The Struggle of Truth

Preface:

I’ve always hated gay culture. Maybe it’s because I’m more of a black skinny-jean and t-shirt kinda guy over rainbows. Regardless of fashion choices, I’ve never felt like I belonged. Using the phrase out of context, “in it, not of it” truly describes my relationship to the gay community. I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. It’s because of that feeling one year ago, following LA Pride, I wrote The Challenge of Acceptance. In the article, I brought up several difficulties of accepting those different from you. Today, one year later, I would like to take this same topic, but make it a bit more personal. This article is first and foremost for the kid who doesn’t understand himself in the midst of gay and evangelical culture. This is also a writing for those struggling to understand the balance of what religion says about those different from you, while understanding what Christ says about who you really are. This is a hard conversation because it shouldn’t be a conversation.


To the Christian Struggling with Sexuality:

I’m your average stereotype – white American, upper-middle-class boy who grew up in the early 90’s Evangelical Church. In Sunday school, it was your typical “Jesus loves me, this I know,” mixed with do’s and don’ts of how to live the perfect life. Growing up I dreamed about being a preacher. I would set up my stuffed animals, put on a blazer and preach to them – this encompassed most of my childhood. For most growing up gay in the South, this story is all too common. While mine was a much smoother transition as I navigated some of the rockiest points in my life, others are not so fortunate. I know many stories of friends being ostracized, kicked-out, and even beat to the point of hospitalization due to the collision of their faith and sexuality. It’s this intersection that I want to focus on. It’s at this crossroad when confronted with who you are versus what you are told to believe, that we lose touch with our true identity.

2019 marks the 50thAnniversary of the Riots at Stonewall Inn that ignited activism in the LGBT community. Yearly Pride celebrations commemorate those who literally lost their lives fighting to support and protect those without a voice. This cause is what spearheaded global activism of the gay community in the years following. So many associate this single activity as a stereotype of gay culture. They see the flags, the parties, the parades, and with all of this comes an “identity” that the world sees as gay. For those raised in the church, it’s this depiction of the word gay that makes it difficult to accept.

My intention is not for this to be an article about whether being gay right or wrong. I could go into how the word homosexual wasn’t even introduced to biblical text until the 1946 RSV of the Bible was released or discuss Old Testament vs. New Testament text. This will not be one of those articles – because none of that matters. If you’re struggling with the question, “Does Jesus love me if I’m gay?” or “Is being gay right or wrong?” I have to let you in on something – you’re asking the wrong question.

I gave my life to Christ at an early age. This simply meant I accepted the fact that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. God loved me so much that He sent His only Son to earth – to die, be resurrected, and to secure my eternity with Him in heaven. The evangelical community tends to overly complicate this message. The Gospel is the good news that someone loved me enough to die for all the wrong I’ve done, I am doing, and I will ever do in my life. For me, this radical act of grace was not something I fully understood until later in life. Here is where we deviate from the norm of church culture. I’d like to give that kid who is struggling with their faith and their sexuality some peace of mind.

Truth #1 – You can be Gay and be a Christian – it’s the same as being a Straight Christian.

Just like I mentioned above, the question shouldn’t be “Is being gay right or wrong?” the question should be, “Who does Christ say I am?” Colossians 2 speaks directly about who we are in Christ and how we should live if we’ve accepted His grace.

“Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It’s not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you’re already in—insiders—not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. If it’s an initiation ritual you’re after, you’ve already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think about it! All sins are forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.” – Colossians 2:11-15 MSG

Gay or straight, it doesn’t matter, because Christ has provided eternal freedom from sin and death. Because Christ has already died with our “old-self” we are free to live as new creations in Him. This fact alone eliminates any doubt. You are accepted because He says you are accepted. It’s not because being gay is or isn’t a sin, you are accepted because you are human. Christ died so we all could experience freedom in him.

Truth #2 – Your identity is not in being “gay,” but in Christ.

