Archive for the ‘Grace Rivers Development’ Category
Friday, August 5th, 2011
At the center of this story, I am riding in a vintage 1982 Corvette Collector Edition on the freeway in Southern California. My very first time to ride in a ‘vette.
Loud, stiff, low to the ground, there is nothing like the “All American Sports Car!” the creaking of the fiberglass shell is part of the whole experience of riding in this rare classic.
With all of the cars I have owned, ridden in, and admired through the years, I had never ridden in a Corvette until this moment in time. How incredible to have my first ride in Southern California with a great friend. He loves his very own piece of American History and I felt privileged to have been able to share in it with him.
The ride didn’t stifle the anxiousness I was feeling as we flew by the others along the way. Staring at the rocker panels of most cars, the low slung position was indicative of what I was feeling inside as I moved towards something that I was about to experience.
As I continue to transition away from having worked with ex-gay miniisty for many years, an editor from a well read blog called the “Ex-Gay Watch” contacted me about my resignation from Love In Action. He began to ask me questions about why I had chosen to leave and what was going on in my life at the time. As we talked, I shared with him about how my heart had become more open to building relationships within the gay community. He recommend that I come up with an authentic apology first. He talked with me about how many people within the gay community didn’t trust the ex-gay community and that if I could find it in my heart to apologize for things I had done to wound them through my involvement with Love In Action it might help me to build a trust in order to be heard.
I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. I didn’t know what an apology would consist of and how my life had wounded others. But, my mind was open because I wanted to badly to develop this outreach to bring the gospel into the lives of those that were gay. The request for an apology became deeply lodged into my heart and I began to pray about what that may entail. God brought some things into my life to help me see what that might look like. Before I could think more about this some other opportunities came along.
About a week or two after Todd Ferrell and I talked for the first time (see Part Two of “God Surprise Me”), I got a call from a ministry in Washington state. It seemed they wanted me to facilitate a conference for their area that would include mostly ministry to the parents of gay children. I wanted to do it so I said I would put it down on the calendar. As soon as I looked, I found that Todd’s conference was just one weekend after I had scheduled to be in Washington.
How interesting? I talked with my wife and realized I could easily arrange a “circle trip” to accommodate a flight from Washington to Southern California that would only slightly change my airfare. I called Todd and said I could now come to the conference he was holding. I was extremely nervous about attending this conference with Christians that are gay. Years ago I learned not to criticize something that I was unfamiliar with so for no other reason than to look and see for myself, I felt I needed to attend the event.
As time came closer I asked Todd about a referral for a hotel roommate. I just didn’t have the money to front the entire cost and was looking for someone to share that with me. Of course, I was trusting Todd to find some appropriate and knew he would understand my situation. So as the weeks went by, Todd contacted me with the name of a good friend of his that he said would have a lot in common with me. His name was Gary.
So, I completed the conference in Washington and flew to Los Angeles. I had arranged to stay with some good friends there for a couple of days just prior to Todd’s conference. I spent a lot of time talking with them about my plans and running this decision through our friendship filter.
The Low, Stealthy Corvette Ride, and an Anxious Arrival
On the morning of the event my friend drove me to the front door of the hotel and dropped me off. I felt extremely self conscious going into the hotel. My mind was racing with questions and fears. Once I was inside, I got registered and went to my room. Gary, my roommate was already there so I introduced myself to him. He was very gracious and we decided to have a meal together that evening and get to know each other. I found him to be a wonderful guy. He was about my age.
He had previously been married and had a daughter. His marriage had ended in divorce but they had done a lot of work to become amicable and had become good friends as they raised their daughter. He was kind, and honest as he shared his story. And, he was gracious with my story as well.
The next morning I went to the first workshop and walked inside and saw someone that looked very familiar to me. As the morning went by, I knew for certain it was the man I remembered. I really wanted to talk with him. As we walked out the door I turned to him and said, “Hello, do you know where we know each other from?” He looked puzzled and then I told him. “You were in the Love In Action program in the mid eighties. I was there as a House Leader and remember you very well.” He laughed and embraced me and then seemed really glad to see me. He was using a walker which at his age told me he was going through something difficult. I was so glad to see him. His smile was so joyous and he seemed to be so in love with Jesus which showed through every pore in his body.
He began to tell me about the last 20 years of his life. He was HIV +, he had just had surgery for cancer and was in recovery, hence, the walker. He said he had lost many friends through his recent illness and he said that today his family was all he had. And yet through all of the pain and suffering, he said, “But I love Jesus. He has been so good to me.” He went on to say that he was really glad he had been in Love In Action because it was where he learned how much he needed the Lord. He talked very easily about how messed up his life was when he went there and that the experience at LiA helped him to begin his own journey of healing and growing in Christ. “John, I’m gay and I’m OK with that. Jesus loves me and I’ve never been so complete and satisfied in Him.” There were several people that I met that weekend that really challenged me to listen to them without judgment.
I was so surprised! I never expected the first person I would see, other than my friendly roommate, to be one of the first people I met when I began working with LiA so many years ago. He and I talked often over the next several days of the conference and every time I saw him, he was encouraging someone, laughing with someone or showing evidence of a wonderful connection to the Lord. There is nowhere else he would have gotten that kind of joy.
A Silent Observer
So, I began to listen to others and closely evaluate what I was seeing and hearing. On the evening of that first day I decided to go to the common area to relax. When I got there I saw two younger guys who were talking with each other. I introduced myself to them. They asked if I was part of the conference. I hesitated to affirm their question but said, “yes”. They said “Oh, that’s wonderful, so are we.” Just a few short surface questions later they asked if they could share their story with me. I obliged their seeming hunger to tell me more about their life experiences.
Once again, I was shocked at what I heard. “John, we were huge druggies. We have known each other from the drug culture for over 15 years. We’ve been together since we were teenagers.” They went on to talk about how their pastor pursued them for over four years. “John, his kindness and his faithfulness finally won out. We accepted Christ a year ago. It has been an amazing journey for us. We have seen a real change for the better in our lives and in our relationship with each other.” It was apparent to me they were talking about their same sex partnership for 15 years or more now.
I’m sure if someone had looked at me they might have seen my head spinning in disbelief of what I was experiencing. I had such a deep hunger to see people come to know Jesus in a real, solid, life changing way. Right here before my eyes was the answer to my prayers. But it didn’t look like I thought it would. These young men were obviously very excited about Jesus and truly understood the gospel. Yet they were seemingly very comfortable in their relationship and with being gay.
From their relationship with Jesus, their lives were changing for sure, but not in ways I would have expected. I had always assumed that an acceptance of Christ would have brought a increasing discomfort of a gay relationship in two guys who were seeking Him like these two guys were. They told me how much of a mess it has been for their pastor to walk alongside of them and yet he had continued to love them. One of the guys said, “My parents didn’t used to like my partner when we were drugging. But now, they say they are thrilled because of the positive influence he has had on me in my growth in God and how he has encouraged my faith.”
Then, they talked about how they wanted to go to the beach while they were in Southern California, but decided not to. I asked why not? And their answer was another example of their walk with Christ. I saw the fruit in their next statement, “Oh, we don’t think it would be a good idea, we’re trying to keep our minds pure and seeing all the guys on the beach might not be helpful.”
As I spun around in my head from what I had just experienced, I got up and said goodbye. I went up to my room and just felt such a sense of joy for God allowing me to hear the real life story of these two guys. But at the same time, their story challenged so much of my own “doctrine” that I was unsettled and questioning so many things.
Two Men, Different Paths, Similar Experiences
As I got back to my room Gary was still up. We talked late into the night. He shared a lot of his own life with me and I told him most of mine. We really connected. I loved his sensitivity to my life and his own humility was amazing for me to experience. He was genuine in his faith and yet was comfortable in being gay. He seemed to have found a place where both resided in his life with peace. All of this challenged my former philosophies. I had always said that God would not allow anyone who is His to find peace if they had embraced being gay. I just assumed that God would certainly cause them to be unsettled, convicted, or at odds with Him and themselves at a deep level.
This process for me has been interesting, threatening, and life shaking. This was just the first day of this conference. The next two days weren’t any less earth shattering for me. I remained on the periphery of the groups and just kept a low profile.
Tomorrow is another day.
This is Part Three in a series called, “God Surprise Me!” Click Here to read more.
Thursday, July 28th, 2011
Meeting Two Strangers I Didn’t Want to Know
Three years ago I had time to evaluate, to think, to reestablish a new layer to my life. In the process I had many discussions along the way.
