I have a history of a back and forth relationship with God, but I have a feeling I’m not alone. We have times when we walk closely with God, but we might fall away. And then we will come to a point where we are at the end of ourselves and we realize how much we need Jesus. There is a...
2017 is like a field of new fallen snow! Imagine yourself standing on the edge of a mountain, down below you is a valley and in this valley is just a beautiful field of snow with no footprints. Nothing has been marred, it’s just a field of pure snow and you get to make your path through...
The message of Christmas is that you and I live in the dark, and the truth is that we live in a world that is so massively broken, and so massively accustomed to life in the dark that we cannot even see the dark any longer! We live in the shadow of death, that is the shadow of hell, and in...
When we are cynical about people, the future, the church or anything else, we are advancing the agenda of hell and hindering the work of heaven. Negativity can be a word that you speak to somebody, that's just a critical, well-aimed word from hell, to demean and diminish others. We are...
I have a history of a back and forth relationship with God, but I have a feeling I’m not alone. We have times when we walk closely with God, but we might fall away. And then we will come to a point where we are at the end of ourselves and we realize how much we need Jesus. There is a drastic difference between a life lived in the darkness, and a life filled with the light. I want to show you this difference--the Jesus Difference--in my life.
In order to tell my story, I have to go all the way back to before I was even born. My mother and father were both raised in strong Christian families, and not just religious families, but they had parents who really loved Jesus and served in various ways, especially my father’s parents. My grandparents on my father’s side were extremely active in the Church. My grandmother was cherished by all, and led many people through hard times via her counseling. My grandfather has written many books and has been in leadership roles in churches for as much of his life as I’m aware of. Looking at my father, it’s obvious that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. He met my mom while at seminary, and for about two-thirds of my life he’s been a pastor, or at least involved in ministry in some way. So yes, I guess that means you can call me a PK (pastor’s kid). But honestly, what does that have to do with anything???
Maybe not so much anymore, but back when I was in high school there was a certain perception about what a PK should be, and what they shouldn’t. Let’s just say that I did not fit the mold; at least, inwardly I didn’t. On the outside, I was the perfect pastor’s kid. I spent a lot of time at church, I served and helped my dad out a lot when he was pastoring several churches that he had started himself. And, I behaved (for the most part). However, internally there was no real relationship with God, and in fact I tried to keep whatever was there hidden from the rest of the world. I was ashamed of my faith, if we could even really call it that. I’ve always believed in God, but he was never truly real to me.
Because I had no real faith, I was just a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. And sometime around 2007 I finally exploded…
In late 2006, I joined the Air Force. In truth, it was a good move for me, and honestly it was the only way that my wife Rachel and I could get married and not struggle financially. And where did we get sent? Only a few thousand miles away to Germany…
So, off we went to start our new life in a place where we knew no one, and where I had no real connection to the life I was previously living, except Rachel of course. I still had my morals, which were instilled in me by my parents, even if the faith part never really stuck. So, luckily, I at least had that, and in reality, it probably saved me from going down some even darker paths than I did. But, to be honest, I was already lost. My heart was not in the right place, and my thoughts were not thinking on Godly things. I did some things that I’m not proud of, and I hung out with people that only brought me down. I did not go to church, and in fact I didn’t really even want to. This lasted through three years in Germany, and got even worse our three years in Guam.
After the birth of our second child in Guam, which was not something we had planned, things got pretty grim. I almost made the worst mistake of my life, and made dozens of others that I really wish I hadn’t. I still wasn’t going to church. I was swearing as much as the worst sailor you’ve ever met (no offense to my Navy brothers and sisters). I was not being a good father, I was angry a lot, and I treated my wife poorly. However, again, my morals, as weak as they were by now, still kept me from tipping over the edge. I thank God to this day that he was watching over me, even before I was born. I know that the choices my parents made, and the way they raised me, was just so that I could survive through these trying times later in my life.
So, there I was living my life in the darkness, with no way that I really knew of (at the time) to get out. But then, everything changed…
Just as the dust of an explosion eventually settles, things in my life finally started to become just a little clearer. I was able to get back on my feet and begin to heal from the wounds, though it took time.
