Friday, August 21, 2015

Letter to a friend

From a letter I sent to a friend;

For whatever reason, I feel that the Lord has put it on my heart to share a small testimony about an aspect of my life.

Growing up, I have always prided myself on having wisdom and discernment. This fact made me begin to feel like I could see into other peoples lives and make judgments concerning their family life, work life and relationship with the Lord. I feel like up until the past year I have been living with a very judgmental spirit towards everyone in my life. They could never do enough to please me or earn my gratitude for their sincerity, they all seemed fake and hypocritical to me. Even if they did really well in one area I would still write them off because of failures in other areas. 

I couldn't see it at the time, but it was a very sorry state for me to live in. I had no one in my life who I could glean from except people who were in the spotlight of my conservative circles. Surely these men had it all together and I could look up to their lives.

I believed this delusion for an awful long time. Whenever one of these men fell, they would be written off completely, no matter how small the offense. They fell short

Over the course of time, and I would say especially since this past year, God rearranged some stuff in my life and I stumbled onto an old Christian relic called grace.

My life is very different now. I am honored to look up to so many people that I used to despise. I am amazed at how God did this in my life because I didn't go looking for it. Like so many other problems in my life, I had no idea it even existed, or that it was a real problem.

I cannot overestimate my excitement as I begin real friendships for the first time and allow "normal" human being to speak into my life with the wisdom they have been granted through their experiences. I have a place I can come off of my own pedestal or hypocrisy and be real.

I see myself more clearly through this process. I see my faults and failures. Maybe that is the mechanism by which I have come to have grace for others, I see that I need it desperately, myself.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Are Your Headphones On?

I like this song. It reminds me of the tendency we have to close our eyes to the needs of the world around us, or even close our eyes to our own personal needs. We can be so busy, distracted, or entertained that we leave ourselves starving for the things we really need - love and purpose, which can only be fully satisfied through a relationship with Jesus. And the purpose He gives us is to love others without hesitation.

Headphones by Jars of Clay

I don't have to hear it, if I don't want to
I can drown this out, pull the curtains down on you
It's a heavy world, it's too much for me to care
If I close my eyes, it's not there

With my headphones on, with my headphones on
With my headphones on, with my headphones on

We watch television...but the sound is something else
Just a song played against the drama, so the hurt is never felt
I take in the war-fires, and I'm chilled by the current events
It's so hopeless, but there's a pop song in my

Headphones on, in my headphones on
With my headphones on, with my headphones on

At the Tube Stop, you sit down across from me
(I can see you looking back at me)
I think I know you
By the sad eyes that I see
I want to tell you (It's a heavy world)
Everything will be okay
You wouldn't hear it (I don't want to have to hear it)
So we go our separate ways...

With our headphones on, with our headphones on
With our headphones on, with our headphones on
I don't wanna be the one who tries to figure it out
I don't need another reason I should care about you
You don't want to know my story
You don't want to own my pain
Living in a heavy, heavy world
And there's a pop song in my head
I don't want to have to hear it

You need to reach outside of yourself and your insecurities into the pain of another, but you will have to remove your headphones to do so.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Test In Contentment

Several months ago I wrote a post that mentioned contentment. Recently, the Lord did something in this area of my life.

I began to feel the Lord leading me to pursue a young lady. I carefully switched gears and began investigating this woman. This was not an easy thing to accomplish, but the Lord opened several doors and answered prayers, we're talking freak situations that lined things up perfectly for me to get to know more about her.

She had a lot of what I was seeking in a wife, she lined up with all of my major convictions, seemed to love her family and have a good relationship with Christ. All of this was a long process and I was constantly reminded about how I needed to keep my eyes fixed on contentment in singleness, should it not work out. I sought out the opinion of many godly influences in my life and prepared to  make the call to her father.

I was about to make the call when I began to feel convicted about the fact that I did not have God's clear direction to pursue this woman in particular, only a general OK to begin pursuing marriage. I decided that I wouldn't make the call until I had the Lords clear approval.

