Friday, May 28, 2010

Unconditional Love, pt. 2

On Wednesday I wrote about my friendship with a young man who happens to be gay. I pointed out that my gay friends do not see the Christian community as a group of people who love them unconditionally.

I’m speaking in generalities here. I know that not ALL Christians separate themselves from homosexuals, but it’s so much more common than it ought to be. I know many gay believers who love God and desire to honor Him.

The picture I used a couple of days ago is the same one I’m using today. A copy of this painting hung in my grandparents’ home when I was a little girl, and over the years I’ve seen the picture on walls in many a Sunday school classroom. In the picture we see Jesus knocking on a door and waiting to be let in.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

So, before Jesus goes door to door, do you think He pulls out His address book of hearts? Maybe He says something like, “Oh, I see this place belongs to a gay man named Steve. I won’t be knockin’ on that door!”

Can you picture Jesus calling on a hurting woman who asks if she could bring her girlfriend along? “What?” Jesus seems surprised. “The Father didn’t tell me you were gay!”

I’m not here to debate the rightness or wrongness of gay relationships. But if you believe homosexuality is a sin, why is it treated differently than any other sin? Do you not have friends who lie, steal, cheat, commit adultery, drink too much, use drugs, or gossip to excess?

Sin is sin is sin is sin!

Jesus hung out with prostitutes, murderers, liars, thieves, cheaters, and dead guys! We have the awesome opportunity—and I believe, responsibility—to be Jesus with skin on. Jesus never failed to show unconditional love and perfect grace. God gives us the power to do the same.

Don’t get me wrong…Jesus doesn’t want anyone to remain in sin. During His life, Jesus showed people God’s love and they wanted to have what He had. He went to where the hurting hearts lived, and He loved them.

Christians have been given a bad name because of the ugly behavior of a few. Reverend Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church picket funerals of dead soldiers because they believe the fighting men and women died supporting a country that defends homosexuality. They believe that “God’s hatred is one of His holy attributes”.

People like Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church ought to be ashamed of themselves, and we should be rising up against their homophobic and anti-Semitic hate and rhetoric.

The antics of that group of extremists is just one of the many ugly happenings we should stand against. Why would anyone want anything to do with the God we profess to emulate when we can be so judgmental and condemning?

Get off the pew of passivity and denial. Stop making excuses for ugly Christians and love—really love all God’s kids! We need to be Jesus with skin on! Get off the pew!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Unconditional Love

Facebook is responsible for connecting me with many long ago friends. Oh sure, it’s spawned its share of drama, but that’s because Facebook brings out the “junior high” in everyone. But I digress.

Today I had lunch with a friend I’ve reconnected with through Facebook. He’s smart, talented, kind, conservative, and he just so happens to be gay.

It was great to catch up with my old friend. We got to know each other maybe 13 years ago when we worked on a show together. He was so young when I met him and he’s grown into a kind, hardworking young man who’s faced challenges and sadness with grace.

My friend told me something I find heartbreakingly sad. He told me I was the only Christian he’d ever met who he felt truly liked him. He told me he remembers a time when I had his back and he appreciates me.

In 1994 I worked with a fabulous woman who happened to be gay. She said words very close to the ones I heard today—she told me I was one of the only Christians she’d ever met who treated her with respect and kindness. She told me she genuinely liked me, and she sensed that I felt the same about her. I did.

I find it incredibly sad that my gay friends do not readily see Christians as a community who love people unconditionally. These two people do not exactly live in a bubble. I mean it’s not like I’m the only believer they’ve ever met. But I’m the “only Christian” to ever love them—unconditionally love them.

Get off the pew of hate and love your neighbor. What would Jesus do? Who would Jesus love? Get off the pew!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

God Made Me Do It

I got an email this morning from Marc Hartzman, author of the book, “God Made Me Do It”. This is the first I’ve heard of this book, so I can’t comment on the quality of the material, but I can say—it looks very interesting.

I think it takes a great deal of confidence (maybe arrogance) to say, “God told me_____” (fill in the blank). I absolutely know what it means to hear that tiny voice in my heart or my head and to know I’ve heard the voice of God. But, I’m very careful about with whom I share.

In fact, I won’t even let myself fully embrace “the voice” until I’ve prayed about it, made sure the words lines up with the Bible, and I’ve talked about it with a trusted Christian mentor. I’ve never been given a prophesy detailing what someone else is supposed to do, although the Holy Spirit has given me profound wisdom and knowledge to help me deal with certain others in my life.

