1:51

Unto you O Lord do I lift up my soul.

I will seek Your face for you are continually before me.

How wonderful it is that I awake to find you calling me,

Extending to me Your steadfast love.

 

It is Your faithfulness my God that keeps me,

          Your strong right hand that upholds me.

And though I cannot see my way before me,

You, O Lord, know the path that I should walk.

 

I entrust to you my family, their perpetual care.

I know that you love them perfectly.

My wife, my children, my mother, brother, my in-loves,

All whom you have given to me I commit into Your hand.

 

 

As for me, I will dwell in the secret place of the Most High.

I will call upon the name of the God of my youth, the Faithful One

Who has sustained me even as I walked through the darkness.

I will trust in the God who hears my cry and delivers me.

 

I know that your intentions towards me are good.

Let me regard You in faithfulness.

May I not sin against You with an evil, unbelieving heart.

For I have seen you power and received Your tender care.

                                                   I know that You are with me.

 

I will sing praises to you upon my guitar.

I will magnify the name of my God before creation awakes.

In the stillness of the hour I will greatly rejoice.

Unto You alone will I sing.

For I know that you are with me.

 

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Faithful Not Fearful

It seems like everyday there’s something in the news or on social-media that Christians are supposed to be afraid of. “By 2017, every American will be forced to have a chip implant…” Oh no, it’s the Mark of the Beast! “The economy is on the verge of collapse.” Start burying your money. “The radical Muslims are going to take over America.” Annie, get your gun! The list goes on, you see it all the time. But I hear the Spirit reminding us of what he told the church in Smyrna so long ago, “Stop being afraid.”

In the midst of everything the church in Smyrna was facing and would later endure, Jesus tells them (commands them) to stop being afraid. They would face prison, they would face death, but he tells them to be faithful- not fearful. Jesus assures the church in Smyrna that their faithfulness would earn them a crown of eternal value.

Although we don’t face trials that could even remotely be compared to what the church in Smyrna faced, it seems like so many Christians in America today are afraid. We look at the direction our country is heading, we see conspiracies under every bush (or Obama), and many are afraid. However, in contrast to the words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna by which he exhorted them to respond to fear with faithfulness, the response to our fear is to buy guns, get lawyers, and stand up for our rights. I wonder just what it is we’re afraid of.

Have we fallen so in love with the American dream that we have forgotten who we are? I know we don’t like to hear it, but sometimes being a good American and being a genuine Christian are not the same thing. We run from trials and suffering, after all, God doesn’t want his children to suffer does he? But is the bottom line simply that we’re afraid someone is going to come along and take all of our stuff? Remember the words of the Lord, “Wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart’s going to be. Your life is hidden in Christ. Jesus is your treasure and reward. Could it be that we have more “invested” in the the world than we do in him? Have we become so attached to our way of life that the thought of losing it fills us with fear?  Jesus says to us, “Stop being afraid! You are mine and I am yours. Be faithful.”

The trials and suffering that may be heading our way will not take the Lord by surprise. He may not spare us having to go through tribulation like the church in Smyrna endured, like many of our brothers and sisters around the world are enduring RIGHT NOW! But he assures us that he is in control and that we can be faithful- even to our death. I believe we American Christians need to get a new outlook on suffering, an outlook that has nothing to do with being American, but everything to do with following Jesus. Brothers and sisters, let us not be fearful, but faithful.

 

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!

Smyrna: Stop Being Afraid!

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)

In our last discussion about the church in Smyrna, we discovered that the church was most definitely in a situation that could cause them to be afraid. Their very lives could be forfeit at any time. Rome and the Jews presented a clear and present danger for the “poor,” suffering church. (You can read about that here: https://nliworship.com/2013/07/22/smyrna-i-know-you/ )

In the midst of all of they were facing, Jesus tells them not to fear. When you look at the way it’s written in the Greek ( μηδν φοβοῦ) , I think maybe a better way to put it is, “Stop being afraid.” They were, at that moment, terrified, and Jesus commands them to stop being afraid. The Lord goes on to tell them that the devil is going to throw some of them in prison that they maybe tested and tried. He says that they will have tribulation for ten days. Now, there are a variety of opinions as to the meaning of ten days. Some take it literally, some view it as a period of persecution under a series of ten different Roman Emperors, some see it as a ten year period of tribulation, etc… I simply want to point out that although the devil was active in the persecution, it was for a limited time, and Jesus was still in control. These trials would refine them and test them the way gold is tried by fire. The trials would actually reveal the beauty of their faith. And those who were faithful would be given the crown of life. It is interesting that ancient Smyrna was referred to as the “Crown of Asia.” The pagan temples built on the hill of Pagos were said to have resembled a crown, and there were other crowns that the church would have been familiar with. But Jesus assures the church in Smyrna that their faithfulness would earn them a crown of eternal value.

