LGBTQ Affirmation

This was originally an email that I sent to our church’s plant’s Launch Team, and then posted on social media.

Hello friends,

I’d like to catch you up on some important details about Prodigal Church. It’s a very long story that I will make as short as possible!

First, if you know my story, you know that it was a miracle that I ever came to faith. I had completely derailed my life, made every mistake imaginable, and was actually enjoying myself. When I realized how much God loved me, felonies and all, it changed me. It still amazes me.

Not only does it amaze me, but it has convinced me that the gospel really is good news of great joy for all people. It has convinced me that if this is open to me, then it is open to everybody. If you’ve ever heard me teach, you’ve probably heard me shout that, desperate that everyone in the room will believe it and step into this reality.

So, when we announced last year that we were starting a new church, I knew that it had to be a place where anyone could come. I even said things like, “The only people who won’t be welcome at Prodigal Church will be people who make other people feel unwelcome.” That’s probably too strong of a statement but it makes the point.

It begged the question: “What kind of person would potentially feel unwelcome at Prodigal Church, or any other church for that matter?”

It didn’t take long to realize that there are lots of people who would probably feel unwelcome, specifically, the millions of people who are a part of the LGBTQ community.

A few years ago I remember having an intense emotional experience about this. I think at the time I would have called it an “issue” I was wrestling with. But it isn’t an issue- we’re talking about people: moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles. People who, frankly, I haven’t been around much. I’ve been in full-time vocational ministry for 18 years, and I can count on one hand the amount of people I’ve talked to who are LGBTQ. They were almost never in my circles, which begged the question why? There are literally millions of Americans that identify as LGBTQ, and many of them are Christians, so why wasn’t I interacting with them? What I realized a few years ago was that my easy answers to these questions didn’t sufficiently address the complexities of the LGBTQ community.

When we announced that we were starting a new church last year, I knew that I had to resolve this. I still had a traditional view of marriage and sexuality, but my head and my heart weren’t in alignment. My heart grieved for how badly the church has treated this community, and also for the fact that I had ignored them for so long. I let easy answers keep them at bay and explain them away, but I couldn’t do that any more.

Lindsay and I have spent the past year, especially the past six months, studying Scripture, reading everything we could get our hands on, listening to various viewpoints, talking to pastors all over the country, and praying endlessly about this, and we had no idea we would land where we are. About a month ago, after spending the year obsessively focusing on this, we both changed our minds.

We no longer believe what we once did about the LGBTQ community, and we cannot create a community that discriminates against them in any way. To be as clear as I can be: I do not think that the six verses in the Bible that address same-sex behavior are referring to what we see today with monogamous, consenting, same-sex relationships in a covenant of marriage. I believe that Paul and Moses were addressing something much different. This is not the position that I had for the first 16 years of my ministry career, but it is what I believe today. I’d be happy to share the resources that have led me to this understanding.

I know that for many of you this will be a brand new idea, and quite a surprise that I have arrived here. Trust me, I didn’t see this coming either! It wasn’t until the past couple of months that I became convinced of this. Not the best timing, you could say, but we woke up every day and simply took the right next step, and this is where we are.

That being said- if this is too much of a stretch for you, I completely understand! We’ve been stretched for years, and it would be unrealistic and unloving for us to expect you to change your perspective and understanding quickly, or even years from now. You may never change your mind, and that won’t change my opinion of you.

If you have likely contributed to us financially, and this is too much of a stretch for you, I want to offer to refund your gift entirely. This may not be what you agreed to, and I promise that I didn’t see this coming when we invited you to participate, so please let me know if you would like to be refunded. Again, I will completely understand.

Just a side note: If this has caused you to question my character or my motives, I understand that as well. I’ll just say this: this won’t make things easier for us. The easy route would be to continue ignoring this, and try to build a big church by leveraging my history in the East Valley. Frankly, if we had seen this coming, Arizona might not have been at the top of our list, only because we have hundreds of people who are hoping and expecting me to be who I’ve always been and believe what I’ve always believed. So much has stayed the same in that regard, but this particular belief has changed.

Again, if you would like to explore the content that Lindsay and I have been exploring, I would be happy to share that with you. Just let me know. If you’re not a big reader, I also have hours and hours of video content that I can share with you, along with a podcast or two.

This conversation is very important, but our primary message is that there is a God who has come running off the porch to embrace us in our mess. Our mission is still to tell everyone we know about the radically inclusive love of God, seen so clearly in the life and teaching of Jesus. What will define us is our relentless pursuit of people who feel like there’s no seat at the table for them. There has been a resurrection, and that is really, really good news.

