There isn't anything new in what I have to say, but I do see life from an unique perspective. As my body is shutting down, my soul is opening up to a greater and greater relationship with Christ. I am sharing the things I learn as I go through my trials so that those who read what I write will be encouraged in their own walks by how gracious God has been to me in mine. Ask me questiions, dispute my views and most of all pray for me.
UCFM Evangelistic Association
Saturday, January 15, 2005
There He Goes Again
"As the body without spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." James 2:24
James clearly tells us that faith without works is dead. Nothing in that can be interpreted to mean that without works we are dead. James’ epistle is inspired by the same Holy Spirit that inspired Paul to write that we are saved by grace and that not of ourselves lest any man should boast. The two writers cannot contradict each other. Just as Jesus said that His followers would be known by their fruits, so is James saying the same thing. If we don’t have the fruit of a relationship with Christ then we don’t have a relationship with Christ.
I had a friend once who was a terrible gardener. He would often forget to water or feed his plants, but he was ever hopeful that this time the plant would survive. When you would looked at the poor, disheveled clumps of brittle and brown vegetation, he would say, “O, that one’s doing better and the other just got too much sun.” He was totally oblivious to the fact that he wasn’t doing what was necessary for the health of his plants. That is the way many people are about Christ. They have an intellectual understanding of who He is and what He did for us, but they have not discovered what is to have a real relationship with Him. It isn’t saying some special words or a particular prayer that initiates salvation; it is accepting Christ for the living being who He is and making Him the Lord of your life.
The old idea of salvation was that we must obey to be saved, but James is telling us that if we are saved we will obey. There is an absolute difference there. A person who has truly accepted Christ as savior and invited Jesus to be an integral part of his life is changed by that experience. His desire is to obey all that God asks of us and to do all he can to reflect Christ’s love to the rest of the world. We won’t be perfect at this to be sure, but as imitators of Christ we will be profoundly different than we were. If others don’t sense that a change has taken place in you over time and you don’t sense a change in your desires or behavior, then maybe you need to assess whether you are merely acknowledging the truth about Christ (as even the demons do) or whether you are developing a closer relationship with Christ and desire to express your gratitude for God’s gracious gift in all that you do.
Some day people will discover this blog and then they will say, " Wow! That guy sure talks a lot!" As long as what I write causes them to think about something I said, then all is well. In the meantime I have a place to spew all the rambling thoughts that permeate my brain. What about you? Does anything on this page cause you to wonder?
Friday, January 14, 2005
What's So Important About Christmas?
The Beginning of Forever
There are those who say Christmas was first a pagan holiday.
I say it doesn’t matter if that’s true.
What matters is that everything that came before Christ’s birth
Points to that night, a date for which none has ever been proved.
A Roman ruler made a day upon which he could celebrate the night.
He didn’t worship any god or idol except his own appetite,
Much like those today who want the holiday without Christ.
They want the party without reason.
They want the gifts without the season.
We who follow Christ must recognize this intersection
Between what came before and the beginning of forever.
For time was without end before that night,
But that birth put the end of time in sight.
The covenant was not yet made new.
Blood was spilled, yet the spilling was not through.
She bled for us in obedient belief
So that His bleeding later would bring relief.
The Roman trees adopted from the winter’s start
Are a just substitute for the tree that broke God’s Heart.
The gifts we give should be the Gospel’s light
To a world that still remains frightened by the night.
Those who believe and would ignore this day
Miss God’s point in stealing it away.
Thus we blend the birth of the One who died
With His empty tomb and life that still abides.
Because of that one true Friend
Who gave His life and rose again
At the intersection of the end of never
And the beginning of forever.
Michael McLarney Christmas 2003
What is Worship?
Just read a number of blogs discussing the idea of what constitutes worship in the postmodern church? I don't care what music is used or what language is spoken or what order of presentation is used in the liturgical expression. Most of it amounts to form over substance anyway. As God said through Isaiah: He doesn't care about our words, our works, our sacrifices or how diligently we follow some format of worship. All He cares about is what is in our hearts. This Sunday, instead of looking around you, look into your heart and see what God sees there.
We Have Come To Offer Praise
There is nothing we can offer as we gather in this place
To express our thankfulness for Your Redeeming Grace.
That blood that blessed us when sin was still our shame
Now opens all our hearts as we praise your Holy Name.
We have come to offer praise. We have come here to worship,
We have come to offer praise for the holiness of your name.
We have come to offer praise for You Alone are Worthy.
We have come to offer praise for the holiness of Your Name.
Death was our only future. We were conquered by our sin.
We poured our hearts out for you and repented what we’d been.
You washed us clean forever and changed us in all ways.
Now we come before you and Your Church offers You its praise.
We have come to offer praise. We have come here to worship.
We have come to offer praise for the holiness of Your Name.
We have come to offer praise for You Alone are Worthy.
We have come to offer praise for the holiness of Your Name.
Michael McLarney May 7, 2003
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Good News That Isn't
Each year over ten thousand Christians are killed for their faith. According to statistics from Voice of the Martyrs, that is a minimum number. That does not include the thousands who are sold into slavery and die there. These figures are incredible to our minds. Why were they killed? They died because their faith was seen as a threat to the status quo. Christians have always been killed because they were perceived as a threat or because they lived lives that showed they were different in a way that reflected badly on how others were living. If one person in this country were murdered for the faith, it would produce outrage from coast to coast. It would shake up the people of God. Within weeks someone would be making a movie about it.
What’s the difference between America and Iran (where converts can be executed on the spot) or between our country and Sudan (where slavery of Christians is common) or Albania (where Christians have been sealed in barrels and cast into the sea)? Why is there virtually no persecution here? There are those who would point to the constitution and its assurance of religious liberty as the reason, but that is insufficient to explain why individuals don’t act on their own as they do in other areas where there is legal protection such as racial, gender and sexual preference discrimination. When people disagree or feel threatened it doesn’t matter what the law says, they will generally take matters into their own hands. Remember it is not so much communism or Islam that stands against the Gospel, but the world and America is part of the world! We can evangelize and preach as much as we want. We have some Godly people in our government, but is the United States a “Christian” nation? Well it is closer than any other, but its values and the rules of law prove that it is not.
