Enlarging Our Hearts

We are pleased to announce that our free Enlarging Our Hearts seminar for churches is now available! We are available to present this ~1.2 hour seminar at your church, at no cost to you. We will ask for a voluntary offering at the end of the seminar, or if your church is located outside the Dallas-Austin-San Antonio-Houston general area then we would need to make travel arrangements with you. Please use the Contact info at this site to make further inquiry.

Below is the entire text of our seminar, word-for-word, for your leaderships’ review. Feel free to use short quotes for promotional material, but do ask permission if you’d like to share the entire text. We’re glad to present this to your leadership team first, or to any other ministry within your church (e.g. small group, men’s, or counseling ministry).

We also can present a shorter version of this, depending on your time constraints, but we do hope to present the entire seminar since there is so much ground to cover. Please pray with us as we move forward with this effort, and contact us with any questions you may have. Thank you!

 

Enlarging Our Hearts

 I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart. Psalm 119:32

My name is Ted Herring, with LifeGuard Ministries Austin. On behalf of our board, our leaders, and all the men and women of LifeGuard Ministries, welcome!

Our mission is to minister the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to all those impacted by SSA (same sex attractions). We do so in the form of support, education, and faith-based peer mentoring to all who are impacted by same sex attractions – meaning men, women, youth, parents, spouses, friends, family, and the entire church body.

LifeGuard Ministries Austin currently meets weekly at a church in northwest Austin. The men and women who attend are members of various churches around central Texas. In our meetings we have a short time of worship, and then break into groups – men, women, and friends & family. We typically have a presentation of some sort, followed by discussion. The friends and family group is for those who have a friend or family member impacted in some way by homosexuality, meaning pretty much anybody who wishes to attend. Much more information about us is available at http://lifeguardaustin.org.

If you are here and are feeling kinda uncomfortable or concerned about this subject please know you’re not alone. Being a spokesperson for a ministry like this certainly wasn’t my idea! It started when my lifelong friend Joel came out in 2009. I didn’t see that coming. I’ll tell you more of this story later, but please know I can completely empathize if you’re not feeling real comfortable right now. Thanks for showing up anyway.

We thank X church for having us here! We so appreciate Pastor Y and the work that God has done here for many decades. We’re thankful to God that he brought each one of you here today; we believe it’s no accident that we’re here together.

First, some logistical matters, and then a quick overview of our schedule. Restrooms are located (location). Please don’t photograph or videotape this event, and please silence your cellphones. We will stay on schedule. Also, the entire text of this presentation is available at our website, so no need to take detailed notes.

Hopefully you have heard ahead of time that we will be discussing some mature material regarding sexual sin in this seminar. Of course nothing inappropriate, but still, if you have any kids or teenagers with you who might not readily handle this information please go ahead and make arrangements for them now, as you see fit.

We’ll cover a lot of information today, so it may feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose, especially if you haven’t really explored this subject in much detail before. This seminar is designed for the church – so Church, let’s take a minute and pray for open minds and discernment to process this information.

Lord, we invite your presence. We invite Your Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and minds. Guide and help as we work through our questions and concerns. Show us how to approach this subject in the grace and peace and love of Christ. In His name we pray, amen.

If you don’t consider yourself part of the Church or have come in the hope that we’ll deal with a different aspect of this topic, you are welcome to stay, but please respect that we are handling this matter as family business. If you have questions or concerns outside this scope, we really do want to have honest dialog with you another time. But today we’ll be speaking from our hearts to our church family. Thank you.

Here’s today’s schedule:

Why are we here?

LifeGuard video stories

Ted’s story

Video from Living Out

Scriptural overview, including pro-gay theology

Break

How do we respond?

Video from Living Out

What other churches are doing

Stonegate Fellowship video

Summary

Why are we here?

First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “gay” and “SSA”. At LifeGuard Ministries we typically define gay or homosexual as somebody who is acting out on their same sex attractions. We define SSA (same-sex attraction) as somebody who has those attractions, but who is trying not to act out on them. This is just our terminology – others use different terms, and of course it’s always a good idea to seek understanding of the various terms that people use.

