I’ve been focusing a lot of attention and study lately to Isaiah 61:1-3 for the R&R Women’s Retreat in January.  (Which if you haven’t registered yet, get after it.)

It says,

61 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;[a]
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;[b]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.[c]

This passage contains a “beautiful exchange”…in which Isaiah prophesies the replacement of all our mess with something beautiful, something peaceful, and something  purposeful.  As I’ve been meditating and studying on this part of scripture for a while now, I’ve run into a problem.  Evidence of this beautiful exchange is lacking…lacking in the church.

  “If you can’t show the difference between religion and the gospel, people will confuse morality with a changed heart.”-Timothy Keller

My husband advised me that there’s already been a lot of ink spilled over the whole religion vs. gospel argument.  Perhaps, but the very heady conversation has heart level implications of which I am becoming more aware.  When we “confuse morality with a changed heart”, the church cannot function in a way that honors Jesus and the beautiful exchange described in Isaiah 63.  Until one experiences the effects of a religion/gospel discrepancy, the emotional hurt and distrust that follows can’t be fully realized.  Often we don’t even realize our gospel has switched over to religion, it’s a slow slope that we ever-so-slightly slip down.

I believe a vast majority of churches have unknowingly muddied the distinction between religion and the gospel, so much so, that those within confuse authentic transformation in others for self-righteousness.  And conversely, even more confuse working really hard through behavior modification with their own spiritual growth and transformation.  The first example leaves those who are experiencing risky, yet honest, spiritual change discouraged, hurt, and deflated by the church.  The enemy uses this to hinder further spiritual maturity and he attempts to tear down that which Jesus has built up in the person.  The potential blessings this person offers to the church as a whole and to the community around them are derailed.  The latter results in the perceived spiritually mature trying to pour into others, while they are empty from their strivings and performance.  If our church leaders, staff, and volunteers are driven by this, they will burn out trying to maintain their own performance and that of the church.  When we are focused on the perfection of our practices, we are fueled by fleeting successes and extinguished by everyday failures.  Grace goes MIA.  Without grace, we’ve got nothing to give.

We are called as Jesus-followers to let Him live and work through us.  This is the Gospel: that He (who is pure and blameless) has taken my place–the place of death and destruction–and has set me in His place–the place of righteousness and sonship.   His Spirit now lives in me and guides me.  What an exchange!  This absolutely results in personal change, without any effort of my own!  This absolutely means things start to look different.  So where’s the “change” within the church?  How does the church “look different?”

By definition, the church is the bride of Christ, set apart as Holy and blameless, through the blood of Jesus.  Therefore, one can expect that the church and its people should act and look differently than those who have not embraced Christianity.  However, today the church, whether traditional or contemporary, looks more and more like big business, commercialism, and materialism, as well as, biting sarcasm, deception, and lawlessness.  We’ve exchanged-out undeserved grace and favor for the exhausting work of maintaining face and trends at any cost.  We stress making sure our practices look different and appealing, but miss how we as the children of God should look different, and therefore, what we have (Jesus) will naturally become appealing to others.

Religion as defined by Webster’s Dictionary is: “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; OR scrupulous conformity”.  We have become so tied and conformed to our institutions and what the Sunday morning routines and practices look like, (and how they might look to others), that we have forgotten the lack of “systems” that Jesus had.  We acknowledge the fundamental belief in the Gospel but rarely leave space and time to live it out…through each individual and their personal transformation.

A whole city believed because of the personal interaction between Jesus and a single woman.

We have become consumed with our overall performance and growth as a church instead of simply sharing our individual stories of redemption.  In an effort to put on the best show, we’ve spent less time letting the love of Jesus transform our hearts and minds, conforming us into His image, and more time trying to conform those around us into our image and preferences.  What we really need is a Gospel transformation of our own hearts.  If we are losing our voices of intellect to sarcasm, bitterness, crudeness, and apathy towards our sin,  what really needs to happen is a change in us.  Jesus cares about the way we treat each other, speak to each other, and represent Him.  Thankfully, He has a beautiful exchange for all of our misgivings and disgrace.  He offers something better, richer, and more satisfying.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen church communities thrive on grace alone.

