A Few Thoughts on Redemption

In the wake of this business in Manchester, I’ve been wondering something: is anyone beyond redemption? Should they desire it, of course.

If it were up to me, I’d say some people are. People who harm children, for one. I think about these youngsters in England, having hardly begun their lives. I think of these…terrorists, seeking them out with intent and purpose. I think of men like Jerry Sandusky (the Penn State “coach” and chicken hawk ) and others of his ilk. If it were up to me, people like that would have no possibility of redemption. Only justice.

The answer I found was not what I wanted to find. I wanted my position to be justified–I wanted to be right.

People who do evil things should be punished–period. And perhaps society and the law will punish them. Yet punitive punishment sometimes seems like it should be eternal. At least it does to me.

Thankfully, it isn’t up to me. Here’s what just a few scriptures say about redemption, and who can be redeemed:

Ephesians 1:7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the richness of his grace.”

Colossians 1:20-22, “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

Romans 3:24-26, “And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Titus 2:14, “Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.”

Those are just a few verses, and there are many more. The short version is that the answer to my question is “no one is beyond redemption, should they choose to be reconciled before God, with God, because of the blood of Christ.”

No one. That’s why he came, and did what he did. I may not like it, but that ability to redeem when most find it all but impossible to simply forgive…well, that’s what makes him God.

My inabilities and my shortcomings in that way are why I need him–why we all do. We can’t be God–only God can do that.

Redemption is possible for all people.

Do it Now

“25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” John 19:25-27 ESV

My Pastor is currently preaching through the book of John, from beginning to end. He hasn’t gotten to this section yet, but today I was reading ahead and a few things occurred to me at roughly the same time:

Jesus had just been crucified. His mother and those close to him had borne witness. They’d also seen the soldiers who’d done it rolling dice at his feet for possession of the tunic he’d been wearing because they didn’t want to tear it so each could have a piece. Did they recognize something about him, that they would want his bloodied clothing? Maybe, but it didn’t slow down their efforts.

Jesus looks down and sees his family (blood family and in Christ) looking at him and he realizes there are his brother (from another mother) and mother seeing him in his final moments.

His brother. His mother. And though it does not say so specifically, I think that the disciple Jesus loved and the mother of Jesus realized that sometimes family isn’t blood. Sometimes family is heart, and spirit, and love. The words of Jesus cause them to realize the truth of this.

The other thing I thought about was to realize some of the last thoughts of Jesus as a man–just prior to his death–were to think of his mother. To provide for her, because he knew his time on earth (at that time) was short.

He thought of his mother, while he hung on the cross.

I thought about my own mother, when she was dying. I don’t know what her last thoughts were, but the very last word I ever personally heard her say was to me, in reference to my presence in her hospital room. She’d asked, “where’s Tommy.” I told her I was there, and she said “good.”

So obviously, considering this weekend, I was thinking about my mother.  I wish I’d thought about her more–appreciated her more–when she was here for me to appreciate and to show love to.

It made me think that all of our time is short, and we shouldn’t waste any of it. I know I will one day have the chance to tell my mom what is in my heart, and what was in my heart at 18 (though hopefully not for a while!).

Please allow me to drop this little bit of wisdom.

Don’t wait to speak love and appreciation to your mothers. Do it now.

I only have a few pictures of my mother. I don’t remember much about when she wasn’t sick. But I think this pic shows what I want to say. Now I’m older than my mom was in the photo, and I’m younger in the picture than my son John is…
mom

The Weight

Sometimes, it’s hard to be cheerful. We see everyone around us acting happy, and we don’t much feel that way ourselves. It makes sense, actually, when you think about life and its inherent difficulties. Life can be really heavy sometimes. And the thing that makes it worse is that we feel moved to carry the whole thing alone. Or we get help, but it isn’t help that lasts. In other words, we put the weight down for a second, but we pick it right the heck back up again a few minutes later. Because, you know, it’s ours to carry.

two man

Where are we getting our help from? Metaphorically speaking, who is the other person? Because life, by its nature, can be a two person lift sometimes. Who helps you with the lift?

I can tell you who it was for me. It was unhealthy friendships, and bad relationships. It was alcohol, or self-pity, or sometimes it was porn or a huge pile of junk food. These things allowed me to put down the weight, albeit briefly. It felt great for a minute or two, but then it was often worse than before. So off I would go, carrying my own weight and feeling bad about it–and feeling bad for myself.

Eventually, after many miles and many brief stops, I realized the problem was that I wanted to carry the weight myself, because that way I could feel like a martyr about it. I could remain life’s victim and I would never have to change anything about myself. The realization came eventually that the real problem was not life, and not the things that happened in it.

The problem was where I was turning for help. This was made clear to me through the intervention (and intercession) of several people who cared about me, and I realized this because they didn’t just tell me what I wanted to hear. They told me what I needed to hear. And it was tough, and I didn’t want to hear it, but it was what helped.

help

Maybe it’s like that for you. You’ve been feeling the weight, and it’s been like a ton of bricks on your heart. It’s hard to carry, and it feels like there’s no help to be had sometimes. Or if there is, that it doesn’t work very well.

