Me & Peter have more in common than I’d like to admit

What comes to mind for you when you think of Peter in the Bible?

His denial of Jesus after he swore he would never leave, even after Jesus predicted it?

Jesus forgiving and calling Peter to take care of and feed his sheep, after his resurrection?

His first “sermon” proclaiming God’s fulfillment to his people, and the falling of the Holy Spirit on many people, in the book of Acts?

Or maybe it’s the vision God gave him where he showed him all sorts of animals that were unclean according to Jewish law, and yet God told him it was ok to eat them (which shortly thereafter Peter understood God was showing him He was no longer calling non-Jews “unclean” and that everyone should have a chance to hear the news of Jesus, follow him, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

There’s a passage in the Bible that you might be less familiar with. It’s found later, in one of Paul’s letters to the Galatians, and its an example of how even in the early days of the church, leaders had to be called out for their fear.

You see, after his vision, Peter understood that God fully accepted non-Jews. Whereas Jewish law prohibited Jews from eating with non-Jews, Peter no longer held to that law because of what God had showed him. He fully accepted the non-Jews in fellowship and celebrated their inclusion in the community of God. Yet at some point, Jews who followed Jesus came to visit Peter in Antioch – and, fearful of their judgement, Peter began to follow that old law again, separating himself from the Gentiles. Paul confronted him publicly about it (Galatians 2:11-16), because he believed Peter was not acting in line with the truth of the gospel. People are justified by faith in Jesus, not following the law, Paul reminded him.

Ouch. How many of us would like to be called out in front of a crowd by another believer (or even a non-believer?) for not acting in a way that is consistent with the gospel?

I recently experienced that in a heart to heart conversation with my oldest the other night. Without her knowing, the Lord used the conversation to challenge me in a few things that only I would understand. I walked away convicted, finally feeling what Peter must have felt.

You see, growing up what we had modeled to her and all her friends was unconditional acceptance of anyone who identified in the LGBTQ+ community. Some of the kids’ friends who were coming out were being rejected by their families and we felt the best way to reflect the love of Jesus was to create a safe space for them and treat them no differently than before they had come out. I have never stopped doing that.

That being said, my question had shifted some as I worked through the theology side of it. My question was no longer “should we love them” (of course), but it became research on both sides of the coin regarding the question of “how does God really see LGBTQ relationships – specifically faithful monogamous ones.

I found myself in some really gray space, not because of what scripture says (yes I know the few specific scriptures used to condemn LGBTQ relationships) – but because of equally convincing evidence on both sides in the scholarly realm as well as some more recent personal experiences. Note: The scholarly discussion is too lengthy to include here, but I have listed it as a book reference at the bottom of this post.

In the gray space, I had been guarding my words carefully, yet she perceived them (and some silence on my part as well) as judgement, and thought I had moved away from a position of grace and mercy…. Just like Peter had done.

Ouch.

Now in saying all this, I know that I can’t be responsible for everyone’s perception of me. I have to make sure I am being obedient to the Lord in my actions and walking out His love and grace above all. But this was convicting, because maybe there was some truth of it. Maybe in some way I had stopped having such a graceful heart about things, and I needed that reminder. I needed to go back and read what God had already taught me, just like Peter..

There are so many layers to this whole question for those of us in the church. I don’t think any of us would deny that Jesus has called us to love and show grace to our neighbors, no matter who they are. Where I think we go next is that we know he has called us to holiness as disciples, and we know his constant challenge once he has healed someone in the gospels is to “leave your life of sin” and follow him – so there is the expectation of a changed life in response to the forgiveness and love of Jesus. I think we are guilty of thus assuming that someone who is LGBTQ should then trust God for working through their attractions to others and to submit their desires to him.

Interesting. I would tell someone who is not LGBTQ the same thing. Why do we think we know exactly whether or not Jesus wants this to be addressed in their life? How do we know its not him setting them free to know who they really are?

