Washed…

Recently I was invited to visit a baptism service at another local church attended by a friend of mine.
I don’t remember the context of how baptism came up in our conversation but his comment to me was, “I guarantee you haven’t seen anything quite like this.”
He had my attention for sure. The following Sunday my wife and I drove out to this particular church to meet up with our friend and enjoy the baptisms.

On the drive up I remember thinking, “How different can it really be?” While the actual process of baptism, (the lowering and submerging into the tub of water and raising back up), wasn’t that much different than others I had seen – the emphasis certainly was. Here baptism was much more than just a symbol of change – it was a celebration of change.

Before the baptisms began one of the staff pastors came up front and told a story centered around life-change in someone he recently met on a mission trip to Central or South America. The story was of a women whom he had met while there and had escaped a life of sexual abuse and prostitution – finally finding Christ and experiencing life change. Instead of running from her past she was using it to reach out to others in similar situations. The Pastor’s whole emphasis seemed to be on visuals of life change. And boy were the illustrations just beginning.

Next a young women came up on stage and talked about her past and her present. She was a recovering meth addict who had recently trusted Christ and found new worth and value in Him. One of her most moving statements was, “For a long time I knew who Christ was in my head…but it wasn’t until recently that I allowed Him to finally know more of me.”
She finally trusted Him, acknowledging her powerlessness and need.

When she was done telling her story she walked over to the tub which was surrounded by her closest friends and family. They were invited on stage to share in this awesome moment. She then stepped into the tub grabbing both the hands of her husband and her mentor, a woman from Celebrate Recovery named Debbie, and sat down. She was then lowered back into the water and lifted back up – symbolizing her newness in Christ. As she got out of the tub she was embraced by her loved ones from around the tub.

What followed were several more, very similar and equally powerful, stories of life change. Each person was baptized – not by the pastor – but the person who had had the most impact on their life spiritually. It was a very powerful moment to see Father’s baptizing sons and daughters, sisters baptizing sisters, friends baptizing friends.

The whole service revolved around these baptisms. Story after story of life change – played out on stage in front of the entire church. No sermon, no teaching, no power points. Just a visual, real-life message displayed right before our eyes. It was powerful, humbling, and simple.

One other thing that struck me was the fact that many of these individuals were able to get up in front of the church and tell their story with no shame at all. These folks talked about their struggles with meth, sexual addiction, and rage and yet did so in front of an entire congregation. Not something most churches seem to embrace easily from the pulpit. And that is unfortunate.
I thought to myself, “They seem to get it here. If you know Christ – you are not defined by what you did but rather what He did for you.”

It was an amazing experience and reminded me of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:9-12:

“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Sometimes a message needs to be seen more than heard.

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A new chapter…

Recently I was asked by a friend of mine to help develop a Christ centered, 12 step small group support ministry at a local live in transitional home for recovering addicts.
We had been talking about doing this for a while but I really was surprised it came together so soon.

My friend Scott took a part-time Director role at this particular mens home and has done a magnificent job of bringing a fresh vision and mission to that program and to those that live there.
It is no longer about helping men just cope with life – but now it’s about mental, emotional, and spiritual  transformation through Jesus Christ. I am blessed to be a part of that.

Scott and I, in a lot of ways, have been cut from the same cloth when it comes to our style of ministry. We both have come through our own personal issues with addiction, and we both shared the same mentor, Dr. Daryl Pitts from Thomas Road Baptist Church. Daryl was a gentle, caring, and often brutally blunt man. Considering those he was working with though – he needed to be.
Daryl was the first pastor that ever told me, “You don’t need more of Jesus – Jesus needs more of you…”

While I am very excited about our new ministry at the Gateway – I am honestly, also scared to death. It’s one thing to minister to individuals within the church, (which I have done for almost 15 years now), but its a whole different thing to take the truth of His message to where the broken people are at. Where they actually live.
It isn’t comfortable, it isn’t always safe, and it lies outside the perceived saftey net of the church. However I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

We started this ministry three weeks ago and I am already amazed at what God is doing in that short time. Not just in the lives of those we reach out to – but in my own life as God continues to show me His true character and nature.

Already there are bonds being formed with these men. It didn’t take long to realize that I share much more in common with these men than many within the church itself. Unfortunately – sometimes the church in general is the least safe place to be open and transparent about what is going on within the deep dark recesses of your soul… and it shouldn’t be that way.

What is our goal with ministering to the men at the Gateway? It’s simple really, and is summarized by Colossians 1:28.