Let me just ask you where you’re turning for help. Who’s the other person in your carry? I’ll tell you what worked for me back a few years ago, and now whenever the weight feels like lead bricks.

pray1

Prayer, man. You may scoff at that two word sentence. It might not feel real to you. It might not happen instantly, and Lord knows that’s what we want in an age when a 5 second download feels too long. Your prayers might feel like pebbles at God’s window.

They’re not.

Our prayers mold our hearts into something God can work with. They break up the old and crusty outside of our hearts and little by little the weight falls away.

It

      won’t

                 happen

                         overnight most of the time. Don’t expect it to.

Expect that you’re having a conversation with God. It might take a while before you get to “the thing.”

Until you realize where the weight comes from, really.

And then one day you realize you aren’t carrying it by yourself anymore. You realize you aren’t carrying it at all.

 cross

If It Takes All Night…

In the course of my adult life, I have dealt quite a bit with those who have suffered many different types of trauma. Typically, this was in the context of a semi-charismatic prayer group, and the trauma sufferers were men and women who had experienced it as a child. They had a different perspective and a lot of years between who they were when the incidents occurred and who they are now. In all cases, they had at least a relatively good support network and a working knowledge of who Jesus was, and how he did things.

I never expected–some ten years later–to be a foster parent on the way to becoming an adoptive parent of a very active young man who in his short lifetime had likely suffered much–certainly much more than most kids his age. My wife and I did twelve weeks of foster training, and it prepared us for some of the things we’ve encountered.

That doesn’t mean it is easy. But what it has done is to make us wholly dependent on God for wisdom, and comfort, and guidance. I believe it’s human nature to want to feel loved in return when you give love, or when you give anything of yourself. It doesn’t always happen. Luke 6 says this about who we should love: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”

I have to remind myself there’s a good chance our boy has not had much experience in a loving home, with a loving family. He probably hasn’t had any experience with discipline out of love. Could be he doesn’t know how to be loved at all; how to accept that love is something he has now, in abundance.

He may have some rudimentary head knowledge of Jesus, but if it doesn’t come out of love, it won’t become heart knowledge at all. So what we have to do is show this young man Jesus in a practical way. We make Jesus real to him by showing he is real to us. We do not hide our imperfections and blemishes–rather, we reveal them in the way of edification.

We do not simply pray for, we also pray with him. We show him what a loving family looks like by loving. My wife and I demonstrate what a healthy and Godly marriage looks like.  We discipline because we care, rather than simply punish because we do not. We show affection, and we acknowledge our feelings and their feelings.

We also acknowledge our feelings and our fears and our doubts because they are real and they happen. We acknowledge them from the position of supplicant, because that is what we really all are in the first place. We can talk differences all day, but the truth is that at our cores we are also all the same. Like this young man newly added to our life and family, we are all broken in our own way. Yet we are also repaired in his way, and we need to share that it is a process, and it will take some time, hard as it is to endure.

Everyone knows the story of Moses, fleeing the forces of Pharoah, and parting the Red Sea so his people can escape, and finally be free. Yet do we know the whole story, as described in Exodus? Do we know that Moses, ever obedient to the Lord, was made to set up camp for his people, essentially giving time for Egypt to catch up? God convinces Egypt that the Israelites are lost and wandering: it doesn’t make sense to stop. But then Moses related a message from the Lord, “The Lord, will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14, ESV)

That victory did not come in an instant. And there was still the Red Sea before them, and Pharoah. Rather, the Lord told Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea. The water would take care of the rest.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22, NIV)

One of the great miracles related in the Old Testament–the parting of the Red Sea and the escape of the Israelites from bondage.

all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land.”

It took all night.

Not that God couldn’t have done whatever he needed to in an instant, but he didn’t, because he had something for Israel to learn. For us to learn. For me to learn.

He is God. I am not. There is something to learn in all this going on right now. There is something we can take away, even now.

Loving and expecting returns isn’t really love. Loving because we’ve been loved is. Loving as a verb, loving with all our hearts, even when they seem to feel completely the opposite.

We sure don’t always act like we love Jesus.

I think that what we need to do is stretch our hands out over the Sea. It might take all night, but in the end we will cross.

And we will have all of our family, including our newest, with us.

Because he is God. We are not.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes

I heard noises coming from my kitchen this morning, or at least I thought I did. They were not the kind of noises from someone breaking in, or stealing, because I know my otherwise worthless dogs would have barked up a storm, and they were not making any noise at all. It was not my wife, because she was sleeping next to me. It seemed more like the sound of someone moving about and getting ready for their day—the sound of small dishes clinking together, a radio coming on softly. I looked at my bedside clock and it was 0330 exactly (shortly before I normally get up).

I got out of bed and wandered down the hall in my boxers, because why not? I immediately saw a light on in the kitchen, and when I came around the corner, my mother was there in a bathrobe, frying something in a skillet. She turned to look at me and said my name, “Tommy.”

I haven’t been Tommy in a number of years, but this morning I was. I started to respond, but then I realized my bladder was really full, and I rolled over and looked at my clock, and it was exactly 0330.

Although I realized it was a dream right away, it also occurred to me that I hadn’t seen my mother since 1987, and the last time she’d been in a morphine coma. She looked pretty good today, all things considered.

