Category Archives: Restoration

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Clarity About the Fruit: Patience

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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 13: Clarity About the Fruit: Patience

Don’t you get weary of people and their problems? Especially when they are the problem? How do you endure the unfathomable things people do? Do you respond by wishing God’s judgment on them? Or do you long for a better outcome for them than the one they seem to have chosen?

How you think while you wait is what patience is all about. It’s not just about hanging in there during bad times or putting up with tough customers. The word for that is perseverance.

Patience is about the self-restraint which is demonstrated when a person does not hastily retaliate against a wrong. The patience that the Spirit produces in you is the kind that looks at people as damaged by sin and cultivates a desire in you to see them made whole. This desire stays the hand of revenge. It’s not for the cowardly, but for those who keep in step with the Spirit.

Paul, in a reflective moment, confesses to Timothy that, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man . . . for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1Timothy 1:13,16)

Paul was hardly the guy you would have voted for as someone who was to be an integral part of expanding the gospel, least of all to the Gentiles. Fierce in his Jewish beliefs, he was the perfect kamikaze (i.e. divine wind), to attack anyone stupid enough to follow Jesus. Hatred was his compass. Death was his objective.

And his changed life was so unexpected that even Ananias, who Jesus sent to explain things to him, probably took out extra insurance before timidly following through Jesus’ orders. He and all the rest of the earliest believers had low expectations that Paul could change.

Since Jesus is our example, what does Jesus displaying patience reveal to us about this spiritual fruit of patience?

Well, the first thing is that when we are keeping in step with the Spirit, we should not let the worst of people get in the way of expecting God to be able to change them. Often we react to uncalled-for behavior like James and John in their ‘sons of thunder’ days, ready to call down lightning from heaven on them.

Patience teaches us to see people from God’s perspective. They are lost or they are broken or they are mixed up. No matter what bad things they are engaged in, even if it is against us, patience lets us comprehend that, in God’s time, on earth or at the judgement seat, He will accomplish His purposes in them.

I have a friend who was as toxic as they come. I heard of his reputation long before I met him through those who had been the target of his spleen. I knew that God could change him and offered to guide him towards intimacy with God. Others were glad I was concerned but weren’t sure he should be allowed to stay in the group.

But God had a different perspective and gave me patience to see the day—and it was not a long wait—when this man was broken before God and healed. God displayed His glory and we got to see it.

This brings me to the second lesson about Jesus’ patience. If you have patience, you get to be part of the amazing thing God is doing to change people from the inside out. Maybe you will even be the person He uses in the process.

It is the immature, the impatient believer, who ends up missing out on what God would do through them if they would just wait, hold their tongues, withhold their condemnation. In our rush to judge, to play the role of the prophet—even when this is not our gifting by God—we find that the targets of our wrath are not being drawn to Jesus and the good news. They are being repelled by our ungodly attitudes. We need to pay attention to this.

God values people we would consider throwaways. Jesus died for them too. So keep in step with the Spirit and allow his work to change your exasperation into forbearance and mercy. Not for your own sake, but for the sake of the One who is continuing to have patience with you.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

-Steve Smith

 


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Let’s Get Honest about Restoration

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Indispensable Leadership Skills #5: Let’s Get Honest about Restoration

He made the front page of the local paper. His sin was published almost before he was released on bail. Both his employers and his church closed their doors to him immediately. He was unclean, a pariah, too messy for anyone to help. Weeks later someone who knew him invited him to visit my church. Over the next year and a half, he was surrounded by a committed group of men who walked with him as he was restored in his relationship with God, his family, and the church. It was an investment of love, but had we not practiced restoration, who knows what might have happened to this man.

Too many leaders have a throw-them-under-the-bus approach to sinful people who do not immediately repent and confess. Or even if they do repent and confess, little is offered to help them restore their walk with God, the congregation, and their family. The danger to this approach only becomes apparent when the condemning leaders get caught in sin themselves.

