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Our Mailbag: John, can my gay friend be a Christian?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010


mailbag_3Dear John,

In light of all you have been saying about grace, do you think that people who say they are Christians, yet claim to be homosexuals are going to go to heaven? If Christians struggle and have to fight the temptation to rebel against the Lord, doesn’t that mean that those rebellious things would also include money, kids, perfectionism, job, any kind of sexual acting out, etc? I find I struggle wanting to place homosexuality outside of “other” things that I think are wrong.


I have a good friend whom I think is a Christian, yet he claims to be gay. I know that his life is his own, but I’ve felt led to really pray earnestly for him recently.


Perplexed


Dear Perplexed,

You can’t go wrong in praying! Your question is a very complex one. Whenever we are asking questions about salvation it gets complicated. People are all very unique and frankly, cannot fit into our nice neat little boxes. Life would be easier if that were the case, but thankfully God understands each of us.


I believe in the basic message within the gospel. We are saved by the initiative of the Holy Spirit to enliven our hearts towards Jesus. In a miraculous  transaction between God and us there is a salvation process that has begun. I believe God completes the work He started and if that imperishable seed is in place, nothing will stop us from receiving His reward of eternal life.


Having said that, there are many religious “copies” out there who pretend to act like they believe but they do not. Religious performers are all over the place and look like good church goers but know nothing of the grace of a redeeming Christ. In their unredeemed thinking they perceive they will earn His favor by their religious practice.


I believe when we are brought to life by our Father’s work, we are also given a new heart of flesh that is good. At that time our lives are turned towards Him and ready to move through the sanctification process with Him.


Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13


It isn’t a work that is done all at once but in the end, it is a complete work. Hence, we are to work out our salvation every day, not to say we work to gain favor, but the sanctifying process can certainly be hard work and toil sometimes.


Gay_Christian_question

question markSo, can someone appear to engage in homosexual sex and as a Christian also find themselves in God’s favor? I believe a resounding YES! In Him we are righteous, not of our own work – therefore if someone is a Christian, he is in God’s favor.


I would respond with, “Why would we even ask the question?” Is there any behavior that would keep us from being Christians or would remove us from His righteousness?


Can someone appear to be in overt opposition to God’s desire for their human life and be a Christian? Yes, I believe so.


Anytime we engage in idolatry, selfishness or sexual lust, we are in opposition to God’s  desire for our lives. I think we need only be honest with ourselves to answer that question.


Can someone have a life that seems not to fit His plans and be moving towards God’s desires for them? Yes, of course!


How can we say we know another’s motives or wounds. We just don’t have that kind of ability in our human condition. . Personally, I am living in opposition to God’s desires for my life every day. When I am impatient and try to gain comfort or favor my own way rather than turning to Him and believing in Him, I am not living within His desires for me.


Frankly, I think God is much more in tune with my heart than anyone and He says what He sees is good. We can  run around and look for darkness in another life trying to figure out where someone is at spiritually. But, I believe God would rather we spend our energy in three ways:


Delight in each other revealing how much He delights in us. We are called to love each other. This means to look one another in the eye and say, “you are an incredible creation of the Living God! The magnitude of your significance to Him is unexplainable by the human mind”.


Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Romans 13:10-11


Dig in to what is true. It would be great to also nurture, focus on, enhance, and pull forth the goodness in each other’s lives. Believe in one another, but most of all believe that God has replaced our heart of stone with His new heart and feed its growth.


Demonstrate grace. When we find ourselves confronting the flesh that is in us, it is for the purpose of nothing more than to reveal God’s incredible grace – which redeems, renews, and is always for the good.


mercyI have an image that helps me to see this very significant point. When I am faced with the Living God at the end of my life, I believe that in His glory I will see my humanity. In that revelation I will recognize how far short I came from His ultimate desires. In that reality I will recognize more than any other time just how much He loves me, forgives me and that I don’t deserve His awesome gift of grace. In this immeasurable transaction I will engage in thanksgiving that transcends this world and ushers me into eternity fully disclosed, and yet fully forgiven. Even as I write these words I want to shout with the reality of this truth.


We try far too often to be the spiritual police rather than lover’s of God and each other. We have jokingly said we were “fruit inspectors”. But I am not sure many of us are called to have that job to be honest. Even the fruit of the Spirit comes to us through Him, not of our own work.