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” Col. 1:28

Till next time…

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A turning point…

“It is usually better to be obedient than to be miserable…”

Warning – this one is a bit long…

You would think I would get that phrase – especially after having applied it to several different areas of my life as I worked through issues. However, as my wife can attest to, I can be rather bullheaded at times…

The beginning of June has marked a milestone for me in my own personal life. Two weeks ago I did something that I had been running from for a large chunk of my life. I applied for a license to Pastor through my local church.

What prompted this you ask? Three things actually, conviction, misery, and another friend recently doing the same thing. The former two make up the majority of my burden in this issue with the latter being a catalyst to “go for it.”

When I look back over my life there have been several events and situations that seem to confirm my decision. It’s just that for so much of my life I struggled with feeling unworthy of this calling and thus avoided it. (Not realizing that the focus should be on obedience and not how I feel about the situation or decision…)

A middle school friend led me to Christ when I was 12. Within the weeks following this we would often get together and write “sermons” that we would one day hope to preach. (As best as two 12 year old’s could write at the time.)
I also remember that my desire to write these sermons had more to do with me trying to answer the “why, what, how, and when” of Scripture and less to do with the hope of one day preaching them. Writing out these sermons helped me get to those answers as best I could.
(And by the way -this Christian friend of mine was the very first “misfit” in my life. He was the only guy in our Christian school that carried his Bible everywhere he went.)

Even during my teenage years, (and early adult life), where I was far from God, I was always drawn to what I considered the “misfits” of life. Those people that others avoided. I seemed to have a connection with them and they with me. Perhaps because in reality – I was one of those very same “misfits.” (That’s a whole nother story…)

Later, after I got married and our first child was born, I got back into church. I remember plugging into a great Sunday School class that provided a safe place for me to begin to acknowledge some of my deep seeded issues. This was the very beginning of my road to spiritual and emotional healthiness.

After a few years of this class I remember sitting in a Bible study with just men – and the Sunday School leader looked up at me and said, “One day – you are going to teach your own Sunday School class.”
I looked at him in shock and thought to myself, “You’re nuts and no way dude…” The very thought had never really entered my mind. And when it did I kicked it out quickly.

However – a year later I was teaching my own class.Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?

About this same time I also entered our local church’s recovery ministry’s facilitator training. This eventually led to me working through my own issues in recovery followed by facilitating a men’s addiction group. (Again – a story for another day…)

About two years into both the recovery ministry and teaching the Sunday school class, a group of us men decided to go to a local Promise Keeper’s conference in our area. This was often a great opportunity to recharge the batteries along with six to eight thousand other men.

During the event one of the speakers asked us all a question. “If you could do anything in life and not fail at it – what would you do?” He asked us to write our answer down in our program guide.

Immediately my heart jumped and the very first thing that came to my mind was, “Preach, teach, and shepherd people.” However as easy as it was to think this, I had great difficulty writing this down. I just couldn’t bring myself do it.

A friend of mine seated next to me noticed my struggle, or rather the frozen in time posture of my body language, and simply said, “Ha…you’re struggling with writing it down because writing it down makes it real. Means you are acknowledging and committing.”

He had no idea what I was going to write down – but his words had an eerie truth to them at that moment.

I finally wrote it down – and with tears streaming down my cheeks I went forward to the stage, knelt, and prayed that God would somehow give me the courage, strength, and opportunity to do this.
Oh yeah – I also acknowledged to him how terrified I was of all this and how unworthy I still felt.

Remember the term, “opportunity” I just mentioned  a second ago in my prayer? Good – keep reading.

After a few minutes I stood back up and went back to my seat in the Raleigh coliseum. No sooner had I sat down then on of the guys in our group got a phone call on his cell. (Yeah – in the middle of the event –  although at least it was in the midst of a break.)

My friend looks up at me, extends the phone out towards me, and says, “Eric – it’s for you…”

I thought, “Huh? Who in the world would be calling me on his phone in the middle of a PK event?” Especially considering I had my own phone with me.

I tentatively answered the phone, “Hello?”

“Eric this is Mike – from Lew’s Sunday School class…” Mike was a local Pastor who had been in the same Sunday School class I attended prior to teaching my own. Although we knew each other from the class and had talked some, we didn’t really know each other extremely well.  At least not at this time point in our lives.

Mike replied back to me, “Hey…I need to ask you a question. Would you be interested in preaching at my church in 3 weeks for me?”

My heart jumped. My first thought was, “God…you really have a twisted sense of humor.” My second thought was, “Wow God…did you just hear me and respond?”
I was a basket case inside – but in a good way.

My verbal reply to Mike was, “Yes.” and three weeks later I spoke for the first time from a pulpit. Needless to say it was a very humbling experience for me.

