Monday, December 16, 2013

The pursuit of truth

Truth has to be one of the most important things in the lives of human beings. We are all searching for truth about different things in life - who we really are, what our purpose is, who we should marry, what football team we should support, etc etc. Many of us devote our entire lives to the search for truth, not only for our own sakes but for the sake of others whom we can share the truth with once we find it.

Jesus was the single most devoted person in history to the truth. He spent His entire time on earth preaching the truth about many different aspects of life. The truth he preached won Him many friends. It also created many enemies - mainly because the truth that He preached offended them because it didn't line up with what they wanted. The Son of God was unfailing love. He was also unfailing truth and invited His followers to journey with Him throughout His life's mission of both preaching and fulfilling the truth through His sacrifice.

In John 6, Jesus was teaching about His crucifixion. Many of His followers became offended with His teaching and said - "This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?" (John 6:60). Jesus' response to them was simple - "Does this offend you?.....There are some of you who don't believe." (John 6:61-65). The following verse is very telling - "From that time many of His disciples turned away, and walked with Him no more." (John 6:66). Jesus was not a man of compromise when it came to the truth. He knew what was right - and He stuck by it. He challenged His disciples to put the truth even before themselves - and only those who truly loved the truth and believed in Him accepted what Jesus said to them and stayed with Him. The rest disappeared.

We all have a certain knowledge and understanding of the truth in our lives. Each of us has different truths that relate to us as individuals. The truth that Jesus was preaching about His own crucifixion challenged the belief systems many of the people of His time held dear. Yet they proved to Jesus that they were only interested in the truth just so long as it suited them and lined up with what they wanted. They couldn't handle their core beliefs being challenged by anyone - even the Son of God - and therefore chose to walk away. Jesus' pursuit of the truth took Him to a bloody death on a tree. The only disciple that embraced the truth of His journey enough to be able to walk with Him to the very end was John - who is often interpreted in scripture as "The Disciple that Jesus loved." (John 13:23).

Truth has become something that has become very, very important to me - especially over the last few years. Spending a life in constant, almost indefinable trauma has lead me on a relentless pursuit for truth as throughout my own journey inwards over the last 12 years - which has brought me most of my healing - I have come to know for a fact that "the truth will set you free." (John 8:32). The truth which has brought me the most healing has challenged me very deeply and forced me to let go of any ounce of pride I ever had in my life as I became more and more aware that stubborn pride blocks ones ability to face the truth in their own lives. I have developed enough inner strength now to be honestly able to say that I do love the truth and I am prepared to stand by it - even when it hurts me. Most of the time, the truth has only really hurt because it's challenged me on a deeply rooted lie I've been subconsciously believing - sometimes for a very long time.

I have had to learn that when a word I knew was true was spoken into my life and it hurt me deeply - it was because God was using the truth to weed out the deeply rooted lies I was believing in my own heart. I then had two choices - to either become offended and reject the truth because it upset me, or embrace the truth and accept that the very fact it upset me meant that I was being challenged on something I needed to be challenged on. Sometimes this was a very hard and lengthy process and it could be a long time before I was truly able to identify the lie I was already believing in my own soul that this truth was clashing with. But I had to realize that this process was all a part of spiritual growth  as becoming a stronger, more emotionally healthy human being meant to uproot the lies in my soul and replace them with God's truth. The uprooting process was painful - even more so when the lies had been deeply reinforced over time. But I had to realize that if I didn't embrace this process, I wouldn't have grown. God bluntly told me once - "Do you want to get better, or not?" It was up to me to make the choice to do the right thing and allow the lies to come to the surface so that I could identify and be healed of them.

What I've found is that many Christians do want to love and embrace the truth, but we are all at different stages in our walk. Some are not yet ready to face the truth about themselves that they need to face in order to move on. Some need to see their pursuit of their own plans completely fall apart before they are ready to submit to the truth of God's plan for their lives (I was one of these people). And then, there are some who are well aware of the fact that God has spoken the truth - yet are so hopelessly obsessed with their own pride that they willingly reject the will of God because He wants something different to what they do. I recently lost a long term friendship because of this, and though it's upset me greatly, it's better that I know now where this person was at before I invested any more into them.

It's hard and painful when you see the loss of people in your life because others do not understand your quest for truth and your development into the person God has called you to be. It's made me realize just how important it is to surround oneself with people who are truly prepared to embrace the truth in every sense and that they are humble enough to allow God to speak His truth into their hearts and change their lives. Simply professing to be a Christian is not enough. You cannot put yourself, finances, loyalty to relationships, and other things before the truth. If you truly claim to love the truth, you must put it first and put your money where your mouth is. You must be prepared to face the truth - most importantly, the truth about yourself. Look to the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22). He simply couldn't accept that He had to give up his wealth. Jesus challenged him on the deepest belief he held in his own heart - which was that money was more important than anything. Even though the young man knew Jesus had spoken, He couldn't accept his truth and went away sad, refusing to follow Jesus and gain eternal life as he wished for because the price was too high - the price of having to let go of his own pride and dependence on material things.

At the end of the day, God's truth - especially His spoken Rhema word - is absolute and unchanging. Learn to embrace it and if it offends you, ask Him to help you understand why you are so offended. Don't be upset when He challenges you on deep issues in your heart. He is doing it because He loves you and wants to grow you more as a person. Embracing God's truth is the best thing we can ever do for our own souls - even if it does hurt at times. Count the cost, and realize that it's better to learn the truth God has given to us than walk around in a place of prideful offence because we refuse to face the lies we believe deep in our own souls.

Take care.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Three seasons

The last two years of my life have, in a lot of ways, become the most important years of my entire life - certainly in my adult life, anyway. Some of the things that happened were seemingly very random, yet God clearly spoke to me recently that everything has happened exactly as He ordained it and has happened at just the right time. God spoke to me of 3 seasons over the past 2 years - the season of Death, the season of Burial, and the season of Resurrection.

This is of course a parallel with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the first day, He died a brutal death on the cross. On the second day, His body was buried and a stone rolled over the mouth of the tomb, where He was to be held for evermore (or so the people who buried Him thought). On the third day, Jesus cast off the shackles of death and rose again, from the darkest place imaginable to a place of brilliant light and wholeness, having accomplished the greatest mission anyone would ever accomplish in the history of the world - to open the door for the souls of human beings to be saved. This journey cost Him everything. But it gained Him everything as well and achieved something that could never have been achieved by anyone else.

The season of Death began when I went through burnout in August 2011. My health died, my job died, many relationships either died or were dealt fatal blows that would eventually bleed out later on. This was a hard period - a very lean period where I was too sick to work so most of my time was spent at home, trying to work through my emotions and gain some understanding of what had just happened to me. Meanwhile those who in a lot of ways played a part in my downfall seemed happy and prosperous. This was a very, very bleak time. I picked up some bad habits which I hadn't used for years, such as cigarette smoking, mainly due to the horrible stress I was going through at the time. During this time two living environments in Taupo folded up and I ended up moving back home with my parents in Tauranga in June 2012. The season of death lasted one year.

From August 2012, the season of Burial began. Things had already died - now the funeral arrangements were being made and the death was made final. This was the season where I began cutting my ties with those who had played a part in my downfall in Taupo and where many of the relationships God didn't want involved in my future for various reasons were steadily weeded out of my life. This was the season where I finally saw that I needed to start coming off antidepressant medication for the first time in 8 years. As before, this was a season of deep soul searching and self analysis. It was almost 100% inwardly focused. Despite how bleak this season was, and how much loss was involved, I began to see a real strength begin to develop in myself during this time. I saw a boldness and a courage begin to emerge that I had never seen before and I also saw something amazing happen through my book being picked up by a major publishing house in the USA which would see my story propelled onto the world stage.

From August 2013, the season of Resurrection began. It started with the beginning of a new relationship with my girlfriend. Other amazing things were to follow. I cast off the last of the wrong friendships that had been holding me back with a new found sense of courage that my girlfriend helped me to discover within myself. It has continued to blossom into something new as after being out of work for nearly a year and then having a job which was only part time, I now have a good, respectable full time job which I will start in the middle of next month. I feel stronger, healthier and more confident in myself than ever before. However, this is only the beginning of this new season. More things are going to follow. The seasons of death and burial each lasted a day in the life of Jesus - or a year, in the life of me. However, the season of resurrection lasted forever. I believe my life is going to be similar. I have gone through something which probably would have killed someone weaker than I was - yet I got through it and I am a stronger, healthier person than I've ever been as a result.

I see a vision of myself as a butterfly that has been locked in a chrysalis of development for a very long time. It's a very small place to be in - tiny, in fact, and there was no room for anyone except myself. There was nothing happening except self analysis, emotional processing, self development, emotional healing. That's all my life has been about over these past two years. During that time I've felt a sense of almost claustrophobia - yet I always knew it was too soon to be emerging from this place of development as you have to make sure that you don't leave the place of growth and development too early. In the same way a butterfly will die if it exits the chrysalis too early - I couldn't leave this place of development until I was fully ready as any left over baggage that wasn't fully processed would be carried with me into the promised land I was walking into, and corrupt my blessing. I had to learn to not only accept the place that I was in, but to embrace it and really make the most of it to make sure that I was as strong and well developed emotionally as I could possibly be so that I could prepare myself properly for the future.

