"Jesus is Just All Right With Me"
"We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life."
– Clement of Alexandria (c.150-211/216)
– Clement of Alexandria (c.150-211/216)
I've actually had two public "coming out" experiences.
The one that I discussed a couple of chapters ago was my second.
The first one happened a few years ago when I finally came out doctrinally, if you will, and started preaching with confidence what I had been seeing in the Scriptures for some time about Jesus being the Savior of the whole world.
At that time words and labels like
"Christian Universalism", etc. began to be associated with and ascribed to me...
I suppose I shouldn't bring up something negative in a book that's about GOOD NEWS...(come to think of it, I've already brought up some negative things, so I guess it's no big deal to add one more)...but in many ways this first coming out seemed to be more controversial than the second one!
I've witnessed two rather significant exoduses (exodi?) of people from my church...the most obvious one...the one I've become most known for...was the result of telling the people who I really am...the other (previous) one...the one that didn't get picked up by the media...was the result of my telling the people what I really believe...
Truth be told, I'm pretty sure more people disconnected themselves from me and my ministry over my saying that the work of Jesus, the Last Adam, completely trumped the work of the first Adam, than left me because I admitted I was gay.
The biggest issue for everyone in that first exodus was over my challenging the conventional religious ideas about hell and eternal punishment.
In general, it's really important to a lot of people, especially Christians it seems, that someone somewhere burns in hell for eternity.
And here's what's especially interesting/funny/ironic to me about all that...when I came out about my sexual orientation, nearly every ministry that had ever networked with me on any level over the years instantly and completely severed all ties with me. In that first year it was like I went through a thousand little divorces from people who had been like family to me...some of them had been in my life for 30 years or more, and they immediately cut me off, entirely.
So I had to look for new people to connect with...you just can't be out there all alone...
Well, as it turns out, there are actually a lot of gay or gay-friendly or gay-affirming ministries all over the place (if you know where to look), and I've been received by a few of them...some of them have even invited me to preach in their churches.
But when people ask me if I've been welcomed by the gay community since coming out, the answer is yes and no...and mostly no when it comes to gay religious people.
There's a huge part of that population that has been so brutalized, rejected and hurt by the church that they've just turned their back on the idea of God, altogether.
Pretty much every message or piece of mail that I've received from those who fall into that category has been beautiful, supportive, touching, and effusive with thanks and praise for everything I've said publicly about God and gays.
In a word, those people love me.
But they don't go to church or support ministries, so basically they have said a very nice "thank you", and then have gone back to the safety of their atheism, agnosticism and/or private and personal spirituality. A minister...any minister...even a gay one...just represents too much pain and heartache to them because of their own histories.
And so my reception by them has been marginal, at best.
There's another part of the religious gay community that is very connected to the formal, more liturgical churches. They, for the most part, have been warm and cordial to me, but they generally don't know how to relate to my kind of preaching, or the Charismatic worship style of my two congregations, and so they keep their distance.
Then there are the gay evangelical or Pentecostal or Spirit-filled or Full-Gospel ministries that would typically be more similar or friendlier to my type of ministry.
They're very nice.
But I discovered quickly that my theology of the finished work of the cross is considered too "out there"...too edgy...for many if not most of them.
In other words, "affirming" churches are not, as a rule, "inclusive".
In fact, many of them consider "inclusion" to be a false doctrine, and my teaching of eternal punishment (or lack, thereof) is a deal breaker for pretty much all of them.
So...suffice it to say...I have had to learn to be contented in isolation.
The people from my "Egypt" have nothing to do with me now, but neither do a lot of the people in my "Canaan", if that makes sense.
Jesus went to the wilderness after His baptism.
Paul went to Arabia after his conversion.
John was exiled to the Isle of Patmos because of His revelation.
I just told the truth about all of me, including about what I believe, and the truth set me free from most relationships.
My wilderness is psychological.
Straight church people are generally incredulous when I tell them that I can't preach in most gay churches that I've encountered because they very strongly believe in the Rapture and the Great Tribulation, and most certainly in a literal, burning hell reserved for unbelievers, and consider me to be errant in my theology of ultimate grace.
Straight church people can't believe that I'm considered too liberal for gay church!
I guess on some level they must believe, at least sub-consciously, that gay people are, in fact, going to hell, themselves, and are shocked to find out that hell is such a big part of the belief-system of a lot of Christian gay people.
I must say, I was a little surprised by it myself.
But I gave up trying to make sense of religion a long time ago, so it is what it is.
Oh, How I Love Jesus
Anyway, as I've already stated, I was raised with the scary, judgmental, "coming as a thief in the night", all-seeing-eye, holiness-demanding, intolerant Jesus who was coming any minute to separate the sheep from the goats (and most of the people on the earth, I was taught, were hell-bound goats!)
