Renewal. It’s a great word. It’s one of those words that we can pretty much instantly understand because the definition isn’t hidden. The act of making something new again. Simple, right?
As with many things, our culture sometimes makes simple things complicated. We’d ask the question “How can something that’s already been made and used be ‘new’?”
I grew up in a beautiful town in northern New York named Watertown. Almost every street had mansions or beautiful Victorian houses. The downtown was ornate and stylish. As I grew up, however – in the 1960s and 1970s – an idea called “urban renewal” saw many of these things destroyed and replaced with modern-style buildings. Or, sometimes, replaced with nothing.
When we can’t understand a word or idea, we often dismiss it. Or, sometimes, we just change the idea to fit something we can understand more easily. Neither of these solutions are best.
God created renewal. Why, you ask? For the same reason He does anything.
He loves us.
When we first see humans, Adam and Eve are living in a great place. They’re with God and each other in Eden. Things are amazing. Everybody is happy.
But, we all know what happens. Sin enters the picture. And God starts working to renew the world for the people He loves.
One of the most glaring and smack-you-in-the-face stories of renewal in the Bible comes from the prophet Ezekiel. As a young Christian, this story always gave me a Halloweeny image in my head.
Being a prophet is a tough gig. God takes you to some strange places, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally.
He took Ezekiel to a valley. Laying all over the floor of the valley were human bones. The bones had been there so long that they’d become dry to the point of being brittle and cracking.
God told Ezekiel what to say. And, as Ezekiel said God’s words, the bones started to rattle and come together. Muscles and skin grew over them. Pretty soon, there were a bunch of whole, lifeless bodies on the floor of the valley.
But God wasn’t finished – not with the “bones,” or with Ezekiel.
He told Ezekiel to speak the “breath of life,” or Holy Spirit, over the renewed bodies. And when Ezekiel did this, all the bodies stood on their feet, alive.
God is the perfect renewal expert. It’s like it’s His specialty. In fact, through Jesus, He had a plan to renew all of us from before we were even born.
Perhaps you need to leave something behind like Adam and Eve. God has a new place of renewal for you and Him to start again. Perhaps there’s something that you think is too big for God to get past – your own personal valley of dry bones.
God showed the first couple that even in their sin, they couldn’t escape His love. He showed Ezekiel that there was nothing so dead that He couldn’t breathe new life into it.
If you’re waiting for renewal, then He’s waiting for you. Call Him. Come to Him.
“The trouble with freedom is that someone has to take out the garbage.” – anonymous Rockford University student.
I was a young philosophy student at William Penn University when I read these words. They were intended by the professor to give us an idea of the issues that the discipline of philosophy addresses. As with most things my professor exposed his classes to, however, the phrase would grow to have more significant meaning, particularly to me.
As Americans, we use the word and the concepts associated with freedom a lot. This past weekend we celebrated Independence Day and many of us focused on the freedoms that ostensibly come with being citizens of the United States. That is a good and proper thing to do – not just on Independence Day, but all the time.
But, where does freedom originate?
As with many things in American culture, there are different definitions to words based upon the culture or subculture that is using them.
Clearly, there’s a political and cultural context to freedom in America that captures an element of the broader idea. However, freedom – true freedom, in the spiritual sense is something deeper (and, since this is a church blog, that’s the one I’m going with).
Freedom is a memory, a longing of the human soul to be with the One Who it was born to live with.
The very notion of freedom comes from sin. We’re all drawn to sin. Adam and Eve never knew what freedom was while they were in Eden . . . because they had no concept of sin! There was nothing to take them captive.
The Bible is a pretty consistent book. Throughout it, the Israelite/Hebrew people spend a LOT of time getting their freedom back from different governments (Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, each other, etc).
Finally, God took things into His own hands. Literally. Jesus did what no government could do. Christians have received a birthright – a born-again right – that no government can undo and that no human institution can remove.
And this is great news! It’s incredible. The Son of the Creator of the Universe knows each of us personally . . . the good, the bad . . . and yet, He let Himself be violently killed by man-made governments so that you and I can be free.
The question then becomes – What do we do with our freedom?
And, suddenly, we’re back to where we started. “The trouble with freedom is that someone has to take out the garbage.”
I don’t know if that anonymous Rockford University student recognized the philosophical and theological depth of their statement. But there it is. Truth.
You see, being spiritually free means that you no longer need to rely on other humans. In the theological sense, you are now fully relying on Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for making you holy before God. In the philosophical sense, you are not beholden to men to do things for you. You can – and should, as much as possible – do them yourself.
As Christians, as responsible Americans, and just as free people, we have to take out the garbage.
This means that we have to act upon our responsibilities to do the right things. We have exchanged the luxury and bondage of letting the government or our neighbor do it for the freedom and burden of following Christ or our consciences.
