As of this writing, we're still in the thick of it. It's been an interesting, often awkward, mostly grace-filled, always amazing journey. One of our pastors, Shane, was counseling Linda about some communication struggles she was having with Rita. Linda was trying to explain her frustration. Finally, she looked up at Shane and said, "Well, you're married to a woman. You know what they're like."
As Shane said later, "They never taught me at Bible college how to handle that sort of thing."
Our journey with Linda and Rita clarifies some of the convictions we've developed at our church. I've already shared two of those convictions—the Bible is our only true guide for life and holiness, and Jesus welcomed sinners, just as his Father did, and asks us to welcome them too—but let me walk you through a few of our other convictions. I think this will help if you find that your church is too prone to avoid "sinners and tax collectors"—and you would like your church to join God in the deep work he's doing in the lives of people all around you.
Conviction 1: God is here. There are few professing atheists in the world. But there are a lot of practical atheists—people for whom God's "thereness" registers not at all. I sometimes call them apatheists—joining the word theist and the word apathy. Apatheists believe God exists but don't care.
I'm trying not to be one. So I nurture the conviction that God is right here, right now. The main spiritual discipline for fostering this sense of God's nearness is curiosity. I try to stay more interested, regardless the situation, in what God is doing than in what man is plotting or in what the devil's up to. I don't want to be unaware of the devil's schemes. But I want to obsess over the Father's presence and the Father's work. I want to reserve all my strength for pursuing the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
So my deep conviction is that God is here.
Shortly after Rita and Linda arrived, the pastors and elders gathered to think through biblically and practically our response to our gay friends. I began the conversation with this question: "If gays and lesbians want to come to our church, do you see in that mostly God at work, or mostly the devil?"
To a person, everyone answered, "God."
God is here.
Which leads to our next conviction.
2: When someone comes into the light, it's always God at work. Jesus said that he is the light that has come into the world. Those who come into the light step into a place where they can receive truth and grace (see conviction 4). Those who don't come into the light condemn themselves.
Anytime a man or woman brings their true self into the light—letting themselves be seen for who they really are—God is at work. Think of the two men in Luke 18 who go up to the temple to pray. One is a Pharisee, one a tax collector. The Pharisee is a moral exemplar. He is a paragon of virtue. And he knows it. His prayer is lengthy, polished, eloquent, and the entire thing an extended brag on himself.
The tax man is a scoundrel, a bad egg. He's the sort of person "good" people look at and say, "Thank God I'm not him." And he knows it. His prayer is short, stark, desperate. It is a confession and a plea. He's a sinner. He needs God's mercy.
Jesus is pointed in his verdict: the tax man walks away justified before God; the Pharisee doesn't.