Prayer: an ongoing conversation

This illustration pretty much captures my life!

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The morning of August 1, I was running. It was sunny. In the upper 60s. Low humidity. I was in the third mile, not yet halfway to my 6.33 total, when I put it all together.

I was feeling great. Appreciating my surroundings. Our safe neighborhood. My good health. The desire to work my body hard and the ability to do so.

I said a prayer of thanks to the Lord.

I noticed that I had already said a bunch of prayers as I ran, as I do on every run. As I do throughout every day. As comes naturally after a lifetime of practice.

And I wondered how many times a day I pray.

So I started counting.

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Before I get out of bed. I awoke at 5:15. Before moving, I say “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” then “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” and finish with Martin Luther’s morning prayer. 1.

Podcast devotion. Making the coffee, I listened to a podcast devotion. I pray with the closing prayer. 2.

Bible reading. I read the daily lectionary, concluding my reading with a prayer of thanks. 3.

Daily devotions. I read two booklets each morning. 4 & 5.

When Julie leaves for work. I try not to pray the same way every day, but my prayer generally asks for her safety on the road and that she has a good day of work. Then, I pray for all who are on the road and giving their labors for the good of the community. 6.

Breakfast. I pray before and after my meal. 7 & 8.

School buses. A bus passed our house. The first time I see one in a day, I pray, “Lord, please bless our school buses and keep safe all of their occupants.” 9.

Ready to run. Before I leave the house, I pray, “Lord, please keep me safe, strong, and smart.” 10.

Beginning my run. I again say the name of the Trinity. I say the Lord’s Prayer, pray for my family and a list of others, pray a refashioned version of Luther’s morning prayer, and conclude with either the common doxology or the “Create in Me,” or both. 11.

Roofers. I saw two men shingling a house. I prayed for them, then prayed for all who labor for us for the good of our homes. 12.

House for sale. The first yard sign I saw, I prayed, “Lord Jesus, bless all those selling their homes and those buying, that things go well for them.” 13.

Public buses. Seeing an IndyGo bus, I prayed the same as I pray for school buses. 14.

Lawn mowers. As I saw a woman mowing, I prayed, “Lord, bless her and keep her safe, and all who are laboring for their homes and families. 15.

The run. Appreciating everything about the morning, I thanked the Lord for the weather, our neighborhood, my good heath and desire to work my body, and for everything He provides for my body and soul, now and forever. 16.

Sirens. Every time I hear a siren, I pray, “Lord, bless those in their need, and those serving them.” 17.

While running. Every five minutes, my app calls out the time, my distance, and my pace. With each call, I say a prayer of thanks. When the call includes having reached the next mile, I add, “Keep me safe and strong and smart all the way, dear Lord Jesus.” 18–32.

Busy roads. Most of my running is on side streets and sidewalks. I have to cross two or three busy roads every run. This day, I had to cross Emerson and 46th twice each. I prayed for safe crossing. Twice, I had to run along 46th, in the bike lane. I run toward the traffic and keep my eyes peeled. Still, I pray for safety. 33–38.

Arriving home. I always say a prayer of thanks. 39.

Lunch. My usual prayers before and after eating. 40 & 41.

More sirens. Wherever I am, whenever I hear them, I pray. 42.

Safe son. Our youngest lives with us. He went on an errand. I prayed for his safekeeping. 43.

Garden. I checked our green beans, but they weren’t ready to pick. I noted our first two watermelons are growing. I toured the entire garden, taking pictures of tomato and green pepper plants that are heavy with fruit. I said a prayer of thanks. 44.

Julie heading home. She always texts me when she leaves work. I pray for her safety, and for all who are on the roads that they might have safe homecomings. 45.

The garage door. When I hear it move, I know someone has arrived home. I said my usual prayers of thanks when my son and Julie got home safe. 46 & 47.

Supper. The usual two prayers. At the dining room table, we pray together. 48 & 49.

And more sirens. The evening is usually busy for our ambulances and firefighters. 50–52.

Bed. I conclude my day with Luther’s evening prayer and anything specific to the day. 53.

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Our mom taught us kids to pray. The prayer I say for my family is an adaptation of the family prayer we said together before bed. As we kids grew, our parents were zealous in their faithfulness to the Lord, brought us up in it, and it grew in me. By the time I was in my twenties, I had an active prayer life.

