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Showing posts with label Homosexuality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Homosexuality. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Fighting for the Soul of the UMC, Part 2


“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 1:8

"Give me 100 men who hate nothing but sin and love God with all their hearts and I will shake the world for Christ!"
John Wesley

In my first article, I shared why it is critical for pastors and members serving in local United Methodist congregations to focus on renewing the United Methodist Church at the denominational level.  You can read that article here.

Now I want to share some strategies to build a more vibrant and effective United Methodist denomination that better reflects the orthodox views firmly founded upon a right understanding of Scripture.  These ideas are meant to provide direction and hopefully inspire creative leaders to work out the details that could make them a reality.  I welcome your contributions to this vision of a renewed, effective UMC.

Do Not Leave the UMC
First and foremost, conservative evangelicals who wish the UMC to hold to orthodox Christian teaching firmly founded upon Scripture must not leave.  Every orthodox leader and church that pulls out of the denomination only leaves the UMC weaker and more skewed toward the progressive side of the spectrum.  Traditionalists currently hold a modest majority within the denomination.  Voting at the 2019 general conference confirmed this.  Furthermore, this orthodox majority will only increase in coming years as the population of progressive United Methodists in the US decreases while traditional United Methodist in Africa and Asia are growing quickly.  Delegates to the 2020 general conference will likely be even more in favor of traditional Christian values.  This traditional majority will increase even more for general conferences in 2024 and beyond.  2019 was probably progressives’ last best hope for gaining the votes they needed to flip the UMC’s stance on homosexuality.  But this only holds true if conservatives refuse to walk away!  We are winning the struggle to maintain a faithful denomination; now is not the time to leave!  Please, do not abandon your brothers and sisters to fight for the soul of the UMC alone.

Furthermore, we need to be firm but gracious to progressives.  If they refuse to uphold, defend, and teach the orthodox Christian doctrine our denomination has ratified, we must insist they exit the denomination.  It is the same thing we would do if a disruptive individual interrupted one of our worship services in a local church.  We would insist they leave and escort them out as gently and politely as we could.  We must be gracious and loving as we invite those disrupting our denomination to leave.  Every time conservatives resort to angry name calling or unfair treatment, we betray Christ and it deeply damages our witness.  Jesus said in John 13:35, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us the kind of love the Church should practice.  It’s not a weak love that allows unrighteousness or false teaching to remain in the church.  However, we can be firm without being unloving or rude; and we must.

In some places where conservatives are  outnumbered, we should take a page from LGBT activists’ playbook.  Conservatives should peacefully resist and protest.  This must not degenerate into the hateful signs and verbal attacks on perceived enemies.  Rather, let us be the noble ones and force progressives to embarrass themselves in the public eye as they persecute orthodox Christians simply because we are being faithful to what we believe God says in the Bible.  How can we support conservatives in overwhelmingly progressive areas as they seek peaceful changes in their districts, conferences, and jurisdictions?  Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Focus on Leading the Denomination
Secondly, local church leaders must focus more on the denomination.  I believe one of the reasons the UMC has drifted over the years is our most faithful, orthodox United Methodists have been busy leading local churches.  To address this, we must turn some of our attention back to the denomination.  We must be diligent in watching, studying, and actively participating in our districts, annual conferences, and general conference.  We must pay close attention to how money is allocated, who is selected for leadership, and how our districts and conferences are run.  We must pay close attention to who is elected delegates for annual, jurisdictional, and general conferences.  We must understand the issues presented (not just issues like homosexuality that garner attention).  We can no longer leave these things to the people pulling the strings behind the curtains at conference while we simply offer a “rubber stamp”. 

