Sunday, December 28, 2008

Generation G by Marty Norman

Generation G, by Author Marty Norman, is an excellent book that gives advice for savvy grandmothers. Grandmothers of this generation are different than grandmothers of the past. Things and times have changed. Grandmothers are not like the images we have of them sitting in a rocking chair, in the kitchen with their apron, or sitting on the back porch watching the world go by. Grandmothers of today are active. They travel, teach, preach, have jobs and stay in shape Grandmothers of today are savvy.

Marty Norman writes and gives advice on how a grandmother can reach her grandchildren in a way that is not preaching...but teaches how a grandmother can win them over in wisdom, hope, strength & love. A grandmother has many opportunities to help, teach, play and learn with their grandchildren. The book, Generation G, gives ideas on how to keep in contact with grandchildren that live in another state. This book also gives ideas on family traditions, play times, vacations, etc.

The greatest part about Generation G is that it helps you, the Grandmother, find your own style and footprint that will reach your grandchildren in years to come. As a grandmother, this is a book that I highly recommend. I have taken notes, made plans and have started making my own legacy with my grandchildren. Buy Generation will be one of the best decisions you've ever made.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Gift of a Home

When I checked my e-mails this morning, I saw that I had received one from my sister-in-law. The message was titled "You made us feel so welcomed!". I opened it and the message stated that when they walked through our front doors - they felt welcomed. They said they appreciated all the time I had taken to decorate our home for the Christmas season and how they knew any family gathering at our house was one that would be a time filled with fun, there would be plenty of great food, and the pressence of God would be felt.

I don't think I could have received a better compliment. When I invited all of my husband's family over for Christmas Eve, I really only thought that I had the best house for the function. I knew we had enough room to get everyone in and fed comfortably. But I saw that nothing was said about the size of our house, it was what was inside.

So, as I write this morning's devotion, please remember if you have four walls, a roof, and a front door where guests may enter, don't take it for granted. In a world where many are homeless and hungry, a home is a precious treasure, meant to be shared. It can be a castle or a cabin, a townhouse or a tiny apartment. However, large or small, however elegant or plain, if you can call it home, it is a gift. And if those within your walls love each other and love God, you home can be a tiny outpost of Heaven in a reckless world.

My prayer today is you ask people over, pray that everyone will feel at home and loved. Don't invite only those friends you feel comfortable with. Include some who need ministry and some who need friends. Then throw open your doors and watch God work. It is His home!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Marketplace Memos

Marketplace Memos is a wonderful book written by a father-son team to encourage those that work in business and are under the everyday pressures that come with working in the marketplace.

In a tough economy, this book is excellent and gives encouragement, biblical principles and practical insights to Christians who want to be "Kingdom Catalysts" in the marketplace. Each memo addresses a practical theme, especially written for businesspersons. There are three sections in Marketplace Memos and they are True Riches, Kingdom Business, and Leaving a Legacy. At the end of each memo there is a Scripture for meditation through out the day, a maxim for reflection, a guide for prayer, and a call to action.

This is one that I highly recommend and I cannot wait to give it to my husband as a gift. I know he will be blessed as much as I was. Run out and get your copy!

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card authors are:

and the book:

Marketplace Memos

New Leaf Publishing Group (October 20, 2008)


David Shibley is founder and president of Global Advance, a ministry that trains and resources thousands of church and business leaders every year in many of the world's most underserved nations. Having ministered in almost 60 nations, David has a passion to strengthen and encourage national leaders to advance God's kingdom worldwide. David and his wife, Naomi, have two married sons.

Jonathan Shibley serves as vice president of Global Advance. His primary focus is directing the Marketplace Missions program for equipping business leaders in developing nations. He also is engaged in international business. Before joining Global Advance, he earned a business degree from Baylor University and served with Promise Keepers and Teen Mania. Jonathan and his wife, Sarah, have three children.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 13.99

Hardcover: 173 pages

Publisher: New Leaf Publishing Group (October 20, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0892216786

ISBN-13: 978-0892216789


Giving Living

Years ago, a disgruntled man stormed up to Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, after he heard Dr. Pierce preach. The angry man snarled, “I guess all there is to this Christianity is give, give, give.” Reflecting later on that encounter, Dr. Pierce chuckled, “It just goes to show that even with the wrong spirit a man can get some revelation and truth!”

The often-quoted maxim – “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give” – is true. Here are seven practical benefits of giving for God’s Kingdom purposes and the fulfilling of the Great Commission.

Your gift goes where you may never go. Your gift is an extension of yourself. You receive money in exchange for your investment of time and life. So when you give for Kingdom purposes, in a real sense you’re giving a part of yourself. Your gift says you want your life to count for what is eternal. Americans are generous, and Christians in America are especially so. There are many legitimate causes, but I don’t know anywhere givers can get more done for the dollar than in giving to world missions.

Giving living loosens the grip of materialism. I noticed a bumper sticker on the back of a sports car that read, “The man who dies with the most toys…wins.” But Jesus taught that the man who dies with the most “toys” is a short-sighted fool. It’s time for us to stop loving cars and clothes and start loving countries! If God so loved the world that He gave His Son, we need to so love the world that we invest in being sure everyone everywhere hears about His Son. I’ve driven through the poverty-drenched streets of Kolkata and the wealth-lined avenues of Beverly Hills. In both environments I saw desperate people. Jesus wasn’t kidding when He warned, “Beware of covetousness because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.” God calls us to embrace biblical prosperity while rejecting materialism. We can do both; we must do both.

You experience the eternal principle of sowing and reaping. Some churches in Africa practice a unique form of church discipline. If a professing Christian is living in sin, he is allowed to come to church, but he is not allowed to give! When the offering place comes to him, the usher places his hand over the plate and prevents him from giving. It is a powerful statement that the blessing of God is literally being prevented from coming to the unrepentant man’s life. It’s an eternal law woven into the very fabric of the universe. Farmers call it the law of sowing and reaping. Scientists refer to it as cause and effect. It’s reinforced throughout the Scriptures. The pattern is clear: you must sow in order to reap.

You lay up treasures in heaven. Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” A businessman once approached me and said, “I need more of a heart for missions. What should I do?” I replied, “Write out a $2,500 check for missions and sow it to the harvest, and I promise you, you’ll have more of a heart for missions.”

It just works that way. Where your treasure is (present tense), there your heart will be (future tense). Although “you can’t take it with you,” you can send it on ahead! This very day you can lay up treasures in heaven.

God will supply your every need. Are you ready for a jolt? Philippians 4:19 is not a promise for every Christian. It’s a great verse: “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” But it is not a carte blanche to be claimed at will by anybody. No, this promise is given exclusively to those who invest in advancing the gospel.

Read the context. Paul told the Philippians they were the only church that had invested to send him on his first missionary journey. As a result of their gift to launch Paul to the nations, he promised that God would supply their every need. Yes, you can claim Philippians 4:19 if you give for the advance of the gospel.

You experience the joy of making a difference in the world. I make no apologies for challenging American Christians to tear loose from some of their money and give it to advance Kingdom causes worldwide. Jesus taught, “To whom much is given, from him much will be required.” With blessing comes accountability. There is a longing inside every true Christ-follower to make a difference for Him. We do not bear sole responsibility for world evangelization, but because of our affluence and influence, we do bear heightened responsibility.

You experience the significance of participating in God’s global purposes. A businessman thanked me for the opportunity to give to Global Advance. He tearfully said, “You give me purpose.” For this man, building his company is not the bottom line. He goes beyond the bottom line to build Christ’s Kingdom through building his company.

You move past mere success to true significance by aligning your life with God’s primary purpose. God’s primary purpose is to see His Son known, loved, and worshiped by redeemed people from every tribe and nation. And you are part of that plan. Live to give.

Remember: “Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Reflect: “What do your offerings say about your heart levels of gratitude and love for God? What does your spending say about what’s truly important on this earth?” – Robert Morris

Pray: That God will make you a joyful giver to His Kingdom causes.

Act: Where is the Holy Spirit directing you to invest for Christ’s Kingdom today?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Assaulted by Joy

Assaulted By Joy is an uplifting book that gives you confidence that you can live the Christian life. As author, Stephen Simpson, states that a relationship with God can be frustrating and frightening. When one gives their live to God they are usually not told that they will go through trials and tests. But as a Christian we all know that there are hills and valleys we must walk through.

This book, Assaulted By Joy, is a story about the author that gives his life to God at an early age. However, he faces many things as he grows up. The teenage years can be very difficult and even tho he was in a good church he felt alone many times. As Stephen Simpson goes through school, college, career and marriage he remained a Christian, but a cynical one. The definition of a cynic is "A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative".

When Stephen and wife heard they were going to have quadruplets fear took over them. What if the babies were not born healthy? How would they raise 4 babies? But doing the pregnancy, birth and first year of the babies lives, Stephen learned what true joy is. Learning to submit to God's will was the biggest lesson he learned.

I recommend this book to any man that wonders if he is in God's will or has fear in his life. I believe that after they read this book they would find the joy that Stephen found.

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Assaulted by Joy

Zondervan (October 1, 2008)


Stephen W. Simpson has a PhD in clinical psychology and an MA in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. The coauthor of What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew about Sex, he teaches psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary and also has a private psychotherapy practice. Stephen and his wife, Shelley, live with their four children in Pasadena, California.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310283779
ISBN-13: 978-0310283775


Introduction: Assaulted by Joy

I’m returning from a four-mile run at 8:30 a.m. on a Friday. A chorus of “Dada!” greets me as soon as I open the door. Hayley looks up at my baseball cap and shouts, “Daddy wear funny hat!” and breaks out laughing. A court jester had replaced the docile little girl of only a few months before.

My wife Shelley scurries past me, carrying a laundry basket.

“Are you ready to take over?” she asks.

“Let me change shirts,” I answer. “I’m pretty sweaty.”

