October is a great month for baseball fans in Texas. How about those Rangers? Star player Josh Hamilton hit two home runs just last night. He has hit more home runs against the Yankees than anyone else in post-season history. That is something to shout about! But, the best part of the story, in my opinion, is that Josh is shouting about Jesus’ power in his life. When the Rangers won their first playoff series in franchise history a couple of weeks ago, the team chose to celebrate non-traditionally. Usually, an MLB win of that magnitude dictates that the locker room be drenched in a champagne downpour. Not so for the Texas Rangers. They chose to honor their MVP Josh Hamilton, a recovered alcoholic and born-again Christian, with a ginger ale toast. It was a fitting and respectful tribute to a beloved team leader and a testimony to the whole world.
I wonder if Josh, shortly after leaving his old way of life, would have ever guessed that he would be honored, not just for his great athletic prowess, but for his bold witness for Jesus and for his decision to repent, submit his life to God, and walk in a new light? My guess is that he did not. I have a little experience watching men who have fallen from grace, and shame and guilt usually follows. They wonder, “How could anyone ever respect me again? How could I ever have anything to offer?” God’s truth, though, is topsy-turvy, isn’t it? Josh Hamilton may have made some poor choices, may have been going in the wrong direction, and may have been a slave to alcohol at one time. But, now he is the hero—in every way.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. God intentionally chose Josh Hamilton. You know why? It brings GOD glory. It points to the restoration only God can effect. God got Josh out of the way (a heavy dose of humility, anyone?) so that God himself would be magnified (very publicly, I might add) in a generation that desperately needs Him. And, people listened. The Rangers’ non-traditional celebration made front-page sports news the very next day. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 says, “God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the strong, and God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God has chosen the despised and insignificant things—the things viewed as nothing—so that he might bring to nothing the things that are viewed as something so that no one can boast in his presence.” Weird, isn’t it? God actually chooses the misfits to show the world that it is God who saves—not our own human strength, discipline, or goodness.
Last weekend, my parents had a celebration of their own: a 40th wedding anniversary. We don’t see many of those these days, and I know why. It is hard to keep it together. Marriages face great challenge. Like Bryan and I, my parents’ marriage has survived infidelity. And, instead of putting that chapter of their life in a dark closet somewhere so they don’t have to look at it anymore, they chose to celebrate their anniversary by being the humble object lesson of their pastor’s sermon on forgiveness and restoration (find it on www.nhbc.net, October 17). As one family friend remarked, “That was more church in one Sunday than I have been a part of in 52 weeks!” And, it really was.
From beginning to end, Mom and Dad’s anniversary celebration was an illustration of 1 Cor. 1: 27-29. North Highlands Bible church is a cozy congregation led by a self-proclaimed stutterer (though I have never heard him miss a beat). According to the pastor’s story, he was told in seminary that he would never be able to “cut it”. But, after hearing sermon after sermon full of heart-engaging, life-changing truth, I am convinced that they were dead wrong! He isn’t focused on getting numbers. This man wants to pastor his flock and to develop healthy disciples. He is going to be faithful with the few God has given him, and he is doing it humbly and excellently. On Sunday, he told my parents’ story in light of God’s truth, and he interviewed them. They spoke boldly and honestly, but neither of them had prepared speeches or fancy rhetoric. They promised yet again to commit their lives to one another and to what God will do with their future. I am confident that Mom and Dad’s story breathed life and hope into people who are fellow strugglers, pilgrims on the way to Heaven. At the end of the service, we all clapped and sang Matt Myer’s song, “Love will hold us together, make us a shelter to weather the storm. And, I’ll be my brother’s keeper so the whole world will know that we’re not alone.” A lunch honoring my parents capped our time together. We ate nachos while we listened to some of their favorite music like, “Band of Gold” and “Little GTO.” It was a room full of ordinary people celebrating an extraordinary God. The whole thing literally rocked!
It is amazing how God is magnified when we are honest. Amazing how people respond to weakness and foolishness and insignificance. Amazing how people respond to God’s love and forgiveness and healing power. It touches a chord deep inside all of us. You mean, God can still use ME? You mean, he knows what I’ve done, where I’ve been, who I’ve been…and he still wants to use ME? You mean God can fix THIS mess? Yes.
Here is some great news: You don’t have to be a major league baseball player to bring hope to those who think God could not possibly fix their mess. All you have to do is tell your story to whomever will listen. You are the owner of your story. There is no victory in hiding from it, no matter how shameful. Your mistakes don’t define you, but your story does. How are you going to tell it? How is it going to end? To some extent, you decide. Life is the mysterious dance between God’s power and our free will. He is sovereign. God begins a good work in us, and he brings it to completion. But, we have a choice about how we will respond in each and every moment. Those of us who have been saved by grace can choose how we want to project our story to the world. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather tell it myself instead of having others tell it incorrectly! Bryan and I are the only ones living inside this marriage, and we are the only ones who know what is true. God speaks into our lives behind the closed doors of our home most of the time. And, privacy is alright, in and of itself. But, it is not always the greater good.
