I Come In Peace

“Blessed are the peace makers…”

Christmas time means gathering with family, and that means getting together with people you haven’t seen in a long time. And often times that means some old wounds that have not quite healed are opened up once again. I was talking with someone yesterday, and from our conversation I could tell that the bitterness he felt towards a member of his family was still very real to him. He briefly recounted the events that led to the dissolution of a certain relationship, and quite honestly, he was justified in his hurt. But what alarmed me was the way he reveled in it, outspoken in his unwillingness to forgive “I’m justified in the way I feel. “he said. “And it’s never gonna change.” It made me sad.

One of the tragedies of our sin and brokenness is the trauma it brings to our families. That group of people that God intended to “illustrate” for us the relationship of the Triune God (and ours with “It”) often suffers in ways which can never be truly mended. Even when we come to Jesus, sometimes the consequences of past behavior remain. You can’t “go back,” and undo the past. And it’s so easy to hold on to the memories, the pain, and the unforgiveness. Years go by, so much water under the bridge, and it’s just impossible to make things right. Impossible that is unless someone is willing to be a peacemaker.

Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean we pretend like the hurt isn’t real. It doesn’t mean that we excuse the offender’s behavior. It means that we choose to love and seek reconciliation in spite of it. And the truth of the matter is that being a peacemaker can be painful in itself. It’s hard to put aside our desire to be right (especially when we are), and allow healing to take place. We can get to a point where we love our hurt more than the person who hurt us. But in order for there to be a chance, someone has got to be willing to love and forgive. Someone will have to value forgiveness and reconciliation enough to suffer for it. Someone is going to have to be like Jesus.

We have no greater image of a person who was willing to suffer for reconciliation than Jesus. He was totally in the right, he had done nothing wrong, and he would have been justified if he had thrown up his hands in disgust.

“[But] He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

Jesus bore the pain it took to make things right, the ultimate Peacemaker. And it is his Spirit who can give you the grace needed to do as he did. In him, you can find the strength it takes to forgive and be a source of healing to your family. Come and give yourself to him today. Let him heal you, and then allow him to heal others though you.

 

Advertisements

And By The Word of Their Testimony

I have often thought how strange it is, the span of time that makes up what we call our past. At times, it is almost like a dream. We know it happened, but somehow it seems unreal. Other times, it seems like only yesterday, and we can recall the most minute details. Sometimes, it’s both at once. As I anticipate my upcoming move back home, I can’t help but think about the past and what led me to North Carolina some 15 years ago. God has moved so wonderfully in these past 15 years, but I’ve come to understand that he was also moving wonderfully in the previous 36 years. I know there are some who feel that a minister shouldn’t “air his dirty laundry” for the world to see, but I tend to think that both the world and the body of Christ would be better served by men and women who are willing to share their story – the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m reminded of the words of John,”And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” It is my earnest prayer that my “testimony” will glorify Jesus, encourage you, and in some way assist you in your journey with/to him.

I was born October 13,1962 in the little mill town of Clinton, South Carolina. It was told to me by my mother that not long after my birth, the doctors informed her that I was dying and that they did not understand the reasons why. My great-grandmother’s brother (I believe that was the relation.) was a preacher and came to the hospital, prayed for me and put a little scroll around my neck- I immediately began to recover. My earliest memories are of an awareness of God in my life, and it is said that as soon as I was able to talk, I began telling family members, “I’m gonna be a preacher when I grow up.” What a fairy tale story it would have been to say, “I was called by God as a boy, faithfully walked with Jesus as I grew up, and entered the ministry. But such is not my story.

One of my earliest memories is that of being sexually abused by my grandfather. I remember as a young boy sleeping with him and my grandmother, and at times he would get into the bed naked and cause me to touch him. I also remember being sexually abused by a daughter of a close family friend. For the sake of some who remain alive, not wanting to cause them shame or embarrassment, I’m going to leave out certain names and details. Let it serve to say that during my childhood I saw and heard things children are not supposed to see and hear (Sadly,don’t we all?). I kind of blocked a lot of it out as I grew up, but later in life, I understood that I had felt like somehow I had asked for those things to happen, and had carried a sense of shame deep within me all of my life. As you can no doubt guess, this led to various forms of deviant behavior as a child, adolescent and then later even as an adult. But through it all, I still recall the knowledge of the presence of God in my life. I remember wanting to know Him and praying to Him, even knowing in the way a child can know that I was called to preach.