I was in a passionate conversation with a friend of mine about how each of us processed the issue of homosexuality. She began to talk about friends she had that were Christians and yet were involved in same sex partnerships. I felt frustrated because she just didn’t want to tell me what she thought about being for – or against homosexual relationships. As we talked that day, seemingly for hours, I began to speak strongly about someone I had heard of for many years that was gay and claimed to be a Christian. Michael Bussee was one of the men who arranged the very first Exodus International conference.
Many years ago I watched a video where Michael shared some of his life story and I felt challenged by the things he was sharing. As I talked about Michael I had a disdain in my heart towards him. This led me to profile him with many others I judged to be rebellious and compromising of God’s standards. I had never really wanted to know anyone who claimed to be a Christian but was living in an overt gay relationship. If they wanted help, they should say so, otherwise, I figured they would have to deal with God on things and I kept my distance.
As I talked with Lisa, she got quiet. When I was done, she said, “John, don’t you think it is unfair to form such strong opinions about someone you have never met? Don’t you think you owe it to him and talk with him personally before you form an opinion about his character?”
Phew, that was humbling.
Lisa was absolutely correct. I was unfair in basing my opinions about what I had “heard” rather than from my own experience with someone like Michael. I had a lot of “Michaels” in my life. I was smug in my heart regarding people like Michael. But for some reason I thought it was enough to gauge my opinions on what I had heard from others and didn’t feel I needed to spend any time with them.
So, Lisa asked again, “John, would you be willing to talk with Michael? I can arrange a phone call if you are willing to hear his heart.” What could I say? I had already crossed the line in what I had said about him. I at least owed him the respect to talk with him. Now , I wondered if he was even willing to talk with me? After all, I am sure Michael had heard things about me through the years as well. I have no doubt that Michael was familiar with my involvement in ex-gay ministries and was sure he didn’t think so favorably about me either. It was interesting to see how I went from “I don’t want to talk with him” to hum, I wonder if he’ll talk with me?
So, Lisa called me back and said Michael was willing to talk with me. We arranged a phone call and I remember sitting in my office in a comfortable chair in preparation for the call. I was feeling nervous about the call. I wasn’t sure what to expect in our conversation. So, when the phone rang, I answered and after a little introductory conversation I was surprised at what transpired. We talked comfortably about our lives and experiences. Michael and I had a lot in common having both been previously married and then got divorced. Michael went into a gay relationship and I went on to get married to Vileen but we had many shared experiences to talk about.
Michael Bussee Became A Person
I left the conversation feeling a sense of peace. I found Michael to be endearing, humble, honest, and very respectful of my life and experiences. He talked about some of the painful things he had experienced in his life as well as the joys. We related to having children and grandchildren as well. I felt a desire to talk with him again largely because he was a genuinely nice guy. He and I have formed a friendship that I respect as person whose life matters and has value not only to God, but to others as well.
A New Land – People Who Are Significant to the Kingdom of God
So, wow, I’ve now gone into more uncharted territory. I wondered what would come next. So, I called Lisa and gave her my report, “Lisa, actually, I enjoyed talking with Michael.” She said she had another friend she wanted me to talk with. She told me of a man named Todd Ferrell. She said he was someone she admired a lot and wanted me meet him. She connected us and we set a time to talk. I figured since Michael was a great guy maybe Todd would be someone that was nice too.
Todd and I decided to use Skype to talk. After setting up my first Skype connection we had a great time talking about our lives. Once again, I felt surprised at what I heard. Todd, like Michael, was sincere and willing to share pieces of his life that were filled with humility and honesty. Since I had never been in a friendship with someone that was “gay affirming” like Todd, I guess I expected to hear something different.
I was looking for excuses, rationalizing Scripture to their own tastes. I was sure I would hear things that would offend me but I found none of that. I am not sure what it was I expected but I surely didn’t expect to hear this.
“John, our church saw the pain in the gay community in San Francisco. As an outreach to bring Jesus to the streets we decided to serve communion on Castro Street in San Francisco on Good Friday. There were requests for prayer, shared tears, hunger for God that left us speechless. Yes, there were those who were on drugs, those who were angry, and other distractions. But in the end, we knew we had touched the hearts of many who were hungry to connect with God.”
I was left in tears myself after hearing this story, “Todd, your heart beats the same as mine for the gay community. Of course you know there are many “evangelicals” in our country that would think what your church did was blasphemous. But, I am right there with you, my new friend. I love what you are doing.”
I realized that many outreach attempts in urban areas like San Francisco are based on singing on street corners and handing out tracts. But in this case, Todd and his church were really going for it to touch these people in a very real and physical way.
Wow, how unexpected? Another surprise! Actually, I began to see the surprises as “gifts”. It was like God had prepared many gifts for me and put them underneath a Christmas tree to be opened one at a time. I knew they were all good since they were coming from Him but I had not opened all of them yet.
I’ll never forget the conversations with these two men. Both of which are friends today but not that long ago, I don’t think I would have walked across the street to talk with either one of them. It would have been my loss for sure.
Through my former ministry involvement I certainly knew hundreds of Christians who would say they wrestled with being gay. For some reason I separated these men and women into two camps. There were those who were “seeking to change” and those who had accepted being gay. Until just recently I didn’t realize how I had compartmentalized my view of people who are gay. Those who had accepted being gay were somehow not worth knowing or maybe I was just afraid of crossing into the other side of all of this.
In my conversation with Todd, he invited me to attend a conference his ministry was hosting in April of 2010. I said, “Todd, I would like to come to that but I am very low on funds and couldn’t see having the money to come.” He was talking about “The Evangelical Network” which is an organization that has a heart to connect Christians who are gay and to support their faith and ministry efforts. Not having enough money was a great excuse to know have to think about going. I really felt quite hesitant to the thought of being at a gay-affirming conference. I had no idea what I would see there or experience.
A Significant Meeting With a Friend
I went to Mike’s house to ask him to consider being a board member for Grace Rivers. In our conversation he was very direct with me. He was asking me to describe the focus of the ministry. I struggled to find the words that would effectively tell him what we were. It was obviously a struggle for me to begin with. I did everything I could do to avoid “homosexual” or “gay community”. I wasn’t willing to step out onto that limb and admit what was really in my heart.
Mike said something that really challenged me, “John, what is your strength? What is at the core of your heart for people and for ministry?” He went on to tell me what he saw. He emphasized my history and what he had seen in my life for many years. “John, isn’t your real burden for the gay community?”
Well, I had tried to stuff that away for almost two years. But, I couldn’t deny my heart. When I had only been a Christian for a year or so I wept for those in the gay community who needed a purpose for life, a hope for the future. I asked the Lord to give me the calling to help, to share the hope that was in my own life. My heart’s desire is truly for the gay community to know how much God loves them.
I couldn’t deny what Mike was trying to point out. I still wanted to push it away. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back into the battle zone that often centers around homosexuality and the church. I had lived in that battle for so long I kind of liked the more generic form of ministry. It seemed to be easier to talk about and was more comfortable for many people to accept.
But, Mike clarified for me that it is hard to share such a generic vision for ministry and to get people on board to walk alongside me if I didn’t have a focus to tell them about. Oh, yes, generic ministry will always be a part of our lives as Christians, but it is important for me to know what my special calling really is.
Ok, Mike, I Have to Admit…..
Mike was right. I still had a deep burden and it was definitely focused on people within the gay community. Meeting Michael Bussee and Todd Ferrell challenged me to a very deep place. I realized that there is an entirely different side to homosexuality that I had never explored before. I never wanted to admit that there were gay people who had a sincere heart for God who truly wanted Him to fill their lives and to follow Him to their best ability. Todd told me about how their church members go into the gay bars and make themselves available just to talk, to listen, and to pray for those they come into contact with.
“What? Do you mean they want to reach the gay community with Christ just like I do?”
Again, I was surprised and at the same time challenged. I recognized that I had not met many Christians who would go to those lengths to share the Love of Christ with people in the gay community. Here they were, people I had judged to be rebellious and compromising, doing the very things that God called us all to do.
God had a plan for me that I had never expected. A large gift was waiting for me to open it. The surprise inside was unsettling, but at the same time touched my heart deeply and brought my faith to a new place. The conflict in my own heart was about ready to begin.
A New Car, A New Life Part 1 (Click Here)
Friday, July 22nd, 2011
Through the Windshield of My Life – Stepping forward to a more recent history.
2007 Toyota Sienna
In 2007, I bought a new Toyota Sienna minivan. I had no idea that this car would be a new symbol of a dramatic change in my life and would play out in amazingly surprising ways in the near future.
I bought the car just because of its practicality, size, good gas mileage, and to carry people around. I love to travel in groups so this would fit the bill.
I felt like I was driving a limousine! It was huge, comfortable, and rode nicely. And to add to that, the gas mileage was much better than my previous Nissan Exterra. That was a great plus.