Many churches don’t like to talk about homosexuality. Congratulations to all of you for caring enough to listen to this presentation! For various reasons it is often awkward for us to discuss this. Some take a simplistic stance against homosexuality, which actually ends up being viewed as discrimination – further alienating the very people we say that we care about so much. In the meantime our youth are being informed on the subject by society at large, who say it’s no big deal. Many of our youth are being taught at school and elsewhere that taking a stance against homosexual behavior is actually hateful. They understandably struggle with separating a moral position from personal condemnation.

The reality is that homosexuality and same sex attractions are all around us. We have kids in youth groups who are silently suffering with unwanted same-sex attractions because church is not a safe place to admit those feelings, or at the very least many of them have friends who are gay and we are not giving them permission to freely ask questions about how to deal with this subject. Some may even feel that the church doesn’t want them to love their gay friends. Worst of all, its possible Christian youth may be misinterpreted as bullies, unwittingly contributing to the rising and tragic teenage suicide rate amongst gay youth.

Andrew Marin points out in his book Love is an Orientation that the church spends countless dollars and hours studying various cultures around the world, in order to reach them where they live. Yet with the gay and lesbian community we mostly ignore the subject, or even just condemn their lifestyle. We certainly don’t target them as an unreached people group, right here in our midst, but there they live anyway, in spite of our homophobia. In condemning their lifestyle we are seen as judging who they are as a person, because for many homosexuals their self-image is closely tied to their gay lifestyle.

It’s easy to say that the Bible says it’s wrong, but everybody who I have talked with who is gay says that they did not choose to have SSA, rather that most have had these attractions since before puberty. Even if they come to Christ, if we glibly say, “just be celibate”, to them they can feel condemned to life without a marriage partner. Stop a minute. Put yourself in their shoes, having SSA without choosing to have it, but still wanting to be faithful to God. Would you choose celibacy? Really? This is not trivial stuff.

Most of us in church don’t know how to appropriately reach out to a gay or lesbian co-worker or friend. In short, the church is getting killed on this subject, and we simply can’t afford to keep our heads buried in the sand any longer. Questions about homosexuality are being asked every day, so would we rather proactively inform ourselves, our children, and our teens, or just leave it to chance?

Please know that it is not our goal to inflict some sort of guilt-trip on anybody here. Guilt-trips are typically condemning in nature, and without hope, as they originate from the enemy. Our goal is to allow the Holy Spirit to lead you and guide you as He sees fit, and if that involves a Godly conviction about changing our behavior or attitudes, then it should be received full of grace and hope, as is Christ’s nature. Godly conviction calls us to do better, without any condemnation whatsoever.

LifeGuard Ministries believes that all of us together are Christ’s church, His body here on earth. We are His saints! redeemed children of God, and even though we make mistakes We love the church, and we are not into church-bashing. That said, we simply know that we have made many mistakes in this area, so we hope that the things we have learned and are sharing today may be beneficial to you. It is our prayer that this seminar will help us all enlarge our hearts regarding this subject.

LifeGuard Video Stories

The following video stories are from some of our LifeGuard Ministries friends, talking about experiences they had growing up and into their school years:

 https://www.youtube.com/embed/2C6c1iQaXTE?rel=0

 

Ted’s story

My wife Maureen and I attended Austin Christian Fellowship from 2007 – 2014, prior to that we attended Christian Center Assembly of God in Austin, for 28 years. We have three wonderful sons and one beautiful daughter in law.

I have known my great friend Joel since the 6th grade. Joel and I grew up in Austin, and we both attended UT Austin as music majors. Joel’s rededication to Christ while we were sophomores at UT was a major influence in my life. It was later in that fall semester that I accepted Christ, in 1978. We subsequently attended the same church for 27 years. Joel is a violinist, and I play the cello. We played together in All-State Orchestra in high school, the UT Symphony, and the Austin Symphony. We played in a string trio together for over 30 years. Joel eventually received his doctorate in Educational Technology from UT Austin. As you’ll see, Joel’s story is a big part of why I’m standing here before you today. He is a lifelong friend.

In the spring of 2009 I attended a church men’s retreat. The Saturday night service focused on sexual purity. That year several men were brave enough to stand up and share their stories of heterosexual failures. Some of them suffered serious consequences for their mistakes, including divorce. Some of the men who spoke are now in leadership positions at their church. All of them had accepted the forgiveness we have in Christ. Like many heterosexual men I had not been perfect in the area of sexual purity. During that service the Holy Spirit gripped my heart about mistakes I had made, and how I had not been as transparent as I should be with my wife Maureen.

