MY ALPHA EXPERIENCE Kristen’s Story

Note from Dane: I’m delighted to turn my blog over today to my new friend, Kristen Zerbato. You will enjoy her story. 

I moved to a small southern town a little over a year ago, not knowing a soul.  All it took was one kind gesture from my new friend Sally, inviting me to lunch one afternoon, for me to see that there was something about her, a peacefulness, happiness, and quiet joy, that I wanted to know more about and have for myself.

That afternoon at lunch she told me about Alpha and gave me the red post card.  I was overwhelmed with the idea of going to a church function, not having been to a Catholic Church since my grandmother had passed away five years prior, but Sally committed to being there with me. I knew, not knowing anyone, this would be a good way for me to make some friends in a new town, but I never would have imagined what doors it would open and the magical experiences and relationships that would have formed.

I’ll never forget my first Alpha class, while I felt out of place because I didn’t know anyone, the whole Alpha crew and members of the church were overwhelmingly kind and welcoming.  After watching the video and splitting up into groups, I was so anxious and tried to keep that fear buried where no one could see it. As soon as the hosts started the group conversation I felt some tension dissipate.  Their kindness, openness and encouragement was calming and exactly what I needed to begin to open my heart and mind to the possibility of knowing God.

I knew there was something missing in my life, a hole almost, and Alpha set the foundation to fill that hole.  Alpha gave me truth to the big questions I had around Christianity and helped me establish relationships with people I couldn’t imagine my life without now.

I have lived a very good life so far, but the joy and love I’ve felt and all of the things I’ve learned/ am learning about myself and the Lord, has made this year without a doubt the most meaningful and memorable.  I can’t thank everyone at my new church, and especially Sally, enough for showing me so much kindness and love.

THE LIGHT IN THEIR EYES

It has happened too many times to be a coincidence. My wife and I will meet someone new and comment to one another later, “I think she’s a believer. I just sense that she is.” Sure enough, as we come to know the person better our intuitions are confirmed.

I call it the light in the eyes. It’s the reason we tell people about Jesus, invite them to the Alpha Course, and invite them to worship with us. That light is indicative of much deeper and greater things, things that give me deep joy.

But wait a minute; aren’t we supposed to be concerned about where people spend eternity? Heaven and hell and all that stuff? Well yes, but that comes later. Salvation, as the Bible calls it, is what happens now and continues to infinity. Life in Christ, eternal life, begins here, on earth and has definite earthly effects.

Let me outline the ones I’ve witnessed and see if you agree.

The light is the first thing and always a pleasure to see. The shadow is gone from the countenance. The expression takes on a new kind of clarity born of inner peace. The Apostle Paul called it “the peace that passes all understanding,” and he wasn’t kidding. We’ve found, sometimes after years of searching, our ultimate identity in Christ as one of God’s chosen creatures. His Spirit has taken up residence inside and filled us with … well it is not easy to explain. It just is. Love, joy and hope come close, but there is more to it than that. There is something, Someone, where before there was nothing and no one. Life will continue to have its difficulties. There will be ups and downs. But we are never again alone in the universe.

Wounds begin to be healed. Bad habits begin to be broken. Internal peace is followed, sometimes rapidly, sometimes less so depending on the level of obedience and maturity, by external peace; peace in relationships, peace in the life as it takes on more of God’s order of things. Trivialities are put aside, essentials are elevated and prioritized. Christ is at the center of the life bringing balance to the whole.

The yield of these things is fullness of life as the order and peace enable the development of capacities inborn but heretofore obscured or misdirected. The gifts of the Spirit are deployed and untapped potential is discovered.

As the believer continues to grow and these potentials come online they begin to point to purpose; the intersection of our gifteddness and passion with the needs of the church and the world. Life becomes more focused and more fruitful; confident in its identity, stabilized by the order, encouraged by capacities newly discovered resulting in the revelation of why we were put here in the first place.

Then the greatest thing of all happens. The fruit of a life formed in the image of God, filled with the Spirit of his Son begins flowing out into the blessing and encouragement of others. Others see the purpose strengthened by confidence and carried out with competence. They experience the blessing of being served by someone who seeks no personal glory. They observe the fullness of the soul and the order in the life and sense the peace that flows from inside under-girding it all.

And finally, if they are truly seeking, they too begin to see the light in the eyes and wonder where they might find it.

DOING WITHOUT THE DO-OVERS

 

“What is behind-a me is not-a before me!” shouted the Italian racer as he ripped the rear view mirror off the windshield and put the pedal to the metal in one of those silly seventies rally movies. We used to quote it when heading out on family road trips, exaggerating the dialect for effect.

Most of us would like to live that way, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…” as the Apostle Paul would say. But the truth is many of us do look back, are held back emotionally and spiritually by mistakes we’ve made in the past, things we wish we could “do over.” We don’t necessarily call them sins. We’re still uncomfortable with that verdict. But if we were honest we’d admit that most of them were. We were raging, deceitful, covetous, gossipy, greedy, or gluttonous and sometimes all of the above. We indulged our sinful nature and it cost us.

In our guilt we look for “do-overs,” ways to fix what we did wrong, or we indulge in melancholy self-loathing, a kind of mental and emotional self-flagellation, in an attempt to appease God or balance our internal scales of justice.

Trust me; God doesn’t need your melancholy. If you are living with some left over guilt allow me to share some encouragement. It comes from the tenth chapter of Hebrews.

Under the old covenant, the Law of Moses, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:11 NIV). That didn’t help much because the sacrifice of an animal was never enough to cover all sins. In fact, verse three explains, “…but those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins,” (emphasis added).

All the Law could do was to remind us of our inadequacies and encourage an eternal longing for “do-overs.” But Jesus Christ, “having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God…” In the Bible, sitting down is a symbol for finished work. Jesus was one and done. He made one sacrifice, himself, and it was enough.

Hebrews goes on to explain that the whole Old Testament temple system was a model, a type, a shadow of the real thing in heaven. When Jesus made his sacrifice it wasn’t offered on earth alone, it was offered in the real temple, the heavenly temple. It was once for all, eternal, infinite in its ability to wipe out the sins of all who believe.

In other words, the sacrifice of Christ enables all of us to do without the do-overs.

So no more do overs. Grab that mirror, rip it off the windshield, and say it with me as we continue the race that lies before us: what is behind-a-me is not-a-before me!

 

JESUS’S UN-AMERICAN DREAM

Michael Jordan, principal owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets and one of the greatest professional basketball players ever, retired from the court in 2003 as one of the game’s wealthiest contestants.

The owner of the Chicago Bulls, Jerry Reinsdorf, for whom Jordan played most of his career, remarked at the time, “He’s living the American Dream. The American Dream is to reach a point in your life where you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do and can do everything that you do want to do.”

I do this. So do you. We like to set up our lives so that we don’t have to get involved with the world’s problems if we don’t want to. We can’t do it on the scale of a wealthy person like Jordan. But we do it in other ways. And when we do we leave Jesus’s decidedly Un-American dream for us out of the equation.

What is Jesus’s Un-American dream?

You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its flavor, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a lamp and place it under a bushel, but on the lamp stand; and so it gives light to all who are in the house.” (Matthew 15:13-14).

All of us are aware of the increasing darkness of western culture. We see corruption, rampant immorality, the porn epidemic, the growth of the so-called euthanasia movement, the redefinition not only of marriage but of what it means to be male and female even in kindergarten, and the increasing assaults on religious freedom.

We see it and far too many of us react in fear and withdrawal, happy to cast blame on “them,” “the culture,” or “the world,” but unable to see the Lord’s Un-American calling on ourselves.

The late Anglican cleric John R.W. Stott made a pertinent observation about this.

“If the house is dark at night, there is no sense in blaming the house. That’s what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is, “Where is the light?”

“If meat goes bad, there is no sense in blaming the meat. That is what happens when the bacteria are allowed to breed unchecked. The question to ask is, “Where is the salt?”

“If society becomes corrupt like a dark night or stinking fish, there’s no sense in blaming society. That’s what happens when fallen human society is left to itself and human evil is unrestrained and unchecked. The question to ask is “Where is the church?”

God leaves his people – us – here for a reason. He could have said, “Come out, be separate, start a holy commune, create your own economy, your own schools, your own record companies, your own TV shows. Isolate yourselves in suspicious fear of all that is in the world.  Hide out in the holy ghetto until I come and get you!”

But that isn’t what he said. He said, “Stay there! Stay in the world! Keep it from rotting. Guide it toward that which is good!”

We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. That’s Jesus’s Un-American dream for us.

BECAUSE HE IS GOOD

“Dad, I need some lunch money for school this week,” said my youngest daughter one evening when she was still in high school. Without a thought I opened my wallet plucked out ten dollars and handed it to her.

Then I asked, “Did you get the chores done we agreed on?” I had given her a list before leaving on a trip to Canada and had only just returned.

She said, “Well, I got most of them done but I didn’t clean out mom’s car yet like I promised.”

It didn’t matter. I gave her the ten bucks anyway. You can tell where this is going right?

Think back to the last time you felt like you failed God in some way. You failed to give an offering at the worship service, or you missed the service altogether. You skipped your devotions but somehow had plenty of time for your favorite TV show. You got exhausted and cranky and hurled invective at someone else who failed. You’re nodding your head aren’t you? We’ve all “been there done that.”

Jesus told a parable on prayer for people like you and me. It’s about a man who receives a late night visitor but has nothing to offer his guest. So he goes next door and asks his friend for bread. It’s recorded in Luke 11:5-13. The most well-known verses are 9-10: Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened.

But the lesser known verse, the one with the message we often miss, is verse 8: I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. (Emphasis mine).

Jesus concludes: Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Here’s the bottom line on answered prayer: You don’t have to be perfect to receive the power of the Holy Spirit necessary to live the Christian life. You just need the boldness to believe that God is a better parent than you are. God does not answer our prayers for his power because we’ve been regular in our devotions; or because we are faithful tithers; or because we’ve faithfully taught, or sung, or served in some other way for so many years. He answers them because he is good.

So be bold, ASK, even when you feel like you don’t deserve God’s power. He gives it because he is good.

JESUS, COLBERT & SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

You’ve probably seen the meme with Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show on NBC, holding a Bible next to a picture of Jesus saying, “I would like to read to you what Jesus said about homosexuality … I’d like to, but he never said anything about it.”

Colbert ran this gag in 2012 and the debate has moved on since then with most people assuming he was correct. But a young mom passed it along to me this week, asking for clarification and, assuming she represents a larger group, I’m sharing my response with you for your edification.

At first glance Colbert would seem to be correct. Enter the word “homosexual” into your e-Bible concordance, limit the search to the four gospels and you won’t find Jesus using the word.

It is true that, unlike the Apostle Paul, the Lord never used the word homosexual, but he did address the issue of human sexuality and his teaching does more than affirm the traditional view, it is its foundation.

First, Jesus, who never traveled outside of Palestine, was a Jewish rabbi speaking to a first century Jewish audience. Paul, on the other hand, was a Jewish missionary to a predominantly Greek and Roman audience. In Jesus’s culture homosexuality was probably present, but not out in the open, ditto pedophilia which he also never mentions. Homosexuality and pedophilia were notoriously common among the Greco-Romans Paul was teaching, which explains his emphasis on the subject.

Jesus did, however, refer to homosexuality in a different context. When he taught, in Matthew 15:18-19, of the heart as the source of sins he used the broadest term possible — the Greek word is porneia — to describe sexual sin. Porneia is not limited to one particular sexual sin, like adultery, but includes the whole sweep of sexual sin. Any sexual activity outside of the marriage of a man and a woman was considered porneia, including homosexuality.

Second, Jesus affirmed that marriage is between male and female. In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus explained what marriage is by going back to the original design of God in Genesis 1:27, 2:23 and 24. The union between male and female is the order of creation, God’s design for men and women. This is the foundation of everything Jesus taught about human sexuality. Same-sex marriage is a direct contradiction of his teaching on sex in general, and marriage in particular.

Third, Jesus condemned homosexual practice in his condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Matthew 10:15 Jesus explained to his disciples that in the judgment to come the towns that refused their message would suffer a greater judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah. Again in Matthew 11 Jesus denounced Capernaum telling the people, “It will be more tolerable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” Some say that Sodom was only judged for its brutality to strangers but you have to ignore the clear meaning of multiple Old and New Testament texts to arrive at that conclusion. Sodom and Gomorrah are bywords throughout the Bible for sexual perversion, especially homosexuality. Jesus, though he had many opportunities to do so, did not upend the teaching on Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament. He affirmed it and quoted from it.

When we dig a little deeper we find, as with most things surrounding homosexuality and same-sex marriage, that the truth is more profound than a five second night show gag.

NEXT – GEN CULTURAL NAVIGATION: Stonestreet & Kunkel’s Practical Guide

NEXT – GEN CULTURAL NAVIGATION: Stonestreet & Kunkel’s Practical Guide

News broke this week that noted evangelical leader Eugene Peterson, famed for The Message paraphrase of the Bible and many other works of spiritual theology, had come out in support of same-sex marriage. Then he backtracked but, as they say, the toothpaste was out of the tube and believers all over the country were flummoxed.

Can anyone be depended on to steer a true spiritual course through our tumultuous cultural waters? And how can we equip ourselves to stand with grace and truth when so many, it seems, are falling?

Many books are available to equip believers to think with the Biblical worldview. Among them are Chuck Colson’s master work HOW NOW SHALL WE LIVE? co-written with Nancy Pearcy; THE GOOD LIFE, also by Colson and a little more accessible; Pearcy’s solo effort, TOTAL TRUTH; Abdu H. Murray’s GRAND CENTRAL QUESTION; Russell Moore’s ONWARD: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel; the works of Ravi Zacharias and Os Guinness for those of a more intellectual bent, and of course the Breakpoint daily podcast.

All of those are helpful but none of them, save the Breakpoint daily, are as easy to digest and practical to use as A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO CULTURE: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkel. The book is targeted at parents and Christian leaders who are tasked with equipping teens to face the pressures of our cultural moment, but it is useful to wider audience.

Stonestreet is the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and well-known, with Eric Metaxas, for the daily Breakpoint podcast (www.breakpoint.org). Brett Kunkel, who has over twenty-five years working with junior high, high school, and college students, is the student impact director at Stand to Reason, and founder of a new organization called Maven (www.maventruth.com).

Their book is broken into four sections: Why Culture Matters; A Read of the Cultural Waters; Pounding Cultural Waves; Christian Worldview Essentials. All four are clear, concise, and easy to navigate. Each chapter concludes with four discussion questions. But for those who are secure in their worldview essentials yet still need practical tools for the day-to-day cultural situations being thrust upon us, section three, Pounding Cultural Waves, is worth the price of the book.

In it, Stonestreet and Kunkel take on eight hot-button issues every believer faces in all manner of environments including the hookup culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, addiction, entertainment, and racial tension. Each topic is further broken down into four sections that, in turn, reveal the false cultural narrative about the topic, restate the biblical view of it, suggest practical action steps, and forecast hope.

Christian high school and college students, professionals, educators, business leaders, government officials, and all manner of other believers stemming the tide of this cultural moment have reason to feel somewhat like Elijah of old, when the corrupt culture of Ahab and Jezebel held sway. When the knees of trusted leaders seem to buckle in the surf resources like this remind us that God has far more than seven thousand who have not bowed to the pressure.

I encourage you to read it, study it together with your kids and friends, and strengthen your knees.