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Unorthodox Train Wreck

Welcome back to the Unorthodox Man Podcast! This week, I get to sit down with a new friend, John Ruhlam. John grew up in a small town in North West Washington and is a fifth generation pastor. I’m talking very small – only about 800 people lived in his hometown. John grew up thinking that religion was all about rules – do this / don’t do that. He basically grew up thinking religion was all about rules. He missed the concept of a merciful, graceful God. So, like too many PK’s (pastor’s kids), John rebelled and ran away from God.

But, then, when he was 20-years-old, John gave his life to Jesus and moved from “religious rules” to a “relationship with God”.

However, that’s just the very, very beginning of John’s story.

Here is a sample list of bulletpoints that John shares about his life (although, you really should hear the story from John, himself by pushing the play button above!)…

  • Moved to Southern California for college and learns about a loving, grace filled, compassionate God
  • Gets involved with student government, serving his community
  • Starts a job as a football coach and history teacher
  • His pastor tells him he wants him to be a youth pastor
  • Turns him down then gets offered triple his pay and accepts
  • Served as a youth pastor for 11 years and then left to plant a church in Temecula
  • Church explodes and life is great – awesome time to be in ministry
  • Motorcycle crash and breaks neck, whole right side was paralyzed but left side still works
  • 4 months of rehab he gets full use of his body
  • This starts 10 years of pain medication addiction
  • Wife of 22 years leaves him because of his addiction combined with his over commitment to ministry
  • 2 years later he is completely out of ministry
  • No wife & no ministry leads to deep depression
  • In depression a friend introduces him to Meth
  • That starts 6 months strait of meth use
  • Meth changes you emotionally, spiritually, physically
  • Friend dies of drug overdose and decides to get clean
  • Starts an outpatient rehab and recommits to Jesus
  • Sobriety starts but consequences keep coming
  • Gets arrested at church for violating a restraining order
  • Car is broken into while in jail
  • Goes to the police – no help
  • Goes to arresting officers house – gets arrested for 3 felony charges
  • Gets remanded in court and is sent to jail
  • Sits in prison for 6 months when released from jail the judge mandates rehab and John happily accepts
  • While sitting in jail he realizes where life went sideways
  • Decided to work on himself before ever working on others
  • Advice for guys who aren’t taking care of themselves:
    • Knew all the right answers, but didn’t really live the truth
    • Don’t look to blame others, accept your faults
    • Realized that God was stripping everything away to get his attention.
    • Told God he has nothing left and was now was willing to follow
    • Now in recovery with nothing to his name he says, “I am a happy man – with nothing”.
    • When you start with nothing all you can get is a blessing

What’s Next?

Don’t want to get a head of God. Quit making plans and just go one day at a time.

No matter where I go I know God will use him for His glory.

John’s favorite verse:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

Jesus set John free from pain, addiction, jail, and depression.

John’s final words of advice:

Guys, we are surrounded by evidence of God, the next step is a step of faith.

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Unorthodox Treasure – An Interview with Alan Johnson

This week, I get to sit down with a new buddy of mine – Alan Johnson. Alan was raised in a Christian family in San Diego. He grew up as an athlete in the “Perfect Family”.

But, then they found out that his dad was having an affair… and the family blew up. This is when Alan and his brothers started drinking to cope with dad.

Alan’s story is one full of twists and turns, both figuratively and literally. Here are just a few bullet points we discuss in this week’s podcast:

  • After college gets a job working with disabled adults and realizes they had their lives together more than he did
  • Starts to work on himself to figure out who he was
  • Still wasn’t living like a follower of God but started to think about God again
  • Through different opportunities gets a chance to go to seminary
  • After seminary gets an opportunity to lead the college ministry
  • Working at the college ministry he starts to see success and eventually gets a full time position with the ministry
  • After a few years of college ministry starts a church plant and at first things were really good. Lots of conversions & baptisms.
  • But not everything goes well for long. Churchy folks don’t like Alan’s attitude but the un-churched loved the vibe.
  • Went from being a “Very Successful” church planter at denominational meetings to being someone no one wanted to talk to.Unorthodox Treasure - An Interview with Alan Johnson
  • This is when alcoholism starts to show up.
  • Alan has to close the church down and starts volunteering at other churches and his drinking starts getting worse
  • Found great joy in being a dad – spent as much time as possible being dad. But as kids got older the less they needed Alan and this started to hurt.
  • With ministry tanking and kids not needing him drinking gets worse
  • Gets a new job but drinks himself out of the job
  • Realized he was a “false perfect dad” just like his dad was
  • The worse things got at home the more he drank to push things away.
  • Goes to a family party drunk and drives home from the party even more intoxicated and crashes into a car. Ends up in jail, wife separates from him and he moves into a dive hotel.
  • Things go sideways at the dive hotel.
  • Ended up at Green Oak Ranch.
  • After burning out AA sponsors he was suggested to go to Green Oak.
  • Showed up drunk at rehab so got sent away for a week.
  • Slowly starting to see himself as a treasure and not the trash
  • He is enjoying being ministered to and not needing to be the minister
  • Feeling like the Prodigal son
  • Been lost in the world, felt alone, but finally feel like the Father is coming to meet him

Alan offers these words of advice to us all:

Develop eternal, significant relationships – take time to allow God to develop you! And, don’t try to look like treasure. Just be honest with God about who you are.

