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People are Hurting

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011


two-men-talking

Talks with Two Men in One Week

I have found over the last several months that each week or so God seems to bring someone to my mind to pursue, or someone to my life that is searching, or in pain. Often these are people I have known. Sometimes I may have not seen or talked to them for many years. This week there were two people that deeply touched my life.


“Hello Charles! Wow, it’s so good to see you!” After I gave him a great big hug I stood back and saw someone with the “deer in the headlights” look on his face. Oh, he knew me and it hadn’t been all that long since we’d seen each other but it was clear he was surprised.


After exchanging some catch-up information, Charles began to release some deep thoughts from a very challenging place in his heart. He said “John, I’ve let it all go. Everything! I’ve let it go.” My mind went into hyper processing mode.


I didn’t know exactly what he meant. Since I had known him through ex-gay ministry connections I thought maybe he meant that he had let his process regarding homosexuality go. I asked him what he meant and he kind of stumbled for words. He was very unclear about what he had removed from his life but reading between the lines I think I understood that it involved his relationship with God. That much larger issue seemed to be more of the situation then his gay issues which were on his mind as well.


Another Contact

facebook friendEarlier that week I saw a note on FaceBook written by a friend I hadn’t seen for 10 to 15 years. This was a man who had also been involved in ex-gay ministry, gotten married, divorced and had really been through the wringer emotionally. Due to these and some other pretty traumatic events he described, I replied with a short acknowledgement that I had read what he had written and how grieved I felt about what he had been through. He responded giving me much more of the painful detail. In it he expressed how life had challenged him emotionally and physically. He had been going though a really tough season due to the deep things he had been processing. At the end of his message, he said:



“My faith is really challenged and  I’m not even sure if Jesus is Jesus. I do believe in  “God” , but I’m not sure what I believe is beyond that. To be honest, I find myself getting angry when I see or hear things related to Christianity. I guess I’ll figure it out, somehow.”


I wrote him back with this:

I feel privileged to hear your story. I am sorry for all you have gone through and yet, as you have said, it is a new beginning for you. You know, questioning all of the things you mentioned about your faith isn’t a bad thing. It is wonderful to find the freedom to go to the deepest things with God and find out that you may find the answers you are looking for in the deepest parts of your heart.


I went on to apologize for some things that were a part of our friendship years ago that I knew I could own.  I recognized that some of my interaction with him at that time may have brought this man some challenges he had experienced.


His reply was so amazing.

“I don’t know exactly what to say except than I’m so thankful for your honesty! As I type this message, there are tears rolling down my face. I always thought that you and other Christian leaders were unshakable. Everything was black & white & there was no gray. I’m still in bit of a shock from reading your e-mail John! I completely respected you when I knew you years ago. I just wanted you and other leaders in my life to be proud of me. I respect you even more today!!!! Thanks again for your honesty.”


This correspondence was on my mind when I saw Charles on the street. As he talked it was very evident he had a lot on his heart and I just happened to walk along and touch the wound  and the pain came flooding out. I tried my hardest to share with him that I really understood the things that he was saying but each time I tried to respond, he just put his hand up and said “no” and continued talking. This went on for about 20 minutes. I didn’t try to respond again until it seemed he had run out of steam. He was very hurt and it was obvious when he said “I have separated myself from that church completely and everyone there. I tried to stay connected but then I realized that they really didn’t give a “F*#$%” about me.”


Oh man, this is one hurting man. What could I possibly say that would help. I put up my hand this time. I said, “”Charles, I have something I’d like to say.” He quickly said “no” again. Then I put up my hand again and said, “No, Charles, I want to apologize.” His face reflected some surprise at my request. I took advantage of the pause and quickly said:


“Charles, I am so sorry for the role that I have played in your pain.” I went on to specifically apologize to him for things that were honest and appropriate to apologize for. I went to great lengths to be sure it  was specific to our history as friends.


He listened to me and seemed to calm down some. Then he said, “John, I hadn’t planned on getting into all of this tonight. I just want to move past it all.” We shook hands and he reluctantly moved away from our conversation, walking down the street. I stayed and talked with others and saw him walk by again, this time he looked over and smiled and waved.


I feel so grieved at the pain that is out there in the lives of those who have felt so wounded by Christians. I remember in my own history proclaiming, “Oh if they would only repent, then maybe they wouldn’t be in so much pain.” I often put all of the blame for their pain on their choices. I didn’t know how to take any responsibility for my role to help. Years ago, I didn’t really want to think about it much and realized it just felt too challenging to face.


I realize that a lot of my reluctance stemmed from a deep feeling that somehow I would have to figure out how to “fix” the problem. I am a “fixer” by nature anyway and find I can get overwhelmed easily when I start to take the problems that seem to present themselves onto my own shoulders. But now that I have somehow become more able to just listen and trust that God will do what He needs to do, it is so much easier.


At the end of my conversation with Charles I begged him to consider taking the time to talk with me at a more appropriate time and place. A busy street corner certainly wasn’t the best. I handed him a card so he’d have my contact information on it. It said “Grace Rivers” on it. He looked down and said, oh, of course; “Grace” and shook his head. I pray he will get in touch with me.


I am thrilled at the opportunities God has graciously given me to be in a position to hear the pain and disappointment that some people feel. I am privileged to be able to dig into my own heart taking responsibility for what I can own with others. It seems to make a difference in their lives and hopefully in their relationship with God.


 

A New Car – A New Life? Part 2

Thursday, July 28th, 2011


shadow-manMeeting 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.


strange landA 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.”


heart beatI 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.


meeting of the mindsA 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.

heart-passion

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?”


gift from God

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)

 

A New Car, A New Life?

Friday, July 22nd, 2011


SiennaThrough 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.


2002 camryIt 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.




Surprise Me!


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.


Job Applications

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”:


Click Here


If you want to read articles from the Website Picture devotionals:


Click Here

 

God’s Love for the Gay Community

Friday, July 15th, 2011


mailbag_3John,

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 P.



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.

Psalm 116:1-2


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:


General Resources

Articles on Homosexuality

Through the Windshield of My Life


 

Rest

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011


boy_laying_by_riverI 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.






Ps. 62:1,5

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.

John Kindergarten - 1960


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.


TractorTire

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.


Ex. 35:1-3

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.


Ps. 16:8-10

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.


Ps. 55:5-7

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.


Ps. 91:1-3

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.


in Jesus arms

Ps. 116:6-9

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.


Matt. 11:-28-29

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.


serenity


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.

Amen.


Heb. 4:1-2

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.


Ps. 46:10

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)



cat asleepOnce 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.




 

“This Is What Love In Action Looks Like”

Thursday, June 16th, 2011



John, I saw that there is a documentary on Face Book that is about the story of the protests that occurred many years ago against the youth program at Love In Action when you were the director there.  I saw your picture on the FaceBook page of the documentary and wondered what you think about this film?  –  Joshua P.


JohnSmidReflectiveShotB&WFantasyBackgroundDear Joshua,


Yes, there is a new documentary coming out called; “This Is What Love In Action Looks Like”.  I am interviewed on this documentary. I will be attending the premier on June 18, 2011.  I’d like to talk about my involvement in this film so that you will see what my role is and how I have been involved.  –  John




LIA ProtestA phone call from Morgan Fox came into my office:

“Hello, Morgan? Yes, I know you are producing a documentary about the protests at Love In Action this year. What? Your asking if I will do an interview with you for the documentary? I’ll think about it and my Communications Director will get back with you.”


