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Dear Lord, Can I Touch His Hand?

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010


aids dayJohn, this is World AIDS Day.  In light of your ministry, can you share anything with me about what you would say today to those hearing about World AIDS Day?

JM


Dear JM,


I would love to share a very personal story that was life changing for me at a very personal level. Experiencing the reality of HIV/AIDS has touched us all in some way or another. But for me, meeting Matt would impact virtually every decision I would make over the next 25 years. I wrote this article in 1986 at a time when the AIDS crisis was at a peak and many people knew little about the disease. Their fears were at a high point and those who suffered the illness were treated like modern day lepers.



“DEAR LORD, CAN I TOUCH HIS HAND?”

September 7, 1986

By John J. Smid


“Visitors must wash their hands and wear gown before entering room.”



A sign on the door to Matt’s room spoke of caution and I quickly questioned God, “Will you protect me as I go in? I don’t know what could happen but, I know the answer.” “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not on your own understanding…”



I received a call from Jeanie that surprised me. “John, will you go to the hospital with me to see Joe’s roommate who is dying of AIDS?” I hadn’t heard from Jeanie for some time. Her brother was someone I had a gay relationship with for several years. She was always kind to me and we remained in contact with each other after Joe and I broke up. I immediately said yes to her request and we set the plan to arrive at the hospital that day. She felt an urgency to talk with Joe’s roommate, Matt. She wanted to make sure he knew about the gospel of Jesus before . . . well, . . . before something happened.



We met at the door of the hospital and found a room to pray in, knowing we needed the Lord’s guidance. Afterwards, we proceeded boldly to his room. The nurse directed us to the tiny closet full of gowns and helped us put a yellow, awkward, fibrous thing on. As we entered the room, I could see a weak, fragile body lying with an oxygen mask covering his face. Although I had never seen him before, I knew I was supposed to be there.



Jeanie was really unsure of what to say. Earlier she had con¬fided to me that she had never led anyone to Christ before. I had reassured her that God was going to use us–this was His work and we would just be His voice. I could see that Matt was glad to see her–even surprised! Jeannie introduced me and we went through the general small talk. We had only been there two or three minutes when the nurse came in to give Matt his inhalation treatment. We left the room leaving our gowns in a large garbage can full of other yellow gowns which had been discarded.



God was in control and we needed the next ten minutes to gather our thoughts. “What do we say, God? What has he heard before? Your Word says you will bring to remembrance those things which the Holy Spirit has revealed in the past. We give it to you Lord.” We then returned to his room.



He knew he was in a desperate situation. He tried to talk to us, but it was difficult considering his very short, labored breaths. His lungs were full of fluid and not much room was left for air. Jeannie asked Matt how he was handling everything. He said that he had been praying- that God would somehow get him through okay. I’m sure God had heard his prayer. Of course, I knew the only way everything would be okay was through Jesus. Jeanie began to share with him about Jesus and how he needed to know Him fully. I shared with him John 3:16,” For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that who¬ever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”. His eyes brightened slightly, “I’ve heard that one before,” he said knowingly. When I questioned him, he said he had heard it as a small boy in Sunday school. This was an answer to our prayer earlier that God would reveal past knowledge of His scripture, and that God’s Word would not return void.



Matt then went on to say that his parents quit going to church a long time ago because of “political problems” within their church. Jeanie then concluded the gospel message by showing him the sinner’s prayer in a Gideon Bible which she had brought for him. Jeannie asked if we could hold his hand and pray with him. He said, “Sure, but no one else would.”



At this point, I realized that he had been experiencing the deep pain of alienation which seems to accompany this disease. If only I could bring him to the point where he Knew God’s love for him! We prayed and then left him with the gospel in his mind, the Bible in his hand and our love for him in his heart. I told him that I hoped to return to see him again. He said that would be okay.



I pondered over my visit with Matt, my first visit with some¬one facing certain death from a disease that is dreaded and feared and seemed to be growing to great proportions. I called Jeannie that evening to follow up with her. She said her brother had some strong reactions to the fact that I had been involved in her visit. But at the end of their conversation he said, “I didn’t like it that John was there but from speaking with Matt, I guess it was ok. He seemed to be better after your visit.” As I mulled over this experience, I really felt a need to see Matt again, but I wanted to be sure that it was God’s will. I continued to pray about it and the desire to visit Matt again became stronger.



