Grace and Brotherhood

Grace and Brotherhood

Brotherhood is a phrase that has been largely absent from my life. I had my reasons. Life is fragile. Closeness brings risk. Risk of being known. Being known would bring shame. Shame means the fragility of life could shatter.

Certainly, I’ve had male friends in life. In school, at work, at church…contact with people of both sexes is unavoidable. Shielding myself from getting too close to other guys became my life’s goal. If I could have, I would have become a recluse; but I had these things called church (well, sometimes anyway), work, wife, children…all things that required me to interact. Still, I had three main categories that I classed other men into…fear, fantasy, and nothing.

God was putting grace to work in my life. Even though I was often outside my comfort zone doing things with other parents where our kids were in the same activities; taking part in work training with people I didn’t know; and even stepping into the church, He gave me the strength to get through because He was shaping me…even when I certainly didn’t want to be shaped.

One of the reasons that I didn’t want to surrender to God was because I knew in doing so, I would need to embrace other men as brothers in Christ. I thought this would be difficult. God had some suprises in store for me.

The first surprise was John. I consider John my “original” brother in Christ because it was his selfless action that made my need for God so blatantly apparent. John was the first man that I was able to divulge my ugly struggle to. I was afraid, but his response of grace and love gave me hope.

Slowly, I began to look at other guys in new light. Men from my church embraced and supported me as I began to explore my faith in Jesus Christ. Those categories I had always used before were wiped away, as I became aware that I had a new category called brotherhood. I am able to look at other men as God’s precious creations that He has plans for…and I may be involved in helping them realize those plans.

Brotherhood took an even more surprising turn as I took a step to get support from a men’s ministry where I found freedom and safety along with discipleship and spiritual growth. No condemnation. Grace…love…mercy…and I’m finding that I can now share these characteristics that Jesus expects us to so that others may experience Him as the Wonderful Counselor.

MercyMe has a song called “Beautiful”. In it, they say “you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, you are treasured, you are sacred, you are His.” You can listen to those words as though they’re being sung to you, but I think more importantly, we should all listen to them as they apply to our brothers (and sisters) in Christ…

TREASURED…

SACRED…

HIS!!!

Note – this was originally posted a little over a year ago on my first blog.

Lust…and ministry?

lust....My sin is real. My sin is painful. But as big a part of my life as it is, Christ is bigger than my sin. His death on the cross once and for all wiped out what separated me from the Father. That sin that separated me from God was not something that I chose to live with. Neither did you. God chose, however, to send Christ as our substitute…a sacrificial lamb in our place, so we would not have to pay the ultimate price for our sin.

Some people think they have the right to judge. If someone sins and confesses that sin publicly, the church should be there to support them through their repentance, and if discipline is required, a procedure should be followed. If that person is a high profile public figure, the church’s response should be no different. What saddens me, though, is that a certain faction in the church thinks it’s perfect enough to continually dredge up prior sins, and to be the judge of when someone is repentant enough to “get back into it”? For me, I would prefer to be ministered to someone who acknowledges their sin, no matter how recent.

So here’s my dilemma: ministry. I’m not sure where God is leading, but in two short years, I’ve gone from thinking I hated people, to drinking in stories of God’s grace in action. Tearful repentance testimonies, listening to confessions of sin from brothers or sisters I barely know, and just plain relief on faces of people who once thought they were too far gone. I want to minister to these people, as well as be ministered to by them. I want to help them see Christ, every time they sin. Every time they seek Him, I want them to experience His love in the way I have.

But I sin. I struggle with temptation of a sexual nature. Lust is an awful thing to deal with, regardless of your circumstance. For me, there’s a feeling of anguish when I experience it. I love my wife dearly. She’s the most loving, kind, and amazing person I’ve ever met. She makes me happy, and her relationship with Christ makes me even happier. Yet, my sin takes me to places where I never imagine myself going again. Imagining myself with someone else. Worse yet, imagining myself with someone male. A specific male.

So what level of repentance is required before I do any kind of ministry? My wife knows my struggle and supports me, even though I can’t imagine why she lets me touch her. Certainly, the men in my support groups feel comfortable enough to interact with me; to rejoice in the victories, and pray about the shortcomings. I lead the men’s section of my small group…same thing. I taught Sunday school and helped lead the service at my church this morning. But what if God is calling me into pastoral ministry? What if God wants me to speak about my sin? Am I repentant enough? I’ve never crossed the line physically, but I’ve certainly looked at enough pornography and fantasized enough that I know I’ve sinned against God and my wife. Nothing can ever erase what I’ve thought about.

There are definitely people who think I have business ministering to anyone, but I think that God wants me to share my story. Not because of me, but because of Him, and what His mercy, grace, and power can do. So I’m going to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, not because there is anything good about me…but because Jesus Christ died not only for me and my sin, but for you and your sin, and you need to hear that. If you think your sin is too big an issue for Him, you are wrong.

IT IS FINISHED!

tetelestaiIt is finished…the last three words Christ spoke on the cross before He died (John 19:30). But what do they mean?

My understanding…Jesus’ death eliminated our debt. Ended the requirement for sacrifice to atone for our sins.

Why, then, do we insist on continuing the tradition of the sacrifice? You know what I’m talking about…God, I’ll be good if…God, I’ll give up this if…as though these sacrifices atone for our sin. If I just work harder at this…God will be pleased with me.

Folks, IT IS FINISHED! Yes, I’m yelling. I’m yelling at me, and I’m yelling at you. Stop trying to make sure God is pleased with you, and let Him open your eyes. Show others what you have in your Savior. Tell others about Him and the wonderful thing HE did.