In confirmation of this, Ella points at my shirt and proclaims, “Daddy all wet. Daddy sticky mess!”

“Right you are, El –Belle,” I say, kissing her on the forehead before rushing off to change clothes.

At one year and three months, the children can walk without falling, but they have yet to develop the speed and agility that will turn them into a roaming toddler hit squad. They are coordinated but not dangerous. Thus, we can now care for our children without the assistance of the National Guard. I can even take care of them by myself sometimes, though it isn’t easy. At first, I was petrified whenever Shelley left me alone with the kids. I thought that one wrong move would land somebody in the hospital. Now I’m learning that the stakes aren’t so high. I take one-hour shifts before I go to work in the morning. Friday mornings are the best because I get up early and run first. The exercise wakes me up and elevates my mood. That way, the children get to spend time with their father instead of some monstrosity that needs two cans of Red Bull before he can do more than grunt.

I emerge from my bedroom wearing a clean shirt and a fresh coat of deodorant. As soon as I walk out of the door, my son Jordan barrels into my legs. He stretches out his arms for me to pick him up. He points to the light switch on the wall and shouts, “Lights!” I hold him up to the switch and he flicks it on and off, laughing with delight. When he’s finished, I put him the ground and he bolts down the hallway like he’s running the hundred-yard dash. Jordan regards walking as a poor substitute for sprinting. Since he’s built like a cinderblock, it’s like having a miniature locomotive in our house.

I walk into the living room and see our daughter Emma sitting in the corner playing with big Leggo blocks. I kiss her on the top of her head and she giggles. Then I notice something odd about the Leggos. She isn’t stacking them like she usually does. When I realize what Emma’s doing, I gasp and call Shelley.

My wife, Shelley, darted down the hallway and into the living room. She had a worried look on her face, because I usually only call her when there’s trouble.

“Look at what Emma did,” I say.

Shelley looks. Then she squeals with delight.

“Emma!” she shouts. “You’re so smart! I am so proud of you.”

At only fifteen months of age, Emma has arranged the Leggos according to size and color. One row had large green blocks. The next had small green blocks. Then there was a row of large red blocks, followed by a small red row, and so on.

Shelley gives Emma a hug and Emma basks in her mother’s affection. Then she picks up the blocks and starts making a tower.

I head to the kitchen to grab a bowl of cereal, but Ella stops me with a large cardboard book in her hands.

“Read book?”

Breakfast can wait.

I sit on the on the ground, put Ella in my lap, and start reading. Ella repeats everything I say. Then someone accosts me from behind. It’s Emma, tickling me and laughing so hard you’d think I was tickling her. No one is safe from a tickling ambush while Emma’s around. I let out a desperate laugh until Emma is satisfied that she’s subdued her father with mirth. I return my attention to Ella and the book, unaware that Hayley is about to take a nosedive off the couch.


I jump up, making sure not to topple Ella, and rush over to Hayley. She’s face down on the ground.

“Hayley Rose! Precious, are you okay?”

For a few seconds, she’s silent. Then I hear, “Heh heh heh heh . . .”

I roll her over to find a big, mischievous grin.

“Kaboom!” she shouts.

“You little rascal!” I say and started to tickle her. She rolls around on the floor, squealing with delight.

Hayley’s quiet demeanor during her first few months of life was nothing but an act. She was waiting in the wings, observing her audience before she took center stage. She is now a bona fide ham and the biggest comedian in the family. The sinister thing about this is that she knows how to make her father crack up on cue.

The next thing I know, all my children are on me at once. I submit and collapse to the floor on my back. Everyone crawls on top of me, laughing. They are all trying to put their face on top of mine. I kiss each one of them and they kiss me back, laughing. We frolic around on the floor like this until Shelley, walks in.

“Why aren’t the kids dressed yet?” she asks.

“Because I’ve been waylaid by Lilliputians!” I shout. The tired look on Shelley’s disappears as she shakes her head and smiles.

Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize what I see. Where did the angry young man go? Who is this father and husband gazing back at me with crows feet at the corners of his eyes and thin lines on edge of his smile? But then I take a second look and realize that I know him, but it’s been a while since we’ve hung out. He’s reemerging from years of cynicism that are being chiseled away by grace.

You see, I’m a jerk. That’s the first thing you have to understand. The second thing you have to understand is that you probably are too sometimes, and we both enjoy it too much. We get a little tickle inside when someone ignores our advice and screws up as a result. We like shutting down people who get in our way and avoiding people who annoy us. We watch Benny Hinn for entertainment value, congratulating ourselves for being too smart to buy what he’s selling. We disregard people who don’t get our jokes and we don’t suffer fools gladly. We’re not evil or even malicious most of the time – just jerks. We have compassion and love, but it doesn’t take much for us to roll our eyes and mumble something sarcastic under our breath.

I’m probably more of jerk than you are. It drives me nuts if something interferes with my life. I don’t like being bothered and I don’t want any help. If you catch me when I’m in the mood to socialize, you’ll love me. Work with my schedule and I’ll deliver the sun and the moon. Otherwise, I hate being told what to do and I have problems with authority. I’m short-tempered when I’m under stress or in a hurry. I start yelling inside my car when another driver cuts me off. As a bonus, I have Attention Deficit Disorder, which means I get impatient, irritated, and bored faster than normal people do.

I am not the guy you’d pick to be the father of quadruplets. But we’ll get to that later.

I became a Christian when I was seven years old. I always thought my story would be boring because I met Jesus as a child. Turns out I was wrong. The scary and suspenseful stuff happened after I became a Christian. Sometimes, it happened because I was a Christian. In C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy, his conversion to Christianity comes at the end of the book. The first time I read it, I felt a little cheated by the last page when Lewis realizes that he’s a Christian while riding a bus. I wanted to know what happened next. I couldn’t relate to a story that ends with becoming a Christian. In my experience, that’s where the story begins.

When I walked down the aisle of a Baptist church as a boy to receive Christ as my Savior, nobody told me that being a Christian is difficult, dangerous even. That information must have been in the fine print. The way I understood it, the closer you were to God, the happier you would be. The less you sinned and the more you followed God’s Word, the more your life would be meaningful, happy, and complete. In my years as a follower of Christ, however, I’ve discovered that the opposite is often true. Don’t get me wrong—the most ecstatic, victorious moments of my life resulted from having relationship with Jesus, but so have the most aggravating and painful ones. Only now am I learning to live in this tension and discover that it can’t be any other way.

I think most Christians know this, but don’t like to talk about it because such confessions don’t make for the neat, linear success stories that we like to hear. Telling people that being in a relationship with Christ can be maddening and exasperating isn’t effective evangelism. You wouldn’t put it in a tract or a revival brochure. But I wish someone had told me at some point. They didn’t have to tell me when I was seven, but they could have clued me in around age fourteen when my theological roof started to cave in. If they had, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me decades to figure out that a relationship with God involves a lot of scary twists and turns.

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, your relationship with God has probably frustrated and frightened you more than once. Maybe you’ve been confused, angry, or afraid. Maybe nobody told you that was part of the deal when you opened the door of your heart and let Jesus walk in. You also probably didn’t realize that some of your brothers and sisters in Christ were going to drive you insane, doing and saying things you find appalling. It’s hard to live with all that frustration and confusion when you thought that becoming a Christian guaranteed a life of love and peace.

When I discovered that a relationship with Christ wasn’t always warm and fuzzy, I became frightened. Then I got mad. Then I stopped caring. God gave me plenty of opportunities to pursue joy, but cynicism always felt safer. So, instead of offering me joy, he assaulted me with it. When he brought quadruplets to the fight, I had no choice but to shout, “Uncle!” and submit. That’s when the brown and God made the brown, stagnate rivers in my life flow with golden wine. I drank deep and was born again . . . again.

Chapter 1: Rock and Roll Rebel

“There’s no such thing as Christian rock,” said Brother Jeff. “It’s all the devil’s music.” Was he throwing out such inanities just to make me crazy? Did he want me to lose my temper so he could kick me out of youth group?

“How can you say that?” I asked Brother Jeff. “There’s nothing about it in the Bible.”

My words echoed off the white walls and cardboard ceiling tiles. I could hear the neon lights in the ceiling humming from behind foggy Plexiglas panes. Everyone in the junior high youth group sat in tense silence. Some just stared at the faded green carpet, averting their eyes from the conflict. Others slumped down into the old, overstuffed couches, venturing sheepish glances as they clutched throw pillows. Most of my pubescent peers, however, were the edge of their seats, transfixed as the forty year-old associate pastor and I, the fourteen year-old youth group president, tried to bludgeon each other with words.

“Rock roll is the music of rebellion,” said Brother Jeff. “Even if the lyrics are supposedly Christian, the music makes people lustful and contentious.” His mouth was smiling but his eyes were narrow.

“But it doesn’t say that in the Bible!” I shouted. Brother Jeff was wearing me down with edicts that sounded authoritative but made no sense. Every time I presented a reasonable argument, Brother Jeff shot back with something asinine wrapped in a mature, patronizing tone. I was about to pop a blood vessel, but Brother Jeff was as agitated as I was. His face bore a pleasant smile, but the pale, freckled skin beneath his fiery red hair was getting pinker by the second.

“Psalms 98 talks about making all kinds of loud noises before the Lord,” I said. “That sounds a lot like Christian rock to me.”

“You are perverting God’s holy word with that interpretation.”

“I absolutely refuse to accept that,” I said.

“Then you need to ask God for wisdom,” he said with an eerie calm. “You need to respect the leaders God has given you. After God, you must respect and obey your parents. After them, you must respect and obey your church authorities. That means me.”

Then he turned to the rest of the kids and said, “If you don’t believe that rock music makes people rebellious, just look at who’s rebelling.” Then he laughed. I heard somebody in the back whisper, “Oooo . . .”, the universal confirmation that you’ve just received a verbal smack down.

