I have a history of a back and forth relationship with God, but I have a feeling I’m not alone. We have times when we walk closely with God, but we might fall away. And then we will come to a point where we are at the end of ourselves and we realize how much we need Jesus. There is a...
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In 1955 Pittsburgh, there was an accident in a steel Mill. Perhaps there were lots of accidents in steel mills during that time, but this one changed the perspective on race in one man’s mind. Billy was working a fire in the mill. To make the fire hotter, a kind of lacquer was added to...
I have a history of a back and forth relationship with God, but I have a feeling I’m not alone. We have times when we walk closely with God, but we might fall away. And then we will come to a point where we are at the end of ourselves and we realize how much we need Jesus. There is a drastic difference between a life lived in the darkness, and a life filled with the light. I want to show you this difference--the Jesus Difference--in my life.
In order to tell my story, I have to go all the way back to before I was even born. My mother and father were both raised in strong Christian families, and not just religious families, but they had parents who really loved Jesus and served in various ways, especially my father’s parents. My grandparents on my father’s side were extremely active in the Church. My grandmother was cherished by all, and led many people through hard times via her counseling. My grandfather has written many books and has been in leadership roles in churches for as much of his life as I’m aware of. Looking at my father, it’s obvious that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. He met my mom while at seminary, and for about two-thirds of my life he’s been a pastor, or at least involved in ministry in some way. So yes, I guess that means you can call me a PK (pastor’s kid). But honestly, what does that have to do with anything???
Maybe not so much anymore, but back when I was in high school there was a certain perception about what a PK should be, and what they shouldn’t. Let’s just say that I did not fit the mold; at least, inwardly I didn’t. On the outside, I was the perfect pastor’s kid. I spent a lot of time at church, I served and helped my dad out a lot when he was pastoring several churches that he had started himself. And, I behaved (for the most part). However, internally there was no real relationship with God, and in fact I tried to keep whatever was there hidden from the rest of the world. I was ashamed of my faith, if we could even really call it that. I’ve always believed in God, but he was never truly real to me.
Because I had no real faith, I was just a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. And sometime around 2007 I finally exploded…
In late 2006, I joined the Air Force. In truth, it was a good move for me, and honestly it was the only way that my wife Rachel and I could get married and not struggle financially. And where did we get sent? Only a few thousand miles away to Germany…
So, off we went to start our new life in a place where we knew no one, and where I had no real connection to the life I was previously living, except Rachel of course. I still had my morals, which were instilled in me by my parents, even if the faith part never really stuck. So, luckily, I at least had that, and in reality, it probably saved me from going down some even darker paths than I did. But, to be honest, I was already lost. My heart was not in the right place, and my thoughts were not thinking on Godly things. I did some things that I’m not proud of, and I hung out with people that only brought me down. I did not go to church, and in fact I didn’t really even want to. This lasted through three years in Germany, and got even worse our three years in Guam.
After the birth of our second child in Guam, which was not something we had planned, things got pretty grim. I almost made the worst mistake of my life, and made dozens of others that I really wish I hadn’t. I still wasn’t going to church. I was swearing as much as the worst sailor you’ve ever met (no offense to my Navy brothers and sisters). I was not being a good father, I was angry a lot, and I treated my wife poorly. However, again, my morals, as weak as they were by now, still kept me from tipping over the edge. I thank God to this day that he was watching over me, even before I was born. I know that the choices my parents made, and the way they raised me, was just so that I could survive through these trying times later in my life.
So, there I was living my life in the darkness, with no way that I really knew of (at the time) to get out. But then, everything changed…
Just as the dust of an explosion eventually settles, things in my life finally started to become just a little clearer. I was able to get back on my feet and begin to heal from the wounds, though it took time.
In 2013, I changed jobs in the Air Force, which took us to California for several years. For nearly 7 years I’d hardly stepped foot in a church, but when we arrived in California I felt the tug to look for a local church to attend. We tried one, which ended up not being the best fit for us, so I started looking for another. I don’t remember how I heard about Shoreline, I think it was through an online search, but when we tried it out we really liked it there. And for the first time in years I finally started to feel something. It started deep within my soul, and it was a very slow change, but God spoke to me in profound ways over the next year or so. At times, it kind of felt like going to the dentist - it was uncomfortable, but I needed to remove the dead and decaying parts of my life so that I could fully heal and recover. I don’t really remember a specific moment when everything changed, though perhaps Rachel could tell you if you asked her. It was not some big light that opened in the sky and unleashed Heaven’s full glory down on me, burning away all the bad parts of my life. It was just a slow process of change as my mind began to be reformed – old habits and interests slowly faded away, and new ones took their place.
You won’t ever hear me say that I’m wholly complete, but I can tell you that the difference between now and then is night and day. As Nathan "Nate" John Feuerstein, the artist known as “NF”, so wonderfully put it, “Christian is not the definition of a perfect me.” Christian only defines who I strive to be, and who I look to as an example.