I prayed hard about it, surrendering my will, making sure I wasn't trying to twist His arm in this decision.

Thankfully, he did answer that this was the woman he wanted me to pursue. I was very excited and made the call.

At this point, with all of the Lord's involvement in the details, you would think this was going to work out, but what came next was a very simple and clear dismissal of my motion. It was hard to come to grips with this rejection.

What followed was a time where I wrestled to maintain contentment with my life, as it is, and accept, regardless of the reasons, that this pursuit was really over.

In that time I wrote this in my journal,
"Honestly, I feel very melancholy right now. I have so much I want to write about, but my thoughts seem to vanish as soon as they’re grasped. I have been wrestling a lot with discontentment and sorting through lies that come with the pain of rejection. What does God want me to do? Is He showing me something that I am blind to? Is there some great lesson that I should be learning in this trial or is it meaningless?"

Thankfully, He revealed that this whole thing was a test to help me flex the muscle of contentment. Though I still needed to work through some sadness, I was happy to have an answer. I am so glad that I was careful to seek His guidance every step of the way, because, had I not, I would be reeling for an answer that I might never know. If I wasn't sure that it was God's will, then I could believe that it was just some random mistake of my own and the reason why it didn't work is because I was being disciplined.

So now I am back to where I began, relaxing in contentment with where God has me. No stress - God will tell me when it is time to move.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Victory Over Lust - My Testimony

Lust is a very shameful sin. I wish I did not have to give this testimony from my life. I am ashamed of the secret double-life I have lived, but I know that the Lord can use even my weaknesses for His glory and perhaps someone will find this testimony encouraging.

I became a believer when I was seven years old. I was going to a large Baptist church with my family and the guest preacher was stressing how important it was to accept Christ early in life, as opposed to putting it off. I felt a burning in my soul and I knew that I needed to go forward. I went to the altar and prayed the sinner's prayer and I was converted.

Not much change was recognized in my life -  only being seven and having been raised in a good Christian home, I did not have a lot of junk in my life.

My parents made extra money buying run down foreclosures, fixing them up, and selling them at market value. At one point, we were living in an extended stay for a couple of months while the occupants of a house we had just won at an auction got their stuff together and moved out. My whole family of six (at that time) was living in a single room at the extended stay. My parents would often watch the news as we children drifted off to sleep. On this night, my parents fell asleep and the television was left on by accident. That was the night I was exposed to pornography for the first time. I was eleven years old.

I can see how cunning Satan was to be able to get me while I was in the presence of my entire family. How I have wished that I would have had the character to get up and turn off the television. I knew that the program was evil and I chose to watch it anyway.

Fast-forward a couple of years, I had begun to seek out pornography through the internet. I wasn't able to get to it very often, but things seemed to work themselves out for me to have the access I craved.

We were going to a nice church with mostly elderly congregants. The church also had a youth ministry that would pick up young people from nearby trailer parks so they could attend church events with the few youth who were actually a part of the church. It was not good for me to be around so many worldly young men. I had no context for what my life ought to look like. It was easy for me to compare myself to them and feel like I was doing OK.

My dad's job moved us to a different state. We settled into a nice church family. The people were all very serious about their walks with Christ and there were guys my age who I got to hang out with every Sunday. These guys all seemed to live righteous lives so it was refreshing to have a standard to check myself against. I began to focus on outwardly conforming to different rules and ideas that would make me “holy”, or so I thought. I still continued to struggle with pornography, masturbation and everything else that goes with that sin.

Even though I was still struggling with lust, I embraced many rules and standards, and became very self-righteous. It was easy for me to see how other Christians weren't lining up with these standards. I was the epitome of a hypocrite.

I was fourteen when I felt a wake-up jolt of sorts. I had a crush on a girl and I began to see, though I kept my sin hidden, it would surely ruin my marriage one day. I became eager to be free of my sin. I started reading my Bible daily, memorizing scripture, and praying. I became very religious in hopes of beating my lustful desires. I was extra sensitive about where I went and what I watched; I even sold all of my video games.

