Saturday, July 4, 2009

In God We Trust

Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand?”

                        Matthew 16.8-9

Professions of Faith

America stands alone in its fondness for confusing professions of faith for patriotic declarations. Belief in a Creator has been with us from the first, acknowledged in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” From there, recognition of a Divine Power was a personal matter. Presidents sometimes called for united prayer during crises and thanksgiving after they passed. But through its first century, Americans avoided institutionalizing any faith-based credos as a precaution against blurring the boundaries of Church and State. The reason had nothing to do with disdain for belief. Rather, it ensured its freedom. European monarchs ruled by divine right, which provided religious leaders political leverage to persecute subjects who worshiped outside state-sanctioned traditions. Many American settlers were religious refugees and their offspring viewed keeping God out of government as a sacred duty to prevent history repeating itself here.

We don’t see any official American mention of God until 1864, when a newly minted two-cent coin bore the inscription “In God We Trust”. The next year, Congress called for the phrase on all gold and silver coins. Historians attribute this to rising Christian sentiment during the Civil War; indeed, it’s logical a nation torn asunder would want to recognize its reliance on God. Yet there may be more to it than that. The War Between the States resulted from industrialization. As Northern states boomed with factories, manual slave labor pushed the South further behind. Machines gave abolitionists’ outrage teeth; slavery was no longer morally or economically justifiable. But mass production also accounted for the War’s horrific death tolls, as munitions manufacturers produced increasingly effective arms that made this the bloodiest war in US history. While both sides mourned their dead, it’s reasonable they feared America’s love of machines supplanted her reliance on God. Employing coin presses to recognize a Power greater than any man or machine seemed particularly apt.

God on Our Side

America’s love of machines intensified as each new conflict increased her destructive capacity. The fourscore years from the Revolution to Civil War were mirrored in fourscore years between Gettysburg and Hiroshima, a period in which our weaponry escalated from efficient killing machines to global annihilation. When euphoria of “making the world safe again” wore off, America realized atomic weapons made world safety impossible. Paranoia seized the country and, once again, Congress moved to bolster American confidence in a Higher Power. In 1954, it passed a bill inserting “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance; in 1956, it adopted “In God We Trust” as America’s national motto. Both actions overtly intended to soothe anxieties by suggesting we had God on our side against the Soviet atheists. As with Civil War-era coin inscriptions, the gestures were symbolic and not meant as a religious mandate. Yet the more time wedges itself between then and now, the more they’re misconstrued as patriotic principles defining American life. While no historical—certainly no constitutional—reason exists to accept this, perception shapes reality. Americans endorsing this line of thought must first examine themselves to see if they truly place their trust in God. For this, Christians turn to Matthew 16, where Jesus teaches the difference between trusting God and recruiting Him for our side.

Yeasty Notions

The chapter begins with the religious establishment challenging Jesus to prove His authority with “a sign from heaven.” He answers by asserting they know how to watch the sky to predict weather, “but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” (Matthew 16.3) He then leaves them to set sail with the disciples, who push off without any bread. His previous encounter weighs on His mind and He warns the disciples, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (v6) The best they make of this cryptic remark is He’s upset they forgot to bring any bread. “You of little faith,” Jesus scolds, “why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not understand?” He’s fed thousands on next to nothing. They should know to trust Him for their needs. “I’m not talking about bread,” He says. “I’m cautioning you against the yeasty notions of religion.”

A people of faith and a religious nation—Christian or otherwise—are not the same. Those who intrinsically trust God for their needs find profound security in their faith. They’re neither intimidated nor worried by others’ beliefs and doubts. They live their profession of faith rather than declare it. And the passion with which they cherish their faith compels them to safeguard it by defending those who believe differently. Real faith never stirs controversy, because it’s personal and therefore apolitical. When faith becomes puffed up with yeasty notions about who and what’s right or wrong, it inflates into religious politics. (True believers trust God to judge and correct with the same calm confidence they place in Him to provide and protect.) Religious people look for signs. Religious people challenge those who don’t conform to their ideas. Religious people draw lines and take sides. The American irony of professing trust in God and then turning that trust into a political weapon must flabbergast Him. It surely flabbergasts me.

