Friday, September 30th, 2011
I have been passionate about the Christian celebration of The Lord’s Supper for many years. During our recent trip to England we attended a retreat where a minister from Scotland taught a message about communion before we celebrated the elements together.
His message got me thinking again about how many people wrestle with their hearts during a communion time at church. Originally meant to be a reminder of the Passover, and in Christ, a message of the gospel of freedom, far to many people feel uninvited to partake even though they may “eat” anyway.
A retreat where there were many gay men and women who are Christians were attending, the minister shared his heart and invited them to partake. He passed around a large loaf of bread and encouraged us to take a piece that would compare to our understanding of God’s love for us. He talked about how often people will take a tiny crumb while Jesus promises He will provide enough for all to take.
Tears began to flow from both the wounds of rejection, and the gratitude of inclusion while the elements were taken. My heart was grieved when I pondered how many people are hurting and how much Jesus wants them to be embraced.
Communion is an element that is commonly shared throughout the world as a symbol of our faith. Sadly, it is also something that can keep us separated in disunity as well.
Please read my thoughts on Communion, The Lord’s Supper, and ponder for yourself – who’s invitation is it?
The Bread and The Cup – Fear or Celebration
When I was a young boy I remember sitting on the aisle of the long pew at church while people walked forward for communion. In order to maintain my composure of remaining quiet I watched all of the shoes. High heels of many colors, shapes and sizes mixed in with large black men’s shoes, kept my mind busy while I reverently looked down as though I was praying. Well, that’s what I was told to do.
One of the most central sacraments to our Christian faith is Communion. What is it, where does it fit within our Christian experience, doctrine, and belief? What do we know about it, how have our experiences with this sacrament, shared by those all around the globe, shaped our Christian walk? There are numerous teachings about how to take communion, where to take communion, and who should take communion. What have we learned about ourselves, others, and the church through this symbolic expression?
As I got to the right age as a young Catholic, I was taught about the miraculous transaction of the “host” and the “cup” mysteriously into the body and blood of Christ. It was kind of like other mysteries in life like Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy! I just accepted it as something I would never truly understand but the nuns and priests prepared us for the amazing day where we would walk through a rite of passage to our “First Communion”.
At the right age, as we practiced our walk many times, we were now ready for the real thing. We got all dressed up in our suits and ties, the girls in their frilly lace dresses, white gloves, and shiny paten leather shoes All together in our pews lined up as we had planned, we could now walk up the aisle like all of those ladies and men had done every Sunday as I watched their shoes go by my pew. It was an exciting time, and we all perceived we had accomplished a great new phase in life.
A Wafer Dipped in Wine?
At that very young age communion was not much more than part of the church service but I’ll never forget the taste of the wafer thin “host” as it entered my mouth. It was kind of like the breath fresheners today as they melt in between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. They called it bread but it resembled something quite different than bread to me. It was far too thin to call it bread. I was told that the nuns made it and couldn’t imagine how they could possibly make these little dime sized paper thin wafers by the hundreds in preparation for each Sunday.
I can’t say that taking communion was a spiritual experience for me throughout my childhood, but I faithfully partook each Sunday, since my dad made sure we were there every week. One thing I did think about was that it seemed to be a privilege since it seemed we had to “qualify” in order to take it. There was the initial series of teachings and what seemed to be a graduation for our First Communion.
Then, there were ongoing qualifiers like we had to go to confession to make sure our sins were forgiven. We also couldn’t eat before church because there had to be an hour of fasting before taking communion. It seemed that Jesus needed a clean stomach before his body and blood entered into it. At the time I think I clearly understood Him not wanting to mush around in my breakfast remnants.
For Common Man?
How did this play a role in my foundation of understanding communion? Well, I can say that it led me to believe that communion was not for the common man, but rather only certain people could walk up that aisle. They had to pass a test, be reverent, clear their consciences, and clean their stomachs, and beat their fists against their chests three times when the bells rung before they could follow the plan to “Take, eat, this is My body.” There were so many rituals surrounding this mysterious event during the Sunday Mass.
A Ritual, A Rite?