Furthermore, we must openly band together with colleagues who share our values.  You can be sure progressives are doing the same.  In many places, progressives have already worked together very effectively to entrench people in leadership who will guard their ideas.  It will take hard work to change the current landscape of leadership in the United Methodist Church so that it better represents the values in local congregations, but it can be done.  The very first thing we can do is elect delegates to the 2020 general and jurisdictional conferences who represent orthodox Christian values.  If you have a vote at your annual conference this year, use it well!  Clergy, encourage your lay delegates to vote for orthodoxy.  Laity, encourage your pastors to do the same.  We must continue these efforts even beyond the 2020 general conference to make sure orthodox Christianity remains the strongest voice in our denomination.  Each UM church is allocated a certain number of delegates to annual conference.  Often, those delegates don't even attend.  Orthodox delegates must not only attend, they must be ready to understand the issues that will be addressed at conferences so they can make their votes count.

Conservatives must also become more united in what we believe.  So far, much of our passion has been about what we don’t believe (we don’t believe homosexuality is God’s will and we don’t want to ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals, etc.).  Unfortunately, we are less united on issues about what we want for the UMC.  We often disagree on other issues like abortion, the drinking of alcohol, women in ministry, politics, styles of worship, etc.  We need to be more gracious with each other on non-essentials and work hard to build a solid platform on the essentials.

Clearly Understand and Teach Orthodox United Methodist Beliefs
Part of the reason orthodox teaching is under attack in the UMC is orthodox Christians have not been clear about exactly what we believe.  Even though conservatives have spent a lot of time arguing with progressives about homosexuality, we have not done well at sharing our thoughts openly with our congregations.  It is not a subject most pastors want to preach or teach about for a number of reasons.  Meanwhile though, the wider culture around us has been hard at work sharing their narrative in every available format—TV, movies, music, politics, the courtroom, through doctors and psychologists, and education.  It is no wonder we are losing the hearts and minds of our congregations and the denomination as a whole in the US.  Our silence is a forfeit.

But the problem of unclear teaching goes beyond homosexuality.  Conservatives often aren’t clear on other doctrines such as divorce and why we follow some Old Testament laws and not others.  For example, many conservatives struggle to answer progressives’ challenges about why we oppose homosexuality on biblical grounds but still allow divorce.  To be sure, there are biblical grounds for allowing divorce, but few orthodox pastors (let alone the average layperson) can articulate sound theological reasons.  It’s no wonder our positions often seem weak and inconsistent.  Every faithful conservative ought to be informed about our doctrines and be able to offer a coherent answer from Scripture to these kinds of challenges. 


Therefore, conservative evangelical United Methodists need to become very clear on exactly what we believe.  We need to understand which doctrines are really essential to Wesleyan Christianity and which are more open to different interpretations.  We need to be united in our teaching on the essentials and gracious in non-essentials.  We need to be able to clearly articulate how we believe the Bible addresses issues such as divorce, sex outside of marriage, the need for ordained women in ministry, and which Old Testament laws apply to Christians and why.  Furthermore, orthodox United Methodists need to work hard to be united in our agreement on these doctrines.

Better Education and Training for Pastors
Part of the UMC’s anemia on doctrinal issues is the weak theological training many pastors receive.  John Wesley was an educated man and he expected Methodist pastors to be also.  Unfortunately, United Methodist seminaries in the United States often do not prepare pastors to be effective pastoral leaders.  Seminary education is too broadly focused while immersing students in an environment that celebrates progressive ideology and scoffs at traditional orthodoxy.  A three-year master of divinity degree should be the ultimate preparation for pastors answering God’s call to lead a local church.  Instead, pastors often leave seminary confused about what they are supposed to believe and lost when they try to lead a church.  We must do better. 

Theological training in United Methodist seminaries should focus primarily on a Wesleyan theology that is firmly grounded in Scripture.  Orthodox Christianity should be the norm that is held in high esteem by all.  Professors who seek to train future pastors should be deeply and passionately in love with Jesus Christ.  Students should spend their time falling deeper in love with Christ and learning how to live out that love in word and deed.  Upon completion of seminary, pastors should be expected to clearly articulate sound biblical doctrine to their boards of ordained ministry.  Some of the things they should be able to clearly explain from a Biblical perspective are:
  • Why women are welcomed in ordained ministry
  • Why we expect lifelong monogamous marriage but allow for divorce in certain circumstances
  • A clear Wesleyan view of how Old Testament laws apply for Christians today
  • What are the essentials of United Methodist doctrine—those doctrines which are non-negotiable and why?

