Christ Makes All Things Possible, and All Things Bearable

This is probably the most personal post I’ve had since I published my testimony and the story about my dad.  I hope that my story, or more, God’s story in my life, is able to encourage and lift you up.  With that being said, let’s get started.

Muscle is usually not a word that’s in my vocabulary.  Never has been.  I consider myself to be in shape, but I definitely could stand to be better about taking care of my body, and I certainly am not going to win a weight-lifting contest.  However, I do enjoy working out, and that’s what I’ll be basing this post on.  For those that know me…yeah it’s weird for me too.  Try not to laugh too much.

A miracle just took place in my house.  Seriously.  I get home, relax for a while, and figure I’ll work out some before I grab a shower.  I do my regular stuff: situps, curls, pushups, and those kind of things.  However, up to this point, I haven’t been able to do more than 33 pushups in a single workout session, without stopping.  I got to 35 today, after doing several other exercises.  And I wanted more.

You ever have those moments where some small event brings out emotion from everything else going on in your life?  I’m joining the club today.  I thought about all that has happened over the past few months, and I mean every little detail.  I thought, as I worked out, about all that I am planning on doing when school starts, and all I’d like to do.  It’s overwhelming.  It’s a terrible habit of mine, and one that needs to stop, but, it happened.

I blogged earlier in June about how Jesus must be everything to us.  And that’s completely true.  But that isn’t a decision that’s made once.  It’s a decision made daily, in everything that we do.  And so many times, I fall flat on my face, humbled, emptied, and broken before the Creator of the universe, and my Savior.  What are we truly dependent on?  If it isn’t Jesus….it’s something else, and it’s wrong.

Back to my exercise…I got to 35 pushups.  I wanted more.  36. 37. 38. 39…..Now, I’ve always been one that I don’t want to end on an odd number.  It’d weird me out and bother me if I didn’t get to 40.  I wanted it.  But as I went to push myself up for that last pushup, my arms and legs gave out, and I couldn’t do it.  I tried again…same result.  I tried a third time, and still, I couldn’t do it.  If you feel inclined to laugh at me at this point, do it.  I did.  Just not at the time.  For me, this was a result of my awful eating habits and years of just not caring.  This is what I got.  Me, at 20 years old, not able to do 40 pushups.  And it broke me.  I laid on that floor, crying.  Not just because I couldn’t do 40 pushups.  But because I realized, at that moment, at how lost I am without God.  It hit me that I can’t do anything on my own.

As the tears came rolling down my face, I thought about everything that’s gone on, and will go on, and I cried out, “I can’t do this, God.  I don’t have anything left.”  I can’t handle my relationships, my job, my finances, my family, my ministry, and all that life, and God Himself, demands.  Heck….I can’t even take care of my own body.  I literally felt like I could not push myself up off the floor.  I screamed that I was done.

Now, what happened next is the miracle.  I didn’t get this great surge of energy, or this miraculous return of strength to do a pushup.  I just knew in my heart that just like all the other times before in my life, God was looking right at me, and was reaching out His hand to pick me up off the floor.  And He did.  I picked myself up.  And I went right back to it.  I got myself in position to do a pushup, lowered myself, and with everything within me, raised myself up off that floor.  I would go on to do 50 pushups today.

It was a miracle because God found me in a place where I could not pick myself up, and He picked me up, and allowed me to keep working.  When I needed one pushup, He gave me 11 more.  As I sat and relaxed, I thought about all the times God has done that.

When my family was torn apart by divorce, and I wondered if I would ever feel that fatherly love, God showed me His love.  He provided His loving hand, and gave me the most incredible, loving, Godly, and supportive grandfather I could ever ask for.

When I found myself angry at the world, He called me to calm down in Him.  Nothing in this world or the next is outside of His control.

When I was 8 years old, He drew me to Himself in Christ, and showed me what it means to trust in Him.

When I struggled to find friendship, He called me to Himself, and showed me what a friend I have in Jesus.  Years later, He would provide, and continues to provide, Godly brothers and sisters that encourage and build me up, and love and care about me no matter what happens.

When I struggled to maintain relationships with the other side of my family, He reminds me of the grace and forgiveness He’s shown me so many times.

When He found me 12 years after salvation, in rebellion and sin and doubt, and wondering if the life in Christ was truly better than the life without Him, He brought me back with open arms, and showed me what real growth and maturity looks like.

When I sin, when I doubt, and when I hurt, He continues to bring me back and restore me.

When I seem to lose everything I have, and when I lose the things and even people that matter the most to me, He shows me what is truly important.  And it’s not a thing, it’s not a relationship with anyone else, it’s not school, it’s not family.  It’s Him.

On that Thursday night in Virginia, when everyone else was either sick or incapable of leading, and all was thrown on me, I cried out, “I can’t do this, God.”  He took my hand, and said “You’re right, Neal.  You can’t do this……but I can.”  And 20 boys put their faith in Christ for the first time, not out of anything I did, but all because of what God did.

July 7, 2011—-I can’t bring myself up off the floor to do 40 pushups.  But He can.  And He did.  Not by a supernatural physical power, but out of His love and His affection for me.  I heard a voice saying “It’s okay, I’m here.  And you can do this.”

