Suicide and salvation

Eight years ago this week, my phone rang Saturday afternoon. It was one of my closest pastor friends. He began, “Greg, my son shot himself to death, today.” He then gave me the privilege of ministering to his family in those difficult days.

Many people are confused about suicide. Many wonder if a person is automatically damned if he takes his own life. I hope the funeral sermon I preached answers vital questions.

All names have been changed.

This sketch reminded me of Mark, who was in his early twenties.

Dear members of the congregation, friends of Mark, and especially to his family: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

You might think you are here for Mark, or for the Schultzes. You might think this is about Mark. Everyone knows that’s what a funeral is for, to speak well of our loved one and remember him. I will certainly do that, but that’s not really what this is about. When I talk about Mark, please hear everything I say under this heading: what the Lord Jesus did for Mark.

As your presence here is a marvelous show of love and support for the Schultzes, you are in this church to lean, with all your weight, upon the gifts and promises of God the Father, purchased and won for you through His Son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all of your sins, so that you possess life which defeats the grave, so that you are saved from death, devil, and damnation.

This sermon has three sections. First, a little bit about the man Mark was—about the young man, from what I learned on Monday when visiting with the Schultzes, who was a bright, funny, creative, precocious, talented, caring, loving, and empathetic young man. Second, an important section about sin, about the topic that you don’t want me to talk about today but one on which people always have so many questions: taking one’s life, and about your own battles with the enticing world, the tempting devil, and the weak flesh in which each one of us lives. Finally, the best part: the eternal life to come in the resurrection from the dead.

Part One

As I take up the first section, I must bathe it in the fact that Mark wasn’t simply the multi-gifted guy you knew him to be, but he was, first and best, a child of God. Mark was conceived and born a sinner. As he received every physical attribute from his parents, he received their spiritual attributes, the sin of every generation which stems from Adam’s original sin.

Because Alan and Beth loved Mark, they quickly took Mark to the font of forgiveness; the baptism of Jesus Christ in which Mark became the righteous possessor of his Lord’s promises: faith in Jesus Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of all his sins. God’s Word declares that the baptized one is joined with Christ in His death and raised with Christ in His resurrection, and that the baptized one puts on Christ as a robe of righteousness.

In every way, Mark was a typical, young, American male. I read all of his interests on his Facebook wall, and the many posts of his friends. I’ve heard the family stories.

The Lord equipped Mark with a fine body and a wonderful mind. Dad and Mom want you to know that Mark succeeded in sports because he was persistent. But, they were most pleased with the caring nature of their firstborn son. See, Mark simply could not bear to see anyone get hurt, nor to hurt anyone. You know, Alan and Beth, that sounds to me like living the Golden Rule.

Mark’s siblings want you to know how gifted their big brother was, the things he did to make them laugh—many of which are definitely only for family consumption—how compassionate he could be with them, and that he was such an awesome musician.

To all of you, who knew and loved Mark, he was special because he was a neat and nice guy. But, of eternally greater importance, to God the Father Mark was as holy as Jesus Christ, for God the Father always saw Mark through his Savior. Mark was holy in God the Father’s eyes, righteous and beloved, because Jesus is righteous and beloved of the Father, and Mark belonged to Jesus—Mark belongs to Jesus.

Here is Mark’s confirmation verse, Revelation 7:14: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (all Bible passages NIV). When Mark’s soul arrived in heaven, he joined this crowd which is gathered around the throne of God the Father and the Lamb Jesus Christ. Mark did, indeed, arrive in heaven from the great tribulation of this world and of his personal struggles, and now Mark is declared with all the other saints in heaven to be one whose robe was washed white—pure, holy, freed from the penalty of sin—in the blood of the Lamb.

That’s what the Lord Jesus did for Mark when Mark was baptized and throughout Mark’s life. That’s what Jesus does for you, the baptized who still live in this great tribulation. Lean on that today. Trust in that tomorrow. Rejoice in Christ forever.

Part Two

Moving to section two, we need to address some sticky questions. How can a loving Jesus let such terrible things happen? Doesn’t God promise to never give us more than we can bear? And, I will dare to ask the one that’s so hard to talk about: can a person go to heaven who took his own life?

How can a loving Jesus let such terrible things happen? A few years ago, when I was in a similar, tragic situation in Port Hope, it came to me to answer this question thus: do you want God to step into your life every time you are about to sin? Can you imagine if, every time you might misuse God’s name or tell a lie, He would zap you just enough to stop your mouth; or every time you were about to covet or lust or hate, He would turn your thoughts into fields of daisies and butterflies; or every time you are about to open the fridge for that evening snack that you don’t need, He would slam the fridge door on your fingers?

Do you want a God who controls your life? Is that what love does—build fences around us so that we can never do wrong, so that we can never get hurt?

