Been around for a long time, like anger, jealousy, and other inappropriate behavior. It is a skewed identity. It happens. No easy answer as to why. Don’t be too quick to think up a cause or a solution.

It doesn’t feel good to be in the minority and to be afraid that people are going to “find out.” They may have carried this for a long time and have been silently suffering. If they have shared their struggle with you, they must trust you. Don’t violate that trust. You have the opportunity to show love and to hopefully help create an environment of acceptance in your church community.

The two most important pictures in our life: how we view God the Father and how we view ourselves. Satan’s goal is tampering with those two, and he starts early. Things were going well in Genesis 1 and 2. Then in 3 enter the snake. He managed to put doubt in the heart of Eve. She bought the lie and bit the apple. That also tampered with the relationship between Adam and Eve big-time. Blame and irresponsibility overrode admission of guilt. Sin messes with our identity. For a hundred different reasons it can impact how we view the opposite sex–and our own sexuality. Redemption is a process of recovering who we are in God and who God is in us. Understanding of ourselves and our fellow pilgrims goes a long way in helping us all heal.

Here are some things to help us understand our friends who struggle with same-sex attraction:


.They didn’t choose to be that way. It happened to them.

.They don’t feel proud of the way they are; they feel victimized.

.They want help–and understanding helps.

.They have already died a thousand deaths. Watch your words and actions. They often feel       judged for being alive. You can help reduce the condemnation.


.Listen, love and look out. Careful with the Bible verses. If you at least try to understand, you are helping them heal.

.It is becoming much more common as society as a whole accepts same-sex attraction and marriage as a viable alternative. That is really sad. Our part is to accept the person and not the practice. That calls for sensitivity.

.Don’t concentrate on their issue. They are followers of Jesus as you are. Affirm their gifting, their character, their love of God. If your friend is made to feel that all you see is their issue, they won’t feel like being with you.

.Be vulnerable. You have problems. Don’t make it all about them. The people Jesus had the hardest time with was the Pharisees–legalistic, condescending, judgmental, argumentative, out of touch, and unable to see their own darkness. Vulnerability releases grace. It enables people to be who they are, not hide out.

.Get informed. Google some causes and potential solutions.

So am I soft on homosexuality? Not for a moment. But I care for those trapped in a false identity and wanting to break free. Let’s give them the kind of safe community where they can be healed and not shamed. “Love never fails!”


I am going to say two things about drinking. First, it is not wrong to drink. Second, it can be wrong to drink. Stay with me.


Scripture does not encourage it, but it does not condemn it. Drinking is not a good thing; it is a neutral thing. Scripture condemns drinking to excess. And that not only means getting drunk. Some alcoholics stop before they are soused, but they are clearly drinking to excess.

Jesus turned water into wine, and it wasn’t grape juice. They knew the difference. Jesus hung around  sinners so much that they accused him of being a drunkard. We don’t know if He drank. We do know that He was a lot harder on legalistic Pharisees than on broken sinners. Four times in Romans 14, the chapter that talks most about gray areas, Paul speaks about not passing judgment. In our tendency to make absolutes relative and relatives absolute, we get more spiritual than the Bible and judge people in areas where they are free to disagree with us.


Liberals are the new fundamentalists: No guns! John Wayne and his buddies disagree, plus a whole lot of 2nd Amendment Americans. Fundamentalism (at least in the past) has said, “No drinking–period.” They were wrong. Now some Christians have swung the other way and opened the door without regulators. As Luther said, one can fall off a horse on either side. Retreat to legalism and create all kinds of problems. Go to the other extreme and end up in the same ditch. Go ahead and say it: “I am a Christian and I am free to drink.” No you aren’t. At least not the way you’re sounding. Love restricts liberty.
It is not a sin to drink, but it may not be smart. Alcohol is dangerous. It kills people by the truckloads. So we need to think soberly about the issues and not think we are free when and where we want. While Paul condemns judging a brother in matters of personal conscience, he does put limitations on personal habits. We cannot simply say, “To each his own,” because we are called to die to ourselves and live for others. Paul chose “never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (14:13). He limited his freedom for the sake of his friends. Why? Because “the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (17). Unity overrides personal preference. How do I know if something might be offensive to a weaker brother? By not making my right an absolute right. Paul further limited his own freedom when dealing with those outside the family of God. He changed his style, preference, eating and drinking habits. Drinking is not wrong, but it can be if we are not sensitive to others (Romans 14:15-21).  “Everything is permissible,” but not everything benefits all. No one should seek his own good, but the good of others” (I Cor. 10:24).