There are some who would say that if, after 20 years, my parents are still talking about their pain, that they are not “moving on”. Some would want them to “put it behind them” and for it to be “over” once and for all, especially those who are concerned that my father is going to get labeled or stuck in a place of shame and guilt. And, some would say it is foolish for me to be so honest about my marriage, warning that it further damages my husband’s reputation. I have even been advised by a Christian family member to take my blog off the internet. That same person advised us to move so that we can “start over”. I understand the heart of those who are concerned. But, my answer is a simple one. Yes, we can say “goodbye” to the chains that held these precious men in bondage. But, we cannot say “adios” to our stories! There is no starting over. How we wish it were possible! But, this is our story, and we’re sticking to it.
Sure, it isn’t the easy way, but nothing good in life comes from taking the easy road. Just before my parents’ anniversary, Bryan and I revisited our dilemma about whether or not to be forthcoming, to use our story boldly and openly in ministry to others. Bryan met a stranger who recognized his name only through my blog. It sent him into a tailspin. “What must that person think of me?” he wondered. He began to listen to all of Satan’s most convincing lies. “You’ll never be able to overcome this. You really are a bad person. Sarah will never truly forgive you. Everywhere you go, you will be exposed for the fraud that you are.” In tears, he begged me to stop my blog. I was grieved—for so many reasons. I quickly acquiesced, though. I don’t want to cause him pain! By the next morning, Bryan had changed his mind. He came to me and asked me not to stop doing what I am doing. I am overjoyed to report that, as a team, we are going to fight the good fight. The narrow road is the one that pays off. It is the one that says, “I will listen to Truth before I will listen to any other voice.” It boils down to whether or not we really believe what God says. Is Jesus’ forgiveness complete? And, is there more than this life?
Yes, it may make my shy Daddy uncomfortable to stand up and speak in front of his church, to let them know who he was before God changed him. And, my blog may cause Bryan to suffer some. But, I’m not afraid of that anymore. I know the truth. My dad and my husband are so much more than their mistakes. Even before Jesus got hold of my dad, he was a hard worker, a faithful provider, a good daddy, and a loving husband. My husband’s story, though different (he accepted Christ at age 7), proves that sin is not a respecter of eternal destination. But, even though he was running from God in some aspects, God’s hand never left him. Bryan still did a lot of good in those years. And, people need to know that. We must tell our stories. God’s Word says, “And who will harm you if you are passionate for doing what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” 1 Peter 3:13-15, 17. God says that we will be blessed—not harmed--if we suffer as we faithfully, prayerfully, and passionately tell our stories for the good of others! Peter goes on to compare our earthly suffering to that of Christ, who, “after being put to death in the fleshly realm” was “made alive in the spiritual realm.”
I glean four major teachings from this passage:
1) God wants us to not only turn from evil, but be passionate about doing good. He wants sold-out followers who seek the things that matter to him.
2) If we suffer while we are doing the right thing, God himself will bless us. In other words, there will be ample compensation, so keep going!
3) He wants us to be prepared to tell others why we have hope in him. That will probably require telling our story, even if it brings us shame or embarrassment.
4) As we put to death our own flesh (all of its fears, its pride, and its desires), we will become alive in the spiritual realm. The more we submit to God’s plan for our lives—whether or not it was OUR original plan, the more our hearts will come alive. Here, and only here, will we find true satisfaction.
How will non-believers ever see that God really has the power to fix our messes if we do not open up our mouths and say so? God has shown us in the life of Paul and in the life of David that those who mess up the most can become the most outspoken and inspirational witnesses of God’s grace…the most effective evangelists and leaders. Ironic? In the world’s eyes. But, God is bringing to nothing the things that are viewed as something so that no one can boast in his presence.
Are you afraid your weakness or your foolishness have hurt your witness? Don’t be deceived. God has chosen you—yes, you—to lift his name high. If you have turned to him and if you are being restored by him, then he is proud of his work in you. He has chosen you to tell your story, even as you hammer out your faith in the workshop of the real world. The time for Christ’s return is drawing nigh. He wants to be exalted. God and God alone. Who will call out to the world in humility, “This is where I’ve been, but this is where I’m going because of Christ!”? Who will boldly say, “Come with me!”?
Josh Hamilton will. My mom and dad will. Bryan and I will, with God’s help. Give me a pen and paper. Give me a podium and a mike. Lemme at ‘em!