If you have read the opening paragraphs to this book or have heard me speak, you know that I strongly believe life is the point. We were created not just to experience life to the fullest but God’s greatest glory is achieved when we choose life. If you continued reading you became aware that choosing life did not always look the same. Sometimes it meant choosing to forgive someone in order for us to be freedfrom a lie or negative emotion. At other times it was surrendering a flesh pattern orcoping mechanism that was hindering our experience of the life God created us to live. Worship, empowerment, even Starbucks (see 365 Days of Life) could be a choice for life!
Another truth you would discover from reading this book is that choosing life is not a one-time experience. We don’t choose life at the moment of our salvation and then put it on auto-pilot. Choosing life is a constant and persistent way of life. When we are tempted, distracted or just plain willful and make poor choices, we feel the consequences in our quality of life. In those moments we are not living out of our true self and our life experience does not bring the same fulfillment. Writing this chapter is a life choice that I am making. Ten years after the original publication of Ten Life Choices it is time for me to choose honesty again with my readers. The information to follow is not an excuse for my actions but an attempt to give you insight into how we all get distracted and neglect to choose life.
I wrote Ten Life Choices in a community of believers in 2006 and published it in 2008. It became the curriculum for the recovery ministry at the church I was pastoring at the time. Through a person involved in that recovery ministry, the
book was picked up by Prison Fellowship as a resource for inmates in the US Prison System. We developed an 11-lesson correspondence course, assembled a team and began mailing the book and lessons to inmates all over the country. Through another person in that same recovery group, the book was translated into Spanish making the message of Choose Life available to a wider audience. An organization that focused on ministering to people in ministry around the world became acquainted with the message of Choose Life and I was invite to speak at Conferences in Brazil, Germany, Portugal, Albania and India. Through a colleague who had been a missionary in Indonesia, we travelled there and established Choose Life Indonesia led by a young couple who were passionate about the message. Meanwhile the book was translated into Portuguese and Indonesian. Through other connections I did Choose Life retreats in the US, England and South Africa.
During this time the small church I was pastoring grew to over 1000 people and we built a 50,000+ ft2 building in Northern Virginia with a huge price tag. The church was transitioning from a more traditional Baptist church to a more nondenominational community church. This meant changes in Bible version, worship style, ministry objectives and vision. The combination of change and financial pressure from the building project created quite a bit of turmoil in the church. I had been enjoying a period of popularity and affirmation for a number of years but was now beginning to experience some intense attacks, criticism and negativity. Looking back, the combination of an overly busy schedule and the negativity I was
experiencing prompted me to choose isolation. I put up walls to protect myself from hurt but those walls kept out everyone, even God. This was an old pattern for me. It is exactly how I had handled the pain of my abuse and the guilt and shame of my sexual addiction. I was not choosing life. I was on auto-pilot. I still loved God, my family, my ministry and still believed in the message I was teaching but I became disconnected from it. In isolation or in the dark, my problems did not go away, they grew. This is when I began again to seek some relief or self-medication by returning to some of my past addictive escapes. Each time I would make a move in that direction I would repent, tell myself I needed to choose honesty but the fear of possibly losing my family and everything else I had worked so hard for kept me from that choice. There was a desire in me to choose honesty and model the power of choosing life even when we mess up but I simply couldn’t seem to trust God enough to let go.
When my sin was discovered I resigned from the church I was pastoring in August 2013. The devastation of how my poor choices had hurt my family and the many people I had ministered to was overwhelming. I labeled myself a failure and a
disappointment and again fell into depression. Finally I spent two weeks in an inhouse counseling program for people in ministry and slowly began to choose life again. Certainly I was feeling the natural consequences of my actions, but I was not
alone in this process, God and my family were constantly encouraging me to release the past and move forward.
Over the past five years I have felt compelled to write this chapter of Ten Life Choices for three reasons. First it is my way to choose honesty. I sinned against God, against my family and against the many people who had followed my teaching
and spiritual leadership. I want to own my choices. As I stated earlier, the history of what led to all of this that I shared above is not an excuse. In spite of all of the pressure and negativity, I could have chosen life. I have always had the power of
the resurrected Christ in me, I am God’s beloved child, 100% accepted by Him and I have everything I need for life and godliness (Philippians 4:13, Ephesians 1:3-12, II Peter 1:3-4). This is clearly enough to help me through all of the pressure I was under but I chose to believe lies instead. I am truly sorry that my choices hurt other people.
Secondly, I am writing this chapter because it actually completes the message of Ten Life Choices. Nobody makes the decision to choose life and then does so consistently for the rest of their spiritual journey. In spite of our faith, God’s love
and our best intentions we give in to our flesh and choose our way over His. The initial message of Ten Life Choices was “choose life”. But what do we do when we mess up? Choose life! Don’t give up! Don’t define yourself by your mistakes (even
if others do)! Don’t wallow in guilt and shame (I’ve done my share of that and it is a complete waste of time). Some have used my poor choices to say that the message of Ten Life Choices “doesn’t work”. I would say that my experience has taught me even more that it does work. When I choose life, I experience life to the fullest.When I don’t choose life, I suffer the consequences but my opportunity to choose life remains one choice away!
Finally I am writing this chapter to share the two most important truths I havelearned through this part of my journey. The first is a truth about my calling. The major obstacle to me choosing honesty during my struggle was the fact that I
believed my calling was to be a Pastor and proclaim the message of choose life. Exposing my struggle would almost certainly result in a loss of that calling. In the months that followed my resignation, Bill Lewis, a dear friend, challenged me on that lie. He proposed that my true calling was to represent, reflect and reveal (RR & R) the love and grace of my Father in the dignity and nobility of my position as a son of God. Slowly (because my pride did not want to let go of my position as Pastor) this has transformed my life. As I write this I am teaching 6th grade math in the county school system, selling Real Estate, helping people make a solid financial plan with a financial services company and counseling, speaking and writing inmates through LifeNow Ministries. It is all ministry. I have the privilege of representing, reflecting and revealing the love and grace of my Father in more arenas of life with a more varied group of people than I ever have before! So, life choice #11 is “Choose to RR & R”!
The second truth I want to share is about God’s love. If I were truly surrendered to the reality of God’s unconditional and unchanging love for me, it would have been enough to help me battle the criticisms and negativity of others without putting up walls of protection. If God’s love defined me, the opinions of others would not have been so devastating and my position as Pastor would not have been so important. Recently a trilogy of books by David Benner (Surrender to Love, The Gift of Being Yourself, Desiring God’s Will) has helped me to surrender more and more to God’s love. It is knowing and receiving His love in the deepest parts of our soul that begins to transform our false self. We cannot dismantle the false self completely through psychotherapy, recovery ministry or counseling. His love dismantles our fears, our defense mechanisms, our coping tools and our insecurities. His love fuels our ability to trust His truth to overcome the lies we believe. His love flows through us to others and allows us to sympathize, empathize and experience intimacy.
Surrendering to His love is difficult because we have not experienced unconditional love in any other relationship of our lives. If you think of the closest human love relationship you know about and ponder how secure this relationship causes a
person to be, you begin to get a glimpse of what it means to be surrendered to God’s unconditional and everlasting love. If you want to read more about this, let me suggest David Benner’s book, Surrender to Love. So life choice #12 is “Choose to
surrender to God’s love”.
So, let’s keep choosing life together, even if imperfectly. The goal is to experience more and more the life we were created to live. Choose life!