We have the highest incidence of drug abuse of any industrialized nation. We are the world’s largest producer and consumer of alcoholic beverages. “Christian” America has the most liberal abortion laws in the world. We have murdered more than thirty million babies since 1973. There is no prayer in our schools and the teachers are predominately liberal thinking humanists who use text books which honor Buddha and Mohammed but deny Christ. Magazines that were hard to find just a few years ago are now found on supermarket shelves where children can see them. We are not a “Christian” nation! We should thank God for America where we have more freedom to preach the Gospel than any other country in the world, but America is still part of the world.
Why is it God’s people suffer virtually no persecution here? Because our Gospel has no teeth! There is no threat to the ways of the world. We’re buying tickets to the same movies, wearing the same clothes (or not wearing them), voting for the same politicians and denying by our actions that we or anyone else needs Jesus in their lives. We offer nothing new or different and we tolerate instead of rebuke. We hardly expose sin in the body, much less in the world. How are we shining the light? How are we confronting the world with the righteousness of God or His justice? How are we shaking up society? Why don’t we make anyone uncomfortable any more? Maybe it’s because we’re too comfortable with ourselves. Maybe it’s because we have become too comfortable with the world.
Satan isn’t worried about the church in America, because the church in America isn’t worried about him anymore. As Christians in America we have spent millions of dollars on our own edification, on comfortable churches. Foreign workers could have evangelized millions of their own unreached countrymen with the crumbs from our tables. To make matters worse, despite all our efforts, our ministry to ourselves has left the church inactive, passive and incredibly uncomfortable with sharing Christ in our dying society.
If Peter and Paul were alive today would they be persecuted? Of course they would. They would be a threat to the devil’s work. They would be disturbing to the ungodly who enjoy living in sin. Look at the book of Acts. They were beaten, stoned and imprisoned. Eventually they were killed. Their message had an adverse affect on the devil’s business and they had to be stopped at all costs. The church in America is simply not enough of a threat to cause Satan to act out against us.
The word is perfectly clear:
Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12)
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: “No servant is greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. (John 15:18-20)
There is no denying it. If we were living godly lives in the biblical sense of the word, we would be persecuted. The people of the world today are still rejecting Christ. Why aren’t they rejecting us as well?
In times past, the church went out into the world and converted the lost to the Lord. Today, the world has entered the church and diluted the word of God. Two thousand years ago the world was amazed by the courage of the Christians. Today the world is amused by our carnality. Once we evangelized the lost. Today we entertain them. We have more of a soap opera gospel than a sold out gospel. And here is the greatest tragedy of all. We have adjusted our standards to the declining standards of our society for so long that we do not even realize how far we have fallen. We dress like the world. We watch the same movies and television shows. Too often we tell the same jokes.
Listen to the standard of God:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:3-4)
Religion that God our Father accepts is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)
Since we have these promises [of being sons and daughters of God], let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
Paul wrote to the Philippians to “do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God, without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life (Philippians 2:14-16). That must be our goal, to put no stumbling block before the world by our foolish actions, to shine forth and stand out because of our purity and holiness, and to clearly, boldly and uncompromisingly proclaim the word of God. As long as we try to win the world by conforming to its ways, our only battle will be for our own spiritual survival.
It is time for the church in America to change its ways. We must reorder our lives. We must begin on our knees with open Bibles and broken hearts. Before we can rebuke the sin that is in our land, we must rebuke the sin that is in our own lives. Before we can call for truth and justice, we must disavow untruth and injustice of all types. We must look carefully at ourselves in full light of the Word and ask God to open our hearts. We must not close our eyes and live in complacency. We need to feel the shame of our failure to follow Him, as we should, our failure to keep separate from the world while wandering in it, our failure to be a beacon of light for the lost. We need revival in the church to have revival in the land.
We have been like the proverbial frog being boiled alive in water. As the temperature rose the frog’s temperature rose right along with it. By the time he realizes what is happening it is too late. The water is hot, but it is not too late for us to get out of it and to call from the shore to the others who are still out there. How can we lead the world to a place of safety, when we are swimming in the same pool they are? What are we showing them that is different than what they already have? Unless we are different, we offer nothing for them to desire. It is not the words we say that will lead them to their Savior, but the lives we lead that will light the way.
America needs revival. America needs another great awakening. If revival does not come, if the churches continue to adjust to the desires of the world, America will reap the whirlwind. God’s judgment of this nation is on the horizon. We can prevent it from occurring. Revival begins on our knees. Revival begins within the church. We must return to being a holy and separate people. We must return to following God. We must stop adjusting to the ways of the world. We must stop trying to give the world something they want and show them something they need. If we don’t look different or act differently, then we give the lost nothing to desire and we offer them no place to turn. We don’t need to be perfect, but we do need to be seeking perfection. If we aren’t striving to live Christ-like lives, how will they see Christ in our lives? Like someone once said, if Christianity were outlawed to day, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
O.K. that’s my rant for today. I have been reading some good stuff about the failure of the church in America and I find that it is right on. Only in America would one of the largest Christian denominations ordain a practicing homosexual as bishop. God says sex outside the bonds of matrimony is sin. In Corinthians Paul had one answer for those who would sin openly and call it good - cast them out! While thousands of Christians are being tortured, imprisoned or killed around the world every day, American Christians are being ignored. We are seen as foolish and harmless. We are no threat to the status quo. I love Jesus and it breaks my heart to see that we are behaving more like Israel in the time of Isaiah than the apostles in the days after Christ’s ascension into heaven. It doesn’t have to be that way. Pray with me for the next great awakening. Let us glorify God with our hearts, our minds and our lives.
