Your Gay Neighbor is Closer than You Think

Written By Gregory Coles, USA

The year is 2002, and I’m in middle school. The girls seem freakishly tall and wear a lot of eyeshadow. The boys are mostly obsessed with video games.

In youth group, they split us up sometimes. The eyeshadow-wearing girls go off into one room, and the video-game-playing boys go off into another. I’m never quite sure what the girls are hearing in these sessions. (Although one time, when we reconvened at the end of the night, they were all carrying white roses.) Most of the time, the boys hear some variation of the following:

“You want to look at naked women and have sex with them. Don’t do it. God loves you, and He designed you to want to look at a naked woman and have sex with her, but you’ve got to wait until marriage.”

I have no desire to look at naked women. I pretend I do, just to fit in. I nod my head at all the correct moments and look appropriately penitent. But the truth—the truth I don’t even have words for yet—is that I want to look at naked men instead. Maybe I’m in the wrong room. Maybe I’m in the wrong building.

I’m gay, and I’m terrified.

A lot of things will happen in the 15 years between 2002 and 2017. I’m going to do a lot of praying that God makes me straight. (And God, in His love, will do a lot of saying “no.”) I’m going to try (and going to fail) at dating one of my closest female friends. I’m going to revisit the Bible, asking God if He’ll allow me to interpret it in such a way that I can pursue a monogamous relationship with another guy. (And God, in His love, will keep on saying “no.”)

I’m going to decide to be celibate. I’m going to discover what a heartbreaking and beautiful thing it is to love a 2000-year-old Jewish guy who also happens to be the Savior of the world.

I’m going to start telling people my story. I’m going to learn that being loved and being honest don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I’m going to be okay.

But there are so many people—so many living, breathing, bleeding LGBTQ people like me—who won’t be okay.

There are people who will be kicked out of their families, people who will be homeless, people who will be driven to suicide. There are people who will be told by their churches that simply experiencing attraction for the same sex—simply “being gay” apart from any decision or sexual action—is a ticket straight to hell. There are people who will be told that Jesus only receives the righteous, the cleaned-up-and-polished, that they must conform before they can belong.

In 2002, I don’t know which of those stories will be mine. I don’t know if my sexuality or my theology will change. I don’t know how my family and my church community will respond to me.

With every beat of my 12-year-old heart, I wish I could be sure that when Christians talked about loving their neighbors, they were including me. No matter what.

I wish that people who shared pews with me in church talked about gay people the way they talked about diplomats and florists and concierges, as if we were just people. I wish they didn’t see us as the enemy camp of a protracted culture war. I wish they were more interested in my pursuit of Jesus than in who I was tempted to have sex with.

I wish that Christians saw gay people not following Jesus and straight people not following Jesus as all equally in need of Jesus. I wish we spent more time talking about the gospel and less time talking about what the gospel would mean for certain people’s sex lives.

I wish that when the boys and girls split up in youth group, someone had said, “Maybe the people you’re attracted to are other guys. That can happen too. There’s still a way for you to follow Jesus, and it’s still absolutely worth it.”

I wish you could see me—all of me. I wish you knew that the fears I face, the temptations I battle, and the future hope I cling to might look different from yours. I wish you could see our differences without seeing me any differently.

I wish I weren’t so afraid for you to see me.

Your gay neighbor is closer than you think. He’s the shy seventh grader in your youth group, the one who’s terrible at video games and nods silently through every sex talk. She’s the college student who throws herself into Bible studies and talks about Jesus with a glint of desperation in her eyes. We’re not special cases. We’re not the rejects God has given up on. We’re just ordinary people, in need of the same ordinary, extraordinary grace as everyone else.

I’m your gay neighbor, and I’ll be leading worship from the piano this Sunday. Will you love me enough to chase Jesus with me?

 

This article was originally published on Off The Page. Republished with permission. 

Don’t Give Up On Making Resolutions, Here’s 5 Tips

Making New Year’s resolutions is one of my favorite traditions of the holiday season. “What’s your New Year’s resolution?” is an unavoidable question asked of friends, family, and coworkers alike this time of year.