No one in my immediate family went to church, but my grandmother  would come and take me to church with her. I remember loving God’s word and desiring Him. I remember that even as a young boy I would “preach” to my friends in an abandoned ticket office at Presbyterian College. As I grew, around the age of 11, I made a “profession of faith.” Dr. Wayne E. Wall of the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle baptized me and “welcomed me into the family of God.” I remember spending personal time with him as a boy. I don’t know if he recognized the call of God on me, just felt sorry for me, or both. Nevertheless, he took some time with me. I see it now, in retrospect, that that little boy was a walking mess- broken, messed up and messed with. And the enemy knew just what to introduce into my life what he hoped would be my undoing.

My freshman year in high school some friends and I started the Maranatha Bible Club. We would meet before class for bible study and prayer. It was during this period that I was exposed to what I would later learn to be “charismatic” teachings. I became involved with the youth group at a local church where the Lord had touched the kids and their youth pastor in an “unusual way”. It was the seventies, the “Jesus Movement” was in its prime, and I was exposed to contemporary Christian music, notably the music of Keith Green (saw him in concert twice  ). One thing in particular that stands out was reading Andrew Murray’s Absolute Surrender around the age of 14 or 15. I so desperately wanted to know God in that way. It was also at this time that I was first introduced to narcotics. I smoked my first joint at the first home football game during my freshman year. I immediately was drawn to this drug, and it proved to be that proverbial gateway into what would later become a serious drug addiction. For the sake of brevity, I’ll sum it up by saying that my teenage years were a mixture of drugs, sexual encounters and the Lord. Strange you say- my thoughts exactly. Upon graduation from high school, all I knew was that I was called to preach, so off to Southeastern College I went.

I was elected president of the freshman class at Southeastern and everything seemed to be going alright. I was a young man with a lot of potential, and would one day accomplish “great things for the Lord.” (What most of the faculty, most of my peers and I were totally unaware of was that here was a young man with all kind of issues, and they were going to have to be addressed. I didn’t know this process would involve decades.)  At first I quit smoking pot, but would resume a short time later. I was also introduced to Quaaludes and LSD. All of this resulted in my being the first student ever to be dismissed from Southeastern, and then allowed to return after sitting out a semester. My girlfriend and I broke up, and I later returned to Southeastern with the young woman who would be my wife and the mother of my children. Although I tried to keep up appearances, upon my return to Southeastern it was quite obvious that nothing had changed with me. I began to use drugs more frequently, got my girlfriend pregnant and dropped out of Bible College.

We returned to our homes in Columbia, South Carolina and were soon married. I  found work, got involved at a local church, and began our family. We didn’t make it very far and were soon divorced. It was at this point that I walked away from the church. (Let me say at this juncture that I never stopped “believing,” and  while this may mess with your theology, I know it was part of the PROCESS.)

After the divorce, I was a 26 year old single man, and I began what I call the years in the pig-pen. Although I prayed from time to time, and in my heart believed I was called of God; I began to go to night clubs, have affairs and basically live like a “heathen.” Drugs were no longer a struggle; they were a way of life. Cocaine became a regular part of my life. I spent the next few years in this manner, and eventually met a young woman who would become my wife. I had begun playing music, and made a living as a professional musician. I got married, cleaned my act up, and life was good. She knew my history, and I even remember one time she asked me to explain the bible to her. (Funny, looking back, I needed someone to explain the bible to me.) We bought a house, I became somewhat of a local celebrity, and we pursued our lives together. One night while taking a break in between sets at a local bar, a friend asked me if I wanted to do some cocaine- I said yes.
I was able to hide my drug use for awhile, but one morning we got the call that my first wife had died in a plane crash, and a series of events took place that would once again bring to the surface those unresolved issues in my heart. The plane crash led to a custody battle between my former mother-in-law and me. This resulted in psychological evaluations, attorneys, my children moving in, a second mortgage, and on and on. It wasn’t many years later that the marriage failed, and because of my drug use; my kids would end up living with their grandmother. (Thank God for that woman!)

This was the time in which I became what is commonly known as a “crack-head.” I was addicted and lost everything including all self respect. My family all but disowned me (Can you blame ’em?), and I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to live at Rebound. While at Rebound I was able to quit drugs for awhile, but was eventually asked to leave for violating their alcohol policy.Times of sobriety and drug addiction followed. I eventually found myself living in a hotel room. I began to just scream, cry, and pray to God. I was able to “get it together” long enough to acquire a condo in South Charlotte, but it wasn’t long before the addiction once again reduced me to nothing. I began to understand that if something didn’t change, I was going to die. I found out through a friend (I love you John Boy.) that a room was available in the house he  lived in, and in desperation moved in at sister Deborah Tower’s house.

