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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. 


Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Funeral for "Old Self" - Ash Wednesday Message

Goodbye Self

1 Peter 2:21-25
21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.
22 He never sinned,
    nor ever deceived anyone.
23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
    who always judges fairly.
24 He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed.
25 Once you were like sheep
    who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
    the Guardian of your souls.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today for the funeral of “Old Self.”  One of the core beliefs of the Christian faith is that we let our “Old Self” die.  I know, it sounds sort of depressing—all this talk about death.  But hold on, we’re talking about the death of things that we want to die—things that should die.  We’re talking about letting sin and selfishness die.  And this type of death is joyous, because it means getting rid of the very things that keep us from being truly alive.  This “Old Self” steals our joy and wrecks our relationships with God and the people around us.
            Galatians 2:20 says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.  So as I was thinking about this verse and the meaning and purpose of the Lenten season, I had an idea: “Let’s have a funeral for our “Old Self.””   

            Normally when you have a funeral, you have a eulogy.  That means you praise the person’s character and recall the best of who they were.  I have never been to a funeral where they said the deceased person was a lousy bum and never did any good and we’re glad to see him go.  No, at most funerals they make the deceased sound like a saint (even if they weren’t).  On a few occasions, I left the funeral service wondering if I accidentally slipped into a service for the wrong person.  As I left I kept asking myself, “Who were they talking about? Not the person I knew!”  Since this isn’t a real funeral, we can just be perfectly honest. 
What can we say about “Old Self?”  “Old Self” wasn’t the kind of person we’re very proud of.  Sure, we had some fun together.  Old Self liked to have fun.  In fact, he put his own selfish desire for fun ahead of God and everything else.  He didn’t care who he hurt or who he disappointed as long as he made himself “happy.”  We went along with him for a little while.  However, the “happiness” we found with Old Self was hollow.  It never lasted.  It never satisfied.  It was like the immature antics of adolescence; it seemed fun at the time, but now it just seems foolish.  We grew up, but Old Self never did.  How sad.  Old Self always thought he was the center of the universe and everyone else was put here to please him.  He never outgrew it.
            I remember one time, someone told Old Self how selfish he was being.  Well, Old Self couldn’t stand for that.  No sir.  He retaliated with a verbal assault that would make a drill sergeant proud.  Then he stormed out of the room and gave the person the cold shoulder for a week.  They were only being honest and trying to help.  But Old Self didn’t want to hear it. 
Old Self did worse things than that.  One time, he betrayed his best friend in order to improve his own social standing.  Another time he stole something from a store.  He ruined people’s reputations and broke people’s hearts.  Old Self was a reckless piece of work.
Most people didn’t know it, but Old Self was a really good liar.  People didn’t know, because he was so good at it.  He would lie if it served his purposes.  And he did it often.
            You never wanted to cross Old Self.  He was the type who would get revenge.  ‘Don’t get mad, get even’ was his motto.  Forgiveness was as foreign concept to Old Self.  
            Thankfully, Old Self never murdered anyone, but he thought about it a time or two.  Jesus said, “If you hate someone, it is like committing murder in your heart.”  He also said “if you look at a woman with lust you have already committed adultery in your heart.”[i]  Old Self did all of these.  He had a lying, murderous, adulterous heart.  And if he’d had his own way, who knows what would’ve happened. 
            So what can I say?  Normally, we are pretty sad at a funeral.  But I’m just not sad to see Old Self go.  “So long Self.  We don’t need you anymore.  We don’t want you anymore.  We are better off without you.  Hopefully, we won’t miss you.” 

Final Viewing
            I invite you to come take a final viewing of your “Old Self.”  As you do, write down a bad characteristic in your life you would like to let die.  Place in the box and burry it or, better yet, cremate it by burning it in a fire.  Take a moment to reflect on that selfish part of you would like to die.