Our little poodle, Mollie, is struggling with intense anxiety from being raised in a puppy mill. She is frightened of people. Our dog trainer has revealed to us that we must remove her frDSC01459om the intensity of the target of her fear. That would be us. This means we must pay very little attention to her which would raise her anxiety. At the same time he has toldus that, for a dog, their love language includes mostly – you guessed it – food. He said while we lower her anxiety, we are to passively drop a little treat into her space without any words or other things that would cause her fear to increase. In the end the goal is to teach her that we aren’t so scary and that we love her with a safe love. In her response she will hopefully say, “These people aren’t so bad. Treats just drop from theirhands!”


Considering this I have thought of the fears that each of us may have towards God. Do you think it might be possible that God will not put anything in front of us that we cannot handle?  I have not seen His conviction of all of my sin at one time.  He has graciously worked in my heart, layer by layer, for years now.  He has worked over time to bring about the changes needed.  This means that there have been seasons where I didn’t feel convicted about certain things because that is not what God was working on at that time.  We are all on a journey of grace.


Wouldn’t it be better to respond to homosexuals with grace?  Doesn’t that sound more like what Jesus is asking us to do. I believe He is asking us to love them and nourish their faith with affirmation of what is growing?  Isn’t it more of God’s heart to put out our arms, our lives, and our love to reach into their souls.


Sometimes a person may be too wounded in a certain place for God to dig around right there. He may have to work to remove some of the anxiety through releasing the pressure of conviction while He is drawing us unto Himself.  It is in that kind of Love that real change occurs.


This could look like we aren’t heeding something that others may think is vital to an obedient walk. But God may release us  from moving towards our greatest fear at the moment, while He is loving us with our own love language to bring us to a place of trusting Him. His plan is to take us down the road to a place, where little by little, we trust Him more. In His time, He will deal with those things that He thinks need to be dealt with.


My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27


So, regarding those whom you might not relate to, I believe with all my heart they can truly be Christians. I want to celebrate that God is working within the deepest part of their being. We all know of people who appear to not be connected to God in a way that we understand.  However, if the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives, I want to join Him.  I want to encourage the life that is indwelling them. I need only to listen to their words and validate what they say. If someone says they are a Christian, they speak of the gospel correctly, I take them at face value and treat them accordingly.


I have most recently come to a place to embrace homosexual people with the love of Christ. I want to listen to their hearts and to stop trying to change them and to let God do that. In this newer place I have met many new friends that have a great burden to share the gospel of Jesus with their friends and loved ones.  I see spiritual growth in them that can humble me.  I’ve met missionaries, servants, leaders, pastoral hearts that profound my former position of keeping them at arms length. I want to encourage anyone who calls himself a brother in Christ. I want to lovingly embrace anyone who is my sister in the Lord.


That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9


This is not intended to be a message of “approval” or a permissive gospel. But when we are responding to other people’s lives we must accept that  “it is what it is” regarding today, and there is nothing I may be called to do about it other than to love people right where they are and celebrate the good things that God may be doing in them.


I have turned a lot of tables over in the last couple of years and found that I see more clearly than ever that God has spoken through Jesus to us regarding His commands. His most prevalent message to us is to love Him, and to love each other. In these commandments we will find the sum of all of His desires.


I’d rather love others than to put them into my own judgmental box and get in the way of God’s grace with them. I don’t want to barge into a fleshly interruption of His touch on their lives unless I believe I am truly called to do so. There are times for loving confrontation for sure. He has led me to do that on occasion but normally, I am learning to leave it all up to Him and just keep loving people. I have fortunately had the privilege to fertilize the new “God heart” in many people. I find that this breathes life into them that helps to move them forward and closer to Him.


How about it, can you trust God to do the work? All you have to do is to be a part of the  gifts of His love dropped into their lives. In time, maybe someone will grow to trust you more and see that you aren’t so bad because you trust in the Ultimate One!


Maybe what your friend needs the very most right now is just for you to be a friend without conditions.  If God wants other things to happen, I trust He will lead you in that too.


Thank you for your frank and challenging question.



 

Love Your Enemy? But I don’t like you right now.

