#20 Unimpressed By The Impossible

The impossible setting:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick but hope without faith pulls the plug and watches the heart die. Lord…that our desire would be to make every act an act of worship, give us a broken heart, but give us one that refuses to be impressed by impossible circumstances.

The fall season has now arrived as an empty handed messenger. The income we’d hoped to see remains the income we hope to see eventually. Until then, we’ve stopped paying our mortgage in order to cover essentials. Better to face foreclosure in the next few months than to face the next few weeks without food and utilities. On the hands of another messenger, a five fingered version of our own Goliath, came a six figure lawsuit that was filed against me and set in motion last month. It’s a long story about rights, the rights of a bank to pay an attorney to convince a judge that a man with nothing can pay back everything from that nothing.

This wilderness continues to break my heart by barely failing to kill it. So dimly lit were the days of the last few weeks that hope deferred became hope unplugged. Yet those same days were joyfully dark enough to expose the timid faith resting on my lampstand – faith like a bulb so loose in its socket that it flickers with every distant roar from a toothless lion. Saintly upon the floor or sinfully beneath it, my days were spent with hands cupped, a faithless smile, and a memory that lasts like penny gum – asking if He’s still generous – generous enough to drop another coin in the gum machine.  But instead of a coin He deposited a word in my heart.

“The sweet testimony of My extravagance is alive in you but it lives in your heart like an orphan.”

With an income that appears to be lost on the horizon, I cannot defend, I cannot replace and I cannot out swim a tidal wave born from the aftershock of my failure. All I have in this moment is that word to cover my needs. What does a generous God do with my sloppy faith?

Tour the prison:

I’ve never been bold like John the Baptist but I take great comfort in knowing that he was once afraid like me. Depression is a spirit that flings false testimony upon the mind like hot tar in the heat of discomfort. From Herod’s prison that spirit asked John if Jesus was really the one. And from the prison of my need it asks instead if that same one has left me for dead. The hand of depression holds circumstance like a chisel. Its skill is not in denying the truth but in chipping away at its context until the truth is no longer welcome. Like little bites of rotten food that eventually wrench the gut and gain our full attention, so the enemy uses false context to painfully remind us of our truthful circumstances.

If we listen, as I listened, then every missed mortgage payment, collection call and deputy at my door becomes a reminder of what God is NOT doing. The circumstances are accurate but no longer reside in the context of truth (what God IS doing). As a result, my outward faith toward God shifts inward toward me and eventually in the opposite direction toward the enemy (“Oh no…God isn’t meeting my needs, what shall I do? Who will help?”) The enemy builds prisons from the bricks of agreement. If he can gain our attention, he’ll start asking questions that are tough to ignore.  For example, here’s one that I’ve heard recently:

“You’ll remain faithful even if God doesn’t rescue your family. But if He doesn’t…will it not prove that faith actually makes little difference in your circumstance?”  

 Don’t answer! We’ve been had…  

The temptation to answer that is strongly linked with our desire to defend God as if we were David and the enemy was Goliath. The grit of an honest answer is our way of facing that villain but it’s only a trap loaded with inspiring bait. This villain is not a giant, he’s a pickpocket who steals everything while looking us in the eye and gently listening to our passionate response. The enemy was never really Goliath or the Philistines but rather the unbelieving heart of Saul and his army who feared them. So let’s be very clear, in the context of depression as a tactic… engaging in conversation with the enemy IS agreeing with the enemy. Goliath represents the opportunity we have to trust God for the impossible – a battle designed to break our heart and build our faith. Whereas the real enemy “unbelief” is simply designed to kill the heart until it is dead.

It was my willingness to engage the enemy that made the difference, not how I answered his question. Once the door was opened for conversation his questions became my own, turning my heart inward and launching a retreat that rendered me kingdom-useless for weeks. (“What have I done? What will people say who’ve seen God move, but now question my sanity? If foreclosure occurs where will we spend Christmas? How will we homeschool our kids?” etc…) He used my integrity to draw me into a battery of questions that surely led to unbelief. I literally felt sick for weeks.

Remember this…God isn’t leading us into conversations with the enemy. Those questions are not puzzles for us to solve, they are faith-grenades that we must avoid. It’s not a question of rebuke or casting anything out, it’s a question of knowing that he’s been rebuked, cast out and put behind Jesus. God is saying consider the source not the content. The questions are irrelevant – keep moving forward because answering irrelevant questions will always and only blow us off course.

Eyes ahead please…

If we consider the declaration “get behind me Satan” to mean “you’ll never again receive my focus” we begin to understand why our only option according Proverbs 4:25 is to look directly ahead. But it’s not a point-n-shoot trajectory. Knowing where “ahead” begins comes only from knowing where you’ve been. This is why remembering what God has done (our testimony) provides direction for knowing where He wants to go (the spirit of prophecy). The testimony of Jesus (who lives in us) is the spirit of prophecy. Rev19:10  But we need an unwavering belief in that knowledge (our faith) to generate forward progress – the substance that propelled David toward Goliath while everyone around him fainted.

Without being commanded, David stepped willingly into what God presented, an impossible circumstance that by faith he stewarded to victory. He was able to do this by prophesying victory over Goliath based on testimony “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” 1 Sam 17:37  God is a good provider, so we wait diligently on our break-through. But while waiting we must steward what He’s already given us, the fertile environment for break-through to occur (the setting).  We co-labor in the order of responsibility, our assignment is to fight the battle and God’s responsibility is to win the battle. We declare the victory by faith and He establishes our faith by the victory (for His glory). But it never happens if we forget the testimony that lives in our heart… because it lives there like an orphan.

Note from the King (as spoken to my heart):

You’ve been searching the skies for a cloudburst while standing in a pool of water – you don’t have to talk me into providing for you. Instead, embrace the depth of this struggle and steward it well. My water is gathered and stored here in your lowest place. Stop asking for rain and plant the seeds that I’ve already given you. And from the rich wet soil beneath your feet will spring trees of living sacrifices among the weeds. With a renewed mind I have given you this wilderness to civilize – With the light of men I have given you this darkness to illuminate – With my leaven I’ve given you this fire to make everything you touch rise with you. And having been crushed into salt, it’s with my hand that I will scatter you and make savory the culture that surrounds you.

Personal note:

A broken heart is good but it does not relieve us from the responsibility to live by faith. Only by a broken heart that’s full of faith are we able to face the impossible moment set before us, and steward it well. Thanks dear friends for your continued prayers. Blessings…

If you need encouragement or prayers please email: wakeupmyfaith@att.net  Or connect with me on facebook, twitter and google+

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#19 Okay, Life’s Unfair… So Where Do We Go From Here?

You slice the cake and I’ll decide which piece

If you’ve ever blurted the heartfelt statement “that’s unfair!” you’ve likely heard in response “well… life is unfair.” Believers know and agree that the rain falls on everyone. Yet we all long to be – hope to be, and even expect to be, treated with fairness. Even from a distance our heart aches at the sight of unfair behavior. But where does that expectation come from? Before you answer, take note: this subject is an iceberg chocked full of caverns and caveats – something to be carefully explored over time. The story below is a first step.

Loving my neighbor (with Jesus’s bullwhip)

A breathtaking miscalculation by a young neighbor severed the natural gas line beneath our living room. Within minutes our home was so flammable that answering the phone could have killed us. But because of a deadline our gas line was easier to break than my concentration. My wife stopped explaining and pulled me by the shirt sleeve away from my desk and through the front door. Our A/C unit had been wrestled to the ground by a black SUV and hogtied with the other end of that gas line. I dashed back inside to turn off the breaker and open windows but it was too late. My game face – the one that looks like Jesus, was dead on the floor from asphyxiation. Seconds later I was back outside; this time glaring at the wreckage as if it were a prison break with every guard asleep.

If sixteen years in the passenger seat is considered “driver training” then the SUV sitting atop our air unit wasn’t there by accident. Our neighbor’s son (the untrained driver) blew out his 16th candle, garnered a license and nearly blew up our home. His maiden voyage to the soccer field gave way to a circus maneuver that went no further than the side of our house. The fire department arrived in full hazmat regalia, unleashing a parade of arm-chair crisis managers into the street. Neighbors love this sort of thing.

