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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Men, Too? Men and Sexual Assault.

His name was Mohammad.

He was employed by a temporary worker company which my workplace regularly calls on to supply our team with extra hands on busy nights of setting up and tearing down events at our large hotel.

That Mohammad’s level of friendliness was a little much for my taste, I quickly chalked up to cultural differences (Mohammad is not from the United States), and the heavy load of the night’s work continued as per normal.

At one point in the evening, Mohammad and I were alone, loading supplies into one of our larger elevators.

Upon filling it up, there was just enough space left for the two of us.

Mohammad, picking up on my hesitation, insisted I could just stand in front of him, motioning me over with his hands.

Again, a little off-putting and weird, I thought, but obviously I had no real reason to feel uncomfortable.

In the end, the reflexive over-politeness to strangers drilled into me as a child quickly kicked on (“don’t be rude” “don’t make him feel uncomfortable”) and we piled in.

Button pushed.

Doors close.

Almost immediately, I felt a hand go down my shirt and start rubbing my back.

I said nothing. I did nothing. I stood there frozen with terror, unsure of what was happening and why.

An eternity passed before the elevator stopped (this service elevator is notoriously slow) and the doors flew open.

I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I began to breathe again.

Upon exiting the elevator, I turned to face Mohammad.

He flashed me a knowing and lecherous smile.

I wanted to vomit. But I didn’t. I gave a tight-lipped hospitality worker honed fake face and pretended like absolutely nothing had happened (which included ignoring later flirtatious comments).

As soon as I could, I told my supervisor to not put me to work with him.

He acquiesced, and showed how seriously he took my encounter by making a joke of it later.

After summoning the courage days later, I related the incident to an assistant manager who informed director of my department.

They told me the offender would not be back at the hotel.

Mohammad, however, apparently did not get the message and showed back up a week or so later.

However, since there was no work for him, he was asked to leave.

That I know of, he never returned.

When women all over the country shared their #MeToo stories, I quietly wondered to myself, me, too?

I wasn’t raped. And I didn’t feel like my story was bad enough to count as assault.

Yet, more than anything, what silenced me was the overwhelming sense of shame I associated with the encounter.

“What did I do to make him think I would like that, that he could put his hands on me like that”, I obsessed.

I knew, of course.

When a man is assumed, correctly or incorrectly, to be gay (something I get quite often), that can be for him a great source of embarrassment and shame, especially if he is a conservative, Bible-believing Christian like myself (not as if being gay warrants such an advance because it most certainly does not).

And because being preyed on, cat-called, and propositioned by other men makes you feel dirty, sinful, and less of a man, when someone does put their hands on you or worse, the last thing you want to do is tell someone and intensify your shame

And this "shamed into silence" mentality is not ameliorated by the introduction of a female offender into the story.

After all, as my assistant manager blurted out to me after I told her what had happened, “this happens to us as women, but I never even think of it happening to men.”

And therein lies the problem.

Sexual assault is not treated like man’s problem and men who experience unwanted advances in the work place or outright have themselves forced upon are deemed outliers.

Even now, everything inside me wants to downplay what happened and re-frame it in a way that allows me to save face and not appear weak.

And if I feel this way, how do you imagine men and boys who are raped, molested, or otherwise sexually assaulted feel (I do consider what happened to me to be assault)?

Like a fungus under a warm log, safe beyond the bright rays of the sun, the shame incurred when someone sins against you sexually festers and grows when left in the dark, undisturbed.

The Enemy would have it that we all go on our merry ways and never make waves and suffer in silence and flash the fake smiles on Sunday morning because he knows that the bright light of truth is the silver bullet to his lies.

Thus, as children of the day, it is our job to create an environment in which the shame such sin engenders is undone by the grace and truth given us in Jesus Christ.

We do this by making such accounts common by including in our sermon illustrations and stories about sin examples of men who have been sexually violated (we don’t need to be graphic or detailed, but to simply mention that it happens).

