Archive for the ‘Growing Faith’ Category

I love people. Gay, straight, Bi, Transgender, whatever. I am also a Christian. Some of my friends think that is a contradiction. I can’t do anything about that. I have spent a lot of time on my face before the Lord on this and every other subject I have questions about. All I can say is that I KNOW that I am a lover. It is who I am created to be. I said in my last post that I do so clumsily and with abandon. My goal with this post today is to show you why and how I live and love the way I do, and why I think it’s part of being a Christian, not in opposition to it.

I went to a small Christian college in Nebraska. It was there that I learned not everything has to be a fight, that Jesus is so much better than I ever could have imagined, and most importantly, that I can love people who aren’t just like me, and Jesus is proud of that. I met so many of my life-shaping friends there, including Beckie, who has been posting our conversations on her blog this week.

When I arrived at York, I met and fell in love with an amazing boy. We were inseparable. Best friends. We were so different, but it didn’t matter. We had the same heart. We connected and talked about everything and loved each other deeply. While navigating through our feelings, we decided to give dating a try. That’s when people started telling me how dumb I was that I couldn’t see he was gay. It was so obvious to them, and was I really that blinded by my love for him that I couldn’t see the truth? I didn’t know what to do with that, so I loved him anyway. Our dating was short-lived, and our friendship was awkward for a long time after that, but I still loved him. I still do love him. He is still amazing. I haven’t seen him since college, but we pop in on each others Facebook pages now and then. If we could sit across from each other today, we would have a million things to talk about and I believe that deep love would still be there. Is he gay? I don’t know. Yes, I think so. I’ve never asked him. I don’t care. I love him because he is an amazing person, funny, charming, generous, and he loves Jesus as much as I do. I would love him even if he didn’t.

Let me tell you about my other college friends. I have friends who’ve had affairs, gotten divorced, and were arrested for breaking the law. I have friends who are so against Christianity now that I’m one of the few Christians in their life. I have friends who are preachers, teachers, camp directors, photographers and the list goes on and on. I love them all: the boys who broke my heart, the one who threatened me, the girls I competed with and against, the girl I hated then but is my dear friend now. They’re all just my friends, not my cheating friends, my divorced friends, law-breaking friends, etc.  I learned how to love people no matter how private or public their sins were. It’s where I learned forgiveness, both as the giver and receiver. I have been reconciled to these people who hurt me, and chosen to love them, and they love me. Loving my gay friends who didn’t hurt me has been so much easier.

They weren’t pulling me aside for private chats about my need to gain approval from men, my promiscuity, or my out of control anger. I wasn’t going to pull them aside to tell them how much I disapproved of their lifestyle. Why? Because their lifestyle was MY lifestyle. We were students at a Christian college, trying to figure out life apart from our parents and who we were now that we could decide for ourselves. We were insecure and scared but heading into the future together. We sat in classes together, held hands during devotionals, shared a few thousand meals, wrote each other encouraging notes, attended banquets, and skipped to the mail room together. We hugged and wrestled, held each other when we were sad, celebrated together, studied and did community service together. They encouraged me when I met Benny, and they rejoiced with us at our wedding. Not once did I feel the need to ask them if they were gay, or have them explain and defend their feelings or beliefs. I suspected, and with a few of them I KNEW, but I just didn’t see them as any different from me. I saw them as friends. Nothing more. Nothing less. All of us with sin in our lives. All of us loved by God. My being straight and them being gay didn’t define who we were. It still doesn’t. I don’t get all caught up in vocabulary either, like calling it a lifestyle.

What does the gay lifestyle look like exactly? My friend is a teacher. He gets up in the morning and spends his days helping children learn the basics of what they’re going to need to succeed in life. He comes home and does laundry, hangs out with friends, goofs around on Facebook, and goes to bed. I just described MY lifestyle. Oh, and he’s gay. He doesn’t ask me what Benny and I do in the privacy of our bedroom, and I don’t want to know the details of his sex life either. My sex life is not my lifestyle. Who I am married to is not my lifestyle. You don’t know my level of kinkiness in the bedroom and you wouldn’t dare ask me because sex is not something we talk about. You don’t think my bedroom is your business and neither do I.

