Sometimes the distances between what people know of you . . . and what they think of you . . . and what you know of yourself . . . and what you think of yourself . . . and what is true of all of this knowledge and all of these thoughts when sifted out seems as vast as the entire universe. I wonder if God didn't just create all the stars and solar systems for a practice run, knowing that the humans-to-come would be much more difficult to put into motion and save from colliding.
We don't orbit well.
We want to be the center of our own universe; we choose carefully who gets into our solar system . . . and we place them at distances as warm as Jupiter and as cold as Pluto. After a bit of exploration, we put a few far beyond the telescope, as if unseen means non-existent . . . and yet out there somewhere they maintain a wobbly orbit, passing by in the darkness, unseen, in solitude and isolation, unable to move into a different universe. They are a part of us . . . apart from us.
I thought we Christians -- the church -- would be better at this by now. For me it's not so much a matter anymore. People know me; they know of my struggle; they've tallied my losses; those who choose have seen my restoration; they know of my love for others who struggle; they have reconciled themselves to an awkward admission that God does indeed do what God says He will: comfort the afflicted and restore the hearts of the wounded and love His own.
What did I think we would be better at by now? Not culture-trained tolerance, which is only an effort to forge a fragile peace. Not grudging acceptance, which is just a way to avoid truth. Not ignorant blindness to sin, which is just one more message to the world that even believers are unsure of what we believe and why it matters. What I thought would be better by now is our ability to live in fearless love, which overpowers fear, enables change, wipes away tears and lifts tired and anxious souls, who, unencumbered by the overwhelming weight of shame and judgment, are freed from spending energy hiding and ducking, and can truly pursue freedom.
I thought we would do better by now . . . those of us who claim a desire to be Christlike, that we would not look so personally at the sins of others, as if they bear them only to plague us. Yet, here we are, decades down a road He laid out for us and we're still ignoring the bodies by the roadside. We're so focused on those who proclaim their pride in their gayness that we miss those who want to forego all pride and proclaim freedom. Dear Christian: "You're scaring them to death . . . or ignoring them to tears."
I know . . . it's not your fault they fell into sin and "choose" to stay there.
But you know . . . it may not be their fault either. And if they're looking for help, they're not choosing to stay there. They're choosing to choose.
And you know what else? if we only focus on the fault of sin, we forgo the hope of forgiveness and we withhold the great sigh of grace. We see so well we blind ourselves.
It's a double-edged blindness. We're not only shutting out the broken, we're sending shudders down the spines of the broken's loved ones, those who have know him or her since the days when brokenness was just a spill from a swing on the playground . . . not a headlong toss into finding themselves in the land of the lost.
We need to quit scaring; we need to start caring.
Whether we embrace it as an official ministry or not, members of our churches are ministering to Christians who struggle with homosexuality, pornography addiction and other forms of sexual brokenness. Like the struggle itself, their ministry to those who suffer may be hidden, but it goes on, born out of undeniable love. They are parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, cousins, and friends of your church members – men and women -- who are drowning in the residue of the sin of unwanted homosexuality. They may not understand it; they may cringe at the thought; they may hurt and hold themselves responsible; they may scratch their heads, but they do not close their hearts or turn their backs.
Those who walk with them share the solitude and isolation that afflicts Christians who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction. Secrecy fuels this sin into a raging fire, right in the shadow of the church, the very place where the light of cleansing is harbored. Is there truly protection in rejection? Our fears and limitations quench the power of the Holy Spirit to remove the deception and division and put the family back together. And the truth is, there is no reason to fear; no reason to limit God’s love to these sinners any more than to all the others who worship in our midst. And we have the resources we need: “the greatest of these is love.”
Make it Clear
There is no need to compromise. Churches need to know and hold a biblical worldview on homosexuality and sexuality in general and present it to their members, particularly in light of recent confusing messages from some denominations which have shown their weakness, substituting their confusion and a desire for worldly peace for God's clarity and His peace for the world .
What is that biblical worldview?
Homosexual behavior, by definition, is a sin. Homosexual orientation is not sinful. Being tempted is not a sin. Giving in to temptation is a sin. Christ died to pay for our sins. When we confess and repent, we are forgiven. During this process -- which can be lengthy for some -- we need to keep them close to us, working alongside us in the fields, bowing beside us in the sanctuary, sitting with us at the table, confessing alongside us, repenting with us, crying out in unison to the same God who understands our sins as well as theirs . . . and forgives us all the same, giving no greater weight.
