Homosexualality

Is the Supreme Court ruling an answer to prayer?

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Several years ago a movie was made named Evan Almighty.  It was actually a pretty decent movie with a powerful message of obedience to God regardless of how the world reacts.  There is one exchange in this movie in particular that I think speaks fairly strongly to our current cultural environment.  In the exchange we find the wife of our modern day Noah, speaking to God (though she thinks he is simply a waiter) about how she should handle the situation.  His response to the situation;

Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?

In one of the rare cases where Hollywood gets something right a truth is revealed that we all know deep down to be true.  God rarely zaps our prayers into existence, but uses the environment around us to grow and shape us.  When we pray, God directs, but it is rarely as we expect it to be.

Over the course of the past decade I have prayed alongside thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ across this nation for revival.  It has become clear to all that the American church is in deep need of a fresh fire that can only be brought about by a movement of God.

Attendance is down, professions of faith are down, baptisms are down, and many churches are closing their doors for good.  Of those who remain open there are large numbers of churches who clearly have lost their first love.  I have even begun to call some ecclesiastical gatherings, because the resemblance to what the church of Christ should look like is almost nonexistent.  To say the American church appears to be in trouble could be looked on by many as a vast understatement.

Many of us have been grieved, and we have cried out to God to move in the hearts of the church.

This past week many in religious circles cried out in fresh anguish following the ruling from the Supreme Court in regards to same-sex marriage.  With the legalization of same-sex marriages now in all 50 states many see the very real possibility that the attack on the church in America will become much greater, and life as Christians may no longer be as easy as it once was.

Churches are going to have a harder time keeping their building doors open.  Following Christ in America is going to begin to cost a great deal more than it once did.  It appears life as a Christian is about to get harder in the United States.

Perhaps this, though, is an answer to a prayer that we have had for a long time.  Perhaps instead of seeing this as another nail in the coffin of the church we should instead see that God is working around us for revival in the church.

Sounds crazy?

Think back to our Hollywood God with the great words of wisdom.  How does God answer prayer, by zapping things into existence, or by opening up situations where the answer can be developed?

Tertullian once said that ‘The blood of the martyr is the seed of the church’.  While looking into the environment he lived in he realized that the church is never healthier than it is when it is being squeezed by the culture in which it lives in.  As we look across the global landscape of Christianity today we see the truth in that statement.  In the places on Earth where persecution is the greatest, and the cost to be a disciple of Christ is the highest, the church is the healthiest.  In fact, in some of the places where following Christ could cost you your life the church is thriving.

In America, where the church has been looked upon with favor for hundreds of years, the situation is much different.  Where Christianity comes with no cost, and favor has even been granted for those who hold to our world views the church appears to be dying.

In America all 4 soils exist as described in Matthew 13, but we have few sources of heat to scorch and few thorns to choke out.  The church appears to have experienced great growth over the years, but how much of it was from the good soil, yielding crops?

Many times our churches have been filled with unfruitful, bad soil, “Christians”.

Imagine a farm where most of the field yields no crop.  That is our current environment, and the reason for our years of prayer for revival.

Perhaps God is answering our prayer for revival.

Perhaps God is allowing the church to enter into a season where the trappings of acceptance will no longer hinder the movement of the Gospel message.  Perhaps God is allowing the church of America to begin to experience for the first time what it means to count the costs.

Many have argued over the years that our church rolls include a large number of unregenerate souls.  The events over the past couple of years, and the events that most of us can see coming in the future will work to change that.  No longer will the church be a place of social gathering, or an entertainment on Sunday morning.  The church will be gathering together in the midst of the storm crying out in worship to the only One that can take them safely to the other side.

The church will be filled with people who have counted the costs and have determined that Christ is worth losing everything for.

It will be filled with people on mission for God knowing that everything they do is for His glory, because the rewards will be fewer on this side.

Imagine a church like that.

As I see those around me weep because of the state of the land in which we live in, I have to admit that I am quietly celebrating.  I am quietly counting it a joy to live in the time in which I live.

God is going to do great things in this land.    I believe with every fiber of my being that the revival that we have so desperately been praying for is about ready to begin.  I believe that we will have the privilege to see acts of God in this land unlike anything that we would have ever have been able to see just 100 years ago.

