Archive for the ‘Weekly Devotionals’ Category
Sunday, December 9th, 2012
Fearful? Questioning? Reflecting on the past? or Pondering the future?
I will trust in Him.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path’s straight.
The Message Bible says it this way:
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.
I am often evaluating things in my life. The past, the future, they’re almost always on my mind. Did I make a mistake. Have I done something that has hurt someone? Where will this lead me to? Is my future going to be an improvement over the past? How can I make things better? And a lifetime of, “how can things be different?”
I have heard many times that we shouldn’t focus on the past and keep our eyes looking forward. Well, I agree with this to a point but I have learned a great lesson in evaluating life. Let me put it this way:
“The past isn’t the past until it is the past. The past isn’t the past if it’s still the present. The past won’t become the past until you put it in front of you.”
You can quote me on that one. When I think about the past there are times when memories come along with a little piercing in my heart. They can cause me to feel a pang of pain. It is those memories that seem to need some attention. I am tempted to just push them away, which is probably why some people tell us that we don’t need to dwell on the past. They don’t want to feel it either.
But, I have learned that when past wounds, unresolved conflicts, and hurts come to my mind I have to check to see if there is pain with them. If there is and they are resolved with healing in my soul, they change. I think of it this way:
“When an emotional soul wound is healed it can change from being an emotional memory to an intellectual memory. That is when I know healing has taken place.”
You can quote me on that one too. Healing from past wounds doesn’t remove our memory of them, it can take the emotional sting out of them so we are free from the pain. But, if we are all honest, we don’t necessarily forget the times we have been hurt or disappointed. Rather we can move away from the present pain they bring up when we do remember them.
There was a childhood memory from when I was about 10 years old that was still painful to think about. The circumstances surrounding it were overwhelming and the exact situation was foreboding and it pulled on my heart each time it came up. And, it did come up. At times it came in prayer, other times when I would talk about that time in my life. When I was with my counselor one day, he asked me to pray with him about this situation. We found Jesus in the middle of it and there was a powerful healing time which brought a change of reference for that situation. A healing salve poured over the memory. Jesus had touched it with His hand.
Now when I think of that situation, my heart is emotionally neutral. I remember the situation, but even more, I remember what Jesus told me during the prayer time and how He changed my point of view. I no longer have a negative emotional tie to it, rather it is a memory that is purely an intellectual memory of the situation.
So, when I am fearful to face something from my past or questioning it with my soul, I seek to find out a solution through bringing Jesus into it with me. He knows my heart, he knows all of the details. And if there is someone else involved, He knows their heart too.
And when the healing seems to be far away and maybe even impossible, I continually learn more about trusting Him in the process. I have also learned that He will provide the right timing for my heart surgery. Now is not always the right time even though I may grow impatient for things to get better.
Sometimes God wants to bring someone else into the healing. Maybe He is working on their heart as well. In my selfishness I can say, “God – right now”, “I want it now!” But in the love that Christ wants me to walk in, I may need to be patient in waiting for His timing for all concerned. And in the process, God is not putting my life on “pause”, He is preparing me as well and growth continues all around.
I have a ring with a Hebrew inscription on it. I can’t read Hebrew but the paper that came with the ring says that it said, “Trust in the Lord”.
Boy, I need this ring every day in my life. I can easily get overwhelmed with impatience, fears, insecurities and the like. It is cool when someone asks to see the ring and wonders what it says, I am forced to say, “It says “Trust in the Lord”" and I can see that maybe He is using the person’s question to bring me to once again verbalize where my trust is at.
Take a deep breath – there, that’s it.
No matter what has come to your mind or your life today, make a decision. Where is your trust? Is it in Him? I often say, If I can’t trust Him today then who can I trust. If He isn’t trustworthy, that I just as well give up totally. But that is also a trustworthy place to be because I know He won’t let me go.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Funny how this passage connects the love of money and discontent in contrast with trusting in God’s ever present commitment to us. We do try to do it ourselves when we fear He isn’t with us. His exhortation is to know that He is our helper and to remember man can do nothing to me outside of God’s hand on us.
I can trust in Him.
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Friday, September 30th, 2011
I have been passionate about the Christian celebration of The Lord’s Supper for many years. During our recent trip to England we attended a retreat where a minister from Scotland taught a message about communion before we celebrated the elements together.
His message got me thinking again about how many people wrestle with their hearts during a communion time at church. Originally meant to be a reminder of the Passover, and in Christ, a message of the gospel of freedom, far to many people feel uninvited to partake even though they may “eat” anyway.
A retreat where there were many gay men and women who are Christians were attending, the minister shared his heart and invited them to partake. He passed around a large loaf of bread and encouraged us to take a piece that would compare to our understanding of God’s love for us. He talked about how often people will take a tiny crumb while Jesus promises He will provide enough for all to take.
Tears began to flow from both the wounds of rejection, and the gratitude of inclusion while the elements were taken. My heart was grieved when I pondered how many people are hurting and how much Jesus wants them to be embraced.
Communion is an element that is commonly shared throughout the world as a symbol of our faith. Sadly, it is also something that can keep us separated in disunity as well.
Please read my thoughts on Communion, The Lord’s Supper, and ponder for yourself – who’s invitation is it?
The Bread and The Cup – Fear or Celebration
When I was a young boy I remember sitting on the aisle of the long pew at church while people walked forward for communion. In order to maintain my composure of remaining quiet I watched all of the shoes. High heels of many colors, shapes and sizes mixed in with large black men’s shoes, kept my mind busy while I reverently looked down as though I was praying. Well, that’s what I was told to do.
One of the most central sacraments to our Christian faith is Communion. What is it, where does it fit within our Christian experience, doctrine, and belief? What do we know about it, how have our experiences with this sacrament, shared by those all around the globe, shaped our Christian walk? There are numerous teachings about how to take communion, where to take communion, and who should take communion. What have we learned about ourselves, others, and the church through this symbolic expression?
As I got to the right age as a young Catholic, I was taught about the miraculous transaction of the “host” and the “cup” mysteriously into the body and blood of Christ. It was kind of like other mysteries in life like Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy! I just accepted it as something I would never truly understand but the nuns and priests prepared us for the amazing day where we would walk through a rite of passage to our “First Communion”.
At the right age, as we practiced our walk many times, we were now ready for the real thing. We got all dressed up in our suits and ties, the girls in their frilly lace dresses, white gloves, and shiny paten leather shoes All together in our pews lined up as we had planned, we could now walk up the aisle like all of those ladies and men had done every Sunday as I watched their shoes go by my pew. It was an exciting time, and we all perceived we had accomplished a great new phase in life.
A Wafer Dipped in Wine?
At that very young age communion was not much more than part of the church service but I’ll never forget the taste of the wafer thin “host” as it entered my mouth. It was kind of like the breath fresheners today as they melt in between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. They called it bread but it resembled something quite different than bread to me. It was far too thin to call it bread. I was told that the nuns made it and couldn’t imagine how they could possibly make these little dime sized paper thin wafers by the hundreds in preparation for each Sunday.
I can’t say that taking communion was a spiritual experience for me throughout my childhood, but I faithfully partook each Sunday, since my dad made sure we were there every week. One thing I did think about was that it seemed to be a privilege since it seemed we had to “qualify” in order to take it. There was the initial series of teachings and what seemed to be a graduation for our First Communion.
Then, there were ongoing qualifiers like we had to go to confession to make sure our sins were forgiven. We also couldn’t eat before church because there had to be an hour of fasting before taking communion. It seemed that Jesus needed a clean stomach before his body and blood entered into it. At the time I think I clearly understood Him not wanting to mush around in my breakfast remnants.
For Common Man?
