People of Faith, Come Out.

The question why? doesn’t even seem to cut it very much anymore in our world, does it? There is simply no logical answer for it during a week like we are experiencing now. There is evil in this world, so much hate, and in Orlando this weekend, those things combined in one person and compelled him to carry out a sinister act. A deadly one.

I’m horrified, as most everyone is and should be this week, as I think of the lives taken just a few nights ago while I was sleeping safe and sound in my bed. When I learned of it, my heart sank down into my stomach.

So here we are again, and forty-nine beautiful, holy, created-in-the-image-of-God lives, are just gone. More than that have suffered injuries. And even more than that have suffered emotional scars that could take a lifetime to heal.

As a person of faith, I pray for their families. I pray that some measure of comfort and peace will reach them. I also pray for the injured and the witnesses, that they would heal both physically and in time, emotionally.

I pray because I don’t think it’s a waste of time. Our prayers are what connect us to the source of all peace, the something-bigger-than-ourselves, the very love itself that keeps us woven together.

But as people of faith, I think there’s more we need to do right now. More than praying. More than even donating money or giving blood. Those things in themselves are good, and we should do them. But there’s more to be done.

Because a sanctuary was invaded this weekend. A sanctuary not unlike the one in Charleston that was invaded just a year ago. It might not be the place many of us initially think of when we hear the word sanctuary, but our LGBT brothers and sisters certainly understand it to be just that, as they were gathered in this place of joy together.

They were dancing and singing and laughing and being free together. Free from judgmental eyes and hateful comments. They were in a sanctuary, free from the fear of being treated as less-than.

And they should have been safe there. They should have been safe to be themselves and enjoy a night without worrying if they would ever get to enjoy another. They should be safe there. They should be safe anywhere.

But the fact is that they aren’t safe everywhere. In the freest country on earth, an LGBT person is never quite free from the worry that someone will treat them in a manner that is disrespectful or downright dangerous.

So, yes, I want to #PrayForOrlando together with other believers. I want Americans to band together and grieve this completely senseless loss of life that happened yet again on our soil.

But I also want us as people of faith to acknowledge that this was a crime that targeted our gay community specifically. And I want believers inside and outside of the Church to understand that if we don’t specifically acknowledge that, and we skip right past that fact and just start to clamor about political positions, we’ve done a great disservice to the LGBT community and we’ve actually added to their pain. 

To my LGBT loved ones, I want to say that I see you. I can’t imagine how scary this is for you, to wonder if this will happen closer to home next time, or if you or someone you know will be the next target. I understand that this is by far not the first time you have had to be fearful of someone using hate as an excuse to violate you. I am so sorry for that.

I am sorry for the way the Church on the whole has, at worst, treated you as less-than-human, or at best ignored you. I don’t want to do that. I know each one of us are made in the image of God and He loves us all completely and wholly without condition. Every single one of us. I don’t think you need me, some white, straight, middle-class elementary school teacher to validate you in that way. But maybe there are some of you who have just never been told that. So please hear it from me. You are made in God’s image, you are beautifully unique and special and nothing will ever change that. We are all worthy of love and dignity simply because of that. And anyone who treats you as if that’s not true is simply wrong. 

I am so sorry you have suffered at the hands of people who, supposedly in the name of God, have said you are not worthy of unconditional love and respect. And I’m especially sorry for any of the same people who have hurt you outright with words or deeds. Please hear this: That is not what God is about. Anyone who claims that hate can be justified by slapping the name of God on it simply does not understand the overall concept of God.

You are loved by God and by many, and nothing in the universe can ever change that. My heart breaks this week for your compounded grief, as people who are both dumbfounded by more loss of life, and as members of a community who have known far too much violence and hate in your quest for love and acceptance. 

rainbow hearts

I pray my words fall on the hearts of my LGBT friends gently. There is much more to say, but for now, I just want you to know you are loved and seen and heard. 

To my friends who claim the name of Christ: I see you too.