This course of action had its affect on my life, but it did not help me find freedom.

Four years down the road, I approached this girl's father about entering a courtship with her. We began discussing my readiness over the next few months. It came out that I had a problem with pornography and he began trying to help me.

You would think that having this man keeping me accountable and pushing me on would have solved the problem, but it still took a lot of instruction for me to begin to have some freedom in this area. 

The guidance was working and I was doing great! I went almost a year without giving into lust, but then it happened. I had been doing so well, I thought it was time for me to allow myself to have an iPod Touch. Once I bought it, I let my guard down and searched some things I shouldn't have. Technically, I didn't see anything bad, but my heart was not right in what I did.

The man who was helping me had once told me that freedom will look like walking in a different direction. You were going one way, now you are going the entire opposite way. You might look over your shoulder but overall you are walking in the right direction.

I thought of my “accident” with the iPod as one of those “looking over your shoulder moments." I knew better than to make light of my sin, but I drowned out the guilt and told myself it wasn't that bad.

Less than a month later this man approached me, on the basis of my supposed victory up to that point, with his approval to pursue his daughter.

The courtship began and it was a very happy time. Things seemed to be going smoothly. We did hit a few bumps in the road but overall things were looking up. About four months in we came to a standstill. I felt like God was resisting me. Several of our plans weren't lining up and things were getting messy in my relationship with my parents. I was not thinking clearly and was making plans that were irrational. They had tried to set me straight but I wasn't listening.

One day I was mowing grass with one of our tractors and had uploaded a few sermons to listen to while I worked. I ran out of the sermons I had brought so I checked for anything else on my MP3 player. I found a track entitled "Openness and Brokenness" by Paul and Jenny Speed. I remembered that some friends of ours had sent the track to us several months ago and my mom encouraged me to upload it to my MP3 player. 

I started listening to it and half-way through, it hit me. I knew that I would never prosper as long as I was hiding my sin about the iPod incident. The truth cut so deep and hurt so badly. I cried a lot that day. I knew it would mean the end of the courtship. I knew it was what I had to do if I wanted to really be free. I also knew it was going to be the hardest thing I had ever gone through. I was so convicted though that there was no way for me to move on and forget about what I had heard. I saw so clearly how by hiding my sin, I was setting myself up for future failure and would surely bring pain to my family in marriage.

That weekend I told the man my situation whose daughter I was courting and he came to the conclusion, as I thought was proper, that the courtship should end. Everyone was devastated. I really messed it all up. 

God was with me in my brokenness though, and He strengthened me. He gave me a lot of grace during that time of hardship. What followed was a time of tremendous spiritual growth. I was really feeling good about myself, although often sad over what I had done and what it had cost me.

Several months after the courtship ended, things began to sink in and I became very discontent with my life. As a result, I continued to struggle with pornography and masturbation. I later learned that by breeding discontent and self-pity I was pointing a finger at God for not giving me more or treating me better. In the midst of that mindset, I found it easy to justify sin. After all, I thought, if God is holding out on me, why should I care what He thinks? It's His fault that I am this way. That was my thought process.

I later discovered the root of my discontent was that I had made marriage an idol in my life. I looked at marriage like it was going to solve all my problems. It would give me happiness. it would fulfill me sexually. I would finally have the heart-to-heart intimacy I wanted. Marriage would save me.

After another attempt at a relationship failed, I found myself asking God for direction. I learned that He wanted me to take a break from pursuing marriage and focus on my relationship with Him and finding contentment in my life as a single man. He later verified this by having a stranger tell me a story about his brother who had a time in his life where he didn't pursue marriage, and instead just focused on the Lord. I took this idea as being from the Lord and started exercising contentment in singleness.

During this time I attended several events created by Paul and Jenny Speed of WIT (Whatever It Takes) Ministries. I learned so much about how I can have victory in my life. I read a book they had recommended, "Reclaiming Surrendered Ground" by Jim Logan. Since reading that book and applying the principles of spiritual warfare, I have had victory over lust.