Do we really trust in God--or are we just hoping to recruit Him for our side? 

(Tomorrow: Spiritual Healthcare) 

Friday, July 3, 2009

More to Come

The Sovereign LORD declares—he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”

                        Isaiah 56.8 

Yearning to Breathe Free

As a kid in early ‘70’s Chicago, it was common to have playmates with first-generation immigrant parents or grandparents. The air hung thick with Old-World sagas of how these courageous people fled brutal regimes to dig out lives in this brave new land. The image of America as a haven for the oppressed, impoverished, and weary was so vivid then that very few grade-school students graduated without knowing “The New Colossus,” the Emma Lazarus sonnet mounted inside the Statue of Liberty pedestal:

Give me your tired, your poor

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Like Lazarus’s poem, Isaiah 56 also invites “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to find rest and safety among God’s people: “Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.’ And let not any eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.’” (v3) But there’s one big difference between “The New Colossus” and Isaiah 56 that mustn’t be overlooked. While Lazarus writes of immigrants, people seeking shelter in a new country, Isaiah documents God’s call to exiles—marginalized foreigners and natives viewed as strangers by their own people.

Theocratic Exclusion

Ancient Israel functioned very similarly to modern Iran, as a theocracy whose leader governed at the behest of prophetic authority. Civic and religious statutes were one and the same, and temple status determined social status. Anyone subject to theocratic exclusion was denied full rights of citizenship. Non-Jews adopted Hebrew culture knowing they’d never fully integrate into Jewish society, because ethnicity limited their temple access to the Gentile court farthest from the altar. Even from this distance, though, many grew to cherish God's ways with equal fervor. Isaiah 56.6 describes them as “foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to [his] covenant.”

Theocratic exclusion was most sharply felt by Jews deemed ineligible for temple rites entirely. This sector was comprised of anyone afflicted by diseases, physical and mental disabilities, or congenital impairment. Also numbered among them were “eunuchs”—a catchphrase Jesus breaks down into three categories (Matthew 19.12): castrated servants, religious celibates, and men “born that way,” which historians and scholars interpret to mean same-sex orientation. Temple banishment resulted in marginalizing these people as the lowest of the low. Unworthy of the Jewish claim as “God’s chosen” and viewed as less than foreigners, they lived as political and religious exiles in their own country. Still, denied access and alienation weren’t enough to prevent large numbers of them from living obediently to honor their Maker.

New Equality

Isaiah 56 issues an amnesty proclamation that nullifies Israel’s policy of exclusion. It calls for new equality based on godly devotion rather than legal compliance. While Israel’s grown accustomed to excluding minorities, injustices carried out in His name trouble God. He’s poised to initiate a gathering of those faithful to Him despite social and religious segregation. To eunuchs He promises, “I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters.” (v5) And in verse 7, He vows to bring foreigners “to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.” 

Sweeping change is possible in a theocracy because it’s divinely ordered. It occurs much more slowly in democracies, however, as it swells from gaining enlightenment. We’re seeing this today, as state and church democracies gradually realign with God’s amnesty proclamation. Whether consciously or unconsciously submitting to His will, people are embracing new equality. Racial barriers are crumbling. Religious intolerance is becoming intolerable. Tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe freely are welcomed. Previously rejected foreigners and eunuchs take their seats among God’s people. Formerly invisible exiles are recognized as equals. It’s an amazing, beautiful thing to witness. And it’s only the beginning. In Isaiah 56.8, God declares, “I will gather still others besides those already gathered.” As we marvel at all He’s done thus far to correct our inequities and gather our exiles, we take great joy in knowing there’s much more to come.

Immigrants disembarking at Ellis Island--a visual reminder of rejected foreigners and exiles God is gathering as equals among His people.

(Tomorrow: In God We Trust)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Waiting for Renewal

If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.

