God's Not Angry With Me Anymore
(As published in Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin 2006 © Nate Larkin)
Fortunately,(or sometimes unfortuately!) I was blessed with an exceptional memory. I can remember evenys that occured well before I was three years old. For example, I can remember my mother "leading me to the Lord"-letting me know that I did "bad things" and needed Jesus to die for my "bad things" and forgive me-before I turned three. And my memory is not limitted to events. I can also remember emotions and attitudes from those toddler years, a gift that psychologists say is rare.
One of the earliest emotions I can remember is anger. I was surrounded by Christians, but everyone was angry. My parents (and fellow church goers) were angry-angry at smokers and drinkers, angry at Hollywood and movie makers, angry at me for noot being potty trained and talking to loud and too much, angry at my baby brother for getting into things all the time. My church was also angry-angry at women in pants and makeup, and women in the workplace, angry at the communists and the hippies and the rock 'n' roll musicians and the Democrats and the liberal "ecumenical" churches. Naturally, I immagined God was angry too. After all, wasn't he busy "trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored"? God was angry at all the sinners of the world. In my mind, God was an old man in the sky pointing a bony finger at me and saying, "Im going to get you my precious, and your little dog too!" When I reached adolescence, God was angry at me for "letting" myself be abused by ten (actually more) men and teenagers on the mission field where we lived. God was angry at me for looking at the Playboy magazines in my guitar teacher's studio. God was angry at me for tasting my first beer and making out with girls, or when I played softball instead of going to youth group. God's anger was endless. Later theological enlightenment helped, but it couldn't fully correct my "angry God" concept. Jack Miller (through Sonship and Scotty Smith) pointed me in the right direction whebn he said, "Cheer up! You're much worse than you think, but Jesus is a much bigger Savior than you ever dared imagine." (Steve Brown told me "God isn't angry with me any more.) I heard about a gracious God who gave me a righteousness that is not my own or based on any element of my performance. I came to understand the love of God intellectually, but emotionally that radical love takes a long, long time to sink in. For years the Church still seemed like an angry place to me. I couldn't bear to face that anger. I couldn't dare admit, therefore, that I had been severely (sexually) abused as a child and adolescent. I couldn't dare admit that I had a four year affair with the wife of a close friend, while in professional ministry. I couldn't dare admit that I struggled with depression and alcohol abuse and sometimes was so angry at God that I doubted his very existence while preparing to lead the Sunday worship service. Then along came Samson. In the Samson Society, I found a group of men who are brutally honest without judging one another. These men believe that we are all sinner- saints, and the process of sanctification includes recovery from our various addictions. They show the unconditional love of our Father by standing by me no matter what I do, but they are not afraid to challenge my lies and confront my unbelief. The Samson Society is a band of "pirate-monks" that I can laugh with, cry with, pray with, drink with, cuss with-and they are helping me understand that God really isn't angry with me anymore. No, Samson is not some miraculous cure, but a community that has recognized that sanctification is a work of God's grace, accomplished by the Spirit through the community of faith. Here it is safe to confess our sins and struggles to each other, pray for one another, and support each other in reality rather than denial. As Brennan Manning said, "Wholeness is brokenness acknowledged and thereby healed."
I remain Desperately and Constantly in Need of and Flabbergasted by His Grace, Matt
Brokenness Redeemed: God Moved Matthew Creamer Beyond Abused Adulterer to Grace-Filled Son
By Megan Fowler (Published in Covenant Magazine 2011 © Covenant Seminary)
Matthew Creamer (MDiv 2012) has a messy testimony. He has endured and inflicted heartache and betrayal while doing remarkable things for the Lord.
Creamer grew up in a Christian home where his parents played an integral role in planting a fundamentalist church in Ohio. His father and grandfather served as elders in the church, his parents were the church’s first youth directors, and his parents served on the committee that called the first pastor. Creamer was also the first child baptized in the church.