I gritted my teeth and lurched forward. I might have even growled. One of my friends put a hand on my arm and eased me back in my chair. I had lost this battle, but the war was just beginning.


I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. On the surface, Lexington is about three things: basketball, horses, and shopping centers. Children are breast-fed on the first two. If you meet someone from Lexington whom you find shy and reserved, ask him or her about horseracing or University of Kentucky basketball. You’ll hear more than you ever wanted about Secretariat and Seattle Slew, including their bloodlines and the farms where they were bred and trained. You’ll be informed that Keeneland racetrack is far superior to that tourist slum, Churchill Downs. Want to see a real live nervous breakdown? Just bring up the game winning shot by Duke’s Christian Laettner in the 1992 East Regional Finals of the NCAA tournament. It halted UK’s run to the Final Four and sent the entire state into a coma. That game is the Alamo for Wildcat fans and no one in the Bluegrass State has ever recovered.

The shopping centers you won’t hear about. While I was growing up, Lexington spilled over its borders, swallowing up farms and turning them into parking lots encircled by Wal-Marts, Blockbusters, Payless Shoe Stores, and frozen yogurt bars. Stick an Applebee’s in the middle and you’ve got the building block of Lexington consumerism: the high-fat, middle-class strip mall.

Downtown Lexington, however, stands steadfast amidst the city’s suburban sprawl. Stately stone buildings from the early 20th century line Main Street and Vine in solid indifference to the commercial aspirations of the periphery. The two skyscrapers look like an afterthought, gaudy glass trees in a baroque stone garden. The neighborhoods downtown have housing projects, historic brownstones, and beautiful houses that are eighty years old. Artists, black folks, students, and college professors reside in these, politely ignoring the rest of the city. Attempts to put in chain restaurants or big retail stores usually fail, while small businesses thrive. The best food, the most exotic clothes, and the only art that isn’t a painting of a horse or a sketch of basketball jersey can be found downtown.

The horse farms rest just outside town, where the suburbs surrender to green fields cascading over rolling hills. White and black picked fences create boundaries for the dark, gleaming horses that sustain all this beauty. Majestic barns – more opulent than any house I’ll ever own – sit atop hills like castles of feudal kingdoms. Out there, the culture clash between urban and suburban becomes irrelevant. Out there, you just feel lucky to live in Kentucky.

Though I loved the horse farms and found downtown fascinated and alluring, I was a child of the suburbs. I spent my youth running through manicured subdivisions and shopping centers. The suburbs were also the place where big churches popped up like mushrooms. Evangelical Christianity was the second largest religion in Lexington, right behind basketball. My family attended a mammoth Baptist church that, like many, had moved away from downtown so it could swell and spread on the edge of town. My parents started attending the church because of its large, vital youth program. They wanted my two sisters and I to have a place where we could grow in the love and knowledge of the Lord. And that’s what happened.

When I was seven years old, I began a journey with God that would be the source of more frustration and fear and more joy and wonder than I could imagine. The high school choir had returned from their summer tour to perform a homecoming concert. This was a big deal at my church. The youth choir practiced all year long and toured the country for two weeks every summer. The congregation welcomed them back as conquering heroes and the homecoming concert was one of the major events of the year. There was always a lot of laughing, crying, and hugging, the climax of which was an invitation to receive Christ that went on for at least thirty minutes. We sang “Just as I Am” ten times in a row, the organist doing her best to mix things up as she reached the seventh chorus. But nobody seemed to mind. People, mostly teenagers (some from the choir, even), flocked down front to accept Jesus as their savior.

Despite all the commotion, I was bored and fidgety. I spent most of the concert drawing pictures on the offering envelopes. I drew everything from spaceships to army men to Batman giving the Joker a much deserved beat down. But when the invitation began, something happened. I had feelings I didn’t understand and couldn’t name. Looking back, I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit was at work. It had to be, because, before the invitation, I was only thinking about when the service would be over. All of a sudden, I felt a strange urge to become closer to God. It wasn’t about salvation or avoiding hell—for a reason I can’t explain, I wanted to graduate to higher level of faith. I wanted that relationship with Jesus that I’d heard so much about.

When I told my parents that I wanted to go down front, they looked surprised. They must have wondered why the fidgety kid defacing church bulletins all of a sudden wanted a religious experience. My mother wore a floral dress with a shiny broach and my father had on sport coat but no tie because it was the evening service. Mom looked at me with her trademark sideways gaze beneath raised eyebrows. When she saw I was serious about going down front, she smiled. Dad leaned in close and said, “Do you understand what this means?”

I nodded my head. He put his arm around me and squeezed my shoulder.

“All right, buddy,” he said. “Go ahead.”

I scurried down front and the pastor took my small hand in his gigantic one. It was red and warm, like my father’s. He asked me if I was certain that I wanted to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior. I told him that I was. He told me to sit up front with one of the deacons until after the service.

After the concert, the pastor took me back to his office. There was shiny wood everywhere and more books than I’d ever seen outside of a library. I sat in a chair that was too big for me and the pastor sat down across from me, leaning in close.

“Do you understand what it means to commit your life to Christ?” he said, his voice deep and rolling. It felt weird to hear him speaking to me alone instead of the whole congregation.

“I think so,” I said. “It means I become a Christian.”

“Yes,” said the pastor. “But that means you ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins and come and live inside your heart forever. Are you ready to do that?”

To my seven year-old brain, having Jesus live inside my heart sounded like just about the coolest thing in the world.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m ready to accept Jesus into my heart.”

The pastor led me in prayer, asking me to repeat after him. When we were finished, he told me that I was a Christian now. He said that I was going to heaven and that God loved me. It felt like I had joined a special club. When I left the pastor’s office, my parents were waiting for me. I started prattling about going to heaven and having Jesus inside my heart. My father said that he was proud. My mother kept asking me what lead me to make this decision. Was it the sermon? The music? But I couldn’t tell her. I just knew that I wanted to become a Christian and now I was one. I was elated

We left church went to Shoney’s. My stomach started to growl at first sight of the twenty foot Big Boy, with his wide-eyed smile and red and white checkered overalls. I got a burger as big as my hand with cheddar cheese dripping down the side, accompanied by fries that were thick and salty. I cleaned my plate and felt good about it. As I got into bed that night, I felt safe, full, and warm.

For the next seven years, I went to church whenever the doors were open. I loved not only the people, but the building itself. It was big, austere, and mysterious. It contained dozens of secret places—kitchens, alcoves, storage closets, baptismal pools, and large meeting halls. I explored every one of them. The building was almost a metaphor for God—large and strong with endless mysteries to investigate.

I also read the Bible constantly and pestered adults with a million of questions about God. I wanted to be involved in everything and adults described me as “wise beyond my years” and “a young Bible scholar.

Now, before you start thinking I was a budding young saint, let me explain the other reason I loved church. I didn’t have many friends at school. I was fat (I weighed more at age 14 than I do right now) with bucked teeth, and the most severe case of acne in the history of Western Civilization. Making matters worse, my pituitary gland went off like a hand grenade at age eleven, dragging me into adolescence two years ahead of my peers. I shot up a dozen inches over my friends, but I didn’t get any thinner. Instead, my acne got worse and I developed body odor. I started shaving with my Dad’s electric razor in sixth grade. This produced a red razor burn across my neck that made me look like I’d been hanging from a noose. Oh yeah, and my eyebrows grew together, creating a uni-brow.

The prepubescent world did not react kindly to a massive, hairy man-child with skin like a leper. Kids called me fatso, pizza face, lard butt, and the like. I hung around other unpopular kids at school, arguing about who would win in a fight between Luke Skywalker and Superman. The only consolation was that nobody tired to beat me up since I was the size of a duplex.

At church, however, things were different. From the time I was ten until I was sixteen, everything at church revolved around two things: The Bible and singing. By the time I was twelve, I knew more about the Bible than most of the adults at the church. During Sunday School and Bible Study, I felt smart and important instead of fat and ugly. When we weren’t studying the Bible, we were in choir practice. Our church had a large, active music ministry and they started asking you to sing not long after you could walk. I’m not Pavarotti or even Barry Manilow, but I sing pretty well. Sometimes I was even asked to fill in for someone in the adult choir if they couldn’t make a Sunday morning. I was singing solos by the time I was thirteen. So, between my Bible IQ and my vocal chords, I almost passed for cool at church.

God had granted me a place to escape the pain of the world outside and fall in love with him. Heaven and earth merged as I studied the Bible and spent every spare minute at church. The people at church took care of me. I loved them, we all loved God, and everyone was happy. The solution to life’s problems could be found in each other, the Bible, and a God who could do anything and save anybody. Life was perfect and I believed it would stay that way for eternity.

I was wrong.

* * *

When I was almost fourteen, my parents and I moved to a new house and they ceded the entire basement to me. My sisters, eleven and fourteen years older, had long since moved away, so there was no competition for space. That basement became my escape from the rest of the world, albeit a very loud one.

By eighth grade, I had constructed a massive stereo system. The components were mismatches from different eras of technology. It was an ugly, hulking thing that leaned forward like some aluminum tower of Piza. But it sounded good. And it was loud. I had four speakers in my den and strung wire under the brown shag carpet to juice up two more in my bedroom. All around the basement, rock and roll spewed forth from trembling woofers behind black mesh screens encased in particleboard.

I had enough music down in that hole to wait out a nuclear winter. When I was a teenager, the digital age was still twenty years away, so I had albums. Stacks of albums. At $7 a pop, my allowance and money from part-time jobs helped me buy four or five records a month. By the time I was sixteen, I had over two hundred rock albums. Old records, new records, imported records, used records, and bootleg records stood in teetering columns around my basement. I spent hours listening to them while gazing in wonder at the artwork on the sleeve and pouring over the liner notes. Whenever my father told me what a waste of money it all was, I just looked at him like he was out of his mind.

