But You Do Belong...

BY DOMINICK SANTORE

The conference is upon us.

Christ Hold Fast is holding its first ever conference and from the moment I heard about it, I was excited. Not just because I was a regular contributor to the website, but because I’m a consumer like you. I need to hear the truth of the Gospel frequently. I am a daily prodigal, regularly forsaking God in so many different ways, always coming back with my tail between my legs, surprised to find a ring slipped on my finger, sandals on my feet and a feast in my honor just because I came back, again. So you might say this topic hits close to home.  But as the date neared, anxiety reared its ugly head, grabbed me by the throat and said, “DON”T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!”

So I vacillate, daily moving the checkmark from the “GO” column to “STAY HOME AND LOCK YOUR DOOR!” Except for three people (two which I’ve only briefly met), I’ve spoken to some of the soon to be conference goers through the wonders of social media. Safely typing words on a screen while I sit at home away from real people and real eyes looking back at me. On top of that, they’ll be people there who may have read my words on Christ Hold Fast that I’ve never spoke to or interacted with in any way.

All those eyes..., those eyes...

You see, I know the person attached to the hands that typed these articles. I know the deep thoughts of this contributor.  He struggles with the idea that he is a hypocrite for what he writes and how his actions may somehow not live up to the hype. He worries that a real world conversation will prove that out. It’s easier to retreat behind a keyboard and say kind and encouraging things and he definitely wants it easy. It’s a challenge to allow yourself to be “uncomfortable.” I tend get excited about a great many things. I start off like a train with a full head of steam! But as I edge closer, my engine grows cold and I grind to a halt. Eventually, I jump out on the tracks and make my way back home one railroad tie at a time.  

I imagine whether it’s a conference, church or any crowded affair made up of mostly strangers, these are the thoughts some think. I know I do. I tend to feel like the stranger who snuck in without the wedding clothes. “This party is meant for someone else. Soon, the master of ceremonies will realize I’m not dressed properly and kick me out on my keister. Better that I don’t even go. I’ll send a note. They’ll understand. I probably won’t even be missed.”  

Now, I went from the man with no wedding clothes to the one who asks to be excused. Is there a truth in that? How many excuses do we make to avoid truth? How often do we feel like we are clothed in the unworthiness of being in God’s presence? Do we makes excuses because we’re busy or because we think we don’t belong? The mind is a funny thing. It will run rings around you trying to makes excuses to stay put or set up scenarios that make you think you don’t belong.

But I do belong.

I don’t always recognize the new threads I’ve been given. I chalk it up to that sinner/saint dynamic we all struggle with. I often feel like I’m wearing the tattered clothes of sin and shame and usually for a good reason. But Christ promised me his white robe of righteousness. One that repels even my own judgmental thoughts about myself. I don’t know if we ever have to “forgive ourselves”, but I know we don’t always have to listen when fear and doubt are speaking. I am worthy because Christ has made me so and calls me that. I am clothed in Christ’s righteousness thought it sometimes doesn’t feel that way. To be honest, even if I didn’t go to this wonderfulgathering of daily prodigals, I’m still his and still worthy only by the actions of Christ. 

We all need reminders that we stand on the same level ground. If I make it to the conference and our eyes meet for the first time? Each of us will be looking into the eyes of a depraved mess of a sinner and a fully forgiven saint of God. The Church hosting this conference will be filled with selfish ne’er do wells who collectively bow knees in repentance and give thanks to God for constantly being washed clean.

If I make it, I look forward to shaking some hands and giving out hugs.  One bedraggled mess to another.       

If you’re on the fence about coming, there’s still time and there’s always room.

And you can be sure you have the right clothes...

A theological misfit landing in the area of Lutheranism, Dominick has come to deeply appreciate the truth of scripture as defined by the distinction between Law and Gospel. He has found freedom in knowing that Christ is his substitute on even his worst days. He has been for the course of his church life everything from chair-stacker to men's ministry leader. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great young men, which he can say without a doubt, he doesn't deserve. He counts among his favorite things: Star Trek, classic superhero comics, movies, Yankees and yes, he admits to it, the Knicks. He enjoys a good conversation and good food. Finally, he is grateful for the opportunity to share the message of God's Grace among all these great teachers, pastors and theologians and hopes he doesn't mess up big time. But then again, that's what grace is for, right?

Twitter: @adefeatedvictor