Restoration is something Jesus himself practiced with Peter after he denied Jesus in Pilate’s courtyard. Had he consigned Peter to hell for his denial, we would be justified to do the same with people who mess up in our congregation. But everyone who leads in Jesus’ church has to follow Jesus on this as well.

Restoration is not always a popular choice. Once when I chased a man caught in sin who was not looking to repent—looking more like he was happy to keep going deeper into the pit, I was told by other leaders that since he was not repentant, it was a waste of time to try to restore him. I knew they were wrong and they came to see that they were.

Mastering restoration is about learning how the gospel saves the saved. The power of the gospel not only restores the lost, it restores the saved when they willfully stray back into the enemy’s camp. Even if your congregation has a transformational culture, you will have plenty of people who will need restoration at one time or another. But you have to choose to practice it. You will not restore believers merely by wishing they would repent. Sometimes you have to lovingly chase them and they may just fight you until God wrestles them to the ground. Other times, people will be relieved to be caught because they hated what they were becoming.

For restoration, you will need to cultivate two characteristics and master two skills. The two characteristics are gentleness and humility. We all have the tendency to be disappointed to the point of anger at people who fail. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in us that gives us control over our words. Humility is a product of our recognition of our own failure to be good for God. To be humble is to have learned that there is zero difference between us and those who are in the grip of sin. He or she could have been us and maybe someday it will be us. The combination of gentleness and humility guides how we become safe to help our siblings trapped in sin.

The first of the skills you need to master is the intentional confrontation, characterized by Nathan’s challenge “You are the man!” to David when David ‘secretly’ impregnated Uriah’s wife and then oversaw his ‘accidental’ death. Intentionally confronting someone produces two results apart from potentially seeing the person restored. It announces to the rest of the body that we are not helpless. Secondly, it tells them that saved people matter to God and therefore matter to us as well.

The second skill is leading someone on the pathway back again. A full description of the restoration pathway can be found in my book, Build Deep: Developing a Culture of Transformation in Your Church. But understand that you only really gain mastery when you actually do it. And you will find that it changes you. Every time I have participated in restoring someone caught in sin, I become more in tune with my own need for God to reign over me, more aware that I am prone to wander, too. And I become more conscious of how much I need my church family to watch over me. You cannot practice restoration and be unaffected yourself.

Mastering these four practices—repentance, confession, reconciliation, and restoration—will make it possible for you and other leaders to help develop a transformational culture in your church. You will be able to disciple others so they can do them too. This is how people become confident that there is a reality to their faith. People in your congregation will go where you go or they will go out the door. Give them every reason to stay and grow with you into a transformational church by becoming leaders they can imitate.

-Steve Smith


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What does God do with jerks?

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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #36: What does God do with jerks?

“My son” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Luke 15:31-32

I have worked with many a prodigal over the years and what I have learned is that prodigals can be real jerks. They take what they think is theirs and waste it. They can be blind to the harm they cause. They often devalue the most important thing they have. They are offensive. They tick people off—on purpose. They leave a mess in their wake.

In probably one of the best-known stories that Jesus told, he starts with the shocking point that the younger son was not content to wait until his dad died in order to claim his inheritance. He demanded it upfront and then partied it away with his fair-weather friends. His disrespect for his dad was bad enough, but the implication was that he put himself in a place where, when the day came, he would not be able to fulfill his duty as a son to care for his aging father. He spent his way into the pigpen, finding himself, not his dad, being the one stressed by his insolence.

Because this story is often used to illustrate the idea of salvation, we can miss the cultural point. The son already belonged. As an Israelite, he was part of the covenantal people. He was not some outsider needing to get in. He was someone who had contemptuously turned his back on who he really was. But he never stopped being family.

This truth explains the father’s response. He has been waiting for his son’s return. He runs to meet him. He dresses him, puts a ring on his finger; throws a party for this prodigal who has stumbled home. Why? —Because his son belongs. As messed up as he knows he has been, the father restores him to his place with a headlong enthusiasm that distresses the one other character in the story—the older brother.