So, what’s really different about me? Besides most of the bad stuff that’s gone (yes, I do still sin), I’m passionate about things that I used to not care abiyt. Take this blog post for one. The old me would never have considered sharing all my shame on the internet. The old me would never have freely volunteered to write something meaningful so that in some small way, others might find the courage or the strength to allow change in their own lives. Besides that, the way I think has changed a lot. I see people differently. I judge less, and love more. I treat people differently, and my anger is under control. Of course, I do still have some small outbursts when I have to drive in Maryland traffic, but anyways…
One of the other ways that I’ve changed is in my desire to serve others, which as you know if you’re a Severn Runner, is something that we’ve been talking about recently. I know that I still need to do more, but even that feeling of ‘I need to serve more’ is something I NEVER would have thought about a few years ago. I lived for myself, and that was apparent. Now, though I’m still a selfish human by nature, I consider others more often and have more of a desire to help them.
I know that there are many of you out there right now who are reading this and possibly needing to do some reflections on your own lives, even if it’s only mirrored through my own distant experiences from yours. We all have different lives and experiences, and that’s what makes us unique. God speaks to each of us in different ways. So, it’s my hope that at least through sharing my story you’ll take a moment to listen and see what he has to say about yours.
Is he calling to you? Is he asking you to come discover this Jesus Difference that we’ve been talking about? Or, perhaps he’s asking you to share your own story of the Jesus Difference in your life, so that maybe, just maybe, someone you can uniquely reach might find the courage to allow the change that they’ve been desperately searching for their whole life.
You never know just who your story can affect. You never know just who your story can reach. And you’ll never know unless you share it.
There are a million stories out there of people who’ve come to understand this Jesus Difference, and who will probably tell you that it has been the biggest and best difference in their lives to this day. There are millions of stories through the ages of lives that have been changed – lives once lived in darkness, that are now bathed in the light.
Will yours be one?
In 1955 Pittsburgh, there was an accident in a steel Mill. Perhaps there were lots of accidents in steel mills during that time, but this one changed the perspective on race in one man’s mind.
Billy was working a fire in the mill. To make the fire hotter, a kind of lacquer was added to the flames. It only took an instant, once Billy added the lacquer, for the flames to leap up and engulf his arm. A man came to his rescue and as he lay in the hospital recovering from his own injuries, he recalled with great emotion, “The young lad was running, a ball of flames…I did all I could…” Billy’s father thanked him and later remarked, “I have a different heart and mind set about white people. Everybody stood there, frozen to the floor, but it was the white man who risked his life. He risked his life for my son and I have a different opinion now.”
Billy’s dad had faced many prejudices in his life. Not the least of which was the inequality he endured during his service in WWII. However, the selfless act of one person showed him that his ideas and opinions did not apply to an entire group of people. Sadly, Billy succumbed to his injuries and passed away. His accident though, was a catalyst for change in his family.
Billy’s sister, Arlene was profoundly impacted by her brother’s passing. Arlene went on to raise her five daughters with love in their hearts toward all people. Even though the community, school, and church where they lived was entirely black, many of the white teachers at their school were loving and poured encouragement and support into their lives. However, the girls did see and experience a lot of discrimination in the extended parts of their mostly-white church organization. It didn't stop them from worshiping with them or attending the events, but it helped them to learn how not to treat people.
Arlene worked at Teen Challenge year-round, and during the summers she took her five girls along with her. Patrice Lyle watched her mother minister with the love of Christ to people of all races. Because of this modeling, Patrice is driven to see and love others as Christ does; humans with beautiful differences all created in the image of God the Father.
After the events in Charlottesville, Patrice hosted a Coffee and Conversation event. She invited others as an opportunity to learn to love each other by getting to know each other...one conversation at a time. The meeting was attended by 3 of Patrice’s sisters, her brother-in-law and 1 white friend. Patrice was so thankful for the friend that came because it lent a different voice to the discussion. “Every time you allow yourself to hear a different perspective, it opens your heart and mind a little bit more,” Patrice said.
The bottom line for Patrice with racial reconciliation is trying to know and understand each other’s hearts. Most times when people begin a racial reconciliation conversation, even if they don’t necessarily say the “right” things, they’re trying to get there—to racial reconciliation or an understanding of one another. People willing to enter into these conversations need to understand that no one is intentionally trying to offend but to change themselves and their thinking.
Ultimately, Patrice says, “How can you bring people to Jesus if you see people as different from you? When we allow our differences to affect if we share Jesus with someone, it’s sin.”
Patrice refers to the “journey” of racial reconciliation. She offers these steps:
- Surround yourself with people different from you
- Understand how you process those differences
- Make intentional steps to lean, to understand, and then to love and embrace those differences.
Above all, Patrice says, “Allow yourself to be covered in grace. Grace allows you to not see the wrong and the faults in others”. This is great truth for interaction with ALL people!
*Quotes in the 1st paragraph are from “The Story of Billy” by Arlene Thompson. https://lilliethompson.wordpress.com/2016/07/15/the-story-of-billy/