Ryan’s Story

I grew up in a church family.  I attended regularly throughout my childhood and teenage years.  I was baptized as an infant, and later confirmed into the Lutheran church in my early teens.  My parents were instrumental in teaching me about God and Christ, and always instilled the practical aspects of faith for daily living.

While I was always aware of God, and knew the teachings of the Bible, I never really had the relationship with him that I knew I should be cultivating.  In retrospect, I think that perhaps life never showed me just how much I need Him.  As I came into adulthood, not having a personal relationship with Christ made it easy for me to begin to question His purpose in my life and to feel like life was my journey that I was equipped to deal with independently.  In my twenties, I became busy with life; certainly too busy for Him, as I worked, earned my degree, dated, cultivated friendships, and distracted myself with frivolous pursuits.  I thought I was building the life that I wanted.

As I became more interested in myself, and more driven by my own ego and pleasure, I began to completely disregard God’s will for my life and ignored everything that would bring me closer to him, including the wisdom of my parents and my wife.  It’s hard for me to say this now, but I began to question that the Lord had a place in my life at all.  I was certainly not willing to bend to it if it did exist.  In shunning Him, I began a slide that took me to depths that strained all of my relationships and made me question everything about myself.

In the last 8 years, I’ve filled my life with all of the trappings of modern existence.  I was constantly in pursuit of one false idol after another.  They all lead to emptiness and despair.  Being constantly unfulfilled, and with all of the stresses of life, despite what appeared to be a successful business, wonderful family life, and a world of opportunity and promise, I suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety.  I was always too proud to deal with them, and as they subsided, I never took time to examine my life and why I was never happy.  As I time went on, I became unable to cope with daily things, and began to feel like I had no anchor and no direction.  I was completely lost.

In an effort to change my circumstances, and become happy, I made a terrible decision and separated from my wife.  She was the woman I loved, the mother of my children, and the person who had been the most positive influence on my life since I had come to know her 10 years prior.  I know now that this was God’s plan for me.  I had to clear the slate to find him.

Almost immediately after my wife  and I separated, I realized that nothing was better for me.  In fact, thing became far worse.  I began to suffer physically, losing 20 lbs. and became a shell of my former self in all other aspects.  I lost the ability to function at work and withdrew from everyone as I became more hopeless.

On February 25th of this year, as I sat alone in my apartment and estranged from my family, I began to cry.  I remembered all of the people who had loved me and still did.  Most importantly, I remembered God.  I spent that night alone with Him, unloading myself and asking for forgiveness for all of my pride and mistakes….everything I had misjudged and done improperly or with the wrong intentions.  I asked him for guidance and strength to find my way back to my life and my family.  I had finally realized after all of these years, that I could no longer do life without him.  I prayed for hours and began the relationship that I am ready to affirm in public (today in baptism).

Without God’s daily presence in my life now, I don’t know where I would be.  What I do know, and what many who know me can attest, is that I am different in Him.  With his power I have transformed in my thinking, and doing.  I have defeated my issues regarding happiness and contentment.  I have learned to be the father I have always wanted to be but struggled with.  I have become a better husband and began to repair the damage to the relationship I have with my wife.  Walking with God has helped me to love and give with the right motivations, and to build and rekindle relationships with strong Christian men and women who I learn from and hopefully give back to.

Because I opened my heart to God and let him back in, I will always look at 2011 as the year in which I gained my life.  I realize now that I am never alone, and with Him, I am always taken care of and given my needs regardless of my circumstance or the mountain I have to climb.  He has a plan for me and I am happy to know that all I have to do is be patient and look to him.

There is one verse that I have looked to many times on this journey and would like to share:  ‘But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’-Isaiah 40:31.

(Ryan’s story was shared before his baptism on November 27, 2011 at new Venture Christian Church)

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The True Story of the First Thanksgiving

“On August 1, 1620, the Mayflower set sail. It carried a total of 102 passengers, including forty Pilgrims led by William Bradford. On the journey, Bradford set up an agreement, a contract, that established just and equal laws for all members of the new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs. Where did the revolutionary ideas expressed in the Mayflower Compact come from? From the Bible,” and this is what’s not taught. This is what’s left out. “The Pilgrims were a people completely steeped in the lessons of the Old and New Testaments. They looked to the ancient Israelites for their example. And, because of the biblical precedents set forth in Scripture, they never doubted that their experiment would work. But this was no pleasure cruise, friends. The journey to the New World was a long and arduous one. And when the Pilgrims landed in New England in November, they found, according to Bradford’s detailed journal, a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. There were no friends to greet them, he wrote. There were no houses to shelter them. There were no inns where they could refresh themselves. And the sacrifice they had made for freedom was just beginning. During the first winter, half the Pilgrims — including Bradford’s own wife — died of either starvation, sickness, or exposure.