The next day when I got home from the retreat I confessed to Maureen. Her response was a beautiful example of redemptive love. She immediately forgave me, and told me that as a recipient of grace her response to God’s grace has to be to extend grace to me, and forgive me. She has never held anything over me. Since then our relationship has strengthened, and is far more open and trusting because of our faith and reliance on the grace of God in this area and elsewhere.

A few days later I told my friend Joel about my confessing to Maureen, leaving out some of the personal details. The conviction and presence of the Holy Spirit was still with me as I shared about that Saturday night service, because it had been such a powerful time. It turned out that Joel had been hiding some sexual sin from his wife as well. God used my experience to begin working on Joel’s heart. A few months later, in the summer of 2009, Joel confessed to his wife that he had been having homosexual affairs. She was understandably devastated. Sadly they ended up getting divorced about a year later.

As close as we were, I did not know that Joel had been having these encounters. I knew that he had at one time struggled with same sex attractions, but had not known he had acted out. I certainly forgave Joel, and supported him as he walked through the divorce, but I did not know what to say or do about his SSA. So I didn’t really say anything about it, or ask any questions. In spite of our fairly basic friendship response, Joel tells Maureen and me that our grace and friendship meant a lot to him during that time.

As you can imagine Joel did a lot of soul searching, and he ended up attending two different support groups. Even though I knew Joel all those years, his candid story describing his struggles with SSA while also wearing his good, upstanding Christian mask was a real surprise to me. One group that Joel began attending was LifeGuard Ministries. He said that he had been able to help some other men there with SSA, and that LifeGuard seemed to be outstanding organization. Funny thing is, he did not invite me to go to any of the LifeGuard meetings with him, and I certainly never asked! All of these experiences were so far outside my Christian bubble that I literally didn’t know how to react.

About two weeks before our church’s 2012 men’s retreat I was having a quiet time of prayer, and sensed that God was going to show me something. He did not reveal any details to me, but I felt it was absolutely clear that He had something He wanted me to see, and that I’d find out what it was in God’s timing. I felt at peace about it, and simply thought, “cool”. At that men’s retreat I asked the men in my small group to pray with me about it, and left it at that.

The next day, Sunday March 25th, 2012, I drove home from the men’s retreat. That afternoon I played my cello for Joel’s son’s wedding. At the reception afterwards I noticed Don Brown sitting at the table next to us. Joel had introduced Don to me as the local leader for the LifeGuard Ministries group he had been attending. I thought it would be appropriate for me to go over and introduce myself, say hello, and thank him for being such a blessing in Joel’s life. You know, the traditional nice to meet you, tell me a couple of nice stories about your ministry and we’ll pray for you/have a nice day/buh’ bye see you later 10-minute chat. God had other ideas.

Don knew a lot more about me than I did about him, and he knew what an important role I was already playing in Joel’s life. To him this was not really a casual conversation. Don began telling me his story of having lived in the homosexual lifestyle years ago, and how that life became empty for him. He focused his life on Christ, left that lifestyle, and ended up getting married and having five wonderful kids. He then began telling me about LifeGuard Ministries and various ministry groups reaching out to gays, lesbians, and others impacted by SSA. He also shared with me about some of the difficulties LifeGuard has had over the years in getting more churches involved in helping those with SSA.

As I was listening to Don, inside I was thinking that the given all the sexual sin in the church today we certainly have no right to point fingers in judgment at gays and lesbians! Especially compared to the different experiences Joel and I had been through, this truth instantly became very personal, and very real to me. Our church friends had basically ostracized Joel, but my experience with heterosexual sin issues had been met with grace and encouragement by my church family. As Don was pouring out his heart the Holy Spirit flooded my soul. I heard God say, “This is what I was going to show you. I want you to help”. God’s presence was so thick I felt like I could cut the air with a knife. Don’s voice actually sounded otherworldly to me for a few seconds, as if I was in the presence of God, seeing Don pour out his heart from God’s perspective. I was stunned. And then I had my typical 9th grade maturity reaction – I started laughing inside. I said, “You’re kidding God, right? Me? Really? You must have a great sense of humor!” It seemed that the harder I nervously laughed inside, the thicker God’s presence became.