As all parents do, Alan and Beth let Mark grow and let him go into the world. Jesus did the same for Mark. As Alan and Beth always had their hearts watching over Mark, and were always there to take his calls, answer his questions, and provide for his needs, so much more did the Lord Jesus always take Mark’s calls, answer his prayers, and provide for his needs. Alan and Beth let Mark make mistakes—that’s what love does, it gives freedom to do right and freedom to fail. From heaven, Jesus gave Mark freedom to live his life, to pass the tests of life or to fail them, but He always loved Mark, and in the ways that matter for Mark’s eternal life, He always kept Mark safe. Never did Jesus leave Mark; never did He forsake Mark.

The Lord doesn’t control our lives and, to ease into the second question, He does not give us more than we can handle—well, hold on; let’s look at what the Word of God says in full: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Here’s what happens: every person has his own set of struggles, trials, and temptations—tests of weakness, illness, and maladies of every type. For you, the Christian, when there is no other answer—when you can’t fix a problem, or cure an illness, or avoid a temptation, or pass a test—there is always God’s answer to your trouble: Jesus Christ and His strength, His compassion, His forgiveness, and the wisdom of His Holy Spirit.

So, here’s what happens: we don’t always pay attention to the last part of this passage: “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” We follow our own thinking. We listen to the ways of the world. And that wily devil, who has been learning our weaknesses, having been observing us all of our lives, knows exactly where to strike with his evil intentions. And we don’t stand up under it. We fall.

We ask: how can a Christian take his own life? Fair enough. As long as we are asking, let’s also ask:

  • How can a Christian cheat on his wife?
  • How can a Christian, who knows that God forgives his every sin for Christ’s sake, still hold onto grudges and not forgive others?
  • How can a Christian steal?
  • How can a Christian gossip?
  • How can a Christian sass his dad or mom?
  • How can a Christian delight in getting drunk?
  • How can a Christian misuse Jesus’ holy name?

The fact of our sinful nature is that we Christians commit every sin under the sun. To recognize this is not to excuse this. And please hear this clearly: nothing I say, today, gives anyone permission to do harm to himself. Listen to Beth Schultz on this: first, if Mark were healthy, this would never have happened and, second, Mark never meant to hurt anyone.

What I am working to achieve in this sermon is understanding: understanding of our frail minds and bodies; understanding of our brother, Mark; and, best of all, understanding God’s grace, Jesus Christ’s love, and the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence . . . especially when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Thus, we land on the question: how can a person go to heaven who took his own life? Actually, we can shorten it, for the question is the same for all: how can a person go to heaven? For this, I need only proclaim the promises and gifts of Jesus Christ:

  • 1 Timothy 1:15: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.”
  • John 3:17: “For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
  • And, two verses later: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”
  • Romans 14:7-8: “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 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 8:39: “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  • Finally, in John 6:40 hear the Lord Jesus: “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 him up at the last day.”

Part Three

This takes us to the third and best section of the sermon—Jesus’ promise: “I will raise him up at the last day.” This is what Job was talking about: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I, and not another!”

Mark knows that His Redeemer lives, and in the end Mark will stand upon the earth, and after his skin has been destroyed, yet in his resurrected flesh he will see Jesus.

First Corinthians fifteen tells us four ways our bodies go into the earth because of death, and four ways in which death will be conquered in the resurrection given to us by Jesus Christ.

First, the body that is sown into the earth is perishable—that is, we live in bodies that can and do die, and we can’t stop it. But, the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be imperishable—never to be touched by death again.

Second, the body that is sown into the earth is laid to rest in dishonor—that is, it is a shame that our bodies should be captured in a casket. But the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised in glory—the resurrected body will never again be held captive.

Third, the body that is sown into the earth is sown in weakness—these present bodies succumb to disease, to old age, to accidents, to every manner of harm which silence them. But the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised in power—no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain will ever visit our resurrected bodies.

Finally, the body that is sown into the earth is a natural body—we are shackled to the laws of this corrupted world, in this sinful nature. But the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised a spiritual body—and of this I can barely speak, because you and I cannot begin to imagine what it will be like to transcend the only world we know.

All of this, dear friends, Jesus Christ prepared for Mark and for you. So, for now, Mark’s soul delights in heaven, at the foot of the Lord Jesus’ throne, praising Jesus for his salvation. So, for now, you delight in the house of Jesus, at His altar-throne, from which He is proclaimed in the Gospel, in which you are baptized into His gifts, and from where you are fed upon His living body and blood.

I close with this verse from Romans, which is really hard to digest: “We rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And, hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time . . . While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Dear Alan and Beth, and all who loved Mark: God’s Holy Spirit is at work today so that in your suffering your faith will be strengthened that you might persevere, building your Christian character by which you live in hope for the rest of your days in this great tribulation—the sure and certain hope which is Jesus Christ, the Victor over death.

