My typical reaction to reading, watching, or hearing something I don’t like, especially when it angers me, is to be sarcastic, snarky, condescending. So when I read Todd Wilken’s article on Issues, Etc. titled “Personal Brokenness” (read here if you feel led to), that’s exactly how I wanted to react. I started writing something sarcastic. Then I got distracted and didn’t finish it.

Essentially, Wilken’s article labels our claims of personal brokenness as a fad. We put our brokenness out there to draw attention to ourselves rather than the Gospel.

Certainly, Wilken is right when he says that “while everyone is equally sinful, not everyone’s life is equally messed up by their sin. Many Christians, sinners that they are, don’t throw their marriages, families and careers into ruin. They manage, by God’s grace, to avoid some of the worst consequences of their sin.” (Wilken, Todd. “Personal Brokenness.” Issues, Etc. Journal, Fall 2018: 3-11).

Somehow, I have managed to stay married to the same woman (who should qualify for sainthood) for almost 30 years. I do not deserve this life I have with her, but I sure as hell am thankful for it.

It was these couple paragraphs that really bothered me, though: “if brokenness comes in degrees, and if the degree of your brokenness determines your comprehension of God’s mercy, then the more broken you are, the more mercy you comprehend. Again, this is the problem with Personal Brokenness. It creates two classes of Christians: those who really comprehend God’s mercy because their lives are a train wreck, and those who don’t fully comprehend God’s mercy because their lives aren’t. The former “get’ the Gospel, the latter don’t.” (Wilken 2018)

I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve been around many folks in my life who haven’t (at least admittedly) dealt with sin that’s cost them marriages, careers, friendships, etc., but they understand that every day is a new mercy from God. But just as many people in my life proclaim thankfulness at God’s mercy because of sinful things they have done.

My personal thought on this article is that Wilken, or someone in his circles felt it was (yet again) time to attack Tullian Tchividjian, Chad Bird (indirectly through referencing Dominick Santore’s blog post on Christ Hold Fast), and the 1517 and Christ Hold Fast organizations.

I don’t know Wilken. I wonder how he’d handle someone like me in his congregation. While my issues with same-sex attraction are no longer an issue, they were when I started attending my LCMS church. I’m still quite medicated to keep my mental state in check, I swear a lot, often drink way too much, and I get angry way too easily. Should I keep these issues to myself? Should I believe that the fact that I nearly walked out on my wife and kids to discover the other side of me something to be hidden? Should I hide the fact that less than four months ago, I was hospitalized because I narrowly averted a suicide attempt?

My answer is NO. I will not be silent. If you’ve had similar issues, and feel God leading you to share your story, more power to you. My telling of what God has brought me through is not for me. It’s telling people that Christ did this for me, and He can and will do things for you too. Not exactly the same things, but He will let you know what those things are.

So, Pastor Wilken…my brokenness is not for me to grab attention. I don’t like attention. I’m an introvert. If I had my choice, I’d never leave the house. But God did this great thing for me. He gave me a story that I don’t necessarily want to tell, but He’s opened the doors for me to tell it.

 

I get to call this man my brother. Just a little over a year ago, our paths crossed at Here We Still Stand in San Diego.

Ryan says “I have known people who have made dozens of decisions to follow Christ”. I am one of them; I “got saved” at least 50 times during my teen years, and by the time I reached adulthood, I pretty well figured I was goin’ ta hell…

Read on as my brother brings the Good News.

The axiom, “all roads lead to heaven” is weighed and found wanting at the foot of the cross, where heaven and earth converge in the last place we’d expect. However, we might say (although with less certainty) that, “all roads lead to assurance”. In whatever flavor of Christianity or confession of faith one might find […]

via How Do I Know I’m Saved? — Ryan Couch

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:6-7, ESV

In this intro to a longer passage that ends at verse 14, Paul encourages Timothy to take the gospel out to the world, not being ashamed of it, or afraid of what might happen when he shares it. This leads me to believe that perhaps Timothy was having some fearful thoughts.

Fear permeates our culture. It’s mentioned everywhere. Much of what we do to protect our families and communities is driven by fear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t desire to protect…by all means we should.

Fear is nothing new. Using it to accomplish control isn’t either. Our enemy uses it against us daily. Some use fear as a tool to keep people in check; to convince them that they must constantly strive to attain God’s favor by right behavior, and if they don’t, they can lose their place in God’s family, or even face damnation. Even though I began this piece almost two months ago, I was reminded of its relevance in an exchange on a recent episode of “Young Sheldon” on CBS, where Sheldon’s mother is charged with overseeing her church’s annual “Hell House”:

Meemaw:  “Hang on…y’all are trying to scare people into joining the church?”

Mary Cooper: “Yeah, but people like gettin’ scared on Halloween anyway; why not make ‘em jump in the right direction.”

Sheldon Cooper: “Actually, fear has been a recruiting tactic used by organized religion for centuries. When you add guilt to keep people in line, it’s an extremely efficient form of crowd control.”

Bingo.

“Do not fear” is repeated throughout scripture, so when we fear, we realize our shortcomings and might think that because of said fear, we’re without hope.

But in thinking that, we do ourselves a disservice. Performance is expected, and fear of failure is amplified. Change, get better, or else. Been there, done that. Everything I ever thought I was doing to get better in God’s eyes was useless. It just made me look for a sense of what I did as being important, but it was always overshadowed by the fear of failure.

I wish I could say I have no fear, but that would be a blatant lie. To be completely honest, my fellow humans…you who read this…are what I fear most. But that isn’t what I’m called to do. What I’m called to do is love. Love my neighbor despite my fear of them. Easy? No. Fear gets in the way, always.

