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Caveman

“When my spirit faints within me, you know my way…” (Ps. 142:3)

You may not be in a cave somewhere in ancient Palestine like David was when he wrote these words, but maybe you are experiencing times when you feel completely overwhelmed, to the point where you are ready to “pass out,” spiritually speaking. You find yourself exhausted, walking through the dry seasons of the soul, enduring attacks by the enemy and your own inner “demons.” Now, alone in your own “cave“of despair, it seems like you have lost your way. Promises and expectations lie shattered at your feet, and you don’t know the way to go.

Sadly, often at times like these, the ones we turn to for comfort only offer trite, ready made responses like, “Brother, you know the Bible says…” or “Sister, you just need to have faith.” Frankly, that’s the last thing we want to hear, and it does little if any good. I wish I had the magic answers for you. I wish I could provide you with an easy path out of your cave, but I can’t. These times hurt deeply, and there’s no wishing them away. But I can tell you that you’re not alone. Many of us are right there with you. And there are people who honestly do love you, and are praying earnestly for you. What’s even better is that Jesus knows exactly where you are- he knows your way.

I know you’re finding it hard to pray right now. You have to make yourself read the Bible, and you feel like such a hypocrite because you feel nothing at all-just going through the motions. But have you considered how precious you are to the Father, how his heart is filled with compassion for you as he sees you continue to cry out to him though he seems millions of miles away. Can you comprehend that although you desperately plead for this to all be over, God is with you even as he was with Jesus as blood oozed from his pores when he struggled in the garden of Gethsemane? Where you are is excruciating, but it will result in a deeper understanding of God’s faithfulness and love for you. I know it’s hard to believe right now, but you’ve never been as near or dear to the Lord as you are right now. In the cave you’re learning that Jesus is the One who keeps you, not your own strength or your “spirituality.” You won’t be in the cave forever. You are not forgotten. You will come out of the cave refined, renewed and restored, for the Lord knows your way.

Scattered

“To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout…” (I Peter 1:1)

What picture comes to mind when you think of the word scattered? Probably, the first thing that comes to mind for many of you (especially here in the U.S.) is the Waffle House: “scattered, smothered and covered.” On a more serious note, I think we tend to view the word as some kind of capricious, random occurrence devoid of any real purpose or meaning. I think maybe we’ve missed something.

Peter was writing to communities of believers who were scattered (“diaspora”). They found themselves living in places that perhaps they would never have chosen for themselves. Maybe they were even wondering, “What in the world has happened?” But if we dig a little deeper into the word, we find that the type of scattering Peter is talking about is anything but an accident. The word actually has to do with the sowing of seed. Check it out: “diá, ‘through,’ intensifying /speírō, sow or scatter seed, which is the root of sperma, ‘seed’) – properly, thoroughly scatter, distribute seed widely.” These believers had been chosen by God, and yes, scattered by God as well. They had been sown as seed throughout the land, not by the hands of fate, but rather by a God who desired that they bring Jesus to light in the places in which they found themselves.

So many of us feel that our lives have been scattered, strewn about by the arbitrary winds of change. We are in places we never thought we’d be, and we think that we have failed, that God has failed. We think to ourselves, “This is not what I intended!” It could be that relationships, jobs and/or ministries have “failed,” and we find ourselves scattered about into unfamiliar, uncomfortable places. I want to suggest that it is not that we have been randomly plucked up and thrown into the wind, but purposefully sown by the Spirit of God into new ground where we are to continue to bear good fruit. Your “scattering “is not without purpose.

Resist the tendencies to become bitter or angry if you find yourself being scattered. You are in the hands of a loving God, acting for your good and his glory. Could it be that you are right where he wants you to be? Well then, bloom where you are planted!

