Sermon text here
Music for this episode: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” by Dust Company
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Psalm 51 is one which is often on my mind and in my prayers. As Spurgeon says in this sermon, being in the grace of God drives me to pray and remember what Jesus accomplished for me, and in the face of the fact that I still sin–in fact, still coming against the same sins that have plagued me since as far back as I can remember, brings me great frustration. Yet also as he says in this sermon, it is an opportunity to return to the beginning, to the cross, to worshipping the Son broken for me, the Father whose wrath for me was poured out in full, the Spirit who renewed me and woke me up from my sinful stupor.
I thought this might be an appropriate context to give a more personal statement, to talk about my own testimony a little. I’ve written about it in blog form elsewhere, but I haven’t really talked a lot about why I am here, doing this. I grew up in church, with loving parents who did everything they could to raise me right, to pour out the truth and love of God into me and who prayed for me constantly. I think it is safe to say that in the terms of most people who knew me, I was certainly not a “bad kid” by any means. In general I did what I was supposed to do, I did reasonably well in school and was successful in my particular field of study and interest, which was, as I mentioned last week, music.
I performed a lot. Playing music was the center of my efforts, and I ended up playing in virtually every situation and venue I could get into as a part of school. I had a dream of playing music professionally, of my tuba being the foundation of a professional orchestra or a brass quintet touring internationally. I went to college to earn a performance degree, and spent countless hours there playing, practicing, performing, all in the service of this desire. And it was a good desire, one that unfortunately hasn’t come to fruition–but we’ll get to that.
In the background of all this, though, was a little seed of something that was planted deep, started to grow, and ultimately became a major part of my undoing–and, of my remaking, for my own good and God’s glory. In high school some time we got a computer and got on the Internet, which was in the days of the late 90s–think the height of animated GIF backgrounds and embedded MIDI files on personal websites. I even had my own site, although it is long since lost to the mists of time and Google. And in this new opportunity there was a danger, which I fell right into. So many men in my generation talk of being introduced to pornography online, and I am no exception. I had a self-image that was rather poor, which was a big reason I was so motivated to pursue becoming very good at something (not that being a professional tuba player is particularly known as being a method for picking up girls). Because of the way I saw myself, I justified in my mind the desire to pursue understanding of sexuality, something that I thought was eternally beyond my reach, through other methods.
Such thinking, of course, betrays a complete distrust of God to provide, let alone the absolute foolishness of the human mind that can justify any sin. Bottom line, I was walking into very dangerous territory and over time, I became better and better at hiding my growing addiction and at feeding it. Over time it began to take tolls on every aspect of my life. By the time I was well into college my spiritual life was at an absolute zero. Practicing began to decrease, as did studying, and free time was devoted entirely to me, myself and I–feeding my hungers, and driving me deeper into searching for satisfaction. Moving into grad school my addiction was a major culprit in my essentially failing out, as I was not devoting the time to practicing or studying that such an endeavor required. I was left standing with my big plans for the future broken in front of me.
Of course, a caveat: this was not the only reason or the only thing going on. I had a tendency to run after my most immediate desire in many areas, which of course was a product of simple laziness as well as a fear of taking any kind of real chance. But the fact of the matter was, it was a huge symptom of my selfishness, and of the fact that the life in Christ which I claimed to hold by belief in His death and resurrection, was at this point merely an intellectual assent. It did not make a major impact on the way I lived my life.
It was November of 2007. By this point I was no longer going to school, I was working a couple of part-time jobs to make ends meet with the prospect of student loans looming, living in an efficiency in Denton and the band I had been playing with for a while and thought, “This is going to become something great!” hitting a major rock and leaving me frustrated, angry, and not sure what to do next. One of my friends from the band invited me to church at the Village, which had just opened its Denton campus (which is now its own church, still called The Village Church – Denton). It was part 7 of Matt Chandler’s long series preaching through the book of Luke. The particular topic that week was the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42. Martha works around the house while Mary, her sister, listens to Jesus teaching, and eventually Martha expresses her exasperation that Jesus does not seem annoyed by this situation. Jesus rejoins her gently, however, and tells her that “Mary has chosen the one necessary thing.”
I don’t know if I can fully articulate exactly what the Holy Spirit did in me that day through those simple words, except that, through Matt’s gentle but focused preaching unpacking the Word, He showed me the path of my life, the pursuit of success in my chosen career field, my foolish running after fantasies and the ways such desires had hurt real women in my life, both directly and indirectly. He showed me that what I had was an absolutely deadly mass of wickedness. And He showed me that Jesus came and died, on the cross, so that I could put such things down, and rest in Him wholly and completely.
I was broken, down to my core. There was that sweet bitterness that Charles Spurgeon preached on a century before, there was repentance bearing its fruits in my life. Not by my own will, not by my own goodness, but by God’s good grace. I wept, and I rejoiced, and I tasted of the fact that God is good and that His goodness endures forever and through all things for His people.
A lot of times you’ll hear testimonies given by people who came out of addiction. They’ll say things like “I got saved, and I never drank again!” Well the fact of the matter is, that most people who come to know Christ in the midst of any kind of addiction do not just give it up. Humans do not release their idols so easily. It was several years of discipleship, of frustrated nights and confessing sins and walking through recovery with loving brothers, before I could even begin to claim victory in my life. And even then, that victory belongs to Christ alone, and not to me. I simply benefit from His work. Even now I have good men who know they are liable to receive a call from me should a time of weakness come, and they lovingly stand together with me in such times. But I wanted to tell this story to encourage you. I wanted to talk about what I’ve done to let everyone reading or listening to know that whatever it is that stands between you and God, whether it is some kind of major addiction, or pride, or fear, or all that and then some, that there is mercy available. The most high God made you, He knows you, and He has sent His Son to pay for your wicked deeds and thoughts so that you, too, can stop running after foolish things, and rest, rest in Him. Rest with me, brethren. As has been said, all that has been required to let us find right standing before God is finished, and therefore, we can begin living in light of that great grace and leave all our idols abandoned to rot. We can truly live in light of the truth of Psalm 46:10, which I am wanting to use as the basis for the closing line of this podcast:
Be still, and know that He is God.