Finding Joy in the Storms of Life

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

As Christians we face darkness, tribulations and storms frequently in life. In fact someone recently said you are either in a storm right now, coming out of a storm or heading into one! Well heck that doesn’t sound very encouraging. The source of our troubles can be very different and tragedy can strike at any moment… so let me ask you a question. Is it possible for a Christian to live a JOYOUS life EVERY day?

The Art of Joy

A few years ago I worked in an office with a gentleman named Art. This man seemed to be filled to the brim with joy… he always walked around with a pleasant look or smile. If you ever spoke to him, his voice was always soft and gentle and he would laugh at nearly anything. He never seemed to encounter a bad mood in the 10 YEARS I knew him!!! I mean, who did this guy think he is?! So one day at the time clock I asked him… Hey Art are you a Christian? He looked at me with a big grin and said… oh YES I love me some Jesus!

Wow, I wasn’t a Christian for very long in those days, in fact I loved the world more than I loved God and it showed in every aspect of my life. This guy Art had something that I wanted… that ambiance…. that overflowing spirit of God… that part of him that he couldn’t contain… it was like a huge billboard around his neck that read I LOVE JESUS.

How could I have that? I wondered. I never asked Art about it… I just kept living in the world, doing my thing. But not long ago, after a very long and boneheaded attempt at Christianity I discovered the secret to the Art of Joy:

Seek daily the presence of God.

My Pastor this Sunday said “Everything changes in the presence of God. Whether we are on a mountaintop or in a valley, everything changes in the presence of God.”

We are not guaranteed happiness in this life, in fact we can expect trials and tribulations… Storms will be frequent. It is not our circumstances that matter, but our Character. It is not WHAT is happening to us that matters, but HOW we respond. Here is what we find in the book of James 1:2-4:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

We know we can expect bad things to happen in life, and we know there are various ways we can respond to every bad situation that comes along. So how do we respond regularly in a way that pleases God? That’s a good question, that’s a very good question.

Words from God

Very recently, in the last week, God has given me two words…. Stability and Focus. The two words were given in much different ways and on different days, but they have helped open my eyes to what it means to seek daily the presence of God.

In my Christian life, I have had ups and downs spiritually speaking. Some days strong in the force, other days wanting to be left alone by everyone. I have had weeks of regular Bible reading followed by weeks where I never even cleaned the dust off the top. There have been seasons of active willful sin, followed by seasons of true repentance.

But as I sit here now, I don’t believe that is the way it is supposed to be.  When I hear words like stability and focus I think of my daily relationship with God. How seeking his presence daily will BRING STABILITY to all areas of our lives. How making God the one true FOCUS arranges everything else into its proper place. Your marriage or relationship will be taken to new levels, your work will be more fulfilling… in short ALL of your relationships will improve.

But how do we seek?

Many people think being a Christian is about a checklist… I went to church on Sunday, check… read my Bible today, check… prayed this morning, check… check, check, check! You can check off 100 things a day and still NOT have a close relationship with Jesus Christ!

So I have a word I want to pass on to you. Surrender. A relationship with Jesus is all about Surrender. Give up your life for Him, 100% of it, and trust that He can do it better. Let’s face it, I don’t know how old you are, but you have been living life all along, on your terms… your way. How is that working out for you?

Start today, and maybe for the first time ever, place Jesus on the throne over your life… you see He is not JUST your Savior, but He is also your LORD. Let Him rule over your life and sit back in awe over His plans for you… it may not look or feel like anything you imagined, but I can promise you it is far better than your best imagined life could be.

And this my friends is the secret to finding true joy in your life.

 

Stay Strong & Stand Tall

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A Man, A Gun and the Grace of God

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Copyright 2015 Tony Webster. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

A few months ago a naked man came to our Church with a loaded gun. This was a man I met a few nights earlier on a Thursday. We were in the middle of our Addiction Recovery group when he knocked on the glass doors of the church. He was a large man, about 6’4 who seemed very distraught. He told me he needed to give money to the church, so I handed him an offering envelope and he said he would need something much bigger.

That night he brought over $20,000 in cash to the church and was emotionally hurting. He was very depressed and didn’t know where to turn. Brother Larry sat with him and prayed over him and listened as he shared. After about 45 minutes, he seemed to be in higher spirits even smiling at times. The next day we (Larry and I) met with him at a local coffee shop and it was obvious he was feeling much better than the night before. We shared our stories with him and listened more to his story and at the end of that meeting, he came to know the Lord and gave his life to Jesus Christ. AMEN!