Alan’s favorite Bible Verse is Matthew 15:16, where Jesus asks:

“Don’t you understand yet? Why are you still so dull?”

You see, It’s ok not to get it – God wants us to ask Him about things.

As Alan puts it, “From a loser to other losers – don’t give up God wants to help you celebrate, just keep walking and going after God!”

You are NEVER beyond God’s grasp!

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God redeems broken things if we allow Him to work

Born addicted to cocaine into brokenness, Chris’ dad left, so his mom moved… he got saved at seven and truly believes God was with him ever since… even though he walked away from God.

Chris found brotherhood in youth football and followed that as long as he could. He was raised in a church that made him feel church was all about “Perfection or Punishment”. At 12 he realized he wasn’t perfect so he gave up on church.

At 12-years-old, he moved into a tent at his aunt’s house and started smoking speed. He justified drug use by thinking “at least I’m not drunk like my family”.

Bitter and angry about being poor. And mad that his father left him, Chris left football and dropped out of high school. And when he lost sports, he lost his identity.

At 18-years-old, he stole two cars and went sent to prison. Prison gave him the path and brothers he thought he needed. He was taken into a White Power gang and told who he was going to be and what he was going to do.

At 25, Chris looked in the mirror and hated who he had become. He got out of prison, got a job, got married and thought life was good. But when things got bad again, he thought smoking speed would fix it. He lost his home, cars, kids… everything. He even found out his wife was cheating on him. So, he dropped his kids off at his mom’s house and binged on drugs & violence for two whole years.

Chris then moved to Arizona to get clean. But instead, he relapsed, was arrested and ended up back in prison. However, according to Chris, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me”.

Chris “Came to the end of himself” and cried out to God. He was sent to a new prison, where he was called out by an older inmate. This guy told Chris that he was not living right, so he started getting mentored by the old guy.

After his sentence, Chris got out of prison for the last time and joined Along Side Ministries. He was mentored and walked with for a full year. Along Side helped transition Chris from prison life to civilian life. He was challenged to do the right thing after doing the right thing. “Don’t ever forget what chased you up in here.”

Then, he moved back to California and moved into his mom’s house – finally back close to his sons. Chris ended up living in the house of a friend that he had actually robbed years earlier. The family friend told him, “You are forgiven and we can see the change in you.” This family showed true grace, forgiveness and love. Chris finally found the church that would love him and accept him.God redeems broken things if we allow Him to work

Today, Chris wants to go into ministry and started pursuing his ministry degree. He volunteers at his church’s high school ministry. Also, he is working as a drug and alcohol counselor and a detox technician.

Chris’ life verse should be no surprise for someone who has faced death like he has: My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

As Chris puts it: God redeems all broken things as long as we allow Him to work. God is doing something with your past pain. And, God is a Good Father, if you have no dad… God can be that Father you desperately need!

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Daughter of a King - From drug addiction to eternal salvation

Daughter of a King – From Drug Addiction to Eternal Salvation

Debra Cobbs never had a normal childhood and never knew what it felt like to be someone’s daughter. Born into a family haunted by drug and alcohol abuse, Debra has battled the same addictions for the past 36 years.

As she spent her childhood seeking love and approval from her family, Debra never knew her real father and lost her mother at an early age. Her addiction began when she was 15 years old and led her down a winding path of destruction and loneliness. When Debra’s mom wasn’t able to take care of her, she was placed with different family members who began to physically take advantage of her.

“When they got what they wanted from me, they were done with me. I never felt like I was wanted,” Debra tearfully remembers.

As an adult, Debra spent her life on the streets. She found her value in alcohol, drugs and men. During those years, she was never able to look at herself in the mirror because she was too ashamed.

“I remember the person I had become. I was an animal. I was sitting in the streets, drunk, and no one wanted to be around me.”

In 2012, Debra stumbled upon a faith-based organization, Mission: Possible! Austin, which aims to connect the body of Christ to Austin’s urban communities in order to foster life transformation and impact those who are struggling with homelessness. Even though she was not yet a believer, Debra had always felt a tugging in her heart to find out who God was.Daughter of a King - From drug addiction to eternal salvation

At first she was hesitant and guarded, but when the workers at Mission: Possible! Austin revealed to her their own past sins and showed her that she wasn’t alone, Debra started to feel more comfortable. But she was still using drugs.

It wasn’t long until Debra was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. It was her first drug charge and felony. After she was released from jail, she quickly slipped back into her old habits of substance abuse. Her friends from Mission: Possible! Austin continued to encourage Debra to return. She did, but could not stop using.

Finally, in 2014, Debra decided she’d had enough. In the solitude of her apartment, she fell to her knees at the foot of her bed and cried out to Jesus. She begged God to help her fight the addiction. When programs and counseling didn’t work for her, she felt the only cure could be God. In the past, Debra felt glimpses of his presence during the tough times but never felt like she really knew him.

