In light of my previous post and the comments that everyone made, I have some observations and then some questions to throw out.

OBSERVATIONS: In this group of commenters we have several different groups which believe very differently about the same book, the Bible. As far as I know (I could be wrong), each of the commenters would call themselves Christians, consider themselves to have a “relationship with God through Jesus Christ”, and believe that they are going to heaven one day. Each one of you uses the Bible as a source for truth, but how literal or infallible it may be is part of the debate.

God is Love?

The other night my little guy brought me the story of Noah to read to him before bedtime. The book starts with this description of Noah on Page 1:

A long time time ago there lived a man called Noah.
Noah was a good man, who trusted in God.

Alright… fair enough. Turn to Page 2. This is where we learn about the type of God that Noah trusted.

The following conversation is purely fictional and has occurred only in my mind… well, except for the conclusion.

G: Daddy, what does wicked mean?

D: Well, it means they had done some things wrong that God didn’t like. They had broken God’s rules.

G: So, God’s going to punish them? Like, give them a time-out.

D: Not exactly. He’s going to cause a flood and drown all of the wicked people.

G: But Daddy, I thought God loved people.

D: So did I son, so did I.

Conversation with a True Believer – #1

Recently I was contacted by a reader and asked the following question:

“In your personal opinion, what do you understand that it takes for a person to go to heaven?”

Here is my response to that question:

I know the church and Bible answer to this question. I could give that to you, but why rehash what we already know right? Belief in Christ, trusting in his death and blood atonement for our sins, repentance and a commitment to follow Christ… those sort of answers are what the church answers look like. This is what I would say has been my traditional view on the subject.

But I do not personally believe that it is that black and white anymore. Honestly, I do not think I have a genuine understanding as to what it means for a person to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are going to heaven (in addition as to whether or not one can know there is such a place). I have said on my site that I do not “know, know” anything regarding salvation. For me that is a place of faith, and faith is a lot of things but it is not certainty. And I think that if anyone says they are CERTAIN that they are going to heaven, they are fooling themselves. They can think, they can hope and they can put their trust and belief in their version of what it may mean to go to heaven… but they cannot KNOW.

Only God knows (if she in fact exists – because we can’t really “know, know” that either)… and she isn’t telling what it takes to get to heaven. It’s a mystery…. a great mystery in my opinion. It’s a mystery I enjoy dialoguing about. I appreciate you asking me and if I haven’t been clear, I hope you will feel free to contact me with more questions.

Steve

Over the next few posts I will share the conversation Andy and I have had via email over the last couple of weeks. I found it interesting in what it revealed on many levels… both from my perspective and Andy’s.

A Letter to Ted Haggard – Part 3

My open letter to Ted Haggard is in response to his public letter of apology and forgiveness shared with his church on Sunday, November 5, 2006. This is part three.

Ted, it has been said that you have “fallen from grace”. This phrase is very often used when pastors are asked to step down from their ministry positions because of impropriety. What people fail to realize and what I learned from a good pastor friend of mine who went through somewhat of a public dismantling of his own ministry years ago is this:

You didn’t fall from grace Ted, you have fallen into grace.

People want to keep you from grace. These “great religious leaders” you have been asked to submit to for “restoration” don’t want you to have grace. The Dobson’s of the world don’t want you to experience grace. They want you to jump through hoops to earn it back. They want to try and “fix you” Ted and make you look all “shiny and spiffy” again. But do you know what that gets you? It gets you back to the place of pretending. It puts you back on the same carousel you just fell off.

Others telling you that you have “fallen from grace” implies that you now have to climb your way back up to the place you were before. It puts you back on that merry-go-round of goodness that leads you nowhere. It keeps you spinning so you never experience true grace. You and I know that the place where your were wasn’t grace. It was getting you nowhere close to grace. The place you were before was a prison… it was a cage. Whatever the name for it, where you were before wasn’t named grace.

Grace isn’t gaining other peoples approval. It isn’t about people liking you. It isn’t your ability to keep a smile on your face when the world is falling down all around you. Grace isn’t feeling good about the things we have done or justifying the things we have done wrong. Grace isn’t telling others what grace is like and expecting they will believe you just because you say it. It isn’t “seven steps”, or “three ways” or “five principles”. There isn’t a formula for grace.

Grace is that feeling of completeness you have longed for in your life. It is the ability to look in the mirror now and know that you no longer have to hide who you really are to those around you. It is being real at all times throughout your day and knowing that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you… this is who you are. Grace is normally found when you have fallen and reached out to grab the end of your rope. It is the beginning of the journey for your life, not a destination where you arrive and stay. In grace, you will finally be joining your public and your private self into one celebration of a life well lived. A life lived with honesty, responsibility and wholeness at the forefront.

Grace is freedom.

And for those who have found the freedom of grace, life is never the same. Good luck on your journey Ted.

Take care,

Steve

A Letter to Ted Haggard – Part 2

My open letter to Ted Haggard is in response to his public letter of apology and forgiveness shared with his church on Sunday, November 5, 2006. This is part two.

You talk in your letter about a part of your life “that is so repulsive and dark” that you have been “warring against it” all of your adult life. You go on to mention that at times you would “find victory” and yet occasionally you would find yourself “thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary” to the things you believe and teach.

