"God Hates Gays!" and Other Urban Legends

Two things I can’t stand:  Anime, and church-led protests. 

In watching a documentary titled “Religilous,” which works to discredit religion (poorly, I might add), I watched as a church stood around with signs of protests that said “God hates gays.” A few years ago, and what seems to be a reoccurring thing, another church protested at an abortion clinic that ended in the murder of an abortionist. God hats gays, hates abortionists, hates atheists, hates child abusers, hates fill-in-the-blank. And in hearing all of this, there should be some confusion. God hates someone? Really? 

I will not deny that I’m somewhat of a universalist. I believe what the Bible says, and that’s that God so LOVED the world that He gave His only son to die for us. This little tiny baby was sent to us, this perfect baby, and we killed him. We were the nails that were driven trough his hands, the spear that pierced his side, and we were the reason he didn’t back out of God’s plan. Most universalists believe that God couldn’t send us to hell, but the Bible says we send ourselves there. God paved a way for us to avoid that and for us to know His love. Yet, after the heartache of seeing His son on the cross, and after the blood that was shed and the pain that was felt, suddenly… God doesn’t love us? Have these churches gone mad?

If you were looking to buy a computer, and you saw one you really, really liked, and it was just perfect, you would get it. Right? If money were no object, you’d buy it. You certainly wouldn’t buy a computer you knew you wouldn’t like. So when we say that God hates someone, we’re saying that He made a mistake. God does hate, but it’s no one in particular. God loves us; He hates sin. Romans 3:23 says that we’ve all sinned, and we’ve all fallen short of God’s glory. If something were separating me from my son, I’d hate it, too. Sin separates us from God. But, because God loves us, He formed a solution. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

If you read the Old Testament, God’s anger is very obvious. He hated sin, hated false idols, hated the corruption of kings, and he hated being ignored. He took steps to change this that almost always resulted in someone getting hurt. God knew that we could never each be obedient, not after sin was introduced to our lives. So, not wanting us to die for our sins, Jesus became our option. And Jesus was so perfect, all we have to do is ask for forgiveness, and it’s done. Jesus is our advocate, our lawyer before the great judge, and our savior. He was and is the hero of the world. People just don’t realize it. 

If God didn’t love each and every single one of us, He wouldn’t have given us a perfect sacrifice. And to you true universalists out there, if God “couldn’t” send us to hell, then we wouldn’t have needed Jesus to save us. But sending His son was the upmost prime example of His love for us. Romans 5:8 says that it’s the perfect demonstration of His love, “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We were STILL sinners, and he STILL died! Why are we saying that God hates certain people? Was His love not truly perfect like the Bible says?

God tells us that, “…the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain.” No matter what grip sin has on your life, God still loves you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been because God forgets all of that once you ask Him to. God doesn’t hate you. Why would He make something if He was just going to hate it? God hates the sin in our lives, and He wants us to accept His offer and be cleansed. 

Call me a universalist, but… love truly conquers all things. And since God is love… Well, you decide. 

Prayer is NOT a Placebo

Where I live, as everyone knows who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, is flooded. And when I say flooded, I mean FLOODED. I live on a hill, so I’m generally safe. A few weeks ago, I made a message in a bottle, and I was going to throw it into the river. It was something I always wanted to do as a kid. But now, I’m thinking that if I wait long enough, I can just throw it off my front porch. My son caught his first fish today, and the sad part is, we weren’t even at the river. 

An old friend from VBS and high school is helping to aid people who are sandbagging the levee. Tonight, she told me about the people working having blistered, bleeding hands and fingers. She didn’t even have to mention how tired they were. I’m sure they’re worn out. Actually, I’m talking to her now, and we’re discussing God and faith. These are my favorite conversations. For just one moment in the midst of a loud, crazy world, in the midst of being stranded and the water inching closer to homes and destruction, I’m taking a break. I’m talking to someone about God. 

The day before all the flooding really started stranding people, I went into town to get a few things before our road was underwater. And this town probably has something like five hundred people in it, if that. It’s not a big place at all. Unless the school has just let out, you don’t see a lot of people. As I’m driving, I see people just in flocks, taking pictures of the river, walking out of stores with bags and bags of stuff, people calling family on their phones, and trucks were everywhere. On a little road overlooking the river, there’s this mass of people handling the sandbagging, trucks with blinking lights, and all I could think of was who knew Smithland had so many people in it? Of course, the people helping were comprised of a lot of people from other nearby towns. I finally get into the grocery store, and everything is much quieter. I go up to a shelf where a woman is standing somewhat in my way. 

