"Nothing here is new except in the sense that it is a discovery which my own heart has made of spiritual realities most delightful and wonderful to me. Others before me have gone much farther into these holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame." (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I Have Everything

In my pursuit of a 24/7 conversational relationship with God (described in “Drinking from a Fire Hydrant” and “And so my story begins . . . .”), the Holy Spirit enabled me (grace), as part of my daily fellowship with God, to enlarge my memorization of His Word and to take the time to meditate on those words more fully and intimately (a delightful blessing that would make a profound difference; a future post).  A suggestion from Dallas Willard (another gift from God) caught the ear of my heart, and I have been able to incorporate two passages I learned in my youth into my daily “routine” – although the practice has never felt or seemed “routine.”  Those two passages are “The Lord’s Prayer” and the 23rd Psalm.

As Dallas Willard suggested, I begin every morning by reciting and meditating on these words from God.  Often I start thinking about them before I get out of bed (and if I wake up during the night, they are immediately in my thoughts).  As I go through my morning routine of getting ready for the day, I trust the Holy Spirit to use these two passages to bring understanding and direction to my first thoughts of the day.  It is not my intent to rehearse an exhaustive and perhaps exhausting recitation of my meditations, but here’s a taste of a few of those thoughts (with explanations):

From “The Lord’s Prayer” (as I memorized it as a child):

“Our Father which art in heaven” – (That Jesus would instruct His first disciples to address Yahweh as their “Father” was probably a shock to them.)  You are my Father!  And this day You will love me, hear me and respond to me like Your beloved child.  “….how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11, ESV).

“Hallowed be thy name” – (“Astonished awe” is a good description of what the word “hallowed” means.)  May I be wonderfully in awe, even astonished, every time I think of You today.

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”  - (“Thy kingdom come” and “Thy will be done in earth” are basically two ways to say the same thing.  God’s kingdom is essentially the effective range of His will. His kingdom is wherever His will is done.)  Today, I want to be – I intend to be – an agent of the extension of Your will, the enlargement of Your kingdom (not mine) here on earth.  That’s why I’m here.  This is my purpose.  And, just like Jesus, that requires me to do what I see You doing: loving people.

From Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my shepherd” – (Wow already!)  The Lord – the creator of all things, the sustainer of all things, the glue that’s holding everything together, the One who paid with His life for my sins, the lover of my soul – You will be my shepherd today!

“Shepherd” – The Lord will be my shepherd!  This day, You will be my guide, my protector, my provider, and my defender.

“I shall not want!” – (This is almost too much to wrap my mind around.)  Because You are my shepherd, I will not want for anything today!  Because You are my shepherd today, I will have everything.  If I don’t want for anything, it’s because I have You!  I’m discovering that when I trust You in everything, I don’t want for anything. In other words, I already have everything I want!  (I remember the maxim that the “richest” man on the planet is not the man who has more stuff than anyone else, but the man who doesn’t want anything else.  Contentment is indeed the greatest gain! [I Timothy 6].)

There is so much more!

Today, my Shepherd will lead me to places where I can be at peace and rest and drink in His goodness and mercy – with no anxiety or fear.

Today, He will repair my soul, renew my mind and make me more like Himself.

If I walk in the shadow of death today, He will walk through it with me.

If I’m in the presence of enemies today, He’ll throw a dinner party for me.

Surely – without a doubt – goodness and mercy will be my constant companions today!

This is how I begin everyday. It has become as much of my morning routine as getting out of bed and getting dressed – indeed, it helps me “clothe myself with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:15, PAR).  It not only puts my day and mind in the right frame – it makes me hungry for more fellowship with God.  And that’s where the conversation begins.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Drinking from a Fire Hydrant

My wife, Kathryn (who is even more beautiful on the inside), recently decided that she wants to lose some weight.  She has a vision of what she wants to look like and how she wants to feel after losing a certain amount, and everyday she allocates (disciplines) her eating and exercising resources to accomplish her goal. She has a desire to look and feel a certain way and to generally be in a state of better health, and she is well on her way to experiencing her vision!

It is a fact that we all live life like this.  We give ourselves – our energies, our passions, our time, our money, our creativity, our passion – to those things of which or people for whom we have a vision; a vision so compelling that we are willing to sacrifice to accomplish it or experience it.

