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Following Jesus can be a treacherous path of trying to change the world, as we see it, and running straight into the truth that we are, indeed, the one with the problem.  We need deliverance from:

  • … Our belief that it is up to us to change people.
  • … Our judgmental and legalistic ways.

Think about this:

In the beginning of Luke 19 – the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus.

(Raise your hand if you just started to sing “Zaccheaus was a wee little man, a wee little man, a wee little man was he!”)

Jesus is in Jericho and a crowd has gathered. The crooked tax collector Zaccheaus was there. He can’t see over the crowd so he climbs up a tree to see Jesus. In the middle of that crowd – which likely would have included more than a fair share of holy or influential or important or preferred or religious people – Jesus heads right for that tree and calls out to that guy – the one who is a social and religious outcast, ridiculously perched up in the branches – to come on down because Jesus wants to go to that guy’s house for supper.

Huh?   How do I explain that to my religious friends?

I mean, honestly.

  • Jesus always picks the wrong guy.

Of course, everyone in the crowd gets quite indignant, muttering among themselves about how Jesus is now the guest of a sinner. Not only did the guy betray his religion, Zacchaeus has betrayed his people, his nation, colluding with the powers that be for his own gain and oppressing the very people who were supposed to be his people.

Or how about the story of the town harlot of Samaria?   The infamous, “Woman at the Well”?  (John 4:1-42)  The longest conversation recorded of Jesus and one person was with this woman who had five husbands, and was with a guy she wasn’t married too when Jesus approached her.

There is our Jesus, sitting by a well…in forbidden Samaria.

Does anyone else see the humor in this story?

The town slut, (or Ho, Hussy, Loose, Sinner, etc. (as she would be called today) approaches Him.

Breaking the Christian rules with humility, grace and mercy

Image: Katie Bulmer

What?

Isn’t she hopeless and an embarrassment? And openly living in sin, (deep breath)!

Plus, Jesus, as a Jew, was not even supposed to be in Samaria, let alone talk to a woman, for heaven’s sake!!

That woman!!

We hate that woman!  Don’t we?  We can’t be seen talking to her.

  • Isn’t that breaking the rules?

Imagine if Jesus was in our world right now in the flesh,  and he heads right over to someone who cooperated with and benefitted from oppression of innocent people, someone who had traded integrity for political power, someone we distrust, someone who we feel is dangerous, someone who stole from people in a socially acceptable and governmentally blessed way, someone who took the very religious or national identity that we cherished and basically stomped all over it for his own gain.

I can think of a few already, but I won’t mention names.

Ugh. We hate that guy.

Don’t we?   I mean aren’t we supposed to keep ourselves clean by dissing those who are not living up to our standards as we interpret them?

Would we be murmuring and complaining and wondering about this Teacher who apparently had missed the important parts of the very Law he claims to teach.

Never mind He really came to fulfill the law Himself.

We don’t hang around with people like that, Jesus.  (Insert whine)

Don’t you know? Good people wouldn’t be caught dead with a man like that.

Just like we don’t hang around with women who are caught in the act of adultery, or fornication, and….

  • We don’t hang around with Samaritans,
  • We don’t hang around with powerless children,
  • We don’t hang around with women who have a bad reputation,
  • We don’t hang around with beggars or the poor or the oppressed or the criminal or the possessed or the socially marginalized or the ones who aren’t allowed to come to church with the good religious people, never!

Get it together, Jesus.

And, hey, news flash, we certainly don’t go to the personal home of a corrupt politician for a bite to eat or the apartment of the town prostitute for a cup of tea.

But Jesus does it anyway.

Jesus seems not to care about our who-is-in and who-is-out line in the sand. He doesn’t seem to care about what we think about all the wrong folks hanging around with him.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law but while also revealing the Love behind the Law, and the inadequacy of it, he came to replace the real love of a real God for their people.

Jesus came because God so loved the world.  After all, as Jesus tells Nicodemus in the book of John, it was because God so loved the world that Jesus came to us.

Jesus came, not to condemn the world but to save the world.

…Including the guy we would rather see condemned, to be honest.

How can we miss this?

Now take note of this fact:  because of an encounter with Jesus, Zaccheaus turns around gives half of everything away. He is so moved by Jesus, he vows to pay back anyone he has cheated four times the amount he stole.

The Samaritan woman?

Oh, she just became the first woman evangelist telling the whole town about Jesus.

Extravagant repentance.

Wild, reckless love for a man who was like no one they ever met.

They both were not just fulfilling the letter of the Law, they were repenting into the heart of Love Himself.

Looks like the presence of Jesus transforms everyone…even those of us who think we have it all together.

  • The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

Zaccheaus was lost, Jesus sought him out, and in this moment of repentance – which was so much more than just money or position – he’s reoriented to the Kingdom of God.   The woman at the well discovered that her bucket could only be filled with Jesus, not a multitude of lost men.

Now that is something to get excited about!