Part 1 described the Law of Liberty. The next two principles put some restrictions on Christian freedom.


The Lord is the believer’s ultimate reason for doing or not doing something. Instead of asking, “What am I free to do?” or “Is there anything wrong with it?” I ask, “How can I best please the Lord?” We are accountable finally not to the pastor or to our best friend but to God. On that basis, Paul says, “He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord…while he who abstains abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6). Notice that the abstainer is giving thanks rather than bad-mouthing the eaters. “So each of us shall give account of himself to God” (12), not of his brother or sister.


I consider myself a recovering Pharisee. I learned early how to “assist” my younger sister with her religious life. I have since relinquished my right to control her, and she is doing quite well without my help.



To answer Cain’s question about responsibility for our brother, “We are our brother’s keep.” Paul cautions us against putting “a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13). Those who claim “to each his own” do not fully understand Christian liberty. We have been set free from sin and the law so that we can serve others, not please ourselves. “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (19). Pressing for personal liberty can place too much importance on peripheral matters. Paul says that he will gladly give up eating meat or drinking wine if it will help a brother. “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (17).


The Pharisees’ preoccupation with rules misled them to major in minors. Love urges us to refrain from judging those who decide differently from us on matters not bearing on doctrine or morals. Remaining flexible about the gray areas keeps the love from shutting down. One mark of maturity is the ability to sort out truth from opinion, rights from responsibilities, necessity from preference, and knowledge from love (one can puff up while the other builds up).


It can also free us from pressing for our own way because we have the right to do so. Servants do not have rights; they have responsibilities. It is freeing to go low like Jesus who took the form of a servant, giving up His rights to fulfill His Father’s will. Freedom goes beyond claiming our right to do something because “there’s nothing that says I can’t” and brings us into the humble service of the King (and not judging those who serve differently from us).
Paul applied the law of love in Romans 14 to the Christian brother or sister. When writing to the Corinthians, he focused on people in the world. He said, “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law…that I might win those outside the law…I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (I Cor. 9:21,22). His desire to be used by God was central; personal freedom was not. (Next blog: So What About Drinking Alcohol?)



I once started a sermon by saying, “The church council has decided that men should be wearing coats and ties to church, that leaders should not drink anything stronger than Kool-aid, and that Easter will not be celebrated because of its pagan roots.” I tried hard not to smile. A few were alarmed.


Hey, we have our list of do’s and don’ts. So did people in Paul’s day. Those schooled in Old Testament dietary laws felt strongly about eating meat. Some believed that eating meat offered to idols was a demonic practice. Others were concerned about how special feast days were observed.


Paul addressed these gray areas. He urged believers to welcome one another, “but not for disputes over opinions” (Romans 14:1). The Greek word for “opinions” is “dialogismos.” Some issues invite dialog, because there is more than one side to them. For example: “One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables” (2). God doesn’t make an issue out of it; we shouldn’t either.


Color some matters black and white, others gray. What is commanded or prohibited is non-negotiable. Where the Church makes absolutes relative by bringing them up for discussion, such as gay marriage, it loses its prophetic voice, as the ELCA leadership did.  But neither should it take relatives and make them absolute, forcing its application on all people in all situations. Paul had come out of the “taste not, touch not” tradition. It had its judgy bunch of critics, who had the gift of taking the joy out of life with endless lists of don’ts. Paul had a better idea, and he gives us three principles that operate in the realm of grace.


The law had functioned before God’s grace was revealed through Jesus Christ. It operated like a baby-sitter, keeping its subjects in line (well, sort of) with restrictions and standards. When the Gospel came, it helped the children to grow up to a new family relationship with the Father. Mount Sinai could tell us what not to do; Calvary told us what Jesus had done and would do. So armed with the Spirit of grace, we can look at gray areas and make reasoned and righteous decisions.



Some issues are a matter of personal conviction. “One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). What does your faith give you freedom to do? Paul writes, “I know…that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean…The faith that you have keep between yourself and God; happy is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:22,23).


It is possible for two people to have opposite convictions and both to be free in the Lord. Issues like politics, social custom, entertainment, and food and drink will grab Christians in different ways. Fine with me, as long as they don’t stomp on my roast beef sandwich. If Scripture doesn’t address it and you are not convicted by the Holy Spirit or becoming enslaved, have at it.

