Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Marriage Monday: Myth 7: You Will Always Feel Unconditional Love Toward Your Children

Hey gang!

I know, It’s Tuesday night and Marriage Monday is coming now. That’s right. I took an unplanned day off of writing yesterday to celebrate seven years with my wife. It probably wouldn’t have looked good for me to encourage you on marriage if I don’t even take time out for mine. It was all good. Sure it was popcorn and TV, but it was a good time had by both.

So time for another Marriage Monday and continuing in Leslie Leyland Fields’ book “Parenting Is Your Highest Calling” And 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt. Today’s myth is that You Will Always Feel Unconditional Love For Your Children.

If you ask my mom, I was a relatively easy child to raise. I wasn’t a handful until my college years. I was a good little kid. But those college years, man were they rough. I’ll always remember a night after my mom fell and broke her ankle in January of 1988. I was a college freshman and becoming independent. I was out till all hours. Usually, I called in and told her where I was going to be.

Not this night. My friend Kevin and I had ran into a high school buddy, Mark. We went out to his cabin and had a bonfire. There were no phones and I figured my mom knew I was safe with Kevin. However, when your mom can’t walk and has no way to know where you are, things go through the mind. My mom yelled, crying, as I arrived home at 3:30 in the morning. Not exactly responsible, looking back on it. If she could’ve hobbled over to me, she probably would’ve whacked me with the crutches. I even remember her telling me that it wasn’t easy to love a child that was so wild and out to all hours. It was once, but I never forgot it.

As kids, and even moreso as young adults, we tend to break our parents’ hearts. That’s why it’s even tougher today as a parent. I’m lucky for now. My kids are 4, 2, and 1. The biggest heartbreak I’ve had to this point is when our teaching pastor visited our family and my oldest uttered the F Bomb. Where’d she learn it? I stared at her mother to give my buddy Tyler a hint, but honestly, I really don’t know who uttered it to give her that word to use. It could’ve been anyone amongst my family and friends. In a fallen moment, it could’ve been me.

I remember when it happened. I wanted to slide under the table, but Tyler was cool. He acted as if he didn’t even hear it. I can’t remember if I was praying more, “Thank you Jesus,” or “Thank you Tyler.” Mentioning it would’ve definitely brought on a long lecture for Megan and myself after he left. Because as most husbands know, any foul language or any other fart noise or bad gestures or anything else is always the dad’s fault. I don’t know why, but women have this way of blaming guys for these things.

It’s not easy for us as parents to keep the halo of niceness on our children. It’s even harder sometimes to show the love that God wants us to show when children misbehave or disappoint us. Leslie takes us through a couple examples of how hard it is to always show the love unconditionally then shows us that she is like other parents that get on themselves for not being able to do show the love 24/7.

Leslie tells us by relating scripture about some of the “love” verses that show God’s love, but then begins a section that talks about how God’s love isn’t always the mushy, giving kind that we want to believe. She speaks of Israel and its disobedience in the desert on the forty year journey to the Promised Land. There is also the relating of how Israel and Judah lost that land by continued disobedience.

We have this New Testament perception that it’s all love and no matter what you do, God still will give you a big hug afterwards. That’s not true. God still had to discipline the Israelites, the same way he does to us. The Israelites journey to the Promised Land was to be two years. Because of the continued sin and not listening, the journey took forty-two years. God took the Israelites around the mountain (well in this case, the desert) as many times as necessary.

Leslie then takes us through a section of three mini-myths under this myth. The first is that love is supposed to feel good. All of us love the feel good love. You can think of REM’s Shiny Happy People. Of course, I prefer their Furry Happy Monsters with the Sesame Street gang. Monsters dancing with the band is the ultimate in happiness. The second myth is that love is a feeling. When the love is good, the emotion is a happy one. However, this myth gets tough to live when times are hard. You can explain divorce rates with this myth. The last myth is that love is holy, perfect and unchanging. We’ve already disproved this myth with the times of the Israelites.

We have made love too simple. It always has to be a positive. James Dobson writes a book called Love Must Be Tough. And it is. Leslie makes a great comment in the next to last section of this chapter. “We may feel anger, as God does. We may feel hurt, as God does. We may feel disgust, as God does. Love not only allows these feelings; it requires them.”

I never thought about those emotions as a child growing up. Because as a child, it’s about us. We tend to make us the center of the universe. When we become adults and move into parenting, we begin to see, if we pay attention, that we are not alone. We are merely along for the ride. We go from thinking about what we’ll do today to how what we do affects those that live with us.

My daughter Megan has been recovering from the flu. She admitted to me the night that she began feeling sick that she played with a little girl whom she knew was sick. I think to myself, “Why would you play with a child that’s sick?” My daughter answers the question with, “Well daddy, you taught me to play with kids that needed a friend.” Yes I did. Inevitably, that’s what is right with my daughter. She sees the ones that are alone and in need. That’s when I realize that I have done something right and even when my daughter is not easiest to love, it will be memories like these that will make it easier in the hard to love times of her life.

Next week, we’ll look at Myth #8.This myth tells us that successful parents produce Godly children. There are three lessons left in this series, so keeping looking for this on Mondays, or if I am trailing behind, on Tuesday.

I love you guys!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Have a Little Faith? Mitch Albom's Latest Book Packs Some For Everyone

Hey gang!

I’ve been excited since I finished reading last night at midnight to share with you today. Sorry about not getting Wisdom Wednesday up, but with my baby girl having a fever and needing her daddy’s love, holding and support, the best thing I had the opportunity to do was to read. I’d promised my friend Corby Pons that I would be reading a book he sent me in early October, but it took me a little longer.

