One of the first messages I shared at Prodigal Church. It freaked a few people out that we would even ask this kind of question out loud.
In the Summer of 2016 I was doing really, really well. I was the Teaching Pastor at Mission. The church was healthier than it had ever been, thanks to finally having a healthy Lead Pastor. I was missing Student Ministry, but I was growing in my role.
Then Willow Creek came along and looked like an amazing opportunity. We wrestled for months about it. I remember when the offer came, the full weight of what we would be leaving hit me.
I was standing in my driveway late at night listening to music. It was a perfect night, standing outside our perfect little house, on a street with our best friends 100 yards away… and a song came on… “You Can Have it All” by Bethel.
I sang it and prayed it and meant it… and here I am three years later realizing that God took me up on it.
We still have food on the table and wonderful people around us, but three years ago I would have laughed at you if you would have told me that this would be our current reality!
It’s a little scary, but it’s the best chance I’ve ever had to trust God. It’s the best chance I’ve ever had to actually trust the way of Jesus.
This is a blog post from right in the middle of the story. I have no idea how all of this is going to end up. But I prayed it, and I meant it, and it happened, so here I am!
Shoulda prayed the freaking prayer of Jabez instead.
I wrote this a long time ago, before I was even in an affirming place for the LGBTQ community. This was all heart- my head wasn’t there yet, which is another way of saying that I was still had a traditional view of marriage and sexuality. But these are the thoughts that started my deconstruction and eventual reconstruction.
I have never been tempted by the same sex. Since the 6th grade when I saw a girl named Jamie, I knew I liked girls. 7th grade: Jessica. 8th grade: still Jessica (and kinda Marci). 9th grade: every girl at my school, haha! I was impressed by certain guys, and jealous of some of their abilities, but it wasn’t attraction.
Since I have always been attracted to the opposite sex, and have never been attracted to the same sex, that means that it is a unique temptation, not common to all people. I have been tempted to worship other “gods”, worship idols, blaspheme, ignore the Sabbath, dishonor my parents, hate, murder (I truly wanted to kill a guy in high school), lust, steal, lie and covet… but here’s the kicker… I knew every one of those things was wrong, but I did them anyway. As I’ve grown in my faith and maturity, I’ve been tempted by those things much less, if at all.
The same cannot be said for people who are attracted to the same sex. Yes, they have probably been tempted to do all of the same things I have in that list, and they know they are wrong, but that is not the same about their attraction. It’s all they know.
Now, you may have just thought, “Well, if someone is a pedophile, that’s all they’ve probably ever known too…” and I’m here kick that response in the face. An adult (or young adult) longing for a loving, committed, lifelong relationship with another consenting adult, cannot be compared with someone who wants to sexually abuse and victimize a child in the most harmful way. That’s just stupid. That was me being nice. There is nothing harmful about two adults in a consensual relationship- there is great harm in pedophilia. So, if you thought that, stop that.
Now, back to the uniqueness for a minute. If I had been attracted to men and women, I would say something like, “Yes, I understand your attraction, and I’ve been there… and here’s what you can do to change it.” That’s just not the case.
Your sexual orientation goes so much deeper than some surface-level, fleshly, obviously wrong sin. Your sexual attraction is attached to your identity in ways that none of those other thing are. In other words, how you experience yourself sexually, and who you are attracted to sexually, goes so much deeper than any other behavior listed in those verses.
Imagine that this scenario was about me (but I’ve changed some of the rules to make a point)… So, I thought that Jamie was cute when I was in the 6th grade, Jessica in the 7th, and so on for years and years. It’s all I’ve ever known.
Then I go to church one day. Then I believe in Jesus one day and my life is transformed. Born again, the whole shabang.
Then imagine that someone says this to me… “Ryan, here’s the thing. We’re so glad you’ve decided to follow Jesus. This is the best decision you’ve ever made… but… we need to tell you that your attraction to women is sinful, but it’s just like every other sin. God can give you victory over it.”
Uh, I’m out.
If you told me that God could end that attraction and even reverse it, I would laugh at you, and then probably cry when I realized you really thought he was going to do that.
Or maybe I believe you, and maybe I submit… under the assumption that somehow God could change my attraction to women, which is all I’ve ever known, and completely reverse it so that I was attracted to men. Haha! That’s laughable… I would have said, “Ya know, I’m sorry, but I’m out.”
