Our Stories Have Significance: Reaching One More, Part 3

Have you ever grown up thinking one thing only to realize later in life that you were utterly wrong? We all think we know the lyrics to that song that’s always on the radio only to be met with strange stares from our friends when we belt it out in the car! Or we think a place from our childhood is ginormous and wondrous, but upon visiting in our adult years, we realize that it was really us who had ginormous imaginations and an eye open to wonder.

And then there’s the sadder versions of this realization. Something happens at work and it finally clicks that we are unhappy with our careers and have been unhappy for as long as we remember. We get thrown in the cop car and realize that maybe we shouldn’t have had that last drink before leaving the bar. We wake up one morning and wonder how we grew so far apart from the one we used to love…

Some lessons we learn instantly and others we learn over time. We think that these “experiences” are what shape us into who we are. But in reality, it’s the conflict IN these experiences that shape us and mold us into the men and women we are today. And the Bible is painted with vivid pictures of people, both good and bad, whose lives have been molded by conflict.

One of my favorite stories is the story of Saul.

Saul grew up in a well-to-do family, and in a class-structured society, this not only helped him in the Temple, but it helped him even as a citizen of the state. He considered himself of the most “holy” line; he was a man of honor and deserving of status. He was not only intelligent and articulate, but he had the education to back it up, studying under the most revered teachers of his time. He was named after Israel’s first king, and the stately name was fitting. Saul was being pampered as possibly the next religious leader in a Jewish land longing for redemption from the Roman state that ruled over them.

Saul was the type who would argue with those who disagreed with him. He was NOT afraid of conflict. He was proud, and not just of himself, but of his god. In the midst of his religious revelry, however, he went from serving The Most High God to instead serving the System – what his people called “The Law.” And Saul was so distracted that he missed the fact that Jesus had come and fulfilled the Law and its requirements. Saul stayed his course, not just fighting against God’s people – the church – but actually taking part in the execution of one of its saints.

But luckily, that’s not the end of Saul’s story.

While on the way to further persecute God’s people, Saul was met with a burst of light and sound! And it was amidst that bewilderment and fear that Saul had a realization. He was not only outside of the people of God, but even worse, he was persecuting those who WERE the people of God! Jesus met Saul in a vision while on the road to a city called Damascus, and while it took Saul three days to receive Jesus, it was that moment on the road that changed Saul’s trajectory forever. He was physically and spiritually blinded by this Damascus moment, but once he accepted Jesus, the blindness left him and he could see clearer than he ever had before.

If you heard Saul’s story on the Damascus road without any context, without knowing him or what happened next, it would sound like a tragedy. The newspaper headline would read: “Beloved Scholar and Future High Priest Becomes Delusional, Left Blinded.” And Saul had three days where he was blinded, only left with his thoughts, thinking of how he had gone so far off course from what God intended. Saul didn’t know that from this one moment, Jesus would lead him into a life filled with floggings, beatings, imprisonment, and eventually his own beheading. But even more so, this one moment with Jesus led Saul to a life filled with grace and a life of new meaning.

It still amazes me to think of how I once thought I had it all together… or maybe even better, that at one point in my life I thought I knew everything. And it takes one wrong lyric now to remind me that maybe I still have a little bit more to learn on this green and blue rock. I’m not just amazed at my ignorance, but I’m still amazed by God’s grace and purpose as well.

Maybe you are in the place Saul was before his Damascus road experience, thinking that you have it all together. You’re so busy going with the flow that you haven’t taken the time to see that your stream is leading off a dangerous cliff. Maybe you are in the midst of your shaping moment right now, and you’re left blinded and confused with what the future holds. Maybe you’ve found your purpose, but the new life you’re living is filled with things you weren’t expecting. It’s not as easy as you thought, and you need to be reminded of the love, grace, and purpose you now have with Jesus. Or maybe you’re on the other side of the story, but you’ve forgotten that your story still has significance. Your story can speak into someone who’s still lost – to someone who can’t see how the conflict can be put back together. They’re blinded, and you’re there to lift the veil from their eyes.

