#Grace #Church

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Leslie and I were in church yesterday morning for the first time in 3 weeks.  The last two Sundays we played hooky.  The first week we celebrated a birthday.  Last week, Leslie’s mom kept the kids for the whole weekend and, well, we savored every moment of our much-needed time off by doing very little.

But, because our church is such an amazing place we simply cannot stand to stay away for long.  We love it.  Every part.  We love our pastor and his wife.  We love the other pastors, staff, and their families.  We love our Life Group. We love the people—the ones we know well and the ones we don’t.  We love the music. We love the teaching. We love Grace Church. It’s home. It’s family.

One Drawer At A Time Sweet Jesus

Leslie croppedOne day, only a few short weeks ago, I had the strangest thing happen. I found myself with nothing pressing to do. The kids were at school and wouldn’t be home for hours. The house was clean enough. There was left over lasagna for dinner. The dog was bathed. My family was healthy. I was planning on a bike ride with the kids later so I didn’t need to exercise. I’d been to the grocery store and Target the day before. I’d finished my laundry before the sun rose. I had even given my hair a color tweak so the bothersome greys were history! What to do, what to do….

With the question of how to spend the day before me, it only took a few seconds to feel the weight of what I should do. The schoolroom and office closet was a mess. I should clean it out. The front door needed a coat of paint. I should paint it. The garage had several stacks of things to be sorted. I should sort them. I should work in the yard, pull weeds, and re-pot plants. I should call a friend I haven’t talked to in ages. On and on and on… I started “shoulding” on myself. I couldn’t handle the burden so I decided instead to clean out a drawer. This I could handle. One small drawer. In about an hour a drawer that began the day so full it could neither be opened nor closed became orderly and functional. The best part however, was finding long forgotten trinkets and treasures I gave to my kids when they got home. It was like Christmas! Those other things I should have done, the truly important ones, were still there the next day.

Forever. For Always and No Matter What.

Leslie croppedOn the morning of January 3rd, 1998 I repeated the prayer that had been mine for nine months for the very last time. I woke up early and began getting ready for what I knew would be a full day. I needed to be dressed and at the church by 7:30a.m. for pictures. It was my wedding day. I was 31 years old and knew that the fulfillment of this day’s plan would change my life on this earth.

Long before I started dating Alan, I made a mental list of what I wanted in a spouse. My list was short. It didn’t include the things I was attracted to but rather those qualities I thought important in the man I’d share my life with. As a believer in God I knew I would be attracted to another believer. As a person who loves to laugh, I knew I would be attracted to someone who was at least fun if not funny. As someone who is average looking, I didn’t expect to get anyone who was more than average looking. There were only two things I wanted from my husband.

  1. I wanted him to like me first.
  2. I wanted him to be someone who could tell me “no.”

In other words, I wanted him to be interested in and pursue me first. I wanted him to see me, to know me, to want me, and to love me. I didn’t want to be responsible for pursuing him or catching him. I didn’t want to change his mind. I wanted us to be his idea! As a person who has some strength of opinion, I also wanted someone I could follow. I wanted someone I could trust to not only lead me to where I wanted to go, but more importantly to places I didn’t want to go.

Alan is the only person to ever meet those two qualifications. Subsequently on our first date, when he leaned over the table and looked me straight in the eye and asked, “So when are we getting married?” without reservation or hesitation I answered, “January 3rd is a Saturday.” That was March 10th, 1997, the day I began my 9-month prayer. With as much honesty as I could muster, I acknowledged that I loved Alan and thought that marrying him was the purpose God was leading me towards. I admitted I could be wrong and asked God to please interfere if He knew better. On our wedding day, as I put on my make-up I asked God to stop the whole thing if I had missed the mark. I thought it would have to be a sizeable obstruction at that point, like some horrible car accident, but I was willing. Because the day proceeded with only minor hiccups (like our hired Roles Royce not showing up to take us from the church to the reception and a lit candle flying out of a candelabra), I married Alan and have never doubted whether it was the right thing to do. I trusted God and my relationship with God.

