2007 Toyota Sienna
In 2007, I bought a new Toyota Sienna minivan. I had no idea that this car would be a new symbol of a dramatic change in my life and would play out in amazingly surprising ways in the near future.
I bought the car just because of its practicality, size, good gas mileage, and to carry people around. I love to travel in groups so this would fit the bill.
I felt like I was driving a limousine! It was huge, comfortable, and rode nicely. And to add to that, the gas mileage was much better than my previous Nissan Exterra. That was a great plus.
Shortly after that, we had some concerns that Vileen’s car would have some major repairs so we made the decision to get a newer car for her as well. I had in my mind that I wanted an older, low mileage, Toyota or Nissan. I wanted something that had a lot of bells and whistles but one that had a practical price on it. I began to look on Ebay and at first search, I found exactly the car I had been looking for and the right color as well.
It was a 2002 Toyota Camry XLE. It was red with tan leather interior and it had everything on it. The mileage was incredibly low at only 35,000 miles for a car that was six years old. So, I bid and surprisingly, I won the bid. We drove to Missouri to pick it up and found it was in amazing condition and literally was a “little old lady’s” car.
Now, we were both set for a new life that was just months ahead of us but we had no idea what that was going to look like.
As I walked out the door of Love In Action in 2008, for the last time, I breathed a prayer;
God, I don’t know what you want to do with me now. I want to make the next 20 years of my life count. I know you have brought me through a lot and I have learned and grown so much in the last 20 years, maybe you can use my experience to help someone else. I have no agenda, and do not feel entitled to anything. I don’t have a degree or a career track. I am not sure who would want to hire someone who has led an “ex-gay” ministry for most of my adult life but I’m certain there is something in there that can be used. So, I guess my greatest desire is for something radical but I haven’t a clue what that might be. So God, SURPRISE ME!
My wife and I were on a Caribbean cruise in 2007. Our trip took us to a group of small islands called “Turks and Caicos”. When we got off the boat we met a lady who had just opened a horse and carriage ride to tour the island. As she spoke, she told us a little of the recent history of the island. She said that the island had been supported financially from a military base that was there. It appears it had recently been closed and it left the island financially broken. As I saw her business and the newly constructed Carnival pier I could see some life coming back.
As we rode around the island on the carriage, the young man told us that the island was dependent on all outside resources for everything including even the basic need of water. Their water had to be shipped in! This started my mind dreaming of all of the “what ifs” as I looked to my future.
What if God were to surprise me with a long term trip to Turks and Caicos to begin a gospel outreach on the island? I cannot seem to get that thought out of my mind even up to today. What if God wanted to move us across the United States? I began to send out applications for pastoral positions around the country. I thought maybe someone could use my experience some way for the general populace of the church. I attempted to come up with a resume that would capitalize on my experiences.
I didn’t get any call backs but still prayed for God’s movement in finding a new career. I began a dialogue with the pastor of the church we attended. He immediately tried to encourage me and said that he may have a place in our church and we began to pray about that. He encouraged me to write a book and offered me a slot to teach something that was on my heart. He felt an urgency to keep me in the loop and to keep talking about what God was doing to prepare me for my future.
The teaching series I came up with I called “Tributaries of Grace” based on a sermon that my pastor gave. I liked the thought of reaching into people lives with a message of God’s abundant love for them. Even though that was on my mind in the summer of 2008, I had no idea of what this would mean later on. The series was a success. I had asked God for ten people and he brought ten to the group. We were together for 8 weeks.
I continued to pray about how I was going to make a living. I felt confident that God would provide and a little arrogant at the same time that I didn’t have anything to worry about.
Meetings with Men
A friend of mine and I talked of how we could minister to others through personal meetings designed to read the bible together, listen to each other and encourage each other towards a mission oriented life. So I reached out to a group of men to see if they might want to meet with me one on one. So I set a goal of inviting six men into this arrangement. Within a week, not only six responded, but I filled my schedule with 10 men that I began to meet with regularly.