I believe I am out of this place of development now, and I am now learning to think more about other people rather than just myself all the time. However, due to the time I have spent thinking about myself and processing my own issues, I am able to speak into the lives of others with a level of depth and clarity I never would have had otherwise. However, it's not as if I have just blossomed immediately. I remember seeing the monarch butterflies we had at our house when I was growing up. When they came out of the chrysalis, they didn't just fly away straight away. They had to spend time straightening up their wings, allowing them to dry out, and probably went for a few shaky test flights before they really had the confidence to begin soaring. I believe this is the place that I am in now.

Ultimately I am beginning to walk in the season of victory, and though it's unfamiliar as I've never walked in a season like this before, I feel as if I am ready for it. I had to go through the spiritual journey I've been on over the past two years to be able to get to where I am today because without those experiences I never would be able to walk in the season I am in now. I would have just polluted my blessings with the darkness in myself. Fortunately, thanks to those two years of death and burial, I've been able to overcome most of it so that I am now able to contain the blessings that have come into my life.

If you find yourself in a place of confusion and uncertainty in your life, or if you're going through some terrible pain similar to what I've been through, don't lose heart. God hasn't forgotten about you. He knows what He's doing in your life. He's preparing you for greater things and the sooner you learn to embrace the season of preparation, the sooner you will be ready for the good things He's got for you and wants you to walk into. He's keeping you in that place of development not to hurt you - but because it's where you need to be. God loves you and wants you to walk into new things as a whole, strong, emotionally and spiritually healthy human being because if you walk in to a new thing with old baggage, you will corrupt it. So stay strong. Embrace the pain of growth and remember that it's for a good purpose.

Take care.

Friday, October 11, 2013

God is in control - even when we can't see how

The subject of God being in control of our lives and circumstances - even when we don't understand what's going on - is a subject often preached about in Christian circles these days. Often, His control means an answer or an outcome that we often don't expect, but later turns out to be the right thing.

Recently, my heart was deeply impacted by someone I once considered to be a close friend who has taken a proud stance for something that God very clearly indicated for me to take a stand against. I'd spoken to this person on several occasions yet they chose to ignore me despite the fact that I was doing as I was clearly told by God. The final nail in the coffin for this situation came up when I was talking to this person and all of a sudden my heart burst into flames with an urgent message from God for this person - "Tell them what I've told you." I stopped the conversation and explained that God had put it on my heart to tell this person exactly what God had told me. I explained that the stance I had taken was because God had told me to and that God was actually opposed to what this person was standing for. And once again, I was ignored as they continued to verbally defend something God had clearly told me (and them) that He was opposed to. Though they openly admitted that they knew that I was doing as I was told by God - they still continued to support what I was standing against and therefore had chosen to act in deliberate defiance to the will of God.

I literally couldn't believe what I was hearing. I thought this person was a close friend and here they were, deliberately dishonoring the Rhema word of God because God's word didn't line up with what they wanted. It's one thing to do the wrong thing and dishonor the word of God because we don't know any better or think we are doing the right thing when we really aren't. However, to be clearly instructed by God's Rhema word that we are doing wrong or are supporting something that is wrong - yet continue to do it anyway - is another matter altogether. I've learned in my walk that the Rhema word is the most important word a Christian can possibly hear. To see someone I once considered a close friend deliberately dishonoring the word of God because it didn't line up with what they wanted indicated that their pride was more important than God's truth - which was heartbreaking.

After months of trying to figure all of this out and dealing with the heartbreak, God clearly spoke to me. He simply said - "I don't see why you are so surprised this has happened, Graham. I'm not taken by surprise through all of this. I orchestrated this whole thing right from the beginning because I wanted to show you that this person does not have a place in your life any longer. This all happened due to My will and My purposes. Your life and ministry from this point on needs to be built on a firm foundation and part of that foundation is having people around you that can be trusted and can be relied upon to honor My Word and put it above themselves and their own wants and desires. Those who don't fit this mould will be removed because it's for your greater good."

I realized that most of my worry and stress in this situation had been simply because I thought that God had actually wanted this person to be a part of my long-term future and that God was angry because things hadn't gone to His plan. However, this wasn't the case at all. God knew exactly what He was doing and knew that this person could be relied upon to do the wrong thing - which is why He put the test of character in place so that I would see that they would fail it. It hurt now - in fact, it hurt enormously and a big part of why it hurt so much was the disbelief in my own mind as to what had just taken place. But I realized that a bit of pain now when the truth is revealed is better than an enormous amount of pain years down the line when a foundation has been built and it collapses at one point due to the pride and dishonor of someone who has spent all of that time focusing on what they want instead of putting God's Word and His truth first. God knew exactly what He was doing right from the beginning.

I have found that these types of situations often seem to happen when people are called apart for ministry - such as myself. God seems to be very pedantic as to who He wants in their lives - and who He doesn't. Since going through burnout in 2011, God has done an enormous amount of pruning in my life. He has removed people out of my life that He doesn't want to be there, He's removed me out of situations that were no longer beneficial and He's removed a huge amount of the fear and desire to please people at any cost which has plagued me my entire life. This fear has been replaced by a boldness and a courage to take a stand and do the right thing regardless of what it costs - and who decides to walk out of my life as a result. All of this has happened because of the life and ministry that God has planned for me. He wants the right people around me and wants me to have the ability to do the right thing and stand by God's Word and His truth before anything else.

The main lesson I took from all of this is that God knows the beginning from the end and that when He puts certain circumstances in place within our lives which cause reactions from others that we don't expect (and sometimes even shock us to the core) we need not be surprised and think that God has been taken by surprise in all of this. He hasn't. He knows people's hearts better than we do and He knows who can be relied upon to do the right thing - and who can't. If you are struggling with unexpected changes in your circumstances at the moment and are perhaps facing something similar to what I've faced - remember that God knows the beginning from the end and that everything happens for a reason. The reason may not always be what you expect - but it's right nonetheless and although it may hurt temporarily, it will benefit you in the long run.

Take care.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The spiritual wilderness - continued

Looking back over the last eleven and a half years of my life and everything that happened during that time period, I am rather amazed that I'm still alive. I've spent that entire time in the spiritual wilderness - the most intense period of that wilderness was the 40 months I spent in Taupo. I've come out of it now, and I do feel like a new man. However, I've also been quite bitter and perplexed about the fact that despite now being a published author on the world stage, I have very little to show for it. I sometimes feel incredibly low on confidence and I have little trust in my own decision making. I am rapidly approaching 30 years old now. I see many people my own age (or younger) who are married, have children and their own house. Though I now have an amazing girlfriend, I certainly do not have children or my own house - not to mention no finances to be able to fund those things.

This has been a deep source of grief and disappointment for me and has often caused me to feel like a complete failure as a man. I am actually very good with my money - I don't go spending it wildly on stupid, unnecessary things. My computer is probably the most expensive thing I own (which I need for writing). My car isn't overly flash and I don't have a huge amount of worldly possessions. I've also gone through long periods of putting money aside into savings accounts, yet at nearly 30 I have almost nothing to show for it. A conversation with my girlfriend this evening helped shed some light on this for me and helped further my understanding of the nature of the spiritual wilderness, and how the wilderness affects us.

You don't get your own way in the wilderness.
If there was one thing that was stamped out of me early on in the wilderness - it was my ability to make my own decisions and see them work out in my favor. After I dropped out of University at the end of 2002, I began to look for a full-time IT job using the papers I had gained from Massey University. I knew this was what I wanted to do, so I went out of my way to make it happen. One day at church, God told my mother that He wanted me to go to bible college. I didn't want to know - because I wanted a job doing stuff with computers. So I set out to apply to make one of these jobs happen. It didn't.

It didn't matter if I knew someone in the company, how well my CV looked, how well I conducted myself in interviews or anything like that. It was literally impossible for me to get a job. I could be first on the shortlist to get a job and somehow I still wouldn't get it. I thought that this was just because I hadn't found the right job yet. So, I kept trying. Nothing happened. After about ten months being at home unemployed, I was just about ready to completely lose the plot. God gave my mother a vision of a brick wall - one which I was banging my head against. Mum eventually prayed to God and said "If you really want Graham to go to bible college, he needs a job to save up to earn money for his course fees." A day later, a friend who worked at a local supermarket said that they had a job going filling shelves for 40 hours a week. Being beyond the point of desperation by this time, I was ready to take anything. So I went along for the interview and got the job. God got his way - I certainly didn't get mine.

There's no abundance in the wilderness - you get what you need for the immediate future, and that's all.
I always remember one of the bible stories I used to read when I was a kid. It was about the Israelites when they were in the desert for 40 years. God rained down bread from heaven to feed His people who were walking through the desert. The people were instructed to gather enough for each day - and that was it. One family decided to disobey this rule and gathered enough of this bread from heaven (called Manna) for the following day as well. They went to check it the following day and found that it had all gone bad, and needed to be thrown out. They were unable to store anything for the future - they only ever had enough for what was immediately in front of them.

