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The Kingdom Of Heaven Is Like A Sand Dollar

sand dollar

Last Thanksgiving, my family took a wonderful trip to San Diego. We stayed in a hotel right by the beach, and almost every day we were there, we were exploring the sandy shores. The weather was beautiful – sunny and warm – and although the water was too cold to get into the ocean, we had plenty of fun on the beach.

One of the things my kids wanted to do was search for sea shells. We have a giant bag full of them around here somewhere. One day while we were out, my daughter Zoey found a sand dollar. And at that point the search was on for more.

We searched high and low for hours, but only found the one sand dollar. I knew, and explained to my kids, that the best time to find sand dollars is right after high tide, early in the morning. But nobody (including me) wanted to get up that early on vacation.

Soon our vacation was over, we came home, time passed, and I forgot all about this experience. Until yesterday.

I worked yesterday until around noon, came home, had some lunch and decided to take a little nap. I fell asleep pretty hard actually, and had a dream.

I generally don’t remember my dreams, but the ones I do remember involve me either chasing something or being chased, falling off a cliff or building, showing up in middle school in nothing but my underwear, breathing under water (seriously – who dreams that?) or that I have a super power such as flight or the ability to turn invisible at will.

This dream was different. Vivid, but partly in black and white, partly in color.

In this dream, my whole family was on the beach again. It was sunny, but chilly. We were desperately searching for sand dollars, but all we could see were shiny rocks and sea shells. They were everywhere – they littered the beach, they hurt our feet as we walked over them.

We came to a low spot on the beach and a young man with long hair and darkly tanned skin asked us what we were doing. We told him we were searching for sand dollars, had been searching for hours and days, but had not been able to find anything except rocks and shells.

He looked at each of us, snapped his fingers and said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a sand dollar.” We looked, and where there had been nothing but rocks and shells, there were now sand dollars everywhere.

I was still dreaming. I could see the blue water of the ocean, the color of the sand, and that the sand dollars were that same sandy color – they had been there all along, but we couldn’t see them because of the rocks and shells.

When I woke up, I immediately knew what was going on in my dream. The beach was the whole world, and our desperate search for sand dollars was what everyone in the world goes through – a search for meaning, for purpose, for peace and rest. The thing being searched for is at hand, but it’s missed because of everything else that’s in the way – the worries of life. Jobs, laundry, dirty dishes, house payments – the day to day things that keep us from seeing what is true, what is real, what is eternal, what is just below the surface and blends into the background.

Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” If you’re a child of God, it is something you take with you everywhere you go. It is on us, the sons and daughters of the King, to prepare the way, to clear away the debris of the day to day so that the world can see what lies obscured in the background. And even for us it can be hard. We have the same worries as everyone else, but we also know that if we are seeking the Kingdom, all these other things will be added as well.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a sand dollar. Not at all hard to find! And people are searching for it. They are desperate, lost and alone. But we can show them the way!

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Rocks In My Pockets

Let the one without sin be the first to throw stones!
rocks-in-pocket

I grew up in the country. My dad had some land, pretty far away from anything civilized. When I was 4 and 5 years old, the road wasn’t even paved – it was gravel. I would walk up and down that road all day in the summer heat looking for rocks. Not just any rocks – different rocks. Shiny ones, dark ones, rocks with what I thought were dinosaur fossils in them. Whatever I found went into my pockets. I was out for several hours one day, and I had so many rocks my pants wouldn’t even stay up!

I loved rocks, and I still do. No matter where I am, if I’m walking, I always look at the ground in front of me for some kind of new treasure. I have a box full of nothing but rocks somewhere around here.

The thing about rocks is, as I mentioned before, they can get heavy. They can weigh you down. If you carry them around too long, they can make you weary, and when you become weary, you can become weak, susceptible to all kinds of things.

Today I was reminded of a story. In John 8, Jesus was in the temple teaching, and a crowd of religious leaders brought a woman to him caught in the act of adultery. They reminded Jesus that God had commanded such a person to be stoned – the Law commanded that the woman be executed by having rocks thrown at her.

After a time, and after being asked repeatedly what they should do, Jesus agreed with the crowd – stone her! But the stipulation was this – that the sinless person in the group be the first to throw.

