There are a good number of topics that seem to be difficult for the faith community to address graciously and over the years we have seen a lot of people struggling with some of these issues. At one time the city in our town had asked various churches if they would allow the homeless to sleep in their buildings, with supervision of course, and very few were willing to do that. It didn’t matter how cold it was, many churches refused to give the homeless a warm dry place to sleep. There’s also some challenges with finding a church that is equipped with helping addicts get back on their feet again.
Another issue is what to do with people who need serious counseling. Sadly, a lot of churches frown upon professional counselors and insist the pastor do the counseling. This is so foolish it makes my head spin. While my husband was getting his counseling degree and I began working on mine, I could see clearly how important it is for clergy to be certified as counselors, yet so many refuse to take the necessary classes to do so. I feel this leaves many church members at a disadvantage and I often recommend that people not go to a pastor for serious counseling if he doesn’t have professional certification. But this is beside the point I want to make in this article, so I’ll save that topic for another time.
The point I’m focusing on today is putting grace into action in tough situations. I feel a lot of churches have no idea how to put grace into action with serious issues in their communities such as the homeless, addicts, and even homosexuality. How do they put grace into action with a family whose parents come to a pastor for help because their teenage son is expressing strong emotional feelings for another teen guy? How do they walk through that valley with their son and help him in his journey to discovering who he is in Christ before making a decision about identifying with the GLBT Community? How does a pastor and the church handle a couple whose marriage is headed for divorce because the wife is leaving her husband for another woman? How does the pastor and church put grace into action when adult men church members from the singles class come out of the closet with feelings for one another?
I believe this is a tremendously difficult situation for many in the faith community and many lack the desire and wisdom to put grace into action with these kinds of scenarios.
I think the response is different depending on how those churches interpret the scriptures, but regardless of if a church acknowledges homosexuality is in the Hebrew or Greek scriptures or not, we need grace to be our guide.
I think of grace as a sort of super power. What I mean by that is this, when you see a movie where the character discovers he has a super power he has some decisions to make. Will he become a villain or a hero? He needs to practice his super power to learn to temper it so he doesn’t accidentally throw a car too far out of the way of a speeding train and end up destroying the kids playground across the tracks. He will also need to decide if he is going to profit financially from his power or not. I see grace kinda like this. We know we are covered by grace no matter what, but we also see this principle in the New Testament called Sowing and Reaping.
We can look to the bible for a guideline, then seek the Spirit to show us how to have grace in all situations. We don’t want to live by the letter of the law because it kills. Yet we know that unwise decisions and actions can result in consequences that are difficult to live through. During our years of addiction recovery ministry we have had to take all this into consideration while helping addicts through recovery. If we ran our ministry by the letter of the law, these men and women would be back in jail in no time. So we have to use good judgment on developing healthy boundaries and sensible, attainable goals for sober living.
So lets just say that you find homosexuality to be totally against the Bible and a hindrance to their relationship with God.
Because of Jesus, we know we can go boldly to the throne of grace every moment of every day no matter what the dilemma is. Your friend who is deciding to identify openly with the gay community is under grace and can always go to God at any time he wants to. In all reality, the only thing that really hinders us from going to God is our own fear that he will reject us. But he won’t do that. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. Because of Jesus, we are reconciled and have nothing blocking us from a relationship with him. We are secure in our standing with God and we cannot lose that. Some churches teach that you can lose your salvation and it is used as a fear tactic to keep you following their prescribed religious lines, but those religious requirements are not needed to commune with God.
Now that we know our reconciliation with God is by grace and is totally secure, what do we do with difficult situations?
Good old fashioned common sense.
Lets sit down and lovingly consider the pros and cons of the decisions they are making. Lets make sure they know they are secure in Christ, their identity is really in him and they are deeply loved by God no matter what.
Next, lets have a good talk about consequences. Do you know what you are about to face by going public with your feelings? Have you considered the ramifications of your decision in the lives of your loved ones? Do you think they will support you or reject you and have you considered how you will handle that? Will this affect your job or your relationships with your church friends? These are just a few relational questions I would ask someone if they came to me personally about this direction in their lives.
My next avenue of questions would be about practical every day living. Are they fully aware of the health risks if they have physical intimacy with someone of the same gender? Does that person have a history of being unwise with their sexual health? There are other questions I would ask, but I feel my blog is not the place to address those questions. I think it’s important to discuss the health risks and consequences with a doctor who has experience in this area. (By the way, I feel some questions like this are important to have with any person preparing for sexual intimacy, regardless of whether or not it is a same gender relationship.)
Now I would address long term questions such as, does the community you live in have support for gays? If you want to continue going to church, is there one where you will be accepted? Are you ready to face a neighborhood that may be considerably unkind to you? (Even missionaries to communist countries have very serious questions they need to ask themselves before moving to an area that may be hostile towards Christians.)
No matter how much discussion you have with a person who wants to be open about their lifestyle, the foundation of the discussion must be love. Without love, all your counseling and advice will be nothing but noise pollution.
A Christian friend of mine was faced with a divorce when her husband abandoned her and her children. It was a long rough and bumpy road and she did everything she could to reconcile. He refused. There were a lot of other factors that made it dangerous for them to be living together and he refused to get help. She came to me asking about taking the step into divorce court and only after a lot of loving advice to reconcile did she finally express to me that she felt this was her only option. I could not hold her to the letter of the law, she was already being ‘killed’ on the inside as it was. The only way was through grace. We discussed everything she would go through if divorce was truly her final decision. I asked her to think over all the consequences that a divorce brings and what she would face if she remained legally married, but never see him again. There’s a lot that goes into this. I asked her to bathe it in prayer and seek the Lord through grace. She chose to divorce. Where does that put me as her friend?
It puts me in the position to practice putting grace into action.
If everyone lived by the letter of the law (being perfect), we would never understand the depths of grace and what it does for our souls.
Grace in action by us, practiced with wisdom, is responsible and loving towards those we’re giving it to.
I would not tell a man who wants to murder someone, “Why not? Go for it, you’re under grace.” That shows a complete lack of love for him as well as the one he wants to murder.
Some in the religious community say ,”You can’t just go out and do whatever you want!”
Actually, they can, but they will suffer consequences suitable for their actions.
We reap what we sow.
So while gays have the grace to live as they desire, there are social and health consequences to be aware of.
While couples who get a divorce are free to do so, there are consequences to be aware of.
You can smoke all you want, but there are consequences to be aware of.
You can even eat cookies every day if you want to, but there are consequences to be aware of.
Everything we do in this life time has consequences, even when you are doing something good. Jesus did all the good in the world and was still persecuted and killed for what he was teaching.
No matter what decision you are facing, find someone who loves you enough to offer both grace and wisdom.
2 Corinthians 3: 4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.