Saturday, September 6, 2008

Claiming Our Future

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

                        Jeremiah 29.11

In Exile

This verse shows up regularly on several websites I visit. It wasn’t familiar to me, however, so reading it in context I was delighted to find there’s even more to it than first meets the eye. It’s in a prophetic letter Jeremiah sent to Jews living in exile in Babylon. They weren’t living abroad by choice. The Babylonians seized their land and deported them to gain control of their territories. While their captivity was not enslavement per se (as in Egypt), in many ways it was more severe because it represented traumatic loss.

Before the invasion, life was good. Their kingdom, culture, religion, and identity were strong—perhaps too strong. They became complacent, proud, and less concerned with God. Although it grieved Him greatly, He permitted this venue change for His people to relearn important lessons they forgot. He sent them away to work on themselves for 70 years. As they languished, He directed his prophet to write His reassurance that their isolation wasn’t for naught.

The Plan

The Babylonian exile mirrors the experiences of GLBT and ostracized straight believers. Social advances in our lifetime blinded us to the spirit of exclusion invading the church. We believed the general tide of tolerance would defeat the religious fear and taboos holding us back. Not so. Churches equated acceptance with approval, which they wouldn’t grant (forgetting that was God’s, not theirs, to give or withhold). Hurt and confused, we mourned our fate. Many of us railed against the plan. And few if any believed God was using it to teach us invaluable lessons we would bring back from exile.

Homeward Bound

That’s what occurred with the Jews. The return from Babylon was a pivotal moment in their history. Once restored, they changed their nation. They shook off tribal divisions and reorganized into diverse, unified communities. Even their alphabet and ideals changed. How they saw—and wrote about—the world improved. Life in a strange land endowed them to lead their brothers and sisters who hadn’t suffered their misfortunes abroad.

“It’s God’s plan” is the last thing we want to hear when losing what’s precious. But accepting it is the first step toward claiming our future. He plans to prosper us, not harm us, to give us hope. We have to know we’re homeward bound. Our time in Babylon has prepared us with knowledge and skills to help lead our churches, community, nation, and world to brighter days. May it be so.

God has plans for us, collectively and individually. We're homeward bound, prepared to claim our future.

(Tomorrow: A Place to Pray)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Dwell Well

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

                        Psalm 91.1

Conspicuous Assumption

I’m a writer who lives with a journalist, so we share a love of words and ideas, but our work lives are markedly different. He goes to the newsroom, covers the day’s events, and comes home. I stumble into the study and hunker down for the duration. My day often lasts long after his is over. This can be a problem.

Once he’s back, I try (though not as often as I should) to spend a couple hours watching TV with him. Lately, he has a penchant for “guilty pleasures”—teen angst soaps like “Gossip Girl” and the new “90210”. I’m appalled at the wealthy, wasteful lifestyles they promote. These kids have crossed from conspicuous consumption to conspicuous assumption. Their abusive sense of entitlement is frightening. By the time I scramble back to the study, I’m so irate about what this says to young people, my partner’s glad I'm gone.

Where and How

As these shows (and the mortgage crisis) attest, we’ve confused where we live with how we live. Our homes have declined in value from family nests to status symbols. It’s less about their inner workings than external appearances. Be it ever so humble? Are you kidding me?  And if we’re not careful, this poisonous mentality can creep into our spiritual mindset as well. We can't allow what living in Christ looks like to others to override what’s happening with us.

I like to think of Psalms as the Believer’s Architectural Digest. It’s packed with vivid descriptions of where we live: God is our refuge (46.1); our hiding place (32.7); the rock that is higher than I (61.2); our dwelling place throughout all generations (90.1); our fortress and high tower (144.2). The thread here is security for us, not aesthetics for others. Then Psalm 91 connects the where and how. When we take shelter in God, we rest in His shadow.

Rest Easy

Merely residing in the presence of God brings peace and assurance. He knows everything, can handle anything, and loves without restraint. But, as the 91st goes on to explain, He’s also fiercely protective: “If you make the Most High your dwelling… then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”

Years ago, an atheist friend whom I loved and admired enormously said, “I can’t see why you abide all that malarkey.” I answered, “Harry, it may not look so hot from the street. But once you’re inside, it’s amazing.” Rest easy. Ignore what others think. Live in God. Be safe. Feel secure. Dwell well.

