#275

We all like the Psalms, the way David and others so poetically describe God and their relationship with him. But it’s another thing altogether to experience those truths, to own them, and know them. I guess that’s the way it is with the Bible as a whole. I mean really, you can know a lot about it and still know nothing at all. True biblical knowledge, true Theology is relational, and anything short of that is just empty religious gnosis.

I think that we as American Christians are entering a time in which, like never before, we are going to have to experience the reality of the biblical story in our own context or we may fail to survive. The trials, conflicts, and economic uncertainty that lie ahead will require more than an ability to quote scripture and recite biblical promises.  We must know that YES, “Your steadfast love O Lord is better than life.” Our hearts will only experience true peace when, “The Lord is with me, whom shall I fear?” is reality. We need to know that the faithful caring intimacy of God is indeed more valuable than having a fat bank account and a retirement package. And believe it or not, many of the trials we are experiencing right now are the very tools with which the Holy Spirit is making real the things we only think we know.

The reality is that in the Christian life, usually, it is in the midst of conflict that we learn and maturation occurs. The battles we are encountering today are preparing us for the wars still to come. As we walk with God, relational experience makes objective truth subjective reality.  Biblical truth becomes our own as we walk with God and comprehend his love in our own experience. It’s how we come to “know that we know.”

“…even though you are temporarily harassed by all kinds of trials and temptations. This is no accident—it happens to prove your faith, which is infinitely more valuable than gold, and gold, as you know, even though it is ultimately perishable, must be purified by fire. This proving of your faith is planned to bring you praise and honour and glory in the day when Jesus Christ reveals himself. And though you have never seen him, yet I know that you love him. At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express and which has in it a hint of the glories of Heaven; and all the time you are receiving the result of your faith in him—the salvation of your own souls.”

 

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He Sees

This is going to sound very weird to some of you, but for the longest time I’ve had this weird, negative vibe thing going with one of the names of God that we learn back in the book of Genesis: Jehovah-Jireh or God provides/sees. I would like to blame it on the pseudo-religiosity I saw and imitated in my youth. I’d love to blame it on the fact that the Name had its own song, and people would always say, “God will provide brother. He is Jehovah-Jireh!” (They meant well, I know they did. Shoot, I meant well too.)  Truth is, I just simply didn’t have any idea of what I was talking about.

There’s a difference between repeating religious dogma and verbiage and knowing something from an intimacy that has developed through time walking with God. I would sing the song and agree that yes, God does provide. But I didn’t own it. I didn’t truly know it from personal experience. And now, with a perspective that only time can afford, I can say with experiential knowledge, “Yes, our God is Jehovah-Jireh.”

Like Abraham who “coined the phrase,” more often than not, it is in time of trial and great need that we come into intimate communion with the God who sees and provides. The problem is that we tend to avoid the places in which God would choose to reveal himself to us. To our own detriment we seek deliverance from the “valley of death” when it is the very tool by which God would bring us into greater revelation of  himself. As we walk through uncertain times, enduring hardship, and the pain of not being able to see; we come to know the God who does see and provides.

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

 

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!

Body Life

“He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Ephesians 4:16)

Sometimes I wonder how it can be that even though I have been invited into this relationship with the living God, there are times when I feel so distant from the Lord. There are times when it is so hard to pray, so difficult to go into the prayer closet and seek His face. I mean really, here I am, involved with God almighty, and all I can muster up is a few measly moments of communion with him. He who deserves my every thought, my undivided attention, my absolute loyalty and devotion, so often finds me distracted and frigid. Dear Lord, how can I minister to others when it’s me who stands in need?

I think something we often forget is that fact that we so desperately need each other. I’ll even go so far as to say that you can’t truly grow and mature properly in Christ without consistent fellowship with the saints. As I sat in church this morning, after leading the congregation in worship with my fellow worship leaders, listening to my pastor preach; I was reminded of the reality of the fact that “…As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Just being with my brothers and sisters this morning brought refreshing to my soul, and strengthened my heart. Another verse that comes to mind is Colossians 3:16 where Paul said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Oh, make no mistake my friend, we are inextricably bound together.