I am adding a postscript because of something I just heard on the radio. France has passed a series of laws which outlaw any form of “religious indoctrination.” The definition of indoctrination includes classroom teaching of any kind focused on a specific group, especially children or senior citizens. Any and all religious teaching that excludes other views from the teaching may be considered indoctrination. If such teaching is geared toward children, it is considered child abuse. If it is geared toward seniors, it is considered fraud. Names included in the definition are Sunday School, Bible study, Discipleship training and others all focused on evangelical Christianity. Other countries in Europe are talking of following suit. How long before this idea reaches America? Will we be ready to stand up and be counted? Will we be willing to face prison or worse for our faith? It looks like some of us may live to find out.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
They are building homes on Stock Ranch Road
Where once I wandered silent among the rows of trees.
Their untrimmed, tangled branches had an order of their own
And as I walked I sometimes found a place where I had to put my knees.
Someone planted all those stanchions one by one in regimented rows.
Someone understood that time would pass before the harvest would come.
Someone looked to years ahead when their goal would be fulfilled.
Someone made me think of prophets pointing to the coming of God’s Son.
I would pray my way through the paths winding around those guardians.
The way that each was planted showed the working of some man.
Each was behind or beside another like itself equal distances apart.
No atheist would deny the intelligence of that planting hand.
Homes for single families will soon cover all those fields.
It shouldn’t matter so much now that I can’t walk as once I used to do.
Yet as I watched huge machines tear down each and every tree,
I pondered on that future time when workers will come for me and you.
Will we be torn from this place and time and tossed in a wasted pile
Or will we be taken to a luscious grove with other fruitful trees?
This simile is wearing out so I ask you to think on it a while.
I’ll leave these simple thoughts for you while I get back upon my knees.
Michael McLarney February 20, 2004
Where Do You Get Your Coping Skills?
People often ask my wife and I where we get our coping skills. That question has always seemed strange to us. We really didn’t understand what everyone was talking about at first. Our view of life was simply that you do what you have to do. It never really occurred to us that there was any skill involved. Our response was the same when people would speak about our emotional or even spiritual strength. We had never really given it any thought. We understood that we had to deal with difficulties that many others did not deal with, but we simply, there’s that word again, assumed that others had other difficulties to deal with that were just different than our own. To some extent, I think that last statement still carries a great deal of truth. However, we have finally come to realize that all of our friends were right. We are dealing with a great deal that is more than many people seem able to handle and that many people give up or are emotionally crushed beneath the burden of lesser loads. What do we have that these others don’t seem to have themselves?
Before I answer that question let me give a condensed version of what our friends are referring to as the heavy burdens that we carry. I am not going to give much detail for a few very good reasons. One reason is that we are not looking to be admired in any way for the life we live because we recognize that it isn’t about us at all. For those of you who don’t immediately recognize what I mean by that, I will address it in more detail in a few more sentences. A second reason is that our children deserve their privacy and too much detail might get embarrassing for them at this point in their life journey. A third reason is that my wife and I don’t want anyone’s pity. We struggle with that battle on our own often enough and do not require any help in that area. Compassion is supportive and encouraging. Pity is diminishing and, frankly, insulting.
We have seven children. Each of them has scars of an emotional, physical or spiritual nature or in some cases all three. All of them have had complex problems arising from a variety of causes. Jacqueline was only five when Rhonda and I met and has grown into a loving and compassionate teenager. It is hard to watch someone that young battle with arthritis while dealing with the normal emotional roller coaster of teenage life. Even in the face of those struggles of physical pain and social discomfort, her caring nature has made her a bit of a mother hen to her younger siblings.
The first child we adopted together was in such a physical state at birth that all the professionals tried to tell us not to adopt him. Their suggestions all involved institutionalizing him. What they did not understand was that we had asked God for a baby and told God we would take the first baby He sent. Michael Paul was first. We were told he would never sit up, walk or talk. His heart stopped at birth and after he recovered from that it was discovered that many of his muscles and organs were not fully developed. His blood tested positive for narcotics and marijuana. Finally, it was determined that he suffered from fetal alcohol affects and would be severely developmentally disabled. He didn’t talk until he was five years old, but he runs and plays and is a great blessing in our lives. The intensity of his needs can be overwhelming sometimes, but he is truly a miracle of God.
After that experience we decided to foster parent children with special needs, because they seemed to be the kids no one wanted. Foster care is supposed to involve caring for kids for a temporary period we believed when we started. None of our foster children seemed to leave. Two of our children were victims of Munchausen by proxy a disorder in which a parent or caregiver causes a child to be ill so they will look heroic. Both of these children continue to experience emotional difficulties arising from their early life experiences.
Our other three children, two boys and a girl, have difficult histories as well. One son was abused in ways I won’t discuss during the first year of his life and neglected drastically during that time as well. He suffers learning problems as a result of being born positive for methamphetamines in addition to everything else. Our youngest daughter was born positive for cocaine and had to withdraw from that gift from her biological mother. While she was doing that she was physically abused in the foster home where she had been placed. She has ongoing health problems and will likely require special medications to help her deal with chemically based emotional problems later in life. Our youngest child appears to be unharmed by his birth and early childhood experiences, but we watch for any signs so that we might deal with them immediately.
I have a variety of medical problems dealing with my kidneys, my lungs, my heart and my joints. Additionally, a disease that has been objectively determined to be both progressive and destructive affects me. Specialists recognize that my brain is atrophying resulting in intense neurological symptoms, not the least of which are pain and dementia. No one has been able to determine what is causing this literal shrinking of my brain or how to effectively provide relief from the symptoms that range from Parkinson’s like body movement to Alzheimer’s like memory loss and character changes. I no longer work and can no longer help with household duties nor can I safely care for any of the children. My wife works to help with our income needs and also cares for the individual needs of myself and the children. There is more, but that should give you a picture of a life in need of coping skills.
Some years ago, when things were much easier than they are now, a non-Christian friend asked my wife this questions, “Doesn’t your Bible say that God won’t give you more than you can handle?” My wife smiled at the Bible ownership issue, but replied that there was indeed scripture that said words to that effect. “Well,” our friend responded, ”He must think a lot of you!” Well I am certain that God thinks very highly of my wife. I know how deeply and intensely I love and respect her and I know that God loves her far more than is possible for me to even understand much less achieve. After all these years of getting responses like that from those who observe our life, it was time for me to do the research necessary to give an answer for the strength and hope that exists within us.