I grew to think of communion as nothing more than a ritual, a rite and something that seemed to be an integral part of the Christian life. But later on as my church associations changed, my thoughts of communion also changed. When I went to a new “kind” of church it seemed they had different kind of communion. The shape changed! The “cup” changed. Now they had you stay in your pew and the ushers passed the plates around for each person. We now had a little “chiclet” shaped piece of bread and a thimble sized cup. It just wasn’t the same as being personally served and the wafer melting in my mouth that the Catholic experience held for me. The little cup was different too. As a Catholic I never tasted the cup. The Priest dunked the wafer into the wine when I was little.
The Pastor would stand up front before the ushers passed around the plates. He would typically charge us with clearing our consciences. During some church services I had experienced it also seemed that some people who may have been sitting with us were told they might consider not eating with us if they were in trouble with God, or others. There was often beautiful music playing during the passing of the plates and as I looked around it seemed everyone was in deep prayer, or pretending to be, while they waited for the entire congregation to be “served”.
What? He Didn’t Take it Today
There were times when I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t take communion. I mean, there were many times when I didn’t feel as though I was in a great spiritual place, or that something had been going wrong in my life. But, oh, my gosh, what would someone around me think if they noticed I hadn’t taken communion? They would know that I was in a bad space and think awful thoughts about my life. I know because one time I noticed someone next to me didn’t “partake” and I wondered what was wrong with them. What could be so awful that you wouldn’t take communion? Then I had another thought, they must have been “spiritual giants” in order to go against the flow and actually do like the pastor said, and not eat if we had something wrong in our lives. At least they were honest enough to evaluate their lives deeply. So, I tried to stop judging them and think of them in a better light.
So, the ritual of communion continued throughout my many years of Christian experience and my walk of faith. I really never thought of the fear and intimidation that often went alongside the “Communion Table” until I evaluated communion all together. This was until I had my first “Passover Seder” experience.
You might say, what is a “Passover”?
I have found that many Christians don’t know what a Passover Seder is. I didn’t know until I went to my first one. It was at this special event that I learned where communion came from. I learned that when Jesus spoke of eating His body, and drinking His blood, He was speaking at a Passover meal with His disciples. This sheds a whole new light on the bread and the cup! I now saw that it was actually a full meal where He talked about bread and wine.
My Pastor Says!
Later on, I was involved in hosting a Passover Seder. I invited an older woman to the special event. I explained that the Passover Seder had now become one of my favorite holidays each year. She looked at me and said, “What is a Passover Seder?” Much to my surprise since this lady had been a Christian for fifty years. I explained that it was a “glorified” communion service. She thought for a minute and responded to my invitation. “Oh, John, I’ll have to ask my pastor if I can come. He says we aren’t supposed to take communion at any other church than our own.” She then asked if I was ordained as a minister since she was also taught that only ordained men are to serve communion.
I was shocked at what she had said because it sounded so strange to me. She had been taught that there was something so religious about communion that she actually felt fearful about coming to the Seder without her pastor’s permission! Much to her relief, her pastor gave her permission to attend the Seder.
Where Did All of the Rules Come From?
Wow, this led me to do further thinking about this whole communion thing. I realized that for many Christians, fear was tightly woven into the communion experience. The very symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ and the freedom He bought for us had turned into bondage for so many followers of Christ.
Fear of disapproval, fear of failure, fear of breaking a “Christian rule” or just fear of a disapproving God! From my Catholic roots to protestant teaching, it seemed most often Christians were taught that taking communion had all kinds of rules surrounding it. Where did this come from?
In chapter 12 of Exodus, there are many regulations regarding celebrating the Passover during the Old Testament times. Everything from a perfect lamb to expunging the household of leavened bread, Moses and Aaron received their instruction from the Lord about the celebration festivities. I am certain fear of taking communion irreverently is not new to us who live after Christ’s resurrection.
When Jesus was leading the Passover Seder with His disciples the following gives a recounting of the experience.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body. Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.(Matthew 26: 26)
Certainly many of the historical rules were rooted in the Old Testament experience. The Law has continued to impact many of our lives and our Christian experiences. But when Jesus came, EVERYTHING changed! He brought radical challenges to the Pharisees and the culture of the day in which he lived.
I wonder what it was like for the new disciples of Jesus to take part in the bread and wind this time? At the time I am certain they worked through all of the rituals that were in place for the Jews at the time. But I wonder how the conversation went around the table with Jesus present? Was it stuffy and filled with ritual, or did Jesus bring a flavor of His love and grace even before His New Covenant took place? Oh, yes, He brought forth the reality of the betrayer sitting there which I am sure brought a somber reflection to the table, but certainly the disciples saw something different from the usual Seder.