Thursday came and I knew this was the right day to go. Matt had only been in the hospital since Monday. I thought a good time to go would be after work at around 5:00 P.M.



When I got to his room, I noticed that the sign bearing the precautions had been removed from the door. Upon noticing other visitors there I proceeded to enter the room. Then I realized that Matt was not in this room. “Dear Lord, I hope he hasn’t died already!” My heart dropped. I had never been around this type of situation before. People can go so quickly . . . one just never knows.



I stopped at the nurses’ station outside and asked where Matt would be. She told me he had been moved to intensive care. My heart really dropped then, “God, it’s getting worse isn’t it?” I thought. My mind continued to go over the insights God had revealed to me about the situation Matt was in. I asked the nurse If he could have visitors, she replied, “Well, usually only family members but,” she paused and could have just said no, but a question came to her mind, “Why don’t you go to the ICU and ask?”. I believe that was in God’s plan.



My knees were slightly shaking as I took the long walk through the hospital heading for the intensive care unit. As I entered the area of the ICU, I began to walk aimlessly for I had no idea where I was supposed to go. I stopped and questioned God one more time, “God am I really supposed to be here?” God’s reply in His usual firm voice was “Go boldly, John.” I picked myself up by the heels and began a steadfast walk to the nurses’ station in the ICU. “Ma’am, I’m looking for Matt. I am a minister from the church across the street.” Well, I wasn’t officially a minister but I was from the church across the street.



She paused with that same look on her face that the other nurse upstairs had. I could see God working again. “Wash your hands before entering and when leaving”, she replied quickly. She never did say “yes” or “no”. I then had to ask her where he was. She pointed to the room behind me. I was very surprised. I had looked in that room when I first entered the ICU and did not even recognize him.



I went into his room and obediently washed my hands. He was asleep and I did I didn’t want to startle him but the sink turned out to be one of the noisy ones, of course. I walked over to him, took his hand in mine and spoke to him. “Matt, I’ve come to pray with you, is that okay?” He turned and looked at me with groggy, half-opened eyes and squeezed my hand. He couldn’t talk since there were many tubes attached to him including a respirator in his mouth. I could tell he was glad to see me.



I began to pray and thank God for Matt’s joy and the people he had touched in his life. I then asked him if he still remember¬ed John 3:16. He nodded his head in a positive way. I reminded him that God would forgive all of his past if only he would ask and He would hear his prayers. He nodded again, closing his eyes periodically. I reminded him of God’s love for him. I told him to call out to Jesus and everything would be okay. I waited and prayed quietly for a moment.



Then I noticed something beautiful happen. Matt’s breath was different. It had quieted down and a peace came into the room! I asked him if he could feel God’s peace. He nodded again. I was really glad! I knew he felt it, but I wanted him to tell me. I left him with the reassuring words that God would be there whenever he called and everything was going to be alright.



His parents were walking into the hospital as I was leaving. I told them who I was and I asked them if they wanted to step into the prayer room with me and pray for Matt. They quickly said “no.” I was shocked at their pert answer but realized that the shame of their son’s disease had trapped them too. But I also remembered Matt sharing that they had felt wounded by a church in the past. It was very sad for me to hear their pain and yet see their fear of any “minister” approaching them with this issue. That visit brought out the fact that AIDS patients and their families can live with such paralyzing shame and embarrassment.



When I reached my car, I sat down inside and broke into sobbing tears.


I was not sad for Matt; I felt confident that he would be fine. I was burdened for all those others like Matt. There are probably more than we realize.



“Dear Lord, Please bring others to me so I can touch their hands. And Lord, raise up others with a burden to help. . . and, Lord, one more thing . . . help me find a way to share your love and forgiveness to people before they find themselves with no way out of this disease. Thank you Lord, for the great blessing you have bestowed on me today.”



God has answered my prayer. For 25 years He has allowed me to touch numerous people whose who have wrestled with HIV and AIDS. Sadly, as I counted up those whom I have known with the disease, 23 of them have died from AIDS.



Thankfully, through the world of medical research, many are now living well with HIV/AIDS.



