Reaching the hearts of two men – “I am so sorry.”

Reaching the hearts of two men – “I am so sorry.”

repentance

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”


This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: Matthew 3:1-3


From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:17


“REPENT!”


This word brings a negative history of screaming to my mind.  As I think of the itinerant preachers along the countryside or those inside the large auditoriums having laid before us the “turn or burn” mentality, it certainly left questions in my mind about what John the Baptist or Jesus meant in these passages.  What has often come to my mind with the word “repent” is that is connected to behaviors or habits that some would say need to stop. I certainly haven’t felt particularly loved when I hear those words in my mind. I am sure you may not either. But think about this.


During a recent bible study where we were reading through the book of Matthew we were digging our way through the first four chapters. With resource books, lots of discussion, and sharing our own observations, something profound hit us.


Repent? What are these writers trying to tell those who are reading their words? As we grappled through these words, we discussed how we had always thought of repentance as changing something in our behavior. To quit a negative habit or to stop doing something that was wrong. It seemed we all agreed that our concept of repentance was connected to actions. We also agreed that it was usually attached to someone pointing the finger at us with expectations, or sad to say, judgment.


As we looked over and over  these passages we realized that it was more likely connected to a heart change. It had to do with recognizing the bigger picture of the gospel where John was asking those around him to get ready for a new kingdom, a kingdom where Jesus was king. Jesus was following up with a challenge to turn from a worldly kingdom to an eternal kingdom. There was a common thread of something much deeper than just a behavior change or ceasing a habit.


The Old Testament writers meant to “turn”. In the New Testament, it means a complete change of life, a heart change much deeper than just a change in behavior. It’s about our heart with God. It’s connected to a willingness to see God for who He really is.  A movement from the “kingdom of this world” to the “kingdom of God.”


“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15


Jesus was asking us to relinquish “false saviors”, “false kingdoms” and to believe and trust Him.  He preached this message to the “in group” of the Israelites, the Pharisees!


And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27


After His statement about loving Him more than even our own families, Jesus is asking us to count the cost of repentance.  Turning from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God is extremely costly! Interestingly enough, the Pharisees (hum, can we say today “religious legalists”) began to grumble while the sinners and tax collectors began to turn to Him.


Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2


Jesus message of repentance was not one of “change your behavior” but rather it was a calling unto Himself.  A desire for relationship.  A calling to a new kingdom.


John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:7-9


Notice who the brood of vipers were.  It was those who were worshiping their religion.  He was asking them to consider what the true fruit of “repentance” was. The good fruit of having a real life relationship with Jesus. Not the outcome of a legalistic religious practice.  Jesus was stern with sinners, but He was angry with the Pharisees.  Too often repentance is a legalistic preachy message and not a call to fall in love with the Savior.


As Our Bible Study Pondered These Truths


As we mulled this over each of us were acutely aware that we had the wrong idea about repentance. We realized we could change our negative views of repentance to one of a loving gift, a wonderful opportunity that is always present.


I remember God showing me that I had a wrong place in my heart regarding people of another race and that He saw them differently than I did. Dealing with judging others is something that is ever present in our lives. But, it doesn’t do any good to attempt to change ourselves. It isn’t so much about repenting of racism as it is repenting of our unwillingness to see people as God does. Repentance is about turning to God for His perspective, His heart for others and His heart for me.


Through the last three years the thing that has been working itself deep into my heart is how great God’s love is for us and I’ve been learning a deeper understanding of His abundant grace. I realize that God’s love is really hard to grasp as a human. I also understand that the word “grace” can mean myriads of things to us and is hard to grasp as well. But, today, I am particularly struck by the way God’s grace can change my heart and how it can encourage others.


In a recent trip to San Francisco for the Frameline Film Festival I had an amazing meeting with two men whom I had known really well about 20 years ago. I really loved them both and appreciated their lives. But through the years I had judged them to be living apart from God; in opposition to Him. I had made the decision to distance myself from them. Now mind you, I had not talked with either one of them through the years.  I was holding out for a decision on their part to come to their senses about their lives. In my judgment I really wasn’t interested in what they might be going through nor was I truly loving them like I thought I was.