The young man’s father turned to me as I approached and with a humorous expectation crossed his arms and chuckled… “Well neighbor, it’s time to get yourself a new unit.” But humor is an unfamiliar idiot when your house is about to explode (and you’re broke). My wife and I were equally frustrated but she was more overwhelmed by the opportunity to “be Jesus” to our neighbor. I just wanted to stripe the poor fellow with Jesus’s bullwhip, you know, the one from the temple? And I made it quite clear. But throwing stones sent ripples through my own countenance until its face bore the likeness of an unmade bed – scarcely covering my flesh. My wife took aim with insisting eyes, but her warning shots bounced away from that bed and fell (every one) to the ground.

To my neighbor’s defense rushed another neighbor from another street, making her way to my yard in hopes of inspiring the villagers (still other neighbors) to grab their torches and pitchforks – me being the monster. There were loud chants of “oh grow up” and “come on it was just an accident”. But after the kid destroyed our air unit, wiped out the utilities and nearly killed us, ridicule for not laughing it off in the first two minutes was a marked improvement on the hour.

The neighbor’s insurance adjustor was expected the next business day. Seven days and seven estimates later he knocked on our door with camera in hand. While shaking my hand he was shaking his head in disbelief over the condition of our unit. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Scrolling through the images he continued shaking his head “I can’t wait to show these to the other adjustors.” I humored him hoping the bottom line wouldn’t take as long to reach as his arrival. With a nod of agreement he stopped abruptly and blurted… “You’ll need to call your homeowners insurance”. Our mouths fell open but nothing worth repeating fell out. “Call OUR homeowners insurance?” (If you’re reading between the lines look for a large deductible and a rate increase in that proposition.) “Sorry sir, it’s just our policy.”

My wife, the woman who’d been ready to be Jesus to our neighbor, was now ready to drive out this thief with that bullwhip – the one I’d stolen from Jesus. I think he escaped unharmed, but with an eight thousand dollar replacement cost, we had no choice but to agree to the hefty deductible and to live with higher rates. By this time our sense of fair expectation was road kill (left for dead) on the pity highway – a highway with toll booths on every exit – the further you travel the more expensive it gets. Stay with me…

Our adjustor arrived three days later with an expert, a partnering A/C company to help validate the process. We already had seven experts assess the damage and agree on the solution but certainly didn’t mind one more. By now we knew that federal law prohibited partially updating an obsolete system. Our safety and legal compliance required a full replacement. Hearing that for the eighth time made little difference to us – we thought.

To our surprise this final expert hinted that all seven of our estimates were fraudulent, suggesting that rebuilding was actually a better option because it would reduce the claim cost by half. And even though our system was ten years obsolete, matching parts could be located in junkyards. Wow! This is where unfair begins to feel downright criminal and we both break out the bullwhips. By the way, not one of the seven companies we contacted would touch the liability of trying to rebuild an obsolete system.

Now with a deep breath… (let’s recap)

My wife and children are in homeschool and I’m working in my office. Our neighbor who’s not quite ready to drive demolishes our gas line and A/C units. We narrowly escape our gas filled house without blowing it up. A few people are condemning me for lacking a sense of humor. The damages amount to eight thousand dollars. We have no A/C, heat or hot water for weeks. The neighbor’s insurance refuses to pay for it. Our own homeowners insurance has a one thousand dollar deductible. Our monthly rates increase by fifteen percent. Our Insurance preemptively offers enough to rebuild it with junkyard parts. And the kid next door who injured only his pride was now zipping past the mess he created with more confidence, in his new car!

Okay life is unfair… So where do we go from here?

There are generally two directions we can take: Attempt to “make -fair” the unfair circumstance or Leave it as-is and try to draw meaning from it. Either way, the origin is the same dark and hollow place. Until we move in one direction or the other, we’ll neither ease the pain nor gain understanding – so we have to move. But it’s how we make that decision that is most critical. In order to shed some light, we have to start by asking the right questions from the right perspective (as vineyard workers not holocaust victims) and applying brutal honesty to the answers. To that end, we must sincerely ask where the idea of fairness comes from. And only absolute honesty will provide enough clarity in that tunnel to distinguish between daylight and a speeding train. So, here it is… the truth: Jesus never taught us to be fair, or to expect it. That said, we can agree, disagree or simply say “I already knew that”. But before we can discuss it frankly, we have to take a look at our behavior. Behavior reflects what we truly believe more accurately than our words – even in trivial things.

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matt 7:12 NASB.

Jesus clearly delivers to us His standard for loving others. I’m not suggesting that we’ve misunderstood that. I am suggesting that if we’re not careful, our flesh will gravitate subconsciously toward the best “me” outcome – viewing everything through a set of “how it affects me” lenses. Speaking for myself, when I read this passage I too know exactly what Jesus is saying. But without careful meditation, what my flesh latches onto is something slightly different – twisting the emphasis so that later, under pressure, I’m relying on a false expectation: “People will also treat me the way they would like to be treated.” And if I’m not careful, I’ll behave according to something slightly off parallel, that eventually shuttles my thinking in the opposite direction – possibly toward an oncoming train.

Here’s a quick allegory, using physical maturity, to illustrate the difference in how we reconcile what we say, with what we truly believe (spiritual maturity). Suppose you’re running at top speed and suddenly shoved to the ground, how do you react? If you are five you cry, if you are fifteen you seek revenge, if you are twenty five you seek answers, and if you are forty you see that God kept you from being run over by a city bus. Based on my initial behavior with my neighbor (with no time to apply my game face) my spiritual maturity was like that of the fifteen year old, while my wife’s behavior was like that of the forty year old. When my neighbor didn’t immediately meet my expectation, I reacted on what I really believe – no matter how many times I’ve agreed that life is not fair.

In that respect, how did you feel when you read what happened to us? What was your initial response? Without fail every person we’ve shared this story with has some version of the same response and remedy: “The neighbor should pay or help pay our deductible.” I certainly agree that it’s the only right and fair thing to do. But if I ask myself why, every honest answer leads me to the same perplexing place – and it’s not Jesus.

Bottom line:

Jesus doesn’t teach us to be fair, He teaches us to love even our enemy – to be more than fair to everyone, expecting nothing from men in return. And to be clear… fairness is not inconsistent with scripture, but holding it as a preeminent inalienable right, is. Perhaps our neighbor should pay or at least help with the deductible. Or perhaps he should say “well, you’re getting a new system for a thousand bucks, I did you a favor.” And I could see his point if he said that. But why does it matter who pays if I trust God completely? Think about this… If I believe the words of Matthew 6:33, why should I struggle or strive over the injustice or lack of fairness in our situation? I’m convinced that the longing we feel to be treated fairly is actually a longing for God’s love but until we know His love, we search for anything that will satisfy it quickly, including adding a twist on the scriptures.

Personal Note:

We prayed and God clearly gave us instructions – instructions that included nothing about compensation. In following His lead we sat down with the young man and his parents and told him it was okay – that we’d both made much worse mistakes as teens – all was forgiven. And I asked His parents to forgive me for my anger. We left without saying a word about compensation but trusting God to be our provider in yet another impossible situation. One week later the neighbor brought us a check that covered our deductible. The rest is HIS-story.

For prayer or encouragement please contact me by email: wakeupmyfaith@att.net   Or connect on facebook and Google+

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#18 Wake Up My Post – I Think It’s Still Breathing

If you’re alive, you have breath. If that breath has ever been taken away, even for a moment, you have a testimony. Our lives are filled with moments of pain or decisions that wipe clean everything but the shell of who we think we are. Like many who’ve been breathing a while, I’ve also been crushed under the weight of God’s course correcting presence. Though it continues to steal my breath, it saves my life and reminds me who He is – the only thing of value that truly exists. And the only thing of value that my life can produce is to share this truth with those who are unsure. Faith comes by the word but the hope made available through it is often seen first in the pain of those who are willing to trust God through it. In that respect, here is a brief window into my personal ongoing refinement.

