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

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

Expectations

October 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

expectations

No matter what age we are, we tend to rely on our expectations. For instance, this morning, our older daughter told the younger that it was crazy hat day at school, and gave her a crazy hat to wear. The only reason the older one did this is because she had a better hat in mind for herself.

The problem occurred when the older kid couldn’t find the hat she had in mind and took the first hat back that she had given our younger daughter. The younger one screamed and cried and threw a fit. Her expectation was that her Sissy would keep her word and let her use the hat. The circumstances changed and expectations met selfish reality and although I wasn’t there, it was a tough situation for my wife.

It happens, right? We expect certain things in life. Expect that it will turn out the way we planned. Sometimes we expect we will graduate high school and go to college, but sometimes people don’t get accepted, don’t have money, don’t have the grades. Sometimes we graduate college and expect we can get a great job and end up working part time at a local taco shack. Sometimes we get a specialized graduate degree and really have high expectations and end up doing something not at all related. Sometimes it’s confusing and heartbreaking when things don’t happen like we expect.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, though. Really and truly. It’s ok! I’m just sorry it took me so long to figure that out.

The thing about expectations is, they can really hold you back. Sometimes we are stubborn about it, too. “No – I went to school for this, I’ve wanted this my whole life, and I am going to do this!” What if God has a different plan for you? That’s ok with you, isn’t it?

You know this verse, I know you do. Jeremiah 29:11. Here’s a different translation you may not have heard – “I have not lost sight of my plan for you, the Lord says, and it is your welfare I have in mind, not your undoing; for you, too, I have a destiny and a hope.”

Think on those words. Meditate on them. Realize how significant it is that God would say something like that to people like you and me.

Do you think your situation, regardless of what it is, caught God by surprise? He was just bebopping around in heaven, looked down and saw you hanging by a fingernail off the side of a cliff and said, “Wow that’s surprising to me. I didn’t see that coming at all.”

NO! He has not lost sight of any of us! He has a plan for us, and it’s a good plan – way better than anything we could ever come up with on our own.

My plans led to the confusion and heartbreak I’ve experienced, but God’s plan is always about destiny and hope – we all have a destiny that God has planned and that should give more hope than anything! More hope than the best job, more hope than a winning lottery ticket. More hope than you could ever imagine!

You, like me, might be thinking though that you are so far from where you thought you’d be that it’s hopeless. You might even be feeling worthless, like a failure, like you’ve messed it all up. I’ve been there, in fact I deal with that almost every day. Sometimes I feel like I wasted my whole life. I feel like I tried to do what God wanted me to do and failed and now I’ll never know what he really had in mind.

The good news is, this feeling is pretty common, and even better news is that with God, nothing is wasted. Not your most mind bending failure, not your lowest point, not anything. No single thing is wasted. God can and will redeem it all! That’s how big he is, and that’s how much he loves you!

Another verse – And some context first. Joseph was a man of dreams, and his brothers were so jealous that they threw him in a ditch and told his dad he was dead. Then they sold him into slavery. Then he was put in prison for something he didn’t do. These events make up the bulk of his life. For the majority of his life, if you look at it from the outside, you would think, “Wow it really sucks to be you. No, really.”

During all those years it would have been so easy for him to think, “you know what? This stinks, it’s not going to get better, my expectation was, based on my dreams that God gave me, that I’d be living in a big house and have a book deal with a movie option. And here I am rotting in jail. My life has been a waste! Why God?”

But in Genesis 50:20, we see that he didn’t just get out of jail, but that he’s the #2 guy in all of Egypt. He’s pharoah’s right hand. There is only one person with more power than him in the entire earth. And he gives God the glory for it! He says, “You meant to do me harm, but God meant it for good — so that it would come about as it is today, with many people’s lives being saved.”

What others meant for evil, God can turn to good. When your expectations fail you, God’s dreams for you will restore your hope. Don’t waste another minute on your plans! Go to God, discover his dreams for you, learn to follow him, and his dreams will become your dreams!

What do you think God is saying to you right now? What do you think his plans are for you? Ask him, and he’ll show it to you, and give you everything you need to fulfill your destiny!

I love that kind of music – kind of a smooth jazz. Don’t let this be well known, but I also kinda like Sinatra, Harry Connick Jr., Michael Buble, and others. Not as much as I like Def Leppard, but sometimes you’re just in the mood.

I like this particular song by Dean Martin because it talks about getting kicked in the head. Which is funny to me for some reason.

“How lucky can one guy be? I kissed her and she kissed me. Like the fella once said, ‘Ain’t that a kick in the head?’”

Why would a kiss be compared to a kick in the head? Well, have you ever kissed someone? Remember your first kiss, or a kiss with that special someone? Yes, I just said that. It’s electric, it gets your heart racing, your mind goes numb, your body tenses up. Like if you were to get kicked in the head.

I only mention that because Cheryl busted her head real good last night. We had to go to the doctor because of it. She bent over real quick, right into the door frame, which has a huge dent in it now. I heard the sound, saw her legs get rubbery, saw her collapse. I mean, she hit it hard. She was almost completely out when I got to her. Nothing like a kick in the head – her eyes were glazed over, she was dazed, her heart was racing.