The first thing we came to understand is that we didn’t need to be experts in theology nor did we need to have memorized scripture to reap the benefits of God’s promises throughout scripture to those who love Him, those who seek to do His will and those who have a personal relationship with Him through His only begotten Son, the living Messiah, Jesus Christ. God promises to care for and provide for those who are His children. I am not talking about providing for you financially, though He may do that. I am not talking about a life without troubles, though some may think they have that. I am talking about a Father who listens to His children’s cries and reaches out to ease their difficulty in some cases and in others He allows the difficulty to continue while He provides comfort, encouragement, strength and hope.
Just how do we cope when the pain becomes overwhelming?
Ps 145:14 The LORD upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down. (Psalm 145:14)
2Co 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 2Co 1:4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3)
Isa 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2)
The Lord is a term used in scripture to describe any name given to God. Here in Psalm 145 the word is the most important name by which God is known. The word used here is yhwh yhwh or yehwih yehwih. This is the same name that is translated as “I am who I am” in Exodus 3:14. This is the creator God, the Being who existed before all things and created all things. To use His name is to say that there is a covenant between the speaker and the Lord, that there is a contract or agreement that applies here. Thus the psalmist is saying there is an agreement by which God, the Creator, has agreed to help the fallen and lift up those bent beneath their loads. The Amplified Bible expands on this concept:
“The Lord upholds all those [of His own] who are falling and raises up all those who are bowed down.”
Here the implication is that one is falling down under the weight of their burdens and the Lord wraps His arms around them and holds them back from falling. If they have already fallen He will use those same arms that built all that is to lift them back up. Most importantly, the Amplified Bible points out the covenant relationship and says “all those [of His own]. That is to say that only those who belong to Him receive the benefit of this promise. Rhonda and I have benefited from this promise time and again because of our intimate relationship with God through His only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ. The benefit of having our papa hold us up with his strong arms is available to all who are His own.
Truly God, the Father, is the source of every mercy and comfort and has continually strengthened us to bear up under the burdens and trials of life because we are His own. The Greek word translated comfort in 2 Corinthians is paraklesis, a word meaning comfort but also translated as encouragement or to encourage. Surely the comfort spoken of here is a sense of reassurance that we will make it or handle it or survive it or stand up to it. Pick your phrase. God stands beside us not only holding us up but speaking in our ear words to cheer us and convince us that with Him we shall conquer whatever must be conquered, carry whatever load is upon us and face without fear whatever stands in our way. Why do I say His words of comfort do that? I say it because paraklesis also means preach or preaching and that is what good preaching does. Good preaching does not just teach what the word of God says, but it also speaks with the fire of the Holy Spirit about what the word of God does in each and every life that has been purchased by the blood of Christ.
There is no water deep enough to drown us unless it serve God’s will and greater purpose for such to happen. There is no trouble big enough that it cannot be handled with God beside you! The scripture say the rivers of difficulty will not drown us. Surely Rhonda and I have seen difficulty, but we are God’s children by adoption and we will not be drowned by the difficulties of this life. No matter what oppresses us, it cannot harm us if we are walking beside the God who made the universe and raised His Son from the dead.
Rhonda and I do not go on because we are strong, but rather we are carried on by the strong arms of the living God and Creator of all that is. We may stumble, but our God catches us before we fall and helps us on our way. We may be wearied by the hours of pushing one thing and pulling another, but God pours mercy upon us and brings us comfort to encourage us and help us continue on our journey as we place each foot one step at a time on the path He has laid before us. It is not our strength, our will that conquers here. It is now and always will be the power of the living God given to us and pouring through us that makes it all possible. When we are overwhelmed, God is there with power to help us.
Ps 69:16 Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. (Psalm 69:16 NIV)
Hear and answer me, O Lord, for your loving kindness is sweet and comforting; according to Your plenteous tender mercy and steadfast love turn to me. (Psalm 69:16 AMP)
Ps 61:1 Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer Ps 61:2 From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61:1-2 NIV)
Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and fainting; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. [yes, a rock that is too high for me.] (Psalm 61:1-2 AMP)
No matter how overwhelmed we may feel God is always available to us in prayer. We can go to Him anytime and anywhere. That is perhaps the greatest lesson each of us, Rhonda and I, have learned about prayer. It isn’t where you pray, when you pray or even how you pray that matters. What matters is that prayer is a calling to God from the very depths of your heart. Whether you are praying a prayer of worship, thanksgiving, confession or request God hears what you pray from your heart. Rhonda often prays best when she is cleaning or driving the car. I find that my best prayers come in the quiet late night or early morning hours when everyone else is asleep and I am awake twitching with pain or dripping with sweat or even gasping for air. Rather than think about my discomfort, I pray about the needs of everyone other than myself that I can think of and I find that God blesses those prayers by answering them and by also answering the prayer I did not pray by easing the outburst of symptoms that often come in the night.
You know how consistently you are walking with God by the way you pray. If you find yourself having conversations with God while walking in the aisle at the grocery store, you know that you are walking closer to Him every day. In the night I sometimes find myself saying the name of Jesus over and over very slowly as I contemplate His great love for me and all the rest of mankind. I am not talking about chanting which is repetitious foolishness more befitting pagan ritual than Christian prayer. As I say the name of Jesus I am thinking of Him and putting all the love I feel for Him in my voice. It is a time of total worship as I place myself at my master’s feet and experience the wonder that is His love. It is in times like that when I understand what it means to be taken to the rock that is too high for me.
