The Homeless and Loveless

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27

James 1:27 is a verse of scripture that I have spent hours contemplating.  It seems like such a straightforward verse. Take care of the orphans and widows.  It is an exhortation that we, as Christians, should take seriously at face value.  That being true, we often fail to give this exhortation weight.  For many of us, either because of proximity or life stage, we may not naturally interact with people that fall within our understanding of these two categories.  I mean, unless you make an intentional effort to go on a mission trip, or pursue becoming a foster or adoptive parent, many of us will find engaging with “orphans” a rare occurrence.   Widows are a different story, however in our culture we mostly expect them to be cared for by immediate family. Also, we don't have a lot of patience or grace for the grieving.  We expect grief to resolve within weeks, and often move on with our schedules and lives long before the shock wears off for those who have lost a spouse.  All this to say, even at face value, we are not great at heeding this command.   What is more convicting, and what has captivated me in this verse, is the richer meaning and deeper implications that come forward when this verse is read in the Message paraphrase:

26-27 Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. James 1:26-27 (MSG)

In this paraphrase, Eugene Peterson exchanges “orphan and widow” with two words that force us to look beyond the stereotypes. The “homeless and loveless” are not people in some third world country, they very well may be in the seat next to us at church.  This I relate to personally.

There was a long season in my life when, although I wasn’t an “actual” orphan, I certainly felt homeless and loveless.  My parents divorced when I was around 9 years old, and the consequences of that fracture still pop up from time to time three decades later.  I don’t share this to in any way criticize my parents. I have great relationships with both of them and my step parents, however it is still true to say that there was a season in my life when the fallout from the brokenness in my family certainly left me feeling “homeless and loveless”.

For a number of years, this was a feeling that existed over me like a heavy coat. There was hardly a day that went by when the ache of loneliness, or the feeling of worthlessness didn’t color my relationships, decisions, or outlook.  The one place that this feeling was somewhat alleviated was my church.  I felt more at home there than I did anywhere else. This wasn’t to say that I felt “secure” there, just that it was the place where I felt the least alone and worthless.  For all intents and purposes, it was my “safest” place.  Maybe that is what set me up for the most painful feeling of homeless and loveless I would ever experience, because my guard was down and I just didn’t see it coming.  

I was maybe a Junior or Senior in High School, and I had gone to the Christmas eve service at my Church.  At the time I was living with my Grandma and Grandpa. Although my twin brother and I both attended the same church, I am not sure where he was on this evening.  We were not sitting together. None of the rest of my family attended church. Not since my parents divorce, so I was family-less at this particular service. Which for me was fine, because I was sitting with friends from the youth group.  The music was stirring and heartfelt, the sanctuary was lit by candlelight, it truly was a beautiful service.  I felt glad to be there celebrating the birth of Jesus with my church family. Everything was wonderful, safe, and joyous.  And then, all of the sudden, it wasn’t.  

Nobody did anything wrong. Nobody was hateful or cruel.  All that happened was that near the end of the service, the pastor simply instructed us to move across the sanctuary and gather with our families for a time of family devotion and prayer.  The youth group often sat together in a particular section, and it was time for them to join their parents.  When he instructed us to do this, all my friends disappeared and I suddenly felt exposed tangibly for what I felt I truly was, homeless and loveless. Nobody meant for me to feel rejected or exposed, but as I watched people join their families I physically felt the sting.  

For a moment I thought if I didn’t move, maybe nobody would notice or see how unloved and worthless I was. That thought quickly passed as I realized hot tears were streaming down my face. I needed to get out of there before I started wailing… which I knew was coming. I could feel the audible groan trying to fight its way out of my chest. If I was going to maintain any dignity at all, I was going to have to get out of there before I lost control.  I got up and did my best not to sprint to the sanctuary door.  I knew that when I got out of that door, it was another 20 or so yards across the foyer to the door to the parking lot.  I knew that no one would be in the foyer, so I could run once I got there and I would not draw attention, that way when I got outside, I could scream, vomit, cry, wail, everything that I felt was going to come out of me without the shame of people seeing me, and knowing how worthless I was.   Once I made it to the foyer, I began to lose control.  I broke into a full sprint as heaving sobs began spilling from the depths of my soul.  I know this may sound overly dramatic, but truly, every bit of pain that I had been denying, or holding at bay, began rushing out of me in the most embarrassing, visceral, and uncontrollable way. My one clear thought was “Just get to the parking lot...you can fall apart in your car.”    

As I reached the door to the parking lot, thinking I was almost free, I felt something completely unexpected.  It was not a spiritual epiphany. It was not the overwhelming experience of God the Father. Although the scriptures say that He is the Father to the fatherless, and that He will never leave us or forsake us, in that moment, His presence was not what I felt.  Although, as Christians, we often sing well meaning worship songs that communicate that Jesus is all we need, it isn’t true.  God himself knew that we as humans would need each other. We need family and community.  We need people with skin. We need flesh and blood.  So, when I was almost out the door of that foyer, the strange feeling that I had was the petite hand of a woman named Kathy Stevenson grabbing my collar and stopping me dead in my tracks.  

Gene and Kathy Stevenson.

As I sit here, thinking about this couple and the many ways they tangibly loved so very many in our church, my heart feels as though it is going to burst and my eyes are filled with tears.  I think if I were to recount all the ways that they demonstrated love, hospitality, compassion, inclusion, or simply by being who they were demonstrated the character of God, I could fill a book on my experiences alone.  If I were to contact others from just the short years of my own youth group experience, I am sure we could collectively fill volumes.  They had two kids of their own, Shawn and Julie. Both who are equally amazing people. But Gene and Kathy seemed to have a never ending internal resource of kind care.  Their modest home in Cowiche, WA was the center of so many youth group hang outs. It was remarkable how many teenagers and young adults could fit into their tiny kitchen, consuming endless amounts of “dip”, or the late nights that dozens were crammed into their home, noisily playing games or watching movies into the wee hours of the morning. Somewhere in the middle of these evenings Gene would dismiss himself to go into “the horizontal resting position”.  There was never a complaint of the noise, or mess, or chaos of all those kids. “Welcome” would be the word that I would use to describe not just their home, but their hearts and the general disposition of their souls.  

With all that said, it shouldn’t have been surprising to me that the hand that stopped me just short of despair and the frigid winter night, was Kathy’s.   As I turned to face her, first I was shocked that she caught me. She must have been running pretty fast to catch me. I didn’t have time to process that though, because when I looked at her, I was shocked to see the tears in her eyes.

“Where are you going?!” she asked as tears streaked her cheeks. “I don’t have a family.” I managed to squeak out still trying to hold myself together.  She looked directly into my eyes with such pain, understanding, compassion, and love. She simply replied, “Yes, you do.”  She took me by the hand and led me back into the sanctuary, where Gene was with at least 10 other “kids” that were not their natural born kids, but whom Ma and Pa Stevenson had welcomed in.  “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight.”  The Stevenson’s were not the only family to love me well through seasons of loneliness, but they certainly were some of the first to teach me what hospitality truly was, and how to make room in our family for those whom God might want to love through us.  Anyone who has ever felt loved and invited in by Suz and I should ask the Lord to bless Gene and Kathy. They set a good example for me.

If there is one thing I would like for us as believers to consider this season, it is this; How can I tangibly love and invite in the loveless and the homeless?  We are surrounded by people who may not be “actual” orphans… but they certainly feel like they are.  On my journey of surrendering my life, including my broken sexuality, one of the greatest challenges was the fear of feeling, or being, alone. When you stop to think about how much people leaving homosexuality stand to lose in order to follow Jesus, it is quite profound.  They may lose their spouse, their identity, their community, everything they have built their lives around.  It would be fair to say that they may feel homeless and loveless. It is a heavy weight to bear, and I would say that we can’t, and are not called to bear it alone.  The Lord has asked His people to be a people that see the orphan (homeless) and the widow (loveless) and to care well for them.  

That Christmas Eve service could have ended as one of the most painful nights of my life. Instead, it ended with a powerful act of love that changed my life and influenced the way I and my wife live, love, and minister. I am so glad that Kathy was sensitive, saw my pain and loneliness, and that she chased me down. May I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes this season to those around you who may need you to chase them down as well.

You Go And Do Likewise

Anyone familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan may recognize the title words to this post…  They are Christ’s conclusion to a convicting and instructive exchange between Christ and a religious leader of His day. Church...we need this instruction today.  We need to sit with the words of Christ as we reflect on the recent tragedy in Orlando. We need to obey the words of Jesus in response.  

One week ago, in the early morning of June 12, a gunman murdered 49, and wounded an additional 53 people at Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Pulse is a gay nightclub. The attacker specifically targeted the gay community.  This is the worst mass shooting in US history.  This is an unimaginable tragedy.

As my wife and I have tried to absorb the magnitude of this event, we have watched the response online as different segments of our society have tried to process the horror of what has happened.  As a minister, as one who loves people in the gay community, as one who has wrestled with same-sex attraction, and as someone who speaks to church about how to engage with this community with truth and love, I have found myself profoundly struggling this last week.

I have read more responses by Christians to this event than I care to count. It seems like many in the church are wanting to show the gay community that we care, and that we don’t hate them, and that we are hurting with them.  I have seen Christians update their Facebook pages with pictures that reflect sympathy, prayer, or support for Orlando. In the end, however, these responses seem self serving or shallow.  They seem weak.  They seem somewhat intangible. And that has really disturbed me. Right now the families and loved ones of those murdered, and the wounded victims fighting for their lives, or their recovery, are dealing with profound pain, grief, despair, and loss.  If those of us who love Jesus simply stop with our simple attempts at showing “support”, than how are we any different from the priest and the levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan?  They saw the man ravaged, wounded and bloodied on the side of the road, and just passed by.  Make no mistake, our Facebook posts are a digital equivalent of passing by… they are not actual demonstrations of support.  And posting #prayfororlando is not actually doing anything of significance. These things cost us nothing… They have no relational weight, and they provide nothing for those directly impacted by this event. Should the Christian community devote sincere and fervent  prayer to this tragedy...YES, of course we should! Should we tell this community that we are grieving with them, and that we stand against violence done to them...YES!! We should absolutely be doing that!!  Should we rebuke those within our own camp when they say reprehensible things in response to this… YES...  But Church, we also have to figure out HOW to TANGIBLY stand with, and support the victims of this tragedy. 

As I was wrestling with this, and trying to process my feelings and frustrations, my wife shared with me how the airline Jet Blue has responded to this tragedy…  Here are a few words from their website:


Like many of you, we continue to watch reports of the Orlando nightclub shooting with great sadness. Our thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones.

This weekend’s events are felt by all of our 19,000 crewmembers, many of whom live in, work from and travel through Orlando – one of our focus cities – at Orlando International Airport, our Orlando Support Center and JetBlue University.

We want to do our part to help the victims of this tragedy, as well as support the Orlando community through this difficult time.

  • JetBlue is providing free seats on its available flights to/from Orlando for immediate family and domestic partners of victims who were killed or injured. Those family members and domestic partners requiring travel assistance can contact 1-800-JETBLUE for details.

  • A fee waiver is in place for customers traveling to/from Orlando who need to make last-minute changes to their travel plans.

  • For JetBlue crewmembers impacted by this event, we have activated resources to assist and are offering a donation program. Crewmembers can visit our internal website, hellojetblue, or talk to their crewleader for more details.

  • JetBlue will make a charitable contribution to support the victims and their families.

As I read their website, I could almost hear the words of Jesus resonating in my ears “You go and do likewise”.  Jet Blue, and many other secular groups and organizations are demonstrating the very thing that the samaritan did in Christ’s parable.  They are demonstrating tangible love for the wounded and traumatized “neighbor”, and they are doing so better than many in the Church.  

