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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’


The vast majority of the Central Carolina Presbytery Report (CC) is taken up with a summary of Revoice, the issue of temptation and sin, and identity. The last 4-5 pages handle a number of issues in rapid fire pace. The rest of these issues are not addressed directly in the North Florida Presbytery Report on Same-Sex Attraction (NF). They are addressed at length in the Missouri Presbytery Report from the Judicial Committee (MP).

I will follow the order in which they are addressed by CC.

Spiritual Friendship

Image result for friendshipThe subject sounds strange. CC notes that a number of the Revoice speakers addressed “the importance of reclaiming a fully biblical understanding of friendship.” Tushnet and Belgau in particular stressed this idea. I would agree that our culture and our churches need to recover a Christian understanding of friendship. The friend is a different category than family or one’s enemies. Some of those friendships were bound with a covenant, in particular David and Jonathan’s friendship.

Belgau (and the others) are clear that David and Jonathan’s friendship was not romantic or sexual. They are not used to justify homosexual relationships. This is important to keep in mind.

Belgau has a different erroneous position: that these covenantally bound friendships may be more binding than marriage. CC is correct in saying “we can’t go there”, so to speak. You can’t be more bound to another human than a “one flesh” relationship, and that relationship is between husband and wife in the covenant of marriage.

While we see that friendship is given great value when men like Abraham were called “God’s friend” we see that the “one flesh” relationship is more frequently used covenant relationship to understand our covenant relationship with God in Christ (Hosea 1-3 and Ephesians 5 for instance). This relationship is intended to be permanent and exclusive, with a legally recognized status. Friendship, sadly, is not permanent. It is not exclusive either, and lacks legal recognition.

In this area we find more unclear language by Revoice speakers. “Same-sex love” is used for same-sex friendship but is easily misunderstood. Two homosexuals engaging in friendship should establish clear boundaries, not be making covenants to bind themselves to one another. It sounds like a romantic relationship without the sex which is dancing on thin ice. Gay but celibate should not mean a celibate dating relationship with another person of the same sex.

Healthy same-sex friendships are vital for all of us, including homosexuals. We should have a high view of them. They are to make way for marriage, however. My wife is and should be more important to me than a friendship. My children should also be more important to me than my friends. The views expressed by some Revoice speakers on this subject are unwise.

“We think it unwise, however, to posit a separate class of homosexual friendship that goes by different names and looks substantially different from the healthy friendships all Christians should cultivate and enjoy.” (pp. 13)

In similar fashion MP wrestled with this, seeing some inconsistency in message.

But it is also our judgment that, to the extent that Revoice even entertains the possibility of “celibate partnerships” (even within the limits expressed above), it has erred in offering unwise, unedifying relational arrangements to Christians who know same-sex-attraction (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12). In our judgment, to entertain the possibility of such partnerships stands in tension—perhaps even contradiction—with their public Statement.

As for Memorial Presbyterian and TE Johnson, while as a Session they have made no official statement regarding celibate partnerships or romantic coupling, TE Johnson, in his Revoice workshop, publicly warned about the danger of friendships morphing into romances and stressed the importance of boundaries. On one hand, it is our judgment that they have not erred in not having adopted an official statement on the question of romantic, nonsexual same-sex “partnerships,” yet we also believe they are open to the danger of a preoccupation with technical boundaries on physical limits in friendships to the neglect of the deeper inner dynamic involved in SSA romantic coupling, and the way it mimics the longing and the personal pull toward the other person that draws a man and woman together toward an exclusive intimacy that is designed by God to move them toward marriage. (MP, pp. 32)

The Gift of Homosexuality?

Some of the speakers at Revoice suggested that God has given homosexuality as a gift to the church. CC notes in particular that Finegan uses this language in three ways.

First, there are gifts that come with same-sex attraction. For instance they have a greater awareness of the depth of sin so they are humbled and more dependent.

While it is good to have this awareness, be humble and dependent they are confusing the gift with the means of the gift. The gift isn’t homosexuality but how God uses it in a person’s life so they are humble and dependent. CC is right to say “Scripture never point to our fallen desires as gifts. (pp. 13)” She is confusing categories.

“Second, Finegan argues that gay Christians are a gift to the world. (pp. 14)” They show that one can find life by losing life. They show that sexual desires need not define us. All Christians are to display these, not just those with SSA. Christians with SSA do need to hear they play an important role as heralds to the kingdom, and that their experience of salvation (already/not yet) will be a powerful testimony.

