We went to a nearby coffee shop, ordered some coffee and settled down in a quiet corner. The conversation started with him asking me about what we did at the shelter and mission. Then there was a long awkward silence that lasted what seemed like eternity. Finally, Karl took a deep breath and spoke up, "Can I call you Chris or would you prefer pastor?"
"Chris is fine, I have always had a hard time being called pastor." I replied and added with a chuckle, "I have never felt that I measured up and besides, it takes the pressure off from always having the right answer because I don't." With that, Karl laughed and relaxed visibly.
"Great! Chris it is! Somehow it makes what I have to say easier." Karl continued, "I have a confession to make, I have something that belongs to you. It's one of dad's journals" He paused and looked at me, gauging my response, and when I merely smiled, he continued, "I had been going through my dad's journals before the funeral and came across this entry where he asked about me and my sister. I could not help it, what I read was so different from what so many Christians have said about people like us before. I had to read it carefully and consider what you said to my dad about us for myself. I am sorry, I should have told you. Dad gave his collections of books and his journals to you, I had no right."
I looked at him and said, "It's OK Karl, I understand and I approve. You had every right, he was your dad, and what he wrote in that journal was about our conversations about you and your sister."
Karl continued, "That hymn we sang at my dad's funeral, "In Christ Alone"? I cannot get it out of my head. I looked it up and loaded it into my iPod. "No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me. From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand. Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I'll stand. ... I have it committed to memory and I have been playing it over and over again."
"Chris, I want that kind of peace. Peace with who I am, what I am. I grew up different, I have never questioned it. One part of me knows that I should have no fear or shame about who and what I am born as. My friends in the LGBT, Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transsexual, community tell me that. My boyfriend tells me that. Even straight friends tell me that, but there is a part of me that feels this unbearable guilt and shame. Fear follows me everywhere I go. They are there when I am awake, and they are there when I lie down to sleep, and they are there when I wake."
"Chris, you helped my dad. Can you help me?"
My mind was racing trying to come up with the correct response when Karl simply continued without waiting for an answer. It was as though he had to get it out before he lost his courage or resolve.
"I had wanted to speak to you even before the funeral but I was afraid. Afraid of what you might say and how you might react, but most of all, I was afraid that you might say something that would cause me to see what I do not want to see ... to change. I still am! It has taken all my life to arrive at the place where I am at. I have friends I do not want to loose, a sister who loves me, a life that I have built around me. This is crazy! Just when society is finally beginning to accept me and people like me, I go off the deep end. One part of me does not want to be here and another part of me tells me that I have to be. I don't know if I am making any sense, I hope I am."
As he spoke, tears welled in my eyes. Such pain, such loneliness, such guilt, such fear! What a terrible burden to carry! My heart went out to him. What do I say? How can I help? What would Jesus do? I was in turmoil and at a loss. There is nothing in my own experience that I can use to relate. In my mind, I was crying out to God, "Dear Heavenly Father, give me the words!" My heart was filled with compassion for the man across the table from me. Karl was a big man, but he seemed awfully small at that time. I reached out my hand and gave his arm a gentle reassuring squeeze.
"I can see why my dad liked you." Karl responded, "even my straight friends would not have done what you just did ... I mean squeezed my arm, touched me. It's like I have a communicable disease or something or maybe they are afraid to be seen touching a gay man in case people might see and think that they are gay too." He paused and laughed a quick laugh and added, "Or maybe they are afraid to think that I might think that they are coming on to me."
I was shocked that he would respond as he did to what I considered to be nothing more than a gesture of reassurance, one that I would have given to anyone. I had no response. With that, he fell silent, looking at me. The anticipation a raging thunder in the air around me.
I have been trying to find the words to explain my state of mind at that moment or why I did what I did because I cannot. I only knew that all the common and standard answers and responses were not permitted me. Instead I opened my Bible and said, "Karl, I do not know what to say but the Lord wants me to share this passage with you, it is from the Gospel of John ..."
|2 Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. |
7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"
11 She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." -- John 8:2-11 (NKJV)
"Karl, this is what I have been led to share with you. Jesus does not condemn you and if He cannot condemn you, neither can I."
With that, the tension left the situation and we began to converse in earnest. The substance of our conversation is not the intent of this blog. Besides, we have only begun conversing and the end of this particular story has yet to be written. The only thing I can say at this point is that Karl is receptive and genuinely open. Our conversations, and we have had a few since, have been cordial, even though I know that I was touching on some raw and sensitive areas. Rather, I write this to share with you the lesson I learned in this encounter.
It is easy to use the Word of God to condemn and to judge. I could have cited all the verses that showed how God abhors the distortion of His creative intent and how homosexuality is called an abomination, but if I had, I am quite certain the conversation would have ended right there and then. I write to remind us how Christ dealt with sinners -- that it is always with gentleness and compassion. He reserved his stern comments, judgment, and condemnation to those who should know better, the priests, scribes, and pharisees. I write to tell you that when the Holy Spirit begins working in a person, our best response as His witness and followers is to let the Spirit work through us. I have already shared much with Karl and will share much more in the future and I will not water down, avoid, or distort God's Word, but I will watch every word making sure that I share God's Truth lovingly. I want us to carefully consider what it is means when Scripture tells us to "speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15).
God's Word is "alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13 -- NIV) The NKJV translates this even more graphically:
|"12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13 NKJV)|
A judgmental spirit, self-righteousness, condescending, and dismissive spirit are our enemies. So are their counterparts: permissiveness, where no permission is given; sugar coating by omission or by alteration; and a fearful and fawning attitude, these are our enemies too. We use the words "having the heart of Christ" so often that they have lost their significance and impact. Do we know what that means? Jesus died for us while we were yet His enemies. He hung upon a cruel cross while those He came to save jeered and mocked Him, jammed a crown of thorns on his head, hurling insults at Him. He went like a lamb to slaughter while the very ones He sought to redeem cried out "Crucify Him!" This is the "Heart of Christ". This the heart we must have as we reach out to the lost.
I have no idea how some have come to believe that when a person is convicted of the Holy Spirit, the rest is easy. Let me assure you that it is not. The devil does not relinquish his hold so easily. A battle will rage in the soul of the convicted and that battle can be fierce indeed. Just consider my new friend, Karl. He is a man in the throes of turmoil and he is vulnerable and fragile. How should a follower of Christ deal with this? Shall we "strike while the iron is hot?" Shall we handle brokenness with tender care, love, grace, and mercy? In truth, we, in our limited minds do not know. Some need truth to be spoke boldly to them, some need to have questions answered, some need gentle support and encouragement, yet others simply need our silent presence, a shoulder to cry on, and someone to hold their hand. Regardless, all will need truth, love, grace and mercy perhaps delivered differently but delivered nonetheless. Only God truly knows and the only way we will ever know is to be obedient and sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
May we all have the heart of Christ, may we all look out upon a lost and broken world and feel compassion. It is one thing to feel anger and indignation, it is quite another to feel compassion, and it is even more to feel love. Yes, God's justice and wrath is kindled when He beholds the world today, but His heart has not changed. The same love that He showed upon the cross blaze just as mightily today as it did 2,000 years ago, just as it did at the Fall. For God is immutable, He changes not.
In His Name,