So – for the next several years after that life changing event……I sat and waited for an opportunity to fall into my lap. (I told you I was stubborn…)

Well…after a few more years of waiting, (and using that to justify me not moving forward), it finally dawned on me.
For the last several years, through serving in our recovery ministry, youth groups, and adult Bible communities, I have been serving in a pastoral, shepherding role. I just didn’t have the title. Couldn’t bring myself to call myself…a Pastor.

My final act of obedience was to apply for the title. Not simply to have it but rather to obey God and accept what He had called me to do so long ago.
Applying for the official license was another step of me “writing it down” like I did so many years ago.

At that PK event I wrote my heart down to acknowledge it for God.

This second time around I wrote it down to acknowledge it for myself.

Till next time,
Eric

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Relationship first, behavior third…

As I sit here in my hotel room just outside Akron, Ohio I keep reflecting back on something that jumped out to me last week as I prepared my lesson for Freedom Groups.

In preparing my series on the fear of rejection I was brought back to Colossians 1:18-21 and Paul’s explaining that God poured all of His fullness into Christ so that He had supremacy over everything – for the purpose of reconciling us to Himself.

In verse 21 Paul states why we needed reconciling. I have read that verse several times but all of a sudden something just jumped out to me.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” (Colossians 1:21)

Paul lists 3 things here. We were:

1.) alienated from God,
2.) enemies in our mind,
3.) as shown by our evil behavior.

What stood out to me is that Paul, as led by the Holy Spirit, listed “behavior” last in that list, not first.

Now think about this, when someone tries to explain to someone else the problem that God has with man where do they usually start? We usually start with behavior. With sin.
However here in Scripture, it’s listed 3rd in that list.
The first thing that Paul points out is our separation from God. That there has been a break in the original relationship with Him.

The first thing God is concerned with is our relationship with Him, not our behavior.

This is further illustrated by the fact that when Adam and Eve screwed up in the garden, God did not immediately deal with their behavior. No – the first thing He did was to go and do what He did each and every day with them. And that is go walking with them within the garden.He sought them out just like He always did.

For those of us that have been wrapped up in guilt, shame, or destructive behavior – this understanding is earth shattering. God chooses to focus more on the restoration of our relationship than He focuses on our consistent screw-ups.

Now of course this doesn’t mean that God isn’t concerned with my destructive choices.
The Bible is clear that our sin does negatively affect our fellowship with Him and also robs us of the joy our salvation is intended to bring.
But what God is saying here is that His first priority is reconciling the relationship with us.

Again for those of us who tend to under value ourselves as believers, wrap ourselves in self-loathing, or feel enslaved to guilt and shame, this truth can be life-changing.
Not only do I have value and worth because of what Christ did for me, my relationship to Him is far more important to Him, than how many times I have screwed up.

And this is because God is able to separate who I am as believer from what I do as a believer. My value in Him doesn’t change based on my performance or what others think about me.

Understanding this…at least for me…brings me rest…

 

 

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Chasing the wind…

John 8:32 tells us, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Many of us are familiar with that verse. I know I have read it many times. Jesus was specifically addressing a group of Jews that had just put their faith in Him.
They had just witnessed Jesus address the double standard several Pharisee’s held in their condemnation of a woman caught in adultery. Jesus addressed these Jews, and Pharisee’s, directly and although the Jews didn’t’ fully understand everything He was saying – some of them understood enough to put their faith in Him.

It was to these believing Jews that Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

From both my own personal story as well as working with broken believers for 10 years, I am convinced that many professing Christians are walking around totally disconnected from feeling truly free.

Many of us put on a nice front – but deep down – many of us are enslaved by 4 specific fears: the fear of failure; the fear of rejection; the fear of punishment; and the fear of change.

And instead of walking through life making decisions based on the truth of who Jesus is and who we are because of Him, we instead make emotional decisions based out of one or more of these 4 fears. And much like Solomon stated in Ecclesiastes, when we chase our identity  outside of God’s truth about Him and us, we end up chasing the wind…always grasping at the effects but never embracing the root truth.

For most of my life I have struggled with 2 of these fears specifically: the fear of failure and the fear of rejection. And the battle with these false beliefs existed despite me trusting Christ almost 30 years ago. (While salvation is our most important spiritual need – if it fixed everything about us automatically there would be no need for discipleship.)

See as a believer in Christ – we already have the necessary tools and truth to escape these lies. However it often it takes more than just a simple platitude or Bible verse to break free from their grasp. It involves a process. And this process requires several things: surrender, acknowledgement, honesty, confession, forgiveness, boundaries, and many more.

At the end of the day the only way to break free from these enslaving perspectives and false beliefs is to fully understand the true character of God and who we are because of what He did for us. And understanding this is part of sanctification – being set apart or made into the image of Jesus Christ. (Many of us walk around with a view of God based out of what we have been told or out of prior experiences with our parental figure. However this often doesn’t completely line up with Scripture.)