Then when I started in the ministry myself (my "on fire for Jesus" phase), I began to preach a more positive message of a loving Jesus with a New Testament emphasis on grace.
But back then I still believed that most people would probably not accept Jesus as their Savior, and would therefore miss the Rapture, and most likely end up in hell.
So I preached a lot of mercy and grace, but I also preached about the wrath of God for those who rejected that mercy and grace. That's what I was taught to believe, and not question, even though it never felt right to me in my spirit.
Never could really accept the fact that a loving God could send people into eternal punishment.
And the more I got into studying the New Testament and original Bible languages and church history it made less and less sense to me
In the early days I was much more interested in "souls" than I was in people, which is why I said in the Preface that I was so full of myself back then. I was an effective "soul-winner" because it made me feel good about myself to think I was keeping people out of hell by my preaching.
I said the ministry was about helping others, but it was really about helping me...about how it made me feel about myself. That feeling of elation that comes from believing you're pleasing God by ministering in that way helps diffuse any feelings of self-loathing you may have about your very hidden sexual orientation.
In other words, once I realized that I couldn't pray the gay away (and I realized that early on), I just immersed myself in the kind of ministry that I thought most pleased God.
It may sound crazy, but the thought pattern goes something like this...if I can make God see me as a great soul-winner, maybe He won't notice that I'm really gay. Homosexuals are repulsive to God, but soul winners are really important to Him...exalted, even...they get special crowns in heaven for the amount of people they've brought with them...sort of like an eternal perk...like receiving a spiritual finder's fee...homosexuals, on the other hand, are fried forever in the flames...so...you do the math...
I became a soul-winner.
I'm not saying that's the only reason...the only motivation...but it's a big part of it.
That may be too real for some people.
Maybe I'm being too transparent.
But at this point I have nothing to hide, so I might as well tell it all.
So what does that have to do with Jesus?
Just this: after all is said and done...and even though I've come full-circle with it all...I still really do believe in and love Jesus with a pure heart, and believe in what He did on the cross, and in His resurrection, now more than ever.
Here are the two questions that I've been asked the most since I came out, theologically.
QUESTION #2: Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God?
ANSWER #2: Undoubtedly!
ANSWER #2: Undoubtedly!
It is written in the Scriptures:
(1 Timothy 4:10 – The Message)
The main purpose of the ministry is to declare the evangel, or the GOOD NEWS, that the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the whole world.
He has saved everyone, but not everyone knows or believes it yet (and there is definitely an advantage to being one of the ones who "especially believes"…it’s the way into the Kingdom!).
But in the same way that the Prodigal Son was always a son, even though he was lost and living in a pig sty, all of humanity is in the family of God (Ephesians 3:14, 15), but most of them are lost and living in their own "pig sties" of religion, unbelief, deception or bondage.
They’re just away from home ("All we like sheep have gone astray…")
They need to hear the Word of Reconciliation so that they can "come to themselves", as did the Prodigal Son, and then come back to the Father of us all.
That’s why in John 14:6 we hear Jesus say so confidently
"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and NO ONE comes to the Father except by Me!"
He had already declared in Chapter 12 that if He was lifted up from the earth on the cross, that He would draw (literally the Greek uses the word "drag") ALL people to Himself.
The work that Jesus did on that cross for all of us is universal, unparalleled and unrivaled…the cross is the nexus (the thing that brings everything together) of the universe!
I don’t believe that Jesus Christ is competitive with or hostile and antagonistic to
and others of that group...
Jesus told His disciples that "they who are not against us are for us"
But because His atoning sacrifice and resurrection sets Him above and apart from every other sage, prophet, messiah, or spiritual/religious leader in history, I still believe in His unique superiority.
All of the others were great seers and teachers, and should be honored for their contribution to the world, but Jesus Christ alone is the Savior of the world.
In a word, Jesus Christ is Lord.
I said it.
My knees bow and my tongue confesses to the glory of God that Jesus Christ is Lord.
But even though I believe that Jesus is ultimately the one way to God, I do not believe that all the
agnostics and atheists, etc.
are all going to eventually walk down the aisle of a Christian church and pray "The Sinner’s Prayer" (see Glossary of Terms) and confess Romans 10:9 and 10.
Nor do I believe that they are damned and going to a place called hell if they don’t (I promise I'll get to the hell subject shortly...)
Let me explain.
Quite simply, Jesus of Nazareth perfectly embodied and manifested what we call "the Christ", and it’s Christ that is actually the way to God.