Your story has significance. Some will look at your life and where you’ve come from, and they will KNOW that Jesus is the only way you could’ve gotten where you are today… Nothing else makes sense. Or they’ll see the journey you’ve been on, and all they can say is, “How?” That’s when you can point them to that Damascus moment, and they can encounter Jesus for themselves. Take time to remember where you’ve come from. Look and see how you’ve grown. And look to find others that are once where you were, and show them that there’s a greater purpose and a way out of the mess.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Brevity of Before – Galatians 1:13-14

“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” –Galatians 1:13-14

Every action movie has an, “I didn’t think it mattered,” moment. The main characters are in a bind. They are being chased by the “bad guys,” and all seems to look hopeless. The star male and female turn to one another, and then the female kicks a bad guy in the face! Before the male even has time to be surprised by this, the woman takes the assailant’s weapon, does a forward summersault, and shoots the rest of the men chasing her and her soon-to-be romantic interest. The man looks shocked as the woman still has a look of focus not seen yet in the film. He turns to her and asks where she learned to shoot like that. She responds, “I was in the military for some time and served overseas before becoming a [job that has nothing to do with the military]. I didn’t think it mattered.”

Obviously it did.

Paul spends the next chapter of Galatians talking about his life up until the time he met the Galatians. This is a pretty lengthy section, talking about Paul’s former life of Judaism, his call from God, his travels around the Roman world, and more. Though this section is pretty lengthy, Paul only focuses on his life prior to Christ for two verses. Luke spends more time in Acts talking about Paul’s life of Judaism than Paul does here! There must be some reason why Paul doesn’t think it mattered.

Paul might think this doesn’t matter, because the Galatians already know his testimony. This would make sense since Paul was a growing figure among the church. Paul also was the one to originally tell the Galatians the gospel, and with the story of Jesus, he probably shared some of his own story as well. To stop the redundancy, Paul probably abbreviated his former life to focus more on his ministry since becoming a Christian. The Galatians only knew Paul’s life before he knew Christ, but they are oblivious about everything that happened since he became a Christian. This is why Paul spends so many verses on his early ministry and very little on his life of Judaism.

Paul is also showing that his focus isn’t on his former life. His focus is on the gospel and how it affected his life. If he spent time on his life of Judaism it might cause the Galatians to think that there was something glamorous about it. It might give them an excuse to follow Judaism. Paul is trying to disassociate himself from the political side of his ethnicity. So though he is ethnically Jewish, he no longer practices Judaism. He is now a follower of Christ.

So, in a sense, his life before his encounter with Christ doesn’t matter. If Paul were to focus on that, it would take the focus off of Christ. He wants to make sure the Gentiles know that Christ is the one whom surrounds their faith. He is the one that changed Paul’s life, and Paul wants him to be at the center. Paul says enough to let the readers know he was a serious and a devout Jew. Nothing else mattered.

Too often I hear Christians give their testimonies, and they spend almost all of their time talking about life before Christ. It is almost like they are trying to relive their old life. Amidst the story, they forget to share the purpose of the story in the first place – Christ. A testimony that doesn’t talk about the transformation that occurred when they met Jesus isn’t a testimony at all. It is just a story.

What is your testimony? How has God changed your life for the better? What doesn’t matter anymore? Share your testimony. Remember who you used to be, but focus on who you are now. Focus on what God has done and is doing in your life today.

An Apostle Alone – Galatians 1:11-24

With the approach of finals week, there are many different emotions that surge through the average college student. Trust me, I might be out of school, but it has only been a couple of years since I felt the cocktail of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. I remember the struggle of needing to do work, but being so overwhelmed with everything that I would try everything in my power to get around it. Like most college students, procrastination involved Netflix.

The main warning I give people when heading to finals is not to start watching shows that are incredibly addictive. These shows include; Breaking Bad, Lost, Prison Break, and Sons of Anarchy. Once a student starts watching these shows, they are roped in until the series is completed, and if this addiction starts at finals, it will wreak havoc on one’s GPA.

