Escaping This Lonely World

“Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship—but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.” – Sylvia Plath

I remember the night before it happened. I was sitting outside. The sky was clear. The stars shone, and I looked deeply into depth of night. Searching Scripture and journaling had come to an end. No answers came. No solution manifested. Dark silence felt like a noose around my neck. Then, a questioned sighed out of my depression, “Where are you?”

Tossing all night, my mind muddled in despair. I couldn’t go to anyone about my struggles, or I could lose my job. I couldn’t open up without rejection. No one was there. Christian clichés cluttered my thoughts. As dawn came, a decision was made: it is time for me to escape this lonely world.

Loneliness

How many of us have felt invisible, lost in a maddening crowd, and forgotten? How many of us have thrown out a prayer for someone, anyone to just be there? How many of us felt loneliness like a walk in a cemetery, talking to cold stones with silence meeting our tears?

How can we escape this lonely world?

The Liminal Space of Loneliness

Where does loneliness come from? Is it from God? Have we done something where God teases us with companionship like a cruel carrot cast in front of a donkey?

God said from the beginning, “It is not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).” We see throughout Scripture, man is not meant to be alone. Loneliness is not from God. It is a part of the fallen world putting us in a liminal space lost in the space between spaces.

Since God created man not to be alone, then Satan wants man to be alone. We see in many of the miracles of Jesus, he went to the liminal space. The lepers were outcast between villages (Luke 17:11-13). The demon-possessed man was chained among the tombs into a lost loneliness (Mark 5:1-5). A lonely woman wandered to a well in the heat of the day (John 4:6-7). All these individuals (and plenty more mentioned in the Gospels) found themselves in the lonely liminal space.

Loneliness is part of Satan’s scheme to separate others. If man was not meant to be alone, then the perfect way to destroy God’s beautiful creation is to separate them.

How many of us find ourselves lost in the lonely liminal traveling here and there without a place of belonging?

A Settled Savior

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is John 1:14, “So the Word became human and made his home among us…” Jesus, the Son of God, made his place among us. He took on a human body and kept it.

Jesus is a settled savior. Sure, he did not have a place to rest his head (Luke 9:58), but he did have a place to belong. Being known as a friend of sinners shows us where Jesus settled. He settled and found his place among the sinners, the outcasts, and the rejected (Mark 2:13-17; Luke 7:36-50; Luke 19:1-10). His place was with those who had no place.

When he healed people, he not only cured their diseases and cast out demons, but he also gave each individual a place. They no longer were outcasts to somehow survive in the the lonely liminal. He brought them to a place of belonging and in fellowship with other humans just like he originally intended back in the garden.

The Called Community

The place Jesus gave people to belong to wasn’t a village, a building, or a commune. It is a called community known as the Church. As we look through the various epistles, the vast majority of them are written to a group of people or church(es) in various regions.

Paul, in I Corinthians 12:12-27, likens this community to a body. For a human body to work, everything must be working together. There isn’t any lonely body parts off doing their own thing, meditating on God’s Word, or contemplating in silence their identity. All parts have to rely on each other in order for the body to work. Even in Philippians 2:1-2, Paul tells us that to belong to Christ is to be in relationship with one another in humility. How many passages in the epistles mention unity or have the theme of unity?

In Romans 12:9-10, we read about how we are to love each other with genuine affection. You can’t show affection to yourself. Affection is shown to another. The church is to be a community collectively cherishing each other in genuine affection, called out by Christ for his purpose.

Lashing Out at the Lonely

Yet, why do we have an epidemic worse than Covid? Why does loneliness suck the life out of Christians? Why does the struggle of loneliness cause more loneliness?

When someone comes up to us who seems “needy for people,” isn’t the first thing said, “You need to work on finding your identity in Christ and not others”? So, we meet the struggle of loneliness with more loneliness? It is the same as saying to a fellow believer without food, “Be warmed and filled, and I will pray for you as you pray for God to provide.” Yet, we “comfort” with trite treatises of prayer and Christian clichés without helping (James 2:14-16).

Yes, our identity is hid with Christ. But, our place and belonging is with our called community together. What we forget is the Bible is originally written to a collectivistic society (no, not socialistic). Collectivism, in cultural studies, means to value the group or family identity over the individual identity. Americans are very good individualistics. We tend to prize our individual identity over a group or family identity. Yet, we see many places in Scripture that our identity is in Christ and is worked out together in the church.

When we push the lonely away to “focus on their relationship with Jesus,” we further Satan’s scheme of separation. Instead, wouldn’t it be better to come alongside each other to disciple? Discipling does not happen in the lonely liminal. It happens in a community.

The Invisible Made Visible

In all of our hearts, we know we are not meant to do life alone. Through the Covid Pandemic, mental health issues rose as isolation and loneliness crippled our souls. Yet, why are we so quick to say to the lonely, “Focus on God. I’ll be praying for you”?

One of my favorite lines in a Disney movie comes from The Princess Diaries. When Michael asks Mia, “Why me?” Her response is perfect, “Because you saw me when I was invisible.”

I have been lonely. I have felt the insane, pinball effects of loneliness. I have felt the deep ache seeing others together wishing I was there. It is like a snow-covered orphan looking in a window at a family enjoying a Christmas dinner. Yearning to belong.

Why do you think Paul uses terms like brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers in talking about the church? It is because the church is a family of belonging. The church makes the invisible visible. There is no more wandering in the church. We have a body to belong to. We get to be visible to others around us, because Jesus changed us from invisible to visible.

Let’s not let Satan separate us anymore. God created man not to be alone and to be a part of a called community. Sure, we can’t be friends with everyone. As a teacher, I know this very well. Yet, we can make friends in our local communities and develop friendships far away as God allows.

Loneliness does not have to be tool Satan uses to divide. Instead, the power of Christ brings us from the lonely liminal into a place of belonging – the Church.

Today, how can we help people escape the lonely liminal to find the called community we belong in together?

Ashamed to Shine

“To be a star, you must shine your own light, follow your path, and don’t worry about the darkness, for that is when the stars shine brightest.” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson

I lashed out again.
I hurt a friendship again.
I fell again.

It’s the word “again” which gives me the most anxiety. “Again, I did….” How many more times will this happen? How many times will I have to go to that person to ask for forgiveness? How many times will I have to go to God for forgiveness? How many times will I disappoint God and others?

How many more times will I fall? When will be the time I do not get back up again?

Ashamed of who I am, I would rather bury the light of Christ in me than anyone to ever think I am a Christian. Why? Because, it happened again. Why? Because, I’m not like that Christian over there.

How do I shine after the “again”?

The Command I Conceal

Matthew 5:14-16

Jesus calls me the light of the world. Not only is he the light of the world (John 8:12), but he calls me the the light of the world as well. Not only that, he says to let my light shine and be seen, so others can praise God.

What a heavy burden. I thought Christ’s burden was easy and his yoke was light (Matthew 11:30). When the “again” happens, I feel the weight of this command. I want to conceal it. I can’t put my light out there for all to see. Not only will it light up their darkness, but it will expose mine.

My life isn’t perfect. There are other Christians better suited at shining their light. Instead, I can be a cheerleader for them, right? Unfortunately, through the shame over my “agains,” Jesus still commands me to shine.

Jesus did not die for me and give me a new life in order for me to hide it away even when there is still darkness.

Transforming Thoughts on Darkness

My mind always wants to say, “But, look at all the darkness in my life.” I know it is there, there are plenty of others who know it is there, and God definitely knows it is there. Just look at the bridges I have burnt. There is more light on the flames of my burnt bridges than the light inside me.

Yet, I forget something. With Christ, even with each struggle, stumble, and fall, he is the light inside me. It’s not me.

In I Timothy 1:13-14, Paul reveals that he all the darkness in him. However, Paul did not see it as his effort to keep his light going, because his light did not come from him. Instead, it came from God filling him with faith and love. The light that I am ashamed to shine is from Christ. If he can work through Paul, can he not work through me? I get caught up in my “agains” so many times that I forget to see God’s “not yets.” God, through the Holy Spirit, is working on me each step of the way. Not only that, but he promised he will continue his work in me until it is finished (Philippians 1:6).

God knows I am imperfect, and I need a perfect savior. Good thing it is not me. So many times I get caught up, after salvation, trying to be the savior of my own thoughts and action. I never allow the Spirit to work. I may become an expert in killing sin, but in reality I end up killing grace. I need to learn to let the Spirit lead me. I need to submit to his leading each day and each moment. If all I do is worry about what sin isn’t conquered, or the next “again,” then I am still living a slave to sin and not as a son to the Spirit.