When churches focus on statistics, numbers, and performance, we slowly morph the good news into an alternative works/righteousness slant.  (This is not a traditional vs. contemporary argument.  Both styles of worship fall victim to trying to impress their guests.  Both manner of churches have taken on a “if you build it, they will come” philosophy.)  When churches aim to look more like the world to “reach the lost”, we end up stifling genuine and true transformation in our congregations.  If we started to look more like Jesus, maybe we’d look less like the world…and then we wouldn’t be “edgy” or “attractive” anymore.  We’ve arrogantly got this beautiful exchange all twisted and backwards:  we’ve secularized the spiritual, rather than spiritualize the secular…as if any of it was in our control or power to begin with.  Our presence in the community shouldn’t cause churches to act more like the world, rather we can expect to see the world start to act more like the body of Christ because of the presence of Jesus in us.

Can we please give people who don’t believe in Jesus more credit?  They see through our efforts to be trendy and cool.  If they wanted to be entertained, they’d go to a show, or a movie, or go play putt-putt.  If they are walking through the doors of your church, they are hungry for something different–not hungry to see a church that looks different…but rather for something that could make them different.  They are craving something that could rid them of their broken hearts, their feelings of entrapment, their mourning, their shame, and their faint spirits.  That kind of exchange is the lasting living water that truly satisfies, while a favorable Sunday morning experience will only last 1 hour and 15 minutes.  When the people sitting in the pews have undergone this beautiful exchange, and share their personal stories of beauty from ashes, that’s what draws others to Jesus…that’s Gospel-centered ministry…and lasting church growth.  Church growth is in the hands of the people who fill the seats.  The function of leadership is to encourage and remind their people that they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to share God’s love through their stories.

Jesus is more than enough on His own.  He doesn’t need us to make Him “more seeker friendly”, “more palatable”, or “less intimidatingly righteous”.  Did Jesus hang out with prostitutes? Yes, but He didn’t start dressing like them.  When we focus all efforts into how we practice our religion in one building, and ignore how we are to live out the Gospel with each other outside our four walls, we inhibit spiritual growth.  We might be sweetly desiring our church to grow, but the spirituality of the people within will die when church growth and/or sustaining tradition becomes the end goal.  If the goal becomes developing the best model, we’ve bypassed the fact that the Gospel most assuredly is messy and unpredictable, and personal transformation isn’t on a timed schedule.  It’s can’t fit into a model.

In the beautiful exchange that Jesus offers, the s*** of life happens…and then Jesus happens.  He takes away the crap and replaces it.  Things will get messy, because acknowledging our sin is messy.  But getting it out there, so it can be wiped away, is necessary.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  We WILL naturally look different.  We WILL inherently be more joyful.  We WILL unknowingly start to care less about what the Sunday service looks like, and more about what Jesus looks like.  We WILL effortlessly start to discern that which pleases God from that which does not.  Those who follow Jesus will be known by the fruit that they bear, not how cool they are…because He will be daily extracting the nasty flesh out and injecting much, much better.  And when we see that in ourselves and in others, we can praise God that He is at work.

I’ve heard a lot recently of the church being compared to a sausage factory.  The analogy suggests that churches put out a product, and if you knew what went into it, you’d never take part in it.  Imagine the Oscar-Meyer sausage factory, beautifully exchanged for a tiny home filled with homemade family-recipe apple pies made alongside great-Grandma.  The goal is not a product, but a family.  It’s not very impressive, hip, tidy, or efficient.  The kitchen’s small with out-of-date beaters and hand towels, your borrowed apron is awkwardly too big, there’s flour all over the place, and you’ve likely invested hours for one delicate pastry.  But there’s nothing that compares to the sweet satisfaction and aroma of love that fills the air.

Let’s not get stuck–simply complaining behind the doors of a sausage factory.  Our stories don’t end there.  A beautiful exchange has been promised to us.   Let’s hold on to the hope that times of refreshing are coming.   Acts 3:19-20 says, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.”  Believe the LORD God when He says in Ezekiel 36:36, “Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”  He is in the business of bringing back to life that which we think is beyond repair.  He has perfected taking our mess and making it beautiful.  Will we allow Him?  Will we humble ourselves and repent?

Let’s give Him our hearts.  Let’s let Him draw out our sin, our death, and our destruction.  Let’s let Him cover all our shame and brokenness with His perfection and grace.  Let’s let Him take root in our hearts and exchange the bad for good.  Let’s daily resolve to let Him continually transform us and those around us.  Let’s get messy together and be comforted by all that Jesus has for us.  Let’s encourage each other, pray for one another, forgive one another…and taste sweet grace.

