Sometimes in Christianity, telling your story becomes of greater importance than telling, “The Great Story.” Sure, we grasp the truth of the gospel, but it becomes a byproduct of the results that we long to tell of. It’s, “Jesus saved me AND look how different I am NOW!” When that happens, people don’t really want Jesus and are NOT learning that Christ is their rest from the weary world of doing more. What they want is what you’re selling with your testimony… CHANGE! So, with so much focus on us having a story, or to use more familiar Christian jargon, “a testimony,” I wonder, do I have one? The better question may be, do I want one?
Do I have a story to tell?
Do I have a story that tells of a frightening journey out of drugs and alcohol and other addictions? Do I have a walk that lays a foundation for deliverance from utter ruin to restoration? Do I even have a tale, as some have begun to tell and rightly so, that leads from some kind of extreme fundamentalism to freedom in the grace of God, through Christ’s One Way Love? To all that, I say no. There are snippets of this or that to be sure, but the reality is, I’m boring. My story, whether from ruination to salvation or from legalism to grace and everything in between has been a slow steady burn that barely glows in the dark. If you cup your hands around your eyes and turn out the lights, you might catch a hint of yellow.
I guess I don’t have an extreme story because I ran from crazy churches that howled at the moon as people “fell out” like dominos. I ran from churches that were only beginning to sniff at the start of a horrible mix of gospel and law as the emphasis for what you do was given priority over what Christ has done. To be honest, I was also a rabble-rouser. Because of that, most, I believe, were happy to see me go, maybe the pastor included. This was partly because I was a jerk and partly because no one wants to hear tough things. That’s not to say I was any good at verbalizing my thoughts about the “tough things” in a way that made people truly consider them. Sure, at times I was lied to, even if by accident, and at times I felt marginalized because of my faults and sins, but I never felt overly oppressed or bullied. I felt hurt by people who have just as many, or maybe more faults than I do.
So whether healthy or not, I left. I needed something I wasn’t getting. I also needed to hear that “something” from someone else because I just didn’t believe it coming from me. I needed The Gospel of grace. I needed Christ for sinners, which I was and never stopped being despite countless attempts at crucifying my flesh. I left a church that preached Jesus because I needed a place that preached Jesus. Not the Jesus that will fix, heal and prophesy to you, if you have faith. Not the Jesus that “guarantees” to meet every need in your life. I needed the Jesus that loves me. I needed the Jesus that forgives me. I needed the Jesus that continually saves me. I needed the Jesus that swapped my ragged clothes of sin for his white robe of righteousness. In other words, I needed the Jesus that did everything for me, does everything for me. I needed the Jesus that was typically left at the front of the church after the altar call. I still need that Jesus.
And I “found” him.
I didn’t find him because I was looking in all the right places. Certainly at the time, the Lutheran church was nowhere on my radar. I didn’t find him because I even knew exactly what I was looking for. I just knew there was a “sort of bondage” that existed, when over and again I would hear an increasing focus on proving our worth with works (emphasis mine). I “found” Christ because he revealed himself to me. Like being in the dark for so long, my sight was fuzzy but clearing incrementally. Even before I left my old church, I saw through the lens of Christ, what he wasn’t, and what he was. I knew it wasn’t getting in line and being a good soldier as one guest preacher put it. I knew the gospel wasn’t Christ crucified and also good works. And I knew there was something in the communion that I didn’t see before. Christ was making things a bit clearer for me every day.
So the journey began.
I found grace in the messages of a local Lutheran church. I found the finished work of Christ being preached week in and week out. I found my baptism again, which surprised me. But now it wasn’t something to point to in testimony of my allegiance, but something to hold onto as I came to understand the beautiful promise displayed in God washing me. The truth that God makes us clean in those waters and promises to keep us by the finished work of Christ. I found salvation in the waters of baptism and it screamed, “Christ alone! No effort of my own!” I found the truth of the Gospel as I took communion, encouraged and strengthened by this physical display of Christ’s atoning work before me. This truth fleshed out what I was beginning to understand in my old church when we took communion every month. That Communion was not just an act of remembrance, but a gift from God. Something bigger and greater and more mysterious than we could imagine. So, whether Word or Sacrament, by God’s Spirit, all things outside of me were given to me by God, to grasp onto tightly when I am personally, internally unsure in my struggles. Grace indeed!
There was freedom to know God’s grace was given and displayed to me in so many ways but around the same time, I also found a growing huddle of believers across social media that revealed in God’s grace. This “gospel kinship” is not just one denomination or any denomination, but a ragtag bunch of people on a journey. Some were on a journey out of the evangelical world towards Lutheranism, where the truth of the distinction between Law and Gospel is so often displayed. Sadly, some are moving from a cult-like fundamental establishment and are finding it hard because of those deep pains to walk back into a church. Nothing can replace a local body of believers, with under-shepherds appointed by God to care for the flock, but I understand the struggle. Whatever the personal journey is for us individually, we are moving towards Christ and him crucified for us.
More than anyone else, I am thankful for all my Lutheran brothers and sisters who I met early on in this journey and continue on in friendship and encouragement. I am also thankful for everyone in-between who can see a Christian even when we differ on some theological issues. I am thankful for those that have passed in and out of this journey at times. Scripture has taught me that, whether in an actual local building or across the internet, the church is made up of people that you won’t always see eye to eye with. We are still scarred, hurting messes and at times, will still hurt people ourselves, whether intentional or not. My hope is that my time with them has taught me to give more grace in humility and bend my knee more in repentance.
Whatever the name and wherever the venue, I am thankful for everyone who has come into my life. For the overwhelming gospel truths that came from places like Christ Hold Fast and 1517, and so many different individuals that make up the fluid movement of this consortium of grace. I don’t have to see eye to eye with each and every one of you on every single issue to know you care deeply for people and want the best for them. I am thankful to find so many people who accept me, my faults and my sins and care for me anyway. I am thankful to be able to encourage in the smallest of ways even as I continue to be encouraged by all of you.
And that is, “My non-story…”
In Jesus name,