The basement’s seclusion from the rest of the house gave me solitude, but the music made it my sanctuary. Music was my elixir, the only other thing than prayer and the Bible that made me feel quiet inside. One night at a party, I saw a girl on whom I had an obsessive crush kissing another guy. I returned home shaking with rage and sadness. But that same night MTV televised a concert that the radio was broadcasting at the same time. This was before every TV in the world offered hi-fi sound, so hearing music from television in stereo over 100 watt speakers seemed like a miracle. And, by a divine stroke, my favorite band was performing: Queen. While not the most morally pure band in the world, their music was amazing. Freddie Mercury pranced around the 20” screen while the speakers hummed to life with the sound of Brian May’s guitar. I knew every song by heart and lip-synced the words, dancing around the room in a hypermasculine imitation of Freddie. By the third song, I had forgotten that nasty kiss. When the concert was over, I went to bed fell into a deep sleep without dreams.

You’d think rock and roll fanaticism wouldn’t go over well in a fundamentalist Baptist church, but that wasn’t the case. Though our leaders had evangelical fervor, they weren’t legalistic. They encouraged us to be obedient to God and were quick to correct us when we got out of line, but they weren’t rigid or heavy-handed. Brother Rob was our youth pastor back then and he was a man of passion and talent. He nurtured everyone’s gifts and took an interest in our lives. On a bus ride once, Brother Rob sat next to me and listened to several Queen songs in a row as I prattled on about the intricacies of the music. He did his best to seem interested, poor guy. He cheered along with everyone else on the bus as I played air guitar during “We Will Rock You,” looking like wooly mammoth having a seizure. Brother Rob and our other leaders were conservative fundamentalists, but, as long as God remained top priority, they didn’t sweat the small stuff.

They even knew how to disagree with me. They expressed concern about some of the music I listened to, like AC/DC (hard to argue with that one), but they always listened to my perspective. One year, our church went through the inevitable “spinning records backwards to unmask the devil” phase. I watched in horror as beloved leaders spun records backwards and told us that the resulting gobbledygook said things about worshipping the devil. Though it drove me nuts, it was also one of the most exciting times I had in church because my leaders allowed me to debate them. They let me lead an entire youth meeting providing an alternative perspective on rock and roll and all this back-masking nonsense. They didn’t always agree with me, but they respected my right to challenge them. They let me play almost anything I wanted to on summer mission trips as long as the lyrics weren’t too sketchy. And I could play Christian rock all day long. The music might sound like someone murdering cats with chainsaws, but as long as the lyrics were about Jesus, they didn’t care.

But Brother Jeff cared. He cared a lot.

Brother Jeff became the associate pastor of my church when I was in the eighth grade. In addition to his administrative duties, he was in charge of the youth program. On his first day, the youth and their parents gathered in the gymnasium to meet him.

The senior pastor walked in to the gym escorting the thinnest adult male I had ever seen. He had a comical head of curly red, almost orange, hair. His freckles gave the rest of his skin a similar orangish glow. He looked like a carrot.

“God bless you,” said Jeff the Carrot. “I have been praying for this church, praying that God will guide me and continue his great work with the young people of this congregation.” He talked for over an hour in a nasal southern drawl about his vision for the youth program. He told us “God’s gonna do this” and “God’s gonna do that” and “God’s gonna bless y’all.” I still knew next to nothing about Jeff except that he looked like a carrot in a red clown wig that talked like it was yanked out of the dirt somewhere in South Georgia. The only relevant thing he told us was that the youth were allowed to call him by his first name. How magnanimous.

The adults asked questions first. “What is your vision for our youth ministry?” “What are your outreach plans?” “What’s your philosophy on Biblical teachings for teens?” Blah, blah, blah. No one in the room under twenty cared about any of this. The “young people” only cared about one thing. Could we hang out with this guy? Was he cool? I don’t mean “cool” like hip or even youthful. Nothing is more embarrassing than an old guy trying to act young. We wanted to know if he was someone we could trust. I took it upon myself to find out.

I raised my hand and the senior pastor recognized me.

“What’s your favorite Christian rock band?”

Though a silly question, I wanted to give Brother Jeff an easy way to connect with the youth in the room. The question got a few chuckles, which lighten the mood in the room.

But Brother Jeff did anything but laugh or connect with the youth. He breathed a heavy, affected sigh and rolled his eyes toward the heavens.

“Stephen, or is it Stevie?” he asked without waiting for the answer. “I’m afraid you might not care for my answer, which saddens me. But ultimately I answer to God and not to you or any of you other wonderful young people. My answer to your question is this: None. I think Christian rock is an abomination of all the other wonderful music that God has given us. Those rancid screeching guitars and that horrid pounding beat are, I believe, unleashed from the pit of hell. I despise Christian rock. Secular rock is worse, of course. I will abide none of it on my watch. No form of rock music will be played at any of our activities.”

He looked me in the eye and said, “I’m sorry”

My stomach lurched upward as I tried to comprehend what was happening.

Jeff inundated us with a whole new list of prohibitions, ones of which I had never heard nor imagined despite years of fundamentalist religion: no card playing (a sure-fire gateway to gambling), no ghost stories (a guaranteed way to conjure demons), no celebration of Halloween (more demons), and no movies unless they were rated “G.” He also forbade us to wear shorts, even though our mission trips visited states such as Georgia and Louisiana in the middle of August on a bus with no air conditioning. When I heard that, I could contain myself no longer. Without raising my hand I blurted out, “No shorts on our summer mission trips? The bus has no air-conditioning. We’ll all melt. And we’ll stink!”

That got a lot of laughs, but His Carrotness didn’t back down.

“I know it will be uncomfortable. But that’s nothing compared to the discomfort Christ experienced dying for our sins. Our mission trips will be the most important time for us to set an example to the pagan world and we will not be wearing shorts.”

A low whistle of amazement came from the back of the gym. Jeff’s eyes darted around looking for the culprit before he regained his composure and flashed an ultra-white smile.

No one asked any more questions after that. The senior pastor smiled and said something about us having plenty of time to get to know each other. He said it like it was a good thing.

I thought I was going to puke right on the gym floor. I had fought a long and hard battle for rock and roll at my church and finally gotten my mentors to listen. Now some guy shows up and, with a wave of his hand, banishes all music featuring guitars that plugged in, along with all other benign comforts of the flesh. I was in the middle of a bad dream.

Most teenagers would have stopped coming to youth group or just paid lip service to the new rules and gone about the time-honored practice of rebelling in secret. But not me. I declared war. This was my church. Church was the only place where I felt safe, understood, and respected. It was the only place I had fun. Now some dogmatic cleric was trying to ruin it for me. Over my dead body.

Poor Brother Jeff had no idea who he was up against. In a Southern Baptist Church, the Bible is the litmus test for everything. Ever since I’d walked down the aisle at age seven and taken the pastor’s hand, I’d been reading the Bible. I didn’t just listen to what my teachers told me about the Bible in Sunday school, I studied the thing. By age thirteen, I’d read the entire Bible (well, almost—I got the K.O. from Numbers in Chapter Three). I knew that Biblical support for Brother Jeff’s list of “don’ts” was thin at best and I wielded the word like a sword in our theological debates. I was certain that my knowledge of scripture would help me triumph over this new regime of the absurd.

I debated Jeff steadily for the next year, always using what I regarded as solid Biblical arguments. I prayed for him and for our church. I did my best to be a good example and a solid leader so that my disagreements with Jeff didn’t look like reckless defiance. I tangled with Jeff in public, in private, and in writing. I fought my war with prayerful diligence and refused to back down. For a long time, I thought I was winning. There was no way that this man could continue imposing ridiculous rules that were Biblically unsound, not to mention wildly unpopular. Well, at least they were unpopular at first . . .

One day I was talking to another guy in the youth group whom I liked and respected. He was a couple of years older and I’d always considered him cool. He was had introduced me to Christian rock, telling me about bands like Petra and Servant. We went to Christian rock concerts together and danced and sang and went bananas in the name of the Lord.

One day I commiserated with him, “It’s not right that Brother Jeff won’t let us listen to Christian rock.”

“There’s no such thing as Christian rock,” he said with a blank expression. “It’s all of the devil.” He didn’t elaborate, just looked at me in mute finality. I didn’t say anything because, in that moment, I realized that there was nothing to say. It didn’t matter if I was right or wrong about rock music, wearing shorts, playing cards, or whether the earth was round or flat. My friend’s mind was made up. The validity of my arguments was irrelevant. Brother Jeff had given an edict and my friend accepted it without question.

For the first time in my life, I felt nervous and alone at church. That might not have been so bad if I didn’t feel nervous and alone every place else.

* * *

On the first day of school in ninth grade, a cute girl cute called me “piggy” without provocation. I gave her a dirty look, but that night I lay in bed crying. Jeff had invaded my last safe haven, abandoning me to a place where pretty girls likened me to swine. Life couldn’t continue like this. Drastic times called for drastic measures.

First, I started taking the medication Acutane, a drug that eliminates acne with the gentleness of atomic radiation. I endured nausea, headaches, nosebleeds, and wisps of hair falling out until the medication ran its course and my face no longer resembled a map of the Himalayas. Next, I lost weight. I dropped fifty pounds in six months. Despite my girth, I’d always been strong and athletic. I could outrun kids half my size, and I could bench press 200 pounds by age fourteen. I lost weight mainly through running long distances and cutting out sweets. As a result, I lost more fat than I did muscle. By the last day of ninth grade, I had changed from an acne-covered behemoth into lean, muscular jock with unblemished skin.

That summer, I went to a Christian camp with one of my friends from church named Gordon Green. Gordy was a stud. He was good looking, smooth, and had no trouble with the ladies. On our first night at camp, Gordon spotted a brunette he found attractive. He dispatched one of our female friends to inform the young lady of his affections and ascertain her level of interest in him. Ten minutes later, our friend returned with the verdict.

