Archives For hope

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

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?

Ch-Ch-Changes!

December 14, 2013 — 2 Comments

ChangesLess than 5 years ago, Cheryl and I didn’t have two pennies to rub together. In spite of each of us having pretty good jobs, making pretty good money, we were broke. We were also *broken*. Without hope – lost. We were ashamed of where we were in life. We were in a really good church, but afraid to talk to people about our situation. We were all alone -

(Still don’t know what I was waiting for, and my time was running wild. A million dead-end streets and every time I thought I’d got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet. So I turned myself to face me but I’ve never caught a glimpse of how the others must see the faker.)

I wish I was kidding about all this – but about every other week, something was getting shut off – water, electric, phone, cable. Cheryl’s car was even repossessed once in the middle of the night. I remember sitting in the dark, lighting candles for light and warmth, wondering what we could sell on Craigslist to get our heat back on. I wasn’t even thinking about Christmas. We had a tree but there was no reason to even put it up – we had nothing to put on it or under it.

(Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strain. Ch-ch-changes – don’t want to be a richer man. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes - Turn and face the strain. Ch-ch-changes, just gonna have to be a different man. Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.)

During this time, I was reminded of a similar feeling Christmas, many years ago, when I learned that my wife (at the time) was having an affair and wanted me to move out of our house. It was too late for me to make any other plans – parents were at my sister’s house on the east coast, all my friends were out of town. So I packed up a few things in my car and drove off, but the car broke down about 20 miles from where I was headed. Then there was a literal blizzard…I thought I was going to die in a 1971 Buick Skylark, in a snow storm, sitting behind a convenience store in the middle of nowhere.

One thing I knew, in both these situations, was that something was not right between me and God. I was a pastor during both these trails. I knew, more than most people know, WHO God is.

But like Jesus said, the demons know as well. And tremble.

(I watch the ripples change their size but never leave the stream of warm impermanence, and so the days float through my eyes. But still the days seem the same, and these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.)

As it was, we were going to lose everything. Our home, our cars, our jobs. Our lives.

We didn’t start out thinking we would ever end up like this. We had dreams! We had plans and goals! We had it all figured out and what in the name of all that’s holy happened? How did everything get so bad? It’s like our dreams had soured, and our lives had rotted away.

(Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes – turn and face the strain. Ch-ch-changes - Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes – turn and face the strain. Ch-ch-changes - Where’s your shame? You’ve left us up to our necks in it. Time may change me, but you can’t trace time.)

Even now, if I told you everything was fine, I’d be lying. Different? Yeah. Better? Way. Fine? Define fine.

We have a Christmas tree, but we haven’t put it up yet. Christmas is 10 days off. We are lethargic – mentally, physically and spiritually this year.

(Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love.)

One thing is different between then and now – the way we know God. That one little thing changes all things. He is not just a god (yeah with a little “g”) that we know, pharisaically, in our heads. He is not a god who sits and watches. He is not a list of commands to keep, holidays to observe, or doctrine to learn.

Our God is real, he is One, and when I say I know Him, I mean in a way that involves my heart more than my head. The Truth is setting me free – I know this Truth and His name is Jesus – and He doesn’t care about my Christmas tree, my light bill, or whether or not I love my job. He cares that I know Him – intimately, experientially – and when I do, all these things will be added.

Our God is a warrior God who fights for what is His! And WE ARE HIS!

It just seems like there is so much trouble, so much pain this time of year. But there is more than enough hope to go around. Turn your eyes upon Jesus! Look full in His wonderful face – and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace!

 

- Lyrics above in parenthesis are from “Changes” by David Bowie, and “Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing” by Robert Robinson

Heinz KetchupHave you ever had to wait a really long time for something? When I was a kid, it took forever between the time we put up the Christmas tree, and when presents were actually opened. It was horrible! I was never a patient kid – not on Christmas or birthdays or any other event when I knew I might be given something.

JUST GIVE ME MY STUFF NOW DANG IT!

Now, as an adult with kids, I see that same thing in them – an impatience when they know something good is coming.

I still see that same impatience in myself, too. I need to get over that. The last week has been pretty rough. I gave up a habit that I felt was holding me back, and I guess I expected everything to change immediately, and when nothing changed, I got all twisted up about it.

I really felt like good things would happen if I could just do this one thing. Maybe I even deluded myself a bit about it. But still I quit dipping snuff, and almost expected the heavens to open and gold coins to come falling down on my head. Instead I got a sinus infection.

Waiting is hard. It’s the hardest part. The bible addresses this by saying “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Hope can be a very pleasant thing – something great is coming! There’s a blessing just around the corner – just hang on! Be patient and God will show up and work a miracle in your life!

Hope can also be a beast. It can be torture. Something is coming – something good! But when? What do I do in the meantime? Do I just keep doing what I’m doing and keep hoping? When is this blessing supposed to arrive? Tomorrow at noon? Today would be better, but I can wait a day or two. But not three days.

