Encouraging the Weak, Boot Camp Bill Part 2

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 1 Thessalonians 5:14

My friend Tiffany strongly urged me a couple of weeks ago to join her at Boot Camp Challenge. She claims it’s just because she didn’t want to go by herself, which I’m sure is partly true. But she also knows that I’ve been looking for something to do to kick start my “get back in shape” mission and she knew I was up to the challenge even though I wasn’t sure myself.

That is admonishing the idle.

Boot Camp Bill likes me. He told me this morning. Do you know why? He says he likes me because I have focus. I told him that I have to focus when I do the crazy stuff he asks me to do or I would hurt myself. “My right side is weak,” I told him. “I’ve had more knee surgeries than I have knees. I know to focus on technique and build up weight as I go. I’m just not steady on my right side yet.”

“YET!” he bellowed. “That’s the key word: YET! You’re focused, you have a goal and you’re gonna get there!”

That, my friends, is encouraging the fainthearted.

On Saturday, Boot Camp Bill also helped me do these ridiculous ab exercises that I won’t even begin to explain because, he says, we need to train my muscles to know they can do it before they’ll start doing it on their own. Today, I did them on my own.

That is helping the weak.

My first week I couldn’t do the side-to-side ab workouts on that dreaded Bosu ball because my balance was so bad and my core was so weak. Boot Camp Bill let me keep my heels on the ground instead of up in the air that first week because I had a goal to get my feet in the air this week. Guess where my feet were on Monday? That’s right. They were off the ground. Most of the time at least.

And that is being patient with all.

There’s a reason that Scripture is full of athletic illustrations when discussing out spiritual lives. We are the body of Christ, and our spiritual life requires daily upkeep and nutrition and challenge, just like our physical life.

So if you are one who is spiritually healthy, teaching those who are idle, weak, and fainthearted, continue encouraging them! Praise the small victories. Help them set realistic goals. Teach them technique concerning spiritual devotion and then challenge them to go deeper as the simple things get easier.

And if you’re the beginner (or the beginning again-er), take heart and persevere! Do not let early set backs get you down. Don’t give up if you don’t do something the “right way” the first time. Don’t focus on being a mighty prayer warrior; just focus on talking to God daily. Don’t aim for five hours of Bible study each day in the original languages; just subscribe to a daily devotional and read the entire chapter the devotional verses come from. Start small, work on technique and challenge yourself to go deeper as that the things of Christ begin to feed your soul.

What about you? How you begin again when you’ve taken time away from spiritual health? How do you encourage those around you in their spiritual walks?


Do You Know the Author?

Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Psalm 36:10

I love reading books and articles by people I know personally.

While any good book is worth reading, the experience is more enjoyable when I know the author because I can see little bits of them in their writing.

I discovered this in seminary when most of my professors had books that they had penned on the required reading lists for their classes. As the semester would progress and I got to know the professor better, I would catch myself reading with their voice and inflection in my head; almost my own personal book on CD. I still get tickled reading portions of Dr. Danny Akin’s books and articles and sermon manuscripts because I can tell when he was writing in a particularly passionate way and I can imagine him up on his tip-toes, leaning over the pulpit, preaching away on whatever point he happens to be making in print at the time. Dr. David Jones was my Sunday School teacher at Wake Cross Roads Baptist when I lived in Wake Forest, and when I am reading any of his works, I can imagine my Sunday school teacher right there in my office, explaining with stick figures on a dry erase board whatever mind boggling ethical point he is making in the book or article. Knowing the author and how much of his time, effort, passion and knowledge– how much of himself– went into the project makes me appreciate it even more.

It continues today. I love reading the blogs of friends and when I am researching something for my own writing, I tend to start with the writings of people I know and respect. Because I know them outside of their writing, I have a better context for what they are expressing in their work and it helps me understand it better.

