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How to Get Unbent

unbent

I have some very specific struggles in life. They stem from a childhood where I started out being raised by hippy parents who were barely able to acknowledge they had children. One day, those same parents just ran off and left me and my little sister – I was 5 and she was 2. Thankfully, we were eventually adopted by our great aunt and uncle, but it was still a difficult time for me.

I’ve felt alone, unwanted, unneeded most of my life, so life for me has always been about proving my worth, working harder than others, trying to worm my way in and then getting there and still not feeling like I belong – I’ve always been an orphan, and no matter what, I always bend back toward that feeling – I’m not enough, I can’t be enough, how can anyone love me – how can even God love me – worthless, abandoned and alone.

I say all that in the present tense, but it’s mostly past tense. I say I struggle with these things and in that I mean this – freedom ministry has helped tremendously. When I begin to feel that way, as I tend to do, instead of wallowing in it I push back. I fight! I’ve been handed the raw materials to fight a war and I’ve figured out a way to use them so the way I was bent by life no longer defines my life.

We are all bent a certain way. One of the most graphic, vivid verses I know on this subject is Proverbs 26:11 – “like a dog who returns to its vomit, so is a fool who repeats his folly.” My foolish, repetitive, unrelenting return to my folly led to so many years of heartache – but it doesn’t have to be that way. What happened wasn’t my fault – just like what happened to you wasn’t your fault. But what you do next is all on you.

Would you like to leave here different than when you clicked that link? What would life for you be like with that burden eased or erased? What would it feel like to walk away free?

My goal is to share three ways to get unbent with you, so that you can begin to press into God and walk away free.

First, we need to learn to hear God’s voice for ourselves. Going to church is essential. Freedom or discipleship classes are wonderful. Those things build us up and teach us and connect us with others and we experience the closeness of the Spirit in worship – but then we leave and have a Sunday afternoon nap or mow the grass and before long it’s just another experience out of many and it fades away.

We have to learn to hear God for ourselves, daily, hourly, even minute by minute. And just like any other relationship, it takes time to develop – so start now!

Get alone – you don’t need a bible or a devotional guide or a pen and paper. The writer of Hebrews states (4:16) “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

We have to communicate with God– we have to begin the dialogue by approaching him –

Charles Spurgeon wrote “prayer is an approach of [our] soul by the Spirit to the throne of God. It is not the utterance of words, it is not … the feeling of desires, it is the advance of [our] desires to God, the spiritual approach of our nature towards the Lord.”

We must approach with confidence – knowing that our Father loves us and wants to provide for us, but with confidence we must approach humbly, submissively, and joyfully – knowing that to approach him, to see his face, to hear his voice will result in lasting change. If we approach the Throne – we leave changed because he is and speaks truth.

Once we have seen God and heard him, our response must be repentance – and to get unbent, that means we have to stop believing lies about ourselves.

Have you ever told a lie about someone else? Has anyone ever told a lie about you? The motivation to lie comes from fear – did you know that?

The enemy is a liar, whose goal is destruction – yours and mine – and all the better if he can get us to destroy our own selves. John the Apostle wrote in his gospel (8:44) that satan is not just a liar – he is the father of lies.

He is a master manipulator who will use the smallest events in life to change it’s course to destruction. Satan whispers in our ears – “that happened to you because nobody loves you.” “You’re going through this because God has abandoned you.” “Remember the lies that person told about you – everyone feels the exact same way.” He does this because he is afraid of you – he is afraid of who you could be, if you could know or begin to believe the truth about who you really are.

When we believe the lies, we are making a conscious choice to listen to satan and not God – and that my friends is sin in its purest form and we must repent. But, just as satan can sway us to his way of thinking, we can decide not to listen.

We can repent – we can change our minds and decide to agree with what God says, and embrace who we really are.

Agreement with God is our first step toward walking in freedom. There was a time when I believed that buried somewhere in cave in middle east there laid a a manuscript that contained the bible as we now know it, with a few added footnotes: “when it says God is love, he means it for everyone except Rich. Because that dude’s a mess and there’s no hope.”

I believed I was broken and could never be fixed. I thought I was alone in life. And I acted like an orphan. All the signs were there – working hard to be seen and heard, insecurity, the need for approval by others, lack of confidence, jealousy.

I got caught up in thinking God would love me if I worked hard for him, if my sermons were perfect and if people got saved. And when all that happened and nothing changed inside me I came to a point where I gave up and turned my back on God because he clearly didn’t like anything about me.

But that was a lie! My Father says I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14); I am a friend of God (Jn 15:15); I am his child (Gal 3:26); I am a co-heir with his Son Jesus (Rom 8:17); I am a temple (I Cor 6:19); I am a part of the body of Christ (I Cor 12:27).

And yet – knowing it in my head and knowing it in my heart are two separate things. We have to continually agree with God on these things. We have to continually come before his throne, we must listen to what he says is true and reject the lies of the enemy. We must choose to believe the truth with our minds first and when those thoughts take hold, we will begin to embrace what God says is true and it changes who we are. That’s when the truth sets us free.

