9 The Ephraimites, armed with the bow,
turned back on the day of battle.
10 They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
11 They forgot his works
and the wonders that he had shown them.
12 In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
32 In spite of all this, they still sinned;
despite his wonders, they did not believe.
33 So he made their days vanish like a breath,
and their years in terror.
34 When he killed them, they sought him;
they repented and sought God earnestly.
35 They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God their redeemer.
36 But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.
37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.
38 Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and comes not again.
40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness
and grieved him in the desert!
41 They tested God again and again
and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
42 They did not remember his power
or the day when he redeemed them from the foe,
43 when he performed his signs in Egypt
and his marvels in the fields of Zoan.
This chapter is the chapter of Israel’s sin in the wilderness. I believe it is summed up in these verses. First in 78:11-12, "They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.” and then 78:42, "They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe…” By forgetting they failed to believe, by failing to remember what the Lord had done they handicapped themselves from believing that he would again act on their behalf. They forgot about Egypt on their way to the promised land. They forgot where they had come from and failed to see God’s faithfulness in the present time because the light of God’s work of deliverance had been dimmed by forgetfulness.
I realized the other day that I had forgotten much of what the Lord has done in my life, so I wanted to recount it and remember it that I wouldn’t fall into the same sin as the ancient Israelites in the wilderness. It’s God’s glory that is expressed through our testimony, through our story of personal redemption and it is God’s honor that is dismissed when we forget the marvelous things that he has done. It is to the detriment of our faith in Christ that we forget and remember not the mighty things that the Lord has done.
Psalm 136 is the response that Israel should have had to their deliverance from Egypt for all generations. Its style is simple; the psalmist states 26 times in 26 verses a redemptive act of God and follows it with “His steadfast love endures forever.”
When I was a young boy I was zealous for God. I memorized Bible verses, I won Bible quizzes, I went on a missions trip in 8th grade to Mexico in which I talked about God with nearly every person I met. However, during this time there was a seething cauldron of lust in my heart. Lust for women, for girls in my grade, for pornography, for every kind of sexual sin and experimentation there was to be found. I was in 7th grade when I first had a sexual relationship with a girl from youth group, by 9th grade I had done everything that could be done before intercourse and in 10th grade I lost my virginity (the tattered remains of it that is). This opened up a whole new realm of sin as I had crossed the “line” or “boundary” that I had set for myself as a “Christian”. By seventeen I had been with many more girls. How patient the Lord was with me.
I smoked pot for the first time when I was in 8th or 9th grade. I also had my first criminal offense of vandalism while in 9th grade (I knocked over a flagpole while skipping youth group on a Wednesday night). The excitement of being known as someone who smoked pot and got in trouble was energizing. I became filled with the desire to be known as a troubled kid. I turned against my parents, my Christian friends, and teachers who wanted to help me. Not because I was actually a troubled kid, but because I loved the appearance of being troubled. I wanted the attention to be on me and this was the easiest way to get it. My hatred for God was fueled by my love for myself being known in one way or another. I wanted to be known.
By the time I was 16-years-old I had 15 misdemeanor charges from criminal trespassing to my last two being serious assault on a police officer (grabbing his face, not hitting him), and failure to obey. The night I received these charges is blacked out of my memory because I had drank about 15 beers beforehand. The next morning I woke up for the 5th or 6th time in a city detention center. This time was a little different, I woke up with a broken hand (from punching a wall) and soaked in my own urine. After I woke up I was stripped, sprayed with lice-all (it's not a typo as my wife first thought), dressed in orange and waited there for 8 days to be seen by a judge. When I saw the judge I was placed on house arrest and my parents fought hard to have me placed in a rehab facility of their choice instead of the state facility. They succeeded and a month later in August, 2005 I was placed in inpatient rehab for the next month. This was the grand conclusion to my year of outpatient rehab, I was finally placed in a facility that would help separate me from some negative influences and the substances I was abusing.
I got out of rehab, was still on house arrest and had learned enough to modify my behavior, but not my heart. I still loved sin, I still loved sleeping around, being cruel to vulnerable girls and taking advantage of their trust. The behavior was moderated, but the white hot love for sin was stronger than ever.
