This weekend Jenny and her parents and I are doing a chapel service at Crossroads Mission–as a smaller part of a larger outreach that FCC is doing. Jenny, Ken and Linda will be doing a few worship songs, and I’ll be doing a little bit of speaking. We’ll have volunteers serving at the mission all day, from morning to night. Cleaning, serving food, serving people. Also, we’ll be having a BBQ/picnic thing at Ranchsomething Elementary school, and serving the surrounding community a free lunch, with some fun things for the kids to do as well. Lastly, we’ll be doing some work for Amberly’s place, which is a battered and abused women’s shelter. Below is a narrative representation of what I’ll be speaking about. Pray it goes well!
I realized something when I was getting prepared for this. It was ten years ago this month that I began my relationship with Jesus, after a lifetime of struggling and wrestling with doubt, and despair, and addiction to all sorts of things. It wasn’t something I had in mind, but God knew better than I what the perfect timing was, and that’s when things started—March of 2000. I was on a trip to Padres spring training in Peoria, and what happened was that, as CS Lewis says, “I gave in and admitted that God was God.” And I asked Him to come to my rescue, because He was the only one that could.
First, a little about me.
I’m from San Diego, my name is Tom, and I’m an addict (hi, Tom!). I wasn’t born that way—it seems to me that addicts come in pieces, and it takes a lifetime to put them together—like one of those horrible pieces of furniture from IKEA. I had a great deal of trauma in my childhood, from abuse, to neglect, to a two year period where three people close to me died in quick succession. My addictions began as comfort, and morphed into self-medication. And as with most people with addictive personalities, if it wasn’t one thing, it most definitely was another. By the time I was an adult, I would do almost anything to meet my needs, or what I thought my needs were at the time.
My addictions were many. Early on, I became addicted to food, and I obviously am still fighting that battle today. And for a while—both before the internet and after—I developed a problem with lust, and pornography. The former led me to the latter, and the latter ended up giving me a completely distorted outlook on women, sex, and relationships. I thank God every day for that particular deliverance.
Then I became a binge alcoholic, and I was good at it. Alcohol was great—it was cheap, it was easy to get, and when I indulged, I could forget about the person I was and become someone else. This was especially great, because the person I was sucked—I knew it, and God had to know it, too.
Addiction was not my only sin, though. Not even close. I worked at a couple of restaurants when I was younger, and I stole both food and money from my employers on several occasions. My rationale was simple: life had been hard, and gotten harder. I deserved it. I was hungry, or I needed gas, or some thing, and I would do what was necessary to get it.
I was also clever, and I used that cleverness given me by God to make fun of all sorts of people—handicapped, overweight, skinny, mentally challenged. Whoever they were, they fell victim to my mean-spirited sense of humor—for my amusement, the amusement of others, and to make myself more popular. I was good at that, too. I was the funny guy that everyone liked, but at night I would go home miserable and alone.
Most of the time, that is. However, when opportunity presented itself, I indulged in several physical relationships with women I had no intention of marrying. It made me feel better at the time, but afterward I felt incredibly empty, and still ended up alone when it was all done.
All of these things were my feeble attempts to fill the voids in my life—to dull pain that I hated to even admit that I felt. To try and find just a little solace. None of them worked for much longer than a brief period, and left me feeling tired, and lonely, and drained afterward.
Eventually, I got to a place where I knew I needed God, or needed something, or I was going to die. Maybe not right away, and maybe not even soon, but the life I was leading was no kind of life at all, and dead was still dead. I’d have a heart attack, or choke on my vomit when I was drunk, or who even knew what.
I knew I needed God, but I had the idea that I could not approach him as I was. I was too dirty, too sullied by the world, too covered in the sin I had chosen to commit to approach God for anything. I was too filthy to be in His presence. This made sense to me because of all the “church people” I had known. It seemed like they had it all together. They wore nice clothes, and lived in nice houses, and they didn’t have any problems that I could see. They talked to Jesus all the time, and they were always happy. At least, that’s what it seemed like.
I wasn’t like that, and it seemed that not only would “church people” not accept me, but neither would Jesus. He couldn’t. I wasn’t one of His people. How could I ever enter his presence the way I was?
Matthew 11: 28-30 says:
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The following is part of a longer piece written by Jon Acuff as how he imagined Jesus speaking the truth about the above scripture into his heart:
I am not asking you to complete yourself and then come to me. I am asking you to come to me. Broken and burdened, infested with the most hideous lies about me and my nature. Covered in perpetual sin that you just can’t seem to shake. Because I don’t see that. I see Christ. I see the blood of my son all over you.
His love for us is so powerful, that he allowed His son to pay the price for a debt we owed. Jesus does not simply forgive our sins, he became sin on our behalf, so that we did not have to pay the penalty we so richly deserve. He loves us so much that He wants us to come into his presence exactly as we are, and not as we should be. He longs for us to come and stand in his presence and be loved as children.
Come stand in it filthy and let me cleanse you. Come stand in it broken and let me heal you.
Come stand in it drunk on doubt and fear and let me renew a spirit of confidence and trust in you.
Just come stand in it.
Come stand in it covered with lies and misconceptions about who I am and who you are and let me reveal the truth.
And the truth is this:
Romans 8: 38-39 says: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We cannot be separated from God’s love—and all we need do to receive this love is ask for it, and accept it when it comes. That’s actually a really hard thing to do—at least it was for me. It’s hard to get out of our heads that we really don’t deserve grace, and salvation, and life. It’s hard to accept love when all we deserve is condemnation. But love is exactly what we get when we come to Jesus, and surrender our will for our lives to His.
John 6:37 says: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
Whoever comes to me I will never drive away. That sounds pretty good to me—especially after a lifetime of feeling like I deserved nothing more than to be driven out. And really, I do deserve to be exiled from the presence of God. We all do.
But because of Jesus, because He died on my behalf—on our behalves—and because our names are written in His book, it doesn’t have to be that way. Because of Jesus, we have hope in our lives, and that makes all the difference in the world.
Despair is a powerfully heavy thing to carry, especially by yourself. Hope lightens the load. And hope is available to everyone.
Jeremiah 29:11-13 says “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
He’ll listen to our prayers—He does listen to our prayers. But we have to seek Him. And the thought of hope and a future when it seemed all was lost—incredible. That’s such an amazing gift, and it’s free.
Life has been good to me over the past ten years—it really has. I remember standing and looking over the river the night I met Jesus—one minute I was holding a couple of coolers and looking forward to a baseball game the next day. The next minute, I just literally fell to my knees and admitted my life was not working as it was. I needed help. I needed a savior.
It did start off slow, though, and I had to continually remind myself that God was in control, and His timing was always perfect. And there are still struggles, even this week. Some battles are fought over and over again, and I don’t always win them. I heard it said once that without the valleys in life, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the peaks as much. I think that’s so true. And though I give God the glory for every victory in my life, I also now know that He is with me in every defeat, as well. And He waits with me for the next battle.
There was a movie a while back with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer called “Frankie & Johnny,” and in one of the final scenes, Johnny (Al Pacino’s character) is consoling Frankie, and he says “I can’t make the bad go away. But when it comes again, I’ll be there.”
So when I struggle (not if, but when), or when there’s trouble, I try to always remind myself that Jesus might not take it away, and might not deliver me from it. But He will see me through it. And when it comes, He’ll be there.