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Posts tagged ‘salvation’

How Should We Respond to Those Struggling With Homosexuality?

SOURCE:  RICHIE HUGHES/Charisma Magazine

When my brother—a fifth-generation preacher’s son—came out of the closet, I encountered one of the church’s biggest dilemmas of our time: How should we
respond to those who struggle with homosexuality?

The day was supposed to be the greatest of my life. I was 29, getting married and had arrived at a local eatery to meet my brother, Eddie, and ask him to be my best man. I couldn’t wait to see his reaction when I invited him to be the most important person in my wedding other than my incredible bride-to-be.

His reply changed my life forever. Thankfully he didn’t decline with a “No.” But neither was his answer a hearty, “Oh, yeah! Congratulations, bro!” Instead, my only brother’s reply was a tearful, “Richie … I’m gay.”

What? That definitely wasn’t the response I expected. My thoughts raced: That’s simply not possible! No way! How could a family like ours, so deeply rooted in church, have a member who isn’t following suit, who isn’t living the same lifestyle we’ve always lived?

You see, I’m a fifth-generation ordained minister. In my family, leading churches and doing ministry is a part of our heritage. But in a split second, one of the biggest issues of our time had hit home (literally) for my family and me. This person—my brother—became what many other Christians thought of as our dirty little secret.

Looking back to that moment 10 years ago, it’s easy to see that a lot has changed in the way society views homosexuality. States have legalized gay marriage. It seems that in every election this issue is on the ballot in California and other states, and probably will be until same-sex marriage is fully legalized.

But a decade ago, things were different. Through his series of poor choices, Eddie eventually contracted AIDS. When I learned about his condition, I was confident there would be a medical solution.

This is the 21st century, I thought. Unlike 20 or so years ago, there are medications that help control the virus now. My brother can live a productive life, and all should be great. Right?

It didn’t happen that way for my family.

A Dream Comes True

Fortunately, Eddie was welcomed into the L.A. Dream Center. Matthew Barnett, the center’s pastor, and his team ministered to him in a way he had never seen before. The Dream Center staff loved him, celebrated his creativity and didn’t judge him. My brother experienced the love of Jesus and, as a result, accepted His grace and forgiveness.

I’ll never forget his phone calls. He’d say: “Richie, God is so awesome. He doesn’t care what I’ve done. He loves me just the way I am.”

You see, it took a church—a group of Christians who loved Eddie just the way he was—to reach him for Jesus. The Dream Center team did not tell him: “Clean yourself up. Stop doing this and never say that or go there again, and we might let you come to our church.”

No, they said: “Come as you are. You are welcomed, loved and celebrated here.” My brother saw Christ in the people of that church. But I don’t think he would have seen Him at every church. (Would he have seen Him at yours?)

Church Attitudes 

Because my family had never discussed AIDS or thought it would touch us directly, and because I’d never been part of a small group at church where it was addressed, I was totally unequipped to deal with it.

How about you? Would you be ready for it? How about your church? Is homosexuality discussed openly? Most churches overlook it or ignore it. Worse, they are afraid to make an effort to understand how we should love others as God has commanded.

Wouldn’t God want us to pursue the gay community like we would any other people group? Wouldn’t He want us to go after them for Jesus with the same tenacity we pursue the family units we perceive are perfectly intact and capable of raising our churches’ monthly giving?

We should lead the way in welcoming gay attendees into the faith. We should assist them in their journey with God and in pursuing Him more deeply.

During my time as the executive pastor of Free Chapel in Orange Co., Calif., I vividly remember the debates and friction caused by Proposition 8 (the state’s same-sex marriage amendment). Tension in and out of the churches in California was at an all-time high.

Our strategy at Free Chapel for diffusing the tension was to invite and welcome homosexuals into our church body. Many ministries joined together and strategized on how to reach out to this community in love, while others regretfully chose the other path of exclusion.

This issue and so many others can be summed up like this: Until something attacks your family, it isn’t likely to be at the forefront of your concerns. But when it does, then it becomes real in your life, and your opinion about it changes.

