God can never use me again…

broken-007.jpg

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!

 

The Real Me: Deceitful

decieving.gif

I hate to even admit this, but I have realized over the past few years just how deceptive I can be. It all started with the realization that when I was a kid, I would make things up just to look good. I would come home from school, my mom would ask how my day was, and I would blurt something out like, “I hit a home run today in softball.” A seemingly un-harmful variation of the truth, but it was setting me up for a very deceitful future.

As the years went by, I found myself lacking in self-value. I didn’t think much of who I was, so I had to paint a different picture. My inside never matched my outside. So, on came the exaggerations, amplifications, elaborations, embellishments and aggrandizements. A new version of truth became commonplace; became my reality.

Fast forward to today and I still find myself struggling in this area. “I didn’t wake up at 6am, I got up at 5:30am.” Why would I say that? Because I look better getting up earlier than when I actually did. “It took me 5 hours to complete that assignment, not the 3 hours it actually took.” Same reasoning, I’ll look better by stretching out the truth.

“A person making things up tries to make himself look good. But someone trying to honor the one who sent him sticks to the facts and doesn’t tamper with reality.” (John 7:18)

There was something in this verse that really struck me this morning. First of all, it states the obvious, “A person making things up tries to make himself look good.” Yup, I get that one. But when it goes on to say that honoring people is sticking with the facts, it makes it less about me and more about you! I want to honor you with my life, not stretch the truth with dishonor.

It has truly been a terrible curse to feel the shame and guilt that goes along with these overstatements. And, it’s sinful to boot! I end up heaping on even more shame when something shameful is actually sinful. But I need a way out of this wilderness; a rest for my soul that is grounded in truth.

I’m learning every day how to fight this twisted side of me. I’ve confessed this to my boss, my close friends, and I’ve even asked them to hold me accountable. I know I’m on my way to a more truthful future. I’m fighting this battle and with God’s help, I will win.

Why is this all coming out this morning? Two reasons. First, it feels SO GOOD to confess my stuff, to be real. I know, that sounds really strange. But, there is immense truth in confession (James 5:16). Our vision at Sandals Church is to be real with ourselves, God and others. I’m committed to living out that vision. (But please be careful who you share your stuff with. This isn’t an open invitation to just blurt out all your sins. There’s wisdom in when, how and to whom).

The second reason? I want you to find healing yourself. Perhaps you are an exaggerator? Maybe there’s an area in your life that you’re not exactly pleased with? Would you do one thing? Confess those sins to someone that loves you. Confess to a person that wants to see you heal and grow! Being real will be the best step you have ever taken. You will find yourself honoring people, honoring God, with your becoming an authentic person.

Love you all!

Shamelessly, join us at Sandals Church any time! We’re located in Riverside. You’ll see what being real really looks like!www.sandalschurch.com

A Sad True Story…

girloutsidedoor21.jpg

A true story…

A pastor friend of mine was recently awakened to the desperate appeal of stammered knocking on his front door just after 3am.  His wife had woken up mere moments before to a terrible nightmare.  Obviously something was happening in the spiritual realm, but was not obvious to this point.  After sliding the safety lock over, he slowly cracked open the door and saw a young woman standing before him; shaking, worried and clearly disturbed.  In a panic, she relayed that someone was after her and that she needed to get inside quickly.  My friend, with a flash prayer and a moment of godly risk-taking clarity, slid back the lock, opened the door and proceeded to allow her entrance into his safe place.  It was as if God himself told him to make way for her.

As they began to talk, she was plainly a woman of the streets.  Her behavior was suspicious and she was out of touch with reality.  Abuse, drugs and a long hard life had taken their toll, both emotionally and physically.  In short, her life was in shambles and she was in need of desperate healing.

Their conversation took many twists and turns.  My pastor friend inquired where she lived so that he could get her a lift home.  Although she seriously needed his help, her past didn’t allow her to fully trust him and when she found out he was a pastor, her reply was unexpected, “I was raped by a pastor from the ages of 4 to 6.  Everyone is safe at the beginning.”  This broke my friends heart nearly to tears, but he knew God brought her there for a reason.  The cab eventually arrived to take her home to her mom and the very next day, this pastor worked diligently to get her into a rehab facility that could help her begin overcoming her addictions.

24 hours later, her skepticism turned to astonished gratitude as she sent him a text thanking him for what he had done.  She said that he was the first man that had ever treated her with such “genuine care and dedication.”

