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Here’s a Little Hope

It was the beginning of spring. 1972 I believe. I was living in Lawton, OK. Not by myself. Lol. I would have been seven years old at that time. It was early spring, so some days it was still a little chilly. But this day was sunny and warm – it was fantastic! I remember playing kickball at recess, and that we had chocolate cake for desert at lunch. I don’t know why, but school lunch chocolate cake is always the best thing ever!

When school got out, I met my best friend Bill, and we started the long walk home. If I remember right, and I do, it was about 3/4 mile from the school to my house. Bill only lived two houses down from me – a sweet, pretty little girl that I suspected would never be my girlfriend (her name was Sunny) lived right between us – but his house was closer. So the last 50 yards or so of walking was all me.

Let me just tell you, the walk home sucked. It was uphill all the way. I’m not just saying that because I’m old and that’s what old people remember about how hard things were when they were kids. I used to love riding my bike to school because my bike had a speedometer on it and I could get up to 30 mph going down those steep hills on the way! That was fast for a seven year old. And it was both scary and exhilarating! But to have to ride a bike back up those hills was a pure beat-down.

On this early spring day that had been awesome so far, we were walking and talking trash and joking around and nearing home and all of a sudden the weirdest thing happened. It started to rain. It was warm, the sun was out, and here it was raining. I remember Bill and I were on opposite sides of the street. We had been walking and every now and then one or the other of us would bend down and pick up a rock and hurl it at something – a mailbox, a dog, or each other. Then it started to rain.

The weird thing about this rain was, it was only raining on my side of the street! I was getting soaked by rain on a sunny day and Bill was dry as a bone. He looked at me and laughed – it was a nervous kinda laugh. I think he was wondering if I might get hit by lightning in a minute. Then he looked concerned, and he asked “hey are you ok?” And to this day I remember every word of my answer – “yeah. That’s just life man.” And on we walked in silence.

That’s just life. Pretty profound for a seven year old. But not many had lived the life I had lived. Not many, by the age of seven had already been abandoned by parents who just didn’t even care – left alone for over a week in a house with very little to eat, with a little sister four years younger to look after. Not many had been rolled up in a rug and propped up in a corner so he wouldn’t bother his parents or get into anything while they shot dope into their veins. Not many had been disciplined by being injected with that same substance for throwing mud up against the house, or for crying when he was hungry. Or for any other minor infraction.

Just about two years before I got rained on, I was waiting outside another school for my mother to show up and walk me home. It was about 3/4 of a mile. A long way for a five year old to walk alone. A long way on a very busy street. She never showed up. I waited what seemed like a whole lifetime. It was getting dark, and there weren’t even any teachers left. The school was locked. So I walked home. Somewhere along the way I started crying, and I don’t remember why.

When I got home, the door was unlocked but nobody was there, except my little sister and she was crying, too. I suspected she was hungry so I made us both some toast. Three days later the bread was all gone, so we ate sticks of butter and drank the rest of the milk. In between that, we ate cold spaghetti from a can and some stewed tomatoes. We even ate the dented in can of lima beans that was at the back of pantry. Then there was nothing left.

I don’t remember how long we were actually there alone. It was a long time and we were hungry and people kept knocking on the door and then they would go away after a while. I didn’t know who they were so I didn’t answer.

After a really long time though, I heard a familiar sound. It was an old VW bug. The kind my aunt and uncle drove – and I looked through the window and it was a red VW just like theirs! And it was them getting out of the car, so I opened the door and ran out and jumped into their arms and just cried and cried. It wasn’t like normal crying. I have only cried like that once since. There were no tears. Only deep, anguished sobs. All the fear and pain and anger I had locked away for days came out all at once. And they held me until I was done.

They rescued me that day. They saved me. They took me from an impossible, horrible place and put me in a new one. Life changed for me. It went from dark to light in an instant. But I will never forget where I came from. Sometimes I still think that I’m that little abandoned kid. Even though I know better – even though I’m walking in the sun, every once in a while, when the rain comes, I feel like it’s only raining on me, and that I’m getting what I deserve, because…I don’t know – because I’ve been bad, and it rains on bad people. Because if you’re a good person, your parent’s don’t just leave and never come back. Because bad things happen to bad people.

But that’s just plain wrong. The sun shines on the evil and the good. And the rain comes regardless of who you are or what you’ve done.