So I sat on the couch, and I read a little. I had a couple microwave pancakes. I was restless, and I couldn’t concentrate, so I pulled up an episode of Hawaii Five-0 on Netflix. Kono was lost at sea on a catamaran trip she began in honor of her mother. There were a lot of flashbacks with Kono and her mom, where the mom would relay this…homespun Hawaiian wisdom to her that helped her survive. “For crying out loud,” I thought. What on earth kind of morning was this going to be?

I guess I was supposed to think about my mother. Which I do almost every day, anyway. So that is what I’ve been doing.

I don’t have a lot of stories of mom passing along wisdom—I don’t remember her that well, honestly.

But I remember she loved old-school country music. In San Diego, the station was called KSON. I don’t know if it still is.

I know she liked to dance—I remember seeing her cut a rug with her brothers when I was very small. We have a couple home movies as well.

I remember rainy picnics on the kitchen floor. Sitting cross-legged on the floor and eating PB & J as my mom sang “rain, rain, go away.”

Other times she taught me this snippet of a George MacDonald poem called Baby. “Where did you come from, baby dear?”

To which my response was “out of everywhere into here.” My sister tells me she had this old book, and it came from there.

I do have one of her old books, though, and I really treasure it. It’s an old and falling-apart Living Bible, featuring marks she made with a fading felt-tip. It was given to her by my aunt Cathy back in 1979. I don’t know how much she read it then—I don’t remember seeing her with it until the months before her death.

There was one psalm she underlined in several places, and I just found that a couple of weeks ago. 31 years after she died. Amazing. And very comforting. Here is Psalm 116, which she underlined in purple, at some point before the end.

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice  and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen,     I will pray as long as I have breath! Death wrapped its ropes around me;     the terrors of the grave[a] overtook me.     I saw only trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord:     “Please, Lord, save me!” How kind the Lord is! How good he is!     So merciful, this God of ours! The Lord protects those of childlike faith;     I was facing death, and he saved me. Let my soul be at rest again,     for the Lord has been good to me. He has saved me from death,     my eyes from tears,     my feet from stumbling. And so I walk in the Lord’s presence     as I live here on earth! 10 I believed in you, so I said,     “I am deeply troubled, Lord.” 11 In my anxiety I cried out to you,     “These people are all liars!” 12 What can I offer the Lord     for all he has done for me? 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation     and praise the Lord’s name for saving me. 14 I will keep my promises to the Lord     in the presence of all his people.

15 The Lord cares deeply     when his loved ones die. 16 O Lord, I am your servant;     yes, I am your servant, born into your household;     you have freed me from my chains. 17 I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving     and call on the name of the Lord. 18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord     in the presence of all his people— 19 in the house of the Lord  in the heart of Jerusalem.”

So today I will remember my mom all I can. I will thank the Lord for the time I did have—18 years. Not all good, but good enough. There were struggles, but there were also a great many blessings. I’m grateful for them. If anyone I know reads this, I’ll show you that old bible next time you’re at the house. It’s awesome.

I just remembered my mom used to talk to people on a CB radio my dad put in the kitchen. Her handle was “Ol’ Blue Eyes” to my dad.

That’s awesome, too.

Not trying to be sad, or make anyone tear up. Just remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes.

A good thing to do.

Is The Bible Truthful? It Is To Me, and I Will Tell You Why

I like to read all kinds of different websites and blogs when I have the chance, and occasionally I will read Huffington Post articles that others have shared. They clearly had a more liberal bent to them, but it was easy enough to overlook in the interest of having something to read on lunchbreaks, etc.

Then the other day they posted this.

If I ever had any doubt that Huffpost was dragging its left wing on the ground, this little nugget removed it. Sure, it’s an opinion piece, but why not publish something opposing as well? The supposed minister who wrote this, while clearly well-spoken and rather erudite forgot to mention something that occurred to me.

Now, I am no apologist, and certainly no pastor. I have only been six classes deep into biblical studies.

But I know this much about biblical truth.

If you know God–really know him–you can feel the truth of his word when you read it. It’s powerful, and personal, and sometimes nearly ineffable. Sometimes when I read scripture, it’s almost as if the bible vibrates in my hands.

Because
the truth
resonates.

Not just in the mind, but the heart.

Also, if His book is not truth, and He isn’t who scripture says he is, then He is a sham. If He is God, then what is to prevent Him from Divinely inspiring others to record His word? If He is not God, then we are truly stuffed.

His Word, left for us, is part of both Him and His divine nature. Yes, not every version is exactly the same, but neither is every language. Yes, the King James version was commissioned, but the documents it was based on were real, with many documents of the same era still in existence.

His Word is not actually the book itself, but the wisdom and truth within.

I acknowledge the difficulty of a person who’s never acknowledged God in believing scripture is actually the word of God, but it’s equally difficult for me to imagine someone who professes faith not believing.

I believe His word is real, and though I may not read it as much as I would like to (or should), it is no less truth to me.

Without God, my life would not be worth a darn thing. Scripture helps me to walk that jagged path with a little more surety in my step.

The…minister who wrote this HuffPost article? Despite his eloquence and writing ability, appears to have lost his way. If the Word is not truth, then what does he preach from? One can only hope that his article causes little more than a Left-leaning backslapping party.

Lastly, I would say that denying truth doesn’t change it. I have learned that the hard way.

But I learned.