Shortly after that, we had some concerns that Vileen’s car would have some major repairs so we made the decision to get a newer car for her as well. I had in my mind that I wanted an older, low mileage, Toyota or Nissan. I wanted something that had a lot of bells and whistles but one that had a practical price on it. I began to look on Ebay and at first search, I found exactly the car I had been looking for and the right color as well.
It was a 2002 Toyota Camry XLE. It was red with tan leather interior and it had everything on it. The mileage was incredibly low at only 35,000 miles for a car that was six years old. So, I bid and surprisingly, I won the bid. We drove to Missouri to pick it up and found it was in amazing condition and literally was a “little old lady’s” car.
Now, we were both set for a new life that was just months ahead of us but we had no idea what that was going to look like.
As I walked out the door of Love In Action in 2008, for the last time, I breathed a prayer;
God, I don’t know what you want to do with me now. I want to make the next 20 years of my life count. I know you have brought me through a lot and I have learned and grown so much in the last 20 years, maybe you can use my experience to help someone else. I have no agenda, and do not feel entitled to anything. I don’t have a degree or a career track. I am not sure who would want to hire someone who has led an “ex-gay” ministry for most of my adult life but I’m certain there is something in there that can be used. So, I guess my greatest desire is for something radical but I haven’t a clue what that might be. So God, SURPRISE ME!
My wife and I were on a Caribbean cruise in 2007. Our trip took us to a group of small islands called “Turks and Caicos”. When we got off the boat we met a lady who had just opened a horse and carriage ride to tour the island. As she spoke, she told us a little of the recent history of the island. She said that the island had been supported financially from a military base that was there. It appears it had recently been closed and it left the island financially broken. As I saw her business and the newly constructed Carnival pier I could see some life coming back.
As we rode around the island on the carriage, the young man told us that the island was dependent on all outside resources for everything including even the basic need of water. Their water had to be shipped in! This started my mind dreaming of all of the “what ifs” as I looked to my future.
What if God were to surprise me with a long term trip to Turks and Caicos to begin a gospel outreach on the island? I cannot seem to get that thought out of my mind even up to today. What if God wanted to move us across the United States? I began to send out applications for pastoral positions around the country. I thought maybe someone could use my experience some way for the general populace of the church. I attempted to come up with a resume that would capitalize on my experiences.
I didn’t get any call backs but still prayed for God’s movement in finding a new career. I began a dialogue with the pastor of the church we attended. He immediately tried to encourage me and said that he may have a place in our church and we began to pray about that. He encouraged me to write a book and offered me a slot to teach something that was on my heart. He felt an urgency to keep me in the loop and to keep talking about what God was doing to prepare me for my future.
The teaching series I came up with I called “Tributaries of Grace” based on a sermon that my pastor gave. I liked the thought of reaching into people lives with a message of God’s abundant love for them. Even though that was on my mind in the summer of 2008, I had no idea of what this would mean later on. The series was a success. I had asked God for ten people and he brought ten to the group. We were together for 8 weeks.
I continued to pray about how I was going to make a living. I felt confident that God would provide and a little arrogant at the same time that I didn’t have anything to worry about.
Meetings with Men
A friend of mine and I talked of how we could minister to others through personal meetings designed to read the bible together, listen to each other and encourage each other towards a mission oriented life. So I reached out to a group of men to see if they might want to meet with me one on one. So I set a goal of inviting six men into this arrangement. Within a week, not only six responded, but I filled my schedule with 10 men that I began to meet with regularly.
I loved the meetings and began to discover a new found heart within me as I sought to be a source of encouragement for them. I spent time discovering what I saw that was good in each of their lives. As we met I prayed for God to show me how I could encourage them.
Those who know me, would say that this was not exactly what I was doing in the previous years of ministry. I was used to looking for the shortcomings, the loose ends of someone’s life. I had a sense of pride in my ability to challenge people with those things that needed to be corrected. So, this ministry approach was significantly new for me.
A New Jesus In My Heart
As the first year of my departure from Love In Action came along, I was feeling satisfied, I was challenged in areas of my heart that were brand new for me to look at. I was also finding a much needed rest in my soul and Jesus was coming into these new areas that had opened up.
I was gaining a new understanding of an old word, “Grace”. What is grace and how does this apply to our Christian walk? I wasn’t sure I truly understood it from a personal experience. I had always heard, “Grace is the unmerited favor of God upon our lives.”
One day when I was sitting in my office alone I wandered into something I had never experienced before. I thought to myself, “Hum, I don’t work for Love In Action any more. I’ve never chosen to look at anything pornographic on the internet. I wonder what is actually out there?”
So, within a few clicks of the mouse I found some pictures that drew my interest. I looked a little more than all of a sudden my heart SANK! “Oh, my God, what have I done? I just crossed over the bridge into forbidden land. I have broken a place in my life that I have never strayed into before – NEVER!”
My mind began to rush into all of the years of instruction, of challenges for others, and into fears of “What do I do now?” My mind was scrambling and anxiety filled my heart. Then all of a sudden, something came to me that would become a life changing, life transforming experience with Jesus.
“John, what is the first thing you know about Me?” Jesus spoke through my anxious heart. I replied, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He said, “Apply that right now.” I began a whole new process of prayer with Jesus. I began to unravel the last few minutes like I have never done before. “Lord, You have not condemned me, so I will not receive any condemnation from You for what I have chosen to do.”
Then the Lord said, “John, why are you here, what has brought you to look at those pictures?” I began a dialogue with Him about all of that realizing that a lot of it was motivated by my own curiosity. After pondering the questions that brought me to search the internet I heard Jesus say: “John, do you have any more questions?” In my own amazement with this conversation I said, “No, no I don’t think so.” Then He said, “Well, then, I guess we are done with this for now aren’t we.”
Oh, my gosh, I just experienced something about grace that I have never experienced before in my life. At a point where I felt as though I had just committed the “unpardonable sin” Jesus came into my heart with such calmness. He didn’t yell, He didn’t shame me, He didn’t scold me or embarrass me. He just acknowledged where I was at, listened to my heart, and in many ways, brought me into a teaching moment with Him right there with me.
I realized; duh, that Jesus was beside me the whole time. This wasn’t a surprise to Him. But even more, He also put all of this into perspective. It wasn’t so much about the pictures I ventured into. It was more about my heart with Him. That was far more important to Him than the clicking of my mouse while I looked to satisfy my own curiosity.
God, became man, right inside my own heart and dwelt with me. He showed me a personal side of our relationship that was one of the most significant experiences with Him I have ever had! He revealed to me just how close He is and how much He loves me.
I Found Grace!
I found a new revelation of the life transforming power of Grace. I learned something about humankind that never crossed my mind before. All of the challenges, confrontations, “preaching the truth” I had done in the past didn’t hold a candle to meeting with Jesus and finding His love and incredible ability to show me the truth that there is no condemnation from His heart to mine, if I am in Him.
As I pondered His message of grace to my heart, something quite dramatic began to change in the way I handled every relationship I encountered.
The World According to a Blogger!
As I approached the fall of 2008 I saw that there was a ministry forming that was deep in my heart. I knew it had something to do with the series I had taught as well as the new revelation of grace that was growing inside of me. “Tributaries of Grace” was the theme but the name was hard to say quickly and so I did a search for something close. I came up with “Grace Rivers”.
In just a couple of months time I had an official ministry name, a website, and a non-profit organization. So, now we had to figure out what this was all about. I began blogging about my transition, the changes in my heart and decided to write articles on the series I had taught. I knew there was something significant to tell others and I had to figure out how to do it.
An old acquaintance, Todd Posey, called me to ask me some questions about a group model that I had used when I was at Love In Action. He said he was coming to town and so we decided to meet and discuss what was going on in our lives. When we met, he was shocked and amazed at what I was talking about and affirmed that there was a purpose and a plan in God’s heart for my new vocational interests.
This meeting turned into more, and a plan was laid out! We developed a plot for what is now called “A Journey of Grace”. I began to write a chapter each week to process through the nine core principles that could lead someone to the same grace I had found for myself. After many weeks I had compiled a lengthy collection of topics and Todd thought it might be a great conference format.
So, a couple of months later we had another series of meetings and came up with a plan for how this material could be brought to the general market of Christian gatherings. We started marketing the conference and building a framework to release it. A decision was made to premier “A Journey of Grace” at Todd’s church in Kentucky. We bought radio spots, Todd talked it up everywhere he could and I sent out mailings to those within driving distance that were on my mailing list.
The Conference Was Delivered – But……
The date came, my wife and I traveled to northern Kentucky with great expectations of how this material would be received. We got ready for the Friday night event, assembled conference manuals and waited patiently for the start time to come.
