A More Excellent Way

A More Excellent Way


I care deeply for a very diverse group of people. They are teachers, doctors, lawyers, sales reps, caregivers, homemakers, service professionals, counselors, artists, pastors, pastors’ wives; heterosexuals, homosexuals, transsexuals, former homosexuals, still-haven’t-figured-it-out-sexuals; agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, liberal theologians, Reformed theologians; Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and a few who have never voted; former child molesters and abusers, and those who are healing from the effects of molestation and abuse; drug addicts, and those who, by the world’s standards, have never made a wrong decision in their lives.

And I love them all.

One of the reasons that I love them all is one common trait they all possess: loving respect for all of humanity, even those who are very different from them.

The last few months have seen some of the people who I love dearly caricatured and stereotyped, then brutally attacked with both the written and spoken word, either directly and individually, or because of a particular group with whom they identify.

And in case you missed it, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can permanently damage.

While I was doing yard work this evening, a phrase continually rolled through my head: “A more excellent way.”

You see, friends, there is a more excellent way than the way humanity is treating one another in this season of time. We have drawn sides, demonized all who disagree with us, and agree only on the fact that all issues fall under a “Take No Prisoners” rule of engagement.

So Christians attack Muslims. And vice versa. And heterosexuals attack homosexuals. And vice versa. Republicans attack Democrats. And vice versa. Creationists attack Evolutionists. And vice versa.

But there is a more excellent way, shared with us by the Apostle Paul. Regardless of how you may feel about the Bible, or about Paul, or his theology, or his sexuality, or his missions strategy, we can all agree that his way is, indeed, more excellent.

24b …But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it… 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
1 If I speak in the tongues[fn] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[fn] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 12-13

Simply put, let’s grow up and love one another.

Some Raw Thoughts on Ministry Formerly Known as Exodus International


Last night I wrote a brief post addressing Exodus International President Alan Chambers’s apology to the LGBTQ community concerning the work of Exodus International.

Literally two minutes after I posted my blog, Exodus issued a press release stating they intended to close their doors and the leadership is establishing a new work known as Reduce Fear.

My initial reaction was simply, “Wow.” And that has been echoed across my social media feeds by people from all perspectives.

But as I watched Alan’s opening statements from the Freedom Conference last night, and I started processing exactly what was happening, I began having very conflicted emotions.

This is a little bit of public processing, but I hope it may start a dialogue about the statements made and the changes occurring. I also hope it gives those who aren’t celebrating the changes at Exodus permission to express their equally real feelings and know they are heard and validated.

Dear Exodus International Board Member Mr. Tony Moore, when you say, “We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, BUT…”
the “but” negates the ways God used Exodus positively.

Yes, there are those who have had horrific experiences in Exodus affiliated ministries. That occurs in EVERY ministry, in every church, b/c we are broken people ministering to broken people.

It’s sort of like saying, “I don’t mean to be hateful, but…” and then unleashing a torrent of vitriol toward a person or organization. Yes, you did mean to be hateful.

And yes, you did imply God’s work was negated by your apology.

There are those of us who met the Jesus of mercy, grace, forgiveness, freedom, and love in the people who ministered with Exodus, and the apologies issued in the last couple of days ring with the implication that our positive experiences were a fluke or a mistake.

Is that what you believe now? Are lives transformed but the Gospel heard through Exodus ministries simply people deceived? If we wait it out, are we going to finally accept we really are gay and God’s ok with it? Do we need to begin embracing who we really are and the “fact” God loves us where and how we are?

You’re caving to those who came to Exodus looking for one thing or were promised something that wasn’t delivered. What about those of us who came to Exodus just looking for Jesus and found Him?

Were there problems? Yes. Did some things need to change? Absolutely. But to shut down 37 years of ministry seems reactionary and short sighted.

Mr. Chambers stated that the purpose of the new work, Reduce Fear, is to “come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

Has that not been the goal of Exodus all along? It has been since my first experience with an Exodus affiliated ministry in 2005.

Sometimes a name can carry so much baggage that a name change is most beneficial to the work being accomplished, but there is more going on here than a simple name change. There is a shift in focus, purpose, and doctrine that saddens me.

There is no hope in surrender to anything other than Christ, and last night’s announcement feels like a cultural surrender for those of us who only found freedom and love in the hard, painful, complete surrender to Christ.

Can joyous freedom and fleshly attraction not co-exist simultaneously in the human heart? Does the presence of temptation negate the Holy Spirit’s strong work in enabling us to resist those temptations?

What exactly are you saying about God, sin and homosexuality, Exodus/Reduce Fear?

A Mile in Our Shoes


This week has been one of the most heartbreaking, inspiring, challenging, convicting, angering, and frustrating weeks I have had in a very long time.