The Fight of the Century?

I don’t think I will ever be done with revisions on this one.

There’s been a great deal written over the past few years about how the church is “losing” millenials (young people coming to adulthood around the turn of the century, the year 2000, that is) or members of Generation “Y.” Many have speculated as to the reason, but it seems to me to have something to do with the rise of liberalism and/or progressivism in both politics and the church. This is manifested in many ways, but I believe most significantly is the extreme antipathy of many young people toward conservatives for what they feel is a hawk-like view of the war in Afghanistan and the potential for war in places like Syria, Libya and Gaza. Not to mention conservative support for legislation like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and legislation against gun control reform.

There are probably lots of personal reasons people have for turning away from or leaving the church. But based on news coverage and changing public opinion, it seems to me the perceived (and sometimes actual) treatment of LGBTQ men and women by conservatives and “evangelical” Christians has had the most effect on young people as far as changing their views of the church. Recently, for instance, there have been several instances of business owners not performing services for certain customers because of their sexuality.

Of course, what people often do not discuss is that to an extent, the reverse is also true. From what I have observed and to an extent, experienced, many among the gay community have highly skewed ideas about conservatives among the straight, conservative, often Christian community. This manifests itself in several different ways. Chief among them, I believe, is the frequency with which gay people file lawsuits against Christians who are not able to do something for them because of something they either believe or do not believe. They make no secret of their faith, and it would be obvious to most folks of course they would object to supplying service to people who are in the process of doing something they object to—something that offends them—on the grounds of their core beliefs being different from that of the gay folks bringing the lawsuits.

So why do they approach businesses they know will probably not render them services? Is it because they have discovered someone doing a perceived wrong and they want to right it?

Is it because they’re looking for a nice payday? Or maybe because they want to destroy a business operating apart from their own agenda?

Do they have an agenda? Is it “tolerance?” If so, of what?

It may not always be so, but these cases always smell a little bit like an ambush. It often seems as if these Christians who object to supplying food or services to those Gay people getting married or whatever the need happens to be, are targeted specifically because the person(s) making the request already know what they will do and they wish to make an example of them.

For my part, I don’t know if I agree with denying services to people as a form of protest. I am not sure what I would do given the same situation as some of these folks, but I think my inclination would be to make the best cake I could, and do it for the glory of God. It’s a bit of a sticky wicket. Does providing services to someone practicing a lifestyle someone else does not indicate some sort of heresy or blasphemy? I don’t know.

I do know the situation is ugly both ways, and certainly seems as if it could be mitigated by a little understanding from both “sides” of the issue. After all—is freedom really freedom at all if it can only be interpreted and exercised one way? Either way?

So, to be clear, I believe what Jesus and others say in the bible regarding sin. I believe that it is rampant in the world, and we are all covered in it. But I also believe in God, in Jesus, and in his sacrifice on behalf of the world and everyone in it. Not just everyone who believes, but everyone.

Lately, the issue is no longer simply that of “gay marriage.” Also coming into the ring is that of recognizing people with…alternate gender identities. Can they dress a certain way, or “identify” a certain way without “persecution?” My personal thought is that hating your “original” genitals does not mean they aren’t the ones that are supposed to be there. I do not believe that God makes mistakes. And I do not believe that, say, removing your hood ornament makes your vehicle something other than what it is. But it doesn’t excuse being a jerk to people simply because you think they’re doing something they shouldn’t.

Still, there is this: over the past year or so, there have been several incidents where young people with gender identity issues have been persecuted in their own way by other teens who are not in the midst of gender identity issues, and have consequently taken their own lives. This is real, and sad, and terrible. I think it’s true that few people can be more condescending, ruthless, and just plain cruel than one teenager feeling superior to another.

With the advent of people being much more open about how they identify regarding their gender (among other issues), has also come the same cruelty teens are often made to endure. The current Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner “controversy” is a great example of that. I believe that’s because people are often afraid of that which they do not understand. Gender identity that does not conform to what people expect based on the “actual” rather than perceived sex of the individual in question with the “non-traditional” identity is really pretty hard to understand, especially to people of faith.

We just don’t understand it. If you find yourself with a chromosomal structure that says you’re a man, well…you are. Or are you?

Part of that issue is that we believe God is perfect, has a perfect will for our lives, and does not make mistakes. Identifying as a gender opposite from what you are genetically seems like putting a “my bad” on God.

I can’t think of an instance where that happened, biblically.

So here we are.

Those with “alternate lifestyles” are offended because many, many Christians do not recognize their desire to be married as valid, or consider their lifestyle choices simply that; choices. They think those living in the “alternate” do whatever they do or think whatever they think because they are sexual or psychological deviants. That is probably no more true of gay people than straight people. There are creeps and freaks everywhere. That kind of deviance transcends any type of sexuality, I think.

Many of the people who share my faith also share a view that (and I am not speaking solely of the loathsome Westboro Baptist “Church” here) homosexuality and gender identity issues are chief among sins. They will be what will ultimately bring down the country, the world, and bring about the return of Christ to wreak vengeance on a gay-loving world. Or something like that. I can only speak for myself, but as a believer, I don’t really believe that. I don’t because it isn’t biblical. Sin is sin, and it’s all black against the purity of Jesus. I do not believe that being gay is any worse than anyone else’s sin. I’ve struggled with lust and addiction my whole life, and each of those in its own right is just…bad when you hold it up against one who never sinned at all.