Do you want hope? I have some to give. Reach out and take it – it’s for you! Life wasn’t meant to be lived in fear, or loneliness or regret. It was meant to be lived in the light. Take one step in faith – and there is a Savior who will take you into his arms and bear all your burdens and heal all your wounds. He’ll show you a Father who is incapable of abandoning His children. He’ll show you what a good father is like. You may never forget your ugly, rainy days – but instead of holding you back, those memories will drive you forward. They will be a part of the bedrock of a truly blessed life – a life of peace and joy.

So – that’s my story. What’s yours? It’ll be whatever you decide – it’s your life after all. You can do whatever you want.

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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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Saved

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.

rugged-cross

(This is the part 1 of a 7 part series of posts on the vision of Gateway Church, which is to see people saved, healed, set free, discipled, equipped, empowered and serving.)

I remember vividly the day I was saved. I had no interest in going to church that night, but my friend Brian was persistent in inviting me. Plus – free hot dogs!

It was a Wednesday night – youth night – of a week long revival we had at our church. I didn’t generally go on Wednesday, and to be honest, I tried my best to get out of Sundays as well. Not that I didn’t like it – I loved my church! It’s just hard sometimes to get motivated when you’re 14 years old when there’s so much other stuff going on.

I was not really a good kid. I was a freshman in high school, failing most of my classes, in the principle’s office quite often. There are a plethora of reasons for this, but mostly I just didn’t know who I was or where I fit in. And I was so angry all the time!

Back to that night – the church bus showed up around 6 pm. The same bus I rode on Sunday, same old guy driving, with his wife taking roll, and same guy leading some singing. It was 7 miles from my house to the church, which equaled about 30 minutes with all the stops we had to make. I usually sat in the back where all the “bad” kids sat. And yes, we would do bad things, right there on the church bus.

The fellowship hall was packed with kids! Over a hundred I bet – crazy hungry, too. All I could think about was free hot dogs and all the Coke I could drink! I must have had seven hot dogs that night. My stomach hurt!

As that part of the evening drew to a close, I headed to the back of the line that was going up the steps into the church – my plan was to break away from the group and head out the back door and (to be real honest) go down town to a little place known as Danny’s Bar. They had hot dogs there, too, by the way. I went there a lot for lunch when I was in high school, and always wondered what went on there at night.

But I didn’t make it. I was intercepted by a very tall man named Mr. Childers. It made me so mad to get caught at anything I was doing! I huffed and puffed as I was going up the steps, his huge hand on my shoulder, making sure I ended up where I was supposed to be.

I sat in the back of the church by a friend named Tommy, and we dipped snuff during the service. We also tore up the offering envelopes and made spit balls and flicked them at people’s heads. And made up words to the hymns that were quite a bit unsavory.

You should be getting a picture at this point. I was lost as a goose in a downpour. I had no knowledge of who God was, who I was to Him, or what He had done for me. If I had known how completely different I would be by the end of that evening, I might not have gone. I hated who I was, hated everything about life – but at least I was consistent and I knew what to expect – nothing but trouble!

As the service drew to a close, we all stood up and sang, of course, Just As I Am. About 1000 times. And I was thinking, “OH MY LORD JUST LET IT END!” Then the revival preacher (my memory has him in a light blue polyester “preacher” suit, with brown patent leather, zipper on the side boots. And what looked like either a bad wig or a horrendous comb over) signaled for the music to stop and he came up and started preaching again!

But what he said this time – and this is important – what he said brought something to life in me. Actually it was God, but He used what that guy said. “Some of you here tonight have no idea who you are. You go from day to day to day and nothing changes, everything’s the same. It’s not life you’re living, you’re living in death and Jesus came to change that for you!”

And quite a few people went to the front of the church for some reason. I was not one of them. I just sat there. People mingled after the service, and I sat. People left. I sat. The custodian came to shut everything down and lock up. And still I was sitting there. He asked if I wanted him to get the pastor and I just nodded my head.

Pastor Forrest Sheffield came and sat down by me and we just talked. He took me home since I’d missed the bus. And in my room, sitting on my own bed, on that Wednesday night that I’d have rather stayed home, my whole life changed! I went into that room a dead man walking – and walked out overflowing with life!

I wish I could tell you that everything was all good from that day forward. But this is still life – filled with both wonderful and awful things. But one thing has never changed. I know who and whose I am! I met Jesus that night in my room, and He became real to me – and that thing that happened for me can happen for you!

Think about your life, who you are, what has driven you, what you have made life to be. Have you ever come to the point in your life where you know for sure that you can’t make it another day without some kind of radical change of direction? Have you ever wondered if there is something else? Something bigger? Someone who is watching over everything? There is, and He wants you to know who He is! Jesus said simply this, “Follow me!”

