Trophies of Grace in the Facebook Era

It would seem that I’ve got a lot to learn when it comes to using what remains of my life to glorify God. (How’s that for an understatement?) A couple of weekends ago (Sept. 25-27), my college fraternity held an anniversary celebration, complete with a reception and banquet to commemorate 45 years of Theta Chi Fraternity at Adrian College. My wife and I had previously made conflicting plans, so we were unable to attend. I would have liked to, actually. My love for many of these guys is deeply-rooted, as college-era friendships tend to be, though admittedly I have stumbled quite a bit in recent years as to how I can best display my friendship and good intentions “in a revised context.”

To put it bluntly, I stopped drinking. Christ grabbed hold of me. A bit of social awkwardness has ensued, mostly of my own making.

Depending on your theology, I “got saved” or “made a decision for Christ” on July 23, 1997, when (after decades of hardcore abuse) I made a vow to abstain from all forms of alcohol and illicit drugs as a tangible sign of my desire to have a meaningful relationship with God. By His grace and mercy, I have been enabled to keep that vow right up to the present day; I hope to be buried having never once gone back to alcohol, drugs or “that way of living.”

Lately, however, “the guys” have begun posting more pictures on Facebook, along with scanned images from their collective photo files. While I had zero problems with them posting photos of their weekend together (I hadn’t been there, after all…how personally incriminating could it get?) the images and artifacts being dug up from our collective past briefly caused me to panic…a bit.

Facebook allows you to remove photo tags that others use to identify you, and I have to admit that for the better part of two days I wrestled with the urge to “un-tag” myself from a few relatively-tame remnants of my own history, a past that was now showing up in electronic format, available to everyone on the planet (my children included). You can probably guess how the justification ran: “Well, after all, I am a believer now…and what will the guys in my Bible study think if they see these?” Pathetic.

In short, I was strongly tempted to deny my past, lift myself up in the eyes of others, protect “my image” (whatever that means!) and pretend to be someone I am not.

In John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman, despised and abandoned even by her own people, an “outcast among outcasts.” After shooing the disciples away (ostensibly to find food), Christ proceeds to engage this discarded woman in heartfelt evangelism, never once minimizing her sins…or her deep need for salvation. Overcome by the sincere love of our Lord, the Samaritan woman runs to the people in her town (the very same people who were likely shunning her) and tells of the great love of God for sinners: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29, ESV). One can only imagine some of the guys in her village setting down their mugs of Samaritan Lite, raising an eyebrow and asking “Really? Everything you ever did?! Dang…and He still spoke to you?!”

I think the lesson (for me, anyway) is pretty clear. It would seem that I am far too “underwhelmed” by the forgiving love of Christ; this shows itself whenever I set about to clean up my image or somehow try to deny the horrific sins of my past. In His great and unfathomable mercy, Christ has allowed me to redeem many of the sins of my past to help others, both in addiction recovery and divorce ministries. And yet, somehow, I still feel like I need to run around making myself appear “better” than I really am. Augh! With the disciples, I find myself crying out “Increase my faith!” (Luke 17:1-5)

After two days of wondering whether or not I should try to “scrub myself clean,” mercy ultimately arrived in the form of a conversation with someone else struggling through divorce. And it dawned on me that my best and most effective means of “talking to the people in my village” was the very fact that my own life had been redeemed from the pit (Psalm 103:1-5). Who was I to minimize the power of Christ in my own life by making any effort to pretend that I was “better” than I really was? Along with the Samaritan woman, I should be so overwhelmed by the mercies of Jesus that I no longer worry what others may think: “Yes, I am a very foolish person, but take your eyes off me; look at Him instead.”

Jesus Himself tells us that there is great joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7). And yet, here I am, planning to snatch a Trophy of Grace off the fireplace mantle and commit it to the flames. Where did I get the ridiculous idea that somehow I needed to separate myself from the people in my past when Christ, in His great mercy, is really only interested in separating me from the sins of my past?

I can only hope that in 2014, by God’s grace, I’ll perhaps be better equipped to love and serve my fraternity brothers when the 50-year celebration rolls around. Beyond that, I will try to do a better job of trusting the Lord to use, as He sees fit, any and all details of my past to minister to others. So if you are out on Facebook or randomly Google-ing and you happen to find graphic remnants of my own life of sin, I guess I’d ask you to lovingly forward it to a friend who is currently enslaved: “Does Jesus really save people out of addictions and divorce?” “Uh, yeah, He does…and look, here’s one dope He’s working with even today.”

“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” This is the Christ. The loving, merciful, cleansing, forgiving Christ.

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