Maybe you didn't catch on, so I'll give it away: all my "thankful" posts were leading up to this one. This one person made all those other relationships and gave me thankfulness for them. Before I go too much further, let me confess right away how awkward I feel about writing this. I've always been the skeptic bystander who laughed at the "What-Would-Jesus-Do"-bracelet-wearing people. I have this intense fear of being seen as a Bible-pushing, obnoxious Christian who runs around foaming at the mouth with coffee-cup scriptures and prosperity gospel advice. I never want to be that person, but in my attempt to avoid her, I've too often fallen short of speaking truth at all. So, I'm sorry if you read this and roll your eyes or feel offended. But it is no surprise to Christ that his gospel would offend (1 Corinthians 1:18-19; Matt 10:34), so I will humbly attempt to put fear aside and stride on in.
My family is like a little theology / philosophy incubator. I vividly remember "drawing" my dad's sermons on Revelation when I was only 3. We went to church early and stayed (painfully) late every time! I can't remember a time when "Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth..." wasn't the automatic retort from my mom when my brothers and I bickered. Time out = reading or copying chapters from the book of Proverbs. So I'm not surprised that I felt the intense, bone-burning need to be baptized at 11. I say "baptized" and not "repent" because I believe that my young brain saw salvation administered by baptism (the subtlety of "an outward expression of an inward reality" was a bit beyond me). In other words, I absolutely believed that if I wasn't baptized Christ wouldn't save me. I never thought, "Maybe I am baptized because he saved me and, in obedience, I want to show the world that I am now his!" Believing baptism stood between me and hell, I practically canon balled into the baptistery. I was so sure that God didn't like me and wouldn't want to talk to me unless I was a believer (I still struggle with this lie regardless of the multitude of evidence to the contrary: See Baalam, Samaratian woman, etc).
This underlying fallacy led me to believe that, as a new believer, I needed to strive for perfection and never sin again. Ever. I distinctly remember plotting that first night how I could avoid ever sinning again, since now there wasn't another "reset." I'm so saddened to think how distorted and confused my picture of God and myself was. I pretty much thought God gave me a tool I needed (salvation) and then said "Go for it!" Thus, any success or failure was dependent upon my own faithfulness and willpower. I stole all the beauty and power of the Cross and tried to "clean" myself up before approaching Christ.
Surely you know where this is going... Within two years (maybe less) I was exhausted, frustrated, confused, and spiritually stagnant. Instead of seeking help from the Spirit, the ultimate teacher and giver of all good things, I sought distraction. Ultimately, my relationship with God was a means to an end---my own desires. I didn't love God for himself but only for his stuff. This state of freeze-dried faith lasted for nearly 12 years, the last 3 of which I lived in open mockery and rebellion toward God.
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” - Titus 3:3-7
In 2009, God exploded all my walls with a single, mighty blow. Justin and I were at the Denton Village listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler called "Good Guilt." (Here's the series I'm referring to. The sermon I'm talking about was #2.) Literally the "veil" Paul speaks of was ripped away and for the first time the gospel impacted my heart in profoundly. And here's the craziest truth: all my life I knew the "factual gospel," the history, the tenants, the verses, and the rules, but it had never before resonated with my heart until that night. Then, those years of memorization and knowledge began filtering down from my head to my heart. I pretty much cried throughout the entire sermon and 30 minutes thereafter, staying to pray with Beau Hughes in complete brokenness.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10 ESV)
Important differences the "second" time around:
1 - As before, I still sin and struggle with my own wickedness, selfishness, and pride. Now though I feel the weight of my sin and see clearly the devastation it causes in my life and the lives of those around me
2 - Over the last three years God has powerfully healed relationships in my life that I had previously given up on
3 - God has grown in me a heart for reconciliation, for ministering to others's needs, and for encouraging the broken hearted
4 - He has given me a boldness for sharing the gospel that I couldn't have imagined was possible
5 - He has surrounded me with wonderful Christian women who confront me in my sin, encourage my anxious heart, and help me fix my eyes upon Jesus.
I'll end with one of my all time favorite passages that sums up my story so perfectly:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:1-10