How Did Our Story End?

My family lived through this HIV attack on my brother. We watched an incredibly talented and intelligent young man lose the physical battle. My brother passed away as a result of HIV at age 28.

My perspective toward the gay community was changed by my undying love for my brother. His life and struggles taught me to love in ways I never knew before.

Do I have any doubt about his eternity? No. One choice secured his eternity in Christ and removed past transgressions, just like it has for me—the guy who has just written a Christian inspirational book, who blogs and who stands in the pulpit of a great church on Sundays.

God doesn’t play favorites, and we can’t earn His favor with our good deeds. Since God is “no respecter of persons” (see Acts 10:34-35), my brother and I will one day reunite with my sister, who also passed away at much too early an age. My brother was gloriously saved, and through his life we’ve learned more about the Father’s love.

I have so much respect for the way Eddie lived his final months just waiting to meet his Savior face to face. He lived in almost total seclusion his last few months. It was his way of resisting the temptations that were on the other side of his apartment door. His flesh wasn’t strong enough to be out in public without wanting to participate in some of the things that took his life, so he stayed indoors and protected his eternity. How many of us could do the same to avoid our area of temptation?

What We Must Do

Chances are, you or someone close to you has a loved one who is living a homosexual life. God wants you to love them unconditionally. Here are three simple ways we all can do this.

1. Show them Jesus. Please love them, welcome them and minister to them. A church and its people “loved” my brother back into a relationship with Jesus that ultimately secured his destiny into heaven!

2. Get real about sin. Let’s realize that we all have a natural inclination to certain things that challenge our walk with God. On the sin scale, is homosexual fornication different than heterosexual fornication? No. Yet do we condone heterosexual fornication more readily than homosexual fornication? I would say most of us do. Sin is sin, wrong is wrong, and any sin breaks God’s heart.

3. Pour on the grace. Make no mistake; we are to follow the Bible in its entirety. The instruction manual is clear, and we are to resist all temptations. But we all fall from time to time (see 1 John 2:1-2). Even though Peter denied Christ three times (and yes, he walked on water with Jesus), he was not disqualified from a wonderful purpose. It was Peter who was used to preach on the day of Pentecost. God gave him a place to fit in.

My plea to the body of Christ is before you judge or form an opinion, before you shun or disqualify one of God’s own children, think about this: Where would this person fit in to Jesus’ group?

I’ve served as a church leader at many churches and heard every reason for why “We can’t let this or that happen, pastor!” But I know this as Eddie’s brother: If we had created a place for him to serve, to use his gifts and talents, and to be celebrated, he might still be with us today. Just maybe part of God’s plan for my brother was to open our eyes to his dilemma.

When looking at the gay and lesbian community, there are many factors that churches and organizations should research and understand. But when it’s all said and done, I hope our conclusion is one of love, compassion and an attempt to show Jesus to any and all who are outside the body of Christ, for any reason.

We must go after the Eddies of the world for Jesus. In doing so I believe we can make a difference to a community of people—and make them God’s people.


Richie Hughes is an agent/manager for authors and music artists, and an in-demand speaker for churches and businesses. He is the former executive pastor of Free Chapel church, pastored by Jentezen Franklin. His latest book, Start Here, Go Anywhere, released in August. For more information, visit richiehughes.org.

Who Me, A Wretch?

SOURCE: Adapted from an article by  Joe Stowell/Strength for the Journey

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

There are a few hymns that I really like, and “Amazing Grace” is one of them. But somehow, like so many other familiar tunes, the weight of the words soon gets lost in our familiarity with the song. From bagpipe bands, to presidential events, to state funerals, to gospel songfests, to nearly every church in America, “Amazing Grace” has been performed so many times that we easily become numbed to its profoundly disturbing message.

You know the first line by heart: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me . . .”

Hold on. Me—a wretch?!

None of us like to think about how wretched we are.

