#sundaymessage: Your first identification

9 06 2019

Before you read this post, I ask you to briefly look at the following scripture, which is the inspiration behind today’s message. https://biblia.com/bible/niv/John%201.29-51

Image result for pride month

Adam in the Bible had a really hard job. His first assignment given to him by God was to name all of the animals and plants. I imagine him sitting there on a rock, and these animals lined up one after the other, not unlike they would for Noah a few generations later. Adam would either pull the animal into his lap, or stand up and place his hand upon the animal, and then the name would come to him. He would walk around the vegetation, touching it, tasting it, giving it a name. Just for humor’s sake…imagine for a moment, the moment Adam found out that the cactus has prickly things….I wonder what he ran into it with? Or the porcupine sticks as well, what did he have to pull the sticker out from? Imagine the first time he ate a lime. Or the first time he smelled the poop from any animal. Or the first time he tried to make a cat do anything it was supposed to do.

One of the first things that a new family does is to identify the name of its new baby. Before the room is made, before the sonogram is viewed…the new parents start to dream up names. Names that embody the person that they hope their child will be when they grow up. Sometimes, they use family names, of grandparents or people that have gone on long ago, that had a significant influence in their lives. Sometimes, it’s friends who have inspired the couple, or celebrities. Sometimes, it is a name they found beautiful or special. However they come about it, that individual is named, and they are loved with that name.

It’s a beautiful thing when someone calls you by your name, or even a nickname. It’s a beautiful moment when someone says your name before an important moment, such as a wedding. It’s a rite of passage when you’re married when you do change your name. Or when our trans people choose their new name and their name is affirmed in the largest and smallest ways.

It’s a beautiful thing when someone calls you by your name, or even a nickname. It’s a beautiful moment when someone says your name before an important moment, such as a wedding. It’s a rite of passage when you’re married when you do change your name. Or when our trans people choose their new name and their name is affirmed in the largest and smallest ways.

So let’s get into the scripture, with these things in mind.

John and we know who Jesus is.
John was just sitting on the bank of a river, surrounded by people who were listening to him proclaim that there was a messiah who was coming. He was preaching that they needed to get baptized, and that the time was near. People were gathered around, hanging on his very and every word. He was preaching, and the only reason that he could preach is because he knew, and was convinced that Jesus was the son of God. I mean, by other accounts, John was not reputable. He wore smelly fur and ate locusts. I guess he liked the crunch. I doubt that he ever really went into the temple because he lived out in the wilderness. He only bathed when he got into the river, probably, dunking people and telling them of the salvation that was coming. As soon as he saw Jesus coming? He identified him immediately for who he was, the son of God here to take away the sin of the world. Then he said that everything he had ever done, was for Jesus.

The thing is, this has to be the same for us. While Jesus may not be physically here, we have to know who Jesus is, and learn to identify Jesus when we meet Jesus. We have to know when we are in the presence, and we have to know who is pushing us when we are being pushed. We have to follow our calling, no matter what the calling is, even if it’s crazy. I have to trust that God is calling me to step out in faith, when I am told to step out. No matter what I’m stepping into. Where I am stepping into with God’s leadership, should be where I wanna be instead of waiting on the shoreline in safety. The only way, the only way that I can know if what I’m doing is the will of God, is if I know Jesus personally, and I am listening for the voice. I can go to church all I want. I can read the Bible all I want. I can give all the money I want….but if I don’t take the time to follow the leading of God, then it’s for nothing.

Jesus knows our name, and we know the voice of God.
Jesus started walking, and two of John’s disciples left their current teacher to go follow Jesus, this man who just walked up out of nowhere. Let’s think a minute about the kind of faith that takes….to leave the leadership of someone you’re comfortable with, to follow a brand-new person. That takes a lot of faith. But as he’s walking along, Andrew brings along his brother. This causes Jesus to pause, I can see it clearly in my mind’s eye. Andrew says, “hey Jesus, can my brother join us?” Jesus stops, and turns. He sees this man standing beside of Andrew, and looks at him a moment, and then says “Your new name is Peter.” And off they go. I’m sure Peter and Andrew look at each other, and they don’t understand, shrug their shoulders and run behind Jesus to catch up.

