He Brings Me Back

“The Lord is my shepherd…He restores my soul.”

We all get tired. Even in “well-doing” we can simply grow weary. The weariness usually leads to frustration, and then, if you’re not careful, you can start to “wander off.” We begin to think that God has forgotten about us, that he has left us to ourselves and moved on. All the things we thought he spoke to us remain unfulfilled, and bitterness threatens to corrupt our hearts and imagination. We say to ourselves, “Perhaps it would be better if I just went…” I don’t know about you, but I have just “went…” But He brought me back!!

Really, that’s what “He restores my soul” means: He brings me back  . When he wrote Psalm 23, David was thinking of the Lord as his shepherd ,something David himself knew a lot about as he too had been a shepherd. He thought of the way a good shepherd cares for his flock. He reflected on the way that sheep are prone to stray and get themselves “out of wack.” And he knew that he himself could be like one of those sheep. But he had also learned that the Lord was the ultimate shepherd, ready, willing, and able to come to the rescue of one of his own.

Listen, God does not hate you. You have not taken him by surprise, nor freaked him out by your behavior. He is intimately acquainted with you and knows you better than you know yourself. Even now, his goodness and mercy are chasing you down!! He longs to pour the fresh oil of his precious Spirit all over your life. Don’t fall victim to the guilt and shame that would keep you separated from the Shepherd and Lover of your soul. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. He has given his life for you, how will he not now give you all things? He brings you back!!

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.

 

 

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What About Bob?

I received a text yesterday from someone who, for the sake of anonymity, we’ll call Bob. The text read simply, “I’ve lost my way.” The moment I read it I knew what he meant. You see, Bob has had experiences with God and has as we like to say: “Made a profession of faith.” But his whole life has been in again, out again, in again, out again, and now-he’s pretty much “out.”  Shortly after receiving Bob’s text, we talked on the phone. We talked about many things, and I don’t feel like I did a particularly extraordinary job in giving my counsel. So Bob, if you’re reading; this one’s for you. (And all us other “Bobs” out there as well.)

When it comes to having “lost your way,” you are not alone my friend. I have been EXACTLY where you are!! Even now, after walking with Jesus all these years, I still lose my way. There are times in each of our lives when we blow our own minds and freak our own selves out. We look around and ask ourselves, “Where am I, and how did I get here?” Sometimes, it’s nothing we’ve done or haven’t done, it’s just life. The way gets dark and confusing. It happens to all of us. But there is a reason why He’s called the Good Shepherd Bob- He comes to seek us out! He loves you and desires you to be filled up with His love. The mere fact that you reached out to me proves He’s still working, and that you’re not too for gone. This time in your life is one more instance in which He is saying, “I love you Bob. Follow me.” Let Him, bring you to Himself. He wants to.

So, what about the addiction problem. Bob, you know I KNOW.  I can’t count the times in the past when I threw the drugs away, out the window of the car or whatever and then turned right around to find them. And yes, the complexity of addiction encompasses a lot more than I can go into in a single blog article. But I’ll give you the first thing that comes to mind, from one addict to another if you will. Ready? Here goes: the drugs aren’t your problem. The drugs are the way in which “the problem” manifests itself. And like I said, the complexities of addiction are vast, but allow me to TRY and simplify it.  Our lives are made up of things others have done to us and things we’ve done to ourselves, and in some of us the hurts play out in addiction. But Bob, let me tell you, addiction is no match for the love Jesus has for you.

The Holy Spirit can heal you of the hurt and the pain that has lured you into addiction in the first place. I know it has become a “stronghold” in your life, but he can demolish it, along with all the other strongholds. You don’t have to be ashamed. Let the addiction be a reminder in your life that you so desperately need the grace and love of God. And remember, his grace can shine through your weakness. And as He keeps on freeing you, saving you, and LOVING you, you will be used by Him to show others the way. This brings me to the part where we talked about relationships.

