Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Php. 3: 13-14
Recently I returned to Auburn University, my alma mater, for the 40th anniversary of a show choir I sang with while I was in school there (think Glee with real talent).
There were members there from group #1 in 1972 all the way up to group #40, this year’s group. I was a member of groups #7-#10, 1978-1982. Do the math and you’ll figure out that it’s been 30 years since I last sang any show tunes or made jazz hands. (At least that’s my story…)
Above and beyond the chance to get back on stage and feel like a kid again (despite all the old geezer grunting and groaning during choreography rehearsals), it was a particularly special weekend for me. The last time I was in Auburn for an event of this type, I was still “lost as a goose”, as my grandfather the preacher used to say. This time, though, I was able to share the story of my salvation with people I knew had been praying for me for a long time.
I was also able to share some examples of my pre-salvation, sin-soaked life to testify to God’s might and power to change me when He saved me. And He certainly did change me. But there is always a fine line I walk when I share some of those things from my past. Explanation…
Have you ever had someone tell a story about something they once did that they would never do now that they’re older/more responsible/born again/etc.? These stories are generally about overindulging in alcohol or other verboten substances, civil disobedience, or sexual immorality, and typically go something like this:
“I was so drunk I had to drive home with
one eye closed to keep from seeing double…”
“We broke into the football stadium after midnight
one night and stole letters off the scoreboard…”
“She told me she might be pregnant – all I could
think of was that my parents were gonna kill me…”
If you’ve been a Christian for most of your life, you may find it hard to believe that people outside of the Jerry Springer show actually have experiences like these in their lives. If you’re like I was, though, you probably see yourself and the people you used to hang around with in those stories.
Sometimes it’s hard to know how to react when we hear these kinds of stories. On the one hand, the fact that they’re relegated to the past certainly points to the grace of God and His ability to forgive.
On the other hand, though, it’s really easy to listen to those stories and let our fallen, Casey Anthony-obsessed, Lindsay Lohan-tsk-tsking selves be secretly titillated by such provocative tales. In my experience, it’s even easier for me to tell those stories, ostensibly to glorify God and praise Him for being “compassionate and gracious” and One who forgives “wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (as He describes Himself in Exodus 34) while secretly, in my still-in-need-of-daily-cleansing heart, relishing the listener’s reaction, for some reason wanting to get a little glory from my past life and prove that I wasn’t the boring, clean-cut guy everyone always thought I was.
I wasn’t that guy – would that I had been. Imagine if I had all those years back to serve the Lord. Maybe my life would have taken an entirely different path. Maybe this blog about sharing the reality of God’s grace would instead be a book – maybe even one of many. I know that God had rather I had not taken the path I took for the first 52 years of my life; but I also know He can take anything – anything – and use it for His honor and glory.
I will tell you that having lived the life I led prior to my salvation gives me a unique perspective on how people think who are just like I was and the barriers they erect that make surrendering one’s life to Christ almost impossible. My past lets me understand what it’s like to be a captive to sin, buying into the lie whispered by the enemy that, “You’re OK – being kind to animals and being a good person is enough.” (After all, as we’re told by respectable sources, there is no hell and, in the end, “Love Wins”.)
One of those people at the reunion with whom I shared that unique perspective I had gained asked me if I was involved in some type of ministry designed to reach out to people going through what I went through. Regretfully my answer was “no” – but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.
For God to truly use me, though, I have to realize that the life I led:
- No longer defines who I am.
- Is neither glamorous nor impressive.
- Almost led me straight to hell.
- Only has one purpose that I can see – to serve as a reminder of the victory God has given me and to give me reason to praise Him even more.
Maybe one day I’ll be ready to tell my own stories here on “clay” – not to shock or entertain, but to point to the power of the cross and, in effect, to break their hold over me. If you’re a praying person and have room on your prayer request list, I would be grateful if you would pencil me in…
It’s time for me to take hold of the victory God has given me and stop living in the past. It’s time for me to recognize my former life for what it is – powerless… forgiven… forgotten.
It’s time for me to put Philippians 3:13-14 in action:
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Yeah – it’s definitely time…