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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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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

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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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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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When What’s Dead Rears It’s Ugly Head

My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

huge mistake

Have you ever done anything you immediately regretted? Once, about 30 years ago, I decided to ride on the back of a volkswagen owned by a friend named James. I do not know why. I just did. We were in the field house parking area, he was headed for the gate, maybe 80 yards away, and as he drove off I jumped on the back bumper.

He saw me, and really hit the gas. It felt like he was going about 40 MPH at one point, and I got scared – so I jumped off. And I immediately regretted that decision.

My feet hit the ground, then my head, then my feet again, then my left shoulder, then my knees, then my head again. Then I can’t remember anything. Then I was in the locker room with a bunch of people standing over me. I’m pretty sure they thought I was dead.

Another time, I threw a drum stick at our choir director. I saw as I let go if it, that this was not a wise choice. The pointy end hit him in the ribs, he jumped, grabbed the stick and started chasing me. Then I ran into a door frame with my right shoulder and separated it.

I could go on – and if you know me, you know this is true. It’s just funny to me to look back on the things I’ve done, and see that, really, my life in the early years was built on a foundation of bad choices. What makes this so painfully humorous, in a Keystone Kops kinda way, is that if I had my way, nothing would ever have changed.

I know people who make the same lousy choices over and over and over again, and who complain that nothing in their lives ever gets better. Why would it?

Sometimes, as I sit wondering to myself, “why did I do that?” I remember the words of Paul. The guy wrote a lot of the bible. He was a Pharisee, then after being called by God, became an Apostle. He planted churches all over the place, preached the gospel to the Gentiles (you and me basically – unless your reading this and you’re Jewish) was sent to prison and then got his head chopped off – all for following Christ.

You’d think a guy with the kind of resume would have his crap all together, right? Well, listen to this –

I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. (Rom 7:17-24, MSG)

I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds a lot like me! I know what’s right, I know what’s wrong, and bless me, but I do too much of one and not enough of the other. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get it right.

If this sounds familiar to you, there’s still hope! Because when I turn the page in my bible to Romans 8, it says this – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” What? I’ve done all these terrible things, and I don’t have to feel bad about it, or feel guilty, or worry that God is going to punish me?

Yes – that’s what that means. No condemnation means NO CONDEMNATION. And if God doesn’t condemn you, why do you keep condemning yourself?

The catch, though, is this – you have to be operating on all cylinders in the supernatural – “You, therefore, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Rom8:9)

It seems like every day I have to lay down my intentions, my plans, my will, my responses, my guilt, my feelings, the things I think I deserve – because those things come from the flesh. If I focus on those things, I am not being led by the Spirit. But when those feeling rise up – and believe me, they do! – I have to ask the Spirit to help me overcome all those things so that I can act and react as a redeemed person. As the person God created me to be – and more and more, I am getting it right. But when I don’t, there’s still no condemnation because I am in Christ!

So ask yourself this – am I in Christ? Look back over your life, take inventory of what you’ve done and truly examine if you have ever given yourself over to him. If you have, then learn, as I am learning, to recognize that even though I am saved, I have to continually be in a state of surrender to him, or everything falls apart – because where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, and apart from his Spirit there is only bondage.

You can do this! But the only way is to give yourself to God, be filled with his Spirit, and seek him every day, every hour, every minute – and let him put to death again what is already dead. Your old self that you gave up when you came to Christ is dead! But it tends to still haunt us, so we have to serve it back up to God. When we do, the foundation of poor choices gives way to a firm foundation that never crumbles, and God will help build a life full of peace and we can rest upon it.
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Houses In The Sand

Therefore, everyone who hears these words
of mine and does them will be like a
wise man who built his house on the rock.

houses in the sand

The story goes that Jesus was traveling with the disciples from Judea to Galilee, a trip of about 70  miles, or around three days of walking. Tired and thirsty, they stopped for a bit by Jacob’s well. Jesus sent the disciples into the nearby town to get some food, while he stayed at the well.

A woman came to draw some water, and Jesus asked her to draw some water for him. Stunned by the fact that he would even acknowledge her existence, she said, “huh? What? Who, me?” (This is, as far as I can tell, a direct translation from the best Greek manuscripts.)

Jesus said, “If you knew who I was, you’d ask me for living water.”

Jesus is making this same statement to me right now. This was what he said to people over and over again in a variety of ways – I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the good shepherd, I am the door, I am the true vine. He’s been saying this to me for years. 35 years actually. And I did not have ears to hear.

Another one that I have consistently missed is this – seek first His Kingdom. I have sought so many things, but missed the Kingdom, missed the joy, missed the rest, missed the contentment – I have missed the relationship altogether.

I know so much! You’d be surprised. I underplay it, but I’m pretty smart. I can do so much! When I open my mouth, my knowledge just naturally pours out, and I know a lot about a lot of things – history, science, theology, biblical languages, philosophy. Seriously. Name something. I  can talk about it all day. I’m not bragging. Too much. God has made me this way – my mind is a sponge that soaks up information and has the ability to distill it down into a form that others can understand. I’ve built my life on these gifts.