Like I said on the phone, I know the Enemy is whispering in your ears, telling you that if you give yourself to Jesus you’ll have to forfeit the relationship you’re in. I know the deceiver is paralyzing you with fear when it come to this issue. You can’t imagine letting go, and perhaps you’ve told God, “I won’t let go.” Well, whether or not it will come to that, I don’t know. But I have observed in my own life that the things I “instinctively protect” and make off limits to God are definitely areas that need addressing. This may sting a little. The Bible calls it idolatry. Again, I don’t know, but I’ll bet that you do. It would seem that we always do. But I do know that whatever giving yourself to Jesus entails, His love will empower you to do it. Know this: this person can’t fill the place in your heart that was created for the Great Romance. That is a fact.

Lastly, you said on the phone that you didn’t know how to “give it all” to God. Well, it’s really not all that complicated. It’s another lie we tell ourselves. Let me ask you, how have you given yourself to addiction? How have you given yourself to your “person”? Think about it, we all know how. And the cool thing is that He will give you the grace and faith and love required to do it!! He is able to do more than you can even imagine. And believe me, I know first-hand how great an imagination you have.

I love you “Bob.” And any faithfulness, loyalty, compassion, gentleness, etc… that you’ve seen in me is only a small reflection of the perfect LOVE He has for you. You will make it. He is working in you RIGHT NOW. Give yourself over to Him. Just say, “Yes.”

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

I Know A Man

I know a man who knew from the time he was a little boy that there was a God who loved him and that he was called to share His word.

I know a man who as a child experienced abuse and abandonment.

I know a man who as an adolescent began to turn from the Light and descend into darkness.

I know a man who abandoned his family, his mother, his brother, and his own children.

I know a man who was a thief.

I know a man who was a liar.

I know a man who was a murderer, taking the life of his own unborn child.

I know a man who stayed locked in a room for days, staying high, drunk, ranting and raving like a madman.

I know a man who has participated in unspeakable acts of perversion.

I know a man who could not buy food to eat.

I know a man who sat in a parking lot for two days, with no money for a spare tire, until a stranger showed him kindness.

I know a man who in his brokenness was forsaken, written off, and left for dead…

BUT:                                                                              

I know a Man who is God.

I know a Man who bled and died.

I know a Man who is eternal life.

I know a Man who sought out the wanderer and cared for his wounds.

I know a Man who said to the forsaken, “I love you; you are Mine.”

I know a Man who forgave the liar, the thief, the murderer.

I know a Man who fed the hungry.

I know a Man who said to the immoral, “I don’t condemn you. I have come to set you free.”

I know a Man who said, “I will NEVER leave you, abuse you, or abandon you.”

I know a Man who heals broken families.

I know a Man who restores to the hardened the tenderness, awe, and wonder of a child-like heart.

I know a Man they call Jesus.

 

And By The Word of Their Testimony

I have often thought how strange it is, the span of time that makes up what we call our past. At times, it is almost like a dream. We know it happened, but somehow it seems unreal. Other times, it seems like only yesterday, and we can recall the most minute details. Sometimes, it’s both at once. As I anticipate my upcoming move back home, I can’t help but think about the past and what led me to North Carolina some 15 years ago. God has moved so wonderfully in these past 15 years, but I’ve come to understand that he was also moving wonderfully in the previous 36 years. I know there are some who feel that a minister shouldn’t “air his dirty laundry” for the world to see, but I tend to think that both the world and the body of Christ would be better served by men and women who are willing to share their story – the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m reminded of the words of John,”And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” It is my earnest prayer that my “testimony” will glorify Jesus, encourage you, and in some way assist you in your journey with/to him.

