“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
Thank goodness at the dusk of nightfall we can put the day to rest. Tomorrow is a new beginning. Thank you Lord for a fresh start.
Nighttime can be a time of great evaluation, it can be painful. It can also be a truth experience that leaves us unresolved. Each day has it’s own pain, joy, and journey. I have often said that when my head hits the pillow at night is when the greatest honesty comes out. I might think I am hiding my head in the pillow but really, when I am in the pillow is when I am most alone with myself that my life.
Today I am pondering some unforgiveness in my heart. I have heard “love your enemies” in Scripture all of my Christian life and maybe even before. I have often thought about the call on the Christian’s life to heed this concept. But I never really understood many of the implications that God brings with His challenge for us to love one another, yes even our enemies.
I recently experienced a situation where this passage was illuminated brighter than I could have imagined. It was one of those “aha” moments that blew my mind away.
In 2005 I encountered a group of people that upset my entire world. They interrupted the foundation of my life. Their actions brought about huge consequences that were very difficult to overcome. To some degree there was a lasting impact that is not even completely resolved today. This group was led by a man whom at the time I referred to as my “Enemy”. From what I went through it appeared he was seemingly trying to destroy my very soul.
A few months after the main thrust of this attack my enemy requested a meeting with me. I very reluctantly agreed to the meeting figuring this may get him off of my back. With a second person for support we met in my office for about an hour. I found the meeting to be quite surprising because I saw something in this man that I had not seen previously. I saw a human being who had a heart and a soul. He shared some very vulnerable things about his life which were surprising to me. I responded with an open heart towards him since he seemed to be so open and honest himself.
From this meeting something inside of me began so shift. Several months later he came back into my world through attending a ministry meeting I was leading. He was kind, and socially friendly. I found it easier to be around him this time.
Through his coming to another ministry meeting and a series of casual meetings with him it became clear that there was a connection being built between us that didn’t seem so negative. Feeling caught off guard, I was growing from my interaction with him. He was teaching me things that were interesting and valuable to me.
Now, over five years later, we are working on projects and enjoying the time we spend together. He and I were sitting in my office the other day and we were talking about the events in 2005. I described him using the term “enemy” and something blew through my brain like it came from heaven! The scripture above, “love your enemies” ran around my head. I looked at my friend in the middle of my amazing revelation and directly and said:
“I can’t imagine using the term “enemy” in describing you anymore. You are my friend”
He smiled and nodded in agreement. I think it might have been a little uncomfortable for him to hear that. This was his response to our meeting:
“Hey John. Had a good time yesterday. I am continually excited and feel more and more enriched as more of the evolution of our friendship becomes clear in the ways we’ve affected one another. So cool!”
After our meeting I pondered the concept of loving your enemies and found that God had led me through an amazing life lesson. I wondered if what God had in store for us is that if we can learn to love our enemies, we may find new friends who will teach us things growing lessons of life. I also thought about another scriptural principle that we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against principalities in the heavens. When I looked back at that day so long ago, I started out thinking I was fighting against a man who was leading a group. I didn’t want to talk to him and wished he would just vacate my life. He was my enemy.
My convictions haven’t changed about the issues that brought us into a battle. I am not sure his have either. We haven’t lived with an agenda to try to change one another. We haven’t made a project of one another out of our time together. I have tried most of all to seek to know him and what he finds important about life.
Today, I really like this guy. He is gracious, kind, thoughtful and faithful. He is a servant, a giver, and loves people. He thinks deeply, he is intensely creative, loves his family and follows convictions that are significant to his life values. Ultimately, no matter what his qualities are, he is human and loved by God. It is my responsibility to battle with spiritual principalities in a heavenly way and to learn to love people, even if they appear to be enemies. I have a new name for the seeming enemy of my life years ago, it is Friend.
“This sounds great John, but I am still holding onto resentments and some remain as an enemy to me.”
I completely understand. I can’t let this article go without being honest about the process. Last night I had a dream that centered on unforgiveness that I am holding onto. I was fraught with turmoil as I held someone at bay with my hurt and disappointment. I wanted them to pay for what they had done to hurt me. My dream included a situation and people that I haven’t been able to love as yet. I still view them with hurt and self protection. I feel a need to be vindicated. At times I want to get them back for the way I have felt hurt by them. I see them as enemies. I certainly can’t feel the “love” between us.
There are some enemies that are more on the periphery of our lives. They may have just offended our standards, or crossed over a line with something that is important to us. They can be a little easier to transition from attack to respect. But what about those who have wounded our soul, invaded our hearts in such a way as to leave torn places. I believe these are hardest to learn to love.
And yet, God is big enough to love us through it and to love them in the midst of whatever may be going on in their lives. So, even in the most painful places, I can trust that God loves them even when I can’t. He forgives them when I am holding unforgiveness in my heart towards them.
What a wonderful thing to trust in a Savior who can love in ways I can’t, who can forgive when I can’t. I am so thankful for a Savior that loves me even in my bitter soul. He is at work in me in the deepest parts of my life. He is restoring my soul and I trust Him in that.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Dana loved God’s word to the point of frequent tears. He loved sharing his heart for Jesus with all who knew him. His music was all about reaching the heart of the 10 year old boy with the hope he would know Jesus for his lifetime.
Dana Key was part of the band “DeGarmo and Key” for over 25 years. In 1982, when I was first building a foundational relationship with Jesus the lady who was influential in guiding me to my own salvation gave me a tape of DeGarmo and Key. She said it was an example of the freedom in Christ to find new ways of worship through contemporary Christian music.