Well, we have finally made it to step 7 of our seven-step Life After Rehab series.  Thanks for stickin’ through it. 🙂


 

Step 7: Stay Alert for Signs of Relapse.

“According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic illness, and as a result, 40 to 60 percent of people who have an addiction relapse at least once. This doesn’t mean that addiction treatment isn’t effective, but it does mean that people with addictions will need to amend their lives and be on alert if they’d like to keep the problem from coming back full force. For starters, they might need to know where a relapse, for them, begins. For some, it’s a feeling of sadness or loss. For others, it’s a sensation of happiness or invincibility. These thoughts swirl and swirl, growing stronger and stronger, until a relapse takes place. Capturing and identifying the thought is the key to stopping the relapse. When those thoughts are in place, the person can go back to therapy, visit a sober friend, catch a meeting, or otherwise deal with the issue and stop the cycle. Friends and family members might also be helpful here, as they might also know what a relapse looks like and how it typically starts. They can’t be expected to step in and stop a relapse from taking place, but they can speak up and speak out when they sense trouble, and this might be the prompt that pushes the person to find more intensive treatment” (http://www.michaelshouse.com).

 


 

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus came to set us free from the bondage of our sin. Our chronic condition has been completely healed on the cross. We have that freedom at our fingertips but we so often, like the addict, don’t amend our lives to the entirety of His teachings and His grace, nor faithfully remain on alert for attacks on our freedom. The enemy wants us to think we are still enslaved to sin–that what Jesus did on the cross wasn’t enough or didn’t take. We, like the addict, often don’t catch the little things that lead us to a relapse of the flesh–those things that lead us to strap ourselves back to the chains of bondage.

Feelings of sadness, loss, and invincibility can lead even the most “put-together” Christians down a path of destruction. “Capturing and identifying” as mentioned above for the addict are also key to resisting sin and it’s hold on us.  In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul instructs fellow believers in Jesus that the battle we fight is not of the flesh but of a divine nature. He tells us to “hold captive every thought.” This means that with every feeling and thought we have, we need to take hold of it, identify it, and then use Christ’s standards to evaluate it. Without this process, our emotions and thoughts can become a swirling river of untamed beliefs and assumptions that guide our behavior and decisions in a destructive way. It’s Satan’s last ditch effort to pull us away from the freedom we have in Christ. Again, this is where a community of Christ-followers and sober-minded friends and mentors is key to survival. There will be times when we are so far gone down the river of frustration, guilt, fear, self-righteousness, doubt, and selfishness that we need others to recognize and identify for us what’s going on. We will need others to pull us out, dry us off, and call us out on our erroneous thinking or behaving. We will need others to speak gentle truths to us in love, reminding us of our freedom and security in Christ.

When we started this “Family Rehab” journey last year, we committed to a year of homeschool in an effort to slow our pace of living down and to reestablish our home during that time.  While during the past year we have seen remarkable change in our relationships with our children and have seen them blossom in certain areas, it has not gone as expected. With our relocation, we lost at least half the school year to the mayhem of boxes and house projects.  However, we have seen during a less than perfect attempt at homeschooling, positive and fruitful growth in our family, which only shows God’s faithfulness and mercy.

I have wrestled with what lies ahead for us and school.  I see the great benefits of homeschool and being with my kids every moment of the day, learning with them along the way.  The flexibility of setting our own schedule has been a healing balm for  our souls and our home life.  There are many reasons to do homeschool again next year.  However, I realize that most Americans feel that they cannot afford homeschool or that it isn’t a realistic option for them.  So because the majority of the culture around me is facing the realties of parenting in the midst of our crazy fast-paced American goal-setting and success-getting culture, I find myself searching for the answers to some questions:

With the early hours, the days apart from each other, the homework, our own job-stress and expectations, and the bulging schedule, how do we still remain intentionally engaged with the hearts of our children and each other?

How do we live in our American culture, yet not submit to it–without completely pulling out of its systems?  

How do we resist finding our value and worth in our success and performance when the culture around us measures us (and everything else–even our churches) by those same weighted standards?  

How do we gospel-thrive in a gospel-deficiant culture?

