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Showing posts with label Truth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Truth. Show all posts

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, August 24, 2015

The Ninth Commandment

Exodus 20:16

Introduction
            We only have two more commandments to look at in this series on the Ten Commandments.  I want to start today by giving you a little background on the list I challenged you to memorize.  The list of the Ten Commandments I've used in this blog for the past 9 weeks is a paraphrase I developed back in 2003 as part of a Christian martial arts program I taught.  At the beginning of each class, students would bow in, have a moment for silent prayer, and we would recite the Ten Commandments.  Each student was required to memorize the commandments as part of our curriculum.  Usually, my martial arts students would have the commandments memorized within a month.  In this way, I have probably helped hundreds of students memorize the Ten Commandments—even if they didn’t stick with the Karate class for more than a couple months.
            The list I used is a paraphrase of the 10 Commandments found in Exodus 20:1-17.  I wanted my list to use simple language that was easy to understand and got straight to the point.  I struggled a bit with the Ninth Commandment and I didn’t really know why until this week when I studied it to prepare for this message. 
            Before we look at the 9th commandment, let’s recite the whole list together.  There are some blanks to fill in.  Let’s see how you are coming on memorizing the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments:
1.     Do not _______ any God except the Lord.
2.     Do not ____ _____ of any kind.
3.     Do not ______ the ____of the Lord.
4.     Remember to _______ the _______ ___ and keep it holy.
5.     Honor your ______ and _______.
6.     Do not ______.
7.     Do not commit ________
8.     Do not _____.
9.     Do not _______ _______against your neighbor.
10.  Do not _____.

Good!  Keep working on it until you have all 10 memorized.

Today we will look at the Ninth Commandment as found in Exodus 20:16
16 “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

As I said before, I struggled with how to word the ninth commandment in my list.  Here’s why.  I wanted to simplify the wording and just say, “You must not lie.”  But as I prayed about it, I felt the Lord was leading me to keep the words “testify falsely” instead of “lie.”  That phrasing is a little more awkward and complicated, but something told me it was there for a reason.
I know now why after studying for this message.  You see, the Ninth Commandment wasn’t originally concerned with ordinary, everyday types of lies.  The Ninth Commandment deals with the justice system of the community.  It’s about the court system.  That’s why it uses the term “testify.”  When a judge hears a legal case, he will call witnesses to testify.  Suppose someone has been accused of stealing.  The judge will ask if anyone saw the accused person steal or has any other information that will determine if the accused did or did not steal.  The integrity of the justice system depends on the honesty of the witnesses.  God wants His people to live in a just society.  For that to happen, the court system must be reliable.  For that to happen, witnesses must be honest. 
Justice is sometimes personified and depicted as a person holding a set of scales and wearing a blindfold.  The scales represent weighing the evidence.  The blindfold represents objectivity; i.e. it doesn’t matter if the person is a friend or an enemy, rich or poor, a citizen or a foreigner; justice is blind so everyone is treated fairly and impartially.  Therefore, witnesses must not twist the truth to sway justice one way or another.  

