Monthly Archives: June 2022

Same sex attraction and the forgiveness of sins

Yesterday, the PCA general assembly passed the following resolution:

Overture 15: “Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.”

I know that this is a risky blog, but it had been mulling in my mind for many weeks. I waited to see what the PCA would do with it

Of course, we know that it is directed towards Greg Johnson. And I have read his book “Still Time to Care.” There was nothing in that book at all that was outside of the traditions and teachings of Christianity. I don’t know anything about REVOICE. All I know is how things are worded. I’ve read the book. I’ve read the overture. And it is deadly to the faith. I beg the PCA to reconsider while the candlestick is still there.

Notice the overture. It does not say, “Those who practice homosexuality.” Nor does it say, “Those who claim that homosexuality is not sinful.” In both cases, I would have agreed. Those who live unrepentantly in any sin should not serve in the ministry.

But it doesn’t say that.

I do not pretend to know the discussions going on in the PCA. All I know about the debate is that I read Pastor Johnson’s book. He is exclusively same sex attracted. He confesses that it is part of his “sinful nature with which he has to struggle his whole life long.” He has never acted on his desires.

He has also never been attracted to a woman.

If it is a question of terminology – that instead of just confession a lifelong spiritual struggle, he used the term “homosexuality”, then they got the terminology wrong. Most that I know of use the term “gay”. But it is just a word. It seems like disqualifying a man from ministry over a word is a little harsh.

The problem seems to be that the man confessed his struggle with sin.

So here is why I am sad. The PCA has just declared that THIS particular struggle with sin, even though it is never acted on, disqualifies a man from the ministry.

And at the same time, every Sunday, many of these same churches recite the creed together. “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

Perhaps at this point, they should, for the sake of consistency, add an addendum. “I believe in the forgiveness of sins except for same sex attraction.”

Which other sins will be excluded from the creed?

In Augustine’s day, there was a debate with a certain sect in the church who taught that those who denied Christ to escape persecution could never be forgiven and restored to fellowship.

The church strongly disagreed. This is why “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” was added to the creed.

The reason that this is a sad day is that a cardinal, basic tenet of Christianity was denied – hopefully unwittingly – in the relentless pursuit of “culture war” victory.

They won the battle in the culture war, but lost the battle for the faith doing so.

The only thing left for Christians is to continue to keep silent about their struggles, never ask for help, never confess sin or our struggle with our sinful nature, and remain alone and isolated in the kingdom of God.

But the result will be that everyone will remain silent, especially if they wish to pastor the church. Perhaps THEIR sinful nature will be next on the chopping block.

It makes me sad that this is where the PCA chose to go.

The Heidelberg Catechism states:

56. What dost thou believe concerning the “forgiveness of sins”?

That God, for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, nor the sinful nature with which I have to struggle all my life long; but graciously imputes to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may nevermore come into condemnation.

The church is to be known as a place for sinners. Jesus was called a “friend of sinners”.

We cannot be a “hospital for sinners” if we say, “Except for you.”

Either the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin or it does not. To deny the blood of Christ to one particular kind of sin is deadly to the church.

I pray that the PCA will reconsider their stance on this.

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Filed under Gospel

Silence, Prayer and Pastoral Visits

One of my favorite authors is Fredrik Backman. His brilliant novel Beartown is set far north of the Arctic Circle in the fictional village of Beartown. I can only read a little at a time because it moves me so deeply.

In one section, he describes the effect of the intense cold on the method of building. I won’t quote the section word for word, but he writes that water can creep into the cracks and empty spaces of the bricks and the timber. And then when it freezes it expands and tears the structure apart.

Silence, he says, is like that. You keep it inside and it creeps into the cracks and chinks and then it expands and expands until it tears you apart. I felt that. I had to put the book down a while. And I started thinking.

The things that affect us the most are those things that we would never, ever share with anyone. We bury them down deep and promise ourselves to never, ever speak of them.

Hold that thought for a moment.

In the early church, there was a custom set up where members of the congregation could talk to the pastor and get help with whatever was troubling them, or to get counsel in their battle against sin. This developed into the confessional booth and the sacrament of confession and penance. (Long story).