I would be remiss if I did not pause over the significance of this. Peter just accepted this new name and identity, just because Jesus gave it to him. How is this possible? Simple, he knew it was the voice of God. He knew this would change his life.

When some of my friends have gone through the TRANSformation process, and are beginning to take on their new identity as a new gendered person, one of the first steps on that process is the changing of the name. That name change is everything. The old name is dead, the new name is the present. I’ve seen what deadnaming a person can do, especially if it is with harsh intentions. I’ve also seen the power of the affirming of the new name, in love and acceptance. The choice of your new name as a transperson is very important and special. It’s often something that someone has thought about for a very, very long time. Usually, it’s not something they do lightly, but they specifically often choose a name that carries some significance. My transpeople, God chose your new name for you. God is the first to affirm your new name. God is the first to name you with your deadname as well. Don’t take offense to that….God did not make a mistake in giving you the birth assigned gender. God has a purpose for you as a transperson. You are supposed to walk this path, and find your new gender. What a wonderful example of 2 Corinthians 5:17 that we can see vividly! That scripture says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” When you are ready, God will call you in your new name, and then, you will rise, and be a new creation! How wonderfully affirming it must feel for your friends and family to respect your new name, and your new pronouns! But never forget, God called you that first, which affirms his love and unconditional acceptance of you!

Jesus affirms us as we walk with him.
So after Peter’s name is changed, Jesus continues to walk along. He meets Phillip as well, a friend of Andrew’s and Peter’s. Then they meet Nate, who asks “does anything good come from Nazareth” when he heard Jesus was from Nazareth. I have some pride about where I’m from. I’m proud to say I come from Mount Airy, even though there’s an opioid problem there. Even though there’s a lot of hate and prejudice there. Even though there’s a lot of racism there. Even though there’s a huge tourism industry there. I’m proud to say I’m from Mount Airy because that’s where my family is from. That’s where I was raised. Instead of being offended, I think Jesus sorta looked at him, and then called him a “true Israelite” a way of saying he was the real deal. Instead of holding his tongue and keeping his thought to himself, he asked if anything could come of Nazareth. Jesus appreciated his full honesty, and his complete openness. And then called him to walk with him. He did not scold, he did not correct him, he simply affirmed him, and told him to walk on.

You see, that’s what Jesus does for us. Jesus affirms us, our questions, our doubts, our uncertainties, as long as we walk with him. What a blessing it is to know that we follow a God who doesn’t want our blind obedience and acceptance! What a blessing it is to be affirmed in my questions and my search for the truth! I grew up in an environment where the faith I was taught said it was not okay to question, I was just to accept it. Questions would be shut down and rejected because they demonstrated a lack of faith in the doctrine. As far as I know and I’ve studied, Jesus is one that welcomes questions, welcomes doubts, accepts those of us who don’t have it all figured out. Blesses us, in our doubts and our frustrations. As far as I’ve figured out, Jesus welcomes me, weirdo and all, not despite, not in spite, but because I have my questions, and I have my truth. If this does not excite you, if this does not thrill you, then you likely believe you have it all figured out, and all of the questions answered. Congratulations to you. For the rest of us, let’s walk, let’s talk with our creator, let’s figure it out together.

These men followed. They didn’t know where they were going. They had no idea that in three years’ time, their messiah would be dead. They had no idea all of the miracles and wonders that would be a part of their life in the upcoming years. And you know what? Neither do we!


#Sunday Message-Who Will Love me?

2 06 2019
JJ Heller, Love Me

Friday night, I was fortunate to attend a showing of Rocketman with some close friends of mine. If you’re not familiar with it, it is basically the life story of Elton John. His ups, his downs, beginnings, ends, addiction and recovery. I couldn’t find the scene that I’m talking about, so I hope you’ll see it so that you know what I’m referencing. During one moment, he comes out to his mother. She said “I know” and then tells him that he will end up dying alone, with no one to that will love him the way that he was meant to be loved.


Sit in that for a moment. Just feel those words wash over you. Feel that emotion and heartbreak. Feel that sense of rejection that hangs in the air. It’s thick and heavy. Honestly, sit in that for just a moment.

Later, we know that he eventually meets his partner, and they wed, and he’s finally able to be loved like he’s supposed to, but that all comes after addiction and false loves. I’m glad his story has a happy ending, and that Elton John was able to persevere past those words. I truly hope he’s been able to make peace with his mother.