I was born October 13,1962 in the little mill town of Clinton, South Carolina. It was told to me by my mother that not long after my birth, the doctors informed her that I was dying and that they did not understand the reasons why. My great-grandmother’s brother (I believe that was the relation.) was a preacher and came to the hospital, prayed for me and put a little scroll around my neck- I immediately began to recover. My earliest memories are of an awareness of God in my life, and it is said that as soon as I was able to talk, I began telling family members, “I’m gonna be a preacher when I grow up.” What a fairy tale story it would have been to say, “I was called by God as a boy, faithfully walked with Jesus as I grew up, and entered the ministry. But such is not my story.

One of my earliest memories is that of being sexually abused by my grandfather. I remember as a young boy sleeping with him and my grandmother, and at times he would get into the bed naked and cause me to touch him. I also remember being sexually abused by a daughter of a close family friend. For the sake of some who remain alive, not wanting to cause them shame or embarrassment, I’m going to leave out certain names and details. Let it serve to say that during my childhood I saw and heard things children are not supposed to see and hear (Sadly,don’t we all?). I kind of blocked a lot of it out as I grew up, but later in life, I understood that I had felt like somehow I had asked for those things to happen, and had carried a sense of shame deep within me all of my life. As you can no doubt guess, this led to various forms of deviant behavior as a child, adolescent and then later even as an adult. But through it all, I still recall the knowledge of the presence of God in my life. I remember wanting to know Him and praying to Him, even knowing in the way a child can know that I was called to preach.

No one in my immediate family went to church, but my grandmother  would come and take me to church with her. I remember loving God’s word and desiring Him. I remember that even as a young boy I would “preach” to my friends in an abandoned ticket office at Presbyterian College. As I grew, around the age of 11, I made a “profession of faith.” Dr. Wayne E. Wall of the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle baptized me and “welcomed me into the family of God.” I remember spending personal time with him as a boy. I don’t know if he recognized the call of God on me, just felt sorry for me, or both. Nevertheless, he took some time with me. I see it now, in retrospect, that that little boy was a walking mess- broken, messed up and messed with. And the enemy knew just what to introduce into my life what he hoped would be my undoing.

My freshman year in high school some friends and I started the Maranatha Bible Club. We would meet before class for bible study and prayer. It was during this period that I was exposed to what I would later learn to be “charismatic” teachings. I became involved with the youth group at a local church where the Lord had touched the kids and their youth pastor in an “unusual way”. It was the seventies, the “Jesus Movement” was in its prime, and I was exposed to contemporary Christian music, notably the music of Keith Green (saw him in concert twice  ). One thing in particular that stands out was reading Andrew Murray’s Absolute Surrender around the age of 14 or 15. I so desperately wanted to know God in that way. It was also at this time that I was first introduced to narcotics. I smoked my first joint at the first home football game during my freshman year. I immediately was drawn to this drug, and it proved to be that proverbial gateway into what would later become a serious drug addiction. For the sake of brevity, I’ll sum it up by saying that my teenage years were a mixture of drugs, sexual encounters and the Lord. Strange you say- my thoughts exactly. Upon graduation from high school, all I knew was that I was called to preach, so off to Southeastern College I went.

I was elected president of the freshman class at Southeastern and everything seemed to be going alright. I was a young man with a lot of potential, and would one day accomplish “great things for the Lord.” (What most of the faculty, most of my peers and I were totally unaware of was that here was a young man with all kind of issues, and they were going to have to be addressed. I didn’t know this process would involve decades.)  At first I quit smoking pot, but would resume a short time later. I was also introduced to Quaaludes and LSD. All of this resulted in my being the first student ever to be dismissed from Southeastern, and then allowed to return after sitting out a semester. My girlfriend and I broke up, and I later returned to Southeastern with the young woman who would be my wife and the mother of my children. Although I tried to keep up appearances, upon my return to Southeastern it was quite obvious that nothing had changed with me. I began to use drugs more frequently, got my girlfriend pregnant and dropped out of Bible College.

We returned to our homes in Columbia, South Carolina and were soon married. I  found work, got involved at a local church, and began our family. We didn’t make it very far and were soon divorced. It was at this point that I walked away from the church. (Let me say at this juncture that I never stopped “believing,” and  while this may mess with your theology, I know it was part of the PROCESS.)

