Friday, June 13, 2014

The Journey Toward Understanding

I had been in ministry for about ten years. A series of events had occurred that had led me and my wife to make the agonizing decision to resign from the church that we had been ministering at for over a decade. I was wondering about my future. Would I ever be in ministry again? Would I teach? Would I be able to lead worship anymore? A part of me, at that moment, didn’t even care. However, another part of me was grieving the loss of something that had been so important to me for over a decade.

     Soon after, my family and I attended several churches trying to find a place to plug in. We met some really amazing people and some of the most caring and loving pastors a family could ever come in contact with. In all of our searching though, we never found the “right” place and, as is often the case, we began to slowly fall away from church and eventually our relationship with God.

     Those ended up being some pretty dark times. I had gone from being a youth pastor, worship leader, elder in our church to pretty much falling back into the life I had come out of previous to being called into the ministry. I can remember times when I literally told people, “I don’t want to talk about church. I don’t want to talk about God. If you want to just hang out that’s fine, but leave God out of it. The feelings of hurt and betrayal that I was feeling because of what had happened at our former church were blinding me to the truth of God’s love.

     A year passed by and I moved on with my life. I found a new job that had good pay and great benefits. I thought I could settle in and just live my life, raise my family and be a “normal guy.” The thought of being a “minister” was anathema. Who needs church politics and all of those “hypocrites” anyway. What’s the problem with just being a good person and living a good life? The problem was there was something missing inside of me. Something Big!

     One evening I was laying on my bed. It was pretty much like every other day. I worked, I came home, watched television, all of the “normal” stuff. Something was tugging at me that night though.  I knew what it was, or should I say who it was, but I really didn’t want to go there. I knew it was God.
    As I lay there thinking about the ramifications of coming back to a relationship with Jesus, my mind was flooded with thoughts of what I perceived the church to be like. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to deal with ministry, or with church. I certainly don’t want to deal with those “hypocrites.” I had become so hard hearted because of hurt, and also because of the sin I had allowed back into my life, that the thought of being back in church was too much. But still, there was something missing.

     I did something that night that I had not done for a long time. I picked up my Bible. I walked out on our front porch and sat down. Looking at the stars, I said, “God I know that you are real, I know that you are there. I know that I need you, but I don’t want religion, I don’t want church politics, I don’t want ministry!
     I am truly amazed at the patience and love of God. He didn’t rebuke me. He didn’t try to explain to me my faulty thinking about God’s people, the church or the ministry. He just let me continue to talk to Him and like a caring friend, he listened.

      As I sat there with my Bible in my hand, I said, “God if you want a relationship with me, you’ve got to show me something.” Now, what I’m about to share with you, I do not recommend as a way to study the scripture. I must also say that God doesn’t always feel the need to respond to our demand that He “show us something.” I believe that night, Jesus just understood where I was at, and was willing to respond to his hurting child.

    I lifted my Bible in my hands and just threw it open to wherever it may open. I looked down at the first scripture that I saw and it said:

 Matthew 16:13-17(NKJV)
13When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” 14So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

 As I thought about those words, I felt like God spoke to me. It wasn’t an audible voice, but just something on the inside of me that said, “Tom, Who do YOU say that I am?” Those words broke through my thoughts as clearly as if God would have spoken audibly! I paused for a moment, not really sure what to say to that. God didn’t ask me what I thought about church. He didn’t ask me what I thought about Christianity or denominations or politics in the church. He asked me who I thought He was. All that I could say to that was the same thing Peter said. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Again, although it is hard to explain, I heard God speak, He said, “Let’s just start with that.”

     I knew exactly what He meant by that. You see, my relationship with God had been completely corrupted over the years. When I answered the call to ministry in my life, it wasn’t a career choice. In fact, the first time that I really knew that God was calling me to something more in my life, I was studying for a test in my journey toward becoming a paramedic. I had no intention of being a “minister.”

   Now don’t get me wrong, I loved to preach. There was something that came alive inside of me, when I opened the Bible and began to share with others about the freedom and love of God. I was passionate about picking up my guitar and worshipping my Savior. I was alive when an entire room full of people would join me on that journey. I loved talking to people one on one about what it meant to have a relationship with Christ. I wasn’t ministering to have a cool job. I was ministering because I had a passionate love and an intimate relationship with Jesus.

     Over the years, things slowly began to change. Preaching became a routine. Worship became a job. I had slowly and subtly allowed the work of church to take the place of my relationship with God. I had unconsciously bought into the lie that working really hard for the church meant that I had great passion for God. My focus went from a crazy love and passion for relationship with God, to trying to prove my love for God by doing more stuff. I wanted to impress people with my knowledge of the Bible and my singing and playing skills. I wanted to have the position and title of a “Youth Pastor” or “Worship leader” because I thought that brought value to my life.
     That house of cards had come crashing down around me. I didn’t even realize how my thought process had become so skewed. I was seeing my relationship with God through the eyes of people and programs and events. As God spoke to me through scripture that night, I knew that He was telling me to forget about all of that and get back to where it all started. I needed to get back to relationship with Him.

