It would be an understatement to say that the conversation between the Christian community and LGBT community has gone poorly over the past few years. Grace and understanding are both in short supply, which is why a book like Caring Beyond the Margins is so important. Guy Hammond, founder and executive director of Strength in Weakness Ministry has written a courageous, easy to read book that provides intelligence and insight for a conversation that Christians need to be better prepared to have.
Guy shares his story, and his struggle, as a man of faith dealing with an unwanted same-sex attraction. He explains that the Christian community is often missing the point of biblical instruction on human sexuality. “The goal is not heterosexuality. The goal is holiness [through Jesus.]” (p. 35) Guy explains that the Bible teaches that each of us is tempted in various ways to make “idols” the focus of our identity. Your looks, your real (or imagined) professional hockey career, good food, popularity at school, sex, anything other than Jesus will fail if you try to make it the ultimate point of your existence. Idols will always fail to satisfy. He writes that, “having a heterosexual orientation is hardly a prerequisite to salvation … the goal that Jesus has for [same-sex-attracted person] is not that they live a problem-free, temptation-free existence, but rather that they have a relationship with Him.” (p. 69)
Guy defines his terms carefully, which in turn helps to clarify the debate. Guy describes himself as “a person with unwanted same-sex-attraction” and he subsequently defines a person who is “gay” as a person with same-sex-attraction that celebrates a homosexual lifestyle as a way that leads to human flourishing. This distinction clarifies the situation immensely. Guy goes on to explain that the Bible teaches that an actively homosexual life is sinful but being attracted to the same gender is not. An opposite-sex-attracted person (married or otherwise) must also manage unwanted sexual attraction every day with people they are not in covenant relationship with. They resist these temptations because they violate human design. If these temptations involve someone whom they are not in a covenant relationship with, indulging them will not lead to fulfilling intimacy. It is a broken cistern, a source of satisfaction that will not ultimately satisfy. The same is true whether the attraction is same-sex or opposite-sex. Guy’s point however is clear: temptation is not the sin, indulging it is. The goal is not opposite-sex-attraction, the goal is a life of holiness in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Because of this, Guy adds, “God is not ashamed or embarrassed of same-sex attracted Christians. Their value and worth to him and his church are not based on that criterion.” (p. 15)
In addition to providing thorough biblical teaching on human sexuality Guy also provides practical advice for how to address a same-sex-attraction in your own life in a way that glorifies God and also how opposite-sex-attracted believers can support same-sex-attracted believers honour their commitment to Jesus. I highly recommend this book for Christian leaders and educators. Faith communities everywhere are bound to have members who are struggling with this issue. In addition we all have opportunity to “give reasons for the hope that we have” with our broader community. Our hope does not lie with our sexual orientation, whatever that may be, but rather in Jesus.
I was sorry to read a viral story this morning about a waitress who posted a receipt online on which a pastor crossed out an automatic tip of 18% and wrote in 0% with a comment “I give God 10% why should you get 18%.” Lots of ink has already been spilled on this today and the story has continued to unfold. The waitress was fired from her job later today for “violating their guest’s right to privacy” and the Pastor in question was subsequently tracked down and has apologized saying she “has embarrassed herself and her church.” So what can we learn about this?
What is actually going on when I tip a waiter or a waitress? Am I trying to save two or three dollars or am I making a statement about who my money really belongs to? I think there is more going on here than meets the eye. Each one of us preaches a wordless sermon every time you pay a bill at a restaurant. If I flinch at adding three dollars to lunch at the coffee shop am I clutching cash a little too tightly perhaps? My tip is a demonstration of just how much (or perhaps how little) of my heart Jesus actually has a hold of. How well do I understand grace if I can’t let a couple of dollars go?
Len Sweet tweeted today “What if all Christians tipped 50% on 21 May, National Waiter/Waitress Day?” This got me thinking about the missional implications of going to restaurants and coffee shops.
