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The Great Equalizer

The Great Equalizer

“Hey, how does your church feel about gay people?” I think it’s fair to expect a question like this to come your way eventually. It can feel like a precarious place to be. Many already assume you’re a bigot if you take Jesus at His word. But what exactly differentiates a bigot from a fool – not just in letter, but in spirit?

Over time, I’ve grown fairly comfortable being thought a fool. But I’ve never been comfortable being called a bigot. While we will always be attacked with labels that don’t actually belong to us, I think it’s wise to make a distinction between “fool” and “bigot.” We are all fools if we believe in Jesus, but we are never bigots if we walk in the Spirit.

To me, the difference lies in whether you believe there is any real distinction between you and any other person.

Uncomfortable Empathy

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”

Phil. 3:8

My favorite response to that question is, “I don’t think a gay person is different than anybody else in any way.” It’s a thoroughly biblical statement that gets it out right from the start that not only am I not above anyone, but I don’t even view myself as different. What I love about this response, though, is how subtly confrontational it is, both to the person you’re talking to and to yourself. On the surface, this kind of empathy seems quite modern, almost polite. Underneath, it is extremely unsettling.

“For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things.” This is probably my favorite verse in all of scripture. It’s just so beautiful, so empowering, and so comforting. It says to me, “Yes, Matt, your walk in Jesus is supposed to feel like the loss of all things at times. You’re OK. Keep going. He’ll sustain you. He’ll satisfy you.”

In Jesus, we are all called into “the loss of all things.” It’s the great equalizer between us, bridging rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, weak and strong. No matter our culture, no matter the shape of our natural desires, Jesus is calling us out of them and into a wilderness where He alone is our provision. That’s the narrative of the gospel we see tangibly in Israel’s Exodus from Egypt.

I think this verse and others like it are your greatest ally when you answer that question. It’s also a call for us to wake up to the reality that if we’re living out our natural dreams, then we’re straight up disobeying Jesus! That’s when this beautiful empathy-inspiring verse becomes confrontational to us.

This empathy also says to the person you’re talking to, “I’m a fool who has forsaken everything for Jesus’s sake. And I don’t believe you’re any different than I am. I believe God is calling you to join me as we both forsake our natural dreams to find His depths of joy.” But this becomes confusing to the other person when we actually haven’t strived to suffer the loss of all things for Jesus’s sake. As we’ll see later, our weaknesses spiritually don’t disqualify us from reaching out to others. Rather, they give us an opportunity to repent in front of them and show God’s beauty through our weakness.

Are you making distinctions?

The real question this person is asking me isn’t usually, “As a Christian, how do you feel about gay people?” It’s often much closer to, “How can you tell one type of person they can’t do what they want while you and those like you get to do what you want?”

Talking about this does get tricky, though, because Jesus is in the business of changing what we want. It’s not as though Christianity consists of people forsaking what they want for a God they don’t want. Rather, when God saves us, He gives us new desires for God that grow over time and wage war on the old ones. The crux of Christianity is pursuing our new desires for God to kill the old desires. What I’m talking about here are the old desires.

The question you have to ask yourself with brutal honesty is, “Am I following my old desires, my natural desires, while telling someone else that they shouldn’t?” And if the answer to that question is yes (hint: it absolutely is going to be yes in some area of your life), then why are you making that distinction between yourself and this other type of person?

Biblical marriage is unnatural for all of us

The most pertinent issue when it comes to being asked how you feel about your LGBT neighbor is often marriage. Here, you have to ask yourself, “Exactly how do I view marriage?” Do I view it as a replacement for God that satiates my natural desires? Do I view marriage as a cure for loneliness? Is my spouse there largely to satiate my physical urges? Am I using my spouse to fit that social image I crave? Does my spouse exist to satisfy me?

Or do I view marriage in the wholly unnatural way God does? Do I view it as a chance to show off Jesus and His Church? Do I see it as a microcosm of the intimacy of the Trinity: a community of differentpeople who are completely unified through love and humility? Do I view it as an opportunity to see my selfishness more clearly and grow in holiness? Do I see it as a chance to die to myself in preference for my spouse and lay my life down for them?

When we view marriage biblically, we find that it’s just as unnatural for a straight person as it is for a gay person. We find that it is not the outlet for our natural desires that we previously thought it was. Rather, we find that it’s an avenue to see God in a way we wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s a change in role and not a change in identity. We also see singleness as an avenue to see God in a way we wouldn’t have otherwise, a role equally beautiful and profound as marriage.

Be courageous to repent

We all make distinctions. We are all bigots to varying degrees. We are all hypocrites to varying degrees. The goal isn’t to pretend otherwise or defend ourselves. The goal is to strive to repent and trust Jesus more closely when we see this in our lives. Be courageous with this. We are covered in Jesus. We are free to admit sin without defending ourselves, and we are free to change. Ask Jesus to move you from “bigot” to “fool.” Lead others to join you in your foolish trust in Jesus that suffers the loss of all things to gain Someone better than life itself.

What natural desires are you still following? Where is Jesus calling you to more fully enter the loss of all things so that you can see Him more clearly? What loves are distracting you from tasting and seeing Jesus more fully? Where have you ceased to be a fool because you fear God won’t provide or satisfy?

Posted by Matt Norman with

But are you really friends??

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Okay, so maybe we aren’t great listeners. We all know it’s true. When someone is talking to us, we hear them, but are simultaneously formulating what we’ll say next. And even when we do “listen,” are we really discerning what is underneath what they’re saying?

In past classes I’ve used a quick grid that grades how well we actually listen to friends. I argue that sometimes the beginning of being gospel fluent is simply listening better.

Picture a friend you have, maybe someone far from Jesus but someone you’re developing a friendship with. I want you to answer the following questions with a 1-4 rating. You’re more or less gauging how well you could write a report on them if you had to. For each of the 11 questions, simply place a number next to it.

(1) I have no understanding of who my friend really is. They’re more of an acquaintance.

(2) I have a slight understanding of who my friend really is. We hang out and know basics about each other.

(3) I have a pretty good grasp of who my friend really is. We’ve had several deep moments.

(4) I know them like a brother. I can’t know them any closer.

  • What are their functional heaven, hell, and savior(s)?  How do you know?
  • What is the community they feel most comfortable in? Why?                
  • What do they see as sin? Why?                           
  • What’s hit’s them the hardest and/or makes them grieve?  How do you know?
  • How and what do they celebrate most?  What’s your proof?
  • What part of the Gospel story would most resonate with them?    
  • Do they look forward to eating or meeting together regularly? Why?   
  • Where/how did they get their understanding of the Gospel story? How do you know?   
  • How do they view me and my view of Jesus and sin? How do you know?     
  • Have they introduced me to their own circle of friends and community?       
  • Who would they call if a tragedy hit them and they really needed someone?   

You’re not literally answering these questions, just gauging how well you know them. As an example, when I took this test, I realized I avoided tough areas with my friends because I didn’t want the tension. This also means I didn’t know my friends that well. I also wasn’t able to apply the gospel to their hearts very well. Those moments, as tough as they might be, are actually what stabilize and deepen friendships.

Consider how you can mature and advance your current relationships in such a way that you actually could develop a few paragraphs on what makes them who they are. You’re ability to put 4’s on these questions means you know them fairly well, which means you also can speak to their heart issues more accurately. Sometimes, being “gospel fluent” begins with simply listening.

 

Posted by Luke Thomas with

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