Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A MINISTRY ENCOUNTER WITH "A HOMOSEXUAL."

I've been reading on the blogs a great deal lately about how the Church is going to have to come to grips with the homosexual issue in a fashion that will allow us to minister to people who engage in that behavior without condoning such behavior. I agree. We DO need to think things through toward that goal. Not only homosexual activity but adultery, fornication, pre-marital sex and all other sexual behaviors that are clearly unacceptable from a scriptural perspective need some additional thought. There has to be a way to minister without condemning the person or condoning such behavior.

Rather than try to state a solution, which I don't have, I would like to give a bit of a report of my personal journey with one who was involved in such a lifestyle. I am not presenting this as a cure-all or even the best way to handle it. It is simply a word snap-shot of one experience [among many] that I've had with someone I have developed a deep love for and a friendship with in days gone by.

It started years ago when I moved to a new pastoral field. it was my first month or two of ministry. I had concluded the morning message and was standing at the door greeting people. A young college student came by and refused to shake my hand. I didn't know him nor did I understand his attitude. I'd said nothing that I could see as controversial to a baptist crowd much less offensive.

That afternoon my phone rang. it was this young man. After berating me, along with all other baptist preachers, for my rigid views and my ignorance of life in general, he demanded to meet with me that afternoon in my office. I told him I couldn't because I was going to watch the Dallas Cowboys football game that afternoon [I don't do demand well] but would be glad to meet with him the next day during office hours. [Remember I had no clue what his problem could be,] He agreed and we met on Monday afternoon.

AS we started our conversation he once again began berating me in a loud voice and angrily proceeded to question my understanding of all things pertaining to life. I listened. I agreed with some of what he said and told him so. He vented and vented until it was gone and he began to calm down to some degree.

Then, for some reason I still don't fully understand, I asked him "What's her name?" He said, "Whose name?" I said, "The girl you're having sex with at the present time." He got angry again and began the berating all over. But, again, for whatever reason, I said, "I'm sorry, what's HIS name?" He stopped. He stared. He dropped his head. I waited. He then raised his head to proudly say he was in an on-going relationship with a prominent man in the town in which he lived.

That started a whole new direction of conversation as we began discussing whether same sex sex was right or wrong, especially if you believed one was born that way. We met the next day and the next rehashing the same conversation.

Finally, on the third day I said, "Let me ask this, could we agree that what you think or what I think about any issue isn't really our issue? What God says is however, if He says anything about it." So we agreed to search the scriptures and compare notes. [I had already asked him about his relationship with the Lord and he had given as clear a conversion statement as I've ever heard and I couldn't sake him about his belief that he had, in fact, trusted Christ as Lord and Savior. This in spite of my reasoning that obedience is a real part of the true Christian life. His retort was that he believed he WAS obeying and I had misunderstood the scriptures.]

So for two days he searched the scriptures and then came prepared as did I and we both laid our findings on the table as we met again. I told him that I personally had two ideas that I held to and desired to tell him about them before we began looking at the text in depth. I told him no one had been able to shake me away from them yet. He agreed to my stating them.

One was that the scriptures are our ONLY written standard of behavior from God for believers. Culture is not. When the scriptures speak we do or don't do, as the case may be, whatever they speak about. When the scriptures are silent or are less than clear on some issue [non-salvific] we allow for individual views on whatever is being said. Good people on both sides of conflicting interpretations should always give us pause about being dogmatic. Culture may have any opinion it chooses on any subject and it is, for us, correct only in-so-far as scripture does or does not shine light on it.

The second idea I told him I held to is that no christian should ever identify themselves by their bad behavior, if the scriptures truly call it bad, but by what the Lord calls that christian. So I couldn't identify any christian as a homosexual because to do so would be to call that person something Jesus does not. He calls that person redeemed, holy, a new person from what they were before they became a christian. I could only say they were a christian committing homosexual acts. [The same is true for adultery or lying for that matter.] I believe, as a christian, we are to live in light of who we are, according to our new nature, in Christ.