  • Think of the word “today” in that passage. Jesus says “Today I must stay at your house” and then later “Today salvation has come to this house.”

The time is now.

We’d rather another day, another house, another time, another kind of sinner.  Don’t bother us with the now.

But today is the day for the wrong guy…or the wrong woman.

It’s perhaps telling, where we see ourselves in that story.

Are we the crowd, resentful and muttering because we think THAT PERSON shouldn’t be included because they aren’t righteous enough or holy enough or good enough or acceptable enough or just enough?

  • Do we have a long list of people we’d probably be pretty mad to see Jesus hanging out with in our world? Do we begrudge seeing Jesus head right to a certain house with a certain person?

We have our sort of people we want to keep out.

Sure, we’re okay with this kind of sinner being included –but not that kind.

But over and over, Jesus picks the wrong person in our eyes.

He even picks you, and me!

Or perhaps we see ourselves more in the one who everyone else wants to keep out.

 “Today, today, today, I’m coming to your house.

And all we can do is receive Jesus with such joy and relief.

And our own sin – everything that damages us and damages our relationship with God and damages our relationships with one another – is over!

We stop putting God into a box of our own self righteous rules and let Him do what He came to do.

…Love on all of us and see lives transformed.

So we turn everything in our lives upside down and inside out to be with Jesus, to be Him extended to everyone…not just those we think won’t contaminate us.

…To cooperate in making all things right, today.

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Why is there so much evil and corruption in the world? Why do children need to be taught to behave, whereas disobedience and naughtiness come rather naturally? What exactly is sin, where does it come from, and how does it relate to our view of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ?

While this topic of sin is no longer fashionable to voice, the world needs to understand its plight before it comes to believe in the wonders of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ. On this program the hosts will discuss these questions and more as they begin a new four-part series on the doctrine of Original Sin on the White Horse Inn.

Original Sin“Sin is rebellion against God. If we start talking about sin as ‘I’m not fulfilling my potential or something like that,’ we’re already starting off wrong. We need to ask how sin relates to God if sin is rebellion against God. There’s ways that the Bible has talked about this; sin is about missing the mark of God’s law.

“God is holy and the way that the Bible depicts sin is there’s guilt that comes with our rebellion, there’s corruption that comes with that, but it also talks about sin as folly. So talking about original sin actually helps describe to us our present reality.” – Justin Holcomb

Term to Learn:

Original Sin

6.2 Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

6.3 They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free.

6.4 From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. (1689 London Baptist Confession, chap. 6, Sections 2–4)

(This podcast is by White Horse Inn. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Michelle was always a people pleaser. An only child from a stable home, she was a responsible kid with decent grades and a job at age 16—things that made her parents happy. She often listened to the voices around her for both approval and acceptance, and she watched her friends for cues on how to act. Some of her friends had boyfriends, so Michelle decided she wanted one, too. Some of her friends were having sex, so when Michelle got a boyfriend at age 18, she didn’t see any reason not to sleep with him. Less than two months later, Michelle found out she was pregnant.

Finding forgiveness and peace after having an abortionMichelle didn’t grow up going to church, and none of her friends were committed believers. The loudest voices in her life at the time were those of her boyfriend and the fear that resided in her head. Her boyfriend “took care” of finding an abortion clinic, and Michelle listened to the voice that said she couldn’t disappoint her parents, much less walk around with a pregnant belly—the voice that said she could forget everything, and it would all be okay.

Michelle got the abortion over Christmas break, and by the time she went back to high school to finish her senior year, she tried to convince herself that things were back to normal. She told no one what happened and stuffed the experience deep inside, determined to forget it. “I would quickly think of something else every time it came to my mind because the emotions behind it were so overwhelming, and I could not handle them,” Michelle said.

In college, Michelle turned to relationships and alcohol to fill the void. She did become friends with a Christian who was a new voice in her life. But this voice was a whisper, and the enemy roared in her ears and her heart.

She met a boy while in college, and after she graduated, they got married. But four years into their marriage, Michelle was unhappy. Nothing was big enough to fill the giant hole in her life, and they eventually divorced.

Although it had been years since Michelle got her abortion, she still kept it buried. She met and married another man, but this marriage was also troubled. Two months after her second divorce, depressed and desperate, Michelle turned to the voice that had whispered to her in college. She picked up a Bible.Finding forgiveness and peace after having an abortion

In those tissue-paper thin pages, she met a God who spoke of forgiveness and redemption. Michelle was captivated. As she read Scripture, she began speaking to God, and less than two months later, Michelle came to know Jesus as her Savior. “I finally saw how God loved me,” she said. “And it changed my life. That is what I had been looking for! God’s love.”

She welcomed new voices into her life—her small group, a new Christian man who sounded different from the others, and, eventually, a Christian counselor. She grew in her faith, but there was still a voice buried deep inside for more than 20 years that needed to be heard. It was during counseling that Michelle mentioned her abortion.Finding forgiveness and peace after having an abortion

Michelle learned to listen to the voice of a loving God who forgives. “An abortion is something you never forget,” she said. “I’ll always be sad. But I’m forgiven.” She has clung to Romans 12:12 which says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” She also began to talk about her abortion experience, telling her husband and her parents.