I wrote a post several months ago called, "Truth and Prophecy". It was written a few months before Oral Roberts passed away. In the post I recounted Reverend Roberts encounter with the 900 foot tall Jesus, and other prophecies. He was famous for his "God told me" statements.

Marc’s email reminded me of a story told several years ago by the Worship Pastor of a large church. He said he was in the hallway one Sunday morning and a parishioner stopped him and said, “God told me that if I saw you this morning I was to share this with you. I feel that we are wrongly leaving the old hymns behind. God wants you to sing more hymns during our worship time.”

The music leader said he thanked the woman for her comment and encouragement and he continued on his way through the hall to his office. Just as he unlocked the door, another church member approached him.

“I prayed about something this morning, and I knew that if I saw you, I was to share this.” The pastor’s ears perked up and he was listening. Maybe this was confirmation from the Lord about the hymns. Okay. The man went on, “God wants us sing more modern worship songs. He’s trying to reach more seekers.”

Wow! What does God want? Hymns or hip and new worship songs?

First of all, just hang out in the hall for a few minutes, and the music pastor will eventually make his way into your path. Therefore, claiming that God only wanted you to share your prophecy if you “saw” the pastor sounds a little fishy. You’re gonna see the worship leader in the hall on Sunday morning!

Secondly, we need to be very careful that we aren’t using God to carry out our own personal agenda. What’s wrong with saying, “Hey Pastor, I really love the old hymns, and I’d like to sing more of them on Sunday morning”? Or, “the new worship songs are just awesome. Let’s sing more of those!”

Get off the pew and be more discerning. I have no doubt that God uses that still small voice to stir my heart. Sometimes the words are loud and strong. “Hey! Get off the pew!"

Saturday, May 22, 2010

God told me...

Several years ago my cousin told us that God told her to stop cutting her hair and only wear shades of white.

Don’t ya love it when God gives fashion advice? I wish God would tell me how to wear my hair and what clothes to put on each day. That would seriously make my mornings less stressful, and—since I’m pretty sure God has great taste—I would most assuredly always look fabulous.

Over the years God has “told” my cousin many things, and she has passed these bits of truth on to as many people as will listen. Last year she told me I was “in the belly of the whale”. She said my “words” were ugly. When I asked her what specifically she was talking about she said, “When you are ready to hear the truth, my dear cousin, I’ll be here”. Um…?

About the time she went “all white” is when I distanced myself from her. I love her, but she’s terribly judgmental and critical of my relationship with God. It doesn’t “look” like she thinks it ought to look, so therefore, it must be wrong.

A few months ago, my zealot cousin took me to task for separating myself from her. She believes it’s my fear of being intimate with God that keeps me at arm’s length from her.

I’m amazed at how often I hear this kind of “it’s you and not me” finger pointing in the church. When asked about broken relationships I’ve heard the following explanations—just to name a few.

“She’s intimidated by my gifts.” “She’s jealous of me.” “He just didn’t want to share the drum throne with me, so I quit the band.”

Are there people in your life with whom you were once very close, but have pulled away from you? Try something really daring…ask them why. Then, really listen with an open heart and hearing ears. Maybe, just maybe, it’s you. Maybe, just maybe, it’s me.

Get off the pew of self-absorbed spiritual arrogance and really listen—to God and to friends who might be missing in action. If it’s me, I want to know. Get off the pew!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ramming Roadblocks

“God must not have wanted it to happen this week, because He allowed one obstacle after another to get in the way.”

I used to be the Director of Drama Ministries at a mega-church. Only in church ministry are volunteers and employees allowed to use the above-mentioned excuse to not get their work done!

After all, who are we to second-guess what God’s plan for the week is? What kind of a Christian would we be if we forced our agenda when God clearly had something else in mind? Please! I can see God rolling His eyes and saying, “don’t blame your laziness on me!”

One of the women I worked with used the “God…obstacles” excuse all the time. Our job was to come up with creative elements for the Sunday morning services—like dramas and videos.

The pastor would provide us with a month’s worth of sermon topics. Then the worship pastor would choose songs that supported the message. Finally, our team would look for short drama sketches that added another funny, thoughtful, or poignant layer to the whole Sunday morning picture. Often, we’d write our own scripts.

I loved our team of talented actors, writers, directors, and tech crew. Most of them poured their gifts and heart into creating God-inspired, high quality art.

