Archive for July, 2011
Thursday, July 28th, 2011
Meeting Two Strangers I Didn’t Want to Know
Three years ago I had time to evaluate, to think, to reestablish a new layer to my life. In the process I had many discussions along the way.
I was in a passionate conversation with a friend of mine about how each of us processed the issue of homosexuality. She began to talk about friends she had that were Christians and yet were involved in same sex partnerships. I felt frustrated because she just didn’t want to tell me what she thought about being for – or against homosexual relationships. As we talked that day, seemingly for hours, I began to speak strongly about someone I had heard of for many years that was gay and claimed to be a Christian. Michael Bussee was one of the men who arranged the very first Exodus International conference.
Many years ago I watched a video where Michael shared some of his life story and I felt challenged by the things he was sharing. As I talked about Michael I had a disdain in my heart towards him. This led me to profile him with many others I judged to be rebellious and compromising of God’s standards. I had never really wanted to know anyone who claimed to be a Christian but was living in an overt gay relationship. If they wanted help, they should say so, otherwise, I figured they would have to deal with God on things and I kept my distance.
As I talked with Lisa, she got quiet. When I was done, she said, “John, don’t you think it is unfair to form such strong opinions about someone you have never met? Don’t you think you owe it to him and talk with him personally before you form an opinion about his character?”
Phew, that was humbling.
Lisa was absolutely correct. I was unfair in basing my opinions about what I had “heard” rather than from my own experience with someone like Michael. I had a lot of “Michaels” in my life. I was smug in my heart regarding people like Michael. But for some reason I thought it was enough to gauge my opinions on what I had heard from others and didn’t feel I needed to spend any time with them.
So, Lisa asked again, “John, would you be willing to talk with Michael? I can arrange a phone call if you are willing to hear his heart.” What could I say? I had already crossed the line in what I had said about him. I at least owed him the respect to talk with him. Now , I wondered if he was even willing to talk with me? After all, I am sure Michael had heard things about me through the years as well. I have no doubt that Michael was familiar with my involvement in ex-gay ministries and was sure he didn’t think so favorably about me either. It was interesting to see how I went from “I don’t want to talk with him” to hum, I wonder if he’ll talk with me?
So, Lisa called me back and said Michael was willing to talk with me. We arranged a phone call and I remember sitting in my office in a comfortable chair in preparation for the call. I was feeling nervous about the call. I wasn’t sure what to expect in our conversation. So, when the phone rang, I answered and after a little introductory conversation I was surprised at what transpired. We talked comfortably about our lives and experiences. Michael and I had a lot in common having both been previously married and then got divorced. Michael went into a gay relationship and I went on to get married to Vileen but we had many shared experiences to talk about.
Michael Bussee Became A Person
I left the conversation feeling a sense of peace. I found Michael to be endearing, humble, honest, and very respectful of my life and experiences. He talked about some of the painful things he had experienced in his life as well as the joys. We related to having children and grandchildren as well. I felt a desire to talk with him again largely because he was a genuinely nice guy. He and I have formed a friendship that I respect as person whose life matters and has value not only to God, but to others as well.
A New Land – People Who Are Significant to the Kingdom of God
So, wow, I’ve now gone into more uncharted territory. I wondered what would come next. So, I called Lisa and gave her my report, “Lisa, actually, I enjoyed talking with Michael.” She said she had another friend she wanted me to talk with. She told me of a man named Todd Ferrell. She said he was someone she admired a lot and wanted me meet him. She connected us and we set a time to talk. I figured since Michael was a great guy maybe Todd would be someone that was nice too.
Todd and I decided to use Skype to talk. After setting up my first Skype connection we had a great time talking about our lives. Once again, I felt surprised at what I heard. Todd, like Michael, was sincere and willing to share pieces of his life that were filled with humility and honesty. Since I had never been in a friendship with someone that was “gay affirming” like Todd, I guess I expected to hear something different.
I was looking for excuses, rationalizing Scripture to their own tastes. I was sure I would hear things that would offend me but I found none of that. I am not sure what it was I expected but I surely didn’t expect to hear this.
“John, our church saw the pain in the gay community in San Francisco. As an outreach to bring Jesus to the streets we decided to serve communion on Castro Street in San Francisco on Good Friday. There were requests for prayer, shared tears, hunger for God that left us speechless. Yes, there were those who were on drugs, those who were angry, and other distractions. But in the end, we knew we had touched the hearts of many who were hungry to connect with God.”
I was left in tears myself after hearing this story, “Todd, your heart beats the same as mine for the gay community. Of course you know there are many “evangelicals” in our country that would think what your church did was blasphemous. But, I am right there with you, my new friend. I love what you are doing.”
I realized that many outreach attempts in urban areas like San Francisco are based on singing on street corners and handing out tracts. But in this case, Todd and his church were really going for it to touch these people in a very real and physical way.
