“A Lifestyle of Repentance” Part 2

“Some judged them (mostly Christians), but many were blown away by this real life testimony of the Gospel.”

A few days ago I posted “A Lifestyle Of Repentance” Part 1. Today will conclude the post with a practical, everyday story of two individuals who I have had the pleasure of watching live out this type of lifestyle over the past 9 months. They are ordinary people, but their love for Jesus is nothing short of radical. I was blessed to perform their wedding a few months ago. I introduce to you Ty & Emily Richards…

Ty and Emily are passionate followers of Jesus, though Emily had only recently experienced the reality of Jesus in her life. Ty and Emily met, and were instantly drawn to one another. One thing led to another and they ended up falling into sin by sleeping together. They became deeply convicted of this poor decision, repented to one-another, and people they trusted. They began walking in purity. Ty began thinking about marriage, decided to start looking for a ring, and propose to Emily very soon. After some time had passed they discovered some surprising news that Emily had become pregnant during their previous stumble into sin. They were shocked, but new they only had one choice in this matter, to continue to walk in repentance. They were very open with everyone about the situation, and were confident in the grace of Jesus they had been living in since they first repented. At every turn they gave glory to Jesus, confessed their sin openly to EVERYONE, and walked in repentance in every relationship they had. Both families were informed quickly, along with many friends and loved ones. Some judged them (mostly Christians), but many were blown away by this real life testimony of the Gospel. They got married shortly afterward (Because they were in love, not because they were pregnant). They have continued to walk in repentance to this day, and Jesus has blessed their pursuit of Him, and acceptance of His grace. The enemy used their sin to make life very difficult by them getting pregnant when they were not ready, and not married. Before repentance this baby was a “consequence” of sin. As a result of God’s grace, and their repentance this baby has now been redeemed for God’s glory! The true message of the Gospel and God’s grace has shined through in a difficult situation-the truth that He takes what we have done in our sin and makes it beautiful as a result of our repentance. What the enemy had stolen for his purposes were brought back into alignment with God’s kingdom through the repentance of His children. Beautiful.

Ty and Emily could have been secretive about this situation, and tried to hide it. They could have made excuses, and questioned why this happened when they already repented (initially), and were walking in purity. This choice would hinder Jesus from taking what was broken in their sin, and redeeming it for His good. They chose differently by asking for forgiveness, and repenting of that sin through word and behavior. This opened up the flood-gates for the truth of the Gospel to begin reconstructing those broken pieces of glass in the hearts Ty and Emily.

We have all heard Romans 8:28. “For God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” We have all recited this verse to ourselves, or quoted it to a friend or loved one when something “bad” happened. However, could there be more to this passage when we read it through the lens of a lifestyle of repentance? Perhaps this scripture is speaking to what happens when we enter into a repentant relationship with Jesus, and invite Him to begin taking back what the enemy has stolen in order to further His kingdom. Maybe Paul was saying that in our sin, and brokenness God can take a willing/repentant heart and make it right again. It is as if the repentant posture of our heart allows the Spirit to come in and not only assist in preventing that particular sin from happening again, but to go back and redeem what was. The Spirit of God in Ty and Emily did not just desire for them to stop engaging in sexual immorality, but that through grace and love the sin that was used for darkness would now shed light on why Jesus did what He did!

Ty and Emily both gave permission for their story to shared on “A Holy Discontent” as well as in an article in the online e-magazine at http://www.shapevine.com

When “church” Becomes Idol…

***Disclaimer: for this particular post the word “church” will be used in reference to church as a place, program, service, institution, gathering, etc. Obviously, these things should not define “church”, but we are going to look at what happens when the things above somehow sneak in and become more important than Jesus, and people knowing Him as Lord.***

Idolatry is very much still around today. Every single one of us could find an idolatrous area of our lives if we took a long enough look at ourselves. This happens when, for whatever reason, we are deceived into thinking that something else is more worthy of worship than our King, Jesus. Often times these idols sneak their way in because they are not inherently bad things…at all. In fact, they are sometimes very good things that have either pushed Jesus off His throne in our lives, or accidentally become the priority over Jesus. This happens when we believe lies, or UNtruths that are injected into our lives by the enemy. “How though, could ‘church’ become an idol!?”, some of you may be asking…

I was recently at an event with about 50 other Christians. During the event everyone took time to go around, and share “success” stories of things that had been happening in their lives as they pursued being a “Christian” in their context. The purpose of these stories was for edification for those who were there. As people shared others were ecstatic and huge smiles began to form on their faces. After a few minutes of these stories something hit me…and my heart grew very heavy…

First, here is a few examples of these “success” stories:

“…when my neighbor found out I go to church he came to ask me if he could come with me!”

