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What Is Happening 10 Years Later

This road of being a Christian is a rocky one, full of mountain highs, valley lows, hidden pits, stinking bogs, and open fields. Where I’m at right now is kinda like where I was 10 years ago right after God interrupted my life, but different. Then, I hardly knew God beyond His saying, “Trust me.” I didn’t know what that would mean then. Now, I still don’t really know what that will mean in the days ahead, but I do know God a whole lot more. I know that God is good, and I know AND feel that God loves me. I may not know what the next step will be, but I know the Lord. Beyond that, there is a little bit of clarity for me in what’s going on because certain themes have just been present.

If you haven’t read how I got here, you may wish to read about what happened 10 years ago and what has happened over the last 10 years. If not, that’s OK, too.
Last year, my pastor challenged the church to consider that we had lost our first love. We had lost sight of Jesus, like the church of Ephesus we read about in Revelation. This was the case for me. As a Christian, for years I have been chasing trying to get better, when I ought to have been chasing Jesus. Let me explain.
A conversation sprouted a couple months ago around being satisfied in Jesus. I’m not sure I can really explain what that is like, but if you have tasted and seen his goodness, you will know it. On a much smaller scale, think of the feeling of standing near a waterfall. Beyond the roar of the water and the coolness of the mist, there is something that is difficult to express in words, but you know what it is. That is what God and satisfaction in him is like, in the sense of being difficult to describe.
I had been looking to people to satisfy me, essentially making gods out of them. No man, other than Jesus himself, or woman can carry that weight. I have looked to all kinds of places and people to quench my thirst, and that can only be found in God. There are plenty of times I don’t believe that, until He makes himself and his love known in some unbelievable – and satisfying – way. Knowing God is supremely satisfying, but sadly, I still wander. I still seek to find some sliver of satisfaction in things like buying stuff, relationships, harboring bitterness, and meeting some set of extra-biblical standards I heap on myself. That stuff may lessen the thirst for a moment, but to quench it? Not so much. In the New Testament book of John, Jesus has a piercing conversation with a woman. Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 (ESV) Jesus is keeping with the imagery of water used in the Old Testament when he speaks to Jeremiah (in chapter 2, verses 12-13) and says “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord ,  for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” I think this is pretty pointed for me. Jesus is telling me that he is the direct source of all life and satisfaction. He is the spring of life. He is beckoning, “Drink deeply, and be satisfied.”

In the midst of that, I’ve been wrestling with what does it look like to really obey God? I think it’s to follow Psalm 34:8. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (ESV) The goodness of God. I am called to rest in the goodness of God, but it’s so hard to rest. I gotta be doing something, I gotta be moving, I gotta be going to the next place. I gotta move. A verse that came across my path a few weeks ago is Hebrews 4:9-10. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (ESV) It’s worth reading in context, but what I think the writer of Hebrews is getting at is not about Sundays. It’s about realizing that when Jesus said ,”It is finished!” while he hung on the cross, he meant it. Jesus is the better and more satisfying Promised Land of the Old Testament. I need to rest from trying to come into God’s presence by how well I’m navigating the ship of life and rest in Christ’s finished work on behalf of those who are his. The ESV Study Bible comments on the verse this way: “The promise of entering now into this rest means ceasing from the spiritual strivings that reflect uncertainty about one’s final destiny; it means enjoyment of being established in the presence of God, to share in the everlasting joy that God entered when he rested on the seventh day.” How this resting connects with obeying is that if I am drinking from the well of God for my satisfaction, I will be living in obedience because I will not be tempted towards idolatry of trying to find satisfaction in something lesser. That’s not to say lesser things cannot be enjoyed, but if they are elevated to the point where I am seeking to be satisfied in them than in God through them, I will be in disobedience, which is sin.
As I read Romans, the essence of sin is not that I did a bad act or deed, but that I exchanged the truth for a lie. The truth of God as all satisfying is discarded, and the truth of anything else being made as all satisfying is lifted up. Living in the lie and trying to be satisfied in it is a life of sin and disobedience. Trying to reconcile myself to God on my own terms instead of his is a life of sin and disobedience. God loves me. The Father knew me. Jesus died for me. The Holy Spirit stirred me to faith in Jesus, then guides me in faith. The gap between me and the Father has been closed, not just to reconciliation, but to adoption. I am in the family. I can exhale. Living in light of that is the essence of rest.