 

Asleep in Babylon (redux)

Americans (Christians and non Christians alike) have been asking themselves why the United States would surrender so much of itself, giving up power and control. Now, with the potential surrender of the internet, many again scratch their heads, and ask, “Why?” Now, you may be right, I may be crazy, but I wonder…
“The ten horns of the beast are ten kings who have not yet risen to power. They will be appointed to their kingdoms for one brief moment to reign with the beast. They will all agree to give him their power and authority.” (Rev. 17:12,13 NLT)

I wrote the following a while back, but it is still intensely on my heart:

“Asleep in Babylon”Asleep in Babylon, they dream. As the words of the Apostles and Prophets come alive around them, they dream on.They are oblivious to the beginnings of the stirring of the beast, and the cry of, “Come out of her my people, and do not partake of her sins.” is but an echo of His voice meant for some generation long ago.

The days of the Spirit have ceased, and God no longer speaks. All that remains is to sleep, and wait for the gospel to permeate Asleep in Babylonthe world. It’s easy to ignore the writing on the wall when you’re convinced you know everything.

“Take the book and open the seals.”

Asleep in Babylon, they dream. Conferences and impartations, trivial pursuit is such a deadly game. They dream on.

Who is gonna reform the Reformers? Tired arguments, stale rhetoric, and doctrinal clichés doom the next generation to invent heresies. They know something is missing, but to admit what It is would blow their theology. Lullabies are plentiful in Babylon.

Institutionalized, mesmerized, idealized- It’s over guys! Yet, it’s business as usual, sleepwalking on the deck of the Titanic. There has to be some way to save all that we have built.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”

Asleep in Babylon, they dream. If you ignore the riders on their horses maybe they’ll just go away. They dream on.

Wholesale slaughter, a loaf of bread for a days wage, deception, war, and pestilence abound. You better not touch my Chick fil a. The world is on fire. I wonder if they have an app for that.

IPhones, ringtones, a trumpet blast, and we’ll all be gone, ‘cause you know God wouldn’t let his people suffer. Hey, our worship team just got a smoke machine. That’ll go great with the angel feathers and the glory cloud!

“I find your deeds incomplete in the sight of my God.”

Asleep in Babylon, they dream. I heard Jesus came back Saturday night. Never mind that; services start tomorrow at eleven.

Forget Me Not

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

“ Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

“ But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.” (Psalms 13 NIV)

            I don’t know about you, but I can totally relate with what David is saying in these verses. In my walk with Jesus, I have experienced times (extended periods of time) when I felt as if God had forgotten all about me, and wouldn’t even look my way. That sweet communion that I enjoyed with the Lord was only a memory that brought no comfort, but actually served to torture my soul as I struggled to understand what was going on. The “enemy” seemed to have the upper hand, defeating me at every turn.

            For the lover of God, there can be no greater torment than the perceived absence of His presence. The “sparkle” in your eyes grows dim, and even death itself seems a distinct possibility. You can hear the enemy whisper, “I knew this would happen, and now your God has abandoned you. I’ve got you now!” Perhaps there are even those who rejoice that you are in such a state. At times like this, there is great heaviness and darkness, panic can easily set in. But it doesn’t end there!

            Along with the psalmist, we may trust in the unfailing, loyal love of God. But although we idealize men like David; dare I say that we are in a better position than he ever was? For you see, Jesus has come! The Father has caused us to be placed in him and He in us. The kingdom of God is within you. He became everything that we are so that we may share in all that He is. The eternal love that God has always known within himself, the holy love of the Father, Son and Spirit is ours in Christ. We are connected to Him like branches to a vine. The very life of God is in us, flowing through us if you will, in the Spirit. The One David knew in part, and prophesied about in part has come. It is finished! And we are in Jesus. Talk about rejoicing. Talk about singing. Oh yeah, God has been “berry,” “berry” good to us!

            We all go through hard times, times when it seems like God has left the building. But be reminded, you are the “building” God resides in. The Father has placed you in Jesus, and shared with you the eternal holy love of God. He would no more leave you than He would the Son. Think on that, and rejoice in the Lord.

