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My search for Jesus

The Tactic Is Division

We spend so much time avoiding awkward conversations. Almost every thought is now carefully worded as so not to offend anyone. When a public figure does say something we deem politically incorrect, or even offensive, they are immediately vilified. Maybe they should be, but why can’t we just discuss their idea(s)? We don’t get any closer to really fixing hearts and minds by trying to control everything that is said.

The rioting going on in nearby Charlotte is heartbreaking. The world I live in, to my parents’ credit, was one of acceptance of others. Yes, we’re human and sometimes judge others, but I didn’t see it being based on the color of someone’s skin. Although, Dad does still notice every tattoo and piercing, bless his heart. My early childhood we lived in Perth, New York. There were many Spanish people, but I had never seen a black man in person until I was four or five. I don’t remember the meeting whatsoever, but Mom said I played with this man for quite a while, just the two of us. When we walked into the dining room, I announced to the crowd, “you know what? Joe is people too!” The fact of the matter is, racism is taught. It’s often handed down from generation to generation. Sometimes, I believe it’s a result of experience also. We don’t dare discuss that though, do we?

My high school in New Jersey had cafeterias divided by race in the 11th and 12th grade building. I don’t know if it’s still that way today. I also don’t remember anyone from the staff needing to tell us that. Yes, there were a few students who would be brave enough to enter the opposing cafeteria. Thankfully, no harm came from it, but how do separate eating areas even come about? How was that not worthy of a discussion?

I’ve mentioned Marvin Washington in other posts. He is my adopted big brother and he is black. Marvin is 6’9, and back then, was more than willing to fight someone. That didn’t stop other black students from calling him “white boy” within days of moving in with us. I imagine most of the teasing was done in fun, but I don’t really know. He and I have had talks lately about this crazy world, and he seems to understand it all as little as I do. I have a firm belief that the enemy, dare I say the devil, is happy to see all of this division. I also remember being jumped in the locker room by a black student. Fortunately we were split apart before the fight got too out of hand. What had I done to deserve being jumped? He said I made him look bad on the basketball court in gym class. It seems silly, but the idea that a white guy could play basketball was something he’d been taught could not be.

We need to have deep, face to face, loving, difficult conversations with others. The fact is, we’re all different, or unique. Breaking down the barriers of the obvious differences will only happen if we talk to each other. You may be fine. You may love everyone and have been able to forgive everyone else. Remember, it only takes one person to forgive, but it takes two people to reconcile! If both parties don’t get involved and one has any resentment whatsoever, there cannot be reconciliation.

This idea is not limited to race relations. How many marriages would have been saved had couples discussed the first few little offenses? If it’s something that really bothers you and you can’t get over it, to save a relationship there has to be communication! How did the two that became one all of the sudden become two again? Division. It’s the devils’ best tool. I believe you hurt yourself the most when you hold onto any grudge, but you’re also wrecking your relationships. Don’t turn your friends, neighbors and loved ones into enemies because you’re afraid to discuss things with them. If something bothers us to a point that it brings us down, we need to deal with it quickly.

On a side note, our political establishment teaches us division all day every day. Pray for our country, pray for our leaders and pray we can have honest, open discussions. True change can happen, but the bride of Christ, his church, needs to facilitate it. If you’re a Bible reader, I would encourage you to read Matthew 5:21-26. Jesus’ words are so much more powerful than mine. Be uplifting in your speech. Love each other and just talk! This world’s too big for all of us to be right all of the time.

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I Still Feel Shame

When I look back on where I used to be and where I am now, I can only praise God and give Him all the credit for the change in me. Lately, I’ve been feeling kind of proud of myself. That’s the complete opposite of giving God the credit. Pride. I remember being told time and again by my mother that pride goes before the fall.

A few weeks ago I felt a shame I hadn’t felt in quite some time. Tonight, I’m seeing it as a teaching from the Holy Spirit before I had to fall completely. The funny thing is, this shame wasn’t caused by anything I’ve done recently. No. This was seeing someone in church I hadn’t seen in fourteen years! I was in shock, to be honest with you. All the memories of partying with this person were right there in front of me. I may have missed out on an opportunity to see what God has done in that persons’ life, and I certainly blew a chance to share His goodness to me. Perhaps I’ll have another chance.

I literally hadn’t felt a shame like this since 2012. That, too, was in a church. The difference this time was I was the one showing up to someone else’s church. Now that I’m looking back at it, I realize they probably weren’t trying to make me feel ashamed as they were actually ashamed of themselves. Talking to me might have led to an embarrassing truth that they knew me from the bar!

So much of life is about perspective folks. Find people you can be open and honest about everything with. It’s so silly to think about how much we worry about what others think. Little things like how many people read this, for example. I remember when my goal in blogging was to hopefully help one person, not project myself into some great example. I can’t go back in time and undo things I’ve done yesterday, much less fourteen years ago.

