Tag: listening

Don’t Homophobe Me, If You Don’t Know Me

Since becoming a defender, advocate, and voice for the LGBT community, I have been the toilet in which many have squatted their negative feedback. There is nothing like a good online, comment-section spanking. Or, walking through a local store only to bump into the disapproving glares of those who were once friends.

Yet, my experience, just four months into this gay-affirming, homosexual-loving journey as a pastor, dwarfs in comparison to what the LGBT community endures every moment of every day.

Sadly, the emotional, spiritual, and even physical carnage caused to supporters and members of the homosexual community is almost exclusively generated by Christians. Go figure.

Even more disturbing is the glaring reality that Christians who take a condemning posture against homosexuals and homosexuality, often have little to no personal, relational connection with people in this demographic. They harbor great energy and willingness to condemn homosexuality intellectually and biblically, but distance themselves from any personal interaction of meaning and journey with homosexual people. Keeping everything in the comfortable and familiar confines of debate land.

This is a deeply troubling reality. Ideas, creeds, perspectives, and alike are all very important. Yet, in my experience, debate is primarily used by those who simply want to assert opinions and convince themselves they have position over another. It is the mind games of small minds. Loaded with information, lacking in transformation. Debate is an effective way of dealing with the issues without the issues dealing with you.

Nowhere is this more evident than with homosexuality. Hiding behind laptop screens. Endless circular arguments. Statistics, studies, and biblical texts, keeping the heart at a comfortable, sterile distance. Church committee task forces, Sunday sermons bent on defending long-held positions. All requiring little to no soul process, faith, and receptivity to the Spirit. As Jesus admonished, one can diligently search the scriptures, debate issues of the mind, defend human, hermeneutic tradition and completely miss the heart of Christ at same time.

Perhaps that’s the whole idea. Heaven forbid Jesus gets in the way of our ignorance, bigotry and misguided theologies.

In fact, I’ve come to a place in my own ministry where with some people who want to criticize and debate me in regards to homosexuality, I enforce what I call “The Rule of Six.” Before I am willing to take one step further in debating the mere six bible passages relating to homosexuality, I suggest the person first develop genuine, meaningful relationships with six homosexual people. There’s a revolutionary concept.  As those relationships emerge, there is a much better chance we can come back to the biblical texts with an open mind and heart, ready to consider afresh the Spirit of God on this matter. No, it’s not a hard and fast rule, but the idea is extremely important.

Until you have a truly genuine, open-hearted relational connection to homosexual people, you disqualify yourself from the debate, and from a position of criticism and condemnation of gay people and their supporters.

Don’t homophobe me if you don’t know me.

Have you taken the journey of a homosexual? No.

Have you taken the journey of a person who has become a gay-affirming, homosexual loving pastor? No.

Have you truly immersed your heart into the stories and experiences of people who are homosexual? Probably not.

Have you thoroughly studied out the issue of homosexuality, openly listening to voices that speak directly against your anti-gay stance and biblical interpretations? Probably not.

Chances are, you don’t know homosexuals, you don’t me, and you really don’t know this issue. You may know of them, you may know of me, you may know of this issue. But you do not know, because you do not know.

The longest distance between two points is a shortcut. And try as we may, there are no shortcuts with homosexuality.

The truth is, it’s only when we humbly connect with homosexuals and homosexuality at a personal level that minds begin to change from the heart outward. Only then, do we become willing to rethink long-held thoughts. Only then, do we start looking for ways to affirm instead of ways to condemn. Only then, will what we see and hear in front of us, through the stories and journeys of living, breathing gay people, show itself to be nothing like our spoon-fed biblical view of homosexuality.

I know, you can’t wait to write in the comment section below that it’s not necessary to look at other vantage points, nor engage in meaningful relationships with homosexual people for you to know God’s heart on the matter. It’s all so clear to you, and such things are below you.

Maybe you should pump the brakes a bit, because that’s what Paul, the biblical writer thought. In the limited landscape of his perspective and experience, at one point, he had determined that it was “unnatural” for the Gentiles to be included in the Kingdom. However, upon further information and personal experience, he later determined otherwise. Completely changing his view. He realized, he was wrong. Thank God, because guess what? We’re the Gentiles.