“When spring finally came, Indians taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod and skin beavers for coats. Life improved for the Pilgrims, but they did not yet prosper! This is important to understand because this is where modern American history lessons often end. Thanksgiving is actually explained in some textbooks as a holiday for which the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians for saving their lives, rather than as a devout expression of gratitude grounded in the tradition of both the Old and New Testaments. Here is the part that has been omitted: The original contract the Pilgrims had entered into with their merchant-sponsors in London called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member of the community was entitled to one common share. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belong to the community as well.” They were collectivists! Now, “Bradford, who had become the new governor of the colony, recognized that this form of collectivism was as costly and destructive to the Pilgrims as that first harsh winter, which had taken so many lives.

“He decided to take bold action. Bradford assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage, thus turning loose the power of the marketplace. … Long before Karl Marx was even born, the Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what could only be described as socialism. And what happened? It didn’t work! Surprise, surprise, huh? What Bradford and his community found was that the most creative and industrious people had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else, unless they could utilize the power of personal motivation!  But while most of the rest of the world has been experimenting with socialism for well over a hundred years — trying to refine it, perfect it, and re-invent it — the Pilgrims decided early on to scrap it permanently. What Bradford wrote about this social experiment should be in every schoolchild’s history lesson,” every kid gets. “If it were, we might prevent much needless suffering in the future.” Here’s what he wrote: “‘The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years…that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing — as if they were wiser than God,’ Bradford wrote.

“‘For this community [so far as it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense…that was thought injustice.'” That was thought injustice. “Do you hear what he was saying, ladies and gentlemen? The Pilgrims found that people could not be expected to do their best work without incentive. So what did Bradford’s community try next? They unharnessed the power of good old free enterprise by invoking the undergirding capitalistic principle of private property. Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and permitted to market its own crops and products. And what was the result?” ‘This had very good success,’ wrote Bradford, “for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. In no time, the Pilgrims found they had more food than they could eat themselves. … So they set up trading posts and exchanged goods with the Indians.

“The profits allowed them to pay off their debts to the merchants in London. And the success and prosperity of the Plymouth settlement attracted more Europeans and began what came to be known as the ‘Great Puritan Migration.'”

Are we doing life together?

A Pharisee asked Jesus, “What’s the most important commandment of all?” There were 1,613 commands.  Jesus took these 1,613 and He narrowed it down to an absolute focus.  He said, “The most important is this, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  This is the first and the greatest commandment.  And the second command is like it. “Jesus said you should “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

Question? “Why doesn’t loving our neighbor happen very often today? Be honest.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  The majority of us don’t even know the names of many of our neighbors.  Not only are we not regularly doing life together, intimately with other Christ Followers.  Not only do we not know our neighbors, a lot of us don’t really even know our own immediate families.  Let’s be honest for a minute.  The way we do life has to be heartbreaking to God …  So busy making money, making a name, going here, getting the kids to their activities, got to go here, here, here, here because they might just be good at gymnastics until the eighth grade when they quit.  And so many families today don’t even eat or do life together.  Why? 

Why is it, when Jesus said to love your neighbors, we don’t even know our neighbors.  The problem, my friends, all boils down to the air conditioner.  Think about it.  Go back in the time before there was the air conditioner, where did people hang out?  They would hang out on the front porch.  Right?  “Hey, neighbor!”  With the air conditioner, people went inside and closed their windows and doors.  Add to it the attached garage.  Before there was an attached garage, what would people do?  They would drive into their detached garage and have to get out and walk and talk.  Now, with the attached garage, they can pull right in.  Add to it the garage door opener, ziiiipppp brrrrr, pull in the back cave, shut it down before you have to see anybody. There’s the fenced in back yard so we can play without having to see those crazy, weird neighbors.  My personal favorite way to avoid people is the answering machine.  Beep … “Steve, are you there?  If you’re there, pick up.”  “I’m not picking up your call.”    Right?  And then, there’s caller ID.  Cell phone rings.  Think about the way technology has influenced or, taken us away from relationships.  You go to the bank and don’t have to talk to anybody.  You can go to the ATM machine.  Shopping, we do a great deal of our shopping online.  Movies, they’re downloaded or delivered to your mailbox with no late fees or you just stand in front of a red box and tough a few buttons.  Isn’t it great?

All these ways to avoid people, avoid relationships, when Jesus said out of 1,613 commands, let’s boil it all down to this.  You are to know God and love Him personally and reflect His love, loving your neighbor as yourself.  And yet, most people today say they don’t have time. 