“We were literally there every time the church doors were opened,” he said. Not surprisingly, Creamer’s earliest memories revolve around the church. He memorized Scripture and children’s catechism shortly after he learned to talk, but these good things stemmed from a desire to please God.
“The church was reformed, but though salvation was by faith, sanctification was ‘sola bootstrap-sia’” Creamer jokes. He said the church portrayed God as angry, and though this God might have loved the world enough to send His only Son, he did so begrudgingly. The church technically taught the perseverance of the saints and eternal security, but Creamer said struggling with questions or doubts indicated one’s commitment was not sincere enough.
When Creamer was five, his parents took their family to the mission field to minister to Palestinians, living near a refugee camp in Palestine between Bethlehem and Hebron. Though his parents had good intentions, they had little theological training and no understanding of cross cultural ministry, Islam or the Arab world.
Despite his family’s lack of preparation, Matthew adapted well to his new environment. “I was running around the refugee camp and villages nearby and becoming almost as much Palestinian as I was American,” he said. Creamer witnessed the Israeli soldiers committing horrors against Palestinian children in his village
Creamer also quickly learned Arabic, the language he calls his “second mother tongue.” His gift for the language served his parents well in their ministry, and Creamer soon became what he calls a “centerpiece” of his parents’ ministry, translating for pastors in church and doctors in the hospitals. This much responsibility weighed heavily on a boy who had not yet hit adolescence. Creamer said he was “constantly feeling the pressure of using the special gift [God] had given me.”
Though Creamer loved the Palestinians to whom his family ministered and felt part of the culture, he became a target of sexual abuse, by age seven, at the hands of the Muslim and nominally Christian men. Creamer says pedophilia is “one of the dirtiest secrets of the Muslim world.” When he told his parents what was happening, they disciplined him as if he somehow allowed it to happen and for not reporting it to them sooner.
“That was the last time I told a soul about it for the next 28 years,” he said.
The abuse continued for another eight years and grew more severe. The situation was complicated by the fact that many of the men who abused him were his friends and demonstrated kindness to his family during times of real need.
“Some of those guys would have thrown themselves in front of a car for me, but they were sexually abusing me,” he said. “Everybody knows that it goes on, but it’s not admitted.”
Creamer’s false sense of shame and guilt, exacerbated by wrong teaching about sanctification and the nature of God, led him to try harder to win God’s favor and distance himself from the abuse he was enduring. In high school in Jerusalem and college in Ohio, Creamer worked to appear spiritually mature and serene. He participated in youth ministry, translated Arabic for pastors and led worship at Arabic churches.
But his stuffing of his past caused Creamer to sink into deep depression.
During this time Creamer realized that Palestinian Christians needed music in their own language and style. He wrote and recorded three albums of music in Arabic and taught this music to Christians throughout Palestine.
“I saw how stupid it was that we were singing Western hymns translated into Arabic,” he said. “I wanted to give the Arabic young people contemporary Christian music.”
Creamer began writing hymns as early as 14, and he recorded the first album during his senior year of high school. World Vision later sponsored him to return and record two additional albums.
After finishing high school Creamer returned to the U.S. to attend college in Ohio and study music. His desire was to return to the Middle East as a musician and continue ministering to the Palestinians through music in Arabic.
During college Creamer married his wife Roberta, whom he had met in the Middle East four years earlier when she came for a summer mission trip to Palestine. Roberta shared Creamer’s passion for returning to the Middle East to live and work without being missionaries in the traditional sense.
“I never turned my back on God or the church, but I did not want [the church] to be my end point,” he said.
Though Creamer did not want to participate in ministry as a staff member at a church, within six months of graduating from college he began working as a worship leader at a church in Dayton, Ohio. Over the next 11 years, this part-time job morphed to include leading the youth ministry, coordinating small groups, shepherding and counseling congregants and following up with visitors.
