The Gospel and the Sunrise

[Hi all… This weekend I am stuck inside with a bout of food poisoning (ugh) – so pulling one out of the archives that I never posted.]

When we first started visiting the church we went to in Illinois, our pastor would ask a question: What if the gospel was meant to be more like the sunrise than a religion?

I have to admit, I didn’t get it at first. It sounded beautiful, but you see, I am not the poetic type, so analogies often get lost on me. I am sure he explained it at some point, but I just always assumed he meant what if the gospel, the good news Jesus came to bring was meant to be beautiful and not one that laid a burden on our backs? After all, Jesus is the one that said “Come to me, all 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” (Matthew 11:28-29).

I’m not really sure how or when the gospel that started out so beautiful became a burden to me. Somehow over the years, my need for perfection, my fear of failure, and my incessant need to keep people happy, combined with teachings on leading holy lives and letting God reveal everything in you that wasn’t good led me down a road that made what was once a beautiful path into feeling like I was always missing the mark. I would read verses in the Psalms that talked about pure hands and pure hearts, and verses in Philippians about thinking only of good things, and all I remember feeling was that I would never measure up. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.”, Jesus said (Matt 5:48). I felt like I was failing miserably.

Slowly and subtly, the message I began to hear (not that this was always what was taught, but we hear things and take them in based on our own experiences and understandings, keep in mind) was that yes Jesus died for my sin. I was “saved” and my eternity secure, but no matter what I did – how much I served, loved, gave – I would never measure up to what He asked of us here. Rather than the bible being words of life, they became words of condemnation for me. Every time I read them, I would hear criticism of my own life and how I never measured up. I would find things I had never thought about and prayed God would help me try harder to remember that new truth I had to watch out for. Underlying guilt consumed me, guilt that I would never be good enough for what God had done, never be a good enough example, a bright enough star to “shine in this dark universe” and reflect what I was supposed to, showing people God was real.

What boggles my mind as I look back on who I was then is that it never occurred to me that underneath it all, a subtle shift began to occur. The sense that I could never meet God’s holy standard covered my life. I loved God with all my heart, and yet I lived with this deep sense that I could never, ever, ever do all that he asked of us to be his example on this earth.

I remember the first time I really heard about grace. Not that it hadn’t been talked about before – but the first time I got it. We lived in Ohio and were attending a huge Vineyard church known as the Dayton Vineyard at the time. The pastor that was preaching that morning was talking about God’s grace and how full and how covering it was over our lives. He put it this way (and I’m not sure of his exact words, but this is how I heard it): “Imagine if God had this huge paint roller, and he dipped it in a big 20 gallon bucket of paint, and then just slathered you with it. Thats how much God’s grace covers our lives.”

I cannot tell you what that started in me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I still have a picture of a paint roller in my journal, next to those two words.

I remember driving home that day from church in silence. I couldn’t explain how I was feeling. I remember standing there, hands on my kitchen counter getting ready to make lunch and realizing it was the FIRST time I had ever walked away from church without feeling guilty.

It blew my mind. You would think I had never heard of grace before. Little did I know that would only be the first of many steps towards finding freedom in who I really was in Christ. And this – this is what I love most about our God. You see, without warning, without my asking for it, my Jesus had come searching for this lost little sheep of his, to pick the burrs out of my coat, give me fresh water to drink, and to teach me for the first time what he really thought of me.

It was life-giving. I was finally able to believe in the deep love the Father had for me, and it began to shape me in a way I never expected. Gone was the fear, gone was the shame, all replaced with this glorious knowledge that I was loved. Finally I began to believe what Jesus said, that when I remained in Him, and he in me, that together we could do great things.

Whether you call it deconstruction, or a crisis of faith, or even just a season in your walk, letting the Lord shake off ways of thinking that push you away from the life He offers is critical. After all, that IS part of the transformation of our lives, our faith, isn’t it?

Now, I get the sunrise analogy. Waking up early in the midwest, watching the fluorescent pink and mango brilliance of the sun start small and spread across the whole breadth of the park near my house and the fields nearby, I get it. The goodness and love and grace of our God often starts small. But when it breaks into our lives – whether through tragedy, kindness, curiosity, or sundry other ways – it is meant to grow, to spread out and melt out over the entire expanse of our lives…. until all of it is swallowed up by His radiance.

My friends, wherever you are on your walk with the Lord, my prayer is that you, too, would know this grace, this love and light that longs to pour out over your life like the glory of a morning sunrise!