                        Job 14.14

Jackson and Job

The moment I heard about Michael Jackson, I called a moratorium on all TV and online news since few things bum me out more than media scavenger hunts. The predictable flood of hollow tributes and empty “analysis” was too dreary to contemplate. So I sealed my mind against it until one piece—Jackson’s press announcement of an upcoming tour—trickled in. “This is it, my final curtain call,” he said, either oblivious his farewell also would be his comeback or slyly staging a triumphant exit to divert attention from scandals that led to his exile. Despite efforts to escape the non-stop frenzy, this one bit of information resurfaced with every mention of his name or sight of him. Having been abused and exploited as a child and alleged to abuse and exploit children as an adult, dying within reach of a thrilling return and triumphant farewell somehow felt in keeping with a life defined by cruel contradictions and tragic reversals.

Although Jackson’s destructive nature precludes fully comparing him to Job—a blameless, upright man who feared God and shunned evil—aspects of his life were certainly Job-ish. God had obviously endowed him with rare gifts that brought him great acclaim, wealth, and admiration. Yet all Hell appeared to conspire against him, seizing him with compulsions that plunged him into infamy, debt, and sickness. Like Job, Jackson seemed to struggle with why and how this happened. Also like Job, opportunistic friends glommed on to his suffering as their means of self-aggrandizement. From there, Jackson and Job part company. Jackson’s “curtain call” smacks of a contrived attempt to engineer his renewal by reviving his pre-exile image. In contrast, Job’s integrity and faith instructs him to trust the good he’s done will eventually be rewarded. His present situation looks hopeless; losing everything left him nothing to build on. Still, he responds, “All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.” Which strategy works? Job’s story ends with his losses fully restored. Jackson’s ends without the renewal he and his fans hoped for.


We find the key to Job’s confidence in the question preceding his decision to wait. “If a man dies, will he live again?” he wonders. He comes to this by observing renewal in nature. “At least there is hope for a tree,” he says in verse 7. “If it is cut down, it will sprout again and its new shoots will not fail.” Given his recent calamities, however, his first impulse is to compare human existence to a fragile flower that springs up and withers away, or water that evaporates without a trace. (Flaws in both examples actually contradict his point. Dried flowers resume life by going to seed and vaporized water reconstitutes itself in rain clouds that replenish dried riverbeds.) But something else in this gloomy hypothesis doesn’t sit right with Job. He can’t reconcile nature’s resurgence with his morbid pessimism. It makes no sense that God enables trees to rise and fall and rise again without providing humanity the same capability of renewal. “Could it be,” Job asks, “that we can resurge to life after everything we’ve lived for inexplicably vanishes?”

The question brings clarity. Renewal happens over time. From trees we learn it begins instantly after we’re cut down. It continues as long as it takes for us to die to destructive impulses and vulnerabilities. And just when it feels like we’re left to rot, we sprout fresh life. Rising out of dirt and decay is not easy, but we need dirt to anchor new roots and decay to accelerate new growth. Being grounded and nurtured by past experiences prevents new shoots of resurgence from failing.

Counting Steps

Job’s outlook changes once he discovers the renewal process is lengthy and arduous. He starts by focusing on mortality’s time constraints: “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (v5) Then, after his epiphany, he measures life differently. “You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made. Surely then you will count my steps but not keep track of my sin.” (v15-16) He goes on to say hoping for renewal when we should wait for its completion, knowing it’s already underway, only wears us down. Destroyed hope changes our countenance, Job says. We lose our resemblance to our Maker. No longer recognizable to Him, He sends us away.

So where does this leave us? Waiting for renewal isn’t waiting at all, because it’s continuously occurring. Cruelties and injustices, failures and sins that tear us down are constantly regenerated to build us up. God calls us to rise from our dirt and decay while using them to stabilize and contribute to our growth. He longs for our return to the creatures He made—people who trust Him entirely and patiently, looking beyond what we see and know today to believe and expect complete renewal will come. We track our progress by counting steps, not days. Philippians 1.6 assures us “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Hoping for renewal—worse yet, trying to speed it along—wears us down until we’re no longer the people God wants us to be. He began a good work in us. Our job is to stay confident He’s finishing what He started. Meanwhile, we press on, each step stronger and surer than the last.