But, in that painful moment when she was drowning in the pit of her sin, God finally revealed himself to her.

Debra was only sober for two weeks when she visited Jobs for Life, a global nonprofit with a mission to equip the church to help introduce the jobless back into the workplace. Debra was terrified to attend classes and, since she was clean from all substances for the first time in years, she was afraid to be herself.Daughter of a King - From drug addiction to eternal salvation

The class taught Debra more than how to find a job. It taught her how to see who she was in Christ. One of her instructors used an illustration of self-worth and value that stirred in her a desire to change.

If you were to take a $20 bill, crumble it up and throw it on the floor, would it not be worth anything because it’s crumbled up? If you picked it up and straightened it out, it still has value.

“And from that point on I thought, Wow, really? I still have value? Even though I’ve been damaged? Debra recalls. “And that right there gave me room to breathe and my heart began to be opened.”

The class also became a vessel for an unexpected friendship with Lynda, her once-mentor and now, one of her closest friends.

“When I first met Lynda, I thought she was too strict. I didn’t want to be paired up with her. But now I see that is what I needed. She has helped me to be where I am today,” Debra remembers. “I thank God for the people he has put in my life, because when I first knew I wanted to change I was crying out to God asking him for friends, I was angry that I didn’t know anyone.”Daughter of a King - From drug addiction to eternal salvation

The relationship between Debra and Lynda allowed her to experience living in community for the first time. The strong and assertive characteristics of Lynda that Debra once feared have become the qualities that she now treasures the most. Without the tough moments when Lynda challenged Debra to make wise choices, Debra wouldn’t have learned how to keep steady employment for the first time in her life.

“As I listen to Debra now, she is just so firm in what she believes and who she is,” Lynda shares. “She wasn’t like that when I first met her, but God has done a work in her and given her that confidence. It’s exponential what God is redeeming in her life.”

Debra fights every day for her freedom from addiction and for her relationship with her Savior. She won’t start her day without first immersing herself in the Word. But most importantly, Debra now knows where her identity is found.

“Jesus says he is the way, the truth, and the life. And I want life with Christ. I am a daughter of a King and that is now my identity,” Debra says. At 51, Debra now confidently knows what it feels like to be a daughter.

Daughter of a King - From drug addiction to eternal salvation

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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“Hopecasting” in the Midst of Crisis – Christians Take on the Scourge of Opioids

No matter the crisis, when Christians take the love of Jesus to the hurting and suffering, hope and transformation are sure to follow.

In his new book “A Practical Guide to Culture,” my colleague John Stonestreet ends several chapters with what he and co-author Brett Kunkle call “hopecasting,”—a reminder that no matter what the issue or crisis, “God’s story continues to play out all around us.”

And when it comes to the nation’s growing opioid crisis, we could use a lot of hopecasting.

We’ve talked about this before on BreakPoint: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that an average of 78 people die of an opiate overdose every day in the United States.  Annually, opiate overdoses kill more than 28,000 people, with heroin taking the lives of more than 10,500 of them. More than 20 million Americans have some kind of substance-abuse problem, but just 10 percent are receiving any treatment.

And as John has said, the problem isn’t primarily chemical, in the composition of the drugs themselves. It’s a manifestation of a “terrible hopelessness settling over a large part of America.”

So what can we do about it … and begin to restore hope?

Well, rather than tell you, I’d like to show you.

Christians Take on the Scourge of OpioidsIn its annual “Hope Awards” issue, WORLD magazine has provided some great examples of what Christians are doing in their communities to provide hope in Jesus Christ—to help “those who labor and are heavy laden” to find “rest for their souls.”

Exhibit A can be found at the New Life Home. For the last four decades, this Christian residential program in Manchester, New Hampshire, supported by 50 churches, has offered primarily opioid-addicted women an 18- to 24-month recovery program. And it has an amazing 89 percent graduation rate.

Clients don’t have to be Christians—and often aren’t—but they are asked whether they’re open to God working in their lives, and they agree to go to church every week. At New Life they acquire life skills, learn about the Bible, study for their GED or a college degree, and help out with assigned chores.

Here’s something else that’s different at New Life—the women are allowed to bring their children to live with them. Today 15 women and 20 children live at this warm and welcoming home.

Here’s a vignette about one resident, named Rachel, from WORLD reporter Emily Belz: “Rachel, who escaped a violent gang situation and has been in the program for 22 months, now has her three children with her. Rachel’s parents found her living homeless on the street and pushed her to enter New Life and be a mom again—at that point she hadn’t seen her kids in 18 months. ‘God gave [my kids] to me for a reason, and He knew everything that was going to happen,’ Rachel said. ‘I need to restore my life with my kids, that’s why I’m here. I’m not here just for myself.’”

Another resident, Shauna, was sexually assaulted as a teenager, and then again while serving in the military. In the aftermath, she became hooked on opioids and alcohol and lost custody of her 2-year-old, who was scheduled for adoption. But Shauna entered the New Life program and experienced a 180. After seeing Shauna’s turnaround at New Life, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families reversed its adoption decision and recommended reunification. And she’s now living with her son.

