I'm Brian. I'm broken.

Part three…this is the third of a three-part post about the last six months and what happens next. Part one was about something that happened six months ago…a suicide plan, hospitalization, self-care, a new job opportunity, a job loss, and some clarity. Part two was about my experience in the church. Part three…well, let’s just call it “Where Now?”

Here’s a summary of where I am:
• Less than three months from my 50th birthday
• Retired (well, kinda…)
• Part-time college student

But it’s not this easy.

I’ve always had a job. I’ve always had to balance everything else in my life with it. Now, a month into “retirement”, I don’t have to get up and go somewhere I really don’t want to go. Don’t get me wrong…I made many friendships during my 31 years in banking. My career had its rewarding moments, and going forward, I need to look back solely on those. Otherwise, I will drive myself totally crazy.

My career required me to be social, even when I really didn’t want to be. It taught me to find solutions to problems, even when they weren’t my problems. I learned to be open and honest with people, even though honesty isn’t what we always want to hear. But most of all, toward the end, even though it was very painful, my career taught me that what I do is not the definition of who I am.

So in parts one and two, I alluded to part three giving a look at what is next for me.

I have a one-word answer: JESUS

There is just one word because He is the Word.

It’s not Jesus + me
It’s not Jesus + the church
It’s not Jesus + the church + me

It is just Jesus.

You know why? I’ll give you just one example, Matthew 14:30 & 31:

but when he (Peter) saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

This passage is me. My faith is small. I doubt God, day in and day out. But He shows me that He is real.

This might sound very silly to many, but John 13:34 and 35 is how God shows Himself to me:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: “just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The people that I interact with online who have become real friends are the prime example. This is unexpected, but welcome, and life-giving. Discussing happiness, sadness, anger, depression, and many other things is not something I figured I would ever do. I had really hoped to be a recluse by now.

My life’s goal was to withdraw, not to get a Bachelor’s in Religion…but Jesus. After I am done with that, whatever doors open will be next. I’m certain it will probably be what I least expect. Again, Jesus. It may happen in my current denomination, or He may lead me elsewhere. Jesus.

This is the second of a three-part post about the last six months and what happens next. Once again, I will be very frank. I have had…I have…and I will continue to have a consistent struggle with my own worth. My history with church is a big part of that.

Church Life & Spiritual Gifts

The church is the imperfect bride of Christ. Key word connecting that sentence with what I’m about to say…imperfect. But some people shoot for perfection as the plan and the goal; please know this story is not about anyone, so if you think it’s about you, think again. It’s about my experience with the church.

Bear with me. A little backstory…back much further than six months…

My earliest recollection of going to church was the remnants of a church my grandparents and some other folks had started in my hometown. That ended while I was in elementary school, and aside from that, occasional Vacation Bible School was it. Flannelgraphs, handmade crafts, and punch & cookies. I’m sure many of you have similar experiences.

I was twelve when we started going regularly. I was introduced to a cruel God who forbade anything that was fun. I “got saved” at least 30 times during my teens but was eventually convinced that I had committed the unforgivable sin…blasphemy of the Holy Spirit…even though I didn’t know what it was. Why I thought that – everyone else around me seemed to be “clicking” with the Jesus thing, and I didn’t. I must have gone too far.

The damage done by 80’s “rapture” culture, legalism, and evangelicalism remains. It is a permanent scar. On me…and I’m finding…also on countless others. Scaring people into believing was the way to go. I was so terrified and that formed my opinion of God…one that I held for decades. If I displeased Him, hell would be the result. Since displeasing Him seemed to be the only thing I was able to do, I figured that hell it was. I’m shocked that I didn’t do way more “bad stuff” than I did.

Since I returned to a “church” setting in my life five years ago, many have you have walked with me through a lot of highs and lows. Based on my writings, some have scoffed, claiming I was craving attention. Some have, quite accurately, realized that I struggle with mental illness manifested as depression and anxiety. Some have ignored, and some have gotten involved. But I found out that He loved me five years ago, and He reminded me of something I had heard Him say when I was a teenager: “I will use you”. In those five years, the word “use” in that phrase has taken on several different meanings. Those will be discussed further in part three.

Some may not like what I am going to say now, but the “church” is a tool used by the enemy. The enemy knows he’s already lost, so he goes after the church…the bride of Christ…and those who are part of it. Considering Christianity has endured splits into thousands of “denominations”, it should come as no surprise that Satan infiltrated the church.

Back to my first church experience. Church was not an important part of life. It was an occasional option. It is still an occasional for many people. If we wonder why, the place we need to look is in the mirror. As part of the church, but as humans, we often think we are doing the right thing but are chasing people away.

Then…my teen years…those years where I can definitely say the Holy Spirit was at work in my life. However, the fact that the entire modus operandi of the church I was to disciple by keeping the church body in good behavior, blameless in the sight of God, and creating “sanctified” believers who no longer sinned. This led me to believe that I was without hope.

My early adult years through my early 40’s were a return to the church being “occasional”. Because Stacy was not of the denomination I grew up in, I never saw her as “saved”. I didn’t see myself as saved either, so we were pretty well what I had been taught to think of as “pretend” Christians. The “lukewarm” that Jesus would spit out at the end.