But God has been revealing to me the way that I had been critical of others and really had not fully understood what God’s grace meant in my own life. Therefore I was not a good reflection of what He likely meant. When I began to grasp God’s abundant love for me in a new way I began to see the changes in my heart towards others. This brought me to a place where I really wanted to reconnect with people I had known years earlier. I really wanted them to know what I had discovered and that I loved them. I wanted to ask them to forgive me for my conditional love for them.


A Meeting With Two Friends – An Experience With Real Repentance


facebookmailSo, as I planned my trip to San Francisco I got in touch with one of these men through FaceBook. I just said I would like to see him and he tentatively agreed to a breakfast meeting. After I arrived in San Francisco I reached out to another man whom I had also written off many years ago. They knew each other so we agreed to meet at the same time for our meal together.


Sunday morning came.. When I got to the restaurant Ryan had just arrived. When we sat down he said, “John, I had to do a pretty good sales job to get Michael to come this morning. He was feeling angst and asked me if I knew why “John Smid” wanted to see us. He said Michael, like Ryan was on Saturday, was tenuous about our meeting.


I felt grieved about what he said. I thought I always loved them with unconditional love. But as he shared of their fears of being with me I realized that they didn’t see the same unconditional love that I thought I was showing them. Obviously, in their angst, they felt conditions and expectations might be in play here.


Ryan was single and had accepted his homosexuality. He is deeply involved in events connected to the San Francisco gay community. Michael had also accepted his homosexuality and had been with a long term partner for over 6 years.


I always said I loved them but I realized that my love for them had mixed foundations. I loved them “if”. I loved them if they were in line with what I believed was best. I loved them if we were in agreement. I loved them if they shared the same kind of relationship with God that I did. I loved them if they were seeking help with things I deemed needing attention.


This day was extremely different. I had no agenda, no expectations. As I shared with them about what God had been doing in my heart. As we talked, these men opened their hearts up to me. I heard their stories, and connected to them more intimately than I think I ever had in the past.


Its Tops DinerAs we sat in this little diner, I saw into the soul of who they were as people, loved by God without conditions. I was able to listen to their wounds and understand them. I was able to relate to their sense of alienation, rejection, and to the judgment they had incurred from others. Since my conditional blinders were removed, I no longer had the ear plugs preventing me from listening.


Grace Brings Life! The Law Produces Death.


I was humbled that he would take the time to see me. I felt so grieved that someone would feel the way he did about meeting with me. But he said after he saw the changes in my heart, he felt softened towards me, and towards God!


I said to them,


“Please forgive me for any way I have ever said, or inferred that you are anything less than God’s very best. Not your flesh; but you, your soul, the person you are. You are God’s very best and He loves you deeply.”


jewelMichael then told me something he remembered from way back almost 20 years ago. He said, “John, I remember you telling me that I was a ‘Jewel’ and to never forget my testimony. You told me that people were always drawn to me and would remember me.”


I said, “Michael, how cool is that. It is true! You are a “Jewel” and I have never forgotten you. And… this is your testimony. The dark times, the invisible times of Jesus, and the good times, your life is your testimony. You are on the Journey of Christ!”


I am acutely aware of how so many people live in such deeply rooted shame.  A type of shame that says, “you are damaged goods”.  This is not from the Spirit of our God, rather from the pit of hell! This shame is so hard to fight against. But, I know that God loves us through our shame and against the common messages sent to us from some people who really don’t understand God’s grace.


I was amazed and almost wept during our conversation. I saw an aspect of God’s amazing grace at work right before my eyes! The changes in the hearts of these two men were almost instantaneous. I began to reflect on something that Paul said in the book of Romans, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”


The Real Change of Heart


During our incredible time together in their own unique ways, each one of these men said they realized they had been estranged from their relationship with God. They talked of how they were on the cusp of new beginnings in their personal lives. They mentioned that now after our time together they could see my heart for them and that through all of this, they believed it was a time to renew their life with God.


The wounds they were experiencing were in some ways connected to the way they had felt judged by me in my distance from them through the years. One of them told me he had felt tenuous about our meeting because he expected me to confront him. He said so many other Christians would say they wanted to see him but they also always ended up confronting him. He was willing to meet with me just because he had loved me and appreciated our relationship as something significant to his life. He felt guarded about our meeting before we met and was prepared for a confrontation.


I found it very interesting that our bible study seemed to correlate with this story so well. If I had said to either of these two men, “you need to repent” I am sure they would have heard “you are so bad, clean up your act so that God can accept you.”