I loved the meetings and began to discover a new found heart within me as I sought to be a source of encouragement for them. I spent time discovering what I saw that was good in each of their lives. As we met I prayed for God to show me how I could encourage them.
Those who know me, would say that this was not exactly what I was doing in the previous years of ministry. I was used to looking for the shortcomings, the loose ends of someone’s life. I had a sense of pride in my ability to challenge people with those things that needed to be corrected. So, this ministry approach was significantly new for me.
A New Jesus In My Heart
As the first year of my departure from Love In Action came along, I was feeling satisfied, I was challenged in areas of my heart that were brand new for me to look at. I was also finding a much needed rest in my soul and Jesus was coming into these new areas that had opened up.
I was gaining a new understanding of an old word, “Grace”. What is grace and how does this apply to our Christian walk? I wasn’t sure I truly understood it from a personal experience. I had always heard, “Grace is the unmerited favor of God upon our lives.”
One day when I was sitting in my office alone I wandered into something I had never experienced before. I thought to myself, “Hum, I don’t work for Love In Action any more. I’ve never chosen to look at anything pornographic on the internet. I wonder what is actually out there?”
So, within a few clicks of the mouse I found some pictures that drew my interest. I looked a little more than all of a sudden my heart SANK! “Oh, my God, what have I done? I just crossed over the bridge into forbidden land. I have broken a place in my life that I have never strayed into before – NEVER!”
My mind began to rush into all of the years of instruction, of challenges for others, and into fears of “What do I do now?” My mind was scrambling and anxiety filled my heart. Then all of a sudden, something came to me that would become a life changing, life transforming experience with Jesus.
“John, what is the first thing you know about Me?” Jesus spoke through my anxious heart. I replied, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He said, “Apply that right now.” I began a whole new process of prayer with Jesus. I began to unravel the last few minutes like I have never done before. “Lord, You have not condemned me, so I will not receive any condemnation from You for what I have chosen to do.”
Then the Lord said, “John, why are you here, what has brought you to look at those pictures?” I began a dialogue with Him about all of that realizing that a lot of it was motivated by my own curiosity. After pondering the questions that brought me to search the internet I heard Jesus say: “John, do you have any more questions?” In my own amazement with this conversation I said, “No, no I don’t think so.” Then He said, “Well, then, I guess we are done with this for now aren’t we.”
Oh, my gosh, I just experienced something about grace that I have never experienced before in my life. At a point where I felt as though I had just committed the “unpardonable sin” Jesus came into my heart with such calmness. He didn’t yell, He didn’t shame me, He didn’t scold me or embarrass me. He just acknowledged where I was at, listened to my heart, and in many ways, brought me into a teaching moment with Him right there with me.
I realized; duh, that Jesus was beside me the whole time. This wasn’t a surprise to Him. But even more, He also put all of this into perspective. It wasn’t so much about the pictures I ventured into. It was more about my heart with Him. That was far more important to Him than the clicking of my mouse while I looked to satisfy my own curiosity.
God, became man, right inside my own heart and dwelt with me. He showed me a personal side of our relationship that was one of the most significant experiences with Him I have ever had! He revealed to me just how close He is and how much He loves me.
I Found Grace!
I found a new revelation of the life transforming power of Grace. I learned something about humankind that never crossed my mind before. All of the challenges, confrontations, “preaching the truth” I had done in the past didn’t hold a candle to meeting with Jesus and finding His love and incredible ability to show me the truth that there is no condemnation from His heart to mine, if I am in Him.
As I pondered His message of grace to my heart, something quite dramatic began to change in the way I handled every relationship I encountered.
The World According to a Blogger!
As I approached the fall of 2008 I saw that there was a ministry forming that was deep in my heart. I knew it had something to do with the series I had taught as well as the new revelation of grace that was growing inside of me. “Tributaries of Grace” was the theme but the name was hard to say quickly and so I did a search for something close. I came up with “Grace Rivers”.
