Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hatred Under Cover

Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs.

                        Proverbs 10.12

Stirring the Pot

We all know how it feels to be disliked without reason. Something about us rubs someone the wrong way and we find ourselves dealing with the fallout. Sometimes the unwarranted animosity is so overtly intense that others notice. We rush to explain we’ve done nothing to provoke it and often take the opportunity to appeal for sympathy or criticize the person who hates us.

But does that remedy the problem? Not likely. Instead, it stirs the pot even more and adds fuel to the fire. Proverbs says hatred causes dissension. That’s true for both sides of the equation: the hater and the hated. When we defend ourselves against hatred, we actually contribute to the chaos it creates. There’s a better way to handle things.

Wrap It Up

Exposing hatred won’t kill it. If anything, it shamelessly thrives in open light. The only means to defeat hatred is tightly wrapping it up with love. Love stifles hatred. It boxes it in, leaving it no room to grow. It frustrates its purposes and defuses its power. Rather than laying bare hatred’s sins and injuries, love covers them with forgiveness and healing.

Hatred is wrong. We can all accept that. But it's usually born of haters’ convictions they’re right. Occasions when we actually succeed in convincing haters to change their opinions are, to say the least, few and far between. On the other hand, if we answer their actions with love, two things happen: we find peace and we shield ourselves from useless pain.

Hatred is Heavy

We will never know the full story behind any hatred and vindictiveness aimed at us. But we can be sure fear is the primary cause and whatever about us triggers fear, it weighs heavily on the hater’s mind. In other words, it’s bigger than us. We view haters differently when we grasp this. They aren’t evil people who enjoy pouncing on innocent prey. They’re stumbling through life, terrified of being crushed by the heavy weight on their backs.

In Galatians 6.2, Paul tells us: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” And what is Christ’s law? Love your neighbor as yourself. When we love those who hate us, we help them shoulder their burdens just as we would like them to do for us. Instead of protecting ourselves from getting hurt, we embrace their pain. We carry their hatred, tightly undercover in a blanket of love.

Haters carry back-breaking burdens that love enables us to help them bear.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Country Club Religion

My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

                        Matthew 11:30

Not Our Kind, Dear

When the Los Angeles Country Club rejected Groucho Marx’s membership application, he was outraged. Regardless of his genius and popularity, being a Jew made him NOKD—snooty shorthand for “Not our kind, dear.” But, true to form, Groucho had the last laugh. When he later resigned from the Friar’s Club, instead of citing his real reasons, he shamed the LACC: “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me.”

It doesn’t take a psychology degree to realize that exclusion is the product of insecurity and fear. The world teems with organizations—from secret political societies to street gangs—founded on the principles of letting only “their kind” in and keeping all others out. It’s their way of recasting God’s world in their image and to their liking. His world is too threatening and unpredictable.

Admissions Requirements

This NOKD mentality isn’t confined to elitists and thugs. Unfortunately, it seeps into arenas of faith. Groups of believers teach God’s unconditional love. But compulsion to stick with their own kind goads them to devise their own conditions and admission requirements.

These standards—many backed by selective Biblical interpretation—don’t always reflect the unnaturally full, fearless way of life Jesus taught. Rather they reveal our natural limitations and anxieties based on what we see and do, not what we believe and expect. And to defend these fundamental flaws, their NOKD philosophy becomes “If you’re not like us, you can’t follow Jesus.”

Come As You Are

This doesn’t jibe with the Word, though. Christianity is not a club; it’s a process. It was designed for the NOKD crowd—sinners and outcasts seeking forgiveness and acceptance. It invites us to come as we are and it promises to help us reach our intended potential as beings created by God. In 2 Peter 3.9, we read:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise… He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Jesus died to open the door to people of every kind. He is patient with everyone. That’s why His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He lifted the unnecessary weight of exclusionary requirements and legal traditions. It’s not about getting in. It’s about going forward.


Christianity isn't a club; it's a process.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Show Up

Let the weakling say, “I am strong!”

                        Joel 3.10

The Valley of Decision

Times were tough for Israel. They’d been repeatedly attacked, taken hostage, and sold into slavery. Everything was stolen from them—including their identity and pride as a people. But they invested faith in something their adversaries didn’t know and it would only be a matter of time before their Maker called them to come together. They would reclaim their birthright. And He would restore their inheritance.

