Rescued by My Misfit Church

Two of Mom’s three dogs are “rescues,” that is that she got them from the pound instead of from breeders.  Rescues tend to be mixed breeds, and if not adopted, they will be euthanized.  In many ways, I can relate to rescues because I feel more like a mutt than a pedigreed purebred.  And like the dogs, I was under the sentence of death, but Jesus rescued me.

All my life I’ve felt like a misfit.  I didn’t know precisely what to call that feeling until I moved to Italy.  As a foreigner in Italy, I finally understood this misfit feeling to be feeling foreign.  Yes, all my life I’ve felt foreign in my own country, and even among my own family.  Peter Wagner in his amazing book, Your Spiritual Gifts can Help Your Church Grow, points out that this is a sign of a missionary gift and calling.

I moved to Asheville over a year ago, but in truth I have spent very little time living here.  During this time I have visited a few churches to which I had been invited, but mostly attending Mom’s church and going to Bible studies and services here in the retirement community.

The first church that I was invited to (the day after moving day) was the church next door.  It is a small, very friendly church and the worship style is chandelier-swinging—which I love.  I like worship that is uninhibited and free because then I know that the people behind me (I prefer sitting down front) aren’t shocked by my uninhibited show of love for my Lord.  I have visited some churches where I have gotten comments about the freedom of my worship.  One pair of teenage girls once told me, “Wow!  You just don’t care!”  That could be taken a number of ways, but I prefer to take it as a compliment.

Most of the time I live in Italy.  And because of my traveling lifestyle, even when I’m in the US, I haven’t had a whole lot of opportunities to attend this church or get to know its people.  Until now, that is!  Before going to the conference in Dallas, I attended a Sunday evening service (before Thanksgiving) in which each of us was asked to share what we are thankful to God for.  In hearing about what they were thankful for, I learned that almost everybody there was a rescue like me—rescued first by others in the church, and then by Jesus.  Many of them are misfits like me.

The associate pastor told me that the church’s mission is to help those people who have been wounded by bad church experiences.  Certainly there are a lot of those, not just in Asheville, but all over the US.  It certainly is good to know that there is a place where misfits can fit together and all of us can be rescued—by each other and by the Lord.  I love my misfit church!  God is good!

Gracious Grace!

Day Eighteen

This morning I read yet another rant against grace, and now I just can’t keep silent any longer.

Grace is the power of God to save.  Power.  To save.  People who want to reduce grace only to a salvation event fail to understand the power behind grace.

On the other hand, people who want to use grace as a license to sin fail to understand the true liberty of grace, and also the necessity of repentance (read Romans chapter 6).

Grace has been granted once and for all to cover our every sin past, present, and future.  That should be obvious, since this all happened long before any of us alive today were born (or our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents, etc.).

Grace is also the power to walk in the newness of life, once we’ve repented.  Without repentance, we are not allowed access to grace.  Grace is granted only on the condition that we have repented.  Repentance is literally turning around and going the opposite direction.  If my life didn’t produce fruit that shows my repentance (Matthew 3:8), then I also wouldn’t truly have grace.  Therefore, grace is not a license to sin.

Grace gives us power to live this new life through the same thing that brought us to the cross: love—our response to Jesus’ love.  “We love Him because He first loved us,” (1 John 4:19, NKJV).  Love and grace are inseparable.  Grace was granted to us because of Jesus’ love for us.  If He hadn’t died for us, then we couldn’t say that He ever loved us, and grace would be an unknown and unknowable concept.  So since love and grace are inseparable, if we love Him, we also have the power (through grace) to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

The problem is us, not grace.  Our love is imperfect.  We tend to think of love as an emotion.  Love is a decision—a sacrificial decision.  Love made Jesus lay down His life for us (John 15:13).  If we waver and struggle with sin, it’s because we love the world more than we love Jesus.  And in that case, we need to go back to step one: repentance.  If we don’t do repentance right, then our whole Christian walk is worthless—worse than worthless because it casts a negative light on the Gospel.