“…it was so neat…after we met and started building a relationship she agreed to come to church with me.” (She had been invited several times before)

“It’s so great, several people have joined us at church.”

…and so on and so forth…

The entire evening, other than perhaps during a prayer to “bless the food”, the name of Jesus was not mentioned once. No stories about Jesus being introduced to anyone, or anyone being “invited” to experience Jesus as a powerful and living God right here and right now. No stories of anyone being impacted in any way by Jesus Himself. Again, the NAME of Jesus was not mentioned once. Was it on purpose? Of course not. Am I certain that everyone in that room loves Jesus? Yes. Was this neglect of Jesus intentional? Of course not.

You see, somewhere along the way the works of scripture got transferred out of the hands/responsibility of the ordinary believer, and placed into the hands of the paid clergy. The way “success” and “effective ministry” is measured shifted from individual life transformation (Which is very difficult to measure, fabricate, & force.) to a generic “how many people are here”? When the responsibility of the individual believer to make disciples was shifted to the paid clergy the ability to do so seemed to go with it. This is not the individual believers fault. Over time what it means to be a follower of Christ has changed, along with the methods and language we use to communicate such things…

When anything takes the place of Jesus in our lives the focus goes to that thing…and off of Jesus. That thing takes the throne. We are guilty of idol worship. When our primary goal is to get people to go to church (Of course, with the desire and hope that they will eventually “meet Jesus”, or make a decision to follow Him at some point) we have replaced Jesus with church. We communicate with our actions and words that “church” is savior, and forgiver of sins. We bow down in worship to church. “Church” did not die on the cross for our sins – Jesus died on the cross for us, His Church, His Bride, so that He could become all that we worship. As the TRUE lover of our souls our number one desire MUST be to introduce others to Him. As a part of the process we become a part of the body of Christ! We naturally gather with other believers as a result, but hopefully not spend too much of their time with those believers. Hopefully, we will then begin introducing others to…yes…Jesus…not our new church.

I am around different types of people all throughout the week, as I am sure many of you are. Something I have noticed in the people I am around who do not claim “membership” to a particular “church” as a building with a name, or institution is the things they place value in. Every single time I am with these people they are full of joy as they share stories of individuals who they have been discipling, and walking with. They share about how Jesus is becoming Lord to these people. Then, they invite me to this new believer’s Baptism after they have led them to Christ! A natural result is always that these new believers are connected with the body of Christ in some form or fashion-usually very healthy. They may not be filling the pews of a church on Sunday morning, or “serving” in a church program. But, they are actively out proclaiming to others this new love they have found in Jesus as He has become their Lord. There is much freedom in the above…it feels weightless, and light…it feels like a journey of obedience & dedication to Jesus.

This is far different from the conversations I have with others who have dedicated and given their lives to the “church”. Discussion is more about endless struggles with sin and trying to manage that sin. It’s about the uncomfortable invitation to church on Sunday they have extended to their neighbor for months-wondering why their neighbor won’t come. It’s about how good and funny their preacher’s message was the previous Sunday, and how much they loved “that one song the guy played”. Again, none of those things are necessarily bad, but when they take the place of Jesus as Lord in our lives we become idolaters.

Those of you who know me know that I am not a fan of any particular model of “doing church”. I think that conversation is silly – we don’t “do” church. We BE Church. If you are BEING Church, and obedient to Jesus at your church then these words are not for you. I am not at all submitting that this is the case across the board. I am simply sharing observations I’ve made in cities all over the country (three of which I have lived in for long periods of time) among people in both scenarios. If Jesus is your Lord in both words & actions then let’s praise Him for that! If something else has sneaked in and taken the place of Lord (perhaps “church”) then may we all run hard after Jesus together to place Him back on the throne in our lives.

“Jesus, we trust you. You are so gracious. Thank you that you pour out your grace over us when we can’t seem to “get it right” over and over again. Empower us by Your Spirit to see the You in us be reproduced into the You in those You have placed in our lives!”

“The Art of Being Wrong”

“When we are wrong Jesus is right – it’s redemption in action.”

