Thursday, November 26, 2009

Remembering You

I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1.3)

This Grace of Giving

In 2 Corinthians 8.9 we read, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” This astounding truth surfaces after Paul lavishes praise on the Macedonian churches as examples the Corinthians should emulate. “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity,” he writes. (v2) He says, “They gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” (v3-4) Corinth is to Paul’s world what Paris is to ours—an urbane city brimming with affluent, educated people. Surely Paul knows readers they won’t kindle to being unfavorably compared to working-class, provincial believers. But his purpose for mentioning the Macedonians exceeds shaming the Corinthians into loosening their purse strings. He uses their example to remind his readers we’re all rich in ways that transcend our bank balances and net worth.

“Although Jesus was rich,” Paul explains, “He chose a life of poverty so we too could become rich.” He attributes this to grace, tying Christ’s selflessness to the Macedonians’ generosity. In verse 7, he tells the Corinthians, “Just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” In other words, all that we possess and everything we acquire—not just materially, but also spiritually—won’t yield the completeness we seek if we lack the grace to give. Paul defines “this grace of giving” as generosity born out of need. Christ sacrificed heavenly splendor and earthly life to give. The Macedonians begged Paul to accept their gifts, which they offered “out of the most severe trial” and “their extreme poverty.” Both cases exemplify amazing willingness to set aside personal needs and desires to enrich others.

Rich Generosity

Among the myriad blessings I’m grateful for today, one of the most amazing and precious to me is the grace of giving so many of you have shown to Straight-Friendly. You’ve repeatedly set aside your needs and desires to enrich the lives of all who gather here, offering wisdom, candor, encouragement, and most of all, unconditional love and acceptance in your comments. You’ve upheld this place (and me) in your prayers and voluntarily invited others to join our little faith community. Your overflowing joy has welled up in rich generosity.

Over the past year-and-a-half, I’ve been blessed to get to know many of you very well through off-line conversations. Others I know through our exchanges here. And still others I know only as email subscribers, Facebook group members, and readers I regularly see when monitoring the site traffic. But all of you have made my life extraordinarily rich. I count each one of you as dear brothers and sisters in Christ—part of a tight-knit, growing family God privileged me to join. Without your generosity, none of this would be true.

Thank God for You

“I thank my God every time I remember you,” Paul exclaims in Philippians 1.3. I can only echo his sentiment. Not a day passes that I don’t thank God for you. But beyond the joy and happiness that remembering you brings me personally, I’m also thankful for what your generosity means to so many others who come here. Without your compassion and enthusiasm, this would be a hollow endeavor. You make it a safe place warmed by God’s Spirit, His love, and His presence. The significance of this can’t be overstated, because many who find us have been so thoroughly wounded by fear and rejection, shoved into cold shadows of despair. Discovering Christians who welcome everyone equally restores their hope and renews their faith. I hear this over and over in emails from individuals, many of them young GLBT people disoriented by religious prejudice, struggling to reconcile their God-given identities with their profound longing to follow Christ. Because of you, they gain new confidence and strengthen their resolve to live lives of integrity and courage. Your grace in giving makes them rich. This springs to mind whenever you—collectively and individually—enter my thoughts. And more than anything, this is why I thank God every time I remember you.

Have a marvelous, and marvelously rich, Thanksgiving.

Postscript: Really, Really Big News!

As some of you know, this blog came about after I finished the manuscript for a book written specifically to encourage alienated gay (and straight) believers to reject rejection and resume their walk with Christ. Since completing it, though, it sat on the backburner while I turned my attention to keeping up the daily posts here.

Today I’m thoroughly delighted to announce Straight-Friendly: The Gay Believer’s Life in Christ is available for purchase at:

Pending review of the final galleys, it will also be available on and several other online book distributors. I’ve opted to self-publish, which means each copy is printed on demand and shipped directly to the purchaser. (It takes 3-5 days to process each order.)