“Excuse me,” I say. The woman was very polite. She was an older woman who, at first, was staring me down hard. I had to resist the small talk of, “Nice weather we’re having.” Of course, where I come from, it’s more like, “It sure is nice out there, ain’t it?” But that sort of sarcasm would probably have gotten me slapped, so I said, “Smithland is in a buzz, isn’t it?” to which the woman replied, “It sure is. Never seen it like this before.” And for a moment, she smiled. I smiled. It was a calm little break. 

God says that we can go to Him at any time. 1 Thessalonians says, “Pray without ceasing.” I don’t think God expects us to be on our knees 24/7, but I take the verse to mean that we can go to Him anytime. We can talk to Him while we go through the store like we’re talking to a friend. We can pray in the shower, we can pray in the car, we can pray when we work, and you can do it as though God’s ear was right next to you. Praying without end means never having to say amen. You just pick up right where you left off. And when you pray, you’re taken out of the craziness for a moment. With prayer, whether you pray like a Baptist deacon on Sunday morning, or you just say one word like “Help,” you prayer is heard.  

It is so easy to get caught up in the web of our life and all of its events and busy days. But Psalm 46:10 is God reminding us, “Be still, and know that I am God.” For just one moment, for one deep breath, be still. Speak to Him. He may have been trying to get to you all along. And in this web also lies doubt for so many people. It can be hard at times to believe that God is really listening and He truly hears. But the Bible says that we can approach God confidently, that if we ask anything according to His will, He will hear us. [1 John 5:14.] God’s will is that we know Him and know of His mercy and grace. His will is that we would allow Him to guide us and lead us. When you ask according to the will of God, you’re just asking for love. 

[Please pray for all the communities and families affected by the flooding of the Ohio River. And please pray for the volunteers working relentlessly to prevent as much damage as possible to people’s homes and businesses. There truly is power in prayer.]

Children of God

Not too long ago, my 2 1/2-year-old had to have his normal childhood vaccines that all kids get. I sat holding him in the little room while he looked around smiling and laughing, blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. But it didn’t stop my heart from breaking, because I knew he was about to be hurt. The nurse walks in with the three shots Gabriel is to be given. He still doesn’t know what’s going on, but it only takes a minute for him to catch on. I know those shots hurt me worse than him. It was bad enough that he was crying and in pain, but then he was screaming “Mommy!” and I just had to hold him down and let someone, in his eyes, cause him terrible pain. I could have told the nurse to stop, of course. But without the shots, we were risking a lot of unnecessary illnesses that common, modern medicine can and has prevented. So with tears in both of our eyes, he got his shots. And when it was over, I hugged and rocked him, saying over and over again, “I have you. You’re okay.”

I never want my son to be hurt or in pain because I love him so much. If he cries out to me, it just breaks my heart. When he’s scared, in pain, he’s had a bad dream or he’s gotten cut on a thorn bush, a part of me just breaks. And there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to see him through to the very end of his problem.

When Jesus was praying in the garden before being crucified, we couldn’t even begin to imagine His fear. He’s praying relentlessly, begging God to not let this happen. He’s asking if there’s any other way, but yet, God’s will be done. And God, loving us so much and knowing that there had to be a perfect sacrifice to save us from our sins, chose to continue with His plan. And Jesus was nailed to a cross because of God’s love for us. When it was over, I know that God must have held Him so close and so tight, and surely He comforted His son in a way that any loving and caring parent would.

For a parent to have to watch their children suffer is so horrifyingly painful. And God had to watch as His only begotten son was murdered. Yes, God could have taken the pain away, but to save us from ourselves, it had to take place. Now, we can have peace, we can have eternal life, we can know the love of our Father, we can live without fear and fear nothing.

Jesus, as He was still hanging from the cross, looked up to the heavens and said, “Father, why have You forsaken me?” It’s easy to feel like you’ve been left or forsaken by God when we live in a society and a world molded by men. It’s easy to sometimes feel like God isn’t there. But trust and believe, you were bought at a very painful, heartbreaking price, and God paid that price because HE LOVES YOU. And He will never leave His children.

Just Call Me Paul Harvey

I was just watching the local news about the forecast for this Easter Sunday. When the newscaster was announcing the upcoming weather, he said it like, “And many Christians getting ready to celebrate Easter, which is supposedly the day Jesus Christ was raised from the dead…” I know this man personally and know he is a devout follower, but was forced to word it this way for political reasons. But it made me think, is this what it’s really about? Is Easter specifically to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, or is there more to the story?