I had no intention of being any part of this documentary. The Love In Action staff discussed Morgan’s proposal and decided it would be best to remain silent and allow it to be what it would be without any words from me. I was frustrated about the fact that there was a protest and even more that it was being chronicled by someone I believed to be a fringe film artist in the gay community. I wanted no part of any of it.


Six years later here I am, interviewed on the film. What changed?


After an initial meeting with Morgan in 2005, while I was still the Director of Love In Action, we decided to meet again for casual talks over coffee. I began to  hear his heart. I grew to have a different perspective of him, and learned new things about myself. I had begun to see him as a person with talent and a tremendous heart for people. After several lengthy talks, I grew to respect and admire his honesty and authenticity.



At one point, a few months after I left Love In Action in 2008, I began to further process the effects of the protests. I began to feel responsible for some of the negative effects on some of the youth that were highlighted in the protest. I  talked with Morgan about being interviewed for his film. “Morgan, when I was still at Love In Action, our decision to remove ourselves from the film took into consideration my position and the ministry. But now, I am no longer with Love In Action. I feel an obligation to address some of the questions that linger. I will not speak “for” Love In Action, but am willing to share my own thoughts.”


The Filming Began

John Interview-foxSo, we began to schedule the interviews. I spent many hours with Morgan in front of a camera sharing my life story, answering questions about my 22 year work with Love In Action. We also drove around town to different spots for “B” roll footage for the documentary.


During one film session we were in my office for several hours. Towards the end of a tiring day, the person interviewing me began to ask me for my perspective about the day of the first protest. I looked over at Morgan and a bolt of nervous laughter came from both of our hearts. It was one of those “you had to have been there” moments where we just couldn’t gain control.


Morgan got up and left the room so that the interview could continue. But afterwards we talked about our reaction to  the protest. We had stayed away from talking about the protest so it was somehow tucked into our memories and hadn’t come up. Our talks were about each other, about our hearts, our families and our passions. We realized that we both had uncomfortable feelings about June 6th, 2005, the day the protests began. We decided to have a meeting just to talk about those days and got honest about our feelings and how they had changed through the years.


A Unique Kind of Partnership

Morgan and John - colorAs the film was worked into a DVD, Morgan and I talked a lot about it. We discussed the different directions it could take. I shared my thoughts, Morgan shared his, and it became a kind of project that we both flushed out together. Of course, there were many advisers that I hadn’t even met that helped him with the project. But, I felt valued that he would allow me into the discussion.


A Preview Copy of the Poject

A couple of months ago this year (2011), almost five years later, Morgan gave me a copy of the DVD that was close to being finished. I sat down and watched it. I didn’t like it! I didn’t like it at all. I was surprised that I had the feelings that I was experiencing as I moved through it. It seemed to be hours long. I just wanted it to be over.


“Wow, now what am I going to do? I am sure Morgan will ask me what I think of it.”


I sat down and tried to write down all of my thoughts on what I had seen. I critiqued it with what I thought was an honest heart. I wrote a long detailed list of things I wanted to say to him about the film. Then I set a date to meet with Morgan to share what was on my mind. I wasn’t looking forward to our discussion. I believed that our friendship had developed an honest foundation and I knew I had to level with him about my review of the film.


As I looked over the list, I realized that I had one primary emotional reaction; embarrassment! I felt embarrassed to be on the film. I felt embarrassed about the negative light that was presented about Love In Action. I realized that in a way, the entire documentary was focused on “John Smid” and his actions. The interviews with those that had spoken negatively about their experience with Love In Action were glaring in my face. There were a couple of people who were positive, but vast majority of the film is challenging the very nature of the ministry that I worked with for 22 years.


Initially, I didn’t want anything to do with this film or its release. I just wanted to go hide in a corner and not be seen by anyone. As I reviewed my list, I wondered how Morgan would take my reaction? I wondered what this do to our growing relationship? Would this be the end of our friendship? Would all of our time together getting to know each other get washed down the drain? I had grown to care about Morgan as a person and looked forward to what may occur in the future.


Our appointment to discuss the film was postponed and it gave me more time to think about my reaction to the film. I realized now that it wasn’t that I necessarily disagreed with the content, or many of the challenges within it. I saw that there were changes in my own heart since leaving Love In Action. I was gaining awareness of where I had made mistakes that had hurt people and had produced some challenging outcomes. I wanted to be able to accept responsibility.


I Have To Get Real

The “Refuge Program” for youth  was the highlight of the film. It had been laid out with some flaws in its design. As a two week “day” program it allowed parents to register their kids without their overall desire to be there. We just rationalized that it was a good thing for the kids and even if they didn’t like it. We believed it would be in their best interest to come if their parents wanted them there. I paid little attention to the things that some parents did to coerce, or to manipulate their teens to come.


There was no requirement for the parents to participate in anything for themselves other than a support group meeting once a week. This left gaping holes in the structure that was for some, destructive to the parent/child relationship. The kids did pretty well while they were with us during the day. But going home each evening, for some of the kids, became a probing nightmare of questions and expectations. Upon completion, some of the kids went home to a family dynamic that hadn’t changed at all. This left them with further wounding places in their heart and some didn’t survive this very well.


After the program had run for a couple of months, I was engaged in a staff meeting. We reviewed some things about the program and our staff discussed revamping the Refuge Program. We realized that it was all based on the wrong people. We designed a new program that was an intensive program for the parents. If their kids wanted to come we would do a thorough interview with them to make sure it was their idea and desire. This became our new program and the Refuge Program had ceased. I felt fearful of the protesters finding out that we had changed the program. I didn’t want them to think they had won this battle. I just rationalized that it was our observation and our idea to rework the program.


In review of the DVD I also felt conflicted about it’s content.  Some of the information and interviews stemmed from the adult program. The programs were quite different from each other. The adult program was a residential program for man and women who were there because they had applied and been accepted through their own efforts.  Though some of the same material was taught and some of the groups were together, the application process and mindset were distinctly different.  I was concerned that the viewers of the film may think the reviews of the information would not separate the different programs.


I now completely agree that an underage teenager should not be manipulated or coerced into this kind of program against their own convictions and willingness to participate. To do so would be counter productive.


I Feel Embarrassed

Morgan Jon FoxSo, after I had looked back over this situation, I realized that even though I felt embarrassed and conflicted, I couldn’t disagree with the documentary’s focus. Morgan and I got together and I began to share honestly the things that I had written down that were challenging me about the film. I started with, “Morgan, I feel embarrassed about being seen in the film.


“His face dropped into disappointment. He said, “I’m sorry, John. I didn’t mean……” I said, “No, Morgan, this is about me and my reaction. It isn’t about you or what you produced. His honest response to my comment allowed a very vulnerable conversation to come out. He was humble and yet honest himself. I went on to explain more of my agreement that I had been wrong and that we had done some things that needed correction.


My comments went on to more about things based on fact rather than the concept of the film. Our discussion was one more experience of two men who can disagree, grapple through things, and walk away with a respect towards each other. It was a good discussion with Morgan. I had feared this for nothing.


An Invitation to the Premier

Morgan went even further. He invited me to attend the premier of the film. It was to take place in San Francisco at the FrameLine Film Festival. FrameLine is a Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender community focused event. I had to go away and think about his invitation for sure. He also asked me to be a part of the panel for questions after the film is shown.


