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Posts Tagged ‘Christs Church Of the Valley’

I did my best to sit upright in the class, wishing I wore glasses, thinking that a reflection might allow me to close my eyes a bit. Oh my gosh, this stuff was so dry, they poked through the book of Acts like crash scene investigators piecing together what happened. I listened with twenty-five percent of my brain, just enough to answer a question if they called on me, but this was like shoving bamboo shoots under my fingernails.

This was how I used to feel when I was in Sunday school years ago, when we would study the Bible, I could never connect with the characters as actual people, it was more a study in forensics. Now before I go any further, I want to be clear, this site is not nor will it ever be a platform to rant against anyone or anything. I was raised up in a very legalistic background, and I believe with all of my heart that those folks think they are serving God right. But sometimes we need to step back from our comfort zone and look around, do a self check, check the pulse of our faith, etc. We get an annual physical; there is no reason why we shouldn’t do the same thing with our faith.

One of the things that I remember about church when I grew up is that everyone sat in the same place every week.  Several of the old timers positioned themselves either next to or directly behind the large support pillars, depending on if they cared whether the pastor saw them sleeping or not. The ones next to the pillars would lean their heads against it and snore, while the ones behind it would nod expertly in line with the pastor. I remember one week the poor pastor saw so many sleepers that he commented that it made him feel good to know he put so many people at ease. I used to nod off then too, because there wasn’t anything to be too excited about.

Those years were so sad for me, legalistic as could be and nary a clue. If you would have asked me, I would have told you all about how bad legalism was, never for a moment suspecting that I was part and parcel. We were trained to know the bible, so we could show everyone how messed up they were, missing the part about love and Grace, and it is capitalized for a reason, because it is so amazing.

Back then, the Apostles were yellowed text, cracked with age and not pertinent to me today, Jesus was God on earth, a perfect God-Man that I know never had anything in common with the guy who back then ran a forklift in a freezer dock. But it was what my folks did, it was what my wife did, I believed in God, so I needed to just roll with things, and that is what I did. But then the most wonderful thing happened.

The yellow pages began to turn black and white, and they weren’t cracked and broken anymore, the pages became whole. The two thousand year old Apostles were no longer men from other cultures that spoke different languages, that I couldn’t possibly have anything in common with, they became what they were, a bunch of average at best guys. I felt the Saul (the Apostle Paul) trying to swallow the lump in his throat when he encountered the burning speaking bush. I felt the wretched shame tear through Peter’s soul when he heard the Rooster crow, knowing he had let the Lord down, after he had assured him that he was solid, that it wouldn’t happen. The surprise on Thomas face when he “did” find the holes in his Master’s wrists, and he would forever wear the moniker “doubting Thomas”. The funny thing is, it took me being rocked out of that environment painfully, in what would eventually prove to be the biggest blessing of my life.

Yes, these people were no longer “forensic” they were people, but the people who were at the forefront, they were there, they walked with the Master.

That brings me to the best news of all, that guy who drove the forklift in the freezer many years ago, who thought more about making a better life for his family than his everlasting soul, yeah well. Guess what, that God-Man, as hard as this may be to believe, He became a Man, and He knew my name, He had always known my name. When He came down here, He had in fact been a man, He could have left anytime, but He didn’t.  Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross, He looked at that future and said “whoa, is there any other way”, but in the end, He said Father, Your will be done. The thing that is really hard to wrap my mind around, always has been, always will be, is that that God-Man cares about me, but oh man, he does.

He snatched me up and I was blessed with a knowledge that managed to escape me for thirty two years of my life. Grace, last night I sat down with my two teen-aged girls to make sure that they understood grace, the blood of Christ and that we can’t work our way to heaven. Yeah, they knew, but my dad and step mom managed to make it eighty years without knowing, just saying. Jesus knows us, every one of us, I don’t know how, but He does. Maybe when Your blood atones for someone’s sin, You just know them, but He does. If church is legalistic and forensic, if you can’t feel the indecision in the Apostle’s, the lump in Paul’s throat, then it is time to do a self check. I am not a fan of church hopping, but the church is us, and I use two criteria. If you are serving, and serving the Lord well, meeting the need well, and you and your family are being fed then you are probably where you should be. Only you can answer that. God Bless-JFT

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In my attempts to understand and work through the hard times that kept coming last week, God put people and answers in my path that has led me to some really key spiritual discoveries. These discoveries are huge, they are something I have battled with all of my life, and have finally found resolution to them, in a very long and winding road that led all the way back to a seven day long migraine headache.

After the first attack, when I answered the Spirits call, and was immediately struck down, I did not recognize it as an attack, much in the way we did not recognize the first plane to strike the world trade center as an act of terrorism but more as just a plane hitting a building. But after the second time when the Spirit called (refer to previous post) and the second immediate attack I knew something was up, something was wrong and I was under attack.

I wrote some of what I was going through in my blog, and you all responded with concern. Larry wrote me an email with some thoughts that sent me down the path of discovery though. He wrote  ” When I state that your migraines (and most migraines) are caused by a demon, this does not mean that you personally have a demon in you because your inner man is filled with the Greater One. And Jesus does not share space with a demon or Satan. (Only unsaved people can house a demon in them.)

 

But instead, it means that somehow a demon has influence over you. I think of it as a string attached to a door into your soul (mind, emotions, memory, etc.) or your flesh. Somehow this demon can pull on the string to open that door at certain times. Usually, the string is attached because of sin or a curse. So, I always tell people to ask the Lord, “Why does this demon have a right to attack me? What have I done? Or is it something that someone else has done which now affects me?”

