Wednesday, April 6, 2016

We used to sit where you are sitting now.

My husband and I being prayed over and anointed by the Pastors.
This weekend, my husband and I went back to our home church, which is comprised of restoration homes for drug addicts. This is the church that saved both of our lives years ago. The church where we were given freedom from our addictions. The church where we met Jesus. The church where our lives changed forever. The church where we were blessed beyond our wildest dreams. The church where we learned how to love God, ourselves, and others. The church where we learned to fight spiritual warfare.The church where we met each other. The church where we commissioned, appointed, and anointed. The church that, spiritually, will always be home. 

My husband praying over a brother in the home
We were asked to speak at a discipleship class they had on Saturday, and my husband was asked to preach the message on Sunday. We make trips to our former church often- usually at least once every six weeks- to visit.  However, this weekend was especially astounding and amazing. The spirit of God was moving in a way that I haven't felt in a long time. Sometimes in the hum drum of daily life, our closeness with God can wane, and we can lose our awe of Him. We can turn God into something normal and boring instead of something awe inspiring and supernatural. Our relationship with him can become routine, and we can start to put God in a box.  We can stifle His ability to move, because we are too busy with our to-do list in life to allow him the time to do what He desires to do.

Me praying over one of our CROSSroads' girls
Well, He busted out of the box this weekend. We took some of our friends and ministry partners down with us this weekend for the discipleship class on Saturday and the service on Sunday. Something told us that something BIG was going to happen this weekend, and that we needed to invite others down.  It was so amazing to watch our friends experience the powerful presence of God that is unique to an outreach ministry this weekend. When you have dozens of hurting, broken addicts crying out to God to restore them, asking for forgiveness, singing praises from the heart instead of from a hymn book, and allowing their bondages to be broken, God shows up in a way that is indescribable- and different from anything they have ever experienced in "normal" churches.

Altar call
You see, there is no spirit of religion here. The people at this church either are or were so broken, so desperate, so hungry for God- that they could never, EVER make the mistake of believing that they are good enough on their own. That showing up to church on Sunday is enough. That all that needs to be done in a Christian life is to show up to church once a week, and go to the same bible study with the same group of church ladies for fifteen years.  That they have it together, and God can serve as an afterthought. They are not "weekend warrior" Christians. They are reminded every day that their life literally depends on God, and walking away from him can mean death. They are totally and utterly dependent on him, and know that He must saturate their every thought and action if they are going to be able to live without going back to drugs. Taking God for granted for even a minute can mean the difference between being sober and being an addict again.

Deliverance service
When you get a group of people like that together with a moving message and the presence of the Holy Spirit, amazing things happen. Powerful things. Things that I can't even begin to describe. The presence of God was so powerful this weekend, that I was crying through a good portion of it. People were being slain in the spirit, repenting, praying for each other, speaking in tongues, praising. What was supposed to be a two hour service on Saturday turned into a six hour service courtesy of Pastor Clay being moved by the spirit, and what was meant to be a two hour service on Sunday turned into a four hour deliverance service after the message. There were no time limits, rules, or itinerary. God was allowed to move in the way that He wanted to, and He did not disappoint.

Us praying as a couple
This weekend revitalized me in so many ways. So many times we can get so busy doing ministry, that we forget to spend time with God. So many times we can get confused that doing ministry and talking to God is the same thing. It' s not. We can start to base our relationship with God on what we are doing for him- like the Pharisees. Our relationship with God needs to be our FIRST priority in life- above our ministries, above our marriages, above our children. We need to remember that without Him, we are nothing and can do nothing. It was so beautiful to have a head on collision with my first love this weekend. To remember what caused me to fall so passionately in love with him in the first place. To remember where He found me, how He picked me up, and how He has redeemed my life. To be reminded of the awe and wonder I had for God when I first got saved, and He was first beginning to revealing himself to me. How I sought Him with all my heart, mind, and soul. He revealed himself in the same powerful way this weekend.

This weekend was also a reminder to us why we do what we do. Ministry can get very discouraging and very tiring. You sacrifice so much of yourself to help people- your time, your money, your heart- just to see many fail. You spend months praying and interceding and advising, just to have someone throw it all away and go back to drugs. You spend time running around, picking them up, and driving them to church services and meetings, just to have them quit in the end. You come to deeply love these people, you grow so close to them and get your hopes up that they will finally "get it" this time, just to have them turn away from you, or slander you, or accuse you of things.  So many times you come to the brink of wanting to quit- of asking what the point is. You can begin to wonder if you are doing any good at all, and question why God is having you do it at all.