It was an amazing day in my spiritual journey as it was the first time I had ever walked someone through prayer to the saving grace of Jesus. That was Friday.

The next morning I get a call from the head administrator of our church. At this time I was the head of security and lived about a block away. She tells me a naked man is sitting in front of the church. It takes me about one minute to arrive at church and as I drive through the empty parking lot towards the entrance I see him.

The same man that came to the church on Thursday, and the same man that had coffee with me the day before and gave his life to Christ. He is sitting in front of the church, cross-legged. Head down. Hair so long his face is hidden. And yes buck naked.

As I get out of the truck and walk his way, it is not until I get about 15 feet away that I stop and see the gun on the ground next to his feet. A fully loaded 9-MM semi-automatic. Next to him is a pile of clothes and more stacks of money. For his privacy I won’t provide his name here, but I called out to him by name. He looks up at me with an empty stare and says “are you Jesus?”… my heart sank… I could only reply, no buddy, it’s Keith. He simply says “I cannot help you then” and looks down at the gun on the ground.

Fear and anxiety over what would happen next began to take over my mind, as I slowly backed away and entered the church through another side door. I told office staff to call 911 immediately. It was only minutes later that police had swarmed the area, it looked like the scene from a movie outside the church. It was then I was suddenly struck with grief, crying out to God… praying that he would not hurt himself or others.

Through the brick wall of the building I could hear the police commands to DROP THE WEAPON… and tears overcame me… as I hear a loud resounding gunshot through the wall. The sound of dozens of patrol officers, K-9 units and a helicopter was overwhelming. It was only moments later an officer inside the building reported… he’s alive and in custody. PRAISE GOD! My heavy heart lifted but the adrenaline and emotion wore on me.

This man was shot once in the arm by police and no one else was hurt.

In the days that followed I was able to visit him in the hospital, and when I entered his room he recognized me right away, with little memory of what happened in front of church that day. We spent great time together, praying and laughing and hugging. Today I am not sure where he is, but I only pray that the hand of God is over him continually.

The reason I want to share this story with the world, is not because of its newsworthy appeal. But because of a far greater reality… we are NEVER guaranteed a tomorrow. None of us. In fact, who can be sure what will happen in the next hour?

For most of my Christian life I had concern for those who were lost, particularly people I knew like friends and family, but this day changed something deep inside of me. If I really believed all of this Jesus stuff, how could I sit idly by as those around me, in great multitudes, walked right by me and straight into an eternity separated from God!?

This made me imagine If I was a firefighter sitting down for lunch at a restaurant. Across the street a building breaks out in flame on the first floor and I see countless people working in the floors above through all the windows. My Christianity was such that I would see all of that happening, and continue eating my sandwich. I have full knowledge of the fire that is about to engulf all of those unsuspecting people and yet I do nothing to warn them. I just go about my life.

We all look at that example and think of how ridiculous it sounds… I mean what kind of a monster would let those poor people suffer like that? And yet when I looked in the mirror of my Christian life, that was me.

God has brought new life in me recently, a spiritual revival if you will, a new calling to Ministry… and He has been crystal clear with me. Reach the lost. Time is short.

 

Stay Strong & Stand Tall

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Seeking the Presence of God

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Three times in one day different Pastors spoke on the topic of living in the presence of God. This was a just few days ago. Today in church, again, the message was the same… this time from a guest speaker from Canada who is visiting our church. It is clear that God has a very special message to send my way, the question really then becomes… am I ready to receive it?

For many years as a Christian I really struggled with connecting with God. There were all these people around me that would say things like, I just prayed to God, and know what I have to do. Except for me, those answers never came, at least not in a way I recognized. In a previous article I shared a story about this very question and how my first Pastor Mark Neal helped me find the answer.

But even as I thought I understood the answer, and the solution, still that closeness, or connection with God was fleeting. I went from not hearing God at all, to having ups and downs in my spiritual strength… one day high on Christ the very next in deep depression. There was even a time not long ago… I remember it vividly, it was a Saturday and it was a full day of revival in my life… I mean the spirit of God moved me ALL DAY! From the time I woke up until the time I went to sleep…. Spiritual VICTORY! It felt amazing. Then the very next day, I found myself walking from room to room, hiding and crying, with random suicidal thoughts… the whole day was dark, and dreary… I felt so alone and apart from God.