As you consider whether someone can identify as belonging to the LGBTQ+ crowd and also be a faithful Christian, I would offer up a few thoughts and questions, especially if your first response is “of course it’s wrong”:

1. Do you actually know any people that are gay, lesbian or trans, and have you ever tried to really get to know them and hear their story?

2. If they are Christian, are you able to see them as followers of Jesus, or do you only see that they are LGBTQ? If so, have you done any self inventory to figure out why that is the first thing you see?

3. Are you willing to recognize there are some things that you might not understand about their experience?

4. Are you willing to take a journey of discovery in this, and not just settle for “but there are 6 verses that say this is a sin”? To do that is to fail to consider cultural considerations when those verses were penned, as well as to potentially ignore understanding that has come over time around gender and attraction.

I have had a few experiences with folks in the LGBTQ community that I have had to take into my process in forming a view of how God might see this. They have left me saying “If I am going to say relationships are wrong…. what the heck do I do with all this evidence that God is not asking them to change?” They are like puzzle pieces and I can’t see how to fit them together. Maybe that’s not my job.

For example: I have had a lesbian friend who has been married for many years message me out of the blue on a day that was very hard for me and say “The Lord put you on my heart today in my prayer time. Everything ok?”. I have seen how the Holy Spirit has filled and begun to change a young woman AFTER she could finally be honest with herself that she is bi-sexual. The transformation from death to life over the next year was amazing to watch. I was speechless. I have had conversations with a gay couple down the street from me who, although they never felt comfortable in church, listened to church podcasts faithfully so they could grow in their walk with Jesus. I have been served communion by a gay couple and worshipped with others in the LGBTQ community, hands held high, celebrating the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus on their lives.

Yes, I have also read the very public stories of how others who were in gay or lesbian relationships have left them and found Jesus calling them to either celibacy or marriage with someone of the opposite sex. They are beautiful stories too.

Hence, for me, both sides of this only show me the mystery of some things I cannot understand. God is moving in all of their lives.

Please understand that there is so much more around this topic that can be explored, this is not near doing it justice. There are so many books and blogs and stories that add much more to the questions I am asking here. But this is what God is teaching ME. I could still be wrong about my conclusions. I realize each of us who follow Jesus must seek Him on this and come to our own conclusions… so I share to peak your curiosity, that you might also say, with Peter:

“So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17)T

Thanks for stopping by, and blessings my friends!

Tama

Book reference: Two views on Homesexuality, the Bible, and the Church by Zondervan publishers (Counterpoints Bible & Theology series)

Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 1: Moving Boxes

I can’t believe it’s been 4 months already. I admit, it seems a bit strange for me to be claiming the title of “newlywed” – but alas, that is what we are according to the calendar. I think we can claim that for maybe two more months? Another six? I guess it doesn’t really matter. We’ve started the journey of “getting to know the stranger [we] just married” (as a Relevant Magazine article on marriage put it quite succinctly) – haha!

I have been wanting to write about this for a while, but mystified a bit as to exactly where to start, and what to write that isn’t too personal and that actually is more than just a newlywed story. I need to have a point. I think I finally found a few, and so this will be Part 1 of maybe 2 or 3 more blogs. We’ll see how the things I have collected fit together. For now… I will start with the pre-wedding event of MOVING.

When we met, I lived over an hour away. We commuted for two very long years to see each other every other weekend – and needless to say, we were very much looking forward to that coming to an end! Although my house was newly built, his was nearly paid off and he had been in his community (which is amazing, I must say!) for well over 15 years. It made more sense for me to move into his house and join him outside of Boulder. So, this past June I sold my house, packed up my stuff, and said good-bye to my beloved kitchen island (sniff, sniff). I had arranged to move all my stuff up to his house 3 weeks before the wedding, in hopes that I could get some things unpacked and empty a few boxes. I lived with my folks for those last 3 weeks so I could spend some last time with them. What a blessing it was!

