Recently, I have been quite busy with discipleship and have not been blogging these experiences. Basically, I really believe I am in a wonderful place in ministry. Before I share on the fruit of our recent discipleship efforts in our church (which you can get a taste of by listening to sermons - especially these on meekness (download) and mercy (download)), I would like to share some personal testimony.
About a month or so ago, I began teaching on the Sermon on the Mount. We decided as a congregation to use Celebrate Recovery and other 12 step material in small groups to supplement the Sunday teaching. The results have been wonderful for me.
A little background.
I have been around AA and NA for about 15 years. More recently a friend of mine in SA has been using me as a sponsor or mentor for about the last three years. This relationship has helped me get more intimate exposure to the methods of the 12 steps over the last few years. Then about two years ago a member of our congregation went into recovery and I began to meet regularly with this man. This relationship began to effect my preaching as I began to use some Big Book language from our times together of discipleship. Next, about 18 months ago another man, with 28 years in AA began attending our church. I began a regular discussion of the 12 steps with this man as well. All this led to a recent sermon and small group studies from the Sermon on the Mount which I am preaching which uses AA tools and 12 step language to give applications to the sermons. We are using these tools, basically doing the 12 steps through journaling, in our sermon based small groups.
Well this all brings me to how this is affecting me personally.
My Personal Testimony
When I was a young believer, 1986-1993, I led a truly monastic and missionary lifestyle. It is only after I lost this level of intimacy with God and effectiveness in ministry did I actually realize the value of what I had. In those years many people were being converted and our small groups were growing consistently. I led a discipleship home with some friends and ha a great deal of time for daily prayer and worship. I worked at the church but only worked about 20 hours a week. I believe that if I had understood what we really had in those days and learned to transfer this lifestyle to others, we could have had a far greater and lasting influence for good. But our church got into some hyper-Pentecostalism and I eventually found that I didn’t fit in.
As the church changed and my children got older, I found I was unwilling to raise my children in this church community. My wife and I decided to leave. I found through this process that I was quite injured emotionally. In fact, the way I dressed changed. Looking back at the process, I realize now that for years before I left that church I had begun to gossip or at least speak negatively about some of the church leadership. I was filled with negativity about the entire path the church had taken BUT I was too immature and undiscipled myself to know how to process these resentments about how leadership was directing the church. In short, my response to the process was a compromise of the life of unconditional love that I a been walking in. My heart became bitter and resentful and, now I realize, that it was this compromise with the ways of love and forgiveness that quenched my intimacy with God, my personal life of worship and devotion and ultimately led to a spiritual place that though unobservable to most was far less than I had experienced earlier.
What Actually Happened
When I was a new believer I took the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount very seriously. We are to forgive every one always. We are to turn the other cheek. We are to rejoice when we are wronged. We are to never say “what an idiot” in our hearts. Anger is sin and must be dealt with ruthlessly. To maintain this standard of heart purity, I worshipped and prayed very regularly and if I felt I had quenched the spirit in any way I would mourn deeply. In many instances, I could not sleep unless I know my heart was totally surrendered. I remember when I was in seminary that if I felt I was somehow unrepentant or lacked conscious contact with God, I would leave class at break and go pray in my room. Little did I know at the time that this life of extreme sensitivity to the orientation of my heart toward love was a good thing.
As I went through the normal experiences of life, for example my disappointment with the leadership of our church, I compromised. I allowed an unresolved resentment into my heart. I openly criticized others in my home with my wife. I became arrogant.
Recently, as I have returned to the Sermon on the Mount and studied it deeply and as I have used the tools of journaling my character faults and my resentments and began to practice unconditional forgiveness and love toward all who have ever wronged me, I have found release. I feel like I am back from a long journey like the prodigal. To outsiders, I was always the most spiritual in the bunch. Never did I stop praying and teaching and preaching. Never was I lacking inspiration or “anointing”. During the last many years, I have preached many great sermons and inspired others to go deeper with God..BUT …my character was not becoming more and more winsome. Instead, I came to a realization that in fact my usefulness to God was being undermine by my arrogance and growing frustration with others.
I have come to realize again that resentments even the most subtle, even the slightest slander of others, even the slightest gossip or lack of unconditional love can rob us of the fullness of the kingdom.
I tell you the truth..if you love only those who agree with you and support you what is that. Do not the worst idolaters do the same. I tell you pray blessing on your enemies. Make peace with your adversaries. Love and bless unconditionally. When you pray and seek forgiveness from God, first forgive all who have wronged you. Turn the other check. Go the extra mile. For your Father sends His rain on the just and the unjust, the wise and the ignorant, the good and the bad. So you too…love your enemies and then you will be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Here is the only path to intimacy with God. Here is the beginning of wisdom and the filling of the Spirit. Here only, in this place of no compromise with the perfect law of love, is the place that Jesus calls the Kingdom of Heaven.