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Monday, January 25, 2016

Living Christian in a Gay World, part 3 - Living Out the Gospel

Part 3 – Living Out the Gospel
Luke 4:14-19

Introduction
            This is the third of four messages on homosexuality.  All the previous messages for this series are posted here on my blog.  You can look at previous posts if you missed a message or if you would like to share it with someone else.  It has been very challenging to preach this series, because it’s a very sensitive subject for many people.  My sincerest hope is to speak the Truth in Love.
            My message last week was especially difficult for some to hear because it points out the ways the Bible clearly marks the practice of homosexuality as a sin.  The Gospel (or Good News) of Jesus is sometimes hard to hear.  However, never forget that it is indeed Good News.
            The goal of my message today is to explain how Christians should live out the Gospel in a world with mixed up views about homosexuality.  Let’s start by reading Jesus’ calling to bring Good News to all humanity. 

Luke 4:14-19
14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

Good News
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ message is called the Gospel, which translates “Good News.”  The very names of the four books about Jesus’ life are called the Gospels.  The Gospel of Matthew tells us Jesus traveled around “…announcing the Good News about the Kingdom.” (Matthew 4:23)  The book of Mark begins by saying, “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”  We just read in Luke 4:18 that Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.”
It is indeed Good News that Jesus came to save the world.  For when we were yet sinners, Jesus came to forgive us and lift us out of our sin.  Sam Allberry, an ordained pastor in the Anglican Church who struggles with same-sex attraction, put it this way in his book Is God anti-gay?  He said, “The Christian message is the best news anyone can ever hope to hear.  It’s all about a God who is more forgiving and loving than we could possibly imagine.”  And yet, Allberry understands the Good News of Jesus Christ compels him to refrain from acting upon his attraction to people of the same-sex.  [Click Here to find out more about Sam AllberryClick Here to find out about his book Is God anti-gay?]

The Bad News
The Good News of Christ inevitable reveals there is also some bad news.  If Jesus came to save us, he must have come to save us from something.  Our Luke passage said Jesus came to bring Good News to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, etc.  The bad news is poverty, captivity, blindness, and many other troubles caused by sin are part of the human condition. 
            The corrupted nature of humanity reveals itself in numerous ways and everyone is affected. We lie. We cheat. We steal.  We may also experience physical malfunctions.  I have a tendency to eat too much and that tendency can have dire consequences for my health.  Others have trouble controlling their tongue or are prone to addiction or suffer from mental illness or emotional troubles.
Sometimes the consequences of sin in our world are completely out of our control.  For instance, a child is born blind.  Neither the child nor his parents did anything wrong to cause the blindness, yet the child is born blind because sin has corrupted the very nature of our world.  This was not God’s will.  God’s will is for everyone to be perfect and whole.  Yet sin has distorted God’s original plan.
People argue about whether homosexuality is a choice or whether people are born that way.  In the context of the Gospel, it doesn’t matter.  We know that we are all born with many kinds of troubles.  I want to eat too much.  Another is born blind.  Yet another is born with an attraction to people of the same sex.  One is not worse than the other in God’s eyes.  They are all consequences of the same sin-sickness that infects our world.
The consequences of sin are very serious when we consider it in these broader terms.  And our horrible, hopeless situation reveals how desperately we need salvation.  That is why it is such incredibly Good News that Jesus came to save us.
            When we read the 4 Gospels, we see sickness, sin, demons, ignorance and walls of division being destroyed as a sign of God’s Kingdom breaking into our world.  And Jesus invites all who will to come be part of the Kingdom.  His message was and is "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."[i]
            He said repent, because we cannot bring our sin with us into God’s Kingdom. It doesn't matter what the sin is: whether it be hypocrisy or homosexuality, lying or lusting, gossip or greed, we must die to these and all selfishness with the help of Christ. Sometimes we will find complete healing from our sins in our lifetime. Sometimes we will continue to struggle for a long time, but the Good News is there is forgiveness and grace in Christ Jesus. He understands our weakness and his strength is sufficient to help us endure.  Ultimately, we will be made perfect. 

