Wineskins Archive

December 4, 2013

Thankful Enough (Nov 2012)

Filed under: — @ 3:18 pm and

By Wes Woodell

I have a friend who grew up with an addict mother who used to prostitute herself for drug money while he and his little sister waited in the next room. I have another friend who grew up in a home with a selfish, alcoholic father whose idea of family fun consisted of physically and verbally abusing everyone in the house, and yet another friend grew up with a father who began raping her at the age of four continuing to regularly do so until she was a teenager.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – growing up in an environment like that must mean these people are damaged goods. They must be messed up!

Well, they are.

But would it surprise you to learn these people are not down and out today? Sure, they’ve been broken, but they’re also redeemed and being used powerfully to minister to others!

Fellowship of the Broken
That son of a drug addict is now a successful businessman with a stable marriage. When he’s not spending time with his wife and son, he mentors college students teaching them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. That boy who grew up with an abusive father is now a successful lawyer intentionally living and working with children in the projects who are growing up in abusive situations. He doesn’t have to be there, but God is using him to transform that community from the inside out. What about that little girl who grew up being sexually abused by her father? Now, she’s a married, licensed counselor who spends her days helping other women who have been hurt as she was. After all, who better to lead people out of darkness that black than someone who has been there?

Early on and for many years these people’s lives were marred by sin, but guess what? All of them found deliverance, healing, and transformation in Jesus, and now they lead in sharing those gifts with others who need it.


Because authentic redemption has a wonderful side effect – a generous thankfulness that manifests itself in a changed heart and changed way of life that seeks to make the world a better place!

Here’s a secret: the best candidates for changing the world are the world’s most messed up people – the losers! This seems to be a prerequisite for work in God’s Kingdom – just read the Bible. Jesus surrounded Himself with liars, thieves, prostitutes, terrorists – you get the idea – and He used a bunch of people who wouldn’t pass a background check for employment at McDonald’s to turn the world upside down!

And He isn’t finished yet.

See, if you want to join Jesus in His restorative work today, you need to be as messed up as the people Jesus used yesterday. The truth is you already are, only you might be blind to it. Blindness is a common affliction when it comes self-assessment – just ask the crowd in Acts 2.

Holding Up a Mirror
Acts 2 records what happened in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Jesus had previously been killed during the holiday time of Passover, and the events of Acts 2 take place during the subsequent holiday time of Pentecost. It was customary during both Passover and Pentecost for Jews from all the world to descend on Jerusalem to celebrate. The population of the city would swell, and this is important to note because the crowd present in Acts 2 was made up of many of the same faithful Jews who had been present in support of the unjust crucifixion of Jesus – you know, the ones shouting “Crucify Him!” while simultaneously clamoring for the release of the murderer Barabbas?

Were these people messed up? You betcha, only they didn’t know it yet – but Jesus did.

Even though they had participated in His murder, Jesus still loved them enough to tell them the truth. That’s why the Spirit showed up like He did, and that’s why He prompted Peter – a very messed up man – to speak.

Peter’s first sermon was delivered to this crowd of messed up people, and it went a little something like this:

Jesus was God’s man, and you killed Him. But He didn’t stay dead – God raised Him from the dead, and now He’s in heaven sitting at the right hand of God with all the power of God at His disposal. That fire that you just saw surrounding the disciples – well, He sent that! What’s more – Jesus is not only Lord, He’s also the Anointed One our people have been waiting on for the past 2,000 years … and you killed Him!

It’s easy to miss whilst reading over a familiar passage like Acts 2, but I believe verse 37 is one of the biggest understatements in scripture. It says:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” ~ Acts 2:37

Now, don’t skip over that scripture. Go back and read it slowly.

Can you hear the desperation in their voices – “What shall we do!?” They’re saying, “We have messed up! How could we have done this?! We ARE messed up!” Probably for the first time, the pieces are coming together for them.

And what does the Bible mean when it says they were “cut to the heart”? Casual readers understand that phrase as referring to a cutting, emotionally searing pain like deep sadness, but that barely makes up the totality of feeling experienced by this crowd. A better rendering of the Greek is “stabbed in the heart” – that is, their hearts stopped. These people weren’t simply sad – they were afraid.

As Jews, they grew up learning about YHWH – the God Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who created the heavens and the earth and delivered the Israelites from Egypt with terrifying power. This was the God described as a “consuming fire” – the One whose presence was not only comforting but scary – especially for the enemies of God.

What were these people if not God’s enemies – aren’t messed up people God’s enemies?

How surprised they were to hear Peter’s reply to their question:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” ~ Acts 2:38-39

Peter didn’t tell these messed up people the next batch of fire from heaven was going to be for them – he told them how they could be forgiven. And Peter didn’t stop there – he told them they would also “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – the transforming power of God within them.

A Natural Response
These messed up people weren’t razed and ruined as they deserved – they were unexpectedly redeemed and restored. How would you react?<br><br>Because they reacted quite naturally.

Acts 2:42-47 records how they devoted themselves to the way of God by living in devotion to Jesus, one another, and outsiders:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. ~ Acts 2:42-47

That’s beautiful!

You want to know what’s odd about this story? Their community would not have existed as it had if,

1) those people had not been as messed up as they were, and

2) if they had remained unaware of it.

Transactional or Transformational?
The glue that held their community together was the thankfulness they felt in response to the grace of their Christ, and they weren’t simply thankful because they’d been forgiven – remember, they’d also received “the gift of the Holy Spirit”. In addition to the hope they had in eternity, they were thankful because through Jesus messed up men and women would become the people God always intended for them to be.

That’s because real salvation isn’t simply about a cosmic transaction from God’s “damned” ledger to His “saved” ledger – it’s about completeness – it’s about identifying our true selves and doing what God created us to do! Redemption is a process of becoming every bit as much as being, and thankfulness in response to God’s grace drives us on that journey.

So what are you thankful for?

Like my friends mentioned above, I’m thankful I get to share the gift of redemption I’ve been given in Jesus.

But I know that while Jesus’ gift is one of forgiveness, it isn’t only that – His gift also frees me to become the person He always meant for me to be. Jesus’ gift involves individual and communal emerging, maturing, and transforming, and I desperately need that, because I am really messed up.

And you are too.

If you struggle with believing that, compare your life to Jesus’ life.

That is a cure for blindness.

I praise God for the forgiveness I’ve found in Christ, but gush equal praise over His continued work on me in maturing me. A wise man once said, “God loves you just the way you are – but He loves you too much to leave you that way.” For that, this messed up man is thankful – thankful enough to change the world ….

… or, at least, to attempt to.

Because that’s who God created me to be – what about you?

Happy Thanksgiving!

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