My first response was to not even consider going. I still wasn’t feeling so positive about the film and didn’t want to be further exposed by standing right there in front of the crowd who just saw the film.


But as the weeks have gone by, I realize that now I want to stand up in front, beside Morgan and say to the crowd, “this is my friend Morgan Fox.” I also wanted to be honest and take the heat of the film and be responsible for the mistakes I had made. I want the teens in the film, or in the audience, to  know my heart. I want them to know that I hear them and to make amends for the things that lay at my feet of responsibility.


framelineFriday, June 17th 2011, I will be flying to San Francisco.


I’ll be meeting with Morgan and his friends prior to the presentation of “This Is What Love In Action Looks Like.” We’ll see the film together with the audience. I’ll stand beside Morgan at the end to listen to comments and take questions. I am trusting that God, my Lord, Jesus, will be with each of us and that He will make a way through this difficult challenge.


I may still feel very embarrassed to be in that spot. I will probably feel anxious and curious to walk this through.


But, I do not regret for one minute the outcome of the protests of 2005. Those protests helped to set the stage for many changes that came into my life over the next several years. In 2008, I left Love In Action. I found a new sense of God, His grace, and His love for all people. I have met some wonderful new friends and they have taught me more about grace, God’s forgiveness, and how prejudiced I had been. So, in some ways, this film is a mark in my own life that I don’t want to forget. Morgan has helped me to discover more of who I am because of who he is as a person, and as a friend.


new product shot front  cover whiteI’ll also be promoting my new book “A Journey of Grace”.  The book is based on how to build and maintain healthy relationships through using nine core values. It contains a storyline that shows the history of how Morgan and I developed a friendship through the years. I also includes an editorial of the book by Morgan.


So, here we go! The premier will set the mark!


During one of our film interviews Morgan and I talked about how we had developed a friendship. One of the technical assistants said, “Hum. Morgan, isn’t this title interesting?”


Morgan and I looked at each other and realized that it has a great title. The behind the scenes victory is how we once were enemies, and now we are friends. Through my involvement with Morgan as this film has been developed it has shown me:


This — Is What Love, In Action, Looks Like.


MLG-MJF-LIA













Connected Articles

by John J. Smid from Grace Rivers Ministry


Changes in My Own Heart


A New Life – a testimony by John Smid


A Letter of Apology by John Smid


Love Your Enemy


Articles on Homosexuality



Links of Interest:


This is What Love In Action Looks Like – Blog


Information for Frameline Festival Premier


Premier Announcement from “Live From Memphis”.


 

Grace, Grace – God’s Grace

Friday, June 10th, 2011


Clouds and forest in the valeyFrom up here it’s all beautiful.


What is the big picture of our life with God? It is a picture of all of life framed in grace. God’s design from the very beginning of creation was to show us His abundant love. His intent was to offer us forgiveness. Was it a surprise that Adam sinned? I think not. He had a plan that was to be revealed over time. After a season of allowing the human race to run amok he offered extravagant forgiveness through the cross. As I am thinking of His love I am reminded of a wonderful hymn:


Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that is greater than all our sin.


Do you believe that His grace is greater than your worst sin? Your darkest shame? It’s not about being able to recite “I am forgiven”. What I am talking about here is do you KNOW and have EXPERIENCED His grace personally?


I am reading a book called “Connecting” by Larry Crabb. I am amazed to find that this book is written to convey so much of the same message I have been embracing for some time now. At times I feel very alone as I speak about the amazing nature of God’s grace. I have come to realize that many who know Christ have not truly experienced His transforming grace.


In Larry’s book he says “the most powerful thing we can do to help someone to change is to offer them a rich taste of God’s incredible goodness in the New Covenant. He looks at us with eyes of delight, with eyes that see goodness beneath the mess, with a heart that beats wildly with excitement over who we are and who we will become. Sometimes he exposes what we are convinced would make Him turn away in disgust in order to amaze us with His grace. That is connecting. When we connect like that, we can change people’s lives.”


Did you hear that? “Sometimes he exposes what we are convinced would make Him turn away in disgust in order to amaze us with His grace.”


The Pharisees exhibited the antithesis of this truth. This is why I believe Jesus was preaching so strongly to their legalism. This is why I have become so disenchanted with some organized churches that promote works oriented gospels. I often hear spoken the notion that Jesus will turn away from us when we need Him the most.


I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either. Matthew 23:12-14 (The Message)


Why did Jesus see their teaching as a roadblock to God’s kingdom?

They were legalists teaching a works oriented lifestyle. They were leading the lost into believing they had to follow laws to please God. Many of them were blind to see the message of Jesus as being valid. A message of God’s incredible grace.  I once saw Jesus’ messages in the gospels as seemingly harsh, even at times uncaring. But in further process I found that this was typically true when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees.  To those who were willing to admit they needed help He was kind, gracious, and forgiving. He exhibited sharp direct responses to those who blocked others from His message of grace.


I was speaking to a group of business men about God being present with us in our worst sin. I said that God never leaves us, nor does he forsake us no matter where we are or what we are doing.  I talked about my own life experience when God and I had a very meaningful conversation as I was involved in something that was clearly wrong. It was in our conversation that I discovered a deeper level of relationship with Him.  I spoke of the loving reality that God’s presence is with us in the darkest part of our hearts and lives. One man stood and said, “John, you are preaching a gospel from the pit of hell!” “I’ll never agree that God is with us when we are in sin behavior!”


What?


Oh, my goodness. If I thought God abandoned me in my greatest hour of need then I would also think I had to do life all by myself. The thought that He somehow comes and goes from my life based on my behaviors reminds me of human conditional love that can’t handle my imperfections. God is certainly present at all times and in all situations even though He may feel grieved, His arms are always present and reaching out to me.  His first example of this was shown in the way he searched for Adam after he sinned. Think about it, Adam’s choice to disobey God cost all of humanity the garden of life that God established.  And yet, God was grieved and searched for Adam with His desire to connect.  God shows His never ending passion to be with us. We run from Him and attempt to hide while He desires us to acknowledge His presence when we are in sin.  How else can we deal with it?  Without Him we are left with our own inability to do anything to please Him.


Grace on the Streets


A good friend said that his church decided that on Good Friday two years ago they wanted to show God’s love to the gay community in the heart of a prominent city. They decided the best way they could do that was to set up a communion table on the street offering God’s grace through giving them communion to anyone who wanted to come.  They were shocked to find how many came to them and sobbed as they walked up to the table. They found a spiritual hunger that was great and they prayed for those who came seeking His grace. Tears were shed, lives were encouraged, and Jesus was lifted high in their display of acceptance and unconditional love.


Whoa!  In some circles that would be heretical!  Some would consider that unholy and potentially blasphemous!  I could imagine some churches, some pastors, some denominations that would never consider doing such a thing. They might be standing at the doors of their churches with invitation but what about an outward expression of love? Jesus went to the byways to seek those that needed His touch. But can you imagine what the people in that community might have thought?  I am sure the grace that was present in the presentation of communion for them was profound!


woman_at_the_wellWhen I heard this story, I wept.  I thought, that is exactly what Jesus would have done – actually, that is exactly what He did! On many occasions Jesus offered Himself to those that were seemingly, according the culture, not clean enough for His presence.  Well, none of us are.