I am Scottish by nature, so that means that I don't like spending money. When I do spend money, I spend it on well thought out purchases. I believe in the theory of buy once, buy well. Until this evening I have been very bitter about the fact that despite my Scottish heritage, I am nearly 30 and almost completely broke. Looking back on the past eleven and a half years, it's literally been like I've had holes in my pockets. The second I came into any money or began to save - it just always seemed to disappear. I did have one period where I had a motorcycle accident which cost me a lot of money - but not long after that thanks to some amazing financial blessings and cutting back on spending I found myself back in a position of financial prosperity. However, shortly afterwards it was infuriatingly gone again.

At the supermarket job I mentioned previously, during the space of 11 months or so I managed to save up over $10,000.00. A good achievement, I thought. After getting the job, I gave up the idea of going to bible college and thought that I'd stick with that job and go and get a flat. It wasn't meant to be. Nothing worked out, until I finally gave in and decided to go to bible college after all. My course fees? $10,000.00 which included my living costs. All that hard work to save was gone. Then, after a year of bible college which had reduced my funds to zero and a failed job that I attempted to make work for 6 months, I get called by God to go back to bible college - again. And spend another $10,000.00. I'd gone from being quite wealthy for a young man to being ten grand in debt - simply for obeying God.

This trend was to continue. If ever I had money from this point on, it just seemed to disappear. In early 2009 when I was living in Taupo, I felt God strongly impress upon my heart that I needed to really focus on saving money. So I did. For the next two years I saved all that I could and kept my expenses to a minimum. I wasn't sure why I felt to save, but I did anyway - diligently. Then in August 2011, burnout hit and I was out of work for nearly a year before moving back to Tauranga. The funds I had saved helped keep me afloat during this time. I didn't spend all of my savings throughout this time however, and began to build them up once I got back to Tauranga  and began working again halfway through 2012. Just as I finally began to make some headway and get to a better place - God opens the door for me to publish my book, which would cost me. Once again - all of my savings were gone.

I wanted to save for the future, but seeing as I was in the wilderness, I was only ever given enough financially to help me cope with what I was immediately facing. The few times I was able to save a bit of money - it was only because it was going to be completely used up later on. It was literally impossible for me to get ahead financially because of the season that I was in. My money wasn't meant to last, it wasn't meant to be a sense of security and it wasn't meant to help prepare for my long term future - it was simply used to fund the purposes God wanted it for in the wilderness.

There's one path in the wilderness - and that's Gods.
When the Israelites walked in the desert, they followed a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. This was the presence of God, which directed them exactly where to go and where to stay, as well as how long to stay there for. To go off on their own direction was to disobey God - and therefore risk death. The presence of God was tangible and there to instruct them that they were to follow no other path than the path God had for them.

My life had often felt similar. It often felt like I was walking a narrow, claustrophobic path between two cliff faces - with a solid wall of rock and dirt on each side of me. I could only walk the path that was laid ahead of me. I simply could not turn to the right or to the left because I'd just hit a wall. My experiences with the job situation back in Wellington reinforced this.

People got angry with me at times during periods like this of inactivity in my life and came up with all kinds of suggestions. "Why don't you move to another city and get a job there?" "Why don't you try this or try that?" No one really seemed to believe me when I said that I couldn't make anything happen. It wasn't for lack of trying to get a job. It just couldn't happen and it wasn't going to happen because it wasn't on the path God had laid out for me. I couldn't go out and make things happen for myself. If I tried opening any doors, they'd simply slam shut on me and refuse to open again. I began to realize that there was only one way that I could go, and that was on the exact path that God had set ahead of me - because nowhere else would even come close to working. So I began to learn to change my focus from trying to make what I wanted happen, to making sure I was hearing from God and obeying His will.

It takes time to adjust to life outside of the wilderness.
The wilderness is not a place of living, but barely surviving. You get used to not getting your own way regarding anything and you become a drifter, a lost soul, with no plan or future ahead of you except walking wherever the pillar of cloud decides to go next. You know that you've got no choice but to obey.

One of the most challenging things I am facing right now is the reality that the wilderness has finished its purpose in my life. I am now beginning to walk in the season of resurrection - into the promised land. And, quite frankly, it's quite intimidating. I understand to some degree how hard it must be for those involved in the military who fight in battles and spend all day and night just hoping to stay alive, to re-enter society. All of a sudden they don't know how to cope. War is all they know, and it's scary to imagine not being at war. I've been locked in a battle for my heart and soul in the spiritual wilderness for a long time now. There's been many casualties. But I've emerged victorious. However, the concept of facing life outside of the spiritual war zone is quite intimidating. I'm not used to having my own free will. I'm used to following the orders of my Sargent (this being God of course). I'm not used to being able to do anything except the strict orders given to me. It's new, and a bit scary. But I've made progress already. The more good things I continue to see happen, the quicker I will adjust and the easier it will be.

So, if you find yourself in the wilderness today, I sincerely hope this encourages you and helps to shed some light on what you may be facing within your own circumstances.

Take care.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

From weakness to weapon

If there's one thing that I've learned about God in my 12 years of being a Christian, it's that He wants his people to be complete and whole. Complete wholeness is only ever able to come into our lives when the painful, hurting areas in our hearts are exposed and fully cleansed so that they can heal properly. This process is deeply uncomfortable and sometimes outright terrifying, but it's necessary if we want to move into the fullness of who God has called us to be.

One of the strongest biblical examples of this process happening is the prophet Jeremiah. He's rightly labelled  as a hero of the faith and has been a strong inspiration for me. When the call of God first came to him, telling him that he had been appointed as a "prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5) he immediately responded by saying "I do not know how to speak, I am too young." (Jeremiah 1:6). Immediately we see a fear and an insecurity on the part of Jeremiah. Despite the clear instruction of the Word of God, he still hesitated due to his apparent lack of belief in himself and his own speaking ability. I know that in my life, when I was younger, I struggled a lot with speaking up about things that I needed to and a lot of that was due to a lack of self belief and a fear that my words would upset people. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Jeremiah was feeling the same thing. Therefore, his greatest insecurities have been called out into the open by God through this instruction. However, God isn't calling him to hide from them and work around them - but to boldly step into them.

If we continue to follow the story of Jeremiah, we see what was happening in the nation of Israel at the time. The people were living in deliberate, willful sin, yet the so called "prophets" were prophesying peace and blessing over Israel. God called Jeremiah to speak the real Word of God to the people and tell them that death and destruction was heading their way unless they listened to God and changed their ways. Nobody listened to him because they simply didn't have to. They laughed at him and mocked him, even went so far as to call him a traitor to his own nation. It got to the point where Jeremiah was so desperate for people to listen to him that he took to walking the streets with a yoke upon his shoulders. His own people became so angered with him that he was eventually thrown into a well to rot and die. Though he was eventually rescued, he was then imprisoned by his own people. Despite everything that happened to him, he refused to repent of the word he was given to preach and therefore remained in prison until everything he prophesied came to pass. Ironically, the Babylonians who overthrew Israel and thus fulfilled Jeremiah's prophesies, were the ones who showed him great kindness and allowed him to live anywhere he wanted.

I see an amazing story here. It begins with a young man, too frightened to go out of his comfort zone and speak, insecure about himself and his age. It ends with him facing every single fear in his heart and boldly proclaiming what God told him to say despite everything that was thrown against him. Nothing could stop him and he remained in jail, imprisoned by the unrighteous until his prophesies were fulfilled. His God-given role was very hard and cost him an enormous amount, yet he held firmly to the word of God and was eventually released by the very people he warned his own people against. The shy young man of old was long gone, replaced by a man as bold as a lion and with a faith worthy of mentioning in the Scriptures.

My greatest fears were along similar lines to his - standing up to people and saying things that might cause them to get upset with me or turn against me. Going through burnout in Taupo and facing the outright betrayal of two people I considered friends at the time was an absolutely cataclysmic event in my life. However, the next part of this was even harder as God actually called me to stand against these two people and tell both of them that the relationship that they were entering into was not God's plan for their lives, and that they'd be in serious trouble if they took it through to completion by getting married. I didn't make this decision to stand against them lightly. God spoke very clearly and said "I haven't blessed them, they've blessed themselves" and told me to stand up to them and warn them not to take things any further by using three simple words - "get over yourself!" I was being challenged - the same way that Jeremiah was being challenged - to face my greatest fears and obey the word of God regardless of what it cost me.

It was terrifying to begin with as I had no idea how people were going to respond but I knew that the Word of God had been spoken and that I was in serious trouble if I dared to disobey it, so I did as I was told. The same sort of thing happened in the sense that nobody listened to me and I lost a lot of friends out of it. People told me not to say anything to them, and after I had said my piece to them, some even went so far as to say to me that what I had said to them was "wrong" and "weird", yet I stuck to my guns and held fast to the stance I knew God had called me to take. It was painful and I lost a lot as a result for doing what I knew in my heart and spirit was the right thing to do. But at the same time, it began to develop a sense of confidence and self belief that I could stand against something and take the hits that went with it - yet I would still survive the outcome. I began to see friends dropping out of my life like flies - often because they didn't agree with the stance I had taken. This used to be the most terrifying thing I could imagine - losing friends because of something I'd done. Not now. My belief in the Word of God was stronger than anything and I was developing a boldness like I'd never had before which was prepared to make sacrifices for the sake of God's truth. People continued to ignore me, and the two people eventually got married. However, I still to this day, stand firm in the belief that I did as I was called to do and that deliberate disobedience to the warning that I was called to give them, will one day come back to haunt them.