There's no safer, better place to live than in God's shelter, resting in His shadow.

(Tomorrow: Claiming Our Future)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cutting Through

I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.

                        Isaiah 45.2

The Trial of Janet Edwards

On October 1 Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards, a parish associate at Pittsburgh’s Community of Reconciliation Church will stand trial before her Presbyterian peers. Forgive my saying so, but that statement alone conjures images that feel, well, medieval. And what was her crime? She presided at the nuptials of two women. (See the video and postscript below.)

The topic of same-sex marriage is extremely divisive within the church, in society at large—even inside the GLBT community. Setting it aside, however, the trial of Janet Edwards exemplifies dozens of controversies surrounding our inclusion in the Body of Christ. Church-related issues we personally confront also can feel as looming, impenetrable, and inhibiting as those Dr. Edwards now faces.

Walking Heavy

As we answer God’s beckoning back home, we can’t permit threats and resistance to intimidate us. Our Father accepts us and desires our reconciliation with—and by—His household of faith. We must never be dissuaded of this and here’s why. Our very first move toward the church finds us already one step behind. God promises to go before us as we follow Him.

Make no mistake: God walks heavy. When He puts His foot down, mountains topple into dust piles. Doors burst their hinges. Bars snap like twigs. Suppose we could climb over hostility, sweet-talk our way inside, or create an uproar until we get in. That’s great for us, but how about those coming after us? We’ve not made their way any easier. When God goes first, He changes the landscape: “Every valley shall be raised up; every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” (Isaiah 40.4)

Keep Moving

It’s so tempting to peek over God’s shoulder, trying to get a glimpse of the hard road ahead. Yet what good is that if, step-by-step, He’s cutting through the nonsense to open a smooth path for us? If we knew half of what and whom He has to deal with before Christianity as a whole accepts us, no doubt we’d become paralyzed by fear and doubt. We’d fall perilously behind.

How fortunate that He clears the way and simply asks us to keep moving in His wake. How wise we will be to step into areas He’s already passed through—welcoming churches, accepting families, GLBT organizations promoting faith, etc. God isn’t finished with this yet, not by a long shot. Indeed, we may not live long enough to see His work fully completed. But He’s already brought us a long way in a very short time. Every step gets better, every victory sweeter. And every day brings someone like Janet Edwards marching behind God with us.

video

Dr. Edwards tells her story.

(Tomorrow: Dwell Well)

Postscript: A Time to Embrace

In an inspired strategy, Dr. Edwards has appealed to sympathetic supporters everywhere to join her in Pittsburgh for her trial. If at all possible, we should be there in full numbers. Details and contact information to help with travel arrangements are available here:

A Time to Embrace/Come to the Trial October 1

Note: if you need travel assistance please contact them before September 5. While you’re on the site, don’t overlook the superb summary of the apologia Dr. Edwards filed in advance of the trial.

Need this even be said? It’s vital that we uphold her in prayer. This next month will convene its own kind of trial for her, no doubt. We must shower her with strength. Then, never knowing if her judges will hear God’s Spirit or buckle under political pressure, we pray His protection over her spirit and deliverance from her adversaries.

Finally, even those who can’t go to Pittsburgh can “put feet” to their prayers. In reply to a note of encouragement asking what can be done from a distance, Dr. Edwards wrote:

Another way you could help is to watch for any media coverage and to send supporting emails to the media outlet in response to it. Your prayers are my shield and buckler. Peace, Janet

In other words, watch and pray.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Laugh All You Like

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

                        Proverbs 17.22

Serious Business

Following Jesus is serious business, nothing to be taken lightly or treated casually. It leads us to confront core weaknesses and demands constant attention. But it also produces bright blooms of joy, as often in dark seasons of sorrow as moments of unalloyed happiness.

The trick is learning to be sober, rather than somber. We must be clear-headed about the world around us. Yet as people of faith, circumstances don’t dictate our attitude. We set our sights beyond the visible; we bank on God’s promises instead of natural facts. In John 16.33, Jesus tells us to expect trials. “But be of good cheer,” He adds, “I have overcome the world.” (KJV) We rise above our emotions long before our struggles end because Christ already triumphed over the problems we face. We remain cheerful.