I could not deny what I heard, and what God asked me to do. Don, Maureen and I talked for almost 2 hours. Don later described our meeting as there being a bubble of God’s presence around us, as if nothing else was going on during the wedding reception. I met Katie, one of his lovely daughters, and learned much more about LifeGuard Ministries and the great work they do. I told Don I would like to attend a meeting soon.

Joel had previously suggested a couple of books for me to read. I began reading one of them that week, and started learning so much. I realized that I had never stopped to consider what gays and lesbians face on a daily basis. I learned that those with SSA really don’t choose to have that orientation. That many felt same sex attractions before they were even teenagers, and that they really did not feel naturally attracted to the opposite sex at all. I know that may sound silly to many of you, but at that time it was a fact that I had never really fully accepted. I really had been unintentionally living a sheltered life.

I realized I had never really asked Joel about his struggles, you know, just listening, like a friend should. I considered myself to be a fairly mature Christian, but could not speak clearly about this subject without eventually cracking some lame joke to try and alleviate my tension. I certainly could not speak with unashamed, compassionate grace about it.

The first time I attended a LifeGuard meeting I quickly sensed that I was worshipping alongside a group of believers who were not pretending at all that they had no struggles, but rather who were really broken and yielded to Christ, truly relying on His grace. I was so honored to be there worshipping with them. The presentation was great, as was the discussion afterwards. There was an emphasis on not moving from homosexuality to heterosexuality, but from homosexuality to holiness. As they all moved closer to God, He helped them deal with SSA and any other struggles they had. It was clear to me that they felt that SSA was just one of many things they were trying to address in their lives, and that often SSA was simply a symptom of a deeper issue. I was humbled and challenged by their honesty before the Lord. I learned that they attended various churches around town, and all were doing their best to fit in and be a part of the body of Christ at each church. Afterwards we went out for coffee, and had a great time just gabbing about various things.

I later had one overwhelming thought – these men and women were trusting in Christ, and doing what they should be doing. But the church has a big challenge before us – we are not meeting them where they are, and accepting them into our churches as they are. I knew I had to start with myself, and seek God about this first, but clearly God was speaking to my heart already about helping the Church do a better job in this area.

My dear friend Joel is not currently attending LifeGuard meetings any longer, and has gravitated towards a more pro-gay theological position. While we don’t agree on that doctrine, he is still and always will be my life-long friend. I certainly wish the Bible was not so clear about SSA, and even sex in general, but God’s teaching about sex is marvelous and challenging for everyone. I thank God that Joel and I have been walking through all of this together, because through it all I have had to deal with this important topic directly, and this has led me to a grace-filled life I might not have discovered otherwise.

 Video from Living Out

Here’s a story about Peter Ould, a consultant statistician and Church of England priest, talking about the Bible’s clear message about homosexuality, and how God has blessed him with the family he thought he could never have:

http://vimeo.com/79288473

 

Scriptural overview

A very important fact to remember when talking with anybody affected by SSA is that we are all equally undeserving of the grace we have freely received. Our primary emphasis at LifeGuard Ministries is promoting the grace and forgiveness available for all in Jesus Christ. All of our fleshly orientation is towards sin, not homosexuality or heterosexuality. As we learn to trust in Him and His grace we find that the desires of our hearts are focused more on our relationship with him, and that the power of sexual sin is greatly diminished or eliminated in our lives. As Romans 2:4 states, “It is His kindness that leads us to repentance!”

There are only a few passages in the Bible that discuss homosexuality directly; the following six verses are most frequently discussed:

1. Genesis 19:4-5 “But before they retired for the night, all the men of Sodom, young and old, came from all over the city and surrounded the house. They shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!”

Our friend and author Christy McFerren writes beautifully about this passage in her 2012 book, First Steps Out – “Normally we look at the story from the perspective of city dwellers and hold tightly to the promise of deliverance from judgment if we remain righteous in a heathen culture. There’s truth in that, but we forget that Lot’s family had actually chosen to live in that culture. They obviously didn’t hate it because his wife looked back, as we recall, on the comfort she was abandoning as they fled the city. It wasn’t easy for her to leave. The righteous were delivered from the destruction, as is typically the outcome throughout Scripture. That’s a promise that’s threaded throughout the Bible, so we can take comfort in that, but we should also see that many times, the righteous had chosen to be among them.