We’d rather live in the self-delusion that compared to others we aren’t all that bad after all. We go to great lengths to look and feel good about ourselves. We exercise and diet to lose weight so we look good at the beach. We put makeup on in the morning so that we look good when we get to work. I ask my wife to help me pick out clothes so that I look good when I speak in church. And when someone says, “Hey, you’re lookin’ good!” we feel we have arrived.

But here’s the sobering news.

If we were to look at ourselves the way God sees us even when we have it all together, we would see something totally different.

He sees through all of our efforts to be “lookin’ good.” His vision probes far deeper than the all-too-cool clothes we wear, our makeup, our rippling abs and our great tan. He strips away the layers of self-delusion and penetrates deep into our hearts where each of us is a desperately lost sinner. And, no matter how good you think you are, it’s not until we know that we are like condemned criminals before Him that we can begin to understand how amazing His grace really is.

When you can honestly say that His grace saved a wretch like you, you can begin to stand in amazement at the greatness of His grace. In fact, His grace is only a “sweet sound” when you know how deep it had to go to clean you up!

What is God’s amazing grace?

It’s the outstretched love of Jesus whose agonizing death and victorious resurrection saves us from who we really are—not from who we think we are. Romans 5:8 says: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He died the worst kind of death imaginable, because it needed to cover the wretchedness of our desperately lost souls. We weren’t lookin’ good when He died for us. If we were as cool as we think we are, He could have stayed in heaven. But like hopeless beggars trapped in the sludge of sin, we needed Him. And so He came and died in our place. Now that’s what I call amazing!

Getting over our self-deluded sense of coolness is step one toward reveling in the stunning grace of God. Every once in a long while someone will come up to me and say: “Hey, Stowell, you’re a really good man.” And while I like the sound of that, I know in my heart that I am not a good man. I’m a fallen man in desperate need of help. But by His grace I am a forgiven man.

I thank God every day that there was a Really Good Man who lived on the earth 2,000 years ago who hung on a cross to save a wretch like me!

Homosexuality: Tammy’s Story (5)

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Lee/Tammy Webb-Witholt

“But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.” John 1:12-13 MSG

Tammy learned that the very essence of who she is depends on whose she is: “One lesson I’ve learned is that the reality of Jesus in us and our life in him defines us and gives our life purpose. I eventually came to the place where I decided, ‘Perhaps I can trust the Lord with my wounded and bruised heart. Perhaps I don’t have to depend on my own limited understanding. Maybe I really can follow God’s path.’

“It wasn’t easy to release the parts of myself that had made me feel secure for so long. I’d invested much time and energy validating my ‘gay identity.’ Leaving the culture of friends who had affirmed me as a person with same-sex attractions was very difficult. Even after committing to follow Christ, I found it hard to grasp the truth of my new identity. But when I did, my life changed radically and I discovered the very essence of who I am is dependent on whose I am.

I am the workmanship of God. He is trustworthy and his unconditional love empowers me to become who he created me to be.”

“If you are struggling with homosexuality, I urge you to seek Jesus. He loves you and will meet you right where you are.”

Have you received Jesus as your savior? If you have, your new identity is child of God. You are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and you can do all things through him. God has a plan for your life—and it is a good plan. As you trust him, he will help you become all the wonderful things he has designed you to be.

If you’ve not yet received Jesus, you can do so right now. Do you believe that he is the Son of God and that he died on the cross for your sins? Are you ready to receive the gift of life he offers you? Do you want to commit to following him? Just share your heart with him. He loves you and will meet you right where you are.

Father, I’m ready. I know now that I need you. I need your love and your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus died for my sins. Please forgive me and help me live a life dedicated to you. I truly want to be your child. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Lessons Learned: Moving from Homosexuality to Holiness by Tammy Webb-Witholt. This group study offers biblical tools, along with an abundance of hope, to anyone struggling with homosexuality.

Help, I’m Not Perfect!

SOURCE:  Living Free

“As the Scriptures say, ‘No one is righteous-not even one.'” Romans 3:10 NLT

Does God require perfectionism?

