Saturday, August 2, 2008

Name-Calling

The nations will see your righteousness… you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow.

                        Isaiah 62.2

Slurs

We’re entering high season in the Presidential campaign—and it’s getting ugly. Barack Obama and John McCain belong to highly influential minorities: African-Americans and senior citizens. While both try their best to tiptoe around this (with varying success), their supporters are having a field day hauling out every imaginable slur. Obama fans slam McCain as a senile has-been out of touch with modern society. McCain fans fuel the fires of racism, portraying Obama as an arrogant radical. Misrepresentations and exaggerations grow more irresponsible by the hour, raising serious concerns that this crucial moment in time will be marred by unwarranted prejudice.

What’s In a Name?

Gay people surely relate to being unjustly mislabeled. The lexicon of insults for us goes on and on. To our shame, we’ve also coined unflattering nicknames ridiculing one another for the “types” we’re attracted to, our style, etc. We shrug it off.  “What’s in a name?” we say. But it still hurts and gnaws at our self-assurance.

The worst of the worst comes when hostile fellow believers resort to name-calling. Hearing the same inflammatory language as that used by secular bigots appalls us. It also leads us into the same snare. Not seeing, loving, and accepting them as individuals, we lump them together as a stereotype. This helps no one.

A New Name

Isaiah has a superb strategy for shaking off hateful labels. It comes down to being correct rather correcting others: “People will see your righteousness and you’ll be called by a new name.” We don’t re-christen ourselves with some clever, media-savvy title. God bestows it as only He can by dealing with our adversaries’ misguided perceptions. As we prove ourselves to Him, He reveals who we are to others.

In Ezekiel, He pledges to restore Israel’s identity from a nation of outcasts to one of integrity: “They will no longer be victims… or bear the scorn of the nations. Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people.” (Ezekiel 34. 29-30)

GLBT believers should claim this promise. Disregard the propaganda excluding “queers,” “perverts,” and every other vicious epithet from following Christ. Just do it. Do it well and do it right. God has given you a new name. Whomever these haters want to hurt, most definitely it’s not you


"Forgive me, but I have absolutely no idea who you're talking about..."

Friday, August 1, 2008

Thanks for Everything!

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

                        1 Thessalonians 5.18

It’s All Good

Following Jesus changes us by changing how we live. It reorders our priorities. It steels our confidence by providing Christ as the perfect example. It alters our perceptions of what’s happening to us and around us. Our world doesn’t change, however. The same anxieties, ambitions, and negative attitudes that plagued us before remain in play. Rejection still hurts. Injustice still injures. Prejudice still stings. Yet looking at them (and those responsible for them) from a Christian perspective gives us tremendous insights into what they ultimately will mean for us. Rather than look ahead, by faith, we leap into the future and look back at how God is moving in our behalf. From that viewpoint, it’s all good.

Faith Fatigue

Jude tells us to expect mistreatment and ridicule from “men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.” He encourages us to “build yourselves up in your most holy faith” and “keep yourselves in God’s love.” By faith, we look beyond our circumstances, good or bad, to envision better outcomes. In the meantime, God’s love sustains us and gives us power and patience to return kindness for evil.

Living by faith can be exhausting work. It insists we ignore what’s easiest to strive for what’s best. This automatically erases quick fixes and instant gratification from the picture, replacing it with a paradox. “Let us not become weary in doing good,” Paul wrote, “for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6.9) We rely on the very same faith that asks so much of us for motivation to keep going.

Flawless Timing

As believers, we’re driven by this truth: our circumstances may be lousy, but God’s sense of timing is flawless. While He works behind the scenes, we follow Paul’s advice: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2.12b-13)

Every situation we face offers us the chance to stretch our faith and gives God the chance to work in us. Always remember He doesn’t fix problems, He solves them. That requires longer than we typically prefer. But while He’s busy with our circumstances, instead of complaining about having to wait, we should thank Him and show our faith in what He’s doing.


Think of the equal horizontal lines above as our problems. They remain the same. But when we reverse the angles around them, we perceive them to be completely different. 

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Entertaining God

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

                        Revelation 3.20

Not Suitable for Company

Earlier in this chapter, God promises to open a door no man can close to us. Next, He turns His attention to a door He can’t open. Who comes and goes through that door is completely ours to choose. He wants us to welcome Him in and show Him genuine hospitality: invite Him to stay for dinner, spend time together around the table, tell Him what’s on our minds, and hear what He’s thinking.

A lot of us keep Him waiting. We know He’s there—we hear His voice. But we look at our lives and think they’re unsuitable for company. They’re cluttered with attitudes, habits, fears, and doubts we’d rather He not see. So many hurts and resentments are piled under the carpet we can’t help stumbling over them ourselves. Our pantries are stocked with pop-culture junk food; mold grows over the untouched bread and meat of His Word. Unable to tidy up quickly and worried we have nothing decent to offer, we let Him wait.