You can begin the journey right now. If you’re like me, and by that I mean if you’re a human being, you’re all bent up in one way or another. But you have the same choices I do. Your choices are the same as everyone else’s. Believe lies or believe truth. Trust God or go your own way. Listen to him and be set free or walk away bound up in fear and reject what God has for you. It’s your choice. It’s your move – what happens next is on you.
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Stop!

“Hammer time!” – MC Hammer

STOP

Have any of you ever seen a yellow stop sign? There was one in my hometown, down at the end of a dirt road, nailed to a giant oak tree. I remember the first time I saw it – all I could think was, “I need that stop sign!” So, a few friends and I went late one night with a hammer to pull the nails out and claim our prize. About 3 minutes into a futile effort (we needed a much bigger hammer) we heard the distinctive click-clack sound of a pump action shotgun followed by a low pitched southern drawl – “yoo baws neetuh b-movin’ own jist ’bout nah.” (I plugged that sentence into google translate, but there wasn’t a redneck option. Punjabi was close, but not quite right. Sorry.) I wasn’t holding the hammer, but I think I heard it hit the ground. All I remember is I had two hands on the sign, moving it back and forth to try and loosen up the nails, and then the next thing I knew I was approximately 1/4 mile away. It was all reflex and adrenaline. I heard that shotgun and I was gone.

We should have known better, my friends and I. We should have gone to the movies. We should have been anywhere but where we were. But we weren’t. We hadn’t yet learned to stop, take a breath, and think about what our actions might cause. Such is the life of a small town teen – but some people never actually get past that.

I try to remember my motivation back then – what was my thought process? How did I come to the conclusions that I made?

It was all based on wants, perceived needs, how I felt. Things are not a lot different now, to be honest. And I’m not talking just about myself.

Have you ever read the “letters to the editor” section of the paper or a magazine? Back in the old days, that was about the only way a normal person would be able to have their say and make sure their voice was heard. I guess you could have a newsletter – which was a lot like a blog, but you would type it up, go to the grocery store and make copies ($.10 each) and put them at the check-out at Circle K.

In “letters to the editor” you could respond to a recent article, respond to a letter someone had previously written, or start a whole new topic. I’m sure there were plenty of letters written that never made it into the paper or magazine – I know because I have written many, and have only seen one that made it into print. You may still be able to find it somewhere on the internet – I wrote a letter to The Baptist Messenger in the 90’s. Maybe you can google it. I remember back then that I sounded smart and mature. I’d like to read the letter now just to be sure.

One difference between then and now is social media. Now we can all write our thoughts, opinions and even our darkest secrets, any time, anywhere, and anyone can see it. And it’s going to be out there – programmed, categorized, easily referenced – for all eternity.

At the very least, this has prevented people from getting that job they really wanted, or fired from the one they already had (here’s a blog dedicated to documenting incidents of people losing their jobs because of what they have said on social media). At the most, posting our deepest darkest thoughts and opinions may have caused mayhem, death and destruction 

To be fair, most of what we read is somewhere in the middle – what I like to call “The Zone of Irritation.” Yes, I am irritated by most of what I read on social media these days. And it’s not just the political opinion posts. It’s the “my kid did _______ again OMG time for a trade in,” “this traffic totally bites today,” “I hate it when ________ and I think you suck,” “SPOILER ALERT,” “[insert picture of your lunch here]” and “OMG he’s put all of his punctuation inside the quotation marks! Is that even the right way to do it?” Yes. Yes it is. Except for a semi-colon. I think.

I’m not saying I’m not guilty along with everyone else. I’m saying, maybe we need to slow down a bit, or even just stop – stop and take a breath and think about what we are about to put out there.

Here’s what I tend to ask myself before I post these days:

Is it encouraging or uplifting? Or is it critical or hurtful? This is a character issue – do you build people up, or seek to tear others down?

Is it truly funny, or do I just think it’s funny because it’s 2:38 am and I’m tired? Maybe save it as a draft and review the next morning before hitting “post.”

What is my intended audience with this post? Am I writing in such a way as to appeal to them, or reach them, or give them something they need?

Who else besides my intended audience might see this? What will they think when they read this?

Am I posting this because of a need to be seen or heard, or because I want to help others, share my thoughts, help change things for the better? In other words, do I just want the “likes” or do I want to spread hope, peace, love, kindness?

Am I forcing an opinion upon the world or am I speaking truth in love?

If you have kept up with me on social media, you’ve seen me break all my own rules, time and time again. You may have seen me also come back later and say “I’m sorry.” I rarely will delete a post, but I have done it, to keep peace. I have posted things that people have messaged me privately about and asked me “what were you thinking?” I have posted things that made my wife come at me with a hatchet. Not really, but I have hurt her and made her angry because of things I’ve shared.

In other words, I’m human, I mess up, I do things for the wrong reasons. I’m probably just a lot like everyone else in that regard. But I want to be better! I want to do a better job of letting people know I care about them. I want to be a bright light on a hill, not a candle in a hurricane.

