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What Do You Say?

“Mom, Dad a friend of mine at school has told everyone that he’s gay. Everybody thinks that’s great, that he’s brave and real. What do I say to him? What do I do?”

“Pastor, I want to join your church; but you need to know I’m a lesbian. I am a Christian and trying to follow Jesus. Can I be part of your congregation?”

“Fred, I guess you heard that your uncle has ‘come out.’ What do you think we should do? Are you going to invite him to the next family get-together?”

Maybe you’ve never faced a situation similar to what Fred or the pastor or Mom or Dad faced. But many Christians experience these kinds of situations frequently in our ever-changing world. So, how do you think we can help Christians who do have to respond to such questions? Do we need another sermon or Bible study or blog on biblical sexuality and God’s standards? And beyond answering questions, how do we treat folks around us who admit or demonstrate they are not “straight”? 

One way to help is to make sure we don’t confuse sexual orientation and behavior. The Bible clearly identifies some sexual behavior as wrong in God’s eyes, ranging from lustful looks to sexual slavery. Male or female, confessing Christian or unbeliever, the Bible is clear on the behavior. But, while the sexual-identity confusion surrounding us today can lead a person into immoral behavior, not every person acts out their identity in an immoral fashion. There are in our midst Christians who are unsure about their sexual orientation, straight or not, yet they live  godly lives.

Another way for us to help is to recognize there are two enemies we have to face—and neither one of those enemies are those persons who themselves have a different sexual orientation. They are not the enemy. 

One of the enemies is the Devil himself. I am not referring here to some “the devil made me do it” alibi for sinful behavior. But it is the Devil who attacks individuals, communities, churches, our whole culture. He champions freedom with his “anything goes” motto. He makes sexuality a commodity. He robs his victims of any hope of finding an identity they can live with. He convinces people that morality of any sort is just a human convenience that may be redefined daily. Sadly, he has made headway in “dismembering” the body of Christ as he enlists church leaders who add to the confusion.

The other enemy we face in this conflict is an enemy that often inhibits our willingness and ability to care for folks with a different sexual orientation. As a Pogo cartoon put it in 1971, “we have met the enemy and he is us.” We Christians are too often that other enemy.

How can it be that we who are trying to be the salt and light for our world seem often to be an enemy of folks who need us? Is it because many of us have a long tradition of prejudice against “____” (insert the word you or your friends used to make fun of that boy or girl who was different). We act as if sexual orientation other than what we call normal is contagious. As a result of our loathing of some kinds of sexual immorality, we have ignored our pride, envy, injustice, and self-absorption; sins the Bible so often condemns. Granted, the “in your face” attitude of some persons and organizations who champion the rights of the sexually challenged makes it easier to push back in anger. But, we must not let intolerance directed toward us as believers encourage anger, fear, hatred toward others. 

We need wisdom to deal with this whole issue of sexuality. But we need love as well as wisdom. We need to love folks that we think are unlovable. Jesus told the Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:30-37) to make the point that we are to love folks we think are unlovable..

Becoming Whole

Today, I will obey nine of the Ten Commandments.  Or, maybe just six.  I don’t know which I will ignore, but surely at least one.  Maybe several.  For I am human – a house divided — wanting both the things of this world and things divine. 

I am not making a joke here.  None of us long for God the way God longs for us. None of us obey God’s word the way Christ did.  And why?  Because we are a house divided.  We want conflicting things:  worldly and eternal things.

Paul expresses this divided house in Romans 7:15, 18b-19 (NLT):    I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.   I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

Once we recognize that we have in us both longings, we can begin to tease apart our longings, identifying which is sin and that which is holy.  Examples may help clarify. 

When I think back to how I treated that person, should I apologize?  If I do it will be awkward and humbling for me and I will hate it.  I will have to admit I was wrong.  But will it heal that relationship?  Will it allow me to own my part in the problem?  

Or, perhaps another example:  should I buy that ______?  Will it give me an unhealthy type of pride? Will I be admired by others because I own it?  Or will it be a tool I can use to serve others well?  

Mind, we can end up in a cul-de-sac of justification here.  We can make excuses for our purchases. We can even fall back into “well, it won’t hurt” or “God wants me to have that.”  But if we are truly asking these questions and listening for God’s answer, we can be assured He will always steer us down the path of meekness, patience, peace, joy, love. 

