For the Love of the Church

“What I’m hearing you say is you can’t love these people.”

This came on a hot July Sunday morning after many explosive words on both sides.

My anger had never been loud before that day; it was a quiet anger that manifested itself in a hardness in my eyes and an igneous rock casing around my heart.  In the face of volcanic anger that day, though, something gave way inside of me, and I found the courage to express myself in a small way.

And I’m going to tell you what I told my parents that day: I don’t want to be part of a local body whose primary method of dealing with sin, or challenging people or situations, or difference of opinion is to hold itself apart from the offender, the difficulty, or difference.

My dad heard me correctly.  I could not, or far more likely, would not love these believers.  In fact, my lack of love made me not want to fellowship with them at all.

My dad (being who he is) swiftly turned this around on me and asked me how my behavior was any different from how I was accusing the Church of behaving.  (Touché).

I’ve shared different parts of this story before: how my dad accused me of taking the easy way out (many times before that), how I finally asked him how that could possibly be, and how I have long since learned that he meant that I didn’t fight for anything.  I’ve even talked about my lack of love, and how God began growing me in that almost immediately after that blustering anger-turned-argument-turned-discussion.

Honestly, three years ago, I would have told you I had the whole loving-the-Church thing down pat. (I think because I was a part of a local body that did a great job of loving me unconditionally).

But I bring it up now, because over the course of the past three years, God has shown me that I still don’t love the Church well.   I still don’t want to be part of local bodies or be friends with Christians who shy away from people in sinful or challenging situations, or oversimplify the problem and the solution.   And in these three years, I’ve uncovered some new things that give me pause about the Church: the pedestal it has set itself on and its love and affirmation of the people it can use.

Now, before you run and get your “not going to church because of hypocrites is like not going to the gym because of fat people” meme, or your illustration comparing your one bad experience at Chick-fil-a to a bad church experience, or the popular Rick Warren illustration about having to have a good relationship with the Church (the Bride of Christ) in order to have a good relationship with Christ, please understand: I love the Church and I identify with her – I belong to Christ, too.  I strive to be a part of a local body.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be any better than the parts of the Church that I’m less-than-thrilled with.

I’m just saying, loving the Church is hard.  And it clearly doesn’t happen overnight where there is history like mine.  It’s not impossible, either: I believe that with Christ alive in me, I do have the power to love the Church, no matter how sticky and challenging it gets.  I have a complicated relationship with the Church.

This is important with what’s coming tomorrow in the Big Reveal Extravaganza and in six months when the book is released. (Ergo, if you’ve been following, you were just got a little reveal a day early.  You’re welcome).

I say all of this because for a large part of the novel I’m writing, the protagonist and her story center around the Church, but by the end her priorities have shifted and realigned to something better. There’s a whole lot of flat out not-lovin’ and imperfect-lovin’ of the Church that goes on, and I can’t promise that she completely nails it at the end.

So, don’t get offended, at least not until you’ve read the whole thing.  (Or do get offended, if that’s your thing.  Just know I’m not taking any complaints from people who haven’t read the book).

Prayer That Is Hard

“Faith fights for the lives it loves.” ~from a teaching on Abraham and Lot (I wish I knew who said this, but it’s just a notation in my Bible, and I can’t find it in any old sermon/teaching notes.  I only know I did not come up with it!)

Confession:  For nearly two years now, I have neglected part of my calling from God.  You see, five years ago in April, God called me to be a prayer warrior.  He called me to do battle on my knees.  And I did, for about three years.  Three years ago it began to dawn on me that the people I was battling for were not even doing battle for themselves, and that brought with it tremendous discouragement, but I ploughed on anyway.  Two years ago I became tired and succumbed to feelings of hopelessness, and I stopped.

I didn’t stop praying,  I just stopped doing battle.  I stopped putting my blood, sweat, and tears into praying for other people.

God has been prompting me to go back into battle for a long time now, and I am ashamed to say, I’ve kept telling Him no.  I have resented the target that’s been on my own back as I do battle for others.  I have resented the emotional exhaustion of pouring out my heart to God on behalf of others and nothing ever changes.  I have resented the people I’m battling for as they don’t know or care about the intercession going on for them and they don’t change.

In the past year, I have begun to do battle for myself once more, to pray more boldly about what God will do with me, but I’ve held off fighting for others.  In my heart of hearts, I have been guilty of thinking that it is easier for God to change me than for Him to change others.

