Taking the long view -- by Jeanie Smith

I just finished helping my friend, Judith Hartzell, edit her book, Set Free—The Story of a Man, a Marriage and a Ministry, the biography of my late friend Alan Medinger. Alan was an inspiration to me. I never heard him complain about life’s challenges. He always stood in truth, with mercy and dignity and love. He owned his flaws. Most of all, He loved His Lord with passion and faithfulness. And, in a phone conversation a short time before his home-going, with tears he expressed his amazing love for his wife and for his family and the joy the Lord had given him, particularly in their later years. He told me several times, “I am amazed at how beautiful Willa is to me. She has never been more beautiful than she is now. God has been so faithful!”

In contrast, what I see in our culture in recent years is a focus on earthly happiness that is oblivious of the reality of eternity (and that, paradoxically, while it seems to promise earthly joy, does not lead to the kind of joy Alan expressed). Now if you know me, you know that I am not someone who thinks believers are a miserable lot who are only here to suffer. However, I do believe that in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, “Our current suffering is not be compared with the glory to come.”  

What I hear so often from those who are young in years is that God could not possibly be asking them to forego the only earthly relational, romantic pleasure that they can imagine.

And what I hear from some who have walked in faithfulness for a number of years and have not found marriage or been “completely healed” (whatever that would look like) is “I just can’t do this anymore.” 

Both messages deserve an honest and compassionate answer.

To the first statement—of course God may ask us to forego what we think would give us greatest pleasure. He is God; He is our Creator; but, most importantly, He is our Father.  Our imaginations--when fixed on what we think we want--are often clouded at best and are always limited by our perspective

When my children heard the sounds of an ice cream truck right before dinner, they truly believed they needed that ice cream bar right then! They weren’t being unreasonable in their three year old perspectives. I, on the other hand knew the consequences and had to say “Not now.” As they matured they began to understand as their “grown up” perspective expanded. They had learned that, while I am far from perfect, I am trustworthy. 

Being a Christian implies trust in One who went to the Cross to demonstrate His absolute commitment to our good; One who came to earth to share our daily lives so that He might be a Priest who understand AND stands with us in our most confusing and painful places.

Is there a time when we deny ourselves to follow Him? I believe that is clear. Loving Him means choosing Him, just as loving my husband means choosing him. And, we choose Him not in despair, but in hope—hope that as He transforms and redeems us we actually begin to desire that which is good for us, that which He provides for us daily. And while on earth, our human sexuality may not be “completely healed,” I do believe that for those who persevere (like an Alan Medinger), there is a joy and fulfillment in life that will not fail you.

To those who have grown weary after years of “trying” (and I don’t mean that in a negative way), my heart weeps for you. I do not, however, believe that there is any reason in heaven or earth to believe that “you can’t do this anymore —in other words that you are justified and right in going into a relationship which scripture clearly says is not what God has for you.

I don’t speak to condemn anyone and I pray for hope to enter the souls of those who have believed this lie. There are those in the body who are waiting to love and support you. Ministries are waiting to welcome you home. The truth remains that whatever pleasure you may find in a human relationship—it will end. Am I saying divorce or horrible breakup—not necessarilyI am saying, we all die. We are here on earth for a very brief moment in time. We have amazing opportunities to love passionately and rightly, both to love our God and to love others. And, in short, eternity is infinite.

Whatever any of us gains by compromise, it is a poor trade-off.  When we see Him face to face, our feeble excuses as to why He was "not enough" for us will fade.  Oh, what we will have missed in not fully trusting him with our “tomorrow.”  

I think that most would agree that we live in a radically different culture than 20 years ago. The truth is, too many Christians have invested so much in winning the cultural battle and have sadly neglected the spiritual battle.  We cannot and will not win any “cultural war” if we do not fight (with compassion and truth and perseverance) the spiritual battle we are faced with. Ask yourself, “Why do ministries like Set Free all over this nation struggle to be funded by the conservative church, which should be throwing us money hand over fist?” It’s a puzzle isn’t it?  Does the conservative (and by that I simply mean Bible-believing) church actually have little faith that God can change the lives of those who come through our doors? Is it easier to condemn than to invest deeply in redemption? It certainly is easier to write an article or sermon which is theologically correct than it is to invest deeply in lives, risking loving those who may or may not respond.  It is easier, but it is not the way of our Lord.

And here I must take the opportunity to thank those who are engaged in standing in the truth in love with all my heart!  If you do it through Set Free, may He multiply His goodness to you. If you do it in another way, my heart rejoices in yourgifts and callings. We may not yet see fully the fruit of our battle; but know that faith, hope and love are the greatest weapons we have as we pray, love, and serve.