And.

People talk about the gay “agenda,” and while there may be some gay men or women who seem to have a fondness (and no small amount of skill) for springing legal or legislative booby traps on unsuspecting business owners who also have strong ideals about faith and biblical principle, it does not mean they are trying to turn the world gay. They aren’t drinking the blood of hetero people and making more fabulous blood suckers. No. And I believe that is where the problem lies for so many believers.

We aren’t doing it right.

Often, the approach of my Christian brothers and sisters toward gay people—both at gay events and in other forums, such as online, in newspapers, magazines, etc.—is to let those men and women know in no uncertain terms what fate awaits them should they choose not to change their evil ways and repent. Seldom–if ever–mentioned is the true message of Christ. He loves them, just as much as he loves me. He died and rose for them, too.

We are supposed to love in the same way. Love God, and love others. By this all will know we are his disciples. If we love.

Love God, and love others as you would love yourself.

The problem that I have now—and have for many years—is that approach taken by so many standard-bearers for Christ sounds nothing like Jesus to me. Jesus didn’t tell his followers to condemn. He told them to go and make disciples of all nations. He told them to love their neighbors. That doesn’t mean love their sin. It doesn’t mean approve of it. But it also doesn’t mean justify your own by holding it up against something you find offensive. Hold it up against Christ if you need perspective.

It just seems to me that spewing vitriol at people does not let them know a loving God exists, a God who is in the business of deliverance. Not to mention that if I ignore the plank in my own eye, I am also sinning before God.

Let me backtrack a bit—all the way back to the very early 1980s.

My first encounter with a gay person was in the 8th grade, shortly before I moved up to high school. I wrote about that day a while back here. For those of you younger folks, homosexuality wasn’t something much talked about then. It was a different time, in almost every way. For my part, and also for many of the kids I hung out with, the word “fag” was tossed around almost haphazardly, without any concern for what it meant (many of us didn’t have anything but a rudimentary understanding of what homosexuality was, or how it was practiced. I include myself in that number).

We just said it, and it was almost a…good natured insult. Never considered was the fact that it could have been hurtful to anyone. It was just something we said. A lot.

I still regret what happened that night in my friend’s backyard, and I probably always will, to an extent. I’ve asked God’s forgiveness for my part in it, and I wish I could find the young man we hurt and ask for his, but that is not to be. Believe me, I spent a considerable amount of time looking.

So what has happened since then is that I have come into contact with a great many gay men and women at various jobs, and at the junior college I attended back in the 1990’s. With each encounter—and with each friendship developed—I began to notice something.

Each one of these men and women were people just like I was. They ate, and slept, and got dressed, and showered, and pooped. The only difference I saw was that they were drawn to people of the same sex and I was not.

We have a lot of untruth we learn throughout our lives we desperately need to unlearn. It’s the same for the gay community. They’ve got a lot to learn about Jesus, and Christianity, and Christians.

The gay people I have known over the course of my life were all involved in monogamous relationships at the time I knew them. They loved the people they were with, and in many cases had been committed to them alone for long periods of time. I worked with one lesbian couple that had been together for decades—almost as long as my parents were before they died.

Another thing to consider is the tendency of many gay people (not to mention the unquestionably liberally-minded media) to single out Christians, conservatives, and the “religious right” as chief amongst their oppressors, in a world that otherwise loves and supports the LGBTQ lifestyle and practices. The truth is, in many parts of the world (including the parts practicing Islam and Orthodox Judaism) homosexuality is condemned in stronger words than most Christians use, and gay marriage isn’t mentioned at all. That typically is not discussed, though.

It would prove that it isn’t just straight, white, followers of Christ who feel that to conform to the status quo, politically correct idea of modern normality is to compromise what they believe.

No one should have to do that.

Recently, the terrorist group ISIS (or ISIL) has began throwing gay men (and those they suspect of being gay) from rooftops in Iraq. Then they post merry, see-what-you-get posts on social media, playing up their contributions to keeping Islam true. They’re murderers, plain and simple.

It’s a little more complicated than that, though. This is certainly a multi-faceted issue.

For example, another thing I do disagree with is the tendency of late for LGBT people to liken their quest for what they call “marriage equality” to that of the struggle African-Americans faced during the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s. Yes, they are fighting for what they deem a right they are being denied, but of the states who are denying LGBT men and women the right to use the word “marriage” to describe their unions, I would submit that many—if not most—of them are doing so based on the definition they have to work with on what marriage is—which for a great many conservatives and those on the religious “right” means the union of a man and a woman. While that is how I would personally define the word as well, I would do so while taking the following into consideration.

What has changed in my heart over the years (and this is way before I became a believer) was that I no longer cared about whether or not these people wanted to do the same things I did with the people they were involved with. It occurred to me it was none of my business. It still isn’t, and I still don’t care. I wouldn’t want them to try and peek into my bedroom, either (if it was up to me, I would always keep the light off—bald headed and middle aged white dudes carrying a little extra in the midsection are not exactly Da Vinci sculptures).

I’ve dealt with and related to gay men and women on a personal level, based on how they treated me and others and not who they slept with (or didn’t). It worked out pretty well, and I made a couple of good friends over the years.

