Take A Stand – The Great Divide

We should all condemn fake news and disinformation, across all isles and all sides of “The Great Divide”. We know it has happened and we know it is happening now. Fake news is happening across all networks, left, right, center, it doesn’t matter (The Great Divide). The problem, I believe, lies in the obstruction and destruction of too many opinion pieces, which is much more prevalent than standard news reporting. Too many of us are allowing the media to influence our social behaviors and social opinions rather than forming behaviors and opinions of your own – solely based on the facts of a news story that is balanced with your spiritual or philosophical belief systems. How many of us simply share, or comment on, social media memes and stories without determining whether the story or quote is accurate or not? Instead we blindly post, comment, or share, as the misleading and misinformed public becomes further frustrated with the great divide. We blindly follow because we want our side of The Great Divide to win the grand debate. Winning an argument has become more important than the truth.

We should all work together to conquer the “hysteria” that is gripping our nation via both local and national politics and strike down the deceit wherever it is. Blame does not have to be placed on a side of the Great Divide, it should be placed squarely on the way the media is working and the way the internet is being used to erode trust in our nation and across our institutions by entering fear in our elections which do nothing but wreak havoc on our infrastructure and American culture. Facebook did what they did because this was the demand placed on them, it was even joked about during the entire election process of 2016. Our modern digital ecosystem has enabled misinformation to run rampant because American attention spans are short and false news stories run circles around the major news outlets. How else are the major news outlets going to compete with social media but to exploit what, it appears, Americans want. Drama, intrigue, fear, and something to complain about. We want to place blame and these news stories do that with little regard to the truth or even worse, little regard to what is really important. These issues are blocking the internal views of ourselves and our own behaviors – dramatically impacting the way we, as individuals, think and believe. It is unfortunately ugly but the truth is to be discovered in us, not in what the media is portraying. The media, and social media, is giving us what many want for some ungodly reason – drama, intrigue, conspiracy, hate, destruction, violence, and juvenile tirades. Really?

As a nation, we should work to overcome our fears and stop sniping at each other, stop the trolling and the mean-spirited partisanship that some of our political leaders, and almost all media outlets are showing incessantly (across all networks). Regardless of ones viewpoints I have faith, that everyone is tired of the divisiveness, the injustices, and the out right hatred that many of us are witnessing. Is this how we want our country to be? Is this the legacy we want to leave for our descendants? How do you/we want to be remembered? How about a nation that that is capable of operating with opposing viewpoints, different philosophical belief systems, and different motivations? The human race is an imperfect species and it is highly unlikely that we will achieve utopia, but we can stop sniping and baiting each other with misinformation. It starts with one person, followed by one more, followed by another.

Yes, we should stand up for our views and stand up for what we feel is right, but also acknowledge that ones views have an opposing viewpoint and what one feels is an injustice, another feels is prudent and right. We should strive for facts to back up our thoughts and opinions, not conjecture or assumptions. Facts can be both a horrible and a wonderful thing – but we should serve to back up our views with facts and WITHOUT personal attacks and hyperbole; we should not want to create a line that we then dare one to cross it. This serves no end.

Have courage to take a stand and not participate in The Great Divide. Don’t fall for it.


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Victim or Victor

When by God’s grace we are regenerated, we receive a new self-image. He replaces self-hate with self-love. He replaces self-doubt with self-esteem. He replaces bitterness and hatred with compassion.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view (2 Cor 5:16)

Dragging others down with us is one major way we deal with our own inferiority feelings. To have victory we must get to the place where we no longer let others drag us down. If approval is still withheld, let Christ bear your burden. Abandon your bitterness against the one who withholds his approval.

If you feel like you’ve been deliberately cut back or pinched off, or experienced some seasonal winter-kill, then you have the option of choosing to believe for a coming season of fruitfulness in those very same areas. It is your choice, and it wont happen until you choose it.

Come on man! We all know that it never helps to allow these experiences to mold us into the role and identity of ‘the victim’. It is true that sometimes we are victimized, there is no reason to deny this. But we have a choice as to whether it will be temporary or if it will become our identity. We should be able to say, “I was the victim of blah blah blah….”, “But now I’m a specialist in blah blah blah.”

A victim mentality will keep you bound to that trauma or frustration and will sabotage any hopes or attempts to prosper. A victim mentality is resignation to weakness and powerlessness, and it becomes ones modus operandi. It automatically disqualifies you and dictates what you will or won’t do.

While it only feels like a weakness, a victim mentality is so much more – it is actually a powerful mechanism that blocks, deprives and binds. It steals strength. This is where Satan wants you to be. The GOOD NEWS is that the very area in which you were wronged can become a calling and destiny.

There is strength and empowerment to be found when you have been wronged. There is a more true ministry in righteousness.

