"Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain..." - Psalm 48:1
(WARNING: Transparency Alert!!! If you aren't the type of believer who welcomes real people with real stories of a real God Who really saves and changes lives, then stop reading here, and go find another blog. This post will contain some adult situations in an effort to be transparent and to encourage others who may be struggling with their own pasts to find freedom in Christ... Parental guidance suggested. Pharisees need not apply!)
So I was sitting in church orchestra rehearsal last night, playing "Great is the Lord Almighty," (Dennis Jernigan), getting ready for Sunday. As we were playing, I was once again reminded of the lyrics of this great song of testimony:
"When His Children were dying and lost in their sin, MY GOD DIED AND HE ROSE AGAIN!
And I've been rejoicing since He took MY PLACE, and I thank YOU, JESUS, and PRAISE HIS NAME!!!"
A few years ago, while serving in the orchestra at Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Virginia, our church choir and orchestra accompanied Dennis Jernigan for a concert during one of our morning worship services. Now, mind you, I have played a lot of music over the years, and I was quite familiar with several of Dennis' worship tunes, but his was just a name on a page of music, like the many other composers' names I read on a weekly basis.... until I heard his story that day.
Dennis was saved from a life of sexual sin -- specifically, homosexuality. He spent several years in homosexual relationships, all while in the church. But then, Dennis came to the end of himself, and began a relationship with Jesus! And God changed his life! He is now married to a heterosexual wife, has several children, and God sings songs to him that he now writes and we as the church of today now sing: You Are My All in All, Great is the Lord Almighty, Who Can Satisfy My Soul, and countless others like them.
As incredible as Dennis' story may be, each of us who belongs to the family of God, every Christ-follower also has a story of our own... One of how a loving God, in His infinite Grace and Mercy has saved us and made us His very own.... And at a time when the church is struggling to be heard in the world, maybe it's time we started getting real with the folks in the pew next to us, and shared our own stories... I mean, how better to re-ignite the flames of faith, than to remind one another of just Who God is and what HE has done in our own lives????
Beth Moore tells the story of when one of her young children was hospitalized with a rota virus, one of her daughter's classmates sent her a homemade card that read, "I thrupt, too!" (Translation: I threw up, too!) I think that there is a desperate need among our congregations for revival, and how better to do that than to become real with one another with what Christ has done in our own lives and to remind us of who we are, who we were before Jesus came in and rocked our worlds, and who we are yet to become???
Yet, I also believe that there is a definite fear among us to share our stories.. There is a fear of judgement among believers... so much so that it would drive the very members of the family of God back into hiding behind the doors of our pasts, and would keep us from being effective servants of the Living God! And there, boys and girls, is the very definition of hypocrisy... We claim to have experienced the grace and merciful favor of the God of the Universe, and yet, we shove our own histories under the rug and will not so much as give credence those who bring their own histories to the forefront!
Truth be told, our pews are filled with sinners every single time we meet! The Bible says, "There is none who is righteous, none, not even one." NEWSFLASH! The girl who sits in the orchestra on the platform week after week and sings the solos has a story, too!!!! And as much as I hate to admit it, my own story's not pretty... And I know that many of my readers are folks who have served side by side with me in churches from days gone by will be reading/hearing this for the very first time. Many of you have heard me sing or play, or are in my Sunday School class... Several of you worked with me in Christian workplaces and will have no clue about the story I am about to tell. I haven't told it because there is a lot of shame involved... and I have had an inherent fear that should I go public with my story that the Church would force my testimony back into hiding... and that I would go right back to the idea of praising God publicly, but keeping the past hidden... and only admitting that there was a past... And I am convinced that is precisely where the enemy wants the Church to be... hidden, cowering in fear of harsh judgement of those who sit with us in the pews week after week... when, in fact, God calls us to be real.
That's what the whole story of the woman at the well is about ... Jesus called out the Samaritan woman when she told Him that she "had no husband..." In John 4, Jesus told her, "You've spoken correctly that you have no husband... when in fact, you've had five husbands, and the one you are now with is not your husband." Jesus basically told her to get real! And we all know the story there. (If you don't go read John 4! Here's a link: http://www.biblestudytools.com/esv/john/4.html Ready, set.... GO!)
