is more, some fault may creep into the administration of either doctrine or sacraments, but this ought not to estrange us from communion with the church. For not all articles of true doctrine are of the same sort (emphasis mine). Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned by all men as the principles of religion. Such are: God is one; Christ is God and the Son of God; our salvation rests in God’s mercy; and the like. Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do not break the unity of faith” (Institutes, 4:1:12; 2:1025).