Thrown in the well – (The rest of the story)

In the fall of 2008, after a decade of hard work, I had a successful business, high income, great investments and no bad debt. By January 09, within 100 days, I’d lost it all, was in overwhelming debt, and my entire financial structure had collapsed squarely on top me and my family. It’s a common story these days, but still uniquely and personally devastating. Ten years of effort left me with nothing it seemed but guilt, fear, and shame. As a way of reminding myself to hope, I began to express in writing what has sustained me, kept me from suicide, and still encourages me to press on with confidence. Last year I began my blog with little expectation that anyone else would read it. But people are reading it and sharing it with others who are hurting. And through it, God is revealing His will for me to write, even at the expense of leaving my livelihood dead on the floor. This may sound foolish but from the bottom of a well you see more clearly that everything including your livelihood comes from above. So my journey continues to unfold, but despair is by now blue-in-the-face from loitering about and being ignored. Thrown in the well and grateful I am.

Balancing On The Head of a Pin – (August -April)

When this trial began, I’d been a believer for 24 years. But not until it happened did I learn the value of suffering or understand that even Jesus had to learn obedience through it. It’s the process for all who are being prepared for the work of the Lord. And it differs for everyone depending on that work. For us, there have been days with no groceries and no way to buy them, days of not knowing where we would live, days of marriage struggles and depression, and even days of seeing extended family place material wealth above our need. And some of the longest days were spent watching our prodigal son reject us, and all that we embody. For nine months the son I baptized and the son my wife carried allowed people in his life to believe we were the enemy. But in these days I learned something astonishing, something that will forever keep me passionately defending and praising our God to all who will listen. I learned that He loves me and made me priceless. I learned that His word is the bread of life that most believers never truly feast on, and I learned that He wants to talk to me every day about my life through that word. So I began to study fervently and write from what I learned.

And Now I Know: The most important thing for a believer is to seek intimacy with God so the heart can detect His whispering voice. It is a closeness that only develops through the word by His spirit. And it is the means by which He leads us through our suffering into the work of the Lord. I’ve seen His mighty hand feed us and clothe us when we could not. He stabilized our finances when we had nothing. He brought our son home from nearly year of rejecting us. Over and over I saw His hand moving at precise moments. But it took steadfastly staying in His word to open my eyes and understand what He was doing and why. God never wanted to crush me, but it was the only way to get the wine flowing from me that He intended for others. So my pain has become my passion and my former idols of fear and pride have become a condemned enemy.

Trading Wealth For Faith

I never realized how useless my life was as a man striving in my own effort to sustain a false identity.  Now, through His word, I hear His voice just as the sheep who know the sound of it. After months of living in moments, at my lowest place, God clearly revealed to me that I would be free to live for Him and His purpose while resting in our impossible situation. And while standing in worship one Sunday He said “I will lift you up now” and He did – it would take pages and pages to express the depth and detail of His blessing in this way, so I’ll just summarize it for you. He told me to let go of business, to write and minister instead. He told me He would sustain my family and take care of our needs and He has. He told me He would restore my marriage and clean our hearts from the pain of childhood and He has. He told me that He would speak through me to encourage people when their lives are shaken, and He is doing it as we speak!

The Turning Point – (may require a dose of unfairness)

Suffering removes the hooks of the world so the mind can be renewed and the heart transformed. It’s a process that ultimately proves the will of God and reveals who we are in relation to it. And there is a turning point in our suffering when we stop asking God to change our circumstances and trust that He will perfectly provide for us “in” them. It is the moment we realize the true freedom we have in Christ and it is the moment when our identity in Him is free to move forward without distraction.  However, we must be soberly aware of the enemy’s intense desire to corrupt that process. By paying close attention we may find that in our own suffering we are nurturing a secret pride, a teardrop of pretentious dignity at having suffered and come closer to God.

With hidden pride, a dose of “unfairness” is always required to course correct it. But it’s when that unfairness seems criminal that our willingness to rest in it becomes a true act of worship. And it’s in a state of constant worship that our newly found identity can finally begin to move. In this case, God makes us wait when it makes no sense. But it’s a necessary time when He stretches our faith past the pride of that identity to keep us from being distracted by it. We see this process throughout scripture as God prepares His people for the work ahead. Because of its subtlety, one of my favorite examples is when Joseph is left in prison by the Egyptian Cupbearer.

Gen 40:14-15 “But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15 I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” But the cupbearer forgot him and two more years passed before he was remembered.

After all the years being refined in prison Joseph believed the time was right – he was ready in his mind. But if you read those verses carefully you can detect the subtle lingering pride he carried. He already knew his identity (dream interpreter). As far as he was concerned there was nothing else to learn from being in prison, and no need for him to continue suffering – it would be criminally unfair. But God left him there two more years to defeat the tiny seed of pride that remained in his heart. The truth is Joseph only knew his identity in part, and certainly, with even an ounce of pride, leading the nation of Egypt for God would have been impossible.

So, perhaps… if this blog has been fruitful in some way between the months of August and April, it has chronicled the brief testimony, still unfinished, that suffering uncovers our identity and from the heels of that suffering the wings of faith take flight. Faith reveals the finger prints of God – Waiting prepares our character for leaving them on the world.

Final Note:

My last post (3 months ago) focused on our long struggle with an angry man who at the end of our relationship allowed me to share with him the good news of Jesus.  Not until those final weeks did I know his body was riddled with cancer. He was very unfair to us for nearly a year. And all we could do is rest in the Lord as to why. For those who read that story and were never sure how it ended, he died on April 24th three days after the post.  As a result of that post I received tremendously kind feedback in various forms – something all writers enjoy. But that enjoyment sat squarely on the shoulders of a suffering man – who I looked in the face – whose final year with his family was defined by bitterness. It hollowed my desire to write. Over the last three months I’ve been praying for God to give me direction – listening instead of writing for the wrong reason. He has answered my prayer and filled up that deep well with water… In the meantime I’m still learning how to swim. Next post due shortly…

For prayer or encouragement please contact me by email: wakeupmyfaith@att.net   Or connect on facebook 

Posted in Faith Encouragement | 48 Comments

#17 The Homeless Landlord: How Do You Value One Lost Soul?

What would you surrender…
If it would bring salvation to one lost person – a week’s pay, your house, maybe even your livelihood? Don’t answer yet…

From rainy day investor to homeless landlord,
I was steering the ship from a life preserver with no way back on board.
I cut adrift my family’s dwelling and sentenced them to the street,
but anchored a mansion for my tenant who offered us nothing but grief.
He never took a second look nor would he ever agree,
that through my empty pockets the ground is all that you see.

For a moment we were stuck without a home and our tenant was stuck with out a heart. While considering how to parcel out my family to live with friends and neighbors, we surrendered our home with no assets, income or method of retreat. Yet by some “house-of-card” irony, we were still shackled to a waterlogged investment, a rental home with negative equity and Yosemite Sam for a tenant. With all the sad folks sleeping in alleys and underneath bridges, how many possibly owned a rental home – would I be the first? Could I live in a box while my tenant summoned me to fix the plumbing?

With a cup of coffee and a worried look I shared the news with my tenant. Without a word he shook my hand and headed for the exit. But seconds before he shut the door he said with a stubborn stare “I will sue you mister if you sell my house – just making you aware”. Before any rational response made its way to my lips, Johnny Cash was reaching for the extra-long door of his white Jaguar. The same one I supposed that he’d be driving up to my mattress to pay rent. The news was simple really. I had to sell, so I offered him the house for less than we owed. But I reassured him that if he chose not to buy, his lease was still intact with anyone that did. And other than showing the property with plenty of notice, this wouldn’t affect him at all. The only measure of protection for either of us would come on the hands of a new landlord – not a homeless one. But he didn’t want to buy and he didn’t want me to sell.

Surrender Is One Step Past Commitment

When a rainy day investor begins to chase a storm, occasionally that storm reverses course and begins to chase him. It certainly wasn’t the odd rationale of my tenant that caused our circumstance, but now it sat like a heavy object directly on top of our escape hatch. His rational was a mystery to me like a thousand piece puzzle with no picture or box. I didn’t know where to begin or where it might end. But it didn’t end there. Yosemite’s belligerent bag of tricks included legal letters, bitterly critical emails, intimidating potential buyers, and late, partial, or unpaid rent – which by that time wouldn’t cover our cost. This was the climate of our relationship for the next several months.

