God can never use me again…

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I finally made a mistake that put me over the top. Always being the “half in, half out” servant of God, the nail eventually made its way into the coffin. “My ministry is done. My mistakes have taken their toll.” I remember telling myself that over and over and over. I loved God, I sincerely did, but I just blew it too many times to be used by him any longer. Anyone else feel that way? I have literally told myself a thousand times and a thousand different ways:

  • “I’m no good to God anymore.”
  • “I’m a piece of dirt that God could never use.”
  • “Just live out your life Jon, it’s too late for ministry work.”

If you have ever felt like that, you are in good company my friend. I was reading the book of Acts the other day and something struck me that I believe everyone needs to grab hold of. First the set up.

There was this guy named Saul who was a really nasty guy. He was so zealous to serve as a Pharisee (a fanatical religious Jew), that he sought far and wide to jail and persecute every Christ followers he could throughout all of Israel. So bad in fact, as Stephen (one of the apostles) was being martyred by the Pharisees, Saul told them he would hold their coats so they could be unencumbered in their execution. I could imagine Saul saying, “Go ahead guys, give me your coats. This way you can really get in a good swing.” Stephen was stoned to death at the hands of Saul and the other Pharisees. Let me just say, Saul was a beast!

But then, Saul had an encounter with Jesus. He was traveling on a road to the city of Damascus to persecute more Christians when a bright light suddenly blinded him. People tend to see Jesus more clearly when they lose their sight. This experience left Saul a broken and humble man, realizing that he had been wrong about this Jesus guy his whole life (See Acts 9). Everything turned upside down for him, including his zeal as a Pharisee.

Saul was crushed. His blindness did not go away. He found himself flat on his face, praying at a home he stumbled into nearby. But God tapped the shoulder of a man named Ananias and asked him to seek out this man Saul. God told him to go and pray for Saul so he would receive his sight again. Ananias was deathly afraid of Saul and began to question God. He pushed back on God saying, “Isn’t this the guy that’s going around wiping us all out?” But God knew that Saul was a changed man. Ananias eventually followed God’s prompting and healed Saul of his blindness. This is where the story hit me between the eyes…

Saul spent a few days getting acquainted with the Damascus disciples, but then went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God. They were caught off guard by this and, not at all sure they could trust him, they kept saying, “Isn’t this the man who wreaked havoc in Jerusalem among the believers? And didn’t he come here to do the same thing—arrest us and drag us off to jail in Jerusalem for sentencing by the high priests?” But their suspicions didn’t slow Saul down for even a minute. His momentum was up now and he plowed straight into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and trying to show them that this Jesus was the Messiah.” (Acts 9:19-22 MSG)

Does that not speak volumes? It hit me like a ton of bricks. Here you have this guy Saul (who later was renamed as the apostle Paul), a murderous, persecuting Christian hater now pushing through all the ugly noise of his past. This has truly captured my heart, especially knowing all the cruddy things I have done throughout my life. Here’s the truth, I have done some really bad stuff; things I am deeply ashamed of. My guess is that you have too. Think with me for just a minute about the terrible things you have done. It isn’t pretty is it?

And therein lies the rub. We, like Saul, have been rotten apples in our past, and yet Saul found himself thrusting past the guilt and shame and on to following the God who loved him enough to change his entire life. No wonder the apostle Paul wrote things like, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14). That is not only a model worth following, it is the only model that gives us the freedom to serve and worship God in spite of our failures.

Have you ever told yourself something like this?

  • “I’ve made too many mistakes to be used by God.”
  • “I would serve God if I could do it all over again.”
  • “I’ve blown it too many times to be worthy of God.”

 Those words have literally come out of my mouth or resonated deep within my heart a thousand times over. I have lived in shame and guilt for much of my life and the greatest loss comes from my being totally frozen in serving God. What is worse is when people disqualify you for ministry. Let me just say, DON’T LISTEN TO THEM! Most of the time, when people disqualify other people, they are Pharisees, just like Saul was in his past. They could never keep up with their own standards of perfection, so they put those false expectations on you and me. They are dangerous people. Keep out!

Let me quickly add that there are times when we need to step away from serving in ministry for very good reasons. If you or I are caught up in a particular sin, we may need to step away to heal and grow before we lead others. That is just plain common sense. But that does not mean we are down for the count. Like Saul, once he repented and turned from his sinful ways, he was off to the races. He dealt with his junk and immediately began serving God with incredible passion. God is looking for us to do the same. Sin never disqualifies us, but we may need to deal with it before taking up a leadership role in the church.

Friends, I want you to hear me. God can clean you from head to toe.  If you’ve blown it badly in life, God has your back! He will take the darkest recesses of your past and turn them white as snow. You are not a piece of trash, unworthy of God, you are a broken vessel waiting for God to put you back together for His glory. HE LOVES YOU! He desires to make you whole. Would you ask him to do that in your life?