Upon moving in I understood that no drug use was allowed, and that was just what I wanted. It was there that I truly began to experience the wonderful grace and healing of Jesus. As Deborah was secretly praying for all of her “lost boys,” I began to call out to God in the most honest way I knew how. I told the Lord that no matter what it took I needed Him. I questioned everything I had ever thought or believed, and asked God to reveal Himself to me. I even asked Him to “get me right” and then kill me so I wouldn’t mess it up. I told the Lord that as an act of my free will, I was giving up my free will because it was plainly obvious that I couldn’t be trusted with it. I cried and prayed and cried and prayed. I could sense the dealings of God, but it was like I couldn’t quite get to Him. Then came the journey to Faith Homes in Greenwood, South Carolina.

A member of my family had been a resident at Faith Homes, and was about to graduate. A buddy of mine offered to drive me down. Upon arrival I found out that the ceremony was to be held in a church complete with singing, message and the works. I wasn’t really up for that, but I was there and couldn’t leave. I remember walking into the church and there was this picture (life-size) on the wall of a man in jeans and t-shirt, holding a hammer, collapsed in the arms of Jesus, worn out from having crucified Him. I knewoa_forgiven_bs that man was me. I had worn myself out running and “nailing Him to the tree,” and all that time it was He that held me together. At some point singing began, but all I know was that I met the Son of the living God in person. I clearly heard the voice of my Master say, “You have been crying and I have been listening.” I was confronted with the holiness, love and beauty of the Lord- He “melted” me. He told me that all of my life had led up to this night. All the pain, the drugs, Bible College, divorce, all of it had led to this moment. He told me He loved me, and that I was at the cross-roads of my life, that He wanted me. His exact words were, “I want it all.” I knew exactly what He meant. I saw Him and fell in love with Him. I don’t know how long I was on my knees or what was going on around me, but I understood at that moment what it truly meant to be born again. My shame, my guilt, none of it could stand in His presence. I can only say with Paul that “it pleased God to reveal His Son in me.” The next few days the Spirit of the Lord ministered to me in a way I have not experienced since. He was “on me” as they say, healing me (and still is), letting me know that none of my life was an accident. It had pleased Him to give me the parents I had, to place me in the little town in which I had been born, and so on. I saw that He had been there all along working, loving and bringing me to himself. And He has never stopped!

Well, that about does it I guess. I should mention that one thing Jesus has taught me is that although stuff may happen to us that we may not have been in control of, at some point, we have to take responsibility. We’ve been playing the “blame game” since Eden, but blaming mama, daddy and everybody else isn’t the answer. But coming to Jesus with the whole package is. I want you to know that God is with you- no matter where you are or what you’re experiencing. He loves you and cares about every single aspect of you. You can be forgiven, restored, healed and used of God. You have seen how messed up I was (And buddy, I’ve still got a long way to go.), yet he loves me- just like he does you. And he even uses me-just like he will you. Come to Jesus, he makes all things new.

 

Return

“Oh, how can I give you up, Israel?
    How can I let you go?
How can I destroy you like Admah
    or demolish you like Zeboiim?
My heart is torn within me,
    and my compassion overflows.” (Hosea 11:8)

 There s good news for those of us who know the Lord, but find ourselves struggling: Your God loves us! And he will not let us go. Yes, he is holy. Yes, his Spirit grieves over our sin. But he loves us, and longs to heal and comfort us if we will only return to him. He does not hate us, nor is he waiting for the chance to “get” us. Oh no, quite the contrary; he is waiting, even yearning to have compassion on us and restore us to himself.

 “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces;now he will heal us. He has injured us;
  now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time he will restore us,
    so that we may live in his presence.
Oh, that we might know the Lord!
    Let us press on to know him.
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
    or the coming of rains in early spring.” (Hosea 6: 1-3)

Although the Father does discipline his children, those whom he loves; it is for our good that he does so. It is his love that tears and breaks so that we might see our need and return to the One who waits from on high to have compassion upon us. As surely as the sun comes up in the morning, we can be certain of his kind intentions towards us in Christ.

 “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,for your sins have brought you down.Bring your confessions, and return to the Lord.
    Say to him, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us,
    so that we may offer you our praises.

The Lord says, “Then I will heal you of your faithlessness;
    my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever.
I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven.
Israel will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars in Lebanon.” (Hosea 14: 1, 2; 4-6)

We may have been faithless. But he is faithful. We may be dry and all but withered. But he will refresh us and cause us to blossom once again. His love for us knows no bounds. It is he that has saved us and called us by name. He has not forsaken us though we may have wandered from him. Come now; let our broken hearts drive us to him. Don’t run away in fear. There is One who has born our sin, and poured himself out that we might receive mercy and know the love of God. This is the One who lives that we also may live, free from the sin that has beset us. He offers forgiveness, healing and restoration.

 “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.” (Hosea 10: 12)