So what’s the cure for hopelessness? Only Jesus Christ and His love, carefully and consistently applied by His people into the lives of those who so desperately need it—maybe even somebody you know.

So hats off to the New Life Home in Manchester, and hats off to WORLD Magazine for the 2017 Hope Awards. Come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to these inspiring stories and the other nominees for the WORLD Hope Awards.

Visit Breakpoint.org to get further information about the many great books and other resources available there and you can link up to our social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

By Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.

Click here to read more encouraging and inspirational stories from WORLD magazine’s Hope Awards issue. You might also discover a way you can bring hope to the world around you.

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For Hannah, it started in 5th grade. The obsessive thoughts. The anxious behavior. The suicidal ideation. She knew God. She had heard about Him her whole life. She tried to combat her thoughts with verses from her Bible. But the world in her head quickly turned into doctor’s visits. Psychiatric offices. Diagnoses. Prescriptions. Medications.

conquering cutting addiction through Jesus

By the time Hannah entered high school, she struggled with depression regularly. Anxiety seemed to run her thoughts and therefore, her life. During her junior year, what started as an obsession compulsive action to ease anxiety became an addiction to the pain of self-harm. “It started with a mechanical pencil. I’d use the tip of it to scratch my arm really hard during school. It helped me get through the days. But as I felt more socially separated, I used sharper things. Thumb tacks. Keys. Then one night, I used a nail filer and drew blood. Once I saw it, I liked it. I wanted to always draw blood. It became an addiction,” she remembers.

Now hooked on the painful cycle of self-harm, Hannah lived countless nights begging God to kill her. She frustratingly questioned why God would give someone a life if they didn’t even want to live it. She questioned why God didn’t give her the guts to kill herself. She was angry with Him for even creating her, for waking her up every morning.conquering cutting addiction through Jesus

In the midst of it all, Hannah graduated and moved to Lubbock for college. She found a church community where she grew in her knowledge of the Bible and God’s character. While God was obviously sustaining Hannah’s life, her intimate struggle with self-worth, depression, and self-harm remained present in her life.

Sometimes Hannah would reach three months without cutting, but then she would relapse. “I would be screaming at God, asking why He’d abandoned me and start cutting. I believed the lie that God wasn’t good and was indifferent to watching me suffer,” she recalls. “And all of these false views of God were tainting me. I had all the head knowledge, but the suffering was so great, I couldn’t believe that knowledge.”conquering cutting addiction through Jesus

In August 2014, Hannah decided to get a tattoo on the wrist where she would often cut. She got roman numerals based on Romans 8:37, the verse that regularly helped her fight defeating thoughts: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Conquering Cutting Addiction Through Jesus Christ

“Of course I was tempted to cut a week later, but I looked at my wrist and was reminded that I’m a fighter and victorious because of Jesus,” she shares. “I thought I would relapse after a couple of months, but I never did. It was the grace of God.”conquering cutting addiction through Jesus

While her struggle with self-harm dissipated, Hannah’s depression wouldn’t relent. Only two months later, Hannah put her own life in danger when she took an overdose of medication. After another three months, she decided to leave her school and church to seek professional help through an intensive outpatient program. Through this program, God not only helped Hannah gain self-worth and practical skills to help process the emotions she felt so deeply, but He also grew her heart for those who struggle with mental illness and helped her better understand it with a biblical view.

One night, while crying in bed and having an anxiety attack, Hannah read Philippians 1:23: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” And Hannah thought, “That’s all I want. I’m sick of this world. I’m sick of crying. I’m sick of pain. I’m sick of suffering. I’m sick of depression. I just want to be with Jesus.” And although she felt this so heavily, she also began to feel comforted and understood by Jesus and His followers in the Bible.conquering cutting addiction through Jesus

Throughout the years, Hannah has often believed that if she just had enough faith, Jesus would heal her. She was told that if she prayed more, her depression would be gone. “Nothing damaged me more than believing that. I repeatedly asked God what I was doing wrong, and I finally realized, I live in a broken world with a broken mind and body,” she says. “But that’s where faith comes in.” Hannah realized there is no magic amount of prayer or faith that could have healed her. She realized that through all the pain and suffering, God had been pursuing her and was doing something that was ultimately for her good.conquering cutting addiction through Jesus

“I don’t hesitate to say that Jesus is the only reason I haven’t killed myself. In 5th grade, I was told that He loved me and was good, but now I know it. I’ve experienced the weight of His grace on me. He’s the only constant thing in my life. I am constantly reminded when horrible things happen that we can be so glad that we’re not home. Jesus is not done. And God didn’t let me die all of those times for a reason.”