I’ve built my life on these gifts and it has resulted in nothing but heartache, hurt, shame, guilt, fear and a loneliness that is beyond description. I have spent my life surrounding myself with people – I am at home in a crowd and have little difficulty becoming the center of attention. I crave it, I demand it. I am the life of the party. I seek to become the most important, the center of everyone’s universe. If you know me well you know all of this to be true.

When I left my last church about 10 years ago now, my world came to an end. I no longer had a crowd to give myself to. I no longer had the attention. I no longer had the platform, all eyes on me, every ear attuned, dying to hear what I had to say.

So what does a guy like me in a situation like that do? Whine, complain, cry, gripe, become cynical and bitter, and start a blog. You are my platform now. Nothing has changed.

This has been my link to the world. My source of output. My attempt to be important, to be somebody. Because without an audience, I am nobody.

These attempts of mine have been likened to (by a very wise man who truly get it) a person trying to power their computer by plugging a data cable into a wall outlet. All you get by doing this is burned.

My source, for so long, has been me, and what I know and what I can do. But I have come to the end of me. I can’t do any more.

This last week – just days ago – I entertained a variety of notions. Suicide was among them. It was not a strong contender, but it was on the table. I was going to withdraw from church, I was going to sell all my books (!), I was going to move away – leave everything behind – and just start over somewhere where nobody knew me and I could be whoever I wanted to be. Running away seemed like the only viable option, but I couldn’t do that either – I have an awesome family, I have a great job! Why can’t I just be happy?

Why? Because for my whole life, I have been trying to lift my own self up out of a pit using nothing but my own belt loops. And when I failed, when I couldn’t, I slipped even further away. Deeper and deeper. And the guy who holds the shovel is me!

It’s time to hand the shovel off to someone who stands above it all, who can start putting the dirt back into the hole, who has the power to lift me out of it once and for all. My house is built on the sand. I need bedrock – I need a firm foundation. I am so thirsty! I just need a cool drink of water, and I need it to not ever stop. There’s only one source for that kind of water.

In the last few days, Jesus has told me all about who I am as far as I’m concerned, and who I can become if I’ll just take a sip. I am (according to no one but myself) an awesome teacher of the Word, a deep thinker, a seeker of knowledge, smart – darn near brilliant. And when I engage in these activities, I feel even more empty. I can’t fill my water bucket myself with anything that will plug this gaping hole inside me. What God wants is for me to seek him – to be his child and nothing else – to let him tell me who I am – to sacrifice my calling and giftedness to him – to let him heal that part of me that seeks acceptance anywhere else but in his presence – to become truly free.

So – I am going to seek him now. I’ve been seeking for so long, and finding the wrong things. Now is the time to find out what God has to say about me, now is the time for me to listen to and for his voice. Now that I have nothing left to lose. It’s all gone, everything has been reduced to rubble in my insides and I need God to build what he wants on the foundation he provides.

I will be gone for a while. Until I get this straight. If you want to check in with me, my facebook account will still be active but I am logging out of all social media. I’m deleting all the apps from my phone. Leave me a note for when I come back or text me – my contact  info is on the “about” page on facebook. And above all – please pray for me and my family! I’m not done, I’m not giving up – I’m giving in, finally, and tuning in to what God has for me – and I’m more excited about this than anything!

“Now many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of what He said. And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world!
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Freedom To Trust Part 4

Distrust is the confident expectation that another individual’s motives, intentions, and behaviors are sinister and harmful to one’s own interests.

trust 4

Have you ever felt like someone was out to get you? Like whatever you did, it was never good enough? That you were never good enough?

Story of my life, And it wasn’t paranoia. It was hurt. It was shame. It was regret. And because I felt those things, because I felt like I was broken beyond repair, I hid from God and I blamed him for every bad thing in my life.

Kinda like Job.

It must have been confusing for him, to be on top of the world, have everything a person could ever need, then in a very short time lose it all. Add to that his “friends” coming against him – oh I’m sorry I meant coming to “comfort” him. Notice the “air quotes,”

When people are hurt, they don’t need to be reminded of all the reasons why something bad could be happening. They need to be reminded that God loves them and is for them, not against them. Even if they are wrong. Even if they did mess up. God can’t love you any more or less than he does right now. No matter what you or I do – God is still love, still unchanging, still waiting for us to trust him.

When life gets tough, sometimes, if you’re like me, you might remember your Sunday School lessons on Job. A righteous guy, a persecuted man, someone who went through tough times and never wavered. But if you read it for yourself, you will see something different. He actually did waver. His faith was tested, and the result was, he stopped trusting God. Don’t believe me? Here are the words right from Job’s own mouth –

Job 9:14-16 – How then can I answer God or choose my arguments against him? Even if I were right, I could not answer. I could only beg my judge for mercy. If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe he would pay attention to what I said.

