Recovery

Comment

Recovery

Recovery

Heart surgery is a two-part process. There’s the surgery, and then the often lengthy recovery process. Similarly, the changing of one’s spiritual heart starts with surrender; submitting to the process of God changing your heart and then continues as a lifelong process of God stripping away everything that is unholy and sinful. The second part of the spiritual heart surgery can be overwhelming and exhausting. There will be successes and times of celebration, however it may feel to you like those are few and far between.  In my last post, I mentioned how disheartening and painful this can be at times. Speaking from experience, there have been times when I’ve felt overwhelmed, uncomfortable and disheartened. I let the circumstances around me dictate my feelings, and have been tempted to throw in the towel. But in those times there were three small but very important disciplines that were present in my life that kept me going and kept my mind centered in the midst of being made new. I believe these are small habits anyone can foster to better prepare yourself when the going gets tough:

Habit 1: Prayer

Take time out of your day and talk with God. It sounds simple. However, this habit is so daunting to so many people, myself included. When I’m going through a rough season, prayer feels like the last thing that I want to do. That’s why it’s pivotal to foster the habit of prayer as soon as possible. There’s a saying that goes, “Prayer should be your first response, rather than a last resort.” The apostle Paul instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  “Rejoice always,pray continually,give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” When we engage in prayer we’re talking to the Creator of the universe and acting in obedience to His will. This doesn’t make it any less daunting, mind you. If anything, this may discourage us. But I encourage you to avoid the trap of feeling like you need to pray a specific way. 

Pray with gratitude for the things God has blessed you with and pray for the desires of your heart. Pray when you don’t know what to do. Pray when things are great. Pray when things are terrible. Pray when you don’t know what to say. The apostle Paul also says in Romans 8that the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness” by interceding for uson our behalf when we pray. How comforting to know that the Holy Spirit knows what we need, even if we don’t know how to express it! I challenge you to start small. Take 5 minutes out of your day to talk to God. There’s no right or wrong way to pray, just talk to him like you would anyone else. Thank Him for what He did yesterday, and praise Him for what you believe He’ll do today. Start this habit now so that you have an anchor when you hit the next rough patch in life.  

Habit 2: Read the Word

As we’ve mentioned before on this blog, we believe God’s Holy Scripture to be alive. The Apostle Paul puts it best in 1 Timothy 3:16-17  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” He can use scripture in an infinite amount of ways. The more you dig in to the Word, the less it becomes just another app on your phone or book on your shelf. It slowly becomes a lifeline for when you feel like giving up. The more it helps refine you in the post-op heart surgery. So dive in. Read it. SOAPit. Find a helpful devotional in the Bible App. Again, start out with a realistic goal so as not to overwhelm yourself. Commit to reading for 10 minutes a day. Meditate on God’s word and reflect on what He’s saying to you. Often times we spend our prayer time talking to God, studying the Word allows Him space to talk back to us. 

Habit 3: Engage in Community

Life is hard in and of itself. Life in Christ isn’t exactly a cakewalk either. When we give our life to Christ and allow Him to begin working in us, we sometimes get a false notion that everything will be sunshine and rainbows. All we have to do is look at Jesus’ disciples to understand that a life following Christ is going to be difficult at times. In fact, Jesus tells His disciples they WILL have trouble. This is one of the numerous reasons why it is so important to have a good community around you. Acts 2:42-47is the model we use today for our groups here at Epic. It’s a great picture into the early stages of our modern day Church. Drilling down further, it’s a picture of group-life. 

I had a difficult 2018, and at times found myself questioning God’s will for me and exactly where He was in my life. Looking back now, I can clearly see He was there supporting me, and loving me through the community that surrounded me. I can say with strong conviction, had my friends Jeremy, Patrick, Dan, Chris and countless others not surrounded me, prayed for me and supported me, that I may have walked away from my faith, or at least been isolated enough for my faith to take a critical hit. I never would’ve had that support had I not been in a group of strong, Christ-loving believers.  

Godly community is a blessing in good times too. I’ve had some of the most rewarding times celebrating, socializing, and even providing comfort to others in the midst of their trials. If you aren’t in a group of Godly community, your recovery process is going to be far more daunting and difficult. Don’t go through the recovery process alone.