This is the Holy Spirit’s job to help you and disclose these things to you.

Once, you know why the demon is able attack you, then you can go on the offense.

 

Hmmm, I thought, demons. Well, God uses angels all the time, I certainly don’t expect the devil to be everywhere at once, of course he uses the evil equivalent of angels to get his dirty work done, but how. I am a good person right? But I do have sin, and it got me to thinking, and it caused me to do some self-examination.

I meet with a group of guys once a week, we open up with one another, we share things that we are having issues with, family issues, work issues, spiritual issues, and we hold each other accountable. It works very well, most of the time, we share much of our deepest problems and pains, but one thing that I realized, is that you can only be held accountable for what you share, and if you don’t share something, then you are hanging on to it, and I still had a couple of things I was hanging on to.

To many of the people who know me, I am outgoing and friendly, to my neighbors I am generous and open, to my accountability brothers an open book, but the truth is, they were misled. They thought they were standing in the open vault of my secrets, but on the back wall there was a book case with a false wall, behind it was the door to the real vault where I kept the remainder of my real deep dark secrets. In that vault were the insecurities, the shame of things I had done and still did in secret, the things no one knew about that I had never confessed, and that I had been terrified anyone would ever know about. As my accountability friends would mill about the faux vault drinking their latte’s I would stand in front of the false wall with my arms spread casually over the bookcase, my heart racing the whole time for fear that one of my friends would stumble and fall on the latch that would open the false wall, exposing the real me for who I was, a sinner, not worthy of heaven, not worthy of anything.

Larry’s letter was so clarifying to me, we weren’t being “truly” accountable, I don’t know why, I know we were trying, but I just wasn’t able to open up “that” deep with these brothers. I do trust these men, maybe the problem is all mine, but the simple fact is this, the devil knows me, he knows my sin and he knows my weaknesses. Yes, I have grown over the years, but trust me; the devil was making the most of what he had. Like having a string to a trapdoor that even I was not aware of he was accessing me through my weakness. Unfortunately I found that there were some things that I don’t share with my accountability brothers. Ahhhh, says Satan, gocha, a rift with the believers, something they don’t feel comfortable with.

There are things, not much just a couple that I share with no one and I keep buried deep inside. So it all began to come together, I had wondered how Satan was hitting me so hard when I was a faithful servant of his, and Larry’s clue led me to the conclusion.

It was at the close of day seven of the migraine, and I was exhausted, spent, and my mind was working slowly. My balance is funky these days, so I decided to shave and shower before bed, four fifteen comes early, and I try to cut my “getting ready for work in the morning” time down. As I showered, I was not thinking about any of these things, but instead “do I have fresh jeans and a shirt laundered for work tomorrow” as I soaped up.

This is what I just love about the Holy Spirit, He interrupts, he doesn’t wait, and tap his toe humming a Barry Manilow, Maniloe, Manilo whatever tune? Who cares, I think you know what I mean. He just comes right in, anyway, so I was washing what hair I have left, and I heard a voice in my head, and here are the words that were given to me by the Holy Spirit in the shower. “The Keys to the Kingdom lie with you Jim”. For the first time in my life, I knew exactly what God wanted me to do. In order to stop this demon from torturing my family and I, we needed to treat it like any common household pest, figure out how it is getting in, and then close that door.

For the most part, I am an open book, and am open about my past, my sin, etc. but there is that small little vault that I still keep locked to the world, so it wasn’t too hard to figure out where the trapdoor was that the demons were sneaking in through. The Holy Spirit had told me what I had to do, the “Keys to the Kingdom” (gosh, isn’t that a cool line) were in transparency, because true accountability came “only” with true transparency.

I love my guys, my accountability guys, I really do. I don’t know why I can’t go that extra step, maybe one day, maybe because I am the old guy in the group, I don’t know. When I got out of the shower, I was exuberant, I couldn’t wait to follow through, I texted Larry thanking him for leading me here, to this final answer. I felt the final small hole in my heart begin to fill in as I went out on to my back patio and called Tom. Tom and I have been friends since the fifth grade, we are very close. He lives a couple hundred miles away, but we are closer than ever, he is the best man I know. He is the guy I had chosen, I called him up, and I told him he was the only friend that I felt comfortable really telling everything to, and then I opened the vault, loaded the last couple boxes of dirt onto a dolly, and wheeled them over to the incinerator. When we were finished, I left the Vault open, and I poured cement into the trapdoors, the ones that had been tripping me up for decades, causing guilt for decades, I was closing them forever.

As Christ followers, it becomes cliché to say that we die to self, but last week I feel I did, several times. But the last time I died to self, the new guy doesn’t even feel like the old guy, and I don’t mean only spiritually, I mean physically, I don’t feel like me anymore. You may ask yourself “what’s wrong with this guy that he can take something as simple as a migraine headache and turn it into a battle between the forces of good and evil”, and my answer to you will be, I didn’t, they did. I have asked myself that same question, why me, why now. The answer is God does what He does for a reason, and while it may or may not make sense now, it always does later. I am just blessed, mine makes sense now. So, this post is quite a long and winding road, but in synopsis;

As the Holy Spirit put it, we may all have the “Keys to the Kingdom”,

But first, we must be

Transparent

In order to be transparent, we must first

Open the Vault

While we are in there, we must burn the garbage, empty the vault, and

Seal the Trapdoors

We can’t go it alone, we even need someone more than God, we need a friend.

