Archive for March, 2011
Thursday, March 31st, 2011
I recently read a blog that appeared to say that there is a growing public disagreement between the gay affirming community and the “ex-gay” community. I know there has always been division there but it seems to be heating up.
Are they both Christian in focus? Isn’t the gospel the main thing we should be putting our energy into? It appears to me that they are more interested in how someone is acting rather than seeking to be at work in pursuing the “Great Commission.”
In our day, it seems there are many who are missing out on the tremendous grace of God as unto salvation. Doesn’t God’s word say something about division and arguing about these kinds of things?
I tend to agree with you and would like to address this in a more public manner.
The “Gay” – “Ex-gay” Divide
There is a great divide between the gay community and those who ascribe to the “ex-gay” way of thinking. The ex-gays are saying God will, and needs to, provide healing for their brokenness. The gay Christian community is saying there is nothing to be healed in relationship to their homosexuality. Some on the ex-gay side can even say that if someone doesn’t agree that homosexual behavior is a sin, they may not even be Christian!
Can Christians disagree on biblical definitions of what is sin and what is not, and still follow Jesus Christ together? Does ones’ definition of any particular sin determine whether or not someone is in fact in Christ?
This is Not A New Division
This is an age old divide that has kept the Christian community distracted for over 2000 years. Can we eat pork? Do all male followers of Christ have to be circumcised? Can a Christian regularly drink wine? Is slavery an acceptable way to work our fields? Can someone be divorced and remain in fellowship? These have all been issues within the church that have caused huge conflicts throughout the years.
Can someone be homosexual in heart and in action and still be an active, God glorifying Christian?
I am not the one who can make that decision. Whether a person identifies as “ex-gay” or “gay”, they have one thing in common, they both experience attractions and relationship desires for those of their same gender. These desires will very likely never go away and will be something they must learn to accept as part of their life experience. It is between them and God to figure out what to do with the desires that rage within them. You may not understand or accept this but for many, to come to a place of saying “I’m gay”, can bring them to a wonderful freedom from condemnation through Christ.
If a person is in fact “in Christ” then this is a spiritual reality. When a person is a Christian, I believe God says “there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), none!
Is there any distinction between those who choose to go the ex-gay route, or a gay affirming one that would void ones faith in Christ? One may say that an unrepentant perspective of homosexuality would clearly set them apart from a faith in Christ, but I would say not. While some may be in a posture of believing any homosexual act is sin, and some may embrace same sex committed relationships; if they are “In Christ,” are we not still one Church, one Body?
Sadly, many have lumped homosexual people into one big negative bag. There are those who believe that all homosexuals are sick, sinful and in need of “healing” for their poor broken lives. Think about this for just a minute. How might you feel if you were a believer in Christ who had felt His wonder and awe enter your life, and you happened to be gay. You hear that you need to be free of your attractions and become heterosexual in order to really know Christ, and begin to wonder if Christ is enough? I would likely feel helpless, discouraged, challenged and confused. On one hand you hear that salvation is in Christ alone but it seems that others are saying there are conditions to having a relationship with Him.
A Personal Experience
I recently had the opportunity to be in a gathering of people who celebrate Christ and believe that having a faithful committed relationship with the same sex is acceptable to God. Now, before you stop reading and try to judge this scenario, I want you to hear something I observed.
This crowd of people, about 180 of them, had one really important thing in common. They were proclaiming to know Jesus, his sacrifice and his resurrection. They were excited to know that He loved them enough to embrace them wholly and completely as they are. These folks were passionate about having experienced the gospel and its power in their lives.
I was invited to hear a report on their ministries and mission efforts. The summation of what I heard was that they were excited about, and praying for, their outreach to the gay community to share the gospel of redemption through Jesus Christ. I was humbled and amazed! I thought to myself, “What is it that motivates these people to be so excited about sharing the gospel?” I looked back over conferences and church meetings I had been to in the past. I was aware that there was a blatant absence of a passion to share the gospel to those who didn’t know.
In contrast, there was an overt message within recovery meetings and conferences where the message was predominantly “we are all broken and we need to get our sorry lives together so that maybe we will be able to minister to others.” Sadly, the emphasis was more on getting our act together than the thankfulness of how much Jesus loves us and wanted us to share His love with others.
I met a person named “Rene.” Rene was a male to female transsexual. Oh, through my history, I have made plenty of judgments about transsexuals. I have thought they could never be able to minister if they were dressed in “drag.” I ascribed to the theories that the only way they could possibly glorify God would be to re-embrace their “birth gender.” I even struggled with whether or not to use the word “she” or “her” due to Rene’s obvious size and deep voice. I decided to leave my preconceived notions outside this conversation and hear the heart of this human being who loved Jesus.
Well, Rene blew my human theories out of the water with her humility, her love for God, and her willingness to give sacrificially of herself to others so that they would know Jesus. In our conversation I asked how she felt about being so conspicuous in this meeting. Rene told me:
“John, I see my life in Christ as that of a “war-horse.” ” A war horse is trained to go wherever the rider says to go even if it is to run into danger or a wall. I don’t like to be seen as a leader or someone out front. But my pastor saw a deep need for the gospel ministry amongst the transsexual community. He was unsuccessful in his attempts and asked me to consider starting a meeting specifically for transsexuals
I resisted but remembered my commitment to Christ. John, I decided to be obedient and start a group on Sunday afternoons. Much to my amazement, they are coming! I am willing to do whatever I can to show them Jesus and His love for them.” I know we can appear to be a messed up crowd, but I also know now much Jesus loves me and want others to see that too.”
I have to say, I was deeply challenged with Rene’s commitment and her heart to reach out. But I thought, “Can God use a cross-dressing transsexual?” Well, if He can’t, then He can’t use me- or you either. If our ministry requires of us to reach a certain standard, which continues to be very ambiguous, then who of us would qualify? If He can’t use us while we are moving along in our own sanctification, than who can He use?
What Are We Saying to the Gay Community?
