As many of you know, I recently moved from Canada back to the USA. Same general area, different community. This time, I’m lucky enough to call the ever-popular Hillsong church my family’s home church. It’s pretty cool, I have to say. If you ever get the opportunity to attend a Hillsong service, I highly recommend it!
One of the things I love most about the church is the open, welcoming attitude of the attendees, a trickle-down effect from liberal leadership, no doubt. Everyone comes as they are. A big sign at the front reads, “Welcome Home” and you’re invited in with smiles, jeans and a lot of really, great music. This is how I believe heaven will be. We will come as we are.
Although many would not agree with me, there is a reason these “super churches” attract such large crowds. On the surface, it may look like it’s the music and general "hipster-ish" attitude but I think the young people are onto something: Jesus. They have caught the Holy Spirit's passion for worship. And as the seasoned Christian knows, worship changes everything.
The Holy Spirit is exciting, powerful, ground-breaking, moving, shaking, worshipful, loving, amongst a host of other things. Christianity was never meant to be passive. We were created to be in a relationship with God. But what does that mean? Is our relationship with Him a passive, “love you” with a small peck on the cheek? Or, is it a passionate love affair we can’t get enough of? To me, that’s a super church. I don’t want small kisses from God, I want to love Him. Really love Him.
Recently, our church had a global service where every church, in every country, saw the same video and heard the same message. The video showed some of the lead pastors personal stories and how they got to where they are today. Carl Lentz, the lead pastor of Hillsong in New York City, shared a story about a man he befriended who struggled with a heroin addiction. Their daughters played together. His friend, who had been arrested multiple times, said he didn’t feel welcome in church. Pastor Lentz managed to convince him to attend Hillsong and after a few months, his friend accepted the forgiveness of Jesus and was saved.
Not long after, he overdosed.
With silent tears rolling down my cheeks, I sat beside my husband listening to the story knowing it so easily could have been my story of loss. It also made me think of all of you- I knew you also would have understood this heartbreak. We know this fight for life. We know it well. But what touched me the most was this man, and his heroin addiction felt welcome in this church.
That's pretty powerful!
At his friend’s funeral, Pastor Lentz spoke of the forgiveness his friend received from Jesus and did an altar call for anyone there who wanted to receive forgiveness for their sins and call God their Father. I wish I had taken notes through my tears so this story was more accurately retold but something like two hundred people gave their lives to Christ.
…two hundred lives saved from introducing one heroin addict to the love of Jesus.
With my tears refusing to stop, I wondered how well we show the love ofJesus to our own loved ones struggling with addiction. Are we showing them the kind of love and forgiveness they would want for themselves? Are we even showing love and forgiveness to ourselves?
...do you feel loved by God?
I think the biggest turn my husband had was when I turned my own focus back on my relationship with God. All Christians go through an ebb and flow of passion in their faith but I was in a particularly long rut. I had made some irresponsible choices and was carrying around the guilt for putting my son into a home with addiction. I thought I could have prevented it had I made better choices. I would beat myself up, “If only I had seen the signs!”, "How could I be so naive?!", "I am such a bad mother!" and in turn, I ignored God. I didn’t want Him to tell me what a screw-up I was. Honestly, I was trying to hide from Him. I think that’s what it means in Genesis when it says Adam and Eve “hid” from God. Emotional hiding. Pretending everything is fine when it’s not.
I can’t tell you the exact moment everything changed but there was a switch and I recommitted my life to God. Slowly but surely, I started to give everything in my life over to Him. Including my twelve year addiction to smoking. I loved smoking. I imagined I was a classy Audrey Hepburn casually smoking a cigarette in pencil pants and ballet shoes. Smoking was sexy. Smoking was rebellious. Smoking got me out of dance clubs with groping hands in college. Smoking gave me a legitimate break from work to sit down for seven, solitary minutes. Hollywood certainly did a number on me when it came to smoking and though I yo-yoed in frequency, I always had a hard time giving it up completely.
I always knew smoking was holding me back from blessings though. Not because God blesses us based on our actions but because He looks at our hearts. I could be the most perfect Christian ever but as long as I was smoking I was knowingly, purposely, still not giving up everything in my life to God. That's all it was. Not, "Christians shouldn't smoke!" or, "Your body is a temple!", or even, "Your actions are going to be a stumbling block to someone else"... although, I had heard all those things. God told me in my heart that I had to quit if I wanted to intimately adventure with Him- if I wanted the passionate love affair!
So, I started to pray that I would want to stop smoking. I prayed for God to take away the cravings. You know what happened? I started to imagine every time I smoked I was inhaling a demon. It got to the point where I was afraid to smoke. I would want to but I was so scared that I wouldn’t do it. Eventually, the cravings lessened but they never truly went away. Seeing smoking as demonic completely changed my line of thinking. Instead of quitting because I didn't feel like smoking, I quit because I saw it as wrong.
That's a permanent mindset change that resulted in a permanent lifestyle change.
God is good and His ways are always better.
Without smoking holding me back, things changed. I felt a purity I had never felt before. Much like the heroin addict, I had never truly felt welcome in church. After I gave up smoking, that didn’t change (Ha! Bet you thought I was going to say it changed- it didn't!) but what did change was how much I cared. I didn’t care anymore. I knew God loved me. Not because I “did the right thing” by giving up smoking but because for the first time ever, I didn’t have shame holding me back from growing in my relationship with Him. I no longer felt the need to hide and when I stopped hiding, I realized God loved me and all my imperfections all the while (Just as He loves you in all your imperfections!).
This mentality is how we will "reach" our loved ones struggling with addiction. Not from nagging, bartering, consequences, boundaries, counseling, etc., although there are times and places for all those things, we will reach them with the forgiveness of Jesus. While we extend invitations to meet Jesus by our words, actions and self-love, God will work on their permanent mindset change leading to a permanent lifestyle change.
If the worst happens and our loved ones pass on, will you wish you had gone to more counseling or will you wish you had encouraged them to find forgiveness with God? Yes, the path to heaven is the narrow way but remember, God searches the heart and most people struggling with addiction have hearts crying out to God in pain.
"There are two paths before you; you may take only one path. One doorway is narrow. And one door is wide. Go through the narrow door. For the wide door leads to a wide path, and the wide path is broad; the wide, broad path is easy, and the wide, broad, easy path has many, many people on it; but the wide, broad, easy, crowded path leads to death. Now then that narrow door leads to a narrow road that in turn leads to life. It is hard to find that road. Not many people manage it."
What’s in your heart? Is it crying out to Jesus? Despite mistakes, forget your shortcomings, does your heart yearn to please Him? God loves you!
Take time today to really think about your relationship with Him and if there is something holding you back from receiving God's blessings for your life. Let go of the shame, the guilt, the condemnation and give Him your everything. When your friend or family member sees God's peace and joy pouring out of you, invite them to accept His forgiveness.
Much like the story from Pastor Lentz about his friend, we never know what good God is doing behind the scenes. He could be waiting to use you and your loved one to change the forever of two hundred souls.