One important note: There are those who, supposedly in the name of God, have spent large amounts of energy trying to convince men and women in the gay community that they are unworthy of love, that they are despicable, or abhorrent. I am not addressing those folks here, because I don’t in any way think they are actual followers of Christ. Nothing even remotely similar to Him is in their speech or their actions, and I do not refer to them as Christians (meaning Christ-followers) because everything they do shows that they are the opposite. They are ideological extremists, exactly like the man who murdered dozens of people in Orlando this weekend.

I am speaking to my brothers and sisters in the faith who follow the person and example of Christ as imperfectly but faithfully as possible, who understand that every single person on the face of this planet was created by God in His image.

To you I want to say that this needs to be a major time of reflection for us. How have we, as individuals or as entire fellowships, participated in this violence? It’s true we’ve never pointed a gun at a homosexual person, but have we fired shots with our voices or our silence? The hurt is the same.

I know you and I truly believe that your heart hurts for this whole situation. I know so many of you are uncomfortable and sickened with the way that the Church has treated many groups, including our LGBT brothers and sisters.  I have spoken with you over coffee and during times of study and I know that some of you don’t understand why this debate is even still happening. You are tired of being lumped in with the “ignorant Christian bigots” because that is truly not what you are. I understand. May I urge you to speak your mind, and to be a bridge for the people you love at both ends of that spectrum? Voice your beliefs and your love and your questions. I predict you will be loved all the more for it.

And I know that there are some of you who love Jesus and truly believe that an LGBT person has personally chosen their lifestyle, and you have a hard time understanding how that fits with what you have been taught over many years. I have grace for you as well, and I understand that you are on a journey of learning and you truly want to be faithful in that quest. May I urge you to tend to this in your own personal prayer life and study of God’s word on these issues (yes, deep study–that means whatever it takes, all the way back to the original languages for every single word if you have to) and to truly develop your own understanding rather than simply accepting what has been repeated to us over and over.

And please, if you have big opinions about the LGBT community but find yourself realizing that you don’t actually spend time with anyone who is gay, let’s just start there. Because I promise you that when you love those who don’t necessarily share your same background or beliefs, you will look at everything in a new light. Because it won’t be about an “issue” or a “culture war.” It will be about you and the right-in-front-of-you folks whom you love. And that changes everything. It no longer allows us to throw around cheap cliches and Christian-y catchphrases, but it forces us to ask what those words might mean to our loved one. That is the journey we must take.

And at every point in that journey, please remember that at no time did Jesus ever hurt people (and especially not entire groups of people) with his words or by ignoring their plight entirely. He was moved, deep down in his gut, with compassion for the masses. He always treated every single person with the love and dignity they were worthy of simply because they were created by God.

He was always on the lookout for those who were hurting, who needed love, and who needed to be reminded of their worth. He gave us the very best example of what it looks like to love in words and deeds. So let’s make that example our focus, and all else secondary to that. Let’s be about the business of standing side-by-side with those who are hurting. Let’s be that Samaritan, who defied all commonly held cultural parameters and looked past it all, seeing nothing other than a fellow human being lying bruised and battered in a ditch and said How could anyone pass this person by without reaching out? And if we become battered and bruised at the same time, so be it.

So yes, more love and less hate. Nothing can undo the hateful actions that happened this weekend in Orlando. Nothing, ever. But we can continue to assault evil with love every time we pray, open our mouths to speak, or encounter another human being. Every single day.

Whatever our personal beliefs are at this moment, there is absolutely no debate to be had over whether or not the people in that nightclub were loved by God and worthy of dignity and respect as human beings. That’s not even a thing. Not even.

But let’s ask ourselves: Will we, as people of faith, mourn alongside anyone who mourns, even if we think them to be different than we are? Will we love God’s people more than our perceptions? Will we come out and speak, take a posture of wanting to learn, and say that maybe this is awkward, unsteady territory but we are willing to go there because we want to love extravagantly like Jesus did?

//

As I’ve written and rewritten this over the past few days, it has dawned on me painfully that I should have said these things long ago. I should’ve said essentially these same things also to my friends of color and of other faiths, who have frequently been targets of violence and hate and continue to be. Sometimes it just feels as if the hatred and violence is compounded all the more by the thousands of competing voices yelling in the aftermath. As if anyone needs another opinion. But I will use my words more often on behalf of peace and on behalf of those I love. -Krysten

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Come With Me: Beyond the Invitation

Don’t you just love opening an invitation?  Lovely, thick stationery with an embossed seal takes a little effort to tear open, but it  carries so much excitement inside.