So here is my conviction and my challenge to my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.  First off, victims who survived are going to have medical bills.  Families of those who perished are going to have the unimaginable task of funeral expenses on top of grief and loss.  We can help, tangibly, with these needs.  If you are a pastor or church leader, please consider taking an offering and giving to the victims.  If you are an individual with no influence in your church, than give individually. It is really that simple.  The National Center for the Victims of Crime have program called the National Compassion Fund, and are working with Equality Florida to collect and distribute funds to the victims and their families. You can donate here.  This fund is set up to go directly to help the victims.  Although it is in partnership with a Equality Florida, a gay rights group, the National Compassion Fund ensures a victim centered approach.  If you have concerns, check out their FAQ’s.


Some in the church may have a difficult time giving through this fund because it is working with a gay rights group to administer the funds.  Here is my thought on that… you can take it or leave it.  This group is connected with the community that has been affected.  There is not additional emotional weight for the victims receiving aid from a organization within their own community, however, aid that comes from a church or denomination that is not “affirming” of the gay community may be difficult for victims to receive. Some may object to giving through this organization because they want the Church visibly represented in the aid being given during this tragedy.  

Matthew 6:2-4

2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

We do not need the victims of this crime to know who is giving to them… We need to cultivate in our own hearts compassion and empathy for this community.  The act of giving to this fund will help the victims of this crime, but it will also challenge our own hearts to sacrificially move towards this community.  Church, we need that!!  We need to do more than just say we are hurting, or that we care… we need to demonstrate it.  And even if no one in the gay community ever knows that we, or our church, gave to this fund, that doesn't matter… because this tragedy is not about us. We don’t need recognition.  We don’t need to have the gay community know that “we care”... we just need to tangibly care (at least more than a post on our wall.)


Another thing we as the church MUST begin to do in response to this tragedy is to move towards relationship with people in this community.   I was frustrated to see a number of articles posted on how “the church” can be more welcoming to the gay community. These articles ran the spectrum with different levels of blame and shame,  to calls to the church to be “fully embracing and accepting”.  But the common thread that ran through most was the call for “Sunday Morning” church to be a safer place for those dealing with either same sex attraction struggles, or fully identified in that community.  Admittedly,  it is true that “the Church” needs to work to be a place where anyone from any sin background can come and be met with love… but there is a basic problem with this thinking. “The Church” does not need to be a more welcoming and safe place… WE need to be SAFE PEOPLE. Our living rooms and our dinner tables have to be places where we invite people from the LGBTQ community to be welcomed and valued.  We need to demonstrate that we love these people… Not just post our condolences after the worst mass shooting in US history.  

Allow me this challenge as we sit with this tragedy.  Unless you live in or near Orlando, chances are that you are not going to have a chance to personally touch, hug, or speak with someone who was directly affected by this horrific crime.  However, we have people in our own communities, our own families, and our own sphere of influences in the gay community.  This event HAS affected them. Can we purpose to engage, tangibly and lovingly, with those in our own lives who are a part of this community.  Not just because of this tragedy, but because they are men and women created in the image of God. Because they are worthy of respect and value, and because Christ has called us to love!! And then, around our dinner tables, or over a cup of coffee, can we simply listen to how this event has affected them? Can we learn to relate, to value, to respect, and to love them? Can we become more tangible?


When the samaritan saw the wounds, the pain, and the needs of the half dead man on the side of the road, he stopped, and at his own expense, and breaking the mold of the cultural prejudices, he demonstrated compassion.  Church, can we listen to the words of Jesus and apply them today?  Can we look at the ways the world is outshining the church in response to this tragedy? Can we see what they are doing to address the pain and the loss? And can we obey the words of Jesus: You go and do likewise.

 

On Purpose...

When I was in my early twenties, still living in my hometown, I worked the opening shift at the local Athletic Club. Maybe this is where I developed my ability to get up and get going at ungodly hours of the morning (a skill I appreciate now a little later in life), since  my shift at this club started at 4:15 am Monday through Friday.  

I believe that there is a unique perspective on life that can only come by being consistently awake before the rest of humanity.  It forces silence.  When I was getting up and getting ready to go to work, I had to do so quietly because my roommates were still asleep.  When I drove to work, I did not turn on my stereo…that just seemed rude at 4am. When I would arrive at work, the building was empty and quiet. I was not going to see another soul for at least an hour.  And even when club members began to arrive, people are just not chatty at 5 am.  Consequently, for a good year of my life, I would spend the first almost 2 hours of my day, five days a week, in relative silence.  The front desk I worked at faced a wall of floor to ceiling windows that opened to the eastern horizon of our small town, and every morning I would watch the sun come up.  It was a nice.

During those first two hours or so of my workday, I had a lot of time to sit and read. . I took that opportunity to read my Bible, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and other books to enrich my faith. This was, quite literally, my “quiet time”.  Quiet prayer naturally became part of these mornings.  Actually, in that season of life, “quiet prayers” would not really be a very accurate way to describe my communication with God. If I am a bit more honest, “angry, frustrated questions hurtled at God from my hurting, doubting, and hostile heart” would be a better label.  Forced silence has a way of bringing to the surface things your heart wants to ignore.  At the front desk of that athletic club my soul uttered things in brutal honesty to God that never would have been confessed in the sanctity of my church sanctuary.  

To explain, I had always struggled with insecurity, and one area of particular insecurity was my masculinity.  My given name is Andrew, which means “strong and manly”. For years I viewed my name as either profoundly ironic, or a cruel cosmic joke.  It is no surprise, that in the silence of the morning shift of this athletic club, as a parade of near perfect physical specimens of “masculinity” walked in the door every day (because what other kind of guy shows up every morning at 5am to work out), the disparity between the masculinity I saw and perceived in them, and the utter lack I saw and perceived in myself assaulted and condemned my heart and drove me to make some deep and painful confessions and accusations to the ears of God.  To be fair, sometimes there were honest prayers that God would change me, or help me so that I wouldn’t be so insecure. But more often my heart questioned God’s plan in making me a man, affirmed by a litany of self-deprecating comments about my temperament or gifting,.and there were the confessions of lusting after what I saw.  It wasn’t the most pretty or “sanctified” of dialogs with the Lord, but they were, in retrospect, very sanctifying for me over the long haul.

One of these mornings, in angst over why the Lord was seemingly not doing anything about my pain, the Lord tenderly spoke to me.  It went something like this…

“Drew, did you notice that the sun is up?”  This took me off guard because I was feeling particularly angry, hurt, and insecure that morning. This question seemed way off topic!  “Yes… I did…So what!?”(I was so teachable back then)  The Lord replied.  “When you got to work it was pitch black outside.”  I started to get annoyed. “Yup…and again, so what? That is not anything new, it’s the same every day. What’s your point?”  The Lord patiently and gently replied, “When did it change from dark to light?”

As I sat and thought about His question, I began to realize the beautiful, and yet unwanted point of His answer.  There was no one distinct point where it went from dark to light.  It was incremental.  The changes were so subtle that honestly, I couldn’t make a determination.  I sat with this question, in silence, for the next couple of weeks.  Every morning as the sun came up I would do my best to watch and study it.  I thought if I could catch the moment that the sun peaked over the hills, then that would be it.  But for several days, just as that moment was about to arrive, some club member would walk in and I would turn to greet them, and turn back and the sun was up.  Or another distraction would hit and I would be facing the other way, and soon notice the sunlight hitting the back wall. It became comical how I would miss the moment every morning.  

One morning, I finally caught the sun coming over the horizon. It was one of the most anticipated sunrises of my life, and it was glorious, painting the sky in glowing pink, orange and deep blue. Yet in the beauty of the moment, I realized that even though the sun had broken through the horizon, light had been slowly overcoming the darkness long before the breakthrough occurred.  That was the Lord’s answer to me.  There would be a day when the sun broke the horizon, and it would be beautiful and glorious, but long before that moment the Lord would be actively displacing the dark with the light.  

When it came to insecurity in my masculinity, this is exactly how the Lord has worked healing in me.  I was in a dark place for a while.  My identity was distorted and I did not view myself as valuable or qualified as a man. Healing was a slow and incremental process as God illuminated the goodness and the intentionality of Him creating me as a man.  He did this in a multitude of ways, both obvious and subtle, and I grew more and more secure over the years as He poured light on me and on His purpose for me as a man.  I have had some glorious moments where that has shown more confidently and profoundly than I could have ever hoped, but there is not one discernable moment where it shifted from “dark” to “light”.

How did He accomplish this?  

I believed wrong things about manhood and masculinity.  Quite honestly, I think we all do.  But the thing is, we don’t know what we don’t know. Call it deception, or call it blind spots.  However you want to label it, we all have areas of life, falsehoods we believe and standards we hold ourselves to that either have nothing to do with reality, or are broken distortions of reality.  These can quickly become strongholds of condemnation that rob us of joy and peace and cripple our lives.  Sadly we have no idea that these are operating in our lives until the Lord sheds light on them.  This is what the Lord did for me, starting with those mornings at the front desk.  Facing every day the image of what I felt I lacked and believed I could never attain exposed in my heart what I coveted in others, and what I despised in myself.  It was painful and embarrassing, but necessary.  It made me admit and articulate what I thought masculinity was, and what it wasn’t. It made me confess and declare what I believed to be true about other men, and what I believed to be true about me. It revealed merciless and marginalizing standards.  When all of that ugly was exposed, the Lord then spent several years confronting, deconstructing, and rebuilding what I believed to be masculinity.  He helped me to see it in other men, and affirm it in them, and He helped me see it in me.  I can’t tell you what day it happened, when the shift from cripplingly insecure to secure and believing that I belong in the world of men happened, but it did and I am so grateful to the Lord to answering my prayers, and sustaining me all the while.

Why share this?

As I have travelled this last year, one of the more common concerns brought up by audiences at speaking engagements is the question of how to respond to gender identity issues.  This is, rightly, a growing concern among believers, and a topic that deserves serious and thoughtful attention.  But one concern that I have, which is thematic for me, is the continued focus on what to do about “them out there”, and metaphorically forgetting to pull the log out of our own eyes. More directly stated, in the church we often get focused on what we see as the problem with the world and we forget to question whether we are engaging the issue from a healthy, helpful, or spiritually accurate place.  I believe that as the church seeks to effectively minister to these concerns, we need to honestly evaluate whether we are approaching gender identity issues and masculinity and femininity from a Biblically informed view, or a culturally informed view.  I have known and ministered to too many men and women, some coming from a same-sex attraction background, and some who haven’t, who have felt like failures in their gender because they felt they didn’t measure up to a standard, didn’t display the right character traits, interests, body type, or temperament.  None of these are standards of which are based in Biblical revelation of masculinity or femininity, but are strictly cultural in nature.

I have no doubt that God has created very distinct differences in male and female, and that we can rely on His Word to discern many of those distinctions. I also believe that if we believe that God intentionally creates us in His image, as male and female, than we can also rightly believe that God purposely designs us, as the Word of God affirms, individually in the womb, purposefully, fearfully, and wonderfully.  So if he made me a man, and made me unique, He has a unique  plan for me as a man.

I now know confidently that God intended me to be male, and the He also intended me to be artistic, intuitive, sensitive, and dramatic.  These are all traits that, viewing masculinity strictly through the distorted values of my culture, I hated and despised in myself.  But now years later, as God has poured His light on me,  and in my vocation as a public speaker, pastoral counselor, and father to three daughters, I see the goodness of His intentional design, and see how these traits can be places that my masculinity flows out of, not hindrances or barriers to my masculinity.  I know he made me on purpose, for purpose.

Obviously my reflections here are not complete, by any stretch, to address these issues. There are many books and resources that have been helpful as I have wrestled through these issues. One book that I would highly recommend to help navigate this discussion is “Fully Alive” by Dr. Larry Crabb.  However, may I ask in light of this discussion, that  we simply go to the Lord, and to the Scriptures, submitting  our ideas of what masculinity and femininity are,and allow Him to challenge and remove what is unworthy? I think that would be powerfully redemptive for so many of us.