It’s Not Picking and Choosing
Some argue Christians just pick and choose which sins in the Old Testament Law apply today.  A couple friends of mine commented on Facebook about my message last week.  They rightly pointed out that the same Old Testament that forbids homosexuality, forbids eating pork, also endorses slavery, and stipulates many other disturbing regulations.  Are we just picking and choosing what we want to believe?
Definitely not.  This line of reasoning misunderstands the power of the Gospel.  Christ’s life, death, and resurrection fulfilled the law and ushered in a new era of God’s grace, changing the way we apply the laws of the Old Testament[ii]The Old Testament laws break down into certain categories and we can see how the Gospel affected each category: 
Cleanliness laws. (Don’t touch lepers or eat pork, etc.)   Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19) and also touched lepers and dead bodies, and was not made unclean by doing so.  Thus, Jesus ended the cleanliness and food laws of the Old Testament.  (Yeah!  We can all enjoy our pork BBQ and bacon!)
Worship/Sacrificial Laws.  (Sacrifices, circumcision, etc.)  Jesus taught his body was the true Temple and his death was the ultimate sacrifice for sin (John 2:21, Mark 14:36). Thus, his death opened the way for us to approach God, making Old Testament regulations concerning the Temple and its sacrificial system obsolete. 
Civil Laws. (Laws about slavery and stoning, etc.)  In the Old Testament, the people of God were the nation-state of Israel.  In the New Testament, Jesus reconstituted the people of God so they are a universal Church embodied in numerous local gatherings around the world and subject to the laws of secular governments. The Old Testament laws relating to the civic life of Israel (such as requiring the death penalty for grave sins) no longer apply to believers today in the same way as they did in the Old Testament.
Moral Laws.  (The 10 Commandments, sexual ethics, etc.)  The purpose of the moral laws is to show us our sins so we know how much we need Christ.  Also, they teach us how to act in love towards our neighbors.  Jesus fulfilled the moral requirements of the Law to perfection since we couldn’t, but he also restated many of the moral laws and said we should follow them—including the sexual ethic of the Old Testament.  These moral laws are also restated by other New Testament writers so they still apply to us today.[iii]
So if you look closely, you will see we are not being inconsistent—picking and choosing which laws we like and don’t like.  We are simply living out a new reality brought on by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
[Click Here for a blog by Rev. Brent White with more about the "picking and choosing" debate.]

Reaching Out
            The Good News is for everybody.  The church is called to be in ministry to all people.  Jesus didn’t come to save people who are already OK (or think they are already holy).  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He came to heal those who are spiritually sick; this includes people who struggle with all kinds of sin—including homosexuality.  But how do we reach out to people struggling with homosexuality? 

First of all make it easy to talk about.
Keeping quiet about a taboo subject like homosexuality (or any sexual sin) only promotes secrets, isolation, and darkness where sin and suffering grow and fester.  Sadly, sometimes the last person someone struggling with homosexuality feels comfortable talking to is a Christian.  There are plenty of people in our world today who will tell them there is nothing wrong with practicing homosexuality, but it is not helpful just to be told what you want to hear or what sounds good.  What we all need is unconditional love and biblical truth. 
People struggling with same-sex attraction (or any kind of sin) need to know it is safe and encouraged to talk about our problems and struggles with loving Christians.  Therefore, live the kind of life that lets people know they can come and talk to you about anything, knowing you will be honest and caring, and will still love them no matter what. 
Along with this, you need to be careful how you talk about homosexuality.  Realize that people are listening to everything you say and the way you say it.  The careless things we say can have unintended consequences.  How would it sound to a teenage boy who is struggling with homosexuality if he hears his football coach joking about gay people or telling another player he tackles “like a girl”?  How would the angry, politically charged article condemning “gay rights” you share on Facebook be perceived by someone who is struggling with homosexuality?  How would someone feel if they overhear you talking about homosexuality as if it were the worst possible sin anyone could commit (which it isn’t)?  They’re probably not going to trust you with their struggle.  That doesn’t mean we disengage on the issue, but it does mean we must be thoughtful and loving and careful in how we engage.
If someone opens up to you about their struggles, recognize how much courage it took them to speak up.  Be sure to thank them for trusting you.  It is truly an honor for someone to open up to you about something so sensitive.  Be sure to protect their trust by keeping a confidence.  Pray with them.  Be truthful (as best you understand truth), but always be loving. 

Get rid of unhealthy stereotypes.
If you want to be helpful on the issue of homosexuality, try to deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, rather than cultural stereotypes.  Be considerate in how you talk about others.  Learn to recognize and promote true, biblical values about what it means to be a man or a woman.  Discard the false images that the non-Christian world promotes and that sometimes creep into our churches.  What does it really mean to be a man?  What does it really mean to be a woman?  The type of person we are sexually attracted to has very little to do with our masculinity or femininity in a biblical sense. 

