91Q8sZbrKwLThis book caught my eye immediately for two main reasons.  First, I thought [correctly] it was the wife of Austin Stone Worship Leader Aaron Ivey.  [Can you say “Jesus is Better“?  If you haven’t heard this song, STOP and go listen now. Seriously.  It’s OK.  We’ll wait.]

Second, it’s the author’s “unlikely, unavoidable story of becoming free.”  Many of us have a dark past and I’m no different.  I love to hear stories of redemption, and always have hopes that the gospel will outshine the darkness, especially in the re-telling of the story.  Jamie succeeds mightily at this.

If You Only Knew” [B&H, 2018], by Jamie Ivey is a refreshing, vulnerable [borderline uncomfortably so], and best of all – thoroughly gospel-grounded look into the journey of faith.   [One that doesn’t look as neat and tidy as sometimes we can represent it to be in our churchy churches.]

I’ll come clean.  I started to read this book and was filled with “meh” and thought “Oh boy.  Please don’t let this be another ‘I-used-to-be-awful-but-then-God-restored-everything-and-now-I-speak-everywhere-and-have-3M-Insta-followers’ book.”  As a Pastor, I see plenty of ‘regular’ people who actually don’t have everything restored.  Again, I am stoked to say “This is not one of those books.”

I totally get the pain and loneliness of having a sinful past and then walking into church where everyone looks so dang perfect.  I definitely remember thinking,  “If they only knew my story, they’d probably run for the door.  I’m not as perfect as they are.”  I get it. It’s the old square peg/round hole with a healthy dose of an identity that’s not rooted in Christ.  However, as Jamie writes – “When seen through the eyes of the gospel, our stories are not obstacles to our freedom; they are actually the key to unlocking it.” [9]

The author powerfully confesses how self-imposed labels can paralyze one’s spiritual and emotional health.  [“F” = Fake; “W” = Whore; “U” = Used, etc.]  Jamie writes “Not only until years later did I begin to realize that the only one obsessively focused on all these letters was me…and those letters don’t match up with God’s letters”  [27/29].  She boldly and very transparently chronicles, possibly sometimes with a little too much detail, a deep past of sexual sin and the wreckage and heartache it caused.  All the while, trying to fit in this God that she was taught about all her life.

I can also throughly relate to this – the challenges of growing up in church, especially in the theologically light 80s and 90s [flannel graphs, Christian rock and “True Love Waits” need I say more?] and yet not truly understanding the gospel.  “Knowing where to find the Sermon on the Mount and truly believing what Jesus meant when He said it are two vastly different things. Spending time at church and living like you are the church are not the same.” [47]

All sin is at it’s root is a decision to please self rather than please God.  Whatever we are thinking we need to please self – sex, substances, attention from others, fill in the blank.  The author also doesn’t let us off the hook.  In this social media fueled world, we crave attention and glory.  Addressing this and hitting a book theme, Jamie writes “But I know deep down where my desire comes from.  It’s from wanting to be truly known and loved for exactly who I am. And that’s something I’ve discovered can only come from God.” [66]

This is the role of the church, to clearly point people to the love of God in Jesus Christ and  boldly stand on His Word.  Jamie exhorts us to continually make the church where people don’t “feel unwelcome to be real.” [81]

Our churches have to be this place, I completely agree and my people will tell you I say “It’s OK to not be OK…we just can’t stay there…” [thanks Chandler] many weeks from the pulpit.  A faithful, biblical church is where people should see the blood soaked cross, standing center stage, proclaiming we all need a Savior, and in fact he pursues us in his overwhelming love and grace.

This is what turned Jamie Ivey around.  God pursuing her.  Indeed I can relate to this as well and I’m sure many can.  God’s love comes after us and in the author’s word “leads us to a point of unavoidable vulnerability that felt more crippling to me that anything I’d ever been through before.” [88]  Amen.

This relationship with a God who pursues us isn’t neat and tidy.  It’s full of fits and starts in the beginning.  We “stumble [our] way toward trusting Him.” [117]. I felt conviction in my heart as Jamie told her story of failure AFTER surrendering to Christ and becoming new.  It’s such a vulnerable time, all the appetites of our old, newly dead self all up in the mix.  It caused me to think about new Christians, new church members, and how much they need our support, biblical friendship and grace.  Just because someone makes a really dumb decision, doesn’t mean they aren’t saved.  We are all capable of great sin. May God cause us to persevere.

What I learned from this book was that grace is needed, because this is a long haul.   It’s not an instantaneous thing.  Jamie writes that this took her years to get [156].  Even in all that, my self-righteous wondering “How common is this to take years to get it?” This be a disconnect on account of me being male.  Upon checking with my lovely wife, she verified that indeed my man-ness may be revealing itself in a lack of grace.  It does take years, especially with extensive sexual sin and especially for women.  This is why it’s all the more critical to keep preaching the gospel of Jesus, for only in that is true hope of healing and renewal.

I thoroughly appreciated the way Jamie opened up a gospel fire hose in the closing chapters of this book and went deep dive.  She carefully, and biblically, and passionately preaches the life giving gospel in this book and it was what I was hoping for.

Make no mistake, sin is profoundly destructive.  Jamie, at great personal risk, tells us that clearly from her story.  But what I really like about this book is that as great as the damage of sin may be, Jesus truly is far greater in his ability to save and renew.  Let’s help each other stop looking so long at our sin and look at our Savior.

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