Announcing the Enlarging Our Hearts seminar

LifeGuard Ministries has created a seminar for churches called Enlarging Our Hearts. In today’s world all believers are now facing homosexuality. Most media groups and much of American culture are asking questions and having good discussions about the subject. For a church who does not feel comfortable with endorsing a homosexual lifestyle, how can they understand, love, and welcome those with SSA (same-sex attractions)?

Since 1991 LifeGuard Ministries has ministered to those with SSA in the Austin area. We are uniquely qualified to assist churches in:

• Understanding the challenges faced by people with SSA
• Creating a safe environment in the church for those with SSA
• Equipping church members to demonstrate the love and grace of Christ to the LGBT community

We are passionate about this subject, because Christ is passionately loving all mankind, not wanting to exclude anyone! We’d love to present this entire seminar, perhaps on a Saturday morning, to your group. Please visit the Enlarging Our Hearts Seminar page on this website for further details.

Love chapter

If I memorize all scripture concerning homosexuality but don’t love gay people
I become another obnoxious, judging, stereotype,

If I develop carefully worded policies and adhere to every law concerning discrimination,

If I never tell another gay joke, support AIDS research, and read all the right books on the subject,

If I make winning gays for Christ a personal project but don’t actually love individuals no matter where they are with this issue right now, I am nothing.

If I sacrifice any semblance of a life to work tirelessly to protect the sanctity of marriage, encourage holiness, and promote celibacy among gay Christians, but don’t love them, I gain nothing and neither do they.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, critical, proud, or rude. Love does not demand its own way but adapts to the needs and nuances of each situation.

Love is not irritable and keeps no record of being wronged, even when the church calls it compromising and gay organizations call it hateful.

Love does not rejoice in injustice or vengeance, but rejoices when the truth wins out, even when GLAAD turns out to be right. Love never gives up on friends. Love never loses faith in the Holy Spirit’s power to influence.

Love is always hopeful that something will ignite each gay friend’s desire to embrace God and to surrender completely to Him. Love keeps offering new information and experiences to help each friend discover God’s love and grace, even when that friend resists, disagrees, or acts out.

Homosexuality and heterosexuality will become obsolete in eternity, but love will last forever. Now our understanding is partial and incomplete, but then we will understand with perfect clarity.

Now we have a partial understanding of and imperfect responses to homosexuality, then we will see the whole story and how all our struggles fit into the plot and character development. When we perceive our gay friends the way that God perceives them, grace and trust and peace can guide our responses to their unique situations.

Our gay friends will remember our love, our encouragement, and our friendship more than our theological accuracy, our programs, or our outreach efforts towards them. Love has greater eternal consequence and impact on them in this life than anything else.

These three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

Let's talk about sex

A couple of weeks back we talked about possible reasons why it may be difficult for some in the church to love those with SSA (same-sex attraction), especially for those of us who hold the belief that acting out on SSA is not in one’s best interest. One person there had even had a pastor ask him, “how can we do a better job of loving those of you with SSA?”. If I were in his shoes I might have answered with some incredulity, “just like you love anybody else – don’t treat me like a project!”

As we talked together about his experience we explored why these sorts of awkward responses occur. One thing we discussed was that there is simply a lot of sexual brokenness in the church that has not been dealt with in a healthy fashion. Outside of special series targeted at teenagers, at most churches there are rarely opportunities for men and women to talk freely about sexual issues.

Sex was created by God, and it is good! It’s a beautiful thing, but we are all familiar with the difficulties that exist when talking about sex in church. In many churches the subject is pretty much relegated to “just say no!”, while others are more progressive. Often the pressure in men’s groups to perform or act in a certain way will prevent men from admitting to any serious problems in this area, other than the occasional P&M (porn and masturbation). Not being a woman I can’t speak from experience on how often sex is a topic on the agenda at women’s retreats, but I’m pretty sure it’s not often enough that women can discuss their real experiences without pressure to be “the good wife”.

There is tremendous societal pressure on everybody to be hip when it comes to sex. Those in the church who may not glibly agree with common sexual practices are often made to feel uncool or old-fashioned. Add to this the religious practice of needing to act like everything is “just fine” when we’re in church, and you can see why there are difficulties.

May God grant us the grace and freedom to talk more openly about our own sexual brokenness in the Church, instead of judging the planks in our brothers’ and sisters’ eyes. If we could learn to deal more graciously with one another about all of our own brokenness, we would not speak so glibly, awkwardly, and yes, sometimes stupidly to our friends with SSA.