As I wrote in my post of March 17, in March of 2016 I had the desire – a vision – of having a 24/7 conversational relationship with God.  I wanted to be able to hear and recognize His voice every waking moment of every day.  I wanted to experience that.  Just having that desire was itself a gift from God.  Like Kathryn, this vision (desire) was so compelling I was willing to allocate the resources to realize the fulfillment of my desire.  So in the first week of March 2016, I began to do just that.

A conversational relationship with anyone means you’ve got to spend time talking and listening with that someone, and that includes getting to know them better (or more intimately).  I recognize Kathryn’s voice because I happily get to spend so much time with her.  In fact, I love to hear her voice.  And that is especially true of a conversational relationship with God.  If I was going to have that kind of relationship with God, I was going to need to spend a lot more time listening for Him and to Him, and I was going to need to know Him much more intimately.  And that meant that I was going to have to dedicate the time to listening and knowing.

I’m a morning person.  I’m much more productive, creative and effective in the morning than at anytime of the day.  The morning is the best part of my day.  So I dedicated the first part of everyday to investing time in getting to know God and fellowship with Him much more intimately.

If you’ll look back over what I’ve written so far, you will notice a lot of “I’s” and “my’s.”  But that’s not how any of this has happened.  Just like God gave me the desire to have a conversational relationship with Him, He enabled me to act – to commit resources (initially primarily time) – to developing that relationship.  This is all His work in me.  I’m just getting the exciting thrill of getting to cooperate with Him in that work.

My commitment was very simple.  I would give Him the start of every day, and I would trust Him to develop that time as He desired to work in me.

For most of the mornings of the last 40+ years, I’ve read five chapters in the book of Psalms and one in the book of Proverbs using “the day of the month” regimen.  For instance, on the fifth day of each month, I read Psalm 5, 35, 65, 95, and 125 and Proverbs 5.  So every month I read through the books of Psalms and Proverbs.  The Psalms are inspirational and help me worship, and the Proverbs are enormously valuable for practical daily living.

I kept that regimen as part of my commitment but I knew I needed to know Jesus much better than I did, so I added a study of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) to my morning study.  And I initially added three more elements to my mornings: more time to just be quiet and listen to God, more time for intercessory prayer, and more time for memorization of passages of Scripture.  And I made a commitment to not “hurry.” I think I’ve been in a hurry for most of my life, so this was a big commitment for me.  I didn’t realize at the time how very significant this commitment would be to my going forward.

These mornings with God have been like drinking from a fire hydrant.  The Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, began opening my understanding and the Scriptures in dimensions I had never known.  And on many of these mornings, I have been just overwhelmed.  I don’t know how else to describe it.

Wonderful verses I’m certain I’ve read hundreds of times before sometimes seemed to suddenly appear in my Bible, like this beautiful verse in Psalm 68:19, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.” He loads me with His benefits – daily!

And I began to understand and experience David’s longing for God when he wrote, “As the hart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?”  (Psalm 42:1-2).  “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:2).  And
O God, you are my God;
I will seek you diligently.
My soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for you
as in a dry and weary land without water.
(Psalm 63:1)

But reading through the Gospels was a different story.  I was shocked at how often this Bible college graduate and former seminarian simply did not understand what Jesus said!  In fact, as I write these words I’ve been working my way through the Gospels for the past 13 months, and I’m only now about half way through Luke’s gospel.  And I haven’t even begun this iteration of my study of the Gospel according to John.

I needed help.  And I also needed help to understand a lot more about how to pray effectively.  God provided the help I needed.  But that help also put me on the path to discovering that God had something more in mind than only a conversational relationship (more about that in future posts).

Not every morning has been “glorious.”  There have been times when the Holy Spirit has put me on the operating table and opened up my heart to let me see disgusting, filthy, repulsive trash and junk in my flesh that needed to be removed.  It made me so sick and sad – so much that I wanted it gone – a necessary precursor to the transformation God wants to accomplish in me.

I mentioned the importance of my commitment to not hurry.  These morning times with God have grown in breath, depth and delight – most often now taking all of the morning, but sometimes spilling over into the afternoon, and evening, and the next day.  These “expansions” have been effortless.  On some mornings my plan may have included reading a certain chapter in a book in the New Testament.  But the Holy Spirit would carry me along through the rest of the book and on into the next and the next.  He at once gave me a hunger for the Word and opened it to me as I followed Him.  I’m convinced this happened in large part because I was willing not to hurry. 