In the 16th century, the Reformers did away with the abuses of the confessional and the false assurances of penance and rightly preached Christ alone received by faith alone.

But then they were asked about what a member of the congregation would do if they were bowed down by sin and needed to confess and get help?

And so began the custom of pastoral visitations. These have a long history in the Reformed churches, especially in the Dutch Reformed traditions.

Many years ago, I did a “pastoral visitation” with an elderly Dutch couple. They were a delightful couple and they encouraged my heart many times.

When I showed up at the house, it was spotless. They were dressed up properly. They sat at the edge of their chairs. It was almost like they weren’t themselves.

When I visit someone as a pastor, I just want to talk and see how they are. I don’t need to set up a formal visit to do that. I just try to connect.

But the Pastor’s Visit has a long, long tradition.

I tried to ask them about their lives, if anything was concerning them, if there were anything I could pray for – really anything to get them to open up. And I received short, one word answers. So I tried another strategy.

I closed in prayer.

They immediately relaxed, she got up and got cookies and coffee. And then we had our real talk.

I thought about that, and I thought about the silent spaces that grow until they tear us apart.

And that, of course, led me to our view of prayer.

I wonder how many view prayer the same way that this couple viewed the visit from the Domine? (The Dutch term for the pastor?)

Sweep the house. Get dressed. Answer properly. Don’t cause a fuss.

And the silences grow. Eventually it tears us apart.

To be fair, it is the fault of the pastors, for the most part. Pastors demand that the house be swept and cleaned, that they be dressed properly and their kids be lined up appropriately and that they don’t cause a fuss.

In my life before ordination, I can count on one hand how many times I tried to talk to a pastor about what was really going on in my life.

The first few times, the pastor responded with rage and contempt and asked how I dared criticize.

When I talked to another pastor a few years later, my struggle was dismissed and announced publicly at our next meeting.

So I get it. But it isn’t right.

And then we start thinking that God is like our pastor. We sweep our souls clean, stuff the embarrassing stuff into the oven or the dryer, sit properly, make sure we use the thees and the thous, recite the right words, and breathe a sigh of relief when prayer time is done.

We learned about God from our pastor, and didn’t even know it.

But what would happen if we actually told God what was really going on?

What if we left the dirty clothes and the dirty dishes and the cobwebs all over the place and just told him about it?

“Sometimes I scream inside my head and I don’t think that I will ever stop.”

“Sometimes I wonder how many sleeping pills to take to just finally get some rest.”

“Sometimes I cut myself just to see if I can still feel anything because pain is better than the screaming silence.”

“Sometimes I wonder if God looks at me with contempt whenever he sees me just like my father did.”

“Sometimes I feel far too dirty and used up to stand before God and if I could just do a better imitation of the corner of the room maybe he won’t notice.”

“I choke back my tears because if I let go and just start weeping I don’t think I will ever, ever stop.”

“Sometimes I’m so lonely even in the middle of a crowded room that I want to shout to the universe, “Sir! I exist!!” but I’m afraid that no one would hear me.”

“Sometimes I feel so cold inside I wonder if God ever loved me or if it were even possible.”

“I’ve been same-sex attracted my whole life and don’t know if the pain will ever stop.”

“Once I was so desperate that I got an abortion and never told a soul.”

Can you imagine saying these things to your pastor? Why not?

Pastor, if someone in your congregation said something like this to you, what would you do?

Is not this the help that people actually need?

In fact, God pleads with us to talk to him just like this. He doesn’t want us to hide away our pain and silent screams like a Dutch homemaker hides her dirty dishes and laundry. He doesn’t want us to sweep up before He is invited in.

Because he knows that we can’t sweep up. The wound is deadly and there is no cure apart from Christ. We can’t hide it away and when we try to hide it away it expands and expands until we break apart.

But if we tell Him about it – with words, with honest words, with true words – we will find that he already knows it and has just been waiting for us to admit it.

“Call upon me in the day of trouble” he says.

“Cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you”, he says.

And I know and fully understand why so many of you would never, ever tell a soul about the silent screaming. And I understand why the very, very last person you would want to know about the nightmares and loneliness would be your pastor.

We don’t have the best track record, do we? And for that, I am so, so sorry. I pray that the day will come when Jesus will make us more like him, and more worthy of the name “shepherd”.

We the pastors have given you the impression that you have to make yourself properly fit to be worthy of welcome in the kingdom of God. And every time we do that, we deny our savior, reject the cross, and teach another way of salvation: my own ability to sweep my floor and clean up my mess.

I can’t do it, which is what the gospel is about. And I pray that they day will come when God will raise up true gospel preachers and make us more like Jesus.

But until that day, please remember this. God is big enough for your tears.

God is big enough for your silent screams and desperate darkness and cold heart.

What he wants is for you to tell him about it – not swept and clean and made presentable – but with the dirt and the snot and the ugly crying and broken dishes –

But it doesn’t magically disappear, for we are all still in a world that is under the curse of death.

But the day will come when those tears will be wiped away, when our house will be cleansed – but not by us. And we won’t have to hide in the corners anymore. We will be welcomed, clean, dressed, and sitting at the head table as the guest of honor at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Won’t that be a fabulous day?

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Filed under Pastoral ministry, Prayer

9 things (June 11, 2022)

Marriage is a covenant, which means that it can be broken. Vows were taken. We vowed to love, cherish, cleave to, forsake all others, honor…when those vows are continually broken without repentance, divorce might be in order. The innocent party is free to make her (his) own decision without further control and abuse from outside parties.

I’ve been listening to Time for Three lately. A truly wonderful group. “Joy” makes my heart happy.

If a covenant by definition cannot be broken, then Adam would not have died and the death of Jesus would not have been necessary. The broken covenant is the tapestry on which the story of redemption is painted.

In 1 Peter 3:1, the apostle is giving practical advice to husbands and wives in the context of the spread of the gospel to Jews and Greeks alike. When you have thousands of converts a day, questions like “Do I get a divorce from my pagan husband?” abound. To apply that counsel to abusive or harsh husbands in the 21st century is like going to a chiropractor for a brain tumor. We need wisdom, people.

Life with fibromyalgia: “Oh! That one is new! I wonder if I have contracted a deadly disease or if it is just a fibro-flare?”

Those of you on Twitter who make it a practice to revile and mock women – you will someday stand before God with all of your Tweets open and you will have to explain to the Lion of Judah why you did not fear to speak about His co-heirs like you have.

If the salt has lost its saltiness, what will you salt it with? When the church sounds just like Fox News, is it distinguishable as the Bride of Christ anymore?

The sad part to me is that we as the church have forgotten how to think. We’ve become soundbites and caricatures of ourselves. Anyone who forces us to think through our positions is considered an enemy to be destroyed.

When the great commission is framed as a “culture war”, then it must be won by the weapons of the flesh by any means necessary. Disagreements cannot be tolerated. Enemies must be destroyed. Lying, harshness, reviling and slander are all necessary for the greater good. This has nothing to do with Christ.

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taking up space

Have you ever been tormented by the thought that you take up too much space? Have you ever thought that no one wants to hear from you, that your body is offensive, that your breathe too loud?

Trauma often has that effect. If you could only make yourself invisible, maybe they will stop hurting you.

So you turn your voice down; you cover up all of your body parts. You slouch down. Don’t make eye-contact. Hide in the corner. Curl up in a ball.

And you wish that you didn’t take up so much space.

In my translation, this Psalm is given the heading, “God’s Perfect Knowledge of Man.”

My heading would be “The Psalm for those who think they take up too much space”

Read it.

Psalm 139:1–24 (NKJV)

1      O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
2      You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
3      You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
4      For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
5      You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
6      Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.

7      Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8      If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
9      If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10      Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11      If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
12      Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

13      For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14      I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15      My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16      Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

17      How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18      If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.

19      Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God!
Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
20      For they speak against You wickedly;
Your enemies take Your name in vain.
21      Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
22      I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.