The hardest part of all of this was that walking in obedience to God in this issue caused me to have to begin walking right through the most painful areas of my own heart. This was my greatest weakness by quite a long way - therefore God looked upon it as an opportunity to turn it into not only a very solid strength but an amazing story of overcoming and defeating fear. God wanted to take my weakness and turn it into a weapon for His Kingdom. Some days I was literally left shaking because the fear was just so overwhelming. But I knew that in this place of walking through my worst fears I was actually facing them - and therefore overcoming them. The worst thing God could have done with me, was to leave them all hidden in a compartment of darkness in my heart and not allow them to be prodded. This might seem like the safer option, but I would have been living with the continual weight of unresolved fear in my life and would have severely limited my functionality in the Kingdom of God - not to mention my ability to enjoy daily life.

This whole issue taught me that our journey with God to wholeness and full effectiveness for His Kingdom almost always results in us being forced to walk down a path where we are forced to face our greatest fears - not to torment us but because without doing this, we'll never become the people God wants us to be. Another example of this in my life comes from when I was several years younger and obsessed with distractions in order to keep my mind occupied so I wouldn't have to face what was really going on inside my own head. To force this mode of operating to change, I ended up being placed in situations where I not only didn't have a job, but was unable to get one. So I had no choice but to learn to look within myself and find the answers. The period of joblessness remained in place until I had faced what I needed to face about myself and learned what I needed to learn. Only then did God allow me to move forwards.

So today, if you're struggling with the word of God that's been spoken to you because you know you're going to face your greatest fears if you obey it, trust God that He knows what He's doing and that He's called you to do this because He wants to shine a light on the darkened, painful areas in your heart so that you can overcome them and move forwards. He's doing it because He loves you and wants the best for you - and also because He trusts you enough to want to use you for his purposes.

Take care.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Rhema word

No, this isn't a blog post about NZ's Christian radio station! Today I am focusing on the Rhema word of God. To start with - we shall examine the different forms the word of God comes in. There's the Logos word of God (a Greek word which has many meanings but is often interpreted as the written word of God) and the Rhema word (another Greek word which literally means  an "utterance" or "thing said").

In modern day Christianity, the Rhema word is used to describe the "spoken word of God" where as the Logos is used to describe the written word - being the Bible. It's important that we realize as believers that although God still speaks to us through His written word - He also speaks to us directly through the Holy Spirit. Though the Bible is the Word of God, just because the Bible begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation doesn't mean that this is all God has to say to us - although sometimes God uses His already written word to speak into our circumstances (e.g. God Rhema'd a scripture to me the other day). There are also times when God gives us specific instructions relating to circumstances in our lives that require Him to speak to us directly. He can do this through many different forms - through other people speaking to us, through the writings of others, and often through a still, small voice that speaks directly to our own hearts.

One thing I've learned throughout my Christian walk is that there is literally nothing more important when it comes to direction for one's life than the Rhema word of God. I remember at the end of 2006 when I was on holiday in Melbourne, Australia. I'd just finished my second year of Bible College and I was seeking direction for my life from that point onwards. I set aside a lot of time during my trip to ask God what it was He wanted me to do. Finally, He answered - through that still, small voice in my heart. "I want you in ministry" He said. So I asked Him where He wanted me to go - and at that moment I received an email from a new friend I'd just made who lived in the United States. Her email read - "Perhaps your missionary work will bring you to California someday". Those words just jumped off the page and hit me - and all of a sudden I knew where I was going. Once I got back to NZ I announced that I felt God was calling me to California.

The friend I had made was someone I'd met off the internet (and is still a very good friend today I might add!) We arranged that I could come over in May and live in the family caravan. To say I had my share of skeptics about this arrangement, would have been an understatement. I had several people tell me that what I was doing was incredibly stupid - that I was traveling to the other side of the world to stay with a family I didn't really know at all for quite a long period of time (My tourist visa was for 3 months) and I had nothing else to go on except "I feel God has told me to go". I had a job working as a furniture salesman which helped me save for my airfares and I even took a second job washing dishes in the evening to help fund the trip which lead to some very long hours and a very tired Graham, but it was all worth it!

Eventually people began to realize that I had my heart set on going, and that I wasn't going to take no for an answer, nor would I listen to people telling me what I was doing was stupid. Was this pride, stubbornness and arrogance? Without the clear and distinct Rhema word I received, it probably would have been. But because God had clearly spoken to me - it was nothing more than me believing in the Word of God and trusting that He wanted me to go to the USA for 3 months, and that he'd provided me a contact over there who was willing to put me up. I knew that I was doing the right thing, and no one could tell me otherwise. Eventually the time came to fly out to the USA. I ended up being at the place I had organized for only a month before things changed for the family and I had to find another place - with another host family from the church who gladly put me up (and are still great friends to this day!) Both places I stayed at were a huge blessing, I was able to branch out and meet many new people, help out in the music team at church and even got to do a bit of out of state traveling. I was also able to volunteer at a Christian Camping ground just outside of Los Angeles. It was the greatest 3 months of my life and I bid a very sad goodbye to the amazing friends I made over there who told me they were sure they'd see me again, as I'd be back one day.

When I got back to New Zealand, within two weeks I had a well paying job at a solid, reliable company up in Auckland and as a result my finances began to rise again after becoming rather depleted during my 3 months overseas. People were amazed at not only how brilliantly the trip worked out but that I came back immediately to a good job. My answer was the same - it worked out because God called me to go.

Romans 10:17 states that "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God". I remember when I was at Bible College and I had this vision that remained with me for many years. I saw a vision of a man in a completely darkened universe standing on a flat, circular platform that was suspended in space. There were others behind him where he'd been before. He remained still - with nothing whatsoever in front of him - until the Word of God clearly spoke to him and said "jump". He jumped - seemingly into nothing - and then after a very brief sensation of falling, another platform materialized out of nowhere and he landed safely on his feet.  The important point to realize is that the man jumped when God said to. Had the man jumped forwards before God had said anything, I doubt that the platform would have appeared seeing as it wasn't God who called him to jump - so he would have fallen to his death.

This vision - and the experience of going to the USA later on - both communicated to me that even if you don't see anything to land on in front of you, if God has called you to jump - then you jump. He knows what He's doing and even if the answer isn't what you may expect, you've still done the right thing by obeying God. The danger comes when we jump into things without God's consent. If that man had fallen to his death and arrived in heaven, demanding to know why another platform hadn't appeared - I can pretty much guarantee God would have said to him - "Did I tell you to jump that last time?" If the guy was honest, he could only answer no. So he didn't really have anyone else to blame except himself as he ran ahead of God.

The most challenging part is learning to trust and believe that we hear the voice of God. There are counterfeits that can come and imitate what God is saying. These voices can sound a lot like God but at the end of the day, there always seems to be something about them that just doesn't quite sit right. John 10:27 says "My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow me." I've found for me that God's voice seems to come from a place that somehow, within the very core of your being, you just know that it hasn't come from you. It doesn't speak to my mind, but to my spirit, and I just know that it's right. Having a mind as busy as mine, it can often feel like a 4 lane highway, full of traffic racing along as fast as possible. I've found for me that one word from God causes all of that traffic to immediately come to a complete standstill. If this doesn't seem to happen, there's a good chance what I'm hearing isn't right and I find that if I'm not sure about what I've heard, it often means I'm wrong and those words fade away after a while. The bible also clearly states that "Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying 'This is the way - walk in it.'"

In conclusion, learn to hear the voice of God for yourself by asking Him to speak to you. And if He's spoken to you and tells you to do something, and you know in your heart of hearts that its Him - as I did with going to California - do as He's told you to. You'll please God and increase your faith.

Take care.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Understanding the nature of trials

This is another subject I am extremely qualified to write about. I've been a Christian for the past 11 and a half years. Nearly that entire time has been trials. Only in the last few months have I begun to feel that the time of trials in my life is over and that the blessings of the Promised Land are on their way at last. It's been a long, hard and incredibly demanding road which has cost me absolutely everything - it even came close to costing me my life on a few occasions. But I learned to face and walk through them properly so I am now finally beginning to see a harvest.

Trials have taken many different shapes and forms in my life. Some have been very short and intense - like the last two months of my time in Taupo - others have been long and drawn out, such as periods of unemployment that have lasted nearly a year. Most of them have been specifically ordained by God to help me learn something about myself - others, sad to say, have been self inflicted and utterly pointless except to teach me to listen to God and do things His way rather than trying to make them happen on my own.