My prayer is that those who are learning to know Him and are questioning His revealed will would consider how deeply a parent understands his child at two and at seven and at 15. And, would surrender at a deeper level to find your Father’s loving protection and provision. I pray that you will give him your human will, find a place of understanding, compassion and truth, and trust him anew to be good to you every single morning of your life.

My prayer is that those who are undergoing a season of deep questioning and of believing that “having done all” you cannot stand, would realize that, by His grace, you can stand. And in that standing you will find the joy of eternal relationship and restoration of hope. 

I pray that you do not care what any person thinks, but that you fall deeply in love once again with the One who is standing with you even when you don’t understand why these feelings have returned. In your human weakness, you can find His strength in a more profound way than ever before. In returning and rest, you will not only find restored joy, but the passion for ministry you thought you had lost. You are loved unconditionally, and that is a wonderful reason to seek the joys of heaven!

My prayer is that Christ’s body would stop arguing and start making ourselves available in both compassion and truth in every circumstance in which we find ourselves. I pray that the body would begin praying with a passion for ministries like Set Free; would give generously; would commit to spiritual battle—again realizing that the results we see in eternity will amaze us. And, I think even more importantly, that we see this world as our mission field, our divinely appointed opportunity; that we listen with compassion and humility, pray with passion, and love without end. Amen!

The Meaning of Ministry — Success vs. Faithfulness by Jeanie Smith

The Lord recently brought to my attention that the question I am most asked as Director of Set Free is whether or not people “really change,” i.e. what is our success rate? I answer the first part of that with an unqualified YES, and am honest in saying that there is actually no way that we could give an actual percent-age of success. I have recently come to believe that I need to help reframe this question, for in many ways it is the wrong question for a believer to ask. As believers speaking to and with other believers we need not question whether or not we’ll change (in any and all areas), but rather accept that the process is both absolutely assured and absolutely unpredictable. I am going to borrow from a Presbyterian minister, Ben Lacey Rose, in saying that the two great questions which we need to ask at Set Free or in any ministry setting are: 1) Are those to whom you minister com-mitted to the truth; and, 2) Are those to whom you minister willing to struggle for the sake of righteous-ness? These questions place far more emphasis on character and on the process of faithfulness and less on a “success” story which is fascinating in light of current culture, but which encompasses only one area. 

As I write this article I am sitting watching the waves roll in one a beautiful October day on Topsail Island. It is appropriate (in a real God-moment way) that I am staying at the home of Alan and Willa Medinger, “The Pelican Palace”! Alan founded the ministry called “Regeneration” first in Baltimore and later expanded to Northern Virginia. He and Willa have discipled and encouraged many in their jour-neys. They have given those of us in Virginia the precious gift of Bob Ragan—a brother in Christ and a true example. Yet when I think of them (including Bob), I don’t think of any glitzy success story put which stresses “overcoming homosexuality wrapped up in foil and tied with glitter ribbon;” but I do think of faithfulness, of humble and committed service even in the midst of trial, of honesty and openness, and of on-going wholeness and healing which is truly invit-ing and encouraging.

When I think of one of the most basic differences between success and faithfulness, I think of our actual reasons for following Jesus. It seems to me that if we get caught in measuring one area of success we can totally miss the mark. We can easily become focused on “getting fixed.” That means that we actually come to see our God as “the great repair man in the sky” rather than our eternal Father. We can become impatient with life, loosing heart when things don’t go as we had planned. We lose our motivation because we don’t meet our own standards of success (whatever success looks like in our limited human view and perspective of those around us.) We can actually begin to value looking good rather than deeply desiring to demonstrate goodness. 

In contrast, our motivation for faithfulness can never depart from the most powerful and primary events in both human and eternal history—His redemptive work on the cross and His promise of the always present power of new life through His resurrection. In His great work we find our promise of spiritual formation and our “reason” to live for Him. He has said rightly, “If you love me obey my com-mandments.” Is that legalism? Absolutely not; but it is an objective measure which says when (not if) we lack the virtue of faithful, trusting obedience, we need to look at our primary love relationship with Him. I base this on a principle I came to very early in my walk: if something is wrong in my life, the problem is not with God but with me. That unchanging truth does not lead to self-condemnation or self-hatred, but to the great and powerful graces of confession and repentance. 

This faithfulness I speak of is a process which is marked by many events—some of them quite dramatic, some of them quiet, but all leading to deeper and stronger relationship with Him. Now I want to say clearly that I believe that in this great process sexual twistedness and ungodly desire of all kinds is increasingly set right. This is a part of the greater process of growing into His image which is holy in every area. However, let me also say that I believe that the purpose is always to be a life that glorifies Him daily, never simply a “success story” that fasci-nates or sensationalizes. Let me share some contrasts between the two: 

*A testimony which stresses complete and utter freedom (even if this is true) in ONE isolated area can actually convey a general expectation that by-passes the process of others who struggle and isolate us from believers who do not struggle with our particular issue(s). 