 

The New Yorker, January 20, 1997

The Other Houseguests

Then there are the other houseguests to consider, other gods we’ve allowed into our lives: success, popularity, prosperity, pleasure, pride, intellect, self-love, and dozens more. We’ve coddled and fed some of them until they’ve taken over the house. They’re simply too fat and lazy to move out. Still, we like them. They make us feel good. So what if they’re not as fun as when we first let them in? We’re used to their hanging around. God’s knocking unnerves them. “Ignore Him!” they plead. “He’ll give up and go away.”

Let Him In

They’re liars, and we know it. God waits as long as it takes for us to get over ourselves and let Him in. When we open the door, He politely steps into our mess. We discover He didn’t come to inspect the premises and check out who’s there. He came specifically to visit with us.

When God crosses our threshold, He instantly makes Himself at home. He arrives with the makings of a properly nutritious meal. He pitches in to help us make sense of our chaos. One by one, the old hangers-on sneak away with hardly a whimper. With everything in place, we sit down with Him. We have all the time in the world, because we’re dining with the One who created time, the world, and us. There’s no shortage of His interest in what we tell Him, no end to the love and wisdom in what He says. Entertaining God is, in every way, the feast of a lifetime.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Endless Love

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”

                        Isaiah 64.6

It’s a Fact

God loves you. He has always loved you. He will never stop loving you. He calls to you with loving-kindness. From the first, He has held you in His heart. He holds you now and will forever hold you in the security of His everlasting love. This fact is immutable, unconditional, and inescapable.

Whether or not we return His love, He loves us anyway. We have no say in the matter. This means there’s nothing we can do or say to deserve it. God’s love is a given, as present and essential as the breath in our bodies (which He also gave us). It’s foolish to think we earn it or, on the other hand, can live without it. God’s love is, because God is love (1 John 4.16). Everything that’s true for Him holds true for His love.

Places in the Heart

We’ve all known people so infatuated with lovers that they don’t see the shortcomings everyone else sees. “Oh, well,” we said, “love is blind.” This isn’t so with God’s love. He sees everything we do and knows why we do it. There’s no need, then, for any pretense or shyness in our love relationship with Him. Since we can’t hide from Him, there’s nothing to hide.

God looks past performance and searches the motives hidden away in places in our hearts. He loves us—and forgives and deals with us—according to what’s in our hearts. In his eloquently powerful Prayer of Dedication for the temple, Solomon says this to God:

Forgive and act; deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of all men). (1 Kings 8.39)

 

Drawn to Him

Knowing us inside and out, God persists in His love for us. He draws us to Him with loving-kindness, ensconcing us with compassion, holding us with patience, and flattering us with attention. The sheer relentlessness of His love makes it impossible to ignore. He fixes His love so tightly to us it can’t be pried loose.

Paul hypothetically asked the Romans, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” And after running down a long list of possibilities, he was convinced nothing “in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8.39) God’s love always was, and will always be, here to stay.


In every aspect, God's love for you surpasses the nth degree.

Postscript: Love Songs Playlist

A few favorites that celebrate God’s love.

  1. More Than He Loves You – Patti LaBelle
  2. Addictive Love – BeBe and CeCe Winans
  3. Everlasting Love – Commissioned
  4. Your Love – Fred Hammond and Radical for Christ
  5. He Loves Me – Kirk Franklin
  6. No Greater Love – Sandra Crouch
  7. Who Shall Separate Us – Walter Hawkins & Love Center Choir
  8. You Gave Me Love – Amy Grant
  9. Because I’m Me/Jesus Loves Me – Danniebelle Hall
  10. His Love – Daryl Coley
  11. It’s Your Love – Kathy Troccoli

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Happy Though Insulted

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.

Matthew 5.11-12a

How Dare We!

My partner is crazy about The Three Stooges. I believe he knows every episode by heart. When we watch them together he’s always ahead of them, laughing giddily before the first pie gets thrown or the punch line lands. His all-time favorite is when a woman turns to Larry and says, “How dare you look like somebody I hate!” Then she slaps the daylights out of him.

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How dare you!

First Peter 2.21 informs us we are called to suffer for doing good and should endure it “because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Following Jesus’s steps, however, sometimes puts us in Larry’s shoes. A glancing resemblance to Christ is enough to set some people off. Without any warning, they’re in our faces, shouting insults and slapping us down with evil lies. How dare we look like Somebody they hate!

Surrounded On All Sides

The more like Jesus we become, the more we can expect this sort of thing to come at us from every direction. His legitimate enemies will have a go. Others who profess indifference to Him and His teaching won’t be too nonchalant to tell us we’re crazy to follow Him. Still others who claim to be His followers will demean us, working overtime to defeat our purpose.