We do this when we begin to plant and form churches that take the shape of confessional communities where believers can do more than confess their sin, and confess, too, the deeply painful ways they have been hurt and sinned against.

We do this by teaching a model of masculinity that looks as three dimensional as Jesus Christ.

We do this by talking up talk therapy (seriously, go).

We do this by having zero tolerance for offenders and predators.

We do this by telling our stories and by being advocates for others who are not yet at a sharing place (and who may never be).

I don’t know if we will change the stigma surrounding the sexual assault of males, but when I look into the eyes of men and boys who have been made victims of such heinous offenses, I know we have no other option but to try.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Whose Sunday is it Anyway? On Mixing Sports and Protest.

You can run, but you can't hide seems to best encapsulate the lament of Joseph Curl, news and politics reporter for the Daily Wire, as the never-ending reach of partisan American politics latched itself right on to Sunday Night Football.

Not a single cleat had hit the turf before Week 3 of the NFL promised to be a news-maker as three teams refused to emerge from the locker room during the National Anthem, with players by the dozens from other teams literally sitting the Anthem out (or kneeling) right there on the sidelines.

While the scope of the protests across several NFL teams on the same day was noteworthy, the acts themselves were not, following a string of similar actions taken first by controversial football player Colin Kaepernick to protest police brutality.

More specific to yesterday, the protests were prompted by a barrage of tweets from President Trump that began with him dis-inviting Stephen Curry and his championship winning Golden State Warriors to the White House and metastasized into a screed against those who "disrespect" the flag by not standing during the National Anthem.

Joseph Curl, in his subtly titled article "NFL Ruins Football Sunday", invites us to contemplate a simpler time before Sunday evening football was infected with all this political nonsense.

"There was a time you young people out there", Curl writes, "when Sunday was just Football Day."

Yet, for those who know anything about American religious history, the sense of longing Curl seeks to invoke for good days gone by doesn't quite reach back far enough, at least not for this young person.

 There was a time, Mr. Curl, when Sunday was just the Lord's Day (just ask my eighty-eight year old Christian grandmother!).

However, beneath the surface of his mythical Good Old Days™ construction, Curl unfurls a thought worth pondering.

He sets the stage thusly: "America had worked all week, drank a little too much on Friday night, did the chores and mowed the lawn on Saturday, and was all set for a peaceful Sunday watching big men smash into each other."

Erm. So far so good.

He continues, "Football Sunday brought the entire family together, as well as friends near and far and, sometimes, the whole neighborhood. Sadly, all that is gone. Now, there's politics in everything."

Imagine The People of America and Tom Brady going out on a date only to be interrupted by Uncle Sam's traveling circus featuring a trained donkey and an elephant and I think you've caught Mr. Curl's drift.

Of course, what matters practically is not whether the picture Curl paints is true to reality, but that he has tapped deep into the dreamy collective memory of many sport's enthusiasts.

Last Sunday evening saw many frustrated fans all over social media repeating similar refrains.

"I just want to watch the game in peace."

"It didn't use to be this way."

"This was our time to enjoy."

It makes you wonder just whose Sunday is it anyway?

Quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger explained that the abstention by his team was a display of unity in light of "all the issues going on."

Curl, in contrast, argued that when the Jerseys are on, it's time to play football, not politics:

"Sports teams should have nixed any protest in the bud. Colin Kaepernick wants to protest against police brutality by refusing to stand during the National Anthem? Fired — with a simple message from the owners: You can do whatever you want on your time, but don't bring it to the stadium."

This brings us back to the question of who owns Sunday.

As a Christian writing to a mostly Christian audience, is it worth answering this question in the context of the Christian faith.

About the Jewish Sabbath, Jesus came under fire from some religious leaders contemporaneous to him for healing on this sacred day of rest.

We read in the Gospel of Matthew, "Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath" (12:10).

