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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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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

image

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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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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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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If I Knew Then…

“Knowledge without wisdom is like a load of books
on the back of a donkey.” Japanese proverb –

biblioburro

As we get older, sometimes we look back on who we were and what we did in our younger years. Sometimes we are happy about the choices we made, sometimes we wish we could jump in the delorean, go back in time and kick our own rear ends.

I made a lot of foolish choices as a teenager. My parents tried to steer me the right direction, but nothing they did made any difference. I knew exactly what I was doing, I knew exactly where I was going, I knew exactly how to get there. Except for none of that stuff ever really happened. Not the way it was supposed to in my mind anyway.

I was going to graduate from Harrah High, go to Oklahoma Baptist, then Southwestern Seminary, then become the next Dawson McAllister. Except that because of my hard-headedness it took an extra four years after high school for me to get to OBU, then between OBU and Southwestern was another four years. I did eventually graduate from all those institutions though, and I did become a pastor. But I don’t have a radio show or anything, and it’s been nearly 10 years since I was on staff in a church of any kind.

Now though – now that I’m pushing 50 – that’s when I get all teachable. That’s when I decide to really let go of my own will and lay it at the feet of Jesus. Now is when I decide it’s time to trust him with (what’s left of) my life.

I get a little upset at myself for not taking into account as a younger person that our time is limited here. I had no sense of urgency, I had no real plan, I had no idea that it would all go so fast and that I would wake up one day, what oddly enough seems like both 20 seconds and 400 years later, and come to the conclusion that I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time.

The transformation was almost instantaneous though. We went to the church we attend for the first time almost five years ago. Within 6 months pretty much everything in our lives had changed for the better – We just “got it” all of a sudden. It was like all of heaven opened up to us and took us in and just made everything that wrong right.

But I still want to go back in time and kick my own butt.

I want to tell myself to stop dipping snuff. I want to tell myself about moderation. I want to tell myself that if I don’t do anything else I tell myself, at the very least, buckle your stinking seat belt when you ditch church and go fishing on April 1st, 1990. Or just don’t ditch church.

I want to tell myself that just because Tina broke up with me doesn’t mean I won’t find the love of my life.

I want to tell myself that I should look around at the friends I have – and they were true friends that I love to this day.

I want to tell myself that I won’t be stuck driving a worn out 1973 Camaro forever. Or a worn out 1964 Ford truck. Or a worn out 1986 Mustang. Or a worn out 1971 Skylark. And I would tell myself, no matter what, to hang on to that Skylark, cuz dang.

But you know what? I wouldn’t listen. If I went back and told myself, in detail, how the future would unfold, what pitfalls to avoid, where to turn left and where to turn right, I would still end up messing it all up. I didn’t listen to my parents, didn’t listen to my pastors, didn’t listen to my teachers, didn’t listen to God. I was who I was, did what I did and that’s that.

Jesus told a story once about a rich man and a poor man who died. The poor man, Lazarus, was taken by the angels into the presence of Abraham, while the rich man was sent to a place of torment. The rich man cried out for Lazarus to dip his finger in water and come ease his suffering, but it was not possible because a wide expanse separated the two. Then the rich man asked that Lazarus be sent to warn his like-minded brothers of his fate so that they could change their ways before it was too late. Abraham answered the rich man, saying “They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.” “I know, Father Abraham,” said the rich man, “but they’re not listening. If someone came back to the from the dead they would change their ways.” Abraham replied, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they are not going to be convinced even by someone who raises from the dead.”

If I wouldn’t listen to anyone else my life, why would I listen to my future self? I wouldn’t. But all is not lost.

