As most of my readers know, I write exclusively about spiritual matters. I try my very best to give practical insight into the spiritual life as laid out in the Bible and how it applies to a modern, Christian life. When I started this blog, it served as a record of my testimony, tracing the journey out of addiction, and slavery to self. Writing was therapeutic and was an outlet for “confessing my sins”. As time went by, the Lord began to use this blog to journal my spiritual growth as opposed to simply remembering where I’d been. I would like to think that many have been blessed by my honesty and my willingness to record this journey in a forthright and sometimes brutally transparent way. Well, today I am going rogue on my readers. I want to tell you a true story about what just happened to me recently; I want to tell you a story that is not only true but also 100% human. I’m leaving the arena of spiritual and going straight-up human. This will serve two purposes: a confession/apology and a warning. I want the people who know me to understand my heart and motivations and I want my readers to understand the reality of what is at stake in this time we live in.
The first thing to do out of necessity and desire is to thank God. I thank the Lord for carrying me this far in my path back to Him. You have heard people say, “You Christians use God as a crutch.” I must confess that this is quite the understatement. I don’t use God as a crutch; I use Him as a gurney! A crutch assumes one is limping along with God as help; I have come to the humbling conclusion that I depend on Him to even move, that to assume I can even limp is a proud statement. The more I progress along this path, the more I realize that I can do very little. I don’t need God’s help; I need God’s shoulders. You see, anytime you think that you are helping God move you forward, pride creeps in and steals the show. Man oh man…this is a hard lesson to learn! So I thank God for His mercy, His grace, His relentless love, His friendship, His blessing me with a wonderful family, a roof over my head, food to eat, His Word to read, His ear to hear my prayers, His Son for His sacrifice, His loving people around me to comfort me and give me hope, and most of all His patience. Humility really becomes habit when you finally realize that the only thing, and I mean the only thing, one can do to please God is simply to choose Him. No effort to live holy, no effort to pursue righteousness, no lame attempt to love another, no quest for wisdom, none of it is even possible by human striving…the only thing that one can do is completely rely on God and choose Him first every single day. The fruit of doing this one thing produces all of the spiritual fruit we strive for in the Holy Spirit.
So now I am going to share with you the recent turn of events. I cannot go into too many details for practical reasons (length of the post) and common courtesy (I can’t make public what some might want to keep private). God has led me to be involved in many forms of ministry and fellowship. He has opened doors and led me through those doors: doors that opened into helping alcoholics, addicts, people suffering from sickness and disease, people who struggle with what authentic Christianity looks like, people who need me and I them. The funny thing is…I didn’t choose these doors!
I aspired to be a writer, to be a person on the outside looking in, an agent for change by offering up what I have learned by studying His Word and earnest prayer; I aspired to be a “hands-off” person so as to not offend others and to avoid getting myself dirty and mired in the human condition. I know, go ahead and laugh…I give you permission to laugh at these ridiculous notions! I’m sure you have guessed by now that God took me out of my comfort zone by opening doors that required me “getting my hands dirty” and “walking through the mire and muck”. I’m pretty sure there is no other way of being “Christian”; Christianity, as far as I can tell, is a group sport! I am convinced that it is impossible to be a Christian without immersing yourself into others’ lives. I confess that often I wish it were not so. It seems at times that all the progress one makes in their study of the Word and all the time in prayer getting to know Him gets absolutely ruined when one “takes it to the streets”. All the confidence you had in private vaporizes in public and sometimes for all to see! That is the nature of spiritual warfare.
