Open Letter: No, Mr. Cook, Being Gay Isn’t a Gift from God—But Something Much Greater Is

Mr. Tim Cook
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA  95014

You don’t know me. I’m not a CEO, a tech guy, an actor, or a politician. I’m a writer with a blog (not many of those around, eh?). But I’ve been following your work for a while. Back in the late ‘90s, I’d finally had enough blue screens of death and driver incompatibility issues from Microsoft Windows. So, when a certain Bondi blue gumdrop of a computer came out (you guys called it the iMac), I plunged in headfirst. (I’m even one of the few who loved the hockey puck mouse.)

My house looks something like an Apple Store at this point. MacBook Airs and Pros, iPads, iPods, and iPhones are pretty much members of the family. I’m even typing this on a much newer iMac.

You could say that I’m an Apple guy.

Let me just say that when Steve Jobs passed away, I wasn’t really worried about the company. I’d seen your work, and you’ve got a gift for keeping things on track. You know how to get the right people in the right place at the right time.

Recently, you did a very brave thing. You finally confessed to being gay. I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised. Your avid support for the LGBTQ community and concern for those who suffer from fear-based attacks has been a big giveaway. You could say that it was about as well kept of a secret as was your last iPad.

But still, confessing the truth is brave. We often have roadblocks of fear and potential rejection that keep us from admitting such hidden parts of our lives. Add to that the pressure of being the CEO of a company beloved by people all over the spectrum, and it’s obvious you took a tough step.

Now, I want to urge you to not stop there. Confession should only be the beginning; you also need surrender. You see, you claimed that being gay was a “gift from God.” But I have to tell you, even if it’s hard, that what you said just isn’t the truth.

I can’t say I completely blame you, especially in this country right now. We Americans have our ideas about God really mixed up, and the pull of these false ideas is seductive. The god that many Americans worship has a pretty hands-off approach, lays out infinite paths to heaven, and generally just wants us all to be happy with any decision we make. For many, this god (if he is the one who gave us the Bible) didn’t really condemn much of anything because he didn’t foresee how well we moderns would figure things out.

The problem with these notions is that a god who doesn’t know everything—past and future—is no god at all. A god who allows anything and everything cannot also be loving. And a god without standards and expectations is a god who cannot bring justice. Really, this American god is something we’ve created to feel better about the choices we make. But if we’re honest, he’s also a jumbled, powerless mess.

You say that you’re proud to be gay, and I certainly believe you. But—and here’s the hard truth—pride has a way of making us not deal with our problems. We cling tightly to the treasures that our world tells us are important: self-identity and passions mostly. Mr. Cook, you need to understand that those things put us on a broad road that leads not to victory, but destruction.

Is that harsh? Yes, it may seem so. But just as a smartphone maker sets certain parameters for how the operating system works and what the apps can and can’t do, God—the true God, not the American one—does the same. He created a world with certain standards of right and wrong, certain boundaries for what His greatest creation (that’s us) can do.

If that’s so, then why do you have the desires that you do, the ones that are so strong they seem like part of who you are? That’s because our world isn’t like it was meant to be. We’ve fallen so far from what God intended that sometimes the things He doesn’t want us to do seem good to us.

That gets us to the whole gift thing. You mentioned God’s gifts, and I want to tell you that God (not the American god but the real One) has given us a truly amazing gift. We’re fallen; we’re so mixed up we can’t tell up from down. But our Creator, Jesus, came to this earth on a special rescue mission. He took on our skin and bones and then took on our sin on the cross. He did that to yank us out of the confusion we’re in. Grace, Mr. Cook—grace is the greatest gift we’ve been given. And it’s big enough for this former atheist and for a gay CEO.

Realizing and accepting God’s grace in Jesus won’t suddenly make everything easy. You’ll still have your passions and failings, your urges and problems. But you’ll also have God’s leading to see what is right, even against the flawed views of culture.

If you need help, please visit the website LivingOut.org. You’ll find inspirational stories of brave men just like you who are fighting the battle against same-sex attraction and winning in Jesus’ name. They deny themselves (their fallen, broken selves) to take up their Jesus-changed selves.

I pray you find God’s true and greatest gift.

In Christian love,
John UpChurch

Fill ‘er Up

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.” Colossians 1:24-26

Right after I got married, I gave up computer software updates and PC troubleshooting for something a bit more… down to earth, you could say. I needed work in my new hometown, and since employers weren’t tracking me down and forcing jobs on me, I gravitated toward the only available option: construction. With a booming housing market at the time, finding enough to do wasn’t a problem.

But finding motivation was a problem. Going from a specialized, higher paying job in computers, where I mostly sat at my desk all day, to cleaning up cinder blocks, wrestling with insulation, and scrubbing windows—that was quite the humbling thing. Honestly, I’d never had to do any real manual labor in my life before that. (Yes, I was coddled.) The heat and pain and bloodied hands were all new to me.