With the caveat that Christ is the real gift, CC notes “we heartily agree that faithful same-sex attracted believers have a powerful role to play in declaring the goodness of God and the glory of the gospel to the world. (pp. 14)” I can agree with that while I would be hesitant to call homosexuality a gift in this case as well.

Third, she thinks SSA Christians are a gift to the church. This would be similar to Nate Collins’ “prophetic call to the church to abandon idolatrous attitudes toward the nuclear family, toward sexual pleasure” (cited on pp. 4).

CC believes they are a gift of the church in terms of “examples of denying oneself and God’s strength being perfected in weakness. (pp. 14)” The gift is faithfulness and godliness, not homosexuality. The language of many Revoice speakers here is less than helpful and confusing. We should value them, as Christians, and we should encourage them to walk faithfully as well as be encouraged when they do.

“Same-sex attracted brothers and sisters, then, are deserving (and desirous) of our compassion, sensitivity, and care. (pp. 14)”

CC brings this back to the “at least three different ways Christians often think about same-sex attraction:

  • A sin to be mortified
  • A struggle to be endured
  • A gift to be celebrated” (pp. 14)

We can have more than one way to think of it. I would think SSA to be a temptation to be mortified and a struggle to be endured in hope. I would hesitate to call it a gift to be celebrated, though I willingly and joyfully celebrate any good God works through it (Romans 8:28). I think that distinction is vital.

CC puts it this way:

“… we do not believe it is right to characterize sinful inclinations as a gift. But if same-sex attraction is not a gift to be celebrated, our brothers and sister who pursue Christ courageously in the midst of this attraction certainly are. (pp. 14)”

Pervasiveness of Pain

A major theme in the addresses were “the pain, sorrow, and sense of loneliness and exclusion that same-sex attracted Christians experience. (pp. 15)” CC notes this was most clear in Nate Collin’s address but also a component of many others.

Here is my experience as a pastor and friend. While wanting to be supportive, I have usually not found out about friends’ struggles with SSA until it was too late. I am reminded of:

Image result for joan jettA friend in Crusade who came out of lesbianism. We didn’t talk much about it (I did learn that Joan Jett was popular among lesbians, but that shouldn’t be surprising). We spent some time together, playing guitar or talking. We both lived in NH and rode up on vacation. I didn’t see my role as to help her with her deepest struggles, but to be a friend.

A friend from a Bible Study group in NH got married to one of the single young ladies in our Singles fellowship. Years later he left his wife and children. I wouldn’t have guess he was gay, but wish he’d shared his struggles before they overcame him and caused such damage.

Years after moving away another friend and former elder left his wife and kids. The immediate circumstances were complicated, but there was a long history of gay porn of which I had not been aware. While it didn’t surprise me, it did disappoint me greatly in that we’d never talked about it and I wish I could have helped him.

A congregant who came out to me as bisexual. While I didn’t make a big deal about it, I wish I’d asked more questions about how it impacted (or didn’t) his marriage. Perhaps it could have saved some grief down the road, but I can’t be sure because there were a number of problems at work.

Until recently, many who struggled with SSA have struggled in our churches in silence. It is more common now for people to say they struggle with SSA. Some churches and pastors are doing better with this than others. Just recently I read an elder begin a FB comment with “yuck, yuck, yuck.” All sin is ugly. If you think someone else’s sin is more disgusting than your own, you probably need to get the plank out of your eye. Every type of sin drove Jesus to the cross. And every type of sin can be forgiven because of the cross.

Yes, some churches and pastors have failed miserably. They treat people with SSA as sinners to be condemned as opposed to in need of compassion. They treat them as the unrepentant, as though if they just repented enough they wouldn’t have SSA.

“Mistreatment of same-sex attracted believers is real, and the church must stand against it.” (pp. 15)

The church must speak the truth about the sinfulness of SSA.

The church must speak the truth about the sufficiency of Christ in the gospel too.

Speaking truth in love means speaking in a way that helps others mature while maintaining (as much as it depends upon you) the relationship. Some who have been critical of Revoice have not always spoken truth, but have misrepresented facts. Others have not spoken in love. Some Revoice speakers have not spoken (the whole) truth. CC discusses this in terms of Revoice addressing some real (though often subjective) issues but in a way that will lead to greater pain.

For instance, if you think you are God’s gift to the church (whether you are for or against Revoice, or where you stand on the issue of Christians struggling with SSA) you will experience great pain when people disagree with you. You will attack people, not simply ideas. Those who disagree with you will be heaped in your own personal pile of “deplorables”.