I am no longer disqualified. My prayer is that you will grab hold of that truth too!

 

Masking the Real Question…

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It’s time for me to confess something that is not only embarrassing, but painfully truthful. It is something I have struggled with for years; probably as far back as I can remember. It is a part of my DNA that has remained hidden, even in the most open and loving relationships.  Ready for the truth? I’m actually asking myself that question, not you…

I’m a liar; a deceitful, shame-filled liar.

I lie to you, I lie to my family, I even lie to my pastor. I could not even begin to count how many times I have lied, even this past week! And what I lie about is what is so surprising, especially belonging to a church with the vision “real with ourselves, God and others.” Please hang with me though because this confession may turn around and hit you on the backside faster than a bullet-train zipping through the green inland of Japan (WHOOOSH).

There happens to be one question, just one simple question that we all tend lie about when asked. I know that may seem doubtful, but you may be just as big a liar as I am.  It’s a question that begs for a mask to be put on; to cover up the deepest recesses of our soul.  A question that demands relief, sews fig leaves and necessitates hiding in the garden.  Are you ready to see if you are a big fat liar like me? It’s about to get real here folks. Here is that question…

How are you doing today?

Huh?

Yup, you heard it right. “How are you doing today?” It is a simple question indeed.  It is a “surfacy” question that actually bids for an answer from deep within the heart; a question that immediately puts you and I in a predicament we are not willing to address; rather we desperately search for wiggle room to slide out of a truthful response. Seems so inconsequential, doesn’t it?

Think with me for a minute about this elementary question that everyone asks, or are asked nearly every day of their lives. It comes in many shapes and sizes too. The variations include:

  • “How are you doing today?”
  • “What have you been doing with your life?”
  • “How’s your family doing?”
  • “What’s been happening at work lately?”

As I sit here and reflect on that question (or those questions), it really is not a very fair question to ask in the first place. I mean, think about it, you’re asking someone to give a response that digs to the core of their being. Most of us, from time to time, are facing immense pressures in life that would find us putting on a proverbial mask. I do not blame you one bit for lying in moments bearing this type of insolent questioning. But could there be a better way? Might there be a way to ask this question, or even answer this question allowing the “real” you and me to come out in that moment?

Wilson-home-improvement-tv-show-33144924-1024-768.pngThis all reminds me of Wilson from the 90’s hit TV show, Home Improvement. In a twist of blog irony, Wilson never showed his full face to the public. He had many ‘thought-provoking’ conversations with Tim “the Toolman” about the struggles of Tim’s life and the difficulties he was facing with his business, marriage, kids and more. And isn’t that exactly what we do?  We hide just a little bit of our real selves behind a fence. We are never really able to come out from behind the veil and allow our full selves to be shown in all our less-than-perfect glory. Please hear what I am about to say; it is so key to our growth.

Hiding behind the fence or putting on a mask never affords us the opportunity to truly heal from whatever is plaguing our lives.

Hiding is a defense mechanism. We falsely believe that it will keep any more bad from happening to us. In one sense it may just do that. It actually might keep more harm from infiltrating our broken spirits. But, something else is left out as well, something extremely vital to our lives gets shut out as we lock the door on the emotional boogey-man.

Nothing good ever gets in either…

I really hope that hits your core. When we shut out the bad, we also slam the door on the good. As we put up walls, wear masks, hide behind fences and operate in the shadows, we may be shutting out the bad stuff in life, but we are also preventing any of the good stuff from entering in as well. What is that good stuff? Healing.

As we begin to open up our lives to Godly people; you know, the people that love you and are willing to encourage you, speak truth to you, provide grace to you and have deep compassion on you, they will help you heal from your emptiness. Your situation may be your past, it may be your present or it may be something you will be facing in the future. In any instance, a good man or woman of God can help lead you to calmer waters where a fresh drink of crystal clear water awaits. But, it takes a risk. It takes the willingness to answer the question, “how are you doing today?” with truth.

Two final, yet important thoughts. First, I am not suggesting you answer that question with just anyone or at any time it is posed. There is wisdom in determining the appropriate time to share and with whom. I am giving you permission to continue lying when asked that question from the general public. Not everyone needs to know your junk, especially if they are a casual encounter or someone that lacks wisdom. Sharing your life with just anyone can result in further damage, so be wise in this area.

But secondly, this message, this blog is about being real. As I mentioned earlier, the vision of Sandals Church is “real with ourselves, God and others.” I have found, alongside thousands of other people at church, that healing begins when we get real with our lives. It begins first with our selves, second with confession to God and finally a disclosure of our full selves to another person. Yes it can be (and often is) embarrassing to share our dirty, deeply held secrets, but the payoff if monumental. If you have a desire to grow and heal in your life, I can absolutely promise you that being real is a major key to breaking through the barriers that keep you from full restoration.