Think Small

When looking to establish new disciplines in my life, I have a tendency to overcomplicate things. I often try to do too much all at once by making big sweeping changes that leave me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, eventually leading me to fall back into old habits. Spiritual habits are no different, thus I have found greater success in making small changes. When I set obtainable goals and reach them it allows me to create a foundation built on those small victories and allows me to carry the momentum forward towards bigger goals. 

Spiritual heart change is an elephant. There is only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. So with each of these disciplines, I encourage you to start small. If you struggle with one or all of them, keep trying. I guarantee that even in your struggles that Christ is working. Philippians 1:6has become one of my favorite verses in all of scripture. It’s a promise that says, ”And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 So don’t be discouraged if you find yourself struggling. Remember you’re a work in progress and that Christ is faithful to keep working in you. 

Which spiritual habit(s) do you find Christ is calling you to begin this week?

Written By: Calum Renner, Communications Team

IMG_20190127_152935_820.jpg

Comment

1 Comment

Heart Surgery

 Heart Surgery

When a patient is diagnosed with a physical heart problem, they can try their best to treat it themselves, but most would deem that a foolish endeavor. The wise person seeks out those that are knowledgeable and can get to the root of problem, rather than simply treating symptoms. Similarly, we’ve all been diagnosed with a heart problem and there is only One that can truly, permanently fix our spiritual heart problems. You may be familiar with His name...

Christ Alone

King David, one of the most revered men in all of the Bible and someone known as “a man after God’s own heart” still found himself calling out to God for help in changing his heart. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”He was keenly aware that God alone was capable of initiating any significant, long-term change within his heart and therefore turned to Him for help. 

Trust the Process

The process starts with going to God for help. We must be willing to humble ourselves, and call on Him and He will be faithful to initiate the uncomfortable, sometimes painful yet beautiful metamorphosis of our hearts. Listen to God’s words to the nation of Israel in Ezekiel 36:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules


A Lifelong Exercise

The changing of our hearts by Christ is one that will take the duration of our lives. There are no shortcuts. There will be growing pains. There will be scars. There will be times when we'll want to tap out. I’ve been there. However, the best thing we can do is commit to being “refined like silver.” (Psalm 66:10). If you’re there now, hold on a little longer. There are a few things I can encourage you to do in order to make it a little easier to hold on in those rough patches. In part 3 we’ll discuss some small habits that will become lifesavers when we find ourselves in the thick of those times when we feel like quitting.

Are you relying on yourself or on Christ to change your heart?

Written By: Cal Renner

Communications Team Member

IMG_20190127_152935_820.jpg

1 Comment

New Year, New Heart

Comment

New Year, New Heart

New Year, New Heart

It’s a new year. The calendar has flipped to 2019, and so often this leads us to reflect on the prior year and the changes we desire to make in the New Year. That coupled with our latest series here at Epic, Chain Reaction, got my proverbial wheels turning. So often when we begin the new year, our focus is on appearance and physical health, but often times we focus solely on the physical and in the process we completely ignore our spiritual health. Spiritual health is however, just as if not more important. As I began thinking about both of these areas I recognized that the process in making changes in both areas are remarkably similar. Both can be transformed radically by making small, yet powerful changes. And just like I may trade in my habit of eating donuts for breakfast, for acai bowls in an attempt to change my physical health, I can add or change up some habits in order to better my spiritual health too. 

Change starts in the heart

Before we dive into specifics, first we must all face some tough truths about change. I’ve been told numerous times when I’ve wanted to shed a few pounds that I need to start in the kitchen. What I eat is big factor in how successful I’ll be in making lasting changes in my physical appearance. In the same way, the Bible tells us that true, lasting spiritual change ALWAYS begins in the heart. However, our hearts are complicated, messy and difficult to change. The prophet Jeremiah says that our hearts are “desperately sick” (JeremiahHYPERLINK "https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+17%3A9&version=ESV" 17:9) and that no man is able to understand it. Jesus Himself gave His own description of our hearts in

  “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

So if I’m sick and I cannot understand how to change my heart, is my situation hopeless? God forbid! In part 2 we'll talk about the Great Physician and the lifelong process of our hearts being changed. 