Happy Pride Month! June is our month to celebrate PRIDE and look back over all we’ve come through and all we’ve yet to do. Many people are told those same words or worse when they come out as gay. I’ve been told the following:

  • I know you are, but you’ll never find love. You’ll never find somebody.
  • Can’t you just be gay after I die?
  • Don’t you know what people will think about me?
  • You’re going to hell.
  • How can you believe in God and be gay?
  • You’re disgusting.
  • So who’s the guy?
  • You don’t know what you’re talking about. You aren’t old enough to understand what gay is.

I could go on, but why do that?

In our 20’s and 30s, teens and basically any other period of life, we are all searching for something. We all want to be loved. We all want to be accepted. We all want to be heard and respected. We look for love. We look for it in church people, we look for it on the floor of the club, we look for it in the needle in our veins. We look for love in our academics, we look for love in our families, we look for love in one-nightstands. We look for love everywhere. Because we are constantly searching for love, I believe that’s why it’s especially hard for us to hear the words “you’ll never find love.”

We were made for love. We were made to love people. And it’s hard and very difficult. I know in preschool, love meant sharing your crayons, or asking the loner to play jumprope with you. But the definition of love changes as you get older. Stakes get higher. Evidences of love change. Instead of sharing crayons, it’s sharing time. Instead of asking the loner to play jumprope, it’s asking them to join your group. Instead of talking about someone behind their back, it’s not talking about someone behind their back.

Love calls us to a higher way of living. It calls us to empathy, it calls us to be there with people when life just sucks. It calls us to loyalty. It calls us to understand and compassion. It calls us to make decisions based on love. It calls us to hug, it calls us to check up on people when they are hurting. Simple things, but most of all, it calls us to think of someone else instead of ourselves all the time. And that’s hard. It’s truly the hardest thing to do.

But if we do it, and we do it right, and we follow God’s call to love above our own thing, I think we could really love some people excellently. Because there’s a lot of people who need some love. I’ve been one of those that I thought was unlovable, and I’m so glad that I have people in my life who loved me enough to help me continue on. People who were Jesus’ hands, his feet, and his heart. People who lifted me up when I needed some lifting. People who cared for me, and wanted the best for me. Those people have no idea how they saved me, in a sense. (Author’s Note: Not speaking of salvation, but just in a general sense) We never know the impact that loving others has on the life of another. We may never know the impact.

But I will tell you that, when the song asks who will love me for me? It has to be us. Believers, it has to be us. We have to be the ones who will love others, because no one else will.

I love you all,

A Christmas Thought

23 12 2017

From Luke 1:26-45

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

No doubt that these are familiar verses, and this is a familiar story.  I don’t have any unique perspective, or a new discovery that I’m sharing here.  I’m just sharing a thought that I had in reviewing the story of Jesus.

Ministers have often talked about how scared Mary must have been to be pregnant out of wedlock.  I’ve heard every Christmas season, something about how Mary had a lot to lose by proclaiming the Birth of Jesus Christ, which was in her.  I’ve sat there in the pew and listened to someone preach about how practical Mary is in her response to the news that she’s pregnant.  They love to talk about her around Christmas, because hers is a Christmas message.  And it is a Christmas message.  It’s the Christmas message!  But I see some proclamations here that I would love to share with you, proclamations that I believe have both significance for Mary, but significance for each of us as well.

