Joel the Messenger - My Testimony

Since I could ever begin to remember, Elohim, has wrestled with every ounce of my being…but I digress.

little meI have been a Christian since I was 10, but never really had any spirit filled mentors to learn from, or maybe I didn’t know to look for them. Today this strikes me as ironic considering I've had many great business mentors...none of which really walked with God openly (some knew of God). From 10 to 16 I played church like everyone else around me, do as I say not as I do, and when I wasn’t at church I forgot about God and did what my friends and the world did. Youth have little knowledge of leadership or discipleship, so conformity and fitting in is an easier defense mechanism to hide from truth. I can actually never recall a time when someone at a church took me aside and taught me what it was like to be “Christ like”. I had some great youth pastors and I had horrible youth pastors, but I had great bosses and horrible bosses. That is why we should never follow man or woman. I needed a Heavenly Father and didn’t even realize it because I hated my earthly father. That is how easy it is for the enemy to attack us, distract us, and keep us from walking in Jesus. I knew he died for my sins but how can someone that has never experienced death truly grasp the full magnitude of that message. I knew I was a sinner, every pastor I’ve ever known made certain that I knew that. We all live in a hell, and we don’t need someone to remind us of that every time we come seeking God’s love. Every Sunday was a lecture of how we will sin as soon as we leave the pews. I heard He was my Heavenly Father, but I hardly wanted to know my own father, so what was the rush. I had plenty of time. I knew I should read His Word, but in my house being forced to read a Bible and memorizing scriptures was a form of punishment. I can read and memorize, that’s easy, but who was going to tell me what all that knowledge was good for after the fact. How easily torn and confused I had become as a young boy with hate ripping around me like a tornado over things I could not explain. I never had a relationship with Jesus, yet I needed it, but still never knew this was what I was missing. It never occurred to me that I was doing it all wrong, but how are you supposed to know what is right or wrong if you’ve never known “Right Believing”?

I say these things not to make excuses for the old me, but I hope that someone else who might be feeling the same way can realize that they are not alone. Also be sure that I am not creating a laundry list of my sins, failures, and shortcomings over the last 36 years of my life, and you don’t need to dwell there either. God has paid for all of those things on the cross so that we can look ahead to the future He has waiting for us. We are called to be His sons and daughters, to walk with him, talk with him and be in Him every second of the day. The Spirit of God has replaced the pain, tears, hate, addictions, doubt, suffering, and depression from when I was in the wilderness. Did I once shake my fist to the sky angry at God? Yes, but not anymore. He loves His children deeply, fully, unconditionally. This I know.

My Father made me unique in many ways. I loved being left alone and being independent, but I was always the social, center of attention in a group. Overcompensating for what I truly desired I suppose. A need for real love and peace that I have only received from resting in the Spirit of my Heavenly Father. I know I say “my Father” a lot but understand this, He is ours. He is yours. He is all of us. You reading this, as tears fall from my eyes, yes you...need to know this. You are His Son or Daughter, and there is no sin that you can EVER commit that will EVER change that. My instincts made me adaptable to any situation, unfortunately I knew this and sometimes abused that gift and other gifts (just being honest). I was very quick to pick up on someone’s tone of voice or facade that they tried to put up in front of me. I would force them to talk to me about what was bothering them, I just wanted to listen and know that someone else felt alone, or angry, or mistreated, or unworthy. I missed so many opportunities to be a witness, looking back now, that it hurts my heart from time to time. The enemy will use the mistakes of your past to keep you from a future with your Father, but you do not live in the past and neither does Jesus. I knew the pain of not feeling good enough, I knew hate, deception, being hypercritical, and not wanting to live (yeah, suicide). At 16 as I laid in bed I tried to think of a way to kill myself in an effort to rid myself of the emptiness. But what happened that night, while I laid on the top bunk, gave me a small glance at my Father’s love for me. The darkness was as dark as it had ever been in the room, I felt something hanging over me as I cried, the enemy thought it had control over my mind. It was so real it scared me to my senses and immediately I whispered the name “Jesus”. Falling asleep it seemed as if someone had lovingly tucked me in securely under my sheets that night, yet no one had, and to this day the thought of suicide has never crossed my mind again. I remember the immediate peace that consumed my entire being 21 years later.