“Recovery wasn’t easy,” Michelle says. “My counselor had me write letters to myself at age 18, to God, and to my unborn baby. That was the hardest letter of all. I felt like since I had chosen this sin, it was somehow worse than other sins. I felt like it was unforgivable.” Despite the pain, Michelle knows she’s been forgiven, and she now has a voice to help other women uncover their shame and guilt.Finding forgiveness and peace after having an abortion

In 2010, five years after becoming a believer, Michelle began leading an after-abortion Bible study called “Forgiven and Set Free” at Austin LifeCare. She helps women who have had abortions recover and discover the voice of the loving Father that she finally heard, telling them they are, indeed, forgiven and set free.

Together, they memorize this verse that still speaks comfort and assurance to Michelle: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

 The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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What are the stories we tell ourselves, and how do these stories shape what we believe and how we live? What kind of disciples do these stories and doctrines create? How should the gospel counter-form us into a discipleship that is following Christ’s call on our lives? How does a life of discipleship and discipline flow out of doxology and worship?

While many churches in our day emphasize convenience and comfortability, one of the key ingredients to a life of lasting discipleship is actually discipline. In other words, like marriage or excelling in a particular career path, being a Christian is not always fun, but often involves hard work, faithfulness, and perseverance. We also need faithful shepherds to come alongside us, to feed and care for us, as we make our way through Vanity Fair on our way to the Celestial City. That’s the focus of this edition of the program as the hosts wrap up their series, Finding Yourself in God’s Story, on this episode of the White Horse Inn.discipleship is receiving God’s love and giving it to others

“We don’t live the Gospel, but we do conduct ourselves in a way that in step with the truth of the Gospel. And that’s not just moralistic peccadillos, it’s something grander. It’s a vision that Paul was talking about right there about not living hypocritically, about loving across the boundaries of race and of socioeconomic standing, of male and female, rich and poor, people’s cultural affinities, whether you like opera or country music, across all of the boundaries, all of the enemies in this world that you can possibly think of, all the hostilities, living non-hypocritically, being at all times driven by the Gospel.

“Above all that is what the life of discipleship is – empowered by the Gospel and guided by God’s law. That is discipleship in summary. And, you know, it really comes down to love. That’s why Jesus could summarize the whole law in terms of loving God and loving your neighbor. Discipleship is about receiving God’s love and giving God’s love to others.”  – Michael Horton

Term to Learn:

“Therapeutic Culture”

The move to the therapeutic in society has been induced by several cultural developments. The intense psychologization of men’s attitudes and feelings as the primary subconscious level of “who we are,” the altering definitions of justice as primarily the accommodation of society to remove all barriers from self-expression and empowering fulfillment of the self, and the movement to the individual subject as the arbiter of that freedom to happiness apart from external structures and forces. The good life of justice, freedom, happiness have been internalized to such a degree that boredom and the external forces which upset that interior life are now seen as the greatest of evils. Justice has been re-defined in the last century as the removal of external barriers and the material empowerment of the individual towards the good life perceived to be desirable.

Men’s attitudes and feelings have come to arbitrate justice and goodness in the late modern society. Safety and security have been held out as the primary good of Western culture above what previous generations saw as essential to promoting the good life, namely liberty, self-reliance, and responsibility. Conventional ideals of moral responsibility have gradually become subordinated to state interpreted therapeutic ideals. “Modern culture is unique in having given birth to such elaborately argued anti-religions, all aiming to confirm us in our devastating illusions of individuality and freedom,” writes Philip Rieff in his magisterial, The Triumph of the Therapeutic.

Jacques Ellul argued in the mid-century that whenever a culture’s ethical outlook could not keep a pace with its technological developments, propaganda was the fated result – the subconscious alteration of men’s attitudes and feelings through technological means of domination. Modern cultural production has moved into the business and technique of manipulating a sense of well­being under what Jürgen Habermas has called a “therapeutocracy.” (Timothy W. Massaro, “Therapeutic Culture,” WHI [blog], October 05, 2015)

(This podcast is by White Horse Inn. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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What are the stories we tell ourselves, and how do these stories shape what we believe and how we live? What kind of disciples do these stories and doctrines create? How should the gospel and our liturgical practices form us into a discipleship that is following Christ’s call on our lives? How does a life of discipleship flow out of doxology and worship? Why are our daily habits and practices so critical in our discipleship?

We need to remind ourselves once again that worship is the natural response to encountering the God of Scripture. Once we have been captivated by his mercy and kindness to us in Christ, we not only offer him praise and adoration, but we also give him our very selves, for we are now no longer our own, but have been bought with a price.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1Corinthians 6:19-20).