“To bring the mind to dwell intelligently upon God as he is presented in his Word will have the effect of causing us to love God passionately, and this love will in turn bring us to think of God steadily.  Thus he will always be before our minds,” wrote Dallas Willard.[1]

God has changed me enough so far that I’d rather spend the time with Him than sleep or eat.  Most of these times I spend at our kitchen table.  My Bible, my prayer list, my notes and other books I may be reading are there.  They are more inviting and desirable than a plate of chocolate cake and Blue Bell ice cream.

And – oh yes – that conversational relationship?  I’m recognizing God’s voice.  It is quiet and gentle.  And loving.

[1] Renovation of the Heart, p.106

Monday, March 20, 2017

And so my story begins . . . .

I began my journey on the same day as my conversation with Kathryn: “You know, you could call me from any telephone in the world, and I would recognize your voice,” I said to Kathryn.  “I would know it was you.  That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with God.  I want to have a 24/7 conversational relationship with God.  I want to hear him and recognize His voice every waking minute of every day for the rest of my life.”   (If you haven’t already done so, it will be helpful to read the introduction to my journey, "An Expensive Mistake," below.)

Before I begin telling you some of the details, it is important to understand the context of this journey:

First, these last 12 ½ months have been the most incredible of my life.  I say that in the context of a life in which God has been astonishingly generous and gracious.  I am so glad that He ignored “my plans” for my life when I was a teenager.  I would have so tragically short-changed myself.  And I admit that there was a time in my youth when I feared the will of God.

When I first started out in the service to which God called me, I had this crazy fear that God might require me to marry some hideous looking woman, move to Africa and live in a grass hut all of my days.  (As a friend once pointed out, there are no hideous looking women.  There are, he noted however, some who just barely made it. I hope you are smiling.  I am.)  What I know now is that, had that been God’s plan for me, I would have loved it!  (And as I have a growing number of friends who live in or are from Africa, let me be careful to note that not everyone who lives there lives in a grass hut.  Far from it.)

In no period of my life has God been more astonishing than in the last year.  To be more accurate, in no sustained period of my life have I been more immediately and acutely aware of how astonishingly generous, loving, merciful, patient, kind, forgiving and gracious God was being to me.  I think that may be because I have been quieter for the last year than in any period of my life. I am learning how to listen.  I’ve discovered that even in my prayers I’ve been talking far too much and listening far too little.

Second, I have long struggled with this verse in Matthew’s Gospel:  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  Somehow, it seemed, I kept getting in the way.  I struggled with how to let men see my good works with the result of God getting the glory.  But this is one of the many verses for which the Spirit of God has increased my understanding over the past year.  was getting in the way!

So as I share my journey in these posts, my goal is tell you about – not what I am doing – but what God is doing.  The fact that He is doing it in me is incidental to the story.  While I will be telling you about my life, it won’t be my life.  Hopefully it will be my story about His life lived in me and through me.  If I’m learning anything in this walk with Him, I’m learning how to be dead.  Because I am!  Paul describes my life in Colossians 3:3, “For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” I am learning how to live my life as Jesus would live it if He were I.  Or better: I am learning how to let Jesus live my life.  (I will be writing much more about this in future posts.)

So any “good works” (Matthew 5:16) you see in me will actually be His good work.  And for those, He will receive all the glory.  As a case in point, even my desire to have a 24/7 conversational relationship with God is His work in me.  I can’t even have the desire without Him!

Friday, March 17, 2017

An Expensive Mistake

I’ve made a lot of mistakes.  Not as many as some, but a lot more than others.  I made a huge one in the summer of 2014.

I had just lost a hard-fought campaign for the Republican Party’s nomination for Governor of Arkansas.  I was more disappointed than I had immediately realized, but I knew how frustrated I was, especially with Arkansas’ “main stream” media.  As in most of the rest of the country, the MSM in Arkansas is unquestionably biased against conservatives.  They rarely “attack” conservatives, at least not head-on.  Their most effective tactics are to misquote, quote incompletely, report an opponent’s accusations as fact, or totally ignore.  As Denzel Washington was recently reported to have said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed.  If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

Conservative candidates are definitely not getting a fair shake in Arkansas, and I was determined to do something about it.  The result: Arkansas’ first Internet television station – AR1.TV.  My goal was to give conservative candidates – in fact, any candidates – an unfiltered medium for getting their undistorted message to Arkansans. 