The truth is that we are all creative. We all have memories. We can all love. We can all imagine. We can all be brave. We can all communicate thoughts. We can all express our emotions. We all have some measure of confidence. We can all exercise self-control. We can all think abstractly. We can all use language. We can all be a friend. We can all plan ahead. We all have bodies that heal. We all have some sense of rhythm. We can all appreciate some form of art. We can all do math in our head.

We can all do at least some of all things – you know you can!

Given that we’re all running on a small fraction of our mental capacity, it’s only logical that whatever we need more of can be located, dialed up, intended, cultivated, commissioned and encouraged to excel. Because God placed that deposit in us: His image, including whatever you needed when that crisis came, waylaid you and left you feeling like a victim. You just weren’t in touch with it at that time.

The image of God, Christ in you, the mind of Christ, whatever term you want to use, the Lord has gifted you with the antidote you need. You need to intercept that faulty circuit in your victim mentality – the self-fulfilling belief/feeling that came out of a bad situation in which you were victimized and cancel it by tapping into your God-given resources.

Let peace of Christ be the arbiter.

The challenge is whether you identify yourself as the victim, or the victimizer – or admitting it. How can you see what is in front of you if you fail to recognize what is inside of you? When our own hearts condemn us, there is no power in prayer, no power in preaching. We are just “sounding brass or a clanging symbol” (1 Cor 13:1).

It is Paul’s encouragement to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

To be a victim or the victor – it is your choice. God is waiting and He will never give up on you! He loves you that much.


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Church Cliques (part 2 of 2) – Trust, Distrust, or Misunderstanding

It was humbling to me that one of the revelations I received while reading through the four gospels would be the Circle of Trust that Jesus surrounded himself with; however, it was also just as revealing in that Jesus did not support Cliques, which can sometimes develop and evolve from Circles of Trust (He actually detests Cliques). 

I have heard it said that if Jesus were here today, He would need to learn how to do church. If He were physically with us, what would He say to us directly/vocally about the church? I believe that one of the things He would tell us is that people need each other, and God’s design is for our aloneness needs to be met within the context of a healthy church body. God abhors cliques because they leave too many people feeling isolated and alone. This aloneness is antithetical to the principles of Gods plan. Here is what God wants a church to be like:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer……….. All the believers were together and had everything in common…………… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

Unfortunately for some, after being welcomed with open arms they are kept at arm’s length. The church gives an impression of being a near-impenetrable bunch of passionate believers. They are very selective about who they let into their Clique. Cliques repel new believers who are seeking to establish themselves in fellowship. Even worse – Cliques appear to validate the reasoning of some who say they are not Christian because of so many hypocrites in the Church. The cancerous effects of church cliques marginalize many members of the body, and in the worst case, will force members out. When trying to get plugged in, little else can be as frustrating (or even aggravating). So eventually you leave, looking for a place that will not only welcome you with open arms but really embrace you. 

A study by Balswick and Layne revealed that there are generally 4 types of cliques within a local church (they refer to them as clusters): the Conjugal cluster, the Christian Education cluster, the Established Member Cluster, and the Prominent Member cluster.

It was somewhat surprising that Balswick and Layne found that theological differences were not a factor in clique formation. Those within these cliques generally have a very weak theological and doctrinal foundation. They are not interested in having the most knowledgeable or capable people but rather the most capable clique members. The depth of Bible studies, for example, does not progress beyond the popular teachers of the day. The theology of these clique members, generally, is representative of the feel-good, narcissistic culture we see around us. Many of those that are the informal leaders of these cliques may also be the “showman/woman” – those that look for attention or influence by their actions rather than their spiritual value. 

Jesus caught flack from the Pharisee’s (the cliques) because He was hanging out with those considered to be socially unpopular. One example is his relationship with Zacchaeus the taxman (Luke 19:1-10). This successful tax collector got assurance of his spiritual restitution because Jesus saw a change of heart and his commitment to make financial restitution where/if called for. Jesus doesn’t ask him to quit his lucrative career (or sell all he had and give it to the poor), Zak was just elated to be accepted by Jesus and pledged to operate honestly. I believe this to be the same of most church members who simply do not understand how to fit in. 

People tend to associate with others who are most like themselves. While this behavior ministers to aloneness, those outside the Clique are alone and hurting. Every church is full of hurting people. Some are hurting more than you and could use your kindness, prayers and mentorship. God can meet so many needs in your own life as you serve someone else. Search for those in the congregation who need your help and support. Serve somewhere in a church ministry. 

In the case of a clique, the first response must always be prayer. We need to lift up these individuals in prayer, and seek God’s will to be done in the situation. Praise God for his sovereignty because as we are told in Romans 8, He works all things for good for those who love him. Many times these cliques will be lead by one strong alpha-type individual; pray for that person particularly, that God would open his or her eyes to submit to His holy Word. The Pastor or Elders may not even be aware that there is a problem. Oftentimes there are others who recognize the problem, but fail to speak up.