But seminary education should not be confined to theology.  Pastors need much better training in the practical matters of day to day leadership of a local congregation.  How do you write and preach an effective sermon and offer an invitation that wins people to Christ?  How do you go out into the community and invite people to church?  How do you manage the complicated business aspects of a church?  How do you navigate the politics of a local congregation?  What are the practical steps to offer effective pastoral care to real people in a real church?

I have great respect for local/lay pastors.  Their passion for Jesus Christ and their commitment to serve inspires me.  Many of these pastors work a full-time job in the secular world and then also do the difficult job of leading a church.  I don’t want to leave them out of this discourse.  I’m sure there are reforms needed in their training as well.  I have not spoken of their situation only because I do not know enough to speak to it.  One thing I do know, I believe these local and lay pastors should have more voice in our conferences.  They should not be excluded from voting for delegates to general and jurisdictional conferences.  These faithful ministers of Christ have great practical wisdom to share and their faith is firm.  We need their voice.

Honor and Advance What is Already Great About the UMC
We must also honor what is already great about the United Methodist denomination.  If you are reading this, you are probably already a United Methodist or you wouldn’t spend time reading such UMC-centered material.  Therefore, I assume there are (or were) many great things about this denomination that drew you to the UMC.  So, even as we consider how things in the UMC must change, there are many things in this denomination we must also keep (and even advance).  

The UMC is a grace-filled denomination that has historically maintained a delicate balance between grace and truth.  Contrary to the accusations of many progressives, conservatives are not a bunch of Pharisees who care about rules more than people.  We are an open, welcoming people.  We realize everyone struggles with sin.  Divorce, sexual sin, substance abuse, and many other sins are part of the human condition and all who struggle with these and other sins are tenderly welcomed at the table of Jesus Christ who gave His life to redeem us.  The UMC has lost its delicate balance over the last few years, not because we turn away people who struggle with sins like homosexuality, but because progressives wish to claim sex between two people of the same gender is not sin (even though Scripture consistently says it is). So, we must always be a denomination that welcomes and loves all people, despite their sin, and offers God’s grace and forgiveness that leads to a transformed life.  We must become even more gracious and welcoming.  Let us conservatives who adamantly defend the Truth of God’s Word about homosexuality (and all sin) be just as adamant that God’s grace is freely given to all people.  Let us be forever clear that it is the practice of homosexuality that is sinful, not same-sex attraction itself.  Only those who engage in homosexual behavior or are romantically involved with others of the same sex are acting contrary to God’s will on this matter.

Diversity and inclusiveness are buzzwords that have been drilled into United Methodists ad-nauseam.  Even so, at their root, these are good concepts that we’ve embraced because they truly reflect God’s will and also strengthen the Church.  United Methodism must remain a big tent that always includes people of many diverse backgrounds.  Evangelicals, charismatics, male and female, high-church and low-church people, advocates for traditional worship and innovators of new worship styles must all be welcomed and treated equally for their valuable contributions to God’s Kingdom.  We must always be a United Methodism that seeks racial and ethnic diversity.  Let us defend the rights of minorities and always ensure equal treatment. We must unequivocally affirm the long-standing effective ministry of women.  We must advocate for the equal treatment of women, the ordination of women as pastors, and the full acceptance of female leadership in every area of the UMC.   Let us be rid forever of all petty designations of “Jew and Gentile” that separate us and have nothing at all to do with the essentials of the faith according to the orthodox Wesleyan tradition.