I used to picture Christ on the cross, bloody and beaten, and feel horrified…guilty…shameful. Rightfully so, but over the last couple years, as I have realized more and more that what He did was a gift, I no longer feel those things. I feel gratitude. Sometimes I weep…sometimes I bow my head and humbly smile and whisper a prayer of thanks.

Today I got a text from one of my best friends. Several years ago, she patiently waited, witnessing to me through her actions and living, and prayers for me, until I recommitted my life to Christ. We have rejoiced so much over the last couple years…but her text today absolutely blew me away…

A very powerful statement in a message that I just listened to yesterday. And the power was just in three words that I have known for so many years of my life and just never really applied it to my life in the way that I just heard it in this message. Jesus’ last words when hanging on that cross were “it is finished”. His last words were not “do better”, “make me proud”, etc. With His words, He meant “I came to do for you what you couldn’t.” Yet we still think that we aren’t good enough for His salvation, or we don’t do enough to earn His love. We can’t forgive ourselves for certain things when He has already paid that price. We need to repent, accept, and continue to grow in Christ.

This is someone who has been a Christian for years. Somehow, our churches would have us to believe that “it’s on us”. It ain’t! IT IS FINISHED!

 

Twitter and Christ Hold Fast

Two weeks ago, I was sitting in the Orlando airport, praying that the people around me waiting for the flight didn’t notice me. I had just spent three days hearing amazing messages and meeting amazing people. Now, I was going home. I longed to see my family, but leaving the #CHF16 conference and folks behind had the tears flowing. I hoped the people around me didn’t notice that I was crying.

Fortunately, for the flight home I was able to get a window seat. Earphones in, staring out at either total blackness or the lit up cities below us, the tears continued. I just hoped that the couple next to me thought maybe my sniffles were just a cold.

A couple years ago, my wife got a Twitter account. It was something she was doing for a new role she had at work. I’ve been Facebooking for about 7 years…but I never saw a reason for having a Twitter. I set an account up to follow my wife.

Something happened. I started blogging a little over a year ago and linked my Twitter account. I started seeing people tweet about grace. I didn’t know these people, but I started following many of them.

Last summer, this page called “Christ Hold Fast” showed up in my feed. I am not sure why. I followed Paul Tripp, Tullian Tchividjian, and Preston Sprinkle…maybe it was one of them…or maybe it was someone in the group that I nicknamed “the grace people”. Anyway, I saw that they were having a conference. I thought it might be cool. Then I looked at the price. It was cheap. So I bought a ticket.

I sit here today, still in awe. I thought I knew so much about grace. God showed me much more at that conference, and revealed that there is way, way more for me to learn. I met some of the “grace people”. My Facebook friends list now includes a bunch of them. Lutherans, Presbyterians, but most importantly, broken people seeking God. Seeking not because on our own we want to seek Him, but by His grace He enables us to seek Him.

IMG_20160222_080340

The tears continue to flow. I will forever cherish the time I had with these brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s hard to believe those two weeks have gone by so quickly. I don’t know when, or if, I’ll see you again this side of heaven…but I want you all to know that being at the conference, meeting all of you, and hearing the speakers means more than I can explain in words. The uplift I got there enabled me to move forward with establishing a men’s ministry that’s been on hold for a while…inspired me to start my blog over again…and gave me the strength to get through losing my grandmother.

God is good. More than good; He’s great. He is the very thing that sustains us because He loves us. And He gives people the ability to invent things like Facebook and Twitter to connect us to one another.

 

recovering legalist

Dear God, it’s still happening. What the hell?Recovering Legalist

The legacy of performance-based legalistic Christianity is that it seems as though it never truly leaves me. I described myself recently as a “desperately recovering legalist”. Sometimes, it rears its ugly head when I’m focused on myself, but most often it happens when I am interacting with or thinking about the lives and situations of others.

First off, an apology. To every single human being that I’ve ever interacted with…I’m sorry. I’m sorry for somehow thinking that I had the right to decide where your relationship with God stood. I’m sorry for thinking your denomination wasn’t “right”. I’m sorry for thinking that I had to “share” my faith with you in such a way that would probably make you think “psycho”. I’m sorry to those who had a habit or engaged in a behavior that was prohibited by the “rules”, which therefore meant you were destined for hell.

Good news…gospel…truth. While I’m not a life-long scripture hound, I’ve been making up for lost time in the last two years. Being involved with two men’s support groups, a small-group Bible study, and a Sunday school class where the themes seem to be supernaturally woven together has really opened my eyes. Nowhere do I see “beat your brother over the head with this Bible when he swears” or “pull the cigarette out of your friend’s mouth and tell them it’s a sin”. Nothing says to stand outside a theatre or rock concert and tell people going in they’re headed for hell for attending. None of this. It’s all made up. Yet, I still think that I have to do this…or worse yet, that it’s OK to do this. Just today, I was on the phone with a friend and he said a cuss word. The internal legalist gasped and told me to admonish him.

Jesus Christ. Savior, friend…wow. It really is very basic. Trust, and become like a child. Grow, but always remain like a child. Oh, no…I can’t…what about following the list of rules??? Plain and simple…forgive as you have been forgiven. Love as you have been loved. Walk alongside as you’ve been guided.

I look around me. I’m surrounded by people. But I see so much more than I saw before. I see God’s precious creations. His children whom He loves. Stories to listen to. Tears to share. That’s all. Share what He’s done for me with them…tell them He can do it for them too. Love them, and let them love me!

Please forgive me. God will finish what He started. But He’s not finished yet. Please pray for me. Pray that when Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” pops into my head, declaring “well, isn’t that special?” after I hear about someone’s sin, I’ll remember that I have not walked in that person’s shoes, but maybe I need to.