I can only glean from this and your current situation that this “dark” part of your life is your struggle with your sexual orientation. You write that you have sought assistance through the years but found this to be ineffective. You talk about deceiving and hiding it from others so as not to hurt or disappoint them.

Then you write this, “The public person I was wasn’t a lie; it was just incomplete.”

In that statement alone, you have crystalized the feelings of many people within the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community as they dialogue about their sexual orientation. From what I have read and my own personal experiences of people working through their sexual orientation, it is an evolutionary struggle with many phases of discovery and it may take years to truly understand oneself in this very personal and intimate area of ones life.

Your wife Gayle has no doubt known about your desire for intimacy with men for years. That would be my guess. No one shares a life with someone for over 25 years and has these desires or passions go unnoticed. It is my belief that she most likely struggled alongside of you in this, encouraged you, tried to understand your struggle, wanted the best for you and hoped against hope that one day you would be “complete” with her. But as you have written, that is not possible.

Ted and Gayle: The marriage you share is over as you knew it. You will both be moving on to a new chapter in the process of Ted’s self-discovery. It is one that will be filled with pain at times, but if embraced rather than resisted it will lead to an unprecedented level of intimacy and deep bonding between the two of you as the life-long partners that you have pledged to be with one another. Your marriage does not have to be over, but it will forever be redefined. Yet, the new definition will hopefully be built on a level of honesty that other marriages can only envy.

In many ways I am sorry for you and your family that you must go through this in such a public way, but as you say, you are the one that created this entire situation. In fighting your “repulsive and dark” side, you chose to do what many pastors and people in power do – you made it a crusade to eradicate the darkness with the hopes of in doing so, you might be able to conquer your own demons. You are not alone. Many pastors “crusade” against the things they struggle with most. I am of the opinion if we want to know what our pastors wrestle with most in their private lives, take note on what they preach against most often.

I find the statement “The public person I was wasn’t a lie; it was just incomplete” very compelling and empowering. I can certainly relate to this as a person, and most importantly as a former pastor. As pastors, we often feel compelled to lead exemplary lives. We want the public self to be something that others can look at as the power of God transforming a life into holiness. We try to convince others that who they see on Sunday or any other day of the week is exactly the same person they would see if they were to follow us around for 24 hours a day. Somehow we think that this instills confidence and strength in those that look to us for guidance and leadership.

You thought that if people knew who you really were, if they knew of your struggle with your sexual orientation that they would reject you. You believed that those in your church could not handle you as their leader if you revealed to them how “incomplete” you really felt by not being totally honest with them at all times with all of your struggles, not just your sexual ones. So instead of being honest about who you were, you went into hiding. You concealed the parts you thought others would reject and this eventually drove you to commit acts that were unhealthy and irresponsible.

You felt that people cannot handle the ugliness and “darkness” of their pastor’s life. And sadly you were right. And that must change if the church is going to change and be truly revolutionary. We must begin to let our pastors know that they are off the hook. We should inform them that we do not expect our church leaders to be a “perfect” icon for us to emulate or the measuring stick for our “goodness”. In fact, what we should hope is that our pastors and their families are just like us. We should expect that they are incomplete.

End of Part Two

A Letter to Ted Haggard – Part 1

My open letter to Ted Haggard is in response to his public letter of apology and forgiveness shared with his church on Sunday, November 5, 2006.

Dear Ted,

This has no doubt been a very painful time for you and your family. I could not imagine being the object of a national scandal and having your intimate life exposed and examined in the glare of the public eye. Yet, this is where you placed yourself and this is the position of prominence and importance that you craved, so I feel no sadness or sorrow in seeing your private and secret life revealed.

The refreshing part is that the mask is off of you now. You now join the ranks of the fallen ones and in all sincerity I can tell you that this is probably the most honest you have ever been in your own life. It was difficult, in part, watching you come to grips with the reality of your situation as your facade came crashing down around you. It was also laughable to watch you cling with such desperation to the persona you had built which was a complete and utter lie.

Yet today you are at the most raw and real place you have been in years. As the depression fades and the grief gives way to reflection, I believe you will find solace and comfort in having been yanked from the arena of pretending week to week to be one thing, when in fact you were something quite different than what everyone else wanted you to be.

I relate to you Ted. As a pastor, there is tremendous pressure in keeping the mask on and playing a role that people ask you to play for them. It is genuinely hard to be yourself. In the midst of pleasing the crowds, preaching, instructing, building your ministry, and becoming overly self-important through the applause and praise of others, you lose your own sense of self. In trying to fulfill the vision you believe God has given you to build his church, you become blind to who you are.

You say in your letter that you are “a deceiver and a liar”. That’s the most honest thing that has probably ever been uttered from the pulpit of New Life Church. It’s just too bad that you weren’t there to say it yourself. In my opinion, that is how most pastors should start their sermons each and every week. As pastors, we don’t know all the answers (if we even know any of them at all). Pastors, for the most part, are experts at sharing their opinions on the subject of eternity, salvation and what God says or means… and sharing ones opinion is a far cry from sharing Truth. Pastors share their version of the truth… yet do so very often as if it is God’s truth… and that makes most of the ones I have heard deceivers and liars just like you.

End of Part One