Finally, if one finds themselves falling victim to a clique culture that is bringing discomfort, bitterness, hurt/offense, or aggravation/frustration, it is encouraged to follow the rules outlined by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. First speak with the individual one on one. If that does not work, then speak with the individual with one or two witnesses. If that still does not work, then take it to church leadership. In some cases, it is possible that the individual does not realize the harm they are causing and the issue is resolved with humility and civility. This is what we should be praying for.

 


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Church Cliques (part 1 of 2) – The Circle of Trust

I recently completed a vigorous and meditative read of all four gospels. It took a few weeks (three I think) as I meditated and prayed over many verses spanning all four of the books. I couple of interesting items popped out to me:

1. Jesus relied heavily on His Circle of Trust – the 12 Disciples

2. The Disciples competed against each other on occasion for His attention and favor

3. The books reflected on the perspectives, experiences, and education of the four authors. One gospel by itself does not really do Jesus justice (in my opinion anyway). 

Then, over the last few days, the Lord brought James 2:1 to me (amongst others). Imagine if Jesus had shown favor to a select few of His disciples. Not-withstanding that He brought three with Him to pray, he did not favor any of them that would form disunity in His Circle of Trust, nor did He allow strife between His Disciples and the flock they were preaching to. What if He had allowed Cliques to form? It would have destroyed the church from the start. 

James 2:1 – “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism”.

If you’ve seen the movie Meet the Parents, you probably remember “the circle of trust.” Robert De Niro’s character, Jack, a former CIA agent and overly protective father, is obsessed with making sure his future son-in-law Greg is a trustworthy and honorable husband for Pam, his only daughter. From his point of view, a person is either in or out of his circle of trust; there’s nothing in between. 

As with a business, within the church, “Circles” are ok within department and leadership circles, they are normal (and generally required) both operationally and spiritually; these circles are a natural formation of people whom you trust and receive guidance and input from. The people who are closest to you and with whom you share unquestionable trust are the ones who are closest to you in your inner circle. You then have various ‘circles’ or bands of trust the expand out from the center of the circle based on the degree of closeness and trust you have with various people in your life.

Who do you allow in your “Circle” and why? Unquestionable trust; common traits and characteristics; to build your self-esteem (??). Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) spends the weekend at his girlfriend’s parents home and has to deal with her father, where poor Greg is stressed about being allowed into The Byrne Family Circle of Trust. The father reminds him that once he’s out of the circle, he’s out and can’t be let back in.  Thank God that He let’s us back into His circle.

The father did not initially allow Greg Focker into his circle of trust, the father was sizing him up – distrust was automatic and Greg had to earn his trust through many misadventures and actions. Greg had to work extra hard to earn the trust of someone who he knew was going to be an important person in his life. This caused Greg to be erratic, lose confidence, and grow bitter and disenfranchised; it caused him to stumble. His effort almost broke up his relationship with his girlfriend and his inclusion onto the Byrne family. Was this fair for Greg, his girlfriend, Jack Byrne? Should Greg have had to work so hard to feel included? What if trust were automatic, something you can only lose? Should the father have trusted Greg because his daughter trusted him? I believe the father excluded Greg because he felt threatened by him.  Thank God that He lets us in to His circle based on our desire and will. All we have to do is “want to be let in”.

A review of your Circle of Trust can help you understand where you need to address trust problems – whether it be with you or with others. Working out of your Circle of Trust and the circles within can help you to get an at-a-glance view of your own little world. Are you excluding people from your circle with disregard to their feelings? Are you excluding people because of their physical appearance or their education? Do you rely in your Circle of Trust to build your own self-esteem? More importantly, has your “Circle of Trust” transformed into a Clique? If so, you have entered the “danger zone”. 

Cliques are dominant and prevalent during teenage years, but unfortunately, they are also found in society, culture, and, within Churches. Members of a clique often isolate themselves as a group and tend to view the clique as superior to anyone outside the clique, even in churches. Circles of Trust are a necessity in churches, but when they have transformed into a clique, they have fallen outside of God. God abhors cliques because they leave too many people feeling isolated and alone.

After receiving the warm embrace of “greeters” and “meeter’s”, some churches are challenged in meeting the needs of newborns into the church body. “Therefore, many of them become vulnerable to the attack of the enemy of their souls”. People need each other, and God’s design is for our needs to be met within the context of a healthy church body; it is also God’s design for the gifts of the members of the church body to be used for His glory.

Ask Him to be let in and He will welcome you with open arms.