I am just beginning to grasp His goodness, His love for me. It is my prayer and hope that I will continue to grow more and more in embracing Him this way. Knowing grace like this has been a freedom that I have never understood before. I have been freed from the practice of manipulating others into a conforming life because I no longer believe I need to conform to be accepted by Him. Rather, my deepest desire is to show the real Jesus to those that are struggling with life. The Jesus that loves us right where we are with a redeeming intensity and an overreaching cover that only He can provide.


I was speaking with a friend the other day and he said, “John, aren’t you speaking of a permissive religion?” As I thought of that word, “permissive” I realized that when we fear permissiveness, we attempt to apply the law to somehow control other’s lives into conformity. This kind of practice will never produce a transformed life. It is when we realize we are completely and totally free that we finally take responsibility for our own lives and understand what grace is really all about.


Larry’s book also says, “God’s method is neither to merely issue commands from the general’s tent (do what is right) nor to improve the functioning of diseased organs (fix what is wrong). Instead he becomes so intimately a part of us that we want to resist whatever he doesn’t like and release the good things he has aroused within us.”


This is the truth that I discovered over a year ago. When we grasp His love, our desires change quite naturally to conform to His, not as a cultural or social modification. This is done without someone standing over us with a stick warning us of the wrongs of our ways. In a conversation with someone about this they said, “don’t we have to teach people about what it right and wrong?” My reply was, “I think we already know, don’t we?” He has spoken to our hearts from His and I believe as followers of Christ we know what He wants from us.  He says His sheep hear His voice.


“Connecting” speaks about God exposing the wrong in our lives, not to slap us with them but rather “to reveal the grace that the difficult content of our hearts provides”. He says, God’s message (from Him to us) throughout the exposure process is “I’m that good, I still like you, I’m for you, I want you to know it. And what’s ahead for you is beyond description.”


Our flesh is exposed for the purpose of more fully revealing the depths of God’s kindness and then the intent of change is productive.


Romans 2:3-4

So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?


mighty crossSin and despair, like the sea waves cold,

Threaten the soul with infinite loss;

Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,

Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.


We all understand that sin has caused us incredible harm. As a Christian, I have certainly seen the destruction of sinful selfish behaviors in my own life and in the lives of those around me. At one time I was motivated to crush the actions of others that cause pain or problems. I may have even thought about crushing them! At times I think I may have crushed a part of the soul of those involved instead.


I used a prophetic gift to challenge people about their sin and negative choices. Now that same gift can attach itself to my passion about making sure people know of God’s love for them. I have become protective of this message and get prophetically riled when I hear of any teaching that would block His message of grace. As Paul often wrote, he was incensed at the thought of any new believers going back to the law and turning away from grace.


I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Galatians 1:6-9


Amazing GraceGrace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that is greater than all our sin.


The cleansing within that occurs comes from a transformational relationship with Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, our greatest Cheerleader. (read my article on the Holy Spirit) When we understand the depth of His love for us a cleansing occurs that is beyond description! It is deep, thorough, and complete. The challenge is that our contemporary recovery movement has been couched in attempts to corral sin into safe boxes. It can be more about focusing on the sinful behaviors than it is on the glory of an amazing, radical God! We have therefore lived in the deception that this works. If I ask anyone who has struggled with patterns of negative behavior if the “seven questions of accountability” worked to transform their heart I think they would all say a resounding “NO”!


Some of our churches have become” behavior police” rather than ministries of the gospel of authentic grace. Programs have been developed to chase down counterproductive behavior rather than to offer God’s incredible love in the midst of failure. We have divorce recovery programs rather than leading men and women into how to live in grace with their struggling marriage. We have specialized programs to restore those who have lived in sin patterns that are separate from regular gatherings of Christians because we fear that the general body of believers will further wound them from criticism and sneering eyes. What?  Who are we and Who are we following?  Are we really a bunch of Pharisees? I know I have been and can still be like that when I am not careful of my own short comings.


The only way someone really changes is when they realize that they are free! I know, it sounds like an oxymoron but I have come to believe that it is absolutely correct. In knowing I am forgiven, free, totally in right standing with my Father regardless of what I do, I find I want to serve Him more and want to move towards what He wants for me. I realize that I am not commanded away from wrong choices, I am freely embraced by an abundant radically loving God.


Red20TideDark is the stain that we cannot hide.

What can we do to wash it away?

Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,

Brighter than snow you may be today.


Our sin shows up every day. We go through all kinds of antics in an attempt to hide our internal struggles but they come out. We are totally helpless to hide our sin. We see it. I am well aware of my bad choices. Others will see it and ultimately, God sees it. But, He loves us so much that he provided His present grace that is big enough to cover all of it and all of us.


grace cubesMarvelous, infinite, matchless grace,

Freely bestowed on all who believe!

You that are longing to see His face,

Will you this moment His grace receive?


Freely bestowed – on ALL who believe? “Freely?”. Yes, “Freely”. Interesting that in this stanza those words are followed by “you that are longing to see his face”. I don’t want to see the Lord’s face when I am living in shame. It is only when I truly believe that I am free from shame that I can look up into His face with desire knowing of his incredible unconditional acceptance.


Do you need to know that you are free today? Does your heart sing with the knowledge that no matter what you do today, He still loves you? I used to think I knew that, but I found out it was an intellectual understanding that had not sunk into my spirit.


Today, I am often moved to tears when I know my Savior loves me that way. In the midst of my darkest sin, He is present, available, with arms stretched around my heart. Who else can understand me that way? No human, only a loving Creator who had planned all along to provide His “infinite grace” to me “freely”.


When we get this big picture, we will become world changers.


Now let’s go love us some people.


From up here is it all beautiful!





 

Our Mailbag: 1 Corinthians Chapter 6:9-11

Friday, June 10th, 2011


mailbag_3John,

I have supported “Love in Action” ministries over the years because I feel it was a source of help to those with same sex sins. I know you left there and started your own ministry, but I must say I am shocked by your reply to the question about whether someone can be gay and a Christian. (to see article click here) As a married man who experiences same sex temptation and has for many years, I have to disagree with your approach.


I believe that we as followers of Jesus Christ are instructed by the scriptures to repent of our sinful ways, not to accept them and hope we can grow out of them. How do you interpret Galatians 5:19-21? These verses are very clear to all sinfulness in our lives (which include homosexual fornication which is sex outside of marriage) and that we are to not practice these sinful ways any longer. How do you interpret 1 Corinth 6:9-11?


We know there are daily battles with the flesh and we are instructed  to flee temptations and repent of our sinful ways.  Homosexual sin  is sinful and we need to flee from it and repent, turn away from our sinfulness. I would like your response if you would.


Thank you,


Shocked


Dear Shocked,


You are referring to the article I wrote entitled “Can my friend be gay and a Christian”.


Thanks so much for responding to my recent “Mailbag” answer. I’m not sure what drew you to find it but thank you for reading it.


I am not sure exactly what aspects of the article brought you to be shocked by my response. I am thinking through how to respond to your comments and questions so please allow me some time to compile an answer.


I have done a lot of work to learn more about 1 Cor. 6:9-11 since it is so commonly brought up in connection to the issue of homosexuality. Gal. 5:19 is also similar so I will attempt to respond to those two passages. It is really hard to do that quickly or in a few words.


