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

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.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Martin’s Mountain

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.