I think of a new recruit in the Army: he sees in himself the desire to serve, a future that holds honor and respect, a desire to make a difference in the world by standing up in a real personal way for what he believes in. So he goes to boot camp and gets completely torn down physically, mentally, and spiritually; he then is rebuilt as a soldier worthy of entering the ranks with all the others who have been through the refinement process of losing oneself for the better of the whole. That soldier may sit around waiting for “action”, chomping at the bit to get in the fight, and he can become restless to be involved in what it means to be a soldier. And then he enters battle. The nice clean uniform becomes saturated in mud and sweat, the running through drills becomes running through incoming fire, the mind prepared for battle realizes that nothing can prepare you for death. I have not served in the military, but I am relying on accounts from soldiers themselves. You learn all these codes of conduct, you condition your body to move relentlessly and methodically, and you train your will to be subject to another’s will. The soldier can be as well prepared as possible but nothing can prepare a soldier for losing his best friend to an IED, nothing can prepare him for seeing body parts strewn around the battlefield, nothing can prepare him for the difficult decision to take another person’s life, and nothing except experience can really, truly make a man a soldier. And so it is with being a follower of Christ. You can prepare all you want in discipline, you can have the greatest of intentions and expectations, you can even be ready to enter the battle, but nothing can prepare you for the warfare of the eternal, nothing can prepare you for the anguish of defeat, and nothing can prepare you for the carnage of an authentic Christianity. The battle is real, the battle is raging on, the battle will inevitably kick your butt, and the battle is for keeps. Many who are still “green” will toss verses around like, “In Christ, we have victory!” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”…but then soon realize that the reality of taking enemy ground requires pain and profound suffering, that in order to have victory one must suffer immensely in the battle, and that victory sometimes looks a whole lot like defeat! Kingdoms of this earth come and go, but the battle for His kingdom has eternal implications. And the hardest thing to wrap your mind around is this: you will be hit by bullets, you will be injured, you will sometimes be on the brink of death, there will be casualties…and you may end up being one of those casualties…
Don’t you love when I start a post with such joy and hope? Again, you have permission to laugh…or cry.
One of the doors that was opened to me was to be part of a newly-formed Christian men’s group. This group’s purpose and vision is to promote a closer walk with God, to become and step into the role that God expects from a man, to become the servant leader in the home, the spiritual leader of his family, a servant leader in his church, and ultimately beyond. I was invited to be part of the board of directors and was asked to solidify the vision by writing our intentions into a mission statement, a website, and a plan of action. I was and still am honored that the Lord would allow me to be involved in such a worthy and needed endeavor. We all surmised through steadfast prayer and by looking intensely at the current statistics and state of affairs, that if we could help men get rightly aligned with their God, that God could and would begin to heal the man, to heal the family, to heal the church, and on and on it goes. This notion is not something we just grabbed out of the air…it is above all else, Biblical! So as a Christian man myself who has lived and experienced God’s incredible ability to heal my spirit, to heal my family, and to use me to help in the healing of others, I could not think of a more worthy and awesome and appropriate door to be opened to me! “This is right down my alley”, I said to myself. Because of where I’ve been, because of my journey thus far as a man, and because my testimony is in essence proof of God’s redeeming work, I knew that this relationship was a perfect fit.
What we all surmised through the process of giving “meat and bones” to this vision, is that there had to be some common ground founded in Scripture. I will not address all of the issues, but rather focus on one of those issues…mainly…unity. In our estimation, it would be impossible to be sustainable agents of change unless we could somehow promote and practice the destruction of walls that have in the past separated us. The Church as a whole is above all else, well, divided. We remembered Christ saying that “a divided house cannot stand”, we remembered His prayer in the Book of John when He prayed for unity and being “one”, we remembered Paul railing against divisions over and over again, and we remembered the clarion call that echoes throughout the entire Bible that without unity in love…all systems will fail. So in order for us to even begin a movement that calls men to step up and heed the Lord’s call, we knew it was just as important (if not more important) that the church as a holistic body must heed the call of unity. We determined that we must pursue the destruction of the walls that have thus far caused us to fail: the separation of the body into warring denominations, the walls of racism, the boundaries apparent or invisible of prejudice, and the one most of us forget…the walls that separate us socially. What is ironic is that in the attempt to promote unity, you will inevitably run into division!
I’m sure you realize that this is a tall order. From a purely human perspective, it seems impossible. We have had 2000 years to get it right, but never have. So why even try something that historically is doomed to failure before even getting out of the starting gate? The reason is apparent: if not us, then who? If we are not willing to count the cost and tackle a mandate from our Lord directly, then what is the point anyway? We definitively place our efforts into the category of a “movement”, and all movements, as we are all painfully aware of, are like a shooting star: impressive to behold for awhile, but inevitably doomed to burn out. We cannot expect to be blessed in a system that is intrinsically flawed. If we are not relentless in following what the Bible prescribes as God’s way, it will eventually become merely “our” way. We could enjoy a temporary success by “firing up” men for a season, but knowing in the back of our minds that if it isn’t completely founded upon the “Rock” that when the storms come (and they always do) that the ruin would be great.
