from the breach

Isaiah 58:12

a thorn by any other name… — June 1, 2015

a thorn by any other name…

I am a planner. To be honest, I am a tad bit OCD when it comes to planning. Just ask my friends. A few years ago there was a group of us that decided to go on a cruise together. You can’t just go on a cruise. This sort of thing requires LOTS of planning. I accepted the challenge and appointed myself as the official planner and travel agent for our trip. I researched the different cruise lines, read up on all the current passport requirements, looked up numerous locations and eventually booked the trip. I created a personal travel folder for each one of my friends. This folder contained EVERYTHING they would need for a successful vacation. There were maps, tickets, reading materials, schedules, and so much more! I was very proud of myself. We had an incredible time, but they all still tease me about the folders to this day. They also call me when they need to plan a trip.

My obsession with planning ahead started when I was a kid. I think it was my attempt to control the chaos going on in my head. I knew precisely how I wanted my life to play out. After graduating from high school, I would move away and attend an acting school. I had my mind set on London or New York. I would meet the woman of my dreams and blah, blah, blah. It all ends with me being famous and having tons of kids. Now that I am writing this, I think that perhaps Brad Pitt stole the life that I had planned for myself.

The unfortunate thing about plans is that you can never predict the problems. They just show up in the travel folder, and you are left to “re-route” the adventure. I had a couple of BIG problems in my travel folder:

Problem #1- Right after graduating high school I gave my life to God. Let me just clarify that I am not calling God a problem. He just seemed to have very different plans for me. Instead of attending acting school in London I was headed to Bible college in Missouri. Bible college does not typically lend itself to producing famous actors. I was okay with that though. My priorities changed along with my heart, and I did not care about being famous anymore. Problem #1 solved.

Problem #2- I was in NO WAY attracted to women (not even Angelina Jolie), so the “woman of my dreams” thing seemed a bit far-fetched. That also put a kink into the “tons of kids” part of the plan. This problem would take a little more time and effort to solve.

For the most part, I was typically very guarded about who I talked to about Problem #2. I would always feel things out a bit before broaching the topic. You would think that Bible college would be a safe place to talk about struggles and temptations. Surely people studying for ministry would be understanding and compassionate. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I heard more gay jokes my first semester of Bible college than I heard in 4 years of high school. Bible college was not going to be my safe place. Okay… maybe Problem #2 required professional help.

Most colleges and universities have a counselor or Psychologist on staff. My school was no exception. I made an appointment with the Resident Psychologist and just knew that I was finally going to rid myself of these horrible thoughts that were messing up my plan. He was very compassionate, and I could tell that this was not his first encounter with a real live gay person. He told me about this amazing group at a local church that was made for people like me. I cannot express the level of relief I felt to know that I was not alone in dealing with this. He set up a private meeting for me to speak with the man who led this ‘miracle’ group. A man that had been healed from homosexuality. I was pumped! Future wife, here I come.

I met this man and his wife at a restaurant. The fact that he was married was a good sign. Maybe I could solve Problem #2 before my sophomore year. They asked me to share my story, and they shared theirs as well. My hope quickly fizzled as I listened to them talk about their marriage. We clearly had a different understanding of the word “healed.” For me, healed meant no longer being attracted to men. For them, healed meant no longer acting upon those feelings. I was not acting upon my feelings now,  how in the world was this healing? They went on to talk about the daily struggles and all the pain in their lives. They referred to this problem as their “thorn in the flesh.”

“Thorn in the flesh” was a reference to 2 Corinthians 12:6-8. In this verse, Paul talks about a messenger of Satan that is sent to torment him to keep him humble. Basically, it is something that Paul will deal with until his dying breath. Paul pleads with God to remove this thorn but to no avail. God responds with, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). No one knows what Paul’s thorn was. It may have been a physical ailment, such as problems with his sight or an emotional issue like depression.

I left that dinner defeated. I left angry. I would not live my life pretending that everything was okay, praying every day for God to help me feel attracted to my wife. I could not accept this “thorn.” I pleaded with God just as Paul had done so many years ago, “Give me another thorn God. Any thorn but this one!”

I was not meant to live my life alone. The thought of never having a family was like a knife in my chest. I knew in my head that God’s grace was sufficient, but my heart was shattered. Regardless, I was determined to overcome this. I would do whatever I needed to do to live victoriously.

I attended the ex-gay group. I honestly do not remember what group it was. Something along the lines of Exodus or Homosexuals Anonymous. It was nice to meet other people who were going through the same thing as I was, but it was not the group for me. It only took me a few meetings to discover that this group was more of an awkward, gay, speed-dating venue than a ministry.

