The final breath

With my turning sixty this year, I have been posting on Facebook what I hope are interesting things from my life.  Generally, they are fairly short bits.  The piece which follows is longer and, because it is, and because of its nature, I found it worthy to place on my blog.

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I never knew the woman in life, but I would be there for her final breath. The timing would be perfect, and this would provide me with one of the truly unique experiences of my life.

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I had been in the ministry a few years. We lived in Guttenberg, Iowa. I had a church there along with one twenty-five minutes north, in McGregor, Iowa. It was a summer Friday when the phone rang. I had Friday as my day off. It was typical of me not to shave and to dress in my grubbiest t-shirt and shorts—hardly pastor-presentable.

That’s how I was dressed when the person on the other end of the phone said, “Pastor Eilers, could you come to the Great River Care Center? A woman is near death and her two sons would like a pastor.”

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The Great River Care Center, McGregor, Iowa.

When she told me the woman’s name, I responded, “She’s not a member of mine. Did you call her pastor?” “Yes. She’s a member of the ELCA church on the hill south of McGregor. I called there. And I called all of the other ELCA churches in the area. No one is answering their phone.”

“It’s my day off. I have to shave and dress. It’s a twenty-five minute drive to McGregor. Tell the sons I will be there in thirty minutes.” “Thank you, Pastor.”

I zipped my electric razor over my face, then changed into my pastor attire. Within a half-hour, I was walking into Agnes’s room, but as I made the drive north two things nagged at me.  Would she still be alive when I got there, making my trip feel futile?  Or would she linger for hours and I would find that I couldn’t leave until she breathed her last?

I entered the room to find her two sons holding vigil. I introduced myself, then asked them out to the hall. “I don’t like to talk in front of the person, and I wanted to ask some questions.” They filled me in on the basic things to help me know their mother. I then said, “Clearly, your mother does not have long. Are you okay with me talking openly with her, that she will be with the Lord soon?” They were fine with everything. We headed back into the room.

I always assume that the person in the bed can both hear and understand, so I spoke to Agnes as if she were awake. I got really close—my face only inches from hers—and put my hand on the back of her head and neck. I introduced myself and explained that her pastor could not be reached, but I was pleased to be there with her and her boys. I spoke of the blessed life she enjoyed on the farm, and everything pertinent told to me by her sons.

I then spoke of her impending death and recited some beloved Scriptures to assure her that she was a precious child of God and soon she would be in His presence in heaven. I then prayed with her.

That’s when it happened, and it happened exactly as I will now tell you, with not one bit of exaggeration.

Concluding the prayer, I spoke the benediction: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” With the closing words, I made the sign of the cross on her forehead. I finished, “Amen.”

Immediately, with not a millisecond’s hesitation, she gurgled. This was the only time at death that I witnessed bile come up and out of the mouth. She gurgled once, and that was it.

She was dead.

She died the moment I finished what I was asked to come to do.

Agnes’s sons stood by, marveling at what they’d just witnessed.

On the inside, I was thinking, “Wow!  Did you see that?  I’ve never seen that before!  Guys, that just doesn’t happen!”  On the outside, I acted as if this were business as usual, the moment far too solemn for comment.

I stood. I expressed my sorrow for their earthly loss and my joy at their mother’s eternal gain. They were wonderfully appreciative that I had come. They were still shaking their heads as I exited the room and headed back to Guttenberg.

I will now admit that when I was phoned to make this visit I was not pleased. It was my day off, I was not this woman’s pastor, and I wasn’t an ELCA minister. I worked hard six days a week and loved my one full day when I could do whatever I wanted, and not have to get dressed up.

Great-River-Road
A section of the Great River Road which I drove hundreds of times between Guttenberg and McGregor, Iowa.  It was equal parts inspiring for its beauty and frustrating for its hilliness and constant curves.

But when I drove home? As I made my way down the Great River Road, which skirts the Mississippi River, climbing and descending hill after bluff after holler, and back to Guttenberg, I experienced that wonderful feeling of fulfillment. Of having done a good thing. Of having been in the most privileged spot a human being can be in, the one to whom family turned at the time of their loved one’s death.

I never knew these folks before that day, and I never saw them again. But, for a few precious minutes, I was their pastor. And this special occasion provided me with one of the truly unique moments of my life.

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Meet Aunt Mabel

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When I was in high school, she was the lunch lady. And she was my great aunt. And I am sure that the small talk we made as she dipped mashed potatoes onto my tray were a diversion so that the other kids didn’t see that she was giving me more than them.

That was my Aunt Mabel.

On Saturday past, the last of the generation on my dad’s mother’s side of the family left this earthly pilgrimage. Mabel (nee Schultz) Parker was the youngest of her two sisters, Ethel (my grandmother) and Martha, and two brothers, Les and Walt. She was younger than the rest by enough that the children she had with Uncle Gene—David, Joy Ann, Nick, and Dan—comprised a half-generation tucked neatly between their cousins (for example, my dad), and their cousin’s children (like me).

I cannot say that I knew Aunt Mabel tremendously well, but the impression which she and Uncle Gene made on me will not allow me to let her passing go without my penning my memories. Mabel Parker was, in a word, a gentle woman, and Uncle Gene a gentle man.