Two hours later, our seats were empty and literally, NO ONE, came to register. We looked at each other and said, well, we are going to present a conference so here we go. I delivered each message passionately to two people, my wife, and Todd. Well, to be honest, Todd’s pastor came to some of the sessions so there were three people at times. But the material was presented, and recorded, without a hitch.
I certainly had to process the reality of hosting a conference out of town and no one showing up. The way I got through it was to realize, it had to be God’s plan because if one person would have come, it would have been worse. We figured God wanted to give us a practice run and I really was ok with what happened and wasn’t devastated. Well, I was disappointed and a little embarrassed when my friends asked me how it went. But I somehow had the confidence that God was with me through the experience. Just like in my office that day, God wasn’t surprised and would work this into something good.
The Next Writing Series
I came home and just kept moving forward with what was in front of me. I continued meeting with the 10 men weekly. I pondered what I might do next and pondered what else I could write about. So, Todd had encouraged me to write a devotional series on the pictures that show up on the Grace Rivers website. I began with one picture and wrote what came to my heart when I originally saw them and picked them to represent my heart for Grace Rivers Ministry. I felt my own heart encouraged as I wrote. These articles were from my heart and were written with real people in mind who were facing real life situations. I laid them out with the hope that someday they will be published in a book.
Another Piece of “A Journey of Grace”
I watched the lives of some friends of mine very closely. They had gone through such adversity and came out with a deep restoration in their family. I knew that the principles I had written about in A Journey of Grace were the same concepts that they had lived in their own family restoration. So, I contacted Sue DeRaad and asked her to write some of the ways that these none core principles had worked in their family to bring their family to reconciliation. So, Sue began to write and we came up with the additional material that will be in the upcoming book, “A Journey of Grace” with “From the Heart of a Woman”.
During this first year away from over 20 years of “ex-gay” ministry I kept pushing ministry to the subject of homosexuality out of my way. I kept thinking, “God, I want something radical, I don’t want to contrive any ministry focus out of my past, but want to be open to Your future.”
I kept looking for surprises and they came regularly. Watch for the next chapter in the adjustments to a brand new life, vocation, and career!
If you have the courage, this series will lead us into some uncharted waters and awesome opportunities. There will be challenges too. Stay tuned.
A New Car, A New Life – Part Two (Click Here)
To read more from “Through the Windshield of My Life”:
If you want to read articles from the Website Picture devotionals:
Thursday, June 3rd, 2010
In the June 2010 issue of “Delivered” magazine, StefanieLewallen wrote a very good article on the ministry of Grace Rivers. It very clearly displayed the heart and soul of our ministry. This is the first media representation of the ministry that has been done. We are thankful for her insightful writing following the interview she had with John Smid.
As we all understand, when anyone outside of an organization writes a report, not everything in the article is 100% accurate but the heart of Grace was clearly seen. We are thankful for this opportunity to report to the Memphis region about what God is doing through Grace Rivers to reach out to others with the Love of Christ.
By Stefanie Lewallen — John Smid, founder and Executive Director of Grace Rivers Ministries, wants others to know the Jesus he knows.
Grace River’s mission is to challenge believers to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to represent Jesus. He believes it can be done by being honest, authentic and real with people.
According to Smid, The uniqueness in this ministry is to not just give people the four spiritual laws, but to invest in them relationally, to show them “grace, mercy love and redeeming hope.”
Smid believes that our world is very hardened. “too often believers wear a mask of Christianity said Smid. He wants people to take off those masks, say what real people say and not feel like they have to hide themselves to show Jesus. ‘Many believers do not understand how to show Cod’s grace. We tend to be legalistic. Smid defines legalism as any expectations and standards we may set for those we encounter He wants us to instead send the message I love you the way you are.
Relationships are very important to Smid. He loves people for who they are and wants to genuinely share Jesus with them. He believes that being their friend and walking alongside them gives the Holy Spirit more of an opportunity to work in peoples’ lives, “People make people subjects” stated Smid. “We go into a relationship and instead of seeing the person we see a goal. They become a target of accomplishment instead of people, instead of relationship.
Smid, who once lived in the homosexual lifestyle, remembers, that once he knew the love of Christ, he began to love and appreciate the Scriptures and the teachings, of Christ. He is now out of that lifestyle and has been married for twenty-two years. “If someone Is struggling with an issue, we have to be spirit led when dealing with them.” He refers to Galatians 6 where we are instructed to catch those caught in trespasses and catch them gently. Smid believes taht sometimes helping other people may also include getting out of our comfort zones and reaching out to people who are from different backgrounds and races.
Grace Rivers is also the reverse of a typical church. ” A church invites you to church. We invite people into our lives.” commented Smid. The ministry works on individual relationships first than invites the individual to home group meetings, missional groups and celebrations gatherings. “My objective is to not have any agenda, goals or requirements. I just really want to know them and want them to know the Jesus I know. Jesus loves them and cares about them.” ” I reach out to anybody,” remarks Smid. “But I do have a burden for the gay community. I have a burden to communicate the love of Christ.” Smid wants us to get outside of our churches so that the people we get to know may want to follow us through the front doors someday. “We can’t just go after people and think that their sin is any different than ours. We all need God’s grace.”
If you have any questions for John Smid about this article, please contact him 901-753-0744 or check out his website at www.gracerivers.com
Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
A Personal Note from John Smid
A good friend asked me what motivated me in ministry. I shared with her some things that really tugged at my heart.
The modern American “church” is typically known as people who gather in buildings on Sunday morning for teaching, singing, and smiling about life.
I see it more as a collection of those who have embraced their own frailties, and have received the offer of grace through the salvation gift from Jesus Christ. These are members of the church and are in need of healthy connection to the Body of Christ.
However, some people are missing in action. There are events, circumstances, and personal wounds and choices that can bring someone to a place where they do not feel welcome to gather with others of like faith. Sometimes people experience rejection from others or they are consumed with shame and may find themselves alone and unsupported, Some of these folks may become susceptible to seeking connections outside of those who can encourage them towards growth in their faith and in making healthy decisions.
In some of these cases it may be desirable to reach out to these individuals and imperative to do so in safe one on one meetings to build a relationship based on honesty, active listening, and respect. This takes time and certainly a leading of God due to the sensitive nature of the individual’s fears and concerns. Without an outcome agenda, these meetings must contain a neutral stance on standards that come from perceived performance expectations. God’s standards are complete perfection and therefore, no person will reach that standard this side of heaven in human experience. Therefore, we are all on a journey and it is really important for us to seek ways to support those who are faltering or feel intimidated by large gatherings of believing Christians.
As the leading is present, making the effort to invest time and effort to build relationships with those around us will hopefully provide the safe atmosphere necessary to build a bridge from the lost, forsaken, and alone – to relationships, growth, and peace in a life with Christ that is rewarding and fulfilling.
Grace Rivers features a specific selection of concepts and core relational values that will help to guide relationships into building honest, listening, respectful connections. It is called The Journey of Thomas. This material can be reviewed in as little as one hour and thoroughly explored in an eight hour seminar format.
There is no lack of need for reaching those who are lost and afraid. The time is of the essence, there are lives at stake that desperately need a touch from a caring friend.
If you find this ministry vision something you resonate with and you aren’t already involved in Grace Rivers, we invite you to join us. Reaching those in need of a friend who can help is what we do. We hope you feel the same way.
Several people invested in my life to bring me back.
Read the story!
John J. Smid
Friday, December 18th, 2009
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I cannot help but be thankful for His life and transforming power in our world. It is his personal touch and intervention that brings me hope; not only for myself, but for the many whose lives He will touch deeply.
This year God has taken me deeper into understanding the true meaning of Grace. He has challenged my critical spirit that can rise up when I am feeling fearful or insecure. He has continued to transform my life by shaving off the portions that do not reflect Him.
I have enjoyed spending rich time in fellowship with others who are seeking God’s love in their lives. I have been privileged to know men who are lonely, some who are recovering from a life challenge, a few who just need a listening ear and some that are there for mutual support and encouragement.
My wife and I have had a precious time of renewal in our relationship from an intentional time away with each other. At 21 years of marriage, we were long overdue for a tune up.
It has been encouraging for us to walk alongside the Lord in such a way as to seek Him each day for His provision, His leading, and His plans. I can think of many times I have been at the end of my rope and found myself searching in His Word for hope, an answer, or to know Him better.
Writing the Journey of Thomas has been none other than a miracle in and of itself. To think that I would write a book was clearly foreboding, but God devised a plan through which He would surprise me! Low and behold, when I compiled all of the sections that were written, the basic material was there! I hope it is published this coming year.