For example, I don’t usually use the commentary provided with the Sunday School material at church (Shhh… don’t tell), but this quarter, Dr. Allan Moseley wrote the commentary on our study of Jeremiah and Lamentations. Dr. Moseley was the Dean of Students when I worked in the Student Life office at Southeastern, and I have heard him preach and speak on numerous occasions. Because I know him, I wanted to read what he had to say about the lessons I am teaching in my class. It’s not that I don’t trust other people who write the commentaries provided; there’s just extra incentive for me because I care about what he has to say simply because I know him.

Same principle applies to fiction. My friend Greg Wilkey recently published an e-book through Barnes and Noble. Greg was my department head when I taught at an area school, he and his wife attended our church for a time and I have been friends with his sister-in-law for several years. This character and book series are his passion, and to see it in print and be able to read it has been a joy for me because I know how much he loves it and how hard he has worked at it. It has been even more fun because, as I read, I am able to see those bits of his heart and soul in the characters in the story; the average reader would simply miss that level because they don’t know Greg. Those who know him much better than I do would probably tell you they love the book even more than I do because they love and know Greg more than I do.

Point being is this: there is a deeper meaning and understanding to any work of art (especially writing) when you know the writer.

The same principle applies to the Bible. The more you know and love God, the more you see Him in His writing, then the more you appreciate the deeper meaning and subtle references to Himself that mark the Word from Genesis to Revelation.

Here’s where most people trip up when reading the Bible– they read it for historical value or as an instruction manual or self-help book. While there are certain components of each of those genres of writing in the Bible, it is, more than anything else, an autobiography. It is God’s story of Himself to, for and concerning His people.

If you read the Bible and don’t understand it, or you think it’s boring, try reading it first as God’s autobiography. Approach it with the attitude of wanting to first learn all you can about the Author. You will find Him in every story, every law (even the weird ones like the ones about mold removal and sleeping with your clothes on), every piece of instructive teaching, every prophecy. Read it through the filter of this question: What can I learn about God? Get to know the Author. Learn about how much He loves His readers. Learn about the heart behind the writing of the book. Find out about God’s passion and it will become your passion. The more you know the Author, the more you will appreciate His Writing.

The catch with the Bible is that, because it’s first and foremost an autobiography, you have to read it to get to know the author. So read it, even if you don’t always understand it. Read it and compare it to the “writing” God has done in Creation. Read it and ask other people you know about it. If Oprah can start a world wide book club, surely you can ask a friend what they think about the Book you’re reading.

But before you write it off as history or myth or boring or impossible to understand, make sure you know the Author, because sometimes, knowing the author makes all the difference in your reading experience.

Wandering Away, Crawling Back, and Boot Camp Bill

I started a 30-day Boot Camp Challenge last week. We meet at 5:30 in the morning. Already these two things mean there are two strikes against me. I have not exactly been what you would call “intensely active” the last couple of years, and I have NEVER been a morning person. But God has been continuously convicting me of the fact that my inside and my outside need to match; consistent, healthy discipline of my body is a reflection not only on me, but on my God. And if I stand before people and claim to teach His Word, I need to represent Him to the best of my ability, mind, body and spirit.

So off to Boot Camp I go to kick start myself from “Fat Former Athlete” to “Healthy for Jesus”. It was a rough start. Our instructor’s name is Bill, and I call him Boot Camp Bill (in my head, of course; I make up stories all of the time) because it reminds me of Bootstrap Bill on Pirates of the Caribbean and I need to think of things I like when I work out that early in the morning. But that’s another story for another day. Anyway, Boot Camp Bill comes by my station the other day to encourage me while on the Bosu ball. He wants me to do squat jumps on the Bosu ball. First time through, I just wanted to stand on the Bosu Ball. But on the second set I had the form and technique down and was keeping up pretty well. In his attempt to encourage me he said, “I am so impressed with how quickly you’ve caught on! Usually, people’s first day is really rough; there might just be an athlete in there yet!”

