But God…

Today, I shared a story with my church family about the victory God gave me over a long-suffering issue of sin in my life.  It’s a powerful story for His glory.  And it is my sincere prayer that more than conviction, those who hear or read it will allow God to bring change.  My heart breaks for the thousands and thousands of people, particularly church-goers, who culturally identify themselves as Christians yet are far from God.  May these true events and Scriptures work powerfully in the lives who are living under the same deception I was for so long.

Transcript – Let me start by saying that I have been under the shroud of a sin in my life—even after making a confession of faith at 18—that goes back to the days of my adolesence.  I’m not ready to share the full extent of all that that entails and perhaps I one day will, but for today, let’s flash forward to four years ago.

Through the ministry and teaching of Compass, the house church plant that Larry and Wanda Remington began out of this body, four years ago God rocked me. We were reading a book called “Radical” by Dr. David Platt, the same pastor out of Alabama who does Secret Church. I had lived under an evil deception for the 12 years since I said “yes” to Jesus. I bought into an American dream spin of Christianity. It is a watered-down version of the gospel that says, “If you say a few words, go to church, give some money, serve in a ministry, you are fit for heaven and you can otherwise go on and live your life.”

It was a very me-centered gospel that I believed. And my faith had become about advancing me. I picked out the pieces of Scripture that make me feel better about my life. My salvation, my relationship with God, my every day choices…it becomes all about me.

So this shroud of sin in my life was no concern to me. I thought I was covering it up by all the religious activities I was doing and serving. But four years ago, I not only understood that Jesus saved me, but He showed me what it is that He saved me from. I think for perhaps the first time, I met the Christ who lived the life I could not live and died the death I deserved to die. The understanding of my debt that He paid to make me adopted as God’s son broke me way beyond any intellectual affirmation.

And one thing became very clear. None of this is about me. My salvation is first and foremost about God doing this work to receive the glory He is due. And the Bible is the story—His story—that unfolds the history of redemption in this world. And He was inviting me to be a part of that story by proclaiming the glory of God to the ends of the world. Until I let this truth sink in and change my perspective, everything was an obligated religious duty. This is my plea to you as you hear this: that we will not waste decades coasting out our lives! You see, when God revealed Himself to me and I let Him change my heart, obedience became the choice I wanted to make.

God brought a Scripture to the forefront of my life that terrified me. Before we read it, I want to be very clear on this truth: We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Four years ago, God hit me with the truth that I was checking off the boxes and doing all the things I was supposed to do as a “Christian” yet I was far from Him.

You know the greatest scheme of the Devil?  He leads us on a path of destruction without us even realizing it. Take this analogy.  Put a frog in boiling water and it’ll quickly jump out.  Put it in water and slowly heat it, it’ll end up boiling to death.  This is not a recipe for frog soup though, it is a recipe for disaster in our lives.  Stated another way, in his book “Tempted and Tried”, Russell Moore described it as the process of cattle being led to slaughter.  He described how slaughterhouses have gone to enormous expense to make it seem to the cow that she is just taking a stroll across a pasture and not toward an untimely end.  And before they even know what has happened, the deed is done and they were never the wiser.  This keeps them stress-free, which in turn, keeps the meat tender. The Bible also has something to say about deception:

James 1:21-22—“So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.  But don’t just listen to God’s word.  You must do what it says.  Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”

I realized that I had nothing to evidence the faith I said I had.  I was living under this complacent deception, walking a path I thought was just fine but was inevitably leading me to death.  I never made God’s Word a priority or let myself see that it is all about His glory, not mine. I took the part of salvation that was good for me and set the rest aside. I had a casual acceptance of Jesus’ salvation, but rejected His Lordship.

I continued to fall time after time after time in a vicious cycle of sin. Was I saved? On examining my own heart, I honestly cannot tell you with confidence that I was. I do know that I did not care about my sin and I look back and see that as a huge red flag. It goes to show that words are meaningless unless the heart is changed to accept Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord.

In these four years since—and up until these past couple of months—God was doing a tremendous work aligning me into his global plan, and you would think that kind of experience would strengthen me. I wish I could say my slavery to the sin in my life was dealt with at this point. I knew the call on my life yet I was mired in deception and ineffectiveness. I’d lived with it too long; it was a part of me. The high of doing what I wanted was always followed by a low of greater magnitude for the choices I had made. Then to make up for feeling down, I did the things again that made me feel better. So I could not overcome them in my own will or strength.

Yet there was a difference. The more time I spent with God and His Word, the more I understood the grief I caused the Holy Spirit, how I profaned Christ’s cross-work by willingly choosing these things, and how I was separating myself from my holy Father. These sinful choices cast a veil between us, of my own making. I wasn’t gaining clarity on how God wanted to use me in specific ways. I even questioned His Word, not understanding why the Bible says He would provide me a way out of temptation but I was not receiving it. I wavered in my trust because I would read that Jesus frees me from sins, yet I felt chained to them! I couldn’t understand why I had this addiction and could not break free from it despite wanting to.