I would love to hear from you. If this update has created a fork in the road for you, and you can no longer continue with us, I totally understand, just let me know.

If this update has made you curious about all of this and you’d like to learn more, please let me know.

If this update has caused you great excitement, and you’re ready to move forward with us, please let me know.

Regardless of your response, I still have so much love, respect and gratitude for you all, whether you agree with me or not. We may not all have uniformity of opinion on this, but I know that we are united by our love and devotion to Jesus Christ, the risen King.

Love you guys,

Ryan Guard

LGBTQ Resources

Here is a list of some of the most helpful resources we explored as we were exploring the LGBTQ conversation.

Books

  1. “Changing Our Mind” by David Gushee: https://goo.gl/ecmKDS
  2. “Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-sex Relationships” by James Brownson: https://goo.gl/oZ22LB
  3. “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines: https://goo.gl/S6jcYr
  4. “Unclobber” by Colby Martin: https://goo.gl/nfHDUR
  5. “Torn” by Justin Lee: https://goo.gl/8cT3PX

Web

  1. Denver Community Church: http://www.denverchurch.org/lgbtqlearninggroup/
  2. Together in This: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCj7j5qgIMa9gX-apCl7h1Yg/about
  3. The Liturgists: http://www.theliturgists.com/podcast/2015/5/18/episode-20-lgbtq

Griffin’s Calendar

I was a bit unsettled when Linds told me that she was pregnant. We weren’t trying, but we weren’t not trying either. But we got excited! It was our first year of marriage, and we had just moved to a new state for a new job, but whatever!!

And then we learned that it was going to be a miscarriage…

The day of the actual miscarriage was absolutely terrible. The physical pain she endured, the loss we were enduring, the whole thing sucked.

I was supposed to speak at a Winter Camp for a bunch of high school kids a couple days later. I told Linds I was going to cancel to be with her, but she told me that I should keep my commitment to them.

We had only been married a year, but I knew exactly what this little interaction was: this was a TEST! She was testing me to see if I was a moron that would go spend a few days in the woods while his new wife grieves alone. Yeah right!

“I’m not gonna go. I’ll cancel so I can be with you.” This was a test I was gonna pass.

But then she said, “No, you should go, I’ll be fine. I want you to go.” She meant it. It wasn’t a test, she really thought I should go speak.

I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go talk about how great God was, or his plan for anyone’s life. His plan for my life had just been sucker-punched, so I wasn’t in the mood. But I went.

Four days in the woods with a bunch of high school kids… pretty uneventful. I was glad when it was over.

Then we got the bug… the baby bug.

We wanted to be parents now. So… we tried. And tried. And tried. And not to be awkward… but we kept trying. For a long time. Weeks went by… negative test after negative test… month after month, for what seemed like forever… and it just kept NOT happening.

In the meantime, everyone and their mother was becoming a new mother. Literally, moms of moms of moms were getting pregnant. Old women, young women… all of them were getting pregnant and having babies.

There were babies everywhere. Millions of them… everywhere I went we saw women holding babies, babies holding babies, babies… babies… babies.

But none of them were for us.

Our pregnancy must have been a fluke. Apparently we’re never gonna get pregnant.

Then we reminded each other that we had always wanted to adopt, even before our first pregnancy, we knew we wanted that to be a part of our story.

So… here we go!

We applied with an adoption agency, then we interviewed with them, and interviewed, and interviewed… and eventually got approved by them to become adoptive parents!

We had to take 3,947 classes to be “ready” to adopt, and we finally were, at least according to them. All we had to do was create a little profile that would go in a big book full of people that wanted to adopt a baby, and then hope that some girl picked us.

Our profile was dope. I mean… it was good. I was proud. We got all my students involved… professional graphics were created… it was money.

Then we had to wait.

At some point in that process I got a call from a buddy of mine who was a pastor. He was actually the pastor who asked me to come and speak at that Winter Camp months before.

He said, “I know you guys are looking to adopt, and that you’re working with an agency, but I wanted to tell you something. There’s a girl in our high school group that is pregnant, and she’s considering adoption. Do you want me to connect you with her?”

WHAT DO YOU MEAN “DO I WANT YOU TO CONNECT ME WITH HER OF COURSE I WANT YOU TO…” Sorry. I don’t mean to yell. But I remember thinking, “OF COURSE WE WANT TO TALK TO HER!”

And then he said, “Here’s the crazy part: she was at that camp you spoke at.”

She was there? At the camp I absolutely didn’t want to go to? She was in that crowd?

Her and the birth father were there. Two great kids sitting there, oblivious to everything I had been through that week, and also oblivious to plot twist coming in their own stories.

