Idols

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”

When God gave this command to Moses, He was pretty straightforward. Of course, He went on to explain further, when in the next verse we hear about ‘no graven images or likenesses’. He had to, because we don’t get it.014-moses-golden-calf

God knew that His people would screw this up, and yes, they managed. They did, and we still do. We create idols. I create idols.

When I was a teenager, I had my first experience where I recognized the theme of idolatry. It regarded the television. We lived out in the country, and cable was not available. Some people had satellite dishes, but most did not. An antenna, or “the aerial” as my grandfather called it, brought the local PBS and CBS stations in pretty clearly, and sometimes NBC came through as well.

A couple years after we started going to church, my mother announced that she had been convicted and that we would no longer have a television in our home. She gave the television to her grandfather. Mom perceived that the watching of television had become an idol, and she decided to do something about it, but I’m pretty sure that the idol of watching too much TV was replaced with the idol of making sure people knew why we didn’t have a TV.

Around the same time, we had a presenter come to our church to warn us against the satanic messages in Rock ‘n Roll music. We had a record burning. There is a photo somewhere of our youth group standing around the smoldering pile of vinyl. I stopped listening to said ‘evil’ music for a while, but I didn’t miraculously become a better Christian because of it.

In these actions, we aimed to separate ourselves from the world to prove to God that “we got this” and that He could count on us. “The world” was anyone who did not believe exactly what we did. Guess what? It was a farce. The holiness that we had to show the world became the newest idol. It was OK, though, because it was HOLY.

I was taught that it was my responsibility to make sure sinners knew they were going to hell. Since they were going to hate me anyway, I was taught that I might as well be blunt with them. Something was wrong, though…I just didn’t have the personality for it. I didn’t like confrontation; in fact, I feared it. I’ve never been in a fight, and to this day, I do not like to argue, negotiate, or do anything of the sort.

The responsibility of saving sinners by pointing out their sins was yet another idol. It was a goal. Kind of a badge of honor in the holiness world, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it because deep down, I knew I was a liar. I was as full of sin as I was the first day I went forward to the altar to confess my sins to Jesus.

My next idol was a three-decade long experiment in keeping God at arms’ length. I was pretty successful at worshiping this idol because I was always busy trying to find ways to make myself appear “good” while knowing deep down that I was “bad”. I knew I was a sinner, but I believed I had to atone for my sin. Be good, separate self from said world, point out their sin, hide yours, and you’ll make it. Can you say “idol”?

Focusing on idols comes naturally to us. I even let the good things in my life that are clear gifts from God become idols, which in turn cause me to embrace other ideas to make idols. A call to ministry became a way that I would escape from reality. Friendships became a way that I seek affirmation that I’m not a freak. Thinking I’m a freak is an idol that enables me to put up a wall between me and other people. I gradually move away from God. It’s a vicious, never-ending cycle.

I could go on and on, round and round. One thing I focus on becomes an idol, and then the way I try to break free of that idol becomes another. I’m sure I’m not alone…I’ve been told as much by many friends.

But does that stop me? Certainly not.

Idols are my specialty. They’re yours too. You might not believe it, but it’s true.

Fortunately, for you and for me, when we are in Christ, the Holy Spirit guides us away from idols.

When you sense Him leading you to stop and talk to that co-worker with a frown on their face, idols leave.

When He helps you remember that you have coins in your pocket as you pass the Salvation Army kettle, and you drop them in, idols leave.

When your kid’s teammate forgets their Gatorade, and you happen to have an extra, idols leave.

When you sit down to write your check for the offering plate on Sunday, and rather than figuring the exact percentage you’ve always been told to give, you just write a figure with a cheerful heart, idols leave.

When you run into an old friend who you know has fallen into many sinful habits, and instead of pointing those out, you sit down and catch up over a cup of coffee, idols leave.

Anything that comes between you and God is an idol, but until that moment when you leave this earth, or Christ returns, never be surprised when you find yourself looking at one instead of Him. But remember, Jesus paid the price once and for all. Rest in the knowledge that He’s not letting you go. He is the only thing to focus on that is NOT an idol.