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Building a Godly Relationship

Eph 4:1  As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Not long after being born again. I had struggles. Even after experiencing a few miracles and awesome displays of love from God, I was still overcome by the world. The instability of my past was slowly being replaced by the stability of the Kingdom of Heaven. Over the years, I struggled to live a life worthy of the calling I had received. The trauma of my past, both received and delivered, haunted me. People strained my edgy temperament. It was really hard for me.

Some of us are impeded from living up to Christ. It may be a troubled childhood, a tough marriage, difficult children, or, having seen too much evil.

To each of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it (Eph 4:7)

It doesn’t happen just because we really, really want it or because we can master the will power. Rather, grace means letting the Holy Spirit supply what we need. The Holy Spirit is the gifter needed so that we can participate in His divine nature. Walking in Gods purpose, peace, power. Signs and wonders will follow those that believe.

I was a skeptic, then a seeker, then a believer.  You can lose a lot of things in life and get them back if you keep your confidence. The devil cannot take your calling. God does not change His mind when you lose your way. Since the devil cannot take your calling, he attacks your confidence. If he can take your confidence then he can keep you from functioning in your calling. Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that what you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.

In early 2017, I knew that I needed to work on my relationship with Jesus. I needed to know more about who He is and who I was in Him. When I felt that it was time to invest time into a  structured program, my wife challenged me with answering the question  – why?  She had watched me spend three years on a secular doctorate degree and appreciated the time commitment. As a knowledge seeker, it was paramount that my time be spent getting to know Him and build my relationship. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge was not adequate.

Because I took this seriously, it took me almost three months to sincerely answer this question – why? 

When asked by God to lead His people out of Egypt, Moses initially responded “Who am I to do this….?”.   Since connecting with Jesus, I have often asked myself who am I to be a member of His family, or, convincing myself that I was not worthy.  I have a passionate hunger for spiritual things, I am hungry to commune with God.   I sense a drive to do wonderful things in the name of the Lord but I also felt a shortcoming in my preparation.   I am a person wired to learn more things, yet without a deep relationship with Him I have nothing to apply.  I have been out of balance with expectations.

In February 2017, I was awakened to the reality that “Christian” knowledge by itself can be dangerous without “spiritual” revelation. I have always been fully aware that wisdom is the application of knowledge, but I was neglecting revelation.  I would read the scriptures, but I was still missing it because I was treating it like a book study. It was then that it was revealed to me that I was looking for answers on who I needed to be rather than anticipating who He is.  I then found a teaching where I determined that one cannot get the experience of God simply by study, it must come by the revelation of who He is. This revelation led to a secondary revelation that I need to read and “reflect” on scripture (meditate/ponder), this will in turn lead me to wisdom and “revelation knowledge”.   I simply need to be who I am, God is ok with me.

I am a veteran that thrives on structure, I am also a frequent consumer of knowledge.  I am a vessel and a vessel is what it contains; I contain the gift of the Spirit through Jesus Christ. To balance my Spirit with my soul, I required a program of revelation that is structured and planned. I know how to learn at every level of secular academics, under His guidance, I am expanding this vessel (me) to the revelation knowledge of who I am in Jesus Christ.

My wife challenged me to answer the question “why?”.  He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory, so I will provide what the Holy Ghost has given to me.  Who am I?  I am a vessel for Christ to impart his knowledge to those in need of His word. I am a vessel of wisdom to speak with those that are hard headed and out of balance with who they are in Jesus.  I am a vessel that has plenty of space to increase my own revelation knowledge of who He is.  When the Lord called Samuel, he answered “Here I am!”, but he did not know it was God; this was me. He later answered the Lord, after being guided by Eli “Speak, for Your servant hears.”  Who am I?  I am the Lord’s vessel to impart revelation knowledge on others. Here I am Lord.

Isaiah 6:8 – Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”


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The First 40 Years – Part 2 (Church Encounter)

In Part 1, I shared that I was blinded by church labels, denominations, and the complexity of “choosing” a church that would be the right one.  My negative perceptions were also influenced by religion – man made doctrines and legalism that dictate how you act, how you perform, what you do, how you do it, and passing judgement while you do it. 

Why did it take me 40 years to come to Christ? I idolized a false god called rationalism. I could not rationally fit the church into my worldly logic view.  Was my rationality due to my own shortcomings, or, was my rationality due to what the world was teaching me?  I believe it to be both.  

What do I believe now? What do I believe today? 

John 8:32 “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 

What is the truth? 

John 14:6 Jesus said to him [Thomas], “Iam the way, and the truth, and the life…….”

The key to an encounter with God is the Holy Ghost. It is not intellectual, it is not theological. It is spending time with Him; communing with Him. It requires fellowship with other believers so that you may strengthen your confidence in Him and increases your faith. Church is necessary, it is a commandment. The denomination choice, the church of choice, is not material as long as the central focus is always in Jesus. Denominations are a matter of convenience but the truth is that there are no denominations in heaven. 

