Saturday, August 30, 2008

Standing in the Gap

I looked for a man [to] stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.

                        Ezekiel 22.30

A People in Trouble

Israel had completely lost its grip on what really matters. Through His prophet, Ezekiel, God levied an unbelievable list of indictments. The prophet buttoned everything up with: “The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice.” (Ezekiel 22.29) They were too wrapped up in their own agenda to realize their Maker was extremely displeased with their faithless and callous behavior. He wanted it stopped. And if Israel couldn’t find the will to change on its own, He was prepared to help them—before they hurt anyone else. (Americans may find all of this eerily resonant.)


Disobedience comes from overestimating our strength. When we decide we’re big and bad enough to go it on our own, God graciously lets us. But sooner or later, our best thinking is insufficient to sort through what’s happening, let alone what’s next. Our clearest sight doesn’t see far enough to spare us from unnecessary harm. We end up weaker than ever. This is where Israel landed.

Not only were its arrogance and selfishness indefensible; Israel’s disobedience left it defenseless, vulnerable. Typically, when it strayed from God’s will, He stood back and allowed its enemies to humble Israel to its knees. In this case, however, its actions were so grievous God said its enemies would stand back in mockery as His own anger fell on Israel. He threatened to gather His people and melt them down like metal thrust in the fire of His wrath.

Holes in the Wall

Curiously, the prospect of wrath excites some. The airwaves hum with red-faced preachers and pundits who relish predicting divine terror for anyone they disagree with. Yet here we see God’s reluctance to carry out His plan. “I looked for one person,” He said, “willing to stand in the gap to prevent the flow of my anger.” Nobody stepped in.

Disobedience riddles our world—and our community—with wide, open holes in the wall. Pursuit of power, wealth, and pleasure at the expense of righteousness leaves us with no defense against our Father’s displeasure. Instead of looking for someone to blame, it’s time to step in and become the mending material God seeks. He wants us to live honestly, pray always, love without hesitation, speak to power gone wrong, and uphold His example. He wants us to be fearless of standing in the gap.


Disobedience has left our world riddled with holes. God is looking for us to stand in the gap.

(Tomorrow: Standing Inside the Gates)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Standing in Unity

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

                        1 Peter 5.9

Never Alone

Every Christian hits rough patches of dejection. Often they immediately follow moments when our connection with fellow believers feels strongest. This happened to Jesus. Praying in Gethsemane, He was vulnerable to violence and arrest, yet He turned to find His disciples asleep. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” He asked Peter. (Matthew 26.40) Just prior to this, at supper, he and the others promised undying support for Christ. Now, when Jesus needed them at their most alert, they slept on the job.

Remember, we are never alone. First, of course, God stands with us. Deuteronomy 3.16 promises, “The LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you.” But there’s also great comfort and power in the awareness that when we feel alienated and forgotten, other Christians suffer with similar emotions. We may not personally know them, but they’re there beside us nonetheless. That’s all we need to know.

The Gethsemane Connection

It’s impossible to read Peter’s words without connecting them to his Gethsemane experience. And although we draw solace from his testimony that we’re never alone in suffering, his main thrust warns against the same mistake he and the others made. Following Christ puts each of us at different points on the path. Some of us are more experienced, farther down the road than those who recently began walking with Jesus. Still, we’re in this together. There’s no time to take it easy. The enemy is on the prowl, looking for anyone he can devour. We have to resist him with discipline and vigilance for everyone’s sake. We can’t be lulled into a false sense of security. That puts our survival at risk. Neither can we overlook our less seasoned brothers and sisters. They’re easy prey for dark forces luring them back to defeat or isolating them from fellowship.

The GLBT Reawakening

For too long, the world believed the lion’s lie: our self-acceptance and God’s acceptance were mutually exclusive. The GLBT community’s faith went dormant. That’s no longer true. Today, we see a magnificent GLBT reawakening, as more of us reject rejection to fulfill our destiny as legitimate believers. This has rattled many cages. And with our numbers growing there’s more opposition on the way. But always know this: in front, behind, and beside you, there are millions of true believers, gay and straight, standing in unity with you. You are not alone.

Though it often feels like we're alone, walking upstream while others drive the opposite way, we never forget we're surrounded by millions of others standing in unity with us.