When the Mel Gibson film came out, I went to see it with a church my friend belonged to. I remember watching it and just crying. Nearly the entire theater was crying. Everyone was just in awe of the suffering Jesus went through for our sins. I have not done research on this film to ensure its historical accuracy, but based on what I do know, it was pretty well factual. And that movie was great, but the death of Jesus was not about death. It was about life. 

What does the cross mean? Over in my dad’s church, they have three tall crosses up on a hill overlooking the river. There’s even two donkeys roaming around, and the entire scene is just beautiful. Is the cross a fashion to be painted, or a pendant to be worn around the neck? Is it decoration for a church field? The universal logo for Christians? What is the cross? And what are we really celebrating on Easter?

Jesus tells us, “If any of you want to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” The idea of the cross wasn’t just invented when Jesus was crucified; the cross representing a certain suffering was already there. And Christ tells us that to be a follower, we must take up our cross and follow him. Jesus was forced to carry his own cross to the site of his death, and was beaten, spat on, slapped, and mocked the entire way. The path was painful and difficult, and Jesus was hurting and wounded. Maybe not literally, but isn’t that, in a sense, what Jesus has asked us to do? 

2 Corinthians 12:10 is a quote from the apostle Paul, and he says, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Are you glad to suffer for the sake of Christ’s name? Are you willing to step up to the plate without a moment’s hesitation? Are you ready to carry your cross? It’s not easy, for it’s said that the way is narrow and few will find it. You can lay down your cross at any time and quit. But will you be a Christian, be Christ-like, and carry your cross until the very end?

Jesus said that those who love their life will lose it, but those who hate their life will find it. And God gave up His son so that we may have that choice to follow him. We could decide to carry our cross like Jesus. The cross represents suffering, hardships, and pain. It also represents life. We will find our lives when we give them up for Christ. Paul was happy to suffer for Jesus. And it wasn’t easy. He even begged for God to remove the thorn from his side, to take the troubles away. And the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient. My power works best in weakness.” God is not blind to our crosses and our burdens. He even says to carry them so we can find our life! 

Jesus carried his cross, was nailed to it, and then lived again. The cross represents suffering, death, and life. Easter Sunday is just the end of the story as we know it, but it’s all about the cross. It’s always been about the cross. Will you take up your cross and follow him? Will you give up your life so you can find it? Easter is about the cross, and everyone has one. What will you do with yours?

To all, happy Easter.

The Necklace

Last night, I gave into a temptation; an old habit and sin that made its way back into my life for a short moment. As soon as it happened, I felt shame. I lay across my bed later on and prayed hard. I said, “God, I don’t want to be a slave to sin again.” My pledge was that the next day, today, I would keep my mind focused on Him more than I ever had before. I had been forgiven for my slip-up; now, it was all about figuring out how I’d never slip up again. 

I’m so relieved, as I think we all are, to serve a God who forgives.  In Matthew 18:22, Jesus tells us not to forgive seven times, but seven times seventy. So it doesn’t matter how many times you mess up; God still forgives you. God still loves you. So is this whole seventy times seven deal a free pass? Act now, ask forgiveness later? No! It means that when our best isn’t enough, God will forget that we made a mistake. That in itself is a very beautiful thing. When our best isn’t enough, we are off the hook. 

So how do you do your best? What does it mean to do all that you can for Jesus? Is there some secret to success? There’s something to be said, but it’s no secret. By salvation, you’re adopted; by adoption, you’ve been forgiven. When you’re saved from yourself and from sin, you’re no longer a slave to sin unless you choose to be. 

“But Jessie, temptation is so strong!” I know. “It’s fun!” I know. “Giving in is so much easier.” I know. Sin is like going to college; have fun now, pay debt later. A lot of times, it’s fun to drink. Drugs, sex, and anything to fit in, it can be fun. But those student loans — that price for fun — will show up demanding payment. Isaiah 3:10 says, “Tell the godly that all will be well for them. They will enjoy the rich reward they have earned!” And honestly… Could there be anything more joyous, more “fun,” and more satisfying than something that God made and what He has in store for us?