A choice of church is based on your heart language. What convicts you? What inspires you? What brings you closer to Jesus? 

Man has created conditions and rules around a set of belief frameworks that qualify which type of church you belong to, much/some of it based on biblical principles but some of it has been added by man to manage, administer, and organize groups of people. It establishes processes to assist with the operation of a church: worship, prayers, the message, etcetera.  The rub is that it also sets a tone for the message of that church, which is where most people have problems. Bottom line is that Jesus did not create a box, but he did outline commandments. Two of His commandments are foundational to His church. 

Mark 12:30-31 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.‘ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The last words of Jesus to His disciples are His Great Commission.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT) Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

I have come to believe that almost ALL Christian churches, regardless of denomination, are centered around one common theme – JESUS CHRIST!! If Jesus is not the central focus, then I do not see how that church can be Christian.

I have come to believe that people must follow their heart language regarding their church of choice (their denomination) – what does your heart tell you?  

Your heart language will set your belief system and frame your Christian morals and values. If one church setting is slow and monotone, then that is what fits the heart language of those parishioners. In contrast, if a church is loud, fast, and high energy, then that is the heart language of those particular parishioners. Some wear fancy church clothes and outfits; some wear street clothes. Some churches only sing hymnal music while other churches play music that is more modern. Does the message of the church bring people closer to Jesus?   

I have come to strongly believe that, regardless of their church “denomination”, Christians must respect and love other Christians. Christians should not criticize or condemn other Christians because of their choice of church. It is the Holy Spirit prodding us in our heart language that guides us; anything else is human logic and rationality. I believe that God desires for His Church to remain in unity and on point – focused on Jesus.  

1.       The Church belongs to Jesus, not to man. 

Ephesians 5:23-24. “……Christ is head of the Church………..the church is subject to Christ”

2.       Christ is the leader of the church, Jesus did not direct any appointments where we go through a man to get to God

Colossians 1:18. “……He is the head of the body, the Church”

John 14:6 Jesus said to him [Thomas], “………no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

3.       It is not your church nor is it my church, it is Christ’s Church.  It is CHRISTian. 

1 John 3:23 And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.

We cannot get mad at people who we think are blind or scoff at them because they have chosen a specific denomination or belief system. It is ok to disagree with certain beliefs but we are also commanded to love each other.  I was blinded by Church labels and I was blinded by man’s rules in the church. More importantly, I was disenfranchised by what I was led to believe church was. This is one reason it took me 40 years to find Christ. The lesson is that Church labels, and the boxes we draw around them, can hold back the Holy Spirit. The good news is that even with all of this white noise, He and I were still able to connect and He saved me! Glory to God!


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God’s Approval

Galations 1:10 (NIV) Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

God is calling us to gain His approval, not the approval of people. People will only approve of us when our performance meets their expectations, but once we slip below the minimum line, we are out.  When our performance becomes the standard for other people’s approval, our dignity is reduced to a performance goal or an objective. Most people conform by learning how the system works and give other people what they want: performance.   However, the bible also tells us in Galatians 5:13 that we are to serve one another humbly in love.  I am not trying to please people with my performance, but I am also not to use this “freedom” to indulge lashing out at people or being judgmental. If we work with and help each other, we can humble ourselves by loving our neighbor just as we love ourselves.

Simple obedience is the secret to pleasing God.  Jesus did not die so that you can get away with “whatever” on a regular basis; He died to save your spirit.  The Bible tells us to “Have Faith”, but its not just telling you to have faith, it is telling you to believe in your heart. When you have faith in Christ, the love of God is so real that you feel you could do anything for Jesus.

To believe, you need to experience Jesus more. To experience Jesus more, you will have to become friends with the Holy Spirit.  It is these moments with the Spirit that will change you, not a one line message on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram.


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The God I wanted vs. The God I needed

Gal 5:22-26 (NLT) ……the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there.  Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. 

Many Christians were born and raised in a Christian household and cannot recall not being a Christian. They have been immersed in a Christian environment practically their entire lives – their conversion was slowly absorbed into their heart, soul, and body versus one giant, dramatic leap from someone that had been living a “worldly” lifestyle.  These Christians do make their own independent declaration of faith in Christ, but they generally do not experience a dramatic experiential transformation – they have already been walking in His grace.

Walking from the “world” into a life of Christ is a conversion where a lightbulb is suddenly turned on, going off in front of your eyes.  I have come across a few since my connecting with Christ that cannot identify with that unmistakable moment (a small number have been fascinated by it). For me, my experience in September 2008 was immediate and very dramatic (I was shaken to my core and knocked to my knee’s), but then, tapered off over time due to my conflicting worlds (materialism vs. Christian “morality”) and silly events that would breed whispering seeds of mistrust. To be clear, I am accountable for my tapering off, not the Father. 