The first few weeks, after a particularly arduous day of gophering around the jobsites, I’d come home and crash on the living room floor. My muscles weren’t used to the beating they took, and they made sure I knew about it.

Slowly, however, with all the wood slinging and nail pounding and putty slapping, things changed. The nights of carpet collapses became less frequent, and my hands didn’t split open nearly as often (unless you count the numerous times I stabbed myself with a chisel). In fact, I came to enjoy the process of seeing something come together, seeing a house take shape.

My spiritual growth has come in a similar fashion—just without the splinters. At first, the failures dragged me down and beat me up. The rejections when I tried to share my newfound faith stung. The transformation cut deep. But as I grew and as God worked in me, something changed. The pain still stings and the transformation still cuts (that never stops), yet I began to see the pain as an important part of the overall process. Christ is building something in me—and in His Church.

As humans, we all suffer. But as Christians, we fill up on suffering. Sounds bad, but the point is that instead of us letting the suffering go to waste, God uses it for the good of other believers (and our own). He takes the pain and makes it passion, passion that spills out as love for our brothers and sisters.

We each serve as a breathing example of the gospel played out in real life. Our pain and restoration make us a family like nothing else can.

Why Paul Wasn’t a Zombie

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Colossians 1:28-29

Worn out. Exhausted. Please oh please oh please be Friday. Those words probably describe many of our weeks—often by Monday afternoon. The surge of the weekday tide sucks us under and spins us around and strips away our energy by making us swim to the surface over and over again. Gasp. Bills. Gasp. Long meeting. Gasp. Kids biting each other.

What more can we give than that? What else can God expect from us than just trying to keep from drowning in the mess of life?

Paul says everything and more. Yep, you read that right. We’re supposed to slap down every last ounce of ourselves to the cause of Christ. We’re supposed to surrender every modicum of ourselves to the purpose of “proclaiming Him” with our joy-filled words and our peace-in-the-midst-of-this-hurricane-called-life actions.

Everything. Every single bit. For Him.

Feeling tired yet? I hope you don’t. You see, there’s something in here that we too often overlook. It does take energy—loads of it—to live a life of surrender. We wouldn’t expect anything less from being a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). That means using all that we are to make all that He is known to all. But even with all those alls, you won’t be using up your energy.

Look again at what Paul says here: “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” He doesn’t say, “I did it all myself until I burned out and crashed into the dirt and hated my life and decided it was just too hard to do anything and wanted to move to Alaska forever and hide in a cave.” Instead, he tells us that the source of his oomph is Christ.

Christ didn’t save us so that we could barely keep going, dragging our way like zombies down the road of life. Instead, we’re operating with power—His. He jump-started our lives with a spirit of power (2 Timothy 1:7), cranking up the juice through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). After all, like Paul, we’re wrestling with the tasks God’s called us to do. We aren’t supposed to do this by tapping into our own reserves. God takes these fragile clay pots that we are and supplies His power so that He gets the glory (2 Corinthians 4:7). He adds the zing, and His zing is potent.

When you try to make it all work on your own guts and grit, you’ll eventually drain down and sputter out. Instead, take Him up on His “by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6) thing—that is, not your own strength. That doesn’t mean you’ll never get tired or weary. You will. But you can be sure that He specializes in renewing the worn out and exhausted (Isaiah 40:30-31).

I’m a Hypocrite

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” Matthew 6:5

The college me would call the current me a hypocrite. That’s what I did back then. Anyone claiming to be a Christian automatically earned that prestigious title. I could judge, after all, because I sat in my lofty seat in the college library and weighed such grave matters in my head and in my poetry. My pencil could strike down any Christ-follower with a witty rhyme. I knew they were all fake.

So, I had a lot to learn about love. But I was right about the hypocrisy thing. The current me is, in fact, a hypocrite.

Jesus warned us not to be like the hypocrites, those who put on a show but don’t let the show touch their hearts. And when I’m honest, that’s exactly what I do sometimes. My worship becomes a series of movements, a tentative toe-tap into the spiritual waters. All the while, my mind has drifted off to my bank account, my schedule, and my Instagram feed.

That type of worship isn’t worship. It’s a show put on for my own gratification, one that makes me feel better about doing the “Christian thing.” In those moments, I’m exactly what my college self accused me of.

Hypocrite.

Thankfully, Jesus warned me about all this ahead of time. When my body and mind get out of sync, when my devotion becomes a demonstration, His warnings inevitably hit me in the chin. Matthew 6 cues up on my audio Bible, His admonitions pop up on someone’s blog, or I just catch myself in the act. That’s when I see just how much I’m simply going through the motions.

Unlike my college self, who judged to feel superior, God unmasks hypocrisy because He wants me to get real. His gentle (and not-so-gentle) nudges snap me out of my one-man show.

P0wned by Identity, Bought by a Savior

“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20b)

Arguments about “identity” should end at this verse. For non-Christians, it’s meaningless noise. For Christians, it’s everything. We own nothing from our hair follicles to our toenails. Every drop of cytoplasm, every hormone, every spark of our synapses was paid for in full. Christ didn’t die for the “good” parts or the parts we let Him have; He wanted all of us.