I give you fair warning.  When you start asking such questions consistently, you may not like the answers.  I think we are all shocked to learn just how much “me” still wants to be Queen-bee with all the shiny toys.  Further, this process, is not a “one and done” decision or effort. We have to do this over and over until the pattern has become a way of life. We identify the part of the self that is divided; we listen for the voices calling: we practice heeding the one that is calling towards wholeness and away from the world. After some practice, this becomes our new normal.  But then we start again:  we identify a new part of the self that is still divided, we again listen for the voices that call, and again practice heeding the holy voice until we establish a new normal.  Rinse.  Repeat.

The entire process starts, however, by admitting we are divided.  This requires an inner turning that our modern world considers odd and even distasteful.  Remember, Satan (aka, the prince of this world)  really doesn’t want us to turn away from all the sparkling toys that gratify and things that make us look cool to other humans.  Because, if we turn away, we may indeed hear the inner song that tells of eternal, immortal, inner wholeness.  Most of us never take the step.  We never shut the TV off long enough, put the phone down long enough, or in any way tune out the world so that we can listen inward.  But we must – that is, if we are ever to make room in our headspace to hear the small-but-steady voice that says, “be whole, be alive, be vibrant, be holy”.

God made Adam and said, “It is good.”  God did not make Adam and say, “what a horrible thing I have wrought!”  He made us with the capacity to be whole – to be “good.”  Our life experiences, the world’s pressures, family labels, our own inner “me, me, ME!”  that wants to sit on the throne – all of these have warped our true shape.  Thus, I obey only a few of the Ten Commandments….  

You and I may be lost in a blizzard of longings that are not God-ward.  But we do not have to remain there.  

I am divided. A divided man is unstable in all his ways.

Let me have courage to identify the combatants in my soul,

Ousting one and preserving the other,

That I may be a house divided no more.

Trust and Obey?

“Obedience” seems to be an uncommon word among believers these days. We sing of God’s love and mercy. We pray. We celebrate His work in our lives—and rightly so! But we don’t talk much about obeying the Lord our God. Maybe obedience is implied in our lessons, devotionals, songs, etc. Or is it that we have focused so much on what God is willing and able to do for us and in us that we don’t think very often about what it means to “Trust and Obey” as the old hymn put it.

The word obedience does have a sort of unpleasant tone to it. It sounds like someone is telling us what we should do or not do. And we certainly don’t like that—even if it is God. And the truth is that obeying God does restrict our daily lives. Whether our take on obedience is positive—“thou shalt do this or that” or negative “thou shalt not,” God has in mind a lifestyle that is different from the one most of us live. That is why God forgives us when we sin. But God’s willingness to forgive when we fail is no excuse for ignoring God’s commands and expectations.

So, does obedience call for us to keep a “score card,” keeping track of our hits and misses? Does it threaten us with God’s anger or punishment if we don’t measure up or at least get a passing grade? If so, then obedience breeds in us the worst kind of legalism. But what if we consider obedience as a way to make God smile? What if we obey because we see how our obedience, lived out in our everyday lives, brings glory to God? What if the root of our obedience is love for God and a deep appreciation for all He has done, is doing, and will do in our lives? What if we recognize that obeying God gives direction and meaning and purpose to our lives? Questions, questions, but a good long look at the way we say “yes” to the Lord by our obedience is important. 

You and I readily admit that we live in a time and world that is fast-paced, often confusing, sometimes hectic. Right and wrong are being turned upside down. Our nation, the world as a whole, is being divided into self-exalting “tribes.” Materialism and secularism (removing religion from public life) increasingly dominate our environment. Science is trying to insure that we live longer, but science cannot tell us why we should live longer. It has no answer to what is the meaning of life.

God has an answer. God had a purpose in creating all that is, in creating humankind. That purpose has not changed. He created us to give Him glory and to enjoy fellowship with Him. That’s where obedience comes into the picture. To give God glory means to honor Him, to give Him value in our lives. To enjoy fellowship with Him is to live the life He has for us, to live as God wants us to live.

The Bible describes obedience both in terms of what we are to do and not to do. Speaking positively, when God’s Old Testament people asked “What does God want? Does He want me even to sacrifice my son?” The prophet answered, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NASB). On the avoidance side, the Bible describes things we are not to do, things which God knows are “killers”—greed, hatred, immorality, hatred of others, envy. These are “land mines” that wound our souls when we fall to them. And our failure often brings shame and sorrow to those around us.