How did this play a role in my foundation of understanding communion? Well, I can say that it led me to believe that communion was not for the common man, but rather only certain people could walk up that aisle. They had to pass a test, be reverent, clear their consciences, and clean their stomachs, and beat their fists against their chests three times when the bells rung before they could follow the plan to “Take, eat, this is My body.” There were so many rituals surrounding this mysterious event during the Sunday Mass.
A Ritual, A Rite?
I grew to think of communion as nothing more than a ritual, a rite and something that seemed to be an integral part of the Christian life. But later on as my church associations changed, my thoughts of communion also changed. When I went to a new “kind” of church it seemed they had different kind of communion. The shape changed! The “cup” changed. Now they had you stay in your pew and the ushers passed the plates around for each person. We now had a little “chiclet” shaped piece of bread and a thimble sized cup. It just wasn’t the same as being personally served and the wafer melting in my mouth that the Catholic experience held for me. The little cup was different too. As a Catholic I never tasted the cup. The Priest dunked the wafer into the wine when I was little.
The Pastor would stand up front before the ushers passed around the plates. He would typically charge us with clearing our consciences. During some church services I had experienced it also seemed that some people who may have been sitting with us were told they might consider not eating with us if they were in trouble with God, or others. There was often beautiful music playing during the passing of the plates and as I looked around it seemed everyone was in deep prayer, or pretending to be, while they waited for the entire congregation to be “served”.
What? He Didn’t Take it Today
There were times when I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t take communion. I mean, there were many times when I didn’t feel as though I was in a great spiritual place, or that something had been going wrong in my life. But, oh, my gosh, what would someone around me think if they noticed I hadn’t taken communion? They would know that I was in a bad space and think awful thoughts about my life. I know because one time I noticed someone next to me didn’t “partake” and I wondered what was wrong with them. What could be so awful that you wouldn’t take communion? Then I had another thought, they must have been “spiritual giants” in order to go against the flow and actually do like the pastor said, and not eat if we had something wrong in our lives. At least they were honest enough to evaluate their lives deeply. So, I tried to stop judging them and think of them in a better light.
So, the ritual of communion continued throughout my many years of Christian experience and my walk of faith. I really never thought of the fear and intimidation that often went alongside the “Communion Table” until I evaluated communion all together. This was until I had my first “Passover Seder” experience.
You might say, what is a “Passover”?
I have found that many Christians don’t know what a Passover Seder is. I didn’t know until I went to my first one. It was at this special event that I learned where communion came from. I learned that when Jesus spoke of eating His body, and drinking His blood, He was speaking at a Passover meal with His disciples. This sheds a whole new light on the bread and the cup! I now saw that it was actually a full meal where He talked about bread and wine.
My Pastor Says!
Later on, I was involved in hosting a Passover Seder. I invited an older woman to the special event. I explained that the Passover Seder had now become one of my favorite holidays each year. She looked at me and said, “What is a Passover Seder?” Much to my surprise since this lady had been a Christian for fifty years. I explained that it was a “glorified” communion service. She thought for a minute and responded to my invitation. “Oh, John, I’ll have to ask my pastor if I can come. He says we aren’t supposed to take communion at any other church than our own.” She then asked if I was ordained as a minister since she was also taught that only ordained men are to serve communion.
I was shocked at what she had said because it sounded so strange to me. She had been taught that there was something so religious about communion that she actually felt fearful about coming to the Seder without her pastor’s permission! Much to her relief, her pastor gave her permission to attend the Seder.
Where Did All of the Rules Come From?
Wow, this led me to do further thinking about this whole communion thing. I realized that for many Christians, fear was tightly woven into the communion experience. The very symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ and the freedom He bought for us had turned into bondage for so many followers of Christ.
Fear of disapproval, fear of failure, fear of breaking a “Christian rule” or just fear of a disapproving God! From my Catholic roots to protestant teaching, it seemed most often Christians were taught that taking communion had all kinds of rules surrounding it. Where did this come from?
In chapter 12 of Exodus, there are many regulations regarding celebrating the Passover during the Old Testament times. Everything from a perfect lamb to expunging the household of leavened bread, Moses and Aaron received their instruction from the Lord about the celebration festivities. I am certain fear of taking communion irreverently is not new to us who live after Christ’s resurrection.
When Jesus was leading the Passover Seder with His disciples the following gives a recounting of the experience.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body. Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.(Matthew 26: 26)
Certainly many of the historical rules were rooted in the Old Testament experience. The Law has continued to impact many of our lives and our Christian experiences. But when Jesus came, EVERYTHING changed! He brought radical challenges to the Pharisees and the culture of the day in which he lived.
I wonder what it was like for the new disciples of Jesus to take part in the bread and wind this time? At the time I am certain they worked through all of the rituals that were in place for the Jews at the time. But I wonder how the conversation went around the table with Jesus present? Was it stuffy and filled with ritual, or did Jesus bring a flavor of His love and grace even before His New Covenant took place? Oh, yes, He brought forth the reality of the betrayer sitting there which I am sure brought a somber reflection to the table, but certainly the disciples saw something different from the usual Seder.
Now, today, 2000 years later, after instruction is given, we read a selection of passages from First Corinthians chapter 11.
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:24-26)
Often the pastor will lead his congregation to an evaluation that seems to be somewhat ambiguous but none the less, we are to dig into our heart and souls prior to taking the bread. As I read through the chapter where this practice of evaluation comes from I see this preface from Paul:
“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat?” (1 Cor. 11:17-19)
It seems the major problem Paul is calling us to evaluate is that as a Church, we struggle greatly with division, fighting amongst ourselves. He even points out that many of our times together do more harm than they do good! He says that the divisions are often rooted in pride about who has God’s approval and who doesn’t.
This is VERY important to consider!
What are we called to evaluate before taking communion? It looks like Paul is calling our attention to the arrogance of judging whether or not someone is “good” enough to eat with us. I want to point out right here that it is called “The Lord’s” supper. It is at His invitation that we are partaking. It is His dining table, not ours. Who should be the judge for the invitation? If we think we can be that judge than we ourselves are crossing over the very directive that Paul is laying out for us.
As I look back at many of my experiences with preparation for communion it seems there is a lot inferred about who should, or who should not partake. My older friend experienced an extreme example of her pastor leading her to believe that permission must be granted from him for eating the bread and taking the cup at the Seder celebration. I feel grieved that this godly woman had been so misled so as to believe she had to fear sharing in something like a Seder. The fears that often underlie communion experiences are attached to a man’s approval of God’s invitation. It can seem as though God invites, but man approves.
One time when I was visiting my dad in Las Vegas I decided I wanted to go to church with him to show him how much I respected his commitment to his faith. I had not been to church with him since I last regularly attended a Catholic mass which was when I was a teenager and I was digging deep into my heart to attend with him. As the service proceeded towards communion my dad handed me a folded open booklet turned to the page on communion. It read:
“While we are praying for the unity of the Body of Christ to be revealed, at this time if you are not fulfilling the requirements of a faithful Catholic we respectfully ask yo to abstain from taking communion with us.”
I was very upset by what I read. While I understood the intent due to my experience with Catholicism, I also knew the desire of Christ to see his Body come together and to quit separating on denominational lines. When my dad and I got home and I was standing in the kitchen I opened my my heart to him. “Dad, I am very upset by what I read today. While I deeply respect your commitment to the leadership of your church, I want to say that my attending church today was an answer to the prayers that were mentioned in that booklet. I had put aside my flavor of church to attend with you for your flavor of church. I feel very frustrated by the rejection of my heart based on rules that are not based on the gospel. I am a follower of Christ, and you are a follower of Christ. We should be able to share communion together based on our common faith even though there are differences in the way we practice it.”