Are You Ready? 1985
Going forward to about the year 2000, standing in my office, was Dana Key. He was about to lead a chapel service for some of the men and women who were involved in Love In Action. I told Dana about my first Christian tape from DeGarmo and Key. He was humble in his response but I hope it was encouraging to him to hear how he not only influenced me, but thousands of others like me through the years.
Several years later I had become a part of the church where Dana was the pastor. I was in his office seeking the Lord with him for my personal future. He was very encouraging towards me in my life and spoke clearly of how he saw my gifts and the way they could be used.
Dana was one of my most significant friends and confidants during a very stressful time of ministry transition in 2008. I’ll never forget seeing him laying prostrate before the Lord praying on my behalf for wisdom and insight.
Under Dana’s leadership, The Love Of Christ Church gave me the opportunity to build the foundation of teaching material that later became the Journey of Thomas! It was largely through his encouragement and provision of opportunity that I have come to where I am today in ministry. He encouraged me to write the book I am working to get published from The Journey of Thomas material.
The last few years has been seriously challenging for Dana – in his health, trying to lead a struggling church, and keeping the gospel of Jesus Christ on the forefront of his life. Dana has now fought the good fight of faith and is celebrating his eternity with Jesus. He is among the Great Cloud of Witnesses that will welcome me into heaven when I get there.
Thank you Dana Key for making a difference in my life. I will not forget you.
Have you felt the way I have recently? Has church become a drag instead of a joy? Does it seem that going to church is just something you do because you have always done it?
Have you experienced painful church splits, arguments, division like I have? Are there questions you have been afraid to ask like: what am I supposed to do with all of this? What is the purpose of going to church? Do I have to agree with my pastor?
Actually I am in church everytime the doors are open. Whenever the restaurant table gathers believers or each Saturday night when our fellowship comes together I am in church. When I skype my friend in Perth Australia for over an hour or gather each day in discipleship meetings with other brothers, I am in church. When I sit with friends in a worship service enjoying a teaching or a time of celebration, I am in church. When my close friend and I spend three hours grappling over passages of Scripture, we are in church. Wherever two or three have gathered, we are in church.
But, I found myself asking, “What is this all about?” “Why am I here?” “Where does all of this lead”? “Why are we getting together?” I began a new journey in life.
I have spent the last several years writing The Journey of Thomas and I hope it will be published soon. I was reading through the introductory section of the book and wanted to share this heartfelt, God inspired journey of my own with you all.
It is my hope that each person who reads this book will be more motivated and more equipped to share with others the hope they have experienced through their relationship with Jesus Christ. If you are reading this and don’t seem to feel that hope today, it is my prayer that through reading this book, God will show you His awesome love that never leaves us or forsakes us. At the end of this book, you will find my own story of hope that began in my life many years ago.
It is my personal belief that one of the most effective models of sharing the Love of Christ with others is through authentic relationships. This kind of love comes out naturally as we hear one another’s hearts and value one another’s created purpose for life.
How I Started on the Journey
In 2005, God began to work in my heart in a new way. He gave me a vision of a church building. This church was a square block style building with a foyer outside of its double entrance doors that was simple and more of a breezeway than a formal foyer.
As the doors opened up I saw people inside that were very busy. They were sitting in a variety of places. There were pews in the room but they were not connected to the floor and scattered about. They weren’t randomly scattered however. They were specifically placed for unique purposes.
There were people praying alone; bowing, walking, sitting. There were small groups of people praying together. There were people laughing in joyous fellowship. It was clear that the image I saw was that the pews were flexible and this room was designed for multipurpose use.
On the walls were stunning abstract sculptures. They were made of hand blown glass in ultra luminescent colors and so beautiful to look at. There was a cross hanging on the front wall that was made of the same hand blown glass. The blues, greens, oranges, reds, and whites were incredible and glistening with swirling brightness.
A man stood up front on a short stool. He was chanting out loud as if he were practicing for something. He had a black cleric’s robe on and there was a tailor that was hemming his sleeves while he stood there.
When I prayed about this vision, the Lord seemed to give me its meaning. He said that he wanted the pews loosened so that we would be free from a habitual existence within our gatherings. He wanted us to be free in our worship, our prayer, and our fellowship with each other. He made it clear that these people in their various activities were a pleasure to Him.
He said that the sculptures hanging on the walls of this room were works of art that exemplified the gifts He had given His people. These were callings, gifts, natural talents, spiritual gifts that were so special to Him that He wanted them displayed. It was to Him like a parent hanging a picture their children painted on the front of the refrigerator for everyone to see. He made mention that too many of His children had their gifts hidden away and that we were not celebrating each other the way He would like us to.
The Cross was the gift of His son to all of us and that it was similar to the others in that all of the gifts were given from the Father to be displayed, that was His gift to us.
Now to the chanting robe bearing man, God said he was representative of the history of the Body of Christ. There are traditions that we had lost as a Body and needed to try them on again and to be refit for them. He wanted us to reconnect to some of the traditions that represent our history and our family. He didn’t want us to forget them. This represented the stories, the lives and the accomplishments of others that brought us to where we are today.
After pondering that vision for many years now, I am more excited about being a Christian than I have been for some time. I finally felt that God was freeing me to be myself, to experience Him uniquely. I breathed a sigh joy thinking that my Father in heaven was really excited about my gifts and others as well. I have wondered if the dream was more for me than anything! God wants me to be free from the shackles of my own fears.
I spent many years of my Christian life sitting in pews and church buildings. I was relieved to think that there were many ways for us to celebrate our God with each other and it didn’t all have to be in straight rows facing the front or in buildings organized to facilitate church programs.