If a Christian is told over and over that their “heart is deceitful and wicked” and that they are “broken” where is redemption in Christ? Is it not a slap in the face of the torturous sacrifice and a victorious resurrection of Christ to continue berating ourselves and others who are believers in Jesus with this out-of-context quote?
I was involved in recovery ministry for over 20 years. I think one of the greatest regrets I have from those years is the many times I have tried to tell people they were broken lives and that they had a deceived heart. I did so thinking I was quoting Scripture and telling them the truth.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Jer. 17:9
Oh, I know that we make many mistakes and there are things we could use a good spiritual healing from. I also know that we are a work in progress. But, something I have come to realize is that when the Holy Spirit makes us new, creates in us a clean new heart, He has done an amazing and awesome work in us. As David cried out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51) not only was his prayer answered, but our prayers have been answered as well, through Christ.
The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value Prov. 10:20
But, who are the wicked?
Some bible versions refer to the wicked as the “unrighteous”, those who are not in relationship with Jesus Christ. But for those who are, God has given them the new heart. Therefore, to say that a believer in Jesus has a wicked or deceived heart denies God’s restorative work in our hearts and lives.
How does this apply to our response to the gay community?
It has often been said that homosexuals have a wicked and deceived heart. Some people even go so far as to say they are an “abomination.” Really? Can we say that this means they are not saved – any of them? If a man has a wicked and deceived heart, then that says to me that they do not know Jesus. If someone has come to salvation then God has softened his heart of stone into a heart of flesh. He has given him a new, healed heart. He is no longer wicked or unrighteous, but rather, he is righteous by the blood of Christ.
Having a tremendous burden for the gay community I can see how, as Christians, we can continue to wound those we say we want to help. When we continue to proclaim to them they are broken, deceived, unsalvageable, It is like putting poison into the medicine bottle that we are hoping will provide better health. We are inadvertently tearing down the work of Christ while we are proclaiming its value.
Where is Our Focus?
Are we so busy judging one another’s lives that we are missing the point! Is our focus on a Jesus that loves us deeply, saves us radically, renews our hearts miraculously, and asks us to tell others?
We need to get our act together and quit shooting each other with our critical, dividing ways. God can and will do an amazing work amongst us if we are willing. If not, then we can waste a lot of time and energy trying to do what only God can do. He, and only He, is the judge of our lives and the works best with those we deem have a deceived heart. His word is very clear about this kind of division.
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. Titus 3:9-11
Take this as a warning! Stop arguing about this kind of stuff! This isn’t saying to have nothing more to do with homosexuals. It says to stop hanging around those who are spending so much time arguing and quarreling about it.
Are we trying to cut off the foreskins of those God says don’t need it done? Are we trying to grab the wine bottles out of the hands of those God says are free to drink from them? And what about those who say “I am gay?” Are we spending more time trying to tell homosexuals who know Jesus how sick they are? Or, are we embracing them, along with their gifts and talents, into the body of Christ with us while trusting the rest to God?
“Oh, boy, John. You’re really going off the rail now.”
Well, if I am, can you entrust me into God’s hands to work this out and continue walking alongside me? I’ve never been more excited about knowing Jesus than I am today. I’ve never felt freer in Him than I do now. His freedom doesn’t mean permissiveness, rather to me it means an opportunity to see Him more clearly, hear his heart more intensively, and respond accordingly.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36
I want everyone to know Christ, and Him crucified. I continue to pray that God sends me to share this good news with anyone who will listen. Do you have the same desire I do? Then we are of one mind and one Spirit regarding this matter. Let God work the other things out in His way, His time, and for His purpose.
To those who are gay – and to those who are struggling with these words; this is my heart and my prayer.
God loves you deeply, completely, radically and redemptively! He embraces you wholly and loves you with absolute abandon! He has given you abundant talents, amazing gifts, incredible discernment and wants you to explore all of the wonderful ways He wants to use you to share His love with others.
I choose to walk alongside you in this incredible journey of our life in Christ. I want to see the miracles He does through you. I want to pray with you, worship with you and embrace the Holy Spirit’s joy together beside you.
If we find each other to lack something, I pray we will share from our abundance with each other. If we find we are walking a crooked path I pray we will provide assistance in direction when needed. If we fall and need a stick or cane, I pray we will provide it for one another.
If either of us becomes quarrelsome, I pray we will gently warn each other and separate for a season if we don’t have the grace to stop. If we hurt each other it is my hope we will tell each other and seek to forgive.
Where Christ is uplifted between two or more of us, He is present and I pray we will enjoy wonderful fellowship.”
Friday, March 25th, 2011
1987 Chevrolet Astro Van
The Chevrolet Astro is a rear-wheel drive mid-sized van introduced by Chevrolet in 1985 to rival domestic competitors the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager twins.
While the Astro was referred to as a minivan, it was larger and heavier than other mini-vans at the time. It was a rear wheel drive vehicle based on a truck platform.
The blue Astro Van was the vehicle that Anita drove at Love In Action. My greatest memory of the van was when Anita would come home from the office at night I would hear its squeaky brakes stop in the driveway. It seems the problem with the squeaky brakes was intrinsic to the van and not repairable so we all just got used to hearing them.
This van was used for many of our trips to the events and retreats we attended through the years.
As I drove over the hill in highway 101 I saw one of the most beautiful panoramas I had ever seen. It looked like Switzerland to me. The lush green rolling hills that seemed to go on for miles and miles were incredible. This would be the view I saw every day of my life for the next eight years. Yes, I said eight. I only made a commitment to be there for one year but the opportunity before me so quickly became God breathed, I decided I would stay until He said go.
“Hello, my name is Peter, and my name is Lynn. Hi, I’m Patty, and my name is Keith.”
“Nice to meet you, I’m is Bob, Catherine isn’t here right now and Tom is sleeping. Sam comes tomorrow.” This is my new family. There were nine of us and Frank and Anita lived here to. There was a large table in the dining room that would seat 11 people. Anita would quickly go over my new responsibilities to somehow keep this new family going. Grocery shopping, chore lists and schedules became my job. Home management had been something I was certainly familiar with; but eleven people! This would be interesting.