My dad responded, “John, I know what you are saying but that is the way my church is and I felt I needed to honor the wishes of our leadership.” I felt comforted that my dad understood what I was saying and yet, I still felt frustrated by the separation of Christians bringing disunity to the heart of Jesus to see his “kids” all together.
Have You Ever Seen Anyone Overeat at Communion?
Several years ago I asked a second question. If the scriptures said “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment”. (1 Cor. 11:33-34)
Than how are we defining communion? If it is possible to over eat at communion then how does a “chiclet and a thimble full of grape juice” relate to communion? There is something here that really needs to be considered.
If a traditional communion is symbolic I understand the small elements. But in its symbolism, what does it stand for? Well, first of all, it certainly is a symbol of that first historic Passover. I get that part. The symbol of the real night of the Passover is significant and God has called us to remember this special event in our history.
But, the elements are also symbolic. They are symbolic of the entire meal of the Passover Seder. The original Seder is a time of sharing history, our faith, and certainly friends and family. It symbolizes the entire picture of God’s heart for relationship.
Certainly we cannot overeat the elements unless we raid the back store of chiclet bread pieces and gallons of grape juice. But if the warning is about not being a pig when we go to a fellow’s home for dinner than we need to take a look at our gluttonous practices as we partake of the symbol of communion.
But, it is also symbolic of sharing meals together with other Christ Followers. As I think of my Christian walk, some of the fondest memories I have is eating, drinking, laughing and learning together over a meal. I also recognize that to eat with other Christians with whom I experience unsettled relationships is certainly making light of the unity called for in the Body of Christ. To sit at the vulnerable place of sharing a meal together and put on a facade of unity is a breach of the kind of relationship that God is calling us to celebrate through communion.
Who’s Invitation Is It?
But there is something very important to consider here as well. Who is God inviting to the table? Not, who do we want at the table, but who does God want at the table.
Is anyone unworthy to be at the table? Are there those we can say, “Go away until you get your act together!” Maybe we are talking to ourselves. Paul seems to warn us of our divisive ways. Can a Pastor or other spiritual leader tell us where, when, and with whom we can celebrate God’s Passover elements?
I was recently with a group of gay men and women who were celebrating God’s presence. We were led to a time of communion where the leader bought to our minds that any are welcome to the table who desire to draw near to Christ to share in His blood sacrifice bringing us hope, renewal, and eternity.
Behind me was a middle aged man who broke out and wept loudly. His heart was filled with a sense of loss, and yet a sense of inclusion. He later described that due to being gay he had always taken communion with a deep sense of guilt and shame and at times even avoiding it. He perceived that he was not welcome to the Table of the Lord due to what he had heard others preach about who was worthy to partake and who wasn’t.
My heart broke for his experience. I looked back over all of the years of my own experience with communion and I can see why this man felt “uninvited” to the Lord’s table. It may have been because he wasn’t reading the invitation correctly. It was sent by Jesus! It didn’t have man’s return address on it.
Jesus invites us to His table, anyone who wants to come, can come. Are we passing on the Lord’s invitation, or are we making it our invitation? The point I am attempting to make here is that there are Christians who think they can edit the guest list for those invited to the Lord’s Supper when it isn’t their guest list!
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
It is the cup of forgiveness for all mankind. Man, woman; black or white; and yes, lesbian, gay transsexual -or straight.
At the close of the service, the man who led us through communion said something profound:
“When you make homosexuality a “fundamental” of our faith and it divides us into disunity, you are adding to the gospel.”
Much like other social issues, homosexuality has seemed to divide our family into segments. There is certainly different schools of thought, practice, and biblical interpretation within the Body of Christ. Sadly, those that suffer from the disagreement are those whom are cast aside, those who perceive they are second class Christians because they are gay. Does the gospel discriminate based on sexual attractions? I believe Jesus in the Bible says all are welcome.
Might we ponder this question? What other things in our Christian communities and personal walk that we make “fundamental” that keep us or others from The Lord’s Table that He has invited us to?
Might I say… If we cannot RUN to the communion table with no fears, no hesitation, with full confidence – - – - – then where can we run to?
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Gal. 3:1-3)
For more articles on homosexuality – Click Here
Thursday, September 15th, 2011
Oh, the rush of the adventure of this life.
The bright lights of the sky reflected in the highly motivated flowing water brings invigoration and desire for today!
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.”
It is “o” dark thirty and here I am already moving into my day. Lots to do, things to think about, people to see, places to go and I am up and “atem”. My life is an adventure and always has been but I haven’t always felt that way.
From July 31st, 1954 God had a plan for me. Well, actually, it was before the beginning of time! As His plan has unfolded I can’t say I have always enjoyed it but it sure has been an adventure.
As you have reflected on your own life have you considered using the word “adventure” to describe it? I have not often thought of adventure when I have been down in a valley or wrestling with a struggle. I can picture myself with my arms swinging in front of me saying “no” I don’t want that right now. Or “leave me alone” when someone invades my space unwelcome at that moment.
Climbing a high peak, toiling over a difficult project, or working through a 20 year marriage all have their trials but they also have their joys and in the process we experience the adventure of discovery, highs, lows, and a sense of accomplishment. As a follower of Christ, the way is always up!
In October of 1986 I received a phone call that changed my life forever. The ministry of Love In Action called me to ask me to consider a position with them managing one of their residential facilities. I had prayed desperately for God to allow me to work in a full time ministry. I laid out my plans but none of them came to fruition. But when this phone call came, I knew it was an opportunity from God and joyously welcomed it. After extensive plans were laid out in just two months I was on my way from Nebraska to California to discover what He had for me. Ecstatic and unprepared for what was ahead I accepted this as a huge answer to my heart’s desire.
I saw this as the beginning of an amazing adventure but now over 23 years later I can’t say I always saw it that way. Those years were some of the most joyous experiences and yet some of the most painful of my life. I have no regret about having made the decision to go and can see how God used all of those years to shape my own character. I often said I felt that working for Love in Action was more about what God was doing in me than anyone. It was like climbing the highest peak for me. Along the way the discovery of people, life, relationships and certainly my Lord brought great satisfaction to what I accomplished through God’s working in me and through me.
Three years ago, in May of 2008, I entered another adventure! “God, Surprise Me”, was a little prayer that has brought another revolution to my life. (read the stories, click here) This new adventure is full of joy, and also its challenges as well. That is the way adventures are! Up, down, sideways, and sometimes a little rest in the middle.
A while back, I was asked by a friend to take him to the county jail so he could turn himself in for a warrant that has been issued for his arrest. Due to a violation of his parole he was to go back to the system for a parole revocation hearing and would have to spend time in jail until his hearing would take place. As I took deep breaths I pondered his life and what it has been like to be his friend. We met every week for over a year and I felt I knew him really well. As we drove downtown I was keenly aware of what he was about to walk into. He tried to process this with me and yet the angst on his face was obvious.
I mentioned this to a friend of mine and she said, John, your life always seems to go to curious and interesting places. I responded, “yep, that is the story of my life”. I never know what is in store for me but God has certainly had many unforeseen things up His sleeve to throw me off. I look back and laugh at the crazy things I have been through. I can also look back and cry at the sadness I have felt or seen for others. The mountain tops in my life have been very high. The valleys have been very low. But it sure has been a ride and I am not expecting it to stop any time soon. I am thankful that God has allowed me to have a wife that is willing to ride alongside me!
As you have walked through career development or raising a family or maybe just relationships that have been a challenge, can you use the word “adventure”. I have found that when I change the word to describe the challenges it gives it a new frame to think through.
Adventures are discoveries. They are exciting because we never know what is next. Walking through an adventure has a certain exhilaration about it that gives us a little more energy to embrace it. But when we see things with heaviness or fear it seems to de-energize us and drag us down.