Part 2: Caught in the Middle

In my last post I shared some of my journey of how I went from being afraid to being affirming. Although I am not sure how many will be in this series, I still have a few trailing things I’d like to share, so I’m not quite done yet.

In many ways, where I have landed theologically leaves me feeling caught. Caught between two vastly different ideologies, which for the past few years left me afraid to step out and say where I stood. Yet I know I must enter into the fray of discussion. Not with irate posts and calling people out and debating in the public realm, but rather with grace and gentleness. In case you are just joining, I am talking about the discussion currently going on in the church about whether or not to “allow” gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people into their church. More than that – to not just say you love them and they are welcome, but to say that they are fully worthy of everything the church has to offer.

Why is that a problem, you ask? The world certainly doesn’t care, because they are all well beyond accepting to the point of celebrating and standing up for the LGBT community. I think the reason I feel caught is because I’m charismatic and evangelistic and I believe in prophecy and healing and speaking in tongues and visions and God speaking today just as loud and clear as He did in the Bible. I love to get lost in worship, sit in “soaking prayer”, and feel the very presence of the Holy Spirit. I know it is real. Yet it always seems that either you are progressive and social justice minded and for the LGBTQ community (and only sing hymns and have liturgy), or you are conservative/evangelical (and have contemporary songs and an electric guitar and drums in your church) and you are against it. If you are pentacostal, forget it. They’ll cast a demon out of you.

My problem is that I have the audacity to believe that the Holy Spirit and the worship that invites God’s physical presence to minister is not just for heterosexuals. God clearly said in the last days he would pour out his spirit on men and women alike. There were no qualifiers on that having anything to do with education, race, gender, walk of life, you name it.

I have the audacity to believe that God is for the LGBTQ Christian community, and that God speaks to people who are LBGTQ when they seek Him, just like He says He will. I believe He will reveal His grace and love and pour it out on them just he does on the heterosexual community. I believe they, as well as us, need healing for sexual brokenness – but not the “fix it to be straight” kind.

I am talking about healing for relationships we never wish we were in. Hearts that were broken by someone you loved and lost, or someone who gave up. Healing and deliverance from our struggles with lust and being infatuated with sex that is always blow your mind sex (like on TV) to the point that we are no longer satisfied with the partner God gave to us. Teens of all kind – straight or LGBTQ – need to know that they are not just their sexual identity. They are deep and made to love their creator as He created them, beautiful and wonderful. Adults – straight or LGBTQ – need to know they don’t have to be alone, that they are loved and accepted as they are, that they too can come out into the light no matter what secrets they hold.

Before you write me off (if you are still reading), hear me out. I started this journey being challenged first by my husband and second by the Holy Spirit. I have not come to this decision or place lightly… indeed no one does, when you start from the fundamental side of things. It has come with many tears, much prayer, much study, lots of reading, talking to people on both sides of the fence, and more prayer.

I have watched others in the public eye step out and make this same declaration, and my hope has fallen as I have read, with a sorrowful heart, the rejection they have faced. I have mourned that my own college fellowship, which helped me to find Jesus, essentially told anyone in leadership who was affirming that they no longer had a job.

Seems to me that loving the outcast – and loving people the way Jesus does – meant that you didn’t count anything against them. Anything. “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” — Paul, Romans 13:8.

Sure, it’s hard. I know perfectly well that many of our close friends may be surprised by this statement even as I make it. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t fearful of their reaction. No one knows me, I’m not in the public eye, so what do I have to lose? If I’m honest, I am fearful that people that have valued my insight and teaching thus far will throw me to the curb, disavowing the call of God on my life and questioning my study of the Word of God. I am fearful of their opinions and judgements on my life and my teaching.

Yet for the sake of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I know I can’t stop walking forward, for God did not give me a spirit of fear, but of love and sound mind. In Ephesians 4:1 Paul challenges us to “lead a life worthy of your calling”….. and more and more as my life is shaped, I cannot seem to let go that this is part of my calling. The next generation depends on it. How else will they learn to set their sights on God, to believe that He has called them too?

I guess I really don’t have much to lose when compared to those that are LGBTQ.