From 2004 I had been in the band For Today. One year after getting out of rehab the band was in a van accident that destroyed a good portion of our gear. I was angry that my potential future in music was smashed by a truck. Our friend Jesse was with us selling t-shirts and after the accident he told me that God had a plan for all the miserable stuff that was going on in my life. That was in October of 2006 and the following months were different than anything I had ever experienced. I began to lose my taste for drinking, for getting into fights and for the first time that I could recall since middle school I felt deep shame over the way I had been. By January of 2007 I was reading a couple of books that were given to me by another Christian friend and had realized that God had done some supernatural work in my life and that I loved him. I had started reading the Bible around that time and was increasingly convinced that I believed what it said.
I checked myself over the next months and was examining my life, I was still living in sin with my girlfriend at the time and watching pornography, but as I examined myself closer I was struck with a need to make some huge changes. I put all my trust in Christ as my way out of my sin. I told the guys in the band that winter that I thought our band should be a Christian one and that we should tell people about Jesus. I was the last of us to meet Jesus and they were all waiting on me to do this. If it weren’t for their faithful friendship and Jesse’s influence on my life I don’t know what would have happened to me. That Spring of 2007 I graduated from high school and was given Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and began to read it from cover to cover as well as reading my Bible incessantly. This was God’s means of grace to help me leave my sin, my mind became so filled up with God’s word that I seldom thought about anything else.
The band continued to tour and right around New Years of 2008 we signed to our first record label. We were of course excited and that next couple of years we toured about 8-10 months out of the year. by 2010 we had released our 3rd album with that label and were picking up a lot of momentum. Between 2010-2013 we toured in the states and in 23 other countries. We stayed busy and it was my much needed outlet for sharing my faith. The band saw hundreds and even thousands of people be impacted by the gospel. I suppose we saw numerous hundreds of people be physically healed as well. We daily prayed together, read the Word together, and preached to those who came to our shows, pumped our gas, and made our food.
In the fall of 2010 we played in Douglasville, GA and that night I met my wife, Susanna. I knew the day that I met her that she was going to be a part of my life. The night we met we traded books and only got to talk a little bit. I messaged her on Facebook a few days later and the rest is history. I knew within the week that she would be my wife. I proposed the Spring of 2011 and we were married 6 months after that. Our parents had been incredibly gracious to let us get married at 22 and 19-years-old and their support was absolutely necessary to us continuing on. We were married in September of 2011, closed on our first house in October, and left in November for a month on our first tour as a married couple. It was a winter tour that stretched across the US and Canada. It was our first test of marriage and during that tour I began to pray “Lord if there is anything in me that is sinful, that is believing a lie then please show me and remove it”.
The shock of responsibility that followed marriage led to an overwhelming amount of introspection, a full on examination of all my thoughts and motives. Realizing that I had committed the rest of my life to serve my wife brought on a wave on emotions and sobriety. Soon after this tour while I was praying for the Lord to reveal any areas of my life that were wrong I began to compile preaching clips for For Today’s Immortal record. I went to SermonIndex and downloaded about 25 sermons by different people about the gospel. The first I listened to was by K.P. Yohannan, then one by Art Katz, followed by Paul Washer. The Art Katz sermon was called “The God Who Devastates” and the Paul Washer one was called “The Crushing of Christ”. These were the first 4 hours of preaching out of about 30 hours that I listened to for the album and they set the stage for yet another radical transformation in my life.
Susanna came home while I was listening to that first Paul Washer sermon and I was sitting at our dining room table weeping. The room was heavy with the presence of God cutting me to my heart and answering the prayer I had been praying. Certainly I had been saved, but this was something of a renewal and refreshment that came in the form of a surgical knife to heal me and cut away a dreadful complacency that had begun to take over my life. I had allowed the world into my heart, I had allowed the zeal of Christ to be dimmed by apathy. Over the next few days I listened to the rest of the sermons I had downloaded for the album and they cut me to pieces. The Lord in his faithful kindness began to put me back together in his way and in his timing.
