Those First Steps.
Gerald was an heavy drinker (he would admit an alcohol dependant) and a heavy smoker, which all added to a body of failing health. Married with three children, all of which had learning difficulties to some degree, one of them totally dependant on his mother and father. He would admit he was drinking his way into the grave. One day two young men knocked on his door (you all know my opinion of cold callers, but this story shows God does not give a fig about opinions) to share about their faith. Gerald invited them in and listened to what they had to share. This conversation totally changed the course of Gerald’s life. Both him and his wife Maria became Christians and instantly transformation took place. That taste for alcohol totally disappeared and he never smoked again from that point. He loved Jesus so much that he told his neighbour, who also struggled with alcohol addiction, and this man also became a Christian. How this man crossed my path I do not know, but I found myself getting to know Gerald and his amazing story and incredible faith. To talk about what God had done for him was as natural as talking about the weather. Those first steps of faith were a rope of hope for a drowning man, and he wanted to rescue others who were drowning too.
Gerald loved nothing more than to open up his home to others. Often small gatherings would take place there to talk about faith and discuss the Scriptures. He would hook all sorts of characters to come along, from ex-convicts, to alcoholics, to people he would talk to at his garden gate. Some of these characters would turn up at the Sunday services in Tonyrefail, most would behave, but others would be very unchurch like. One of my favorite moments was when one of the alcoholics got up to pray during a time of prayer and simply said “God I think you’re fucking brilliant.” Sorry for the language if before the watershed but just putting f****** you say the word in your head anyway. You can imagine the shock and panic, including inside me, but I’m sure God appreciated that more than most of our Pentecostal pantomime prayer by numbers. A guy as high as a kite would stand at the front as we sang and start dancing, he loved the music, but you could see the cultures of real life and church life clashing. The grit of life, that many of us normal types will never experience, was now starting to touch the well oiled church programme. In these situations something nearly always has to give and sadly it is often the grit of life as evidence that God is at work and God is holy. It saddens me now when I think about it. Surely it is for these people that we open our doors, but only if they sort it out first and respect the building. What crap!
I’d Do Anything For You But I Won’t Do That.
Gerald would do anything for anyone. He loved to be busy fixing things. It was his gift, what he could offer to God. Around the church building you could find him most days cleaning drains and fixing toilets, painting walls, fixing broken windows, up on the roof fixing tiles, and he was always offended if offered money or given a gift. This was what he was and what he wanted to do for a God who had given him everything. It was also so he could hopefully meet someone and get to talk to them and share his story. Yet there was one thing it became very evident that Gerald was not comfortable doing. That was attending church gatherings. He was not comfortable sitting there on a Sunday and felt at times people were looking down on him. He could not sit through a monologue with no chance of asking questions or sharing what Jesus had done for him that week in his life and for his family. He wanted to share life and get to know someone rather than get to know how many hairs are on the back of somebodies head. It was a culture that he could not understand or be comfortable in. To meet in a living room and share Jesus, Bible stories and cake suited him fine. To stand at his garden gate and share the life of Jesus to any passer by, he loved that. But prayer meetings, Bible study, Sunday church, that did not relate to him at all. Of course to my shame as a church building Pastor it was a sign of a lack of growth or maturity. A sign that he had not grown beyond his initial salvation. This man of miracle then sadly got pushed further and further into the background as other more important, pew filling people came along. I am so ashamed of the way I treated this man personally, missing the gem that he was, but I was giving God a hand building a church. At the time I never realised how entrenched empire was inside my heart. I am so grateful to God for smashing me against the rocks. It takes a man to walk wilderness paths to learn to appreciate the jewels already dwelling there in the margins. Gerald is one of those jewels. Representative of many I am sure who just did not fit in, or who did not want to fit in, who just wanted to love and follow Jesus. He now represents so much in me. Outside the box equals rejection from most, if not all, inside the box.
How am I reminded of all this. A couple of nights ago a young man stood down my aisle that I had taken the wedding ceremony for. This young man has struggled with drug addiction and is pursued by the police as a supplier of drugs to others. This was one of Gerald’s sons. An encounter in the Holy aisles that was more than a Holy fuzzy feeling, it was a Holy Spirit invitation to rediscover those I lost in the margins when I was building the construct. He told me about how his dad had been struggling with his health and that he would love to see me, that he would often wonder what I was doing. This weekend during my time off I plan to go visit this man and his precious family. To apologise for my arrogant attitude and unchristlike behaviour. To talk with him about life and the grit of life, and have no church to sell him, only a wounded journey filled with dirt like his. I cannot wait to sit down and talk with this precious jewel in the wilderness. This is a story to be continued…
I do not know what I feel about all identificational repentance stuff now, but realise that by identifying and repenting something may happen in the heaven-lies, and the earthlies for that matter. But to close I want to repent on behalf of church pastors who have rejected those that will not fit into their nice clean model of church life. I repent for the way you were treated, doubted, accused of being immature believers. I repent for trying to sell you a model rather than walking with you as a friend and encourager in Christ. I repent for wanting a nice fixed up person that would not get in the way of nice church programs. Sorry for trying to get you to wear something better, talk cleaner, walk in squeaky clean places only. Sorry for encouraging you to stop walking with certain friends and going certain places. Sorry for not really sharing life. On behalf of Pastors everywhere I plead do not allow us to have affected your view of who Christ was to you. A man who loved all and gave all for all. May we all realise we are all human with human issues, be it alcoholism or addiction to building empire or churchianity, whatever we all carry our wounds and imbalances. May we create a new day where we can all share lives in Christ together, without the baggage of judging where others are standing. Being cheerleaders for all to take another step, no matter how faltering that step may be.