Be Accountable To Someone

When you close the trapdoors that the devil sneaks into your life through, he will have no secret means by which to ambush you personally. Living “fully” transparent will make you a much more effective soul winner for Christ, no holds barred, All In. Even though I had the migraine last week, I would still have to say that last week was the best week of my life to date. God Bless-JFT

P.S. I would like to give special thanks to my brother, friend, and mentor, Larry Nevenhoven for his wise counsel last week. Without his words, I would not have found my way out of the maze.

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Fitz was an old warhorse, a chain-smoking graduate of Annapolis Naval Academy who was first my mentor, then my peer, then my boss, then the worst enemy I have ever had. A small man with a large IQ and a Napoleon complex who always felt he should have been controlling the Atlantic fleet rather than a power plant, he was out to prove he was large and in charge. He had thrown our friendship out the window along with that of any other friendship he had garnered over his thirty plus years working here at the power plant. Fitz was Roman Catholic, and had railed against my faith, calling me an infidel. He was angry at the world because it had taken him so long to achieve in life, but now he was powerful and he was planning on leaving his mark . His reign lasted six years, and by the time a wise new manager struck him down, we were all like abused dogs that had been beaten one too many times, trusting no one and fleeing like rats from a sinking ship when he would enter the room. When Fitz’s last day finally came a couple months later, it was bittersweet. We had once been friends, but those days were long gone, replaced by many memories of abuse and anger. The cake and ice cream social they had in the lunch room was only attended by management. Management were required to attend functions of this type, but for everyone else it was optional, and so everyone else stayed in. I was working that day, and I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to him. That was three and a half years ago.

Twenty-two months ago, Fitz was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. About eighteen months ago, I went to see him, I didn’t call, I just showed up. He was leery at first, non-trusting, wondering what I wanted, but then I just came right out and started talking straight. I said words like “God”, and “love”, and “Forgive”. He softened up, the old Navy salt wore off and he started crying and told me he was really scared. He told me that his wife Christy had left him, and that she had then gotten cancer too. And that he was more worried for her than for himself. He heaved as he told me all of this and poured his heart out and the enemy faded, and my friend reappeared. He had surgery, and so far he is making it, he thinks he will live, I doubt it, but God can do anything. This past Saturday, as I was fighting a small headache, the Holy Spirit called me to attention. I felt the nudge to call my old enemy Fitz on the phone and encourage him, and so I answered the Spirit’s call.

Fitz was delighted beyond measure when I called him, we talked for over an hour and I had to say goodbye three times before I was able to get off of the phone. When I did get off the phone, it was time for church. Church last Saturday was not an average worship service, it was one of those that you will remember for the rest of your life, it was one of those that leave you with a memory forever. As soon as it ended, I was struck down hard, violently, and painfully. My mind was scrambled and I wound up in the hospital. It was Saturday night and I would wander in a fog for seven days.

Later in the week on Wednesday evening I felt like my head was in a vice all day, but I hated being closed up in the house all the time, this is day five. I got up and looked out of the front window as Eddie, my neighbor (the cop) was watering his lawn across the street. For some reason, I felt the Spirit leading me to go talk to him, because he was sad and he needed to talk. I crossed the street and greeted him, he did seem sad. I didn’t tell him that I have a secret agent called the Holy Spirit that feeds me information about him, but rather, I ask how things are going with Patty, his new wife. She has been battling with her ex for custody of her two daughters. It has been dragging on for near three years now, and it is straining their marriage. Eddie is hurting as he relates how he just doesn’t know what to do, he has failed before, and he doesn’t want to fail again, he wants it to work. In the mean time, my wife pulls up at our house from work, glad to see me up and around. She respects that Eddie and I am talking, waves and goes into the house.

After Eddie and I have talked for a while, I ask if he and I can go into his garage, and he says we can. He has a piece of carpet there to catch oil drippings, and both of us knelt, and placed our arms around each other’s shoulders, as brothers in Christ should do, and then we prayed. We prayed for his marriage to Patti that God would bless it richly, we prayed that God would be with her two teen-aged daughters and help them to be okay despite the war between their parents. We prayed that the judges would make wise decisions, and that God would give Eddie the wisdom to be a good husband and a God centered man. Tears of relief streamed down Eddies face as we laid his cares at Jesus feet there on the floor of his garage, and when I said “Amen” Eddie was noticeably lighter as we got back to our feet and said our goodbyes.

My headache increased again as I crossed the street and entered my own garage, as the sun set on the fifth day of the worst migraine headache I have ever had in my life. My wife sat at the table with the mail in front of her and a grim look on her face as I kissed her on top of the head quietly. Is something wrong I asked? “Yes” she said as she handed me the letter that had already been opened. Looking at it I noticed the return address was that of my father, who would turn eighty in two weeks and my step mother who was in her early seventies. What was this all about I wondered?

They were splitting up; they were married almost seventeen years, getting together after my own mother died of pancreatic cancer in 1994. She had written the letter which they had sent to everyone in the entire family, and told me that she felt that they had committed adultery prior to their marriage, and the elders at their legalistic church agreed with them. They had set a date and would go before the entire church and confess their shame and ask forgiveness, then legally separate. My jaw dropped, I was shocked that this could happen in a church that bore the name of Christ. I immediately called them.