I trust the book will speak to Christians currently struggling to overcome manmade faith barriers. And I hope many of you will give it a look, as well as recommend it to others. When you do, by all means, please drop me a line and tell me what you think!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Repost: One in Ten

He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Luke 17.16

Coming Back

Thanksgiving for me has no rivals among holidays (as opposed to “holy days”). Here in the States, we’ve overstuffed it with lavish feasts, store parades, football games, and gearing up to rise ridiculously early the next day to get a jump on the Christmas bargains. I wonder what George Washington, who declared the holiday, would think of this. On one level, he’d be aghast at the nonsense we’ve attached to it. But I also think he’d be pleased we’ve not abandoned the custom altogether. Buried somewhere beneath the turkeys and floats, the scrimmages and advertising, recognition still lives that there’s much to be thankful for.

Telling God “thank You” surpasses polite obligation. When done sincerely, it finishes the work His blessings start. It reawakens awareness we’d be nothing—and have nothing—without Him. “If the LORD had not been on our side,” Psalm 124 says, “we’d have been swept away.” We’re free to accept God’s blessings and go on our merry way, never returning to thank Him for being on our side. It makes no difference to Him. In Mark 5.45, Jesus says God sends sunshine and rain equally on the evil and the good—His favor, like His love, comes without condition. But coming back in gratitude makes an enormous difference for us as an act of faith, a confession of belief He can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3.20) Thanksgiving makes faith happen and faith makes things happen. Luke 17 offers a superb example of this principle.

From a Distance

Jesus is traveling the border between Samaria and Galilee en route to Jerusalem when 10 lepers call to Him from a distance, begging His mercy. He hears them and instructs, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” They obey and Luke reports as they go, they’re “cleansed.” After one of them, a Samaritan, realizes what Jesus had done, he comes back rejoicing loudly and falls at the Lord’s feet to offer thanks. “What happened to the other nine? Weren’t they cleansed also? How is it that only one saw fit to stop and thank God for this—and he’s not even a Jew?” Jesus asks. He pulls the grateful man to his feet, telling him, “Your faith has made you well.”

Though his account is brief—10 sentences in four verses—Luke packs it with information. It begins with Jesus in the borderlands, well away from Jerusalem’s temple establishment. The lepers’ “unclean” status prevents them from crossing the distance society has wedged between Him and them. Unwilling to let Him pass them by, they call to Jesus and He sees them where they are. Directing them to the priests, He ignores religious laws labeling people in their situation as unfit for worship and public threats. Essentially, he tells them to cross the socio-religious chasm for themselves. As they step out by faith, they’re transformed so that the priests and people accept them.

Getting to Jesus

Luke doesn’t confirm the other nine go to the priests. Most likely they do. It’s also possible that, no longer stigmatized, they skip the temple to enjoy their inclusion. Either way, it’s not important. The thankfulness of Samaritan leper—an outsider twice over—earns Luke’s full attention. Two concluding events explain why. First, cleansing removes all boundaries between him and Jesus. Getting close to Christ to thank Him matter more than priestly approval and public acceptance. Second, thanksgiving brings his blessing full circle. Jesus raises him up, telling him not only is he cleansed. He’s completely well, inside and out.

While religious conformists gravitate to temples, Christ walks the borders. That’s where He’s found. Condemnation encourages us to believe we’re unclean, spiritually and socially unacceptable. Still, we can’t allow Jesus to pass without ministering to us. We call Him from a distance. He speaks to us where we are. He commands us to ignore fears of rejection and make the first move. Confidence in His word cleanses us of shame and scorn that mar our self-image. We see we’re like everyone else. That alone may be sufficient for 90 percent of us, who no doubt are thankful but, in the excitement of acceptance, don’t sacrifice the time to come back and tell Him. But one in 10 of us grasps the truth of what’s happened. Barriers between Christ and us don’t exist. Getting to Him matters most of all. Our gratitude is so overwhelming we throw ourselves at His feet. He lifts us up and makes us whole.

As we in the US approach Thanksgiving, I urge all of us to to reflect on how Christ’s love cleansed us from the stains of stigmatization and rejection. I pray we’ll stop what we’re doing, turn around, and fall before Him to say, “Thank You. Thank You for walking the borders. Thank You for hearing our cries. Thank You for calling us to You. Thank You for Your cleansing. Thank You for Your healing." Faith through thanksgiving allows us to transcend cleansing. It makes us whole.

(Originally posted November 23, 2008.)

Jesus cleansed 10 lepers, but the one who returned in gratitude He made completely well.

(Next: Remembering You)