I feel that our year of rehab helped us to rest and hit the reset button.  While nowhere near completion, I believe that I have grown in my trust of Jesus and am merely starting to learn what it means to unabashedly move to the gentle whispers of His Spirit, even if He leads me to do something a little bit crazy.   I hope that my family is also learning this kind of discernment.  I think our freshly rested souls and our post-rehab perspectives encourage us to engage in these kinds of cultural questions.  Because of this, (along with some other reasons I can discuss later), we are looking at putting the kids in school next year.  Having said that, we are waiting for clear direction from the Lord as to where and if this is truly what is best for our family in this season.  There might be a chance that God says we are not ready and need another year of rehab.  We might see that we need to “go back to therapy” because we are closer to relapse than we realize.  There is a chance that we enter the school system only to pull out again in a year or two.  As counter-culture and as counter-Angie as it is, I am trying not to set a 5-year plan and outline the future.  We have seen God work in ways that go beyond our plans and, in fact, frustrate our plans.  So, we are intentionally not setting any or forming strong biases in the area of education.  So many benefits lie in all forms of education, and I believe those differing benefits can be taken advantage of for different seasons.

No matter where our children’s education takes place, this next year will look different. Instead of focusing on a year of rehabilitation, we will focus on applying the things we have learned to our new and crazy fast-paced life. I am sure we will struggle to stay grounded and will have to resist getting swept up in the things of this world. But we will use these helpful steps and trust in Jesus to be sovereign and carry us through.  We will rely on those sober-minded friends and family members to pull us from paths or cycles leading to relapse.

We will continue to share our story with you (see blog posts on steps 5 and 6) as we enter Life After Rehab. I invite you to share your stories with me. My prayer is that we will remind each other over the next year that we have all been rehabilitated, restored, renewed and revived in Jesus. His work is complete in us. Let us hold fast to His word and cling to His promises–who He is and who we are in Him. When things start to look more like the world and less like Jesus, let’s hold each other up to the truths found in His deep relentless love. Our performance doesn’t change the work He did on the cross. Our falling off the wagon doesn’t change or take away His victory over sin and eternal death. We get to continue in the joy and freedom found in what He has rehabilitated–what He has restored. We all have new health and life in Him.  We all are in life after rehab…let’s support one another and live it together.


We are working on a better format for the sharing of your stories.  In the meantime, please share in the comment section.  We’d love to be encouraged by what God is doing in your life and support you where you are struggling to see His presence.

 

rehab: treatment for an addiction or a course of treatment that helps you get better after an injury.

We have decided as a family to take a year of our lives and go through ‘family rehab’. Do what now? We don’t have a drug addiction or an alcohol problem. But we have found ourselves, after years of plugging away at life, in a place of fatigue and unhealthy living. Our addictions haven’t been with a particular cocktail of substances, and our unhealth hasn’t been marked by heart attacks or high blood pressure. But I noticed myself gradually stumbling down the slippery slope of bitter parenting and selfish living. Patience for my children was virtually gone. The everyday tasks at home were insurmountable. Life was too busy to ever catch up. I was miserable, my husband was burned out, and the kids were replacing smiles with sass and rolling eyes. A day was deemed successful if fits remained at a minimum and we stayed out of each other’s way. We did have our moments of genuine, loving connection–and even fun. And if it weren’t for those moments, I think we would have unknowingly found ourselves with other mainstream American families- ignorantly functioning in dysfunction.
And so came the call to rehab. I felt as though now was the time to simply just stop–to stop ourselves from falling off the cliff. Our kids needed me to stop being impatient, stop being rushed to get nowhere, stop looking over their hearts to look at the calendar for the next day I could have to myself. But, as with any addiction, it’s rare that anyone can quit cold turkey. So God revealed through a number of closed door opportunities and a few opened bibles and studies the idea of rehab.
I don’t know entirely what is in store, but I am confident that God will be faithful and provide redemption and restoration. As of now, our kids will stay home for the upcoming school year and do their studies with the family as a whole. We will study the Word every morning. We will learn each other’s hearts. We will unite around meals, science projects, and Texas History. And hopefully be surprised by how much fun we can have together.
I hope that this blog will be a place for us to record over the next year God’s hand in the healing of a family. My desire is that as I write, and as our oldest daughter, Ava writes, He will be glorified for all His marvelous works. If all else fails, if Ava doesn’t learn fractions, and the laundry is never all washed and put away, at least we can say that we took a year to trust the Lord as a family. We took risk and sacrifice to center our lives back on Him, and I believe He will be faithful, because His Word promises his steadfast love and faithfulness.