Firstly, whether you are in ministry or not you should make a habit of going to the same places of business (same restaurants, same coffee shops) just so you can get some practice making friends and being a blessing to people. Particularly those of us in full time ministry need to be extra aware that we represent our faith, and our church community, every time we go out. I met someone today (whom I thought was a stranger) who told me (you taught me in VBS when I was 4 years old). Yikes!
As an expression of grace we need to be the best tippers our baristas, waiters and waitresses have. We owe it to Jesus to the best customers our local coffee shops have! Would people roll their eyes whenever Jesus walked in for Carmel macchiato? Extra foam and no tip again? Ya thanks a lot you cheap carpenter!
As a demonstration of how God’s radical generosity toward us has changed who we are, I challenge you to tip extravagantly whenever you can. It will do your heart good and may give you a chance to make Jesus look great too!
If you’ve got two and a half minutes free and want to acquire a splinter in your mind then watch this.
That’s a cool thought! No one on earth has all the knowledge to make a computer mouse. In the (post)modern world we are necessarily dependent on each other. So what does this mean?
This got me thinking about how nobody stands completely alone. We all stand in some way on each other’s shoulders. What we understand about the world, and God, and faith, is dependent on what someone has already told us. Nobody has all the information first hand.
I guess what I am trying to say is that if we can accept that none of us have all the answers first hand, maybe we can get better at living in healthy tension with one another. Can you and I be friends and disagree about something? Instead of building our friend groups and faith communities out of people with the exact same opinions on everything, maybe we can cultivate and belong to groups where we don’t agree on everything and that’s O.K.
I’m not saying that faith doesn’t matter or that there is no such thing as absolute truth. What I am saying is that in the 21st century we need to embrace the fact that you and I can belong to a church together and have different opinions and share them with each other in love, and we don’t have to pit our ideas against each other like an ideological cock fight and see which one wins. Fifty years ago my grandparents were kicked out of a church because they had a different opinion about how the Holy Spirit communicates with a believer. Can we agree to disagree about issues of intense personal opinion and still be brothers? Can we still be friends?
One insight for churches and church leaders caused by the missional shift is how they view evangelism; not how the DO evangelism, but how they see it. Missional churches have a clearer picture of what evangelism looks like in the 21st century. Communications has changed in the past 50 years. Transportation has changed in the past 50 years. Technology has changed (!?!?!) why wouldn’t evangelism change?
God has not changed and the gospel has not changed but the handles that people use to grasp it have changed. For teens and young adults especially, they need to be reached through a ministry of word AND a ministry of deed.
A ministry of word is the proclamation of the Gospel. It is preaching, or conversation, or discussion about the gospel. Too many churches think this is where evangelism starts and ends. When post-moderns see a church practicing a ministry of word only, they interpret it as a sales pitch. They say to themselves, “these people are only interested in growing their own church.” When evangelism is practiced as a ministry of word only, your surrounding community will only see evangelism as recruitment and an effort to consolidate power.
A ministry of deed is serving the needs of your community. It is feeding the hungry, advocating for those who don’t have a voice. A ministry of deed is being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Some churches think this is all there is to evangelism. They serve in the name of Jesus but fail to give people a reason for the hope that you have (1 Pet 3:15). Evangelism as a ministry of deed only, fails to give hope. Jesus called this “bread that spoils” (John 6:27). Don’t get me wrong! I believe evangelism includes deeds, I might even argue, in a post-modern context, evangelism must start with deeds, but deeds are not enough.
Evangelism in the 21st century needs both: word and deed. When you do both, they interact and stimulate each other. It is hard to do both. No matter who you are there is always one you are tempted to neglect. Being a disciple maker (our primary calling according to Matt 28:19-20) involves doing both deed and word ministry.
But don’t take it from me! Tim Keller, minister to the Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Manhattan has tons of advice on how to be evangelistic in the 21st century.
A couple of people responded to my post last week by asking me to define what I think missional means, at least when I use it. So here goes:
Being a missional church means participating with God in what God is doing in the world.
