Thursday, July 23, 2015

Damascus Road

It was an early September night, and the young man was walking down the long dark road near his home. He was actually not high on this night, which was no small miracle. For reasons, he would never understand, but never forget, he walked with an eye toward the stars. He had no particular destination in mind. Perhaps, he might find the right place to get high.

He never fit in anywhere. Always feeling like the outcast, until he discovered the drug culture & free love of subsequent lost souls. He had entered the party life early. Drinking before he was fifteen. Soon afterwards, he discovered his God, in the form of marijuana. In time, every drug of that time he would abuse but strangely never have any addiction problems.

He came to the end of the road that he lived on and turned left. To this day he can show you exactly where he was when it all changed dramatically. The moment when life would never be the same, even in the years that followed, when he tried in vain to forget the reality of that night.

He would never forget the intricate details of that night. First came a whoosh. It was an incredible sensation that ran from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Then the words. Words that were never thought about or formed in his mind. Strangely, one lone tear ran down his left cheek. He always thought that odd.

"Come & admit you're wrong. Come & sing My glorious song."

He never ceased walking the entire time. It is a few steps later, when he strains to look to the Heavens & ask a question that he already knows the answer to.

"God, is that You?" 

The realization sets in.

"Oh, my God. You are real. All my life I heard You were but You are actually real. Oh, my God."  

He was very naive. He began to tell people of the event, thinking they would know it was true, but eyes began to roll & few wanted to hear it. Surely, the good people at church will love to hear this. Sadly, that was for the most part another dead end. They did not believe in that night, or that his transformation was real. Maybe they thought he was beyond redemption.

He had assumed that what occurred that night was something that happened often.  So, he did not run up an aisle at Church. Does that make it less real?

The dramatic transformation was too much and the frustrations & subsequent horrible decisions he made eventually drove him to curse that night. "Why, did You not just leave me alone?" The biggest lie he began to believe was that that night was little to do with him. It was merely answered prayers for his mom. He knew God loved her enough to answer her prayers about her wayward son, but he did not believe in God's love for him.

It took many years for him to return to God. He still searches for answers concerning that night. Some answers he realizes now. A dear friend, who upon hearing the story for the first time nearly forty years later said about the treatment he received from the people of the church. "I think their behavior says more about them than it ever did about you."

Very recently it dawned on him about these words he heard that night. Sing My glorious song. He grew up in church, where it was more about what you should or should not do. It was not so much about worship. He realized that was what God was saying that night. Worship Me. God wanted him free to worship. Not bogged down in religion.

He thought of something recently about that time of transformation that had not had cross his mind in decades. He was on probation at the time of the Damascus Road. It was several months later when his probation officer called and demanded he be in the office the next day.

He thought it strange but he was not worried & he knew for the first time in years if it was about a drug test he would pass.

The young man entered the office the next day as ordered. The man got right to the point. He had the most spiritual dream. A vision. He wanted to discuss it with the criminal that sat in front of him. Someone that might not think that he was crazy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

That One Thing

We like the illusion of control in our lives, don't we? That is all control is... an illusion. I believe that control factor keeps many of us from turning the wheel of this life completely over to God. It is like we have a list. Okay God, this, this, & that can go, but I need this.

I have shared previously about my cliche of driving down the road & saying, "Lord, You take the wheel. Whatever the path is that you lay out for me I will walk it even if I have to surrender my dreams."  Despite having lived this I still want to take over the wheel at times. Why, I do not know. My Father has proven to be a far more capable driver of my life than I am.

A very wise spiritual woman shared something with me one day I have never forgotten. Carol spoke of someone who was giving nearly every part of their life to God but there was one thing that even though they knew it to be wrong they refused to surrender. That last thing is the one thing many of us will grasp so tightly & we refuse to give it up. We either think it so defines us or maybe we believe we know better than God what we need in our lives. I was the poster child for this behavior. It is pretty arrogant when you think of it, right? I mean to think that any of us know better than the almighty God.

I believe in the light of God without question & I am also very aware of the darkness of this world. Sometimes, it appears as if that is all that surrounds us. It is easy to lose hope. The scriptures are mocked & sadly many churches have succumbed to downgrading the Bible if it dare offend someone. It is Church Lite at its finest. Leaders pat people on the back & tell the congregation what they want to hear. They forget the importance that Jesus placed on scriptures-downplaying it by saying that was for that time. It brings to mind a scripture I read again not too long ago & actually just heard on television when I walked in the kitchen for a protein shake.

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

One of my favorite scriptures even when I was far from God is Hebrews 13:8. There was comfort that I could count on Him to remain the same.  

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

I wrote a blog over two years ago about how God is the potter & I am the clay. But isn't it human nature to try to spin that the other way? I sure did. I suspect most if not all of us have at one point or another. 

Malachi 3:6 For I the LORD do not change...

Please don't think I am an advocate for fundamental religion that spends more time & energy making sure everyone knows what their church is against. Not so much what it is for.  Big booming voices that like to put on a show.

