God interrupted Jerry’s young life with a radical challenge. “I’m choosing you to shake up this world. In fact, this is precisely why you were born! I’m going to use your life and words to pull up, tear down, take apart and demolish the old, and then we’ll start over by building and planting what I desire.” In utter shock he replied, “But God, I don’t know anything. I’m terrified of public speaking! Besides, I’m just a teenager and no one is going to listen to me.”
Before you judge this kid too harshly, I wonder how many times you’ve said, “But God . . .” as you’ve offered up your extremely reasonable excuses for why something simply cannot be done by you.
But God . . . that’s impossible!
But God . . . people will think I’m crazy!
But God . . . I’m a mess!
But God . . . that’s not in my wheelhouse of experience or gifts.
We are quick to point out the apparent absurdity of his expectations. Most of us have a finely tuned this-is-ridiculous meter that tends to function quite well when set off by the unexpected. We don’t have to dig very deep to find a reason to say no to God. Why? Because we are painfully aware of our past failures, our present weaknesses, and the future likelihood of repeating the same mistakes we’ve always made. We choose to believe that God can’t use us because we’re not strong enough, smart enough, or good enough.
Here’s something I need you to embrace and remember: Our past shapes us, but it doesn’t need to control us. Our history influences our future, but it shouldn’t imprison us. In Christ, we are more than the sum of our past mistakes.
I bet I’ve had a thousand conversations with people who reject the idea of experiencing any sort of epic life because of their epic failures. They don’t think about what might be possible in their life because they can’t get past what they’ve done or get beyond their glaring inadequacies.
COACH, I’VE HAD AN ABORTION
I coached track and cross country at the high school level for many years. As a marathoner and avid runner, I enjoyed inspiring a younger generation to fall in love with the simplicity and purity of running. If I hadn’t become a pastor, I probably would have become a teacher. Working with students was always a great joy. Besides, in my opinion, kids who turn out for track and cross country are some of the best of the best.
It was a miserable spring day. In the first hour of track practice we experienced rain, hail, and high winds. The kids hated days like this and so did their coaches. When the lightning started up, it was time to send everyone home. It’s one thing to run as fast as lightning, quite another to get hit by it.
One girl, Carol, went to the bleachers instead of the locker room. I had noticed she seemed distracted at practice that day. As she sat down in the stands, she buried her face in her hands. As a coach, I learned early on that young women are a bit emotional at times. They go through all sorts of physical and emotional changes. They fall in love, have their hearts broken, and then fall in love again, so it’s sometimes difficult to keep them focused on their performance at practice.
I figured Carol was wrestling with something minor in the grand scheme of things, but I thought I’d better check on her just in case. As I approached her, I discovered she was sobbing. In fact, I’ve rarely seen anyone cry so hard. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I should leave her alone or ask if there was anything I could do, but I knew I had to say something.
“Carol, are you okay?” (First stupid question.)
Now she’s rocking and wailing uncontrollably.
“Hey, are you upset? (Second stupid question.)
I wanted to put my arm around her to comfort her, but as a male coach and alone in the grandstands, I just sat down next to her and waited for her to come up for air. After a few minutes, with her face still buried in her trembling hands, she said, “Coach, I don’t know what to do. I’ve had an abortion.” Then she let out a cry so loud anyone within a hundred yards would have heard it.
My heart sank. I’d heard this confession from other women before, but never from a fifteen year old. For heaven’s sake, one of my daughters was her age. At this point, I’m choking back my own tears. But what she said next will forever haunt me, “Coach, my life is over. I’ve *&#% things up so bad I know God hates me . . . nothing will ever be the same.”
Being a man, a coach, and a pastor, my natural inclination is to want to fix things. If it’s broken, I can repair it. If an answer’s needed, I can find one. If you’re in need of some wise counsel, the doctor is in. But what do you say to a young woman who’s suicidal over her decision to end a life? Her parents didn’t know. Her friends had no idea. She didn’t have a pastor, just a coach whom she trusted because she knew I cared about her.
I took a deep breath, put my hand on her shoulder and gently whispered, “We’ve all made horrible mistakes in our lives, and things do change, but God never hates us, Carol. He’s not mad at you, he’s weeping with you. When your heart is broken, his heart is broken too.”
We spent the next thirty minutes talking. I listened as she poured her heart out. I learned a lot about Carol in that short time. The one thing I know she heard from me was how God can forgive us of anything. I assured her over and over again, “God’s not mad at you, he’s mad about you, and he still has a good plan for your life. Restoration is his specialty.”
Like this young woman, many of us feel we’ve gone too far and failed too miserably to ever get back on track. If God did have a great plan for our lives, we believe it’s too late now. But avoiding epic failure is not a prerequisite to experiencing an epic life.
Moses was a murderer. David was an adulterer. Rahab was a prostitute. Peter was a betrayer. Saul (aka: Paul) persecuted and imprisoned Christians. Yet each of them lived amazingly epic lives when they followed God. We’re all in trouble if the path to adventure in Christ requires perfection. We must learn to get past what we’ve done and get beyond our glaring inadequacies. God is bigger than our foolishness and able to redeem, restore, and renew any life fully surrendered to him.
 A paraphrase of the biblical book of Jeremiah, chapter one.
 Not her real name.