I have a new website! You will be redirected to my brand new blog. Cory Nickols: November 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Be Thankful In All Things – It Can Be A Blessing In Disguise

The holidays can be a great joy for many people. Families get together to eat and open gifts, watch a movie or just spend quality time with one another. Thanksgiving Day is always a favorite time of mine because I get to sit down and watch NFL football with my extended family. No one has to say anything. Just being in their company is such a joy! Unfortunately, the holidays can be a very negative experience for many people as well. These times can bring back negative emotions of unresolved conflict or broken relationships between family members or friends. Instead of a sense of joy and a thankful heart, an undercurrent of strife brews as extended family enters town. One can only hope there will be peace for the holidays!

I am quite familiar with strife and negative people. A couple of years ago, I worked for a company that had about 30 employees and one of them was extremely negative. He would tear himself and others down constantly. He had a hard time finding anything good to say and was quick to speak negatively about someone else in the office in order to make himself look good. It was hard to be around him. To make matters worse, he began to single me out from the crowd and say offensive things to me and would talk about me behind my back. When I entered the room where he was working, I could sense a bad vibe that I was not welcome in his area. Needless to say, it made work miserable for me. I couldn’t take it any longer. As a Christian, I knew God wanted me to treat him with respect, but it was so hard, especially after months and months of it. One day I prayed to God about the situation and asked Him to either get this person fired or cause him to come into a personal relationship with Jesus. I knew that Jesus could help heal his broken soul if he was willing to turn to God. A week went by and I had to stay late after work one night to finish a project. Everyone had left except the guy who tormented me day after day. All of a sudden he came up to my desk and asked if I was a youth pastor. I said, no, but I do work with the youth of my church and I also lead my church’s college and post college young adults program. He asked me, “Do you find most young people leave their faith after high school? I responded by explaining how God took me through a really dark doubting season of my life and brought me through it to eventually strengthen my faith in God. I also shared with him many difficult things I went through growing up and struggles that God has helped me overcome. He stood amazed at what he was hearing. He couldn’t believe that I had faced all these challenges and struggles. He thought I was this little “goody two shoes” that has never made mistakes or been through any rough patches in life. He said, “the truth is Cory I have been jealous of you because you have so much joy and peace in life and I want what you have!” I explained further, “My joy comes from knowing God through Jesus Christ and experiencing His unconditional love toward me just as I am. I don’t have to strive and try to be good. As I lean on Him, He changes me little by little.” I asked if he wanted to receive Jesus and place his trust in Him so that He could begin to experience the same kind of peace and joy! He wasn’t ready for that step, but from that day forward, he has treated me completely different. He has such a respect for me now and life around the office was quite different. I was so grateful to God that He intervened.

The bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will].

I had to learn to be THANKFUL in the midst of a very uncomfortable season. There were days I wanted to rip his head off or make a big scene at work! There were days I wanted to stay inward focused and not be out going because of the situation at hand. God took me through this trial to teach me to cast my cares on Him and through prayer and trusting Him, He would work on my behalf at just the right time.

The bible says in Romans 12:19, Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The bible also teaches us to pray for our enemies. If we will take the people in our lives that are trying to hurt us to God and allow Him to work in the situation, we will see God do miracles on our behalf. I was amazed at how quickly the situation turned around as I gave it to Him. Just think, this person is way closer to accepting Jesus as his Savior and Lord because I allowed God to work on my behalf. His perception of God was skewed probably due to past church or family experiences and it had left some major hurts in his life. God in His great wisdom revealed glimpses of His true nature to my coworker as I was available and willing to go through all the difficult circumstances and rely on God’s strength and direction. What an amazing testimony of God’s goodness. After this season ended, I looked back and was so thankful for it. My coworker’s life was forever changed and he had taken huge steps forward in knowing God personally. I remember saying to myself, “I would go through the pain all over again to see him being transformed and for the nuggets of Truth I learned.”

I want to encourage you to trust and lean on God if you are in relationship with unpleasant people or will be around them during this holiday season. The trial you are facing can bring great blessing into your life if you will entrust those difficult people to God and allow Him to work on your behalf. You just might be the instrument He chooses to use to bring healing, faith, mercy and love into their lives and ultimately a TRUE knowledge of God.

I pray God’s very best for you and your family this Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Never Give Up

About twelve years ago, I went through my first real faith test as a Christian. Sure, I had been through difficult times before, but this was one that shook the very foundation of my belief system. I grew up in a Christian home. I knew all the right bible verses and new all the stories everyone in church has grown to love! I could argue with the best of the bible scholars, defending my Christian faith with little tolerance for someone else’s perspective. Do you get the sense I was pretty self righteous and proud!

It was my freshman year of college and I wanted to take the large state university for Jesus. I quickly got involved in a Christian organization that helped equip students on how to share their faith boldly and effectively. I saw these students had a real zeal for God and I wanted what they had! They seemed to be unaffected by what people thought of them and they were not embarrassed to share their faith with others. I, on the other hand, was a “Closet Christian”. I didn’t want others to know that I was a follower of Jesus because I was embarrassed of what others might think if they really knew where I stood on God, religion, and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. On one hand, I loved God, but on another was weak, passive and struggled in so many areas of my life. On top of that, I was blind to all of it.