Blessings.

Stage Presence

If you are like me, and were part of evangelical church culture in the 90’s, the following scenario may be familiar to you.  The worship set is done…and the church service is moving towards the offering.  As the pastor bows his head to pray over the offering, someone in the church moves to the platform, grabs the microphone, and quietly waits for the accompaniment track to start…this my friends, was the setup for what my church called the “special music number”. 

It cannot be stressed enough that although each week the setup and place in the service were the same, not all “special music numbers” were created equally.  There were, of course, times that when you raised your head from the prayer, you saw on the platform ready to perform either an individual, duo, or group that you just knew were going to do a wonderful job.  Their voices blended, their spirits were humble, the song selection was appropriate and well planned for the flow of the service, and the taped accompaniment was only producing a slight hissing sound (as the cassette tape had not been sufficiently worn out by over-practice).  All in all, in these moments, the “special music number” blessed the congregation and was a wonderful addition to the Sunday morning service.

But then…there were the other morning services…with the other kind of special music numbers…that were not so “edifying” as the others.  These were the days when you opened your eyes and before you on the stage was an individual or couple, and your first thought was, “Huh…I didn’t know they could sing.”  And then the music started…probably some Sandi Patti, Steve Green, or Amy Grant (pre-Heart in Motion Amy Grant, thank you very much) song began to play and you may have thought, “Well, that’s ambitious.” And then the “singing” began.  In the next few moments of the “special music number” your mind was flooded with a myriad of thoughts…some decidedly less “Christian” than others.  “Who let this woman have the microphone?!” and “Oh, I hope there are no visitors at church this morning!” were some of the more prominent thoughts running through my head in these moments.  The most important task at hand in these moments was always what I called “face management”.  This is the act of making sure that whatever angst, torture, repulsion, or visceral discomfort you were going through on the inside, your face remained placid and agreeable on the outside. These were the unspoken rules of church during the “special music number”.  I always marveled at the pastoral staff’s ability to endure these moments, particularly because both of the senior pastors that I grew up under were a part of extremely musically talented families. To maintain a face that expresses, “Ah!! What beautiful music!” when you know darn good and well that the atrocity at hand has no resemblance to music, always seemed to reveal a level of virtue or sanctification that I had not yet attained.

It is a good thing that these blessed “tests of endurance and character” only lasted the length of a song, and in three to five minutes, all would be well and we could collectively move on.  I will say that, no matter how bad the singing was, one thing the Lord was constantly reminding me of was that what we see on the exterior does not always represent an accurate image of the heart of the singer.  They may have sounded like a screaming goat getting slaughtered, but could have internally been the most precious, humble, and pleasing offering to the Lord. Conversely, the musical offering could have been delivered with skill, perfect pitch, perfect rhythm, and perfect harmony, but the performer(s) may have been full of pride, arrogance, and a complete lack of worship, and been absolutely offensive to the Lord.  Only the Lord knows the heart.

Why do I share this silly analogy?  Over the last couple of months, a consistent question that I get asked during the Q&A portion of my speaking engagements is, “What are your thoughts on Kim Davis?”  Now, there is a slight chance you may not know who Kim Davis is… So in brief, Kim Davis is a county clerk in Kentucky who has refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and then all marriage licenses.  After the Supreme Court decision in June, she was ordered by the Governor of Kentucky to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.  This was a problem for her.  Kim stated, "I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God's definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience."

Kim made the decision to defy the order, was brought to court, and subsequently ordered to comply.  She did not, citing that she was acting under the authority of God, and was then found in contempt of court for her continued actions.  She was sent to jail for five days, was released with the order to issue the licenses, and has continued to hold her position to date.  She has been demonized, caricatured, threatened, ridiculed, and jailed, all the while standing firm that for her to comply with the law would violate her conscience.

To be perfectly honest… I am deeply conflicted in my feelings and opinions about Kim Davis.  On one hand, the ordeal has brought to attention the reality that those who have a conscientious objection to gay marriage are going to face greater marginalization and pressure.  This is a reality, and watching it unfold is deeply concerning to me as one who holds to a traditional and scriptural view of sexuality and marriage. On the other hand, watching the unfolding responses by many who hold to a traditional view of marriage and sexuality, I feel like I am back at a Sunday morning service sitting through a bad “special music number”.  The whole thing feels cringe-worthy.  There are sour notes everywhere…and I really hope no visitors are watching and listening.  Unlike the special music number, this hasn’t ended in three to five minutes, and it seems impossible to move on.

I believe on of the most significant reasons this situation feels so incredibly cringe-worthy to me, is because it is as though it has become more important for some in the Christian community to “defend the truth” about marriage (with any amount of indignation justified), than it is to lovingly represent the character of the One who made marriage.

I was reading through the Book of Matthew recently, and the following passage caught me:

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?”  Matthew 23:16-17

Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred?  In Calvin’s commentary on the Book of Matthew, he wrote this in response to this passage:

“…the Jews had more reverence for the gold of the temple, and for the sacred offerings, than for the temple and the altar. But the sacredness of the offerings depended on the temple and the altar, and was only something inferior and accessory.”

I am afraid that many of us are becoming much like the Pharisees, placing more honor on the gold (defending marriage, religious freedom, the right to refuse), than on accurately representing the heart of the One who made marriage.  It is my concern that in our efforts to “fight for righteousness” we are obscuring the whole of God’s character.  I think this is a result of some in the Christian community creating a false dichotomy for believers, stating that there is no way to maintain the integrity of your conviction and conscience, while also honoring the law…whether that be in issuing licenses, or providing a service for a gay wedding. 

Like so many things in the Christian life, the truth seems to lie in the tension.  Truth and love together.  That may another cringe-worthy aspect to the Kim Davis scenario.  There does not seem to be a whole lot of love or respect being displayed.  In fact, it feels like the greatest concern is not for the advancement of the Kingdom of God, but rather the preservation of rights.  This makes me cringe because it, in my opinion, is severely out of balance.

Please do not misunderstand me.  I am concerned about religious liberty. I am concerned about the direction our nation/world is headed.  I am concerned about the growing hostility towards Christianity… and yet, these issues are secondary for me.  When it comes to my conscience, the greater concern for me is not whether or not I might have to offer a service for a marriage that is recognized by our government but contrary to my faith. Rather my greatest concern is that, in all I do, am I displaying the most accurate representation of the gospel, Christ’s character, and God’s heart I can to those I engage with. 

In “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis wrote this haunting and convicting passage: 

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. ” 

My goal, no matter what, is to create the least amount of obstacles to God for those I interact with. This does not mean that I water down the truth of scripture, or soft sell sin.  But it does mean that the way I interact with those who are not living lives submitted to the Lordship of Christ should be done in the most winsome way possible, while holding honestly, and openly to my convictions.  Remember, sinners were not repelled by Christ’s righteousness…in fact, they were DRAWN to him.  He was called the “friend of sinners”. By contrast, it was the religious Pharisees that were most offended by Jesus’s words and actions. Jesus engaged with those caught in sin.  He called people to repentance, for sure, but his harshest tones were reserved for the self-righteous Pharisees, not the immoral, broken, deceived, and carnal.  With these people he ate, he served, he touched, he drank, he laughed, he related, he loved…and he spoke truth, graciously calling them to surrender their lives to a Father was ready to forgive them, and transform them. 

I believe an important question every believer should wrestle with is this: Does the way I live out my convictions about marriage, sexuality, and the holiness of God help people move closer to God, or does it create additional barriers and push people further away?  In their book “Untamed” Alan and Debra Hirsch write this about the Pharisees of Jesus’ day:

“They were sincere, loved their scriptures, believed in the supernatural, were waiting for the Messiah, were decent and morally upright, were zealous, tithed beyond duty, were “missional”, and maintained Israel’s identity and tradition in a time of occupation. In many ways they were exemplary religious people. It’s not hard to see how they are very much like us! We believe that if we do not read them as ourselves, we miss much of the truth of what Jesus has to say to us, and we will likely commit precisely the same sins that are associated with them. It is a problem every religious person encounters in life. Religious people get very fussy about “things” and then become coercive about it. If we are not careful, we can end up defending truths and at the same time miss Truth- just like the Pharisees. It’s all about how we INHABIT our beliefs and how we allow the power of our beliefs to inhabit or mold us.”

I recently received the criticism that I evidently “don’t care” about religious freedom, or the plight of those like Kim Davis, and business owners who are objecting to providing services to gay and lesbian couples.  This criticism was based on what I wrote in a few of my recent blog posts “Sitting In White Folding Chairs” and “The Last Friday In June”. That is simply untrue.  I am deeply concerned about what is happening in our culture.  I greatly appreciate and depend upon the freedom to exercise my faith. I am deeply disturbed by the trend culturally to demonize and marginalize people of faith because of their convictions regarding marriage and sexuality. I am also deeply concerned and deeply disturbed by the shaming that I have seen, and that I have personally experienced, by others in the Christian community for not placing the issues of religious freedom as my top priority, or by making the decision to be present at my brother’s wedding. That I have the audacity to suggest that a Christian can, in good conscience, attend a gay wedding or offer their services to such an event seems a great offense. 

Here are a few difficult questions that I hope we all take the time to contend with; Do we as Christians care more about our right to religious liberty than we do about revealing the heart of God to those around us?   Do we care that there is one man and one woman in every marriage more than we care that the convictions we have about what makes a holy, healthy, and Christ revealing marriage actually mold and manifest themselves in our marriages and the marriages in our faith community?  Do we care more that we have the protected right not to “participate” in a same sex marriage by providing a service (either cake or marriage licenses), or is it a greater violation of my religion that, in an effort to avoid the former, I misrepresent the heart of God to those around me and push them further away from Him?

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the two are mutually exclusive.  I believe that we can, respectfully, gently, and wisely work to preserve religious freedoms. And we should. But I also wholeheartedly believe that this should be secondary at best. And if we are to do so effectively, and in a way that more accurately represents the character of God, it will have to start with learning how to show respect and deference to those we may profoundly disagree with.  I believe it will take some examination of our hearts and a true examination of what is actually a violation of our conscience or religious freedoms, versus what is something that we would just rather not do, or feel we shouldn’t have to do.  We need to learn better how to not just present a defense of a Holy view of sexuality and marriage, but also INHABIT IT,  all while maintaining an attitude that reflects the character of the One who established Holy Matrimony.  In short, in our speech and in our actions, we must accurately reflect the heart and character of Jesus.

This is an incredibly complicated season for the Church. Like I said, this all feels cringe-worthy.  There are sour notes everywhere…and although I really wish no visitors are watching and listening, it is clear they are…

I wish this conflict between the LGBT community, and Kim Davis, and others in the Christian community was playing out differently.  I wish the person on the stage was singing more beautifully.  I wish this whole “special music number” wasn’t as painful to sit through.  And yet, even though I wish all these things, the lesson from Sunday morning, and a really bad Sandi Patty rendition still ring true: I absolutely cannot judge Kim Davis’s heart. I don’t know if she is a gracious individual who truly grieves for the hearts of those caught in sin. I don’t know if her decisions are coming from a place of self-righteousness or genuine concern.  I don’t know her heart.  God does. 

As far as the complex nature of the legality of Kim Davis’s actions goes, or to the increasingly complex fight constitutionally for religious freedom, I am not an authority on these things in the least. I will leave it to more passionate, articulate, and informed minds to wrestle that aspect out.  My convictions on what violates my faith rests more on how I honor the Lord in my marriage, how I steward my sexuality, and how I love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and how I love my neighbor. I find that in living openly about my convictions gives me great latitude to engage in relationship, because my engagement and interactions are not misunderstood as endorsing or celebrating sin. I believe, and hope, that this resembles Jesus.