The Wall

         (Without a doubt, this is the longest article I’ve ever posted on NLI. I do apologize, but I felt I needed to get it out in one sitting. I’m praying that the Holy Spirit will help those who need to read it to do so.)

   “Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, dig in the wall.’ So I dug in the wall…”

              In December of 2012 I arrived at “The Wall.” I had never been to this wall before, and really didn’t know what it was when I first encountered it. All I knew was that it scared me and shook me to the very core of my being. It only got worse as I learned that I had to dig in, and go through the wall. Honestly, there have been times I wondered if I would make it. What am I talking about you ask? Well, I guess the best place to start is at the beginning.

            In May of 2007, God moved dramatically in my life, and from that point until November of 20012, my life was a beautiful whirlwind. The Lord led me to a wonderful church where I would end up serving over five years as Worship Pastor. The Spirit of God moved among us in ways I had never experienced. I went back to school and would finally (after almost a 30 year gap) earn my Bachelors Degree in Biblical Studies. Besides serving as Worship Pastor at my church, there were worship conferences, preaching engagements, and the birth of NLI. People were coming to Jesus, and I was personally experiencing an intimacy with the Lord I had only dreamed of. I was hearing things like, “Brother, you are so anointed.” and “When are you gonna release a CD, and write a book?” I was both humbled and blown away by all that God was doing. I had no idea that I was about to slam face first into “The Wall.”

            Things went down at the church where I was serving that hurt me deeply. I experienced feelings of betrayal and rejection, the likes of which I had never known. I left in a daze not knowing what I would do. An opportunity soon presented itself at another church, so, I became their Worship Pastor. The people were awesome! They accepted me and treated me with nothing but love. But something just wasn’t right- with me. Looking back, I now know that I should’ve never taken the position. They were looking for a Worship Pastor, and wound up getting a man who was living in the shadow of “The Wall.” So, nine months later I resigned. And it was time to start digging.

            Here’s where I tell you exactly what wall I’m talking about. I began to reach out to people I respected and trusted, sharing with them what I was experiencing, and one day a dear brother (Thank you Jeff!) sent me an article by Richard J. Vincent. The part that hit me was the following:

            “Stage 4 is “the journey inward” – “a deep and very personal inward journey” that “almost always comes as an unsettling experience yet results in healing for those who continue through it.” In this stage, our former views of God are radically challenged. The disruption can be so great that we feel like we are losing our faith or betraying loyalties.

At this stage, we face an abrupt change (at least many do) to almost the opposite mode. It’s a mode of questioning, exploring, falling apart, doubting, dancing around the real issues, sinking in uncertainty, and indulging in self-centeredness. We often look hopeless to those around us.

This newfound (and often surprising) uncertainty is usually precipitated by a crisis. “The move from stage 3 to 4 is more likely precipitated by a crisis in our life or our faith. That crisis makes many of the former truths and answers inadequate or inappropriate for the next phase in the journey.” The crisis “shakes our strongly held beliefs or assumptions and we feel adrift on a restless sea, fending for ourselves. Our sense of God is shaken and we can find no new direction, only more questions.”

The crisis shocks our system. We lose comfort and question our convictions as our previous faith-supports crumble before our very eyes.

For the first time, our faith does not seem to work. We feel remote, immobilized, unsuccessful, hurt, ashamed, or reprehensible. Neither our faith nor God provides what we need to sooth us, heal us, answer our prayers, fulfill our wishes, change our circumstances, or solve our problems. Our formula of faith, whatever that may have been, does not work any more, or so it appears.

Why does advancing to this stage usually demand a crisis? The reason is simple: No one would choose this kind of experience on their own!

Most of us are so comfortable and self-sufficient at the previous stage (called the productive or fruitful life) that we have no natural tendency to move at all. In fact, stage 4 does not even look like part of the journey for those of us at home in stage 3. It does not appear to be an extension of our faith and growth. Consequently, we are not drawn in this direction.

Our aversion to stage 4 is increased because of the very real dangers that accompany this stage. “Sometimes people drop off the journey totally at this point. Overwhelmed by pain or crises in our lives, we absolutely cut ourselves off from God.”.