Stop trying to rack up points with Him. Just love. That’s all He called you to do, and when you do, it will be hard to focus on idols.

Grace & peace!

 

 

 

 

 

People

Tonight was supposed to be a relaxing night with steaks on the grill and a glass of wine, but we changed our plans and decided to save the steaks for tomorrow night. Instead, we just decided to run to town and get something quick to eat, and pick up a couple things from the store.

Our first stop was at the donut shop chain where our daughter works. After we chatted with her and her co-worker for a little while, we sat and ate our supper, and for some reason I started noticing people. One lady sat in a corner seat. A couple stood in line and ordered, speaking to one another in a language I didn’t recognize. They left, and then the lady from the corner seat left and met a guy in the parking lot. Then they left. More people came and went as we ate.

After eating, we had to run for a few groceries. We made the dreaded trek up the hill to the major chain retailer that we both dislike visiting. Tonight, though, I needed the visit.

The enemy tells me repeatedly that I am a loser. That I am not worth others’ time, and they’re not worth mine. I get blurred vision, with the ability to only focus on the negatives in my life. It happens often, and I hate that I can’t stop it from happening. Picture a wall…8 feet tall, 12 feet wide. I could fill it with goodness…family, friends, memories…but there is that 8 inch by 12 inch section where the bad stuff is, and it is often all I see.

When I encounter these times where I believe the lies, I withdraw. I avoid people, walk around with my head down and a scowl on my face, sequester myself to my office, get angry, and sulk in my misery. Slowly but surely, though, God lifts me back out of the quicksand and shows me once again why I’m here.

People, community, friends, neighbors…all of these are why I’m here. I was not created to sit in a room, stew over the little things that are wrong, and separate myself from interaction with anyone. Tonight was just a little proof, with whispers from the Holy Spirit to help me see what is true…at the retail store. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not a place I find pleasant. It’s very large, often crowded, and frequently understaffed at the checkouts. But as we walked through, I got a message over and over from the Holy Spirit:

  • Jesus died for him. Jesus died for her. It wasn’t just for you, it was for them too. It was for all of you.
  • Jesus died for the young lady with hair a color that was not on God’s original color palette.
  • Jesus died for the guy with lots of piercings and tattoos who looks like he hasn’t slept well.
  • Jesus died for the person whose body odor puts off a distinct indicator that they drink way too much.
  • Jesus died for the lady who just got off work and still looks like she stepped right out of a catalog page.
  • Jesus died for the couple whose faces make clear that they don’t know how they’re going to pay for all the stuff in their cart.

Jesus died for sinners. Every last one of us. The church gossip. The alcoholic. The drug addict. The liar. The gambler. Sin is what separates us from God, and Jesus is what brings us back.

As I left that retail establishment, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend on Monday. I know that God has called me to serve others. When I first started college for my degree in religion, I reacted angrily at anyone who said that I was “following my dream”. It wasn’t my dream. I did not want this in my life. It’s costly, time consuming, and will expose me to others.

It’s also one of the best things that ever happened to me. I can’t regret that I didn’t listen to God when I was a teenager. I had to see what He could do with me, a sinner, to understand why He chose me.

God bless. Listen, pray, repeat…

 

God’s little reminders…

It’s not often that the title of an e-mail at work catches my eye. Today, one did:

20170315_174607 (002)

This Friday is a dress-down for charity day at CNB. I redeemed points on our employee recognition program to be able to wear jeans and a green shirt. Obviously, I know the e-mail was just telling me that my request to use my points was approved…but in a different context…

My redemption has been completed! Nothing I did made this possible. I know it’s early in the Lenten season, with Easter still several weeks away…but I look forward to Good Friday. That day when we will remember that Jesus uttered those final words, “it is finished”, as recorded in John 19:30.

May we all remember Christ’s gift to us as we anticipate His resurrection.

 

The Next Step

luterhanOn Sunday, February 5, Stacy left for a business trip on a Sunday morning, before church time. I intended to just skip church…to go back to bed and catch a couple hours more sleep. God had another plan.