Prayer is simply the believer speaking praises, thanks, needs, and wants to the Lord. For me, it’s an ongoing conversation—as natural to turn and talk with my Lord Jesus as turning and talking with Julie.

Stop talking about your faith!

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“My faith got me through.”

“I don’t know what I would have done without my faith.”

“The people of Santa Fe, Texas, are taking solace in their faith,” I heard said, the day after the people held a service to unite and strengthen them.

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I wonder whether the Lord sits on His throne in heaven, wincing every time He hears a person refer to his or her faith, without mentioning the object of this faith. In His wincing, does the Lord call out, “Hey, there! Are you forgetting about me, the One in whom you put your faith, the One who gives you something to trust, somewhere to turn in your time of trial?”

Can you imagine a person, who required emergency surgery to save his life, declaring, “It was my trust that got me through. I went under anesthesia with full faith. When it was done, I woke up and now I’m healing. My faith got me through. I don’t know what I would have done without my faith. I took solace in my faith.”

You KNOW that you would not hear such nonsense. The person would not be talking about himself, not one single bit. I don’t have to ask you about whom he would be speaking.

He would be saying, “I was in desperate shape. The surgeon came in, and she assured me that, though my situation was very serious, she was confident that she could correct the problem. And, wow, did she ever come through for me—along with the entire staff of professionals who were in that operating room. They got me through. I was nothing without them. I was dead, to be sure. Without their expertise, their care, their attention to my welfare, I had no solace because of the mess I was in.”

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When we are in a bind, or have been rescued from one, we don’t talk about ourselves. We talk about the person who delivered us from that evil. If the person, whose surgeon successfully operated on him, talked about himself, and did not talk about the surgeon and all who did their job on behalf of him, we would rightly declare, “You sure are full of yourself! Aren’t you forgetting someone?”

In the three quotes, with which I opened this piece, you know of whom the people are speaking. They are referring to God, to their Lord. My question is, why don’t they talk about Him, instead of talking about themselves?

As with the patient whose life was saved by the doctor, who gladly sings the praises of his surgical savior, shouldn’t we be talking about OUR Savior?

Here is how those three quotes should go:

“My LORD got me through.”

“I don’t know what I would have done without the grace of my LORD JESUS.”

“The people of Santa Fe, Texas, are taking solace in their GOD.”

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Christians supposedly have a deep desire to glorify their Lord. Yet, when they find themselves in the worst situations, they rarely do it.

Instead of talking about the Lord Jesus, they talk about their faith. Rather than praising the God who hears and answers their prayers, they talk about the power of prayer, and all of the people who had been praying. Instead of remarking about the Rock on whom they stand, they talk about their foot.

It’s downright goofy.

Why is it this way?

I find it to be twofold. First, that we talk about ourselves, rather than the Lord, displays the self-centered people we are, because of our sinful nature. We love to make ourselves look good. “Look at me! I have faith! Aren’t I something?!”

Second, most of us are too shy, even embarrassed, to explicitly talk about Jesus Christ. We will go to church. We will pray in private. But, to actually talk about the Lord, to cite specific things about Him, even to quote promises from Him which we see that He has fulfilled? Not so much.

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Here’s the worst I ever heard. I was talking with a man, a Christian, about faith matters. I kept hearing about his faith, but never about his Lord. I finally asked him, “Faith in what, in whom?”

He didn’t grasp my question. I had to restate it. After pondering it, he finally said, “I guess I have faith in my faith.”

Faith in one’s faith? Oh, gravy . . .

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I don’t want to hear about your faith.

I want to hear about the One in whom you put your faith.

When you speak of your Lord, I will hear your faith.

As the healed patient’s appreciation for those who got him through the surgery is obvious by what he declares regarding them, so is the faith of Christians evident by how they remark about the goodness, the forgiveness, the mercy, the strength, the help, the love they receive from their God, through the work of the One Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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I love the LCMS

Because I love the LCMS and steadfastly adhere to her doctrine as a correct understanding of God’s Word, I cannot remain silent when I believe that gender dysphoria and transgender people are completely misunderstood by my church body.  This essay explains how I arrived at this.

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The church of my youth was the Roman Catholic Church.

When I found myself ready to marry, I was in a pickle. Kim was a Nazarene. She found becoming Catholic too big a leap, and I felt the same about her church.