It may look much different than anything we thought we were praying for, though.  The American church may no longer look as it does today, and the rolls may reflect the pilgrimage away from the church of many who are finally forced to count the cost of following Christ, but the church will be heathier for it.

Revival may not mean greater numbers, but a greater depth from those who are in fellowship.  It may not mean more churches, but more effective churches.  It may not mean bigger budgets, but more souls coming to Christ.

I am reminded of the old adage, be careful what you pray for.  God just might answer.

So what are we to do?  The same thing the church has always done in times of trouble, lean on God for everything we have, buckle down, and get to work reaching the World with the Gospel message.

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Taking the Gospel to Gay Friends

When I wrote my blog at the beginning of December regarding my previous sin of homosexuality, and my many year’s long cover-up, I did so in order to begin a process of healing and honesty between myself, and those I am close to.  For years I had been less than truthful, and I wanted that to change.  I knew that this would be an emotional rollercoaster for me, so by putting it in writing I could work though the emotions and tell my story, while still getting it out to the people who I had not told the truth to.  I had stood before several churches in order to give my testimony (including as I was being voted for as a deacon of my church) and had not told the full truth.  I had also been through an interview process at a church where I held back on my story.  I believed (and still do) that a public lie, required a public truth.

I could never have imagined what would happen with my story.  The day before my post, my total readership was just a handful, and by sharing it on Facebook I could share my story with everyone I knew, and move on.  I thought some people might talk about it, but outside of my very small bubble, nobody would really care.  If anything I might be able to minister more effectively in my local church context, but nothing beyond that.  God had other plans.

My story has spread far wider than I could have possibly imagined.  People all around the world have read my story and many have contacted me to offer prayer and encouragement.  Others though have come from a different position.  One of pain.

They have contacted me because they are hurting due to a previous sin in their lives, and are looking for direction, or simply someone to finally talk to about their hidden sin.  Others have a family member, or friend, who has come out as gay and are wanting advice on how to reach that person, and a few others have contacted me just to let me know they hate me for one reason or another.

I have been touched by people’s trust of me, and their willingness to show their deepest secrets to me.  It is an honor to pray with someone who is desperately seeking the Face of God.  I never could have imagined being used by God in this way, but it is an honor for God to use me in order to help others hurting from a pain I know all too well.  I am always willing to talk, or listen, or weep alongside those who need it.

Most of these questions are deeply personal, and require a one to one response.  There is one, though, that has shown up many times, which I have found many in the church struggle with.  It is the question of how to share the Gospel with their homosexual friend/son/daughter/cousin/parent etc.

Although I understand why this question is asked, I believe it is a fundamentally flawed question.  The people searching for the answer do so out of love for a loved one (or even for those whom they do not know, yet love), but they are missing a proper understanding on what is going on.

What if we instead asked, “How should I reach a liar with the Gospel?”  Or “My friend is a Gossip and I want to get the Gospel to her.  How would I do that?”

These scenarios are silly, but they are the same as the question of the homosexual.  It comes down to a fundamental understanding that all sin is sin.  That all sinners stand equal before the Throne of God, and that the only way to have a restored relationship with God is through the Gospel message.

The way you reach the homosexual does not change simply because the manifestation of sin in their life looks different.

With all of that being said, here are a few tips I have picked up over the years that may be helpful in these situations.

First, see past the self-labeled identity of ‘homosexual’.  See this person as a friend, family member, coworker, or whatever relationship they are to you.  See them for their hopes and dreams.  Seem them for their kindness and pain.  See them for all that they are, and do not let what they do in the bedroom become the box in which you place them.

Second, be open to listening to them as a friend.  Be the ear that they can talk to.  So many people in the community have been deeply hurt in their encounters with “Christians”.  For them, they have no idea if you really are like Fred Phelps or not.  Show them through your willingness to talk, and listen, that you are not like those who are setting out to harm.  Letting them see through your love for them that there should be no fear that you carry a “God hates fags” poster board in your trunk.

Although you may not be able to relate to the one facet of their life, you might be surprised to find out that you can relate deeply on many other issues and struggles.