But that’s exactly what we tell people who are LGBTQ… that they were made wrong, not just a little wrong, not just theft/hate/coveting wrong, but wrong at the deepest levels of who they are.
BUT THERE’S GOOD NEWS! If you’re in Christ you are a new creation guys! The old is gone. It’s true, but what’s also true is that I would have never hit a 180 and been attracted to men. That is never going to happen. But we make that promise to the LGBTQ community, even though it almost never happens. In fact, we damage them significantly when we try to change them in that way.
Ok, so that doesn’t work, so… here’s the next try. You’re gonna have to be celibate for life. Lonely. Never act on that attraction. You want a monogamous relationship in which you can experience everything straight people get to, but you can’t imagine doing that with the opposite sex… so, yeah, you’re gonna have to avoid all intimate relationships. It’s been done before, and that must be God’s call on your life. It’s the best He could do when he made you.
But the Bible calls celibacy a gift, so… enjoy it! Except that when the Bible calls it a gift it is also accompanied with a sense of peace and gratitude and calling attached to it.
Listen, if they were born that way… and there are literally millions and millions of them… God did it. I could say that more eloquently… but, that’s the reality. If it was just a handful of people, or if it was trendy, I might be able to say, “Well, this is just an anomaly. It’s unfortunate, but let’s just call this a slip-up (broken world, ya know…)” and move on.
But this isn’t small. This isn’t an anomaly. This is an enduring, multiplying, undeniable reality. Some people are gay because they were born that way. Most people aren’t gay, but some people are. It’s the world you live in. I know it can be scary, but you don’t need to be scared. God is in control, right?
And here’s the stinker for the people who hate all of this kind of thinking: a whole bunch of them love Jesus! They’ve embraced him. They’ve been changed by him. They’re getting marries in churches, and their marriages are a blessing to those churches, and to their neighbors, and to God.
I wonder if we would have a problem with it if it didn’t make us uncomfortable. The very fact that it’s not true about us, or normal to us, may be enough for us to condemn it. Add a couple of verses and kaboom. P.S. Let’s ignore those verses about women remaining silent, and the 326 references to slavery in the bible that affirm it, and definitely ignore the verse about the people of God bashing babies against rocks because God told them to.
At least admit that it’s incredibly complicated. The Bible says that God made them male and female, but there are 42 intersex variations, so…
And while we are admitting things, let’s admit that we are incredibly inconsistent (40% of the people in the pews are divorced, but you don’t hear your pastor clobbering those givers, do you?).
Be open. Do some reading to make sure that you’re not wrong about this. We were wrong about slaves, women, Jewish people, the earth revolving around the sun, and much more… and we always had a verse to prove we were right, even when we weren’t.
The English word sincere is made up of two Latin words English words: sine (without) and cera (wax).
Sincere: without wax
To be sincere is to be without wax.
Now, apparently the term comes from the ancient world of ceramics, statues and pottery. When a statue would age or get damaged, cracks would form, decreasing their value or usefulness.
So, some clever conman figured out that you could put wax in the cracks (every 7th grader just giggled) and make it look genuine. The only problem is that the wax would age and it’s color would change, so you’d see some funky colored wax where it used to look like marble or whatever was originally used to create the thing.
I’m no Patrick Swayze, so I’m not exactly sure how this works, but I can see the problem unfolding. You’ve got a cracked statue you’re trying to get rid of, so you throw some wax on it and call it sincere. The wax covered up the obvious flaw, but not for long.
Eventually everyone could see that your statue was insincere, just like you.
I think this is why the Apostle Paul wrote that “love must be sincere”, because he knew that love with wax isn’t love at all… it’s a lie.
Love is at it’s best when it’s willing to admit it’s worst. People can smell a poser a mile away. I grew up covered in so much wax that it’s made me quite the expert in seeing it in other people’s lives. You can’t con an ex-con! The only person you’re fooling is yourself, because after a while, the insincere love will be seen for what it is.
So save yourself a lot of hurt and embarrassment and just be yourself. Be the real, flawed, messed up you… but be honest about it. Stop hiding and lying and trying to create an image that isn’t really who you are.
Be you. There are enough posers.
I didn’t know it would be this difficult to leave Arizona. I knew we would miss our friends and family and church, but I underestimated it. Perhaps I minimized it, since we were moving to a Chicago suburb, and not some remote village in the middle of nowhere. But man, this has been hard.