Jesus, not typically known for direct answers to his accusers, responds with unusual directness, retorting, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (12:11-12).

"Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath", he says.

You can't get much clearer than that.

Christ's earliest followers came to understand Sunday as a kind of new Christian Sabbath (while still respecting traditional Jewish observances on Saturday), his resurrection on the "third day" promoting Sunday to the preeminent day of the week.

Understandably, this is why many Bible commentators see Sunday in the Apostle John's reference to the "Lord's Day" in the biblical book of Revelation (1:10).

These earliest Jesus people, mostly Jews, took the spirit of Jesus' teaching on the Saturday Sabbath (i.e., "it is lawful to do good" on it) and applied it to the Christian holy day, Sunday, to do good on it as on all other days of the week, in keeping with God's will.

Sunday was a dynamic day of meeting, "breaking bread" (probably a reference to the Lord's Supper), teaching, and taking up offering for those in need (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).

The new members of this fledgling religion got what the seasoned Pharisees had missed.

The Pharisees opposing Jesus were so wrapped up in their own opinions about the Sabbath and who Jesus was, they stooped so low as to hammer their point of the very back of a brother in need. 

They had nothing really to lose from this guy getting a new arm except that in doing so Jesus had flipped the script, placing them opposite the seat of power and in the same vulnerable position they had put others.

Which brings us back to Joseph Curl.

You see, contrary to Curl, everything is political and always has been, especially for black men and women (remember we are here discussing this now because of a black football player who first knelt to bring attention to the treatment of black Americans by police).

Politics controlled who among us could speak and when and how and what exactly we could say without sanction.

The only thing that's changed over time is the script, which, relative to American football, has undergone some major flipping by individuals who are not impressed by Joseph Curl's desire for a uneventful evening when there are real issues of which people need reminding.

Players like Colin Kaepernick are forcing sport's fans to ask whether they care about black men only as far as they can run, tackle, and score--like animated sacks of meat built only for their viewing pleasure--or for the real people they are.

And just as the Pharisees stood to lose nothing of real value from Jesus' work of healing on the Sabbath, neither does Curl from these protests.

Indeed, one stands to wonders what is at stake for him at all but a lazy Sunday evening relaxing?

Say what you will about President Trump, but at least his Twitter rants were a shot at addressing a moral issue on moral terms.

That is quite different from a grown man whining and crying because his night of mindless enjoyment was spoiled in the face of real people being affected by serious concerns of national injustice.

Sorry, folks, we interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you an update from...real life.

What is more, in the end, Sunday belongs to Jesus.

He is the Lord and it is his day.

I am not saying the protests we are seeing on playing fields across America are uniquely or inherently Christian in nature (they are not) or that Christians should endorse them or that Jesus would even take a knee.

I will not make Christ a mascot for any political team or controversy.

However, I will say that such actions by Colin Kaepernick and the many players who knelt, locked arms, and sat in solidarity yesterday against deeply perceived wrongs in our country inch much closer to a vindication of the real meaning of Sunday, Christ's victory over darkness, than the apathy of those who couldn't see past their precious TV program.

Monday, July 10, 2017

"It's A Guy Thing?": Why Christian Men Need Modesty, Too

A  modern Islamic approach to modest men's dress.
Heat on.

Shirts off.

It's summer time across the nation.

While those guys who failed to do their due diligence during the winter months must now decide between a last-ditch gym membership or a dark-colored t-shirt to wear to the pool, the shining rays of the summer sun have bid the cream of the crop to rise to the top in all their shirtless glory.

It's like reverse Twilight where all the hotties run the streets during the day while the rest of us watch from the windows, shades mostly drawn.

(Now that's a book I could relate to!)

Okay, it's not that bad, but the fresh summer heat does have its way of reigniting the dusty debate on Christian modesty.