Rom 5:3-5 (NLT)  We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love. 

The true turning point for me came when I stopped seeking the God I wanted and started seeking the God who is. I surrendered completely and fully committed myself to a relationship with Him and followed Him.  I surrendered my will, my heart, my mind, my soul and my strength to Him.  We dealt with, and still deal with, temptations and made/make some wrong choices, we have been taken to the mat a few times, but the Lord has always been there for us and we have walked away victorious. Actually, these moments are becoming much more clear to me personally, adding strength to my spirit and deepening my resolve and determination to follow Jesus wherever He takes me. We will experience a series of battles and trials, but it is through these events in our lives that we are made stronger as we honor Him and when we give Him the glory.

1 Peter 1:7-8 (NKJV)  that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 

It is not the way of Christ that leads to everlasting life, it is the Person of Christ. It is not what we follow, but whom we follow; not a set of values, but a Person. This has been my lesson over the last few years – learned via some hard knocks. Jesus said “Follow me.”, He did not say, “Follow My principles”. If we imitate His life but don’t know Him personally, we will become exhausted. In the beginning, I was trying to simply follow a set of rules and what I thought of as Christian principles and values. This was me “yesterday”, it is not me “today” or “tomorrow”.


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My First 40 years – Part 1 (How did I get here?)

Jonah cried out, “When my life was slipping way, I remembered God, And my prayer got through to you, made it all the way to your holy temple. Those who worship hollow gods, god-frauds, walk away from their only true love” (Jonah 2:7-8 MSG). Jonah could not know it, but when he humbled himself, God initiated his comeback. When we humble ourselves and turn back, God initiates our comeback.

 

Over the last 10 years, when I talk with people, they always ask about “how I’m doing”, “when did I come to the Lord” and “what was that experience like”. But, a few weeks ago, I was having lunch with one of our Church Elders and he asked me a question that I had never been asked before “Why did it take me 40 years to come to Christ?”.  What an excellent question.

Last week, I shared a resolution, in a very public and transparent way, declaring my identity in Christ and our household decision to serve the Lord. It is critical to both my personal and professional calling and one that I am very excited about (I do work

for a Ministry). Why would I do that? Some might consider it embarrassing (perhaps too personal). I did it because before I can move forward, it was a necessary step forward for me “spiritually” and I had been concerned about how my faith would be received by those that believe me to be something else; not because of how I “walk” but because of how I had “walked”. I never really shared the joy and love of Jesus with many and this was stifling me in my relationship with God. It was not right that I was holding back in sharing Him with others, I was living in sin by allowing my fear to have a stronger hold on me than our Father. The Lord had been preparing me for over a year to share my faith openly and publicly, recent events made it absolute – the time was now. What I was struggling with were the right words. My fear of doing such a public thing were blinding me to what the Holy Spirit was guiding me to. So what did He do? He humbled me and influenced me in very indirect ways. A movie, devotionals, books, some course work, and a few conversations with some great men. The bottom line is the time was right to do so, doing so was in obedience, and He graciously provided me with the resources necessary to find the right words. 

But, why share at all? What specifically was I afraid of? Some may advise that this is personal and some may argue not the business of others. My personality runs smack down the middle of Introvert and Extrovert, my introversion side wants to dominate my extroverted side. Some of you are strangers, we only exist as social media connections or business relationships. Some of us have not really communicated in over a decade and therefore only know me “before Christ”, you do not know me any other way. There are others that know me “after Christ” and are focused more on my transitioning from 40 years without Christ to my new life with Christ – they recognize me more based on my challenges and stumbles than on who I truly am in Him. I don’t blame anyone, we are naturally human after all and I did stumble a few times, sometimes in glorious and dramatic fashion. I am also very bad about maintaining long term relationships (some of you know what I mean, I have been bad at it). We have all read books and other literature about how failure makes us stronger – when we stumble with the Lord or go through trials, it is a true statement that we can come out stronger on the other end. I share to show that with God as our strength, we can overcome anything – even something like this. I share to show that the Lord loves us, no matter our circumstances, no matter our past, no matter our character. I have been wondering recently how many others are holding back from being honest with themselves and are confident enough, and courageous enough, to declare their relationship with the Father, or, do they feel safer being what worldly social and cultural norms prefer them to be. This is where courage comes into place. 

During my transition to building a relationship with Him, I was trying to live two worlds at the same time, I wanted to live a life with Christ but I also wanted to keep what I had and the momentum I was on, I did not let it all go and allow Him to fully operate in my life. I was a moralist trying to be a Christian and a materialist. These worlds are completely at odds with each other and I fell into a warfare, a series of ups and downs. And then, the big one hit, our son Christoffer died while serving in the Middle East – man, this was a tumble. I stopped going to church for three years and pretty much cut off all contact with my church relationships of the time. I still recognized God but I fell into a blame condition, blaming myself, but more dangerously, holding Him accountable for our loss. This affected me personally and professionally. 