See, it’s easy to take shots at people we aren’t willing to sit down with. Condemn things we don’t fully understand, and reject that which challenges the very foundations of our spirituality, humanity, and theology.

There are a lot of string attached and a lot at stake. The costs of being a gay-affirming, homosexual loving person can be great.

Yet, at the end of the day, at least have the integrity to study the issue out, going far beyond the intellectual all the way to seeing through the eyes and heart of homosexual people and the LGBT community.

I double-dog dare you. Walk a mile or two in their shoes. Open your soul, humble your mind, build some relationships for crying out loud. Then, and only then, wherever you land at any given point, you do so from a genuine, humble journey of listening, relating, considering, and experiencing the issues as openly and fully as possible. Heart to heart, hand to hand.

Until then, don’t homophobe me if you don’t know me.

Not me, not my gay friends, not the gay community.

Hot Potato – Addressing the Tough Issues with Grace

From homosexuality to abortion, from legalized marijuana to racism, the culture we live in is filled with “hot potato” issues. Issues that are hard to handle and seem like you can’t touch without getting into a mess of opinions, charged emotions, heated debate and relational tension. Everybody knows what it’s like when a political or moral subject is brought up around the family Thanksgiving table, and all the sudden you can cut the tension in the air with a knife. Unfortunately, it’s not just a family gathering phenomenon, “hot potato” issues come to the surface in just about every venue of life. And to be sure, it’s easy to get burned without ever even knowing what happened.

Unfortunately, Christians (and churches) have often unnecessarily  stirred the pot and poured gasoline on these charged issues instead of being a source of healing, understanding, and mutual respect.  Are there perfect ways to handle these issues and respond to these hot topics within our culture? No, not usually. But, there are better ways!

Here are a few suggestions for Christians and churches…

1) Cut the one-sided message game. – “Wow, that message on the church sign (or billboard) has totally changed my mind”  said no one ever.

These issues are too big and too personal for one sided statements blurted out into the public.  From sidewalk agenda-preaching of things that people are against to messages of the like held on signs, these one-sided methods, though probably well intentioned,  have greater propensity to do more harm than good.  Clever statements on signs, billboards, mailings etc. rarely influence people onto your thinking, but polarize the issues and the people involved. Those who think like you smile inside and join your cause, those that don’t, don’t and won’t. Besides, most people read into what is read or said through their own experiences and beliefs and interpret them differently. The chances of being misunderstood and communicating an unintended message greatly increase through these methods. These highly charged issues are too important, complex, personal and volatile to simply blurt out a one sided, over simplified message about, even as crafty, well intentioned, and clever as they might seem to be.

2) Don’t hide behind Facebook (or any other social media). – Man, if they hadn’t made that status statement of their views against _________, I would still be so ignorant and misguided.” said no one ever.

Facebook, Twitter etc. can be a place to begin a meaningful conversation about tough issues, but rarely do people use it in that way. Rather, they vomit out their thoughts and beliefs about certain hot topics in a 50 character status update and then hide behind the distance and safe-zone that social media platforms afford. If you want to ride your soapbox regarding heated issues without having real, meaningful conversations that actually go somewhere, keep blasting your trumpet through your status update and taking it down once someone comments with an opposing view. If you are out to feel better about yourself and get a rush from the praise of your like-minded choir, than Facebook  etc. is your “hot potato” place. If changed lives, mutual respect, and real dialogue are what you seek, social media may be a place to begin, but it’s never the place to stay or end. Make sure you are open to conversation, dialogue, opposing views, and kindly giving mutual respect before you use social media in addressing tough social issues.

3) Get face to face-  The fact that no one has ever taken the time to talk with me (not just to me) has truly been the difference that has changed my whole way of thinking.” said no one ever.

To0 many churches hide in their buildings and programs, and too many Christians hide behind their social media. It’s amazing how a conversation can change when two (or more) people meet physically, face to face.  Or at least, voice to voice. 70% of communication is non-verbal, so imagine all that’s missing when we don’t take the time to be with people, in the flesh. These issues are far too important than to settle for anything less than face to face, voice to voice conversations. Are face to face conversations always possible? No. But chances are you can find a better way than texting, tweets, Facebook, and Pinterest to dive into these sensitive, toxic issues.