What about you? I have no idea who you are or what kind of church you are in, or if you are struggling to find acceptance as part of the LGBTQ community. But if you love Jesus and you know He is good, you MUST engage in this conversation, and not be willing to settle for what you have always heard just because it’s what everyone believes. It doesn’t mean you have to be ready to land on a different page at this very moment – but I want to challenge you to stop being afraid of the conversation. Your obedience to God, His love for you and calling on your life isn’t going to disappear because you begin to research and read and seek understanding.

You see, this isn’t an “issue” we are talking about. These are lives. These are teens you are raising, siblings who have lived in the closet or felt outcast for years. They are your worship leader, the person who prays for you and shares the love of God with you already. They may just be too fearful of rejection to say anything. Sadly, they too often walk away from even the idea of God because they cannot believe in a God who rejects their sexuality.

I don’t want to see that happen in this generation. The world brings too much condemnation already.

The few lesbian and gay couples that came to our little church in Illinois had always started with the same question: Will I be welcomed, or tolerated? Will you believe my faith is real, and will you help me and my partner grow in our faith in Christ? Or will you constantly doubt that we can move any further in God until we end our relationship?

Sisters and brothers – don’t shy away. Face your fears, tackle this tough discussion with people you can trust and who know your heart. This misunderstood part of the body is crying out for it.

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Note: If you are looking for some good books to dive in, I’d recommend the following:

Andrew Marin’s “Love is an Orientation”, Justin Lee’s “Torn”, Colby Martin’s “Unclobber” and Wesley Hill’s “Washed and Waiting” .

Part 1: From Afraid to Affirming – my journey

Deconstruction is a word that, whether read in someone’s story or mentioned in a conversation over a meal, there is a mental sigh that I sit into, thinking “ah… you too, huh?”

Although it takes on different forms and may land people in different places, it most always involves some sort of re-evaluating of the faith of one’s childhood and deciding what to keep, what to toss out, and what needs to change and grow as you wrestle with the harder questions of life and God and faith.

For some, larger questions loom:

Is this God thing really true? Or was it all just a myth and story?

How can I follow a God that (seemingly) condemns people to hell?

If Jesus called his followers to love, why is the church known more for what she hates?

Why does it seems like Christians have just built another holiness code?

It all can feel so empty when you are in that place… and I know some people never come out of it.

I am living proof (along with many others) – that you can. You can question the faith of your childhood and still come out with the belief that God is just as strong, just as present. Even if you feel you’ve gone through hell and back to get there.

I was recounting what deconstruction looked like for me not too long ago over breakfast with a new friend. I shared the “safe” version – and I was being honest of course, explaining how in my early 30’s I needed to stop reading the bible for a good solid two years. I was disillusioned with the church and how quickly people believe stories they are told without asking any questions. I didn’t know how to even begin to read the bible any more without hearing old voices and getting frustrated. I knew I still believed in God, and in Jesus, but I didn’t much like his followers for a while. They had hurt me too much. I needed to re-learn from a fresh pallet, when I didn’t have a fresh one to start with. So for two years I sat and just tried to maintain some semblance of listening for God, and asking Him to help me figure all this out. I wanted new. I wanted to see things HE saw and understand it the way HE intended. I needed new voices, not voices that told me only one side of the story,

After that breakfast, I realize I had forgotten a very large part of my own deconstruction story. Namely, the part where I, with fear and trembling, divorced myself from a belief that if I landed on a different place theologically than I had been taught my first decade of following Him, that he would reject me and hide His face from me forever. I remember the anguish of that recognition and that fear.

You see, I had been taught in church that to not follow God’s written word (and hold to the understanding exactly how it was taught to me) was to walk out from under God’s blessing. I was taught that if you do something without God specifically telling you to, you were walking in presumption and pride (and we all know pride comes before a fall). This always seemed in direct contradiction with Jesus telling us the greatest command was to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and strength. It seemed the mind part was always overlooked, except when it came to memorizing verses.

But there I was, one night at what I felt like a precipice of faith, a cliff, that I was about to jump off of, and I was scared. Because I could no longer accept some of the things I had been taught, as they seemed teachings that had put me in a cage of fear and doubt rather than given me the freedom I so desperately wanted as a child of God.

This wasn’t the first time either. One earlier cliff had been over whether or not we could move back to Virginia if God didn’t “tell” us to. I know, that might sound ridiculous to some of you, but again, I had been taught you needed to be LED in all things. But low and behold, when we decided not to move, we were not struck by lightning. (Although, I did have a dream I believe was from God where he poked a huge hole in that thinking of mine by showing me a map and saying “you could pick anywhere and I will still bless you”. Thank you, holy spirit)

For me, this next cliff was the one of condemning homosexuality. It was huge.