Not only does an invitation reveal something very special, such as an upcoming wedding date or a chance to shower some love on a new mother. But it communicates something to you as the recipient as well.

You are important. You are loved. I chose you for this. I want you to be part of this monumental moment.  It just wouldn’t be the same without you. Please say you’ll be there; I want you to experience this with me. Come with me and become part of my history.

In Suzie Eller’s just-released book, Come With Me, she reminds us that every single day, we have a chance to hear those words of invitation. Not only to hear them, but to accept them wholeheartedly.

Come With Me Release Day

Suzie journeys alongside the original 12 disciples of Jesus, and plants herself firmly as the 13th disciple. Throughout the book, she leans in to what they may have been thinking and feeling as they heard Jesus’s words, witnessed His miracles, and walked with Him daily, never having the benefit of knowing how His story continues even today. They didn’t have the luxury of hindsight, of being able to look back over thousands of years of scholarly analysis and see the nuances in what He might have been saying.

They were rough fishermen and despised tax collectors. They were Regular Joes. They went about their daily business of mending nets, reeling in the catch, balancing the books, squinting to record figures.

But they got an invitation. One by one, Jesus said Come with Me.

He had no sales pitch. Nothing at all that would indicate they were ablout to live a prosperous, carefree life. In fact, many of Jesus’s words would indicate the exact opposite.

But they each accepted the invitation. Leaving their jobs. Their families. Their positions. Their very identities in society.

Unlike the invitations we get in the mail today, Jesus’s invitation didn’t list a location, a dress code, a meal preference. You know, the things that help us be prepared for the big event. Nothing of the sort.

So why would these individuals say yes, knowing nothing beyond the man who was standing in front of them?

It didn’t make sense. They literally had no reason to open themselves up like that at first. No guarantees of any sort. But when Jesus spoke those words, they knew something more, something bigger than they’d ever dreamed of, was right there in front of them.

I doubt they knew it at the time, but by accepting Jesus’s invitation to Come with Me, they actually acknowledged that they were chosen.

It was an invitation alright. To put faith into practice. To understand forgiveness and mercy. To see with different eyes and hear with new ears. To be fully known and absolutely chosen anyway.

This exact same invitation Jesus gave to the twelve is the one we still have today. For some of us, it sits unopened in a pile of other important things, but we fear opening it because then we will have to make a choice to RSVP. For many of us, we have opened the invitation and accepted, but somehow thought it was about what to wear or what to buy to take along with us, missing the bigger picture entirely. And yet for some of us, we’ve been part of something bigger but the memories have faded.

This book is for all of our hearts. It’s about the journey we take when we decide not to just accept Jesus’s invitation, but to go wherever He leads. Out into deeper waters. Into unknown places. Into the darkness to carry His light.

That sounds all fine and good, but isn’t that a little scary? Can’t we just be happy with RSVPing and showing up for that one thing and just calling it good?

Don’t worry, Suzie understands. That’s why she encourages us in this book to “whisper yes where no wants to take root.” Throughout the pages, she shares ways that Jesus drew her closer by taking small baby steps of faith. Notice that I said Jesus drew her closer, but Suzie makes it clear that she also had to move closer each time she felt that stirring.

My life became hinged on Jesus nearly 14 years ago. The thing I continually learn is that He is always and forever choosing me. No matter what, He wants more of me. More of my heart. More time with me. He is the ultimate pursuer. No matter how inadequate or stagnant or unlovable I might feel, He is always reminding me of His invitation.

No expectations. No prerequisites. No list of improvements that have to be made before I can accept the invitation. He says Come with Me. I just have to whisper yes and allow Him to walk me through the rest.

Friends, Suzie’s Come with Me book officially released today! This is one you can read on your own or with a group, allowing Suzie to be your guide into a new adventure with Jesus.

