A New Thing

January 23, 2014 — 2 Comments

sad statue

If only…

Finish that statement for yourself. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

I can think of a few things.

It’s the voice of regret. And it’s so subtle that we don’t even see how it binds us. It takes our peace and robs us of our present and future.

I just feel in my spirit that someone out there reading this really needed to hear this today.

The spirit took me to Isaiah. This chapter talks about how God will restore to His people all that they have lost. He will rebuild the ruins of their life.

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18, 19 NIV)

What’s that one thing God is asking you to leave behind today? What is that one thing that you want to beat yourself up over time and time again? You may think you have messed up beyond repair, but that’s not what God tells us.

He will make a road in the wilderness. He will bring you a drink in the middle of the desert.

He is doing a new thing, but He can’t do this new thing in you until you let go of the old things.

God, today I leave behind the mistakes of my past. Today I give you my failures and regrets. I will rest and find peace in your healing. Lead me through the wilderness to the promises which you have for me. Do a new thing in me today.

Cheryl Nifong

Quit Saying My Name!

January 18, 2014 — Leave a comment

annoyed personWhere I work, they have many things that they ask of us. Just like any job, some of those things are annoying. The most annoying, I think, is that they want us to say people’s names when we are talking to them. Not just once or twice, but a very specific number of times. And this number is per sentence. “Hello Mrs. Jones, I’m calling to speak with you about something very important, Mrs. Jones. Now, Mrs. Jones, when is a good time for us to to meet, Mrs Jones?

One person I worked with took it too far, and started talking to people in the office the same way. “Hey, Rich I’m about to go to lunch Rich do you want to go with me Rich? Rich I was thinking about going to Whataburger Rich what do you think Rich?”

I sometimes would rather run my truck off a bridge than hear my own name.

I get the same treatment from businesses that call me. Recently I was in a car wreck, and the shop that was working on my car called every other day to give an update. Which is too much calling, really, but during those calls I would hear my name just about every twelve seconds.

It’s just too much. I know who I am. I know that you know who I am, too. Mostly because you keep saying it.

There are some exceptions to this, though.

When my kids are running toward me, smiling, screaming “Daddy!” I could do that all day.

When my wife calls me out of the blue and asks if I have time for lunch. I wish the answer would always be “yes”, but just to hear her voice, and hear her say my name – it always makes my day.

And to hear my Savior, calling me by name in His still, small voice – nothing in the universe compares.

You see, sometimes I get busy, and I forget about things, and I forget about people. I forget that people need to be valued, that they need to be called by name. They need to know that they are not forgotten. My kids, my family, even my customers – they all need to know that I am there for them. They need to hear me say their name!

God knows that we need this, so he has engraved our names on the palm of His hand. He will never forget who you are! Nothing is powerful enough to make Him forget any of us – not even our own sinfulness! When you need to hear your name the most, God will be there for you!

Teamwork!

January 2, 2014 — 2 Comments

Teamwork

Cheryl and I have been a team for over 18 years now. I can’t think of anyone else who I would rather do this thing called life with. She is just simply amazing. And beautiful. And smart. And talented. The list goes on and on!

The awesome thing about all this is, we really complement each other. She’s somewhat serious and driven. I’m goofy and happy-go-lucky. But we’ve rubbed off on each other over the years – I think I heard her tell a joke the other day, and not too long ago I actually had to write a check for something.

When we met, it was just one of those things – we both knew we could do life together, do it not just well, but do it great! And time has proven this, over and over. Through all the hard stuff, illness, injuries, surgeries, loss of jobs, birth of kids, anniversaries, date nights, and the random alone times – we were meant to be together.

The question “WHY” was posed to me this morning. Yesterday, I made a goal of blogging more, and I stated that Cheryl and I would combine each of our blogs. Why are we doing this? Because we are on the same page – we have a simple message, that through Jesus, all people can become free of every entanglement. We each had our own blogs, and were hitting the topic from different angles, and seeing quite a few people respond to the message. We think we can do more, and do it better, together.

The real “why” here is – we have been through so much! Both good and bad – and still we are able to give praise to our Savior! We have been in the wilderness – for most of our marriage, most of our lives in fact – and now we are coming out of that time of hardship – healed, set free, able to minister to others.

There are two verses that come to mind – 2 Corinthians 3:17 - “Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” and Galatians 5:1 – “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

We want to continually be in the presence of the Holy Spirit, so that we can continually experience the freedom that Christ has provided, and since we are free, we want to encourage each other, and you, to learn to stand firm so that none of us experience any kind of bondage every again.

The message is simple – living it can be a challenge. Which is why we need to work together, pray together, encourage one another, pray for one another, help meet each other’s needs – just like the first Christians did almost 2000 years ago. The model they left for us – “they devoted themselves to the teaching of the Word, to fellowship, to breaking bread, and to prayer” – is what we should be doing today, all these years later. I want to see my family become like this, and I want you to join us, or even start something new on your own. I want you to be a part of my team – free people, who help free others!