She answered the phone, and sounded weepy. I asked her what was going on, and we began to talk. As the conversation unfolded, I asked her if they had engaged in an affair while my mother had been alive, and she said no. I then said that they must have been intimate when they were dating then, and she responded that they were not, they had waited. When was this “adultery” then I asked. She said that when they were dating, they had lusted, and referring the scripture    Matt.5:28 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Here is the problem with that, adultery is reserved for the married folk. If you are married, and you have an extramarital affair, you have committed adultery, but if you are single, it is fornication. Now when it comes to lust”, or any sin for that matter, I say to the legalistic of the world READ JOHN 8:7 BEFORE YOU TELL  80 YEAR OLD MEN TO GO GET A DIVORCE YOU HIPOCRITES!  Just Sayin’  Now, for your reading pleasure, John 8:7 “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I was able to tell her about the blood of Christ, and how it was shed for us, How she did not commit adultery, and how even if she did, God forgives her. How if she commits a sin, she doesn’t have to notify everyone in the world about it and repent to them, God is the important one. In the end, they cancelled the separation, and stayed married.

The Migraine ended after seven days, the dizziness remains, focus remains elusive, I am not the same. It was a week of battles, but in the end, I think the devil came out worse, haha.

God Bless-JFT

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Steve Nash blasts around the massive forward and makes the lay-up, effortlessly hooking the ball in that unique way he does it. The ball hovers for a second above the rim, then drops through the basket. The giant forward has a look of pent up frustration on his face as the small and nimble Nash throws a “got ya” smirk over his shoulder and trots back toward mid court. This has been going on for most of the game, Nash is going to have a high scoring game, and if the Suns don’t screw it up, they are going to beat the Celtics.

She comes into the living room pulling on one pump while hopping on the other, and I am so ensconced in the game I hardly notice. She is calling to Hayley telling her that they need to be gone in ten minutes. I am hoping she doesn’t even ask, I’m obviously planning on watching the game, but she can’t help herself, she asks anyway. Doug, won’t you come with me tonight, please?

I act like I didn’t hear her, a good play is going on and I am on the edge of my seat acting as though I am so focused I don’t hear her. Doug, Honey, she says and picks up the remote, pausing the game. Why don’t you change your shirt and come with us tonight, then afterward we will go out to dinner, she says. She begins rubbing my neck and purrs “pulleesseee, for me”. I enjoy the rub for the moment then say “I’m sorry honey, but this is a really important game, they are playing the Celtics, I really don’t want to miss it. How about next week?

She stops rubbing my neck, and I can feel her whole body droop into a collective sigh of disappointment, then she says  to Hayley, come on. I stand and wrap my arms around her, come on now, I’ll go next time, this is just a really good game, please understand. She says “alright Doug, but I am going to hold you to it”. I hold up my right hand and say, I promise. I actually said the same thing to her two weeks ago, yet she shows restraint by not reminding me of it. She smiles slightly and kisses me on the cheek, “see you when we get back, love you, Hayley, let’s go. Hayley gives me a hug, then says bye daddy, and they go out into the garage and start the car. A minute later, I hear the garage door go closed, as I fast forward through a commercial to get back to the game.

The following morning, I am taking Hayley to school on my way to work. She is seven and in the second grade. “Dad, how’s come you don’t come to church with me and mommy, don’t you love God” she asks in her sweet little voice? I look over at her, and as always the freckles on her nose, and her missing front top left tooth combined just melt my heart. Of course I do honey, I answer, why would you ask me that? Because you never come with us daddy she says, and when you love God, you want to go to church, that’s what mommy says. Well honey, you can love God and not go all the time I respond, loving God is something you do in your heart, people can love God in their own way, I say, making it up as I go.

Hayley looks at me and I can see the wheels in her mind turning, then she says “Daddy, Misses Edabaum says when we are guilty of something we make excuses, are you making excuses because you feel guilty”? Exasperated, I am grateful we are pulling up in front of the school, because I have no answer for her. Sorry honey, I have to get to work, we can talk later I say as she takes off her seat belt and I give her a big hug and kiss. I love you daddy, she says as she hops out and pulls her backpack on, then picks up her little lunchbox. I tell her I love her as she turns away and scampers off to class. I stay for a moment longer, just watching her and taking in the sight of her. I watch her until she disappears through the front door of the school. I sigh wistfully, hoping she will always be so sweet and innocent. I then snap out of it and pull out of the drop-off zone and merge with the flow of traffic, savoring the tender moment with my girl, no matter how old she gets, she will always be my little………..

That is where it ends. I don’t remember anything past that. It is dark and cold where I am. I hear sounds, voices echoing through the darkness, but none I recognize. The voices are just an unintelligible, reverberating series of echoes, but nothing beyond that. I still have no recollection of what happened, wait, hold on, I think it is starting to come back a bit. I was driving, I had just dropped Hayley off, I merged with traffic, no problems. I remember thinking about her, my little girl always, and then I turned my head to the left. I know, I was looking both ways as I went through the intersection, I remember it now, as I looked to my left, I remember seeing two headlights and a huge grille right outside my window, why was it there? It was a semi, a tractor-trailer rig, and it had run a red light, I don’t know why I know this, but the driver was looking at his phone, he was reading a text, and I also know he was racked with guilt because of the wreck. I don’t remember anything else. I remember no impact, nothing. It is probably a good thing because I think it would have hurt. There is no other explanation. I must be in a coma.