In reality, this was not a story about a lost son so much as it was about a brother who wanted his returning sibling to get lost. This prodigal had wasted his life. Why should he be loved as much as the one who had stayed the course and had done his duty?

If you read the story’s afterword, you, of course, know that the older brother represented the Pharisees. They were offended by this story because they got the point better than a lot of us do. They actually were the older brother, preening in their own goodness while disturbed by the messiness of other people’s lives. In their minds, how could the Father love ‘those people’?

I find this attitude still very evident in the church today. People blow up their lives. Their unfinished business gets out of hand. They cause conflict in the church. Their homes become battlegrounds. They become, in the words of Gordon MacDonald, VDPs—very draining persons. They take all they can and give nothing back. They devastate everyone they touch. In the eyes of the present day older brothers, throwing them under the bus is the best way to peace in the church. For them, it is inconceivable that ‘those people’ can even be restored.

Except that is precisely why Jesus is telling this tale. He came to transform people whom a lot of believers think are too great of a jerk to be salvaged. He does this because they belong to his family. And Jesus transformed these jerks in the face of skepticism and resentment. His transforming work is not up to the approval of the leadership team, nor the consent of those who have been disturbed by the antics of the prodigal.

The transforming work of the gospel, because of its inclusiveness, confronts our attitudes. Will we be glad that people who were jerks are being restored to serve and worship alongside us or will we be the jerks who are glad when they are gone? Whatever we choose will either open us up to loving prodigals on their transformational journey or standing in need of transformation ourselves.

-Steve Smith


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Why Restoration Matters

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 24: Why Restoration Matters

I have had a hand in a number of people’s stories. A classmate restored to his wife and kids spent a decade as a hospital orderly post spiritual crisis. One day, the hospital’s administer invited him to his office and asked him to become the chaplain to the patients, noting his voluntary spiritual care for them made him an easy choice.

Another spent a year with a team exploring why her life choices had led to divorce, as well as other missteps along the way. She later initiated a spiritual transformational culture in a church, training people how to pursue intimacy with God so they would be healed from hurt in their heart and delivered from deadly sin choices.

Then there was the guy who did all he could to blow up his life and church by his destructive choices. Today he has a solid marriage, respect from people whose lives he is investing in. He has taken on ministry to one of the rough areas in town, knowing that he has something to offer from his own journey back.

Why restoration matters in the transformational church is that, while there may be runaways, we should never believe there are throwaways. A restoration process is the norm, not the exception, because one person is just as important to Jesus as the ninety-nine. Restoration is not just a rescue; it is about seeing someone who was caught in sin living whole and holy again—returned to his or her calling of being a witness of the grace and mercy of God.

As you can see from the above rest-of-the-stories, restoration has an impact that goes beyond the process. The team that worked with one person spent over eighteen months meeting regularly with him. We walked with him as he pursued renewal in his marriage, as he sought to be reconciled with his former employers and as he took temporary work in another area to pay bills (he had us write a letter to the pastor of the church he attended to let that pastor know of the process). We saw a man changed from the inside by the power of the Spirit. Our congregation was spiritually charged by the changes they saw happening in him. But just as important, he was in a place of being used by God again in the lives of others.

Restoration is at the heart of the gospel. Restoration is part of the message a healthy church announces into the community it is seeking to sow the gospel—that no matter how badly someone messes up, he or she is still family and we are ready to guide that person back to a healthy walk with God among us. Remember, Peter would not have been there on the day of Pentecost if this was not true.

Steve Smith


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6 Landmines on the Restoration Battlefield

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 23: 6 Landmines on the Restoration Battlefield

When you least expect it on the battlefield, a landmine can blow up in your face. It can cost you your life or your limbs. In the restoration process, you want to know what the landmines look like and where they are most likely to be buried. Here are six that I have seen over years of working with people caught in sin.