The Again’s Aftershock

Recently, I lashed out… again. I said a snarky comment… with many agains. The depression resulting from an “again” is a miserable place to be. All I could see in me is a monster which could not be stopped. Is this all I was? Am I predestined to be a monster? (Breathe Calvinists. Yes, I said your trigger word.)

With these thoughts, I can turn to beating myself up. I can focus on how many people are winning the “spiritual bet” on my life with how long it was in between each blow up or lash out. These thoughts can make me hate myself in ways I was never meant to.

In Psalm 37:23-24, I am told God delights in every detail of my life. When I see a fail, he sees a time to get back up. I want to say, “God, I failed again.” God holds my hand gently saying, “Stephen, it is time to get back up, again.” So often, I judge myself by how many times I lash out again or blow up again. Yet, I hardly look at how many times I get back up again. As long as I put my hope in the Lord, I will continue to travel steadily down his path; even if my feet stumble (Psalm 37:34).

Shining Again

I fell again. I remember the last time I lashed out. I shake my head in shame. I think about the next time I am in church. Should I even go? Can I even sing? Won’t most people see me as a hypocrite?

Interestingly, those questions focus on my works not on the forgiveness Christ has given me. Proverbs 17:9 gives me the key to move forward. Love prospers when Christ has forgiven me. If I keep dwelling on my “agains,” then I am only walking away from that relationship with Christ. It is when I bask in Christ’s love for me that I begin to prosper and shine again. (This verse can apply to all relationships)

If my focus is on my “agains,” then no one will see the work of Christ that the Holy Spirit is working on. If I focus on the love of Christ and his forgiveness, then I can sing in church, raise my hands, and shine. Even if my light exposes my darkness, I still have the light.

There are a few friends I have who I have lashed out and hurt multiple times. Yet, with a huge hug, they forgive me and say, “I love you. I am so proud of you.” They understand how the Holy Spirit works, and celebrate when those works are seen. When I, again, stumble, they are the quickest hands to help me up. Through their example, I have learned to keep going and to forgive myself. Without them, I would have quit a long time ago. The only writing anyone would have seen would’ve been on a gravestone.

There are days I feel too ashamed to shine and let my light shine. I look at how I failed and fell again, and the shame snuffs out my light. Thank God, it is not my light. It is the light of Christ. Each day is a reminder I can get up again and keep going again. People can judge me by my past (even recent past). But, if I use their shame to keep me from shining, then I live in the darkness of my “agains.”

If I allow Jesus’ “agains” to inspire the next steps, then I can shine without shame.

Blood Over the Closet Door

“His blood is shed in confirmation of the noblest claim – the claim to feed upon immortal truth, to walk with God, and be divinely free.” – William Cowper

Worse than the dreaded black spot…
Worse than any hex from the witches in Macbeth
Worse than being dead…

Being same-sex attracted

What if they found out? What would happen to my life? I’m already disabled, why did God have to give me this?

I felt cursed. I felt that I had to find a way to break the spell and to set myself free before the clock struck my fatal doom. The lonely quest to rid my mind and heart of this darkness was before me. Yet, quest after quest, I still couldn’t rid myself of this curse. I prayed it away. I literally cut my own flesh to bleed it out. Eventually, I found myself facing an ominous truth – it is better to be dead than being same-sex attracted. What else could I do? In death I could escape what cruel life had dealt in my losing hand.

40% of people, ages 13-24, who experience any sort of same-sex attraction consider suicide, reported NBC News on July 15, 2020.

Some would rather nail their own coffin shut than come out of the closet. March 2020, I found myself driving down that same road.

However, is this thing really a curse? Is it something I need to hide deep in a closet? Is it something I need to fear?

Loosening the Chains of Romans 1

For many years, I heard Romans 1:26-27. Sitting among my peers, I heard these verses echoing in my ears. Since I was attracted to men, did that mean God gave up on me? What did I do to deserve this? Hell scared me, and I tried everything to become “straight” and “a proper masculine man.” Each time I walked into a church service, all I could think was God giving me over because I experienced something I did not want. I could never get out of Romans 1.

Yet, just a few pages over we read Romans 5:1. I have peace with God, because of Jesus Christ. Peace doesn’t come from me or my doings. It came from Jesus. Then, keep turning the pages to Romans 8:1. Right now, there is no condemnation, because of Jesus. Romans 1 is my past. Romans 8 is my present.

I believed in my heart and called on the name of Jesus Christ, and, therefore, I am saved. That is it. Therefore, I’m free from Romans 1 to live in Romans 8.

But, that doesn’t change the fact that I am same-sex attracted. It doesn’t change my feelings of being cursed. Is there another way?

No Longer Fearing the Closet Door

Same-sex attraction, especially to Christians, can be a fear worst than a serial killer breaking into your home. We hide it away, close the closet door, nail it shut, and board it up with bricks. We pray and pray and pray it away.

But, what if it does not go away?

II Corinthians 12:8-10 provides hope.

Paul prayed three times for God to take away a thorn in the flesh. We do not know what it is. We could fill in the blank with same-sex attraction or a host of others things. Yet, how did Paul view this thorn? He viewed as something he can boast in, because God’s grace is all he needed to live with it (II Corinthians 12:9).

His thorn wasn’t a curse. He accepted it, because this “thorn” was a conduit to see the power of Christ actively working. Without it, would Paul or the rest of the world be able to see Christ work in such a powerful way? Paul never boasted in what he was strong in (Philippians 3:4-9). Instead, he decided to boast in what made him weak in order for others to see the power of Christ work in him (II Corinthians 11:30). When he did, look at what God did. Paul wasn’t powerful because of his credentials. Paul was powerful, because God used what others perceived as a weakness to show the mighty power of a passionate Savior.

Do I have the same view of being same-sex attracted?

Yes. It is not a curse. It is a gift. It is something God, not just can, but will use. I do not have to fear the closet door. The test of being a good Christian is not how good I follow rules and keep a “perfect Christian image.” The mark of a true Christian is knowing that Jesus Christ is working in you through his Spirit (II Corinthians 13:5).

Christ’s Blood Over My Closet Door

Fearing what other people think about our “weaknesses” is a scary place to be; when we focus on their opinion. It is a scary place to be when we keep hearing hellfire, brimstone, and every graphic imagery of Hell as we see signs saying, “God hates fags.”

The Israelites in Egypt faced a similar situation. Hated and enslaved by the Egyptians, they wanted to be free. In Exodus 12, God tells Moses to put the blood of a lamb over the people’s doorpost. Redemption was on its way, but it would bring a cost to those who did not have blood on their door. After this first Passover, the Israelites celebrate it every year.

Jesus is our sacrificed lamb. We are able to dip our lives in his blood, and to paint his blood over our closet door. Condemnation passes over us. We are free from the slavery of sin. A slave is loved by his performance. But, a son or daughter is loved unconditionally by their father. This is who our God is.

But, guess what? Jesus is not done. Because of Christ’s blood on our closet door, we can with confidence say with Paul, “I now boast of my weaknesses, so that I (and the world) can see Jesus work through me. Because, when I am weak, Jesus is even more powerful.”

Many times, we view same-sex attraction as a curse we must break. Is God surprised that this is in our life (Psalm 139:13-16)? Do we not think God has a plan for this, and he has us in this situation for such a time as this (Esther 4:14)?At least four times, in the Gospels, we are told nothing is impossible for God (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; Luke 18:27). Immediately, some of us want to say, “Yes, God can take it away.” But, what if he does not? Can we still not say that it is impossible for God to use the same-sex attraction in my life?

Christ’s blood guarantees I am saved, and God is working in my life. His blood above my closet door frees me to be me. I do not have to fear the opinion of others, because it is God who my faith is to please. His love for me casts out fear.

Too many times I hated myself over being same-sex attracted. Eventually, that self-hatred led to a suicide attempt in March 2020. Does God want that for me? His desire is to give us life abundantly. Can that be for me ever tough I am same-sex attracted? A resounding, YES!

If I can’t trust God to work in my life with being same-sex attracted, then I truly do not trust the blood of Christ to fully forgive me. See, what other’s call weak, is kindling to see the phoenix-like power of Christ. He doesn’t see a “oops” in my story. He sees a new chapter to bring more glory to himself through something others reject. That is how powerful the blood of my savior is. Even though there are days I cannot see it, I know God is working. I believe he is, because I live by faith and not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7).