Maybe we can all take it one step at a time. I will take a breath, stop and think before posting on social media. I will ask questions about why I am saying what I’m saying before I say it. I will try and put myself in the place of others, try to feel how they might feel if I hit that button and read what I write. Can you do the same? It’s better to take it slow, not react, not be put in a position where what you say can cause pain. It’s not that you don’t have the right to your opinion – I have opinions on a lot of things! It’s that I am becoming a person who would rather build others up than tear them apart just so I can have my say.

Obviously, this is all just my opinion anyway. But, before that hammer drops – at least take a look at your own heart, your own motivations – examine yourself. If you don’t like what you see, you can change it! And you should, before your words take their toll.
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Not Yet

“Loved ones, now we are God’s children; and it has not yet been revealed what we will be. But we do know that when it’s revealed, we shall be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” I Jn 3:2

not yet

I went to a class on healing last week. I believe in healing mostly because I’ve actually seen people get healed. I’ve experienced it myself as well. I know God heals! Hopefully you do to. Either way, I went to the class about healing expecting to learn more about it. How it works, why God does or doesn’t do it, maybe the right words to say. We didn’t really talk about any of that – it wasn’t really a class about learning how to heal people as much as it was about what tends to happen in an atmosphere where God is present. And Because God was present, I experienced some healing myself.
I didn’t go there to be healed of anything. I didn’t expect anything to happen except my knowledge of a topic might increase. I am a curious little cuss… For instance, I have so many books. And I’ve read them all. And I know all the stuff in them. It’s like there’s and avalanche about to happen in my head sometimes. Or maybe an aneurysm. Sometimes it seems like all the crap I know doesn’t matter but it’s jammed up between my ears and its clogging up my head.
Anyway, I didn’t expect to get healed I expected to learn something. But I got both things really.
The speaker asked if we could ask God anything and know we’d get an answer what would we ask. So I asked. I asked God why he’d make me good at something AND give me the desire to do that thing AND give me no opportunity to do that thing. And he answered. He said I’m not ready to do the thing.
Um. Excuse me. I did the thing for 17 years! Brilliantly I might add. There’s tons of people I’ve led that I interact with on social media every day that thank me for what I did for them, who share memories and pictures and tell me how awesome things were back then. Every. Single. Day.
How is it then that I’m all of a sudden “not ready?” I really don’t get it.
Then he showed me something I didn’t understand one bit. I can’t even describe it to be honest. But it felt like something that’s right and whole and good and complete. And it felt like it was for me. A me without fear. A me without hindrances. A me unleashed.
I’m not that me. Not yet.
And those are the words God said to me. “Not yet.” I saw it in my head like a big, red neon sign. “Not yet” it said. “Not yet.”
Dude. I’m like too old already. I’ve gone too far and done too much. Too much. Too much good and bad really. Too much questioning. Too much worry. Too much doubt. Too much wallowing. And still God has a perfect plan for me? Yes. One that I’m not ready for, apparently.
I wish I didn’t want it. I wish I didn’t know about it. I wish I could take an ice pick and jab those parts of my brain and make the thoughts go away. And I told God all that. And he laughed. Not a cruel laugh. An amused laugh. Like he’d heard that before maybe. And then he healed me.
I don’t actually care anymore about any of that. Not in the bad way. I care. Obviously. But I care more about learning to be content in being his son than anything – and in an order of magnitude that dwarfs anything else I’ve ever felt. I just don’t care about that other stuff anymore. I don’t care if I ever have that dream because I’M HIS AND HE IS MINE. And nothing else matters.
I prayed months and months ago for God to remove the desires I had. To lead, to teach, to be a pastor again. And in my heart I had such longing for those things. And they are not bad things! But I was hurt and angry and bitter and I was saying “forget it – whatever you want for me I don’t want it because I can’t have it anyway,” and no matter what I did I couldn’t forget and I couldn’t get over it. But I’ve been healed in my soul! I’m free now! I haven’t given up on anything. But I’ve been given everything. I have hope. I have a promise. I have peace. I have God!
I understand that I’m not the only one who has been through what I’ve been through. Many of my good friends have been through it. Some have quit ministry for good, others are doing something different for a while, a few are back on staff in churches again.
That’s what I still want for me – that last thing I mean. I didn’t leave by my choice. And I guess I won’t get back to it by my choice either. For now all that matters for me is that God is building me up. He is making me whole, he is making me new. He’s making a place for me and when it’s time, I’ll be ready to step into it.
So for once “not yet” is ok. I gladly accept God’s not yet. It doesn’t mean never it means not yet. As in something’s coming! I have no clear idea of what it is but I know it will be awesome! Because he is awesome and he loves me!

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Fitness

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The last year has been quite a journey for me. I knew a little over a year ago, actually, that I had a problem with my blood pressure. It was completely out of whack! I went to doctors, I went to the ER a few times, I changed medications, added more medications, had tests, etc., etc. Nothing anybody did to try and help me worked.

I got pretty scared about it a few times. My highest reading was 174/118, with a pulse of 175. I thought I was really done for that time. Turns out it was a panic attack. From being scared about my blood pressure.

Like I said, it’s been a year long journey, that come to find out was a combination of physical, mental and spiritual maladies. Just one of the three can throw most people out of sorts, but I had all 3 going on at once! And, as you can see, I’m still alive – so, if I can overcome, I know you can as well. So – let me take a few minutes to encourage you.