Diversity and inclusiveness in an orthodox UMC must be more than a buzzword or report given at annual conference about the number of women and minorities represented.  We must open up all our pulpits and churches to cross-cultural appointments.  All churches should be available to be served by black, white, Asian, Latino, or female clergy.  These designations should not even be considered as reasons why a particular pastor cannot be appointed to a church.  We are all one in Jesus Christ.  We must "desegregate" the local church as well as the pulpit.

The UMC is a global denomination and the Church in Asia and Africa are our fastest growing segments—both in numbers and in spiritual depth.  Roughly 45% of United Methodists currently live outside the United States.  They will be a majority in a few years.  It’s time we start acting like a global denomination.  We must finally realize America is not the center of the Christian universe or the UMC.  Our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness must expand to the place where these brothers and sisters across the globe are treated as true equals.  We must do more than pay lip service to this ideal.  We must live into it in practical ways.  General conferences should be held in global locations.  Why do we still ask delegates from Africa, Asia, and Europe to travel halfway around the world to an American general conference?  Sometimes, we should travel to them.  We might learn some important things along the way.

We also need to learn from our faithful sisters and brothers across the globe.  We need to learn their theology and doctrine, their practice of ministry, and how they live as faithful disciples of Jesus.  The UMC is flooded with books and curriculums written by people in the US, many of which are weak and watered down or just wrapping the same old US ideas in new packaging.  Perhaps we should make it a priority to let others from around the world teach the US how to teach and preach.  The Holy Spirit is setting the UMC on fire around the globe.  Let Methodist churches, Sunday schools, and small groups in the US be set ablaze by the ideas and practices of those United Methodist Christians that are growing their churches exponentially in Africa and Asia. 

Summary
While many are frustrated and/or are pessimistic about the future of the United Methodist Church, I have great optimism.  The special called general conference this year proved that the majority of our denomination is still in favor of orthodox Christian doctrine founded upon Scripture.  Furthermore, the tide is changing in the UMC.  The orthodox voice calling for Scriptural holiness is now growing stronger.  Progressives who would redefine Christianity will not have the power to force their views upon conservative, so long as conservative remain true and do not abandon the UMC. 

To be sure, there are many more aspects of the UMC that need reform.  The fight over human sexuality was only one issue, which was really a symptom of deeper issues.  Much work is yet to be done to bring renewal.  However, I am confident we can focus more and more resources toward renewing our denomination and the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ now that we are beginning to move past the draining fight over homosexuality. 

In conclusion then, let me leave you with a simple list to summarize the strategies to make the UMC.  I admit these are not fully formed.  They need fleshing out.  I welcome your contributions to a better more effective United Methodist Church.
  • Do Not Leave the UMC
  • Focus More on Leading the Denomination
  • Clearly Understand and Teach Orthodox United Methodist Beliefs
  • Better Education and Training for Pastors
  • Honor and Advance What is Already Great About the UMC


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Fighting for the Soul of the UMC, Part 1


"I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd."
John 10:16

“…I believe in the holy catholic church…”
The Apostles’ Creed

The United Methodist Church is struggling.  Here’s why I think it is critical that pastors and leaders in local churches work hard to revitalize the UMC at the denominational level.  I will offer a second installment with some strategies that may help lead our denomination to be more effective for the Kingdom of God. Read it here.

I have a deep passion for helping people grow closer to God.  It is the passion that drove me to leave a promising career as an engineer and become an itinerant preacher in the United Methodist Church.  I’ve never regretted my decision.  I’ve been truly blessed.  There’s nothing more important or rewarding for me than serving as a pastor in a local church.

I’ve served as an appointed pastor in the UMC for 18 years.  My ministry has focused mainly on the local congregation because it’s where the bulk of hands on, frontline ministry takes place.  Though I have been faithful to the United Methodist connection and worked some at the district and conference level, my heart has always belonged to the local churches I’ve served. 