Yes, I may be a liar. And, I confess it! But I am learning to risk being real, especially with people that I know love me and want to see me grow. As the years have waded on, my lying has given way to being “real” and has shown up in many more of my conversations. The kicker? Scores of people come to me about getting real with their lives, and I’m seeing them heal left and right. It is no shortage of beauty to experience lives changing.

Love you guys! Praying for you, please pray for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Thought it was Over…

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My wife Kris came to me and said she wanted a divorce.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I stared back at her with both anger and tears flooding through my eyes.  It wasn’t the first time she made a comment like that.  Those infamous words came out time and time again, but in this moment, I could see she really meant it.  I felt defeated, heart-broken and dead inside.

We met several years earlier at church and it felt like a fairy tale ending.  We were best friends, loved the same music, and truly enjoyed spending time together.  We were a match made in heaven!  But something went terribly wrong along the way.  I was controlling, manipulative and of course “holier than thou.”  She was depressed and suffered from excruciating anxiety.  As the years went by, we fought and became isolated. Eventually, our marriage came to a point where she didn’t want to go on any longer.  Like I said, I felt dead inside.

As she stood at the doorway of our home, I can remember telling her, “just leave then,” and off she went.  As tears streamed down her face, she opened the door and slammed it behind her.  I was left sitting in a chair staring out the window wondering what would happen next.  In my mind, all I could say was, “God, please help me.  Please help us.  I don’t want my wife to leave me.  I feel so dead inside.  Our marriage is dead.”

Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible. Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen.” (John 11:38-45)

Several hours later I heard the creeky sound of the front door opening.  I was still sitting in that same chair wondering about how I’d lost everything.  God heard my prayer; God heard her prayer.  While we were apart for those desperate hours, we both reached out to Jesus in our pain.  Our prayers echoed the same sentiment of asking God to bring life back into our dead marriage.  As we softened our hearts to hear Him, he warmed our cold souls with a newfound hope.

Kris passed through the living room and over to where I was sitting.  She grabbed my hand and we held each other for what seemed like hours.  We cried, we talked, we asked for forgiveness and our marriage has never been the same.

I know many, many people that have faced or are facing a similar situation.  Death seems to have gripped your marriage, or even a treasured relationship, but God can breathe life into any situation.  Yes, we needed to soften our hearts in order to come back together, but more than that, we needed to allow Jesus to roll away our stoney hearts in order to expose the stench of what we had created.  The beauty of our situation was found in four sentences Jesus spoke.

We first needed to “roll the stone aside.”  Our hearts were hard as a rock.  I saw her as wrong, she saw me as wrong.  What we failed to see is that we were both wrong.  Jesus had to do some business in our hearts.  It was incumbent upon us to focus on ourselves rather than on each other.

Second, we needed to believe that Jesus was the answer. “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?”  Many times in my life as I’ve faced bleak situations, my belief has tumbled into the weeds.  Like Peter walking on water, the moment he saw the wind and the waves, he began to sink.  We both needed to believe that God could do a work in our marriage.  As we gave way to our disbelief, Jesus came through.

Third, as Jesus was working in our hearts, he commanded, “Jon & Kris, come out!”  We needed to do our part.  It wasn’t as simple as Jesus “taking the wheel.”  We needed to also drive towards loving each other sacrificially, admitting our wrongs and be willing to walk out of the graveyard.

Last, we needed to ask Jesus to humbly “unwrap us and let us go.”  We were covered in guilt and shame.  We both felt that we were no good to anyone, especially to each other. Our anger towards one another was really vitriol towards ourselves.  It took the grace of Jesus to remove our grave clothes and allow us to walk in freedom.

As you look at your own life, are you finding that you may have stumbled into a tomb? Are you feeling as though death has completely defeated your relationships?  Never let that be! Jesus is the great restorer, rebuilder and redeemer.  We all wander into the crypts of death from time to time.  It’s a matter of trusting Jesus to roll away the stone so that we can step out into a new life.

My prayer for you?  That you will…

  • Allow God to roll away the stone of your heart
  • Believe that God can and will do a work in your life
  • Come out of the grave and take a step towards truth and freedom
  • And, accept the grace and love that Jesus has given you

One thing I can be sure of, God wants you to have incredibly fulfilling relationships!

Kris and I are not only best friends today, but we have a marriage that I never thought was possible.  Do we still stumble towards the graveyard in our relationship?  Yup!  But we have learned how to quickly turn toward Jesus and walk in a new direction when things get tough.