But something even more profound happened in my heart. For the first time in many years God inspired me to a renewed desire to reach the lost, the brokenhearted for Him.
I began to pray seeking Him for a plan. What did He want me to do with what He had shown me? So, for four years I prayed. I sorted through my varied responses some not so pretty to talk about. I began to wrestle with my vocational life. I had been in the same ministry for over 20 years and felt called to it. It was tremendously satisfying for most of those years but something started to change.
I’ve read through some books on “missional” churches, “organic” churches “house churches” and found some great inspiration through them but there seemed to be something still missing. Some of these books were tremendous and liberating in my heart but at times they left me feeling frustrated and critical. I had to continue working through that too. It seemed they were just another kind of church program that didn’t look that much different from where I had been.
God began to rock my world through adversity and relational challenges. I began to experience shifting in every area of my life. I had no idea how tough things were going to get for me and thankful that the Lord took me through it all gradually.
The Splitting Church
I was a part of a great organized church that went through a horrible and wounding internal breakdown where two thirds of the congregation left along with the majority of the staff including the Senior Pastor. Then I began to visit other churches sporadically almost feeling relieved that I didn’t attend an organized church every Sunday morning. I remember one Sunday sitting on my cool breezy front porch wondering if this pleased the Lord for me to just be quiet before him instead of going out to a church that day. I thought this surely was liberation from being bound to some church habits that had brought so much pain anyway.
I settled into a small Bible study group of about 16 people that were fast becoming really close friends. I started to ask the question about whether this would replace the larger organized church for me and others. Most of the time this weekly Saturday night gathering meant more to me than a majority of formal organized church services I had been to in the recent years. We met together every week, ate a meal and studied the Bible together, supported and encouraged each other with prayer and counsel. We surrounded each other at weddings, funerals, and hospitals. We ate meals together sometimes; I had spontaneous lunches with the men. I affectionately called it my church of 16 members and 12 regular attenders. What is the church anyway? I began to ask questions that I never felt the liberty to ask. I found it challenging to answer the question so often asked, “Where do you go to church”. I would squeamishly say, “Oh, my main fellowship is with our small group that meets on Saturday nights.”
As I looked around my city I found that our organized church wasn’t the only one going through splitting and internal breakdowns. God reminded me of a huge storm that occurred in Memphis where within twenty minutes trees had fallen all around town, telephone poles laying in the streets and electricity out for weeks for some. The word I received from our locals was that the majority of the trees that fell were rotten inside but we just didn’t see it. I began to ponder what had happened.
God spoke to me in response to this event. “I had to clean the garden from the rottenness that was inside the trees. I am sorry it was inconvenient for you all but it had to be done”.
I saw how this event was similar to what I saw was happening within our local organized churches. It became apparent that through the adversity of internal battles for control, God was cleaning my heart, challenging me to new growth and direction. He was also challenging others in the same say. Yes, it is inconvenient, but it has to be done. I also had to get honest about the fact that I had not really experienced true relationship with the majority of those I knew. I had however, experienced the habit of going to church and smiling with a hole in my heart longing for connection that was meaningful.
But there was still something aching in me. I found another organized church that seemed to have something special and I knew some friends who had been going there and said they enjoyed it. So, I happened to meet a couple at a home cookout who went there and they invited us to attend so we went the next day.
I resigned myself that maybe this might become what we needed and would enjoy. The new fellowship of Christians very quickly embraced us. I was invited to speak and share my gifts with the body there. The pastor was very supportive of me personally and spoke into my life with great encouragement. So we joined this church with the hope in our hearts that we would find a special ministry there and fellowship that was fulfilling.
I was invited to share a teaching series with a small group there. I called it “The Tributaries of Grace”. I started out the series inviting the participants to focus this series on a person or people that they wanted to reach with the grace of God. This could have been a friend, a family member or someone they were having a difficult time with.
Something new came alive in my heart. I realized that through the years of ministry experience I mostly responded to healing and recovery for those who came to us. This had changed to looking outwardly into the lives of those who haven’t begun their own journey yet or were stuck along the road. So, there was a glimpse of a major change in my heart at that point.
During this season another very deeply invested part of my life became a huge challenge. The internal workings of the ministry I had led for over 20 years became broken, confusing and wounding. I tried every way I knew how to correct the wrongs. I prayed, sought intercession and counsel but things continued to worsen. The conflicts and distractions increased and I felt trapped in a place I had celebrated for so many years. I hated leaving my home every day to go to a place that was such a personal and corporate challenge for everyone. What was God doing? How could it be like this? It seemed no matter which way I turned I couldn’t find a solution.
I began to search God’s heart for some answers. This time I began to ask different questions than before. I pondered questions that would take me deeper than just asking what organized church to attend. God, what is Your church? Where is Your church? What does it mean to serve You? How do I fit into Your church? Who is Your church? God, where do you want me to be?
After a couple of years of tremendous heartache I left my position with that ministry in faith that God had something He was leading me to. One of the first answers He gave me was to free me from the ministry I led. It became very clear that God was allowing me to close the door on that season of my life and begin anew. I felt strongly that he wanted me to take all I had learned and experienced there and use it in a new way.
I began to adjust to being away from that ministry I finally let my guarded heart open to some extent within the church I had discovered. I began to feel released to step further into ministry there. But as I got further into the workings of this church there were rumblings of discontent and elder / pastor problems that seemed to have been developing over a period of months. One Sunday, we went through a painful confusing combustion from these problems within the organizational leadership. That day, there was a split and the elders and staff resigned leaving the pastor and about one half of the original congregation. I left on that overwhelming Sunday feeling lost and hurt realizing that many of my new friends were going different directions. It had happened again, now what. How many more times will we see this happen?