Specifically, summer tends to bring out the year-round double standards endemic to the way believers talk about modesty to men versus how we talk about the same subject to women (for example, a brother showing off his physique in a beach selfie just seems so much less offensive than a sister doing the same in a bikini).

This is not as controversial a point as it might have once been.

Articles, blog posts, and opinion pieces fill the Internet lamenting the lop-sided burden Christian women bear compared to their male counterparts in the name of being modest.

In fact, we don't seem to talk about "male modesty" or to males about modesty ever.

Part of this confusion stems from New Testament itself whose most explicit verse using the word modesty in our English translations, 1 Timothy 2:9, and its sister verse, 1 Peter 3:3, have as their focus women.

no. no. no. NO!
Apart from Paul commanding men to keep their heads uncovered during prayer and when prophesying (1 Cor. 11:7), the New Testament is silent about male dress.

However, at the heart of the inconsistent modesty expectations among men and women is precisely the kind of thinking that equates modesty with dress.  

When modesty becomes an issue of dress and dress an issue of sex, modesty is reduced to sex and "being modest" to controlling one's sex appeal.

This doomed train of thought naturally lends itself to the historic male sexualization of women's bodies and fear of female sexuality, explaining why our male-dominated Christian culture has held the magnifying glass of modesty up to women far more than men.

Yet, Paul's own writings show he means sophrona (from the Greek sophia [wisdom], denoting sober-minded or prudent) to be a quality of Christian women (translated "modesty" in 1 Timothy 2:3) and a necessary qualification for male elders (translated "self-controlled" in Titus 1:8).

It's not simply about women.

Indeed, if we will examine their foundations, the two modesty verses directed at women open a door to a world of Bible passages about modest conduct which our false notions have trained us to gloss over.

Peter says, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight."

Likewise, Paul echoes, "I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God."

Clearly, the clothes are not the modesty.

The clothes are an expression of the modesty, which overflows from an inner spirit that makes little of oneself and much of one's God.

In this light, these verses join the tapestry of the New Testament's connected themes of modesty, humility, quietude, and good works:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered on behalf of all men for kings and all those in authority, so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you

If pride is like a fire, modesty is the wet blanket we need to suffocate it.

At its heart, biblical modesty is about concealing self through humility and mortifying pride through holiness that we might be happy to see God, and not ourselves, glorified in all the good works we do unto Him.

This is a privilege of all Christians, sisters and brothers, with the expectation that when others see us it won't truly be us, but Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Don;t worry about what you wear, buy, or how you live is not the message of this blog post or the Bible.

But when the trees becomes the forest, the entire landscape is thrown out of balance, leaving many men ignorant to the fires of immodesty raging within them simply because they don't have breasts, hips, or thighs to cover up.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Damned If You Do: Why Southern Baptists Should Not Take the Bait On The Alt-Right

When the 2016 presidential election injected the term "alt[ernative] right" into the vein of mainstream political vernacular (spilling into countless frantic articles and status updates on my Facebook newsfeed) I easily dismissed it as simply one more ripple in a never-ending stream of manufactured causes for concern.

Would that we might have been so lucky.

Whatever life this loosely associated group of far-right, ultra-nationalists had in the years before most knew it even existed was given a new lease with the election of Donald Trump and the apparent vindication of his America First vision for the country.

Who or what exactly comprises the alt-right is a legitimate subject of debate.

What is not debatable are the many, many, many white supremacists who call it home.

They believe America is a white nation for people of Anglo-European ancestry, a heritage and inheritance threatened by the Big Satan of multiculturalism.

Hiding behind the thin and oh so tired veneer of preserving culture, the racists (a term I use without flippancy) at the heart of the movement aim to recover Anglo/Euro-American socio-political power and domination over the United States.

Where that would leave the rest of us, history gives us a hint or two, despite repeated claims from the racist alt-righters that they don't disparage people of color.

And while it's ostensibly true not every alt-right ideologue is a racist, parsing the racists from the non-racists is like cutting a beating heart down the middle.