I recently bought a book by RJ Grunewald called Reading Romans With Luther. I had read the introduction, but that morning I picked up the book from my headboard and began to read chapter one. As I read, I sensed the Holy Spirit moving me. Go. I got dressed, and I went.

My redemption story began over 2,000 years ago. Jesus died on a cross and was resurrected three days later. In what he did, He rescued you. He rescued me.

It continued three years ago. I realized for the first time in my life that God really loved me. Loved me, not the things I would do to make myself good enough to be loved by him. I was introduced to grace.

Sometime after, it continued when I watched a movie. This movie revealed what a privilege it is to worship the way we do today. Free, not to be forgiven by purchasing indulgences, but by Christ’s finished work on the cross.

A year ago, I met a bunch of people at a conference that changed my life. A lot of them believe a certain theology. I believe it too. This theology is celebrating a big anniversary in 2017 – 500 years. The Reformation…that movie I watched was “Luther”.

At the conference, I heard about grace to the unforgivable. I heard about doing my best in the vocation in which God has placed me. I heard about being free to share Christ’s love. I heard a phrase that I hold close to my heart, because I know it describes me, and it describes you. Simul Justus et Peccator. Simultaneously justified and a sinner.

This year, I am making it official. By mid-summer, I plan to officially be Lutheran. I’ve already started the process by worshiping with a new group of brothers and sisters. That Sunday morning two weeks ago, I went to the place where the Holy Spirit led me, and I knew before the service was over that I would become what I already knew I was.

The basis…it’s what Christ did on the cross for me, not what I do in the church for Him. This decision did not come easily. I believe the Holy Spirit put people and events in my path for this reason. I’ve attempted to be “Lutheran” where I am, but I keep falling into the “what I do for Jesus” mindset.

Some are hurt and offended by my decision, taking it personally. I still love them, consider them brothers and sisters, and will lift them up in prayer. If they need me, I will be there at a moment’s notice. I hope that someday, they will see that my decision was not about me, or them, but about what I felt the Holy Spirit was leading me to do. I have no idea what God has in store for this sinner that He chose to use.

Don’t sweat the details. He took care of them already. You’re forgiven, and you’re free.

Simul Justus et Peccator

Don’t Believe Every Meme…

Warning – this post might piss you off. It is not my intent to offend anyone with this post, but I know how it works.

These last few days have been trying. The United States is a country divided. I have friends on both sides. Friends who are intelligent, caring, and thoughtful people.

Trump was elected and inaugurated. Some people love this and some people hate this. The day after his inauguration, many who are in disagreement stood together in protests and marches around the world.

Today, I saw this picture abortionin a news feed. If you’re a Christian, you were likely offended by what their sign says. No surprise there. You believe Christ came to earth to save us, and these women are saying He shouldn’t have been born.

I can’t tell you why these women are holding this sign. They might or might not have had abortions. They might or might not have grown up in Christian homes. They might or might not have graduated high school. They might or might not be doctors. No idea.

What I do know is that now is not the time to be sanctimonious. If you are a Christian, and you were angered or hurt by the sign, I understand completely. I was taken aback, but then I got to thinking…has anyone ever shared the Gospel with them? Told them what Christ did on the cross was for them?  Told them that fact without giving them the expectation that salvation was unattainable because of their current belief? Somehow, I doubt it.

I know a couple of women who have had abortions. You might too. I don’t have to live with their decision, but they do. They remember it. Perhaps they live it all over again every day. Perhaps they regret it, perhaps they don’t. None of that matters. What matters is that those of us who understand the Gospel should be caring for them regardless of their decision. They should feel comfortable in our presence despite their past.

But here’s the kicker…and this pissed me off when I was researching…the photo is several years old! Because we’re so quick to believe memes, someone apparently thought it would further a cause to dredge it up and tie it to Saturday’s marches.

Christians, let’s do the world a favor. When someone offends us, let’s love them. Let’s show them Jesus, not beat them down because they believe something different from us.

 

 

 

 

 

Simplicity

john-3-16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Wow, that sounds really cool. But what’s the catch?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Where is the rest of this? It can’t possibly be complete.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

OK, listen…I think you’re trying to tell me something here, but I just can’t figure this out without rules.