However, once I started reading Mitch Albom’s book, Have a Little Faith, I found myself being unable to put it down. I finished reading the book in three days. I have to say a lot about this book and what it taught me about people.

First, I will tell you that for those of you that don’t know who Mitch Albom is, he is very familiar in my sports fan world. He appears quite often on The Sports Reporters on ESPN and is a guy whose writing I have great respect for in the sports world.

The truth is that with Have a Little Faith, he interwove three stories so well that I kept wanting to know more. The three main characters of the book are of great intrigue.

The book begins because of a request from Mitch’s Jewish priest, Albert “Reb” Lewis. The priest asked Mitch to do his eulogy at his funeral. I thought the same thing as Mitch originally. How would I tell my pastor “No” to such a request. I found it compelling that a man of God would ask someone outside his immediate family to talk at his funeral.

Mitch agreed to do the eulogy with one condition. He wanted to know the man beyond the pulpit. If you’ve ever wondered what men of the cloth do outside church, the book may be worth buying just for that. The inside on what Reb wore alone made me laugh. I used to think that it was once you got to a certain age that you wouldn’t care if your clothes matched or not, but I am finding that it is more about comfort. Even at 40, I am finding myself dressing mix-and- not matching.

Reb was not a hollow character. Mitch brought out the beauty of a man that didn’t always have success. Mitch was told about how Reb failed at what I would call “divinity school” once. He was convinced to go back and he thrived. One of my own pastors shared with me recently how he didn’t get accepted the first time to the school that he eventually graduated from. The common bond between the two made this section easier to read and also gave me what I saw as the first theme in the book.

Bob Carlisle once did a song, later done with a little variety by Donnie McClurkin (above), called We Fall Down. The song talks about how all of us have our moments of failing, but to remember not to give up. Reb tells us to try again. We need to follow that advice. Hebrews 11 talks about how even the great men of The Old Testament struggled, but were faithful. We will all fall down. It’s the courage to get back up that makes the mettle of a man.

Mitch waited until halfway through the book to talk about Reb’s wife, Sarah. Even though she is not one of the three main characters of the book., the second theme of the book came out during this section. While we may see Reb, and later Henry Covington, be successful, it was partially because the support system was so strong. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” you understand that the support of a loving and devoted are essential to that success.

We see Reb go through many different health trials in the eight years of the book. He fights off death several times and continues to offer insight to Mitch about his life. You get to see the interaction, several sermon notes and finally, the eulogy of a parishoner that loved his rabbi.

The second major character of Have a Little Faith is Henry Covington. After I moved to Florida in 2000, I began going to a men’s group and met one of my best friends while living in the Sunshine State, Tim Schmidt. He and I were talking one night and he said something strange to me at the time, but something I’d never forget. “Frank, you and I are different. I was lucky to grow up in a home that taught Christ to me from the beginning. I’ve never known what it’s like to be without my faith, but you lived a different life before coming to Christ. Sometimes I wish I had so that I could be more understanding to some of the things you go through.” This is also the difference between Reb and Henry.

Henry did not come to the Lord until he was nearing thirty years old and he had lived quite a different life from Reb. Henry had suffered through alcohol and drug addictions. He even went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Henry ran from God until a night that he thought that he would be killed hiding behind garbage cans. He committed to Christ and we get briefed on how Henry arrived in Detroit and then how Henry and Mitch came together at the I Am My Brothers Keeper Ministry.

The great part of Henry’s story for me was the condition of the church that Henry gave his life to in service. A lot of us would like to believe that churches could never have ten foot holes in the roofs and the heat could be turned off because a church could no longer pay its bill. We can’t think of a suffering church here in America. The visions of perfect pews, awesome altars and a sound system that can carry a man of God’s voice to the rafters sometimes put us in an unreal world. We stop having church to be entertained and comfortable.

I personally cannot picture having a service under a small tent inside a church building. If you’re my age or older, you’ve probably seen a tent revival or two. But those are outside under blue skies and not because the temperature is below freezing in the sanctuary.

The story of Henry though takes on an interesting theme that I think all of us who did not grow up religious. We are often looked at skeptically by those that have seen our lives before salvation and also by those that have been along for most of the ride for their entire lives. It is like we could not possibly make a mark on the religious world because we were “worse” sinners. However, for those of us that suffer that persecution, we need look no further than the Apostle Paul to see how a sinner redeems that life with a life after salvation.

Mitch makes a great point that these acts after salvation don’t get us into heaven with a story at Henry’s house that shares the fear of doubt that all of us go through wondering if we are good enough to get into heaven. Henry, even with everything he had done at I Am My Brothers Keeper felt that it might not be adequate to get a pass to heaven.

Mitch does a good job of explaining how the people of both ministries in the book are changed. While there is a much deeper look with Henry’s story at people like Cass, Mitch shows something that is vital in the belief in God. Regardless of which division of Christianity/Judaism that we are in, it is a strong belief in God that carries us. It is not because the Jews or the Christians corner the market on heaven entrance. The story of Reb walking hand in hand with the Catholic priest to produce unity of the churches in that New Jersey area helped us understand that God wants us on the same team.

By this, I am not saying that all religions take us to the same place, but if there is a common belief in The One True God, why can’t we manage to get along here on earth. That is what is produced by the stories of Reb and Henry. Seeing I Am My Brothers Keeper celebrating toward the end of the book with the heat restored and the clothes and other donations warmed not just the building, but the hearts of the people walking together in faith.

