Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The City of Refuge

"Greater love has no one than this, the he lay down his life for his friends."
John 15:13

Today I am thinking over the most powerful lessons I learned while in the City of Refuge (hereafter referred to as COR) at First Baptist Woodstock.

For those of you not familiar with this ministry, it is a place for hurting, broken, or fallen pastors and their families. COR was born in the heart of my pastor, Johnny Hunt, when a fellow pastor friend of his was in need.

Pastor Johnny couldn't shake the feeling that he needed to do more for this wounded friend than just recommend him to another church. This pastor needed more than another place of ministry, he needed a place of refuge, healing, and love. He needed a place where he could be reminded that the grace of God is real and it's not just for the sheep, but the shepherds as well. So, Pastor Johnny invited this family to relocate to Woodstock, to be cared for and loved on by the family of First Baptist Woodstock.

Thirteen years and many pastors and families later the ministry continues to bless, heal, and restore broken-hearted and hurting pastors. Our family was one of these, and it is a fearful thing to think where we would be without the love and grace poured into us by the First Baptist Woodstock family. Our lives have been radically changed.

Of the too numerous to count lesson I learned in COR, one of the greatest is this: As God's child, God accepts me just like I am.

You may be saying, "Well, of course, how simplistic can you get?" Or you may be thinking, "Really? But, I just blew it with my kids! I was yelling and screaming and not showing any compassion at all. Does God really accept me right now?" It is the same truth that we preach to the lost: God hates the sin, but loves the sinner. However, once we are in the family we often begin to believe something else: God loves me when I am good and breaks fellowship with me when I am bad. How ironic that we extend grace to the lost sheep, but not to the sheep in the fold and especially not to our leaders and pastors.

God does not break fellowship with me! Just as I don't break fellowship with my own children when they make mistakes or sin against me. I still speak to them. I still entreat them. I still prepare their meals and pray for them. I may give them some space until they are ready to talk. I may even arrange that space for them. But there is no broken fellowship on my end. I love them and want the best for them always. If I do break fellowship and give a cold shoulder, that is about my brokenness, not their sin.

If you are not fellowshipping with God, it is not because He has broken fellowship with you! He is still there waiting and drawing you and declaring His love for you, you just have to stop running or trying to fix it or make it look better, and turn your face to Him. He is not rolling His eyes or looking angrily at you. His compassion for you is great and He longs to enter in and hold you and help you.

1 John 4:10 says, "This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." What Jesus did on the cross shows His love for you, not only when you are lost, but even when you are saved. My need for His grace hasn't changed. And God didn't move me from grace to works. I am still 100% under His grace. And let me tell you, I am swimming in it!

Having a different view of my heavenly Father has changed me. I have a peace and a rest that I didn't have before. I knew I was saved and I was confident of my eternal destiny, but it seemed day to day was up and down with God. I was never really sure I was doing enough or even doing exactly what He wanted me to do at a given moment. Now I feel like I can breathe: God accepts me just like I am.

This lesson did not come in one moment, but it was more like a slow and continual dawning of light. I am so very thankful to my First Baptist Woodstock family and to my pastor and to those who serve in the COR ministry. To borrow a line from Ray Boltz, I am a life that was changed.

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