But God does not gift righteousness to a child to allow them to remain in the lesser pleasures of sin or the chains of fear. I woke up on Monday, February 9th 2015 to the still quiet voice of God. “You’re afraid of what people think of you.” The culturally Christian thing to say would be, “I’m going to work on that. I’m going to fix that.” All I can say is that I want to spend more time with Jesus, and I will cheerfully take whatever results come from that. If that’s where I find living water that forever satisfies, and delivers me from all fear, that’s where I want to drink from.
How am I going to do that? I had thought that gap was to be filled with reading about Jesus in Scripture. I had recently watched a sermon preached by Mattie Montgomery of the band For Today, and I reached out to him on social media to tell him I was encouraged from his sermon to spend time with Jesus by reading the Bible. He replied, “Hey man!  Just to respond to your statement: You don’t discover the things of Christ by the scriptures, but by the SPIRIT. Obviously scripture is VITAL, but as you’re reading it, beseech the Spirit to guide you and instruct you while you read. According to his function in the life of believers, as Christ explained in John 16:1-15.” I don’t put that in this post to name drop, but really only to preserve the counsel so I can come back to it. It’s very easy for me to approach God in a mathematical static way (If I read about Jesus, then I will love Jesus) instead of a malleable dynamic way (Holy Spirit, give me a heart that delights and is satisfied in Jesus).

One of the resources I found helpful, outside of the Bible, is a book I read a few years ago called Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, by John Piper. It’s available as a free download if you wish to read it for yourself. My plan is to reread it again this year, as the theme of being satisfied in Jesus is at the forefront of where God has me right now. The Digital Age sings in their song Captured, “I’ve never felt more found than when I’m lost in You.” That is where I’m at, and it is a place of wonder and marveling. They also cover a song called Fall Afresh, which is what I’m desiring my prayers to look like: “Spirit of the living God, come fall afresh on me. Come wake me from my sleep. Blow through the caverns of my soul, pour in me to overflow.” Yes… that is simultaneously where I am and where I am not yet, but desire. 

What a ride it has been. This is all swirling around, not merely for my own souls satisfaction, but to be a loving overflow. In January 2005, God loved me, then he stopped me, and said, “Trust me. Rest in me. Follow Me. Love me. Be satisfied in me.” The most loving thing I can do is to ask you… will you do the same? Do you feel the tug on your heart? Do not try to extinguish what God is stirring, but ask God that he would give you the eyes to see and a heart to love and rest.

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The SC Project: Waterfalls Off 11

Group shot at Lower New Millenium Falls

This is a hike I have been wanting to do for a long time. How it came together started with me visiting Sweet Thing on Slickum a couple years ago. I was talking to my friend Jeff Raubaud about it, and he was telling me about a huge bald rock area just above it (not Bald Rock Heritage Preserve, but a nearby unnamed bald). As I read more about the area, I found there were quite a few waterfalls concentrated nearby, all of this within relatively short hiking distance from the corner of highways 11 and 276 towards Caesar’s Head. I had originally planned this hike in December of 2013, and we had to cancel because of freezing rain. I don’t hike in that. Fourteen months and several conversations and discoveries later, we made the agenda bigger and were able to see what is just off the beaten path only 30 minutes from downtown Greenville, South Carolina.

The group was built from already established hiking buddies and Facebook friends. Coming from Team Waterfall, The Tanasee Gap Group, or somewhere in between, the active participants of the hike were: Darrin Hamlin, Jack Thyen, Emily Felty, Todd Ransom, Bob Sedler, Spencer Clary, Stephanie Brooks, Johnny Corn (who wouldn’t join until later in the day), myself, and perhaps most suspicious of all… Thomas “The Honey Badger” Mabry. All of us are experienced hikers, bushwhackers, and off-trail navigators. I don’t know if you’d call it an elite group, but there was certainly nothing green about anybody. When I planned the event, everyone knew that we’d be getting wet and dirty, and they still showed up.