On this program the hosts discuss what it means to become true and lasting disciples of Jesus Christ as they continue their series, Finding Yourself in God’s Story, on this episode of the White Horse Inn.

“There’s a lot of emphasis in our generation and in the whole history of evangelicalism on spontaneity. Get rid of order. Get rid of formalism. This is understandable and a correct critique of formalism but that can become a dangerous attack on forms and structure. I remember growing up with — even though it was non-liturgical evangelical background — lots of liturgies and there were also lots of disciplines. There was a lot of structure. You were expected to go to church in the morning and in the evening and in the Wednesday night prayer service and the church was pretty full at all of those services.

“Now, you look at a generation of boomers who reacted against that as ‘legalism’ and now people don’t even want to show up for church. You drive by the mall and its parking lot is overflowing on Sunday and there is very little of what there used to be. I even reacted when I went through my college years against a kind of pietistic environment where everything was, ‘Have you had your quiet time today?’ and it was all based on guilt. So, I reacted against that too. No, I should have a quiet time or whatever it is. I should read my Bible regularly and pray regularly by myself and with other people, but not on the basis of guilt. You don’t get rid of the discipline if you want to be a disciple. Liturgy is one of those disciplines, one of those structures, which is essential. Sunday is a good day to test whether we are being immersed in the greatest story ever told or whether we are being shaped by these other cultural liturgies.” Michael Horton

Term to Learn:

“Church as Counter-Culture”

Cultures enact and uphold certain ritual practices that act as liturgical formations of identity through imaginative means. Such ritual forces of culture are not satisfied with being merely mundane; embedded in them is a sense of what ultimately matters.

…so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (Philippians 1:10)

‘Secular’ liturgies are fundamentally formative, and implicit in them is a vision of the kingdom that needs to be discerned and evaluated. From the perspective of Christian faith, these secular liturgies will often constitute mis-formation of our desires – aiming our heart away from the Creator to some aspect of the creation as if it were God. Secular liturgies capture our hearts by capturing our imaginations and drawing us into ritual practices that ‘teach’ us to love something very different from the kingdom of God.

By the same token, Christian worship needs to be intentionally liturgical, formative, and pedagogical in order to counter such mis-formation and misdirections. While the practices of Christian worship are best understood as the restoration of an original, creational desire for God, practically speaking, Christian worship functions as a counter-reformation to the mis-formation of secular liturgies into which we are ‘thrown’ from an early age. We must learn to consider Christian education (and worship) as a counter-pedagogy of desire. (Adapted from James K.A. Smith, “Love Takes Practice” in Desiring the Kingdom, p. 88)

(This podcast is by White Horse Inn. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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If things had worked out differently, you might have found Kenny back in his hometown of Corpus Christi, dressed in a stiff suit and tie, maybe in an office with the sweet smell of leather chairs and a view of the bay. He might have been poring over legal documents, using God’s gifts of speech and debate to disrupt human trafficking as an attorney. For a long time, Kenny imagined his life looking something like that. He wanted to do something meaningful, something his dad could point to and be proud of.

But Kenny’s Heavenly Father had different plans.

The summer after Kenny’s freshman year of high school, God first revealed Himself to Kenny at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) sports camp, an organization he got involved with through his time playing baseball. Though he had attended church his entire life and heard the Gospel numerous times, the FCA camp was his first experience with the emotionally raw kind of worship that causes people to unashamedly raise their hands and voices. The Lord continued to stir Kenny’s heart and, after winning a debate tournament and learning of the realities of human trafficking, he was sure God was calling him to use his talents as an attorney.God's Plans are Always Better than Our Plans

The following school year, Kenny moved from his small, suburban high school to an urban city and found that the FCA that he had grown to love was virtually nonexistent in his new school. Kenny got involved in the FCA leadership and, with him speaking and his friend leading worship on Wednesday nights, their numbers grew from five to 50. Revival was happening in Kenny’s new high school. Each week as he took the stage to speak, he looked at the expectant faces in the crowded gym and proudly thought, I did this. 

When Kenny started applying to college, he looked for three things: a place where he could continue to play baseball, a school known for producing attorneys, and a campus where he would have opportunities to share the Gospel. He found all of those at Southwestern University. There, he surrounded himself with Believers and, continuing in his self-righteousness, he walled off anyone or anything associated with the party culture on campus. When his entire baseball team was rushing fraternities, he refrained, thinking, That’s where the sinners go.

Eventually, Kenny started playing keys with two seniors who were leading worship on campus. The seniors, however, would be graduating soon and wanted to discuss the future of the weekly worship service with Kenny. They told him that he would have to take over or the service would come to an end. They asked him to pray about quitting baseball in order to keep it alive, but Kenny was hesitant. He had played baseball his entire life, and the sport was one of the main reasons he had chosen to attend Southwestern. He agreed to pray about it, but his pleas to God were meager, half-hearted attempts. Nonetheless, God used those prayers to incite a heart change in Kenny, and he began to despise baseball for seemingly no reason at all. His excitement for leading worship grew and grew until Kenny decided to quit baseball in order to devote his time to leading the worship service.God's Plans are Always Better than Our Plans

The next summer, Kenny felt the conviction of the Spirit. For the first time, Kenny saw error in the way he was treating the people around him. He began to understand God’s capacity for grace and that it is extended to anyone, regardless of their sin. Kenny had built himself up for so long as the example of an ideal Christian that he had grown disconnected from the people that God seeks to know and love.