I got settled in and began my duties. Anita said I could come to the office the next day to see how things went there. I toured around the area some and found it to be intensely beautiful! After a couple of days, Anita brought home some letters that had come to the office. She asked me to see if I could write a response to them. So, that evening I sat down to my electric typewriter and attempted to respond. As I read the letters and thought of what I would say, tears came to my eyes.
All of this became instantly more about people than anything else. I went to Anita and asked if I could just work in the office every day. I had enough money to get me through more than a year so I didn’t need to work outside for any extra income.
More Than I Expected
Anita and Frank graciously agreed to let me work in the office. What I didn’t know was that two office staff members had just left for other work leaving Frank and Anita pretty much alone in the office. I soon found out that God had brought me to answer their prayers not only for a House Manager, but for office help too. My years of life experience came to fruition in virtually everything I would be doing at Love In Action. I had no college degree or formal training, but it seemed this was custom designed not only for my past experience, but also for my heart’s desire. I felt as though I had come home.
Grocery shopping for a large house quickly became routine. I laid out a map of the store, built my shopping list in order of the store and learned how to stack one grocery cart with all of the things I needed to get each week. I was in a hurry to get it done because when I was done shopping, I was free for the rest of the day to go to the beach, the redwoods, the Golden Gate bridge, or many other wonderful sights around the area. All of the other days were full and busy from top to bottom with office duties, relationships within the house and all of the other things that needed to be done.
As the day quieted down I wrote letters back home to Vileen. Apparently God wasn’t done with our relationship yet. We called periodically and wrote extensively to somehow keep each other up to date on our lives. I shared with her all of the things that went on in the house, in the lives of the men and women there. I soon grew to love each one of them deeply. They all struggled with homosexuality and their faith. Questions, searching the scriptures, lengthy discussions about life and our journey together, bonded us together deeply.
Both men died of AIDS
The man who was in the room across from me and shared a bathroom with me was kindhearted and deeply spiritual. He had come from a very religious home and family. They had all come to embrace him and love him deeply in the midst of the challenges of his homosexuality. But something hit them that was an even greater challenge. He had AIDS. I looked around our bathroom and realized he and I were to share a very intimate space. I talked to the Lord about my discomfort and made the decision to trust Him with my life. I was going to love this man and share his space and not worry. Bob was the first man that I was that close to that had AIDS. He was very well versed on the disease as well as all of the experimental treatments that were available. His family had the financial means to try anything that seemed right for his situation.
Each day I never knew if I was going to come home to an IV bottle hanging in his room or some other type of device or pill that the doctors wanted to try out. Bob’s life went up and down quickly and all of us in the family prayed and prayed for him and with him. I didn’t know that soon I would have experienced over 20 men in my life that would die from AIDS related diseases. Bob passed away three years later.
According to the program schedule at LiA there would be two retreats each year. So, just two weeks after my arrival the vans were getting loaded and we were ready to drive three hours through the curvy, dark, foggy roads to the northern California coast near Mendocino California. I was awestruck the first time I went on that ride. The redwood trees, the moist smell in the air, and long stories along the drive inside the van all laid the foundation for some of the most awesome times I had ever spent with other human beings and with God.
We were headed for The Lord’s Land. A Christian retreat center that grew up out of the “Hippie” movement of the mid seventies. The buildings were all built out of natural redwood. They were rough and many had no plumbing. There were outhouses, outdoor showers surrounded with wooden walls and curtains. We were kept warm with the glow of the hot wood stoves burning in the cabins. The staff were literally angels hidden in human bodies.
Sabine Ball came to cook for us
The curator, Sabine Ball, was from Germany originally. She had long white hair, a soft German voice, and a love for Jesus that was amazing. She wore denim smocking dresses, clogs on her feet, and with her team they prepared delicious meals that we never forgot.
Each morning of the four day retreat began with a quiet time. I walked through the redwood trees, sat on stumps, prayed, read, and listened. My heart grew tremendously in that place. God softened many rough edges and spoke loving words to my heart that I still have written down today. The Lord’s Land is a special place in my memory that I hope I experience in heaven again in its purest form.
I stayed in the Faith Cabin most often. Over the years I lived in California I counted almost twenty times that I visited that place. Each time we spent the majority of our time listening to life stories. Sad, funny, painful, joyous, I heard the intimate life stories of over 250 men and women as they tried to reconcile their homosexuality with their faith in Christ.
One man, also named Bob, became our resident worship leader. With his Macintosh Apple computer, and an electronic keyboard, Bob composed, led, and stirred us in singing worship that was incredibly pure and amazing. We sang louder and more passionately as the weekend progressed and the loads were lifted off of our shoulders as people listened and validated our life experiences. No matter which side of the divide anyone may fall, experiencing homosexuality as a Christian has been a tremendous challenge to wrestle with. This was a place where we all understood each other and related our common experiences deeply. The bond of unity was rich and the love between us had become a brand new experience with Christ and with each other.
During a quiet time at the Lord’s Land, God spoke to me with this message.
“I am Jehovah, God – your Father, your God, your King”
When you come before a king, you come with needs for direction, counsel, guidance, and answers to problems you want solved.
When you come to Me, come with anticipation, come with desires, come with wonder, come ready to hear an answer. Do not come with closed ears, closed mind, or a closed heart. I have written my words, my laws on your heart. I speak to you to answer your queries and to fulfill your desires. Honor me by coming to me, the living God. Listen to my words, listen to my heart beating next to yours. I desire to be near you with My life. A life like you’ve never known. Let Me complete your life.
Why would we enter the king’s courts? What would bring us to go into the king’s courts? What are we looking for? God is trying to get us to come to Him with a desire to hear from Him. With open minds to receive. He is my king and that part of His character has a purpose. He is the One to go to for the answer to my questions.
I could never recount all of the things I discovered, learned, and experienced during my time in San Rafael California. God did some amazing things in me to heal, to mature, and to expand my life. My first year was incredibly full of great relationships. But along with all of the encouragement came a lot of pain too. We certainly didn’t get along all of the time. As the House Leader, I was also kind of the “family” counselor. People came to talk with me about all of their life issues and circumstances. As the first year progressed some decided that they didn’t want to stay so they left and we all felt so grieved to see them go. Others at times were asked to leave due to disunity or behaviors that weren’t conducive to the Love In Action program. In any case, the large happy family got somewhat smaller and we tried to adjust to the changes as best we could.