Truth does not come at the expense of compassion; compassion does not require the abandonment of truth.
Despite my own difficulties within the church as a struggler, I believe because of what I read in the Bible, that the church still holds the key of hope for those who seek freedom from homosexuality. Countless testimonies of those who walk more freely from sexual temptation today say that is is because their church accepted them as a child of God, despite what they saw as sinful actions. When churches see the potential of what God could do in a person's life and then hang in there with the patience and kindness of love as those changes unfold, they are the best of enablers.
I believe it is unlikely any sexually-broken person will ever find freedom without the help and support and encouragement and love of Christians who walk with him or her in the pursuit of freedom and healing and an end to homosexual sin in their lives.This is not a contagious sin. We need to carry contagious grace.
Mike Goeke, a pastor who helps lead a ministry to homosexual strugglers at Stonegate Fellowship, a Southern Baptist Church church in Midland, Texas, has great hopes for the church.
“It is important to remember that homosexual desires and feelings do not mean someone is a ‘homosexual,’” said Goeke in Homosexuality: Your Questions Answered, published by the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in 2005. “Homosexual desires may lead one to accept a homosexual identity, but every Christian is first and foremost a child of God. Someone who struggles with unwanted homosexual desires is not a homosexual. Someone who practiced homosexuality in the past is not a homosexual simply because of their past struggles. Temptation is not sin and should not be treated as such. If the church takes each person as it finds them and holds every Christian to the same standard, then the church should have no problem finding a place for anyone in the local church.”
It is likely there is at least one struggler in every Southern Baptist Church -- and I focus on the SBC here because I myself am a Southern Baptist and there are just so many of us -- yet only a handful of the more than 42,000 SBC churches in America and not one of the 1,700 SBC churches in Oklahoma is a part of the Exodus Church Association, which equips churches to help same-sex strugglers.
The SBC has been clear, but some denominations and individual churches have compromised biblical truth, sending a confusing message. Acknowledging the sin and offering the truth of Christ’s redemption need to work hand-in-hand.
“The Christian worldview has been undermined by pervasive curricula that teach moral relativism, reduce moral commandments to personal values, and promote homosexuality as a legitimate and attractive lifestyle option,” said Southern Seminary President Al Mohler in A Challenge of Courage & Compassion: The Church’s Response to Homosexuality.
The church can offer clarity to counteract the confusion of our culture.
Keep them near
The same-sex struggler has no shortage of places to go when temptation strikes. For most, the church does not rank high on the list because of a history of rejection and condemnation . . . and the fear that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” While some Christians struggle with same-sex attraction, it is not contagious. Most Christian men and women who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction, in fact, raise their children with the correct biblical view that homosexual behavior is a sin.
God used an experience I had s few years ago to make something more clear in my mind. In the hospital recovering from surgery, I noticed an odd attachment to my lower abdomen. A small container was collecting the poison and fluid that accumulates after surgery to remove it from my body. Several times a day, a nurse would empty this container. This same nurse rushed to my side when I stood and lost my first lunch at bedside. She cleaned it up, humming as she did so, not one bit concerned that she would be damaged by her proximity. She saw me at my worst and it presented her at her best.
The church should nurse the wounded back to health.
The confusion of complacency
“Outside the walls of the church, homosexuals are waiting to see if the Christian church has anything more to say after we declare that homosexuality is a sin,” said Mohler.
Sexual sin leads to isolation, which leads to a need to reach out somewhere for someone to listen. Unfortunately, it’s easy to find a sympathetic ear ungrounded in God’s Word. Strugglers in big cities and small towns can find easy and anonymous hook-ups via Craig’s List or personals websites. They can dangerously cruise certain areas of larger cities and then return home, usually mired in the quicksand of self-hatred and weakness, but with hope no one will ever find out. Young men who struggle are lured by false theology to embrace sexual attraction for men as normal through such groups as GOYS, which flaunt “a new masculine sexual identity,” which allows for men to have sex with each other within certain limits . . . because these men are not “gay,” but “goy.” One GOY group recently advised its members to cease contributions to churches and support the GOY movement instead.
Don’t let homosexuality be someone else’s problem, or think it is not in your church. Why would you be so fortunate as to have been spared this sin among your members? Small town . . . small church? Big battle. This is not an urban phenomenon. In my struggles, and now in my ministry, I met many Christian men from small towns who lived in absolute fear of discovery and expulsion.
The compassion of confession
Perhaps the biggest reason the church needs to be involved on the same-sex battlefield is because the church is the Body of Christ and the best place for confessional healing. Hidden sins inhibit reconciliation and redemption.
