Archives For broken

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

Debt

November 25, 2012 — 1 Comment

debt

I am no stranger to debt. It started, like it does for many these days, in college. I remember the first “student loan meeting” I had to go to. They showed a film on what life would be like if you defaulted on your loan. It showed a guy (college graduate?) slaving away as a short order cook, and explained that regardless of how little you made, if you defaulted, they would still probably garnish your wages.

This really didn’t bother me. I got through college mostly on grants. Considering where I went to school, it could have been much worse.

After this, though I went to the student center where they basically had a huge stack of credit cards they were giving away to incoming freshmen. I signed a form and 10 days later I had my first credit card and it was all down hill from there.

I worked full time my first semester at OBU and my grades reflected it. I decided I needed to focus, live on campus, take 16 hours, and study.

Well, I did some of that, and still made it through. My first two years I funded my night life with that stupid credit card. Remember, I had no real income – I did take some side jobs, cash only, weekend work, and I worked every summer. But once that card was maxed out, it was not as much fun as it had been in the beginning.

Eventually I graduated, got married, and decided to move to Texas to go to seminary. My wife and I refinanced all our student loans so we’d be making one payment, and then deferred while I was in school. We were so poor back then that we could not afford the interest payments. By the time I graduated from seminary, we owed twice what the loan amount was to begin with. Our payment, to this day, is almost as much as our mortgage payment, and most of that is still interest.

I’m not whining. I was told up front how it would be. I made informed choices. I thought I’d go to school, get a great church job, Cheryl would be writing and selling music by now, and we’d live in the big house and have no worries.

What killed that? Two high risk pregnancies, bad choices on my part of what churches I would agree to work for, more credit cards – full of mostly medical debt and car repairs, although I do remember buying a plane ticket to Boston that one time. It was a great trip by the way.

I’m glad to say, all those credit cards are paid off, both our cars are paid off, and the accounts closed now. We do have a card, and it has about $300 on it. It seems that to be able to do things in the world, like buy a house or a car, you have to have a credit rating, and to do that you have to borrow money and repay it. With interest.

I’m not complaining about that either. It just is. What I’m saying is, our choices messed up the first 10 years of our lives together. We were in debt to our debt. It crushed us in every way you can imagine. That is mostly over now – although we do still owe the student loan. I don’t see a good way out of that one. It’s at the tail end of a long list of debt that we couldn’t pay.

So how did we get the other credit issues resolved? One word – bankruptcy. That’s right, we paid a fee in cash to a lawyer, he wrote up some papers, we went to a judge, and he dismissed our debt. He saw what we were up against, and he forgave that debt.

I know a lot of people do this, and I tend to disagree with it for a variety of reasons. People go out and buy cars and houses and run up credit cards to furnish those houses and they have all the toys. When we filed, we didn’t have any of that. What we both did have was great jobs that pay well, and a mountain falling on us. We needed help, and we did not go into it lightly.

We had been paying for years, and we were not making a dent. We tried consolidation, snowball, Dave Ramsey, Crown Financial and about 12 other things and we were still not going to be able to pay off what we owed. So we filed bankruptcy. And it went away.

So, who pays for all that? And believe me when I say, it wasn’t all that much money. But who pays for it? Well, the company writes it off, they increase their costs, which you, the consumer, end up paying. So – you pay for it. And so do I.

Now that this little episode is several years behind us, I’m beginning to rethink all of it. Did we do the right thing? I don’t know…one thing I do know is that we were extremely uncomfortable, and being out of debt helped. We can actually function now, and we have no interest in being in debt anymore. As soon as the student loans are gone, that’ll be it. No more debt.

What brings all this on is something I heard in church this morning – We define comfort as having what we want, but God defines comfort as giving us what we need.

I think for us what it came down to was, we didn’t trust God. That is why this failure stings so much every time I think about it. We trusted ourselves, our jobs, our talents, and when those failed us we trusted the system. Did we ever once pray about it? Not that I remember. I do remember wallowing in self pity and whining a lot. But I didn’t share any of this with God, and as a result, we’re still kind of in the same place, even though the debt is gone.

Today, the pastor talked about how on the city walls, people would nail up for all to see the names of those people who could not or would not pay their debts. From time to time, someone else would take pity and pay the debt off. In that case, the paper was removed, folded over, the name of the person who paid the debt was written on the paper.

Regardless of my mistakes, regardless of how much I screw up my life, regardless of what I owe to whom, the name Jesus is written across my heart. God doesn’t see a failure. He sees a son. Beloved and worthy. Now my task it to learn to trust him, so that what he sees in his heart and mind can become real.

See how bad I messed everything up? And still God loves me. No matter what you’ve done, or not done, God still loves you all the same. He can’t love you any less, because he is love! If he did love you less, he would not be God! Learn to trust him, as I am learning. Your life will change.

Tonight, I’m going to write on paper how much we owe on our student loan, and I’m going to nail it to the wall. I’m going to pray every night that God would provide a way to get that stupid thing paid. And when he does, I’m going to fold that paper over and write his name on it in red ink. I may have it laminated at that point so that I never forget – where I’ve been, and just how much God has provided for me.