Working in the office helped me to see a much larger picture of what the ministry was all about. I heard many historical stories about people and things that had happened to bring LiA to 1987, We received phone calls from people all around the world, and I worked in a desk next to six full four-drawer filing cabinets of letters and requests from thousands who had contacted the ministry through the years. My gosh, this little place, this spot on the road that I had never heard of was a gold mine of the amazing life stories of too many to count. As Frank and Anita and I tried to manage the day to day office duties the office would quickly evolve as well.
My First Trip Back Home
So, back home were my daughters, my friend Vileen and all of my family. I had never lived away from them before. I didn’t so much miss all of them since my life was so full of new things but I planned a trip back home in the summer of 1987. It happened that during my trip back, my aunt Lorna, whom I had lived with as a little boy, was very ill. She had colon cancer. I went to the hospital to see her and she was so ill. She passed away that year so this was the last time I saw her. She was only in her middle sixties. It was much too soon. I have missed her so much. As I have grown through these years there have been so many things I would have loved to have talked with her about. I hope to see her in eternity so we can pick up where we left off!
My kids seemed to be doing alright. At the ages they were, 9 and 11, we didn’t really talk much or know how to process the separation so we just did the normal things. I had great talks with Vileen and our friends but the thing that surprised me the most was how much my dad and I talked late into the night. We really enjoyed the time together. It seemed we were both in a better place to relate to each other.
One night I asked my dad why he hadn’t dated since he and my mom divorced. I was surprised by his answer. He said, “John, I believed that I was marred for life unless our church approved an annulment. So, I didn’t date because I didn’t want to be tempted into falling in love again.” My dad’s character was showing itself again. He was so convicted to do what was right he lived in self sacrifice to remain true to what he believed.
I went back to California refreshed and ready to dig in again. The year progressed and I became more comfortable in my position. We ended with our second retreat at the Lord’s Land. I was deeply changed from the year of exposure to people and to God in new ways like never before.
The End of the First Year
It was time to prepare for the many new people that were coming into the program for 1988 and we were all excited to see what God was going to do next year.
Writing this part of my journey is very challenging and difficult. The years I spent at Love In Action were so rich with God in my personal life that to write it all down would take volumes. I realized this is not a story about Love In Action, but a revealing of my own life and experience so I will try to remain focused on how all of this impacted me on a personal level. I am still changing so it just shows me that life is truly a journey through time to the end where we will all meet Jesus face to face. I enjoy the process but am looking more intensely for seeing Him and entering into eternity.
This first year brings me many wonderful memories, and some regrets. Why did God make it so absolutely clear that I was to go to California and yet I would miss some of the most significant years of my daughters lives? There are questions that may never be answered this side of heaven.
At the end of 1987, a surprise gift came for Christmas that rerouted a major part of my life.
Thursday, March 10th, 2011
California, Here I Come
A very strange limousine was seen in Beverly Hills California. I took this picture during a major life transition. This car symbolizes my first introduction to this new world that I had entered. Having never been there before, it all looked so strange to me. It was a brand new season of my life that began with a prayer and a pursuit of full time ministry. I had no idea how God was going to answer that prayer but it ended up in a place totally unexpected.
Dear Dave Reddout,
“I am writing to see if you have any need for help with “Stained Glass Ministries” in Amsterdam.” I sent a letter to him in May of 1986 testing the water to see if God may send me to help. Dave’s ministry was for singles in the Netherlands and I was praying desperately for God’s leading and for opportunities to leave the railroad job and work in full time ministry.
This letter and the following prayers for an answer brought me to ponder what it would take to put my life on hold for one year while I worked in Amsterdam. I was impatient as I waited for a response but I laid out plans that would work if the answer was “yes, c’mon.” These plans would come to fruition later in a way I was not expecting.
I got a response and it was a “not at this time.” I was so disappointed. But my prayers continued with the hope that God would bring them to fruition in His time, in His way.
So, through the summer I went through the man dying of AIDS, and a deep heart change that postured me for hearing the radio broadcast introducing me to Love In Action. Therefore, when Anita called me about the House Leader position she mentioned that the commitment was for one year. What? Did you say one year? Well, I had already set plans in place for how I could make a commitment to a one year ministry position.
The Union Pacific Railroad was offering buyouts for people who were willing to give up their jobs. After Anita’s call, I received the paperwork for the application to Love In Action. While I was filling out the information there, I was talking with the UP about applying for the buyout. I just knew that Love In Action would accept my application.
God’s Impeccable Timing
It dawned on me that the Lord and I had agreed on when I could leave the railroad. I had thought that when the clown ministry had become too busy for me to manage it and work at the railroad, then it would be time to quit. But the funny thing is that the day that Anita called me I had just started a new job at the railroad that was so busy that I couldn’t have kept up with clown ministry while I was at work. I did some phone calls and arranged dates while I was at work some times because the job I had was really easy and I could do it with time to spare. The new job was totally unmanageable in a day’s time. That day, I went home totally depressed because it was the kind of job that would never have been caught up. So, when Anita’s call came, it was my ticket out of this new overwhelming job that I hated. Gee, could it have been God’s special timing?
I was seeking accountability from the pastors that were at my church about the decision to go to Love In Action. One conversation stuck out to me. “John, I believe if you don’t say yes to this opportunity, you may never say yes again.” The encouragement aligned with a time of prayer earlier in the year. A man prayed over me with a prophetic word, “John, you will readily accept a challenge, and you will work in mission work, both foreign, and local.” This was certainly a challenge, and it was a mission work. And… it was called Love In Action International. I could see the writing on the wall all around me that I needed to pursue this opportunity.