Today Hannah has hope in Jesus, even through her struggles. She knows that He wants to give us an abundant life. She has hope for the future, when her mind and body will be fully redeemed and glorified with Jesus. A future where she will live out the truth that she is more than a conqueror over both anxiety and depression because of Jesus.conquering cutting addiction through Jesus

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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In a small town on the Texas-Mexico border, Matthew Brue stood in the driveway of Shining Light Rehabilitation Ranch and watched his father drive away. Alone at 17, miles away from his family for the first time, officially signed over as “property of the state,” Matthew turned around and sobbed. The 23-acre rehabilitation ranch, which unfurled in front of him, housed a community of hardened criminals with whom he would spend the next year as he grappled with his drug addiction.hopelessness, drug addiction, rehab

Matthew grew up in a Christian home in Georgetown, Texas. But his early, legalistic experience with Christianity repulsed him, giving drugs the opportunity to cut in and woo him away from relationships with God or his family—the only chances he had at resisting the drugs’ romantic prowess.

Though the social aspect of drug use first enticed him, this innocent tryst quickly burgeoned into a full-blown addiction, which drew him away from his community of users and into isolation. Matthew found himself alone, snorting crushed painkillers off his piano, his reflection staring back at him—this, his new, and only, community.

Addiction led Matthew to a run-in with police, his first drug rehab experience, a relapse, and finally left him sobbing in the driveway of Shining Light. Even after all of this hardship, he never recognized his disobedience to God as the problem. The consequences of losing his family and the ease of his middle class existence set him in turmoil, and God remained far from his mind and heart. “I wasn’t looking for God. I couldn’t have cared less. I was perfectly fine in my own sin, until God lifted me out,” Matthew said.

A far cry from his comfortable home in Georgetown, Shining Light offered a filthy, cracker-box-sized room with no air conditioner, heater, hot water, Internet, cell phone or television. His new routine looked just as monastic. He woke at 5:00 am; recited Scripture with the other drug addicts, ex-convicts, murderers, rapists and MS-13 gang members in the program; read the Bible on his own; went to high school; and returned to the rehab facility to rejoin the others in ranch work until dusk.hopelessness, drug addiction, rehab

Even still, his sobriety, newfound discipline, and rigorous biblical study failed to soften his heart. Matthew didn’t need God—he simply wanted to fulfill the requirements of the program and get back to his life. But after a conversation with the lead counselor of Shining Light, he realized that he had no life to return to. His family refused to let him move home unless he promised and proved to be finished with drugs for good. Realization of his homelessness buckled Matthew’s knees, and he cried out to God for the first time. God, however, didn’t come to him—God was already there, cutting in and wooing Matthew away from his sin and into His loving arms. And in Matthew’s homelessness, he never felt more at home—a home he began experiencing in Scripture and prayer.

“I actually started believing the truths of the Bible. One of these truths was that Christ is the ultimate example of how to commune with the Father. I realized He was in constant prayer, and I was not. So every morning after reciting scripture, I went outside and walked in the middle of an empty field, sipped cheap coffee, and communed with my daddy. It was the first time I gave a damn about anyone other than myself. God allowed me to get to know Him during these times. For the first time in my life, I felt an unexplainable comfort from a being I had ignored my whole life. I felt so safe,” Matthew explained.

Matthew finished the rehab program. Before returning to live with his parents, the leaders at Shining Light encouraged him to continue living a disciplined life, similar to the one he lived at the ranch, so that he wouldn’t relapse. Matthew brought his Spartan routine home with him, but fear of relapse morphed his disciplined life into daunting asceticism. Even a slight breach of his monkish routine resulted in severe self-castigation. He soon realized that his relationship with God was slipping back into a relationship with legalism, a haunting reminder of his first experience with Christianity.hopelessness, drug addiction, rehab

But again, God cut in and wooed his beloved Matthew away from legalism—this time, in the checkout line at HEB, where Matthew’s mother recognized Kyle Lent as the guitarist who plays for the Aaron Ivey Band on Sunday mornings at The Austin Stone Community Church. She approached Kyle and told him her son’s story. This conversation led Matthew to a community of believers that loves, cherishes and reminds him daily of the unmerited gift of salvation God has given him through his older brother, and kindred, Jesus Christ.

Now, as an independent songwriter and a pianist in the Justin Cofield worship band at Austin Stone, Matthew can still be found hunched over his piano. But he’s not staring at his own reflection anymore—nor is he snorting crushed painkillers off it. He is using his talent to worship the God of the universe for inviting him into such a masterful dance, a dance led by the creator of dance itself, a dance utterly void of legalism, and choreographed by grace alone.

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

(By The Austin Stone Story Team. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not e2 media network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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School Circle Slider v1

Warning: Some of the topics discussed may contain accounts of real life violence, strong language, and other topics not suitable for minors. This podcast has remained unedited out of respect of those individuals who feel led by the Lord to share their testimonies.

We begin today’s show with Vince sharing an important story about a new direction his life is taking:

I got married back in 2011. My wife’s dream has always been to be a mother. Around the time I got married, I was five months away from deployment to Afghanistan and three and half years left in the Marine Corps. So, we made the decision to wait until I got out of the Marine Corps., because I wanted to be a father that was actually there and I didn’t want her to be a single mother in case something happened to me.

