A Love Letter to My Former Church

“One of the greatest acts of courage is to be vulnerable with someone with whom we disagree.”

Frances Kissling

This semester, I had the opportunity to do research for a class called Practical Theology. In this class, we looked at how theologies influence and affect local church communities and contexts. Our teacher asked us to analyze a religious community and its practices while offering up new strategies for the improvement and flourishing for that faith community. For my paper, I picked a topic that I knew I could tell best. Octavia E. Butler once said, “Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.” That quote resonated with me. Each time I sit down to write, I can only speak of what is true of my experience. In many ways, writing is what helps me process the world. For my paper, I chose to examine my own roots and think critically about LGBTQ+ inclusion in church.

In full transparency, this project, in some ways, helped prepare me for the reality and circumstance my family and I currently find ourselves in. I am aware of the timing of this post. Yet, I feel the Holy Spirit nudging me; I feel that this is a “strike while the iron is hot” moment. My intention is to not cause a stir. But as I said in my coming out blog post, I am committedto LGBTQ+ reconciliation in the church. I am not coming with my arms swinging. The church has missed the mark when it has come to conversations around LGBTQ+ people. This paper is exploring that idea and ways for flouring and bring forth the Kingdom of Heaven now.

Below, you’ll find a love letter to the church family that raised me, taught me my Bible stories, and baptized me in that holy river. (I can still hear the echo’s of “Praise God” to this day.) I cannot forget those memories. Despite the current situation, I can only speak fondly of my church family. The vivid memory of wrapping our arms around one another, sweaty and tired from cleaning up camp, swaying side by side, and singing “Lean on Me.” We would laugh, cry, smile, and hug and then we’d shout “We are family. And family sticks together!” It is that memory and that feeling of full and complete belonging that makes me cherish my family. Brené Brown speaks to this idea of belonging in a podcast with Krista Tippett. She says, “A very important specific tenant of spirituality which I believe cuts across faith, denomination, and belief system. And by spirituality, I mean, the deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to each other. By something greater than us.”[1] Because of this connection, I am stuck to you. And you are stuck to me. It is because of that inextricable connection that I cannot leave without a final word.

 Although I call this a love letter, I want to emphasize that I bring this paper forward in grace and truth. The truth is…I was not the only gay kid raised in that church. The truth is… I am confident there are currently other LGBTQ+ children in the church. The truth is… I don’t want another child to feel like I did for almost 10 years of my life. The truth is… whatever the church is doing now to address LGBTQ+ sexuality is not enough or working. The truth is… we need to stop being so afraid all the time about disagreeing with one another.  I can speak fondly of my church roots. But I can also see where we fall short. I am not spiteful, bitter, or even angry. I am heartbroken. It is from the place of heartbreak that I write. I write for the kids from my tradition who are currently afraid and confused about their sexuality. I write for their sakes.

Above all else, this is a call for peace. 2020 has been a year so divisive and polarizing that it has left me speechless at moments. The path forward, in years to come, is the ability to still see the humanity in those we hate the most. We need to recognize that we don’t have to be torn apart by issues that seem “too big.” However, I am not naïve to think I have figured out the solution below. Conversations around sexuality are messy and require nuance to navigate. But I hope to shed some light and meaning from someone who cares deeply about reconciliation work. What this year has illuminated is that reconciliation is needed just beyond this specific conversation. I pray that my words will allow us to begin thinking about reconciliation in our own lives. How do we begin to build trust again in our communities? How will we ever cross the polarizing gap that exists between us in our homes, workplaces, communities, and churches? I think the answer finds itself in the simple truth that Brené Brown speaks of: that we, as humans, are inextricably connected. We may forget that bond, but we can never sever it.

Fear and Silence: The Absence of LGBTQ+ Conversations in Church

A friend from undergrad recently wrote in a blog, “All churches I have been a part of have successfully managed to skirt around the conversation of sexuality activity within its congregation. Not only have they managed to skirt from the topic, but that silence, in many ways has developed a voice of its own.”[2] This silence speaks to my own experience of growing up in a conservative, evangelical tradition. I come from the Church of Christ tradition where my father preached at the same church for twenty-three years. He began preaching there when I was only a few months old. I am incredibly thankful for my church background in teaching me the importance of service and outreach. At my home church, I fell in love with Jesus Christ and his mission. At one point in my life, I considered that blue room my home. However, I grew up hearing that homosexuality was an “abomination” to God. I was led to believe that my identity and personhood was fundamentally flawed, and I had to wrestle and live in the tension between faith and sexual identity. However, I never heard these words spoken from a youth leader or senior pastor. I heard it in the whispers of concerned parents or the bullying from other kids who threw the word “gay” around. Yet, my church stayed silent on this issue, and like my friend said, that silence became a voice of its own. My denomination’s choice to stay silent on this issue has harmed and hurt many gay Christians. I consider myself fortunate to have parents and siblings who have accepted me as I am and cheered me on. My family’s support and love for me has proven that a path exists for those seeking to understand their sexuality in the context of 21st century faith. Although I have grown into a confident, gay Christian, I still find myself caught between two worlds: the progressive sphere of academia and my more conservative hometown. This project has been birthed out of this tension. How can we begin to bridge the gap between these two polarized spheres? Some of the following reflections stem from my own experience, but I hope to participate in a conversation that can be fruitful for both LGBTQ+ Christians and the conservative friends and mentors that raised me in my youth.

Scope

LGBTQ+ inclusivity has plagued the church and continues to be an issue for certain denominations and churches today. Growing up in a southern, evangelical denomination, the absence of queer people in church has been deeply personal for me. Many contemporary theologians have worked to rethink and reinterpret scriptures that bar queer people from church. These theologians have made great strides in pushing the church to become more inclusive and welcoming. However, my research project will not focus on queer apologetics but instead take a few steps back. My research is aimed towards the churches who are not having conversations around sexuality and faith. The question I want to unearth is “Why are conversations around sexuality and queerness not happening?” The reasons are obscure, but my goal is to explore the nuanced reasons for why many evangelical churches avoid topics of sexuality. One could make arguments for Biblical interpretation as the answer; however, in my experience, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was and continues to be the norm as well in many churches. Then, my paper will shift towards the end and seek to answer the question “What are best practices for engaging/starting these conversations?” This question is a much more difficult endeavor, so I will attempt to illustrate best practice for church leaders to engage in these conversations that both protects LGBTQ+ members and the overall church’s spiritual health. Overall, my paper seeks to provide a brief diagnosis of the issue in contemporary, evangelical churches surrounding sexuality and then to explore practical steps for churches where curriculum and teaching about sexuality is absent. Although I plan on focusing on evangelical communities, much of my experience and research centered itself around the Church of Christ tradition. I will do my best to avoid generalizations, because those are not useful or helpful in a conversation like this. It would be a generalization to say that all evangelical churches have remained silent on same-sex sexuality. This is not true. Many churches are outspoken on their views of homosexuality as a sin. Some evangelical spheres have decided to be fully inclusive, but my focus is towards the churches and traditions like mine who have been oddly silent on this issue.

Urgency

I began my research process by speaking with Sally Gary. Sally Gary is the founder of the non-profit, Center Peace. Sally shared so much knowledge and wisdom with me on this particular issue. When I talked with Sally Gary, she mentioned that many religious leaders want to know the “numbers.”[3] When religious leaders ask about numbers, they want to know how many LGBTQ+ people are actually being affected. Through “numbers,” church leaders can determine whether the numbers justify beginning a conversation about same-sex sexuality. I believe this line of questioning is harmful because numbers should not matter. Jesus shows in The Parable of the Lost Sheep that only one should suffice in bringing justice. If we took that parable and scripture seriously, I think religious leaders would be more hesitant to ask about numbers. However, I believe this conversation is urgent, because if we look at the state of LGBTQ+ youth, we can see that whatever the church is doing now is not working. The “numbers” look bleak. According to the Reformation Project, research has shown how greater religious feeling was tied to greater risk of suicide for those in the LGBTQ+ community. Along with spikes in suicide rates, those who identify as LGBTQ+ and are rejected by families have an increase of depression by 5.9x and increased risk of illegal drug abuse by 3.4x. Transgender people have the highest suicide rates among any other demographic: 41% of transgender adults in the U.S have attempted suicide.[4] These statistics are grim. I illustrate these facts to illuminate why this conversation should be happening and why it is urgent. I am not speaking metaphorically when I say that this conversation can be potentially lifesaving.