After a year of wedded bliss, I had another lesson to learn. Alan and I got into a bit of a squabble. Nothing earth shattering. It was simply about money. So typical. After a short exchange of unpleasant words, Alan left to run errands and I was left vacuuming. In my heart I heard a gentle whisper that could have only been God. “Do you trust ME?” I answered, “Yes.” He asked a second time and I responded the same. He asked a third time. I turned off the vacuum and sat down and said, “Of course I trust You.” “Then trust the ME that is in Alan.”

It was a new level of trust. I trusted Alan and wouldn’t have married him if I hadn’t. The reality is though that humans make mistakes and disappoint people. I needed to trust the God in Alan and their relationship even more than I trusted Alan himself. In that moment I learned to rest. It isn’t my job to be his accountability or his teacher or his savior in any way, neither are those jobs his to perform for me. I run the same risk of being wrong as he does. Only in God’s hands are we secure enough to be trustworthy. Only in His hands can we rest securely, peacefully, and thoroughly.

In the New Testament of the Bible, we are shown a picture of Jesus as our bridegroom. Those who believe in Him are called His bride. I am so thankful that He liked me first. He saw me, knew me, wanted me, loved me, and made a way for me to be in relationship with Him and His Good Father. I did nothing to make Him love me. He pursued me. He keeps me. I am so thankful that He is my guide and counselor and friend. He leads me to where He wants me to go whether it is beside still waters or through the valley of the shadow of death. I can and do follow Him.

One last thought, as a bride of Christ, we get so much more than we think or imagine we deserve. It’s like me ending up spending my life with someone who is incredibly handsome (especially with the beard, rrr!), exhaustingly funny, and who not only believes but also lives his faith.

Forever. For Always and No Matter What.

Exodus Int’l President to the Gay Community: “We’re Sorry”

Cross-posted from the Exodus Blog:

Exodus Int’l President to the Gay Community: “We’re Sorry”

Leader of 37-year old ministry admits grave errors

Irvine, Calif. (June 19, 2013) — Exodus International, the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality, issued an apology to the gay community for years of undue suffering and judgment at the hands of the organization and the Church as a whole.

The apology (http://exodusinternational.org/apology) dovetails with the ministry’s 38th annual conference in Irvine, Calif. – and the Thursday, June 20, airing of the television broadcast “God & Gays” on Our America with Lisa Ling. On Ling’s program, Exodus President, Alan Chambers, sits down with gay and lesbian people hurt by the Church with the goal of reconciliation.

A Changing World – Letter from Alan Chambers May 2013

exodus logo

Cross-posted from the Exodus Blog

In 2009 I spent ten days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Prior to going, I spent time researching the country, its people, and the state religion of Malaysia—Islam.  Months before my trip I called one of my Malaysian friends and asked her a number of questions about how the Christian Church is treated in her country.  Her answer both surprised and comforted me.  She said, “We are guests of Islam and Islam is a gracious host. We are guaranteed freedom of religion, worship and practice as long as we do not proselytize (seek to convert others).”

Once I was in Malaysia, I saw a thriving Christian Church and population, one that wasn’t fighting its host country or culture, but rather co-existing quite nicely and peacefully.  I found the Christians there incredibly servant-hearted and patriotic, loving a country, culture, government, and people of whom they were the minority by far.  In my own hotel room there was a Koran, an arrow on the ceiling pointing to the east, a mat for me to kneel on, and instructions on how to pray.  I also learned that all citizens of Malaysia, regardless of the religion they are allowed to profess and follow, are considered Muslim.

Messy Story, True Story – Letter from Alan Chambers for February 2013

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I am thrilled to be a part of the Body of Christ. Though imperfect, I see a tremendous groundswell of truth, compassion, grace, and service, which accurately reflects the heart of Jesus Christ.

Contrast that to 1991, the year I sought support for my struggles with sexuality outside of the four walls and community of my local congregation.  I was afraid of being cast out because my story was different.  I had no confidence in the church’s ability to treat me kindly or extend grace.  I will never know whether my perceptions of them were right or wrong.  I simply couldn’t risk what I believed would be my reality if I “came out” to them. So I sought help from Exodus International.