My prayer and conclusion in all of this is simple:  Church, may we please remember that whatever we encounter, there are people we are interacting with whose very eternity may be affected by how we choose to interact with them.   Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will give us all a greater understanding of how to engage each person and scenario with truth and love, so that whatever our interaction, we help them walk a few steps closer to the arms of The Father.  Let us work to never push them further away.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.   Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.   It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.   Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.   And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13

The Last Friday In June

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Friday, June 26th was a hard day for me.  I had forgotten the Supreme Court ruling would come on that day; it wasn’t even on my radar as I dressed the kiddos, grabbed some breakfast, and got my first cup of coffee.  It wasn’t until lunch time that I decided to check in on the world of Facebook.  I just wanted to take a few minutes to see the newest status updates, witty comments, and summer updates from my friends.  But as soon as I logged in, the tsunami of commentaries, pictures, articles, lamentations, celebrations, name-calling, stone-throwing, doom-saying, and rainbow-everything hit my eyes.  I quickly realized that the decision had been made to redefine marriage, and according to the federal government, marriage now included homosexual unions. 

As I sat, reading and taking in the differing reactions, I felt a deep sadness settle in my heart. This was quickly followed by frustration, and then a profound desire for Jesus to return and make all things right. It seems that many of my trips to social media lately end with that last sentiment (Come quickly Lord Jesus!) Before I go too much further, I need to disclose something here:  The ruling by the Supreme Court was not unexpected or a surprise to me.  It has felt inevitable to me for quite some time.  Now, I know that there are some who may find fault in my resignation to this.  In all honesty, I have long ago lost any expectation that our government would honor the spiritual truths taught in the bible regarding marriage and sexuality.  We do not live in a Christian nation.  Consequently, it is increasingly unlikely for the government of our nation to submit to the spiritual truths revealed in the Bible. This is especially true concerning something so carnally contentious as sexuality and marriage. Quite the opposite is true.  Our culture, and subsequently our government, seems more compelled towards a humanistic ethic devoid of any objective morality, and is increasingly hostile towards orthodox Christianity. Why is this so? Apologist Ravi Zacharias said it well, possibly years ago, when he observed (I am paraphrasing):

 “We do not have a morality problem in our culture, we have a faith problem.  Our culture no longer has faith in a God that has the authority to direct our steps.”

It is true.  Our culture does not revere or honor God, so it should not be surprising when it makes choices that go against His revealed will. When God ceases to have the authority to order our lives, what steps in and takes that place of authority? Our own sense of entitlement supersedes the place of authority.  Without the authority of God’s commands to constrain it, our culture will continue to accommodate what it feels entitled to. This is nothing new, and that is why this ruling was not a surprise or shock. It would be dishonest, however, to say it wasn’t discouraging or disheartening, and also a bit worrisome. There are definite consequences that come with this ruling that could, or more likely will, impact the religious freedoms of those who hold to orthodox Christianity.  Let’s not be naïve.  With increasing hostility towards those who hold an orthodox view, we should expect that with this ruling will come increased opportunity for persecution.  I am concerned about that, for sure… but it is not what grieved me most on Friday, June 26th…and it is not what I am most concerned or grieved about today. So, what does grieve me most in all of this?

Two scriptures come to mind:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

As I watched the social media culture war play out in front of me, it was not the world’s response that grieved me most, but the responses and reactions of those who claim the name of Christ.  It was painful to watch. It seems that though there are many who claim Christ, their responses so often bear no resemblance to Him. This is true on both ends of the spectrum of reaction to the ruling.  On one side of the issue there was an abundance of deception and accommodation/celebration of sin. I am greatly disturbed by the amount of Christians who have abandoned thousands of years of orthodox teaching, and fallen to deceptive teachings that accommodate and celebrates that which the scriptures calls sin, all in the name of Jesus.  There were the responses of those that consider themselves “allies” to the gay community who do not, or have not, struggled with same-sex attraction personally, yet affirm the homosexuality of those wanting to embrace it and claim Christ at the same time.  Whether they are theologically deceived, or influenced by a misdirected compassion, I am greatly grieved by the spiritual consequences for these individuals and those they influence with their affirmation.  There is a way to love those who have embraced a gay life without affirming their sin or their ideology, but many of these individuals have thrown off biblical wisdom and given their support to sin. 

Then there is the long list of individuals, some who I have known and personally walked alongside, who formerly sought to surrender their sexuality to the Lordship of Christ. As the years past, they have changed their minds, fallen into deception, became disillusioned, or decided that it was just too difficult or painful to continue, and now are donning their rainbow-colored profile pictures, celebrating what they once fought so desperately to resist.  It was impossible for me to not feel a deep sense of loss while observing this. 

While grieving the former, on came the latter… the litany of those believers who hold to an orthodox view of sexuality, but whose response to the ruling was rooted in anger and fear, focusing not on the deception and potential spiritual destiny of those deceived by all of this, but primarily on “how will this impact, threaten, or inconvenience me”, and on the potential (and realized) loss of personal rights.  I recognize that this ruling brings a paradigm shift. I recognize that the favor and freedoms that many of us have enjoyed for years seem, and may very well be, threatened, as opposition or disagreement of homosexual unions/marriage may now be interpreted as discrimination or a hate crime. But may I just remind us all, God is still God. He is still sovereign. We can still trust Him.  And He calls us to trust in Him…not our government or country.  After all, we are in the world, but not of it.  We are strangers and aliens here, this is not our home.  If we truly believe we belong to the Lord, can we learn to claim His peace and trust that He will guide us through whatever changes or persecutions may come?

And then, after the responses based in fear and anger, came the responses based in judgement, the Christian social critics of our nation and culture who rail and rant at the lack of sanctity and reverence for a biblical understanding of marriage.  The observations of those in this group may be true enough, but they focus almost exclusively on the decay of the culture around us, to the exclusion of a critically honest look at the state of the church.  Sadly it seems we forget those words of Jesus that CLEARLY call us to deal with our own sins before trying to contend with the sins of our neighbors. I believe Christ is calling us as His Bride to contend with our own sins FIRST.   That is what tears my heart up most in all of this… that as a whole, the Church in our culture has lost its saltiness when it comes to sexuality and marriage.  We are broken, bleeding, and mangled and rather than owning it, repenting, and recovering that which we so clearly understand conceptually as sacred, we are commenting on and judging the inability and refusal of our secular culture to honor and submit to what we fail to preserve ourselves. That is hypocrisy. When we are in such a state it is no wonder why we are exerting so little influence on the culture around us.  

 A large portion of the Church no longer believes in God’s ability to transform and sustain a life surrendered to Him in the area of sexuality… Why is that? Is it because God’s word isn’t true? Is it because God isn’t able to transform a person? Or is it because there is so little evidence of that in the lives of those in the Church?  Broken marriages, pornography use, premarital sex, all of this is rampant in the Body of Christ.  Not just that… gossip, favoritism, elitism, un-forgiveness, inhospitality, pride, selfishness, a lack of repentance, all of these things destroy gospel community and are rampant in the church.   Consider this passage of scripture:

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

1 Peter 4:1-19

Many have asked me my perspective on the ruling… wanting to know how, as believers, we are to respond.   As I have sat with my thoughts, I have felt this unspoken expectation to come up with the formula for the perfect Christian response to this cultural trend.  Sometimes the subtext in the question is “Tell me how I can win the debate or argument”.  Sometimes it is “Tell me how to convict my loved one”.  A common theme in the majority of the response on social media, and even of the questions asked to me personally is the thought that the problem is with “them over there”.  I always seem to land in the same uncomfortable place.  Honestly…my only answer is that we, as the Body of Christ, need first and foremost to collectively repent.   We need to repent of our hypocrisy.  We need to repent of our selfishness. We need to repent of our lack of compassion. We need to repent of our lack of true discipleship.  But please don’t misunderstand me… I am not saying that we are to have no voice to the world around us. I am saying that our comments should sound more like this:

 “Marriage and sexuality is sacred, and we as the church repent for not demonstrating tangibly and consistently what we say we hold sacred.  We repent of not calling our own members to repentance, as well as not being places where the broken sexually can find compassion and healing.  We repent of not bringing those struggling with same-sex attraction, gender identity, singleness, heterosexual struggles, and broken marriages into our church families in a real and powerful way so that these individuals do not have to resist their temptations and struggles alone and isolated from real community. We repent of accommodating, rationalizing, and normalizing sin on all levels. We repent of being such a poor example of what a Holy people looks like.” 

 

We, collectively, need to pursue Christ with a renewed fervor.  Our remedy, whether we are in a culture that affirms our spiritual convictions, or in a culture that is oppressive and hostile towards our faith, is to be firmly rooted in Christ.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:3-11

I want to say a quick word to those for whom June 26th was not a hard day, but a day of celebration.  First off, I want to say that I understand.  Almost 20 years ago, I was in a relationship with another guy. It was the first time I felt loved. He was my first sexual experience. For a short time, I found myself imagining a life with him.  I could not imagine a heterosexual life at the time.  I felt, and believed, that my homosexuality was permanent.   If I stop and imagine that my sexuality had remained unchanged, and if I was in that same relationship, or in another relationship, or if I had believed I could remain a faithful Christian and a practicing homosexual, then I am certain I would have been celebrating too. I know how real my feelings were back then.  I know how lonely I felt, and how ominous a life of celibacy felt.  I want you to know that I do not hate you, or judge you for celebrating.  I truly understand why this was, and is a significant victory for you.

Many of you who claim the name of Christ already believe that He loves you… He does love you. But you may not believe that those who grieve the court’s decision love you.  Obviously I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I, and many, many others love you.  And it is because we love you that we must simply say, in love, that you are pursuing the wrong path…whether that is in embracing your own homosexuality, or in affirming the homosexuality or sexual brokenness of those around you.  God is loving and God is a holy, righteous judge. I personally know that my words cannot convince you that you are on the wrong path.  I know that only the Holy Spirit can do that.  Please know that because of what we believe to be true about how our Lord calls us to live, we are deeply concerned for your spiritual lives.  If we believe what we believe, and do not speak up, or pray for your repentance, that would not be showing love on our part… Please do not take our prayers that He will convict you as anything but a tangible expression of our love for you. 

My prayer is not that the Supreme Court will change its mind.  It is not that my religious freedoms are ultimately protected.  My fervent prayer is that the Bride of Christ will regain its saltiness.  I pray that we will repent. I pray that we will regain our zeal for holiness. I pray that we will believe in God’s redemptive, transformative power. I pray we will learn to love Jesus more. I pray we will learn to love one another more.  I pray we will learn to love those who are far from Jesus more.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will convict all who claim the name of Christ of our sins, and awaken to His truth those who are deceived.   

I pray that we, the Bride of Christ, will truly represent our Bridegroom well as we move forward from here.

Sitting In White Folding Chairs

I will never forget it; sitting in the row of white folding chairs, in the middle of a hazelnut orchard, watching my twin brother marry his partner. Making the decision to sit there, in those seats, had been a difficult journey for my wife Suzanne and I, but as we sat there, we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had led us to this decision.  We had anticipated having to face this decision for several years. The longer My brother and his partner were together, the more we knew that we would inevitably have to wrestle with a decision.  It was going to be a very consequential decision.  If we chose not to go, we knew it would negatively impact our relationship with Matty and Will. But if we did choose to go, it would have its own consequences. Having surrendered my own homosexual struggle in obedience to Christ almost 18 years ago, and at that point in our history, being in full time ministry helping people walk out of homosexuality for over 8 years, we had to wrestle with what our attendance would communicate, not just to my brother and his partner, but also to those connected with our ministry.  We had to wrestle not just with the impact on our own family, but the other families I came into contact with in my ministry. Could our decision negatively impact others? Would it negatively impact Portland Fellowship (the ministry I was on staff with)?  We prayed, investigated the scriptures, and sought counsel.  In the end, there we sat, in the row of white folding chairs.