The third major character might not be thought of as a character, but he is. It is Mitch himself. In the final pages of the book, Mitch shares that he was now comfortable in his faith. It wasn’t always like that. You could see by the questions that Mitch asked Reb and how Mitch reacted to the events at I Am My Brothers Keeper, that God grew him as the book unfolded.

You could see that Mitch was like many of us in the beginning of the book. He was a pew filling observer. He watched the show and was entertained and went back to his life as a sports writer. But as the book progressed, you saw the heart change. He began to see things that God was teaching him walking and talking with these great men. Mitch questioned much like we do as we grow in our faith as disciples of Christ.

My pastor, Van Brooks, related a story to me that as we grow, we never know what point on the scale that we are at. As we open our hearts and take in what a person says to us, we might start at -10 on the scale. The first conversation might only move us to -9. Maybe five or six conversations down the road, a month or years, we might finally get to 0, which is salvation or acceptance of God. As God and others continue to put seeds of growth into our lives, we go into the positive numbers and bloom as people under God. I sincerely believe that is the journey Mitch took in the eight years of writing the book. He was probably closer to 0, but kept adding to his growth as the book formed.

The finish of the book was strong. Mitch came out of the experience with something very great. A file of Reb’s about God. He realized one of the greatest gifts as he opened the file. I’ll quote his words from pages 246-47.

“Because there, inside the file, were hundreds of articles, clippings and notes for sermons, all about God, with arrows and questions and scribbling in the Reb’s handwriting. And it hit me, finally, that this was the whole point of my time with the Reb and Henry: not the conclusion, but the search, the study, the journey to belief. You can’t fit the Lord in a box. But you can gather stories, tradition, wisdom, and in time, you needn’t lower the shelf; God is already nearer to thee.”

The book is about gaining that understanding in the stories that we call life, we grow closer to God, whatever denomination we are. This isn’t just a book for the Jews, for the Baptists, for the Pentecostals, but a book for all of us. It is an intertwining of three men and how their journeys grew them. If we read carefully and think, the journeys might just grow us.

In closing, I want to share a couple other things with you. If you want to know more about Mitch, or Have a Little Faith, head on over to Mitch’s website, at http://mitchalbom.com.

Also, Mitch is coming close to my area next week. I’d personally love to go down to St. Louis and meet him. If you want to as well, Mitch will be sharing at the Congregation Shaare Emeth, Thursday, October 29. The Congregation Shaare Emeth is located at 11645 Ladue Road in Creve Coeur, Missouri. There is no charge, but you can make donations at the door. There is also a request to bring a non-perishable food item, the proceeds going St. John’s Community Food Pantry and the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry. The event begins at 7:30 pm.

I love you guys!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Marriage Monday on Tuesday: Myth 6: You Represent Jesus to Your Children

Hey gang!

I know you’ve heard songs about it and even sermons about us being the only Jesus some people see. Today, we continue in our book study series of Laura Leyland Fields’ book “Parenting Is Your Highest Calling” and 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt. This is myth #6, You Represent Jesus To Your Children.

While I admit that we do have a major role in shaping our children and their character, are we really Jesus to them? That’s a lot of pressure to never sin in front of them, and that is just while driving the car in a busy intersection. There are a lot of people that put on masks, but if we have to put a mask on for our children, it is for sure that we are not living Jesus as we ought. Looking at this chapter will free us from the pressure while telling us the real responsibility that we should have.

I posted the “Hands and Feet” video from Audio Adrenaline because Leslie used it as an illustration to begin the chapter. We wake up in the morning and unlike her, we didn’t get the reminder of how we are supposed to live today and every day. She tells us how the song helps set the mood of the day in her mind and heart as she sings through it while helping to get her children ready for school and the day ahead.

You’ve heard that the road is paved with good intentions and some mornings just like the one Leslie describes goes all wrong. After dropping her kids off at school, she definitely doesn’t feel like Jesus. How many mornings has it happened to me? How many times has it happened to you?

Leslie then asks the question all of us want an answer to, “Why can’t we be Jesus to them? Why is it so hard?” We handle a few, but Jesus took care of thousands and their every need. He gave wisdom as he did it. We want to be able to help every person that we see, but we fail at times. She tells us of a word of one of her favorite pastors to ponder:

He urges moms and dads to take their roles seriously because…”the most fundamental task of a mother and father is to show God to their children. Children know their parents before they know God. This is a huge responsibility and should cause every parent to be desperate for God-like transformation… Will the child be able to recognize God for who he really is in his authority and love and justice because mom and dad have together shown the child what God is like.”

I think how hard that is. I grew up an only child raised by my mom, grandma and assisted by several great aunts. Without dad, I struggled for years to see God as Abba Father because I saw (literally) my own father as absentee and could not see God for anything other than a dream vision far away. My mother always encouraged me to believe, but there was never instruction on HOW to believe.

Leslie admits that she struggles to show Jesus all the time. By day’s end, she and probably most of us are running dry on sympathy, love and healing touches. She admits that she longs for rest and healing herself. I know I am that way as well. I wish it was as easy as eating a good meal to get the energy level back up to be spiritually giving.

A comment that Leslie makes on p. 133 of her book floors me. “A child’s emotional pattern is set by the time he is two years old.” As a stay-at-home dad, that is tremendous pressure to think about how Megan, James and Maggie all react to me. My son is very laid back like me, but my oldest daughter, Megan, is very forward. I think her emotion came with my feelings of nervousness of doing a “right” job with her. Being the first child and to a dad that barely even held babies before she was born, she is always cautious to make sure she is doing the right things. So far, I see the statement as true. Maggie is still being shaped and I think she will also be more laid back, even though the three of them can be pretty destructive to the toy room.