  1.  The Proclamation to Mary
    1. “You are Highly Favored!”
      I was thinking about it earlier this week, and I was wondering what qualified Mary?  Like what was special about her?  I don’t have much about her life prior to Jesus, so I looked at other times where she was mentioned.  The popular Christmas carol, “Mary Did You Know?” repeatedly asks if she knew the details of Jesus’ life and Jesus’ fate.  (Which, according to scripture, yes, she knew that Jesus was going to be the savior of the world, but that’s another subject for another day.)  Anywho, as we read the story of Jesus, it’s the story of his mother as well.  They say that children are a reflection of their parents and their influence in their lives.  If this is true of Jesus, then Mary raised Jesus to be an upstanding person.  Yes, he was God, but I’m also sure that Mary had to teach him things as well.  And in the final days of Jesus, I know that Mary was filled with dread, because she understood his warnings, because the angel told her that he would be the savior of the world.  I think that when Jesus was just conceived, when she heard the words “you are highly favored” I think that she tried to remember everything that was happening, so she’d never forget.  No doubt that she had been viewed by God to be someone who was trying their best to follow his commandments.  This means that she was growing in her relationship with God.  She was in the temple, worshiping.  She was obedient to the call of God, and God could see fruit in her life.  She didn’t become spiritual just because she was Mary, the mother of Jesus.  She was spiritual because she was Mary, the child of God.
    2. We are Highly Favored
      Just as Mary was highly favored by God, if we are doing the things that we need to do, if we are growing in our walk with God and if we are producing the spiritual fruits that we need to produce because God is moving through us, then we are also highly favored!  God used Mary to produce the son of God and to support his ministry.  And God can use us to produce fruits and live a life of ministry.
  2. The Proclamation of Mary
    1. “I am the Lord’s servant”
      Her first response was a practical response, of how she could be pregnant but never have gotten it on?  Her second was her acceptance of God’s will for her life….and she knew that her life was not her own.  She knew that the purpose of her life was to serve God.  She accepted God’s plan as her plan, and didn’t fight it.  There was really nothing to fight, she was already preggers and she couldn’t do anything about that!  She accepted this, without protest, without responding like a four year old.  She just accepted what God said on faith, and let him figure out the rest of the details.  No doubt, she had worries that she could have said and shared, worries of Joseph and her relationship to him.  Worries of social graces and being cast out of her society.  Worries of where she would go and live, what would happen.  Worries of how she would deal with her baby boy being crucified.  But she accepted them all, and knew that God would take care of her in his own way.
    2. We are the Lord’s servant
      I could stand to learn a few things from Mary.  I could take from her story, the importance of staying faithful to God, no matter what his plan is.  I could also learn my place as well.  I could learn that my life is not my own, and I must accept the plan of God for my life, regardless of what I think or feel about it.  Hopefully I will learn a few things from Mary.  Because ultimately, she immediately accepted the plan that God had for her baby to be the savior of the world, and she obeyed throughout the years.  She was there at each event, she was there when he died.  And she was there when he was resurrected.  When I think about how she could have gone through all of that, I arrive at Mary’s unwavering faith in God.  I arrive at her faithfulness.  When others look at my life, and they wonder how I did it all, I hope that people think of God, and see the power of God in my life.  I hope that they see how God was faithful and how He used me.  I hope that they see God is in me and lives through me.  I hope they see love.

As you go into the Christmas season, may you ponder the words and meaning of Christmas, and may you and yours find lots of love to share!

Unity and Love

22 12 2015

It’s no secret that I am someone who both loves and despises the church from the both double-edged sword.  It’s no secret that I have been hurt by remarks that those people of the church have made.  It’s also no secret that I surround myself with people who also have been hurt by statements that the church has made.  It’s no secret that the church has personally metaphorically stabbed and wounded those that I love.  I see images like this…..


and this….



and it is upsetting.  (Just for the record, I did a public google image search and found these images.)  I see so much hate spewing out of the american church, and I see so much violence being advocated for, and it is hurtful.  I hear and see my friends struggle to be loving and accepting of these awful words.  I talk to people who have been force-fed the doctrine of Christianity by people who are not living a relationship with Christ.  I watch videos and hear things on the news of people proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ but in the same breath, condemning those who don’t look like or act like they do.

For so long, I’v64e1a24e6e9dedca1656322d1b0fd754e used this image, to bring to mind the core tenants of the faith, to justify my feeling of superiority to those who aren’t able to follow this command.  This image portrays the message that Jesus gave, when he gave the command to love thy neighbor.  And the modern American Christian will give all of these objections as reasons not to love “thy neighbor.”  For so long, it seems like we like to define who our neighbor is.  I imagine many times, that Jesus wants to look at us like this:

56868885And the reality is, that he is truly qualified to do so.

I get so angry with people when they don’t follow this simple command that Jesus gave us, and I get so angry when they try to make up all of these excuses for not loving someone, instead of just following the command, because that implies two things:

  1.  That it is perfectly valid that people have to meet certain standards in order to receive grace.
  2. We have the power to decide who is worthy of being loved.

