Saturday, July 5, 2008

Complete Joy

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

                                   John 15.10-12

Wasted Gifts

Why do we cling to tragic sagas of self-destructive stars like Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Billie Holiday, and Kurt Cobain? Certainly there’s nothing inspiring or uplifting in their tales of woe. Most of their lives start with their victimization as children and end with them victimizing themselves. Maybe we’re compelled by such awful examples of waste and sorrow because we identify with their weaknesses. We think, “If it could happen to them, it could happen to me.”  Perhaps they remind us to be grateful for our blessings and cherish what we have with care and caution.

Our Joy

As followers of Jesus, we’ve been given complete joy. It’s instilled in us.  It permeates our beings. It radiates through us to infect everything and everyone around us. Joy isn’t something believers feel.  It’s what we do.  It’s complete, self-contained and unaffected by outside influences.  When we allow self and situations to interfere with our joy, we throw our gift away.  We stop following Christ, our role model, and start emulating pitifully self-destructive stars.  Hebrews tells us that at His lowest moment, Jesus persevered through joy:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12.2)

We endure our trials by practicing joy.  But how do we receive this joy?  We remain—or rest—in Christ.  How do we do that?  We obey His command to love one another as He loves us.

The Love Connection

Love and joy are inextricably linked.  This seems plain enough when we love those who love us.  Joy flourishes.  But it’s no less true when we love those who don’t love us—who despise us, fear us, exclude us, and try to destroy us. True believers give love and joy the same way—unconditionally, freely, and gladly.  Should we decide to withhold love from anyone, we cheat ourselves out of joy.

What we do with the joy we’ve been given makes all the difference in how our story ends.  If we go through life as victims and puppets, we wind up like Judy and Marilyn and Kurt, wasting our gifts and canceling our future.  On the other hand, if we live with our eyes fixed on Jesus, practicing love and joy in the face of hatred and sorrow, our story ends as His did.  We rise.


This...                                Or this.

Personal Postscript: Joy Playlist 

For me, personally, music is one of the most powerful tools available to reinforce my joy and anchor it in my thoughts and spirit. I’ve built an iPod playlist of songs—gospel and secular—that encourage me to practice joy. I share it here for anyone who may be looking for some new or overlooked tunes to feed their joy. Of course, I invite one and all to add their favorites to the list.

  1. Center of My Joy – The Richard Smallwood Singers
  2. All Because of You – U2
  3. You Brought the Sunshine – The Clark Sisters
  4. So Glad – Amy Grant
  5. Unspeakable Joy – Douglas Miller
  6. Special Gift – Donnie McClurkin
  7. My Joy – Leela James
  8. Hallelujah Anyhow – Thomas Whitfield
  9. Joy – Walter Hawkins and The Love Center Choir
  10. Why We Sing – Kirk Franklin
  11. Be Happy – Mary J. Blige
  12. Joyful, Joyful – Kristin Chenoweth
  13. This Joy – Yolanda Adams
  14. Joy to the World – Whitney Houston
  15. Joy Will Come – Calvin Bernard Rhone
  16. Let the Joy Rise – Abigail
  17. Jesus Is All – Fred Hammond & Radical for Christ


Friday, July 4, 2008

Nothing to Lose

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

                                                            John 8.36


In “Me and Bobby McGee” Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  When the record was released in 1971, the lyric caught the cynicism and despair of a nation violently conflicted about freedom.  Nearly every minority declared its freedom from the straight white male establishment.  Without equal protection under the law, these groups had nothing to lose.  In a sense, that made them free to begin with.  What they really wanted, then, was the right to express and exercise their freedom.

Personality and Being

When we come to Christ, we likewise have nothing to lose.  Everything we accumulate over the years—attitudes, values, habits, learning, and ambitions—is useless to Him. They’re behaviors and knowledge we acquire as survival strategies. They’re the stuff of personality, the image we sculpt to please others and us. 