Leslie then asks if this “character of Christ” is accomplished by us or Jesus. My feeling it is more of a mixture. The reason I say that is that when we are showing the heart and mind of Jesus, we are making God’s job easier. We can also be a setback if we too often don’t act like Jesus.

We then go into a section of stating that we cannot be Jesus, we can only need Jesus. Leslie stresses the scripture of Matthew 18 and 19 that we are to become like little children to enter God’s kingdom. We as parents have to come to an understanding that we don’t have all the answers. I remember the first year of my Megan’s life. I questioned everything. But with James and Maggie, I became confident and sometimes make mistakes because I take the George Lopez attitude of “I Got This.” We begin to rely on our own smarts and history. The truth of every child being different doesn’t make this any easier. I know with the later kids, I began to put the stick up of “This is when Megan did it.” James didn’t meet many of the same bars at the same time because boys historically are slower to develop. That drove my wife and I batty at times and it took great wisdom from parents that had been there to tell us that he was going to be fine.

Leslie closes the section with a great line. “We never replace Jesus in our children’s lives. We don’t even do the work of Jesus in our children’s lives. We do the work of parents, which is to point our children to Jesus.” We do our part in reading to them and talking about God with our children, but we also have great Sunday school teachers, good classmates to be friends with and give our best attempt to place them in front of people that are living and doing the work of Jesus so that they can learn also by example.

Then Leslie goes through a section of talking about people that take on the mantle of servant hood a little too much. This tends to balance toward women because of the verses to submit to their husbands. But God calls men to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Men should bare the burden of their children as much as the women and this servant hood must be kept in balance so neither parent loses themselves in that servitude.

We then see the tale of two servants, Mary and her sister Martha, in Luke Chapter 10. Martha was doing noble work, taking care of the throng of people in her home. But Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, taking in the Word of God. Jesus told Martha that he would not take the opportunity from Mary. The service that Martha gave was temporary, that day. The Word of God would be of service to Mary for a lifetime. It’s interesting to think how many of us as adults get the two backwards. We want to serve Jesus so badly, but not take the time to be instructed by the Holy One.

The closing thought on this is that we still need to teach our children to serve. We don’t want to allow our children to just take in from the pews. They do need to learn how to serve. That way they can get the vision of seeing Jesus being lived through them. That way, they can meet Jesus in a variety of ways and understand that while we are the primary instructors of our children and their life, we are only part of the Jesus that they will get to know and fall in love with.

Next week, we take on a tough myth. When our children are born, we can’t help to see how cute and adorable they are. We can’t ever envision a day in which we will not love this bundle of joy. So are there days that we won’t always feel the love for our children? We’ll explore that next Monday.

I love you guys!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My closing thoughts on When God Turned Out the Lights

Hey gang!

I know it is Saturday night and I had promised Friday to share my thoughts, but things happen. They were major life-altering events, but they were events I needed. Friday morning, I shared movie time with my son as his younger sister talked to her speech therapist. Then, we picked up older sister and shared McDonald’s. We laughed and had a good time. Then I got phone calls on Friday afternoon from voices I needed to hear. They were voices of encouragement that prepared me for a hard night.

Today has been a good day. I spent the morning with the kids while my wife went to a women’s conference at our church to refresh her in the storm of life. She came home this afternoon relaxed, blessed by going. After having dinner together, she pulled the kids aside and then to bed so that I had time to read the final 20 pages and write this commentary.

I can say honestly that the last two weeks of my life were as lifted by Cecil Murphey’s book as I thought they would be. While it seemed like my power was going out, Kathy Carlton Willis sent off this book to me that I had no idea how much would touch my life. There were many lessons I learned from the book, but I’ll be pastoral and break down into just three overall themes that Cec took me through to bring a bigger smile to my face and hopefully the spark back to continue pursuing what God has given me.

First, as I told you a few weeks back, I received Cecil Murphey’s When God Turned Out the Lights and I seriously thought it was about churches that lost membership, God’s spirit, and ended up closing their doors. As I read the first chapter or two, I found out more that it was the Temple of Frank that was truly struggling.

The first point I’d like to make is that we get that wakeup call. God lets us travel for a while thinking we are still right where we need to be. We think the motions are going great and things are thriving. We’re making differences in peoples’ lives and it looks like we are growing by leaps and bounds. However, the real truth is that we often get on autopilot, miss the simple remarks God is trying to make to us and end up missing the mark.

For Cecil, it was driving home in a thunderstorm near his home. For me, it was realizing that I was so busy doing The Bible in 90 Days, daily columns, church events, men’s groups, keeping a house with three children and trying to keep my wife happy was exhausting. I found myself hitting the bed dead. Most nights I had stopped praying to God about the day and when I did pray, I was so wiped out that I fell asleep midway through. It’s awful hard to hear the thoughts of God through my snoring. If you don’t believe me, ask around.

During that same time, I began listening to people. You know, people I thought had arrived. My pastors, Christians who seem to never sin, advisory people that I have mega respect for. All of them seemed to be saying the same thing to me this summer. “Hey Frank, what’s God telling you lately?” As a minister writing columns several times a week, I can’t just say that I am winging it, going by what I feel God is sharing.