(Tomorrow: Standing in the Gap)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Standing in Integrity

They say to God, “Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways.” But their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the counsel of the wicked.

                        Job 21.14, 16

People and Politicians

We’re awash in politics right now in the States. Promises, accusations, ideals, and facts bounce off each other like billiard balls. For two weeks, we will overdose on the American dream and long-winded speeches about who best embodies it. But the loftiest ideals are no better than the lowest unless their advocates summon the personal integrity to put them into practice. This truth funds the inherent drama in elections: which candidate has the courage and talent to act on his convictions? It also speaks to us. Do we really live by the ideals that inspire our dreams and speech? Are we people or politicians?

Job’s Crisis

Job became the unwitting pawn in a political showdown between God and Satan. To prove Job’s faithfulness, God lifted His protective seal. The Enemy swept in to strip him of his property, family, health, and—hopefully—his faith. Job accepted losses beyond his control. Faith, however, was a different matter. That was in his hands and Job tenaciously refused to let go.

Most of Job’s crisis involved his determination to hold to his principles despite possible defeat, constant derision, and underlying doubt. The instant Satan exited with everything, so-called friends swarmed him with opinions and advice. Job looked through their words to see they’d abandoned God’s ways for manmade logic. For the moment, it seemed to work. While he had nothing to show for his faith, they prospered.

Stand Aloof to Stay Alive

But Job knew what they didn’t: prosperity—and success, security, popularity, you name it—isn’t in our hands. They’re God’s to give and His to take. All we have is integrity, which we prove and protect by our actions. When signs point to reasons to compromise our integrity, we do as Job: we remove ourselves from company and situations that argue against faith and press for proof.

As GLBT believers, we face homophobic Christians saying the Bible proves God rejects us. We meet non-believers who say religious hostility proves we should reject God. Oddly, both sides want us to let go of our faith. But, like Job, we must stand aloof from ungodly counsel to stay alive. We’re God’s people, not His political surrogates. We live by His principles, not human logic. And we do this, first and foremost, by standing in integrity—even if that sometimes means standing apart.

Standing in integrity sometimes means standing aloof from pressure to conform to ungodly counsel.

(Tomorrow: Standing in Unity)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Standing in Awe

Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

Ecclesiastes 5.7

Dreams and Drama

Dreams are essential to the human spirit. They focus our ideals and fire our passions. They inspire us to speak out, to convey our deep-seated desire to change things for good. It’s a safe guess that every major advance in history started with a dream. When we’re not careful, though, dreams can get tricky. They can induce types of highly addictive euphoria and self-aggrandizement that derail the objectives behind them. If it hasn’t happened to some of us, we’ve witnessed it in others. Dreams become things unto themselves, detached from reality and divorced from logic. Caring more about them than what they promise trivializes our dreams into hollow drama—famously described by Shakespeare as “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Our Sleepless God

God doesn’t dream. In Psalm 121.3, we learn He doesn’t even sleep: “He who watches over you will not slumber.” It makes sense. With all of us chasing dreams and manufacturing drama, how could He risk closing His eyes for a second? As with any good parent, His children's dreams keep Him wide-awake.

But the comparison stops there, because He’s better than the rest regarding our dreams. He knows them and us, why they’re important to us, and—above anything—the motives and conditions that conjure them. He has total command of the workings of the world, what’s required to realize our dreams, and every complication going into and coming out of them. From there, He puts things together for our good. (Romans 8.28) Depending on what’s best, either He reshapes reality to our dreams OR He reshapes us to our reality.

Indefinite Deferrals

That “OR” is often tough to handle. Once we start sensing God wants to change us instead of what we want changed, we grow disenchanted and even try to regain control of our dreams. It’s an unfortunate move, however, since it inevitably results in an indefinite deferral. According to David, being happy with God’s work in our lives affects our dreams. “Delight yourself in the LORD,” Psalm 37.7 says, “and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

It’s that basic: no delight, no dream. When we get that, we stop holding onto dreams, talking them up. We start standing in awe, bedazzled by our Creator’s power and wisdom to see through our dreams to the desires driving them. If we truly want God to do awesome things in us, for us, and through us, we’ll make Habakkuk 3.2 our heart’s prayer: “I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known.”