A New Beginning
Needless to say, I was swimming in discouragement and hopelessness. What will I do now? What is God doing? I surely didn’t want to attend any organized church the next week and decided to attach to our home group even more. I began to accept things as they were and received a peace from the Lord.
I became encouraged and freer than I had been in a long time. After a few months, I felt Him answer me in another very unique way. He said, “Watch for the Springs of Living Water to come up out of the streets and sidewalks of the city. Get prepared! This water is the Living Water as unto salvation. I am inspiring my people to come to me and I want my Body to be prepared to receive them but they will not be coming to the front doors of the organized church buildings, they will need you to go to them, to listen for their voices, to know them and care about them. Go out into the streets”.
Whoa! These many years of confusion and pain has brutally moved me to go outside the walls of the organized churches! Building by building God has seemingly jack hammered me loose from my own traditions, religious practice and patterns of habit! He changed my entire world.
I began to see His “church” was everywhere I met or gathered with followers of Jesus Christ. I saw that I was having church every day! My new church didn’t have membership other than to believe in Jesus Christ. I enjoyed lunches, spontaneous meetings in the market places of my life which became encouraging connections with the Body of Christ. I found that when I took my eyes off of the Sunday ritual I had allowed to become a habit and hallowed ground, I saw the Body of Christ everywhere I went.
I have seen a new thing develop in my life. I am, more than any time in my life, excited to see someone come to a relationship with Jesus Christ that is authentic, life changing and invigorating! I have felt my eyes perk up in a watchful manner to see if I can see what He sees. There are lost children out there, Lord? Where are they? Do you want me to go to them? Where will I find them?
I felt him saying, “You won’t find them inside the walls of the churches.” “Walk as Jesus did, in the highways and byways, in the world around you.” “You will find them there.”
Living Outside the Walls
Well, this past six months I have found myself in some really strange places. I have entered the world with weak knees, curiosity, and timidity. I am not prepared for this! I am uncomfortable in the world. It is too strange for me. I want to be comfortable, safe, and this isn’t a safe place.
I was reminded that we don’t live in a “G” rated world. This world is not my home! But, I am asked to enter it with my whole heart so as to be in it, but carefully so as not to become “of” it.
Wow, this is really exciting – and dangerous. I have been around people and involved in circumstances that were similar to my sin filled past but I had forgotten my old life long ago. I have heard language, seen behavior and gone places that many told me in the organized church I should not be around. I have lived in a white washed world sanitized in such a way that was to keep us safe from the world. What about the real grit of this world? What about getting our hands really dirty – for the Kingdom?
As I have gone through this journey of change, God has inspired me to write the Journey of Thomas. I have lived out the principles that laid the foundation for this series for many years in a very different setting. Now they seem to have become applicable in other settings that I am not sure I understood at the time. I certainly didn’t see this as I began to write the Journey.
Now that I have written the last session on Honor, I can say with excitement that it is my greatest hope that this will inspire the Body of Christ to turn their eyes outside the walls of the church to see what God is doing. It would be awesome if this material would prepare many for the harvest that God is preparing for His Church to receive.
I believe that one of the greatest tools of evangelism for our world today is our own story, our own life. We live in a world that hungers for connection. So many are living lives of aloneness, fear and shame that for some the only way they will come out of their prisons will be holding the hand of someone they trust though knowing they can relate.
The Journey of Thomas begins with honest self evaluation and along the way I hope the inspiring, grace filled, forgiving and restoring voice of the Living God will permeate our souls with desire for His children to come to know Him and to find maturity through authentic fellowship with other followers of Jesus.
Along the Journey, after God deepens our heart for Him, I hope we will have a Well of His Living Water to share with the thirsty souls around us that He reveals to us.
Are there going to be Springs of Living Water as unto salvation coming up from your streets and sidewalks? Are you prepared to receive them? Are your eyes fixed forwardly in rows facing the front of your church experiences? Or, are you beginning to feel the pews coming loose underneath your familiar places? Would you like your Father to celebrate your life on the walls of your fellowship? Do you want to connect to all the saints who have gone before you with wonderful stories of life and traditions?
Get ready for a rocky challenging ride. Be prepared for some things along the way that may confuse you; but God has a plan to move you closer to Him and closer to His heart’s desire for people to come to Him.
I found one of the answers to my question, “What does it mean to serve the Lord” was simple and straight forward. To serve Him is to serve His people with His message of new life, hope, and healing. He wants us to never tire of speaking of the hope that is within us. Will we walk the streets of our lives with our hands outstretched just like His were on the cross? Unafraid, unashamed, and ready to embrace, to hear, to value and honor, those we find in the fields.
Matt. 11: 28-29
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
The Journey of Thomas is designed to answer to Thomas’ question; I don’t know where you are going, Lord. Show me the way. I would venture to say; you may find this question answered for yourself.
I’ve written a great teaching on the significance of expressing our feelings. I have long touted the importance of sharing the feelings we have in order to express them, release them, and resolve them. The scriptures talk about when one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts.
This morning as I left the fitness center after a good work out, I was putting my gym bag into the car. I was feeling pretty good and as I slid the rear door of our minivan shut a bolt of electricity went through my whole body! Yeeeeeaw! My thumb screamed to my body, I’m stuck between these two doors!!!!!
I quickly pulled the handle open to release the door from my thumb and looked at a very ugly sight. I will not describe it to you so as to not spread my experience too far into your life.