However, the flourishing of LGBTQ+ people is not the only group being negatively affected. The church and its vitality are at risk, too. I also have stake in the church itself. I not only care for the inclusion and welcoming of LGBTQ+ people in church, but I am deeply committed, if not more at times, to the growth of the church. I am steeped in church tradition, and I plan on serving in ministry roles as my vocation after graduate school. Yet, I believe the church will disappear if it continues down the current path. The statistics on church attendance and religious life in America already look bleak. According to a survey of religious life conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2018, Christianity is declining at a rapid pace. Today, 65% of adults describe themselves as Christian which is down 12 points from 2009. The religious “nones,” those who do not ascribe to a particular religion, have risen in the religious landscape. Religious “nones” currently stand at 26% of the population which is up from 17% in 2009. Similar to these trends, less people are attending church services. Pew Research Center attaches these trends to generational differences. More young adults account for religious “nones.” Only 49% of millennials describe themselves as Christians compared to the Baby Boomers (76% Christian) or the Silent Generation (84%).[5]

Millennials are leaving church at a rapid pace, and I believe there is a connection between this trend and the treatment towards LGBTQ+ people. In David Kinnaman’s book UnChristian, Kinnaman outlines how the younger generation (Mosaics & Busters as he calls them) has been influenced differently from the older generation which has resulted in different behaviors. He writes, “For example, the lifestyles of Mosaics and Busters [Millennials] are more diverse than those of their parent’s generation…For both Mosaics and Busters, relationships are the driving force. Being loyal to friends is one of their highest values.”[6] From Kinnaman’s research, one can see that millennials, due to diverse influences, are more willing to accept LGBTQ+ people. From my own experience, millennials tend to be more affirming. My peers have felt safer to talk to than those who share my parent’s age. Kinnaman also notes the driving force of loyalty. Because millennials place so much emphasis on friendships, millennials who are friends or close with the LGBTQ+ community find themselves at odds with churches and the older generation. Kinnaman explains that the number one descriptive word that millennials used to describe the church was “anti-homosexual.”[7] What Kinnaman’s research shows us is that LGBTQ+ people are not the only “numbers” church leaders should be worried about. Straight millennials, who are allied with LGBTQ+ people, are leaving church at rapid rate due to their perception of the church’s anti-homosexual stance. However, Kinnaman offers a piece of hope when he writes, “it also suggests the possibility that our words and our lives can change these negative images.”[8] Kinnaman determines this possibility based on evidence that most people have negative perceptions of the church through personal experience. Words, action, inaction, and silence are all ways that can be illumined to pave a better path forward. I do not believe that this is a lost cause or endeavor. I believe that things can still be turned around and changed for the flourishing of both the LGBTQ+ community and the church. I think it is easy to believe these two communities stand on opposite ends of the spectrum. Yet, on a deeper dive, one can see how they are irreversibly linked now, and the only way forward is acknowledging this interwoven relationship and seeking to do good.

Fear

In my conversation with Sally Gary, I asked her what she thought the main deterrent in these conversations was. Her response surprised me. I expected her to name scriptural interpretation. However, she believed that fear was the driving force in undermining these conversations. Sally believed that most evangelicals carried their fear onto the text and read anti-homosexual scripture through that lens of fear.[9] In some ways, the question of whether fear or scriptural interpretation is the driving force resembles a chicken or the egg situation. However, fear seems to be the foundation for avoiding same-sex sexuality conversations and curriculum. Why is there fear? Do people fear the homosexual? I believe this answer is two-fold. Sally mentioned how she grew up during the AIDS epidemic that plagued the majority of the 80’s. The AIDS epidemic caused widespread fear in which society began to attach LGBTQ+ people to a deadly disease. During this time, Sally noted how the word “homosexual” began to assume a clinical connotation, and the way people spat out that word indicated fear.[10] It is a natural human reaction to fear the unknown, the stranger, and those who look different from us. However, this fear manifests itself in another way for more conservative people. During my research process, Sally Gary pointed me to Peter Enns who became a valuable starting place. Enns possesses great wisdom on the evangelical sphere since he writes from his own experience of being raised in an evangelical community. In Peter Enns’ book The Sin of Certainty, Enns fleshes out the way faith has been simplified to having right beliefs or accurate ideas about God which he concludes is a sin. Enns centers in on the anxieties and shortcomings that plague this particular community. He writes, “For many of us, faith is our rock-solid source of security and hope. It provides the map and values for how we navigate the world.”[11] His diagnosis of evangelical culture and faith resonates with my own experience. Evangelicals cling to certainty, and they do this through scripture. Specifically, evangelicals cling to the authority and inerrancy of scripture. Enns continues, “And so when our beliefs are threatened, the instinct, understandably, is to guard them fiercely, to resist any move as long as possible, to make the stress go away, and to stay in the comfort of our familiar spiritual homes.”[12] When progressives attempt to start a conversation about same-sex sexuality, fear strikes in conservatives. This fear is valid, for their faith is at stake. Enns writes how faith is formed in a way to deal with the chaos of the world. On the other side of certainty is chaos. Enns argues that Christians build these walls to protect themselves from the chaos of the world. When progressives poke and prod at scripture in an attempt to devalue the literal interpretation, they do not realize what is at stake for the lives and faiths of those who interpret the Bible literally. Their worldview, faith, existential wonderings are on the line. What makes this bridge harder to cross is the generational difference that influences the conversation as well. Kinnaman’s work illustrates how fewer millennials ascribe to an evangelical form of Christianity. In fact, Kinnaman’s surveys revealed that an overwhelming 49% of millennials had a negative perception of evangelicalism.[13] Because of the generational difference, many devout evangelical Christians are older. For many who hold on to this view of the Bible, they have done so for most of their lives. For progressives, understanding this fear helps humanize those who are conservative. Rarely do progressives realize that poking holes in the Bible is opening a door to chaos in which people run from out of fear. However, it is important to note that this is not simply a conservative issue. Fear affects everyone. Fear exists on every side of the cultural equation. We must become self-aware in realizing that unnamed fears do not only influence a particular sect, religious group, race, gender, etc. Fear is a human response.  

This fear extends beyond just members of a congregation but plagues church leaders as well. Mark Wingfield in his book Why Churches Need to Talk about Sexuality notes during his 18-month church process towards inclusion that many church leaders feared “intense pressure to keep the church afloat, avoid schism, to keep staff employed, and to avoid being distracted from the big picture of the church’s mission.”[14] This fear drives many leaders to forego the conversation in hopes of maintaining church unity. However, Brené Brown says “He or she who chooses comfort over courage and facilitating real conversations in towns, in cities, in synagogues, in areas that need it. When you choose your own comfort over trying to bring people together, and you’re a leader, either a civic leader or a faith leader, your days of relevance are numbered.”[15] I think there is truth in what Brown says. This generation needs leaders who are able to step into the awkwardness. To have honest conversations. We cannot continue to allow fear to dictate our behaviors. When we begin to name our fears and hold them in our hands, we are freed from them.

Lack of Resources

Sally embodies this type of leadership. A type of leadership that is willing to engage in vulnerable conversations that are needed in the church today. However, throughout my research process, I discovered that leaders like Sally are scarce. I realized the church lacks both resources and leaders. Organizations like The Reformation Project and Center Peace do tremendous work, yet their efforts pale in comparison to the endless need in churches today. I understand why this lack of resources exist. Millennials who share a similar upbringing like me feel a pull to step away from evangelical communities. To step back into a community that was exclusive or harmful requires tremendous strength and courage. I feel like the easy choice would be to move on from evangelicalism and forge a new journey in the mainline tradition. However, reconciliation work like this can never be fulfilled unless those with evangelical upbringings can begin to step back into those communities and lead from within. A generation is needed to fill the gaps within this particular ministry in order to bring about reconciliation.

However, a different type of need and resource is missing in most church leaderships about this conversation: knowledge. Mark Wingfield illuminates the need for education and knowledge about the topic when he writes, “one of the things that immediately became evident when the study group gathered for the first time was the lack of knowledge most of us had.”[16] In Wingfield’s book, he outlines his church’s process of forming a study group that would slowly walk through the process of LGBTQ+ inclusion. However, as Wingfield noted above, many of the lay leadership did not feel well equipped to lead in the study group. This lack of knowledge invites the question of education’s role in inhibiting these conversations. During the E3 Conference, several lectures were held by professionals who were asking questions like “Are ministers well prepared to engage with their LGBTQ+ youth or “What do pastors need to know in order to faithfully serve their LGBTQ+ members?” These questions reveal a lack of training in higher education for pastors in regard to LGBTQ+ training. Although, this line of questioning falls beyond the scope of my research, questions regarding the shortcomings of education might be necessary and a fruitful endeavor for more research to be done in this field.

Strategies for Change:

Emergence/Embodying Healthy Tension

As noted above, Wingfield notes how the care for church unity brought doubt into the study group over same-sex sexuality. This observation brings into the question of what does church unity mean? And is there a danger in overemphasizing church unity? The Christian Protestant sphere has been plagued with churches and denominations splitting over the controversy of homosexuality. The Methodist church in the past couple of years has decided to split over this very issue. As soon as tension and conflict arise, people immediately take sides which results in inevitable severance. A piece of wisdom that I would like to offer up to the church as a potential strategy in carrying out this conversation is embodying healthy tension. I bring this from my own experience. Although my faith and sexuality has provided many obstacles and challenges in my life, I have developed an ability to look past binaries and settle into the “gray space” of life. My two identities have taught me how to reconcile seemingly polar opposites, and my body is a living testimony of walking out tension. I believe the greater church lacks this ability to wrestle with tension well. There is an expectation in church that everyone holds the same beliefs, ideals, morals, etc. under the guise of unity. I believe an attitude shift is necessary in seeing tension not as an antithesis to unity but an avenue for growth and greater unity. I believe that church leaders must do this well and embody a non-anxious presence. Susan Beaumont defines this embrace of tension as “emergence.” She writes, “Authority figures are often hooked by these expectations and scurry about trying to restore order and resolve chaos. They step in to manage the chaos as a way of demonstrating their leadership competency. In liminal seasons, the temptation to resolve chaos by restoring the status quo is seductive.”[17] However, the answer is to not skirt past the chaos, but Beaumont asserts that the best way is through the chaos and uncertainty. When churches find themselves in a liminal season through conversations like same-sex sexuality, the best thing ministers and congregants can do is to sit with the tension. Beaumont reflects Enns in her diagnosis of chaos as a motivating force; however, chaos cannot drive the attitudes and decisions of a church. Instead, I believe that embracing chaos drives churches to innovate and create better strategies for contentious moments like this.