When I said we must accept homosexuality as “it is what it is” I think we need to quit trying to change people and to allow God to do the work He wants to do. The crux of what I am discovering is more of what I am learning about how to respond to people who experience homosexuality with God’s grace and His redemption. I have seen how I have been like he Pharisees in presenting a “law” type of message regarding homosexuality. I also recognize that I have laid heavy expectations on people that have on some occasions pressed them into some places that maybe God may not have been leading them.



The passages you wanted my thoughts on were:


1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.


and


Galatians 5:19-21

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.


First of all, I can certainly appreciate your life experience since I am also a married man who has has experienced homosexuality for my entire adult life. While I have experienced it at varying levels, the way God has dealt with me has been a progressive process since I first discovered my own faith walk 35 years ago.


I believe sanctification (the life changes He brings on as a result of the gospel) is an ongoing process in all of our lives. None of us can say we are without sin. Many of us can say we have grown away from many sins as a result of God’s intervention in our lives. We are hopefully better today as a result of His work. But thankfully, I understand that Christ’s redemption has covered all of my sinfulness from birth and on into the future.


I do not believe in “completed work today” theology with regards to my temporal life here on earth. I am, with His help, improving each day. However, I will not be completely changed until I see Him face to face. Therefore, I will struggle with various sins off and on throughout the duration of my life. One of those sins may be rebelling against some things that I know are right but just don’t want to face them now! But I also understand Christ has forgiven rebellion too.


Having said all of that, I am NOT, hear me now, NOT saying that sin is ok, nor “sin – is what it is”. Sin behavior is harmful, negative, divisive, challenging, and God clearly warns us to heed His words and attempt to stay from it, with His help and our submission. But we must be very clear about what God does in light of the fact that we do sin.


Galatians 5:13

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love.


I am not saying to give hearty approval to something.


My objective is not to forget the scriptural truths about God’s desires for our life and relationships. And by the way, the jury remains unclear on some of the things we think are set in stone.  I’m rather going through how to respond to people here on earth, which includes myself, who are trying to wrestle through our earthly lives.


I believe what Paul is saying is this:


To understand this passage we MUST first understand that Paul’s letter is addressed to the church in Corinth. This is VERY important! He is writing to Christian believers.


Secondly, in chapter 6, verse 9 he changes to address another audience:


“But to the wicked,(or the the unrighteous)” I say this.”


This means that through the next paragraph he is speaking about those who DO NOT know Jesus. This is VITAL to understanding the next few verses.  In the context of the Greek language He has given a list of  outward signs so as to say, those who do not know Jesus, who act in habitual patterns like this. It then says they will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Something else we must consider.  The list of behaviors is not intended to be an “inclusive” or “exclusive” list.  It is more of a list of examples of those around them who do not know Christ that exemplify the unrighteous people Paul is referring to.  As humans, we want things in nice neat packages.  If this list were an exclusive list than maybe I am off the hook if I didn’t do some of the things listed.  I can also stare down at those that are on the list because their behavior is in the list. Paul didn’t intend it this way.


Another point is that theologians all over this issue tend to argue the issue of homosexuality with attempt to define the Greek words, “arsenokoitai” and “malakos”. This is problematic for many reasons. First, there simply does not seem to be a consensus on what either of those words really means nor how the many definitions seem to apply to our lives today. I am sure in Paul’s day he had something very specific in mind that everyone understood. But, 2000 years later, we do not clearly understand it.  To attempt to define something that is not clearly understood and then apply our own interpretation to it can cause all kind of havoc.  And it has. It seems that how these words are translated often has more to do with preconceptions and convictions of the translators than the sense of the original Greek language.


I think the main problem is that regardless of how they are defined,  Paul’s list in this passage is not the point of the passage.  Therefore we can argue about the list but never get to the point.  We can also argue about what it means to gossip, how far is too far in adultery?  We can try to define what it means to be a slanderer and when our back door discussions will cross the line.  Our discussion about the real meaning of the list is all tied to “are we good enough” or “have we crossed the line”? We often want to know if we have gone so far as to lose our precious salvation. Which are all a distraction from the amazing message Paul has to give us.


In its original context and language it would be more understood like this:


“Believers in Corinth, there are those who don’t know Jesus around you and they act like this. They do things like lie, cheat, steal, and are sexually out on a limb.  They don’t seem to know life any differently. You know people like that and you do some of these things yourself.  Don’t hold on to an identity that hangs on your behaviors. If someone hasn’t imparted my gift of redemption to their lives, they will not enter my eternal kingdom. But for you, you know and understand my gospel.  I really want you to live honestly through your new identity  and restored image in Christ.”


Well, of course the “unrighteous” won’t go to heaven! He is using them as an example to make a point. But he goes on to return to his audience, the church. He says, “But, that is not who you are!” He affirms their relationship with Jesus, their salvation, and says to kindle their position in Christ as being washed, sanctified, by Jesus Christ. He is charging them to remember who they are.


We all know that Christians all over this planet still struggle with “habitual sin” patterns like those revealed in the list in verses 9 and 10. Knowing this, says to me, that he is not saying that  heaven or the kingdom of God is only available to those who are NOT on the list.  He is also not saying that those who wrestle with, or may even be habitually involved in the things he mentioned there, will not enter eternity with Him.


Paul is challenging their identity, not so much their actions. He is saying, “lose the sinful identity and recognize Who you belong to!” In doing so, you will nurture a relationship with the One who loves you so that your lives will continue down the path of sanctification. If we remain overly connected in the old identity we will likely continue to function out of the shame of the old identity.


The interesting Transition


He then says, “all things are permissible” but not “beneficial”. This is a profound truth. So profound that Paul repeats it twice. Think just a minute about the freedom He speaks of here. He is calling them to further maturity in their actions. As a more mature adult He is calling us to ask ourselves, “is this beneficial”? Christ still loves you, is still at work in your life and will complete the work He has begun. However, He is charging us to grow in making better decisions along the way.


In Christ, we are absolutely free.


Oh, boy this is where it gets sticky. Either God gave us a free will or He didn’t. I believe He did. I see this as one of the most amazing differences between God and humans.  He is able to allow us total freedom and yet still love us completely.  He will certainly allow consequences for our bad choices. It is through this that we grow into more maturity.  He does not control our lives.  So, we are absolutely free to do with our lives as we want to.  None of our choices will in any way remove God’s love for us.  This is one of the most difficult things for me to understand.  We are so used to conditional love from other humans it is hard for us to embrace a God that loves us differently.


But in our freedom, we also have the freedom to choose to serve Him? Will we follow Him sacrificially? If we do not get that fundamental truth, our assumptions may lead us to stray from Him – fearing his retribution based upon our failed attempts to act appropriately. Moralism seems to please our human senses.  We like to check off the boxes of what we do right and what they do wrong.


Paul comes back to the same message in his letter to the Galatians:


Galatians 5:13

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love.


Our church communities are far too full of performance expectations and sin management. We are trapped in a legalism of expectations that keep us weak, immature, and fearful of a God that we believe may be a dictator. We may sense He is ready at any moment to remove His hand, close His heart, and maybe even shut us out – that is if we don’t act right.


I now realize that Christ does not hold a hammer over my head waiting to tromp on me if I make the wrong move. I have come to realize a fuller love from Him that is truly as the bible says, unconditional.