Before we continue, this kind of experience is bound to make someone say, “I’ve gotta go see that!” Consider this the public service announcement. Experience at waterfalls is not enough to keep you safe. Skilled hikers have taken wrong steps on rocks they didn’t realize were slick and have fallen and been killed at waterfalls. It takes nearly nothing for you or your dog to go careening off the edge. People die at waterfalls. I’m not trying to scare you, but if you’re going waterfalling (a subcategory of hiking), people die at waterfalls. For real. Waterfalls don’t care who you are. If you try to follow in the footsteps of hikers who have gone before you, realize that you are taking risks that you alone are responsible for, and that you are participating in something that is more likely to harm you than bears or snakes.
Lower and Middle Wildcat Falls
We met at Wildcat Wayside Park on Highway 11 just outside of Cleveland, SC at 8:00AM, and my thermometer read a chilly 23°F. The first leg of our hike would be the easy 1 mile loop for Wildcat Falls. Lower Wildcat Falls is easily seen from the road, and Middle Wildcat Falls is directly visible above it, which you can access by a short series of steps. Crossing the creek, there’s a large sign which indicates where the upper falls are and another plainly marked “Falls.” Taking the right, we passed the remains of an old foundation and chimney, came to the generically named Falls, and within a short time were at Upper Wildcat Falls. There are warning signs in a few places because people have fallen to their deaths here. Google it. There are a lot of slick rocks, which can cause you to take a nasty or fatal fall. None of us climbed to the top of the falls, but we did scramble around the base of it. We’ve been hiking for only 30 minutes and bagged four waterfalls. Not a bad way to start the day.

Upper Wildcat Falls
We knew there was a side trail over to a series of falls called New Millenium Falls. though it was disguised at the entrance. Probably for good reason. The side trail over to Slickum Creek was pretty easy once we were on it, and we passed under a huge rock overhang area. We stopped there, shot some group photos, and screwed around for a little bit. Hiker trash central. Spencer’s Cistern – which he didn’t name – was a good laugh, but not something I’d drop a waypoint at. That joke was for us. Sorry. As we went down the trail, which was still actual trail at this point, we started getting into the balds. This area really reminded me a lot of Little Green Mountain in Panthertown. It really is a fun area to poke around. We found some flagging and followed it to bring us right to Middle New Millenium Falls, which is a huge round boulder with the creek lazily flowing over it. It’s tough to get a good frontal view of it, as the guidebooks have said. It’s a great water source if you’re running low. Upper New Millenium Falls is not far upstream, and we had to step on some pretty soggy shoreline to hike up the creek to get a good view of it. This is all a really cool area, and we started seeing remains of old moonshine stills scattered about.
The remains of a very intact moonshine still.
From here, we wanted to hike to Slickum Falls, which is also known as Heritage Falls. It is normally accessed from top by a trail in the Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve via Persimmon Ridge Road. We were coming in from the bottom. Spencer, Stephanie and Jack had seen some flagging back on a bald before we go to Middle New Millenium, which they said brought them out near the top of Upper New Millenium. Do we go back that way, or start bushwhacking up the creek? We decided to started the ‘shwack. Following Slickum Creek when we could and moving away when it got too thick, we eventually came to the base of Slickum Falls. This is a super cool spot because it’s a cataract bog. The ground is really soggy, and lots of rare plants and flowers grow there including carnivorous plants like the pitcher plant and sundew plant. There were quite a few clusters of pitcher plants, at least what was left of last years growth, some which looked like there was still plenty of life in them. While we’re hanging out here, Darrin announces he wants to show us one of the best spots in this area, which is the top section of Slickum Falls. There’s a huge crack in the rock here that the creek pours through, with more moonshine stills at the bottom. It’s possible to follow the contour around the rock face and get to the bald at the top of the falls. We hung out here for a while, as the day was clear and we were able to make out Paris Mountain and the buildings of downtown Greenville. What a spectacular view to have! While we were there enjoying it, a couple hiked in from the road above, which is a short hike. They looked at us like they definitely didn’t expect to see nine people hanging out on the rock face. The guy asked, “Did y’all have the red RAV4 at the parking spot?” I enjoyed telling him that it was not, we had parked on Highway 11 and came in from the bottom. Why I cared that people I didn’t know were impressed with us, I don’t know. Just a consideration, if you’re reading this and coming in from the top, that Persimmon Ridge Road can be a rough one.
The view from atop Slickum/Heritage Falls
So what now? Darrin had found a waterfall last year with some pretty unique features and named it Spider Tunnel Falls, due to almost stepping on the biggest Fisher Spider he had ever seen. Originally, we had planned to go back down Slickum Creek and follow the appropriate contour over to the waterfall. What we actually decided to do was a straight bushwhack in its general direction to rediscover it from upstream. The creek doesn’t show up on Google Maps, so we were aiming at Spider Tunnel Falls on Darrin’s memory of coming to it from a different direction. One of the cool spots we saw in this area was where a spring was bubbling straight up out of the ground. That turned into a creek that looked familiar to him, and we bushwhacked around until the creek disappeared. Dropping down the side, we slid to a lower ledge, following it around behind a large boulder to be face to face with Spider Tunnel Falls. Fortunately, we didn’t see any spiders. I have to say, this was a huge highlight to this trip. The creek comes over the edge of the rounded rock face, falls down into a slot canyon that’s 10-12′ deep, and runs out the other side. Beyond cool, unlike any waterfall I’d ever seen. While everyone was taking their pictures up top, I slid down the leaves and mud (on the side of the falls, not in the falls), and snapped a few pictures with my tripod in the water. The talk of coming back when it warms up was quick to come, but carpe diem. I took off my boots and socks, rolled up my pant legs, and waded into the slot canyon. Seriously, South Carolina? You rock my socks off. *ba dum!* I’m not giving up the location on this one, but I’m sure someone who has visited it before would love to go back and see it again. That might be something to inquire about.
Poking around Spider Tunnel Falls
More bushwhacking! That’s what we’d be up to next as we worked our way back to Slickum Creek. It got kinda thick in there. We were aiming for Lower New Millenium Falls, as we had only seen the upper and middle sections of it. I had the way points of all the places we’d visited so far, so we could see where we needed to go, but we weren’t sure exactly how far downstream the Lower Falls was from the Middle Falls. We aimed, stayed on contour, fought some of thick rhododendron that the Carolina’s are known for, and happened to emerge at the most perfect place to cross the creek, which was just below Lower New Millenium Falls. I wish I could say that we planned it as well as it turned out! The Lower Falls are really cool, with some large boulders, trees to climb to get a better view, and even a couple large potholes in the side of the rocks (which were pretty sketchy looking to try and climb in and out of). This is where we took our group shot that’s at the beginning of this post.
We followed Slickum Creek downstream, criss-crossing over it, coming towards one of my favorite falls of all time. Darrin and I were separated from the group, as we took an opposite side of the creek for our approach. There was the drop off, and we were standing on top of of Sweet Thing on Slickum. There’s no easy way to get down from the top, or get up from the bottom. On the side we came down, we had to scramble down rock shelves that still had icicles clinging to them. Even though it had warmed up to a nice 60°F, this pocket is still deep in the shadows. On the opposite side, there is steep round-about sidehilling to climb down, and then another creek crossing. Sweet Thing is a 20′ waterfall that pours into a grotto with a beautiful pool at the base that’s perfect for wading. It’s always a favorite, and I love taking people there because no one ever suspects this beauty is nearby. It’s easy to linger at. We met up with our friend Johnny Corn here, and he joined us for the rest of our day.
Sweet Thing on Slickum
A few more minutes downstream and we were at Last Cascade of Slickum Creek. I took one shot, thinking it was an unnamed waterfall and that Last Cascade was in reality located on the south side of Highway 11. I was wrong. There’s no waterfalls south of highway 11, but where Slickum Creek enters the Middle Saluda River is a very pleasant and scenic spot. There’s some thick briers in there, though. As we emerged back out on Highway 11, Todd and I spotted the first Trout Lily of the day. This was a new flower for me, but they are apparently one of the first signs that Spring is jst around the corner.