Last week, I was doing some thinking, and I heard God say to me,  “This is not what you prayed three years for.” And I just said back, “Are You even going to do what I prayed three years for?” (Oh, me of little faith).  And I breathed a little prayer right then, and almost promptly forgot about it.

Until what I prayed about happened.

I was then forced to reckon with the fact that the three years I spent doing battle had not gone to waste.  My prayers had been seen, heard, and known by the Sovereign of the universe, and He has always intended to do what I’ve done battle for.  And again, He asked me to do battle.

And so I did.  And I will continue to do so, hard as it will be.

Spending that kind of time and energy in prayer is never fruitless!

God Says ‘No’

God says, “No.”

I’ve had God tell me “no” a disheartening amount of times in the past three years and three months.  Most of the time, when He says “no,” I’m not discouraged for myself.  I really just dread telling my parents and others who pray for me on this job search journey.   I get everyone’s hopes up along with my own, and I really hate letting everyone down.  I am crushed when people inform me I’m not fighting hard enough or that I’m somehow putting myself in a position to not get hired.

But as hard as that is, with every position I’m rejected from, I get this gut feeling that it wasn’t the right position for me anyway, and I tend to accept it without much trouble.

Not. This. Time.

This time it was quite literally my dream job on the line.  I typically apply for jobs that either fit my experience OR my education.  This time, to my great excitement, the position fit both.

I’ve also been praying quite specifically for eight months now for a job that will utilize and develop my skill set.  I want a position I can grow in.  This position would have allowed for that.

I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed an interview as much as I enjoyed this one.  I felt able to be completely myself, because that was who was needed in that interview.  I was happy with how it went. (And I’m rarely happy with how my interviews go).

I thought for sure God would say “yes” to this one.

But He didn’t.

He said, “No.”

Friends,  I don’t need to hear some cliché about God closing the door because He has just the right window for me to climb out, or praising God in the hallway while I wait for Him to open just the right door.

Here’s the reality.  I’m not in the hallway.  God has opened doors and provided opportunities and He expects me to make the most out of them, not be always thinking forward to something I deem “better.” (Or “best” for that matter).

In saying “no” to this opportunity…

  • God has said yes to three part-time jobs.
  • God has said yes to writing when I have the time.  (Lemmetellya, that’s rare these days).
  • God has said yes to a continued job search.
  • God has said yes to building friendships with current co-workers. (And who knows what will happen with that?)
  • God has said yes to me enduring through a specific issue that often makes me feel desperate, hopeless and small.
  • God has said yes to me enduring through mounting pressure from all sides to have my life together.

I know sometimes God seems to opens doors that seem beyond perfect for people:  their careers, their locales, their spouses.  Bam, bam, bam – these things line up for them.  I look at this kind of success, and I’m tempted to wonder what they did right, and what I’m doing wrong.  (Granted, other people vocalizing these things to me is not helpful in this regard).

The reality is,  these people have done nothing “right” to deserve this, and I’ve done nothing “wrong.”  The reality is,  God opens doors to people to place them where HE wants to grow and use them.  The reality is, our desire to be where God wants us and our willingness to trust HIM is the only thing that will get us where He wants us to go – whether that be what I consider smashing human success or struggling just to survive.

From the moment I applied to the moment I was rejected, I put the decision in God’s hands.  Of course, I pleaded to be given this job, but I ultimately gave it to Him and trusted His decision.  I fully expected Him to say “yes”, but I left it with Him.  And He said “no.”

That means I am exactly where He wants me to be, hard as that is to process at this moment.

Oh, you know what else God said “yes” to?

“Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders/Let me walk upon the waters/Wherever You would call me/Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander/And my faith will be made stronger/In the presence of my Savior.”

“Til You are my One Desire/Til You are my One True Love/Til You are my Breath, my Everything/Lord, please keep making me.”

Yup.

Broken Sexuality, Part IV

I’ve asserted for the past several days that broken sexuality came into our world as a result of the fall.  While I certainly don’t intend to backpedal on that point, I think there is more to why sexuality is so broken in our culture than the fall itself.  It’s a perpetuation of the prevailing attitudes that resulted in the fall;  attitudes we are all prone to, whether we admit it or not.

We see something, we begin to desire it, and we think we’re entitled to have it.

Eve saw the “tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” and she just had to eat its fruit.  After all, why would God withhold something good from her?