The people I considered smarter and wiser than me (surprisingly, they don’t mean the same thing), were telling me that if I’m not hearing from God, then something is wrong. I fell into a trap mentally. It was like I began to think that those who I had been working with and being close to were saying without saying that I was not as spiritual as they were. It’s not true and the theory is faulty and that was what a decent sized portion of the early parts of Cecil’s book showed me.

It was as if I wasn’t hearing that “still, small voice” God speaks in and that made me faulty. There are times in my life, and I’m sure in yours as well, that you meet people who say it like they are hanging out with JC & the 12 Disciples daily that, “God spoke to me this morning. He said…” I used to hate those people, bad. I’ll make a confession here. In the 15 plus years of me being a Christian, I have never, ever heard the “voice” of God “speak” to me. God has never spoken to me like he talked to Moses in The Ten Commandments. No Burning Bush for me. You either? Yeah. You know what I’m saying.

But Cec made many references to other people talking to him with wisdom and God’s Word jumping off the page at him. He talked about running in the early morning hours, looking at something and just knowing, a feeling in the gut, that God had spoken that day. Reading that section gave me such a peace. I’ve always listened to people when they tell me that God has a “word” for me. I realized while reading this that I’ve developed a good spirit of discernment thanks to a theory I take into account when the “word” is spoken. First, how deep of a walk does that person have with the Lord. Secondly, how much does this person care about me when he is speaking. The second one is often tougher than the first and is not as hard and fast a rule. There are people that have no love for me that can speak a word and I know, at least in respect, that they have a solid walk.

Anyhow, the other good thing was Cec showing me how much the Word of God has spoken to him. While doing The Bible in 90 Days, I have learned so much about what God’s Word says, really says. And it has grown me. Since starting, I’m almost back to being able to quote chapter and verse at times. I was getting great at that because I studied so much at Bible Baptist in 2001-02, but I got lazy and read sparingly from 2004-2007. I’ll talk about that time a little more later.

The video I chose at the top of today’s column is from KJ-52, called Dear God, and it discusses the feeling I had during the past several months. The last four lines of the first stanza and the chorus spoke to how I felt.

Do you listen when I’m calling you?
Is it really true that I can just walk with you
I know you might be really busy now with all you do
But I really need to talk to you

Dear God I was wondering if you really hear me
Dear God could you speak clearly
Dear God could you come near me
Dear God

I had felt so inadequate through the comments of people not intentionally trying to be critics, I began to doubt myself and my connection to the real One True God.

While in this doubt period, I began looking inside myself. Was there something wrong with me through this? Beginning with Chapter 11 in the book, Cec begins to talk about secret sins that cause pastors and other well-intended Christians to fall. I kept remembering those days in the beginning of being a teacher to junior high and high school students at church that I kept telling the teen pastor I was working with that I didn’t want to fall like those people.

I know all of us have our struggles, but I didn’t want to be a statistic, for two reasons. First, all my non-Christian friends and skeptics everywhere would be able to point the finger at me and go, “You fell. That Christian stuff didn’t work for you, now did it?” But the second reason was far more serious to me personally.

The book of James’ third chapter begins with this: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that you will be judged more strictly.” However, if that didn’t scare me enough, these two verses in Matthew kept me up at night and still do when I am teaching a complicated message. Matthew 18:6-7 says, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come.”

That can be downright terrifying to think about. Sometimes I wish I and my classmates for the regular teaching world would have heard those verses. But as I taught Sunday school and even to these lessons today, I take those verses gravely serious. But I don’t think that great teaching ends with on-field performance. Your private life means something.

That means I have to look through my life with a microscope. I make jokes occasionally about how I wasn’t always a Christian and that I wasn’t always a good boy. However, I don’t ever want people to take for granted that things I did before or even after I became a Christian are OK. Just wash them under the blood. It’ll be OK. It’s not quite that easy. Yes, Jesus does wash the sins away, but we have to be careful how we talk about those sins. We don’t want people to look at us and go, “Hey, so and so lived through the sin and has forgiveness, so we can do the same and get forgiveness later.” Our actions need to stand with our words.

An area I talk openly about this is premarital sex. I did it and I can say that I wish I had waited. My lone regret in the large scheme of things is that waiting would have given one more great surprise to be had on the wedding night. Also, if some of my teens found out about it, I didn’t and still don’t want it to be a green light for them.

But largely, as a teacher of God after eight years, I can say that Cec’s big point in this section for me was the sins that because of my own blindness, complacency or lack of thought are the ones I commit and don’t even realize. I’ll give a couple of examples. I really try to stay cool behind the wheel and I admit, it is easier here in Effingham than it ever was in Orlando or Atlanta. But occasionally, I let a word fly or give a gesture, and let’s just say that it isn’t a blessing to people. I need to ask forgiveness for that sin. Not just for the momentary sin, but also an attitude that can set in if momentary sin is ignored. All of us have bad days, but bad days can turn into bad years if we are not careful.

I also thought about addictions in this example. There are some people who suffer from serious addictions and can’t seem to break free. Whether it be alcohol, drugs, sex, or even food, addictions can build in patterns and be in us before we even realize it. I hate to admit that I have been kind of like Oprah Winfrey for the past twenty years with my weight. There seems to be the model from 1994-1999, the 2000-2002 model and so on. I’m currently on a fat cycle.

We can be taken over by an addiction. In Chapter 20, Cec talks about how many church people tell us to give all this over to Jesus. We do need to and I never want to make light of that. However, those giving the advice need to remember that it is not always easy to do so. But if you go and reread Chapter 19, there is some great advice for prayer. He tells us to pray to “Heal the parts of me that don’t want to be healed.”

