Spiritual Growth: Understanding Hate

hate

I’m not convinced that the concept of “hate” is such a bad thing.

Wait a second – hold on.  Don’t click away from the page…just hear me out.  I’m not talking about ALL hate – racial, economical, gender, or other such things used a basis for such a strong feeling is bad in my book and I’m not endorsing “hate-crimes” or other such nonsense.

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Unmerited Favor

New House

I recently heard a definition of “grace” that I haven’t been able to forget: “God’s grace is his unmerited favor towards us”.

We haven’t earned it.  We don’t deserve it.  But He gives it to us anyways because He loves us.

This last week has been incredible and full of God’s unmerited favor toward me and my wife and it came at just the right time: his time.  After 7 months of searching, we’ve found a church to call home where I can also serve in Youth Ministry.  Shortly after getting that exciting news we found a house to rent that was nearby the church and then received a washer and dryer from some good friends.  Again, unmerited favor.

My wife and I could not be more excited about this next big development.  We don’t know what’s going to happen next but whatever it is, it’ll be better than anything we had planned.

Who Is “JT”?

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

Tonight, I had an odd encounter with my past.  While it was definitely odd, it surprisingly wasn’t uncomfortable.

Here’s some backstory:

In the fall of 2006 I was on a plane, moving out to Oregon.  I was moving 1,600 miles away in order to attend Bible College and get away from some bad choices.  I knew that I needed to change my attitude and my environment so I picked a Christian College that I figured would help me fix myself.  As I was on the plane, I decided I was going to go by the name “JT” and not “Jared”.  It would be my Ebenezer (taken from the lyrics of the song above) – it would be a sign to myself of God’s mercy and guidance – I would hear it and I would remember that God had provided a way out of an unhealthy situation.  One part of that unhealthy situation was not saying goodbye to a former romantic relationship – I kept trying and trying to be friends, hoping I could win her back.

Unfortunately, those actions and attitude didn’t stop when I moved and for the next year and a half I kept trying to get my own way even though it clearly wasn’t what God wanted for me (or for her). It wasn’t until I spent a large amount of money (further increasing my credit card debt) and having a 45 minute discussion on the phone with the girl that I had been determined to win back that I finally broke down and admitted that I was being selfish.  I remember clearly hanging up my cell phone while walking around the Multnomah Campus; I looked toward heaven and said “Fine.  Do what you want with me.  I’m done fighting.”

It took massive heartbreak, a few awkward conversations, debt, and a couple good friends to pull me out of my selfishness and finally let go of her.  I cut all ties that day – not because I disliked her or our mutual friends but because I couldn’t handle the pain – pain which I had brought on myself.

Fast forward 5 years.  I’ve been happily married to my wife (who I have known since I was about 12 years old) for 2 and a half years.  I’m still at Multnomah and I’m happy with where God has brought me.  I have used this story (both longer and shorter versions) on a few occasions to talk to students and other adults about pain, heartbreak, healing, following God’s direction, and other things.  The experience that defined me for over 2 years has grown from a painful sore (the kind that you keep picking at and never letting heal) to something strangely beautiful.  It’s beautiful because it reminds me just how much God loves me – He brought me back from total brokenness and made me stronger.

Tonight, because of a series of random clicks on Facebook, I ended up seeing a comment by my old girlfriend that she had made back in 2007 for my birthday.  It wasn’t painful or uncomfortable but it was definitely odd – mainly because I wasn’t expecting it.  She’s married now and seems happy but the thing that struck me the most was just how much things had changed in the last 5 years for both of us.

I still get people at Multnomah calling me JT even though I haven’t gone by that for a number of years and it’s always a little jarring.  I recognize it now more than I ever did before and many times I start humming the tune to that song that inspired the name change: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come.”

I’m, honestly, happy with my life.  I have an amazingly hott wife who loves me even with all my faults; I’m nearly done with my college education; I have good friends that care about me; I’m part of a great church family; and I lead a youth group that keeps me on my toes.  Life, it seems, has turned out pretty great even though it’s not like how I planned 5 years ago.  If you had told me on that incredibly painful night that things would turn out ok, I probably would have rolled my eyes – if you had pressed the issue, I might have thrown a punch (I’m gentler now too lol).  At the time, nothing seemed to be ok and I couldn’t see how God could bring things together for the better – but He has.

I guess the point of all this is to try and spread a little hope.  Maybe you’re hurting because of something you did or said or maybe it was someone else.  But bad times and bad choices don’t last and they don’t have to define you – things do get better with time.  It may require some mighty big changes on your part (I changed my name, geographic location, and career goals!) but if you trust that God has a plan and you are sensitive to his promptings, things will get better.

Trust me – I’m living proof that our God is much wiser than we are.