This rationalization is ever-present when I’m being tempted, and it is exactly where we get ourselves into trouble when we talk about sexuality and sexual expression.  In our culture (and even in the Church), committed relationships, marriage, and sex are not just good, they are often thought to be the be-all-and-end-all.  It is suddenly necessary for good health to express yourself sexually.

Now, committed relationships, marriage and sex are all good and I believe they are gifts from God, but they are not gifts He gives to everyone.  They’re not even gifts He gives everyone who desires them.  He certainly hasn’t given them to me yet.

God must be withholding from me.  Right?  And since He’s withholding something good, I have the right to go outside of His design in order to satisfy my desires.  Right?

First of all, God does not withhold good things “from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).  Secondly, although I do not think I’m wrong to desire any of these things, my desires never trump God’s clearly declared will for me.  First John 2:16 says, “All that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life – is not of the Father, but is of the world.” When what I desire becomes paramount to God’s will, it becomes lust, and lust and the things lust brings about are not of God, and are not good.

We don’t like to be dependent.

One thing that struck me about Matthew Vines’ testimony was that at the end, he expressed that gay people were not broken, and how hurtful it is to refer to them as such.  On one hand, if he’s referring to Christians, he’s right: redeemed gay people should identify with Christ and the healing and restoration He brings, and other believers should encourage them in that identity.

On the other hand, we are all broken people living in a broken world.  We all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and it is only because of Christ that we can have fellowship with Him at all.  We are none of us perfect; none of us has arrived.  While we can have tremendous victory in Christ, we still need, we still lack on this earth.  We can’t deal with our own imperfections, let alone the imperfections of others. And I think that deep in our hearts, we all know this, even if we never say it out loud.

I think we need to start saying it out loud more: “Look, I struggle with ______________.” Humbly admit our imperfections, graciously accept the imperfections of others when they are confessed to us.  If we don’t cultivate an atmosphere of openness and brokenness about sin (even “little” sins), we cultivate atmospheres of pride and no accountability for sin.  That is how we start accepting sin as somehow less offensive to God, in our own lives, and in the lives of others.

Of course, some people in the Church do not want accountability – we’ve hardened ourselves to it.  Being held accountable is now thought of as spiritual abuse, or an authoritarian church culture. (“Who are YOU to be all up in my business?”)   We can’t make them accountable.  I can’t make you accountable.

I can make myself accountable.  I can seek out accountability.  I can be honest about my struggles, allow people to lovingly correct me, pray over me, and encourage me.

This has been a challenging topic to think about and write, and I’m sure it’s a challenging topic to read.  I wanted to say these things, want to be clear about where I stand.  I want to be balanced: loving and truthful.  If you’ve read all of it, I want to thank you for sticking with me on a controversial and emotional subject.  I don’t normally write about things like this, because I’d rather let people think what they think what they want and I think what I want and we all just leave each other alone.  Unfortunately, I can’t do that anymore.  Gotta’ get real.

Broken Sexuality, Part III

Today is where the subject of broken sexuality gets sticky.  Like, really sticky.  I know what I believe about this topic, but I also know what others (on both sides of the debate) believe. Like everything else I write about, I want to handle this with grace and compassion AND truth and authority.

I believe broken sexuality was introduced to the world because of the fall, like every other form of brokenness.  (Examples of broken sexuality can include, but are not limited to sexual abuse of children, rape, adultery, sexual immorality, homosexuality, feminism, manosphere, viewing pornography, and masturbation in that they fall outside of God’s original design for sexual relationships being shared between one man and one woman).  We know that sin produces a distance from God, and I think rampant broken sexuality in our culture is the direct result of our collective distance from God as human beings.

After the fall, God introduced the law to His people, the Israelites.  The law can be viewed as God’s code of expected behavior for His people, and it contains MANY laws concerning sexual conduct. I believe the purpose of the law was to keep His people close to Him.  The problem was that nobody could obey the entire law, and they were stuck in a cycle of punishment and animal sacrifice.  Keeping the law was impossible for broken people. So God sent His Son, Jesus to bear the punishment for the sin of the human race.  He was perfect in that He did not sin and was able to keep God’s law perfectly.  His death and resurrection opened the door to a relationship with God for broken people who accept His work on their behalf: it was a redemptive act, an act of buying back, or restoring something to its intended position. Not only that, but  Jesus took away the power and the penalty of sin for those who believe in Him (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

How does this good news about Jesus apply to the broken sexuality we see all around us?

