Tag Archives: Psalm 119

Love, Sex, Harm and Healing: What’s happening in the #GCUMC is for all of us

The world is watching the UMC Special General Conference today, waiting to see whether or not the Traditional Plan will become the settled law of the church with regards to human sexuality and marriage.   During yesterday’s session, a young gay man named JJ Warren  became an overnight sensation with his passionate speech on the floor, calling upon the Church to seize this moment to show the love of God to all people.   You should take a listen:

I was moved by his passion and his words, but something wasn’t sitting right with me about the whole thing.   Later that night I posted these thoughts on Facebook and Twitter (@holtz517):

“They didn’t know God could love them because their church said God didn’t.” ~JJ Warren #GC2019

I was not as moved by the impassioned speech given today by a young gay man aspiring to be a UMC pastor as the rest of the world, it seems. Not because it wasn’t a good speech (it was) but because it’s passion and conviction seemed misdirected.

I have been a bleeding liberal and a rabid conservative on this issue over the years. I’ve known good and godly people who love Jesus and the Bible in both camps.

I’ve never heard a traditional Methodist church say to gay people that God doesn’t love them. That may be what they *hear* through our policy, but that isn’t the message, nor it’s intent.

As a staunch progressive, I’ve been guilty of preaching a vast, feel-good love of God. I was passionate and sincere, to be sure, and I trust God used it in spite of the fact that this “love” only told half the story. Perhaps I was doing what Paul called “proclaiming Christ from selfish ambition” (Phil 1:17), of which he was gracious enough to give thanks for anyway.

But the love of Christ is not a gushy love affirming me and the world as we are. Certainly it’s a love that loves us no more or less at any time in eternity, but once we are aware of this love, it becomes a consuming fire, making us born again. We are no longer our old selves, but new creations(2 Cor. 5:17).

Traditionalists do not believe God doesn’t love gay people. They believe that God loves all of us broken people the same – gay, straight, addicted, confused, prideful, rebellious – that God has a particular design and plan for human sexuality and marriage and any deviance from that is not a sign of how bad you are but a recognition of how badly we need Jesus to redeem us. If not in this life than the next. Our identity is not our sexual preference but sinner and saint.

There is something beautiful about a life that is surrendered fully and completely to the will of God, who says not my will but His, not my body, but Yours. God’s love is not sentimentalism, but a power great enough to sustain, even thrive, a person through the painful crucifying of the flesh. That is the promise and hope of the Gospel, which is an invitation to come and die. Yet live.

Traditionalists do a poor job, perhaps, of conveying that love properly, and progressives have a hard time hearing it for what it’s worth. That’s what today’s speech helped me see.

Praying for grace and peace.
#GCUMC

Some of the comments I’ve received conveyed concern that I am doing harm to queer folk by my words.   That is certainly not my intent.   One of my biggest concerns about what is at the root of what’s driving our Church’s current divide, and expressed well, I think, in the passionate speech above, is how much our culture has dumbed down the word “love” and how little we understand it’s radical, transforming nature.

Love, as I understand it, is the very definition of God, the same God who calls every one of us, regardless of our sexual orientation, a sinner.   We are born into this world as “enemies of God” (Rom. 5:10).  Every being alive needs to be born yet again (John 3) and have their entire inner world conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 12:1-2).

Is God doing harm to us by calling our natural selves – the me I wrestle with daily – sinful and at enmity with Himself?   I don’t think so.   It’s the most loving thing for God to bring to our awareness our great need for him.   The Apostle Paul, after serving Christ for nearly 23 years, still struggled with this inner man at odds with the will of God.  In Romans 7 he cries out in anguish over this battle going on between his flesh and the Spirit.   He recognizes that the only relief is to cry out to God in Christ and give thanks that he is being delivered from this body of death.

Paul is a saint not because he was free of struggles but because he humbly submitted and crucified all that he was – desires, thoughts, actions, will – recognizing his great need for Christ.

One of the comments left on my page, insisting that I am doing harm by saying what I said above, wrote that the subtext behind support of a traditional, orthodox view of sexuality is

1) being queer is sinful, 2) when we actually encounter Jesus/get saved, we leave behind our sinful ways, and 3) therefore, if queer people don’t leave behind their sin, they haven’t actually encountered Jesus. (Chris Boeskool)

I responded quickly, and admittedly there is so much more to be fleshed out here but my take on those three points is as follows:

1) it’s not being queer that is sinful – it’s being human. Every one of us – straight AND gay – are born with broken sexuality that gets played out in a myriad of ways. 2) When we enter into a life with Christ, we only BEGIN what will be a life long journey of dying to self and living for Christ. It doesn’t happen over night and some things are more weighty than others, like our sexuality. 3) Those struggling to leave behind their sin is no indication that they haven’t encountered Jesus. It’s merely evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their life and they need support, love and encouragement on the journey just like everyone else – just like I need.