Trust in, lean on, rely on and have confidence in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is a refuge for us (a fortress and a high tower) Selah (pause and calmly think of that) (Psalm 62:8 AMP)
Cast your burden on the Lord [releasing the weight of it] and He will sustain you; He will never allow the [consistently] righteous to be moved (made to slip, fall, or fail)
(Psalm 56:22 AMP)
1Pe 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7 NIV)
We have learned over time to trust God. I would have to say that I have grudgingly learned to trust God. I find it is easy for me to trust God when it comes to my own needs. He has always taken care of me even when I was walking in directions contrary to His will. In truth, I have taken God’s presence for granted more often than not and have had to go to Him and ask His forgiveness for not acknowledging His presence. Despite all that He has been there for me. My greatest struggle of faith is in trusting Him to be there for my family. As I became less and less able to do for my family myself, I became more and more fearful that their needs would not be met. Where will we find income to cover the mortgage and groceries? How will we pay for doctor bills and medicine? Through it all God has provided – abundantly. I know now that He will always be there for my family, because we are there for Him.
The psalmist says He will never allow the “consistently” righteous to be made to slip, fall or fail in the Amplified version of that passage. Before I read that in the Amplified Bible I had already made the determination that was the meaning of God’s promise. We are all sinners still even after accepting Christ as our Savior and experiencing the new birth. We continue to wear the flesh of this world although we are now empowered to overcome the ways of the world. We still sin every day. God is saying that those who love Him and seek to follow His will are more often righteous than they are not righteous. As we grow closer to our God and make Him more and more master of all we think and say and do we become more and more righteous. Perfect righteousness will come in the place where time does not exist, but until that day I will seek to grow ever closer to the One who makes me more beautiful inside that I could ever be outside.
We are not now nor will we ever be strong enough to deal with the troubles of this world. We are incapable of success when fighting the battles that we fight on behalf of our seven children and ourselves. No secret plan or special diet will return the brilliant light that once shined from behind my eyes nor will it keep me from getting lost inside my own house. But there is a power that can do those things or at a minimum make them bearable and fill hearts that should be fearful with an eternal hope.
Mt 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
(Matthew 19:26 NIV)
Phil 4:13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13 NIV)
Lk 1:37 For nothing is impossible with God.”(Luke 1:37 NIV)
Ps 39:7 “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.
(Psalm 39:7 NIV)
Ps 31:24 Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.
(Psalm 31:24 NIV)
Pr 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; Pr 3:6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)
Finally, there it is as clearly as I can write it. We put our trust in God to do that which we cannot, to take that which we can do and clear the way so we can do it and to let us know the things that can’t be done or should not be done so that we don’t try to do them. It is now and has always been solely about Him. It has never been about us. If you really admire what we do, then give the praise for it to the One fully responsible for any success. We know we could not do what we have done without the power that comes from God. We could not deal with the emotional storms but for the grace of God. I would be curled up in a corner feeling sorry for myself and totally overcome by self pity but for the peace that passes understanding and the joy of the Lord that is only found in the palace of suffering. We know who is ultimately responsible for all the good things in our lives.
Do you know the song “There Is None Like You” by Lenny LeBlanc?
There is none like you.
No one else can touch my heart like you do.
I could search for all eternity long
And find there is none like you.
This is a man who truly is totally in love with Christ. You can sense the intensity of his longing to be with Jesus. Such a relationship doesn’t happen quickly no matter how powerful your testimony is, no matter how many miracles you may have seen. It takes place and develops over time. That is time spent together. Time specifically set aside to speak with and listen to each other. How much time do you spend listening to God? There it is. We mostly pray by doing all the talking and none of the listening. Prayer should be a conversation. Sometimes it can even be an argument if you really are listening for what God might say. The measure you use will be used to measure back to you. If you want Jesus to be your everything, then you must make Him more important than anything. When you give Him time, not just occasionally or leftovers, but real time in which you speak and listen for responses; you will find that He gives you His time, His power and His mercy. By making Him first, we became able to do what we must.
There you have it. Where do we get our coping skills? We don’t. We don’t have coping skills. We have leaning skills. We lean on the everlasting arms. We place our faith in God, our hope in Christ and our reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit. It is what we are all called to do. We give all credit to God for any success and blame Satan for all the evil that he does. You may do what you will, but as for me and my house, we will follow the Lord.
When we are in Christ, we are where we need to be.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
My Testimony Or How God Finally Got My Attention and Made Me Whole
Whenever I am asked to give my testimony about how I came to the Lord I become anxious. It isn’t that I am nervous about speaking or writing, I have never had a problem in those areas except as produced by the disease I now have and which is slowly erasing me. I get anxious because my testimony should be about the wondrous power of God and His unrelenting effort to save this lost sheep. Unfortunately, by the time I am done telling my tale, people have already begun to make the story about me. It isn’t about me. It’s about Jesus. As a young Christian I eventually listened to those who made it about me and I became swollen with pride and my subsequent fall from grace was significant and extended over a long period of time. So as you listen to my tale remember who the hero is here. It’s all about Jesus. It’s always been about Jesus, from the day God formed man from the dust of the earth until the day He returns in glory and power. If it weren’t about Jesus, I would have no story to tell.
I was born nine months after my Dad came home from World War II. I grew up on military bases in the fifties. In those days the first thing you asked someone who came in your front door was "What will you have?" Alcohol was common in most homes as were cigarettes. I grew up fixing drinks for high-ranking military personnel and politicians and other important people. My Dad was a military officer in the Navy and a doctor responsible for the administration of several large military hospitals before he retired in 1964. I used to pick up the half empty glasses scattered about the room and take them to the kitchen. On the way I would taste the various concoctions and eventually I began fixing drinks in secret for my self. By the time I was fourteen I had a drinking problem in a society that didn’t admit adults had drinking problems.
The high school I attended was off base and located in the poor part of town in Bremerton, Washington. West Bremerton High was not a bad school if you belonged to the right class structure in the community. Shipyard workers and military personnel were not considered part of the right class structure. My Dad did all right because he was commanding officer of the Naval Hospital second only to the Admiral in charge of the shipyard. Unfortunately, his social status did not extend to his children. My first few weeks at the high school involved various humiliations I won’t describe and regular beatings from the rougher element in the student body. I was small for my age and that made me an even more appealing target. Being a drunk already at age fourteen made me a little more willing to express my frustrations than I would have if I had been sober. One day I brought a piece of wood or it might have been a length of pipe, I don’t remember which. In any case I used it to hit the first person to threaten me that day. All of his buddies jumped on me and pulled me to the ground, but a teacher came by and broke up the free for all. The fellow I hit told me he would be waiting for me after school and I had better show up.