Thursday, September 16th, 2010


Crop-Shadowmanbyriver

Loving an enemy.  Hum. Who is our enemy?


Matthew 5:43-47

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”



Thank goodness at the dusk of nightfall we can put the day to rest. Tomorrow is a new beginning. Thank you Lord for a fresh start.


Nighttime can be a time of great evaluation, it can be painful. It can also be a truth experience that leaves us unresolved. Each day has it’s own pain, joy, and journey.  I have often said that when my head hits the pillow at night is when the greatest honesty comes out.  I might think I am hiding my head in the pillow but really, when I am in the pillow is when I am most alone with myself that my life.


Today I am pondering some unforgiveness in my heart.  I have heard “love your enemies” in Scripture all of my Christian life and maybe even before.  I have often thought about the call on the Christian’s life to heed this concept. But I never really understood many of the implications that God brings with His challenge for us to love one another, yes even our enemies.


I recently experienced a situation where this passage was illuminated brighter than I could have imagined. It was one of those “aha” moments that blew my mind away.


In 2005 I encountered a group of people that upset my entire world. They interrupted the foundation of my life. Their actions brought about huge consequences that were very difficult to overcome. To some degree there was a lasting impact that is not even completely resolved today. This group was led by a man whom at the time I referred to as my “Enemy”. From what I went through it appeared he was seemingly trying to destroy my very soul.


A few months after the main thrust of this attack my enemy requested a meeting with me. I very reluctantly agreed to the meeting figuring this may get him off of my back. With a second person for support we met in my office for about an hour. I found the meeting to be quite surprising because I saw something in this man that I had not seen previously. I saw a human being who had a heart and a soul. He shared some very vulnerable things about his life which were surprising to me. I responded with an open heart towards him since he seemed to be so open and honest himself.


From this meeting something inside of me began so shift. Several months later he came back into my world through attending a ministry meeting I was leading. He was kind, and socially friendly. I found it easier to be around him this time.


Through his coming to another ministry meeting and a series of casual meetings with him it became clear that there was a connection being built between us that didn’t seem so negative. Feeling caught off guard, I was growing from my interaction with him. He was teaching me things that were interesting and valuable to me.


Now, over five years later, we are working on projects and enjoying the time we spend together. He and I were sitting in my office the other day and we were talking about the events in 2005. I described him using the term “enemy” and something blew through my brain like it came from heaven! The scripture above, “love your enemies” ran around my head. I looked at my friend in the middle of my amazing revelation and directly and said:


“I can’t imagine using the term “enemy” in describing you anymore. You are my friend”


He smiled and nodded in agreement. I think it might have been a little uncomfortable for him to hear that. This was his response to our meeting:


“Hey John. Had a good time yesterday. I am continually excited and feel more and more enriched as more of the evolution of our friendship becomes clear in the ways we’ve affected one another. So cool!”


After our meeting I pondered the concept of loving your enemies and found that God had led me through an amazing life lesson. I wondered if what God had in store for us is that if we can learn to love our enemies, we may find new friends who will teach us things growing lessons of life. I also thought about another scriptural principle that we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against principalities in the heavens. When I looked back at that day so long ago, I started out thinking I was fighting against a man who was leading a group. I didn’t want to talk to him and wished he would just vacate my life. He was my enemy.


My convictions haven’t changed about the issues that brought us into a battle. I am not sure his have either. We haven’t lived with an agenda to try to change one another. We haven’t made a project of one another  out of our time together. I have tried most of all to seek to know him and what he finds important about life.


Today, I really like this guy. He is gracious, kind, thoughtful and faithful. He is a servant, a giver, and loves people. He thinks deeply, he is intensely creative, loves his family and follows convictions that are significant to his life values. Ultimately, no matter what his qualities are, he is human and loved by God. It is my responsibility to battle with spiritual principalities in a heavenly way and to learn to love people, even if they appear to be enemies. I have a new name for the seeming enemy of my life years ago, it is Friend.