I can relate to the woman at the well in some ways... You see, I struggled with sexual sin in my early twenties and became pregnant with a child out of wedlock. The father and I intended to marry, but changed our plans after I lost the baby in a miscarriage. (And yes, it was a miscarriage, not an abortion, as rumors would have it.) I started spotting three months into the pregnancy -- all thanks to a tubal pregnancy and no thanks to two back to back eighteen hour shifts at a fast food restaurant in Oxford, MS with no breaks -- and was placed on bed rest, and still lost the baby two days later. I had a DNC for a miscarriage and two weeks later, I was back in the hospital for four days with an infection from the surgery. I was a lost church member, baptized, and actively attending worship, singing wherever God would allow me to sing, and serving in the high places in our denomination! I would finally marry -- legitimately -- to a different man in 1992 (ironically our wedding fell on the ninth anniversary date of my miscarriage -- I was convinced that God was giving me Tony because I had been "good"!) I began to stake my life on my marriage to Tony... Then, horror of horrors, Tony died of cancer in 1998. I was 35. He was 40. After Tony's death, my life pretty much fell apart. I had always really struggled with purpose in life... I guess I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I just never had the courage or the confidence that I could go there. So, consequently, I jumped from job to job, was fired from more jobs than I am willing to admit, and really had no substance to my life. Don't get me wrong -- I had all the friends I could ever want, plenty of nice things, a life full of opportunities that others would literally kill for, but I was empty -- lonely, unfulfilled and without direction. I had no money... and I didn't have a job. To make matters worse, I was not easy to live with. I would argue with a fencepost, and had no control over my temper or my tongue. As far as I knew, the universe revolved around me... and if it wasn't already about me, I made it about me. Widowhood only compounded the struggles I had. I felt useless, like I was just taking up space in the universe that was intended for someone else. I struggled financially, and nearly lost my home... So much of my own life's downfall was due to my own making, and I felt I had nowhere to turn! Prayers bounced off the wall because I had absolutely no relationship with the God of the Universe... although I talked about Him quite a bit... I knew all the right things to say, and all the right things to do... but did not KNOW God... until the day I came to the end of myself, and said, "Jesus, I am tired of struggling. I am tired of trying to do and be, and coming up short. I'm tired of me. I need You to be the Boss of Me. I need You to take over my life." My life has changed dramatically since that day! For the past ten years, I have been teaching music in private studio. I remarried in 2001 to a godly guy... I have a beautiful home, great church home, and a purpose within the Body of Christ, and a purpose in life! Life is not perfect, and God is still molding me day by day into His image... But I am not who I was and I am not yet who I will be! I am simply clay in the Hands of the Creator of the Universe... An adopted Child of the King of all Kings, and a joint heir with Christ, nonetheless, and only so because of His infinite love, mercy and grace.
So. There you have it, boys and girls. Now you know why I am in awe of our God. Now you know why I Praise Him so! That's the story of this child who was dying and lost in her sin... And MY GOD DIED AND HE ROSE AGAIN... And I've been rejoicing since HE TOOK MY PLACE... And I thank YOU, JESUS, and PRAISE HIS NAME... singin':
Great is the Lord Almighty, He is Lord, He is God and King
Great is the Lord Almighty, He is God Supreme
Great is the Lord Almighty, He is Lord, He is God and King!
Great is the Lord! Great is the Lord!
So... What's your story??? I dare you to tell it!!! I double-dog dare you to drop your own masks and share your own story -- warts and all -- first to a church that needs to be reminded of Who Our God is... That very action will cause our churches to lift Him up. And dear Christ-followers, I triple-dog dare you to be a people who understand GRACE and to be givers of MERCY... When that begins to take place, the lost world that is dying and headed for hell will sit up and take notice -- not of us, but of JESUS.
After all, isn't it all about Him????