One of the things that gave me the most food for thought was seeing the Larry Kramer play The Normal Heart back in the early 1990’s. It was a college production at SDSU and I remember they had this display set up in the lobby with cast pictures, pictures of the author, and I think sections of the AIDS quilt. This was around the time of the first season of MTV’s The Real World, which featured a gay cast member (yes, I watched the show). He was supposed to appear and speak at the play, but he died of AIDS shortly before it opened.

Anyway, the play got me thinking of gay people a little differently, at least regarding the way they were sometimes treated back in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. They didn’t have many rights regarding their partners–certainly nowhere near those rights afforded straight couples. And nobody seemed willing to acknowledge AIDS with the seriousness it merited, nor recognize how widespread it actually was. It didn’t seem that fair to me, even then. Yet it was what it was, and I had no intention of becoming any sort of activist. It wasn’t my issue. Still isn’t.

But.

When I came to belief in 2000, I was in a place in life where I didn’t work with or know anyone who was gay (that I knew of, anyway). I began to grow and deepen my faith, and it was so interesting to see that the Jesus I came to know through scripture and discipling was not the same one I’d heard about over the course of my life before knowing him.

In the course of time, I became somewhat involved with a young woman I worked with, and we began to spend time together with a group of friends of hers—most of whom were gay men.

I did not make a secret of my faith, and they respected it. I treated them just like I did everyone else, and I began to notice something the more time I spent with them. The gay community—at least to the extent of my involvement and casual friendships with these men—was way more of a community than the straight people I’d hung out with prior to that. They supported each other unconditionally, and seemed less interested in judging themselves and others than they did in simply living their lives. I got a little tired of the music these particular gentlemen favored (for pity’s sake, there’s only so much Missy Elliot a person can listen to), they were mostly really good and really friendly guys who liked to do different things than me.

I didn’t preach to them, and they didn’t try to convert me. I was more than willing to talk about any aspect of my faith they wanted to hear about, but I did not shove hell down their throats, either. I just tried to love them the way they were, to the best of my ability—even if I didn’t understand their lifestyle—It just didn’t seem to fit with the way we were made. But I could let that slide, for the most part. They didn’t share details of what they were doing in their relationships, and neither did I. So we had a mostly very friendly relationship, each of us understanding we were different, and that—for the most part—was OK. And the truth is, this particular group of gentlemen was a lot of fun to hang out with. If I had a dollar for every time I told someone “I’m not gonna wear that,” I could probably pay off my house. But that’s neither here nor there.

One time in particular, one of them told me, “It means a lot that you’re here. I don’t think anybody’s used to that with people like you.” I assumed he meant straight people at first, but then I realized he meant Christians.

I told him that I just loved God, and that scripture says I’m supposed to love people, too. They were gay, but they were no less people than I was. He smiled and gave me a hug.

Eventually, though, things began to change a little bit, and I started to struggle with some of the things I saw. It culminated in an evening where the young woman I was involved with and I were at a party where we were the only straight people, and things started happening around us. Very quickly, it started making me feel really uncomfortable, and I told the girl that I wanted to leave. It got to a point where I could no longer balance what I believed versus what these men did—mostly because I was being confronted with it in a way that got me a little weirded out, to tell the truth. Although it’s also worth a mention that extreme PDA from straight couples does the same thing for me.

I think it would be better if folks kept that stuff to themselves. Nobody needs to see you demonstrating your affection for your significant “other.” Seriously.

That evening’s adventures certainly weren’t in the privacy of anyone’s bedroom, so I no longer had the luxury of not being involved. My…whatever she was didn’t feel the way I did. That was the night we decided to “take a break,” which we never recovered from. There have been times when I wondered what would have happened if things hadn’t gotten so crazy that night. Would God have convicted me in some other way? I don’t know. And with things being as they are now, I can’t imagine wanting to change anything or go back. Yes, it ended up being a painful end to my relationship. Perhaps that was what it took to refine my heart.

In any case, after the party that night, I didn’t spend much more time with the group of guys, as I didn’t spend much more time with the girl—not any more, actually, outside of work.

It was five years later before I was involved with anyone else, and that was with the woman who would later become my wife. As we grew into our relationship—and later our marriage—it was around the time all the gay marriage propositions were going through the process of becoming law (or not). “Marriage Equality,” and all that.

I hadn’t thought much about the fact that gay people couldn’t (or could) be married over the course of my life prior to that time period (not since viewing The Normal Heart, at least), so it was interesting to see all of the various things on the news, including the Chik-Fil-A controversy of couple years ago.

It was interesting—and I felt a little conflicted inside—because while so many of my fellow Christians were up in arms about the potential legalization of gay marriage, I just…wasn’t. I didn’t see the point of marching on Washington or anywhere else. It wasn’t going to convince anyone of anything—it just made the people involved look bad.

I knew what the Bible had to say about homosexuality, and I agreed with it. But I also did not have a troubled heart about any of those people who wanted to get married. It didn’t matter to me what these folks wanted to do in the privacy of their own homes, and it seemed fair enough that they should be able to marry, if it made it easier regarding insurance and benefits, etc. I never felt that if they were able to marry it would threaten the sanctity of my own marriage. How could it? How could two men or two women marrying each other make my own union any less holy in the sight of God?