Now it is true an unbeliever CAN be identified with those acts [as with adultery and lying] which is testimony to their need of a fundamental change of heart and a new nature which is produced by God's Grace in a Christ. [Becoming a christian.]

We settled the first after looking extensively at the text. We both had to agree the clear scriptural statement was that such a behavior was sin as was the other mentioned sexual activity also sin. He saw he could believe otherwise if he wanted but not based upon scripture.

When he saw the second, conversation ensued and for hours we talked. He was, in his own mind and conscience, a believer in Christ. So, what were his options? He could live calling himself a homosexual and deny who Jesus says he is...OR...he could live committing sinful acts and grieve the Spirit while living in personal grief himself... [ Like 11Peter 2:7 indicates Lot lived grieved.]...OR...he could choose to repent [change his mind and direction] and choose otherwise. I told him I loved him period and WHATEVER he chose would not change that. But his choices would alter his ability to enjoy the Grace by which he had been redeemed, if he was, in fact, redeemed. I'm able to report to you that he chose to call himself what the scriptures called him, a new creation in Christ, repent, [change his mind and direction] and move on in grace.

Today he is married, [I performed the ceremony] a father, a deacon, and has led praise and worship for some bible conferences I've preached. He is a brother and a friend. Have there been strong temptations along the way? Absolutely. But who he is in Christ was the ground from which he chose each time. Which, by the way, is the same ground for the choices I've had to make in my areas of temptation.

I want to close with this statement. What I'm about to say isn't easy to say because of the self serving ends it could have as motivation. But I choose to trust you as to believing what my motives might be and I choose to recognize it is ALL a work of the power and grace of God.

Things that young man said that made a difference for him.

1. There was a willingness to love him and respect his views on issues without agreeing with them.

2. He was moved by my willingness to hug him after each session. He said he feared being repulsive to christians and was angry assuming they would be. He said he saw I was repulsed by my own sin not his.

3. He eventually saw that were one to really believe that a person is a new creation in Christ and any battle we have with sin is because of the residue of our old "self" [Who we were before coming to Christ and being made new in Him.] which continues to haunt us and will until Jesus comes, one can really live in victory over any sin. [The bible calls it the "flesh."] Who we are "in Christ" is the truth about us personally, NOT the struggles we might have with any kind of sin.

4. I was willing to call him a "brother" as we related and seached the scriptures.

Were we to boil it all down, as I conclude this, I believe what the Church is going to have to have in order to truly minister to people who are involved in homosexuality [or any other sin problem] is a heavy dose of a willingness to believe and express the Grace of God and a heavy dose of the kind of love with which we are loved. That's the power of true love and love really does cover a multitude of sins. The Cross is the place of judgment on sin and Jesus is at the place of mercy today. [The mercy seat in heaven.] Our message is to be the finished work of the Cross and an expression of the mercy we are being shown in our lives by our Lord.



Paul B.

18 comments:

Wade Burleson said...

Well done. Well written. Well modeled.

We'll all do well heed the pattern.

Wade

Chris Ryan said...

Paul,

Unfortunately, there are many who would disagree with you that a homosexual could have been wooed and won by the grace of God, even while not submitting this part of their life to the scrutiny of that same grace. Maybe it is because I'm just barely not a teenager, but I think that sexuality is the hardest part of ourselves to submit to the will of God. Therefore, I'm not surprised when it is one of the last vestiges of sin to be tamed in our lives.

I admire the way you handled that situation. And I agree with Wade that we would all do well to consider it. I may be wrong, but I think that what made a difference in the life of that young man could make the difference in the lives of a lot of people. Regardless of what they struggle with. "Heavy doses" of grace and love can cover over a multitude of sins.

Bob Cleveland said...

Paul,

Well done.

Sexuality is just one of the facets of our lives that must be submitted to the authority of our Lord. Anything short of "supreme in authority" as describing our relationship with Him, simply is not Lordship.