Wow, how unexpected? Another surprise! Actually, I began to see the surprises as “gifts”. It was like God had prepared many gifts for me and put them underneath a Christmas tree to be opened one at a time. I knew they were all good since they were coming from Him but I had not opened all of them yet.
I’ll never forget the conversations with these two men. Both of which are friends today but not that long ago, I don’t think I would have walked across the street to talk with either one of them. It would have been my loss for sure.
Through my former ministry involvement I certainly knew hundreds of Christians who would say they wrestled with being gay. For some reason I separated these men and women into two camps. There were those who were “seeking to change” and those who had accepted being gay. Until just recently I didn’t realize how I had compartmentalized my view of people who are gay. Those who had accepted being gay were somehow not worth knowing or maybe I was just afraid of crossing into the other side of all of this.
In my conversation with Todd, he invited me to attend a conference his ministry was hosting in April of 2010. I said, “Todd, I would like to come to that but I am very low on funds and couldn’t see having the money to come.” He was talking about “The Evangelical Network” which is an organization that has a heart to connect Christians who are gay and to support their faith and ministry efforts. Not having enough money was a great excuse to know have to think about going. I really felt quite hesitant to the thought of being at a gay-affirming conference. I had no idea what I would see there or experience.
A Significant Meeting With a Friend
I went to Mike’s house to ask him to consider being a board member for Grace Rivers. In our conversation he was very direct with me. He was asking me to describe the focus of the ministry. I struggled to find the words that would effectively tell him what we were. It was obviously a struggle for me to begin with. I did everything I could do to avoid “homosexual” or “gay community”. I wasn’t willing to step out onto that limb and admit what was really in my heart.
Mike said something that really challenged me, “John, what is your strength? What is at the core of your heart for people and for ministry?” He went on to tell me what he saw. He emphasized my history and what he had seen in my life for many years. “John, isn’t your real burden for the gay community?”
Well, I had tried to stuff that away for almost two years. But, I couldn’t deny my heart. When I had only been a Christian for a year or so I wept for those in the gay community who needed a purpose for life, a hope for the future. I asked the Lord to give me the calling to help, to share the hope that was in my own life. My heart’s desire is truly for the gay community to know how much God loves them.
I couldn’t deny what Mike was trying to point out. I still wanted to push it away. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back into the battle zone that often centers around homosexuality and the church. I had lived in that battle for so long I kind of liked the more generic form of ministry. It seemed to be easier to talk about and was more comfortable for many people to accept.
But, Mike clarified for me that it is hard to share such a generic vision for ministry and to get people on board to walk alongside me if I didn’t have a focus to tell them about. Oh, yes, generic ministry will always be a part of our lives as Christians, but it is important for me to know what my special calling really is.
Ok, Mike, I Have to Admit…..
Mike was right. I still had a deep burden and it was definitely focused on people within the gay community. Meeting Michael Bussee and Todd Ferrell challenged me to a very deep place. I realized that there is an entirely different side to homosexuality that I had never explored before. I never wanted to admit that there were gay people who had a sincere heart for God who truly wanted Him to fill their lives and to follow Him to their best ability. Todd told me about how their church members go into the gay bars and make themselves available just to talk, to listen, and to pray for those they come into contact with.
“What? Do you mean they want to reach the gay community with Christ just like I do?”
Again, I was surprised and at the same time challenged. I recognized that I had not met many Christians who would go to those lengths to share the Love of Christ with people in the gay community. Here they were, people I had judged to be rebellious and compromising, doing the very things that God called us all to do.
God had a plan for me that I had never expected. A large gift was waiting for me to open it. The surprise inside was unsettling, but at the same time touched my heart deeply and brought my faith to a new place. The conflict in my own heart was about ready to begin.
A New Car, A New Life Part 1 (Click Here)
Friday, July 22nd, 2011
Through the Windshield of My Life – Stepping forward to a more recent history.
2007 Toyota Sienna
In 2007, I bought a new Toyota Sienna minivan. I had no idea that this car would be a new symbol of a dramatic change in my life and would play out in amazingly surprising ways in the near future.
I bought the car just because of its practicality, size, good gas mileage, and to carry people around. I love to travel in groups so this would fit the bill.
I felt like I was driving a limousine! It was huge, comfortable, and rode nicely. And to add to that, the gas mileage was much better than my previous Nissan Exterra. That was a great plus.
Shortly after that, we had some concerns that Vileen’s car would have some major repairs so we made the decision to get a newer car for her as well. I had in my mind that I wanted an older, low mileage, Toyota or Nissan. I wanted something that had a lot of bells and whistles but one that had a practical price on it. I began to look on Ebay and at first search, I found exactly the car I had been looking for and the right color as well.
It was a 2002 Toyota Camry XLE. It was red with tan leather interior and it had everything on it. The mileage was incredibly low at only 35,000 miles for a car that was six years old. So, I bid and surprisingly, I won the bid. We drove to Missouri to pick it up and found it was in amazing condition and literally was a “little old lady’s” car.
