It’s Only Terror If It’s Unknown


The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature

It didn’t take long after the news broke about a militia taking over a government compound for my Facebook Newsfeed to light up with people calling BS on the stark differences in how this situation is being covered (or not covered) by media. 

Here are some things to think about:

This group is being described as a militia. They believe they are doing the work of God and have taken over a government area. 

When groups of middle eastern descent are described as the one above, we call them “radicalized extremists.” 

But this militia is not of Middle Eastern descent. They’re white farmers. They’re Christians. They remind us of our crazy Uncle So And So. They are familiar and, therefore, are a militia.

We, as a society, are geared toward white men (Don’t even try to deny it. Theirs is the default perspective of western history, religion, politics for the last 500 years. We can’t change it til we own it). Because we think we know white guys so well, a militia in Oregon doesn’t seem so scary. 

Farmers with rifles talking about patriotism and freedom. Yeah, we know those guys.

But here’s the thing to remember: in Saudia Arabia, Osama bin Ladin was once someone’s crazy uncle. 

Radicalized extremists are the same the world ’round. But these guys are our radicalized extremists. We know what to expect, so it’s no big deal.

But here’s the problem for all of us who are still relatively offended by the term “white privilege;” when we don’t respond to the white guys with guns the same way we would respond to minorities with guns, we’re displaying our privilege for the world to see.

This isn’t a topic I normally write about, but race relations have become the topic of conversation in our culture the last couple of years. I was once one of those idealistic “progressives” who believed wholeheartedly that we were a post-racist culture. One of those “I have black friends and my sister is black!” sort of defenders of white openmindedness. The continued popularity of Donald Trump’s hate-fueled campaign confirms that we are not post-racism at all.

And so the question remains, “What should we do?” I believe the answer lies in how you identify we

We as believers must acknowledge the role that fear of the unknown plays in our prejudices and convictions. Whether that unknown is another race, culture, or religion, simply admitting we don’t know is genuinely the first step to learning about others. It’s tough to learn about black America when you still steadfastly hold to the line “There’s only one America!” To say that is to deny the rich heritage of those who have come together to make America.

This country was never about eradicating other cultures for the sake of a new one. This country was founded on the exact opposite premise; that people should be able to bring their beliefs and their dreams with them in order to live them out freely. Those who say coming to America means converting to Christianity and speaking only English have missed the beauty of the Grand Experiement. 

So this event brings me back to a belief I’ve firmly held for years; the way to combat fear is to know. If you’re fearful of Muslims, get to know a few. If you struggle with showing compassion to the LGBT community, be vulnerable and ask a gay co-worker if you could ask them some questions. If you are afraid of the gun toting religious “patriots” currently committing treason in Oregon, peruse some Facebook pages and read up on what they stand for.

Demonstrate empathy. Give people the benefit of the doubt. And be consistent. Not all black protestors are thugs and not all thugs are black protestors. Not all Muslims are radicalized extremists and not all radicalized extremists are Muslims. Do a little less stereotyping and take the time to get to know people and their stories on an individual basis.

How do we loosen the grip that fear currently holds on our nation? Simply put, know and be known. 

Why I Am (& Always Will Be) Pro-Life


10 week fetus

Here in Tennessee, abortion is once again the debate of the day. With Amendment One on the ballot today, the last few weeks have seen a dramatic spike in television ads, conversations, debates, and the return of the same old arguments both for and against abortion in general. I’ve heard the typical arguments: “God gives life. We must protect babies who cannot protect themselves. Abortion is murder.”  and, “It’s a woman’s body and it’s her right alone to choose how to deal with it. A child who will be neglected or unloved shouldn’t be brought into this world. If a woman is raped, it’s simply inhumane to expect her to carry a reminder of the horrific event.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. To both sides.

There are philosophical and rational reasons to be pro-life. I appreciate bio-ethicist Scott Klusendorf’s argument of simplifying the debate to one question: “What is the unborn?” It removes the religious element altogether and places the discussion on a philosophical level.