The whole “ex-gay” thing always puzzled me anyway. Whose idea was it to take a bunch of sexually frustrated gay men and lock them in a room together? “There. That ought to fix them.” This may work for others, but it was not the answer for me.

I decided that I would just pray my way straight. I would just continue to beg God for healing. I would be as relentless as toddler in a grocery store begging for a treat. Eventually, God would get sick of my incessant whining and just give in. So I prayed. If there was an altar call after church, I was the first one there. If there was a prayer group formed in my dorm, I joined. After many years, I discovered that God is much more tenacious than the frustrated parent in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. He was not giving in. Not even a little bit.

I never got the answer that Paul did when he pleaded with God. Either God could not heal me or He was simply choosing not to. What if God was not changing my orientation because to do so would be admitting that He made a mistake? What if He made me this way? What if this “thorn” isn’t a thorn after all?

I had so many questions, and it would be many years before I would start getting any answers. Too bad I did not get things all figured out in Bible college. It sure would have saved me years of heartache. I am sure that God had His reasons for making me wait. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD” (Isaiah 55: 8, ESV).

Sometimes God’s definition of healing is vastly different than ours. Sometimes He answers our prayers, and we are just too stubborn to see it. Sometimes that “thorn” starts to bud and ends up being a rose.

The plan I had for my life turned out different than I expected. It’s amazing the things you can learn and experience when you let go of all the planning and let God control the journey. We just need to hand the planning folder over to Him and trust that He knows best. It’s alright to ask questions along the way, just make sure that you are listening for the answers.

I am still far from being a famous actor, and I don’t have the wife of my dreams. I ended up with something even better… but that’s a story for another day.

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Love the sinner. Hate Steve. — May 16, 2015

Love the sinner. Hate Steve.

There are a few things in my world that I can always count on:

  1. Stray animals will miraculously find their way to my house.
  2. I will forget something important every time I travel.
  3. My favorite football team will find a way to disappoint me every season.
  4. My computer will automatically restart right in the middle of an important project.
  5. I will see one of the following comments in an article or post at least once a week:
    1. “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.”
    2. “God made Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Steve.”

I am a pretty laid back guy. There are not many things that upset me. For some reason, those two comments push me over the edge – not because they convict me or cause me to question my beliefs. Those comments bother me because I know the hurt and alienation that many people feel when reading them.

I get that most people have the best of intentions when penning these amusing little phrases. I also understand that everyone has a right to their beliefs. I just wonder if there is a more constructive and gracious way to make the same point – a way that does not devalue the humanity of those on the other side of the debate.

“Love the sinner. Hate the sin.”

It sounds very Jesus-like, perhaps something that might be highlighted with red lettering in particular versions of the Bible.

I have been on the receiving end of this comment more times than I care to remember. My first thought is always “Aren’t we all sinners?” When someone says, “Love the sinner” it seems to imply that they have somehow conquered sin and now stand blameless before me. I should feel honored that they are offering  “love” to a wretch like me. Jesus conquered sin, but I am pretty confident that it is a daily battle for the rest of us.

I recently finished reading the book, Torn, by Justin Lee. I cannot say enough great things about this book. I wish I could have found a book like this 20 years ago. All in God’s timing I guess.

I had numerous “Aha!” moments while reading Torn. It’s one of those books that you have to step away from every once in awhile so you can process what you just read. One such moment was after reading what Justin had to say about this very subject:

“It doesn’t feel very generous when someone is saying it (Love the sinner. Hate the Sin.) about you.   Yes, I know I’m a sinner, as we all are, but something about the phrase feels condescending and dehumanizing, as if I’m now ‘the sinner’ rather than the person’s friend or neighbor, and ‘loving’ me has become the new project they’ve taken on out of obligation to God rather than a genuine interest in my well-being.”

Christian author Tony Campolo sums it up best, “Love the sinner and hate your own sin. And when you correct the sin in your own life, then you can start hating the sin of your neighbor.”

“God made Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Steve.”

Poor Steve. Steve has unknowingly become the poster child for the Bible’s views on homosexuality. People HATE Steve. Apparently, God hates Steve as well. I always get the same picture in my head when I hear or read the Adam and Steve statement:

It’s a beautiful sunny day in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are sharing an apple while lounging under a fig tree. A few yards away we see Steve sitting alone. Then God walks into the picture. He passes right by Steve and joins Adam and Eve. Adam asks God, “Who is the weird stalker guy sitting over there by himself?” God replies, “I don’t know, I didn’t make him.”

It’s silly, I know. But once again we have lowered the value of one individual because of his differences. If your point is that you don’t agree with same-sex relationships, why not just say that? Why imply that someone’s very existence is a mistake? I may be wrong, but I doubt this statement has ever changed someone’s opinion on the morality of same-sex relationships.