My copy is already a little ragged, with multiple dog ears and notes scribbled in nearly every margin. It’s one I will revisit again and again along the way. Be sure to check out Suzie’s blog and some of her other beautiful books, such as The Mended Heart and The Unburdened Heart.

 

 

 

Love: Join Together & Get Creative

I had the opportunity today to contribute to the #loveis series over on the Facebook page for Sweet to the Soul Ministries . So thankful to share alongside some lovely ladies who have taken time this month to consider what the scriptures say about this thing we call love. My focus was on Hebrews 10:24:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…

The entire book of Hebrews has something to prove. The author was worried that his audience was waffling in their faith. He implored them not to go back to the old, comfortable way they’d always known, approaching God by routinely making sacrifices, checking off a spiritual box. He went to great lengths to show that Jesus is our high priest and no other sacrifice is needed.

God is really really smart, y’all.

He knew that even when we came to understand that Jesus is our center, it would only be a starting point. Our faith is a lifelong process of trusting and learning to love like Jesus did. He knew we would get discouraged easily. He knew we, too, would waffle back and forth in our faith at times.

He knew we would need some strategies for sticking with it, for moving forward in our faith when life got harsh. For when it seemed too difficult to center our lives around a Savior who was all about showing love in practical ways.

So what did God give us as an answer to these difficulties? Two things stick out to me from Hebrews 10:24:

First, He gave us other believers. The verse says: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Us. We. One another. The words used here don’t signify any of us being an island. We need each other to keep the momentum of love & faith going. We need to encourage each other to put God’s love into action.

The second thing God gave us is creative minds. Other translations of Hebrews 10:24 tell us to “think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” and to “see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out”.

Oh, I love that. What a challenge! He wants to see just how out-of-the-box we can get in demonstrating love toward others.

So friends, let’s take on that challenge. Let’s just get all kinds of creative in how we show His love today. Forget about how we will be perceived because of it. And let’s not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by how difficult life may feel at the moment. God knew it would happen, and He’s given us one another to figure out how to creatively persevere in showing His love to all people.

I’d love to hear what you think about this. What comes to mind when you think about God asking us to be inventive and creative in love? Who is a person in your life who spurs you on toward love and good deeds? How do they do this? Tell me about all it! Your thoughts will spur even more of us on toward encouraging love and good deeds today.

the best kind of debt-free

Thinking in crisp, clear thought today about the center of my life, who used to be despised, rejected, misunderstood, hated, and ridiculed by me on a daily basis. Thinking of how he gave up everything for me. How he suffered for me. How he died in my place.

Who do I love that much? For whom would I voluntarily be disgraced, spit upon, beaten, despised, ridiculed, tortured, even killed? Anyone? I can think of a few people who I love enough to throw myself in front of a bus without a moment’s hesitation if I thought it would save their life. Just a few. But would I do that for someone who hated me? Would I do that for someone who said I was an imbecile? Would I do that for someone who had disgraced me and everything I stood for? Very doubtful.

But that’s what He did. He paid the debt and offered new life. For me and for all of us.

ALL of us.

“Praise the One who paid my debt, and raised this life up from the dead.”

deep and high and wide

Came across an old hymn today that I fell in love with. I was not raised in church, or anywhere near one for that matter. I am actually kind of thankful for that in some respect, because these songs of praise, many of which are hundreds of years old, are all new to me. I suspect that because they’re still new to me, I am able to see and hear and feel their meaning a bit more extravagantly than if they had been played in the background of my life all these years.

I’m going through a bit of a cloudy place right now. There’s been more confusion lately than clarity. More melancholy than joy. More loneliness than embrace. Much more grey than rainbow. But even in all this, even when I’ve been struggling to piece things together, I never forget how deep and high and wide God’s love is for me. Even when that understanding slips out of the spotlight and onto the sidelines, it’s still there. No matter how big and loud and obnoxious every pressing problem around me seems to get, there’s a little mustard-seed-sized place in me that whispers: it’s worth it. you’ll see on the other side of this soon enough, just wait. He won’t let you down.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Your love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To Your glorious rest above!