One final absolutely wonderful point about obedience. God gives us the grace to obey. God does not leave us on our own to sink or swim, obey or disobey. Tight-jawed obedience in which we obey God simply out of fear or even to prove to others how good we are does not bring glory to our Heavenly. God loves us. He knows what kind of living is good and healthy. He knows what life gives us freedom to bless His name as we also bless those around us. But that “with God” life requires us to “Trust and Obey.”

Encouraging Authenticity

The culture in the USA today is one of inauthenticity.  We are quick to put on our public manners and publicly acceptable face.  We airbrush our professional photos and carefully edit our social media presence so we look good and smell good to other humans.  If you doubt it, consider just these two startling facts:

  1. 80% of women under 35 report they have altered their photo before posting it on social media.1
  2. Men’s hair care products to cover up gray is growing 1.5 times the average of all other products.2

It appears, whether we are a woman or man, we have been infected and taken over by Hollywood’s ideas of beauty and the advertising machine’s idea of acceptable.  In short, it is not good to have an imperfect outside – and, the outside is all that matters.

And yet….   

When I ask people to name someone they admire from their own lives and why, they inevitably mention someone whose character or wisdom or simple kindness elevated them into the “admire” category.  Not a whisper of how the body looked.

We have (almost) swallowed hook line and sinker that our outsides are what matter.  It is no wonder.  We are bombarded with these images from Hollywood and Advertising.  We almost never hear the value of these other, inward traits.  

I would say if ever there was a time to heed scripture’s admonishment to “encourage one another” (Thess. 5: 1), it would be today.  We each are desperate to hear messages (perhaps from someone we already admire) that we are valued – that there is something worthy in us that is not about the outside of us.  If God is pressing someone into your soul as you read this, why not take a moment to send them a text, email or note (or, gasp, actually call them up!).  Dare to say something like, “I know this is coming out of the blue, but I just wanted to tell you how much I admire you.  I admire you because ____________, and ________, and ______.  I am thankful you are in my life and you have been a gift to me.”  

It may feel awkward and out of character for you to do that.  I get that.  But this is just one more piece of evidence that we ought to do this – because apparently we are not in the habit of doing it (as we should be)!  I mean, if we break out in sweat and chills to say a nice, authentic compliment to someone we know and respect, what does that say about our normal habits of communication?  It does not speak to a pattern of “encourage one another, as you are already doing…”, does it?

I can promise you this, if you will persevere thru the awkwardness and send the note, you will give the other person a rare gift and the two of you will have a “moment” – the good kind, the kind that binds us to each other in authenticity.  

If we are ever to banish the plastic, fake personas and jettison the corporate yoke that enslaves us (you know, “spend money on this so you can be younger, thinner, more like the air brushed photos, and more acceptable), we must start somewhere.  If we are ever to have authentic relationships that transcend the state of our body (which morphs and is always less than perfect!), we must actively find ways to emphasize each other’s internal/eternal good parts.  Encouraging each other to authenticity of soul is a low-risk, easy tool to wield against the gathering dark.  Satan hates authenticity.  So why not pick up a compliment and wield it today?  

Yes, today.  Now.

Today is a good day for that.

1 K-Love Host reported this statistic on 3/26/2021 on the air as part of an interview with female counselor.  Also see Thinner, smoother, better: in the era of retouching, that’s what girls have to be | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett | Opinion | The Guardian, accessed on 3/27/2021.

2  Beauty Services and Retail Show Growth – News – Modern Salon, accessed 3/27/2021

The Easter War

Easter weekend – as celebrated in the USA – makes it easy to focus on the celebration of Easter.  It means family, good food, easter egg hunts, flowers budding, maybe a new dress or tie. 

But the Friday before Easter was not a celebration.  Friday was the day of The Lamb of God.  Friday was the day of war.

I am not certain I fully grasp what it meant for Jesus to suffer and die on the cross.  I wonder at the level of physical pain  – the lash would have opened his back to the bone.  Blood and flies everywhere.  Then there was the spitting and name calling of the crowds.  He was going to die for these – and they reviled him. Did it break His heart to see their faces ugly and sneering?  And what of those few who loved him and wept at the foot of His cross – how much would that break His heart to see them weeping?  Finally, he was separated from God.  Jesus, The Word who was with God and who was God, was suddenly cut off!  What would be the anguish of being cut from the Trinity? Then, if these weren’t enough, Jesus bore the weight of every sin upon himself.  Every cutting remark any human has ever said, every blow to the body of every child/woman/slave/man, every starved, abandoned, abused, depraved moment that humanity has perpetrated on each other through out all time:  all of this He bore.  All. 

