Failing to Notice

In an email conversation with a friend last week, I was challenged to consider the idea that maybe I take life a bit too seriously. Perhaps I should lighten up, think a bit less, turn off my mind and just enjoy certain things without examining their deeper meanings or subconscious influences on my life. Now this friend didn’t say these things or challenge me to do so, but the course of the conversation led me to consider these things myself.

I’ve been in a season of reflecting on the question, “God, what in the world am I doing here?” and to have someone who’s not in my head ask the same question was disheartening to say the least. It caused the question to move from a philosophical inquiry to a full out examination of how I do life and teaching and ministry.

But this morning I read a “knot” by R.D. Laing while doing some research for class, and it confirmed for me that, in this case, to follow the masses would be the worst plan for me and completely counter to everything I’ve spent the last decade of my life working to change in my life.

The range of what we think and do
Is limited by what we fail to notice.
And because we fail to notice
That we fail to notice
There is little we can do
To change
Until we notice
How failing to notice
Shapes our thoughts and deeds.

There seems to be an epidemic of failing to notice in our society today. But the more time I spend reading and trying to share what I am learning about learning and thinking and intentional living, the more I see that, for many, the problem isn’t just not knowing. The problem is that many do not want to know. Because to know is to reflect, and to reflect is to critique. And often, to critique means to change. And change is a double problem, because to change, one must first admit they were wrong and must second work hard to discover the error and correct it.

Ignorance truly is bliss. But for the believer, to live in ignorance is to live in disobedience. To be created in the image of the omniscient God is to possess an inherent curiosity, a desire to both know and be known.

So how do we begin to think and to know in a world that emphasizes being known at the expense of knowing anything beyond ourselves?

Today, I believe I will just say that a first step would be to simply begin noticing just how much we fail to notice each and every day. From the mundane to the grandiose, there is so much we fail to notice around us.

Today, I believe I will simply stop and notice.

A New and Living Way, Part 1

In 2001, Disney released the movie The Princess Diaries. In the movie, Mia, a socially awkward but very bright 15-year-old girl who is being raised by a single mom, discovers that the father she never knew has recently died. Not long after his death, her grandmother appears at her house and announces to Mia that she is the princess of a small European country. Her father had been the crown prince, and since he has died, the country will pass from the hands of her family if Mia does not announce her claim to the throne.

As you might imagine, this revelation of her family lineage is quite shocking for this teen girl. Her grandmother asks her to take etiquette, dance, and speech lessons so that she is prepared to fulfill the role of European princess. At first Mia rebels against the idea of taking on a new identity. She begins the lessons, but as she learns of the rules and responsibilities, along with the sacrifices she must make for this life, she questions her ability to fulfill the role. Things only get worse when her friends and classmates learn of her true identity and they begin to reject and even make fun of her. At one point, Mia gets so frustrated with the process of becoming a princess that she walks out on one of her lessons and exclaims in frustration that she wishes her grandmother had never come to tell her of her true identity.

Much like young Mia, many Christians question their identity and calling when they begin to truly understand the responsibilities and sacrifices of being a follower of Christ. Some really doubt and even consider walking away when they face persecution from those around them. Many of the Jewish believers in the first century church were experiencing doubts about their new faith in the face of persecution from both their families and the Roman government.

The Letter to the Hebrews was written to followers of Christ who may have been tempted to return to Judaism in light of the persecution that followed their conversion to Christianity. The theme of Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus Christ over the Jewish system of religion. Hebrews 10:19-25 was specifically written in order to reassure those believers that they had full access to God through Jesus Christ, the Great Priest and mediator of the New Covenant, and to encourage them to live lives that confidently reflected their positions as children in the house of God. In this series of posts, I want to share with you how you can know you are a child of God and what being a child of God looks like as we interact with Him, with the world around us, and with one another in the church.

A Response to Wesley Hill’s “Will the Church be the Church for Homosexual Christians?”

Wesley Hill wrote this article “A Few Like You”: Will the Church be the Church for Homosexual Christians? about his own struggle with homosexuality and loneliness within the Christian community. The following is my response to his article.