I get a sense of the posture we could take toward culture from this passage, don’t you? We could make intercession for our culture before God, we could prefer mercy, and we could go and walk vulnerably among the people in an unbelieving and sometimes violent atmosphere.”

The next two scriptures are:

2. Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

3. Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.”

It appears crystal clear how the Lord feels about homosexuality. But, sadly, many have taught that somehow this sin is the only sin that is described as an abomination to God. That is completely wrong. What is often missed in evangelical circles is that the exact same word for abomination (toeba) is also used to describe many other things – idols (2 Kings 23:13), magic (Dt. 18:9-14), sacrifice offered in the wrong spirit (Proverbs 15:8 and Isaiah 1:13), lying (Proverbs 12:22), and double standards, including dishonest scales (Proverbs 20:23). Have you ever lied, or had a wrong spirit in your religious zeal, or discriminated against somebody? We have all been guilty of doing abominable things before the Lord, both before and after salvation.

McFerren writes in First Steps Out, “It’s safe to say Jesus was heavily relationally invested in frail people whose sins were abominations to God. Peter had a lying tongue and Judas had a heart that devised wicked schemes. They had haughty eyes at times. All of them, at one time or another made the abomination cut, I’m sure, but Jesus never stopped them or violated their free will. He simply broke bread while He knew full well what Judas was up to.”

4. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Again it’s clear that homosexuality is wrong, but so also is all sexual sin, worship of idols, adultery, thieves, greedy people, and abusive people, etc. The church has no scriptural basis for singling out homosexual sin as somehow being worse than other sins, yet it is often treated that way in practice. What’s most important about this passage is that its primary intent is to declare a beautiful, victorious statement about the power of grace – we are all cleansed and made holy as we call on His name!

5. 1 Timothy 1:10-11 “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently. We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God.”

In this passage homosexuality is taught as contradicting the wholesome teaching found in the Good News, but so is lying, slavery, promise breaking, and “anything else” that contradicts this teaching. Paul’s secondary point is that the law is given to show us our sinfulness, but states clearly in verse 5 that the primary purpose of his instruction is that all believers would be filled with love. Evangelium, the Good News of the gospel, is where we derive the word evangelical. May God fill evangelicals with love for homosexuals and for all of us who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News.

6. Romans 1:25-27 “So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.”

Romans 1 covers Paul’s introduction to the book of Romans, as well as building a case against the entire world that we are all guilty before God. The reason for writing the book of Romans was to share the gospel, and teach that our righteousness comes by faith in Jesus Christ, showing clearly that we can’t possibly earn righteousness through trying to keep the law. It is in this context that homosexuality, including lesbianism, is portrayed as worshiping the things God created instead of the Creator himself. But never forget – the pinnacle of Romans is in chapter 8! Nothing keeps any of us who are in Christ from the love of our Father, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Pro-gay theology

 To be clear, when discussing pro-gay theology below we are talking about gays and lesbians who are sexually active, and who believe the Bible does not prevent them from being involved in a committed, monogamous relationship. If it’s not obvious by now, this is different from a believer who has SSA but is celibate, or has gotten into a traditional marriage but still has same sex temptations which they are not acting upon.

In the past I always shook my head in amazement at the thought of a pro-gay church like the Metropolitan Community Church using scripture to justify their lifestyle. While I still don’t agree with their conclusions, I can now much more readily understand how gays and lesbians can get tripped up theologically.

First and foremost, I sadly can start with myself as an example. I have personally used the Bible to try and justify wrong behavior. It was, in hindsight, a willing misappropriation of biblical passages, but at the time I was just trying to salve my guilt. I believe that is exactly what happens with those who have SSA, and who are looking for justification to act out. I believe we often find what we are looking for, especially when we open up the Bible with a predetermined agenda.

That said, there are many good questions asked by sexually active gays and lesbians who seek scriptural backing for their lifestyle:

-Why can’t homosexuality be appropriate within the confines of a committed, loving, monogamous, lifelong, Christ-centered relationship? 