It wasn’t just a difficult journey for Suzanne and I. As the minister at opened the ceremony, she shared these words; “We know that there are those of you here who do not agree with this union, yet you have made the choice to be here because you love Matty and Will… and for that, they thank you.”  As difficult as it was for us, I know it was painful for them to recognize this fact, and to acknowledge it on their wedding day. Doing so was extremely gracious of them. 

Why do I share this story?  I do not share it because it is easy… In fact, the easiest thing would be to not talk about it.  I don’t want to constantly remind myself of the discomfort of that day, and I certainly don’t want to constantly remind my brother of it.  It hurts both of us. I also do not enjoy the sometimes callous and caustic rebuttals and reactions people have had to my sharing our decision, and inevitably will have to this blog post.  This is a polarizing discussion, and commenters seem to forget that real people have to wrestle and live with the consequences of these decisions. It is one thing to theorize… it is quite another to live through this experience, and to continue to live in it. 

So in light of all that, why do I share?  I share our story because I believe it is instructive.  I share it because my brother and I, who have fought to have an honest, respectful, and loving relationship with one another, respecting our differences and accepting our disagreements, both agree that if by sharing it, it can help other families find permission to relate, or if relationships between family members that are already strained by differing worldviews can have a way to not fracture beyond, or from my perspective, if families can avoid succumbing to a false either/or decision,  than it is worth the discomfort.

I think that what our story demonstrates is a missing perspective in the seemingly never ending debate on whether a Christian, who believes same sex behavior is sin can in good conscience attend a wedding of two people of the same sex, or provide a service like baking a cake or arranging flowers for such an event.  Most of the opinions on this topic tend to fall one of two extremes; the “Jesus ate with sinners, so just go and love them” side, or the “No one who calls themselves a Christian would ever be caught dead at, or providing a service or good to a gay wedding” side.  It seems that on either end of this spectrum, these camps are firmly entrenched, convinced of their “rightness”. So, to clarify, if you have firmly established yourself on either of these sides, than please just know, I have no interest in changing your mind, debating the issue, or frankly hearing your criticism of my decisions.  There is no new info or argument that can be “brought to my attention” that I did not consider and wrestle before making the decision to attend the wedding.  So, this blog is not for you.  But, maybe you are someone who feels like your heart is being ripped out of your chest when you hear both polarized opinions, because neither seems right. Or you are someone who knows that sooner or later your loved one is going to ask whether or not you will attend their wedding, and you know that your choice will drastically effect whatever relationship you have managed to keep with your loved one. Maybe you are that person who is pleading for a way to represent the love and grace of Jesus, yet also the truth and holiness of God. Or you might be a business owner, and you have heard that to provide a service for a gay wedding makes you as spiritually guilty as if you had officiated the ceremony yourself, yet you also feel convicted that choosing not to provide a service to the wedding misses the mark of God’s kindness to those in sin. Or maybe you are in a state where to refuse to offer your services is a violation of the law, and you are wondering if you only have one of two choices, obey the law, or shame and betray Jesus.  If you find yourself in, or near any of these examples, than I hope this will help. 

Presence vs Celebration/Approval

At the crux of the “Don’t be caught dead at a gay wedding” side is the issue of celebration /approval.  I have heard countless commentators make the argument that no Christian in good conscience, being committed to biblical understanding of marriage, sexuality, and sin, can celebrate a gay union. I absolutely agree.  We cannot celebrate sin.  I would even go a step further to say that we cannot attend such an event if, by our passivity and silence, our presence could be understood as celebration or approval by the couple marrying.  But it is absolutely unfair and intellectually dishonest to say that by mere physical presence alone, or the action of baking and selling a cake, that we unequivocally are “celebrating” or “approving” of the union.  To celebrate something is to rejoice in it, to praise it, to act with uninhibited joy and endorsement of it.  Synonyms to celebrate are to commend, laud, glorify, or to applaud.  If my wife and I were celebrating my brother’s wedding, than there would have been no opening words of recognition by the minister.  Clearly, we were not commending, endorsing, glorifying, applauding, or praising the event.  Our presence was not the same as celebration. We understood that, My brother and his partner understood that, and most important to this conversation, God understood that.  It is well established in scripture that God does not look merely at the external, but knows the heart.  God has consistently throughout the scriptures used his people, present in pagan cultures and contexts, yet fully surrendered to His will.   One of my favorite examples of this is Daniel. Examples from the book of Daniel are used quite a bit in the religious liberty angle of this issue. Many Christians have likened baking a cake or attending the wedding to the call to bow down to idols and forsake the worship of the one true God.   Yet we forget that Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego lived in and served in a pagan, idolatrous kingdom.  In the midst of paganism, idolatry, sorcery, and wickedness, they managed to serve the reigning kingdom and maintain their integrity and favor with God.   We would never say that Daniel was guilty of celebrating idolatry or divination, merely because he was held in respect by the king, or even though he was made the chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers (Daniel  5:11-12). We understand that while performing his tasks, he remained surrendered and dependent on God, faithful to God, and blameless before God (Daniel 6:22) How is it possible that we can understand that Daniel, as the appointed chief over those who performed witchcraft, can be found blameless before God, yet  when a gay wedding is involved, someone who sits in a chair or pew, or who stirs flour, eggs, milk, sugar, etc. together in a bowl and bakes it at 350 degrees, is unequivocally guilty of celebrating sin? Again, if you have already made up your mind, I am not interested in changing it, but if you are wrestling with your own choice, I believe you can take solace in the fact that if Daniel managed to remain present, serving, and obedient and blameless before God, than maybe it is possible for you. 

We went to my brother’s wedding.  We demonstrated our unconditional love to him and Will. We showed them respect, and value. We also had a lot of difficult and uncomfortable conversations leading up to the wedding. We wrestled together with them over our disagreements and our respective frustrations about the differing convictions on either side.  We accept that we cannot change their minds, and they accept that they cannot change ours.  We know where we all stand, firmly in disagreement and love.  So, is it possible to be at the ceremony and not be celebrating and “participating” in sin. Yes, I believe it is.

But why would you want to attend or serve?

Let’s take a minute to examine the ministry of Jesus.  Not the eating with sinners part just yet, but the Gospel mission of Jesus as a whole.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:1-8)

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. 3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3:1-8)

“43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:45-48)

Christ’s incarnational mission is captivating to me. God emptied himself of divinity and became a servant, enduring our rejection, and ultimately dying on our behalf, so that we might be reconciled to the Father. The restraint of God, and the mercy of God, and the passion of God to do such a thing is excruciatingly humbling to me.  And the fact that we are called to do the same is cataclysmic to my own sense of self preservation.  Christ taught and demonstrated a type of love and sacrifice that should shake every soul, and burn with a holy fire any and every self-centered motivation.   Unless we look at Christ’s ministry eating with the sinner through the lens of His incarnational, self-sacrificing mission to reconcile us to the Father, we will reduce it down to love, affection, or warm regard.  Jesus became present to humanity, and to the sinners He was eating with, to invite them to be restored in relationship to the Father.  He engaged with people personally, in the midst of their humanity, their brokenness, and their sin defiled, self-gratifying lives, and called them to repentance.  If Christ simply would have come to “love on” people, they may have had affection for Him, but ultimately they would not be reconciled to the Father, because they would never recognize the need to repent.  Christ beautifully demonstrated that presence with sinners is a necessary element in order to call them to repentance. 

Somewhere in the “just love on them” side of the argument, we have lost the reality that we are only reconciled to God the Father when we recognize our need for repentance, and we don’t get there without someone sharing the truth of need with us. Therein lies the fault in the “bake them two” or “just go and show them love” perspective.  We are called to share the truth, and to avoid this uncomfortable and difficult requirement is in no way loving.  Just like it is intellectually dishonest and unfair to say that mere physical presence or providing a service makes us guilty of sin, it is equally dishonest to say that Jesus just “loved on” people and if we do the same we are blameless. 

Jesus always called the people He spent time with to repent of sin and be reconciled to God.  He was close enough in proximity and relationship with sinners to make the religious leaders of the day furious and obstinate, yet was direct and truthful enough with those very same sinners to either lead them to repentance, or repel them by the strength of his call to holiness. Truth and love in perfect balance.  To say that this was easy or conflict free would be naïve. Christ was misunderstood by the religious leaders of his day, and rejected by many who he sought to save. We have to keep in mind, that for every “sinner” who Christ ate with, surely there were several who chose not to repent and stayed in their life of sin.  Christ knew that the people he was on mission to save had a free will. Even done in perfect balance, and perfectly representing God the Father, truth and love do not always lead people to repentance.  All that to say, we do not have control over the results of missional engagement. 

But what about the business owner?

Allow me to share another story. 

I have a good friend who is a professional musician here in Portland, OR.  Several months ago, during a conversation about all of this, I warned her that she was going to need to think through how she would respond if a gay couple wanted to hire her for their wedding.  It was only a week or so after our conversation that a gay couple contacted her, wanting to meet and discuss the possibility of hiring her to sing at their reception.  She called my wife and I and asked for our advice as to how to proceed.  When we met, I asked what her greatest fear/conflict was with their request.  Let me paraphrase her response:

 “If I perform at their reception, I am worried they are going to believe that I am ok with their marriage.  I can’t approve of their marriage, but I can’t turn them down because that is against the discrimination law. I don’t want to lie and say that I am already booked. I also don’t want to be one more Christian that rejects them and pushes them further away from Jesus”

 I think a great many find themselves in this predicament.  It seems to be a no win situation.  How do we not be perceived as celebrating/ approving / endorsing sin, and yet not reject people, violate the law, and push people away?  As we discussed our decision to attend my brother’s wedding, and our process with them relationally, we came up with a plan for how she could proceed with this couple. Later that week she met with the couple and went over her contract, rates, song options, and time commitment.  After all of the standard contractual information was taken care of, she let them know she had something else she needed to discuss with them. This is, roughly, what she said:

“Before you hire me, I believe it is your right to know who you are hiring.  In addition to being a professional musician, I am also a worship pastor at my church. I am a Christian, and I believe in traditional biblical marriage and sexuality.  Because of that, I do not agree with gay marriage.  If you do decide to hire me, I need you to know that you are hiring someone who could not, and would not be agreeing, or celebrating with you.  I could not, in good conscience, allow you to hire me without you knowing that, for my own conscience, and out of consideration for you in deciding who you want to include in your wedding day.

That being said, I also want you to know that as convicted as I am about my beliefs about marriage, I am also equally convicted and believe that I am called to love my neighbor as myself. That call includes showing respect and kindness to those who I do not agree with.  I need you to know that if you do choose to hire me for your wedding, I will offer the same professional service I would to any other client. My performance will not reflect my lack of approval or celebration.  This is your wedding, and I felt you had a right to know if you were hiring someone that could not celebrate this day with you, and that you had the right to choose to hire someone else if that is important to you.  I know that this may complicate your decision on whether to hire me or not.  You do not need to answer me right now. Take whatever time you need.” 

In the end, they did not hire her.  They did, however, thank her for her honesty and felt that her handling of this was very respectful.  She did not violate state law by refusing to serve them, and she did not compromise the truth by avoiding telling them of her beliefs. But let’s say they had hired her?  She would have, in good conscience, been able to offer her service to them, knowing it was clearly communicated that she did not agree with their wedding, and that she was not celebrating with them.  She would have also been representing Christ’s incarnational love, choosing to serve those who do not agree with her, and making herself uncomfortable to show them a picture of our God who is kind to those in sin, and makes himself a servant to those who may very well reject him, all while being a truthful witness who clearly communicated that their choice was not in line with the commandments of the God we serve.  Regardless, to that couple, she may have been one of the first examples of a Christian who did not reject them, or condemn them, yet spoke truth to them in a respectful and loving way, but was also willing to empty themselves of their own self concern, and be present as a servant.  More to the point: The incarnational Gospel mission of Jesus just might include baking a cake, or singing songs, or sitting in a chair.