Because certain elements of gay culture are so predominant, it’s difficult to accept the fact that this isn’t your actual identity. Whether we like it or not, the gay community has one volume – loud. Unfortunately, this blanket display prevents some from coming out, being accepted, and finding true identity. I will be the first to say my identity is not in being gay, but who I am in Christ. Hear me, if you’re struggling with this, it’s okay not to resonant with gay culture. I fully believe that being able to celebrate the leaps the LGBT community has made is a right. Equality for all isn’t something that should be up for debate. Being pressured to participate in certain elements of this culture, however, is not mandatory. I want to go back to Colossians 2 to reinforce our identity as Christians is rooted in the finished work of Christ.

Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude. Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. You were also circumcised in Him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah. Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. – Colossians 2:6-12 HCSB

If this doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will. The fact that we are able to live in the finished work of Christ, in the victory that is His death and resurrection, that is where our identity as believers is held. I am proud to celebrate the freedoms that have been afforded to me and those who fought for it. However, what Christ says about me is far more important than what culture says.

Truth #3 – This isn’t easy.

This entire conversation isn’t easy. In fact, it is probably the most difficult conversation to have right now – as a Country, a Church, this isn’t easy, and I don’t imagine it getting better any time soon. I encourage and I challenge this conversation because this isn’t something we should be talking about from the pulpit, but instead from the pew. This conversation is person to person. Everyone’s story is different and the impact to their life, some more significant than others, is deep. Regardless of the identity struggle, we are all broken and in need of the love and acceptance only found in Christ.

I don’t have all the answers, neither does your pastor or your favorite drag queen. But there are a few biblical facts we can all agree on:

  • Your identity is firmly anchored in Christ's accomplishments, not your own.
  • You have a living hope in Christ and your salvation is guaranteed.
  • Because of God’s grace, you are free to be who He created you to be.

I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. – 1 John 5:12-13

When we stop focusing on semantics and start focusing on Christ, we begin to see things the way He sees them.


2018 Reflection

2018. What a year. As I'm sitting to reflect on what, from the outside, looks like a horrible roller coaster that I couldn't get off of – I've realized that 2018 was a breakthrough year for me.

2018 started in disaster. One of the largest design projects I'd ever been asked to be apart of fell apart. My company lost time, money, and took us a solid six months to recover from the aftershock. Amidst all of this I was questioning myself, my purpose, and the reality that some things in life just don't work out.

Amid all of this, I look back at what was truly an incredible year. Rather than focusing on the moments, because there were many, I'd like to focus on what I learned.

I was drawn back to my first love

If you know me or keep up with this blog, you'll know I am not shy about my faith. This has been something that I've always been passionate about. In April of this year, I realized some of that passion had been lost. I wasn't consistent at church or devoting personal time to grow in my relationship with Christ. It was through a passage in Isaiah, that brought me back to my desperate need for Christ at the center of my life.

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.

Isaiah 40:27-31

 

This passage brought me back. How thankful I am for this moment, it set the course for the rest of my 2018.

Bold is the only way to live

Through a series of events at the beginning of the year, I was brought back to a few of my passions. I learned that anyone standing in the way of your passion, joy, or happiness needs to be moved to the side. Not in a condescending way, but putting yourself first is important. Living a life that is dictated by others isn't healthy and will ultimately lead to failed relationships, dreams, and emptiness.

God is Great, God is Good

If you grew up in the South, there might have been a time before a meal where you heard someone pray, "God is Great, God is Good, let us thank Him for our food." I grew up saying that – knowing that God is Great and God is Good. It wasn't until this year that I dissected that phrase. Why do we say that "God is Great, and God is Good." The bible tells us He is these things, but what does it actually mean? I was re-reading Sun Stand Still, and in this book, it's broken down.

God is Great = God has the ability to help us. In our time of need, when we are facing oppression, or when we feel hopeless. God has the ability to help.

God is Good = God has the desire to help us. Not only CAN He help, but He WANTS to help.

This revelation completely rocked my world when I truly understood this. Why is this important? It demonstrates not only Gods grace, but his willingness not to see us fail, but to succeed.