The Bible doesn’t give us a single example of a committed, homosexual union. Some try to infer a homosexual relationship between Jonathan and David in the 1st and 2nd Samuel passages, but an honest examination of the original language does not support this claim.

-Why do we say some Old Testament passages are still binding, while others are absolute examples of God’s wishes? For example, Lev 19:19 says “You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you”.

The law is good, given for our benefit. Passages like Lev 19:19 were obviously given for a specific reason, at that point in time, to a specific people. Tim Keller writes, “In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship, but not how we live. The moral law outlines God’s own character—his integrity, love, and faithfulness. And so everything the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11). If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.” (Tim Keller, Redeemer Report, June 2012, http://www.redeemer.com/redeemer-report/article/old_testament_law_and_the_charge_of_inconsistency)

The use of the term “arsenokoitai” for homosexuals in the 1 Cor 6 passage applies only to the practice of homosexuality as it related to idol worship, a specific term for a specific problem at that time, in that culture, right?

Ron B. from GCN (Gay Christian Network) believes that Christians with SSA should remain celibate. He writes, “Parsing Hebrew and Greek translations with the goal of defending one’s point of view leads to all kinds of trouble. The New Testament Greek Lexicon defines arsenokoites (the singular of arsenokoitai) as “one who lies with a male as with a female, sodomite, homosexual.” It is true enough that there are some Greek scholars who reject this interpretation, just as there are some Biblical Scholars who argue that God is not the Creator, or that Christ was not born of a virgin, or that He wasn’t the Son of God, or that He did not rise from the dead. But if Christians had to give up their beliefs every time a scholar professed disbelief, Christianity would not have survived a week…”

This is just a small sample of the material available on pro-gay theology. There are some incredibly bright people who have had SSA from an early age who are asking some great questions.  Some of the logic used is seemingly strong on the surface. It’s important to emphasize that God and His word need to be approached humbly and respectfully at all times, with no preconceived agendas. Doing so allows Him to speak to our hearts.

Anybody with SSA who struggles with these questions deserves our respect, time, and effort. Remember it’s absolutely true that somebody else listened to our questions and helped us when we were or are still seeking the truth. Why wouldn’t we willingly and graciously discuss the Bible with anybody who has honest questions?

OK, it’s time for a break. The second part of today’s seminar will be shorter, and will include material showing best practices various churches are doing to help serve those with SSA. During the break you’ll find some helpful resources in the lobby, and people from LifeGuard Ministries available for any further questions you may have. Thank you for being here! See you back at X:XX (time).

Break

Welcome back!

How do we respond?

 Andrew Marin leads the Marin Foundation, a non-profit in Chicago that “works to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Church through scientific research, biblical and social education, and diverse community gatherings.” In his book Love is an Orientation Marin writes, “One summer evening, I was reading an interview with Billy Graham’s daughter. She was telling some of her fondest memories about her dad and recalled one time in particular, when the Graham family was attending a rally in support of President Bill Clinton after his sex scandal was made public. A reporter asked Billy Graham, “Why are you here supporting this man after everything he has done to this country?”

Reverend Graham’s answer was succinct, powerful and true – “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”

Marin continues, “When I read that sentence I started to cry, because it just put words to what I had unknowingly been doing within the LGBT community since my immersion began. It’s not the job of Christians to convict the LGBT community. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. It’s not the job of Christians to judge the LGBT community. That’s God’s job. It’s the job of Christians to love the LGBT community in a way that is tangible, measurable and unconditional-whether we see our version of “change” happening or not!… My experience has revealed that in the minds of LGBT people, the word love has been rendered conditional: “I will love you if I see you do…. or act like…. or sexually change…” Someone can say the words “I love you” until that person is blue in the face, but it will not matter one bit unless there are measurable, unconditional behaviors attached to those words.

… What do these tangible, measurable and unconditional behaviors look like? They are a nonjudgmental safe place – an environment that fosters a trustworthy relationship with someone else. Love is a walk, a hug, a dinner, an ear, a fun trip – all free of the condemning and ostracizing that the LGBT person “knows” is coming from Christians. This type of love says that no matter who you are, no matter what you do or no matter what you say, I have your back, and I refuse to give up – whether or not there’s “change” – because my Father will never give up on me.