But, as Christians, are we learning to love better? Are we now willing to touch their lives with ours?  Can we hear their hearts without judgment of how or why they have the disease?



“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18



 

Our Mailbag: John, can my gay friend be a Christian?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010


mailbag_3Dear John,

In light of all you have been saying about grace, do you think that people who say they are Christians, yet claim to be homosexuals are going to go to heaven? If Christians struggle and have to fight the temptation to rebel against the Lord, doesn’t that mean that those rebellious things would also include money, kids, perfectionism, job, any kind of sexual acting out, etc? I find I struggle wanting to place homosexuality outside of “other” things that I think are wrong.


I have a good friend whom I think is a Christian, yet he claims to be gay. I know that his life is his own, but I’ve felt led to really pray earnestly for him recently.


Perplexed


Dear Perplexed,

You can’t go wrong in praying! Your question is a very complex one. Whenever we are asking questions about salvation it gets complicated. People are all very unique and frankly, cannot fit into our nice neat little boxes. Life would be easier if that were the case, but thankfully God understands each of us.


I believe in the basic message within the gospel. We are saved by the initiative of the Holy Spirit to enliven our hearts towards Jesus. In a miraculous  transaction between God and us there is a salvation process that has begun. I believe God completes the work He started and if that imperishable seed is in place, nothing will stop us from receiving His reward of eternal life.


Having said that, there are many religious “copies” out there who pretend to act like they believe but they do not. Religious performers are all over the place and look like good church goers but know nothing of the grace of a redeeming Christ. In their unredeemed thinking they perceive they will earn His favor by their religious practice.


I believe when we are brought to life by our Father’s work, we are also given a new heart of flesh that is good. At that time our lives are turned towards Him and ready to move through the sanctification process with Him.


Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13


It isn’t a work that is done all at once but in the end, it is a complete work. Hence, we are to work out our salvation every day, not to say we work to gain favor, but the sanctifying process can certainly be hard work and toil sometimes.


Gay_Christian_question

question markSo, can someone appear to engage in homosexual sex and as a Christian also find themselves in God’s favor? I believe a resounding YES! In Him we are righteous, not of our own work – therefore if someone is a Christian, he is in God’s favor.


I would respond with, “Why would we even ask the question?” Is there any behavior that would keep us from being Christians or would remove us from His righteousness?


Can someone appear to be in overt opposition to God’s desire for their human life and be a Christian? Yes, I believe so.


Anytime we engage in idolatry, selfishness or sexual lust, we are in opposition to God’s  desire for our lives. I think we need only be honest with ourselves to answer that question.


Can someone have a life that seems not to fit His plans and be moving towards God’s desires for them? Yes, of course!


How can we say we know another’s motives or wounds. We just don’t have that kind of ability in our human condition. . Personally, I am living in opposition to God’s desires for my life every day. When I am impatient and try to gain comfort or favor my own way rather than turning to Him and believing in Him, I am not living within His desires for me.


Frankly, I think God is much more in tune with my heart than anyone and He says what He sees is good. We can  run around and look for darkness in another life trying to figure out where someone is at spiritually. But, I believe God would rather we spend our energy in three ways:


Delight in each other revealing how much He delights in us. We are called to love each other. This means to look one another in the eye and say, “you are an incredible creation of the Living God! The magnitude of your significance to Him is unexplainable by the human mind”.


Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Romans 13:10-11


Dig in to what is true. It would be great to also nurture, focus on, enhance, and pull forth the goodness in each other’s lives. Believe in one another, but most of all believe that God has replaced our heart of stone with His new heart and feed its growth.


Demonstrate grace. When we find ourselves confronting the flesh that is in us, it is for the purpose of nothing more than to reveal God’s incredible grace – which redeems, renews, and is always for the good.


mercyI have an image that helps me to see this very significant point. When I am faced with the Living God at the end of my life, I believe that in His glory I will see my humanity. In that revelation I will recognize how far short I came from His ultimate desires. In that reality I will recognize more than any other time just how much He loves me, forgives me and that I don’t deserve His awesome gift of grace. In this immeasurable transaction I will engage in thanksgiving that transcends this world and ushers me into eternity fully disclosed, and yet fully forgiven. Even as I write these words I want to shout with the reality of this truth.