We walked back to the cars at Wildcat, where we had lunch. From there, we all piled into two vehicles and drove up 276 towards Caesar’s Head. Pulling off on the side of the road, we picked up the Pinnacle Pass Trail in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. We hiked in along typical scenery of the area, until we veered off the trail at some point. The rolling mountainsides and bubbling brooks eventually gave way to rugged terrain of exposed rock and boulder choked waterways. There’s no trail down there, so it’s really just finding the path of least resistance. Fortunately, it’s clear enough to not exactly be a bushwhack, so it’s pretty much just off-trail navigating and boulder scrambling. We passed by a lower waterfall that as far as we know has been unnamed, so Darrin references it as Evan’s Falls.  Through the trees, I could start to make out Mashbox Falls. Once we got to the base of it, Darrin’s comments rang true, “It’s one of the most underrated waterfalls in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area.” Indeed! Water plunging eighty feet down over rugged shelves, with a steep hill to one side that brings you beneath a large rock overhang to what’s been referred to as the Photographer’s Perch. Getting up there will get your heart pumping. 
Mashbox Falls as seen from The Photographer’s Perch
Leaving Mashbox Falls, we followed the creek back down and came to another tributary which we followed up to Misty Falls. It’s not a high flow falls. In fact, it was fairly misty, so I suppose the name is fitting. Fortunately, we were visiting in the winter when all the leaves were down so we had an excellent view of the falls. In the spring or summer, the falls would be obscured. Spencer had scrambled up Misty Falls about halfway, and when he got back (which took him a few minutes), he reported that he heard cars right above him. That confirmed what we were looking at on the GPS, that the road was only .13 miles away. People drive right past all this excellence and have no idea that it’s so close! 
Decision time. Option A is that we retraced our steps back to the Pinnacle Pass Trail for our exit. This would be less work, but more distance and time. Option B was to climb straight up the ridge towards the road. We took a vote, and the majority raised their hands for Option B. The rough climb out, straight up a mud cliff. I made several attempts to get traction to get up, and many of those failed. I would dig my boot in, only for the earth to give way and I’d slide back down. Using downed trees, rotten logs, and whatever else we could hold onto, all ten of us slowly made our way up the ridge back to a logging road that led us to the Pinnacle Pass Trail. Looking at the photo of Misty Falls below, the hill was basically the same kind of steepness. Up until this point, the hike had been relatively easy, aside from a few cuts and scrapes from briers and untangling ourselves from rhododendron thickets. Getting up that ridge felt like it took more concentrated effort than anything else we had done the rest of the day. Navigating through the woods took the mental effort, but climbing out called on every reserve of strength, energy, and stamina we had left. Thomas gave it the official stamp of a Certified Honey Badger Hike. We quickly made it back to the vehicles, and then back down the mountain. We found a small pull off out of the way to enjoy a short group celebration of the day in the spirit of the day. 
Misty Falls
What a great day we had exploring! To be honest, when I organized this event, I wasn’t expecting it to turn out as profitable as it was. We visited 14 waterfalls and countless other cascades. The views from the balds were amazing. Getting barefoot and rolling up my pant legs to climb into the slot canyon of Spider Tunnel Falls in the freezing water was exhilarating. The company we kept was top notch. For all the places we went, for all the pants that were torn, for all the dirty hands and scraped arms, everyone was having a great time. Thanks again everyone for such a great day in the woods and waterways. Well, except for the 11th guy… what WAS his name?!?
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What Has Happened In The Last 10 Years

My pastor, Matt Rawlings, baptizing me. Photo used by permission from Bev Peeples.


In January 2005, I was fast asleep. Perhaps more appropriately, I was dead asleep. God knelt down, got right in my ear, and gently said, “Wake up!” I was disoriented, and wondered what the heck had just happened to me. My path was altered, my life was lovingly interrupted, and I had no idea where I was going.

Jenny and I had been married for almost a year, and we were living in Michigan. My behavior leading up to this point had cost me more than one friendship. I have since heard people talk about giving God part of your life and keeping part of it for yourself. First step on this new path was the crushing blow of coming clean about who I had really been. I think this is what is meant by the phrase God must increaseand I must decrease. Humility 101, I suppose.
So here we were, living in Michigan. I knew part of what I was to do was to start going to a church. We went to a few different ones, and I struggled in a huge way. One of the sermons I remember was about forgiving and forgiveness of sins and how if I don’t forgive and ask forgiveness for everything, then I won’t be forgiven, and I was really confused. Are you telling me that if I don’t confess every single sin I do, and have ever done, that I won’t get into heaven? The checklist was growing to be impossible. I thought God was just on the sidelines, as some kind of cosmic cheer leading genie.