Many stories don’t end this way and the reality is, we do not ultimately know how this one will end.  But my friend was faithful; faithful to Jesus and faithful to this woman.  But, I turn my thoughts to two people. Those that are in need of healing, and those that are called to heal people.

It would probably be safe to say that all of us need healing on some level; maybe in our marriage, finances, physical body, loneliness, depression, substance abuse or other areas.  If I might be so bold and tell you that Jesus wants to bring healing into your life.  It doesn’t matter what you’re facing, Jesus desires to heal you.  And this sounds like such a crazy thing to say, but Jesus absolutely promises healing.

There are scores of verses in the Bible that talk directly to healing.  I do not believe anyone knows how many people Jesus healed, but my guess is that it reaches into the tens of thousands based on his 3 years of ministry.  People literally fell at His feet and were healed the moment they touched him.  The apostles went on to write about the power of healing.  We see in James 5:14 a call to the elders of the church to anoint and heal those that are sick.  Over and over we see that God is into healing.  He wants to do an incredible, yes even miraculous work in all of our lives.

A word of caution though:  Healing may not look like what you think it should.  Healing comes in many different forms and for many different purposes.  There is a staggering mystery to God which leaves many of us asking why, instead of pressing into God for comfort.  Many of my own loved ones have been healed by entering into heaven; not quite the outcome we were praying for.  Truth is that healing often looks very different than what we expect or want.  But you need to really get something here…

God desires to heal you, however you must be open to his method of healing.

  • Does that mean that my marriage may not be put back together?  Maybe.
  • Does that mean my business might fail?  It might.
  • Does that mean I won’t have any children?  That’s very possible.

So why pray?  What am I actually asking of God when I ask for healing?

Those are great questions.  I have a personal take on this simply from my own experiences.  I believe there is a very simple answer, but it may be hard to grasp.  God’s greatest desire is to be as close to you as he possibly can.  He loves you and is looking for a deep relationship with you.  As you experience tragedy, difficulty and pain, God is yearning for you to connect with him so that he can heal you and your situation, but more importantly, so that you would come closer together.  I believe the most important part of that equation is his closeness to you.

Do not doubt, your healing will come.  Your life absolutely will get better, but it hinges on your relationship to God through his son Jesus.  As we pursue God through our tears, our closeness is the greatest healing we could ever receive.  As God heals us and our situation, we begin to see him much more clearly and our desire moves away from the healing and into our relationship with Jesus; where our deepest desires are fulfilled.

There is another side to this equation and that is a quick word to those called to heal people.  If you call yourself a Christian (a follower of Jesus), then you are in the business of healing people, period. The Bible makes it clear that we are to be imitators of God. Jesus healed people. He healed a LOT of people. And if you are to be imitators of Him, then roll up your sleeves and begin healing people.

Some of you are asking, “How on earth can I heal anyone? I don’t have those gifts.” Ah, but you do! Every one of us are gifted to be like Jesus if we love him and serve him. Here’s how you heal people. Are you ready for this?

You spend time with them, pray over them, sacrifice your personal time for them, share your life with them, encourage them, provide for them, challenge them, invite them in and most of all, LOVE THEM!

When we give of ourselves to people, they heal. When we allow ourselves to be totally inconvenienced for the sake of people, they heal. When we give up making life about US, people around us will heal. We are called to heal the lost, lonely, hurting and disconnected.  Maybe we all need to take a moment to evaluate our lives.

Are you the kind of “Christian” that walks in and out of church, never really taking the time to love others, avoid getting into deep conversations with those in pain and makes everything about what makes you happy?  If so, you are most likely not healing people.

Healing others takes real sacrifice.  It can mean taking a phone call just as you crawl into bed.  You may have to endure meeting after meeting with someone that doesn’t seem to be “getting it.”  Your day off may end up being a day where all your plans have changed because someone needs help.  At its purest form, we are to live a life of total surrender to God’s calling.  That is the picture of a healer.

The pastor I mentioned in the story above lives out that vision of sacrifice and healing.  He could have left the door shut, told everyone in the house to be quiet and waited for the young girl to go away, but he didn’t.  He answered the call.  She needed healing and he provided it for her.  This all begs two very simple questions that we all need to wrestle with.

What do I need Jesus to heal in my life today?
How can I begin healing those around me?

Friends, answer those two questions for Jesus and you will unlock a powerful life.