Have you recognized the need in your life for a new heart? 

Written By: Cal Renner

Communications Team Member



IMG_20190127_152935_820.jpg

Comment

HOPE

Comment

HOPE

HOPE

 

Hopelessness.

Do you know the feeling?

It is a dark place, and a lonely one.

It is devoid of joy or peace, and is overwhelming in its weight.

It is a place filled with lies about your identity, your present, and your future.

If you have ever been in the place of hopelessness, you know exactly how oppressive and tiring it can be.

 

I have been in that place.

I have been so very low and so very lonely, and wondered, “How can I possibly escape this place of feeling?”

I have doubted the light, I have been overwhelmed by the darkness.

But here I stand.

And the only anchor that I know to be sure is this:

 

Turn your eyes toward Jesus, beloved child.

 

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:15-16].

 

Do you see the beauty of Him?

Does your heart start to crack and do your knees start to bow at the truth of who He is?

 

The gospel was never about getting happiness or getting security out of that cross.

The blessing always was, and always will be found in our Messiah Jesus.

He is the Hope.

He is the Reason.

He is the Answer.

 

He is the Hope that will not disappoint you. He will mend you in brokenness, He will comfort you in suffering, He will strengthen you in weakness, He will fight for you in darkness. He will never leave you, He will never forsake you.

 

We can experience Hope here and now because our Jesus points the way. We know our present and future are secure, because HE can never be taken away from us.

 

I’ll be honest, friends.

I write this particular post with tear-streaked cheeks and a heavy heart.

I am still walking through a season of hardship and heaviness, and I am not yet on the other side.

But I am not without hope.

I must choose to worship in the middle of pain, because in that worship I am reminded that my Hope is Jesus and He will never disappoint.

 

“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies“ [2 Corinthians 4:7-9].

 

Go ahead and let those earthly things die within you.

The hope you’ve stored in success.

The hope you’ve placed in circumstances.

The hope you’re clinging to that is attached to any thing in this world.

The hope that guarantees to disappoint.

 

Open your hands and accept the Hope of Heaven.

Our beautiful, faithful Jesus.

Let Him do a work in your soul and renew those dark and hopeless places.

His Hope is eternal, secure, and exactly what your heart has been aching for.

 

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” [2 Corinthians 4:16-18].

 

 

IMG_3174.JPG

Comment

JOY

Comment

JOY

JOY

Have you ever been “caught up in a moment”?

When I think back, I can remember so clearly that feeling of being caught up. My wedding, reunions with old friends, adventures with family, birthdays and anniversaries and celebrations of life! Feeling truly present, experiencing a sacred moment of heaven kissing earth. Overwhelmed with feelings of bliss, happiness, and fulfillment.

But I’m sure, like me, you are too familiar with the truth that these moments do not last. There is no permanent state of bliss, no happiness without interruption, and no complete fulfillment this side of heaven. Moments of despair, anxiety, and pain come on just as strong as the good ones, and hit us hard with the reality of living in a broken world.

So often we spend our energy and focus chasing those “better” moments of happiness, and avoiding the pain of brokenness. After all, who would choose a path of pain over a life of pleasure? Who would possibly ask to take on a life filled with loneliness, grief, and heartbreak?

Our beautiful Jesus.
He would.
He did.
For you, beloved one.
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” [Isaiah 53:3]


Once Jesus breaks into the scene, we no longer have to fear the dark moments of life. Yes, they are still heartbreaking and yes, they are still ugly. There’s no escaping the reality of this imperfect world. But should we choose to follow Him and trust Him in those times, there is a deep joy that starts to break through.

In Nehemiah 8:10, the priest Ezra commands the people of Israel “do not be grieved, for the JOY of the Lord is your strength”. This verse perfectly encapsulates our reason for choosing joy in those hard places.

The joy of the Lord.
The joy in WHO He is.
The joy in WHAT He has done.
The joy of all that He is.


The joy of what He can accomplish in us regardless of our circumstances. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” [2 Corinthians 4:16] Renewed. Refilled. Refreshed with joy.