Heterosexuals and homosexuals alike must submit to His authority, if we want to (A) BE Christians (as I read Romans 10:9), and (B) find any sort of peace within or without.

My take, at least.

Paul Burleson said...

Wade,

Thanks for coming by. Another great post up at your blog at present. Categories I've never thought of or used [Know and Believe] in that fashion but it sure rings true to my understanding of scripture AND christian living.


Chris,

I appreciate your comment. I personally believe in Lordship salvation but see it connected to one's understanding of Lordship. You trust Him as Lord to the degree you understand Lordship in other words.

I've always appreciated the testimony I heard from a drunk who got converted in a morning service I was preaching and went out and got drunk to celebrate. [His sister was in our church and was in the choir the morning he came forward and I tried to minister to him thinking I had completely failed. He WAS drunk after all.]

It was only later he understood the implications of his Lord calling the signals in that area and emptied his bottles under a tree at his sister's house.

I also believe that some are miraculously delivered from whatever grips them by way of some great struggle in sin the moment they are converted. But others struggle for years in their big areas of addiction. There is no clear nor easy picture to be drawn in living this christian thing out it seems to me.

But His love and grace are sure through it all and who we are by that love and grace is essential to learn and know.

Paul Burleson said...

Bob,

I was answering Wade and Chris as you commented. Thanks for doing so. See my comment to Chris about Lordship which I believe is essential to trusting Jesus for who He really is in life.

Bobby Brown said...

Paul,

You empowered the young man to continue the argument and were therefore eventually able to win it. When we condemn the person ending the argument we have forfeited our chance to win!

Here is what Paul had to say immediately after what he said about homosexuality in Romans 1. First the Message then NASB.

Romans 2

1-2 Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn't so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you've done.
3-4You didn't think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he's such a nice God, he'd let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he's not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change


Romans 2
The Impartiality of God
1Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
2And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.

3But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?

4Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Paul Burleson said...

Bobby,

GREAT comment. Putting those verses in context, as you have done, ought to be an eye-opener for people who seem to only condemn and separate from people with whom they disagree.

You know Bobby, as I reflect on this, I realize my attitude toward that young man would not have changed were he NOT to have seen my view. At least I hope it would not have. Otherwise I would have, perhaps, been just manipulating him with disingenuous attitudes. Interesting.

Aussie John said...

Paul,

Thank you for a top article.

You mentioned something once about similarities between us.

It seems to me that you've also, somewhere along the journey found out that three fingers, do indeed, point back at the one who points one at others.

God threw me into a melting pot of sin, in an area of alternate lifestyles where we sought to minister for ten years; homosexuals, witches, new age philosophies, drug users of every kind.

It was there I learned a lesson which I knew, but the religious culture in which I functioned didn't acknowledge; these stinking sinners and I were cut from the same sinful cloth.

I was different, but the difference was because of something of which I had no right to be proud, the gift and power of God's saving grace in Christ Jesus.

My wife and I Have been blessed to have such people as your young man sit at our table.

How I wish there were more sinners like you.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie John,

You express great grace every time you comment. Thank you for doing both.

Kevin Bussey said...

Thanks for sharing Paul. A great example for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Paul-have you been following the story on Ted Haggard? It is an amazing study in grace, family health, repentance, forgiveness and healing. Google him if you haven't.-Scott Leonard

Paul Burleson said...

Kevin,

Thanks for stopping by.

I wish I could give such a glowing report about all situations I've tried to minister in like this. But I can't. Some made other choices.

Sadly, when other kinds of choices were made there was a cut off of relationship generally. My personal hope is that my love for them didn't change because they chose contrary to what I desired for them and that they knew the cut-off was not of my doing. Things like this are never easy but we're not called to do the easy are we!!





Scott,

I'm only slightly familiar with the recovery story of Ted Haggard. I'll check it out. Thanks.

Bryan Riley said...