My personal code of ethics drives me to follow through on my commitments and promises. As a believer, I’m inclined to believe that the more obstacles mark my path, the more Satan wants to put the kibosh on the project…which makes me pray up and work that much harder to get it done.

But, how do you know for sure that God isn’t the one slowing the project down? How do we rightly distinguish between God closing a door, and a simple Satan snag?

I believe we ought to keep plowing forward. We need to use prayer and old-fashioned stick-to-itiveness to break barriers, ram roadblocks, and hack hurdles. I’d rather know that I was faithful to what God called me to do then to be guilty of blaming Him for my slothfulness. If I don’t do what He’s asked of me, He’ll call someone else.

So, get off the pew of laziness and run the race all the way to the finish line. Let’s commit to stop using God as an excuse for putting our selfish pursuits ahead of Him. Get off the pew!

Monday, May 17, 2010

But God's leading...isn't He?

I'll toss this question out into the blogosphere in hopes it bounces around a bit and comes back to me in the form of an answer.

Suppose a church body spends two years searching for a new pastor. This particular church has a proud history of serving the city, community, and neighborhood.

After 35 years of faithful service, their beloved bigger-than-life pastor died several years ago. In their grief, the congregation acted quickly to replace him (not that he was replaceable). The right man turned out to not be the right guy after all. The past decade has been turbulent, and a few pastors have come and gone—taking family members with them, and leaving sadness in their place.

So, the search committee takes its time. 800 attendees fill out extensive surveys. They answer a myriad of questions about the “right” pastor, including questions about what they were looking for in his education, preaching style, family, etc...

In addition, the survey participants are asked to share their thoughts on the use of music and the arts in the church. Once all the answers from 5-page questionnaire are processed, a sketch of the new “right” guy emerges.

The search committee combs over the many applications that come in from all over the country. They follow up on all the leads. The new pastor is found—at last.

So, a year after the new pastor is installed, he’s taking the church in a completely different direction than the one he was hired to take. He admits it. He believes God has given him a new directive.

And now, the question…

At what point does the congregation get up out of the pew and start asking questions—and expect answers? How long do they say, “God brought this man to us and we will trust that God has a plan”? Does the church body have the right to question the new path, especially after pouring so much of their heart and soul into the search process, or do they keep on trusting?

My personal feeling is that there is never enough open communication from Pastor to congregation. Church leaders are often given carte blanche to take whatever road looks the loveliest. Total control can give way to pride, which can break a man and the flock that was entrusted to him.

So…Preacher! Get off podium, and let the light of transparency shine into your plans. And, parishioners…get off the pew and shake away your fear. He’s just a man. It’s okay to question his decisions (at least it should be). Get off the pew!

Friday, May 14, 2010

We're Game Changers

(This is a guest post. Written by Elizabeth Stoeckel. You can find her blog at

Last night some 25 women gathered at a beautiful home in the gorgeous “Van Ness Extension” neighborhood in my hometown. We came together for the purpose of brainstorming and thinking outside the box.

The girls who showed up last night share a dream—a desire to create a Valley wide Christian women’s group. It was inspiring to be in the company of so many amazing, talented, beautiful, and creative ladies—true game changers!

There’s a disturbing trend in churches today to separate and divide the church family into tiny little subgroups. Large gatherings, events, and Sunday school classes have given way to small groups. I don’t mean groups of say…50 people. I’m talking about clusters no larger than 8 or 10 people. Groups numbering more than that are encouraged to divide.

“The Church”—that is, the world church—has already been broken into denominations. The denominations then break off into factions. The Mennonite church, for example, has several sub-groups. There’s the (Old) Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church, the Mennonite Brethren Church, and the Amish.

If I were a Baptist, I could choose to be a Southern Baptist, a General Baptist, a Calvinist, or a Seventh-Day-Baptist, just to name a few. Whether you consider yourself a liberal Christian, a conservative, or a legalist, there’s a church out there for you.

Further, we’ve divided ourselves over music, food, jewelry, make-up, and public education. Jesus called us one body. We fight, argue, gossip, condemn, and judge the very same people we share the pew with on Sunday morning.

Paul wrote this in Colossians 3:14-16 (NIV): And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

When people are divided they fight. Where there is unity, there is appreciation and respect. “United we stand, divided we fall” is more than just a clever cliché. It’s the truth!

So, we hope to gather thousands of women together from all over the Central Valley to support, love, encourage, and challenge one another. I hope California is ready to be nurtured and cared for in a whole new way!