I had to get a few things out of my life. You know how Jesus says he’s the vine and we are the branches? It turns out that true spiritual fitness comes through connection to the Savior. Of course, I knew this already. Oh, I was full of all kinds of knowing. I could teach a lesson on anything at the drop of a hat. That’s about how full of it (knowledge) I am. But who cares? I wasn’t operating from a secure position, from a position of power – I was operating on my own, from weakness.

Over time, this really took a toll on me. I technically can do all these things. I’ve planted a church, I’ve preached and taught the Word from a young age, I surrendered to ministry as a 15 year old, I was on church staff for about 17 years all together. Sounds like someone else I know – have you heard these words before?

“I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

Talk about credentials! The Apostle Paul could take that, slap it on a resume, and get a job just about anywhere these days. But…

But then he goes on to say, “but whatever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord! For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

Paul gets it! He gets what I’m starting to get. That for our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God!

In myself there’s no righteousness, no power, no victory. On my own I can actually do so much – but it is rubbish! My strength is great and I can keep going and going and going. And I did and did and did. Until my mind and body started to give me fits.

I know pastors who have had heart attacks in the pulpit. I know pastors who have one ailment after another. I know pastors who have burned out and faded away. One in particular that became a claims adjuster – he’s a real mess! But things are turning around for that guy.

I have recently come to learn that I am the righteousness of God in Christ! Me! But not all by myself – In Christ. It is through the Savior that I have found my place, my calling, my purpose, my strength, and my health. Mentally, physically and spiritually – I am becoming healthy. All because I started to see just a little bit of who I am because of what Christ did for me.

And not just for me – for you too! YOU are the righteousness of God in Christ too! Whatever you’re facing, you don’t face it alone.  Whatever you’re going through, it’s not just you – it’s you and Him! You don’t have to work your fingers to the bone just to get God to love you. You don’t have to sit around and worry about how God feels about you. You don’t have to focus on doing good things to get God’s attention. He’s big enough to give you his full attention all the time! And he totally, completely loves everything about you!

When that knowledge transferred from my head to my heart, everything changed.

A month ago I was sitting around wondering when an artery in my head was going to blow out. This last weekend, I ran 6 miles! Well, I walked a bit of it too…I remember praying in December as I drove to work – I saw people every day out running. I told God that I would love to be able to do that again. And now I can.

My latest blood pressure reading was 125/80, my pulse was 53. Yep, I’m on a variety of medications. But I have been for a long time. Nothing has changed except how I see myself in relation to the God who gave up everything he had to win me back to himself.

If he can love me through what I have become over the last few years – he can love you too! And he does! If you will learn to hear his voice, if you will allow his Word to transform your mind, if you will allow yourself to become the righteousness of God in Christ – everything in your life will change – I guarantee it!
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Don’t Go Away Mad – Just Go Away

…Nothin’ left to do
Too many things were said
To ever make it feel
Like yesterday did…

Dont-go-away-mad-Just-go-away

I was in the mood for some good old rock n roll tonight. One of my favorite bands is Motley Crue! Don’t tell my youth pastor! So I went to YouTube and searched for the Crue and just let it go from one song to the next. Every once in a while it would mix in a little Poison, some AC/DC, even Journey. I rarely have a night where I can just sit and do nothing – I must say it’s very refreshing when I am able to though!

As often happens when music is playing, I found my mind drifting from memory to memory. Every song I heard had a memory attached – some awesome (seeing Young Guns with friends after a rough breakup, and Love Bites came on the radio and I got into a fight right out in the middle of Air Depot! I punched a guy in the head and screamed YOUNG GUNS BABY! Then he made a mess of my face – and yes that’s a good memory!) some bittersweet (The Search is Over – Tina Price – obviously the search was not over, but as always, last to know), some just outright sad – and I have examples for that too but this post isn’t supposed to be a downer.

And as often happens after my mind has had a time to process all that youthful folly attached to the music I have always listened to, I began to listen for spiritual things. There is a lot of truth and wisdom in the lyrics- the guitars are loud and you can feel the drums beating in your chest like an extra heart, but the words are pure poetry. They reached me on a spiritual level when I was young, and they still do today.

I don’t know how you feel about the music of your youth – I think mine is beautiful. I’m an 80s kid and proud of it!

All that being said, my brain kicked into overdrive when I heard Don’t Go Away Mad. It’s crazy – like a little part of my brain exploded in activity and out popped a thought. And here it is –

So often we walk away mad from God. He is loving, kind, gentle. He calls us his children! We are co-heirs with Christ! We have been given every spiritual blessing! And most of the time it’s not enough. At least, that’s where I am – nothing is every enough.

I’m in a great church! They want me to do things – they don’t need me to do anything but they *want* me to do things! And I want to do things – but not the things they want me to do!

I remember once, and I was as humble as could be (which is not a lot to be honest), I asked a pastor what he wanted me to do. He was so excited that I was volunteering! The ministries of our church are overflowing with volunteers, and I wanted to help, and so, they basically said to me, “Rich, we need you to stand right over there!” And with little enthusiasm, I went and stood.