The following year, Kenny devoted himself to building relationships and genuinely getting to know the people around him. Having quit baseball, he led worship each week with full dedication. All the while, he was continuing to pursue law school with no ambition of going into ministry. In fact, in all the years of leading in high school and college, he never thought about being anything other than an attorney.

When it came time for him to take the LSAT during the summer before his senior year, Kenny felt a lot of uncertainty about pursuing law school. He began to question the ambitions he had kept for so long. However, he felt joy in his time leading worship and even thought, Why can’t I just do this?God's Plans are Always Better than Our Plans

The most convicting affirmation of Kenny’s call to ministry came on a Sunday when he overslept for the morning service at his home church in Georgetown and found himself at a Sunday evening service at The Austin Stone Community Church. As he listened to Matt Carter describe his own call to ministry, Kenny started thinking, Law school doesn’t make me feel that way, but leading worship does. The band started to lead a song that Kenny had heard and led countless times, but, in that moment, he felt newly convicted by the lyrics:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

Over the next few years, the Lord led Kenny on a journey of faith and he is now in his second year as a worship resident at The Stone. He looks back on his ministry in high school and college, at the times when he was harboring sinful pride and self-righteousness, and is amazed at how God used him even then, a broken kid, to spread the gospel to his classmates. And, though he always wanted to make his father proud by gaining status and recognition, he recognizes how his parents are overjoyed in seeing him proclaim the glory of God instead.God's Plans are Always Better than Our Plans

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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One aspect of Christianity is so amazing, that it impresses even the CBS Evening News.

Quick, name the practice that most sets Christianity apart from the non-Christian world. Respect for human life? Not really. Religions such as Jainism have, if anything, an even more uncompromising prohibition against harming any living things.

Sexual morality? Again, there are religions—Orthodox Judaism and Islam immediately come to mind—that place an even higher premium on sexual purity than Christianity. If you doubt this, ask yourself when was the last time you saw a Christian woman in a burqa.

The answer to this question is forgiveness. No other belief system has the equivalent of forgiving your brother seventy times seven, i.e., every time—much less commands you to love your enemies, and bless those who persecute you.

The radical nature of Christian forgiveness is so startling, so overwhelming, that it made the CBS Evening News.

The story began in 2005 in the city of Benton Harbor, Michigan. On that day, Jameel McGee was, in his words, “minding his own business,” when he was stopped by a policeman, Andrew Collins. The encounter did not go well for McGee. Collins accused him of selling drugs and arrested him. At the time, McGee insisted that the charges were “all made up.” As CBS noted, “Of course, a lot of accused men make that claim,” and the outcome in McGee’s case was pretty much the same as in other such cases: He wound up serving four years in prison.

In McGee’s words, “I lost everything.”

Making matters infinitely worse was that McGee was telling the truth: He was in fact an innocent man.What Makes Christianity Different?

We know this because the policeman, Collins, was subsequently “caught, and served a year and a half for falsifying many police reports, planting drugs and stealing.” Among the falsified police reports was the one concerning Jameel McGee.

While exoneration is sweet, it doesn’t make up for the four years spent behind bars. As McGee told CBS, “My only goal was to seek him when I got home and to hurt him.”

He appeared to have gotten his chance when both McGee and Collins ended up working at a café run by Mosaic Christian Community Development Center. As CBS put it, the “bad cop and the wrongfully accused man had no choice but to have it out.”

And that brings me back to what I said about Christianity’s unique emphasis on forgiveness. Collins told McGee “Honestly, I have no explanation, all I can do is say I’m sorry.” McGee’s response, “That was pretty much what I needed to hear.”

What Makes Christianity Different?

Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins Today (Image: CBS News)

But McGee did not stop there: He befriended the man who wronged him, so much so that he eventually told Collins that he loved him. As Collins tells the tale, “I just started weeping because he doesn’t owe me that. I don’t deserve that.”

Thankfully, forgiveness and the healing it brings in its wake, has nothing to do with “deserve.” As McGee, a Christian, understood, we forgive one another because, as Paul told both the Ephesians and the Colossians, God in Christ has forgiven us.

The power of forgiveness transcends personal relationships. Think of the reaction to the Amish forgiving the man who killed ten young girls back in 2007. There was a power at work there that even the most hardened skeptic could not deny.

Today, McGee and Collins share their story with others. At least one person seems to have taken its message to heart. The CBS reporter ended with the following question: “If these two guys from the coffee shop can set aside their bitter grounds, what’s our excuse?”

