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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

What is your city saying?

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If your city had a voice, what would it say to you?

In the companion blog to this, Do you know your friend? we looked at not only becoming better listeners, but how that shapes us to communicate and demonstrate the gospel in more understandable ways. The same thing is true for our beautiful city. Even for those for whom this city is “hometown,” you may actually know very little about it’s needs, hurts, sins, or even areas where God is easily seen.

Understanding what the city is “saying” to us is actually a huge key in how we leverage our rhythms as a community. What do we do? How do we know it will work? What if it doesn’t? Where do we start? All of these are good questions, and all of them assume a thorough understanding of the city.  Consider the following questions as a group…

  • What are the unique needs within a 5 minute drive? What about a 10 minute drive? How do you know?
  • What part of your chunk of the city is furthest from God’s most sanctified and ideal version of itself?
  • What would need to change the most to “sanctify” your part of the city?
  • Do local industries produce any unique missional opportunities or doors?
  • Does the city repeat specific events/celebrations? Does this provide any unique opportunities or insight?
  • What one change in the city can provide the most dramatic effect in lives?
  • Where can we get the biggest bang the easiest or cheapest?
  • What requires little investment for great gain?
  • What identity is being pursued both independently and corporately in the city?
  • What mission is everyone on?
  • What invokes everyone’s spirituality?
  • What constitutes righteousness in the city’s eyes?
  • Who is acceptable here and what is acceptable behavior?
  • What allows people here to have joy?
  • Where do people spend their time and money?
  • What do people do during their free time?
  • What do they fear? What do they dream about?
  • Where do they shop?
  • What cultural experiences do they value?
  • What are the most painful experiences they have had?
  • What music do they listen to?
  • What films and television do they watch?
  • In what ways are they self-righteous?
  • What is their spirituality?
  • Whom do they trust? Why?
  • What sins will the gospel first confront and heal for these people?
  • Where are the social centers in your community?
  • What is “church” for this group of people?
  • What would a Christ-centered community look like among this particular culture?

This is only a partial list, and some of these questions will render identical or overlapping answers, but you’ll be surprised how much focus and thought it will require to discern who your city is. By doing this exercise, you’ll discover your city better and also discern better as a group what resonates the most clearly. You may try a number of things as a group, but before you do, how well do you know your city’s pain, hope, needs, and overall story?

Posted by Luke Thomas with

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