As I saw the boxes piling up in my house, I knew I needed to warn him. You see, I had moved all my life, so I was well aware that what fits nicely into two cabinets or drawers can take anywhere between 4 and 6 boxes, depending on what you are packing. I also knew that when he moved into his house, he had nothing but what he could fit into his truck, and now he had a full kitchen on his own so….. I was pretty sure the boxes from my kitchen alone would make him break out in a cold sweat. There were, of course, still the book boxes from my office (being an avid reader and in grad school), and clothes boxes…. garage stuff and memory stuff from the kids….needless to say, it stacked up. It actually didn’t seem like a lot for me, but I had a feeling it was going to seem like a lot to him.

I called to give him warning when the truck left my driveway:

“Just giving you a head’s up…. It’s going to look like a lot….I know. As long as your back spare bedroom is empty, we’ll be fine. All we have to do is clear the driveway, and I’ll direct them where things go. You can help get them lunch and water. Shouldn’t take more than an hour to unload.”

Whereas this was normal for me, and I was in all-out project mode…. you should have seen the look on his face when the truck showed up. I had to chuckle. All I could do was reassure him that I had a place for all of it!

Thus began the two month process of unpacking and clearing the back bedroom out. I got some done before the wedding, finished a lot the week after our honeymoon, and then gradually worked on the rest… and I was right. I found (or created) nooks and crannies for just about everything. Every now and then, he would peek in the room, raise an eyebrow, and I could see his mind spinning… “where is the rest of this going??” I imagine he was thinking.

At one point, when I was tucking some kitchen things away in a fabric bin (which fit perfectly into a bookshelf he had he wasn’t really using), he made a simple statement, an observation, and it threw me into a bit of a tailspin. I didn’t honestly know how to respond, so I think I tried to be cute and say something funny. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more my “I thought I was done with those” insecurities raged – and I wanted to defend myself. I knew exactly what I wanted to say:

“Look, I’m sorry this all seems like such a pain for you, but its MY STUFF from my life before I met you, when I raised my kids. These are the memories that mean something to me. These are the things that I like to do, the things that are important to me. Did you just think I wasn’t going to bring it with me? You saw all of them at my house…..(and if we’re counting boxes, I can almost guarantee you would have more boxes than me if we had to pack out your house)…”

Instead, I said nothing – because I knew it wouldn’t acknowledge the huge change that he was going through having me move in and take over his space. He’d had housemates, but none that put pictures and candles on the mantle, added pillows to his couch, and put quilts in a basket for folks to cuddle up with. None that added to the stash of cooking stuff already in the kitchen (mixer, multi colored spatulas, baking stuff, my collection of teas…)

My first internal reaction was not patient, or kind, or graceful. I was hurt, and he had no idea.

This is why I being quick to listen AND speak makes a huge difference in any relationship. I asked the Lord to calm me down (after venting in my head, I’ll be honest), and then I started trying to figure out why what he said bothered me in the first place.

However small, I realized his comment made me question myself, made me wonder if what I had to bring really made a difference in this bachelor-now-husband’s life. After I spent some time in prayer, I was able to pull my brain back from the edge and reminded myself of the truth: he loves me, I love him, and God knew we were right for each other. My gifts and uniqueness had a place in this home, even if they are things he isn’t used to yet. And oh yeah, the enemy. Of course he’d start at the beginning to try to create insecurity and division.

Later that week I was finally able to bring the subject up to him and we talked – about how each of us had our own lives before we met, lives that the other person wasn’t a part of. We both acknowledged that we feel on the outside sometimes when the other person shares stories and laughter about ‘life before’. That was a hard recognition. It’s going to take some adjusting, but I think we both acknowledged that each of our separate lives, and the memories that go with them are important. After all, it not only gives us a chance to show grace for each other – it’s also a chance to have a window into how each of us became the person we are now.

Newlywed or not, my challenge for you today is this:

Think about how often God gives us a gift, or puts us in a new situation. We make new friends, have new relationships, experience chances to grow. Maybe we are excited at first, but when we realize the implications of that gift – the extra people living in the house, the new job, new situation…sometimes we just aren’t sure what to do with the other things that come with it or the work it will take, are we?

It reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the good and faithful servant (Matthew 25), who has invested a little money on behalf of the owner and made a nice return. Jesus says that of course the owner is going to commend him! But more than just commending him, the owner sets the servant over MORE more than he was originally entrusted to him.. I have always wondered… did he WANT the extra responsibility? How much harder did this make things, even if it was an honor?

Sometimes gifts, blessings, good things can be overwhelming. They can cause you to wonder if you jumped too soon, took on more than you can handle, or if you just grossly underestimated your ability to tackle the new road in front of you. I felt like that as a new parent 23 years ago. I distinctly recall that in my job as a technical lead about 10 years ago. Every day I was on my knees asking for wisdom in both cases because I knew I couldn’t do it without God’s strength and courage. It was humbling, but grace abounded and I learned. Needless to say, I am finding myself there yet again.

We have to remember that whenever we are given chances to grow – yes – sometimes those involve HUGE leaps into new things that we will be unprepared for. But we can trust he is there, always, leading, encouraging, coaxing us to depend on his grace and strength for the next journey.

I am learning to depend on grace every day again as a newlywed, because as much as I learned in my first marriage.. this is new ground being broken, and we have to figure out our own new life together.

Truly, a gift.

Now, if I can just figure out where to put my turkey pan we’ll only use twice a year… 🙂

Lessons from Mark’s crucifixion story

Up here in the Boulder area, just like everywhere else, churches are largely still online. There are one or two smaller ones that are meeting in person, but not many. Today we decided to visit one of them, primarily because we know the young lady that is the worship leader.

The congregation must have been doing a full study on the book of Mark, and today we happened in on the story of the crucifixion. I’ll admit that it was hard to sit through a sermon that only seemed to talk about the horror of my sin and how Jesus paid the price. I know he did all that! But it was a bit of a throwback to earlier days when that was all that sermons seemed to be about. Grace, Jesus. You do so much more than save from sin. Grace. So I listened, determine to have an open heart for what I needed to be reminded of.

Two things struck me about the story this time. Chapter 15 tells of Simon, a simple passer by that got pulled into the fray. He wasn’t there for the show – the text tells us he was “passing by on his way in from the country”. Maybe minding his own business, maybe pausing to see who was next being crucified. Yet here he was, being commandeered to carry the cross of Jesus, someone he didn’t even know.

This part of the story gave me pause. Why? Because it forces the question:

Do we ever stop to recognize people that are walking right beside us in our own life-crucifying situations?

I hope we do.

Who those people are might surprise you. You might think it *should* be someone who is spiritually mature, or older, or who has the same life experience. But, like Simon, there is the distinct possibility that the person (or people) God brings to walk along side you might be the person (or people) you least expected. It certainly was for me – but what a blessing it turned out to be in time! Be open to that.

I can think of a thousand reasons why Jesus might have wanted one of the disciples to help carry the cross, perhaps so they would learn how to bear a cross with him, but that is not how the story plays out. When we walk a long road bearing a weight of something so hard… we are changed, even when its not our own burden.

The second thing that got me to thinking was the portion where, after being beaten, they put a robe on Jesus and a crown of thorns and “falling on their knees, they worshipped him” (v19)

One can hardly call that worship. It was outright mockery, and it saddened me, but the reason why was because of the richness of what I now carry having spent 2 1/5 years studying the old testament. Over and over, Israel made a mockery of God. They thought they worshipped, but their lives betrayed the words they said and sacrifices they brought. So we all know the story – God decided to step in and fix a system that no human could ever get right.

