Since my wife and I left Family of Jesus Fellowship in 2001, my life has been turned upside-down and shaken violently. Friendships within that church which were closer than family have degenerated to casual uncomfortable conversation when we happen to meet. The former pastor of that church was my good friend and mentor for years. Regardless of any disagreements we’ve had, I still acknowledge him as a superb Bible teacher who inspired me to study and dig ever deeper into the Word of God. When we left that church, it was a hurtful and traumatic experience. Kathy and I had poured ourselves into the ministries of that church for several years.
Though sometimes Kathy and I were the only ones with a particular vision for those ministries (which caused some conflict at times), we shared common vision and worked together as a ministry team. She was my partner, and many times, my teacher.
For a while, we tried a few other churches, but never seemed to find the right place where we could work. Neither of us believed in being pew-sitters. Then, Kathy just gave up. She no longer felt the desire to be in a body of believers. I missed the fellowship, and I missed my ministry partner. We began to drift apart.
That’s where I made some of the gravest errors I’ve ever made in my life. I began suggesting that Kathy might be turning away from God because she didn’t want to be involved in a church. My old manipulative nature reared its ugly head, and I tried to make her feel guilty. I stepped in between Kathy and God… a place I should never have been! As a result, I did more damage to our marriage and perhaps to her relationship with God than any of the hurtful events that had driven us out of Family of Jesus Fellowship.
It had reached the point where the faith became a taboo subject for discussion between us. For years, we had been able to talk about anything, even if we didn’t necessarily agree. Issues of our faith had been some of the most meaningful conversations we had. But, I had ruined that because I went to that place I should never have gone. Eventually, we separated.
I found a good Bible-believing and teaching church not too far away. Victory Life Church was different for me though, because it was larger. I had been accustomed to a congregation of between fifty and one hundred on a Sunday morning. VLC had a regular attendance of about three hundred-fifty. The adult Sunday School classes were fantastic. I started to develop some friendships (and even some old friends from college I’d not seen in twenty years!). But, this large church seemed to have it all pretty much together. In the three years I went there, I never really found what my ministry was supposed to be in that body.
I was lonely. I would sit in the parking lot after church and watch couples and families and friends all coming out together; many would be going to eat together. It was depressing. I was lonely for general fellowship, but I was also lonely for the companionship of a woman. I wanted to try dating. There were actually several women at that church that I was attracted to, and they didn’t appear to have men. Appearances can be wrong. I had a bad streak. I was almost ready to ask two different women out, just for a casual meal or coffee, or something to get acquainted, when I discovered they were married. I was attracted to one other woman in that church, who I knew was single. She was one of the Pastors. I must have been sending some sort of signals, because she started avoiding me. It was getting difficult for me to go to that church.
Meanwhile, Family of Jesus Fellowship had gotten a new Pastor and changed their name to Lighthouse Community Church. They had sold the building, and moved into a maintenance nightmare. The pastor then was arrested for soliciting minors for sex on the internet. When I heard about this, my first thought was: “How the church must be devastated!” I was praying for them. Many of Lighthouse’s congregation were the remnants of Family of Jesus Fellowship, my old church family.
One Saturday night, I got a call from a good friend who used to serve as one of my musicians on the worship team at FOJF. Ron said that he’d stepped up as Worship Leader at Lighthouse since the pastor had gone to jail. He was practicing with the team, and wondering if I could teach them a few songs we used to do. I grabbed my guitar and went. After that practice, I agreed to play with them the next morning.
God told me about a week later (and I quote): “Go to Lighthouse and serve them in whatever way they need you for a season.”
I emailed both Pastors at VLC and told them of this directive from the Lord. I expected either to receive their blessing, or their warning. I got nothing. I was actually angry about that for a while. So, I availed myself to Lighthouse Community Church for whatever they may need me, for a season.
The church had lost quite a few people because of the pastor’s indiscretion. It’s unfortunate, but its also not surprising. So there were about thirty-five people. Four elders had been appointed by the pastor, and they were trying desperately to keep the church going. They alternated giving the Sunday morning messages.
