Today's post is coming to you from one of my best friends, Tony Gapastione. We were roomies at Covenant Midwinter Conference last week in Denver, and we recorded a few podcasts together, so he's returning the favor by blogging for me. In a week or two I'll be posting an interview with him on his involvement in film/acting and influencing the world for Jesus through film. In the meantime, here's a "Word of Witness" that he gave at Midwinter on the necessity of the new birth. He "opened" for Nancy Ortberg. :)
Good Morning, I’m Tony Gapastione. I get to serve in Redwood City, California, with Peninsula Covenant Church. As I think about my own rebirth, I wanted to share some stories.
Our 2nd baby was a week overdue so the doctor kick-started the contractions with Pitocin, which made the contractions hard and strong, scary painful for my wife. Our baby’s heartbeat was waning on the monitor and the nurse said it was probably because the contractions were so strong—but it caused our baby to come pretty quick. Then the doctor put on, I’m not kidding, a clear scuba-diving-looking mask the size of a windshield to get ready to catch our baby. And within 5 pushes, barely enough time for me to get my camera, our little Luisa was born. So Lulu is crying—you know, ’cause that’s what babies do—especially ’cause she just hit the world for the 1st time. She’s got all the gunk on her, one nurse cut the cord & took her over to check her out, suctioning out her nose, then weighing her while she pooped on the scale. She’s getting a blood sample taken from her, crazy chaos… We are bawling, we are so ecstatic, tired and amazed. Get this: Luisa weighed 10.4 lbs.
And then after she was all clean, they swaddled her up and put her in my wife’s arms. We oohed and ahhed. It was a beautiful moment where God's presence was felt. Then we noticed she was totally bruised & squishy, I’m talking so bruised and blue she looked like a character from the Avatar movie. Still cute, just blue. And for 2-3 days she stayed like that and her breathing was so heavy, she snored when she slept. We were a little worried, but the nurses/doctors just assured us it was a natural part of the birthing process. It would heal. I can say now, Wow… Being born is a dramatic experience & it can be pretty traumatic too.
So this just got me thinking about my own life and not only the first time I was reborn, as a 17-year-old high school student in Rockford, Illinois, but each significant time I have been reborn and some of the similar elements that marked those seasons of my life.
One time in my dorm at North Park University, wrestling with feelings of discomfort in my classes, discontentment in my major as if I was feeling the onset of contractions, knowing something was happening and change was about to happen. God awoke in me the need to invite people in to be my doctors and nurses, to help & care for me—and then on my face in prayer with a good buddy of mine, realizing that God was calling me to be a pastor. I had started NPU as an education major. I have no idea why, but in my 3rd week of my junior year, I heard God’s voice, calling me out, renewing my purpose. Reborn, I changed my major the next day.
Another rebirth was realizing God was calling me out of Chicago after college. Even though I was on my way to serve with Peninsula Covenant Church, I had grown very comfortable with Chicago life–I really tried everything to stay. I prayed Oh God—please… My friends are here, family are here- I love the pizza here in Chicago. I tried to get a job on campus somewhere, just so I could stay. But nope-- God used the changing circumstances in my life as contractions to give me new life and force me out of this very comfortable womb that I was living in.
God is always about NEW. He’s always making new things, doing new things in our life, ministry, marriages, churches, cities. Lamentations says the Lord’s mercies are new every morning. Isaiah says, “Behold: I am doing a new thing.” In Corinthians, Paul says that God is renewing us inwardly day by day, the old going and the new coming.
I had no idea what this rebirth to new life in California would have for me.
In California, I met this amazing woman that I dated occasionally, but kept my emotional distance — You see, I subconsciously had fears of intimacy. I had excuses & limitations that I put on myself that became comfortable, another womb. I had hundreds of reasons why I couldn’t move forward, why I wouldn’t pursue marriage & really live into my true manhood. Just like my daughter, I didn’t want to budge, until God used the circumstances in my life and forced me to deal with my brokenness. People spoke truth… Wounds from friends can be trusted… Like iron sharpening iron. Contractions. PUSH!
And God used my wife, Wendy, who was just my girlfriend at the time, to give me new life. We were talking in my car—just as friends, you know, and discussing life/future. I began to get uncomfortable. Contractions… Lies about my manhood, lies about how I viewed women were creeping in all around. I went to open the car door to make a quick exit, and like a gentle nurse beside a hospital bed, Wendy simply said, “It’s OK, you can tell me. I care.” And with that she put her hand on my shoulder and I immediately burst out crying. I mean, not just blink- blink-a-few-tears crying, but wailing. And I couldn’t say or do anything but cry for an hour and a half. And Wendy prayed for me. As the flaming arrows of the evil one were removed- in that car, the presence of God met me in a powerful way. God used my past, family of origin issues, even my fears to move me forward. And I was reborn in manhood, into more of the loved one of God he created me to be. New identity.
About a year and half ago I was on an airplane. I had my laptop & a borrowed DVD called THE FINGER OF GOD.
I watched this documentary of person after person, from all around the world, detail the power of God through miraculous movements of the Spirit, frankly in ways that I hadn’t ever seen and was a bit uncomfortable with. And it was on that plane ride that I was reborn again. Like contractions, God’s presence and truth came over me, and He whispered, “Wake up to who I am, Tony. Come out of the womb of your self-directed ministry methods, your pursuit of control & relevance and putting your hopes in the next trendy new thing, and experience ME! In John 5, Jesus said you search the scriptures for this new life, but miss me. Come fully alive to the power I have, to the love I want to give you and to others through you. There in seat 31B, yes the center seat, I was bawling, coming out of my womb, trying to wipe up my tears & snot with those flimsy airplane cocktail napkins-- I was being made new.
I so appreciate that the Evangelical Covenant Church recognizes the necessity of new birth. We get to be doctors and nurses for each other. I’ve had some care this week. We get to walk people through the contractions of life. Even this week. God uses the very things we pray for him to remove, the things we complain about to make us new.
It’s not always painful, rebirth, but sometimes it is. It’s confession, and what I’ve noticed in my life, the things or people I complain about, the things the frustrate and interrupt me are sometimes the very thing God is using to form me. To form my character. To restore and redeem me. It’s not how cool, trendy or relevant I can be that makes me worth anything to God. It’s His love, His choice and His power that swaddles me through and after these contractions. And I want to pray that for us as I close this morning.