Sin is not worth the moment’s fun, we’ve got that. But what about the temptation? How do we avoid it? The truth is, we don’t. You would have to separate yourself from the entire world to avoid temptation. It will always be there. So the question is, how do we face it? How do we stand strong against it? How can we resist? Satan is often called the Tempter. So when we’re fighting temptation, we’re really fighting him. He’s out to get us in any way possible, and he will do anything it takes to turn us away from God. Our battle isn’t against temptation, but rather, it’s against him. 

Temptation only becomes sin when we give into it. Consider in Genesis, when before sin was even in existence, Eve saw this beautiful fruit and wanted it. Again, sin did not exist. Eve sinned when she gave in. Sin brings death. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Curiosity killed the cat,” doesn’t it? Before we can resist temptation, we have to make the decision to do so. We have to consciously sit down and tell ourselves, “My soul is not worth earthly pleasure.” That alone will raise your defense tremendously. You make a decision, and then you stick by it. Then, we must remember that God is love, and love conquers all. With God, Satan doesn’t stand a chance in leading us astray. 

Ephesians 6:10-11 is one of my favorite passages concerning this subject. It says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take a stand against the devil’s schemes.” So here rises another question:  What is God’s armor, and how do we obtain it?

I see the walk with God as a building process of a house. You’re given a foundation when you receive salvation, and you’re meant to seek God for the bricks. You will get bricks from Him, and the more bricks you build with, the stronger your house will get. Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs… Houses of straw and sticks aren’t strong. But the brick house, the one that takes the most work and commitment, will always stand. Build your house from the bricks of God, and you’re far more likely to stand against the winds and tides of the world. 

If you don’t, if you fail, it’s okay. Jesus said, “Forgive seven times seventy!” 

Earlier, I was cleaning out our bathroom closet. Every few years or so, I get tired of the mess, so I started cleaning out today. I had a black garbage bag full of just junk. But as I was cleaning, I found a necklace my friend’s mother gave me a year ago. She gave it to me after I told her how I got saved. And she said, “Wear this so you’ll never forget.” One side said ‘Hope,’ and the other said ‘Faith.’ 

In this world, it’s easy to sin. It’s easy to forget, easy to give up. We’ve heard that the way is narrow, and few will find it. But God’s love shines above all else, and He never ceases to forgive if we only repent. And it’s never too late to ask. It’s never too late to start building a house. It’s never too late to say, “My soul is not worth a moment’s pleasure.” And if I were wrong about everything else, I would be right on this:  God LOVES you. And it’s never too late to seek Him. 

When to Blame God

In January of this year, I wrecked my first car. It was a 1990 Dodge Grand Caravan LE. I totaled that thing beyond any form of repair. No one was hurt, but what was hard on me was that I knew until I got another car, going to church wasn’t possible. For a while, I was lost without that weekly conviction. I craved the environment where everyone was peaceful and glad to serve the Lord, and I missed the sermons that used to tug on my heart. For a while, it felt like my faith was circling a drain. I was praying and reading my Bible, but something just felt off. Nothing about God felt right, and for the first time since getting saved, I didn’t feel His presence in my life. 

I had become accustomed to seeing God EVERYWHERE; in my studies, in my music, my life, my actions, and I was used to seeing the sunset from my kitchen window and imagining God as this powerful artist behind a canvas, just painting nature. God was everywhere. And then, just like that, I didn’t feel it anymore. My prayers were prayed with a doubtful heart. At the time, I was studying other religions and talking to people of other faiths to better understand what they believe. And the more I studied in this rut of faith, the more I thought, “Where is God? Where has He gone?” 

In Matthew 4, Jesus embarks on a 40-day journey through the desert on the outskirts of Jerusalem and more specifically on Mount Quarantania. While he’s out there, he’s fasting and praying, already suffering because, remember, Jesus was human. Satan knew that Jesus was hungry and tired, so he went out to tempt him. Satan said, “You’re the Son of God! Turn these stones to bread.” Jesus, despite his hunger, resisted. Two more times, Satan tempts Jesus, but Jesus never gave in. He resisted until the very end. And once it was over, God sent angels to him with bread and told him to eat. I can’t be positive, but I’m willing to guess that that bread was probably like New York pizza by today’s taste standards. 

Now, God didn’t send Satan after Jesus. God actually sent angels out with Jesus to protect him and watch over him. He knew Satan was coming, but he did not send for him. He didn’t say, “Go tempt Jesus. Make it hard on him.” He simply knew it was coming, so God protected him and kept him strong when hunger and fatigue were overwhelming him. 