fresh starts

Question me all you would like, but see, I have a photographic memory of every important experience in my life. I cannot afford to tell you lies when I know who lives in my heart. I tell my parents of memories I have from when I was 4-5 yrs old, and they don’t believe I remember such things. One story, of when I could have drowned, occurred when I was on the beach in San Diego. My parents and my father’s parents were all there enjoying their first born grand-son. I remember running towards my grandfather on the sand, small puddles in front of me, or so I thought. One of those puddles was much deeper than I was tall and the next thing I knew I was looking up from under the water. Nobody around me. All I could see was the brightest light shining down from the sun above, it was beautiful and so peaceful. Then my grandfather pulled me up by my arm, and it was over. It felt like a lifetime, but I’m certain it was much shorter. I was perfectly fine and the enemy failed as it always has in my life. As an adult I have come to know that God can take an experience, that may feel like a lifetime to us, and fast forward us into blessings and grace beyond our human understanding. I have been a first hand witness of that as well. How could I have allowed my life to be such a mess if this is true you're wondering? Stubbornness, generational curses, and hypocrisy run deep in my family and I allowed that excuse to control me for too long. And no, I’m not blaming others...that is why Jesus cried out from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

You know how people ask, “how can God let bad things happen?”, as they try to place blame on someone for something they don’t understand. My response would be, “God allowed me to walk the path I chose, he let me ignore his plan, that’s how much he loved me. He knew that all things work for His good regardless of what I do. Even when I was in trouble I knew He was there, even when I cursed His name in anger I knew He still loved me.” Even more importantly, only the Devil comes to steal, kill and destroy so how dare we place the blame on our Father. We are all ungrateful in some fashion, and if He allowed us to live a perfect life in a bubble without storms, then how would we ever truly appreciate what He did for us?

I now welcome trials, storms, and mountains to block my path each and every day. Yes, sometimes I battle with feeling alone, but God is bigger than all of those things and I have learned to fully rely on him to take care me. That aloneness that the enemy wants to use for my harm I turn into peaceful times talking with my Father. So can you. If we all did the same, maybe we could freely focus on walking this Earth being a witness like He did. Not sitting on our butts, not complaining at our jobs, not pouting in the corner.

I have to learn to stop relying on my own knowledge and strength so that His glory can shine through my emptiness. Our minds were never meant to understand God, so why do we waste time trying. Every time I sing His praises there is a release from my mind and you can’t argue peace, joy, or the presence of His Spirit. Our sin, failures, jobs, income, weaknesses, doubts, fears, and sicknesses are no match for His love, mercy, grace, healing, favor and blessings. Stop and listen after you cry out to Him, in a faint whisper deep in your heart is where He will reveal Himself to you. I dare you to get in the gutter of life and think you’re going to pull yourself out. You are not that strong, only Him in you is. He suffered far beyond what most of us will ever suffer because He loved us. His penetrating awareness of the heinous nature of sin, its destructive and deadly effects, the sorrow and heartache that it inflicts, and the extreme measure necessary to deal with it on our behalf, make the passion of Christ beyond all comprehension.

When I was 18 a lot of changes happened, a spiritual metamorphosis, in my life that brought me closer to Him. My earthly father and I had worked on some things, we were going to a revival and experiencing the fire of God, and I later went on my first missions trip. I could see how quickly God moved when I was in His presence, even though I still wasn’t fully present. Just seeing the faces of the Haitian refugees in my mind still stirs my heart, when I remember the Haitian refugees and how they smiled during praise & worship. The hunger in their hearts astounded me beyond anything I had ever witnessed, perhaps I envied their child like compassion and hope in the midst of struggle. I began to question my own hunger or lack thereof. Conviction hit me for a moment when I considered how spoiled I was when it came to what I had been blessed with. This Sonship I took for granted. Who was I to abuse the gifts my Father had placed inside of me from birth? I remember being so happy to sleep on a concrete slab during the nights after praising God with people that had absolutely nothing. Nothing. They knew what it meant to literally be at the bottom of the well, and yet they smiled and showed us compassion in their own way. A few of us played basketball with some of the other youth at night and their joy was yet again contagious. This is what joy from the Father is like. One day a few of them took us to meet their family and they welcomed us into their home. We were complete strangers to them, their culture, and their situation. Yet, because we loved God as they did, they accepted us as brothers and sisters. It made me wonder why other believers I had grew up with never came together as one united church family. Many of my friends went to different churches. I would visit with them during youth or sport events, and being a child, would ask the silly question to each youth leader. “Why don’t churches do more things like this together?”, I don’t remember getting an answer.

When I arrived back in the states, every former pastor I had known in the short 18 years of my life turned me away from sharing my experience with the youth of their churches. The light from the fire inside of you will reveal the darkness, present and future. I was told that if I brought my fire to their church they would put it out for me. I vividly recall my father being there by my side on one of the phone calls. I knew he wanted to give me some divine words of encouragement, but his own shame held him back from saying much. As a young man on fire for God, you can imagine the frustration in my spirit, mind and flesh. My ignorance of God's ultimate plan failed me at the time, I walked away and doubted His power and hand over my life.

