Archive for October, 2011

I am a Prodigal

October 24, 2011

Contributed by Chad Seidler, Director of Ministry at Image Church

If you’ve attended one of our Gatherings at Image Church over the past 6 weeks or participate in one of our POD’s (Points Of Discipleship), you’re well aware that we have been studying Luke 15.  It’s a great chapter – Jesus tells a groups of sinners and “religious” people 3 stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin and two lost sons.  Since we just finished our series in our Gatherings, I thought it would be appropriate to share part of my story that I wrote for my friend Susie and her soon-to-be-published book.

_________________________________________

My story can be found in Luke 15.  You might be familiar with it – the story of the Prodigal Son.

“Prodigal” as an adjective is defined as recklessly extravagant; having spent everything.

I am a Prodigal Son.

Like the younger son in Luke 15, I came from a good family.  I have a solid Christian heritage – my Father and Grandfather were both pastors.  Christ and the Bible were central in our home.  I’m pretty sure I was at church within 5 days of being born.  If there were awards for perfect attendance at church and Christian school, I’d have a trophy case full of them.  Between church, grade school and college, I probably sat through at least 10,000 services, chapels, prayer groups and Bible classes.  I was spoon fed huge doses of the Bible, and I “knew” it from cover to cover.

A great heritage does not make a person…his choices do.

Like the younger son, I wanted what I thought was due to me now – I desired to live life on my own.  The moment I waved goodbye to my parents and was officially on my own, I felt like I was a kid in a candy store – so many choices to be made.  For the first time in my life, I had the freedom to do what I wanted and felt like I was accountable to no one for my actions.  I was recklessly extravagant.  My life began to spiral out of my control.  I was handcuffed by pornography and the false fantasies it created in my mind.  I was immoral in my relationships.  Common sense boundaries were shattered by my belief that I was in control.  My life was a total lie.  And not too soon after being out on my own, I squandered everything.  I made deplorable choices and quickly realized that I was no better than a muddy, rank pig.

Bad choices, no matter how deplorable, are forgiven only when you seek the Father.

Like the younger son, I had an epiphany – the consequences that come with owning-up to my sin must be better than continuing to live within that same sin.  I was sick of myself and who I had become.  I desired to repent and live a transparent life, no matter what consequences would ensue.  I didn’t care about the hit my career would take or if I would ever be relevant again – I simply needed my Dad again.  I released my pride; humbly and desperately I ran back, not knowing exactly what to expect.

When you release your pride, the door to forgiveness swings open.

Like the younger son, my Father lavished me with His love and forgiveness.  In fact, He was pursuing me all along.  I’m always in awe when I read about the father’s reaction to his son’s homecoming – “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)  I experienced that same reunion.  I came groveling for my Father’s forgiveness, but He interrupted my feeble pleas and showered me with His grace.  Without hesitation or condition, I was restored back into the family.  As King David had experienced for himself, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he [God] remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

Forgiveness opens the door to unimaginable restoration.

Like the younger son, despite my failures, my Father had great things in store for me.  When I ran back to my Dad, I just wanted to be a part of the family again.  I was convinced that what I had considered to be my “unpardonable sin” could in no way ever be fully forgiven; I was always going to be a second-class Christian.  But God is most glorified through the lives of broken people who repent and run to Him.  I love how Timothy Keller, author of “The Prodigal God,” describes what the Father had in store for the younger son…and me!

God’s love and forgiveness can pardon and restore any and every kind of sin or wrongdoing. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter if you’ve deliberately oppressed or even murdered people, or how much you’ve abused yourself. The younger brother knew that in his father’s house there was abundant “food to spare,” but he also discovered that there was grace to spare. There is no evil that the father’s love cannot pardon and cover, there is no sin that is a match for his grace. [This story] demonstrates the lavish prodigality of God’s grace. Jesus shows the father pouncing on his son in love not only before he has a chance to clean up his life and evidence a change of heart, but even before he can recite his repentance speech. Nothing, not even abject contrition, merits the favor of God. The Father’s love and acceptance are absolutely free. [1]

God still had a purpose for my life and desired to use me.  I am humbled by that every day.  I am 14 years into my restoration; it’s a process that will continue until I am face-to-face with my Father.  It’s not been easy over the years, and there have been many careless mistakes along the way, but I am always reminded of when I was in my own muddy pit and chose to run to my Dad.  He is faithful to forgive and restore.