Absolutely!

Can we be perfect?

No way.

We serve a holy God. Because he is holy, only the perfect can be in his presence. He requires perfectionism (sometimes called righteousness) for us to be in relationship with him. This presents a problem because the Bible makes it clear no one is perfect. And we don’t have to look far to know that is true. We can simply look in a mirror.

But God has provided a solution to the problem.

Why?

Because he loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. He wants us to spend eternity with him.

His solution?

He sent his only son, Jesus, who was perfect, to pay the penalty for our lack of perfection, our sin. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can be made perfect – not by what we do, but by what he did.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty  for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (Romans 3:22-25 NLT)

Consider this … 

Christ died for me . . .

  • Because I cannot be perfect
  • So I need not be perfect

Are you still struggling to do life on your own? Always trying to do the right thing but so often coming up short? Only Jesus can help you. If you’ve never done so, consider turning to him. Do you believe he is the perfect Son of God who died and rose again? Are you ready to give him all the failures and sins and begin depending on him instead of yourself? Then tell him. He loves you unconditionally and wants to forgive you and help you through life.

When you have invited Jesus into your life, he covers you with his righteousness. When our heavenly Father looks at you, he sees only that righteousness. Not because of anything you did or didn’t do – but because of Jesus.

I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10 NLT)

Prayer
God, I know I have sinned. I believe Jesus, your perfect son, died on the cross for my sins. I accept the forgiveness, the gift of righteousness, he offers me. Please forgive me. I want to follow Jesus. In his name . . .


These thoughts were drawn from …

Seeing Yourself in God’s Image: Overcoming Anorexia and Bulimia by Martha Homme, MA, LPC.

If a Christian commits suicide, is he still forgiven?

SOURCE:  Christian Aplogetics and Research Ministry

This might seem like a perplexing question, but it does have an answer. Though the Christian who has committed suicide has committed a grave sin, he is still forgiven. But, in order to understand why a Christian who commits suicide is forgiven, we first need to understand what salvation is and what it is based upon.

Salvation is the state of being saved from God’s judgment upon the sinner. The only way to be saved is to trust Jesus for the forgiveness of one’s sins (John 14:6Acts 4:12). All who do not trust Jesus alone, by faith (Rom. 5:1Rom. 6:23Eph. 2:8-9) are not forgiven and go to hell when they die (Matt. 25:46John 3:18). When Jesus forgives someone, He forgives all their sins and gives them eternal life and they shall never perish (John 10:28). He does not give them temporary eternal life — otherwise, it would not be eternal.

Salvation is not based upon what you do. In other words, you don’t have to obey any Law of God in order to become saved. This is because no one is saved by keeping the Law of God (Gal. 2:21Rom. 3:24-28). But that does not mean that you can go and sin all you want. Rom. 6:1-3 expressly condemns such action. Instead, we are saved for the purpose of purity (1 Thess. 4:7). Our salvation is strictly from God: “By grace through faith you have been saved…” (Eph. 2:8). Other than acting by faith in trusting and accepting what Jesus did on the cross, you don’t do a thing (John 1:12-3) in order to become saved. Since you did not get your salvation by what you did, you can not lose it by what you do.

What about the unforgivable sin? Is that suicide? No. Suicide is not the unforgivable sin. Jesus spoke of the unforgivable sin in Matt. 12:22-32. The context is when the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the devil. Therefore, suicide is not the unforgivable sin.

Is repentance necessary for salvation?

This is a good question and the answer is yes — and no. Now, before you throw stones, hear me out. Repentance is a necessary result of the saving work of God, not the cause of salvation.  If repentance brought salvation, then salvation is by works; or rather, the ceasing of bad works.  That isn’t how it works.  God grants repentance to the Christian (2 Tim. 2:25). The Christian then turns from his sin; that is, he stops sinning. He is able to repent because he is saved, not to get saved.