Then I volunteered some more. I asked someone else this time. He was so happy that I wanted to help out! After a few weeks he got back with me and said, “Rich, we need you to sit right over there – except for when we need you to sit over in that other place!” And then I felt like I needed to remind them of my background – 17 years of ministry! I have spoken in front of some pretty large crowds! I have had some awesome student ministries! I used to be somebody – don’t you know that? Don’t you know how many people follow me on social media? So I went and sat with a frown.

Then I just stopped. I stopped standing, I stopped sitting, I stopped moving. And when I stopped, the world just kept on moving, and they found other people who were happy to do the sitting and the standing.

I was reminded while listening to music tonight of another person of great promise, with great resources, with great talents, (I’m not saying I’m all that great – just trying to make a point) who also walked away mad. We don’t know what ever became of him, but his story goes a lot like mine –

Master! What should I do with all this stuff? All this awesome stuff! Look at it! Look at all my awesome stuff!

My child, you have to give it up. You have to leave it on the ground where you stand and walk in my footsteps!

Dang it. Look at it all! All this stuff is priceless!

Your stuff is worthless – following me is priceless.

Jesus had no condemnation for the rich young ruler. He didn’t chase after him saying, “didn’t you hear me? You need to do this! You really, really need to give all that up!” Jesus didn’t burn him to toast on the spot. He just let the dude walk away with all his stuff.

Just like he let me walk away with all mine. Because without love, all my talents are an airhorn in the ear while you’re sound asleep. He let me walk away mad just like the rich young ruler walked away mad – because I and he have both made idols out of our riches. God doesn’t need your money, your talents, your gifts. If you don’t lay them down they become millstones around your neck. But sometimes, sometimes when we lay those things down and just follow – just be his – just accept that being in his presence is enough, and more even than you’ll ever need and way more than you deserve – then, sometimes, he picks those things up that we laid down and hands them back to us.

The rich young ruler walked away with all his stuff and we never heard from him again. This is not a mistake I intend to make. I’m laying it all down. I’m going to sit at his feet. I’m going to follow him, and I’m going to be satisfied in my heart with that, and I’m going to learn what it means to be a son of God, I’m going to learn to receive good things from him, I’m going to learn what it means to be overflowing with rivers of living water – and I’m going to let that be enough –

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Definitions

definition_definition

You may not know this, but I am an “insurance professional.” I’m an adjuster, basically. Well, I used to be called an “adjuster” but the company I work for came up with some snazzy new names for our jobs. Now I am a “Senior Claims Analyst.”

Before the change in title, I used to sit around on the phone all day and talk to people about their claims. Now, with my snazzy new title, I sit around all day, talking to people on the phone about their claims. But now, I sound like I’m really important or something.

Did you know, if you have an insurance policy, there is a section in the policy called “Definitions?” Its where WE (your insurance provider) define words such as YOU (the person named in the policy) and DWELLING (The single family structure where YOU reside).

The Definitions section defines the words used in the policy so that YOU know what WE mean when we say words like YOU, WE or DWELLING. WE define those words differently than YOU might outside an insurance contract, and OUR definitions (a statement of the exact meaning of a word) are the ones YOU must abide by, because WE wrote the contract YOU are agreeing to when YOU sign it.

In other words, you must agree to the statement of the exact meaning of a word that we provide, or your understanding of the degree of the distinctions within the policy may lead you to think certain things are covered by insurance, when in (our) reality, they are not.

Definitions, in other words, are vitally important, in all walks of life.

Just as an example, lets take the word “freedom.” We just celebrated some freedom here in the United States, by blowing a bunch of stuff up. When I was a kid, 4th of July was a license to kill…ants, frogs if I could catch one, tree bark – heck, anything I wanted to blow up I could blow up. The funny thing is, we celebrate freedom differently now, because of laws which restrict or define that freedom. For instance, whereas I could blow crap up with impunity as a kid on the farm, it’s illegal to even sell fireworks of any kind in the city I live in. So we have to go to fireworks displays, and just sit there and watch others have the fun of blowing crap up.

On a side note, I am so sick of just sitting here watching others do the fun stuff. I need to work on that, I guess.

If you catch what I said in the last paragraph, we celebrate our “freedom” by being restricted to sitting and watching a fireworks display.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have laws that define what goes on. I’m not saying we should all get to do whatever we can think of. In fact, if you think about it, that’s the opposite of freedom.

Since I’ve landed on the word “freedom” as an example (as was my intent from the beginning lol) let’s define that. Some people say it means something like “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” What kind of place would this be if that was a correct definition?

Another way to define freedom is “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.” The sad thing about this definition is, I know plenty of people who are technically “free” who are imprisoned and enslaved. And I know a few who are in fact in prison, but who are free.

A third definition for freedom might be “the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity.” I think most citizens of the United States might define the freedom granted to them by the Constitution in such a way. We can (generally speaking) go where we want, do what we want, say what we want, and as long as nobody gets hurt and no laws are broken, we’re golden.

But does this definition of freedom really get to the heart of what people in general are searching for? I’ve known wanderers – people who go from place to place, work a while, save some money, and then off they go again. It seems awesome to not be tied to anything, to just be able to pull up stakes and head out whenever, to where ever. But is that freedom? Or it is a futile search for something that may not even exist in reality?