Why? Because no one should be left behind. Our God has provided salvation and freedom for all who ask – my job is to tell the story of the great things he’s done for me, so that others can experience how great he really is!

 

Tolerance

December 20, 2013 — Leave a comment
This makes perfect sense

This makes perfect sense

Tolerance. Oh how I hate that word. Out of all the words ever, it’s the worst. We use and abuse it when speaking in reference to our fellow man. We hide behind it. Tolerance has become a fortress to hide in, to hide our shame and disgust. Tolerance is divisive, exclusionary, a front with an upkeep that is infinitely exhausting.

Generally in any argument where tolerance is the issue, both sides come off looking like war mongering fools. I speak from experience.

We speak of tolerance when we can’t make the leap of accepting a person or group of people for who they are. Instead of accepting and loving, instead of seeking to build people up or strengthening relationships, we merely seek to tolerate each other.

Like a bitter medicine that has no power to affect a cure, we swallow while holding our noses, trying not to gag.

How did we get here, to this place, right now?

Does anyone else but me feel stuck? Do you feel like there’s no way past this?

I do. I feel stuck, ashamed, and even a little afraid.

I want so much to move past tolerance, into something better, deeper, meaningful. I want to be free to say what is in my heart without fear of excluding any of the people in my life – because I truly love them. Because I truly appreciate their friendship. Because they are important. But I really don’t know how to do that.

There’s got to be a better way than just tolerating each other. The pat answer, the “Sunday School” answer is that we should love each other regardless and unconditionally. That we should respect each other, protect each other even if we disagree. That instead of tearing each other apart, we should build each other up. I haven’t seen much of that lately, have you?

I’ve said this a hundred times, and I’ve not seen or heard anything yet to contradict it – we all think we are right, that we have the answer, that our way is the best. We think we’re the rightest, and that our rightness gives us the right hold each other at arms length when we should be setting our arguments aside and embracing each other simply because we’re all just people, and people – we need each other.

Another thing I’ve said a hundred times, and still mean it – God doesn’t need our help as much as we think He does. Nothing in creation is going to tear down what He is building – not me, not you, not the forces of evil, not anything that society can come up with. What God wants from me, and you, is to show love, grace and mercy to everyone, regardless. He has the power to change human hearts. With or without us – but He loves using how messed up we are, how weak we are, to show how strong He is. Let Him be strong in your weakness, and watch Him change the world!

This is not going to go away. Not until we can get over ourselves, our fears, our misconceptions and preconceived notions of just what is what and instead of taking stands against people, we stand up for people.

You are all my people – and I love you all. I, and you, are a work in progress. I’m not perfect. Neither are you. We have a long way to go – but I am willing to be a peacemaker. I am willing to stand in the gap and help in any way I can. Sometimes it takes one person taking a single, scary, hesitant step forward.

Who will take that step with me?

A Servant’s Heart

December 17, 2013 — 4 Comments

servantWhat can I say about my friend, Mark Thompson? He’s a great guy! Everyone that meets him loves him pretty much straight away. I met Mark my first day at OBU, in 1988. I think it was September – it was hot that’s all I know. I was walking out of the GC (student center) and he was walking in. I don’t know why we started talking, except for that’s kinda what Mark does – he just strikes up conversations with strangers, and it’s like you’ve known him all your life.

I found out that my youth pastor who just left my church had gone to his church – so we had something in common right off the bat. Then we talked more and had a lot more in common and just became friends. He has been a blessing to me for the last 25 years, and I hope there’s 50 more coming.

Mark is a hospice chaplain – has been for about 10 years. He helps those who are dying, and those who are left behind. I know this because I’ve seen it – he grieves with them and for them and guides them through every bit of it. He’s been there for me, as a minister and a friend on two occasions – once with my Grandmother, and more recently, when my Dad died.

So what more can I say? Mark’s been a youth pastor, senior pastor, chaplain, professional wrestler, and a missionary. He’s a husband and a father. And he’s awesome at all of it. He’s knocked me out cold twice with folding chairs, which is a whole other story. He once ate a bowl of the foulest stuff I could put together at the college cafeteria, for $10. He loves Jesus, he loves people, and he loves serving both. Mark has a servant’s heart.

Recently he wrote a letter to those who are grieving this time of year – and there are many. The following words shout hope from the highest hills – they cry out, “God loves you, no matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’ve done.” They proclaim that God has a plan and that we are His and that He delights in blessing and caring for those who are His – Please be blessed as you read the following -

April 21, 1997 – a day in my family’s life that will be remembered for all of our lives. Betty Lou Thompson passed away at 11:33 PM. Many people in Tulsa, Oklahoma weren’t aware. Most of the state of Oklahoma didn’t know. But we did. A husband did. Children did. Grandchildren did. A mother did. Friends did.