I have been serving on the media team in various capacities for 12 years. I recently took some time away. I had been feeling the fatigue of burnout setting in and I wanted to seek the path God has for me in the spread of His Kingdom, including what I’ve felt is a call to serve globally. So I thought this rest period would focus on that and I had this whole plan for my time away. I met with Bit Stephens and asked her what the greatest challenge is as you step out in obedience to global disciple-making, and she emphatically said it is that whatever weaknesses you have here, they are amplified over there because of the intense spiritual warfare that takes place.  Obviously, I knew what I must deal with when she said that.  And my time away became about something else entirely than I had planned. God was separating me from what I was using as a crutch in my role here, and also showing me that as enthusiastic as I was for His disciple-making command, I was loving His mission more than loving Himself.

In February, I felt the Spirit leading me to confess my burden to a guest pastor who spoke at Perspectives.   As we talked, I knew God had shown up. This pastor told me it is a lie of Satan that I would be bound to this sin forever. He asked me: is the pain of staying the same more than the pain of changing? If it is, that’s when we are ready to be done with it. He affirmed to me that I had to be a doer of God’s Word, not just a hearer. He showed me a story in the Old Testament and the New Testament that both showed the difference. If Jesus is in fact Lord of my life, he said, then I will: 1) come to God. 2) listen to Him; 3) and do what He says.

This is the choice that was set before me that day at lunch with this pastor. And just as Jesus asked a paralytic man of 38 years before healing him, he pointedly asked me “do you want to be healed from this?” I emphatically answered YES, I want to be healed.  I don’t want to do this any more. I was at the end of myself. I knew it was time to deal with this finally. And I knew that God called this period of rest for this purpose.  He commissioned me to a period of consecration: to fast, pray, and soak in God’s Word.  I did so in mid-February and I want you to see the beautiful process God faithfully took me through.

First, God began renewing my body through fasting.  I have never really done this discipline before. I went into it committed to fast for 21 days. But I hit a very low point on day 4. I mean, I was pretty much freaking out. Wondering how I would ever get through this. Trying to figure out another way and if God would be less pleased if I did a shorter version.

But our patient God showed me in those moments His sufficiency for today. He gives us His provision for today. Oh what great confidence that brings! At that moment, I knew it wasn’t about 21 days or 10 days or any other day, except to trust God for today, and when He was ready to release me from this fast, He would do so. And I changed. More than I wanted my stomach to be filled with any kind of food, I want to be filled by His Word!

I was doing a study of the book of Matthew and came to Chapter 11 that Sunday. Jesus says this:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

As I contemplated on these words, I realized that I had an incomplete picture of them. I can’t tell you in words what happened in that moment, but I felt something shatter around my heart.  The weight of this sin that had laden me for so long was lifted. I understood that Jesus bears the burden of my sin. I don’t have to live under that weight. He lifts it for me. How? He can because He has already conquered sin.  He died for it. But it did not hold Him in the grave. He is risen and alive and victorious over sin, death and Satan today!  And I knew in that moment that I would never make these sinful choices again.

In those moments I went from questioning God for these struggles to understanding He was using them to make me utterly reliant upon Him. Yoked with Jesus, He is my strength in weakness:

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Let me tell you, I was on my face. And He kept pouring into me, giving me instruction to fill my mind with His Word, as Psalm 119 so beautifully admonishes us to do.  The truth is our hearts can only love what the mind gives it. Mine was filled with junk but God showed me how to replace it with the Word of God.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (Psalm 119)

God continued by giving me reassurance that I am to be used for His purpose in His global glory. Look back at the picture of being yoked to Jesus. He’s plowing the harvest fields for the planting of the seeds of the gospel. Because we are yoked together, where He goes, I am going. I have the confidence of his leading me to the places of good soil where planting is taking place.

Later that morning, I go to the church I was visiting during this time, and in God’s perfect and sovereign timing, the speaker that day taught on the story of Elijah, in the days after his victory over the prophets of Baal. What God unfolded in that sermon on that day was the revelation of how He had just worked in my life. He made it plain for me to see. To Elijah, God brought physical healing through nourishment, confirmed His presence in a gentle whisper, instructed him in what he needed to do, and reassured him of his value and use to God’s kingdom purposes. In my life, God used fasting to cleanse me physically, His Spirit brought forth truths in Scripture that affirmed His presence with me, He showed me how to replace the sin and the flesh with His Word and the Spirit, and He reassured me that I would be used for His global purpose.

How I praise God for His persistence and patience and faithfulness with me. I know that He is setting me to work to proclaim His great name. I am ready to throw off the weights that are holding me back from completing the task both where God has planted me and across the world. I’m throwing off the lens of tolerances and selfish desires, and I choose to see the Word of God through a Christ-centered lens. I’m not going to sit back in my comforts anymore and complain about them when they aren’t there. I’m willing to sacrifice my time, my talents, my treasures for the spread of the gospel!   I want to stand strong in the battle and be like the saints of Revelation 12:11—

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

I don’t want to stand before Christ and hear those shocking words from Matthew 7, but rather I want to be able to say, as Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith… (2 Timothy 4:7)

I don’t know what else to do but tell what He has done in my life. The urgency is immediate. Christ is returning! The cost is high! I’m finding that the more I align my life to God’s will the harder the opposition I am going to face, both spiritually and in the world around us. But that’s okay! Because Jesus is worth it!

This is the story of how God saved me through His perfect Son, from a deceived life that for over two decades I was “dead in my trespasses and sin in which I once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, 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, bring rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loves me, even when I was dead in my trespasses, made me alive together in Christ—by grace I have been saved—and raised me up with Him and seated me 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 towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared beforehand that we may walk in them.”

But God…