I asked my buddy if he would share her name with me, and he did, and we went full-on STALKER mode. Google, Facebook… blogs… we looked anywhere and everywhere for info on her. After a week or two or being super detectives, I felt like we knew her PRETTY well haha. Gosh, we’re kinda creepy! Oh well.

Then… after all of that.

I was sitting on a 55-passenger bus on the way to a Summer Camp with a bunch of my own students. We finally had everyone counted and loaded, and we were about to pull out of the parking lot when my phone dinged.

It was an email.

It went something like this…

“Hi, my name is Erin. You don’t know me, but…”

Let’s stop there for a moment, haha!

OH WE KNEW HER. We had been stalking that girl nonstop! Ok anyways…

She shared that she was pregnant… and that my buddy had given her my email… and she was wondering if we might be interested in having a conversation, because she was considering adoption.

“The baby is due November 20th.”

There’s a baby… in a belly… in her belly… SHE is talking to ME about a baby.

We want a baby so bad. And this incredible young woman is wanting to talk to us about MAYBE adopting her baby.

A baby.

Due November 20th.

That might be MY baby.

I might actually get to be a dad.

Linds might actually get to be a mom.

Because there’s a baby… a real one… with a due date.

I’m on a bus… and there is a BABY!

I’m in charge! I have hundreds of kids on a bunch of buses heading across state lines for a week and THERE IS A BABY IN A BELLY WITH A DUE DATE.

I don’t wanna be in charge right now. I want to be a dad!

I’m on a bus with a bunch of teenagers going to a place where there will be hundreds more teenagers, and crappy bunk beds… and all I can think about is this baby and that due date. It was torture.

We got off the bus like 8 hours later… got everyone in their rooms, and then I said, “Hey… does anyone want to go check out the craft shop?”

I know that sounds lame, but it was a pretty sweet craft shop.

About 10 students took me up on the offer, and we walked across the camp to this massive shop.

Kids were carving things, building things, and so on. A lot of kids were painting things that they purchased at the camp. We walked into the store area where you could purchase your art supplies… when it happened.

This next part has to be a miracle, or I don’t know what is.

We walked in, and there were hundreds of things you could buy, but an entire wall dedicated to one item.

On the wall were hundreds of identical wooden calendars. Each of them were factory wrapped in plastic, and each and every one of them were set to the exact same date.

“November 20”

Hundreds of them. No other dates. All of them wrapped tight.

There were 365 options… you would expect January 1, or December 25, or July 4… but every single one of them were set to the date that had already been etched in my soul.

So I bought one… and I thought to myself, “This is either a miracle, or this world is evil. If it’s a miracle… then that might mean that I’m gonna be a dad…. and that that baby is gonna be my baby!”

The rest is history. That little baby became our little boy, and this little calendar became a daily reminder that miracles are possible.

I know that not every story ends like this one… but this story does! I hope it encourages you as much as it encourages me every single day.

Griffin Calendar

I Lost My Wallet…

GOOD MORNING to the person who found my wallet on the airplane but hasn’t turned it in yet! I’m guessing that you got curious and looked me up… it’s what I would do.

So… you see that credit card and that debit card, and that cash, and the Target gift card, and the Costco gift card… and you think, “I like gift cards, and this poor sucker probably doesn’t even need them.”

You’re probably wondering why I have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in my wallet… well, it’s because it worked once! I got pulled over for speeding, and when the officer asked if I knew why he pulled me over, I handed him that card and said, “This should take care of everything.” He laughed, and guess who didn’t get a ticket or go to jail… THIS GUY. So that card is my lucky card. I need it back. Give me my card, wallet finder guy.

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Here’s a picture of my son! His 9th birthday is in 9 days. If you take my money away, you’re basically taking away a 9-year-old’s happiness. Look at that face. All he wants is a birthday party with his friends… Do you want to be a guy who steals birthday parties from kids? You’re better than that, wallet finder guy.

Do you have any friends, wallet finder guy? I’ll be your friend. I’ll tell ya what- if you return my wallet, I’ll be in your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter friend. I’ll like all of your posts- even the ones that aren’t funny or meaningful or helpful in any way. Even those.

So, shoot me a message and let me know when we can connect. I’ll come to you. Do the right thing, wallet finder guy. Or I will find you…. and I will hur… wait, sorry, this almost went south. I hope you’re having a great day! I also hope you have a conscience. Ok, talk soon!

Toy Drive for Cardon Children’s Hospital

2019-toy-drive

I was ten years old in the Summer of ’88, and like every other ten-year-old in Phoenix, I was going to spend my day at the pool. The pool in our apartment complex didn’t have a diving board, so I decided to ride my bike down to the public pool.

