Tag Archive | grace

Love, Acceptance, and Authenticity

Yesterday, I saw the movie “Love, Simon” and it was very convicting to me.

Let me start by answering the obvious question running through your mind, but I will elaborate extensively on this as I continue…. Why would a Christian woman want to see a movie about a teenager coming out as a gay young man?

I was intrigued by the movie when I first saw the preview and knew I would love it because it would be real and about voicing emotional struggles, something I’m not the greatest at.  I chose yesterday because it was the 4th anniversary of the funeral my uncle (who was also my godfather) and I thought it would be a nice way to show respect him because I loved him deeply.

I will digress for a moment to share about my relationship with my uncle.  I found out my uncle was gay when I was in high school and I had a really hard time with accepting that.  It really wasn’t until I was in college and had a gay professor/friend that I was able to love them both for who they were.

For the record, I was not a Christian at the time.  I had grown up as a Catholic, been confirmed, and then walked away from God.  I mention this only to say that my initial concern with homosexuality was not because I felt “holier than thou” or that I was a better person (trust me, I had my own “sexual sin” to contend with), I just didn’t understand it; it was different and different confused me.

And now, over 20 years later, I am a Christian, and honestly, I still don’t understand homosexuality.  But, you know what… it doesn’t matter whether I understand it or not.  God did not place me on this earth to understand other people or their choices.  He created me to seek Him, allow the Holy Spirit to transform me from the inside, and love other people.

Back to my uncle… He was a kind, loving man, and I felt like I could be completely myself around him.  I never felt like I had to wear a mask or try to impress him.  I knew he loved me simply because I was me, not because of what I did for him. When I spoke at his funeral, I shared several stories that described our relationship and ultimately compared the love my uncle showed me to the kind of love that God shows me – the unconditional kind.  I listened to my speech yesterday and cried the whole time.

I cried because I miss the one relationship in my life where I felt I could be truly authentic and not be judged.

I cried because losing my uncle also meant I have lost connection with his friends, who I also care deeply for.

I cried because a family member, who I used to have an amazing relationship with and I know truly loves me and wants the best for me and our family, sent me a very hurtful text over a year later regarding my decision to have a private wedding and threw in a dig about that speech being all about me.

I cried because after the funeral and at the after-party at the bar my uncle previously owned, so many of his friends came up to me and told me what I said meant so much to them.  The crazy part is that it wasn’t just the stories I shared that impacted people, it was the way I talked about God and salvation and even talking about when I shared Christ with my uncle.

I just cried and cried…. and then I went to see Love, Simon and cried some more, on the way home, I cried even more….

I guess it’s about time to get to the original point of this blog…. otherwise, you might think I’m just a cry baby (which I am, so I’m happy to share that as well).

There’s a part in the movie (and it’s the trailer, so this isn’t a spoiler) where a comment is made as to why straight people don’t have to come out.  That got me thinking….

I think they should… I think we all should “come out”, but sadly, many of us never do.  I’m not talking about our sexuality here, I’m talking about something way more intimate – coming out as who we are.

I can imagine that telling your family and friends that you’re gay is incredibly scary, but it’s just as hard to share your authentic self…. the imperfect, crazy, sinful, broken-hearted person that you are; that I am; that we all are.  It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, we are all pretty messed up – and that’s okay.  That’s what we are supposed to be.  That’s actually what drives us to seek God, although we often look for substitutes before we get on the right path (but, that’s a blog for another day).

I understand why people don’t want to share their imperfections – because judgment hurts.  Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are, especially if they’re different from you.  I think we need to create a culture where it’s okay to be different and stop trying to be the judge of everyone’s life.  God is the only judge that matters (well, other than our court system, which I am not trying to minimize here).

God will judge us (Revelation 20:11-15), that’s biblical.  And, it’s also biblical for Christians to judge other Christians in a well-defined manner (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13).  This type of “discipline” is to be done in love, bathed in prayer, and it’s vitally important to remember to make sure we are looking first to our “logs” before our brother’s “specks” (Matthew 7:1-5).  I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of my own logs to worry about before I start condemning random people for their sins.

God commands me to love… (Mark 12:28-31; John 13:34-35; John 15:12-13; etc, etc – lots of this in the Bible).  Love means accepting people who are different than you.  Let me phrase that a little differently… Love means accepting people who sin differently than you.  Love means seeking to understand the emotions and feelings that are beneath other people’s choices and truly getting to the heart of the matter.  And, if we are completely honest, the “heart of the matter” is often a scarred, beat up, abused, terrible mess.  I know mine is!

Love means being vulnerable with those closest to you and accepting their vulnerability when they share it with you.  And while you may not agree with who they are or the choices they make, showing them grace and mercy rather than condemnation.  We also should commend their bravery for sharing intimate details of their life because that’s never easy, and again, I am talking about more than just sexuality.

Shame and guilt are from the devil.  While we should not be proud of our sins, we shouldn’t feel ashamed to share who we are, sin and all.  We are all sinful people.  It’s nothing to be afraid of.  We live in a broken world; horrible things happen; it’s heartbreaking.  That all started with Adam and Eve and it’s only going to get worse before it ultimately gets better when Jesus comes back for eternity.

Why add to the world’s problems by shaming and condemning others for who they are or what they choose?  We all have tons of our own problems to work on, so there’s no reason to add to our list of sins by being critical of others.

And when the person we are shaming doesn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, all that happens is they get pushed farther away from desiring to know God.  I feel like if we, as believers, show compassion to everyone, regardless of how they sin differently, we would present Christianity in a much better light.  Sometimes I feel that unbelievers do a better job of showing love and mercy than we Christians do, and that makes me sad.

I look forward to living in a world where we see our similarities, not our differences; where we can respectfully agree to disagree when we don’t see things the same; where we seek out to better understand why we disagree without it becoming an argument.

I had a very open conversation with a Muslim while in Senegal and it was amazing.  I see our differences, but I also see where we are the same.  I didn’t feel led to argue about right and wrong.  I simply told him what I believed and he told me what he believed.  I shared my perspective and I listened to his perspective.  It was simply beautiful.  I want this in all areas of life.

I need to do my part in this.  I want to share more openly how I feel, and I want to listen better to how others feel.  I don’t want to start debates of what is “right” and what is “wrong”.  If you ask me for my beliefs and opinions, I want to be honest with you, even if it’s not what you want to hear, but I don’t want it to turn into an argument.  We can agree to disagree, but it’s important that we share our authentic selves and not wear a mask.  I do this pretty well with a couple of my long-time friends because after all these years they “get” me, but I want to be like this with everyone and not feel like I have to dance around my feelings so as not to offend.  My motivation is never to offend… I just want to hear and be heard.

I used to be better at this than I am now.  I guess it’s easier when you’re young, single, and carefree.  But, now, I have more intimate grown-up relationships, where I want everyone to feel free to be honest about what they truly believe without it turning into something ugly.  I’ve experienced enough “ugly” to last a lifetime, so I’m ready for things to change.

I mentioned crying after seeing Love, Simon….the whole way home…. Now, I am going to be vulnerable and tell you why.

I cried because despite having a blog called “Authentic Believer”, I hardly write blogs of any real significance anymore.  Why?  I guess it’s because I am struggling with intimacy in my marriage and if I can’t share my true self with my husband, how can I share my authentic feelings publicly?

I cried because just yesterday morning, I had an assignment in this marriage book and workbook I am working through (it’s called “How We Love”) that told my avoider self to ask people for help even if I don’t think I need it.  It even says that this will be difficult and to ask God to help you first recognize and acknowledge your needs.  I did that, but I still didn’t recognize or acknowledge my need.  I needed to invite my husband to see Love, Simon with me.  I needed him to understand why it was important for me to see it.  But, instead, I encouraged him to go hang out with his youngest son because he just returned from visiting his mother during spring break.

I couldn’t invite him to see the movie because I was afraid he wouldn’t want to go or wouldn’t appreciate it the same way as me.  I couldn’t even talk to him about the movie, other than to say it was good.  I am crying as I type this because it’s terrible I am so afraid of our differences that it’s easier to post my feelings for the whole world to see than to just tell my husband how I feel.  I’ve always been a better writer than talker; I guess that’s part of it.

This intimacy part is blog lagniappe; I didn’t even intend to go here at all, but I needed to to be authentic… and just for the record, the feelings I shared above are not about my husband. He is a wonderful man, he loves me for me, and he’s incredibly compassionate and great with emotions (unlike me).  This intimacy problem is all me, my husband tries so hard, but it’s my issue.  I don’t want anyone to misunderstand that.

I am going to try and blog more and let everyone know who I really am; if I am going to be an authentic believer, I need to be authentic.  I think some people think they know me better than I know myself.  But, that’s not true, I know myself really well; I just don’t always share it very well.  I hope that will change.