I wander in a sleepy land for some time with no sense of space or time, just darkness and hearing voices far off, like train whistles echoing across a prairie night in dead of winter. One day though, or night for that matter, I hear a voice that is close in, it is a clear voice, and it is speaking to me. Doug, open your eyes, the voice says. I struggle to open them, and then to my surprise, they open. Everything comes into focus instantly, and I am surprised and happy because I had figured that I was probably blind, after having spent so much time in the dark.

I am lying prone, and the Doctor looks down at me, concern on his face. Are Melissa and Haley here Doctor, I ask as I focus on his eyes? No Doug, they are not here, he says. How bad am I Doc, I ask as I look around the room a bit, can I still walk? He looks down at me and says “yes Doug, you can walk as well as you ever could” then he tells me that he is not a doctor. “Where am I, I ask, is this a rehab center”? He just looks back at me and then extends his hand to help me up. I am surprised, I feel no pain as I stand, testing my weight on each foot. The man turns around, and I am blown away to see great wings coming out of his back, with beautiful white feathers cascading down past his knees. Although shocked at the implications of my death, I smile inside and say “are you what I think you are”, thinking that if I was with an angel, I was in the right place. Reading my mind, he said Doug, you haven’t been judged yet, the decision is yet to be made. Anxiety instantly floods my soul, “oh man, oh man, dear God” I find myself saying, He turns and says “Doug, the time for prayers is over, come with me”.

His name is Silas, and He is an angel of The Lord, charged with bringing people to judgment. We exit the room and ender a huge hallway, I look to the left and right, the walls are made with cut stones bigger than any I have ever seen. Looking at it from a distance, it would look like a  block wall, but the stones are each the size of a semi trailer. The walls disappear up into the clouds, and there is no ceiling in this hallway, I look up and the ceiling is a moving mosaic of clouds, the sheer immensity of it stuns me. At the end of the hallway, we encounter a room with huge doors made of olive wood, I don’t know how I know that, but I do. The olive wood doors have engraving across them of a huge bird like creature with broad wings spread wide. There is one on each of the two doors, and their wings touch in the middle. I look to Silas and he nods to them saying, Cherubim and Seraphim, The design is from The Lord’s temple in Jeruslaem. He then places his hand on my shoulder, and kisses me once on each cheek. Doug, this is as far as I can go with you, then he opens the door for me, and I enter.

Before me is a huge desk, the size of a house. And on each side of the desk is another figure like each one on the door. Cherubim and Seraphim as Silas called them, but these two are instead gold statues. Each one is at least fifteen feet tall, with a wingspan of thirty feet, their wingtips meeting in the middle, touching just below the top of the huge desk before me. Behind the desk sits an ominous figure. His face is aged with experience, His beard long and white, matching His long and white hair. His eyes a bright and luminous blue, beautiful and yet piercing and His entire body glows white so much so that there are no shadows near Him. I know instantly that it is not possible for darkness to be in company with Him, His brightness would prevent it. I know without doubt who He is from the moment I first looked in through the door. I knew he had created me. I knew that He had knitted me into existence in my mother’s womb. I knew He was God, and I knew He was my Judge.

The Judge opens the book and turns to the page that has my entire life recorded on it. Doug, how do you plead, He asks? Innocent I say quickly. The Wise Judge reads the book intently, studying one page, then another, turning pages as He goes. Finally, He pulls a feather from and ink well and writes with its tip on one of the pages. “You are guilty my beloved”, as he looks up at me, and closes the book. “Wait please, I shout! I was always a good man wasn’t I, I was always honest wasn’t I”? Yes, the Wise Judge said, that you were. I was always kind wasn’t I? Yes, he agreed, you were. I came to church every Christmas, Easter, I worshipped You then, and sometimes I even came on a whim when Melissa asked me, certainly You can’t boot me when I was so faithful to you, can You?

As the Judge listened to me, a tear actually rolled down His face. I protested for what seemed forever, making a great case for my clemency, and He listened. When I was done, He began to slowly shake His head, as another tear followed the first. Doug, kind you were, generous you were, with everything but me. You never missed a game the Suns played, but you only came to church when your wife wouldn’t take no for an answer, and worship Me you did not. You forget I see all, and I know your thoughts. I know you were lamenting every minute you were in church, I know you thought it was a waste of time. You refused to give Me your heart, you rejected My Son. Remember Doug, I know your heart. Finally, I pleaded “how can you condemn me, didn’t you call me beloved? “Yes, I did call you beloved, because you are my beloved” He said. I loved you so much I gave My Son for you, but you refused Him, you never took Him as your Savior, you were too busy. Yes, I love you, but you are lost. I began to protest, but my upper and lower lips grew together, muting me as the Wise Judge slowly and quietly dropped the gavel, issuing my sentence.

Two scaly gargoyles led me down into a dark cave, my hands behind my back. They placed my hands behind me, and I thought they would handcuff me, but my hands grew together as my lips had. My arms ached in the painful position, skin and bone growing together painfully. They demons walked behind me, pushing me before them into the dark. Horror filled my heart as I was pushed through giant spider webs, and I could feel creatures scurrying across my skin, but my hands were welded together behind my back, so I could do nothing. It was then that I realized I wasn’t wearing shoes either, and the jagged stone floor was hurting my feet. Finally, the deeper I went into the cave, there began to be more light and I could make out scorpions crawling across the floor, the sharp pains I felt weren’t rocks, they were stings.