I challenge you to choose joy by choosing to abide in Jesus today.
Meditate on your beautiful Savior.
Know that He chose pain and darkness so that you can be invited into a life of joy and security in His grasp.
This world will always be broken, and our moments in need of redeeming.
But we are never alone, never forsaken.
And our Mighty King comes with joyful victory.

Written By: Amy Hawkins

IMG_3174.JPG

Comment

PEACE

Comment

PEACE

PEACE

 

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” [Isaiah 9:6]

 

Prince of Peace.

Who is this promised child?

What is this kingdom of peace?

 

In the original Hebrew text, the word peace is often associated with the word “shalom”. If we dig a little deeper, we find that shalom translates most truly to wholeness. “In the Hebraic way of thinking, wholeness is the joining together of opposites” [Rabbi D. Zaslow].

 

What a most beautiful way to describe the character of our saving Prince.

His kingdom is creating wholeness, and joining together opposites.

Us and God.

Misfits and the King.

Darkness and the Light.

 

Our Jesus broke into history and brought the ultimate peace for our souls.

Salvation.

Reconciliation.

WHOLENESS in our relationship with God - with ourselves - with others.

 

But His peace was not just a one time event.

Deep, everlasting peace is not found in a place or a moment.

Jesus IS our peace.

As we abide in Him, He ushers in peace to our present pain and struggle.

He makes wholeness out of our brokenness.

His peace here and now gives us the ability to walk out into the darkness - a beloved child of the King - and carry the message of reconciliation to the world around us.

 

How often we feel that we lack peace in our lives. The worldly wearing and tearing on our minds and bodies often leaves us with little rest. Rather, fear and anxiety tend to be the rulers of our hearts.

 

But Jesus promises a way to be whole.

“For He Himself is our peace” [Ephesians 2:14]

 

Let His peace work into your soul.

Abide in Him.

Experience His wholeness.

Let His truth replay in your mind.

“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” [Isaiah 54:10]

Written By: Amy Hawkins

IMG_3174.JPG

Comment

Comment

Spoiler Alert: God’s Got You (Perseverance)

When I read a book, I often read the table of contents and a few excerpts of the beginning and end. This usually irritates my friends, as they ask in shock “What happens if you read a spoiler?” Here’s the thing, I don’t mind, because I find comfort in setting the tone with what to expect as I prepare to invest the next month reading this novel. This brings me some form of comfort knowing that before I commit to this book I know a little bit about what I’m getting into. If the book doesn’t have enough excitement, or the ending feels unresolved, I can simply close the book and return it to its shelf. As believers and readers of the Word, we often get the benefit of seeing the full story from a bird’s eye view (beginning, middle and end). One could assume that this is how God might see our lives, since we were known before we were even conceived (Jeremiah 1:5). However, we don’t get this same vantage point when it comes to looking at our own lives. Whether we are overflowing with joy in a given season or tormented with pain in another, there isn’t a table of contents/ cheat sheet that reveals to us what to expect next in our lives. So, in the middle of pain, how do we persevere when we can’t always see the finish line? 

The Story if Job:

In the book of Job, we see a fine example of a man who was able to persevere. Job, was known as a righteous man of God, and was considered the greatest man alive. He was wealthy with a life full of abundance. He had 10 children, a herd of over 10,000 livestock, and too many servants to count. One day, God admires Job for his blameless, upright, God-fearing and evil-shunning life. Satan devises a plan to ruin Job. He challenges God, by questioning whether Job is really all these things because God has blessed him with abundance or is he righteous from a place of love for God. To shatter this theory God allows Satan to take control of all Job has, but Satan is not allowed to touch Job. (Job 1: 8-12) In the span of one day, multiple messengers reported to Job that all his livestock had been stolen or killed, his servants had been slaughtered by enemies, and a heavy wind toppled his home killing all 10 of his children inside instantly. Job tore his robe, shaved his head, and plummeted to the ground to worship God in his overwhelming pain. While, praise and worship were Jobs initial reaction; I wonder if we could say the same. What is our reaction when we face suffering? 