Over the last couple months, since before I wrote this, I have been living in a rather constant state of fear. Fear of my own failure and it being a continuing and constant part of my life. Fear that The Beggar’s Bread men’s ministry would tank. Fear that my struggle with depression and anxiety will take me to the edge again.

I only have one answer. Jesus. Only He can give me the ability to live and love, despite my fear. I can love the wretch I see when I look in the mirror, realizing that he lives for a purpose. I can love those who are treating my illness and trust that they know their job well enough to not cause me to fear. I can love whoever walks through the door to the church on Friday night, whether it be just one or many…and whether they believe what I do or not. And, I can get up in the morning, put one foot in front of the other, and love those who God has placed in my path in my day-to-day life, even though I know I am going to disappoint them, fail them, and quite possibly hurt them in ways that I don’t realize I am capable of.

My purpose in this post has one reason…I know that lots of folks believe the Bible is a manual for better or correct behavior. I’ve been “trained” to believe that conquering fear is something that must be done to make you more like Jesus. I’ll just leave you with this…He did the conquering. We’ll continue to try, but when we make ourselves believe that we’re free of fear, we’re exercising self-reliance, rather than trusting in the finished work of Jesus. When (not if) you fear, look to Him.

Blessings!

Today, I was overwhelmed.

But it isn’t what you think.

I awoke before 7:00 AM, on a weekend, ready to face the day. BEFORE 7:00 AM, ON A WEEKEND. I didn’t want to crawl back into bed.

Then I remembered that my Kindle was charged, so I decided to read a page from The Sinner/Saint Devotional: 60 Days in the Psalms. Day 12, by Cindy Koch: Don’t Ignore the Worm. It brought tears to my eyes. That’s something that hasn’t happened much lately.

Then, the praise songs at church. I knew them well, and sang (very quietly, because no one wants to hear that) with my eyes closed.

And finally, a sermon. “Be Done with Self-Reliance”, based on the Gospel of John, Chapter 15, Verses 1-5.

Reminders, one after another, of God’s unending love for me. The price that was paid on my behalf by Jesus, asking for nothing in return.

Overwhelmed is an understatement. I can’t even begin to fathom the depth of what I experienced this morning. All I know is that it’s too good to keep to myself.

Blessings!

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”   –  Hosea 1:2, ESV

Whoredom. Such a thing should not be spoken of in church. After all, our ears and hearts are pure, right?

Wrong. Tonight, at The Beggar’s Bread, we watched my friend Erick Sorensen unpack the story contained in this often ignored book of the Old Testament, and relate it to how we approach others in the modern day. The absurdity of Hosea…

The Absurdity of Hosea: Erick Sorensen
by 1517 on Vimeo
© Christ Hold Fast 2018

 

Am I my brother’s keeper?

I believe so. No, I can’t save him, but I can show him the cross.

Showing him the cross does not mean you fix it all. It means you point him to the one who does. Jesus.

But don’t promise instantaneous results. We’re all a work in progress.

Walk with him in the good times, and in the bad.

There are men all around us who are broken. With some, it’s obvious. The homeless man living on the street…the man in the liquor store who smells as though he sweats out alcohol…the guy you see walking along the road to get to some destination you don’t know about.

But just like these examples we consider obvious, there are just as many we don’t see. It might be your doctor, burdened with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. He is expected to be professional, well put together, and able to shoulder great responsibility. He gets up and reads scripture at his church. Everyone there thinks he has no problems. They don’t know he’s addicted to prescription painkillers.

Maybe it’s the blue collar worker. He started at the plant right out of high school, making decent money. Now, 25 years in, there is talk of the plant closing. His wife works part-time at a daycare. Their high-school age kids are talking college. At your church every Sunday, he is an usher, smiling at you as he hands you the offering plate. But the things that his family faces wear on him. That bottle that he used to take a sip from on occasion has become a crutch, with a few shots every evening.

Perhaps it’s the owner of the coffee shop where you stop every day before work. He just learned that yet another worker stole money from the cash register and had to fire her. She’s got a baby on the way, and he suspects she has a drug problem. He thinks back 15 years to when he got out of rehab and someone gave him a chance. He feels horrible, and on his way home, stops at the bar.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s your pastor. The man who brings you the Good News week after week. This week, he buried a long-time parishioner, counseled a young couple who are getting married in a few weeks, and is weary from his time as the volunteer chaplain at the local hospital. The man who is supposed to look to God for help in times of trouble, instead tells his wife that he’s not done with his sermon on Saturday night. She goes to bed, and he begins to look at pornography. After watching video after video, he looks up at the clock and it’s 1:00 AM. He drags himself to bed, knowing that when he delivers that sermon on Sunday morning, he’ll do so burdened with the shame of what he’s just done.

You know him. Maybe he’s one of these guys. Maybe he’s you. Your dad, your brother, your son. Putting on that smile, telling you he’s good when he’s really not.

Broken, living in shame. Fear that those around us will find out who we really are, and point their fingers and yell “fraud!”

Then, you hear about a group. A group unlike one you’ve ever heard of before. Just a bunch of regular guys from your church who you always thought had it all together. They’re starting to meet because they’re at wits end. Life has gotten stressful, and they just need a place to share their troubles.

That’s what The Beggar’s Bread is. Broken men sitting around a table, watching a video, praying, eating, and just sharing the things that they hope they can get through this week. No one letting on that they’ve magically conquered life, but instead letting you know that He loves you, and wants what is best for you.

Consider joining us next time we meet at Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church at 851 Science Park Road, State College, PA. You don’t have to be Lutheran, or even a practicing Christian, but come expecting to be told about a Man who was broken for you.

 

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:15-19, ESV