The following article really spoke to my heart. I hope it speaks to your heart as well. I share it with a prayer that God will use it to challenge and bless us.

 

Bitterness is a deadly malignancy of the soul. Its poisonous venom destroys both the physical body and the spiritual health of an individual. I once heard it said, “Bitterness is like the acid you have inside that you want to spew on others; but it may well eat you alive before you get the chance.”

 

Truly, bitterness is one of Satan’s greatest weapons in devouring all kinds of relationships. It seeks out those who have been offended or hurt by another, encouraging them to dwell on the offense until a deep-seated anger and resentment takes root. The Enemy whispers in their ear: You’re right… Look what he did to you… You don’t deserve this… And she calls herself a Christian… and so on, and so on, and so on.

 

As we see in Hebrews 12:15, what makes this anger and resentment so dangerous is “the root of bitterness” that springs up in the heart. From it, this Scripture warns, trouble is caused and “many become defiled.” In other words, the constant stream of venom spewing from the heart of a bitter person defiles nearly everyone encountered.

 

Unfortunately, I have seen this poisonous root spew its venom in the lives of numerous women I have counseled over the years at Pure Life Ministries. But bitterness isn’t unique to hurting wives.

 

Consider the account of Cain and Abel for a moment. (Genesis 4:1-16) We see that Abel brought the appropriate offering to God and received His favor, while Cain’s offering was not accepted because it was the wrong way to approach God. As a result, Cain was bitter at his brother. God warned Cain that if he did not deal with his simmering anger, sin was crouching at the door of his heart, desiring to master him. Although God’s desire was for Cain to rule over his anger, sadly, Cain did not heed God’s warning.

 

We see the ultimate fruit of this failure when he rose up and killed his brother Abel

 

One can look at this story and wonder, “How could Cain do such a horrible thing?” But I believe there is a simple explanation: Cain’s action stemmed from his bitter heart. Cain was angry, resentful and bitter over his brother’s offering. One can only imagine the thoughts repeatedly churning in his mind as a result of his bitterness. In warning him, God knew Cain’s heart would ultimately lead him to murder Abel if not dealt with in the right way.

 

Bitterness is invariably found in the heart of one who has not dealt with a hurt or offense in God’s prescribed manner. So what is the biblical way to deal with bitterness? Amy Carmichael has said, “There is only one way of victory over the bitterness and rage that comes naturally to us—to will what God wills brings peace.”

 

Paul laid out the biblical instruction for dealing with bitterness when he said: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32) It has been my experience in counseling women for almost two decades, that bitterness left unchecked will almost certainly yield the other rotten fruits of “wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking and malice” in our relationships with others. The biblical mandate is to forgive others of the offenses that have spawned our bitterness, doing so with the awareness that we also have been forgiven much.

 

It’s been many years ago now, but I once counseled a lady who is a beautiful example of how to overcome bitterness. This dear woman’s husband had been in sexual sin for many years when she began counseling with Pure Life Ministries. Because she was not dealing with her husband’s offense in a godly manner, this woman became very bitter toward her spouse.

 

She was miserable, both in her marriage and, more generally, over the person she had become. My heart would break for her as she came to my office for counseling. You could see the resentment and lack of joy all over her face as she slumped down in her chair. She would confess during our counseling sessions that she was nasty to everyone she came in contact with and would never smile at anyone, including me. Yet, I remember as she got involved in our Overcomers At-Home (OCAH) Program and began to do The Walk of Repentance Bible study, God began to do a work in her heart.

 

The Holy Spirit began to convict her of her cutting words toward her husband, of her ungrateful heart in the midst of the trial she was going through, of her grumbling and complaining spirit toward God for her lot in life, and over the great disdain that rose up in her heart every time she even saw her husband—to the point where they had been separated for several years.

 

As she began to apply God’s Word to her heart, entering into His prescribed remedy for this deadly poison which was, little by little, eating away at her soul, I began to see her countenance change right before my eyes. This dear lady desperately needed God just as much as her husband did. And gradually that realization dawned upon her.