Have you ever hit your head like that? It’s a surreal experience. Out of body, metaphysical, electric. Spiritual.

Have you ever had an encounter like that with God? Have you ever had the Spirit come over you, out of the blue, and just flat out kick you in the head? Metaphorically speaking obviously. God doesn’t kick people in the head. But sometimes he kinda does. Right?

I’m thinking about myself – how hard headed I am, and the lengths God went to to not just redeem me, but to get my attention. Sometimes it’s a gentle voice, like a spring breeze. Mostly if he wants my attention it’s a bone jarring experience and we pick up the pieces together and move on.

I’m also thinking about Israel. How many times in the bible were they walking with God, turned their back on him, got overrun by the Philistines or whoever then remembered how things were before they went their own way?

We all do this. Unfortunately. It’s normal. We are so blessed, we praise God, we worship him, we get all caught up in our lives, we get to a point where our worship is just songs, our prayers are just words, and our power is our own. Then something happens and we run back to God.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be – you know that right? We are supposed to walk with God daily, we are supposed to be empowered by the Spirit daily, we are supposed to always be in a mindset of worship and prayer – continually. That’s the trick right there.

I think we all deserve a good kick to the head from time to time – it sets us straight, it reminds us what’s real, it reminds us who paid the price for us. Ideally, it would just happen once, but then again we’re human and we all need a course correction from time to time.

If you’re one of those that recognizes immediately when something is wrong and immediately correct it, good on you. Me? I’ll probably continue to need a good swift kick every now and then.

Pray for me, and with me – God is working in my life right now! He’s shaking things up, making me see the reality around me. Cheryl’s head wound reminded me that God has a plan for me, he’s not done, I’m not used up, too old, too broken – not ever – God still has a plan. I just wish it was my head that got hit - it can take a lot more abuse that Cheryl’s.

In Student Ministry, the flagship event of ever summer, for me anyway, was always camp.  I started planning next year’s camp the day after camp was over.  I love camp.  I grew up going to Falls Creek – deep in the heart of the Arbuckle mountains of OK.  I went to camp there at least once every summer between 1980 and 2003, sometimes I went several weeks.  I surrendered to ministry there in 1982.  To say that it is a very special place to me is an understatement.

One year at camp, on Wednesday night, Cheryl decided to take Trinity with us to the worship service.  She was about 2 years old at the time.  There were not enough seats for all of us in the Tabernacle, and it was really hot, so we decided to sit on the brick wall right outside the back.  There was a nice breeze blowing, and we could hear everything going on inside.

About half way through the service, Trinity found a pothole about 10 feet in front of us.  It was full of rocks and dirt, and she would grab a handful and run back and put it in my hands.  She must have made 20 trips back and forth to fill my cupped hands with dirt and rocks.

It was invitation time for everyone in the tabernacle, and I was listening to what the speaker was saying.  He said, “I want you to close your eyes.  Think of those things in your life that keep you from living abundantly. Think of those things in your life that keep you from fulfilling God’s purpose for you.  Now, cup your hands, and hold those things out in front of you.  Give them to God.  Let him take them from you so that you can live life the way it was meant to be lived.”

I looked down at my hands.  They were full of dirt and busted up pieces of asphalt.  Now, I am not a big believer in coincidence.  I am also not a big believer in every little thing having a some big meaning.  But I had to consider that maybe God was trying to show me something.

Yesterday I mentioned here that often what happens in life is the Thief comes and steals something from us and I believe that what specifically he takes is our present joy in life.  He does this by keeping us in the past.  He reminds us of past sin, regrets, shame.  The result is that we end up living in guilt rather than living in grace.

When I looked down at the dirt and debris in my hands, I realized that my past was still a big part of who I am.  And that a person’s past can hold them back.  Your past can keep you from being free, but God can redeem your past, no matter what is there.

You know why they call it the past?  Because I has already passed.  It’s gone.  There is nothing you can do to go back and change what you have done or haven’t done.  The memories will never go away, and the feelings that come with them are sometimes just as strong as they were when it actually happened.  Your past can destroy your present.

Nothing is unforgivable.  But to have that kind of relationship with God, you have to let go of your life and the things that hold you back.  You have to let go of your past.  If you don’t, you will be living in the shadow of wrath, and not in the Light of a great and loving Father.

As for me, I have discovered what it means to live in the Presence of Greatness.  It is to open up your hands and let go of the junk that you cannot possibly deal with.  It is to be in the presence of a Father that loves you so much that you cannot possibly disappoint him.

So, I turned my hands over, let the dirt and rocks fall to the ground.  Cheryl gave me a baby wipe.  And the service was over.  It’s in the past now, along with a thousand other memories.  And now it is my choice, and your choice, to come before God and leave those things behind, and receive the abundance he offers those with the boldness to approach him.

What are you holding on to?  What is the Holy Spirit asking you to give up?  You can give it to Him and accept the abundant life being offered to you right now!  That’s what the Resurrection is all about!  The only other choice is living a defeated, crippled life.  The only other choice is living for the past.  That is not the kind of life that Christ died and lives to give you.  Let it go!  Give it to Him, and live!