In 2013, I changed jobs in the Air Force, which took us to California for several years. For nearly 7 years I’d hardly stepped foot in a church, but when we arrived in California I felt the tug to look for a local church to attend. We tried one, which ended up not being the best fit for us, so I started looking for another. I don’t remember how I heard about Shoreline, I think it was through an online search, but when we tried it out we really liked it there. And for the first time in years I finally started to feel something. It started deep within my soul, and it was a very slow change, but God spoke to me in profound ways over the next year or so. At times, it kind of felt like going to the dentist - it was uncomfortable, but I needed to remove the dead and decaying parts of my life so that I could fully heal and recover. I don’t really remember a specific moment when everything changed, though perhaps Rachel could tell you if you asked her. It was not some big light that opened in the sky and unleashed Heaven’s full glory down on me, burning away all the bad parts of my life. It was just a slow process of change as my mind began to be reformed – old habits and interests slowly faded away, and new ones took their place.
You won’t ever hear me say that I’m wholly complete, but I can tell you that the difference between now and then is night and day. As Nathan "Nate" John Feuerstein, the artist known as “NF”, so wonderfully put it, “Christian is not the definition of a perfect me.” Christian only defines who I strive to be, and who I look to as an example.
So, what’s really different about me? Besides most of the bad stuff that’s gone (yes, I do still sin), I’m passionate about things that I used to not care abiyt. Take this blog post for one. The old me would never have considered sharing all my shame on the internet. The old me would never have freely volunteered to write something meaningful so that in some small way, others might find the courage or the strength to allow change in their own lives. Besides that, the way I think has changed a lot. I see people differently. I judge less, and love more. I treat people differently, and my anger is under control. Of course, I do still have some small outbursts when I have to drive in Maryland traffic, but anyways…
One of the other ways that I’ve changed is in my desire to serve others, which as you know if you’re a Severn Runner, is something that we’ve been talking about recently. I know that I still need to do more, but even that feeling of ‘I need to serve more’ is something I NEVER would have thought about a few years ago. I lived for myself, and that was apparent. Now, though I’m still a selfish human by nature, I consider others more often and have more of a desire to help them.
I know that there are many of you out there right now who are reading this and possibly needing to do some reflections on your own lives, even if it’s only mirrored through my own distant experiences from yours. We all have different lives and experiences, and that’s what makes us unique. God speaks to each of us in different ways. So, it’s my hope that at least through sharing my story you’ll take a moment to listen and see what he has to say about yours.
Is he calling to you? Is he asking you to come discover this Jesus Difference that we’ve been talking about? Or, perhaps he’s asking you to share your own story of the Jesus Difference in your life, so that maybe, just maybe, someone you can uniquely reach might find the courage to allow the change that they’ve been desperately searching for their whole life.
You never know just who your story can affect. You never know just who your story can reach. And you’ll never know unless you share it.
There are a million stories out there of people who’ve come to understand this Jesus Difference, and who will probably tell you that it has been the biggest and best difference in their lives to this day. There are millions of stories through the ages of lives that have been changed – lives once lived in darkness, that are now bathed in the light.
Will yours be one?
2017 is like a field of new fallen snow! Imagine yourself standing on the edge of a mountain, down below you is a valley and in this valley is just a beautiful field of snow with no footprints. Nothing has been marred, it’s just a field of pure snow and you get to make your path through that field. Everything in 2017 depends on how you will depend on the light of God or yourself and the darkness of this world.
When the sun is coming down and the light is hitting us, we’re ok, but when circumstances change and get painful and the clouds come and block the sun, things get dark pretty quick. The trouble is, that too often when circumstances get hard, our hearts get hard as well. When circumstances go dark, too often in my own case at least, my heart gets pretty dark.
I have the unspiritual gift of self pity. Any of you all have that gift? Worry? Fear?
The reality is, that all of these things are like gravity pulling down and we struggle in this dark world with rising up and living in the brilliant light of Christ verses giving up and lying down in the darkness of the world!
When I talk about darkness, it is things like anger, bitterness, sadness. The frustration that you and I feel, it is the pain that is often pouring into life. It is the vision of the future that just appears. Well, have you ever tried to drive at night without your headlights?
The light on the other hand is the joy and the peace and the love of God. It is the glory of God —it is hope! I’m just telling you as a person who is deeply broken and the truth is that we’re all deeply broken in different ways, I struggle with not only living in a dark world, but I struggle with having a dark heart and with living down and depressed and under instead of soaring on eagle's wings! (Isaiah 40:31)
And when we allow the darkness of this broken world into our lives (circumstances happen) but when we let it in, the darkness clings and it depresses and it festers and it makes us angry, it makes us broken, it makes us less!
So the power of this message is going to depend, in part, on you owning your own darkness. Identifying your darkness. What is your darkness? What is your resentment? Your un-forgiveness? What is it that depresses you and discourages you that makes the future look hopeless and the past look dominant?
