Today marks exactly four years since I left full time ministry.
OK… that is not entirely true.
Today marks exactly four years since my world blew up and I took a leave of absence from paid vocational ministry that eventually led to my resignation as pastor.
It is also the four year anniversary of the beginning of my journey of being born again… again.
I was first born again at age 17 when Jesus grabbed a hold of my life.
Almost exactly 17 years later, I went through a traumatic death experience that led me to life.
I have written extensively about what happened, and it has even been well documented in a book. So no need to rehash it now. But four years ago, when I was outed, I lost everything in an instant: my job, calling, ministry, vocation, church, faith community, reputation, livelihood, friends, purpose, income, and even my home.
I entered into a time of deep depression.
I pretty much thought my life was over, there would be no tomorrow, and that I had no real reason to bother living.
I experienced death. But the Gospel means that death is not the end — just a necessary step on the way to rebirth. Restoration. Being born again… again… as a new creation. Reconciled, restored, eventually resurrected.
As I reflect upon the last four years… and where I am now… I would never have predicted it.
On a practical level I have re-built my life. Friends, community, ministry, career, purpose.
I have also restored aspects of my old life: there are friends who have stuck with me and others who, after a time of healing and necessary distance, have reached out and are now (again) a significant and important part of my life.
And on a spiritual level, I really do feel like I have been born-again-again.
It didn’t happen in an instant, but today I am more alive, joyful, and healthy — spiritually and otherwise — than I was four years ago. I have found the promised abundant life that Jesus talks about in John 10:10. For too long, the thief had been allowed to steal and destroy life through deception and hiding and shame and the lies that I was unacceptable, unlovable, unforgivable, unworthy and unredeemable. These were the lies that hiding in the closet produced. These were the lies I heard from those who told me to stay in the closet. These were the lies that led to death.
But Jesus always leads to life — and life to the full.
One of the things I have learned is that God redeems all things.
Many — though not yet all — of my relationships have been redeemed.
The church I was forced out of is in the process of being redeemed — and frankly is in a healthier and more exciting place than it was four years ago. God is moving and working and building in powerful and exciting ways… ways that could only happen after death… because life always comes after death when we follow Jesus.
How I wish I could have arrived here without all the hurt, pain, and damage done. But death is necessary. In the pagan world, life comes before death; in Christianity, it is death that precedes life. It took me 17+ years to learn that lesson… but it is the most important lesson I have ever learned.
So four years later, all I can say looking back, is to repeat the words of the song “The Desert Song” (which we sang this week in church):
This is my prayer in the desert
When all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is a God who provides
And this is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved
Of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flames
And I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here
And this is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on it’s way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand
All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship
This is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again
The seed I’ve received I will sow
AMEN. And thanks for being part of this journey with me… I love you all!