One night I prayed to God with a sincere heart, “God I want to KNOW YOU and I don’t understand your GRACE completely.” Little did I know, my pray would lead me down a faith filled journey that would forever change the course of my life! After I prayed, I went to sleep. I awoke in the middle of the night and these thoughts entered my mind for the first time ever. “How do you know your God is real? How do you know that the Bible is true?” These nagging thoughts would not leave me. I had never questioned the validity of the Bible, God or Christianity before and it really put fear in my heart for the first time ever. I no longer wanted to believe this stuff just because someone told me it was true, but I wanted to know why I existed and if there really was a God. If God was real, then, was He the God of the Bible or some other religion. I wanted to know if God loved me and could accept me as I was. After all, I didn’t like who I was! Well, these thoughts plagued me night and day for weeks and weeks. I no longer wanted to socialize, or do well in school. Everything I thought was so important all of a sudden wasn’t anymore. My brother even started getting concerned. I talked with lots of friends about this, but they quoted scriptures at me and could not give me solid answers. I turned to my pastor and he looked baffled at what was happening to me. It scared me even more. I sank into depression. I only wanted to sleep my problem away, hoping when I awoke it would be gone or things would be back the way they used to be before I prayed that prayer.

To make matters worse, I already applied to go on a mission trip to share my “Strong Immoveable” faith. Not only was I scared, but I was so confused. I cried out to God and asked for Him to speak to me and show me who he was…nothing but silence. I thought about other religions and even atheism. In the depth of my despair, thoughts of suicide entered my mind. “If God really loved you, He wouldn’t allow you to go through this…would He? Just end your life! For the first time, I realized those thoughts in my mind were not my thoughts. Something had access to my mind other than me and did not want me to find out who God was! All my options were up. I turned to everything I could think of to help me through what I was facing without success. I turned to friends, pastors, my own intellect, reasoning of the mind and my parents. No one could make these thoughts flee. In absolute humility and a broken and contrite heart, I cried out to God and said, “Jesus, I believe you are God and that the Bible is real. I believe you died for my sins and want a real relationship with me. I am questioning everything and I just don’t know anymore if you are real or relevant for my life. Please help me!” (God knows at what point we can’t take the trial any longer and is willing to step in and help.) Deep on the inside of my heart, I heard a still small voice speak to me and He said, “Cory the battle you are going through in your mind belongs to me. I love you. Do not be afraid.”

This voice cut through all the confusion and cloudiness of my mind and gave me such peace and hope. I knew that I knew that God had spoken to me. All of a sudden, memory verses I had memorized when I was younger came flooding into my heart and it was like God was encouraging me to trust him by faith just as Abraham did when he heard God speak to him. The God of the Bible is ALIVE!

I ended up going on the mission trip with an eagerness to learn more about my Savior and God. My doubt and questions did not end with this experience, but I knew that God was real and I was compelled to know Him deeper. One day while on this trip, I was reading and came across a passage that jumped off the pages at me.

John 15:1-2 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (NIV)

I had wondered why God would allow me to go through such a difficult season. This verse spoke to me so clearly. I had placed so many things before my relationship with God: friends, family, career, insecurities to name a few. God was letting me know He took me through this difficult season to expose things I placed before Him. When I realized those things couldn’t offer me the hope and assurance I was looking for, I sought after God like I had never done before! God was cutting areas out of my life that were hindering my relationship with Him.

The Bible says in Jeremiah 29:13, you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
God brought me to a place where I really sought Him out with everything I was. I no longer looked for Him half heartedly or looked to other things to provide my comfort and security.

During this trip, I was spending time in prayer and the Holy Spirit said to me, “You have finally given me the throne of your life” Up until this difficult season, I looked at God as my Savior, but not my Lord. He wants to lead and guide us and direct our steps down a path that will bring great reward into our lives. The problem comes in when we want to lead our own lives and do things our own way! For many years I did this and I was frustrated and defeated. When I finally let go of the stirring wheel and allowed God to have complete control, I realized my life took a turn for the best.

The Bible says in John 16:7, However, I am telling you nothing but the truth when I say it is profitable (good, expedient, advantageous) for you that I go away. Because if I do not go away, the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby) will not come to you [into close fellowship with you]; but if I go away, I will send Him to you [to be in close fellowship with you]. (Amp)

God sent the Holy Spirit to help us in our time of need and to guide us into Truth. He is there to teach us the things of God and help us all along the journey of life. Looking back, I am so grateful for the experience I went through because it helped me see God and life in a whole new light.