Ok, so some practical details are turning quickly, but I had to consider facing the reality of the relationships that would be impacted by this move. I had just begun the process of integrating my daughters back into my life. We spent three to four days each week together. And, I had a girlfriend I was spending a lot of time with. Much less, I was building some awesome new friendships. The clown ministry was growing and becoming really active. What was God’s answer to all of this? How could I just pick up and leave Omaha for a one year ministry position 1500 miles away? There was no pay involved so I would have to figure out how to financially manage all of this.
I talked to my dad about this and his response was, “John, I am very concerned about you doing this. You have always struggled with keeping commitments.” I said, “Dad, you are right, that was the old me. But I am different now. I’ve grown up.” I was sad that my dad wasn’t supportive and it concerned me. But, I continued to move forward believing that this was God’s time, and God’s plan.
There was a pretty big bump in the road that aligned itself with this opportunity. Vileen and I had begun to struggle in our relationship. I was feeling challenged about my heart with hers. I had become scared to remain open with her and had begun to close off my heart. When I saw this opportunity, in my selfishness, I believed it was a way out of the relationship that was admirable. I talked with Vileen about my struggles so, she was aware that I was troubled. But I figured that when I left Omaha, that would be the end of our dating relationship. Little did I know that God was sending me to a place in life where I could get some much needed healing for myself.
A Doctrinal Challenge That Brought a God Answer
I filled out my life story, the applications, and had talked with Anita many times but one conversation I’ll never forget. “Anita, is Love In Action a “Spirit Filled” ministry?” What I was asking was, are they Holy Spirit filled, do they speak in tongues? I wanted to make sure they were in line with my doctrine. Her response was, “John, of course. We can’t do anything without the power of the Holy Spirit.”
She wisely answered that question! But her answer was the first of many that would challenge my pride of doctrine. God’s response to me was “John, would you have not gone if her answer would have been “no.” I was humbled and more ready to move to another part of the country with new people, a new church, and yes, my doctrinal boundaries would become expanded by the experience.
Waiting, Waiting, Waiting
I was on pins and needles every day waiting to hear back from Love In Action on my application. I finally got my answer. They accepted me! Now it’s time to get the ball in motion. The plan I set in place for a one year departure would have to now become a reality.
It was time to talk with my kids about the plan for my move. I don’t handle conflict well and changes in relationships are really hard too. So, when it came time for me to sit down with them, I told them I was leaving but I tried to paint it in a positive light. I talked about the way we could write each other and talk on the phone. They both cried and I didn’t know what to do with all of that. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for how to handle their feelings so I avoided dealing with it. Oh, if I could only go back to do it differently I would, but life just isn’t that way. I saw this as such a positive thing that I overlooked their feelings in the whirlwind of preparation.
It was no less than an a Miracle!
The Union Pacific Railroad accepted my “buy out” and the check was in the mail. I would receive $30,000 for quitting my job. I put the house up for sale and began telling people I needed to sell my furniture and household items. Literally within two weeks, my house sold. In just a few more weeks, everything else was sold without even placing an ad. I was ready to pack up the remaining keepsakes and a few things I just couldn’t replace. I put them in long term storage for a later date when I would settle in again to something more permanent. I only had this one year in mind.I only had two months to get everything ready to go. I was to leave on December 26th for California.
My Father’s Blessing
My dad sat down with me one day to talk about my decision. I was totally surprised at his response now that he’d thought more about it. “John, I want you to know that I think your decision to go to Love In Action is a good thing. I am supportive of your plans.” I can’t tell you how good it felt to know that I now had my father’s blessing to move forward.
In talking with Anita about what I would do once I arrived in San Rafael. We thought maybe I could clean houses, or work at a bank part time to bring in a little income to help. I put my buy-out money in a special savings account to pay the things I needed to pay such as child support and insurance expenses. The lack of surety in all of this was both exciting, and challenging at the same time. I really had never read anything on ministry to homosexuality, nor did I really know anything about Love In Action or other ministries like this.
So, I was really going blindly into this new opportunity. It was totally built on faith that God knew what He was doing and I was just following along. I am sure many found it uncertain. But they just didn’t say anything to me about it. It was an entirely new world that I had never explored.
My friend George told me he’d like to make the trip to California with me. We made plans to go through Southern California and see some things there along the way. I was really excited to see a part of the country that I never thought I’d be able to see.
Leaving the clowns and FOCAS was really hard. The clowns decided to keep the ministry going so we set those plans in motion. The FOCAS group had a big going away party for me. I felt really loved and appreciated there. There was no discussion with Vileen about our relationship other than that we’d stay in contact with each other regularly. She knew we were struggling but there wasn’t a decision to break up when I left.
Pastor Dennis, Vileen, myself and Diana
FOCAS Thursday evening group
Vileen and the cake “Look Out California! Here comes John!
I couldn’t wait for the future to unfold. I was leaving a job I absolutely hated and moving into a brand new challenge ahead.
Christmas day came and we all celebrated together. I was pumped and ready to go. Afterwards, I packed my car with all of my worldly belongings to take with me, other than the things that didn’t fit and were in storage. I left a space just big enough for George and his suitcase.
The next morning we started our journey across the land for California. I couldn’t help but think about the radical folks who had made this same journey years earlier in their covered wagons. In some ways, it was the same for me. Going westward with no idea what I was going into but it was a great adventure.
All during the drive questions kept going trough my mind about what this place would be like. How do they help homosexuals? What is this small “low-key, charismatic” church really like? What will I do with my time?
George and I loved the experience of driving out together. Seeing he mesas in New Mexico and Arizona were amazing. We finally got to California and all I wanted to do was to see Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and other well known sites. Of course, the beach was high on the list too.
After our whirlwind tour of Southern California we drove north along the California coast which was absolutely gorgeous. We finally arrived in San Rafael. Of course this was before GPS or Google Maps and we had no idea where we were going.
We stopped several people to ask for directions but none of them knew the street we were looking for. Anita had given me some ideas of where they were located but none of those descriptions helped so we finally called the office. “Hello, John! Welcome to Marin county. What, you need directions? Oh, here’s Frank, he can help you.”
Talking to Frank for the very first time was so weird. But Frank gave us directions to the office. It was all so surreal. To say “strange” wouldn’t describe what I was feeling at this point. But at the same time, it seemed I was right where God wanted me to be.