 

As she allowed the living and powerful Word of God, which is sharper than any two-edged sword, to pierce into her soul and spirit and the joints and marrow of her heart, God began to cut this malignant root of bitterness out of it. It became very real to her that, if she were to die, she would have to give an account to God for what she had allowed to fester in her heart. She realized the Lord’s judgment would be without mercy to her, the one who would not show mercy to her husband. (James 2:13)

 

You see, she came from a sinful past (as we all do!), and God had forgiven her much. Yet, before contacting Pure Life Ministries for help, she had not been willing to give that same mercy to her husband. She was living as the unforgiving servant we read about in Matthew 18:21-35. She basically had her husband by the throat, demanding, “Pay me what you owe!”

 

She knew God had been merciful to her, and He was justly requiring that she have compassion on her husband, releasing and forgiving him from the debt she felt he owed her. This instruction was God’s prescribed medicine for her soul and brought the healing and deliverance she so desperately needed to eradicate this bitter poison from her heart.

 

I almost shudder to think about what would have become of her if she had not taken God’s counsel to heart. She was following the same path of bitterness Cain went down; only the Lord knows where her murderous heart was leading her.

 

You see, this woman had allowed her husband’s sin to steal her joy and her sense of God’s presence in her life. God was able to work in her life, however, because of her willingness to see her own sinful heart. To be sure, it was not easy to keep the focus on her own sin in the midst of so much temptation to keep focusing on her husband’s offenses against her. But even though she still had some ups and downs, she learned to repent daily of her unforgiving attitude and turn to God.

 

What about you beloved? You might be going through something right now, where the sin of bitterness is crouching at the door of your heart. Be assured, God’s desire for you is that you would master it.

 

Are you willing to take God’s medicine into your soul today and “be kind to one another,

 

tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you”? (Ephesians 4:32)   Are you willing even though your offender doesn’t deserve it? If not, I solemnly remind you of Jesus’ warning: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But it you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)   The choice, of course, is yours; but I pray that you will choose to forgive others just as Christ has forgiven you.

 

Rose Colón is the Director of Women’s Counseling at Pure Life Ministries, a position she has held since 1996. Rose has a Masters of Ministry in Biblical Counseling from Master’s Graduate School of Divinity in Evansville, IN and holds certification from the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC) in Denver, CO.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Pure Life Ministries. Permission is granted to use, copy, distribute, or retransmit information or materials on this page, so long as proper acknowledgment is given to Pure Life Ministries as the source of the materials, and no modifications are made to such material.

by Rose Colón

What a Memorial Day weekend. I accepted the invitation of the staff to visit with the men at Liberty Lodge in Titusville, a transitional house for men seeking to follow Jesus and live in genuine recovery. On Friday night at discipleship class I was asked to give my testimony.
I enjoyed a time of fellowship with my friend and partner in ministry Brother Lance. A few years ago Lance was brought to my office by his dad. He was a desperate drug addict. He agreed to get the help he needed and that was a relationship with Jesus Christ. Today he is an overcomer and the assistant director of the recovery program at Liberty Lodge. We have walked with him through some tough but victorious times.
I had dinner with Lance and his family on Saturday as they celebrated the high school graduation of their daughter, Jessa. Lance’s wife Jamie is a real support for her husband as they serve the Lord together and Leah, the 5 year old is the PR for the family. I am sure you that know her know what I mean.
I was able to get reacquainted with Jack the director of Liberty Lodge and Bob the house manager. I had met them at a NET meeting at Dunklin several months ago. I also had the privilege of spending time with Matthew, Isaiah and Seff as they sought me out for some time of counseling and sharing. I have such a great time sharing the miracles of Jesus and seeing them take place in the lives of genuine seekers of His Healing and His Restoration.
I spent time with Damaine who is on staff also and will be going to Nicaragua in a few days to share the good news. He is going on the mission trip with his pastor, Brother Cox. Christian 12 Step donated 50 Spanish copies of the study guide, “Walking the 12 Steps with Jesus Christ”, to take with them.
I was introduced to Pastor Cox who allowed me to share the work of Christian 12 Step Ministry on Sunday morning with the congregation at Christ Central Church that sponsors Liberty Lodge. He shared his testimony of God’s restoration in his life. He has invited me to come back one Sunday and preach to the folks there. The pastor blessed Lance, Damaine and me with a steak dinner following church. It was a great time of sharing.
It is with great joy that I am able to witness the work of our awesome God who saves, restores and equips men like Lance, Pastor Cox, Damaine, Jack and Bob to do His work. I cannot describe the emotions I experienced during my visit.
Now you understand why I started out by saying “What a Weekend”. It was so encouraging to witness the power and presence of my Jesus who is so loving, gracious and merciful. I was reminded of the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews Chapter 11 and realized I was among the heroes of faith that would be included in the list if the scriptures were being written today.

This past Wednesday I lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever known, Chaplain Bob Gregory.  Not really, I did not lose him he simply got ahead of me and went on to heaven to see Jesus and be reunited with his parents, son, grandson and brother that had gone before him. I will see him again in the place Jesus has prepared for all those who know Him and trust in Him as personal Savior.

He leaves behind his wife, Janice, his daughter Susan, son Chip, their spouses, several grandchildren and a host of friends. Literally hundreds of folks gathered at Calvary Temple of Praise in Sanford to celebrate the Gospel lived out in the life of Chaplain Gregory. He served as chaplain at the Seminole County jail for a number of years. He also served as a member of the board of directors of Christian 12 Step Ministry. He will be greatly missed but never forgotten.

Bob was one of the most unselfish people I have ever known. He was always giving. When I was released from prison back in the 80’s he employed me in his business and moved me into his house to live with his family. I will never forget his example of compassion, his giving by sharing his material and spiritual blessings, and his overwhelming demonstration of an unconditional and non judging love.

When I spoke with his son at the service he said “I have one problem with my dad” and I asked what that could be. Then he made a statement I will never forget, “Dad set the bar so high I am not sure I can ever match the legacy he leaves”. What a challenge for all of us.

The eulogy given by his wife and daughter described the godliness and character of a husband and father that lived out his life according to the principles set forth in the words of Jesus. Chaplain Bob was honored by family and friends for a life lived in total trust and faith in a living God who gave us His Son, Jesus, to be our Lord and Savior. It was Chaplain Bob’s desire that all would know Him.

I have been privileged to know three men who have had a most meaningful influence over my life, Chaplain Bob Gregory, my brother Al Earnest and Brother Mickey Evans, founder of Dunklin Camp, a ministry to alcoholics and drug addicts. These three men have carved out a legacy and a life that continually challenges my commitment to the call God has upon my life. I will miss Bob and I will plan to spend as much time as possible with Al and Brother Mickey until we are called home.

My prayer is that as I continue to serve on the staff at Christian 12 Step Ministry that I will incorporate in my life the love, compassion and caring that these three have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate so that along with them I will hear Jesus say to me as I enter heaven, “well done good and faithful servant”.

So long Bob….for a season! I will be coming soon!!!

 

This may come as a surprise to many readers, but sexual sin in and of itself has never sent anyone to hell any more than a person’s morality can secure him or her a place in heaven. People are sent to hell because they have never been converted—regardless of how moral or immoral their outward behavior might be.

Having said that, the practice of willful sin, of any kind, could certainly be considered as evidence of an unredeemed life—even for a professing Christian. So does that mean if someone is given over to sexual sin that it is proof he is headed into hell? Maybe, maybe not.

I tend to lump “Christian” sexual sinners into two basic groups: those who are sincerely striving to disentangle themselves from their past life of sin and those who are exerting only enough effort to fool themselves and those around them. Determining which group a man or woman is in is no easy matter.

Experience has taught me over the years to look for certain indicators as to an individual’s actual spiritual condition. The following are the sort of unspoken questions I consider when dealing with such a person.

 

1. How does this person respond to a convicting sermon, article or passage in the Bible?

 

Insincere “Christians” tend to avoid sin-confronting messages and those who present them.  Instead, they are attracted to peddlers of easy-believism. This, of course, is no new phenomenon. When Isaiah was trying to win the Jewish people back to their God, he faced a great deal of hostility and resistance.

 

He wrote, “They are always rebelling against God, always lying, always refusing to listen to the LORD’s teachings. They tell the prophets to keep quiet. They say, ‘Don’t talk to us about what’s right. Tell us what we want to hear. Let us keep our illusions. Get out of our way and stop blocking our path. We don’t want to hear about your holy God of Israel.’”  (Isaiah 30:9-11 GNB)

 

How different is the attitude of a man or woman who truly wants to be free! He is drawn to Scriptures that bring a sense of conviction about his sin; he is attracted to preachers who present an uncompromising message; he seeks out counselors who will tell him the truth about himself.  This person may still be caught up in some form of habitual sin, but he will not attempt to silence the voice of the Holy Spirit in his life—in fact he longs for it.

 

2. How does the guilt of sin affect the person?

 

Guilt is a natural reaction to sexual sin and is not necessarily an indicator of a person’s spiritual status. Most unbelievers and pseudo-Christians (people involved in church life and yet unconverted) will feel a degree of shame about being involved in sexual sin because of the social stigma attached to it. However, that sense of shame is shallow and comes and goes.

 

On the other hand, the true believer who keeps failing will nearly always experience guilt on a much deeper level. Their overriding concern is not the possibility that their sin might be publicly exposed, but that their fellowship with God has been greatly compromised.

 

When a true believer gets off track spiritually, he undergoes constant inner turmoil. The Lord, in His mercy, makes sure that His son feels miserable until he rids himself of the ongoing sin in his life and makes things right with God.

 

3. Does this person feel compelled to “fight the good fight?”

 

Whether or not a person is really battling the pull of temptation is another good indicator to his spiritual condition.  I cannot recount the times men have told me that they “struggle with” pornography or some other form of sexual sin, and, when I begin to ask them about their ongoing war with temptation, they recount a long list of failures.

 

“Where’s the struggle?” I ask incredulously. “You have only told me about a life of defeat; you haven’t said anything that leads me to believe that you are actively

fighting those carnal urges! The fact that you are using terminology such as ‘struggle’ only indicates that you are exaggerating your spirituality while minimizing the seriousness of your problem.”

 

One common denominator among those who successfully fight their way out of the terrible hold of sin is that they are always trying to move forward spiritually. They may have failures, but they never quit fighting.  It may take some time for an individual saved out of a life of wickedness to find real freedom from it. The hold of sin can be extremely powerful, but one thing is certain: if this person has truly been converted, sin will not—cannot—hold him indefinitely.

 

The Apostle John forever debunked the notion that a true believer can practice sin when he wrote, “The man who claims to know God but does not obey his laws is not only a liar but lives in self-delusion… The man who lives “in Christ” does not habitually sin. The regular sinner has never seen or known him.” (1 John 2:4; 3:6 Phillips)

 

There is something, or rather Someone, inside a bona fide believer that will not allow him to rest until he finds freedom from the hold of willful sin. How can the Holy Spirit indwell a professing Christian who regularly practices evil? Or as Paul put it: “How can light and darkness share life together? What common ground can idols hold with the temple of God? For we, remember, are ourselves living temples of the living God, as God has said: ‘I will dwell in them…’”  (2 Corinthians 6:14b, 16 Phillips)

 

In the final analysis, if a person is sincere, he will end up on the right side in the end; if he is insincere, he will find himself locked out of the Kingdom. It’s really as simple as that.

 

One need only look at the different paths Saul and David took. Every time King Saul disobeyed God, he attempted to justify his behavior, shift the blame off himself or minimize the sinfulness of his actions. Insincerity characterized his entire life with God.

 

How different it was for David. Once Nathan the prophet confronted him about his sin with Bathsheba, all of his defenses wilted. He crumpled into a heap and exclaimed, “I have sinned against the Lord!” Out of that heartfelt sorrow came forth the earnest prayer found in Psalm 51.

 

And there, in the sixth verse, he penned the words that perfectly describe what God is after: “Sincerity and truth are what you require…”  How can you be saved and still be doing this? You can, but if you have a sincere heart and belong to Christ, your days of bondage are coming to an end.

 

Steve Gallagher is the founder of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.

 

Permission is granted to use, copy, distribute, or retransmit information or materials on this page, so long as proper acknowledgment is given to Pure Life Ministries as the source of the materials, and no modifications are made to such material.

I once was a slave to an addiction.  My addiction eventually led to criminal acts that resulted in incarceration.  Following the exposure of my addiction I managed to live a tolerable recovery.  Little was I aware that God was working in my life and desired that I experience genuine recovery.

Today I gladly proclaim that Jesus has set me free.  I will always face temptations as we all do.  However, I have become an over comer with a “genuine victory”.  As I began to facilitate groups and emphasize to others the permanency of the work of Jesus I became convinced and trusted my Savior to release me from the bondage of my addiction.

As I began to read and study more closely than ever the life of Jesus I was enlightened by His Holy Spirit of the truth of the miracles of Jesus.  He went about doing good, healing the lame, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, forgiving sin and meeting the physical and spiritual needs of all who by faith would trust Him.

It was obvious that when He healed the lame man that he was totally healed.  He did not have to go to an orthopedic surgeon or to physical therapy.  In fact he did not even walk with a limp.  He was totally healed of his lameness.

When Jesus healed the blind man he was made to see.  He did not begin with a blurry view of the environment around him.  He did not go to the optometrist and get a prescription for glasses.  He was able to see.  He was totally healed of his blindness.

This is the season to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior.  Too often we share our thoughts to prove the resurrection.  However, most folks I talk to do not doubt the resurrection.  They fail to recognize the significance of the event.

Let me encourage each of us to focus on the significance of what Jesus did for us.  More important than being convinced of the fact of the resurrection is to understand why Jesus chose to die.  He died that I might live.  He died that I may have a relationship with Him.  I was separated from him due to my sin.

As a result of my sin I needed to reconcile myself to our perfect God.  I could not do it.  So God prior to the earth being formed made a plan by which I could receive atonement to escape the punishment of my sin.  It was to be made possible through the birth, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus.  He paid the debt I could not pay.

As addicts we know that recovery is our goal.  To achieve that goal we need the presence and power of Jesus Christ who was tempted as we are but never gave into sin.  His death was absolutely necessary for Him to be resurrected and to return to the Father in order to send His Holy Spirit to convict me of sin, draw me to the Savior and empower me to overcome any and all sin which includes all the sinful addictions that has captured my heart.

Today because of the resurrection I am a free man.  Do I still disappoint God?  Yes, but because of the resurrection I have the forgiveness of sin and have received eternal life that Jesus alone can give me.  Is the resurrection a fact?  Yes.  However the significance of that event is far more important to me and I hope the same for you.

He did it for me!!!  He did it for you!!!  He did it for all who will repent and receive it!!!  Praise HIM!!!

OBEDIENCE IS BETTER THAN SACRIFICE….

…NOT OBEDIENCE RATHER THAN SACRIFICE

 

Last Wednesday I left the office early and took an overnight trip.  I picked up Ken, one of God’s trophies, and made my way to Sebring, Florida to visit with my 98 years young Aunt Julia.  A number of decades ago my Aunt Julia became the wife of my Uncle, a Baptist preacher, who is now enjoying his heavenly rewards.  For 50 plus years she stood by his side as the First Lady of the church, a very challenging and difficult position to hold at times.

 

As we visited and reminisced she shared stories of her life as the wife of a circuit riding pastor.  Uncle Etha served four little country churches at one time.  They would often stay in the home of parishioners the night before or after Sunday services which sometimes created a challenge as well.

 

She told of the time they stayed with a family and at bed time they were taken to the barn to sleep.  After running the hound dog off the mattress provided for their bed she took her new born baby and wrapped her up in her “petty coat”.  She was hoping to keep any fleas or ticks the dog may have left in the bed from biting the baby.

 

Her life was a marker for obedience.  As a young bride she vowed to stay with her groom through the best and the worst.  She became the mother of 4 daughters and remained faithfully obedient to her Savior as well as her mate.

 

Obedience is better than sacrifice but it often requires sacrifice which she willingly gave.

 

Then I made my way on down to Dunklin Memorial Camp, a substance abuse residential faith based ministry located in Okeechobee, Florida.  There I was able to visit with Brother Mickey Evans and his very devoted wife, Laura Mae.  These two folks are also a marker of total obedience to the Lord.

 

God gave Brother Mickey a vision to begin a camp for alcoholics and he obeyed.  He and Laura Mae left a newly built pastor’s home in Indiantown, Florida, and moved to the swamp in a little one room shack.

 

Last year the ministry celebrated the 50th anniversary of the camp.  I read the history of the ministry as written in a newly composed book printed and published for this special event.  I was taken back by the multitudes of circumstantial obedience endured by these two dedicated people.

 

Laura Mae cooked on an old bed box springs in order to feed her family and the men in the camp.  Brother Mickey began loving on the unlovely and ministering to the wounded and hurting addicts as God brought them to the camp.  A swamp filled with snakes along with other critters was gradually developed into an absolute miraculous village.

 

My prayer is that each of us, including me, will learn and be inspired by the obedience of those that have gone before us.  They are the markers in our lives that should lead us in the direction of sacrificial obedience.  It is the road “less traveled by” but the road that leads to eternal rewards, perhaps some present rewards, but surely the eternal ones.

What an evening.  The 10th annual benefit for Christian 12 Step was an awesome celebration.  Above all Jesus was honored as testimonies were shared by overcomers whose lives have been recovered and saved from addictions.  Thank you Jason, Don, Alan, Josh, and Ken for your encouraging testimonies.  A special thanks to Kim and Nancy sharing the change in family relationships brought about by husbands and fathers finding recovery through the Christian 12 Step Ministry.

We were honored by the attendance of John sharing the story of the change in the life of Marge’s daughter through Christian 12 Step.  Marge has opened the doors in a number of counties in Ohio.  The ministry is now recognized in the drug courts and as an option given for offenders to be part of a faith based programs to pursue recovery as part of their sentence.

It was my privilege to introduce some very special guests, Sylvia and Rebecca Counselman, wife and daughter of the late Bill Counselman, former chaplaincy director for the Florida Department of Corrections.  Reverend Counselman was very committed to the worth of every individual including those who had made consequential choices in the past.

Present was also Chaplain John Meyer and his wife Pat.  Chaplain Meyer was a very special chaplain in my past and continually encouraged me.  Also Bob and Janice Gregory were in attendance.  The Gregorys assisted me with housing and employment years ago when I was in need.  I also recognized Katherine Burns and her husband Dale.  Katherine is one of the most compassionate people I have ever met and directs the largest reentry center for prisoners in the state of Florida.  We do appreciate the support we receive from so many folks that inspire us.

The Ray and Rita Geisel Outstanding Service Award were given to two very special ladies.  Jan DiBello was presented the 2013 Award and Janet Maidment was presented the 2014 Award.  Both these ladies are committed and consistent volunteers.  We could not do what we do without our dedicated volunteers.

The music rendered by Norman Lee was an inspiration to all in attendance.  The Ocala Hilton provided a most delicious buffet with a great atmosphere as usual.  And auctioneer, Cole Erwin, coordinated the best auction ever.  We were able to raise several thousand dollars to assist in the continued outreach of Christian 12 Step.

A special thanks to Sheri Martin and Renee Arnett for hours of time dedicated to making the event a most successful fundraiser.  Also thanks to dozens of donors who made the auction possible.  I was hoping that whoever got the St. Augustine Weekend and the Maggie Valley Week would offer it to me so I could get away for a few days.  But I assume that they intend to take advantage of the “get out of town” as a gift to be enjoyed with their families.   Let me also say thanks to Kandi Crossen for the beautiful chocolate daises that adorned each table and auctioned off to add to the benefit.

Thanks to all those in attendance.  Without you we could not have had a most successful evening.  Remember to reserve March 7, 2015 for the 11th annual banquet and the 36th anniversary of Christian 12 Step Ministry.

       Don’t Forget!!!

Christian 12 Step Ministry
Annual Banquet and Benefit with
Silent Auction and Verbal Auction
Saturday, March 1, 2014, 5:30 pm
At the Ocala Hilton

We are anticipating a great evening of celebration and worship.  Hors d’oeuvres at 5:30 pm.  Come and enjoy the silent auction prior to dinner being served at 6:30 pm.

A $50 donation is requested for dinner.  Gold ($2500), Silver ($1500), Bronze ($1000), Table ($500) Sponsorships are available.

Norman Lee will be presenting dinner music.  Individual testimonies will be shared by those who have been blessed by the ministry.

A verbal auction will be held following the program.  If you would like to have the opportunity of  family passes to Disney, a North Carolina vacation in a cabin in Maggie Valley, admission to activities in Augustine, an autograph photo and CD from Casting Crowns, Kennedy Space Complex tickets, Gator Locker Room gift card, etc, then you will want to be at the Ocala Hilton the evening of March 1.

See you, Saturday, March 1, 5:30 pm at the Ocala Hilton.

How many people have we read about in the Bible that was good prospective candidates for a recovery group?

Let’s read Luke 19:1-10

 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it.   A man was there named Zacchaeus who was chief tax collector and a very rich man.   He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because Jesus was going to pass that way.

When Jesus reached that spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he scurried down and welcomed him warmly (into his home). All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of someone who is a sinner.”  But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, “Look, sir, I’ll give half of what I own to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the son of Adam came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Zacchaeus Joins the Group

 God comes to collect our garbage - not to be impressed by our goodness.

 • … After 32 years of watching people get the courage and the faith to change,

I’m convinced that we don’t always arrive at “faith” through our thinking but we most often catch it from someone who’s already got it”. 

We just read the story of a strange, little man named Zacchaeus – A man who caught his faith from Jesus.

And there’s a lot about Zacchaeus that we don’t know.

His story in the gospel is just about as short as he was.

But what we do know is that Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho.

He was a Jewish traitor working for the Roman army and he collected unbelievably high taxes from everyone passing through on the road to Jerusalem.

And Jericho was a place that you almost had to pass through if you wanted to get to Jerusalem –so he had himself a really good spot.

Now those tax collectors had to turn over most of what they collected to the Romans.

But whatever one of those guys could charge over and above the minimum tax – well that was theirs to keep.

So crooked and greedy little Zacchaeus charged people as much as he could; and he racked up quite a few shekels by doing’ it.

What we can also be pretty sure of from his story – is that this guy was hated by just about everybody who ever passed through that town.

In writing his gospel stories, Luke loves to tell about sinners and outcasts;

He tells us about how they were drawn to Jesus, because Jesus was always first drawn to them.

While all of their neighbors shunned these outcasts and kicked them out of their group, this man Jesus sought them out and befriended them.

He healed their wounds – He invited them to eat with him –

He told them that God loved them.

If you were an outcast – being welcomed and being loved – that came as some pretty Good News!

… And so Zacchaeus must have heard some of these stories about Jesus making the rounds

– And now he hears that today Jesus is passing through his own town.

He’s curious to know him.

•   The gospel says, “He was trying to see who he was.”

Trying to see if the stories he’d heard about him were true.

But Little Zacchaeus can’t see because the crowds are swarming all around Jesus and because he’s too short to see over their heads.

Notice that none of that stops him, because this visitor to Jericho is really important to him.

Zacchaeus runs ahead and he finds a sycamore tree to climb – and there he sits, literally hanging way out on a limb, waiting for Jesus and the crowd to come passing by below.

And when Jesus finally does come to that spot in the road, he stops the procession.

He sees this little man sitting’ way up there in the tree – and Jesus already knows him

Jesus already knows part of this guy’s story.

Jesus knows he’s one of the outcasts – One of the ones who feel himself: “unworthy” –

The people in the town see a crook and a liar and a thief – but Jesus sees another one of “the lost.”

Perhaps when Jesus arrived in Jericho, he stopped into a meeting of Outcasts Anonymous and some of the Old Timers told him all about Zacchaeus

They told him he was probably the most hated man in their town.

And so Jesus looks up into that tree and he calls him by name,

“Hey Zacchaeus, come on down here! – I’ve got to go to your house today – and I want to have supper with you tonight too.”

Right away, a murmur starts rippling through the crowd.

The good people of Jericho aren’t too pleased with Jesus’ choice for a new-found-friend.

“He’s calling out the most hated man in Jericho.

The people in that town who should have been “counted in” are counted out – and this hated man who everyone counted out – “he’s in!”

In another gospel story, Jesus puts it like this.

He says: “Prostitutes and tax collectors are getting into God’s kingdom – but the proud are locking them out.”

Zacchaeus scurries down from the tree while all his neighbors are jeering and hurling insults at him –

None of it slows him down a bit! – He leads Jesus to his house and he invites him to come in.

And now there comes a part of Zacchaeus story that we don’t get to hear.

What was it that Jesus said to him there inside his own house?

What words did he use to change him?

Because Zacchaeus  not only took Jesus into his home, but when he comes out and stands there next to him, it’s obvious to everyone in town that he’s taken him into his heart as well.

Zacchaeus stands in front of all his neighbors: a changed man.

Jesus’ faith in him made a changed man out of the cheating’, little tax collector.

Zacchaeus declares:

“Half of all that I own I’ll give to the poor; and if I’ve cheated anyone of anything, I’ll pay ‘em back four times as much.”

This guy went from taking Step One – to finishing Steps Eight & Nine all inside of a single day!

And so Jesus tells the crowd to rejoice over what’s happened to Zacchaeus, because he’s not the same man anymore.

“Today salvation has come to this man’s house, because he too is a son of Abraham.”

The outcast has come home.

The despised and rejected one’s been brought back and welcomed into the family.

Jesus says to the crowd, “You see why I’ve come?

           I’ve come to seek out and save the lost.”

But the good people of Jericho thought Jesus was coming to see them!

They thought he’d probably have dinner that night with the mayor of Jericho.

Maybe he’d stop in and give a nice little speech at the Jericho Chamber of Commerce or go say something holy and profound to all of “the good people” gathered in the temple.

After all, it was the good people who threw a procession in his honor – But what does Jesus do?

He spots a sinner up a tree and he takes off and spends the whole day with the most hated man in their village!

There’s a powerful message in this story.

I think it’s a message about the outcasts who live inside each one of us.

A message about those hated and shameful parts of us that we’ve all tried to bury and forget, parts that we try to push down and cover over so no one will see them – maybe not even ourselves.

But those parts have a way of coming out again and stalking us down.

Maybe it is shame from a childhood where we were born unwanted or told we were no good.

Maybe it’s the outcast part of us that we carry from marriage that went bad or the ghosts from a family we walked out on.

Some of us have done some pretty rotten things in Jericho!

“Things done and left un-done!”

… But today we read a man’s story.

And this little guy’s story’s been told for 2,000 years because there’s something he’s got that we all need to catch.

The guy found hope – He found hope when everyone said he was hopeless.

And within a few short hours of finding that hope: he was changed.

Zacchaeus was desperate – ready to go to any lengths.

Zacchaeus had his first AA meeting in a tree, I think, just like Zacchaeus, I have had to climb a few trees cause there was no place else for me to go.

We don’t know what it was that those two men said to one another when they were huddled together inside that house, but I’ve got to believe that what Zacchaeus took with him into the house that night was a big part of what changed him.

He carried in all of his shame and all of his guilt.

He put those feelings of being an outcast – a thief – a traitor – he put them into his own words and he told his story to Jesus.

And Jesus listened — and Jesus loved him.

What happens to us when we take the risk and share our real stories with God & with other people?

Neither God or the people hearing us run away.

Neither God or the people hearing us condemn us.

Maybe for the first time in years, we’re welcomed back home.

We’re not treated like outcasts any more.

And so just like Zacchaeus, we all need to be changed.

Changed by the unconditional love and acceptance that comes from a God who drops whatever he’s doing and comes running after us.

And once we’ve tasted his love – and once we’ve felt his acceptance & experienced his forgiveness, then drinking & drugging & tax collecting & prostituting, they just don’t have that much to offer us anymore.

… Jesus said, “I came to seek out and to save the lost.”

He comes again offering us the same.

And so, what’s Zacchaeus trying to tell us?

Maybe it’s simply this:

If you haven’t shared all of your story – If you haven’t shared your shame with God & with another human being – then please – before the parade passes you by again

 

Get down from the tree and do it!