I wish we could just remove these statements from our list of Cute Christian Sayings. I wish we could replace them with things like, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 12:31) and “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

I have close friends and family on both sides of the Christian/Gay dilemma. We don’t always see eye to eye. I have Christian friends that don’t understand how I can claim to be a follower of Christ and still be gay. I have gay friends that don’t understand how I can follow after a God who “appears” to despise me.

We disagree. We debate. Ultimately, we choose to love each other despite our differences. I respect their opinions, and they respect mine. Will I ever make a difference in their lives? I hope so. I know that they make a difference in mine by just showing me a little mercy and grace.

I have had my share of people who have walked away or “unfriended” me. I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. It’s hard to feel rejected by those who claim to love you unconditionally. I have learned that sometimes they need a little mercy and grace as well. It took me 30 years to come to terms with who I am so maybe I need to cut them a little slack. Hopefully, they will get things figured out quicker than I did.

The sad fact is that people come and go. I had a pastor tell me once to envision my life as an empty cup. It’s my cup, and I get to decide what I fill it with. I can fill it with friends, family, my career, hobbies, etc. However, if I fill my cup with things that are not eternal then what am I left with when those things are gone? My cup is empty.  If I fill my cup with my faith in God, then I will always be full. All those other things in my life become “overflow”. Who doesn’t love a little overflow?

I started this blog with the hope that the breach between these two groups could somehow be repaired. If it can work in my small sphere of influence, why can’t it work on a much larger scale? Thankfully, I know that I am not alone in this endeavor.

Who am I? — May 6, 2015

Who am I?

Why is it that every time I see a post on Facebook labeled What Does Your Name Mean? I feel the need to check it out? I already know what it’s going to say. Why are names so important anyway?

Our names define us. A name sets us apart from the crowd. I AM Travis. You ARE…..

We get called many different names throughout our lifetime. Some are names of affection. Those close to me often call me Trav. Those affectionate nicknames typically signify a bond. Not everyone gets to call me Trav.

Unfortunately, we also get called names that are meant to be hurtful and mean.

I think it was obvious to some in Junior High that I was “different”. Luckily I had a friend who was “different” as well. There was a small group of guys that began calling us Peaches and Cream. I don’t really know if I was Peaches or the equally horrible Cream. To be honest, it makes me laugh when I talk about it now. That was NOT the case back then.

I did not want to be different. I wanted to be like everyone else, and I would have given anything to just disappear in the crowd. That is nearly impossible to do in a small town.

There were worse names that we were called but there is no need to get into all that. You get the point. I let those names crush my spirit. I watched as those names broke my friend’s heart. I heard other people called names different than my own.

“Nerd”

“Loser”

“Slut”

This will not be a post about how horrible my childhood was and how those people ruined my life. They were kids. Kids say mean things. I am still friends with several of those people today. We all grew up and moved past it.

Not everyone can do that. Sometimes those names never go away.

When I started going to church I thought the days of name calling were over. I could finally just be Travis. I was so VERY wrong.

I quickly learned that there were biblical names for people like me. They were names that I had never heard before. I did not fully understand what they meant, but they did not sound promising. The fact that they were generally spoken with a hint of disgust made it very clear: God was not a big fan of Travis.

“Abomination”

“Reprobate”

“Pervert”

There had to be a way to change my name. I did not want God to call me by any of those.

I started asking more questions about those names. The one that really sent me over the edge was abomination. It was explained to me that gay people were an abomination to God- that God would literally vomit at the sight of a gay person. I am not kidding. Someone actually said that to me. I would NEVER tell that person about my struggle.

On a side note, I often referred to my orientation as my ‘struggle’ during that time in my life. I have discovered that others in the same situation used that word to describe their journeys as well.

I would give anything to go back to days of Peaches and Cream. At least back then I had no idea that I made God sick to His stomach. These new names did more than break my spirit. They destroyed me.

Why in the world would I want so desperately to follow after a God who despised me? I just could not accept that He felt that way about me. I read my Bible. I prayed. I gave money to the church. I went to Bible College. I gave food to homeless people. I did all the things I was supposed to do for God to love me. I even dated women. Surely God would love me if I dated women.

I decided to do something revolutionary. I decided to not just blindly believe everything that was spoken from the pulpit. God gave me a brain and this wonderful new tool called the Internet. I had a mission. The first step was to understand this intriguing word “abomination”.

The word “abomination” is found in conjunction with homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22 in the King James Version of the Bible. I quickly learned that this was translated from the Hebrew word to’evah. There is differing opinions among scholars about the true meaning of this word. However, most agree that “abomination” is not an accurate translation. A quick Google search of to’evah will bring up hundreds of articles debating the true meaning of this word.