Renewal begins immediately after we’ve been cut down and takes time to finish its process.

(Tomorrow: More to Come)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Watch Out!

Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.

                        2 John 8

A Quick Note

What a lovely, intriguing epistle 2 John is. Only 13 verses long, it’s less a letter than a quick note between intimate acquaintances. The writer—presumed to be John the Apostle—explains its brevity in verse 12: “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face.” Its salutation startles us with unexpected charm: “The elder [i.e., John], to the chosen lady and her children whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth.” These two statements along with the final verse (“The children of your chosen sister send their greetings.”) have whetted the curiosity of scholars and readers for centuries. Two possibilities exist. John may be writing to a believer he and others admire for her steadfastness in the faith or a beloved congregation. Either way, the note’s concision and focus point to urgent concern compelling John to dash off these few lines to shield “the lady” from potential danger. He’s clearly uncomfortable with waiting to warn her in person. A toxic doctrine is making the rounds and he dispatches his cautionary note as a preemptive strike.

Nothing New Here

After commending the lady for “walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us” (v4), John reinforces the importance of continuing down that path. There’s nothing new here. “I ask that we love one another,” he says, adding, “As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (v5-6) The equation of walking obediently in the truth with walking in love for one another is so basic it's puzzling why John feels the need to stress it at all, particularly to a seasoned Christian. The answer comes immediately in the next paragraph.

“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world,” John writes, flagging a freshly minted, illegitimate concept of Christianity. Mainly advanced by Gnostics—a cult that professed Christ yet distorted His message with strange ideas about spiritual planes and the duality of good and evil—this “new revelation” held that Jesus never physically existed. Instead, He came to Earth in spirit only, because divine perfection and human imperfection couldn’t coexist in the same body. Early Christians were highly susceptible to this mumbo-jumbo due to their passionate embrace of Christianity’s most radical belief: Jesus’s sinless life made Him the perfect sacrifice for sin. The Gnostics’ ideas proved so seductively “deep,” many believers bought into them, never catching the internal contradiction. How could Jesus pay redemption’s price if He never existed in human flesh? How do you crucify a spirit? Well, you can’t. Thus, accepting the Gnostic nonsense meant rejecting Christ’s atonement. “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully,” John writes.

Many Jesuses

The Gnostics didn’t remain prominent very long, thanks to the apostles’ and succeeding Church leaders’ swift efforts to thwart their heresy. Yet their influence, as well as that of other “new” concepts, can be felt even now. There are many Jesuses in the world today—the teacher, the philosopher, the humanist, the activist, the shaman, the cult leader, and the mythic figure. In our scientific age, when theory trumps truth and facts override faith, many comfortably accept Jesus as a concept, not a living Savior. (Thomas Jefferson—one of the “Christian” Founding Fathers we hear so much about—reedited the Gospels, excising all mention of Christ’s divinity, miracles, and resurrection. The concept put forth in The Jefferson Bible varied little from works published by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine, who respected Jesus as a “great thinker” but disavowed Him as God Incarnate.)

It’s imperative to heed John’s warning to watch out. There’s nothing new here. The message hasn’t changed. We walk in truth by walking in love and we live by faith, not by sight. We believe Jesus is God, the Word made flesh to dwell among us, the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (as John eloquently establishes in his Gospel’s preface). We believe He lived like us, struggling with weaknesses and conflicts like us. In His life we find the power of unwavering love and humility to overcome hatred and injury. In His death we see total submission to God’s will and selfless sacrifice for others. In His resurrection we claim victory over death and the gift of eternal life.

Your relationship with Christ is uniquely personal, as is mine. But these discrepancies reflect differences in us, not variances in Him. There are no “personal Jesuses.” There’s only one Person. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” Hebrews 13.8 tells us. If we don’t watch out for alternative concepts and theories trying to creep into our faith, we jeopardize everything we’ve worked for and risk faith’s reward.

