This is a story of the goodness, love and grace of our Almighty God. While I am part of the story, God IS the story. This is a story of His relentless pursuit of a sinner, who He has wanted to be in His kingdom so much that He has stopped at nothing to bring me into His family. Of course I could write a story about ME, but then it would stop far short of the truth. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life. NO one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) It was only through His grace that I have been brought into His kingdom. Buckle your seat-belt and hold on tight, because this is going to be a rough, bumpy ride.
I am an only-child, the son of believing parents. I was raised in the church, but unfortunately that also warped my understanding of God. Dad was a perfectionist, domineering and legalistic. Everything was about keeping the rules and measuring up to the standards. Grace was totally unknown in our home, and largely lacking in the church. One of my most vivid memories of church was our pastor reading the Ten Commandments – every week. When communion was served, there was a barbed-wire fence around it, with the Elders as its guards, and only those who “measured–up” were allowed to partake. The table of our Lord wasn’t for sinners…it was for “saints“. Perhaps grace was preached once in a while, but since the law was thundered-out every Sunday, the still, small voice of grace was lost in the din.
While I knew that Jesus loves me, God was distant, scowling, rule-enforcing, and completely unlike our Heavenly Father. It seemed that His belt was always handy, and I felt its sting often. I accepted Jesus as my Savior at an early age, but measuring up to God’s impossible standards was a nightmare. I knew nothing about salvation by grace through faith, and even after I accepted it as theological fact, it took many years to start to sink in, and I am not sure it will completely this side of heaven. I was always striving, striving, striving, but never getting there. Life seemed more downs than ups. If God hadn’t held me up, I would have gone down in flames long ago.
As a kid, we moved too often to develop any real friendships. I became a loner. Dad became a pastor, and I was a lonely PK.
Along the way, I struggled with church-splits, pastors that were wannabe “popes” (never trust a pastor who is an “ex–Catholic“), power-struggles, and more legalism…even apostasy in the church. When things turned sour in one church, God had another for me. I struggled through four failed marriages, my first wife’s suicide, sexual addiction, porn addiction, and my own inadequacy. As a result of her suicide, I was stripped of my family. Outwardly I seemed to do okay, but inwardly I was a mess. At each low-point in my life, God picked me up, dusted me off, and helped me get back on my feet…for a while. Every time I said “ I am going to make it this time“, I failed again. It seemed to be a never-ending cycle…up, then down, up, then down. “It” was still dependent on me, and I couldn’t get “it” done. Of course that was exactly what God wanted me to realize all along…that I couldn’t do it on my own, but I had to keep trying, because that was all I knew. His grace was there, but I couldn’t see it. Maybe I couldn’t even trust it. Maybe I couldn’t even trust Him…
I have survived four death-threats, three of which were from a brother-in-law. Three years ago, I walked away from a vehicle accident that should have been my last. God’s guardian angel was working overtime that day. Each time, I got a fresh sense that God was still with me and hadn’t given up on me. He must still have something for me to do.
I came to Cypress Ridge in January 2013, at one of the lowest times in my life. My wife of less than six weeks had moved out while I was away tending to a doctor’s appointment. I was alone, in a new area, with no friends or support-system. Googling “Presbyterian Church Davenport” netted a long list of churches, but I knew many were mainline churches. Far down the list was Cypress Ridge, and when I went to the church website, I liked what I saw. The church felt like “home” from the very first Sunday.
This past year has been a time of intense struggle. Everything I have tried, including prayer, has failed to put my marriage back together. The harder I have worked, the more distant my wife became. Now I am in that “no-mans-land” called married-single. I have dealt with loneliness…sometimes intense. I have wondered many times if I even matter, whether if I disappeared, anyone would even miss me. I have felt worthless, because everything that gave me worth has been stripped away. I have also struggled with health issues, which on top of everything else, seemed overwhelming. Finances have been tight, but God has always put food on my table. I have even wondered if I matter to God, when all I get from Him is stony-silence. I have asked “Why” more times than I can count, with no answers in sight. When I have gotten answers, they were all the “wrong” answers. Why has God even put up with me? Wouldn’t putting me out of my misery put me out of His misery? He must not think so…
Through every struggle, there has been some kind of answer for each. Good medical care, from caring health-care providers have made the health issues more manageable. Even as I found my worth slipping away, God showed me my true worth, because as one of His special creations, I have great value to Him, and as His child, I am an heir to His kingdom. Through reading and studying His Word, as well as the writings of wise men He has gifted, I have gained a better perspective on life. The church family has been a much-needed source of caring and love. Thanksgiving and Christmas were made brighter by families in the church who invited me to be part of their families for those holidays. Those were times when I would have been alone otherwise.
Over the last several months, I have been challenged in even what I have believed to be true concerning my interpretation of the Bible. What I have come to see is that I have been reading my cultural perspectives into the Bible. I have been culturally-conditioned to see things a certain way, and yet the last parts of the Bible was written almost two-thousand years ago, and the writers didn’t see things as I do. The writers of Scripture were the ones inspired by God, not I. When we believe a lie from the pit of hell, and think that Scripture teaches that lie, we are deceived by Satan, not by Scripture. God’s Word is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and we must interpret our culture through the lens of God’s Word, rather than interpreting God’s Word through the lens of our culture. It is hard changing gears. That has been tough sledding, but God wants to make Himself known through His Word, so it is worth the journey. He will always bless our desire to know Him better through His Word.
Christ’s church is no social-club for the “righteous“. Rather it is commissioned to be His field-hospital for the sin-sick, wounded and weary. God Himself is our Great Physician – our Doctor, and we are called to be His nurses and staff…His hands and feet. Had my fifty-eight years on this journey been easy…a bed of roses, I would not understand, but by being a struggler, sin-sick, wounded and weary, I do understand. May God grant me greater ability to do that task in His church, to serve those who are struggling, and bring glory and honor the Him.
God’s grace has ALWAYS been sufficient. It is I that had the problem seeing it. I am still a work-in-progress, and God isn’t done with me yet.