We got to the office of Love In Action. It was on the second floor so walking up the stairs a flood of questions went through my mind. As I entered the door I was greeted by a man named Roger. Then Anita came out, along with Frank. They talked a little then sent me and George on our way to the house I would be living in. Anita had described their house this way. It was an old house near a bus stop. The girls lived upstairs as she and Frank did as well. There were five other men who lived downstairs where I was going to stay.
Well, when I arrived at the house I realized it wasn’t that old, it was in a suburban area and there didn’t seem to be a bus stop near the house. But, I was happy to find the place to be what it was. It was previously a two bedroom, one bath home, that had been remodeled. This made it seven bedrooms and four bathrooms. It was pleasant and comfortable. They had planned a space for me. My bedroom was all set up and I felt so loved already just by the fact that they had gone through so much to prepare for my arrival. George stayed the first night and then I took him to the airport to send him home. He was such a good friend to have gone all this way with me. I really don’t know what I would have done if I had done this all by myself. God had prepared the way and I felt confident that I was in the center of His will each step of the way.
The first day in San Rafael was a blur to me. While I had only prepared for one year, little did I know God had other plans. I spent the next 22 years of my life giving myself exclusively to a ministry life that brought me into thousands of lives and changed me dramatically. An amazing mystery is about to unfold.
I am going to take a breath here, and get ready for chapter two in my life as a Christian. Life would never be the same again.
Friday, March 4th, 2011
1987 Nissan Sentra
Brand new design, more deluxe and more features, this car was next in line for me. I was just paying off my 1982 and it was time for a new car! The residual value made it reasonable and I was excited to get another brand new car. I chose a nice metallic brown that glistened in the sunshine.
Much like my 1982 Sentra, Little did I know that this car would also take me into a life transition that was both miraculous, and shocking to many people around me.
Changing life, building new friendships, learning new ways of living, all good things but at the same time, all challenging things.
As I begin to write more about exploring my relationship with God through Jesus I want to preface it with these thoughts. I find that now some 25 or so years later, life is a journey and it doesn’t remain static. My beliefs have changed a lot. My cultural understanding of Christians, and some of my doctrines have adjusted quite dramatically.
I was a young Christian and had just entered into the fellowship of Christians almost exclusively. During those first two years I really didn’t think much at all about my homosexuality. It seemed to be almost a mute point about my life. I adopted an identity of being a Christian single adult and was at peace with that.
As I look back it seemed that God just kind of gave me a reprieve from the heaviness of the previous season of my life to work on some other things. I learned more about gifts, desires and relationships with others without the tension of sexual desires.
As my life experiences unfolded, my internal and external process of my spiritual walk, and my homosexuality, has changed through the years. It is very difficult to write about those early years considering where I am at today. I have tried to remain faithful in my writing with regard to where I was at during that time. As the years unfold, I’ll attempt to explain the changes along the way.
New Friendships Deepen
Clark and I continued to meetregularly. There were weeks when I couldn’t wait for our meeting because I had so much to talk about. I felt so free to just sit and ramble without any judgment knowing he loved me no matter what. Clark had become such a good friend.
Then there was George. George and I didn’t meet so often but when we did, it was great to be able to relax and just talk with a good friend. George was so kind, and affirming. I knew he loved me as well. There were other men I began to receive into my life. Since I wasn’t looking to have sex with someone, the relationship tension was so much less!
Some of my friends decided to take a trip to Colorado to spend a few days in an off season ski resort. There were eight of us that planed on going. This meant that four ladies would share the bedrooms and the four men would share the living room hide-away beds. We began to plan and dream of the fun we would have together. We were all involved in FOCAS and in the Clown ministry so we knew each other well.
At one of our planning meetings Randy said he was interested in inviting a girl he had met through work. He said he didn’t know where she was at in life, but it seemed she could use some good friends. We all agreed she could come but the ladies had the biggest compromise, since they had to now find room in their four bed spaces for a fifth woman. They all said the sacrifice was worth bringing in this lady to their group.
So, our plans in place and off we went. Caravanning down the hi-way to Colorado was great fun. I rode in Debbie’s car. We drove all night and Debbie and I kept awake with her teaching me how to “sign” the alphabet in American Sign Language. We had great fun. When we got to Colorado we went up onto the “Continental Divide.” As we approached we saw one of our friend’s cars stalled so we stopped to see what was going on. The car wouldn’t run.
We were all excited about the trip and a little delirious from driving all night, so we were kind of crazy. The new girl, her name was Vileen, was sitting in the back seat of the stalled two door car while we were outside wondering what we should do. I said, “well why don’t we pray!” So I began to pray and the others joined in and then we tried to start the car and of course, it started. The “new girl” thought we were even more crazy, but she couldn’t deny that the car now was running, and off we went.
We found our place and had a great time settling in with our vacation plans. During the first night while we were all asleep, the women in their comfy bedrooms, the men on the lumpy hide-away beds. I was awakened in the middle of the night by a loud scream and a crash! My bed mate had a nightmare and picked up his alarm clock and threw it against the wall! Well, it turned out ok but provided a lot for us to talk about in the morning.
As we woke up, we looked out to find the ground had been gloriously painted with a fresh blanket of the first snow. The next day we began to talk about the meal planning and somehow we got into a disagreement and some feelings started to get stepped on. As this came out, we all decided to sit down and sort it out.
As we humbled ourselves, we resolved the situation amicably and life was good and the trip was a great pleasure for us all. The new girl told us that she was amazed to see us all sort out the disagreement and come away with such peace. She said she had never seen that happen like that before. This added to the many amazing memories of being a part of the FOCAS group.
Spiritual Growth and Exploration
My church was an Assemblies of God church. This meant that it was primarily a “pentecostal” church in doctrine and practice. All I had ever known in my life was my childhood of being raised a Catholic. This new church was certainly a far reach from Catholicism. I loved the people there. They were excited about God, very friendly with each other and seemed to be honest and authentic. My primary connection to the church was through the singles ministry but on Sundays we all went to the morning service and sometimes the evening one too.