In these verses, you begin to see the seeds of doubt in Job’s words. He is beginning to doubt God’s character because of the things that happened to him.

Job lost trust because of his circumstances – he focused on himself and therefore his thoughts about the nature and character of God were corrupted. He couldn’t see past where he was so he couldn’t see God for who he is.

The things Job said about God, and his attitude toward his friends show that Job was spiraling downward, moving through deeper and deeper stages of distrust. Job went from simple doubts about God’s intentions to suspicions that God’s motives were not exactly pure. He began to see God as an enemy!

16:9 – His anger tears at me, he harasses me, he gnashes his teeth at me, my enemy pierces me with his eyes.

16:12 – I was at ease, but he shattered me, he seized me by the scruff of the neck and smashed me to pieces. He set me up as his target.

Here, Job, in his own mind, had his doubts confirmed and they turned into suspicion – now instead of just doubting who God is, Job is openly suspicious about his motives as well. Suspicion is the opposite of trust – it is distrust without any underlying proof, and if continued leads to anxiety and fear toward God.

We can see Job moving in this direction in the following verses –

17:1 – My spirit is broken. My days are extinguished. A graveyard awaits me.

17:6 – He has made me an object of scorn; I have become a man people spit at!

17:11 – My days have slipped by; my plans are ruined, even things dear to my heart.

17:15 – Where is my hope? Who can see any hope for me?

Job’s deteriorating mental and spiritual condition led to fears and anxiety. You can hear the anxiety and fear in the words he says – he was inconsolable. He was beginning to think that his life was wasted, that all his years amounted to nothing, and that death was at hand.

When anxiety and fear rule our hearts, we then take steps to protect ourselves from further harm.

19:4 – Even if it is true that I have sinned, my mistake concerns only me.

19:6 – It is God who has wronged me!

19:10-11 – He tears me down on every side. He uproots my hope like a tree. His anger burns against me, he regards me as an enemy.

27:6 – I will cling to my righteousness and will never let it go. My conscience will not accuse me as long as I live!

Job closed himself off from the goodness of God. Instead of seeing him as a mighty fortress, a strong tower, a place of shelter and rest, Job saw God as the enemy and he started putting up walls to insulate himself from further harm.

Next time I’ll share a bit of my story, and God’s response to Job. If you know are feeling stuck right now, if you don’t know what’s next or even if there is a next, don’t give up! This is not where the story ends – for Job, for me or for you!

 

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Freedom To Trust Part 3

I have faith in God – I know I’m saved! But my history shows that I have not trusted God enough. I have trusted myself and other things more.

trust 3

Here’s one of the worst things I’ve ever done – When I was in high school, I was on a summer mission trip to Utah. We went to help a small Baptist church survey the town it was in, start bible studies, and do some door to door evangelism. It was really hard, since, you know, Mormons.

One day a few of us were walking along a dusty side road. It was so hot we almost couldn’t stand it. In the distance, we saw two people walking toward us – black slacks, white shirts, ties. Mormon missionaries! As we approached each other, we saw them pointing at us so we stopped and started a conversation.

They asked us what we were doing, and we explained the nature of our mission trip. I remember saying these words – “We are just out telling the good news about Jesus.” One of them laughed and asked why we would want to do that. We tried to explain who Jesus is to us, but they mocked us and told us we were destined to fail. Which made me mad. So, I took matters into my own hands.

I started mocking them – I asked how hard their job was, being in Mormon-land and all. I expressed my belief that they must be the worst missionaries of all time because instead of being sent to a place that really needed them, they stayed where all the Mormons already were. I ventured a guess that it was either that or their parents were wealthy and paid off a church official so they could stay close to home.

All the while, I was stepping a few steps forward, a few steps to the side, positioning them right where I wanted them to be – in a giant mound of fire ants. When they were both standing right in the fire ants, I said, “well, gotta go!” And my friends and I ran off. About 100 yards down the road, we turned back toward them – they were jumping all around, swatting at their legs, kicking their shoes off and yelling and screaming – and my friends and I were laughing at what we did to them!

Why is this one of the worst thing I’ve ever done? Because, I didn’t think “this is someone God loves,” I thought “this is someone that needs to be taught a lesson.” I didn’t think “this is God’s creation with a future and a purpose.” I thought “this person is making fun of my religion.” I didn’t think that they were as important to God as I was so I took matters into my own hands – because I didn’t trust God to be who he is and to be able to do what he says he can do.

How incredibly prideful and arrogant is that? And that is the root of distrust – pride and arrogance. Thinking that my motives are pure, that I am innocent, that I am above blame and reproach and that God is not!

Next time we will see how Job reacted to God while being tormented by Satan. We’ll investigate whether he was able to keep it all together, or whether he became prideful and arrogant – whether he was able to trust God in the mist of his trials, or whether he lost trust in God and started blaming him for everything.

In the meantime – think of a time in your life when you have had struggles – how did you react? Did you think God was punishing you? Or did you trust him to see you through?