I have a list for you. It is some of the places in the Bible that use the phrase “one another.” Here are a few of them. There are many, many more.  John 13:34,  Jesus  said to “Love one another,” but wouldn’t you agree, in reality a lot of times what we are doing instead of loving one another we are avoiding one another?  If you have ever been in a grocery store and you’ve seen somebody you don’t really want to see and you take your little cart and you kind of dart down a different isle, avoiding one another.  The Bible says to be “devoted to one another,” but wouldn’t you agree that a lot of times, the heartbeat of what we are trying to do is not to be devoted, but to be independent from one another.  “I don’t want to need you because you may let me down and I’ve been burned before, and so really, I want to be strong and stand on my own, and I just don’t want to need people.  I don’t want to be vulnerable, and I don’t want you to be needy around me.  Instead of being devoted, a lot of us are trying to be independent. 

The Bible also tells us to, honor one another.  To accept one another, and yet Christians can often be the least accepting.  The Bible also tells us to serve one another, to be compassionate to one another, to submit to one another.  The word of God tells us to encourage one another, to spur one another on toward love and good deeds, to live in harmony and to offer hospitality. 

We are told to do all these loving things to one another and yet, right now at this moment, there are people all around you who are relational empty and lonely.  You can be married, laying in bed next to your spouse and be lonely, because we have ignored the heartbeat of God, and that is relationships.  That’s why He created you, because He is love and He needed someone to love.  You are the object of His affection, and He wants you to share that love with other people.  And yet we’re too busy and too isolated though we pride ourselves in being “connected”. Seems like all our connectedness has left us highly disconnected. What do you think?   

 

Quiet Time Obstacles

Definition: A quiet time is a daily time I set aside to be alone with God to get to know Him and His will through the Bible and prayer.

Nothing, I say nothing is more vital to your spiritual growth than the time you spend alone with God in Scripture and prayer. However, nothing is neglected or opposed more by Satan than our quiet time with God. Here are some of the obstacles you can expect and some solutions to them.

THE PROBLEM OF DISCIPLINE

Your first problem in establishing a quiet time will face you the moment you wake each morning:  Am I going to get out of bed?  (“The Battle of the Blankets”) Am I going to get out of bed a little earlier and spend the time with God or just lay here for a little longer? The devil will always exaggerate how tired you are. And when the devil and your flesh come together you have a potent combination to keep you from your quiet time. You need to have first DESIRE, “I want to meet with God.” Then DECISION, “I’m going to meet with God.” Then DETERMINATION/DISCIPLINE to get out of bed.

Suggestions:

1.  Go to bed on time. A rule to follow: if what I am doing at 10:00 the night before is more important than my quiet time then stay up.

2.  Get up immediately. The battle is usually won or lost in the first few seconds. Hesitate and you will be defeated.

3.  Be aware of quiet time robbers. 90% of them happen the night before. They are named Jay or David. Late night TV is the #1 robber of quiet time.

THE PROBLEM OF DISTRACTIONS

Satan will try to use anything to get your mind to wander during a quiet time. Never try to have a quiet time in bed. An hour later you will wake up with your Bible on your chest and think, “Oh, how spiritual.”

Suggestions:

1.  Get out of bed.

2.  Get thoroughly awake. Get coffee, run around the room, give yourself the Aqua Velva slap.

3.  Read and pray out loud.  If you need to for concentration.

4.  Walk during your prayer time. You never fall asleep walking. It even has a double benefit, builds soul and body at the same time. I love to walk and pray.

5.  Keep a notepad nearby.  The devil may try to bring up all kinds of things that you don’t need to forget. Stop where you are and write it down. “Don’t forget to pick up the kids at school. Don’t forget you left the eggs boiling on the stove.” Better go take care of that one.

THE PROBLEM OF DRYNESS

Sometimes you will feel like you’re not getting anything out of your quiet time.  (“The Battle of the Blahs”) Never judge your quiet time by your feelings. Emotions come and go. You may have just had a bad pizza the night before. If I only have a quiet time when I feel like it the devil will make sure I never feel like it. In fact, when I don’t feel like it that is when I need it the most. Right feelings follow right actions. Do the right thing consistently and the feelings will follow, not VV.

Possible Causes of Spiritual Dryness:

1.  Your physical condition. You are not rested. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is go to bed.

2.  Disobedience to God. There may be habitual sin in your life and God is not going to show you something new until you have acted on what he has already shown you.

3.  Rushing your quiet time. Samuel Chadwick, “Hurry is the death of prayer.”

4.  Getting in a rut. Doing the same thing in the same way every time. When your quiet time gets in a rut you will lose your desire for it. Vary it. Change locations. Read a different place in the Bible besides the reading schedule. Change it up, you don’t have to stick to the SOAP formula every time. This is just a guide. It is to help you get started. Change it up.

5.  Not sharing insights with others. If you don’t give out what God has given you, you will dry up. Like the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. One receives and gives out, the other receives and keeps. For me I begin by posting a scripture from the day on facebook so I can share with others what has spoken to me.