But what about the “weaker brother” argument?

If you have gotten this far, and I haven’t lost you yet, I think it is important to discuss one more issue.  I have heard it argued that even if you could ensure that the couple marrying knew you did not agree, and that you were not celebrating, what about the weaker Christian who might see you there “eating food sacrificed to idols” and their faith be compromised or wrecked because they misunderstand your actions. (See 1 Corinthians 7)  It is an important argument to consider.  Our decisions do not just affect ourselves, but the larger body of Christ as well.  I read one article in which the author stated, incredulously, that if you could manage to ensure that your motive and presence at such a wedding was not understood as approval, and that you were actually there missionally (which he highly doubted was possible) than you had the responsibility NOT to talk about it and hide your decision from other believers, because they may be confused and led astray.  

Unfortunately, I have seen that faith is being shipwrecked and people are being led into heresy because this is NOT BEING talked about.  Parents of gay children are facing this issue, and when presented with faithfulness to a traditional understanding of scripture (and the assumption that this means you must abstain from attendance at your child’s wedding) and possibly losing the relationship, or changing your view of scripture and keeping a relationship… the children are winning, and theology is being altered to accommodate.  The problem is that many of these “parents” are pastors, professors, or leaders in the church, and being faced with this false dichotomy, the kids win and the bible loses. 

So…

The reality is, this issue is not as black and white as we wish it were.  We can’t say “attend the wedding” or “bake the cake” without honestly admitting that there is a great deal of responsibility to communicate truth if we are to have the liberty to offer our presence or service.  However, we also can’t say “abstain or you are guilty of sin” without honestly contending with the fact that not only is that not unequivocally true, but failing to demonstrate the love of God personally and sacrificially to people in sin is to deny the heartbeat of Christ’s Gospel mission.  I want to challenge both camps. To the “just love them” people, how is withholding the truth loving? Are you withholding truth because you don’t want to deal with the discomfort of relational conflict? If so, you are not acting in love, you are acting in selfish self-preservation.  Likewise, to the “abstain” folks.  How are you sacrificially demonstrating the incarnational Gospel to your gay loved one?  If you don’t have a gay loved one, then how about to those in the LGBTQ community? How are you emptying yourself, and being a Christ like servant, becoming present to their lives so that you might have the opportunity to share his love?  Truth is indispensable, but follow Christ’s example and get in relationship with those who need to hear it. And you know what, some will reject the truth, and some will receive it, but our responsibility is not the result, rather, to be faithful ambassadors of Christ to those who need His Gospel. 

To those in the middle, with the son, daughter, brother, sister, friend or customer... God can lead you in this.  He can give you the words to say. He can give you the grace to sit in a chair, to bake a cake, to be present and to serve. But beyond the single day…the event that may feel like the end of the world or the final battle to be lost or won, he can give us the grace and the wisdom to get past that day, and live the Gospel work of being incarnational in ongoing relationship.  My wife and I love Matty and Will. They love us too. Our relationship is intact. We may never agree.  They may never change their minds and repent. Right now, they see nothing to repent of. But if they ever do, we want them to be assured that we have always loved them and been there present with them, and that is proved through our presence in their lives now.  Choose to be present, maybe even “wedding” present.  Or maybe share the Gospel, baked at 350 degrees with a butter-cream frosting.  

Either / Or

Earlier last month, one of the largest evangelical churches in San Francisco, City Church, official changed their position on Same Sex partnerships.  My Facebook feed blew up with comments and blog posts, both about this, and then subsequently with the Presbyterian Church (USA) officially moving in the same direction, and the ongoing battle over Reparative Therapy, and the unfolding war over religious freedom and photographers, bakers, florists, etc… A full on culture war ensuing over social media… Honestly, I closed my computer, took a deep breath, and decided to bounce on the trampoline with my daughters.  I needed a minute…or a week or two to gather my thoughts and sort through all my “feels” about all this.  I have a lot of them.  But in the interest of brevity and sanity, I have decided that today, dear reader; I am only going to focus my feels on a few sentences. I am sure later posts will focus on the other arguments and issues floating around in my head, but today, just a few problematic sentences. 

When I heard the news about City Church, I immediately went to their website and read the “Letter from the Elders” regarding their new position. It was only a little into the letter that these words captured my attention, and grieved my heart. Here is the direct quote from their letter: 

“Our pastoral practice of demanding life-long “celibacy”, by which we meant that for the rest of your life you would not engage your sexual orientation in any way, was causing obvious harm and has not led to human flourishing…Imagine feeling this from your family or religious community: “If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.” This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.”

Oh so many feels… 

BIG PROBLEM – The False Dichotomy

Immediately upon reading this statement, an either/or scenario is being constructed which essentially says, for those who have SSA, here are your only two options: lifelong hopeless loneliness, or personal fulfillment and exile.  With a set of options like that for those with SSA, it sets the church up with an either/or of its own: either impose a hopeless lonely life, or reject those who want to flourish.  I can understand how this church viewed these options as unacceptable.  I can understand how something about their beliefs or convictions had to change in order to respond, in Biblical love, to those facing SSA. The problem plaguing their conclusion to embrace same sex relationships is, in all reality, fundamentally not about same sex attraction at all.  The false dichotomy itself reveals a profoundly flawed view of God’s character to those who are not married.  Let me unpack that.

“Our pastoral practice of demanding life-long “celibacy”, by which we meant that for the rest of your life you would not engage your sexual orientation in any way, was causing obvious harm and has not led to human flourishing.”

The above statement essential concludes that in order to truly flourish as a human being, you MUST engage your sexual orientation.  If you don’t, that will cause obvious harm.  A conclusion you could draw from this is that all believers who are NOT same sex attracted, but who have been dealt the hand of unwanted singleness, cannot possibly flourish as humans and would do themselves harm by attempting to remain chaste and celibate until such time that marriage becomes available.  WHAT?! By this logic, all my single friends out there, you are living sub-par lives and cannot possibly experience a flourishing life unless you “express your sexual orientation.”  I am sorry, but this statement is not only illogical, but it is downright offensive. This statement marginalizes all single believers. It creates an either/or that robs the unmarried of joy, contentment, and hope.  It makes our marital status a value statement, elevating the married to a higher state of humanity, rather than equally valuing the single person as much as the married person. Frankly, this dichotomy does more harm to the single person than a requirement to live a faithful life of chastity and celibacy.  With that said, there are certainly challenges unique to the life of the celibate that need to be addressed more effectively within the Body of Christ, but imposing such a hopeless, demeaning view of singleness is not the answer.

Another flaw with this statement is that it is an extremely subjective ethic that begs for some sort of boundary to restrict it.  Meaning, does absolutely EVERYONE need express their sexual orientation, or else experience harm?  What is the implication if that is the case? Do we, in order to not let another human experience the “harm” of possible lifelong restraint, instead sanction or bless the expression of all sexual orientations?  Do we really want to open that Pandora’s Box? Taking this statement on its own logic begs that conclusion, or else relies upon some other ethic to determine what sexual orientations are acceptable, and which are sinful out of bounds that justifies the “harm” that would result from restraint... but since this church has just neutered the Bibles authority to do just that, where do we look for a new sexual ethic? 

Let’s move on to another issue:

“If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship.”

A conclusion that we come too based on this statement: God is impotent.  When the statement is made that those with SSA must accept lifelong celibacy with NO HOPE... Pardon me, but since when did the creator of the universe lose his ability to change, transform, or heal our desires?  Sure, He can create the cosmos, He can raise us from the dead, He is sovereign over all of creation… but my sexual desires are too powerful and too immovable for Him.  In order for you to rationally believe that God CAN NOT effect change over sexuality, you MUST diminish His power. Consequently, if we buy the lie that God is incapable of effecting change in the desires of those with SSA, where exactly  does that leave room for hope for a life renewed and transformed in any other life struggle? Exactly what struggles are within God’s ability to transform and redeem, and which struggles are just too far gone?  Now, a more complete conversation on what healing and change actually might look like in the life of the believer is needed, but for today, let’s just leave it at the question; When did God become impotent? 

Like I said…just a few sentences, but a whole lot of feels!! When it comes down to it, the conclusions City Church reached reflects a disbelief in God’s ability to heal and transform, and an inability for a single life to be fulfilling and flourishing.  These are both conclusions that we cannot biblically agree with.  Personally, I have experienced and witnessed God prove the contrary time and again, through my own life, through the lives of many people I have ministered to, and in the lives of many I call my friends.  These statements dishonor all of those lives.  I do appreciate that City Church saw that their requirements for a hopeless single life was un-biblical. However, I’d rather they would have confronted their own un-biblical beliefs that created the false dichotomy, than throwing away thousands of years of biblical wisdom regarding sexuality, hope, and redemption. 

There is more conversation to be had about City Church’s change, and the conclusions they reached that propelled this shift. But for now may I ask all who read this: Do you believe God is powerful and redemptive? Do you believe that God graces the single life and the married life to flourish equally, differently for sure, but equally?  Can we seek to be a church that supports those contending with a single life, whether that is by choice or circumstance?  Can we calmly think about the claims truly being made by such shifts in the Church, and compare the conclusions drawn with what the Bible clearly reveals about God’s character? These questions matter… They will inform how we live out our faith, and how the church functions. 

Thanks for hearing out my “feels”.

It's Complicated...

Several years ago, my family experienced one of the most difficult seasons we have ever encountered.  After a string of common childhood illnesses, my oldest daughter Elaina ended up in the ICU of Randal Children’s Hospital.  She developed encephalitis and a lesion between the two hemispheres of her brain. Consequently, she lost her ability to speak, and her gross and fine motor skills were greatly impaired.  It was terrifying.  As my wife and I spent our first of many sleepless nights in the hospital, trying to process the implications of her illness, another couple close to us wasn’t able to sleep either.  Let me tell you about them.

I have an identical twin brother. His name is Matthew… Matty for short.  I love my brother very, very much.  We have been through hell together. We have worked out innumerable interpersonal conflicts together. Sometimes the workings out of these conflicts were less than mature or civilized… Consequently we both bear the emotional and physical scars as evidence of our “working it out”.  It is difficult to explain our relational dynamic. As kids, we were just as likely to stab each other with forks as we were to have each others backs.  Sometimes the fork stabbing happened while having the others back.  If sibling relationships can be complex and convoluted, twin relationships can be exceedingly so. Our relationship has another unique spin to it:  I am a minister and public speaker, sharing my testimony of surrender and healing of my same-sex struggle.  Matty identifies as both gay and Christian, and is married to a man, Will, (Uncle Will to our daughters). The relationship I have with my twin brother is complex enough, but as you might imagine, the relationship that my wife and I, and Matty and Will have can be a veritable minefield of potential conflict and offense.  With all that as a context, let’s get back to the story.

It was on one of those first terrible nights, where my wife and I were sleepless and overwhelmed and sitting in the ICU with Elaina, that Will, my brother’s husband, wrestling with his own feelings of helplessness and burden, got out of bed and began amassing an army of support to help our family.  At the same time that our daughter fell ill, we had just closed on the purchase of home, a giant fixer upper, and had only two and a half weeks to make it livable before we had to move in. It was an overwhelming season for us as it was, but to add the illness on top of it… We were drowning.  Will knew that he couldn’t do anything to heal his niece, but he could do something to help meet our family’s needs.  With mounting medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and a monstrous task of making the house a home, Will and Matty rallied people around us, and because of them, the seemingly impossible task got accomplished.  Will and Matty blessed our family more that we could ever express. 

Uncle Matty and Uncle Will are our family. There is much that we disagree about. We have, in many ways, irreconcilable opposing convictions. And yet, as complex and as difficult as it sometimes is, here we are.  Our family loves my brother. Our family loves Uncle Will.  And they love us.