Now, today, 2000 years later, after instruction is given, we read a selection of passages from First Corinthians chapter 11.
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:24-26)
Often the pastor will lead his congregation to an evaluation that seems to be somewhat ambiguous but none the less, we are to dig into our heart and souls prior to taking the bread. As I read through the chapter where this practice of evaluation comes from I see this preface from Paul:
“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat?” (1 Cor. 11:17-19)
It seems the major problem Paul is calling us to evaluate is that as a Church, we struggle greatly with division, fighting amongst ourselves. He even points out that many of our times together do more harm than they do good! He says that the divisions are often rooted in pride about who has God’s approval and who doesn’t.
This is VERY important to consider!
What are we called to evaluate before taking communion? It looks like Paul is calling our attention to the arrogance of judging whether or not someone is “good” enough to eat with us. I want to point out right here that it is called “The Lord’s” supper. It is at His invitation that we are partaking. It is His dining table, not ours. Who should be the judge for the invitation? If we think we can be that judge than we ourselves are crossing over the very directive that Paul is laying out for us.
As I look back at many of my experiences with preparation for communion it seems there is a lot inferred about who should, or who should not partake. My older friend experienced an extreme example of her pastor leading her to believe that permission must be granted from him for eating the bread and taking the cup at the Seder celebration. I feel grieved that this godly woman had been so misled so as to believe she had to fear sharing in something like a Seder. The fears that often underlie communion experiences are attached to a man’s approval of God’s invitation. It can seem as though God invites, but man approves.
One time when I was visiting my dad in Las Vegas I decided I wanted to go to church with him to show him how much I respected his commitment to his faith. I had not been to church with him since I last regularly attended a Catholic mass which was when I was a teenager and I was digging deep into my heart to attend with him. As the service proceeded towards communion my dad handed me a folded open booklet turned to the page on communion. It read:
“While we are praying for the unity of the Body of Christ to be revealed, at this time if you are not fulfilling the requirements of a faithful Catholic we respectfully ask yo to abstain from taking communion with us.”
I was very upset by what I read. While I understood the intent due to my experience with Catholicism, I also knew the desire of Christ to see his Body come together and to quit separating on denominational lines. When my dad and I got home and I was standing in the kitchen I opened my my heart to him. “Dad, I am very upset by what I read today. While I deeply respect your commitment to the leadership of your church, I want to say that my attending church today was an answer to the prayers that were mentioned in that booklet. I had put aside my flavor of church to attend with you for your flavor of church. I feel very frustrated by the rejection of my heart based on rules that are not based on the gospel. I am a follower of Christ, and you are a follower of Christ. We should be able to share communion together based on our common faith even though there are differences in the way we practice it.”
My dad responded, “John, I know what you are saying but that is the way my church is and I felt I needed to honor the wishes of our leadership.” I felt comforted that my dad understood what I was saying and yet, I still felt frustrated by the separation of Christians bringing disunity to the heart of Jesus to see his “kids” all together.
Have You Ever Seen Anyone Overeat at Communion?
Several years ago I asked a second question. If the scriptures said “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment”. (1 Cor. 11:33-34)
Than how are we defining communion? If it is possible to over eat at communion then how does a “chiclet and a thimble full of grape juice” relate to communion? There is something here that really needs to be considered.
If a traditional communion is symbolic I understand the small elements. But in its symbolism, what does it stand for? Well, first of all, it certainly is a symbol of that first historic Passover. I get that part. The symbol of the real night of the Passover is significant and God has called us to remember this special event in our history.
But, the elements are also symbolic. They are symbolic of the entire meal of the Passover Seder. The original Seder is a time of sharing history, our faith, and certainly friends and family. It symbolizes the entire picture of God’s heart for relationship.
Certainly we cannot overeat the elements unless we raid the back store of chiclet bread pieces and gallons of grape juice. But if the warning is about not being a pig when we go to a fellow’s home for dinner than we need to take a look at our gluttonous practices as we partake of the symbol of communion.