One of the wilder kids on campus came up to me afterwards and expressed admiration for what I had done. He said he would go with me to meet this other guy after school to be sure things were handled fairly. His name was, well I’ll just call him Pat, and he would be come my best and only close friend for the next four years. After school Pat met me in the hallway and walked with me to the vacant lot down the street where all the big fights took place. By the time we got to the field, there were about 40 boys walking behind us. Pat said they were friends of his coming along to help out. The fight took place and it remained between the two of us because of Pat and his friends. I even found out I could fight pretty well and I actually won the battle. That day I became known as "Crazy Mike" and the name stuck for nearly ten years.
Pat and his friends made up a sort of disorganized gang with no name, but with quite a reputation. We drank. We smoked cigarettes. We skipped classes whenever we felt like it and we robbed warehouses and liquor stores. We rolled sailors along the downtown strip where all the bars were. We got into fights, wars really, with other groups from both of the high schools. We even staged major battles with shiploads of sailors on liberty while their ships were in dry dock. People got seriously hurt. A sailor died. None of it seemed to matter. I was so afraid of people finding out that I was afraid that I stayed drunk most of the time.
In January of 1964 I was "allowed" to graduate early to avoid expulsion. My father was humiliated by my 1.0 grade point average and my familiarity with the local police. The only reason I never got arrested like the other guys was because of who my dad was and all his politically connected friends. Dad retired and we moved to San Luis Obispo, California. Pat followed us because he had no family. His mother was dead and his father was an alcoholic fisherman without a home. Pat and I continued to get into trouble in California and when I was seventeen, my Dad threw me out of the house. Pat ended up in the army and disappeared from my life. I bounced around until I ended up in Hawaii in 1968.
Everything I owned was stolen from me in Hawaii. I got a job tending bar at an illegal gambling joint at night and running a jackhammer during the day. I needed more money to get on my feet and when one of the gangsters at the bar offered me a job running errands I took it. I was picking up packages and delivering them to various locations around the island. Most of what I delivered was drugs. I was making good money and since I was always getting fired from my legitimate jobs, I started doing drug runs full time. I lived my life in a fog of marijuana, LSD and alcohol. I didn’t know it, but I was on a collision course with God.
One night I saw a Chinese man talking to a bunch of street kids on the Boulevard in Waikiki. Out of curiosity I wandered over to see what was going on. It turned out the Chinese guy was an evangelist from Tai Wan. He was telling these kids all about Jesus. I suddenly became angry and began arguing with him. I know now it was Satan working through me. I began quoting scriptures I had never read trying to prove the Bible was filed with contradictions and attempting to confuse him and make him look bad. There was no good reason for me to do this. I had no vested interest in those kids, but Satan did and he had a major interest in keeping me.
I never learned the Chinese man’s name, but he never missed a beat. He countered everything I said in a calm voice and y quoting the word of God. He finally looked me in the eye and said that he had a message for me. He said that for the next two weeks a lot of people were going to bring messages to me from God and that I had better listen, because God wanted me to make a decision and I had to make it soon. I laughed at him and spit at his feet, but inside I was shaken by his confidence and puzzled by my own behavior toward him.
For the next two weeks every time I rode a bus someone sat next to me and told me about Jesus. If I hitched a ride I got picked up by a Christian who started were the last person left off. It didn’t matter where I went, there was always at least one, and sometimes more Christians, waiting to talk to me. I became terrified to go out of my crummy studio apartment. I smoked pot and hashish all day. I drank anything available and I took acid and mescaline in an attempt to drown out the voices. They wouldn’t go away.
Finally, one night I was out getting loaded with a soldier on leave from Vietnam. His name was Vince and he was from Chicago. That’s all I remember about him. We were walking down the street when we ran into the Chinese man. He looked at me and said very quietly, " You’ve had a busy time. Tonight you must decide." He walked away and I never saw him again. Vince asked me who he was and for some reason I began telling Vince everything that had been happening. I repeated everything that all those people had been saying to me. I was witnessing to Vince and I wasn’t even a Christian! Vince began to tell me how afraid he was to go back to Vietnam. He even started to cry. He said if God were real maybe God would help him. I suddenly began confessing to Vince how I had been afraid all my life and that I covered my fear with violence and anger. We sat in the sand on Waikiki Beach and we both became quiet.
I don’t know what Vince was thinking at the time, but I imagine it wasn’t much different from what I was thinking. I realized I was alone and that I had been alone all my life. I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I didn’t want to be afraid anymore. I didn’t want to hurt people anymore. Finally, I said very quietly, "God, I don’t know if You are real. I don’t know if Jesus is Your Son. These people say You are real and that Jesus died for me. I don’t know if any of this is true, but if You are real, please help me." When I opened my eyes Vince was looking at me smiling with tears running down his face. We began laughing so hard we could hardly breath. When we finally stopped we realized we were both sober and that the filthy clothes we had been wearing were as clean as if they had just been washed. That was just the beginning of the wonders God had in store.
I bought a Bible the next day and sat down to read it. I had no spiritual father to guide me, no brothers and sisters in Christ yet to help me. I only knew that God inspired the men who wrote the Bible to tell the world about Him and so I wanted to read it all. I barely ate for the next few days as I read the Bible from cover to cover three times. The first time I just read it. The second time I underlined important points or at least what I thought were important points. The third time I was writing notes and cross-referencing. By the time I was done my first Bible was almost done in as well. I began to go out on the street to talk to the hookers, drug dealers, hippies and bums who were the people with whom I had been most intimate for the previous years. I told them all what had happened to me. I told them it could happen to them too. I shared what I was learning in my reading. Little by little I began to reach some of them.