Isaiah 9:2 says, “But the people walking in darkness…” That’s a description of our lives in this world, and part of the insanity of our life in the world is that we often don’t see the darkness and we call darkness light. In fact, the scriptures in Isaiah 5:20 says, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."
That’s just the nature of what we do. In fact, all of our sin that we turn to, is us turning to something other than God (which is called idolatry) and we’re calling something other than God good when in fact it is evil because we’ve put it above God.
“But the people walking in darkness have seen a great light…” That is about Jesus, “…on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Guys, I just want to say that 2017 can be the most brilliant year of our lives! It can be full of light. Full of hope. Full of joy. Full of peace. The truth is, the way that we get to the light in a dark world and the way that we live overcoming and not dying down is through prayer!
Prayer is the path to a life in the light!
So you and I don’t have to live dying down. We don’t have to live angry. We don’t have to live dabbling with sin and destruction! We can live in the freedom of the glorious light of God!
It is amazing when the light comes on, how fearless you can be! When the light comes on, fear begins to evaporate. When the light comes on, anger begins to recede. When the light comes on, forgiveness begins to flow. When the light comes on, we can see the insanity!
Prayer is the path to a life in the light so that no matter how hard circumstances are, no matter how difficult the moment or the day or the year is, we are not in the dark —we are alive in the light of God. Everything depends on how we depend! -Dr. Drew Shofner
The message of Christmas is that you and I live in the dark, and the truth is that we live in a world that is so massively broken, and so massively accustomed to life in the dark that we cannot even see the dark any longer!
We live in the shadow of death, that is the shadow of hell, and in this world, we feel the brokenness and we feel the alienation. We feel the something missing and we long for something more! We look around and we cast around for saviors in this world, some man, some woman, surely somebody will love me. We try to buy our way into happiness, we'll work our way into significance but in the end, the darkness creeps in through whatever light that we have falsely been able to create, and the match goes out and we're left in the dark, feeling the shadows of hell and hopelessness again.
Matthew 4:16 says, "…on those living in the land of darkness and in the shadow of death, a great light has dawned!" We know that in the scriptures, Jesus came to save us from hell in eternity, but what I want to remind you as you live your life in the rest of 2015 and through 2016, is that Jesus did not come merely to save you from the hell that is going to be after life, He came to save us from the hell that is in life- here and now! Christmas means that a savior has been born to the world who brings light to life in a radical way that requires us to die completely to ourselves and to be born again to a new life that is alive in hope forever!
What I want to challenge you to do in 2016, is to call light out and to call darkness out! Because a part of our brokenness is that we confuse the two all that time. Isaiah 5:20 says this, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put light for darkness and dark for light, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."
When the shadows of darkness are reigning in your heart, you call it out and you recognize that it is darkness and you turn away from it. You reach for the light of Jesus and you allow him to fill your heart with a hope that is from heaven and is eternal. You and I can live our lives in the shadow of death for the rest of our existence if we choose, or we can live in the dawn. No matter how hard life is or what it throws our way. How alone we feel or what ever struggles we have; we can live believing in Jesus and we can live alive in His hope!
God never called you to live down in despair. When you live with the shadow of hell in your heart, in your marriage, in your home, you are forefitting the future that Jesus bled to give to you. When you live hating what you see in the mirror, you are allowing the shadow of death to stay in place in your life when Jesus brought light to illuminate and to change everything!
My prayer is that you and I would leave the dark forever, and though we walk through the valley of the shadows, that we would live in the light of Heaven itself! My prayer for you is that 2016 is the year that you come more alive than you've ever been. That you finish your grieving, that you throw off the darkness of death, that you come alive and bear the image of God that He created you to bear in the world and that you make a difference in the lives of other people. That you love so well, that other people want what you have and other people see the light of the Christmas birth in you! Darkness or light, hope or fear; it's our choice! -Dr. Drew Shofner
When we are cynical about people, the future, the church or anything else, we are advancing the agenda of hell and hindering the work of heaven. Negativity can be a word that you speak to somebody, that's just a critical, well-aimed word from hell, to demean and diminish others.
We are negative because it's in our old nature, because it gives us power over other people, because we are frustrated that our will isn't being done. Frustrated people are negative people, and to live frustrated is not to live at all, it's just to wake up everyday and die a little more!
When you make a choice to quit being negative, you have made a choice that is going to change the course of your life. In Christ we have been given a new nature that trumps the old (2Corinthians 5:17), and we have to make a choice of which nature wins? Real faith is about seeing life differently now, and you see it through the filter of an Almighty and all conquering Kingdom of Heaven that has come unstoppable in Christ! - Dr. Drew Shofner