Who I Used to Be

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I am not who I used to be.

There’s continuity, of course. There are threads that you could follow from my birth until now. And some omniscient therapist could probably look at my life and say, “Ah, yes… here are the things that happened… here are the reasons why you get in your car, and then drive up to the entrance of the church, and then get out of your car to make sure that you really locked the church.”

But I am not who I used to be. I am not the kid who I was in second grade or seventh grade or tenth grade. I am not the emerging adult who I was in college or in my wilderness years or in seminary. I am not who I was in my previous career or on the day when you called me as your pastor. I am not even who I was last year, or last month, or last week.

I’ve been through stuff. I’ve seen things. I’ve loved and I’ve had my heart broken and I’ve loved again. I’ve been hurt and I’ve been healed. I’ve gone there and I’ve come back again. I’ve fallen and I’ve been lifted up.

And no one… no one… no one… gets to do that—no one gets to go through life—and remain who they used to be. Those threads that you could follow are different fabrics and weights and colors. They are knotted together and change as you follow them. And while every one of them leads here… while every one of them leads to this moment right now… I am not any one of them.

I am not who I used to be. And there are a lot of reasons for that. And there is one reason for that.

Last week, I told you that we live in a world full of loneliness, and stress, and worry, and anxiety… that we live in a world full of demons who are nipping at our heels and our souls… that we live in a world where there are whole generations and more who are desperate for someone to say, “You are loved and worthy of love. In the midst of all of this, I’ve got your back.”

I told you that we live in a world where people are longing to encounter and experience the love that redeems and restores the world.

And that is all true. We live in that world. We have that longing.

And I told you that we can find that love in the church—not the video or the podcast or the building, but maybe there, too—but the church… when looking turns into hoping, and hoping turns into praying, we can find that love in this community… in this little consulate of the kingdom of God.

The brokenhearted can be bound up. The hurt can be healed. The wandering can find a home. The fallen can be lifted up. We can encounter and experience the love that redeems and restores the world.

But no one… no one… no one… gets to do that and remain who they used to be.

I like John. He’s trouble. He’s good trouble.

He’s going to get fired, of course. He’s going to get arrested.

You cannot preach this message and expect people to show up. You cannot talk about filling in the valleys and tearing down the mountains and expect people to like that. You cannot call your congregation a brood of vipers and expect folks to feel the spirit.

You cannot… you cannot… you cannot say,

Don’t think that you get a free pass. Don’t think that you’re favored. You need to repent. You need to turn around. And then you need to do stuff that shows that you’ve turned around. Do you have a bunch of coats? Keep one; give the rest to people who don’t have coats. Do you have a bunch of food? Keep what you need; share the rest with people who are hungry. Are you in a position of power? Be righteous and just.

You cannot preach like that and expect crowds.

And yet… here is John, in the wilderness, calling people names, telling them to repent… and there are crowds. There are crowds coming to him to be baptized. There are crowds wondering if this guy might be the messiah! There are cross wondering if this guy might be the one who will bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly… who will fill the hungry and send the rich away empty… who will help Israel and usher in the kingdom of God.

And John tells them, “No. You see, I am baptizing you with water for the forgiveness of sins. But someone is coming who is going to baptize you with fire and with the holy spirit.”

And there’s a lot going on here. But one of the things that’s going on is that a crowd of dispossessed people in an occupied land are hearing about the kingdom of God… and they are hearing the truth:

If they want to do more than hear about the kingdom of God—if they want to set foot in the kingdom of God—then they are going to have to change. Because no one… no one… no one… gets to do that and remain who they used to be.

I am not who I used to be.

There’s continuity, of course. There are threads.

There are moments. There are threads that have been cut and then tied to a different thread. There are moments when I went from being one person to being another person. There are moments when some part of me went from being that… to being this.

And more often, there are transitions. There are threads that stretch through decades. And one day, one strand went from being green to being purple… and then another… and then another. And, over time—over weeks or months or years—some part of me went from being that… to being this.

And that’s life. I’ve loved and I’ve had my heart broken and I’ve loved again. I’ve been hurt and I’ve been healed. I’ve gone there and I’ve come back again. I’ve fallen and I’ve been lifted up. And no one gets to do that and remain who they used to be. Thank God.

But that’s also following Christ.

We live in a world full of loneliness and stress and worry and anxiety. We live in a world full of demons who are nipping at our heels and our souls. And there are parts of us that have gotten used to that world… that have learned to survive in that world… that have adapted to that world.

And that makes what I am about to say very, very, very scary.

There are parts of us that have gotten used to a world full of loneliness and stress and worry and anxiety. And there are parts of us that are longing for a different world… our broken hearts are longing to be bound up… our wounded spirits are longing to be healed… our wandering souls are longing to find a home… our fallen selves are longing to be lifted up.

There are parts of us that are desperate to encounter and experience the love that redeems and restores the world… that redeems and restores us.

And none of us… none of us… none of us… gets to be bound up, or healed, or welcomed home, or lifted up…

None of us… none of us… none of us… gets to encounter and experience the love that redeems and restores the world… and remain who we used to be.

Some of us might have moments when the heavens open and the holy spirit descends and a booming voice calls us to a new life that is wild and dangerous and full of grace. Some of us might see old threads snap and new threads appear.

And some of us—maybe, even, most of us—might have transitions. We might find ourselves sharing a little more freely and a little more foolishly. We might find ourselves being a little more honest and a little more fair, a little more righteous and a little more just. We might find ourselves throwing a shovelfuls of dirt into valleys and chipping away at mountains. We might see the threads of our life change so slowly that we don’t even notice.

But no matter how it happens… if we encounter and experience this love… if we run into this Christ… if we heed his call and join his adventure and dare to step foot in his kingdom… then we will not remain who we used to be… we will not remain who we are… the world will not remain what it is.

We will be made new. We will be made whole. We will be redeemed and restored. Thank God.

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I’m a pastor, an author, and a nonprofit development and communications professional. My passion, my mission, and my calling is bringing people together to do good, with a particular focus on serving people who are experiencing poverty and other forms of marginalization.

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