“You see, if we are never wrong about anything then that means Jesus isn’t having to make us right in any areas of our lives…we hinder His redemptive work in us.”

American culture (and human nature) screams that we must never, ever, ever, under any circumstances admit that we are wrong…about ANYTHING, ever. Whether it be a petty decision we made, statement that slipped out, or a huge life decision that did not go as planned, we seem to have an inability to recognize that we just might have been…WRONG. Is it really so bad…to be…WRONG?

I have determined that we, as humans, need to learn, practice, and perfect the art of being wrong; not when we are not wrong, of course. = ) Perhaps our default should not always be that we ARE right, and could not possibly be wrong. Maybe we could re-program our default to be that we quite possibly could have made a better decision.

“When we are wrong Jesus is right – it’s redemption in action.”

“You see, if we are never wrong about anything then that means Jesus isn’t having to make us right in any areas of our lives…we hinder His redemptive work in us.”

We allow our upbringing, traditions, and personal preferences to get in the way of being wrong all the time. These things cripple us from growing into the people we need to be; the people God desires to build us into. Over the past two years it has become increasingly freeing to let go of things I have done to realize they may be wrong, and could be better in. It hurts at first, but the end result is a more perfect you.

In marriage, our spouses have been placed into our lives to sanctify us by the Holy Spirit that lives within them. When we refuse to ever be wrong we disregard that truth, and hinder our own personal cleansing. In our lives as believers we are so certain we are right that we miss out on things God is trying to teach us.

This also plays into how we “do ministry”, church, etc. My friend Neil Cole directs an organization called CMA. In their organization they have what they call a “wall of shame”. On these shelves resides years worth curriculum, strategies, and plans that they had to retire due to their ineffectiveness. They were willing to accept that those things were…wrong. They put them on the shelf, and began striving for better. Of course, it was painful to retire the resources that took so much time, energy, and money to create. However, the end result was so much more beautiful than the tragedy that would have followed had they insisted on being right.

We could go on and on with examples of how this plays into our lives, and negatively affects us. I am not suggesting that we be ok with being wrong all the time, or become insecure in everything we do because we “might be wrong”. I am simply suggesting that we have a much looser grip on our pride that insists we are incapable of making a bad decision…otherwise known as…SIN. If I never realize, and accept the sin in my life because of pride or not wanting to be wrong I refuse to allow anything in my life to be redeemed.

“Jesus, continually reveal to us where we are wrong. Allow Your Spirit in us to more quickly recognize these wrongs so we may invite Your Spirit in to bring us back into alignment with Your Kingdom. If we neglect this longer we continue to shout with our actions that Your work on the cross was unnecessary, and that we do not need it. Set us free Jesus, and remind us of the permission you gave us to be wrong when you died for the fact that we are sinful.”

I leave you with two definitions…

Redeem: Compensate for faults, or bad aspects.

Redemption: The action of saving, or being saved from sin, error, evil.

Married To Jesus…

I am currently reading through the book of Romans with my “LTG partner”. I came across a neat little piece of insight this morning in Romans 7:2-4 that I thought I’d share with you all…

2For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.”

Wow. I am daily humbled by the fact that we, as The Church, are the Bride of Christ. He is the Bridegroom, and is making His Bride ready for His return. It says that we have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that we may be married to another-Jesus! Just as the woman above is released from the law of marriage to her husband upon his death, we are released from our marriage to sin because of the law through the death/resurrection of Christ. Just as she is released to marry another, WE are released to marry another-Him who was raised from the dead.

We are released from our marriage to sin, and set free in our marriage to Christ because He has died, and is risen for the redemption of our sin. He is our Bridegroom, and we are daily being sanctified/made pure/holy for His return. My favorite part of this passage is at the very end…

“…that we should bear fruit to God.”

We are released from our marriage to sin because of the law, and set free to marry Christ…SO THAT WE MAY BEAR FRUIT TO GOD! I love it. May we walk in this freedom today, realizing our freedom from sin, and marriage to Christ for the purpose of His Kingdom!