What he meant as a word of encouragement crushed me. Then it just made me mad. “MIGHT BE AN ATHLETE?!?” I thought. I wanted to say, “Yes sir, I did cross training programs like this when I trained in the same boat house as the ’96 US Olympic Rowing Team.” Or, “We did circuit training like this every summer I was in high school and we went to the state tournament in basketball.” My self-righteous anger wanted to get off that Bosu ball and show him an athletic thing or two.

But as quickly as I wanted to Bosu him, the Holy Spirit prompted me with a sobering and convicting question: “Bekah, what about you, at this very minute, would suggest to this man that you’ve ever been an athlete?” I started thinking, “Well, I have on college-issued workout clothes, I have on good running shoes, I’m here with two girls I coach with. Heck, I’m here. What non-athlete is going to think working out at 5:30am is a good plan?” Only showing up at 5:30 am had even a hint of “athlete” to anything of who I am right now. So once upon a time I was a competitive athlete? Big deal that I used to work out. So I’m a coach? Big deal that I can tell other people how to play a game. What about me, right now, says athlete? And the answer was, “Nothing.” Not one thing about my 65 pound overweight, struggling to keep up body screamed “Here’s an athlete!” to Boot Camp Bill. So I decided that neither throwing the Bosu ball at him nor crying like a baby and quitting were good plans.

On the way home it hit me; it’s really easy to live the Christian life like I live the athlete’s life. It’s easy to wear the right clothes, say the right things, even teach others how to do it. We can go through the motions and look the part, but never actually live it out ourselves. We rest on the laurels of past spiritual accomplishments, all the while getting “fat and happy” on memories of the good old days when we were once mighty servants of Christ. When we’ve wandered away for a while, like I’ve wandered from the athlete’s lifestyle, and then the time comes that we actually step up and act like a Christian, our feelings get hurt when someone doesn’t expect it out of us. Or worse, they’re surprised to hear us say we are a Christian because our talk and our lives don’t match up at all. When people around us act surprised to hear that we were ever a faithfully walking Christian, we think to themselves, “See, I knew I wasn’t cut out for this Christian thing,” and we leave with nothing but the memories of what we were and the unfulfilled potential of what might have been.

But, contrary to what my current condition may indicate, I was once an athlete, and there’s still an athlete in there somewhere. So I didn’t get my feelings hurt and leave, never to return. In fact, I went back Tuesday and today, and I’m going back tomorrow. Because I know I’ve wandered away. I know I feel my best when I’m pushing myself to improve. And I am going to do those jump squats on that Bosu ball if it’s the last thing I do. And this morning when Boot Camp Bill came around to cheer us on he said, “You know this is hard, but you also know you can do it and you know to push yourself without me having to push you. I can see that athlete in you.” I smiled and just kept doing my squat-to-leg-kicks.

Going back taught me another spiritual lesson today; when we’ve wandered away and begin the crawl back, there is memory there that remembers what to do, and you get back in the swing of things if you just don’t give up. It will take a while for our words and our appearance to match, and some people may not believe it when they see it, but it’s never to late to come back and actually “do” Christianity for yourself. Once you start back doing things for yourself, praying, reading Scripture, confessing sin, praying with and for people, taking those stands for your faith; people are going to be surprised at first. But if you keep it up, you’ll see that flicker of former glory that never really left. The fire of the Holy Spirit never goes out; it just sometimes we just allow it to die down and smoulder.

So if you’ve wandered away, or just gotten happy with where you are and you sat down to enjoy your spiritual rewards a bit early, what do you need to do to get back on track? Are you the “fat former athlete” who’s grown content to look the part but not participate, or are you still faithfully training and running the race? If you’re ready to get back in the race, jump back in. Don’t let where you are now keep you from where you want to be, physically, mentally, or spiritually. We may wander away or just sit down and stop altogether, but we can always get back on track. Boot Camp Bill says so.

Homophobia and the Grace of God

This past week, the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Phoenix, AZ. During this time, the presidents of each of the SBC’s seminaries gives an annual report to the messengers present from Southern Baptist churches who chose to send representatives.