THE PROBLEM OF DILIGENCE

Your greatest problem will be your struggle to stay consistent.  I find Satan fights nothing harder than my quiet time. I have been a Christian for 48 years and a pastor for 41 and it is still true. Satan doesn’t fight me on anything else as much as my consistent daily time with God. Because he knows that’s where the power is.

Suggestions:

1.  Make a covenant or vow to God. That you are going to give this the priority of your daily schedule.

2.  Schedule it on your daily calendar. On your “to do” list write “quiet time.”

3.  Be prepared for Satan’s excuses. He knows if he can keep you out of the Word then he has you defeated and not developing or dropping your quiet time is usually one of the first steps into backsliding. So he is going to give you all kinds of excuses.

By the way, if you get up in the morning and you don’t meet the devil head on it very well might mean that the two of you are traveling in the same direction. Expect it. Realize as soon as your feet hit the floor, or before, the devil is scheming to keep you out of the Word and away from God.

WHAT IF I MISS A DAY?

Don’t get on a guilt trip. Don’t keep putting yourself down.

Don’t get legalistic. “On no, I missed my quiet time. My entire world is going to fall apart.” We live by grace. Confess it and go on living.

Most of all, don’t give up. How many of you have ever missed a meal? What did you do? “I can’t be consistent. I’m just not going to eat anymore.” No! But with our quiet time we are inclined to say, “If I can’t be consistent I’m just not going to try and do it.” If you miss you just pick up with the corresponding day’s reading and catch up what you missed at the end. Don’t be blown away by missing a quiet time.

 

It takes three weeks for you to become familiar with a new task.  Then it takes another three weeks before it becomes a comfortable habit. Most people have never made it past the six week barrier of having a quiet time and so no wonder they aren’t consistent and as a result have never come to know the beauty and value of daily time alone with God.

Don’t give up! If you do the Devil gets the victory.

(Adapted from Purpose Driven material.)

 

The real reason for disintegrating families

While jogging one morning I overheard a conversation, or I should say, disagreement between a mother and daughter in the driveway of their home.

The teenage daughter was getting into her car parked in the driveway, apparently leaving for school. Mom was standing at the garage door saying something to her daughter. I was not able to catch what mom was saying but I did get the daughter’s response, loud and clear. “Mom, shut up!”

Why it is that there is so much disrespect for parents and authority in our kids today. Could it be parents who are too busy to give careful attention to their kid’s development and are pretty much willing to settle for anything? Could it be kids reflecting what they see modeled in their parents? Could it be the product of too much TV and video games?

I don’t know. But I do know what I observe. Just this morning I observed that same mother dropping her son off at the child care provider down the street from her house so that she could get to her security job, I’m serious, she was wearing a security uniform, and drive off in her new GMC Acadia Denali with a price tag in the $40,000 range. I was reminded again what I believe to be the primary reason for two income families and the disintegration of the family unit. Here’s how it usually plays out.

The first phase is your yearnings start to exceed your earnings.  You start to see things you want and you can’t afford them and you say, “I’m going to go out and get those things anyhow.”

Then immediately comes the second phase.  You get over extended financially.  You have more than you can pay for.  Which immediately results in the third phase.

You have to constantly hustle.  You have to get extra jobs – both husbands and wife are working.  You have to work at night.  You have to constantly hustle to make ends meet.

Then because of that the fourth phase.  Your home life starts to deteriorate because you’re tired.  Everybody’s exhausted.  Everybody’s irritable.

It leads to an epidemic of absentee parents.  A lot of it is because of this very syndrome.  Our kids don’t need more things.  They don’t need new vehicles. They need their parents. More than anything else they need our attention.  But we are so busy making a living we don’t have time to make a life.  We don’t have time to give them our attention.  We are so busy paying for our lifestyle that we don’t have time to pay enough attention to our kids. We want to.  We know it’s the right thing to do but we feel trapped by this syndrome.  We feel like there’s no way out.

The truth is you made the decisions that got you into this and you can make the decisions that will get you out.  Yes, it’s going to be painful.  But it’s not going to be painful like you never have the time to love your kids.  It’s certainly not as painful as I’m not living the life I know God wants me to live.

And we keep doing this because we rationalize.  We have this phrase we say to ourselves, “It’s only temporary.”  We’ll do it just for six more months.  We’ll do it for another year.”  You’re kidding yourself.  A temporary situation has become an habitual lifestyle

The Bible says in Hebrews 13:5 “Be content with what you have.”  That means enjoy what you already have instead of always wanting more.

For the sake of restoring health, happiness and a hopeful future to your family, “Be content with what you have.”  The last thing you want to do is look back with regret.