About my third week there, I did a children’s sermon that I was told ministered to the adults greatly. They wanted me to preach. I accepted with a two week notice. I felt confident that I knew what to preach. It wasn’t my first time, and I had a message that just needed a little tweaking, and it would be good for this congregation. During the two weeks of tweaking, God kept telling me that was not THE message. I’d say: “No, God, this is a good message. I’ve got this!” But the Lord kept nudging me.
The Saturday morning before I would preach the next day, I finally surrendered, “Okay, God! You obviously don’t want me to preach the message I’ve been preparing. So… what?”
He said: “Where are you?”
“What do you mean, Lord? I’m right here in my car, driving to work!”
God said again: “WHERE ARE YOU?”
In Genesis chapter three, after Adam and Eve had eaten in disobedience of the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked. Of course, they’d always been naked; it just didn’t matter before. Then, when they heard God walking toward them in the garden (as was their daily routine, in the cool of the evening, the Lord would come and literally walk and visit with His man and woman), they were afraid. They were afraid because they knew that their condition (not nakedness, but disobedience and shame) would be obvious to the Lord. So, they hid in the bushes.
Does it seem so ridiculous to try to hide from God? I don’t know… There have been times in my life when I was ashamed of where I was and what I was doing, and I tried to avoid the presence of God. When I’ve been sinful, I tended to stay away from church and God’s people. And when I was intending to sin, I would go where I was pretty sure the Spirit of God was not, and where the sin I would be openly committing would be a natural part of the environment; where nobody would recognize me as a child of The Most High, or care what I was doing. So, if you can relate at all to my confession, I ask again, was it so silly to try to hide from God? Futile, yes. But not extraordinary.
In verse nine, the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” This was the revelation that God gave me about this Scripture:
First of all, God knew exactly where Adam was physically. The Lord’s enquiry was not to try to locate His man. In fact, I think that God walked directly up to Adam, looked him in the face, and said: “Where are you?”
The question was intended to cause Adam to examine himself spiritually. Their sin had already caused division between them and God. Suddenly, they were afraid of being in His presence, before He had even come to them. Adam and Eve were experiencing shame for the first time ever. They had known God’s will for them, yet they had chosen to disobey. Now, they knew there was no hiding their condition, and there would be consequence.
The message was that God still today asks us sometimes: “Where are you?” Sometimes we know we are not where we should be, both physically and spiritually. And sometimes, we deceive ourselves into believing we are in the right spiritual place; but in reality, we are nowhere near where God wants us to be. This often is the deception of religion.
During my service at Lighthouse Community Church, I preached and taught several times. I served as a musician and Worship Leader when Ron couldn’t be there. The elders invited me to sit in counsel with them a few times, as they sought a new Pastor. A few of the members had suggested that I may have been brought to them to be their pastor. I never really felt comfortable with that idea though.
Lighthouse was falling into a deep financial pit. They relocated to a much smaller building. They had a few potential pastoral candidates, but something always went wrong. Members were becoming discouraged and started vanishing. Within a three week period, three of the four elders resigned and left Lighthouse. The remaining elder, my good friend Steve was shaken. He knew he couldn’t hold it together by himself.
Steve approached the leader (Apostle) of a nearby church where he had been occasionally visiting, seeking his counsel. The Apostle made a recommendation that Lighthouse Community Church merge with Firm Foundation Ministries (which is housed in the former “Family of Jesus Fellowship” building!). The membership voted almost unanimously in favor of the merger.
So, in August 2006, Lighthouse Community Church dissolved and merged with Firm Foundation Ministries. It was a shock that shook some from the vine.
Although I don’t like labeling churches “white” or “black”, its important to understand the differences between these two churches that had merged. Of the approximately twenty-seven members of Lighthouse that had voted for the merger, they were 100% Caucasian. Lighthouse was a small independent church with Pentecostal tendencies, strong on the Word. The emphasis of every service was the preaching and/or teaching of the Word.