A testimony which deeply integrates where we have been, where we genuinely are today, and how the Lord has worked, will unite us with all believers as those united in struggling for the sake of His righteousness in our “jars of clay” lives. 

*The person who actually perceives his/her life through the tunnel vision of “success” in only one area can easily become either prideful or overly discouraged in the midst of a period of either freedom or intense trial. 

The person who knows (rightly) that his/her life is an absolutely endless and eternal , variegated and often not understandable in terms of what can be seen (in other words, they have accepted that we see now “as through a mirror darkly, but will see someday face to face” and that’s when our questions will be answered) will join with all those who have walked with Jesus in experiencing the truth that we remain moving “from glory to glory” while here on earth. And often this process doesn’t feel so glorious while we’re in it. The result is furthering His glory in our lives, which is demonstrated by faithfulness whether in what seems to be an endless valley of pain or an exhilarating mountaintop experience. 

*Finally, what may be the greatest danger of all to our human souls and integrity. Centering our stories on “success” in a particular area may actually begin to create an image which we begin to protect. We may begin to hide areas which “don’t measure up”; we may start to fear honest confession to our pastors and peers; we may, in fact, start to live a life which is compartmentalized in the “public image” and the “private self.” What unnecessary grief and pain this causes! 

Blessedly, the life which centers on faithfulness can remain open and humble. Faithfulness is a virtue which is never finished; indeed, we simply keep following in the footstep of the One who is FAITHFUL AND TRUE. We can allow our lacks to lead us to a deeper neediness which He promises to fulfill. We can allow safe and trusted others to speak into our lives, both encouragement and affirmation, and correction. Faithfulness doesn’t give us tunnel vision in one area, but opens us to a life- encompassing, biblically sound process. 

I have to end by saying that I also believe even our ideas of “success” are always influences by our culture and the words and eyes of man—even in the Christian community. Faithfulness is a far more objective measure. It brings us back to the person of Jesus (our ultimate example), as well as the standard of the written Word of God. It brings us back to those two real questions—are we willing to struggle for sake of righteousness; and, do we believe the truth as revealed in the Scripture? And yet, as objective as this is, faithful-ness remains an act of abandoned and intimate love and trust which molds our very inward parts. It allows us to experience over and over His committed love for us; it allows us to continue in learning to be “little children” in His presence; it cleanses and restores our very ability to respond to His love and to love others rightly. May we all begin to ask the right question and...

May He find us faithful to the end,

Jeannie Smith

Is All Sin The Same? by Anita Worthen

Many times I have stated that God does not see homosexuality as the worse sin. While I still believe this to be true. I now am wondering if in defending this concept I have watered down the truth. Let me explain what has brought me to this question.

Recently, my niece's college professor was lecturing on social concerns and tolerance. He made the statement that homosexuality was sin, but to no greater degree than eating a whole bag of cookies; God saw them both the same. My niece said that she agreed with this statement and asked my stand on this issue. I had to admit that I have not given this issue much thought and that some might think after hearing me speak that I would agree with such a statement. Hearing this from my niece whom I love and feel very protective toward, I really had to give this serious thought. Is this what I believe? Put in those terms, it seemed that it couldn't possibly be true. If our young people see gluttony the equal of sexual sin, what will keep them pure? I had to take a closer look at what the Bible says before I could answer her.

Does the Bible say that "all sin is the same in God's eves"? Surprisingly, we have a passage of Scripture that does speak of both eating and sexual sin. 1 Corinthians chapter 6 speaks to the issue of over-eating (verse 13) and then goes on in the following verses to the issue of sexual sin.

"God has given us an appetite for food and stomachs to digest it. But that doesn't mean we should eat more than we need. Don't think of eating as important, because some day God will do away with both stomachs and food. But sexual sin is never right; our bodies were not made for that, but for the Lord, and the Lord wants to fill our bodies with himself...Don't you realize that your bodies are actually parts and members of Christ?...Run from sex sin. No other sin affects the body as this one does. When you sin this sin it is against your own body." (Living Bible)

I realized that I was unprepared to give my niece a clear statement on this issue. I have been so busy fighting those who want to make homosexuality the worse sin that I have lost sight of how grave a sin that it is. I thank God for this challenge. Over the past year or so I have added to my personal prayer time "God help me see sin the way You do, to hate sin in myself and in the world". Some time ago I saw myself becoming callous to sin. I am exposed daily to so many people who have made wrong choices. Sadly, it has become commonplace to see people caught up in sin patterns. I also wanted to be more aware of the sin that crept up in my own heart. In some ways I see this question that has been put to me as an answer to my prayer. I need to give much more thought to the issue of sin. Does it hurt to see sin the way God does? I can only speak from my limited view, but yes, it hurts and it should hurt. It gets us in touch with the broader picture. We get a glimpse of the pain God feels over His fallen world. The correct response to sin is not necessarily anger, but grief. God grieves over our sinful condition.