There are differences between considering how it feels to be homeless and thinking through how to live without a home. There’s the immediate confrontation of the “how to” and the urgency of your answer. But the big difference is realizing there is no retreat. It’s not about selling wedding rings or living with friends for a moment, but looking out ahead of you and seeing nothing on the other side. It’s the nightmare that looks simple through a keyhole but entirely different through the holes of empty pockets. Every hopeless glance at the bed of a tired friend looks more like the back seat of your car… and eventually… the alley where it was parked. Not saying I’ve been there, but we HAD to go there in our mind. You can only watch it through the keyhole until the bank changes the lock – and they were on the way.

The Miracle Between Surrender And Captivity

It seems that miracles most often occur in that blink between surrender and captivity. So we had to be homeless in our mind before appreciating the home God had in mind. And from the smallest most unassuming place, He opened the window of humility and blessed our willingness to climb through it. My wife had previously checked on a few small rentals. Amazingly, in spite of our having no credit or income, we got a call from the motherly landlord of the smallest one. She said God had spoken to her about us and the place was ours for the next year. She broke all the rules and took us in based on her faith and our word. So the new landlord we’d been praying about was meant for us, not my tenant. We moved in without the slightest idea of how to pay the rent. But within a week God provided a small project that covered our living expenses for the next few months. At last we’d have a place to hunker down and untangle the mess.

Through this blessing our tenant had no further influence on our living arrangement. But that declining influence brought more frequent and desperately sharper criticism from him. So we praised God for giving us a place to breathe but we praised Him even more for the revelation we received as a result. Our battle wasn’t defending against the barrage of criticism from our tenant, but in learning to forgive him for every ugly word. Continued forgiveness is unwillingly attached to ongoing persecution – but it’s attached for good reason. As we approached the home stretch of our tenant’s lease (final month) things got very quiet– no more nasty emails or threatening letters, just silence. With a month to go and curious concern, I emailed to remind him about vacating. A few days later the response email arrived from his address:

“My husband was diagnosed with liver cancer this year and it has now spread throughout his body – advancing to stage four. He’s lost 50 pounds in the last two months and is no longer able to walk. His business has suffered, and because of pre-existing conditions, our medical insurance is not covering the costs. There’s not much more we can do”.

My overwhelming impression was concern. I wasn’t shocked or feeling shame for having been frustrated – just concerned. Somehow it was terrifyingly beautiful to recognize that a dizzy man was about to fall, yet God had His hand in the small of his back for an instant. It’s that moment when He leaves the ninety nine for the one – the one who’d already lost his balance by the edge of a cliff.

“I want to tell you that Jesus loves you my friend, so much more than you will ever understand. He made you to be loved and you are the jewel in His crown. He gave you his heart by dying for you as you are. He is our only hope, the only one who can lift the weight of our sin and remove it forever. If you haven’t given Him your heart the time has come.”
“-Praying for you “

He sent me a brief response just saying thank you, and how much those words meant to him. Weeks later the place was emptied with many personal things left behind. We don’t know for sure but believe that something happened. It appeared that his family had moved their things for them. I may never know if he accepted the Lord but at least I know he had the chance. And maybe now we both had a heart, and hopefully… an eternal home.

Reflection:

What would you surrender if it would bring salvation to one lost person – a week’s pay, your house, maybe even your livelihood? Maybe it’s easier to dismiss the question than attempt an honest answer. We may never have to answer that question, but maybe we should live like we already have. Jesus is the one who saves but we are the ones who point the way – unless we let other things get in the way.

When I look back on the frustration and hurt this man caused, I have to remember that it must be only a fraction of what he was feeling himself. If we hadn’t suffered the loss of our home, or forgiven his anger, we might never have known his pain, or taken the time to share the good news. If the One who inhabits us considers one lost soul as priceless – shouldn’t we? I love this powerful verse because it reminds me just how much value God assigns to the lost, and the joy He finds in their rescue. Paul clearly understood this and meant exactly what he said. Even though God would never require this, it shows the heart of Christ for the lost, through the one He inhabits. Nothing on earth is more valuable to God and nothing should be to us.

“I am a follower of Christ, and the Holy Spirit is a witness to my conscience. So I tell the truth and I am not lying when I say my heart is broken and I am in great sorrow. I would gladly be placed under God’s curse and be separated from Christ for the good of my own people”. (Rom 9:1-3) CEV

Meditation: Luke 15

Note to self – Poetic style:

Good news falls with greater purpose on the spot where God takes aim,
But evaporates on that empty surface if we’re chasing bigger drops of rain.
Yet even an ocean of stolen drops won’t drown that still small voice,
As it calls for all the drowning lambs to at least be given a choice.
And every martyr bleeds for what each brick in every church demands,
That we stop dragging the wealth of Egypt across the desert sand.
Making every provision a tool for harvest distinctly where we stand,
And watch the good news honor God for the sake of one lost man.

For prayer or encouragement please contact me by email or connect on facebook wakeupmyfaith@att.net

Posted in Faith Encouragement | 111 Comments

#16 Greatest Mistake In History – A Man Fails To Lead His Wife.

I once thought greatness was measured in a husband by his ability to provide and willingness to please his wife. By the fruit of that notion I moved my family four times in four years – bigger and better at the speed of home equity. But the fruit of any vain labor will eventually ferment and intoxicate the one sustained by it. My efforts continued blindly until the day the phone rang “we no longer have the budget for your services” one call after another, fifty in a row. I’d been sucker-punched by the truth, just in time to watch the enemy run off with my income, and the value of our home. The emperor who had no clothes was now out of “hush” money.

The bank sold our home for half the amount we paid. My wife, already humbled by the experience, had her sites on a particular rental. But God stepped in and offered more than just a refuge for my large family. We settled instead into a tiny rental with a moldy campground bathroom and perpetually broken air unit. It was perfect for us and we hated it. She referred to it as an “ugly plaid shirt, two sizes two small”, that God insisted she wear. I call it throwing a fit, but I didn’t blame her-it was my fault. He made it clear that we were to move in for a time to adjust our thinking and renew our minds. We stayed. She made it a home.

Several months later in the deep summer, about midday, I fell asleep on the couch and God spoke. It was a long morning of old coffee and reheated resumes – one after another – ninety degrees outside and ninety five in the house. Caffeine is no match for the snake-charm of monotony but I didn’t care. Falling asleep was my way of feeding the pigeons from the park bench instead of working. Or maybe God had His hand on my forehead, waiting for me to stop punching the air and collapse from exhaustion. I don’t remember the dream, only the stress of it. But I awoke with God saying “Remember Adam and Abraham”

The treasure of Godly impression is that He says what he means. Each word is a map telling us where to dig. I spent the next couple days dusting off Adam and Abraham, only to uncover a seated portrait of myself. Both of these men sat down at precisely the moment they needed to stand on God’s word. In their desire to avoid conflict, they bowed the knee and relinquished their God given authority to their wives. Both men gave in because they wanted to please their wives more than God. This failure to stand up and give the enemy a black eye resulted in the most extraordinary suffering the earth will ever know.

Failure to lead

Eve was tempted by knowledge but Adam was tempted more by her appraisal of him. The world has reduced this event to a cartoon of sneaky teens being backhanded for outsmarting God. But even believers miss Adam’s failure to lead by focusing on the at-large temptation (to be like God). It’s obvious though… Adam should have said “No”. He’s responsible, the rest is history. Likewise, Abraham should have said “No” to Sarah when she pushed him to dismiss the promise of Isaac; ultimately making Hagar the mother of Isaac’s disdain throughout history. Both decisions to submit to these influences, instead of standing up to them, brought consequences beyond description.

Let’s Consider Just Two Of The Consequences Of Adam’s Failure:

Gen 3:16b (NLT) 16b “Then he said to the woman… And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” (Other versions refer to it as “desire for your husband” but a deeper study of the structure reveals this to be a desire for his authority -not sexual).

After fifteen years I can say with absolute assurance that nothing (on earth) can move me like the encouragement of my wife. And nothing can injure me like her shame. By design, she has great influence in my life. If she is close to God that influence becomes an extension of His hand. If she is operating from pain or some other contingency, that influence can become a weapon of the enemy.