(Tomorrow: Standing in Integrity)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Standing in Freedom

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

                        Galatians 5.1

So Long, Egypt… Hello, Slavery

Aside from its primary purpose as the encyclopedia of truth for our lives, the Bible also reads as an epic history of ancient Israel. Its first major climax comes when God delivers His people from their servitude in Egypt and they set out on a 40-year hike across the wilderness, looking for a home of their own.

Experiencing long-sought liberty from oppression is exhilarating at first. Then, we find a long road stretches between gaining freedom and living free. If we get reckless, we risk losing freedom along the way. So it went with the Israelites. They left Egypt, free and full of hope. But inability to discipline themselves brought them out of the desert as slaves once again. In this case, the burden proved far heavier and more inescapable than Pharaoh’s whip. They stooped and stumbled under the constantly mounting weight of the Law.

The Power of Sin

Paul described the Law as the power of sin (1 Corinthians 15.56); its detailed list of dos and don’ts couldn’t possibly be met. Instead of preventing sin, it perpetuated it. We grasp this intellectually. Yet to Paul and other first-generation believers, the Law’s crushing burden was almost palpable.

We say Christ died for our sins—sometimes more blithely than we should. Paul’s message had a slightly different skew. Forgiveness for sin was the product of something much greater: freedom from sin. Jesus summarized His mission in Luke 4.18 like this: “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners… to release the oppressed.” He defeated sin by destroying the power behind it.

History Repeating

Paul’s challenge was keeping history from repeating itself. Accepting Calvary’s freedom didn’t necessarily inform believers how to maintain it. And after Jesus physically exited the scene, they struggled mightily with what to do and on whose authority. Tradition and fear set many of them scurrying to reactivate old laws to reinforce new behaviors. Paul consistently told believers, “There’s no going back now!” Gertrude Stein would have said, “A slave is a slave is a slave.”

As God’s Spirit of inclusion sweeps the world, GLBT Christians and their supporters march ahead with unyielding courage. The slightest pause for legal debate—let alone, self-defense—belies our confidence. Jesus purchased our liberty with His life. The price was too great; we won’t sell out to overpriced traditions and exorbitant fears. We won’t step aside for anything that enslaves us with extraneous doctrine, dogma, and taboos. We stand in freedom.

Norman Rockwell: Freedom to Worship (1943)

(Tomorrow: Standing in Awe)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Like a Tree

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

                        1 Corinthians 15.58

Phrased Out

In today’s world of mass communication, it’s impossible for words to retain their original power. The minute a writer finds the perfect phrase and publishes it, it’s out there for anyone to pick up and use as he/she will. The words lose something with each new application, and soon they’re phrased out. What once packed quite a wallop quickly becomes a threadbare cliché.

Attempting to summarize Paul’s words of encouragement to the Corinthians, one reaches for concise, potent descriptions only to retrieve shopworn sayings like “total commitment” and “grit and determination” and “take a stand.” Yet if we can rearm these phrases with their initial impact, we get a clearer idea of the urgent nature of Paul’s message. He tells us we must never lose our resolve and refuse to waver in our knowledge and intentions.

The Psalmist’s Metaphor

Following Paul’s advice comes less in the doing and more in the being. It speaks to our character. Are we defined by situations or do we define them? Do we go with the flow or does the courage of our convictions (more overworked phrases—sorry!) compel us to allow unprofitable opportunities to pass without regret? The Book of Psalms opens with a vivid picture of the kind of person Paul urges us to be:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD…. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1)

Standing Firm

My mother stressed the importance of standing firm, saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything!” It’s another cliché, but it gets to the nub of what these passages say. Standing firm requires deep roots in a solid foundation of faith and experience. The deeper our roots, the more confidently we withstand any threat to our wellbeing. Winds of adversity may bend us, but they can never break or move us. Cold snaps and heat waves can’t destroy our vitality. Our labor in the Lord always bears fruit. And, in the end, we prosper. Ephesians 6.13-14 tells us, “After you have done everything… stand firm.” It helps if we pair this with Psalm 1: “Stand like a tree.” 

Deep roots permit us to stand firm. We bend but never break. We stay healthy. Our work bears fruit. And we prosper.

(Tomorrow: Standing in Freedom)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

True Worship

A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

                        John 4.23

Playing Church

In the highly charged, legalistic environment of my upbringing, we often were warned about “playing church"--living obediently on Sunday, yet pleasing ourselves through the week. This reinforced conformity to dogma and taboos we defined as “holiness.” Now older, I find maintaining authenticity in every aspect of living is sound advice. Yet while preachers of my youth got the message right, they inadvertently twisted its meaning.