In 1 John 1:9 it says, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession of sin and its natural result of repentance are necessary elements of the Christian’s life. But, what about the sins that we do not know we commit? If we do not confess them and do not repent of them, are we still saved? Of course we are! Otherwise, we would be forced to confess and repent of every single sin we ever commit. In effect, we’d be back under the Law, living by a rule of absolute repentance of every detail lest you be damned. This is bondage, not freedom. Jesus said His yoke was light, not hard (Matt. 11:27-30.

So, repentance is not the cause of salvation, but it is a result of salvation.  The believer repents from his sins upon trusting in Christ and thereafter, continues to repent of further sins that the Lord reveals to him.

Back to the suicide issue

Suicide is, in effect, self-murder. The unfortunate thing about it is that the one who commits it cannot repent of it. The damage is permanently done. We can see in the Bible that murderers have been redeemed (Moses, David, etc.), but they had opportunities to confess their sins and repent. With suicide, the person does not.  But that does not mean the person is lost.  Jesus bore all that person’s sins, including suicide. If Jesus bore that person’s sins on the cross 2000 years ago, and if suicide was not covered, then the Christian was never saved in the first place and the one sin of suicide is able to undo the entire work of the cross of Christ. This cannot be. Jesus either saves completely or he does not.

Is suicide always wrong?

That I cannot answer because I cannot list every possible situation. But, it seems obvious that suicide is clearly wrong, though forgivable. However, there are general categories of suicide on which we could briefly comment:

Medically Assisted Suicide – I’ve never seen this as being acceptable. The doctor is supposed to save life, not destroy it. But, lately as destroying the lives of the unborn is more common place, destroying the lives of the sick has become the next logical step.

Suicide to prevent prolonged torture – Let’s say that someone was being tortured in an excruciating manner for an unbearably long period of time, is suicide an option? Perhaps. But if it were in this situation, why wouldn’t it be all right in the medically-assisted context if the patient were also in excruciating pain for long periods of time? Quite honestly, I’m not sure how to answer that one.

Suicide due to depression – Of course, this is never a good reason for suicide. Seasons pass and so does depression. The one who is depressed needs to look to Jesus and get help. Depression is real and powerful and is best fought with help. Also, severe depression robs the mind of clear thinking. People in such states are despondent, not in their right mind.

Suicide due to a chemical imbalance in the brain – The human brain is incredibly complex and the medical community is full of accounts of extraordinary behaviors by people whose “circuits got crossed.” I don’t see how a situation like this would make it justifiable. I think it simply would make it more explainable.

Accidental suicide – Sometimes people accidentally kill themselves. This could mean leaning over a balcony too far and falling to one’s death, or actually, purposefully taking a stupid risk like playing with a gun. Of course, with either, stupidity does not remove us from the grace of God.

Conclusion

Is the Christian forgiven for suicide? Yes. But suicide is not an option. We do not have the right to take our own lives. That belongs to God.

Suicide and Forgiveness

Is Suicide an Unforgivable Sin?

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

I realize this is a heavy issue for this blog, but seriously…I have had to sit with people several times after a loved one committed suicide.

A clouded or confused mind may see suicide as the only way out, although it is never the right option, but it is never easy reconcile for the people left behind. I believe one of my dearest pastor friends died of a broken heart after his son committed suicide. Sadly, suicide appears to be on the rise. Our local paper reported this week (see article HERE) that our state has been awarded $1.4 million to aid in suicide prevention.

This post is not aimed for those who have ever considered suicide…

If you are at all thinking of taking your life…STOP and call for help NOW!!!

This post is for those who are victims of knowing someone who has taken his or her life…

One of the things I hear after a suicide breaks my heart. Families are often left wondering what happened to their loved one. Well-meaning people often repeat something they’ve heard before…that friends and family members who commit suicide are destined to be separated from Jesus the rest of their lives.

They assume that suicide is the unforgivable sin.

I’ve encountered people who struggle for years with the thoughts that their loved one died apart from Jesus. The only problem with that assumption is that I can’t prove it in the Bible.

