Wilfredo Choco De Jesús: Paying the Cost of Reconciliation (Catalyst Notes)

Wilfredo Choco De Jesús was one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2013. The senior pastor at New Life Covenant Ministries in Chicago, he is a man not only of the Word but of action. He started his talk with Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This, he said, is why Jesus came. This is what we are called to: to seek and to save the lost.

How do we lead in a drifting culture dominated by fear? First, we must realize that nobody drifts towards holiness. Holiness is intentional. Therefore, a Church that offers transformation in a drifting world must be an engaged, purposeful, responsive Church. Prayer is not a crutch. It is the start of something, not the end of it. Revelation calls for a response. Understanding can wait, obedience to the revelation of God cannot. “When my Father says do something, I do it.”

Remember: God uses unusual people to do extraordinary things. It’s all over the Bible. Wilfredo De Jesús, also known as Pastor Choco, felt called to buy a farm and amazing things took place to make it happen through all sorts of crazy turns. That farm has, to date, rescued 625 girls and women from prostitution. There is a cost to reconciliation, but we, the Church, should be happy to pay it. He told a story of buying five prostitutes for one hour. They brought them to a place where they laid out a beautiful banquet. They spoke truth over them, that they weren’t born a prostitute and they were loved. Those women walked away from their path and, through the sacrifice and support of the church, ended up becoming leaders in the church. It’s just like in the parable of the lost sheep: the sheep is not rebuked for being lost, it is celebrated for being found.

Or the prodigal son. The son who basically told his father, “I don’t care about your status, I wish you were dead.” He demanded an inheritance he wasn’t even owed and his father gave it to him, sacrificing his status for him. Then that son leaves and squanders it all. Eventually he came to his senses and returns humbled. What does the dad do? He RUNS to the boy. Men didn’t run in the first century; children and women ran. But again, the father disregards status and runs to the son. He embraces and covers the boy, showing that his protection is over him. He gives him jewelry which is a symbol that tells the son and others that he has complete authority to negotiate on behalf of the father with the assets of the family. That’s some crazy sacrificial love.

Why is the older brother upset? Well, this was all at a cost to him, in his mind. The inheritance was rightfully his, and already the father had allowed his younger brother to squander half of it. Now, he was paying for this celebration as well as giving the prodigal son his status back. You see, someone always pays the cost of reconciliation. There’s a cost to bringing others to the table, to gather those that Christ calls us to. The question is, what are you willing to pay so others can be reconciled to God? Are you willing to stand in the gap?

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Lysa TerKeurst: Disappointment (Catalyst Notes)

Lysa TerKeurst is a best-selling author a dozen times over as well at the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries.  She started her talk asking us to raise our hands if you’ve even experienced disappointment and/or someone being disappointed in you. Of course, all hands were raised. This is a common human experience. She then stated that Satan keeps us isolated through and in our disappointment. In James 1:2 it tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” and this is because pure joy is NOT the normal way we understand trials. It just isn’t. But if we sit in our disappointment instead of understanding it through joy, we become the playground of the enemy.

She then walks though Genesis 2. That the man was told not to eat from the tree (and he didn’t write it down, so God was like, ‘Dude needs a helper,’ and women have been making lists for men ever since). As we move a little further into the story, we see the serpent speak. There’s a big difference between how the serpent communicates and God. God speaks in freedom and gives restrictions for our protection. The enemy speaks in restriction first, thinking that God is holding out. But when we read the story we see that EVERY tree in the garden was good and pleasing the the eye. It wasn’t like the tree they weren’t supposed to eat from was this massive temptation shining about everything else in the garden. The real temptation of the fruit was gaining wisdom.

So people ask, why didn’t Adam speak up as they ate the fruit? He was standing right there. We don’t really know, but it is sad that he didn’t. When they saw their nakedness and felt the weight of sin and shame for the first time, they concealed themselves. Fig leaves weren’t adequate because sin requires a blood sacrifice, and so God goes and kills the first animals and uses them to clothe man.