I grabbed something to wrap my thumb in and with everything in my I began to pray asking God to free me from this pain. I started to intentionally breathe heavy, in, out, in… out, in…. out, with the hope that this may help with the pain. Hey it works for delivering children; maybe it will work for me!
As I was gingerly driving home all I could think of is, I need to see Vileen and share my pain with her. Then I thought about the feelings material that I had written. I really needed to share my pain because something inside me told me it would make it better.
So, as I drove up to the house and went inside, I found Vileen and showed her my sorry thumb. It did help to share my pain. She entered into the solution with me to find something to wrap my thumb. She was giving instruction for making it better. We thought it would be a good idea to get a thumb guard to protect it so I drove to Walgreen’s to see if they had one.
At the counter I spoke with the pharmacist about my smashed thumb. She said, “Oh, I’ve done that. That brings back some painful memories.”
She understood my pain because she had done that herself.
Why can we at times be so reticent to share our emotional pain with others? It helps to let others know. It relieves some of the burden to know someone else has gone through the same thing I have.
Within about an hour or so I had shared my smashed thumb with three people and it started to not hurt so badly. I have wrapped it and am now into the flow of the day. I have a big clumsy thumb but I’m ok now. Life is moving on.
Find a place to share your pain today. Get it out there and release it. Maybe it will help.
I never knew I could draw a lesson from smashing my thumb but God uses some strange things to show us how to live our live better.
So hopeless that taking his own life must have seemed like the only choice.
How does someone get to this place…we were heartbroken as we watched some 450 people came to say good-bye. They spoke of his life…A “Smile” that was contagious, a “Heart” that kept giving! The stories repeatedly testified of people, people whose lives were touched by this one man! One after another stood to bare witness of the man they knew…or thought they knew. He was a friend, a son, a father and a husband…
He seemingly, was a lover of life, people, family and the out of doors.
What went wrong?? How does one hide their despair from 450 people?
What could have been going through his mind?
There is nothing good about me…
If anyone were to find out…
No one would understand…
I am so ashamed…
I can’t ask…I just couldn’t take another rejection!
I must hide…
I feel hopeless…
These are thoughts many of us have had before…the lies that Satan plants in our minds. Our negative self – talk.
As I sat and observed this tragic occasion, I felt saddened at the people coming and going, watching their expression of bewilderment, grief, shock and silence! The truth was…People were crying out for a chance to listen, a chance to have a part in reversing the outcome. But that was impossible now. Questions were raised…why didn’t he call me? Why didn’t he trust me enough to confide? Feelings expressed… “I’m angry… I’m hurt…I’m so sad!” Honesty reigned, but yet many heads still hung in confusion and grief!
I’ve been looking at my relationships…Do I really listen? Do I see the body language?
Do I look beyond his/her words? Am I a confidant? Am I safe for him/her? Do the people I am closest to, feel safe with me. Do they trust me to be a confidant? Am I trustworthy?
There were many times when despair was also a part of my husband Roger’s life. He believed the lies as well. The lies that no one understood, that no one cared and that he couldn’t possibly be honest about his life, that he’d be rejected again.
I too, being in an unhappy marriage, didn’t want anyone to think badly of the man I loved. I didn’t think I had anyone I could tell that another man was paying attention to me. I believed I had no one I could trust with that information.
We both hid and continued in our pain alone. No one knew how messy our marriage was. So sitting through this service was very personal for us… both as a very difficult time to remember back to that life, but also as a time of awakening for us to not take our relationship or our healing for granted.
As I looked over and saw the tears streaming down Roger’s face, he reached over and squeezed my hand. I knew then that we were united in spirit, in our grief, our compassion for this family and in our gratefulness for what God has brought us through.
We may struggle at times with some of those same feelings, but we are confident in God’s love for us, our love for one another and the love of our families that has been tried and tested. When life’s circumstances seem difficult, we are not hopeless, because …
Psalms 37: 23 – 24: The steps of a man are established by the Lord; and when he falls, he shall not be hurled headlong; Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.
There have been times, when I thought my life was out of control and this verse brought me peace. A counselor once shared with me that while driving along, he has reached over to hold the hand of his Heavenly Father. What a sweet reality! It’s a comfort to know that He is that close!
Lord Jesus, May your love penetrate us so deeply that others are moved by your presence, may they sense your love, and be drawn to You through us. Make us approachable, honest and open in our relationships, so that others feel safe. Help us remember that every relationship is divinely appointed by you. Make us aware of opportunity everyday to make a difference in someone else’s life. Forgive me for the times I have overlooked someone because of time, busyness, or my own selfish agenda.
Open the eyes of my heart Lord, to be sensitive to the needs of others and available when someone needs to be lead into your presence. Thank you for the privilege of placing the hand of a hurting person into yours…Amen
My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God
A while back a very good friend had confessed that he had gotten himself tangled up in sin. I knew this wasn’t the first time and that he had been ensnared before. He was a part of a family that we had grown to love dearly. We laughed together, cried together, carried moving boxes together and considered each other close as if we were family. Actually, in Christ, we were.
As he spoke of more details concerning the situation I felt as though my skin was as white as a ghost. What would happen now! I asked myself if this meant that I might lose this friendship forever. Would our relationship survive such a repeated devastation? Our lives had become so close I wondered how many other ways we would be affected by this unfortunate circumstance.
Yes, this was all overwhelming to me but I felt compelled to stand by my friend because I knew his heart. He had a heart of love for God, for his wife and for his family. I knew he needed someone to believe in him but I kept thinking, “Can I ever trust him again?” Then I thought about the concept of trust and why I was so determined to have that question answered.