I fell back to my old self and was once again focused on me (me, me, me). I was wrong and was failing Him, I had removed “me” from His grace and righteousness. I did eventually get over myself when I realized that I was happier when I actively had God in my life; after three years away, I started the process of reconditioning myself back to the Lord – I was making a comeback. I repented, sought His forgiveness, and recognized that my way ahead would be via His grace and glory. This reconditioning started slow but exponentially increased. I observed and I listened. Finally, after a few setbacks in my walk with Him, I gave it ALL to Him. I surrendered. Took myself completely out of the equation and turned it all over to Him and His will for the life of my family and I. BAM!!! What an awesome experience, instantaneous freedom. This is where He wanted me to be. The more I focused on Him, the more He revealed to me. I had not experienced such peace in a very long time. My heart was lifted and most of the worries and concerns I had at the time, were erased away (the New Testament discusses this intimately). The desire to speak and the desire to share was very difficult to hold back, but I held my seat. And then, the fear to share (even in writing) starting to sneak its way in and I started to panic about what I was being guided to do. I would go through short spurts of speaking and sharing in corporate settings and church environments and then feel convicted about sharing (the time was not yet right). 

I needed more revelation and I needed to be consistent. I also needed to be in unity with my wife, she needed to be on the same page and in total agreement. This condition climaxed in a series of events throughout 2017; it was obvious that every decision we had made and every step we had taken, with His guidance and His input, had led us to that moment, right then. We had new instructions, it was time to follow a new path that He had wanted us to follow. We know that with Him leading and prodding us, every step we take and every decision we make will take us to where He wants us to be. The Lord told my wife and I that it was time to walk out in total faith. With the Lord as our guide, He has truly lit our path and is continuing to lead my wife and I. For He is with us and we have placed all faith in Him; And He has delivered. Here’s the deal, it is one thing to write words, it is another thing to walk it out in a way that matches what you read. Is my walk consistent with what I am writing? This is all part of my identity resolution. I now have all of you to help hold me accountable. 

Back to the question I was asked. Why did I block the Lord from my life for so long? This was something that I had thought about in retrospect but I had not pondered or meditated on too deeply. Not even Pastors that I had shared intimate conversations with or otherwise spoke with had asked me this; they were more interested in who I was today than who I was yesterday, looking forward and not looking in the rear view mirror. Nonetheless, it was very soon after this discussion that the Lord started to reveal to me the answer, what a wonderful Father. 

Meditating on this question and what the Lord would reveal to me is important because it is part of who I am and how I got here (spiritually). This was the final push I needed to finish writing and sharing my “identity resolution”. With the permission and support of my wife, clarity from spiritual accountability partners, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, over the next few weeks I will share this story as He guides me and brings definition to things. My journey will be shared in what I believe will be three Parts. I pray that my telling of this rather honest and very transparent story bless you and encourage you to reflect, ponder, and write your own story as our Father guides your path.


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A Public Resolution and Key to Identity

I have a resolution I would like/need to declare and share. It has been burning in my heart and spirit for almost a year but I had been blocked by fears and concerns about how it would be received, or perceived, by those that have known me or think they know me – a coming out if you will. Some will read this and understand and agree, while others will “mock it or ignore it”1; some will even roll their eyes and possibly break our connection. Some will believe that I am being true to myself and in some cases others will believe me to be in some form of crisis or have somehow gone out of my mind. Please understand that I am not in crisis. It has taken me a bit of time to gain the courage, and the confidence, to be who I was intended to be as a professional and who I need to be as a person – it is intermixed. While always a courageous person, I have allowed my truth to be clouded by what I perceived the reality of the world to be and those who I have connected with in the past, I have been afraid of what some would think. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot progress in who I am unless I share this. Whether you support my calling or not you may still agree that regarding my caring about what others would think- “How stupid is this”? No more, I am to be real to who I am, a man of Christ. Christ wants me to be courageous. He wants ALL men to be courageous.

As a non-believer for the first 39 years of my life, I held myself accountable to what others thought of me or tailored my actions to what I thought others wanted me to be and how they measured success (professionally). I was also holding myself accountable to what my father had convinced me of throughout my youth, that I wasn’t worth it (his perspective changed when I was an adult and he later accepted Christ before he passed away). Simultaneously, I allowed my desire (my mind) to accomplish the mission at the sacrifice of my desires for relationships (my heart) and what God had planned for me. My “orphaned” identity would constantly shift based on my worldly surroundings or to what mattered at the time. This allowed for a bit of collateral damage in my life.