Next, remember that few have been argued out of homosexuality.  Even if they could, that is not your goal.  You are to point them to Christ.  You are to share the Gospel with them.  As they saying goes, introduce them to Christ, not heterosexuality.  Healing only comes through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Once the discussion turns to homosexuality (which it usually will) there is no need to try to become the expert on the subject.  If you know the answer, and can say it with love and grace, give the answer.  If you do not know the answer, tell them so and offer to get the answer (then actually get it).  Perhaps offer to do a Bible study together where the two of you study and see what God has to say.  Don’t just focus on studying one sin, though, study John (or another book) together.  Dig in and let the Word of God lead the conversation.

Mostly, though, simply show love and grace in your conversation, and life.  Treat them like you would want to be treated.  Be a reflection of the love of God on your friend’s life, and be patient.  Christ’s love was so unconditional that it was revolutionary.  He dined with people, and spoke with people, and touched people, which no religious leaders at the time would even draw close to.    Show that kind of love.

The key lies in the question.  When asking how to reach one with the Gospel, we need to remember that it is all about the Gospel.  Whatever sin is in a person’s life, it is secondary to the Gospel message.  If a man came into the emergency following a nasty car crash, and was bleeding profusely, yelling about whose fault the crash was, would the dr. stop and argue about the crash?  Of course not.  The crash is a secondary issue to the life of the person.  Once the life has been saved, the secondary issues can be looked at.  This is in no way different.  Whatever the sin in a person’s life is, it is secondary to the eternal value of the soul of the person.  We first give attention to the soul, and if the soul is healed, only then do we begin to worry about the flesh.

Coming out of the Closet

“and be sure your sin will find you out.”

More than once this verse has run through my mind over the years.

I have been fairly open with my past struggles with sin, and my testimony includes many dark moments that I know God can use, but if I am honest I wish weren’t there.

  • I sometimes fear that the many drugs I took when I was younger will catch up with me and I will lose time with grandchildren or great grandchildren because of it.
  • I think of people I pushed away from the Lord because of my blasphemy and debating against Christianity, and I pray that the Lord has opened their eyes over the years to the truth.
  • I feel remorse for shop owners that I stole from, and people whose property I damaged.
  • I feel guilt for the way I treated my parents and teachers and for the gifts of God that I wasted over the years.

I know, I was not a very good guy, and I praise the Lord that He saw fit to save a sinner such as I.  That He could look past the above sins and countless others and still love me never ceases to amaze me.

With all of my openness in my testimony there is still a darkness that clouds my past that I have hidden from everyone. One sin so great and embarrassing that I have tried to pretend it wasn’t there.  A section of my past that I even kept hidden from my wife for 14 years.  A past sin that I fear could end my career while it is still getting started.  A sin that I live in fear knowing it could find me out.

Although I have no desire to share this sin, or go through the pain of people finding out about this, I fear that I do not have a choice in the matter.  Fear of being found out has caused me to not speak out against others who commit this same sin.  My fear of ruining my reputation has been greater than my boldness for Christ, and that is a sin I can no longer bear.

I also believe in the sovereignty of God.  I know that what I have done in my past can be used by Him to help others who are in the same boat.  I have talked with drug users and used my testimony as a witness to them.  I have shared my journey with atheists in order to show how I came to know the Lord.  I have used my past to show people that God can love you despite all you have done.  There have been times, though, when I could have spoken but out of fear kept my mouth shut.  Times where the testimony God has given could have been used, but I was silent.  After today, no more.

I also believe that we have come to a point in history where the people that the church will be reaching will come in damaged in a way that the church is not ready to deal with.  We are going to see people saved who have pasts that few in the church can relate to.  People who will be afraid of what the church might say.  Afraid of whether or not they will be welcomed.  Afraid to even share where they have come from.  People like me.

Perhaps God can use me during this time in church history.  In order to do so, I have to get past my fear of the possible reaction and lay everything on the line.  I have to be willing to allow Christ, and not fear, to reign in my life.  My love for Him and His church must be greater than my love for myself or my friends.

So…

For 2 years (during my junior and senior year in high school) I was involved in an active, ongoing, homosexual relationship.

