THESE PEOPLE

jesus feet

An abandoned daughter discovers her Heavenly Father.
An angry ex-con encounters authentic friendships.
A controlling mother learns to let go and let God.
A one year clean woman mentors a struggling drug addict.
A relationship destroying alcoholic gains new tools and makes amends.
A recovering sex addict finds new purpose and is set free.
A guilt-ridden religious woman experiences grace.

Who are these people?

These are the people Brennan Manning celebrated when he wrote, “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

These are the people Jesus had in mind when He said, “I have come to heal the broken-hearted.”

These are the people Jesus said are the greatest because of their humility and commitment to one another.

These are the people Jesus would call the Church.

Yet…

These are the people most churches reject, ignore and outsource to other agencies.

These are the people most churches marginalize, judge, undervalue and under serve.

These are the people most churches hope go somewhere else.

Yet…

These are the people who are bringing huge blessings to my church.

These are the people who are showing us that God is still in the miracle business.

These are the people who are showing us how to be transparent and brave.

These are the people who are showing us the importance of accountability and genuine friendship.

These are the people who are showing us that we are all in recovery from something.

These are the people who are showing us that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

These are the people who are showing us that everything is Grace.

These are the people that God is with, and if we are with them, then we are with God.

Yet…

Why are so many fleeing the church?

Because the church has rejected “these people.”

These are the very people Jesus said he would judge us by how we treated them.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we will be blessed.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we serve and love him.

We too often want the world to change when in reality, the church must change.

Until the church becomes transparent, inclusive, safe, brave, courageous, messy, grace-filled, humble and willing to sacrifice, serve, strategize, prioritize and make a high commitment to serve and be led by “these people”, then it will continue to shrink and be benign.

We too often want the world to repent, when in reality, the church must repent.

If the church is not serving and welcoming and allowing “these people” to lead, then it is really not the church, but more a building, more an exclusive club.

At my church, “these people” call themselves Celebrate Recovery, and they are leading the way towards blessings, miracles, redemption and an intimacy with God that is rarely seen.

Thank you for your example in humility.
Thank you for your leadership in transparency.
Thank you for your commitment to grace.
Thank you for re-introducing us to the presence of God.

May there be a revolution of “these people.”

“It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw.” Bono

Twitter @celebraterecvry

http://www.celebraterecovery.com

The #1 Reason We Don’t See Miracles

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Simple answer: WE JUDGE.

Even though Jesus stated very succinctly, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others and the standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”

Yet we still judge.
What kind of lifestyle do they have?
What political party do they belong to?
What kind of responsibility have they taken in their life?
What kind of faith do they cling to?
What theology do they hold?

WE JUDGE and often times, very subtly and smugly, we decide who should receive a miracle.

The prophets never said, “Love, serve and defend if you approve of the way they are living”, or “Love, serve and defend if you think they deserve it”, or “Love, serve and defend if you think they will appreciate it.”

They just declared, “LOVE, SERVE, DEFEND!”

Judging might help justify not getting involved.

In the ninth chapter of John, the disciples ask Jesus whose fault was it that a man was born blind.

They inquired, “Was it his fault or his parents?”

2000 years later we could ask, “Jesus, why was this little boy born HIV positive? Whose fault is it? Why was this young girl born in a dangerous, drug infested no hope neighborhood? Whose fault is it? Why have these kids, on the border of Mexico, been orphaned? Whose fault is it anyway? Why are people addicted? Why are people homeless? Why are people lonely? Whose fault is it?”

Nothing wrong with asking why, but we can get stuck on the why and justify our lack of involvement by judging.
They were promiscuous.
They were lazy.
They were sinful.

We can get so theologically convoluted, we can miss the whole point and more tragically we can miss the miracle.

Jesus answered his disciples, “It was not anyone’s fault. This man was born blind, so that God’s mercy could be demonstrated.”
And a miracle happened. The blind man’s eyes were opened.

I don’t know the answers to all the “whys” of this world but I do know this:

When a baby born HIV positive is offered God’s mercy by being given an antiretroviral drug, a miracle happens.