Bishop TD Jakes says that God has given us all of the things we need to accomplish what He wants us to do. What He wants us to do. We just don’t know how to leverage these things sometimes, or we refuse, while pleading with God to give us what we want. We ask him for a cake, and he gives us flour, sugar, butter and milk. Then we still think that He hasn’t answered our prayers. Thank God for his perfect mercy and grace when we complicate his blessings for us. When I was pushed away from these churches, the stubbornness and temper beat into me growing up took over my carnal mind once again. The old me came back to the surface and convinced me that if they didn’t care then neither did I. Another lie. I didn’t need anyone so the hell with the world. Another lie. Besides, I had plenty of life left to serve God, so what was the rush. Another lie. These perfect church goers had it all figured out, what do I know, and who was I to speak up. Another lie. Without the truth of His love in our heart as a Child of God, it is easy to justify our actions while we listen to lies. I had to realize suffering is no longer suffering when we find meaning.

As I grew older and attempted to mature based on my own understanding, I still played “walk the fence” with what God called me to do while playing church. I heard a story of an atheist who had a dream one night. The atheist was standing on a fence in the middle of a field. One one side was Jesus and his children, on the other was Satan and his followers. Unlike hollywood would have you believe, Satan does hold a pitchfork so that you can recognize him. He is, however, extremely attractive, seductive, and convincing in his lies. All of a sudden, everyone disappeared and the atheist was left standing on the fence all alone. Shortly thereafter, Satan reappeared and said, “there you are, I was looking for you”. The atheist said, “no, I didn’t choose Him and I didn’t choose you either. That’s why I’m this fence you see.” Satan replied, “Well, you see, I own that fence.” The atheist woke up a Christian.

Growing up struggling people every day of your life, frustration becomes second nature without much thought. Are we not creatures of habit? They say birds of a feather flock together, but aren’t all of those birds unique to start with. When you’re around grumpy people at work, doesn’t it make you grumpy? When you are around happy people every day, don’t you find yourself smiling more often? If we stayed in God’s presence wouldn't the fruits of the Spirit be all over us? Why do you we love the old us or the future us, instead of loving the present us? Forgive me for asking. Let me continue...

I would party during the week and be in church on Sunday. Lying to myself daily. I would work and volunteer with a charity and then chase females later with my friends. I was almost in two gunfights, due to gang involvement and hanging around bars with girls created additional problems. I thought all of this was what you were supposed to do growing up, but I failed to recognize the hole in my heart that I was trying to fill.

I watched my parents fight week after week over not having money, and all I knew was that I would always have money. An idol was formed to add with the aforementioned anger, lies and lust. After I became bored with partying and females, I let money and my career become the new focus of my flesh. So easy enough, the best way not to carry a financial burden was to not have a family at all. Marriage didn’t look like much fun, I mean if I played the movie of my life, so I decided to just keep that on the back burner since money was the way to go. That was my motto through college and then some.

Still his hand was always on me, I knew His presence too well to ignore it, but I tried. As a matter of fact, I tried harder to run from God then actually trying to follow Him. I never thought I could be used by God with all the mess in my life. Orphans don’t carry a sense of worth. I felt like a mistake who could only focus on those sins my pastors always reminded me of on Sunday mornings. If I didn’t feel good about me, if I couldn’t love myself, then why would God. Self reflection is sobering and a start.

It came time for college and the only way I was going to better myself was to pay my own way. I was never used to handouts anyways, so to me it was just another obstacle I had to do on my own. Independence from God, another idol. At least that’s what I told myself while my Father worked in the background and shifted everything into place. I was upset with life, but he was setting me up. So I joined the military, experienced boot camp, and came home with a GI Bill to help pay for college. Each time I was forced to do something “on my own”, I realized a growing divide in personalities between myself and my parents. I remember sitting in an English 101 class and my professor asked how many of our parents had college degrees. He said, “you will never be able to relate to your parents again…” and I was already alright with that. I knew I was different, and embraced that fact, but I didn’t know why. I was an artist, I could sing, I could dance, I related to everyone regardless of color, but I never accomplished anything amazing when compared to my own standards. With arms wrapped around my idols, I felt below average, I wasn’t allowing God to use the gifts He had blessed me with. That was my fault, not my Father's. Please don’t read this without acknowledging the progression of hope. I was growing, learning, taking ownership over my convictions. Swallowing pride, ego and self-righteousness as the weeks passed by.