We avoid playing church by staying as truthful in worship as we are in everyday life. When we check parts of ourselves at the sanctuary door, we leave integrity and sincerity there too. What makes us do this? We’re afraid of the people inside and lose sight of why we’re there to begin with. Who cares what they think? We didn’t come to play church with them. We came looking for God. Since He knows every detail about us, surely we don’t believe He’s honored by half-hearted, evasive worship.

Shocking News

God seeks honest, open worship. Jesus stated this explicitly in conversation with a Samaritan woman. For GLBT and ostracized believers, His words gain significance in light of the person He said them to. First, she was an outcast. Ethnicity and gender banned her from Hebrew rites and, thus, access to God. Second, her sex life was off the chart. She’d married five times and lived with a sixth man when Jesus met her.

Jesus told her He knew her whole story just to prove none of it mattered. Instead of launching into who is and who isn’t scripturally qualified for worship, He taught her what God desires. God isn’t looking for a homogenous crowd of cloned worshipers. He wants us to be forthright and unreserved about how much we love and need Him. It’s safe to assume she found this shocking because it still shocks people—in and out of the church—today.

Our Time Has Come

Samaritans saw themselves as disenfranchised Jews who held common beliefs in a coming Messiah, yet had been unjustly excluded from temple worship. That would change once He arrived. This is why Jesus said, “A time is coming and now has come.” His arrival put a New Order into effect.

It remains in effect, despite those who oppose it with obsolete laws and fear-based doctrine. There’s no profit in arguing the legitimacy of their beliefs. Frankly, there’s no time. We have it on Christ’s authority that God seeks our true worship. We long for the day when all believers find strength to accept us. But we can’t wait any longer. Our time has come. Our time is now.

Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, "The time has come..."

Personal Postscript: Houses of True Worship

It seems to me that GLBT believers have three options when considering where and how we worship. Ranked from worst to best, they are:

1.   Fly solo. Follow Jesus on our own, staying clear of “organized religion” with its rules and regulations. That’s what drove us away to begin with. Why jump back in that hornet’s nest? OK, but where does this lead? When we fly solo, unaided by caring pastoral guidance and nurturing peer fellowship, we typically land in the soft marshes of “spirituality.” Given all of the negative influences vying for GLBT attention, we need regular opportunities to reconnect with Christ’s message and people.

2.   Fake it. Live openly in the community and dive back into the closet at church. This is very risky. First, we make ourselves—and our needs—invisible, the last thing we want from church. Second, we subject ourselves to needless, unscriptural condemnation and hostility. Third, we betray the trust of our ministers and church families with our dishonesty. Fourth, our tithes, offerings, and attendance support an organization committed to our defeat. Fifth (and this is a big one), even if we can live with all of this, our presence tacitly endorses attitudes and actions that crush the lives and spirit of weaker, more vulnerable GLBT people seeking God. Yeah, the choir’s terrific, we’ve known these people all our lives, it’s the hottest church in town—whatever—there’s just no way to worship God truthfully where we have to lie about who we are to get in.

3.   Find a real home—where the welcome is real, we can be real, our needs are real, the Gospel is real, and compassion for us is real. Wherever we may be, there’s at least one body of believers nearby that’s eager to welcome us as we are. Their faith and commitment compels them to look past the obvious and see the eternal. If that’s not good enough for us, then we deserve how little we ultimately receive by flying solo or faking it.

Since “Straight-Friendly” launched, my daily email almost always brings encouraging messages from pastors of welcoming, affirmative congregations. In the past week, I’ve been blessed to hear from the following churches. If one of them is near you or you’re visiting their area, take a look at their website and find out when you can join them for true worship. They’d love to see you.

Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, New York

First Presbyterian Church, Elizabethton, Tennessee

Gilead Presbyterian Church, Carmel, New York

Hilton Christian Church, Newport News, Virginia

Judson Memorial Church, New York (Greenwich Village), New York

Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia

St. John-St. Matthew-Emanuel Lutheran Church, Brooklyn, New York

St. John United Church of Christ, Kankakee, Illinois

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Ithaca, New York

United Church of Paducah, Paducah, Kentucky