23      Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
24      And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

Stand up straight. Look me in the eye. Speak loud enough to be heard. Because you matter. Your space matters, because God made it.

In fact, we find out that after the Holy Spirit is poured out, your space is sacred space. Your body is the Holy of Holies of the Lord God who dwells in you. Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out his spirit on his sons and daughters, his old men and maidens. All of his people. Even you.

You matter. You can speak. Never apologize for taking up space. God loves you and the space you inhabit and he dwells there with you.

Read the Psalm again. And then again. Hide it in your heart.

Those who hate your space hate the God who made that space and placed you in it to be his Holy Temple. Now read verse 22 again. Take your space.

1 Corinthians 3:16–17 (NASB 2020)
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

Take your space. Don’t hear those who seek to destroy. They are warring against you.

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Filed under holy, Image of God, temple

with a heavy heart

My heart is heavy today. I feel so helpless.

Wickedness is everywhere. Those with power use that power to ridicule, abuse and silence the sheep. And they get away with it over and over again.

The most unspeakable atrocities are inflicted on the weak in our very churches by the very people who are supposed to encourage, strengthen and lift up.

And when ones speaks out, they are ridiculed, cut off, outcast.

The wealthy and powerful ministers, leaders, husbands and pastors use that power to feed themselves and trample the sheep. They crush the spirit of their wives and children and believe that they do God service.

And the sheep are forced to silence out of fear. If the powerful wicked inflict such terror when they are at ease and dwelling safely, what will they do when their power is threatened by the truth.

It is terrifying, and my heart is heavy. And it is very, very personal.

And everyone says, “It isn’t that bad. People are basically good.”

No, they aren’t. Their only thoughts are only evil continually, unless the Lord intervene.

“Good people with guns protect the weak.” No, they don’t.

“Strong patriarchs protect wives and daughters.” Please. When did they do that? I must have missed it. Never have they ever, ever. Read your bibles again about the “strong patriarchs.” Which ones protected their wives and daughters again?

“The church needs more manly men” – please. I’ve seen what that kind does. I’ll pass.

The quokka throws its babies at predators in order to protect themselves. The powerful ones do the same thing with their sheep, their wives, their children. Sacrifice the weak. The ministry must be upheld!

My heart is very heavy, as I’ve said.

Some days, the imprecatory Psalms resonate deeply.

This one, in particular, is a great comfort to my soul.

Psalm 12:1–8 (NIV)

      1 Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore;
          those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
       2 Everyone lies to their neighbor;
          they flatter with their lips
          but harbor deception in their hearts.

      3 May the LORD silence all flattering lips
          and every boastful tongue—
       4 those who say,
          “By our tongues we will prevail;
          our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”

      5 “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
          I will now arise,” says the LORD.
          “I will protect them from those who malign them.”
       6 And the words of the LORD are flawless,
          like silver purified in a crucible,
          like gold refined seven times.

      7 You, LORD, will keep the needy safe
          and will protect us forever from the wicked,
       8 who freely strut about
          when what is vile is honored by the human race.

Nothing destroys the heart faster than a “man of God” who uses the name of Christ to plunder the poor and delight in their groaning.

Nothing destroys the church faster than wicked tongues that speak blessing on Sunday morning and destroy and curse behind closed doors.

But the Lord sees. He knows. He WILL protect us from the wicked, whoever they are.

Whatever “ministries” they have built. Whatever flatteries they receive. Whatever “successes” they have had. God sees. He judges. He knows the heart.

When a heart is heavy, it can rest here.

Please, dear Lord, spare us from the manly men. Deliver us from the wolves who dress and act like sheep. Deliver us from the wolves who don’t bother with the ovine clothing, but devour anyway without the mask because the world doesn’t care and the shepherds are cowards. Please deliver us from the celebrity evangelists who bite and devour. Deliver us from evil men with evil motives and black hearts.

Give us instead men and women who look and act like Jesus.

Philippians 2:5–11 (NKJV)

5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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Filed under Christology, Grief, Sin and Grace