Now, we were both set for a new life that was just months ahead of us but we had no idea what that was going to look like.
As I walked out the door of Love In Action in 2008, for the last time, I breathed a prayer;
God, I don’t know what you want to do with me now. I want to make the next 20 years of my life count. I know you have brought me through a lot and I have learned and grown so much in the last 20 years, maybe you can use my experience to help someone else. I have no agenda, and do not feel entitled to anything. I don’t have a degree or a career track. I am not sure who would want to hire someone who has led an “ex-gay” ministry for most of my adult life but I’m certain there is something in there that can be used. So, I guess my greatest desire is for something radical but I haven’t a clue what that might be. So God, SURPRISE ME!
My wife and I were on a Caribbean cruise in 2007. Our trip took us to a group of small islands called “Turks and Caicos”. When we got off the boat we met a lady who had just opened a horse and carriage ride to tour the island. As she spoke, she told us a little of the recent history of the island. She said that the island had been supported financially from a military base that was there. It appears it had recently been closed and it left the island financially broken. As I saw her business and the newly constructed Carnival pier I could see some life coming back.
As we rode around the island on the carriage, the young man told us that the island was dependent on all outside resources for everything including even the basic need of water. Their water had to be shipped in! This started my mind dreaming of all of the “what ifs” as I looked to my future.
What if God were to surprise me with a long term trip to Turks and Caicos to begin a gospel outreach on the island? I cannot seem to get that thought out of my mind even up to today. What if God wanted to move us across the United States? I began to send out applications for pastoral positions around the country. I thought maybe someone could use my experience some way for the general populace of the church. I attempted to come up with a resume that would capitalize on my experiences.
I didn’t get any call backs but still prayed for God’s movement in finding a new career. I began a dialogue with the pastor of the church we attended. He immediately tried to encourage me and said that he may have a place in our church and we began to pray about that. He encouraged me to write a book and offered me a slot to teach something that was on my heart. He felt an urgency to keep me in the loop and to keep talking about what God was doing to prepare me for my future.
The teaching series I came up with I called “Tributaries of Grace” based on a sermon that my pastor gave. I liked the thought of reaching into people lives with a message of God’s abundant love for them. Even though that was on my mind in the summer of 2008, I had no idea of what this would mean later on. The series was a success. I had asked God for ten people and he brought ten to the group. We were together for 8 weeks.
I continued to pray about how I was going to make a living. I felt confident that God would provide and a little arrogant at the same time that I didn’t have anything to worry about.
Meetings with Men
A friend of mine and I talked of how we could minister to others through personal meetings designed to read the bible together, listen to each other and encourage each other towards a mission oriented life. So I reached out to a group of men to see if they might want to meet with me one on one. So I set a goal of inviting six men into this arrangement. Within a week, not only six responded, but I filled my schedule with 10 men that I began to meet with regularly.
I loved the meetings and began to discover a new found heart within me as I sought to be a source of encouragement for them. I spent time discovering what I saw that was good in each of their lives. As we met I prayed for God to show me how I could encourage them.
Those who know me, would say that this was not exactly what I was doing in the previous years of ministry. I was used to looking for the shortcomings, the loose ends of someone’s life. I had a sense of pride in my ability to challenge people with those things that needed to be corrected. So, this ministry approach was significantly new for me.
A New Jesus In My Heart
As the first year of my departure from Love In Action came along, I was feeling satisfied, I was challenged in areas of my heart that were brand new for me to look at. I was also finding a much needed rest in my soul and Jesus was coming into these new areas that had opened up.
I was gaining a new understanding of an old word, “Grace”. What is grace and how does this apply to our Christian walk? I wasn’t sure I truly understood it from a personal experience. I had always heard, “Grace is the unmerited favor of God upon our lives.”
One day when I was sitting in my office alone I wandered into something I had never experienced before. I thought to myself, “Hum, I don’t work for Love In Action any more. I’ve never chosen to look at anything pornographic on the internet. I wonder what is actually out there?”
So, within a few clicks of the mouse I found some pictures that drew my interest. I looked a little more than all of a sudden my heart SANK! “Oh, my God, what have I done? I just crossed over the bridge into forbidden land. I have broken a place in my life that I have never strayed into before – NEVER!”
My mind began to rush into all of the years of instruction, of challenges for others, and into fears of “What do I do now?” My mind was scrambling and anxiety filled my heart. Then all of a sudden, something came to me that would become a life changing, life transforming experience with Jesus.
“John, what is the first thing you know about Me?” Jesus spoke through my anxious heart. I replied, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He said, “Apply that right now.” I began a whole new process of prayer with Jesus. I began to unravel the last few minutes like I have never done before. “Lord, You have not condemned me, so I will not receive any condemnation from You for what I have chosen to do.”