My decision to profess atheism in late 2013 was probably the best faith move I have ever made. In my decision to walk away once and for all, God opened my eyes to Him. I learned through a series of events happening from November 2013 through May 2014 that He truly did love me; wanted to be in my life; and was never going to leave me. I didn’t get saved or baptized again; I merely started going to church. I allowed people to love me and show me what He had done for them. This came as a big surprise. Church is where those who had it all together got the opportunity to figure out that you didn’t and judge you for it.

But Jesus did something for us…for me, and for you. He rescued us. Made us part of his church, his bride. 2,000 years ago, Jesus went to his earthly death. One that you and I will likely never have to suffer through. Mocked, a crown of thorns placed on his head, stripped naked, spikes hammered through his wrists and ankles, suspended on a cross to suffocate.

But none of this…NONE…compares to what he experienced preceding his death, when he cried out “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? He experienced separation from the Father.

He did this willingly, without expectation of repayment. He did this knowing that it was the only way to rescue humanity from our eternal separation from God. And he did this knowing that humanity would populate the church…his bride…imperfect. Totally flawed, doing this in his name that would scar many.

But church has a couple different meanings, and the one that most of us focus on is a building that is part of a denomination. Sadly, where a repayment plan often becomes part of the teaching. This for that; good works in exchange for salvation. Behavior in exchange for heaven.

The true church is a people, loved by God, and equipped by the Holy Spirit to share that love with others…regardless of their station in life. It took me a lifetime to understand this, and I’m still trying to figure it out.

I’ll end with this today…the pronoun “your” applies to me as well as you…I’m going to list some things that we might think get us closer to God, but are nothing but filthy rags in His sight:

  • your service as a Sunday school teacher
  • your mission work in Africa
  • your witnessing to a homeless person
  • your theological education
  • your memorization and recitation of scripture
  • your taking hot meals to shut-ins

None of it gets you closer to God. No “points with Jesus”. No advancing to the next level of goodness in God’s eyes. Do I mean “don’t do it?” Absolutely not…you’ve been equipped by the Holy Spirit to do it…but never once think any of this will get you or me a better spot, closer to Jesus, in heaven.

Over the next few days I’ll put together part three and post it. It will detail “what next”.

God bless!

Brian

 

This is the first of a three-part post about the last six months and what happens next. I will be very frank. I have had…I have…and I will continue to have a consistent struggle with my own worth. Each day is a struggle as I fight within myself; see things going on all around that I want to fix but can’t; and trying to understand the ability to love that I have been given. Essentially, I do not think my life is all that great, and I often spend enjoyable times waiting for the let-down. But God gave me some writing ability, and a story to tell. I hope in the end, you will see that I am still a blind beggar, and what He did, not what I do.

September 22, 2018

Six months ago, I got help.

The day before, I had made a decision to end my life. When I went to get the gun, it wasn’t there. Stacy had hidden it. To this day, I still don’t know where she put it, and for that I am thankful.

Stacy talked to Kris, and together we all decided to contact crisis. I couldn’t believe I was doing this…you know, I should be standing on my own two feet. Be a man. But really, I didn’t give a fuck about anything.

I spent five days in the mental health unit. I wasn’t allowed to wear my shoes or my belt. I felt like I was being treated like a child and was seething with anger at first. At the end of those days, however, I realized something. I had not been taking care of myself.

Even though I’d noticed a shift in my moods prior to this point, I did my best to hide what I knew. To hope that no one noticed. I drank to numb the pain, and then dealt with the additional pain with either more alcohol, Xanax, or a combo of the two. I thought of that gun often. I wrote a suicide note and my obituary, and self-medicated more. I made the plan. I have thought of suicide for most of my adult life, but never made a plan…until now.

Then, an event happened. I’m not assigning blame…I’m fully responsible for my own getting in trouble at work. I really didn’t care. I wasn’t pulling my weight, I knew it, and I truly did not care. I hated it there and wanted out in the worst way, but that’s not an excuse to not do my job. But being in trouble meant everyone probably knew what I had failed to do, and knew I was a total loser.

Five days in the hospital, new meds, counseling, and psychiatry helped. I got back to life and felt great. I realized that I had to continue to practice self-care if I didn’t want to get right back to where I had been, so I have done that. For the most part, I still feel great.

I tried approaching my job with a new viewpoint, but I continued to let happenings knock me down. I continued to refine my hatred for the organization, and I let my perception of how they viewed me eat away at me.

Then, an opportunity came about. A new job, title, and income. I left the old and began the new. Loved it. Thought it was going really well. Things had never been better. But then the rug was pulled out from under me. Let go because I wasn’t a “good fit” for the culture.

It took me a weekend to figure out what had happened. In that weekend, I lashed out at God, my family, my pastor…spent the weekend either drunk or asleep. Then Monday happened. Normally, Monday is Monday. But for the first time in my adult life, I had nowhere to get up and go on Monday. This Monday was enlightening; a God moment, if you will.

…to be continued

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