My heart is breaking for so many that I see who are consumed by the self-deceiving justification of accepting a less-than-the-best plan for their lives. My heart is also breaking because of the reaction they have received from so many in the church.

With the passing of Amendment One in North Carolina and the declaration of support for gay marriage from President Obama, political and moral opinions have been shared far and wide from every social media platform available. And the extent of the thoughtfulness has generally been “We win. You are idiots” from both sides of the debate.

From the right I hear, “Shameful,” and “Ridiculous,” and “Sinners,” and “We win,” and “That’ll show the world what America thinks about Sodomites,” and a whole host of other sound bites.

From the left I hear, “Bigots,” and “Idiots,” and “Persecutors,” and “Close minded,” and “Bullies.”

Lots of talking about one another. Very little talking with one another.

But what has bothered me the most has been the posts and comments and conversations from people who appear to otherwise be faithful, Jesus-loving Christians. Statements that hint at a victory over Public Enemy #1, gay people. Statements justifying hateful attitudes by saying, “We’re just taking a stand against sin,” and “God is going to judge America for the words of our President.”

For one, I’d rather hear Christians taking a stand for Christ than taking a stand against particular sins.

Why?

Because we generally only attack the temptations that don’t personally attack us as individuals. You don’t hear gluttonous people attacking the gluttons. Those who have experienced divorce don’t judge others in the same position. People who have overcome addiction usually aren’t heard judging the addict. Ever been in bankruptcy? I bet you don’t dog on people who are up to their eyeballs in debt.

Why?

Because they’ve been there. They understand what it’s like to be overwhelmed by that struggle and they know that it’s not enjoyable, no matter what kind of happy face one may apply.

Before you begin talking about the current gay marriage debate, take a moment and place yourself in the shoes of someone who struggles or has struggled with same sex attraction. Imagine an embarrassing or shameful part of your past being dissected on every news channel, social media platform and in many conversations you pass through during the day. The conversations generalize and talk about “those people” in harsh and insensitive terms (stereotypes are almost always harsh and insensitive, by the way).

Even if it’s something you no longer struggle with, part of your past that is long past, it still hurts. Because while that person you trusted isn’t talking about you specifically, you know that if you were still struggling, they would be talking about you that way.

And so it becomes personal.

I had the following text conversation Thursday morning with a young woman I once mentored through her journey with unwanted same-sex attraction:

“Bekah, is it bad that I got to the point of crying last night? This older guy at church was talking about the [gay] marriage thing… and he started more around the lines of bashing. I didn’t stay for church. But I did start crying… I just remember what it’s like on that side and hearing all the stuff. Then hearing it at church…IDK… Is it bad that I got upset?”

“No, it’s ok to be upset about injustice. It’s sad to hear people in the church who don’t understand grace.”

“Between them and people who I thought ‘got it’… it’s just… idk… I don’t understand people. Beyond that, I don’t understand Christians. It’s like they pick the parts of the Bible they like and agree with and ignore the rest. Last night reminded me why I never wanted to become a Christian.”

I hardly knew what to say to that. Except, “I understand, I also remember what it’s like on that side. When I see and hear the behavior of some who claim to speak for God, and sometimes I don’t want to be a Christian either.”

Remember some things before you speak about any sin or person entrapped in sin:

1. Sin easily entangles.

2. Satan is a liar and the father of lies. No one sins without first being deceived.

3. “But for the grace of God go I.” That person could be you.

4. The person you’re talking to may be the person you’re talking about. You just may not know it.

5. Pay attention to your conversations. Do you take stands against things or take stands for Jesus?

6. Jesus dined with sinners and prostitutes. He condemned religious Pharisees. I was once a Pharisee. Then God showed me just how much of a sinner I am. Now I add “Pharisee” to the list of self-loving sins I need to die to daily.

7. It’s possible to love sinners and also say, “Go and sin no more.” Jesus did it and so can we.

8. Jesus said the world would know we were His by our love for one another, not by the platforms we support or soapboxes we stand on.

9. Strive to be the type of Christian that never makes another Christian regret taking that name.

10. Know that you can disagree without destroying. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. Attacking people is equal to attacking your own Army’s POWs in a time of war.

Have you ever experienced an unintentional attack by someone speaking carelessly? How did it make you feel? How did you respond?

How does Scripture instruct us to interact with those with whom we disagree or do not understand?

For more information on grace-filled dialogue about the current gay marriage debate, check out the following links:

Tim Keller on how to treat homosexuals


How to Win the Public on Homosexuality by Collin Hansen

NC Amendment One and President Obama by Matt Emerson

Bullying and the Sixth Commandment


As an educator, I spend quite a bit of time discussing the issue of bullying. We form task forces, attend conferences, write books, produce documentaries and movies, inform parents, spear head movements… all in an attempt to teach students to be kind to one another.

