Thoughts of a messed up Christian saved by God's grace

Monday, June 8, 2015

Hi. I'm Mark, the pen thief

 I am a thief. I admit it. I was just at a conference in the mountains of North Carolina, and one theme throughout the conference has been transparency. Not hiding your sin and/or struggle, but being open about it so it loses its hold on you. So I am opening wide the closet and exposing my crime and sin: Armed robbery. But I am in good company. Jesus told one thief that he would be with Him in paradise.

  Not many people know about this time in my life, and it is one I have been ashamed of. The scary thing is, it was so easy and natural.... it is scary that it was so easy. It was just lying there..... a pen, almost begging for a new home.

  It isn't easy carrying a secret such as being guilty of armed robbery. My church, and too many churches give this idea that Christians should have it all together. We should have lily white pasts, and a trip to the altar immediately wipes away all desire for our sin, and we are only tempted to do the "nice sins".

    I want to tell people, but how does one do that? What if people shun me when they find out about it? If I told people at church, would they shun me? Would they lock up all of their pens in fear that I would take their pens? Would they do a pen inventory after I was out of their presence? Would they sit near me in church, or would I have to sit in the corner of shame, all by myself and away from those who had never stolen a pen in their lives?

  I just returned from a conference that was awesome. Everyone there either deals with the same issue I deal with, is married to someone who deals with it, or is a friend to or related in some way to someone who deals with it. The theme of the conference was Masterpiece In Process, but there was also an underlying theme and message of the need to be transparent. And there is the need to if one is to make progress, and if one is to truly be a masterpiece in process.

  Not everything in our lives that we have done needs to be shared, but if we have a major struggle or issue in our lives, such as armed robbery and the continuing temptation to do it again, are we doing ourselves any favor by keeping that secret? It isn't fun living in fear of people finding out/ Wondering if people would still be my friends if they knew of my penchant for armed robbery of pens.  Feeling superficial because I have to pretend, to cover up the fact that I am not one of the "perfect" people of the church, but am one who is broken and more in need of God's help than Sister Perfect Petunia who sits in the amen corner and is so perfect the pastor feels like a heathen next to her.

 Something else about keeping my armed robbery past and temptations secret..... it is harder to resist when no one else knows. Sin loves the dark, and when we keep things quiet, when we feel we can tell no one about THAT, then the devil has a field day....... but when sins and struggles are brought to the light, they lose their powerful hold. Oh, the temptation and struggle is still there and may never go completely away, but it isn't as difficult as when you sit in the church pew struggling in silence, afraid to tell anyone, hiding your pain behind a fake smile and "I'm fines".

  I am thankful for those who lead transparent lives. If no one ever talked about being delivered from their careers of armed robbery, never told how they deal with the struggles and temptation when around pens, I wouldn't feel the hope that I do. I would still think I was alone, the only person in the church who had committed armed robbery... the only person in the church who had ever stolen a pen. But I am not. Our churches are full of imperfect people, full of people with struggles greater than the temptation to gossip or Facebook during the pastor's sermon. Our churches have people struggling with not-so-nice sins like porn, lust, homosexuality, adultery, pen stealing......but too many churches discourage transparency, discourage being totally honest and open..... and then wonder why our churches are shallow, why revival never truly comes.

  There was a time set aside every day at the conference called "breakouts". They had different places for people to gather and had a few special interest groups. Men who were interested gathered on the porch outside the building where the sessions were held and sat in the chairs and benches (pictured above, picture taken by Jason Wright). Guys would sit in those chairs and benches and share. We'd share what we learned that day and how it affected us, we'd talk about where we were at in our struggle, ask for prayer.....whatever we felt we wanted to talk about. There were tears, cheers, hugs, pats on the back, and total transparency like you'd see nowhere else..... and I felt a tremendous sense of God's presence, His help, and growth. Oh, if our churches could be like that. But we are afraid of people judging us, talking about us, running from us, locking up their pens when we are around. And no, not every setting or every person is appropriate to share some things, but the one place we should be able to come and say "This is me. I am Mark. I struggle with the temptation to steal pens and have done it in the past"...... most of us can't do that in church. I could do it in at a Christian conference center with men who have the same battle as me. I didn't know many of them, and knew a handful from last year and from Facebook....... yet it was so easy to share, to be transparent, And yet, when I sit in a church I have attended since 1993, with people I know well...... I can't do that. And it is nothing against my church. That is sadly the norm for most churches.

  *** Now before anyone turns me in for pen stealing, I stole one pen in my life. I was 8 years old, and I reached out my arm - the armed part of the "robbery"  - and took it, I had to make it right a few years later, as it bothered me so much, and have never seriously been tempted to steal anything since...especially a pen, so your pens are very safe with me.

  But am I safe with my Christian brothers and sisters? Can I share my real struggle - and it is so far beyond the temptation to steal a pen - can I share it and receive love, not fear? An embrace, not someone running for the exit?

  We can't cling to a sin or struggle and make it our identity, Our identity is in Christ, and as God's children.... but if we have to hide what we deal with, and fear other Christian's reactions if they found out....something is wrong. I believe transparency is necessary for healing, for true freedom, and is necessary to be an overcomer.

 I am thankful for those who I can be transparent with, but imagine if we could do that with all of our Christian brothers and sisters, instead of a trusted few. If we could all stop pretending and be open and honest not with just God, but with our church...... I saw God move last week when people could be open and honest...... our churches could see that if we'd do the same thing. May God help us all to not just be more transparent, but to be the Christian that people can be transparent with, and have no fear of rejection or gossip.

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