Our vision of God is extremely important to our faith. In this sermon, Greg tells the story of how his vision of God changed during his life. He also shows that God is not a god who is waiting up in heaven to hit us with a big stick when we mess up.
Romans 7 and Romans 8 explain what sin does to a person and what God does about that sin. Paul, who wrote Romans, told his own story in these two chapters. It is only fitting that in this sermon Greg does the same thing. And he starts with his Romans 7 story.
Romans 7 talks about how we do things that we don’t want to do. From a very young age, Greg has been in trouble with the authorities around him. In Catholic school, Greg would find himself in the office, and he wouldn’t remember he got there. The nun would ask, “Why did you do what you did?” And there would be no good answer. Whether it was shooting a spitball, putting a tack on the nun’s chair or some other mischievous thing, controlling his behavior was something that Greg had incredible trouble with.
This may sound like a familiar story for many of us. It seems that sin has a control over our lives that we are unable to break on our own. And the shame that these sins cause makes us feel like God just hates us. How God could love such sinful creatures eludes us.
The nun would ask Greg, “Do you want us to call your parents or do you want to get hit with the ‘ugly stick’?” This was simply a means of physically punishing those that got into trouble. Greg would often pick the ugly stick, because things at home would be worse than that. His stepmother would often get very creative with punishments and the ugly stick was the better alternative. Greg’s affinity for causing authorities to discipline him led directly into how he viewed God.
In 2nd grade, Greg learned about heaven and hell. Bad people went to hell; good people went to heaven. Greg was sure he was going to hell. If the nuns and his parents didn’t love him, it made sense that God wouldn’t either. All the images around him were of a vengeful God, a suffering Jesus, and the Spirit a white bird thing. Praying to Mary was the only comfort that Greg felt at the time. She was the only one whose face was looking on Greg with compassion and love, which was in contrast to his stepmother at home and the nuns of the church. Greg was starving for love, aching to be accepted by God, and hungry to be good enough to be loved by God.
But when his parents divorced at the age of 13 and his father abandoned going to church, Greg followed in his footsteps and felt freedom from the accusations of every authority. The next few years of his life were full of drugs, sex, and rock and roll. But there was an emptiness that pervaded his life. And this emptiness caused him, at the age of 17, to walk into a Pentecostal church and gave his life to Jesus. He had a true and vivid experience with Jesus. Yet, he still misbehaved and felt the condemnation every time he messed up. He still felt like hell was just a step away.
Though he was told of God’s love and of the grace of God, the picture that still permeated his thinking was of Mother Superior or his stepmother waiting to hit him when he messed up. And this picture caused him anxiety and stress about living a holy life. It led to repeated bouts of sin binges and then confessions to cleanse his soul. And Greg got sick of it.
One day, as his friend and he were leaving church, Greg confessed that he was sick of it all. He was done with this God who was constantly waiting for him to mess up. He threw his bible on the car hood and began to sarcastically read from it. He was trying to prove that the things in the bible didn’t align with what he was feeling. “There is now no condemnation for those in Jesus Christ”, he began. And he stopped. Suddenly, he began to see a new and beautiful picture of a God who wasn’t out to condemn him. Instead, he saw the God who gave his life on Calvary so that he could live with Greg for eternity. The God who wanted Greg and not a holy life; the God who wanted his son to come home.
When we sin, we fall into accusations from Satan. And these accusations want to paint the picture of a God who wants to beat the sin out of us with an ugly stick. A God who wants to punish us. But nothing is further from the truth of Jesus on the cross. We must remember, and trust, this picture of God. From this vision, we learn everything we need to know.
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