I always like to end my blogs with a verse, but I didn’t know the right one until attending church. I’m including it here:

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

‭‭Titus‬ ‭3:1-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

#thxsimon

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Love Rather than Judge (November 25, 2009)

I talk to a lot of people – huge surprise, I know – Christians who attend church, those who do not, as well as people who do not believe in God at all. In fact, I just had a conversation with a friend who grew up in a Baptist church, but no longer attends any church with her family. Her rational was exactly the same issue I hear from most people who are not actively participating in their faith, especially Christians. It is simply a fear of judgment from the members of the church. This fear may or may not be legitimate, as Satan is the father of lies, and thus tries to pass on self-doubt to individuals. He hopes that this will prevent people from living the lives God has designed for them. However, I believe that a person’s fear of judgment within a church body can be rational. Sometimes people who have grown from certain sins want to help other people going through similar events, and this may come across as judgmental – although it’s likely never the intention of the more mature believer.

Simply put, our job as Christians is to love other people. This doesn’t only apply to lovable people. We should love sinners and less mature Christians, just as Christ loves us, even though it may not always be comfortable for us to do so. We should love others, especially other believers, without judgment or condemnation. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1).” Even if we have spent our entire lives as Christians, and have no major skeletons from our own past, we still fall extremely short of Jesus’ perfection. Jesus died on the cross for everyone, not just us. We need to reach people and share God’s love without any strings attached. We should love others where they are, and encourage their spiritual growth without coming across as if we believe we are better than them.

God is responsible for judging everyone and will hold us accountable for our actions here on Earth. Christians passing judgment on other Christians is essentially saying that God cannot accomplish His will without our help. It is not our place to articulate all of the sins of every person we come in contact with. Believers should establish accountability partners to help facilitate their Christian growth, with people they trust and respect. This way, if you start to engage in inappropriate behavior, there is always a gentle voice to guide you back along the path to righteousness. Any spiritual correction that is necessary should always be given in a humble, loving, private manner. It should be accompanied with understanding and support, rather than judgment and superiority.

In general, we should always remember the words of Matthew 7:3 “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” This is an exhortation to believers, and reminds us that we will be judged according to the manner we judge others. Trust in the fact that God can and will change believers into the person He desires them to be. Once a nonbeliever truly accepts Christ into their heart, they will be personally convicted by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works differently in everyone’s life. Sin problems are not all tackled immediately when someone becomes a Christian. God is gentle, loving, and will guide people through their Christian growth. We should nurture this growth as sisters in Christ. Paul sums this up perfectly in Romans 14:1-4:

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

God is in control and will accomplish His will regardless of how much we help Him ‘fix’ other people. This holiday season, may we all live out the words of Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Help make the church a safe place for all people, no matter what their past, present, or future sins may be. Through love, not judgment, we can show others how incredibly fortunate we are to have such a merciful God.

The Unknown Staircase

I used to say that my life could be described by a sinusoidal wave. I would be doing well in life, and then get complacent at the top, and then slide back down to a low point. The pit wouldn’t be a comfortable place, so I would work my way out of it (with or without God’s help) and then head back up the curve, until I reached the apex once again. This cycle would continue over and over again. As I became a Christian, I noticed that the amplitude of the wave (sorry, I am a chemist) would decrease, but I still stuck with the sine wave concept.

Yesterday, I came up with a new analogy that I shared in Sunday school this morning. The concept started earlier this year while watching The Biggest Loser. The trainers talk to contestants about their self-sabotaging behavior, stating that they tend to resist success because they fear it. They are comfortable with failure, but afraid of the unknown – the life that would result from reaching their goals. I was able to identify with that, on some level, because while I have grown spiritually in my Christian walk, I am still not trusting God as much as I would like to be. I now relate my journey to a staircase (perhaps the Stairway to Heaven…Ha! Okay, bad joke).

Life is like a staircase, of an unknown length. I climb the stairs until I reach a point where I find myself completely outside of my comfort zone. I hang out there for a while, trying to decide whether to go higher or not. I previously believed I would grow complacent because I put my trust in myself, but I am not sure that’s completely the case. I think it’s more that I get afraid of heights, and I don’t know what the next steps of the staircase hold. I lose my balance and fall down a few steps. Eventually, I regain my composure and restart my ascent. I climb a little higher, because I’ve been on those steps before….until I reach a new level, and lose my balance and fall again, but not as far as before. This cycle continues, and while I am growing, I never get to see what’s at the top of the staircase. In fact, I still have no idea how high it extends…

The staircase can be equated to aspects of my life that I trust God with. I trust Him with more and more every day, but I am still holding onto some fears and insecurities. Ironically, they don’t seem to be what the average person would think when they look at me. I have no problem trusting God with events outside of my control, but I struggle with some of my day to day concerns. Luckily, every day, He reminds me of the things I need to give completely to Him. I feel I am slowly getting there, as I feel led to leave my comfort zone. That helps me get higher on the staircase before I lose my balance. Eventually, I pray that my balance improves, and I can climb higher and higher without fear.

