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Ambushed!

Rembrandt-return-of-the-prodigal-son

I have to confess that often my daily quiet time are lackluster and flat. More often that I like to admit, I get through it but (seem) to get little from it.  I can even find myself day-dreaming through it, distracted from the words I’m reading or even saying.  After 18+ years of following Jesus, I have learned not to despair or feel guilt over such things. I know and trust the Spirit is ministering, even in ways I cannot see or even understand. But still, much of what one might call my devotional life can be stale far more than I like.

So why do I persist?

Mostly, because sometimes today happens.

Ambushed by the living Word of God, overwhelmed by joy, humbled by grace… 

In reading Hosea 5:6 – 6:6 and Matthew 8:18-27, it was like a floodgate of refreshing grace-filled living waters to my soul.  The Word led me to sing and worship and pray… and simply to want to be in His Presence, thankful that I am always — even when I don’t see Him.

In reading those two passages together, I was struck by the power of the cross afresh.  I was reminded of His unwavering love for me and the price He paid on my behalf… to spare me, to raise me up, to sanctify me and fill me with His Spirit.

Nothing new.  No epiphany moments. Just pure joy with my Father this morning, as He reminded me again and again… 

you have no idea how much I love you… 
you have no idea how much I love you… 
you have no idea how much I love you…

and that because of His love, the cost of following is both great, but also the greatest bargain in the world!

for where else do we find life?

no where, but in you Father!

Remind me, O Lord… each day! 
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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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A Costly Prayer, Answered

For several years now, there is a prayer that I have been praying for myself and for others.  I often share it at the end of sermons or messages, especially when I am a guest speaker and especially when I am speaking to college students.  Over the years, I have shared it at Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Young LIfe College Leadership and other campus fellowships. I have also shared it with my former church and other churches I speak at.

As I have been reflecting on what God is doing in my life, I realized that in many ways He has been answering this prayer — and it has been at times painful and costly. Yet worth every pain and any cost.  In answering it, He has been shaping me, sanctifying me and purifying me.

It can be dangerous to pray bold prayers — because sometimes God answers them.

This one, I will keep praying — that it would be true of me… and also increasingly true of you.  And I would challenge you to pray it as well… but be careful, the cost is high.

 

I am a part of the fellowship of the Unashamed.

I have the Holy Spirit Power.

The die has been cast.

I have stepped over the line.

The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.

My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure.

I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning,

smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions,

mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity,

position, promotions, plaudits, orpopularity.

I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised,

regarded, or rewarded.

I now live by presence, learn by faith,

love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.

My pace is set,

my gait is fast,

my goal is Heaven,

my road is narrow,

myway is rough,

my companions few,

my Guide is reliable,

my mission is clear.

I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back,

diluted, or delayed.

I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice,

hesitate in the presence of adversity,

negotiate at the table of the enemy,

ponder at the pool of popularity,

or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, back up, let up, or shut up

until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up

for the cause of Christ.

 

I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I must go until He returns,

give until I drop,

preach until all know,

and work until He comes.

 

And when He comes to get His own,

He will have no problem recognizing me.

My banner will be clear for

“I am not ashamed of the Gospel,

because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)

(Adapted from Dr. Bob Moorehead)

Lord, may this be more true of me, your servant, everyday…

For the glory is yours alone, forever and ever…

AMEN.

 

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Cured

One of the first scripture verse that I ever memorized was Galatians 2:20, when I was 17 years old and a very young believer:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Almost 19 years later, I think I am beginning to get it.

Over the last several months, in my prayer life, journaling, reflection and spiritual direction, I have realized that I have been CURED FROM THE NEED FOR SIGNIFICANCE.

This has been a journey.

I can honestly say that I have never had a need to be important, noticed, up front.

But I have always longed to be part of something significant.  In fact, calling people to a life of significance was a major theme in my preaching and teaching for over a decade.

I’m not sure that was bad or wrong — just a season.  And now I am somewhere else.

I don’t need significance. 

The things that matter to me these days are far simpler: relationships — with others and with God. 

The irony is that as my need for significance has been dying, I feel like God has been opening opportunities for significant impact.  I’m okay with that too — but I don’t need it.

My prayer is simply that I would be faithful daily to following Jesus… whatever that means today.

And usually it is about relationships. People. Listening. Praying. Sitting in God’s presence. Pointing others towards him.

It’s a good thing.

 

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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6 Decisions, Conclusions

I have been blogging about six key decisions I made in the weeks after things blew up in my life and at the church.  These six decisions were critical to me being able to make it through everything.

Those decisions allowed me to make other important decisions: go to culinary school, live in Manchester, get a job as a chef, connect with a Hartford church, develop new friends, etc, etc.

Life is very much about makin decisions and continually moving forward.  Again, I wasn’t perfect these last two years… I didn’t make all the right decisions… there were set-backs and trip-ups.  But overall, I feel like when it came to the core and fundamental decisions… those I got right and because of that I was able to keep moving forward in a healthy way.