Take racism out of the alt-right and you have the Tea Party with a Libertarian twist.

What makes the alt-right different from regular old far-right conservatism is its status as an identity movement centered on whiteness and European heritage.

And given its national rise to prominence, many public figures have risen to denounce it, including Southern Baptist pastor William Dwight McKissic, Sr. of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

McKissic, himself a bit of lightning rod among Southern Baptists, introduced a resolution "On The Condemnation of the “Alt-Right” Movement and the Roots of White Supremacy" to be adopted at the denomination's annual meeting.

It speaks in strong terms of  the "toxic menace" of the alt-right "self-identified among some of its chief proponents as “White Nationalism”, featuring "totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples" and asks that it and "every form of “nationalism” that violates the biblical teachings with respect to race, justice, and ordered liberty" be denounced.

The resolution did not even make it off the table which was as unsurprising as the reaction of many Southern Baptists.

Speaker and poet Jackie Hill-Perry, who has spoken widely about the intersect of faith and same-sex attraction, wrote on Twitter, "The decision made at #SBC17 to not denounce white supremacy is hurtful."

Thabiti Anabywile a Southern Baptist pastor and The Gospel Coaltion regular also tweeted, "Any "church" that cannot denounce white supremacy without hesitancy and equivocation is a dead, Jesus denying assembly. No 2 ways about it."

Others such as Russell Moore (president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission public-policy arm of the SBC), Trillia Newbell (Director of the SBC'S Community Outreach for the Ethics and Religious Liberty), Ed Stetzer (Southern Baptist, missiologist, and Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism), and Trevin Wax (Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and a Southern Baptist), and Beth Moore (internationally known Bible teacher and author) all spoke to the issue.

While this latest resolution did not pass, there was a unanimous vote to allow a new, revised resolution to be introduced June 14.

Yet, for a denomination formed in the mid-nineteenth century in opposition to ministry restrictions on slave-owners, the narrative of "Southern Baptists Cannot Get Their Act Together Long Enough To Condemn White Supremacy" seems to write itself in the minds of any watching the fray.

However, may I be the first to suggest that all is not what it appears.

I am not Southern Baptist, but my heart aches with my brothers and sisters in that fellowship who are reading the failure of the anti alt-right resolution as a severe waffling on racism.

However, refusing to support a resolution denouncing racism is not the same as refusing to denounce racism, especially if legitimate concerns exist surrounding the resolution.

The language resolution came packing with a Thesaurus worthy battery of insults like "toxic", "totalitarian", "xenophobic", "bigoted", "retrograde", and "perverse" that might have otherwise been swapped for a more measured tone.

And this is not petty or nitpicky.

Christians should not be alarmist or inflammatory even when reacting to racial supremacists, and talk of government subversion, societal destabilization, and the infection of the political system sounds more like the prologue to Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" than a Christian response to white nationalism.

But beyond the language, real reason exists to question the wisdom of reacting so quickly and so specifically to such a new and contested political phenomenon.

Yes, the alt-right exists.

Yes, evil needs to be named.

But the name of the evil is racist sin in all its incarnations always and everywhere.

Carefully defining the parameters of that sin with the measuring rod of Scripture and denouncing that carries far more strength than chasing after the latest political buzzword that will all but ensure the need for a new resolution once the racist sin of the alt-right dies and is reborn as something different.

Ultimately, Southern Baptists have to make this decision for themselves, but my fear is that the small steps being made toward racial reconciliation in the movement (such as the resolution on the Confederate flag, the election of their first African-American conference president, and the election of the first African-American president of the SBC Pastor's Conference)--actual concrete measures, not simply words--will be drowned out by the failure of a poorly written screed against a movement which does not itself even seem to characterize Southern Baptist support for Donald Trump.

And, at this point, even if the SBC does end up condemning the Alt-right on June 14th, the damage is done and the questions about why the resolution passed this time (love of neighbor or fear of outside condemnation?) will deaden much of its force.

