If you’ve followed my journey from the start, you may remember my first two blogs referenced climbing a mountain. It started off with how I first ended up in counseling, which enabled me to begin processing my sexuality and figuring things, then seemed to culminate in the process of coming out as a kind of summit or finish line.
While both of those metaphors still seem accurate, I can definitely recognize now that coming out wasn’t quite the peak I thought it was. Understanding myself better and allowing others to see the real me was really just the beginning.
In the particular type of Christianity I have been involved with- evangelical, Pentecostal, product of the Holiness Movement, etc.- there is an unspoken but overarching sense of spiritual superiority. Some of the kindest, most loving, most caring and most Christ like people I have ever met come from this background, so I don’t mean to degrade it, although I can see how some of my comments may be interpreted that way. I just feel like many denominations and even individual churches within this background- and others- feel that they have it all figured out, that the way they interpret The Bible is flawless, that their theology is perfect, and that they are always one step ahead of everyone else in their walk with God.
I guess it’s human nature to kind of stake our territory and drive a flag into the ground once we think we’ve reached the top of a mountain. For a long time I was certain that the little outcropping my tribe of choice had dug was actually the top of the mountain, and I respected the outcroppings other sects had dug, seeing them as pit stops on the way to the top, but not saying anything about it because that’s just not cool, at least to me. I’m not sure where that came from, and that’s the worst part; it came just by simply belonging to that particular tribe.
Man, I could not have been more wrong. It takes a life altering event like divorce, bankruptcy, death of a loved one, or coming out as gay to shake you up a bit and help you see things differently. I think when I finally realized that I was gay and that it had never and would never hinder the way God sees me, loves me, accepts me and works through me, I felt I moved beyond that outcropping to a higher location on the mountain. To be honest, I just replaced what I had previously thought was the peak with what I thought was the real peak. It’s hard not to feel superior when you think you’ve moved beyond the limitations of faith that many seem to have, and that sucks.
No, my new outcropping definitely wasn’t the top, and it definitely wasn’t superior to anyone else’s outcropping. When I took a closer look, I realized that mountain is infinitely tall and infinitely wide. All across that mountain are countless outcroppings with countless flags planted by groups that think they’ve reached the top. Trails and pathways zig-zag all across the mountain, providing various ways to make it to the outcroppings along the way, but none are straight and narrow paths straight to the top.
My particular faith background does not have monopoly on God, The Bible, theology, or methods for ministry. The Assemblies of God was established 102 years ago, and the Foursquare denomination was established 93 years ago. If you think about it, it’s kind of silly to think that any denomination or group has reached the top of a mountain that has existed for eternity. I respect the Catholic Church and its unwavering consistency, but even its long history hasn’t earned it an outcropping or a flag that is any more special to God that any other institution’s.
Many are familiar with the story in all three of the Synoptic Gospels in which Jesus tells a rich young man that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to enter the kingdom of God. Many have claimed that this parable referenced a small gate in Jerusalem that was only open at night; a camel could only pass through it if all its baggage and saddle had been removed, and it got down on its knees to shimmy through. Modern day archeology and historical research have proven that no such gate existed at the time Jesus was alive, which only rationalizes the disciples’ response: “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25).
You see, if Jesus was referencing a gate through which camels could pass only after having sufficiently altering themselves, it would actually be possible for man to do the same. Jesus spoke in hyperbole, on purpose, to prove that the interpretations of the religious rulers of the day were all backward. They not only followed all of the religious law religiously, they created additional laws upon laws upon laws to ensure that they didn’t even come close to breaking the originals. They sincerely believed their best efforts in doing what God had commanded them to do, and not doing what He had commanded them not to do, would earn them the right to enter God’s kingdom. Once they had reached the top of their mountain, dug out their outcropping and planted their flag, they didn’t need to listen to anyone else- even Jesus. They may not have been financially rich, but they were certainly rich in life.
I don’t ever want to be like that. I don’t ever want to repeat the mistake of thinking I’ve reached the top and have the right to teach more than I can be taught. I also don’t want to be rich in any way that leads me away from Jesus, hanging my head in sadness at the realization that following Him costs too much.
Jesus also taught that those who lose their life for His sake will find it (Matthew 16:25). As much as we want to find, or believe we have already found the straight and narrow path that leads us to Jesus, chances are we haven’t. The more we believe we have, the higher the probability that we’re far from it. In Matthew 7:14, Jesus teaches, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” It’s pretty arrogant to believe we are those elite few. The Bible teaches that God is close to those who hunger and thirst for Him, who seek Him with all of their heart. If we honestly, sincerely, wholeheartedly do that, and it’s not enough, then it’s not God, it’s just man- usually ourselves more than anyone else.
When the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus responded, “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Blessings on your continual journey.