Aunt Mabel epitomized the Schultz spirit. She, my grandmother and their siblings were hardworking, easy-going, kind, generous, fun, and full of life. They were unflappable. And they made great use of their gift for gab.

I loved hot lunch in school, and I loved seeing Aunt Mabel. She was always upbeat, had a big smile, and made me feel special. As the head cook, she provided us with a quality of meals that public school students of today do not enjoy. Though she was small of stature she stood tall in my eyes, the kind of person you look forward to running into. Whom you know you should emulate.

Before I departed my home town, whenever I saw Aunt Mabel, perhaps at a wedding reception or in one of the aisles at Montague Foods, I knew what to expect. She would draw me down to her level, place both hands upon my cheeks, and plant on me an auntly kiss.

The Parkers lived north of Montague on Whitbeck Road, on the far side of Eilers Road. (Yes, Virginia, there really is an Eilers Road.) When I was young, I thought they lived way out in the country. Then, as a high-schooler, I would ride my bike up Whitbeck, turning west on Eilers, to pick asparagus at Benny Scholl’s. I could see their farm from the corner. Hmm, the Parkers weren’t so far out in the country, after all.

They had this distinctive concrete block building on the other side of the driveway. I am thinking it was the milking house, though I cannot tell you that they were dairy farmers. The building’s blocks were a creamy color, a shade that I don’t believe I have ever seen on another building. Even now, when I am visiting Montague and I purposely take Whitbeck Road north out of town, I have to gawk as I drive by. And I am a kid again.

After high school, my best bud Tim Todd and I joined the Thursday night bowling league. Uncle Gene bowled in that league. Now, I really got to know the man. He was good-natured and kind, always quick with a story and a laugh. That smile! Surely, when young Gene and Mabel first laid eyes on each other it was their smiles that drew their hearts together. They enjoyed true wedded bliss all of their sixty-three years, until Uncle Gene was laid to rest in 2000.

He must have had really bad knees. He was as bow-legged as I ever saw a man. Making the approach to throw his bowling ball, he looked like he was held together with some of the baling wire from his farm. Yet I still could not find a way to beat him.

Returning to the bench after a nifty strike, he was fond of finding me. “See, Greg,” he would smile. “That’s how you do it.” The stinker.

I never got to know their sons, David and Nick, but I crossed paths with Joy Ann and Dan plenty of times over the years and, in them, I saw their parents. Last February, I attended my first family funeral as Gina. Before the Sunday afternoon gathering, I went to worship at primo pal Tim’s congregation, Montague United Methodist.

During worship, they have a moment for sharing good news and prayer needs. Tim took the microphone to rejoice in the marking of the fortieth anniversary of his baptism. When Tim handed the mic back to the pastor, I stood and requested it. I thanked the congregation for the warm welcome they gave me before worship, noting that the last time I had been in that church was to be Tim’s best man in 1981. I spoke for a second about the challenges of being a transgender Christian, then asked for their prayers for all people who are easily cast off by family and society.

It never dawned on me that this was Aunt Mabel’s congregation. No, she was not in attendance as she had been confined to the local care center for some years, but Joy Ann was there. After worship, she sought me out. Seeing her, I felt like a punk for the shock she must have experienced when I spoke and she realized who it was. Finding me after worship, she greeted me with the familiar Parker smile. We threw our arms around each other and made quick catch-up talk.  All was well!

Later, at the funeral, I saw Dan. He also graced me with a big Parker smile. I said, “I ran into Joy Ann at church.” “I know,” he replied. “She called right after church.” Of course, she did.

In Joy Ann and Dan, I continue to know Aunt Mabel and Uncle Gene. And isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? We pass on ourselves through our children. Hopefully, what we hand down shows that it was good that we had children. It was very good that Aunt Mabel and Uncle Gene had children.

Our Lord Jesus, recorded in Matthew 5:16, said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Aunt Mabel and Uncle Gene did just that, and by their good deeds God the Father was glorified and we, their family and community, received the benefit.

And so concludes an all-too-brief snapshot of my Great Aunt Mabel.

And so she was. She was great.

What if I’m wrong?

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What if, by transitioning to living as a female, I have put my eternal life into jeopardy, and even now have doomed myself to damnation in hell?

The answer to the title question—what if I am wrong?—is found in the answers to these questions:

  1. How are we saved?
  2. Who does the work?
  3. What is our part?

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This essay is divided into three parts. I have written in detail for those who are new to my blog. Because many will want to get right to the question, I have placed the ultimate section first. If you are not familiar with my story, you would be well-served to slide down to parts one and two, which follow the conclusion of the first section.

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Part three: What if I am wrong?

Despite the outward troubles which came from publicly transitioning—family, church, and friends who were hurt and confused and offended—finally, I was feeling like myself. In 2016, peace has settled into place so wonderfully that the struggle of my life has become something I view as if watching a movie of another person’s life.

As of early September, my situation has now become widely known in my church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Many pastors and lay people have contacted me, either asking me loads of questions about all of this or simply convicting me of sin. Among the questions is the big one.

What if I am wrong?

This question must be answered in light of the life of every Christian. Does one’s stand before Holy God rely on his being right in all of his actions? For having made every correct decision? For having recognized every last error and specifically repented of it? For being absolutely positive that he is not, right now, in error with a precept of God and unable to repent because his mind-set is wrong?