Hope is never wasted, Faith is never wasted

And finally, the biggest lesson I learned this year. Have you ever found yourself putting so much hope into something and it fails? Or maybe you've put a lot of faith in a mentor, leader, boss, someone who is leading you and all your faith is in that person then suddenly, they leave, or the project fails? This has happened to me more in 2018 than I can count. People and projects come and go, hope and faith being poured into each one. This is what causes burnout and turns new, and what should be, exciting things into complete failures because hope and faith have been wasted in the past. There must have been a dozen opportunities I missed this year, simply because my hope has been wasted so many times.

Here is what I've learned. Hope is much like a storage unit. Just because there is hope placed in people, projects, possibilities – when those things don't happen, it doesn't mean that Hope is gone. The same goes for Faith. It is never wasted, only stored. I didn't learn this lesson until November. All of the times I've placed my hope and faith in things that have fallen through have been lessons leading up to November of 2018 – where my life changed forever. I won't go into details now, but all the unanswered prayers, hope, and faith that I thought was wasted, relationships gained and lost, it all came down to a single moment where God revealed Himself in an unexpected, uncontrollable way that radically changed my life.


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I am wishing everyone the best in 2019. It will truly be a life-changing year.


The Darkroom

Our generation has an insatiable desire to be discovered. We want to go from zero to ten overnight. In our day to day stories, feeds, and live streams, we have this need to be seen and heard. It's a desire that's built into a generation who has known nothing but overnight success and fame. I've fallen victim to this over and over again. I've struggled for years with my "social presence," follower count, and content creation to support this habit. We desire to have a curated, produced, and flawless appearance in our digital world. I'd like to spend some time addressing a few of these things.

I was born in 1992. I joke all of the time my generation was the last generation to play in the dirt. I remember what life was like without a cell phone, when dial-up internet was something from The Jetsons, and the biggest "social media" decision to make was determining your AIM screen name. In 2018, it's instant. I can post an Instagram story and in moments it's accessible to millions of people around the world. Talk about futuristic.

Until a few years after I was born my dad was a professional photographer. I think our first digital camera was around the early 2000's and up to that point, I remember packing 35mm film every time we went somewhere. The crazy thing about film is the process it takes to produce an image. Not only is film cumbersome just merely getting into the camera, but after the image is taken, the film must be developed to even see what it looks like. I remember going through airport security with dozens of film rolls in filmgaurd bags hoping it wouldn't get ruined by x-ray machines. After a trip, we'd take the film to get developed at a photo studio. This developing process was lengthy compared to the instantaneous results of today. The film goes into a darkroom where it goes through a series of steps used to produce the final image.

In this darkroom, the film goes through several chemical baths, an enlargement process, a development process, and a final refining process before the image is ready. This is tedious, time-sensitive, and perfecting work. Compare that with how we "develop" images today – none of this process is necessary. We snap a photo with our iPhone and upload it instantly to a cloud where all of our memories are stored for the foreseeable future. Or at least until Russia gets ahold of them. (too soon?) Once our images get edited, filtered, and uploaded online they are free to solicit likes, comments, retweets, and follows. However, once a photo comes out of a darkroom, sometimes the only place for it to go is a picture frame.

God Does the Choosing

I'd like to share the story of a man named David. David's story appears in 1 & 2 Samuel. I'll start in 1 Samuel 16 if you'd like to follow along for the complete story.

We start with a man named Samuel who was a prophet. God told Samuel that He was going to appoint a new King over the nation of Isreal. (1 Sam 16:1) This new king would come from the house of a man named Jesse who lived in Bethlehem. Jesse had eight sons, surely one of them was fit to be king, right? (1 Sam 16:7) Samuel traveled to Jesse's house, when he reached Bethlehem to anoint the new king of Isreal, there was a problem. After Samuel went through the seven sons that were present, he asked Jesse if he had anymore to choose from (think about what must be going through Jesse's mind at this point). Jesse replied, "There is still the youngest, but right now he's tending the sheep." (1 Sam 16:11). The youngest son, David, wasn't present, and why should he be? His father Jesse surely found him insignificant and definitely not a prospect to be the next King of Isreal. At the age of about 15, Jesse's eighth son, the youngest, the most insignificant, the shepherd boy, was anointed the king of Isreal. Talk about a turn of events for Jesse and his sons. The son that Jesse found to be unworthy of a crown, is now the future King of Isreal.