When a prostitute is offered God’s mercy by being loved by a local church and given support, resources and life skills to change her life, a miracle happens.

When a homeless person is offered God’s mercy by being given shelter, food and transportation, a miracle happens.

When a foster child is offered God’s mercy by being given a healthy home and support system, a miracle happens.

When a person far from faith is offered God’s mercy in a grace-filled church service, a miracle happens.

There are a lot of dark places of judging in our world today.
There are a lot of hopeless people who have been judged.
There are a lot of people who don’t know where to turn for help and the church has too often judged “who” they are and “why” they are where they are at, to decide if they are worthy of being offered God’s mercies and miracles.

Jesus asks people of faith to not judge. It’s that simple.
The book of James in the New Testament reminds us, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

It is important to remember what the scriptures DO NOT say:

Treat those that work for you fairly and give them what they earn…if the economy is good.

Share your food with the hungry…if they are thankful.

Shelter those who are helpless, poor and destitute…if it wasn’t their fault.

Clothe those who are cold…if they are working on their issues.

Don’t hide from relatives who need your help…if they will pay you back.

Love those who are hurting…as long as you approve of their lifestyle.

Make sure those who are in prison know they are not alone…as long as they say they are sorry.

The scriptures are very clear:
Care for the orphan.
Defend the widow.
Rescue the girl that has been sex-trafficked.
Love the foreigner.
Invite into your home the alien.
Visit the prisoner.
Accept the rejected.
Lift off the burdens of people who have been crushed by religion.

No caveats. Just do it.
Offer mercy so miracles can happen.

We have all been created equal so I have a question for you. What race, socioeconomic, political, religious, lifestyle or age group do you struggle with judging?

A gay person?
A democrat?
A homeless person?
A drunk?
A republican?
A Muslim?
A relative?
A neighbor?
A co-worker?

I challenge you to offer them mercy, let God break your heart and prepare for a miracle.

Sometimes the greatest way we can start to offer mercy is to pray!

One of the most powerful prayers I have read was uncovered from the horrors of Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Ravensbruck was a concentration camp built in 1939 for women.
Over 90,000 women and children perished in Ravensbruck, murdered by the Nazis.
Corrie Ten Boom, who wrote “The Hiding Place”, was imprisoned there too.

The prayer, found in the clothing of a dead child, says: “Lord, remember not only the men and woman of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.”

Wow! That last line gives me chills and brings with it a deep conviction to my heart.

I really do believe the #1 reason we do not see miracles is because we judge instead of offer mercy.

Luckily, God did not let the “who” or the “why” get in the way of his mercy.

The words of Brennan Manning share with us the gracious mercy of God that led to the ultimate miracle that reverberates throughout the infinity of time.

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. (see Revelation 7:9)

I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son.

I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives.

I shall see the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions.

I shall see the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love.

I shall see the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask. Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There ‘we’ are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”

The Difficult Journey

addiction

“Sobriety is a journey” E.V. Stankowski

One of the most complex, yet life changing decisions a human being can make is “to do a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves” as Step 4 exhorts in the 12 Step Program.

People who lead 12 Step Programs will tell you that Step 4 is where most people drop out of the program and yet it’s also the step that propels many towards freedom, healing and a new way of living.

In order to take this difficult journey:

1) You will have to go to some dark places

When you are conducting a deep inventory of your life and you admit you are drinking too much, the reality is drinking is not the root problem.

When you admit you have an addiction, the addiction is not the primary issue.

When you admit you have explosive anger, your anger is not the ultimate quandary.

Admitting these things are a good starting point and an important step in the process, but you can’t stop there.

You must go deeper. You must ask more questions. This can lead to some dark places.

What pain am I masking through alcohol?
What hurt am I avoiding with my addiction?
What frustrations or fears are driving my destructive anger?

In order to experience freedom and healing, you must be willing to go to some dark places and it’s in those dark places that you will experience a strength that is greater than your own.

King David sang ”Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

2) You will have to find some safe people to do this with

There is an epidemic of loneliness that is creating inhuman actions.

We will never be able to experience a fulfilling life over the internet.