Satan returns, when Job still hasn’t cursed God, and asks God to let him afflict Job with physical sickness. God allows it, so long as Satan doesn’t kill him. Job is afflicted with painful boils, from head to toe. Job begins to curse the day he was ever born, but even in deep pain (physical and emotional), Job never once cursed God as Satan had initially presumed he would. But, the story doesn’t end here… 

Why is it that “God Fearing” people suffer? 

Why would God allow a righteous man to suffer, when God himself called him good and blameless? Isn’t God just? Was there a purpose to Job’s suffering? Perhaps these questions are fluttering through your mind at this moment. Why does God allow bad things to happen to those that have placed their trust in Him? Job had some of these same questions. So, he looked anxiously for answers from his ‘wise’ friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zopahr. Through much of this story, Job and these three friends have a series of back and forth debates, filled with sarcasm, questions, frustrations, and even judgement about why Job was suffering. His friends questioned his righteousness and whether he was truly upstanding. They questioned his fear of God and if he was really shunning evil. All that Job’s friends could see was the destruction that surrounded his life, and they believed God to be just. They believed those who those who sowed good received good, and those who sowed evil received it. However, their view of God seems to be a little formulaic, wouldn’t you say? It would be easy to accept this as a predictable oversimplification, or hack, for how to gain and sustain God’s favor. However, we know that grace could never be earned, and It was and is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). Knowing this, do we often still try and fit God in a box? We as Christians can sometimes assume that if we follow all the “rules” we will get exactly the result we hoped for, free of pain and suffering. 

Even still, Jobs friends concluded that Job must have done something severely wrong to deserve this kind of punishment, and they believed “good” people don’t receive punishment without reason. So, they blamed Job; talk about encouraging and uplifting friends, huh? Even through his doubts, confusion, and questions, Job maintained his belief of innocence. He was mocked, questioned, and doubted by his friends who were supposed to be full of wisdom. Even then, Job showed perseverance in challenging the wrongful accusations by his friends, never blaming God. Sometimes, we look for answers or comfort externally, and forget that the world doesn’t hold the full truth. 

Yet, this still doesn’t fully answer our initial question.

Are we asking the right question? (God’s Answer)

Continuing in our story, quietly listening is Elihu, the youngest of these men, as Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar debate. Elihu timid at first, due to his age, reminds these “wise” men that age is not the only indicator of wisdom, but it is through the spirit of God wisdom is given. He proceeds to counter all their arguments by explaining that we all lack complete knowledge about God’s ways. We only have pieces of it, and He does great things beyond our understanding. We see here that kernels of wisdom can come from the most unlikely places.

Then, God speaks to Job and questions Job and his understanding of all God has created. God goes into great detail about forming life, the function of the sea, how animals survive, the great Behemoth and Leviathan beast, and much more. For 3 straight chapters, God questions Job’s right to question Him, the Creator. A strong reminder that “His ways are not our ways.” Job sits there in awe and listens to the things he doesn’t know. When asked if Job was there when God created all these things which are good. Job, sheepishly, acknowledges how unworthy he is of understanding how the universe operates, and that his knowledge and wisdom is finite compared to his maker’s. 

What is interesting here is God reveals to Job (and us) that he may be asking the wrong question. He invites us to ask the more important question “Do we and can we fully understand God’s ways/plans for us?” Job shows us that we may not be able to (at this time), but our perseverance in our season of suffering does not go unnoticed. We must also remember that while we may not be able comprehend the infinite ecosystems working around us for our good, God is working in our favor, and He is inviting us to step back and trust in his sovereignty. (Romans 8:28)

Perseverance to Restoration:

After Job submitted to God’s Sovereignty, understanding that he does not understand everything the way God does, God restored and doubled everything that Job had lost. This included 10 new children which he watched grow alongside 4 generations of his family after them. The book closes with Job at age 140, “And so Job died, an old man and full of years” (Job 42:17). While our restoration may not look exactly like Job’s, we can be sure it will come in this lifetime or the next. (1 Peter 5:10) Maybe your restoration is not a material thing, but maybe it’s your faith…confidence…or even a relationship.