The answer, especially for the Christian, is “none.”

Visit Breakpoint.org to get further information about the many great books and other resources available there and you can link up to our social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

By Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.

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Bitia Buenrostro was born on November 13th, 1984 in the tiny border town of Brownsville, Texas. Much of her youth was spent carpooling back and forth across the border into Matamoros, Mexico. Summers were full of youth group adventures, family dinners, and plotting her illustrious Quinceañera, a life event that rivals the importance of a wedding day to a little girl in Mexico.

Bitia Buenrostro struggled with citizenship and identityJust before she entered fifth grade, Bitia’s parents withdrew her and her little brother from the private school in Brownsville, to which they were commuting from Matamoros daily, and enrolled them in public school in Brownsville. But attending the public school required Bitia and her brother to live in Brownsville. So, Bitia began living with her grandparents during the week, and returning home to Mexico on the weekends.

Bitia Buenrostro struggled with citizenship and identityAs if this transition wasn’t hard enough, she began to encounter resentment from her friends back home. “I’d be teased as the gringa since I was speaking English and spending so much time in Texas. This really hurt. All I wanted to do was identify with the people and the country I loved so much.”

Then, the summer of 1999 happened.

“My parents told us we were moving back to Mexico! I was pumped because that meant I could go back home… It was the best summer of my entire life. It was also the last time I ever had a carefree, youthful summer,” Bitia recalled, tears rolling down her cheeks.Bitia Buenrostro struggled with citizenship and identity

That summer, Bitia spent many days going on mission trips with her church friends and finishing up the final details of her Quince. Toward the end of the summer, Bitia’s grandmother died, and the funeral was held in Mexico. Returning from the funeral would be the last time for many years to come that Bitia would cross the border from Mexico.

A week after her grandmother’s funeral, Bitia’s parents broke the news that she and her little brother would not be going back to school in Mexico after all, and her long-awaited Quinceañera would be cancelled… oh, and the past 14 years had been a total lie.

***

Bitia Buenrostro struggled with citizenship and identity

Bitia Buenrostro was born on October 20th, 1984 in the tiny border town of Matamoros, Mexico. And for 14 years, Bitia was an undocumented immigrant.

After Bitia was born, a family friend of the Buenrostros encouraged them to acquire false identification for their children. This family friend frightened the new parents into believing that the legalization process was too laborious and expensive. So, in a terrified effort to secure a better life and future in America for their babies, the Buenrostros obtained false identification.

“I distinctly remember this day, this moment. My parents took us to the only Luby’s in Brownsville. They began explaining the school thing again… Then the story started unfolding so rapidly,” Bitia remembered. “Everything slowed down. I was staring emptily into nothing. I was crying. I was shocked. My entire existence was a lie—down to the day I was born.”Bitia Buenrostro struggled with citizenship and identity

Bitia spent the next three years of her life quarantined in Texas, balancing both high school and immigration court. “It was the longest three years of my life. I was drilled every morning about my life, my grades, my hobbies, and why I deserved to be a citizen of the United States. Honestly? I didn’t care. I didn’t want to be a citizen. I hated Texas. I hated America. I was so angry and tired—I was constantly missing class for court,” Bitia recounted.

Behind in school, angry at the law, and devastated by the lack of mercy, Bitia found herself hopeless and lonely. And eventually, Bitia’s parents had enough of the legal rodeo, and they informed their immigration officer that they were going to self-deport and move back to Mexico.

“NO!” the immigration officer exclaimed. “You’re not taking your kids. Their future is not in Mexico. It’s here in the United States of America.”

And so the Author continued to write, though the characters had no idea what has going on.

The immigration officers, lawyers, and clerks working on the Buenrostros’ case were adamant that they continue the process. Why the change of heart? The family will never know.Bitia Buenrostro struggled with citizenship and identity

At the start of her senior year in high school, Bitia finally obtained her green card, and was then able to apply for college.

On the outside, the life her parents had always wanted for her was finally coming together. On the inside, Bitia still harbored resentment for the States and a perpetual longing for her deeply cherished home.

With a green card, one is eligible to apply for citizenship after being a U.S. resident for five years. After putting it off year after year, Bitia dropped her lingering grudges and applied for full citizenship in 2012.

Ironically, during the time she planned to take her citizenship test, Bitia was an AP United States history teacher at a high school in Austin. A predominantly Spanish-speaking, non-US citizen was attempting to motivate a bunch of teenagers to learn about the history of a country she had spent most of her life hating.

The Author of our stories obviously has a sense of humor.

“My citizenship ceremony was a beautiful example of God’s grace. We deserved to be blacklisted from this country, but the authorities—by his mastery—offered us another opportunity to stay. The longing we have for our worldly home is the same longing we have for heaven. My ceremony allowed me to finally understand that whether it’s Texas or Mexico—this is my temporary home. Heaven is my true home.”