After the divorce, I was a 26 year old single man, and I began what I call the years in the pig-pen. Although I prayed from time to time, and in my heart believed I was called of God; I began to go to night clubs, have affairs and basically live like a “heathen.” Drugs were no longer a struggle; they were a way of life. Cocaine became a regular part of my life. I spent the next few years in this manner, and eventually met a young woman who would become my wife. I had begun playing music, and made a living as a professional musician. I got married, cleaned my act up, and life was good. She knew my history, and I even remember one time she asked me to explain the bible to her. (Funny, looking back, I needed someone to explain the bible to me.) We bought a house, I became somewhat of a local celebrity, and we pursued our lives together. One night while taking a break in between sets at a local bar, a friend asked me if I wanted to do some cocaine- I said yes.
I was able to hide my drug use for awhile, but one morning we got the call that my first wife had died in a plane crash, and a series of events took place that would once again bring to the surface those unresolved issues in my heart. The plane crash led to a custody battle between my former mother-in-law and me. This resulted in psychological evaluations, attorneys, my children moving in, a second mortgage, and on and on. It wasn’t many years later that the marriage failed, and because of my drug use; my kids would end up living with their grandmother. (Thank God for that woman!)

This was the time in which I became what is commonly known as a “crack-head.” I was addicted and lost everything including all self respect. My family all but disowned me (Can you blame ’em?), and I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to live at Rebound. While at Rebound I was able to quit drugs for awhile, but was eventually asked to leave for violating their alcohol policy.Times of sobriety and drug addiction followed. I eventually found myself living in a hotel room. I began to just scream, cry, and pray to God. I was able to “get it together” long enough to acquire a condo in South Charlotte, but it wasn’t long before the addiction once again reduced me to nothing. I began to understand that if something didn’t change, I was going to die. I found out through a friend (I love you John Boy.) that a room was available in the house he  lived in, and in desperation moved in at sister Deborah Tower’s house.

Upon moving in I understood that no drug use was allowed, and that was just what I wanted. It was there that I truly began to experience the wonderful grace and healing of Jesus. As Deborah was secretly praying for all of her “lost boys,” I began to call out to God in the most honest way I knew how. I told the Lord that no matter what it took I needed Him. I questioned everything I had ever thought or believed, and asked God to reveal Himself to me. I even asked Him to “get me right” and then kill me so I wouldn’t mess it up. I told the Lord that as an act of my free will, I was giving up my free will because it was plainly obvious that I couldn’t be trusted with it. I cried and prayed and cried and prayed. I could sense the dealings of God, but it was like I couldn’t quite get to Him. Then came the journey to Faith Homes in Greenwood, South Carolina.

A member of my family had been a resident at Faith Homes, and was about to graduate. A buddy of mine offered to drive me down. Upon arrival I found out that the ceremony was to be held in a church complete with singing, message and the works. I wasn’t really up for that, but I was there and couldn’t leave. I remember walking into the church and there was this picture (life-size) on the wall of a man in jeans and t-shirt, holding a hammer, collapsed in the arms of Jesus, worn out from having crucified Him. I knewoa_forgiven_bs that man was me. I had worn myself out running and “nailing Him to the tree,” and all that time it was He that held me together. At some point singing began, but all I know was that I met the Son of the living God in person. I clearly heard the voice of my Master say, “You have been crying and I have been listening.” I was confronted with the holiness, love and beauty of the Lord- He “melted” me. He told me that all of my life had led up to this night. All the pain, the drugs, Bible College, divorce, all of it had led to this moment. He told me He loved me, and that I was at the cross-roads of my life, that He wanted me. His exact words were, “I want it all.” I knew exactly what He meant. I saw Him and fell in love with Him. I don’t know how long I was on my knees or what was going on around me, but I understood at that moment what it truly meant to be born again. My shame, my guilt, none of it could stand in His presence. I can only say with Paul that “it pleased God to reveal His Son in me.” The next few days the Spirit of the Lord ministered to me in a way I have not experienced since. He was “on me” as they say, healing me (and still is), letting me know that none of my life was an accident. It had pleased Him to give me the parents I had, to place me in the little town in which I had been born, and so on. I saw that He had been there all along working, loving and bringing me to himself. And He has never stopped!

