Tag Archives: reconciliation

This story about Peter changed my life, and could yours

I want you to remember a time you were publicly humiliated by someone.  Maybe somebody insulted you in front of others, or pointed out what you were doing wrong in a condescending manner.  Maybe they made fun of you for wearing something that didn’t match (all my fellow color-blind people, unite!), or maybe it was a teacher who embarrassed you in front of the class.

Got it?  Is your blood starting to boil as you picture that person?  Ok. Take a deep breath.  Lay that aside for a moment.  We will come back to it.

My biblical doppelganger is Peter, the perfectly flawed disciple of Jesus.   One of my favorite pastors, Mark Beebe, has been doing a teaching series on Peter during our Thursday night recovery services.  He reminds us that throughout the gospels, Peter’s shortcomings are not scrubbed out.  We see him have some great moments, such as when he answered rightly Jesus’ question, “Who do you think I am?” and we see him have some bloopers, such as 7 verses later where Jesus rebuked him, calling him Satan (Matthew 16).   We get to watch Peter full of faith walk on water and then moments later get overwhelmed and drop like a rock.  We read about him declaring he’d never leave his Master’s side only to disown Him not once, not twice, but three times that same night.

Peter is every one of us who vowed to go to Africa for the sake of the gospel during the 11am altar call only to remember an hour later how much we love Olive Garden.

I love Peter, and I suspect you do as well, because we can identify so easily with him.   But there’s a story about Peter that isn’t found in the gospels and is little known. It’s my favorite one.   I’d like to share it with you.

It begins in Galatians, a letter written by Paul, a Jewish religious leader turned Jesus freak who is credited with taking the message of Jesus to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world.   During this time period, Christians were still getting used to the radical idea that Jesus broke down all the barriers between people, setting aside the purity regulations faithful Jews had observed for centuries (like abstaining from unclean food or not eating with Gentiles).  Paul was fighting an uphill battle trying to convince Jews who had converted to Christianity that it was perfectly acceptable to eat with Gentiles.  Heck, they could even host a pork BBQ if they so desired.

Enter Peter.  In Galatians 2, Paul writes that he found Peter in Antioch.   Before Peter’s Jewish friends arrived on the scene, Peter was known to eat with Gentiles.  But when these guys from Jerusalem showed up, Peter drew back. He didn’t want to get in trouble with his Jewish friends.   Paul writes that he “opposed Peter in public because he was clearly wrong…the other Jewish believers also started acting like cowards along with Peter” (Gal. 2:11-14).

Paul publicly humiliated Peter, calling him a coward in front of all his friends.   I imagine Peter felt a lot like you and I feel when the same thing happens to us.  Galatians was written around 40 A.D., a decade after Jesus was crucified, resurrected and ascended to heaven.   Ten years later Peter still had moments where he wasn’t at the top of his game.   Once again, Peter is just like us.

But the story isn’t over.

Nearly 2 decades after being embarrassed in Antioch, Peter would write his own letters to churches which would be added to our New Testament.  In his second letter, the aging disciple writes one sentence that convinces me the gospel is true, that the Holy Spirit is at work, and God isn’t done with any of us yet.   He writes,

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with wisdom that God gave him (2 Peter 3:15).

Isn’t that astounding?!  Do you see how Peter writes so affectionately about a man who called him a coward in front of all his friends?   Do you catch how he publicly praises the one who publicly humiliated him?    Over the years Peter made spiritual progress, and along his journey he chose humility over bitterness, reconciliation over retaliation.   Peter continued to grow, to change, to be conformed into the image of Jesus.

This insight into Peter’s life, a man who lived 2000 years ago and whom I only know through letters, is enough to convince me that a life pursuing Jesus is worth it, if for nothing else than to achieve the sort of serene disposition the aged Peter has for Paul when none of us, who are just like Peter, would fault him if he had held a grudge to the grave.

Now, recall the image of the person who made your blood boil a moment ago.   See them?  It’s one thing for us to take comfort in knowing someone like Peter, a disciple of Jesus, is just like us when he falls on his face.  But if he’s just like us in our low moments, can we believe together that we can be just like him in his best moments?   Can we believe for a moment that the gospel is true, that the Holy Spirit is at work in you and I, and that God isn’t done with any of us?  Then can we dare to imagine that one day – maybe not today, this month or even this year – but one day our hearts might be so changed that we would write affectionately about the person we can’t stomach today?