There are a couple of assumptions buried in that definition that bear explaining:
God is active in the world. My mom used to teach Grade 1 and I have visited her class on occasion. It was fun watching 6 year-olds suddenly realize that my mom had a life outside of the classroom. “You have a son? You have a house? I thought you lived here in this classroom!” Because the kids never saw my mom outside that classroom, never thought of her outside that classroom, they thought, acted and lived like she didn’t exist outside of that context.
I’m sure that we all agree that God is not caught inside of our church buildings. No building can hold God (Acts 7:48-49) but most of us live and act as though God lives at church and we visit Him on Sundays. How do we describe our work week? Like a perilous run through temptation and oppression relieved by a respite on Sunday. I hear people all the time talk about coming to church to “recharge their batteries.” Church as a fueling station assumes that God (and life and energy for the journey) is only found in the church building. The church building is God’s domain. The big, bad, Monday – Saturday world belongs to the Devil.
What if God lived everywhere and was actively engaged in the salvation of the world? (Consider Eph 1:3-10) What if God was involved in the events of your neighbour’s life setting you up to provide comfort and care in a time of need? That is what being missional is all about. It is living in anticipation of what God is actively doing in your surroundings. It’s living attentively.
But how can we see what God is up to? That’s what the Holy Spirit is doing (that’s a subject for another blog post entirely).
The Church is not the mission of God. We have slipped into a backwards way of seeing the church. For too long we have believed that setting up the Church was point of Jesus dying on the cross. The church then, has a mission: to go and add everyone in the world to the church.
Missional theology corrects this misunderstanding: David Bosch writes, “mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God.” (see p. 389 of Transforming Mission). Jurgen Moltman adds, “It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.” (p. 64 in The Church in the Power of the Spirit)
The church doesn’t have a mission, God does. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of that mission and, as we are added to the community of faith that believes in the word of Jesus Christ, we begin our participation in that mission. Alan Hirsch describes the church as “agents of God’s mission” (see p. 82 of The Forgotten Ways). God’s mission comes first, and the church is part of that mission. More about missional theology, church, and our need for control later.
This radically changes how we view power and influence. If the church was the point of God’s interaction with the world then shrinking churches is a HUGE problem. It means that God is losing the struggle for control of the world! On the other hand, if God’s mission is moving forward and the church is shrinking, that means that the church (or more accurately, our part of that church) is becoming less and less involved in God’s mission.
I know it’s early (still a couple more days to go) but I am ready to call my most amazing moment of this Olympic Games. I have a new hero.
In a qualifying heat of the men’s 4x400m, American Manteo Mitchell ran the last half of his 400m section on what was later determined to be a broken leg. After 100m he knew something was wrong and by 200m he felt something snap. In an article in the Toronto Star he says, “I saw Josh Mance motioning me in for me to hand it off to him, which lifted me. I didn’t want to let those three guys down, or the team down, so I just ran on it. It hurt so bad.”
Understatement of the year!! He still finished his leg of the race in less than 44 sec, which is a competitive time by anyone’s estimation. As a result, they qualified and finished later in the day (with an alternate running for Mitchell) with a silver medal. Give that man two of ’em!
Other famous broken legs come to mind. My favourite is Bill Barilko‘s game seven, overtime, cup winning goal in 1951 against the wretched Montreal Canadiens. (Was that too strong?) But in the case of Barilko, his leg was frozen before the overtime began, and playing the point just doesn’t quite compare to an all-out, 400m sprint with no freezing.
The most amazing thing for me is not that he ran with a broken leg, but the reason he did it. He didn’t want to let the other guys down. That is teamwork. Without a doubt. I am speechless.
