In my Inductive Bible Study class this semester, we have talked about the effects of our witness to the power of the Resurrection in our lives. Thus, let's tell our stories to one another. My story is every man's story; let's make that every Christian's story.
But I did not realize this until I had been introduced to Jesus by girlfriend (now wife) Angie. She never judged me but simply placed before me a mirror with two images, my own and that of Jesus. No comparison.
My surprise is that Jesus did not condemn me for who I was, He simply offered me the opportunity to be released from the pain and agony which was being carried by the man in the mirror, ME. But the journey to the cross was far from painless.
Many of you who have been in my classes know that I had a terrible time with drinking and drugs in my late teen and early twenties…yet I was instantly and radically "saved." Some of you who have experienced effects of such a lifestyle will know what I mean by "Freedom" from guilt…it was real and it was joyous. My addiction to cigarettes, drugs, and drinking was immediately removed. No withdrawal symptoms, just peace. Sins were forgiven and I began my journey of new life
This new-found joy of forgiveness permeated all that I did for months. There was not a person that I came into contact with that did not recognize a difference in me. Wondrous conversations happened on a daily basis.
Yet inwardly, there was still a battle which I could not come to grips with. I loved Jesus but I often lived like He did not even exist. Poor choices. I just did not look like Jesus, even though I loved Him. The more I came to understand who Jesus was, the more I realized that I was not like him.
▪For He seemed to delight in doing His Father's will and in serving others.
▪As for me, I did it out of "moral obligation" and the social expectations of the church Angie and I had just started to attend. It was not an act arising from an inward love. I asked myself the simple question, "I know I am doing different things than before I became a Christian…but am I really a different person, inside that is?"
I knew I was a better man with Jesus than without; I knew that I would be a better husband, and a better father…but I was hungry to really love as Jesus loved.
I was 25…. And I had three great passions in my life; the Lord, Angie, and one other passion; I lifted weights like a crazy man. Often 10x's per week, which means obviously some days two-a-day workouts. I was 5 foot 10 weighted 155, had a 31 inch waist and could easily bench press twice my weight. Image was everything to me, my image that is.
One night we were in bed, Angie was reading a book and I was reading, at the time my favorite magazine, Muscle and Fitness. It's one of those glossy magazines which tells you how to bulk up your biceps or how to six-pack your stomach. At that moment, I was looking much too studiously at the women in the magazine, who were not clothed with any degree of modesty. The women models in the magazine were showing off every hard-body curve. And they caught my attention. I distinctly remember turning to Angie and saying, "If you worked out with the same level of intensity that I put into it, You can look just like one of these ladies!" To this day, I am uncertain what Angie's reply was, for God's presence overwhelmed me in a manner He had not done previously, or since.
He said clearly,
"There is far more to your wife than something that will meet your needs, or wants or your desires. Will you treat her as one of those two-dimensional work-out ladies or will you strive to assist her in cultivating the unique irreplaceable image which I have stamped on her heart? Will you see her, care for her and love her as I do?"
I knew that this was a defining moment not only in my relationship with Angie but with God Himself. Would I fully obey Him…would I, could I fully love her, as He does?
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
I could not love her in that manner on my own. I am convinced that I would have died for her…that is to protect her from others…but was I willing to die to protect her from my own selfish wants, needs, and desires. What was I willing to do when I realized I was her husband, her lover, yet I was caring for her so selfishly?
My divine moment came as God brought to bear His voice, the priceless image of God in my wife, and the call to complete obedience to His Word, simultaneously. At that very moment, God changed my heart; I saw Angie as a gift that God has entrusted into my care, for His pleasure as well as for my own.
Colossians 3:1-10 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
So, what did I do? I put down the magazine, begged Angie for forgiveness, turned out the light, and had the best night sleep of my life. From that point forward, I loved Angie more than I ever had before; not with my love but with His. The next day I wrote out a letter to the publisher of Muscle and Fitness canceling my subscription.
Angie, I love…but I realized at that moment that she simply rolls weights to get them out of her way, never lifting one for exercise. And I rejoiced, for I no longer saw her with any need to change…she did not have to look or act in any way other than the woman God made her to be.
I stated at the beginning that my story is everyone's story. Almost all of us have encountered God in a significant way. But my desire is never to return to the man I was...I want to love her, I want to love my children, I want to love each of you far beyond my own capacity, so that we all may have our image of God fully restored…How can I love with that level of continued passion?
John Wesley, in his writings, makes a direct connection between love and obedience. He says,
You cannot say you genuinely love God unless you obey him…neither can you genuinely obey God if you do not love him.
For the first time in my life I realized that there was joy in obedience. It was not drudgery…it was not work…it was not accomplished by the sheer force of human determination. Rather, it was a simple response to the love He had placed in my heart.