Gen 3:19 (NLT) “By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made.”

This verse reveals why men assign god-like value to their unique ability as providers (not gifts). It’s actually a curse, but men wear it in their flesh like a badge. When it’s ripped away they suffer unless Jesus becomes their ointment. He reassigns our value according to what He paid for us, not the sweat of our brow or career status. Someone said to me in response to this “Yes, but a man who won’t provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever.” He was attempting to quote 1 Tim 5:8 as a way to say that my argument gives license for men to do nothing. I understand… but that is a heart issue. It doesn’t require a license from ME. I’m not referring to a willingness to provide but rather our bent to replace God with our own strength. Besides, the context of that verse is completely focused on grown children caring for widowed parents “family that has” helping “family that has not”– expressly those in our immediate family. It’s a complete perversion to use it any other way, especially to condemn a man who seeks God with all his heart for direction. Regardless, men must stop placing their value on anything except the finished work of Jesus!

These Strongholds Are Deeply Rooted In Our Misunderstanding Of Love

The scriptures above reflect two curses that inhabit Christian marriages unnecessarily; one through men and one through women. Each are the result of Adam’s failure to stand up. And below are four intertwined aspects of these curses that perpetuate themselves, until the marriage eventually fails.

The wife falls into the trap of relying more on the husband than God
The husband relies on his ability to provide rather than on the provider Himself (God)
The wife undermines the husband’s authority by manipulating his desire for her approval
The husband receives affirmation by satisfying his wife’s desire instead of God’s will

Jesus broke this curse for all who accept it, but many of us who believe it are living as if we didn’t. In this regard, anyone who is married or hopes to be, should answer a few sobering questions. Can a man properly lead his wife without being led by God? Or can he truly love his wife if he is unwilling to love God’s word? A quick “yes” answer brings the next question: Has our standard “As Christ loved the Church” been adjusted by emotion or reason?

God desires that a man should give himself up for his wife. This means guarding her physical AND spiritual welfare to the point of jeopardizing, if necessary, his own physical welfare. We are meant to care for her physically and spiritually just as Jesus has done for us. Husbands the world over are fairly clear about the physical half of this responsibility. But that is not enough (even though our emotions tell us it is). In fact, in the long term it is the least important of the two. Leadership is the willingness to fully understand and apply this truth to marriage and family. Therefore, a husband must lead his wife by getting close to God, getting in His word, and learning to hear His voice. How can he guard her spiritual welfare if his own is built on something less than God’s word? Christian men will agree to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. But, ironically, they fail to lead their wives by pursuing God’s word to understand what loving them truly means. I thought I knew, but I was wrong.

Convincing ourselves that we understand JUST because we’re Christians, is like Jewish leaders thinking they understood God just becuase they were Pharisees. Being Christian or growing up that way is nothing more than a great place to start. The word is not a dictionary that offers the husband a walk-away definition. It is the bread of life that he needs for daily survival. Without it, God’s ways get choked by the world and leadership reduced to a set of logical or emotional responses. It’s exactly where I’ve come from.

We’ve Been Lifted Off The Ground To Be Welcome Signs Instead Of Doormats

Husbands and wives listen up: The old adage “If mama’s not happy…” is the echo of Eve and a poison fix that keeps women miserable and men numb to confrontation – afraid of their God given authority to lead. Saved men should not see themselves as “the provider” but rather as the conduit through which God provides. The difference carries with it the enormous responsibility of glorifying God and teaching the family who He is. The other only glorifies the man and tempts the wife to subdue it for herself. Let’s adapt a new catchphrase: “if Papa’s not happy, (our God)… ain’t nobody happy!”

On A Personal Note:

Learning to lead properly is a slow and deep process. God is transforming us both inch by inch and we rejoice in that. My wife is already a strong partner whom I trust and cherish. Moving into that rental was my first test of leadership after being knocked flat. We both knew it was right but it needed a firm stand to see it through. I never realized any of this until He brought it to my attention through His word. We also rejoice in that!

Prayer For Leadership

Lord, teach us to love our spouse in the way that you’ve designed and to make it an act of unconditional worship for you. Strengthen your sons to stand firm in your word while guarding the hearts of their wives. Bend and soften the hearts of your daughter’s to follow and honor their husbands out of love for you. In Jesus name let reader agree – Amen.

If you believe that this post would edify someone in need, please pass it on, not for my sake, but for the sake of whom God intended it – Thanks and God bless you!

For prayer or encouragement please contact me by email or connect on facebook
wakeupmyfaith@att.net

Posted in Faith Encouragement | 85 Comments

#15 Martha-Martha Quite Contrary Won’t You Listen Like Mary In February?

Overlooked

In 1987 I left for California with a close friend, a few bucks and a simple plan. We traveled from Jacksonville (my home) to San Diego by way of Winnipeg (the extended route). Gone for months with little contact, we lived out of vending machines and an orange VW bus with a rusty floor and rotting orange curtains. We’d be surfing the best breaks from Washington to Mexico, then set up life somewhere in between. With more than a few zigs along the way we had a bona fide adventure. But at twenty one, the further you get from home the closer it feels to your heart. Familiar things have louder voices that never stop calling for your quiet return. And a few months in, we gave in to making a stealthy homecoming, hoping to surprise our families.

The outside of my parent’s home was beautiful. I didn’t knock. The only sound came from the lid of a boiling pot bouncing around splashing the stovetop and foyer with balmy hints of dinner – mom’s dinner! I walked toward the kitchen and there she was. Both her and my kid sister showered me with the extra strength hugs that only a good surprise can muster. Lots of questions and stares – it was good to be home. No one knew when or if we’d be back, but there I was and my father would be home from work any minute – I could hardly wait. Thirty states under my belt, chest out and chin in the air, I sat down and waited for him to step through the door. This would be better than scoring that TD on the very last play of my little league career.

My heart leapt at the sound of the door pushing open. There he was. Dad walked right through and passed by his favorite chair on the way to the bedroom. Maybe he wanted to change clothes first. My eyes and posture followed him down the hall before easing slightly back. And my heart didn’t give up because maybe he didn’t see the kid sitting in his chair. Sometimes we overlook things we don’t expect. But he changed his clothes and walked right past me again heading for the kitchen. It was a silence that swept so hard against my youthful hope that it emptied me onto the floor. Two seconds and twenty years of second chances passed, and I left as quietly as I came. That moment was the culmination of two decades waiting for those words, waiting for that look…. you know what I’m talking about. It was the most painful silence of them all.

We have a good relationship now, but the journey was like one-arming my way through a thousand acres of tall corn. The next twenty years of seeking approval left me bruised by hundreds of “look-at-me” exploits. From dodging the police in Rome to bare knuckled rides on top of the car at deadly speeds, from nearly drowning in the Irish Sea to ignoring instructions and skydiving my own way, from gambling my family on businesses and big houses to being emptied on the floor once again, I never rested. I never listened. I never gave writing a chance.

I spent my life laboring to be found by my earthly father and laboring to resist being found by my heavenly father. But I blame the enemy not my dad, because in both cases my life was filled with passionate but unnecessary labor – and that‘s his gig, getting us to labor in vain while he steals our rest and derails the train of kingdom productivity.

But Not Overlooking

There are few things as wonderful as a good night’s rest. We consider it a precious commodity. But just a peek through the eyes of our adversary helps us see the powerful difference between “down time” and the rest that Jesus freely offers. If we carefully consider where the enemy assigns value, we can blow his cover by identifying the currency of spiritual warfare. Jesus reveals this as “REST” from the rough terrain of the passage below.

Luke 11:24-28 When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”

Rest is so highly valued by the enemy that he will mobilize a small army to apprehend and recover it from his only source (us). He wants to steal what Jesus freely gives and will not be satisfied until he has it. An evil spirit isn’t looking to catch his breath any more than God needed a breather on day seven. His rest is realized the moment he employs us to do the enemy’s work FOR him. And he leaves no footprints because unlike the Lord who carries us, he disguises himself as the authority and showers us with approval when we obediently carry him – instead. We’ll either rest in the authority of Jesus (obedience) or labor against it on behalf of the enemy (disobedience). Oh how we love the site of our own footprints – looks like we’re really getting somewhere.

