Continued from an earlier post
Kristie was different than other girls. I know, I know, everyone says this. But the night we met, I still remember where I was standingÂ and what I said.Â Her innocence and timidityÂ kept me from a waywardÂ impulseÂ from the moment she spoke. “Before I get drunk, I want to tell you I love you.”Â Ahhh, my famous first words to her that I will never live down. Her surprised look turned to a sweet giggle. Kristie was not one of the “bar scene” people like myself. In fact, it was her first night to work at the Dugout. She was instigated by a friend who told her she would make a lot of money. That Sunday night she naively showed up to work at a bar on drown night! (And I am glad she did.) I spent the entire night trying to convince her that I was not really . . . well . . . what I was. I tried to convince her of my inner longing to be different; at least to be out of the bar/womanizing scene. I told her that I just left church before I had come there. I told her all about Chet. I told her that someday all this would come to an end. And you know what? This naive 19 year old bar maid believed me.
Again, I would like to say that things changed from this point on, but you have to remember, Michael Patton is on the scene. When this is the case, there are always problems. Once we started dating, everything slowed down for a time. Our relationship was good and I treated her with the respect that I withheld from others. But Kristie was a little too . . . (now I am going to get in trouble) . . . clingy. I was not ready for that. I broke up with her, but knew that there was something different about our relationship.
One determination that I had fixated inÂ my brain was that I had to change for the right reasons. I wanted to become a man of God like Chet, but I did not want to be forced to do so by a relationship. Therefore I continued the struggle alone. And I continuedÂ the dichotomous cycle of Romans 7, “That which I want to do, I do not do. That which I don’t want to do, that is what I do.”
Moving forward under such circumstances is never easy. Sin is a part of us. It does not want to let go. Failure after failure quickly givesÂ wayÂ to despondency. After this, the solicitations for apathy are in your inbox each time you check. But, it seems, the inability to have totalÂ apathy is a calling card of the Holy Spirit. When you try to give up, He won’t let you. After two years I could still not find a way to get out but I could not find a way to give up either. It would have been easier to leave the mafia, but moving forward is the one thing I could not cease to attempt.
My mind was filled with Chet’s teachings. It became harder and harder for me to think about anything other than studying, reading, and the Gospel. I listened to Chuck Swindoll’s series called Grace Awakening and was struck by the radical nature of God’s grace. God was saying to me, “Michael, you can do what you want. You want to go hang out with your friends, get drunk, andÂ sleep with girls. Fine! You have the freedom to do so. YouÂ have the freedom toÂ do whatever you please.” The problem was thatÂ He was slowly changingÂ my pleasures. The freedom that this realization gave to me was like a great burden that was lifted from me. The mandate “You shall not get drunk; you shall not sleep with girls” turned into a “Go ahead, waste your life!” Ouch! I found this “divine reverse phychology” to be much more persuasive. This freedom, this radical idea of grace,Â changed my thinking and eventually changed my life.
Over the course of the next year I continued to have this insatiable desire to learn. The more I learned, the more I said to myself “This is really true.” It is not that I did not believe it before, but the intellectual component added to my former “leap of faith” created a new sense of responsibility and opportunity for my life. It deepened my faith.
Driving home from college one day contemplating these things I arguedÂ with myself, “Michael, if this is true and you really believe it to be true, isn’t it worth it?” I continued this autonomous discussion,Â “If you were to have certain knowledge, and I meanÂ “Back to the Future”Â type certainty, ofÂ an imminent and massive climb of aÂ future stock, wouldn’t you invest everything you had into it?” “Well,Â of course,” I answered myself.Â “Well,Â isn’t this what God is offering? Do you believe Him when He says that it is better to obey? Do you believe Him when He says that He is the creator and only He knows how to give you joy, happiness, and purpose?” It was at that moment I realized that I was an unbelieving believer. In other words, I had trusted in God’s promise to ultimately save me through what Christ did, but I had not really believed anything else He said. It was an issue of whether or not God is trustworthy. I realized that being a believer means that you believe everything God says, not just the expedient pointsÂ that secure your salvation.Â I realize that believing in such a way was not merely a mandate, but an opportunity.
That drive was representative of aÂ transformation that I now realize had been in the works for years. A good friend of mine said that getting rid of sin is like trying to get theÂ air out of a bottle. You can do it one of two ways. You can suck on the bottle until you are blue in the face concentrating only onÂ the air, or you can fill it with something else. I had not realized it but while I was sucking on the bottle for two years, God was slowly filling it with something else.
Well, things did change. My thoughts were consumed with Him. I did not have any more time to waste. It took my friends months before they really believed that my “I’m done” disappearing act was not short hand for “I will be back after I get this guilt monkey off my back.” I found Kristie and convinced her to marry me. She said yes! I graduated from college and then entered seminary and lived happily ever after! Ahem . . . well, not exactly. As always, there is more to it than this.
Thanks for listening. I will proceed with this more soon. For now, here is some observations that I have made considering “my life.”
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]