Power of Listening & Patience

In Justin Lee’s book Talking Across the Divide, Lee outlines several key strategies that one can facilitate fruitful conversations with those who disagree with you. Conversations like sexuality seem overwhelmingly difficult in years like this. Polarization plagues American culture. We lack the ability to not hate those “on the other side.” We have built ourselves into “ideological bunkers”[18] as Brown calls it, and we have lost our ability for civility. How do we even begin to cross this great divide that seemingly exists between every demographic, controversy, dilemma, etc.? Justin Lee begins by defining strategic dialogues as the means in which helpful conversations happen through. Under the umbrella of “strategic dialogue” Lee emphasizes the important aspect of “strategic listening.” Strategic listening is defined as “an information-gathering process to help you find the most effective ways to reach someone with a new idea or different perspective.”[19] Lee later on highlights the need to “always listen to them before asking them to listen to you.”[20] Listening allows for each side to hear the pain, fears, and experiences of each person. This process of listening humanizes those we see as strangers. Conservative Christians are quick to point to scripture in the midst of heated discussions over sexuality, but Lee reminds us to slow down and listen before we speak. Listening goes beyond congregants of a church but includes church leaders as well. In fact, listening should be a key strategy for church leaders who want to introduce conversations around same-sex sexuality. I look to Sally Gary who is an extraordinary leader who has these traits of listening and patience. One viewer during the conference remarked about Sally, “Sally has so much love, concern, and hospitality for those who might disagree with her.”[21] Although Sally is affirming, Sally strives to understand her own tradition, Church of Christ, and engages with those who often fight her and dispute her beliefs. Yet, Sally continues to listen to their concerns and fears. Listening is a posture that requires great humility. This humility inevitably leads to changes of both heart and mindset. But how do we do this practically? Brené Brown, again, says it best, “Listen with the exact same amount of passion that you want to be heard.” Fostering deep listening helps us to slow down and stop thinking about what we will say next. Deep listening invites openness into the conversation that allows for both sides to feel both seen and heard. When we are entering into these difficult conversations and when you are really struggling with someone, Brown says that despite believing that “you’re supposed to hate [someone] because of ideology or belief. Move in. Get curious. Get closer. Ask questions. Try to connect. Remind yourself of that spiritual belief of inextricable connection. Ask yourself: In what ways am I connected to you that is bigger and more primal than our politics?”[22] It sounds counter-intuitive, but I know it to be true that it is harder to hate people the closer we move in.

In an On Being episode with Krista Tippett, Tippett interview the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about the opposition to Sacks’ progressive theology during his career. Although Sacks is speaking towards the discussion of religious pluralism, Sacks provides incredible wisdom for leaders who seek to challenge their followers or constituents. He says, “You’ve got to challenge them and be challenged by them…you have to listen when they [followers] say, ‘you’re going too far or too fast for us to follow,’ and then you say, ‘okay we’ll slow it down but I want you to come with me.’”[23] In this conversation, Sacks reveals the power of listening for leaders. Leaders need to listen to their congregations because sometimes the conversation can go too fast. In beginning this conversation, leaders must listen to the church because there exists a fine balance between challenging a church and recklessly pushing the church to adopt beliefs that are not feasible. Patience is required. Wingfield exemplifies this need for patience as he outlines his church’s 18-month long process towards inclusion. Wingfield’s church spent a year and a half discussing and studying sexuality before they moved towards LGBTQ+ affirmation.[24] In this case study, one recognizes the need for church pastors and leaders to listen to what the church needs to grow and inviting patience into the process. 

Reframing Scripture

Because scriptural interpretation plays such a fundamental role in these conversations, I will briefly outline a way that can invite a new perspective in viewing scripture. My goal is not to jump into queer apologetics and re-interpret the same passage that so many others have done, but I want to look at Matthew 12. Sally pointed this passage out to me, and I found it enlightening to this conversation. In Matthew 12, the texts reads: “He [Jesus] went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they [Pharisees] asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—so that they might accuse him.”[25] In this passage, the Pharisees and Jesus clash again in which the Pharisees subtly question Jesus’ authority by trying to catch him breaking the law. The Pharisees are referencing the covenant that God gave Moses in the form of the Ten Commandments. Specifically, the law relates to the keeping of Sabbath which required the Israelites to abstain from work one day out of the week. This tradition of the law was still upheld in Jewish culture during Jesus’ time. Right before this passage, the Pharisees question Jesus and his disciples as they picked heads of grain to eat because they were hungry. In both situations, the Pharisees wield the law in order to disrupt Jesus’ action. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is surprising. He responds to the Pharisees with a question, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”[26] Jesus completely disregards the tradition of the law in this context. In these two short passages, Jesus both times places the need of humans over the need to preserve the law. However, to clarify, as Jesus says in Matthew 5, Jesus did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. Jesus’ intentions are not to do away with the law but to disrupt harmful practices that stem from the law. In this way, Jesus reframes the law and provides a way for Christians today to self-reflect and analyze the effects our interpretations of law and scripture have on people. A helpful practice for churches today is to shift their attitude towards scripture. How would our church practices shift when we begin to value human life in light of scripture? Through this attitude, scripture still carries tremendous authority, yet Jesus reminds us to look at the human need/experience in front of us. The law should never be given priority over human flourishing. If Jesus could ask us today, he might ask, “In what ways are you protecting the need for Biblical inerrancy over the abundant need of human life and flourishing?” The answer we would give right now might be insufficient in response.

A Call to Courage

Why are these conversations important? The urgent need for helping LGBTQ+ youth who struggle with suicide, depression, drug use, etc. is a valid reason. However, the church’s current situation reveals a hole in what we call the “body of Christ.” When we disengage and avoid these conversations, we are losing an opportunity to be changed and grow ourselves as a church. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “one of the things we most fear is the stranger… [but] we are enlarged by the people who are different from us; we are not threatened by them.”[27] Again, Sacks speaks into the fear that plagues Christian churches. Yet, Sacks affirms that difference should not be divisive, but it is holy. Sacks discuss his book with Tippett in which a theme of finding God in the stranger arises. When we are met with diversity, we are allowed to learn from one another. When LGBTQ+ people are barred from churches and from conversations, conservative Christians are losing the opportunity to find God in gay Christians. In all of the literature and resources I have read, one of the particular truths that repeated itself was the idea of transformation through dialogue. Although David Kinnaman’s book UnChristian does not affirm LGBTQ+ choices, Kinnaman does concede that his life was changed through conversation with a gay friend. Mark Wingfield describes his experience of transformation with close friendships with transgender people. Gay Christians need straight people and straight Christians need gay people. In this interdependence, the body of Christ is truly embodied where everyone brings themselves to the table and offers up their experience as testimony to the life of Christ. Throughout this research, fear has been a foundational theme that has unearthed itself many times over. I want to end this essay with a call to courage. I have already shown how fear has inhibited the church from moving forward with this conversation. When fear grips the church, the church cannot bear good fruit. We need a church that acts out of boldness, not fear. In Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown affirms this when she writes:

I think we’re sick of being afraid, and I think there’s a growing silent majority of people who are really kind of thinking at a very basic human level, “I don’t want to spend my days like this. I don’t want to spend every ounce of energy I have ducking and weaving.” I don’t know where we’ll go next. But I really believe with every fiber of my professional and personal self that we won’t move forward without some honest conversations about who we are when we are in fear. And what we are capable of doing to each other when we are afraid.[28]

This call extends not just to this particular conversation but all aspects of the church. The church cannot survive if it has traded trust for fear. Enns writes, “It hinders the life of faith, because we are simply acting on a deep unnamed fear of losing the sense of familiarity and predictability that our thoughts about God give us.”[29] Not only is this a call to courage, but a call to believe in a bigger God. Is our God not bigger than the problems or controversies that mere humans can stir up? A wise friend once repeated the verse in John that says, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” He said if that’s true, then the inverse is as well: “Perfect fear casts out all love.” I know I sound like a broken record here. But I find it to be absolutely true in church today. Where fear is present, love is absent. The love that Jesus calls his disciples to is radical; it is scary. Jesus’ love requires us to leave our assumptions at the door and see the other in their own innate sacredness. When we allow fear to block our vision and forget the other’s sacredness, we lose the ability to love well. I always heard growing up that the Bible repeated “Do not fear” 365 times in the Bible: one for each day of the year. May we remind ourselves to not fear in the midst of confusion, chaos, uncertainty, or the unknown but allow ourselves to be emboldened and encouraged by the Spirit.

Thank you for listening.

I love you.

-Matthew

Bibliography

Beaumont, Susan. “Engaging Emergence: Are We There Yet?.” In How to Lead When You Don’t Know

Where You’re Going, 133-159. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019. PDF.