We need to not fear the closet door. Christ’s blood is over it. We can open up, step out, and walk in the freedom Christ gives as his living water overflows out of the new life he has given.

How powerful is the blood of Jesus Christ to You?

Faith In The Fog

“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.” – Voltaire

Even when the sun shines and the sky is blue, we find ourselves lost in a fog. Our thoughts jumbled. The path lost. We hear voices come from who knows where. Visions jump out of the fog like images of horror. We wander in blindness fearing where are steps could lead – will they lead to light and clarity or will we fatally fall?

Depression is a hazy term for some. Others know it chokes the air right out of you. Moments in the fog can turn into days, and days turn into weeks, months, seasons, and years. Eventually, we find ourselves unable to put one foot in front of the other. We sink to the ground, wishing out head would shut up and quiet down so we could know where to go.

Yet, when the voices and visions overwhelm, and the ominous fatality looms over us like a dark-hooded creature, what do we do?

How can I not lose hope in the fog?

Voices in the Fog

The fog brings out many voices. They seem to come from every direction and sound like a cacophony of chaos. You hear negative, positive, and everything in between. You hear the voices coming from this direction and that direction telling you to walk, run, flee, or stop. There are some days you would rather yell at the voices to stop than deal with the menagerie migraine of loud murmurings.

Moments alone, I have yelled for the voices to shut up. I’ve had to run out of rooms in order to just get them to calm down. I’ve had to close my eyes in order to just calm my mind’s mutterings. But, which voices are negative and which ones are positive? Sometimes the voices make us question and reevaluate our reality. Is what we are going through because of a sin or is this something that will turn out beautiful?

I remember, recently, as I reached out for help through the fog, someone told me, “This is happening because you are off of God’s path. Once you are back on the path, then the depression will go away.” Anything like this is not from God, nor is it good. God does not shame us. He draws us with his love. I know he used this method through Balaam’s ass (Numbers 22:21-39), but those who say these things are an ass.

God does not work like this. When we feel abandoned, he promises to hold us close (Psalm 27:10). He is the source of all hope which leads to an overflow of confident hope (Romans 15:13). His voice is brings sanity, stability, healing, and calls us by the intimacy of belonging (Mark 5:1-34). True friends communicate the compassion of Christ by bringing us to him, rather than shunning us with shame (Luke 5:17-26).

Voices can confuse and wound or clear and heal. Listen to the voices of kindness, of healing, and of light and love. These are voices transformed by the heart of the compassionate Christ. The father of the prodigal son never shamed his son, and neither will Jesus shame you (Luke 15:11-24; Romans 10:11).

Listen for the voices of compassion, love, and healing. Light does not come through shame and shunning. It comes from the love of a savior who’s heart is gentle and lowly wanting to comfort us in the fog.

Visions in the Fog

However, what is worse than the voice in the fog are the visions which frighten us to our already chaotic core. These images seem to rival the imagery out of horror novels and movies. They scare us in the stillness of night, and to speak them out loud, we fear others will lock us up or label us as crazy.

The visions I have seen while in the fog have shaken me awake where I end up on the couch, with all the lights on, and I fall asleep to a noisy television. At time, I have felt a presence of a man in my home. One darkened by sinister shadows with a suicidal smirk. The vision of a social media post stating, “Stephen lost his battle with depression earlier today,” has swarmed my mind like a plague of locust. These visions are vicious as they jump out of the fog snarling at me.

Yet, how do we calm our fears of these visions? The classic passage to turn to is Philippians 4:8. I have groaned when people quote this to me. I want to say, “Can you think fast?” as I want to punch them in the face. Yet, breathing, there is truth in here. I always thought it was to think about God and Jesus, and everything will be happier than a Disney film. But, this verse uses the term “whatever.” This means anything that falls into these categories we can think of and use. Things that remind us of friends, good things, God’s faithfulness, beauty, artwork, anything which brings that glow to our soul qualify to be included in this verse. J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan) said, “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.”

How do we find beauty in the fog? We put up reminders of memories. I have put up a picture wall of friends who have encouraged me, I put notes, cards, and messages in a place where I can read them to cheer my soul. I have books of artworks which causes my heart to wonder at such beauty. God didn’t mean for us to only think about him, or why would he give us beauty in the world, creativity in our mind, and comfort in our community?

Visions of horror in the fog scare us, shake us, and sever hope from our soul. Yet, when we can grasp a glimpse of beauty, the light can spark splendid healing from the inside out.

Falling in the Fog

But, these things do not always work. There are times the fog is so dense, the voices so loud, the visions so horrifying, we fall to the ground. We feel our screams for help are choked out by the fog. We see the “promises of God,” and we want to rip them out of the Bible to be kindling for our fiery anger. When people come at us with Christian clichés, we want to slap them across the face and say, “So, why didn’t you turn the other cheek?”

I have ripped out pages of Scripture, I have chucked Bibles across the room, and I have lashed out at people who even try to tell me to trust God. I have found myself, like Mary Magdalene in The Chosen, ripping up Scripture and tossing it away. Hope vanished as the fog choked out the last of the light.

When these things happen, I need to realize that there is still hope. I may not be where I want to be now, but I am becoming. Each time I fall in the fog is another opportunity to find every ounce of strength from Christ to see the beautiful again. He promises I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). This is especially true when we fall in the fog.

Even when we fall, the heart of Jesus reaches out to us. If we fight back, we will see that love never gives up, endures all things, and love never, ever, ever fails (I Corinthians 13:7). We will see this love come through others around us, visions from God like a dove leading us away from a cliff, through a soft spoken word, a reminder of his truth, or something simple to make us smile. That is his love helping us stand again.

Jesus in the Fog

Through all of the voices, visions, and fallings, there is one thing we can count on: Jesus. Without him, the fog will always be a place of fear. His heart cries when we find ourselves faithless in the fog. His tears are not of disappointment, but out of the ache of love. He doesn’t want us to stay there. Instead, he call us by name and he redeems us.

In the TV show The Chosen, we see this through the powerful transformation of Mary Magdalene. As she reaches for anything to numb her migraine of murmurings, Jesus stops her hand. Then, as she leaves the tavern he calls her by her name.

Watch Scene Here

The fog is an awful place to be. Ignorant people who dismiss us make it worse. We try to silence the voices, look away from the visions, and keeping our feet from fall is exhausting. Some days we can’t even get through the next minute. Living day to day becomes living moment by moment as we hear the metronome of the clock countdown each second of our day.

Yet, we need to realize Jesus is really with us. He isn’t this savior without understanding. He became man, took a body, and kept it. He understands what it’s like to have voices yelling at him (Luke 4:1-13). He’s had horrifying visions cloud his sight and shake him till his sweat became like blood (Luke 22:41-44). Therefore, his heart does not shame us or shun us, because we find ourselves lost in the fog. Instead, he draws us close. He holds us with intimacy in his heart.

When it seems like we cannot believe in anything, and reason tells us to rip up Scripture tossing it off the cliff, faith tells us to keep going. Faith tells us Jesus is in the fog with us, and he understands. Faith opens our eyes to see beautiful again. Faith causes us to stand in the fog singing “Your promise still stands/ Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness/ I’m still in Your hands/ This is my confidence/ You’ve never failed me yet.” Do It Again by Elevation Worship

The fog may last a long time. But, we know that we can have faith in the fog, because Jesus is with me each step of the way. His promise still stands. He will rescue me out of the fog like he has done time and time again.

He will do it again.


Love’s Becoming

“Love is like a tree, it grows of its own accord, it puts down deep roots into our whole being.”
– Victor Hugo

Ever felt unlovable? Ever felt there was something wrong with you making you isolate yourself from others?

I know those feelings deeply. It feels like a dark cloud I cannot escape. Every passing, nonverbal expression of people seem to tattoo the realities of those thoughts. They hurt and scar like metal etching on our very soul.

We feel like Stitch from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch. We cannot control the vile villain inside us. Are we programmed to be this way?

Yet, someone steps in and Stitch begins his becoming…

Love’s we

This is Your Badness Level Clip (Watch)

Yes, I have laughed at the pain of others. It was probably followed with Stitch’s snicker and applause. Each of us know the depth of how awful we can be. Yet, it becomes a reality when someone points it out.

Usually, when we have our “badness level” revealed, we lash out and hide. Lilo reveals Stitch’s badness. Yet, is she having a counseling meeting? No. She says they have to fix it. Not Stitch alone. Lilo uses “we.”

