I finally did it.
I finally have gotten myself to the place where I’m ready to give up.
In my 20’s and early 30’s, I struggled quite a bit with living a good Christian life. I was in and out of the church. I would be on fire for a year or two, and then I would walk away for a few years. I’d get myself right, and then I would backslide. This formula of being hot and then cold, yes and then no, in and then out, up and then down left me not knowing wrong from right or black from white. (If you get that reference, you probably should stop reading now and have a personal little talk with Jesus.)
But seriously, I was a mess.
In Autumn of 2008, however, I arrived at a crucial juncture in my life where I had to make one final decision. I could continue down the road I was traveling. This road had been paved by all of my bad decisions. This road had stops along the way that were filled with pain. This road had been riddled with Michigan roads-sized potholes caused by things like pornography, adultery, bitterness, and anger. The other option was to take the other road. That road that is sometimes called “The Road Less Traveled” or “The Straight and Narrow”. That road seems to not be paved at all. That road seems to have been hewn out by all of the faithful heroes of old who determined that no matter how hard, how long, how hilly, or how curvy it was, it would be worth the prize won when the final destination was reached. That road is the same road which I believe is planted down deep inside of every human being that has ever lived. It’s the right road. We know it’s the right road. The problem is that it isn’t the easy one to travel. So, we naturally start looking for an alternative highway. Tom Cochrane—not Rascall Flatts—is 100% correct. Life is a highway. Quite frankly, though, it doesn’t matter if you want to drive it all night long. (You’re welcome. Have fun trying to get that tune out your head.) You drive it all night long whether you want to or not…and all day…and all week…and, well, all your life. The question is which highway—which direction will you take? So, on this one particular cool autumn evening up here in the Michigan woods, I made my choice. Standing in the kitchen of that old, drafty shack where we lived, I looked up at the ceiling and said, “Ok. Here I am.” Just like that, I switched roads.
Now, I’d love to tell you that the last decade of my life has been nothing but wonderful. I’d love to tell you that on that evening I totally quit making mistakes. I’d love to tell you that my bad decision making days were over. However, I can’t tell you that because that would be a lie. In fact, I think some of the worst choices of my life have been made since making that crucial life change. If I would start listing off some of the sins that I’ve committed since that day, most of you would stop reading now. Most of you would be dumbfounded. I have done things since I decided that I would live for God that a lot of people who don’t know anything about Christianity would ever even consider doing. What then qualifies me to be sitting here writing down my thoughts? What gives me the right to feel like I should hand out any advice whatsoever? What is going on inside this dark mind of mine that gives me the idea that you should read the thoughts that I am writing and apply them to your lives?
The answer is nothing.
Nothing qualifies me or gives me the right to share these thoughts. I think you should read because my life is the image of grace.
All of us struggle.
Whether you are a pastor who has been living this life your entire life or you are a person who has never even considered giving Christianity a shot, you’ve struggled. You have and continue to fight battles inside your mind. Most of you are probably like me in that you fall between the two groups that I just described. These writings are going to be for all of you. So, in all you do, this blog’s for you. (I just can’t help myself sometimes.)
Back to the beginning…
What in the wide, wide world of sports do the last few paragraphs have to do with my first two sentences? As I was saying by cleverly (at least in my mind it was clever) referencing a Katy Perry song, I struggled quite a bit in my early adult life with making a solid commitment to live for God. I was in and out a lot. I remember going to preach at this small church in Bryan, Ohio was I was about 20 years old. When I was there, I met a relative of a family from my home church. When I told one of the members of the family that I met this man, their reply was, “Oh, is he in church this year?” I can remember other people making similar comments about others who lived in similar ways. I had reached that point. I don’t know. Maybe people made the same remarks about me when they heard that I was doing well. Maybe my wishy-washy attitude brought out the cynicism in even some of you. When I committed my life to Jesus on that evening in 2008, I’m sure some people thought and perhaps even said, “Give him a year or two.” Sadly, I have even caught myself saying the same kinds of things about others.
Shame on me.
So, here I am. Ten years later (I always hear the narrator from SpongeBob when I say something like that), I am still “in the church”. I’ve had my ups and downs. I’ve had my share of victories and defeats. A few years ago, I royally screwed up. I mean, the kind of screw up that in past years would have me running out of the church doors with my tail between my legs and straight into a life of drinking and promiscuity, but I stayed. I found an altar and I hit my knees and God and I hashed it all out. If I know about anything, I know about the grace of God. I know about the unfailing love of God. I can tell you that if I can do this, you can do this. Short of murder, I’ve committed almost every sin in the book. Guess what?
God still loves me!
If I can do it, you can do it.
I put together this ten year stretch. Even in the midst of all of my mistakes, I am still here. I’m still living for God. I’m still going to church and doing my best to live right.