I would submit a final definition of freedom. In a minute. First what freedom is not: it’s not kicking a habit. Not even kicking a bad habit. It’s not getting out of jail, or out of a marriage. It’s not being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want. It’s not not being a slave to someone or something. It’s not having a lot of money or things. It’s not the big house on the hill with the white picket fence or a car that just plain starts when you need it to. It’s not feeling safe, it’s not having enough to buy diapers and formula both this week.

I have defined freedom in pretty much every way mentioned above (never been to prison tho…), and for 45 years I was living under a faulty definition, wondering why things in my life just kept getting worse. Wondering WHY?!? Why, when I have a great job, and Cheryl has a great job, and we have all this money coming in, why can’t we just get a new computer? Why do I have to drive this crappy old truck? Why can’t we make our student loan payment this month? It made no sense!

Why can’t I just drive out to the coast, and for once in my life, watch the sun rise over the ocean? Why can’t I find the job I really want? Why can’t I get past thinking that I’m a loser? If I’m so free why can’t I get past all this stuff?

Why? Because freedom is not any of that. None of that is freedom! All my struggling, all the work I did, all the self improvement – none of it produced what I needed most. None of it pulled me out of a pit that I dug my own self, and none of it put me where I thought I should be. My definition of freedom basically sucked, in other words.

It’s funny how when you start living under the correct definitions, life suddenly kinda opens up to you.

Freedom is NOT the absence of struggle, or of hard times, or bad things in life –  freedom is the presence of the Holy Spirit, and a way of knowing truth in such a way that it produces freedom inside you.

I am saying this – freedom doesn’t come from a document under glass in some building in Washington, D.C. You can’t produce freedom from within your own self – freedom comes from outside of you, from another, who gives it to you when you lay down what you think freedom is at His feet. When you let God define freedom, and you let go of your definition, what you take up truly is freedom! Freedom is being in His presence! Freedom is a relationship with a good Father who provides all you will ever need – freedom is knowing God for who He really is!

Faulty definitions never helped anyone, but knowing the Definer of words and Creator of worlds can change everything – Just think about it for a while. What are you searching for? How long have you been on this journey? And  what are the chances that a radical redefinition could change everything for you?
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Humans Being

We become humans by being…

human being

Not all that long ago, when things were new, there lived two people in a little garden which was exactly like heaven on earth. It was called Eden, and it was a paradise. The people there, Adam and Eve, were created to be stewards over this little piece of heaven. They were given a few tasks by their creator – take dominion, be fruitful, eat anything you want – but stay away from that one tree.

They were all in one accord – man and woman, God and creation – and it was very good! Nobody really knows how long they lived in this blissful state, and we don’t really have any way to know what it was really like. Imagine your best day ever, times infinity – probably doesn’t even scratch the surface.

They were fully alive! Fully human! Firing on all cylinders, cooking with gas – call it what you want, they were everything they were created to be. They were everything we are not.

I have spent time imagining what it must have been like. Perfect bodies – not these rags we wear that get stained and wear out. Walking with God – nothing to separate us from his presence. Unity – all of creation on the same page, headed toward the same destiny.

I imagine that as they fulfilled their calling and filled up the garden with more people, that it’s boundaries would expand until all the earth became nothing but paradise, nothing but an exact representation of everything God had in mind when he dreamed up heaven.

But that’s not what happened – that’s not what happened at all. Something else happened. People say we were tricked, we were led astray, that the tempter took our inheritance from us. But the truth is, the first man and the first woman made a choice all on their own – they chose to know over choosing to live. We all, when faced with the exact same choice, make the exact same choice.

How could God, who knows everything, not see this coming? And if he did see it coming, why didn’t he stop it from happening? The short answer is, if he prevented us from choosing between himself and ourselves, how could we truly ever be able to love him? That’s the choice before all of us, and the choice we make determines how human we will become.

So, choices were made, and now we live in a fallen world. A world full of sickness, death, evil. It’s not the heaven that God had in mind. Not even close. But even still, all is not lost.

You may hear people talk about “plan B” from time to time. “Well, I was too short and colorblind, so I couldn’t be an astronaut – so my plan B was becoming a lumberjack.” Or something. Most of us are living in plan B. Or C, D, or even Q.

God, though – he only has plan A. His goal, from the beginning, was to present to his son a worthy bride, to have a family. To have children to care for who love him as a father. Is it too late for all that? I say no!

The son emptied himself, came to earth as a man – as Adam once was – full of the father and living as if he were in heaven. He came to show us what it would be like to be fully human – to be firing on all cylinders and cooking with gas. And what did he do? Well, he changed the world. He broke history out of it’s rut. He made a way for us to be humans – the humans God created us to be.

And he did so much more! He solved the greatest problem of all – the problem of how fallen humanity could be reunited with it’s father, it’s creator. He did it by being fully human, and when presented with the choice he chose differently that the rest of us – he chose God instead of himself.