The investment was significant.  And it was one of the most expensive mistakes I’ve ever made.  AR1.TV failed.  It’s important to understand why it failed.  From a business point of view, I couldn’t make it “cash flow.”  But the real reason was I did it without God.  I’m not suggesting that I left God out of my life or ever lost a desire to trust Him or honor Him.  I just did this – AR1.TV – without Him.  Without His direction, without His blessing and without His power.  Entirely on my own.

Not only did I lose a lot of money, but good relationships were ruptured, friendships that had been pleasant and valuable were damaged if not destroyed.  In the process, God confirmed once again that He loves me immensely: 

My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?  (Hebrews 12:5-7)

In early March of 2016, I sat at our breakfast table talking with my wife, Kathryn, who is without question the most patient and merciful person on this planet.  I had been thinking almost constantly about how badly I had missed God and was determined to never let that happen again.  “You know, you could call me from any telephone in the world, and I would recognize your voice,” I said to Kathryn.  “I would know it was you.  That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with God.  I want to have a 24/7 conversational relationship with God.  I want to hear Him and recognize His voice every waking minute of every day for the rest of my life.”

And that is what I set out to do that first week in March 2016.  In the days and weeks that follow, I will share the story of my journey, sometimes “real time” as it happens.  Some who read this “journal” will be far ahead of me.  I would like to get to know you.  Some of you will be invited by the Spirit of God to join me on a similar journey.  I hope you’ll be encouraged.  And I hope I’ll hear from you.

Robin wrote

Everything happens for a reason. And through that you also gained friendships.. mine for one!

Cindy wrote

Thank you so much for this heartfelt message. For those that leave God out of any decision whether it be big or small is a mistake. We have all done it. Thank God we serve a merciful Father. God bless you and Kathryn. Glad to call you my friends.

John Sammons wrote

Curtis I did the exact same thing 20 yrs. ago with a motel franchise and danced with the devil and God let me fail. I did not trust God in the situation and ask for His perfect will . I ask Him to join me and help me after the fact. Cost me dearly. Never again Lord.

Jim Martin wrote 

Wow, Curtis that's a revelation of my own experience in my run for St. Rep #76 in '06. I to made the same mistakes and lost friends in the process. I respect your courage to speak of failure, something I have yet to confront. 

Tim Stockdale wrote

May God bless you and your family my friend!

Paulette Yarbrough wrote

Curtis, Thank you so much for posting and sharing this. I have been guilty of this in my life as well. Your comments have encouraged me to step back and take a look at my life. I pray that I will work even harder to look to God for direction in everything I do. 

Pam Long wrote 

Curtis, thank you for sharing. I know all too well how the "good guys" always seem to get the short end but He sees, He knows and I can't help but believe your reward will come some day soon for all the persecution and trouble you've had! We knew you were the best choice then and you still are! 

Susan Jackson wrote 

Thanks for sharing. It is so important that We share our weaknesses, our difficulties, our humanness, our real. We love God . He loves us. He loves all of us. I believe when we expose the real, only then can God use us. I enjoyed reading this portion of your journey. 

Larry Clifford Sr. wrote 

We are all apprentices. I wish I could say I have always listened for and to what Jesus was telling me. I can't but I can say that when I most earnestly prayed for Him to bless my mission, my mission has succeeded. The best example is outlined in my new book Huntin' with Gus available in a few weeks. I would go to the Greene County Jail in my Gideon Jail ministry and Pray all the way out there, then I'd pray in the parking lot till my partners got there, then we'd pray again before we went in, then we'd pray in the waiting room before we went in and had our opening prayer. I saw a man coming in and in my human spirit I said here comes a hopeless case. They say God speaks in a small still voice, but that night he slapped me right across my right jaw. I immediately prayed for forgiveness for saying anything was impossible with God. We had several hands go up for salvation that night, but that hopeless case was the first to go up. Keep listening my friend.