What a powerful ending! Job persevered even with his fears consumed him. He humbled himself when he was at his lowest, and in the end he lived a long and more prosperous life. Job’s story reminds us that unfortunate circumstances happen even to the most faithful, and we cannot judge anyone (especially their spirituality) based on how far they have fallen. We only have a part of their story. As we all fight our own battles, we are remindedthat our struggle may be tough in this season, but it is temporary, and our perseverance will be rewarded. Job never once abandoned God, in fact he engaged God in questions, even though they may not have been the right ones. 

Maybe, today you are asking yourself, “Why me?” “What have I done to deserve this?” “What must I do to get out of this situation right now?” Through Job’s story, God reminds us that there are things beyond our control and understanding. Perseverance, by way of faith, is all the understanding and truth we need to endure this season, and it is just that…A season! So, what can we do when we are dealing with lack of clarity or uncertainty in this season? 

1.    Praise God– Reorient yourself back to God. Jobs initial reaction was to praise God in his darkest hour. Even when all he could see, or feel was pain and suffering. 

2.    Listen for God’s Voice– God wants to remind you how big He is, and that no matter your circumstance, He is bigger than it. He’s got your back. (Jeremiah 29:11)

3.    Wait prayerfully and patiently– Prayer is an essential form of meditation that reorients your focus on God and allows you to hear His voice. The word is very clear that it wasn’t until after Job prayed that he receives his blessing (Job 42:10)

You may not try to read a head in a book or story like I do, but you may still be trying to find comfort in knowing what is next. Maybe God is not showing us the full picture, because he is inviting us to help him write our story as he guides us through his gifts of grace and fee will. He wants to show and remind us he is with us every step of the way, and that is all we need to persevere. “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps”. (Proverbs 16:9)

Comment

Comment

God Is For The One

Growing up I can’t remember it being an issue for my parents when it came to finding parking in our neighborhood of Canton. However, at some point in the mid-2000s, as Canton’s popularity grew and multiple residents renting out row homes became the norm, parking began to become scarcer the later in the day it got. To this day, it’s one of the few drawbacks to living in the area. Often times if I get home any time after 7pm, it’s difficult to find parking within a 4-5 block radius. This often leads to a frantic search the next morning, doing my best to try to remember the side street where I parked just a few hours earlier. On more than one occasion there’s the panic that hits me where I think that I know where I left my car, only for it not to be there when upon arrival. At this point I do my best to retrace my steps, and do my best to not allow my imagination to run wild with just where my vehicle could’ve wandered off to. At that point, nothing else matters in my life. Everything else in my life takes a backseat to finding my car. Maybe you can identify with this. Perhaps it’s not your car, but your house keys, the TV remote, your phone, perhaps even a child lost in a large crowd. We’ve all searched out that item of value that we’ve misplaced with urgency and with determination to find it no matter the cost. 

Pastor Chris kicked off the month of October with his brand new series entitled “For the One.” The title itself is pulled directly from Matthew 18 where Jesus tells a parable, or an allegorical tale about a shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine sheep, in search of a single lost sheep. Once the shepherd locates the lost sheep, he returns to the ninety-nine with the one lost sheep and throws a big party with his friends to celebrate. The title of this series, accompanied by the first few weeks of PC’s sermons had me pondering just what this phrase means. Specifically, what does it mean that God is “for the one”, and in turn, what does that mean for you and for me? 

To start, let’s look at the reference from which this phrase is lifted. It’s important that we who identify as Christians, constantly refer back to the Bible and seek truth and discernment from it. We at Epic believe that the Bible is the living, breathing Word of God, and therefore that God communicates to us, His followers, through scripture. 

This particular parable is found twice in the Bible. It’s found first in the book of Matthew chapter 18

12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. Matthew 18:12-13

The same account is again found in Luke 15 (Lk 15:1-7). This time Luke, the author of this gospel, recounts that Jesus pairs it with two additional tales. One of the stories details a woman that has lost a coin in her house, and the other tells of a son who returns home from a lifestyle of waste and wild-living. The second is one of the most famous and well-known parables Jesus ever told, “The Prodigal Son.” It is through this pairing that the enlightenment of this phrase “for the one” begins to shine. There are themes in all three stories told by Jesus that are intentionally woven throughout each story. The “one” refers to anyone that is lost. Whether it’s a sheep, a coin or a son, God’s heart is for those that are lost and have not been located. His heart is for those that do not yet know Jesus and recognize the dire need for them to have Him as their Lord and Savior. Let’s examine the similarities in each parable that reveal that God’s heart is for the One.