I recovered from that depression the next day, when I realized I was under a heavy spiritual attack of the enemy and rebuked those demons in the name of Jesus Christ. Those suicidal thoughts have never returned, because I have chosen to never let the enemy take me down that path ever again. As a Christian writer, I wanted to find more answers… what is it about my Christian walk that was creating this tide of spiritual strength followed by utter weakness? Why did one day feel so good and another like the worst day ever? This must not be the way God intended.

Then God began to speak, and this time in a way I heard loud and clear, through these various Pastors speaking the same message over and over. I needed to seek daily the PRESENCE OF GOD. But how? I pray multiple times a day, I read my Bible most days, I try to keep my thought life pure, and when I sin against God I am quick to repent. What am I missing?!

The answer came today… flooding over me as I stood in service… Be Quiet.

Whenever we close our eyes in prayer at church, I always begin sending my prayers up, talking and talking or letting the Pastor lead the prayer. But never have I just sat there quietly seeking his voice. The same is true of my prayer time at home.

So today begins a new day on this journey with Christ, where I plan to find time daily to sit in quite meditation and be alone with the God of the universe. Time where I will keep my mouth shut and just listen… sitting in His presence.

Is there any other place I would rather be? I can’t imagine one.

On this website I often like to share stories, insights, and information I have gathered on my walk and sometimes I like to challenge readers. Today I extend one such challenge to you. When is the last time you spent quality, one-on-one quiet time with your creator? Would you go on a journey with me? Where we spend the next seven days making a daily discipline out of seeking His presence? Maybe if we walk together we can share what we find, and maybe we can develop a new habit of carving out that time daily. Setting it aside as if it’s the most important thing to us.

Whenever you ask most Christians on a Sunday, what’s the most important thing in your life… the canned response is “God”. For the next Seven days will you join me in showing God that we mean it?

Stay Strong & Stand Tall

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URGENT Prayer Request…UPDATED PRAISE REPORT

There is an 8 year old girl who needs your prayer. Her name is Kayla and she is fighting for her life right this very moment. Would you raise up Kayla in prayer right now in the name of Jesus Christ? She needs healing and comfort along with her family. If you are able to share this in any way, please do. The more prayer the better.

Thank you Brother and Sisters

Keith

UPDATE: PRAISE REPORT –  I just got the news that Kayla has been released from the hospital and is now back home. There is a problem with her heart. She is on oral meds that regulate her heart and they are going to continue running tests. If the meds stop working she may need to go in for heart surgery. Please continue to keep her in your prayers.

Father GOD in Heaven, THANK YOU for bringing little Kayla home to her parents… Thank you for being a God of healing and comfort, thank you for hearing the prayers that were sent in Kayla’s name. All Glory goes to you Father in the name of Jesus Christ our King of Kings.

Amen.

Do Christians Need Church?

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Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

Many Christians today feel fed-up with Church, it might be the music choices, the dress code, the people or maybe they don’t feel the need for it in their lives. Some have been burned by other churchgoers, some have seen their local church divided over a moral failure of church leadership or infighting among its members. Some people think everyone is just fake and putting on a Sunday show, others grow weary of the constant needs of the church, either financially or otherwise. If this is you, if you are just completely at your wits end with church and see no real need to ever go back… please keep reading.

It is my desire to convince you of the necessity of the local church without quoting ONE SCRIPTURE. You might think that is weird, I mean hey, isn’t this a Christian blog? Yes it is. But here is the thing, I don’t believe I need to convince any Christian of what the Bible says about attending church. Most people would readily agree it’s what the Bible teaches. So in this article, I want to give you some other reasons that I believe you should consider.

Reason #1 Church is full of Sinners

Let’s face it, we all go to church BECAUSE we are broken and in desperate need of a savior… it is a regular meeting place of self-proclaimed sinners and a magnet for those who feel hopeless and lost. If we are expecting to meet people here who are perfect or even great on most days, we’re in the wrong place. Where do people come from, who lie, cheat, steal, gossip, spread rumors, have affairs and all other manner of debauchery? The answer… from all over. From all places, backgrounds, ethnic groups and yes… religions. Sure the people in a Christian church should strive to be better than that, we all should strive to be more and more like Jesus. That’s the whole point.

But do you know how many days I reflect Jesus Christ every waking moment? In 46 years, I haven’t had one yet. Does that mean I don’t strive every day? No. Every day is a battle my friend and when I go to any church, and I look around… I see all kinds of people engaged in battle. When we start to see others in church as people just like us, going through life, one battle at a time… we start to develop something that can be very helpful in our daily walk with Christ…. GRACE.