At the time I couldn’t have told you what he actually changed, I only knew that I was changed. In retrospect I see that between January 1st and January 10th of 2012 I lost my offense at God’s Word. That is not that it never offends me, but that those large demanding sections of scripture that I ignored were revealed to my heart as necessary. At the time the Lord led me to Luke and Hebrews. Luke 14:26-34, 16:15; and Hebrews 2:3 were so life-giving and challenging, they led me away from self-preservation and into a life of obedience. I made some personal resolutions and stuck by them, they were rigid, but at the time necessary to keep my soul humble before God. I couldn’t begin to describe the sense of conviction that I felt, but I became a burden to everyone around me. Always heavy, never light-hearted. With new convictions came mishandling and misunderstanding some elements of grace.
Life became very intense and not very joyful, but in the process I believe God was bringing me to balance the fact that the Christian life is cruciform and in his wisdom he withheld joy for a season of sobriety about our calling as Christians. This season was most difficult for Susanna, the man she married was changed in almost an instant and as I became increasingly conviction-driven I simultaneously gave less attention to Susanna’s needs. Her patience was crucial and her steadfastness in that season was paramount. The Lord has led me to apologize for various instances in which I was being far too rigid about something and she was being reasonable. I thought she was compromising and in reality she was simply evaluating the situation much more calmly than I was. The Lord is wise in who he gives to us for a spouse.
The year of 2012 was a year of boldness for me. I still seek to be bold and to be clear, but there have been a lot of rough edges filed away in light of that conviction and the Lord still continues to patiently do so. I see that season of life as a necessary hurdle for me to understand that the Gospel is relieving eternally and also that it is demanding of us now. It fully requires God’s grace for us to enter into it. My heart needed to be sobered by the reality of sin, hell, and eternal punishment before it could enjoy and exalt the glories of eternal life. This the Lord began and I believe he has been faithful to mature it a little and to promise me more sanctification in the future.
In the fall of 2012 Susanna and I both sensed a call to the Muslim World, a spark that had first fallen on us in 2011 was being given some oxygen and turning into a flame. We began connecting the Lord’s calling to unreached people’s to my need to leave the band in the following months. That fall I communicated to the guys in the band that i would be leaving in the Fall of 2013 to pursue Bible college and a station in the Muslim World.
In January of 2013 the Lord expedited my departure from the band. I posted that there “was no such a thing as a gay Christian” with a slightly wider context and the internet was very upset about it. Likewise my bandmates didn’t see the need to keep the tweets up, they encouraged me to remove them as well as our manager. I felt that would have been a compromise to Biblical truth and they didn’t feel the same way. I called and offered to leave the band, they said they would prefer that I stayed. A few minutes later they called back and said that maybe it would be a good time for me to leave the band. I expressed to them my desire for clarity in the midst of a lot of confusion about my tweets. I asked that they would clarify their stance (regardless of my statements) and keep our fans from being confused by the ordeal. Instead of clarifying they apologized for what I said. I was disappointed to say the least.
After my departure from the band Susanna and I mutually agreed that this was simply the Lord speeding up the process of being overseas church planters and we began to examine what we should do next. The day after I quit the band Susanna got us seats at The Hope of Israel Convocation in Kansas City the following month. A few days after we left the band I had received about a hundred encouraging e-mails from people all over the place and about 25 negative ones. Within those 100 encouraging messages was one from our now dear friends in North Carolina who expressed gratitude for what had been said because she had been a lesbian and was set free after meeting the Lord. Her pastor and his wife also reached out to us and invited us up to North Carolina to spend some time with them and the FIRE church community. This couple was such a blessing to us during this time, they took us in and prayed for us, supported us, and encouraged us which was what we needed most at the time.
Through their ministry we were connected with Dr. Michael Brown who had me come and share on his radio program about what had happened with the band, this proved a tremendous blessing in numerous ways. Dr. Brown is someone I respect as a man of God and also someone who was incredibly encouraging to our situation. We felt strongly that the Lord had connected us all providentially and we moved to North Carolina to have a season of healing in the context of their ministry school. About a month before we officially moved there the pastor and his wife asked if we would be the youth pastors at the church. We agreed with great excitement.