I Don’t Trust You!
We had decided to have coffee to talk like we had so often before. This time I found myself motivated by commitment and obedience rather than to spend time with a friend. I remember speaking from my heart out loud with him saying, “I don’t trust you!” I felt smug about my statement because somehow I felt I needed to take some kind of stand against his sin. I perceived I had to draw some kind line in the sand. I thought my statement would keep this in perspective. After all, I thought I had to be able to trust him in order to be his friend. But what did trust mean? How would it be applied?
Why did I have to trust him? I couldn’t control his behavior. I couldn’t control his repentance or his current or future choices. I could however chose to make healthy personal choices for myself so why was it so important for me to trust him? Sadness came over me again because I felt the potential loss of a good friend and wondered if we could ever be close again.
In my evaluation of the concept of trust I realized that much of my need to “trust” my friend had to do with my own personal needs and had little to do with him. I thought I had to be able to trust him so that I wouldn’t be hurt again. In the end, my need to trust was really a desire to control through my demands that he be trustworthy! It was all about me and I was trying to reach an impossible goal of manipulating my friend to behave so that we could have a relationship. I wanted him to mind his “p’s and q’s” and not repeat this again! I needed something from him as a friend and his behavior had threatened my getting what I needed in this relationship.
When I was sitting with him at a local coffee shop I looked at him and he was weak, sad, needy, and broken. He had always been so positive and encouraging. I was used to sharing my life with him to gain support for my own weakness and life struggles but this day was different. He had nothing to give me, he was empty. I made a decision that day.
I would need to look for others whom I could lean on and decided to give myself to my friend for his needs. I couldn’t share my needs with him because of his weakened state but I could listen to him and bear his burdens. He was doing everything he could to stay alive and make it through this current devastation. He needed me much more than I needed him. I had other friends and places for support. At this time, he had been abandoned by so many due to their responses to his circumstances. There were few available for him to lean on.
I realized that I no longer needed to trust him. This was so freeing for me to accept. I was able to release him to his own choices. I let him go to either succeed or fail but my life was no longer dependent upon him being good, or obedient, or safe. I drew some healthy boundaries around my heart so that he was free to live his life as he chose to.
That day, I chose to enter into his pain and share it with him. I made the decision to listen to his heart and to watch and wait for whatever the Lord wanted to do with him. It was between him and his Savior alone. I would just be his friend and cry with him in his pain, and rejoice in the restoration if that came about. I was hopeful that this would be the case but no longer demanding that it be so.
Well, hallelujah! Today, his life is restored. Our friendship is different. There are scars but there is also more peace and relief overall. We have shared the common bond of a battle for his life and he lived. If I encounter something terribly disheartening I hope there will be someone there for me who releases me to my Savior.
In a recent phone call my friend was deep in the middle of some more growth battles. This time they weren’t from bad choices, but from good ones. He had made further choices to enter into the risks of life to pursue his passions, his family, and his Lord. When he answered the phone he told me how much of a challenge the week had been. He described that he was in the middle of mud up to his knees in a cattle yard trying to get through the day. I let go of my properness and said to him, “it seems you are in a deep pile of sh%$#”. He began to cry then his sobbing turned into laughter.
We both got a good belly laugh out of our short phone call that day. Those tears and that laughter didn’t come from just the current circumstances but from a lifetime of living through terror and joy with Jesus. I don’t need to control my friend’s behavior anymore because his life is in the Lord’s hands and so is mine.
Gal 6:1-3 (The Message)
Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day is out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived
As I contemplated going to work for a Toyota Dealership I looked back over the years of my own car buying experiences. I had purchased a lot of cars in my lifetime. When I was 17 years old I was ecstatic when buying a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle.
I have bought cars from individuals, dealers, and yes, even off of Ebay! Each time I experienced my own internal battle to find something I felt comfortable with at a price I wanted to pay. I can also remember many of those times when I bought a car I really couldn’t afford.
I have wondered if the challenge of buying a car stems mainly from our own discomfort - with either parting with our money - or not having enough money to buy what we wanted. None the less, it came down to making a decision that would potentially impact many years of our life financially and practically.
I had a customer recently named Shelly who was interested in buying a fun little sports car. She test drove the car. At the point of trying to make a decision she said she wanted to talk about buying the car. So we moved to my desk and I got out the paper work.
At this point, I realized how many times I had sat at that same desk in my own lifetime.
Does this picture cause any car buying trauma?
They all look alike. Small, three chairs, inside a little cubicle often full of intimidation and fear. Our internal process begins; “How much can I afford? How much will they sell this for?” Most of us are familiar with the battle for the win! We want the best car for the best price. The owner or dealership wants the best price too; the one where they make the most money. Everyone is after the same dollar in the middle of the deal.
It is at this point where we have likely already found the car of our dreams and we tend to want it at any price and are willing to compromise some in our own checkbook to get it. We will even begin to make bargains with ourselves. “Hum, maybe I can eat out less or buy less clothing this year”, our thoughts ramble through possibilities. “How can I come up with the extra $30 per month that I need to get this car?”
As Shelley sat down I tried to put myself in their shoes. I tried to relate to her experience and be as honest as I could with myself. As we wrote up the deal the afternoon had already moved close to the dinner hour. Shelley told me that she had a special place to be at 5:00 and had scheduled to meet with friends that would be waiting for her.
The mangers tried to remind me that we needed to get her to a decision and completion of the deal. I understood their point. But I was in conflict with how inconvenient it was at times when I was trying to buy a car. I didn’t want to pressure her to make the deal even if it would compromise her commitment to another person. I remember a time when I had to call someone to opt out of something I had made a promise to attend because I was sitting in the sales cubicle myself.