Before becoming a Christian, my only interaction with someone who was even possibly gay was a young man in my senior english class in high school. One day he whispered to me “Do you think it’s wrong to be gay?”. I had never even thought about it. “Well,” I said. “I am pretty sure its wrong for me but I guess you have to figure out if it’s right for you” I answered. After I became a Christian I was taught it was one of the worst sins possible, and that God hates homosexuality. For years I was caught between the concept of a God who loves deeply, a Savior who had dinner with people the religious wouldn’t be caught dead with, and the teaching of wrath for anyone who wasn’t straight. It just never sat right with me, but what was I to do?

Now let’s be honest here. Even as I explain this next part, I know some of you will write me off as having set aside the Word of God and counting it as nothing. Some of you will scoff and say “oh, she is just making scripture say what she wants it to say.” If you choose to read no further, I will understand. But I will tell you – that assumption could not be further from the truth. It is precisely because I love the scriptures that I take this so seriously.

I had been challenged by a friend, asking what if we were on the wrong side of this “issue”? Weren’t white Christians supportive of slavery because it was allowed in the bible? Weren’t white Christians supportive of segregation for some reason they believed was also scriptural (although for the life of me I cannot understand why). What if, when we are held accountable for all we have done and said, the Father asks why we kept the LGBTQ community at arms length and never welcomed them to the table?

What will our answer be then? Can we really say we have loved as Jesus did in that moment?

Those questions started me on a journey that took well over a year or two. I read everything I could get my hands on, whether stories, testimonies or historical documents, Greek studies, websites on both sides of the “issue”. You name it, I probably read it. It was exhausting, mentally and spiritually. After 7 months I had to set it all aside and take a break.

The weight of what I was finding was just too overwhelming.

After everything I had read, it seemed that it all boiled down to HOW you wanted to interpret the Greek in some passages, and WHAT you wanted to do with the historical explanations surrounding the passages and commands. On top of that, I had read stories of people who loved Jesus, grew up in good homes, were not abused, and yet knew they were attracted to the same sex from the time they were teens. What I thought could never live in tandem was right there in black and white.

In the light of the grace of Jesus, I realized I could no longer say I loved my brother and hold the LGBTQ community at a distance.

It scared the crap out of me to even be willing to admit that in my own head.

(For those of you who have read about the Enneagram…. I am a One. Which means I have a desperate desire to do things right before God. So you can imagine how huge this was, because for years I had been told there was only ONE way to view this.)

So there I was on my living room floor, having one of the most fearful conversations with the Lord I had ever had. After all I had read and studied, after months of prayer and consideration, I found myself landing in a place where I could no longer believe that God hated homosexuals. I was beginning to see it was very possible to be both gay (or LGBTQ) and Christian.

With great fear and trembling, I told the Lord that I was afraid of coming to this conclusion, but that it was the only way forward in love that I could see. I confessed that, because of earlier teaching, I was fearful that He would “release me from his cover of protection” and never speak to me again. It was devastating to me to even think about, but in the light of love I knew I had to change how I felt and acted, and my only choice was to ask for mercy.

The thought that I would never hear from God again was very real that night – and for someone for whom the voice of God is my very breath – it was a risk sown in tears. After years of being told what to think and believe, the thought of making this decision based on my own research left me full of fear, even though it landed in a place of love.

*****

Five years later, I am fully convinced that the ground I staked back then was holy ground. The leap of faith I took was in God’s character being ruled by love, and indeed He did not abandon me. He continued to speak and lead… even moreso than before.

I am still desperate as ever for the voice of God in my life, His leading, and studying the scriptures as diligently as before. Yet I cannot stay silent any longer on this, because I know that the lives of many hang in the balance. The burden of so many LGBTQ people leaving the church and walking away from God – never even once hearing that they too are created in God’s image, called to glory and also worthy of healing and restoration, weighs heavy on my heart.

I have much more to say, and so my next few posts will be on a similar subject. To my friends in the conservative camp, I know this path I am on may be too hard for you to hear right now, but please do not put your hands up and push me away. I am asking that you listen, for the sake of love. Do your own research, ask questions and listen to stories. When someone from the LGBTQ community becomes a friend, it’s no longer an “issue”, but a brother or sister with the same desperate need for a savior.

Til next time —

Tama