What did occur to me, though, was to wonder if all these people who complained, and protested, and cried out about how gay marriage was a danger to the family felt the same about divorce? Why is it we never see news stories about millions of people marching to protest how common arbitrarily ending a marriage has become? God is also very clear how he feels about divorce–perhaps even more clear than about gay marriage—which I never found a specific reference to. And while all these people were spouting off about how a word is defined, it occurred to me to wonder about how a marriage is defined? What does it mean to these people?

Certainly, I am not trying to say that divorce is never the right course of action, because sometimes it is the only course of action. It’s just that people are often so…fickle about it. The statistic you hear all the time about 50% of marriages ending in divorce? I believe it. Why wouldn’t it be true? It seems that few people understand what a covenant is these days. To me it suggests a sacred promise, and the rings my wife and I exchanged are a symbol of that promise. In short, I got married to her because I wanted to, because I knew I didn’t want anyone else, ever.

And on Valentine’s day a couple of years ago—I think I realized what marriage really was. It’s spending the night before Valentine’s Day in the ER with your husband, while he yells and pounds chairs and walls in his pain.

It’s spending the day itself in a chair next to his bed, and praying for him. It’s holding his hand and making him think of other things.

It’s sleeping (sort of) sitting up rather than going home, even for a little while.

It’s devotion to the person with whom you made the covenant, and that is what my wife showed me those two days. It made me love her all the more, if such a thing is even possible.

So to recap.

While I understand the biblical reasoning behind the stance so many take on whether or not homosexuals should be able to marry (based on the “biblical” definition of what marriage means), the conflict I feel comes from feeling like if people are devoted to one another, and are willing to make a covenant saying they are going to mean it for the rest of their lives, it’s hard for me not to want to just let them. Even if I don’t agree with or practice the same lifestyle they do.

Also, a while back, my adopted state of Arizona has passed (and sent to the governor–who vetoed the legislation) SB1062, a law that in essence allows people who refuse service to someone a defense (‘deeply held’ religious beliefs) in the event they are sued for discrimination or something of that nature. Of course, while legal recourse may ostensibly be what the law is about, the unspoken subtext is that it would also give others what they feel is license to treat gay people and their potential business in an unfair and discriminatory manner.

I believe that is it, in a nutshell. It is also what has millions of gays and pro-gays in such an uproar once again. They’re crying foul, and likening the legislation to the old Jim Crow laws from decades ago. While that may be a much lengthier discussion for another time, it does seem to me that while the “Jim Crow” battle cry is closer to pro-gay hyperbole than anything else. There is, however, a great deal of potential for discriminatory ugliness with this law, because people are people, and prone to do bad things with ambiguously worded legislation such as this.

With all that in mind, I think perhaps it is not just what some Christian folks are saying, but how they’re saying it. The arguments are the same, and probably always will be. Scripture decrying homosexuality is referenced, and gays along with supporters throw up scripture they feel counters their Christian counterpart’s efforts in the same regard. It gets uglier all the time, and nowhere on either side of the discussion is the real message of Jesus referenced.

It seems like this to me: if the bible is true, and it tells us that God is love and that all people will know we are the disciples of Christ if we love one another, then how are we showing the people who do not know his love the face of Jesus by so often treating them with open hostility? Same for gay “Christians” who do understand how people can still interpret the bible literally, and who seem to be all for prosecuting people defying their own deeply held beliefs.

There is definitely more than one side to this coin. How does feeding gay people fettucini alfredo or making a wedding cake for them make you a participant in whatever sin you feel they’re committing? I mean, I get it, but I don’t agree.

The problem is the wording and the design of the legislation, and I wonder sometimes if that was an intentional, CYA move on the part of the legislators. If so, we have to think about how this legislation is like (or could be like)…giving people already inclined to do so the right to treat others shabbily. There may be a place for some similar type of legislation, but this particular law is not going to go over well, not with the social climate surrounding this issue what it has become.

For my part, I can’t do it anymore.

I can’t treat people that way, and I never really could. Maybe some of it is my California-ness regarding gay people carrying over into my life in Arizona, but it’s really more about not wanting to feel like I’m any better than anyone else because my sin is different. I am not better than anyone else. I am the same. In my dotage, I’ve found it so much easier to treat people kindly. I would rather make them their food or a cake or floral arrangements, and then tell them God loves them and died for them, then let Him do the convicting.

I want people to know the Jesus I do. Whether they’re gay or straight or…whatever, I want them to know him, and know how he feels for them and what he did. I do not now—nor have I ever—felt my marriage (or any marriage) could be threatened in any way by who else can get married.

I wonder, though, how many gay men or women are known by the folks protesting gay marriage?

I also wonder how many Christians are known by gay, bisexual, or gender conflicted men and women?

If we don’t know each other, how can we expect anything to change in either direction?

Jesus talked to people. Walked with people. Ate with them. Probably fished with them, and laughed and drank and danced. I believe that in the end, the Eternal Kingdom will not be filled courtesy of those who spoke out against the things God hates the loudest—those who shouted condemnation from every rooftop. I think souls will quietly slip in thanks to the people who have shown them the most love, who have shown them Jesus.