As a writer and researcher, I have done extensive examination of revivals in the past. I noticed that all revivals lost momentum because of one main factor: division. God in His awesome wisdom and creativity has found a way to use these revivals and their eventual failings to bring glory to Himself and salvage many lost souls through and despite the failures. The thing that haunts me day in and day out is this: how much time do we really have left to get it right? And even still, are we expected or destined to ever get it right?
I know for certain and I think most Christians can agree that we are in perilous times. The prophecies in the Bible are moving along at break-neck speed. We seem to be losing ground at a prolific rate, and the Christian church as we know it is approaching insignificance. The statistics don’t lie. I won’t bore you with what you can readily glean from the headlines in your local and/or national and/or worldwide sources of information. To be blunt, I honestly think our days are numbered and that we are squarely in the midst of what the Bible refers to as “the end of days”. I know there are critics out there and the Bible even tells of the phenomenon of an ever-growing chorus of mockers: phrases like “where is your God?” and “it will be like the days of Noah”, to name a few of the indictments Christ Himself shares with us in the gospels, ring very true today. But the facts still remain: America is steadily declining socially, economically, and morally. The world is right in step with her as well.
Israel is destined in the very near future to be completely surrounded by her enemies once again as predicted in the Bible. In fact, the only remaining border country to go “totally hostile” toward Israel is Syria. And as most know, Syria is teetering on the brink of complete collapse. I can assure everyone reading this that it is not a matter of “if”; it is clearly a matter of “when” Syria’s regime will be destroyed in like manner as the plethora of Middle Eastern countries that recently experienced what is called the “Arab Spring”. The power vacuum that will be created by the loss of Assad’s regime will most assuredly be filled by the Muslim Brotherhood, just as it has been in Egypt. This is a reality check! I know it is much easier and much more socially acceptable to not concern ourselves with events happening on the other side of the world. But to ignore the fulfillment of prophecies as a Christian is to effectively have your “head in the sand”.
So all that to say this: We don’t have time to cycle through another “movement”; we cannot afford to not finally get it right, and now is the time to be as sober and vigilant as we can possibly be. I have expressed this to everyone that knows me. I hate being “that guy” that is preaching impending doom, I hate being the one that stays so “fired up” all the time. I used to think guys like me were simply unbalanced “Jesus freaks”. I have seen people get “on fire” for God and then fizzle out, like a rogue shooting star they come and go and eventually “settle down” and get back to the business of living a “good Christian life”. The problem is that I can’t let it go! I thought too that eventually I would “simmer down” and get back to life as usual, but alas, the Lord just won’t let me. I cannot help being the way that God has remade me…He warned me of this…He told me that I would be ostracized, called a “bulldog”, mocked as an out of control zealot. He asked me to count the cost and ask myself a simple question: “Are you willing to withstand and be faithful to My call on your life?”, “Are you willing to throw out all of your pre-conceived notions of who you think you are?”, “Are you really, really ready to completely submit yourself to Me…no matter what the cost?” My answer was “yes”. Do I regret my decision at times? You betcha…I would be a liar if I told you otherwise. I am only human being asked to do a super-human thing. The boundary between the spirit realm and the physical realm is tentative at best some days; and other times the separation between those two worlds is quite distinct and clear. My testimony today is that I refuse to back down; I refuse to have God’s will for my life impeded by others, by circumstances, and most of all…by myself. I am beginning to understand what it means to “take up your cross daily”. This is not some philosophical notion or some poetic hyperbole; this feels a lot like real pain. I have to ask myself every morning before I start my day whether I want to reach down and lay my hands on an instrument of death or whether I want to leave it and my Lord where it sets and move forward in a “normal” day. It is a choice and a painful one at that. Sometimes the agonizing choice is more painful than the actual act of finally submitting. I guess the Garden of Gethsemane bears witness of this for us all!
