Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Radical change

It’s possible that I should have written this years ago, or at least sooner than now, but at the very least I can no longer put off writing about it. The truth is that I have been forever changed and I know it, and not just because of a new tattoo or a piercing or because I decided to have a kid or buy a new car or anything like that. All of those things could be considered major changes and yet together they don’t even come close to measuring up to what has taken place in my life over the last several years.

The concept of being born again seems so trite to me, as if I’m hoping that the statement will land me some credibility points with one group or another. But that’s not what I’m after by any means and in fact, I would rather find another way to say it just for the sake of the stigma. Truly, I should not be concerned with the framing of contemporary thought regarding politics, the religious right and fundamentalists, so using the term born again is not so wrong, but the truth is that so many people in the spotlight of the public eye have used and abused the term that unfortunately it carries some negativity, whether I like it or not. So instead I will consider myself radically changed from the inside out and I’m not ashamed to explain myself either, lest there be any confusion.

This change seemed to be more of a slow boil for a long time and while I continued to perpetuate the change, I also seemed to be OK that it was a long, slow and drawn out process. I thought about how glass changes as it is blown or how a piece of pottery is manipulated slowly and surely. The image of pottery is especially apt as it is not uncommon that one might have to start over because of an imperfection. That’s my life in a nutshell; I start to take shape, only to be torn down and forced to start again. I also like to use the imagery of a sword being refined in a fire because again, it’s about removing impurities until the metal is perfect. I imagine I will be in the refining process until the day I die.

When God began this process of changing my heart, my ways, my lifestyle choices, my attitude, my ego, my pride and my opinions of the world, I was cynical, hardened to the world, self centered, prideful and extraordinarily arrogant. To be honest, I was OK with that because it was safe to me, it was what I could count on and it was more real than anything else I had been presented with to that point. When I was younger, I was told that God was vengeful and that he would judge me. I was led to believe that this same God would not look upon me favorably for being a bad kid and that hope was not even an option. I was truly scared of God as he was described and felt my only choice was to run away. Running away was in fact quite easy since God seemed to only exist inside of the four walls of the church I grew up in. The further away I ran, the further away God felt, at least that’s how I would describe it. I was so thankful to get away from that kind of judgment because all it ever did was make me feel guilty.

For nearly 20 years I ran and not once did I have someone make an attempt to fill me in on what God was really like. I existed in complete ignorance of the truth of grace. It wasn’t until about 13 years ago that a co-worker invited me to play volleyball at a gym that was connected to his church, that I had someone reach out and extend a hand. Even after that, it took nearly 2 more years for me to start searching for more than just an exercise opportunity. From 2003 to 2006 I began the process of searching for answers relating to God. Because of the heartfelt sincerity of a pastor and the extended hand of a co-worker, I began to understand a little more about grace. By 2006, when we moved out here to Central Oregon, I wanted to serve in different areas of ministry and was willing to even give regularly to a church, something I had never done before. Slowly, the water just kept getting warmer.

By 2011 I had even been the head of a couple of ministries and was certainly invested in this concept of church, but to be honest, while I certainly understood it all, I’m not sure I had ever really bought into the idea of fully surrendering my life.

Halfway through 2011, something happened. God began to use the Holy Spirit to prompt me and speak into my life. For the first time, I could tangibly grab a hold of the will of God and I began to experience my first call towards something much bigger than what I had been doing. The big push was to commit myself to the town of Redmond completely. We had been going to church in Bend, which was a 30 minute drive every time we went down there. The idea of finding a church in Redmond and even finding work in Redmond seemed impossible to me and yet in the short span of just 3 months, both happened.

By spring of 2012, the commitment was made to pull away from Bend completely and the immediate change was impressive. My heart was fuller than it had ever been and I simply wanted to reach out to this community that I had called home since 2006. My desire to serve this town now had a direction that I had not felt before. Suddenly, my neighborhood became my closest family.

This past year has taught me that the people in my life that mean the most are the ones in my immediate sphere of influence. They are my co-workers, my neighbors, the people at church, the families of my kids’ friends, the players on my soccer team, the fellow coaches I have befriended and the friends I have made in this community over the past 7 years. These people have become my church, my ecclesia. And in the process, God has shaped me into someone who deeply cares for them all. My heart has forever been changed and I see with clarity, the hand of God in all that has transpired on this journey.

My mask of arrogance is long gone, replaced by one of humility and grace for all of these wonderful people. When I say I have been radically changed it is meant to point first to what God has done and where I am today but also to point to where I came from and how my choices led me there. I do not live with regrets, however, as my past is something that I can and indeed have used to give glory to God and reach a broken generation.

Today, I am blessed and privileged to serve as a worship leader for a small (but growing!) church here in Redmond. Seeing God at work on a daily basis is awe inspiring and at times leaves me with no words. The excitement I experience and the intensity with which I bring that excitement can only be described as pure joy. And that joy is a direct result of the deep love that has filled my heart for the one who gave it all. Jesus has radically changed me from the inside out. My only response is to praise him every moment.

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