This post is already longer than I intended, and yet there is so much more to say.   I’ll leave you with this:  I don’t believe that it’s anyone’s desire to intentionally harm any child of God – be they gay, straight, transgendered, unsure, traditionalist, progressive, centrist.   What I have learned, however, is that what I once considered harmful towards me in the midst of my own sexual brokenness was, over time, God’s mercy and love.  I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see that, however, until I was broken and crying out with Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?!”

I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me (Psalm 119:75).

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees(Psalm 119:71).

According to the Word of God

This morning in group, one of the men shared that he is thankful that God will never leave nor forsake him, according to the word of God.  

According to the word of God.

I was impressed with the way he stated this and told him so.  What impressed me is that his assurance that God was with him was not based on how he felt but rooted in the trustworthiness of God’s word.   God said he would never leave him and this young man believed it, regardless of his feelings.

No doubt this is why he is 20 weeks sober and continuing to flourish.

In my personal experience in both my own recovery and being a coach for others I have learned that the extent to which we flourish in our recovery – and life! – is the extent to which we have utter reliance on God’s words over any other words.  Those who continue to preach the gospel to themselves, who consistently chew on and digest scripture, who replace the voices of this world with the voice of the Holy Spirit are those who get and remain sober and are less likely to allow the troubles of this life to knock them off the wagon.

It’s imperative for us to daily remind ourselves that we are in a war and there is an enemy that wants to destroy us.  His name is Satan, which literally means “The Accuser.”   The bible says that he is a liar and is the father of lies (John 8:44).  Ever thing that is untrue finds its genesis in Satan, The Accuser.  He lives to accuse those who belong to Christ (Rev. 12:10).  He lives to sow lies into us meant to harden our hearts towards the truth of God, inspire bitterness in our hearts towards others and make us feel unworthy of the abundant life Jesus promised.

And he’s crafty. He has been doing this from the beginning and knows our weak points.  He knows how to whip us into a frenzy of anger or lust or pride or self-indulgence.  He knows how to inspire in us the justifications to seek our own way and defend our rights and put ourselves before anyone else.  He knows how to cause us to doubt the faithfulness of God or the kindness of others.

Your best defense against this liar is a good offense.   My counselor, when he talks about the way Satan works his lies into my head, will get very animated and jump up and scream,

Damn him!

It reminds me that I’m fighting someone very real who is playing for keeps.  My best defense is a good offense.  I need to be in the word. I need to replace the lies with the truth so that my mind can be renewed (Rom. 12:1-2).

I’ve written extensively on this blog about how to do that.   Three very practical ways you can begin today are these:

1.  Get into the word and begin by reading Psalm 119.  It will, if you open yourself to it, nurture in you a love for God’s words.   If you commit to the reading I outline HERE, you will find in a few months a hunger for God’s truth that you’ve never known before.

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2. Pray for people instead of think about them, including yourself.  The Mercy Prayer (click the link) is a prayer that changed my life and my thoughts towards God, myself and others.  Commit to this prayer for the next 3 months and I promise you that your inner world will do a 180.

3. Finally, ask yourself this question often:  Is this feeling, emotion or response I’m about to give one that is produced by the Spirit of God or by some other spirit?  My counselor reminds me that it will always be one or the other.  Recalling this again and again helps me to take every thought captive for Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  If it’s not from God, renounce it and replace it with truth from God’s word.

According to God’s word, you are a beloved child of God (1 John 3:2).  You were worth dying for even while an enemy of God’s, thus proving God’s love for you (Rom. 5:10)!    Nothing, NOTHING, can separate you from God’s love, neither death nor life, not even angels or demons – including The Accuser – nor the present or future nor any other kind of power (Rom. 8:38-39).   Let that soak in.   Let those be the words that shape you.

Let it be so, according to the Word of God.

What is Fearing God?

What does it mean to have fear of God?   Scripture says that it is the fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom, so what does that mean?  Does it mean to be frightened in the way that I am of spiders?

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A couple of passages help me to understand this idea of fearing God a bit better.   One is Isaiah 66:2, which reads,

All these things (the heavens, and earth) my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.  But this is the one to whom I will look:  he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

 

Much of my Christian existence, both inside and outside of addiction, was spent trying to understand, debate, parse, dissect, even twist God’s word.   Rarely, if ever, did I “tremble.”    I did not have the “woe is me” moment Isaiah himself had in chapter 6 of this same book, where he was confronted by the words of a holy God, and knew he was a dead man lest someone step in between he and this God.  

Do you tremble over God’s word?  Does it stand above you, naming you, judging you, pushing you; or do you stand above it, telling God “You can’t really be like that”?  

