Last Friday night, I got a text from a dear friend working The Life You Want Weekend, asking me if I wanted to have an opportunity to get in the same room with the most influential woman in the world: Oprah Winfrey.
And as a woman who is constantly praying for God to show me how to steward the small amount of influence He's placed in my hands, I figured I might be able to learn a thing or two from the only female I know who has influenced the world for over twenty-five years. I giggled at how random and unexpected my life can be sometimes, and turned towards my Studhub to read the text.
“Uh. Christa,” he replied without hesitation. “YES.”
But my bearded husband's enthusiasm had nothing to do with Oprah. He could go camping with a fellow outdoorsman, I could go to the event, then we'd end up at our best friend's house in Sacramento. Luke’s plan didn’t just sound logical, it felt perfect—hitting a lot of targets we’d been meaning to hit in one fail swoop.
When I entered the SAP Arena in San Jose last Friday night with my yellow ticket and pass, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. Some of the women sitting around me that I struck up a conversation with had saved up all year for their $300-$1,000 tickets, had travelled from all over the country, watched every episode of Oprah, and were religious OWN Network fans. They were O Magazine subscribers, Oprah book club members, and were standing up in anticipation for the weekend, dancing in their seats like unsupervised middle schoolers. I, on the other hand, could count the number of Oprah episodes I’d seen on both hands over her twenty-five years on television. But each episode that I’d seen, even though they were few, always stuck out in my mind—deeply impacting my heart. Oprah was always doing things extremely close to the heartbeat of my Jesus—like starting orphanages, taking care of single moms, buying houses and cars to give away, loving on widows, and covering education for those who couldn’t afford tuition. In the episodes I had seen, she had always exposed wrongdoing to make it right—getting rooms full of men to talk about their sexual abuse, helping them find a release from the shame of the trauma that had tortured their existence.
The lights dimmed last Friday night, thousands of women (and a few brave fellows) stared at an empty stage in anticipation, and Oprah slowly began to rise from a platform—resulting in an eruption of screams that rivaled the teenagers in my old Jonas Brother touring days. As she slowly walked the catwalk in her stunning red dress and gold heals, with a commanding presence, this beautiful woman openly shared the pain of her past. She told about the Mississippi segregation that could have destroyed her—but instead, it catapulted her into the woman she has now become. The woman standing in front of us—the most influential woman in the world—quoted more scripture from the Bible than I hear in most sermons these days…..including my own.
I sat in my seat with tears streaming down my face—in awe that my Jesus was the only man on stage that night being glorified.
I cried because my best friend and Savior was standing in the spotlight with the most powerful woman in the world—being proclaimed as her connection to this great God that she lived to hear, know, and be transformed by. I cried because He was being praised and exalted. I cried because I could feel His presence and His Spirit moving through the hearts of thousands of women who listened on the edge of their seat—longing to have a relationship with the Creator who made them. I cried hearing my favorite book—the holy scriptures, the Living Word—being proclaimed as truth and wisdom for life. I cried because I KNOW that Word doesn’t return void, rejoicing over every person who might never grace the inside of a church—knowing that they were in the presence of my beautiful Savior—His goodness, kindness, salvation, and love. Seeds were being planted in barren hearts. Hope was being released over hopeless situations. And relationship with God was being pitched as the ONLY way to live this life.
Oprah shared about her hurt, her sexual abuse, the men who took advantage of her and the baby boy she miscarried as a result of her abuser’s perverted love. She showed the picture of the little Mississippi church where she would sit on the second row, learning about this Bible, and this man who taught her about forgiveness. At one point in the night, she simply stopped, closed her eyes, raised her arm and began to sing, “I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”
As my hands turned up automatically to follow her lead in worship, a lump rose up in the back of my throat.
Jesus had done it again. He had made his way out of the four walls where we like to keep Him contained in our churches, and He was declaring Himself—through His beloved Oprah that He loved enough to die for—-that He was real, He was love, He was good, and He was her Savior.
All to thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.
I sat in my seat in complete shock. This wasn’t at all what I expected at an Oprah conference—anticipating talks about leadership, strategy, and maybe ’10 steps to a better YOU.’ And here I was listening to an invitation to a life with God, with Oprah proclaiming, “I am a Christian. That is my faith.” I strained my neck around to observe an arena full of people hanging onto her every word, listening to her declaration that a life without relationship with God isn’t a life at all. I could feel their longing—their jealousy—wanting to know the God who created them. In a moment of overwhelming joy, I pulled out my iphone, clicked a picture, and posted it on Instagram.