When we pray for this healing, we can’t do it lightly. In the case of the food-aholic, you don’t pray, “Lord, heal the Hostess Ho Ho on the way in so that it won’t hurt me”, but pray more of a fix to the attitude of the mind, a desire to get off the derriere to exercise and so on. God doesn’t want half-hearted Christians. Ladies, don’t pray for a Boaz, then settle for a Bozo. If you want a God-fearing man that you don’t want to bend the scripture, then don’t settle for a man that outright turns scripture into a balloon horsey.

The last four chapters of the book provide the solution to this darkness, but they aren’t easy. We have to surrender, really surrender. I knew of this lady at the church I was at after I got saved back in 1994. She went to the altar every Sunday for what seemed like forever. I remember as a baby Christian and as somewhat of a skeptic of her being legit with God that I scoffed at her. It took many years for her to go through her darkness. The concept I didn’t understand, Cec explained to me in a story from a man named Claude Puhl in Chapter 20. She was bombarding heaven with her constant prayer. I can’t say she was being phony about it, but she was constantly in prayer each Sunday for that healing. Only God truly knows the woman’s sincerity.

We have to get to a point in our surrender where one other thing happens though. We have to truly hand it over to God and even if we don’t receive the answer we are seeking, we have to become willing to do as Jesus did at Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours be done.” How hard is it? Tremendously. In the book, Cec shares a story of accepting the price of God’s will, when it came to writing for his own credit. I admit, I struggle almost as bad, if not worse. Sure, I’d love to be famous, but I want to be obedient first. Some days are harder than others. I still have a bad habit of looking at page reads on the website and basing my success on how many there were. In truth, I could have a 1,000 readers not be touched and what I do is for naught. But if one of you gives your life to Christ or deepens your walk, even if you were the only one reading, it would be worth it. I may struggle with that, but God and the angels are celebrating as you do. I want to be where God and the angels are with my happiness, but I’m honest and say to you that I am not always there yet.

Cec’s darkness did end, and for me, I got to see quite a bit of light by the time I came to the end of the book. I’ve told you that I have an accountability team. As I was reading through the book, God began to show me possibilities of where I can go in ministry along with One Man Revival. I shared those visions with these men and we are continuing to pray as to where I am totally supposed to be in that avenue. I do deeply desire to preach and teach. I do get to teach every time I type words on a keyboard. I desire to make a difference wherever God places me. He’s given me a few areas to look at.

If there is anything I can ask you to pray for coming out of the book is that God place me exactly where HE wants me. You can also give praise to Him for showing me that I wasn’t as far in darkness as I thought. However, I do want to thank Cec Murphey for becoming my friend on this journey and giving me a lot of perspective about my life. It’s a book I can personally recommend to you if you are in the desert or the darkness and are wanting to seek God to begin finding your way out.

I also want to thank Kathy Carlton Willis for taking a chance on a website that isn’t quite in the numbers department where a lot of publishers would like bloggers involved in blog tours to be. This book reached me where I was and was delivered at exactly the right time.

I have a video here at the bottom for your hope if you are where I am. It’s been a song of hope for me for years.

I love you guys!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Good Friend Cecil Murphey Drops By To Encourage With What To Do When the Lights Go Out

Hey gang!

I've told you all about the book of the year for me, Cecil Murphey's When God Turned Off the Lights. Today, Cec comes by and gives all of us a little encouragement on his blog tour telling us what to do when the lights go out on us. Underneath his article, I'll give you a little info on Cec and some more information about his book including a few little snippets. Tomorrow, I'll be sharing what Cec's book has meant to me over the past couple weeks and some hope that I've carried off and hopefully some that will make your day that much more encouraged. Without further adieu, here's a little something from Cec!

What to Do When the Lights Go Out

by Cec Murphey

If you sincerely desire to follow Jesus Christ, life won't always be easy. Many times the Bible promises victory, and you may need to remind yourself that there can be no victory without struggling and overcoming obstacles.

In my book, I used the image of God turning out the lights because that was how I perceived the situation. I felt as if I walked in darkness for 18 months. We all interact differently with God, and my experience won't be the same as yours. Even so, most serious Christians have times when God seems to turn away or stops listening. And we feel alone.

Perhaps it's like the time the Israelites cried out to God for many years because of the Egyptian oppression. "God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise...and knew it was time to act" (Exodus 2:24 NLT). God hadn't forgotten, of course, but from their perspective, that's how it must have seemed. It may seem like that to you if you're going through your own form of darkness.

Here are a few suggestions to help you:

1. Ask God this simple question: "Have I knocked out the lights by my failures? Have I sinned against you? After you ask the question, listen. Give God the opportunity to speak to you.

2. Don't see this as divine punishment (unless God shows you it is), but consider the silence an act of divine love to move you forward. This is God's method to teach you and stretch you.

3. Avoid asking why. You don't need reasons and explanations--and you probably won't get them anyway. Instead, remind yourself that this temporary darkness is to prepare you for greater light.

4. Say as little as possible to your friends. Most friends will want to "fix" you or heal you and they can't. They may offer advice (often not helpful) or make you feel worse ("Are you sure everything is right between you and God?").

5. Stay with the "means of grace." That is, don't neglect worship with other believers even if you feel empty. Read your Bible even if you can't find anything meaningful.

I chose to read Lamentations and Psalms (several times, especially Lamentations) because they expressed some of the pain and despair I felt.