Even at the time I would never have gone as far as calling myself homosexual, but if forced to give an answer I probably would have labeled myself as bisexual.

I was a young, stupid, unsaved guy out looking for a good time and willing to have one in whatever form it came in.  I paid no attention to dangers.  Basic rules meant little to me.  I could have cared less about morals, and I didn’t believe that God even existed.  At the time, I didn’t see anything wrong with what I was doing, (although the modern push for acceptance of this lifestyle had not yet started so no mention was ever made to anyone by me or my partner).

Looking back on this time of my life through the lens of salvation, I know the things I did were horribly wrong.  I know this was a lifestyle that was against the wishes of God, and it is something that I will have to live with.

When I was 19 years old I met Kristin and over the course of 2 years (and many influences) the Lord drew me to Himself, and in November of 2001 I placed my faith in Him.  The shame I felt for my past sin was so great that I vowed to never speak of it, to anyone, and for 13 years I did just that.

The problem is that I never felt comfortable with this approach.  Does it bring glory to God to hide the work that he has done in making one new?  Is it not sin to have a testimony and refuse to use it?  Is it ok to hold secrets from your bride?  Is it right to sit in silence while the church struggles with their approach to a quickly growing segment of our culture?  The hard answer that I have recently come to for each of these questions is, no.

A little under a year ago I opened myself up to Kristin and shared my full past with her.  To say she was shocked would perhaps be the greatest understatement ever.  What wife ever expects to hear this after so many years of marriage?  The love and grace that she showed me blew me away.  All of my fears of rejection turned out to be unfounded, and if anything our relationship is closer now than even before.

Since I ‘came out’ to my wife, though, I have been troubled about what my next step should be (if anything).  I have listened in silence to many Christians, and their struggles with homosexual people, and reaching out to them.  I have seen the anger, and hostility towards a group of people that the church needs to reach out to because of their desperate need for the Gospel.  I have watched as the church at large continues to harm their witness because of their reaction to the homosexual community.  And I have prayed about what my role should be.

Because of this year of turmoil and prayer I have decided that I cannot remain silent about my past.  How can I reach out to the community and ask people to confess sins that I myself am afraid to admit.  How can I tell them that the church is warm and welcoming when I treat it as if it isn’t?  How can I be a witness for Christ and share my testimony with unbelievers when I refuse to share my testimony?

There are many days that I wish my past wasn’t what it is, but I know God had a plan for my life even during that time.  Today, I offer my life as a living sacrifice, because that is my reasonable service.  I refuse to be ruled by fear or my own selfish desires.

Even though I wish these events never occurred, I have learned through this that His Grace is greater still.  The blood of Christ can cleanse the darkest sin.  I can’t imagine a scenario where I could have strayed further from God, than what I lived out in high school.  Yet, Christ welcomed me with open arms when I came running to Him.  His love is amazing.  There is no sin that can keep us from being able to reach out to Christ, and no sin that would cause Him to not want us to reach for Him.  He accepts us as we are, broken and all.

I don’t know what the churches reaction is going to be to this knowledge of my past.  In my mind I see it not going well.  I fear a loss of friends, and possibly a damaged career.  That was my same fear when I opened up to Kristin, and yet it turned out to be unfounded.  I pray this is the same.  I pray people can see past my dark past, and see the man that God is making me into, even today.

I pray God can use my testimony to encourage and reach out to others with similar pasts.  Perhaps God can even use me, and people like me, to prepare the church for the tidal wave of similar stories I believe will be coming into the church in the near future.

The onslaught of propaganda for same sex relations in the culture today is overwhelming, and many young people are being deceived by it.  We will soon find many hurting, and looking for a place to turn.  The church of Christ needs to be ready to openly minister to them with love.

Over the coming weeks and months I plan to explore many of the issues surrounding the modern gay movement, and will be posting those here.  I will still keep this blog focused on evangelism, and outreach, and I feel this issue is one that must be addressed in order to effectively reach out into our current culture.

Thank you for your patience with this long post.

As well as I can, I want to be available to field questions and concerns.  Post them below, or send them to me privately and I will respond as best as I can.

Yours in Christ,

J. W. Willard