I stood there under the pavilion in front of about 50 people. The picnic table to my right had two beautiful pictures of my friend Tim. One of them was a picture of him at the beach with his beloved dog, Willow. There was a small flower arrangement in between the photos. On the picnic table to my left were trays and trays of the “pot luck” food everyone was waiting to get to: wings, potato wedges, beans, slaw, chocolate chip cookies, etc. Tim’s mother was sitting just in front of me, holding his bible and fighting back tears. His high school friends were there. Most of the guys had nicknames that they bragged and laughed about. Tim had told me of these men who he went to high school with. He always referred to them with those nicknames. All of their names had a story behind them.
I’ve spoken at life celebrations before. This one was a little different. This one stung a little more. You see, Tim is a great friend and one of 5 MPACT brothers we lost over the course of the past year. Every time we lose someone it hurts. Especially when you see them grow in grace and the knowledge of who they truly are as Christian men. Tim was one of those who was so inspiring as we all saw his transformation in Christ. He became a vital part of our ministry. I was saddened that he had become so ill, as a result of his previous lifestyle, and passed away at a young age.
Tim joined his first MPACT meeting about 5 years ago. I have to admit he was in a shell. One of his best friends had driven through the night to pick Tim up in Louisiana and bring him back home to Florida. Tim had several thorns and he tried to remove them with so many worldly things, including alcohol. One of our MPACT brothers was the neighbor of Tim’s mother. He brought Tim into see us that Wednesday morning. He sat there, looking disheveled, down, sad, ashamed and depressed as we spoke of our own thorns and how our genuine brotherhood and the grace of Jesus was so important to the removal of the thorns from our sides. He said nothing that morning except his name and some background info about growing up in the area. Many brothers seldom say a word during their first visit to an MPACT meeting. Tim was no different.
But the look on his face when we told him we were glad he was there, just as he was, even in his turmoil, made my heart feel full. Seeing his eyes brighten when he was in a room with strangers who weren’t going to judge or condemn him made me smile. I saw a look of relief. He looked puzzled, but relieved. I could only imagine what was going through his mind, “Wait, what? I’ve screwed up my life so badly. Are these guys for real? They are accepting me as I am, right now? They want to walk with me? Even though I’ve done so many bad things? What’s this grace thing they are talking about? I mean, I’ve got a big stinky pile of sin and mistakes right next to me due to all of my bad decisions and they want me here anyway? They say I don’t need to clean my act up before I come back for my second meeting? What’s this all about?” I sensed, even though he didn’t say a word, he saw there was hope. He wasn’t sure what that hope was, but he knew it was there and his to experience. Yes, the seed was planted. He was about to grow, like he never had before.
Over the next year, I saw Tim do the one thing that Paul stressed to so many believers in his epistles . . . Yes, Tim grew. He grew in the knowledge of exactly what the blood and resurrection of Jesus did for him and to him. He grew in confidence of his new identity in Christ. He realized he was “Christ in Tim” instead of Tim the lowly sinner. He realized that the power of sin was cut off by Jesus’s blood, with his heartfelt belief in it, and that it was a permanent event in his life (See Colossians 2). Yes, he had spent so many years being conformed by the world. Now he was being transformed by the renewal of his mind in Christ.
We had a conversation about two years after he joined us. He told me about his revelation after finally understanding Paul’s words about removing the thorns in our life when Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Tim said, “Trey, I get it. You guys showed me the power of grace from day one. That first day impacted me so much. I was at my worst, my weakest! And you welcomed me anyway. I’ve prayed about understanding grace to His fullest ever since. I’ve noticed myself change. My desires for the worldly things are declining. My desire to know more about who I truly am increases daily. It’s all about His grace through my faith and not about what I’ve been trying so desperately to accomplish all these years on my own, through my own devices. All of which put me in the horrible pit I was in for so many years. Those devices sometimes do still tempt me today. But I now know, those things aren’t who I am anymore. They are not me. My identity: my identity is now IN CHRIST!” Yes, Tim was growing in his revelation. He was changing right before us. Oh, he still slipped up sometimes, but always looked in the mirror with confidence as grace guided him through those tough times.
One day I told him I thought it was time to expand our ministry platforms to reach more men. I wanted to set MPACT up as a non for profit. I was thinking of a social media presence, a logo, a website to help with our mission of discovering grace one man a time. I wanted to set up events, workshops, conferences, blogs and devotionals to reach more men. He eagerly said, “I’ll do it!” When I told him I couldn’t pay him, he said he didn’t care. He believed in our mission so much he wanted to help take it to another level. Because of his help, Tim, helped launch MPACT to a worldwide audience. His logo design is our calling card. Our following continues to increase through the podcasts he edited and published each week. In year two as a non for profit, I was able to pay him a small salary. He also got on board with the production team at two churches and had an impact with their congregations. Needless to say, God’s grace transformed Tim dramatically. He realized the hope he had, and that hope’s name is Jesus.
Yes, on this day, I shared this story of my time with Tim and his transformation. Unfortunately for us, we lost him here on earth. I told his mom, family and friends he simply beat us to our destination . . . in Jesus arms, in heaven. I know he’s saving us a seat to experience what he’s seeing now! In the meantime, he left a vital reminder of who he was in Christ. His legacy lives on anytime you click on the MPACT web site, social media pages, attend a meeting, listen to our podcasts or put on a shirt with our logo on it. Tim’s story of overcoming the thorns of life, needless to say, is our ministry. I pray that his story planted seeds of hope, under that beachside pavilion, and that those seeds will grow in everyone who knows Tim, so they can have the same revelation of grace as he did. Hopefully everyone he touched these past 5 years understands, just like my friend . . . you just need to come as you are!