Why would Jesus, who could have called it off in an instant, press on thru every bit of that? 

The answer, of course, is love.  Yet it was still a war.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who was slain.  He is also the Lord of Hosts, the foremost soldier in God’s army. Pause a moment over that: our leading general’s two battle weapons were prayer and profound, all-covering love.  Jesus defeated his foes with these two weapons: prayer that brought Him close to His Father, and love so great He would sacrifice Himself — even for those who hated Him.  

What power must there be in these:  prayer and love!  What crazy, world changing, foundation shattering power!  It is power we humans hardly understand, much less know how to wield wisely.  Yet, even so, Jesus has entrusted us with these same weapons.  In fact, we are commanded to wield them.  We are to love our neighbors as ourselves and, armed with this love, go and make disciples of the world. We are also to pray. Pray as already-victorious sons and daughters of God, clothed in the armor of God, praying in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:13-18) without ceasing. 

Oh my siblings-in-the-faith, make no mistake, God is showing His glory to the world thru us.  Let us not weary in well-doing, but press on in the battle for The Kingdom.  Not by rending and shredding others with our words or actions, but thru prayer and love.  Let us dare to pick up these two weapons and wield them wisely and well in the world 

Easter:  an act of war.  Fought with prayer and love.

Friday was the day of The Lamb of God.  But Sunday?  Sunday is the day of The Lion of Judah, The Lord of Hosts, The Morning Star, The Prince of Peace.

He is risen.  Oh!  He is risen, indeed.

Regrets

Regrets

We all have regrets.  Our choices in the past can leave us disappointed in our present life.  Life hasn’t turned out the way we expected or wanted. The longer we live, the more “opportunities” we have to look over our shoulder, wondering what might have been. 

Sometimes, even when life is going well—and certainly when life is disappointing—we play a game of  “if only.”  It goes something like this: “If only I had done this or that instead of what I did. Oh, how much better life would be!”  But there is a problem hidden in that “if only.”  We don’t know that life would have been better had we done things differently.  Our imaginations paints it as “wonderful,” but it would have been just as bad — or worse.

The truth is we don’t get a “do-over.”  We get one life and we travel on it one way:  forward in time.  Whatever we have created in our choices (or was created for us by the choices of others), this truth remains:  this is our one, precious life.  We don’t get another. 

How, then, shall we live now?  

Shall we become bitter, weighing out all we have lost?

Shall we be defeated because we never got a chance in the sun?

Shall we complain, point fingers, and cast recriminations to every corner because life has not been fair or even kind?

We could.  We often do.

Scripture, however, is clear we should not do any of those things.  Paul said he counted all he had lost as nothing compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8).  James 1:2 says we should “count it all joy when you fall into various trials.”  And over and over, scripture tells us to rejoice (Psalm 33:1) and rejoice (Habakkuk 3:18), and rejoice (1 Thessalonians 5:16)!  In fact, one Wiki user reported counting 286 verses that tell us to rejoice.  (FYI, I did not fact check that.)  The point is that we should live and can live with thankful hearts for God’s walk with us. Our life may not be what we want it to be. Our life may not be what God wants it to be.  Yet we can still be joyful and thankful.

There was a film released in 1995 called Mr. Holland’s Opus.  It is the story of a man’s life as he struggled to create a magnificent musical work (an opus).  I won’t spoil it for you as it is worth watching if you can find it.  He becomes very despondent at one point thinking his life has been wasted.  In the end, they show his Opus —  a truly magnificent work, albeit it not the one he thought he was creating.

All of our lives are like Mr. Holland’s.  We choose and choose and choose – and this is what we have now:  the life I am living, the life you are living. We are told by God to be thankful and rejoice, no matter our circumstances.  So, we must, like Mr. Holland, look for the things that are of worth in our lives, in spite of any disappointments or regrets.

God is more faithful than we can know or imagine.  He is the master at making lemonade from lemons.  Further He isn’t keeping a tally of missed chances and blown opportunities.  Only we humans do that.  

As a fellow, finite human, I cannot begin to tell you all that is of worth and value in your life.  I can, however, assure you there is something. Many things, even. The only road from “regret” to “rejoice” is the one where we pack up our disappointments and what-ifs and leave them at the foot of God’s throne (leave them, I say!  Not leave them and pick them back up!).  You and I are created to do good works.  Let us leave behind these regrets that so entangle, and press on to the things God lays before us. God is still on the move – let us be also.

We won’t get a do-over – but we can have a do-now. 

This is the day The Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.