After Dr. Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, gave the annual report for his institution, a question was asked from the floor by a Mr. Peter Lumpkins, who identified himself as a messenger from a church in Waco, GA. The question from Mr. Lumpkins and Dr. Mohler’s answer can be seen here, beginning at the 14 minute mark in the video clip.

Since that time, Mr. Lumpkins has continued to post articles and discuss in a heated manner Dr. Mohler’s commentary concerning how the Southern Baptist Convention has traditionally responded to homosexuals. While Mr. Lumpkins vocally and, at times, disrespectfully, disagrees with Dr. Mohler’s observations, I’m certain that in a casual poll of people across the South, people from all walks of life, would show that most would mock the idea that the phrases “Churches in the South” and “compassionate towards homosexuals” should ever be in the same sentence without “are not” being inserted between the two.

Whether we like it or not, Dr. Mohler’s commentary on the church is dead on: through both naive ignorance and outright hatred, the church has miserably failed to show the grace and love of Christ to those in the homosexual community. While few would come right out and say it, through omission, isolation, quiet condemnation and a lack of proactive ministry, the church has essentially told “those people” that they can go somewhere else til they get cleaned up and get their acts together.

Throughout the weekend, I have been involved in a series of conversations on various posts throughout the blogosphere, and I would encourage you to read them and participate in the dialogue (Peter Lumpkins post #1, Peter Lumpkins post #2, Jared Moore post #1).

Below you will find some of my thoughts on Dr. Mohler’s response to Mr. Lumpkin’s question.

As a third generation Southern Baptist who  experienced firsthand the ignorance, jokes, condemnation and “clobber verses” discussed in previous articles and blog posts while silently suffering with the shame of unwanted same-sex attraction, I am thankful for Dr. Mohler’s statements and his stance. When I finally confessed to a friend the struggle I was having with SSA, I had to seek discipleship and counseling outside of our denomination because there was nothing available at the time for people who were gay, let alone someone who was gay-identified but desiring to leave the lifestyle. The general response was “Pray more, read your Bible more, and don’t tell anyone.” That, my friends, is homophobia.

As a general rule, SBC’ers may not stand at Pride parades spewing hate, but the culture of silence and rejection is a more dangerous form of homophobia in some ways because it not only causes shame within the person struggling with SSA, it makes the church (and therefore God) an unsafe place to ever share their struggle. It also give the incorrect and unbiblical appearance that good Christian boys and girls would never struggle with a sin like that. We have “clobbered” people with verses like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God, and told people that sinners “such as these” will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. But we have failed to share the hope found in verse 11 of the same book and chapter: And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

I wholeheartedly believe that 1 Corinthians 6:11 is one of the most freeing verses in all of the Bible. The “lying” to which Dr. Mohler is referring is the fact that most Baptists only share with people verses 9-10. We condemn without sharing the grace that frees us from that condemnation: “And such were some of you. But you were washed…”
“But” and “were” are two of the most grace-filled words in the Bible because they always show up when God steps in and makes us new creations in Christ. Dr. Mohler is right: the Gospel message will not be complete until church pews are filled with people who were washed of the sins listed in verses 9-10. Thankfully, at least one seat at my church is filled weekly by one who can say, “Such was I, but…”

Perhaps our pews are already filled with people who “once were” but choose to keep their testimonies of redemption silent out of fear of rejection. Perhaps we as a church are robbing ourselves of useful servants who could minister to the hurting and the brokenhearted if only they felt safe sharing that the Lord has done a healing work in their own sexual brokenness. Perhaps this conversation will give those who have been washed of myriad sexual sins the courage to speak up and speak out in their churches and tell of the great and mighty things the Lord has done for and in and through them. Perhaps this simple Q&A time at a business meeting that most Baptists never even knew was taking place will spark a revolution of grace AND truth in the church. We’ve done an excellent job declaring Truth over the years; perhaps it’s time we followed in the steps of Jesus, remembering that it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance, and temper that Truth with His grace.