Whereas, Firm Foundation, when we joined, was about 85 – 90% black. The music was MUCH louder, definitely Pentecostal, and not so much emphasis on preaching. The cultural differences were just too big an adjustment for some to make. That is not to suggest any kind of prejudice or racism, but Firm Foundation were accustomed to a style of service that ministered more to the black culture.
My father was a racist. When I was growing up, it was the source of fierce conflict between him and me. I always considered myself to be open to other cultures. The truth is, I struggled here at Firm Foundation. For a time, I served on the praise team as a musician and singer. It was very frustrating for me. For example, they do not sing any hymns. I wanted to try to introduce some of the beautiful old hymns into the repertoire, but encountered a lot of resistance to the idea. I started to cry out to the Lord, “Lord, Lighthouse is no more! Is the season done? Can I move on now?”
He was silent on this.
Some people hop from church to church. When they become uncomfortable somewhere, or there’s some personal issues, they move on. I’m not like that. I believe God places me in a particular body of believers and wants me to minister there. That’s why I went to Lighthouse. And that’s why, until the Lord releases me to leave Firm Foundation Ministries, that’s where I’m going to serve. I want to be where God wants me to be. My discomfort or personal issues simply mean there’s something He wants to teach me, and that’s the place He wants to do it.
I’ve had some great times at Firm Foundation. God has spoken to me, and touched me repeatedly in this church, and directed me. I’ve had opportunities to teach, and minister. I’ve developed some good friendships.
There have been words of prophesy spoken over me regarding the call God has on my life as a writer and teacher in the Body of Christ. The Apostle and several other leaders in the church are very encouraging of me to walk in that calling. 2008 is the year that I am beginning to do that, and Firm Foundation Ministries are supportive.
I concluded 2007 accepting the call. Accompanying the call is cost.
My brother was at a loss for words. He called it “bad karma”, but didn’t seem comfortable with the words as soon as he’d spoken them. He assured me that I was a good person; yet something about my life seems to attract catastrophe. December of 2007 had visited me with unemployment. No time is a good time to be jobless, but the holidays are the absolute worst time. Most industrial jobs shut down during the Christmas-to-New Years stretch. Discerning this could be an extended condition, I applied for unemployment compensation. As of the beginning of February, I had still not received any money from them.
About a week before Christmas, my wife told me that she “loved [me] as a brother, but never again as a husband”. Although I’m not happy that my second marriage has failed, we had not really been husband and wife for five years. For five years, I had ridden the roller coaster of attempted (or glimmer of hope) reconciliation, to estrangement, to co-habitation, to friendship, and all over again. Roller coasters may be enjoyable, but they are short. Five years is a long coaster. I’m actually relieved to get off that ride! During our last two-week attempt at reconciliation, I was happy, yet cautious. I had prayed that God would “give me clarity”. The LORD answered that prayer a week before Christmas. It was not the answer I had wanted, but it was indeed abundantly clear!
January of 2008 delivered a downpour of hardships, piling and packed so tightly together that they were hardly distinguishable from one another. I had a car accident about 200 miles from home. Praise God no one was hurt! I also thank the Lord that it was so cold that night that the police officer that stopped to make sure we were okay and had help coming did not want to get out of his car. Had he checked my driver’s license, he would have discovered something I found out a week later: I had been driving for a year and a half with suspended license, without even knowing it. I likely would have been arrested. So, I had to borrow money to re-instate my license, and then my car became very disagreeable.
The weight of my problems seemed crushing to me. I cried out to God, reminding Him of His promise that I would not suffer more than I can bear, yet this seemed too much! When we are in the depths of our wallowing, the good things can seem almost invisible. Yet, two specific times, while I screamed and cried in anger and despair, I suddenly became aware that my Lord was right there beside me. The first time, I was enraged at my wife because she had just started a job and had promised that when she got her first paycheck, she’d help me with some of the bills. After all, I had supported her through many extended periods of unemployment. She changed her mind. I went for a very long walk in temperatures around zero degrees Fahrenheit. I called a good brother in the Lord who is a longtime friend and an elder of my church. We talked on my cell phone for an hour while I complained, yelled, and walked.