After a quick evaluation of my own life experience, I related to Shelley that I fully understood and that I had no intention of holding her up so as to make her miss something she had committed to. I freed her up to come back the next day to complete the deal. As you might imagine my managers were confused that I let her go but I had a higher calling and purpose here.
I made the relationship with Shelley more important than buying a car right there and then. In my mind, if I was successful at showing her I could relate and I was as committed as she was to other relationships, then maybe I would not only sell her a car but she might tell others about me for their own car buying needs. I found that in the end, Shelley didn’t buy the car because she also had higher values. She did not have the budget to buy a car at that time. She said she would be more ready next year after paying attention to some current debt.
Maybe next year Shelley will be in a better position to by a car with more confidence about spending the money. Maybe next year I’ll find that by building relationships through actively listening to others’ needs will pay off multifold!
I want to be respected, believed, and valued so I want to treat others that way too. I wouldn’t want my customers to leave after a grueling and postponing experience with buying a car. I’d rather have them say that I was one salesman that respected them all the way through the buying process.
I was told when entering into this job that relationships sell cars. After being there for only two weeks, I am not sure they really meant what they said. At least not in the way I try to value relationships. The higher calling is to put this world and its idols out of the way and value what God does – people.
I recently met a man from another country through reading a magazine article written about his ministry. I am impressed with his commitment to reaching the lost and estranged with the Love of Jesus. He goes into gay bars in his city to engage in what ever the Holy Spirit is doing. He sends me weekly reports of what is happening so that I can pray for him and for those he is getting to know. As you read the excerpt below, you will notice that he does not put names, rather he puts initials.
For some this method of outreach may be controversial. As I read Andrew’s weekly reports, I often get tears in my eyes as I think of the love he has for these people and the way he touches their lives in such a personal way. We will not see this full picture until the other side of our lives. But Andrew is sowing seeds of kingdom value for sure.
He is practicing the principles of The Journey of Thomas in his outreach. He is honest enough with his own life and has confidence in who he is. He listens to the heart cries of those he is getting to know and they feel respected and honored by their relationship with him. It shows in their response.
Last night ended up both very cold and long. Sadly BA was drunk again, at least he was happy drunk. He proudly presented me with two raffle tickets he had brought for me and the family along with a telescope he had purchased himself and has been unable to use.
I turned up at bar at about 4:45 and had a bit of a chat with BG about faith. Andrew, my friend, turned up to join me at about 5:45 P.M. and soon he was chatting to KA, a lady (or transsexual) who I have never met and is about 6’6”.
Andrew also had a long chat with GR, who told me as I was leaving at 11:15 P.M. that he really like Andrew and thought he was a good bloke, he also said a heartfelt thank you to me for being there.
In some senses the night was fairly quiet until about 9. Andrew got to meet most of the usual suspects and we all talked about various issues.
A short plump lady walked up to me and told me she thought I was sexy and put her arm around me. She asked if I would buy her a drink as the bartenders had refused to sell to her as they thought she had drunk too much. I told her I was a priest (in Christ I am, I use it when convenient) and that I wouldn’t feel right about doing so. She then questioned me a bit more about what I had said and whether I was gay, she was convinced I was up until that point (she probably wouldn’t have been so provocative otherwise as she wasn’t heterosexual herself) and then said she really wanted to talk with me about some Christian stuff.
It took awhile to really have a good chat with her as she was very flighty. I offered to pray for her before I left. Well Andrew got away and I ended up sticking around til just before closing time as BE shared about her Christian mother and grand-mother along with her own desire to really live her life God’s way. She shared of her lesbian desires and the confusion they caused her and asked if there might be any help for her. I offered her my phone number and assured her that I would be willing to walk with her and pray with her further if she really wanted to live a consecrated Christian walk. I also shared that there were other ladies I knew who would also be happy to help her.
She talked of her sexual abuse as a child and her early attempts to try and gain the attention of female teachers when she was 8 and 9. We finally prayed and she was so receptive and desirous of God’s help. With many hugs and thank yous I finally managed to get away. The very next day, today, I received a text message asking when I could catch up with her and again thanking me for being willing to listen to her and take the time for her.
We still haven’t managed to key in a time suitable for her as she has some family and other obligations she needs to attend to. But again, please uphold BE in your prayers as she starts to look again to the God she trusted as a child. Pray that she will have the courage to keep on pursuing her healing and making the effort to push past the difficulties that will inevitably stand in her way as she seeks to meet with me again.
It has been an awesome week on a number of fronts, last night just capped it off. Sharon (my wife), previously during the week, shared with me a conversation she had with our eldest son who told her of how he was now joining his work-mates at the local pub after work where often they want to engage him in conversation regarding issues of faith. As they say, “Like father, like son.”
Please pray for Andrew. Pray for protection, annointing, Holy Spirit intervention in the lives and souls of those he speaks with.
When I entered into the business of selling cars I had the opportunity to test drive most of the models available. I developed an awareness of sensing my environment and as I drove each one. I asked myself how I felt about driving a particular car. I was in a Toyota Corolla and got back to the car lot telling myself, “This car wants to drive. It feels like I am riding a frisky colt”. The next car was a Prius, which incorporates the latest in automobile technology. As I finished my test drive, I looked around the car and said, “Now this is 21st Century experience”.
A Camry brought me to say, “Wow, pure luxury at a price you are willing to pay”. As I went through each car I found something I could use to introduce each car by asking myself how I felt driving them personally. I was amazed how my life journey led me to sell cars but even in this experience I could see the application of the Journey of Thomas to be utilized in such a variety of ways.