I suspect this is the attitude of most UM pastors and congregational leaders who serve in a local church.  We tend to let people in the district and conference offices focus on the denomination.  We stick to ministering to the families in our neighborhoods and communities.  There is more than enough work to keep us busy.  The tremendous pace and scope of our duties in the community is astounding.  We have precious little time to divert to denominational concerns.  We’ve entrusted those matters to others who are more passionate about the institution so we can focus on our local ministry setting.

The problem right now is many denominational leaders in the UMC are pushing ideas that are fundamentally at odds with the biblical values of most pastors and members in the local church.  Even though our special called general conference voted for a traditional plan that reaffirms an orthodox, biblical teaching about human sexuality, many bishops and other denominational leaders have vowed to disregard, disobey, and obstruct the decision.  So even though the elected voice of our denomination has spoken, it seems most of our denominational leaders in the US are vowing not to abide by the decision.  It’s very frustrating.

I have spoken with pastors and church members who are fed up.  Some are ready to throw their hands up and walk away from the denomination.  They say things like, “Who cares about the denomination anyway?  Who needs them?  Let them have the declining mainline institution and we’ll just go do church in our congregation the way we’ve always done it.” 

It would be a big mistake to abandon the denomination to progressive leaders bent on forcing the United Methodist brand to promote unchristian doctrine.  There is way more at stake than you may think—especially if your primary focus has been (like mine) the local ministry setting.  We all need to prayerfully consider why orthodox Christians should stay and work hard to renew the United Methodist Church.

Connectional vs. Congregational
United Methodists are connectional because we believe strongly the Church Jesus Christ established is more than just one congregation.  It includes all faithful Christians in all places throughout all time.  We believe we can be more effective at fulfilling our mission to make disciples of all the nations when we work together. 

United Methodists follow the example of the earliest Christians in the New Testament who were also connectional.  Local congregations worked together for the good of the worldwide Church.  The Apostle Paul collected funds to help the persecuted church in Jerusalem.  Early Christians conferred with each other to determine orthodox Christian doctrine and speak together as one voice throughout the whole world.  At the Jerusalem counsel in Acts 15, Church leaders had their own “General Conference” and decided Christians throughout the whole world didn't have to be circumciced but should “…abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood.” 

Congregationalism is a different option that some Christians choose (like Baptists).  They believe a congregational governing model is the best way to be faithful Christians.  Each congregation makes their own rules; they are not beholden to any other local church; there are no Baptist general conferences to tell local congregations how to believe or act or what to teach.

However, United Methodist pastors and congregations who consider pulling out of the United Methodist connection aren’t choosing congregationalism for theological reasons. The core value behind their decision is often: “I don’t really care what the Church Universal does as long as I can do things the way I like in my own church.”  So if you are thinking of pulling out of the UMC, ask yourself a very honest question:  “Am I leaving so I can truly further God’s Kingdom or is it really so I can just maintain my own little kingdom in my congregation?” 

Saving the Lost
Even if you plan to leave the UMC for a different connection, the stakes are still very, very high.  Millions of souls hang in the balance.  The UMC is a global denomination with some 12 million members.  That’s not an abstract number.  It represents 12 million living people that God loves so much He sent His only begotten son to die for them.  The United Methodist denomination has tremendous influence over the 12 million souls in our care.  If the denomination as a whole abandons orthodox Christian teaching, it will mislead millions of people in this generation alone.  And that doesn’t even account for the damage it will do to future generations across the globe who will be influenced by a corrupted UMC.

If evangelicals are serious about saving souls according to Christ’s command, we need to do all we can to save the denomination.  I understand the passion for the local churches that leads pastors and members to think the local congregation is the only thing we need to worry about.  However, we need to check our attitude whenever we are tempted to turn our backs on 12 million people just because we are more interested in the hundred or so members of our local congregation.  God’s Kingdom transcends our little flock.  It includes millions across the globe who rely on the United Methodist Church to be a trustworthy, biblical witness for Jesus Christ.