(Next: What About Doubtful Things? Part 2–the Law of Lordship and the Law of Love).


“There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5). It does not say “the God-man,” although He is at the right hand of the Father being worshiped by the angels. It emphasizes His identification with those He brings to the Father. The resurrected Christ had the form of a man–and still does. Though He is the One through whom and for whom all things came into being, He is still a man, and we can relate to Him as a man. The pre-incarnate Christ was God and not man. Then He took on flesh and became the God-man.

When He returned to the Father, He did not give up His humanity; He is still a man. He could move through walls in His resurrected body, but He could also be touched. He showed His wounds and told Thomas to touch Him. He ate three meals that we know of, including “the Last Breakfast” (John 21). When we get to heaven we will see His wounds. He still bears them from “the days of his flesh.”

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:7-9).

The days of Christ’s flesh were thirty-three years, a small amount of time compared to eternity past and future. And yet the worship that goes on day and night before the throne emphasizes one day, really one fourth of one day, when Christ as the sacrificial lamb bore the sins of the world in His human body. Man sinned, so man had to die. God could not die for man. But if man died, He couldn’t help others. So it had to be a perfect Man. The only one was the God-man, Jesus Christ, and He willingly gave His life so we could live.

“For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15,16).

We draw near not to a throne of law, which is what thrones typically are. They are places of judgment, where verdicts are sent forth. Kings are often selfish. Their leadership can bring fear to those who oppose them. God has a throne of grace because of Jesus. At this throne we receive mercy to overcome our misery and grace to overcome our guilt. Had the God-man compromised in just one area of His life, salvation would have become impossible. The perfect justice of God would not have been satisfied. Scripture makes a clear point of the sinlessness of Christ.

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren….Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage… Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:10-18). All praise to the Son of God, the man Jesus!




My dad was a wise and hard-working man. He told his six children, “Leave your place cleaner than you found it.” Somehow his example stuck. Took forty high schoolers camping at Sequoia. Told them to keep the bathrooms clean. Said we would be checking. The Ranger came by because they had never seen the bathrooms that clean. They expected the opposite from rowdy teenagers. Thanks, Dad, for a good example.

One dad told his wife, “I’ll bring home the money and you can set the tone in the home.” Wrong. The reason some guys think the Christian life is for girls is because Dad provided well but led poorly and was distant. Not mine.



My dad didn’t raise his voice with us. Never. Felt badly the few times I used volume to leverage control, and I am not even Italian. Volume is manipulative. The Good Shepherd leads with gentleness and lowliness. Dads, take your cue from Jesus, not a coach.  There’s a reason that in the only two places the New Testament focuses on parental responsibilities, it speaks to husbands, and the first words are negative: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).



Does it bless you that the most powerful Person in the universe is the least controlling? When the prodigal wanted to leave home, the father didn’t take away his keys. He even gave him the inheritance. He knew that the son had already left in his heart. He used love to influence, not force to control–and it worked. “Love never fails!” I never doubted my dad’s gentle love.



I never saw my parents fight. They had disagreements, and I know they had their tough times, but we saw Dad loving Mom and Mom respecting Dad. I often sat next to her in church. When my dad said something in his sermon that was on the edge, she would squeeze my hand and say, “Oh, Andy!” very softly. When we all got home, she had nothing but affirmation for the man who obeyed his vow to love her until death parted them.



I got the feeling that my dad enjoyed being with me. Once he made me a t-bone steak before a basketball game, then sat down and watched me eat it while we talked basketball. That memory is imprinted on my mind for life. Can’t say I remember more than a couple of the nine hundred sermons I heard him preach.



When I spent a summer during college days at the headquarters of Campus Crusade for Christ, I learned a lot about running a church, and I told my dad a few of them. He only had thirty years of experience. Years later, after I became a pastor and saw how difficult it was, I went back to my father and acknowledged that I was an idiot. The way he forgave me said that he had never thought about it–and never would. It helped me see how God forgives–and loves! Thanks, Dad!




Because Satan is the father of lies, he has an idea of which ones I may tend to believe.  Some of them have enough truth to make a believer out of me.

“You should not be teaching Sunday School.  You’re not a good Christian.”

“You’re not beautiful.”  “You’re dumb.”  “You’re ugly.”

“God is angry with you for what you did as a child.”

“Most people have three times the talent you have.”

“God has abandoned you.”

“The only thing to do now is to run,” (and a thousand more lies).


