I received this note from a man who has been attending our church. This man is an intelligent, articulate and compassionate person. On the outside, he could pass for an attorney or a college professor. But there are areas of life that he wrestles with just like all of us. I wanted to have you read his words that were in many ways so encouraging to me.
Yesterday was the first time I attended for about 5 weeks due to a severe relapse in my alcohol recovery. I was “a mess” for more than a month. Once again, I “fell.” Once again, I ran in shame to hide; embarrassed by the fact that I just cannot seem to stay “right” with the Lord in sobriety. Once again, I feel condemned. I feel shamed by my Father in heaven. I feel like He’s so disappointed in me all over again. Once again, I feel that truly He cannot love a drunk like me.
I mean, how can He? I have been desperate for Jesus for 33 years. I was raised in a fundamental type of church that preached Christian performance more than they preach the simple love of God and Jesus. So, because of this, I only know one reaction to my many, many failures in life. To run in shame…to hide in shame…to isolate from those who just may or may not understand. I mean, how can they understand?
If I were a “REAL” Christian, how could I suffer with relapse after relapse after relapse for all of my adult life while dying on the inside to become more in love with Jesus and have victory over this oppression in my life? All I have ever wanted was victory. All I have ever wanted was to become a minister of love to others for Christ, who set me free, because all I ever wanted was to really BE set free.
All I know, however, is condemnation. Just like the woman in scripture who the Pharisees brought to Jesus to be condemned and stoned for adultery. What she must have been feeling surrounded by the “Spiritual” leaders of her day wanting to judge, poke fun, accuse, reject, and eventually destroy. How hopeless she must have felt. How tired. How ashamed. How lonely.
I tend to think that all she wanted was a hug…Just a hug. Just a touch of love and understanding from just someone…anyone who just, maybe just once, wouldn’t look at her outside human flaw and instead just simply say, “Hey, it’s ok!” But maybe she was raised in the same type of church as I was and all she knew was to “BE” a Christian one has to “PERFORM” like a Christian. And maybe she—just—could—not—beat—this—flaw she had because of this.
But then she meets this Jesus. Perhaps she assumed Him to judge her as all the others around her were. You know the story. Jesus says, “Hey…he who has no sin throw the first stone!” One-by-one they leave. “Where are your accusers?” Jesus asks. “Didn’t even one condemn you?” “No my Lord.”
“Neither do I condemn you…” Pastor…do you know what this was from Jesus to this woman?
Simply…a HUGE HUG!!!
I tell you this story because yesterday when I came to Heartland Vineyard all broken, embarrassed, self-judged, self-condemned, and afraid of the “PHARISEES” because I once again failed, I expected much like the woman, to receive what I only know from my own childhood.
And Pastor…do you know what I got? I got a hug. Not just one either. My friend Blaine practically ran across the room to almost tackle me in joy to see me back. My buddy Jeff came out of his chair several feet away during worship time just to “HUG” me and smile me home again.
Debbie made a beeline with a hug at the end of it. Ryan called me a “champ” with a hug tagged on to it. His wife told me straight up, “I don’t judge you.” (With a hug too!!!)
So many hugs! So much love and acceptance for a guy who just “CAN’T GET IT RIGHT.” This story is about a bunch of people who look just like Jesus. And its these people, in our church, Heartland Vineyard Church who by just a simple hug…may have saved my life and allowed me how to find no condemnation for the first time just as the woman did with Jesus. Our church is doing what Jesus would do and it is changing this very, very tired man’s life as well as many others just like that woman with Jesus. Finally…I am not condemned.
This to me is a picture of grace. It is also a picture of Missional Christianity. People representing Jesus here on earth today and extending His loving rule over the lives of people.
I know as the founding pastor of this church, we have many areas of weakness. I have attended many churches in my life and I have never attended a perfect church. A man came to my office one day and said, “You know, you have a problem around here?” I replied, “Which of the 5,000 problems would you like to talk about?”
The fact is, we are people, broken and yet redeemed, fearful and yet unconditionally loved and set apart for our Father God who enjoys relationship with us.
I love you Heartland Vineyard, in spite of all our quirks, our weaknesses and our frailty, our imperfections and shortcomings. I love you because you are my family. And though we are imperfect, God is using us to show others what GRACE LOOKS LIKE.