As the cave opened up, it appeared that we were in the inside of a volcano, rivers of lava surrounded me, and it is so hot, how could I possibly not burn up, but I didn’t. A huge hideous creature with the body of a goat, and the torso and head of a dragon came and greeted us. Two long curved horns protruded from his head. Welcome, he said, I am so glad you could make it. I never doubted that you belonged to me. I tried to refute him, but my lips, and now even my teeth had grown together, so that I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t even make a sound. Circling me, the creature appraised his prize with pure happiness. Yeah, I gocha didn’t I, after all, what God would condemn such a good, honest decent man as you? He then leaned his head back and cackled as loudly as he could. I just love it when you guys buy the lie, no need for commitment; religion is just for the weak. I remember when you read that book by Karl Marx with the quote Religion is the opium of the people“. I remember what you thought, you thought Marx was onto something, I just love guys like you who think worshipping God is a waste of time. I just love guys like you who embrace my greatest virtue, pride. Oh well, welcome to your reality, you will have only one possession that you are allowed to keep while you are here (for eternity). As a matter of fact, that one possession will actually be enhanced, who says I am not generous. Your one possession that you may keep is your memory, and it will be enhanced a thousand times, every memory of the good life you had will now be available to you. Welcome to Hell! He then leaned back and cackled in a loud booming voice that shook my entire body, and caused me to fall to the ground, partially into the lava. My skin burned but would not be consumed, and I screamed, but my mouth would not open.

I hit the floor, landing on my head first, and jarring me from the dream. I started and sat up quickly, terrified to my core at what I had just experienced. I looked around, it was six twenty, Melissa had been gone fifteen minutes. I stood up and shook my head, what a dream, what a horrible dream this had been I thought. The game was still on but I no longer cared about it, so I looked around for the remote control to shut the TV off, I had to think about things. That was when I saw it, sticking out from under the couch. I reached down and picked it up, and my blood ran cold. It was a feather, it was one of Silas’ feathers.

 I bolted to the bedroom, peeling my shirt off as I went and letting it drop to the floor. I grabbed a clean one and ran for the door, picking up my shoes as I went. One thing I knew, as I drove to church, I was going to be going slow, and looking in all directions before entering an intersection.

God Bless-JFT

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I sat in my room looking out the window, watching the sun race for the horizon, a darker shade of gray already settling down over the scene before me. Night was coming, and with it, another boring evening in my room surfing online, watching TV, or listening to my IPOD.

I can hear my mom and dad downstairs in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner, laughing and talking as they load the dishwasher. I think briefly about going down there and just asking him, but what’s the point? I know what he is going to say. Megan is going, Danny is going, everyone will be there dancing, hanging out and having a good time.

The football game is every Friday night, and most everyone at the school goes. Megan says everyone hangs out on the home team bleachers and cheers the team on. Actually, she says the truth is they only cheer when the parents cheer and draw their attention to the field, most of the time she says they are talking and having fun up in the stands, not usually even really paying attention to what’s going on out on the field. The best part of the football game is hanging out with your friends, the game is secondary.

Every Friday now, all of my friends begin to talk about going to the game, what they are going to wear, what is going on afterwards. After all the home games there is a dance, and week after week, my friends ask me time and time again if I will be there. Week after week, I tell them no, my dad won’t let me go, and week after week they ask me why, and I tell them “because he won’t”. They look at me strangely, and usually let it go, but today was different, Megan wouldn’t let it go, she just kept pecking at me about it.

“Andrew, what is the deal, are you like grounded for life or something” she asked me and waited for an answer? I just stared back at her, not knowing what to say. In case you don’t know, I like Megan!  Actually, I “Really Really” like Megan and would love nothing more than to spend every Friday night for the rest of my life up on the bleachers with her. I love talking to her, I love being with her, I think I love her, and I never run out of things to talk about with her. Never that is, until now.  I’ve got nothing as she stands there looking me in the eyes, waiting for my answer. Finally, I just blurted out “because he won’t, that’s why”.

She looked back at me with concern in her eyes, and said “why, why won’t he let you”? You haven’t been to a game since you started high school, and we only have one more year left after this one, you are missing out on so much fun. I know you want to go, and I want you to be there with me, I want you to be my date, so will you ask him one more time, for me? I leaned up against the wall and considered my response carefully, and then I began slowly, measuring my words.

I looked at her and said Megan, I don’t know what the point in asking is, because his answer is going to be no. Last year, when we had the first home game, I went and asked him if I could go, and the answer was no. He said that he wasn’t comfortable with me going out in a car with other kids driving. Do you remember a few weeks after school started last year, those kids from the next town got in a car wreck and two of them were killed, well that happened the week before the first home game. So my dad said no, he didn’t want me ending up like one of them. That was the last time I asked him if I could go to the game.

Megan looked at me like I was crazy, “you haven’t asked him since then”, and I shook my head slowly side to side. He said no then, he doesn’t want me to go out, he doesn’t want me riding around with other kids, and nothing has changed, so why would I ask him again? His answer was no then, it will be no now, the circumstances have not changed. Why can’t you understand that’s just how it is I ask her? Why can’t you just leave it alone?

She shakes her head in frustration, and says “I think you are making a mistake, unless your dad is a psycho, he loves you and wants you to be happy”, don’t you think he wants you to be happy? Yes, I nod. You have to give him a chance, just because he said no once doesn’t mean he will never change his mind, that was over a year ago. You have grown up a lot in the last year, in many ways you are a lot more responsible than you were a year ago, but you have to give him a chance, so promise me you will ask him Andrew, c’mon now, promise me. I stare back at her, wanting to go, knowing he will say no yet wanting to please her, so I said okay, I promise.