Then the Lord said, “John, why are you here, what has brought you to look at those pictures?” I began a dialogue with Him about all of that realizing that a lot of it was motivated by my own curiosity. After pondering the questions that brought me to search the internet I heard Jesus say: “John, do you have any more questions?” In my own amazement with this conversation I said, “No, no I don’t think so.” Then He said, “Well, then, I guess we are done with this for now aren’t we.”
Oh, my gosh, I just experienced something about grace that I have never experienced before in my life. At a point where I felt as though I had just committed the “unpardonable sin” Jesus came into my heart with such calmness. He didn’t yell, He didn’t shame me, He didn’t scold me or embarrass me. He just acknowledged where I was at, listened to my heart, and in many ways, brought me into a teaching moment with Him right there with me.
I realized; duh, that Jesus was beside me the whole time. This wasn’t a surprise to Him. But even more, He also put all of this into perspective. It wasn’t so much about the pictures I ventured into. It was more about my heart with Him. That was far more important to Him than the clicking of my mouse while I looked to satisfy my own curiosity.
God, became man, right inside my own heart and dwelt with me. He showed me a personal side of our relationship that was one of the most significant experiences with Him I have ever had! He revealed to me just how close He is and how much He loves me.
I Found Grace!
I found a new revelation of the life transforming power of Grace. I learned something about humankind that never crossed my mind before. All of the challenges, confrontations, “preaching the truth” I had done in the past didn’t hold a candle to meeting with Jesus and finding His love and incredible ability to show me the truth that there is no condemnation from His heart to mine, if I am in Him.
As I pondered His message of grace to my heart, something quite dramatic began to change in the way I handled every relationship I encountered.
The World According to a Blogger!
As I approached the fall of 2008 I saw that there was a ministry forming that was deep in my heart. I knew it had something to do with the series I had taught as well as the new revelation of grace that was growing inside of me. “Tributaries of Grace” was the theme but the name was hard to say quickly and so I did a search for something close. I came up with “Grace Rivers”.
In just a couple of months time I had an official ministry name, a website, and a non-profit organization. So, now we had to figure out what this was all about. I began blogging about my transition, the changes in my heart and decided to write articles on the series I had taught. I knew there was something significant to tell others and I had to figure out how to do it.
An old acquaintance, Todd Posey, called me to ask me some questions about a group model that I had used when I was at Love In Action. He said he was coming to town and so we decided to meet and discuss what was going on in our lives. When we met, he was shocked and amazed at what I was talking about and affirmed that there was a purpose and a plan in God’s heart for my new vocational interests.
This meeting turned into more, and a plan was laid out! We developed a plot for what is now called “A Journey of Grace”. I began to write a chapter each week to process through the nine core principles that could lead someone to the same grace I had found for myself. After many weeks I had compiled a lengthy collection of topics and Todd thought it might be a great conference format.
So, a couple of months later we had another series of meetings and came up with a plan for how this material could be brought to the general market of Christian gatherings. We started marketing the conference and building a framework to release it. A decision was made to premier “A Journey of Grace” at Todd’s church in Kentucky. We bought radio spots, Todd talked it up everywhere he could and I sent out mailings to those within driving distance that were on my mailing list.
The Conference Was Delivered – But……
The date came, my wife and I traveled to northern Kentucky with great expectations of how this material would be received. We got ready for the Friday night event, assembled conference manuals and waited patiently for the start time to come.
Two hours later, our seats were empty and literally, NO ONE, came to register. We looked at each other and said, well, we are going to present a conference so here we go. I delivered each message passionately to two people, my wife, and Todd. Well, to be honest, Todd’s pastor came to some of the sessions so there were three people at times. But the material was presented, and recorded, without a hitch.
I certainly had to process the reality of hosting a conference out of town and no one showing up. The way I got through it was to realize, it had to be God’s plan because if one person would have come, it would have been worse. We figured God wanted to give us a practice run and I really was ok with what happened and wasn’t devastated. Well, I was disappointed and a little embarrassed when my friends asked me how it went. But I somehow had the confidence that God was with me through the experience. Just like in my office that day, God wasn’t surprised and would work this into something good.
The Next Writing Series
I came home and just kept moving forward with what was in front of me. I continued meeting with the 10 men weekly. I pondered what I might do next and pondered what else I could write about. So, Todd had encouraged me to write a devotional series on the pictures that show up on the Grace Rivers website. I began with one picture and wrote what came to my heart when I originally saw them and picked them to represent my heart for Grace Rivers Ministry. I felt my own heart encouraged as I wrote. These articles were from my heart and were written with real people in mind who were facing real life situations. I laid them out with the hope that someday they will be published in a book.
Another Piece of “A Journey of Grace”
I watched the lives of some friends of mine very closely. They had gone through such adversity and came out with a deep restoration in their family. I knew that the principles I had written about in A Journey of Grace were the same concepts that they had lived in their own family restoration. So, I contacted Sue DeRaad and asked her to write some of the ways that these none core principles had worked in their family to bring their family to reconciliation. So, Sue began to write and we came up with the additional material that will be in the upcoming book, “A Journey of Grace” with “From the Heart of a Woman”.