Faith's reward

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Heb. 11:6

If we focus on the pleasing and the rewarding we make interaction with God more about our behavior, what we want or what we get from God, and whether we are “doing it right.” If we focus on the believing and the seeking our interaction becomes about His personality, His responses, and His revelation of Himself to us. The reward for believing and seeking is relationship not a trophy.

Lord, I seek greater awareness of Your presence and Your agenda as I experience each moment of  this day.

Have you really tried love?

Instead of thinking about a checklist of rules, have you actually tried simply loving whoever God has placed in your path? And if we just love somebody with SSA (same-sex attraction), no matter where they are at in their lives, do we really trust Holy Spirit to do His job? If Holy Spirit’s primary job is to reveal Jesus to all of us, doesn’t that look like how Christ acted, meaning loving “sinners” first and foremost, right where they are?

We have discovered that there are SO many reasons why various churches and people focus on religious behaviors instead of grace. A wise friend of mine told me last week that it’s important not to constantly talk about the doctrine of grace vs. performance-based religious behaviors, rather he has learned to just love whoever walks through the doors of his life. As he does that he gets plenty of opportunities to talk about Jesus, in a no-pressure manner. How beautiful.

I think a huge reason why this has often been so difficult for me to do myself is that the whole deal about behaving properly has been DEEPLY embedded into my life. As I have been releasing my (literal) death-grip on behaving in X manner I have been able to stop beating myself up if I do fail, and I’ve been able to talk more openly with my friends and family about whatever behavior I need to talk about. This is only possible in a community of grace. I pray you have that in your life too!

There’s a wonderful book called The Cure that we have linked on our Resources page. It is an allegory that teaches about how freeing it is to be able to take off our religious masks, to be real, and to feel safe talking about anything and everything in our lives with people who really do love us.  As we do that we can grow towards simply loving everybody who God places in our lives, of course including those with SSA.

A good litmus test

Wikipedia says “Litmus is a water-soluble mixture of different dyes extracted from lichens… The main use of litmus is to test whether a solution is acidic or basic.” If acidic the test sample will yield a higher pH on the test strip:

Every evangelical church member I talk with says, “Sure, we practice grace!” But when asked if they have any gay friends, or if they know of anybody in their church who has SSA (same-sex attraction), they almost always say “well, no…”

So here’s a grace litmus test – if somebody has SSA, is not acting on those temptations, and has accepted Christ, would you welcome them as your friend? Would you welcome them into your church? Would your church welcome them? Would your church let them participate in a small group, work with youth, or in a kids program? Sure hope so!

What about if the above were true, but they were honest enough to admit that every now and then they do act on their SSA temptation/still struggle from time to time? Do you have grace for somebody who has SSA, really? We’re talking about someone who has accepted Christ, and is trying not to act out on their temptations, but fails from time to time – just like you and me.

Think about somebody who struggles with outbursts of anger, or is an over-eater, or a man who who sometimes looks at porn. Should those people be excluded from participating in a small group, or working with youth or kids? Of course not – it would be even more difficult to fill church volunteer roles if we prevented these folks from serving. Obviously anybody working with kids should pass appropriate background checks, but hopefully you understand that having SSA does not automatically mean somebody is a pedophile… please.

For too long the church has categorized even having SSA as some sort of special, unacceptable problem. And for too long we have focused on behaviors, rather than Christ’s grace for ALL of us. As we focus on His grace, our behaviors do change out of a love response to Him. In the meantime, let’s not cause acidic reactions amongst those who Christ died for!

 

 

Cultural pressure for singles

Even though I’m married I get to play cello in a worship band for Austin1027, a movement of single adults in Austin, TX who desire to live out Luke 10:27 — “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Many of the singles ministries from various churches in Austin gather once each quarter for a night of worship and ministry.

On Tuesday we had another worship night, followed by a Q&A session with 4 of the local singles ministry leaders from various churches. After listening to so many of my single friends with SSA talk about the isolation of not only having SSA, but also of being single, I looked forward to hearing the Q&A session. Two days earlier Maureen and I were at a church where the lead pastor actually stated that their prayer was for God to “fill our parking lot with minivans”, loaded with parents and kids. Given, it was a Mother’s Day Sunday, and they had just prayed for many parents and young kids, but nevertheless had I been a single person attending there I’d have wondered if they also prayed regularly for the parking lot to be filled with singles.

The Q&A session at Austin1027 confirmed that many singles feel that the church really struggles in this area. Why do we get so enamored with our American success story of the happy little nuclear family, and often promote that as an ideal in our churches? Does that really square with the selfless call of the gospel message? Not to say that being married is selfish, but for the church to focus on that model without giving equal time to singles will inevitably create difficulties for our single brothers and sisters.