Although we do not face trials that could even remotely be compared to what the church in Smyrna faced, it seems like so many Christians in America today are afraid. We look at the direction our country is heading, we see conspiracies under every bush (or Obama), and many are afraid. However, in contrast to the words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna by which he exhorted them to respond to fear with faithfulness, the response to our fear is to buy guns, get lawyers, and stand up for our rights. I wonder just what it is we’re afraid of. Could it be that we are afraid that that we will lose our precious 501c3 status. Have we fallen so in love with the American dream that we have forgotten who we are? I know we don’t like to hear it, but sometimes being a good American and being a genuine Christian are not the same thing. We run from trials and suffering, after all; God doesn’t want his children to suffer does he? Is the bottom line that we’re afraid someone is going to come along and take all of our stuff? Jesus says to us, “Stop being afraid!”

We have forgotten that “There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.”(1Peter 1:6-9 NLT)

The trials and suffering that may be heading our way will not take the Lord by surprise. He may not spare us having to go through tribulation like the church in Smyrna endured, but he assures us that he is in control and we can be faithful- even to our death. I believe we American Christians need to get a new outlook on suffering, an outlook that has nothing to do with being American, but everything to do with following Jesus. “For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.” (1Peter 2:21-25 NLT) Our suffering is to be reconciliatory. Jesus’ suffering reconciled us to God, and our perseverance in suffering will not only benefit us, but may very well be the testimony others see and come to faith.

My fellow American Christians let us stop being afraid, and trust in the One who offers the crown of life to those who are faithful .

 

When God “Sleeps”

More often than not, when you read in the Bible of times when God appeared to be sleeping and non responsive to the cries of Israel, it was because they had sinned having turned their hearts from him. In Psalm 44 however, we find Israel in the midst of trial and defeat, yet the author of the Psalm protests their innocence.

We find in this Psalm the author lamenting to God after an apparent military defeat. He remembers the victories of old, how God had vanquished the nations before Israel. He recalls the intimacy with which God, by his right hand, strong arm, and the light of his face had led Israel from victory to victory.

“But now you have tossed us aside in dishonor.
You no longer lead our armies to battle.
10 You make us retreat from our enemies
and allow those who hate us to plunder our land.
11 You have butchered us like sheep
and scattered us among the nations.
12 You sold your precious people for a pittance,
making nothing on the sale.
13 You let our neighbors mock us.
We are an object of scorn and derision to those around us.
14 You have made us the butt of their jokes;
they shake their heads at us in scorn.
15 We can’t escape the constant humiliation;
shame is written across our faces.
16 All we hear are the taunts of our mockers.
All we see are our vengeful enemies.”

The Lord seems to have abandoned his people. When they cry out to God, they receive no answer. People are making fun of them because the once mighty people of God have been left alone, forsaken by their Lord and given over into the hands of their enemies. When they ask God why…..SILENCE!

“All this has happened though we have not forgotten you.
We have not violated your covenant.
18 Our hearts have not deserted you.
We have not strayed from your path…

The author insists that they have done no wrong. He claims that God is also aware of this fact.

…If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread our hands in prayer to foreign gods,
21 God would surely have known it,
for he knows the secrets of every heart.”

“But for your sake we are killed every day;
we are being slaughtered like sheep.” (v22) The psalmist associates their suffering with the reality of their relationship with God. He sees the suffering that has come upon the nation as that which is in direct correlation to their covenant with Yahweh.  And, he cries,

“Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Get up! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you look the other way?
Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?
25 We collapse in the dust,
lying face down in the dirt.
26 Rise up! Help us!
Ransom us because of your unfailing love.”

Interestingly, the Apostle Paul equates this Psalm (at least v22) with the suffering of Christians. Check out Romans 8:35-38:

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, ‘For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.’[Ps. 44:22]) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

One of the hardest things in our Christian walk is going through times when God seems to be asleep, and we suffer. So often, during these times, we are tempted to abandon hope and pursue our own desires. We get mad at God, through our hands up in the air, and say “Well, so much for the faithfulness of God!” We need to understand that sometimes we are not given the reasons why we suffer, but we are given the assurance that in spite of it; God has poured out his unfailing love on us in Christ, and nothing can separate us from him. There will be heartache, trouble, danger, trials, tribulations, and perhaps even death, but in all these things; we have the victory in Jesus.

When it seems that God is sleeping, remember what he has done for you, remain faithful to him, and KNOW that the victory is yours in Jesus.