Neither of which is true.

When I entered into a relationship with God, he didn’t require me to change.  He didn’t give me a three point improvement plan.  He didn’t tell me about the ways that my life would have to be gotten in order.  He simply said “I accept you as you are.”  He called to me, wanting a relationship with me, and I responded likewise.  It is through consistent contact and communication, that he makes me more like him.  The things he has changed are not typical.  The glaringly obvious things that you would think he would work on…he hasn’t.  This isn’t to say that he won’t…but he just hasn’t yet.  In that same sense, that is the way in which I should love people.  If I am to embody the love of God, then I love people as they are, and accept them as best as I can, not demanding that they change.  Not pouting and screaming til the tears come down, until someone finally molds to my will and desires.  If I am to be the love of God, the hands and feet and arms and ears of God on this earth, then I am to do just that.  Serve wholeheartedly, go where needed, embrace in love and listen without reserve.  That’s it.  I don’t get to decide who I do and don’t serve.  I don’t get to decide where I do and don’t go.  I don’t get to decide who I do and don’t hug.  I don’t get to decide whose words are worth listening to and whose words aren’t worth listening to.  That decision is not up to me.

But where does that leave me with the American church, as a whole?  It’s very obvious.  My job is to love.  Even when I don’t believe that those beliefs are right, my job is to love.  I am to serve those, even when I disagree with them, I am to serve without reserve, as unto the Lord.  My job is to love.  I am to go, where and when I am needed, no matter what, and be present where I am placed, even if the person I am being present for, has made derogatory remarks that place my friends in a category.  I am to hug, and spread love, and make sure that all I encounter know of the love of God through me, even when I don’t want to do so.  I am to listen, without reserve, and allow their opinion’s value, as an individual to override any of my own beliefs.  If I want to see the American church changed, then I have to be changed myself.  I have to cast aside my self-righteous opinion of being better than the above pictures, and I have to love them.  My job is not to change them but to love them.

And that goes along with the second lie that we try to convince ourselves which is true, the lie that we have the decision to make and decide who is worthy of being loved.  The problem is, it’s not our job.  It’s not my job to decide who I am supposed to love.  I’m supposed to love everybody, no conditions.  I am supposed to love my gay friend who hates when her family speaks words from the Bible at her, condemning her to hell.  I am supposed to love the family that speaks those words at her.  I am supposed to love both the victim and the oppressor.  Does that mean that I allow the oppressor to continue to be oppressing?  No.  That means that I love the victim enough to make the oppressor think of their actions.  Does that mean that I allow the victim to lash out at their oppressor?  No, that means I encourage the victim to step outside of their frame of perspective and into the oppressor, and seek for understanding.

But where does that leave me in the church?  Where does that leave me when I see the majority not conforming to my perspective?  maxresdefault

There’s an old chorus that my church sings quite often, and the words are pictured to the right.  The thing is, we all have the creepy uncle.  We all have the aunt we’d rather not talk about.  We all have the black sheep of our family, and I happen to mostly be the weird one in mine.  But the thing about family is, I cannot change the fact that I have the biological characteristics of my father’s demeanor.  I cannot change that I walk like my grandfather.  I cannot change that my body is shaped like my mother’s   I cannot change that I have blonde hair like her.  Fair skin like my grandfather.  I cannot eliminate the impact that my family has had upon the shaping of who I am.  And, I cannot just simply ignore them, I don’t get to choose who my family is.

And if the church of God is my family.  If all Christians are my brothers and sisters, then even Westboro Baptist Church is my brother and sister.  Even the fearmongerers who hate Obama, they’re my brother and sister.  I can’t decide that they have not received Grace.  I can’t decide that they’re not going to heaven.  That’s not my job.  That’s God’s job.  My job is to love them, and to do so in the best way that I know how.  Does this mean that I unite with them?  Yes.  Does it mean that I agree with them?  No.

What does this mean?

I’ve been revealed that unity is more important than my self-righteous opinions.  Unity is more important than my pride.  Holding back my tongue for the sake of unity is more important than sounding my beliefs like a big brass cymbal.

Instead of making sure that I am heard, and that my opinion is out there, right now, my instruction is to wait, love and expect God to change what needs to be changed.  And lately?  It’s been me more than others.