While life is good for me now, there are still a number of unresolved relationships.  I am still not happy with how things ended with the church and with the Board. And I wish that there could be more positive closure with the congregant/friend involved.  But I feel like I have don everything I can — and everything Jesus asks of me — in those relationships and it is outside my power to see these things finish well.  While I have not given up hope, I also know that it is outside my control.

So what next?

Continue to make good decisions… move forward… and keep my eyes on Jesus.

[Click links below for each post in this series:]

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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6 Decisions, #6: Keep my Eyes on Jesus as I Limp Through the Race

The single most important decision I made every day during this time was to Keep my Eyes on Jesus as I limped through the race.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

As much pain as I was in, as hopeless as the situation seemed, as depressed as I became, as paralyzed as I was… I never stopped praying, reading scripture, or crying out to God.

My faith never wavered.  And I kept my eyes on Jesus.

I know a lot of guys who after their world collapses, just walk away from faith.  And I know even more who when their sexuality clashes with what the institutional church is saying… just walk away too.

I know way too many gay refugees from the church… including those who left the church I was at.

That thought never even crossed my mind.

For me, I knew that whatever the answer was… whatever the future was going to look like… it was going to be found in Jesus.

I also knew that whatever Jesus said to me about this issue, I would do.  He is my Lord, and that trumps all else.

Luckily, through all of this, I learned to not just love God more — but to love God while also liking myself at the same time.  I learned, too, to freely and fully accept God’s love for me as his child… something I had preached 1000 times to others, but had a hard time believing for myself.

And Jesus was faithful to me in the midst of the darkness.

He spoke.

He listened.

He comforted.

He challenged.

He walked with me.

He sat with me.

He cried with me.

He was with me — and He was for me.

And I knew, that no matter what else I did, I had to keep my eyes on Him… or I would be lost.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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6 Decisions, #5: Move Forward with Integrity — Because Integrity Always Wins

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.” — Proverbs 10:9 ESV

“Having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” — 1 Peter 3:16 ESV

 I have a basic axiom for life: INTEGRITY ALWAYS WINS.

And I define integrity simply as Stephen Carter does in his book called “Integrity”.  Carter explains:

“As I define it, integrity involves three steps. The first is to discern what is right and wrong… The second step is to struggle to live according to the sense of right and wrong you have discerned, [no matter the consequence]. The third is to be willing to say what we are doing and why we are doing it.”

It was in leadership that I learned that INTEGRITY ALWAYS WINS.  Anyone in leadership who is getting anything significant done has been ruthlessly attacked, maligned and lied about.  It kind of goes with the territory.  I learned early that the best response was always to respond with integrity.  INTEGRITY ALWAYS WINS.

And the opposite is probably true too: when you act without integrity, you lose.

I learned that the hard way.  The circumstances that created my life explosion were because I failed to act with integrity, I failed to live up to my own standards, and I failed to live up to God’s standards.

But in the aftermath of what happened, I decided that as much as I could I would act and respond with integrity — because INTEGRITY ALWAYS WINS.

Here are some practical ways this played out:
  1. Once everything blew up, I confessed and revealed everything (probably more detail than they wanted) to the Board.
  2. I never blamed others for what happened to me.  I accepted full personal responsibility.
  3. When accused of something I was guilty of, I acknowledged it.  When I was accused of something I did not do, I answered the charge.
  4. I never bad-mouthed the church.  I was truthful about what happened on the blog, and was even open in criticizing the process and decisions that were made, but I never bad-mouthed the church or the board. (In fact, I still think it is a great church and I often refer people to it and I still financially support its missions when I can.)
  5. While the Board agreed to pay me three months salary when I left, I was aware of the financial stress the church was under and I voluntarily did not take the final month of pay (even though I had no income at the time).  This just seemed like the right thing to do.
  6. I expressed publicly that I would answer anyone’s questions and meet with anyone who wanted to talk to me about what happened.  Several members of the church took me up on this offer and it was helpful for both of us.
  7. As I wrote about yesterday, I embraced a philosophy of transparency.
I could go on… but I think you see the point.

Now all of this (and this blog series) may make it seem like I always got it right and that I was saint through the whole process. That is not the case.  I made a lot of mistakes — especially early in the process.  And in each case, it was a failure to adhere to the basic principle of INTEGRITY WINS.

For example, when I was first confronted by the congregant I had been involved with — and he told me that he thought we should disclose to the Board what had happened between us — I responded defensively, out of anger and fear.  In the process, I hurt the congregant (who was also a very close and valued friend) and also made the process more complicated.  But at other times — and many times throughout the process — I do think I acted with integrity and was able to respond in a Christ-like way, not out of fear or anger.

Of all the decisions I made, this was the one that I had to make again and again every day — and sometimes several times throughout the day.

And to be honest, this is true for all people — not just those coming out of crisis.  All of us face decisions every day — and we choose whether to respond with integrity or not.  So let me encourage you: INTEGRITY ALWAYS WINS.
 