Restoration by God is instant and unconditional…by man, it’s endless and conditional.

Like the younger brother, not everyone was happy for me or eager to accept God’s forgiveness on my life.  His older brother was bitter that his dad had freely forgiven and fully restored the Prodigal back into the family.  Prior to my restoration, I lived my life for others…not God.  I craved the attention and acceptance of everyone.  But when God pursued me and welcomed me back to the family, I immediately realized that the only acceptance that I need in this life is that of Christ’s.  My identity and security is in Him alone.  There are many people who have yet to forgive me and many that believe that God could never fully restore or use me.  But I don’t focus on that; that’s not my problem.  I am encouraged that God, for some odd reason, decided to use screw-ups and second-rates to make His name famous all throughout the Bible.  He still does so today!  I may be labeled and disdained by many around me, but I know with certainty that I am restored into God’s family.  God has great things ahead for me, and I humbly live that reality every day.

By no means is my life easy now; in most ways, it’s much more difficult.  But I know the promises of God’s Word, and I rest in them daily:

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

“Prodigal” as a noun is defined as a person who leaves home and behaves in such a way, but later makes a repentant return.

I left home.  I behaved in such a way.  I made a repentant return.

I am a Prodigal.


[1] Keller, Timothy (2008). The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (p. 24). Riverhead. Kindle Edition.

Advertisements

For the Wives…

October 17, 2011

Contributed by Alex Shifflett, wife of our Worship Pastor, Brian Shifflett.

I’m a perfectionist in its purest form.  Not only that, but I’m a perfectionist that can only see perfection when things are done my way– the “perfect” way.  I’ve also acquired a somewhat domineering personality that I often write off as a “leadership quality.”  If something isn’t running smoothly, I can tell everyone involved what they need to do to most efficiently fix the problem.  As a newlywed, it has become my newest feat to make my marriage the perfect marriage, and not waste any time doing so.  In trying to achieve the perfect marriage, I’ve become a bit overbearing at home (sorry, Honey), constantly giving instruction to my husband on how he can do a better job.  Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!  While telling my husband how he can be better, I’ve completely neglected an entire half of our marriage– myself.

I began praying about a week ago that God would make me aware of all of the ways  I could improve as a wife, namely, that I would be extremely sensitive to Brian’s needs rather than my own.  Then, in God’s perfect timing, I left for a couple of days to attend meetings at my company’s corporate headquarters.  During the meetings, I was able to meet many of the higher-ups in the company, including my boss’ boss, Joe (who I found out later is a faithful Christian).  Over dinner one night, Joe reflected on his wife in great detail.  He showed us pictures of her and told us how beautiful she was.  He described her as an angel, as his gift from God.  I listened quietly as he went on, taken aback by his eagerness and joy to speak of his wife.  As beautiful as it was to hear a man speak of his wife in such a loving way, I couldn’t help but think of how my husband might describe me to others if he was being completely honest.  I was somber at the thought of it, because I knew I wasn’t the best wife that I could be, which is ironic because I expect Brian to be the most perfect husband.  This motivated me to read Scripture that would guide me in marriage.  The verses below moved me:

1Peter3:1-4 – In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News.  2 Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words, and they will be won over.  3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

All the husbands out there are thrilled with the first couple verses.  Yes, we are to submit to our husbands, even if our spiritual lives do not match up.  What is interesting about verse 2 is that our “Godly lives [should] speak to [our husbands] better than any words.”  Think about that for a moment, wives.  We can be patient, giving, and loving all day long.  We can be ‘godly’ women who read Scripture, pray, and serve others.  However, as soon as our husband walks through that door, that godly woman can disappear in an instant.  How dare our husbands not want to make dinner, or clean the dishes, or put the kids to sleep, or ask us how our day was.  How selfish!  Or maybe we should take a different look at it.  Perhaps we should keep that godly woman about us when it comes to our husband, seeing as how we do it for everyone else.  We should let our passion to live as God desires us to live speak louder than words. How could we truly be upset at our husband’s actions if we are truly being held accountable to our own?

