More than restore

renew

Acts 4:22 for this sign of healing had been performed on a man over 40 years old.

Christ didn’t die to make things good like they used to be. He died to make them good like they’ve never been.

My wife and I were eating recently at one of those restaurants with a lot of TV’s. I was distracted by an infomercial about some dietary supplement that if able to deliver what the pictures seemed to promise, I might have a future as a Hanes model.  The tagline for Nugenix was “Be the man you used to me.” I looked at my wife who was also watching and said, “I don’t want to be the man I used to be. I want to be the man I’ve never been.”

I didn’t always understand that principle.

It wasn’t long after we founded our ministry in 2000 that I helped a drunk guy named Joe. (At least, I thought I was helping him.)  This chronic alcoholic was at the end of his rope and agreed to go to the hospital for detox and rehab. I noticed his hesitation as we entered the sliding doors of the emergency room and after the desk clerk asked him some questions and told us to have a seat, Joe got jittery. He perseverated, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I gotta go.”  Joe knew what he was in for. This wasn’t his first time through lock down, evaluations, medications and meetings.  He was about to bolt. My inexperienced mind raced to come up with some solution to reinforce his original commitment to sober up.  Here was my thought: Maybe the hope of restoration to a time when things were better would be a powerful motivator, so I tried to draw a picture.

“Joe, things are going to get better. They can be better again.  Try to remember a time when things were right, maybe when you were a child and didn’t have a care in the world but playing in the park or flying a kite. Life can be pure and bright like that again.”

I’ll never forget Joe’s response.

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

He took off out the doors and into the woods.

I’ve gotten to know Joe and some of his family since then. It’s true. Joe never had a day like the one I was trying to get him to remember.

Restoration is a tricky word. For Joe, there was no “restore point” in life that he wanted to return to. Same with the paralytic at the gate called Beautiful. He had been lame more than 40 years; in fact, all his life.

God didn’t restore the paralytic to a time he had known in his past but to something only God had known for his future.

What restoration does God have in store for you?

He doesn’t want to restore us to what we’ve seen and known as possible, but to what He sees and knows as possible!

Isn’t that’s exciting?!

What does He want to restore in you or to you that you’ve never known before?

A more apt word is Renewal. The Greek is άνακαίνωσις anakaínōsis and indicates a qualitative renewal, not a quantitative one. In other words, anakaínōsis is not to make new again, but to make new unlike ever before. God wants to do more than restore you. He wants to do something brand new in you.

When God restored the paralytic to what he had never know before, he was actually renewed.

When we consider our marriage, our best friend, our ministry or business or our overall health, almost all of us can say “We’ve known better times.” But with God’s renewing power, we should proclaim the truth from 2 Corinthians 4:16 that “our inner man is being renewed day by day” and that the best is yet to come.

So, before asking God to restore something that’s lost, hurt or broken, first remember that Christ didn’t die to make things good like they used to be. He died to make them good like they’ve never been. Then ask Him to do what only He can do; renew.

Look!

look

Acts 3:4 Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.”

The response to seeing something we’re not looking for is always different than if we were first looking for it.

We’ve launched a number of Invisible Neighbor studies in our city in the last few years. Published by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, the study is intended to engage the church in dialogue about that “invisible neighbor” in poverty or homeless.

Invisible?

You might be surprised how easily the poor are literally overlooked. Check out this video created by the New York City Rescue Mission.

 

Ok. So we’re not looking. At best we might be seeing, but we’re not really looking.

There’s a difference. Seeing is more passive, receptive and can occur without a thought of looking.

Looking is active, external and purposeful.

When you see the manifestation of poverty in a person’s life, it might elicit the emotions of fear, pity or sometimes judgment. Often it’s a combination. They’re mostly coping mechanisms; emotional walls thrown up in response to a subliminal awareness of human commonality and that this wrecked life you’re seeing is not so far removed from yours. We don’t want to believe that human life is so fragile any of us could end up half naked, paralyzed, and dragging ourselves through manure on a dusty road or in America, drunk in a dark alley and half frozen with hepatitis.

Can you see that? What do you feel?

Seeing is a passive receptive activity that leaves us to feel something.  The response to seeing something we’re not looking for is always different than if we were first looking for it.

So, what if we looked? How would our response differ? The answer to that depends on how we look, the quality of it.  It’s possible, with good intention, to go look for and search out the impoverished so you can lend yourself to the cause of justice or righting the wrongs of poverty and yet still miss what God really wants you to see.