We try far too often to be the spiritual police rather than lover’s of God and each other. We have jokingly said we were “fruit inspectors”. But I am not sure many of us are called to have that job to be honest. Even the fruit of the Spirit comes to us through Him, not of our own work.


Our little poodle, Mollie, is struggling with intense anxiety from being raised in a puppy mill. She is frightened of people. Our dog trainer has revealed to us that we must remove her frDSC01459om the intensity of the target of her fear. That would be us. This means we must pay very little attention to her which would raise her anxiety. At the same time he has toldus that, for a dog, their love language includes mostly – you guessed it – food. He said while we lower her anxiety, we are to passively drop a little treat into her space without any words or other things that would cause her fear to increase. In the end the goal is to teach her that we aren’t so scary and that we love her with a safe love. In her response she will hopefully say, “These people aren’t so bad. Treats just drop from theirhands!”


Considering this I have thought of the fears that each of us may have towards God. Do you think it might be possible that God will not put anything in front of us that we cannot handle?  I have not seen His conviction of all of my sin at one time.  He has graciously worked in my heart, layer by layer, for years now.  He has worked over time to bring about the changes needed.  This means that there have been seasons where I didn’t feel convicted about certain things because that is not what God was working on at that time.  We are all on a journey of grace.


Wouldn’t it be better to respond to homosexuals with grace?  Doesn’t that sound more like what Jesus is asking us to do. I believe He is asking us to love them and nourish their faith with affirmation of what is growing?  Isn’t it more of God’s heart to put out our arms, our lives, and our love to reach into their souls.


Sometimes a person may be too wounded in a certain place for God to dig around right there. He may have to work to remove some of the anxiety through releasing the pressure of conviction while He is drawing us unto Himself.  It is in that kind of Love that real change occurs.


This could look like we aren’t heeding something that others may think is vital to an obedient walk. But God may release us  from moving towards our greatest fear at the moment, while He is loving us with our own love language to bring us to a place of trusting Him. His plan is to take us down the road to a place, where little by little, we trust Him more. In His time, He will deal with those things that He thinks need to be dealt with.


My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27


So, regarding those whom you might not relate to, I believe with all my heart they can truly be Christians. I want to celebrate that God is working within the deepest part of their being. We all know of people who appear to not be connected to God in a way that we understand.  However, if the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives, I want to join Him.  I want to encourage the life that is indwelling them. I need only to listen to their words and validate what they say. If someone says they are a Christian, they speak of the gospel correctly, I take them at face value and treat them accordingly.


I have most recently come to a place to embrace homosexual people with the love of Christ. I want to listen to their hearts and to stop trying to change them and to let God do that. In this newer place I have met many new friends that have a great burden to share the gospel of Jesus with their friends and loved ones.  I see spiritual growth in them that can humble me.  I’ve met missionaries, servants, leaders, pastoral hearts that profound my former position of keeping them at arms length. I want to encourage anyone who calls himself a brother in Christ. I want to lovingly embrace anyone who is my sister in the Lord.


That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9


This is not intended to be a message of “approval” or a permissive gospel. But when we are responding to other people’s lives we must accept that  “it is what it is” regarding today, and there is nothing I may be called to do about it other than to love people right where they are and celebrate the good things that God may be doing in them.


I have turned a lot of tables over in the last couple of years and found that I see more clearly than ever that God has spoken through Jesus to us regarding His commands. His most prevalent message to us is to love Him, and to love each other. In these commandments we will find the sum of all of His desires.


I’d rather love others than to put them into my own judgmental box and get in the way of God’s grace with them. I don’t want to barge into a fleshly interruption of His touch on their lives unless I believe I am truly called to do so. There are times for loving confrontation for sure. He has led me to do that on occasion but normally, I am learning to leave it all up to Him and just keep loving people. I have fortunately had the privilege to fertilize the new “God heart” in many people. I find that this breathes life into them that helps to move them forward and closer to Him.


How about it, can you trust God to do the work? All you have to do is to be a part of the  gifts of His love dropped into their lives. In time, maybe someone will grow to trust you more and see that you aren’t so bad because you trust in the Ultimate One!


Maybe what your friend needs the very most right now is just for you to be a friend without conditions.  If God wants other things to happen, I trust He will lead you in that too.


Thank you for your frank and challenging question.