“E3 Conference.” Center Peace. Accessed December 3, 2020. https://www.centerpeace.net/e3conference.

Enns, Peter. The Sin of Certainty. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016. Kindle.

“Find Support.” Center Peace. Accessed December 3, 2020. https://www.centerpeace.net/.

Gary, Sally. “Still One of You.” October 31, 2020. E3 Conference. 1:28:07.

Gary, Sally. interviewed by Matthew Smith, November 13, 2020, recording, Matthew Smith’s personal iPad.

“In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.” Pew Research Center. October 17, 2019.

Kinnaman, David. UnChristian. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007.

Lee, Justin. Talking Across the Divide. New York: Penguin Random House, 2018. Kindle.

“The Need for Reform.” The Reformation Project. Accessed November 27, 2020. https://reformationproject.org/the-need/.

Tippett, Krista. (Remembering Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks) Interview with Jonathan Sacks, On Being.

Podcast audio. November 12, 2020. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/remembering-

rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/id150892556?i=1000498367332

Tippett, Krista. (Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart) Interview with Brené Brown, On Being.

Podcast audio. January 1, 2020. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/brené-brown-strong-back-soft-front-wild-heart/id150892556?i=1000461377441.

Wingfield, Mark. Why Churches Need to Talk about Sexuality. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019. Kindle.

Wingfield, Mark. “Amid a Global Pandemic, Is There Still Room for Churches to Talk about Sexuality?.” October 30, 2020. E3 Conference. 48:42.


[1] Krista Tippett, interview with Brené Brown, On Being, podcast audio, January 1, 2020, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/brené-brown-strong-back-soft-front-wild-heart/id150892556?i=1000461377441.

[2] Rylee Russell, “Do ya think I’m goin’ to hell?,” Rylee Russell (blog), October 26, 2020, ryleeruss.weebly.com

[3] Sally Gary, “Still One of You,” October 31, 2020, E3 Conference, 1:28:07.

[4] “The Need for Reform,” The Reformation Project, accessed November 27, 2020,

https://reformationproject.org/the-need/.

[5] “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace,” Pew Research Center, October 17, 2019,

https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/.

[6] David Kinnaman, UnChristian (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 22.

[7] Kinnaman, 28.

[8] Kinnaman, 31.

[9] Sally Garry, interviewed by Matthew Smith, November 13, 2020, recording, Matthew Smith’s personal iPad.

[10] Sally Gary, interviewed by Matthew Smith.

[11] Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016), 8, Kindle.

[12] Enns, 16, Kindle.

[13] Kinnaman, 25.

[14] Mark Wingfield, Why Churches Need to Talk about Sexuality (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019), 8, Kindle.

[15] Tippett, interview with Brené Brown.

[16] Wingfield, 31, Kindle.

[17] Susan Beaumont, “Engaging Emergence: Are We There Yet?,” in How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), 135, PDF.

[18] Krista Tippet, interview with Brené Brown

[19] Justin Lee, Talking Across the Divide (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018), 50, Kindle.

[20] Lee, 52, Kindle.

[21] Sally, Gary, “Still One of You,” October 31, 2020, E3 Conference, 1:28:07.

[22] Krista Tippet, interview with Brené Brown

[23] Krista Tippett, interview with Jonathan Sacks, On Being, podcast audio, November 12, 2020., https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/remembering-rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/id150892556?i=1000498367332

[24] Wingfield, 14, Kindle.

[25] Matt. 12: 9-11 ESV

[26] Matt. 12:11-12

[27] Krista Tippett, interview with Jonathan Sacks.

[28] Krista Tippet, interview with Brené Brown

[29] Enns, 21, Kindle.

A Few Thoughts

I have been completely and utterly blown away by people’s love and kind words these past few days. As I told many of you, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. Thank you to those who sent me their love via texts, voicemails, and private DM’s. I now see myself surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and have again seen glimpses of God’s love through your actions. Do not doubt your impact. To those that reached out to me with similar stories, thank you. Your bravery and boldness are encouraging. I see and cherish you.

In my original blog post, I was very intentional with my tone. Like I said, I am not bitter or hateful towards my church background, and I wanted to convey that with my words. My only goal was to illuminate my story for others to hopefully understand. I wrote about my story, but I want you to understand that this is so much bigger than myself and my story. I am simply one human in in a world full beautiful people who also deserve to be heard. It was a big step for me but such a small step towards reconciliation. I had a few more thoughts but decided to leave them out. I want to follow up and leave us with something to think on this week.

When we look at the gospel today, it is so easy to turn our noses up at the Pharisees. We think to ourselves “How in the world were they so blind to Jesus’ teaching of love and compassion for your neighbor?” We distance ourselves from the Pharisees because we see them as the antagonist in the gospel stories. I tend to sympathize with them. I see men who were afraid of losing their power and position, so they clung to it. Who of us doesn’t feel the need to have control over our lives? If we walk in their shoes, I see religious leaders who were afraid of the subversive love that Jesus taught. Radical love is scary; it asks so much of us. Jesus’ love asks us to leave our assumptions at the door and to look in the eyes of someone else and see their innate sacredness. That is scary. As Jesus sat with prostitutes, criminals, the poor, etc, the Pharisees used scripture to determine who was in and who was out. I see some similarities between the Pharisees and church today. I see it in myself as well. We hold up the Bible to determine who’s in and who’s out. I think we misuse the Bible and the Gospel when we point at scripture in order to exclude people. Don’t mishear me. I am not pointing fingers or pushing blame. We have a God who forgives the Pharisee in us, so I am also called to forgive as well. I simply want us to consider who we tend to exclude in our church communities. Look into your heart with compassion; we beat ourselves up enough already. But search your heart with honesty so that we may lead lives closer to the heart of Jesus.

One Sunday earlier this year, my father prayed for our church community. He called it a pastoral prayer. During this prayer, he repeated the phrase “My people” over and over again. The prayer was powerful. That phrase has stuck with me since, so I want to take a moment and pray for my people…

Lord,

I pray for my people right now.

I pray for those who feel lost and confused in their faith.

I pray that you would freely bless them with your transcendent love.

I pray for those who do not feel safe in their homes, schools, churches, and communities.

I pray you would give them strength and assurance that there are people who are safe.

I pray for those who have left the church.

I pray you would begin to heal their wounds and redeem their stories.

I pray for the parents of gay children.

I pray you would give parents your wisdom and grace to walk this difficult journey.

I pray for my people who are still in the shadows, too fearful to be themselves.

I pray you would give them peace and assurance that you have them in the palm of your hand.

Look down upon my people with favor and thanksgiving.

Take delight in my people and rejoice over them with song.

May we all be more like Jesus each and every day.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

 

Much love,

Matthew

The Story I Never Wanted to Tell

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” –- Maya Angelou

If you know me, you know that telling stories is not a problem for me. Close friends constantly tease me on my need for the spotlight in any conversation. However, I have held onto one story that I have had trouble letting go of. At this point in my life, it is more important for me that this story is told over it being heard. I do this for myself, but I also kindly invite you into my story as I attempt to convey a beautiful, messy life in such few words. I have had plans to write this for a while, but I became overwhelmed at the thought of summing up my life in a blog post. I romanticized this post to the point that I didn’t want to go near it in the chance that I would mess it up. I admit that my words won’t be perfect nor will I convey everything as neatly as I had envisioned, but I ask for your grace as I begin…

My story is not typical. I come from an evangelical tradition, the Church of Christ, where my father has preached at the same church for twenty-three years. I loved church. I made many life-long friends in youth group, and I felt incredibly supported by my church family. Growing up as the pastor’s kid, I felt an incredible pressure to steward myself and represent my family well. I learned how to “do” church the right way. I learned early on how to pray “well,” how to mark my Bible up so that it looked like I read it a lot, and how to sit still and attentive during the sermon. (It wouldn’t be until college that I truly found my own faith and fell in love with Jesus Christ and his mission.) During those adolescent years, I cherished life, and I loved the attention of being the PK. I felt secure and happy at school, church, and home. Life seemed easy.

It wouldn’t be until seventh grade that my world began to unravel.

I realized I was gay and instantly thrown into a journey I never anticipated.

It took me a long time to become comfortable with the word “gay.” I recall a beach trip my freshman year of college when a close friend asked me how it felt to be gay. I was thrown off. When I told this close group of friends, I explained that I struggled with “same-sex attraction.” I wasn’t gay. Couldn’t he understand that I only struggled with it? That this was only a temporary thing? That I would be “fixed” after a couple years of therapy, and then my life would be good? I remember being irritated he used that word to describe me. Up until that point in my life, I was still hopeful that my burden was only temporary. I still dreamt of a day where I would marry a beautiful woman, have two kids, and settle down close to home. The word “gay” was too final and clearly defined, whereas a struggle can be overcome and defeated. I believed that God would rescue me from my struggle of same-sex attraction. It wasn’t until later in college that my real struggle was highlighted: finding my worth and accepting myself for who I was/am/will be.