For too long, we here in the West have turned inward and made the Christian walk a solo affair in which the body of Christ is just a fact of life we acknowledge as true, but impacts us  hardly at all. Let me just come on out and say it, “You wont make it alone” Yes, each of us are called as individuals who are to have that one on one relationship with Jesus. But while we are indeed called as individuals, we live as a body. We are not like a body, or similar to a body, but rather we are the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Listen preachers, pastors, teachers, whatever; you need the body just like everyone else-perhaps more. Just because someone is called as the “professional, full-time minister” does not make them exempt from the ups and downs of the Christian walk. We all get tired, we all struggle, and the Body is that which the Lord has created to strengthen us and build us up in love. It’s sad, but for many, pride gets in the way and we put up walls keeping out the very ones who are to be our help. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!”

Are you tired? Has your heart gotten a little cold? Pastor, are trying your best to hide the fact that you’re struggling? We don’t have to play games with each other. Each of us was saved by grace, through the faith that we received as a gift from God. What reason do we have to be proud? I brought nothing to the table, and if He didn’t keep me I’d surely fall away. The thing is, it is His people that He so often uses that helps keep us together. If you’re in need of a nice cool refreshing drink of living water, it may very well be in fellowship with your brothers and sisters that you’ll find it.

Little Foxes

This New Year’s weekend I had the opportunity to be with a group of men from all over the United States. (I think there were a few from other countries as well.) Anyway, they left their families and homes to come together, and bring in the New Year in fellowship, seeking the face of God. There were many ministers, diverse theological views, egos, and personalities, which were all set aside for the express purpose of crying out to God in intercession. While I was richly blessed, I was at the same time humbled as I rubbed shoulders with these men of God. As I ate with them, worshipped with them, prayed and wept with them; I was touched by their depth of passion and commitment to the Lord. I was also deeply convicted.

Today, back at home reflecting on everything; the scripture that came to my mind was, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards…” Although I am involved in ministry and various “work for the Kingdom,” I saw in these brothers an intensity and singularity of focus that has begun to wane in my own life. I began to see that I have allowed seemingly insignificant compromises, those “little foxes,” to trample the “vineyard” of my life. Strange, these little foxes didn’t look that dangerous at all. In fact, they were kind of cute. However, the reality is; it is their intention to eat up the blossoms that are in bloom and prevent the fruit from reaching maturity. Thank God for his Spirit, his grace, his mercy, and his people! “Catch for us the little foxes!”

Brothers and sisters, we must be sober and alert, keeping watch over our hearts lest the little foxes enter in undetected and began to ruin the vineyard. So often we become complacent, at ease in Zion if you will. And, while we may keep out the roaring lion that seeks to devour us entirely; we ignore the little foxes that seek to ruin the vineyard. Jesus tells the church at Ephesus, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

Let us, at the beginning of this New Year, pray that God by his Spirit will reveal to us any little foxes running loose in our lives.

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.

 

C-O-N-spiracy

One of the definitions offered of the word “conspiracy” is, “any concurrence in action; combination in bringing about a given result.” Well, I have come to realize that I am a victim (maybe I should say recipient) of a conspiracy, and I am so glad! I Peter 1: 2a says that we “have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood…” Hallelujah! God himself “conspired” to bring about my coming to Christ!

So much time and effort has been spent arguing over the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man, and I simply love the way Peter spends no time arguing or trying to explain it. He simply took what we have turned into a point of contention and offered it to his readers as a source of comfort and encouragement. The believers are assured that despite their suffering and persecution, they can take courage in the fact that God himself hand-picked them as his own. This (s)election is like when someone goes to the market and specifically chooses pieces of fruit- hand-picked, on purpose. He was intimately aware of them (and us) before they were even born, and for the glory of his name, chose them as his own. But wait; the plot thickens!

The Holy Spirit “conspired” to bring the believers to that point in life when they would obey Jesus and be cleansed by his blood. The Spirit of God has been actively at work since the day we were born to bring us to Jesus. The fact that we believe, that we have faith, that we even acknowledge God at all is on account of the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit. Not only that, but he now continues to sanctify us, working in us that which pleases the Father, even using the events of our lives (both good and “bad”) to further conform us to the image of the Son.

Here in this one verse, we see the triune God bringing about our salvation. Oh what a holy conspiracy! Now let’s think about what this means for a moment. If God knew us before we were ever born, if he personally chose us for himself, if the Spirit brought us to the point of obedience, and if Jesus cleanses us by his own blood; my friend, we can persevere in this life. Will not he who brought about our salvation keep us, and present us holy and blameless before him in love? You betcha!!

It may be rough right now. You may be suffering unjustly. There’s no telling what kind of trials you are experiencing, but can I tell you something? God personally selected you for himself, and he will keep you no matter what comes your way.