If the words of a dead man from two millennia ago can inspire us to imagine Jesus isn’t done with any of us yet, imagine what might happen if the world saw living examples of Peter today.   After all, he’s just like us.   Or even better, maybe we are just like him.

By God’s grace, may it be so.

 

 

My wife shared a testimony today that never should have been

This morning my wife shared her testimony to a group of 60 or so women.   It’s not the first time she has been invited to do something like this but it never ceases to amaze me that she is doing this.  I’m blown away once more by the amazing ability of God to do miracles in people’s lives.

You see, what happened today shouldn’t be happening.   At this time 3 years ago I was a bum living in an economy hotel taking a taxi to work at Little Caesars while Amy was high on anti-depressant/anxiety drugs and knocked out on sleeping pills.  I was eating cold pizza every night for dinner, alone and glued to my laptop in my “Free Wi-Fi” hotel room while Amy was contemplating suicide and struggling to stay awake long enough to drive our 5 kids to school each morning.   The divorce was to be finalized in 3 months and I was wondering how I was going to come up with $2000 a month to pay in child support and alimony.   Nothing was good. All was hopeless.   We were both dead inside – towards God, each other, and a future with any significance.

Guys and gals, if you think porn is a harmless habit, something private which won’t hurt anyone, you are a fool.  Like I was.   Stop being a fool.  Please.

So as you can see, it’s an absolute miracle that today, 3 years later, my wife would be able to stand before a group of women and proclaim the power of Jesus Christ to break through even the hardest and miserable of hearts and resurrect not just a marriage but the faith of two very lost souls.

I wanted to write this today because I wanted to give praise to God for what He has done in my life, my wife’s life, my kids’ life, our ministry, and more.  I am so proud of her and the woman she is, and the woman she is becoming by God’s grace.

I also wanted to write this to encourage anyone reading who is in the pit today.   Whether you are the addict or the one living with one, we know the hell you experience every waking moment.    I know what it’s like to think there is no possible way life could exist apart from lustful thoughts and compulsions, and Amy knows what it’s like to feel utterly alone and abandoned by God and to fight constantly the battle of wanting to leave but not knowing how or to where.

So how can I encourage you?   By shouting this one simple, yet world-altering truth as loud as I can and for as long as I can:

GOD HAS THE POWER TO MAKE YOU NEW!!

It’s true!  God doesn’t want to “fix” you, He wants to do a complete overhaul on your life!   Yes, the foolish you, the deluded you, the drunk-on-porn you, the high-on-drugs you, the suicidal-thinking you, the depressed you, the cheating you, the lying you, the struggling-just-to-stay-alive-one-more-hour you, cannot imagine any other life because the life God can and will impart to you will require the current you to DIE!    The moment you realize and believe that God doesn’t desire to make the you you currently are better but to make a brand new creation out of chaos and brokenness is the moment you are on your way towards sanity.  Towards a new life. Towards a testimony which God is going to design in ways you can’t imagine right now but will one day bring Him glory and honor and praise.   Why?  Because this is what God does.   The same God who spoke a universe into existence is the same God ready to create a new you.

So cry out.  Cry out to a Father who loves and cares for you so much that He died for you while you were still in this mess, snubbing Him at every turn.  He loves you that much!    He didn’t bleed for you so that you can live in bondage to sin and shame.   Cry out.  Be willing to die.  Be willing to allow God to create you all over again.

God is looking for people to showcase His amazing ability to do the impossible.   Like my wife, who shared a testimony today which goes against all the odds.    Thanks be to God that our Father in Heaven is a odd-beating God.

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know,
in paths that they have not known I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them (Isaiah 42:16).

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From Ashes to Beauty

In my last post (Marriage Isn’t for You (Or your spouse)), I shared some resources for marriage which Amy and I have found helpful.   But there were two I left out which would be of great benefit to you if you are 1) a couple seeking to rebuild a marriage after infidelity or 2) you are a pastor or counselor seeking resources to help you help others.

