Archives For hope

We all know important people, and we all know people who think they are important.  Where I work, every single day, the same person parks their red Mercedes in the same parking spot right by the door.  Backwards.  I even got there super early one day to see if I could get that spot.  I was going to park my 1998 F-150 in the spot right by the door.  Backward.  Just to see what would happen.  I got to work at 7 am – an hour early – and that stinking car was already there.  I’m beginning to think it is not owned by anybody, it’s just parked there so nobody can have the spot.  Either that, or it belongs to a Very Important Person.  After all, it’s a Mercedes.

We all know important people, and we all know people who think they are Very Important People.  What I’ve noticed about the VIPs is they are generally insecure.  You can tell because of all the bragging.  I know them when I see them because I used to be one.

I used to tell people, who never asked, how many kids I had at church on Wednesday night.  I used to tell, without being asked, how awesome I did when I preached last Sunday morning, and how many people came forward.  I still know the stats – how many I’ve led to Christ, how many I’ve baptized, etc.

None of those numbers are bad – they represent people who have met God and whose lives have been changed by that encounter.  They represent God working through me in an awesome way.  But I didn’t feel awesome about it for some reason.  I felt like if I told everyone they would see how important I was and how much God was using me.  I was insecure in my relationship with God.

That’s pretty much what it comes down to, isn’t it?  Our own individual relationship with God.  I’ve moved away from the idea that God wants to use me, or that I can be used by God.  I’ve moved away from the idea (and it was very difficult) that to be a minister I need to work for a church – even though I am convinced that that is still my calling.  I’ve moved away from the idea that my identity has to be wrapped up in what I do.  I’ve moved away from that, and I’ve drawn close to God.

James 4:8 says this – “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

I always got the first part – makes sense, right?  Draw near to God.  I always ignored the part about sinners and being double minded.  That’s just as important as drawing near.  Drawing near is all I can do.  I can’t cleanse my own sin, and I can’t change my own mind.

What I have found is, if I draw near, under my own power, if I read the Scriptures, if I write my sermons, if I baptize people, but if I still have sin in my life, I become double minded.  I begin to think how great I am.  And when I become great, I want the world to know just how great and how Very Important I am.

But – when I draw near to God, for real, when I come to Him a mess, dirty, confused, and when I come to Him honest about it, He cleanses my hands, He straightens out my mind.  In other words (James 4:10) when I humble myself in His presence, He lifts me up.

A wise man once said, you can no more change yourself than you can put your hands under your own feet and lift yourself off the ground.  You can’t make yourself important, you can’t make yourself great.  Greatness is this life is not who you are, not what you have, not who you know, but what you allow God to do in you.  What He does in you affects the lives of those around you.  By pursuing a relationship with God, you change the world!

Only God can lift you up.  Only God can make you a Very Important Person.  Draw near to Him, allow Him to make you into who He always dreamed you could be!

Back to the Present

March 30, 2012 — 3 Comments

Several years back, I was an associate pastor in a church.  I was mostly a student minister, but I had several other responsibilities.  I had been in student ministry for about 12 years at that point, and to be honest, for several years before that, I had felt God calling me to something different, but it scared me to death, so I just kept doing what I had always known – it was easy, I had a routine, I got results.

The real reason that I didn’t pursue what God was calling me to do was because of something in my past.  What I didn’t know at the time was, the past was about to massively pile up on me and bring about a wilderness experience that would last the next 5 years.

It goes back to 1994.  I had just resigned from my first church, and was in the process of being divorced from my first wife.  There’s a lot to tell about that, and I may do it at some other point.  Suffice it to say we were both in the wrong.  Maybe I was more wrong.  I don’t know.  All I knew is that if I were to ever get married again, I would do it differently.

Fast forward several years to the already mentioned staff position, I was married, had a sweet little daughter, and was miserable.  I hadn’t learned anything, really.  I didn’t allow healing to occur from that past trauma.  I never talked to anyone about it, and I brought all that into the present.

One day, during a staff meeting at my church, the pastor announced he was firing several staff people, including me.  He said he wanted a fresh start with new people.  So I packed up and left, and started sending out resumes.  So I could start the cycle all over again.  But God had a different plan.

I had a lot of interviews at some pretty amazing churches, and in many instances, it came down between me and some other person.  They always chose the other person.  I started sending my resume out to smaller churches.  I was thinking they would be thinking they would be getting a bargain – someone with my experience, willing to work for close to nothing.  Most of them never even called me back.  Over qualified maybe?  Or God’s plan?

Somewhere along the way we tried a church plant, which went well until it didn’t.  Then we ended up at a totally different church – hurt, confused, scared, alone.

During those years, I turned and ran from God, from what He was trying to teach me.  I didn’t want to hear it.  I wanted familiar, I wanted safe, I wanted things to be like they were before.  But they couldn’t be.  I had been hurt too deeply, and to be honest, in my last church staff experience, I was basically limping along, relying on my own strength.

But this new church – it was something different.  Something special.  Exactly what I needed and exactly where God wanted me and my family, so that we could learn who God really is, what He is really like, how He really feels about us.

Two years later I am a totally different person.  I am being healed.  I am seeing how my past failures, hurts, sins can be redeemed.  What I learned is, God doesn’t want to use me, he wants to know me.  He wants me to know Him and trust Him and He wants me to run to Him and seek shelter in Him and rely on Him for everything.  I’m learning to do that, and He has given me my ministry, but in a totally unexpected way.

Do I still want to work for a church – yes!  Will I be able to?  I believe so.  Am I ready?  I believe so!  Am I scared?  Yes.  Yes I am.  But I am going to take that step, resting in Him, and I will trust Him to put me where He wants me, so that my past can be redeemed in my present, so that the future of others can be wrapped in His grace.