I was 27 years old when my mom died. 27 is too young to lose your mom…so I thought. Yet in 25 years of ministry having conducted hundreds of funerals, I have seen families struggle loosing a parent of 95, 98, 101.

My mom was 54 years old when she died. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer 18 years prior, and two years before she died, she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Why? I had prayed for her healing. Our family prayed. We begged God for her healing. Why would He not hear our prayers? Did He even hear our prayers? Did he even care??? Real hurts, real questions. God gave real answers.

You, like me, had people offer well meaning anecdotes. She is in a better place. She isn’t suffering any longer. Time will heal your pain and wounds.

I didn’t care. I didn’t want her to be in a better place! I wanted her with us!

People are well meaning but sometimes their words can hurt. Sometimes silence would have been better.

I had a group of friends from Oklahoma City drive over to Broken Arrow to spend some time with me. We played basketball. We sat on the couch. We talked, we cried. We went to lunch. I still hurt. I still hurt….with all of their well meaning words. But…I didn’t hurt like I did when she died…I had been able to laugh and smile.

Psalm 30:5 tells us “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Joy. Joy is a a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

In the greatest teaching ever – The Sermon on the Mount – Jesus shares these words with us – Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are they who mourn…for they will be comforted.” That word blessed in the Greek language means happy. HAPPY? Happy are those who mourn? YES…why? Because they will be comforted! Comfort is defined as a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint. I have the hopes of being freed from my pain? Yes!

Years ago we went to my uncles house to visit. He had a stone retaining wall. We had a habit of walking on it when we would visit. After many years, it began to deteriorate and the stones and concrete cylinders began to become loose. We had been warned not to play on it. But we did what kids do…we did it anyway! I was walking along and as I put one foot in front of the other, it happened. I fell, and a large cylinder fell on my knee and gashed it open really bad. For some reason, the adults heard my cries for help. Mom began to clean my wound. It hurt…bad. But she had to remove the gravel in my knee. Then she poured 4 bottles of hydrogen peroxide in the wound, and applied Neosporin and a gauze pad. My knee hurt bad and did for several days. Then the healing became more obvious. I developed a scab. Then the scab gave way to a scar. I still have those scars on my left knee. They are a reminder of that day in Stonewall, Oklahoma. I see it….and I remember.

For many of you today, your hurt is still fresh…it still stings. For others you are dealing with a scab. Yet others have a scar. You are reminded when you see it. For some of us, it’s everyday.

Isaiah 9:6 tells us, “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Prince of peace!

Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel – meaning God with us. God promised to never leave us and he won’t.

He didn’t leave me…He was with me…He sent friends to support me in the days following my mom’s death. Not only that but He has used my life to help others. He wants to use your hurt. God never wastes a hurt. Today, understand that God loves you, and He knows, and He cares. He really does. You may feel all alone, but you’re not.

I remember that first Mother’s day after mom died. I hurt worse and cried harder that I did when she died. Then Thanksgiving, then…..Christmas. The first Christmas without mom. It was weird. We tried to keep some of the same traditions. It is strange to go shopping and not shop for your loved one who is gone. We ate Christmas lunch, through tears. But we did it….we made it through the first Christmas.

Joel 2:25 tells us, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” God has been faithful. When my mom had died, I was single. I am now married  to an amazing woman with 3 amazing boys, ages 4 1/2, 2 1/2 and 9 months. God has brought so much joy back into my life! He has restored my hurt.

He cares about you!  He loves you! This year you may hurt more than you thought you had the capacity to hurt. Take it day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. Don’t just listen to your heart….the Bible tells us our hearts are deceitful…listen to the spirit of God. Zephaniah tells us “For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”  Just like when I walk in to watch my boys sleep and take delight in them, God, your Father watches over you. Take courage. Take a breath. Be loved. You will make it. It will hurt….the pain is real. Hold on to Jesus, He is holding on to you!

Song by Dennis Jernigan

It’s gonna be alright, child

Even through the darkest night, child

I’ll even use the darkness

To teach you how to hear Me

 

It’s gonna be alright now

Even if you don’t see how

I’ll even use your failure

To help you to draw near Me

 

Hear Me. I am calling,

“Child, come falling deeper in love with Me.”

Trust Me, you must let go

Or you will never know any deeper love in Me

 

It’s gonna be alright here

If you will let Me hold your heart near

I’ll even use your sorrows

To teach You how to love Me

 

It’s gonna be alright, child

I’ll hold you really close and tight child

I’ll even use Your woundings

To help you know more of Me

 

Hear Me. I am calling,

“Child, come falling deeper in love with Me.”

Trust Me, you must let go

Or you will never know any deeper love in Me

 

Why do you hold on to the things of your past

Let go and cling to Me and love that will last

How can you know Me if you do not trust My love

Let go! You’ll find My love is more than enough