In what could not have been more unfortunate of a shout-out for the Southern Baptists, the herald of the white supremacist core of the Alt-right, Richard Spencer, gleefully tweeted about the "interesting development" that was the failure of the anti-alt-right resolution.

I hope my brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist Convention do not take the bait.

If they need to pass a resolution, pass one, but remember that Spencer and his ilk are part of this system of things which are passing away.

What Southern Baptists (and all Christians) need at this critical moment are Gospel-sized steps towards Galatians 3:28 love like have been taken by the SBC as of late.

Such may not spawn fawning articles from Vox or The Atlantic, but they will have a much more visible, eternal impact than any token resolution.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Christians Under the Moonlight: Thoughts on the Movie and More.

[Spoilers Ahead]
While Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight" shoulders a strong message about the complicated realities of queer black male existence in America, the film smartly avoids any sermonizing.

Rather than lead the audience on a guided tour to "discover" what they should want for the characters, the ensemble of souls Jenkins creates are so eminently identifiable and sympathizable in their real human brokenness, we cannot help but want what they want.

And what does the movie's main protagonist want above all else?


The story is split into three acts, each centered on Chiron, a black boy growing up in a Florida ghetto at the height of the eighties crack epidemic.

Each act represents a different period in Chiron's life, from socially isolated elementary school aged boy to same-sex attracted teenager and finally conflicted and closeted gay man, over the course of the 111-minute film.

At the mercy of a world he doesn't understand and which clearly doesn't understand him, Chiron's search for validation is borne of necessity.

Chiron's father manifests only in a solitary passing reference, and the young boy is forced to watch his working single mom and only parent transfigure into a one-track minded crack addict whose long days spent hustling for "rocks" leave little time for actual parenting.

This parental void is filled by a surprisingly paternal neighborhood drug dealer, Juan, and his live-in partner, Teresa, an irony not lost on Chiron's juvenile mind.

"Do you sell drugs?", he asks Juan.


"And my mama...she do drugs, right?"

Neither he nor Juan presses the point any further.

Neither have to.

Chiron's misfit status crystallizes together with his same-sex attraction as he enters his teenage years, leaving him the impossible choice of passing as something he is not or existing on social the margins of his community, a choice familiar to many queer men of color.

Juan teaches young Chiron to swim
For Chiron, the margins are where he gets the tar beat out of him for no other reason than he's an easy, visible target.

The margins are where friends and enemies alike bury him alive under an avalanche of nicknames, slurs, and accompanying identities no young man would choose for himself.

An example of the latter is Chiron's best friend Kevin who simply calls him "Black", referencing his ebony hue in a subtle hat tip by Jenkins to colorism in the African-American community.

This psycho-social torture and physical terrorizing makes Chiron's choice to break out beyond the margins a clear one.

In a violent revenge attempt against a neighborhood bully (sure to jar viewers in its brutishness), Chiron is whisked down the pipeline out of high school and into juvenile detention, his future and outward persona radically altered.

Gone is the old Chiron, and his once lanky shy self retreats into a ripped, hard, drug-dealing body double with a potentially damaging secret burning like a fire shut up in his bones.

That is, as a teenager, Chiron and his buddy Kevin once shared an intimate moment together on the beach that reached well beyond the bounds of platonic friendship.

Despite this, when it's put up time, Kevin betrays Chiron to save his own skin (which leads to the violent episode landing Chiron in juvie) and the two lose contact.

So when Kevin calls Chiron out of the blue years later wanting to apologize for mistakes made and reconnect, the allure of closure proves too strong to resist.

Even in the light of betrayal and the passage of time, Chiron could never shake Kevin.

A symptom of his desperate search for affirmation?

An appreciation of the complexities that led to the broken bonds of friendship?


You decide.
Kevin and Chiron on the beach.