The sun is beginning to turn the thin clouds a fiery red, sunset is beginning, as I stand up and turn away from the window, resigned to keeping my promise. I head down stairs into the kitchen and head towards the den where dad is watching Seinfeld. Hey pops, you got a second, I ask as he pauses the TV, muting George Costanza in mid rant. Sure son, what’s up he asks. Well, I know you are going to say no, but I thought I would ask anyway. Can I go to the game tonight, and the dance in the gym afterwards, and I brace myself for the response. He asks who is going, how late I think it will last, and then shocks me beyond belief and says “Sure, I don’t see why not”, and he fishes out his wallet and extracts a twenty and hands it to me. He hands the twenty to me and says “have a good time son”, then un-pauses the TV again, and George resumes his rant. I bolt for the door, so excited I don’t know what to do with myself; it will be the best night of my life!

Okay, sounds a bit odd for a story, right? A kid knowing his dad will say no, so he doesn’t even bother asking. For a while, I have had some questions concerning prayer going around in my head, and strangely enough, they resemble the story above. We pray for guidance in life, we pray for things like jobs, promotions, and other situational things in addition to people being ill and praying for healing. When I pray for things like this, I always will say that I want God’s will to be done, that I want Him to put me where He wants me. But am I not in fact asking Him to put me where “I” want to be. So there is the quandary, do I pray for my will, or God’s will.

A dear friend and I discussed prayer the other day, and this viewpoint, and his opinion was that God’s will is going to be done no matter what, if your request meshes with God’s will, then you’re in luck. Things are going to be as they are going to be whether you pray about it or not. While I hold this friend in very high regard, I do not agree. If this is the case, God is going to do as He wishes no matter what.

We are in fact encouraged to bring our prayers and protestations to God, He wants to hear from us, and in my opinion, He considers our communications with Him very seriously. The scriptures leave me with the thought that He craves open dialogue with those He has created, and this is why I think so. His Son was sacrificed for us, and God was the one who chose to tear the veil/curtain between us and the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. Without tearing the veil, only the priests could enter, only the priests could intercede on our behalf’s, only the priests could talk to Him. He didn’t like that, He tore the veil, He wants to hear from us. The Bible is full of examples where God has granted changes to the course of someone’s life because they prayed about it. Lazarus course was changed, the thief that hung next to Jesus, his course was changed, the woman at the well, her course was changed.

The best way for me to understand my relationship to God is as that of a Father and a child, and if the fathers mind is made up all the time, and is solid and unchangeable, then it is not an intimate relationship they have. I believe there are things that are always going to go according to God’s plan, but I believe there is also much that can be changed, if you take the time to go to Him in prayer. I can’t help but think about the example of faith, and what would be possible if our faith were only the size of a mustard seed. The problem has never been with God not being there, it has always been with getting us to take the time to just talk to Him.

God Bless-JFT

The above story is fiction, written to underscore a point.

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As I get older, the more I find myself “hanging” on the scriptures, dwelling on their content, searching for the abundant nuggets of wisdom that they hold. Now I grew up in the church, and studying the Bible was a frequent thing, and I learned the scriptures too. But it hasn’t been until I have grown older that they have really come alive to me, and things that were right before me all along never came out, because I was memorizing, or reading for distance, rather than mileage.

I just love how Jesus chose His disciples, and the wisdom behind those He chose. For different reasons, I can relate to them all from time to time, but mostly I relate to Peter, because we have much in common. He was kind of a hothead (check), he often said the first thing that came to mind (check), he annoyed his Master with his knee-jerk reactions (check). Yet, Jesus loved him anyway. Another one I am encouraged by is Paul. He was church enemy number one, and Jesus decided to turn him, bring him onto the right side. The man was amazing in the wisdom he gained after following Christ, yet he never forgot where he came from. He is another of my heroes. I have been wondering about some things lately, and today they are heavy on my mind because I think I am finally on the brink of understanding something that has long eluded me.

I once had a friend in church many years ago; he was an honorable man that I looked up to, in many ways a mentor. We were discussing faith, and he said that he was comfortable in his faith, that he was in a good place. Many times over the years, I have thought back to that time and that statement, and wondered if there was something wrong with me because I was never comfortable in my faith, never on a plateau of contentment.

Throughout my life, there has always been something, an issue, temptation or behavior that was a bit of a wedge between God and myself. Something I would feel guilty about and try to change that I might be a more acceptable servant to God. As I would stop doing something, I would assume that changing would make me a little better, a bit more acceptable. But no matter what I did, I was never able to reach that plateau of contentment that my friend was lounging on so many years ago. In fact, when I would turn away from something that I thought was keeping me from growing in my faith, I would look up expectantly and see that the summit was actually farther away. This was so frustrating to me, taking one step forward and three steps back. How would I ever be an acceptable sacrifice to God if I could not live worthy, what if I would never be able to measure up?