Weariness is No Excuse
Many people are tired of fighting.  I’m tired of fighting too.  However, I find new strength whenever I consider what I’m fighting for.  Jesus never said the Christian journey would be easy.  However, He did say in Matthew 10:22, “And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.” 

Few find it hard to fight for something they really care about.  If an intruder was trying to break into my house and harm my family, I would fight to my last breath to defend the people I love.  Well, the Church is our family and the denomination is our house.  In fact, UM elders and deacons are members of an annual conference, not a local congregation.  If we are to be faithful to the Church, we must be faithful to the denomination, not just the local church. 

Conservatives are often frustrated when progressives don’t uphold the Book of Discipline.  However, conservative elders are also guilty of breaking their vows when they leave the UMC.  At ordination, elders promise to “…be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting and upholding its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline,” and “defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word…”  Conservative members of local United Methodist congregations promise to “be loyal to The United Methodist Church” when they join the church.  It would be one thing if the denomination fundamentally changed our doctrines to be contrary to God’s Word.  Then, perhaps, we might be justified to leave.  However, General Conference has affirmed our long standing orthodox Christian teaching about human sexuality.  We have no justification to leave.  

But people say they are tired.  What have we endured that is so wearisome?  Perhaps Americans have grown too soft.  Christians in the past were tortured and burned at the stake for their faithfulness to Christ.  Hebrews 11:36-37 says, “Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword…”  Faithful United Methodists outside the US face similar persecution today.  And yet, it was our brothers and sisters from Africa and Asia who fought so hard to make sure the UMC passed the Traditional Plan.  Has our faith grown so weak in America that we can’t even endure a little scorn from a fallen world?

Our brothers and sisters around the globe helped US conservatives win the 2019 tug-o-war at General Conference.  Are conservatives in America now going to be cowards who walk away leaving those same faithful Africans and Asians holding the rope by themselves to be dragged away by US progressives in 2020 and beyond?  God forbid.

Conservative evangelicals in American need to pray hard that God would help us “run and not grow weary”.   There are still many miles ahead and many battles left to fight.  Jesus never promised it would be easy, but the struggle is worth it.  For the sake of God’s Kingdom, we need to “press on” and “fight the good fight of faith”.

A Vision for the Future
We also need a clear strategy to renew our denomination.  While pastors and congregations have been focused on the local church, others have been working to reshape our denomination into something that doesn’t represent what we believe.  It’s time to wake up.  It’s time to work hard at the denominational level to ensure the UMC offers sound biblical teaching and godly leadership.  It will be an uphill battle, but the reward will be a denomination that truly reflects God’s Kingdom values and supports local congregations on the front lines of the Christian faith.

Imagine a denomination truly united in our beliefs and doctrines that has a clear vision about what it means to make disciples of Jesus Christ and how to do it.  Imagine a denomination full of variety and diversity, but truly united about foundational doctrines that are non-negotiable.  Imagine a denomination where you don’t have to secretly wonder if your colleagues in ministry really have a heart like yours as you take their hand for the shared work of God’s Kingdom.  This dream can become a reality if we are willing to work for it.  

It’s time for a gut check.  Are you willing to be faithful to the vows you made?  Do you have the courage to work openly to renew our denomination so we can make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?  Are you willing to work for the glory of God where He called you, in the United Methodist Church? 

I am.


Monday, February 15, 2016

How Jesus Fulfilled the Old Testament Laws


Christ’s life, death, and resurrection fulfilled the Old Testament Law and ushered in a new era of God’s grace, changing the way we apply the laws of the Old Testament[i].  The Old Testament Law can be subdivided into three major categories:  moral laws, civil laws, and ceremonial laws.  Let’s look at how Jesus’ fulfillment of these three kinds of laws affect the way Christians apply these laws today. 