But in all of the level headed discussion that’s possible, this debate quickly digresses into emotional and experiential arguments. People tell me that I don’t know what it’s like to be in the position of being pregnant and being unable or unwilling to care for the child. I’ve never been raped and don’t know what I would do if I was in the position of dealing with the aftermath of both rape and pregnancy. And those people are right. My personal experience doesn’t lend me the opportunity to speak from that perspective.

However, my experience allows me to speak about abortion from a very different but still VERY personal perspective; some of my favorite people in this world were born out of the circumstances described above, and I refuse to believe my life would be better without them.

When I hear people say that babies who will be born to people who will neglect or abuse them should be aborted, I hear them say that this world would be a better place if my three sisters and several of my best friends weren’t here.

When I hear people say that babies who are the products of rape shouldn’t exist, I think of my ministry friend Ronnie Hill, and I think about the work that wouldn’t be done if his mom had decided to abort him after she was raped as a teen.

When I hear people say that women who aren’t ready to have babies are better off when they delay parenting until they’re in a better position to parent, I think of my friends and women I have counseled, who made that decision 15 or 20 years ago, and still weep with grief over the loss they never realized they would experience.

I’m sure that the suicide rate of people who grow up in abusive environments is higher than in those raised in better childhood situations, but if we’re going to argue for choice, shouldn’t that person have the choice to end their life rather than the choice be made for them?

I am well aware that my parents (and all foster parents) are the exception and not the rule to caring for kids, and I know that countless children do live horrific lives of abuse and neglect, with no known way of escape.

But I also know that there is love and care beyond the two people who gave birth to those children. As I mentioned above, there are three incredible women who are my sisters who had really crappy birth parents, people completely incapable of caring for them. And the only reason I have those three sisters is because their crappy, drug addicted, abusive, neglectful mothers didn’t have abortions when that would have been the easy and even understandable option.

So why am I pro-life? I could give you a theological explanation and spout a lot of Bible verses. I could lay out a debate full of philosophical laws and rhetorical devices. But today, I have friends and family who have spent weeks hearing tv ads and talking heads say that they shouldn’t be here, and I want to be pro-sisters. And pro-friends.

I want them to know that they are loved. And valued. And wanted. I want them to know that I am pro-them.

Sisters

 

(top photo credit: http://imgarcade.com/1/human-fetus-at-12-weeks/)

On Law, Grace, Bondage, and Dog Collars


This weekend has been a yard work weekend. After ten weeks of volleyball’s regular season, I took two days to clean up my sorely neglected yard. Fences needed to be cleared, bushes trimmed, grass mowed, beds weeded. There was a LOT of work to do.

trimming bush

IMG_7215 FullSizeRender

For a bit of background for this story, you need to know that, for months now, my puppies, Scout and Atticus, have been on a wireless fence system to keep them from wandering into the road or the neighbor’s yard. The appearance of their being able to roam free is an excellent home security system. The down side to the system is that, in order to limit their access to the neighbor’s yard, they do not have free reign of my entire yard. Rectangle shaped property and circle shaped wireless fences don’t work well together. So Scout and Atticus have experienced several months of being unable to get to the back half of my yard.

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(Meet Scout and Atticus. They like each other.)

Cue this weekend. It was a stinky week, personally, spiritually, and professionally, but it was a glorious weekend, which meant I needed to be outside. Badly. And the puppies followed me all around the yard; until I moved toward the back of the yard. At that point, the puppies quit hanging out with me. When they got to the border of the wireless fence, their collars would beep and they would back up and lie down, getting as close to me as their collars would allow, but never going beyond that limit.

I decided this afternoon that I would let them wander the whole yard since I was going to be out there, so I took off their red fence collars and put Atticus’ regular collar on him. I couldn’t get Scout to sit still long enough to put hers on, so she went collarless. This is the point at which the teachable moment began.