Knowing that we would marry, and that it was a must to be unified in our faith, we determined to find our own church home. We planned to visit every church in the Montague-Whitehall area.

My close friend, Rick Hughes, belonged to Montague’s LCMS congregation. I asked him to take me to church. I loved it. Of course, the liturgy was familiar. Even better, Pastor Walter Teske preached an easy-to-understand Law and Gospel sermon.

The next week, I took Kim. She loved it, despite never belonging to a liturgical church. She suggested we go there the next week, and then the next.

We never visited another church. Eight months later we married in her church. Soon, we were receiving instruction from Pastor Teske. We joined St. James the spring of 1980.

Pastor visited at our home. “Greg, I encourage you to come to voters meetings.” Dumb me, I took him up on it. I was twenty-three when I attended my first one, the youngest person in attendance.

Soon, I was on the stewardship committee. Then the preschool board. At age 32, I was asked to be an elder. I said, “Come on. I’m way too young.” They came back the next year. I was elected elder. All of the other elders were old enough to be my father.

As a kid, maybe it was the sermons I heard, or maybe it’s how a kid listens, but I did not hear the Gospel. From the first Sunday at St. James, I heard the Word of God proclaimed in a way which penetrated my heart, which gave me sure and certain hope of the Lord’s love for me in Jesus Christ.

I quickly grew in the Word. A few years into membership at St. James, Fran Ramthun, the mother of a good friend, encouraged me to attend Sunday Bible class. Kim was fine with watching our young children in the nursery during that hour. I began attending and loved it.

I took up reading my Bible at home. My prayer life, which my mother nurtured in us kids, exploded.

I found myself sitting in church every Sunday picturing myself in the pulpit, thinking that the work of a minister was for me.

When one is married with four young children, not to mention a good job and a mortgage, pulling up stakes to go back to school is a seemingly unjumpable hurdle. Yet, in 1996, at age thirty-five, I began seminary at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The following memory is etched upon my mind. It was early in my first year. I was sitting in Professor Kurt Marquart’s Confessions I class. He was deftly explaining some foundational doctrine with his unique combination of dazzling insight and keen wit. I found myself saying to myself: “You know, Greg, if at any time during seminary they teach you a doctrine which you do not find correct, you won’t be able to be a pastor. If you find yourself in a spot, you’re going to have to study the living daylights out of it to be sure you know what you believe to be correct. And it you cannot become convinced, you are going to have to leave seminary. You can’t be a pastor if you are not 100% on board.”

That moment replayed in my head a number of times during those years. Truly, some doctrines tried to stump me, simply because they are a challenge to correctly grasp (example: eternal election). In the end, I came through every class, every topic, with a strong adherence to the LCMS position on every doctrine.

When I made my ordination vow on June 23, 1996, I spoke truthfully of my devotion to the purity of God’s Word and the correctness of LCMS doctrine.

During my eighteen years as a parish pastor, I continued to hone my theology, reading much, attending pastor meetings and conferences, seriously debating every topic under the sun. I was pleased that my peers considered me a fine theologian. When I retired, I received a note from a pastor in our circuit. “Greg, I have never known a pastor who has as firm a grasp on objective justification as you have.” I was pleased for him to be so gracious as my faith rests right there, that Jesus Christ has atoned not only for the believer’s sins, but for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2), and salvation rests only on what He has done and not a bit on anything we do.

And, here I was the entire time, with gender identity issues—a questioning which began around age nine—which finally exploded into crushing gender dysphoria.

In 2013, soon after it reached its apex, thorough study brought me to understand the real, physical nature of my condition. I was not the freak, not the sexual fetishist, that in my youth I could only imagine I was. I did not have a mental illness, borne of some terrible experience in my past. No, I was a standard-issue fallen and fractured human with an intersex condition which has a cure.

The cure, some would say alluding to the old adage, is worse than the condition.

When we love people or groups, we speak up when we see error. If my mother had not taken me to task on numerous occasions, I would not have corrected many bad behaviors.

All those times I was wrong? That’s when I needed my mom most.

It is my sense that plenty of people in the LCMS would not agree that the LCMS needs me (as egotistical a statement as I’ve ever written!) but, when I was a child, at the time I was doing wrong neither did I want my mom butting in.

Since I find the LCMS in the dark regarding gender dysphoria and living as a transgender person, I cannot sit by and let it continue, especially when I am both transgender and a theologian. If I did not speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8)—our lay people who are suffering and their family members—then shame on me.