I am reminded of something someone once told me – God does God stuff, stuff only he can do, and we have to do people stuff – stuff God won’t do for us. God is the Great Redeemer! But we have to grow in wisdom or all the things we learn over time won’t make any difference. Paul said this in Eph 5:15-16Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”

If we don’t seek wisdom, all the knowledge in the world won’t help a bit. And here’s the thing – we can gain all the knowledge there is all on our own, but wisdom comes from God. And to get wisdom, we have to ask for it. James 1:5 – “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

Of you’re tired of your past hanging over your head, if you’re done with all that – seek God! Ask him for wisdom! Ask him to do what only he can do, then  do what he will let you do on your own – walk in the wisdom he provides. Make the most of your time – because when it’s gone, well, it’s gone.

My time is not up. I’ve messed a lot of things up. But I have grown in wisdom, and God is redeeming that time I thought was wasted. There is no waste in the kingdom! Everything is for his glory – the question is, will you walk in wisdom or will you walk your own path? You can’t go both ways – so choose, but choose wisely!

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Freedom To Trust Part 2

 

Most of the time we use these words interchangeably, but there is a difference between faith and trust. What follows is my random thoughts on the topic. I created this list over a period of about 3 months. Please feel free to add your thoughts as well in the comment section –
trusting

Faith is assurance of hope and conviction of the unseen – faith makes us certain of realities we cannot see.

Heb 11:1 – Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see.

Faith is believing. Trust is acting on belief, regardless of if there’s sufficient evidence to support a belief – trust is acting on belief in spite of evidence.

2 cor 5:7 – We live by believing, not by seeing.

The common denominator in faith and trust is God. In faith, we have assurance of what we believe, in trust we hold to our beliefs regardless of what the world, the flesh, or the enemy throws at us.

2 cor 4:8-9, 18 – We are pushed hard from all sides. But we are not beaten down. We are bewildered. But that doesn’t make us lose hope. Others make us suffer. But God does not desert us. We are knocked down. But we are not knocked out. So we don’t spend all our time looking at what we can see. Instead, we look at what we can’t see. What can be seen lasts only a short time. But what can’t be seen will last forever.

Faith is a noun – it is a thing – something we possess. It is often belief without proof or evidence. It is confidence. Faith is internal. Trust is a verb – it’s something we do. It is the manifestation of faith. It is relational. It says I will act on my beliefs. Trust is commitment based on evidence or experience. Trust is external.

James 2:24 – we please God not just by what we believe but by what we do!

Faith assumes there’s no physical evidence and exists all the same. Trust is based on evidence – which is why it is so fragile.

Jn 20:27-29 – Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen me but still have believed.”

Faith is thinking someone is trustworthy – Trust is the ability to act as if people will do what they said or be who they said.

Faith is something that happens in our spirit, while trust is something that happens in our soul. Faith is spiritual, trust is relational.

There is always risk involved in trust.

Faith is saying this chair will hold all my weight. Trust is jumping up in it and shouting O captain! my captain! Our fearful trip is done!

Imagine a snow cone – faith is the ice, trust is the flavoring poured on top. They belong together – one without the other just doesn’t work.

You can have faith in God and be saved – and no matter what you will always be saved. Even then you can still be bound by negativity, strongholds, fear and rejection. Or you can move into a deep relationship full of blessing, joy and rest by trust – by actively following God’s direction and by surrendering your will to him. Trust gives life to faith.  Trust is what sees you through this (often crappy) thing called life – without trust everything falls apart.

Faith is believing God is able to change an impossible situation. Trust is knowing he will!

Faith is knowing how awesome God is. Trust walks in the power of his presence. Trust advances the kingdom. Trust changes the world. Why? Because trust enables us to live out our faith in the midst of everything the enemy throws our way.

James 1:2-4 – My brothers and sisters, you will face all kinds of trouble. When you do, think of it as pure joy. Your faith will be put to the test. You know that when that happens it will produce in you the strength to continue. The strength to keep going must be allowed to finish its work. Then you will be all you should be. You will have everything you need.

Trusting people with bits and pieces of your soul is scary if you have been hurt. Trusting God when you are suffering is hard. Your belief tells you one thing, your experience tells you another. But, trust that is born of faith will help you move forward, regardless of what you are currently experiencing.