I can listen to a sermon online, but I can only become fully human by rejoicing and mourning with real people.

The world needs you. And we need each other.

As Desmond Tutu once said, “No one can be human by themselves.”

The only way someone can be fearless with their moral inventory is they must surround themselves with people who will not judge, but will accept, exhort and support.

The truth is that when we are afraid to confess, what we are really afraid of is rejection.

3) You will have to grieve

You will have to give up stuff that makes you feel temporarily good.

The numbing affect of alcohol, the temporary high of an addiction, the adrenaline rush of an outburst of anger, all make us feel good for a short time, yet lead to long term pain.

In choosing to live differently, you will have to grieve the loss of temporary pleasure.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

The enemy will try to steal your joy, destroy your dreams and ultimately kill you with immediate pleasures that lead to long-lasting destruction.

4) You will have to be patient

Patience in our culture means, “waiting to live”, not now but one day, I will experience life.

TRUE PATIENCE is the opposite of passive waiting.

The definition of patience is “living fully in the moment”.

PATIENCE means to enter actively into the thick of life and to fully bear the good, the bad, the victories and the suffering within and around us.

PATIENCE is an extremely difficult discipline because it counteracts our impulse to FLEE difficult circumstances or NUMB painful memories.

The great writer, Paulo Coelho says, “Why is patience so important? Because it makes us pay attention.”

5) You must believe that God has something greater for you

At the end of the day, we must embrace the fact that when we turn our lives over to God, he produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” in our soul, and nothing can take that away.

At the end of the day, life is grace.
Breathe in deep and enjoy every moment of it.

Stay close to God
Stay close to People who are PATIENT.

Someone very wise once said, “At bottom is the best soil to sow and grow something new again. In that sense, hitting bottom, while extremely painful, is also the sowing ground.”

I pray you choose the way of the difficult journey.

Thank you to all of my “Celebrate Recovery” friends who have shown us that the journey is worth it.

We Are Far More Powerful Than We Realize

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” The Apostle Paul

Mike does not remember much about his childhood.

He was raised in a small town where his mother was addicted to pain medications.

Shoving deep issues under the carpet became an art form in Mike’s family.

Mike’s dad never hugged him, told him he loved him, or showed any emotion at all toward him.

“Being in a small town, everyone knew everyone else’s business and I was embarrassed of my mom and her addictions and I was embarrassed of our home.”

In Mike’s teens he stayed away from home and went the wild route, drinking and smoking and doing drugs.

“I guess not feeling loved you’re going to find love somewhere and I found it in music, girls, drugs and alcohol.”

Mike spent 3 weeks in college and then was gone at 18.

The military lottery was happening and he was lucky number 13.

Mike was drafted quickly. He spent 6 years in the army.

After 6 years Mike came home, got married, had two sons and went to work as a machinist to pay the bills and raise his kids.

Mike didn’t know how to have a healthy relationship and his marriage ended badly.

He moved to Southern California to start all over again.

“I knew about God my whole life but I had no clue what it meant to have a relationship with God. We used to call people Jesus Freaks who would say, ‘Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?’ I’d always say, ‘Yeah’ to shut them up. But I never knew what that meant”

Then Mike met his future wife, and when they got serious they decided they probably needed God in their relationship if it was going to last. Mike did not want to repeat his past.

“I didn’t want to screw it up and with my past you know I could have screwed it up pretty easy. And so I didn’t want to go that route again. I knew there had to be something, a much better way of doing it.”

Mike married his beautiful new bride and they started going to church and learning about God.

And then Mike and his new wife, Mavis, discovered that her son was addicted to cocaine and they began investigating recovery programs.

He went into rehab and they were told to take him to a program called “Celebrate Recovery”.

They went to “Celebrate Recovery” and that’s where Mike and Mavis truly found God’s Grace.

“I saw what God does. I saw miracles. I’ve had people say, ‘God doesn’t do miracles anymore,’ and I just don’t believe that because I see them all the time in Celebrate. I saw miracles left and right. Working the 12 steps has changed my life. They have given me the tools to not only help myself, but also my marriage, my relationships and ultimately the steps have taught me how to help others. As a follower of Jesus, I have now dedicated my life to serving and saving others. My vocation pays the bills, but my life calling is to help people heal and overcome.”