Some of the obvious objections that arise to this truth are born of the same mentality that it is designed to overcome.
No, this does not mean that the disabled are on their own. No, it doesn’t mean the hungry just have to suffer. Quite the contrary. Being in Christ means that you know right from wrong. You are not a slave to other men . . . because you have enlisted in the Army of God. He gives the orders. Not you. Not governments. Not other men.
We then do things to help others because it is what Jesus wants.
There is no subterfuge in signing on to the Christian life. Jesus gives ample warning that being free comes with . . . well, garbage.
But OUR garbage was taken out by Jesus. OUR sin was dealt with by the God Whole loves you more than you can grasp.
Our best way of showing your gratitude is to take out the garbage.
Editor’s Note: On June 26, the Ridge Community Church celebrated “Youth Sunday,” a day where many of the members of Refuge Student Ministry directly led and participated in various aspects of the Sunday service.
On that day, our Student Pastor A.J. Underwood delivered the main message at both services. It was inspiring, uplifting and convicting. And in this entry, A.J. shares that, like many things in the Christian life, it’s not always as easy as it looks – but it’s worth it.
by aj underwood
Over the past six weeks, the Ridge Church has been doing a series called “Mix Tape.” The emphasis of this series is six different speakers being given the opportunity to speak on whatever God has put on their heart.
I was truly blessed to be one of the six communicators that was given an opportunity to share my heart with everyone who attended one recent Sunday morning. When approached by our lead pastor Bobby Williams many months prior about delivering one of the Mix Tape messages, I was both excited and nervous. I was still relatively new at speaking to the crowd of 20-25 that I get on Wednesday nights as the Student Pastor, much less preparing something and getting in front of 200+ people on a Sunday morning.
However, I have really learned some things that I want to share with you about my experience.
1). THE MESSAGE IS AS MUCH FOR THE SPEAKER AS THE AUDIENCE
What I get out of the preparation personally is always one of my favorite parts of preparing a message.
I know that sounds extremely selfish, but it is the truth. I know that as I prepare, if the message is speaking to me, then there is someone else out there that it will speak to as well.
The morning I spoke to the Ridge Church congregation, the message was centered around taking refuge in the Lord. As I worked through the message, I started looking at my own life and what I was taking refuge in during difficult times. Not just in difficult times, but in my nervousness to be on stage speaking to people, I needed to remind myself – “This is the message God has given me and He will give the words that will impact those it was meant for.”
And just like everything God tells all of us in difficult situations, that is sometimes easier said than done.
However, what I realized is that it forced me to put a larger focus on God during the process than upon myself and what I wanted to accomplish. That simple change in mindset and focus has changed the way I communicate with God, deal with difficult situations, approach the Bible, and approach being a disciple maker.
All of those areas of growth came from preparing one 38 minute message for a room full of people that God brought that morning and that I absolutely love doing life with. And learning from.
2). COCKINESS IS THE ENEMY OF EFFECTIVENESS
I practiced and I practiced and I practiced and I practiced!
I listen to a recorded version of the message in the car. I ran through it in my office at home. I tried to do a run through from memory as I took a trip to and from Atlanta the week before. The night before I spoke, I went to the church and did a full run through. Three times. And that morning, I read through my notes numerous times.
I tried my absolute best to be intentional about being prepared for Sunday morning. Most importantly, I was in constant prayer for God’s hand to really be on me and on the hearts of everyone there. I was reading, running through and praying until the absolute last second before walking on for the 9:00 AM service.
Then, the lights came back up. The mic was hot. And it was go time! It came out exactly as I had imagined that it would, the simple jokes that were inserted randomly brought chuckles, the serious moments brought silence, and the one line main points brought “Amen” and “That’s Right” from the people listening. I asked people to commit to next steps, closed in prayer and walked off, both relieved it was over and excited at how well I felt it went.
I then spent the next 45 minutes thinking, “Psshh I got this, that first service went perfectly”.
Then the moment came when it was time to go back on for the second service and I felt it, that feeling in the pit of my stomach better known as nerves. In that confidence and cockiness that “I did it and that I could do it again, no problem” I completely lost focus on the morning and more importantly on the fact that I hadn’t done anything.
God had shown up and what He wanted said had come out. I was more nervous the second time around because I had lost focus even for mere moments, but it was enough to change my effectiveness and cause me to stumble over words and constantly refer to my notes. Those in attendance for the second service probably have no idea and wouldn’t without me telling them, but God taught me that morning that when other people’s salvation and belief is in the equation you can’t lose focus on him!
3). YOU PEOPLE ARE SCARY!
Fact: I was scared on Sunday morning!!
Preaching on Sunday morning is like riding a roller coaster. First, you are waiting to get to the ride, and the nerves are just bubbling up as you see more and more people come in and it is becoming more real by the minute. This is followed soon after by walking up front and buckling up for the ride.