One morning as I returned to the broken down dump I called home I found a huge sign attached to my door. In red block letters on a blue background someone had written "Bible Mike." I was no longer Crazy Mike. This was meant as sign of respect. Street people would direct people who were hurting emotionally, physically and yes, spiritually, to the rundown one room house with the blue sign that said Bible Mike. I held drug addicts as they came down and went through withdrawal. I helped hookers escape their pimps and get on planes back to their families. I held Bible studies and depended on God to give me the answers to everyone’s questions.
Every night I would pray and then I would hit the streets. I never knew where I was going. I went wherever the Holy Spirit seemed to be leading me to go. And every time I found someone who needed to hear that Jesus loved them and valued them more than they valued themselves. The Holy Spirit spoke words through me that kept people from committing suicide and even stopped one probable murder. My reputation was spreading and this was not good news to the people who used to employ me.
One night a young Vietnamese boy told me there was a contract out on me and he intended to collect it as he pressed the barrel of a 9mm pistol against my forehead. I looked him in the eye and said the first words that came to me. "I forgive you. I know where I am going when I die, do you?" He asked me what I was talking about, so I told him. Eventually he handed me the gun and said "I’m probably a dead man now., then he walked away. Some of the street people raised enough money for a plane ticket to Los Angeles and I left Hawaii in the middle of the night in a pair of shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and sandals. It was 54 degrees in Los Angeles when I arrived.
A radio minister from Whittier met me at the airport and took me to his home. He interviewed me on his radio show for two days and then gave me a bus ticket to my family’s home. When I got there some of the churches had heard about me and I was asked to give my testimony everywhere.
I began helping out in a Christian coffeehouse and volunteering with a youth group at a local church. The pastor arranged for a correspondence course in Bible, Theology and Church History which I passed and I was subsequently ordained by a small denomination out of Fort Bragg, Carolina call Christian Congregation, Inc. I had a head full of knowledge, but I wasn’t being fed spiritually. I was being used to bring in people and to lead them to the Lord, but I wasn’t growing in the Lord myself. I became the youth pastor about a year after I married a young woman the pastor introduced me to. It was almost an arranged marriage. I was feeling more and more like I was in way over my head. Then my wife introduced me to the man she had been having an affair with as they left with our two children. I wouldn’t see my kids again for eleven years.
Because of the divorce I lost my job as youth pastor, which was really the best thing for the kids. It also gave me someone to be mad at. I was angry with my ex-wife, the church, the elders, and God. The next few years weren’t pretty. I backslid terribly. I was using cocaine and committing all sorts of sexual sins. God was calling me, but I wasn’t listening. Eventually I sobered up and went back to college and got my degree in business. I wasn’t right with God, but I wasn’t overtly fighting him anymore.
I got married again, but it wasn’t about love or God or anything else. It was about convenience. She and I agreed that we didn’t love each other, but we were tired of chasing around for sex so we got married for convenience. When I started getting the first signs of sickness, she packed her bags and split. I had eight surgical procedures on both kidneys. They were beginning to partially fail a condition know as chronic renal insufficiency. The good news was I met and fell in love with my doctor’s nurse, Rhonda. This time I knew I had to do it right. Each step we took, we took in prayer.
Rhonda had a daughter who I eventually adopted. We wanted another child but could not make one so we adopted the first available child. They told us he would never walk, talk or even sit up, but we said that we had prayed for a baby and this was the baby God sent. Michael Paul runs and talks and plays today. Then we took in foster children. Mandi and Andrew were the first followed by Alex and Michelle; the last to arrive was Makana and all of them stayed. They are all ours now. The closest I can come to describing the feeling in having these children become ours is to jump back to the days in Hawaii and the first early days after my return to California.
Those first early days were like the days of the early church as described in the Book of Acts. God directed me where to go and what to pray for. As our numbers grew the incidents of miraculous healings grew more frequent and more phenomenal. At first it was simple things like God easing withdrawal from an addictive drug or healing infected cuts or scratches. But then I remember one night when we received a telephone call from Phoenix, Arizona asking us to come pick up Ginger a young girl we had helped in the past. She had fallen away and gone on a methamphetamine run. Now she was repentant and wanted to come back to the Christian family who had saved her. I tried to talk to her on the telephone, but the reception was terrible and her voice kept cutting in and out. We just kept telling her that Jesus loved her and he wasn’t going to leave her and neither were we.
We drove twelve hours straight, four of us in a 1964 Ford Mustang square back. When we first arrived at the address she gave us they wouldn’t let us in. Speed freaks are notoriously paranoid. Finally one of them recognized me and let us in. Ginger saw us and came running down the stairs until the carpet tangled and she went down with her leg twisted in the carpet. When she hit the bottom of the stairs there was no doubt the bone was broken, part of it was sticking out through the skin. People were screaming to call an ambulance, but she grabbed my friend Dick and my hands and begged us to pray for her first. We prayed that God would heal her in Jesus name and that he would also heal her unrepentant heart. When we looked at the leg again there was blood on her clothing but the skin was intact and the bone was in place. She kept saying over and over, "Jesus, I am so sorry. I am ashamed to speak with you. Please forgive me." Both prayers were clearly answered that night.
We saw healings like that and deliverance from what can only be described as demonic possession. I am not claiming that I am or was in any way holy or special. God chose to intercede for a reason. I don’t know what it was, but I am certain that it was the power of God made manifest by His Holy Spirit. Many people were saved because of what they saw and heard. All honor and glory belongs to God for what He did while we stood by and prayed to Him in Jesus’ name.
After I turned away, I discovered how alone a man can really become. I had known God with a familiarity that cannot be described and when I turned my back on Him, the emptiness was like a festering sore that could not heal. For several years I managed to pretend that it wasn’t God that was making me feel so torn apart inside, but it was. Once you have known God with the closeness that I had know Him with, you cannot survive without Him anymore. Finally, I fell to my knees and asked Him to forgive my selfishness and foolishness and He did. It was really that easy. God’s love is so pure that there is no room for complexity. If you give Him love He pours out His love and mercy full measure, pressed down, and flowing over.