Happy ‘I Tolerate You Day’

question mark heartNothing says love more than telling gay sinners how much we ‘luuuuuuv’ them and how much we HATE their sin.  I think that is why there are so many Christians who have deep friendships with gay and lesbian people.  Tolerance is a compelling gift to the gay and lesbian community so anxious for Christians to half-heartedly embrace them with the limp, lukewarm hug of Jesus.

Can you just feel the love?

Before I go too far with the pretense that I am an expert on this subject, please know this pep talk is for me as well.  I am relatively new on the scene of wholeheartedly embracing all people, period.  Even typing that sentence was full of deep conflict for me.  I so badly want to qualify my own superiority in all of this by sharing the type of people I am embracing—compelled to make the comparison between my morality and theirs so that you will know how amazing it is that I, a good (a.k.a. morally superior) Christian, am embracing…well, them (a.k.a. poor things lost in sin).

The Art of Japanese Kintsugi

We’ve all broken dishes at one time or another.  Leslie and I are avid collectors of family artifacts and have inherited hundreds of pieces of china and other breakable mementos.  Because we display these rare treasures rather than store them, some have been broken.  Because of their sentimental worth we try to fix these pieces.  In some cases we simply put them in a box with other broken wears in hopes that we can do a mosaic with them later.

You see, even broken heirlooms are of high value to me.  Yet, until today I hadn’t considered the deep value of the actual fracture.  I have long preferred fixing these items in such a way that their brokenness is masked, which is how so many of us treat our own personal struggles, weaknesses and failures.  We go to counseling or support groups to “fix” ourselves and then try to pretend nothing ever happened.  Like that’s even possible.

Judge Less, Pray More – Letter from Alan Chambers for November 2012

Cross-posted from the Exodus Blog.

Everyone is clamoring for the No. 1 spot in the great gay Christian debate. For some, it isn’t enough that people hold to a traditional, conservative, and biblical sexual ethic; they also want to emphasize that homosexual sexual expression is more egregious than other sexual sins and deserves greater judgment and eternal consequence. Others insist that there are no scriptural mandates limiting homosexual sexual expression for believers. While most of us would never even question heterosexual sexual ethics, some seem fine with making special exceptions for the gay or lesbian person.

The arguments are never-ending, one-dimensional, and secondary, at best, in the grand scheme of things. None of this is rocket science. I am not a Bible scholar (though I greatly appreciate them and their role in my life and in this discussion), but I am a believer in the one true Christ and nothing gets more attention or time in my life than He does. While “theologian” isn’t in my title, I do take studying God’s Word seriously and read it more than anything else. So, as others identify as Wesleyan Arminian Christians, Calvinist Christians, Anabaptist Christians, gay or ex-gay Christians, I have to admit I am just, simply, irrevocably, a Christian.

Making Room: A Shift Toward Compassion

Cross-posted from the Exodus Blog. Excellent article!

Making Room: A Shift Toward Compassion

by Julie Rodgers

As a passionate follower of Jesus Christ, I’ve spent the past decade of my life trying to change my homosexual orientation.  When I attended my first Exodus conference ten years ago, I heard story after story of people who had experienced substantial shifts in their sexual attractions.  Countless men and women, who had previously been involved in intimate homosexual relationships, were sharing compelling testimonies about their transformation from homosexual to heterosexual.

Thrilled with the prospect that I too would experience a similar transformation in my attractions, I committed myself whole-heartedly to the process.  About seven years into that season—the non-stop support groups, ongoing counseling, healthy friendships with heterosexual women, abstaining from homosexual behavior, and praying with all my heart for the Lord to change my desires—I realized I was as passionately attracted to women as I had ever been.  I felt more alive, with a more vibrant relationship with Christ and His people, but I was still almost exclusively attracted to other women.  When I watched a romantic comedy, I dreamed of snuggling with a girl rather than a man holding me tight.