6. If you don't have a daily prayer time, start one. Perhaps something as short as three minutes--and do it daily. Talk honestly to God. It's all right to get angry. (Read the Psalms if you're hesitant.)

7. Remind yourself, "I am in God's hands. This is where I belong and I'll stay in the blackout until I'm ready to move forward."

8. Pray these words daily: "But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults" (Psalm 19:12 TNIV). Some versions say "secret sins." These are failures and sins of which you may not yet be aware. One of the purposes of your darkness may be to bring those hidden problems to light.

9. Ask God, "What do you want me to learn from this experience?" You may not get an answer, but it's still a good question. Continue to ask--even after the lights go back on again. If you're open, you will learn more about yourself and also about God.

10. As you receive "light" about yourself while walking in darkness, remind yourself, God has always known and still loves me.

About the Author: Award-winning writer Cecil Murphey is the author or co-author of more than 100 books, including the "New York Times" bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (with Dr. Ben Carson). He's also the author of When Someone You Love Has Cancer and Christmas Miracles, both 2009 releases. Murphey's books have sold millions and have brought hope and encouragement to countless people around the world.

A little bit about When God Turned Out the Lights:
Is it possible that God would use a time of spiritual loneliness and isolation in our life as an answer to our prayer for "something more?" That's what happened with best-selling author Cecil Murphey. In When God Turned Off the Lights (Regal, September 2009), he openly shares from his journey that seemed to be stalled in darkness.

Murphey decided to write about his months of seeking God in the darkness because he suspected his situation wasn't unique. "If this happened to me, a rather ordinary believer, surely there are others out there who have wept in the isolated blackness of night and wondered if they would ever see God's smile again."

Murphey could have handled this topic as a theologian and given pages of heavy, hard-to-read advice, but he chose to write from his heart and expose it for the readers to see. He talks honestly and shares his skepticism and frustration. He asks hard questions. And he lays out the steps of healing that brought him back to the light.

When God Turned Off the Lights is a book for those of us who ask, "What's wrong with me? Why are others living in the sunlight while nothing but dark clouds and darkness envelop me?" Readers will learn:

* Why God turns off the lights
* Why we have to have dark nights
* Why asking "why" isn't the right question
* What's worse than going through the darkness
* How to feel worthwhile and accepted by God

A nice little bonus for us: A few thoughts shared by Cecil Murphey in the book.

Each chapter of When God Turned Off the Lights ends with an inspirational personal quote from Cec. Here's a sampling:

Although it may seem as if God is asleep when we go through deep darkness, could it be that God is most watchful in the moments of our despair?

Could it be that moving from why to what might take us one more step closer to the light?

Our task is to hang on. We wait until God takes us off hold and deals directly with us again.

God's provision is based on unconditional love - not on my faithfulness.

Thanks for coming by Cec and this is one of my opportunities to thank Kathy Carlton Willis for putting a book in my hand just when God knew I needed it. Remember tomorrow, I'll share my thoughts on this fantastic book.

I love you guys!

Wisdom Wednesday: Ecclesiastes 6: How many great days are there?

Hey gang!

It is Wednesday and I know it has been three weeks since we looked at Chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes. Today, we will look at Chapter 6. If you are following along or have just joined us, the first five parts are dated on Wednesdays from August 26-September 23.

Chapter 6 may look like a continuation from the wealth part of Chapter 5, but it really isn’t. The first two verses look at a new evil under the sun, not being able to enjoy the fruit of a man’s desires without God. I’ll give you a few examples.

First, if you live paycheck to paycheck you probably understand not enjoying the money from your work. You get a check on Friday and it’s already spent, as Huey Lewis & the News says in their 1982 smash, Workin’ For a Livin’. When you have debt, you don’t enjoy the present fruit of a past spending spree. The bills are due and the piper has come to collect.

Another example is the workaholics of the world. These people make great money, have great homes, the average three children or so, but are so busy with work that they never see the good parts of their life. Work, work, work may make a dull boy, but for sure it makes one that never enjoys the benefits of his work.

Verse 3 talks about a stillborn child having a better life (or non-life, as the case may be) than a man that has many children and long life. Verse 4 tells us that the stillborn comes without meaning, departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Verse 5 tells us that the stillborn has rest and in verse 6 is pointed that it will go to the same place as all that have life go.

Verse 7 points out something interesting, that for all of man’s effort, his appetite is never satisfied. Do you think that it is interesting that most people without God are never content no matter what they attain? The riches don’t fill the void, the company of many never fill the void, and even when a person thinks the void is filled by something, it never truly is.

Verses 8-9 continue on the theme of even with something, whatever it is, that it never covers the need and it too is meaningless.

Verses 10-11 give a new take. “Whatever exists has already been named, and what man is has been known; no man can contend with one who is stronger than he. The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?” Everything has been done and its been done in so many ways that nothing should surprise us. I remember an episode of South Park called “The Simpsons Already Did It.” In this episode, Butters’ character of Captain Chaos is trying to find a way to cause trouble, but his sidekick tells him every time that “The Simpsons Did It.” It drives him crazy, but in the end, the characters say to us that we shouldn’t be upset over it, because it is a drive inside us that tries to do something new that causes us to honor (or dishonor) those that did it previously.

But when we try something, we often try to put our own spin on it to, as Paula Abdul said in American Idol for so long, we make it our own. Verse 11 gives us something to chew on though as sometimes we need to keep it simple rather than trying to raise something in a new way because the more pomp and circumstance we put into it can cheapen what we do. That scares me sometimes. There are times that I look back and think that I’ve told one (or more) too many stories to make a point and it brutalizes the point. We end up beating a the perverbial dead horse until it is no longer recognizable.