But, it is also symbolic of sharing meals together with other Christ Followers. As I think of my Christian walk, some of the fondest memories I have is eating, drinking, laughing and learning together over a meal. I also recognize that to eat with other Christians with whom I experience unsettled relationships is certainly making light of the unity called for in the Body of Christ. To sit at the vulnerable place of sharing a meal together and put on a facade of unity is a breach of the kind of relationship that God is calling us to celebrate through communion.
Who’s Invitation Is It?
But there is something very important to consider here as well. Who is God inviting to the table? Not, who do we want at the table, but who does God want at the table.
Is anyone unworthy to be at the table? Are there those we can say, “Go away until you get your act together!” Maybe we are talking to ourselves. Paul seems to warn us of our divisive ways. Can a Pastor or other spiritual leader tell us where, when, and with whom we can celebrate God’s Passover elements?
I was recently with a group of gay men and women who were celebrating God’s presence. We were led to a time of communion where the leader bought to our minds that any are welcome to the table who desire to draw near to Christ to share in His blood sacrifice bringing us hope, renewal, and eternity.
Behind me was a middle aged man who broke out and wept loudly. His heart was filled with a sense of loss, and yet a sense of inclusion. He later described that due to being gay he had always taken communion with a deep sense of guilt and shame and at times even avoiding it. He perceived that he was not welcome to the Table of the Lord due to what he had heard others preach about who was worthy to partake and who wasn’t.
My heart broke for his experience. I looked back over all of the years of my own experience with communion and I can see why this man felt “uninvited” to the Lord’s table. It may have been because he wasn’t reading the invitation correctly. It was sent by Jesus! It didn’t have man’s return address on it.
Jesus invites us to His table, anyone who wants to come, can come. Are we passing on the Lord’s invitation, or are we making it our invitation? The point I am attempting to make here is that there are Christians who think they can edit the guest list for those invited to the Lord’s Supper when it isn’t their guest list!
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
It is the cup of forgiveness for all mankind. Man, woman; black or white; and yes, lesbian, gay transsexual -or straight.
At the close of the service, the man who led us through communion said something profound:
“When you make homosexuality a “fundamental” of our faith and it divides us into disunity, you are adding to the gospel.”
Much like other social issues, homosexuality has seemed to divide our family into segments. There is certainly different schools of thought, practice, and biblical interpretation within the Body of Christ. Sadly, those that suffer from the disagreement are those whom are cast aside, those who perceive they are second class Christians because they are gay. Does the gospel discriminate based on sexual attractions? I believe Jesus in the Bible says all are welcome.
Might we ponder this question? What other things in our Christian communities and personal walk that we make “fundamental” that keep us or others from The Lord’s Table that He has invited us to?
Might I say… If we cannot RUN to the communion table with no fears, no hesitation, with full confidence – - – - – then where can we run to?
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Gal. 3:1-3)
For more articles on homosexuality – Click Here
Thursday, September 15th, 2011
Oh, the rush of the adventure of this life.
The bright lights of the sky reflected in the highly motivated flowing water brings invigoration and desire for today!
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.”
It is “o” dark thirty and here I am already moving into my day. Lots to do, things to think about, people to see, places to go and I am up and “atem”. My life is an adventure and always has been but I haven’t always felt that way.
From July 31st, 1954 God had a plan for me. Well, actually, it was before the beginning of time! As His plan has unfolded I can’t say I have always enjoyed it but it sure has been an adventure.
As you have reflected on your own life have you considered using the word “adventure” to describe it? I have not often thought of adventure when I have been down in a valley or wrestling with a struggle. I can picture myself with my arms swinging in front of me saying “no” I don’t want that right now. Or “leave me alone” when someone invades my space unwelcome at that moment.
Climbing a high peak, toiling over a difficult project, or working through a 20 year marriage all have their trials but they also have their joys and in the process we experience the adventure of discovery, highs, lows, and a sense of accomplishment. As a follower of Christ, the way is always up!
In October of 1986 I received a phone call that changed my life forever. The ministry of Love In Action called me to ask me to consider a position with them managing one of their residential facilities. I had prayed desperately for God to allow me to work in a full time ministry. I laid out my plans but none of them came to fruition. But when this phone call came, I knew it was an opportunity from God and joyously welcomed it. After extensive plans were laid out in just two months I was on my way from Nebraska to California to discover what He had for me. Ecstatic and unprepared for what was ahead I accepted this as a huge answer to my heart’s desire.
