In Need of Recovery! (Bridge Message)

When I go to work every day, I am struck by how many people struggle to deal with whatever they've done in their past. Whether it's prostitution, violence, an addiction, thievery or a combination of it all, their past is painful, their past is real, their guilt is crippling and they struggle to keep moving forward. 

The same can be said about all the people I meet every day struggling to deal with all the awful and painful things that have been done to them. Again, it is painful, it is real and it often causes them to suffer. 

Every day, because of this, I see people living in immense guilt, suffering and struggling because of things in their pasts. They cannot forgive themselves and the burden they feel is incredible. They believe they've done too much and too much has been done to them, so in their despair, they believe they cannot be forgiven. They believe they are not worthy of God's grace and forgiveness. They believe that they've gone too far down the wrong path, so they compare themselves to so-called "righteous folk" and believe they are doomed. They believe Jesus died on the cross, they believe Jesus rose again, but they struggle to believe He did it to set "them" free.

Every day I see this reality, but the truth is, Jesus tells us something vastly different, doesn't He?

Jesus turned it all upside down, He came with a message of hope! A message that frees us from our pasts. A message of love, forgiveness, and mercy!

He came and told everyone that He didn't come to save the healthy, but the sick. He came and told everyone that He didn't come to save the righteous, but sinners. Jesus infuriated the "so-called" righteous because He welcomed into His loving Kingdom those who society hated and rejected. Jesus said "come to Me" to prostitutes, to tax-collectors, to lepers, to sinners, to prisoners and so forth. Even in His last dying moments on that cross, Jesus said to the man dying on the cross next to Him, a man who was put on that cross because he had done horrifying stuff, a man who'd done awful things in his past, "I tell you today, you will be with Me in paradise!" 

If we feel dirty, if we know we're dirty, these words of Jesus should give us hope! Because He tells all of us that we need to come to Him and that we're welcome in His Kingdom. I hate to say this, but the Church often doesn't follow this example, as it often tells us we have to be "squeaky clean" to enter their doors. But that is not the way of Jesus, He calls us not to reject others, but to follow His example, and to embrace the "least of these". In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites people to come to Him, not the healthy, not the righteous, not the squeaky clean, but those who are dirty, suffering, filled with guilt, those in bondage, depressed and so forth; those who feel they are not worthy. Listen to the words of Jesus...

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

It may be hard to do, but we have to believe Jesus, He wants us to come to Him, He calls for us to come to Him. He wants us to come to Him in our pain, in our guilt, in our sin, in our addiction, in our suffering and He promises to give us rest. People will let us down, people will push us aside, people will remind us of who we once were, but we need to look to Jesus and believe Him when He tells us to come "as we are", with all our dirt and pain. Not only that, we need to surround ourselves with people who truly follow the example Jesus left us, people who see us as Jesus sees us and will embrace us, "warts and all", people who will give us fresh starts and new opportunities. 

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine dropped by. He was rotten drunk and driving. We wouldn't let him drive, so we drove him home. After that, he started calling me at all hours of the night in distress, begging for prayer. He's a Vietnam vet and was drinking himself to death. He could not shake things that happened to him well over 40 years ago. He felt dirty, he felt guilty, he was in pain, he could not forgive himself. He told me some of it, it haunted me and it haunts him to this very day. 

This veteran struggled to forgive himself and believed that God would not forgive him either. People hadn't given him chances, so he thought Jesus operated the same way. Every time he'd call I'd pray for him and encourage him to go to Jesus, letting him know that Jesus loves him, has forgiven him and desperately wants him to come to Him. He'd look at others, he felt rejected, he felt judged, but Jesus doesn't operate that way. He wants us to come as we are; weak, broken and dirty! 

He needed to remember this and he came to know that Jesus turns things upside down and keeps on saying to us in our struggles and pain, "come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest!" 

We all, like my friend, need to cling to the truth of Jesus, that He forgives us and we need to forgive ourselves too! Believe that Jesus wants us, loves us, forgives us and says "come to me!" When we start believing this, believing Jesus, instead of the lies and hatred around us, instead of the voices in our heads, we will start finding the freedom and rest Jesus spoke about. 

Jesus told a parable about a young man who took his inheritance from his father and wasted it all on wild living and prostitutes. He became so poor than he ended up feeding pigs to survive and he longed to fill his stomach with what the pigs were eating. Finally, he decides he will return home and beg to become like one of his dad's hired servants. 

This young man, full of shame, full of guilt, doesn't expect much. He thinks he's taking a risk returning home. He knows he could be rejected and judged, he knows his past could be held against him, but Jesus says, "while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20)

This is the heart of God, this should be the heart of all of us who follow Jesus. He waits, he says "come to Me", and when we do, He celebrates, He rejoices. Jesus tells us in this parable that the father didn't remind the boy of his past, he brought him the best robe, a ring for his finger, sandals and cooked him a feast in celebration. He was so happy to see his son, who was lost, come to him. This young man had a fresh start, where all was forgiven and he could find rest. 

The parable doesn't end there though; the young man has an older brother, and he's bitter! He looks at what the younger one has done and gets mad at his father for having a party and celebrating. He goes off! He disagrees with his dad. He doesn't celebrate. He remains angry and judgmental.

Unfortunately, we all have people in our lives like this older brother, trying to steal our joy, people who should be celebrating with us, but are judging us and reminding us of what we've done and what's been done to us! Ignore those people, and instead, look to Jesus and those who will celebrate with you and lift you up! We need to hear the words of Jesus, we need to feel the love of Jesus, we need to listen to Jesus saying "come to Me" and we need to go to Him, because He will give us rest for our souls. 

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
This was a sermon preached on 4/18/2017, in response to this question; "In need of recovery"
"I’m recovering from a life of prostitution, and I need to know how can I have a good and healthy life. How can I deal with my past, and the history of sexual abuse I’ve faced? How can I find God in all of that?"
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