The prayer team laying on hands
This weekend reminded us what the point is. For others to be able to experience what we have-freedom from addiction and a head on collision with God- is worth every sacrifice. For even ONE person to be able to experience God the way that we have, makes it ALL worth it. I don't want anyone to miss out on God changing their lives, and if I can be a messenger of hope, that is what I will do. I think about everything He has done for me, and what He wants to do for others. I think about where we were when God found my husband and I ( sitting in the EXACT same seats as the people we were preaching to this weekend), and how far he has brought us. He has healed and redeemed everything in our lives, and blessed us in unimaginable ways. I know he wants to do the same for others, and it is our duty to let them know that. In fact, as I write this, my husband celebrates 13 years TO THE DAY that he first walked into Milwaukee Victory Church, came to know Jesus Christ, and has been free from drugs. Thirteen years of depending on God, and being an inspiration to those who are sitting in the seats he sat in. The power of that testimony is something that can touch even the coldest hearts.

Slain in the spirit
I hate the fact that we don't have this kind of experience in Marshfield. God is so boxed in, and addiction still has a stigma to it. But's it's coming. Hard core drug addicts that have been saved by Christ's power and grace are going to be where the next revival comes from. Not just in Marshfield and Milwaukee- but in the whole country. Those who are forgiven much love much, and drug addicts have been forgiven of SO much that they can't help but be grateful to God for it and want to tell others about the good news. When you have transitioned LITERALLY from the dark side of hell into the light and goodness of Christ, your transformation speaks volumes to those around you. Your testimony shares the true hope and power of Christ. Your testimony changes lives, and inspires others to share theirs and what God has done for them. That's how fires get started!

The Victory Church Pastors and ministers- Howard, Les, Ben and Clay.
My husband and I were incredibly blessed to be able to do just that this weekend. We spoke to those sitting in the same seats in the restoration homes that we sat in ourselves for so many years. Those who are hurting so desperately that they have finally surrendered to God. We came back to share the message that we have been where they are, and that there is hope. That God has a plan for their lives, and they are not there by accident. That if they will just stick it out and allow God to work on them, he will transform their lives into ones that are unrecognizable from the one that they had in their addiction. If he did it for us, he will do it for them- and my husband and I were some of the worst of the worst. When you have been the "worst of the worst", you give others who are "the worst of the worst" hope that God can change them too. I remember when I was younger, that many Pastors tried to tell me that Jesus forgave me. I never took them seriously, because I thought "sure, he can forgive YOU, because you probably haven't had so much as a speeding ticket in your life. But what about ME and what I have done? SURELY he can't forgive THAT."

My husband and Pastor Clay- the speakers for the weekend.
However, when I walked into Milwaukee Victory Church in 2008, I was met by a Pastor (Pastor Cano) who told me that God forgave me. The pastor himself had been a heroin addict for over two decades, a leader of the Latin Kings in Chicago, a criminal. Hearing HIM say it, and witnessing how God had transformed his life, gave me hope for the first time that maybe God really could love me like he had loved him. He was a lowly drug addict before Christ as well, yet God had blessed his life miraculously and done wonderful things through it. To hear someone with a similar past as mine being wanted by God was a novelty. THAT was the first time I ever thought maybe God would give me a chance. That is the first time I ever gave God a chance. That is why my husband share our stories- so others realize that God will give them a chance as well.

My husband preaching
1 Timothy Chapter 1:

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

God will use the most horrible pasts to speak to people. God wants to let people know that your good works, your good deeds, being a "good person" won't save you. ONLY giving your life completely to Him can do that. A former addict, gang banger, and prostitute who has surrendered to God will have far more of a blessed life than a "good person" who isn't sold out for God can ever try- or dream- to. Jesus longs to have a relationship with each and every one of us- good person or not. Come as you are, and he will transform you into what he intended for you to be. THAT is what needs to be preached. That is what we preach. I think so many times churches do a huge disservice to the unsaved by acting like they have it all together. Acting perfect. Judging. Not talking about their struggles and issues. It gives people the impression that they have to have it all together and not have struggles and sin in order to come to church or to be accepted by God. They can't relate. When you put on a front of being a perfect Christian, the heroin addict with a needle hanging out of their arm who just robbed a gas station can't relate to you, or to the God that you preach.