As these archival clippings show, Jefferson literally cut all Scriptural references to Christ's divinity, miracles, and resurrection to put forth a concept of Jesus as a human philosopher. John warns us to avoid "new" ideas about Christ and stick to His path of truth and love.  

(Tomorrow: Waiting for Renewal) 

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At Liberty

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

                        2 Corinthians 3.17 (KJV) 


I’m just back from an overnight trip to Boston. Rushing to the airport last evening, I realized my hotel was only scant minutes from Concord, site of the famous “shot heard ‘round the world” inaugurating the Revolutionary War. My heart sank because I hadn’t time to visit the place where my cherished American freedom from tyranny first asserted itself. On our recent trip to Prague, Walt and I stayed near St. Wenceslas Square, site of the 1968 student uprising brutally crushed by the Soviets and 1989’s ecstatic declaration of Czech independence from Communist rule. Although the Square now bustles with commerce and (according to my driver) Concord’s monument stands amid suburban sprawl, that both places witnessed daring defiance against oppression elevates them to sacred ground, ground that rumbled with dissatisfaction and soaked up the blood of intrepid people fighting for freedom. American and Czech patriots willingly gave their lives for liberty because liberty gave them life.

Two Mountains and Two Veils

In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul invokes our liberty in Christ by implicitly contrasting two mountains and explicitly describing two veils. He begins at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the first 10 of what evolved into an unmanageable compendium of 613 commandments. Paul refers to this as “the old covenant” (v14), meaning the former contract between God and His people to reconcile them to Him. According to Exodus 34.29, when Moses descended Sinai, his face beamed so brilliantly with God’s glory, he had to cover it with a veil. If Israel honored God’s laws, He promised to restore the freedom humankind originally enjoyed in the Garden, before the acquisition of knowledge to discern good from evil led to darkness. But Paul explains why this failed. The burden of the law became a veil as well—its intricate, impossible demands concealed the glory of its purpose. There could be no liberty under the law, and without liberty there could be no life.

He next flashes forward to another mountain, Calvary, where Christ’s sacrifice fulfilled and obliterated the law forever. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all report the moment Jesus died, the temple veil barring worshipers from the Holy of Holies, the most sacred area said to house God’s Spirit, suddenly ripped apart, giving common people the right to access God’s presence for themselves. Furthermore, Paul suggests, the lifting of the veil revealed the glory of reconciliation—renewed opportunity to commune with God as He first intended. Entering the realm of His Spirit endowed us with freedom, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The severance of the veil ended the oppressive regime of legalism at last. In a defiant blow to the tyranny of sin, Calvary’s ground rumbled and soaked up the blood of Christ, Who willing gave His life for our liberty so our liberty from sin could give us new life.

Ever-Increasing Glory

Paul ends this profound depiction of freedom won with this: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Free access to God’s Spirit liberates us to reflect His glory—to replicate the miracle of Christ’s atonement by radiating God’s reconciling power to others. “Unveiled,” we become beacons of God’s presence. Unhindered by fear and doubt and guilt, we’re at liberty to demonstrate reconciliation through unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance. Our personal restoration isn’t meant to end with us. It’s ours to offer to others in need as we discipline our thoughts and behaviors to reflect Christ with ever-increasing glory. The more like Jesus we become, the more of His light shines in and through us.

We observed something unique in Prague. Unlike other Europeans, who speak English begrudgingly, often demanding tourists first embarrass themselves by butchering the local tongue, the Czechs eagerly greeted us in English and engaged in lengthy conversations. A local resident explained why. For centuries, they lived under regimes that forced their languages on them: the Hapsburgs, Austro-Hungarian rulers, and Nazis made German the official tongue, followed by the Soviets’ insistence on Russian. Basking in the glory of their young Republic, speaking English constitutes more than courtesy. It’s an expression of freedom they treasure. Being at liberty to talk as they choose, they make the most of every chance to do so. As their fluency improves, their sense of freedom increases. The more we speak God’s love and light, the more fluent we become, and the more His glory increases. It’s a liberty won by Christ Himself, a freedom we should be eager to share, one we can never take for granted, one we never want to lose.

