Do You REALLY Know Who You Are?

More and more, I hear from parents of high schoolers that their kids are having to deal with friends who are professing themselves to be gay. It’s been tempting to self-reference it all and simply marvel at how much things have changed in 18 1/2 brief years in the ministry. This was almost unheard of in 1997, the year of my ordination. Now, it seems, it’s commonplace for high schoolers to have friends who are, by their own self-profession, gay.

When I stop marveling at how things have changed, though, I keep coming back to one question.

How can anyone at this age really know who they are?

I’m not saying high schoolers are unintelligent. I’m saying that I too was a high schooler, caught in a whirlwind both of hormones and uncertainty about any number of paths I could have chosen to go down. I would say I was a Christian, but could have been more committed at that age. (Indeed, becoming a pastor was not necessarily something I went into willingly. It would be better described as “kicking and screaming”). When I was 17, I can say with certainty that I had little to no idea who I was. Truthfully, having just turned 45, I must admit that while the Lord has been revealing this to me all along, I’m still not ready to say I fully know that even now.

In my opinion, it would be a shame to let something other than Christ and His salvation define a person at such a young age. The risk is extremely high for this to lead to a future of high regret. Never mind the medical risks of a life of sexual promiscuity, straight or gay. Because sexuality is a spiritual gift which brings joy to one man and one woman who are committed “until death parts [them],” just about any other form of sexuality is merely playing with dangerous power tools.

What I would say to most high schoolers today is, “you may think you know a lot about sexuality, but you know nothing about what I have with my wife.” Sexuality within the safe boundaries of a life-long heterosexual commitment between God’s glorious gifts of male and female and marriage, is safe, society-preserving, and guilt and regret free. It’s about more than the all-important orgasm. It’s about God’s gift used His way and the joy and blessings that come with that. Indeed, while same sex people have a myriad of words and testimonies they want to give us, I struggle to put what I have into words because it is so great it defies words.

Sadly, this points to the failure of a lot of “Christian” marriages and the identity crisis that actually fuels this earnest, yet misguided, desire for some sort of identity. Disengaged moms and dads, only available at the sports event or the sleepover, but locked into their own lives and the proliferation of screens around them, are doing much to make this identity crisis worse. I think many Christian counselors surely know that the youth with same sex temptations has other issues, deeper issues, which point back at the home. Time for parents, especially fathers, to step to the plate and be what Paul writes about in Eph. 6. But the point is simple, the popularity of gay self-identification is more about a yearning for identity than anything else.

The same sex lifestyle certainly is not the only option available to teenagers, but it is the hip and trendy one. I yearn for the day this sort of hip and trendy goes the same way of all hip and trendy, such as polyester pantsuits and bell bottoms. Unfortunately, this sort of hip and trendy promises to be much more harmful than those fads. One wonders what these teenagers will have to say about their identities when they are 30, or 45, or 60.

The irony is that, in retrospect, when I was 17 I thought I knew it all.

It’s only as I got older that I realized that I did not and that on many things I was just plain wrong. Again, not because I was stupid, but because I hadn’t lived enough to know better. And I certainly have my own regrets about certain things I did at that age, thinking I was all knowing and invincible. Thankfully, God spared me the harm that can come–emotionally, spiritually, and physically–from sexual promiscuity.

To the tempted teenager, I would say lovingly: “I’ll be honest with you. Please be honest with me.” At 45, the grace of God is still taking this sinful person [me] and making something of him and I have no idea what this is now or what it will be. I only look for the new heavens and the new earth. By God’s grace, I am a husband, a father, a pastor, and so many more things I don’t know but only that He has them in store for me. Now I lovingly ask you to be honest and reconsider whether or not you really are ready to say you know who you are by your sexuality alone. I’ll admit I don’t always know who I am, but I do always know whose I am. I belong to Christ and the joy I have in the forgiveness of sins, in my marriage vows, in my family, and in this love of God. If you’re struggling, let me just invite you to realize that you can have this regret-free, truly free, life as well.

Indeed, by God’s grace, I have come to see that identity is something defined by much more than sexuality. To define oneself simply by their self-chosen sexuality is an extremely limiting proposition.

To all teenagers: It would be a shame for you to be defined at such an early age by anything other than Christ and the grace of God. If you want to limit yourselves and do yourselves inestimable harm, just go ahead and convince us that you know who you are by your sexuality. Identity by any form of unmarried sexuality is a path that is closed-minded and full of trouble for the future.

Once again, you have the rest of your life to live. It would be a shame for you to shackle yourself now.

With love in my heart for all who struggle in this battle,

Pastor T.

“Love always rejoices in the truth.” (1 Cor. 13:6)

From The Past Through The Present Toward The Future

Eph. 3 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform 1 Co 15:43–53

“>four lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Christ’s church always ministers to the present situation. It builds on the foundation and lessons of the past. It grows on the hope of an eternal future.

Many congregations have a “past-present”-orientation. The ghosts or demons or failures of the past define their present situation. Today’s business often is the rehashing of yesterday’s business, the unsettled dust of mistakes, arguments, conflicts, etc. The future is an elusive dream, always hindered and hampered by this or that factor in the past. Pastors sometimes joke about churches which need exorcisms…or at least some effort to put the ghosts to bed once and for all.

Life itself can be like this. You and I can be haunted by our pasts and unable to move forward as a result. Regret, guilt, and shame can completely stop us in our tracks. Nothing halts present progress and clouds our future hope quite so well as the past. It can be a great teacher. It can also be a great pain inducer.

I told our PPC this past January that we needed to move from a “past-present”-orientation to a “future-present”-orientation. I explained that this meant moving from letting the past define our work today to letting the future define it. I explained to the Voters Assembly Meeting in June a very specific game plan for reaching this future. It involves setting goals, developing a strategic plan, developing a policy manual for our church staff, officers, and boards, and dreaming about new and exciting ministry possibilities for us to do.

Moving from the past to the future puts a lot of emphasis on the present. Paul wants us to strain ahead toward the prize in our text, but his advice is centered on the present. TODAY we push forward. TODAY we redouble our efforts to attain to the prize. TODAY we fix our eyes on the finish line and do what we must in order to reach it strong.

If the regrets and guilt of the past hinder us in this regard, it is important to remember that the fear of the future hinders us equally much. Christians are called to see Christ’s finish line, the finish line of eternal life as the end toward which we strive. Paul’s words say nothing about fear because it is not allowed. These words are fearless. As Christians forgiven by Christ, having our sins removed from us, we do not need to live in the regrets and guilt of past actions. As Christians set free from our pasts, we are able to live in the present and pursue the future fearlessly. Sadly, if this fear hinders, it hinders because people prefer the “normal,” the “comfortable,” even when every indicator suggests that the normal isn’t working anymore. Fear is the Bible’s term for the opposite of faith. Faith seeks the future. Fear does not.

Toward what end is the Church striving these days? Is it the end of a life that’s eternal and joyful? Or is it the end of destruction which Paul warns about in v. 19? For the forgiven Christian, the best is ALWAYS yet to come. So striving ahead, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the end of our faith.

So often we forget to ask, “what is the Lord’s will for His Church?” It is, after all, His Church. The devil will try to use the regrets and guilt of the past to stop us. He will try to use fear of the future to stop us. Christ wants us to live freed from the past and hopefully toward the future. His will is for a successful Church in the present…TODAY. He called you and baptized you for this moment! He fills you with a hope that not even the devil and the gates of hell can prevail against.

NOW is the time.

Looking ahead to the finish line with all of you,

Pastor T.