Interestingly enough, setting New Year’s resolutions is a rather old practice. Ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and even medieval knights used to participate in practices not entirely unlike the ones we have today. In fact, the most recent form of New Year’s resolutions that parallel our modern practices came from the Christian Methodists. John Wesley held watch-night services in which his congregation would pray and make promises to God on the eve or first day of the New Year.

Personally, I love the whole idea of setting resolutions and creating grand, overarching goals that span the course of an entire year. They can be a wonderful way to stretch yourself and grow towards becoming a better you. In the past, I saw resolutions as cheesy. I even thought of them like I think of an old person’s dentures—useful for some people, just not for me. To me, resolutions were goals (often irritating ones) that either left people dissatisfied, unsatisfied, or entirely aggravated with failed performance.

As I got older, though, I began to see the benefit of setting these large-scale objectives. For instance, I have adopted the practice of making lists and have become more organized all because of a resolution a couple of years ago. Ever since, I have been trying to set other beneficial resolutions that could help me in my life’s journey.

But what kinds of resolutions are beneficial? Of course, there are the classic ones that come up every year. Pew Research resolution data revealed that top resolutions were to “spend less money or save more,” “be a better person,” and, to no surprise, “exercise more”, each boasting 12 percent of respondents. Other common resolutions are typically improving career positions, taking certain trips, meeting new people, and becoming more spiritually inclined.

While I’m a big fan of these generic goals, I’ve usually made my resolutions quirky goals dealing with specific undertakings. One year, for instance, I made my resolution based entirely on clichés such as Dr. Seuss’ “The more that you read, the more you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” That year, I greatly increased my reading amount and was even able to breeze through 10 leisure books in my summer alone.

But whether you like your resolutions common or quirky, here are some points I’ve found to be very helpful in meeting resolutions with success:

 

1. Make Smart Resolutions

One helpful pointer is using the concept of “SMART” goals. This clever acronym suggests goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. When resolutions are “SMART”, there is a greater likelihood that they will be accomplished since the added qualifications help keep one grounded in reality. Take the common resolution to “work out more,” for instance. As is, the resolution is vague and offers no direction. A “SMART” version of it would be to “lift weights for an hour four days a week throughout the year.” This would help one stay focused and ultimately, have a better chance for success.

 

2. Categorize Your Resolutions

Breaking down resolutions into different life categories has also helped me greatly. For instance, since I love the outdoors, I make a separate list of goals featuring places I want to hike, amount of times I’d like to camp, and different backcountry sports I want to try for the upcoming year. This separate list forms my outdoor resolution. I also have one for books I hope to read and articles I hope to write and other miscellaneous goals as well. I’ve found it helpful to simplify my aspirations into bite-sized chunks.

 

3. Write Them Down

Another tool that I’ve found useful is actually writing down resolutions (or typing them). I think there is something special about actually codifying one’s resolutions onto a formal document in a way of proclaiming “this is serious” to yourself and to the world. It adds another level of accountability. Last year, I took this a step further and began writing how I performed next to my resolution for the previous year. It has helped me stay in line throughout the year knowing that I will have to come back at the year’s end to see how I stacked up.

 

4. Get A Resolution Buddy

Grab a close relative or friend and share resolutions with one another along with a promise to hold each other accountable. I’m actually going to be implementing an accountability partner for the first time this year since I think I probably would have been better off with 2017’s resolutions if I had one. Accountability partners force us to produce results and, additionally, force us to focus on the success of someone other than ourselves, which produces humility, which helps us concentrate on the more important things in life.

 

5. Commit Them To The Lord

The final tip for fulfilling a resolution—and it happens to be the most important tip—is to connect to the very roots of this whole tradition. We would be better off bringing our resolutions before God and asking for His strength as we embark on a new journey towards new destinations in a new year. We can promise our friends, our coworkers, even ourselves that we resolve to do these new things. But let us not forget to take a moment and make our promises to God that we will faithfully strive to achieve what He sets before us.

 

Believe Success Is Possible!

Many people think there is no point to making resolutions because, in the end, they are going to fail anyway. I want to encourage you to keep your head up. Even if you’ve failed at resolutions in the past, the beauty of this tradition is that each year brings new chances for success! The past is the past and it does not have to dictate how you will perform in the New Year. Start with a fresh mindset, one that assumes success is around the corner, and you will be more likely to achieve it.