Whatever the case, by the final scene, when Chiron rests his head on Kevin's shoulder contentedly, at peace with himself having found peace with the only person (male or otherwise) he'd ever really loved, we the audience want to want what he wants, what he never could have but finally has.

However, this poses a real problem for Bible-believing followers of Jesus who want the happiness of our gay friends and neighbors, but are unwilling to compromise on God's design for sexual relationships displayed in the conjugal marriage union.

Still, it almost seems cruel after all Chiron has endured to roll in like rain on a parade and douse the little spark of happiness he's managed to ignite.

Yet the earnest contention of the Christian faith is not "choose happiness or Christ",  but "choose happiness in Christ."

The choice between Jesus and whatever keeps you from him is a choice between whatever it is you're holding on to and something Infinitely Better.

I cannot go as far as affirming the validation Chiron finds in the arms of another man, not so much as a same-sex attracted person of color (which I am), but as a Christian (which I also am).

But in this broken visage, I see an underlying desire for wholeness all Christians will eagerly affirm as we point the way to Jesus as the summit of what it means to be at home with ourselves and to discover true wholeness at the Source.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The God Who Meets Us at the Ledge

I keep wondering where I was the precise moment his body crashed through the roof of the seventh floor.

I couldn't have missed him but by a few minutes, judging by the blood that had barely begun to pool around his head where he slammed into the smooth, solid stone floor.

What was I doing as he made his one-way climb up the elevator?

What was I thinking as he approached the ledge of the city's tallest building and took flight?

"One more hour and I'm out of here"

 Crash--7th floor.

"The weather is gorgeous"

 Crash--6th floor.

"I wish I outside"

 Crash--5th floor.

"Almost done"

 Crash--4th floor.

For the briefest moment, as I rounded the corner and found him crumpled there, it was as if I had entered an alternate reality where Death confronted me to my face and a simple service hallway now doubled as a tomb.

The light let in by the gaping hole in the ceiling made the dust shimmer and dance, coming to rest softly on the body of a man whose life ended 3 floors ago.

He was so still. I have never seen anyone so still. His stillness strangled the prayers in my throat.

"Oh, God, no." "Oh, God, please." "Please, no, God."

There would be no resurrection this time.

No miracle healing.

No happy ending.

Which made me wonder: where God was as he approached the ledge?

I am driven by the deep conviction that the God of Jesus whom we meet in the pages of Scripture does not sit in the heavens above aloof and emotionally detached from our frail human lives.

In stark contrast, God manifests Himself powerfully at the very ledge of our misery.

And while we ask what good is God at the ledge if people still jump, the question subtly reverses His role and ours.

Call me a sheep, but I confess God as the Sovereign Lord of the universe and the supreme Ground of all Good whom no man can gainsay.

His worth does not hang on how often He deals with evil and human suffering to our liking.

Our assurance instead is that He "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Eph. 1:11; emphasis mine).

He wastes nothing. Nothing is in vain.

And this is God's purpose: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev. 21:4).

We know God can accomplish this because He is mighty, wise, and benevolent.

We know he will accomplish this because it's precisely what he did at the cross.

A seemingly insignificant act of human evil, whereby a Jewish peasant died for crimes he didn't commit, became the means by which death was defeated, sin slain, and countless men came to count God as their Heavenly Father.

What man intended for evil, God in His sovereign arrangement and foresight used for ultimate good.

The way God interacts with human evil and suffering is not in stopping every tragedy or wicked act.

Rather, like an artist or a craftsman, He pieces together the good and the bad into a mosaic that will one day reveal His ultimate end: the elimination of all evil and suffering through the victorious return of Jesus to the earth.

Where there is smoke there is fire. Evil and suffering are the smoke alerting us to a world on fire with sin and leaving us asking for a solution.

An old rugged cross and an empty tomb are God's answer.

God meets us at the ledge with nails marks in his hands and feet telling us he died so we don't have to.

