My name is Joshua McGrew. I had the benefit of growing up in a solid family that loved me, a church family that cared for me, and with a God who gave me identity. By Middle School, I already knew what my life was destined for – a future in ministry working with teens. And so I didn’t wait. I waded in and started teaching those who were younger than I. I found purpose and acceptance through the relational investment that I made in others.
I was able to see my dream unfold as i was serving in the church, a Christian college, hired as a part-time Middle School minister, and finally full-time Youth Ministry. I wouldn’t be too far off in saying that I was the ‘golden child’ of my church. My future was secure.
Below the surface, this couldn’t be further from the truth. At the same time I started teaching, I began dabbling in pornography. By my High School years, porn was a regular part of my life. More and more, the Lord that I proclaimed (God) was replaced by the ‘lord’ that I honored (porn).
Some things they don’t tell you about pornography:
· It corrupts your God-given sexuality and makes you a slave to sexual sins. Eventually, it becomes the master of your life.
· You stop viewing people through the lens of being God-designed and start viewing them as objects to lust over. As a result, your relationships with the opposite sex begin to dissolve.
· You’re never content. Sexuality becomes a hunger that takes you deeper and deeper into brokenness.
By the time I was in my early 20’s, my mind was a mess. Choosing to follow God – to fully surrender and make Him the lead in your life – is no joke. Jesus makes it clear that we ‘cannot serve two masters’ (Matt. 6). Eventually one will win out over the other. I kept finding myself making grand commitments to God: ‘Never will I look at this again!’ and ‘I promise to seek wholeness and purity in You.’
Those commitments would sometimes last months. Usually it was weeks. Or days. At the age of 25, my sexual hunger finally got the best of me. I had an affair with a co-worker. This choice would bring a tremendous amount of brokenness into both of our lives, the lives of our families, and the lives that we interacted with regularly in the church.
The words ‘I’m pregnant’ can carry all kinds of weight. For me, it was enough weight to help me hit rock bottom. I spent a couple of days thinking through every option that I had; most of them involved running away from the mess that I had made. But finally we agreed to own up to our mistake. To do what we could to make restitution. To find forgiveness.
We went around to our coworkers and loved ones and told them our sin. We told them about the brokenness that we had caused. And we told them that we would own our mistake and resign from our positions at the church.
Sunday morning I found myself standing on the stage in front of my church family, openly sharing my brokenness and begging for their forgiveness. One thousand people. And as I stood there, a man stood up. He said, ‘I forgive you.’
Something broke inside of me. In those three words, I heard God’s voice: ‘I forgive you’. This is the beauty of grace: it is given, not earned. All of my life I had tried to earn the approval of God and people: get the right grades, make the right choice, say the right things. The outcome was a life full of pride and emptiness. Two thousand years ago, Jesus walked this earth and chose death in my place so that I wouldn’t have to strive to be ‘good enough’. I had replaced Jesus’ name with my own, but I was doing a terrible job of saving myself. It was in that moment, grace broke through all of the ugliness.
That morning I experienced grace for the first time. The people of this church surrounded me. Cried with me. Prayed with me. Loved on me. Jesus took on flesh and accepted my brokenness. Grace took on flesh and helped me discover a real relationship with God.
It was the worst and best day of my life.
Healing took a long time, but it started in that moment. Even now, I find myself battling some of the brokenness of my past: scarred relationships, misguided pride and a lurking lust. But God is good and is transforming me to be the person He originally designed me to be.
Speaking of transformation and grace:
· I have a wife who loves me and puts up with my brokenness. We’re walking this road of transformation together.
· I have a horde of children who need me and who have become my pride and joy.
· I have a church community (the very same community as above, believe it or not) that I get to serve in and that I continue to experience grace through.
· And I have a God that sees through the mess that I made and continues to say, ‘I forgive you.’
God’s doing the hard work – I just have to daily choose to surrender to Him and obediently follow.