I found myself getting roped into Lost my freshman year. If you know me, you know I love character development! Lost is one of the most developed shows to ever reach television. Because of that and the need to procrastinate, I quickly found myself filling all of my free time with the popular weeknight drama. The show has this spectacular way of using flashbacks and flash forwards to build up their present plotline. Even despite the “flop of an ending,” no series has been able to emulate the side stories, character development, and universe expansion in Lost.

Paul pays special attention to expanding his universe in the opening arguments of Galatians (1:13-2:14). It seems as though the Galatians knew a little bit of Paul’s life before he was a Christian – that he was a zealous Jew that persecuted the church. What the Galatians didn’t know, and what Paul went on to tell them in this section, is how Paul met Christ through a revelation. It was through Christ and no one else that Paul received his Gospel message. Paul’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity should be held in contrast here to the Galatians, who were in the process of converting to Judaism after already being in Christ. Paul is speaking as someone who has “been there” and “done that.” He is showing the Galatians that he should be mimicked.

Paul wants the Galatians to know that his message wasn’t one that came from anyone else. If Paul’s authority is being questioned, this makes sense. Paul is trying to show that his authority, his calling, and his message come directly from Christ. He didn’t get his gospel from Peter or James. He didn’t get it in Judea. His message was one given to him by the Lord. Just as Paul is setting up his message (as being independent of anyone or anything else), he challenges the Galatians to follow his example. He is challenging them to stop following the false teachers that have come to Galatia. Being independent is their only way to truly become unified again as a church. It is their only way to become unified in Christ.

How paradoxical.

What is the side story of your life? Do people know your story –of how God has worked in your life? Or is your faith personal, constricting the plot of who you are? Telling the story of how God has impacted and changed your life is paramount to your being. It deepens who you are. My story and my testimony point to the work that God has done in my life. It points to Him as the ultimate Figure of praise. It makes me an example of someone to be emulated.

What is the gospel to you? Is it something that you have heard from others, but haven’t discovered on your own? How has God changed your life?

How has God expanded your universe?

The Convict’s Confession

I was surprised.

It wasn’t because I got caught. It wasn’t because of the punishment I was going to face, or the disappointment coming from those who expected more from me. I was surprised because I didn’t realize what I did was wrong until after I was found out.

August 30, 2003 started out like any other day. My parents allowed me to have some friends over for my birthday, and we spent the night testing the myth of adolescent metabolic function. We pigged out, joked around, and did everything that you would expect budding teenagers to do. We ended the night by going out for a stroll in my neighborhood.

We knew the kid down the street’s parents weren’t home, and that he and his friend were out toilet-papering houses. One of the boys with us used to house sit for them, so he knew where the key was. It didn’t matter anyway. We lived in the type of neighborhood where people didn’t lock their doors. They had no need to, or so they thought.

The next day when the kid returned to his home, he knew that something was awry. After some minor investigative work, one of the kids in our group (the one who used to house sit for them) confessed that we went in the house. We didn’t trash anything. We didn’t steal anything. But you could imagine the insecurity that the family felt knowing that their sanctuary had been marauded.

It is crazy how God can use the most miserable and bleak situations and turn them into celebrations.

This incident was the “light bulb” I needed. It showed me my own depravity and the depravity of the world, knowing that even “good kids” were subject to actions I thought were only capable of those at the world’s underbelly. Kids of the suburbs need Jesus just as much as the men on death row. I was now proof of that. I experienced it first hand. I might have broken into a house, but through this situation, God had broken into my heart. He chiseled away the mess I was in. And I would never be the same.

When we went to court to plea our case, many of the parents had lawyers advising them to plea, “innocent.” If you know anything of the court system, even if you are guilty it is better to plea innocent, so your lawyer has the chance to work a deal with the judge. Regardless, the idea didn’t sit right with me. I knew I was responsible, and I wanted to show the judge and God that I was willing to pay the earthly consequence despite my heavenly verdict. Sometimes we still have to face consequences on earth that God has pardoned. It is just another portrait of our frailty – pointing to a future hope of reconciliation.