…When it comes to same-sex sexual attractions and behaviors, Christians just give up too easily. Therefore above anything else when it comes to the LGBT community, the most important thing Christians can do is to make a commitment for the long haul. Without a genuine commitment on the Christian’s part there can be, and will be, nothing other than meaningless talk and niceties. I hear the same thing again and again from LGBT youth and adults: “I would have rather had Christians never enter my life than to continue entering in and then leaving. It does more harm than good.”

Our job is not to convict, our job is to love. This has become the basis for how LifeGuard Ministries treats anybody with SSA. We have found that one key truth in being able to do so is to accept the reality that we are all guilty at one time or another of abominable sin before the Lord, as described in our scriptural overview earlier. The guilt of our sin is no worse than theirs!

It’s possible that we may need to examine what our version of love looks like. Love is not making people perform a checklist of “Christian” behaviors. It is not trying to do things for people in hopes of earning God’s favor. He is already crazy about ALL of us! Instead, it requires that we first receive grace on an ongoing basis ourselves for all the junk in our lives. Out of that grace we’ve received we can share God’s love and mercy with others in a non-judgmental way, recognizing that we are called to humbly serve others.

David Fitch formulated some gracious thoughts about all this in 2010, with assistance from our friend Brad Sargent. On David’s blog Reclaiming the Mission they wrote about churches seemingly only having 2 choices with respect to the LGBT community – the welcoming and affirming approach of conventional liberal theology, and the rejecting and condemning approach that often characterizes conventional conservative theology. Fitch and Sargent suggest that instead we be welcoming with a mutually transforming posture. This posture recognizes that we are truly all in this together, while still upholding the biblical truths. We can know truth, and have knowledge of the only way that any of us may be healed, but if our posture is obnoxious the LGBT community will never hear about the Good News.

 

 Video from Living Out

Here’s a message from our friends at Living Out, a ministry in England towards those impacted by SSA:

http://vimeo.com/79210118

What are other churches doing?

In June of 2013 Exodus International closed its’ doors. Exodus had been the leading ministry in the US that ministered to gays and lesbians. Their former president was Alan Chambers, who is a personal friend to many of us at LifeGuard Ministries. At that time Alan stated, “From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters.” He went on to talk about how Exodus had unintentionally become more like the judgmental big brother in the prodigal son passage, rather than the loving father.

For several years Exodus endorsed reparative therapy, and this led to an unintended judgmental message. For those who don’t know, reparative therapy is sometimes used to try and help those with SSA to change their sexual orientation, to somehow become attracted to the opposite sex. While some made progress, the vast majority could not completely change their attractions. Sadly, many youth became despondent as they got put through reparative therapy programs, and some even committed suicide. LifeGuard Ministries does not practice reparative therapy.

Two of the most well-known ministries in America who are proactively reaching out to people with SSA are right here in Texas. The first is Living Hope Ministries in Arlington, TX (the Dallas – Fort Worth area). Living Hope is directed by Ricky Chelette, who is on staff at First Baptist Church in Arlington. “Living Hope’s mission is to proclaim God’s truth as we journey with those seeking sexual and relational wholeness through a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.” See http://livehope.org for more info.

Living Hope’s online support forums have thousands of members from over 80 countries. They have strict rules for participation, but if you have a friend or family member who has SSA then feel free to register there and enjoy their help. If you have SSA you can go there and ask questions anonymously, once you are registered. Ricky Chelette came and spoke at LifeGuard Ministries in May of 2013; it was a real blessing getting to meet him and work together.

Cross Power Ministries is in Midland, TX, and is affiliated with Stonegate Fellowship church. Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. A church who has successfully reached out to gays and lesbians for years… in Midland, TX? We’re talking west Texas, conservative oil and cowboy country! God used Mike Goeke to transform this church body.

Mike and Stephanie Goeke were married in September of 1994. Their marriage was rocked when Mike walked out in November of 1996 to pursue a life built around his long-time struggle with homosexuality. After six months of separation, they reconciled and began the rebuilding of their individual lives and their marriage.