Fear…what am I afraid of? It certainly isn’t falling down the stairs. I’m really accomplished at that; in fact, I have learned to do so with grace, almost like a dismount off of the balance beam. I can land softly on my feet, stick the landing, regroup, and climb back up. Falling doesn’t seem to hurt much these days because I’ve accepted God’s grace, so that can’t be my fear. I think I’m more afraid of what’s at the top of the stairs… Essentially, fear of the unknown; the things that God could accomplish through me if I let Him.

I’m trying to give it completely to God and continue climbing the staircase. I’ve looked back at my prayer journal from four years ago, and I see how far He’s brought me. I know He’s completely capable of bringing me higher. I just have to trust Him and keep stepping out of my comfort zone, even though Satan will continue to attack me by engaging my fear.

God loves me; He loves you too… He has only wonderful things in store for us. All we have to do is trust Him completely, every day, every hour, every minute. He has an amazing plan for our lives, if only we can step out of the way and let Him achieve it!

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Come to the Feast

As part of a Bible study on James, I spent some time researching and meditating on the parable of the wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-14). The verses related, in the James study, to whether we can lose our eternal rewards. Better than that, however, I think this scripture ties in well with my previous thoughts on salvation.

There are two main points in this parable that are just as relevant today as they were to the original audience. The text compares “the kingdom of heaven” to a wedding feast, which implies this is about our salvation. The imagery described provides a dire need for us to pay attention and understand what Jesus meant by these words, as the scenarios for those who did not were disastrous!

The first point of this parable is that being invited does not mean you will be present at the wedding feast! God gives us all free will to choose to accept His invitation. The Jews believed they were “chosen” and set apart for heaven. That may be true, but they were too busy living their religious lives that they did not attend the feast of the king. Or worse, they were violently opposed to the king!

This lesson is every bit as applicable to us today as it was for the Pharisees! It doesn’t matter who you are, who you’re related to, or what you have done… You are single-handedly responsible for accepting Jesus’ invitation to attend His feast. Only you can make sure you will be in heaven.

You can’t get there by your works, or even being holy enough, because Jesus was the only sinless man! We are so far away from Jesus’ perfection that we cannot fellowship with God! But, God loved us so much that He allowed His only Son to die for our sins. The greatest part is, He wants us to spend eternity with Him!

But, we have to believe in Him and trust that we are saved because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Not making a decision to be at the wedding feast is just as detrimental as choosing not to be there!

All of mankind is invited to the wedding, and Jesus desires your presence. He invited everyone, but not everyone who attended the feast was allowed to remain….

There was a man, not wearing the proper garment, who caused the king to tell his attendant “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 22:13).”

That doesn’t sound too promising, especially in light of hell being described in the same manner elsewhere in the gospels! But, what does the garment refer to?

Fashion?? Not exactly!

I don’t believe the king expected the common people to have the appropriate attire for the wedding, therefore I believe it was provided for them. That means if someone was not wearing the garment, it would have been an act of blatant disregard for the king!

I take this part of the parable to mean this… The garment represents our trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and for our salvation. However, if someone accepts Jesus’ invitation for salvation, but continues in their rampant indulgence of sin, while completely ignoring the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then maybe they did not truly understand what Jesus did for them on Calvary!

I am not implying that once we accept Jesus’ gift of salvation that we have to immediately stop sinning and have our lives completely together. But, I do believe we must be open to the change!

Jesus did not die for our sins so we would have an excuse to continue exactly as we were, completely unchanged. We were reborn in Him, given a second (and third, and fourth, and infinite) chance to do better! God wants our heart, all of us, not just a “one and done” prayer. It’s a lifelong journey, but the rewards are eternal!

Have you accepted God’s gift of salvation? It may seem scary to go from a worldly, finite view of life to an infinite, spiritual one, but God will help you make the transition. He will be with you every step of the way, and the journey is exciting! You will learn so much about yourself and God when you embark on this path; it’s amazing!

God doesn’t expect perfection from you, but rather a heart that wants to grow to be more like Him! He’s preparing us to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

I wouldn’t choose any other way, would you?