Moral Laws  (The 10 Commandments, sexual ethic, etc.) 
The moral laws 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 the other New Testament writers so they still apply to Christians today.  Moral laws guide us to love God and love our neighbors—which are the greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Civil Laws (Laws about slavery, 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. 
 
Ceremonial Laws 
Ceremonial laws encompass two subcategories—cleanliness laws (don’t touch lepers or eat pork or shellfish, etc.) and worship laws (sacrifices, circumcision, 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!  Jesus also 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. 


[i] http://www.livingout.org/arent-we-just-picking-which-bits-of-the-old-testament-law-apply-today

Monday, February 1, 2016

Living Christian in a Gay World, part 4 - Coming Out of the Closet

Part 4 – Coming Out of the Closet
Galatians 6:1-3

Introduction
            Four Sundays is not nearly enough time to say all that could be said on the subject of homosexuality.  If you would like more, I recommend the book by Sam Alberry, Is God anti-gay? Allberry is an Anglican pastor who struggles with same-sex attraction and has chosen to remain single and celibate in obedience to the Gospel.  Allberry’s book is written from a unique perspective.  The book is easy to read and offers an easy to understand examination of homosexuality from a Christian perspective.  I highly recommend it and have a few free copies if you are interested.
The goal of this blog is to encourage everyone to break the silence about their personal struggles.  Whether it is homosexuality or divorce or substance abuse or anything else, we are called to love, pray for, and support one another in our struggles instead of hiding them and pretending we are perfect. 

Galatians 6:1-3
1Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. 

Coming Out of the Closet
Most people who struggle with homosexuality keep their struggle secret.  They don’t tell anyone for fear of how they will react.  In this secretive stage, they are said to be “in the closet.”  In other words, they are keeping their struggle secret as if hiding in a closet.  Once a gay person finally decides to reveal their homosexual feelings to others, they are said have “come out of the closet.” 
Coming out of the closet can be very scary.  One doesn’t know how their family and friends will react to the revelation about their sexuality.  Will they be angry or disappointed?  Will they reject?  Will they be understanding, kind, or supportive?  It takes great courage for someone struggling with something as sensitive as homosexuality to make their struggle known to others.
You may not know this, but there is a strong parallel between homosexuals who “come out of the closet” and the journey of the Christian faith.  For the Christian is also called to “come out of the closet” (i.e. reveal to others the secrets about that with which they struggle).  1 John 1:9 says “confess our sins to [Jesus]” and James 5:16 says “confess your sins to each other”.  Galatians 6:2 says we should “share one another’s burdens,” meaning we should share our most difficult struggles with each other.  Homosexual temptations might be one of those struggles, but it is not the only one or even the toughest one.  We are all burdened with sin and temptation and we usually want to keep our secret struggles locked away in the closet.  Christ calls us to “come out of the closet” in order to let the light of His love heal and help us.  

We’re Not Perfect
Somewhere along the way, many people got it into their heads that Christians are always supposed to live happy, perfect little lives and never struggle.  Christians often try very hard to keep up this fa├žade.  We smile, hide our struggles, and pretend to be the perfect people we’re expected to be.  This is not the reality the Bible teaches.  And in all honesty, it hinders our witness.  People need to know Christians are real people with real struggles.  We are not perfect, but we serve a perfect Savior who promised to help us through our struggles.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
We should expect that Christians will struggle with many kinds of temptation, sin, illnesses, tragedies, and other problems.  We should expect that some Christians will struggle with homosexuality.  Struggling does not mean one is not a Christian or is somehow weak or lacking in faith.  It simply means you are human. 
When we “come out of the closet” about our struggles—whatever they may be—we open ourselves up to healing and other Christians are able to help us.  Furthermore, our lives become a powerful witness—not that we are perfect people (we never are), but—that Christ took our brokenness and didn’t give up on us.  People cannot see the power of Christ overcoming your brokenness if you always wear a mask pretending to be just fine. 
 