So what I have to say may sting your ears or it may spark your spirit and bring you joy. What the Lord wants for us right now is a revival that is so significant and widespread that it will shake the very foundations of our culture. What the Lord wants to do is show us His glory and show us what I refer to as “the last call”, what some have referred to as the Third Great Awakening. This, I am positive, is what the Lord wants and is poised to do. Here is the rub: some people’s theology says, “It is all in God’s hands”. This smacks of, “Well, He will do what He wants to do regardless of whether it involves me or not!” This goes against every notion and precept of the Bible. Here is a clear and present fact: GOD ALWAYS USES MAN TO CARRY OUT HIS WORK! And I’m being honest here: most people just think that someone else is going to step-up, most think that it is for the “leaders” to address, and most think that this whole revival thing doesn’t involve them. Abraham had a choice as to whether to believe God, Abraham had to make a choice backed by action as to whether he would take his son and sacrifice him. Moses had to make a choice whether to obey and submit to God’s will. Even Jesus had that prayer in Gethsemane where a choice was to be made: let this cup pass or “nevertheless, Your will be done”. You see, it requires a choice and that is what makes it so beautiful! Here is where we find what is called “Divine Tension”: is it predestination or a choice? The answer, quite honestly, is “Yes” to both. Do I claim to understand this? No. Do I know it’s true? Yes. None of us know the ways of God for “His ways are not our ways”, but I also know that I cannot “lean unto my own understanding” and am required to accept what I don’t fully understand. We are asked to trust God, and that is what we should all intend to do. So that being said, it is not completely true to say that this is all in God’s hands, because He wants and desires us to be part of His plans and says to you and me that in a very significant way…it is in our hands! Some wait for God to do something profound, and I’m afraid He may be waiting for us to do something profound! So the choice remains: Do we choose to obey God and His recipe for revival or do we wash our hands of it all and go on “business as usual” and pray, “Come Lord Jesus…Come”?
I hear all the time, “I wish Jesus would just come and rapture us out of this mess”, and I reply, “Do you know any family member, friend or neighbor that has not made Christ Lord of their life?” If any of us know anyone that is not under His grace, why would we wish such ill-will upon them? Have we done all that we can to share the good news with them? And if not…why? You see, it is selfish to want Jesus to return until we have a God-ordained revival where people can touch, feel, and smell the glory of an almighty God! Revival has tangible assets: the Holy Spirit moves in amazing ways, people’s hearts are changed, signs and wonders happen, miracles rain down like a summer thunderstorm, and there is a breach between heaven and earth. The gates of heaven are opened and God’s glory just pours out upon all who would draw close to it. Don’t we in some ways owe it to our neighbors (that we are commanded to love as ourselves) to pray for revival instead of the “catching away”? Can anyone hear what I am saying? Can you catch a glimpse of where my heart is? Can you now see why I am a zealot? It is out of love! It is out of a pure desire that all who can may see and taste that our Lord is good. I have no “dog in this fight”; I have no hidden agenda; I have no aspirations but to be a beacon of hope and inspiration to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Can you hear and feel my heart?
So now you see where I’m coming from concerning God’s vision for who I am to be and what He has called me to do. Now I return to my story. Upon the Lord’s opening of the door to this new Christian men’s initiative, I was asked as a board member to use my God-given gifts. I was asked to write the mission statement, the vision statement, the curriculum, and to recruit as many men and churches to attend our “coming out” party. I humbly submitted to the formidable task of doing the work. There is nothing worse in my opinion than being labeled as “all talk and no action”. So I pushed forward as hard as I could to accomplish these tasks with the Lord’s guidance and energy. You see, it was in God’s hands…but He decided to use mine!
Against my preference, I was asked to present our mission and how men could get involved on the occasion at our big event. But in submission, I humbly complied. Now here is where some tension began to really work on my psyche. Before I get to that, I want to share with you a phone conversation. In my pursuit of being diplomatic, I have chosen wisely not to mention any names. So I cannot mention this person by name, but suffice it to say, he is an author. This man is the author of a book that was the foundation of a successful initiative in another part of the country. We are modeling our initiative based on his experience and success. He called me on my cell phone after I had sent him an email asking him if he would be interested in being a speaker and mentor in our winter conference. He spent over an hour on the phone with me getting to know me, the organization, and our “end game”. He was very excited about our mission statement and vision statement. But he shared this with me and it will ring in my ears I suppose for the rest of my days walking this earth: “Sir, the success of this initiative will not be based on the vision; the success of this initiative will not be determined by the good intentions of your collective hearts; the success of your initiative will be directly proportional to your ability to deal with tension. That tension will start on the board itself; that tension will rear its ugly head in your community, that tension will arise within the small groups, and that tension will be with you wherever you take the initiative.” My response was typical…”Oh, yeah I understand.” What a jack-wagon I am! I am so very ignorant at times. It always reminds me of a fact in life: you can hear something 10 times a day for 10 years, but until you EXPERIENCE it, you really haven’t a clue!