So, after I got out of the Marine Corps., we kept trying and trying for a year and a half and there was no luck. All of her friends had gotten pregnant. My heart’s prayer became that my wife got pregnant, even though I didn’t feel ready for a kid, because I could see her brokenheartedness. So, we made an appointment recently, to go see a doctor about it. Right when we made the appointment, we prayed one more time. When I come home the very next day, Megan is crying. I asked what was going on, and with shaky hands, she handed me a pregnancy test. It was positive. At that point my heart sunk into my socks. I was thankful, and it was great to see her so happy. She was glowing.

So, we thought about how we would tell my parents. We decided to buy a onesie, with a little saying, “Here Comes Trouble,” which is what my Dad always says whenever I visit, inside a little heart. Below the heart is the expected month and year. We order it online, and it’s adorable. We packaged and wrapped it up, and when Good Friday came, my wife and I took off to visit my parents. On the way there, I was thinking about what this baby means to my parents and as much as may be uncomfortable for me to have another mouth to feed and not be as flexible to dream, I knew my life was about my family.

I have a sister and a brother. My sister is a great woman who loves the Lord wholeheartedly, but there was a time in her life where she wasn’t living her life coherent with Christianity. She ended up dating this guy who was kind of a druggie and a loser. She got married him right after high school, since she had gotten pregnant her senior year. My parents fought with her and tried to give her wisdom, but nothing would work. So, she ended up having the kid and getting divorced six months later. She couldn’t take care of the kid and had made some more bad dating decisions, so she decided to give my nephew, Andrew, when he was nine years old, to my parents. At that point, he was running into some issues and was starting to run away from home.

My parents ended up taking him in, and my sister decided to skip town without keeping in contact with her son. He was living with his grandparents and they put him into a Christian school where he did really well academically. He was a great kid with a loving heart. However, he had been dealing with depression without any of us knowing about it.

At the time, I was in college, and when I graduated in 2006, I ended up commissioning as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. I was heading home and was super excited to start my new life. I had about six month to wait before I was sent off to the basic school in Quantico, Virginia. So, I had a lot of time to spent with my nephew. We had planned to spend a lot of time together. On July 5th, 2006, I was out shopping with my cousin who had just arrived from Australia, and while we were out I got a frantic call from brother. He told me that I needed to get home immediately and that he heard from my aunt that my nephew had shot himself. That didn’t make any sense to me, because I was with him literally ten minutes ago.

I called my mom, who was of course really distressed and telling me to come home immediately. So, I got my cousin and we headed back as quickly as possible, booking it at literally 100 mph in 25 mph speed zones. I turn a corner onto my street, and I can see that my house is surrounded by basically the entire police department, yellow tape, ambulances, and everything. So I slam the brakes, park the car in the middle of the road, and just run out. A cop grabbed me before I ran into the house, but I was able to see the that the coroner’s van was nearby. I remember that the cop was crying. I asked if my nephew was going to be okay. He said that he didn’t know and that he didn’t think so.

Image: Triblive.com

Image: Triblive.com

So, I go into the house, where my mom was. I remember hugging her and seeing the coroner with a gurney and a body bag on it. They wheeled my nephew out to the van and they put him inside. At that point, I had no idea how we’d ever make it through this. I remember praying for strength at that situation, and God really met me at that point.

My nephew ended up passing away. I was still supposed to go to the basic school and I began questioning what I was going to do my life. I remember talking to the coroner, a very nice lady, who confirmed that it was suicide and that he had shot himself with my dad’s gun. He was 12-years-old. We buried my nephew, and I had to basically spoon feed my parents for about four months. When I had to go to the basic school, they were back on their feet. Ten years later, my dad had lost the will to live. He took full responsibility for what had happened. It was his grandson and his gun, so he shouldered the whole burden. His health went down the drain, and it was terrible to see.

This was all going through my head as I was driving back home to tell my parents about their grandkid. That’s when it hit me that this pregnancy was a gift from God and was not about me. This child is not about me. It’s not about a legacy that me or my wife is going to leave. This is not about someone who is going to take care of me when I’m older. This is about other people. This child is going to be a warrior for Christ and save people in Jesus’ name. He or she (I’m hoping it’s a girl) is going to change the lives of people starting now when they’re in my wife’s womb. This a chance at redemption for my parents. This is what is going to keep my dad alive and change everything. I had faith and a peace about me that was from the Lord. So, we get there, and I sit down with my dad. I led him through this whole rat race, telling him about how we’re not interested in having kids, right before giving him the gift.

Image: Get The Party Started

Image: Get The Party Started

Then, when I give him the gift, I tell him that it’s pretty small, and if it didn’t fit, we could take it back. He opened it slowly, and when he saw it, he just started crying. He had this look in his eyes as if God had just forgiven him. I think that my dad felt that after my nephew passed away, his name was cursed. He thought he was punished for not walking with God at the time and that God would never bless his children with children. My dad is a new man, now. In those three days, he had different look in his eyes and a pep in his step. It was great.

Next, Justin shares an important message on God’s will and timing:

I am horribly guilty of questioning God, his timing, and his overall plan. When I was in Afghanistan during 2011, my best friend, my roommate during flight school FRS, didn’t come home. He went East Coast, I went West Coast, and that was the last time I ever saw him. I remember talking to his mother on the phone, and her saying, “Don’t be sad. He’s with God know.” I thought to myself, “That’s so stupid. He’s dead. He’s gone. How could you possibly think that?” Then I spent the next two years basically peeing on his grave, by using his death to justify my chronic alcoholism. I was angry with God for what he took from me, when in reality, that wasn’t mine.