.I get locked into a way of thinking and find it hard to break the mental cycle. (“I’ve  always been afraid of heights”…”of getting up in front of people”…”of praying aloud.”)

.I often learn the habit early in life.  

.I can trust God for many things, but I find it difficult to trust Him in this area.

.Demons sometimes attach themselves to strongholds.

.Wounds from the past often accompany strongholds.


.Resolutions. ”I should stop doing this.”  

.Extra effort, but often in an area where I don’t need deliverance.  

.Prayer, which often has little effect on a stronghold, but people may pray over their stronghold for a lifetime.  

.Religion.  I do something out of duty to earn points and convince God to bless me.  

.Criticism. I concentrate on the faults of others to deflect attention from myself.

.Self-punishment.  I get down on myself for being so stupid, for giving in to my addiction.

.Denial.  A stronghold brings so much shame that it sets me on a course of defensiveness, deception, denial, and darkness.

THE WAY TO FREEDOM    (done best with the help of a mature friend)

  1. I identify the stronghold. One way to identify a stronghold is to complete the sentence:  I’ll be okay if I ___________ (run and hide…pity myself  for my predicament…lash out in anger…
  2.  I confess my attachment to the stronghold.  I confess that I have run to this stronghold instead of to God. It has become my God-substitute, my choice, and it has ruined my life.
  3. 3.  I renounce the lies.  A baptismal liturgy reads, “I renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.”  I declare boldly, “I renounce my dependency upon the stronghold of __________ in my life.”  The battlefield is the mind, the place where the enemy has taken me captive with lies.
  4.  I forgive others.  Because wounding often accompanies strongholds, I forgive those who have rejected, hurt, abused, or manipulated me.
  5.  I affirm the truth.  I cannot break free on my own.  I need the Strong Man to bring me into freedom. I place my trust in the love of the Father and the blood of Jesus.
  6.  I receive deliverance.   Christians can be oppressed by demons, especially when they habitually open themselves to attack by embracing lies, putting them in enemy territory.  
  7.  I am filled with the Holy Spirit.  I ask to be filled. I learn a new way of living. I discover that the Christian life is not about trying harder but trusting more. I rely on the power of the indwelling Spirit to obey God.  ( to receive full message).



Most of my kids were afraid of dogs as toddlers.  Erikka was especially terrified by big barkers, and she would run to me for cover.  But on Daddy’s shoulders, she said in happy tone, “Hi, Doggy.”   Moms and dads are often safe places for children; so is God.  David wrote, “I love thee, O Lord, my strength.  The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge…my stronghold.  I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1,2).  


Unfortunately, we don’t always go to our Father.  We find other hiding places.  At first, they seem to be safe. Eventually, the “refuge” becomes a stronghold that imprisons us, and this is the way St. Paul uses the term “stronghold” (2 Cor. 10:4).

David went on to write, “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help” (6).  What if he had chosen a stronghold other than God?  He might have been captured or killed. And David knew why God protected him:  “He delivered me, because he delighted in me” (18).  He embraced the truth, and the truth set him free.  Clinging to lies robs us of freedom.  They bring us into strongholds that look like safe places but are really prisons.


.something I run to instead of God.  It is what I turn to when weak or in pain, a God-substitute, something I trust in for help. Anna learned to run to food.  Others may run to religion, sleep or alcohol.

.a lie I continue to believe.  Because I am vulnerable, I don’t realize that I am embracing a lie.  It worked once, so I continue to try it.

.something I don’t like talking about.  It shames and embarrasses me, so I hide.  A stronghold makes me feel like a powerless wimp.

.a secret, and sometimes I don’t even know the secret.  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” (I John 1:8).  

.part of my identity.  “I am a worry-wart.”  “I am angry with life because of what my father did.” “I am the divorced person who is not loved.”  

.a prison that is difficult to get out of.  At first the stronghold seems like a safe place to hide from pain.

.a terrible place to run to.  It enslaves me, robbing me of peace, joy, and freedom.  

.a habit pattern of thinking that affects behavior.  The way I think is the way I live.


EXAMPLES OF STRONGHOLDS (and the destructive lies that can accompany them)

Perfectionism (I’ll be okay if I do everything right.  Then I will have earned my points).

Anger (People make me upset.  I have a right to get mad).

Self-pity (No one understands me; no one appreciates me).

Lust (I need a high right now, a moment of harmless pleasure).

Work (I am valuable because I am a hard worker).

Religion (I am a devout person.  I have value to God because I go to church and serve others).