When I read Romans 10:10-11, I believe what might seem like shame, if handled right, can be viewed as conviction. I don’t think I actually was so embarrassed by my behavior in the past as I was of my fear of how others see me. Next time, hopefully I’ll be ready to give a witness to all God has done for me and not be worried about someone’s opinion of me. For the believer, there is no shame. That obviously doesn’t mean there aren’t moments we feel shame, which I do. However, I no longer need to live in it and can actually learn from it! Thank you Lord for your word, which helps me see this. Please keep my pride in check.

10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

Who Are You Inviting To Church

I read some interesting statistics at backtochurch.com this morning. They claim that 82% of the “unchurched” are somewhat likely to attend church if invited. They also claim only 2% of the churched invite someone unchurched to come to church. I’m grateful to be in a church where I know it’s much higher than 2% of the people are inviting others, but it’s disturbing to see that kind of a number. One in fifty?! Wow!

Having grown up in church myself and drifted away for years, I have to admit I didn’t stumble across a whole lot of  people inviting me to theirs. In fact, one in fifty would have probably seemed really high when I think about it.

Yes, there are other ways to introduce someone to Christ than inviting them to church. I’m actually a rare example of that, but that’s probably just because I had firsthand knowledge that the church was a great place for desperate people, and I was desperate. I was fortunate enough to live within a little over an hour of a church that utilizes other means of presenting Christ to people than counting on just invites. They use social media really well, have a very well polished website that has everything from sermons to ways to actively serve in the community. In my case in particular, I was drawn in by the TV ministry. I literally was woken up by the “Elevation Experience” following Saturday Night Live back in February 2012 and was inspired by both the music and the preaching. I recorded it the following week and showed my brother, Chuck, and he and I, along with his son, Max, have been attending Elevation ever since! All three of us get to serve on different teams and see how God moves in different ways week after week.

What God has done in my life to change me I can’t keep to myself. That’s why it’s amazing to me to think about that one in fifty statistic. Yes, God did find a different way to get me to this church. However, in the past four years I’ve had the opportunity to take at least 29 others to church with me by inviting them. I really feel it would be more if I didn’t have to bring them an hour one way, but I try not to turn that into the excuse not to invite them. Instead, I add not only the invite to church but also to grab a bite, on me, afterwards.

I’ve seen six people of those 29 raise their hand and receive an orange Bible and go to the tent and say they’ve given their life to Christ. I admit, I sometimes feel disappointed that they don’t decide to ride down with me and get involved like my family has. That probably has a lot to do with pride,  but I honestly want everyone I know to experience Christ like I have and there’s no better way I know of than being involved in the local church. Some of those friends are actually active in local churches closer to home, and to that I say, to God be the glory! Some I have no idea what they’re doing spiritually, and I need to do a better job of staying in touch with them, but I also need to let God be God and know at least I’ve tried to show them I care about them.

I will hopefully never understand the 98% of people who never invite an unchurched person to church. When Jesus changes your life and you are radically changed absolutely for the better, why wouldn’t you want those around you to know about Him? If you aren’t inviting others to church, or to a closer walk with God, perhaps it’s because you really aren’t walking with Him yourself. I didn’t write this to shame anyone, just to raise some awareness and let you know, there’s always a seat available to ride to church with me!

 

Awfully Important to Love Yourself

I believe there are five things that hold us back more than anything else. I also believe we can have the confidence to overcome these things when we see ourselves as God sees us. We have to shift our focus to overcome them, but here are the five things I see as our biggest obstacles:

Anxiety can keep us from being able to perform a task. We can actually make ourselves physically ill with the mere possibility we won’t be able to make someone else happy no matter what we do.

Worry is an even deeper form of anxiety that can keep us up at night. It’s often the thought of what can possibly go wrong. It’s the “what if” mentality but focusing on only the negative.

Fear takes worry to the next level in that it actually scares us. We see only the negative outcomes and think of how our actions can harm us and/or others.

Unwillingness kicks in because of all the above factors scaring us out of trying. When anxiety-worry-fear kick in often enough, we eventually may become afraid to even try.

Lethargy comes when even though we may be willing to try, we are so drained mentally and even physically we just don’t have the energy to do it.

The first letter of those five words spells awful. I believe when you step back, remember Jeremiah 1:5, where God says “before I formed you in the womb…I set you apart and appointed you…” When we realize we’re fully loved by Him and fully capable to do what He wants us too, we can truly learn to love ourselves. That’s my final two letters, or my suffix, to my awful word. Loving Yourself may be the most important thing in being able to be all you can be. I say it’s awfully important.

That Your Faith Should Not Fail

I’ve had the honor and privilege of being asked to pray for people. Specifically, I have had several people ask me to pray for their children. One of the beautiful things about people knowing that I drifted far from God and came back to Him, is they know I can relate to the struggle their children are going through. I believe God allowed me to go through some of the things I have so that I can empathize with others now.