Years later, I’d come across this verse from the story of the Job:

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you,  and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set,  or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;  here is where your proud waves halt’?

“Have you ever given orders to the morning,  or shown the dawn its place,  that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light,  and their upraised arm is broken.

“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.

“What is the way to the abode of light?   And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heaven when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? (Job 38:1-30

Whenever I read this, it makes me feel like any idiot for ever questioning anything. It’s scary to see how God puts Job in his place. I am thankful for grace everyday, especially when I hear stuff like this.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

We have plans we have plans, goals, and dreams, but whatever happens, it’s what God wants. God gives us dreams and passions for a reason and uses them so that we can glorify him in that. Sometimes though, you may plan something a God will send you in a completely different direction.

Here are a few more verses on God’s sovereign will:

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Psalms 115:3)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

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Reflections of Grace Slider2

“I don’t know what is wrong with me”, she said.

“No matter what I do or who I am with it is never enough.  I feel depleted and I don’t’ know what I need.   I over eat.  I drink too much.  I work like crazy.  I am a failure at exercise.  My husband isn’t meeting my needs.  What is my problem?”

I have heard the story countless times as a Life Coach.

It is the same story with men, but in a different vernacular.

“I’m not enough for her.”

“I work and work and still there is something missing.”

“Nothing ever seems to be satisfying.  I had an affair to try to fill the emptiness I feel, and it was worse in the end.  And I didn’t feel satisfied.”

I’ve bought cars, boats, motor homes, etc., etc…still nothing.  I am not happy.

The continued search to find something on this earth to fill our empty places is costly.

Life with Jesus is much more than an entrance into Heaven.  It is an abundant, satisfying life.  But how does this work to satisfy my existence now?

How does He become the depth of my desire, and get me off this merry go round?

I think some clues lie in the life of a woman whom we don’t even know her name.  The Samaritan woman.

Jesus was tired and thirsty and walked over to sit on the rim of a well in Samaria, which was a forbidden place for Jews, by the way.  Jesus was not a rule follower or a conformist.

John 4 is where you will find the story.

  • “And Jacob’s wellwas there. So Jesus, tired as He was from His journey, sat down [to rest] by the well. It was then about the sixth hour (about noon).  Presently, when a woman of Samaria came along to draw water, Jesus said to her, Give Me a drink—“

This was not just by happenstance.  Jesus always knew exactly what He was doing.

  • “The Samaritan woman said to Him, How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan [and a] woman, for a drink?—For the Jews have nothing to do with the Samaritans—Jesus answered her, If you had only known and had recognized God’s gift and Who this is that is saying to you, Give Me a drink, you would have asked Him [instead] and He would have given you living water.”

If she only knew who she was talking to …..

  • “She said to Him, Sir, You have nothing to draw with [no drawing bucket] and the well is deep; how then can You provide living water? [Where do You get Your living water?] Are You greater than and superior to our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well and who used to drink from it himself, and his sons and his cattle also? Jesus answered her, All who drink of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever takes a drink of the water that I will give him shall never, no never, be thirsty any more. But the water that I will give him shall become a spring of water welling up (flowing, bubbling) [continually] within him unto (into, for) eternal life.”

Is there a clue here?   He goes on to say He knows she has had 5 husbands and is now living with a man, to which she marvels that He knows this.

Does He condemn her?

Does He judge her or throw rocks?

No, what He does do is tell her if she only knew Who she was talking to she wouldn’t need all of those men to try to fill a need that was impossible by earthly means.

But, He would fill her hurting heart.

He offered Himself.

He went there to talk to only her that day.  Think of it; The town fornicator… the cast off among women in her town.

Image: Michael Belk

Image: Michael Belk

She was lost and needed to know that He could fill her and show His love for her so she wouldn’t need to keep riding the merry go round of men, who were also needy.

He heard the cry of her needy heart.

Here are six things I noticed about this woman as relates to so many of us in one way or another:

  1. She was too needy to keep a man.  She smothered them trying to find fulfillment and importance.
  1. She obviously chose the same type of man each time.  Do we see a pattern?
  1. She was looking for someone to make her feel more than what she felt about herself.
  1. She is convinced she is incompetent and less than.  Why do you think she was at the well at a time of day the other women weren’t there?  (Well, except for avoiding gossip.)
  1. She didn’t feel like a woman without a man.
  1. She could never get enough—a pit of neediness.

Do any of her issues ring a bell in your life at one time or another?

  • “She said to Him, Sir, You have nothing to draw with [no drawing bucket] and the well is deep; how then can You provide living water? [Where do You get Your living water?]”

She asked Him that if He had no bucket how could she draw the water for Him.  This is what I hear (in my translation),

  • “Sir, You have no bucket for me to draw You water.”

He replied, “YOU ARE THE BUCKET!!!”

It seems that when we allow Him to fill us apart from every other earthly thing, we are not only filled to the brim, but it fills Him too!!!