St. Wenceslas Square, once the site of defiance to oppression, is now where Czechs are at liberty to express their freedom. Calvary, also a site of defiance, gives us freedom to reflect Christ's ever-increasing glory as we're transformed into His likeness. 

(Tomorrow: Watch Out!)

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Strength You Have

The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Judges 6.14

Who? Me?

A marvelous old Southern adage says, “God protects where He directs.” (To hear its full music, use a drawl: “God pro-tects where He die-rects.”) With or without the accent, it’s easier said than accepted, because God seldom sends us to do anything we’re likely to try on our own. We rarely remember He’s not in the habit of confusing the best person for the job with the right person to get it done. We forget He chooses instruments, not experts—people who’ll commit to His will without getting in His way. Thumbing through the Bible, we consistently find God calling on those least likely to succeed: Jacob, Moses, Esther, Peter, et al. Spectacular as these and so many other stories are, few tales of an unlikely candidate’s outrageous success equal Gideon’s.

He’s as mediocre as they come—a putz if ever there was one, a middling man from a middling tribe stuck in middling times. Israel’s disobedience has angered God once again, and once again, He’s allowed their enemies (Midian, this time) to send them running for the hills. An angel appears to Gideon and what he’s up to tells us he’s not the brightest candle in the chandelier. Afraid his enemies will catch him threshing his family’s wheat and steal it, Gideon tries to shake its chaff loose in a winepress. He’s in plain sight, but the dust he stirs up in the tight space hampers his vision. He doesn’t see his visitor until the angel addresses him as “a mighty warrior.” Gideon looks through the haze and rambles through a tedious response that basically comes down to, “Who? Me?”

Bargaining with God

The angel tells Gideon he will command a force to liberate Israel from Midian’s clutches and his response is persuading the angel he’s not the guy for the job. “Look, I’m from Manasseh, the weakest tribe,” Gideon says. “Who’s going to follow me?” When the angel insists, this man who should be honored no end to be chosen starts bargaining with God. “OK,” he says, “if this is real, I need a sign.” The angel comes up with an elaborate sacrifice and tells Gideon he’ll know God is in this if the offering is consumed a certain way. When it is, Gideon still can’t be sure, so there’s another round. And then when that’s not enough, there’s all this business about setting out pieces of woolen fleece overnight and its being found a specific way in the morning. Every time I read this story and get to Gideon’s third or fourth “Wow-that’s-amazing-but-I’m still-not-so-sure,” I want the angel to say, “Forget it, we’ll get somebody else.”

Too Much and Too Many

God chooses Gideons—people whose faith needs coaxing, whose abilities fall short, and whose understanding is dim—for two reasons. First, He will receive greater glory when it’s more apparent what we accomplish would be impossible without Him. But second, He takes these opportunities to turn Gideons into giants of faith by proving Himself to them. When Gideon finally gets the nerve to do what he’s challenged with, God looks at the group he’s assembled for battle and says, “It’s too much. You have too many soldiers. Send some back.” God keeps whittling away at Gideon’s numbers until there’s no question that the power and victory are His.

When we’re asked to live by faith—to do things outside our normal capabilities—we’re apt to respond like Gideon: “Who? Me?” (or, its first cousin, “Why me?”) We may be equally prone to bargain and test God, asking for all sorts of indicators that He’s sure we’re whom He wants. And once we’re convinced that He’s convinced, we may put together all sorts of elaborate plans to ensure we’ll be properly equipped to do what He asks. When the angel first called to Gideon, he said, “Go in the strength you have… Am I not sending you?” That’s why Gideon’s army had to be reduced. He wasn’t a strong leader. He didn’t need more help from friends and neighbors. He needed to face his battles in his own strength, trusting God’s power to work through him when the moment of truth arrived. Waiting until we’re strong enough to do what we must do pretty much means we’ll never get anything done. The strength we have isn’t enough on its own, but it’s what God uses to convey His might and power—which means it’s more than enough. (Oh, and of course, Gideon triumphed over MIdian in the end.)