During this first year away from over 20 years of “ex-gay” ministry I kept pushing ministry to the subject of homosexuality out of my way. I kept thinking, “God, I want something radical, I don’t want to contrive any ministry focus out of my past, but want to be open to Your future.”
I kept looking for surprises and they came regularly. Watch for the next chapter in the adjustments to a brand new life, vocation, and career!
If you have the courage, this series will lead us into some uncharted waters and awesome opportunities. There will be challenges too. Stay tuned.
A New Car, A New Life – Part Two (Click Here)
To read more from “Through the Windshield of My Life”:
If you want to read articles from the Website Picture devotionals:
Friday, July 15th, 2011
I have been following your emails lately. You have talked a lot about the gay community but I am not sure that I understand what you are really saying about what motivates you within the ministry of Grace Rivers. You put out a recent ministry mission statement and I would like to know more about what you are really saying. Thank you in advance for more clarity.
Jim, I would love to help you better understand what I am doing and to convey more of my heart motivation to you.
First of all, I will be using the term “gay” in my statements. I have a desire to be as relevant to the gay community as I can be. In recent conversations with some people from the gay community I asked them about the terminology that best describes them.
One man said, “John, I don’t like the word “homosexual” because I don’t want my identity to be wrapped around the word “sex”. I am celibate and choose to remain that way for many reasons, but I am still “gay”. Being “gay” is not about sex. It is about part of my life experience that is intrinsically tied to how I connect to culture, community, and things about my relationships that are same gender connected. To say I am a homo’sex’ual puts more emphasis on sex than I relate to.”
I realize that for my generation, and for the Christian community that I am a part of to say “gay” brings all kinds of baggage with it. It may sound political, or bring up images of gay activism. Or for some, am image of a fringe collection of people that seem counter culture. Some people my age can’t fathom using the word gay because of historical images of certain stereotypes. But from my perspective, it is more important to relate to those I am working with and hope that those who don’t like the word “gay” will grow to hear my heart.
But, If I am going to share in the love of Christ with people from the gay community, it is important that I use words that are connecting, and not separating.
So, I hope you understand the terms I use here.
I have recently conveyed through articles and interviews on my website and in my email blogs some of the following perspectives.
You referred to a recent mission statement:
Grace Rivers is a ministry with the gay community that reveals the message of an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ and genuine community with His followers – because every person deserves to know that Jesus loves them.
All gay people deserve to know they are loved by God.
Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:39
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
Gay people have often felt discarded by many, and often from church associations, as though they have no value.
I have met many people from the gay community that have emotionally separated themselves from God and from gatherings of Christians due to deep wounds they have incurred.
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? Matthew 18:12
Many gay people have received from Jesus the gift of salvation and are a significant part of our Christian family and are seeking to further understand what that means and desire more of God in their lives.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10
Gay people are worthy of my respect because of their intrinsic value offered them by God.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:11-13
Gay people have legitimate lives, cares, concerns, relationships, and many seek to feel heard, validated, and understood.
I love the LORD, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
It is also my conviction that without a growing personal relationship with Jesus, no man will ever know their intrinsic worth, nor will anyone truly know God’s heart for them as people loved by Him.
Therefore, I seek to work with the gay community to convey this redemptive, radical love from God to His people, and to those who don’t know Him. There is no other reason for anyone to seek God for His desire for their lives other than in response to His unlimited gift to them of grace and the journey of salvation as unto eternity.
Jim, I hope this gives you some more clarity about my heart for the gay community. This passage closely describes my ministry motivation:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
It has been a tremendous privilege to see the amazing power of God’s grace in bringing healing and reconciliation to gay people who are hurting and need to hear that someone cares. During a recent opportunity this delightful young lady told me:
“John, we met 11 years ago when we ministered together at a conference. Shortly after that conference I walked away from God from so much hurt and pain from many people in the church. Two years ago, I found God’s grace for me and I have returned to Him. I want you to know that it was really hard to see you here today because you represent some of that pain for me. But, after we talked, God began to heal some more deep places in my heart. Thank you for who you are and thank God for what He has done between us. I can see more of Him today.”
After not seeing this next young man for 20 years, I arranged to meet him for breakfast and he said:
“I hired Jesus to heal me. He didn’t. So after many years of trying to get healed by myself, I walked away disappointed, believing that He cared more for others, who seemed to get healed, than he did me. John, as a result of our reunion today, I realize I need a new beginning with God. I am starting over in a new city and it’s a perfect time to start over with God.”
This last couple of months, I have had many of these “mountain top” experiences of reconciliation. God is showing me a brand new understanding of “reconciling grace”. I have seen the outcome of all of the work God has done during these recent years in my own heart. More than ever, I want to continue bringing this kind of freedom to others. As I am lead, I am pursuing people that God brings to my heart to bring them the good news of Jesus love.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
Links to other articles:
Articles on Homosexuality
Through the Windshield of My Life
Tuesday, July 5th, 2011
I can’t imagine life without a moment of rest to feel the warmth of the sun. A time to lay our cares down and bask in the Grace of God.