Every single trial serves a purpose. The final two months in Taupo were absolutely awful and were used to show me that God didn't want me in that town anymore and that it was time to move back to Tauranga. I faced a trial of finances while I was living in Auckland several years ago which taught me to be more careful with my money in future and helped me to learn the value of a dollar. The trial of burnout was used to completely destroy me so that I could be rebuilt from the ground up which was the only way that I could get better. And the trial of living at home at 29 years old helped give me the finances to fund my book and gave me a safe place to detox from getting off 8 years of antidepressant medication. These are some of the points I've learned about trials along the way.

The greatest trials in your life will reflect the deepest struggles in your heart.
The deepest areas of tension in my heart throughout my entire life have been massive issues with injustice, cruelty and suffering due to the selfishness of others. These areas were buried very deeply in my own psyche and although I was aware of them to some degree, they hadn't been brought to the surface so I couldn't really face them. In order to bring these to the surface, God put me into a situation where I was badly and unjustly hurt by the selfishness of others. God knew that this is what it would take to get me to face the reality of my own heart and what was happening under the surface. The anger at the injustice I suffered only began to fade once I began to face the real issue I was carrying around with me. Not to say that the circumstance I faced was right and that those people were justified - it was wrong and they were certainly in the wrong. But anger at the circumstance (however justified it was) was only part of the issue. The real issue was the deep tension God wanted to reveal in my life - so He used something to mirror it to get me to face it.

If you fail to learn the first time - you'll keep facing the same issue again until you do.
This is to coin the phrase "going round the mountain". If there's an issue in your heart that you refuse to face - you'll keep being put in circumstances and situations by God until you do. Not because He wants to be cruel and torment you - but because you can't walk forwards until you face what He wants you to face. I always remember hearing this quote, which, although it's rather harsh, has a lot of truth in it - "The only consistent factor in all of your failed relationships is you." If you keep trying to do something and it just continues to not work out for you - simply trying again is not always the answer. It could be that God is using the failure of something that you really want to see work out in your life because He wants to reveal something in your heart that's blocking you from receiving the very thing that you want to work out. Continuing to try and make something work out when God's trying to show you why it isn't working out is just like banging your head against a brick wall. It doesn't help anyone and only hurts you until you change your mindset and decide to make the change in your own heart.

Sometimes it's not God who determines the length of the trial - but us.
There are times when trials are not defined by any time period (40 weeks for examples sake) but by us and how long it takes us to realize the truth. Sometimes God puts us in specific trials until we learn that we actually have the power to put them to an end by either changing something in our circumstances that perhaps we didn't believe that we could change beforehand, or changing something within ourselves. I went through a long trial due to a friendship that had been badly strained due to the selfish actions of that person who lied to my face on two separate occasions and proved himself to be a selfish, dishonorable man. I suffered for a long time trying to keep the friendship alive and feeling worse all the time - until one day the penny dropped and I finally realized that perhaps I was only suffering because I was trying to continue this friendship when it wasn't meant to go any further. I asked God if He wanted me to cut all ties with this person and the peace of God flooded my heart like a river, plus He dropped one, simple word into my heart - "Irrepairable." I ended the friendship that day - permanently. I thought to myself afterwards - "If I'd just realized this was the case earlier, I could have saved myself a lot of needless agony!!"

If we don't listen to God when He speaks to us -  He will make us listen.
Several months after I faced burnout, I began to get a sense in the Spirit that things would change after 40 weeks. So, on the exact day that 40 weeks had passed since going through all of this, I asked God for an answer. "40 weeks is up - what next?" He immediately dropped the words into my heart - "Go to Tauranga". (I was living in Taupo at the time). So I said "Ok" & went to Tauranga to visit for a few days. When I got back to Taupo - things started getting worse and worse. Throughout this time I found myself blurting out the following saying without even thinking about it - "My time here is finished, I want to go back to Tauranga for good" but for some amazing reason I failed to even take notice of what I was saying and kept trying to make thing work in Taupo - not realizing that what I was saying was actually God speaking to my spirit telling me to move. Finally, all hell broke loose in the house I was living inand I was at a friend's place in tears, with no clue what was happening to me and why. She said to me - "Graham, your time here is done. Leave. Go back to Tauranga" and I finally realized she was right. Immediately I realized I had always known since I got back that my time in Taupo was finished, but my own stubborn mentality got in the way and I refused to listen to it. Therefore, God forced me to listen by making my circumstances unbearable until I finally woke up and smelt the coffee. Once again I realized if I had just listened earlier I could have spared myself a lot of agony.

I dedicate this blog to those of you who are going through trials and perhaps need a bit of clarity regarding what you are facing. I really hope and pray this speaks to you in some way.

Take care.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

All about the wilderness

If there is one subject I am qualified to write about, it's this one.

The wilderness is a very important place in biblical terms. It's a place of hardship, of death, of struggling to survive, living rough, having your needs met but only barely. There's no abundance, there's no luxury, there's no real blessings, just the bare essentials to keep you from freezing and/or starving to death. Every day is a battle. It's a notoriously unforgiving environment. It's also often associated with the number 40, which is the biblical number of trials and testing. The Israelites walked in the desert for 40 years after their exodus from Egypt. Noah spent 40 days adrift in the ark with all of the animals (mate, that must have reeked after that long). Even Jesus Himself spent 40 days in the desert without food or water, as this was his time of trial.

I lived in Taupo for nearly three and a half years. This time was by far the hardest season I'd ever had in my entire life. From the day that I arrived there, things went bad immediately. I showed up at my job the following day to find out I'd been made redundant before I even set foot in the door. I was fortunate to receive a large payout, but I had rent to pay so that began to decrease rather quickly due to the fact that I was now without a job (through no fault of my own). I eventually ended up having to apply for the unemployment benefit. Finally, after being out of work for 4 months I took a job doing outbound sales at a local phone store which didn't suit me at all and by all accounts, absolutely knocked the stuffing out of me.

After 6 months there I got a new job at Lake Taupo Christian Camp which was a blessing. What I didn't realize at the time was that the damage had already been done and I had already begun my downward spiral before I even started this new job. A few months into the job God put it on my heart that I was to write a book, which I set about with fervent abandon. Then, me and my flatmate were forced to move due to violent neighbours keeping us awake all night with their domestic disputes. Despite several calls to the landlord, nothing changed, so we left and moved into our new house which was much nicer.

All was going well until 2011 when I began to find myself getting more and more tired. I began to take more and more sick days simply because I was no longer coping. The long hours of writing and the busyness of my job were taking their toll and my downward spiral was now in full swing. Once mid 2011 rolled around, the downward spiral accelerated partly due to God's intervention through social circumstances but also due to some physical health issues that had begun to show themselves. By August 2011, I'd hit burnout and sunk as low as I could sink. Once I hit the bottom, I bounced and began my journey back upwards to health and well being again - not to mention I now had an amazing conclusion to my book. Fast forward a few jobless months later and we were once again forced to leave our living environment and I moved into a place that turned out to be just plain bad - which God used to signal the end of my time in Taupo altogether.

Once I moved back to Tauranga I realized I had been there for nearly 40 months exactly. I was so angry and bitter at how badly things had turned out there and how it had just been one bad thing after another with fortunate breaks in between at times before the next onslaught of bad stuff hit me. This time was my wilderness time. It was awful. It destroyed me completely. It changed me - forever. And this is what I learned about the wilderness.

When God leads you into the wilderness, He will provide for you - but only just. I was fortunate to be blessed with amazing people that genuinely cared for me in my living environment from the time I got to Taupo till about 2 months before I left. The people I lived with played a big part in my recovery from burnout just by caring for me and allowing me to continue to live with them despite the very bad shape I was in. God also provided for me in terms of other good friends both inside and outside of church who were a big help to me. He also provided for me by speaking to my heart in 2009 telling me to start saving money which turned out to be a big help once I was out of work. My most basic needs were definitely met - but only just. Everything else was just plain hard work.

The wilderness is a place of death. In 2011, everything died for me. I lost my job, my health and I came very close to losing my own life as a result of what happened to me. Everything changed from this point on. Friendships that I thought were going to be long term came to a sudden end or were at the very least, fatally wounded and took some time to bleed out. Going through something as severe as burnout deeply changes who a person is. I had always been the super nice, passive guy who wanted to be best friends with everyone. After burnout, this philosophy was completely turned on its head. I began standing up to people and telling them that their behavior was unacceptable and hurting others. Due to this, a lot of people got fed up with the fact that I didn't fit in their pocket anymore and decided they didn't like who I was becoming. I also realized that I was hurting myself by not telling people the truth and not standing up to them when they'd hurt me, which lead to more friendships going downhill as I realized I had to let some people go in order to get well. Doors stopped opening and now started closing. I simply could not get another job in Taupo even once I began to feel well enough to work again. This cycle of doors closing and things dying off continued until I finally learned that my time in Taupo was up and that it was time to leave which wasn't until June 2012.