And then, Christians, a few of you (as my family members) started doing what we, unfortunately, do best: throw words as stones from the judgement seats of our smartphones. Not one person asked me what I was doing there. Not one person asked why. With black and white truth and zero regard for relationship or kindness, cruel curses were justified in the name of Christ—crucifying Oprah for her theology, then turning to attack my leadership abilities for posting a picture of her.
“Oprah is bad news. Not a fan.”
“I hate Oprah.”
You should be “careful to prop Oprah up as a spokesperson for Christianity or worship.”
“I’m disappointed in you, Christa.”
“You’re in leadership. You're leading towards someone who endorses The Secret, homosexuality, and secular humanism.”
Silly, silly me. And here I was, simply overwhelmed that the most powerful woman in the world was proclaiming to the broken hearted that she has a relationship with my best friend—so much so—that she stopped to worship Him on stage in the middle of her talk.
With each comment I read in my Instagram feed, quickly deleting them as they popped up, my heart shattered for this real woman with a real heart standing in front of me—who according to my Bible, is part of our family of believers no matter how we differ in theology.
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” -Romans 10:9
I've learned in the past, reactions always get me into trouble. So after taking a good week to cool down from the nightmare that happened on my social media accounts last Friday night, processing with the BEST counselor in the world—Holy Spirit—I decided that it would be foolish to try and fight fire with fire. I'm not going to build a case, attack each comment with scripture and justification, or defend myself.
Jesus does a great job of defending my heart, and I’m going to leave that to Him.
So instead, I sat down and decided to listen to the Counselor, letting Him show me who He wants to be in me, who Jesus is in scripture, and then taking His lead. And after doing that, I formulated a few life-statements about the kind of Christian leader that I want to be—regardless of how many followers I lose because of it.
I will always be happy to associate myself with those who don't believe the way that I do—regardless of what it does to my Christian reputation.
In the span of my ministry, I've had the great privilege of speaking to Southern Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Charismatics, non-denominationals, secessionists, business people, atheists, and agnostics. I have friends who are gay, straight, black, white, hispanic, Jewish and Muslim. And if you put us all in the same room together, you'd find a library of issues to disagree on that would split us apart—but you'd also find a lot of commonalities that promote genuine relationship. I've posted pictures of their faces, promoted their endeavors, loved them dearly, and celebrated the goodness of God in the midst of a diverse world.
My need to agree with someone's theology will never determine my association with them—especially since I just disagreed with my own husband this morning on an issue. Instead, I'm going to take the lead of my favorite person—Jesus.
And what did Jesus do?
In John 4, Jesus didn't care what his own disciples thought as He associated Himself with a Samaritan woman named Photina at the well, leading her to repentance through kindness, and not condemnation. He didn't care that people were indignant and grumped that He chose the crook Zacchaeus to dine with in Luke 19. The religious Pharisees of His day chastised Him for his ‘poor choices' in companions—His association could have been seen as an endorsement of their belief systems.
But Jesus was more concerned with the law of love, than the love of law. So I will be consumed with the law of love.
Because I like to follow Jesus's lead…..then you might see me posting pictures and celebrating people who I disagree with theologically. If this bothers you or influences your opinion of my leadership, believing that I'm ‘leading people down an ungodly path' and ‘opening them up to false teachings,' then you're probably going to want to stop following me.
During that Oprah event, I had conversations with a nutritionist from Vegas who came searching for more, with two beautiful Jewish women who I talked to about Christianity (because Oprah had talked so much about Jesus), and a beautiful man whose partner of 11 years had recently left him, and wanted information about Gold Monarch Healing Center and my book, God Loves Ugly.
Here was Jesus again, doing what He does best—making His way out of our little cul-de-sac church services, and finding His way in front of stunningly beautiful people who would never enter a sanctuary. Seeds were planted, phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged, and I was proud to sit and represent my beautiful God to a world who is desperate to be connected with His love.
Religion always backs away and throws stones. But Jesus always pulls in close through relationship. (John 8) So I will always pull in close to value relationship over being ‘right.'
Friends, because I follow Jesus, you're going to see me in relationships or associating with people whose public theology might ruin my Christian reputation in religious circles.
And I'm happy to say…..I couldn't care less. (:
This is getting far too long for a blog….which means, I'll continue my life-statements on Wednesday.
And as always, because this website, my Instagram feed, Facebook and Twitter pages are MY online houses…..my rules go. Which means…..I will never allow cruel, condemning, or slanderous comments to remain.
You are encouraged to ask questions, welcomed to disagree with me, but remember…..be relational in the midst of disagreement. Start with the common ground, then expand. It's always more important to have relationship than to be ‘right.' Ask questions staying connected to the heart of a person, and above all…..
Remember…..we're all apart of the same family.
The family of God.