“So, does she like me?”

“She says that you’re cute,” the emissary replied as a Casanova grin spread across Gordon’s face.

“But she thinks Steve is cuter.”

Gordon was speechless; I was thunderstruck.

“Could you repeat that?” I said, partly because I wanted to make sure I heard her right, but mostly because I just wanted to hear it again.

Despite the nice ego boost, I entered high school in the fall with my head down. I looked different but I still didn’t have many friends. The first day of high school is hard for anyone, but going through it alone is anxious drudgery. I zipped through the hallways avoiding eye contact with everyone. On my way to second period, someone grabbed my shoulder and spun me around.

“Lookin’ good, Simpson. Looks like you’ll be ready to wrestle this year,” said Mac Wood, a senior on the wrestling team with me. That was the first time he’d said anything nice to me.

“Thanks,” I said, wondering if I was supposed to say something cocky or funny instead.

“See you in practice,” he said and disappeared.

In third period Biology, a popular member of the football team took a seat next to me.

At lunch I sat down alone, but my friend Bill asked me to sit with him and four of his friends who’d never talked to me before. Later that week, we all played basketball at Bill’s house. By Christmas, we were sitting together on the bus. By springtime, we were hanging out over the weekend.

It was surreal. I figured that losing pounds and zits would make things easier I didn’t know that it would make me need church a whole lot less.

* * *

In March of my tenth grade year, I told my mother that I didn’t want to go to youth group anymore. She said that she didn’t care; I was going anyway.

“You don’t forsake the Body of Christ just because you don’t like one it’s parts. Is Jesus still the most important thing in your life?”

“Yes, mom,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Following him isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have to show Christ’s love to people we don’t like.”

I knew she was right, but I didn’t like it. My father’s take on the situation made sticking with church a little easier.

“If you think Brother Jeff is wrong, you need to stick to your guns. If you leave youth group, that means he wins. You’ve let him chase you off. Stick around and stand up for what you believe.

Now that I could do, though perhaps not in the way Dad imagined.

That summer, I went on the youth mission trip as I had every year. Since Brother Jeff wouldn’t let us wear shorts, I boarded the bus wearing mesh, see-through sweat pants over my shorts, obeying the letter of the law while gleefully defying the spirit. When Jeff saw me, he just shook his head, frustrated but impotent because I’d conformed to his rules. I whispered ghost stories to the other kids just because it wasn’t allowed. I organized card games at the back of the bus. Whenever Brother Jeff wandered back, we’d chuck the Jacks and Queens, whip out a deck of Uno, and beam at him like little cherubs. But the real coup de tat was smuggling rock and roll onto the bus.

I stuffed a bunch of socks with cassette tapes and hid them in the bottom of my luggage. Thus, the 1985 youth mission trip rolled out of town carrying every album by Queen and U2, along with a strong sampling of The Who, The Clash, Rush, Van Halen, and anything else that sounded like something Brother Jeff would hate. My buddy Gordon was the only person I told about it, which turned out to be a big mistake.

After eating lunch at a Cracker Barrell, we got back on the bus and discovered Gordon sitting in my seat holding my boom box. Ozzy Osbourne’s “Revelation Mother Earth” blasted out of the speakers at about 5,000 decibels. One of the adult volunteers told Gordon to turn it off. Gordon protested, saying that he thought the music sounded awesome. I shot Gordon a look that said, “I am going to kill you with my bare hands.” He turned the music off and apologized. Gordon didn’t rat me out, but he didn’t have to. It wasn’t hard for anyone to figure out who snuck Ozzy on bus.

When Brother Jeff found out, he gave me a look of contempt … and nothing more. I expected dire consequences, confiscation of my tapes at the minimum. But he didn’t do anything.

The next day, we had three hours to wander around in Jefferson City, Missouri. The place was filled with novelty shops, theme restaurants, and other attractions that teenagers live for. They also happened to have a palm reader, which piqued my interest.

At a Cub Scout Halloween party in second grade, somebody’s mom dressed up like a gypsy and read our palms. The whole thing was a joke, but the palm reader said something that stuck with me. She said I was going to marry a girl named Jenny. It just so happened that I’d had a crush on a girl named Jenny since seventh grade. Jenny was with me that day in Jefferson City as we passed a palm reader’s hut adorned with flashing astrological symbols.

I had told Jenny about the palm reader back was when I’d been fat and ugly. That was when she’d told me she liked me, “as a friend,” the label that every adolescent suitor regards as a curse. But things were different now. Jenny had been flirting with me lately. Maybe it was time to reintroduce the subject.

“Hey, Jenny, remember the story I told you about that palm reader saying I would marry a girl named Jenny,” I said, pointing to the palm reader’s hut.

Jenny flashed a feline grin and said, “I remember. Maybe you should get a second opinion.”

I needed nothing more. Without a second thought, I ducked in to the palm reader’s lair.

Five minutes later and five dollars poorer, I had no new information regarding the name of my bride to be. (For the record, my wife’s name is not Jenny and her parents never even considered that name.) I laughed it off as confirmation that palm reading was a bunch of hooey.

Since I have a big mouth, I told half a dozen people about the palm reader. Someone tattled. At our next stop, Brother Jeff and one of the volunteers cornered me. They took me into the sanctuary of the church that was putting us up for the night. Brother Jeff suggested we sit in the choir loft. It felt like being in the penalty box at a hockey game.

“Steve, the fact that you went to a palm reader grieves me, but I hate to say that I’m not surprised,” began Brother Jeff as the volunteer frowned and nodded in agreement. “I have sensed this sort of lawlessness in you from the first time we met almost three years ago. In those three years, things seem to have only gotten worse. What on earth gave you the notion of going to a palm reader?”

I told him the story about the gypsy at Cub Scouts and Jenny. I didn’t want to, but I thought Jeff would cut me some slack if I humiliated myself.

Jeff furrowed his brow and nodded.

“It’s all starting to make sense now. If you went to a palm reader in Cub Scouts, that would have opened you to demonic influence at a vulnerable age. That’s probably the reason you’re so obsessed with rock music. It explains your contentious nature.”

That just made me mad. I forgot about trying to get out of this unscathed.

“I told you that the palm reader at Cub Scouts was just a joke. I went to the palm reader today just as a stunt to impress Jenny. I promise you, Jeff, no demons were involved.”

“The Prince of Lies wants you to think that.”

I rolled my eyes. Bad move.

“You might not care about your own spiritual welfare, but I care about this youth group. You have opened the whole youth group to demonic oppression through this act. We have to intervene with prayer.”

So far Jeff had said nothing about calling my parents or sending me home. My worst fear was that he would make my parents come and take me home. This would result in nothing less than being thrown in a dungeon and forced to eat spiders until I was forty-five. So when Jeff told me that all he wanted to do is pray, my insides broke into applause. I let prudence prevail.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s pray.”

We bowed our heads. Jeff and the volunteer were silent for a few seconds. Then they started doing that humming thing. Not speaking in tongues, just a lot of “Hmm . . . yes, lord . . .” When Jeff finally started to form complete sentences, I thought it might have been better to be sent home.

“Demon of divination, demon of rebellion, demon of contentiousness . . .”

Was he talking to me? I hoped that he was just using hyperbole and not-

“We cast you out of Stephen in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and by the power of the blood of the Lamb.”

Oh. No. He. Didn’t.

“Dear Jesus we ask that, through the power of your precious blood, you release Stephen from demonic oppression and set him upon a righteous path. Bring him back into your glorious light and renew his heart and mind. Please build a hedge around this youth group. Send your angels to protect us from any demonic influence that this palm reader may have introduced.”

The volunteer said “Hmmm . . .” so many times that he sounded like a bathroom fan. I was trying not to scream, “Are you out of your mind?” at the top of my lungs. But, since I didn’t want go get pinned me to the floor and doused with Holy Water, I started saying my own silent prayer instead.

This is stupid, Lord. You know that I don’t have any demons inside me. I’m sorry for doing something wrong to impress a girl. I thought of it as a joke but I should have been more serious. But demons? You gotta be kidding me! I’ll tell you what, God. If I really am under demonic influence, make that clear to me right now. Give me a sign and I’ll go with this. I ask it in Jesus name.

I felt nothing. No physical, spiritual, or emotional signs that I was possessed. I felt convicted over committing a sin. I even felt bad about upsetting Brother Jeff. Other than that, nothing. I stopped praying and returned my attention to Jeff, who was still casting out demons.

Something started to freeze inside me. My anger drained away, replaced by cool apathy. I no longer wanted to debate Jeff. I didn’t even want to rebel against him. The absurdity of what was happening was too much. There was no way to change Jeff’s mind. The only sensible thing to do was stop caring.

* * *

In that moment, a cynic was born, but it’s not Brother Jeff’s fault. It’s mine.

I chose to handle my anger and pain by killing off the passion that created it. I had my nice, safe little Christian world and I threw a fit when someone changed things. I couldn’t handle it when I didn’t get my way. I couldn’t accept the fact things weren’t perfect anymore, so I made Brother Jeff the enemy. For years, well into adulthood, I imagined Brother Jeff as an evil despot who stomped on a vibrant faith with legalistic oppression. That’s what cynicism does—it splits the truth in half. In your preoccupation with the things that hurt you, you forget the things that nurtured you.

Cynicism begins as passion. This is especially true for Christians who fall in love with Jesus when they’re young. We give our lives to something beautiful and pure, believing that it will never be tarnished. We embrace our church and the warmth and love of its people. We experience spiritual highs that set us ablaze with fervor for Christ. We want to tell other people in hopes that discover this same joy. We pray, study the Bible, and become enraptured by our relationship with God and his church. For a little while, it’s like walking in Eden with God.