I worked as a car salesman for a short period of time. It was surreal for sure. I was willing, and thought I understood the plan God had for me in working there but within two weeks, God surprised me again and showed me His heart – for mine and His willingness to allow me to pursue my dreams for a life of ministry. I am thankful that I was only there for two weeks!
At the end of this year, it is my desire to remain thankful. Just a couple of years ago, God opened my heart and my eyes to see that He wanted to free me to follow a new dream that seemed so unclear. He challenged me to be willing to go wherever He might lead me. My wife and I are at that place. We have agreed to keep our hearts in a “Whatever Lord!” place. It is both exciting and fearful for us for sure. But, at this moment the dream seems to become a little clearer. This next year will surely be interesting.
We hope that your new year will be filled with the knowledge of the Love of Christ in a very personal way. Our prayers go out for you and those you love.
A very Merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year!
John J. Smid
Thursday, August 13th, 2009
by John J. Smid
Surely our foes are destroyed, and fire devours their wealth. Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you. Accept instruction from his mouth and lay up his words in your heart.
My wife and I have gone through a huge transition during the last year and a half. When we made the decision together that I should resign from Love in Action-a ministry position that we had both invested our hearts and souls in over the previous 22 years-it was a major change for both of us, and even more so for me.
My Internal Evaluation
In the process of leaving I had to do a lot of internal evaluating; this required a lot of personal honesty and authenticity. I had to dig deep into my heart regarding my motives, my weakness and my strengths. It was imperative that I left with my heart as honest as it could be and to feel clear about my real motives regardless of what the circumstances at the time looked like. It was easy for me to vacillate at a very emotional level. For all intents and purposes it could have looked like I was leaving a conflicting situation in hopes I would find relief and a new beginning but that was not the real truth.
Five years earlier God had truly begun to change my heart. He dug around in there to see if my involvement with the ministry I was in included an idolatrous place in my life. I was certainly deeply invested. I had received much affirmation for what I had been doing all through the years but as I searched my heart I did not believe it was an idol for me in that sense of the word.
Something much bigger was happening and it was quite a move of the Lord. After I began to seek him for changes that I knew could unearth me from 22 years of investment, I found a new excitement, a hope in something that was quite different for me. This was the true beginning of Grace Rivers and I had begun a new journey for myself. I didn’t know what lay ahead but I began to wonder what it might look like. As I pondered these changes in my heart I tried to figure out a way to incorporate these new things where I was serving, but that didn’t seem to gain any momentum.
The Tearing Began
This is where the trials began. Things surrounding my connection with this ministry seemed to be shaking loose. Much of the shaking looked like the man on the roof with the pronged shovel tearing old shingles loose might look from the street. It was rough to go through and at times terrible to experience. But none the less, the ties began to break and I found myself losing my heart connection to the ministry.
After a couple of years of confusion, shock, misunderstandings, and personal and internal battles it became apparent that God was tearing me away literally one finger at a time while I struggled to hold on out of fear that I may not survive outside of where I was. After all, who would be interested in me? I didn’t have a college education and certainly the ministry I was serving was quite narrow in focus and often controversial. So, what would I have to offer another ministry or corporation? How would I make a living?
I also looked back over twenty years earlier. I worked for the Union Pacific Railroad for 13 years. It was a secure job with great pay and benefits. Many I worked with often wondered if they could survive outside of their job since it paid so well and their qualifications might not get them a job like that. So, I wondered the same thing. Where could I go to get this kind of a job. Maybe I have to stay here forever because certainly I couldn’t get this anywhere else. So, I felt trapped by my circumstances.
I realized that I had gotten to the same place in the ministry. Where would I go? Could I survive leaving this ministry position? I once again began to feel trapped by my circumstances thinking surely I couldn’t get this kind of position anywhere else. The deception in my own heart was a stronghold. Thinking I had nothing to offer another ministry or corporation since I was so “under qualified”. After all, I didn’t have a college degree or a resume’ that anyone would find useful outside of this narrow focused ministry I had been in for so long.
After another year of tearing away I got to the place where it appeared that I really had no option if I wanted to remain healthy personally and to leave before everything exploded internally. So, my heart had changed to the point where I began to ask the Lord to free me or I was going to go crazy. I got back to my roots in my faith where I prayed deeply and simply, “God, lead me out of here”.
Ok, I’ll Go Along With You God
Once the decision was made in my heart I did feel relief but at the same time the change had not occurred. In the meantime there was even more turmoil that was more challenging than anything I had gone through before. The last of the fingers had to come off.
When I walked through the decision I began to pray differently. “What do you have for me now God? Make it a surprise!” I didn’t want to contrive my future and truly wanted it to be built by Him. I wanted His best. If I was going to leave this 22 year investment then my future had to be His best. I hadn’t a clue what that might look like. I laugh now thinking that I might be able to contrive it anyway. With my history it wasn’t like I had this wonderful experience that would cause churches, ministries, or corporations to beg me to come to work for them!
Surprises? I want to know more.
God did in fact begin to surprise me. Week after week I saw this process like I was opening Christmas packages one at a time. I knew that whatever was in them would be good but until they were opened I didn’t know the content. One surprise after the other felt like dropping breadcrumbs that were leading me down this mysterious path of discovery. Day by day I released more and more of the past I had lived in, because I saw such wonder in the new challenges that were present and that lay ahead.
John Smid will be selling cars. Talk about surprises! Who would have known 18 months ago that I would be working at a Toyota dealership? I didn’t ask for this. I never would have set my sights on this as an income stream.
As I adjust to the idea I am getting somewhat excited about it. There are many things about this job that fit my interests. The hours will allow some scheduling that coincides with continuing to build Grace Rivers and work on The Journey of Thomas. I look forward to working with some people again since I have been primarily alone in my office all year. I like the managers I have met so far.
Surprising to me, they saw my resume’ as a positive thing. “John, you completely fit the profile that we are looking for. We believe you will do very well with this job.” You mean my history and resume doesn’t disqualify me? You mean it is a positive? Well, there goes another lie I believed. It was cancelled right before my very eyes.
The Journey of Thomas began in my life before I ever even thought of the idea. I had been building the concepts of Honesty and Authenticity on a very personal level. What am I feeling? What is really going on in my heart of hearts? If I had not been more personally honest I might have slammed a few people along the way from the deception if it had set in. During the process of the earthquake in my vocational life, I had to continually evaluate the circumstances and filter them through what I knew was really happening, rather than to blame my circumstances and expect the people around me to be what they were not.
If I had not focused on whom God created me to be I could not have trusted Him as much as I did through the process. As I rocked and rolled through the changes I had to keep coming back to who I was rather than what I had done. What makes up John Smid? What do I really want to do with my life? During this time I found that I had discovered a personal mission statement that really wasn’t new but had led me all through the years. While I was working in a narrowly focused ministry, a much more widely applicable mission was moving in my heart. This personal evaluation of my own authenticity saved me and others from a lot of grief for sure.
Then, the idea of Transparency became a reality. Am I willing to say “Whatever Lord” upon my new life choices? Am I really willing to allow Him to surprise me? Is the element of surprise a positive thing? Actually it has been. Being willing to move wherever He wanted me to, added a wonderful journey to this last couple of years of my life. I learned that when I was flexible in my heart I could then ponder the mysteries of my future.
When my wife and I were on a cruise and had landed in Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean I had just begun to open up my heart to the Lord’s changes. I thought, “What would it be like to come here and start a brand new mission to reach the spiritual needs of this virtually bankrupt island?” My wife wasn’t so keen on the discussion but I was becoming free to begin a brand new life, walking in the freedom of the Lord using me, as I am, however He chooses to. Transparency had a brand new meaning for me and I was finally open to a new adventure.
Yes, I want to learn more each day to live in the truth because that is where I have found some of the answers to the question, “Where are you going Lord, and how do I get there.” It is a great place to be.
My Journey continues…………. Come along with me.
Having a more honest perspective on our life, our motives, and our potential can and will help to prevent relationship struggles and consequences. It will also help in our connection with the Lord. Seeing His perspective allows us to trust Him more fully.
I have often heard some refer to the added “beatitude” Blessed are the Flexible. Actually, “Blessed are the Meek” fits this quite well. Meek in this passage really means in its original language accepting God’s dealings with us as being good.
Being honest can help us to accept God’s dealings with us more fully and with less stress and outward manifestations of sinful responses. Honesty is good “preventive” medicine!
Oh, father, I am so thankful for Your working in my spirit today. As I look back over the last five years I can truly be thankful that You saw a bigger picture than I could have imagined. In Your love and care for me You saw into the future something that I would truly enjoy and embrace even when it wasn’t on my radar screen. Help me to continue following You more deeply into the close and distant future.
