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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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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, #2: Find Mentors & Listen to Them

Yesterday I posted about the first major decision I made in the aftermath of what happened two years ago.  You can read about it here. (and here).  Today, I want to talk about the second key decision: finding mentors and listening to them.

In the immediate aftermath, I desperately needed friends, support and community.  I found that in my family, by reaching back to some long time friends, online and in a great small group.  these folks were great in terms of standing with me, loving me unconditionally and encouraging me.  But what I also desperately needed were some people who could direct me, challenge me, walk with me and help me put together a plan for moving forward.  I needed mentors who had wisdom, would be blatantly honest with me, and knew enough about the issues to help me navigate forward.

In an ideal situation, the church would have called together an outside restoration team to help facilitate the process of church discipline and restoration.  For a variety of reasons, the church chose not to do that.

So my second key decision was essentially to build a restoration team for myself.

Here was the team: JR, Bart, Joe, Kit and Paul.

Each of these guys brought something different to the table — and were essential to the process.  They also represent a varied and diverse life and theological perspective, that too was helpful.  Some of the people I had a longterm previous relationship with, some I had met once or twice, others I sought out even though I had never met them.

  • JR. I had met JR once before when he spoke at the church I was at for the national Starving Jesus tour.  I had spoken to him a few times on the phone when we were part of the first National Porn Sunday a few years earlier. He is also the brainchild behind Hollywood Pastor. I sent JR a facebook message about what was happening and he called me back pretty quickly.  His advice? Get in the car and drive to Cleveland.  So I did.  I knew at that point that I need someone to direct me, lead me, pastor me and guide me.  I got in the car, drove to Cleveland, and spent time with JR and his family — Diane (his wife) and three adopted kids Mia, Angel and Zian.  Those three days were the beginning of my healing, the start of my restoration, and the turning point for me from complete despair to moving forward… if very slowly.  As much as my long conversations with JR (& Di) were helpful and challenging, it is as much the time hanging out with the three kids that started to heal me.  They showed me love, grace and acceptance.  Over the next several weeks and months, I pretty much talked to JR almost daily.  He, more than anyone, has helped me navigate through the last two years.  While I don’t talk to him nearly as often anymore, he is still one of the most important mentors and truth-tellers in my life, and will be a life-long friend.
  • BART. I had also met Bart when he came and spoke at the church.  I am not sure why I contacted him, but I believe it was a prompting by the Holy Spirit.  I emailed Bart and he called me back almost immediately — as JR had done.  His advice?  Get in the car and drive to Cincinnati. So I did.  Apparently Ohio was going to be central to my healing.  I spent two days with Bart and his family in urban inner-city Cincinnati, where they live and minister.   Bart is one of the busiest people I have ever met and a lot of our time was spent talking as we went from one place to another.  Where JR focused on my own healing/recovery/health/relationship with God, Bart and I talked theology.  Bart was able to help me think theologically about what had happened and also about sexuality, the Bible, sin, redemption, forgiveness, calling, restoration, etc.  This was invaluable to me.  Bart was also great two other key areas: first, in diagnosing the problem; and second, in helping me think through really practical and necessary next steps.  In terms of diagnosis, while lots of other people were hypothesizing and explaining, he hit it on the head: hiddenness kills.  In short, keeping my sexuality hidden and shameful for 17 years was a really bad idea.  It caused me to be emotionally adolescent even as an adult, it taught me to hide and ignore my feelings and emotions, and ultimately it was inevitable that something like what happened would happen.  So the answer moving forward could not include the same kind of shame or hiddenness.  In terms of practical next steps, Bart put me in contact with people to just talk to — other pastors, gay Christians, etc.  He told me not to worry about career — just get a job and be a normal person.  He challenged me to find a strong church community, to not rush into any kind of ministry, to take time and space to grow and heal and become comfortable with who I was.  Bart’s wisdom was invaluable — and it continues to be.  We keep in contact by email and he has continued to give me great encouragement, advice and challenge.
  • JOE. I knew Joe through his books and writings.  He is a well-known and well-respected counselor and therapist who has done a lot of work with fallen pastors.  So I contacted him and we started  counseling together (via the phone… Joe is located in California).  This was less a mentor relationship than a formal counselor-counselee relationship.  Joe was great and very helpful for me.  We worked together for almost a year — not cheap, but very helpful and effective.  In addition to general counseling issues, Joe helped me integrate a lot of the input I was getting from other mentors, etc.  He also helped me interact with the church, the Board, the congregant, etc.  He helped me write letters, etc.  His experience, compassion, personal story and wisdom were just as invaluable as Bart and JR.  I worked through a 30-Day plan with him (daily homework, journaling, etc), processed a lot of the material I was working on in my small group, strategizing next steps, etc.  He was also able to screen for things like depression. Working with a professional like Joe reminded me why professional counselors can be so helpful.
  • KIT. Kit is a counselor and also focuses on spiritual direction.  In fact, I had been seeing him for spiritual direction prior to everything blowing up. Kit has also become a good friend.  Because Kit was (almost) local and knew me before — as well as knew many of the “players” at the church — he was able to offer some unique perspective and insight.  He was also just really great when i would sit in his office and just cry.  He is among the most compassionate and grace-filled people I know.  He also has lots of experience working with pastors and understands the dynamics of ministry.  Kit also has a heart for restoration and inner healing — and a heart of prayer.  I am very thankful for Kit and his ministry to me.
  • PAUL. Paul is a Jesuit priest whom I have known for over a decade.  My focus with him was primarily pastoral. He heard my confession, prayed for me, sat with me, listened to me and simply affirmed theological truth for me: God’s holiness, God’s forgiven
    ess, God’s unfailing and unwavering love.  I now continue to see Paul regularly for spiritual direction.  This has been a great blessing to me as I have continued to learn deeper ways of connecting with God, praying, listening and simply being in His presence.  Because I knew him so long, he also had insights into the situation, also knew many of the “players”, and had an ability to get past the superficial answers (and questions).