Then a serpent shows up and tells us about a fruit that will make us smarter. In a moment of selfishness and fear, we take a bite. Then everything changes. We see that the leaders we idealize are flawed and broken. We look around the garden and see hypocrisy and deceit. We see people twisting our beloved Scripture to bully people who disagree with them. People we love and trust hurt us, sometimes through malice, but more often weakness. Our peaceful, perfect garden becomes a forest filled with monsters, and we flee.

Beneath the surly and sarcastic exterior of a cynic lies a broken heart. Most cynics once believed in something with all their heart and mind. Then that same thing causes pain and disappointment. It’s so terrible that we vow never to let it happen again. We stop trusting, We suspect anyone who proclaims simple truths. We think that pat answers are for suckers, because we’ve been the sucker before. So we stop going to church or, if we do, we don’t get involved. We don’t just question religious authority, we mock it. We refuse to be vulnerable and embrace the love we once knew because we’re terrified that it will leave us again.

Oscar Wilde wrote,“A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” A cynic can tell you all about the painful cost of religion, but they no longer know the joy of depending on God and others. After I became a cynic, I still longed for the passion I once felt, but I refused to be fooled again. I refused to be hurt again.

The story about Brother Jeff is one-sided. I told the truth, but it was the cynical truth. I didn’t lie, but I didn’t tell you the whole story. I left out something really important, because it’s painful to think about: Brother Jeff loved me.

For years I imagined that our former leader, Brother Rob, was the one really cared for me. That’s not true. Brother Rob was great, but Jeff nurtured me more. Yes, we fought a lot, but Jeff took an incredible interest in my life. He was legalistic and stubborn, but there is no question that he cared about me. We didn’t always argue. We would talk about God, the Bible, or just chew the fat about topics that didn’t lead to an argument. Even when were fighting, Jeff invested time and energy in my life. The guy spent hours of his personal time debating a pimple-faced punk about music.

The guy was also a Bible scholar. He taught us things about early Christian history, Greek, and Hebrew that helped me see the Bible in the whole new light. He could give rousing, sincere sermons that inspired and convicted. Despite my anger at Brother Jeff’s rules, my knowledge and love of the Lord grew under his leadership.

And the guy was funny. He was a great practical joker with a lightening fast wit. He was open and gregarious most of the time. He even made fun of his appearance, saying that his red hair and freckled skin made him look like a reject from the Partridge Family. He could be cocky, but he could also show humility and confess his sins. For years, I didn’t allow myself to remember that. The cynic could never admit that his enemy was so friendly and so much fun. I was too busy judging him. In other words, I was too busy sinning against him.

I stopped going to youth group after the palm-reading/exorcism incident. I still attended Sunday morning services because my mother would have shaved her head otherwise. Then, in the spring of my junior year, I visited Methodist church down the road because a cute girl invited me. The youth group was almost identical to my old one—passionately evangelical, active, big choir, summer trips—except for Jeff’s rules. I got to listen to all the rock and roll I wanted, wear shorts, play cards, and nobody tried to pluck any demons out of me. My new youth pastor, Allen, was a wise and gentle mentor. He got past my suspicions, helped me assimilate into my new group, and became a trusted friend. He was exactly the kind of tender, listening leader that I needed to help me recover from the pain of losing the church of my childhood.

But I hadn’t heard the last of Brother Jeff. The summer between my junior and senior year, I got a letter from him, though I hadn’t seen him in months. In the letter, Brother Jeff asked me to return to youth group. His words bore no condemnation or judgment. He just said that things weren’t the same without me and he wanted me to come back. He invited me to go on the summer mission trip. He wrote, “Just call me up and say, ‘Jeff, I’m going.’ You don’t have to say anything more than that and you’ll be welcome to come. Otherwise, who’s going to ask the tough questions? Who’s going to keep me in line?”

Who’s going to keep me in line? This maniac was inviting the very thing that I thought he hated about me?

Jeff, I’m going. That’s all have to say? After so much strife, three words will set things right again?

Despite Jeff’s vulnerability and courage, his words rolled off me. I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t tolerate the idea that I was important to him. I couldn’t believe that I’d impacted his life. He drove me crazy, but he cared enough about me that I drove him crazy, too. That’s danger of passion. The things we love, the things that bring us the most joy, make us crazy. Whether it’s God, a person, a church, or a cause, to love something is to sacrifice peace. The world and all the people in it are broken. Love cannot exist without pain. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, “I came not to bring peace but the sword” (Matthew 10:34). I doubt that he was war mongering or undercutting pacifism. Maybe he meant giving your life to something results in strife. You cannot have passion for something and be free from pain.

This was a lesson I would not learn for a very long time. I’m still not sure I get it. God’s tried to teach me again and again, but I have difficulty accepting it. But I’ve got to get used to it, because the other option is despair. It’s the way of the cynic, who sneers and makes a stone of his heart because passion is too dangerous. Being a Christian is supposed to be dangerous. It means being vulnerable, taking risks, and having communities of imperfect people. It means leaving our comfort zone and kissing it goodbye forever. Being a Christian means exchanging comfort for something so much better: joy. Comfort is nothing more than a lack of pain and aggravation. It’s about what isn’t there instead of what is. Joy comes from passion, love, and commitment to something and Someone bigger than you. Passion, love, and commitment come at a price (just ask Jesus), but it’s a price worth paying, because God’s joy provides a sense of meaning and a depth of feeling you can’t get any other way.

I never wrote Jeff back and I never saw him again. Caring was too difficult, so I stopped. I wasn’t willing to walk the dangerous path that leads to joy

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Is Your Issue?

I was late reading my Bible and doing my devotion today. I picked up a magazine that was titled "What Is Your Issue". Wow, that is a loaded questions. How many times have we had our feelings hurt for no reason? How many times have we thought someone said something that they really did not? How many times do we have a medical problem that we are tired of...however, have not given it up to the Lord?

We all remember the woman in Mark 5 who is now famouse because Jesus healed her and did what no doctor had been able to do: stop the issue of blood that had plagued her for 12 long years. The woman had a physical issue that desperately needed to be removed from her life. Finding the answer to her problem had become so important to her that she was willing to step out of her comfort zone in order to receive the help she needed.

Do you have an "issue" that needs to be removed from your life? The Bible says that God has a wonderful plan and future for His children (Jer. 29:11), but before you can fulfill His plan, you must be willing to get rid of your issues.

How can you get rid of the issues that hold you back from the future God has for you?

1) You must face your issue.
2) Don't cover up the issue.
3) Don't be afraid to share your issue with someone who can help.
4) Reach out to the Lord--He can set you free from your issue!
5) You must press in with determination if you're going to be set free from
your issue.

When the woman with the issue of blood heard about Jesus, she was determined to do something about her issue.l Pressing through a large crowd of people, she touched the hem of Jesus' garment and was set free from the issue that had her bound!

No matter what your "issues" are today, you can have victory over them through the Lord Jesus Christ. Why don't you reach out to the Lord right now and let Him set you free from your issues!

(Taken from Word of Faith Magazine...Lynette Hagin...December, 2008 Issue)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's Your Call

“It’s Your Call” is a book that will help one overcome their most difficult challenges. This book will help you recognize God’s call on your life and it will also be easier for you to see things from his perspective. Author, Lawrence Powell, gives seven simple ways outlined in this book that will help one fulfill their life’s purpose.
They are: 1) Face It, You’re the one for the job! 2) Get past your past 3) Lose the weight 4) Take the heat 5) Keep on keepin’ on 6) Stay connected & 7) Get out of the boat.
This book is filled with Biblical wisdom, wit and personal anecdotes of Lawrence Powell’s amazing life that helps readers discover the secrets to reaching new heights of success and productivity in their ministry, business, and personal life. After reading this book, you will never have to question again your significance, or whether God wants to use you.

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

It’s Your Call

Yorkshire Publishing; 1st edition (September 5, 2008)


Lawrence Powell is Pastor of Agape Family Worship Center in Rahway, New Jersey; a multi-ethnic ministry, that is home to thousands throughout the Tri-state region. In partnership with Oral Roberts University, he is also founder of Pneuma Life School of Ministry, an accredited teaching and training institute, equipping Christian men and women for missions, outreach, and church planting. Powell is a much sought-after speaker and respected Biblical teacher. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a Master’s degree from Oral Roberts University. He resides in New Jersey with his wife Vanessa, and their three lovely children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 19.99
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Yorkshire Publishing; 1st edition (September 5, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0881442917
ISBN-13: 978-0881442915


Face it. You’re the One for the Job!

“Not called” did you say? “Not heard the call,” I think you should say.

~ William Booth Founder of the Salvation Army

It was a clear sunny day and I could not have been any more than about 5 or 6 years old. I was out in the backyard playing alone in the warm summer breeze. I do not remember why I was alone, but if you ask my mother, she will say that my sister and I used to get into petty squabbles. Our peaceful times of playfulness would somehow decline into: No! Stop! Move! Get off! Mine! Ouch! Mommy! And then, we were separated…for safety purposes of course.

This particular day in the backyard was probably no different.

I had an active imagination and I did not really mind playing alone. My “imaginary friends” and I climbed onto my little blue and white, double-seat glider swing set, and I had a captive audience.

That day I was performing live in concert, making up one song after another. As I was belting out my original tunes underneath the midday blue sky, I remember hearing myself repeatedly singing these simple lyrics: “Nobody knows me well like the Lord.” Now, at the time, I did not realize the profundity of the words. After all, I was just a kid. But somehow, I remember the lyrics so vividly. As I sat there on that swing, I began to sense the presence of the Lord. Everything grew quiet and still, and then, something peculiar happened. The heavens opened up and I heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased!” No, no, no…I’m sorry, wrong story. That was Jesus.