Your Victor. Mark’s Victor. Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Christmas 2016

Christmas 2016

Who’s afraid of a baby?

Many people are afraid of God, quake at the notion of standing before almighty God, have a picture of God in which He is a command-giving, lightening-bolt-throwing, sinner-zapping, hell-delivering, wrathful tyrant of a God.

Who would love a God like that? I sure wouldn’t. Who would want to worship Him? Not me. Who would even give a moment of his life to trust in Him? Not this one.

What kind of a god would want to scare his creation into submission? Oh, there are gods like this—gods which men have created for themselves, like the many gods of Greek and Roman and Norse legends. But is the true God like this—a demanding, fear-invoking, abusive God?

How do you know that the true God is not a wrathful tyrant? You know He is not, because you know all about Christmas.

Think about it: Who’s afraid of a baby? What harm can a baby do? At whom can a baby throw lightening bolts? How can a baby scare anyone?

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Quite the opposite, a baby is an invitation to cooing at him, holding him, smelling his newborn sweetness, feeding and caring for him, singing to him and rocking him to sleep.

A baby does not call down orders, demand favor, or seek worship. A baby is completely at the mercy of his parents. He cannot command; he can only receive. He cannot seek; he can only accept.

We know that God’s Son was born of a woman, in the same manner in which we all came into this world, and that God intended to save the world through the sacrifice of His Son. Yet, there is so much more to see in the person of Jesus, who is Immanuel, God with us in our own flesh.

What we see is a wonderful picture of God’s character.

If love and gentleness and joyfulness were not God’s true nature, He never would have been born of a woman. If God the Father did not possess a spirit of helpfulness, the Son of God would not have put Himself into our flesh, where it would now be His job to fulfill all which His Father commands. If all the Father wanted to do were to throw lightening bolts into our lives, His Son would have stayed in heaven and made sure His quiver were always loaded.

But who’s afraid of a baby? And in the baby Jesus, God is saying, “Fear not. Come close. See your salvation lying in a manger, swaddled tightly, nursing at His mother’s breast, coming into your world in a most harmless, humble manner.”

Jesus grew to be a man. He didn’t go off and get married, but stayed home, perhaps because Joseph by now had died, and as the first-born of His mother Jesus had a responsibility. He followed in the family business.

Who’s afraid of a stay-at-home, mother-obeying carpenter?

When the time had come, at the age of thirty, Jesus was pressed into the job for which He had been born. He went to John to be baptized.

Who’s afraid of a man, who’s not even a sinner, humbling Himself at the feet of a baptizer?

From there, Jesus went into the wilderness. For forty days, He fasted. For forty days, He was alone. For forty days, Satan tested and tempted Him. Surely, Jesus was starved and shriveled, a sorry sight.

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I ask you: Just who is afraid of a man like that?

After Jesus passed this terrible test, He rejoined society. He took up preaching and healing and helping. True, Jesus had stern sermons for those who did not do His Father’s will to love others as they love themselves, but mostly He spoke words of forgiveness to the outcasts of society, He fed the hungry who followed Him cross-country, He calmed the fears of His friends by calming the storm.

Jesus gave help to the helpless, hope to the hopeless, and a smile to those at whom society only frowned.

I ask you: Who is afraid of a man like this? Who is afraid of those who are tender and caring and humble?

If you are not yet convinced that God in heaven does not want you afraid of Him, but to trust Him to love you, and to shower you with mercy, and to help you in your every need, then, please, continue to ponder His Son, the One who came as a baby, whose newborn back was laid on the wood of a manger, who grew up to be the man whose whip-torn back was nailed to the wood of a cross.

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Who, I ask you, is afraid of a man who is nailed to a cross? Why, He is as helpless as a baby in a crib.

Who is offended by a man who, while having His life unfairly taken from Him, asks God to forgive His murderers?

Who is scared off by a Son who, as He anticipates His last breath, looks out for the welfare of His mother by appointing a friend to watch over her?

Akin to a newborn child is Jesus on the cross. Who does not want to wash His wounds? Who does not want to hold His hand and comfort Him? Who does not want to speak words of encouragement to Him?

Who is timid toward a man who invites:

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Who is afraid of a Savior who invites you to be washed in a baptism of His holiness for the forgiveness of all sins?

Who is scared off by a Lord who calls you to His table, to eat and drink of His saving flesh and blood for the strengthening of faith?

Who is not drawn to a King whose greatest love is to declare that you are saved to be children of His Father—indeed, because He is the One who worked for your salvation?

Who’s afraid of a baby?

Who’s afraid of Jesus?

Not me.

And, I pray, not you, as you consider His lovely face, His acts of grace.

Amen.

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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?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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?

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).”