What I see is that God guided all of it. Amazing that the young man came after your Dallas Cowboy statement. Amazing that you were able to hug him each time and continue to show grace and patience as he came at you. Amazing the words that came forth from your mouth. All of it by the Amazing Grace of God.

Praise God for His love. He chases each of us down, trying desperately to meet us where we are. I'm so glad you were willing to work with God to see this young man transformed!

Steve Miller said...

Brother Paul,

Well written; well done. Appreciate the fact you did not lower the standard but in love and grace did address the issue forth rightly. When Jesus was asked a deceitful question about divorce he instead spoke on marriage, God's standard. He did not lower the standard to address the question. You addressed this man's questions without lowering the standard. In fact, you got him to agree with the standard. A great testimony to the power of the Word of God speaking on its own. Thanks again.

Steve in San Antonio

PS You are absolutely right about Wade's blog on believing and knowing. Great reading and a great thought provoker.

Scott Leonard said...

Here's a slightly related thought you may not want to pursue, but I'd love feedback. My wife asked me tonight about scripture on church discipline, and we had a pretty amazing discussion. I told her that when I read the list of offenses that warrant discipine (includes, of course, the covetous and idolators), I am staggered by how different the church must have been then. I mean it in this way: What kind of holy environment must it have been for Paul to expect them to deal with the covetous and the idolators in the same way that they were to deal with the sexually immoral and the drunkards? It makes me think we are a thousand miles away from the corporate sense of the presence and power and holiness of God that was experienced in that day (along with fits of carnality!)!! I told her that sadly there are very few churches that have the love and power to 'speak the truth in love' in such a way that body members are cared for properly in these matters. We are driven by fear and legalism and indifference that keeps us from being the kind of fellowships God intends! By the way, I love what Larry Crabb says in his new book, "Real Church":

"I want to be a part of a church where the pastor addicted to approval realizes he needs grace as much as the elder caught in an affair. We're addicted to the pretense of self-sufficiencey, which of course leaves us all terrified."

Jason said...

Wow. I could only hope to ever have such a successful encounter. Thanks for the awesome story, Paul.

ezekiel said...

Good post Paul!

Somehow we seem to have lost the fact that the spiritual deliverance from our bondage to sin, that Jesus provided on the Cross simply hasn't happened in a lot of people that profess to know him.

It is easy to see sin and point it out in other peoples lives while totally ignoring our own. Spurgeon had a good devotional the other day on light and darkness in a saved sinner. If the light is really there to begin with, just a seed, then the progression to more light and less darkness has to happen, will happen. No matter what sin/darkness it just has to decrease as righteousness increases.

Tit 2:14 Who gave Himself on our behalf that He might redeem us (purchase our freedom) from all iniquity and purify for Himself a people [to be peculiarly His own, people who are] eager and enthusiastic about [living a life that is good and filled with] beneficial deeds. [Deut. 14:2; Ps. 130:8; Ezek. 37:23.]

1Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, [God's] own purchased, special people, that you may set forth the wonderful deeds and display the virtues and perfections of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. [Exod. 19:5, 6.]

We as Christians are to be light, salt, seperate, different. Unfortunatley, there has been a lot of teaching that we can be the same, worldly creatures as those around us and in the world manifesting no change or difference and yet call ourselves Christians.

I have been reading through Ezra and Nehemiah and in Nehemiah 13:7-8 his indignation at Tobiah. Do you think at some point we need the same zeal and dedication to Christ they had to God? We seem to be over run by Tobiahs these days.

I know we have to be careful where we draw the line and we need to seek balance. You did an exceedingly good job of that with your counsel to this young man. But you didn't water down your salt, you didn't conform to his worldly view and you kept contending for your faith, all in the spirit of love.

Paul Burleson said...

Bryan, Steve, Scott, Jason, ezekiel,

Sorry guys for the delay in responding. My plate has been full and will not be cleared off until next Monday.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'll look at your comments again next week and respond if needed.