All my life, I was told how bad I was, how I did not measure up, how I needed to keep working on myself. “Stephen, you need to fix this,” was the classic saying, and the burden of books and Bible studies weighed me down into a hopeless task. I tried memorizing Scripture, praying, counseling, and any other way for me to fix this. Yet, I was missing one thing. I was missing my “we.”

Romans 12:9-10 states we are to not just pretend to love others. We need to show genuine affection. Who are we to model with our love? Jesus. Think of Peter and Jesus. Jesus showed Peter the reality of his heart at the last supper. Peter would deny Christ. Yet, did Jesus say he needed to fix this? Instead, Jesus says it will be fixed, and he will restore Peter (Luke 22:31-32; John 21:12-22). The badness level in Peter did not scare Jesus. He had to work with Peter.

When Lilo chose Stitch, she loved him. She saw how bad he could be. Yet, she didn’t toss him away in a ditch because he couldn’t behave right away. Instead, she said to him, “We have to fix this.” She wanted to see Stitch become her true friend.

love’s placing

Stitch Finding His Place (Watch)

Lilo knows in order to help Stitch, she needs to find his place in society. She puts Stitch in multiple situations in order to teach him how to fit into the world around him. One of my favorite lines in this scene is when Stitch kisses the old lady, and they run out of the hotel with Lilo saying, “I’m sure Elvis had his bad days too.”

How many times do we feel like our badness level keeps us from fitting in? I know for me, I felt like a nomad wandering from group to group. I knew a lot of people, but never found my place. This can be a sad reality in the church for many Christians. Yet, I Corinthians 12:12-27 shows us everyone has a place in the body of Christ. It might take some time figuring out, but there is a place for us. Our badness level does not keep us out of the body of Christ. If it did, then the cross would never be enough. We need the body to come along side helping us find our place.

Love does that. Christ had a tax collector, a zealot, and a “foot-in-mouth” as part of his group. Yet, he loved them. He loves us and we love each other. Love finds our place in the body, and rejoices.

Love’s belonging

“I remember everyone who leave” (Watch)

After Stitch blows up at the beach, Nani and Lilo will be split the next day. Stitch leaves. Yet, Lilo wants him to be a part of her family as their baby. As he crawls out the window, Lilo says, “Ohana means family. Family nobody gets left behind. But, if you want to leave you can. I’ll remember you though. I remember everyone who leaves.”

What love says this? We tend to see people destroy our lives, and we let them go with “Forget you” in our facial expression. Yet, Lilo says she will remember Stitch. Her love caused him to realize he was lost without his Ohana. While others wanted him gone, Lilo showed him where he belongs.

When we have wronged God, his love isn’t just to say, “Forget you.” Instead, his love causes us not even to beat ourselves up. He runs to us. He embraces and kisses us, and he brings us back into his Ohana (Luke 15). Nobody gets left behind or forgotten.

Love’s becoming

What happens at the end of Lilo and Stitch? Stitch rescues Lilo. She says, “You came back.” His simple response, “Nobody gets left behind.” Does that sound like the Stitch we’ve been seeing since the beginning of the film? No. Love is causing Stitch to become something else. He is transforming. Behavior modification did not change him, but the love of a girl in need of a friend.

I have been Stitch. I can be mean and nasty. Ask most people in my life. Being a writer gives you the power of words. Yet, too many times I have used them to lash out. I always see myself as the villain, the unlovable one, the freak to climb back into the bell tower, the one who needed to kill himself in order to stop hurting people. It was a year ago I was introduced to a group. They brought to the surface the pain of my past, the hurts of others, and how patterns of defense and attack came from those events. As these things came out, they endured lashing out like a traitor backstabbing his friend. I hurt them deeply; like Stitch did to Lilo. I knew they loved me, but I also know that love can be out of duty and as thin as ice cracking on the Great Lakes.

June 26, 2021. My wife was up to something for my 30th birthday (which was the Thursday before). A friend picked me up to hang out and go to lunch. When we walked into the restaurant, there were those guys I had hurt. They were there for me. I was so surprised I did not even know how to react. What made it special on 6/26 each guy got me something with Stitch on it. Even with my messy life, I was still wanted and still brought close.

Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten. This summer, I am celebrating 6 months of progressive victory over depression and suicidal thinking. I am now a month off of my antidepressant. I have been able to forgive and work through the effects of the past not letting those things control me. I have been able to stop hating myself, and be me. This could’ve only happen because these friends chose me, did not let go, knowing that loving me I would begin becoming.

At the end of the movie, Stitch speaks the clearest he ever has (Watch Scene)

Lilo becomes his family. Lilo’s love caused Stitch to become someone he did not start off as. Even as little and broken as they were, Stitch ends up finding his place with them because of one girl’s love.

Jesus is the ultimate example of this. He tells us in Romans 12:9-10 to love each other with genuine affection without pretending. Lilo and Stitch shows us what transformation can happens with real love.

True love melts our icy hearts so it can beat again. True love restores, heals, and starts a process of becoming. People will give up on us, reject us, and try to stop us from shining. Yet, there are some who will not let go, and who will help you see beautiful again. Then, we get to share that love with others.

I am love’s becoming, because someone did not leave me behind or forget me. I would not be where I am at without them. I would not see the gentle and lowly heart of Jesus. Becoming starts with the loving heart of Jesus transforming one, and that heart loving on another. How perfect does a simple Disney movie teach us this?

Jesus told us the mark of a disciple is love. Love does not have anything to do with rules, standards, and images. Love is the “we,” love is seeing how we all are perfectly placed in the body, love is belonging, love is becoming. Those who love like this are like the living letters of Christ jumping off the pages of Scripture. You can fight against them, but they do not let go. They draw you close, because they know only love transforms the beast into a prince, the monster into a human, and the alien into a family member.

Elsa, Grover, and You

“God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another.” – William Shakespeare

“Where are you going?!”

These words were the last words I thought I’d hear from my wife. I shut the car door, breathed, and turned on the engine. My mind was racing with thoughts of being a disappointment. Faces appeared in my vision. People shaking their heads once they knew. I couldn’t just let it go anymore. There was a monster at the end of my book, and I couldn’t let my readers turn to that final page. The book must be destroyed. Living in crippling criticism, degrading disappointment, and a frustrating future was not a path I wanted for me and those in my life. If I was gone, then they could move on, and I wouldn’t be a burden on their soul. Tears are temporary, but disappointment is a debilitating future.

My mind was made up. The song “Monster” from the musical Frozen screamed in my head – “I’m making my world colder/ How long can it survive?/ Is everyone in danger/ As long as I’m alive?”

“I already have burdened friends and embarrassed my family by being disabled. They won’t be able to handle the weight of me being same-sex attracted.” Kill the monster, and they will be free.

I pulled out into traffic, and I chose the lane with traffic heading towards me.

THE FIGHT OF CONCEALING

Elsa, Grover, and me

The three of us share a battle many fight. We all try to conceal and not let people close enough to see what we are hiding. In Grover’s book, The Monster at the End of This Book, he tried everything he could to keep the readers from seeing the monster on the last page. Elsa, in Disney’s Frozen, wore gloves and kept people at a distance so she wouldn’t harm them. I tried for years to conceal my secrets. If someone found out, I would burn that bridge. If people knew the real me, then I would never be wanted, and my life would fall apart.

Each of us are like Elsa and Grover. We have something we hide. We have a secret that if anyone ever knew, the consequences would be severe. We even hide it from God lest he remove his love and blessings from our life. Our energy is spent building walls, wearing our gloves, warning people, and at the end of the day we sit in the stillness of night alone.

“Monster! Freak! Burden!” Our secret screams at us. The fight is never ending. On Sundays, if there is a call forward, we dare not go forward lest we reveal our true self. We find addictions to cover up the truth from ourselves and others. We do not have pain to numb, but we have a secret to keep quiet.

How many of us, honestly, are there?

God of the monsters

Does God love us even with our secrets? Even being monsters?

Sometimes, we look around our churches and see how good everyone is. We see their list of leading a Sunday School class, raising their hands in worship, talking about victories in their life, etc. We think, “I wish I was like them. I wish I did…”

Did you know Jesus condemns this? He doesn’t want people of lists. He wants the “monsters.” In Luke 18:9-14, we see a Pharisee listing off all he does and does not do, and we see a tax collector who can’t even look towards heaven. The one who was forgiven and walked away justified wasn’t the one with the list. It was the one who thought he was a monster. Jesus was known as the friend of sinners by the Pharisees and religious leaders. Sinners were the outcasts, the “monsters,” of society. Yet, Jesus wanted them. He went to find them (Mark 5:1-20), and he wanted to be touched by them (Mark 5:25-34).