CC notes, rightly, that it can be difficult to assess the pain of others, and its cause. Pain is highly subjective. How one views the cause of said pain is as well. We’ve all had people leave our congregations with very different perspectives on an event than we do. We’ve heard one side of the story and don’t know the other. This doesn’t mean they are lying, but the lens we look through can warp things. Due to the noetic effect of sin, we all have a lens that distorts to some degree.

Wrapping Up

“We must never forget that we are dealing with real people, flesh and blood human beings with hurts and fears and joys and hopes. While we disagree with important aspects of what was said and assumed at the Revoice Conference, in so far as the movement acts as a reminder for all of us to be welcoming, sympathetic, and hospitable, there are valuable things we can learn and necessary lessons to be appropriated” (pp. 16)

Image result for one size fits allThat is well said. We tend to get so caught up in the theological and controversial that we forget the personal. We do need to remember that gospel ministry includes breaking hard hearts and comforting broken hearts. Ministry to Christians with SSA requires wisdom and discernment. There is no one size fits all method. That is because all churches differ and the people they serve differ as well: in temperament, experiences and circumstances.

I think the recommendations from NF are helpful, so I’ll repeat them here (pp. 6).

  • Recognize that the church has encountered and confronted issues surrounding same-sex issues with grace and faithfulness for many centuries(1 Corinthians 6.9-11). While our culture has foregrounded the issue, the church need not be alarmist or respond in fear. Rather, this challenge presents the church with an opportunity to proclaim the grace of God to a broken and fallen world. It is a moment to extend hope to those who are hopelessly confused through the gospel.
  • Uphold Biblical sexual standards, in thought, word, and deed,for the entire congregation. Be careful not to hammer the few struggling with same-sex attraction while going lighter on those dealing with other sexual attractions and behaviors.Sexual immorality is sexual immorality (Romans 13.13; Ephesians 5.3; 1 Thessalonians 4.3-7).
  • With regard to sexual temptation, acknowledge that sexual temptation is not sexual sin. That said, temptation is always an inducement to do wrong. Therefore, the temptation is not neutral.
  • Encourage Christians, struggling with the indwelling corruption of sin, with the gracious indicatives of the gospel that free us to embrace God’s liberating imperatives. In Jesus Christ, we have been set free from the dominion of sin (Romans 6.7). Our challenge is to ‘consider’ ourselves—an act of faith—as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ(Romans 6.11). God forgives us and empowers us to walk in newness of life.
  • Resist the cultural momentum that defines personal identity through sexual desires and inclinations. Human sexual behaviors do not confer identity—God does. Encourage those who struggle with same-sex attraction to root their identity outside of their sexuality, specifically by rooting their identity in Jesus Christ. Same-sex attraction may be a temptation someone encounters, but it is not the defining element of their personal identity.
  • Discourage Christians dealing with persistent same-sex attraction from identifying as a ‘Gay Christian’ as this label is ultimately unhelpful, confusing, and sub-biblical.
  • Strive to create a culture of welcome and genuine friendship at church that embraces single people, no matter their sexual temptations. When healthy, the church operates as a family that draws lonely, single individuals, including men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction,into the families that constitute the larger church family.
  • Celebrate the dignity of marriage, but do not impugn the dignity of singleness. God calls some to serve him without a spouse (Matthew 19.11-12; 1 Corinthian 7.8). According to Paul, there are even advantages to it (1 Corinthians 7.32-35)! Therefore, we need to consider how to honor singles within our congregations and not operate with a bias against them. For those who find themselves with unwanted same-sex attraction, singleness may well be God’s call upon their lives. We should honor these brothers and sisters, enfold them into healthy relationships, and give them opportunities to serve the Lord and the church.

 

 

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One of my friends is dying. We’ve known this since shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer more than 5 years ago. He has lived beyond the average life span for a person whose cancer had spread so far. I started thinking about David’s impact in my life. Sometimes we don’t realize the impact of one person on our lives.

I met David Wayne after he transferred to RTS Orlando to finish his MDiv. I had graduated but was still working in the bookstore until the end of the summer. David would come in to browse and buy. He would talk with me and the other guys like Keith Mathison when he was in the store.

I wouldn’t see David for another 6 years. I was living in Winter Haven and serving a small ARP church as their pastor. One of the PCA churches in town was without a pastor. Spring was difficult for me. My girlfriend had unceremoniously dumped me and one of my good friends was leaving the area to serve as the pastor of an ARP church in the Carolinas (the heart of the ARP). I felt lost and lonely. But God would provide.

I heard the PCA church called a new pastor, and his name was David Wayne. I was excited they called a man I knew, although only casually. I was going to be out of town for his installation so I called the office to leave a message congratulating him and that I hoped to see him soon.