Well, that about does it I guess. I should mention that one thing Jesus has taught me is that although stuff may happen to us that we may not have been in control of, at some point, we have to take responsibility. We’ve been playing the “blame game” since Eden, but blaming mama, daddy and everybody else isn’t the answer. But coming to Jesus with the whole package is. I want you to know that God is with you- no matter where you are or what you’re experiencing. He loves you and cares about every single aspect of you. You can be forgiven, restored, healed and used of God. You have seen how messed up I was (And buddy, I’ve still got a long way to go.), yet he loves me- just like he does you. And he even uses me-just like he will you. Come to Jesus, he makes all things new.

 

Poolside

“Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda…One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, ‘Would you like to get well?’” (John 5: 5,6 NLT)

I used to read this passage and think to myself that it was strange that the Lord would ask the paralyzed man if he wanted to be well. After all, who wouldn’t want to be healed of an infirmity that had rendered them an invalid? What person in their right mind would want to remain in a paralyzed condition? The truth is, as crazy as it may seem, sometimes; we can actually become at ease with our “disease.”

Sadly, many of us are guilty of allowing the pain and hurts we have encountered to produce a “victim mentality” within us whereby we feel justified in using our infirmity to manipulate others. I wonder if perhaps that is why Jesus asked the man lying beside the pool of Bethesda that day if he wanted to be healed. Maybe the man had actually begun to see his illness as a way to manipulate others into giving him money. Have you ever met someone who has actually begun to “romance” their pain and hurt? It’s crazy, but sometimes, we can prefer the familiarity of our suffering over the prospect of being made whole.

You recall the story of how God delivered the people of Israel out of servitude in the land of Egypt. Well, isn’t it strange that when the going got rough, as they traveled through the desert; they actually wanted to return to slavery? They had begun to feel sorry for themselves, thinking that Moses (and perhaps God) had somehow victimized them. They saw the familiarity of slavery in Egypt as preferable to the hardships of a free people. It appears that they sought to manipulate Moses (and perhaps even God) through their whining and complaining. “Let us go back to Egypt; it’s better to be a live slave than a corpse out here in the desert!”

Let me ask you, do you want to be made whole? Will you come and allow Jesus to heal you and set you free? You don’t have to be an invalid resorting to murmuring and manipulation. The sin, the hurt, and the pain that has you paralyzed cannot stand before the One who has come to give you life! Poolside is not the place for you. Put your faith in Him today, and hear Him say to you, “Take up your mat and walk.”

 

“Divine Therapy”

“As God prepares remedies for the body from therapeutic herbs wisely mixed together, so he also prepared for the soul medicines with the words he infused, scattering them in the divine Scriptures…. God gave yet another medical aid of which the Lord is the Archetype who says of himself:  It is not the healthy who have need of a physician but the sick‘. He is the excellent physician able to heal every weakness, and illness.’” (Origen, Homilies on the Psalms.)

 The holidays are that time of year that affords many the opportunity to interact with family members and friends they don’t often get to see the rest of the year. And with that opportunity comes the realization that, “Man, I think Uncle _ needs some therapy!” Chances are that it’s not just Uncle _ who needs some help, but we ourselves could use a little “couch time” as well. Praise God, Jesus offers complete, holistic salvation. Take it from a guy that use to be Uncle _ (and still is at times), God is able to go deep inside of you and minister to those broken places that hurt you so.