While David was anointed King of Isreal at the age of 15, he didn't become king until about the age of 30. That's 15 years of time before he could take his rightful, anointed place as King. Imagine knowing that you are the anointed King of an entire people group but not being appointed to that position for almost 15 years. I'd be a little upset. The 15-year time span that David had between being anointed and being appointed was very telling. He spent time running for his life, living in caves where he starved, and his faith being tested to the extreme.

God Has Already Discovered You

God has a plan even if you're surrounded by people who find you insignificant. While David was anointed King of Isreal he wasn't appointed until he went through 15 years of obscurity, of process, of development. God had already discovered David, even before he was anointed or appointed. He already had a plan for David. The same goes for us. God has already discovered us. He's already set us apart, anointed and pursued us. The problem isn't in the discovery, it's in the development. We don't need to be discovered, we need to be developed. We don't need Scooter Braun to discover us and bring us to the masses. (No offense Scooter) We need to go into the "darkroom" and be put through the development process that leads to a refining transformation by God. This is the ultimate sustainable equation for success. This is the ultimate influencer platform.

God has already discovered you, now He wants to develop you. Click To Tweet

God Wants to Develop You

So many of us who call ourselves Christians know the process. We know about God, we know the right answers, and we know how to get the proverbial "likes." But have we been developed by God? Have we let Him take us into the darkroom and crush us so that something new develops? Something bright, vibrant – something worthy of being appointed. When we are called by God he begins something that only he can sustain and finish. Philippians says:

I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 1:6 HCSB

God is obligated to sustain what He started. He will never leave us out to dry. It might take 15 years to complete, but sometimes God will test us to make sure we're still faithful, we're still purusing Him, and we are still worthy of the calling He's placed on our life. Sometimes this development process is a change in relationships, environment, or simply building habits. It's different for everyone.

God is obligated to sustain what He started. Click To Tweet

In closing, don't be afraid of the darkroom. Don't be afraid to be developed by God. It's going to take a while. I would rather be developed by God than elevated by man. My hope and significance isn't found in Instagram likes or applause, or in cash flow. It's found in the desperate longing to be refined and developed by my creator. You are more than your social following. If you find yourself getting affirmation from your social presence, I challenge you to escape into the darkroom and let God develop you. Let Him shape you through prayer, His word, and through key relationships in your life.

Just as God anointed David then took him into 15 years of development, of process, let God take you into the darkroom.


The Challenge of Acceptance

If you're like me, about the only television I watch these days is Netflix. One of my new favorite shows that launched this year is Queer Eye. Unless you've been living under a rock (or aren't a millennial), you know that Netflix recently rebooted the series with an all-new cast. I recently met Jonathan Van Ness, a QE cast member, in LA a few weeks ago. When I asked him about Season 2, he said, "you won't be able to make it past the first episode without crying." I will definitely say – I couldn't. The first episode features a woman named Tammye, who, through her love for the Lord, shares an incredible story with the cast. As I was watching all of this unfold, I began to think on some experiences I've had over the past two weeks.

Aside from being the month Apple releases new products, June is also Pride Month in the LGBT community. Until recently, I haven't been fully familiar with Pride Events or the significance of them. I was in LA for a movie premiere which was also scheduled on the same weekend as LA Pride. Naturally, my friends and I were curious and checked it out. It was a melting pot of races, religions, and demographics of all types. It was the polar opposite of what I thought it would be. There was a sense of unity, acceptance, and freedom in which I've only ever experienced on a micro level in the LGBT community. Fast forward to the following weekend. NWA Pride. My home turf. My friends and I once again decided to join the masses and see what this was all about. The same feelings of acceptance, unity, and love were displayed all throughout Northwest Arkansas. It was truly incredible to see.