One of the most helpful things that I learned at WIT and in Jim Logan's book was the concept of intruding thoughts. This biblical concept helped me take a stand against impure thoughts that would come to my mind.

I still have battles. In fact, I have had more seriously intense temptations since realizing I am a free man in Christ. But as God says in His word, there is always a way out. I can now see through the enemy's lies and I don't have to believe that I am a slave to sin, or that I'm hopeless, or that God is holding out on me. I can stand in God's truth and know that it has surely set me free!
I praise Jesus for showing me how to live in victory by following His word and I am forever grateful to the ministry of Paul and Jenny Speed as God used their material to show me what His word had to say about spiritual warfare.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Truth Will Set You Free

It came to my attention last year through an amazing ministry that you have probably heard me talk about, Whatever It Takes Ministries, that I was believing one of Satan's lies. 

I suppose there are many more lies I choose to believe, but this one has been particularly debilitating. The lie was this: "I don't have anything important to say." I don't know when this lie became a part of who I think I am, but it has been around for a long time.

I can see how Satan has used this to keep me silent when I should speak up. Those of you who have seen me know I am a quiet guy and I don't think all of my quietness is tied up in this lie I was believing, but I definitely see how it has held me back.

I began to unpack what this lie means to me - how I was living and acting with this lie versus how I should be living and acting in God's truth. As Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
I started "preaching" the truth to myself by reminding myself that God has given me a message to spread and my words really do have value, potentially eternal value. Each of us do!

While cultivating the truth in this area of my life, I felt led to fast for awhile. Ironically, the day I began the fast was the 15th anniversary of me letting Jesus into my heart. That felt significant to me as I sought the Lord's will for the next phase of my walk with Him.

It was an amazing fast! I could see God working in my life to show me areas that needing work and directions He wanted me to be moving in. I came away from that fast with two things on my heart:

1. Live in the truth that my words have meaning and value by writing them out in a public place, such as a blog.

2. Take a class on counseling. I began taking level 1 basic training at The Barnabas Center (see sidebar link) and am looking forward to taking level 2 this fall. I do not know how the Lord will use these classes, but I have noticed a great benefit in conversation by using what I have learned. Originally I went into the class with an attitude of "how can I help others with their problems?" but it was funny to begin to see the "log" in my own eye that keeps me from reaching my potential in Christ.

The blog has been nice to keep up and I hope that it has been helpful to some out there, but in the end it has mostly just been an exercise in walking out the new "reality" that I can share what's on my mind. I don't know how long this blog will last but it has been a lot of fun to keep up.

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Intruding Thoughts

I have discussed the idea of Satan giving us "intruding thoughts" in an older post (Dealing With Temptation).
In this post I wanted to outline the idea from my own experience.

Once first encountering this concept, that Satan and his demons had the ability to project thoughts into our minds, it was quite transformational in my own life and so I have many instances I can share that would help to flesh out what this really means, to have thoughts put into your head from an outside source.

Now honestly, had someone told me about this a year and a half ago, I probably would have thought they were crazy and that this was something loosely derived from scripture to support a fanatical movement on the fringes of the Christian community.

When my eyes were opened to the reality that this was something well grounded in scripture and not an unknown teaching in the ministries of many prominent pastors, I began to implement this way of thinking about the thoughts in my head and their origination. I can clearly see how Satan blinded me in keeping me from understanding this teaching. I had heard it multiple times, but it never "clicked".

Prior to believing this biblical concept of intruding thoughts, I would often fail to see when I was being tempted or not know how to handle it when it was happening. Because I didn't recognize that it was Satan who was tempting me I failed to "resist" him and just fought the thought by trying not to think about it. You know what that is like. We are never told in scripture to resist temptation, we are told to resist the tempter. If I am trying to resist temptation then guess what my focus is on, the temptation! If, rather, I saw the temptation as being sent from Satan, then I could effectively see that it is him that I should be resisting.