Honor Singleness.
Jesus offered an alternative to heterosexual marriage—singleness.  Therefore, people struggling with same-sex attraction may need to spend long years or even their whole life as single persons.  This can be difficult and requires the support of the church.  Don’t forget special efforts to minister to singles in the midst of all the couples and family ministries in the life of the church.  This is helpful for all single persons, regardless of why they are single—whether because they have not married yet, are divorced or widowed, or have chosen not to marry.  Always remember that people who remain single are as important as those who marry and singleness is a highly honorable condition in the eyes of God.
“But isn’t it unrealistic and unloving to expect someone to remain single just because they are attracted to people of the same sex?”  No.  That is a message our culture tells us—that you are not healthy or whole unless you are sexually active and eventually married.  But this was not Jesus’s opinion and other New Testament writers also offered singleness as an honorable and desirable condition for people to choose.  Centuries of devoted Christians have chosen singleness.  Some famous Christians who remained single were:  Jesus, St. Paul, Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, George Handel, Leonardo de Vinci, Susan B. Anthony, and Isaac Newton.  But it’s not just famous people.  We have people in our own churches who have chosen to be single and have been blessed by it as they have been a blessing to many others.  And while singleness has its struggles (so does marriage by the way), singleness offers great rewards as well.  So let us support those who choose to be single.  It is a practical and godly alternative to marriage.

Be the Family of God.
Remember that the Church is a family.  Be sure to adopt people who struggle with homosexuality into your church.  You—as their church family—may be the only family they have.  You are a precious gift to them.  Make the most of it.  Invite them to be with you—especially in those times when a person normally gathers with family.  Sometimes the holidays can be the loneliest times for single adults.  Your friendship can make all the difference. 

Be a Welcoming Church for Everyone.
People need to know that the church offers support for those struggling with homosexuality.  They should feel comfortable coming to the church, knowing they can find help with their questions and struggles.  They need to know the church wants to and can help.  They need to hear the Good News that Jesus forgives and loves us no matter what we struggle with. 

Conclusion
            The Good News is for you!  We all have sin.  We all struggle.  Your sin—whatever it is—is no worse than mine or anyone else’s.  We are all in desperate need of Jesus’ saving love.  The Good News is Jesus freely offers salvation to anyone who sincerely wishes to take hold of it.  So there is no need to be trapped by your guilt.  There is no need to pretend like nothing is wrong.  The first step in healing is admitting the problem.  So I invite you to come to Jesus and cry out for help.  What he wants more than anything is to reach out and take your hand and lift you out of whatever sins you struggle with.  Won’t you come to him?  Won’t you trust him?  Won’t you let him save you?
 
 





[i] Matthew 3:2 NET
[ii] http://www.livingout.org/arent-we-just-picking-which-bits-of-the-old-testament-law-apply-today
[iii] Examples Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11

Monday, January 18, 2016

Living Christian in a Gay World, part 2 - What the Bible Says

Part 2 – What the Bible Says
2 Timothy 3:15-17

Introduction
            Views about homosexuality have shifted tremendously in our society to the point that the Supreme Court has even ruled that all 50 states must recognize same sex marriages and cannot prevent homosexual couples from getting marriage licenses.  This message is the second in a series that seeks to understand how to live as Christians in a world that has changed the way it sees homosexuality. 
            Last week, I implored you to make love your highest aim as we consider this issue.  Love is the key and our time today will be productive only if you have an attitude of genuine love—regardless of what you believe about homosexuality.  Please listen today with an open mind and a humble heart. 
            Regardless of your opinions on the issue of homosexuality, it is vital that everyone understand that Christian teaching about homosexuality is not arbitrary.  How Christians live and what we teach is based upon the Bible.  Let’s begin this message with a passage that reveals the role of Scripture in our lives. 

2 Timothy 3:15-17
15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 

The Bible is the Foundation for What We Believe
            The Bible is an irreplaceable treasure that tells us everything we need to know to receive salvation through Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the inspired Word of God that speak to us, challenge us, inspire us, and guide us.  As verse 16 said, “…Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives…”
God speaks to us in a number of ways—through the traditions of the church, through our reason and understanding, and through our personal and communal experiences.  All of these are important and help guide us.  However, we always rely on the Bible as the firm, unchanging foundation of our faith because sometimes our traditions are flawed, our reason is limited, and our experience is too subjective to be reliable.  Scripture is the timeless and authoritative foundation that teaches us how to live Christian in a gay world.  