  • How are we saved?
  • Who does the work?
  • What is our part?

1. How are we saved?

  • “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”
  • “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).”

2. Who does the work?

  • “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).”
  • “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).”

3. What is our part?

  • “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1).”
  • “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).”

Summarizing the three questions in reverse order, we were dead in our sins, Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for our sins, and for Christ’s sake the Father attributes to us the salvation which His Son accomplished.

Romans 5:8 informs us: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This begs my questions: If God so loved us to atone for our sins while we were dead in them, does it fit His character that He would be unwilling to live for us in the worst times of our lives? When we are completely beat down and broken? When we find ourselves totally befuddled with our situation?

I have said it before, and I do not shy from continuing to say it: I would not place my eternal life into the hands of a fickle deity like that, who would abandon me when I need him most.

I have, indeed, continually and gladly placed my life in the hands of the God who promises to acknowledge me before His Father in heaven as I acknowledge Him on earth (Matthew 10:32). By the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, I have never ceased acknowledging and confessing Jesus Christ before men. Indeed, my zeal for proclaiming Christ has consistently deepened.

I shifted my question from what if I am wrong to how we are saved because so many pastors have turned this on its head, placing a heavy yoke onto my shoulders, accusing me of having lost my faith—even of God’s having given me over to my sin—because I have sinned so badly, causing me to constantly beat off the old guilt-play, that I have to get my act together before the Lord will love me again.

Based on how Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and how I have clung to Him every single day of my struggle, I suggest that if God abandoned me in my greatest time of need then the following Scriptures are false:

  • “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).”
  • “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief (1 Timothy 1:15).”
  • “It is by grace you have been saved through faith, it is a gift of God, not by works, that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”
  • “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).”
  • “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:17).”
  • “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).”
  • “A bruised reed, He will not break (Isaiah 42:3).”

I was, have been, and remain the bruised reed. I implore my fellow Christians with this question: When I need Christ the most, that when He’s going to break me?

Not only does this make no biblical sense to me. It goes against everything I have learned about the Lord’s character from His own Word.

When did the seven quoted Scriptures cease to belong to me? By the work of the Spirit in me, I have never wavered in my faith, never ceased being in God’s Word, and never had a day go by when I did not place myself before the Lord in repentance and prayer.

Therefore, repentance always looks the same for me: I throw myself at God the Father’s mercy for the sake of Christ.

Thankfully, we are not saved by being right about every move in our lives, and the Lord does not say, “Oops, you just did the ONE thing that will cause me to remove my Spirit from you!” When it is clear that we are sinning, we shall not do so. We shall not take another’s spouse, or steal, or lie, etc. But when we are in situations as challenging as mine has been? The Lord doesn’t sit in heaven just waiting for us to do make the wrong move, ready to kick us out as if we are contestants on some game show.

No, the Lord is not fickle, and He is not a man to act the way we would. He is longsuffering, merciful, and faithful.

This never means that we can do as we wish when right and wrong are clear. What it means is that we do not live in fear, but in faith and trust, secure in Christ’s finished work. Christianity is based on Christ’s salvation, not whether we make every right move and don’t blow the big ones. Christians are habitual blow-the-big-ones people.

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” and while we remain sinners in this life Christ’s death continues to atone for us. Having been resurrected from the dead and ascended to heaven, He lives to serve us. He sent His Holy Spirit, who leads us to Him. When I was nineteen days old, I was given the Spirit in Holy Baptism, including every baptismal gift of which God’s Word speaks, including this one: “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27).”

I am clothed with Christ. When God the Father sees me, He sees His Son, whose righteousness covers my unrighteousness. I rejoice in this truth! I praise and thank the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for this gift!

What if I’m wrong? Praise the Lord that my salvation relies on Christ’s being right. He is the Righteous One. He is my Savior.

~ To Christ alone be the glory! ~

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Part one: Birth to retirement

When I was a child, as I lay in bed every night longing to be a girl, the Law of God weighed heavily upon me. I was carrying such a burden, thinking I was unlovable because of my desires, that for about a year when I was in high school I spent every single night trying to go to sleep as I pondered what life would be like in hell for eternity.

I would think, “It will eventually end. It has to. Everything finally comes to an end. But, no, just when I think it will be done, there will be one more day. Then one more day. Always one more day.”

I was scared to death. That is no way to live as a child of God.

In my early twenties, I became a Lutheran. I finally heard the Gospel in a way that it was for me. I became free!—freed me from a fear-faith because I finally knew that the Lord Jesus fulfilled the requirements of righteousness in my place.

My gender identity issues consistently deepened. Despite that, in my thirties I was motivated to enter the seminary, from which I was approved for the ministry. I served as a pastor in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) for eighteen years. At about the fifteen year mark of my service, in my early fifties, my gender identity issues took a turn toward my hating myself. In 2013, I finally experienced full-blown gender dysphoria, the deepest ill feelings over having a male body and life when my brain was screaming FEMALE.

I retired from the ministry in 2014. For more than two years—from early 2013 to mid 2015—I fought transitioning to live as a female. I began and stopped hormone replacement therapy three times. I attempted outwardly transitioning once, beginning on January 1, 2015, and then stopped after six weeks.

