Last Wednesday I shared parts of my story with realtYouth, the student ministry of Portland Open Bible Church. I touched on three seasons: childhood, junior high, and high school. My aim was to show how God has worked in me both then and now, despite my frequent willingness to agree with what Satan says about me, rather than God’s perspective.
For indeed the agreements we make determine our relationships. With God. With others.
When we believe lies and behave according to them, we consequently enter into agreement with Satan’s perverted view. He tries to subvert God’s purpose for us, as in the temptations in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3) and in the Judean wilderness (Matthew 4). When we succumb to his lies, we suffer all of the resulting shame, guilt, and alienation from God and others. We take on the bondage of sin and its relational disconnection.
But God says we are made in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). He loves us so much, he sent Jesus to live among us and then to die in our place for our sins (John 3:16-17; Romans 5:8). When we invite him to be our Lord, he indwells us by his Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).
When we agree with God, we have joy and peace. We are liberated to be who God has designed us to be. Jesus told us to love God and others, especially our enemies. He calls us to be counter-cultural (Romans 12:12).
My mom raised me on James 1:2-4. My application of that passage has been sorely tested throughout my life. Yet, insofar as I have been willing to agree with God’s view of me and to grow in obedience to him, I have experienced peace in knowing that God is completely in control. But when I forget God’s love and his providential care, I begin to succumb to despair.
In later childhood I saw myself as deaf, shy, weak, and increasingly awkward. Sometimes I experienced potent anger; even rage. I took an interest in basketball and running, spending countless hours doing both. Here is a photograph of me as a six year old. Yes, I dressed myself that morning. I looked sweet and innocent, but the reality is I knew right from wrong and sometimes leveraged my appearance of innocence to get away with sinful acts, such as manipulation of others for my own gain.
By the time I reached my junior high years I felt like I was in the twilight zone. School was a war zone. Daily violence in the form of fist fights. I hated school. I retreated to athletics both in and out of school. In the summers I spent up to ten hours per days playing basketball, both alone and with others. I ran for the freedom and joy of it. I was just trying to survive a school system which did not care about students. Here is a photo of me the summer following 8th grade. It was the Fourth of July.
In High school I began to shed some of the awkwardness, but the anger grew more pronounced. The fist fights continued with the addition of occasional brass knuckles and knives. Thankfully, I avoided most of those altercations. I felt isolated. Eventually depression took a long-term hold. Much happened; many stories too long to recount here…. Suicide became a fixation. Standing on a cliff face in the dark of night, debating whether to throw myself down on to the rocks approximately a few hundred feet below. Hearing voices, demonic and evil, telling me to end it all. Diabolical laughter in the late watches of the night. Urges to run into the path of an oncoming vehicle on a dark country road. Utterly alone.
But God got my attention one critical night in the mountains above Washougal, Washington. After a terrifying night of such internal debates and demonic trickery designed to persuade me to throw my young life away, I felt a hand on my chest–no one was present. A voice said, “If you go back out there, there is no guarantee you will return.” For a moment, I experienced absolute clarity, as if lifted out of a permanent fog. I got help.
My journey toward deliverance commenced. I began learning to agree with God, rather than the devil. I began to pray long hours into the night. I read the Bible constantly, memorizing large blocks of Scripture. I began to know the reality of God’s tangible presence and power.
Here is a photo of me a couple of months following those events. I was a senior in high school, getting ready for a big football game.
I still struggle. It’s not easy. I desperately need grace and ongoing reconciliation to God and others. Sometimes I catch myself making false agreements with the enemy. Things such as: I’m finished, washed up; I will die alone and forgotten and no one will notice or care; I’m defective and worthless.
I’m keeping it real, folks.
The young people of realitYouth certainly did. Each of them filled out a notecard identifying agreements they have made with the enemy. I’m holding them right how, and praying. They were brutally candid.
Will you be equally honest? With yourself? With God? With a trusted confidant?
I shared a couple of verses with the kids. First, if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Second, Stand fast therefore in the liberty which with God has set you free and do not been entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1).
Don’t let false agreements disconnect you from God and others. Confess your sins, your wrong thinking, your need for help with people you trust. Don’t do what I did in trying to do life alone on my own strength. Our strength comes from God and is replenished within the community of faith through worship, prayer, and fellowship.
Love God and others, especially your perceived enemies. But be sure to let others love you, too.
Something happens when we get real.
We experience a beautiful brokenness.
Not of despair,
but of hope.