Reason # 2 Church needs us

Just as much as we need church for spiritual growth and fellowship, the church needs the local body of Christ to be actively building the Kingdom. We should always stay eternally minded and understand that there are people all around us wherever we are, that don’t know Jesus Christ. And until they are reached with the Gospel, they are facing an eternity of separation from God. Jesus loves each and every one of those people as much as He loves us, and we are here for one purpose… to bring the Good News to them. That is why God built His church, to reach the lost… and there is much work to be done.

Reason #3 We need fellowship

It doesn’t matter if you are extroverted or introverted, we all need fellowship with other Christian believers. Why? Because if you are not in fellowship there, you are somewhere else, and that other place has to be the world. See there are only two places to be… with God or with the world. There is no third option. It is more than likely that if a Christian fellowships with the world, he will be pulled away from God and back to his old lifestyle. We should learn to love what God loves and hate what God hates, the things of the world should be avoided and we should set our minds on spiritual things. God honoring things. Christian fellowship is just that, a gathering of men and women that gives glory to God while supporting and lifting each other up in times of need. It is living life together, through the great times and the tragedies… and it will benefit us all.

Reason #4 God tells us to go

Ok I’m actually cheating here a little bit, I am not actually going to quote scripture… BUT God does expect obedience from His children and He blesses obedience abundantly. The problem today is many Christians don’t even read their Bible, and the only teaching they get is from other people… which is ok if you have the right teacher! So where does the average Christian get the idea that God’s instructions are optional? Is tithing optional? To most Christians they would say yes. Is serving the poor, the widows and the children…is that optional? Yes again. Is praying optional? Of course!!!!

Or is it? Maybe none of those things are truly optional, maybe we just desire to disobey God. Maybe we don’t trust God at all, and think we can do life better. Maybe the Bible isn’t true at all? Maybe only parts of it are, the parts that fit comfortably into our current schedules and lives?

This may seem like I just tumbled down a rabbit trail here, but once you sift through my sarcasm you might realize what I am saying is this: Maybe we should stop acting like going to church is optional. Maybe we should try to act like it matters what the God of the universe has revealed to us as truth… and maybe, just maybe we should listen.

See you next Sunday.

Stay Strong & Stand Tall

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Feeling Hopeless or Unloved?

Living a Life of Hidden Sin

As you may have discovered if you have been looking around my blog, Jesus Christ has saved my life. For 35 years I was an Atheist and for many of those years in bondage to lust and an addiction to pornography. Today, at the age of 46 I can loudly proclaim that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and the God of first, second and fifteenth chances! He has forgiven my sins, shattered the stronghold of pornography in my life, restored my marriage and given me the promise of eternal life.

He is a God who can restore any life, and rebuild any shattered mess you find yourself in. Whether you suffer from anxiety, depression, fear, anger, lust, addiction to drugs, alcohol, co-dependency, eating disorders, financial ruin, grief, physical pain or any other affliction… Jesus Christ alone is the answer to a new and victorious life.

Does your life feel out of control? Hopeless? Do you feel like there is no way out? Do you feel like the pain is too much to handle? Do you just want to give up? Do you want to run away or even have thoughts of ending it all? I know I have. Life can be filled with pain and grief and unless or until we learn to find the one way to cope with the trials and tribulations of life… there will be no end to it. Life will continue to be a vicious cycle and we will sink further and further into a pit of despair.

If this sounds like your reality, let me share something with you… something that will change your life forever. There is a God who created all that you see in the universe. He created you, a unique being in all of His creation… there have been no others like you and never will there be another. Your DNA is yours alone. That same God knows and loves you more than anything else. He wants to have a personal loving relationship with you… but He wants you to come freely into His arms.

You have a choice to make, we all do. Turn away from God and face the world on our own, or turn towards God and leap into His waiting arms. You may look back on your life and your story is unique… but let me ask you… how has life been so far, doing things your way? When I asked that question of myself, I realized very quickly that I hated the life I had created under my own power. It was littered with destruction as a result of my sinful choices and I knew there had to be a better way.

Once you accept that you are hopelessly lost where you are, cry out to God and ask Him to forgive you for your life of sin… put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ and you too will be freely given the gift of eternal salvation. Not only that, but this call to faith will invite the Holy Spirit of God to come into your life and be your guide and counselor. You will learn to leave all of your worries, anxieties, fears, and old habits at the foot of the cross… and with time you will know what it means to walk in Victory.

You will become renewed, a new creation and as you walk side by side with Jesus your life will start to look more and more like His. Brother or Sister, if something you read above has appealed to you, or has described your life I want to encourage you to reach out to God right now, right where you are!