     It was a long journey back, but today, I am pastoring again. I lead worship and I share my love for God with anyone that will listen. I love the men and woman of the church that God has surrounded me with. The call to ministry never left me, but now, it’s not because I have to. It’s because I have rediscovered my love for God. I have reclaimed my passion for His word and for the moving of His Holy Spirit. I have gained a fresh understanding that God is not pursuing me because I can do so many things for him. He pursues me because He is passionately in love with me. He created me. He knows how to get the best out of me, because He designed me. Take my word for it; life in real relationship with Christ is a great place to be. I highly recommend it!
     You have to understand that this is where the journey toward freedom and a whole heart begins for everyone. It begins with an understanding of who Jesus is, why he came and what he did. When you have a true understanding of these three things, it will change your life. It will begin to bring healing and freedom to areas of your life you may believe can never be repaired.

     In Luke chapter 4, Jesus says something that was a complete shock and was even believed to be blasphemy to most of those who were present in the room with him. In verses 16-21, The Word of God says:
 Luke 4:16-21(NKJV)
16So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” 20Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

     Why was this such a controversial thing for Jesus to say? This scripture, quoted from Isaiah, was a well-known prophetic scripture related to the coming of The Messiah. The person who would fulfill this scripture would be God Himself. How could this lowly carpenters son have the guts to stand up and proclaim that he is the fulfillment of this scripture?

     The answer to that is really quite simple. He could say it because it was true. Jesus was, and is, the Messiah. He is God from Heaven, who was born into this world as a human being. He lived a perfectly sinless life, died on the cross and rose again on the third day after his death.  Understanding that begs the question, why in the world would God himself come down, insert himself into this world and live as a human being?

     Let’s read on. Jesus says, through reading the Prophet Isaiah, I have come to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, to give sight to the blind and to bring freedom to the oppressed. Wait a minute! Did you catch what that just said? Read over it again carefully. What does that mean for me and you? It means that God’s intent is for us to never live our lives bound up, blind and broken-hearted ever again.  

     Let’s be honest, this life can tear us apart. We take on so much baggage as we live our lives, that sometimes it can be a miracle that we even function. Loss, abuse, bitterness, unforgiveness, unresolved hurt, sexual sin, habitual sins, unhealthy or ungodly relationships as well as a multitude of other factors, can leave us walking through life blind, broken and bound. We can see, feel and understand our brokenness, but feel powerless to do anything about it. If that’s you, I have great news for you! Jesus came to heal you and set you free! Look at the words of Jesus in the book of John:

John 10:10(NKJV)
10“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

     Let these words sink into your life right now. Let them move past your hurt, your pain, your confusion and every other negative thought you may have. Jesus came to give you life. Not just any life either. He came to give you abundant life. That word abundant in the original language means over and above, superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon and more excellent! This is the life that Christ has planned for you!

     How can we have that kind of life when we are carrying around all of the baggage of our past, our hurt, our bitterness and our faulty thinking? We can’t. Beyond the fact that we can’t live this kind of abundant life, is the realization that we cannot truly do anything to attain it.  However, there is good news. Jesus came to GIVE you that kind of life. It is the reason he came. It is through relationship with Christ that we being to walk out of our old life, our old hurt, our old sin and our old beliefs. We begin to journey toward freedom and a whole heart. It’s time for you to grab on to these promises of God and hold on like a junkyard dog with a piece of steak. You’ve got to believe that the promise is for you. Jesus came to set you free. He came to open your eyes. He came to heal your heart.
     I have always been into music. I grew up watching my dad play guitar during “song service” at church. I was always captivated watching him play different chords and sing all of those cool hymns. I wanted to play like my dad. So, I found a, shall we say, unique way to learn how to play the guitar.

     My sister had a bunch of old records that she left at our house when she got married and moved it. There was a bunch of classic rock stuff like ZZ Top, Eric Clapton, The Eagles and many more. I figured if they could play guitar like they did, then I could too. So, I would put on a ZZ Top record and sit with my dad’s guitar and plink around until I figured out what they were doing. Believe it or not, that is how I learned how to play the guitar. Now, leaving all discussion aside as to whether I should have listened to ZZ Top records, let me just say that I learned enough listening to those old records to join a local band with some friends of mine. We thought we were going to be the next big thing in Rock and Roll.

    I thought it might be a good idea to actually learn how to play the guitar for real, so I enrolled in some college courses to learn music theory. We learned time signatures, notes, sharps and flats. We learned how to read music off a page and explain what key it was in. We learned everything it takes to be a real musician. I did great in these classes. In fact, I got all A’s in the courses I took. There was only one minor problem. I could never figure out how to take the music off of the page and translate it to what I was doing on the guitar. It seems silly. You would think it would be easy to do, but I never figured it out. What I could tell you was on the page never translated to what I was actually playing.

     There are many followers of Christ, and many who don’t follow Christ, in this world who have a similar problem. They can look at The Bible and tell you what it says. They can even tell you what it means. Some can even break down the Greek and Hebrew meanings of key words, but it is not translating into reality in their lives. Maybe you are in that place in your life. How can you change that disconnect? It begins with accepting that the promises are for you! Not just in concept, but in reality. Jesus came to set you free. He came to open your eyes to see the abundant life that He has purposed for you. It’s time to leave the past behind. It’s time to leave religion behind and embark on the great adventure of abundant life in relationship with the true life-giver.

Let the journey begin.