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

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.

IMG_4009

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.

IMG_4977

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!

You Can Have It All

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. 

My Heart for the LGBTQ Community

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.