We had renovated our house in the time we were in it and put it on the market in April of 2013, it sold in 2 days for $20,000 over our asking price… This was just one of many financial miracles that the Lord has done in our lives. The timing was perfect. We moved into the home of some very generous family friends in Roswell, GA.
Soon after we spoke with the pastor and his wife about becoming the youth pastors we found out that Susanna was pregnant. She had been on a retreat in Jamaica when she found out and when I picked her up from the airport she told me. I was so excited, we went out to dinner that night and celebrated the joy of life. We had been trying for about a year and the doctors weren’t too sure that we would be able to get pregnant easily. We asked our church to pray for us and within months Susanna had regulated and was pregnant. She has a couple issues that make it difficult for her to conceive, yet the Lord suspended those difficulties and gave life where there was none. We have been elated over our miracle daughter who is at the time of this writing 8 months old.
We moved to Charlotte August of 2013, started classes late August and had our first night with the youth group September 9th. We were in love immediately with the students. They were hungry, hilarious, and so much fun. We needed to be around youth to renew us, I needed their light-heartedness, and I hope we were able to give something lasting to them. We spent the Fall and Winter pouring into them, going to classes, and getting ready for the arrival of our baby girl. The winter had quite an effect on Susanna and I, we both began to feel lonely and distant from our families. Around December we starting praying about where we were supposed to be and spend the next couple of months contemplating what we were supposed to do. We sought counsel from our pastor in Atlanta and a couple of other leaders in our lives to help us gain clarity about what we should do. We felt that the Lord was leading back to Atlanta for a season, but we didn’t know what it was for or why.
It was confusing for sure, we felt clearly that the Lord had led us to North Carolina and in every way it seemed like a perfect set-up. We were in school, youth-pastoring kids that we loved, with people that we loved, and my office was only 10 yards away from Dr. Brown's (kind of a dream for a guy like me). It was as though any peace we had was removed and that the Lord began to speak to us through that Winter season. I spoke with the pastor and his wife in February and let them know that for some odd reason we felt as though the Lord was leading us back to Atlanta. I felt flaky, insecure, among a host of other things, but the Lord made it clear that He intended for us to be the interim youth pastors and not the permanent ones. It’s incredible the way the Lord works.
I personally had a lot of fear about who would replace us if we were to go, I had questions about their character and whether or not they would teach the youth the Bible, etc. The entire time though Susanna and I had thought that there was one family that would give us peace if they were able to serve after us. It was a wonderful family who were also attending the school and serving at the church faithfully. After I spoke with the pastor about our departure I mentioned this family to be our replacements He responded that the leadership staff had been thinking the same thing. This was enormous confirmation for us, I was filled with joy. I don’t need to be somewhere for a long time as long as I have the confidence that I’m in the right place while I'm there and after I leave.
In May we received an invitation to serve in a leadership capacity within Frontier Alliance International in the midst of a new partnership between FAI and the ACTS school in Colorado Springs. At first we were blinded to what the Lord might be doing in leading us away from North Carolina; we couldn’t see a thing and to a large degree it was very depressing and very discouraging, but upon receiving the invitation we learned that God had a providential purpose in leading us back to Georgia. We moved at the very end of July and settled back into our church community, it was an enormous blessing and sense of being home. God has provided these last few months to be with family and to enjoy the richness of believing parents and to enjoy the time we have together while living in the same state. God is far more gracious than we know in providing these months with family before our move.
Susanna's grandfather George passed away last week. The last words we heard him say were a simple prayer asking for God's help to live a God honoring life and thanking God for his leadership. George passed the next morning while my mother-in-law was singing How sweet it is to trust in Jesus. At his memorial service the first hymn we sang was Blessed Assurance. He had requested that be the first one we sang and if there is anyone that had assurance it was our grandpa George. Right now we are spending time with family, raising support, enjoying one another, and seeking to soak up as much of Georgia as we can before we depart.
I'm writing this because at the close of this last season I want to remember what God has already done for me and my family up to this point. I also want to remind others to remember that they may also believe.
I am thankful that Jesus is Lord.