God of My 20’s: My Walk with Him

(Post #2 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger Art Fahy

I was twenty years old when I was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1967. The country was in turmoil. Demonstrations against the Vietnam Nam War flooded the television nightly news. The political arena was turned upside down. Families were divided concerning the war and politics. The world was experiencing complete mayhem. People turned a deaf ear to each other. The attitude was, “I’m right, and you’re wrong.”

Our language incorporated new phrases like, “Do your own thing,” “Down with the establishment,” “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” It was as if there was a green light dangling in the sky giving everyone permission to do anything they desired. We were all doing our own thing. We thought freedom was doing what we wanted as long as it didn’t hurt anyone. Consequences meant little. In fact, we rarely thought about consequences.

By the ’70’s, I was married with two children. I was journeying down a very dark road and didn’t know it. My wife pleaded with me to attend church. I would tell her, “Church is not for me.” My bible knowledge was limited to the “Thou shall nots.” It was like the seed found in Matthew 13:4: “The seed fell along the path and the birds came and devoured it.” The small amount of religious education was lost in the clammer of the outside world.

I finally crashed and burned. I had nowhere to go. I felt lost. I didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t know who to talk to. I cried out to God, and I wasn’t sure if He heard me. Why would he? January 1981 I found myself in my pastor’s office accepting Jesus as my Savior. I was thirty-three years old.

Unfortunately, I was not a serious student of the Bible or following Jesus. I returned to my old ways for over three years, and in that time I was divorced and lost a good job. In 1987 I cleaned up my act and became a member of a twelve-step program. This program brought me closer to God, and I began to begin a relationship with Him.

It wasn’t until I was fifty-four and at the urging of my second wife did I attend church and join a small group that my relationship with God began to flourish. I was baptized in, of all places, Las Vegas. I look back and wonder why did it take me so long to follow? Today, I know and believe I am on God’s time. He is in control. His plan for me is far better than any I could come up with.

Jesus tells us in John 16 we are going to have trials, but He has overcome the world, and we can find peace in Him. That is where I find my peace today-in Jesus Christ. When I react to people, places, or situations, I must ask myself what is my relationship with God right now? This allows me to alter my attitude and return to the path He wants me to walk on.

At 72 I look back over the years from the time I accepted Jesus as my Savior until I actually began living the way He wants me to live. I feel saddened. What I learned is, that was His plan for me, the way He wanted it.

I’ve had some rough times while walking with the Lord. I know and believe He is with me during the good  times and the tough times. The more I lean on Him the more comfort and love I feel. The more I studied His word life began to open up for me. I always wanted to write, and in 2010 I self-published a book. That same year I began writing a column for a Christian newspaper in Las Vegas called The Answer. I wrote for them for almost five years.

Following Jesus has given me a new outlook on life. Looking at life the way He does broadens my knowledge of who He is and how He sees me. I am blessed I have the opportunity to live the way He wants me to live. I stumble at times but regain my balance by asking for forgiveness and repenting.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Sin is no longer my master. I am free from its grip because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He gave His life for me. I certainly can turn my life over to Him.

Suffering: A Story To Share, Accept, and Embrace

Came across this tweet yesterday from a soon-to-be-released book by author K.J. Ramsey:

I wonder how much less anguish we would experience in suffering if the church treated suffering like a story to tell rather than a secret to keep until it passes.

Then this morning our pastor, while focusing on Jesus’ coming to experience human life, categorized suffering into three types:

  1. Suffering we can avoid
  2. Suffering we cannot avoid
  3. Suffering we must not avoid

Both of these thoughts need sharing and dialoguing.

There is power is sharing how our choices led us to suffering we could have avoided. Our focus can be directed to the truth of scripture and the forgiving, unconditional love Jesus came to bring.

There is healing in accepting how circumstances out of our control don’t go unnoticed by God. Our focus can be directed to his sovereignty and the relatability Jesus has to offer.

There is strength in embracing how running from something we don’t want may keep us from what we need. Our focus can be directed on God’s promises and the model of endurance and commitment Jesus completed through his resurrection.

Heard

(Post #4 in a 5-part series collaboration)

By Aaron Pilant (bio below)

When I was preparing to get married twenty years ago, I remember some very important advice that the marriage counselor gave us both.  He said that communication is the key to any successful relationship.  He went on to say that if we could learn to communicate well with each other, our marriage would be a success.  No problem.  I like to talk.  She likes to talk.  Done.  Twenty years later, I have learned that communicating is not just talking, but being heard as well.  I have also learned that communication is not always verbal.  Actually, most communication is non-verbal.  The communication you are reading right now…non-verbal.