The more I fought, the worse I got. Each time I ceased taking HRT, after a few weeks I crashed worse than the time before, akin to what a person with depression might experience when cutting off medication and it is no longer in her system.

Suicide or insanity were the only results I saw from myself if I remained a male. Suicidal ideation began early in 2013: “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.” I had a plan: I would get my car going as fast I could on one of Huron County’s country roads, unbuckle my seat belt, and aim my car for the ditch.

By early 2014, I thought I was only days from losing my mind. At that time, I wrote this: “Going insane is a long, slow, gradual process. After nearly fifty-seven years of life, I believe that I am almost there. I am on the brink of insanity. I am being torn in half. The more I tear, the less of me there is left to tear. I’m almost torn all the way through.”

The Lord held me together. I was able to continue working until I retired on June 30, 2014.

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Part two: Crashing in Indy

The final weeks as a pastor, I had experienced a surprising level of peace with myself. At my final monthly pastors’ meeting, I told a couple of the brothers who were in the know: “I am feeling really good about myself. I am wondering if I can attribute it to my retirement only being days away. This might be what I need, to get out from under the pressure of the ministry. I sure hope it is.”

Three days after I retired, Julie and I moved to Indy. Three days after moving to Indy, I crashed. So much for being out of the ministry.

After month of fighting, I restarted HRT. A month after restarting, when my estrogen increased enough and my testosterone decreased enough, the peace returned which I enjoyed the previous two times I was on HRT.

KEY NOTE: To you, who insist that gender dysphoria is a mental illness, explain to me why being on HRT, reversing my hormones brings peace—a physical thing, not a result of my self-determination.

As sometimes happens with those on depression medication, I mistook the HRT-provided peace with a newfound strength to fight off my gender dysphoria. I stopped taking the pills. I vowed to Julie and to my children that I would never again even allow myself to consider transitioning, that it was necessary for me to have such a resolve if I were to beat this and remain male.

That lasted for five weeks.

As I could have and should have predicted, when my hormone levels once again reverted to those of a typical male, my brain once again caught fire. I was filled with a new level of self-hatred, of what I have described as a two-person struggle. My dis-ease with myself forced on me an inability to see anything good in life, despising Indianapolis and longing for Port Hope and my former ministry, for things and places I knew and loved.

I hated everything.

This was October, 2014. In November, I went home to Michigan for (my final) family deer camp. The times that I would retreat to the trailer to read, I spent crying.

I still was not back on HRT. It was now late December. I decided that I had to try living full time as a female to see if it might ease my pain. I was determined to do it long enough to give myself a reasonable experience from which to make a decision.

Three weeks into it, I restarted HRT. Six weeks into it, I was feeling so good that—you should know what is coming—I was able to resume thinking I could live as a male. I stopped living as Gina. I ran out of my HRT medicine, which was from my former doctor in Michigan.

Soon, I was back on HRT, having been approved by my new therapist in Indy. By late April, after the worst therapist appointment I ever had—I spent the hour screaming and bawling, at odds with every last thing in my life—I finally sensed the Lord saying YES to the prayer with which I had beseeched Him for months. It was time to go public.

I did that on April 29. Because I was fighting to remain male, I had support from the ones I feared the most, my former brother pastors.

I (naively) had hoped that going public would strengthen me for the fight. It did . . . for a matter of days. Over the next two months, I sunk to the lowest of lows. We bought our house at this time, and my doing almost all of the packing and moving by myself was a saving grace.

A month after we moved, I was back to needing to try living as a female. This time, it stuck. After six weeks, feeling so right about my being, I went public, posting online that I had begun what is called the Real Life Test. On August 19, I changed my online identity and photo to Gina.

I settled into Gina. It has been fifteen months. Finally, enjoying blessed peace inside myself, I have no thoughts of going back, of trying to be a male, of once again fearing the big three: suicide, insanity, or having to be so heavily medicated in order not to feel the self-hatred that I would be left a shell of a person.

And all the while, from first considering transitioning early in 2013, I have been asking myself the eternal question: What if I am wrong?

When God said NO to me

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It’s one thing to talk about hard things; it’s quite another to live them.

When, last week, I wrote in the wake of my cousin’s eighteen-year-old son’s death, about how God could answer NO to our family’s fervent prayers for healing and we could still love Him and consider Him faithful to His promises to us, there were a number of challenging things to accept.

This being a Christian is not easy business. Let no one ever tell you that once you are a Christian your life is a cakewalk. No, the life of the Christian in this world is filled with every hardship, every challenge, ever malady, every tragedy, which any person on earth might experience, and the Christian works to see the Lord’s goodness to her or him come what may.

When it comes to talking about God saying NO to fervent prayer, I have walked the walk. Here are the three major times that God did not answer my prayers as I requested. In each one, after I got over His NO, He dazzled me with what He had in store for me.

The death of my son

I have written about Johnathan’s birth and death here and thus will not cover those details.
https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/11481/

Naturally, my first wife and I prayed like crazy after Johnathan took ill. Our pastor was quick to come to the hospital, and he prayed with us. As word spread, I am confident that relatives and friends were with us in our petitions to the Lord to spare Johnathan’s little life and us the heartbreak of possibly losing our newborn, firstborn child.