As I walked to the back of the yard, they both followed me to the point that their red collars would have beeped if they had them on, and they stopped and laid down. It didn’t matter how much I called for them, they weren’t coming. They had spent enough time on those red collars that they knew not to go any further or there would be a consequence.

In an attempt to coax them to the back of the yard so that they could run and play, I walked to Atticus, gently held his collar with two fingers, and led him beside me toward the back yard. He was very tentative– until he got several feet past the “shock zone” that he knew should be there. When he got past that part and I was still with him and nothing bad had happened, he wandered around, smelled things, and generally chilled out.

Scout, on the other hand, stayed in the wireless zone, barking endlessly for us to come back to her. Since she didn’t have a collar on, there was nothing for me to hold on to in order to lead her back therewith us, and she would have none of the idea of simply following me out there.

image1

As I watched this scene unfold, the picture of how the Law, Grace, and bondage to sin work in our lives unfolded in my mind as well.

These are the Law:

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They tell the dogs just how far they can go, and they punish them if they attempt to overstep their boundaries. But the Law is meant to protect them; before the collars, I once chased Atticus across South Moore Road and about two blocks down the street. Barefoot. In my PJs. With Crazy Hair. At 5:30 am. It was special. The Law, in this case, is good. It taught Scout and Atticus right from wrong.

Then one day, the Law was removed. The punishment was no longer a threat. I’d taken that threat and put it on the table on the back porch. Yet the puppies still respected the boundaries the Law had set in their lives. They were free, but still living by the Law. They knew that boundary was there for a reason, and they kept it.

Until I put a new collar on Atticus and led him away. It reminded me of the opening statements of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia:

Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

All I had to do was put a different collar on him, and he followed me right past the boundaries set for him and into an unprotected and dangerous world. This new collar represents bondage in the life of a believer. Atticus could have roamed free within the set boundaries, collarless and without fear, but by taking up a new collar, a new form of bondage, he left the boundaries he knew and didn’t quite know what to do with himself. But take note of the bondage that led him astray, for they are what spoke volumes to my own heart:

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One tag is his name. Oh, can’t our name, our reputation, become an idol and a bondage?

One is his rabies tag. Look, he’s a good dog. He’s done all the right things to be considered good. Maybe for us that’s giving time or money to good causes, or going on mission trips, or attending the right church or small group. He’s checked off his legalistic list of things to look good.

The middle one is his microchip tag. He’s even a “member” of a home. Sometimes church can become an idol of bondage. Do you belong to the “right” church? Listen to the “right” super pastors or worship groups? Ascribe to the “right” doctrine of the the day?

None of the tags on his new collar of bondage are bad things. In fact, in the right circumstances, they are very good things. But in this case, they were use to lead him away, and often, it’s the good things in our lives, done for the wrong reasons, that get us into trouble.

Now, back to Scout. Let’s look at the picture again with the imaginary fence line drawn in:

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Scout is sitting, barking her fool head off at Atticus, begging him to come back. But she refuses to cross the line to come get him, and there is no bondage around her neck for me to lead her astray. She is free. Free enough to roam within the boundaries given to her while still knowing her limits, even without the threat of punishment.

That is the freedom we have in Christ! He said Himself that He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Scout is a picture of a believer free of bondage, trusting the one who knows and loves her. I removed the collar of the Law, yet she continued to trust that those boundaries were still what were best for her. And because she did not allow herself to be put into any other bondage, she could not be led astray. She was even in the position to call for her little brother to please get back in line and come back to the right side of the boundary. Which is exactly what he did.

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For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Be free, friends.

