Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009: Books Impact Our Lives: My Look at Cecil Murphey's When God Turned Out the Lights

Hey gang!

Many of my favorite articles came from reading books this year. I could list dozens of books that impacted my life in 2009. Thanks to two groups of individuals, Christian Speaker Services, my contact person being Karen Power, and Kathy Carlton Willis Communications, I was able to get my hands on some great books this year that didn't cost me anything. I also got Mitch Albom's book, Have a Little Faith from my friend Colby. But thanks to these great people, I was also able to let you have a look at many great books.

My impact book of the year though, had to be Cecil Murphey's When God Turned Out the Lights. God used his book to help me look at myself. This article talks about some of the beautiful things I learned and was able to share with you.

From October 17, 2009

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 love you guys!
Frank

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