Yes, suicide is a sin.

Murder is a sin…taking a life is a sin…suicide is a sin…

Please don’t resort to that…There is always a better way…

If you are at all thinking of taking your life…STOP and call for help NOW!!!

But, suicide is NOT the unforgivable sin.

The grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient even for this sin…

I’m fully convinced there will be brothers and sisters in Christ who are in Heaven, who were experiencing terrible trials…who felt trapped or helpless…who made a bad decision…who took their life…but fully believed that Jesus was the only answer for salvation.

Jesus describes the unforgivable sin in Matthew 12:22-32.    It says nothing about suicide.

My Salvation: Didn’t I Choose Christ? Yes and No!

Christ Is The Point

SOURCE: adapted from an article by  Mark Galli

Many people recognize their need for God—that their lives are a mess and that this world is headed for destruction.  They know they need to be saved.  But they imagine that salvation is within their grasp.

They may reject the idea that they can earn God’s favor with works, but they are fully convinced that the solution lies within them. After all, they reason, it’s just a matter of choosing—in this case, choosing God by faith using their autonomous free will….

                      Evil and injustice may abound on the earth, and we may

                     participate in it from time to time, but the one thing that is not fallen,

                    corrupt, or evil is the will. It is perfectly free and able to choose God.

This is a naive view of human freedom.

It results from a view of sin that is not as radical or as truthful as the view we find in Scripture.

In the Bible, the will itself is so corrupt and enslaved that it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to see what Christ has done for us and to free us to respond in faith to him.  As Jesus put it, no one comes to him unless the Father (through the Holy Spirit) grants it (John 6:65). Otherwise the human condition is considered hopeless, which is why the Bible uses such words as blind, dark, deaf, and dead to describe our situation outside Christ.

The good news is that our salvation is not dependent on our success at making right choices, even the right choice of faith.In fact, the Bible regularly reminds us that we cannot consistently make good choices with our corrupt wills.

As Paul puts it, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19, NIV). Instead of relying on an autonomous free will to remind us to make right choices, we are called to simply trust what Christ has done for us on the cross and through his resurrection.

But isn’t that a choice, to trust in Christ? Yes and no.

It is not even a possibility without God’s intervention. We can’t even recognize who Christ is, what he has done for us, and sense his invitation to respond in faith without the work of the Holy Spirit. The very fact that we can apprehend all this is a gift right from the start.

Furthermore, to trust in Christ means that it is not my trust that reconciles God to me or me to God. It is the death and resurrection of Christ that reconciles God to me, and the faith empowered by the Holy Spirit that reconciles me to God.

This is why the gospel is such good news.

There are times when even the most dedicated Christian will recognize that his or her life is still in shambles, still driven by selfishness, still filled with doubt and confusion about God. At such times, panic can set in:

Am I really a Christian? Is God working in my life to bring me into deeper fellowship with him? Has God given me the gift of grace? Will I enjoy the fellowship of heaven? Do I believe enough to be saved? 

The very fact that these sorts of questions bother us at such times shows that the Holy Spirit is, in fact, working in our lives. One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to convict the world of sin and guilt (see John 16:8). So the paradox is that when we’re troubled like this, it’s the very sign of God working in our lives to bring us into deeper fellowship with him.

And of course, we do not believe enough to be saved. Of course, selfishness rules our hearts in too many ways. Of course, we have doubts and confusion about God. It’s called sin. But the gospel calls us to stop looking at ourselves—at our doubts, our sins, and our choices. The gospel says look to Christ. Don’t trust in your ability to choose right or even to trust perfectly. Look to Christ, who died for sinners. Faith is recognizing the reality of our situation and the deeper reality of our Savior. Faith is the drowning man grasping the outstretched arm of his rescuer. Faith includes a response, but our response is not the main thing.

Christ is.

——————————————————————

Mark Galli (read more about Mark here). This blog is adapted from Mark’s new book God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins (Tyndale).

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