God Loves You – Right Now, Today, Always


Instead, the only thing in my heart was to let them know how much God loves them right now, today, always. I think that was on John the Baptist’s heart, and certainly it is Jesus’ heart.


“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”


I have no doubt today that Jesus was saying to us,


“Here I am! I love you so much, I am going to give my life for you. I have come to let you know that I can become your King if you let me. I can change your heart from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.


I can bring you a new life that will answer so many questions. I will go in your stead to the Judge and tell Him that I’ve got you covered from the eternal consequences of your imperfection. I really want you to know, that without me, you will die eternally and I don’t want that to happen because I want you to live with me forever!”


Now, that sure sounds a lot different than what I had always heard in my head:


scream-repent“Turn or burn. Get your life together. STOP THAT!” Or “Clean up your act!”


What I Hear Now


“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30



Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Acts 3:19-20



I have hope that I will get the opportunity to be a messenger of God’s grace to many more whom He wants me to know, to listen to and to love.


LBGT Center - crossAs Ryan, Michael and I walked outside the diner I looked across the street. the building was the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Community Center.


Above the building I saw this little cross rising from the top.  I mentioned it to them and said, “Isn’t that interesting, a cross on top of that building.” In my heart, I couldn’t deny that it was a wonderful symbol of God’s love for all people and his desire to be their King!


They said, “Oh, that’s a cross on the Baptist church behind the center.  I am sure they don’t have anything good to say to us.”


Well, no matter what anyone wants to say, I believe His endless call for us to join Him for His eternal kingdom, is a call to repentance, a turning and going the opposite direction. But it doesn’t start with changing behavior. It starts with a changed heart – and only He can give us that. Once we are His, He can do the fixing just fine.


If you would like to read the full report on my trip to San Francisco please click below:


John Smid’s Weekend in San Francisco


or


Other Articles on Homosexuality

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2 Responses to “Reaching the hearts of two men – “I am so sorry.””

  1. Kathy Baldock says:

    Wonderful to read of the process you are going thru. The church and many ministries have done so much damage that I am afraid there is not enough time or people to repair it. We can each do our own piece, and John, you are.
    Thanks, Kathy

  2. Shawn says:

    I just read through your blog posts concerning your recent involvement with the documentary on LiA and your trip to San Francisco. I just want to tell you how impressed I am with your honesty, your capacity for self-reflection, and frankly, your courage in going into the “lion’s den” to face a potentially hostile audience in the context of a film that highlighted an unflattering period in your life. I think that your approach to this entire series of events shows real character.

    I am gay and am not a Christian. Like many gays, I am appalled at the constant barrage of hostility and deceit that comes from the conservative Christian groups. However, I also try to keep an open mind, to be self-critical, and to avoid ideological rigidity.

    I am well aware that there are plenty of loudmouths and uncivil activist types in San Francisco who could have treated you with disrespect and hostility. I am sure you knew that too. But you went anyway – uncompensated – in order to stand ready to answer questions and make amends. I really respect that. I am not sure I would have had the courage to go had I been in your shoes.

    I never understood why there is so much hostility b/t the gay community and the “ex-gays”. There is no reason there should be. Gay “liberation” as it was called back in the 1960s was all about following the path that you determine to be true, and not to follow the crowd. If a person, for religious or other reasons, wants to live a life of celibacy or to attempt to change his sexual orientation (regardless of the odds of success), then he should be free to do it and should get support from his gay friends.

    I am reasonably sure that this would be the case today, if it were not for the fact that the “ex-gay” movement has become completely identified with the Religious Right, and with attacks on gay civil rights. Affiliating with anti-gay elements was the worst possible decision the ex-gays could have made.

    If the goal was truly to minister to gay people and make the case for an alternate life path, the last thing in the world you would want to do is hook up with political activists whose life mission it is to marginalize gay people. Once you did that, you lost 99% of your audience for all time. On top of that, neither the ex-gay groups nor the Christian Right groups who profess to “love” homosexuals ever make the slightest effort to get to know them. Your trip to the Castro is extraordinary because it is probably the first time that an ex-gay has made a conscious effort to overtly enter a gay neighborhood to have a genuine conversation with gays.

    I doubt it will happen, but I would hope that your path would come to represent a new way of gays and ex-gays relating to one another. We shouldn’t be enemies. Sorry for going on so long. Look forward to reading your blog.

    Shawn

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