jkbwWhen I met my wife at 30, God lovingly captured my attention even more with my new focus being her. If I was a book she was my antithesis. If I was a villain she was the heroine. If I was the rusty, beat up, damaged can she was can opener. The complete opposite of every lie I had told myself for 14 years. She was raised Catholic and didn’t know what real prayer, faith, or the presence of His spirit meant. But heck, all I knew was prayer and forced faith with a glimpse of the Spirit that I was careless with. So what did I have to lose, even with the religious lies I was taught. All she knew was that He was around…and in my hypocrisy, still, I thought I needed to change her. Silly me, everything I tried to preach only caused separation and arguments. I preached a life I didn’t even truly believe myself, I surely didn’t live it. I was just learning to accept myself and love myself. So of course I couldn’t accept her with all of her flaws, I hated my own flaws and reflected that onto her. Like I was a saint. THIS is how good my Father is to me...Listen. I stopped myself from preaching to her after a few months and gave it over to my Father to handle, THIS was the first, the first, true instance in my life that I relied totally on Him. The first time in my life that my carnal mind, came into a realization that saved me from myself. The first notable moment in the history of my rough life (a little sarcasm) that I was smacked across the face with the idea that I did NOT want to ruin another relationship. Never in my life had I thought of marriage. But my Father lovingly shook me just enough to bring me to my senses. “You are not your earthly father, I AM” is what I heard. It wasn’t marriage I was scared of, it was becoming the earthly father from my childhood that scared me to death. Two Sunday’s later she raised her hands during praise and worship for the first time ever. There are a multitude of other things that have happened to us both in the last 7 years of marriage that I will leave out for another chapter, but he Has shown up and shown out as only He can. A Son and Daughter with our Father in the middle is our focus with a legacy to change generations.

I've been singing since I could talk and I am blessed with so many talents that I have not used properly to help others. A year ago after listening to Pastor John Gray of Lakewood and Bishop TD Jakes, I made a decision that I would not let the gifts He had given me go to waste another day. I am preparing a way, with the guidance of my Father’s Spirit, so that I can share my testimony and help others who are going through tough times. People are dying all around us, walking lifeless with no joy or hope. Hell is very real to them and you, but why wait to be free any longer. You were not meant to feel like an orphan, you were wonderfully made to be a son or daughter by a Father that died for you to live.

We are all clay in the potter's hands and I am nothing but an unfinished project in His eyes. I’m an ordinary guy serving an extraordinary Father. Even when crack under pressure or try to break His mold, He loves me and puts me back into place. I am in one of the biggest cities in the US and sometimes feel completely by myself, but this time I am trusting Him completely and absolutely. Yes I struggle, yes I am human, yes I make mistakes, but the only thing I fear is God and He’s on my side. So there’s nothing that can stop me this time around.

So why have I told you something that I’ve never shared with a soul in my lifetime? Maybe it’s practice, maybe I felt lead by the spirit to write you, maybe I can actually be of help to you. If I write with the love from my Father, then maybe these words will touch you and prompt a change as well. Caterpillars who fall in love with their cocoons...lose. Metamorphosis. You have wings and were meant to fly. I always remind myself of when Paul walked on the water. Paul’s focus was on Jesus and nothing else. All the storms and waves crashing around him did not distract him from experiencing God’s will. So if you feel like you are drowning don’t look around and be distressed, just look to Him and be at perfect rest.

"Christianity, if false, is of no importance and, if true, is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important." C.S. Lewis

performingBefore Christ I was a different person. This person was my old self but that person died, and my life is now hidden in Christ. This doesn’t mean I will never stumble or fall back into old habits, but I will call them what they are - old habits of the old person who has been crucified with Jesus - and is no more. Even when I fail His love for me will not. His love never fails. I am who God says I am His Son, pure, blameless, and righteous. Not because of anything I have done, but because of what Jesus has done. My mistakes and past do not define me because I am under His perfect grace for eternity. No one will ever take this from me, how can they, they didn’t give it to me when they didn’t died for me.

Aren’t you glad I gave you the short version…I purposefully left out 50 more pages which will be in my upcoming book.

My prayer and battle cry for you….Jesus light us up...we should be so deep in His love that when the rapids come rushing in like a flood and the water rises up above our heads, we will NOT drown or be fearful. Instead we will stand firm on the rock that is our salvation and we will be empowered by the Spirit of our Father. And we won’t just hold strong, but we will slowly push forward against the raging current, and if that current pushes us back a few feet that’s alright. We will not quit, we may stumble, but we will RISE back just as our Savior once did. Focusing on His light at the end of the darkest tunnel and being led by the light He has burning inside of us. All He gave was His all and I will die giving my all for Him.

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