4) Start with listening, begin and end with Grace-  

“When I realized they weren’t listening to me and couldn’t wait to tell me what I should think, feel, and do, it made their Bible bashing statements of fear, guilt, and shame all the more powerful to turn my stupid thinking and sin-living life around. Deep down I knew all I needed was a healthy dose of condemnation and a few “to do” programs and messages to get me on the right path” said no one ever.

Influence is gained through listening, a change of mind is gained through Grace.  Grace is not a reduction of nor a retreat from truth. Rather it is the truth seen through and dealt with through Grace. Everyone has a story that if you don’t learn about and understand, you forfeit your ability to minister the Gospel into their lives.  Every person is different, and the Gospel is personal to every person’s life. You can’t communicate the Gospel personally without knowing the person. Most people have never had a person truly hear their pain. Most Christians and Churches don’t begin with listening, but begin with admonishing, correcting, and quoting. And then we wonder why our message rarely gains any traction within our broken, hurting culture. Furthermore, when we speak, we tend to lead with the Law. “You need to do this, change that, stop this, start that, join this, sign up for that”  As well intentioned as our programs and prescriptions might be, they actually end up further imprisoning rather than setting free. Why? Because they lean towards the Law, and not on the pure Gospel of God’s Grace. The Law never changed anyone, the Gospel can change everyone. No one has ever become Holy through punishment, nor proclamations of condemnation, rules, and areas where one does not measure up or is getting it wrong. Christians and Churches have become impotent and irrelevant in our culture today because no matter our worship styles, logos, and campaigns, the Law in any shape or form is irrelevant and impotent to change lives. And don’t be fooled, great numbers of baptisms, church memberships and the like may be nothing more than a sign that we have successfully inspired people to perform a religious ritual to begin their journey into becoming a performance driven Christian in our life enhancement club. The only thing that is relevant and potent to change minds and hearts is the Gospel of God’s Grace.  Start with listening, begin and end with Grace. People who get true Grace, don’t sin more, they sin less. You can never have too much nor give too much Gospel Grace. More Grace, more thankfulness. More Grace, more repentance. More Grace, more faithfulness. More Grace, more obedience. It is the Grace of God that teaches us to live rightly. It is the Grace of God that enables people to reign in life, not rules, spiritual gymnastics, church traditions, guilt trips, fear tactics, punishment, Bible bashing, clever programs, stage lighting, skinny jeans, and hip sermon series.

Let’s open our ears and trust the Gospel of Grace.  Let’s be less clever and more caring. Less shock and awe, more respect and carefulness. Let’s be more accessible and less one-sided in our communication as we all seek to be Jesus in a “hot potato” world.

What would you add to this list?  Looking forward to your thoughts!

 

At the end of your rope?

If your life has been at all like mine, there have been times when you have reached a dead end. The situation seems hopeless and you wonder how things will ever work out. You may feel trapped, abandoned, or just totally zapped.  Every effort you give to solve or move past the situation brings with it more confirmation that the challenge is above and beyond your strength and understanding to resolve, remedy or explain.  Is there anything you can do when you come to the end of the rope? How should we handle the times when we come to a dead end? Is there any hope when we find ourselves in hopeless situations?

Here’s a few words of counsel when you find yourself holding on by the threads…

1) Consider that what appear in life to be “setbacks” are often “setups” from God

Sometimes when we feel backed in a corner with no way out, the situation can be daunting and very intimidating.  So naturally, we first think of it as a negative, not a positive.  We imagine the worst possible outcomes and conclude that life is unfair and the situation will never turn out for the good.  However, what we may not immediately realize is that God is trying to correct our path or even set us up for an entirely new course, and if He didn’t force the issue, we would have never considered nor traveled down the path of His desires for us.  

Consider that maybe God is testing your faith, or drawing you closer to him so that He can move you to a new chapter in your life.  Or, maybe God is protecting you from greater harm or disappointment.  Maybe God is positioning you to impact and influence people whom you never would or could have if He didn’t allow the situation you are in to come to pass. 

Or, maybe just maybe, God is simply giving you a real, true-to-life story to tell of God’s faithfulness as He leads you, walks with you, and takes you from tremendous difficulty to tremendous triumph.