Peter and John got it. They looked and saw.  Some versions say they “looked intently” on this poor paralytic at the gate called Beautiful. Others say, they “fixed their eyes” on the man.

The Greek is ἀτενίζω atenízō; To look fixedly, gaze intently. The root is teínō, stretch, strain.

What is it to strain when looking?

Remember when Jesus had been taken on the night of His betrayal? If you recall, Peter followed and was watching from a distance by a fire. A girl was there and she “looked intently” at him. “This man was with him, too!” she said. Imagine yourself there trying to make out Peter’s face, examining him in the light of a fire.  atenízō

Recall 40 days after Jesus resurrected, He ascended. The disciples “gazed intently” into the sky before two angels addressed them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven?” Any one of us would have, too, been searching the clouds in amazement.  atenízō

And before Stephen was stoned to death, while the religious leaders were screaming at him and gnashing their teeth, Stephen “gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God. What incredible focus! atenízō

When you look at someone whose life is ravaged by poverty, is it atenízō-looking? Do you examine him for who he is, search him for what’s hidden, focus on him as the center of your attention?

Peter and John did. They looked at the paralytic and they saw the impossible; a man who had never stood on his own feet, leaping and praising God. (v.8). Thousands of lives were eternally impacted that day.

The next time you pass someone whose impoverished circumstances repulse your senses, do more than just notice him or throw alms. Stop and look. It could be the beginning of a miracle.

 

Get there for real

gepetto

Acts 2:45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need.

We can’t legislate morality. We can’t regulate motive. We can’t socially engineer utopia.

If ever there was a social utopia, this was it. They were together, devoted to each other, joyful, humble, favored and held all things in common (v. 44-47). For a moment, try to put yourself there, a place and time among a people where no ego was at work, no one had distasteful thought for another, there was no envy, no selfishness, no power struggle, no loneliness, and no unmet need. Of all the Bible, this four verse passage describes the phrase “heaven on earth” more than any other. And although many of us, in this imperfect world of hurtful people, have become content living in a more isolated fashion, there is still a divine drive in our spiritual DNA for heaven and yes, if we can have it, heaven on earth.

How can we get it?

I don’t think I’ll ever forget these five words I spoke years ago: “I think I’m a socialist.”  I spoke them aloud and if you were one in the room when I said it, don’t bother trying to tell my friends what you heard. Today, they wouldn’t believe you.  Why would I ever say that?

Because I wanted it.

I wanted Acts 2 to come true. Here’s the problem. When you want an end more than the means, you’re at great risk of short-cutting the right means to get there. It’s human tendency to construct an end rather than to arrive at it.

We arrive at this Acts 2 scene by means of the Spirit. We can’t get there by political means. We can’t arrive by legally enforcing the redistribution of goods to those who have less. We can’t legislate morality. We can’t regulate motive. We can’t socially engineer utopia. All attempts to do so are attempts to bypass the proper means to our desired end.

The story of Pinocchio is a good example. The woodcarver, Gepetto, is struck with envy one day when some boys come in his shop. He wishes he had a boy, too. So, he constructs one. It’s a nightmare. The boy is mean, selfish and a liar and their relationship is horrible. The moral of the original story is in that Pinocchio lacks the virtues of bravery, honesty and selflessness. Once he demonstrates them, he becomes a real boy and their relationship flourishes.

Gepetto had tried to construct an end he wanted; a boy who would both be good and love him.  But bypassing the proper means of raising a child, instructing him in the virtues of honesty, bravery and sacrifice left Gepetto, for the most part, with an empty shell that only looked like a boy.

We don’t want a life that looks like one. We want a real life that flourishes.

Or do we?

It seems to me we want the end of a paycheck more than the means of work to get there, so we ride the clock or do less than what we could.

We want good kids more than the means of instruction and discipline, so we give in and give out, sacrificing their character development so they smile and look happy.

We want an impactful ministry that reaches the multitude, so we bypass the means of reaching the one for a rock show that draws thousands.

We want a nation where there is no poverty, so we bypass the means of face to face relational charity for a welfare state.

In the end, we end up with empty shells, replicas that bring no real joy. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves in a shell of a nation filled with replicas of Acts 2. And just as Pinocchio was one day surprised to find himself clothed in humanity, we might one day look at ourselves and find that our humanity has deformed into the same lifeless substance of the replicas we’ve created.

They arrived by means of the Spirit. In everything you do, do the same.  Don’t bypass Him. His ends for you are good.