Someone to watch over me

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There is a lovely Gershwin song called Someone to Watch Over Me. You might recall this:

There’s a somebody I’m longing to see,
I hope that he Turns out to be—
Someone who’ll watch Over me.
I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood
I know I could, always be good,
To one who Watched, over me.

Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh how I need,
Someone, to watch, over me.
Someone, to watch, over me.

In the song, it’s a young woman who is looking for this perfect Mr. Right to watch over her. Don’t we all long to be watched over? Isn’t it true that no matter how old we are, we feel better, safer, calmer, more secure, when we have someone watching over us?

I remember those times, when I was a kid, that my parents would go out for the evening, I never felt quite right. And, if the weather were stormy, I was all the more queasy. I relied on my parents to watch over me, for me to feel safe, calm, secure. Someone to watch over me.

I’ve found it interesting, since I’ve grown up, that enduring a storm, all alone in the house, is not nearly as easy as enduring a storm with at least one more person in the house. It’s not as though that other person can do a thing about the storm—they can’t do anything more about the storm than I can—but just having someone there, well, that makes all the difference. Someone to watch over me.

When we get sick, we especially want someone to watch over us. It is never fun to be sick, but it is even worse when you have to be sick by yourself. Ah, but when you have your mom or spouse or another loved one to watch over you, well, it makes being sick a whole lot easier. Indeed, isn’t that the case with any of the trials of life? Any hardship is easier to take when we have a caring person helping us through. Someone to watch over me.

All of this leads me to what this special Church day is all about. It has been forty days since Easter, which makes today The Ascension of our Lord. Part of the Lord Jesus’ ascension into heaven has to do with the Kingship He earned by suffering in our flesh and paying for our sins. By ascending into heaven, Jesus took His rightful place as King over all of creation.

Another part of our Lord’s ascension was so that He could send the Holy Spirit to us. We can think of it this way: If the Lord Jesus were still on earth, He would only be taking one prayer at a time, in the form of one visitor at a time or one phone call at a time. But, by ascending into heaven and sending the Holy Sprit to us, we have a spiritual, heavenly connection to our Savior, and He can take as many prayers at a time as we can send Him.

Doesn’t it seem funny, though, that it was just before the Lord Jesus left that He proclaimed, “Surely, I will be with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20)”? He makes this claim, and then, poof, He disappears into the clouds.

Someone to watch over me?

Yes. Despite His bodily going to heaven, this is exactly what our Lord is doing from His throne: He is watching over us. When the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, He wasn’t going on a long, long, long, vacation from which He would return when He reappears on the Last Day. No, the best reason that He ascended was for Him to keep on doing what He had been doing on earth.

What had He been doing on earth?
• He had been healing the sick.
• He had been forgiving sins.
• He had been teaching about God’s way.
• He had been hearing prayers and answering them.
• He had been bringing peace to the troubled.
• He had been feeding the masses on heavenly food.
• He had been sacrificing Himself for His creation.
And that is exactly what He continues to do as He watches over you and me.

I find this so comforting, so dazzling, that our King is also our ultimate servant, that Jesus Christ— who deserves to be served and celebrated and honored and worshiped and glorified—doesn’t simply sit in heaven and take all the acclaim that He has earned—and earned it He has by wearing our flesh and bearing our sin. Rather than acting as we would act if we were a king, our Lord Jesus Christ still does the work of the ultimate servant.

• On earth, He healed the sick. From heaven, He heals the sick. He does it through medical science. He does it through the gift of faith which confers His grace by which we are ultimately healed for all that harms us and takes our lives.

• On earth, He forgave sins. From heaven, He forgives our sins. Indeed, all of Christ’s forgiveness is the ultimate healing which each of us needs. It is the spiritual healing that brings eternal life.

• On earth, He taught the way and the truth and the life. From heaven, He teaches us the way and the truth and the life. He does it through the Holy Bible, and then through the proclamation and instruction which we do in and as His Church.

• On earth, He heard and answered pleas and petitions. From heaven, He hears and answers our prayers. Indeed, He assures us that He hears and answer every single one of our prayers (John 15:7; John 14:13, Matthew 7:7), always according to His good and gracious will—always, according to what He knows is best for us.

• On earth, He brought peace to the troubled. From heaven, He brings peace to us when we are troubled. “Come to me,” He invites we who are weary and burdened, “and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).”

• On earth, He fed the masses on heavenly food. From heaven, He feeds us on the heavenly food of His own body and blood in Holy Communion.

• On earth, He sacrificed Himself for His creation. From heaven, He continues to sacrifice Himself for us through His humble service, always on duty, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

In other words, He watches over us. He is someone—He is the best someone—to watch over you. That is the good news that makes you feel safe, calm, and secure.

You are secure in the eternal love of your Savior, who watches over you. He is the Faithful One. As the Lord Jesus Christ has promised, He is with you always, until the end of the age.