In natural terms, they were in no condition to reassert themselves. They were spread throughout the world. They had no means of self-defense. Their morale and confidence was sapped from decades of oppression. Yet through His prophet, Joel, God summoned them to assemble in the valley of decision. There He would display His power and prove His love for His people, whom the world despised and rejected.

His Battle—Not Ours

So what did Israel know that their enemies didn’t? Although God called them to rise up in arms, He would win the fight for them. He’d done it before, when a little guy named David bravely stood up to the overpowering giant, Goliath. Just before running to meet his opponent, David proclaimed:

All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands. (1 Samuel 17.47)

We know what happened next. Goliath and the multitude behind him didn’t know what hit him. But David had every confidence that God would triumph on his behalf.

Often our opposition is overwhelming. They outnumber us. They’re better armed and more firmly positioned. None of that matters because it’s not our battle to fight. All God asks is that we show up. When we do, He takes over from there.

We’re Everywhere--and Nowhere

Still, it takes enormous courage to do even that. Like Israel, we GLBT believers have experienced tough times. We’ve been ostracized and oppressed, denied of our identity, and stripped of our dignity. Often we feel powerless and abandoned. Like Israel, we’ve been isolated to the corners of the earth; we’re everywhere--and nowhere

Right now, God is calling us to come together. Our days of weakness are over. The moment comes to speak strength to our hearts and minds. It’s time we unite in prayer and determination for one another—and our adversaries. They’re looking to fight, but we’re looking to God. If we show up, He’ll show out.

Size doesn't matter when God fights for His people.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

                        John 10.27-28

Hearing and Believing

These words came in response to controversy. Earlier, Jesus told a crowd, “I am the good shepherd. My sheep know and follow me. And like a shepherd lays down his life for his herd, I lay down my life for them—only to take it up again.” Essentially, Jesus claimed to be the Christ. That upset the religious set. “He’s a possessed lunatic!” they said.

Later, at Hanukkah services, they pressed Jesus to say clarify His claim to be God’s Chosen One. “I told you so,” He answered, “but you didn’t believe. My sheep hear me and believe what I say.” Put another way, He said, “If you don’t believe, you can’t hear—and if you don’t hear, you can’t believe.” Paul explained this paradox in Romans 10.17:

Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

The Shepherd’s Voice

Jesus calls to us from His Word. In a world full of pointless opinions, gossip, arguments, and accusations—His message gets buried in the noise. But, unlike those who fill their ears with nonsense, if we listen closely, He comes in loudly and clearly above the racket.

We know His voice when we hear it. Like sheep, we depend on it for safety, nourishment, and growth. Isaiah said, “He tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.” (Isaiah 40.11) When we don’t listen for His voice, we risk straying from Him—not a good place to go.

Safe in His Arms

Jesus knows us individually. He knows our unique hungers, the dangers we face, and the temptations luring us from His fold. He calls to all of us with one voice. Yet He speaks with the specific comfort, acceptance, and assurance each of us needs to feel securely held close to His heart.

Our Shepherd laid down His life for us. Then He took it back to reclaim us safely in His arms. He didn’t pay this price to abandon some of us and keep others. If we hear His voice, we’re His. That’s all there is to it. Don’t listen to anyone disqualifying you to follow Christ. Hear Him say, “No one can snatch you from My hand.”


You may not look like other sheep. You may not act like them. They may be bigger and stronger than you. But the Good Shepherd loves you just the same. He holds you close to His heart. And nobody can pry you from His arms.

Postscript: Listening to His Voice Playlist

Here’s a potpourri of songs to remind us to tune everything else out and listen closely for our Shepherd’s voice.