Sickness (Now people will care about me and feel sorry for me.  See John 5:1-15).

Rejection (People always reject me. They don’t think I am worth anything, so I’ll reject them).

(Part 2 next. For full message:



Are you good at making plans? God is really good. Check it out.


“He made known to us the mystery of his will…” Ephesians 1 uses the word “will” three times. God has three kinds of wills: His decreed will (the plan that will certainly happen), His desired will (such as all being saved), and His defined will (commands to be obeyed). He hasn’t told us everything about His plan, as Moses shared with Israel in his farewell message (Deut. 29:29): “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law”[defined will].


It comes to pass. God’s word goes forth and accomplishes its purpose (Isaiah 55:11).  My plans sometimes bomb. Paul expected to travel east into Asia, but God sent him west instead, a much better idea. “The counsels of the Lord stand forever, the plans of his heart from generation to generation” (Psalm 33:11). God has surprised me numerous times, with major changes in my plans to carry out His will. And as Job said, “No plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).


My plans are for a month or a year. God plan goes from eternity to eternity. “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please…What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned; that will I do” (Isaiah 46:10,11).


Jesus is center stage in God’s plans. God connected with a man named Abraham and said that his seed would bless the earth. Jesus was of the seed of Abraham and engaged in a rescue operation from sin and Satan through his perfect life, atoning death, resurrection and exaltation. In doing so he would “bring many sons to glory” to praise Him forever. Even the death of His Son came in line with His eternal purpose: “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:28). Is that fate? No, it is wisdom mixed with sovereignty, foreknowledge, and preprogramming.


It is so good, that even when people interfere with God’s plans, they work together for good to those who align themselves with His purpose (Romans 8:28). Because God plans, we also plan, but we hold our plans lightly. “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).


Biblical prophecies give clues to His plans. The sacrificial system pictured the coming atonement of Christ. Jesus prophesied the end of the world, and the book of Revelation tells what it will look like.


My plans for a vacation impact my wife and children. God’s plans cover the landscape and are incredibly woven together. They reveal His wisdom, love, and eternal purpose: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:36). Praise God for His marvelous plans. You are included!



What do you see in the word “death”? Pain, decay, sorrow, suffering, darkness, separation, abandonment, grief, hostility, end, no. Not a happy word. People fear death, try to avoid it. Why wouldn’t we? It spells the end of all that we know. aw1

What do you see in the resurrection? Light, life, uncontainable joy, reunion, freedom, worship, pleasure, comfort, new beginnings, yes. Fact: there can be no resurrection without death. Had Jesus not submitted to death, He would not have experienced the resurrection. Avoid Friday and Sunday never comes.

Do you know what the hardest thing in the Christian life is?  It’s not witnessing to your relatives or teaching a boy’s confirmation class on Leviticus or serving on the budget committee of an a shrinking church—it’s dying. If you want to live, you need to learn how to die.


He said, “The Son of man came…to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). The disciples had a different agenda–living. They didn’t want to die. The first order of business from the cross was, “Father, forgive them.”  You don’t say that unless you know how to die. Paul knew how to die. He was coming under attack from the Corinthians, but he said, “Death works in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:12).


Public.  Jesus died outside the city walls, but it was close to town and on a public road.  The Romans did it that way to demonstrate their control and to shame criminals.   We don’t die by going off on a silent retreat to the desert.  We die with people.

Personal.  The arrows that stick most in our hearts are the personal ones that strike at our character, our motives, our aptitude.  We don’t react as much to those darts that go after our company or our car.  Listen to these jabs at Jesus:  “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!  Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God.’”  

Painful.  Jesus didn’t enjoy the cross, He endured it (Hebrews 12:2).  Somehow I expected dying to be noble and make me feel like Mother Teresa. Dying is hard–sometimes ugly.

Prolonged.  Jesus began dying from the time He was born.  He lived with the shame of an illegitimate birth.  He was rejected by His family, nation, its leaders, His disciples, finally by His Father.  

Preferred. He died by laying down his life.  He said, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord (John 10:18).”  He was not a victim, because He chose the way of death.  


Maybe you are being given the privilege of going the way of the cross. So I’ll add one more P.  If you die like Jesus, it will be powerful, because people will not just be getting the best you can give—they will be getting God.

Sunday is as full of hope as Friday is deeply sad. Friday is an end; Sunday is a new beginning. Accept Good Friday and you get a gooder Sunday! So, if you really want to live–try dying!