But, does he understand my secret? Let’s change that question. Does God not know about your secret? Psalm 139 would suggest he does. God is not surprised. He is the one who wrote down all your days, who knows all your thoughts, and he still loves you. Does God create garbage? Then why do we call ourselves a monster? It is the world around us (and sometimes in the church) where we have learned to refer to ourselves by another name. Truthfully, God has called you from birth to be who he made you to be. He knows us intimately. He has a plan filled to the brim with hope for us (Jeremiah 1:5; Jeremiah 29:11).

Yet, how many times have I rolled my eyes at those verses? How could God love me? How could God not see me as a monster? My thoughts were not shaped in the image of God. They were shaped in man’s image of God. I got so caught up in the voices of other’s preaching God’s Word that I forgot to listen to God’s Word for myself. God loves me. He loves the disabled, same-sex attracted Stephen Field.

The transformation

When we get to the end of Grover’s book, we find the monster was Grover all along. What changes Elsa’s heart and calm the fear of herself? Love.

We see a monster inside of us. We keep it hidden under the floorboards, keep people from seeing it, and we even give into addictions in order to keep ourselves from seeing it in the mirror. Guess what? God does not see a monster. He sees his beautiful creation downtrodden by people who want an image over love.

It is only when we can accept ourselves can we begin to see the love of Jesus. See, inside of us is a melody that God composed that is far better than any composition ever written on earth. Once we see and experience the love of Jesus the curse break and our song can be sung.

God created us to be who we are. Yet, we try to create another face so we are not rejected. We have painted, sculpted, and silenced ourselves in order for others to love us on their term. However, we never love people on God’s term – unconditional. We do not even love ourselves on his term.

There is a prince or princess under the mask we wear. There is not a monster at the end of the book. There is a beautiful human made in the image of God with a melody ready to burst forth.

The beautiful creation of me

“I am a monster.”

The monster in me had to die. A yellow pickup truck with huge wheels came barreling around the curve. This was it. I pressed the gas a bit harder, yet something in me jerked. My car slid over to the correct lane as a horn blared, and the yellow truck disappeared behind me. Panting, I pulled into a parking lot.

March 2020. The darkest month in my life started a journey of accepting myself with all the pieces God gifted me. Being same-sex attracted is not a curse. God tells me his grace is sufficient for everything (II Corinthians 12:8-10). I begged God for years to take it away. I loathed myself to the point where I literally began to cut myself to get it out of my life. Yet, isn’t God in the business of making everything beautiful in his time (Ecclesiastes 3:11)? I am same-sex attracted. Can’t God use that? I am disabled, walk with a limp, and have bathroom issues which could be written into Saturday Night Live skits. Does that make me a freak? No. I accept who I am. I truly believe God is going to us all of this. Even if it means I have the faith of a mustard seed, I know God will do the rest.

Elsa, Grover, and I have a lot in common. So do you. Hiding and preventing others from seeing the truth takes a lot of work. For me, it led to a decision which I never want to go back to. Being ourselves in full honesty before God is so much better than trying fake ourselves like the Pharisees. If he loves me for the way I am, then I can too.

William Shakespeare said, “If we are true to ourselves, we cannot be false to anyone.” Why should I should lock myself to the chains of concealment to please a person who is not my creator nor my savior? As a close friend, who has never let go even at my worst, said, “Don’t let the means of freedom become chains that hold you back.” Hold me back from what? Being who God made me to be and being used by him each step of the way.

Elsa, Grover, and us…

What is our decision? Do we still look at ourselves the way others want us to? Or do we see ourselves as God sees us?

No more self-hatred, no more hiding the truth with addictions. Self-acceptance is the starting point. Since accepting myself, I have been off of my high dosage of antidepressant for three weeks with no side effects. I am fast approaching six months of walking in progressive victory over my depression and suicidal thinking. Why? Because I came out of the closet? No. It is because I embraced who God made me to be and began to have faith he will make me even more beautiful in his timing.

Rediscovered Value

“A daffodil pushing up through the dark earth to the spring, knowing somehow deep in its roots that spring and light and sunshine will come, has more courage and more knowledge of the value of life than any human being I’ve met.”
– Madeliene L’Engle

“Until you get rid of this struggle in your life, God cannot fully use you.”
“Because of what you did, God will limit his opportunities for you.”
“You are an embarrassment. Why do you have to be so different?”

“You have no evidence to corroborate what you said. Therefore, it did not happen.”

I remember each event when these were said to me and by whom. Each conversation left me thinking, “Do I matter?” “Does my voice matter?” “Am I loved for me?” “If I have to change me for them to love me, then does that mean God doesn’t love me until I change?”

We all have those thoughts haunting the dark corners of our mind. In the stillness of our day, we hear the moans, cries, and chain rattling of these ghosts. We protect ourselves by turning on the TV, listening to music, and busying our mind, so the ghosts can’t imprison us in these down-spiraling thoughts.

Does God actually love me for me? The answer spoken in Fundamentalism would say, “Yes.” However, by how I was treated, how I was counseled, and how I was viewed, the reality was probably not until I changed. Sure, God loves the world enough to send Jesus. But, that only came across a participation prize for being human.

Does God actually love me? Do I have value to him? I have lashed out. I have the level of “snarkiness” to rival a Disney villain. I struggle each day. I voice opinions not popular. Does God actually love me, or do I have to change in order to experience his full love? Or maybe I’m just not at the mature enough Christian level to experience it?

How many of us have faced the same thoughts? Does God love us beyond a participation benefit for being human?

Jesus tells an interesting series of parables in Luke 15. Here, our answer will be found, dusted off, and rediscovered…

One of them lost and found

Luke 15:3-7

A man has 100 sheep. That is a lot of mouths to feed and a big pasture to clean up! However, one of them got lost. The shepherd leaves the 99 other sheep, and searches for the lost one until it is found.

What a great story! Most of us will immediately hear this and think of God’s heart for the lost. “God is searching for that lost sheep, and there may be someone here who is lost and needs to be found.” The preacher’s words are met with a hearty “amen” as the congregation sings Amazing Grace. Probably the piano is out of tune, and the song leader looks like a Looney Tune belting out the song.

But, back up. Let’s look at something we missed. Luke 15:3 states one of the hundred gets lost. “One of them,” shows us that this sheep isn’t some animal that doesn’t belong. This story isn’t a part of Sesame Street asking us which sheep doesn’t belong. This sheep was apart of the hundred. This sheep already was claimed by the shepherd. It was one of his.

He searched for what is his. The sheep did not lose its value once it was lost. In fact, the lost sheep is the passive character. The shepherd is actively looking for what is valuable to him. The shepherd exclaims, when his sheep is found in 15:6, “Let’s celebrate, because my lost sheep is found!”

Sure, we are either a lost or found sheep. But, his love does not change. It is not that he stumbled on a lost sheep and claimed it. Instead, he views the lost and the found as his and goes searching for his lost. How does this show the value God has for everyone? What values does that mean God places on us?

Dusting off the coin

Luke 15:8-10

A woman has ten silver coins. One goes missing. She stops what she is doing, sweeps and cleans her place until she finds it. Then she rejoices with her friends as something with value has been found.

Question – when a coin goes missing, does it lose its value?

No! Just because a coin is missing does not mean the coin stops being valuable in of itself. In fact, the woman (interesting that God is portrayed as a woman) cleans and dusts until it is found. She knew the value of her coin. It brings her immense joy to dust off the lost coin.

It is the same with God. He sees the value in each of us. Just because we are covered in dirt and dust doesn’t degrade our value. He intimately knows our value. He searches carefully for his lost, valuable coin. You and I have value to God whether found or lost.

He wouldn’t send Jesus to find something he did not know had value. The incarnation wasn’t a scouting mission to see what is valuable and what isn’t. God already knew, and he sent Jesus to seek and save his valuable lost.

lOVE prompting A LOST SON

Luke 15:11-31

The longest parable in this chapter is commonly known as “The Prodigal Son.” This is probably one of the best known parables in the Bible.

Yet, let’s look at a few things. The younger son takes his portion of his father’s estate, and goes off living a wild life. Through the dividing of the estate, the wild living, the famine, the feeding of pigs, and his return, there is one thing we must notice. He is never referred to anything other than the “son.” The father never saw him as anything lesser than his own son. It wasn’t that the father went to find a son. He already had one. He already loved his son, and he never took away that title.