“This sounds great John, but I am still holding onto resentments and some remain as an enemy to me.”


unforgivenessI completely understand. I can’t let this article go without being honest about the process.  Last night I had a dream that centered on unforgiveness that I am holding onto.  I was fraught with turmoil as I held someone at bay with my hurt and disappointment.  I wanted them to pay for what they had done to hurt me. My dream  included a situation and people that I haven’t been able to love as yet. I still view them with hurt and self protection.  I feel a need to be vindicated.  At times I want to get them back for the way I have felt hurt by them.   I see them as enemies. I certainly can’t feel the “love” between us.


There are some enemies that are more on the periphery of our lives. They may have just offended our standards, or crossed over a line with something that is important to us. They can be a little easier to transition from attack to respect. But what about those who have wounded our soul, invaded our hearts in such a way as to leave torn places. I believe these are hardest to learn to love.


And yet, God is big enough to love us through it and to love them in the midst of whatever may be going on in their lives. So, even in the most painful places, I can trust that God loves them even when I can’t.  He forgives them when I am holding unforgiveness in my heart towards them.


What a wonderful thing to trust in a Savior who can love in ways I can’t, who can forgive when I can’t. I am so thankful for a Savior that loves me even in my bitter soul.  He is at work in me in the deepest parts of my life. He is restoring my soul and I trust Him in that.


shepherd-petting-sheep-in-flock

Psalm 23:2-4


He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.


He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.


Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,  will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.




 

Miracle of Miracles!

Friday, September 3rd, 2010



man_hands_raised_praising

Yes! He has done it!



Done what? And by whom? And what is there to be so excited about?





As I have gone through these pictures to write this series I have skipped over this one every week thinking I would write something when I had experienced some wonderful answer to prayer or some awesome miracle that I heard about or experienced. I keep looking for something that “He” has done that would warrant me writing anything with such enthusiasm.  I have so many things that I keep praying about that I would love to lift my hands up in the air and celebrate their exciting answer. But many of them remain in the hoping place rather than the “He’s done it” place. Maybe you can relate to me. Are there many things that you keep asking God to do and would like to say- He’s done it? Well, I am sure there are, but while we wait what can we celebrate?


John 14:12

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.


Earlier in my walk with Christ I wondered what the “greater” things would be that Jesus spoke about here. Would I see wonderful healing? Maybe I would see a miracle that would show His great power. What would be “greater” than the division of the Red Sea? How would I respond if I saw a man with a withered hand that turned healthy? What would be greater than that?


heart of stoneThen one day, it occurred to me that there was one miracle that no one had seen before Jesus’ death and resurrection. That would be the miracle of a changed human heart. I realized that what I was looking for was more of a physical or practical miracle on the outside of a man’s existence. The healed hand of the man would eventually turn to dust. So I wondered if that was really the Miracle of all Miracles. Then as I thought of the seas that split I realized they would see a regeneration of a new heaven’s and a new earth so even that was temporary. Is it true what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”


Not now!  Because our lives have been renewed! The regeneration of the heart is eternal. The man whose life was made new by the sacrifice of Jesus life is truly the Miracle of all Miracles! So, was Jesus referring to the greater things we would see as being a result of the fulfillment of the gospel? I think that may be the case.


Jeremiah 17:9

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?


So many times I have either said myself, or heard from another Christian that my heart is of no good, it is deceitful. I have distrusted my own thinking process negating it as being broken and out of sync with what Jesus would want. I have often thought of my life as being worthless, deceived, broken and often responded to today as though it had little meaning because of the false belief’s I held to.


But, when I reflect on the miracle of Jesus bringing a new heart into my old broken one I can see that new life began here!


The words I spoke were wrong.


They spoke death to a new life instead of encouraging the new heart growth to continue. I wish I could go back and speak life to those I told that they had deceived hearts. I also needed to hear about my new heart. I realize that my new heart is no longer a deceived broken place, but a brand new place to operate out of. My heart is no longer deceitful! It is renewed and full of life!


Yes, He’s done it!


Ezekiel 11:19

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.


heart with crossJesus has renewed my heart. He has brought me into new eternal life with Him and it began when the gospel was imparted into my dead soul! The Miracle of all Miracles has occurred in me! It may have occurred in you too! And maybe it will occur in those you love, are praying for, or haven’t even met yet! Now that is something to get really excited about!


Now that I have a new life, a new pure heart from Him, than I have to consider what He may want to do in me, or through me as a result of Him breathing new life into me. Boy, these miracles can be troublesome to our patterns of life, troublesome to our old value system. They can sure upset the “apple cart” of my comforts.


