Here's something I wouldn't ordinarily share with readers: For the last five and a half years (and for the third time in my life), I've been living in California. And this summer, I experienced my state being tested by fire, both literally and spiritually, in some of the most extreme ways imaginable.
For more than a month, a thick layer of toxic smoke hung over the city where I live — a constant reminder of the fact that there were almost two dozen wildfires actively burning statewide, including the largest in California's history. The one closest to my house evacuated half the town, destroyed 1,100 homes and killed eight people before it was fully contained. At one point, meteorologists said 75 percent of the state lay under a blanket of smoke, and the prevailing westerlies had sent it as far as eastern Michigan. At times, it was hard to breathe, hard to see … hard even to think clearly.
But that's not the only way the Golden State was tested this summer.
Residents were fired up over a bill state lawmakers came very close to passing in late August called AB 2943, which applies consumer-fraud laws to anyone saying it's possible for a person struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions to successfully find freedom through the Gospel. (You'll read more about this in our cover story, beginning on page 12.) Tens of thousands of Californians spoke out against it as it was making its way through the legislature, but it still passed both chambers.
With only hours left in the legislative session — and minutes before this issue of Citizen was due to hit the printing press — Assemblyman Evan Low, the bill's lead sponsor, pulled it from consideration. It was a divine reprieve, and immense answer to prayer.
But make no mistake: This bill will, in all likelihood, be back.
Essentially, what AB 2943 does is codify into law the view that anyone experiencing same-sex attraction was born that way, change is impossible—and anyone who suggests otherwise is engaging in fraudulent activity the moment there's an exchange of money.
1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 states the Kingdom truth pretty plainly regarding a host of behaviors at odds with God's ideal: "Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (ESV, italics mine.) Clearly, all kinds of change are possible with God.
But with AB 2943, the state of California is saying that's a lie. Moreover, it's saying that your personal religious conviction is not exempt from its control; if you struggle with an unwanted same-sex attraction, you have only one option: Embrace homosexuality and go down this path the Bible clearly says is destructive.
As upsetting as it's been to watch this beautiful place be so ravaged over the last few months, and what the specter of AB 2943 portends for states north and east of mine—just like all that wildfire smoke — I also am strangely encouraged because I see the enemy (who is a spirit, not a person or group of people) tipping his evil hand.
California is a cradle of revival. Several of the moves of God we've seen over the last 150 years began here before sweeping the country and bringing millions of people to the Lord. I believe we're going to begin to see God move next among people long considered to be spiritual outcasts, including the sexually broken. God loves each individual beyond description, and He wants to bring everyone who falls short of His holiness to Himself in a radical display of grace! There is no sin so egregious that it puts any of us beyond His reach.
The enemy, of course, would love nothing more than to abort that move before it can happen, or delay it as by convincing people change is impossible and scaring believers into silence.
However, history shows us something very clearly: The Church actually thrives under persecution.
I'm reminded of a story Focus on the Family President Jim Daly has told over the years about meeting with a group of Chinese pastors who told him they often pray for the American church.
Curious, he asked them, "What do you pray for?"
"We pray for persecution," they told him. "You are too soft."
The early Church knew this well. The first Christians were hunted from every side and suffered all kinds of atrocities, including being fed to lions in arenas as Roman citizens cheered from the stands. And yet the Scriptures tell us the believers pulled together, had all things in common, and the Church flourished.
The Holy Spirit could not be quenched … and the Gospel spread to the ends of the earth.
Just like wildfire.