Let me be clear: as a believer in Jesus Christ as my Savior from sin, I am not sinless.  Not even close.  However, I am no longer obligated, or enslaved to sin (see Romans 6, I truly cannot pick one verse from that chapter).  Since I am a believer, I have the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17, 16:7-11), I have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and His indwelling presence (Galatians 2:20), and I have at my disposal everything needed for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

This means as a believing single woman, I do not have to seek to satisfy my sexual needs outside of a covenant relationship, although I may be tempted to.  It means that a Christian lesbian does not have to enter a relationship (committed or otherwise) with another woman, although she may struggle with same sex attraction. It means that a Christian man married to a woman who for whatever reason is not meeting his sexual needs does not have to take his needs to another woman, although he may be tempted to.

You see, temptation is not a sin.  It is when we act on our temptation that we sin.  Acting on temptation is usually a result of either dwelling too much on the temptation or trying to deal with it ourselves.  We need to go to God with our temptation!  I think there are places and situations that make us more vulnerable to temptation, and we should know our own triggers and avoid them, but temptation is going to come whether we make ourselves vulnerable or not. The good news is we can have victory over temptation because of the resources we have in Christ.

Knowing Jesus has changed A LOT in my life over the course of MANY years, but nothing has changed about the fact that I am a sexual being and that I desire sexual intimacy. (Too much information?)  I pray (pretty much every day, haha) for God to bring me a husband or to minimize this desire.  Two years in, He hasn’t answered either prayer in the affirmative, and He’s certainly not obligated to any time in the future.  I talk to God in great detail about this desire, and even if He never satisfies it the way I want it satisfied, it still will have drawn me closer to and made me far more dependent on Him.  In no way am I to take this matter into my own hands.

And so I have to come back to homosexuality for a minute.  I don’t think homosexuality is any more broken or sinful than any other expression of fallen sexuality.  I really don’t.  (If I did think of one on my list as most broken, it would undoubtedly be sexual abuse of children, but I can’t say authoritatively that God sees that the way I do).

I hear many stories in evangelical Christianity of homosexuals coming to Christ, and how He transforms their sexuality, and I love hearing those stories.  I think, however, as evangelical Christians, we need to acknowledge that this is not every gay person’s testimony. Some gay people come to Christ, and still deal day in and day out with same sex attraction, and because of this, they may fall into sin. Some people were Christians before they realized/acknowledged they struggled with same sex attraction and/or homosexual expression.

These people have my sympathy and compassion, but I cannot condone homosexual marriages or relationships, just as I cannot condone a pornography or masturbation habit, sexual immorality, or adultery. All of these things fall outside of God’s original design for sexuality, regardless of where our feelings, desires, or temptations lie.  It goes back to my earlier point: no matter how much we surrender to God, sometimes He does not take our desires away.  It’s not because He is okay with us acting on our desires, but because not acting on our desires draws us closer to Him, makes us depend on Him in times of great weakness.

I want to tell you and I want to tell myself that hey, it’s okay:  God doesn’t really expect us to live according to His standards for sexuality.  He doesn’t really think we can, because we’re all just broken people anyway.  But that wouldn’t be truthful, because He is clear that in Him we have everything we need. We cannot sacrifice His standards for our feelings, desires, or temptations.

I acknowledge it is not easy; in fact, most days, it’s very hard.  I acknowledge that these are legitimate struggles, not to be squashed down and ignored.  I get it, and I’m with you (all of you) on this journey.  I want us all to have safe people with whom to talk and pray about our sexual brokenness, people who won’t make us feel bad about ourselves, but I also acknowledge that in God’s presence is the safest place to be in this struggle.

If you’re a believer in Jesus as Savior from sin, your identity is not founded in brokenness anymore, it’s founded in redemption and victory.  God wants to use your brokenness for His glory, and don’t ever let anyone trick you into thinking He can’t or He won’t.  And God gives you everything you need for victory over sin; just haul those feelings, desires and temptations before Him every single time, and great things will happen.

Broken Sexuality, Part II

Yesterday I posed a question: What are some examples of broken or fallen sexuality you see in our culture today? (Read: how is sexuality misused or has fallen away from God’s design since the fall?)

This is a question I’ve been pondering lately because of two things: a news article about a child sex offender and the testimony of a gay Christian man.