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The first is a book by Jeff Colon, President of Pure Life Ministries, called From Ashes to Beauty.  Jeff knows first-hand the wreckage sexual sin will bring to a home and he and his wife have been powerful examples of what a life surrendered to God looks like.  God used Jeff’s sermons and presence at Pure Life while I was there to help turn me around and his wife, Rose, was Amy’s counselor-by-phone.    The book, From Ashes to Beauty, offers sound spiritual truth and practical advice essential for rebuilding and revitalizing a marriage, particularly if it is one affected by sexual sin.  I can’t recommend this book enough!

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The second is for husbands.  It’s called The Complete Husband by Lou Priolo.   What I liked about this book is how it challenged me on every page to take responsibility for my marriage and give me practical, biblical tools with which to do so.   Every chapter contains an exercise of some sort geared towards making you think through and act upon your role as a Christian husband.

Check out these resources.   You’ll be glad you did.

What Freedom Looks Like

This is a recent Facebook status my wife wrote:

I know there are some pastor’s spouses who lament not having a real “pastor”. But, I am grateful and blessed to have my husband as my pastor! He ministers to me and I know his heart. I get the privilege of watching him walk out his faith everyday, so when he speaks truth to me it helps me that much more. What a gift this man is to my life and my soul!

I don’t share this to boast apart from boasting about the mighty work God has done in our lives – as individuals and as a couple.     It’s hard to believe that just 2 years ago at this time we were sitting in divorce court, far removed from one another…

And far removed from God.

The above quote from my lovely wife is a testament to the miraculous, reconciling work God has done in each of our hearts to restore our faith in Him and in each other.   This is what freedom looks like for me.   And it’s glorious!

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This same woman who once told me that if God existed He must be a monster for creating a monster like me will be the one doing the preaching this week as she speaks at our church on the sacred role of being a faithful wife.    Neither of us would have dreamed such a thing could happen 2 years ago.   But that’s what God does – greater things than we could think or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

That’s what freedom looks like for us.

Son, Come to your Senses

Yesterday my wife and I were talking about the radical lengths required for real reconciliation to transpire.     We both agreed that as a couple we both had to abandon our right to have rights and humbly confess that we were both in need.   She for different reasons than I, obviously, and perhaps she will speak to that from her perspective in a later post.

As the outright offender in our marriage, it might seem obvious that the very least I or anyone in my position can do is take a posture of complete and utter servitude and humility, willing to surrender any and all rights for the one betrayed.    Yet you would be surprised to know how many people refuse to come to this place (and how long it took for me to get there myself!).   They are sorry (at least they think they are) for what they have done, and they desire to reconcile with their family but they want to do so on their own terms, or at best, expect some compromise in the negotiations.    The following sentiments are expressed far too often by people who want reconciliation:

She expects me to leave my job!  Is she crazy?  I want to get back together but she’s totally unreasonable! 

She’ll take me back but only if I drop all my friends.   It’s she or them, she says.    I want our marriage to work but her ultimatums are ruining our chances!

She says that for us to work out I need to give up the internet.    I don’t mind cutting back some, but I have to have it for my job.  She doesn’t get it. 

Such negotiations are the exact opposite of the truly penitent.   As Amy and I thought about the sacrifices necessary to reconcile we were reminded of the story Jesus tells of the prodigal son in Luke 15.    When this son “comes to his senses” after living unfaithfully as a son to his father, he determines to return home and say,

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.   I am no longer worthy to be called your son.   Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19).

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Absent from this confession and plea are any grasping for rights.     The son returns with head bowed and heart torn, willing to be treated as a slave rather than a son.   Can anyone imagine this prodigal returning home to say that he is sorry for squandering everything and betraying the love and trust of his father, but dad, I want my old room back?    Dad, don’t ask me to clean the pigsty cause I’ve been living in it long enough.   Dad, you need to show me some consideration, as I’ve been through a lot.  

Let me be blunt.  If you have been unfaithful to your spouse and are bargaining in these ways or others you are not truly repentant.  You haven’t yet come to your senses like the prodigal son and are deluding yourself into thinking you still have rights.    The tension and angst your feel and the reason reconciliation seems so impossible is because you won’t die to yourself completely but still hold out hope that you can keep some of the old man around, though perhaps dressed up in new clothes.