Failure to get to the root of why the sin happened. This is the number one reason restoration processes fail to help the person caught in sin. Therefore, do not accept the surface issues as the full truth. Most sin issues are rooted in unresolved issues and choices within the person. If these are not discovered, the person is in danger of repeating the sin or falling into another after the restoration process is completed.

Letting the person in restoration control the process.  Some people have strong personalities and seek to set goals and make demands of those leading the restoration process. If the team finds itself not strong enough to address this problem, ask for outside intervention to keep the person from derailing his or her restoration process. This includes calling the person to repentance if he or she does an ‘end run’ around the team.

Spiritual warfare. Always be aware that Satan lies to us all the time. He will use both the person’s sin and our compassion to frustrate the work of God in the process if he can. Knowing this, do not neglect prayer as a potent weapon in this process and watch out for his schemes to draw the person back into sin.

Anger. Be ready for anger, because all processes involve the person caught in sin being angry, either at the team or the church. Sometimes the family of the person becomes angry on his or her behalf. Do not quit the process just because anger arises. Persevere through the anger, and help the person to focus it on what is wrong, rather than on people seeking to help him or her.

Messiness. All restoration processes are messy and seldom follow a straight line to the end. Be at peace when things go awry—ask God to keep you from giving into negative emotions and quitting too soon. Do be willing to admit mistakes in the process without letting them become the problem.

Waiting too long to take next steps out of fear of other’s anger. Sometimes you can see that God is truly at work in convicting and drawing the person caught in sin more quickly than anyone would have expected. His or her heart is turned, but others who have been affected by the sin or maybe the church family who were hit by the sin’s revelation may not be ready. They might be angry that the person is not ‘suffering’ enough for his or her choices. Do not allow your fear of ‘what-will-people-say’ keep you from going forward with the person. Be ready to move forward as God shows you because He is the one who reigns over this process.

Steve Smith


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What If Someone Walks Away from Restoration?

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 22: What if someone walks away from restoration?

Nothing is as disappointing for a restoration team as someone walking away. It has happened several times to teams I initiated. One person abandoned the process several months in when the team began to look deeper under the surface. She felt she was ready to step back into ministry. They saw she had unresolved pride issues that would reemerge and claim her again. After explaining this to her, instead of a break through, they had a break away. She never returned.

Why do people walk away? To be honest, the reason isn’t always the person’s unrepentant heart. Sometimes the reason is an overbearing team full of people who are controlling and lacking in transparency as well as compassion. Or they are misguided in what help they are trying to give placing more faith in rules of conduct than the work of the Spirit. Or maybe they forgot to make sure the person was stable in their life, leaving them in a muddle of no work, no place to live, and feeling friendless. I know it is hard to assess yourself as a team on these matters when you are in the middle of seeking to restore someone caught in sin. But if someone does walk away, be humble enough to ask for an honest assessment from a wise person who was not on the team to see what you can learn about yourselves.

Yet people do choose not to get well. They resent the probing into private areas which led them to be caught in sin. Some want to control the restoration process out of their pride. Others choose not to pursue God in intimacy because they prefer to believe the lies of the enemy. They feel the draw of the pleasure of the sin from which you are trying to restore them and walk away because they cannot fathom that knowing God would bring them a better joy. Or perhaps they are not a true believer. This last exposes a painful truth we must face. Sometimes we are working with a Jekyll and Hyde person of non-faith. Nothing goes home to their heart because they have no faith, no Spirit within them to convict them of sin.

None of us knows the heart of another and I am cautious about assigning inward motivations to people who have professed Jesus as Lord in the past. But whatever the reason they say NO to the question of spiritual restoration, you have to let the person go. You can pray for them—grieve over them—but do not chase them. Their choice to walk away has put them in the way of God’s justice. He will deal with them because He is their Father.

Here is one more thing that may be hard to bear. Be prepared to hear that another pastor or church has embraced him or her. This happens all the time due to the fragmented nature of the American church, where people easily get away with lying about other churches. I have called pastors when I hear of someone washing up in their congregation, but I have found that they have readily believed the unrepentant person over me. This, too, is a matter for God, who reigns over His church.

