My Story In Brief
The world was always black and white to me. You were drowning in undefined blackness or squinting in noonday light. There was even a severity about my sense of morality. I believe it was fueled by a twisted fear of God. I knew God early on, and I knew that He loved me, but I also feared rejection. Looking back I think that fear manifested most clearly in my repetition of the sinner’s prayer, which I prayed every now and again for years—just in case. I didn’t like this severity very much, and I worked hard to contain, dilute, and remove it. But it always spilled out, my passion emerging in foolish arguments. While that passion was usually honest and occasionally helpful, it could also be hurtful. I know too well that you can be right and wrong at the same time. Perhaps that’s why the Scribes and Pharisees in the Gospels always seemed vaguely familiar to me.
But my binary world was smashed in my teen years. It started with a very painful illness, one that had no diagnosis, no prognosis, no timetable, no solution—it was just undefined agony. It took my strength from me, which, at the time, I thought was my athleticism and academic achievement. With those things gone my future was suddenly murky. I should have recognized that the strength I had always relied on, the one I was really missing, was my black and white grasp of life. What would I do? Why had God allowed it? Would it ever end? I don’t even remember asking God what I had done wrong. I probably did a few times, but my view of life had long fattened a deep vein of self-righteousness, so it didn’t present as the most credible explanation. As the years passed I held God’s ever-present presence at arm’s length, my trust slightly infected with skepticism.
The second hammer fell when my brother Jason was shot dead in his high school. If the illness had shaded grey over my future, Jason’s death exploded my sense of purpose. What was the point of anything? I didn’t realize it at the time, but stepping into my parents house the night he died was like stepping back into the noonday sun, only different. He was there—God I mean—in a way I had never experienced. There was a clarity and severity about it, but also a warmth and gentleness I lacked. There was grace. In the fluid chaos of that time, and the incredible way God brought definition out of it, I learned that God’s severity is imbued with His grace, and that our brokenness has a way of distorting that severity. My heart became enflamed, awakened to a new reality of His presence. I needed to know Him, to live inside His presence, to converse with Him; it became my consuming passion to hear His voice. It was revolutionary to me that God still spoke; it transformed scripture from a series of disjointed morality lessons to a living voice. But it took time. He spent the better part of a decade teaching me one thing: not your strength, My Spirit. I also learned that much of what I hype as God’s power and movement lacks surrender. And I am learning that God loves me, that He continually invites me into relationship with Him, and that His presence is the only thing that actually transforms the sin and brokenness in my heart.
Eventually His voice led me to a new work that sprouted from the ground of Jason’s death. I thought we were doing something novel; that we would be able to share our enflamed hearts in a way that would enflame others. I thought we could build it in a way that avoided church politics and stifling structures. He did many wonderful things, enflamed some hearts. But, for my part, I did much in my strength. There were hard lessons and somehow the old failings I sought to avoid pressed their way into my path. Where had I gone wrong? My view was shattered again as I began to get glimpses of my arrogance, of the intractable reality of my pharisee-like nature, and the seemingly inevitable outcome all churches faced. The undefined blackness of failure returned as I was crushed by the very thing I helped build. I was left without direction again. The relentless uncertainty of not knowing where I was going or what I had done wrong engulfed my life, but it was different this time. I knew He was with me, that I was where I needed to be.
Then came my wife and eventually my daughter. And I began following Him on a different journey, one I couldn’t have taken without being crushed on the last. I began thinking of His Church more as family, as a people who know Him and live in Him, and less as a tradition, meeting, program, and pastor. Initially, I dove head first into the other ditch as my passion sought a new black and white reality. But He has poked and prodded me to see things with a little of His grace. I like this journey; I occasionally find His Church, Him at work, in the oddest places, even inside stifling structures. Much of the fear and obligation that drove me before have faded a little, I think my severity has to. Resting in Him, accepting what He gives, and joining Him where invited seems more natural, and less like lip service. I don’t try to manage people and situations as much. It was always exhausting to be constantly shaping circumstances into my idea of what God wanted—or needed.
I don’t know where exactly I’m headed, it all feels rather grey. And sometimes not knowing feels oppressive. But it is better than my world before. The crisply defined reality I once embraced was a contrivance of immaturity. But there is nothing grey about Him and His reality in our lives. I had it backwards. He has given us a glorious glimpse of who He is through Jesus; He brought us into the noon-day light about His love and character, and His invitation to live in Him. But that invitation requires surrender—that is part of the severity; we become like the wind, rarely knowing where He is leading us or what it will look like. I was living the opposite. His reality was still veiled by my fear and shame, and so I worked desperately to control myself that I might avoid rejection. I created a black and white world where I knew my destination, yet it was missing His grace, and my surrender. That’s been a major theme in my life I suppose: my obstinate independence, and His invitation which requires a death to all that. What a severe kindness it is in many ways, yet I know it is necessary, and in the end even joyful.