Second, was it the son’s own will-power, determination, and work to return to his father? Many will say, “Yes! The son got up and returned to his father.” Step back to 15:17. He remembers the love and kindness of his father. He knew how his father treated the servants, and that prompted him to go back. It was not his determination. The son remembered the love of his father. In fact, 15:20 shows the heart of the father – “filled with love and compassion.”

The value of the son did not change, and neither did the heart of the father. The son did not have to prove himself or work his way through the ranks. The father accepted him as he was, cleaned him up, and rejoiced over his son coming home. God sees that same value on all of us. We never lose his love. People may change our status and give us different labels, but our value to God does not change.

embrace your value

So many times we let people to determine our value by our views, our personality, who we are, our beliefs, and our opinions. If it does not match up with someone, they treat us less than what we are worth. Their words become our mindset. We become brainwashed with beguiling degradation.

How many of us feel like we can never escape Romans 1:18-32? The voices of other’s feel like shackles imprisoning us to this awful state. Yet, are they the ones who values us, searches for us, and saves us? I am so glad it is a resounding, “No!” Because of Jesus, we are actually Romans 8 Christians – no longer condemned, home, and loved beyond anything we could imagine. No one and nothing can take away that love.

Just because a sheep and a coin were lost, does not mean the value was lost. In fact, the value made it more urgent for the shepherd and the woman to search.

Our value only gets lost in the dirt people throw on us. Once we dust that off, we will rediscover the value that is already there.

For too many years, I saw God’s love as grades on an assignment. My performance gave me more love or took away love. I learned that mindset from people around me. Instead, I need to remove the dirt others threw on me in order to rediscover the value Jesus sees in me. Everyday, haunting thoughts can imprison me in a beauty pageant of the pedestrians around me. Yet, if I daily see my value, then I know I am not in a contest. I am one of his, valuable to search for, and never anything less than God’s son.

Does God love me for me? Yes.

His love isn’t a participation benefit for being human. It is much deeper than that. He wants me. He desires me. He loves me, and he wants a relationship with me. Why does God love me? It is not because of me. It is not because I love God. It is because he loves me. That love is what prompts my heart to go to him; even as such a messed up person. My burdens, struggles, and hurts make his heart desire to be in a relationship with me. Me as me is what causes his arms to open wide.

Too many of us look at God through the eyes of others rather than the heart of Jesus.

Our value is not gone.

It is when we look at Jesus, we rediscover our value.

Red Hat Anger And Red Heart Love

“Jesus can no more bring himself to stiff-arm you than the loving father of a crying newborn can bring himself to stiff-arm his dear child.”
– Dane C. Ortlund

Remember these hats?
What emotions come to mind when you see these?

Do you remember the news stories of people getting beat up, thrown out of restaurants, and being rejected for wearing this hat?

Do you remember if someone was wearing just a plain, red hat some people jumped all over them (even if the person did not support Trump)?

This hat or even something similar triggered people to actions – whether it was to beat up, reject, remove, or mock. Fearing other’s reactions, people began not wearing their red hat.

Fear of other’s reactions… This describes a “red hat” mindset happening in the church today. But, it does not end with just putting the hat away. No. Instead, it has ended with some leaving the faith, some staying silent till they implode on themselves, and some literally jumping off the deep end.

There is no red heart for seeing this “red hat” in the church.

Self-hatred self-destruction

“I am gay.”

Those words haunted my mind. I kept them quiet. I tortured myself to keep them silent. I was taught over and over to hate myself until it was gone. I was told God could not use me unless this thing was out of my life. Inferiority and self-hatred became my morning, afternoon, and evening thoughts. I already was seen as a freak with my disability. I didn’t need more added to that fire. Yet the more I buried that thought, the more it yelled, screamed, and scratched at the door of my mind.

The mental cacophony of chaos erupted March 2020. I had become a monster. Lashing out in ways that would rival a Disney villain became my default mode. I could not let anyone know of the beast in me. Self-hatred turned into self-destruction, and I drove down the wrong way on a road hoping I could kill the monster within.

A Red hat alert

Being gay (or even struggling with same-sex attraction) is seen as a death sentence in the church. Opening up can cost your position, job, family, friends, church membership, etc. Opening up about this issue in the church is worst than owing the IRS money.

You have to dress right, speak right, and your whole demeanor needs to look right. People in the church have noses sharper than a bloodhound to sniff out “the gay.”

I remember when I directed a Vacation Bible School skit at the church I grew up in. I was playing the villain’s sidekick. I was pulled aside by the pastor and rebuked for playing my character “too gay.” What did that even mean? All I knew is I couldn’t let others see the truth in me. So I “straightened up” the character.

When I finally opened up to people in a church, I remember the reactions. One guys asked me if I was checking him out. Annoyed, I responded, “Don’t flatter yourself.” At the college I attended, I was told to hate myself and do anything it took to get rid of that thought. I literally tried to cut it out of me. Stephen Field became a man of angry outbursts to keep people from getting too close.

Rejected, emotionally beaten up, spiritually abused… That becomes the world of those who wrestle in their minds with the thought of being gay and being in the church. We hide everything about us so to avoid the bloodhounds. Hand gestures, conversation topics, dress style, voice inflections, everything is changed in order to not be found out.

If it looks like a red hat, then it must be a red hat. Therefore, we must get rid of it or silence the person with the red hat. A red hat can be buried in a closet with ease. Burying “the gay secret”? Not as easy.

A rED HEART

Just as a red hat caused people to jump to action, there is a red heart that caused someone to jump to action.

In Luke 7:36-50, we see this beautiful, red heart.

While dining with a Pharisee named Simon, Jesus is approached by a sinful woman. Immediately, the Pharisee reacts to the spiritual stench exclaiming, “If this man was truly a man of God, then he would know not to allow a woman like that to touch him.” You can almost see him gag at the thought of her even in his home.

Sound familiar? How many people in the church gag at the thought of someone struggling with their sexuality hugging them? How many people in the church stiff-arm anyone with a rainbow symbol? “If only we knew that person was gay, we would have never allowed them into our church.” We may not say it out loud, but we say it with our looks and with our social media posts.

This woman mustered all the courage she had to come to Jesus. She didn’t come to see Simon the Pharisee. She came to see Jesus and to touch the savior. All she knew was she needed Jesus.

How did the red heart of Jesus respond? He allowed her to touch him, cry on him, and kiss his feet. His heart opened up for her to show this intimate act in public. Jesus rebukes the Pharisee, looks at the woman gently and lowly saying, “Daughter, your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Did he give her a book to read? Did he schedule her for counseling? He claimed her as his own, forgave her, and sent her away in peace.

Luke 8:26-39 is another beautiful example of the red heart of Christ. A man rejected, chained in the cemeteries is found and healed by Jesus. The town people saw the man healed, clothed, and in his right mind. They were fearful of the man before his healing. Afterwards, a great fear swept through them. A life changed by the love of Jesus is more powerful than a life before. Yet, how many times do we look at someone’s struggle with their sexuality and chain them to the cemetery? How many times do families pull their children close in order for them “not to be infected”?

The church is to be pure in it’s doctrine and in its love. It should never worry about who is there. A true red heart does not care about red hats. Instead, a red heart bleeds love onto an icy heart.

Ending the debate to start loving

We can debate each other on interpretation of passages, the right or wrong of being gay, the agendas of Pride Month, and a whole list of other things regarding this issue. But, it will not change the fact there are people in our churches who are gay, who struggle with being gay, and who need love.

“They chose to be gay. It is their fault!” Of course, I chose (for my own happiness) to be one of the most ostracized persons in the church by being gay, married to a woman, and a Christian (does that make any sense?). Think about the phrases we use when someone comes out. What do those say to that person? Are we trying to dismiss them? Are we trying to shut them up? Does their red hat flare our red anger?

When I came out, I lost my family. My parents told me they did not have a relationship with me and I am no longer privy to family matters. I lost friends from college. I was lectured and treated as a pagan sinner. I had a friend tell me he no longer wanted to be my friend or hug me, because he didn’t want me developing romantic feelings for him. I had a close friend call me gross, disgusting and I belonged in Hell.

My wife? She supports me and walks each day with me. She knows it is difficult, but there she is by my side. She has proven her love for me over and over. Yes, we are staying together. We have to rely on God to guide us each step.