God said NO.

We were, of course, devastated. More than leaving the hospital with empty arms, we returned home with empty hearts.

A funny thing happened on the way to what could have been hard hearts toward God. The Lord healed us. We lost neither heart nor faith. Soon, Kim was longing to carry another child. Ten months and ten days after the birth of Johnathan we welcomed Erin. Two years later came Jackie. Almost three more years till Addison greeted us, and another nearly three years until we wrapped up our child-having years with Alex, in 1989.

Over the eight years since Johnathan, the Lord had worked great growth of faith in me. I had gotten very involved at church. I began reading the Bible on my own. My prayer life was vibrant. I was in Bible study and loved it.

Bitterness over Johnathan never entered my heart. Quite the opposite, I have been able to say that it’s all good. I know that Johnathan belongs to the Lord, that his soul is before the throne of the Lamb of God in heaven, and that on the Last Day he will be raised from the dead in a perfected, eternal, adult body to live forever.

When one argues the joys of earthly life with the bliss of eternal life, there is no comparison. It’s not even a fair fight, whether a person lived one hundred years or one day.

When God said NO to our prayers for healing Johnathan, He both kept Johnathan safe for eternity and blessed me in my earthly walk, increasing my trust to the point where I was able, at age thirty-five, with a wife and four young children, to quit my excellent job, uproot my family, and head off to seminary to study for the ministry. The Lord prepared me for the work, I loved it, and He used me to do well ministering to His people.

Truly, the Lord’s NO had YES written all over it.

The death of my marriage

But didn’t my becoming a pastor result in the undoing of my marriage? While I cannot know how our lives would have gone had we stayed in Montague, I know the things that fell into place which resulted in the divorce, and key things were related to my becoming a minister.

I really should have been out of the ministry before I hit the five-year mark. My church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, takes very seriously the divorce of a pastor. I had only been at Port Hope two months—this was April, 2001—so the congregation barely knew me. I offered to resign from the ministry. When it came to a vote by the congregation, they rallied to me, and for all of my thirteen years with them they were wonderful to me.

The death of my marriage almost destroyed me. Guilt and shame and rejection sent me into deep depression. I was glad that I was still in the ministry—if I had resigned, I had no idea what I would have done, where I would have gone, how I would have supported my kids—but I was one lost, sorry soul.

Though the prayers for my marriage came up NO, I kept praying. I turned the final verse of Psalm 27 into my ardent plea. The verse is this, “Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” I prayed it this way, “You are the only strength I have, Lord. I take heart in all of your promises. But I am hurting so badly. Please don’t make me wait long to feel better.”

I suppose I began praying that in May. In mid-August, I told my boys, who lived with me full-time, that I would not date, that I would not even look at women, until I got them graduated from high school. Six more years.

I have previously written about how Julie and I met, and how we both were going through divorces and were emailing each other. Find the full story here.
https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/wow-um-wow/

Wow, did I not have to wait long to begin feeling better!

Not even a week after my vow to my boys, I found myself falling for Julie. When I admitted it to her, she reciprocated. Living 950 miles apart, we couldn’t date. We saw each other precisely four times before I retrieved her from Iowa the beginning of December. We were married on December 30.

Not only did the Lord turn His NO to my prayers for my first marriage into the most dazzling YES in Julie, so many other good things surrounded it. Kim and her husband, and Julie and I, would come to have an excellent relationship, which was especially important for the sake of our kids. We had them for family gatherings at the parsonage, even staying with us for holiday weekends. They reciprocated at their place.

As for Julie, she had the ability to accept my gender issues and, in 2013, when I had to tell her that I finally had been crushed by self-hatred at being a male, informing her that I might not survive if I don’t transition, she responded this way: “Then we will figure it out.” And we did.

Clearly, the Lord’s NO to my first marriage had His own YES written all over it.

The death of me

The title is an overstatement, but in many ways it hits the mark.

Ever since my gender identity issues took root when I was in sixth grade, I prayed to be rid of this. I spent my life believing I was the most despicable sinner. I was a freak. Nothing but weak.

For about a year, when I was in my mid-teens, I lay in bed every night as I waited for sleep to come pondering what damnation in hell would be like. I was sure I was going there, because how could God love someone like me? I tried to ponder eternity in torment. I would think, “But then there will be one more day. Then one more day. Then one more day.” I was scared stiff.

I tried everything to get rid of my desire. As with so many like me, I hoped love would cure me. Then, I hoped becoming a minister would cure me. Both were naive notions.

I constantly repented. When I owned some women’s clothes, after awhile I would throw them out. I would dig in and try to put this thing to death. I confessed to God what I could only reckon was sinful behavior and tried to live in a manner which He would approve.

I prayed and prayed and prayed and, as far as I am concerned, God kept saying NO: “Nope, Greg, I’m not taking this away. You’re going to deal with it.”

What I did not know until 2013 was that the cause of my disorder was a real, physical malady. I have written plenty about that, so I won’t cite a specific blog post.

In short, I hated being a male because my endocrine system—the body’s hormones—had been disrupted and there was no fix for it to get me to feel like a male. For over two years, I went back and forth—I will transition, I will not—and getting worse along the way.