And I did 50.  When we have nothing left, God is more than able to fill us up, and allow us to do more than we ever thought we could, through His power.

Maybe that’s where you find yourself tonight.  You’ve tried and tried to fix it yourself.  And every attempt at success, at popularity, at looking and feeling good, it fails.  Every attempt at holiness fails.  I can speak from experience…as long as you continue to trust in yourself, it will continue to fail.  But we have a marvelous and unfailing hope in Christ.  Through Him, all things are possible.  Whether it be getting through the death of a loved one, dealing with a relationship that is strained.  Maybe your unemployed and wondering how you can possibly provide for your family.  You may not be able to….but God can.  Let Him use you, and do what He asks, for it will never be too much, and the results will be nothing short of amazing.  Maybe you’re just sick and tired of feeling worthless.  You know the gospel.  You know the Bible, and you know you’re in sin.  But you just don’t know a way out.  That way out is Jesus.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, what you’re going through, or what you’ll have to deal with in the next 50 years.  Our God is an awesome God, and He provides salvation, forgiveness of sins, and an eternal, everlasting hope in Christ Jesus.  Life may not be easy, but we can place our trust in the one who’s been there.  We can place our trust in our Savior, who we will see one day, face to face.

Maybe you just can’t do one more pushup.  Maybe you’re like me.  You’re out…you don’t have anything left.  Overwhelmed by the burdens of the world, and possibly even what God has called you to do, you feel like the world is crashing around you.  That’s not the case, for the same God who holds the world together is holding you.  He won’t let it crash down on you.  It may be tough, and it may seem impossible, but there is nothing that is impossible with God.

I’ve felt more lonely this summer than I’ve felt in a long time.  The difference between now and ten years ago is that my first instinct is to run to my heavenly Father, who welcomes me with open arms each time.  The loneliness fades away in the light and love of God.  He is good….in every season of life, God is God.  No amount of death, hurt, pain, unemployment, sin, divorce, break-ups, hatred, disasters, and disappointment can change that.  He is God….and He is faithful to His children.  He loves you, more than you could ever imagine.

God bless,

Neal

Sociology 101, Christmas, and Love

“It’s going to be like a real-life sociology lesson.”  That’s what a close friend said to me last Friday night.  What she was referring to was probably the most meaningful event of my almost 20 year old life up to this point, outside of my salvation in Christ.  After almost 18 years of disappointment, questions, hate, anger, sadness, and prayer that something would change….it did.

This past Saturday I met my dad.  It was one of, if not the most, emotionally and mentally challenging situations of the past year.  July 2009 I started contacting him over Facebook.  A couple of months ago, I decided I wanted to meet the man that was halfway responsible for me being here.  I decided that I couldn’t go any longer without hearing his voice.  For some reason, God chose now, now being the past year and a half, to start mending our relationship.

I’ve gotten to know my dad in a limited way over Facebook.  I know his favorite sports teams, what his job is, how his family is doing, and all that stuff.  I still to this day don’t know why I responded to his initial Facebook message.  But God has truly done a miracle.  Everything is not perfect, and there is no way to make up for lost time.  We both understand that.  We also understand that nothing, NOTHING, NOTHING is impossible with God.  And we know that God is making a way for us to have a relationship.  After all these years of hate and anger and not knowing, God has brought us together.  I not only hope that things will continue to improve and we continue to get to know each other…I know they will.  God is absolutely, truly, indescribably awesome.

I remember the years I would cry myself to sleep because I didn’t know my dad.  I remember getting in arguments with mom and thinking “why couldn’t he stay?” All these questions.  Why didn’t he try harder?  Why didn’t it work?  Was it my fault?  To anybody reading this who is a child of divorce…it is never your fault.  If you think that way…Satan has already won.  Things happen.  Sometimes life sucks.  We move on.  For those of us who are in the Lord, who know Christ, we move on with joy because we know our final home is not on this earth.

For years, I hated my father.  I couldn’t forgive him.  It hurts me to write this, because I know he’s going to read this.  What he did was wrong.  But he doesn’t need me to tell him that.  I’m not his judge.  And God has not only changed my life…He’s changed my dad’s as well.  It took me a long time to forgive him.  And I felt so much better, I can’t even describe the burden that was lifted off my heart.  I was just a happier person to be around.

So, years pass, and then we start talking.  Again, a few months ago, I decide I want to meet him.  This past Saturday, Mom came and told me that Dad was at Cracker Barrel, where we were meeting.  I freaked out.  I had felt like I was going to puke up the past ten meals I had eaten.  This was the man that had made me and mom miserable.  This was the man that although I had talked to him, I felt like I didn’t know him, because I had never seen him.  Then I remembered that God was capable of anything.  I prayed that the Lord would strengthen me and give me peace.  Of course, He came through again.  I remembered all the conversations me and dad had, and how we started laughing and crying and smiling because we knew that through all the pain, all the hurt, all the…everything, God is good.  And God is moving.