You can't make the wilderness your home. Most of my bitterness and fury was the fact that due to the good friends and great church I had, I thought Taupo was going to be home. It never was. You can't make a home in the desert. You can't live abundantly in a place of death and dying. You can't live comfortably in a place where your needs are only barely met. I spent so much time working so hard trying to make myself a home in a place that was never meant to be home but a short place to stay in for a season. The harder I tried to make it work, the worse it became and the more despondent I became as a result. The desert isn't there for your comfort. It's a place of spiritual growth forged in hard times. The hard times come from the fact that God wants you there, but the environment itself doesn't want you there. It was pushing with all of its might to get rid of me and get me out of Taupo, yet God wanted me there, so there I stayed, until June 2012 when God clearly instructed me to leave. Once I got back to Tauranga, things started flowing and life began to get easier. The desert was over and good things were coming at last and for once, I didn't have to fight for them.

You don't get over the wilderness overnight. When I arrived back in Tauranga I was emotionally black and blue due to everything that had happened, not to mention severely underweight due to stress and poor eating habits. Only now after being in Tauranga over a year am I beginning to feel like I am finally able to let the wilderness go and put it behind me. It has taken a lot of counseling, a bit more surgery in terms of removing people from my life who were holding me back, a lot of grieving and actually seeing good things happen in Tauranga to help me get to the place where I am now. The wilderness is a brutal environment. It breaks you, it changes you, it forces you to face who and what you really are. It's like having major surgery done on your soul. It hurts, but it's necessary. However, there's also a recovery time before you get back to full strength again. The wilderness hurts - a lot. And, like everything that hurts, it takes time to heal.

When God hasn't lead you there, the wilderness is a dangerous place. The wilderness of Taupo was a place that God called me to, so although it was brutal and hard, He was still there. I have found myself in other places of wilderness in the past - such as several years back when I insisted God give me a job and wouldn't take no for an answer. He said "fine, take it, see what happens." I did - and it was a disaster. God's spirit wasn't with me in that place because I had disobeyed. I found myself in serious trouble health wise just 6 months after taking that job and I was forced to resign. The Holy Spirit later Rhema'd to me that if I had continued to live as I was living, in willful disobedience by refusing to obey His will for my life and taking what I wanted instead - that I would have been dead within two years. That means my book would never have been done and I would never have had the opportunity to make my mark on the world as a result. From that point on, I knew I would never disobey God like that again.

If you find yourself in the wilderness today due to the leading of the Spirit of God, I hope and pray this sheds some light on what may be happening for you. Also remember, if God has lead you there - it won't last forever (there's a good chance that the end will involve the number 40 somehow!!) and if you find yourself in there due to your own doing, perhaps now is the time to do something about it.

Take care.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's never the same again

It's been nearly two years since I hit absolute rock bottom with burnout. I'd been told through a prophecy that this was going to happen to me, and to be honest I thought it had happened already. I was wrong. August 7th, 2011 was both the best and worst day of my life. The worst day of my life as I'd sunk lower than I'd ever sunk before - which was a terrifying place to be in. But the best day of my life in the sense that I finally learned about the spiritual ties that had been keeping me bound up and I began to get better for the first time ever.

Ever since then, life has been a slow and steady upward climb. It took me at least two years to get into the place of hitting burnout in the first place, and I was advised that it would take me at least that long again to get back out. There's been some pretty hard stuff that's happened since then - such as the final two months I spent living in Taupo and the time I spent coming down off antidepressant medication - but overall it's been a slow and steady journey back upwards. I'm finally beginning to come back to normality again.

Except that's just the thing - the normality that existed before I went through burnout, is now gone for good and will never return.

Before I went through burnout, I was working long hours at a very busy, demanding job with an hour long commute each day (half an hour each way). I'd come home every evening and write, along with every weekend. Despite the terrible spiritual and emotional burdens I was continually carrying at the time, I still somehow managed to find the energy to keep going - at least for a while.

Oh, how that was to change.

After going through burnout and resigning from my job, I'd be completely exhausted and in need of an afternoon nap after a simple hour long stroll in the sun. This continued for months on end. Even close to a year later, once I shakily started working once again, after three hours cleaning motel rooms I would go home and sleep for two hours just about every day. This continued until I finally began to get my confidence back and realize that I could actually hold down a job, and that I was capable of responsibilities. Once this truth began to sink in I began to feel I had a bit more energy and with continued prayer and emotional support, I continued my journey back to health - or in a lot of ways, my journey to health for the first time.

Nearly two years later, I'm stronger and healthier than ever before. But I've realized that when faced with such a life-defining moment, a moment that literally shatters you to the very core of your being - that things will never really be the same again. I was talking with a friend about it this evening and he likened it to a car that's been in a massive accident - it can be rebuilt, but at the end of the day it's never really going to be the same car. Once something is completely destroyed, a rebuild may get it functional again but it will always be that little bit different.

I can't even imagine doing the working hours these days that I used to do. I get tired just thinking about it. I've realized that I'm a totally different person now than what I used to be. I am far more relaxed and far more balanced but at the same time, I'm even more wary of people than I used to be. I've developed the courage to throw some of the people out of my life who had treated me badly - something I never had the ability to do before. I went from being an incredibly passive person before I went through burnout - to an overly aggressive, confrontational person while I was coming down off the medication. Once that had passed, I began to develop a more balanced, assertive personality. Burnout, in a way, has helped me to gain everything I wanted and needed. But it's cost me everything at the same time. It's made me realize the reality of life and that the consequences of our actions are far reaching and can last a lot longer than we realize.

This whole scenario has caused me to understand what it must have been like for Jesus to go through the crucifixion. It's easy to write it off and say that because He was resurrected, His suffering was over. If anything, it was just the beginning. I believe God's heart is even further burdened these days simply due to the amount of people who reject salvation and ignore the only way to be freed from sin - even though God Himself paid such a high price for that salvation to be achieved. I can't imagine anything more frustrating as a parent (even though I'm not a parent myself) than to see your kids walk in a way you don't want them to go despite the warnings you've given them against it, and despite you paying the price so that they didn't have to.

I remember reading somewhere that the only remnants of sin in Heaven will be the scars on the hands, feet and side of Jesus - to serve as a reminder of the price that was paid in order to get us there. Even in that place of paradise there's still consequences for sin that Jesus has to bear for eternity. I guess one thing I've learned through all of this is the reality of both sin and life altering circumstances - even when forgiveness happens, there's still consequences and things are never really the same. Some of those consequences can be long lasting. Some can even be eternal.

My advice to you, readers, is to think and pray before you act. Some of the things that you do and say may not be so easily reversed and can leave eternal marks behind.

Take care.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Breaking camp & walking forwards

Life is a journey. Things are constantly changing, moving forwards. In the exact same way, our walk with God is also a journey. Sometimes you can stay parked in one place for a season, but it's just a matter of time until change rears its head again and you have to move on. As I always say - "Everything changes, and as soon as you get used to the change, everything changes again."

Over the last few years I have come to realize that when seasons change in life, the people that surround you can also change. I believe that God brings people into each person's life for a reason and often, just for a season. This isn't something you hear taught that often in churches. But it's true. I used to want to be everybody's best friend, to constantly be in touch with everyone I'd ever met throughout the course of my life, to remain connected with people and keep them close to me at all times. The concept of letting people go and moving forwards without someone in my life was completely foreign to me. However, my three and a half years in Taupo really changed all that.

When I went through burnout and began the slow rebuilding process of my life from the ground up, I was forced to come to a very harsh realization. I had been parked at a campsite in my life for far too long. I thought I was walking forwards. In reality, I really wasn't. I was parked at the campsite of wanting to be best friends with everybody and to never cross anybody, to blame myself for being upset when somebody did something wrong and to constantly embrace the almost hippie concept of "peace out, man!" at all times. Of course, everybody liked me. Mainly because I fit into their pockets and didn't bother them. But the reality was that I was stagnating in my life and that I was slowly imploding as a result of all of this. It was killing me staying camped here. During the process of recovering from burnout, it was like God took me by the hand and said "you've been here long enough - it's time to move on."

I faced some very harsh and unjust situations in the final few months before I went through burnout and in a way, I was brought into those situations by the Spirit of God. But I was also brought into them by the self centered, irresponsible and immature actions of people I considered friends at the time. I recognize that burnout was a necessary event in my life. It was something that had to come to pass. But I also realize that part of my education was to learn to stand up to the people who had contributed to my downfall due to their own selfish actions and refusal to deal with their insecurities. My typical reaction beforehand would have been "peace out, man. It's my fault, somehow. They didn't know what they were doing, it's my job to learn from this and keep the peace." However, God used these experiences to begin to teach me how to be a man. He told me very clearly what I had to do. "Get over yourself" he said. This is where the journey of moving on from this soul crippling campsite finally began.

As time went on and I became stronger, God made it clear to me that some of the people who had contributed to this horrible phase in my life needed to be let go of before I could go any further. So not only did I lose several friendships but God also lead me to tell someone the full extent of what their selfishness had contributed to in my life and that it was a final warning for this person - that if they didn't change their ways, they were in trouble. I most certainly lost a friendship out of this. But most importantly - I obeyed God. Shortly after speaking to this person my pastor spoke in his sermon about how God calls us to speak into people's lives and tell them things they don't want to hear at times. He said that it's common for us to be afraid of the consequences but God's word to us is simple - "get over yourself". As soon as I heard that, I knew I'd done the right thing. A lot of people have disagreed with my stance and said that what I did was wrong. I've simply told them that I was being obedient to the Spirit of God and that I answer to Him, and Him alone - no one else.

