At this point in my life God’s grace has me hysterical. I laugh at times when I shouldn’t, see sunshine in rainstorms. I hear the Hallelujah Chorus instead of Hank singing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” This is how my feels are right now.
I am Edmond Dantes—running like a madman, laughing over the fact that I am free from the prison that I once was in. Unlike Edmond, the prison that I ran from was forged and locked by my own hands. If you asked me to trace the steps of how I got here on the beach, sprinting and laughing with my arms in the air, I honestly am not sure how to respond (it probably would be best to watch the movie “The Count of Monte Cristo” for the Edmond reference if you have yet to see it). All I know is that I am here and I know that it was Jesus who brought me here. Probably the best way to tell my story is to rewind to the beginning and fast forward in true flash back fashion.
I do not remember a time in my life that Jesus was not in it. By outward, public appearances my family nucleus was perfect. My mother was the youth director at our church before I was born. I can remember seeing my Father early in the morning reading his Bible in his chair. I didn’t know it at the time, but witnessing my Father’s morning Bible reading had a huge impact on my life. I grew up in a house of love. It was not perfect, by any means, but a house of love and grace. There were strict rules, but I always knew that no matter what happened, I was loved.
Fast Forward—April 27, 1989. I was 7 years old and in the shower when these thoughts hit my heart: “It’s true Zack, it’s true. You belong to Jesus. You are His. Now go tell your mom.” It wasn’t necessarily in those specific terms, and not in an audible voice, but I can remember being pummeled by those thoughts. I knew that salvation came from Jesus. I knew that moment is when I believed what Jesus did 2000 years ago for a sinner like me, was true.
Fast Forward—September 12, 2001. I was in college and conflicted about whether or not I should sign up to go fight global terrorism.
Fast Forward—April, 2003. America had invaded Iraq and I heard someone say: “We need more people to enlist.” I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and got in the best shape of my life. I was injected with confidence and felt like I owned every room I entered. I learned very quickly that girls were no longer pranking other girls by leaving fake love notes on my desk, quite the opposite. It was easy. I was away from home, doing things that I knew were against how I was raised. I had no time for God. I was too busy having fun in my deliberate sin and open rebellion.
Fast forward—2007 Iraq. Bombs were going off all around, also several bombs that did not go off that should have when my Humvee ran over them. God showed me explicitly that he was protecting me on several occasions. I saw death staring me in the face, and I felt God’s sovereign hand covering me. Why God? I had done nothing to deserve His protection. I thought that I was in a spiritual desert far from God. But here, in the physical desert, God showed me that he had been right next to me the entire time.
Fast Forward—2008. In an empty barracks room I watched the Passion of Christ and collapsed In a puddle: tears, snot, choking on spit.
Fast Forward—2013. I was married and had a little son. I remember wondering one day in the guest room of our new house: “Why do I love Jesus? Well, because He has given me this wonderful life. He has given me salvation, a beautiful wife who loves me, a son who I would walk through fire for, our house that we live in, a good job, good health, love. Jesus has given me so much.” Then, another thought hit me: “Why do you love your wife? Well, because she is my wife. I love her because of who she is, not because of what she has given to me…” Again, I collapse In a puddle: tears, snot, choking on spit. “Jesus I love you because you are Jesus, because you loved me first, not because you give me stuff.”
Fast Forward—2014. I was in seminary. I got on Twitter and accidently bumped into folks who were sharing messages by Steve Brown, Tullian Tchividjian, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Paul David Tripp, the Zahls and other like-minded individuals. I thought to myself: “Woah, haha! I can’t believe they just said that… but it sounds good!” Something sucked me in like a bug to a front porch bug zapper. I became obsessed as I discovered podcasts, blogs, folks on Twitter that were a part of what felt like an underground revival on the internet.
Fast Forward—wait stop! Too far! Go back! Right there. I was struggling with my spiritual growth class in seminary and failing my spiritual growth goals all over the place. I went on an early morning run before work so I could talk to God—just the two of us. I didn’t even make it for two minutes before I passed a Starbucks. “Mmm coffee” was my only thought. Prayer completely went out the window and I was furious. “God! I hate myself! I can’t do this! I can’t even run five minutes without thinking about something stupid like coffee when I am supposed to be spending this time talking with You and working on my spiritual growth. I don’t want to sin anymore. Take sin out of me! I can’t do this. I just can’t. I’m sorry.”
“Then….Run!” was the response that hit my thoughts after the fit that I had just pitched. It finally hit me. God is well pleased with me because he is well pleased with Christ. When I am focused on myself and constantly examining myself, of course it will be a demoralizing enterprise. But when I examine Christ and remember my identity in Him, there is perfection, rest, joy, grace, peace and love. My prison cell popped open like a Coke can left in a hot car in August. I ran out of it and yelled “cannonball!” off a cliff into the ocean of God’s grace. I ran all the way back to the office that morning laughing and crying. I imagined Jesus right next to me running and laughing with me. I imagined Jesus being so thrilled to see me and overjoyed that I was finally at rest in Him.
Fast Forward—Today. I do not have enough space or memory to write down all of the people who God has used to impact my life on social media and beyond. So many have helped me to see that I am not alone in discovering the beauty and good news of God’s grace for sinners. I cannot pinpoint or remember ever being burned or hurt by the church. Many have that testimony but I do not. I grew up in a house of grace and love. Many grew up in a house of hate, of the Law, or anti-God. Many have that testimony but I do not. My testimony is that I was the Pharisee. I was the older brother before I was the prodigal. Even when I came back to my Father’s house it was I who still peddled and had hope in cheap Law. My testimony is that I thought I was the younger brother returned, while at the same time I was channeling the older brother and his tendencies. My testimony is that I used to thank God that I was not like those “dirty tax collectors.” I was the white washed tomb who thought everything looked good on the outside, but was blind to how bad my flesh heart was on the inside. I was unfaithful to the message of God’s grace and the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done.
Yet Jesus met me on my Damascus road. When I finally confessed while running on that Georgia blacktop that I was too weak to hold fast to Christ…that is when it finally hit me….Christ will always hold fast to me. I’ve been laughing ever since. I can’t stop talking about Jesus. I can’t stop reading and listening to what he has done for others. It is my drug. I geek out with joy when I hear about God’s grace in the lives of others. I am confident that those who have written before me, and those who will write after me, will be used by God to impact my life and put a song in my heart. I feel like I have to write, read, listen, talk about Jesus or I will die. I take heart that if and when that day comes, when I don’t feel like laughing, when my world has been shattered, that Jesus will still remain faithful to me. I am obsessed with the good news of God’s grace for sinners, and I want other fellow sinners to find out. It is just too good not to share and see others enjoy it as well.