I am a Christian who committed his life to Christ at the age of thirteen.  My “salvation” experience occurred when I was alone in my bedroom late at night.  I had been struggling with this decision for some time.  I was wrestling back and forth.  That night was different though.  I remember being in bed trying to sleep, but I was unable to stop thinking about God and my relationship to Him.  I was raised in church.  My parents dragged me and my siblings to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.  I participated in church clubs and activities, but secretly I was battling in my inner heart and mind.  I knew how to give my life to Christ by surrendering to Him, but for some reason I resisted.  That night in June, I was back wrestling within again.  This night was different, though.  This night, I felt that I could no longer put this decision off.  There was a sense of urgency within me.  This is where I first remember hearing from God.

I think it’s important to know, I have never audibly heard God’s voice.  I have never seen writing in the sky.  What I heard was within.  I was given a vision of my reality apart from God.  Then I heard within myself, “Why are you waiting, Why are resisting me?”  The vision was unpleasant.  The question burned within my mind, my heart, my soul.  I finally yielded that there was no good reason.  I then poured my heart out to God asking Him to forgive me of my sin and stubbornness.  I then committed to following Him as my Lord.

So from that day I have worked diligently and sometimes not so diligently to hear God in my life.  I will say this-there are times when I can’t hear God.  But there are many times where I hear God speaking to me in my heart.  Every time I hear from God, it is within.  Sometimes it is words.  Sometimes it is peace.  Sometimes it is just a feeling.  I am usually able to determine that it is God when the communication that I am receiving is far from what I would naturally want to do or like to do.  They are always in line with His word and often confirmed through scripture being brought to my mind.

I want to conclude by saying God doesn’t always speak to me when I want him to…or speak to me in the way I want Him to.  There have been many occasions when I have pleaded God for answers and none came.  I have spent hours, days, weeks, and months waiting.  I do get frustrated when waiting for these answers.  Funny, though, I am soon reminded of Isaiah 40:31 or a verse very similar.  I think, though, there are very good reasons for the lack of answers at times.  I know that when the answers are not readily available I spend more time talking with Him, calling out to Him, pleading with Him, crying to Him.  I wonder if the reason that answers are not always so available is because God wants to spend more time with me.  Or probably more accurate, He knows I need more time with Him.  I have often been told that life is not about the destination but the journey.  I believe that our walk with God is the same.  If you can’t or don’t hear Him, He doesn’t want you to give up.  He wants you to spend more time with Him until He knows you are ready to hear what He has for you.  God speaks to us all.  We just need to learn to listen.


Blogger Bio:  Aaron Pilant married Erin Pilant nearly 20 years ago. They have a 16-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. Their very favorite thing to do as a family is go to Disney World, and they do it often.

Hey Leader…Get Some Help

A copy of this Carey Nieuwhof book was given to me recently. Just finished reading it. Worthwhile.

I want to pass along one paragraph that may be one of the most helpful practices in the book. In chapter five entitled “Don’t Quit,” Nieuwhof lists five practices that have helped him, the founding pastor of a multi-site church near Toronto, persevere. The second practice reads:

2. Get some help. A decade ago I sat down with a counselor for the first time. Jim helped me get through some key issues, and he helped my wife, Toni, and me navigate some of the pitfalls common to couples when one is called into ministry. I’ve seen a few counselors over the last decade during different seasons and am quite sure I wouldn’t be in ministry today if it weren’t for their influence in my life. When I’ve been tempted to quit moments before a key breakthrough, my wife, prayer, wise words from others, and the help of a counselor made all the difference. I really believe God uses other people to speak to us. Interestingly enough, I don’t know of a single influential ministry leader who’s made it over the long haul who hasn’t been through some form of formal or informal counseling. My only question is why I didn’t go sooner.

Leader, consider the practice of your colleague. Get some help.

Are We Doing Church Right?

A friend (thanks, Pat) recently loaned me a copy of David Platt’s latest book, Something Needs To Change. If you’ve read anything by him, I’ll go ahead and suggest you haven’t read anything like this one. Platt chronicles his week-long journey through the Himalayas where he came face to face with some of the most difficult questions and challenging needs in the world. Because he’s reacting, you react. Because he’s questioning, you question. And nothing is outside the realm of analysis. Even the church.


In chapter six, Platt shares the lives of church leaders in the Himalayas. Their work is not easy. And it’s quite different than the majority of church leaders in other countries-vastly different from American churches. At the end of the day, he was asked to do some teaching and training. Here’s an excerpt of his thoughts about that time:

Over the coming hours, we walk through all kinds of pictures and passages in the Bible describing the church as God designed it. As I’m teaching and we are all discussing what we see in God’s Word, I am struck with a fresh realization.