In Christ Alone

All day yesterday I was listening to the song In Christ Alone, which rocks me pretty much every time I hear it. I can hardly listen to the whole thing without joyful tears streaming down my face at some point. With every line of lyrics I seemed to have a reel of commentary playing through my mind in a sort of beautiful disbelief.

In Christ alone my hope is found, I don’t need anything else to hope in! Not my own abilities, not the promise of bigger or better anything…just Christ

He is my light, my strength, my song; When I do anything without him, it’s a failure. I stumble all over the place like I’m in the dark. Anything I do well comes from the strength he gives

this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,

firm through the fiercest drought and storm. There’s nothing I have been through where he has failed me. He’s brought me through some of the most stressful situations, and although I seem to flail all over the place when I’m faced with the littlest bump in the road, he never moves. He is never, ever shaken by my circumstances

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

when fears are stilled, when strivings cease! I have never felt so loved and so at peace, even when everything around me seems to be madness. Even when I am scared about my son’s future, or when I feel like I can’t do anything right, he gives me peace about it. I don’t have to fix everything or anything!

My Comforter, my All in All,

here in the love of Christ I stand. Even though I have many people in my life who love me and offer me encouragement through everything, he is ultimately the one who gives me everything. If I were to be without anyone else, he would be there with me
In Christ alone! who took on flesh

Fulness of God in helpless babe! God became one of us when he allowed his son to be limited in human form. It’s the mystery of Jesus being fully divine and fully human at the same time

This gift of love and righteousness

Scorned by the ones he came to save: I wonder how I would have responded to Jesus had I lived at the time he walked the earth. Would I have been one of those people who thought he was a heretic or a madman? Would I have spit on him, thrown things at him, joined in mocking him?

Till on that cross as Jesus died,

The wrath of God was satisfied – This is the place where God’s justice and mercy come together perfectly. His holiness required justice and His love required mercy. He was the only  one who could provide a solution to both parts of that puzzle

For every sin on Him was laid;

Here in the death of Christ I live. Everything I ever did, am doing, and will do that is an offense to God’s holiness has already been paid for because of what Jesus did for me. Because of Christ taking on my debt, I no longer owe anything. I can live

There in the ground His body lay

Light of the world by darkness slain:

Then bursting forth in glorious Day

Up from the grave he rose again! Some people say they believe that Jesus was God’s son and that he died on the cross, but not that he was resurrected. What good is it for God to have a son he sends to earth if he’s just like any of us? What good is any of this if the resurrection was not true? What good is someone claiming to be the messiah if they died like everyone else? That would just prove Jesus to be the liar that many believed him to be. But he did not stay dead…he was alive again and now he lives inside each of us who follow him

And as He stands in victory

Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me, Because of his resurrection, I no longer have to live as the same person I once was. The sins in my life no longer define me. I am a new creation. The old things have gone and the new things have come

For I am His and He is mine –

Bought with the precious blood of Christ. This one is maybe the hardest to believe. When I think about how God loves the world and all the people in it, it is easy to believe because I am speaking in general terms. But when I think of God trading his son’s life for mine so he could purchase me back from my slavery… to think that I was that important to him and he loved me that much…that’s so much harder for me to grasp. He loves ME that much. He loves YOU that much
No guilt in life, no fear in death,

This is the power of Christ in me;

From life’s first cry to final breath.

Jesus commands my destiny. I do not have to feel guilty or condemn myself any longer for the poor choices I have made. I give them to him and he creates something good and lovely from that mess I had made. He works it together for good. I do not have to fear death, no matter how or when it comes, because he is on the other side of it. He is what awaits me at the end of my life, so either way I win. He commands my time here on earth and the end of it.

No power of hell, no scheme of man,

Can ever pluck me from His hand;

Till He returns or calls me home,

Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand. There is no scheme or trick that anyone or anything can use against me to try to tell me that I do not belong to God. There is nothing in this world that will become more important to me, no matter how many people tell me that it is. Nothing I even do to mess up will keep me from the love of Christ. It is so wide and deep and high that I am covered no matter what. He holds tight to me even when I loosen my grip on him. He has lavished such a love upon me that I am called his daughter and that cannot be taken away, even by me.

Even when my focus gets blurry, I know where my hope is and always will be found.