  1. We Need to Hear from You - Andrae Crouch
  2. When You Speak to Me - Twila Paris
  3. Speak to Me - Kirk Franklin
  4. Who Are You Listening To? - Ginny Owens
  5. I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say - The Edwin Hawkins Singers
  6. I Can Hear Your Voice - Michael W. Smith
  7. Somewhere Listening - Soul Seekers
  8. Speak to My Heart - Donnie McClurkin
  9. Listen - Steve Green
  10. I Will Follow Your Voice - downhere
  11. Open My Heart - Yolanda Adams
  12. Listen - Trin-i-tee 5:7
  13. Speak to Me - Geoff Moore
  14. Word of God Speak - Kristen Chenowith
  15. Glad I Heard Your Voice - Sandra Crouch


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Stormy Weather

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

                        Mark 4.41

Silly Worries

Yesterday morning I left my parents’ home in Florida to fly to San Francisco through Dallas. I awoke to an ominous downpour. Already, the prospects looked dim for easy travel. Then a TV meteorologist predicted rainstorms across the South, including Texas. I braced myself for a long day of delays, missed connections, and high anxiety.

Our family doesn’t travel before asking for God’s protection and mercy. After my father prayed, he said ever so calmly, “Don’t worry. The weather will be fine.” It was. En route, I thought about how silly I was to fear what I saw and how wise my father was to trust what he didn’t see. I wasted time worrying about things I couldn’t fix. It took him a minute to release the problem to God’s control.

Travelers’ Assurance

In Mark 4, we find a similar situation. After preaching to a huge gathering beside a lake, Jesus and His disciples sailed to the other side. A squall erupted, endangering their lives. The disciples panicked and rushed to awaken Jesus, Who, no doubt exhausted from teaching the crowd, slept through the storm. He commanded the storm to be still. It immediately lifted. Then He asked the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4.40)

Here was His point: with Christ, our security is guaranteed. There’s nothing to fear. We’ll land safely, alive, and intact no matter how turbulent our situation becomes. It’s not wrong to read slight annoyance with the disciples into Jesus's question. Waking Him to intervene was unnecessary. He was right there with them in the storm. That was all the assurance they needed.

The Unnatural Response

It’s natural to fear uncontrollable conditions and look for signs of looming danger. When troubles rise, it’s natural to ask God to correct our situation. And He will, just as Jesus did. As people of faith, though, we should choose the unnatural response. We should reject fear and ignore circumstances, being confident we’re safe and secure because God travels beside us.

Jesus never promised us smooth sailing. We’ll be tossed and battered by criticism, hostility, rejection, and threats of every kind. Following the disciples’ pitiful example, we can run to Christ for help. But before we do, we should note how their story ended. They failed the test and were still terrified. On the other hand, we can exhibit courage and know God is there to ensure we will survive any turmoil. He doesn’t need our storms to prove His power. But we most definitely need them to prove our faith.  

Don't look at the storm; know God is with you in the middle of it.

 Personal Note: Unanticipated Delays

My travels over the past couple weeks have seriously infringed on my ability to keep up with the daily posts here. I apologize for falling behind and am attempting to catch up by backdating the entries I’ve drafted for each day, yet haven’t had sufficient time to edit, etc. Please be patient with me as I do my best to get Straight-Friendly back up to speed.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Take It Back!

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.

                        John 10.10

The Moment of Truth

As children, adults ask us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Typically, this question is posed for their amusement; few things are more delightful than hearing a four-year-old say, “I’m going to be an astronaut (or firefighter, ballet dancer, football player, teacher, etc.)” The issue picks up gravity, however, as we age and reality kicks in. Even those of us who realize our childhood ambitions start to wonder what we’re doing, what we’ve done, or what we’ll do with our lives.

This is not the lighthearted question we answered so blithely as children. It asks us to assess what we can accomplish with what we’ve been given. It pushes us out of the pearly glow of naïve dreams, into the harsh light of reckoning with our capabilities and circumstances. In this moment of truth, we have two options. We can either make excuses for our shortcomings or recommit to living our lives at their full capacity.

Reclaiming Our Full Potential

So what’s our real potential? Knowing that begins with recognizing we live in a sinful world. Jesus described its governing spirit as a thief. It steals our focus. It kills our hopes. It destroys our confidence. It depletes us on every level—morally, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. It does its best to rob every asset and talent God invested in us, replacing it with negativity and doubt.

We need to take back what’s been stolen from us. There’s no profit in blaming or complaining about those who’ve chiseled away at our possibilities. What’s done is done. It’s up to us to muster the courage to reclaim our full potential: our sense of pride and significance as God’s creation. He made us exactly as He did and gave us all we have to be everything He wants us to be.