Why do I share this story?  Well, when I was in ministry at Portland Fellowship, I would often counsel families with gay identified loved ones. These families were typically coming from a conservative Christian background, and the revelation that a son /daughter / sibling was gay proved to be traumatic for many of them.  When a person comes out to their families, it is often the culmination of a long process of coming to terms with their attractions.  Whether they have come to embrace a homosexual identity as a response to their attractions, or whether they are letting people in on the struggle they are having, to determine how they are going to process and move forward with a same sex struggle, it is still often months, or years in the making.  Although this is not out of nowhere for the one coming out, it is often a disclosure that feels traumatic and shocking for parents and siblings. In response, families can get singularly focused on their loved ones sexuality in their attempt to process the disclosure.  For a season it may be somewhat legitimate, or at the very least understandable.  This new piece of information is profoundly consequential.  There is grief, there may be feelings of betrayal, and parents may instinctively attempt to try to “fix the problem”.  When my brother came out, this was certainly true for me.  I felt confused, hurt, betrayed, and I wanted to “fix it”.  In my own grief and frustration I did things and said things that hurt my relationship with my brother, and effectively reduced him down to a problem to fix.  So when parents came in with that goal, I understood.

Somewhere along the way, the Lord began to help me out of my fog.  He reminded me that in my own process, struggling with same-sex attraction, I was repeatedly hurt by people who could not look past my struggle to see me more holistically.  I didn’t want it to be the only lens they viewed me through, and I did not want to be anybody’s project.  I was more than my struggle, and my brother is more than his gay identity.  Matt and Will are kind.  They are giving.  They are fun. They have been there to help us in difficult times.  They have watched our kids, and helped with projects around our house… We have shared meals, and holidays… they are a big part of our lives.  We love them both very much.  Consider the following verse from Philippians 4:8


There is a lot of good and praiseworthy in both Matt and Will. What Will did to help us in one of my wife and I’s worst moments was noble, beautiful, and praiseworthy…it was an incredible act of love. 

Recently my brother shared with me that while listening online to a message I gave, it made him feel like he and Will came off like the villains of the story.  That deeply disturbed me.  As we talked, we came to the understanding that because of the differences in our deeply held beliefs about homosexuality, it can come off like an “us vs. them” dynamic.  Some of that feeling is unavoidable.  I believe that my brother and Will’s relationship is foundationally a sinful relationship.  I believe that the conclusions that they have come to are wrong.  They don’t agree with my convictions. They don’t love my ministry. They believe that my convictions restrict and hurt people.  We have irreconcilable differences that could destroy a lot of relationships.  It could also be very tempting to passively avoid our disagreements and try to ignore that they are there.  But we don’t do that… we wrestle with the tension. We respect each other.  We choose to love each other well.  We all do this, not just Suzanne and I.  Matty and Will choose to respect us. They choose to sit in the tension of relationship with us.  They are not villains. They are dearly loved.  

There has been a lot of dialog lately about how families respond to the homosexuality / transsexuality of their loved ones.  One extreme opinion out there belongs to those that would say that parents or family members, who believe that homosexual behavior (and other sexual / gender deviations) is sin, are therefore responsible for the suicidal behavior and ideation of their loved ones.   I am sure none of us who hold to traditional biblical values regarding sexuality appreciate being viewed with such a myopic lens. But many are equally guilty of only seeing those who have adopted an LGBTQ identity through the lens of behavior defined scripturally as sin, and then lump them into one category, “those sinners over there with their agenda”  It is far more complicated than that. 

To those who share my scriptural convictions, I want to encourage you to see your loved ones holistically.  Don’t ignore sin; we can’t do that.  But for the love, don’t make your disagreement on sexuality the subtext of your relationship.  Equally, it is unfair and unhelpful put the pressure on us to be the ones who bring our loved one to conviction. Only the Holy Spirit can convict a person of sin. It would be far better to do your best to be blameless in your behavior towards your loved ones, treating them with the same love, mercy, patience, kindness, and respect that you hope to be treated with.  When you fail to do so (and you will fail, because we are all imperfect and this is a difficult road) then own it and repent.  Of course, I would like to say that if you do these things than your loved ones eyes will be opened, they will quickly repent, and all will be well… But that just isn’t true.  What I can say is that you will be living in such a way that honors our Lord, and removes unnecessary obstacles in relationship with your loved ones: 

“Do all you have to do without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be God’s children, blameless, sincere and wholesome, living in a warped and diseased world, and shining there like lights in a dark place.” (Philippians 2:14-15 JB Phillips New Testament)

My wife and I, and Matty and Will have a complicated relationship.  But in spite of our divergent convictions, we love each other.  They know we love them.  They know what we believe. They know that we strive to treat them with respect. They know that we make mistakes. They know that we repent when we do.  Let’s remember, as believers, we are not responsible before God for our loved ones choices… however we are absolutely responsible before God for how we treat those whom God has placed in our lives to love.  Let’s remember what love is, and to work to love them well! 

4 This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience—it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. 5-6 Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails. 7-8a Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.

 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (JB Phillips New Testament)


True Identity

“Why should we be concerned to divide up things into “classes” and “families”? We get away from all this tangle of guess-work, when once the Eternal Word speaks to us. From Him alone all creation has but one voice for us; He, who is its origin, is also its interpreter. Without Him, nobody can understand it, or form a true judgment about it. Until all things become One for you, traced to One source and seen in One act of vision, you cannot find anchorage for the heart, or rest calmly in God.”  - Thomas Kempis – The Imitation of Christ

The above passage landed on my soul today softly, but heavily.  Kind of like a thick layer of blankets that lay densely on you, but make you feel secure and warm.  Over the last few days the concept of identity has come up in multiple conversations.  It is a touchy topic for a lot of people, particularly when the issue of sexual attraction gets entered into the mix.  But while sitting at the mechanics waiting for my battery in my Jeep to be replaced, drinking crappy coffee, smelling tires, and reading The Imitation of Christ (I know, perfect environment for deep spiritual meditation) this passage reminded me of  angry, anxious conversations  with Christ concerning my own identity.  Let me share the story with you.

It was December of 1996. I was sitting in my bedroom, feeling defiled and hopeless. I was feeling the conviction that I needed to end the secret relationship that I was involved in with another guy from my church.  Neither of us were admitting that we were gay, or that we were boyfriends, but we were spending most of our free time together, spending nights together, engaging in sexual acts, and even looking at apartments to share… We were in one sense in complete denial, and in another sense beginning to build a life together.  Whatever it was, it was deeply conflicting and confusing. And in that bedroom, somewhere in the middle of the night, probably after once again looking at porn or fantasizing and masturbating (sorry for the grittiness of all of this, but hey, it’s the truth) the voice of the Lord once again butted its way into my heart and asked me to surrender.  I distinctly remember telling God somewhere in that conversation that I was gay… It was significant because it was the first time I had dared to say it.  His voice persisted in calling me to surrender.  Somewhere in the tug-o-war that night, my soul slipped slightly over the line towards His pulling, and I gave in.

In “Mere Christianity” C.S. Lewis writes these words, as if spoken by The Lord:

  “Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self---in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart shall become your heart.”

This was the sentiment of that Tug o War. God wanted all of me, including my own understanding of my identity.  I do not have the proper perspective to identify myself.  My perception is too polluted. It is defiled by the hateful, hurtful words people have spoken over me…and that I have spoken over myself. It is tainted by my insecure, striving heart, begging to feel valued, seen, and esteemed. It is too influenced by the illicit pleasures of sexual sin and defiled imagination.  It is too limited to what I can achieve or conjure. It only has my limited understanding and fickle sentiment. None of us can trust ourselves to accurately say who we are.  That is why Kempis’s words felt so soothing to me this morning, and reminded me of that sweet, terrifying moment of surrender.  I needed The One who made my soul, who holds my eternity secure, who is the only accurate interpreter and the only source of hope that I have to be the only One with the authority to tell me who I am.  Only in that place of humility and surrender can I “find anchorage for the heart, or rest calmly in God.”

And what did He say to me in that moment when my lips seemed to confirm an identity that my affections, my relationship, and sexuality seemed to reveal? Well…If I were to write it all down, I would certainly burst into tears…and I don’t think the other patrons of the auto shop I am currently writing this in would know what to do with that hot mess. What I will dare to say is that The Lord spoke so tenderly and softly to my heart of my value as His son, of His plans and intentions for me as a man, for the fact that my very name was not a cruel joke, and that when He looked at me, gay was nowhere to be found. He told me to agree with Him. To stop resisting him. He told me to trust Him.  (Ok, well now I am crying… crap)

Here is my bottom line. I do not share this experience to criticize anyone who claims a gay identity. Especially if Christ is not your Lord and Savior. If you are not connected to The One who made you and formed you, than I cannot, and will not criticize the way you understand your identity. I will only invite you to investigate the claim that Christ is the source of all life, that He is Savior and Lord. That He loves you indescribably and is ready and waiting to have a similar conversation with you.  For my brothers and sisters in Christ who claim a gay identity in addition to their Christianity, I do not share my experience to criticize your understanding of who you are. I fully understand how you would come to that conclusion. What I would simply like to share with you is the rest my soul experienced when I surrendered my right to define myself in those terms. 

For all other readers; we all have our baggage and list of experiences and struggles that the enemy of our souls uses, probably on a daily basis, to rob us of the only true identity that matters, as sons and daughters of God.  May we all take a moment today to quiet our minds, and let The One who made us whisper tenderly and quietly to our aching hearts, who we really are.


Is Same -Sex Temptation Sin?

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)

13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

There is a freedom I found the day I realized that my same-sex temptations were not in and of themselves “sin”.  In my previous post, I wrote how hopeless it is to think yourself condemned for something you feel you have no control over.  I know of many fellow believers that have wrestled with the feelings of condemnation that can come by merely being tempted to engage in a struggle that they were trying to overcome.  We can understand that by simply being human, we will be tempted to sin.  That comes with the fall. We are all bent toward sin. I remember seeing it in my oldest daughter… as cute as she was, the little stinker was not even two years old when she started learning how to manipulate… ladies and gentlemen, a fallen nature at work.  Even so, there is a distinction that needs to be made in this. James 1:14-16 puts it this way:

No, a man’s temptation is due to the pull of his own inward desires, which can be enormously attractive. His own desire takes hold of him, and that produces sin. And sin in the long run means death—make no mistake about that, brothers of mine! ( J.B. Phillips New Testament)

Scripturally, temptation itself is not sin, but when “desire takes hold” produces sin and death.

This is so important to understand for every believer… I would go so far as to say that for those who struggle with same-sex attraction, it is absolutely essential to understand this distinction.  To believe that temptation itself condemns you leaves you in a constant state of defeat and despair. In my own struggle, interpreting every temptation with same-sex attraction as sin, left me feeling demoralized, condemned, and robbed me of the opportunity to exert my will and to battle effectively.

Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defense that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ. (2 Cor 10:5 Phillips)

A proper understanding of temptation leaves believers with a choice of what to do in response to it.  Temptation is not sin, but a common experience that God is able to give grace to endure and overcome.  That is so hopeful!  Believing this helps us move from a victim mindset to a place of encouraged strength.   A believer who rests in this handles temptation differently than one who feels defeated the second an enticing thought assaults his / her mind. 

Maybe you feel as though I am preaching to the choir here.  Many in the church would agree with this seemingly self-evident biblical truth concerning temptation, yet there is a disparity when it comes to the issues of same-sex attraction.  Over and over again, the object of temptation (someone of the same sex) automatically defined the temptation as a sin to be repented of.  That is not biblical.  The scriptures state that sin is produced when “a man’s desires take hold of him”.  This is where some empathy and understanding can make the difference between hope and despair. 