And so it goes. Whether you heard these simple words for the first time when you were a child, or someone shared them with you when became an adult, somehow, they seem too simple…too basic…too good to be true.

God gave us minds for thinking and reasoning. He gave us these abilities so we can make choices. He doesn’t want robotic foot soldiers who think the approach to everything is through sameness. Psalm 139:14 tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully” made.

When we embrace the fact that the only way to the Father is through the Son, we often forget that the Son is the only perfect person who ever lived. In an attempt to rationalize the “one way”, we endeavor to apply that “one way” to ourselves. Our lives, which are all fearfully and wonderfully knit together in our mothers’ wombs, are all unique.

The One Way is Christ. Christ, who knows each of us individually. He knows each of our strengths and each of our weaknesses. He does not, however, believe that we are all the same.

You might be thinking “if there is only one way, why are there so many different Christian denominations?” I’ve thought this same thing, and there is a simple, yet not-so-simple answer. The simple answer is “man”. Yes, it’s our fault. What makes it not-so-simple is that we are all different. We interpret things differently. Somehow, we have created hundreds of different approaches to the One.

He knew we would do this. He knew that the law, which is what points us to Him, would instead become our focus. Generation upon generation of Christians have ignored Christ, instead striving to uphold the Ten Commandments. In our attempt to behave and follow these rules, we forget that we are all hopelessly flawed, and our only hope is Christ.

I grew up surrounded by religion. Religion. Lists of rules. Pray and your sin goes away. Show the world Jesus by how closely you toe the line, and make sure you shame them and point out their sins so they’ll come over to our side.

Although God’s love, grace, and mercy has surrounded me all my life, I observed the Gospel for the first time when I was 44 years old. I wanted desperately to deny God’s existence. My years of trying to be good just weren’t paying off. I was still embroiled in a personal battle over my darkest secret that had me at a point of desperation. I was about to declare that I was an atheist, so God placed a former atheist in my path. He showed me what transformation was meant to be.

In less than three years, I have learned more about our Savior than I had in the prior forty-four. You might think I mean that I’ve leapt into the Bible and can quote the right verse at the right time. No. That’s not what I mean. I mean this…God sent Jesus into the world…you, me, and everyone around us…to save us. We were already condemned. Through a simple act of listening to the Holy Spirit, believing what Christ did was sufficient to forgive my sins, and confessing those sins, I’ve been freed. Freed from a lifetime of thinking that I had to atone for my wrongs. The atonement took place on a cross and in an empty tomb, half a world away, two thousand years ago.

So, my “bare-bones” take on this whole salvation thing…in this life, I always have been, am still, and will always be a sinful human being. I’ll fall short, and when I do, I’ll realize that the penalty I should receive has already been taken care of by Jesus. I am His child, and I have to approach Him in that way. “Daddy, I’ve been bad and I’m sorry…Daddy, I need your help…Daddy, my friend needs to know you’re their Daddy too.”

Be simple, like a child, and you’ll see His majesty.

Note – this was originally published on a blog I wrote for this summer, which has since been closed. 

Psalm 103 Sermon – “Separate From Our Sins”

The Psalms were written for the people of Israel…God’s chosen people…over a period of nearly a thousand years. Obviously, to have that large a time span, several authors would have had to have been involved. We most commonly associate the Psalms with David, and he is who authored Psalm 103, in which he wrote:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

This passage from Psalm 103 is a promise of God’s love.

Throughout the Bible, God is presented to us in many ways. Nouns like Creator, Judge, and Father. Adjectives like Holy, Just, Perfect, and Righteous, but what I want to focus on today is God’s love for us. In noun form, God is Love. The adjective…loving. To me, one and the same.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve brought sin into the human race. God created them with the ability to tell right from wrong. God knew they would disobey Him. Just as when we bring a child into the world, and we know they will disobey us…God knew. We hope our children will be good and obedient…but we know. Look back at your own life. Did you always listen to mom & dad? I doubt it. Our moms & dads knew we wouldn’t. Some people probably listened more than others. And still we bring children into the world…knowing that woven in with the good things will be frustrations, heartache, and hurt. All of these things are brought about by one thing. Sin.

Sin. It’s a problem. Just look around you. Of course, many sins are obvious and the people who commit them are considered the lowest of the low in society. Murder. Rape. We rightfully want people who commit those sins to be locked away for what they did. We demand their deaths. We feel justified in doing so.

But here, we are presented with a problem. Don’t get me wrong…murderers and rapists should not be running wild in our streets. But…these are human beings. People with souls. Bad people…but, nevertheless…ones with souls, whom God loves. God didn’t cause them to do what they did…sin did that. Sin that, gone unchecked, causes us to do things that might be easily recognizable, unspeakable, and detestable. Or maybe sin that we are easily able to hide. Some sin is accepted and normalized in our society. We gossip and don’t even realize we’re doing it. We tell little white lies, and think nothing of it. Yet, sin is sin. Sin, that which separates us from God, regardless of what method of falling short we choose at that given moment.

In the Old Testament, there are many stories. The first five books…the Pentateuch…which are the formation, the background, the law. The Prophets…a glimpse of what is to come. The Writings…Psalms, Proverbs and a few others…referred to as the “Wisdom books”. The Old Testament makes up about two thirds of our Bible, but for most of my life, I chalked the Old Testament up to nothing but fairy tales, poems, and a whole bunch of unpronounceable names.

Last year, when I started college, one of my first classes was “Old Testament Survey”. I learned quickly that the Old Testament was far from what I thought. In each chapter of our workbook, at the top, there was a blank line after the words “the picture of Christ”, and we learned how each chapter points to Him. I began to see that the Old Testament was what told humanity’s story and the promise of a Savior.

God knew, just like He knew that we’d sin in the first place…that we’d just keep on sinning. Shaking our fists at him. Finding other “idols” to occupy our time. If you’re a parent, think about the heartache you experienced the first time your child found something else more important than you. Multiply that by billions. That’s what God experiences. Yet, He loves us anyway. Just as we should love our children in spite of the way they sometimes treat us…or how our parents love us in spite of the way we treat them.

The Hebrews, God’s chosen people, had several thousand years in which they were able to atone for their sin through messy sacrifice. They had a strict code of laws that they had to adhere to. No shellfish…no mixed fabrics…plus the ten we commonly see today. And not one of these chosen people…not one…was able to live up to God’s perfect law completely.

God knew this. He’s God…He knows everything. He knew what the solution would be. But unlike the Old Testament, where only the chosen people of God had a way to him, He made plans for all. Every…single…one…of…us. He made a way through His Son Jesus Christ.

Why would God do what He did? He had a perfect Trinity. Father…Spirit…Son. He could have written off the human race as just a bunch of disobedient nothings. When I look in the mirror, that’s often what I see. I know that I have, do, and will continue to disobey God. I’ve shaken my fist at Him, screamed at Him, blamed Him. Childish things that a human parent would react angrily to.

The answer to why he would do this is…He loves. He loves you. He loves me. The Good News…the Gospel. We’re sometimes completely and totally unlovable. I know I am, and if you look within yourself, I’m guessing you’ll see at least a little of the same thing. We do things that we are ashamed of. We fight with each other. We talk about other people behind their backs. We may be addicted to a behavior, or a substance. Our sin might control every facet of our life. We also might be prideful, or selfish. In our minds, those things make perfect sense. My accomplishments. My stuff. My time. Yet despite these sins…really, any and all of our sins, He loves us.

I grew up in a tradition that taught me that God’s love for me was dependent upon me. My acceptance of His free gift of salvation would have to be followed up by strict obedience to rules. My church attendance. How I dressed for church. How many times I opened the Bible and how many verses I could memorize and quote. How many sinners I witnessed to.

As a teenager, I quickly found out that I might as well give up because no matter how hard I tried, I just wasn’t going to accomplish what I was told was within my grasp. There was no joy in what I experienced in church…only a constant reminder that I must be doing things the wrong way because I was still a wretched sinner.