Look out Central Valley. The girls are uniting! We’re gonna love on you big time—ready or not!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


She was the church gossip. You know the kind—she’s usually on the church staff, or married to the youth pastor or sound guy. She doesn’t actually gossip, but she shares “prayer requests”.

“Please pray for Kathy. You know her husband is having an affair.” “Join me in praying for the Johnson family. Their kids are out of control.” People called her “sensitive” to the needs of others. Oh brother! Karin was the Queen of Gossiptown!

The busybody was quick to pigeonhole people. She made swift and ugly assumptions about innocent parishioners. She’d overhear a portion of a sentence, or a snippet of conversation and she’d identify in the speaker the weakest of character traits, and focus on it and it alone.

Karin told me I was a “control freak” because I expressed a simple opinion. She characterized church attendees as “weak”, “sluts”, or “home wreckers”. Very often she had only the smallest sliver of a fact or rumor on which to build her opinions.

When Karin moved to another state, a friend of mine called her “dog poop on the shoes of our town”. It was time to wipe her memory from the soles of our feet. Her gossip literally ruined lives.

I recently received a Facebook friend request from Karin. The social networking site has linked people that might never have reason or opportunity to connect otherwise. Last week she posted as her status update something that caught my eye. “You cannot judge a tree or a person by only one season. Don’t let the pain of one season destroy the joy of all the rest.”

It has been several years since I spent any real time with Karin. I’m going to take her advice. I am choosing to not judge her by what might have been a season of gossip. Perhaps she’s trying to do better. She may, in fact, be working on her propensity to make rash judgments and assumptions.

Here’s to new seasons! Here’s to new joy!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Can We Buy God's Goodness?

On Sunday I attended the 8:00 service at one of the mega churches in the area. The church has been home to our immediate and extended family for 50 years. When our kids were born we felt blessed to have the opportunity to raise them up with this strong Christian heritage. We all grew spiritually, thanks in part to the good teaching at the church.

Ten years ago we were forced to leave that church. Our hearts were broken. If you’ve never experienced separating from a church family, let me just say—it’s more devastating than the worst kind of divorce drama.

The church’s former pastor had led the congregation for forty-five years, but he retired two years ago. After a two-year search, the new pastor has finally been installed. I’ve been drawn back to my former church home.

Last week the new pastor tackled a subject that every church leader has to address now and again…giving. He taught from the old and new testament, and I thought the teaching was really excellent. The Pastor/Teacher brought the scripture into the 21st century and creatively taught the concept of first fruit.

And then…

Just before passing the offering plate (actually, it was a bag) he made the following statement: “I have always given the first ten percent to God—my first fruits. I want you to know that I have lived a favored life. I believe it is because of my faithfulness that God has blessed me.”

Seriously? Was the pastor saying that if we have experienced loss and bad stuff that we are somehow to blame? Maybe we weren’t faithful enough! And how, exactly, do you explain the Biblical story of Job? He was the most faithful and honorable man in all the land, but God allowed Satan to heap tragedy on his life.

We had always been faithful with our giving—our time, talent, and treasure—but we lost so much. We were forced into bankruptcy, lost our church family, and nearly lost two of our children to the ravages of drug addiction. Are we to blame for what happened to our family?

Pastors are people too, and sometimes they are going to put their foot in their mouth. But listen up…the idea that you live a favored life because you give money to the church does not represent who God is! I know this because I know God and I know His word.

So, dear pastor/teacher—get off the pew and take your foot out of your mouth. Biblical financial principles must be taught from the pulpit, but intimating that when we give to God we are somehow buying an insurance policy against pain? That’s ludicrous!

You bet God wants our first fruits. It’s all His anyway. None of it belongs to me! You painted God as a smooth talkin’ insurance salesman who makes backroom deals and outlandish promises. “Slip me a little somethin’, and I’ll see to it that you’re protected…if you know what I mean.”

Get out your Bible, read the book of Job, then get off the pew and encourage someone who has lost everything. God will restore. Now, get off the pew!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Prayers of the Faithful

The morning sun peaks up over the horizon.
I beg for more time - time to ignore the light.

Something unseen, unheard, but real surrounds my tired body.
My body begins to rise – first out of slumber and then out of bed.
As the sun slowly inches its way into the sky
I feel my body rising in tandem – one tiny measure at a time.

God’s hand raises me to face a new day.
It is not by my power as I am powerless.
I move not by my strength as weakness overtook me long ago.
It is the prayers of the faithful pulling, pushing, lifting, and raising me to a new day.

Thank you