I love the LCMS. Twenty years after having taken my ordination vows, two years after retiring, and one year after having to resign from the clergy roster, my devotion to LCMS doctrine is the strongest it has ever been. That is what experience and ongoing education is supposed to do for us, to strengthen us.

This is why I have to speak. This is why I won’t go anywhere else—why it didn’t work for me going to an ELCA congregation for nine months, when no LCMS congregation would welcome Julie and me. The LCMS is my spiritual family. If family does not fight for right with family, how can unity exist; how can family remain?

This is why I have to speak. I, and surely hundreds like me—whether never telling a soul they struggle with their gender identity issues or having transitioned—belong to our LCMS congregations. Is the Gospel for us, too? Is justification before God based on our works or on Christ’s work?

But, what if I am wrong? I will address that next.

Gina deepens as Greg lessens

I bet you know the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Have I ever experienced that by transitioning!

Having always longed to be female, I thought I felt like a female. Certainly, I was less masculine than many men, but I was far from feminine.

Soon after beginning hormone replacement therapy (HRT), I felt physical changes. The raging conflict in my brain began to ease. Because I stopped and restarted HRT so many times, trying so hard not to transition, and my hormone levels greatly fluctuated, I did not find lasting peace until this past spring.

When I began going out in public as Gina, it was more that Greg was seeking to be Gina than Gina was being Gina. That sense passed pretty quickly last year. It was a key thing in gaining confidence that transitioning was proper treatment for me, that the desire I had to go out into the world as a female and be seen as one was not a whimsical dream.

Changing my name this past May 2 almost took me down, as I admitted at the time. It was, I believe, the final, huge hurdle for me and, as with every big step in transitioning, I subconsciously fought it. After the court approved my name change and then I got my driver’s license updated, I finally allowed myself to enjoy this.

Enjoy this.

That has been a hard thing for me because of how I had sensed so many were viewing my transitioning. If I were display too much that I am enjoying being a woman, I feared that I would be viewed as doing this for the fun of it. Since I asserted that my transitioning was the same as any person who makes use of modern medicine to treat a serious condition, then this had to be serious business.

As I have written and made videos, I have not kept all of the joy out of it, but it is true that I have downplayed that aspect, keeping more to educating than to talking about the cute shoes I just bought or how good it feels to make myself pretty.

As my sense of being Gina deepens, Greg is lessening.

I noticed this on a Sunday in August. Julie and I were in church, in the spot where we’ve sat each week. It was a Communion Sunday, so we would be sharing the peace greeting with those immediately around us. As the offering was being taken, I was pondering the peace greeting. This was the fifth month we had attended at Cornerstone, and outside of a couple of people looking at me a tad too long, every experience had been a good one, from shaking hands with greeters, to good mornings with ushers, to making small talk with those sitting next to us, to the nifty time the lady complimented me on my singing voice.

So, I was thinking, “Will this peace greeting go smoothly too, or will someone finally look at me funny when they turn to me and catch what I look like or hear my too-male voice?” There were a few older folks near us, a younger woman, and a young couple immediately behind us. I was considering them when it happened. When it FINALLY happened.

I pictured myself as Gina; as a woman sitting in church.

I lived as a male for fifty-eight years. The face I saw, the short hair, was etched in my mind. Despite that I’ve been growing my hair out for nearing two years (my last guy haircut was 10/2/14), despite how I got these chick glasses a year ago, despite how I’ve been seeing this way-more-female-looking person in the mirror for months, the person I automatically see in my mind has lagged behind.

No more. In my mind I now see myself as the woman whom I feel.

The physical changes continue. My estrogen and testosterone have stubbornly fluctuated, but of late have been where they should be. I am directly affected when estrogen is too low or testosterone is too high. I never return to gender dysphoria, but I do experience things that I don’t want.

Emotionally, the lows—which accompanied the many internal struggles and the delicate dealings with many people—have been virtually non-existent since Name Change Day. I cannot recall the last meltdown I had. I believe it was right before Name Change Day.

The other important change has been when I am jogging, mowing, and gardening. I often have felt like my old self when doing strenuous physical activity. I continue to have moments, but they are way less. Even better, when I do I no longer wish I could figure out how to capture those feelings and resume living as a male. Indeed, I am so content that thoughts of trying to be a male no longer ever enter my mind.