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Posted by on May 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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6 Decisions, #1: Prioritize & Seek Community

The first key world-saving decision I made in the midst of my own personal world exploding was to PRIORITIZE & SEEK COMMUNITY.

This was not easy.

I had been someone who for over ten years had a very tight-knit and strong faith community.  Even more, I had close, deep friendships within that community.  These were people I thought I would “do life with” for pretty much my life.  These were people I would have done anything for and been there for no matter what; and assumed the same for me… that they would be there no matter what. I knew who to call at 2 AM.  I knew who had my back.  I knew who would extend grace.  I knew who was an unconditional brother or sister in Christ.  Or at least I thought I knew.

The truth is that 95% of the those people were gone as soon as the news was out.

I think it breaks down into four categories:  (1) some people stood with me; (2) some abandoned me out of anger; (3) some abandoned me out of awkwardness; and (4) some were never really there. I was merely a useful entity in their lives (as chaplain/pastor), but the relationship did not go beyond utility for them.  Many of the angry ones just went silent.  Others sent me nasty emails and letters.  Several became part of a chorus spreading accusations and untruths, in many ways poisoning the waters even more than they were.  The ones who stayed with me… who called, emailed, stayed in contact — you all have no idea how much your small gestures meant to me. It was like water to a panting deer in the desert, like bread to a starving soul.

But I pretty much lost my community, but also knew that the only way forward would be with community.

So what did I do?

I made a priority out of finding and creating a new community around me.

The first thing was to LEAN ON MY FAMILY.  I have a big family and they have been nothing but a blessing to me these last two years (and more than that).  I always thought of the church as my second family, but that turned out not to be true at all.  My real family was gracious, loving, supportive and understanding.  None of them are Christians (I grew up in a Jewish family and consider myself a Jewish follower of Jesus) and all very liberal/progressive.  So for them, the gay issue was really not an issue at all.  And I suspect the whole situation probably just confirmed for them their negative view of evangelical Christians.  But they never let that issue cloud their love and support for me.  They respected that these issues were more complicated for me than it might be for them; they modeled unconditional love and grace.

The second thing I did was reach back in time to RECONNECT WITH OLD FRIENDS.  For me, this mostly meant seeking out old from friends from when I was involved with campus ministry at Clark University.  Some folks I had kept up with over the years; others I hadn’t talked to in years.  But they were there for me!  They loved me.  They spoke into my life.  They helped me gain perspective. They were true brothers and sisters in Christ to me.  Sarah, Himesh, Jean Luc, Omar, Larainne, Melanie… together and individually they became like the friends who carried the paralytic to Jesus (Mark 2).  They carried me and I was able to experience forgiveness, restoration and learn to walk again.  A couple of nights on Sarah’s couch… a good day eating Indian food with Himesh and Jean Luc… these things sustained me, reminded me who I was, reminded me who God was.

And get this: they didn’t have much profound to say.  No sage advice or deep theological insight.  Most admitted they didn’t really know what to say or suggest.  They also all hold a varied and diverse theological view of the issues involved.  But they were there for me. They were friends.  Even more so, they were brothers and sisters — they were my community.

The third thing I did was SEEK ONLINE COMMUNITY.  I knew that if I was going to make it through this I needed to talk to some folks who had a story that could relate to my own.  I connected with some folks on the Gay Christian Network and connected with at least one guy, named Josh.  Josh and I emailed a lot that summer.  I told him my story, he shared his own.  We prayed for each other, he held me accountable, yelled at me when I started talking too negatively, sent me scriptures to read.  I never met him (or others on GCN) in person, but they were part of my community.

The fourth thing I did was COMMIT TO SMALL GROUP.  I knew that this was critical.  I needed a place to connect with other Christians in real fellowship and accountability, focused on the Bible and Jesus.  It wasn’t as easy to find as you might think.  I hunted around the state for a good group to connect with.  Some were just secular groups — no good.  Some were crazy fundamentalist groups — really no good.  I tried to connect with a Celebrate Recovery group at a church in Meriden and was told by the pastor I wasn’t welcomed there.  But then I found a men’s small group at a good church in Manchester.  I started going in July 2009 and went for over a year.  This formed the basis for my ongoing fellowship and community during my healing and restoration.  In addition to our weekly Monday night meetings, we talked on the phone, texted, etc.  This group was totally non-judgmental and totally committed at the same to Biblical accountability.  These guys were great — what the church should be.  I will always be thankful (and praying for) these guys… Bryan, Brian, Eric, Rich, Bob, other Bob, and the others.

Those first three months I had a lot of dark days — more dark days than light days.  At first, I was literally paralyzed; then I became part of the walking wounded, unsure if I would survive it. Equally unsure if I wanted to.

But these folks — this quickly assembled community of family and family — were there for me.  They saw me through those critical early days.  And they are with me know.  And I will ever be grateful for them.
 
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Posted by on May 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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