I saw this as the beginning of an amazing adventure but now over 23 years later I can’t say I always saw it that way. Those years were some of the most joyous experiences and yet some of the most painful of my life. I have no regret about having made the decision to go and can see how God used all of those years to shape my own character. I often said I felt that working for Love in Action was more about what God was doing in me than anyone. It was like climbing the highest peak for me. Along the way the discovery of people, life, relationships and certainly my Lord brought great satisfaction to what I accomplished through God’s working in me and through me.
Three years ago, in May of 2008, I entered another adventure! “God, Surprise Me”, was a little prayer that has brought another revolution to my life. (read the stories, click here) This new adventure is full of joy, and also its challenges as well. That is the way adventures are! Up, down, sideways, and sometimes a little rest in the middle.
A while back, I was asked by a friend to take him to the county jail so he could turn himself in for a warrant that has been issued for his arrest. Due to a violation of his parole he was to go back to the system for a parole revocation hearing and would have to spend time in jail until his hearing would take place. As I took deep breaths I pondered his life and what it has been like to be his friend. We met every week for over a year and I felt I knew him really well. As we drove downtown I was keenly aware of what he was about to walk into. He tried to process this with me and yet the angst on his face was obvious.
I mentioned this to a friend of mine and she said, John, your life always seems to go to curious and interesting places. I responded, “yep, that is the story of my life”. I never know what is in store for me but God has certainly had many unforeseen things up His sleeve to throw me off. I look back and laugh at the crazy things I have been through. I can also look back and cry at the sadness I have felt or seen for others. The mountain tops in my life have been very high. The valleys have been very low. But it sure has been a ride and I am not expecting it to stop any time soon. I am thankful that God has allowed me to have a wife that is willing to ride alongside me!
As you have walked through career development or raising a family or maybe just relationships that have been a challenge, can you use the word “adventure”. I have found that when I change the word to describe the challenges it gives it a new frame to think through.
Adventures are discoveries. They are exciting because we never know what is next. Walking through an adventure has a certain exhilaration about it that gives us a little more energy to embrace it. But when we see things with heaviness or fear it seems to de-energize us and drag us down.
A friend invited me to join a group to go white water rafting on the north fork of the American River in Northern California. I said yes and talked about how fun it would be. As we drove to the launching point I started to get really nervous and fearful. I could feel my heart pounding and the higher levels of anxiety inside me. The fear was taking away the joy of expectation and potential of the experience. As we started the ride down the river we had so much fun! It was 100 degrees and the cold water was wonderful. The rush of our yelling in the rapids was awesome. The calm of our resting point where we just laid back in the water was a welcomed break.
I wonder how many things I have missed out on in life because I was too afraid to embrace them? Far too many I’m afraid.
Luke 21: 34-35
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.
What can I learn about me today Lord? What do You want to show me that may change my life forever? Lord, I am scared about what I am about to face but walk with me, take my hand, don’t let go!
I was at an amusement park standing in line for a huge turbulent roller coaster ride. I was anxious but excited. My friends were with me to help give me courage to go forth onto this mysterious and fearful thing. As I got strapped in and the ride started to climb the huge straight up ascent I began to pray fervently. God, help! Then as it got closer to the crest I said, “what am I doing asking God to help me, I did this myself”. As the coaster rolled over the top I screamed and down we went! Through the hoops, over the hills, under the trestles and in a few short minutes we were pulled to a stop. I laughed and with enthusiasm I said that was great fun. It seemed when I released the anxiety and just ran with it I could enjoy the experience.
Is that the way it is with life? If we release our anxiety and run with it will our lives become an adventure?
Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall.
So, here I am again, it’s still “o” dark thirty. I don’t see the sun yet, but I am thinking differently already. I am up early because I had indigestion that just wouldn’t go away. I wasn’t up early today for any admirable reason. I wasn’t up to spend time with the Lord or to go exercise, It was just because I couldn’t lay there any more from the discomfort. So here I am starting out my day with pain in my chest. But writing these words gives me something else to think about.
What do you have for me today, Lord? Who will I see? What will happen that will challenge me? How does this day fit into the adventure of my life? I can trust that it will and that God will make good whatever happens today. I will learn something. I will grow just a little more today.