So having been asked to present at our conference, I began to bathe it in prayer. I cannot express to you adequately in words how “big a deal” this was in my estimation. The whole defining moment of all the work we had put into this initiative would come down to the response of the attendees. We were asking them to join us. We were asking them to sign up for small groups that would bring into focus all of the elements that are included in the mission statement. If they were not motivated and “fired up” and willing to stand behind the mission, then it would be considered, in human terms anyway, a failure. The problem came up very early in my “wrestling with God”; the question was placed right in my face: “Do I want to make the message a positive, sugar-coated message in order to sign up as many as possible, or do I need to make the message as hard-hitting as our mission and vision statements?” You would think that would be an easy fence to straddle, but it was I can assure you, a conundrum of epic proportions! Every pastor, minister, Christian leader, and politician knows all too well that you can’t have your cake and eat it too! You either speak as to not offend, or you speak truth. You can “drop the bomb” now or you can drop it later…it matters not when you drop it…you inevitably have to either change your mission statement to be more inclusive or you have to be honest and let the pieces fall where they may. The last thing I could ever imagine doing at this point in my life was to misrepresent my God and what I know to be an initiative inspired by God. Who am I to stand up and only be “honest enough” to get them to sign up and leave the fine print until later? Haven’t we done this now for a while? Isn’t that what everyone has been subjected to over the last decade or so? I mean honestly, we hear preaching on grace that leaves out sacrifice; we hear about forgiveness but nary a word about true repentance; we want to hear about the goodness of God and feel like we must apologize for the wrath of God. This is the very reason we have a church that is a mile long, a mile wide, but merely an inch deep! God spoke into my spirit and told me straight-up: “Tell them truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. Now you can believe me or not. I’m sure (actually I know) that there are some who doubt that God even speaks to me. I’ll grant you that. But the fact remains: you can believe me or not, you can call me crazy, you can say I’m misled, you can say I assume too much…all I can say is the truth…God has and does speak to me! If He didn’t speak to me, then I would frankly find another god! Who wants to have a “personal relationship” with a god that never talks back to us? Honestly people! Christ Himself said quite plainly, “My sheep know My voice”. I would be a liar if I told you that I don’t hear His voice, but there will always be skeptics!
Now along the way, an associate and I had the opportunity to interview with a potential church that wanted to entertain the idea of standing with our initiative and he said something that floored us both. It wasn’t what he said that surprised us; it was the fact that he was so candid with us that was surprising! The statement was this: “Our church has done a great job with worship; we have done a great job with our youth groups, a fantastic job attracting a large congregation, but a miserable job making disciples. I mean, we have a huge congregation of infants crawling around our church, a bunch of baby Christians that have yet to truly understand what it really means to be a follower of Christ.” I’m sure the pastor could not help but notice that both our jaws dropped precipitously and in tandem! At least the guy was honest, and he is also very correct in his assessment. We don’t need any more lukewarm Christians; what the Lord wants is disciples. He wants people to drop their lives and join His life; He is tired of people trying to fit Him into their lives and wants us to realize we are to fit our lives into His! This is why I feel so strongly about the initiative and why I wanted to avoid painting another misleading picture of Christianity today.