Another passage that speaks to me about the fear of God comes from my favorite Psalm, 119.  It reads,

And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules (Psalm 119:43)

Here, the Psalmist rightly understands that should God remove His hand from his life, if he should be without the words of God, he is ruined.   It is wholly by the grace of God that he can stand, and as such, he fears God doing what later on the writer of the Revelation of Jesus Christ will threaten the churches with should they not repent:  the removal of his favor/blessing.  

Do you fear God removing his hand from your life?   Or do you presume upon his kindness and mercy, assuming that because nothing terrible has happened you have nothing to fear?  Perhaps God is not watching, or doesn’t really care about how you live your life in private?    

The following is an excerpt from Steve Gallagher’s book, Living in Victory, explaining a biblical fear of God and what it looks like.   I think he’s spot on:   

 

I can respect God, not just because He has the power to hurt me, but because, in spite of that power and the fact that I have endlessly provoked Him, He has been kind to me. Jesus said of God, “…He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (Luke 6:35) As this kindness, in the face of my rebellion and ingratitude, becomes more real to me, a deep reverence begins to form in my heart.

 

Fear is the sense of being overwhelmed. One aspect of our fear of God comes from being overwhelmed by His kindness, mercy, and love. The deeper the revelation of God, the deeper the sense of being overwhelmed by His goodness. It is in the light of this understanding that we see the words reverence and awe as accurate synonyms for fear.

 

Another thing that creates fear of God is the realization that it is only His grace that keeps us from falling back into the pit He pulled us out of…fearing the Lord means fearing the loss of His grace that keeps us from our sin. It means fearing a separation form Him and being left to oneself.

 

The man who really knows God fears being separated from Him. He might struggle with tempting thoughts about things he has done in the past, but the thought of returning to that old way of life strikes dread in his heart. That man knows only too well what life without God is like. Despite all the alluring temptations, the thought of life outside God’s presence is frightening… Those who have never been broken by God usually have little fear of Him.

 

 

 

How Psalm 119 Saved My Life (and can do the same for you)

To those who desire to distance themselves from a life of bondage to habitual sin, who cannot seem to muster up enough faith to make it through the day (let alone move a mountain), and/or have lost or never had an abiding love for God’s word nor the discipline of reading it much and often, I offer the following discipline which, by the grace and power of God, helped to save my life (and can do the same for you, too).

My counselor at Pure Life gave me an exercise to do which I thought very little of at first.   He told me to read a portion of Psalm 119 every night for the entire time I was there (7 months).   Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible.  It is broken down into 22 stanzas, each one a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.   My task was to read 3 stanzas a night and 4 on the 7th night.   This would mean I’d read through the entire Psalm in a week.

But I was to do more than just read.   I was to take note of the verses that didn’t describe me at present and pray that the Lord would make that true of me.    Let me give you an example…

Verse one reads (yes, at that time it didn’t take long to find something that didn’t describe me!),

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!

My way was anything but blameless and I knew I did not walk in the law of the Lord.   I continually gave over to my flesh, feasting on whatever my eyes desired, and as a result my life was anything but “blessed.”   I was heading towards divorce, estranged from my 5 children, jobless and homeless.   Not blessed!

So, when I read this first verse and recognized this was not me, I prayed,

Lord, my way is anything but blameless and I have walked my own path for far too long.   Help me!   I want to be blameless in your sight.  Make me know and walk in your ways!

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Verse 7 reads,

I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules.

Oh how I wanted to praise God with an upright heart!   For years I would stand in church whether as a spectator or a pastor and could not praise God with integrity.   How many times I would hoist up some shallow prayer of confession just before church, promising I’d not look at porn again (knowing I would at the first opportunity on Monday), just so I could appease my guilty conscious for an hour, further deluding myself that my praise was acceptable and pleasing to God.     Dear God, I prayed, teach me your righteous rules!   I want an upright heart!

On and on this inspired Psalm goes, with verse after verse which did not describe me as I was but as I hoped to one day be.    Over the weeks and months I began to see how the Holy Spirit was using these holy words to change me from the inside out.    I began to rejoice as I read these same words which weeks before condemned me.    What a joy it was to cry out to God in praise, “Yes!  Because of You I have an upright heart!   I can praise you with integrity!  I am truly blessed!   Your law is sweet and good, it is a light for my feet!   Your word keeps my way pure!”

Psalm 119 is about falling in love with God’s word.   It testifies to the power and authority of the words of God to change a heart from being consumed with self to becoming consumed with the Word.   Do you believe that God desires to make you new?   He will use his Word to accomplish this task.   Trust it!

If you are struggling with some habitual sin in your life, or find yourself less-than-passionate about reading God’s word, I challenge you to read/pray through Psalm 119 once a week for the next 6 months.   The person who comes to this inspired text with hands open and head bowed will not be disappointed.    You will be blessed.   God promises to do it!