Something I know for sure, You love me and we’ll face this day with grace. Come on sun! Rise to welcome us with the Lord’s loving arms of embrace.
Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.
The LORD is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens.
Thursday, September 8th, 2011
As I write each week, these kinds of questions come to my mind and I attempt to write as I think about them. Today, I want to pose some questions for you to consider. We don’t often know what people think about things we say, or conversations we engage in. And, as Christians, this can be even more challenging.
Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in our own worlds we don’t stop and consider what may be going on in someone else’s mind.
What do you think the average gay person thinks if they are hearing a sermon on Leviticus 18, or Romans One?
When the news media posts a report on a married, prominent Christian, leader who has just been accused of having sex with another man, what do you think a gay or lesbian might be thinking about the Christian faith?
When a church posts a sign promoting a recovery ministry for those who have recently been through a divorce and a lesbian sees it after her long time partner has just left her. What do you think goes through her mind?
I saw a church sign this week that said “Serving Families”. Do you think any single man or woman would have any inclination to go there? What about a gay person?
When huge battles go on in the political realm over gay marriage referendums and a young gay man ponders his future, what do you think he feels about where his life will end up?
“God Hates Fags” is on the local news. As a local church pastor reads about it what do you think they would say to their church about it if asked for a sermon response, or an opinion?
A lesbian has just gone through a third relationship separation. Her family has told her for over twenty years that she is wrong for “those kind of relationships.” What do you think she might be feeling when her family asks her what has been going on in her life lately?
A young man in his twenties has just had his father tell him that he doesn’t want him to come home because he is in a same sex relationship. What do you think he might be going through as he processes his family and decisions?
After going to her parents church this week, a lesbian girl goes out to lunch with them. The sermon was on homosexuality. Try to picture the restaurant scene with them together and ponder what the conversation might look like.
This week’s talk at work was all about two prominent political leaders who have been accused of sexual affairs outside of their marriage. The Christians at work are gathered around talking all about immorality, God’s standards, and retribution for their sinful affairs. Two Christians accuse the gay community for the fall of our country’s morals. A single gay man overheard their conversation. He is celibate and has a deep faith in God. What do you think is going through his mind?
A single man who has had a pattern of having sex frequently with those of the same sex. He thinks it is wrong, but doesn’t know what to do, he just can’t seem to stop. He struggles over the weekends and finds it difficult to manage the time alone. He has been to several of the local support groups for sexual recovery but finds they are focused on heterosexual behavior and they seem uncomfortable talking about homosexuality. He feels hopeless about ever changing his life patterns. What would you say to him?
Two ladies have been together as lesbians for 15 years. They live in a house in a nice neighborhood and have found two neighbors to be very friendly and have had them over for dinner several times. They play with the children and enjoy hanging out as they grill their meals or prepare for their time together. At dinner one week, one neighbor begins to talk about the church’s recent event dealing with homosexuality with a prominent nationally known speaker. The speaker is also known to be affiliated with the local republican committee. What might these women be going through as the conversation ensues? They have never really talked about their lesbianism with these folks.
A teenager who has strong same sex desires and seems to have no attraction to the opposite gender hears all of his friends talking about the high school prom. They are discussing all of the fun they are going to have at the event. Two of his friends know of his attractions and in the conversation. In front of their friends, they ask him who he is going to invite to prom this year. What is going through his head?
His parents have strongly recommended that he go to a local Christian support ministry to deal with his homosexuality. He wants more than anything to wake up one day and find a huge change and a new desire for women to arise. After three years and not missing one meeting one meeting he begins to talk about the lack of change in his sexual desires. The leader of the group says, “Oh, it can take many years for changes to occur.” None of the other group members seems to respond to what he has just vulnerably shared. What might he be thinking as he drives home?
A lady you work with is known in the workplace for being a lesbian. No one seems to know if she lives alone, or with someone, but everyone seems to talk about her lesbianism behind her back. One lady in the office laid a brochure on her desk for an upcoming event in their church on homosexuality. You saw her leave it and when the lady comes back to her desk, she asks you if you know anything about it. What do you think she will be thinking about her workmates as she goes home that evening?