And also, don’t think failure indicates the end of the road. Failure often helps motivate you to discover more effective ways of achieving your goals. Resolutions are not a place to arrive at–they are a continual journey of progress. No one will ever be perfectly fit, perfectly manage money, or do anything else perfectly. Perfection doesn’t exist! It’s about the growth through the process. One year, part of my resolution dealt with punctuality and time management. Did I achieve it perfectly? Nope. And that’s okay because I have become more punctual nonetheless and have continued to strive to become more punctual still. The journey has been beneficial and continues to challenge me today and that has made all the difference.

As this section of life winds down and we approach the next segment, I hope you take time to reflect on the past year and consider all that has happened, both the good and bad, the ups and the downs. I also hope you decide to join in on a millennium-old tradition and form resolutions for the upcoming year.

Whether they are resolutions for fitness, or finances, or friendships, I hope you will see these unique goals as a beneficial means by which we can be challenged to grow in exciting new ways.

Hang On, Should Christians be Celebrating Christmas?

Written By Deborah Fox, Australia

I don’t know about you, but when it gets this close to Christmas, I often look at the tinsel, the sparkling lights, and the crowded stores and wonder if I should be engaging in all the hype. As followers of Christ, should we be making a stand against the commercialization and gluttony associated with our modern-day Christmas festivities?

An experience several years ago made me consider this question seriously.

Then, I was so engrossed in my book to notice two sets of inquisitive eyes staring at me, deeply concerned. I was at the hospital awaiting test results and not at all expecting to engage in a deep theological conversation.

The book I was reading was by John Piper, with the provocative title Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. The book was not meant to encourage debauchery or sinful thoughts. It was actually a reprint of Piper’s bestseller Desiring God, which highlighted that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”.

The two women sitting opposite me opened up about their faith and we chatted extensively on the dangers of pursuing our own desires and neglecting to do what pleases God. Our discussion quickly turned to the celebration of birthdays, Christmas, and Easter. They had an issue with how easily religious holidays lose their original meaning.

While I was able to agree with their reflections on how self-centered and materialistic these holidays can become, one of their main issues with celebrating Christmas was not so much the excessive food and presents, but the object of the celebration.

I soon discovered that the women were from a Christian sect that rejects the immortality of the soul and the Trinity of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While they believed in the authority of the Bible and the saving work of Jesus on the cross, they did not recognize Jesus in the Godhead. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was a special man, but not God incarnate. So they asked me: Why would you celebrate the birth of a man who lived and died over 2000 years ago?

Interestingly, their response helped me see exactly what was so special about Christmas to us as believers. We don’t just celebrate the birth of a mere man, we celebrate the fact that He, like no other man, would live, die a physical death, and eventually conquer death. Isn’t that worth celebrating?

Speaking of celebrating, Jesus Himself participated in Jewish festivals and parties. His first public miracle was at a wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-12). Jesus also visited Matthew’s dinner party, where sinners came to Him and had their lives transformed (Matthew 5:27-32). And in Revelation 19:6-9, we get an image of the great marriage supper of the Lamb, where the entire Kingdom of God is invited to participate in the festivities, joyfully worshipping the Lord forever. If Jesus was able to enjoy celebrations with His friends and family, how much more should we take joy and delight in celebrating the great gift He is to us?

So, should Christians celebrate Christmas? It appears we can, as long as we are pointing to the object of our faith: Christ. I’ve been challenged this Christmas season to take a step back and consider whether I have been treasuring Christ? Am I placing Jesus at the center of my affections? I have had to consider ways that I can actively celebrate Emmanuel—God with us. I need to be sharing my faith and Christmas is an ideal time for starting discussions about why Jesus is the greatest gift we can ever receive.

This year, I have decided to invite friends to join me for the Christmas Eve service at my church. I also plan to use conversations over Christmas dinner to share the great hope and joy I have in Christ. There are also various outreach programs that I can join in to help share the hope we have in the birth of our Savior.

If “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”, then we should be displaying our great joy in the Lord to those around us.  We can celebrate Christmas by celebrating Christ.

How to Disagree on Facebook

Written by Jasmin Patterson, USA

During college, I helped lead our campus ministry. One time, I got into an argument with one of my co-leaders. Somehow I ended up losing my cool and yelling at her. All the while, other team members and students were in the room watching. (Yeah, bad move. I know. I apologized and we worked it out. We’re still friends to this day.)