Suddenly I said, “I must be on the verge of a GREAT blessing, because I am under serious attack!” In that instant, the truth of my words resounded in my spirit and I felt Jesus there walking with me. By the end of that conversation, I was declaring that I am going to begin walking according to the calling God has on my life, as a writer and teacher to the Body of Christ. I confessed a tug on my heart to return to teaching the teen Sunday School in my church. Several years ago, my wife and I had co-taught, and those were some of the best times of my life. I turned back toward home and was up until 3:30 a.m. composing a curriculum for teens.
God asked me again, “Where are you?”
He wanted me consider why all these hardships were coming against me. He led me to Daniel chapter three:
“Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.
If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.
But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:15-18 NKJV)
Again, my Lord enquired of me: “Where are you?”
I was in the fiery furnace! The trials and tribulations I was experiencing were the flames. The furnace was not a place of punishment for me. It was a place of testing my commitment to the calling. Would I remain faithful to what I was about to do in the Lord? Would I have the courage to say, along with those three Hebrew teens, “God is able to deliver me from this fiery furnace; but, even if He does not, I will not bow down to any other!”
Simultaneously, the Lord reminded me that:
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”
“Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Daniel 3:24-25 NKJV)
Good news from the fiery furnace! I was not alone! Jesus was in there with me. I was no longer bound by the powers and principalities that had cast me in the furnace; but could walk freely about and not be consumed.
It has just occurred to me, and I hope that I’m not taking liberty with Scripture, that there is a similarity between the walking about in the midst of the fire with the Lord and Peter’s walk on the stormy sea with Jesus.
In Matthew 14:25 – 32, the disciples were in a boat on the stormy sea when they saw Jesus coming to them, walking on the water. Since this was unexpected, they thought it was a ghost, but the Lord called to them, assuring them it was Him. Peter said, “If its You, Lord, call me to come to You, and I will.” Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter disregarded the reality that he was just a man with no special powers, and he stepped out of the boat onto the raucous sea and walked toward the Lord. As long as Peter kept his focus on Jesus, he was able to walk above the circumstances. I believe Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego also kept their focus on the Lord Who was there in the midst of the fire with them, and so, were unharmed by the circumstances. And as long as I kept my focus on Jesus, I could do the same.
However, Peter suddenly took his eyes off the Lord, looked around, and realized that he could not possibly walk on water. So he began to sink. Peter and I have that in common. Despite my rejoicing and peace and security in Who was in the fiery furnace with me, I lost my focus. I became tired, scared, and hot.
Peter immediately called out for the Lord to save him, and Jesus did. Unfortunately, I fled from the furnace. And for a couple months, I busied myself with other things. I filled my thoughts with a relationship that was rebellious, and expended my energy for endeavors that God didn’t want for me. I still confessed my calling, but I wasn’t walking in it, or even in that direction. I was not where God wanted me to be. I knew it, but I wanted so much for it to work. I got further and further from my calling.
Not surprisingly, a large boatload of troubles had set anchor on my head. These were not the same troubles (however they may appear similar) as the fiery furnace trials. These were the direct consequences of my sin and rebellion.
Again, God asked me, “Where are you?”
Like the prophet Jonah in chapter two, I was in the belly of the great fish. It was a place of solitude, but not rest… where I could only ponder the consequences of my rebellion. It was a trap that left me completely helpless to escape or move or change my situation.
And like the prophet, I cried out to God from this place of disobedience. And He heard my cry. I surrendered.
Just a few days ago, I believe the great fish responded to God’s command and vomited me onto the beach just outside Nineveh. After physically recovering from the trauma, I am thankful that God has been merciful and patient with me. As I renew my commitment to His purpose for my life, I hope He will again use me to fulfill His will.
He asks me now, “Where are you?”
And I respond, “Here am I Lord. Use me. I want to be where you want me to be.”
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