The blessing of Tuesday night was hearing the ministry leaders challenge the singles who were there to seek first His kingdom, and all these things would be added. Time and time again they were asked questions about X issue, or Y technique, yet they always went straight to how that question looks in light of focusing first on Jesus, and then letting Him meet all of our needs. That’s the same thing we promote at LifeGuard Ministries, to focus on His mercy and grace in Christ Jesus, and receiving His love. Only by abiding in Him can we naturally produce Christs’ fruit in our lives.

Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” That’s how we break free from our western cultural stereotypes, and live in His freedom!

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Best Friends

Getting to become friends with many people who experience SSA has been wonderful for Maureen and me. I’d not really thought about this until I saw the video below, but there is a logical reason why I often sense a more intense loyalty, faithfulness, and emotional commitment from my friends with SSA. As Vaughan articulates towards the end of this video, because they choose to honor God through remaining celibate and not acting out, they often realize how important their everyday friendships are to them.

I’m sure that’s even more true for my Christian brothers and sisters with SSA, because of the precious faith we share. I feel kinda’ stupid for not recognizing this sooner. Listen to Vaughan’s story here:

[vimeo 80605751]

Glass houses

As a hetero guy/former homophobe who started attending LifeGuard Ministries because of a life-long friend with SSA, I assumed I’d be hearing some difficult stories. I very quickly affirmed my deeply held sense that how much of the church treats people with same sex attractions is not fair. Me and my garden variety opposite sex temptations were treated with great understanding and support at my church, but my friend who confessed same sex attraction issues was pretty much ostracized by most of our conservative church friends.

No great revelation there, I know. But, what did surprise me was how much I had to learn from God through my wonderful friends at LifeGuard Ministries. You see, while I understood that my sin was no worse than anybody’s with SSA, what I had not grasped was how deep my own smug sense of self-righteousness ran. Trust me, I can be way too quick to judge others.

Tullian Tchividjian writes in his book One Way Love that “Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.” Here I am struggling with my focus on behaviors (mostly others, but also mine), when out of the blue comes a statement like this. Not only am I an undeserving person myself, but our Father, out of His love for you and me, gives us unconditional acceptance even though He is certainly not obligated to do so.

Makes me feel like I unintentionally get myopic with my religious self… and end up throwing stones inside my glass house. I am so busted – but I am so much more blessed by the good news of the grace of God for all of us!

Ephesians 3:18 says “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.” That’s become my prayer for everybody, not just those with SSA or whatever else is going on in our lives. Life is much more enjoyable living out of His grace!

Sticking With the Main Thing

A funny thing happened along the way after God spoke to my heart about helping out with LifeGuard Ministries, back two years ago now. I sorta assumed that I’d start attending some meetings, maybe help with the music every now and then, and just be a friend to my buddy who had started attending their meetings. I figured I’d get to know some other folks with SSA, and learn about their stories so I could try and do a better job of “reaching” them.

Ha!

Instead, I ran smack-dab into grace, and my life will never be the same. Grace. It has simply become the main thing we promote at LifeGuard, for ourselves first, and then for everybody else. Grace for all our lives, not just for salvation.

In his book By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, Sinclair Ferguson states, “Grace is not a ‘thing’. It is not a substance that can be measured or a commodity to be distributed. It is the ‘grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’. In essence, it is Jesus Himself.”

At LifeGuard we don’t focus on behaviors, we focus on grace – Jesus himself. First for ourselves, and then for each other. When we remind ourselves about how ridiculously wonderful His grace is for our own lives, then we are really slow to try and “fix” each other. It turns out, we’re learning that Holy Spirit is really pretty good at His job… and we kinda stink at fixing each other anyway.

As we receive and rest in what He has already done for each of us, we only want to encourage each other to rest in that same grace, because only grace and love can inspire. The law/rules point out how far we all fall short, but Jesus alone can restore each of us. We’re sticking with the main thing – grace.

We pray He floods your heart with the same restorative, peaceful, and powerful love that we are experiencing as well. Our Father loves you, right where you are, no conditions, no required behaviors, not even a heart that is completely “in the right place”. Just reach out and receive His grace. As we do that, He addresses our hearts first, and then our behaviors naturally follow. But we have to receive and rest in Him, first. If you have SSA, or are a friend, family member, child, or spouse of someone with SSA, we are here for you. Please let us know how we may help!