God was merciful in his punishment of them. He protected Adam and Eve so that their death could be a gateway to restoration. That garden was the place for which the human heart was created: to exist in perfection. Even today, we continue to expect perfection from people. Some might wonder why God didn’t strip that part out of our hearts, but it’s so necessary to our life and faith. Stripping us of hat would have taken the possibility for us to realize the perfection of God. In Revelation 21 and 22, we see restoration (and God telling him to write this revelation down), Eden restored. But sandwiched between these two gardens is another: the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus, in existence at the very beginning of it all, would have created this garden with as much intention as he created the other two. His soul was overwhelmed and he asked Peter, James and John to stay here and keep watch. Lysa says that she thinks this ask is as much about keeping watch for soldiers as it is about watching how he deals with what he’s being asked to do; he knows what is coming for them as well. Jesus teaches us how to wrestle well between feelings and faith. Jesus knew the devastation.

And when things aren’t just broken pieces you can glue back together, when all you see is dust. It can be hard not to feel discouraged or hopeless. We can’t glue back together dust. Yet we worship a God who loves working with dust. Dust is a sign that new is just on the horizon. Jesus, in his prayer, tells his father my will or thy will, and he’s showing us how we ought to respond in these times.

The garden, designed by God, sits at the Mount of Olives where Jesus ascends to the heaves and where the bible also says Jesus will stand when he returns. It’s an important place, so it makes sense to ask what we can learn from it. One thing we know for sure about the garden was that it was full of olive trees. What do we know about olive trees?

  1. In order for the olive tree to produce fruit, it must have harsh winds of east and refreshing winds of west
  2. Fruit is not usable straight from the tree; we have to go through a process of removing hardness and bitterness (like that in our hearts
  3. What is most valuable is what comes from being pressed and crushed; an oil that can be used for light

Our God has taught us quite a bit about how to deal with struggle and disappointment, as well as which voice we should listen to and how to recognize God’s voice.

 

Louie Giglio: Goliath Must Fall (Catalyst Notes)

Louie Giglio is a pastor, author, speaker and founder of the passion movement. He’s written a book called Goliath Must Fall and that’s what he spoke about at the conference. His vulnerability and raw emotion around his struggle with depression and his journey with God really resonated with the audience.

Louie Giglio started by reminding us that that there are still giants in the land: comfort, rejection, greed, anger, depression, anxiety, etc. We see in the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 that Goliath was a beast. He was around 9 feet tall and his armor weighed over 100 lbs. total. The tip of his spear ALONE weighed 15 pounds! The Israelite people were dismayed/terrified by the giant; they lost hope in God’s ability to handle the giant. We respond the same way to our giants sometimes. Even though we are with Christ, it doesn’t change the fact that we are in a battle and will face troubles and tribulations. We can become paralyzed by our troubles and frozen in the moment. Goliath actually taunted them twice a day for forty days before anything happened! But the biggest thing to take away from this story is to remember this: You are not David, Christ is. 

Consider what David says in I Samuel 17:34-37, “But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.’ And David said, ‘The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.’ And Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the Lord be with you!'” It was the power of the Lord that delivered David, not just a little boy or a man slinging a stone. 

In the same way, we slay our giants not through our own work but by the power of the same God that delivered David. We need to wake up and look up because there IS a giant slayer who has our back! When David slayed the giant, it wasn’t about David. It would be ludicrous to believe that this untrained boy would would slay a trained, experienced soldier (and giant) with a stone. David’s response to God’s faithfulness? “Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it… And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.” (I Samuel 17:51-54) David walked twenty miles carrying the head of the giant not because he was a badass or prideful but because the defeat of Goliath pointed to the glory of God. 

It’s the same thing when it comes to defeating our giants. It isn’t just about our freedom, it’s a testimony to the power of God to conquer anything that might come against us. We sometimes make the mistake of worshiping our giants or talking about them more than we talk about God. We certainly shouldn’t ignore the giant or pretending it isn’t there but we should use caution, however, when we consider what we say and what kind of authority and power we give to the giants versus God. These “addictions” are cute when they are small but when they are full-grown giants they have the ability to rip your head off and your heart out.