You can begin this new walk, this new chapter of your life this very moment… God is waiting. If you would like, it would be my honor to pray for you. You can leave a comment below and I will pray for you right away, or if you prefer privacy you can send a prayer request to standtallforchrist@gmail.com

God Bless You

Stay Strong & Stand Tall

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How Should I Pray?

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

One of the biggest aspects of living a Christian life is prayer time with God. For many Christians, especially new believers this is something that often sounds mystical or mysterious and many Christians have a lot of questions about prayer. In this article we want to explore how to pray to God, but also delve into other basic questions… what is prayer? Do you need prayer? Does prayer help?  By the time we finish it is my hope you have a good understanding of how to pray to God and how that daily discipline will change your life for the better.

So what exactly is prayer?

We see people around the world in prayer, people of all nations, all cultures, all religions… prayer is prevalent. In a generic sense prayer is a person communicating with a higher power. In the Christian faith prayer is our direct line to our creator, the one True God. Prayer is bringing your petition to God no matter what it may be… healing, strength, encouragement, direction, thanksgiving… in all things we should go in prayer (Phillipians 4:6).

Prayer is also a form of worship, when we give praise and thanksgiving to God for all that He has done in our lives and the world. We know that God is a very jealous God because He tells us so in scripture (Exodus 20:5), so we must be very careful to only pray in His name. Prayers should not be sent in the name of Mary or the Saints or anyone other than the Triune God… Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So how specifically should we pray to God?

The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to pray. We are all different and we will all connect with God in various ways. Some people like to find a quiet place where they can be alone with God, which I highly recommend. When there are no distractions and your environment is peaceful it will be much easier to communicate clearly. It is a good idea to set an appointment with God, a time and place each day where you know you will spend some quiet time alone with Him. In my experience I prefer to start my day this way, as it helps to invigorate me as I walk out the door and into the world.

On the other hand we do not want to become so structured that we only pray to God when our calendar tell us it is time. When you are going about your day, say small prayers… ask for help, give thanks or just let God know how you are feeling in that moment. Often times we may not know what to pray for and in these times we must rely on the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26) to intercede for us in our weakness.

Prayer is about a relationship with God, very similar to the relationship between a father and son on Earth. If a man on Earth needs help, or comfort, or just wants to share a part of his life with someone, he will often turn to his father. When a father sees his child going through a tough time, he wants to hear about it, and help him if possible get through it. This is no different than our Father in Heaven, who loves each of us more than we can imagine.

People often ask: Should I pray on my knees? Should I pray out loud? Or other such details. There is no one correct answer to these questions. In my day I spend time on my knees praying, sitting at my desk praying and even praying while I am working. There are times when I pray quietly and times when I speak out loud. There are times when I cry, sing, laugh and shout out in prayer.

So do I need to pray? Does prayer really work?

If you ever want a testimony about the effectiveness of prayer just ask anyone who prays on a regular basis. Prayer is a life-changing practice that will bring you closer to God. The closer you come to God the more peace and joy will fill your heart. You will learn to trust and rely on God more because you will start to see answered prayers unfold in your life. When Jesus Christ walked the Earth He spent a considerable amount of time in prayer because He wanted to leave behind an example for us to follow as Christians.

Keep in mind, it is more about you and your circumstances and God wants to know you on a very personal level… Yes He knows everything there is to know already, but more importantly He wants you to freely join Him in communion and share your life with Him.

Recently I wrote another article “Does God Always Hear Our Prayers?” where I discuss some ways that our prayers may be hindered as Christians… meaning God will purposely not listen to them. So try to remember, as I stated earlier, that it is all about relationship. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8). If you are living a life of willful sin, unconfessed sin or unforgiveness your prayer life will be hampered. On the other hand, when you learn to truly surrender all things to your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ your life will be taken to new spiritual levels.

Imagine for a moment your Mother lived very far away, in another state our country. The only way you communicate with your Mother is the occasional phone call, letter, email, visit etc. Now suppose I asked you “how close are you and your Mother?” and you replied very very close! Then I asked, when was the last time you spoke to her? You think hard and reply about 12 years ago. In this case your definition of “close” varies greatly with mine!!!

Understand that prayer is when we speak with God. Meditation on Holy Scripture is when God speaks with us. If you rarely pick up the phone to speak to your Heavenly Father then how close of a relationship do you really have?

So YES I believe if you desire to have a close relationship with Jesus Christ, a healthy regular prayer life is essential.

Stay Strong & Stand Tall

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