Some of my straight friends are concerned about my acceptance of sin and don’t understand why I wouldn’t do everything in my power to make sure my gay friends know what the Bible says about homosexuality. (Trust me, they know.) They don’t understand why I would be in community with people so blatantly going against God’s word. (Don’t I do that sometimes too? God’s word is where I got my example of loving others. Others=sinners=me too.) They are using words and phrases like “condoning behavior” and “justifying sin” and they want to know where I draw the line. They believe that my lack of calling people out on sin means I have no standard at all…anything goes. A certain Bible story about rock throwing comes to mind. (John 8)

I am the woman caught in adultery, naked and humiliated, waiting for my life to end at the hands of my indignant neighbors. I am the man hiding in the crowd as my lover bears the brunt of the crowd’s wrath. I am the religious leader who planned this little scenario to trap Jesus and trick him into contradicting himself so I can kill him. I am the woman holding a stone, not sure I should be here, but thankful that it’s not me in the middle of the circle. I am Jesus, more loving, clever, and merciful than everyone else there.

What did he draw in the dirt? Was he drawing the proverbial line? Because the words he spoke drove the crowd away. Whichever one of you is without sin, go ahead, throw your rock at her. He didn’t say she wasn’t sinning. He didn’t condone her adultery. He wasn’t showing his lack of conviction or unbelief in the seriousness of God’s word. He just loved her.

Here’s my line in the dirt: I am all about love. The pursuit of it, the immersion in it, and the outpouring of it, to ALL who cross my path.

1 Corinthians 13 (The Message)

The Way of Love

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. 11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. 12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Read it in whatever translation of the Bible you prefer. The message is the same. If I do not love, I am nothing. Will I love perfectly? No. I don’t have to be perfect because Jesus is. I call myself a sinner, but guess what? He doesn’t. He calls me sister. I know what sin is, recognize sinful behavior, and I draw the line before that point. I love the sinner.

I don’t focus on hating sin. I focus on loving people. That’s my line.

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I am a clumsy lover.

Benny and I stayed up talking late into the night about yesterday’s post. He wants you to know that he sacrificed sleep for this conversation. 😉 He challenged me to be clearer in my thoughts instead of using broad strokes and lumping people together in categories – something that annoys me when other people do it. He said my examples were extremes and that we know lots of people who can and do love people and still hate the sin in their lives, including us. Let me paraphrase a 3 hour conversation in a few lines:

Benny – “Niki, isn’t that what we’re doing with SEVENS? Isn’t that who you are when you love _______ (our drug addict friend) but cry over what the addiction is doing to her body, and refuse to give her money for her next fix? You’re loving her, but hating the consequences of her behavior.”

Me –  “But my point was that I’ve experienced so many people using this phrase to justify their hateful behavior towards others whose sin looks different or is more public than their own. It’s stupid and unfair and looks nothing like love. And I know others who think that love is pointing out everyone’s sin, convicting them of how bad they are so they’ll see their need for Jesus. That’s not what I read in the Bible. I’m calling them on it.”

Benny – “But when you say it’s impossible to separate the two, you’re lumping me and a whole bunch of other people into that category, and I think I do a pretty good job of loving the sinner but hating sin. ”

Niki – “So what’s your point? I should retract what I said?”

Benny – “No, a lot of it was good, but you were still not as calm as you think you were. Some of your wording was confrontational and I think you need to spend a little more time thinking through what you really want to say. And by the way, you’re not a sinner; you’re a new creation.”

Niki – “I know. That was going to be part of my next post.”


He’s right, and I stand corrected. Perhaps I should have thought through this a little more. I am a clumsy lover. I don’t always love people well. I fall into unloving behaviors too easily, especially when it comes to what I refer to as “church sign/bumper sticker theology.”

I’m not retracting what I said because I know a lot of people who don’t seem to be able to love others because they are too busy showing disgust for others sinful behaviors. I don’t think that is loving at all. It’s possible they just don’t know how. I’ve been there – wanting to love others but failing. Yes, I’m very clumsy indeed, even in my blogging.

I want to answer my questions at the end of the last post.

Why should we waste time hating behavior when so many people are desperate for our love?

I don’t think we should. Like my friend John said, if my kid has cancer, I don’t have to be reminded to love my kid and hate the cancer. I hate the effect of the cancer, but I focus on loving my kid. The loving gets my time and energy, not the hating.

What does condoning behavior look like?

Using the example Benny gave me, if I know my friend is a drug addict and I give her money so she can buy her drugs, then I am condoning her behavior.

How is it different from loving behavior?

If I know my friend is a drug addict, I don’t give her money to buy drugs and I hold her hand while she’s suffering, maybe help her find the help she needs.