After my realization in seventh grade, I came out to my parents via a letter. I remember writing the letter during English class. I made sure to cover the small paper with my hands in case anyone happened to look over. Later that night, I left it on my parent’s nightstand next to their bed before going to sleep. The memories are hazy from that night. But I remember my dad walking into my room shortly after and weeping together. I think our tears stemmed from the realization that we had a long, difficult journey ahead of us for myself and my family. It was a loss of security and normalcy. In those few minutes that he hugged me and cried, I remember him looking at me and saying, “There is nothing you could do that could stop me from loving you.” I didn’t notice it then, but I now recognize that my dad showed me a glimpse of the radical, unconditional love that God has for me as well. If my broken, perfectly human father could look at me, flaws and all, and still accept me, then how much more does my Heavenly Father look down upon me with love?

It has been a slow, painful journey of wrestling with my identity and accepting myself. Up to this point, I have glossed over the instances where I either felt unsafe in church due to my sexual orientation or where I was picked on for sounding or acting gay. Church is not an easy place for a kid who is secretly gay. It is not my intent to list every grievance or harm the church has caused me or the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t want to come across as bitter or hateful, because I am not those things. I deeply care for the church, but I do believe that the church has missed the mark when talking about or to the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t hold bitterness in my heart because I realize that God has redeemed my pain and suffering. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes:

I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I have prayed countless times in my life that God would take the “gay” away. All my life, I have asked God the timeless question, “Why me?” I never understood why God would let a young boy bear the burden of his own sexuality in a world where it seems he isn’t welcomed or loved. However, God has taken this “thorn” and redeemed it by giving me purpose in life. In high school, I went to Honduras every summer for a mission trip. On one of those trips, God spoke so clearly into my life and revealed his plan for me. Yes, I would have to wait years to see its fruition, but I knew that God was working for my good. I remember sitting on the rooftop of our hotel looking out to the lights on the mountains surrounding the city. As I read through 2 Corinthians 5, I stumbled across Paul’s passage about reconciliation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us…

In a truly epiphanic moment, God pierced my heart, and I understood instantly why I had to bear the burden of being gay and a pastor’s kid. I felt a call to reconciliation. Up until that point in my life, my being had been split into two identities: gay and Christian. Yet, I saw God beginning to weave those two stories together. I knew God could use my “weakness” for his glory and that I was called to ministry. God turned my shame and fear into passion and purpose.

This year, I was accepted to Yale’s Divinity School. Most people have asked what I plan on doing after graduate school. Until now, I have given vague answers about ministry or possibly preaching. However, since that night in Honduras, I have seen God gently nudging me towards reconciliation. My aspiration to study theology is linked to my desire to share what my father showed me: that love and acceptance can be found in church. I long to reconnect gay people to their worth and faith, to help mend the pain caused by the church, and to facilitate conversations around sexuality and faith. I want to continue exploring the intersection of my own faith and identity, and to begin paving a path for those who feel there is no hope. Fortunately, my story is not typical. I have been blessed and privileged to have a supportive family. My mother’s fierce love has supported me every step of the way, and my sisters have been like my personal guardian angels: protective and present when I need them. I never had to worry about being disowned by my family unlike so many other unfortunate situations where queer people are outcast. I have felt shame knowing that I have had it easy in so many ways. The last thing I want is for people to throw a pity party for me. My hope in writing this is to illuminate the fact that we, queer people, are all around you. In your workplace, in your church, in your families. And to understand that we desire the same thing as you: to be known and loved. Thank God I have had people in my life who have seen me for myself and cherished me. To my family, friends, mentors, and professors who have walked this journey with me. Thank you. Your grace, kindness, and love has sustained me and led me to a much better place.

I want to reiterate. It is more important that this story is told and not heard. In order for me to grow and flourish, I must finally step out of fear. I have been presenting a Matthew to people that is not truly myself, and it is exhausting. Like I said before, I love being the center of attention, and I realized at an early age that if I could impress and charm people then they would possibly love me. I was referred to as the golden boy in my family growing up. Partly because my sisters thought I was spoiled (I was). But I made this personality my wall of defense from people knowing who I truly was. I became a laid-back, people-pleasing person and substituted people liking me for true intimacy. I longed to earn people’s favor with my “golden boy” personality which is why affirmation and praise became intoxicating to me. But those moments are not sustainable for a healthy life. I have been reading Donald Miller’s Scary Close and his words perfectly resonated with my story:

It costs personal fear to be authentic but the reward is integrity, and by that I mean a soul fully integrated, no difference between his act and his actual person. Having integrity is about being the same person on the inside that we are on the outside, and if we don’t have integrity, life becomes exhausting.

I am exhausted. To be blunt, I was depressed and isolated my last two years of college. I lacked true connection and intimacy with most of my surrounding friends. My friends joked that I became a hermit my senior year, and I was. I became a shell of my former golden boy personality. I no longer felt golden. My therapist helped me process this. He quoted the verse where John writes “Perfect love casts out all fear” and reversed it. He said if that’s true then “Perfect fear casts out all love.” I have lived a life in fear and bought into Satan’s lies which is why I’m stepping out in courage now. I now believe that on the other side of fear is a life of abundance. Growth, contentment, and a soul fully integrated. I am excited for this next chapter in life. I can now see the golden light that illuminates and surrounds me. In Him, there is no darkness at all. Although I am miles away from home, God has blessed me with tremendous peace. I am exactly where I need to be. And I always have been.

I want to leave this space with a challenge for all of us. I would be forsaking my church tradition if I didn’t neatly close this with a call to action. We spend a majority of our lives running from our personal demons. These demons take many different manifestations and guises. Instead of confronting them, we choose to act out, run, bury our emotions, seek pleasure, etc. As humans, we are addicted to fleeing from pain. I want to gently remind us all that the way to dissolve our resistance to pain and fear is to meet it face to face. Spend time sitting in your fear and ask God to give you the courage to face it.

As my dad helped me move up north, our catchphrase for the week was “We can do hard things.” As I struggled to carry my things, I would whisper to myself “I can do hard things.” After I dropped my dad off at the airport, I prayed “I can do hard things.” And I believe this to be true for all of us. We can do hard things.

Thank you for listening.

With love,

Matthew

Fog.

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Katie has a faith truly tested. Her complete trust in the Lord inspires me every time I sit down with her. Her story and testimony rings of the sweet reminder that God is always faithful even in the midst of trial. She possesses such an intense zeal and passion for the Lord. She speaks honestly while still holding on to grace. Her interview is a testament to a life that can be lived if our hearts are set only on God. Enjoy…

Q: How have you seen God working in your life? 

A: So.. I think people have a hard time pinpointing where God is working in their lives because they don’t take time to seek it out for themselves. A challenge from the Lord has been for me to observe where He’s been working in large chunks of time like half years. A year ago the Lord showed me that I viewed his entire character wrong and that I was living a very legalistic Christianity. The second half of the year, God taught me that He is a God whose faithfulness does not rely on my faithfulness. Right now God is a God of peace even when everything else is chaotic. I have to be able to slow down even when everything else is going 100 MPH. I always want to make plans and go new places, but I’m unable to do that unless I’m present with the people around me. Stillness is a forgotten beauty in our culture.

I also have a story of a friend. Last month, I specifically prayed to the Lord for opportunities to minister to the people around me. College is such a great mission field. So I decided to write down my prayers and put them up on my wall.  A few weeks later, I met a friend who was not a Christian, and I developed a relationship with him. He was very openly not a Christian but he had questions and openly asked me about my faith. Then a month later, he actually became a Christian. As I was writing down the date in my journal, I realized he became a Christian exactly one month after I prayed I would be able to minister to someone, literally the same day. There are so many times when the Lord is faithful, but we never pause to write things down and see how God has answered prayers. God hears our prayers and we often forget that he answers them.

Something else happened a month and a half ago. I have been wanting to apply for a mission trip to South Africa. I winded up finding an organization called Operation Mobilization. I knew they were an incredible company, and I wanted to apply for the summer. However, the trip was completely full, and I was unable to apply. However I started praying, and I asked the Lord to guide me in my decision. I prayed that if the Lord wanted me to go, that He would open up the trip for me. I decided to put it into God’s hand. I was practicing being obedient. Finally after a few weeks, I saw the site, and it was opened for applications again. So I applied, but who knows if I will be picked! The Lord definitely worked through that.

I’m not one for having visions but earlier this year I actually saw an image of myself  standing on the two yellow lines in the middle of the road. Everything was completely silent and there was fog everywhere. In the image, I was trapped and freaking out, but I felt the Lord telling me he would lift the fog for me. And I feel the Lord is doing that slowly. He wants me to slow down and let him unravel each piece of the puzzle one at a time instead of me trying to rush through everything.

Q: Who is Jesus to you right now?

A: Right now Jesus is a God of peace. Jesus has become my calm in a storm. For a long time, my relationship with God was not like that. Through the peace, there has been a lot of struggle. The Lord is also pushing me to stop doing too much and to be still.

Q: You mentioned prayer a lot. How has prayer changed for you this semester? How has your relationship with God changed this semester? 

A: We’re gonna go back a little bit. Beginning of freshman year, I thought I was in the best spiritual health I have ever been in. I prayed the Lord would give me something to prove to Him that I was faithful. And it was such a foolish, arrogant, and dangerous prayer. I thought I was a good enough Christian to handle it, but I quickly realized only Jesus enables me. I, myself, will never be good enough. The following semester, my faith took a hit when my friend got terminally sick. My faith didn’t disappear, but I felt further from Him. During that time, I thought of the story when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fire, they said “The Lord is strong enough to take them out of the fire, but if he does not, then that doesn’t change who he is or what he is capable of.” I clung to those verses. Although I didn’t believe or feel them every day, it is true. Although I stopped having my walk with God daily, the Lord was faithful. My walk with the Lord has changed so much. Spending time with the Lord is a means to an end. The end being knowing God and not solely to change behavior.