Looking at the Bible to see how God has designed the church is exactly what needs to be done. As I had reflected a couple of days ago, these villages needed the church in them, but they don’t need an American version of church; they need a biblical version of church.

As I walk through the Word with these leaders, it hits me that so many of my conversations about the church in America are often focused on cultural traditions that are extrabiblical at best and unbiblical at worst.

For example, as I read the Bible with these brothers and sisters, we don’t see anything about constructing church buildings or organizing church programs or managing church staffs, topics that so many church conversations in America revolve around. It makes me wonder, Why are Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches in America so focused on what is not in the Bible? As I ask myself this question, I can’t help but think that one of the greatest needs not just in the church in the Himalayas but in the place where I live is for us to open our Bibles with fresh, unfiltered eyes and ask, “Are we really doing church the way this book describes it?”

American Christian, it’s a fair question. If you aren’t convinced, get a copy of this book. After you’ve read it, come back to the question. We must be open to the possibility that we are not doing it right. And if that’s true, what are we going to do about it.

Twist on a Good Question

If you are in church leadership, it’s possible in some conference or workshop you’ve been asked this question: “If your church closed its doors, what would the community lose?” Another way to word it, “Would anyone notice if your doors closed?”

Someone at my church recently shared they’d heard this for the first time. They responded like we probably all did the first time we were asked: Thoughtful, Challenged, Evaluating.


Last week I shared that question with someone else, but for a different reason. A comment had been made about my role at the church, to which I made a twisted connection with this question.

What if this question dropped from the corporate level to a personal level and every church member and staff member asked, “If I walked away from this church, what would be lost?” Another way to word it, “Would anyone notice if I stopped bringing what I’m currently bringing to the table?”

Now that’s completely different. But what would happen if every child of God thought more about what they bring versus what they receive? What would happen in the community if believers said, “I’m here. I’m for you. I’m bringing what I got to the table. I’m not going anywhere. How can I help?”

What’s Really Sacred?

We don’t understand what it means for something to be “sacred.” We live in a human-centered world among people who see themselves as the highest authority. We are quick to say things like “That isn’t fair!” because we believe we deserve certain rights as humans. Yet we give little thought to the rights God deserves as God. Even in the Church we can act as though God’s actions should revolve around us. The stories in Scripture are meant to show us that there exists something of greater value than our existence and rights. There are things that belong to God. Sacred things. His ark of the covenant, His command to Moses, His offerings in the temple, His Holy Spirit, His Holy Communion, His sacred Church. In all the above situations, people rushed into something sacred and paid the price. We shouldn’t be surprised; we should be humbled. We have all done things more irreverent than those mentioned above. Let’s thank God for His mercy and tread more carefully into sacred matters.

This excerpt is from Day 1 of a @youversion devotional plan by Francis Chan entitled Letters to the Church. I agree we have lost the understanding of something being sacred according to what God calls sacred. In addition, we often make things sacred without affirming with God whether they should be.

I’m guilty of saying or agreeing “That’s not Fair” about something God didn’t label sacred. I’ve set up my own sacred pillar similar to what is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. And I’ve paid the price for rushing in to the sacred as well as exalting the unsacred.

So how does this play out for us? A pretty clear example is in our relationships. We can rush a very sacred relationship (parent/child, current/future spouse) and destroy it by dismissing God’s role in it to force our wants in it. We can also make a relationship sacred that has no place being elevated to that position, particularly if we make it more sacred than our relationship with our Creator and Savior.

Chan has made me think. Where might I have mislabeled something as sacred? What God-ordained sacred things have I selfishly lowered their value?

Polititainment & The Gospel

Huh?

Exactly. What is that and how do they go together? Let’s see if I can answer that question.

In Senator Ben Sasse’s book Them, he coined the term polititainment defining the work of journalism that combines coverage of politics while providing entertainment. He states the result is “we have a country of increasingly disconnected people sitting around watching news that riles them up…The pressure to belong, the desire to belong, makes people forget the Golden Rule.” 

Americans are addicted to it. And we are paying the price. I observed this just a few blocks from our church office this past Monday while driving by 2020 presidential campaigners on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. Yes, you read that right-2020 campaigners. Maybe I’m clueless, but surely I can’t be the only person thinking that’s worse than walking by Christmas items on Walmart shelves before Labor Day. 

Much like writing a rare political blog post, I left a “what in the world” voicemail with the affiliated party’s local office. To their credit, they called me back to explain those campaigners were rogues unlawfully using the party name. In so many words, the party V.P. agreed we’re all paying the price of polititainment. 