***

Today, Bitia is no longer a teacher. Now, she is the Mentor Coordinator with RBI Austin—a ministry within the For the City Network that exists to renew baseball in the inner city of Austin. Bitia feels that had her parents never told her and her brother about their undocumented status, they would not have experienced humility in the same way. They likely would have grown up as normal, privileged people, incapable of understanding that everything is at the hands of God.Bitia Buenrostro struggled with citizenship and identity

“Seeing how the Lord has used every single thing in my life to keep us in Texas is just… incomprehensible. It’s beautiful, really.” Bitia explains, “It’s beautiful that I can help the people from the country that I love so much transition into a new life in America. He redeemed my family, and redeemed our story so that I could be here, right now, teaching and serving the same marginalized immigrants that we once were. I can use my experience to encourage these people, and reassure them that the Gospel is real and God’s grace is far more than anything they could ever need.

“Fifteen years ago I was an angry, wailing teenager. Fifteen years later, I’m still crying, but I’m crying tears of joy. By God’s grace I am able to bless people in this capacity. My heart is so full after being empty for so long.”

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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“God, why did you let me go through this?” Malayia cried out through tears, lying facedown on the floor of her dorm room. “Why have you forgotten about me?”

The weight Malayia had carried all semester was too heavy for her to bear. She’d reached her breaking point.

Malayia grew up in Beaumont, Texas and dreamed of attending the University of Texas at Austin (UT). After graduating third in her high school class, she became the first person in her family to attend college. She came to UT planning to major in biology and pre-med and become an OB-GYN. She also arrived with high expectations of herself and of God.

“All my life, I’d heard that God was supposed to be with me and have plans for me,” Malayia explained. “I wasn’t supposed to experience hard times. It was supposed to be smooth sailing. I thought college was going to be a breeze. And then it just hit me in the face.”

disappointment clouded Malayia’s ability to see God’s goodness and provisionClasses were tougher than she expected and it wasn’t long before she knew becoming a doctor wasn’t for her. But her own expectations and the pressure to succeed drove her to chase after a life that felt unattainable. As the semester wore on, fear of letting her parents down held Malayia captive and fed her the lie that she was alone.

With no friends or family she felt she could talk to, she spent hours lying in bed with tears streaming down her cheeks. She went on walks and considered stepping out into traffic. On the four-hour drive home each weekend, she pondered driving her car off the road to escape the failure, stress, and disappointment once and for all.

If God really loved me, she thought, He wouldn’t let me struggle this muchIf He loved me, I wouldn’t have thoughts of ending my life.

“I felt like God betrayed me,” Malayia recalled. “He wasn’t doing anything about [the despair]. It was just getting worse.”

After she struggled through her last final, Malayia walked back to her dorm room to pack a suitcase for winter break. As soon as she closed the door behind her, she fell on her knees and sobbed. She couldn’t see a way out, and had all but given up hope that life could be different.

disappointment clouded Malayia’s ability to see God’s goodness and provisionHer face pressed into the linoleum floor, she cried out to God one more time and asked why He left her to go through life alone. For what felt like an eternity, she pleaded with God to tell her why He’d let her go through such hardship.

And then, in the midst of her tears, God reminded her of the truth: I’ve never left you. I’ve never forsaken you. I’ve always been here and I’ve always loved you. 

Tears streamed harder down Malayia’s face as a warm sense of relief washed over her. The built-up stress of the semester melted away and, for the first time, Malayia experienced true rest in God’s love instead of a dependence on herself.

In the months that followed, Malayia learned there was more to a relationship with Jesus than she had previously believed. She first heard the gospel in middle school and was attracted to the idea of knowing God. She was baptized, and throughout high school continued to go to church and read the Bible, but her faith never really became her own.disappointment clouded Malayia’s ability to see God’s goodness and provision

“I had no roots,” Malayia said. “I didn’t have faith. I just had expectations of what I thought God needed to do for me.”

After that day in her dorm room, Malayia’s faith grew as God revealed the truth of the gospel. She realized she had been consumed with living up to worldly expectations. She had tried to find her worth in her own strength and performance instead of relying on the work Jesus had already accomplished for her on the cross.

When she returned to UT after winter break, she got involved in a campus ministry where she was surrounded by caring people. God began to heal her heart as she opened up about the depression she’d experienced. Malayia also started regularly attending The Austin Stone Community Church.

“I felt like I finally found a place in Austin where I could come and be completely myself,” Malayia explained. “Austin Stone provided a place for me to really take the plunge into my faith with God. I was finally able to say, ‘Okay, God, you’re in control.’”

disappointment clouded Malayia’s ability to see God’s goodness and provisionAs Malayia continued to heal, she was drawn to Exodus and identified with the Israelites’ view of God while wandering through the wilderness. Like theirs, Malayia’s ability to see God’s goodness and provision had been clouded by disappointment in unmet expectations.

“God wasn’t giving me what I thought I wanted, but what He knew I needed,” Malayia said. “Now, I look back and can see His provision. He took me through this storm to establish my faith, and teach me to rely on Him.” Prayer is a reminder to Malayia that Jesus is her strength and that following Him instead of her own desires is what will bring her true joy.