There is a slow beginning where you tell a couple jokes and introduce yourself as you inch your way up that first hill. Then you reach the peak and go to get into your first point and it is – *boom* – downhill. And, yes, there is even the urge to scream at times!!
At this point, obviously, there is nothing you can do. You are along for the ride and you just pray that God takes control!
Then, you come up from that last point and go through the calm return to the main hub, better known as the closing of the message.
And that part is great. You realize you survived. You reflect on the fact that it wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be. And you bring it on home just as confident as can be!
You hop out of the cart and think to yourself that was awesome, but thank goodness it is over. Then as you walk through the gift shop, you see that they took pictures at random points throughout the ride. So, you go check yours out. In doing so you realize a couple things about this ride: it was worth the wait, you were never in any real danger, you had an absolute blast. And, of course, do I always look that fat?
So, please, remember that when you go to church next Sunday to hear the message and get what God has brought you there to hear, that there was fear, self-realization, personal transformation, and growth poured into that message and into that speaker before you ever showed up. So, pray for them before you get there, pick your head up and truly listen to what God has given them for you, look past a fumbled word or a pause to refer back to their notes, give them a supportive “Amen”, “Wow, or “That’s Good”, and always respect the courage it took to trust in God and do his work.
I love each and every one of you at the Ridge and I just want to say how thankful I am that you gave me some of your day to share my heart. Not because you had to but because you wanted to. I can’t thank you enough for all the kind words I have gotten since that morning!
And a big round of applause to all the students that participated and helped create such an amazing environment that morning, when I got involved with the Refuge Student Ministry almost nine months ago I never imagined we would be pulling off a Sunday morning experience like that, but man did our amazing students came through!
Have you ever had those moments that you heard news that was so shocking that you remember every detail about where you were and what you were doing when you heard it?
In 2003 when I was on maternity leave with my first born, very colicky son, I was sitting on my new $20 thrift store couch, that smelled like someone else’s bad habits. I got a phone call from my best soul-mate sister, which was also the wife of one of the pastors of my beloved church. Her words still sting as she said “Troy has been arrested for child molestation”. I was shocked, disturbed, sickened and terrified all at the same time.
Troy was our lead pastor, the founder of our church. The entire time I was asking the typical questions…”Who? When? Where? my mind was reeling back to my childhood when another highly respected, very spiritually gifted man of God was doing the same thing to children that are now scarred up grown-ups with trust issues, low self worth, and a string of bad choices that stem from the innocents that was stolen from them. Many years have passed since then, years that have been served in prison, or for the victims in therapy or in what God only knows what else.
The news that broke this past week in our city about 32 arrested, including 2 church leaders, in connection with human trafficking and prostitution took me right back to these moments. Moments where my church family was devastated. Moments when we all questioned how we didn’t know this was part of his character…this was the man that collectively married us, buried our loved ones, dedicated our babies, baptized us! Did his sinful nature make all of that null and void? Was everything we had learned about Jesus while under his teaching now questionable? How could this happen from such a “good Christian”?
I moved from that state shortly after that. I left that church where I was once so involved that it was part of my identity. I was broken. It took me a very long time to even want to go to church again. When I did I spent years in the background of a giant church where I didn’t want to know anyone, or get close to any of the pastors, because up until this point in my life preachers have been the men that have shattered everything I understood about God’s love and protection.
I was keeping myself “safe”, but in all honesty I isolated myself from the very people that I would need. I didn’t form the relationships that I needed when my life fell apart due to my first husbands addictions, depression and ultimately his death. Because I allowed fear to take over I was completely alone in a giant church full of people.
Now, 13 years later, I have had to overcome the after effects of my lack of faith and fear of man disappointing me. I am a very active part of my church family at Ridge Church. I have learned that we are all flawed and apart from Jesus we are all capable of hurting others. Even as believers we will fail each other.
I also know that sexual sin is alive and thriving in this broken world we live in, Christians are not immune to the draw of sexual desires. I am in no way excusing the actions of anyone! I’m simply stating that God’s word gives us specific instruction on how to guard ourselves from attack of the enemy.
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
Non-believers will never comprehend that spiritual battle we are in EVERYDAY as Christians. They will never understand that we are probably tempted more than anyone because the enemy knows he can destroy the character of the men and women that are spreading the gospel by luring them into his traps.
So I say this to my friends and family that attend the churches effected by this disgusting crime that was revealed yesterday, stand firm in your faith, stand firm in your trust in God. Don’t let another mans actions draw you away from the community that God has called you into. Pray for discernment, pray for wisdom! Don’t read all the articles that come across and if you do don’t read the comments. If you read the comments, don’t react to them in an un-Godly way that will further damage what non-believers understand about our Jesus!
Let God fight for you!
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.””