I prayed more than ever. God continued to say NO, I will not remove this. More than the NO, the answer He had in mind grew in real events and in my faith in Him.  Yet, how on earth could it be my Lord’s good and gracious will that I be transgender, that I leave the ministry, that I risk offending so many family and friends and fellow Christians?  It made no sense for a long time.

He has indeed answered YES to a huge aspect of my prayers: “Lord, if I have to transition, then please use me to glorify Christ and proclaim the Gospel.” This, I have been able to do, even as I also have educated regarding gender dysphoria and what it means to be transgender. The Holy Spirit has clung to me, always directing me to the Father’s mercy for me in His Son, Jesus Christ.

I want to do so much more educating, especially of my fellow Christians. The Lord continues to open doors. I cannot imagine what the future holds. I know that I cannot imagine it, because I could never have imagined the life the Lord carved out for me.

As with my son’s death and the end of my first marriage, the Lord has dazzled me with how His ways are not my ways, nor His thoughts mine, but as the heavens are higher than the earth so are His ways and thoughts higher than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9). I could only view the finite film of my life—with my son in it, and my marriage not becoming my “first” one, and my remaining a male and a pastor—where my Lord always sees the big picture and the good things He intends to do with the bad things in my life.

It takes faith to hold on. He gives the faith. He sustains the faith.

I hope that looking at the NO answers I received from the Lord when YES seemed the only possibility, and what the Lord did to turn those traumatic, tragic, terrible situations from bad to good, gives you hope if you are in a tough spot right now, or whenever you might be.

We know that tough spots will come. My prayer for you is that you are able to lean on the Lord Jesus Christ with your entire life so that, whatever the immediate result, you might be able to trust Him to have in store for you a healed heart, a full life, and a hopeful future, both in this world and in eternity.

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What happens when we die?

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Over my years in the ministry, I learned that a large majority of Christians do not know the answer to the question of the title. Answers, actually, as there are many things to consider. I composed the following as a Christian, writing to Christians.

Sadly, we swallow large doses of what popular culture spoons out to us. We wind up believing things like this: people become angels, they watch over us, and they can get trapped on earth if they have unresolved issues.

People are people and angels are angels. “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14)?” Humans were the pinnacle of God’s creation, whom He made in His image. He created angels to have great power, but He did not make them in His image. Even more, He created angels for us humans.

Yes, we have guardian angels. No, we don’t become guardian angels when we die. And we do not look over our loved ones from heaven. Revelation chapters four and seven provide a picture of heaven, with all the saints—used here to signify any Christian, not specifically, say, Saint Peter or Saint Paul—gathered around God’s throne in worship of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

Many are comforted by the notion that a loved one is watching. It hurts, for example, that a mother is not present to see her child’s accomplishment, so if we can conjure her watching from heaven we feel better. What we do not consider is that if Mom is watching us win the blue ribbon, she also hears us when we let fly with a blue streak of foul language.  Even worse, how could heaven be joyful and glorious if our loved ones watch when we suffer illness, divorce, and all of this life’s tragedies?

God’s Word gives us no information that our deceased loved ones are watching, and certainly not that they have power to assist us. On the latter point, it is vital that we do not turn them into idols. The Lord God is almighty, all-powerful, and all-knowing. He needs no help in taking care of us, and when we feel we are getting help from our dead relatives, we rob Him of the glory He deserves for being God—our Father, our Savior Jesus, and our Comforter the Holy Spirit.

Here is what happens when we die. “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).”

Later, I will explain why the death of the Christian is not the ultimate thing to happen. For now, keep it simple: We die. Our soul goes to heaven. Our body stays on earth. For the time being.

There’s no unfinished business. If a person left a huge task undone, he will not be haunting his house or friends. And, no, he won’t be coming back, reincarnation-style. “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27).”

(You’re wondering: What about ghosts? If one sees a ghost of a human, it will be a demon impersonating the person. Since people just love this stuff—We eat it up!  It’s scary, but it’s also so cool!—Satan uses such things to distract us from the Lord and His Word.)

As this age continues its course until the Last Day when Christ returns in glory, death is a temporary situation. It is not good that our body and soul are separated by death. The Lord will fix that.

The following passage is one that, over the course of the 150 funerals I officiated, I found myself using in my sermons almost without fail. Soak this in: “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).”

Perishable/imperishable: This is obvious. We are prone to dying and we die. When Christ raises us from the grave, it will be impossible for us to die again.

Dishonor/glory: It is a disgrace to be placed into a box and under a few feet of earth, or to have our bodies cremated. That we will be raised will be glorious, bringing us back to the living beings which the Lord always intended.

Weakness/power: Our bodies are weakened by disease, accident, aging, and more. In the resurrection we will be powerful, no longer prone to any of the maladies of this life.

Natural/Spiritual: In this life, we are bound by the laws of nature which the Lord created for our good. We do not have a firm grasp on what it will mean to have spiritual bodies, but one good thought is that we will not age. From those who died as fetuses, babies, youngsters, and elderly, all of us will be perfectly whole and healthy adults, no signs of premature death or aging, and that perfection will continue forever.