 
Advice for Coming Out
In his book Is God anti-gay, Sam Allberry offers some helpful advice to those struggling with same-sex attraction.  This is good advice for dealing with any kind of problem, not just homosexuality.  I offer the following suggestions for everyone, regardless of the secret problem with which you struggle. 

Pray about your struggles.
            You can talk to Jesus about any struggle you face—whether it is homosexuality or anything else.  There is nothing off limits with Him.  Jesus said in John 3:17, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”  You can talk to Jesus about anything and know that He will love you unconditionally.  Furthermore, there is no one who can keep a confidence better than Jesus!
            When you pray, you don’t have to use fancy language.  Just be honest and authentic.  Talk to Jesus about your confusions.  Share with Him your distress.  Ask him to help you with your temptations.  Seek forgiveness for times you feel you failed.  Jesus “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9).  Jesus “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).  Talk to Jesus in prayer and tap into the unlimited power of God to deal with your struggles.

Think about your struggles in the right way.
            Sometimes we struggle with something so hard it starts to look like an insurmountable problem.  Some people here might be thinking, “You know, I’ve struggled with this for so long and failed so many time, God has probably given up on me.  I’m just too far gone.” Or you might think, “My temptation, my sin is just too big, too dark, too unspeakable, to despicable, God would never want to have anything to do with me.” 
Sin has a way of twisting our perspective that way, but don’t you believe the Devil’s lies.  God loves you no matter what and He will never give up on you.  You are never too far gone, out of reach, too dirty, too lost, or too wicked to be saved by God through Jesus.  God would save the Devil himself if only he would turn from his sins and turn to God through Jesus Christ.  Surely, you are not that far gone.
Regardless of whether you struggle with homosexuality or something else, something big or something small, keep it in perspective.  Your struggles don’t disqualify you and they define you.  You are not a homosexual.  You are not a pervert or a thief or a drunk or a liar.  You are a child of God and Jesus would go to the ends of the earth to seek and save you.  In fact, he went all the way to the cross for you.  So when your problem seems too big, you just remember how much bigger God is and you let Him define you instead. 

Seek support from others.
            Galatians 6:2 says, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”  A burden is something you were not meant to carry all by yourself.  Everyone has to carry their own load, but a burden is heavier than one person can safely carry by themselves.  So we should share our burdens. 
            In our context today, this means we should share our struggles with each other.  Now, you might not want to run around telling your deepest, darkest secrets to every person you meet—not even within the church.  But you should find a trusted, Christian friend—someone who will listen and not judge you and not go around talking behind your back.  If you don’t have someone like that, you can come talk to me.  That’s my job as a pastor.
            Galatians 6:2 also says that when we share each other’s burdens, we “obey the law of Christ.”  So it would seem that sharing our struggles with each other—both opening up to others and helping others with their struggles—is the law of Christ (which is love).
            Sharing our struggles with others and seeking support can yield tremendous results.  Sometimes, just talking about our problems brings marvelous relief.  It relieves built up pressure and anxiety and helps put our troubles in proper perspective.
            I have seen amazing results and personal growth when people “came out of the closet” about their secret battles.  I am bound to keep names and specific details confidential, but I can tell you that right here in this church, I have seen racism overcome and family bonds healed.  I have seen drug and alcohol addictions conquered.  I have witnessed broken marriages made whole.  I have watched out of control tempers brought under control.  I have seen friendships restored, shame and guilt released, and lives put back on track.  And in each case, it was possible because people courageously opened up about their struggles and sought the support of others. 

Conclusion
It takes courage and faith to “come out of the closet” about our problems with each other in the church because it seems like everyone else is perfectly happy.  What we don’t realize is that everyone struggles with something and often the smiles we see are only the masks people wear.  We all need to remove our masks and live more authentically.  It is the only way we can grow in Christ.  And who knows, when you are honest and come out of the closet, it might not only help you.  It might just help someone else who is secretly struggling too.  So what are you waiting for?

 

 

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