Bullying has become the topic du jour as more and more tragic incidences of teen suicides are traced back to constant harassment from classmates. Bullying was a term rarely discussed when I was in middle and high school. When it was, we were generally told that there would always be mean people in our lives so we better learn now how to deal with it. Why the constant attention now to bullying? Are kids today meaner than they were 15-20 years ago?

I don’t believe kids are meaner. I remember some of the things done to classmates when I was in school, and it doesn’t get much meaner than some of those things. What I believe has changed is the fact that, due to social media, kids today never escape the harassment. Once upon a time, bullies found you on the bus or the playground or in the hallway by your locker, and if you could just get home or to your next class, you’d be safe for a while. Now, kids carry their bullies around with them in their pockets. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and a host of other social media sites allow teens to fashion lynch mobs to psychologically hang one another without ever leaving their bedrooms. While I may have had the possibility of one mean girl calling me and maybe being subjected to a secret third party in a 3-way call, teens today can experience virtual mob attacks on their Facebook walls and Tumblr comments.

One movement in particular has caught attention in Christian circles because it focuses on the bullying of one particular segment of the population. Tomorrow is the Day of Silence, “a student-led national event that brings attention to the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in schools.” On the Think Christian site, Neil de Koning writes a passionate post explaining why he believes Christians should participate in the Day of Silence.

Regardless of who bullying is targeting, we all know it is wrong. While there is no verse in the Bible that explicitly states, “Thou shalt not bully,” God has plenty to say about how we treat other people. And the crazy thing is that, unlike people, God really doesn’t discriminate. He commands that all people be treated the same; friends or enemies, believers or not, male or female, “Jew or Greek.” All people bear the Imago Dei (image of God), and all are to be treated with the same sacrificial love and respect that we all crave for ourselves. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3),” he didn’t place any stipulations on the instructions.

I particularly appreciated the following observation by Neil in the above mentioned article:
It’s simple really. God says “NO” to bullying and abuse. In my reading of Scripture and leaning on Christian tradition, particularly the Heidelberg Catechism, the “No” does not turn to “Yes” when certain subgroups of our community are named.

What does the Heidelberg Catechism contribute to the conversation on bullying? Some interesting and challenging instructions.

Question: What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?

Answer: I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor – not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture and certainly not by actual deeds –and I am not to be party to this in others.

Question: Is it enough then that we do not murder our neighbor in any such way?

Answer: No. By condemning envy, hatred and anger, God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful and friendly toward them, to protect them from harm as much as we can and to do good even to our enemies.

I’ll leave you with this final excerpt from Neil’s post and hope that you will read the entire post and spend some time reflecting on what it means to love with grace and truth, showing the kindness of God that leads us to repentance to a world that is desperately tired of bullying.

Our neighbor is not just the people like us whom we like. She or he is the one we come across in the course of our daily activities. This certainly includes the ones we pass in the hallways of our schools and pass on the sidewalks and buses on the way to school. And the behaviors that the catechism finds offensive include the daily schoolyard practice of belittling, the common practice of offense gestures, the ordinary practice of demeaning texting that creates a culture threatening for gay and lesbian teens.

It even includes thoughts. If there is any way our thoughts say “you are not my neighbor” or say “you are not worth my kindness or my time,” the catechism would say you are guilty of breaking the law of God.
“It’s simple really. God says “NO” to bullying and abuse.”

I find it interesting that it adds, “I am not to be party to this in others.” Being a silent bystander is unacceptable. This is good news from our tradition and church to those who are often victims of bullying and abuse. Every church, school and parent can powerfully encourage teens to become a vocal neighbor when they see a person being bullied. It is simply a matter of being a good neighbor.

So, ask yourself, who have you failed to see as your neighbor, and how can you begin praying and moving towards a Christlike approach to all people?

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.

Exodus Freedom Conference: The Reality of Grace


Last week’s Exodus International Freedom Conference was a HUGE blessing to all who attended! This year’s theme was “The Reality of Grace” and each speaker brought a message of that reality to those in attendance. God’s grace IS a reality in which we can rest, and it was such an encouraging reminder to me of His love and grace.

The workshop I presented with Salida Brooks was well received and encouraging to many. We spoke about the role of the church and the counseling community in the healing process of those who have suffered trauma.

Please continue to be in prayer for those who counsel and minister on the “front lines”. Pray that those seeking healing will find it in the Great Physician.

Several opportunities for further ministry with other groups around the nation were presented; please pray that God will open doors for unified work with other ministries.

During our workshop there were several excellent questions asked that we were only able to give very brief answers to due to time constraints, so over the next few days I will be addressing some of them at length.

If you have questions concerning ministry with people who struggle with overcoming past trauma or same-sex attraction (both were topics addressed in our workshop), please post them in the comments section and I will do my best to answer them.