Look in the Bible. Who did Jesus choose as his disciples? They were murderers, tax collectors, prostitutes- broken people. He didn't go into the synagogues and choose the religious scholars or the people who kept all of the laws. The people who put on a front of perfection.  Have you ever wondered WHY? Why did God himself choose a rag tag gang of misfits that were outcasted by society for their sin, instead of the "good people" with their theology degrees?

Pastor Clay, Pastor Les, and my husband
It's because that Rag Tag gang of misfits KNEW they were bad. They knew they weren't righteous. They knew that they COULDN'T be righteous on their own. When Christ appeared to them, they hung onto him with all of their might, because they knew it was only by his power that they could ever be made right with God. The religious scholars and Pharisees felt that they already were right with God because they were so "good". God can't work with people who won't rely on Him because they are too busy relying on themselves. Not only that, but the religious Pharisees lacked love. They judged. They acted why God was hanging out with THOSE people. They thought of themselves higher than others. The rag tag gang thought humbly of themselves, because they knew what they had been before Christ. They had compassion and empathy for sinners, because they had been there themselves. They loved the lost, because they had been the lost. They didn't expect perfection, but they knew Jesus alone could perfect.

My husband and I speaking to the congregation
1 Corinthians 1:27 says "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." It's not the religious scholars, the "good" people of the world, or the morally superior (the people who are "strong") that God is going to use, but the weak things- addicts, liars, cheaters, murderers, the lost- people that "religious" people look down on, to show the "wise" of the world that they are nothing without Jesus. An addict who has given their life to Christ and is on fire for God can do more than a dead religious person ever will. God is speaking- he wants people to recognize that sitting in church does you know good if your life isn't being transformed, and you're not teaching others about Christ so theirs can be transformed as well. We are the foolish- the unlikely, the undeserving, the ones that were counted out. The ones no one would choose to do God's work. Yet, GOD chose us- to speak to those who have also been counted out, judged, and cast aside. The ones who aren't perfect. The ones that can only relate to people who admit that they are- and have never been- perfect either.

To be able to offer hope to those sitting in the homes was such a blessing. I remember when I was in the restoration home, and people who had been there before came back and talked about what God had done in their lives. They were now pastors, spouses, parents, productive members of society, healed. I remember wondering if maybe, just maybe, God could do the same thing for me. They gave me hope to stick it out, and to trust in God. I could relate to them, and I knew that I wasn't being judged, because they had been in the same seat I was sitting in. I am honored and humbled that we have been allowed to do the same for someone else.

My husband, our good friend Charles, and my mother in law, Lucy
Sunday, while my husband preached, his mother was sitting in the audience. She had such pride in her eyes as she watched her son- the son that she once thought was lost for good- preach the word of God and offer hope to people who are where he once was. The son that once was dead was alive, and speaking life into others. The son who once stole and lied and cheated was instead teaching the word of God, and using his story to help others with the same pasts. How healing it must have been to see that redemptive power of Christ in her son's life. I have a son, and I can only imagine. I cry just thinking about it. God truly is the restorer, healer, and redeemer of all things. He will use everything that we go through for good- either for us or for someone else (Romans 8:28).

After Sunday morning service, the leadership (pastors and ministers) of the church went out and enjoyed a fellowship meal at the Olive Garden. I was so blessed to experience such a powerful weekend in God's presence with these awesome men and women of God who have come to know God the same way my husband I and I have. They were broken, lost, addicted, and destitute, and God is using them to do amazing things in the kingdom. I am in awe of God and how His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. How He took what the devil meant for evil in every one of our lives, and is using it for good- to give hope to those sitting in the same situations we were once in. To show his undisputable power through their changed lives. No one can argue with a testimony. When God changes you from an addict, a thug, a prostitute, a liar, a cheater, an evil person- into a man or woman of God, people KNOW that God is real. There is no other way it's possible. None of us should be alive right now, but God kept us, redeemed us, and transformed us for His kingdom's sake. To speak to the people in the seats where we once sat. To let them know there is hope, and that nothing is to hard for God.

Anointed and commissioned
When the weekend was over, I didn't want to leave. The presence of God was so intense, no one in their right mind would ever want to leave. It felt so good to be home. To go back to where it all started, and remember what God has done- and is yet to do. To recall how Jesus raised us from the dead, and gave us a new life.  But, He has a plan. We are all one body in Christ, and there are big things getting ready to happen in the Kingdom of God. I am just so humbled to be included in it.