Aftermath

November 7, 2012 — Leave a comment

arch

Aftermath. It can be pretty messy. Have you seen pictures of the devestation of Hurrican Sandy? It’s not good.

Most history books have pictures of wars and natural disasters. In a few of them, if you look just right, you can get a sense of not just the destruction, but of the human suffering as well. It’s scary, sad, gut-wrenching.

Have you every been through something like this? I know my home town, Harrah, OK has been through some tough times in the last few years – tornadoes and wildfires just to name two things. I have friends and family who have been affected. Some have lost everything.

About a year and a half ago, a tornado swept through Joplin Missouri and caused massive damage. Less than a week later, I was in my front yard here in Texas looking straight up over my house at the circulating wall cloud thinking, “We are in bad trouble here.” Many tornadoes touched down that day all around us, but we were spared.

I had panic attacks for weeks after that. I had never been scared during any kind of storm before. But I never had a wife and two little girls crying and praying for their lives in cramped closet before either.

I saw how close it was. I saw with my own eyes. The cloud, the part that was spinning and dipping down and going back up. My heart was racing, I was almost hyperventilating. I was well and truly scared – like I had never been scared before.

None of this was in my control. All we could do was pray and ride it out.

It was completely out of my hands.

How much of life is like that? Things happen. Bad things. Horrible things. Things that tear up our bodies and minds and souls. Things we have no control over – illness, loss, abuse, job loss, families torn apart.

These things change us, these things scar us. They can even destroy us, and what we are left with is a wasteland in our hearts and minds and bodies. Who can pick up the pieces? Who can make us whole, when we have been so completely torn apart?

Tonight at church, an assignment was to make a diagram of our families, and using symbols, show a variety of things – addiction, divorce, mental illness, death, just to name a few. Mine looked like the pictures above – the aftermath of a nuclear strike. I was not prepared for this.

I know everyone has their own baggage, and they all deal with it in their own way. I discovered that I haven’t dealt with it.

My birth mother is dead. She ruined her life, and ultimately her liver from drug use. She was bi-polar. She was abused and abusive to my birth father. My mother was adopted, so I have no idea what her parents were like, but I do know her mother got pregnant either outside of marriage or due to an affair with someone she wasn’t married to. She always felt like she was unwanted, and she always acted like nobody loved her.

My father was a hippie and from what I can tell he got over it. He was a drug addiction counselor, and is selling real estate in Las Vegas now. We don’t keep up with each other.

I was adopted, along with my sister, by our great aunt and uncle who were the opposite of my birth parents. Very strict. My new dad was career military, a command sergeant major. Tougher than nails. A veteran of three wars. He has his own scars from what he had seen and done as a soldier on the battlefield. He never spoke of it.

My mom raised the family while he was away – I have three older siblings – 2 brothers and a sister, who were the grown children of my new parents. I think my youngest/older brother is 17 years older than me.

When I say they were all great, I really, really mean it. But I was already screwed up. When I was four my mom injected me with heroin. She rolled me up in a rug once. She would put me in a dark room and scare me just for fun. I got thrown around a bit, too. But the worst part was when she would disappear for days on end, with just me and my one year old sister in the house alone.

The little family tree I drew tonight was supposed to give me some insight into areas where I still need to experience freedom, so that I can help guide others to freedom as well. The purpose was to help identify life patterns, and to break them – in ourselves and in others.

Folks, I have a ways to go. All of this devastation, all the broken pieces still laying around in my soul were brought to the surface tonight. I’m a mess. Most people are in some way, and sometimes they don’t even know it. Now I know it – and now I have the tools to deal with it. And maybe one day I will be able to minister to those who are going through this as well.

We’ve been in Freedom Training for about two months. This was the last night. Every single week, this one verse always pops into my head – “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” (Is 53:5)

Yes, Jesus died for our sins, but look at that verse – we can have peace and healing through him! Not just forgiveness – we can have that and we need it, but we can have healing in our souls and in our bodies! We can have peace! We don’t need to have a stiff upper lip, we don’t need to bury our hurts, we don’t have to act like everything is ok – everything CAN BE OK! You can have what God has promised – if you ask!

What is God saying to you right now? What are you struggling with? Ask God to show you if there is a lie associated with that. What is the lie? Ask God to show you what is true – accept his truth, and live in it! Be free!

Broken

July 9, 2012 — Leave a comment

broken

We are broken. Both as individuals and as a species. We see the result of our brokenness played out on the evening news, by the side of the road, in alleys. We see it in our churches and in our homes as well. There is brokenness everywhere we look.

Part of being broken is denial. We know there’s something wrong, we might even know exactly what it is, but we don’t know how to be unbroken, and it seems hard anyway. It’s easier to stay the way we are. Maybe we even think we are happy, and why change it? Why fix what ain’t (too) broken?

We are deluded by how broken we actually are, and by the way, we will never know just how bad it is until the brokenness is repaired. We can’t see that far or that high. But when we’re away from the things that are holding us in bondage, when we actually get a taste of freedom, it’s easy to look back and see just how bad it really was.