The Concert of False Productivity

The story of Mary and Martha beautifully reveals how subtly the enemy conducts this orchestra. He attempts to lure us with notes of earned approval from instruments of assumption. Consider how the passage uncovers him as maestro conducting from beneath the stage at Martha’s expense.

Luke 10: 39-42 “…Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk. But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do.…Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.” The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. There’s only one thing you need. Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.”

Horns / Strings / Bass / Percussion
Martha prepares a meal Jesus never asked for (forget tradition)
Martha does not listen as He teaches
Martha associates her labor with obedience and Mary’s resting as disobedience
Martha views herself as obedient which justifies (in her mind) making demands of Jesus

Martha worked diligently toward what she thought would be a fine finish, one she could look back on with a deep sigh and be proud of her own footprints. But Mary became still and rested upon the voice of the Lord to prepare for the work ahead (she left no footprints). Yes, Martha is passionate about serving with her gift of hospitality. But our gift is not our God, Jesus is! And we have to begin at His feet. Then He will lead us in a productive use of that gift.

If you consider yourself a Martha (unless that is your name) it’s time to stop. If you locked your keys in the house, you wouldn’t break in through a window to get them, crawl back out the window with those keys to go unlock the door and walk in the proper way…would you? I’m guessing you might just break in the window and rest easy. Mary’s decision magnifies Jesus but Martha’s actions magnify Martha (for how much she is doing).

If you’re wavering at all think of it this way: Martha worked FOR her Sabbath, Mary prepared for work FROM her worship. Under the law we worked for rest, under grace we work from rest. Working toward the seventh day to rest is not the same as worshiping on the first day to prepare for the week and work ahead. Martha represents the law and Mary represents grace – you decide – But let’s resolve to sit at His feet so our days on earth will be productive!

The Resolution of Rest (why resolutions DO matter)

Just as God’s mercies are new every morning and repentance is a lifelong practice, God designed us to live with an ongoing commitment to follow Him that we may become like Him. Without a resolution to meditate on the word daily (the actual word) this will not happen. Without the word our quiet time with Jesus is dangerously reduced to that of handing a post it note to an assistant. The God who never sleeps and knows the number hairs on our head watches over us as a father admiring his sleeping child. He waits for us while we sleep, to wake up and spend time with Him. But with only minutes to spare and a teen-like half smile we head past Him on the way to the hot shower, clean clothes and coffee. Then wonder aloud if we still have a copy of Jesus Calling in our desk drawer at work. That should work – right? Hrmmm, hope He likes post-its.

Meditation Verses: Joshua1:8, Job 23:12, Matthew 6:33

Prayer from the Lord’s feet

Lord, remind me again about the Word that was made flesh…Its breadth and dimension are unrestrained by the flattened landscape of paper and ink. Its Jasper walls of everlasting truth cannot be overtaken by the temporary weeds that men call facts. No literary arrow dipped in the flames of contradiction can set fire to this living water or breach the iron gates of its context. Not even the giant void of black universe can block the radiance of one single verse “let there be light” from Pennsylvania to Mongolia. It’s a lamp to our feet that now stretches from Amish nightstands to the glowing cell phones of shepherds in the Gobi desert. O how the word is alive and powerful, sharper than any two edged sword. Yet we hold it captive locked in the scabbard by leaving it unread and marching on ahead. Help the reader’s heart to be convicted to a life of RESTING at your feet.

Beloved, all God wants is a willing heart and for us to cry out to Him to lead the way. Our only job is to get close enough to listen and follow. Spend your days at His feet, in His word. He will give you the rest.

Please contact me for prayer or encouragement by email wakeupmyfaith@att.net or connect on facebook.

Kevin

Posted in Faith Encouragement | 53 Comments

#14 Obedience: Rest or Labor…The Guest or The Waiter?

Last month we stopped winking at Jesus from across the room with concerns about our schedule, and committed instead to rest in His labor, and become a guest at His table. Yes, December remembered how to listen like Mary at the feet of the Word made flesh. But more like Martha came January, as we asked Jesus to have a seat and again be our guest.

Cleverly Obedient: Merit or Misunderstood?

One recent evening, my wife and I returned home from celebrating our anniversary and were presented with a sweet surprise. Our oldest daughter (age 13) had created from scratch (no recipe) a gluten free, peanut buttery, chocolate cake. It was not only delicious but thoughtfully labor intensive. My wife doesn’t eat wheat so my daughter had to do more than empty a box – she took initiative and really persevered to please us. She’s a great kid.

The real surprise came when our younger daughter (age 12), who is jealously competitive, made no effort to grab the gusto for herself. Like most kids, she lives for mom and dad’s spotlight – especially when her sister has taken the stage. And she can masterfully attain equal billing with one stroll through the kitchen. “Found the cocoa for you -they’ll love our surprise -I’ll be reading in the other room if you need more help”. But this time was different. We cut the cake, praised the chef and nothing was said. She’s up to something…

A couple of hugs later we discovered that our in-house baker had still not cleaned her room, walked the dog, or taken a bath, as we requested. On the other hand, the one who wouldn’t lift a finger to help with our surprise, had indeed cleaned her room, walked the dog, and taken a bath (as requested). We understand that siblings come in different kinds of gift wrap, and those gifts require a little freedom of expression while being unwrapped. But at the end of the day, every dog needs a walk and every kid needs a bath. So in spite of our sweet distraction, it was obvious that only one of our children had been obedient, but not necessarily for the obvious reason.

Obedience Begins With Rest Not Labor

The perception may be that we consider it better to be uncaringly obedient than warm-heartedly disobedient. But what I’m really suggesting is that obedience begins with rest not labor – by being the guest, not the waiter.

This may sound a little strange at first, but that’s because we’re used to following our own standards. In the flesh (by default not textbook) we measure obedience by looking at the end results of our labor. Our obedience equals what we’ve produced. But Jesus measures obedience by looking at our willingness to rest in His labor, and submitting to His authority. So it’s not about our work but about willingness to rest in His work. The difference is subtle but it matters; just as a one degree difference will eventually take parallel paths in opposite directions. It matters because one magnifies us, the other magnifies Him.

The other obstacle we face is the nature of our flesh. We just plain old think we’re God and so we act like it. Whether it’s from arrogance or ignorance, we believe we know best and subsequently take matters into our own hands. We get hooked on the controlled substance of controlling substances and live for starting fires that we can’t put out. We love directing traffic, laboring, earning, leading, hosting – plug in whatever you want. And again… we believe we’ve been obedient if we’ve produced the intended result or made a good effort – labor, labor and more labor is the focus of fleshly minded obedience.

Peter Resisted Becoming His Guest

Why did Peter resist Jesus’ initial effort to wash his feet? Same idea…because in his un-renewed mind he couldn’t allow his respected teacher to be the server. And even after Jesus rebuked him, he still tried to take charge by suggesting a better way. Have a look… John 13: 8-9

Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

But Jesus wanted Peter to be the guest, not the server, waiter or host. He wants us to begin each moment by resting in, listening to, and learning from Him (He is our portion). We have to be willing to be served by Him before we can serve anyone (Him included). It may sound a bit selfish, but this is an inescapable truth and the enemy vehemently hates it. He twists the truth so an un-renewed mind sees rest as pride and labor as humility.

Mary’s Rest Is Martha’s Stress

When I look at my personal example above, it reminds me of the Mary and Martha story Luke 10:38-42. And as I make application, the depth of that passage really changes the focal point of my daughters’ obedience and disobedience.

I now understand that my younger daughter was obedient, not because she walked the dog, but because she rested in our authority. She listened like Mary who made knowing God’s word her highest priority. My older daughter was disobedient, not because she failed to walk the dog, but because she rejected our authority. She resisted it just as Peter did and because of that she worked in vain like Martha by assuming it was best. The younger rested in our authority by listening, the older labored against it by assuming – make sense?

Regarding obedience and how it works: Our ability to recognize these hairlike differences between what we believe and actuallly do, can make the difference between a wasted life and a productive one. I believe this subject is that important as God has laid it on my heart!