How about you? Does your new heart cause you trouble. I can no longer live in the excuse that I have a deceitful heart – because I don’t. I now have a conscience that comes from the pure heart that Jesus put inside of me.


too far awayJesus has asked me to use my new heart like He does. That means He wants me to live like He did. Using the tissue in my new heart for loving others sacrificially is hard and requires me to exercise that muscle to maturity. Dying to myself so that others may have life.


So, what does this look like for me today? As I listen to others I have to train myself to hear their heart beat, to hear their needs and desires and respond to them as I feel led to do so.


I was in a room full of some friends of ours and heard a man talk about moving some furniture into a trailer for his daughter. I knew this was hard work and it was 100 degrees outside. “Wow, that would be really hard to do by yourself”, I thought. And the day he had to do this was a day of rest for me. He lived about 45 minutes from me and my first thought was, oh, he can do it. He is strong and after all, he wasn’t actually asking for help. Then my new heart kicked into gear. The purity that God had placed there rose up and spoke out, “I’ll be there when you begin. What time will you load the trailer?” ” Oh, no problem, I can do that.”


When the day came and I went to his house and helped load the trailer. My wife met us there soon afterwards and we all went out to have some dinner and talked about life, hurts, needs, and joys with each other. This is life on life, this is community, this is connecting as Jesus did. New life came out of a new heart.


Deuteronomy 30:19

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.


We are given the opportunity to choose life! Many years ago I learned that our modern technology of the computer system was based on a series of on and off switches. The pattern of the up or down in the series would designate the action that the computer should make. This would bring the desired outcome of the project.


In our lives, we have choices. Our new heart tells us to choose life but our flesh has had the pattern of choosing death. That is where a tremendous battle lies. So, we move into life then take a step back into death and therefore we develop the outcome of our choices. As God renews us and we exercise our “heart” muscle, we will hopefully make more life choices and in the end we will have a better outcome.


Luke 7:36-50 (The Message)

One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”


Jesus workingI wonder if the meals that we saw in scripture were attached to Jesus helping with practical needs. Do you think Jesus helped people with their practical needs which ended up with a gathering at their homes? Did he help someone with their crops, their livestock? Do you think he responded to someone needing a favor? We don’t really know from Scripture, but one thing we see here is Jesus doing “life on life” with those around him. The town harlot made a life choice to show her love to Jesus and in the end, she received life from Him. The Pharisee was all caught up in his own laws that kill rather than learning to live in the Spirit that brings life.




2 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV)

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.


We must stop telling each other that we are broken, heartless and deceived. We must start affirming in one another, as fellow believers in Jesus Christ, that He has brought His goodness into our brokenness and that we really do have something wonderful growing within us. In Larry Crabb’s book, Connecting, he asks us to consider, “What do I have to give to someone else?” He also asks us to consider, “What do I need within me in order to receive from someone else?” I would say we have the goodness of the truth of the love of God within us to share with others. I would also say, we need to consider nurturing the humility of our new heart so that we can humbly receive goodness from others.


Have you rejected someone’s offer of kindness because you felt that you couldn’t accept it? Have you turned away from someone’s hospitality because you didn’t believe you deserved it? Has someone offered you a message of hope and in your heart you deflected it because you thought you were intrinsically bad?


Well, it’s time for a change! Connect, receive, give, and embrace the Miracle of Miracles has come!


Has God entered your soul? Do you have a new heart planted in your being? Can you truly celebrate the miracle that is greater than all of the others? Can we who have found His new life within us throw up our hands and say with confidence and excitement:


He’s Done It!



Psalm 33 (Paraphrase)


Now that is worth celebrating. God will take care of the temporary struggles, pain, trials – in His time, in His way. We can continue to celebrate in the midst of these circumstances.


And God continues to create and to renew the world about us.


He does this through those who relate to Him, who rely on His ever-present love.


He delivers his children from the fear of death and through them gives life to this world.


God’s love is sure and everlasting.


The hearts that are open to His love are filled with joy.


They truly find cause for celebration.


(by Leslie F. Brandt. God is Here, Let’s Celebrate! (c) 1969)