I think my identity plays into this discussion as well. I am a shield. I am built to stand fearless on the front line. Sometimes I get a little over zealous in how I choose to walk that out.  I’ll be talking more about identity in the coming days, but for this discussion let’s just say THAT is my problem with sin in a person’s life. It blinds them from understanding and walking in who they are, and creates a residue that mucks everything up.

One of my friends spoke to loving the sinner in the mirror. In my experience, it’s a short walk from hating the sin in my life to hating myself for not being able to immediately change it. I appreciate my friends who worded this phrase to me in a way that made me think longer and harder on what I posted. I’m still thinking.

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If you’re new to this blog, or we’ve never met, then you need to know some very important things about me:

  1. I love Jesus. Completely. Unswervingly. And I know He’s crazy about me.
  2. I love people. More than animals, nature, philosophy, and chocolate.
  3. I am falling in love with Jesus’ bride, the Church. Choosing to be in love is probably more accurate.
  4. I have the privilege of friendship with thousands of people of every age, gender, nationality, religious creed, and sexual orientation.

I need you to know these things to set the context of what I’m about to say.

I’ve sat through amazingly frustrating conversations with friends whose hearts are golden. They love Jesus and strive to please Him, but they have swallowed so many platitudes over the years that they can’t even see how offensive they have become with their thoughtless comments like the first part of this post’s title, which is a thought from Gandhi, not the person of Jesus Christ.

As a young, zealous Christian, I used this phrase repeatedly, and I truly meant it. It made me feel good and holy to say it, like I was rising above something. But I’ve learned to be honest about my faith, and now I groan in frustration with this noble sounding garbage. I understand that it is an attempt to articulate that we’re supposed to love everyone, including the people who do bad things and are stuck in bad habits or addictions. Love the person, but hate what they do. Please, tell me how it’s possible to separate the person from their actions. I’ve never met anyone who HATED a behavior but still truly LOVED the person stuck in or choosing to participate in said behavior. When you hate something, you can’t help but feel negative emotion towards the person attached to it. It gets personal. Here’s a truth for you:

I am the sinner, and I am crushed by those who want to love me but can’t reconcile their hate for some of the things I believe and do. Sometimes it paralyzes me – the hate wearing a mask of love.

I have been bullied and abused by people in the name of “love” because in their minds, that is better than letting my flesh melt off in the fiery pit of hell for all eternity. I’ve been called all kinds of names and accused of denying the Bible as Truth, because I have tattoos, I don’t think ass is a cuss word (and I used the word bullshit in my title for this post), I shop at stores that support issues I don’t agree with, I love homosexuals, the name on my church sign doesn’t match theirs, and I don’t have a meek and humble spirit. I’m not a Proverbs 31 woman, and I don’t care. I can’t live up to the hype. But I am madly in love with Jesus, and He’s equally smitten with me. Every day I have to look to Him for my worth, because I’m not good enough for me, let alone anyone else. So I believe I am built to offer that same courtesy to others; See them as better than me rather than the other way around. Is that easy? Hell no!

I am a sinner, I’m not sin.

How about others? Be honest. How many rapists, child molesters, murderers, and genocidal dictators to you love? You hate their sin, right? Do you love them apart from their actions? How about liars, cheaters, and thieves? That feels a little more doable, doesn’t it? What say you about bullies, drug dealers, and pimps? Love them? Hate them? How about politicians whose personhood agendas differ from your own? Or your neighbor who leaves her neglected children at home so you have 3 extra kids to feed and feel responsible for? How about your friend’s sister who is an angry, belligerent lesbian? Or the televangelist who had a very public affair? Or the man who beat on you so many times you chose to run away? Or the Christian who feels justified in their hatred towards others? Where is the love for them as people?

Jesus has yet to say, “Niki, I am going to fill your life with people who are hard to love, and I want you to love them with everything in you, but still hate the things they do. Good luck with that.”

Love the sinner. That means EVERYONE. Forget the hate part and focus on the love part. I’m not saying we should accept, approve, or condone bad behaviors. They are destructive and anti-relationship, but don’t kid yourself thinking this is a holy statement and pleasing to Jesus. He was the one hanging out with loose women, cheating tax guys, common fishermen, and being accused of being a drunkard and glutton. I can’t find any examples in my Bible of Him loving broken people while showing disgust for what they do. (Lets save the Pharisees for a later discussion.) It wasn’t apparent by any of His actions, so was He condoning their behavior? No.  Jesus  loved people right where they were, and they were changed by being with Him.


Why should we waste time hating behavior when so many people are desperate for our love?

What does condoning behavior look like? How is it different from loving behavior?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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