Later this week: Why This Really Matters To Each Of Us

The subject is easy to ignore because it seems like we’re just toying with sematics. But if we take time to make it personal, it will cut to the heart of whether or not we are bible-literate believers. And that is the key for real intimacy with God. Next post we’ll dig in with a close look at Mary & Martha and try to provide more practical application to these ideas.

Just a personal note: (if you have an extra minute…)

For many of us, last year was the toughest year of our lives, filled with painful trials. For all of you who have shared your struggles and testimonies, we continue to lift up your concerns to the Lord, as you have lifted ours.

Our 2010 began by having a sheriff’s deputy knock on our door to deliver a court summons for debts we couldn’t pay. We had to send our 18 year old son out of our house without warning as a dose of tough love – he didnt return for 11 months. We lost family relationships and suffered harsh judgments. We went through two foreclosures and the stress of being forced out. Our phones never stopped ringing with collection calls and our marriage came under heavy fire to the point of becoming tired and sometimes bitter, roommates.

In the late summer we fell to our lowest place having no means of paying our expenses or even buying food. It was a dark and lonely year for us. Our faith was shaken to the core. In the end, we held on to nothing (not even each other), nothing but God’s word. In the process he held on to us. At the darkest moment I could do nothing but write down my thoughts which eventually became this blog. I had no idea anyone would actually read it but God has used it to bring us new friends and a wealth of prayers and encouragement. He has also used it to teach me who I am.

In the closing months of 2010 God radically restored our lives – our son returned home, our finances were stabilized, toxic relationships were replaced by Godly ones, and our marriage has been rebuilt on a new foundation. God is more than good, He is God! There is much further yet to travel so please continue to pray for us as we aim to draw near to God and serve the way he intended. My hope this year is that God would be pleased to develop “Wake Up My Faith” into a humble teaching ministry that will revive in people a hunger for His word and the courage to walk in true faith.

Blessings to you friends – we love you!

Please contact me for prayer, encouragement or otherwise by emailing: wakeupmyfaith@att.net or connecting with me on facebook.

Your brother in Christ,

Kevin

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The Christ Centered Marriage: A Priceless Original

A Christ Centered or Christian Centered Marriage – Which one do you have?
I just had the priviledge to guest write for a wonderful marriage blog. My post focuses on the scary idea of matrimonial legalism.
It would be an honor if you read it and gave your input – click here.

Hope you find it to be a blessing!

For prayers and encouragement please email (wakeupmyfaith@att.net) or friend me on Facebook

Posted in Faith Encouragement | 10 Comments

#12 The Faith Pendulum: Many Bodies, Perpetually One Part.

My beautiful wife was recently inspired to her own radical revival by the words of a passionate young provocateur. She’s always been a doer and we both embrace the salty message of reform, but I’ve never seen her so engaged, so energized to get her feet moving and hands dirty for Jesus. She had somehow concluded through this popular read that our lifestyle (even after losing our livelihood) was the antithesis of discipleship – Swing!

Realizing the depth of her concern we immediately discussed the idea and its author-prescribed antidote (a biblically defined RADICAL lifestyle). She expressed herself without ever knowing that her already-radical faith was on display. Within the next hour we’d wistfully ruminated through the vanity of wealth and dispatched our remaining possessions. We’d adopted a kid from every nation and hauled them with us to a place requiring mosquito nets. I listened respectfully as she spoke and thought of how much more faith it must take for the anchor to move the boat. (She is my anchor).

Romantic images of my family in safari gear, miming “Jesus loves me” and handing out bowls of food, flooded my visual riverbed. It looks like full steam ahead for the African Queen (Bogart)… count me in!But then something unexpected occurred. She asked me to read the book and give her my opinion. Now I love and live in the big picture. I hate looking at the checkbook, following rules and reading anything that I’ll have to possibly disagree with. But as the leader of my family I reluctantly agreed and God began to speak to me about this entire scenario. Here is what He said:

Fragile faith swings on a pendulum between pride (Peter’s drawn sword) and reproof (the crowing rooster). The harder WE push it one way the further it swings back the other way. Our job is not to be jury by perpetual motion, but to learn to listen to the voice of the judge.

Peter’s example of wildly overcompensating gives us hope that God will intervene if we are willing to listen. So whether He calls us to fight or be still, to stay or to go, only the hand of Jesus is steady enough to stop the swing of fragile faith. For my wife I conclude that we DO need to be radically different than the world, but the mechanism belongs to God alone. Perhaps Jesus was a radical, but I prefer to call Him the standard. Perhaps we need to sell our possessions but I prefer to dedicate their use. Perhaps we need to be missionaries but I prefer to love my neighbor and share with him. If the antidote is becoming a radical then let’s be radically intimate with our God. Let us directly personify the beatitudes before we indirectly characterize their sum total.

If we are called to be radical shouldn’t we define what that is by asking a few questions?
Here are several that I have – what about you?

1.) How would the original disciples of Jesus live and work in our environment? Can you see those people around us currently? Are martyrs and missionaries the only true disciples?

2.)Is there a role for material wealth in the church – what is Acts 4:32-37 saying?

The perpetual motion of flesh

There is a temporary and paradoxical comfort in perpetually overcompensating. We love to pendulum because it allows us to briefly taste and then retreat. We always want something new without losing the comfort of something familiar. We pendulum toward a dream like bobbing for an apple but if we miss we pendulum away from it and pretend that the apples are grapes (sour ones). If we dream too much we forget who God is, but if we bask in reproof we forget who He made us to be. It swings and returns.

Many bodies with only one part – A church filled with Pendulums, defined

Can we really define whether a man is a true disciple by the material things held in his temporary stewardship? The rich young ruler needed revival but Joseph of Arimethea was a revival.
What if Truitt Cathy wanted to be radical more than faithful to what God placed in his heart? Think of the thousands upon thousands of employees who wouldn’t have that Godly environment to work in. We thank you Mr. Cathy for giving us a place to eat where Christ is celebrated and the food is excellent! You are radical! Thank You Steven Curtis & Mary Beth Chapman for great music and a heart for parents called to adopt when they can’t afford it, and Thank you Rick Warren for reminding us that life was meant to be uniquely productive and setting an example in your own radical river of giving. Yes the American dream is perverted, but God’s dream is right on track in those who listen to Him radically.

Final thought:

If your heart is torn up over Africa then go! If you’ve been raked over hot coals for broken marriages don’t go to Africa!! Read and be inspired by the Godly firebrands who challenge us all to reform. They are right! As we pass through this world it cotes us in layers of cynicism and forgetfulness. Just keep in mind that God speaks directly to you about you –just as a good father should. Learn to listen – that is really radical.

Prayer of the warrior:

O lord, how sweet is your name and the sound of your voice in my heart. Speak to me that my Joy would be complete in learning to listen to you. Thank you Father for the fiery prophets, humble teachers, and generous souls, who live as working parts within your body. Cut away from us everything that doesn’t look like you. We ask and believe in the mighty name of Jesus, our Lord, Savior, King and High Priest – Amen.

Meditation verse: John 10:27

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”

On a personal note:

Our faith continues to grow as we walk head-on into it. We have food on the table, and many new friends thanks to our God. We are not going to be foreign missionaries as God has called us to support those who are. My plan for the blog is to find a balance by posting once a week on average. It has been difficult lately but so many have encouraged me to continue that I am scheduling the time to work more frequently (as God provides). My family and marriage are well in this walk of faith – God is so good! Thank you my sisters and brothers for your continued prayers!

If you need encouragement or prayers – if you just need a friend, please contact me.

Wakeupmyfaith@att.net

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#11 Marriage – God’s seat of the pants training ground.

“If God would only test my faith…”

Will you finish the sentence out loud or underneath your breath? Those words have a scary feel don’t they? Get ready for the hammer, chisel and shop vac., part of me is about to end up on the garage floor.

But not necessarily, refinement comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s difficult to imagine the type of testing encountered by Abraham raising the dagger to Isaac, or Joseph’s generation of undeserved imprisonment. We much prefer our tonic in small doses, a kind of “diet discipline” or “refinement lite”. And what about that family we all know apparently living a flawless and untested life? What gives? Perhaps some of the lessons have to unfold gently to keep us from being devoured. But as I recall diet anything has a pretty bad aftertaste – Something you can’t see might still be ugly.