I love talking about this, and here is more good stuff! How will all of this take place on the Last Day? Here is a shorthand sketch:

First, the resurrection: “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).”
• Christ will return but will stop above the earth. The dead will first be raised and will rise to meet Him, and then those who are alive when He comes will also join Him in the air.

Why in the clouds? This question begs another: Where will we be living forever? Here is the answer to both questions: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved . . . But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10, 13).”
• We will need to meet the Lord Jesus in the air because He will be destroying and recreating the earth, bringing it back to the perfection in which He had created it. After the judgment, we will return to earth and then, literally, heaven will be on earth: “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them (Revelation 21:3).”

I bet you know the next quote: “Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left (Matthew 25: 32-33).”
• In the air, all people will either be on the Lord’s right or left. Sadly, those on the left will be judged in their sins and “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (verse 41),” while the sheep will given the crown of eternal life (James 1:12), and then . . .

From John’s revelation of the Last Day, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Revelation 21:2).”
• The judgment complete and the earth having been recreated, Christ and His people—pictured here as the new Jerusalem—will descend to the earth, to dwell with our Lord and with each other, forever, and never again will death or mourning or crying or pain visit us (Revelation 21:4).

A final, wonderful, comforting note. Did you catch in the Thessalonians passage the reference to our being asleep? Did you know the word “cemetery” means “place of sleep?”

All over the New Testament, the death of the believer is referred to as sleep. Why would this be? Because Christ is going to wake us up to the dawn of the new, eternal day!

To you and me, death is final. We can’t do a thing about it. To the Lord Jesus, death is the enemy which He conquered by rising from His own grave, and it is no harder for Him to handle than it is to say, “Wake up! The Big Day has arrived! Look at everyone who’s here and rejoice!”

I cannot wait for that day, so I close the way the Holy Bible closes: Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen.

When God says NO

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Yesterday, my cousin’s son died. Nathan was her youngest child. He was eighteen. He had everything in life ahead of him. And now it is all gone. And now a mother’s heart has been torn open.

As an extended family, we had been praying for Nathan the past few days, after he surprisingly fell gravely ill when having what should have been a routine surgical procedure. This is my mother’s side of the family, most of whom remain the practicing Roman Catholics in which we were reared, and virtually all of whom trust in the Lord Jesus Christ no matter how they practice their faith.

We had been praying fervently because we trust the Lord to hear and answer our prayers. We pray because the Lord has taught us to pray. We pray because we trust Him, because we know He loves us and has the power and desire to do good things for us. We pray because we are mere creatures and He is the Creator; we the children and He our Father.

In several places and parables, the Lord Jesus teaches us about prayer, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer. He told us about the widow who pestered the unjust judge until he caved in and gave her justice. He told us about the friend, who went to another friend at night for some bread to feed a traveling friend who arrived late at his house, and the guy got his bread because he persisted. And He told us about the father who would not trick his son, say with a snake instead of a fish, and if an earthly father will do right by his child then, of course, God will do right by us.

The Lord Jesus told us to ask, to seek, to knock: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).”

Finally, Christ promises: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13).”

We trusted these promises as we prayed. We were counting on these promises to be answered in YES, Nathan will be healed.

God said NO.

What on earth happened? Is God not to be trusted? Are we a bunch of fools for placing our faith in Him, for wasting our time in prayer?

What happened is that Nathan died, paying the price that every human pays because we come into the world under the curse of the first sinner, Adam. We all die.

God IS to be trusted. We are not fools for placing our faith in Him, and we did not waste our time in prayer.

First, to cover a few things that folks often erroneously believe.

  • “God punished him for a sin, or this is a punishment to his family.” Wrong. God punished His Son on the cross and we have His promise: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).”
  • “God needed him in heaven.” Wrong. One often hears parents telling their young children that grandma died because God needed another good cook in heaven. No, God needs nothing from us. He doesn’t need grandmas to cook for him. He doesn’t need young, strong men to do any heavy lifting.
  • “God saw that he would one day lose his faith, so He took him now so that would not happen.” Wrong. The Lord Jesus vows: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand (John 10:28).”

That’s a good start, but this question fills the air: “Why does God let bad things happen?” When I had to bury a young mother of four who had been murdered, I needed to answer this as clearly as ever. I came up with this.

When our children hit the teenage years, because we love them and we don’t want anything bad to happen to them, and we don’t want them to do anything wrong, we lock them in the basement. That’s what love does, right? It protects at all costs.

Wrong.

While we long to protect our loved ones, taking away freedom is not love. We rear our children well, then we send them into the world. We hope for good things. We pray for them. But they are free, and the world is filled with accidents and evildoers and temptation and you-name-it, all of which might bring us down.

As it is with us, so it is with God. He loves us so thoroughly that He gives us lives in which we get to exercise freedom. Indeed, His love is so profound that if we don’t return His love, He still lets us live and enjoy life.

But He does not remove every obstacle, every possible bad thing from our path. If He did—if this were His job, to stop every last thing which is not good—then not only would He keep young men from falling ill during routine surgery but He also would zap us when we gossip, and slap our hand when we put it where it does not belong, and on and on to where He would constantly be on our case, to where we would have no freedom at all.