Well, there was nobody who could claim to be sinless. Not in the presence of the Son of God. The crowd dispersed, leaving Jesus and the woman. He asked her, “Where are your accusers?”

That’s the question I am asking myself. Where are my accusers? Who stands to condemn me? The answer is, there’s me and there’s Satan.

My pockets are full of rocks. I collected them from the Enemy. I filled my pockets with them and I’ve been trying to climb out of a ditch, weighed down by lies.

I look at the people around me, the ones doing amazing things, and I think, I could never be like that. I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not strong enough. When in reality, I’m just carrying too many rocks.

What I learned from this story was amazing. I learned about grace. Grace is a tidal wave and it just keeps on coming. Max Lucado has told the story of the first time he saw the ocean. He said, “The waves just keep coming and coming!” The waves never stop – they wash over you, knock you over, they surround you and you can hardly keep your balance and they just keep coming and coming.

Grace is what surrounds me, just like a giant, crashing wave. I’m blown over by it. It never, ever stops. It doesn’t stop when I question everything, it doesn’t stop when I have doubts, it doesn’t stop when I wonder what’s next. It doesn’t even stop when I accuse myself.

Jesus stands by the Father, interceeding for me, and because of him, those accusations have no weight anymore. There is therefore now no condemnation for me or for anyone who is in Christ Jesus! I don’t have to go to church and see people doing what I know God has called me to do and think, “I could never do that.” I wasn’t born to carry rocks – I wasn’t created to be weighed down by the Accuser. I was born to run! I was born to soar like eagles!

Jesus stands between you and the rock throwers – even if you’re the one throwing rocks at yourself. Grace – that’s what happened for me today.

If God is not accusing you – and he’s not – and if God loves you – and he does – who can stand against you?

Empty the rocks from your pockets! Don’t be burdened anymore by a weight you were never meant to carry! Let Jesus do his job – let him carry it – empty your pockets and be free!

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Rest

Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Rest

I rested most of the day today. Read a book, took a nap, watched some TV. This is the first day in about two months we’ve had to just rest. And it was really nice!

In the midst of my resting, I thought about the words Jesus said above, from Matthew 11:28-30.  When Jesus is saying “Take my yoke upon you,” He’s asking us to agree to the terms of a new covenant.

Think about work animals being yoked together – oxen plowing a field, dogs pulling a sled. They all share the burden equally.

Under the new covenant Jesus is proposing, the burden is all on Him! It’s light for us because He knows we can’t bear it. He knows He will have to bear the sin burden for the whole world.

He carried the burden meant for us. His perfect obedience is applied to us through faith, His righteousness exchanged for our sin at the cross.

Our burden in life is either self-righteousness, in which we will fail miserably and forever, or a life of faith and rest.

As Christians, we can help people find that rest! Those who come to us, or that we encounter from day to day – they need what we have on the inside. We can give them Jesus! And they can shed the dirty rags of the world for robes of righteousness!

So – be Jesus! Be the conduit from which his love flows – from heaven, through you and into the lives of the people He loves and died for!

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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!

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Heart Disease

Just recently, this world lost a good man. His name was Robbie Yandle, and I had known him for almost 43 years. Longer than I have known anyone except for immediate family.

Robbie wasn’t my best friend, but I consider him my first friend. Yeah there’s a story attached, and I’m pretty old so my memory is fuzzy but some stuff stands out. I hope I tell it right.

I was born in Southern California to some pretty standard run of the mill hippies. I think of myself as an accident. Or I used to. Product of free love and all. By the time I was old enough to understand some things, I’d been back and forth between Oklahoma and California about a dozen times and lived with a variety of family members.

I was with my mother, living in Midwest City when I started kindergarten. Things seemed to be good at the time but one day nobody was there to pick me up from school. No biggie. I’d never walked home but I knew the way. When I got there, nobody was home except my not quite 2 year old sister. It was strange but I did my best. I knew how to make toast so that’s what we ate that night. And for the next four days.

The food I knew how to make was gone, Hannah was crying and sick, we were all alone. And out of the blue, my aunt and uncle showed up and rescued us both. We lived with them from that day on, and they eventually adopted us both.