I’m starting to gain a better understanding of all of this.  If I make the mistake of going against His desires, overt or covert, He loves me, accepts me and offers me His hand. He will be there with me to work with me along the way. No matter how long it takes. He is the divine surgeon who will remain with me through the end of this life and usher me into the next with His abundant grace. (please see my article, “I Have Failed”)


My only option at this point is to love others with that same love. This doesn’t mean I will not approach someone with a challenge to do better. If I have built a relationship with them, laid a foundation of trust, I will know when it is appropriate to speak with them as a brother to help them see things through the eyes of Christ that may help them grow.


Paul goes on in his letter to urge believers to consider their sexuality and to recognize that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  He lines out for us the deeper motivation to walk in righteousness that is imparted by the gospel.  He is exhorting us to consider our lives and our choices.


Galatians 5:19-21

He starts by saying, “acts of the sinful nature” are… I do not have a sinful nature any longer! I am a new creature in Christ. I have a new heart, a new identity, a new motivation for life! Oh, this doesn’t mean I don’t have the flaws of humanity. I do wrong things, but these are not because I have a sinful nature, they are because of the humanity I live in today. God’s new nature is working in me day by day throughout my lifetime. As I read this passage, I see it as a repeated message from Paul. Know who you are!  Walk in your new identity! Recognize the differences that are in you as opposed to those who do not know Christ and walk them out! It is NOT a statement of conditions for salvation. And it is a call to maturity. But it is NOT a call to performance based religion.


Again, he is relating to what the unredeemed are like and if you take into account the entire chapter 5, it is saying what I am saying. We are free. Don’t take this freedom lightly, but we are free. It speaks to legalism as the enemy. Submitting to the law as though through it, you will be sanctified by doing the right things.  It reiterates the message of the gospel:


Galatians 5;14

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.



We Are Free in Christ!


John


 

A Letter to Oprah

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011


mailbag_3

John,

I saw that you have had some pretty profound thoughts on Oprah’s 25th Season Finale.  I stopped watching Oprah years ago because of her liberal stance on life and felt strongly that she was deceiving people.  How can you see anything positive from her worldly life?


Signed,

No Oprah for Me


Dear No Oprah for Me,

I see Oprah’s life as not different from my own. I have walked a journey of life that I don’t want anyone to judge by where I am at “right now” because I am a work in progress in the hands of a living and powerful God.  I am not where I was, and am not where I will be. But I am where I am right now.  I want to share a letter with you that I recently sent Oprah that has many of my responses to her recent 25th Season Finale.


Dear Oprah,

oprah early yearsI am one of those unusual men who have followed your journey over the last 25 years with a very personal interest. In 1990, a godly lady, and sincere pray’er from Church of the Open Door (the church we attended in San Rafael, CA at the time) was talking about her observations about the then current trend in “Talk Shows” and their hosts. She was concerned about the negative direction they were taking and the moral digression represented through them. She said to me, “John, I’m praying that Oprah will turn the tide and become a more positive influence. I’m praying that Oprah will glorify God through her show.”


I have watched your show regularly all through the years waiting for the answer to her prayers. I took on her dream of seeing a turn through your show. I never forgot what I hoped to see. I saw, year by year, the positive turns that you took with the interviews and life lessons you and your staff took on. Very quickly at the time and through the years, you moved towards exactly what she and I hoped for, a more positive and redemptive approach to daytime talk show messages.


This last season was better than all the rest. Many of your episodes brought tears to my eyes and caused my heart to open up within me as I heard your ability to draw each person’s heart to the surface for us all to experience. On some days I would say, “Oh, that one probably isn’t something I want to watch.” I thought that largely because it just didn’t look really interesting. But sometimes I’d click on it anyway and each time I was impacted and impressed with the show because of how you made each one significant to the heart.


There have been some significant people that I had previously dismissed because of what I thought they conveyed through their life or values but when in an interview with you, the deepest part of their hearts came forward and revealed what was going on underneath their public lives. I was then able to see the positive sides of each one allowing me to embrace their humanness just like me.


Rosie-ODonnell-Oprah-Winfrey-thumb-320x180-5373For example I had judged Rosie O’Donnell to be brassy and just a “gay” activist until I saw your show that revealed the struggle she went through from her separation with her partner and the effects on the children. You revealed the real “Rosie” beneath the issue that opened my heart up to see her as a real warm blooded person! You showed me her dedication to loving her children and truly caring about their little lives and hearts.




Ricky_Martin_Oprah

The show with Ricky Martin where he talked about the battle of coming out in the public regarding his homosexuality and the way he had chosen to follow an honest life rather than to live beneath a facade. What I saw was how you could take a controversial subject that had great potential for judgment by many, and show the human heart beneath the “issue”. I could see that anyone with half a heart could embrace the person and leave the judgment behind. I saw his choice to be authentic and open about his homosexuality even when the potential was there to lose his whole career! Can we all make those kind of choices to be honest and authentic when a great risk is at stake?


Oprah-200men-1Of course the dramatic representation of how child abuse had impacted the 200 men through the show with Tyler Perry was deeply impacting for us all. I have also watched Tyler Perry’s career and deeply respect his passion for the gospel of Jesus and those who see his movies.







20110209-tows-iyanla-vanzant-returns-9-300x205I was awed at how you revealed the reconciliation between you and Iyanla Vanzant. For your to feel free enough to have that discussion live and in color was a tremendous act of humility. The AHA moment when you said, “I got it, I got it!” was profound. The lesson in that moment of how we need to dig for another’s heart rather than continue to react to the surface messages was significant. I have heard some people refer to her as the “crazy lady” but regardless of how she comes across, that day, her deepest heart cry was brought to the surface and I saw a person, broken and hungry for affirmation of her “self” rather than what she could give.


I could go on and on about how different shows affected my own heart but to keep this email within your ability to read its contents, I want to give most of my emphasis to the finale. Oprah, I have recorded the episode and have watched it over and over and tears come to my eyes each time. My spirit leaps within me through each point you made.


I have talked to many people about the show and how you “preached” an astounding sermon to millions that has included things that are very important to God and were deep in my own heart. Since you aren’t a “pastor” or representing a “church” the value of what you had to say was so much greater. They were greater because you preached from your very own experience, not just an intellectual ascent of the matter, but real life experience.


You challenged people to search for their own passions and calling, to embrace their intrinsic worthiness and to learn to be responsible for their own lives. These truths are foundational for us to live a life worthy of the calling of God! Your heart cry for them to listen for the voice of God in their hearts and call Him close (He’s closer than your very breath) to themselves was a pinnacle of the message from you to the world. You gave an “altar call” from the heart of God to his beloved children that I pray many from your audience would heed.


When you described “the God you serve” with such profound passion it was a crescendo that reached the heavens! Your comment that your answer to their question might not be popular and yet to go ahead with your description of God being, the Alpha and the Omega, the Omniscient One, G-O-D, the great creator of all life, I wanted to stand up and shout! I can’t think of many within the worlds renowned who would make that kind of public statement.


oprah finaleAs you closed with your arms outstretched saying “To God be the Glory” I heard a resounding answer to my friends prayer from over 20 years ago. You became a profound positive impact not only for television, but for our world. And all of this from your heart, in front of millions, your last words gave God the glory.


Oprah, I was a significant leader within the ex-gay movement for over 20 years . I was a right wing, evangelical with plenty of judgment in my heart for those that “choose an immoral lifestyle”.


