On 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.
“DOESN’T PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS”. A friend once told me that another friend of ours used this phrase to describe me.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
If you are like me, you know at least one verse of this song by heart. I’m certain that I heard the song in my childhood, and even more certain that I would have heard it within the first month of attending church at age 12.
Hearing it is one thing…understanding is another. Accepting Jesus Christ as my savior was something I did at 12 due to fright. The church we attended was big on scaring people into heaven. While I’m certainly glad that He has been with me all these years, the way I came about my faith left a lot to be desired.
Grace became the subject of a song or something that was recited before a meal…but that’s about it.
Fast forward 32 years. After a life of trying so hard to be perfect, because after all, that’s what Christians do, I was on the verge of claiming there was no God. And thank God, He wouldn’t have it. He sent some amazing servants into my path. Things happened. The Holy Spirit moved in my life. I began attending church again.
But the most amazing thing happened. I learned that grace was something different than what I thought it was. Grace was God’s way of letting me know that in spite of how hard I tried, I could never get there on my own. I needed Jesus. A relationship with him. I needed to learn that no matter what I carried with me, His grace was there to get me through it. There is no perfection on earth, regardless of what I thought.
The last two years have been interesting…running, hiding, surrendering, accepting, learning. I could go on and on. God’s grace has truly been bestowed on me in more ways than I ever thought possible. I had wanted to write for a long time, and so out of my brokenness, RECEIVING GRACE was born, and now is being re-born as grace.on.cue.