Shackled

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

My doctor in Canton has his office on Buffalo Street, a few blocks from the courthouse. I don’t know if he has some deal worked out with the county or what, but on more than one occasion, when i’ve been in the waiting area, a sheriff’s deputy or constable has brought in a prisoner, wearing an orange jumpsuit, prison shackles and handcuffs to see the doctor.Shackles

Um… it’s the prisoner in the jumpsuit and chains, not the constable. Probably coulda worded that a little better.

It’s always an uncomfortable situation for me and the dozen or so octogenarians in the waiting room. We all look up every time the door opens, to see the next soul entering Purgatory anyway, but when we see the jumpsuit, it’s generally ‘all eyes on phones and magazines’ from that point on. But it’s impossible to ignore the rattle of chains across the fake hardwood floors, and the inmate shuffling his way to a seat. The guy always ends up sitting directly across from me, where i feel the need to make a little nervous eye contact, acknowledge him, and try to not look too condescending before going back to stare a hole through the phone until my name is called. Five or six hours later.

The last fellow had a bad cough, which probably prompted his trip to the doctor. My initial reaction was ‘dude, cover your mouth…oh wait…you can’t.’

There’s a Grand Canyon sized contrast between the people in the room who have freedom, and the one individual who does not. Any of the rest of us are free to change seats, read a different magazine, get up and read about the ‘poop in a box’ mail-order colon test procedure that’s advertised on the wall display, or simply leave, if we don’t mind the $20 hickey the doctor’s office is going to hit us with for not keeping our appointment. The guy in the jumpsuit can’t do any of those things. He can’t even go to the bathroom without asking, and being escorted there.

It probably doesn’t surprise you, but i’ve never been to jail. I did have a warrant out one time, when i lived in the Panhandle, for an expired inspection sticker. Hey—most outlaw’s first crimes are small…John Dillinger got into a fistfight as a teenager, and young Clyde Barrow didn’t return a rental car on time. My blatant disregard for the rules of decent society got back on track when the Chief of Police, who knew me from church, called and said ‘hey, son, come down here and take care of this. You don’t want me to have to come get you.’

I paid my $175 fine and have managed to stay on the right side of the law from then on. Been straight for thirty seven years. And yeah, i’ve let my inspection lapse a few times since then. Dillinger, Clyde…their mistake was getting caught.

I don’t have any idea what the guy in the jumpsuit did to end up in jail, but i’m pretty sure his crime was of a more serious nature than mine. But i’m also certain that he’s not the only ‘prisoner’ in a room with that many people in it. 

What i mean is this: in our everyday lives, we see people, and have conversations or make small talk with some of them. How many of those people are trapped in their own cages, fighting addictions, mental illness, depression, loneliness, or any of a hundred other issues, and never let on? How many folks will you see or speak to today who are in invisible shackles?

Some folks flash their problems like neon, but most, sadly, do not.

Jesus sought out people—those with the obvious chains, and those with ones we can’t see; and as his followers, we should do the same. It’s hard, it’s often uncomfortable, but the great commission doesn’t say ‘go and make disciples of people who are just like you,’ it just says ‘go and make disciples.’ 

If there are areas of your life where you are being held captive, Stonepoint offers re:generation on Monday nights. Re:gen is a discipleship ministry where dozens of people have discarded the chains that have bound them, and found freedom in Christ.

I can’t stress to you enough, that re:gen is not just for ‘those people,’ unless ‘those people’ includes all of us. Anything that keeps you from having the relationship you need to have with God, or with another human being is something that needs to be eliminated from your life, not just ‘managed.’ Re:gen can help identify those things and help you on a road to recovery and a deeper relationship with God and with others who will fight your battles with you and spur you on toward love and good deeds.

We also stress the need for community at Stonepoint. Every member of our church, is part of what we call a Journey Group. Journey Groups are small groups of 10-12 people, and usually meet in homes one night during the week. They study the Bible, hang out, eat dinner, and sometimes go bowling, or have pool parties—it’s generally a bunch of folks just living life together. When a crisis happens—a surprise visit to the ER, a bad diagnosis, or when a family member dies, the folks in your Journey Group are your first phone calls and texts, your first line of defense and support.

It’s also the group of people you can share your struggles with, and when it works the way it’s supposed to, are counseled with Biblical advice on how to deal with those struggles, and given accountability to make sure they’re being dealt with. It’s the Stonepoint version of the church the way it’s described in the second chapter of Acts. People doing life together is so much better than trying to do it alone.

Our next GroupLink, where we put people and groups together is scheduled for November 3rd at 12:15 at our Wills Point Campus, and you can sign up HERE .

Jeremiah 29 says this “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity…”

God is still in the business of rescuing captive souls, and the distractions of our day make seeking Him with our whole hearts difficult sometimes, but the journey is worth it. Freedom in Christ is a tremendous reward and breaking free of bondage is worth the cost.

Everyone has worn shackles at one time or another, but once you’ve experienced life without them, it’s hard to imagine ever wanting to go back.

Washes Whiter Than

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

A few months ago, the wife and i were at one of those little shops where people sell things that you don’t really need, but buy anyway. She liked the way this big bar of soap smelled and thought it would be good to use in our shower, so she bought one.dove

Now, we’re Dove people. “Dove is ¼ cleansing cream and will never dry your skin the way soap does,” the old commercial promised, and we believe it. My knuckles don’t dry out as badly in the wintertime when i use Dove. I know it’s ‘girl soap’ and being a guy, i should be taking layers of skin off every morning with Lava or at least using Irish Spring or something, but i don’t care. I like it.