I wonder what the other students must have thought. They probably felt incredibly awkward, having to watch two people argue in public. What must they have been thinking? And what kind of example were we setting for them?

I think about the same thing when I watch how Christians conduct themselves online sometimes.

In our culture saturated by social media, we’re losing the ability to disagree with civility. We’re losing the ability to respectfully tolerate each other’s differing opinions. Much of our society seems to think that we can’t disagree with someone without using our words and attitude to attack them. As followers of Jesus, though, we can’t fall into that trap.

Social media is an incredible tool and platform for connection that I am grateful for. You probably are too. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter help me stay connected with friends, bands I like, and content that builds me up in my faith. With our use of these platforms, however, comes a responsibility to make sure the way we participate in them honors people and represents Jesus well.

On social media, a public argument between ministry leaders might be watched by more than just a few bystanders. We might be setting an example for the entire world to see, and what conclusions would they draw about us or our Savior? The stakes are pretty high.

How can we keep our Christian character and witness as we engage online, especially when we disagree? Here are some rules of engagement that might help:

 

1. Value the person you’re speaking to.

Every person we speak to and about is a person who is created by God in His likeness, who is loved by God, and who is valued so much by God that He sent His Son to die for them, to restore their relationship with Him.

“For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

When we speak with others online, do we value them the same way God does? How would God feel if He saw the way we interact with another of His beloved children? (And He does see.)

Sometimes, being behind a keyboard gives us boldness to say things we wouldn’t say to someone in person. Before we post, we can ask ourselves whether we would speak to the person this way if we were face-to-face with him or her. Would we call them names? Would we belittle their point of view? Would our tone be snarky and condescending?

Remember this: the way we treat other people is an expression of our love for God, and God can reveal His love to people through the way we treat them. Interacting well with others online can be an act of worship to God, as well as a powerful witness to other people.

 

2. Listen first, then speak.

I’ve noticed this, and maybe you have too. Whenever people have different life experiences or perspectives from others, they often start the conversation by defending their own viewpoint. They may even discredit the opinions and experiences of the other person before they’ve even heard them out.

We see this again and again when people talk about race issues, politics, theology, etc. The list goes on and on.

Scripture calls Christ-followers to a radically different approach.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Listen first, then speak. Hear people out. Assume the best about them. Listen to learn and understand, not just to respond. Listen without interrupting them.

In our culture, we tend to decide that the person we’re talking to has nothing valuable to contribute even before we’ve heard their case. To be so eager to make our point that we don’t care about theirs. To subconsciously think that what we have to say is more important than what they have to say. But let’s not live by the standards of our culture—let’s live by the standards of the Bible.

When I comment online, I like to address people by their name when I write back to them. I also like to start by affirming something they said that I agree with or challenged me to think, even if I express disagreement later in the comment. Being personal and starting with affirmation demonstrates kindness, humility, and that we actually read and valued their comment.

We can avoid so much anger in our culture, in our conversations, and on social media if we just learn to be “quick to listen, slow to speak.” I believe God can use us to bring healing and peace to challenging, divisive conversations if we learn to humble ourselves, respect our neighbors, listen first and speak second.

 

3. Build up, don’t tear down

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Before we post that comment, tweet, or status, we can ask ourselves: Is what I’m about to say helpful for building others up according to their needs? Am I saying it in a way that will benefit those who read it? Do these qualities characterize my words even when I’m expressing disagreement?

I’ve received some snarky comments on blog posts I’ve written and something I’ve learned is to speak grace instead of fueling the fire of anger and antagonism. When someone comments with sarcasm or anger, either ignore it if the conversation would be unhelpful, or respond in the opposite spirit with kindness. If we stop putting wood on a fire, it won’t continue to burn.

Along with that, know when to bow out gracefully. Sometimes our conversations on social platforms reach their limits to be healthy and helpful in that context. In that case, we should probably move those conversations to more personal channels, like a private message or face-to-face dialogue, or respectfully walk away from them altogether.

It’s possible to engage on social media, have meaningful conversations, and keep our Christian character and witness intact while we do it. How does this sound: let’s set an example for others by the way we engage online. I’m in. How about you?