Clean hearts or clean hands?

We bought a house back in February. It's a cute little place that suites our family well. It's in an older neighborhood with big trees and each modest little home looks different from it's neighbor. Some are kept, some are not. Ours currently might be considered to be a part of the 'unkept' category. At least on the outside. Weeds are overtaking our yard, the driveway is shot, and big mature trees are in need of some major trimming. But those things are going to have to wait because we're still working on the inside and I'd pick fresh paint colors and pictures hung, over the front yard being immaculately landscaped any day. So the weeds will have to wait.

I care more about the inside of our home than the outside because the inside is where life happens.

The inside is where people grow.

And learn.
And struggle.
And love.
And belong.
And fight.
And forgive.

The outside matters, a little. If the landscaping of my house is SO overgrown that no one can see my front door then that's kind of a problem. And maybe even a distraction. Who will want to come in if they have to wade through a jungle to get there? Only a few may be brave enough to attempt that. The people who REALLY love me. The people who KNOW me. The people who know that once they make it inside they'll find safety and a place where they'll feel at home.

But most of us know the INSIDE matters more. And sometimes we're too busy tending to the outside that we neglect the inside and it gets ugly. It gets selfish, and prideful, and bitter. I struggle with the outside stuff a lot. I struggle with wanting new clothes that make me feel good about myself, and having a nice car that's not dented (because ours is), and making sure my family looks "put together" when we are out in public. But what does all that matter if my heart looks like a dirty, empty, discarded coffee cup? Jesus says it so well in Matthew 23...

"What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy - full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too." 

We live in a world that values the outside over the inside. A world that values success over integrity and looks over character. But there's always a choice. We always have a choice.

May we clean our hearts before we clean our hands. And may God pour out His grace on us when we don't. 

Thoughts on the Gay Community // Part II

If you didn't read part one of this two-part series I'd highly recommend it. But I guess I'm a little bias. 

I shared the story about my friend because I think in a lot of ways the Christian church owes the gay community an apology. We've made some big mistakes and we continue to do so. I believe a lot of people who are either openly gay or who are struggling with it, are falling through the cracks of our Churches (or they simply refuse to step foot inside) because we just don't know how to care for them. Or, although we might be too afraid to actually admit this, we just don't want to. And this breaks my heart.

I'd like to share a few things but I should first tell you that I am NOT an expert in this arena. I'm sure you weren't assuming that but a little clarification is always helpful. I have much to learn and am in the process of doing that. Andrew Marin, founder of The Marin Foundation, has made great strides over the years when it comes to bridging the gap between the Church and the LGBT communities. I'm currently reading his book called Love Is An Orientation. If you want to learn more on this conversation Andrew's book is a great place to start.

How the Church has harmed the LGBT community //
  • Often we throw the 'sinner' out with the 'sin'. Of course, we're all sinners but aren't there some sins that make us more uncomfortable than others? Some we can't seem to take our eyes off of, while others we can't stand to look at. I think it's possible that some Christians won't engage in a conversation with a gay person because it makes them uncomfortable. They can't get past the sin to see the person. A person with a heart, and a soul, and who is loved deeply by the same God that loves them. 
  • We want them to 'fix' themselves before they come to church. We say things like "You have to stop being gay before you can be a Christian." Expecting people to clean themselves up before they can 'belong' with us has never worked and it never will. One of my favorite authors, Jen Hatmaker, often talks about how we expect people to behave and believe before they can feel like they belong with us. But Jesus just says, "Come. Bring your mess to me and put it at my feet." (My paraphrase, of course). If people feel like they belong WITH us, no matter what, then the behaving and believing will naturally follow.
  • We care more about their sexuality than we do about their spirituality. I realize there is some overlap here but I wanted to emphasize that we do a lot of damage when we choose to address the sin in a person's life before we even get to know them, before we listen, and before we seek to understand. If our first priority is to point out the sin, our chances of developing an authentic relationship with someone is slim. And that's the Holy Spirit's job anyway, isn't it?
What needs to change // In my opinion it's our approach. And maybe even our hearts.