Our lives are made up of things we have done to ourselves as well as things others have done to us. I think back to being sexually abused by my grandfather (and others), memories of things I saw and heard as a child, sexual issues, drug addiction, the way I hurt and used others, and the overall brokenness that sin brought into my life, and now; it causes me to fall on my knees and worship the One who saved and healed me. Because of my “Divine Therapist,” I am no longer held captive by shame and guilt. Because of the grace, mercy, and forgiveness Jesus extends to me; I can now be used as an instrument of reconciliation in the lives of others. But it was not always like this.

There was a time when I found it hard to talk about the past, about the sin, and addiction I had endured. I felt dirty and ashamed. I remember even feeling that somehow, my grandfather’s abuse was my fault. I was defensive and disingenuous. But where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. Looking back, I can see how that all of my life, God was there, wooing, healing, and drawing me to himself. Then, that night came when I was truly born again by his Spirit! Now, because of his love, salvation has come. And as a result of the deliverance he gave (and continues to give) to me, I can be open and honest with others, letting them “in” so they can see the salvation of the Lord. There are people that need to hear about how Jesus has saved and healed you. They feel like they are all alone, different, and that no one understands. But if you will come to Jesus for the “divine therapy” that only he can give, and allow him to save and heal you; you will experience the freedom that allows you to open your mouth and tell them of the beauty of the Lord.

So this year, as you gather with your family for the holidays, and good ole crazy Uncle _ is in rare form; why not share with him some of what you have learned from your “Divine Therapist.” Let the healing Jesus has given you be that which affords you the freedom to extend His love to your family and friends.

Newtown: What in the Dickens?

“Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.” (From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

As I have contemplated the shootings in Newtown, watched the coverage provided by the news media, listened to speeches, and read various social media posts; I have been saddened by the immediate political jockeying that has taken place on both sides of the isle and especially by so called Christian political activists. It seems that there is no shame and folks have the ability of taking a horrific event such as the one that recently occurred in Newtown, and making it all about them and their agenda. Christian, we should expect nothing less from the world, but we who are in Christ have so much more to consider.

While it is natural, during times such as this, to have questions regarding Theodicy (why there is evil in the world), as I prayed for the people of Newtown; I began to realize what the people of Newtown need most of all right now is Jesus. Theologians and philosophers have long grappled with the problem of evil, and there are various schools of thought regarding this issue. I dare say the debate will continue ‘til kingdom come, but there is one thing I do know for sure. God can bring good out of even the most difficult circumstances. And he will accomplish this through Jesus.

In the pericope above from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Mrs. Cratchitt had asked her husband how their crippled Tiny Tim had behaved at church, to which he replied, “As good as gold, and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.” As I read this, I began to think that the disposition of Tiny Tim, a child who suffered greatly, should be our own. “God, somehow, through all of this suffering, let people be moved to think about You.”

Christian, as we struggle to comprehend what has happened in Newtown, let us resist the temptation to use it as a platform for our own personal political ideologies, and pray instead that in the midst of such senseless brutality and suffering, that the One who offered his life willingly upon a cross, enduring the most heinous example of human depravity may be brought to bear in the hearts and minds of the families of Newtown. Let us pray that God’s Spirit will show the community of Newtown the reality of the One who said, “ I AM the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Friends, where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds all the more. True comfort, true healing, true restoration is to be found in Jesus and it is He who can minister to the brokenhearted people of Newtown and the nation.

No Need for Masks

“…“What more can I say to you [God] about the way you have honored me? You know what your servant is really like…” (I Chronicles 17:18 NLT)
David has recently solidified his kingdom, and God has blessed him so much that his mind is simply blown. The Lord began to speak to him about his future, and the dynasty that would be established. David is filled with thanksgiving and humility; he knows that God knows him inside and out- NO NEED FOR MASKS!
Jesus wants to heal us of the sin, the hurt, the pain, and the pride that separates us from God, and makes us disingenuous. Come to the cross. He has taken our sin, and he wants our masks as well.Thank you Lord that you love us in the same way you know us- completely.