My prayer life has been flipped upside down. I’ve learned that prayer doesn’t always have to be words coming out of mouth but it can be a stillness or a posture towards God. I also have learned we should never be telling people things that we haven’t told God yet, like big things in our life. I instinctively go to friends for big news, but I should go to the Lord first in everything.

 

I have decided to make Katie’s interview into a two-part post! I will be back next week to share my thoughts on this interview and final thoughts over this entire 10-week “experiment.”

 

Let our eyes, heart, ears, and mind be open to you, O God.

 

 

Confession.

Confession. I have been empty the past two weeks. I have been running on fumes, worn down, and burdened. I also haven’t touched my Bible in two weeks, and I find a high correlation between the two. I find it hard to call it “coincidence” that the two weeks when I didn’t pursue the Lord everyday resulted in fruitless, faithless living. I also skipped church on Sunday, and doubts began to surface in my mind.

But today, the Lord gave me a great wake-up call. I drudged over to the Well hoping to get into the Word, but I wasn’t feeling it at all. I wasn’t excited or even expectant for God to reveal something. I picked up where I left off in Jeremiah 3, and I was blown away. In Jeremiah, God is speaking to Jeremiah and relaying a message to the people of Judah and Israel. God says…

You have defiled the land with your prostitution and wickedness. Therefore the showers have been withheld, and no spring rains have fallen.

Although I wouldn’t describe my past two weeks as full of “prostitution” and “wickedness”, I would say I have lived as a sluggard full of disobedience. I failed to prioritize God and seek Him with a heart abandoned. No wonder I didn’t experience any growth. God says it right there. In times of disobedience and sin, the “showers will be withheld.” We cannot expect to grow in Spirit if we are feeding ourselves with things of the flesh. The past two weeks resulted in me searching and seeking for other things to satisfy me. Although the things in themselves were not necessarily evil, the fact that I placed them in front of God made it a problem.

Continuing in Jeremiah 3, God declares…

Return faithless Israel. I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful. I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt…

Throughout the major and minor prophets, the phrase “return to me” pops up over and over again. Despite our brokenness and sinfulness, God longs for our return. The Lord comforted me this morning through this passage. I had to acknowledge my guilt to the Lord and move on. I cannot let the past two weeks derail my faith. God will not allow seasons of disobedience result in the death of intimacy with Him. God will stop at nothing in order for us to return to Him. It’s never too late.

For Proverbs 24:17 says, “For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again…”

It is a beautiful thing that our unfaithfulness does not determine God’s faithfulness. But let me get real for a second…

I hear so many people talking about how God seems to be absent from their lives. How they struggle to see God at work or how they feel distant from God. They feel empty and burned out on religion. But is it because of their own laziness? Do their lives feel purposeless and fruitless because God is doing nothing or because they are failing to do something?

Guys, I urge you to not become lazy. If you feel distant from God, ask yourself when was the last time you cracked open your Bible or even prayed to the Lord. Don’t get me wrong, I totally believe God sometimes gives us His silence or even leads us into the desert. But 9 times out of 10, I bet our distance from God is our own doing. Our own failure to get into the trenches and work at it.

An intimate relationship with God will never come easy. But are you willing to work for it? Do you really want it?

The past month, I can see the difference pursuing the Lord made on my life. The difference is as clear as night and day. On the days I pursued Him, I felt immense joy, fulfillment, and peace. On the days when I failed to, I became anxious, doubtful, and empty.

Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Only through a life hidden in Jesus will we experience an abundant life to the fullest.

For Jesus also says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

I am not pointing fingers or shaming anyone. It is a daily struggle to follow Him. But why do we sell our lives short and settle for the crap of the world? We have a Heavenly Father offering us His best riches and an abundant life, yet we settle for casual sex, gossiping, busyness, debauchery, laziness, and so many other things that ultimately leave us empty and brokenhearted.

If all it takes is to pray to Him and to read our Bible, why do we not take that step? Guys, I beg you to seriously examine your life. If you find yourself in a place of spiritual depravity, ask yourself if it stems from your own spiritual laziness or has God placed you in that season? Like I said before, most times, it is our own sin and shortcomings that produce spiritual stagnancy. But (the best word in the Bible) there is no shame!

For Jesus did not come to heal and save those who had it all worked out or who lived perfect lives. But He came to save the sick and lost. In order for us to understand God’s grace, we must first realize our poverty. 

God’s embrace is open to those on the mountaintop, to those in the valley, and even to those who lost their way climbing the mountain.

Return to Him. Today.

Let our eyes, heart, ears, and mind be open to you, O God.

(Amazing interview coming next week. Stay tuned!)

 

Doors.

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Austin Chitwood lives a faith full of action. From the brief conversations I’ve had with him, it is evident God is at work in his life. Austin’s faith doesn’t stand solely as a belief, but he lives it out through service and action. His life reminds me of the verse that says “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14). He opened up about his life, and he spoke a lot of great truths. Hear how the Lord has been working in his life…

Q: How have you seen God work in your life recently? 

A: This is the first semester I haven’t been on the track team. I have had a lot of opportunity to meet new people. Instead of only hanging out with the team, I have been able to branch out and meet new people.

I actually prayed over the summer that I would be open to new opportunities. I wanted to utilize my new time by putting energy into new relationships and school. God has been moving in my thoughts and perspectives. I came into this semester pretty unsure and with doubts. I had just come out of a relationship before school started, and I was still working through that. And I was wondering how God could move through that rough season. Dave Clayton preached one time, and it connected perfectly. He described that a lot of times chapters will end and God will close doors. Usually, our immediate reaction is fear and sadness. However when God closes the door, something greater is coming. The ending of something good is the beginning of something greater. And he compared it to Jesus on the cross. When Jesus is first crucified, the first reaction is one of grief and despair. Then three days later the tomb is found empty!

My former relationship and the cross-country team were pretty big parts of my life. When those things ended, there was sadness. But I have hope and trust that my eyes will be opened to a lot of incredible things. And I have already experienced some of those things…

I read a book about Kingdom Ethics. The book says our lives should be governed by the narrative found in the Bible. The narrative in the Bible is centered around God coming back to Earth. We should live for the kingdom. We aren’t called to fulfill our own things but to prepare the world for God coming back.

I also recently went on a mission trip in town at Stonebrook Apartments. While I was there, I realized that a lot of these people have no idea who Jesus is. They don’t come from a background of growing up in church. To put it into perspective, we were their first introduction to Jesus. They may define Jesus on what they see in us. We always need to be cognizant of how we’re living.

Q: How else have you grown from those closed doors?

A: Every new person I meet is a new perspective. I realized that meeting new people allows my mindset and perspective to change. There are so many different ways to live life and view the world.

I actually just received a text today from a friend about listening versus hearing. Hearing is super easy. But listening implies you are actually gathering information from what you’re hearing. When you meet new people, you should actually listen. It helps develop relationships and provides insight into people’s lives.

Q: What advice would you give to people who grew up in church?

A: So I met this woman named Esther at Stonebrook a few weeks ago. She’s actually a janitor at Lipscomb. She grew up in South America and had no idea who Jesus was. She came to the U.S. and someone gave her a Bible. She had a very distant father growing up and when she came across the phrase “Heavenly Father” in the Gospels she began crying. She realized she had a Father who loved her unconditionally. When I heard that story, I wished my first encounter with Christ looked like that.

Growing up in church, the importance of God is not always appreciated. We seem to tuck away the importance of God. My friend once told me that “comfort is the enemy of growth.” When we become complacent, we cannot grow in our faith. Following Jesus should not be a comfortable thing. The apostles sacrificed everything to follow Him. There is an idea in the church that we will never suffer or have problems. But Jesus never promises that we will be comfortable.

I also think we often make the mistake in taking spiritual things and placing them in a box. We consume so many sermons, books, and other spiritual aids and place them in our toolbox waiting to be used. Our focus shouldn’t be on our tools but on the worker. We should just live a life of faith naturally.

I also used to have this idea that I need to be perfect in order to approach God. I need to fix myself and then I can reconnect with God. But we should reconnect with God and then allow Him to fix our problems.

Q: What advice would you give to college students in how to grow closer to God?

A: Change your perspective. If you don’t feel close to God, then you probably have the wrong idea of who He is. We sometimes treat God like he’s a dysfunctional dad, and we don’t know how to approach him. We try to dress up our language when we pray to Him, but He is a Father and a friend. I think we often overlook our freedom in Christ. Donald Miller pointed out that our relationship with God looks like collaboration. Yes, the Bible gives us guidelines, but God also gives us freedom.

What I Learned:

I love what Austin said about freedom in Christ. I’m reminded of a devotional by Oswald Chambers  (anyone surprised?). He says,

Our Lord never insists on our obedience. He stressed what we ought to do, but He never forces us to do it. The Lord does not give me rules, but He makes His standard very clear.