Steve Smith


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Crossing the Health Bridge

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 21: Crossing the Health Bridge 

The fourth phase is rebuilding. It was on a Sunday morning months into the restoration process that we invited ‘David’ to help lead in worship. This was no sudden decision, no letting down of our guard. We knew from walking with him that pride was one of the root issues in his life. And there was no worse place to inflate an unhealthy ego than putting someone on the platform. But we had been praying and thinking after the idea was brought up by one of the members of the restoration team. Was it time to take another step toward health?

At that point, we asked his wife what she thought. (Always ask the spouse how they feel about taking this step. It is one of the best indicators that you are making the right steps at the right time.) She, who had been deeply wounded by her husband’s sin, believed he was ready for this step. And this proved to be true. More than being true, it was a demonstration to the man and the congregation about the grace and mercy of God to restore and use broken people. For the record, I know that broken people being transformed by the Spirit are all whom God has to use anyway!

At some point, your team will discern that the person caught in sin is in a safe place. By safe I mean that he or she is walking in intimacy with God, has experienced renewal in their family life and is displaying humility within the congregation. The sin no longer defines their lives. Jesus does. This is about this person becoming safe so as not to fall back into being caught in sin.

An important responsibility the team has in this phase is to be the conduit through which the now repentant believer communicates to the church body. He or she must agree to submit to the decision of the team before offering service within the church, whether to his or her home congregation or in some other fellowship or mission. In other words, before the person can take the next step, he or she will confer with the team, who—if they are in agreement that this is right action—will speak to the church leaders on behalf of the person. This allows all people involved to be part of the decision-making process and does not place the burden on one person. This also discourages an ‘end run’ around the team, allowing no one team member to be able to either block the process or trump it to the detriment of the person in the restoration process.

Since there is no timeline for this moment, you will need the Spirit to confirm this within the team. Yet, when that point comes, you need to move forward without fear or hesitation. How this person will reemerge into his or her place in the Kingdom is the issue the team will explore with him or her. This is not about church attendance or belonging to a fellowship, but about trust and service. No one, no matter how badly they have failed, is put on the shelf forever in Jesus’ Kingdom if they seek restoration.

Steve Smith


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The Toughest Hill – Restitution

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 20The Toughest Hill – Restitution

The third phase of the restoration process is restitution. Though none of these phases are easy, this is going to be the most challenging one for the team and the person. The questions that have to be explored are: “Who do you owe?” and “What do you owe?” The team is not there to answer these questions, but to lead the person to hear from God.  This part of restoration often reveals how far the team still has to go in dealing with the person’s unrepentant heart and is the reason this phase is so hard. This can be uphill work!

Restitution is rooted in the justice of God. If someone has been robbed, then God’s justice requires a repayment of what was lost, with a value added gift on top of it. You see this understanding in Zacchaeus’ response to his changed heart in Luke 19 when he is ready to give half of his goods to the poor and repay back four times the amount he had defrauded from others.

For a person to be caught up in sin, they have usually defrauded someone. The loot stolen may be time, or dignity, or peace of mind, family ties or actual property. As those who are guiding this person back towards intimacy with God and others, you have an obligation to help him or her face this.

Be aware that the first answers are usually shallow. The person will see restitution as being only about apologies. She or he may want to shrug off the implications of restitution because it brings them a sense of guilt instead of freedom.

If you detect this in the person, then know that the person is still not yet spiritually restored. Encourage the person to listen to the Spirit about what he or she needs to own and pay out in time, finances, or some other form that is right. One helpful way to draw the person in more deeply would be to ask him or her what he or she would expect in return if the situation were reversed.

I found that substituting my voice for the Spirit in this matter only produces resentment towards me instead of submission to what God wants. This is how you know it’s real: When the person responds willingly to the Spirit instead of doing what you have suggested she or he should do.