 

So this was my team.

Without them, I would not have made it this far.

I learned so much from each of them — and am deeply thankful for them.

Pulling together this team was critical to my healing and restoration.  While I think a process coordinated through — and including — the church would have been more effective and helpful (to me and the church), I knew that when the church decided to be part of no process, I still needed a restoration team.  

Simply put, when in crisis, sometimes you need the big guns.  I was blessed to have access to a great team of Godly men to help me navigate forward.

One last note… as the time progressed, my needs changed.  I see Paul regularly and keep in touch with both JR and Bart (especially as I face major decisions).  I consider Kit a good friend and pray for his ministry often (he is now church planting!) Joe and I formally ended our counseling, but I can call him if I need to.  But now I have others who walk with me.  Friends at my new church, for example.  And I have new mentors… like my pastor Nancy and others.

I am a big believer in mentoring and that everyone should both have mentors and be mentors.  One of the reasons I was able to connect with these folks was because I had relationships with some of them and deeply believed in the importance of mentoring — and was willing to listen to them when they spoke.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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2 Years

It has almost been exactly two years since my life blew up.

In an instant I lost almost everything: my closest friends, my job, my income, my purpose, my ministry, my home, my church and my faith community. I also lost my reputation, respect and any status I might have had.  All of it.  In an instant.

If you have never experienced that, imagine holding your face in front of a fire hydrant and then just letting the water go… it feels something like that.

You can’t breath, you can’t think, you can’t do anything.

It sucks. No other way to say it.  No way to pretend otherwise.

It is now two years later. This weekend, I am graduating from culinary school.

There is a lot to reflect upon from these last two years.

I have to say that as things settled a few weeks after the life-explosion, culinary school wasn’t on my radar at all.