We pull into Cracker Barrel.  I see him sitting on the bench.  I’m in the car, shaking.  My beautiful, incredible, loving, Godly mother puts her hand on my knee and says: “Neal…look at me.  I love you.  And you know that through all of this, I have supported you.  I love you…so very much.  I am 100% behind you, and will never stop loving you.  Let’s do this.”  Before I go on, I’d like to thank Cracker Barrel for the “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” song outside.  That definitely made me cry more…thanks.  My dad extends his hand, I shake it and let out a faint “hey.”  Before I know it, I’m wrapping my arms around my dad, we’re both crying, and it hits me.  My dad…will always be my dad.  Without him, I really wouldn’t be here.  And in a weird way, he is partially responsible for who I am today.  He did give me some good traits.  And even in the negative things, I learned from his mistakes.  And I’ve made my own mistakes and learned from them.  Parents aren’t perfect.  My own mother is about as close to perfect as you can get, but I know she’s messed up, if only once or twice.  But I know she loves me.  I know she loves the Lord.  And, finally, I can say the same about my dad.

We sit and have nice conversation over lunch, mostly involving me devouring savory grilled catfish, fried apples, and macaroni and cheese, and…whatever they ate.  Finally, at the end, we get up to leave, and I’ll never forget what he said to me before we left: “This has made my Christmas.”

As this semester draws to a close, I’m reminded of what God can do.  He has blessed me with some beautiful people, some incredible friends in my life.  I am so thankful for you all.  If you’re reading this through Facebook, you’re probably one of them.  He is moving in my life now, through the drama team, through the worship team, through the relationships and people He has sent my way.

And I am reminded of how unworthy of it all I really am.  I’m reminded that just a year ago, I was caught up living my life my way.  I was forgetting my salvation and the call God placed on my life.  I’m reminded how God called someone who had an addiction to sin, an anger problem, problems with respect, pride, selfishness, and anything else you want to throw out there, to a small town in Virginia to serve as a camp counselor.  I’m reminded of that warm Thursday night in July where 20 young men gave their lives to the Lord.  And now, I remember a cold Saturday morning in December where 18 years of frustration, anger, and bitterness started to melt away.

This life isn’t about me.  Saturday wasn’t about me.  It wasn’t about my mother.  It wasn’t about my dad.  It was about God.  It’s all about God.  If we don’t start living our lives this way, we’re in trouble.  I didn’t think there was any way my dad and I would ever get along, much less have a relationship with each other.  But because of God’s grace and His provision, the impossible has become possible.  Sound familiar?  Christ did the same thing 2,000 years ago on a cross.  He made the impossible…salvation….possible.  He bridged that gap.  Let’s not forget what love truly is.  This Christmas season, let’s take Christmas back and make it about Him.

I told my mom recently that she doesn’t have to get me anything.  I know she will, because that’s who she is.  But I know she loves me whether she buys me gifts or not.  How?  Because when I come home on the weekends, my key to the house works.  My bed is there.  The water is running.  I am guaranteed a meal, usually cooked and always amazing.  And she does things everyday that tell me that no matter what, she loves me.  And I will always love and appreciate her.

I don’t want gifts.  I want to thank and grow closer to the gift-giver.  I want to spend time with the people that matter: my mom, my grandparents, my cousins, my friends.  I really am rich.  Not materially or financially, but I am rich in that I know the Lord, and that I have family and friends that love and cherish me.  And whether we think it or not, as David Platt puts it in “Radical,” if we have running water, shelter, food, and several sets of clothes and some form of transportation…we are in the top 15% of the world’s wealth.  Not America’s.  The world’s.  Don’t forget…America is NOT the only country out there.  It is NOT the only place God cares about.

I just want to encourage whoever reads this to not take this holiday season for granted.  I was told a couple days ago that a woman that I helped move in, the woman that was the subject of a previous post, a woman that had cancer, wasn’t going to see this Christmas.  She passed away a week after we moved her in.  Don’t forget what you have, and don’t forget that all we have belongs to the Lord.

Lastly, back to the subject of sociology and my dad.  It truly was a lesson.  I learned where I got traits from, and why I do some of the things I do.  I sat at that table and studied my dad.  Interesting stuff.  But more than that, I gained a lesson from God.  He showed me that no matter what I thought, no matter what had happened in the past, and no matter what’s going to happen in the future, He is strong enough to do anything, including healing me and my dad’s relationship.  It’s something that I’ve been shown this semester as well.  As I go throughout my classes and my different interactions, I see God at work.  I see Him at work when I have trouble with a class or with a person.  He is there and He is faithful.  I see His blessings poured out, and it’s nothing I’ve done.  It’s all Him.

Saturday was all Him.  Finally, I can say that I know what my dad’s voice sounds like.  I know what he looks like.  I know that he loves me.  And I know that none of that was possible without the almighty God.  I know that there is NOTHING He cannot do.  I know that I’ve already received the best gift I could receive through my salvation in Christ.  And this Christmas, I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to meet my dad.  I know he feels the same way.  Again…I know, finally, that he loves me.  And Dad, when you read this….

I love you too.

God bless,

Neal