I know that it is not popular to hold this view, but I believe, and have experienced, that same-sex attraction is partially a symptom of unmet need.  There is nothing to repent of in needing love.  There is nothing sinful about wanting to experience affection or companionship.  God unapologetically created humanity with relationship in mind.  When our desire to connect with the same sex is in a way that is out of order, even this is not sin, but rather is symptomatic of a life impacted by sin and brokenness.  But it is absolutely NOT sin in and of itself.  However, if not taken captive and submitted to the Lordship of Christ, this desire for connection and love can easily “take hold” of our hearts and minds, and lead us into sin.   

There have been a number of articles I have read this month that have specifically dealt with the concept of sexual orientation.  In those articles, many of which were from very well respected Christian leaders, the disparity of viewing same-sex temptation as inherently sinful, while heterosexual temptation was viewed more graciously, that I mentioned came up frequently.  The authors clearly stated that as believers, we have the responsibility to submit our desires and inclinations to His Lordship.  Godly stewardship of our sexuality demands that.  As one who has walked this journey for two decades, and who has walked alongside those struggling with same –sex attraction for over a decade, I can say with authority just how very un-helpful it is to our discipleship process when we are judged as failures because of the nature of the struggle we are contending with.

In order to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with same-sex attraction, there has to be a shift in how we speak about same-sex temptation.  Can we speak in such a way that doesn’t defeat those dealing with this issue before they even have a chance to obey in the midst of temptation?  Can we speak the scriptures back to them, not our own opinions?  Can we focus on our common condition, that we are all drawn into sin when we decide to take the place of God, trusting in ourselves to meet our needs, and not submitting those needs back to our God who cares for us?

It is not that same-sex attraction is exactly the same as any other sexual temptation, it is not. It reveals a different state of brokenness. It has vastly different implications for what surrendering to Christ might mean long term. It has the capacity to alter our understanding of our identity. It is very weighty, and very different. But the nature of the temptation does not make it sin simply because it is different.    

The Words We Use

I’ve never liked labels. Maybe it was because words have always carried such weight for me.  With words we bless and we curse. We can build up and we can tear down.  The scripture says that the power of life and death are in the tongue… Literally, words can make the difference between life and death.  I am not going to take the time to build on this right now, but when you consider the amount of people who choose to end their life because of the hateful, hurtful words spoken to, about, or over them…it is staggering.

It is profound to consider the impact that words, in the form of labels, can have on a life. Moment of vulnerability here…  As a kid, I had really big ears.  Huge... Epic, in fact.  At least that’s what I believed because of the litany of insults I received as a kindergartner.  One insult in particular, “Why don’t you fly home Dumbo?” really wounded my young heart.  I can still remember the place, time, weather, and the feeling of my face going red the first time one of the other boys in my class said those words. I recognize that, on the grand scale, this kind of insult is small potatoes.  But the fact that I so vividly remember, and that my self-perception was altered for years to come, proves the point: words have power.  I can also vividly remember the first time I heard, and applied the label “abomination”.  The pastor had just finished quoting Leviticus 18:22. What I don’t remember is whether he actually said “it is an abomination” or “they are an abomination”, but I remember feeling it was the later. I remember where the pew was in relation to the stage. I remember, of all things, the pastor’s haircut. I remember how hopeless I felt. I remember the feeling of my face going red. And I remember that for years to come, my self-perception was altered as words created a label, and that label stuck to me. 

It is an incredibly demoralizing thing to feel condemnation for something that you feel you have absolutely no choice or no control over. 

I am happy to report that over the years, a few very important transformations happened.  First, I am pretty sure that my ears are more appropriately proportioned to the size of my head. Second, I realized that I was not helpless or hopeless regarding my same-sex attraction.  Neither of these shifts happened overnight. Both required a certain amount of self-acceptance to get through the rough periods, but just like most things in life, had more to do about self-perception than a fixed reality. Time, growth, and perspective shifts helped immensely.  If I were to try to stretch the analogy any further, I am sure it would crumble, as big ears and same-sex struggle are VASTLY different animals, so I will end it here and get to the real point: The words we speak or accept as true have incredible power over us. James 3 is a great reminder about the power possessed in the tongue. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. Strong words about the tongue.

I can’t recall how many times I was labeled as gay. Whether it was an explicit remark made by some school-yard bully, or whether it was a more passive insinuation made by my culture interpreting my internal struggle for me by means of a TV show or movie, but I can tell you for sure that it was countless.  I also can tell you that the condemnation spoken over that identity being spoken over me was equally numerous.  From every derogatory joke made by friends in youth group, to the hatred and disdain that dripped from the mouths of people in church as they talked about “those people”. The words spoken to me were clear… I was gay, and I was hated.  The odd thing in all of this: I never spoke those words over myself. Call it denial, call me a self-hating gay if you want to go there, but even when I was engaged in a sexual relationship with another guy, I still did not personally speak that I was gay.  Oh I felt gay for sure…And I was certainly acting gay. But I could never actually bring myself to say that I was gay. When I began coming clean with people about my feelings and behavior, my confession was that I was struggling with homosexuality.  That was true enough… I was experiencing homosexual attraction, and I was struggling against it.  When I was years into my personal discipleship / healing process, I also did not really embrace the label of “ex-gay”.  I didn’t want to be identified for what I wasn’t. Why am I making a big deal about this? Because; words have power. 

As a believer in Jesus I live with the distinct conviction that the only words I want to accept as part of my identity, or that I want to speak over anyone else, are words that speak truthfully and in accordance with His word.  Practically speaking, this means that I need no other labels than those of “redeemed, forgiven, adopted, co-heir with Christ, transformed, made new, etc.”  Now don’t get me wrong, I am adamantly in favor of telling the truth about our struggles and temptations.  In no way am I advocating that people deny the reality of a struggle with their sexuality by hiding behind labels that can quickly dissolve into platitudes.  But what I am saying is that making a struggle into an identity is unhelpful at best, and potentially damaging at worst. 

I never embraced a gay identity, in spite of very real gay feelings and behavior. Ultimately I think this served me and my walk with the Lord. Because I never embraced an identity as gay, it was never a fixed and unchangeable reality.  It was a struggle that remained subject not to the Lordship of my self-perception or the power of my experienced feelings or history, but rather it was subject to the Lordship of Christ, who had the authority and power to do whatever he wanted with that very real struggle and history. 

A thought to consider… Could we as believers in Christ choose to temper the words we speak about ourselves and others through the redemptive lens of the Gospel? Can we leave the power to speak identity safely in the hands of the only One who has the authority to speak truthfully to who we are? Can we purpose to point people to the hope found in Jesus by the words we speak? Let’s see what that can do!

What is a Living Letter?

What is a Living Letter?

“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.  And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,  who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  (2 Corinthians 3:2-6)

     In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul is appealing to the Corinthian Church to examine their own changed lives as the confirming evidence of Christ’s ministry through him, confirming that they are, in fact, a living letter from Christ.  It is a profound thought.  We, the redeemed of The Lord, are living, breathing letters, written by the Spirit of God, “to be known and read by all.” We as believers may very well be the first “testament” that many in the world will encounter. Ignatius wrote, “Give unbelievers the chance of believing through you. Consider yourselves employed by God; your lives the form of language in which He addresses them.”

     In March of 2001, I found myself sitting in a very uncomfortable chair on the stage of “The Sally Show”. For those who may not remember, it was the talk show of Sally Jesse Raphael. I was a guest on a show titled “Gay to Straight”. I was only about six months into the discipleship program at Portland Fellowship (the ministry in Portland, OR that God used to powerfully transform my life) and I was sitting alongside my mentor Jason Thompson as we were mocked and judged and minimized for our belief that Christ can, and was redeeming our lives out of a same-sex attraction struggle. (Don’t google it… it was awful and they edited the bejeebus out of it so Jason and I look like silent fools)  I vividly remember the faces of most in the audience, distorted and severe with hate and contempt.  I experienced a holy moment in that chair. The Lord spoke gently to my heart saying something along the lines of “If you choose to be public and open about my work in your life, you are going to get a lot more of this…”  It was a very important point of demarcation for me.  I remember being puzzled that by simply stating that God’s love and grace were transforming me, I was stirring up a hornet’s nest of animosity. God was gracious in that moment to give me a choice. I did not have to be open and public about this journey He was taking me on. I could choose to leave that studio and He would not hold it against me. God would still be my Father, my Healer, and my friend.  He would still be proud of me. He would still have a good plan for my life. It did not have to include all of “this”.  I had a choice.

sallypic.jpg
Jason Thompson, the Director of Portland Fellowship and I after filming The Sally Show in March of 2001. We both look considerably different now... Me older and heavier, and Jason somehow younger and thinner.... Tell me where the justice is in that!!

     In that moment, I counted the costs. Others were going to misunderstand, hate, reject, and despise me, simply for what God was doing in me, and for the audacity I had to want to share the comfort and healing that I was receiving.  It would have been easy to choose a more discreet life after that experience. No one, including God, would have blamed me. But as I sat there, a nagging thought pushed past my elevated blood pressure and feelings of vulnerability. “What if I had never heard a similar testimony? Would I still feel alone, isolated, hopeless, condemned to porn addiction and my own defiled imagination? Would I still be broken and confused?  I didn’t know the answer, but what I did know was that I didn’t have to face that possibility.  Others who had walked the same journey before me had chosen to be Living Letters… open “to be known and read by all.” I had read their letters, and it gave me hope. In that moment, on that stage, surrounded by hate and contempt, I decided it was worth the cost.

     My conviction is that Christ has called me to let my life and testimony of transformation be an open letter to the Church and to the world as a living example of His power to redeem and transform. Since that day, on that uncomfortable stage, I have spent my life determined to be open and available to those who might read this Living Letter and be encouraged just like I had by others before me.  For the last 10 years, I had the privilege of being on staff at Portland Fellowship, offering personal discipleship to those struggling like I have.  It was an amazing privilege to spend those years walking with those men and women.  In that decade, I watched as many of these brave men and women struggled to experience support and community outside the walls of our ministry. I saw how the church had in many ways become an unsafe and unwelcoming place for those trying sincerely to walk in obedience to Christ through this struggle.  It broke my heart. It breaks my heart…  

     In this new season of life and ministry, I have felt the leading of the Lord to help the Body of Christ know how to respond with the heart of Christ to those around them struggling with issues of sexual brokenness.  I am deeply concerned for the Church.  The Body of Christ is facing a great crisis. The issue of sexuality has fractured the Church, and everyday more and more faithful believers are being left confused, conflicted, or deceived, and therefore having no ability to effectively minister to the broken and hurting around them. Consequently, they are drawn in to different levels of deception, ranging from disbelief that God can transform the sexually broken, to seeing absolutely no need to call people to repentance. The Body of Christ needs to recapture a Gospel perspective of God’s power to redeem, transform, and sanctify the lives of believers who will submit faithfully to His Lordship. 

     I will be the first to admit, I am no scholar. I have no aspiration to be.  Many of the arguments that the Church is struggling with, I decided on years ago in simplicity and surrender.  I have no intention of avoiding the dialog, but just intend to remain authentic to who I am and the personality God placed in me as I speak about these issues.  So, please don’t be disappointed by the relative simplicity of my posts. I am a simple guy whose life has been transformed by Christ, and I want to share with you about it. This blog is not intended for any other purpose than this… to be an open letter “known and read by all” for the purpose of encouraging the church to remember that God is still active and powerful. 

     There are a lot of voices speaking to these issues today.  My hope and prayer is that as I add mine, you will hear the heart of someone transformed by God.  I love the poem “The Convert” by G.K. Chesterton.  The poem ends with these words…

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

     I can relate to this… I know that through God’s grace I have been brought from death to life. I pray that through my “Living Letter” you will be able to put flesh and blood on your understanding of these struggles. I pray that you would be able to see those around you with more empathy, compassion, and respect. I pray that you would be encouraged to believe in a Holy God that calls specific things sin…yet has every ability to rescue, redeem, and heal those caught in sin.  That is my prayer.