Lonely Old Men, & Poetry…

The thoughts in this post pose some interesting questions, which are the reasons behind why I wrote it in the first place. The questions are at the end…if the story becomes boring feel free to skip down and read them. I’d love your thoughts on them as well…

“Lonely Old Men, & Poetry”
Last night our simple church decided to go to what we thought was an “open mic night” at the Coffee Bean. The Bean is right down the street, and we’re always sure to meet people who live in our neighborhood when we go there. Our purpose was to build some relationships, and a couple of us were possibly going to contribute to the “open mic”…

Much to our dismay, we had received a bit of inaccurate information about “open mic night”. Turns out it was really “Poetry Reading Night”. We thought, “What’s difference does it make? We came to build relationships. Why would that change because it’s open poetry reading, and not open mic, right?” We had also spent some time covering the evening in prayer at the house before heading up to the Coffee Bean. So, we, a bit reluctantly, joined the group of poets in the back room. It was closed off from the rest of the coffee shop, probably due to the language/content of the poetry. Not to mention they had the mic CRANKED up.

It did not take us long to realize that this was going to be a long night. What we thought was open mic night was actually poetry night. What was SUPPOSED to be poetry night should have actually been called, “Erotic, Sexual Poetry Reading by Creepy, Old, Lonely Men and Women Night.” Haha! I won’t go into detail here, but you can imagine what we were hearing. Each person had crafted their wildest sexual fantasies into a poem to share with the entire group; all included MUCH use of the “F” word. Enough said.

I am really proud of our community for being such “troopers”, not judgmental, and having true compassion in their hearts for those we spent the evening with last night. For the most part we’ve all been far removed from our previous “Christian Bubbles”, which completely sheltered us from the world, sin, and the potential to be temped. Being around “sin” doesn’t make us want to leave so we don’t get “tainted”, or hinder us from remembering our purpose. We go confidently into dark situations having faith that the LIGHT is US in far more powerful than the DARKNESS we’ve entered into; we’re also “prayed up”, and on mission together as believers. (The Bible talks a bit about this believe it or not = )

There is one very important thing that came to my mind last night as we were sitting in the back room of the Coffee Bean while creepy old men were talking about their dream girl being tied to the bed…

I could not help but think that the way we felt sitting in this room (A bit uncomfortable, uneasy, not used to the atmosphere, confused, unsure of how to act, curious, maybe a bit offended, etc.) must be what it feels like to be an UNbeliever walking into a “church” for the first time…(Please do not hear me picking on the “institution” here. This “happening” can easily take place in a simple, or house church setting as well)

Think about it: We walked into the poetry reading as “outsiders”, not knowing much about it, the people, etc. We were greeted, and found our seats quietly. The next hour was spent in the context of a completely different, and new atmosphere. The language was different, the way people spoke, the things they spoke about, the attitudes they had, the activities they participated in, the way they expressed emotion, the music they listened to, etc. Of course, not all of these things were bad, or negative by any means. However, that is all we know of poetry night at the Bean, and probably all we’ll ever know unless we intentionally pursue relationships with those people outside of poetry night. Being there that night did not make us better-equipped poets or poem readers. We will most likely not “join” the poetry-reading group based upon our experience last night.

So, could our experience last night (Believers in a dark setting with unbelievers-on THEIR turf) be very similar to the experience an UN-churched person might have when they walk into a “church”? (Unbelievers in a “bright” setting-on OUR turf). It makes me think about the times Jesus encountered sinners in the scripture, and who’s turf they were usually on. Did Christ expect the darkness to be attracted to the light, come to Him, and be changed? Or, did he take the light out into the darkness and see lives transformed?

Hopefully this will help us to all think more about our unbelieving friends, and where they’re at. We, for a brief moment last night, were “in their shoes”. We learned what it must feel like to walk into a brand new place with new people who dress differently, talk differently, sing different songs, use different language, go on different vacations, enroll their kids in special schools, listen to special radio stations, shop for music & books at special stores, etc. etc. etc.

Should our weekly services be for unbelievers, or for believers?

Should we be trying to accomplish effective discipleship & evangelism SIMULTANEOUSLY using the same weekly service? Are both not going to suffer greatly in the process?

Could two serious issues in the American church today (Weak discipleship & being “seeker sensitive”) come to an end if we stopped putting all of our eggs in the “weekly church service” basket, ceasing to attempt to be both “seeker sensitive” & solid disciple makers with this ONE tool?
(I don’t know of many churches who would admit that this is their ONLY “tool”, but there’s no denying that it is the primary tool used to attempt to achieve both of the above outcomes. If you’ve EVER spent any time on staff at a church then you know that most of the time, energy, resources, etc. are poured into the weekly worship gathering)