If there is any hope for restoration you are going to have to be the first to die.     A necessary part of that death is a dying to self – to your rights, your dreams, your ideas of what the marriage ought to look like, your former life altogether.    This is the path so few are willing to walk.   But I can assure you that you do not walk it alone.    You can know that as a forgiven sinner, as you walk a path of humility before your spouse and others whom you’ve hurt, that you are walking the path of Jesus, who took your sin upon his sinless shoulders like a lamb being led to the slaughter (Isa. 53).    “Consider him,” the author of Hebrews writes, “who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:3).

If the Son of God, who did not deserve it, could endure with patient humility such hostility from us, surely you, who does deserve it, can endure the evacuation of your rights for the sake of true repentance and reconciliation.

If not, then son, may you soon come to your senses.

 

 

The End of God

November 3rd is a special day for two reasons.  First, it is my youngest son’s birthday.  Brody will be 6 years old.    Second, it is the day my friend Tim dropped me off at Pure Life Ministries.    A year ago I made a trip of which I did not know would change my life and the lives of others forever.

My memories of that day are fuzzy.  Tim told me this past week that he remembers the heaviness of that day when he came to Amy’s townhouse to pick me up.   Amy, though in the process of divorcing me, was gracious enough to allow me to stay on the couch at her place for the 2 weeks leading up to my departure since I didn’t have anywhere else to go.   Amy was at the height of her depression and could hardly eke out a hello when Tim came in to grab my suitcase.  It was Brody’s 5th birthday, and he hung on my leg and cried, not understanding why daddy wouldn’t be at his party that evening.

But leaving behind a trail of tears and disappointment was nothing new to me as an addict.   Such a state of affairs was rapidly becoming common-place for Brody, and all my kids.

I didn’t know where I was going or what I was getting myself into.  I had tried everything else in the past.  Years of weekly (even 2-3 times a week) SAA meetings, counseling (both Christian and not), weekend intensives with one of the nation’s leading sex-addiction therapists, reading countless books on the subject and accountability groups had done nothing more than offer temporary reprieve at best (by temporary I mean a couple months).   These were band-aids that concealed the wound for a time, but never healed.  I, and anyone who cared about me, became increasingly convinced that this was a wound of which I’d never be free.

I’m choosing to write this week because I want to remember what life was once like for me and my family but even more so to give testimony to the power of God to take a life – and an entire household – and make it new.

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how this all came to be.    It’s certainly not because I am anyone special or different from you.   It most certainly is because of the supernatural work of God.   God is very real and very near.  His promise to make us new is real, and the power of the Gospel is beyond compare and something that up until a year ago I could preach a sermon on but did not know myself.

My first week at Duke Divinity I heard Stanley Hauerwas preach a sermon where he indicted most of the American Church with being “practical atheists.”  By this he meant we confess to know God and serve God but our lives are devoid of God’s power.   Worse, we don’t really expect to see God’s power at work in our individual or corporate realities.    We’ve done so well at erecting our own towers of Babel that we have effectively sent the Holy Spirit on a permanent vacation.

That was 6 years ago, and I remember giving Dr. Hauerwas a hearty Amen!  If I were a betting man, I’d wager that I probably looked at pornography later that same day.   How easy it is to give mental assent to true propositions about God (that He is mighty and able to save) while denying it where it really counts!

Even a brief self-examination on this point will condemn most of us if we are honest.  Absent from the Church today is any panting after God, such as the Psalmist did.   Few Christians these days characterize their souls as “clinging to the dust” while recognizing their only chance for life is through God alone, according to his word (Psalm 119:25).   We are far too self-sufficient and religious for such dependency.   Our daily lives are comprised mostly of finding ways to sustain our own kingdoms and while we object to the atheists assertion that God is dead the lack of transformative power in our own lives makes their claim credible.

Sure we cry out to God when crisis strikes.  We call upon him when we can’t pay our bills, our job is in jeopardy, natural-disasters threaten or when we give over to our lust yet again…and again.   I imagine God must feel like I feel when a friend calls only in an emergency, saying they need bailed out.   Thankfully, God is not like me, for I do not suffer such selfishness very well, or long.  One of the things I have taken to giving daily thanks for is God’s long-suffering, not just with me but with his Bride, who persists on being lukewarm.  Thank God for his tender mercies which are new every morning, but one has to stop and wonder how many more mornings God’s patience will allow.