As someone who spent years struggling to incorporate my homosexual attraction with my professed Christianity, I understand firsthand the struggles of loneliness the author is experiencing. There is an incredible loneliness that is always present when you find your identity in a sexual orientation that Scripture tells you is inherently sinful. You fear being rejected by your friends, your family, and your church community. You are even certain you have already been rejected by God; after all, you think, He made me this way and then condemned me for it. But feeling lonely and actually being lonely are two completely different things. We may feel lonely, but we are promised in Scripture that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). And as for being in community with fellow believers, we cannot truly be lonely if we are participating in the body of Christ any more than my fingers or toes can claim to be isolated from the rest of my body. Those trapped in sin often believe they are the only ones who have experienced the torment they are going through. Their identity becomes entangled in their sin until they appear to be inextricably linked. The loneliness comes from believing the lie that you are alone in your sin and no will accept you or love you or understand you. Freedom comes from exposing the sin to the light and discovering that you are indeed not alone in your struggle.

The same can be said of anyone struggling with any sin in which they find their identity as a person. For example, someone who struggles with anorexia feels fat and identifies herself as overweight, but the objective truth is just the opposite. The sin of homosexuality has been made into the unpardonable sin, the nonredeemable sin, the “just leave it in the closet” sin. And it’s none of those things. It’s not an identity. It’s not an orientation. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s a sin. This seems so black and white, so harsh. I know. I used to feel that way about such statements. I used to think that people who claimed to have been “delivered” from their homosexuality were somehow different than me and their story could never be my story. My feelings of loneliness and rejection were only compounded by the idea that homosexuality was a sin because I found my identity and personhood in that title, homosexual. To most people who struggle with homosexuality, they have a problem identifying their problem as sin because it is their identity, not just a behavior.

We in the church have enabled this by identifying those struggling with same sex attraction as homosexuals instead of as believers struggling with same sex attraction. We have bought into the lie that homosexual is a noun, an identifier, instead of an adjective, a descriptor. But if we discussed any other sin in the terminology which we have accepted for homosexuality, we would think it absurd. “I know greed is a sin, but I was born a “greeder,” I can’t help it that God created me to obsessively want things that are not my own.” “I am proud to be an overeater. Sure, the Bible says that gluttony is a sin and that man makes his stomach an idol, but I can’t help it, I was born this way.” “I am a hitter. I like to hit people. When I am stressed or angry, I always feel better when I can just punch someone else. From the time I was a small child, every time I hit someone, I felt better, so I guess hitting people is ok.” Why has homosexuality become the sin du jour that humanity “can’t help” and we choose to excuse and even celebrate?

While I do not understand why the church has adopted this opinion of homosexuality, there is some truth in the statement that people can’t help sinning. The unregenerate human heart can’t help but be enslaved to our sin nature. Those who are not believers and identify themselves as homosexual sometimes do so with little struggle or reservation. It’s because the fallen sin nature that is common to every man is all they have within them. They have no choice but to sin. Freedom from sin comes only from surrender and obedience to Christ. The homosexual who chooses to identify himself with Christ must simultaneously choose to no longer identify himself as homosexual. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Often those who do not understand the forgiveness and restoration found in the work of Christ use 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 to condemn those who identify themselves as homosexuals: “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 homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Even though Paul lists a host of sins including drunkenness, greed, and theft, for some unexplained reason, homosexuality is pulled from this list and this verse is used to tell gay people they are all going to Hell. That is a heinous and sinful interpretation of Scripture. People don’t go to Hell for being gay. People go to Hell for not accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior and submitting their lives to His Lordship. What is sad about this gross misinterpretation is that people who struggle with homosexuality believe it!

But saddest of all is that most stop reading at verse 10 and never read verse 11, which is one of the most redeeming verses in all of Scripture: “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.” Each of those verbs is in perfect tense in the Greek, meaning they are actions completed in the past with effects that carry on through the present. The washing, the cleansing, the justifying were completed in salvation and we never again have to be that which we were. But as believers, we must learn how to walk in the victory Christ won for us on the cross.