God meets us at the ledge in the shadow of a cross victorious over the lies that make men throw themselves off 49-story buildings.

God meets us at the ledge with a promise of a future glory so weighty it makes our worst problems seem light and momentary.

While the Bible itself agrees, "yet at present we do not see everything subject to him", it reminds "we see crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone" (Heb. 2:8-9).

God was with that man on the ledge.

And while he still chose to jump, the cross is my assurance his death will not have the final word but that of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why I am Not Praying for My Future Wife.

Most of us struggle with praying for the people we do know, much less people we do not!

However, years ago, a friend wrote a heartfelt letter detailing his petitions before God on behalf of his future wife--who he had yet to even meet.

Now, I will admit it: I am a cynic.

And I read his letter with a cynic's eye.

Yet, cynical as I am, I had nothing but positive regard for the thought behind his gesture.

Praying God would prepare his heart and the heart of his future wife struck me as a pious and worthwhile.

Indeed, if you listen to Contemporary Christian Music, songs like Rebecca St. James's "Wait for Me", as well as Praying for You" by Mandisa illustrate an evangelical trend of actively praying for a marriage relationship not even on the horizon.

I find this a well-intentioned way of reminding ourselves that prayer must form the locus of the Christian life.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray "thy [God's] will be done", so to pray God's will be done in the life of an unknown mate is commendable in my eyes.

So, let me explain why I am not praying for my future wife.

I think I did once or twice, but the bar was pretty low, like "Lord, can you make sure she exists. please?" and "I hope you didn't go to the wrong address!"

But, seriously, while I tend to think positively about prayers for a future Mr. or Mrs. Right, it is not something I can do.

And it is not that I do not want to get married.

I challenge you to find another 21 year old male who wants to get married and have 19 kids (no joke) like I do.

Indeed, the intensity of this possible future generated persistent feelings of "missing out" as childhood friends began marrying and starting their own families.

However, my life was altered upon being given godly counsel to think about my life and the ways I was serving God at the time and ask how that would change with the responsibilities of a marriage relationship.

Beginning to read 1 Corinthians 7 deeply with fresh eyes to see, something stirred in my heart and I had to face the possibility that I would prefer to serve the Lord as a single man.

Phrases like "free from concern", "concerned about the Lord’s affairs", "devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit", and "undivided devotion to the Lord" (vv. 32-35) in describing the single Christian had such a ring of truth and appealed to me on a deep spiritual level.

Would the singleness last for a few years, decades, or for life?

I did not know.

All I knew was that dividing my time, decisions, finances, and thoughts between God and another person in a marriage relationship was a thought that made me unhappy.

Again, it is not a matter of not wanting to be married, just that the idea of giving my "best years" to anyone but God has changed how I view the options before me.

(Also, as an aside, imagine me trying to explain this to a group of teen guys, which I did, who looked at me like I confessed to plucking the wings off butterflies and enjoying it.)

I am not praying for my future wife because I want to keep my heart open to the possibility there will not be a future wife.

And even if marriage is to come, I want to serve God now with a heart undivided, not waiting or anticipating a possible future relationship state, but using my singleness as way to bring God glory and to testify to the all-sufficiency of Christ.

If anyone takes this post as "anti-marriage" or even anti-praying-for-your-future-spouse, they are crazy.

The same Paul who wrote 1 Corinthians 7 also wrote Ephesians 5.

Jesus was single, but he affirmed the sacred, divine origin of the marriage bond.

Some of the godliest and most inspiring believers I know are modern-day Priscillas and Aquillas who have mentored and supported me.

I thank God for them.

At the same time, I believe God is still calling folks like the Apostle Paul and others who, as the Lord Jesus said and did, will "make themselves Eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of God".

Wrestling with the conviction that such a person is me, I have tabled preparation for a future relationship in favor of meeting God where I am and asking Him to use me as I am, no strings attached, for however long my present state brings Him glory.