I didn’t know what to believe. We weren’t having much luck on the church front. Jenny had grown up in Daytona Beach, Florida, and was a part of the same church movement her entire life. We were convinced that what they believed about the Bible and God was true, and a church plant had recently happened in Greenville. South Carolina. Her parents were considering making the move there to be a part of the church, even as we had already begun talking about moving to Daytona. We needed a place to learn about God and the Bible, and we wanted to be closer to Jenny’s family. I was also wanting to go back to college, so the combination of church, family, and school brought us to Greenville on September 23rd, 2005. Two days later on Sunday, September 25th, we attended the church that was one-third of our reason for moving here. The church was meeting in a Seventh-Day Adventist building and I said to Jenny, “This place is a cult.” (The SDA church met on Saturday, and they let us use the building on Sunday.) I came in with a thick coat of cynicism, and what we saw was foreign to me. The pastor then, Jim Britt, was playing an acoustic guitar, all by himself. I found out that this was less than satisfactory to a lot of people, but my church experience had been “worship leaders” performing a cheesy entertainment show on stage with some silly shuck and jive dance moves. The whole thing with Jim and the acoustic guitar was so simplistic, so unentertaining, that it was like God crafted it to specifically speak to me in a way I needed to hear, and it was there my cynicism began to melt. The sermon was from the book of Mark on the unpardonable sin. To be honest, the point on that message is kinda foggy to me now, but I remember that’s what the message was about. 
Then we met Rick Thomas, who helped us get plugged into what the church called care groups. These were basically small group meetings held during the week to discuss what we heard on Sunday and seek to apply it to our lives, as well as build relationships and actually do life with other Christians. People were bringinh meals to each other when they were sick and everything. To hear the Bible preached at church was a new thing to me, as ironic as that is. I would learn that is called expositional preaching, where over the course of weeks or even months, the pastor works through an entire book of the Bible. I was finding that I even remembered what the sermons were about week after week and was able to connect them with each other.
We learned about church membership, which is an up in the air topic in Christian discussions and arguments anyway. I will just leave it at Jenny and I definitely wanted to be official members of the church. It was during this time that I really began to learn what the Gospel is. During our interview process, Rick was asking if we needed to be baptized, and I responded for myself, “I think so.” He asked, “Why do you think so?” My answer was very revealing: “So I can get to heaven.” Turns out that this mindset had permeated much of the way I operated.
This is what’s called works righteousness. Basically what that means is that I thought I got into heaven by checking all the right boxes. As I was discipled by my peers and, more importantly, read the Bible, I found that this is the exact opposite of what the good news of Jesus really is. What the Bible reveals is gift righteousness. That means that all my boxes were checked by Jesus, and I believe it. That’s a double edge sword, because it’s simultaneously very offensive and the best news ever. Offensive because, seriously? The Bible sets the bar infinitely high and then says I can never reach it. It is also the best news because God’s rescue plan is that Jesus came to reach the bar on our behalf! This is why I came to believe the Bible was true, because if it was merely the words of men, men would have made the bar high but still reachable. Man makes much of himself, and I cannot believe man would naturally think and make the effort to put himself in the place Scripture does. “You are hopeless on your own, no matter how hard you try” grinds too hard against the way the human race operates that the message must indeed be a revelation beyond us.
But back to baptism. In 2007 (I think), I was actually baptized as a Christian by my friend and pastor (at the same church), Matt Rawlings. I learned that it’s a public declaration that, follow the symbolism here, you have been raised to new life, and your sin has been washed away by the blood of Jesus. One of the verses that I kept going back to was Galatians 2:20-21, which says I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Admittedly, that takes some chewing on to figure out, but it was where I started to understand what was going on. So, baptism doesn’t save anybody. I had it all wrong. All those submersive dunks did for me when I was 14 and 18 was make me a wet pagan. All that real baptism did for me as a Christian was make me obedient to a command that ended up being a huge means of grace to me that physically helped me see what Christ indeed has done in me. Grace to me, benefit to me, but no saving effect.