Psalm 103 verse 12 tells us that as far as the east is from the west, that is how far He has removed our transgressions…our sins…from us. But how? How is this possible? From east to west is about as far apart as you can get. I still sin. I know I do. I still fall short in so many areas. I have all my life.

Here’s how…Love. Jesus came to us as the good news…the Gospel. God became a man for the sake of man. In the song ‘Forever’ by Kari Jobe, a few lines sum up what Love is:

The Savior of the world was fallen
His body on the cross
His blood poured out for us
The weight of every curse upon him

One final breath he gave
As heaven looked away
The son of God was laid in darkness
A battle in the grave
The war on death was waged
The power of hell forever broken

The ground began to shake
The stone was rolled away
His perfect love could not be overcome
Now death where is your sting?
Our resurrected King
Has rendered you defeated

These words wreck me. I could stand before you and tell you to remember every sin you’ve ever committed. Dwell on them. Let them remind you of how awful you are. But why? God has forgotten them. For a long time, I felt like I was too far gone. That there was no way God would ever be able to reach me, forgive me, and love me. I revisited my sin over, and over, and over. But He proved me wrong. He showed me grace and mercy through His Holy Spirit. Through His work in other people. Jesus, the perfect human, justified you and me through his suffering, death, and resurrection.

If you are in the spot where I was, know that your Savior is right beside you, waiting for you to look to Him. To say, Jesus…I surrender. I can’t do this anymore. I need You to take over…and He’ll do just that.

I want to leave you with one word. It’s a Greek word. It was the last word that Jesus uttered in His human form. τετέλεσται. Translated, this means “it has been finished”. God unleashed all of His wrath on Jesus on that cross so we would not have to experience it. Believe it. It truly is finished. He didn’t take your burden away to give you another. Rest in Him. Jesus, who intercedes with God on your behalf. Jesus, whose spilled blood is what justifies you to be adoptable as one of God’s children.

 

I’m Going To Be a Pastor…

I’m Going To Be A Pastor

pastor

In the wee hours of Sunday, March 30, 2014, I spent several tear-filled moments on my knees. It felt like hours. Something wouldn’t let me sleep. I felt led to pray. I realized God was using my sleeplessness to make me realize it was time to acknowledge what He whispered so many years before…“I will use you”.

I thought I was being called into vocational ministry, assuming I would become a pastor. A few months went by and I was in the UMC’s Course of Study program to become a Licensed Local Pastor. That plan has since gone by the wayside, as I enrolled in Liberty University to obtain a degree in religion. I no longer can declare that I know how God will use me. I may end up being a pastor someday, but I very well may not. But this story is really not about me anyway. It’s about something God showed me recently.

I grew up in a small town in Central Pennsylvania, not real far from where I live now. Many folks who come from this town take pride in it, celebrating and venerating it as though it’s the center of the universe. Most of my immediate family members still live there. I don’t mean any disrespect to any of those people, but I couldn’t wait to leave. I always found many of my peers and the other citizens there to be intolerant of anyone who was not like them. Of course, we often form behaviors based on our surroundings, so I developed an attitude of intolerance as well. I found out later that intolerance isn’t limited to my hometown…it’s a worldwide sin problem.

One specific group of people who were treated with little regard were those with special needs. I was terrified of interacting with anyone whom my peers and I referred to as a “retard”. Sadly, I joined in the teasing, name-calling, etc., that happened to these children on a regular basis. I never learned to see them for what they were…precious children of God.

Never, that is, until I met a young lady named Stacy Litz, who is now my wife. Stacy is likely the most tolerant person I have ever met. The word “retard” was forbidden in the Litz household. First off, because it’s just plain wrong, but also for a more personal reason. My in-laws lost their first daughter, Lori Ann, who was born prematurely, and were always told that if she had lived she would have had severe disabilities.

Through our nearly 30 years together, Stacy has shown me so much about loving and accepting all the people you come into contact with. That being said, I still tend to shy away from most of those people who my background tells me aren’t on ‘my level’.