The author wrote, “I have also never experienced the “healing” or transformation of my sexual orientation that some formerly gay Christians profess to have received.” Unfortunately, the idea that we should wait and God will transform our sexual orientation is a lie that I believed for many years; I often thought, “I have prayed and prayed that God would change my desires, but since God hasn’t taken the desire away, then He must have made me this way.” But that’s simply not the case. I had to learn that while this world tells us that we can’t help our feelings, we can’t help who we fall in love with, Scripture tells us that we can help it, and we must!

Paul again addresses the work required to continue in our sanctification as we battle sin: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9. 24-26).

A knowledgeable Christian praying that God will take away a sinful desire while doing nothing to rid himself of it would be like someone with Lance Armstrong’s knowledge of cycling but Chris Farley’s body getting on a bike and praying that God would allow him to win the Tour de France. All the head knowledge in the world will never get him across the finish line because the head knowledge has not been put to work. It’s the same way with the Christian life; knowing the Word is simply not the same as doing the Word. Knowing the Word is relatively easy. Living by the Word is immensely more difficult.

We can’t help what tempts us, but we can “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and… take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). I learned that the more I took my thoughts captive, meditated on Scripture and surrounded myself with godly, biblical role models of right living and relationships, the less I was overwhelmed by “uncontrollable” homosexual desires and by loneliness. I found out that not only were those issues controllable, they were defeated.
Paul speaks about “putting off” the old man and “putting on” the new (Ephesians 4:22-24). As I put on the new man of thinking in a God-glorifying manner about those with whom I was in relationship, the more I desired to put off the old sinful nature of homosexuality. As I learned to view people as Christ views them, either as my brothers and sisters in Christ or as lost people who desperately needed to know their Savior, I was unable to view them as need-meeters for my own selfish and sinful desires.

I applaud Mr. Hill for remaining faithful to the Word and the Lord and for not giving in physically to the desires that so obviously torment him. At the same time, I grieve for him and his inner struggle against the flesh because I know how he feels and I would not wish that emotional upheaval on anyone. If I were to sit down with Mr. Hill, I would encourage him to continue reading about those who have struggled with same sex attraction, but instead of focusing on those who remained caught in their inner struggle, I would suggest reading the stories of those who have found freedom from the entanglements of the heart that lead to the desires of the flesh. Pick the brains of those who have come through this valley victoriously. While you are not where they are now, they were once right where you are and can help you as you seek the Lord and His will. Ask them how they did it. Get a couple of trusted friends to be accountability partners. Find someone who has walked the road before you and knows where you are. Find someone who is an example of what you want to be and model your walk after them. Paul instructed Timothy to follow him as he followed Christ. We are to mentor and disciple one another in all aspects of life. These are only a few of the things that I did as I searched for freedom from the entanglement of sin in my life.

But above all, cling to Christ! Immerse yourself in the Word. Soak in the knowledge of who He is and what He has done for you. Believe that He set His laws not just to condemn us in our sin, but to show us the loving standard of a Father who wants to protect us from ourselves and our deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). Believe with all of your heart that He does have a plan to prosper you and not to harm you (Jeremiah 29:11). Trust that He does have a better way and while it will seem hard, impossibly hard, the work is worth the pain and the effort.

There is a simple truth about human sexuality, and its implications apply to any sexual sin— pedophilia, rape, adultery, lust, homosexuality, even self-centered sex within a marriage—God created man in His good and perfect Image. He then created woman— equally made in His Image— and instituted the marriage relationship as the very good and perfect union within humanity that would reflect the unified diversity and intimacy of the relationship present within the Triune God. The problem is not within God or His creation. The problem is that mankind has found a plethora of ways to pervert God’s one perfect plan for human sexuality. Wesley is struggling with the same thing with which every believer struggles—the battle over the flesh as we die to it daily and submit to the will of Christ who, while we were yet sinners, died for us.

So, will the church be the church for homosexual Christians? In my experience, and in the experience of countless other Christians who have found freedom from the bondage of a multitude of sins, it already has been. There will be those who are ignorant, who scorn and persecute out of their own bondage to sin. But there are those who seek the face of God, who desire to be conformed to the image of Christ and who seek to walk alongside those with common goals. Seek out those people and walk with them. The church is still the church and will be the body of Christ until the day of His return. That is a hope to which we can unswervingly hold, because He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).