When the church’s senior pastor left, Creamer became licensed to preach as pulpit supply. But despite signs of a flourishing ministry, Creamer said he had not yet begun addressing the horrors he had experienced as a child or the depression and addictions that had resulted.
“I honestly believed that if I looked like I had everything together and was working hard at the Lord’s work to earn his favor, it didn’t matter what kinds of struggles I might be having,” he said.
In 1997, shafts of light from the Gospel began to penetrate Creamer’s spiritual prison. He and Roberta attended a Sonship conference at Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tenn., and for the first time, Creamer said, he heard the gospel of grace. At last, he began to understand that the entire Christian life is the work of God’s grace and that rather than being a curmudgeon who bestows a little love while grumbling under his breath, God absolutely and unconditionally loves His children.
This teaching thrilled and inspired Creamer, and for the first time he sensed a desire to communicate the Gospel as a pastor. But Creamer had darker days ahead of him.
Shortly after returning from the Sonship conference, Creamer began having an affair with a woman in his church, and the blinding effects of sin insulated him from the darkness of his actions.
“It was so easy at first to rationalize and excuse it…but the real sense of guilt and conviction from the Holy Spirit, and the false sense of guilt and shame that I carried from my childhood took an ever increasing toll.”
Creamer’s depression worsened and led to alcohol abuse and a near breakdown. Eventually Creamer’s pastor, an elder, and the woman’s husband confronted him about his infidelity. He was fired from the church and suspended from ministry and eldership. It was at this time that Creamer finally told his wife – after 15 years of marriage – about the abuse he suffered as a child and the struggles that resulted.
With no job and a marriage on life support, Creamer and Roberta returned to Christ Community Church in 2001, the place where they had first heard the gospel of grace. They came under the care of the session at Christ Community and received counseling to deal with the tangled mess of sin, brokenness and heartache that had been left unaddressed for years.
In December 2002, Creamer was restored to eldership by the session of Christ Community. His restoration came with approval from the church in Dayton where he had served.
Other than a brief stint as a worship leader at a church in Florida, Creamer and Roberta remained in Tennessee until they moved to St. Louis in 2009 to attend Covenant. The last nine years have forced Creamer to look honestly at the depth of his sin, but also to see the enormity of the cross and the richness of the Gospel.
“I am convinced more and more that the pure gospel of grace is the only thing that can bring true healing to us and our addiction to sin and idolatry,” he said.
Aiding in his healing have been Creamer’s wife and two children. His son, Jonathan, daughter –in- law Lynnsey, and daughter, Rachel, both live in Tennessee and attend Christ Community Church.
“They have been an integral part of our story, ministries, and healing,” Creamer said. “They, like Roberta, show me the unconditional love of my Abba.”
Creamer willingly shares his testimony to encourage others struggling with past abuse or sexual sin. In the fall 2010, he and Roberta shared their testimony during Dr. Richard Winter’s weekend class called Sense and Sexuality. Creamer also founded a Covenant chapter of the Samson Society, a Christian support group for men struggling with addictions.
He and Roberta increasingly want to use their experiences to encourage pastors and their wives, missionaries and the organizations that send missionaries. Roberta in particular feels a sense of calling to minister to pastor’s wives.
And Creamer’s music – he has three albums of English music and three in Arabic – continues to provide a place for him to articulate the truths of the Gospel. “I always wrote what I know, not what I feel,” he said.
Many of his Arabic songs are available for free download from matthewcreamermusic.com, and some of his English songs can be downloaded from reverbnation.com.
He dreams of planting a church and pastoral retreat center in Middle Tennessee, a place where he and Roberta can minister to people in ministry who have experienced tremendous brokenness, like they themselves experienced.
Creamer and Roberta also dream of returning to live and work among the Palestinians. Wherever the Lord might lead them after Creamer graduates in December 2012, they want to take their testimony of God redeeming their brokenness and shining the Gospel through heartache and weakness.