My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.
I was just five years old. Our family had moved into a new home in the suburbs of Omaha. We had a back yard that connected with a corn field behind us. It was June of 1959 so the wonderful summers of the Nebraska climate had just opened up their warm cozy arms to anyone who would stop long enough to feel them.
Our yard wasn’t huge but there was plenty of room for slip-n-slides, tents, and a huge Sycamore tree. My dad had put a large tractor tire behind the garage for a sand box and filled it with enough sand to enjoy. I remember one moment in particular that has remained with me all of my life.
It was about 8 o’clock in the morning one bright sunny day. I was sitting in the sand box and the warm morning sun had already heated up the black rubber of the tire. I was leaning back on the rim of the tire with the sun in my face. My memory wasn’t from something I had done or anything anyone else had done for that matter. It was a feeling of rest that was embracing me. The peace was so wonderful that it was embedded into my soul forever. For that one moment in time I had not one care in the world. Life was good!
I have often thought back upon that moment as a reference point for rest. In some ways I can measure restfulness by how I felt that special morning.
I have found many scriptures on rest. Far too many to quote them all here but I have selected some that might speak to your own need for rest. I find it very interesting that the Lord has given us so many passages that will point us to rest when we need it most.
Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things the LORD has commanded you to do: For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death. Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”
From the words of the Lord to Moses it appears that God is very much as interested in our rest as He is our work. It seems we often feel the need to prove something to ourselves, to others, or maybe even to God through our work.
In all of our performance, God is commanding us to rest. Our idols in life often involve work, energy consumption or busyness. Is there a temptation to fear that if we rest God may not be pleased with us? Do we fear slothfulness? Maybe so for some, but His word reminds us that we can rest secure in His presence.
I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
Do you ever have dreams that you can fly? I have had many dreams where I can soar above the ground with just a push of my feet. The feeling of freely flying is so amazing. There is such a relief in being untethered to the ground. True rest is like that. When I think back to the warm tractor tire I felt free, unburdened by life, almost like my dreams of flying. A warm smile comes to my face from the peace in my soul.
Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest- I would flee far away and stay in the desert.
Or maybe our greater fears are of being devoured by life trials and pain. Our work life is going ok, maybe even our relationships are pretty good, but there is a pain inside of us that seems to plague us. Is there rest from the seemingly chronic pain of this life? Physical pain, emotional pain, or the overwhelming pain of living in an imperfect world may seem to weigh us down every day.
I think God was providing me with a special memory of His rest because He knew I was going to enter into a tumultuous family experience soon. My family was about to disintegrate into adultery, divorce, molestation, and other confusion. I needed to know there was a place of rest that I could go to and my loving God was preparing the way. What I didn’t know was how God was going to draw me back to the sand box as a tool for deeper healing prayer later in life.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
It isn’t any wonder that my life verse is Psalm 116. It starts out with, “I love the Lord because He heard my voice…..” I really needed to know someone was listening as I cried out for help. The excerpt here from Psalm 116 reminds me all of the time that there is rest in God’s goodness for me that I can call upon when I need it.
The LORD protects the simple hearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
As a child I really didn’t know to go to the Lord for rest or to find peace from the surrounding turmoil in my life. When I became an adult the trials of life were mostly from my own wrong decisions I finally was introduced to a God who would love me unconditionally. I found a Savior that was on my side, Jesus that would never condemn me and the Holy Spirit who was my greatest cheerleader. In a new relationship with the Lord Almighty, I found a God who would bring me peace, He provided rest for my soul.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
My very first heartfelt prayer to Him was out of intense anguish. I was in an extremely painful relationship situation and I just couldn’t find a way out of what I was feeling. I had just recently learned the Serenity Prayer and thought I’d give it a try. God… Grant me the serenity to accept….. and before long I found relief, I found rest in a very personal way. It was that day that God proved to me He cared about what I was going through. He gave me a new reference point for rest.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
(Although known most widely in its abbreviated form above, the entire prayer reads as follows…)
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.
There is no rest without Faith. No serenity without Belief in the One who provides Peace. No good news without the Savior.
I believe the most succinct way to put it is in the Psalms.
Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything. (Message)
Cease striving and know that I am God. (NAS)
Be still, and know that I am God. (NIV)
Once we understand the rest from our attempts to prove our worthiness through our own efforts, we can then learn how to rest from the turmoil around us.
He is our peace - Jehovah Shalom.
Be at rest, oh my soul.
Friday, July 1st, 2011
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: Matthew 3:1-3
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:17
This word brings a negative history of screaming to my mind. As I think of the itinerant preachers along the countryside or those inside the large auditoriums having laid before us the “turn or burn” mentality, it certainly left questions in my mind about what John the Baptist or Jesus meant in these passages. What has often come to my mind with the word “repent” is that is connected to behaviors or habits that some would say need to stop. I certainly haven’t felt particularly loved when I hear those words in my mind. I am sure you may not either. But think about this.