Instead of seeing your circumstance as a sure “setback”  try asking God to show you what He is trying to “setup” for your life and future through the challenging circumstance you are in. You might just be amazed at what He shows you.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

2) Wait on the Lord

Typically, when it feels like we have been left hung out to dry in life, our first impulse is try to quickly get away from the pain, solve the problem, make a decision, move things ahead somehow, or find a way out.  The problem is, those impulses are often emotionally driven and impulsive.  Who could blame us? We are hurt, spent, tired, disillusioned and the list goes on and on.  But that’s all the more reason to “wait on the Lord.” When we find ourselves feeling hopelessly trapped in a dead end, we aren’t usually as stable and sober in our thinking and judgement.  And most of all, waiting is the last thing we want to do.  But waiting, is actually one of the most important things we should do.  The times when life throws us a curve ball and the unexpected happens are some of the times when we are the most vulnerable and apt to take a mistake and make into a bigger mistake, or a difficult situation and make it into an even more difficult situation.   The scheme-artist Satan would love to do nothing more than exploit you and your situation.

Waiting on the Lord doesn’t mean you do absolutely nothing, but it does mean that you make every effort to take each step with the clear leading and nudges of God, and not before. Remember, God is very likely setting up something, but if you rush ahead, you’ll miss it.   You never know what God is up too, and the last thing you want to do is to give up too soon.  Is there a time to “give up?”  Is there a time when you may realize, God is closing one door and opening up another? Sure.  But if you don’t wait on the Lord, you will never know what was His will as compared to what was merely you getting quick in the saddle and moving before God blows the whistle. Unfortunately, the only thing that can come as a result of that is found in one word you should do everything you can to avoid experiencing…  regret.

If you wait on God, he will show you, lead you, and nudge into His purposes and plans. Waiting on God assures that you don’t get ahead or behind what God has been working towards all along.  

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:14

3) Remember, when you reach the dead end, you are actually closer to deliverance than you have ever been before.

It’s hard to see, it’s hard to believe, it’s hard to feel, but it is absolutely true!  When you are at a dead end, you are actually closer to the possibility of things truly moving forward and new doors opening up than ever before.  Like a doctor will tell you, sometimes a fractured bone needs be completely broken before it can be healed. And furthermore, when it does heal, it will then be stronger than ever before.  Sometimes God has to bring us to our knees before we are willing to wake up and seek His will and wisdom for our life.  In a sense, he has to break us so that we can be truly healed.

Dead ends have a way of opening us up to real life, the life only God can give us.  Dead ends have a way of showing us how much we need God and His supernatural power. We often think we are the masters of our own universe and that we don’t need anybody but our own smart selves. Dead ends shows us how desperate, insufficient, and in need of God we really are.

God-given deliverance never comes without coming first to a God-planned dead end.   Dead ends have a great way of showing us where we end and God must begin if things are to ever truly move forward towards healing and wholeness.  Unfortunately, many come to a dead end only to give up too soon, or never turn to God to be and do for them all the things in their life that they can’t and never will be able to on their own. What happens? They never graduate. 

Think of every dead end in your life as a classroom from God where most of the time, the ticket to graduate is turning to God in faith and faithfulness at a level you have never before.  If you never turn to God in faith God will allow you to either turn away from Him or keep bumping your head into the wall.  With God’s classrooms, there is only one grade, “pass.” And he will allow you to stay in that classroom until you do.

Sometimes God uses dead ends to press you towards repentance (turning to God for forgiveness and salvation, and turning away from sin).  Other times he uses them to press you towards faith and trust in Him.  The bottom line is, what God might be trying to deliver in your life is a bucket load of forgiveness, hope, healing, salvation, supernatural blessings, and the list goes on and on. But God can’t deliver what you don’t desire and turn to Him for in your life.  If you feel like you have been in a dead end and nothing is moving forward, it isn’t because God doesn’t desire to deliver you through it, it maybe that you haven’t sought out His deliverance because you want it, realize you need it, and know you can’t truly move forward without it.

The Bible says that without faith we can’t please God, dead ends have a way of pressing us towards faith and dependance on God.  So often we think we can deliver everything our lives need for fulfillment, peace, and happiness, and wholeness.  Dead ends teach us that only God can deliver what we really need and long for in life. 

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

4) Listen closely for God, and if He is silent, it may be because He wants you to learn to trust what He has already said or shown you.