A young man who has just graduated from college has always felt strong homosexual attractions. He is very relational and doesn’t like being alone and has always had a desire to raise children. He has always been taught that homosexual relationships were a sin. He has no desires at all for women and has always been very clumsy around them. As he looks into what he’ll do with his life what do you think he might be feeling? What would you say to him?
A middle aged gay man has recently picked up his bible and read through 1 Corinthians chapter six verses 9 through 11 that speaks about things like adultery, deception, gossip, slander, and in some versions it reads “perverts”. He has only been to church as a child and quit going when he went to college. He has had a recent interest in pursuing his faith. After work one day, his church going neighbor, after having a few beers, began to talk to him about all of the neighbors personal business and their affairs. Then he launches into the perversion of homosexuals and their choice to get AIDS and infect others. The next week he invites this man to his church. Do you think he would be interested in going?
A gay man moved into a new house and left his car in front of the neighbor’s driveway while he was moving in. He came to the door to apologize for the inconvenience. The door opened up and he found out he had just moved in next door to a prominent church pastor. As he walked away from the doorway, what might he be thinking about the next season of his life?
Christ Followers are called to be ambassadors of His love and grace. What would you say?
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
Friday, September 2nd, 2011
I received this question from a long time friend who had read my recent article “John, you have deviated from the truth.”
John, I still don’t understand what you are saying at times. I was involved in extra marital affairs, I lost my marriage and am attempting to start fresh with my sexuality, and in my walk with Christ. Could I have stayed in adultery, without repentance, and still been a faithful Christian? Help me understand this.
First of all, many of the principles I will use to answer your question are in articles I have already written about. (Articles on Homosexuality, and “God Suprise Me!) But, please allow me to try to compose an answer to your question.
What I am saying more than anything else is that we are all on a journey of transformation. Some people are what I would call “pre-Christian” and hopefully they will find Christ’s salvation to become real for them. Others have already been enlightened to Christ’s gift and have started on their transformation journey. But, none of us are on the same time line and it is very hard to compare life experiences as it relates to our relationship with Christ. And, we all know, no one has achieved perfection as yet. We are all falling short of God’s standards.
During Jesus’ ministry, he dealt heavily with the Pharisees. He constantly challenged their law oriented religion. Pharisaical thinking and actions are that of expecting people to satisfy the Law Code through good behavior and submission to the law. They attempted to teach that we could gain favor with God by being good obedient sons.
Many Christians still act like Pharisees today.
Within the church community many still function as though they can earn God’s favor through their good works, their clean living and expect others to follow suit. While Jesus told the Pharisees that underneath their polished exteriors was a cauldron of stuff that was clearly wrong and needed to be cleansed. Of course, Jesus was trying to show them their need for His salvation in preparation for His sacrifice for their sin. He was certainly not saying that He expected them to “clean it up” on their own. (Matthew 23:25-26)
Jesus came to fulfill the law Himself so that we are freed from the eternal consequences of sin. He came to give us freedom from condemnation of the law. In acceptance of His gift, He gave us a new heart. Those with His new heart are growing into the likeness of Christ.
What is a faithful Christian? Is it someone who’s behavior is perfect? Well, no, none of us is perfect. But can we be closer to perfect than others? Maybe if we are comparing our outward signs of life. But, actually I have known you a long time and I knew you when you were involved in adultery. You were representative of many wonderful manifestations of your walk with Christ. You revealed the fruit of a man who placed your relationship with Christ as an extreme importance. But during that time, you were struggling with your humanity. I never judged your walk with Christ differently after I found out about your adultery. You are a man, and a man who knows Christ deeply.
I think we really need to rethink what it means to be a “man after God’s own heart” like our old friend David. Was David a faithful God worshipper? I think we would agree that He was faithful to God even when his relationships were really messed up.
There are many people who would call themselves faithful Christians in arrogance while not being willing to look at their own lives honestly. They exhibit religious pride and practice. And there are many gay people who struggle with deep insecurities about their relationship with God because they love Him so much. How do we judge a “faithful Christian?”
The Complexity of Homosexuality
This is a huge can of worms because of the intrinsic nature of homosexuality. How do we define homosexuality? The word itself is really only good as it describes a collection of related items. It is vital to separate behavior from the person. Gay people hear all the time that they must repent of homosexuality. A person cannot repent of “homosexuality” if the understanding of the word is same sex attraction and a unique personal response to gender. For the majority of gay people, their life experience is unchangeable and not something that can be “repented” of. So, to say that a gay man or lesbian must repent of their homosexuality will certainly be confusing and challenging.