We buy the stuff by the pallet at Sam’s, since my wife has this weird, Howard Hughes-like obsession with new bars of soap. When one is like halfway gone, she deems it ‘thin enough to see through’ and opens up another, leaving me to finish up the old one over the coming weeks. So at any given time, there is one big bar and two or three partial ones in our shower, since i refuse to do that thing my parents used to do where they’d graft the old sliver of Ivory on the the nice new bar like that little guy that was that was growing out of the other dude’s stomach, leading the resistance in Total Recall. That’s just nasty.

My frustration with the shower soap is a subject for another blog post. Or another trip through re:gen.

Anyway—she tried out the big new bar from the little shop one night and didn’t like it. Like i said, we’re Dove people, and she knew this going in. It sat in the shower, unused for a couple of days, since everyone had developed the same opinion of it. But instead of throwing the thing away and saying ‘golly—i wasted a a little money,’ she went out and bought a little blue dish that matches the paint on the wall, and decided we’d all use the big bar that nobody likes by the bathroom sink instead. (No vote. It’s a dictatorship.)

Now, we have a long established pattern there, too. One of those pump dispensers from either Bed, Bath and Beyond or Bath and Body Works (i can’t tell the difference, and never know which one we’re in) has been by our sink for years. It’s nice, foamy hand soap—stuff that she spent an hour selecting in whichever one of those stores we were in at the Outlet Mall, where they make you think you’re getting a good deal, but probably just paying regular price.

You know the drill. The wife goes in, and smells 40,000 different varieties of soap and lotion, while the husband stands around, holding bags from the 5 other stores she’s bought spatulas and bras in, and his bag of $14 blue jeans from the clearance section of the Levi’s store, desperately wishing the bath and lotion place had one of those nice leather chairs like Dillard’s or Nordstrom. And a TV.

Occasionally she’ll ask my opinion, whether i like the Cucumber Vanilla Spice or the Chocolate Frosting Cinnamon Kumquat better and have me smell a little dab from the sample pump on her hand, but other than that, and whipping out the debit card, i’m utterly useless in that place.

Well, that little pump that we all like has disappeared into the recesses of the bathroom cabinets where the kids and i can’t find it, and been replaced by the soap dish that everybody hates, and the pump only makes a reappearance when company comes over.

Now, here’s the real problem—the big bar of soap everyone hates, but has to use, never gets any smaller. 

We are a family of obsessive hand washers, beaten down over the years by my wife’s germophobia, but somehow this thing, like the widow’s oil in the Bible, never gets used up. And believe me, i’ve tried. I stood there dumping water into the little blue tray one night, hoping to melt it and i swear the next day it was bigger. Out of spite!

She says she knows the bar soap is a virtual petri dish of germs, compared to the pump, but still can’t bring herself to throw it away, an act that would cause her children (and husband) to rise up and call her blessed.

I’m sorry to rant like this, but i do finally have a point. I think.

Our current message series has touched on the subject of things that don’t need to be in your life, but have entrenched themselves in there anyway.

What’s your bar of soap? Your secret shame that won’t leave?

You know—that thing you’d like to get rid of, but can’t seem to make go away. The habit, or hangup you wish wasn’t there, but never gets completely used up; the thoughts that your mind likes to go back to when you’re bored or lonely. The things you can’t melt away and just seem to get bigger when you try.

We’ve all got ‘em. Like the bar of soap we’re ashamed of, and hide when someone else is around, but as soon as they’re gone, it’s back out, visible to no-one else. Maybe it’s substances. Perhaps it’s worrying about what people think of you. Maybe you’re a perfectionist and it keeps you from finishing blog posts for months, obsessing over commas. It may be food, it may be alcohol or tobacco. Everybody’s got something.

The Apostle Paul talks about this in Romans 7:15-20 “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

The late, great Christian songwriter Keith Green paraphrased Romans 7 this way: “The very things i hate, i end up doing. The things i wanna do, i just don’t do.”

Dear reader, if Paul, who saw, and was temporarily blinded by the risen Christ, and called to preach His truth to the Gentiles, can admit this sort of thing, and go so far as to write it down for people to still read 2,000 years later, why are we hiding our junk? Why can’t we, like Adam and Eve, admit that we’re naked and ashamed, and need help from our heavenly Father, who loves us and will clothe us, eventually in righteousness itself.

On Sunday, Brandon mentioned our need for authentic community—a place where confession takes place regularly, and accountability is the norm. If you’re in a Journey Group, take time this week to split up into guys and girls, and talk about these things, pray for one another, and follow up during the week.

If you’re not in a Journey Group, e-mail us at groups@stonepointchurch.com and we will let you know when our next GroupLink is scheduled. GroupLink is where we put people and groups together. It’s great to have a group of people that you can do life with, and you’ll soon wonder why you tried to live without it.

Stonepoint also offers re:generation, a twelve step, Bible-based discipleship ministry for people with sin issues that they are struggling with, which, if we’re honest, is everyone. Re:gen can help you deal with your hurts, your shame, the things you obsess over—whatever it is that is hurting your relationship with God or with other people.

Re:gen is not easy. It forces you to take a long, hard look at yourself, and the steps you’ve made along the way that formed you into the person you are, and openly share those things with a group of people that will become your friends. Parts of that are really difficult, but worth it in the long run. In the end, it’s not about receiving a coin, it’s about restoring and deepening a relationship with Jesus, and making that relationship the top priority in our lives. One step at a time.

The blood of Jesus washes whiter than any bar of soap you can buy, and it’s the only thing that can make us truly clean.