The Upbeat Obligation

Sincere followers of Christ examine their behavior against His measures. His statement in John goes beyond recommendation. It gives us an upbeat obligation. Meeting it requires consistent effort. Some of us are cheery by nature. But others—for example, the “half-empty” crowd—really have to work at it. We habitually, consciously depose our dispositions. When our mind predicts gloom and doom, we tighten the reins and turn toward optimism and opportunity.

Why did Jesus make a point of reminding us to stay joyful? The answer comes from Proverbs. A cheerful heart is therapeutic. It seeks out positive angles for navigating life’s dreariest curves. Often it may not find any good where it presently is.  So it looks around the bend by faith. Wherever it may be, it refuses to be crushed. Proverbs says a crushed spirit dries up the bones. It makes us weak, brittle, and afraid—basically, incapable of doing the work God created and placed us here to do. A happy heart makes a productive life.

Laugh Junkies

Just because we laugh at silliness doesn’t mean laughter trivializes serious situations. A lot of times, it’s the key to unlocking our minds and fears to face the reality of what’s actually happening. A buddy of mine says, “I’d rather die laughing than cry myself to sleep.” It’s our choice and Jesus told us what to do. He’s already overcome the world. The worst it throws at us can’t compete with His promises. Don’t get boxed in by what’s appropriate.” The natural mind frets over what it can’t control; the unnatural mind forgets about limitations to believe. Yeah, troubles come. So? Laugh all you like. Become a laugh junkie. It’s great medicine—powerfully habit-forming with only positive side effects!

video

Most of us have probably seen this, but I couldn't resist using it. I love this kid! Nothing startles him and the bigger the noise, the harder he laughs. (BTW, the title, roughly translated, is, "Can Hubby Make Baby Laugh?")

(Tomorrow: Cutting Through)

Personal Postscript: Laughing Matters--an Informal Inquiry

We're all plagued by recurrent anxieties that present themselves as no laughing matter. Yet when these Achilles' heels surface, it very well may be when laughing matters most.

In my case, money makes me nervous. I'm just not gifted with the talent or enthusiasm to manage it closely. It seems the Tempter knows this. (If not, he knows it now.) So he exploits every chance to taunt me with financial worries and doubts. But with God's help, I'm learning how to handle it. First, I start with a reality check of what my situation is. It's never as dire as my fears suggest. Second, I'm learning to laugh at my insecurity over things I can't control while whatever needs to happen for my peace of mind transpires. And here's what I'm discovering: time really does fly when you're having fun. When I focus on staying cheerful, answers and reassurances come much sooner.

Am I daft about this? I'm interested whether you also laugh defensively at certain anxieties. If so, post a quick comment. It can be as simple as, "I laugh at my fear of loneliness." Or it might be, "I need to learn how to laugh at how much I worry about what others think." You get the drift.

So when does--or should--laughing matter the most for you?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Closer

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

                        Philippians 1.6

Our Life Partner

God isn’t a quitter. When He creates each of us, He begins with a unique design to achieve certain intentions. He sends us into the world as beings made to His exact specifications and He places us exactly where He needs us. Then He lets us decide whether we want to follow His Will or live by our wits.

When we gather the gumption to admit our way leaves much to be desired, we wisely yield to His original plan. We take Him as our Life Partner. We study His Word to increase our insights about how He works and what pleases Him. We maintain constant contact with Him through prayer and meditation. We trust His judgment in all things, relying on faith to shore up our confidence when things start to look dicey. Maybe we can’t see what He’s up to, but we refuse to doubt that He’s up to something. And we’re sure what that is will eventually become obvious, because our God always finishes what He starts.

The Potter’s House

He’s a Master Craftsman with all the time in the world to complete His projects. He sets His own deadlines and works on His own schedule. He builds enough time into His plan to avoid compromising shortcuts. He assembles the tools and materials He needs to guarantee the quality of His work meets His highest standards. Once we hand Him the raw makings of our lives, He gets busy.