You might be going through a similar experience. God seems distant and you are going through one of the roughest seasons ever. I want to encourage you that God is there with you through the storm. He will guide and direct you to a safe place and grow you to be more mature in the process. It will be scary and uncomfortable, but the Prince of Peace will guide you. Trust Him by faith and lean on Him in this time. He has your best interest at heart and in time you will see…only Never Give Up!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

I grew up in Church.  I spent my entire life learning about God and what I thought He required of me as a follower.  I became an expert at following rules and regulations and found myself comparing the way I conducted my life to that of others.  As long as my morality exceeded the people in my sphere of influence, I believed I was in good standing with God and I experienced a sense of self-righteousness from it.  At the same time, I knew deep down in my heart I was not perfect and I needed a Savior.  I wanted to do what was right, but found myself making mistakes more often than I would have liked to admit.  I had all these highs and lows based off my moral performance.  When I did the right thing, I believed I was doing well and God was pleased with me and when I did the wrong thing, I had a cloud of condemnation hovering over me for days and weeks at a time.  In an effort to regain acceptance by God and others, I would pray and read my bible more and I would try really hard to earn God’s favor back.  The harder I tried the messier my life seemed to get…Frustrating! 

I struggled with lustful thoughts for years which would lead to an outlet of masturbation.  I felt so condemned every time I gave into this bad habit, but found myself repeating it over and over again.  When I went for periods of time without succumbing to my lustful pleasures, I felt a sense of accomplishment and God was definitely pleased with my effort.  When I messed up, I believed God was angry with me and looked for ways to punish me.  I asked for forgiveness a hundred times and never really believed I was forgiven!!  I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew something needed to change in my life. 

With a heart felt prayer, I asked God to help me through this trial.  The Holy Spirit began to show me several verses in the bible that began the healing process of wrong thinking. 

Ephesians 2:8-9   For it is by free grace (God's unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ's salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God;
Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law's demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.]  (Amplified)

My Christianity was based off of performance or trying, which really meant I was not trusting Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross!  I can never earn or deserve God’s grace, forgiveness, right standing and unmerited favor on the basis of my good deeds!   When I finally realized I was treating my relationship with God like this, I asked Him to forgive me and I understood a deep truth about God for the first time.  He LOVED and ACCEPTED me the way I was.  Simply by BELIEVING what He did on the Cross 2000 years ago I was totally FORGIVEN!  
Galatians 2:16  Yet we know that a man is justified or reckoned righteous and in right standing with God not by works of the Law, but [only] through faith and [absolute] reliance on and adherence to and trust in Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). [Therefore] even we [ourselves] have believed on Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law [for we cannot be justified by any observance of the ritual of the Law given by Moses], because by keeping legal rituals and by works no human being can ever be justified (declared righteous and put in right standing with God).

Many Christians have become experts in trying instead of BELIEVING God at His Word.  We try so hard to earn his forgiveness or approval and it has already been done for us.  We simply have to receive it by faith…BELIEVE.  This was not an easy thing for me.  My logical mind wanted to earn and strive for the things of God, but it left me frustrated and defeated.  When I began to let go of trying to figure it all out and just receive his unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness, real change started to take place in my life.  For the first time, I had real peace and joy and a deep sense of God’s pleasure toward me!  I started to look at people differently.  I wasn’t so quick to judge them or their motives because I finally realized that God didn’t do that with me.  When I deserved judgment, He extended His mercy and grace, and it made me want to do the same for others.  My relationships began changing.  Damaged relationships were restored because I started allowing others to make mistakes and not hold them “accountable” for their failures!   I showed mercy because I experienced the tangible mercy of God in my own life.

God showed me another scripture that was life changing.
Romans: 7:19-20   For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans: 8:1   Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 

The Apostle Paul was writing to the Romans and understood his trust and acceptance were found in Jesus Christ alone and not his ability to keep a bunch of rules and regulations.  Jesus Christ set us free from having to live up to a law we could never keep. 

God didn’t expect me to live this life perfectly, but to trust Him to complete the good work He began in me.  My response was to be open to His leading as He highlighted areas I needed to surrender to Him.  In turn, He would change me little by little. Even when I would make a mistake and start to feel a condemning cloud come over me, I would hear the Holy Spirit whisper to me,

“You are forgiven!  It isn’t by your strength, but by my power that you are set free.  Cory, get back up, dust yourself off, and keep moving in the direction I have for you!”

Wow, God is not the way I thought He was.  As He showed me His true nature, it set me free and helped me begin to change.  He is faithful to complete the good work He began in me, and He can do the same for you!  Don’t be frustrated because you are not as far along the journey as you think you should be.  Rest in God and He will see you through the storms and challenges of this life and use your failures as stepping stones to your destiny.  Remember, your mess can become your ministry!  One day you will look back and be amazed at just how far God has brought you!   Do you have unforgiveness in your heart toward yourself or someone else for unrealistic expectations?  Are you comparing your morality to others and judging them for falling short?  You can be free from that by experiencing God’s unconditional love toward you.  Just receive it by faith!  Ask God to help you receive His love and acceptance and extend it to others who don’t deserve it.  Remember, we don’t deserve it either!    

James 2:13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful, MERCY TRIUMPHS OVER JUDGMENT.