Wednesday, January 25, 2017

No Regret

Centrifuge 1992. Southern Baptist Youth Camp. Camp Pastor. Life-changing experience. These phrases come to mind when I consider one of the most significant events of my life. Working for Centrifuge proved to be the first time I ventured out on my own. Prior to this experience, I lived in the shadow of everyone else. Everyone's expectations. Everyone's disappointments. Everyone's portrait of who I was or who I would ever be. Until that day. I saw a posting that someone for Lifeway planned to be on campus to interview for youth camp positions. Not knowing any better, I applied to be a Camp Pastor. The meeting was in a conference room at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and the coordinator and I met alone for me to preach to a one man audience. I will never forget the sermon. The message was from Galatians 5:1. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

The interview was a long shot. Most camp pastors had served other positions first, yet I felt the Spirit saying, "Give Me a chance to show you that so much more is out there for those who love Me." Not long after that, Lance reached out and told me I got the job!!! I couldn't believe it. Prior to this day, I had NEVER done anything my brother had not already done. For the first time, I had my own first time.

Assigned to the East Coast Traveling Team, I met lots of new people. People in New England tend to live quite differently than people in the Bible Belt. The Lord allowed me to serve under the leadership of a Camp Director who taught me more about grace than I had ever experienced. Her name was Amy Figg. I still follow her on Facebook because of the tremendous influence she had on my life. Prior to this time, I never knew the power of acceptance and the abundance of God's grace. She introduced me to Max Lucado, and that summer I experienced a freedom in preaching that I had never before known. She probably has no idea just how much the Lord used her to shape during that time.

Returning to seminary after that summer produced extreme conflict. Valence Street Baptist Church called me to be their pastor, and the rigors of school combined with the mold of ministry forced me to tuck my summer experience into a place where no one could have access to it. During that year, I had one desire. Secure a position with Lifeway's Centrifuge again. Mission accomplished when I learned that I would be placed as Camp Pastor at Carson Newman College. During that summer, I met several friends I was too dumb to keep in touch with but who I have watched from a distance over the years wondering the classic, "what if ...." Today I was reminded by a Facebook memory of that summer. One person I met during that summer wasn't a true Centrifuge staff member, but instead was part of the support staff. Through him I met the most important earthly person I will ever know, the love of my life, my bride. One day early in the summer of 1992 he wrote me a note which I taped in my Bible for the summer. The note simply read, "NO REGRET." We became friends that summer, and although circumstances have circumvented continued relationship, those two words still haunt my memory. NO REGRET.

That summer I preached with no regret, but I live with much regret. Regret that I failed to enjoy the people I worked with each day. Regret that I preached daily out of the overflow of an empty heart. Regret that I let circumstances kill this friendship that had grown to mean so much to me. Regret that lingers as a weapon in the hands of the enemy that continually reminds me that I am not good enough, not strong enough, not kind enough, and on and on and on.

One interesting thought about my regret rests in the reality that Romans 8:1 still remains one of my most quoted verses. All of the time, I'm telling those who come to me that "there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." "You are forgiven," I tell them, as if the verse applies to everyone except me. I can't seem to let it go. The regret lingers and eats away at my existence surrounded by seasons of relief. Failure. Forgotten. Too far gone. These words plague my dreams and suppress my abundant existence.

Trusting that "too late" never crosses the Lord's mind, I am forced to ask myself how might the Lord use me today to advance His Kingdom. Not my purpose or my design, but completely His own purposeful, grace-filled plan. How do I grab tightly to the grace I met for the very first time in the summer of 1991?

Hearing the latest new reports conflicts me as a follower of Christ. I'm encouraged by some actions I have heard about where life takes a center stage. All lives matter, and the unborn must be protected. I'm less encouraged by Facebook posts where fellow Christians compare our new President to our Savior. More than anything my prayer remains that the Lord uses the next four years to awaken the church to His grace and mercy. Micah 6:8 screams to us that the Lord requires us to "love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly with our God." Living with no regret demands that we pursue all three: mercy, justice, and humility. This time in history clamors for the church to exist with NO REGRET!

Please do not misunderstand. The positions of Christ followers today are important. Life and the protection of those lives must be a priority. Time presented me with the truth that physical circumstances point to spiritual reality. Assuming the solidarity of that statement, the undisputed reality that life matters propels me to understanding that in addition to physical life, spiritual lives matter, as well. Biblical evidence would even suggest that physical life, while of utmost importance, draws us to the reality that Christ ultimately died for our spiritual lives. He looked past the physical failures to the promise of spiritual perfection.

All of these thoughts force me to ask serious questions about my role in the body of Christ. Since lives matter, the Spirit of God has opened my heart to some lives that often go ignored, and I wonder if you would commit to see them this Sunday as you engage in whatever worship experience you are part of this week. All around you, lives in crisis incubate on the verge of spiritual abortion as the body of Christ in large part ignores them as legitimate lives. Somewhere near you sits a young man who daily experiences (or as a child experienced) abuse by a family member. Fear keeps him from saying anything. Fear of being exposed and fear that the blame lies with him. Maybe he is a homosexual after all, and he has invited what happened to him. He is afraid. Somewhere near you as you praise God as the Good, Good Father, a young lady silently cries about the father she wishes she had. He is at home, but his is unengaged, and she is searching for a male figure in her life who will bring her significance. A father, a mother, a grandparent who has lost touch with family members and doesn't know how to reclaim them. A husband fearful of losing his wife or a wife aware of her husband's distance. A pastor caught in the grips of sin or a Sunday School teacher afraid that others may find out what she hides deep down inside. A victim of sex trafficking, a slave to pornography. THESE LIVES MATTER. All lives matter. "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (ESV).

Wishing that all should come to repentance. ALL. Those damaged by abuse. Those caught in the religious performance trap. Democrats. Republicans. Presidents, past and present. Pastors and deacons. Moms and dads. ALL LIVES MATTER TO HIM. The time has come for me to open my eyes to the reality that my experience isn't about me but instead is about the chance to see others the way God sees them. Others who live in my town. Others who get a paycheck with me. Others who sit near me in worship each week. People in need of a Savior who loves them just as they are and who died for all while we were all still sinners. Of all the regrets I must avoid, I refuse to live any longer regretting letting anyone feel unloved and unwanted. The time has come to let God's word flood the hard layer of protection that lines my inner being. From this day forward I will stand for the Truth and refuse to hide behind religious jargon. Twenty five years in the making, it is time to proclaim that Jesus has called you and me to live with NO REGRET.

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