When we finally talked it took some time for him to remember who I was. But we were two men called to serve as solo pastors in a place we were still figuring out. So we began to spend more time together. It was a time of healing for me that none of us realized.

(more…)

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One of the more difficult things in pastoral ministry is the keeping of secrets. Not our own, but the hearing and bearing of others’ secrets.

We hear all kinds of things in pastoral counseling. We hear how people have been sinned against, and how they have sinned. It is difficult to hear the dirt on someone. There is no one to tell.

Some of those secrets are more ordinary- unfortunately. Sad to think that hearing about sexual abuse is old hat. But sometimes there are stories that strike you deep because they are that powerful. I hadn’t heard too many of those in years past. But I have had two of those this year. It takes its toll precisely because there is no one you can tell. These are things you don’t even tell your wife. It wears on your soul.

This is one of the side benefits of going to General Assembly. You see trusted friends who know no one in your situation. You can share some of those burdens without any collateral damage. They won’t look at anyone differently. They aren’t going to visit your congregation and wonder. They are completely disconnected from the situation.

I feel for the guys who don’t have such opportunities. They probably need to talk to a counselor periodically. Sin is a great weight, and we can’t carry it alone. Jesus doesn’t tell us to bear it alone (Gal. 6), but to bear one another’s burdens. I am grateful I have a friends who can bear those with me, and whose burdens I can bear. Guys who don’t go to counseling or implode. If you are one of those guys, find someone safe to talk to. Fast.

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Sleep deprivation is an ugly thing. I was a zombie, minus the odd gait and thirst for human flesh. I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in about a week. It was taking its toll as I often nearly nodded off throughout the day.

I wasn’t the only one . The guys I shared the room with didn’t sleep that night due to my snoring. They had ear plugs. One tried to sleep in the closet to find refuge, to no avail. They didn’t dare risk it again. I am the sole survivor of the apocalypse. Throughout the day I ran into other guys from my presbytery in a similar state. Not how you want to do church business.

First, I went to the prayer seminar by Paul Miller. It was good, a condensed version of his prayer seminar. But I couldn’t make it thru the 2nd half of the session. Too tired! But I discovered that most PCA pastors struggle with prayer at least as much as me. This is counter-intuitive with our theology.We confess the weakness of the flesh, and idolatry of the heart. We know the importance of prayer and yet aren’t known for our prayer lives.

The morning business session dealt with the overtures (requests for action) regarding. The Book of Church Order and Rules of Assembly. Perhaps there is a purgatory, and I was in it. Hearing from representatives for other denominations was good. One of the conservative Presbyterian churches in South Korea and the Presbyterian Church of Brazil far outnumber the the conservative Presbyterian denominations here, combined.

Lunch was spent with Doug Falls. Good friendships just pick right up again. I love that. We went to an Irish pub, and the black and blue burger was good. Catching up was better.

Instead of checking the agenda, I sat down in the meeting as it resumed. I should have gone back to the hotel for a nap. Mostly reports. They can be encouraging, but I was just too tired.

Dinner was with the Daltons at Doc Crow’s as Danny continued the Louisville Bourbon Walk. Good BBQ, and more affordable than lunch (do you sense a pattern here?). It was unique with the slaw under meat and fried onions on top. Bye onions.  Joe’s Crab Shack was turning into my white whale. Would I ever get some seafood (though I could have had a soft shell sandwich at Doc’s)?

The worship service was tough, I was sooo tired. And the sermon intro was way too long. I asked Danny, “Does he have a text, cause he’s not exegeting anything.” Suddenly he addressed the text. Did a good job, though it was not substantially longer then his intro.

Then I discovered there was no business that night. There was an ice cream social. A great opportunity to just enjoy Danny and Jamie’s company. But I needed sleep so I returned to the hotel to find Eddie gone and the other guy getting a room elsewhere. Awkward!

A check of the Red Sox score and a few chapters of a novel, and it was to bed for a decent night’s sleep. True to form, I’d be up for an hour in the middle of the night, and would be awakened before 7 by some stranger knocking on my door, but mission mostly accomplished.

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I am not an official Trekkie.  I saw most of the movies with the original cast, but preferred the Next Generation show to the original show.  What I did appreciate was the bond of friendship that existed between Kirk, Spock and Bones.  This became more prominent in the movies.  Those movies were better than the Next Generation movies.  A bit odd, isn’t it?

I was excited to see a reboot to the Star Trek series (rather then delving into the continuing to deteriorate TV series).  That J.J. Abrams was tabbed to direct was a good move in my book.  But the question was how to reboot a series like Star Trek?