If you feel something right now, that maybe you have never felt before – something deep inside your heart and mind – it may just be that God is trying to make a connection with you! Don’t let the moment slip away – you can have everything that God promised right now! All you have to do, in your own way, is call out to Him and tell Him you need Him, that you can’t make it without Him. All you have to do is follow Him! Jesus also said that His burden is light and if we will come to Him, He will give us rest.

So it may be that now is your time to trust Him to be everything He says He is – will you take that step right now? If you do, please let me know!

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God Thinks I’m A Loser

 

I was standing in the front of the church, weeping. Sobbing. I had been through the whole church service – from the first song to the final prayer. A nice lady sitting in front of me went and got me a box of kleenex, which I used up. So in addition to being screwed up, I thought I also owed God a box of tissue.

The man I was standing with had a gold badge on. Don’t remember his name. He held up his hand, and a man with a silver badge came to stand with me. He said some things I don’t remember, but one thing I do remember, quite well. “How do you think God sees you?” And my answer was, “God thinks I’m a loser.”

I came to this point in my life after years of struggle. I was a pastor in a church, and the staff was fired. I had sent out resumes, had interviews, had some hope, too – at first. As the months and years went by, I lost all hope, gave up and didn’t even care anymore. Then we found ourselves standing in front of the church at Gateway.

The minute we walked into the building, my whole family sensed something, but we didn’t know what. Later we knew, but at first it was foreign, but a good feeling. When the service started, we just stood there listening – we knew a few of the songs, but the impact they were having in our hearts prevented us from saying a word – we were broken and alone and for the first time we actually understood that.

And when it was all over and the pastor invited people to the front for prayer, we were the first ones there. I think we even ran a little bit. We didn’t even see it at the time but for the first time ever we were actually running toward God.

For years as a pastor, I thought I knew everything. I always knew what to say and do – several times in my 15 years, I was called on to preach at very last minute (like right before the service started!) and I would take my bible and go up and the words would just flow out of me. That’s part of who I am – I just always know what to say.

In all of that, I looked good on the outside – like I had it all together – but on the inside I questioned everything – my calling, my salvation, if God was really real. What I discovered was, although I was saved, I never really knew Him at all.

That changed, quite dramatically I should add, that day standing down in the front of Gateway Church.

I found out that God created me as I am on purposed, for a reason, and that He loves me no matter what. That pastor went a step further – He said, “God is love and He loves you, but you know what? He LIKES you too!”

I never felt like God liked me. I thought my purpose was to be an example to others of what not to do with your life. Believe me, that was the enemy. I had listened to his lies for so long that they became who I was. I was living a lie.

It took almost 2 years to work past those lies. Some victories came immediately – healing started that first day at our new church home. Others were fought for and won the old fashioned way – with heavy artillery. AKA prayer, fasting, more prayer, counselling and prayer. And lots of praying.

Now, as opposed to thinking I know everything, the only thing I am truly aware of is this: I am God’s, He is mine. I can see who I am to Him, and I am wonderfully made, powerful because He resides in me – I am the temple! And I take His power and His image and His Kingdom with me everywhere I go. And wherever I go, I am called to do the same thing Jesus did – make disciples, bring peace and rest – and to take dominion. Not to dominate, but to let His Spirit so work through me in every place and every situation, that all those around know that His Kingdom is at hand.

“Come to me,” Jesus said, “And I will make your burdens light! When you can’t carry your load any longer, I will give you rest!” Can you believe that, for yourself, right now? Can you begin to see who you are, through God’s eyes? Take a minute and ask Him right now – “Who am I?” And listen for His answer – you might just be taking the first steps on an incredible journey to freedom!

aside

Don't quitI have quit so many things. Hundreds of things. Maybe even a thousand. Funny thing is, all the stuff I need to quit I keep doing, and all the stuff I need to keep doing I quit.

I always seem to quit when things get hard, then I regret that I quit and then it’s too late.

I quit because I get tired, or because the result I was going for is not happening. Or because I get hurt. Or scared. Scared of failure and scared of success. Like if I do really well, people will expect a lot from me and at some point I won’t be able to deliver. Fear that if I succeed I will fail, so why keep going?

No more! I am going to stand up and declare that my days of quitting are over! I am going to stop quitting!

My commitment was made on January 1st, 2014. To myself, to my family, to pursue just one thing – learning what it means to be a son of God. That’s it. This is my journey, but as I learn to know Him more, as I discover what being a child is all about, I will share it all here. I don’t want to do this on my own any more –

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Is 41:10