When Christ said: ‘I was hungry and you fed me,’ he didn’t mean only the hunger for bread and for food; he also meant the hunger to be loved. Jesus himself experienced this loneliness. He came amongst his own and his own received him not, and it hurt him then and it has kept on hurting him. The same hunger, the same loneliness, the same having no one to be accepted by and to be loved and wanted by. Every human being in that case resembles Christ in his loneliness; and that is the hardest part, that’s real hunger.”
— Mother Teresa
When I was in college, I spent a summer in Bangladesh, working with the Southern Baptist missionaries there. I remember being told the country was about the size of Iowa, but had a population at the time of around 86 million. The cities seemed crowded; the ferries loaded so full they barely stood above the water line when crossing the rivers; the buses packed, the trains jammed full. Yet . . . it was one of the loneliest times of my life because I was so different. Different color, different language, different tastes, different prospects. I found myself too often focused on those differences, forgetting that we all had a desire to be what we had been created to be and do the best we could with where our creator had placed us.
My clearest memories are of those I saw in moments of solitude among the millions because they stood out. The little boy who trimmed the mission lawn, an older woman who washed her clothes on the rocks at the edge of the river, the man who paddled the boat when we journeyed from village to village, the teacher in the library, the cook in the kitchen. Separated out from the others, these no longer seemed different to me. They seemed very much like me, on a journey, seeking what goodness there was to be had, doing life. They became recognizable.
I think that is how Jesus sees us. While there are millions and millions of us, He doesn’t look down and see a crowd in a city, or in a classroom, or on the highway. He doesn’t get at all confused by the colors and the languages and the perspectives and the prospects. He doesn’t separate us by intelligence or personality or even by good and bad. He looks down and sees the cook in the kitchen, the man at the desk, the child in the corner, the sick and the wounded, the soaring and the grounded . . . and He loves them all the same . . . and each one in his own way at the same time. And He knows we all battle temptations and we all sin . . . and He loves us.
He sees the whole world . . . and He sees my little world . . . all at the same time, and He knows how one affects the other. That’s what Jesus does. He can do all things. And He assures me that in Him, so can I. He doesn’t define me by weakness; He gives me strength. That’s what Jesus does.
But, even though He can do all things, I think those who struggle with a sexual problem — and there are many different ones — need to know that there are some things Jesus just won’t do. He was into washing feet, not closing doors. He was into opening eyes, not pointing fingers. He was into change, not condemnation. He was into “tell me” not “hide from me,” “come down,” not “run away.”
I don’t think Jesus would be very patient with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance of today’s church regarding the sexual brokenness of its members. If He were here tossing tables, He would discover there is a lot of hidden brokenness under the tablecloths. Secret lusts, pastors perusing pornography, teenagers projecting purity and crumbling inside with guilt, husbands and wives filling their emptiness outside the boundaries of marriage, upstanding members and leaders combating spiritually-debilitating sexual addictions and unwanted desires.
Actually, He wouldn’t discover anything. He already knows. He’s seen it before. We — the church — are the ones denying the overbearing disaster that our acquiescence to culture is wreaking on our families, our selves, our Body. We move forward like a band of skittish ostriches unified by our habit of burying our heads in the sand, refusing to address the needs of those around us who are dying inside. We are also the ostriches who won’t tell others what we ourselves are dealing with because we are afraid they will treat us as we might treat them. Unclean.
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
— Matthew 25:40-48
In many cases, the very things that have caused our lives to be so wrecked are the very things we fear will keep us there. And many of the things that directed us down the path we long to detour out of encompass the way we treat others. It is a dizzying cycle and the exit often eludes us. We can become accustomed, hardened and unable to hear, soon unresponsive, dark and distant. It becomes very hard to trust and obey and we become comfortable down at the riverside beating our rags against the rocks, lamenting the treatment, blaming the world for our issues, instead of accepting the reality that the love of Christ can turn our filthy rags into new and brilliant cloth.
We forget that the church is called to be Christ-like, not just Christ-dependent. We’re called to do as He would do. What should this mean for the sexually-broken? Not approval. Not acceptance of the sin. Not indifference. It should mean acceptance of the person and a willing, helping hand — not withdrawn, but wrapped around — to walk as long and as far and as painfully deep as necessary in the hope of true repentance and restoration through the power of God’s grace administered through those who truly love Him.