And he did even more than that – because he chose wisely, he was able to be everything a human was meant to be – the blind received sight, the lame walked, those with leprosy were cleansed, the deaf could hear, the dead were raised, and the good news was proclaimed!

And even greater things than these will we do, because Jesus has gone to the Father!

And yet – how many people have you healed? How many have you raised from the dead? How many greater things have you done? Don’t feel bad – I pray for the sick and they get worse. I pray for the blind and the deaf and they walk away not seeing and hearing. I have never prayed that a dead person would come back to life. Because…dead – that’s just not how things work in this world.

But that’s how they worked in Jesus’ world. The second Adam, the most human human being ever. Because he and his father were one, because when he said the kingdom is at hand, it wasn’t just a philosophical way of living or thinking – it was a spirit empowered way of being human. And we all have access to that. We have access to the father, and all the resources of heaven. But we’re too busy being something other than what we were created to be to know it.

I don’t know how this ends. For me I mean. I want everything God has for me, but still it seems I labor in vain. I can’t heal anyone – even when I am praying fervently and sincerely and crying and pleading. Even when I mean it with all my heart. Even when I say, “in Jesus name.”

Why? Well, I don’t know. All I know is, I am saved, and the same spirit that lives in me, that lived in Jesus, can live in you! Choose – choose life over struggling to do good so that you won’t be a bad person. You have a free will – and the only good use of it is freely choosing to lay it down, to empty yourself of yourself and be filled with his spirit – so choose now. Be what God always dreamed you would be – a human, a human who is being everything they are capable of being.
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Free ebook – The Pursuit Of Joy

philippians pursuit

For this week only, you can get the revised copy of my devotional book The Pursuit of Joy: A Study in Philippians by following this link.

This is a 20 day devotional – enough for a whole month if you skip the weekends. Because why wouldn’t you?

Also, there are 5 small group activities in case you want to get a few copies and lead a group.

Just to repeat myself, this is a free download just for this week. Why? Because I like you! And a few other things – I completely revised the book, expanded on a few things, changed a “k” to a “g” in one place, and I made it prettier.

Also because I’m going to start on something new this week. I’ve been thinking about it for a year, and it’s time to do it.

After this week, the updated Pursuit of Joy will be uploaded to Amazon and it will go back to the original purchase price of $2.99. SO…get it while it’s free, and comment below if you like it – thanks!
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The Curse Of The Red Shirt

One of these people will not be returning to the ship

redshirtI’ve watched Star Trek my whole life. It’s the first show I remember ever watching, and I just watched one of the Star Trek movies not long ago – Khan! Khan!!! KHAN!!!! Wrath of Khan is the best Star Trek movie ever, hands down.

One of the best parts of the show is the redshirts. For the Trek uninitiated, redshirts are the security guys on a starship. It’s odd that he’s lost so many redshirts over the years, considering how highly trained and exceptional Kirk’s crew is portrayed to be.

What happens is this – the Enterprise warps into action, and when the doomed planet is in view, Kirk says, “Standard orbit, Mr Sulu.” Then, Kirk, Bones, Spock, a random other crew member and at least one guy in a red shirt beam down to the planet. Then, approximately 2.8 seconds later, some yeti with a horn, or a giant angry rock pounces on the person with the red shirt (the only exception is if the redshirt is a girl. Seriously.) . Bones, the doctor (blue shirt!), runs over and waves a spinny salt shaker thing over his face and says, “He’s dead Jim!” Cue DUN Dun dun music, cut to commercial.

Week after week, something like this happening, you’d think they would just change the color of the guy’s shirt, right? During it’s three year run on television, Kirk lost 13% of his crew. 73% of those deaths were people attired in red. Coincidence? I think not.

It seems like common sense, when applied after the fact to a 1960′s tv show, but how many of us tend to live our lives this same way? We have an experience, it is bad, and even though it was bad, we repeat it. Are we hoping to end up with a different result at some point? That is the definition of insanity.

The bible says it another way – and this is not pretty – “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.”

Would you agree that it is foolish to keep doing things the same way, when the end result is disaster, every single time?

Have you ever heard someone say, “Oy, I will never drink that much ever again!” That was me, every Friday and/or Saturday night my first two years of college. I would come dragging back to the dorm, somewhere between 1 and 6 am, stagger up to my room, sleep the sleep of the dead, then hate myself for it later. But I did it over and over again.

There’s a cure for whatever it is that ails you. It’s not hair of the dog, either. It’s Jesus! For those of us who have wrestled with our own foolishness, who have tried again and again to change, on our own, but keep falling into the same ditch over and over again – quit beaming yourself into whatever it is and try something completely different.

King David, from the Old Testament, was a man after God’s own heart. But he still had sin in his life! In other words, he was just like you and me, but he knew it – he knew he was sinful, and he knew what to do to get past it. This is from Psalm 51 – “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You.”

Repentance – that’s what David was doing. And that’s what you and I need to do. When we’re trapped in our sin, when it seems like it will never end, when we have tried everything we know to do and it’s just not enough – repent!

Repentance is simply changing your mind – by the power of the Holy Spirit. You can’t do it, but God can. You have to be willing to lay down what you think is the right thing, the fun thing, the thing that everyone else is doing, and allow the Spirit to change you.