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That’s me, the skinny boy at age nineteen, playing the tuba.  This picture is a good example of looking at me and feeling like I am viewing the photo of a different person.

A very odd experience is that I view my former life as if looking at photo albums and home movies of another person, but I see everyone who has been in my life—my kids, former church members, friends—exactly the same as always. For example, I am Julie’s husband, and I feel like my kids’ dad. When, on Facebook, I interact with former church members, my affection is the same as when I was their pastor.

The highest hurdle for me in transitioning was me. Allowing myself to transition. Letting myself enjoy being the female I’ve always longed to be. And now letting me fully show that to the world.

You don’t what you don’t know, and I never knew I would feel as deeply female as I now do. And it is wonderful.

Will this sense deepen more? I don’t know, but I almost expect it to. I have some serious surgeries in my future, as soon as this autumn, which will conform my body more greatly to that of a female. I fully expect the surgeries to have a formidable impact on how I feel.

At last, I am enjoying this transition. I love being a woman! That my self-hatred over being a male is finally gone is no less miraculous to me, because of how impossible it seemed, than when the Lord made the blind to see and the lame to walk.

I rejoice in His gift of earthly healing so that I can enjoy my life, even as I never lose sight of the larger goal, the eternal healing He has provided with His cleansing blood, that I might walk with trust in Christ and to glorify Him as I have my eyes on His gift of Paradise.

Apparently, I am not a Christian

A year ago, I underwent a faith-healing. At the same time, last summer, I was receiving counsel from a prominent minister in my Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), who has asked me not to reveal his identity, whose goal, as I believed from the way each conversation went, was to use God’s Word to get me to convince myself that I was a male.

I flunked at both. Add these to my lifetime of failed repentance, never losing the desire to be a female, and I have the fatal three strikes against me: I’m out. I don’t have enough faith in the Lord, or, even worse, perhaps I do not have genuine faith in Christ. If I had, I would have been healed by those who laid hands on and prayed over me, I would have been able to find confidence in my being created a male, and my lifetime of repentance would have borne fruit.

Apparently, I am not a Christian.

It gets worse.

This topic was prompted by my watching of another video of the former transsexual, Walt Heyer, in which he addressed the group, STAND4TRUTH.

Last March, I wrote about Heyer in my piece, “Sex Change Regret?”
https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/sex-change-regret/

Here is a summary of Heyer’s life, from my previous piece:
• At age five, Heyer says, “My grandmother, when I was being babysat by her, started dressing me in female clothing.” He reports that his older, adopted brother sexually molested him and that his mother’s discipline became so severe that, once, she was afraid she had killed him.
• Heyer suffered gender conflict and, at age forty-two, fully transitioned, including sex reassignment surgery, to Lauren Jensen, and lived as Lauren for eight years. Fifteen years ago, he detransitioned and became an active opponent of all things transgender.

In the speech to STAND4TRUTH, Heyer recounted all of this. Here is the final minute of his speech, beginning at 12:33. As you read the following paragraph, keep in mind the three faith-strikes I have against myself.

“All the things that were lost have been redeemed and restored because I had faith. And the Lord came to me because I gave my life to Him. And anybody who struggles with these issues we know today are struggling with issues that happened in early childhood, and through good therapy, good counseling, prayer, and good people, all of them, if they have a desire and are willing, can be redeemed and restored just as I have been.”

Did you catch the reasons Heyer was healed and I was not? Here they are, in his words:
• “I had faith.”
• “And the Lord came to me because I gave my life to Him.”
• “And anybody who struggles . . . if they have a desire and are willing, can be redeemed and restored just as I have been.”

If Heyer is correct, here is each of my strikes:
• I do not have faith.
• I did not give my life to the Lord.
• I do not have a desire and am not willing.

There it is. Heyer had the faith, the heart for the Lord, and the desire and will, and he was healed. I did not. What else could it possibly be?

You knew I would have an answer.

I begin with the middle item, this idea of giving one’s life to the Lord. Heyer practices the popular Christian faith in which a person makes a decision for Christ. Decision Theology became rooted in the USA with the revivals of early American history then, in our era, by Billy Graham’s rallies where attenders were encouraged to come forward and give their lives to Christ. “Make a decision for Christ” is the common practice across American Evangelicalism.