Verse 4 hit me the hardest.  As I stated earlier, I’m a domineering leader who is outspoken and always right.  How on earth could this verse suggest that my inner self is a “gentle and quiet spirit”?  I had never considered that my “personality” was not how God had intended it to be, but perhaps it is the manifestation of too many years without Jesus.  It is clear in verse 4 that a gentle and quiet spirit is very important for a woman in marriage.  My take charge personality doesn’t allow God to intervene through Scripture or prayer, and it doesn’t allow my husband an opportunity to lead me so that I may follow.  What a  humbling thought: That I may have more work to do to than I ever imagined in order to have a perfect marriage in God’s sight, which will be much more fulfilling than having a “perfect” marriage according to my own plan.

Now, for all of you imperfect wives, I am going to challenge you to pray for your marriage in a way that you may not have prayed before.  Pray that God would reveal to you where He wants you to grow as a wife, and how you can be of a gentle and quiet spirit.  Let God work in you and through you.  Let Him be glorified through your unity.  Remember that when you think you’ve figured it all out, God will reveal more ways to shape you into the wife you ought to be, so long as you make yourself available to him.

The Former Blind Man

October 11, 2011

Contributed by Brian Shifflett, Worship Pastor at Image Church.

Since our church has been doing an in-depth study of Luke 15, my observations of just how self-righteous the religious leaders of Jesus’ day have intensified!  Take 5 minutes to read through John 9.  This is the story where Jesus literally causes a blind man to see.  There is much to be gained out of this passage, but since we have been talking about “elder brothers” recently, I want to focus in on verse 34: “They (the religious leaders) answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out.”

For a second time, this man who was healed from his blindness is trying to tell the religious leaders that Jesus must be divine.  Now the man makes a pretty good point in verse 32-33 when he says, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  I’m totally tracking with this guy.  If I saw a man rub mud on another dude’s eyes and cure his blindness, I would think this man must be from God too!  But the religious leaders will not hear any of it.  Here is what convicted me from their response in verse 34:

If someone’s life has been transformed by Jesus, their story is worth listening to!

The religious leaders didn’t think they could learn anything from this man.  They even kicked him out of their place of worship.  They believed that their understanding of who God is, was much superior than this former blind man’s.  All the blind man believed was that Jesus changed his life, and he wanted everyone to know.  I encourage those of you who have a story about how Jesus changed your life to tell it!  I challenge those of us who think we know all there is to know about God to listen to those stories; that we might become more in awe at the miraculous work of Jesus.

Excuses

October 3, 2011

Contributed by Shannon White, wife of our Next Gen Pastor, Tim White.

My kids do not like cleaning up their messes.  They can always come up with some excuse for not doing it.  “I didn’t play with that.”  “But she got it out!”  “I’m too tired to clean up.”  The list goes on.

In the ladies Bible study, we talked about Moses.  Moses is famous for making excuses.  In Exodus 3 and 4 , God appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush.  He tells Moses that He has seen His people in Egypt and is going to deliver them.  Exodus 3:10 says,  “ Now go, for I am sending you to Pharoah.  You will lead my people, the Israelites, out of  Egypt.”  Moses then starts in with the excuses.   “Who am I?” “ They won’t believe me.” “ I’m not a good speaker.”  Then in chapter 4:13 it says, “But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please!  Send someone else.”

Moses came up with excuse after excuse of why he thought he couldn’t  do it.  Moses was right.  He couldn’t do it on his own.  This wasn’t about him though…this was what God was going to do.  God just chose to use Moses to be part of it.

As I think about Moses, I realize how much I am like him.  There are times when I know God wants me to do something, and I fight it like crazy.  I can come up with so many excuses to  rationalize why I shouldn’t do it.  “Someone else can do so much better.”  “I don’t have the time.  I have four kids to take care of.”    Matthew 22:37-38 says, “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.’”  God wants me to love Him with all that I have.  If I am loving Him that way, I will be willing to do whatever He asks of me.  When God wants to use me to do something, I just need to trust Him and obey.  He will accomplish it through little old me.  It would be sad to miss out on what God is doing and the opportunity to grow closer to Him because of too many excuses.