In Ezekiel, God says he will rescue his flock, he will search after them and look for them (Ezekiel 34:10-11)… and that is exactly what God did through Jesus. He should have received worship, rightful worship.. and yet they did what they had always done, even when their God showed up in the flesh. When he did not bow to their political ideals, their ideas of power and kingship, they took matters into their own hands and did what the world would have done with someone that opposed their ideas: They ended the threat (or so they thought)

So I ask this of myself even as I type it:

Do I ever try and make Jesus bow to my political ideas, my own ideas of power and the way the world should work? (ouch, yes I know, I have to think deeply about this too). The world is not the way it should be, I think we all know that and long for it to change. I HAVE to remember the kingdom he is building is one that is uniquely his, and one that the world will NOT understand. It is won not by political parties or the right people in office, but one by one, in hearts and minds and by mercy and kindness and grace. It will not make sense at times. It will include people that think opposite me, and that is ok.

Let us be people who walk with the sobering knowledge of the crucified Christ – yes. But because of the reality of his resurrection, let us also be people who seek to love those we consider enemies, to walk beside others bearing burdens, and to hold out the hope that the light HAS shone in darkness, and it will NOT overcome.

Blessings, my friends!

Oceans reflection

Today I ran out at lunch to get a few things for dinner tonight, my mind spinning as to how I would get everything done in time. Yet, I chose to see those few minutes as time to fill the space with worship and really pay attention to the lyrics on the radio. The song “Oceans” came on, a song I haven’t heard in a while, and it took me back to the last time I sang it in a worship service. I was at the last women’s retreat I led at my church back in Illinois. I knew at that time I was going to be moving (even though I hadn’t told anyone yet but my best friend and the elders at church)… and the words were pregnant with truth for me. I knew I was headed somewhere I didn’t know, that God was calling me out on deeper waters with Him… the great unknown where my feet certainly could fail.

I knew I would find Him in the mystery of change. I had no doubt my faith would stand. After all, What could go wrong?

Ah. Those of you who have been reading my blogs for a while know what I’m talking about.

I had no idea just how much I would have to trust Him. How much life would prove that He would never fail me. I look back at that song now with different eyes, and see how far He has brought me, how much I have had to hold to the truth that I am His, and He is mine.

Things are so different now, yet so very, very good. I can confidently say I never thought I’d be doing the things I’m doing, walking the paths I’m walking, and loving the people I am loving.

This time, though, it was the chorus that got to me:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the water

Wherever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

That my faith would be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior

Do we really know what we are asking for when we sing that song, pray that prayer?

Do we really long for whatever will strengthen our faith to come to pass? I’d venture to say that sometimes we may not realize what life will bring that draws us closer to Jesus.

What does it mean, really, to have trust without borders? (Wow, even as I write that, I know its a loaded statement, given the current crisis at the border of our own country….)

For me, I see this playing out in some of the people the Lord has brought into my life. I am now friends with and mentoring a handful of young women in their 20’s and early 30’s. Every single one of them stretches me to have grace in ways I never imagined possible. A club dancer, a young girl that has just come out as bi, one living with her boyfriend, one getting divorced and amazingly alive after a stroke and a ton of blood clots in her lungs…. and one that is married and happens to also be the one that cuts my hair 🙂

I know after reading a journal entry from my 20’s I prayed for this. There isn’t much of a script I have to go by, and I question nearly every day if I am really doing enough to love them and help them to know God better…. but it has given me a front row seat to seeing God transform their lives and I am literally blown away every time I talk to them. One is growing in her prophetic gifting. One is growing in leadership and her passion for reading the bible, one is seeing so many ways Jesus is setting her free from the things of her past. One talking to God but not sure she wants to really be in relationship with him yet. It leaves me realizing just how much I may have trusted how transforming God’s word is for me, but I have somehow listened to a cynical mindset too much and forgotten how transforming it is for others.

How I have doubted

The work He longs to do in us is real, he starts wherever we are and calls us forward. All of us.

So my question to you is this: who is in your life that God may be asking you to come along side of – not to worry about how far away they seem, but to believe that God wants to reveal His goodness, His freedom of soul to them, no matter whether their life looks like you think it should or not?

Can you risk going where your trust in God is without borders, and let Him show you just how big His grace really is?