Institutional Lies
The language of the Ninth Commandment identifies it with the court system, but it applies to broader settings than that.  Remember, the Ten Commandments were written for the newly formed Israelite community after they left slavery in Egypt to teach them to live together as civilized people.  A civilized people must be able to trust their leaders to tell them the truth.
We have seen many instances throughout history where governments have lied to their people and led them astray.  Nazi Germany comes to mind as a particularly heinous example.  First, the government used propaganda to turn public opinion against the Jews--even convincing them that Jews were less than human and deserved whatever persecution and mistreatment the Germans dished out.  Near the end of WWII, as the Allies were closing in on Berlin, Hitler and his henchmen were still sending out propaganda saying they were winning the war even as their capital was crumbling around them.  They’re lies had turned into madness and a complete distortion of reality.
When leaders bear false witness, it erodes the bedrock on which society is founded.  We see the effects of this in our own nation.  Back in the 50s and 60s, most people trusted the government.  According to the Pew Research Center[1], public trust in the government was 74% under Lyndon Johnson in 1964.  But over the years as numerous scandals, lies, and coverups have come to light about leaders in various segments, the faith of the American people in their government has eroded.  In February of 2014, it was just 24%.  This is the effect falsehood has on society.
The Church is no exception either.  The year I was born, 1974, between 66-68% of Americans said they had great confidence in the Church.  Over the years, that number has gradually dropped to a low of 42% in 2015.[2]  As a 13 or 14 year old kid, I used to sometimes watch Jimmy Swaggart on the TV in the morning as I got ready for school.  Now this was unusual for me.  I wasn’t a very devoted Christian at that age, but something about Jimmy Swaggart grabbed my attention and I would watch.  I remember very vividly the footage of him crying and admitting he had “sinned against You, my Lord.”  It soon came out that he had been with a prostitute.  Such scandals make it hard for the public to trust the Church is telling the Truth.
But it’s not just the scandals of televangelists or catholic priests that damage the influence of the church.  Every Christian is an ambassador for Christ.  You are an ambassador for Christ.  The reality is, there are people who look up to you as an example of what it means to be a Christian that will never look at me.  I may be a pastor, but you are the person they know and value.  Does your life and your actions tell the truth about Christ or bear a false witness?
We can bare false witness in two ways as ordinary Christians.  First off, we could act in ungodly ways that do not set a good example for others.  But perhaps there is an even more sinister way we bear false witness with our actions.  It is when we pretend to be better than we are.  You see, no man is perfect.  We all have many, many flaws.  Just because we follow Jesus does not mean we do not make mistakes or have bad habits.  And yet, sometimes there is tremendous pressure within Christian social circles hide our flaws and weaknesses.  Looking around the church, one might think everyone is happy all the time.  All you see is smiling faces and most people keep their struggles and failings hidden.  We present ourselves as perfect (or nearly perfect).  But the reality is, the church is full of broken, fallen people.  We don’t have to be perfect; God accepts us as we are and just wants us to be honest about the good the bad and the ugly of our lives.  Anything less is to bear false witness and it erodes faith in the Church and hinders our own healing. 

Jesus and Lying
Ephesians 4:25 says, “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.”  We need to tell the truth--in both big and small things, and in our actions.  Christians should be known as the most honest people on the planet.
The people who lived in Jesus’ day struggled to know who they could trust.  The custom arose of using vows to guarantee a person was telling the truth.  So a person might say, “I swear upon my mother’s grave,” as a way of proving they spoke the truth.  In Matthew 5:34 and 37, Jesus said, “But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne...”  “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”
In his blog called “9 Sins the Church is OK With,” Frank Powell writes, “Here’s what Jesus is saying. You should live with such high integrity that your word doesn’t need attachments to make it legitimate... So, typical phrases like, “I promise,” “I swear,” and “I put it on my mom’s grave” shouldn’t be necessary.”[3]   

Conclusion
Christians should be the most honest people on the planet.  And yet the honest truth is, we have all been a false witness at some point in word or deed.  James 2:10 says, “10 For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.”  And one day, we will all stand before the Great Judge who will determine our fate.  The Ten Commandments testify against us that we have broken God's Law in many ways.
 Romans 6:23 says “The consequences of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Although we deserve death for our sin, God offers a pardon to all who trust in Christ’s death and resurrection.  For his death paid the penalty for our sin and his resurrection won the victory over death.  Like him, we too can be raised to new life--one free of sin and death--where we live at peace with God.
Would you like to take hold of this new life Jesus offers?  Then, pray to Jesus today and ask for forgiveness, ask him to save you, and decide to follow him from now on.


[1] http://www.people-press.org/2014/11/13/public-trust-in-government/
[2] http://www.gallup.com/poll/183674/confidence-religion-new-low-not-among-catholics.aspx
[3] http://www.faithit.com/9-sins-the-church-is-okay-with/