PDF My Own Journey – Truth
Saturday, August 8th, 2009
by John J. Smid
Followers of Jesus Christ – Impacting our communities with the gospel!
As I think of the main purpose of The Journey of Thomas, I find myself continually coming back to what started all of this in the beginning. My heart changed a while back and a new burden developed for the lost, the wayward, those who are not connected to healthy fellowship or the Lord at all. I was comfortable in a ministry to Christians seeking God for a better life. I didn’t think so much about those who were lost assuming that was someone else’s burden and that God was taking care of that. When I thought about sharing Jesus with the world I discovered some adverse feelings.
Does sharing the gospel with others scare you?
When you think of talking about your faith do you want to run away?
Are some of your family relationships so tangled up that you can’t imagine talking with them about Jesus?
Is your schedule so full that you can’t take any more time out for those that seem to be lost?
Can you picture yourself building friendships with people who at one time were enemies to your walk with Christ?
Do you think sharing the gospel requires a lot of Scripture memorization and training in a specific program of evangelism?
Have you more often thought the gospel was for those called into evangelism?
I hope that as you read these questions, you already sense an awareness growing in you that the practical applications of the Core Values counteract these concerns. Perhaps you are already seeing how Active Participation, or being Non-judgmental, or practicing Transparency and Respect cause the underlying timidity in these questions to fade away. I hope that what is left is the truth that you have the tools necessary to be competent in personal evangelism. And in that truth, a growing desire to reach out to a lost and dying world.
As I have made further examination of these teachings, I see that growing in my life. Recently I was talking with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of months. As I shared my heart with her I found a passion coming out of my mouth. “We must get out of our church buildings and into the world!” The Journey of Thomas can help make that possible in your life.
In The World?
Several months ago a friend of mine accepted a position as a photographer for an independent movie project here locally. I offered to help him with his equipment. I thought it would be interesting to be involved and I went with a great deal of curiosity. As it turned out, this was a production about urban life in the “hood”. I was very uncomfortable at the beginning because we met in places that were unfamiliar to me and with people that I prejudged to be different from me. I remained quiet and just began to take it all in.
Very quickly I could see that God had something more in store for me. I began to experience kindness, acceptance, and overall friendliness from virtually everyone involved. I was humbled by their overwhelming acceptance.
Within a week God began to work deeply in my heart. I began to lose my preconceived view of these people. I still noticed a difference in color, but not as much of a difference in them. I felt free and open to speak and relate to those I might come in contact with in a new way.
Ironically-but not coincidentally-this was all occurring during the session I wrote for this book on Authenticity. I found that I wasn’t being very authentic with the people I was spending virtually every day with on the movie set. I felt convicted to go to share this with the Director of the film. I needed to be more authentic with him in order to share with him who I really am inside. My own personal journey was about seeing these people like Jesus does and to reveal myself to them. I found that my role there had less to do with the movie and more about the people and relationships. It became a challenging and yet encouraging experience.
I began to see my walk with Christ in a new way. I had been inside a lot of churches, heard many teachings, and shared rich fellowship over the years. Now I was experiencing my true faith walk quite a distance from those church walls. There was something very exciting about being in the “real world” God was revealing to me.
Looking Outside Our Walls
Can we serve Jesus fully if we remain comfortable within our own buildings? Will the Great Commission be fulfilled simply by inviting people to church? If we put more of our effort on how we greet visitors than reaching the lost, we are likely to attract many more “church jumpers” than new believers in Jesus Christ.
Our Journey-the one that you and I are being invited to-is about building relationships with those in the “real world”. Since these relationships will potentially be with people we are not used to being around, we need live a life more honest, authentic, and transparent. We need to become more actively involved in their lives, less judgmental, and protecting their confidentiality. We need to become more sensitive, respectful, and honoring of them as people!
What? You Want Me To Be a Friend of His?
Another part of my own journey began a few years ago. I was confronted with protestors standing on the sidewalk in front of the controversial ministry I was directing. They were picketing our youth program and were stirring a lot of media to action. They were also being antagonistic towards us and to me in particular. One of the protestors was filming the event to produce a documentary with a clear agenda to change what he believed was wrong.
After a few weeks had passed he requested a meeting with me. I reluctantly said yes, and went into the meeting with some hesitancy.
Once the meeting began I found him to be quite different than I expected. He was quite warm and engaged in an honest and transparent dialogue. He was very easy to talk with. I found he was nothing like what I expected him to be. His honesty was disarming and the conversation was actually comfortable. To put it simply, I liked him.
We have had many more meetings over the years.. We have enjoyed getting to know each other and he admitted to me that he found me to be different than he expected as well. We have shared with each other that we actually found a friendship that we appreciated.
Our relationship has taught us both a lesson. Don’t judge a book until you have read it! Yes, we have differences. But in the end, our differences are not the focus of our friendship. I have learned a lot from him. My life is richer from knowing him. He has opened my eyes to see the world very differently. I see Jesus’ calling on my life to see the world as a place where He wants me to be. He has called me to reach out, to be in the world around me while not being of it. And another special outcome from this is that the documentary he intended to be an expose’ on the ministry he was opposed to has changed its purpose. It has now become a documentary about two men from opposite points of view on something who developed a friendship.
I have several new friends now that are different than me and may not have the same spiritual or social convictions that I do, but I like them and learn from them. I hope they like me too.
None of these relationships would have been possible without an intentional application of the lessons taught through the Journey of Thomas. As his journey becomes our journey, we will learn to see others as Jesus sees them.
Springs Of Living Water, As Unto Salvation
The ravaging of the church occurs continually over doctrinal disputes, congregational splits, and denominational fracture. The unfortunate result is the undermining of the Body and distraction from the Great Commission. And yet there are springs of living water as unto salvation coming up from the sidewalks of our cities. The springs are full of life but many Christians are without the tools or experience to know what to do. How can we respond to the needs that are so apparent? I would suggest maybe we should look for people we feel inspired to get to know on a more personal level.
A lady told me recently that her greatest burden was to reach the tattoo crowd. Well, I am not sure what she meant by her description of the people that she wanted to reach, but in her heart was a growing burden.
How will she reach the people she has a burden for? Are they going to come through the doors of a church? Chances are she will have to go to them. She may have to find a new hobby, a new club, or a new place to hang out. She may have to be willing to face ridicule or misunderstanding; it might not be comfortable at first. But I believe that as the grace of God empowers her to go where He sends her, she will find some great new friends, discover God’s purpose on her life, and build an incorruptible treasure in Heaven.
The Great Commission has to be in the streets of our neighborhoods and communities. It might be in a bridge club, or a hobbyist club. It might be at the PTA, or Neighborhood Association. You might find God calling you to play in a secular band, or audition for a community theater. Or, it might just be your next door neighbor that He calls you to serve with sacrifice of time or resources.
This is something I would love to see the Body of Christ move towards! So many organized churches plan a place whether they see it or not, that is a “bless me club” including a well organized sermon, entertaining highly technologically developed music, donuts, coffee, meals and programs for children and teenagers. But, will you find the lost there? Unless we are intentional about our pursuit into the world, we will find ourselves far too comfortable in our surroundings and a lost and dying world will be left untouched.
What would happen if we let ourselves get into the streets of our lives and gathered together for refilling, and to process our experiences? I believe we will find that Christ will lead us into the world if we let Him. As we become faced with our own life experience and that of our peers, we will likely need Christ desperately! Rather than protect ourselves in a church program, we can empower ourselves towards inspirational living. Imagine our churches replacing programs with preparation towards ministry, teaching us what it means to be in the world, but not of the world?
Where is Your Mission Field?
Another friend of mine is a DJ artist. He loves Electronic House Music. He had a gig at a local club and invited several of his friends to come. Wanting to bless my friend by showing my support of his talent and interests, I went. It was at a midtown club that was in my view, an unpleasant environment. The event was smoky, loud, and involved all kinds of people that seemed incompatible with this grandfatherly guy.
When he asked me later what I thought, I had to be honest and tell him that at first I couldn’t understand why he would be in such an ungodly environment. But after I evaluated my own life I thought about the movie production that was also very ungodly and smoky, and unattractive. But God gave me the grace to be there because it was about building relationships and reaching others with what I have experienced myself. I have experienced the love and grace of a forgiving God who cares deeply for my life. It is my desire to share this with others. I wasn’t of the world, but I sure was in it!
My friend has a tremendous burden for the people that come to experience Electronic House Music. They respect him and that is a mission field for him. I am now very supportive of his burden and pray for his outreach to be very successful!
Where is your mission field? Are you feeling a burden for a place where you might be called by God?