This analogy gives rise to numerous metaphors—sculptor, architect, metalworker, and so on. In Jeremiah 18, we find a marvelous parallel in the potter’s house. At God’s urging, Jeremiah went to observe the potter in action. “But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands,” Jeremiah reports. “So he formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

Shaped for Things to Come

God begins a good work in us first by undoing what we’ve done. We shape our lives according to what Carly Simon called “the way I always heard it should be”—in other words, expectations based on what we’re taught and human precedent. All of that is irrelevant to God. When we place ourselves in His hands, rather than patch the cracks in our logic and smooth out the flaws in our character, He remolds us into vessels He can use. We’re shaped for things to come. The process can sometimes be uncomfortable, even painful. But He never casts us aside as too unwieldy or inferior for His purpose. When God began His work in us, He fully meant to complete it. He’s more than The Big Idea Guy. He’s The Closer.

 

What we'll become may not be apparent as God reshapes our lives, but He has a unique design for each of us and He always finishes what He starts.

(Tomorrow: Laugh All You Like)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Your People, My People

Don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you…. Your people will be my people and your God my God.

                        Ruth 1.16

Someone to Know

We remember Ruth as a sort of Biblical Cinderella. But she’s someone GLBT believers should know. Born and raised in Moab, Ruth married the son of Naomi, a Jewish widow there to escape famine. Ten years later, he died. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, urging Ruth to stay in Moab but she pleaded to join Naomi.

Let’s stop for a closer look at Ruth’s situation. In Moab, Naomi and her sons were outsiders who relied on the Moabites’ hospitality—and overlooked their paganism—to survive. Given this, Ruth’s acceptance wasn’t an issue. But once she moved to Bethlehem, she would be an outcast, viewed as unacceptable and beneath the local tribe of Judah, the Hebrews’ blueblood class.

The Double Door

We understand how the double door works. One side swings into our Moab, where we welcome everyone and our right to be ourselves is never questioned. The door to Bethlehem isn’t as free. Those who love us may hesitate to invite us in—as Naomi did—out of concern for our comfort. They know potential discrimination exists beyond the door. Ruth knew it, too. Yet there’s no finer example of an outsider turning obstacles into opportunities. She flipped the perspective and entered Bethlehem ready to love others like she wanted to be loved, prepared to forsake Moabite traditions and embrace Naomi's faith.

Seeds of Greatness

Ruth walked humbly yet bravely at first. She went to fields belonging Naomi’s relative, Boaz. She followed his servants, gleaning morsels they missed. Boaz soon noticed and asked about her. Learning Ruth was family, he instructed his men to leave more for her. But his obligations surpassed providing for her nourishment. As her kinsman, Boaz was required by law to redeem Ruth—to marry her and secure her standing as a member of Judah’s tribe. And wait; there’s more. She and Boaz began a lineage that included King David and another Bethlehem couple whose Son was called the King of kings.

We have much to learn from Ruth. As we venture into new places—particularly communities of faith—we offset rejection with acceptance. “Your people” become “my people.” We find work that nourishes us. We know our Redeemer is responsible for our standing and security. And we wait patiently to see our story end. God doesn’t call us to live as foreigners. He put seeds of greatness in each of us, a destiny we must fulfill. Our task is getting to Bethlehem. What happens with us—and in us—once we’re there is His business.


As Ruth looked toward Bethlehem with Naomi, she couldn't possibly imagine the road would lead to such an extraordinary destiny.

Personal Postscript: My Kind of People

As I’ve mentioned to several, when I first launched “Straight-Friendly,” I prayed for guidance for what I could do to bring people to it.  I never anticipated how many bright, committed, kindred spirits it would bring to me.  In just two months, my life has become a treasure trove of new friends and allies in the faith.

One of them is Missy, a terrific--apparently indefatigable--wife, mother, friend, believer, and overall go-getter. She's my kind of people: totally canny and curious about all sorts of things, yet driven by faith and compassion. In the parallel universe of cyberspace (which often strikes me as a primo cocktail party), Missy is the sort of person you want to hang out with

Her blog is a virtual buffet for anyone with insatiable, eclectic tastes. It runs the entire gamut, from soul-searching observations about Christian ethics and practices to pop culture enigmas to favorite recipes. (How she finds time to bake, I'll never know.) Take a gander; she's someone you should know.

Missy's Big Fish Stories

(Tomorrow: The Closer)