He is hungry for us.

He wants relationship with us!!

She left her water jar at the well and ran into town to tell the people about Him.  She became the first Evangelist!!

Metaphorically speaking, she left her water bucket because she became the bucket and He filled her with living water.

Jesus allows us to enter into times of emptiness because He wants us to see that only He can fill us.  Otherwise we would not pursue Him.  He uncovers things that are ugly in us (like the woman’s many men) because He wants to diffuse the bomb getting ready to go off in our heads of pure neediness.  We seek out the filling of our empty hearts with addictions, relationships, children, marriage, jobs, flattery, and so many other things, only to find ourselves still empty and lonely.

Relationship with Him should be first, and then He says He will add all of these other things to us.  He knows we will remain in defeat if we don’t find the secret of filling our buckets of need with His living water.

With HIM!!

Believe it or not, a number of years ago, my addiction was ministry.  The attention from people and my apparent self-ascribed holiness brought me the needed validation that I was important, because inside I felt unimportant and useless.  After all, I was doing a God thing.  I was in the ministry.  People loved me.  But inside I was empty.  I had all the outward things to admire, but inside I was so alone and lost and hurting.  I appeared spiritual but I had not found the Living Water yet.  (You can find my whole story in my book Climbing Out of the Box, ) So, I worked and worked to achieve greatness.  But it all exploded in my face because Jesus wanted to fill my bucket that was empty….and I had to learn a few things.

I am still learning and still growing.  But I know HIM now.  Really know HIM.  He fills my bucket with fresh living water every day.  I would die from thirst if He did not.

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Im Waiting Slider

We are continuing our energetic and informative discussion with Marvin “Merv” Mattair. It’s been inspiring to hear about the things that he is doing in his community of Madison County, FL – reaching into a youth culture and making a lasting impact in their lives.Merv Mattair

Merv is living proof that if you are faithful, God will come alongside you… and he is 100 times more faithful than we can ever imagine!

As Merv famously wrote, “You Prayed While I Played: A Message From the Once Lost Brother”, which speaks of God’s faithfulness, answered prayers, redemption and so much more.

As Merv puts it: very few young men are taught to be faithful. Instead, they are taught to “sow their royal oats”. These same young men learn to take pride in that and this sleeping around with one girl after another makes them feel like “a man”. They feel as though they are protected by using condoms, and therefore they can do whatever they want to do, however they want to do it, with whomever they want to do it with. But, the fact is that it takes a mere 21 days to form a habit. It takes less than a month of going from one party to another, sleeping with one girl than another… all in the name of having fun, before a hard-to-break-habit is formed.

Then, when this young man decides to settle down with one woman, this habit is incredibly difficult to break. Add to that the use of condoms as some sort of “sports equipment”, it makes it that much easier to tip toe out behind your woman’s back and become a professional cheater.

It never fails. We see it time and time again.

The young man says he loves his wife, but he has a habit that is incredibly difficult to deal with.

This is why Merv works so hard to nip the problem in the bud. He and his team works with young men before the habits are created. He lets them into his own life and shows them how he faithfully loves his wife and only his wife.

praying wife

Image: constrainedbylove.com

When Merv was walking in those cheatin’ player shoes, he thought he was doing right. He would cheat on his wife, then tell her he loves her, buy her flowers, ask her to forgive him… then go right back out and do it again. He was losing the fight in the ring of sin. Sticking and moving, ducking and dodging was his thing while in the ring, but nobody ever wins in that fight. Nobody.

Yet, his wife prayed for him nonstop. As Merv wrote:

“Your Sincere Prayers penetrating through the clouds,

Over several planets, & over anotha,

Until they reached Jehovah,

Then made manifested on the conscious of a lost Brotha”

She never gave up on Merv. She prayed for him constantly. She prayed, which encouraged him to pray. She prayed some more, which spurred Merv on to pray more. He didn’t stop playing around initially, but eventually, they began to pray together and he began to look into God’s Word what it meant to be a man, instead of what he had been taught growing up. Even within the context of Christian churches, he had seen men cheat on their wives. In Merv’s eyes, it’s just the way life went. Finally, he saw the hypocrisy for what it was. He recognized the calling the God had put on his life and the gift that God had given him in his wife!

As an answer to her dutiful prayers, they are married today and serving God together!

As Merv says, it’s amazing what a man can do when He decides to let go of the things of this world, stops giving into his sinful urges and allow God to transform him.

Instead of glorifying the “black-to-white” stories, I wish more time was spent in churches glorifying the stories that say, “I grew up in the same ‘hit-it-and-quit-it culture – the same fallen world – that everyone else did, but I chose to flee from temptation and not sin. I walked hard after my God everyday.”

THAT is the harder testimony.

Turning to God after years of addiction, sleeping around, alcohol and drugs… that’s the easy choice to make. But walking hard after God every single day, with temptations all around you in a culture that says to do something different than what God wants… do what YOU want, THAT’S the hard testimony.

That’s the story we need to be sharing with our kids. We need to encourage them that it is possible to follow God’s path everyday and not stray.

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