Mike and Mavis, started and our currently the directors of my churches Celebrate Recovery Group.

Mike and Mavis, as volunteers, tirelessly serve our community “comforting others with the same comfort God has given them.”

They are making a significant difference.

We are far more powerful than we realize.

During the last months of WWII, the British conducted daily bombing raids over Berlin.

One night after a successful bombing raid, as they were heading for the safety of England, the bombers were attacked by a large group of German fighter planes.

Five bullets slammed into the fuselage of the bomber near the gas tank, but there was no explosion.

Miraculously, they were able to make it back to their base and get safely off the plane.

A few hours after they had landed, one of the mechanics showed up in the crew’s barracks.

He had found five bullets inside the fuel tanks, crumpled but not exploded. He handed them to the pilot.

The pilot carefully opened the shells and to the crews amazement found each one empty with gunpowder.

Inside one of the bullets was a tiny wad of paper.

When he unfolded the paper, he found a note which read, “We are Polish POWs—forced to make bullets in factory. When guards do not look, we do not fill with powder. Is not much, but is best we can do. Please tell family we are alive.”

When every follower of Jesus lives with the philosophy of “comforting others just as God has comforted them,” no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, then we will see the miracles that we have been praying for.

It may not feel like much, but all God asks is to do the best we can do.

Mike and Mavis could be overwhelmed by the brokenness of addiction all around them, but instead they are offering comfort and hope in seemingly small ways, and yet hundreds have found sobriety and faith because they are simply comforting others with the same comfort God has given them.

5 Things Every Church Should Do (Part 4)

Vanessa was born into a broken world on November 3rd, 1989.

She was loved, but she didn’t love herself.

When she was 2, her father died in a motorcycle accident in Southern California.

Her mother was 21 years old with 2 small children, no job, no education and life became chaotic.

Sadness, anger and regret filled their lives, though no one ever talked about it.

Vanessa learned at a very early age to stuff deep hurts and play the part of a happy kid.

She played a lot of make believe, numbing herself to the reality of sadness, loneliness, pain and guilt.

Her other coping skills were eating too much and hurting herself.

Vanessa and her family went to church occasionally but her perception of God was that “He had a lot of rules that, if broken, would send me straight to Hell. The whole thing just wasn’t appealing.”

Her mother met a man and the family moved to Colorado and Vanessa felt like she was starting a new life with a new dad.

Everything seemed perfect until at the age of 10, she was molested by a 40-something-year-old neighbor, but she never told anyone about it, not realizing that anything out of the ordinary happened.

Vanessa’s mom got engaged, Vanessa’s mom got cancer, Vanessa’s mom’s new fiancé could not face the storm and he left.

Once again, Vanessa faced abandonment.

While her mom was getting medical treatment, Vanessa and her sister would stay up all night and began to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana.

They moved back to California and the partying intensified.

When she entered high school her life was spinning out of control though on the surface you would not know.

She was in honor classes with high grades, involved in water polo, swimming, school plays, dance class, journalism, a statistician for wrestling and assisting with school rallies.

Yet getting wasted, smoking weed and stealing prescription drugs became an everyday occurrence.

Vanessa began to sell marijuana and was arrested and had to do community service.

Her sophomore year she got pregnant and had a miscarriage, yet, this was not her bottom.

She began to get into heavier things and then she discovered the drug of her choice, meth.

While still putting on a pretty good show on the outside, her mom caught her doing meth and she revealed that her dad had completely lost himself in the meth pipe.

The night he died, her mom caught him smoking and kicked him out of the house and that is when he crashed his motorcycle.

Vanessa felt lied to and ran away and did not finish the last 2 months of school.

Her mother reported her missing, thus violating her parole, and she was arrested and spent 2 ½ months in jail and sober.

When she got out, she got accepted to college and had great intentions of being a good student but quickly got involved with alcohol and weed.

“My disease was much stronger than my ambition.”

Vanessa jumped around from one high to another and ended up in Las Vegas where her dad’s friend Ryan lived.