There was a heavy focus on what was known as “the gifts of the Spirit” and the evidence of “speaking in tongues.”. All of this was so strange to me but exciting at the same time. To think that God would manifest Himself through people in such spiritually understood ways was something I was tremendously curious about. We all talked about praying in tongues and receiving the “gift of tongues.” If it was from God, I wanted it. I also heard that it was a good thing to seek God for “wisdom” which was a primary goal. So, one evening I got down on my knees and asked God for wisdom. I earnestly prayed for that and yet I really didn’t know what it would mean.
After seeing many people begin to speak in tongues in the church service and in prayer meetings I started to really question this for myself. No one really seemed to have a real understanding of what it was and often said, “It cannot be understood. But it is a gift from God for those who seek it. He prays through us in an unknown language for intercession and for things deep within us.” Well, I thought certainly this must be a good thing if it is from God.
I distinctly remember praying one day and asking God to give me the gift of tongues. As I prayed, I found that all of a sudden, out of the blue, my words changed to sound something like a form of Spanish or some other language. I was so excited to know that now, I was like others who had experienced this strange but amazing thing. I began to use this prayer gift every day as I walked alone to work. I felt great strength coming from believing that I was touching the deepest part of myself and of God through this gift. In the church culture I was in, I now fit in even more because I had received the gift that was seemingly one of the identifiers of being in an Assembly of God church.
After this became a reality to my life, it seemed that my eyes were opened up to a larger view of God, of His kingdom, and certainly a greater awareness that there was a Spiritual world out there that none of us could see. It was nonetheless, a present reality. Church was exciting. Waiting for God to do something amazing was always on our minds. The Singles group was very alive. We grew together in our faith and supported each other in our lives.
But, this new “gift” also became a divisive. Some in our group, especially within our Clown group, found tongues to be offensive, and some didn’t even believe it was scriptural and didn’t think it was from God. Our clown group was made up of Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, and several from our Assembly of God church. We were a very diverse crowd to say the least. We had passionate discussions about theology and Christian practice. At times feelings got hurt and some got defensive about their own beliefs. But in the end, we all grew more in love with each other through our strength of diversity.
It was the difference in theologies and church practices that most of our clown skits were written from. We hungered desperately for the Body of Christ to be unified even in our differences. We had found amazing friendships with those that were different than ourselves and ministered through our clown ministry to those issues. Even today, one of my greatest burdens is the way that the people of faith fight amongst themselves over music, doctrine and so many things that in some ways we may never know the final answer on in this lifetime.
My Kids and Their Faith
My faith in Christ became the central most important thing in my world. I began to invest in my kids who Jesus was and how important He was to their life. One day as we were driving to church I asked my kids if they wanted to know Jesus personally. Their strong response surprised me and humbled me. “Oh, yes, Dad. We accepted Jesus when mom’s boyfriend took us to his church a few years ago.” I was shocked and a little disappointed that I wasn’t the one to introduce them to Jesus. It seemed they knew Him before I did! At the same time, God assured me through this that He was taking care of them as their eternal Father.
They seemed to enjoy church and all of the activities I took them to. They were right beside me every Sunday. We sat in the front row of church because we helped to interpret for Debbie, our hearing impaired friend. There were always several of our clown and singles ministry friends sitting there with us. The service was always very active. We got a new pastor that was even more “pentecostal” in his presentation which I didn’t really like too much. He was too loud and it reminded me of being scolded by my step-father. The friendships and the singles ministry were most important to me so I just went along with the rest of it.
A couple of years ago, my older daughter told me she never liked going to church back then because we sat in the front row and had to listen to the “screaming” pastor. I didn’t know she felt that way but I told her I felt the same way she did about his style. I was surprised to hear she didn’t like going to church because it seemed she did. I was most likely caught up in my own experience and not paying too much attention to hers.
I Told Them My Story
Another new friend in the group, Jan, called to say she wanted to drop by just to spend some time with me and that she was bringing a friend with her. She was hanging out with Vileen and the two came to my house shortly afterwards. After we talked for a while, I felt the prompting to open up to them about my life history. So, a while later I had shared all about my divorce and yes, my homosexual experiences.
When I was done, I’ll never forget Vileen’s response. “I can relate to your story . I have lived a life very similar to yours. I have been divorced, I’ve been promiscuous and I have lived a party lifestyle.” I didn’t know it then, but Vileen’s response was very significant to my growth as a person and in connecting to others openly. She related to my experiences so well it was amazing to me.
Fairly soon after that, Vileen asked to join our Clown Ministry. We now had around 12 people that were “clowning” with us. The singles group was growing. I was fitting into my position as the Thursday night coordinator. Life was going along well for me. But, I didn’t want to be alone forever. So, what do I do?
My First Date – Flop
Well, maybe I should find a girlfriend and think about remarrying. I was smitten with Debbie, the hearing impaired girl I met my first night in the group. I tried so hard to gain her attention. I had friends at work that were encouraging me towards the dating scene. Pat, my friend at work, had given me two tickets to a “Glen Campbell” concert and said to invite a girl to go along. So, I asked Debbie. She said yes and I was excited.
I told her I would make a dinner at my house and we would go to the concert afterwards. I went to her house to pick her up with a large bouquet of flowers in hand. The lady at work, who was coaching me in dating, said this would be a lovely thing to do. I had prepared a wonderful dinner, we went to the concert and I put my arm around Debbie while we were there and at the end took her home anxiously wondering what to do when I dropped her off. It was apparent that she was somewhat uncomfortable, so we said our goodbyes and I looked forward to more of spending time with her.
Little did I realize that I actually completely overwhelmed her. She was now very distant and didn’t respond well at all to my attempts to go out with her again. We remained friendly and continued to get to know each other but any movement towards her that even smelled of dating was blocked, respectfully so, but no open door for another date with her. We remain good friends today and laugh about our “date” and the surrounding feelings we both went through.
Other Girls – Flip Flop
Then I met a girl named “Cheryl” that was real f friendly. She was kind, nice and hospitable. She invited me over to her house for dinner. So, I got to meet her two little kids and we enjoyed the time we spent there. I began to ponder if she was the one for me. We spent more time together and I tried to relate to her kids. After several “dates” it became apparent to me that this just wasn’t the right one for me. So, I just slid away from the picture without really talking about what was happening. Soon, Cheryl slid away too and I always wondered if it was because she was hurt by my lack of honesty and integrity.
On the heels of that experience I met another girl named “Heather.” Heather was a lively, younger girl. She was very pretty and very popular. I had seen her date a couple of other guys in our group then we spent some time together. It seemed we really enjoyed each other and I began spending many evenings each week with her. We talked a lot and got very close. We were seen as a “thing” in the group and I was on my way to pondering the next steps with her.
As time went on, I am not sure I remember all of the dynamics but soon our relationship waned and we just stopped seeing each other. She soon left the group without a word and I saw that once again a girl that I dated seemingly moved away without knowing much of the circumstances. I felt more self aware this time and was burdened about what had happened. I began to question this whole dating thing because I could now begin to see the wounds that could come from the practice of poor communication within dating relationships.
No, I didn’t say “International dating”. I said “intentional” dating. It was time for me to no longer date without thinking of the other person too. After these experiences I began to think more intently on how to get to know women and on what I really wanted for a marriage mate. I realize that what I wanted wasn’t necessarily going to fit with what most people would say is “right” but this was my “shopping” list for a girl. Of course, first and foremost it was imperative that she have a growing relationship with Jesus.
I was hoping to find someone who had been married before. I wanted her to relate to what I had gone through in divorce. I was also hoping for someone was about two years younger than myself. And, since I already had two children, I wasn’t interested in having any more so as to mix it up with; yours, mine, and then ours. So it would suit me to find a lady who either couldn’t have children of her own or didn’t really want to have children. I had not shared any of this with anyone else and just kept it private.
In our FOCAS group we had established several small home groups that were facilitated by a man and woman from our group. They were set up to be in general areas of town as well. There was one girl that lived just a few blocks away from where I lived and we decided to host a group in my home. The girl was Vileen who was also in our clown group. So we began our home group and we had a pretty good crowd each time we met. Vileen was a great co-host and I got to know her better through doing this together.
In time, Vileen and I started talking more and one day when I was mowing my lawn, she stopped by and sat on the porch as I worked. I am sure you can see the writing on the wall here. I invited Vileen to go downtown and walk around with me and my kids. We rode the local “Ollie the Trolley” designer bus and really enjoyed the time together. We later considered this to be our “first date” together.
In our discussions I found that not only had Vileen been married before, but she was two years younger than I was and I was reminded of my shopping list. Then, my third item came up when she talked about not really ever having a strong desire to have children. I thought, “oh, my goodness, she meets all three criteria on my list.” Not to mention the most important thing was that Vileen was in a growing relationship with God that was similar to my own. So, off we went into a dating relationship that was quite enjoyable for us both.
God, I Want to Serve You – Full Time
As I grew closer to the Lord I began to pray asking God to be involved in full time ministry. I really hated my job at the railroad and wanted to do something that was more meaningful and thought I could find this in ministry.
God and I set up another goal. I thought, when ministry such as the clown ministry, became so busy that I no longer had time for what was needed, then I would know it was time to move out of the railroad and pursue more of the ministry that was in front of me.
The clown ministry was growing. We were getting more opportunities and we would often joked about someday needing a private plane to take us around to our gigs. We all saw the growth and believed there may be a time where we all really were in full time ministry “clowning around.”
There is someone else like me?
I met a man in our singles group who confided in me that he wrestled with homosexuality. This is the only other man that I met in our group that I could relate to having experienced homosexuality. I was comforted to hear his story but also struggled with how to respond to him. I didn’t feel sexually drawn to him in any way. I just wanted to be supportive of him. I struggled internally with not having any answers for his questions.
After having been in the FOCAS group for about two years and growing in my relationship with the Lord I wanted more than anything to see the Lord answer my prayers for full time ministry. I had thought many times of what that might look like. Pastor Dennis invited me to several Singles Ministry Leadership conferences. I wondered if maybe that might be my calling.
But, I also pursued ministry to people with AIDS and during that time deeply asked the Lord to provide a way to help people who struggled with homosexuality. (you can read this story by clicking here) The railroad was changing and was beginning to offer “buyout” compensation for people who would quit their jobs. That was enticing but I didn’t have any college education, nor a career path that I could go to that would pay nearly enough to live on so I just kept that option on the back burner.
The Call of A Lifetime
Then, in August of 1986, I heard a Christian radio program where a lady was talking about her son who was a homosexual. They talked about specific ministries that helped people who wanted to “leave their homosexual lifestyles.” I quickly jotted down the information and sent a short letter to three organizations listed. One of them was “Love In Action.”
I had never heard of anything like this and was really curious as to what they would say that might help me to minister to my friend. A couple of weeks went by and I heard nothing back. Then on one very significant Wednesday evening, I received a phone call that changed my life forever.
I was eating Tuna Casserole quietly by myself and I answered the phone. “Hello, I am Anita Worthen, and I work for Love In Action.” She went on to say she had gotten my letter and that they were looking to hire a House Leader for their residential program for men and women wanting to leave their homosexual lifestyles. I was shocked and amazed! I said I was very interested and that I wanted to receive all of the application material. I remain amazed that she called me since my letter was only a few paragraphs and said nothing about me looking for a job, or a change of vocation.
I said, “Oh, no, Dennis, this is it, this is God, I am moving to California.”
I called Vileen and went to her house. I told her about the phone call and we picked up the atlas looking for San Rafael California. I had never been west of Colorado and certainly didn’t know where San Rafael was but something in my heart told me without a doubt that this was God’s answer to my prayer. I knew that I would be leaving to go to California to pursue this job. A Then Vileen and I went to the church to tell Pastor Dennis about the phone call. I passionately told him what had happened and he cautioned me to slow down and take a look at this rationally.
The next three months would be no less than a miraculous leading of God into the next season of my life.