God is calling you to share His grace with others
A lady I know had a dad who owned a prominent gay bar in San Francisco. He was Jewish and the men whom he got to know from the gay bar would come into their home. She would ask her dad why he did that, knowing he didn’t agree with the practice of homosexuality. His response was, “Dear, we have our own standards that we live by but we cannot expect the world to know them or live by them. My responsibility is just to love and respect them”. This lady grew up to become a very committed and spirit filled Christian. It was a lesson in her life that drives her to this day.
Is it overwhelming for you to open your eyes to see the real needs right around you? You can close your eyes, but it doesn’t remove the need. It is easier for me to go to “church” and hear the nice music and to receive the friendly Sunday morning hellos and hugs from my friends than it is to go into the streets and expose my heart in a real world.
I believe the Journey of Thomas has the tools and principles that will relieve our fears, motivate our desires, and help us to keep healthy boundaries that will be necessary to reach the lost for Christ. I also believe it will alleviate some of the pitfalls that discourage us from reaching out.
I hope you will join the Journey.
Printable PDF – Our Own Journey
© 2009 John J Smid
Please do not reproduce without permission
PO Box 382277 – Germantown, TN – 38183
Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
Printable PDF – John Smid’s Journey Testimony
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.
“John, you need to know Jesus! We are Christians and we want you to know that you need Him. I know all that you have been involved in and that doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you accept Jesus into your life.”
My head spun around several times while listening to these two girls. I had known them for a long time. We graduated from high school together. It was two o’clock in the morning and I had stopped by the local pancake house with my friends after our night at the bar but I wasn’t ready for what I heard that night.
This was a different experience for me. I had never heard anyone speak about Jesus that way much less from these two girls. What had happened in their life to bring about such a dramatic shift? Well, I didn’t really take the time to find out-I just wanted out of there. I went to a table where my friends were and they had all gone. I felt abandoned and insignificant since they didn’t tell me they were leaving or even to say goodbye! Maybe they heard some of the conversation and were scared too!
This was the first time for me to experience what many call “evangelical Christianity” but it wouldn’t be the last. I guess this was the hammer and chisel that would start the crack in my hardened life to spread. A short time later I changed offices at my job and found myself sitting right behind another lady. She was quite friendly and very energetic about life. It was apparent that she was connected to most of the other people working near us as she laughed with them, talked with them and yes, she was also very excited about something else – Jesus!
Pat took a different approach than I had experienced in the pancake house. She was friendly and interested in other people’s lives. She quickly found out that I was recently divorced from my first wife and was living a pretty active party life. I talked about going to the bars, being out with friends and that I was pretty happy with my new found freedom from my marriage. Oh, I told her about my two children and tried to seem excited about that too but in reality, I didn’t know much about what was happening with my daughters because I had other priorities.
Pat had things all over her desk that were evidence of her priorities. She talked about her own divorce, her past life of alcohol and partying around. She talked of her upbringing in a Catholic family. I related to that quickly as I too had grown up Catholic. We now had common ground. Her experience with the bars and such as well as our religious background became common conversation.
Now, about those things on her desk; magnets, books, pamphlets, and a worn Bible were all very present. A worn Bible? What is that? I thought you needed to protect them because they were special. Pat told me otherwise. I remember her telling me how she wrote in it and used it every day. That seemed so foreign to me that I kept asking her about this Bible she seemed to feel so special about. She gave me answers as she could.
But I mostly remember that Pat didn’t seem to be all that interested in my weekend life. She also didn’t seem shocked by it-seemingly since she had been there herself.
After a few months and our relationship became more comfortable, she said she wanted me to meet a friend of hers. His name was Jerry. I don’t remember where or how we met but it seemed that Jerry was a lot like Pat. He too was friendly and was up front about having been through a lot of stuff in his life like I did. Like Pat, he seemed to be real, and easy to talk with.
“John, there is a group at my church that I’d like you to meet. They are a singles group and this weekend they are having a social time. There will be food and these people aren’t scary. Why don’t you come?”
I was curious by this time. I was also not doing so well myself. I had experienced many painful disappointments in my relationships that I wasn’t really sharing with Pat, or her friend Jerry. I didn’t want to admit that my life wasn’t going so hot. But, in reality, I was looking for something different.
I didn’t go to the group that she was talking about but it remained in my memory as an option if things got worse, which they eventually did. Instead, my first attempt to get help came through an invitation to an al-anon group. My friends said there were “better” people there than I had been hanging around. Well, my lust and pain came together and I was motivated to attend this group.
“Hello, my name is Cindy, John. I can relate to what you just said. I have been there myself and I understand. I found help in praying the Serenity Prayer.”
What? REAL help in praying? Well, I needed real help. Cindy’s expression of common ground once again motivated me. She understood! Maybe I should try her prayer! The next Sunday I was going through the lowest of lows and feeling suicidal. I got out the prayer she mentioned and began to repeat its words. Something grabbed me that day; something very different. I felt relieved of some of the pain I was feeling. Could it have been the prayer? Could God have been listening to me? Is He real?
One particular night on which I was struggling, Pat called to talk with me about something. She heard my struggle and said, “Jerry and I are coming over”. They came to my house and talked with me for a while and offered to pray with me. I remember how accepted and loved I felt that this lady and her friend cared enough to go out of their way to show me their concern and their support.
I started to ponder the events I had experienced concerning God, Jesus, religion and my life. Maybe there is something to this Jesus thing that I heard at the pancake house. These people that I had met seemed energized about their experiences with Jesus. They also have had trouble in their lives and they didn’t seem as afraid to talk about it as I was.
“Pat, maybe I’ll go to one of those “social events” you spoke about. Is there anyone there like us?” She gave me directions and I went to someone’s house and there were lots of people there eating, laughing, and talking. I felt really strange there largely because I didn’t know anyone. But, Pat was right, they were having fun and it was apparent that their life was different than mine and yet, the same.
I went back to my life and friends and tried to make it again. I was determined that I was going to succeed with my plans. After all, I didn’t give up a family, marriage, and my children for nothing. I was invested in my decision – and being right! For a while it went better but not for long. I found more pain, more discouragement, and my pride wouldn’t let me go further in talking about it openly.
Pat had often invited me to her church. She explained that it was different than maybe the ones I had experienced. There was hand clapping, lively music, and it wasn’t like our common Catholic background. She also said that I wouldn’t have to go alone and that she would meet me there and maybe Jerry would be there as well. Well I was up for something new and interesting so I finally decided to go. The day before I had bought some new shoes and clothes for a special “date” with a new friend I had gone on. I got these new clothes out to wear to church. Hum, that sounded weird, church. I am going to church!
I sat on the aisle and before the service, the pastor, John Walker, was walking down the aisle and stopped at my seat. “Hello, I am Pastor John Walker, you have a beautiful yellow sweater on. What is your name?” Oh, if he’d only known what happened in that sweater the night before. But, I enjoyed the compliment and that he took the time to introduce himself.
I wasn’t ready for any more church for a while. I had to process what I had experienced. I enjoyed it; well as much as I could, considering how strange it was for me. At the same time in my life there was another person who was excited about Jesus. She was the sister to someone that I had been involved with. Her name was Jeannie.
My friend told me Jeannie was a “Jesus Freak” and that she lived differently than we did. After all, I was engaged in immoral sex with my friend and Jeannie knew that was the case. She didn’t seem to make that a big deal. We would eat at her house and enjoy her funny sense of humor and friendliness.
One week, Jeannie called me to invite me to her church. She said they were having a revival. What? What in the world is a “revival”? Well, here we go again, something strange to experience. I guess I’ll go. I didn’t die from the last church experience I had. Maybe this will be equally interesting.
I surely wasn’t prepared for what would transpire this night.
I went in, sat down with her and entered into one of the most life changing events I had ever had. I do not know what was said from the front or who I was sitting next to but I clearly heard something in my head. “John, you don’t have to live this way any longer.” What? Who said that? Well, it wasn’t quite that shocking, but it was life changing, no doubt.
The voice continued on, “John, go and ask Laurie to go to dinner with you.” Laurie was a friend from a community theater I as a part of. I didn’t know her very well but she was a nice girl and really friendly. So, that night I went home and called Laurie. She said yes! So, Friday we’re on for dinner.
In our discussion Laurie was as friendly as I had hoped. She was also honest about her life. Well, you guessed it, Laurie was also a Christian. There were other things we had in common. Laurie was also divorced. But there was something even more important that came out that evening. Laurie’s first husband was gay. If you haven’t guessed it already, so was I. I had made quite a deep investment in a decision to leave my family and live out my life as a gay man with other gay men. I was searching for common ground, understanding, and for sure I wanted to feel heard by someone who knew what it was like to have life like mine.