I attended Bible College, but am by no means an expert on Biblical languages and translations. All I knew was that this word no longer imprisoned me. I no longer envisioned God throwing up in disgust at my very existence. I still had a ton of questions. I am not sure exactly what answers I hoped to find. I think I was simply searching for proof that God loved me.

The truth is that I could not do anything to make God love me. I could not earn God’s love. It was His very nature to love me just because. (1 john 4: 7-21)

God does have names for me. Thankfully they fall into the affectionate category. He calls me His child (John 1:12). He calls me friend (John 15:15). He calls me forgiven (Ephesians 1:7). He calls me Trav.

What is your name? I may not know it. But trust me on this… God does.

Oil and Water — April 29, 2015

Oil and Water

“And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.” Isaiah 58:12 ESV

This verse has captivated and confused me for about 20 years now. Captivated me because it quite literally kept me from swallowing an entire bottle of pain pills. Since that Wednesday night in 1996, I have spent countless sleepless nights trying to figure out what it means. That’s where the confusion kicks in.

There are so many promises in the Bible that God could have used to get me through that night. Promises that would have made a lot more sense in that moment:

“Cast all your cares on Him” 1 Peter 5:7

“Do not fear for I am with you” Isaiah 41:10

“The LORD is my refuge” Psalm 91:2

I could fill numerous pages with similar promises, but it’s this verse about foundations and repairing the breach that gave me the strength to leave the pills in the cabinet. Was God telling me that His divine plan for my life was to work on a road construction crew? I truly appreciate the work that those men and women did… but seriously God? It had to have some deeper meaning……

Right?

Two decades have passed and I am still pondering this verse. That is the purpose of this blog. It is my attempt to work through these things that God has laid on my heart. Over the past couple of months I keep hearing how important it is to share our stories. This is mine. From the breach.

Those who know me best know the struggles that led me to believe that all hope was gone. It was basically a debate over oil and water. Everyone has heard the saying that ‘oil and water don’t mix’. I was having my own oil and water problem.

There were two undeniable truths in my life at that time…

  1. I was a committed follower of Christ. I loved God with all my heart, soul and mind. I had given my life to Jesus right out of high school. Within a few months I had packed all my belongings into my little Datsun B210 and left home for Bible College. I wanted to dedicate my life to ministering to others.
  2. I was attracted to other men. I won’t go into the whole ‘choice vs. born that way’ debate right now. It was just a fact. I knew it from a very young age. I also knew that I was not supposed to feel this way.

I can’t be a Christian and be attracted to other men. Oil and water. The two don’t mix. I spent years working to separate the two, but I will save those stories for future blog posts.

It was the failure of those efforts that eventually brought me to that night. Fortunately, God had other plans.

That day in 1996 was just like any other day. I got up and went to work. The only difference is that I was determined that it would be my LAST day. I just could not face another day fighting. I prayed that God would show me grace and understand that I had no other options.

On my way home from work, I heard a commercial on the radio about a missionary that would be speaking at a church that night. It was a church I had never heard of. I went to an Assembly of God Bible College and therefore ONLY attended an Assembly of God church. This was NOT an Assembly church. For some unknown reason, I knew I had to go. I would give God one more chance…

I cannot remember anything about the service. I could not tell you where the missionary was from or even one word that he spoke. I do remember the end of the service. They gave an altar call. I was at the altar within seconds of the invitation.

Have you ever seen someone crying so hard that you start to feel embarrassed for them? Their face gets all disfigured, and they start making sounds like a dying cow. Yep, that was me. I didn’t know any of these ‘non-Assembly’ people. What did I care? I just wanted God to fix things.

In the middle of my wailing I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and a man handed me an envelope and walked away. At first I figured it was probably a pamphlet that they pass out to all new people. Then I noticed it had MY name on it. I did not know this man or anyone else at this church. I was sure of it.

I opened the envelope and there was a letter. Once again, it was addressed directly to ME. I won’t share the entire letter but the basic premise was ‘I love you and I have forgiven you. Now it’s time to love and forgive yourself’. I am assuming that the ‘I’ in this message was God and NOT the mysterious man who handed me the letter.

The letter ended with that curious verse about repairing the breach.

I know this story may come off as a cheesy Touched by an Angel episode. The fact is that whatever happened in that church (supernatural or coincidental) changed the course of my life. No matter what it all meant, I knew that God cared enough about me to intervene. He must have something in mind.

I am not sure how to repair a breach but I am sure that God will continue to teach me. In the meantime, I plan to share my story (little bite size pieces at a time). It may end up just being something that helps me work through my own issues. I am honestly fine with that.

However, I have a feeling that I am not the only one struggling in the breach (whatever that breach may be).

By the way, after doing a little bit of research I discovered that you actually CAN mix oil and water. Interesting….