No, really, I did have an unexplainable encounter with the Lord that day. It was like the old saints used to say, “Somethin’ got a hold of me.” It reminds me of the Old Testament story of the young prophet Samuel. God called him long before he knew how to distinctly recognize and respond to the voice of God (1 Samuel 3:4-9). Reflecting on that moment in the backyard, I know now with a surety, the Spirit of God was depositing a seed in me, predestined to bloom at a future time.

Encountering God

I grew up in and around the church, but early on I did not have a clear understanding of God. And I certainly was not aware that I had been divinely selected to touch nations with the message of the Gospel. But by degrees, the Holy Spirit would beckon me more and more, and over the years I came to know His voice better. I wonder, do you remember when you first sensed the majesty, power, and call of God on your life? Where were you? What were you doing? You may not have understood it at the time, and if someone asked you to explain it, you would not have been able to put into words the depth of the encounter.

It is similar to the blind man in the book of St John, who was challenged regarding the healing he received from Jesus. Although he could not explain the experience well enough to satisfy his detractors, his response was simple yet profound. “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25b NKJV). After all these years, I’ve still not found words to sufficiently express the awesomeness of an authentic God-encounter. But one thing I know, though I was blind, now I see. Take this opportunity to reflect on the moment God began to open your eyes. Remember how you felt? Now softly thank Him for altering the very course of your existence.

His presence changes you, doesn’t it? Of course it does. Any true visitation from God alters the way you see, think, and experience the world. Although the full revelation of His will does not happen immediately, once He deposits His purpose in your heart, you will never be the same again. For me, it was a process that occurred over time. I had to grow, learn, and mature before I could begin fulfilling the call of God on my life. The same is true for you. Don’t be discouraged just because you are unable to fully grasp His purpose and plan for your life right now. All you need to know is He has one.

You may not feel that you have a specific calling, and yet, you do. Or, you may not feel like you’re qualified, and experienced enough to do what He’s chosen you for, but don’t worry. He will provide you with everything you need to fulfill your life’s purpose.

Perceive the Call of God

There is a story found in Mark 8:23–25 about a blind man in Bethsaida, who was brought to Jesus by a group of people. They were begging on his behalf for healing. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town, much the way He leads you and me. He takes us by the hand when we cannot see our way clearly. That’s one thing I love about our God. He will never leave you alone, groping in darkness. He will always be there for you.

Jesus began the process of opening this blind man’s eyes. The Bible says, “And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, ‘I see men like trees, walking’” (8:23b–24 NKJV).

It’s important to recognize that there was nothing lacking in Jesus’ power, only in the man’s perspective. The very first time Jesus touched him, he miraculously received his sight. Now, Jesus had to clarify his perspective.

Sometimes, God is dealing with you and showing you things, yet, you don’t possess a clear view of His vision for your life. But if you stay in God’s presence, He will reveal His will to you. Like this blind man, your vision may be clarified in gradual stages; nevertheless, God will complete the work He has begun in you. Look at what happens in the story. “Then He put His hands on his eyes again, and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly” (8:25 NKJV). I speak victory over your life today and declare that, if you can look up with eyes of faith, God will cause you to see what you were not able to see before!

God wants you to recognize His call on your life and begin viewing things from His perspective. Are you ready? Let’s continue along the path to perceiving and understanding your calling more clearly.

As you embark upon your own journey, remember to keep your focus fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:2). Only He can show you who you really are. I’m not saying that there aren’t valuable books, trainings, and other resources available to assist you in enhancing your life in some way. In fact, I encourage you to be a life-long learner and seek out practical tools to help you grow and advance. Be aware though; you cannot depend upon self-help books, advice columns, and the well-meaning opinions of close friends and family members, to help you understand and fulfill your Divine calling.

Outside of God, there is no real revelation of truth. His purpose and plan is the only one that will help you live the abundant life He intends for every believer. You may wonder how can you begin truly understanding your purpose and calling. There is a clue found in the book of Ephesians 1:11. The word “purpose” in this passage of Scripture is the Greek word “prothesis,” meaning “to lay out beforehand,” much like the blueprint of a building. Thus, it conveys the exciting idea that your life has been designed with forethought, predetermination, and deliberate intention. (See also Ephesians

2:19–22.) Isn’t that wonderful to know you are no accident? You are not here by happenstance.

The Lord, the Master Architect, has created you with a specific plan in mind. No one else understands the intricacies of your design quite like the One who created the blueprint. This is precisely why positive thinking, dreaming, goal-setting, planning, and networking, without God is grossly overestimated. Remember, “Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1a).

Time in His Presence

God is the only legitimate source for discovering your purpose and calling. As you come honestly and humbly before the Father in pursuit of His will for your life, the Spirit will teach you all you need to know. Paul prayed to this end, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:17–18 NKJV). Please understand—the wisdom and revelation for which Paul prayed only comes through time spent in the presence of the Lord.

The more you are in His presence, the more you learn His voice. The more you learn His voice, the more you understand His will. As you grow in your understanding of God’s Word, you will begin walking out the steps He has ordered for you before the foundation of the world. You indeed have a set path and it’s your job to seek God for direction. This is something I learned early on in my personal pilgrimage. “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, But a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5 NKJV).

Growing up in the church, I remember having a sincere desire to understand the concept of spirituality and what role it played in my life. As I matured, I moved from mere curiosity to genuine interest, and finally, to a deep longing to know God more intimately. Having said that, allow me a moment of transparency. In all honesty, it was the tyranny of my “Dear Mother” that kept me in church every time the doors opened. No, I’m kidding…well, half kidding.

In the Pentecostal church I grew up in, Sunday service was an all day affair. The old saints used to sing a song that said, “Put yo’ time in. Pay day is comin’ after while.” And on Sundays, I think they meant it—literally. I often preferred going to church with my father, because at the particular Baptist church he attended, morning service began at eleven o’clock sharp and it was over at one o’clock on the dot. But don’t get me wrong, even though it was only a couple of hours, it felt more like the long, hot summer road trips we took from New Jersey to Florida each summer for vacation. During these excursions, the only question on my mind was, “Are we there yet?”

If I could have combined the excitement of my mother’s Pentecostal church with the abbreviated schedule of Daddy’s Baptist church, it would have been a near perfect worship experience!

Although I did not enjoy the excessively extended hours at Mommy’s church, I had grown quite accustomed to, and fond of, the energy and exuberance of the Pentecostal style of worship. The distinct rhythmic beating of the tambourine and drums, the syncopated sounds of the Hammond B-3 organ, and the lively demonstrations of praise, were thrilling. But I would soon discover that the thrill was far more than the music.

Little did I know then, you cannot be in the presence of the Lord and not be impacted by the experience. A transformation was taking place in me before my very eyes. God was actually molding me into a vessel of honor to be used by Him, but I did not perceive it at the time. Even as you are reading this book, God is working on you— reshaping your mentality and calling you to a new place in Him. You may not fully understand His plan at the moment, however, just as the aforementioned blind man did, you too must grab hold of His hand. Let Him lead you out of your Bethsaida into a new dimension of revelation and clarity.

Accept the Call of God

Whenever you branch out and chart a new course along the road God has laid out for you, it is natural to feel some uncertainty. It seems so tough at the time, because you are challenged to do things you have never done before. All kinds of thoughts run through your mind. You wonder if you are really capable of doing what God is challenging you to do. You know you don’t want to remain in your current position. At the same time, you feel too afraid to go to an unfamiliar place. You also do not have a single ounce of tangible evidence that God is even speaking to you. How do you get to the point of fully accepting the call of God?

Abraham, who is called the Father of Faith, would probably give you a very concise answer. It would sound something like, “Just do it.” How do you think he must have felt when God told him, “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NKJV). Sure, Abraham obeyed, but the decision certainly wasn’t an easy one. He was being pushed to embark upon a new journey, with most of the details missing. Sound familiar? You see, God knows the end from the beginning. You just have to trust Him. The most important thing is that Abraham obeyed God, accepted the call, and stepped out in faith. God expects no less of you.

You may not have all the particulars. However, God will unfold His plan as you progress along the path He’s chosen for you. If you are waiting for Him to perfectly map out the course before you respond to His call, then you’ll be left waiting forever. He develops and strengthens your faith as you walk with Him daily. But you have got to start walking.

Whether you are launching a ministry, business, career, product, service or other venture; the same is true of each. You have to start somewhere. Although you may not have all the answers, that cannot be your excuse for doing nothing. You will no doubt make some mistakes; it happens to the best of us. Still, you can’t let that stop you.

I remember one day, I got a call from my good friend, Pastor Donnie McClurkin. He is a world renowned Gospel singer, songwriter, and recording artist. On this occasion he was invited as a special guest at a White House Christmas dinner and invited me to tag along! I thought, why not? What an opportunity. I had not visited the Capitol since my ninth grade school trip. Of course, I wanted to make sure I was appropriately dressed. I asked what type of clothing I should wear and Donnie told me it was a black tie affair.

On the day of the event, I made sure I looked the part. I got a fresh hair cut. I put on my black Versace frock coat, custom-tailored shirt and pants. If I had to say so myself, it looked as if I had just fallen off the cover of a GQ Magazine. I must admit, I was feeling pretty good about going to the White House that day. When I walked, it was as if I had my own theme music playing in the background. It was that serious!

We arrived at the White House, went through the security check, and then, on to the room where the dinner was being held. Quickly, my eyes spanned the room. Then, the record scratched. My theme music abruptly stopped. And I knew…Donnie had not been given the correct information about the evening’s dress code. Everywhere I looked, the men were wearing blue and grey business suits.