Myself, the journey began about two years ago. I was miserable but I hid it pretty well. My wife knew, I’m sure my kids knew, and if you looked at me long and hard and deep you could have seen it. But I really did put on the happy church face for everyone. I couldn’t let anyone know just how dead I was inside, how alone.

When I saw it though, when it was pointed out to me – well, my first reaction was shame, then acceptance, then repentance, then healing. And probably some steps I’m not even thinking about right now in between all those. It took time, it took self examination, it took prayer and counseling. But more than anything it took getting to know God.

What was actually wrong with me? What is wrong with us? With people? I think our hearts are broken.

There was a time and a place when all of creation was in perfect fellowship with God. People – people like you and me – walked with God himself, talked to him just like we talk to the person in the cubicle next to us at work. Maybe with less cursing though. Adam and Eve walked with God and gave names to all of creation. They walked in the garden together, in perfect fellowship.

And then, when faced with a choice, they chose to distrust the source of all that they were. They were tempted, which in itself is not a bad thing, but instead of taking it to God, instead of saying, “You know what that crazy snake said?” they took the fruit from the wrong tree, they ate it – they made it a part of themselves – and then they hid from God.

What’s so bad about knowledge? Isn’t it a good thing to know good and evil? If you know one from the other, you should be able to make the right choice – do good and you’re a good person, do bad and, well, you’re bad. Right?

Not so fast. The choice was between knowledge and life, not between good and evil. There were two trees in question, not three. The Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Two trees. Adam and Eve chose knowledge over life.

Their choice has doomed us to brokenness ever since.

Oh, we try. We try so hard to do the right thing, to be good people. We know right from wrong, and we struggle to do the right thing. We give to the poor, go on mission trips, work for churches. There’s always going to be someone in need, some soup kitchen where you can serve to try and make your guilt take a back seat for a day, but when the day is done, when you’re alone in the dark, it always comes creeping back in and you know this one thing – you can’t save yourself. No matter how much good you do, no matter how much you give, you will always be broken.

There is an easy answer to your brokenness, if you’re interested. Choose life!

You may want to ask, just like I did, “But can it really be that easy?” Yes. Yes it can.

The problem with me is how strong I am, how willful. Bob Hamp says in his book Think Differently, Live Differently that “The stronger the person, the more they struggle, and the quicker they become entrenched.”

I had a great job, good friends, beautiful wife, beautiful kids – they all supported me, loved me, thought the world of me, and still I was stuck. I was miserable, and even though I was a Christian man seeking to know God, I was lost. The more I tried to do the right thing, the worse I got – further from God, more depressed, more stuck.

I was trying to know God on my terms. He can’t just be known! He reveals himself to those who seek him! I was seeking – I was reading some pretty deep stuff by some great Christian writers, and the more I read the more lost I felt. I was trying to get to God through knowledge and through doing good. Which is the same path everyone is on, until they aren’t.

Why did Jesus come to the earth? Why leave his glory in heaven and come here? What is sin? What is it that keeps us from knowing God the right way? Well, Jesus came to set us free – free from being who we are. And sin is being disconnected from God. The result of sin, of being disconnected from God is death, even while we are still physically alive. That’s why we act and feel the way we do. Because we are not connected to the source of life.

We all start out broken, many people stay that way. Some people, however, find a source beyond themselves and are renewed – we become who we were intended to be. Not by our own strength, but by the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

So the question is, how do we find this renewal? How are we connected again to our source of life? How can we not be broken anymore?

Remember when Jesus was speaking with the Samaritan woman? Read John 4 – Jesus told her, “If you knew who I was you would ask and I would give you living water.”

Jesus is the living water! He was sent by the Father to restore us – he paid the price for all people and what we need to do is repent! We don’t need to make up our minds, we don’t need to think different kinds of thoughts or do different kinds of actions. Our actions won’t save us, save one – repent! Be transformed by the renewing of you mind! Matthew 4 says, “From then on, Jesus began to preach ‘Repent! For the Kingdom of God is near!’”

Yes this is on my mind a lot lately – because it’s happening to me! The more I seek Him, the clearer it all becomes. I was lost and broken and like everyone else I was trying to do the right thing, say the right thing, think the right thing, act the right way. I can’t! I failed constantly and couldn’t understand why! Because I was depending on me to change me and I couldn’t change me and I thought God hated me and I was a failure. I was right in one thing – I can’t change me. That level of change comes from outside ourselves and like a new broom, it sweeps clean.

Repentance is not trading one way of doing things for another. That’s the same mistake we always make. Repentance is not changing bad behavior for good – repentance is death. Putting those thoughts and actions to death and having a completely new way of thinking implanted into you. Only then can you be who you were meant to be, who you were born to be, who God designed you to be.

Crazy right? It’s either that or stay broken. I couldn’t do it that way anymore. I’m strong and willful, but even the strongest, most stubborn people get tired and come to the end of what they can do.

Where are you? At the end? Still hanging on? Barely making it? Jesus came to make you new, to give you a new beginning, to give you life. To read this and know it and to go on the way you always have is crazier than following Jesus and allowing Him to heal you. He will do it right now. Ask and you shall receive!