What have you not trusted God with?  What from your past is eating away your present?  And how can you learn to give all that to the only One who can purchase the terrible things that have happened and give you a beautiful future in exchange?

There Will Be Blood

March 19, 2012 — 1 Comment

I am the 4th of 5 kids, which if you think about it makes me next to last.  I have a little sister, an older sister and two older brothers.  The fact that my little sister and I are adopted never really mattered.  We were always family.

Just like any family, the sibs will squabble.  My oldest brother was grown and in Vietnam by the time I started remembering things, my older sister was in the army, but my other older brother was around quite a bit.  He pretty much tortured me a lot.  I have always had a thing with heights.  He would hold me over railings, balconies, out windows, and he’d say, “Don’t squirm so much I might drop you!”  Which would make me squirm even more.  But he never dropped me.  Not that I remember anyway.

The sibling I interacted most with was my little sister.  For so long, it was me and her against everything.  No room to go into it here, but when I was 5 and she was 1, many, many times we were alone for days at a time.  I learned not to butter the bread before putting it in a toaster, and how to change a diaper, and she learned not to mess with me when Sesame Street was on.

We made it past all that, and as teens she learned what buttons to push to make me angry and even jealous.  For many years, I believed that my parents didn’t love me, that they only took me because they had to to get my sister.  I was the one always in trouble, and nothing she did, no matter how wrong, ever resulted in punishment.  Sometimes I even got in trouble for things she did!  At least, that’s what I believed.  Now, all these years later, I know it’s a lie, and that the enemy used that lie to try and destroy me, to keep me from fulfilling God’s design for my life.

This reminds me of a story from the bible, about two siblings.  Brothers.  Their names were Cain and Abel.  Check out the story in Genesis 4.  Cain was the firstborn, and there may have been others between him and Abel.  The bible doesn’t say, but it does speak of that same spirit of jealousy that developed in Cain’s heart, and it tells the story of how that spirit destroyed people’s lives.

Cain was a farmer, and I bet he was the proud type of farmer.  You see them a lot in Lifetime movies.  The ground is hard, it won’t rain, but that old farmer is still out there plowing and planting and trying to get the harvest that will pay off that new John Deere.  Abel was a shepherd boy, like so many heros of the bible.  Humble, hardworking, innocent.

Out of Abel’s abundance, he recognized his condition before the Lord God, and he brought the best he had as a sacrifice.  The bible says he brought the fat portions, the portions that would make the most smoke.  He wanted God to see his atoning sacrifice.  He wanted God to smell the blood and the burning of the meat, so that God himself might look down on him and extend grace and acceptance.

Cain on the other hand, well, he probably saw what was going on with Abel, and he hastily gathered up some of the weird carrots and potatoes.  You know, the ones at the bottom that you always save til last because they look funny?  But you never use them you just throw them out and buy more.  And maybe some kale, because seriously, it’s kale.

So, basically when Cain got around to it, he brought God some leftovers that he had no intention of using anyway, and he offered it to God.  And God saw both of their hearts in that moment and he had regard for the one, but for the other, not so much.  Cain was furiously jealous, but not murderously so.  Not yet anyway.

God saw what was going on, and asked Cain a pretty simple question – “What are you so mad about?”

Don’t you think Cain had seen these types of sacrifices before?  Don’t you think Cain knew what was right?  He did.  He knew the right thing, but his eyes were blinded by the lie that it wouldn’t matter anyway – “everyone loves Abel.  He’s the golden boy!  Can do no wrong, that kid.”  Why even try?

“What are you so mad about Cain?”  He’s mad because You cursed the ground, because his work is backbreaking.  It’s a daily grind with no relief in sight.  Once you’re a farmer, that’s pretty much it.  No way out.  And he’s thinking, “You made me for this?  This is Your big plan for me?  I want no part of it!  I didn’t ask for this!  And look at him over there, the chosen one, the beloved, mamma’s boy.”

And Cain’s jealousy became unbearable, and he looked at Abel, shook his fist at God and shouted, “You want blood!  Take his!”  And Cain murdered his baby brother in a fit of rage, because of a lie.

I fell for that lie.  I bought it – I was all in.  I saw the success of those around me, and I considered myself to be way better than them.  Funnier, smarter, better speaker, better student.  And in a lot of cases I was all those things and more.  I was driven to succeed, but it eluded me because of my jealousy.  I learned to rely on myself instead of God because He wasn’t going to show up anyway.

And in a fit of jealous rage, I lost everything.  My ministry, my life, my future.  For 4 years I wallowed in self pity.  I turned my back on God because he loved the sacrifice of others more than mine.  Then, that one little piece of me that was Him that didn’t die started breathing again.  Just dry, shallow, ragged breaths at first.  Then, over time, in fits and starts, my heart started beating again, my spirit became alive again, I remembered what it was to hope.  And God asked me, “what do you have to be mad about?  I love you and I made you for a reason.  Now get up and go!”

So here I am, learning a whole new way of seeing things.  God is not who I thought He was.  He is more than my words will ever say, but I still have to try to say them!  He is bigger than I will ever know, but I still have to try to know Him!  He is more powerful, more beautiful, more loving, more kind than my mind can ever understand.  The depth of His love and mercy puts me on my knees because I don’t deserve it, but He sacrificed so much more than any of us can know or understand and because of it I live!  I know the lie and I know the truth and sometimes they get all confused in my head, but when they do, there He is!

My other brothers and sisters are doing great.  We recently lost my dad.  He was such a great man, and it still hurts.  I know where he is though, and I know, and have known for some time, that he loved me, and was proud of me.  It makes me happy to know that.  But you know what makes me alive with hope?  My Father, my Creator, my God feels just the same way.  And in case you’re wondering, He feels the same way about you, too.