Because of that experience though, something happened in my heart. It’s taken me most of my life to get past it.

When my aunt and uncle took us from that place, we went to a little town called Harrah, Oklahoma. They had a little house on a hill, a place we learned to call home. Regardless of all the places we moved to because of my dad’s job, Harrah was always my home. Still is. Here’s why –

Right after we were rescued, my (new) mom took me to church at Harrah First Baptist. I went into the kindergarten class. Mrs Grimes was the teacher. And I sat by a boy named Robbie Yandle. He was the first person I met, my first real friend ever. It was enormous for me. It started a lifelong process of healing a heart that was broken, sick, stomped to pieces.

I met others as time went on. I was in kindergarten, first and second grade in Harrah before we moved. And we moved a lot! After moving four times between second and sixth grade, we moved back to Harrah.

By then I was as closed off as a person could be. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know where I belonged. On top of that I was a skinny asthmatic who did poorly in social settings. I didn’t trust anyone and I held people in contempt because they always ended up hurting me somehow. So I looked for ways to make people stay away from me.

But some very good people took an interest anyway, and the healing began again. The thing about it is, I have never told these people just how important they were to me, or why.

Who I am today is partly due to those people having a role in healing my diseased heart – and just who am I?

I am a minister to the broken, a lover of those who have been hurt. There is not one single thing in my life that the enemy tried to use to destroy me that God has not redeemed. Not one single moment of time has been wasted – it is all His and now I share these things and who I am – saved, healed, set free, discipled, equipped, empowered and serving The Lord.

It took 40 years for me to get over what two people did to me in my first five years of life. But there were a lot of people involved in my being set free from that terrible past. And like I said, not a minute of it has been wasted. I want to thank some very specific people right now – because you should know just how important you are to me –

Robbie Yandle, Wes Brewer, Kevin Harkey – you guys were the first ones I got to know when I started school in Harrah. And even when we moved away, we still came back on the weekends. I’d see you in church or go to your house or birthday party or whatever. And when we moved back you were the first to welcome me home.

Tony Sossamon – do you remember setting all that land on fire right behind your house? When I broke my arm skateboarding but your dad wouldn’t give me a ride home? Prank calls, playing football in your back yard, baseball cards, OU games, rock fights and a bunch of others stuff – you are a true friend!

David Byers – wow what can I say about the coolest guy I’ve ever known? I tell my kids stories about you! You put up with a lot from me and I’m glad! Seriously – I thank God for you often! Plus you still have a great head of hair!

Marc Bell – I truly admire you. You have the best heart I’ve ever known. You are one of the most genuine people I have ever met. There’s nothing about you that is not awesome.

Curt Munger, Todd Caldwell, Jay Ramer – you three were like brothers to me. I love you all and would do anything for any of you any time. You said what needed to be said – you spoke encouraging words over me, you spoke the truth in love. You may have even beat the crap out of me for my own good a time or two.

The Gobin family, Middleton family, Deaton family – any time I was at your home, I was home. You took care of me, you treated me like I belonged right where I was – at your house eating your food, fishing in your pond, pealing out in your driveway, staying way too late, getting there way too early, and in at least one case blowing a hole in your floor with a 12 gauge shotgun. Steve told me it wasn’t loaded so not all my fault. I love each and every one of you!

Danny King – you’re my brother from another mother. Possibly the most important person in my life when I was a kid. I think about all the crap we got away with and wonder why we are not in prison. I just flat out love you man. And I’m proud of you – you’re a great dad, husband and a good man!

Jim Dillingham – you live like 5 miles from me and I never see you! What’s up with that? You’re as much my brother as any. You’re funny as crap and I love your stories and your funny voices. Do Theo for me!

Donovan Ward – high school friend, college roomie. You put up with stuff no person should have to put up with. I’m truly sorry. Your friendship meant the world to me!

Troy Caldwell and Randy Maxey – like two younger but not by much brothers. You guys had a friendship I envied. Two of the funnest people ever. I always knew I’d be laughing when you guys were around.

Deni Staples – one of the best people on the whole planet. To this day you encourage and challenge me. I love you and think you are awesome!