J.J. Abrams and the screenwriters came up with a great idea- an alternative universe with all the same characters, but one in which not all will be as it was.

Eric Bana plays the “best”villain since Khan.  He is one ticked off Romulon miner who seeks to gain talonic justice (he thinks) against Spock. In some ways I wonder if he’s meant to represent a Muslim who becomes radicalized after his people are attacked.  Just a thought since this is how some people think this has played out in the Middle East.

This sets the stage for the backstory of how the crew of the Enterprise comes together for future adventures.  Slowly the various characters meet one another to fill out the crew.  The last is Scotty, who adds quite a bit of comic relief.  Chekof’s attempts to master English is funny too.

But Kirk starts off by alienating Spock.  Apparently it was Spock who programmed the “no-win scenario” that Kirk beats.  What they have done is tap into the Star Trek lore and came up with details about those events in the characters’ histories.  This should add to the fun for those who have followed these characters.  One of the more interesting details was the sub-plot of how Kirk supplanted Capt. Pike as Captain of the Enterprise.  Pike was the Captain in the pilot, and then disappeared (surfacing in a later episode).

But it is not all fun and games.  There is a villain to be vanquished.  Kirk and Spock chase him across the universe before he can complete his revenge by destroying Earth.  In so doing, he tries to use the technology of the Federation, the Vulcans to be precise, against it.  Huh?  Again parallels to events in the Middle East over the last few decades come to mind.  In the process they must learn to trust each other, and not give in to their own desire for vengeance against Nero for the pain he has inflicted on their families.

During the opening sequence, and must of the movie, actually, something Jesus said kept coming to mind: “a man has no greater love than  this, to lay down his life for his friends.”  This is a theme that seems prominent.

There was much to like about this movie, and I really enjoyed it- despite not being  wild about all the casting choices, and some questionable acting performances.  Still, much better than any of the Next Generation movies, and most of the original movies.  This could be a very promising series of films.

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I just loved David Halberstam’s book, The Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship.  It tells the tale of Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr’s last visit to see their friend, Ted Williams, before he died.  It was the story of 4 friends who shared more than a love for the national past time.

I am reminded today because another of those friends passed away.  While watching a replay of last night’s Red Sox victory over the Indians, Dom DiMaggio passed away.  The brother of Jolting Joe DiMaggio, he was a superb player in his own right- being a 7-time All-Star.  Ironic that he was the brother and teammate to the 2 greatest hitters of that era, and all-time.  Williams is the last man to his .400, and his .406 may never be eclipsed.  Joe’s 56-game hitting streak, the same season, is also most likely untouchable.  More irony, Dom holds the Red Sox hitting streak record to this day.  He drew great praise from those superstars.  Ted called him the best lead off man in the American League.  Joe called him the best defensive centerfielder he’d ever seen.

After baseball Joe was a successful businessman.  He was one of the original owners of the Patriots, and tried to buy his beloved Red Sox.  He was able to excel at the very thing his superstar friend and brother struggled the most- family.  He was not merely admired for his athletic skill, but for his character and intelligence.  All true Red Sox fans have a special place in their hearts for Dom.  I am so glad the Red Sox are wasting no time in honoring him.

HT: Boston.com

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In the fourth section of A Proverbs-Driven Life author Anthony Selvaggio addresses friends.  Proverbs has much to say about friends and their influence upon our lives (and us upon them as well).

Most of us have had a sketchy track record with friends.  I know I did before I became a Christian.  I lived in a normal middle-class suburban neighborhood, but found that many of my friends were a less than positive influence me.  We found opportunities to sin, sometimes just for the hell of it (to paraphrase Augustine).

Yet I remember disconnecting myself from one important relationship over the issue of drugs.  I tried pot, but decided that was not how I wanted to live (praise God for common grace).  It cost me a friendship.  But now I can see the toll drugs took on his life.  I made a wise choice.  But I made so many poor ones too- choices that would plague me for years.

Yes, we need God to give us wisdom about friends.  Selvaggio summarizes it as “a Proverbs-driven life knows that friendship is intended to be redemptive.”  He and I share a love for The Lord of the Rings, and one of the main themes in that book is friendship.  He focuses on Sam and Frodo, but you also see the ties between Aragorn, Legolas & Gimli as well as Merry and Pippen.

Friends, as Selvaggio notes, are hard to gain and even harder to keep.

“We so readily sin against one another, take offense where none was intended, or permit neglect to creep in.  Left to ourselves, it can be difficult to know what words and deeds will strengthen and maintain our most vital relationships.”

(more…)

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