The Land of Empty Houses

For those of you who aren't all that familiar with our new home town, there are large areas of abandoned housing, especially on the East side of the city. This is the area of Buffalo that is the most run-down, the poorest, and has problems with both drugs and violence. The West side also has some of these same problems, however, the West side doesn't have anywhere near as many abandoned houses, or empty lots left over from demolition.

We have been having a crazy time here these past months. As many of you now know, Sam and Dre have returned to Redding. We miss them still, but are glad that they are back with family and familiar settings. We also look forward to seeing you all in less than a month; we will be in Redding the end of August and the beginning of September!

We have been diving headlong into the relationships that we have established here and it has been a tremendous blessing. God has gathered a wonderful group of people. There are small business owners, college students, and street people; people of different ethnic groups, sexual orientations, and spiritual backgrounds; it makes for great conversation!

We continue to serve the local retirement home every Sunday morning. We show up and help serve coffee and snacks, spend time talking and listening, sometimes praying, with the residents, and then sing songs with the group. We have been serving in the kitchen at the City Mission monthly. At this point there have been a few people who have come and served along side us at these venues, but it seems that the church at large has yet to take ownership of this. Pray that God would spark people to serve the community and that we would be sensitive to that spark in people's hearts!

We have had some great Wednesday evening church 'services' in our living room. Most recently we tackled the topic of 'sexuality' which has been a hot topic as of late. We have a group that runs the gamit of sexual expression here and sex seems to be one of those topics of which our culture has little tolerance for what God has to say. We seem to have a group of people who are going to keep coming back no matter how many times they are told they must 'die to themselves;' this is very exiting! However, I believe that there is yet much that God wants to do in our community. Please pray that God would be speaking to people, calling them to drop everything and give their lives to Him!

We also have both a men's and a women's group that meet weekly to discuss a book. Both groups are seeing lively conversation, and this last week one of my co-workers showed up to the men's group. I was really encouraged by his response! We are looking into putting together a men's retreat with the Vineyard Church in Niagara Falls (about 20 minutes away), and I would appreciate your prayers toward this end.

I would love to entertain any of the questions you might have about what is going on here, feel free to post them or to email them to me...

...I will leave you with one last comment:

We have a young man who is struggling with what he believes about Jesus. He grew up in a very conservative Christian home but in the past few years has discovered homosexual desires within himself. He now is unsure of what he wants to live for. We have loved him for months now, and he is at our house several times a week (he is regularly at our Sunday morning outreach), but we have also had some very pointed heart-to-heart talks about what God says about healthy sexuality. The other night he told me that he thought we were doing church 'the right way' and that 'even though you don't agree with everything about me, you love me and accept me, you don't try and force me to be like you.' I was encouraged by what he had to say, and thought that you too would be encouraged to know that you have played a part in this young man's life.

I pray that you would have the privilege of helping those around you navigate this world, and that you would discover Jesus helping you as you do...


Jessica said...

I flippin' miss you guys!! It's good to hear all of the goings on in your community though and I'm so excited about everything that God is doing!! Can't wait to see you this month Steve and Tami!
Love, Jessica

Anonymous said...

Is There Hope for the Homosexual?

Apparently, this is an issue that weighs heavily on the minds of believers. Ironically, we've had two examples in recent weeks of how churches should not respond. They are in fact two opposite extremes: the condemnation spewed by "Christian" protesters at Mepham High and the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. Both were examples of the failure of Christians to love in a scriptural manner. The first demonstrated a hateful and Pharisaical judgment against homosexuals that was anything but Christ like (although interestingly, the hazing abuse at Mepham, which they were protesting, had more to do with an abuse of power than with homosexuality). The second shows well-meaning but misguided believers affirming and confirming someone in a lifestyle which the Bible calls sinful and destructive. Was that loving? Hardly. How then should the church respond?

The church was commissioned by Jesus Christ to continue his ministry: that is, to call fallen humanity back to the Creator, to open its doors wide to all who are seeking God, to heal the sick, help the poor, cast out demons, to promote justice and fight oppression in all forms, spiritual, physical or emotional. Jesus proclaimed that God's eschatological kingdom has drawn near, and a window of grace has opened, allowing all sinners to turn back to God, to be forgiven, cleansed and restored to right relationship with the Creator as Father.