The Bible counsels us that in times of crisis, we need to “Be still.”  Listening closely for God is one of the most important things to do when you get the end of a rope and it feels like there is no way out.  Yet at the same time, it will be harder and take longer to hear God if you haven’t been in a good habit of listening to God prior to when you ran into a dead end.  That is not to discourage you, but to say that listening to God before the storm comes reaps a lot of benefits for your life when a storm finally does come.  As a matter of fact, I have found that God will prepare me and even warn me of rough waters ahead if I am willing to listen to him when the skies are clear and the sun is shining. 

If at first, you don’t sense you are hearing from God, be patient.  Yet, God may remain silent. Why?  There are several reasons, you could have an unconfessed sin mudding up your connection with God, you can be too busy and scattered in your life to hear Him, etc.  But one reason may be is that God has already spoken into your life what you need to hear from Him and you need to simply trust in what He has already said or revealed to you.  God isn’t opposed to repeating Himself, but sometimes His silence is a message to you that you haven’t been listening.

Whatever you do, make sure you take time to slow down, be still, and listen to God.  In the passage below, Elijah didn’t hear God until he was willing to listen.

11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.   1 Kings 9:11-12

5) Seek out counsel not advice

Anybody can give an opinion from their best take on a situation, but not everybody can give good counsel.  Advice comes from the opinions of people, counsel comes from the wisdom of God.  When you come to a dead-end level situation, you are going to want expert counsel from the expert of life, God.   God created you, He knows His plans for you, and He knows you better than you know yourself.  If there is any wisdom you should seek out, it should first and foremost be God’s wisdom.  Where do you find that?  Two primary places…   1) God’s Word (The Bible)  2) People who are wise in the ways of God

If you don’t have one, get a good study Bible and some Christian books on the subject of your dead end.  Read your Bible everyday and apply what you read.  If I can understand it and make sense out of it, trust me, you can too.  If you don’t go to Church, find a healthy, Bible believing and teaching Church that suits your personal preferences. Finally, seek out the counsel of Christian, faithful people who love the Lord and believe in the Bible as the absolute truth. 

There isn’t a more important time to avoid advice and seek Godly counsel then when you reach the end of the rope and you are clueless as to what to think, feel, and do. 

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.  Psalm 119:105

6) Present yourself totally available to any direction God might desire to take you, then watch for what God is anointing and what God is closing down.

Sometimes, even in the desperation of a dead end, we can have our own preconceived, stubborn ideas as to what direction our lives should go.  There is nothing wrong with that unless of course it keeps you from allowing God to overhaul, change your plans, rework you expectations,  or redirect your life completely.  

Behind every dead end is an opportunity to take a time-out with God and reevaluate where things are going in your life.  It’s a great chance to present yourself to God as an open canvass upon which God can erase, redraw, and repaint whatever He desires for you future.  Though this may sound like a bit of a frightening proposition, it really is a win, win.  God will confirm what is headed down the right path and gently correct what needs better alignment with His will. Regardless of what God does, you can trust and know for sure that it will be for your ultimate good. 

As you completely open up you life for evaluation and possible renovation, start looking for what things God is blessing and what He is closing down in your life.  From bringing into your life new friends and closing down old relationships, to giving you new passions and desires and shutting down old ones, follow the path God lays before you of closed doors and open ones. It may not be the easiest thing to do, but you will be blessed as you take on new God-dimensions for your life.

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me into foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise. Psalm 51:7-15 (The Message Translation)

7) Finally, walk by faith, not by sight. 

God doesn’t allow you to get to the end of the rope for you to spend the rest of your life there. It may feel that way, but it is not the case.

At some point, after you have done what is listed above, God is going to nudge you to move forward in faith.  You will know it when it happens.  It won’t be exactly clear what the future is going to bring, but that is why it requires faith.  God will give you enough to follow and yet leave enough undisclosed so that you can do so in faith.  That way, God gets all the glory.  

God will go with you, but He won’t go for you.  At some point, you are going to have to pick up and move on towards God and His will for your life.  And if at first, you are a bit off course of His perfect will, He will gently correct your path, so don’t feel like every decision you make is do or die. The first step is the hardest, but once you get going, God will direct you and steer you into His purposes and plans for you as long as you keep the connection lines wide open between you and God and seek to honor and please Him in all the you are and do.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

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