I resigned from Love In Action and Exodus International (as a board member) three years ago. In the last three years God has been doing a deep heart change in my own life. He has dug into the deep recesses of my own judgment and criticism of others and brought me to take responsibility for all of those things I have thought and said through the years that were critical and certainly unloving from the deeper sense. He has taught me what it means to be a representative of His love for His people.


I have taken to heart what God has said to us, “I have not come to condemn the world, but to save the world.” He is showing me how to love others into His arms of redemption and restoration in His time and in His way. I believe you also have followed that path.


Oprah, you have allowed us, your audience, to sit in the living room of your own journey as God has transformed your life. I believe I was so moved by your 25th season because it resonated with my own journey away from traditional evangelicalism into following the real path of Jesus into other’s lives. I am as passionate as you are to help people to believe they are “worthy” and that someone cares about what they have to say without judgment of where they are in life.


I could go on but will not at this point. I am not sure who will actually read through this email but I felt compelled to write it for whomever does read it.


Supporting articles I have written regarding my own process:


www.gracerivers.com/apology


This is an apology to the gay community from my heart


www.gracerivers.com/change-heart


This reveals the beginning of how God worked through some challenging circumstances to chisel away the judgment from my heart and revealed how many people are missing from our lives due to their own wounds and rejection.


www.gracerivers.com/gay-divide


This is an article I wrote to challenge the divisiveness between two primary entities within homosexuality.


Thank you for all you have done. I look forward to following your journey through OWN.


Sincerely,

John J. Smid

Person loved by God, Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Friend, House Cleaner with Hollywood Homes, and serve as the Executive Director for Grace Rivers Ministry

 

A Father’s Heart Opens

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011


1963 Chevrolet Corvette

1963 corvetteWhen I was about 10 years old my dad and I began going to the car dealerships to see the newly revealed models each fall.


We also went to the local car shows each year that were held in our local coliseum. We would walk and walk just looking at all of the shiny steel and chrome.


I remember one year sitting in a really sporty pure white Corvette coupe. It must have been 1963 because this lovely specimen of American sports cars had a split rear window.


corvette sliding door handleInside I saw a red ball that slid sideways to open the door. I thought that was so unique and yet strange and uncomfortable to manage for my little hands.


None the less, cars followed me with my dad all through the years. When I was older, in 1982, my dad asked me to go with him to buy a car. He wanted to trade to a new car and it was so cool that he asked me to go with him to pick it out.


1981 celebrityWe decided on a Chevrolet Celebrity. This car was somewhat of a new design and name for Chevrolet. It was a mid-sized sedan. As I looked at the options available I picked out a car that was a beautiful mix of two shades of copper. The interior was a new ribbed fabric and darker, almost like a rust color. So, off we went with dad’s new car.


My dad retired when he was just 52 years old. He had some problems with his feet that limited his ability to walk and stand. This was a challenge since he was a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service. He looked forward to retirement because in his mind he could spend more time with his kids and grandkids.


This became difficult because my sisters and I were in the throes of building our own lives and we were all busy with so many things. I remember my sisters telling me that dad would stop by their houses as odd times of the day and how this had become kind of a challenge. They were in the middle of things that had to get done and dad would stop by and want their attention which was awkward for them to manage.


Retirement Didn’t Set Well

A few months into his retirement we could see dad getting depressed and frustrated with his life. We didn’t know what to do other than to suggest that he get involved in volunteering to take up some of his time. He kept trying to build his life around us and got more and more bitter because it wasn’t working to satisfy his many hours of open time.


One day he came to us and said, “Well I did what you wanted me to do.” He found a home for developmentally disabled children that was led by a nun, Sister Evangeline. The kids went swimming several times a week and dad decided to go swim with the kids. In time he found odd jobs that needed to be done at the home and began to spend time there regularly helping in any way he could.


On his birthday that first year Sister Evangeline sent him a plant. He commented sarcastically, “Oh, they just want more work out of me so they sent me this plant.” He was truly not into this volunteer job and seemed to be doing it out of an attitude of spite since he wasn’t with us kids he had picked a second option. This was hard for me to hear but at least he was doing something.


My dad’s church began a helping ministry called “Stephen’s Ministry” which offered training for people to learn how to help people who were going through difficult things in their lives. Dad decided to go through the training. It involved bible study and small group interaction.


I had just become a Christian at this point and was excited that he was in a bible study. So, I bought him a new bible to take for his bible study. I knew he only had a larger “coffee table” sized bible so this surely would come in handy. I had stopped by his house one day and he sat down with me and told me about something he was learning in his training about servanthood. His eyes had been opened to what it meant to listen to others and serve them from his heart.


Dad Began To Change

I began to see a turnaround in his attitude about many things in life. He showed a sign of the resentments leaving that he had been carrying around with him. He began to show true joy in spending time with the kids at the school and a real thankfulness for his connection with Sister Evangeline.


After several years of seeing a great change in my dad I was getting ready to move to California to work with Love In Action. I came home to visit several times.


When I stayed with dad we had several late night conversations. This was very new for us to talk that much and I really enjoyed hearing his heart. One night I asked my dad why he never dated after he and my mom got divorced. It had been over 25 years since they separated.


His response was, “John, I didn’t want to be tempted. I am afraid I might find someone I am attracted to”. My dad whole hearted followed his church’s teaching that unless your marriage was “annulled” by the church then you were not able to remarry. I found something deep in my dad’s heart that amazed me. He was so convicted to submit his life to what he believed in, that he sacrificed his own personal desires for many years.


As I thought about my dad and women, I couldn’t forget all through the years that he had often talked about a lady named “Monica”. He had a green army trunk that had all of his life memorabilia. In it were pictures of many people from his past and he always pointed out the pictures of her. When he was nineteen years old he was engaged to her. He went into the Army Air Corp during World War II. He told us that when he returned home she didn’t want to marry him. I think his heart was crushed and he moved on to never talk with her again.


Teenage Love Rekindled

My dad’s cousin, Merc, maintained a relationship with Monica through the years so he heard a couple of things about Monica but never pursued knowing more because again, he was guarding his heart and I actually think it was too painful to know more.


I never heard my dad talk about any other women. He married my mom just a few years later and that was it for 16 years until they divorced. My mom as a very complicated woman to be married to and their relationship was very painful for my dad. So, I think he also didn’t want to go through that again. So, my dad was a confirmed single adult. I think this is why he had so much focus on his kids. We were all he had in life to put his time into until God began to work something new into his heart.


Dad called me one day and said he was going to go to International Falls Minnesota. “Really? What are you going there for?” ” I called my cousin to see what had happened to Monica and I found out she is a widow, and that she is there visiting family.” I hadn’t seen dad so strangely excited in my entire life. Dad went on this trip and came home like a teenager in his heart.


He had learned that Monica had also lived in Denver for a season when he lived there. She had married and had several children and then after many years of illness her husband had died just a few years previously. He said they also talked about the last conversation they had had, Monica straightened him out on one thing. She had not said she didn’t want to marry him, she said she “didn’t want to marry him at this time.” She told him she just didn’t feel ready for marriage at that point.


All of a sudden, dad was consumed with trips to Las Vegas, where Monica lived and letter writing back and forth. He had found his childhood love had been stirred again. I knew that he wasn’t compromising his morals in the least bit but it sure was interesting when he said he was going to Las Vegas to stay for a month!


As I reviewed the ten years prior to his reunion with Monica I saw that the affirmation from Sister Evangeline, the unconditional love from the kids there and his Stephen’s ministry and bible study all worked to soften dad’s heart and allow him to once again search for love. His call to his cousin came from this internal desire.