At that very moment, I knew the answer to the riddle, “What’s black and white and red all over?” Me. I felt my face flush. My palms got sweaty. If I could have slid under a table without being noticed, I would have. To say that I was embarrassed, would be putting it mildly. I was utterly mortified. As I stood there in my formal wear, I expected someone to hand me a serving tray at any moment. Clearly, I looked like a resident butler, much like Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

In that instant, I had two options. Either I could play “Cinderfella” and storm out of there like it was midnight. Or, I could laugh about it and still choose to enjoy the evening. After I got over the initial shock of it all, I chose the latter. Consequently, I met great leaders from around the country, took pictures with the President and First Lady, and no one seemed too put off by the fancy threads. Despite being overdressed, to my surprise, the evening turned out great. As the lyrics to one of Donnie’s hit songs say, “We fall down, but we get up.” If you don’t always get things right, it is not the end of the world. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and “Keep on truckin’”, like Eddie Kendricks used to say.

There may be a few missing details along your path, but don’t worry. Things will still work out. Rather than focusing on all you don’t know and how out of place you may feel, begin to see the opportunity in front of you. Surely, I could have high-tailed it out of there, but what good would that have done? It really was not that major. At least I can see that now. While it was happening, however, it appeared much more important than it actually was.

Similarly, when you are called to take on a new position, it may seem very intimidating at the time. You may not feel prepared, or qualified. Still, you have been singled out for the job, so you might as well face it. Own it. Trust me, I know it can be difficult to overcome paralyzing fear and the haunting sense of your own inadequacy; accept the job anyway. Ignore that nagging voice whispering in your ear telling you, “God didn’t say that. He’s not really speaking to you. It’s all inside your head.” Although you may not feel completely confident, trust God anyway.

Are you familiar with the story of Gideon, the fifth judge of Israel? He was challenged by God to go into battle and defeat the Midianites, on behalf of the nation of Israel (Judges 6:36–38). When Gideon received his assignment, he was ambivalent about the mission. Gideon was not sure that he should be the one leading Israel into battle. After all, of his own admission, he was the least likely choice. He could not imagine why God would hand-pick him for the job.

Gideon was by no means a great warrior and naturally he was confused about why God called him to complete a task that was way out of his league. He was very distraught about the whole thing and could not resist sharing his dilemma with God. Gideon thought that he should probably give God a heads up to help Him understand why choosing him was such a huge mistake.

He said, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15 NKJV). What did he think God was going to say? “Oh Gideon, you’re so right. What was I thinking? I had no idea about your deficiency. Whew! That was a close call.” Now, of course, God was not going to agree with Gideon’s excuses, just as He’s not going to agree with yours. Here is what God actually said, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16 NKJV).

Let me help you with something. God is not put off by your (what I call) leastlikeliness. It does not matter that you have been considered least likely to succeed, least likely to get the promotion, least likely to survive in business, or least likely to make an impact in ministry. God has called you and He is on your side. It’s time to change your attitude and your words. Yes, you are the least likely; that’s right. You are the least likely to fail, least likely to quit, and least likely to be defeated. You are more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37 NKJV).

It does not matter if you feel unqualified. Being unqualified does not disqualify you from being called by God. He is not deterred by your lack of experience and credentials. God is not limited by your natural limitations and He is in no way restricted by your restrictions. All you have to do is accept His call and He will take care of the rest. As the story continues, we learn that Gideon got cold feet before it was time to go to battle. He asked God to provide some kind of sign to let him know if He had truly called him to embark upon what seemed to be a kamikaze mission.

“So Gideon said to God, ‘If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said—look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said’” (Judges 6:36–37 NKJV). Verse 38 of that same chapter tells us, that God indeed provided the sign exactly as Gideon requested and everyone was happy, right? No. Not quite.

Actually, verse 39 shows us that Gideon still was not satisfied. He still needed more proof. He asked God for another sign. Essentially, Gideon wanted God to give him a confirmation, for his confirmation. He knew that he was in no way cut out to do what God called him to do.

God did not get frustrated with Gideon; rather, He provided him with another sign to demonstrate that He had indeed called Gideon to do His will. When God calls you, He always puts you in positions you feel woefully inadequate to occupy. Not to worry, because whomever He calls, He equips to do the job—and do it well. Israel went on to win that battle against the Midianites, because Gideon was finally obedient to the call of God.

I’m sure you can relate to the emotions he felt. You may be experiencing a situation in your life where you need God to confirm that He is indeed with you. God has strategically orchestrated this moment to let you know that He is going to complete His work through you. You do not have to fear. He is ushering you into your destiny.

God is speaking to you and He will not be silenced. He is ministering to you right now and He wants you to embrace what He is doing. His call on your life is for specific reason, a distinct purpose, and a set time. God is calling you. Trust me. He will stop at nothing to get your attention.

Think for a moment. Have you been bombarded with confirmations of God’s promises? Has He spoken to you in dreams, in visions, or through others? Be sensitive. Be open. Be prepared to fulfill the call. It is time to do what He has instructed you to do.

I know that you, like Gideon, just want to be sure. You want to “know, that you know, that you know” it is truly God. How many times and ways does God have to reveal Himself, before you will say yes to His call? When the voice of the Lord spoke to Isaiah and said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Isaiah told God, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8 NKJV). God wants you to tell Him the same thing, “Here am I! Send me.”

When I was coming up in the Church of God In Christ, we would repeatedly say, “Yes Lord,” and “Have your way Lord,” in times of prayer and worship. That simply meant we were assuming a position of complete submission. We were giving up our own will in exchange for His. If you are going to experience God’s best, you must strive to let God have His way in every area of your life. Give Him the opportunity to speak to your heart. Remember the old hymn that says, “Have Thine own way Lord, have Thine own way. Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, after Thy will. Whilst I am waiting, yielded and still?” (Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Adelaide A. Pollard and George C. Stebbins, Hope Publishing 1907, 1935). Let God know that you willing to receive everything He has for you and open to the new dimensions to which He is calling you.

Pursue the Call of God

When I began growing in my understanding of God, I knew that His call was on my life, but I still wrestled and wondered, “Could I really be called? Me, Lawrence Powell? Could God really use me for His glory? Could I be singled out to make a difference in the world?” You may ask some of these same kinds of questions. I want to assure you the answer is yes! God has great plans for your life—much bigger than you can imagine. So big, in fact, they would overwhelm you if He revealed them all at once. You are going to have to passionately pursue the call through intense prayer and supplication.

I recall my earlier days, attending graduate school at Oral Roberts University. I was experiencing a time of tremendous spiritual growth and development in my walk with the Lord. Still, I was seeking to understand exactly how God wanted to use me. One day, while I was in my room alone, I went into my literal prayer closet for a time of deep reflection, introspection, and prayer. That day, I was intent on asking God for direction. I was so full of questions and I really needed to gain a grasp of what He was calling me to do. I began to pour my heart out to Him. I said, “God, whatever You want me to do, I’ll do, but I need to know that it’s You speaking to me.”

I diligently sought the Lord and pushed past my fears, my anxieties, and my concerns. God spoke to me and assured me of His plans for my life. However, this was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that I sought God for His direction and confirmation. You see, I had a constant battle raging in my mind that kept me feeling uneasy, uncertain, and unsure about the path I should take. But I never stopped pursuing His call, even when I didn’t understand.

Don’t worry just because you don’t completely understand everything about your purpose today. You can still apprehend what you cannot comprehend. Simply respond to God as young Samuel did by saying, “Speak, for Your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10b NKJV). This kind of act puts you in the right place to receive a word from the Lord.

Pause for a moment now and sincerely ask God to supernaturally develop your ability to discern His voice. Once you recognize His call and become more open to hearing from Him, you will realize that He wants to take you under His wing as His dear child and impart His purpose into your heart. From this day forward, become resolved as never before to pursue your calling intentionally, passionately, and relentlessly.

When it comes to going after God’s will for your life, you must possess an unquenchable thirst, unwavering perseverance, and unyielding commitment. Showing up on Sunday mornings out of

habit and mere obligation is not sufficient. Reading a few verses on a bi-monthly basis from your over-sized, large-print family Bible on the living room table won’t cut it. An occasional, “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer is not enough. Quoting, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), will hardly sustain you during your times of uncertainty.

Pursuit is the proof of desire. Thus, if you approach your quest with a nonchalant attitude, devoid of the true passion it takes to ultimately realize God’s plan for your life, you will be met with frustration. Your yearning to understand His calling must infiltrate the very core of your being and cause you to seek Him with true sincerity and fervency in prayer. As you seek God, He will reveal the mysteries of His will in a way that only He can. But you must remain steadfast. You can do it! Just the fact that you are reading this book shows that you have what it takes to overcome adversity, pursue God, and fulfill your destiny.

I cannot tell you how many times I cried out to God from the depths of my being, as I struggled to know exactly what He wanted me to do. I heard His beckoning. I sensed His will. I wanted more clarity, but the answers continually eluded me. I knew God was leading me on a path, but like the proverbial “carrot on a stick,” the answers I so desperately craved, seemed to be dangling just beyond my grasp. Yet, I could not quit. Why? The call of God penetrated the very fiber of my being. The passion to pursue His plan became like an unquenchable fire that burned deep inside the recesses of my soul.

God will ignite a burning desire in you to fulfill a higher calling. He will stir up a fire in you to fuel your faith through times of fear and ambiguity. On this journey to discover and fulfill the call of God, you may feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster, but continue to press on. Remember, when you are serious about seeking God, you are guaranteed to go through periods of uncertainty. Still, don’t be deterred. Just keep seeking Him. Hebrews 11:6 says, “…he who comes to God must believe that He is, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (NKJV).

Know that even though things may not come together all at once, God will complete the work He has begun in you. It pays to seek the Lord. Don’t give up your search to understand His call. When you seek Him, you will find Him, and when you find Him, you will find you. Then, the details of your call will be made clear.

These foundational principles are so important. Remember and rehearse what you have learned in this chapter. These principles will assist you in developing your faith during every stage of your journey. Never forget, God has indeed chosen you to complete an assignment that was laid out before the foundation of the world. As you walk with Him, He will continue to unfold His plan.