This flies in the face of God’s Word. Three scriptures will suffice; I could quote many more.
• Ephesians 2:1: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
• Colossians 2:13: “When you were dead in your sins . . . God made you alive with Christ.”
• John 1:12-13: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Here are the two keys. From the John quote, no one can come to God by his own decision, which flies in the face of “I gave my life to the Lord,” and before the Lord gives us faith we are dead. Dead people can do nothing for themselves, so how could they give themselves to Christ?

We do not give our lives to the Lord. The Lord Jesus Christ gave His life for us, then the Holy Spirit gives Christ to us, making us alive via the gift of faith, and then we are able to live to the Lord.

I was “born of God” (John 1:13) when I was baptized at the age of nineteen days.

Back to Heyer’s claim that it was his faith which did the trick, and that he had the desire and willingness. In my unceasing prayers to the Lord—especially after my gender dysphoria crushed me in 2013—I would remind the Lord that I believed He could heal me if He were willing. I believe the events recounted in the Gospels of Christ’s healing every sort of malady. I believe that nothing is beyond His grasp. And I believe that He hears my prayers, loves my prayers, and will only answer them according to His good and gracious will for my life.

Let’s assume that I do, in fact, have genuine faith in the Lord and return to that evening, a year ago, when two women laid hands on me and prayed over me with the explicit intent of healing my gender dysphoria. One of the two is a friend, and the other is her relative. Both told me of specific times God performed a miracle of healing in their lives.

Because they longed to pray over me, and I am grateful for every Christian who displays love for me, I gladly visited them. They prayed over me in every way you can imagine, imploring the Lord to heal me. After awhile, I prayed out loud with them, reminding the Lord of how I had prayed these exact things to Him for so long.

We prayed for a half-hour. As we chatted afterward, the conversation kept returning to my believing the Lord would heal me. I felt like the women were saying I had to have enough faith. Each time I heard it, I addressed it with them: “Are you saying I don’t have enough faith?” “No, no,” was always the answer, yet the ladies kept saying things like, “If you will just believe.” I would press the point again, even asking if God heals us based on our having enough faith (and how do we know when we do or do not?) or out of His grace and goodness?

We remained at an impasse. I was not healed of my desire to be a female.

Several weeks before that evening, I began my sessions with the LCMS theologian. I admire this man, having read and deeply appreciated some of his books, and love him for having reached out to me immediately after he learned about me. I was totally invested in his counsel. I so longed for it all to be over, to be a man, to stop freaking out my family and fellow Christians.

Sadly, it only took a few sessions for us to reach a stalemate. He always insisted, “God created you a male” and “this is what God intends you to be.” I would remind him that I was not a regular male, but had a physical condition which was the cause of my struggle, and if God intends me to be a male then why doesn’t He answer YES to my prayers to be a male?

Several times, I made a clear confession of my faith, wanting to demonstrate to this theologian that I have both an abiding faith and hold proper theology. He never found error in my theology.

I told him that I was looking for his key to all of this—I so wanted him to say something that no one had before said to me, the thing to unlock the door to healing. He admitted that he had nothing up his sleeve. Ultimately, his mantra was, “God created you a male and intends you to be a male.” Sadly, because that was the foundation of his argument, because I had received the exact same counsel from several pastors over the two years prior, and because it felt like he wanted me to use faith and determination—hello, Walt Heyer—to be able to abide in my male self, that was the end of our sessions.

Now, how do I know this is not a faith issue? And how do I know that I have not struck out, as I suggested up front? Here is how.

The craziest thing happened on my way to transitioning: My faith in Jesus Christ deepened. My desire to worship each Sunday heightened. My pleasure at receiving the Lord Supper resulted in my often leaving the Communion rail in my tears of joy. My prayer life has expanded. My devotion to reading God’s Word is the first thing I do seven days a week. My thirst for showing my love for Him through my love for my fellow man cannot be quenched.

The Lord had always blessed me with an abiding faith and desire to serve Him. Remember, I was a minister and loved it! Yet, through these past three-plus years, and in the two years since I retired, everything of the previous paragraph is bigger, deeper, wider, greater, more profound.

Whew! I am a Christian, after all.

Finally, Walt Heyer believes that all transgender people are mentally ill due to early childhood trauma. More on that in a piece which I will likely title, “Apparently, I had a traumatic childhood.”

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.