As a side note, I’ve always found it interesting that most tend to overlook the first two sexual sins listed in those verses, sexual immorality (any sexual behavior outside of a marriage covenant) and adultery (sexual relations with someone other than your spouse), and skip right to the “really bad” sin of homosexuality. Again, a subtle form of homophobia; overlook the heterosexual sin and condemn the sin we collectively find the most disgusting. I loved that one commenter on an above mentioned post declared that it was good for the church that we didn’t treat those who engage in premarital heterosexual sex or adultery the same way we treat homosexuals because if we did, churches would be nearly empty every week.


Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction, Counseling and the Church

At the recent Exodus International Freedom Conference, a gentleman from a large metropolitan area who runs a ministry center for people who seek healing from various forms of sexual brokenness and struggle asked a very good question. Due to time constraints at the workshop, I did not have time to answer him as fully as I would have liked, so I am posting a more complete answer here.
This minister essentially said that, due to the current political and social buzz surrounding issues related to homosexuality, he has a very difficult time finding counselors in his area who will work with people who come to them declaring that they are seeking healing from homosexuality as one of their counseling goals.
This very question was the inspiration and purpose of our workshop. I for one agree with the removal of homosexuality from the DSM as a psychological diagnosis; it’s not a psychological issue, it’s a spiritual one. And I would issue caution going to a counselor to discuss “Unwanted Same-sex attraction”, even though that “diagnosis” is still listed in the DSM-IV. Reason being that the suggested treatment is not to help someone work through issues and seek a change in orientation. Rather, accepted treatment of unwanted same-sex attraction to help the person accept their homosexuality and learn to embrace and celebrate who they were created to be. That approach will (hopefully) be contrary to the teaching being received in church and discipleship and will, therefore, be counterproductive to the person seeking help. Those working within the counseling and church communities need to be on the same page, working toward the same goals, which should be the goals set forth by the person seeking help and wholeness.
So, to answer his question, I teach that it is the role of a counselor, whether they are biblical or secular in their worldview, to deal mainly with a client’s emotional and psychological struggles. There are myriad issues facing someone who struggles with unwanted same-sex attraction; sometimes it’s the impact of traumatic events early in life. Sometimes a client needs to sort through issues concerning emotional entanglement, overcoming a “victim mentality” or other misconception of self, or an issue of addiction to either people or chemicals. Notice that these are all issues that are separate from sexual orientation itself; many people in unhealthy heterosexual relationships deal with the same issues and move from one unhealthy heterosexual relationship to the next, never correcting their core issues and beliefs concerning themselves and God. It is the role of a counselor to help someone learn new ways of relating to themselves and to others, to work through and heal past wounds.
It would fall under the role of the church (discipleship and accountability partners specifically) to walk alongside someone struggling with homosexuality to teach them how to apply what they are learning with their counselor in a biblically correct manner. Counselors can teach behavior modification and cognitive therapy techniques to help a person see why they’ve made the choices they’ve made and how they can begin to make new, healthier choices. But it is only through intense discipleship and time in the Word can one be transformed through the renewing of their mind (Romans 12). And it is only through the renewing of the mind, the breaking down of strongholds, the revealing of lies believed and the replacement of them with Truth that can bring true peace and healing in Christ. What is beautiful and complex about both the design of humanity and the grace of God is that, as a person sorts through emotional and psychological issues and becomes healthy and balanced in those areas, believing spiritual truth and allowing it to soak to the heart becomes easier as well. Working in all areas, a little bit at a time but all at the same time, allows for continual healing and consistent work towards the goal of conformity to the image of Christ.
So if you are searching for a counselor to help deal with issues related to unwanted same-sex attraction and you do not have an Exodus ministry or counselor in your area (You can find out if you do here), find a counselor you trust to help you identify and improve upon counseling related issues and find someone in your local church you trust who will walk through the spiritual implications of your struggles. Humans are complex beings, and matters of identity and relationship impact us wholly, mind, body and spirit. Surround yourself with competent people who can help you find healing and wholeness in all of those areas.