Instead of leaving the 99 sheep to go after the one that is lost, the church is often busy building a tighter corral to keep the lost sheep out with the wolves where he belongs in his assumed depravity. Maybe he is not so much depraved as just wandering and uncertain and needing the right kind of love. Honest and real. Maybe the men and women in our churches who struggle with same-sex attraction would tell someone in the church themselves rather than waiting for that awful discovery to emerge and submerge them in shame, labeling them as perverted and perverting, if they believed the ears would hear and not recoil in disgust. What is it about revealed sexual sin that sends us into spasms of shock and horror? Are we, as a church, really silly enough to think that Sunday sermons and seasons of VBS somehow inoculate us from the evils of the world? Jesus knew better.
Certainly we can’t avoid the truth that often our own actions lead us to such hidden despair, and often our own actions leave us there. We can be too embarrassed . . . too frightened . . . too ashamed . . . too weary . . . too self-loathing . . . to allow the love that some might have to penetrate the barriers we’ve erected for self-protection or self-justification. We flee from those who want to be Jesus-with-skin-on in our lives. But, the other truth is that many of those who would comfort and challenge and do the freeing work of accountability are themselves restricted by leaders in the church who put protection of the flock above all things. How about protecting the flock by allowing them to become stronger in meeting each others’ needs?
My experiences with church during my long struggle with hidden homosexuality revealed the extremes present in the church today. For some, Leviticus 18:22 –“Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” — settles it. The man or woman who struggles with homosexuality is detestable, or an abomination. Others fall into the “love the sinner; hate the sin” category and really do little to help the sinner walk free. Love is wonderful and needed, but we also need people in our churches who are equipped for the hard walk that should be an expression of that love.
Perhaps the most dangerous movement in churches today is the emergence of the gay-affirming church, like, for instance Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City. The damage these churches do in their flaming embrace of culture creates chaos in the name of God. Aligning themselves with culture may make them feel cool or sophisticated, but it undermines the Word of God and cheapens Grace.
Why are we so confused in the church? Maybe because we have all grown up in the world and we’re more familiar with what the world will do to us . . . and we’ve forgotten what Jesus will never do:
Jesus won’t abuse us.
Jesus won’t excuse you.
Jesus won’t embarrass us.
Jesus won’t reject us
Jesus won’t neglect us.
Jesus won’t avoid us.
Jesus won’t lose us.
Jesus won’t use us.
Jesus won’t belittle us.
Jesus won’t confuse us.
Jesus won’t blame us.
Jesus won’t lie to us.
Jesus won’t forget us.
Jesus won’t mislead us.
Jesus won’t turn away from us.
Jesus won’t give up on us.
Jesus won’t label us.
Jesus won’t fool us.
Jesus won’t hinder us.
Jesus won’t abandon us.
Jesus won’t dismiss us.
Jesus won’t hate us.
Jesus won’t compare us.
Maybe loving others is reflected not only in what we do, but in what we don’t. We in the church are supposed to be like Jesus, but for some reason, we fall short and pick and choose a scripture here and there to justify our actions, rather than looking at the whole of His life. He was consistent. The things that Jesus won’t do are, in many cases, the very things that people will do. Maybe we treat others this way because we at some point have ourselves been abused . . . excused . . . embarrassed . . . rejected . . . neglected . . . avoided . . . lost . . . used . . . belittled . . . confused . . . blamed . . . fooled . . . lied to . . . forgotten . . . mislead . . . turned away from . . . given up on . . . labeled . . . left behind . . . hindered . . . abandoned . . . dismissed . . . hated . . . frustrated . . . compared.
Whatever sin we struggle with — and we all do — where we are and how we got there is different for each of us. Where we go from here is dependent on something we all need to do: forgive and love. Forgive those who sinned against us . . . and seek forgiveness for the sins we have committed against others. Love each other as Jesus loves us.
Is that so hard for the church to do? Is it too hard to create a place safe enough for confession and repentance to be worked out without the weight of condemnation and judgment? Would it be that hard for the church to do the things that outside ministries like Exodus and its local affiliate ministries do, or at least support those efforts? Of course, the issue with that is, many of our cities and towns don’t have a local Exodus-type ministry . . . but all of them have churches. Churches should take up the slack, not be the slack. Can we not look at the sexually broken as at least being as acceptable as the least among us . . . and do unto them? Shouldn’t we as the church do the hard work of ministering to our members? Is that not what love is? Maybe we are just too afraid?
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. — John 13:34.
I can scarcely remember a time when I could not sing Jesus Loves Me. It’s one of the first songs we learn as little ones and it may be those lyrics we will never forget as long as we live. It calmed the fears of our young hearts. Loving each other as He loves us can conquer many a fear and allow us to both ask and tell.