I spent about three years as the youth pastor at my church. I proudly wore the label of “world’s oldest youth pastor”. It was three of the most rewarding years of my life. It was also three of the most challenging years of my life. A few months ago, mainly because of a change in my work schedule, my wife and I stepped down from this position. The underlying reality that no one really knew was that I was burnt out. Ministerial burnout is a very real thing. I was exhausted. I found myself now not being able to pray. I stopped reading the Word. I stopped giving to the church. I stopped fasting. I found myself just sitting around not really doing anything. There’s an old saying that says, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. What I have learned is the the idle mind is actually the devil’s workshop. I started to think about everything that was wrong in my life. I started to think about an incident that happened last year when I thought I was done wrong. I started thinking about all the garbage in my life that wasn’t exactly how I thought it should be. Now, not only was I suffering burnout, I was adding bitterness to it. So…
I finally did it.
I finally have gotten myself to the place where I am ready to give up.
It’s been a good ten years. It’s been fun rebuilding the lasting friendships that I thought I had lost. It’s been fun making new friends. It’s been fun standing behind several pulpits and reestablishing my name as a minister, but screw it. I’m done. I’m burnt out. I’ve been done wrong. People are gossiping about me. People who don’t even really know me are bringing up my past. People are lying about me. My kids aren’t listening to me. My wife isn’t putting enough salt in the meatloaf. My life sucks! I’ve just wasted a decade that could’ve easily been spent developing alcoholism or various STD’s. I’m done with the church. I’m done with Jesus. I’m done with my marriage. I’m just done.
Then I got what will go down in history as one of the most important text messages of my life.
Not even knowing what I’m going through, not even knowing where my head is, a pastor friend of mine sent me this text that just happened to come at the perfect time.
Keith Blaylock has been my friend since I was about 11 years old. It was Crusader’s Camp in Ohio and I was the only boy from my church who went to camp this particular year. I loved camp, but this year, I was scared to go because I didn’t know anyone. I arrived and went to the dorm to find a bunk and found myself in the middle of these loud, rowdy boys who all obviously knew each other. The kid who seemed to be the ringleader of them all was this short, pudgy, curly-headed kid who walked right up to me and stuck his hand out and said, “Hi, I’m Keith.” A life-long friendship—no, a brotherhood—was born that day. Though the years, as I made a practice of walking away and returning to God, Keith was establishing himself as a minister and a respected pastor. The cool thing about guys who let themselves be regularly used by God is that sometimes God uses them and they don’t even know it. Oblivious to the fact that I was on the verge of throwing my life away, my friend sent me a simple text that simply read, “I am going to be preaching in Toledo this weekend bro. Say a prayer for this old man.” He didn’t know that I was about to give up. He didn’t know that I have actually been working in Toledo for the last few weeks. He didn’t know that the message God was giving him to preach was divinely tailored to fit my present situation. He just felt compelled to send me a text, and God then compelled me to want to be with my friend in service that Sunday morning.
The service was incredible. I hadn’t been to a regular church service at the church where I grew up in years. From the opening chord of the first song to the altar call, it was orchestrated by God to make one more reach to me. The first thing that happened that made me just about break down and fall on my face before God was when Pastor Kris Dillingham got up and after saying some very potent things, he told the congregation to all audibly speak to God and say these words, “Here I am.” I was immediately taken back to that evening in my kitchen ten years ago when I said those exact words. My eyes couldn’t contain the tears as once again I felt the loving arms of God wrapped around me. Then, Pastor Blaylock preached his message “The Destiny of a Soul”, and I could not wait to get to an altar to find the repentance that I so desperately needed.
We don’t really know how far Peter got out of the boat as he walked on water to meet Jesus. The only conclusion I can draw is that he got far enough out to where he could not easily turn around and latch onto the side of the boat and climb back in. In the past, I would step out and not get very far and just turn around and get right back to the life I was living. This time, though, I am ten years out of the boat. Going back is not an option. It’s sink or walk. It’s do or die. Like Peter, my only choice is to drown or cry out, “Lord, save me!”
Storms come and go. We slip. We trip. We fall. We can weather the storm in the graceful arms of a loving God, or we can drown in our own doubts and fears. We get up and dust ourselves off and lean on Jesus when the road gets rough, or we can wallow in self-pity and find an easier way to take that has a not-so-pleasant final destination.
After that Sunday morning service in Toledo, I wanted to get home to Albion, Michigan to my home church for evening service. I was a little nervous to find out that we would be partaking in communion that evening. I’m going to be honest. I’m always nervous taking communion because of one scripture that’s always read before communion. You know the one I’m talking about. That one where Jesus says that anyone who eats or drinks unworthily eats and drinks damnation. I always freak out. I’m always thinking,”Dear God! Please don’t let me eat or drink damnation!” As I stood there with the bread and wine in my hands that evening, it hit me. Of all the people who were there that evening with Jesus. Only one was damned. Judas. Judas was damned why? Because he betrayed Jesus? No, actually. I believe Judas could have recovered from betraying Him and ended up being the most powerful Apostle in the Bible. Maybe Acts 2:38 would’ve actually read, “Then Judas said unto them…” But, no, that’s not what happened. Judas was damned, and he was damned because he couldn’t find repentance.
I don’t know what you may be going through as you read this. I don’t know your thoughts or the sins that you have actually committed. I do know this. You are never out of the reach of our loving God. Find your place of repentance. Cry out to Jesus to save you. Continue walking on water.