Two big words that I would learn and have difficulty separating were justification and sanctification. Justification is legally being made made right with God, reconciled with God, through the work of Jesus. It’s by faith alone that this happens, not by being good enough for God. Sanctification is the getting better process, where we become more and more like Jesus, but doesn’t do anything to make us right in front of God because that’s already been done when we were justified. Sanctification is a lifelong process of changing, putting sin to death, repentance, and hoping and delighting in who Jesus is and what he’s done. It’s important to make distinctions between these two, because tangling them together didn’t do me, or anyone around me, a lick of good.
Raised to new life. Once dead in sin, now alive in Christ. Then, sorry Carrie Underwood, but I took the wheel. It became about me, and my efforts to get better and become a better person. Losing sight of what Jesus had done and making it about what I had to do only made more of a mess out of me. In my attempts to “be a leader” in my home, I became overbearing, passive aggressive, and frustrated. I tried to learn all the right answers, pray in a way that sounded spiritual even though I was not very spiritual, and be a religious know it all. What is interesting about becoming a Christian, and I think a lot of people don’t see this, is that while some areas of behavior may improve, others decline. You never really get better or become a better person. Maybe in one area or another, but not wholly. I’m not trying to make an excuse, it’s just reality. I may have grown in an obvious area, like swearing less, only to find out that anger has manifested itself elsewhere, and then my inner sailor reemerges (especially in the last year). I wish I could remember who said this, that we are like sponges with ink in them. I can keep the ink in as long as no ones is squeezing me, but the second I’m squeezed by something not going my way, the ink (the sin that still resides in my heart, though forgiven on the cross) comes oozing out. Indeed, I am a desperate man in need of a savior. I came to see somewhere in those middle years that living by “Christian virtues” was really not the point of Christianity at all. During the movie Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce’s taking on of the slave trade in England, John Newton (who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace) says, “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.” Living in light of THAT truth, day by day, is what I came to see that being a Christian was really about. It wasn’t about getting better, although that may happen. A few years ago, I read an excellent quote by the author Bill Clem who eloquently stated that “The Gospel is about identity transfer, not identity improvement.” This was huge to me. This was probably the pivot point for me in this period of my life. Instead of trying to force growth, force my life to be a certain way, force my family to be and act a certain way, my focus shifted. What has Christ done for me? Was I basing my identity on ME, or was I basing it on who I was IN CHRIST? (For an exercise, check out the book of Ephesians in the Bible, and underline every time “in Christ” appears, for a study on identity.) I knew as a husband I was supposed to love my bride as Christ loved the church, and what does that look like? Jesus gives the church grace. He lovingly leads, and he pours out grace on his bride, the church. I can honestly say that grace is not a word that could be used to characterized how I interacted with people during this time of my life. Yep, I heard the Gospel. I heard that Jesus died for my sins, and believed it. At least on the surface. Functionally, I was still living under the law of works righteousness instead of the freedom of gift righteousness. For years, I hated Father’s Day and my family’s attempts to celebrate it because I didn’t measure up to my self-imposed qualifications. I was miserable and miserable to be around. Self-salvation projects really make for me being unpleasant, so for the record, if I am being unpleasant (and I have a long history of it), you could ask me how I’m trying to save myself. I may not be, but it’d be a decent question of a friend to ask of me. What was the remedy? Well, the Gospel, really, but I forgot so easily.