Get Back in that Coffin!
As you can see, the death of Old Self is a lot different from a normal funeral.  And there’s a problem with burying poor Old Self.  Old Self didn’t go willingly.  You and I wanted him to go, but Old Self didn’t want to go.  He was fighting right up to the end, scratching and clawing to keep from being cast out of our hearts.  In fact, he still doesn’t want to go.  Sometimes we can still hear him begging to come back inside our heart.  The real problem with burying Old Self is he keeps trying to rise up out of the casket.  It would be kind of funny if you were looking at the scene from outside.  Old Self keeps trying to pop up out of the coffin, and we keep trying to push him back in—holding him down in there so he can’t get out. 
May the almighty and merciful God,
    who desires not the death of a sinner
         but that we turn from wickedness and live,
accept your repentance, forgive your sins,
    and restore you by the Holy Spirit to newness of life.  Amen.

[i] Matthew 5:22, 28

Monday, February 8, 2016

Saying “I Love You” to the Pizza Guy

2 Corinthians 6:14-16

You were created with a purpose and that purpose is:  deep relationships.  You can go ahead and write that down, stick it on your refrigerator, make it the wallpaper on the screen of your smart phone.  Send it out on twitter or update your Facebook status.  You were made for deep relationships.
All the way back in Genesis, God created Adam as a living, breathing being to have a deep relationship with God.  God gave Adam free will so he could choose whether or not to love God.  That freedom to choose is the essential hallmark of a deep relationship.  Deep relationships are only possible when we can choose.
God didn’t stop with just a deep relationship between God and man.  That wasn’t good enough.  So God made Eve because deep relationships with other human beings is essential too.  Eve was so much like Adam (she was made from his own rib) yet Eve was also essentially different from Adam (she was a woman, not a man).  This mysterious difference between the sexes makes for one of the deepest relationships known to humanity.
We were made for deep relationships.  What is a deep relationship? A deep relationship is a profound, caring connection of mutual support, cooperation, and trust.  Our soul yearns for deep relationships.  The first deep relationship we encounter is with our mother.  It starts before we are even born, while we are still in the womb.  Then we are born and meet our father.  Fathers share equally in caring for the needs of the child.  The father and the mother both love the child, but they often express their love in different ways.  A mother’s love tends to be more passive and nurturing while a father’s love is often more assertive.  Both the father/child and mother/child relationships are deep relationships and a child does best with access to both kinds.  
We enjoy other deep relationship throughout life.  We have deep relationships with our family—brothers, sister, grandparents, and cousins.  We make friends.  We have girlfriends or boyfriends.  We may marry and form a deep relationship with a spouse.  We can also have deep relationships with colleagues and coworkers or with people in the Church.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to look at ways to improve the different types of deep relationships we share in life.  Today, I want to share some important advice from the Word of God that is especially applicable for people who are dating.  However, it also applies in other deep relationships.   

2 Corinthians 6:14-16
14 Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? 15 What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? 16 And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.  

In Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Atticus Finch said, “You can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family…”  There’s a lot of wisdom in that.  In the context of deep relationships, it tells us we have little choice about some of our deep relationships—like our family.  However, there are many relationships we can choose.  One of the most important deep relationships we choose is who we date.
I will never forget the first time I told Kelly I loved her.  We’d only been dating a little while.  After an evening together, I brought Kelly home and walked her to the door.  She gave me a kiss goodnight and I said “I love you.”
Oh no!  What was I thinking?!?  In all honesty when I said “I love you” that night, it really wasn’t a conscious choice.  I didn’t think to myself ‘I think I’ll tell Kelly I love her tonight.’  It just sort of came out.  
You see, in my family growing up, we always said “I love you.”  We said it when we went to bed, when we parted company, when we said goodbye on the phone.  It was such a habit, I even accidentally said “I love you” to the pizza guy once.  Yeah, I was ordering a pizza over the phone and I was like, “I would like a large pepperoni pizza delivered to 4309 Vinson Ave.  How much is that?  Ok.  Yes, I would like extra cheese. Thank you.  So it’ll be here in 30 minutes or less.  Great!  I love you. Bye!  [Click.]”  How awkward is that?
Well that night after our date when I said “I love you”, Kelly did not reply with “I love you too” (like my Mom always did).  And I knew I had made a big mistake by the awkward silence that followed.  Kelly called later that night.  We had a long talk as she explained why she didn’t say, “I love you.”  She said she felt those were some very important words and she didn’t take them lightly.  She said that when she finally did say them, I would know she really meant it.
Funny thing is, I’m not sure if I really loved Kelly when I said those words to her the first time.  But after our telephone conversation that night, I think I really did start to love Kelly.  I thought, ‘Wow.  This is a really special woman.  Such honesty.  Such wisdom.  Such authenticity.  I could marry someone like her.’
It’s important to think carefully about the person you’re dating and decide is this is the kind of person with whom you should be in a deep relationship?  Do they have the kind of values you believe are most important?  Are they the kind of person who will help you grow as a person.  Are they the kind of person you could spend the rest of your life with?   If you surround yourself with amazing people, they will inspire you to be amazing.  However, 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.””
Kelly and I learned a lot about each other as we talked on the phone about the words “I love you” that night 24 years ago.  We were sorting out what be believed about love.  We were also learning how we communicated.  We found out how the other person was brought up and how we would like to bring up our own family.  (Incidentally, Kelly eventually decided that she really liked my family’s tradition of saying “I love you” often.  And to this day in our family, we tell each other and our children “I love you” every chance we get.)
Hopefully, one of the chief values you will expect in a person you date is that they are Christian.  Paul’s advice in 2 Corinthians 6:14 is very important here.  He said, “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers.”  
A Christian’s faith is the very core of who we are.  A Christian is a person who has decided to give Jesus their complete allegiance.  A Christian seeks the Kingdom of God above all else.  A Christian has committed to follow Christ wherever he leads.  Why, then, would a Christian choose someone who is not a Christian as their most important teammate?  You need someone who shares your most basic, core faith.  You need someone who will help you be the best Christ-follower you can be and someone whom you can help in the same way.  
I would advise you--if you are a Christian--to be clear upfront with any person you date that you are a Christian and your faith is very important to you and you are looking for someone who shares your beliefs and values.  And don’t settle for someone who says they are a Christian.  Look to see if their actions align with their words.  Do they live as a Christian?  Are they active in church?  Do they serve others as Christ calls us to?  Do they have a real relationship with Jesus?  Now you’re never going to find the perfect person—perfect people don’t exist, but it’s reasonable and wise to expect the person you might spend the rest of your life with to have values you think are important.  
            Even if you are not dating, these principles still apply to other deep relationships you choose.  Consider the other types of deep relationships with which you might get involved.  I advise you to take these words to heart. 

Don’t Move too Fast
The second thing I would advise you when you are dating--don’t move too fast.  Who you marry is a very important decision; it will have a huge impact on the next 40, 50, or even 60 years of your life.  Take your time.   Kelly and I dated for two and a half years before we married.  At the time, it seemed like a very long period, but now that we’ve been married for almost 22 years, it doesn’t seem that long at all.
It takes time to really get to know someone and you want to know them pretty well before you make such a deep commitment as marriage.  There’s a lot going on in the early stages of dating.  Both people are trying to make the very best impression.  And because of the way our bodies and brains work, we initially look for all the things we like about someone we date while at the same time overlooking as many of their faults as we can.  That’s why the early stages of dating can be so exhilarating; your girlfriend or boyfriend just seems so wonderful and perfectly suited for you.  Of course they do, because you are drunk on hormones and they’re trying real hard to show you their very best.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t a good match, but it does mean it would be wise to give the relationship plenty of time to reveal a less biased picture.  Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.”  The same holds true for men.   Give the relationship time to move past the initial charm and physical attraction so you can see if they are still someone you want to spend your life with. 

It’s Just Dating
Now, some people would say, “We’re just dating.  It’s not that serious.  It’s not like I’m gonna marry them.”  I understand that sometimes you just want to go on a casual date.  But you have to understand the way the human body functions.  God designed us for deep relationships.  Therefore, the very biology of our bodies—the chemicals, the hormones, our emotions and psychology—is geared to drive us to into a deep relationship with someone of the opposite sex.  People who think they can just casually date anyone—regardless of their values—without it ever becoming serious misunderstand the powerful lure for people to bond.  We are designed for deep relationships and our casual relationships naturally grow deeper and deeper.  Before we know it, we are in too deep.  
The deeper the dating relationship the harder it is to turn back.   Perhaps, that is why so many people marry the wrong person.  Even if they see the red flags in the relationship early on, they can’t turn back because they’re already in over their heads.  I often counsel with people with marital problems because they don’t like something about their spouse.  I ask, “Didn’t you know this person had this bad quality when you were dating?”  They usually say, “Yes.  But I was in love” or they say “I guess I thought they would change.”  
Be careful.  You might think you’re just going on causal dates, but don’t underestimate the potential relationship you or the person you’re dating might be drawn into.  Make every effort to date people you believe share your values.  Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” 