Verse 12 closes the point by stating that under the sun without God that really who can tell what is good or not. Solomon says, “…during the few and meaningless days, he passes through like a shadow?” It leaves us to think about something. How many days in our lives truly mean something? Our birthday, graduation, marriage, birth of children, getting a job, getting a promotion, retiring (hopefully), seeing our grandchildren, then death. Depending upon the person, there may be a few more days that have a special meaning, but how many of these days will we easily forget what we ate, what we did, where we went, just to name what most would consider the important stuff of the day?

God, thank you that every day is important to you and that you would be able to tell us how many grilled cheese sandwiches that we ate, even though I’m sure that’s not what will matter when we get to Heaven. You have planned every day just like every hair on our head and so many other things. Thank you for loving us so much that every day that we spend with you is special!

I love you guys!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thanks For the Prayers, Back to Action, Glory Where It Belongs

Hey gang!

I won’t ask if you missed me in the time out, but I will say that I missed writing. I thought I would have time yesterday to get back on track and that didn’t happen. So today is the day. Time to get back to work. Time to begin again.

I’ll give you a heads up on this week after I give you some news and some still need prayer request because the battle isn’t over first. My wife did have her appointment today about the “nodule” on the back of her thyroid. I called it a growth in the column dated 9/30 because I am not a medical professional, nor shall I ever play one on TV. Since my wife is in the medical field, I offended her with my lack of knowledge, so I apologize.

What I do know after today is that there are two of those little buggers, one on each side of the thyroid. They are the “centimeter mafia” of my wife’s thyroid. We’re not sure if they are anything worth worrying about yet. There will be a biopsy of both of them on November 3, three weeks from today. Needless to say, I’ll be nervous until there is an outcome. My wife, not so much. She’s all calm about them.

During this same doctor visit, the doctor also told my daughter Maggie, my little baby girl of 18 months, that the second tube for her right ear is doing well and what it is supposed to do, for now. So medically, my family is starting to look better.

I also took the time to pray and look into where this ministry and other Godly stuff that I can do can go. The options are many, but I am waiting patiently for God to give some kind of light, green, red or otherwise. So until then, I am continuing with what I have been faithful in. Hopefully, by the weekend, I will get a restart on the Bible in 90 Days series that will end up being about 135 Days. God is teaching me and a few others much and I am grateful that it is a work that I want to see to completion, even if it takes a little longer than anticipated originally.

As far as One Man Revival’s main page, here’s what the next couple weeks look like. Tomorrow, Wisdom Wednesday will continue with Chapter 6 of Ecclesiastes. On Thursday, you’ll get the professional details and interview of Cecil Murphey, a guy I’ve come to love as I have read his book When God Turned Off the Lights. Then on Friday, I’ll add my comments to those from Thursday in my own review of the book and how it has touched my life.

To end the week on Saturday, my wife will be taking in our church’s women’s conference and then I’ll be heading north to Decatur to see Matthew West and Josh Wilson in concert. A little about the two videos I selected to head up this column.

First, I chose Matthew West’s The Motions. The song has been a former number one but it talks about something that I seriously worry about here. I do. I can’t help myself. I want the words that come off my fingers and to the computer to be not only good, but the best that God can give me. It was one of the reasons I so felt to take the time to read Cecil Murphey’s book. I don’t want to be one of those Christian writers, commentators, ministers to go through the motions and just put something together. I have at times. God doesn’t want us working in our own strength, but in coalition with Him. That way, we get The Best!

I chose Josh Wilson’s Savior, Please because of the fact that I feel that I need Jesus to continue to walk with me and continue to impact my mind, heart and soul.

The first time I ever heard the words of Paul that I am about to share was from televangelist Jesse Duplantis. I love Jesse. Jesse was talking about his book God Is Not Enough, He’s Too Much and how God gives us more than we can ever ask for. He was talking about things in his telecast, but it’s more than that and Jesse made sure to take it to that note in the book. But here is what Paul said in Ephesians 3:14-21:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Chris, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
(20)Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

When Jesse read verse 20, he said that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or imagine. Off the top of my head, I am sure which version that is from. What I used is the NIV. But the verse isn’t about getting. It is about the idea that we are rooted in Christ and through Him, we are able to do accomplish his will.

But the thought isn’t about money. It begins with a request that God to strengthen us through the Holy Spirit so that Christ is with us. Paul tells the Ephesians that they first need love in their spirit. I often wonder since Ephesians comes after 1 Corinthians biblically if the Ephesians had heard the words of the love chapter or if this was Paul’s way of showing this love so that the Ephesians could understand it.

He then asks for power for the Ephesians, but not as separate entities, but as a unit of people working together for the betterment of the whole. Even though this ministry is called One Man Revival, revival in its truest form is not meant to be about the individual. Revival brings hearts together to accomplish God’s will. And that ladies and gentlemen, is what will be done in an immeasurable value. When we work together in God’s will, we as the church, or as Christ’s body, will achieve far more for the Kingdom than we can ever imagine. That is what I hope is inspired. A togetherness of the church, be it the local unit or at large a nation rising up to be God’s people.

So Savior, King Jesus, Holy One, continue to save us. Continue to build us up for your glory. Continue to unite us as your church. Continue to allow me your words so that your message is carried out. I don’t want to carry on in my strength, but in Yours!

I love you guys!