We may think we're too ordinary and mediocre to be used, but that's why we're chosen. (Tissot: The Angel and Gideon; 1900)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Anniversary Post: Every Word Heard

Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.

                        Malachi 3.16

One Year Ago Today…

I clicked on and spent the better part of six hours figuring out how it worked and if I could transfer what I saw in my head and felt in my heart to a computer screen. Availability of the blog’s name was the first of many surprises, since Googling “straight-friendly” rang up more than 35 million results. This seemed to confirm the blog was headed down the right path. The next hour went to finding a header photo and learning to upload it and lay text against it. Once I got that down, the description flew off the keyboard, because I already knew what Straight-Friendly wanted to be: “a daily devotional for GLBT and other alienated Christians—with occasional personal observations.”

That’s all I knew, though. I had no idea what it would require in terms of personal commitment and time to hammer out a few paragraphs a day. Indeed, little ahead was visible, let alone imaginable. I didn’t see and never dreamed Straight-Friendly would gain the encouragement of far-flung pastors, congregations, and individuals from nearly every denomination. Nor did I see or dream it would bless me with dozens of relationships I will cherish for life. I never saw or imagined how much I would learn and grow from so many who offered so much simply because that’s what Christians do.

When You Showed Up

For six weeks, I cranked out posts with not a comment from anyone other than friends I invited to drop by. Those days in limbo frustrated me, naturally, but in hindsight I understand what was happening. I needed time to develop discipline to pray, meditate, and study, to write day-in and day-out, to learn not to expect responses (to this day, I’m always delighted when one comes in), to go with what I believed instead of anything I saw. The blog needed time to get up on its feet and assume a life of its own. Then, starting in mid-August, you appeared, one by one, many on the recommendation of John Shuck, the amazing pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tennessee. John was S-F’s first new friend, has remained a true friend, and I’ll ever be grateful for his inspiring support, in both word and example.

When you showed up, you held out your hands and opened your hearts and Straight-Friendly suddenly became something far richer. Its mission didn’t change. It still centered on Christ’s doctrine of love. It still urged disenfranchised believers—particularly GLBT ones—to overcome rejection from other Christians. It still searched the Scripture for guidance as we strive to express God’s love and acceptance to others. But once you came, you transformed this echo chamber into a resonant garden. Faith, hope, and love thrived. Joy broke through dark clouds of worry, despair, and intolerance. You made this place safe for all with your gentle humanity and spiritual candor. All it is, and all God blesses it to become, is because of who you are. I love you immensely for that.

Written In His Presence

In this very short year, I’ve discovered when people who love and honor God find one another, we drop everything—differences, inhibitions, and assumptions—to celebrate what ties us together. Like those whom Malachi mentions, we talk with each other. We speak of God’s love and forgiveness, His power and healing, our joy and pain, our hope and confidence. We encourage one another. We rejoice together. We pray side-by-side at the cross. We sing at the empty tomb. We learn and we laugh. The Lord listens closely. Every comment is noted, every emotion felt, every word heard.

What began as a cheerleading site for ostracized believers blossomed into “a scroll of remembrance written in His presence concerning those who fear the Lord and honor Him name.” Straight-Friendly is a very precious thing to me, a living record of friendship and fellowship, of blind love and bold kindness, of earnest searches and thrilling discoveries, of lessons and longing. It astounds me more than I can say but doesn’t surprise me in the least because, as Ephesians 3.20 says, God does “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

I’ve seen God's power at work in all of you. I’ve experienced the richness of His favor through your love and prayer and support. I’ve felt your strength and marveled at your courage. I pray each of you a bounty of blessings for so vividly conveying the majesty of our God’s miraculous love and light.

Holding every one of you forever in my heart,


You showed up and this echo chamber became a resonant garden.

(Tomorrow: The Strength You Have)

Postscript: "Pride Parade" on Youtube

Cuboid Master asked if I'd post Friday's PFLAG/Welcoming Church "Pride Parade" video on Youtube so she could share it. Here's the link for any of you interested in posting it at your place or sending it family and friends:

Pride Parade