In contrast, who we are—our being—is solely comprised of what we brought with us into the world: gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.  This is what God made and intended us to be for His pleasure. They’re permanently placed in us to reflect the image and likeness of the eternal God.  We follow Jesus to cast off the flawed armor of personality and fulfill our beings’ potential to express God’s perfection.

Hebrews counsels us to shed our personality instincts and follow Christ.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  (Hebrews 12.1)

All those personal aspects we think are essential to our survival hinder us.  They burden us with fear, doubt, and self-reliance, none of which fits a life governed by love, faith, and obedience to God. 

Let It Go

It all has to go, including anxieties about anyone’s approval.  On this, Jesus could not have been more candid:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.  (Luke 14.26)

We can’t follow Him if we insist on dragging along our personality-driven desire to please everybody else.  Not everybody will be happy about or agree with our commitment to Christ.  Sometimes our greatest opposition will arise from those closest to us. These people should always remain important to us, but their viewpoints and pleasing them should not.  As followers of Jesus, only what He says counts and His pleasure with us is all that matters.

With nothing to lose, we have everything to gain, including the right to express our freedom in Christ.  That’s why Jesus demands our total commitment from the start.  When we let go of everything we rely on, we can focus all of our energy on perfecting our resemblance to our Creator.  Christ sacrificed His life to purchase our freedom.  The instant we realize what this really means, we’ll indeed be free.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Fear Inside

There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4.18

Why They’re Afraid

Rather than concentrate on grievously wrong actions and attitudes toward us, we can identify (and identify with) the reasons behind them.  Why do people, particularly fellow Christians, say and do things that wound us? In a nutshell, they’re afraid—afraid of us, afraid of change, but mostly afraid of embracing what they sincerely think God hates. They believe accepting gay believers will end in their punishment as well as ours.

We certainly understand fear of punishment.  Once we discovered we were “different,” how many of us trembled at the thought that we were doomed to Hell?  We know how scary it is to feel threatened by someone not like us.  We know why straight believers want to shut out anyone whose basic drives and nature they can’t fully understand. We do it, too.

The Perfect Choice

In Matthew 5.48, Jesus tells us, “Be perfect, even as your Father is perfect.” Perfection starts with perfect love, and perfect love starts with expelling fear.  When we love our straight brothers and sisters as we love ourselves, we have nothing to fear.  What’s more, as Paul told the Corinthians, “Love never fails.”  It never fails, because it compels us to look through our adversaries’ veneer of hate, prejudice, and self-righteousness to find the fear inside.

In dealing with intolerant believers, we have two options.  We can look at personalities created by fear. Or we can see beings created by God. We can despise the people they’ve become. Or we can love them for who they were meant to be. The perfect choice seems more than obvious.

Ignore the signs they make and find the beings God made.  See their hidden fear, understand them, and love them as yourself.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Who Do You Love?

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 

                                   Matthew 5.44, 46

Hypocrites vs. Heretics

The more we’re convinced God accepts us, the more we tend to judge those just as equally convinced He doesn’t. We see Christians who malign same-sex orientation as hypocrites. From their angle, our conviction that God created us to be who we are makes us heretics. With both sides so deeply entrenched, many of us resign ourselves to the mean idea that nothing can be done to reconcile the situation. This isn’t true and both sides know it. 

Breaking Through

There’s only one way to break through this impasse. Winning debates and condemning one another won’t do it.  Only love—true, compassionate, empathetic, and selfless love—will end this foolishness.  Until that occurs, neither side has any business claiming to follow Jesus and please God.

How often have we said we want nothing to do with Christians who aren’t “gay-friendly”? It’s an easy out for us, though.  It shoves the responsibility on our adversaries and engulfs us in a halo of victimization.  But it costs nothing to love people like us or, for that matter, people who like people like us. As Jesus told His followers, it’s so easy that everybody does it. He called us to do more than that. He told us to love our enemies.


Absolutely, we must reject rejection from any sect, leader, or believer. Nonetheless Jesus commands us to accept those who reject us.  “Love them,” He says. “Pray for them.” And we love them exactly as He instructed—as we love ourselves.  We need to see and understand them as we wish to be seen and understood: as beings created in God’s image, earnestly seeking to please their Maker. 