Andrew Comiskey, director of Desert Streams Ministries, addresses this in his book, Strength in Weakness.
“Confession requires community – the witness of trusted brothers and sisters. I firmly believe that without that witness our efforts to live honestly and wholeheartedly will not work. We as the church must be reminded of the biblical call to gather as sinners in order to be cleansed.”
Too often confession in church is the end-result of being caught doing something wrong outside the church and having to ‘fess up. It is painful and feared. Just seeing someone else go through it often causes the sinner to bury his secret more deeply.
Imagine if the church truly were a place where a person struggling with a sin of any kind had trusted brothers or sisters in a small group situation and could confess, receive prayer and know that he is not walking alone.
“Without confession, we can remain alone, skimming the surface of God’s grace in less revealing aspects of fellowship,” said Comiskey. The “powerful, repetitive responses of mercy” and a connection with others “rescues us from the domination of sin.”
If churches function properly, they are places of compassion, correction and confession.
“Within the church, one in five members is affected in some way. They, a loved one or someone they know is gay. In the past, the church has seen its role primarily as condemning,” said Stephen Black, director of First Stone Ministries. “Now we are under cultural assault. Churches are going to have to be clear.”
Dealing with the same-sex issue, he believes, takes training and understanding, but churches can be equipped. He sees three levels of the homosexual struggler: the person wholeheartedly seeking the truth, the struggler who has become hardened and no longer seeks the truth, and the struggler deceived into thinking he or she can act out within a Christian gay identity. In addition, you have the person who knows it is wrong, but is close to just giving up. All must be approached with a clear-cut biblical response to the sin in their lives.
The compassion of commonality
Some approach homosexuality as today’s leprosy or, perhaps as tax collectors in Jesus time. If so, shouldn't we approach it as Jesus did the lepers and tax collectors? He associated with them. As Scripture tells us, "God does not show favoritism" (Acts 10:34). Jesus treated the tax collector and the leper in exactly the same way as he did others, with grace.
“If we don’t approach the issue of homosexuality with long-suffering and patience to help people through their sin, we set ourselves up for self-righteousness, which is also a sin,” said Black. “We need to bear each other’s burdens. As Christians, we should be very careful of placing limits on that.”
While willful and repetitive sin can rightfully lead to church discipline and removal, Black thinks churches should be slow to act.
“Homosexuals can walk out a process of healing,” said Black. “When you excommunicate them, you turn them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. We should err on the side of mercy rather than judgment, giving weight to grace, wisdom and discernment.”
Black noted churches often deal with homosexuality in haste, whereas other sinners – divorcees, adulterers, fornicators, pornographers, gossips – rarely find themselves so quickly going through the discipline process.
“Where is the restoration committee?” asks Black. “Discipline should lead to a restoration process . . . but it is rarely put in place. And these are our brothers and sisters.”
And, according to Bob Stith, National Strategist for Gender Issues for the Southern Baptist Convention, our "brothers and sisters" are part of a large circle of Christians impacted by homosexuality.
"I developed a graphic several years ago that I use a lot," said Stith. "If you factor in a mom and dad, two siblings, two or three close relatives, two or three close friends, you're looking at between 30 to 50% of the population. That is one of the reasons we're losing the culture war. We don't minister to those people and many of them turn to gay groups for support."
The compassion of action
Being transparent about my years of struggling with homosexual temptation and acting out on them allows me now to speak openly about the consequences of this sin on me, my family and my church family. I should have sought more help from Christian brothers; I might have emerged from the darkened path less bloodied and bruised. My desire -- like most Christians who struggle with sexual brokenness -- was to put a permanent blockade on the path I took.
If you want to love and help those who struggle in your church, even if you don’t know who they are, set aside fear and condemnation and take on honesty and compassion. Here are some ways to get started.
· Have a speaker come to your church to share and begin the openness process. I am willing to speak anywhere. Just go to my website: BridgeBackministries.com and contact me. You can e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or even call me at 405-401-9693.
· Explore the development of a ministry within your church. CrossPower Ministries at Stonegate Fellowship has an excellent video you can view on line at http://www.crosspowerministries.com/. Or, explore and consider obtaining for your church the DVD series entitled Hope for Wholeness. It will do wonders in helping you understand and encourage.
Let the same-sex strugglers in your church family know they don’t have to do it alone and in secret anymore. Let them know you will help.
And, if you're not ready to take that step, then, for heaven's sake, at least stop scaring them to death.
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