The One Belongs To Him

In each parable in Luke 15, there is an item of value that is lost or missing. In the first two parables, the item of value seems to have either wandered off unknowingly (sheep) or have been sort of lost in the shuffle (coin). In these parables it seems obvious to one listening that the missing item of value would be sought out by the one to whom it belonged. However in the prodigal son’s story, the item of value is defiant in his wandering. His wandering is a choice. In the text, the son says to his father “I want my share of your estate now before you die.” (Lk 15:12) The son acted brazenly and in arrogance. He made the choice to leave, giving the father every right to disown his son, moving forward. The text goes on to say that the son then went and squandered his inheritance on “wild living” (Lk 15:13). The son eventually comes to his senses, and decides to return home to his father. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” (Lk 15:21) However, the father never ceases to see him as anything but his child. He totally ignores the son’s rehearsed speech in which he suggests being treated like a servant. This shows us that no matter how we treat God, no matter what mistakes we make, no matter what ways we sin against Him, His heart is the same for us. God is eager to reconcile our identity as sons and daughters of His. Each lost one belongs to him, and His desire is to be reunited with us. Our actions, no matter how bad we believe they are, cannot separate us from His love. (Rom 8:39)  Christ views each one of us as prodigals. In the book of Isaiah it says “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is 53:6). His point being that His love for us is not based on what we perceive to be the severity of our or someone else’s sins. He loves us the same and is in constant pursuit of all of us. There are not different levels of sinful behavior. We’re all lost, but that doesn’t prevent Jesus from continuing to pursue us, relentlessly. To search for us. To seek us out. To run towards us while we ourselves are still “a long way off.” It’s not because of anything we have done, but because He calls us His children. 

He Seeks the One

Another common theme in this chapter is the search for the lost or missing item in each story. If we look at the first two parables in particular, we see that both the shepherd and the woman are both actively searching for their lost item of value. They aren’t sitting idly by hoping that it the object will return to them. The character representing God in each story takes action. The shepherd is searching the countryside in hopes of finding his lost sheep. The woman is tearing her house apart trying to locate her missing coin. They are in search of the item that is missing and then meet the item where it is. As we just discussed, in the third parable, Jesus says that the father “ran to his son” while he was a long way off. Imagine the father standing on a porch, day and night, surveying the skyline, hoping his son would return to him. One day he spots the unmistakable silhouette of his lost son against the horizon, and is so overjoyed that he begins sprinting towards him. Christ paints a picture in each story that the character that represents God is actively looking for the lost. God’s love for his lost children is revealed in this short line that can so easily be overlooked. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son...” (Lk 15:19) The Father runs to meet his son, while he’s still far away from him. The compassion in the father’s heart, compels him to meet his son while he’s still far away from him. God’s heart for the lost one is exactly the same. Jesus wasn’t waiting around hoping that the lost would find their way back to Him. He ran to us while we were far away in the distance. In fact the apostle Paul says in the book of Romans that “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) This shows that Jesus took action while we are still lost. Before we even thought about returning home, Christ was preparing to make things right. While we are still in the dark and have no interest in Him, He is still seeking us.

One day he spots the unmistakable silhouette of his lost son against the horizon, and is so overjoyed that he begins sprinting towards him.

He Celebrates the Return of the One

This last item is one of the things we regularly communicate here at Epic as an important part of God’s love for the one. In each parable, when the lost item is found or returned home, the character representing God doesn’t stop at finding the item. The one searching is so overjoyed at the return of their lost item, that they tell all of their friends to come and join them in a lavish celebration. Jesus knew His audience and knew exactly how to speak to them in ways that would impact them the most. Luke 15 begins saying that Jesus was meeting with a group of people that made the Pharisees, the religious elite of that day, comment disapprovingly. Jesus made it a point to tell these so-called “God experts”, that God not only welcomes those that have been lost back into His house, but He also throws a huge party in their honor to let everyone know how elated He is that they’ve returned. This is an important reminder for the religious elite that may fall into the trap of believing that they are more valuable or important than those that are lost. Jesus knew the hearts of the Pharisees and recognized their pious attitudes. It’s also a reminder to those that were just lost and have returned home, that they matter. It’s a cause for celebration for them to have returned to Him that has been seeking them. Now that they are no longer lost, they have brought the creator of heaven and earth joy. The 19th century theologian C.H. Spurgeon puts it this way:

If such there is; and there are many who think that they belong to this class; they bring no joy to the Great Shepherd. But you who have had to mourn over your lost estate set the bells of heaven ringing with a new melody when you are recovered by the great Redeemer! (a)

Insert club horn sound here, because it’s party time in heaven. One of the things I find most unique and also greatly appreciate about our culture here at Epic is the emphasis Pastor Chris puts on the celebration when the one that was once lost is now found. Pastor Spurgeon puts it a little more eloquently than I did, but his point is the same. He reminds us that the Creator of the world, the One who is for the one, the Alpha and Omega, is so overjoyed when the one that was lost is found. His joy causes an eruption of joy in heaven. When we were lost and then found, we brought God great, contagious joy. God says it’s a big deal when someone that was lost has been found. So what are we waiting for? Who’s ready to party?

God Is For The One, So What? 

So now that we know a little more about the significance of God being “for the one”, how should that affect us?  How do those of us here at Epic take these core values that Jesus shares and apply them to our own lives? I like how Pastor and theologian John Piper put it in one of his sermons on this very chapter of Luke 15:

If you ask me: “Is the point of preaching on these parables that you want us to be like Jesus — to receive sinners and eat with them — to find lost sheep and coins and sons and bring them home to the Father?” I would say, my first aim is that you would see Jesus. Jesus did not end these parables with “go and do likewise.” And Luke did not end this chapter with: “Go and imitate Jesus.” The first point is: look at him. Look at him. Consider Jesus. Know Jesus. Learn what kind of person it is you say you trust and love and worship. Soak in the shadow of Jesus. Saturate your soul with the ways of Jesus. Watch him. Listen to him. Stand in awe of him. Let him overwhelm you with the way he is. That’s my first aim. If I could succeed at that, we would be so permeated with the beauty of this risky, painful, sacrificial, loving way of life, we could not but pursue it. (b)

Pastor Piper reminds us to first look upon and think about just how amazing Jesus is. Reflect on His character and His love. Seek to know Him better. Read this chapter. SOAP this chapter. Let it permeate your consciousness. If you do this, you won’t be able to help but take Christ’s actions and begin to pursue similar actions. 

After we have our focus, remember that each day we encounter the lost in our own lives. Whether it’s our friends, family and neighbors, co-workers, there is no shortage of those that are in our lives that need to be rescued. Remember it’s not our job to save them, but it is absolutely our responsibility to point them to the One that can. There’s a mindset that we as followers of Christ often fall into, that the job of speaking to or reaching the lost belongs to someone else. We believe that responsibility belongs to someone more qualified or perhaps with a title in front of their name. We tend to think that in order to do so you must be someone with a degree in theology or someone who’s decided to live their life as a missionary. In actuality, that’s not at all what Christ Himself has tasked us, as His followers, to do. Later on in the book of Matthew chapter 28, in what is known as “The Great Commission”, Jesus tasks any who choose to follow Him with the responsibility for the lost ones. We are each given the unique ability to touch lives that those in church leadership may never meet. So it is our responsibility to seek out those that are lost and do what we can to return them to the One to whom they belong. Invite them to church. Pray for them. Love them in both words and in deeds. Don’t just sit around waiting for the cavalry to arrive, be the cavalry!

 

1.     (a) Spurgeon, C. (2018). Twelve sermons on the prodigal son and other texts in Luke XV. .... [online] Quod.lib.umich.edu. Available at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/AJH1367.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018].

2.     (b) Piper, J. (1995). Coming to Yourself and Coming to the Father. [online] Desiring God. Available at: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/coming-to-yourself-and-coming-to-the-father [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018].

CalRenner.jpg

Cal Renner

a sinner saved by grace, was born and raised, third generation in the neighborhood of Canton, and still resides there with his wife Chelsea and their 3 dogs.

Comment