It’s in our power and our duty to become straight-friendly. What’s more, it makes sense. Loving our enemies may not change them. But it will change us by shifting the focus from us to them.  

It’s not about who doesn’t love you.  Who do you love?   

Web Sighting: Gay Christian Forums

GLBT Christians, other alienated believers, and their supportive brothers and sisters in Christ are everywhere. Indeed, because so many of us tend to hold our faith privately, it's probable we know others like us--without knowing we share a common faith and desire to follow Christ. The Web is steadily changing that, however. Almost daily, sites are popping up to provide common ground where we can discuss our belief, encourage each other, disclose our struggles, and ask questions.

Over the weekend, I discovered, a relatively new site that describes itself as "a safe place for gay Christians (and others) to discuss relevant issues."  It's superbly organized to cover a broad range of categories that include daily Christian life (e.g., Prayer Requests and Praise Reports), welcoming churches, pop culture, theology, sexuality, and social/emotional issues (family, substance abuse, etc.).

The administrator, "Pastor X," is a gay minister who has not yet come out to his congregation (hence the "X"). He's praying and waiting on direction regarding when that will happen, after which he'll oversee the forum with his real name.  We should uphold him in prayer about this, too, asking God to guide him safely and successfully. 

In the mean time, we can benefit from his care and compassion for the gay Christian community at large. If you're looking for an "online fellowship" to interact with, GCF very well might be what you need. It's very small right now and in its infancy (not even three months old), but I have every reason to believe that over time it will grow into a sizable community of faith. 

Take a moment to visit Gay Christian Forums and if it appeals to you--or offers what you need--by all means participate

In his epistle, Jude wrote: "But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life." (Jude 20-21) GCF and similar sites--which I plan to highlight from time to time--provide an excellent place to build each other up. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Coming Out/Going In

I know your deeds.  See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Revelation 3.8

The Philadelphia Story

The biggest lie that burdens gay believers is this: when we come out of our closets of shame and self-denial, God closes the door to His mercy and acceptance. Nothing in His Word supports this, however. In Revelation we find proof that God welcomes believers whom others criticize and makes a way for them.

The Revelation was originally given to warn seven churches of coming judgment. They varied greatly in how well they followed Jesus, with the Philadelphia congregation topping the list. While it wasn’t the strongest, it did a fine job of sticking to the basics, protecting itself from outside opinions and ideas. It also apparently suffered criticism as a result. Nonetheless, its faithfulness pleased God. “Though you’re not very strong,” He said, “you stayed true to My Word and My Name.”

How many of us find our reflection in the Philadelphians?  We’ve answered the call to follow Jesus. Yet we routinely face adversity and alienation from other Christians. Battered by their rejection, exhausted by the conflict, we’re weak, often too demoralized to handle another door slammed in our faces.

God’s Solution

So what does God do for us?  He ensures access to Him through a door no man can close. Then He seals the deal with an extraordinary promise.  For those who oppose or reject us, God says, “I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”  (Revelation 3.9b)

When someone tells us if we come out of our closets we can’t get into God’s kingdom, they’re really saying they don’t want us to enter His kingdom.  Look past them and see the open door.  God granted you full right of entry.  So what are you waiting for?  Go right in.

There's no closing this one...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Use the Force

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. 

Luke 16.16

A New Order 

Jesus’s ministry officially started when His cousin, John, baptized Him. Coming out of the water, a voice from heaven declared, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3.17) Before this, the Old Testament was in effect. Christ's baptism, however, ushered in new rules and regulations. God Himself identified Jesus as His Son, the physical embodiment of the Law and the Prophets. Divine favor no longer depended on birthright and tradition. It was available to all, there for the taking.

In John 3.16, Jesus explained this New Order to Nicodemus, a religious leader:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

That "whoever” revoked all prior and future qualifications aside from faith in Christ.  “Whoever” means you.  “Whoever” means me.  Our place in the kingdom of God is assured, plain and simple.

