It was a Sunday morning in the fall of 2001. We had recently opened our Orlando, FL franchise of the Lord’s Gym health club, on August 22nd 2001. Then September 11th happened and just 14 days later my first child, Tyler Chriswell was born. It was already hectic but things were about to get much, much worse. God knew I was about to experience such great affliction that if He didn’t direct His grace toward me in a very special way, I would not survive what I was about to endure. In my weakness, He knew I needed to really know that He was with me.
We were just finishing up worship and the sermon was about to begin at Northland community church in Longwood, FL, when I was tapped on my left shoulder. I turned my head as far left as possible, still only able to see the lady from my peripheral vision in the dimly lit sanctuary. She leaned in and said, “The Lord will be magnified and glorified through your obedience.” Those were the only words she said; I was stunned. I sat down and went through feelings of wonder, joy, and then even a bit of indignation. At one point I thought, “Who says something like that to a complete stranger… she doesn’t even know me…why would she say that?” I was barely able to listen to the sermon because I was so struck by her words. I couldn’t wait for the service to end so I could inquire of her motive. When the message ended, I promptly turned around and saw a family sitting in all of the seats. There were no other empty seats and no one had seen the woman I had just described.
“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” – Hebrews 1:14
“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2
A few months later on May 22nd 2002, I faced the most difficult and terrifying day of my life. Our builder had taken us $130k over bid, and our dream was dead nine months to the day of its birth. I met with the news media and was subsequently slaughtered each night on the news in front of hundreds of thousands of people. We became like prisoners in our own home. We had no business, no savings, no income, and we were now $400k in debt. The lowest day came when I had to break my baby son’s piggy bank in order to come up with $6 in
change to buy him formula. I thought, “How can God ever be glorified through my life now?” I’ve never wanted to end my life in suicide, but in those days I was able to see how appealing it can seem as a way out when you see no hope. Because of verses
like: Mat 24:13, 1 Cor 3:17, 6:19-20, 15:2, Gal 6:7-9, Col 1:22-23, Heb 10:38-39, 2 Tim 2:5, 4:7-8, and Rev 3:2-5, 21:8, I have never believed a person (sound in mind) could take their life and still go to heaven. So, for me the fear of hell in eternity was always greater than my desire to escape temporary hell on earth.
Needless to say, this went way beyond the average experience of humiliation. I had to relearn everything I thought I had ever known about God, the devil, faith, life, business, and success. About six months later, I was driving down the road still begging God for direction. I said, “Please God, I don’t want to mess up like this again…please just tell me what to do this time and I will do anything you want me to do. Why won’t you just tell me exactly what you want me to do, like you did for people in the OT?” Here would come the first and the most lengthy words that God ever spoke to me (not audibly, but so strongly in my spirit as if it were audible 1 Chro 28:12).
After much seeking, it all came like an instant download. “I do not always provide my children with immediate guidance and answers to their questions because they would quickly begin seeking the answers, rather than the Answer Giver. I am far more interested in your pursuing me than I am in your doing everything just perfect.” Just as my little spiritually immature mind was being warped on this thought, he sent a personal illustration to sink it in my heart forever. “Which would you prefer, for your son Tyler to never do anything wrong and to perfectly follow your every rule and command, but to show you no real love and affection, or would you prefer an imperfect son who makes mistakes often, but who comes running and screaming, ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy’, when that garage door opens?” I can scarcely recall this moment without weeping. For the record, this wasn’t God teaching me some new extra-Biblical revelation. This principle is right there in the Scriptures even though I didn’t really know it at the time (Mat 15:8, Mar 12:30, 1 Cor 8:3, Rev 2:2-4). So, just as Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:7, the Lord was just giving me insight into this and making it clear to me (Phi 3:15).
I shared this story because this book is about discipleship, and authentic discipleship is about obedience to the commands of Christ. The Bible teaches that God’s love language is obedience (1 John 5:3), but we must remember that our obedience must be motivated by our love for Him, and it must never become a substitute for it!
Also, please know that God is not going to wait until you are perfectly obedient before He starts blessing you. God will start rewarding your sincere progress right away. It won’t always be how or what you think, but He will surely let you know that He is pleased with your efforts. I call it, “God’s Reese Pieces Program”, like how Elliot used the candies to keep E.T. slowly moving forward. I would have never made it, if God had first demanded perfection before He helped me. Instead, He gave me much grace to help in my weakness along the way.
Because of my childhood and all the frailty thereof, I grew up to despise weakness and I longed to be strong, self-confident, and self-sufficient. Unknown to me then, these are things God absolutely despises because they set us up to live independently of Him. To correct me, God used massive amounts of brokenness in my life to teach me that He desires us to be weak in ourselves, but strong in Him (Mat 5:3, 18:3-4, Eph 6:10). Things are backwards in the kingdom of God; we become strong by becoming weak, and we are exalted by humbling ourselves.
Today, because my dependence on Him remains, I am experiencing God’s grace in astonishing ways that go way beyond human reasoning. Because of this, I wish to share a gentle warning. I share many personal stories throughout this book for the purposes of showcasing my weakness and God’s dealings with me, illustrating the teachings of Christ, increasing your faith in Him, and bringing Him glory. However, sometimes people become discouraged saying, “God has never done that for me, or God has never spoken to me like that, etc.” I too have had these thoughts, but we must remember that God is not a God of favoritism, but He is completely sovereign and gets to pour out His grace exactly how He pleases. You and I can only receive what is given to us by heaven (John 3:27). It seems to me that God primarily stewards His grace according to our mission, our obedience, and our humility (dependence). We must keep this in mind when comparing God’s providence in the lives of others, with ours. I’d also like to suggest that if someone is experiencing more of God’s grace (as a result of their obedience to God), that doesn’t make them better than us, but it certainly makes them better off. I want to be even better off with God than I am now, and I bet you do too.
The more I learn about Him, the more I see how much I still need to learn. Nevertheless, I have learned quite a good bit about our Father and His ways through my own trial and error. A wise person learns from the mistakes of others, so I want to pass on to you what I have received. But, I also want to warn you against coveting the experiences of others. Instead, focus on obeying God and you will experience Him how He wants you to. God wants us to know Him in power, not just in word (1 Corinthians 1:17, 2:4, 4:20, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Hebrews 6:4-5). But remember, experiences must be subjected to Scripture even though not every godly experience we may have will be found in Scripture. Nevertheless, Satan still offers many counterfeit experiences (crying statues of Mary, gold teeth, gold dust, glory clouds, false words of knowledge, etc.), so let’s seek God, not experiences.
Finally, what happens when we disagree on doctrines like sin, obedience, salvation, grace, God’s sovereignty, spiritual warfare, gifts of the Spirit, etc.? We can’t know everything, but Jesus said we can know a tree by its fruit, and David said God is near to all that call on Him in truth (Ps 145:18). The reverse then is also true; God is not near those who call on Him in error. I have found that when I moved into error on major doctrines, God felt distant and my joy was not complete. My mind was convinced I was right, but the fruit of my heart showed different results. I’d like to suggest that when we disagree on doctrine, we should ask ourselves, “Is my belief about this producing life to the full and the fruit of the Spirit in my heart, or could I still be missing something? If it’s the latter, perhaps we should humbly re-consider our beliefs on that subject, with God’s help. I know by experience that you and I will find more of God’s presence as we bring more of our thinking in line with His. I promise that if you diligently follow the teachings of Jesus, God will be magnified and glorified through your obedience too, and you my friend will end up being much, much better off!