I turned my life over and gave my heart to Jesus in April of 1975. At the time, I appeared on the outside like the young man who had it all together.
I received straight A’s and was an overachieving, performance-driven, affection-starving teenager, who while he was a perennial teacher’s favorite student, never felt that he was quite good enough for anything.
I was an emotional keg of dynamite, ready to go off at any moment. The Lord used his word, music, the love of a godly dad and a new found faith to keep me from ever going over the edge, but even as a Christian, I still lived tragically close to daily disaster.
Only a year after beginning my walk with God did I sense his call into full-time ministry. I had only been a believer a few years when I attended Philadelphia College of Bible (PCB) to prepare for the mission set before me.
My days at PCB were some of the best of my life. I was getting to study the Bible with some of the greatest professors on this planet.
I made friendships that have lasted a lifetime. I met my wife there and was so affirmed that God had given me the gifts to pastor people.
For the first 15 years, I worked exclusively with youth, and the last 22, as the senior pastor of the Lighthouse Church. You can say without hesitation I have experienced church life thoroughly, tasting all of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Like a drug, working as a leader in the service of the Lord only made my addiction to adrenaline worse. With each success, it only made me work more and try harder.
Now don’t get me wrong, I believed passionately the message that I shared. When I was doing what I did, I knew that it was exactly what God created me to do.
Unfortunately, the vehicle God was using to drive home the truth was severely flawed. In all of my journeys, I was still trying to work my way so that I could earn and deserve God’s love and grace.
I never felt worthy. There was always a gnawing sense of shame eating away at my redeemed soul. What is wrong with me? Why couldn’t I experience real freedom?
God’s church is still his precious bride that Jesus gave his life to literally transform into a holy and blameless bunch. Humanity has reared its ugly head in the midst of heaven and raised a lot of hell along the way.
I worked for church boards which expected a hundred hours a week of productivity. Nobody kept an eye on the workaholic tendency of pastors like me.
The only time I was brought into the office was those rare weeks that I didn’t meet the quota and was reprimanded shamefully. I fought hard to make sure my wife and kids knew how important they were to me.
But there were entire summers I’d be missing from their worlds. The clear lesson being championed was that too much is still never enough and no matter how wonderful the last event was, there were still many more mountains to conquer. If I wanted to matter, I’d better not take off my hiking boots.
The last 12 years has only clearly revealed to me the depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behavior I have battled since I was a child has never gone away.
It actually has gotten worse and no amount of activity I compile upon my resume is strong enough to quiet those gremlins which long to render my heart paralyzed.
If I am grateful for anything, it’s that the body of Christ in 2019 is more compassionate and merciful to these issues and recognizes their presence not as a consequence of bad faith but of a broken human being. You can be a devoted follower of Jesus and still be far from perfect and someone who is still in the process of being transformed into the image of our savior.
What I used to stuff deep down inside so that nobody would suspect that I didn’t have it all together, I can now live out in the great wide open. I am determined that my story has no phony elements and can be raw and real.
And it is my prayer that in my being authentic and vulnerable, others too can come out of hiding so that the Lord can shine His light of healing and wholeness on them too.
I am battling daily even as I write this column. It is mostly a radical surgery of retraining my brain to operate fueled by a truth that God’s promises will set us free.
But those dangling tapes of non-stop lies which have monopolized my belief system all these years won’t die easily. Christians are still very much works in progress.
If anyone acts as they have arrived, he or she is only putting on a show that needs to go. Enough with the edited-for-the-sanctuary images we are tempted to portray.
God doesn’t work with facades. We must be willing to surrender our tainted coping mechanisms and lay them down at the foot of the cross so that God has sovereign rule and room to rescue, redeem and restore us to our original glory.
Church has to be a place where we can come just as we are so that God can make us just what he wants us to be. Sin is not tolerated, but it’s not tastefully hidden either.
When I read the Bible, I don’t see heroes to emulate but men and women who were examples to us all that apart from the Lord we can’t do a thing right.
This coming weekend (July 6-7) at The Lighthouse Church, we have the contemporary Christian music legendary singer Russ Taff coming to be with us. He will be there for all three services beginning with July 6 at 6 p.m. and then again on July 7 at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m.
No tickets are necessary as it is our gift to the Cape May County Community. Last year, Russ released a book and a movie entitled, “I Still Believe.”
It tells the story of Russ’ lifetime battle between the Jesus he truly loves and the addictions he never stopped fighting. If you need to just be in a place where you can literally let it all hang out before the Lord and let Jesus love you, not because of what you do or don’t do, but simply because you are you, then please don’t miss this opportunity.
I relate so much to Russ’ testimony. It is a tale of what the grace and mercy of the Lord is all about.
I hope to see you. Nobody needs to hang their heads in shame. Simply come with open hands so God can fill your empty hearts. Christianity is the story of what God can do in a willing soul that just gives Him room.
Let me close with the lyrics to my favorite Russ Taff song; “Praise the Lord.”
“When you're up against a struggle, that shatters all your dreams
"And your hopes have been cruelly crushed by Satan's manifested schemes
"And you feel the urge within you to submit to Earthly fear
"Don't let the faith you're standing in seem to disappear
"Praise the Lord, He will work through those who praise Him
"Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise
"Praise the Lord, for the chains that seem to bind you
"Serve only to remind you, that they drop powerless behind you when you praise Him.”
ED. NOTE: The author is the senior pastor of The Lighthouse Church, 1248 Route 9 South, Court House.