My self worth is not equal to my performance or what others think about me. No, my self worth is based on the fact that when God sees me He chooses to not see my sin, but instead sees His Son – Jesus Christ. Who, as a believer, I am in the process of being made to be like.
God’s commitment is to my person and not my performance. However understanding the truth about my person will directly affect my performance.

I don’t have to chase the wind because I can rest in the truth and safety of the One who controls it.

– Eric

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Moments of clarity…

I have often heard others speak of having unique, often bone-jarring, moments of clarity in rare and specific situations in their life. Moments where one is presented with a situation or circumstance that brings into extreme focus that which both energizes and drives you. Moments where everything about a conversation and situation specifically aligns with your passion and energy.

Three weeks ago I had a moment just like that. A moment where I walked away saying, “Lord God – thank you for that incredible moment…a moment where you totally reminded me of who you really are, and what your heart really looks like.”

I had just left walking some new individuals  through our recovery ministry, new member orientation guidelines and commitment form.  I had finished up a bit early, about 7:40pm, and proceeded to walk down the Main street walkway inside Thomas Road Baptist Church towards the parking lot.
As I made my way past the cafe, with my head down and my steps echoing off the concrete painted floor, I was approached by a short, middle aged man who asked:

“Excuse me, do you work here? I am trying to find Freedom Groups orientation and I’m afraid I am too late.”

I replied that Freedom Groups runs from 6-8pm and that he, unfortunately, had just missed it. I then handed him one of our brochures and encouraged him to please come back the following week. I also said if he needed immediate help that he could contact the Pastoral counseling staff listed on the back.

It was at this point that he began to weep and pour out his story of co-dependency, self loathing, and desperation.
I quickly followed my gut feeling, and what I believe was the Holy Spirit’s leading, in that what he really needed right now was someone who would just listen to him….and HEAR him.

I leaned forward and intently listened to him as he poured out additional details of his situation.
In the midst of his story we came to a point where he again, broke down in tears and said, “I can’t keep doing this, it’s killing me inside! Why can’t I just stop? I can’t keep trying to help this other person as its destroying me in the process! I’m so desperate…so desperate…can you help me?”

I put my hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye and said, “Brother…maybe it’s time for you to stop focusing on others for a bit and instead focus on yourself right now. We can help you do that.”

He replied, “But I’m supposed to love others and serve them out of love….that’s what everybody is telling me…”

I squeezed his shoulder and said, “…brother…you can’t love others in the capacity 
God intended until you love yourself first….and I get the feeling that you don’t love yourself very much right now. God wants you to serve but He wants you to be spiritually and emotionally healthy first…”

He looked up at me with tears still running down his cheeks and said,“No one has really told me that before….it almost sounds un-Christian.”

“There is nothing un-Christian about finding out who God really is, who you really are in Him. and becoming healthy IN ORDER for God to be able to use you in the healthiest way possible…” I replied.

At the end of our conversation he expressed that for the first time in a long time…he was relieved, excited, and tentatively seeing a glimmer of possible hope…for himself. That he wasn’t alone.

In a moment of high definition clarity – I was reminded of why I do what I do. My heart is for the broken of the most broken. Not because I can give them some new undiscovered truth – but because I can relate to them., I know them, I have been them.Through the healing that God has brought me through, I – along with several other great people – get to be in a position to point people to God’s truth using  a Biblical 12 step/small group methodology that works. All to lead them to freedom in Him. And it works for every believer whether they are an addict or not.

Not because I or those I serve with want to “fix” them…but because we have been in the trenches with recovery, are intimately aware of where they are at, and want to help encourage them to move forward.

It all starts with with just meeting people with where they are at…no more, no less.
Till next time – Eric

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Thanksgiving rest….

Thanksgiving, that one time of year where it’s politically correct to express what we are thankful for…

As I reflect back over the previous year I realize I have much to be thankful for in my life.
A wonderful wife that puts up with my frequent pessimism and impulse buying decisions when it comes to electronic toys.
Three bueatiful children who are at a much healthier place emotionally and spiritually than I was at their age.

I am also thankful for ‘recovery‘. Okay…so what do I mean by that?

I watched a video the other day where someone was talking about the baggage that we all carry around to one degree or another. He quoted Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”, and I got to thinking, “you know the result of recovery, (the process of retrieving something which was lost or stolen), is essentially……rest.”

I am utterly thankful that I can rest in the fact that God seperates my performance from my person. I am thankful that I can ‘rest’ in my true identity in Christ.

My plan for the rest of the day is, rest, food, friends, and football….and then ride the shopping wave in the Black Friday sea of madness…all for a $20 coffee-pot. 🙂

 

 

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