"There is no little hotter place in hell for homosexuals" This is one of my favorite statements. I use it when a parent is facing their own prejudices or for a media interview.. .this is the statement that usually gets in the paper. I still believe this is true, but I now am open to correction or a different viewpoint. Are we absolutely sure that God sees homosexuality as no greater sin than heterosexual sin? Could my response simply be a defensive reaction to those who would condemn homosexuals? Certainly Jesus has said: " God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it." (John 3:17) Condemning someone for their homosexual sin is never right.

I am always uncomfortable when someone brings up the scriptures in Leviticus chapters 18 and 20 which describe homosexuality as being an abomination. It always seems that they use these Scriptures to condemn, not to rescue. What a strange word anyway. It is such an old fashioned word--who knows what it means anymore? I found the Hebrew word (Io'ehhah) to mean: "The highest degree of offense, abhorrence and loathsomeness." Proverbs 28:9 states: "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination." Abomination, in Scripture is linked with magic, divination and sexual transgressions. All of these sins then are a high degree of transgression.

Since that definition didn't tell me enough, I went to my Living Bible to see how it read. Lev 18:22; "Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden for it is an enormous sin" and in 20:13 "The penalty for homosexual acts is death to both parties. They have brought it upon themselves". I am aware that the laws in the old testament are really strong and we don't abide by them today. Good thing we don't, Leviticus 20:9 says: "Anyone who curses his father or mother shall surly be put to death" I don't think parents of rebellious kids would get away with that one, these days! But we can't dismiss this part of the Bible, as I have done for years. I think we can agree that God considers homosexuality a very serious sin. This makes the good news of the New Testament even better for those who turn from sin, we are forgiven totally. The impossible laws in the old testament make what Jesus did for us even more wonderful. This is the joy that we have to share with the world. The old testament shows our need for a Savior. We were lost and without hope before Jesus came and made a way for its to be forgiven. Thank you Jesus for the hope of eternal life.

Why does any of this matter? Certainly we know that when we exhibit an Old Testament attitude, we become judgmental and critical of others. Not what Jesus desires us to be. Jesus said that none of the laws would pass away: "It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the Law to become void and fail." (Luke 16:17) But He also said: "1 have not come to do away with or undo, but to complete and fulfill them." (Math. 5:17) So the law remains true, but something greater is now in effect, that is the law of love. After repeating the first two commandments, loving God and neighbor, Jesus said: "These two commandments sum up and upon them depends all the Law and the prophets." (Math. 22:40)

Yes, homosexuality is rightly called an abomination, but our response must not be one of condemnation and turning away from the person involved in the abomination, but to rescue that person from his sin. Yes, we must stand on the side of truth, we can't white-wash the Bible to make it easy to take. We must speak truth to those who are waffling back and forth in and out of sin. In pondering all this, I have come to the conclusion that acting out sexually--involving another person--is a higher offense than simply masturbating and thinking homosexual thoughts, although both are sins in God's eyes. If you belong to Christ, He lives in your body, so do not take the Christ in you and join Him to another in an unholy way. If we are falling into sinful fantasies, we should recognize that these can be warning signs of deeper sin up ahead. The answer here is not to condemn ourselves, but to know our weakness and admit our need for God. That is where the power to overcome all sin comes from. The worst part of sin is that it is progressive in nature but we have the power or at least we have an avenue to that power that can halt that progression toward sin.

Today, we find that we must walk a fine line. In our generation, the god of this world has been named "tolerance." This is the god of secular humanism. It is a half-truth. Christ does indeed want us tolerant of others, no question about that, but He does not want us to tolerate sin. Paul speaks to this issue in 1st Corinthians chapter 5. Here a man was obviously sleeping with his mother-in-law and Paul speaks sharply to the church for tolerating this condition. He says if this situation is not confronted, it will multiply in the church: "Know ye not that a little leaven Leavened the whole lump?" He demands action to be taken against the offending person. However, in 2nd Corinthians, he advises the church to go after the man and restore him to fellowship. This is the pattern we are to follow. We are not to tolerate sin, but grieve over sin as God does. We are to do everything in our power to turn the person away from sin, failing in this, we are to continue on in love, praying for them and always ready to be there for them whenever they choose to leave their sin behind.

Paul also warns us in the last verse of Romans chapter one. After speaking about homosexuality and a number of other sins, Paul says: "Though they are fully aware of God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them themselves but approve and applaud others who practice them." (Amplified Bible)

We must be very careful what we are tolerant of and not give approval to sinful practices. Yet, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Walking a balanced Christian life is never easy, but God wants us to thoroughly confront the hard issues and seek Him for guidance. He will give us wisdom and the balance we need.

Anita Worthen