Let me make one thing clear at this point - if there is one thing in my life I absolutely refuse to apologize for and compromise on, it's taking a stand that God has called me to make. I no longer care who I offend or how they react because if I know that God has called me to do it, it's the right thing to do and that to ignore that word and do nothing is wrong. The prophet Jeremiah summed it up beautifully in this verse But if I say, "I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:9). If God calls me to speak into someone's life - even if it's a clear warning about their behavior that could end a friendship - I will do it. Otherwise, His words burn within me like fire until I do so. I never used to be able to say this as I'd always doubt myself and believe I was wrong. But with the confidence I have in my ability to hear God and the confirmation of the words of my pastor I know that if I was to repent I'd be repenting for obeying the word of God - not a wise thing to do.

This whole experience has forced me to move on from that campsite. Moving on from that campsite displeased a lot of people who were used to me being passive and taking everything on board that was thrown at me. But it was part of my journey. I had to walk forwards. God loved me too much to allow me to stay there and my leaving of that campsite may have displeased a lot of people. But I've realized that this is part of life. Some people are stuck at campsites of their own and only like you as long as you stay there with them and remain stuck at the foot of the same obstacles they are stuck at. The second you say that being here is hurting you and your walk with God, and that you need to move on otherwise you're going to stagnate, they become unhappy and get angry at you for no longer being who they want you to be. Some people can give off the illusion of wanting to move forwards in their lives but when push comes to shove they make it clear that they don't want to go anywhere and don't really want to change - either because they don't know how to or because they simply like the attention they get being stuck at the foot of an obstacle and going round in circles. These are the people you need to learn to let go of - not out of hatred but out of the simple fact that if you remain closely partnered to them while they go round in circles, they drag you down with them and hold you back from being the person God has called you to be.

This isn't a judgment call. Everyone is at different phases of their journey and some people just aren't ready to move forwards yet. They can have all the potential in the world, and it's great to recognize that, but you also need to be aware that some people aren't ready to go where you're walking, and vice versa. The people who end up with you for the longest seasons and continue to be by your side throughout the years are those who love truth first and foremost - regardless of how harsh it is because they know the reality that "the truth will set you free" and that anything besides the truth will only keep you in bondage. Throughout my 11 years as a Christian I have learned to love the truth and I do my best to live by it and to walk in it the best I can. I still fail, I still get stuck at the foot of obstacles myself and I still lose my temper due to this frustration at times. But my core principle remains the same - I love truth because it's the truth that has set me free. I realize that those who will remain close with me are those who also love truth and don't flinch when truth is given to them - regardless of how unpleasant it is to hear and how much it contradicts what they want.

My point in all of this is that our desire as Christians should always be to walk forwards. Sometimes God places us in campsites we can't get out of for a reason and for a season but it's always temporary. Listening to God and obeying Him, regardless of how hard it is, is what moves us forwards and stops our spiritual lives stagnating. Those who love the truth and want to see you be the best you that you can possibly be, will acknowledge this. Sometimes those who get annoyed with your stance and want you to stay in camp with them at the foot of an obstacle are those you need to let go of, or at the very least reconsider their place in your lives.

Take care.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Latest review for No Way Out But Through

Hello friends,

I'd like to invite you to check out this awesome review for the book at the following link -

Many thanks to James for taking the time to write this review. Much appreciated.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Walking the right path

I've been thinking recently about the purposes of God in my life as a Christian. God walks with the people who have chosen to accept Him and lays out paths for them that He wishes for them to walk in their lives. So how do we know when we are on the path He wants us to walk on, or the path we've chosen for ourselves that's actually gone against what He wishes for us?

I remember one particular incident in my life when I had just finished my first year of Faith Bible College. I returned home to Wellington and without asking God what He wanted I just went for what I wanted to do, which was get a job and work to pay off the student debt I had accrued. I didn't bother to ask God what He wanted me to do. Looking back now, I know that wasn't God's will for me. I think I was meant to go back to Faith Bible College. But I didn't care. I told God if I didn't get this job, I was moving to Australia. ANd I meant it. When I was first offered the job it just seemed to me as if God was saying "fine - have it your way". But I didn't care. I had a job. I got what I wanted.

Things started off ok. But as time wore on frustrations began to creep in and I began to lose any sense of peace I ever had about this job. I became more and more distressed and unhappy. I thought if I just continued to hang in there and persevere things would improve. They didn't. Despite all outward appearances that things were fine, I was in complete chaos on the inside. Things only continued to get worse and finally I ended up speaking to my doctor who prescribed me antidepressants. The thing is, I had very low serotonin levels in my brain so I had been in need of antidepressants for some time. It was a blessing in the sense that this situation at work made me aware of my need for medication. But then the horrible side effects began. Sweating, shaking and the like.

I continued to persevere but I was regularly taking days off work sick due to the horrible side effects of the medication I had just begun. My body was under so much stress I was struggling to eat and often couldn't keep food down. Eventually Christmas time rolled around and I went to stay with friends on Great Barrier Island. On the way up to Auckland I had the first sign that something was seriously wrong with me. I felt this horrible wave of nausea ripping through me and it was so bad I had to ask the bus driver to pull over. I crouched on the side of the rode in Turangi, gasping for breath.

At Great Barrier things only got worse. What was supposed to be a relaxing holiday got ten times worse when one day I literally felt as if my stomach had been ripped in half. Shortly afterwards I began vomiting blood. I was rushed to the doctors who immediately called the helicopter to fly me to Auckland hospital. Turns out I had a bleeding stomach ulcer due to high stress levels. I lost a huge amount of weight (not like I have any to lose anyway) and after a few days in hospital, I returned back to Wellington. When I got back to work I was told I was not performing adequately and that regular meetings would be happening to discuss my performance. I soon realized I was more or less being asked to leave. I finally realized I couldn't keep this going and that I had to quit. So I resigned and moved back to Tauranga to do my second year at FBC like I was meant to in the first place.

What did I learn from all of this? To ask God what He wants instead of just taking what I want. Because although things can look good for a while, eventually the reality will begin to sink in that all that's really happening is that you're "pushing crap uphill" so to speak. What happens the second you stop pushing something uphill? It rolls back down on you. There's nothing else to help it continue its journey. There's no one else pushing - only you.

I also learned that acts of willful disobedience by not asking God His will and expecting Him to just fit in with what I wanted to do can only continue for a season. It got to the point where I think God just said "that's enough - you're not going any further in this." It was always going to fail at some point. A Christian who wants to follow God's will can only continue in deliberate disobedience for so long before they hit a brick wall.

Yet another thing I learned was that although I was doing wrong - good things can be taken out of these situations. It was actually a huge blessing to me to realize that I needed to start a course of medication at that point because it helped take my serotonin levels back up to normal. It also taught me that the safest place to be is in the place of God's will and if Godly people or God Himself are warning you not to do something you should really listen to them as there's quite often a good reason why.

When we walk in the path God has set for us - we're not pushing crap uphill. It can be hard at times - incredibly hard. But if God has brought us to it, then He will bring us through it. The all important factor is that because we are being obedient by listening to His voice and obeying His instructions, He is actively involved in our journey - closing doors He doesn't want us to walk through and opening doors He wants us to walk through. There's a deep sense of spiritual peace that comes from walking in the path God has for us - the peace that "surpasses all understanding". (Philippians 4:7). When we are walking in accordance with our own selfish desires and not in the will of God, we lack that peace. It simply isn't there. We can get some kind of emotional gratification from that path - such as we would out of being in a wrong relationship - but the deep down, underlying sense of spiritual peace isn't there. The lack of peace will eventually force its way to the surface and until then we aren't really living but existing, in a place of numbness because we know what we are doing is wrong, but we refuse to admit it.

Isaiah 30:21 says "When you turn either to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying 'this is the way, walk in it.'" God has promised us in His Word that He will speak to us and guide us. The question is - are we prepared to listen to Him, even if the voice is telling us what we really don't want to hear? The fact is - if we continue deliberately walking against His will, we will someday realize it and regret it.
So if you hear God's guidance behind you today, if you see Him actively closing doors in your life and warning you not to continue the way that you are going - listen to Him. You don't want to go through what I did to learn this lesson.

Take care.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Defining good character

This is a word you see thrown around a lot in Christian circles. "Character". It's all about the "character" of God, what sort of character we should look for in a spouse, etc. But what does the term actually mean? How do you define if someone has good character or not and what kind of people are the ones who have good character?

I believe a person's character is defined by the heart attitudes and belief systems they hold onto which surpass absolutely everything else in their lives. Despite whatever spiritual and emotional issues they may be facing - their character overrides that.

People with good character are not necessarily completely emotionally healthy, fully functional people. They can still have deep emotional wounds that they haven't faced yet, perhaps because they aren't ready to face them at that time. People with good character can still be prone to explosive incidents where they make mistakes and get things terribly wrong. But their real character overrides that - because it's defined by what they do with the mistakes that they have made.