But to go too far the other way risks falling back into legalism.  Legalism is a rejection of grace.  It says to Jesus, “No thanks, I can do it for myself.”  For more about how I feel about legalism, look at my recent post: Stop Complicating the Simple Things.

Also check out an article that I found in my inbox today from Charisma News: What’s Wrong with Grace?  Grace gets under the legalists’ skin, but it’s also abused by some.

Thank God for grace—it is Amazing!  God is good!

I Will Make You Know

One of my favorite phrases in Italian is ti faccio verdere—literally “I will make you see,” or as we say in English, “I will show you.”  The first time I heard this phrase I didn’t like the implication of the literal translation as forcing someone to see something.  I could almost imagine keeping my eyes squeezed shut so that nobody could make me see something I don’t want to see.  But hearing the kind way this was said to me, I came to love this phrase and its fraternal twin: ti faccio sapere—“I will make you know,” or as we say in English, I will explain to you.

Last night I had the opportunity to reconnect with a friend and have dinner at his house.  Samuele is a well-traveled and sophisticated person who speaks English, but we always communicate in Italian.  As he shares more and more of his interesting life, I understand that some things really are more beautifully communicated in Italian.  It seems that the Italians can make language as delicious as they make food.

After a pleasant evening, Samuele walked me to the subway.  We found that the subway was closed and I had to take a substitute bus to a subway station three stops away.  As the bus passed the first subway station from Samuele’s house, I saw a fire truck.  I knew then that it was a suicide, which was later confirmed by the news.  That station where the man threw himself under a train is called De Angeli—“from the angels.”  But I don’t think he was hoping for angels to take him up to Heaven.  These subway suicides happen every so often in Milan—and more frequently since the financial crisis hit Italy.  And this is the fourth suicide in six months that has been done either by someone I know or by someone physically near me.

The increasing frequency of suicides is evidence of things that are happening in the spiritual realm.  The devil is working overtime to discourage people to the point of suicide.  And that’s easy enough for him to do with people whose faith is in their finances.

But I recently heard a sermon by Joseph Prince.  He said that we are wrong when we think (as we often do) that the devil starts messing up your health or your finances, and then we must pray and ask God to come in and make these things right again.  What he said was, “God is not running behind the devil, but it’s the devil that is running behind God.”  He said that the devil sees God pouring out blessings on your health or finances or work, and steps in to try and stop the blessings.  And what do we do?  We start worrying: Could these headaches be brain tumors? Am I about to lose my job?  And we toss and turn at night, trying to figure out how to go about controlling the damage—even when no real damage has been done.  Then he quoted:

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:6-10

He said that many people think that the “thorn in his flesh” is some kind of illness, but Joseph Prince said that other places in the Bible where that term is used, it is always a person—and it appears to be here, too.  But literally it’s a “messenger of Satan,” a fallen angel (angels are mostly messengers).

Here’s the part that blew my mind: he said that just like Paul, our response to these irritations, this petty meddling of the devil should be to thank God for the blessings He is pouring out on us.  Stop whining and start worshiping, praising, thanking God for the blessings.  It’s counter-intuitive (and I love that!), but nothing will make the devil flee faster than praise, worship, and thanksgiving to God.  And then those blessings can really start to flow as God intended.

Joseph Prince explained the flow of blessings from God like a hose from God in Heaven to us here on earth.  The blessings are always flowing, flowing, flowing, but when we worry, for example, about our finances, then we are tying a knot in the hose and the blessings can’t flow.  That’s exactly what the devil wants!

It’s important that we keep our family, friends, and neighbors in our prayers.  But the devil’s interference in this world is not a reason to despair.  In fact, these are times when people need Jesus more than ever.  You might be the only Jesus that some of your co-workers and casual acquaintances may ever know.  Many Christians these days are shy about sharing their faith, afraid of being laughed at, called “politically incorrect” or “intolerant,” or of losing their job.  But what if you had the chance to tell someone about Jesus and give them the hope that can change their whole outlook from suicidal to joyful?  And what if you are the only person that God has given this chance to?  I will “make” you see Jesus!  I will make you know Jesus!