It’s not supposed to be like this.   I remember my first week at Pure Life and hearing someone testify that God didn’t bring me and the other men there to make us better.   God didn’t bring us there to help us cope with life or learn new strategies for fighting addiction.   Rather, God brought us to this point to make us new.   Paul is adamant that anyone who is found in Christ is a new creation – the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).   This is a result of the cross, which has reconciled us to our Father.   The Gospel has always been about transforming lives from the inside out – about making broken humanity new creations – and yet we make it about everything else but that.   God, help our unbelief!!

A year removed from the old life that had such control of me I am convinced that my former quest for “recovery” was a mask to hide my unbelief.   For many years Recovery was my aim.  And not just mine, but Amy’s.   She longed for my recovery as well.   Together we yearned for, prayed for, sought after the prize of Recovery the way one who is thirsty might pant for water.  I remember a Christian therapist and disciple of Patrick Carnes (the pioneer of sex-addiction therapy) who Amy and I traveled to for help telling Amy that my recovery was the most important thing in either of our lives.   He told us that I needed to put my recovery before everything else, because if I lose sight of that, nothing else will matter.

Of course, my daily regimen included things like prayer, reading Scripture, meditation, etc.   My recovery plan while working the 12 steps included much the same things, along with a detailed description of who I thought God was and what God expected from me.   But here is the problem in all of this God-talk:

In the same way I detested using Jesus as a tool to extricate oneself from Hell, I was now using God as a means to the end I desired most:  Recovery from sexual addiction.

Recovery had become my god.  I had become consumed with stamping out a monster in my life when what I needed most was to become consumed with the Master of my life, Jesus, who is not a means to an end but the end Himself.

Jesus is the end of God.

He said it himself.  Jesus is the both the beginning and the end.   He is the Way, not to some other destination (like Recovery), but to the only thing we all need:  Himself.  How easily and how often I made other things the desired end instead of Jesus!

A book I wish would be read in every house is a little one written in 1958 by evangelist Roy Hession titled We Would See Jesus  Read what he says about finding Jesus as the End…

Even if our motives are quite free from self-interest, those things are still not to be the ends or reasons for which we get right with the Lord.  Our end is to be the Lord Jesus Himself.  The reason for getting right should not be that we might have revival, or power, or be used of God, or have this or that blessing, but that we might have Him. Our sin has caused us to let go of His hand; a cloud has come between His lovely face and ourselves, and at all costs we want to find Him and His fellowship again.  That, and that only, is to be the reason we should be willing to go the way of repentance – not for any other motive than that we want Him.  He is to be the end; but alas, other ends, idols all of them, so easily take His place in our hearts.

Hession is not naïve.  He recognizes that God often condescends to our base and selfish motives if for no other reason than to get us on the path (fleeing the wrath to come is one example).  But we must not remain infants in our walk.   I realized in this past year that so long as I made recovery my end, both it and Jesus would elude me.   It was only when I recognized Jesus as my all-in-all and could say in my heart of hearts that I would rather have Him than anything else that the supernatural power of the Gospel took root in my own life.  In fact, even that once-cherished prize called Recovery took on an entirely new meaning.   No longer do I think of myself as being in recovery but living in victory.   Before I used to strive to remain sober but today I find joy in living holy.   A year ago I described myself as a hopeless addict, but today I am more than conqueror through Christ my strength (Rom. 8:37).

Today, on the cusp of Brody’s 6th birthday and my one year anniversary of leaving for Pure Life, everything is different.  Jesus has broken every chain and cancelled every sin.  A year ago I fought and struggled to be pure whereas today it’s a struggle to remember what that even felt like.  A year ago there was strife, depression, anger and fear in our home whereas today there is love, peace, joy and hope.

If you are someone who struggles with habitual sin I want you to know there is victory to be found.  It won’t happen by making sobriety your goal or recovery your life’s aim but only by coming to the end of God.   His name is Jesus.

Hession concludes,

The glorious truth is that He is Himself not only the way to blessing but the needed blessing itself; not only the way to power but our power; not only the way to victory but our victory; not only the way to sanctification but our sanctification; not only the way to healing but our healing; not only the way to revival but our revival; and so on for everything else.  He is Himself made to us what we need.  In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, as Paul says, and we are complete in Him (Col. 2:10).

Thank you, Jesus.

(allow me to introduce you to my favorite worship band)…