In just a couple of months time I had an official ministry name, a website, and a non-profit organization. So, now we had to figure out what this was all about. I began blogging about my transition, the changes in my heart and decided to write articles on the series I had taught. I knew there was something significant to tell others and I had to figure out how to do it.
An old acquaintance, Todd Posey, called me to ask me some questions about a group model that I had used when I was at Love In Action. He said he was coming to town and so we decided to meet and discuss what was going on in our lives. When we met, he was shocked and amazed at what I was talking about and affirmed that there was a purpose and a plan in God’s heart for my new vocational interests.
This meeting turned into more, and a plan was laid out! We developed a plot for what is now called “A Journey of Grace”. I began to write a chapter each week to process through the nine core principles that could lead someone to the same grace I had found for myself. After many weeks I had compiled a lengthy collection of topics and Todd thought it might be a great conference format.
So, a couple of months later we had another series of meetings and came up with a plan for how this material could be brought to the general market of Christian gatherings. We started marketing the conference and building a framework to release it. A decision was made to premier “A Journey of Grace” at Todd’s church in Kentucky. We bought radio spots, Todd talked it up everywhere he could and I sent out mailings to those within driving distance that were on my mailing list.
The Conference Was Delivered – But……
The date came, my wife and I traveled to northern Kentucky with great expectations of how this material would be received. We got ready for the Friday night event, assembled conference manuals and waited patiently for the start time to come.
Two hours later, our seats were empty and literally, NO ONE, came to register. We looked at each other and said, well, we are going to present a conference so here we go. I delivered each message passionately to two people, my wife, and Todd. Well, to be honest, Todd’s pastor came to some of the sessions so there were three people at times. But the material was presented, and recorded, without a hitch.
I certainly had to process the reality of hosting a conference out of town and no one showing up. The way I got through it was to realize, it had to be God’s plan because if one person would have come, it would have been worse. We figured God wanted to give us a practice run and I really was ok with what happened and wasn’t devastated. Well, I was disappointed and a little embarrassed when my friends asked me how it went. But I somehow had the confidence that God was with me through the experience. Just like in my office that day, God wasn’t surprised and would work this into something good.
The Next Writing Series
I came home and just kept moving forward with what was in front of me. I continued meeting with the 10 men weekly. I pondered what I might do next and pondered what else I could write about. So, Todd had encouraged me to write a devotional series on the pictures that show up on the Grace Rivers website. I began with one picture and wrote what came to my heart when I originally saw them and picked them to represent my heart for Grace Rivers Ministry. I felt my own heart encouraged as I wrote. These articles were from my heart and were written with real people in mind who were facing real life situations. I laid them out with the hope that someday they will be published in a book.
Another Piece of “A Journey of Grace”
I watched the lives of some friends of mine very closely. They had gone through such adversity and came out with a deep restoration in their family. I knew that the principles I had written about in A Journey of Grace were the same concepts that they had lived in their own family restoration. So, I contacted Sue DeRaad and asked her to write some of the ways that these none core principles had worked in their family to bring their family to reconciliation. So, Sue began to write and we came up with the additional material that will be in the upcoming book, “A Journey of Grace” with “From the Heart of a Woman”.
During this first year away from over 20 years of “ex-gay” ministry I kept pushing ministry to the subject of homosexuality out of my way. I kept thinking, “God, I want something radical, I don’t want to contrive any ministry focus out of my past, but want to be open to Your future.”
I kept looking for surprises and they came regularly. Watch for the next chapter in the adjustments to a brand new life, vocation, and career!
If you have the courage, this series will lead us into some uncharted waters and awesome opportunities. There will be challenges too. Stay tuned.
A New Car, A New Life – Part Two (Click Here)
To read more from “Through the Windshield of My Life”:
If you want to read articles from the Website Picture devotionals: