Ashes: Redemption Groups Immersion part 1

Last month I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Seattle at Mars Hill Church called Redemption Groups Immersion (a one-week intensive boot camp that trains ministry leaders to implement and lead a ministry called Redemption Groups).  I was put into a group where we delved into the depths of our lives with brutal honesty and walked through the material during the main teaching sessions, which were some of the finest and most Spirit-led teachings I’ve heard.  The week that I spent up there was one of the most heart-wrenching and healing times I’ve ever experienced as a Christian, and I am immensely thankful to God for the men and women at Mars Hill who serve him relentlessly with unbridled passion.

The next few posts will be some of my take-aways from that conference, all of which impacted me in profound ways.

Anyway, as that week went on and God kept hammering away at the junk in my life – the bitterness toward God that I didn’t even know I had, the wicked sense of entitlement that I’ve carried for most of my life, etc. – I was moved pray the following prayer late one night in bed:

Father, you have chosen to love me in spite of me.  You redeemed me for your glory and it seems that all I’ve done is trample on it and childishly demand more – because I think that you’re not good enough for me.  I’ve forsaken the Creator for creation – an infinite offense.  The highest of treason.  And yet you saved me, redeemed me, bought me.  You said “Mine!” and I rebelled.  I confess I wanted your gifts more than life itself.  And like a fool I looked elsewhere for that which only you can provide.  My pride, lust, lies, self-importance, self indulgence, doubt, distrust, shame, – my sin.  All of it.  Stinking, festering, choking my life and killing my soul.  And yet you took them all on- you atoned for every bit of my sin before I even breathed.  So how can I remain unmoved?  How can I not worship you?  Your kindness has brought me to repentance, and I confess I have no other hope, no other aspiration, no other God.  You are all I have.  I have been a fool to see you as a tormentor, a taskmaster; in you and you alone is freedom and grace abounding in steadfast lovingkindness.  So Father, thank you for loving me – thank you for loving me enough to not let me fumble about in my sin, but that you revealed my idols and crushed them with your love on the cross.  I relinquish my desires to you – everything I felt entitled to; everything I was using you for:  A wife. A home. Children.  Financial prosperity.  Respect. Honor.  Success.  Education, diplomas, intellect.  Appreciation, affection.  A place of ministry.  Sleep.  Health.  Food.  Salvation.  All of these I’ve taken for granted and tried to snatch from your hand without you looking.  And yet you are so much more gracious than to give me what I want.  I see now that my pain and shame and sanctifying affliction were not the heavy hand of a vengeful God, but rather the merciful discipline of a relentlessly pursuing Father for his son.  God hear this prayer as a desperate plea for what you’ve already given freely.  And a grateful hallelujah that this world is ashes to me. Ashes. Come Lord Jesus!

In my nearly 20 years of being a Christian I have gone through stages of repentance, but at this conference God truly made me aware of my idolatry, pride, selfishness, and bitterness toward him.  I began to see sin not as a measurement of how bad I am, but rather how immensely good God’s grace is.  And I finally saw that the things that God has been withholding from me – the graces common to many people – was a beautiful picture of God’s grace in my life, not his wrath.  My sin and loneliness and frustration and bitterness were not out of God’s reach – rather, he was right in the middle of them! … and he was the cause of them.  God has loved me enough to not let me be satisfied by what I want and the junk that my heart pursues.  He wants my affections to be solely for him, and he works to that end by showing me how fruitless my pursuits are so many times.  And you know what I’ve found after exploring this new thing that God has shown me?  I don’t need anything in this life except for the cross.  I know – it seems so simple and so Sunday-schoolish to say that, but I can honestly say with no caveat, no asterisk that I need nothing more than the cross for satisfaction.  God’s incredible grace has brought my soul peace and rest.  It’s just as the old hymn says: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”

So now, a few weeks removed from the mountain top high of the conference, I still do wrestle with finding my satisfaction in the cross. But I am much more apt to turn and repent of my sin and rest in the perfect finished atoning work that Christ did on the cross, and I am moved to live in light of his resurrection and current intercession on my behalf.  If you also claim the name of Christ, then I would urge you to join me in taking heart in the fact that God’s hand is with us even in the midst of our suffering and pain.  He has not abandoned us, nor will he will ever forsake us.  And he is not frustrated or angry with his kids – he loves us more than we could ever have imagined, and he is not a wicked father who frustrates his children.  He is good, he is sovereign, and he is enough.

Some cool verses (make sure to read them in context) that have to do with ashes:
Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes…” – Genesis 18:27

“… I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” – Job 42:56

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes…” – Isaiah 61:1,3

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