I’m on a plane right now heading home from speaking at Mission for the second time since we left. The first trip felt like a mini reunion, but this trip felt like a massive reminder of what we had- the best friends we’ll probably ever have, and a church family that truly loves and cares for my family.
I prepared myself for the move mostly by reminding myself that this is very much what missionaries are called to- building and leaving, building and leaving, building and leaving. This is very New Testament/Great Commission/Way of Jesus/Way of Paul stuff. I’m not putting myself on their level, I’m simply saying that coming and going are a part of this life.
That doesn’t make it any easier.
Moving to Chicago in the Winter doesn’t help either. We went from the MOST connected we’ve ever been in a church to the LEAST connected we’ve ever been. We moved from a house that we LOVED to a house that, well, it’s just not a fair comparison. We’re grateful for it all, but still, it’s been rough.
The hardest part of the whole thing is how hard it’s been on Lindsay. I get to leave and go dig into some incredibly challenging and meaningful work five days a week- while she’s at home, in the new home, with the kids and their new (terrible) school schedules.
This isn’t the first big challenge we’ve faced in marriage, and I doubt it’ll be the last, but we’re digging in and moving forward. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t imagined a magical rewind button, but those are my weakest moments.
I’m honored to serve these kids in this church, they’re worth all of this. They better change the freaking world.
A young man and his dad came up to me after a service this weekend. The dad said, “This is my son. He has some developmental challenges he’s working through, and one of the ways he is able to focus during a sermon is by sketching what it being taught. He wants you to have this.” Greatest gift ever. (at MISSION Community Church)
Jesus said to me, “I want all of you.”
I said, “Here are my Sunday mornings.”
“Thanks,” he replied, “but I want all of you.”
“Ok here are my Wednesday nights too”, I replied.
“That’s great, but I want all of you” he insisted.
Reluctantly I replied ,“Ok, I get it. Here is the music I listen to, the movies I watch, my hobbies, and… here, here’s some money too.”
“Thanks, but I already owned all of that,” he replied. “I want all of you.”
“Well now you’re just being greedy,” I replied.
In The Notebook, when Noah finally comes to a point where he’s done settling for just a little bit of Allie, everyone and their mother began to wipe tears away as they watched Noah say, “So it’s not gonna be easy. It’s going to be really hard; we’re gonna have to work at this everyday, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, everyday. You and me… everyday.”
Clap, clap, clap, bravo, sniff, clap, clap, tweet, gush, clap, hug, clap…
PEOPLE EAT THAT UP in a romantic comedy, but when God asks for the same thing from us we become offended!
When Noah demands all of Allie’s love, it results in sixteen awards at the box office.
When God asks for all of my love, I want to barter with him at times.
We humans are frustrating creatures, far too easily pleased.
Yet he pursues us still.
“I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: “If I was saved by my good works – then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – at God’s infinite cost – then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.”
I came home from school in the Fall of 1993 to find my dad passed out drunk on our couch. He had taken a steak knife from the kitchen and dragged it repeatedly across both of his forearms. I’m not sure if he was trying to kill himself, punish himself, or just feel something.
By the time I got there, the blood had dried. I called 911, then poured what was left in his bourbon bottle down the drain. He’d been fired from his job as a lumber salesman that day, and that was the tipping point for his brokenness. He’d never recover.
He’d been drinking heavily in secret since his mid-twenties, but his secret was exposed now. He would get drunk right in front of me for the next few years, shamelessly tipping that 2-liter of bourbon all the way back. He’d even take the plastic piece off that controlled the flow from the tip of the bottle. He was in a hurry to disappear.
I spent the next 4 years trying to help him; I was what experts call an enabler. I just thought I was being a decent son.
When he died in February of ‘96, he left behind pages and pages of poems and songs he had written (usually when he was drunk). When we found him on the night of his death, he had been journaling, and this is the last thing he wrote:
“If this mess should become my demise, so be it… I’ve lived a life few have ever dreamed of.”
We buried my dad when he was 44, but he died when he was 25. He had spent most of his life drunk, died very young, and missed thousands of miracles that have unfolded in my life… but on his last day he was convinced that he had lived a dreamworthy life.
I’m sitting in a coffee shop at a summer camp right now, preparing a message on the life of hope and beauty God invites us into. I’m realizing how small some men’s dreams are.