Donna Link – the first girl I ever loved for real. Well, who loved me back anyway. You just accepted me as I was and made me feel important.

Jimmie Parker – another great guy from high school who lives right down the road from me. I remember some trouble making, a lot of laughing, some foreign liquids introduced into the radiator of your car, sitting in opposite corners of the room in chem class and a bunch of other stuff. And that one ski trip where I got into some trouble. I blame the Methodist youth group to this day for most of what they say I did.

Mark Thompson, Branch Staton, David Staton, Clint Gray, Thomas Halsell, Brian Wideman – true Christian brothers who sharpened me and did their best to keep me on track. I was a mess in college. For the love of what all is holy I tried to stab a man with a fork in the cafeteria! I’m glad you were there to pull me off of him and for a million other things!

That’s all I can think of right now. Plus it’s gone on about two days too long. If I think of more I’ll add to later. I love you all so much! Plus don’t think if your name isn’t here you didn’t mean anything to me because you’d be wrong!

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Terrified

terrifiedI have been scared a few times in my life. Once, when I was a teen, I had parked my car at a friend’s house and went out with some other friends who picked me up. Nobody was at the house, so several of us left our cars there. We got back late, I got in my car and was driving home, when a face appeared in the rear view mirror! It was my friend who’s house I parked the car at – but I didn’t know it! I pulled over and got out and ran like crazy!

This type of scared is normal – a shock to our system, where our heart pounds in our chest, and we instinctively run away.

Then there are situations that we avoid because we are scared of them. This is fear that has taken hold of us. Instead of us being in control, we give the control over to something that most likely will not happen, to an imagined idea or concept. This is not normal.

A good example for me is flying. I am scared to fly – I avoid flying. But you know what? I had to fly to Chicago last year, and to San Diego. I swallowed my fear, got on the plane, and believe it or not, we didn’t crash and I didn’t die.

I have another fear I’m dealing with though. This one goes way deeper – into the roots of who I am. You see, I love people, I love helping people, I love listening to people. I was a pastor for many years, and my gift of helping and the way I listen was a huge part of my success. But those gifts were turned back on me in a very bad way, and I my wife and I were both hurt badly in a church setting, by Christian people.

It took years to get past the pain, the anger, the bitterness. But we did, and we are involved in ministry in our church as volunteers and we love it – we use our gifts to help people every week. But I am still clinging to fear – fear that if I do what God is calling me to do, I will be hurt again, and I don’t want to go through that ever again!

This fear is unfounded, not based in reality, but still in my mind and heart it is such a real thing. It is actually terrifying to me to think that I might be a pastor again some day. I actively avoid that thinking and conversations where it comes up.

This is a stronghold in my life. Because of this stronghold, my ministry is limited in reach – I will never be the person God created and redeemed me to be with this fear in my life. And yet, it persists.

I know the steps, and I have led people through them myself, on overcoming a stronghold. This battle takes place in my mind, and is played out in my flesh, and affects my spiritual relationships. I know that the bible says I can be transformed by the renewing of my mind, and so much transformation has already taken place – but this one thing persists. Our weapons to fight these attacks are spiritual in nature – prayer, fasting, worship, reading God’s word, listening to his voice instead of the voice of the enemy. And I do these things. But still this fear has hold of me.

What it comes down to is, I have given up space to the enemy, and he has built a strong fortress. I may need to tear it down brick by brick, or God may just give me complete victory over that. Either way – I have given satan the right to be there. Until I take it back, he’ll be a part of everything I say or do or think or feel. And that is not right or normal for a son of God.

What kinds of fears or strongholds are you dealing with? What steps are you taking to recapture ground that the enemy has taken? Please talk to me about this! I would love to hear what you have to say!

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aside

I’m a human being. Of course I’m going to fail. Should my focus be on my failures or on the good things – God’s blessings – in my life?

Which do you tend to focus on? Why?

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I am yoursI am so proud of my wife! Her new song is going to be released in March – here’s the album cover – go to cherylnifong.com for more info!

http://www.freefallingonline.com/60/

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“We may speak about a place where there are no tears, no death, no fear, no night; but those are just the benefits of heaven. The beauty of heaven is seeing God.”
― Max Lucado

http://www.freefallingonline.com/45/