A Journey of GracePosted: February 28, 2016
A Journey of Grace — by William Wortham
It has been a long time since I have faced a congregation on a Sunday morning. There was always a mixture of excitement and fear when I would stand behind the pulpit each Sunday. Questions and doubt would race through my mind each time I addressed the congregants challenging myself if I were worthy to be preaching the Holy Word of God. One time in
particular, I remember preaching how love casts out fear. This should have been a simple sermon. Nothing to it! Yet, I felt as if I were preaching on the hardest, most difficult subject ever imagined. How do I tell these people that love casts out fear when all I feel is fear! FEAR is such a powerful motivator! It leads us to make many decisions and perform many actions we would never do under normal circumstances. Decisions that can have lasting effects! I felt that it was love, gone rancid.
SLIDE 2 FAMILY PIC ORIGINS
As many of you know, I was raised Church of Christ. The OTHER one! I was part of a family which had a rich religious history. My grandfather was highly respected in the local church, therefore I was expected to toe the line in all matters both religious and secular. I was taught from an early age that I was to act right. God was watching me, he saw EVERYTHING! God became the cosmic policeman to me. I imagined him sitting high up on his royal throne looking down at me shaking his head every time I did anything. My family was ultra conservative in all matters. We didn’t drink, cuss, or dance. Upstanding pillars of the church and community we were. We gave to others and the church, and helped out our fellow citizens whenever possible. The church was never open, that we were not there. My father would brave the worst weather, just to make sure we were at church services. God was watching!
SLIDE GOD WATCHING
I remember many sermons talking about love, how God loved us so much. Sunday school lesson after lesson would say that God cared, and he loved so much! I wanted to believe it, but at the end of every sermon was the warning that I would die and suffer the ultimate death if I failed to be baptized. When I was around 8 I was baptized and finally saved! Just as the preachers said, I was washed clean. I felt like a new car just pulled off the lot: clean and shiny. I was ok with God, I received His galactic nod that he was finally pleased. This was short lived, as I promptly screwed up and sinned. I was devastated and prayed and repented my heart out only to feel that same old fear come crashing down on me again. God was up on his throne shaking his head. How disappointing. Fear was still in control.
Life continued, I went to school and made sure to look good for all of the other college students who saw me. I, eventually, selected a career and graduated. I went to work for my dad selling sawmills. I was doing the right thing! But, fear was still firmly in control of my life. I was leading a double life. On the outside, I was an upstanding member of the church and community. I did all of the right things, said all of the right things, looked just right! Inside was a hurricane of doubt, fear, and loathing that was my constant companion. Day by day, it reminded me that God was so unhappy with me. FEAR was always in control. I made so many decisions based on fear that I believed that I would never be in control of my life!
I eventually went to preaching school. This HAD to be the thing that would please God and my family! I finally was going to be loved! It was there that I met Rebecca. I knew I had to marry her from the moment I started talking to her. We talked, we met, I moved! I preached here in Alabama, yet I was scared to death. Nothing was good enough for God!
My journey so far was driven by fear. The hot wind of failure filled my sails and drove me across the sea of life. It was too much. The life of a preacher was just not the one for me and my new family. Living in a fishbowl and never fulfilling that picture of a perfect family had taken its toll. I stopped preaching, walked right out the church doors and never looked back. I knew God was done with me now! This was the final straw, he was finished with me. Yet, He was taking care of me. We found a place to live, we had our needs met, we were going to be ok. The passage from Isaiah states, “I’m making a lasting covenant commitment with you, the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love.” I was beginning to understand that God was a lot closer than I thought. He is close at hand.
I became a teacher. Life continued. My family grew! God continued to look out for me, even if I didn’t understand it at the time. The journey was just beginning! The whirlwind description of my life to this point is to illustrate how fear drives so many things. I had heard sermon after sermon, even preached them myself, that love is our motivator. God is love! Yet, my life and so many others lives around me were controlled by this tremendous fear of judgement. I avoided talking and even thinking of God’s love since I didn’t even begin to understand what it was about. I John 4:18 “perfect love casts out all fear” was an enigma I would never solve!
The puzzle to love and fear was too daunting. It could never be solved or figured out. It was simply too complicated. Any person who professed love or performed acts of kindness was simply trying to avoid God’s judgement. It was only until recently when the verse from First John began to make sense to me. I had learned that the true way to read the Bible was in some form of the King James Version. Any other way of reading it was just not going to work well. Until I came across this passage in the Message. “God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” This passage was life altering for me. Jesus and I are on the same plane. And if he is on the same plane as all of us, then God is here too! Holy Crap! It felt as if I were seeing things for the first time. GOD IS HERE!
Jesus carries many names, but the one name that carries so much meaning to me now, and I hope to many others, is Immanuel. This name literally means “God with us.” God is here, not simply paying attention from his throne a thousand light years away or near where we are. But he is RIGHT HERE, IN us! This is a personal thing, not simply a friendship or contract, He is in me, in you, in everyone. He loves us because we are his. Just as I love my family, I love my children, God loves me. It is an organic relationship, it is living. When David was hiding in the Judean wilderness he experienced so many emotions. He was faced with so much, yet at the end of the day he says this in Psalm 63. “6 I lie awake at night thinking of you— 7 of how much you have helped me—and how I rejoice through the night beneath the protecting shadow of your wings. 8 I follow close behind you, protected by your strong right arm.”
David had this God thing figured out. Reading his thoughts would cause a great deal of conflict in me. How could this man address God in such a way? How could he call God out and then praise him in the same breath. It is grace. Everything boils down to grace. God doesn’t have to deal with us, He doesn’t have to worry about us, He doesn’t have to help us. Yet, because of grace, because he loves, because he cares, because he wants to…he DOES. This is why I love this picture. It always reminds me that God believes in me, even when I don’t. He has grace. This life is not about living in fear of what is to come, it is not about making sure that God only sees the best of our actions, it is about living in grace, living WITH God. Knowing He is here and he loves. He graces me!