I have been waiting years. Sometimes I feel like the little kid with presents he can see just sitting there. But my mom is keeping an eye on me so I can’t even get close – I know something is there but I can’t have it, can’t touch it, can’t experience it. But I also know the day is coming.

Sometimes I turn my back on what I know is there and get all twisted up over it and forget that the giver of these gifts doesn’t actually owe me anything. Sometimes I act like a spoiled brat, demanding my inheritance. Sometimes anticipation is making me late.

A few days ago, I met with a person I had never actually spoken with before. We’re facebook friends, and I consider him a mentor – He’s one of about 5 people that I read everything he writes. His words are full of wisdom and understanding. So I sent him a message on facebook, and we met for coffee early one morning.

He sized me up pretty quickly. I told him pretty much everything. He told me that my heart had grown sick because of anticipation. He told me that my confidence in God had been shaken – that I didn’t trust Him to be who He says He is, and in turn, I can’t be who He created me to be.

All because of a problem with patience.

We hear that good things come to them that wait. But I have become hesitant – I lost sight of how absolutely good God is, how much He really loves me, how He really wants to bless me!

If hope deferred makes the heart sick, how much more will those who wait upon the Lord renew their strength? How much more will those who wait patiently for the promised blessings mount up with wings like eagles? How much more will I run and not be weary, and walk and not grow faint?

That’s what I’m talking about right there! That’s the life I want! I don’t want to care about specifics – did I get a pack of socks for my birthday or is it that new video game I’ve been dying for? That’s not what it’s all about! It’s about walking with God in the cool of the day, and just knowing that you are His, and He is yours.

My prayer for me and for you – that instead of being impatient children, we will become spiritually mature, and learn to wait upon the Lord!

Good Grief

March 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

Charlie Brown

I have felt like Charlie Brown so often. At work, when something unexpected happens – AAUGH! At home, when the kids or laundry or both have me at my wits end – AAUGH! Driving in rush hour…well my responses to that are often a little more harsh.

Think about poor Charlie Brown though – nothing ever seems to go right for the guy. Everyone’s smarter, everyone’s stronger, everyone’s more right – all the time. His response to not being as good as everyone else is to seek out Lucy for counselling and scream AAUGH!

A lot of things in my life have gone like that, and I could put some bullet points up to let you know how bad it’s been, but you, being human, already know. People we love die, people reject us, people treat us badly, parents and friends dissapoint us. Those things, for some people, are what makes them know they’re still alive. I was under the illusion for so long that I was made for suffering. I didn’t know much of anything else.

But I found out I was wrong. I wasn’t made for suffering. Suffering is part of life sometimes, but we were made for more! And once I discovered the “more” part, I realized the suffering part was not so bad as I was making it out to be.

What happened was I turned in – when something happened, I knew exactly how to react – with anger, and by shutting down, and by shutting people out.

This weekend, I learned that it’s ok to feel whatever I am feeling. I learned it’s ok to be angry, it’s ok to have grief, it’s ok to admit that you are struggling. It’s ok, and when you allow yourself to experience these things, there is help for the hurt and then you move past it.

We talked about grief at church last Friday for a while, then we were given a chance to feel it, and deal with it. I found out most of my grief had to do with past ministry experiences. I sat and thought for a long time, and God spoke some words to me – he told me what I needed to do.

At the front of the church, on the stage, were some basins of water. God told me to put the water on my head, my eyes, my lips, my tongue, my hands and my feet. I thought it was an odd request. I asked why, and he said so that I could let go of my grief and experience healing.

So, I did it – and as I walked back to my seat, every step was lighter, my tears of sadness were replaced by shouts of joy and laughter! As I sat back down on my chair, God showed me why he asked me to do this – I needed to let go of grief, grief that I had both experience and caused.

God asked me to anoint my head because my plans had become more important than his. He asked me to anoint my eyes because I saw people as things to be used and manipulated into doing my will. He asked me to anoint my lips because my words had twisted the truth and I used them to hurt people. He asked me to anoint my tongue because my speech honored only myself. My hands because my work served only to glorify myself. My feet because I had made my own path apart from God.

Also, I was holding on to pain others had caused me in all these areas. I had held onto this pain and it turned into anger and bitterness.

Now all these parts are holy and His! My past is grieved over and reconciled. I will not dwell on the pain I have felt or caused any longer. It’s done – it’s finished. It’s now a foundation that God will build the rest of my life upon. I welcome him into my life to begin his work!

You can experience this, too! Right where you are, right now. Ask God to show you the things only he can help with, ask him to show you what you have held on to that is poison to your soul. Take time to grieve over those things, then hand them over to God. He’ll take them from you and make you whole. Your whole life can change, right now! Trust him to be big enough to wade into your darkness, trust him to bring the light! He’s not afraid of your messes, he’s not intimidated by your anger, and he’s strong enough to take all the blame you throw at him. He’s YOUR God, and there’s no other name to call upon. Take delight in him – take it! He is offering it to you, and when you take it, He’ll give you your heart’s desires!