Today I read a very familiar scripture, one that I have read many times before, and the answer that has eluded me for so long was finally revealed. 2 Chron. 12:7  To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. The Apostle Paul got it; he understood the struggle, because he was going through a struggle too. He too had a weakness that plagued him day in and day out. Now I have heard speculation about what Paul’s thorn was, everything from “he was homosexual” to “he had a problem with lust”. I don’t know why it matters, because he left no clues, and nobody really knows what Paul’s thorn was. I think the fact that the thorn was not described was intentional in that we are left to our devices to determine what it means to us. Maybe Paul’s thorn was this, since he came from a privileged background, maybe his thorn was that he liked the “stuff”, maybe he enjoyed wearing gold and now that he was a Christian he refused to do that, but every time he was in the marketplace, he would window shop and find himself becoming materialistic again.

Or perhaps it was lust, maybe he had a thing for the ladies even though he chose to deny himself and walk with Christ. But that didn’t mean he was look proof, when a pretty lady walked by, maybe he would find himself checking her out, and then the Holy Spirit would tap him on the shoulder and remind him who he was. Maybe he had a bum leg, and while he would be limping along in pain, he would see runners practicing for the Jerusalem 10K and he would be envious of them, wishing he had what they had. One thing is certain, whatever the thorn was, it was real, “A messenger of Satan, to torment me” and it caused him to be tempted, and that temptation kept even the Apostle Paul from reaching that fictional plateau of contentment “To keep me from becoming conceited.

So what does this mean for us, for you and I in our walk? It means that even Paul, the biggest hero in the new testament other that Jesus (in my eyes) struggled with temptation. But it didn’t stop there because he also dealt with sin. And not just the accidental “oops, I didn’t realize the speed limit had changed” type of sin, but the “I know it’s wrong, I knew it was wrong when I did it, but I did it anyway” type of sin that we sometimes deal with. I know this, because Paul tells us about it in Rom. 7:14-15  We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.

Now, I do not believe that we should squander the precious “Blood of The Lamb”, assuming it is a free pass to Heaven and thinking that since we are not worthy of earning Heaven, that we should not even bother trying. God calls us to be disciplined in our lives, and we must do our best to try and be disciplined. But sometimes we will be tired and world weary, and we will fail. Sometimes we will choose the easy path, knowing it is the wrong one and we will fail. Sometimes we will wake the next morning realizing we made a big mistake, and fall on our knees asking God to forgive us for whatever sin we succumbed to, and God will forgive us. He will see our remorse and He will have compassion for us, just as He did for Paul.

So when I start looking at expensive watches and begin to justify treating myself to one, because I think I deserve it, and then realize what I am doing and feel like I am back at Christian 101 again, it’s just “my” thorn, and Paul had one too. Or if I feel my eyes going places I know they shouldn’t and I catch myself too late, and I remember that scripture about “lust being adultery” (Matt.5:28)  it’s just “my” thorn again, and even Paul had one too.

I guess the “Aha” point for me in this post is this, it is not, nor will it ever be possible for me to walk worthy of salvation. On a great day, I still gotta’ have “The Blood”. The plateau of contentment on which I will rest comfortably in my relationship with the Lord will never exist this side of Heaven for me. I will never be happy with my relationship with the Lord, there will always be room for improvement. And I have comfort in the fact that Jesus chose normal people to represent Him for that very reason, that we may know perfection cannot be achieved in this life, that some thorns can “never” be removed, and that their presence in our lives keeps us grounded in our faith “To keep me from becoming conceited”. This has been fun! God Bless-JFT

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Dmitry is back at Haus Edelweiss, the Bible training school in Heilegenkreutz Austria, where I was blessed to do a short term mission last fall. For those of you who have not heard me speak of Demi, he is a pastor of three churches in Russia, and he is my friend. It is really cool in this time of worldwide communication that we are able to stay in touch as easy as we do. Before we parted in Austria, he gave me his Face book information. The instructors at TCM (Training Christians for Ministries Institute) are good at teaching, challenging and preparing these Christian church workers to go out into the world and spread God’s word. Demi posed a question recently that I assume came from one of his professors at the Haus, and here it is. Интересная мысль: почему я проповедую всегда важнее чем то как я проповедую. что вы думаете об этом? Thank goodness for Google translator, the question was Interesting thought: why I preach always more important than what I preach. What do you think about this?”

I thought this question was indeed interesting, and it kept nagging at me, because I think it is a really important question. At first, my thought was no, I disagree. What you preach is of great importance because you need to be accurate in what you tell others about God. You need to be timely in the messages you choose to deliver to the church, preaching on things that they can relate to in their lives. I thought about the merits of each position in this question, and finally came to the conclusion that I believe it is more important “why” we preach than “what” we preach.

“Why” would define your motives. If you are preaching because you love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and spirit, then your “why” is right. If you are spreading the gospel because you want to spread the good news to others, that they too may be saved by Jesus blood, then your “why” is right.

If your why is right, then you will have sincerity of heart in trying to serve God in the best way you can. If you are sold out to the Lord, then you will put a fair amount of time into studying His word, that you may be able to be accurate when spreading God’s word far and wide. Another thing that comes to mind is this. When we are followers of Christ, we have a love for people that makes us want to tell them about Jesus. The Apostle Paul put it best when he said this.             1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ,     Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.                   

So yes, I agree with the statement that “why” you preach is more important than “what” you preach. If our “why” is right, people will see the love of Christ in us, we will be on fire for the Lord, and we will strive to reach every soul that we can with the message of Jesus, which will control “what” we preach and how we preach it. I am glad that Dmitry posted the question on his face book, because it has caused me to consider my own faith and how I spread the gospel, “and why”. I would be interested to know what you readers think.

God Bless

JFT          

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