 
Jesus and Scripture
            Jesus is a perfect example of the authoritative role of Scripture to guide us.  Jesus founded his teaching and worldview on the Scriptures of the Old Testament (at the time, the New Testament had yet to be written).  Jesus directly referenced Scripture no less than 53 times in the four Gospels[i] saying such things as:
·       Matthew 9:13 – Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture…
·       Matthew 12:3 – Haven’t you read the Scriptures…
·       Matthew 21:13 – The Scriptures declare…
·       Mark 12:24 – Your mistake is you don’t know the Scriptures…
·       Luke 20:17 – Then what does this Scripture mean?
·       Luke 24:7 – Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
·       John 10:35 – And you know that the Scriptures cannot be altered… 

Clearly, Jesus had a high view of Scripture and offered it to His followers as an authority to know and follow.  If the Son of God understood the authority of Scripture to guide the faithful, shouldn’t we also rely upon the timeless, unchanging Word of God to guide the way we think and live?  The teaching of the Christian Church for 2,000 years has been an emphatic yes.  And the view of the Methodist movement from the beginning has been:  [the Bible] “…is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”[ii]
If we want to understand the will of God concerning homosexuality (or anything else), we must understand what the Bible says about it. 

What the Bible Says About Homosexuality
Therefore, I want to share what the Bible says about homosexuality.  There are five primary passages in the Bible that deal directly with homosexuality.  The fact that there are only five reveals two important clues about homosexuality:
1.     The status of homosexuality was not debated as often in societies during biblical times as it has been in our times.  If it were a topic people debated regularly, there would be more references to homosexuality in the Bible—whether it be stories about homosexual persons, rulings about it or prophecies from God on the issue, commandments concerning homosexuality, etc.  This doesn’t necessarily mean homosexuality was not as present in the past as it is now, but it may mean that the acceptability homosexuality was not in question as much in biblical times as it has been over the past few decades in the western world.  It would seem the matter was general settled for almost everyone in biblical times.

2.     Secondly, the small number of references to homosexuality in the Bible also reveals that although homosexuality has become a very big issue for our society over the past 50 years, it was not considered nearly as important a topic in biblical times.  The Bible devotes far more time to teaching about love, helping the needy, seeking God, etc. than it does to homosexuality.  Furthermore, Scripture spends much more time speaking against sinful behaviors like dishonesty, lack of compassion, and idolatry than it does speaking against homosexuality.  This would lead me to believe these were (and are) more important issues than homosexuality.  The way I see it, homosexuality has become disproportionally important for us in the 21st century.  It was not as important historically.  Furthermore, I don’t think it is as big of a deal to God as people today have made it out to be. 

Even so, people want and need to know what the Bible says about homosexuality.  So, let me briefly outline the five passages that deal directly with homosexuality. 

Genesis 19 – Sodom and Gomorrah
            The first direct reference to homosexuality is found in a fascinating and also disturbing story in Genesis chapter 19.  The story says God sent two angels to investigate two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, to determine if they were so wicked they must be destroyed.  While the angels are staying in Sodom with a man named Lot, Genesis 19:4-5 says, “…all the men of Sodom, young and old, came from all over the city and surrounded the house. They shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!”  God determines the cities are so wicked He must destroy them.  Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed just because the men practiced homosexuality; however, their attempt to rape the angels visiting Lot (who they thought were men) revealed the depths of Sodom and Gomorrah’s depravity.  Every last person in the cities was wicked to the core and deserved only judgment and destruction.  So, although the passage is about general wickedness and judgment (and not specifically about homosexuality), the story does reveal a very negative view of homosexuality.   

Leviticus 18 and 20
            The next references we find concerning homosexuality are in the 18th and 20th chapters of Leviticus.  Leviticus is a book of law that reveals how God expected His holy people to live in Old Testament times.  Leviticus 18 lists forbidden sexual practices.  Among the sexual practices forbidden are: adultery, sex with close relatives, and sex with animals.  Leviticus 18:22 specifically deals with homosexuality.  It says, “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.”  Leviticus 20:13 repeats the prohibition adding in the punishment for homosexuality at that time.  It says, “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.” 
            We should reject the idea of capital punishment for the practice of homosexuality.  Any form of violence, intimidation, persecution, or bullying of homosexual persons is abhorrent to God and to rightly-guided Christians.  However, these verses from Leviticus specifically show that homosexuality was considered a very serious sin in Old Testament times.  People often observe that religion in the Old Testament was much harsher than the religion Jesus revealed in the New Testament.  So, let’s look at the next three scriptural references about homosexuality that are all found in the New Testament. 