Trials and tribulations are designed to rock our human lives to the core so that we face who we are as human beings and are given an opportunity to face and change the darker parts of our lives. The deepest issues in our lives can never be exposed unless our world is shaken to the core, and that shaking process can be both violent and terrifying. Even the most spiritually and emotionally aware human being who already has a good strong knowledge of themselves and their own emotional make up can find themselves in very darkened places within their own hearts thanks to the shaking happening in their circumstances - and that's exactly how it's meant to be.

Character is defined by how we respond to this shaking and how we respond to the ugliness that's revealed within ourselves when the darkest parts of our own hearts are revealed to us. A person with good character may have found themselves overreacting thanks to a situation that they'd never faced before which brought up something within their own lives that they needed to address. They perhaps weren't able to address it right in the heat of the moment and overreacted. Which is common. However, their character is defined as to how they respond to their overreaction. Do they shirk blame and responsibility, blame others for the state of their own hearts and walk away ignoring this opportunity for personal growth due to being blinded by their own pride, or do they use it as an opportunity to better themselves by learning to look within and ask God to help identify the emotional driving forces that pushed them to this point so that they can work through them and be healed of them? When confronted with their own sin, do they own up and take responsibility (regardless of who is confronting them about their sin) or do they knowingly and willingly defend doing what they know is wrong? To respond in the first manner shows poor, undeveloped character. To respond in the second way shows good character.

The next definition of character is what happens from that point on. Do those who have done wrong learn from their mistakes, heal themselves of the pain that surfaced when their life is shaken and automatically respond better next time, or do they apologize and give the illusion of having changed yet just continue to make the same mistakes all over again and respond the exact same way when next faced with that obstacle (which they'll undoubtedly face once again if they haven't fully worked through it)? This is something that in a lot of ways can only really be observed over time. It's easy to give the appearance of having made significant change in one's life but appearances can be deceiving at times. Once push comes to shove again, you'll see what they are really made of and if they've changed at all.

Everyone is at different stages along this journey. Some are further along than others. I would like to believe that my character is defined by the continual desire to become a stronger, healthier, more well adjusted person. I've learned how to take good things out of hard times and I've certainly faced some times over the past few years that have pushed me well out of what I believed I was capable of coping with at the time and into some dark, terrifying emotional landscapes in my own heart. Sometimes I've reacted badly. Does this make me a bad person and does this cause me to have bad character? I don't believe it does. For the simple reason that despite all these experiences where I know I've made mistakes, I've learned a great deal about myself and become much stronger and healthier as a result. Those who know me well and have observed me over time have noticed a drastic change over the past few years. I could easily have decided to sit and sulk in my misery but I made the effort to improve myself, and I believe that effort is showing. I've made mistakes, and those mistakes have had consequences. But they don't change who I am as a person.

I have also had to make choices to remove people from my life for the way that the place that they are in currently in regards to their journey has affected me and in some cases, hurt me very deeply. People immediately say "you shouldn't judge". I believe you can't judge a person's heart. But you can judge their actions and when people are deliberately defending wrongdoing in their own lives which is hurting other people, I feel I am quite within my rights to make the choice to remove them. I can't judge what is happening in their hearts. That's not my place. But what I can do is say to myself that "I don't believe it's beneficial for me or this person if we remain in each other's lives. Their character has proven that they may do this to me again and they also need to face some consequences for their actions". Which I think is a fair point. God forgives us our sins. But there's still consequences for the wrong we've done and sometimes those consequences are irreversible. I know I've done some things in the past with irreversible consequences to friendships and relationships. I've learned from them and grown as a result. But the consequences remain.

I guess my point is that we need to be very careful whom we allow closely into our hearts and before we go off crying out to God for a spouse or anything like that, we need to make sure our own character is in a place of being ready for it and being able to handle it. I believe that God knows our hearts and our lives better than we do. He is capable of bringing the right people into our lives at the right time - people of character. But we must have good character ourselves first. Developing good character is a messy and painful process. It can take years before any change is seen. But it's necessary if we want to live healthy emotional lives and want to truly be able to better ourselves as people and make the world a better place.

Take care.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The driving force

No, this isn't a blog post about cars! I'm talking about our motives as people to go out and achieve things in life - some things which have simply never been done before.

I often think back to the Star Wars - Special Features DVD I have as part of my collection which details George Lucas' making of the three original Star Wars movies - in particular, the first one. To be quite honest, it appeared to be absolutely shambolic. They went way over budget, way over deadline, most of the actors thought the dialogue (and indeed the whole movie) was a bit strange and they were constantly beset with problems - especially when a sandstorm destroyed their movie set out in Tunisia. They were also inventing all kinds of new technology to get the cinematic shots they wanted. No easy task.

I began to think of just how incredibly easy it would have been for Lucas to just give up and pack the whole project in - especially seeing as at one point he was hospitalized for chest pains. The whole thing just seemed to be an absolute mess and now his health was at risk as a result. Yet he simply did not quit. He just kept on going, kept persevering despite how drained he was becoming and eventually this project began to take real shape and ended up becoming one of the most classic movies of all time which set George up to make the next two films (and the prequels many years after that - but we won't get into those right now!!)

I thought to myself - if I were in his shoes I probably would have quit about a week into production. I would have been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task I was trying to accomplish and would have quickly decided that this was a bad idea from the get-go, and that it was best to kill it off before any further damage was done and any further time and money wasted. I find it baffling that George didn't do this himself. Perhaps he did consider giving up, but he persevered and came out the other end with something that, in many ways, changed the world and certainly changed the way we look at movies.

The reason I believe he never quit was because he had the driving force to do this. He just knew it was what he was meant to be doing and that he wanted to make this film, and that despite the problems he had the talent and the resources to make it work. He knew that eventually his dream would be realized. This is what drove him. There was no half-heartedness about him and this project in any way. He knew he was going to finish this movie and that he was going to go far and every single obstacle that stood in his way simply became a stepping stone he eventually got over on the course to reach his goal.

I used to find myself fascinated and very envious of people like this. In the face of constant turmoil and dysfunction, they still continued to keep going and keep believing in what they were doing. They were willing to put everything on the line and risk it all in favor of what they believed in. I wished I could be one of those people. I tried at different times over the years to set goals that I planned to reach with the belief that nothing would stand in my way - but they just ended up petering out into nothing. One of those goals was to become an incredible, potentially genre-defining guitarist and songwriter. Don't get me wrong, I love playing the guitar and I believe I will always love it. But despite the best of intentions that I had to achieve this goal, my heart at the end of the day, wasn't really in it. Deep down, I knew that although I probably had the ability to achieve this goal, I didn't really have the desire to put in the work required to achieve it.

I used to think I was a bit useless for this very reason and that I'd never make my mark on the world, that lots of people were far braver than I was and that I'd never amount to anything simply because I didn't believe in anything enough to see it through to completion. But then I discovered that I had a gift for writing - and that God wanted me to write a book. Immediately I threw myself into this project wholeheartedly, writing almost constantly, chopping and changing here and there, developing ideas and cutting them out if necessary, mixing paragraphs and chapters around. The whole time, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to see in this book, and I just had that fire and that drive to do it. A lot of people start writing books and never finish them. For me this simply wasn't an option. This book was going to be finished, and that was that.

As many of you know, once the book was complete it was uploaded to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and I made a few sales and received some very positive reviews - marking the book as a "fascinating read" and "a journey that smashes the boundaries of mental illness". Eventually, my book was picked up by a huge publishing firm in Florida, USA and has now been printed as a paperback and is scheduled for a worldwide release in the very near future. I sunk countless hours into this work and would often spend entire evenings and weekends writing, reading, re-writing and re-reading even though I was still holding down a very demanding full time job. I realized that I was doing exactly what George Lucas was doing and why he just wouldn't quit. I had the same, unstoppable driving force to achieve my goal as what he did - for him it was to make movies, for me it was to write books.

Now as the book borders on a worldwide release and I'm getting people requesting signed paperback copies already, I am about to reap the rewards of the hard work I've done. All of those long evenings sitting over a stack of paper with a red pen, cutting and pasting on the computer and constantly formulating different ideas in my head are all about to start paying off. And its all because of that driving force I had.

I realize that the driving force of just knowing you are meant to do something and that no one can tell you otherwise is what has got me this far. It's not just "hard work and determination". You have to really believe in what you are doing - it's almost like it consumes you, you can't imagine ever not doing what you're doing and it doesn't really seem like work (even though it is). I didn't know what my driving force was until I discovered it was writing. I believe there are many people who also feel a bit useless and possibly feel like failures as I have done - but in many cases I don't believe it's because they just gave up. I believe that its often simply because they don't know what it is that they really want to do with their lives because they don't yet know what they are created to do. Once they find that - then it's all on.

So if you are out there and you are feeling as though you are a bit of a failure because you haven't found that all consuming drive to do something in your own life yet - don't panic. Each person is on their own personal journey. It could be that you have a little more growing to do as a person before your true heart's desire that no one can quench will be revealed to you. But I believe your all consuming desire is in you - you just have to find it. Once it's revealed to you - you'll know without a shadow of a doubt. There won't be any uncertainty, confusion or disillusionment - you'll know where you "fit" and no one will be able to tell you otherwise.

Take care.