During a recent bible study where we were reading through the book of Matthew we were digging our way through the first four chapters. With resource books, lots of discussion, and sharing our own observations, something profound hit us.
Repent? What are these writers trying to tell those who are reading their words? As we grappled through these words, we discussed how we had always thought of repentance as changing something in our behavior. To quit a negative habit or to stop doing something that was wrong. It seemed we all agreed that our concept of repentance was connected to actions. We also agreed that it was usually attached to someone pointing the finger at us with expectations, or sad to say, judgment.
As we looked over and over these passages we realized that it was more likely connected to a heart change. It had to do with recognizing the bigger picture of the gospel where John was asking those around him to get ready for a new kingdom, a kingdom where Jesus was king. Jesus was following up with a challenge to turn from a worldly kingdom to an eternal kingdom. There was a common thread of something much deeper than just a behavior change or ceasing a habit.
The Old Testament writers meant to “turn”. In the New Testament, it means a complete change of life, a heart change much deeper than just a change in behavior. It’s about our heart with God. It’s connected to a willingness to see God for who He really is. A movement from the “kingdom of this world” to the “kingdom of God.”
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15
Jesus was asking us to relinquish “false saviors”, “false kingdoms” and to believe and trust Him. He preached this message to the “in group” of the Israelites, the Pharisees!
And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27
After His statement about loving Him more than even our own families, Jesus is asking us to count the cost of repentance. Turning from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God is extremely costly! Interestingly enough, the Pharisees (hum, can we say today “religious legalists”) began to grumble while the sinners and tax collectors began to turn to Him.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2
Jesus message of repentance was not one of “change your behavior” but rather it was a calling unto Himself. A desire for relationship. A calling to a new kingdom.
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:7-9
Notice who the brood of vipers were. It was those who were worshiping their religion. He was asking them to consider what the true fruit of “repentance” was. The good fruit of having a real life relationship with Jesus. Not the outcome of a legalistic religious practice. Jesus was stern with sinners, but He was angry with the Pharisees. Too often repentance is a legalistic preachy message and not a call to fall in love with the Savior.
As Our Bible Study Pondered These Truths
As we mulled this over each of us were acutely aware that we had the wrong idea about repentance. We realized we could change our negative views of repentance to one of a loving gift, a wonderful opportunity that is always present.
I remember God showing me that I had a wrong place in my heart regarding people of another race and that He saw them differently than I did. Dealing with judging others is something that is ever present in our lives. But, it doesn’t do any good to attempt to change ourselves. It isn’t so much about repenting of racism as it is repenting of our unwillingness to see people as God does. Repentance is about turning to God for His perspective, His heart for others and His heart for me.
Through the last three years the thing that has been working itself deep into my heart is how great God’s love is for us and I’ve been learning a deeper understanding of His abundant grace. I realize that God’s love is really hard to grasp as a human. I also understand that the word “grace” can mean myriads of things to us and is hard to grasp as well. But, today, I am particularly struck by the way God’s grace can change my heart and how it can encourage others.
In a recent trip to San Francisco for the Frameline Film Festival I had an amazing meeting with two men whom I had known really well about 20 years ago. I really loved them both and appreciated their lives. But through the years I had judged them to be living apart from God; in opposition to Him. I had made the decision to distance myself from them. Now mind you, I had not talked with either one of them through the years. I was holding out for a decision on their part to come to their senses about their lives. In my judgment I really wasn’t interested in what they might be going through nor was I truly loving them like I thought I was.
But God has been revealing to me the way that I had been critical of others and really had not fully understood what God’s grace meant in my own life. Therefore I was not a good reflection of what He likely meant. When I began to grasp God’s abundant love for me in a new way I began to see the changes in my heart towards others. This brought me to a place where I really wanted to reconnect with people I had known years earlier. I really wanted them to know what I had discovered and that I loved them. I wanted to ask them to forgive me for my conditional love for them.
A Meeting With Two Friends – An Experience With Real Repentance
So, as I planned my trip to San Francisco I got in touch with one of these men through FaceBook. I just said I would like to see him and he tentatively agreed to a breakfast meeting. After I arrived in San Francisco I reached out to another man whom I had also written off many years ago. They knew each other so we agreed to meet at the same time for our meal together.
Sunday morning came.. When I got to the restaurant Ryan had just arrived. When we sat down he said, “John, I had to do a pretty good sales job to get Michael to come this morning. He was feeling angst and asked me if I knew why “John Smid” wanted to see us. He said Michael, like Ryan was on Saturday, was tenuous about our meeting.
I felt grieved about what he said. I thought I always loved them with unconditional love. But as he shared of their fears of being with me I realized that they didn’t see the same unconditional love that I thought I was showing them. Obviously, in their angst, they felt conditions and expectations might be in play here.