Sometimes, & I have no excuse for this. I catch myself saying they won't change. This circumstance is too rooted in darkness. Then I hear that whisper. "Have you forgotten how trapped in darkness that you were? Do you remember the lost young man that I appeared to on a lonely dark street one night?"

So if there was hope for me there is indeed hope for all.

That one last thing we cling to so fiercely. I think I know why. Because the evil one knows that once we let go of that he has lost the battle. It is over. So he will bring every thing he can against us.

I hung on to my desire to have the right woman first & to have my dream of being a published author. "Let me have those, God. Then I will surrender." The truth is I would still have hung on to what I wanted even if I found those dreams. I trusted myself more with my happiness than I trusted God.There will always be one more thing to cling to. I now trust God more than I trust myself. I trust my relationship with Him more than I trust rules & regulations. I am a simple man & I continue to believe the more of Jesus I invite to reside in my heart the less I will speculate about rights & wrongs. That tiny voice will guide me. Oh, sure I will get off track during times when it seems I am on earth & God is on Pluto. I felt that way recently. Julie & I were both struggling so much with disappointment. It reached a pinnacle one day when we both woke not wanting to face the day. I have struggled with depression most of my life. Two major bouts almost took my life when I made decisions that left me emotionally exhausted. You know the worse part of those battles? It was that first waking moment when you knew you had to somehow try to manage another day. One night, during the last severe battle of depression in 2001, I parked the car in the garage. I was drunk & listening to Jackson Browne on the CD player. I thought maybe if I just drift off to sleep it won't really be suicide. I don't know if I nodded off or not. I do recall that even though I was so angry at God that I wanted nothing to do with Him that in hind sight he sent to me the one image that would persuade me to shut the engine off & walk inside. It appeared from nowhere. The image of my beautiful son, Micah's face. I did not want to live but I also knew that he might never recover if I did not cut the car off right then. I turned the key & lived for another day, a day when the intense pain & disappointment of this life would fade away. It was not easy & I could not take any medication because I suffered such severe side effects. One day the dense fog rolled out. I lived in fear for a long time that it would return but it never did. Not in that manner or intensity.

So on that morning we woke to despair & disappointment I finally had the good sense to lead my family. I took Julie's hand & we pressed in to God, shutting down the influence of the Enemy. As Julie says, "Are we going to go by what we feel or what we know to be true?" And we know our God to be good & for us & not against us. Since that morning I have slept better than I have in ages. No supplements to aid my sleep. Even afternoon naps have become one of deep sleep.

We, (& please note I say we, not you) love to grab a hold of scripture that makes us feel good. I think a prime example is Jeremiah 29:11. Another thing my wise wife says often is, "We don't get to cherry pick the scriptures."

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

That sounds awesome, right? What about the two scriptures that follow?

Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

Do you ever notice how often the word all is required? All of our heart. All of our dreams. I am not aware of a scripture that says give up this, this, & that & you can keep this.

My Mom, who next Sunday will have moved on to her party in Heaven for two years, use to tell me all the time that God wanted all of me. She was right as she was in many things. She was also the finest example of being Born Again that I knew. We have lost that term for the most part. I find that very sad. Jesus thought it important.

John 3:3 "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."

He didn't say if you follow the advice of  your priest or minister that you would see the kingdom of God. He did not say if  you do this, this, and that but not that you would see it. He said you must be born again. Sadly, we have many church leaders that have not experienced the supernatural moment of being born again. They were living life like Mom.  She was in church & she followed the rules & regulations of religion but she lacked relationship. She had a supernatural encounter with God when He showed up during a dark time & she was never the same for the remaining decades of her life. He took up residence in her heart. She admitted things about herself when I will bet you anyone would have said she was a wonderful Christian lady & she was. But she became so much more. As my son, Micah, wrote once. Even in her dementia there was a grace about her that drew people in. She was my hero. She still is.

I have heard people say they have that one more thing & then they will turn it over, or that they were trying to turn it over. It is not something you have to try to do. There is also nothing or no one in this world worth keeping the fullness of relationship with God from you.

I learned that one day when I turned the wheel over as I drove down the road. I tell people often that my vision of that day is that God, turned to the host around Him, & said, "I have his attention. Let's go to work."
And boy did He ever go to work.He knew that I meant what I said. I did not rush up an aisle. I did not go through a series of steps. I simply released. That is all it takes. Surrender all your heart.

That was in January of 2012. By September of 2013 I was enjoying my forth month of marriage with my wife, Julie, who surpassed all my hopes I ever had about a woman. I am not deserving but I also was wise enough to not refuse the gift God granted me with her. That same month I received an email from a traditional publisher offering me a contract for The River Hideaway. A story about two young men, one black, one white, & the friendship that they strike up during the racially charged times of 1967. I wrote most of the story in 1998 & had given up getting published after many rejections. Come on. Even the biggest of skeptics can't see this as anything but God, can you? Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

And God is greater than all & I am living proof that there is nothing worth clinging too. Not one thing. Don't be so slow like me & waste so many years. I am nearing 60 years of age & sometimes I feel like my life has just begun. Maybe because it many ways it really has.