You know the kid in elementary school who threw up in the cafeteria? Even thirty years later, he will be remembered for that. It wasn’t pretty. No matter how many accolades that kid receives in life, in his hometown, he will be remembered for his smelly mess that day in the cafeteria.
People remember my messes. The people in my first hometown like to remind me of them. Growing up, I did not know God. I knew about God. I knew about everyone associated with God. I admired Joseph for his obedience and looked down on Samson for his lack of self-control. I knew every rule, but knowing them didn’t mean I could keep them (Colossians 2:20-23).
I thought I knew Jesus, but it sure was hard work trying to keep all the rules people told me He required. They called it obedience. It seemed like everyone but me was pretty good at obedience. Oh sure, every now and then there was a scandal in our church. Once the situation was handled “Biblically,” everyone went back to their perfect lives. Whether the scandalous person was able to button it up and return to obedience, or they left the church, they would forever be labeled like the kid who threw up in the cafeteria. Oh, that is the person who did XYZ.
The time came when I could no longer button-up my scandals. They were beginning to jeopardize my parents’ leadership positions in the church. When the opportunity to move across the country presented itself, I jumped at it. I was nineteen.
In my second hometown, I met Jesus for real. I walked with Him alone for almost two years though. There was no one safe enough for me to “throw-up” in front of. I didn’t try as hard to perform for the people in my second hometown. But when I did reveal some struggle, I was heartily confronted. I only felt safe to be a sinner, saved by grace, in front of unbelievers.
Over time, as I grew in my faith, I became a rule-breaker in my second hometown as well. I got tired of being confronted on dumb things. I walked out of women’s events that made housework and pleasing men equivalent to the gospel. I rebuked men who told me or my friends that “God told them” we were to date. I demanded an explanation from people as to why they had an opinion about a book they had never read. The rules I broke in my new hometown were the foolish, manipulative rules religious people use to control each other. I grew up with that crap. I knew it wasn’t the gospel. I wasn’t very gentle in my approach. I resented anything resembling man-pleasing.
In my third hometown, I calmed down and followed some of the rules. I found myself in areas of leadership where I was tempted to and did use guilt and manipulative tactics on others. I am sure I pulled the “obedience” card more than once. Even at the height of my religious pride and efforts to control other people, I resisted people who tried to control me.
How sweet and gentle and tender is my Savior. He is so unlike me. It is often through pain that we see the ugly truth about ourselves. What a hypocrite I had become. Apparently, man-pleasing was okay if I was the one being pleased.
When Jesus walked the earth, He was a rule-breaker. He was also a perfect Law-keeper (notice the capital L). He did that for me because I couldn’t keep men’s rules or God’s perfect Law—nor could I discern the difference between the two. Jesus broke men’s laws on purpose to reveal how foolish it is to make and enforce external rules that supposedly help people obey God. God hates hypocrisy (Matthew 23).
Here in my third hometown, I am more free than I have ever been (1 Corinthians 4:3-4). I don’t care what anyone knows about me, thinks of me, or says of me. My sin has no blackmail hold on me. That is a joyful truth, but something new is happening in my heart.
Somewhere along the way, my resentment toward rule-keepers has softened. I am not as bitter over the false-gospel of obedience I was taught and punished for not keeping. I genuinely ache when I hear of scandals erupting in one of my hometowns. I shed real tears of compassion knowing the pain of the “buttoning-up” process.
My heart breaks for men who commanded me to submit to them, and women who confronted me on immodest clothing. I grieve over the false gospel of turtlenecks and long skirts. I long to reach women who strive for excellence as they run after some Proverbs 31 ideal they will never attain. I am so sad they won’t hear the true gospel from me because they view me as a rule-breaker.
I feel compelled to proclaim and clarify the gospel of grace to people who won’t hear me because they changed my diapers in the nursery—to people who are so proud of their Biblical knowledge that they can’t see their need for a Savior.
If you are from one of my hometowns, perhaps you know my junk. I’m good with that. But the thing is, I know your junk too. I have seen it. You threw up a time or two in the cafeteria as well. You didn’t care if I saw your mess because you saw mine—and mine was worse.
My message to my three hometowns is this: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:28) The woman at the well outed herself, and she was joyful about it. I bet there were at least five men in her Samaritan village who were uncomfortable with that message. Her main desire was not to expose the people in her hometown, but to introduce them to Jesus. She couldn’t wait to tell them: We all got it wrong. Come, meet Jesus!
If the Lord exposes your sin, it is a blessing. He is willing to take it away. Like the women in John 4 and 8, having your sin exposed and coming face to face with Jesus as a result, is the best thing that could happen to you. It’s only when you come into the light that you can be truly free. Trying to hide your sin from people in your hometown is a full time job, and it won’t save you.
The offense of the gospel is that Jesus saves messy people, while seemingly righteous people carry on in the darkness with their rules, knowledge, and obedience. Bring your mess into the light—you are only hiding it from people anyway. God sees it all.
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
Buy Marci Preheim's new book here: Little Saviors