A friend invited me to join a group to go white water rafting on the north fork of the American River in Northern California. I said yes and talked about how fun it would be. As we drove to the launching point I started to get really nervous and fearful. I could feel my heart pounding and the higher levels of anxiety inside me. The fear was taking away the joy of expectation and potential of the experience. As we started the ride down the river we had so much fun! It was 100 degrees and the cold water was wonderful. The rush of our yelling in the rapids was awesome. The calm of our resting point where we just laid back in the water was a welcomed break.
I wonder how many things I have missed out on in life because I was too afraid to embrace them? Far too many I’m afraid.
Luke 21: 34-35
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.
What can I learn about me today Lord? What do You want to show me that may change my life forever? Lord, I am scared about what I am about to face but walk with me, take my hand, don’t let go!
I was at an amusement park standing in line for a huge turbulent roller coaster ride. I was anxious but excited. My friends were with me to help give me courage to go forth onto this mysterious and fearful thing. As I got strapped in and the ride started to climb the huge straight up ascent I began to pray fervently. God, help! Then as it got closer to the crest I said, “what am I doing asking God to help me, I did this myself”. As the coaster rolled over the top I screamed and down we went! Through the hoops, over the hills, under the trestles and in a few short minutes we were pulled to a stop. I laughed and with enthusiasm I said that was great fun. It seemed when I released the anxiety and just ran with it I could enjoy the experience.
Is that the way it is with life? If we release our anxiety and run with it will our lives become an adventure?
Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall.
So, here I am again, it’s still “o” dark thirty. I don’t see the sun yet, but I am thinking differently already. I am up early because I had indigestion that just wouldn’t go away. I wasn’t up early today for any admirable reason. I wasn’t up to spend time with the Lord or to go exercise, It was just because I couldn’t lay there any more from the discomfort. So here I am starting out my day with pain in my chest. But writing these words gives me something else to think about.
What do you have for me today, Lord? Who will I see? What will happen that will challenge me? How does this day fit into the adventure of my life? I can trust that it will and that God will make good whatever happens today. I will learn something. I will grow just a little more today.
Something I know for sure, You love me and we’ll face this day with grace. Come on sun! Rise to welcome us with the Lord’s loving arms of embrace.
Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.
The LORD is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens.
Friday, September 2nd, 2011
I received this question from a long time friend who had read my recent article “John, you have deviated from the truth.”
John, I still don’t understand what you are saying at times. I was involved in extra marital affairs, I lost my marriage and am attempting to start fresh with my sexuality, and in my walk with Christ. Could I have stayed in adultery, without repentance, and still been a faithful Christian? Help me understand this.
First of all, many of the principles I will use to answer your question are in articles I have already written about. (Articles on Homosexuality, and “God Suprise Me!) But, please allow me to try to compose an answer to your question.
What I am saying more than anything else is that we are all on a journey of transformation. Some people are what I would call “pre-Christian” and hopefully they will find Christ’s salvation to become real for them. Others have already been enlightened to Christ’s gift and have started on their transformation journey. But, none of us are on the same time line and it is very hard to compare life experiences as it relates to our relationship with Christ. And, we all know, no one has achieved perfection as yet. We are all falling short of God’s standards.
During Jesus’ ministry, he dealt heavily with the Pharisees. He constantly challenged their law oriented religion. Pharisaical thinking and actions are that of expecting people to satisfy the Law Code through good behavior and submission to the law. They attempted to teach that we could gain favor with God by being good obedient sons.
Many Christians still act like Pharisees today.
Within the church community many still function as though they can earn God’s favor through their good works, their clean living and expect others to follow suit. While Jesus told the Pharisees that underneath their polished exteriors was a cauldron of stuff that was clearly wrong and needed to be cleansed. Of course, Jesus was trying to show them their need for His salvation in preparation for His sacrifice for their sin. He was certainly not saying that He expected them to “clean it up” on their own. (Matthew 23:25-26)
Jesus came to fulfill the law Himself so that we are freed from the eternal consequences of sin. He came to give us freedom from condemnation of the law. In acceptance of His gift, He gave us a new heart. Those with His new heart are growing into the likeness of Christ.
What is a faithful Christian? Is it someone who’s behavior is perfect? Well, no, none of us is perfect. But can we be closer to perfect than others? Maybe if we are comparing our outward signs of life. But, actually I have known you a long time and I knew you when you were involved in adultery. You were representative of many wonderful manifestations of your walk with Christ. You revealed the fruit of a man who placed your relationship with Christ as an extreme importance. But during that time, you were struggling with your humanity. I never judged your walk with Christ differently after I found out about your adultery. You are a man, and a man who knows Christ deeply.
I think we really need to rethink what it means to be a “man after God’s own heart” like our old friend David. Was David a faithful God worshipper? I think we would agree that He was faithful to God even when his relationships were really messed up.
There are many people who would call themselves faithful Christians in arrogance while not being willing to look at their own lives honestly. They exhibit religious pride and practice. And there are many gay people who struggle with deep insecurities about their relationship with God because they love Him so much. How do we judge a “faithful Christian?”
The Complexity of Homosexuality
This is a huge can of worms because of the intrinsic nature of homosexuality. How do we define homosexuality? The word itself is really only good as it describes a collection of related items. It is vital to separate behavior from the person. Gay people hear all the time that they must repent of homosexuality. A person cannot repent of “homosexuality” if the understanding of the word is same sex attraction and a unique personal response to gender. For the majority of gay people, their life experience is unchangeable and not something that can be “repented” of. So, to say that a gay man or lesbian must repent of their homosexuality will certainly be confusing and challenging.
So, it is hard to compare heterosexual adultery with homosexuality and without clarifying our verbiage and context it can become quite mixed up. If on the transformation journey God moves a gay man to no longer engage in indiscriminate sexual relations then we can compare that to what you experienced with adultery. This is something that falls into the category of sanctification. But at the same time, we have to be very careful when judging anyone being a “faithful Christian” if we are only considering their behavior. We all know how flawed our lives are. The most powerful and influential spiritual leader goes home to their own human experiences and if we were to look only at their human behaviors, they would not satisfy the requirements of a perfect God in and of themselves.
So, why would we place a finer grid onto the gay community than we place on other human experiences? Are gay men or lesbian women under a magnifying glass that we are not willing to subject our lives to?
I recently had a pretty passionate discussion with some men about how many Christians can get so angry about homosexuality. I asked why we have not had such a heavy discussion about things like divorce, or greed? Why is the hammer so heavily aimed at gay people and yet there are so many other things that we ignore? We are either under grace, forgiveness, and God’s transformation process in each of our lives or we are not.
Why would the Christian community not want to see as much grace for the homosexual as we seem to have for those who are divorced, or the greedy? Why do I so often hear such negative responses about allowing God’s grace to be poured out on gay people who are so misunderstood by society and even more so, by the church? When Jesus began His public ministry, the things he point out to the new disciples were things like; anger, divorce and remarriage, prideful praying and fasting, selfishness, and worry! He pointed out our common temptation for hatred and bitterness with our enemies. He compared these to the law and revealed to the disciples that they desperately needed a Savior.
Why am I being told I have “deviated from the truth” with this issue and living through “cheap grace” when the hoarders of worldly goods are sitting in church with their hands lifted high? Shouldn’t the homosexual be sitting there too, under God’s grace? Well, I certainly understand that grace cost our Savior more than we can imagine, or think. But, He freely gave it to us. Some people respond to them as though they are the lepers of our society – that is unless they “repent” and even then, celibate homosexuals who say “I am gay” are mocked and rejected just because they are attempting to be honest about their sexuality.
When I was worshiping at a large church, without knowing it, I was barred from ministry within the church, rejected, scorned, and gossiped about. Oh, I never saw or heard it for myself. People didn’t come to me personally. And it wasn’t coming from the pastoral staff because they continued to embrace me completely. There was a continual encouragement from the staff to offer to do things within the church. But, there was the “old guard” who prevented me from serving within their church. I heard all about it later. I was involved in ministry to “the gays” that were unwelcome at their church. I represented the scourge of our society and they didn’t want anything to do with that.
The Real Message
Someone has to be willing to say to the homosexual, “God loves you intimately, He wants you in His house, He will not give you more than you can handle and along life’s path, you are free, totally free. Do not live under shame and condemnation that Jesus didn’t place upon you.” Who will be willing to be an ambassador of the gospel of grace for anyone who so desperately needs a deeper connection with God?
So, what would Jesus say to us? How would He minister to the gay community today? I think it is clear. Zacchaeus, (Luke 19:5), The woman at the well (John 4), The woman caught in adultery, (John 8:3-11) and there are so many others. What I see in His response to the fringe of the culture of the day, is that He responded to each one differently and always respectfully. There was not a “one size fits all” response from Jesus. He understood where each one was at and what the next step of their life would need to be. He was known as a man who would eat with sinners! (Matthew 9:10-13), The Rich Man (Mark 17:20-25). Jesus’ responses to the men and women around him were all unique. In listening to the deepest places of their hearts, He didn’t respond the same way to any of them.
One of the First Christians!
And, interestingly enough, one of the very first converts after Jesus’ death and resurrection was a black eunuch! (Acts 8:38-40) This shows you how much God does not discriminate and how much we do. Without question, the eunuchs of Jesus day were probably some of the people that fell under condemnation and criticism just like the gay people of today do. And we all know what black people have gone through in our recent American history.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
Sorry if this sounds a little strong, It isn’t about you. You just provided a question for me to flush out some more things.
I really appreciate you asking, my friend. I am open to questions and thoughts.
Thursday, August 25th, 2011
From our Mailbag
With his permission I have copied his letter in its entirety and my response below.
Thank you for your e-mails. I must address your recent article entitled, “Can My Gay Friend Be a Christian?”
I feel your love and heart for those in the gay community. The compassion that I sense you have for them is rare and is the love of Christ. You help us all to understand compassion.
I wonder if after you left Love In Action several years ago, you have slowly deviated somewhat from the truth. Somewhere, I believe that the pressure from the gay community has compelled you to create a more accommodating doctrine for gays that will ultimately allow them to feel comfortable in their sin.
You speak about how we all live in opposition to God’s desires for our lives every day. I am in agreement with that. Of course, we all do. However, that’s different from living in iniquity.
Here is the dilemma: How do we distinguish Christians who struggle with sin from unsaved people who are practicing sin? I believe Paul explains it through his own early struggle with sin before he found victory. Even though he struggled with doing wrong while saved in Romans 7:15, he states that he hated what he was doing. In verse 16, he acknowledged that God’s law is good (holy, righteous).
When people call themselves “gay,” which God calls sin, then they are saying that God’s law or standard is not good. They do not agree with God’s standard if they continue to live in their sin and call themselves gay. They have not accepted God’s truth.
A Christian should inwardly recognize that God’s Word is right, true, and good, and that their sin is wrong. This is the key to distinguishing a sinner from a Christian who struggles with sin. If there is no guilt, conviction, or inward shame when a person commits an act of sin, then this is reason to question his/her salvation. A Christian who still struggles with sin, however, will not want to practice sin. They trip up occasionally, but they have a desire to stop sinning. They do not feel good inwardly when they sin. The issue comes down to the heart.
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).
The person who continuously practices sin is lawless or without God’s law. He has no regard, acceptance, agreement, or conviction from the laws of God. This is the sinner who has no guilt, conviction, shame, or hatred for evil, as Paul described in Romans 7.
If a person has made the decision in his/her heart to depart from homosexuality (or any other iniquity for that matter), then he/she will not want to remain in that sin and call himself/herself gay. A Christian cannot still practice being gay; therefore, they cannot call themselves gay. If we fall in a moment of weakness, we repent and keep going. This is one thing. Practicing and continuing to call oneself gay is another. I hope this provides some perspective. I pray that I have not offended you.
First of all, I have read through your letter and I’m pondering your words. I want to make sure you know clearly that your letter did not offend me. I deeply respect that you have taken the time and written me about this.
As I thought about having received your letter one thing that stood out to me clearly, I have always felt loved by you. As long as I have known you, your heart overflows with affirmation, kindness, and certainly I feel connected to you personally. Therefore, I know your letter is coming from that place. I know you love me.
I will attempt to reply to the letter as I find the words to do so. These last two years have been a wonderful season in my life. God has been at work digging into my heart on many levels. When I left Love In Action, I had time to rest and ponder the things of the Lord. After 22 years of managing the “wheelhouse” of Love In Action, I was completely worn out for sure. I needed to rest in the Lord. I have experienced a long overdue sabbatical of sorts. During this time I have put a lot of prayer and work into hearing from Him about how He would have me to respond to the reality of homosexuality.
I am finally feeling refreshed with new vision, a new understanding of God’s love for me! I find that He is using me in new ways out of the changes in my heart.
Pastor, instead of getting into a biblical dissertation I think I would rather answer you in spirit.
Our sexuality is a very significant aspect of who we are and how we live. It is extremely complicated and for many people is a HUGE challenge to manage, to embrace, and to sort out. I want to continue to learn how to grasp the reality of God’s movement in us, and through us concerning our sexuality. To simply say, “homosexuality is sin” would be a gross over simplification of a human experience. I also see that even the word “homosexuality” is truly undefinable as it doesn’t really have a meaning that applies to someone’s life. What is homosexuality? Is it an erotic attraction, is it emotional desire? Is it a behavior, or an identity? Is it an intrinsic part of our being, or is it a temporary act under the influence of alcohol?
I fully recognize there are created designs, desires, and plans that God has for each of us as His beloved creation. The real dilemma is that each and every day we struggle to find Him in the midst of our humanity and how to reflect His glory to others. I know many incredible people who try desperately to sort out their homosexuality while they also seek to love Jesus with their whole heart.
I also realize that there are Biblical “standards” that seem to be communicated from God’s heart to ours through His word. But under the canopy of the standards, there is a human life experience which struggles to fit into a prescribed box that humanly cannot be explained sometimes. I see these as uniquely different and yet connected deeply to our faith and desires to please a Holy God.
I believe we can all agree that indiscriminate sexual sport is undeniably wrong. However having homosexual attractions and desires for personal connection or intimacy is not something I would call “iniquity” and therefore I do not believe it is something that would disqualify someone from a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. What one chooses to do with those desires must ultimately be sorted out with Jesus.
Picture with me if you will, a ball of yarn that is colorfully variegated. As we experience life with the Lord I see it like the yarn is pulled off of the ball a little at a time.
As it is rolled off it is explored, healed, changed, and moved on. As life unfolds in Christ, there will be many surprises! God is a God of order and will not a bruised reed break. This tells me that He enters our life to sanctify it, but in order and over time. Sometimes, large things are dealt with, other changes can be smaller and incremental. The issues we bring to the table of our growing process in the Lord may be somewhere in the middle of the ball and will come through His fingers in the time that is best.
As the yarn is rolled past His fingers, it is knitted into a wonderfully restored, useful, garment. The yarn may still look the same but it is woven into something more in line with God’s plans for us rather than just a ball of yarn with no real purpose.
From the very beginning of time God was busy making something useful out of something that appeared purposeless. He made mankind out of dirt!
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7
If this yarn were all pulled off at once, erratically, we would find a tangled mess on our hands. Sometimes it sounds like Christians believe that God deals with everything all at one time. If so, it would look like this pile of yarn. It would be knotted, scrambled and less able to be used.
I believe God can remove some very big things with expediency. But who am I to say what a “big thing” is? My heart’s desire is to communicate the gentle purposeful, orderly aspects of a loving God. Over a lifetime He is at work transforming His people with precision.
This last week I received an email from a very significant person in my life. This email reveals my heart more effectively than any other way I could say it.
I don’t follow FaceBook much, but I had a bit of time yesterday and I noticed your post which led me to your website articles. (www.gracerivers.com/articles).
I was raised and lived in a cultish religion. I have broken free from that but now I am always skeptical and distrustful of any religion. I am squeamish around Christians of any ilk, or religious dogma for that matter. I have chosen to seek traditional Indian spirituality. It has been a very personal search because it has no religious dogma.
I went to your website to read the whole thing. I was nervous. I do not handle ‘preaching’, ‘piousness’, or religious ‘judgment’ very well at all. After having read some of your writing I have to say that I’m greatly impressed with your insight in regards to the Gay/Christian issue.
When I read what you have written, I realized that there is a possibility that Christians really can be ‘Christian’ towards others. Until now, I don’t believe I have met one that is like that.
But your writing might makes me more hopeful.
Thank you for sharing in your life stories (Through the Windshield of My Life) what must have been a horrible experience for you. I had some as well, while not with a family member, and not as a child, my experiences have certainly changed me forever.
My own painful experiences have taken away dreams, beliefs and trust; and in their place they have left me with fear, cynicism, anger, and many wounds. My experience with the those in the cult I was with, was just as damaging. It left even deeper wounds for me than sexual injury, it left my soul scarred for life.
It was a breath of fresh air to read your piece and hear compassion, a non-judgmental approach. You have given the opportunity for others to think for themselves and act like the Christians they profess to be.
Thank you, John. Not only for your story, but for being a respectful voice in a din of noisy cackling religious zealots.
Pastor, this letter frames for me the very reason for the ministry approach I have adopted of late. It is my greatest desire to reach out to those who are hurting, scarred, and fearful of traditionally accepted church practice or religion. I desire more than anything to be a bridge to Jesus that is honest, strong, and trustworthy. As I reflect on the ministry vision that we have developed through Grace Rivers I think my heart is very clear:
Grace Rivers is a ministry with the gay community that reveals the message of an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ and genuine community with His followers – because every person deserves to know that Jesus loves them.
Each one of us has a different positional call within our Christian family. Some may be called to proclaim a truth, others called to walk alongside in the truth. I believe I am called to walk alongside.
It is my hope that my own personal mission statement will continue to bear fruit.
It is my desire to help people be the very best they can be, and this I know is only through Jesus Christ.
If someone is fearfully estranged from a loving God then, I want to be the loving voice that says, “It will be ok, He loves you. You can trust Him.” This is with the hope that they will seek Him all the more themselves.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.
In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:3-11
Many people have brought this scripture to my attention to help me see that Jesus asked the adulterous woman to leave her life of sin because they are concerned that I may have lost my concern for sin. But, what I see here is that the lady had to be brought to Jesus first. In the right order, He made it clear that He had no condemnation in His heart for her first! He connected to her in a very significant and loving way so as to clear the way for Her to follow Him. I believe the message of leaving her “life of sin” here is more about a lifestyle of pursuing the Kingdom of God, than it is about behavior modification.
Over and over, Jesus spoke to us about living a kingdom lifestyle. All through the Sermon on the Mount He contrasted the law with our human nature to show us we could never reach perfection on our own and that He had come to redeem us and to inspire us to leave the kingdom of this world and join Him in His kingdom. It is clear to me that Jesus was not giving this woman another law to follow, but rather He was asking her to join Him and walk into a better future.
So, if you tell a gay man or a lesbian they are to “sin no more” this can be a cruel and unthoughtful thing to ask. Unthoughtful because of the lack of definition of the word and the potential of a severe misunderstanding of what you mean. This is why it is so very important that we point one another to Christ because He can work in our lives in such beautiful ways to show us what He wants from us. The real message of the woman caught in adultery who meets Jesus face to face is just that – she met Jesus and He showed her what He wanted her to know.
It is also an example of how human’s want to deal with people. The Pharisees wanted to stone her. Hum. Have we also been Pharisees? Do you think that many within the gay community have faced a crowd of Pharisees in their own lives? Who do they need to connect to? Of course, Jesus! And what do you think Jesus would say to the Pharisee? Well, He asked them to evaluate their own lives of sin.
Years ago a lady that went through one of our progams at Love In Action gave a little talk at the completion of her program. She said:
“John Smid is a Pharisee! Much like the woman caught in adultery, he brought me to the feet of Jesus where I found healing and freedom.”
I would never want to be thought of as a Pharisee! But I do want to be a man who has found a loving God and hopes to be a vehicle that will bring others to the feet of the Savior.
In all honesty I do not believe I have “deviated” from the truth. Rather, I believe truth is a discovery and I have delighted in finding another facet of God’s truth.
I hope we are walking together as the Body, one by one, uniquely with purpose and hope and most of all, a desire to bring the lost, broken, estranged, hurting folks to the redemption of the soul.
This is part six of a series on John’s transition away from his 22 year vocation with Love In Action.
Friday, August 19th, 2011
God Surprise Me: Part Five
“I went to this conference and participated in a workshop that dug deeply into the scriptures on the passages that deal with homosexuality. As we all know, there are distinct differences in the way that people read them and interpret what they have to say.”
I came away with many new questions about what the Bible says on homosexuality. I have a meeting each week with a bible mentor. I often come to him with questions about what a passage says and how we should interpret it. This time I had a whole list which of course was too much for one of our sessions together. I decided to begin with First Corinthians chapter six, verses nine through eleven.
I walked into his office and said, “OK, I want to know. What does this really say? Can we sit down and tear this apart? Can we get to the real meaning of what Paul was actually saying here?”
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
This passage is one that I have struggled with for over 20 years. For some, this passage has brought a lot of comfort because it speaks to one of the most exciting things about the gospel. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” Anytime we see a passage that encourages us with the dramatic change that occurs when we receive the message from Jesus of a new life in Him, that is wonderful. However, this passage has also caused a lot of divisive discussion and for many, a wrong understanding of what it says, it has brought despair, hopelessness, and fear! “…… will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Do all gays go to hell? Do gossips go to hell? Do Slanderers go to hell? What about the greedy, do they all go to hell too? If so, we have a huge problem.
Within the “ex-gay” world, verse eleven; “And that is what some of you were.” Speaks to a significant change in Christ. But some take this verse to mean a change in homosexual orientation. This interpretation has led to a tremendous amount of controversy through the years. What does Paul really say here about change?
There is a common misunderstanding of verse nine; ” Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? “, and verse ten, ” will (not) inherit the kingdom of God” This confusion has brought many people to a tremendous fear for the salvation for themselves and for their loved ones who had admitted to being gay. The lack of a solid teaching on this passage has caused a tremendous amount of harm to endless numbers of people through the years. Many have taught this passage, or by omission, led people to believe that the gospel is centered on our behavior and therefore a good works oriented salvation. Paul speaks very heavily to those who “lead others back to the law” through many of his letters.
It is amazing that one verse can bring such a diverse reaction. From great hope, to tremendous fear and despair, it has appeared to me that some, with good intentions, have greatly misunderstood the real meaning and intention in Paul’s heart as he wrote these words. It became obvious to me that this verse has often not been understood and I my own mind, I needed to study it more deeply. The impact on people’s lives is at stake. I realized that further clarity was imperative.
My Own Mistakes
In years past as I would try to teach on these verses, I knew that the gospel was NOT contingent on anyone’s behavior. Therefore I knew that this verse could not possibly be saying that someone who was gay would not be allowed into the kingdom of God for eternity. So, my way of softening the blow (not conviction of what it actually said) was to teach that it didn’t mean the eternal kingdom, but rather was just referring to the “kingdom now.”
Therefore, I would often try to explain that if someone described in these verses could miss out on experiencing the goodness of God’s kingdom now but it didn’t mean they would be lost for eternity.
So, I felt settled in teaching that interpretation for many years. But I felt conflicted because I was not confident that is what it was saying. I just didn’t have any other answers.
The Context of the Passage
As my bible friend and I began to tear into this passage my understanding grew tremendously on why I was so unsettled on my previous teaching. My convictions were right, my mind had not grasped the real concept Paul was trying to convey. I asked the questions.
What was the surrounding culture at the time and how did it relate to Paul’s letter?
What is the larger story of this passage?
As my friend and I dug into the Greek language, the culture, the overall story, I was amazed! All of a sudden, these verses became abundantly clear. I was encouraged, hopeful, and passionate about what Paul was really saying.
You Absolutely Cannot Stop Here! I wrote my thoughts on this passage in a response to a letter I received. (please click here).
You can read the series “God Surprise Me” (by clicking here).
Friday, August 12th, 2011
As I continue to share about a three day conference I attended in April of 2010, more stories come to my mind of God’s abundant grace and how He has impacted so many people who were there. (You can read the first part here.)
Another Curious Meeting
Standing in the lobby of the hotel, where the conference was being held, I saw my two new friends from last night. As I walked up to them they were talking with an older man and introduced me, “John, this is our pastor, the one who has accepted the challenge of discipling us.” I entered the conversation with them for a few minutes and the two guys excused themselves. Another lady was standing with us and I was introduced to “Rene”.
Rene was someone I noticed in all of the main sessions. She seemed to always stand on the periphery of the room. She was very tall and from my observation seemed to be a transsexual. As the pastor introduced us he began to talk about Rene. He told me that his church had tried an outreach ministry to the transsexual community around them but had not had much success. He continued to share with me that transsexuals are often emotionally immature and challenging due to their emotional development of 8 or 9 years of age.
I turned to Rene and said, “How do you feel about this discussion “about” you taking place?” Rene took off and ran with her story. She said she agreed about the emotional immaturity issues. She then said, “John, transsexuals don’t often want to be on center stage. It is a challenge for me to get this attention.” Then, what she said next was astonishing to hear!
She Considered Her Walk With God
“I consider my life in Christ to be like that of a “war horse”. A war horse is trained to obey its master completely, even if the rider takes it into a brick wall. I see my walk with God like that. It’s uncomfortable to be talked about or to be brought into the front line of a conversation. But, my pastor asked me to start a fellowship for transsexuals. I knew the need was there, wasn’t comfortable taking that kind of leadership role, but I wanted to be obedient to the calling. So, I began the group on Sunday afternoons.”
The pastor then stepped in and affirmed that the group was going well and that the ministry he wasn’t able to get off the ground, was working underneath the leadership of Rene’s shepherding heart and care for these people. We talked a little bit more than went to our next session.
I was completely shocked and amazed at what I had just heard. In my former association with “ex-gay” ministry, I would have quickly assessed this as completely wrong for Rene to be living as she is, doing what she is doing, and following God into what she believed He had led her into. We would have questioned her motives, challenged her clothing, and certainly would have never found her qualified for any Christian ministry leadership.
But this day was different for me. I had laid my opinions aside for this conference. I wanted to take a neutral position so that I could hear the stories, experience the atmosphere, and hopefully listen to God’s heart. I could not deny that Rene loved God, loved others, and desired more than anything to serve the Savior with her very being. She wasn’t a renegade, or rebellious. Quite the contrary, she was living a self sacrificial life for the good of others.
God Searched and He Found Rene
As I walked away I found myself saying “and who else is willing, who else could God find that would love these people?” This experience certainly blew more of my preconceived ideas about someone being “holy enough” to find a place in the service of our Lord. I have often said, “if God can’t use imperfect people, He can’t use any of us”. However, my introduction to “Rene” took my own words to a deeper place of reality. I am incredibly thankful for Rene, her heart, her sacrifice, and her dedication to give back to Jesus from a thankful heart of what He has already given her.
I kept processing my experience with my roommate Gary. He was a great listener and quite gracious with my wordy processing of the weekend. He listened intently and would often share his own reflections back with me.
What is a Straight Ally?
On Saturday they had a panel of what was called “straight allies”. I knew that the presence of these four men at this event was huge, groundbreaking and, in many ways, unprecedented. One has to consider that, just their mere appearance at this type of event could be a big risk for them, as there’s just not that many that call themselves “straight allies” in the Christian community right now. But, maybe even more significant, these men chose to, not only attend this conference….they chose to be an integral part by participating in this panel.
The men who participated were Chuck Smith Jr. (son of Chuck Smith Sr, the father of the “Jesus Movement” and the founder of the huge network of Calvary Chapel churches around the globe) was on the end. Sitting next to Chuck Smith Jr was Andrew Marin (author of “Love is An Orientation”).
Then there was Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker). And, next to Jay was Mark Tidd (Evangelical pastor of Denver’s Highland Church). As the panel talked, each one shared their stories of meeting men and women in the gay community who loved God and wanted to serve Him. They shared how meeting these gay folks had challenged their own theologies regarding the “gay issue”, their historical views of homosexuality, and how they had seen the scriptures differently since they began to look into themselves in light of what they were experiencing.
I really related to these men. When I moved away from 22 years of conservative Ex-gay ministry and got alone with God myself, it seemed He was shaking loose some of the things I had always thought and had been taught. I was challenged by these men on the panel and their seeming care and love for the people here at this conference.
Not All Friendly Reactions
I could sense that some people here were avoiding contact with me. Todd had warned me that I would not be well received here by some of those in attendance. I think he was right. But at the same time, others lovingly accepted my presence.
Meeting With My New Friend
One afternoon, a man walked in that I had previously only met on the phone. Michael Bussee introduced himself to me. Michael was one of the co-founders of Exodus Int’l, the world’s largest ex-gay organization. (Michael is now a very outspoken advocate for gay-affirming community). We immediately embraced each other with a warm hug. We decided to find a quiet place where we could talk. As we sat down it was like we had known each other for many, many years. We talked, shared, and seemed to understand each other. We were confronted by a conference worker that informed us that this room had a designated purpose and that we should find another place to talk. I didn’t want our conversation to end as I was really enjoying our conversation and connection. Michael didn’t have a lot of time as he had other engagements he was committed to so we said our goodbyes.
Leadership Panel-Annual Ministry Revue
Saturday there was a meeting of the leaders and affiliate organizations which Todd graciously invited me to attend. Each one gave a report of the year of ministry. As I listened I heard one after the other share about the opportunities they had to reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ. One stood out to me because of something that caused my mind to do some shifting. This lady talked about how thankful they were to have their church gathering in the local gay community center. At first I thought “of course, they are gay.” But then I realized they were excited because of the opportunity to reach into the local gay community with a message of salvation and hope.
Six Hours of Bible Exploration
One workshop impacted me greatly. It was taught by Joseph Pearson. An older man who was highly intelligent, well studied, and passionate about his message. He was teaching on what he saw in the scriptures concerning the subject of homosexuality. I am not going into the teachings or my specific reaction in this writing, and will save that for another time. But I will say this. In twenty five years, I have been unwilling to even read anything that was contrary to my understanding of what the scriptures said about homosexuality. What’s to question? In my mind when I went into this workshop, homosexuality is sin and that’s it. I believed the bible to be very clear and absolutely unquestionable on this subject.