I have this boy in my heart. He’s been around for almost twelve years now and has completely changed my life. Our second son Jacob Allan Mark joined our family on May 29th 2000. Three minutes into our seventh anniversary and weighing in at a whopping 10lbs 7oz. Nothing about this boy was tiny and delicate. From the moment he arrived he was a massive presence in our lives. As a baby he was an interesting paradox. His entry into the world was our only ‘perfect’ birth experience despite his rather large size. Just us and our midwives, no medication, no trauma and delivered up onto my chest where he took his first breath in my arms. Noel took a picture of Jacob and I at this moment and it is one of my most cherished memories captured on film. He absolutely refused to use a soother but found his thumb within 24 hours of life. Short of amputation we were not going to break this preference. He was sensitive to tone of voice and would get upset if he thought someone else was upset. He loved to snuggle, still does in fact for which I am thankful. Jacob was a wonderful baby and was loved completely by his big brother and his family.
As he got older he started to become his own unique person. He could entertain himself easily and seemed happy yet didn’t smile for just anyone. His imagination was in overdrive and he could make himself laugh or freak himself out very easily. The terrible two’s were indeed terrible and lasted a looooong time. He became frustrated easily if we couldn’t understand what he wanted to say to us and we spent many days with him laying on the floor at our feet having a little hissy fit. It was fun. We got a whole new lesson in parenting that we hadn’t learned with our easy going first born. God gives you what you need and apparently we needed to learn how to parent ourselves. To me it seemed that Jacob had gotten the worst our genetics had to offer. The stubborn behaviour and insecurity of his mother and the temper of his father. Great combo. I spent many hours in prayer to God asking for guidance in how to parent this boy and praying for God to more than make up for our shortcomings.
Jacob is our deep thinker and our old soul with a great sense of humour mixed in. His school teachers and Sunday school teachers would sometimes come up to us laughing to say they had a Jacob story. I always had to brace myself because I never knew what he was going to come up with. He told his grade two teacher one day that his underwear were too tight so the teacher nicely asked if I could buy him some new ones since Jacob found this problem very distracting. Who tells their teacher this and not their mother? He asked a lady at church one day if she was old and then quickly reassured her that he liked old people. Manners and decorum are sometimes beyond Jacob even now. It’s a work in progress like most things related to child rearing.
One Sunday on the way to church he was unusually quiet for a few minutes and then asked, “is it true that people are always smiling on the inside?” Noel replied that some people have difficult circumstances and aren’t smiling inside or out. “No,” Jacob corrected, “I mean underneath their skin. Their skulls. Are their skulls always smiling? You can see a skull’s teeth all the time.” These are the thoughts that arrest Jacob.
I love to hear Jacob pray. All our boys say a prayer that I taught them when they were very young so they know it by heart but I always try to get them thinking about what they want to say to God each day. I want them to know that God wants to hear what is on their hearts and that changes every day so their prayers are going to be different each day. Jacob does this a little better than the other boys. He prays for what he is dealing with and how he is feeling. When he says thank you for my blessings, he names them and they are heart felt. Jacob is wise beyond his years and as we celebrated his baptism he was praying that he would learn more and more about Jesus as he got older. He thanked God that he had the opportunity to be baptized and that he grew up with a mommy and daddy that knew Jesus so that he could be taught about God from the time he was a baby. I am frequently impressed with Jacob’s heart. He wants to serve God. All the time his dad and I spent in prayer for this complex boy has been time well spent with God. He has heard our prayers and I can just catch a glimpse of the potential in Jacob. I can’t wait to see what he does with his life. Jacob, my terrific, responsible, sensitive, funny, and emotional boy you make my life and I’m a blessed mommy simply because I have you.
At a ministerial gathering last week I was part of a sobering conversation with my colleagues in ministry about how to deal with the struggle for institutional survival. Most churches (though not all) are at least partially distracted by the concern that they are a few bad months from institutional death. Whether the church is struggling to pay the bills or is simply watching dwindling attendance figures, many churches are concerned with their own viability.
So how does this impact evangelism? A number of my colleagues observed that the struggle for institutional survival can have a huge impact on your motivation for evangelism, to devastating effect. Even the right action, with a selfish motivation can become destructive.
One minister in the area works for a church where his home, and the church building are both owned by the denomination. The weekly collection is directed to the denominational headquarters and then it is redistributed to the churches according to their Sunday am attendance numbers. There has been anxiety for months about the church’s survival, and about my Continue reading