She moved in with Ryan and “I found my usual low-life crowd and began selling weed, coke and x. I was then introduced to the pimp and prostitution game.”

“They appeared to have it all; little did I know they were just great actresses. I got myself a pimp, who was also a drug dealer.”

“That day, I sold my soul.”

Things went from bad to violent to worse and Vanessa eventually left her pimp but she kept selling drugs and was re-introduced to meth.

6 months later, smoking meth daily, she lost everything, cut off her long beautiful hair and went into seclusion.

He mom called the morgue often to find out if she was alive.

“The toxins of the drugs were seeping out of my pores. I would pick at my skin all over my body. My once flawless complexion was constantly covered in sores. I spent my 21st birthday getting high in a closet.”

On the night of November 17th, 2010, someone turned Vanessa in on a $10,000 bounty.

It saved her life.

She got lost in the system, a blessing in disguise, and for 21 days she reflected on her life and her choices.

“I looked into the foggy jail mirror and saw a grimy creature I didn’t recognize. God told me in a faint, gentle whisper, ‘This is not what I want for you. This is not who you are.’”

That night she wrote a poem titled, “Surrender”, begging God to deliver her from this insanity.

Under house arrest she immersed herself into recovery and followed the rules like her life depended on it. And it did.

“One day, as I was contemplating what the God of my understanding was to me, Jesus appeared. I have always been a cloud watcher. There He was wearing the crown of thorns, like an image I’d had on a postcard as a child. He was smiling at me and I could see that He was so proud. I had more hope that evening than any other moment of my entire life!”

Vanessa learned that the root of disease lies in obsession, compulsion, self-centeredness and lack of faith.

She moved to California and arrived in Placerville with a new ankle monitor.

Her mom mentioned that her church offered several recovery groups.

Vanessa thought, “Oh great! They are going to shove religion down my throat.”

A recovery meeting called “Celebrate Recovery” was meeting that night and so they came to the church and Vanessa experienced something she had not experienced before.

“That first night at Celebrate Recovery, I felt warmth and a hope I didn’t recognize. Everyone was so welcoming and loving. I began to attend church services and I started volunteering. I soon realized that Green Valley Community Church was not a religious church about judgment or being better than, but it was a Jesus church about relationships and acceptance.”

”One thing I knew, I had finally found home.”

“I learned that God is a father to the fatherless. He offers grace and forgiveness and peace. I began to like myself.”

”I got off house arrest, I got to flip a sign at Easter reading ‘Road to Hell” as my old life and “Road to Recovery” as my new life.”

Vanessa is an inspiration and a miracle and now helps young people recover from their hurts, hang-ups and habits.

Celebrate Recovery and my church’s commitment to help those dealing with hurts, hang-ups and habits has once again drawn us very close to the heart of God.

Jesus stated that he clearly came to “Heal the broken-hearted and set captives free.”

When people say that God doesn’t do miracles anymore, then they have never been a part of Celebrate Recovery.

Our Celebrate Recovery program was started by a couple who was rejected by another church when they wanted to start the program.

The church told them that they weren’t sure they wanted people with serious issues and addictions coming into their church.

Their sad loss was our gain.

Celebrate started small and as the leadership grew, so did the program.

7 years later, hundreds have overcome, healed, found God and been baptized.

When you go to a Celebrate Recovery service, ours is on Thursday nights, what you experience is what real church should be.

Each service includes true celebration, safe relationships, honest assessment, humbling confession and gut wrenching transparency and a sense of freedom and purpose that is contagious.

It is about as pure of a church as you will find!

We have now started “The Landing” which is Celebrate Recovery for teenage and college students.

It is a safe landing place for students to come and heal, build healthy relationships and start good habits.

Every church should help people overcome.

The 4th thing every church should and must do is be fully committed to “Celebrate Recovery.”

 

Vanessa’s life scripture is from the book of Lamentations where the prophet Jeremiah says, “I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great Your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.”

For more information about “Celebrate Recovery” go to… http://www.celebraterecovery.com/

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Or email me and we can talk burkeyk@gvcconline.net