Ryan was single and had accepted his homosexuality. He is deeply involved in events connected to the San Francisco gay community. Michael had also accepted his homosexuality and had been with a long term partner for over 6 years.
I always said I loved them but I realized that my love for them had mixed foundations. I loved them “if”. I loved them if they were in line with what I believed was best. I loved them if we were in agreement. I loved them if they shared the same kind of relationship with God that I did. I loved them if they were seeking help with things I deemed needing attention.
This day was extremely different. I had no agenda, no expectations. As I shared with them about what God had been doing in my heart. As we talked, these men opened their hearts up to me. I heard their stories, and connected to them more intimately than I think I ever had in the past.
As we sat in this little diner, I saw into the soul of who they were as people, loved by God without conditions. I was able to listen to their wounds and understand them. I was able to relate to their sense of alienation, rejection, and to the judgment they had incurred from others. Since my conditional blinders were removed, I no longer had the ear plugs preventing me from listening.
Grace Brings Life! The Law Produces Death.
I was humbled that he would take the time to see me. I felt so grieved that someone would feel the way he did about meeting with me. But he said after he saw the changes in my heart, he felt softened towards me, and towards God!
I said to them,
“Please forgive me for any way I have ever said, or inferred that you are anything less than God’s very best. Not your flesh; but you, your soul, the person you are. You are God’s very best and He loves you deeply.”
Michael then told me something he remembered from way back almost 20 years ago. He said, “John, I remember you telling me that I was a ‘Jewel’ and to never forget my testimony. You told me that people were always drawn to me and would remember me.”
I said, “Michael, how cool is that. It is true! You are a “Jewel” and I have never forgotten you. And… this is your testimony. The dark times, the invisible times of Jesus, and the good times, your life is your testimony. You are on the Journey of Christ!”
I am acutely aware of how so many people live in such deeply rooted shame. A type of shame that says, “you are damaged goods”. This is not from the Spirit of our God, rather from the pit of hell! This shame is so hard to fight against. But, I know that God loves us through our shame and against the common messages sent to us from some people who really don’t understand God’s grace.
I was amazed and almost wept during our conversation. I saw an aspect of God’s amazing grace at work right before my eyes! The changes in the hearts of these two men were almost instantaneous. I began to reflect on something that Paul said in the book of Romans, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
The Real Change of Heart
During our incredible time together in their own unique ways, each one of these men said they realized they had been estranged from their relationship with God. They talked of how they were on the cusp of new beginnings in their personal lives. They mentioned that now after our time together they could see my heart for them and that through all of this, they believed it was a time to renew their life with God.
The wounds they were experiencing were in some ways connected to the way they had felt judged by me in my distance from them through the years. One of them told me he had felt tenuous about our meeting because he expected me to confront him. He said so many other Christians would say they wanted to see him but they also always ended up confronting him. He was willing to meet with me just because he had loved me and appreciated our relationship as something significant to his life. He felt guarded about our meeting before we met and was prepared for a confrontation.
I found it very interesting that our bible study seemed to correlate with this story so well. If I had said to either of these two men, “you need to repent” I am sure they would have heard “you are so bad, clean up your act so that God can accept you.”
God Loves You – Right Now, Today, Always
Instead, the only thing in my heart was to let them know how much God loves them right now, today, always. I think that was on John the Baptist’s heart, and certainly it is Jesus’ heart.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
I have no doubt today that Jesus was saying to us,
“Here I am! I love you so much, I am going to give my life for you. I have come to let you know that I can become your King if you let me. I can change your heart from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.
I can bring you a new life that will answer so many questions. I will go in your stead to the Judge and tell Him that I’ve got you covered from the eternal consequences of your imperfection. I really want you to know, that without me, you will die eternally and I don’t want that to happen because I want you to live with me forever!”
Now, that sure sounds a lot different than what I had always heard in my head:
“Turn or burn. Get your life together. STOP THAT!” Or “Clean up your act!”
What I Hear Now
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Acts 3:19-20
I have hope that I will get the opportunity to be a messenger of God’s grace to many more whom He wants me to know, to listen to and to love.
As Ryan, Michael and I walked outside the diner I looked across the street. the building was the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Community Center.
Above the building I saw this little cross rising from the top. I mentioned it to them and said, “Isn’t that interesting, a cross on top of that building.” In my heart, I couldn’t deny that it was a wonderful symbol of God’s love for all people and his desire to be their King!
They said, “Oh, that’s a cross on the Baptist church behind the center. I am sure they don’t have anything good to say to us.”
Well, no matter what anyone wants to say, I believe His endless call for us to join Him for His eternal kingdom, is a call to repentance, a turning and going the opposite direction. But it doesn’t start with changing behavior. It starts with a changed heart – and only He can give us that. Once we are His, He can do the fixing just fine.
If you would like to read the full report on my trip to San Francisco please click below:
John Smid’s Weekend in San Francisco
Other Articles on Homosexuality