I was wrong and have known that I was wrong for many years. Yet the shifting orphan identities I had created for myself were dominating my life and the life of my family. While I made a dramatic shift towards the Lord almost 10 years ago, it has been a process to change and rewire almost 40 years of thinking and 40 years of beliefs, to what I now know to be THE TRUTH. I had been holding myself to my own accountability on the outside (my thinking); on the inside (my heart), however, was a different story. My heart was in constant conflict with my attitudes and how I treated others and my surroundings. I know now that my identity is a son of God and that is the identity I now endeavor each day to be. Far from perfect, but I work towards excellence and the Lord knows this. I have made many mistakes and I will likely make more. But I know that the Lord will be there to pick me up. My accountability is to the Lord first and primary, anything else comes second at best. But oh man, there is constant temptation to backslide!

“We are all accountable for our positions and the influence we have on our friends, our families, and work mates. We should be a model on how to walk with honor and integrity and treat others with respect”1 – value everyone. “We need to be responsible to live our lives for what matters in eternity”.1 Instead, some of us are living our lives with an identity of self and are holding ourselves accountable to the way the world views us and the way others look at us. This isn’t courage, this is adapting. The world should not shape us, the Lord is our architect and our creator. In my orphan identity, I had seen firsthand the hurt and devastation that a life without God brings to a family, to the work space, and to the community, to our nation even. “This is because we are living recklessly and following the same patterns of irresponsibility that many of our fathers have shown us”1 – carrying their wounds while also adding our own wounds as we forget, or neglect, who we are and are supposed to be.

Every child desperately needs a father; there’s no way around this fact. As adults, I believe that our Father is in heaven, serving as our counselor, our comforter and our exhorter. Additionally, the Lord designed us as relational beings, we need and require relationships with others to live fruitful lives. As some know, 7 years ago my family endured the tragic loss of our son, Christoffer. Over the last few years, his death has forced me to realize that not only had I not taken advantage of the priceless time I had with him, but that “I did not truly understand how crucial my role was as a father to him and our other two children”.1 I have been extremely hard on myself regarding Christoffer and my relationship with him, I even blamed God (really??). Nonetheless, over the last few years, “I’ve asked God to show me, through His Word, how to be the father that I need to be, what kind of husband that I need to be”1, what kind of son “of God” I need to be, and what kind of man I need to be.

I believe that “God desires for every man to courageously step up and do whatever it takes to be involved in the lives of his children”1, to be united with their wives and love them unconditionally, to be good stewards of the prosperity the Lord provides, and “to be the man of courage that the Lord has designed us to be. More than just being there or providing for their families, men are to walk with them through their lives and be a visual representation of the character of God”.1 Have the courage to stand up and support the Godly convictions that you know to be the truth for our society today. We must also live the example in our work environments, in our local communities, on the stage, wherever it is that we find ourselves. I believe too many men have neglected God given responsibilities and have forgotten who they are truly accountable to – going back as far as a century and more, getting progressively worse. I believe this is the root of our problems in our nation, and world, today. “Men of God should stand up, take up the mantle of courage”1 to show the world what a true believer in Christ is, and feed the roots of our true heritage as sons of God.

“A father should love his children and seek to win their hearts. He should protect them, discipline them and teach them about God”.1 A husband is to love his wife unconditionally, honor her, pray with her, and readily receive her guidance. “While so many mothers have sacrificed to help their children survive, they were never intended to carry the weight alone. We thank God for them”.1 Men must walk in unity with their wives – there is a power in a communion that is recognized by God. Men should be proud of who they are in Christ and live the plan that He has for them. Where it is missing, bring God back into our families and into our communities.

Some men will read this and mock it or ignore it, I mentioned this earlier. “But I tell you that as a man, you are accountable to God for the position of influence he has given you. You can’t fall asleep onlyto wake up one day and realize that your job or your hobbies have no eternal value”1, but the souls of your family and our fellow man does.

“Some men will read this and agree with it but have no resolve to live it out themselves. Instead, they will live for themselves and waste the opportunity to leave a Godly legacy for the next generation. But there are some men who, regardless of the mistakes we’ve made in the past, regardless of what our fathers did not do for us, will show strength and live the rest of their days to loving God with all that we are”1 [and to work with other men to do the same], and, whenever possible, to love and mentor other men who desperately need help and direction. The good news is that the Lord gave us all free will, a choice; I just pray that we stand up together and make the right one.

Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. Joshua 24:15

Note: this resolution was inspired from a speech given in the movie “Courageous”. While most parts of this are mine, some words have been highlighted from the speech. While credit is to be given to the writers of this movie and the final push I needed to put this out there, ALL credit is given to the Holy Spirit for His guidance in my version of this resolution. I pray that this resolution lights a fire in the lives of other men (even if only one), just as it has aided and inspired me to share the parts that are relevant to me in my life. If this only catches the positive attention of one man, then the glory goes to Him. God bless.

 

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