I read this article two days ago: “John Burbine, 50, was arrested in September 2012, and faces 100 criminal counts related to sexual assault of children, ranging in age from 8 days to 3-1/2 years, to whom he gained access through his wife’s unlicensed day-care business” (MSN).  To be sure, this is disturbing by itself, but I was most unsettled by this comment from his lawyer: “His inability to conform his desires, or his behavior, is all oriented towards sex, and so what we said is: ‘What about treatment?’ We would put forth a bilateral orchiectomy.”  That’s right, this man cannot change his desires, which in turn affect his behavior, and so his lawyer has proposed castration in order to lessen his prison time.  I was disgusted by this man’s excuse that he simply can’t rewire his desires, his refusal to take responsibility for his own actions.  What kind of pervert desires children sexually?

But what I think produced the most turmoil within me was the fact that I use this argument frequently when speaking on behalf of gay people, particularly those gay people within the church: they cannot help what they are attracted to.  And I use this argument because I know I cannot help what I am attracted to (speaking on a purely physical level here).  I don’t remember a time when I sat down and had a conversation with myself where I said, “Okay, Lydia, you are attracted to men, and not just any men, but men who exhibit these physical qualities.”  Some girls look at what physically attracts me, and they raise their eyebrows, because it’s not the same as what attracts them.

For a separate research project, later that evening I began to do some research on testimonies of Christians who struggle or have struggled with same sex attraction, and I came across Matthew Vines’ testimony and exegesis on Bible passages concerning homosexuality.  Although I disagree greatly with his interpretation of the New Testament passages, I greatly sympathize with his struggle as a gay man in the Church.  Well, I say I sympathize, but I’m reasonably certain I can’t even begin to imagine, although I’m trying to – I really am.

In his argument, he brings up the term “broken sexuality,” and by it I believe he refers to what evangelical Christians see as anything outside of God’s design before sin entered the world; that is, anything outside of the one-man-one-woman sexual design.  Even the most sympathetic evangelical Christian sees homosexuality as broken or fallen sexuality – sexuality directly related to the entrance of sin into the world, a fact that causes Mr. Vines and other gay brothers and sisters in Christ a great deal of pain.  Understandably so: none of us like to acknowledge the brokenness and fallenness in ourselves.

I would agree with the prevailing evangelical Christian view that homosexuality is one example of broken or fallen sexuality, but it is not the only example of broken or fallen sexuality, nor would I say it is the most broken or most fallen example.  I think that to some degree or another, all of us have something broken in our sexuality, and none of us are 100% living out God’s intended design.

So what are some other examples of broken or fallen sexuality?  And you know what, yesterday I asked about our culture, but I’m going to narrow it down to the Church.

  • Sexual abuse of children.  Something is broken or fallen in a person who sexually abuses a child.
  • Rape.  Something is broken or fallen in a person who sexually forces themselves on another.
  • Adultery.  Something is broken or fallen in people who fulfill their sexual desires outside of their covenant relationship with their spouses and God.
  • Feminism and the Manosphere.  Something is broken or fallen in people who think it is their role to dominate in a relationship.

It’s not exclusive to gay people: brokenness and fallenness exist in all of us.

So what is the answer?  Stick with me and you’ll find out!

Broken Sexuality, Part I

I want to have a conversation.

It’s about something I feel we either oversimplify or mischaracterize or ignore altogether in Evangelical Christendom. It’s making evangelical Christians (with whom I mostly identify) woefully unprepared not just to engage the lost, but to address the issue with brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with it.  I think as believers in general and evangelical Christians we ought to be informed about the issue especially as it relates to the Church, and compassionate towards those who struggle with it, especially other believers AND we need to balance our information and compassion with the truth and authority of God’s Word.

I don’t want to be the one to facilitate this conversation.  I am afraid it will end up into little more than a debate, with each side painting the other with some pretty broad strokes.  It’s a passion-fueled topic no matter where you find yourself along its spectrum.  And I feel unqualified.

And yet, I want to have this conversation.  I can’t write a post like I did yesterday and announce that I’m sick of the arguments over things that don’t matter, while completely ignoring the things that do.

Y’all, I want to talk about sexuality as it relates to the fall; broken, or fallen sexuality. I primarily want to talk about it with evangelical Christians, but anyone is welcome to weigh in with their thoughts.  This conversation will be heavily moderated. I won’t hesitate to remove broad generalizations and less than gracious comments/responses.  I want to have a productive conversation here.

So here is my question for today: What are some examples of broken or fallen sexuality you see in our culture today? (read: how is sexuality misused or has fallen away from God’s design since the fall?) Feel free to comment on whatever comes to mind! (But, you know, do it in a way that complies with my guidelines above).