In one of our board meetings, someone finally dropped the “R” word that had been on my heart from the very beginning. This man said, “What we are really trying to do is lay a foundation for Revival.” Thank you! You see, I didn’t want to go all “zealot” on all my board member brothers in Christ, so I kind of left the whole revival thing on the sidelines. I didn’t want to superimpose my vision upon theirs. But now the cat was out of the bag, and with the implications of such a profound objective now on the table, the mission had real depth and conviction…so I thought. As I previously stated, the ingredients for revival are peppered all through the Scriptures and on all occasions the word “if” always precedes “then”. There are prescribed situations that must exist and the first and foremost is “in one accord” or rather…UNITY. The next requirement is prayer. No unity in prayer…no manifestation. Through our small groups, we want to promote a mix of men: different denominations, different races, and different backgrounds. Actually, many of us had seen the fruit of this type of mix in our own small groups, and let me tell you, it is beautiful! The collective perspective from many differing perspectives gives a profoundly unique and holistic picture of truth. It is a dynamic that every Christian should experience and embrace. You see, it is hard to get whole congregations or even pastors to deal with the diversity, but in a small group it not only works…it thrives. It also begs the question: Should revival come from the top-down or rather from the bottom-up? One doesn’t need to be an intellectual to realize that most attempts if not all attempts end in failure when left to mixing congregations or pastors agreeing to even “go there”. But as we know now from our own experience, it works beautifully in small groups! There are some key ingredients that I will enumerate but not expound upon at this point. The ingredients are: everyone is accountable by participation rather than attendance only; there is no “leader” as all are counted as equals, each person is required to share their perspective, and there is a respect for each person’s time of sharing. Pretty simple and quite effective I might add. This just might be the beginning of something awesome.
But I always have to remind myself and others of the statement, “When you finally take a stand and step into the light, the Lord sees you…but so does the enemy!” The enemy won’t mess with a lukewarm Christian; that Christian is kicking his own butt. The enemy focuses on those who have finally determined and committed to stepping up and out for God’s glory. When a man decides to swallow his pride and live 100% for the Lord, the enemy is now on high alert…you now have his attention. And his attention we got! In our efforts to promote unity, we created division! You can’t make this stuff up. Yes, he came at us from within, without, and from left field. It almost caused the initiative to fail before it even got started. I took a great deal of criticism, our leader took a great deal of criticism, and the criticism caused a rift in our own leadership! Dang…you have to give the enemy some credit here. Here we are preaching unity, and here we are about to lose our own unity! Personally, I was attacked, alienated, mocked, accused, and basically “thrown under the bus”. I should have known…right? That is my case in point: we all have to ask and answer the question of whether we are willing and able to withstand an all-out assault by the enemy. If you are easily offended…get over it! If you expect a pat on the back and a high-five…keep dreaming! If you think you will dodge all of the bullets…time for a reality check! But alas, through much prayer and pleading and humility and rough waters, we have prevailed and live to fight another day. The message that was delivered at our conference caused quite a stir! Despite the rifts that were created through the message, most of the men signed up to be part of this initiative! Praise God! In the end, He always gets the glory. Sometimes He will help us prevail even despite ourselves. The friction and tension that we have survived will ultimately make us much stronger and the bond of love and peace will always have an altar to remind us of where we have been. We will never, ever forget the price that we paid together.
The confession is this: I am human and subject to human error. The apology is this: I apologize to all (and you know who you are) that in my attempt to reach the goal, I had blinders on…blinders that prevented me from seeing others’ concerns and needs. I confess that I was not fully prepared for the backlash, and I apologize to the people that have crossed paths with me for not being more sensitive.
If you have taken the time to read this article, I commend you and thank you as I know it was long. I hope you gleaned some perspective, some hope, and some fair warnings. Do not underestimate the enemy! Following Christ is not always rainbows and unicorns; it requires sacrifice on a level few truly understand. Like I mentioned in the soldier analogy, nothing prepares you for the actual battle except experience. In some ways, we learn by trial and error, we learn by making mistakes, and we learn by beholding the severity and ugliness of this war. I encourage you to join us in the battle! We need more men and women willing to lay it all on the line for Jesus and His Kingdom. The days are waning, the time is approaching where the gates will close for eternity, and the harvest is great but the laborers are few. Are you willing to count the cost and give your all to God’s will in your life? Do you know what His will is for your life? If not, now is a good time to ask Him! Do you hear His voice in your life? If not, now is a good time to ask Him for the ability to hear that Voice! Do you want your life to really matter? Then ask the Lord what you can do for Him today and tomorrow…if you are a Christian, we need you desperately in the battle. Pray for unity, reach out to someone in need of the “good news”, pray for revival, and ask God where He could use you in this coming revival of epic proportions. It is coming! Every fiber of my being is strained in anticipation of the coming glory of God in the final call of the Third Great Awakening! Are you in?