A More Excellent Way

A More Excellent Way


I care deeply for a very diverse group of people. They are teachers, doctors, lawyers, sales reps, caregivers, homemakers, service professionals, counselors, artists, pastors, pastors’ wives; heterosexuals, homosexuals, transsexuals, former homosexuals, still-haven’t-figured-it-out-sexuals; agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, liberal theologians, Reformed theologians; Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and a few who have never voted; former child molesters and abusers, and those who are healing from the effects of molestation and abuse; drug addicts, and those who, by the world’s standards, have never made a wrong decision in their lives.

And I love them all.

One of the reasons that I love them all is one common trait they all possess: loving respect for all of humanity, even those who are very different from them.

The last few months have seen some of the people who I love dearly caricatured and stereotyped, then brutally attacked with both the written and spoken word, either directly and individually, or because of a particular group with whom they identify.

And in case you missed it, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can permanently damage.

While I was doing yard work this evening, a phrase continually rolled through my head: “A more excellent way.”

You see, friends, there is a more excellent way than the way humanity is treating one another in this season of time. We have drawn sides, demonized all who disagree with us, and agree only on the fact that all issues fall under a “Take No Prisoners” rule of engagement.

So Christians attack Muslims. And vice versa. And heterosexuals attack homosexuals. And vice versa. Republicans attack Democrats. And vice versa. Creationists attack Evolutionists. And vice versa.

But there is a more excellent way, shared with us by the Apostle Paul. Regardless of how you may feel about the Bible, or about Paul, or his theology, or his sexuality, or his missions strategy, we can all agree that his way is, indeed, more excellent.

24b …But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it… 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
1 If I speak in the tongues[fn] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[fn] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 12-13

Simply put, let’s grow up and love one another.

Some Raw Thoughts on Ministry Formerly Known as Exodus International


Last night I wrote a brief post addressing Exodus International President Alan Chambers’s apology to the LGBTQ community concerning the work of Exodus International.

Literally two minutes after I posted my blog, Exodus issued a press release stating they intended to close their doors and the leadership is establishing a new work known as Reduce Fear.

My initial reaction was simply, “Wow.” And that has been echoed across my social media feeds by people from all perspectives.

But as I watched Alan’s opening statements from the Freedom Conference last night, and I started processing exactly what was happening, I began having very conflicted emotions.

This is a little bit of public processing, but I hope it may start a dialogue about the statements made and the changes occurring. I also hope it gives those who aren’t celebrating the changes at Exodus permission to express their equally real feelings and know they are heard and validated.

Dear Exodus International Board Member Mr. Tony Moore, when you say, “We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, BUT…”
the “but” negates the ways God used Exodus positively.

Yes, there are those who have had horrific experiences in Exodus affiliated ministries. That occurs in EVERY ministry, in every church, b/c we are broken people ministering to broken people.

It’s sort of like saying, “I don’t mean to be hateful, but…” and then unleashing a torrent of vitriol toward a person or organization. Yes, you did mean to be hateful.

And yes, you did imply God’s work was negated by your apology.

There are those of us who met the Jesus of mercy, grace, forgiveness, freedom, and love in the people who ministered with Exodus, and the apologies issued in the last couple of days ring with the implication that our positive experiences were a fluke or a mistake.

Is that what you believe now? Are lives transformed but the Gospel heard through Exodus ministries simply people deceived? If we wait it out, are we going to finally accept we really are gay and God’s ok with it? Do we need to begin embracing who we really are and the “fact” God loves us where and how we are?

You’re caving to those who came to Exodus looking for one thing or were promised something that wasn’t delivered. What about those of us who came to Exodus just looking for Jesus and found Him?

Were there problems? Yes. Did some things need to change? Absolutely. But to shut down 37 years of ministry seems reactionary and short sighted.

Mr. Chambers stated that the purpose of the new work, Reduce Fear, is to “come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

Has that not been the goal of Exodus all along? It has been since my first experience with an Exodus affiliated ministry in 2005.

Sometimes a name can carry so much baggage that a name change is most beneficial to the work being accomplished, but there is more going on here than a simple name change. There is a shift in focus, purpose, and doctrine that saddens me.