Let's face it. We are all broken because of sin, and sexual brokenness is among the most common manifestations of that broken image of God in us-- whether it be lust in any of its forms, addiction to pornography, adultery, sexual abuse, promiscuity, fornication, incest, and on and on. We are sexual creatures. Our sexuality is among the first things Satan attacks since it is so deeply bound up with both our identity as males and females created in God's image and our ability to be intimate and love one another rightly.

The Bible tells us that although we know deep down that our behavior is wrong and against God's ways, we suppress the truth in an effort to have our own way. The result is an ever-increasing bondage to sin. We are sin addicts. "My people have committed two sins," says the Lord in Jeremiah 2:13. "They have forsaken me, the spring of living waters, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." That is the story of human sin in a nutshell.

Sin has been described as attempting to meet legitimate, God-given needs in illegitimate ways. Homosexuality is just that. The drive to bond deeply with one's same sex is a normal desire in early childhood. Relationship with father or mother helps secure the child in his or her sexual identity. Unfortunately, because our parents are themselves broken by sin, this bonding does not always occur (if at all) as God designed. There are many scenarios by which a homosexual orientation can develop: the most common being some form of sexual abuse or trauma, or simply a rejection or distant relationship with one's same sex parent. The childhood need thereby goes unfulfilled and, when puberty hits, can become sexualized. Most homosexuals claim that they've never felt any differently, and that is true. Their conclusion, however, that God must have made them this way, is a tragic error. God does not manufacture our brokenness, nor does he cause people to sin. It is Satan who tempts us to fulfill the longings of our souls in destructive and futile ways. His hope is eventually to
destroy us. True, God allows this, but he does so in the hope that, having exhausted ourselves with sin and idolatry, we will wearily limp home.

Homosexuality, like any other form of sexual addiction, appears at the outset to fulfill that need for love, but in reality, it leads only to deeper loneliness, guilt and desperation. It's like trying to quench a burning thirst by drinking sand. The answer must be found in God our Creator,
not in the body of another man or woman. What then is the solution? Is there hope for someone struggling with homosexuality? Thanks be to God, there is, through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Homosexuality was very common and openly practiced and accepted in the Greco-Roman
world. Sexual immorality in the first century was even more widespread than it is today. Indeed, the pagan religions often offered no incentive to be chaste-- the gods themselves
were hardly pure on that score. Sexual purity was laughable. The response of the early church to homosexuality was the same as to any other form of sin: to call people to turn away from their futile lifestyles and back to God. The church believed in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives, and they welcomed all who were seeking God, no matter what their history. There was no distinction, as the apostle Paul says, "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Paul also makes reference in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 to various sins, including homosexuality, that people in the church had once practiced. "...That is what some of you were. But you were washed clean; you were sanctified; you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." Paul is referring not to a mere suppression of old desires, but to a complete transformation. Evidently, these early Christians experienced the Lord's healing power at a very deep level.

I believe part of the discomfort some Christians feel toward homosexuals today is because much of the church no longer believes God can heal. The response of the secular world is similar: "We have no cure for this, so let us just affirm them and help them to be as comfortable as possible in this lifestyle." Such a response is not only unloving, but flatly denies the power of God to heal today.

The first step for the homosexual is to acknowledge his or her need before God and to ask for divine help. Second, to turn to Christ who offers forgiveness and cleansing from any
and all forms of sin. Third, to become a committed part of a local church body, preferably one that receives people no matter what their background, has patience for people who are "in process," and one that practices the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially healing and deliverance. (I believe my church, the Vineyard, is just such a body.) Fourth, to be filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized with water. Fifth, to develop positive relationships with other believers to promote accountability and healing. Sixth, to begin, with the Lord's help, to uncover the wreckage of the past, including areas of wounded ness, un forgiveness, idolatry and fear. Seventh, to engage in a lifestyle of discipleship, learning the disciplines needed to grow in intimacy with the Lord, through daily prayer, worship and the reading of God's Word.
Eighth, as the Lord begins to uncover areas of wounded ness, faulty beliefs, and sinful attitudes, to be willing to turn from these and embrace God's truth. Nine, at some point the person may need to receive prayer for inner healing and deliverance from demonic oppression.

It is not an easy journey, but even the faint of heart will find acceptance, patience and love at the feet of Jesus, for "A bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice" (Isaiah 42:3)

Steve S. said...

Thanks, that was a mouthful...

...do I know you? Which Vineyard are you from?

Do you have some personal stories to share when it comes to homosexuality?