The prayer itself is hard sometimes, as I don’t know every detail of someone else’s struggle. I pray asking and believing God can and will show Himself to them in a way only He can. Often I pray for the comfort of the loved ones. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but what if we’re supposed to struggle sometimes to test our faith?

If your child was Simon, or Peter, would you have prayed asking God keep him from denying Christ? I think we all probably would have. Yet Jesus knew Peter would deny Him three times but pleaded in prayer (Luke 22:32 NKJV) “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

I know there were people praying for me while I was so self-absorbed God was an afterthought. I know there were family members in pain over how I was living my life. Maybe I needed to go through everything I did to get to a point where I was so vulnerable I finally understood how much Christ loved me. Maybe you or a loved one needs or needed to as well.

The beautiful thing about this passage is seeing that our all-knowing Savior knows we’re going to turn our backs to Him at times. Yet all we have to do is return to Him and He can use those tough times where we tried to do things our way as a teaching tool for others. Our story can strengthen others.

This brings me back to how I pray for others now. Yes, I want good things for them, the best. Even though they may momentarily, or even for years, turn away from God, I am now praying for their faith. Only God can turn our messes into ministry, but if we never had a mess how much of an impact can we really have on others? While you may be praying for someone right now, are  you experiencing that peace that passes all understanding? Maybe your faith is being tested and you are so focused on who you’re praying for you aren’t learning the lesson(s) you should.

Please don’t think I’m saying not to pray that others don’t fail God or that I want people to suffer. I just want you to know that while there is pain, God is working all things together for His good to them that love Him. They may need to go through their current trial in order to get to the point they quit relying on themselves or anyone other than God. I pray that their faith and your faith will not fail!

 

One Way Friendship

Do you ever get frustrated when you make the effort to reach out to someone and they don’t respond? Has it happened with someone you consider(ed) a friend? It happens to me a lot. To be honest, it hurts.

I start evaluating why my feelings don’t seem to matter to them. Don’t they appreciate me? Did I do something to offend them? Is it simply a time and distance effect that makes it easy to forget about me? Did they ever consider me a friend at all?

The answers to these questions go unanswered for the most part. Sometimes the answer really is the time and distance that separate us, and perhaps I was guilty of ignoring them for too long. I’ve done some soul searching and realize too many times I have been the person who didn’t respond. I didn’t show that I cared at one time or another, and that’s probably because I was so wrapped up in me.

When I dig a little deeper it’s easy to see I’m guilty of being the one who ignored Jesus for so, so long. There are still times, daily, when I know I’m not leaning on Him the way He’d like. Yet the great lesson I’d like to share through this is He is always there for me. He is the best example there is of how to deal with a one way friendship.

I believe He hurts when we ignore Him. The big difference between His hurt and the feeling we have when we’re ignored is He hurts for us, not Himself. We’re missing out on so much goodness He wants to give us.

So often we don’t reach out to God until we’re in a desperate situation. I know I’m guilty of that. I ignored Him for decades. The fact He still welcomed me back with open arms blows me away. That’s why today I just want to say thanks to God for everything He does.

I want to follow His example and not give up on those who I feel are on the other side of my one way friendship. If that friendship became that way through a fault of my own I am truly sorry. If it’s just a deal where life has become so busy you don’t have time, I understand. Just know that the day you decide you need a friend and there’s no one to be found, God will be there for you. I’d be happy to be there too, but my feelings will be more than fine if you find your refuge in Him. He’s the ultimate on love, forgiveness and one-way friendships. He laid down His life for His friends.

Successful

photo (1)This word is defined by different people different ways. Many think it has to do with how much money you make. Others think it’s the title of their position at work. A lot of folks would say those who have been blessed with a close family are successful. There are probably too many people who think they’ll never be as successful as _____(fill in the blank).

I just participated in my church’s year-end offering and our pastor encourages us to pick a word we’re believing for 2016. I’ve thought long and hard about it the past few weeks and was really struggling. Then, while discussing something completely different, I told someone how thankful I am that this life is an open book test for believers. That’s when I finally realized I have that book for my benefit!

I opened up my New Living Translation Bible (yes, I believe it’s okay to read more than one version) to the concordance in the back. I wanted a word that would jump out at me. It didn’t seem to work, as I wanted it to of course be about God, not me. Then I stumbled upon one that just sounded so selfish to me: Successful! Well I decided to look at the first Bible reference it gave me out of curiosity. Deuteronomy 8:18 was the first one. It reads, “Remember the LORD your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.”

This was such a great reminder to me that everything I have is from God, including my abilities. He wants me to have success for His glory! It’s not something I should shy away from in any way. Instead I should pursue success while remembering any gain is because of Him!

The craziest little detail was the word fulfill being in this verse. The series we are finishing this weekend as we bring our offering is titled Full.Filled. Sometimes I work too hard to think of the perfect thing to say or do when the answer to my question is right in front of me in this instruction manual / love letter I call my Bible. I’m boldly declaring this is going to be my most successful year to date, thanks to Him! If you have a word you’re believing in I would love to hear it!

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