In John 16:5-15, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. He is the advocate who will bring sin to our attention and guide us in all truth. The Spirit does a lot better job than we can of bringing up sin and guiding in truth. Instead of us being the Spirit in other’s lives, we need to encourage each other in the faith to bring about the joy that comes from faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:12; Philippians 1:25-26). This is what true fellowship looks like. This is what the church is meant to be like. Pharisees are concerned with an image. Christ’s followers are concerned with following the Spirit and loving each other.

So many times we say, “I am loving someone by telling them off.” Jesus did not do that. So why should we? Jesus was harsh to religious leaders. Look through the Gospels to see that he did not stiff-arm people. It is not our image that makes us worthy to come to him. It is with our heavy burden he beckons us to experience his heart and to rest in him.

It is time we stopped looking for the red hat or things resembling the red hat, and look into each others’ eyes. There we will see a person made in the image of Christ, needing love, needing acceptance, needing someone to cry with them as they battle self-hatred, and needing someone to find shelter in.

I am beyond grateful for some people in my life who reached out, loved on me, and have been with me each step of this journey. Talking about them still brings me to tears. They showed me who Jesus really is, and they still do. Christ will not let go, and neither do they.

To those who are struggling to open up with this issue. You are loved by God. He knew you would be dealing with this. It does not take him by surprise. Jesus really loves you. You are not a monster. You are a beautiful, wonderfully made individual who can look to Jesus and run into his arms. Speak up with your story, slow down the voices of your fears, and honor God by following his Spirit (even if your path looks different). When we all get to Heaven, we will worship Jesus. As we look around, we will see the beauty God has made in his diversity (Revelation 7:9-10). How can we reject that from our churches today?

The heart of Jesus beats in our chests.

How can we stop looking for red hats and start loving with the red heart of Jesus?

The Christian Drinking Game

“Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both in heaven and on earth; and he who would be blessed and happy should be from the first a partaker of truth.” – Plato

Ever seen movies that depict a drinking game? Usually, a word or phrase or an event happens, and then everyone must take a drink. Many times participants get drunk, pass out, regret the game in the morning, but will be glad to rejoin. Drinking games turn into a cycle that ends with regret, a hangover, and maybe a bad tattoo.

Every day, Christians participate in their own drinking game. In fact, Jesus talks about this drinking game.

garments and wineskins

Luke 5:36-39

In this passage, Jesus introduces an illustration I have been confused over. He talks about old garments, new patches, new wine, old wineskins, the need for new wineskins, and the ruin that comes from attempting to mix the old and the new.

What is the old and what is the new? What is the point of this passage?

We must look at the whole context – Luke 5:33-39

The Pharisees question Jesus why his disciples are eating and drinking when their followers and the followers of John the Baptist fast regularly. Jesus then talks about when the groom is around people do not fast; instead, they celebrate. Then he goes into this illustration about old garments, new patches, new wine, and old wineskins.

This illustration deals with the question of the Pharisees. Jesus compares an old way of living and thinking to a new way of living he is introducing. The old garment and the old wineskin represent an old way of thinking and living. The new patch, new wine, and new wineskin represent a new way of thinking and living.

The old way is living by the laws and traditions based on the law. The new way is a celebratory way of living based on Christ. These two ways are in conflict with each other, and they cannot be apart of the same garment or work together like new wine in an old wineskin.

The Old wineskin drinking game

This old way of thinking and living is using laws, standards, and traditions to bring about approval, blessings, or any affirmation from God. The followers of the Pharisees meticulously followed lists of what to wear, what to do on certain days, what prayers to say, what foods to eat, and anything else told to them to do. Their obedience was the means to God’s blessing and approval.

Jesus condemns this and proclaims this old way of thinking is against Scripture (Matthew 15:2-3; 7-9). He says the holding up of traditions and laws to the point of ignoring God’s word is an old way of thinking, and it takes hearts away from the heart of God.

In Luke 5, Jesus said drinking from old wineskins could not allow a new way of living that was celebratory and free. The Pharisees and their followers played a drinking game with God. The must drink at the law, they must drink when standards are mentioned, they must drink and drink and drink in order to please God. They drank to the point, where in Luke 5:39, the old seemed even better than the new. They couldn’t stomach new wine.

Today, we still play this drinking game. We keep rules, traditions, standards, and end up behaving like the Galatians. We believe that our salvation is by grace. Yet, our Christian living says works make us perfect. Paul condemns this attitude throughout the book of Galatians (Galatians 3:3; 3:11). He even goes to point out Christ’s death is meaningless if we continue to keep laws and rules in order to be seen good in the sight of God (Galatians 2:21).

I have woken up in with a “hangover” playing this drinking game. My drinking list consisted of going to the right church, having all the “correct” theological labels, listening to the correct Christian music, associating myself with the right people, making sure unbelievers knew what I was against, daily completing the spiritual disciplines, managing my sin in order for God to use me and move me to a more mature Christian, etc. I woke up hating myself as I vomited this spiritual gunk out of my stomach. I couldn’t get anywhere playing this drinking game. It was a vicious cycle of gaining the approval of churches, institutions, and other Christians in order to gain approval from God. Participating in this cycle only leaves you nauseous, a splitting headache, and lost in the motions of religion. I only saw this way of living as good because it became a means to a good life. But, it never came.

How many times do we play the drinking game found in the old wineskins?

new wine changed to living water

Yet, we see another element in this illustration – new wine and new wineskins.

The new wine represents a new mindset and way of living Jesus brings. It is one of freedom. In the book of Galatians, the term “freedom” appears over and over. Paul says that since we have faith in Jesus, we are free (Galatians 4:5; 4:12). In order to drink of this new wine, we must be willing to adopt a new wineskin or mindset.

Yet, this new wine isn’t a drinking game cycle. Instead, drinking the new wine Jesus gives is actually to drink of the living water where we will never thirst again (John 4:13-14). No longer are we thirsty for which rule or standard we need to keep. Instead, we are satisfied, because our thirst is quenched in the love of Jesus and the freedom he gives. Our lives are no longer bound to endless commandments. Instead, we show the love of Jesus in our hearts by doing two things: believe in the name of Jesus Christ, and love one another (1 John 3:23). This is not burdensome to do. When we believe and love, then everything else falls into place. This is because the kingdom of God is not a matter of what we do or not do, but it is about living in the Spirit (Romans 14:17).

To live in the Spirit is to give up the drinking game of works and drink from the living water and the new wine given to us by Jesus. He didn’t die so we could be slaves to a cycle of rules, rule breaking, and self-hatred. Instead, when we see the truth of the freedom of Christ apart from the law, works, rules, and standards, we will truly be free and satisfied with the new wine given to us by the one who gives living water (John 8:32).

Desiring new wine

It is so difficult to give up the Christian drinking game of laws, rules, and standards. I’ve been there, done that, and even have the t-shirt for participating. I only ended up with self-hatred and a pattern of walking up a descending escalator attempting to reach approval.

It wasn’t until I heard these lyrics from the song Champion by Bethel Worship I began to question the Christian drinking game-

I’ve tried so hard to see it
Took me so long to believe it
That You’d choose someone like me
To carry Your victory
Perfection could never earn it
You give what we don’t deserve and
You take the broken things
And raise them to glory

How many years did I live and breathe in this legalistic mindset? How many times did I focus on lists in Scripture; rather than the heart of Jesus? When I saw how I was deceived by today’s Pharisees in the church, I began seeing the truth. Jesus saved me by grace, he saved me to love like he has loved me, and that is it. That is what true freedom is.

We don’t have to be stuck in a vicious drinking game cycle anymore. We have been set free to live in the celebratory love of the groom: Jesus Christ.

So…

Which wine are we going to drink each day? The old wine leading to cycles of hangovers? or the new wine which is changed into living water quenching our thirst and freeing us to walk in the Spirit?

The choice is ours. But, we need to make sure we change our wineskin in order to fully live in Christ’s new wine and living water.

A slave is only loved according to his performance. But, a son is loved unconditionally.


Now I can finally see it
You’re teaching me how to receive it
So let all the striving cease, oh
This is my victory

After The Ruins

“In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Ruins

When traveling, I love to look at ruins – cathedrals, castles, homes, forts, etc. Each of these places tell a story. They are the forsaken, the bombed, the war-torn, the silent storytellers of our world. Not all ruins are dark, miserable stories. Some are stories of triumphs, some are of defeats, and some explain the origins of peoples and histories.