This was quite the shocking experience. God must have known. Did Jesus really see my life from the inside out? Even more significant, did Jesus hear the cry of my heart? I can’t make sense of all of these people who I met with excitement about this Jesus, but is it true? Can something about my life significantly change? The voice said that I had a choice. That voice said I could live life differently and that the deep pain I had been experiencing could go away.
The girls, Pat, Jerry, Jeannie, Laurie, all had something in common. They seemed to have a relationship with Jesus and weren’t afraid to talk about it. But they had something else in common. They freely talked about their life stories. They told me about the mistakes, the pain, the choices, and the freedom they had all experienced. They were all real people with real life issues and seemingly had found a real Jesus that understood and accepted them.
After meeting with Laurie I had experienced enough of this Jesus that I began to look into this phenomenon. Pat gave me a $3 paperback Bible. I began to read it. It was really quite interesting, since I was reading it for the first time like a book, rather than chapter and verse references. I began to understand my life was broken from the beginning and I was in need of someone greater than myself who could rescue me. I found out that the gospel was not a religion, but it was a gift to John Smid from a living Savior to offer me eternity with Him.
My life did in fact begin to change. My priorities were different now. The change was slow and clumsy. One of the first decisions was to find another man that would love me that also was a Christian. That wasn’t hard. I met a man named Paul that fit the bill. On our first time together alone he told me he loved me and that he was a Christian. He taught at Christian school, no less. He was a great guy. But I wasn’t so great. Our relationship became as tumultuous as all of the others because I was so conflicted and torn I didn’t know how to relate to this guy.
The pain continued as if my life were on a pendulum swing. Up, down, up, down, up, down-and I was becoming even more troubled. What should I do now? I had been praying a simple prayer daily. “God, get me out of this.” On February 10, 1984 I made the bests decision of my life. I called my current partner at the time and told him that I was leaving the relationship – for good. We had broken up many times before but this time something was different. I really meant it.
The next week I attended the weekly gathering of those single folks that I had met the year before. I thought maybe they could help me and replace the friends that I was leaving behind. They did. They came through with flying colors. I continued on with their weekly group and I even went to that church every Sunday. It didn’t seem so strange to me anymore. I grew in understanding of their faith, their relationship with each other, and their Jesus. I had become like those girls four years earlier. I was now the excited one about what I had found in Jesus.
That was a long time ago. A lot has changed in my life for sure but it began with a few people who were willing to share their life with me. These folks had something in common that has stuck with me through the years. They were vulnerable, honest from their hearts, and weren’t afraid to tell me about their lives-including their mistakes and shortcomings. I wasn’t a project to be completed; rather I felt like a person they desired to know. Someone they cared about but weren’t trying to control or condemn.
It isn’t so strange that I would feel the burden to write about some core relationship values that might help us reach those that are hurting or lost. The values in The Journey of Thomas reflect what helped me in those trying years of my life. The people who reached out to me practiced them unknowingly. They weren’t using a systematic approach to reaching me. They were just being themselves. With God’s help, they didn’t hide underneath a false religion. They didn’t separate themselves from me as though they had arrived to some higher plane of living.
Each of them knew their shortcomings and they lived in the grace of a loving God. They just wanted me to know the Jesus they had met because He had loved them “while they were yet sinners”.
I am thankful that the Lord allowed me to marry again. I was married to Vileen in 1988. My two daughters have grown into mothers and I have three grandchildren. As I look at my grandkids, I recognize each day that the gifts that were shared with me those many years ago have now transcended into a second generation of life! I certainly wouldn’t have been married to Vileen if it weren’t for those loving people who cared enough about me to share their Jesus with me. I do not believe I would have hardly any relationship with either my daughters or my grandkids if it weren’t for Christ saving my life and changing my path.
I am not sure I really know how to thank each person who has had an effect on my life through their own honesty. The numbers are far too great to share with each one of them. Some of them have gone on to other places and I am not sure I could even locate them. I do have friendships with some of them and I try to often tell them how much their lives have meant to me. I may have some that I haven’t adequately thanked.
This is my new life that remains new every day. His mercies are new every morning for sure. I need Jesus today just like I did all the years before but didn’t know it. The only difference is that I know Him now and can call upon Him freely. I also recognize His grace not so much for the sins I commit every day because I know those were forgiven before I even thought to commit them. I recognize His grace for my humanness! The fact that I was born into a sinful, broken world requires His sacrifice at the cross for my eternity.
In the end, my greatest thanksgiving goes to Jesus Christ for His salvation that came upon our brothers and sisters from the beginning that is passed down generation to generation. This is my story. Well, part of my story. There isn’t enough paper to contain all of it. Each time I think back over my life, there are many more things to say about Jesus and me.
As you can imagine, Jesus drew me to Himself through letting me know that He heard me. He understood my plight and joined with me for life. He forgave me, freed me from bondage, and continues to work with me to change my life one day at a time.
© 2009 John J Smid
Please do not reproduce without permission
PO Box 382277 – Germantown, TN – 38183
Printable PDF – John Smid’s Journey Testimony
Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
We have gone through 8 other Core Values which bring us to Honor. We began with Honesty, and have ended with Honor. I think it is very interesting to see the “H O N” at the beginning of each of these book end topics of this series.
One meaning of the word Honor is to engage in “public esteem”. To honor someone is to reflect respect and value to them in a public fashion. In the King James Version it says “in honor, preferring one another”.
When we have learned how to be internally honest, to rid ourselves of false images and pretense, and opening our lives up to God’s plan and purposes; something changes inside our character. At this point we move into other’s lives more intentionally, becoming less judgmental with them and hold their lives with confidentiality.
From this point we move into learning how to love them sacrificially just because we are commanded to and therefore we value them as God does. We learn how to see things in their lives that are worth affirming even if we don’t agree with other aspects of their life.
I have experienced several times lately a natural movement towards public honor. When I have seen beneath the surface of a person’s life and find their human heart to beat just like mine I have good things to say about them when I tell others the story of our meeting.
I recently received this poem that sums up our series:
Shoes in church
I showered and shaved I adjusted my tie. I got there and sat in a pew just in time. Bowing my head in prayer as I closed my eyes I saw the shoe of the man next to me touching my own I sighed.
With plenty of room on either side, I thought, ‘Why must our soles touch?’ It bothered me, his shoe touching mine but it didn’t bother him much.
A prayer began: ‘Our Father’…. I thought, ‘This man with the shoes has no pride. They’re dusty, worn, and scratched. Even worse, there are holes on the side!’
‘Thank You for blessings,’ the prayer went on. The shoe man said a quiet ‘Amen.’
I tried to focus on the prayer but my thoughts were on his shoes again. Aren’t we supposed to look our best when walking through the door? ‘Well, this certainly isn’t it,’ I thought, Glancing toward the floor.
Then the prayer was ended and the songs of praise began. The shoe man was certainly loud and proud as he sang. His voice lifted the rafters and his hands were raised high. The Lord could surely hear the shoe man’s voice from the sky.
It was time for the offering and what I threw in was steep. I watched as the shoe man reached into his pockets so deep. I saw what was pulled out and what the shoe man put in. Then I heard a soft ‘clink’ as when silver hits tin.
The sermon really bored me to tears, and that’s no lie. It must have been the same for the shoe man for tears fell from his eyes.
At the end of the service; as is the custom here we must greet new visitors, and show them all good cheer. But I felt moved inside somehow and wanted to meet the shoe man.
So after the closing prayer I reached over and shook his hand. He was old and his skin was dark and his hair was truly a mess. But I thanked him for coming, for being our guest.
He said, ‘my name’s’ Charlie I’m glad to meet you, my friend.’ There were tears in his eyes but he had a large, wide grin.
‘Let me explain,’ he said, wiping tears from his eyes. ‘I’ve been coming here for months and you’re the first to say ‘Hi.” ‘I know that my appearance is not like all the rest’. ‘But I really do try to always look my best.’ ‘I always clean and polish my shoes ‘before my very long walk. ‘But by the time I get here they’re dirty and dusty, like chalk.’
My heart filled with pain and I swallowed to hide my tears. As he continued to apologize for daring to sit so near. He said, ‘when I get here I know I must look a sight.’ ‘But I thought if I could touch you then maybe our souls might unite.’
I was silent for a moment knowing whatever was said would pale in comparison I spoke from my heart, not my head.
‘Oh, you’ve touched me,’ I said ‘and taught me, in part; ‘That the best of any man is what is found in his heart.’ The rest, I thought, this shoe man will never know. L
ike just how thankful I really am that his dirty old shoe touched my soul. (author unknown)
Printable PDF – Honor