But God has such different plans from us. I now live in a larger small town. Large enough to have two Sheetz convenience stores. For anyone who has ever bought coffee from a Sheetz, you understand the importance of this. I find it hard to make my own when I can go there and buy their amazing brew.

A few weeks ago, as I waited in line at Sheetz, a young man who I have seen around our town came up beside me and began to talk to me. I recognized him as someone I had seen many times in the grocery store, or just walking on the street. I heard him say something I had heard him say before, though never directly to me: “I’m going to be a pastor”.

It was at that very moment that God humbled me more than He ever had before. See, this young man, while appearing “normal”, is developmentally disabled. I don’t know know him. I don’t even know his name. I don’t know who has interested him in church. But he tells everyone that he’s going to be a pastor. The first time I heard him say this was a few years ago when I was in Wal-Mart. He was close enough that I could hear him, but he wasn’t talking to me. Then, I thought, “aww, that’s cute”.

As I stood beside him in Sheetz, he said those words, and he looked at me and said “you could be a pastor too”. I told him that may be part of the plan…I just don’t know. I paid for my purchases, left the store, went to my car, and felt tears running down my cheeks. I know now that if I ever have the chance to converse with this young man again, and he says “I’m going to be a pastor”, my response will be “son, you already are”.

You see, we never know who will minister to us. Christ will use those we least expect to teach us humility and many other things. He taught me something important through this young man that day. He may never be credentialed as a pastor, but like I said, he already is a minister.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. – Philippians 2:3-4, NIV

 

Behind the 8-ball

Untitled design (5)Every day, I wake up kind of feeling like Drew Barrymore’s character in “50 First Dates”. Not that I totally forget who I am and every detail of my life…actually, quite the opposite. Instead, I wish I could forget much of it. The bad stuff. What puts me behind the 8-ball. Instead, I wake up reminded of my shortcomings and failures, and the disdain I hold for myself.

This morning was no different. After an evening of being pissed off, and praying that God’s mercy would either be Christ’s return or just not waking up, I woke up. Once again, thinking, why God?

I really have no idea. I have trouble with my own value. I’m good at certain things, many of which don’t reflect my introversion. They’ve put me in places where I’m uncomfortable being. I probably spend way too much time trying to figure out why God would put me there instead of just resting in the fact that He did.

As my day has progressed, I’ve sensed God’s strength. Perhaps my mission is to show others that God loves even pissed-off, grumpy, mad-at-the-world SOB’s. I certainly can’t be the only one there is. In the meantime, God is giving me the strength to work through the things that make me unhappy. To concentrate on the things that must be done, despite looming deadlines. To interact with those who I’d rather not. To follow through, when I’d much rather just say “screw it” and walk away.

Only He knows why. We aren’t always happy with the strength He gives us. Today, I’m not, but I will let Him use me anyway, asking His forgiveness for taking any focus away from Him.

His Power…my weakness…WHAT?

“DOESN’T PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS”. A friend once told me that another friend of ours used this phrase to describe me.

Spot on!

I really couldn’t have said it better myself. I don’t like it, but it’s true. I suck at relationships of all kinds. I always have…and I likely always will.

2 Corinthians 12:9 is my favorite Bible verse. The cover photo on this blog, that I think my daughter did a pretty nice job of taking, shows this verse tattooed on my arm…His power made perfect in my weakness. He’s pretty powerful, and I’m pretty damn weak.

Relationships are my biggest weakness.

No one wants to admit they’re weak, even though we all know we are. Any show of personal strength we put forth is a façade, projected for others to see who we want them to think we are. We learn these behaviors early on, sometimes because of good influence and sometimes because of bad experiences.

I’m a pessimist. The cup is half empty. Throughout my childhood, there was always the fear of losing friendships, the threat of taking someone away, and reasons to distrust people were always brought to the forefront. I’ve been afraid to get close to anyone since I was a kid.

I know that despite my past, I’m ultimately responsible for my own actions. Successes and failures. Friends and foes. I can’t control anyone; only how I react to them. Many…no, most times, I react badly. I fail to give grace. I’ll whine about it, stew over it, refuse to talk to people…believe me, I wish I were different. But I’m not. I’m me. I’m not used to peace…instead, keeping myself separate, where being hurt isn’t a possibility, has always been priority #1. Fuming in anger alone is what I’m used to doing when I am hurt.