So – throw the red shirts in the trash – you’re not doomed, or cursed or condemned. You just need a relationship with Jesus! You can have it right now – ask Jesus to be your savior, put your trust in him, confess to him what he already knows, that you’re sinful and can’t save yourself, and ask him to fill you with his Spirit. Then – enjoy your new life in him! Tell everyone what he’s done for you, turn your back on your old life – because you’re brand new and the old things have no power over you anymore!

I’ve moved past my old, foolish ways. I’m not perfect – but when I’m in a bad place like David was, I take it to God. You can do that, too – right now! He’s listening, he’s ready to act. It’s up to you what happens next – trust him!
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You Shall Know The Truth!

“Truth? What is truth?” – Pontius Pilate

truth

I’m writing a post about truth where we won’t talk about the truth to start with. You might be wondering “why not?” Ok, here’s the deal – our minds are not set up to be able to accept the truth. We think the truth is out there, and we spend our lives trying to find it, but most never do. The truth is out there! And it has nothing to do with aliens and conspiracies. I just really like X-Files and have been dying to use that gif for about 3 years now. Have fun loading it on mobile. (Edit – the gif was just too much – so I switched it out for jpg.)

Ten chapters before Pilate cynically asked Jesus, “what is truth?” in John 8:32, Jesus said, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free!” He was talking to Jews at the time, about what should have been something very important to them – freedom. After this statement, Jesus heard their response, “we are descendants of Abraham and have never been the slaves of anyone.”

Really? It seems to me they might have forgotten about what happened in two-thirds of the Old Testament.  It seems that they may be forgetting everything about their entire history, including their state of affairs under Roman rule. But that’s none of my business.

As I reflect on these verses though, I see parallels in my own life. There is truth to be known, there is freedom to be had. But only lately have I known and experienced it. What changed in my life? The truth didn’t change – or else it wouldn’t be true, right?

What changed is how I know things.

I have been involved in the Freedom Ministry at my church for several years, as part of the Freedom Team. I have been going to the classes for five years now. I’ve heard them online, been there in person, listened to Freedom podcasts. I’ve even taught some of the classes to a variety of audiences over the years, and I pray with people every single week who are seeking freedom. But as much as I have experienced it myself, I was always limited in what I could experience because my brain was not set up to know things in the right way.

When Jesus says, “you shall know the truth” he was not saying, “I have three points about truth that all start with the letter ‘M’, and there’s a poem at the end that’s pretty cool, and then here’s a prayer to repeat every day around 4 pm, and some verses from the Old Testament that you should highlight in your scroll.”

A friend of mine named Paul hit the nail on the head today in a teaching on the Kingdom of God. He said, “We didn’t have the internet when I was a kid. We had a pool of knowledge, but we had to jump in a boat and row out to it.” Now, everything we as people know is accessible through a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse. Don’t you think if knowledge could save us, we’d know by now?

Knowledge actually drives us further from the truth! If you remember, in the Garden there were two trees – one full of knowledge, the other full of life.  We chose, and continue to choose, poorly.

Bear with me on this – it gets deep. The Greek word for “know” in John 8:32 is γινώσκω (ginōskō) which we translate “to know”. But this definition barely scratches the surface. Do you remember in the Old Testament, in the genealogies where it says, ” And Suchandso KNEW his wife and she conceived and bore a son and they named him Suchandso jr”?

Just think what would happen if there was a man on his honeymoon who got out a pen and paper and started asking his wife all kinds of things like, “what’s your favorite color? Your favorite food? What’s your favorite Star Wars cuz I like The Empire Strikes Back and I even brought the DVD!”

NO!

Your honeymoon is no more about learning factual data about your spouse than knowing truth is about three points and poem. The knowledge that produces freedom is about a way of knowing that conceives something brand new in our lives!

What is truth? You’ll never know until you experience a renewing of your mind – you’ll never know until you repent.

The word for “repent” in the bible is μετάνοια (metanoia). I have heard for so long that repent means to “change direction.” I have heard so many sermons on repentance where the illustration is “I was going this direction, but I turned and now I’m going that direction.” That sounds a lot like something we could accomplish all on our own, when repentance is God doing a new thing in us.

The literal meaning of “repent” is “to change your mind.” But beyond this, when used in the bible, it means “to have your mind changed by a source outside yourself (God) that you submit your will to.” Our action, then, is to willingly die to ourselves. God’s action is to raise us to walk in a new way, in a brand new life, with a new way of processing in our minds what is real, no longer to be conformed to the pattern of this world.

When Jesus said, “repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” he was telling us that we have to change our minds, we have to change the way we think and the way we perceive because for those who have eyes to see, the Kingdom is here, it’s at hand, but until something new is birthed in us, we won’t be able to see it or be a part of it.

Do you want to know truth? Or are you like Pilate who believed that truth is relative, subjective, unknowable for certain?

The truth is Jesus is truth and if you know him in a way that results in a rebirth, you will see the kingdom with new eyes, you’ll hear God’s voice with new ears, you’ll be seated in heavenly places with Christ, and everywhere you go, the lives of those around you will change because of what God has done in you!
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