Romans 1:18-32
            The next reference is from Romans 1:18-32.  In this passage, the Apostle Paul argues how sinful the world is and how our sin blinds us to truths about God that should be obvious.  As an example, he points to homosexuality, which Paul says is obviously contrary to nature.  Since people have turned their back on God, Paul argues God has let people reap the shameful rewards of their sins.  Romans 1:26-27 says:

26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.

            So here in the New Testament as in the Old, we again see homosexuality regarded as sin contrary to God’s plan for humanity. 

1 Corinthians 6:9-10
            The next passage is from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which list the types of sinful behavior that could keep a person from inheriting the Kingdom of God.  It reads:
Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” 
            It is important to note here that homosexuality is listed alongside some other sinful behaviors that don’t seem as big a deal to people today as homosexuality—for homosexuality is listed right alongside greed and drunkenness and cheating.  So while we might make a big deal about a gay person and how we should treat them in the church, why don’t we make as big a fuss about these other sins that are far more prevalent and just as important to God?  Is this not a double standard we should recognize and expel from our way of thinking? 

1 Timothy 1:8-10
            The last direct reference to homosexuality is 1 Timothy 1:10.  This passage also lumps homosexuality in with a list of sins the writer assumes everyone in his audience knows are sinful.

"The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching…"

            Here again, we see homosexuality (something many people today consider a serious sin) listed with other sins people don’t seem to mind as much like lying or breaking promises.  None-the-less, homosexuality is clearly considered unacceptable behavior that is contrary to God’s plan for humanity in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. 

Jesus
            Jesus did not say anything directly about the issue of homosexuality in Scripture.  Some people point this out as a justification for the acceptance of homosexuality among Christians.  However, that’s not really a reasonable position if one sincerely considers the life of Christ. 
Jesus was very accepting of people traditionally considered outcasts and sinners of society.  His detractors maligned him for eating with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes.  However, Jesus never condoned sinful behavior and always looked to forgive and lift people out of their sinful lives.  Furthermore, we have already seen how Jesus stood upon the teachings of the Old Testament—referring to Scripture over 53 times in the Gospels to support his teachings.  Since we see what the Old Testament teaches regarding homosexuality, it doesn’t make much sense to assume Jesus disagreed simply because he didn’t explicitly restate the Old Testament’s teaching on the issue.  Jesus’ audience would have already assumed homosexuality was a sin.  There is no record or reason to believe this was even a question Jesus needed to address.  His silence on the issue supports the idea that Jesus saw homosexuality as a sin as did most people of his time.
In Mark 7:21-23, Jesus said, “21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”  Given Jesus grounding in the Old Testament understanding of sin and righteousness, Jesus must have understood "sexual immorality" to be defined by Leviticus 18–which includes all the things we’ve already mentioned including homosexuality.
There is a more obvious reason to believe Jesus saw homosexuality as contrary to God plan because of what he did say about human sexuality.  Jesus explicitly states God’s plan for human sexuality to be within a monogamous, heterosexual marriage in Matthew 19:4-6.  4“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
So we see that Jesus taught the traditional view of heterosexual marriage handed down from the beginning in Genesis and that never changed all throughout Scripture.  The only alternative to heterosexual marriage Jesus offers comes a few verses later in Matthew 20:12 when he says, “…some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” In other words, you can enjoy God’s gift of sexual union within heterosexual marriage or you can remain unmarried and refrain from sexual relations.  These are the only two valid options offered in the Bible or by Jesus. 