What if You're Already Married?
            "But what if I’m already married?"  That’s a great question.  The Apostle Paul gave some advice for Christians who are already married to non-Christians. In 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 Paul basically advised Christians who are married to non-believers to remain married and work for their spouse’s conversion.  If this describes your marriage, I would encourage you to pray for your spouse to come to know Christ.  Don’t nag them about their faith or badger them to death to go to church.  Certainly, you can look for good opportunities to encourage them or invite them, but don’t be overbearing.  Remember, it is the Lord’s job to convict and convert your spouse.  You are only to love them and support them and to be a tool in God’s hand.  Who knows what God might do?  Make it a matter of daily prayer and live your Christian life in such a way that your spouse cannot help but admire your faith and be attracted by it.
            If you are struggling with other marital problems besides differing religious views, I would advise you to be proactive and work as hard as you can to overcome you problems.  Talk to your spouse about your concerns.  Talk to your pastor or seek marital counseling for a qualified marital counselor.  Marriage is sometimes difficult (that's why it's so important to make careful choices in the beginning while we are still dating if we can!).  Click here for more on marriage and dating.
Other Relationships
Paul warned the Corinthians not to team up (in deep relationships) with unbelievers.  This isn’t limited only to dating relationships.  Consider the other types of deep relationships you have in life (especially the deep relationships you choose)--the people with whom you do business, the company for which you work, your close friendships, partnerships, etc.  How does Paul’s advice apply in these relationships?
It would be nearly impossible for Christians to go through life without having any dealings with non-Christians nor should we.  I believe the love of Christ and His great commission compels us to reach out to non-believers.  (How else are we supposed to introduce them to Christ?)  However, we need to be especially careful about the kinds of relationships we develop with non-Christians and the depth to which we take those relationships.  We can choose some of the relationships we commit to, others we can choose how deeply we commit.  In every relationship, you should be careful and “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23) 

The most important deep relationship we can have is one with Jesus Christ.  It is the one relationship that puts everything else on the right path.  Until we get our hearts right with Jesus, we will have problems with everything else.  You will struggle with your family life, your dating relationships, your marriage, your work-life, your friendships, your children.
It’s time to break down and surrender.  That means you’ve got to submit everything to Jesus.  You’ve got to give up trying to be in charge of your life.  Let Jesus be in charge.  He knows what you need more than you know yourself.  He loves you so much, he died on a cross to pay the price for your past mistakes.  Through Jesus, you can make a fresh start and follow his way of living--where you will develop deeply refreshing, meaningful, and uplifting relationships that will help you live life to the fullest.
Wouldn’t you like to give Jesus a try?  Then what’s stopping you?  Pray to him right now.  Ask him to come and take charge of your life.  Ask him to forgive your past mistakes and lead you from now on.  Promise to trust Jesus and follow him wherever he leads you and you will be truly blessed.  And ultimately, you will spend eternity with God in His glorious Kingdom.  Don’t delay.  Ask Jesus into your heart today.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell... Church Attendance

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

Hebrews 10:25 says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.” 

Attending church regularly is important.  A wise pastor once preached a sermon on the subject without saying a word.  I’d like to share that message with you today as I once heard it shared with me.

The Lonely Ember 
A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. 
After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire.  
Guessing the reason for his pastor's visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a big chair near the fireplace and waited. The pastor made himself comfortable but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs.
After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination.
As the one lone ember's flame diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and "dead as a doornail."
Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting.
Just before the pastor was ready to leave, he picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.
As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said, "Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday." 

Attending church regularly is important.  I challenge you to miss no more than 5 Sundays this year.  You will be blessed.  The fire of your faith will burn brighter.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell… 

Remember, God loves you and so do I!


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

            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. 

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?