It sounds like a paradox, but obedience to Christ leads to freedom in Christ. Once we change our mindset about who God is and we realize that Jesus promises a full life, we can gladly obey and accept God’s commandments. Our hesitation in surrendering ourselves to Him stems from a misunderstanding of God in general.

Doors. God ushers us into new seasons where the unknown scares us. Christians always seek to answer the question “why?” However, Oswald writes,

We never realize at the time what God is putting us through — we go through it more or less without understanding, because knowing would make us spiritually proud.

Don’t be afraid of new seasons or change. God uses these times to revitalize and strengthen our faith. God will never allow us to become complacent. He will open and close doors to prevent our faith from festering and becoming stagnant. Embrace new opportunities for they will allow you to see God in a new light.

May we have a heart like Esther who encountered God for the first time and cried for joy. Let us seek after Him every day with a fresh spirit and a fresh mind. And may we never allow past experiences to hinder how we can experience God today.

Let our eyes, heart, ears, and mind be open to you, O God.

 

 

Desert.

Pic of Andrew

Andrew Nelson never ceases to amaze me with his incredible intellect. He is able to articulate his faith clearly, and I’m impressed by his ability to think about faith. He provides a unique perspective, for he has a passion for backing up faith with philosophy. He makes me think and ask questions. He is wise beyond his years and possesses wisdom that is as precious as gold. Not only is he intelligent though but he is incredible creative and artistic. God has equipped him for some serious Kingdom work, but he is totally capable. Hear what he has to say…

Q: How have you seen God at work recently?

A: One big thing that’s been on my heart has been the idea of service. We talk about service a lot, especially at a Christian university. But I’m stuck in figuring out how to use my creativity, specifically film and photography when it’s not necessarily serving people. I always had this thought that I shouldn’t pursue these creative expressions when it doesn’t always serve people. I used to have shame and guilt in pursuing my artistic passions. But I started to ask the question: How can I intertwine my faith into everything I do? Through my questioning, I realized we are called to live sacrificially. But living sacrificially looks different to everyone. It takes various shapes and forms. We all have unique gifts from God. It’s not the form that matters but the purpose behind it. I want to make use of my gift that the Lord has blessed me with. Think of it this way…

So a father gives his son a bicycle. The bike is the son’s most favorite and precious gift. The son rides it until the wheels fall off because it was his favorite gift, which in turn makes the father feel fulfilled and loved. With God, we are given these gifts which allow us to point back to God. It’s important I keep my priorities in check when I create.

Q: Practically, how do you see your creativity and serving others combining?

A: I don’t think I have an answer to that right now. I mean.. I don’t want to make the next Fireproof. (sorry to those who love that movie) That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Art is extremely expressive, and that’s how I could show the love of God. God’s love is expressive. There is an opportunity to show the nature of God through art.

Being a light to people in the industry is just as important. You can serve wherever you find yourself. My work doesn’t necessarily have to take on aspects of my faith. However, I can conduct myself in a Christ-like manner without my work having to take the shape of it. People could see Jesus in the way I treat other people, in how I lead, or how I treat customers. Anyone can do that.

Q: How would you encourage other students who are seeking the Lord?

A: Ask a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid. I think there is a mentality that asking questions is bad. Questioning your faith isn’t bad. Often when we ask questions, we will be affirmed in what we believe which gives us better reason to believe it. We need to know why we believe things. It’s great to have Biblical knowledge, but know why you believe what you believe.

I, myself, have been in seasons of doubt and questioning. But I will always leave those seasons with a better understanding and a stronger faith. I have gained wisdom and experience from those times, and it opens up opportunities to minister. Usually, I will think of more questions but that shows the complexity of God. I realize I can’t put God or my faith in a box. It’s kinda intimidating. But there is a reward for those who seek to answer questions. The reward is our deepening of relationship with Him.

Q: What would you say to those who are in a hard season of trusting in God right now? Or to those who are in a desert right now and may not feel God.

A: I would say I’m in a season like that right now. I would say I haven’t necessarily “felt” God recently. I have had times like this before, and I have always come through it. I don’t think there’s a specific way to get out of it. It’s just something you have to go through. I don’t think it’s something you can pray away. Sometimes the Lord has us in desert to teach us something and for our faith to be tested. I think there is a false view in Christianity that if God loves us, then we’re always going to feel good. But you grow more through pain than through seasons of joy. If things are always going well, then you wouldn’t experience much growth. There is a danger of becoming stagnant if everything is always perfect. Although it may be frustrating, an opportunity to grow more intimate with the Lord. You have to press on even in times of not feeling God. It’s about knowing God not feeling God. 

God’s number one priority is a relationship with us. Sometimes it requires tough love to grab our attention. God will do anything in his power to develop and further a relationship with us. Sometimes it requires pain, but God knows that the growth will prepare you for better things.

What I learned:

We serve a complex God. Thank goodness for that. I don’t think I would want to serve a higher being that I could figure out and solve. If I could rationalize, theorize, prove, or figure out a god with my human brain, then I think that religion would be a sham.

I also see a theme of trials and deserts throughout most of these interviews. I think it is impossible to reach complete oneness in Christ without going through dry seasons. I think the times we see God at work the most are in times of great trial or strain. I think it’s important to note that our faithfulness does not determine His faithfulness. Sometimes there are things in our lives obstructing us from intimacy with God. And God has to gently break our hearts for us to see Him.

Do not let dry seasons hinder us for Matthew 4 says…

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Jesus was led into trials and temptations. God used this time to equip Jesus and prepare him for his ministry. Jesus grew from it. Instead of shirking away and attempting to flee from trials, let us wrestle with them. God uses these times to reveal something in us that is not of Him.

James 1 says…

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

What amazes me about Andrew is that this scripture is becoming true for him. He said in the interview, “It’s kinda crazy, but I’m beginning to enjoy difficult seasons.” I wish I came to that point in my faith. Although he may be in a dry season right now, he continues to get into the Word daily and seek after the Lord.

Praise God that He is willing to break our hearts momentarily instead of letting us slowly wander away into eternal separation from Him.

Let our eyes, heart, ears, and mind be open to you, O God.

 

 

Witness.

Pic of Carson FordLast Thursday, I sat across Carson Ford who was metaphorically and literally glowing. The sun sat perfectly behind her head and formed an angelic halo above her. She reminds me of the verse in Hebrews 13 that says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Carson’s zeal and love for the Lord is evident in how she loves others well. Sit down with her for 30 minutes, like I did, and you will understand too…

Q: What has the Lord been teaching you?

A: I don’t know what I’ve been learning. I might be in a season of silence like you talked about last week, but I’ve still been getting into the Word and still enjoying it. However, prayer is something that has been placed on my heart recently. I need to be more intentional in how I approach God in prayer. Scripture, prayer, and community are the most important tools that we have in order to get closer to God. Why don’t we tap into and utilize these resources more often? So I’ve been focusing on prayer this week, and earlier this week I prayed that the Lord would boldly teach me something.

Well… The Lord has been teaching me that in ministry, we are called to participate in His actions. I can do nothing for God. I have been taught this week that it can’t always be me. I need to stop trying and just participate in what God is doing. I, myself, cannot save people. I am just bearing witness to the light. I am not the light. It says in John 1,

There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

I am so many times focused on how useful I am to others. I have realized that people’s relationships with Jesus does not have to involve me. I cannot manufacture faith myself.

(Carson proceeds to grab my small Starbucks drink and make an illustration with it.)

You have this much (Starbucks drink) to pour out. You cannot expect to fill this whole Nalgene bottle up simply with a small Starbucks cup. It does not work. All we are called to do and can do is simply fill up our metaphorical Starbucks cup with Him and just directly pour it out. I can’t line up six cups that represent people and try to fill each cup with the same amount. I simply just fill myself with the Lord and then pour myself out. It takes away all the pressure of being a follower of Jesus. Not to take away from being intentional or having a sense of urgency in discipleship, but if we possess the joy of the Lord and pour that out, then people will see that in us and become a witness to Christ. Jesus is strategic. He will send people your way. In the meantime, just bear witness to the Light…

The story of the prodigal son has been wrecking me. I love the image of where the Father’s arms are wide open. And so many times God is right in front of us offering us His richest blessings and we say “No, thanks.” What would we think if the son in the story had said to his father, “No, thanks. I’m good. I think I’d like to go live with the pigs again.” ? That would be stupid. Yet, we do it all the time. We think we are too unworthy to approach Him. We don’t take that one step further into His arms. We are one step away from being embraced. If being in the Word and being in constant prayer with God means stepping into His embrace, then why wouldn’t I do them? I do these things so that I may be embraced by God and then be sent out to embrace others.

Q: How have you born witness to what God has been doing on campus? How have you seen God at work?

A: I have had conversations with so many friends who have all had life-changing summers. I think it’s so powerful that people are simply wanting Jesus this semester. It’s not a fancy message or the latest ministry tool or even a great chapel theme. But it’s the simple Gospel. Individually, people are having revelations about Christ and that’s so cool.

Q: What would your advice be to college students who are seeking the Lord?

A: Get into scripture. Read with fascination and desperation and out of necessity. You could read your Bible and get nothing out of it because you feel that you’re supposed to do it. But if you change your mindset and you read out of necessity. Then that changes everything. You have to do it. Get into the Word with the right posture.