One final note. Sometimes the person who was sinned against will have nothing to do with the believer you are restoring. I was part of a situation where physical threats were made if the now repentant believer made any personal contact with the injured one. If possible, someone on the team should try to open this kind of shut door. But sometimes you cannot. This situation should be a focus for prayer, but not a stopping point in the restoration process.

Steve Smith


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Settling for Nothing Less than True Repentance

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 19Settling for Nothing Less than True Repentance

The second phase of the restoration process is confession and repentance. Some of this may begin to take place during the stability phase, but often the level of repentance before this point of time probably will be based on being caught, and guilt over the damage done. During this phase, the team is guiding the person toward regaining an intimate relationship with God and experiencing godly sorrow that leads to repentance. This is where you will do the most work in exploring healing soul wounds and deliverance from sin choices in light of the work of the Spirit in the person’s life.

Avoid the temptation of rushing through this phase because the person says he or she is sorry. Often people have no idea what they should be sorry for. They make the issue about the actual thing they did—sexual misconduct or embezzlement or public drunkenness or whatever. These are merely symptoms of a deeper issue. One person who we were seeking to restore had committed adultery. During the process he went with his wife to a counselor and quickly apologized to her. The counselor was so impressed with the man’s ‘repentance’ that he released them from meeting with him after several sessions. As far as the person was concerned, he had repented and was now ready to move on. But the restoration team saw it much differently. The adultery was the outcome of a deeper, underlying pride issue that had not been addressed. The team quickly discovered from his push back that he did not want to deal with that deeper level of repentance.

Although people on the restoration team are usually not the main counselors for someone they are seeking to restore from sin, they must offer transformational counsel. They have to point out that symptoms reveal a hurt of the heart and the person is comforting that hurt with a sin in me choice. Failing to pursue this line of discipleship will most likely mean the person will never repent deeply enough to be freed from the addiction of sin. Being caught now may lead him or her to stop acting out on that sin, but its addictive nature will draw her or him back into it in time, even manifesting itself in another form. The person then will become more guarded so as not to be caught again. Since this team is committed to seeing the person restored, helping him or her to the point of discovery of what is underneath and allowing Jesus to heal and deliver is the marker that this phase has done its work.

Steve Smith


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First We Need Stability

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 18: First We Need Stability

The restoration process has four phases through which your team is to guide the person. There is no timetable for these phases. As you work with the person, you will be able to sense when you are moving from one phase to the next. Sometimes you may find yourselves working in more than one phase simultaneously. Do not be alarmed. The restoration process does not always follow a straight line.

The first phase in the restoration process is stability. This is the first guidance task of the team. It is during this phase that the person must make numerous decisions about his or her life—whether the sin issue affects the church, job, marriage, living arrangements, etc. A person will hesitate to move forward if he or she feels unsafe, so focus on bringing the person to a level of stability in life.

Do they need a job? Housing? A lawyer? Are they under court order to stay away from family? Have they initiated actions that will bring them or others grief? Those engaged in restoring the person must address whatever issues that distract him or her now so that attention can be drawn to the sin itself. This phase may be shorter for the person who has resources and maybe non-existent for the one whose sin has not caused him or her the least amount of discomfort—yet.

Do you know why your involvement in this phase matters? It is your statement of deep commitment to stand with a person at the worst moments of his or her life. To accept harsh words from people who are unhappy that anyone cares to help this ‘jerk!’ To identify with the person who has betrayed others, especially God and say he or she is still family. Perhaps to be lumped together with the person in the misdeed. I have experienced all of these responses.

Sin causes so much hurt in others. Do not go into this phase unaware. But be firm in your guidance. Do not let the person seek to lessen the blow by running away or giving up. Give direct advice when asked, but do not take over making choices that the person alone must determine. It is a delicate part of the process, but guiding the person caught in sin towards stability will prepare for the next phase, which is repentance and confession.

Steve Smith


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