And sadly, even our churches are included in the gouging. And the roaring lion seeking to devour loves it. He loves the division between believers, the distraction from purpose, and the disengagement of the gospel. Some of the loudest “Amens!” and thunderest congregational applauds given over the last ten years have followed politically charged statements about abortion, marriage, or homosexuality. Inside I’ve cringed because it felt like I was temporarily transported away from a gospel gathering and dumped into a party rally. Some believers have gone so far as to leave their local congregation over disputes concerning the placement of flags in the worship center. The lion roars while the gospel leaves the building.

American Christians, let’s learn from our brothers and sisters in other countries who may be without A/C, lyrics on a screen, padded seats, cars in the parking lot, bulletins, or carpet. Yet they gather underground, under trees, or in very crowded spaces hungry to hear the gospel because they don’t have a personal copy of it, in some cases because it’s not available in print. They would be quite confused by our mixture of politics and the gospel.

If you are curious how mixed these two things are in your own life, here’s a suggested exercise:

  • Compare the amount of time and avenues in which polititainment and the gospel are infused into your day. Those avenues could include social media, TV, books, music, emails, texts, etc. Keep a track of this for a week. Talk with God along the way, and by the end of the week see what you glean from your observations of your time engaged in these avenues.

Frankly, we American Christians should prioritize the Gospel over whether our church has a flag on the stage or not, whether our congregation is red or blue, which network personality to watch, or which party primary registration includes my name. The Gospel supersedes polititainment. Let’s die on the right hill.

Is this a shame post? To some degree, yes. But it’s meant to be more of a reality post. The American church is the frog in the pan of polititainment. It’s heating up. It’s time to leap out of that pan and into the one where the Holy Spirit has freedom, the Son is lifted high, and the Father’s name is hallowed.

Saying No to Say Yes (book review)

I don’t recall how I came across this book. I’m guessing it was a “if you like that book you’ll like this book” Kindle referral. God bless Kindle.

If you are remotely involved with pastors (you are one, you serve one, you sit under one, you counsel one, you plan to be one, you’re married to one, you are searching for one, you just hired one, you used to be one), this book is gold. Why? Because the church world more often than not fails when it comes to pastoral boundaries. Ask your pastor.

We cannot become an expert at anything if we are responding to everything.

If for no other reason, get the book for chapter three, Setting Boundaries in Anxious Congregational Systems. Congregations become anxious for all kinds of reasons. That’s part of community. In those anxious seasons, they respond in various ways. Chapter three discusses four of those: projection, scapegoating, triangles, and multigenerational transmission. Immensely helpful.

The greater the anxiety, the more primitive the functioning of members… The greater the anxiety and emotional contagion, the more primitive and reactive people become and the less capable of creative thinking.

Chapter three also introduces the topic of differentiation-the ability to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in one’s emotional functioning.

True differentiation is the ability to go home, not become emotionally reactive, and attempt to maintain a one-to-one relationship with key members of the family… Trying to keep everyone happy is not differentiation nor is avoiding or cutting off from unpleasant people. Differentiation is the ability to lead, set clear boundaries, say “no” when necessary, while at the same time building intimate relationships – even with those with whom we disagree.

All pastors will face boundary issues. It comes with the serving people career. If your pastor is up to pursuing excellence, he will agree with this final quote:

It is our job to preach, teach, and live a gospel that doesn’t depend on human over-functioning but on God’s grace.

Do him and yourself a favor. Get copies of this book and start creating healthy boundaries that connect to an overwhelming “Yes.”

Leadership Points

If you aspire to be a leader…If you currently have a leadership post…If you wonder how you’re doing as a leader, here are some points to consider (random and not exhaustive), especially for those serving the church world.

  • The only person to fear is the Holy Spirit.
  • Weigh carefully every “yes” and every “no.”
  • Be ready to say at any time, “I messed up.”
  • Expect disappointment, but don’t let it root bitterness.
  • Going to bed angry is always a bad choice.
  • You will never regret praying.
  • Professional Counselors are your friends.
  • Your weaknesses aren’t meant to bring you shame. They are reminders that you shouldn’t go it alone.
  • Horizontal affirmation will never be enough.
  • When you think you’ve communicated something well, ask yourself, “Did Grandma get that?”
  • God determines when you’re done.
  • The broader your reading the deeper your growth.
  • Your awe of God level produces your peace and contentment level.
  • Arrive prepared. Confess if you aren’t.
  • Assume you can always build more trust.
  • Thank the person or group who discovered the solution.
  • Believe someone else is the smartest person in the room.
  • You must meet people where they in order to lead them where they need to go.