So, it is hard to compare heterosexual adultery with homosexuality and without clarifying our verbiage and context it can become quite mixed up. If on the transformation journey God moves a gay man to no longer engage in indiscriminate sexual relations then we can compare that to what you experienced with adultery. This is something that falls into the category of sanctification. But at the same time, we have to be very careful when judging anyone being a “faithful Christian” if we are only considering their behavior. We all know how flawed our lives are. The most powerful and influential spiritual leader goes home to their own human experiences and if we were to look only at their human behaviors, they would not satisfy the requirements of a perfect God in and of themselves.
So, why would we place a finer grid onto the gay community than we place on other human experiences? Are gay men or lesbian women under a magnifying glass that we are not willing to subject our lives to?
I recently had a pretty passionate discussion with some men about how many Christians can get so angry about homosexuality. I asked why we have not had such a heavy discussion about things like divorce, or greed? Why is the hammer so heavily aimed at gay people and yet there are so many other things that we ignore? We are either under grace, forgiveness, and God’s transformation process in each of our lives or we are not.
Why would the Christian community not want to see as much grace for the homosexual as we seem to have for those who are divorced, or the greedy? Why do I so often hear such negative responses about allowing God’s grace to be poured out on gay people who are so misunderstood by society and even more so, by the church? When Jesus began His public ministry, the things he point out to the new disciples were things like; anger, divorce and remarriage, prideful praying and fasting, selfishness, and worry! He pointed out our common temptation for hatred and bitterness with our enemies. He compared these to the law and revealed to the disciples that they desperately needed a Savior.
Why am I being told I have “deviated from the truth” with this issue and living through “cheap grace” when the hoarders of worldly goods are sitting in church with their hands lifted high? Shouldn’t the homosexual be sitting there too, under God’s grace? Well, I certainly understand that grace cost our Savior more than we can imagine, or think. But, He freely gave it to us. Some people respond to them as though they are the lepers of our society – that is unless they “repent” and even then, celibate homosexuals who say “I am gay” are mocked and rejected just because they are attempting to be honest about their sexuality.
When I was worshiping at a large church, without knowing it, I was barred from ministry within the church, rejected, scorned, and gossiped about. Oh, I never saw or heard it for myself. People didn’t come to me personally. And it wasn’t coming from the pastoral staff because they continued to embrace me completely. There was a continual encouragement from the staff to offer to do things within the church. But, there was the “old guard” who prevented me from serving within their church. I heard all about it later. I was involved in ministry to “the gays” that were unwelcome at their church. I represented the scourge of our society and they didn’t want anything to do with that.
The Real Message
Someone has to be willing to say to the homosexual, “God loves you intimately, He wants you in His house, He will not give you more than you can handle and along life’s path, you are free, totally free. Do not live under shame and condemnation that Jesus didn’t place upon you.” Who will be willing to be an ambassador of the gospel of grace for anyone who so desperately needs a deeper connection with God?
So, what would Jesus say to us? How would He minister to the gay community today? I think it is clear. Zacchaeus, (Luke 19:5), The woman at the well (John 4), The woman caught in adultery, (John 8:3-11) and there are so many others. What I see in His response to the fringe of the culture of the day, is that He responded to each one differently and always respectfully. There was not a “one size fits all” response from Jesus. He understood where each one was at and what the next step of their life would need to be. He was known as a man who would eat with sinners! (Matthew 9:10-13), The Rich Man (Mark 17:20-25). Jesus’ responses to the men and women around him were all unique. In listening to the deepest places of their hearts, He didn’t respond the same way to any of them.
One of the First Christians!
And, interestingly enough, one of the very first converts after Jesus’ death and resurrection was a black eunuch! (Acts 8:38-40) This shows you how much God does not discriminate and how much we do. Without question, the eunuchs of Jesus day were probably some of the people that fell under condemnation and criticism just like the gay people of today do. And we all know what black people have gone through in our recent American history.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
Sorry if this sounds a little strong, It isn’t about you. You just provided a question for me to flush out some more things.
I really appreciate you asking, my friend. I am open to questions and thoughts.