Their pastor Patrick Payton tells about a meeting one day with Mike and Stephanie: “Mike began to detail for me how his almost lifelong struggle with homosexuality was the part of the story no one knew anything about. He shared with me the first time someone called him ‘gay.’ He detailed for me the struggles he had all through high school and college – struggles that he eventually buried and carried into his marriage. Perhaps most discouraging, he detailed for me his loneliness and fear especially in the local church. He detailed for me how the very place he should have been able to find help he found mostly hate, indifference, fear and foolishness. Mike and Stephanie even shared their fear of telling me as they were almost certain that, with this new revelation, their days of service at Stonegate Fellowship were over.

But quite the opposite occurred. Following several weeks of very intense and sometimes personal attack and struggle about the importance of sharing this real life story in the Body of Christ, I had this precious couple share their story in front of our entire church family. It was a day I will never forget.

The auditorium was packed with Stonegate members, and with Mike and Stephanie’s friends from throughout the community. Our church was filled with people who thought they were there to hear a “normal” story about how Jesus had saved a marriage. No one knew that they were about to experience a “marker day” for Stonegate Fellowship. From that Sunday morning on everyone would know we were serious when we said “we believe Jesus changes lives and we want you, and all your baggage, so we can journey with you in the new life in Christ.” But not only was Stonegate Fellowship changed, but a pastor was changed as well.

To say the least I was amazed at what happened that Sunday morning. After the service people would not leave. So many stayed to talk with Mike and Stephanie about family members struggling with homosexuality and asking what they could do. Men whom I knew to be very upset about what the Goeke’s were going to share were in tears asking for forgiveness from Mike and Stephanie. And the hope I saw on the faces of so many was astounding. I saw in the eyes of people something of a new hope that said “if Jesus could do this in Mike and Stephanie’s life then surely He can change my life.”

Out of that day Cross Power Ministries was born. Each year Stonegate Fellowship hosts a conference on loving those with SSA, especially focused on marriages where one spouse has SSA. Many church members volunteer in this effort. Let’s listen to them talk about how much they have been blessed in doing so:

http://vimeo.com/11476024

Summary

We’re about to wrap things up, as we do so we’ll be passing around collection plates for donations if you’d like. Please give as you feel led and can do so. If you’d prefer we have a place on our website for donations or monthly support. Our LifeGuard Ministries website also has many other resources for you to learn from, or please ask us if you have further questions!

One resource that has helped many of us learn how to really be more grace-based has been a book called “The Cure”, by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall. We highly recommend the book and small group study guide. I have been learning to take off my religious masks and practice grace far more with both myself and others through this journey with LifeGuard Ministries.

Our deepest thanks to Don Brown and our board of directors at LifeGuard Ministries for making Maureen and me part of their journey. And of course like to thank Pastor X and his staff here at church Y for having us today! We’ll conclude with this short video, and then another quote from Andrew Marin:

http://www.youtube.com/embed/wSA79017iQM?rel=0

From Love is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin: “Christians look at a gay or lesbian person and see a potential behavioral change, instead of a person longing to know the same Christ we seek. If we could only release control of what might happen down the road in a LGBT person’s life when Jesus enters, I promise that God loves his children enough to always tell each of them what he feels is best for their life. So then why not start peacefully pointing gays and lesbians in the direction of learning how to have an intimate, real, conversational relationship with the Father and judge, instead of trying to put all of them in 12-step programs? Like all other groups, including straight believers, LGBT people are nothing more than sheep looking for their shepherd.

Will we make a willful, knowledgeable and cognizant decision to live differently regarding the gay and lesbian community, or will we just stay the same? Throughout the entirety of Scripture the Father is calling his sheep to realize this radical way of life. But still few are able to find it – to leave the judging to God, to leave the convicting to the Holy Spirit, and to embrace the orientation of love. To worship with, go to church with, explore difficult questions with, be real with, and be intentionally committed to live life with people who are honestly open to the call of God on their life. To hang out with people when they need someone, to offer patience when people need time and freedom to discover who they are in God. Above all, to praise the Lord for such wonderfully unique opportunities to love. These choices are not about gays and lesbians, they’re about us. To be different with a purpose is closer to the Father’s original intent for his people, and it all starts with just one willful, knowledgeable and cognizant choice.”

Let’s pray