All this background information brings me to the point of this post. The Church and the LGBT community. I've only ever spoken about this topic briefly over the years, as I believe it's clear what Christ commands of us. However, my experiences over the past two weeks put a weight on my heart to write about this. During all of this, my heart was in such a place of not just curiosity but true desire to hear from the Lord. My thoughts today are spurred by a quote from Jonathan in Season 2, Episode 1 of QE regarding this precious woman named Tammye:

She thought her faith told her to judge someone who was different, but she chose to see past the label and see the individual.

This hit me hard. It reminded me of Matthew 7 when Jesus is speaking during the Sermon on the Mount:

“Don’t judge others, or you will be judged. You will be judged in the same way that you judge others, and the amount you give to others will be given to you.

“Why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood in your own eye? How can you say to your friend, ‘Let me take that little piece of dust out of your eye’? Look at yourself! You still have that big piece of wood in your own eye. You hypocrite! First, take the wood out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to take the dust out of your friend’s eye.

- Matthew 7:1-5

I don't want to ruin the episode for you, but Tammye had a life change when she found out someone close to her was gay. Upon learning of this, she immediately judged them. I can't tell you how many times I've judged someone based off a label instead of getting to know them. I began to think about how Christ looks past the mess in our lives and sees us – the individual – broken, and longing to be loved and accepted... I had to pause. I reflected on everything that has happened in my life the past two weeks and why I was so thankful to have experienced it.

We all have a longing to be loved and accepted. That's why there are pride parades, social clubs, churches, small groups, and NASCAR rallies. The desire to be accepted is in all of us. However, the one thing that kept coming to mind throughout this entire experience was, Jesus. How Christ lived his life to offer acceptance to the outcast, He took in those who had been rejected, He left the 99 to find the one – this is the purest form of unconditional love and acceptance. I am so thankful to know the power of this unconditional love, but there are many who don't. Many are looking for acceptance through every lens except the only one that truly matters. Many have been fiercely turned away when they have sought out that love.

Why are so many turned off by Christ and the church? Taking a lesson from our friend, Tammye - I truly believe we misinterpret not only what the bible says about homosexuality but also how Christ lived His life. Decades of exclusivity and exclusion have caused many never to experience the love and acceptance that Christ commands us to show. We choose to judge based on the label instead of love based on the person. 

I believe Christ is very clear in his teachings. This isn't a discussion of sin or not sin, it's not an issue of affecting one's salvation, and it's surely not an issue of Christ's love towards humanity. This is simply an issue of running towards Jesus. It's an issue of running towards the one who offers unconditional love and acceptance. The challenge the evangelical world faces is not whether this is right or wrong; but whether the love and acceptance that so many are seeking will be shown to them through Christians who see them as a person, not a label.

Conversation rooted in love and acceptance is the first step to wiping away the labels and setting both people on even playing fields. Realizing we are all broken and in search of unconditional love helps guide real and genuine conversation. To my friends in the Christian community; have a conversation, be open, and put the love of Christ ahead of your personal preference. To my friends in the LGBT community; you are loved, most of you have been hurt, but that deep desire for acceptance can be filled.

I hope sharing my experience has shed some light on topics the church rarely addresses from an open and authentic place. Please feel free to comment or message me if you'd like to go deeper into this topic.

Mason


Faithfulness

It's 3:02A – I wake up in a panic. This seems to be the running trend in my life for the past few months, no actually, since 2018 started. Anxiety hits and the pressures of finances, relationships, everything rushes in. Sound familiar? We've all been here. For me, this feeling knows me all too well. This morning was no different. I couldn't sleep in the wee hours of the night. Immediately I felt God ask me, "but have I not already taken care of you?" Faithfulness is one of the hardest things for me. God has proven Himself in my life over and over again yet I never seem to understand in my moment of desperation that God is faithful.

Isaiah 40: 28 MSG
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.

I was reminded of this verse in Isaiah about God's faithfulness. I love The Message translation where it says, "God doesn't come and go. God lasts." He knows me, He knows what I'm going through and he didn't even pause to catch His breath. How incredible the faithfulness of God this verse displays.

At my weakest, when there is nowhere I can turn, when I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel – God lasts. If that's not encouraging I don't know what is.

As you make your way through your day, I want to encourage you that God is faithful. Whatever you're going through, big or small, God is faithful.