That’s why it makes no sense for us to justify what’s natural or what makes us happy or what satisfies us. To do so breaks us into pieces, compartmentalizing where we will and will not surrender, what we will and will not hand over to Christ. But the choice isn’t ours. The price paid was for the whole shebang.

The heart loves to mass-produce idols, and identity works just as well as anything else. Deep inside, the hammers of what’s just and fair and right beat in time with our resistance to surrender. We know who we are, and we can’t change.

But the possibility of change is completely beside the point. Even if no change comes before the perfect does (1 Corinthians 13:10), even if the desires never stop, we have no room to act on them or justify them. We have no ownership in ourselves. Not even a partial vacation stake.

It all belongs to Jesus.

Christ urged us to follow Him with the heavy weight of lumber slung across our shoulders (Mark 8:34). That image is one of ownership. Why else would we take up humiliation and hardship to struggle after a bloodied Lamb? It isn’t an image of coercion, but of willingness. Just as the Messiah surrendered Himself to be crucified, we crucify ourselves to admit surrender.

The arguments about orientations or ingrained needs or natural behaviors focus on one thing: us. They point to who we are and what we want. Put succinctly, such discussions are nothing more than navel-gazing. We’re peering down at what makes us tick and letting that determine our course.

And ultimately, none of it matters. That navel we’re peering so deeply into belongs to Christ. He bought it.

We’ve got genes. They’re Christ’s. We’ve got a past. It’s Christ’s. We’ve got failures and foibles and more twisted thoughts than we know what to do with. And they’re hammered to the cross. The ownership of a Savoir sidesteps any arguments about identity because our true identity starts and ends with who we are in Christ. It undercuts any passionate defense of “who I am” because who we are is His. Nothing should come between us—the purchased—and the One who took care of the bill.

We must not let the clanging of our idol-making heart drown out the call of Christ to follow how He leads.

Salvation is free, but following Jesus isn’t. The cost isn’t in wealth or doing enough good stuff. It’s sacrifice—the willful surrender of even some of our most cherished beliefs about ourselves and what we need. When we come to Christ but refuse to surrender it all, we’re like the rich man who couldn’t bear the thought of empty pockets (Matthew 16:19-30). We’re not all in.

However you identified yourself before you got blisters from hauling around your cross, that identity is now the old identity. You gave it up to the One who paid up. You’re His. You’re new.

A Variation on Psalm 1: Like the Rain

You let rain bead down your nose and don’t
Wipe it away. You like the taste. That Word
Sits heavy in your head, falling out when you
Talk—or don’t. You’re good crazy, the kind
That doesn’t lock the door when it’s cloudy.
You planted a pumpkin in the flower box
On a Sunday afternoon, and now it’s
Growing. You feel like that, growing in
Unexpected places and still—somehow—making
Pumpkins. You God-please.

But a decade ago, you huddled inside away from
The November rain. And yet it still beat against
The window nonstop. You hated it. It hated you.

God didn’t stop the rain. He made you like it.

Nothing Wasted

When they had all had enough to eat, [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” (John 6:12)

In your house somewhere, there’s probably one of those things. Although it looks like any other scribbled-up notebook or faded picture or crinkle-edged envelope, you know better. You know better because there’s a ton or two of memories tied around that thing. You avoid it for years because you don’t have time (or courage) to drag all that weight back out. It’s best left dusty and dormant. You tell yourself you’ve forgotten. You don’t really believe that, but it’s what you tell yourself.

Then, that thing finds you. Okay, so technically you found it while you were cleaning or trying to decide what to pitch out from your overstuffed closet.  But whatever the case, it’s there in your hand. You plop down in the floor and place it on your lap. Your fingers smooth down the edges. Maybe your gut tightens up a bit.

Once again—just like the last time you “found” it—the I-was-a-fool song zips into your head. It’s a song that only has one verse, but that verse plays over and over. Usually, you turn the melody into a prayer that goes something like this:

God, what was I thinking? How could I not see? How could I have done that? Why didn’t I say something?

Waste—eventually, it all comes down to that. While tracing pencil indentions with your fingers or taking in the smooth surface of the photo, you wonder how many years you wasted. What mighty things you might have done. At least, it seems like that now.

But there’s another song that comes, too, and that one has many verses and many versions. One of the best sounds like this:

You were dead because you lost sight of Christ. But He never lost sight of you. Right when you needed it most, God made those nail-pierced wrists very real to you, and it crushed you to know what shame had been hammered to the cross—all our regret-filled yesterdays. (Colossians 2:13-14, paraphrase)

And if you listen to that song (or dozens more like it), you won’t fear that tattered thing in your hands, that memento too heavy to keep close by. Instead, you’ll see how God never wastes anything. Not busted up plans, not years of prodigal living, and certainly not you. Instead, He picks them up—when He picks you up—and teaches you how to talk about His can’t-believe-it’s-possible grace.

So, talk.