I thought about going back to seminary. Getting another ministry job in a more progressive church. I thought about law school and even bought a bunch of LSAT books. I thought about professional retail/sales.  Full time development work for non-profits.  Driving off a cliff.

Those were all options.  

I honestly didn’t even think about culinary school until my younger sister said, “why don’t you go to culinary school?”  And instantly, that made sense.  Nothing else was clicking.  But culinary school… that I could do.

So it has been a long two years… finding a job, a new church home, a new place to live, developing new friendships.  A long and hard two years.

Next week, I am going to post some reflections and lessons from these past two years.  As well as some thoughts about what the next stage of life might be like for me.

But for now, I am just going to get ready for work, clean my apartment for my folks and sister/bro-in-law who are coming for graduation, and enjoy Sunday’s festivities.

More reflections next week…

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Birthday Reflections

Today, I turn 36 — and my niece turns 3 (much more significant!)

I am home sick (called out to work — something I rarely do) so I have some time to reflect upon the past year.

Last year, I posted this reflection about my birthday… and said this:

Truth be told, I have low expectations for 35.  My goals are simple: finish culinary school, don’t go broke, make some friends, find a church community that will take me and fit with a restaurant/cooking schedule (easier said than done), and figure out the next step after that.

The good news is that, while my goals were modest, I met them all!  I graduated culinary school, didn’t go broke, made some good new friends, found a church and have taken some good and practical steps in the “what’s next” area.

Along the way I also got to preach, officiate two wonderful weddings for wonderful couples. officiated a funeral, and have finally received forgiveness from both the church and congregant involved at my previous church.

So 35 was much better than 34.  But I have higher expectations for 36… no specific goals, except to continue to follow Jesus with passion, commitment, purpose and faithfulness.  If I do that, it will have been a good year.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Depths of Sin

It takes a spiritually mature person to recognize the depths of their own sin.

That was one of the things I was discussing with my spiritual director a few weeks back.  He was right, and I have been reflecting upon that truth throughout this advent season so far.  Advent is an appropriate time for such reflection.

Spiritual maturity is achieved less by becoming sinless (we can’t) than recognizing the depths of our sin.

As I follow Jesus, I am increasingly aware of my sin.  If sin can best be understood as “missing the mark” (the Hebrew understanding) or self-centeredness (as modern Christian spirituality suggests), than one of the things I continually realize is that there are pretty much no areas of my life not touched by sin.

When I am honest, I recognize that missing the mark and being self-centered is descriptive of much of my life.

Now recognizing your own sin is not particularly praiseworthy or even worthy of note — but what we do with it might be.

Some people, when faced with their own sin, respond with DENIAL or RATIONALIZATION.

Some people, when faced with their own sin, respond by CHANGING THE STANDARDS.

Some people, when faced with their own sin, respond by EMBRACING DESPAIR.

But DISCIPLES, when faced with their own sin, respond in LOVE & WORSHIP.

The Gospel of Luke (chapter 7, verses 36-50) records:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

 40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

   “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

   41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[c] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

   “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

 

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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1YrL8tr Reflections, Part 5

The dynamic of friendship in the context of ministry is complex.

Everyone wants the pastor to be their friend. But very few are willing to actually be a friend to the pastor.

I learned this the hard way.

For most people, pastor is a role (not really a person) performing a role. When you no longer fulfill that role, you are no longer needed/valuable, etc.

The Bible describes authentic friendship this way (Proverbs 17:17) :

A friend loves at all times, 
       and a brother is born for adversity.

Some people really proved to be real friends, loving me and standing with me through the past year. In crisis, you quickly learn who your real friends are — and sometimes it is surprising.

I am still trying to figure out if this is an inevitable consequence of being a pastor/leader, or if there is a way to create more real, mutual friendships within the context of ministry.

I don’t have the answer to that question yet…

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2010 in Lessons Learned, Uncategorized

 

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