  • Firstly, I think we need to admit that we don't get it. Because it's the truth. If same-sex attraction isn't something you struggle with, then you don't. And there's certainly no hope in helping if you don't first seek to understand. 
  • It's complex. There's no easy answer. For many people it can take years of counseling to sort out and process issues related to sexuality. If we love our gay friends then they need to know that we're in it for the long haul. That we'll support them and love them no matter what. 
  • It's not about our agenda. And it's not about US and THEM. The Church is not an exclusive team only for those who think the same way we do. And believe me, I'm not preaching "tolerance" here, just GRACE. Grace for those who are struggling with issues that require more attention then just "Jesus loves you". 
Finally, just to be clear, I'm primarily talking about those who have no interest in God or who are actively investigating faith and God. Gay & Christian is a separate conversation.  

So how does your church community do at loving the gay community? Anything you would add to this conversation?

Would love to hear your thoughts. 

Thoughts On the Gay Community // Part 1 {A Story}

I orgininally published this post a little over two years ago. With all that's happened in the last few weeks with the SCOTUS ruling, it seemed appropriate to "re-share". I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I'd like to tell you a story.

It's a story about a friend.

About five years ago a friend of mine went on a road trip. A really cool road trip. Twelve people packed into a van and they traveled around the country for ten days partaking in all kinds of crazy. And you want to know the MOST crazy part? Greg, the leader and the driver, was the only person on the trip who knew where the group was going and what they would
be doing when they got there. The other eleven passengers... totally clueless. Some of you want to go on the trip RIGHT NOW and some you, well you want to throw up. It's not for everyone :)

My friend got to experience all kinds of amazing things on this trip. Rock climbing over Lake Superior in Minnesota, driving real Army tanks, touring salt mines 600 feet under ground in the middle-of-no-where Kansas, learning how to rope and tie cattle, and so much more, but if I keep going you're just gonna wanna leave your house right now and GO. To say the least, it's all pretty incredible. And although the participants of this trip, which I forgot to mention, is called Road Rulz, get to experience and DO many amazing things, it's also a trip about learning. Learning about yourself, God, and the people around you. Many situations are created to illicit a response. The way we respond to certain things often reveals what's really in our hearts. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not so good.

So on one day of the trip the group stopped at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota. If you've ever been then you know this mall is crazy huge and you could literally shop till you drop. But the group wasn't there to shop. Greg, the leader, had a challenge.

The group was to break into pairs. Greg then pulled each team aside and gave them an envelope with a certain amount of cash in it. Not every team received the same amount of cash. Some received more, some received less. The teams were not allowed to disclose how much money they received. The challenge was to go into the mall and come up with the most creative thing to do with the money you were given. They had two hours to complete the challenge and then everyone would come back together as a group, share their stories, and vote for a winner.

So back to my friend... She partnered up with Greg S (not Greg, the leader). They entered the mall and started walking around brainstorming ideas of what do with their money. They had received $100. As to not make the story longer than it already is, I'll just hit the main points. Greg S. and my friend tried to give the money to a couple of men who looked like they might be 'down on their luck'. The two men politely declined.

They kept walking. And kept looking. My friend said she noticed a couple holding hands, walking into a shoe store. Both were girls, both were young. She knew this was it. Those were the people they were supposed to give the money to. See, my friend has a knack for giving so it never really occurred to her that they could actually do something 'creative' with it, like they were challenged to do. In her mind the only option was to give it away.

In the most non-creepy way possible, Greg S and my friend followed the two girls into the shoe store. She approached the girls and introduced herself. She explained that they were on a unique trip and that they were given a challenge to complete.

My friend asked the two girls if they were in a relationship and they replied yes, they were. And then it got real.

My friend looked the girls in the eyes and said,

"We want to bless you with this $100 today and say that we are really sorry for any pain you've been caused by the Christian church because of your relationship. See, we're Christians too but we try really hard not to be like that."

By the time my friend was done talking, there were tears streaming down the face of one of the girls. They were speechless. Probably even confused. And they were grateful.

Greg S. and my friend hug the girls and left the store. They never saw them again.

Now go read Part 2...