Ultimately, faith only grows in the space once occupied by the carnal mind. So whether God splits us like a log or prunes us by a thousand tiny cuts, less of us make room for more of Him. To be a pilgrim of progress is to be found lacking, to suffer the fire of refinement, and to grow through it toward our potential. It’s an inescapable and exclusive process for those who want real faith.

But there is comfort in learning what to expect from the lives depicted in scripture. We can draw hope from their failures and encouragement from their growth. It’s a well of living water and every believer has a place there to draw from it. Although, lately its pond water that keeps showing up in my bucket.

Familiarity breeds contempt (and stagnates living water)

I remember hearing that phrase years ago and repeating it without ever understanding the powerful truth behind it. Even now, fully comprehending it I fall asleep under its spell – we all do. The concept is easy to grasp but avoiding it requires careful calculation. I’m not suggesting the characters in scripture have become stagnant but rather my view of them has. They’ve grown too familiar like the members of my family, drenched in my affection but somehow barnacled and tinted by the murkiness of my contempt. If familiarity breeds that, then I need to be picked up by the seat of my pants and thrown into the pond. Maybe then I will appreciate how clean that well water really is.

Unfamiliarity also breeds contempt

The other side of the equation is an equally dangerous mill of perceptions –especially among young believers. The well water is considered unfit for drinking because it’s irrelevant – stagnant by antiquity. Bible characters are seen as mythological and not relatable. Context is micro extracted in the name of plausibility and youthful exuberance tosses the truth straight into the pond. Can you imagine Aaron and Hur desperately holding up Moses arms in the heat of battle? But instead of victory, their chief aim is to get a text message sent because the Amalekites are in a dead zone. Or Daniel tweeting a play by play from the lion’s den? Sure life is different for the modern believer but at the core our vanity is the same. And these great figures if allowed will address our every foible and aptitude for screwing-up, without fail – no adjustments necessary.

Ask boldly

Whether we overlook the familiar or disregard the implausible, the remedy is to jump head first into faith by asking for it and not looking back. If we take courage and ask God to test our faith we will be stepping directly onto a mine field. It seems a little nutty, but I’ve learned that the explosives typically injure things we don’t need: pride, un-forgiveness, impatience, etc.; making it well worth every painful blow. I call these explosions “faith grenades” and they will altogether short circuit an auto pilot faith and restore the engine of a “get out and push it myself” style of faith. So don’t drink pond water – dive head first in the well by asking God to test your faith!

A personal example may help (Familiarity breeds contempt… for my spouse?)

If familiarity breeds contempt and the enemy is taking aim, then marriage is a target so big we could move in and still forklift the pallets of unlearned lesson behind us. I have been asking God to test me and make me a better husband, help me understand more of His view of marriage so I can grow into it.

Sunday we sat our daughters at the kitchen table for a talk. They had been fighting with each other for weeks, maybe months, continuously. At ages 12 and 13, with opposite personalities, the rule is conflict and the exception is quiet conflict. Peace isn’t on the radar at all but occasionally occurs if a bribe is offered. We said all of the obvious things, they need a change of heart, they’re too old for it, etc. Then the bomb was dropped by my wife, “You never see us fighting like that. How would you feel if we spoke to each other that way?” It wasn’t the first time but it may have actually been the first time they took notice. They both gave the expected answer with remorsefully poked-out lower lips and downcast faces. Wow! Maybe they really get it now – I thought. What a great thing to say!

Unfortunately, the kids were not the only ones who took notice. Our marriage immediately became the side of a barn for the enemy and his anti-marriage core of sharpshooters.
I’ll spare the details, but here is what I learned. After 24 hours, a few prayers and time to listen, God spoke to me in a big way. “Marriage is preparation for intimacy with Me”. He directed my thoughts to 1 Tim and really caused me to focus on the idea of marriage as a training ground for eternity.

1 Tim 4:7-10

“Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers.”

I had been praying for some time that God would refine me as a husband – sincerely! But my mind remained focused on the familiar, common responsibilities – the leadership role, the servant role and the provider role. Sunday evening was ugly but Monday God redirected those thoughts and reframed my view of marriage as a training ground. And after reading the scripture He gave me, it all made sense and it seemed appropriate to share.

One of the greatest and most common battles of faith we have is marriage – not likely news to anyone. But marriage is not just meant for us to enjoy each other’s company and raise children, it is also meant to teach us how to become intimate with God. It is practice for our relationship with Him. If we overlook that in the name of seeking worldly happiness, then we miss the blessing God provides within those terribly dark and difficult moments.

Look at it this way, everything God uses or gives is meant to bring us closer to Him by making us more like Jesus. How is a tough marriage any different than a physical challenge or financial struggle? It humbles you and either wakes up your faith or buries it in the mud. And mud is a poor camouflage for our worldly rationalizations. It fails miserably to stick when washed in living water. The enemy throws the first mud ball and we blame each other. Then he sits back and laughs in victory while we keep throwing it. Let’s throw the mud back where it came from because that is the only place it will stick. Marriage is a training ground, not a happiness resort. I’ve been indulging in the worldly- believer’s definition of marriage with its biblically sweet and earthly sour cleverness. But it’s not Chinese food, more like poo in a birthday cake. Please pardon me for that one!

It IS about having a partner and faithful companion. It is about the joys of physical and emotional pleasure and intimacy. It is about children and raising an army for God. But above all it is not about me being happy, but about God testing, training and refining me for what’s next! If you doubt this please refer to Matthew 6:33 and lay your marriage down over it. What you end up with is God’s promise of meeting ALL your needs if you place Him first, above yourself, your spouse, your children, your brethren, your gifting, your calling – on and on and on! Marriage is a training ground for our future with God. If we give up because it hurts, then we miss the benefit of His blessed intention and the promise of Matt. 6:33. I’m astonished by God’s revelation in this area of my life. He is the groom and we are the bride, forever x forever. We certainly need training for that – agreed?

Listen, we know that there are exceptions so don’t tar and feather me yet. I‘m not speaking to anyone’s past. God made me aware that marriage is meant to train us and prepare us for an eternal life of intimacy with Him. In a world where the majority of Christian marriages end in divorce, all I’m relaying is that we all need to fight for it out of love for Him. He rewards the faithful and marriage is the main stage of a 3 act show. We are friends, heirs &children, and we are His spouse. In my own marriage, I have to go back to square one and put Him first, not us, not the kids – just Him. Okay break out the tar, I’m ready.

For those who are hurting in this area remember that even Jesus learned obedience by suffering. Does that mean He was disobedient before He suffered? No, it means that anything of “mankind” is imperfect. Jesus was sinless, that doesn’t mean he never twisted his ankle or missed an answer on a test. Learning obedience is not a purging of sinful behavior, but the willingness to follow the truth as it is revealed – and often we don’t realize what we’re looking at until it’s too late. When we misstep, it hurts and we learn from it –it doesn’t have to be about sin. Repentance is another issue. My point is that there are great struggles in the name of growing our faith as well as many micro trials that pass almost painlessly before our eyes. But our call to action is the same. Marriage is a gift God uses to train and refine us for our future with Him. Let’s begin this instant and thank Him for it and seek Him the way we once sought our spouse. God wants our minds on eternity first and only on the world so much as it affects eternity. Are we willing to start and end there? If you have become too familiar with God and your spouse – get ready to be picked up by the seat of the pants. Don’t get mad about it just grow from it.

On a personal note:

We have been richly blessed the last few weeks with enough work to last a while – Praise God! I haven’t written in a while because my financial pain has lost some of its sting and I have not heard from God much in that regard. I have also been working almost every day for the past two weeks. As for my marriage, well, it’s just not easy for any of us – is it? But my wife is my best friend and most forgiving adversary. I blame the enemy for strife and myself for not seeking God first – earlier. Waking up our faith is tough business. Goliath is already in your garage but David is not coming – God has appointed you instead! David ran toward Goliath, now it’s your turn (mine too).

Isaiah 48:10 Meditation Verse

Thanks for your continued prayers. Please alert me if you need prayer or encouragement.

Blessings!

wakeupmyfaith@att.net
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