Something that I have recently noticed though is the fact that we can not only be tempted with evil things but with "good" things as well. Recall the temptation of Jesus. One of the temptations was to turn stones into loaves of bread. There isn't anything inherently evil about the action that was proposed. Do we often heed good or even religious thoughts for the wrong reasons? We have to ask ourselves are we being directed by the Spirit or just following whatever thought enters our head.

I am always fighting my legalistic tendencies. One day I was reading a good book and made it to a nice stopping point. I set it down at a convenient spot, next to my bed, and instantly I was confronted with fearful thoughts. I had set the book ON TOP of the Bible! I did not discern what was going through my head very clearly but I am sure that I was being told that somehow, someway, by setting another book on top of my Bible, I was surely in danger of losing favor with God.

Haha! I am sure I am not alone in this experience. Really though, has anyone else noticed how we always have these upside-down pyramid stacks of books with our over-sized Bible at the very top? What are we afraid of? Oh, sure we want to be reverent to the Holy Scriptures but I think we take it too far when we begin acting as pagans of old, afraid of being jinxed by our use or misuse of items. Plain superstition. That is all it is and I would argue that Satan is behind it all. What other ways are we walking fearfully when we could be running, jumping and singing in the glorious freedom we have in Christ!
Perhaps I am alone in this nuttiness, but it serves my point.

On the same note, I recall not too long ago, noticing how someone else had used their family Bible along with other books as a place to set a lamp, "How irreverent", I thought. Tsk tsk tsk. Oh yes, my standard is pleasing to the Lord and so I can look down my nose at these poor irreverent souls.

Satan wins a double victory when he gets us to accept a standard that is not biblical. We fall into bondage to useless rules that we probably won't be able to live up to anyway and then we feel self-righteous about our obedience as compared to other's failure to heed "God's word".

Back on subject; Intruding thoughts are very real and ought to be realized by the valiant Christian.

Recently, I found myself getting angry about something. Moments earlier my mom said something that hurt my feelings and I was reciting all of the ways she was wrong about what she had said. The fact is that my mom didn't really mean for her words to be hurtful, but Satan was twisting them to make me think there was a hidden message she was trying to get across to me. I was fuming, but then suddenly I realized that I was not reasoning properly and I noticed how it had been Satan who was "stirring the pot" of anger and making me feel offended where no offense was meant.

How many other times have I allowed intruding thoughts from Satan to guide my thinking about a certain person or words spoken to me?
I recently heard one friend speak at a conference. She had intruding thoughts that related to violent acts. She would be putting away the silverware and while grasping a knife would have thoughts of killing her family. I know, it sounds awful, but you see there is nothing wrong with having the thought (being tempted) the problem comes when we take the thought as our own, whether we act out on it or not. You see, she was in great turmoil over the fact that she could have such evil thoughts. She beat herself up over receiving temptation because she thought she must be some kind of psycho for ever having the thoughts. This drove her into depression which brought its own set of problems. By God's grace she came to realize that these thoughts were not her own, they were Satan's thoughts that he was putting into her head.

Jim Logan, in his book, "Reclaiming Surrendered Ground" says, "I pity the man who thinks that every thought that enters his head is his own."

Thank you for reading. As I have said, this teaching was revolutionary in my own life. I want to speak out about it because if there are others who are believing the fallacy that everything that enters their head is their own, I want to see them come to freedom. This was huge in my life. Please reflect upon this to see if you might be in the same situation as I and my friend were.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

a thought on guy/girl relationships

I was talking with a friend recently and they said something about guy/girl relationships that seemed very wise. They said that for a guy and a girl to have a non-romantic relationship they both must have maturity, especially in the area of contentment. If that maturity is lacking in one or both of the persons, the relationship will have a possible slant towards becoming romantic, even if it is a poor decision for reasons such as timing, character, or, of course, maturity. Contentment is the key to having godly relationships with the opposite gender.

Anyone have any opposing thoughts on this? Want to add something?