Conclusion
            I know this post was longer than usual.  We had a lot of material to cover, but I felt it was important for everyone to actually see what Scripture says about homosexuality to show why the Church teaches that homosexuality is a sin outside of God’s will for humanity.  It’s because the Bible teaches it—and not just in one place or in one era.  The Bible is clear about homosexuality from the beginning to the end.  And as 1 Timothy 3:16 say, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives."
Some congregations have changed their opinion about homosexuality, just as have many in our society.  Many in the United Methodist Church wish to change our official stance (and this will be debated at our next General Conference this May).  However, such a drastic change departs from our Scriptural foundation.
The truth is, society’s opinions on various topics change as easily as our taste in clothing—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  (Do you remember jelly shoes?) The beauty of the Bible (and the challenge also) is that is does not change.  It is an anchor that holds us to the Truth while the changing tides of public opinions swirl around us.  Scripture connects us to the timeless principles of God.
I understand that it is very difficult to maintain a biblical view of homosexuality given the unpopularity of that opinion in our times.  It is even more difficult because we all have friends, family, or loved ones who struggle with homosexuality.  You may personally struggle with homosexuality.  It can be very tempting to just set the scriptural witness aside and say, “There’s nothing wrong with homosexuality.”  And this is what some people have done.
I would encourage everyone—whether the issue is homosexuality or something else—to allow the Word of God to change you instead of trying to change the Word of God.  It is not an easy path to follow, but it is the best path and one that Love calls us to pursue.  Therefore, I urge you to pray fervently that God would give you courage to stand up for the Truth and a love that never gives up.    Jesus said, if anyone wants to follow me he must die to himself, take up his cross and follow me…




[i] 17 times in Matthew, 10 times in Mark, 14 times in Luke, 12 times in John
[ii] Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church, Article IV – http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/confession-of-faith

Monday, January 11, 2016

Living Christian in a Gay World, part 1 - Love is the Key

Part 1 – Love is the Key
1 Corinthians 13:4-10

Introduction
            Love wins.  It was the slogan that rang out on social media, in news clips, and on banners all over our nation when the Supreme Court of the United States released their ruling on the legality of gay marriage on Friday, June 26, 2015.  The verdict, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that States cannot keep same-sex couples from marrying and must recognize their unions.  The decision polarized people in our country more than ever before.  People advocating for gay rights were jubilant while those against the ruling were angry, afraid, saddened, and deeply concerned for our nation.  One thing the ruling points out is just how far public opinion on the issue of homosexuality has shifted over the years.
            The United Methodist Church has prayed about, studied, and debated the issue of homosexuality since at least 1968.  The best minds and hearts of our communion have spoken consistently about homosexuality in a way I believe speaks the truth with love.  Our denomination’s official stance from the 2012 Book of Discipline states:
“Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage…  We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”  [For the full statement and other statements in the United Methodist Book of Disciplines related to homosexuality, click here]

            That being said, there is disagreement among people within our denomination about homosexuality.  Some hold to the view presented in our discipline.  Others believe the denomination needs to change its stance and discard the idea that the practice of homosexuality is a sin.  Opinions of United Methodists in the Bible belt of the southeast tend to be more conservative—holding to the traditional view—while opinions in the northeast and western jurisdictions advocate for the ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals as ministers in the UMC.  The opinions of most United Methodist in areas outside of the US—places such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America where the church is growing exponentially—conform to the traditional view that the practice of homosexuality is a sin and should not be condoned by the church.
            Our next General Conference—which meets every four years and is the only legislative body that can speak for the United Methodist Church as a whole—will meet this May and most certainly will discuss the subject of homosexuality and how our denomination should respond to the changing tide of public opinion on this issue.  I invite you—regardless of your opinion on the issue—to be in prayer for our leaders at General Conference that God would give them great wisdom to lead our denomination regarding homosexuality.
            I have been praying for several months about whether or not to preach on this subject and, if so, how.  Although this is a difficult subject and one that often stirs up strong reactions, I believe it is imperative for us to seek understanding from God.  Thus, I want to ask you to commit to be present for (or read) each of the messages in this series.  Over the next few weeks, we will consider what God would say about homosexuality and how Jesus wants us to live in a world that that has changed its attitudes about those who are gay. 

Love is the Key
The time we spend here considering how to live as Christians in a gay world will only be productive if we love one another.  Love is the key.  So let us first consider how the Bible teaches us to love as we read in 1 Corinthians 13:4-10. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-10 [Slides]
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. 

Now, let’s examine some of these aspects of love more closely. 

Love is patient and kind.
We may be tempted to dehumanize people with whom we disagree about hot topics like homosexuality.  “How can anyone believe that!” we think.  “They must be stupid or mean or evil!”  But love requires us to be patient with people you think just don’t get it and gentle with folks whose religion or faith seems weaker than yours.  You see, love is patient and kind, not fed up and mean. 

Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
Don’t be jealous when other people or groups seem to win and you lose.  It was really hard for me to see gay rights activist marching in parades celebrating their victory with the Supreme Court.  The slogan "Love Wins" seemed like a slap in the face, as if I don't love because of my position.  All this at a time when many felt like their country was falling apart.  It was hard not to be “jealous” in a sense.  It was hard not to lash out in anger, but love isn't "jealous".  On the other hand, love isn’t boastful and does not swell with pride over perceived victories—rubbing your victory in the noses of those you’ve defeated.  It is very difficult not to be rude in the midst of such critical fights as come up over serious issues like homosexuality, but love is not rude. 

Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
Love doesn’t demand people to see things or do things our way.  We should make our case—reasoning with people—hoping they will come around to our way of thinking, but it’s their decision.  And love means that we let people follow their own path and not become irritated when they don’t follow ours.  Furthermore, we don’t hold a grudge against people we love when their beliefs clash with our own or when we feel mistreated.  It’s not easy, but love is worth it. 

Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 
Ultimately, what we really want is for injustice to vanish and for truth to win.  Yet sometimes pride disrupts this aspect of love.  We want to be right; we want to win.  And sometimes, the harder we fight to be right (and the more people we can get to agree with us that we are right) the more our selfish pride can blind us to the fact that we might just be wrong.  And it might just be sometimes that our desire or desperate need to be right starts to overshadow our love.  True love—in the biblical sense—rejoices when the truth wins out even if we have to admit we were wrong.
In regards to the issue of homosexuality, I find myself praying fervently about the fact that I might be wrong.  I don’t think I’m wrong.  I’ve taken great care to study, and meditate, and pray about, and research, and listen, and learn as much as I can about this issue so that I can be as confident as possible in my understanding.  Yet I never want to feel like the case is closed and so shut my mind or my heart to what someone else has to say.  Although I know what I believe, I always want to listen in case God shows me something I’ve missed.  You see, this is a serious issue that affects scores of people at a very deep level.  It has broken families apart, driven some to suicide and others to brutality or murder.  Yet my role as a Christian (and especially a Christian leader) requires me to have an opinion, to lead our church according to God’s will, and to take a stand the best I know how.  The love of Christ compels me.  And yet, I also understand all too well the disturbing reality that I could be wrong
If one day find that I was wrong, I hope that those with whom I disagreed will have mercy and forgive me because I was only trying to do what I thought was right.  In turn, I want to be merciful with those I disagree with now--treating them the way I would want them to treat me if the shoe was on the other foot.
I pray your most earnest desire as we go through this study is—not to be right and not to win, but—to rejoice whenever the Truth wins out even if it means you’ve been wrong. 

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Living as a Christian in our world requires faith, courage, and perseverance.  It requires us—with God’s help—to live out the principles Christ gave us the best we know how.  It requires us to have the courage to uphold the truth even if everyone else disagrees (or to be willing to change if we discover we were wrong).  Our faith requires us to persevere through it all—regardless of the difficulties—because we trust Jesus. 

Love will last forever.
All our understanding is limited.  Even what we know for sure will one day become irrelevant.  The same is true of our power, our influence, our traditions, our ways of life…  The only thing that will be left is love.  Therefore, we must make love our highest aim.  For if we are right, but without love, we have nothing.  And even if we are mistaken, but full of love, we are better off; because, one day our mistakes will be washed away, but love will remain forever. 

Summary
            Love is the key.  So in closing, I want to summarize the loving attitudes that will serve you best over the next few weeks as we consider how to live Christian in a gay world.  Really, these attitudes will serve you well in many areas of your life.  So, I encourage you to:
1.     Keep an open mind and a humble heart.
2.     Even if you don’t agree, try to at least understand someone else’s point of view.  I find that I learn more from people with whom I disagree than from those with whom I agree.  It doesn't mean I accept what they say, but sometimes understanding the position of those with whom I disagree clarifies why I believe what I believe.  Perhaps it will for you too.
3.     Remember, this is a safe place.
o   It is a place where you can come open your heart to God and listen for His guidance,
o   where you can agree or disagree, knowing God loves you either way,
o   where you can let God change your mind and heart or find He confirms what you already knew. 

Invitation
            I invite you to come to Pleasant Grove UMC for each of the messages in this series—with an open mind and a humble heart (or read each message here on this blog over the next few weeks).  I invite you to seek to be more loving, as spelled out in 1 Corinthians 13.  Most importantly, I invite you to ask Jesus to take control of your life and to commit to follow Him.   Christ is the embodiment of love--proven when he gave his life for us on the cross.