I told a bit of my story at the Pastor at the Pub event a few weeks ago and I was asked to share it with the congregation. I offer you a short story about myself this morning. It seems fitting this morning because today’s Scripture reading affirms Paul’s transformation from persecutor to preacher. My story this morning is one of my transformation. It is both a confession of sin and witness to my healing.
As you know I was not raised a Christian, so I have a story of before and after Christ. Before Christ, I was a real mess emotionally and in my personal relationships. When I became a Christian, the first sin Christ revealed to me is the sin of my relationships. I wasn’t leaving room for God in my life. I was allowing people to get too close to me. They were unhealthy toxic people, sometimes dangerous people, getting too close. I was unhealthy and unhealthy people attract unhealthy people. The sin was that I was not setting boundaries to allow room for God between me and others. I was not setting boundaries to allow healthy people close and protect myself from unhealthy people. With no boundaries, I wasn’t reserving a place for God.
My emotional ill health was causing me to be a toxic person and surround myself with other toxic people who also didn’t have boundaries. As a toxic person, everything was a crisis. If the sun wasn’t shining and every traffic light green on the way to work, I was going to have a bad day. If anything went wrong, it was Defcon 5 and I went into meltdown. I did everything possible to draw people into my drama and solicit attention. Thank God there was no Facebook back then. I would have used Facebook to get encouragement from my friends on a daily basis to garner support for my cause and exhaust their support.
The grace I received was a book called “Boundaries” that helped me see what having no boundaries meant and how to set appropriate boundaries with people. It took a lot of work of getting rid of toxic friends and setting boundaries with other friends. You might say I’m still in recovery. I often have to remind myself not to get too caught up in someone. I try hard not to draw people into the letdown of a bad day or bad situation I might experience. I would say my life is completely transformed because of recognizing my own toxic behavior and learning to surround myself with healthy people who brought me healing as I allowed them proper roles in my life. And, bad things can happen without wrecking my life or becoming a drama queen.
Paul’s story is one of transformation. In this part of chapter 1 of the letter to the Galatians, Paul wants to remind the church of how he had been transformed. We know Paul was Jew who had a great fervor for the Law. Acts chapters 7 & 8 tell us that Saul who became Paul persecuted the church seeking to destroy it. He went “from house to house dragging out both men and women and putting them in prison.” (Acts 8: 3). You might say Saul was a terrorist, extremely zealous for the tradition and religion of his fathers. Acts 9 tells us the story of Saul conversion and how he was transformed from a persecutor of the faith to a great defender of the faith.
I have another story of transformation to share with you, the transformation of 2 men. It is about the transformation of Millard Fuller and Morris Dees. You may have heard of Millard Fuller. He and his wife founded Habitat for Humanity in 1976. Morris Dees founded the Southern Poverty Law Center. They are a human rights organization. The name is mentioned in the news from time to time because they rate hate groups and track their activity. For instance, a group endorsed a presidential candidate this summer and the news reported that the group was designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In 1965, Fuller and Dees were young lawyers in Montgomery, Alabama. Fuller spoke at Ku Klux Klan rallies and defended clients who got in trouble opposing desegregation. 2 Christian ministers from Pennsylvania called Fuller. The ministers needed a ride to Selma to march with Martin Luther King Jr from Selma to Montgomery. The ministers had heard Fuller was a church member and asked for his help. The Apostle Paul’s transformation happened on the road to Damascus; Fuller and Dees were transformed on the road to Selma.
Fuller and his law partner Dees agreed to drive the ministers the 40 miles on highway 80 to Selma. Fuller remembers “pass[ing] through a line of state troopers with shotguns and cameras, taking pictures of all the marchers. They took pictures of us, on the other side, and the next morning, word was all over town. [His] neighbors cursed [him]. [He] lost all [his] local business.”
Along that same highway 80 was Viola Liuzzo, a white woman from Detroit, Michigan, who had come to take part in protests in Selma. Over several days, Liuzzo had participated in various demonstrations. At the end of a long day of transporting civil rights workers from St Jude to Selma to Montgomery, Liuzzo offered to give a ride to one worker, Leroy Moton, a young black man.
Liuzzo and Moton stopped at a traffic light next to a car of four Klansmen. When they spotted a white woman driving a car with a young black man, the Klansmen followed Liuzzo and Moton along highway 80. The Klansmen pulled alongside Liuzzo and 2 Klansmen fired their guns at the car. Liuzzo was killed and the car veered off the road. When the car came to a stop, Moton escaped, was picked up by a group of marchers in a pick up truck, got back to Montgomery and reported Liuzzo’s murder.
Fuller and Dees had a revelation. The murder of Liuzzo was eye-opening for the 2 men. It shed new light on the work they were doing. Fuller and Dees had been defending people who were on the side who opposed desegregation, who might have even been Klansmen. The work they were doing opposed the work of Liuzzo and opposed the ministry of the 2 ministers from Pennsylvania who they drove to the march. Fuller later said of his revelation, “I was on the wrong side, from a moral standpoint.”
I told my story to tell you that life transformation is possible. Paul tells his story because he knows what a difference grace can make. Fuller and Dees know the power of a new revelation. Transformation of your life into the life you want is possible if you are willing to let go and let God do His thing.
I often hear people say that they don’t really pray for themselves. I gotta tell you. I pray for myself as much, if not, more than y’all. We have to be willing to pray for ourselves. Not just present a list of people who are grieving or in need of healing to God before we go to bed. Those prayers are important, but you are just as important and just as worthy of YOUR prayers.
And, better than just praying, “God if you can…” or “God I don’t know what to do about…” Pray boldly. “God, take care of this” or “God handle that.” I know you’re all thinking “we shouldn’t tell God what to do.” Yes, that’s true. We shouldn’t tell God what to do or how to handle a situation, because it never goes the way we tell God to do it. But we can boldly say, “God, I’m not doing this anymore, you handle it.” God can work with that.
When you’re willing to let go, let God handle it, quit trying to tell God what needs done and how to handle it, God can get things done. And, we all know that God is not going to do what we think He will do. God is going to get it done, the right way, in the right time…and it will probably require our transformation in our thinking about our life, maybe require us to take a different perspective.
Richard Rohr said that “authentic spirituality is always about changing you. It’s not about trying to change anyone else.” When we pray about a situation, we often pray that God change someone else so things will go the way we want them to go. That’s us praying about other people. We need to change that prayer into “God, change me.” Instead of praying for other people to change, pray about yourself and ask God to change your perspective or how you are dealing with someone or something.
Allow God to transform you. Open yourself up to seeing how God is working and what God wants to do for you or through you. God does great work when we are open to His life-changing grace and unconditional love.