Christ’s Purpose

Our restoration was Jesus’s primary purpose. He ushered a new spirit into the world—a life of love, tolerance, and faith that enables us to defeat the thieving, destructive mentalities around us. It’s not through confrontation that we win, though. We triumph by living to the fullest.

In Philippians 4.13, Paul says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” With Christ on our side, we’re strong and mighty. Once we regain what we’ve lost, it’s completely within our power to prevent its ever being stolen again. It’s time to take it all back and do everything we can with it.

Postscript: “She Was Robbed!”

A news story last year garnered international coverage as one of those who-would-even-think-of-such-a-thing items that we find so compelling. It also offers a perfect modern-day parable of the malicious, thieving spirit at work in our world.

Tacoma woman's house emptied after craigslist hoax

The Associated Press

TACOMA — Many people have had success buying, selling and swapping goods on the Web site craigslist, but one Tacoma woman says she was robbed.

Laurie Raye said she had everything stripped from her home after someone placed a fake ad on the San Francisco-based Internet site, a collection of online classifieds.

"The instigator who published this ad invited the public to come in and vandalize me," Raye told Seattle television station KING.

Raye had recently evicted a tenant and cleaned out the rental.

The ad posted last weekend welcomed people to take for free anything they wanted from the home. It has since been pulled from the site, but not before the residence was stripped of light fixtures, the hot water heater and the kitchen sink.

Neighbors said they saw strangers hauling items away, apparently looking for salvage material.

Even the front door and a vinyl window were pilfered, Raye said.

"In the ad, it said come and take what you want. Everything is free," she said. "Please help yourself to anything on the property."

While this was certainly unusual in a lot of ways, it also reflects what happens regularly to all of us. The thief plants the notion we’re available to be stripped of our God-given identity, dignity, and assets. Gullible, self-serving people seize the opportunity to take as much from us as they want. And often, like Laurie Raye, we’re totally unaware that they’re cleaning us out.

In the craigslist case, the culprit turned out to be a disgruntled niece who devised the hoax in revenge after Ms. Raye evicted her mother. Knowing the perpetrator didn’t help her reclaim the property stolen by dozens of anonymous opportunists. It’s different with us. We know Christ and He gives us the strength to find what we’ve lost and take it back.

Laurie Raye's home after a horde of unwitting thieves ransacked it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Being Alive

Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

                         Psalm 100.2-3

Pause Before Entering

When we make church attendance a regular practice, it becomes very easy to grow accustomed to many aspects that make it such a vital, extraordinary experience. Unique things that drew us to our chosen house of worship—the unique environment, spirit, focus, and people that first impressed us—we now tend to overlook.

Before entering the sanctuary, however, it’s good to pause long enough to remember what’s inside—or, more specifically, who’s inside. We’re about to join the company of people who are glad they’re alive. That’s the common factor that unites us. We reserve this specific time to worship our Maker and express our joy for the life He’s given us. Beyond that, any differences between us are secondary. Frankly, they’re beside the point.


Once we stop to recognize life—and nothing else—brings us together, the church becomes a label-free zone. There are no male, female, straight, gay, black, white, brown, yellow, red, rich, poor, Catholic, Protestant, old, young, righteous, or sinful people inside its walls. It’s simply filled with grateful souls who know the Lord is God. It doesn’t matter if we worship alongside people who don’t recognize this. It’s only important that we do.

He made us. That’s how we come to Him, as beings shaped in His image and brought to life by His breath. That’s how He sees us. On the other hand, we make labels. This is why the Psalmist encourages us to center our worship exclusively on our Creator and disregard the differences we create.

We Are His People

We know Who God is. We know He made us. We know we’re His people. He’s our Shepherd. He loves us, nourishes us, and sustains our lives. Knowing this changes how we see others and ourselves. It strips away the labels, pretensions, prejudices, and insecurities that so often inhibit our worship of God and our love for one another.

Worship with gladness and joy. Forget how you look at people and how they look at you. See your Creator and marvel at His creation. Love the worshippers around you because, in God’s eyes, we’re all the same. Rejoice in being alive

This sanctuary--and tens of thousands like it--is where we celebrate life.