Jesus was and is the Christ, but the Christ was here before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
According to Paul, centuries before Jesus’ Incarnation, even Israel in the wilderness was "in Christ" :
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, AND THAT ROCK WAS CHRIST. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4 – TNIV)
And the writer of Hebrews said that Moses, while growing up in polytheistic Egypt, definitely knew "Christ", even though he would have no way of knowing who Jesus was:
That’s why I always say there are those who know His name, but don’t know Him, as there are those who know Him, even though they don’t know His name.
In my belief system there is definitely one way to God and that is Christ…and flesh and blood cannot reveal Christ to us.
One way to God.
Many ways to Christ…
And Jesus is the Christ, but it is Christ, not Christianity that is the way, the truth and the life.
So, yes...undoubtedly, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Way!
And here's the other most-asked question...
QUESTION #3: Do you believe one must confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ to be saved?
ANSWER #3: Absolutely!
ANSWER #3: Absolutely!
But it’s really an unnecessary question...a moot point, if you will...in that it has already been answered in the Scriptures…it is written that every knee WILL bow, and every tongue WILL confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, either now or later, to the glory of God the Father!
It depends on whom you ask. Some say that it is water baptism by immersion...
...others say that it is baptism by sprinkling,
still others by christening/infant Baptism,
or baptism in the name of Jesus,
or baptism by invoking the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
or Holy Spirit Baptism with the evidence of Speaking with other Tongues,
or "calling on The Name,"
or receiving Last Rites,
or by church membership,
or by repentance from dead works,
or by sanctification and holy living,
or by public confession…the list goes on and on.
In the Gospels, Zacchaeus received salvation simply by restoring, fourfold, all that he had stolen from the people (without baptism or confession of faith)...
The harlot received salvation simply by washing Jesus’ feet with her hair (without baptism or confession of faith)...
The thief on the cross received salvation by simply asking for it (without baptism or confession of faith).
Paul and Silas told their believing jailer that his entire household would be saved just because they were related to him.
According to the Apostle Paul, all of humanity was "saved" at the same time (1 Timothy 4:10), but all are not yet believers.
He also emphatically answered this often-asked question "Does one have to confess the Lordship of Jesus to be eternally saved?" with a definite "Yes!"
He said that every tongue in heaven or on earth or "beneath the earth," according to His revelation of grace, should, and eventually will confess, either now or later!
Absolutely, everyone must confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ to be saved, and, thank God, according to the Scriptures, eventually everyone will!
One other thought...
It was suggested by someone...maybe more than one person, actually...that over the last few years I "created" a theology for myself that would make it easier for me to come out as a gay man...in other words, I just did away with hell, entirely, so that I could say I was gay with no fear of being sent to that bad place where all the gays go, according to conventional church-wisdom.
When I first heard this accusation I deeply resented it because what I believe about the Scriptures and about Jesus, the Word made flesh, is the result of years and years of my own prayer and study and revelation.
Preaching the Ministry of Reconciliation....the saving of the whole world by Jesus Christ on the cross...is not a theological fad for me.
I don't believe in it because someone else taught it, or because it's a popular teaching (because it's not...)
I am not a devotee of any other preacher or teacher...what I believe and preach is what I really and deeply believe to be true.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the accusation may not be entirely untrue, and I came to terms with it.
I can say that with no apology.
As I already said, I'm left-handed...I was born that way...I know I didn't choose it...but there was a time in history (and not really that long ago) that left-handed people were burned at the stake by the church because they were thought to be demon-possessed.
Had I lived in that time, I'm sure my left-handedness would have forced me into a deeper study of the Scriptures...that is, if I had time when I wasn't running for my life!
I'm sure I would have thought that God just couldn't be so impossibly unfair as to create you as you are, but then send you to hell because of the very way He created you!
And even though the right-handed people couldn't understand why some people "chose" the evil left-handed lifestyle, I would want to make them understand that even if left-handed people forced themselves to write with their right hands to please God, by nature they were still and always would be left-handed. They could write with their right hands, but it would always feel wrong (unnatural) to them.
I have blue eyes, but if I had read in the Bible that all blue-eyed people go to hell, I think it's safe to say that I could not have accepted that. My biological reality together with my belief in God would force me into a deeper study of the Scriptures...because if God's that mean and unjust, then we're all in big trouble.
So did my being gay force me into being open to interpreting the Scriptures differently than in the way I had been taught about salvation and grace and eternity and all that?
But if that's what it took to move me into a discovery of the fullness of the Truth, then so be it.
I would hope that I would have come to my theological conclusions had I been born heterosexual, but who knows?
One way or the other, it's all good.
It has brought me to the conclusion that, in the big picture, all that really matters is the GOOD NEWS.
OK, enough about that...I have other questions to answer...
But, yes, Jesus is the way...
Jesus is Lord...