It only cost fifty cents to get in, and I could spend the whole day there. I could get a frozen Three Musketeers bar at the snack bar for another fifty cents, so I grabbed four quarters and a towel and hit the road. I should have grabbed a helmet too…

I was about a football field away from the pool when I went airborne. I don’t remember the Buick hitting me, but I do remember being in the air for a while, and I definitely remember landing. Apparently I pedaled my big head right into an intersection, and some poor guy didn’t have time to hit the brakes before he sent me and my towel flying.

I landed head-first, which certainly explains some things about my life. Well, technically I landed face-first, which is why I don’t remember it very well- I couldn’t see anything!

The ambulance came and they took me to the hospital, where I was  eventually checked into a room upstairs. I was going to be there for a while.

When my mom showed up, I remember being so proud of myself when I opened my hand to show her that I hadn’t dropped the four quarters she had given me! We were a poor family, and not even a Buick doing a California Roll through a crosswalk was gonna get my dollar.

I remember being so upset that I was stuck in that room. I looked like a human raspberry, with two black eyes to top it off, and I was strapped to that annoying monitor that never stops beeping… but then everything changed.

A nurse came in and asked me the question that every ten-year-old wants to be asked: “Would you like to play some video games?”

Yes. Yes, I would definitely like to play some video games!

“If you get bored of that, we’ve got a bunch of toys you can play with too. They were donated by some really nice people! You can even keep one or two of them.”

That was thirty years ago, and it wasn’t exactly fun spending time in the hospital, but it could have been a lot worse. Those toys and games helped to make my time there much more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise.

There are a bunch of kids stuck in their rooms at Cardon Children’s Medical Center who could definitely use a distraction. I volunteered there for several months, visiting kids in their rooms, asking them the same question that nurse asked me: “Would you like to play some video games?” Sometimes their shelves were jam-packed with toys and games, but other times the options were pretty limited.

Cardon Children’s Medical Center depends on the generosity of people like you and me to provide toys and games for the kids they’re taking care of. So we’ve created an Amazon Wish List that contains all of the toys and games that are requested by kids most often.

You can purchase items off the Wish List, and they will be delivered directly to us here at Isos Technology. We will personally deliver them to the team at Cardon Children’s Medical Center.

Let’s make sure that every kid at Cardon Children’s has the most enjoyable experience that they can while they’re getting the care that they need.

Click HERE to do some shopping!

Worth It

Choose the hard right over the easy wrong.

I heard a pastor named Andy Stanley say that once… or I read it in one of his books… either way, it stuck.

I think this post is for my kids, but you can read along if you want.

My dad passed away back in ’96, but I still think about him nearly every day. Maybe it’s because I’m 40, and he died at 44, and I’m like, “Oh shit… here it comes.”

Kids, don’t cuss. Unless you’ve had a couple of years like these past couple, then go for it if it’ll help.

I went looking for an old photo earlier today because I wanted to share it as a joke at work on our Slack channel. One of my co-workers is a great guy, but he’s a Seahawks fan, which kind of makes that whole “great guy” thing hard to say. But I wanted to tell him about the time Hadley dressed up as a Seahawks fan.

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Even covered in pistachio sauce, that little girl is perfect.

But then I kept scrolling around my old photos. Gavin’s cuteness jumping on and down on our bed… Griffin’s curly locks bouncing around as he runs through a yogurt shop, and then there they were… all the speaking photos.

Camps, retreats, lock-ins, Sundays… I felt like I was born for it.

Then we chose the hard right over the easy wrong, and it cost me everything… vocationally anyways. But it was so much more than a vocation.

And it’s over. The phone doesn’t ring for those invitations any more. I’ve lost my voice in that world.

But it was worth it.

I had a pretty rare rock-bottom 20 minutes ago. Sadness wrapped me up and wouldn’t let go, and tears finally came. I may have texted my counselor and asked when she’s available, but this will have to do for now 😉

But again… it was worth it. We did the right thing- people may have disagreed with us about what we were saying, but our motives were pure, and we chose this path… and sitting here dealing with some sadness is just fine with me, because we did the right thing. The easy wrong would have been to say nothing, stay in the majority, keep getting speaking gigs, and act like nothing had changed.

I hope my kids read this some day and know that about us. I hope I’m around for a long time, but if I’m not, I’ll leave this here and hope that they’re proud of me. This made it hard on them too, whether they realize it now or not… and I hope they can see that it was worth it.

This probably needs some editing, but I’ve got a meeting at my tech company, and I really have to pay attention, because I have no idea what we’re talking about most days haha!