Old Habits Die Hard…

Yet two thousand years later, we still find Christians clinging to the Law and the Prophets. As self-appointed Bouncers for God, they work hard to bar anyone not on their list from God’s grace and acceptance. Jesus knew this would be a problem.  This is why He told His followers that the New Order required believers to force their way into the kingdom of God. 

Don’t Wait

For those of us outside Christianity’s cultural norms, there’s no sense in hanging around like Cinderella, waiting for a miracle to sweep us through the kingdom’s gates. It’s not going to happen. We don’t need a miracle, a fairy godmother, an engraved invitation, or a sea change to access God’s acceptance. All we need are the desire and will to force our way into His kingdom.  As the old spiritual says, “There’s plenty good room in my Father’s kingdom. Choose your seat and sit down.” Use the force.


If all "Bouncers for God" looked like this, maybe more of us would be eager to force our way into the kingdom!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Take Heart!

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have 
peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  
I have overcome the world.
John 16.33

It's Not Easy
Being gay and following Christ is tough. Neither of them is easy to begin with. But when we elect to do both--to hold on to our God-given identities and pursue our calling as believers--we're asking for trouble. Our problems have nothing to do with God or us.  They rise from whose who refuse to believe (or seriously doubt) it's possible to follow Jesus and live an open, healthy, and active gay life.

Staring at all this trouble, we're tempted to forget the whole thing. But Jesus told us to expect trouble. Whether we like or not, if we deserve it or not, it's headed our way. It comes with the territory; it's part and parcel with living in the world.

Our Defender
Job said, "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble." (Job 14.1)  He should know. His faith cost him everything, including his family. He found himself in the miserable company of friends trying to convince him he was wrong to trust God's grace and mercy.  Yet Job couldn't be dissuaded.  In spite of all his troubles and everything he saw, he held fast to his faith.  He told the troublemakers around him, "I know my Redeemer [or, "Defender"] lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth." (Job 19.25)

As unorthodox, often ostracized believers, we need to follow Job's example: know what we know and leave it at that.  We don't need to defend ourselves, because our Defender lives.  He has overcome the world.  Instead of taking sides in pointless debates about who can or can't follow Christ, we should do as He says: take heart!

Personal Postscript: Stonewall

The Legacy of a Courageous Few
I purposefully launched this blog on the 39th anniversary weekend of the Stonewall Riots.  On June 28, 1969, I was a nine-year-old Pentecostal preacher's kid in Chicago.  That a handful of gay men--most of them non-white and drag queens--resisted the harassment of New York's Finest didn't register the slightest blip on my personal or family radar.  Not until several years later was I even aware of Stonewall and what it signified.  By the time I dealt with my sexuality and came out, the courageous defiance that Stonewall triggered made the world a much different, more secure place for young homosexuals like me.  Along with the world at large and every non-heterosexual in it, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Stonewall Inn's brave patrons, as well as those who joined the ranks early-on in the struggle for gay equality.

At first, the movement adopted the banner of "gay liberation," but it evolved over time into "gay pride"--rejecting the idea that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people should live in shadows of shame and fear.  I'm firmly convinced that GLBT people have no cause for shame.  Like every straight man and woman, we were created by God and, as His handiwork, have every reason to be proud.

Gay Pride and God Pride
But this leads to another question: Why haven't more openly gay believers come out of the faith closet?  Many of us sequester our belief from our sexuality, or vice versa.  Either we hide who we are from our straight brothers and sisters in Christ, or we hide our faith from our gay brothers and sisters in the community.  We go to churches--many of them devoutly anti-gay--where we identify as "single;" in secular situations--many of them devoutly anti-religious--we demurely claim to be "spiritual."

Why are so many of us so afraid to be openly gay and openly Christian at the same time?  If we really intend to follow Jesus, we should do what He says.  He has told us these things to give us peace.  He has overcome the world.  There's no reason to worry about what others think or say.  As believers, we need to ask ourselves: does my gay pride mean anything without God pride?

Stonewall, early hours of June 28, 1969; New York Times
article (6/29/69).