Today I entered Barnes and Noble and made my way to the normal cafe table I occupy most days for lunch. A book that I was fascinated by years ago caught my eye on a display shelf. "My secret: A Postsecret Book." It's a book that contains hundreds of anonymous postcards that reveal people's innermost secrets. As I flipped through the book, I read confession after confession. Sexual sins, deep regrets, feelings of failure. I read of people's suicidal thoughts, of struggles with cutting, self-injurious behaviors, and eating disorders. I read about people wrestling with loneliness, like one postcard that read "Today is my birthday . . .and nobody knows." People battling self-esteem issues and those who bare the scars of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It went on and on. Page after page of people who most likely wear the mask of "I'm OK," "I have it all together." when we pass them by on the streets, in the break room at the office, in the halls of our own homes and in the sanctuaries of our churches.
I heard a sermon last week, that like this book reminded me that behind every mask is a story, and behind every story lies a past.
Sometimes when I approach the Bible, I tend to forget that the men and woman who did great things--had a past. I want to remember the extraordinary good that God did with their lives, and skip over the step where they had to remove their masks, reveal their secrets, acknowledge their past and let the God of the Universe heal, restore and make new.
One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Paul's conversion in Acts 9. Saul is on the road to Damascus eager to kill anyone who followed the Lord, when a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. Saul was blinded and he was led into Damascus by his companions and he remained there, blind for three days and did not eat or drink. In the meantime, there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias and the Lord spoke to him in a vision calling him to go to Saul and to lay his hands upon him so that he could see again. You see, Saul was the chosen instrument to take God's message of hope to the Gentiles, to the Kings and to the people of Israel. In a nut shell Ananias' says "Lord you have the wrong guy. He is the most unlikely candidate of them all."
And in essence Jesus says "that's my point."
Paul had the courage to let God pull back the carpet and deal with the "Chief of all sinners" as he calls himself in 1 Timothy. And when that carpet is pulled back God begins to heal and redeem and restore whatever is under there.
But God doesn't stop there.
In 2 Corinthians 1 verse 4 Paul writes "He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given to us."God wants us to take off our masks, to share our secrets, our struggles, to bare one another's burdens as it says in Galatians 6:2. We rarely expect that our biggest regret, our greatest failure, our most hidden secret is that one that God can use for the greatest good, the one He can use to reach the unreachable, the one He can use to show others that He is willing to come into the mess of our lives, to get his hands dirty so that He can transform us into the men and women we were destined to be. When we find the courage to do that, we glorify not our name, but we glorify His name and others who are observing us, watching our lives just might have the passing thought that if God can do that with her, with him, then maybe there is hope for me.
The reason Paul did something extraordinary wasn't because He was perfect, or that He had it all together. The reason God used Him was because He was willing to acknowledge his past, He was willing to deal with His secrets, and He was willing to let God leverage that past so that someone else wouldn't miss out on the hope of Jesus Christ.
He lived out 2 Corinthians 1:4 and that's my prayer for us tonight. That we let God take the messy things in our lives, our greatest failures, our biggest disappointments, that He will redeem them from our willing spirit and use them as a gift to those in this world who think that their past, their mistakes have disqualified them from belonging to the church and more importantly from belonging to God.