The end of stage 4 involves an experience of “the Wall” – “a face-to-face experience with God and with our own will.” It is impossible to go over, around, or under the Wall. One can only go through it. “The Wall experience is the place where… psychology and spirituality converge. Up to this point, one can be religious, spiritual, or fruitful and not be healed psychologically, or vice versa.”

At the Wall, we become “aware of all the lies we have accepted about ourselves.” We are forced to “face the truth” in order to move forward. “The Wall invites us to integrate our spiritual selves with the rest of us. And that involves facing our own and others’ demons. We must face that which we fear the most, and that is why it is so unsavory, and why so many people only enter the Wall under duress.”

Only through self-acceptance and surrender to God’s will can one go “through” the Wall to deeper levels of spiritual growth. “The power behind the transformation at the Wall is this: learn to embrace your whole story with loving, forgiving detachment.” We must accept ourselves with all our wounds and imperfections. We must experience God’s love and acceptance of us as we are in all our weakness and humanness. And then we must fully and completely surrender to God’s will, even though we remain in the dark.

            (To read the entire piece, go to http://www.theocentric.com/spirituality/christian_living/stages_of_faith_a_map_for_the.html)

            Now I’m not one for static paradigms or manuals on “Five Levels of This” or “Seven Easy Ways to That,” but when I read this article by Richard J. Vincent, I completely identified with “stage 4″ and “The Wall.” Moving on…

            In the passage I quoted at the beginning this article, God had told Ezekiel to dig through the wall and he would see the sins and abominations of Israel. But digging in my own wall would reveal some unsettling things about me.

             I no longer felt God’s presence. My prayer life and time in the Word was almost nonexistent. I felt like I was literally falling apart, and I began to self-medicate. Old patterns of behavior were beginning to resurface and I was afraid! I began to isolate, and of course I lied (except to a few, and at times, even to them) when anyone would ask how I was doing. I could tell my family was worried and afraid for me. “Dear God! I’m supposed to be a minister of the gospel and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m even saved.” There was deep darkness and an impending sense of doom.

As I continued to dig, here are some things I began to see:

1) I was hurt by what went down at my former church. The hurt was legitimate. But much of the hurt was my own doing. Didn’t they see that I was right? Had they forgotten how anointed I am? How could they treat me this way after all I had done for them? I was forced to ask myself how much of my ministry has been truly motivated by love.

2) At times, I have cared more about receiving recognition than people. For example: I was talking to a brother on the phone, and he was telling me of his struggles, and I was offering what I prayed was good advice. The next day he called back explaining how the Lord had ministered to him, revealing some things to him that helped him see a little more clearly. Honestly, instead of being grateful that God had helped him, I was more upset by the fact that he didn’t mention that it was I who had told him the very same thing the night before. Or, what about the times I have led worship and the presence of God really “showed up,” and I felt like somebody should’ve recognized me as “the vessel.” How twisted is that?

3) My theological studies have caused me to be arrogant and pharisaical at times. I have often debated with others to prove myself right rather than help them see what I believe is the truth.

4) How many times have I watched videos of myself leading worship or preaching not so that I might improve, but because I just wanted to see how I looked?

5) More times than not, my, “It aint all about me.” was ALL ABOUT ME!

6) There have been times when I have posted on NLI not out of a sincere desire to minister, but rather for the traffic.

7) How many times have I “performed” instead of ministering?

            I could probably go on, but I’m sure you’ll agree that that this article has gone on long enough. Honestly, I don’t really know if writing this was more for me or you. If you’ve arrived at “The Wall” I just pray you are encouraged by it.  No one can go with you through the wall except for Jesus, and you’ll probably think he’s deserted you. There will be others who pray and lift you up, but you won’t realize nor appreciate it at first. As for me, I don’t think I’m through digging yet, but I do believe I’m starting to see a little light. Hallelujah! God is faithful and he really does love us!