To that end, because I am loved, I will try to be loving. I will choose to show people the Jesus I know by telling them about what he’s done in my life. I will tell them about how I am incomplete, and wounded, and broken, and still sin, but am loved in spite of the things that queue up to keep me from Jesus. I will explain what scripture means to me as I understand it, and I will tell people what I think if they ask me. If I love Jesus like I say, I owe them the truth.

I just have no intention of shouting it at them, or telling them God hates them because of their sin. Brand me a heretic if you must, but I feel that if God hated people because of their sin, he would hate all of us equally. And he would not have redeemed us from anything.

You don’t die for people you hate.

And to see so many people caught up in the definition of a word and how it threatens them rather than simply getting to know people and telling them about Jesus just doesn’t make any sense to me. I can’t understand how telling people they’re damned for what they do in their bedrooms is going to show them the Jesus I know that has changed my life and could also change theirs.

To be clear, once again, I am aware of the mentions in the bible of homosexuality, and that it is addressed as sin—just not by Jesus. While it is true that God hates sin, it would be errant—once again—to imply that he hates homosexuality more than any other type of sin. And that he hates homosexuals more than anyone else. Sin is sin. If God hated homosexuals, he would also hate every other type of sinner, and probably all Christians. The bible doesn’t say any of that.

Homosexuality is not something I indulge in, and whether or not I “approve” of it does not really even matter. I think the bible makes it clear what God thinks of homosexuality and what it entails, and I acknowledge the punishment for it is the same as any other sin—all other sin. Omission of mention by Jesus is not the same as approval. While Jesus himself may not mention homosexuality specifically, he did come in fulfillment of Old Testament Law, and prophecy, not to nullify it. I think where we go awry is when we start classifying sins, and justify ours as less terrible than homosexuality.

It isn’t.

No one is righteous, no not one. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9)

Certainly not me.

We’re all different, but we are also all the same. We need God.

We need Jesus if we are to be freed from our chains and our sins. God knows it, and Christians do, too. Yet if we can condemn someone else for what they’re doing, then we don’t have to think as much about what we’re doing. All of which means that we can take comfort in our own perceived righteousness, while we decry the unrighteousness of gay men and women as if it were anything different than sins that we have committed, now, and throughout history.

Take a look at Matthew 5: 27-28. Go ahead. Read it and come back. Still here? Good. Let me repeat what I said before. Sin is sin. No one is righteous, no not one. How can I justify condemning a gay person with my own words, while justifying my own actions as a lesser sin. To God, they are the same. The punishment is the same.

Let’s talk about those Old Testament laws for a few minutes. You know the ones. Many people will talk about how scripture also mentions other things as being sinful that people don’t seem to care about anymore, like eating shrimp and other sea creatures for one example (take your pick, there are many others). They will tell you that those old laws—like the ones that condemn homosexuality as well as other sexual sins—do not matter or apply anymore, because the world is a different place. That’s partly true, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Those laws again, from the Old Testament. Taken specifically, there are three different types.

Laws pertaining just to the (ancient) state of Israel. They are pretty specific.

Also for consideration are ceremonial laws (many pertaining to sacrifice, and diet, and things of that nature), which were superseded by the New Covenant, fulfilled in the person of Christ.

Lastly, moral laws. It is only the moral laws of the Old Testament which remain and are held as truths by most Christians based on the validity of the Ten Commandments. I won’t go into every piece of scripture here, but at least to address the dietary laws and some of the other laws that seem to apply mainly to those of the Jewish faith rather than Christians: take a look at Mark 7:19, Acts 15: 5-29, etc.

Of course, if one does not hold the Bible as truth, then this would make little sense. And there’s the rub.

Then Jesus enters the picture, and everything changes.

As believers, we are called to share him and his truth with people. So while the biblical principles of the Old Testament make it clear how God feels about all different types of sin, there is hope, and in a world that seems to have so little, that is indeed something.

I posted a picture on Facebook not long ago I’d seen online of a group of Christians (mostly men) at a Gay Pride event, and they were holding signs and wearing shirts that said “I’m sorry.” They were apologizing to gay people for the treatment they’d received at the hands of standard bearers for Jesus. In the picture I posted, a gay man in great physical condition wearing tighty-whiteys gripped one of the shirt-wearers in what looked to be a very emotional bear-hug.

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I thought it was a great picture and that it was a great way to actually show Jesus to people who needed to know him instead of just telling them they were on the Bullet Train to hell.

I got a bit of an ass-chewing from a couple of people to the effect that treating gay people as if their lifestyle was OK was the same as personally condoning and supporting it, and that wasn’t right—as if because I was a Christian, I should tell them they were going to hell. Never mind all that “love your neighbor” stuff. I want to tell people about Jesus, and I will tell them about sin. I just feel the right thing to do is let them know they are loved first.

I can’t convict someone of any sin, and I wouldn’t want to if I could. Jesus does that. And it isn’t my function, as a believer, to punish people for sin. Let him without sin cast the first stone?

That ain’t me, man—I’m a mess.

I’d rather tell someone I’m sorry, then hug them and tell them Jesus loves them.

I will leave the condemning up to God.

And if by some chance I came across the former Bruce Jenner or anyone else like him, I would do my best to simply say hello, and wish them a good day, just like I would if I met you.