Freedom comes at great cost. This takes us directly to the Father’s gift of His Son, whom He did not keep locked up in heaven but sent Him to earth, into our very flesh, so that He could give up His life, so that not only might we take ours up again on the Last Day but also know the depths of the Father’s love now, every day, so that when things go horribly wrong we can remember that Christ has made all things perfectly right.

Recall this promise of Christ I quoted earlier: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13).” When God says NO to our prayer, how can this promise be true?

When we pray, it is not our goal to get God’s will to line up with ours, but to get our will to be in agreement with His.

It is easy to glorify God when things go right. The player gets the winning hit and he points to heaven. The parents welcome the beautiful child and praise God for this gift. The farmer brings in the plentiful harvest and pauses to thank the Lord for the bounty.

It is challenging to glorify God when things go wrong. When the ball does not drop in. When the child miscarries. When drought chokes puny plants.

Yet, as children of the heavenly Father through faith in Christ, we are to glorify Him in bad times equal to the good ones. Why? Because we know that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven means that He is King over this creation, that He is Lord of the living and the dead, that He has the power to fulfill His final task, that of returning in glory.

When Jesus Christ will do this: “And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day (John 6:39-40).”

Eternally living in the resurrection, we look forward to this wonderful life: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:1-4).”

When God says NO to our prayers, He has the best YES in mind. Whether we live a day, or eighteen years, or one hundred, for the Christian this lovely promise is always true: “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8).”

Young Nathan belongs to the Lord. Not even death can snatch away the gift of eternal life, for Jesus Christ beat death with His resurrection from the grave.

May you be comforted and strengthened by these precious promises from the Word of God. The Lord be with you!

Is God punishing LGBTs?

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I began work on this piece on Monday, then let it sit. At that time I had written these two paragraphs:

I am amazed that I have heard no conservative Christian leader declaring that the massacre at Pulse in Orlando was God’s punishment upon LGBT people. Indeed, so expectant was it that I even did an Internet search in a hunt for it.

The reason I expected it is because of the number of times it has happened. The one that always stands out is hurricane Katrina. That it hit New Orleans, some Christian leaders said, was God’s judgment on the city because it had become a den of iniquity.

I stopped there, deciding I did not want to write about something that, hopefully, would be a non-issue. Sadly, it became an issue.

After the magnanimous minister, Mark Wingfield, with his “Seven Things I am Learning about Transgender People” gave a good name to Baptists, a prig of a pastor, Roger Jimenez, has done his best to besmirch the same name. In a sermon, which has now been removed from YouTube because of, well, you’ll see, he said, “Are you sad that fifty pedophiles were killed today? Um, no. I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida, is a little safer tonight. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is I’m kind of upset he didn’t finish the job, because these people are predators. They are abusers.”

Wow, nice job there, Pastor, of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and perfectly describing the people who were killed.

Um, no. You were a miserably mistaken oh for two, and when we look at your theology you will drop to oh for three.

It will come as no surprise that Jimenez would next say the thing that I had been waiting for some religious bigot to promulgate: “You don’t mourn the death of them. They deserve what they got. You reap what you sow.”

There it is: “They deserve what they got.” It’s another way of saying, “God was punishing them.”

Did these forty-nine people deserve to be gunned down? According to the Word of God, every person who dies “deserves what he gets.”

• “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die (Genesis 2:17).”
• “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).”
• “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”

Were those forty-nine people sinners, whose lives were unjustly taken from them? Yes. They were sinners because they were humans.

Here is correct theology: We all are in the same boat. No one conceived from sperm and egg is able to cast the first stone, because no one is without sin. If God were in the business of punishing sinners, none of us would be here. He would have smite us at the first chance.

The only One who could have cast the first stone, because He was without sin, chose not to throw stones but to freely lay down His life so that we might possess the forgiveness of all of our sins, the gift of eternal life, and salvation from death, devil, and damnation.

How do I know—how can I be bold to insist—that I am positive that God was not punishing those who were killed at Pulse, or those who died in Katrina, or any other situation that might arise? The Bible tells me so. (Emphases are mine.)
• “God was reconciling THE WORLD to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).”
• “[Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of THE WHOLE WORLD (1 John 2:2).”
• “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. ALL we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—EVERY ONE—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us ALL (Isaiah 53:4-6).”

These facts inform me that when God says that He “wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4),” He is telling the truth. The only crazy thing about the Lord is that “He has committed to us His message of reconciliation (the sentence which follows what I previously quoted from 2 Corinthians 5:19).”

None of this conversation is to ignore any behavior which the Lord condemns.  Rather, it is to acknowledge that every one of us has behaviors which the Lord condemns.  ALL humans sin in thought, word, and deed. We all have ways of justifying our behavior, creating a ten commandments which suits us. None of us can deny it.  Thus, if our manner of proclaiming God’s Word is going to be one of condemning sinners, the place to begin is at home.

With the black-and-white-ness of all of this—that all are sinners who deserve God’s wrath, and that Christ took all of God’s wrath on behalf of us sinners—how shall we live?

Instead of using our mouths to condemn, let us employ them to encourage.

Instead of pointing fingers, let us use our hands to embrace our fellow man.

Instead of declaring things that God Himself does not declare, let us proclaim the thing that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself declared: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:16-17).”