When the workshop was finished, I was willing to accept that there is a great controversy over this issue. Men who are learned, intelligent, well studied on Scripture and well educated on culture, context, language, and application disagree on this subject.
I certainly left with many further questions on my mind. I wasn’t sorry I went to the workshop and actually, it led me to do some deeper study myself upon my return home.
Afterwards I talked with Joseph personally. He told me of his relationship with his partner of 30 years. He said, “John, many times we encountered difficulties that could have caused us to separate. But in 30 years of being together, we decided to stick it out, work it through and we have been faithful to each other through all of these years.” As I walked away, once again, I was very interested in what I just heard.
As I prepared to end my time with this conference I began to do some evaluation of the entire experience. I heard people throughout the weekend that were excited about Jesus. Over and over I listened to testimonies, celebration with enthusiasm about how God was so gracious, kind, and loving. It was very clear to me that many of those attending were so close to Jesus that they were passionate about sharing Him with others. This was surprising to me. I expected something very different.
I have to admit that there have been many conferences I had attended before that were not as focused on Jesus and the gospel. I have to admit that I haven’t seen this priority at many conferences I had attended through my own Christian history.
As I entered the conference just a couple of days earlier, I expected to find a bunch of gay people who were focused on their homosexuality, and certainly not centered on Jesus. I was surprised to find there was literally no sense of seduction or sensuality from anyone that I met or experienced.
This weekend conference was centered on worship, learning, and sharing in their faith in Christ. Other than the fact there were some same sex couples there, most were single adults coming together with a common goal in their faith. That was to know Jesus more and to experience more of Him in a corporate setting.
Back Home – Time to Think
I came home with a lot to think about. About a month later, Todd asked me to join their conference call with the affiliates. He asked me to share my observations with them from the conference. I agreed to join them and the call occurred. At the end, he asked one lady to pray for our time together and for me.
As she prayed, I have never felt so loved, understood, and accepted by a time of prayer. Her words soaked through my skin, into the soul of my being. Afterwards I asked Todd who that was. He told me and I realized something that really impacted me.
When I was at the conference I noticed a lady who seemed to me to be one of those people that some may not readily understand due to an outward appearance. I profiled her by her appearance. Through her prayer for me, I was deeply humbled by her sense of the Lord and ability to connect to my heart.
God has certainly surprised me again through this experience. I came away much richer from having been there, and with these people.
This is Part Four in a series titled “God Surprise Me”.
Click Here for many more articles by John Smid and interesting reading on homosexuality.
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.
Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
Talks with Two Men in One Week
I have found over the last several months that each week or so God seems to bring someone to my mind to pursue, or someone to my life that is searching, or in pain. Often these are people I have known. Sometimes I may have not seen or talked to them for many years. This week there were two people that deeply touched my life.
“Hello Charles! Wow, it’s so good to see you!” After I gave him a great big hug I stood back and saw someone with the “deer in the headlights” look on his face. Oh, he knew me and it hadn’t been all that long since we’d seen each other but it was clear he was surprised.
After exchanging some catch-up information, Charles began to release some deep thoughts from a very challenging place in his heart. He said “John, I’ve let it all go. Everything! I’ve let it go.” My mind went into hyper processing mode.
I didn’t know exactly what he meant. Since I had known him through ex-gay ministry connections I thought maybe he meant that he had let his process regarding homosexuality go. I asked him what he meant and he kind of stumbled for words. He was very unclear about what he had removed from his life but reading between the lines I think I understood that it involved his relationship with God. That much larger issue seemed to be more of the situation then his gay issues which were on his mind as well.
Earlier that week I saw a note on FaceBook written by a friend I hadn’t seen for 10 to 15 years. This was a man who had also been involved in ex-gay ministry, gotten married, divorced and had really been through the wringer emotionally. Due to these and some other pretty traumatic events he described, I replied with a short acknowledgement that I had read what he had written and how grieved I felt about what he had been through. He responded giving me much more of the painful detail. In it he expressed how life had challenged him emotionally and physically. He had been going though a really tough season due to the deep things he had been processing. At the end of his message, he said:
“My faith is really challenged and I’m not even sure if Jesus is Jesus. I do believe in “God” , but I’m not sure what I believe is beyond that. To be honest, I find myself getting angry when I see or hear things related to Christianity. I guess I’ll figure it out, somehow.”
I wrote him back with this:
I feel privileged to hear your story. I am sorry for all you have gone through and yet, as you have said, it is a new beginning for you. You know, questioning all of the things you mentioned about your faith isn’t a bad thing. It is wonderful to find the freedom to go to the deepest things with God and find out that you may find the answers you are looking for in the deepest parts of your heart.
I went on to apologize for some things that were a part of our friendship years ago that I knew I could own. I recognized that some of my interaction with him at that time may have brought this man some challenges he had experienced.
His reply was so amazing.
“I don’t know exactly what to say except than I’m so thankful for your honesty! As I type this message, there are tears rolling down my face. I always thought that you and other Christian leaders were unshakable. Everything was black & white & there was no gray. I’m still in bit of a shock from reading your e-mail John! I completely respected you when I knew you years ago. I just wanted you and other leaders in my life to be proud of me. I respect you even more today!!!! Thanks again for your honesty.”
This correspondence was on my mind when I saw Charles on the street. As he talked it was very evident he had a lot on his heart and I just happened to walk along and touch the wound and the pain came flooding out. I tried my hardest to share with him that I really understood the things that he was saying but each time I tried to respond, he just put his hand up and said “no” and continued talking. This went on for about 20 minutes. I didn’t try to respond again until it seemed he had run out of steam. He was very hurt and it was obvious when he said “I have separated myself from that church completely and everyone there. I tried to stay connected but then I realized that they really didn’t give a “F*#$%” about me.”
Oh man, this is one hurting man. What could I possibly say that would help. I put up my hand this time. I said, “”Charles, I have something I’d like to say.” He quickly said “no” again. Then I put up my hand again and said, “No, Charles, I want to apologize.” His face reflected some surprise at my request. I took advantage of the pause and quickly said:
“Charles, I am so sorry for the role that I have played in your pain.” I went on to specifically apologize to him for things that were honest and appropriate to apologize for. I went to great lengths to be sure it was specific to our history as friends.
He listened to me and seemed to calm down some. Then he said, “John, I hadn’t planned on getting into all of this tonight. I just want to move past it all.” We shook hands and he reluctantly moved away from our conversation, walking down the street. I stayed and talked with others and saw him walk by again, this time he looked over and smiled and waved.
I feel so grieved at the pain that is out there in the lives of those who have felt so wounded by Christians. I remember in my own history proclaiming, “Oh if they would only repent, then maybe they wouldn’t be in so much pain.” I often put all of the blame for their pain on their choices. I didn’t know how to take any responsibility for my role to help. Years ago, I didn’t really want to think about it much and realized it just felt too challenging to face.
I realize that a lot of my reluctance stemmed from a deep feeling that somehow I would have to figure out how to “fix” the problem. I am a “fixer” by nature anyway and find I can get overwhelmed easily when I start to take the problems that seem to present themselves onto my own shoulders. But now that I have somehow become more able to just listen and trust that God will do what He needs to do, it is so much easier.
At the end of my conversation with Charles I begged him to consider taking the time to talk with me at a more appropriate time and place. A busy street corner certainly wasn’t the best. I handed him a card so he’d have my contact information on it. It said “Grace Rivers” on it. He looked down and said, oh, of course; “Grace” and shook his head. I pray he will get in touch with me.
I am thrilled at the opportunities God has graciously given me to be in a position to hear the pain and disappointment that some people feel. I am privileged to be able to dig into my own heart taking responsibility for what I can own with others. It seems to make a difference in their lives and hopefully in their relationship with God.
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)