Books played a huge part in my life as a Christian, and I’ve read dozens. I had made a few attempts to read the Bible cover to cover, and I never made it past 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament. Most times, I would make it into Joshua and then burn out. Finally, in 2013, with the help of YouVersion, I was able to read through the entire Bible chronologically in a year. The Bible isn’t written in chronological order, and there are all kinds of different literature styles penned by different people all under the same divine inspiration of God. I was able to get a context for what the story line for the Bible is, and I really began to see it as God’s rescue plan for mankind. Outside of the Bible, there are three books that I think really stand out as meaningful, even life-changing, for me over the last 10 years. The first is Romans, by R.C. Sproul. I took an entire year (2011 or 2012?) to slowly crawl through the book of Romans in the Bible, and R.C. Sproul held my hand. There was a short pause in that to read his book The Holiness of God, which I only mention for the chapter on the Insanity of Martin Luther, because that spoke to me right where I was at in my vain works righteousness. Romans helped me to really dig into the Bible and learn what it had to say, even parts that I didn’t like. Sproul also said in this commentary something that stuck with me. “The doctrine of justification by faith alone is easy to get from an intellectual standpoint, but to get it in the bloodstream takes a lifetime.” The second, which I actually listened to on audiobook, is Heaven by Randy Alcorn. I’ve heard it said that eschatology – the study of last things – is the crown jewel of Christianity. Not the end times, Left Behind style, but what can be anticipated as the flyleaf of this era is turned and the rest of the never ending book of eternity begins. It’s not that I hope for heaven most strongly, but what comes after heaven when this earth is made new, and sin and suffering and death and injustice are all at an end. Zion. The third book is One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian. To learn that God’s love for us is one way was mind blowing to me. I wasn’t earning my justification. My sanctification was frustrating because surely, I wouldn’t struggle with things like anger, lust, greed, and pride. I took the presence of these sins in my life to mean that I hadn’t been justified by Christ’s work on the cross. However, when Jesus died on the cross, he gave the proclamation for all who would come to call him Savior – IT IS FINISHED. Am I to continue living any way I want, doing away with all of the laws of God? No, as reading New Testament books like Romans and Galatians would show with a quick reading. But, as I read the law, read what God requires of people blatantly spelled out by Jesus (“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” Matthew 5:48), it becomes painfully clear that I can’t keep the law, no matter how hard I try. I was coming full circle back to why I believed the Bible in the first place. It is finished. Now those were sweet words to my soul. To rest in the Gospel, to rest in that Christ died for my sins and was raised again, to be free from trying to do the impossible of trying to be perfect as God is perfect, that is sweet freedom, I learned that God is holy, and I am not. I need a mediator, and Jesus is that mediator (2 Timothy 2:5).
In C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity, he talks about Christianity being a house with a long hall and many rooms. The hallway, what he refers to as mere Christianity at its most basic, is where he spends his time. Denominations, doctrines, and other things people like to identify with and disagree about are what the rooms are. I’ve purposely not spent any time delving into which room I’ve found myself in, because the important thing is that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. If that’s not good enough already, he was raised again on the third day and ascended to heaven so that I can have hope for the same. The purpose of this post is not to be a convincing argument for Bible doctrine (there are books for that), but to relay to you a snapshot of what this roller coaster has looked like over the past 10 years. It hasn’t always been pretty, and I’ve acted out poorly in a lot of ways. I’ve had to make a lot of apologies to people I’ve hurt and said and done sinful things to and against. I’ve learned even more so that my hope is not in myself, but my hope is in Christ alone. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but quite frankly, that’s a big part of why I believe it, too.
The past 10 years, I have been a mess. Not as much of a mess as the first 23 years of my life, but I’ve still managed to bumble through the Christian life. I’ve learned my hope is not in myself, I’ve learned that I’m still going to sin (simultaneously a saint and sinner – wrestle with that one) and I need the humility to fess up to it when I do. We are still at the same church, Redeeming Grace Church. I’m still married to the same woman, Jenny, who has lived the Gospel in front of me more vividly than anyone else. We’ve had rough times, and great times. We’ve had three healthy children together, and we’ve had three heartbreaking miscarriages. I’ve worked jobs I’ve hated, and I’ve been broke. I’ve poorly managed resources. I’ve made and lost friends. I’ve struggled with depression, and then I would refuse to communicate anything other than “I’m fine.” I’ve yelled in anger. Again, my wife Jenny has been the most vivid display of the Gospel I have seen, loving me even when I am unlovable, just as Jesus has done. We have thrived, and we have suffered. All of this stuff I’ve learned about the Gospel doesn’t happen in a vacuum. How do I navigate life with it? Only by the grace of God. He’s not a God sitting on the sidelines, but actively involved working together all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8). In the midst of that, I know this fire of sanctification is burning away the impurities I am prone to wander to. I’m not good enough for religious people, and I don’t even perfectly live by the Golden Rule, so I’m not good enough for secular people. I’m not really that good at all. But God is. My hope in the Gospel is not that I can act good enough for God, but that Jesus died and rose again to make an enemy His friend.  Learning to be satisfied in him is where I’m at right now. I can’t be satisfied in how good of a job I’m doing, because I’m not really pulling it off that well. My hope is in Jesus, who loved me and died for me. Learning to rest is a difficult thing. More on that in the next post.
If you missed how I got to this point, be sure to read about what happened to me 10 years ago.