My grandmother, last month, lost her entire check when her money fell out of her pocket. She said, “I don’t understand why the Lord would have that happen.” Often, we hear the questions of, “Why does God make things happen?” or “Why is my life so hard and bitter if God is real and is supposed to love me?” “Why can I not go to church?” God can prevent things from happening, but He doesn’t cause them. So why not prevent them?

Why would a teacher not test his students at the end of their study material? Why would soldiers, firefighters, or policemen not go through training and conditioning before being called to duty? Does a professional athlete eat junk food and watch television for the weeks leading up to the first game of the season? If all this is the case, then why shouldn’t God test us just to see what we know? How else do we know what areas of our faith or our knowledge need to improve? 

So many people are lost and blaming God. “God, why did you let me wreck?” “God, why did you let my house burn down?” “Why did you let my child get sick?” “Why did you let my mother die?” Shouldn’t the question be, “Satan, when will you go away?” It’s easy to blame God when He is so almighty and so powerful… Unfortunately, Satan also has power. One day, he will be defeated. The tears will be wiped away, and there will be no more pain. But until then, will we continue to allow God to be our scapegoat? 

Maybe you’ve been tested and tried, and you’ve been blaming God. Maybe you’re lost and looking for answers. But know that God is not to blame. He is the comfort when we mourn, the light when it’s dark, the food when we hunger, and He is the answer to everything. Satan is the answer to pain; God is the answer for healing and guidance. 

Ask yourself… Who’s really to blame? If it’s for healing, for strengthening, for love, for acceptance, for grace, for mercy, for comfort… Then, you can blame God.

Modern-Day Moses

My faith in God, like any other human being, comes with a small, occasional flicker of doubt. I believe the feeling comes when God’s message is too obvious for us to accept, or it’s too faint over all the craziness that accompanies our lives. My call into ministry wasn’t a profound, obvious I’m-telling-you-to-do-this sign, but it was a message I had to work through and unravel. I’m still trying to understand the whole message God is giving me, but one thing is very clear:  I’ve been called. 

All of us, in some way or another, have been called. A recent book I read titled “Is God Calling Me?” explains calls in three different senses. There’s the universal call that each follower gets to serve God, the call to serve in a church, and the call to ministerial leadership. My calling is certainly not normal or average, but I don’t pretend to completely see God’s plan yet. One of the things I struggled with most is excuses. 

When I was in middle school, we had this strange, off-the-wall idea for discipline when students didn’t do their homework. Someone actually thought that the best way to handle these slackers was to put them in a room during their normal daily gym class, and instead of doing gym, you did the work that you failed to turn in. Needless to say, that class was filled up a LOT. I was in there quite often, being the fan of gym that I was. In the class that the assignment was for, we had to fill out a red slip of paper, and on that paper, we had to write our name, class, assignment, and why we didn’t do the work. My excuses were very colorful, almost all of which were lies. I was sick, forgot it, left my book at school, and anything else I could think of. 

Getting my call was no different. I would think, how on earth can God think I can hold a job that’s meant to teach and set an example when I’m anything but perfect? God is going to use me? Is this a joke? In the Old Testament, God sees the oppression of his people and decides to send Moses to lead them out of Egypt. Moses was one of those men who had a story behind the face. He ran from Egypt after having killed a man, and he stuttered. When God appeared to him in a burning bush, Moses offered every excuse in the book. “But God, they know what I did. They would never listen to me! And I can’t speak well. God, send someone else.” But the Lord said, “No. I want YOU to go. I’m sending YOU.” God knew that Moses had murdered someone and that he stuttered, but He had a plan. And remember, all things are possible with God. 

There’s doubt, and there’s shame, when we’re faced with a call. When God first began pressing on my heart to pursue ministry, I had excuses. If I’m meant to set an example, then how can I hold that position when I’m overweight, shy, socially awkward… The list goes on and on. And I said, “God, do I really have to do this? How can I do this? Send someone else.” God said, “No, Jessie. I’m sending you. I want you.”

God sees us and knows much more about us and our future than we do. So when we say I can’t because of this, I can’t because I’m this and that, or because of this, we aren’t believing that God makes everything possible. Jesus said that with the faith of a seed, we could cast a mountain into the sea. What could we do with a little more faith? What could we do if we just stopped for a moment to take in the idea that God can make all things possible? Tell Him about your doubts and your shame, and then ask Him to take away anything in your life that’s standing in the way of fulfilling His purpose for your life. And then, be prepared for your prayer to be answered.