They Get Married

dad smile at monicaSo, after a few months, dad and Monica decided to get married but they had a hurdle. Dad’s marriage to my mom wasn’t annulled by the church. So, they pursued an annulment through his church in Omaha. Through a lot of paper work and interviews with family members who knew my mom and dad when they got married, the annulment was not approved. So, again, my dad wasn’t satisfied with the process and chose to try again through Monica’s church in Las Vegas. More paperwork and interviews occurred and during the process the priest at her church told them to go ahead and get married by the Justice of the Peace. He said they would continue to pursue the annulment and could get their marriage sanctioned by the church in time but for now his advice was to go ahead.


Well, my dad got some approval from someone he trusted and took advantage of the opportunity. Dad and Monica got married in 1989, the year after Vileen and I got married.


Everyone was ecstatic for them. They really loved each other. It was all positive! After a few months had gone by they got the word that dad’s marriage to my mom had been annulled. Now they could get their marriage fully sanctioned by the church and it was all good.


monica-smile at sinkVileen and I took a trip to Las Vegas to see them. I could hardly believe my eyes! I had never known my dad as a happily married man. They were so devoted to each other, sacrificed for one another, and were very affectionate with each other. I saw them pray together each night on their knees. They held hands every time they could.


My dad was now not only a model of faith for me to see, but he was modeling a godly marriage for everyone to see. They were both so happy. It wasn’t all a fairy tale, however.


They went through many very challenging circumstances together. Monica had cancer and two knee replacements. Her daughter had severe illnesses and passed away. Her son’s life was a challenge for my dad to experience and found he had to lay down some boundaries to keep their home peaceful. But through it all, their love grew and they had a wonderful marriage and life together.


My dad’s health was a challenge as well. He had a lung disease that he had suffered with from being in India during the war. He had a debilitating chronic cough that had caused emphysema and several bouts with pneumonia. Monica was by his side and always seemed to manage his life, her life, and that of her kids with such grace.


Dad Passed Away

In 1997 we got the call that he was once again in the hospital with pneumonia. It was really severe this time. My sisters and I went out to Las Vegas to see him. He was on a respirator which was very troublesome for him. He got so frustrated that he couldn’t talk with us and writing notes was a real challenge due to having to lay on his back.


The doctor came in to give some tests and we asked him if my dad’s lungs would heal. He said that the disease had caused a hardening in his lungs that would never get any better. He told my dad that he would have to live with a respirator.


After the doctor left dad said he would not live this way and that he was going to have the doctors remove the respirator. We all knew that this would cause his death but my dad’s desires came first. Shortly he communicated his desires to the doctors and they did as he wanted. Dad passed away in about 24 hours.


His plans were to donate his body to the University of Nevada for science. So, there would be no traditional funeral. They had planned to have two memorial services to remember his life. One was in Las Vegas for their friends and Monica’s family there. The other would be in Omaha for all of the other family and long time friends.


As I thought about my dad, I wanted the privilege to eulogize his life. So, when my wife and I arrived we went with Monica to talk to the priest about what I wanted to do. I was honest with him about what I wanted to say. I wanted to reveal my dad’s character through the way he handled life challenges. I said I wanted to talk about how he handled my homosexuality with such grace.


The priest sat there with a pondering look on his face and finally said that he would give his blessing to my plans. Then I took it a little further and also asked if I could take communion at the memorial service. I had not been a practicing Catholic for many years which could make this a challenge. But, once again, the Priest said he would definitely allow me to do that. It seemed that God was in the plan and Monica thought it was all a very good idea. So, I drafted an outline of what I wanted to say.


While my sisters and I were in Las Vegas following the memorial service Monica asked us if we wanted to go through dad’s things to sort out what we wanted. As we searched through his papers and personal things we discovered more of his character. We looked through his cancelled checks and saw our names written on many of them. We discovered that he had helped us out when we needed it. We learned that we had no jealousy or comparisons that caused any problems. We even joked about how we were each his favorite child. We found that dad had the gift of loving each of us as though we were his only child.


We Saw His Character Through His History

When we sorted through things that were his we were able to completely defer to each other and compromise for one another. If I wanted something specific, my sisters would agree to me having it and the same was done for each of us. We were amazed at how much we were able to do this without any difficulty and attributed this to what we had gained from being children of our father. He had raised us to know this kind of integrity because that is the way he lived.


The second memorial service took place in Omaha and I asked for the same permission and the local priest gave his approval. So I was allowed to share my heart once more before my own family and long time friends. As people entered the church I wanted to greet them personally. When my female cousins came in one by one some would stop by me and show me a special “angel” pin they wearing and said, “Your dad gave me this pin.” It became kind of funny because three cousins did this in a whisper almost to hide that they felt as though he had only given them a pin like that. Again, I saw the say my dad could unconditionally love people a though they were the only one he loved like that.


As I spoke for this second time, I knew that my dad was in his eternal place with God giving whole hearted approval for what I was sharing. This gave me the courage to speak. I just knew it was ok with him because he was in a place where he would know the whole truth of his life, and mine.


It was amazing that God had opened up such a door to talk about His grace through my own dad finding it for himself. After I returned I wrote my notes into a Tribute to my Dad which has been publicized in many periodicals and remains on my own website today.


Monica

dad and monica and johnThrough the following years I often grieved but also recognized Monica’s loss. She had a very tumultuous marriage with her first husband much like my dad had. He struggled with many things as well as severe health issues and she had come to find such joy with my dad. They only had seven years together and it would have been so wonderful if they had more time to enjoy their love for each other.


Since my dad’s passing, Monica lost another daughter to cancer and her son died far too young. Her sister in law from her only brother passed from a severe disease as well. She has one daughter left that fortunately lives near her.


It has been humbling to know her. She has faithfully acknowledged all of the special holidays each year for all three of us kids as well as many of our children. No matter what was going on, we knew we would receive a card every year for birthdays, Christmas and often our anniversaries. Monica was just like my dad. They were both cut out of the same cloth. Her faith in God has never wavered and her love for people has revealed that all through the years I have known her.


She is now living in an assisted living community home because she has struggled with TIA’s, or mini strokes. She still is able to talk and remember but physically she isn’t able to live alone any longer. Her fortitude remains strong!


Servanthood

It seems that serving others and learning how to sacrifice was the turning point in my dad’s life. Giving to the developmentally disabled kids even when he did it out of spite began to change his life, it seemed to do something in his heart. Sister Evangeline’s gifts to my dad, even when he received them with a blocked heart, changed his life.


Every time my sisters and I get together or talk, my dad comes into our conversation. We remember how challenged his life was and how he ended it with such grace and joy.


One of my cherished possessions happens to be a rib that was removed from my dad’s chest during a lung surgery when my dad was in the Army. It was kept in the green trunk with all of his other life memorabilia. When I was a boy I used to ask him to see his “rib” and we would open the trunk and go through all the stuff there. When he passed I asked my sisters if I could have the rib and they let me have it.


Although it may seem strange to some of you, I have continued the practice of showing the rib to my grandson, Devin. He has now begun to ask to see the rib from Grandpa Norm. Oh, I have other things like a pocket watch that was my grandpa’s that my dad had restored to give to me. I also have his army jacket and the American flag from his funeral. And his green army trunk sits in our guest room.


He (John the Baptist) will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:16-17