“Now I know that I’m never alone, and I could never let God down,” Malayia says. “I know now that I’m loved no matter what.”

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)disappointment clouded Malayia’s ability to see God’s goodness and provision

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It was late, and 21-year-old Alex Scaro didn’t think anyone would be awake to find him strung out in his room. But then Alex’s father opened the door to find him in a haze—and bags of heroin strewn about him on the bed.

“I remember that my father referred to me as the cancer of our family,” Alex remembers. “He said I needed to be cut out and removed because I was affecting everyone else’s well-being.”Enslaved to Drugs

He was a far cry from the all-American boy he’d been just a year before. Alex had grown up in a small Midwestern town where he’d been a good student and an even better athlete. Football defined Alex. It gave him a mission (to win), an identity (captain of his team), and community (his teammates). Football was Alex’s god, and he poured himself into it. “Everything revolved around football,” he remembers. “My behavior in school, my grades … I made sure I behaved for football. I didn’t drink for football. I didn’t smoke or do drugs because of football.”Enslaved to Drugs

But a long string of injuries left Alex ineligible for a college career and—just like that—football was gone. And suddenly the god that had kept him in line—kept him away from drinking and drugs— had vanished.

He tried pot for the first time. In just a few short months, Alex went from trying his first joint to smoking marijuana all day every day. He depleted his savings to afford his new habit, and when his money was gone, he began to sell the drug so that he could afford to buy it.

Where football had been a benevolent dictator, drugs were a demanding tyrant that was never satisfied. Soon, Alex moved from pot to prescription opioids like OxyContin, which are far more dangerous and expensive. Alex began to sell them, too, and looked to his friends as customers and ultimately as converts to his addiction. Around the time that Alex became most dependent on OxyContin, it started to become harder and harder to find. Pharmaceutical companies reformulated the pills to make them impossible to crush into a powder that could be snorted or injected, and many who were addicted to these prescription painkillers were pushed to even harder drugs.Enslaved to Drugs

The first time Alex did heroin was in his friend’s car. He had avoided this particular drug because the complicated process of preparing it intimidated him, so his friend walked him through the twisted liturgy. Alex watched as the needle sunk into the crook of his arm and he saw his blood drawn back into the syringe to intermingle with the liquid heroin before being plunged back into the vein.

It’s a cruel trick of heroin that no subsequent use ever produces the effect of the initial high. Addicts will give anything for just a taste of that first euphoria and, indeed, Alex sacrificed thousands of dollars, his health, and his relationships while chasing that high. Shortly after his father confronted him in his bedroom that night, Alex decided that the only thing left to place on the altar of his addiction was himself. He came home from work one afternoon and intentionally overdosed with the intention of taking his own life. Fortunately, Alex was found by his father and rushed to a hospital where he started the painful march of recovery.

His initial steps were a laborious waltz of short-lived sobriety and disappointing relapses. Through tears he would swear to his parents that he’d never use again, all the while never believing it himself. His addiction had become so enthroned in his heart that he would never be able to unseat it.Enslaved to Drugs

Eventually Alex checked into a long-term facility in Manor called Benchmark Recovery Center. Part of the recovery process was regular meetings with other addicts and, in one of those meetings, he was challenged to join a group that met early in the mornings to walk through a devotional book called Jesus Calling. Despite the fact that neither Alex nor anyone else in the group was a Christian, there was something intriguing about what they discussed. Alex became so involved in the discussions that he was eventually asked to lead the group.

During this time, Alex was also given a Bible, which he began to read during morning devotional times. As he read, the words challenged the notion of the impersonal god he recalled from the Sunday school lessons of his childhood and replaced him with a God of flesh and blood—Jesus—who knew Alex in a personal and intimate way.

While Alex’s heart began to soften, his mind remained unconvinced that his recovery would produce any lasting change. “I thought that as soon as I was done with the program and my parents brought me back home, I was going to do drugs.Enslaved to Drugs

As Alex counted the days to his return home, he attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where he met a man who invited him to The Austin Stone Community Church. He accepted, and despite never seeing the man after that first Sunday, Alex continued to go back. To avoid going alone, he invited his roommate, Bob, who had walked through treatment with him. While neither knew exactly what drew them to church, they continued to return week after week, and eventually Alex started to serve at the church.

The heart is like a throne that cannot be left vacant. In Alex’s case, his throne had been occupied first by athletics, then by addiction, and finally by the King who created it. Jesus will not share His throne and, for Alex, sobriety became a lasting mark of his new, rightly ordered worship. In spring 2014, Alex was baptized.

Alex now uses his past to lead others by participating in recovery programs and sponsoring other young men who are fighting addiction. Where Alex had once been called a cancer, he now offers a cure: the gospel, which is far more powerful than any idol and far more captivating than the most alluring drug.Enslaved to Drugs

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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