If I have a relationship with you…any type…I’ve thought about how either you or I are going to screw this up. What are you going to say that pisses me off? What am I going to do that you don’t like? Did you ever really like me anyway? How will I escape? Do I just stop talking to you? Good Lord, how do I avoid you? I see you all the time. No one…and I mean no one…is outside this group, so don’t think this is aimed just at you.

It’s no wonder I didn’t think it was real when I heard God say “I will use you” when I was a teenager. Wait…God, You’re not really who they say you are. You won’t fix me; I’ve asked you, begged you, demanded it from you. You can do anything…all I have to do is pray. But why aren’t I miraculously fixed? Nah, no way in hell You’re going to use me. I’ll just go through the motions until I die and You throw me into hell.

Thirty years. That’s how long it took me to realize that You really do love me. Despite my flaws, despite my struggles, and despite the hatred that I have toward You, You love me anyway. You died for me. Took my beating, took my nails, uttered “τετέλεσται”, and gave up Your spirit. You were buried, and rose again, and You gave me life. It took me thirty years because I have been led to believe that I owe something for this gift. That I should picture You on the cross and feel guilty. Keep that barrier between You and me, because I owe and can’t pay. I keep screwing up, so I believe I’m destined to remain in this debtor’s prison. Then Your wrecking ball of grace hit me. But what is happening? I don’t understand this. I feel…peace…this can’t possibly be right.

Then…I realize…relationships are happening. This is so uncomfortable. DOESN’T PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS. Are you being fake? Can I trust you? I guess I’ll give it a try. But there are bumps in the road. My true colors show. Disagreements ensue. Doors are closed and walls go back up. Just like my past life, church life is no different. Yet, I keep getting drawn back in. More relationships. More potential for hurt. Why am I going back? I don’t understand. This is crazy.

I always thought my strongest weakness was the secret I carried with me. Certainly, that’s a big part of it. Relationships with men are difficult because I am afraid of attraction, attachment, discovery, and rejection.

I looked at my arm recently, and thought “relationships are my weakness because they require effort, understanding, and grace”. I realize that along with the joy there will be pain. With peace, strife. Being known by others requires vulnerability.

Despite my weakness, I have felt God moving me forward. Over the past two years, I have developed more relationships than I ever thought possible. Good associations. Ones which bring growth and healing to both parties. His power made perfect in my weakness.

But then there is this…DOESN’T PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS.

About a month ago, something happened that caused me a lot of pain. A lot of misinformation and misunderstanding occurred. Forgiveness has happened, and by all means, the pain should be in the past. True to form, though…I’m me. I’ve convinced myself that I should never have shared my story with anyone, because then this would not have happened. I even posted this prayer on my Facebook wall:

Dear God,

This story that you gave me to tell…you can have it back. I really don’t want it anymore. In fact, I never did. You picked the wrong person. Remember, I’m a reclusive introvert. I just can’t.

Sincerely,
Me

This is about as honest as I can be. I really don’t want this story. My daily prayer for mercy is that God takes me out of this world of pain and hurt. But here I am. Another day, awake and alive. I’m here for a reason. “I will use you”…so despite what I’m thinking, God is in control of this. The way He has me tell me story might be different from what I had anticipated, and I guess if it’s going to take pain for me to understand that, pain there will be. If it took misunderstanding to bring clarity, so be it.

Acts 2:47-27, “The Fellowship of the Believers”, is written to make us understand that we are to be a community of believers:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The word “community” makes me uncomfortable. Community is the place where somehow, God takes someone who doesn’t really like himself, hates his past, and feels aimless about his future, and puts him in front of other people to spread the message of grace. That’s me. Why God chose me, I don’t know. But He did.

Pray for me as I attempt to understand what God has in store, because I don’t play well with others. Someday, I hope I find out why He chose me, but until then, I have to remember that He is God, and said…“But he said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest no me.”

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Martin’s Mountain