There is no hope in surrender to anything other than Christ, and last night’s announcement feels like a cultural surrender for those of us who only found freedom and love in the hard, painful, complete surrender to Christ.

Can joyous freedom and fleshly attraction not co-exist simultaneously in the human heart? Does the presence of temptation negate the Holy Spirit’s strong work in enabling us to resist those temptations?

What exactly are you saying about God, sin and homosexuality, Exodus/Reduce Fear?

Don’t Apologize on my Behalf, Mr. Chambers: The Theological Implications of Corporate Apologies


I’ve had several people ask my opinion on today’s press release from Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International.

In it, Alan makes the following statement:

“It is strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the Church’s treatment of the LGBTQ community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt,” said Chambers. “Today it is as if I’ve just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church.”

I have watched the changes in the last year in Exodus International very closely. In 2005, when I first sought hope and healing concerning my lifelong unwanted same sex attractions, I found both in an Exodus affiliated ministry. I worked for that same ministry for a brief time, attended Exodus Freedom conferences, served at Love Won Out events, and even spoke at the Freedom Conference held at Ridgecrest two years ago.

I have a deep love and appreciation for the courage and compassion of those who serve with Exodus and whom I consider to be friends and fellow workers in an extremely isolated and challenging area of ministry.

Because of that, I have remained relatively quiet about all of the changes taking place, but I’m beginning to think a response to these latest comments may be in order. Please pray for wisdom and grace as I process through Alan’s statement and seek to see his heart while still clinging tightly to truth AND love of Christ as found in His Word.

Honestly, I haven’t digested all of Alan’s statement quite yet, and I would like to listen to his message from the Freedom Conference tonight before fully commenting.

However, my initial thought applies to us all.

As believers, we need to be VERY careful both asking for and offering forgiveness on a corporate level, both from a group of people and to a group of people.

If we are to forgive like Jesus, we do so individually and specifically, not generally and corporately.

To apologize with “we” statements concerning the Church borders dangerously on universalism, and I would respectfully ask fellow believers to refrain from apologizing on behalf of the Church to an individual or to another corporate body of people.

As a priesthood of believers, not a single one of us speaks on behalf of the whole.

If you want to apologize, do so for yourself, but not on behalf of the entire Body.

To read Alan’s statement, click here.

Shifting Views: Moral Absolutes or Political Debate?


I don’t normally pull my family into my blog posts, but I’m proud of my dad for how he recently spoke up, in a reasonable and wise manner, in an article for our local paper when many conservative (political and religious) are apparently becoming more and more unwilling to do so.

Dialogue dies when one side quits speaking. Don’t abandon civil discourse on ANY issue. Even if you never win a debate or convert someone to your way of thinking, the art of agreeing to disagree is becoming a lost art, and that’s a shame.

Here’s an excerpt of the article for which my dad was willing to be interviewed:

“Bill Mason, pastor of Morris Hill Baptist Church, said he opposes same-sex marriage, but the issue has become so politically charged it’s difficult to debate rationally.

“It really has become a political issue. It’s not a church issue anymore; it’s been taken out of that realm,” Mason said.

He said opinions are changing because people are approaching same-sex marriage as a civil rights question instead of a religious or moral one.

But, he said, the pendulum of tolerance has swung in the other direction, and reasonable people who are against gay marriage are drowned out by extreme anti-gay views.

“The other problem is, people are afraid to say anything against it. … It’s a complicated issue, and I think the church has been betrayed by these hatemongers. I think it’s still a sin,” Mason said. “The tolerance issue has got to go both ways. And sometimes it doesn’t.

Members of several religious and social groups contacted by the Times Free Press on Friday and Saturday said they were opposed to same-sex marriage but declined to comment for this article.”

For the entire article, go here.

What do you think? Are views on same-sex marriage changing because the debate has shifted realms, from religious to political? How can the issue still be addressed from a moral perspective with both truth AND love?