One of the questions people ask me is why a minister would have a handle (nick name or title) of Sinner. Great question! The immediate thought that comes to my mind, “or what’s left of it” is that I feel more comfortable with Sinner as a label than I feel with Reverend, Pastor, Saint, etc. I am a sinner saved by “Grace Alone”. “God’s Grace”.
STURGIS. LAST DOSE OF CHEMO THE DAY BEFORE THIS PHOTO
Let me explain. I applied for seminary only to be denied admittance because I had fallen in love with my high school sweetheart and we married as teens. We had two wonderful children. However, there were many issues and I was no angel. There was much heartache. She divorced me and married another man. Several years later I would marry the red headed fiery angel that is my soul mate and ministry partner. Everyone is happy and blessed. We are all friends. There is no room for hate and unforgivness in healing and recovery.
After being trained to become a church planter and presenting my idea for a recovery church designed to reach the most broken of us, I was denied funding based on the marriage and divorce issue. Shot down again.
I thought surely this is a sign from God. I must be meant to be a missionary. That’s gotta be it!!! Right? Guess again. The Mission Board turned me down on funding with the simple explanation that My wife and I did not qualify given the current criteria. I finally found out the answer: Divorce and Remarriage.
For several years I was denied licensing as a minister or Ordination. My past was was simply too wicked and filled with addiction issues. Not to mention a criminal history and incarceration. And of course the worst: Divorce and remarriage. God forgives but people struggle with this God given mandate. Even church people struggle with forgiveness. After all, we are all human. God will walk us through learning and receiving forgiveness gracefully.
Finally, a silver lining. I found the minister that had the guts to stand up to judgement and convention. I would be a Licensed Minister. My vision would be ignited and I could blast off. This would open the door for serving as a Pastor or give me many other opportunities to serve. My Pastor calls me in his office to show me a copy of my Licence before the licensing ceremony. There it was in bold print. “Licensed Lay Minister, not Licensed Minister”. Pressure from the church deacons. My heart sank. I humbly went through the ceremony and received my credentials. Thankful for this because I would no longer be turned away from hospitals or jails where people could be helped by me. Sometimes there would be no other clergy that could be there. I would at least have some sort of credentials.
I felt utterly defeated. But I refused and still refuse to give up on the vision God gave me. Where God guides, He provides. God gifted me with the ability to speak publicly and preach. He gifted me with knowledge and empathy for people that suffer from the hardest of life’s conditions. He blessed me with an education but best of all God gave me an angel to be the one to serve beside me. She has the tenacity of an Olympic gold medalist. She is absolutely unstoppable and a blessing when it comes to working with the many young ladies we have encountered needing that motherly loving touch.
I have been told more times than once we don’t have the proper credentials or experience. I simply reply, “stop us if you can”. If God is for you, who can be against you”? The result of diving off the cliff expecting God to give us wings before we go splat has been nothing less than miraculous. God has blessed our ministry. We have served in many churches and venues in several states. Evangelism, Missions, Chaplaincy and Motorcycle Ministry. I have preached in the pulpits of many churches and in many denominations. God is great. Me, a once homeless drunk and junkie with a criminal history. God can bless you too. God has a plan for you. Grab hold of it by grabbing hold of God.
The Holy Spirit is our teacher, God is our protector and Christ is our strength. Do not let anyone tell you you can’t serve God by loving others in whatever role He calls you to. God has provided miracle after miracle in our lives. He will do the same for you too. We keep what we have by giving it away. 12th step philosophy.
Call me Sinner. This reminds me that my recovery, empowerment to serve God and others. Also that salvation is by Gods grace only. Today, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Robert S. Newberry, “Sinner”