When showing a very nice Toyota Venza with leather interior and lots of bells and whistles a gentleman, named Len, wanted to test drive the car. So, with a “Smart Key” in hand, the doors automatically unlocked as we walked up to the car and Len got into the driver’s seat. Before he pushed the “Start” button on the dash board I stopped him for a moment. “Len, before you start the car, I want you to take a deep breath, calm yourself and look around you. Take in the environment, the gauges and the features. Look into the mirrors. Feel the leather seats underneath you.” I informed him that I wanted him to feel as comfortable as possible with the car before we began our test drive. I reminded him of my own experience test driving cars and how uncomfortable I was moving out of the lot onto the street before I was ready to do so. I mentioned to him that I wanted him to get the most out of his test drive so he wouldn’t forget it when it was finished.
Much to my amazement, Len turned to me and said, “John, I ….. Like….. Your….. Style.” He went on to tell me that he had test driven a lot of cars but NO ONE had ever asked him to stop, breathe, and get comfortable. Our test drive was a harried experience for me because he had become so comfortable with the car that we were truely “experiencing” not only the car, but Len’s natural driving style! With all of the accident prevention features, we made it back to the dealership safe and sound.
As I looked back at this situation, I realized that several facets of the Journey of Thomas were at work in me and in my customer that night. Discovering our feelings personally, being honest with how I felt in the past and sharing this with Len, and Len finding his own authenticity as a result of my giving him permission to relax were fruitful in a successful test drive of this amazing new car.
I believe this led to the potential of Len and I never forgetting our shared experience. At least, since he was one of my first customers, I won’t forget Len! God is at work in and through our souls in amazing ways each day. I am prepared to see Him more clearly along the way.
A while back as I was praying about how God might be able to provide a living wage for my family I was reading a magazine that showed an ad for a new car called the “SmartforTwo”. The ad mentioned a dealership in Memphis so I opened my eyes to the possibility of selling Smart cars because of their unique design and market. I thought surely this might be an open door to an unseasoned sales person.
So the next week I got ready to apply for a job and went to the Mercedes dealership where they said they were sold. When I got to the desk I mentioned why I was there and the man standing by returned my comment with a strong response, “NO, we don’t sell Smart Cars. WE TURNED down that dealership.” I wasn’t sure how I had offended him by my comment but there was something under the rug in his world for sure.
As I was driving away I asked God why in the world He led me there as I knew He did. My own thoughts wondered if it was just a test of obedience. I felt relieved because I really didn’t want to work there anyway. So, while I was out I went to two Starbucks coffee shops and gave them applications. They seemed more to fit my schedule and need for benefits.
A couple of weeks later I heard an advertisement for sales help at a local Toyota Dealership on our local country music station. I felt strongly that I was to go and apply for a job there. Maybe God had prepared me earlier in my heart by sending me to the Mercedes dealership.
Since I didn’t have a resume’ I quickly prepared one and got dressed in respectable clothing and went to the dealership. I handed my resume’ to the lady at the desk and she asked me to fill out an application. She said I would likely have an interview right away.
I was introduced to the General Sales Manager who was kind and affirming of me and of my skills. He assured me I would do well at this job. He handed me off to the Sales Manager who likewise was very affirming and said that due to my history I would likely be in management in a short amount of time. He said that he wanted me to interview with the General Manager of the dealership so off I went to another office. His first question was, “John, do you like to read?” He recommended that I read a book on leadership called “Built to Serve”. He thought I would enjoy reading it and after a few other affirming words sent me on my way.
I had gone over in my head many times my insecurities about applying for a secular job. After 22 years in ministry with a sexual recovery program and having never gone to college, I certainly didn’t have the cutting edge for getting a good job! I couldn’t imagine why someone would hire me. But in these three interviews, each person mentioned my resume’ and my job experience with positive reactions. They actually said that these tools showed them that I was exactly what they were looking for. One man said, “John if you can work with sexual recovery, you can surely sell cars!” It was apparent that God was in fact opening up the door for me so I continued walking through it. I had no idea what would happen next.
That fateful day, I was offered a job selling cars virtually on a silver platter. I returned in two days to accept the offer and a week later I began my training. I moved through several courses in Toyota University and asked a lot of questions of the others I encountered. I also heard a lot of comments about life as a car salesman. Most mentioned the “dog eat dog world” and the extensive hours spent at work.
Along the way my energy towards this job waned. Each person in their own way told me of how they had to often console their wives due to the time away from home. They spoke often of how some people were honest but others would go out of their way to get the next sale even it meant running over someone else to get there. Well, this is what I expected so I wasn’t surprised, just shocked that I was moving into something that felt like I was being swallowed up by a beast!
A bright spot during my training was when the sales manager told me to go get the keys to the cars and drive them! “You mean I can drive any car I want to?” I was in seventh heaven that day driving numerous cars to my heart’s content.
When I was released to sell cars the second week I felt comfortable and enthusiastic about this part of the job. I loved people and enjoyed cars. It seemed to be a good combination. I mean, if you have to go to work, it just as well be something you are familiar with and this seemed to fit the bill. My first and second customers were really enjoyable. I took some test drives with them and it seemed I was catching them with my knowledge and my intuitive ideas.
Well, after a couple of days my sense was correct, I was being swallowed up by a beast alight. I was drowning in the belly of a whale and didn’t know how to get out. I felt trapped by the job and drained of my heart. I had nowhere to turn but to the Lord. As I have prayed many times in my life, “God get me out of this!”