So consider what and who you worship. Worship doesn’t make everything better, but it does shift our point of view. When we worship God we are reminded that we worship a giant slayer rather than a giant. We enter at the ground level but as you worship, as you preach the gospel to yourself, your perspective is transformed, like rising to the top of the London Eye. Worship is not a feeling, it is a decision. It is a treasure and a weapon given to us by God.

 

Stuck on a Verse

This verse keeps coming back to me today. In the verses before this one, he had dug a couple wells and lost them to others each time, yet he persists (out of necessity, I suppose). But when things finally work out, he doesn’t attribute success to HIS hardwork, persistence, or his willingness to keep going against all odds. He glorifies God. He recognizes God in the blessing. “At last the Lord God has created enough space for us to prosper in this land.” I often think that if God gave us Christ, and we are supposed to be like-Christ (hence Christians, or ‘little christs’), then doesn’t that mean that we ought to emulate all the characteristics that God does? I’m certainly not talking about judgement, or things God says are only for God to do, but I think we can learn much about what God hopes for in us.  I certainty admire the posture demonstrated by Isaac, but what is being revealed to us about who God is?

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An Answered Prayer

I prayed earlier this evening, and in a moment of just saying what was on my heart, I said, “God, oh that you would know my name, that I would know you more deeply. Abba… I hear your reassurances but my heart is uneasy. Please comfort me…”

And then it slipped away from me as I dove into my schoolwork. As I took a break, I was scrolling through instagram and a post from @shereadstruth hits me:

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And as I read it, it felt as if God were talking to me, and I felt comforted. Some might call this coincidence, but I find encouragement in the hope that God hears the prayers of my heart and answers them.

Reflection: Power, My Hope and My Fear

My hope, with regards to power, is that I might use what power I have to transform our society into a place that is a greater reflection of what we are called to as followers of Christ. Proverbs 14:31 (ESV) reminds us of what that calls does, and doesn’t, look like: “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” There is verse after verse that calls us to stand against oppression and injustice if we are God’s people and so that is what I must use my power to do. The challenge in this hope is specificity: rather than speaking in generalities and taking no action I had to look for tangible ways by which I might become part of God’s redemptive nature, to effectively help bring about change for generations of people. Some of our most vulnerable people are actually our children. In Cincinnati, we are second in the nation for the highest child poverty rate of 53.1%, just behind Detroit’s staggering 59%. (2012 American Community Survey) I couldn’t help but ask myself what hope one could have in the future if, as a small child, you must fight pangs of hunger while facing insecurity in house and struggle to be clothed properly. In order to transform my city, we were going to have to transform the experience of our city’s youth. And so that became my hope, that I would be able to use my talents and power alongside others who hoped to transform the path of Cincinnati’s children and thus, transform their lives.

There is a certain amount of fear that comes up around this. How do I help in ways that don’t further victimize those we are coming alongside? How do I make sure we are working with people to help break us all free from an oppressive system that disables their self-sufficiency and sense of purpose rather than reaffirming that their salvation lies in the good will of affluent, mostly white people? Psalm 3:2-6 (NIV) is a reminder of where my hope lies even when I feel like we are coming against unchangeable things: “Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down to sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.’” And so I equip myself as much as possible with the knowledge available from those who have come before us as well as studies from the sciences. I also rely on the Spirit to lead us in way that is fruitful and abundant.

Is Your Identity in Your Brokenness or Your Wholeness?

Some find their identity in their brokenness, their failures, the mistakes that they made. It’s true, when we stand on our own, when we choose isolation, we are broken and seeking wholeness, fulfillment, happiness. We seek and seek and seek and inevitably grow weary. Perhaps you never quite feel satiated, or maybe the satisfaction you occasionally achieve only lasts for a short time.

But there is truth in this: we are meant to know wholeness, but wholeness as it comes through relationship with the Creator, the Advocate, the Savior: “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:17) It is the triune God that holds us together; that brings fullness, meaning and purpose to our lives. When Paul writes to the Ephesians, he calls this out to them and explains that God is limited to neither Jew nor Gentile but rather to all of creation.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. -Ephesians 3:14-19