Our lives are dotted with our own ruins – past places we lived, pictures hanging on the wall of yesteryear’s memories, the lives we’ve touched either out of joy or out of pain.

Yet, we forget the stories these tell. Sometimes we would rather allow nature to overgrow and overtake our stories than for people to stumble upon them. We deflect pain, we bury, we “hyperspiritualize”rather than deal with our ruins.

removing the overgrowth

March 2020, I attempted suicide.

Everyone saw Stephen as the intelligent, gift teacher and writer. Yet, inside I was imploding. The foundations were cracking. The wood beams I buttressed my life with splintered. Fear ruled my life. What if I was found out? What if people knew the real me? I would lose everything. Looking right and being the right image of a Christian became as routinely as showering, brushing my teeth, and dressing myself. Not only did I have to put on clothes for work, but I had to put on the right clothes, the right face, the right labels and beliefs, and the right Christian.

No one could know about my depression. Struggles, where I was, silenced. For ten years, I learned from this place to hate myself until I removed everything unwanted. God became interested in me only when I was good enough. I only saw a a Jekyll and Hyde wanting the transformation to stop. It was like climbing up a descending escalator. I couldn’t go on. I had hurt many people. I had hurt myself. If I continued, I only saw hurt and darkness. I was a burden that needed to be lifted.

At 7:30am on a Saturday, when everyone was out stocking up for Covid, I took the keys to my car and drove down the wrong side of the road. The only thought was, “God, I guess I can only be used as a bad example.” I almost ran into one truck head on. Something in me jerked the steering wheel, and I pulled into a parking lot.

It was that day I realized I couldn’t stay where I was. I had to leave.

the ruins of an altar

The place I was at was Bob Jones University- undergrad, seminary student, and graduate assistant faculty teaching public speaking. Ten years of my life was spent there.

During my student years, I opened up about struggles. I was told to pray things away, I was told to read my Bible, I was told opportunities wouldn’t come my way until I proved myself. Each morning I read my Bible in the open desperately hoping someone would see how much I wanted to change. But, the change was not good enough. I lived in a “Christian version of 1984.” Image was everything. It did not matter how good you were with your classes. It was how good you were seen. My disability was doubted. Each semester I had to provide a doctor’s note proving I’m disabled. When I went forward about being molested in high school, I was told, since I was a theatre major at the time, stop being over dramatic in order to make people feel sorry for you. I was told God made me with a purpose being disabled, but how many students, with a pro-life attitude, mocked me. If only I trusted God better, was the solution given. I had to learn to trust God and lean on him only. The school began to bar me from having close friends and watched my interactions closely. Soon, the fire of my struggles spread and people knew me as the “weird guy on campus.”

When I graduated from seminary in 2016 I knew two things- 1) I had the skills to be in ministry, but 2) I had to prove myself to be seen as useful to God and others. God would never use me unless I was good enough, mature enough, or had all the right things lined up in my life.

When I began teaching there in 2018, my mind began seeing things that didn’t seem right. Things didn’t match up with the Bible. So I began challenging thinking on this blog. Then March 2020 came. The place and culture poisoned my thinking of God, myself, my life, and of others. Everywhere I walked on that campus I could only see an inferior person playing dress-up perfection.

When I left, I had sent a video to my students, after receiving emails about rumors of me leaving, explaining why I was not returning. Nothing was mentioned about my suicide attempt (very few even knew about it). Yet, I said I was disassociating myself from the university. I was called into a meeting with the president as he told me I was an emotionally immature person, needing to pull on my big boy pants, and because of my actions God would limit the opportunities he had for me.

I left the altar of fundamentalism

I left alone, shipwrecked, and on a path I did not know where it would lead.

Burying and exhuming

After the meeting, I continued to blog. I blogged to deflect the pain I was feeling. I blogged in order to change others. However, I did not blog in order to change me. I had a mindset filled with lies about God, myself, and Christian life. I wanted others to change in order to accept me, but I hadn’t accepted myself.

No one could know I was hurting. I “hyperspiritualized” everything by writing. I buried everything from the past. However, burying things with heartbeats tend to beat louder and louder until they rise.

July 2020 came. An archaeologist stumbled into my ruins. He didn’t have a map or a GPS. But, he had his story to tell. The only things in his hand were a shovel and water. He saw how thirsty I was, and yet he knew bodies needed to be exhumed. He began by saying I needed to be honest with the ruins and mass graves around me. Honesty is the shovel that exhumes life.

I opened up to my wife, to my parents, and to friends. I began to remove overgrowth from ruins I wanted to forget. The murals and mosaics mimicking mires of pain I put vines and flowers over so I didn’t have to see. I began to remove skeletons out of their graves. The data collected revealed what I buried. I was betrayed. The betrayal was through emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse.

Confronting this brought the skeletons to life. My honesty and truth was met with “since you have no evidence none of this can be corroborated.” Gaslighting had made its appearance. Discussions went round and rough with people from my past.

Exhuming always comes with a price when the truth is unburied. My cost was the loss of my family to no longer be privy to family matters and the loss of friends who turned away from me as I left the altar of fundamentalism.

the clean up of the ruins

February 2021, I put myself into a recovery program and shut down my blog. I had to deal with all the exhumed. My heart wanted to run from Jesus, but at the same time it didn’t. Instead, my heart wanted to run from religion and being deceived by religious people.

My wife and I joined a new church. Through this church, my walls began breaking down. A community began helping me clear the rubble and lay the bodies to rest.

One Sunday, our pastor said, “Your experience of God will be no greater than your revelation of God.”

He’s right. My revelation of God was filled with wrath, judgment, fear, right labels and positions, image, and militant warring against sin.

My revelation did not include the true heart of Christ – Gentle and Lowly

I read through Galatians and saw the truth for the first time.

In my journal I wrote this prayer:
“Heavenly Father, I have been deceived about you, your gift of salvation, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and me. I believed I wasn’t good enough. I had to prove myself. All my years I tried to feel your love when it was already there. I believed you hated me and cursed me because I couldn’t reach the next spiritual level. I believed, but I believed a lie. I lived out this lie and it affected and infected everything. It became about me proving myself to you and others to hopefully be blessed. That is the lie I lived. I lived a false gospel. Jesus was just a means to an end; not a relationship of freedom to live. I repent of this lie in my heart and mind. I turn from it, and not to a way of rules and right living, but to Jesus. You love me and want me, so you sent Jesus to free me to be who you you created me to be – not a slave, but a son. A slave is only loved by his performance, but a son is loved unconditionally. So God, heal my mind from these lies. Forgive me for living contrary to your gospel and give me a heart to follow Jesus’ love and grace. I believe and confess this is what is true. No more proofs, rules, standards, and images – only Jesus. Thank you for revealing this blindness and opening my eyes to the truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

The Beauty of ruins

The beauty of ruins is the story they tell and the secrets they reveal. My ruins tell the story of leaving fundamentalism and beginning to live who God made me to be: Stephen Field. It has and still is difficult to wash this mindset away. Leaving fundamentalism can be compared to leaving a cult.

My wife and I cry over the past, are still working on getting our feet stable, but we see the beauty of the ruins. June 24, 2021 I will turn 30. It is a great age to begin seeing beauty again.

If you walk through my ruins you will see a broken 5 year old, an abused 12 year old, a very dark and angry 16 year old, a spiritually abused 20 year old. You will see a disability from birth, you will see the altar of fundamentalism cracked, and you will see a man stepping out of the dark into the light revealing he is same-sex attracted, married to a woman, and is a Christian. You will see a strong, beautiful woman take his hand, kiss him, and say, “One day at a time. I get to live the perfect rom-com with you; married to the love of my life and my gay best friend in one person.” You will see her calm his fears. You will see the two of them not give up on each other. You will see a group of men helping this man learn to live and walk with Jesus as he faces various mountains.

Yet, if you stand on top of the hill and watch the sunrise hit the ruins, you will the shadow of a cross enfolding this story in a gentle and lowly embrace.

It was discouraging even to think about taking up writing again. But, Jesus didn’t come for the perfect writers. He came for the imperfect ones. He came to show us, not how to write perfect characters, but how to allow him to write the perfect story.

I have the love of Jesus. That love brings beauty out of ruins. That love allows me to celebrate 90 days walking in victory over depression and suicidal thoughts. That love allows me to be real and follow Jesus. His love opens my eyes to see beauty again.

To quote my wife’s favorite classic author Lewis Carroll, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

As the sun begins to rise, I need to think of the most impossible thing…

There is beauty in ruins