The judge took kindness on us. We got the minimal sentence – no jail time, no community service. I got the incident wiped from my record. People who do a background check on me don’t even know this story. We had to pay a small fine and had to pay a few visits to a probation officer… who was also a pastor.

I remember having to tell my wrestling coach about the incident. Half of the guys who got arrested were on the wrestling team, and we knew that our getting in trouble would affect the team. After we told him what we did, he paused, and then he singled-me-out and rebuked me in front of the whole group. It was my second year being wrestling captain of our middle school team. He told me that by doing what I did, I didn’t do what a leader was supposed to do. I was a follower – doing what I knew was wrong but following regardless. It was a lesson that I have never and will never let myself forget.

Have you ever done something so horrific that you surprised yourself? Have you ever been a follower in a situation where you were supposed to lead the people out of the mess? Have you ever let down the people you cared about most? Are you paying the earthly consequences of actions that have already been forgiven in heaven?

Remember that God is for you. If you seek him, you will find Him. He has His hand outstretched in your direction. He is offering you a gift of reconciliation and grace. You just need to accept it by faith. God is about reconciliation. He is in the healing business… and business is good. If you are in a situation with no visible horizon, know that God loves to make those situations beautiful – just like the sun at dawn.

He will make it beautiful, because He alone gets the glory when He does something we can’t do on our own.

Seek Him. Discover Him. Embrace Him.

My Lisp.

Sometimes I forget some of the things God has brought me through. And every now and then a fear or insecurity creeps up inside of me, and I have to remind myself that the past is now behind me. God has reconciled and transformed me, and I am living proof that God will use the senseless things of this world to confound the wise.

One of the things I like to tell people is of the speech impediment I had growing up. Mind you, it wasn’t too bad, but nonetheless, I had trouble articulating and conversing to the fullest of my cranial capabilities. I like to tell people about my impediment, because so many of my friends know me as someone who is very articulate with words. A lot of my friends are afraid to argue with me sometimes, because I have a gift of asking that single question that will debunk their whole thesis. And in second grade I couldn’t even properly say, “Sally sells sea shells down by the seashore.”

I had a severe lisp as a child, and my sentences had a way of shoelacing themselves together in an unmelodic sequence of speech spoken without punctuation. In the second grade I started undergoing speech therapy class – being wisped away from the normal, everyday life of an elementary student to the lonely room where our tutoring took place.

Weekly I would have to go home and practice reading sentences while saying my “S’s” without sticking my tongue between my teeth. But what kid wants to do that?! I remember one time I even tried to forge my dad’s signature so that my speech teacher didn’t know I hadn’t practiced. I am a slacker, and apparently always was one.

But God does a wonderful thing in that he uses the uneducated and inarticulate and blesses them with wit and the gift of gab!

I love telling people that I had a speech impediment, because people know me as the guy who over-articulates. My sentences now have a space between every word, with an overly-emphatic hiss of my “S’s.” I am kind of afraid to share that with people, because once my friends realized I took speech therapy classes for several years, they started to pick up on how much I over-articulate words, especially with “S’s”!

God is good though in that he took a young boy with no apparent skills in speech, and has used him to speak and minister to people with clarity and understanding. I love telling people of where I came from, because it is a reflection of the goodness of God (not to mention, a glimpse at His satire)!

Maybe you grew up hurt and abused, and you are now being used as a vessel of health and nourishment. Maybe you grew up despised and rejected, and you are now well-established and bringing loners into a community. Maybe you grew up being told you were dumb and stupid, and are now being used to teach and train others.

Don’t forget where you came from.

Embrace your former weaknesses.

Because they are reflections of God’s goodness, strength, and faithfulness.

Has God used any of your former weaknesses as a means of change and restoration? Has He given you a testimony of irony? Don’t be afraid to share how God has helped you overcome insecurities. You’ll never know who you might encourage or inspire.

Feel free to comment with a testimony.