Often it may feel like were surrounded on all sides by hatred. That’s when we need to take a deep breath and listen to our Leader: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” (John 7.7) It’s beyond our capacity to accuse anyone of anything. That’s Jesus’s job. But when guilty people see His presence in us, they get defensive. Unable to pull Jesus down, they settle for putting us down.

A Big Bonus

Nothing should make us happier than catching hell for looking like Jesus. First, it tells us we’re doing a good job. More of Him than us is showing. Second, we don’t take it personally. Third, this frees us to love our persecutors since we’re not who they want to hurt. Their issue is with Jesus.

So we have every right to be happy though insulted. But wait! There’s a big bonus! If we endure these mistaken identity mishaps, Jesus promises we’ll reap eternal rewards. Who wants to lick wounds when there’s so much to be glad about and rejoicing to get done?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Happy Though Misunderstood

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5.10

No Compromises

The 1966 film, A Man for All Seasons, tells the fascinating story of Thomas More. A staunch believer, he adamantly opposed Henry VIII’s divorcing his first wife, Catherine, to marry Anne Boleyn on (correct) scriptural grounds of adultery. After the Pope outlawed the new marriage, Henry declared himself head of the Church of England, and More refused to compromise by submitting to the king’s religious authority. It landed him in the Tower, ultimately costing his life.


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A Man for All Seasons: More (Paul Scofield) answers his accusers.

I pray none of us ever faces a similarly dangerous dilemma. Yet I also know we all confront situations where we must choose between our convictions and our convenience. In some cases, what’s right will make things go wrong for us, while what’s wrong will make things go right. From what we see, it’s more sensible to compromise. But faith says there’s more to it than meets the eye.

What’s the Big Deal?

As GLBT Christians, we know God designed us, He created us, and He accepts us as we are—sexual orientation included. Why does this torment so many fellow believers? It would seem they’d be the first to support us, given the alternative of living for our own pleasure rather than pleasing our Maker. Sadly, that’s not how many of them feel. Chagrined, we ask, “What’s the big deal?

It’s not that we don’t understand why they act toward us as they do. They’re afraid they’ll dishonor God by embracing what they’ve been taught He hates. Caution about disobedience is something every Christian can relate to. But it’s perplexing is why they don’t—or won’t—understand our desire to follow Jesus. On this matter, there’s no room or reason for compromise. We’re going on His word: “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6.37).

Misunderstanding Breeds Mistreatment

Our habit always has been to attack what we can’t understand. Cain killed Abel; he couldn’t figure out why God preferred his brother’s offerings to his. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery; they couldn’t rationalize why he was the Daddy’s boy. Rulers crucified Jesus because they didn’t get His message.

But let’s watch these stories end. The persecutors always wind up singing “Who’s Sorry Now?” God gets in the mix and heaven’s laws overturn man’s ideas. When we withstand pressure to compromise, we see what’s going to happen, not what’s happening now. Because we don’t like being attacked doesn’t prevent us from being happy though misunderstood.



Sunday, July 27, 2008

Happy Though Disengaged

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

Matthew 5.9

Getting Beside Ourselves

In America, the general rule for pleasant conversation advises against two subjects: politics and religion. This counsel isn’t universal. In France, for example, politics and religion (and sex, of course) are fair game; mention money, however, and everything screeches to a halt. Politics and religion pose problems for Americans because they entail taking sides. Once that happens, the discussion shifts from philosophical issues to who’s right and who’s wrong. I know not one American who likes being wrong.

It’s easy to agree to disagree on mundane matters. On the other hand, when we clash on deeply personal issues, we hang on to absolutes. Lacking final authority to judge, we can’t say with confidence we’re right or our opponents are wrong. Only God has that power. Now we get beside ourselves, trying to prove what we think by how we are. I’m right because I’m holier, more patriotic, and so on. Our footing slips and we slide down the proverbial slope.

Stay Off the Toboggan!

Assume we are right, our behavior is woefully wrong. We fly downhill at breakneck speed, accepting dubious ideas we pick up during our slide as truth. In the gay debate, homophobic believers come away convinced homosexuals ignore God’s law, defy cultural norms, undermine family values, etc. Gay advocates view their Christian opponents as hypocritical, bigoted, heartless, paranoid, etc. Neither could be more wrong.

It’s hard to stay off the toboggan, but if you genuinely love others as Christ commanded, the slope loses its appeal. You see yourself in them, and understand the fear and arrogance driving them. Refusing to slide alongside them isn’t an admission of defeat. It’s victory through disengagement.

Saying Our Piece vs. Making Peace

Without two sides, there’s no conflict. That’s the big message tucked inside Christ’s message: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5.44-45)

What’s more crucial—proving our point or proving ourselves? The second we commit to saying our piece, we lose all hope of making peace. Like it or not, winning arguments won’t help us win God’s favor or bring us happiness. Jesus says peacemakers will be called God’s children. Let’s learn to be happy through disengagement and leave the fighting to somebody else’s kids.


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The Slippery Slope...