What I Learned:

Witness. This word has popped up over and over again in the past few days. Yesterday I read a devotional titled, “The Witness of the Spirit” and I have to share what it says.

Why doesn’t God reveal Himself to you? He cannot. It is not that He will not, but He cannot, because you are in the way as long as you won’t abandon yourself to Him in total surrender. Yet once you do, immediately God witnesses to Himself…

I find a correlation between witnessing God and the story of the prodigal son. Why do we fail to witness what God is doing in our lives? Because we refuse to step into His embrace. We refuse to surrender it all. We refuse to accept the Light. BUT once we step into God’s arms with a heart abandoned, our eyes are opened to a world full of God’s blessings and riches. And that is what we then testify to.

Witness is not just a noun. But it is a verb that spurs action. We shouldn’t be passive in how we see God. Our “witnessing” of Christ should turn to testifying about Christ. We shouldn’t be passive partakers in the Kingdom but active human evidences of God’s goodness.

Let our eyes, heart, ears, and mind be open to you, O God.

 

 

IF.

No interview for this week, but I thought I could break down and process some of my thoughts halfway through the semester. I have been immensely blessed to sit down and hear how the Lord is at work. I would encourage all of us to find a friend and to talk about Jesus. There is nothing more encouraging and fulfilling than talking about the Kingdom of God.

What I’ve Been Learning:

I have a cool story from last week. I was sitting with two friends praying one night. As we were praying, I felt the Lord place Hebrews 4:7 on my heart. I decided to flip to it and read it. However, as I opened my Bible, I thought I also heard the Lord tell me to read Hebrews 3:7. I couldn’t tell if I had misheard what the Lord had placed on my heart, but I decided to flip to Hebrews 4:7 first and this is what is says:

God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.

I read it and thought it was a cool verse, but the verse seemingly had no importance to me in the moment. In case I had misheard God, and I was supposed to read Hebrews 3:7. I turned to the verse which says:

So, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness…

What?! I was confused. Why did the two verses say almost the exact same thing only a chapter apart? God decided to reveal himself very overtly in that moment, and it was obvious I needed to hear that message.

Fast-forward to church only a few days later. I’m listening to the sermon, and we are studying Psalm 95. Aaron, the preacher, reads until verse six and stops; however, I kept reading. And to my astonishment, this is what Psalm 95:7 says:

Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts… 

That is NOT a coincidence! God was trying to rebuke something in me that was not according to His will. I realized that I had been consciously rejecting and ignoring God’s voice over the past few weeks.

May I never, ever again harden my heart to the sweet sound of God’s calling. I love how the verses mentioned “the wilderness” which is what Grady and I talked about in last week’s post. God still calls outs and speaks to us even in the times of wilderness. Even in the times where we may feel lost and forgotten. In those times, God is more near than we think. But let us not harden our hearts like the Israelites! What truth is God trying to instill in you that you won’t listen to because it’s hard?

However, the word “if” posed a problem to me when I read this last week. IF you hear his voice… that two letter word implies that God sometimes is silent. And I believe God sometimes blesses us with silence. Hear the words of Oswald Chambers who beautifully captures what God’s silence entails:

When you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible — with absolute silence, not silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation. If God has given you a silence, then praise Him — He is bringing you into the mainstream of His purposes.

What a profound way to view God and His silence. Do not worry if God seems to be absent. He is bringing you into a new season. Maybe He is testing you, to see if you truly want Him. But let us not falter, let us pursue with more clarity and vigor.

Let our eyes, heart, ears, and mind be open to you, O God.

Taste.

Pic of Grady Sutton

Grady Sutton possesses an awareness of Christ that surpasses most everyone I know. He is a living, breathing example of how God can absolutely wreck and turn one’s life upside down. I had an hour long conversation about how the Lord has been present in his life, and it left my speechless. I cannot do justice to the wisdom and words he shared with me. I possess such little skills to capture his heart for the Lord and the conversation we had. But I pray that the Lord speaks to you through his words. As always, let’s go search after the Lord…

Q: How have you seen God in the past few weeks?

A: Recently, The Lord has been teaching me the word “rebuke.” It started when I read the story where Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves. I thought it was a weird word choice for that story. It seemed like Jesus was scolding a disobedient child. A few days later, the Lord spoke to me through a Proverb. In Proverbs 3 it says, “Don’t resent the Lord’s rebuke because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Rebuke comes from a place of love. Rebuke is something we should embrace.

Recently, I had a friend rebuke me; it was exactly what I needed. I had been complaining about some of my friends. I thought some of my friends needed to be in a better place in their faith. Obviously, my complaining came from a place of love. However, I went to a Bible-study and was complaining to my friends, but then a friend said, “Why don’t you do something about it?” My friend loved me enough to call me out. The next day, I read in Exodus the part where the Israelites complained to Moses, but Moses tells the Israelites that they were actually complaining to the Lord. I was convicted while I read that story as well. It was obvious that the Lord was trying to tell me something within the span of those few days.

Then, I kept reading over and over again that the Israelites ate manna everyday for forty years. They had been promised a fruitful land, but they were stuck in the desert for forty years. What would I do if I had been promised this land? But I had to wait for forty years? What would I think? The Israelites had it made; they were eating food from Heaven. Yet, they still grumbled, and I have been doing the same thing. I get into the Word all the time and hear the Lord all the time, and he blesses me. Yet twenty minutes later, I complain and wish that God would show up and do something. I should be grateful that the Lord has been providing me with His blessings, teachings, and rebukes. The Lord has led me to this place in my life of knowing Him, like the Israelites, yet here I am questioning God. I seem to think I haven’t been progressing at all, but the Lord has rebuked these thoughts. The Lord is teaching me that I will need to be patient. While I’m waiting, I shouldn’t sit and complain. But I should rejoice in the waiting.

The best advice I was ever given was to get into the Word everyday in the morning and to pray that the Spirit would speak to me. He has and he does. I have never regretted doing that. The story I just shared would not have happened if I had not been getting into the Word. God is my number one priority. If God is my number one priority, then the first thing I should do in the morning should be reading His word.

Q: What is your experience going to a public university (UTK)? How does it affect your faith compared to a private Christian school?

A: I think I have the advantage in some ways. In my Christian high-school, it was easy to be a Christian without truly following Christ. Going there, you are labeled a Christian so you don’t have to prove anything. Unlike UTK, where if you call yourself a Christian and it doesn’t show, then no one may come to Christ. I have to live it out every single day at UTK. I have had to surround myself with people who love the Lord. I meet with my mentor every week and go to a Bible-study every Monday night. These people hold me accountable. At UTK, you’re either with the Lord or you’re not with the Lord. I think at Lipscomb it’s easy to get by since almost everyone calls themselves a Christian.

Q: What would you say to those who are having trouble seeing how God is working in their lives? Or to those who may have a “lull” in their faith right now? 

A: I actually have a friend who is in a dry season right now, and he told me, “I’m just in a dry season, but I’ll come back to God later.” That is such a dangerous thing to say. When we say that, we become complacent and content in where we are. We know what we ought to do, yet we rarely do it. We often say that it will take time for us to get back to the Lord. But why not right now? Why not get on our knees and pray to Him in this moment? In Jeremiah 29 it says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you…” If we truly desire after the Lord, we will find Him.

I would say that  desire must come first. To be more practical, I would say to get up in the morning and read your Bible each and every morning. Begin to know the Lord, today. Don’t get caught up in reading a chapter every day, but read it in sections. Take your time.  Don’t just read but also pray that there would be supernatural intercession with the Spirit. It’s crazy how the Holy Spirit can put something in your mind and not let you forget about it. A verse in Mark 1 has been ingrained in me for over two years. It says, “Jesus went off to a solitary place to pray.” That is the key. Before anything happens in your day, wake up and GO to the Lord.

I have a challenge for you. For two weeks, dive into the Word and ask for His Spirit. What do you have to lose? You will never regret the decision to seek Him with all your heart. Just give it two weeks.

What I learned:

All throughout our conversation the verse “Taste and see that the Lord is good” kept popping up in my head. I was reminded of this verse when Grady talked about manna from God. God provides sustenance daily. We only have to go out and gather it for ourselves. However in the story, the manna would go bad after a day. The Israelites couldn’t store up on the manna. God was teaching them to be dependent on Him in each and every moment. We, too, have to be dependent on Him, always. We cannot store up past experiences or moments with God and forfeit the blessings He wants to bestow upon us, today.

Do not let your faith become stale.

It requires us to go to Him, daily. When we taste the bread (the Word), we will begin to know who God is. And God is good.

In John 6, Jesus calls himself the “Bread of Life.” He tells his disciples, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (John 6:56).

Let us consume Jesus and His teachings.

For then Jesus says, “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never go thirsty” (John 6:35).

If you find yourself in a desert like the Israelites, or in a place of waiting, continue to gather up your manna and be patient. The Lord will satisfy and fulfill you even in the midst of delayed promises. Trust.

How can we ever expect to see God move in big ways when we fail to notice He is supplying bread, today. He so badly wants you to come to Him, now.

May we taste and see. May our tastes turn into cravings which can only be satisfied at the Feast. Let us ravenously devour everything Jesus provides for us. Let the Feast begin!

Let our eyes, heart, ears, and mind be open to you, O God.