Because of my fall, I am no longer Bible Mike, but I will treasure the memory of God’s blessing for eternity. No one who knows me now ever knew me as Bible Mike and that is a good thing. I am just another Christian struggling daily to work out my relationship with God and to become more like Christ. Once it was certain that I had returned to God to stay, He blessed me with ministry opportunities. I don’t have to work at finding answers to their questions, I just get to enjoy the fresh way of life thirteen years brings to the table. I have watched kids grow from frightened, tenuous speakers into self-assured confident followers of Christ. God is blessing me every day. He has allowed me to share His word with youngsters and more mature individuals as well. I praise His name for His mercy in giving me the opportunity to serve Him again. I hope the rest of my days are spent glorifying Him and sharing the wonder of Who He is with anyone who will listen.
I have a disease which has stolen my ability to read except in special circumstances, I have a form of dementia that takes away my ability to understand or remember what I have read, except in one glorious exception. I can read scripture and books that deal directly with scripture. Books that follow the latest fad and add Jesus’ name as an after thought make me ill. The word of God is a living and vibrant experience for me. It is not just reading God’s word, it is conversing with the One who made me and loves me more than I can describe. When I am in pain, I turn to God’s word for strength and support. When I cannot remember what day it is, I turn to God’s word for guidance and comfort. I have learned to praise God on my bad days and to serve Him on my good ones. That is miracle enough for me.
Every day is a new opportunity to show God how much I love Him. Everyday is a new opportunity to experience His power, His comfort, His joy and His peace. Every day is new. Every day is precious. Like Paul, I have learned to rejoice in all circumstances and to find joy in the midst of any trial or tribulation. In all things and in all ways, I seek to praise the Lord.
Don’t get me wrong. I am just a normal guy struggling daily in his walk with Christ. I don’t do healings or bless holy cloths. I am far from perfect. Dementia causes you to say and do things that are hurtful to those who love you and this disease has been an ever-increasing burden on my family. The stress it causes is unbelievable, but we are making it. Some days we hang on by our fingernails, but we are making it.. The good days are all God’s doing and the bad ones belong to me.. Pray for me and I will pray for you.. Someday we may meet around the throne.
Now a new journey begins. I have for sometime been sending e-mails to various folks I have met here and there. My e-mails contain poetry, Bible studies or just commentary on what I am learning through Christ. The list grew so big that someone said I should start a blog instead. So here I go. Bible Mike is no more, but mabe biblemike still has something to share.
I am always yours in Christ,
biblemike is the name given me by others (see my testimony). I am a Christian with dementia and various CNS failures still growing and glowing in Christ. I am married with seven children and simply enjoy sharing my journey.
About not begging people to follow Jesus
How quickly we miss the point of why we are called to what we are called. It isn’t about what I know. It is about who I know and how well I know Him. It isn’t about me. It’s about Him. It is not about what I believe (what a shallow and transitory expression), but rather who I believe and obey. That’s right – OBEY. The word most modernists want to through out of Christendom and the word that is the basis of our relationship with God. God’s statements, declarations and plans are not open to discussion. In our modern societies we change our leaders, our masters, our governing agents the way we change our coats based more on style and popularity than depth or commitment. It is how we live, not what we say that fulfills the great command. A disciple learns by watching his teacher, not just listening to him. As a preacher I once knew told me, “We are the only Bible that most people will ever read.” People know how I feel about my wife by the way I treat her and the way I speak about her in my most uninhibited moments and that is how they can learn about what a relationship with Jesus is all about.
When I first met my wife she was living with her grandfather. “Pappy” was one of the finest men I have ever known, but he was also one of the most intransigent. The first day he met me he let me know in absolute terms that I was not good enough for his granddaughter and I had best not speak about Jesus or church to him ever. Rhonda and I eventually married with his approval, but Jesus and church were still topics verboten. I didn’t force religious or philosophical concepts into our conversations, but I did not change the way I lived either. When Pappy became too ill to care for himself, we all moved in together. Pappy’s cancer was very painful and he used to wake me in the middle of the night to sit up and talk with him to help distract him from the pain. Even then I kept my word and never spoke of Jesus, but I prayed for him daily and loved him with all my heart.
One night Pappy said to me, “You know I have been watching you. I’ve been watching the way you treat Rhonda and the way you treat me. When you’re wrong you admit it and ask for forgiveness. You try to do the right thing most of the time. And you seem to have a great deal of peace about everything. How did you get that way? Can I be that comfortable too?” That night we talked about how I came to know Jesus and how it affected the way I relate to people and the world around me. We talked about eternal hope and, most importantly, eternal relationship. Pappy prayed with me that night and was baptized two weeks later. Shortly after that he went home where he waits just inside the eastern gate for the rest of us.
We have a small church, but we are outgrowing our current building and building a new structure to use along with it. This new structure is not to house members recruited from other churches. It is intended to house members arriving as a result of our outreach ministries into the communities of non-Christians who surround us. We help our friends and neighbors and when they ask why we tell them. That is the kind of evangelism and growth we are called to do. As we truly become more and more like Christ, poor imitations to be sure, others will want to know what makes us so and we can share that without confrontation or misplaced zeal. The Holy Spirit draws. The Holy Spirit convicts. The Holy Spirit even provides the faith needed to believe. If we are obedient in what we do and let the Holy Spirit do what He does, the body of Christ will grow.
Yours in Christ,
01/09/2005 - 01/16/2005
01/16/2005 - 01/23/2005
01/23/2005 - 01/30/2005
01/30/2005 - 02/06/2005
02/06/2005 - 02/13/2005
02/20/2005 - 02/27/2005
02/27/2005 - 03/06/2005
03/06/2005 - 03/13/2005
04/03/2005 - 04/10/2005
04/10/2005 - 04/17/2005
04/17/2005 - 04/24/2005
06/05/2005 - 06/12/2005
06/26/2005 - 07/03/2005
07/03/2005 - 07/10/2005
07/24/2005 - 07/31/2005
08/14/2005 - 08/21/2005
08/21/2005 - 08/28/2005
08/28/2005 - 09/04/2005
09/04/2005 - 09/11/2005
09/18/2005 - 09/25/2005