I've had a good active day with the journal, and I'm not sure I'm done yet. It feels good to be on the retreat...
I've been feeling inspired to look through my journals from last summer and fall and very early this year. This was a time of growth for me, and for some reason the growth dropped off very suddenly. I'd like to try to pick up where I left off, but in order to do that I need to summarize a few things. The summary could get very long--times of intense spiritual growth usually don't make for little quick stories. Then again, my journal entries aren't usually little quickies anyway!
Last year at this time, I was living in Florida. In May, I started attending a small nondenominational church called Cornerstone Christian Fellowship. I later learned that the church was on its last leg, and I'm very grateful for the time I was able to spend there for a number of reasons. I'm very tempted to go off on a tangent here, but I'm holding the tangent thought on purpose because what I really want to write about is the class the pastor taught on Friday nights.
I happened to come in at the very beginning of the class, and I think that was something that God Himself set up. The class was intended to be a nine-month course based on a book the pastor had written called The Foundation Stones. The book is based on Hebrews 5:12-6:2:
"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not layIng again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on ol hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgement.
When I read those verses, I felt like a lightbulb had gone off inside my mind. I had been a "Christian" for 20 years! I had prepared for the ministry. But what was I doing? Coming into church with the fear of being stigmatized and rejected because of sins I had committed when I "should have known better." I shouldn't be sitting there in shame. I should have been in leadership! But I wasn't anywhere near ready, and I wasn't at all worthy of anyone's trust. And while I understood some of the very basic things I had learned as a child, I had no understanding of the true depth of God's grace and mercy and the real meaning of His message. Interestingly, one of the things that has been hurting me now is a comment someone made about me in response to one of my past actions: that I don't understand the basic tenets of the Christian faith. I know what she meant: that if I understood them I wouldn't have done what I did. She wasn't quite correct. I did understand the things she thinks I didn't understand. That's why my own actions shocked me so much. But I did not understand the real basics: how deep and how high and how wide God's love is for me, that He will provide for me, that He is good even when my circumstances seem to demonstrate otherwise, that faith does not always produce immediate results... If I had understood THOSE things, I would not have done what I did. Those are much more powerful things than the rules and regulations that most churches teach children and youth--and rules and regulations are much of what I remember being taught in my youth Sunday school classes.
So it was that I found myself needing an intense study of the "real basics of Christianity"--and The Foundation Stones met a desire that I had had since the first days of my journey of faith. I remember reading about things like healing and prayer and fasting, demons and angels, and gifts of the Spirit and wondering why we never spoke of them in church. They were things associated with Pentecostalism. But they were in the Bible! Surely they must be legitimate! I was hungry for answers; but I could only get them outside the Anderson Church of God, and I was afraid of being led into pure emotionalism. Eventually I did spend some time attending a Pentecostal church, and I did have a brush with emotionalism and was hurt by it. That's a story for another post...
The study begins with the concept of repentance from dead works, an area that is especially painful for me. I have spent a lifetime doing what I thought was work for God. I never had any inkling that what I was doing could be called "dead works."
I've lived a long time trying to "serve Him" without really embracing Him or learning to live a life of true worship--I've been doing dead works. And all my dead works keep me busy because I don't really believe that God cares for me--at least, not all of the time. Much of the time I believe that He just wants me to do "the right things" and then He will reward me (because I was "good"). But that is salvation by works, and works don't save. I have a serious need for a new foundation. (my journal, September 29, 2004)
I never realized how deficient my spiritual foundation was. But it was very deficient--that's why I did the things I did.
If we fall after we have been born again, we have a deficiency in our foundation. Through these experiences, God is exposing the deficiencies in order to reveal the truth. (The Foundation Stones, p. 5)
It's hard to think of this exposure having a positive end: the revelation of truth. The exposure really can make me feel ashamed. But the irony wasn't lost on me when at the end of the condemning statement, the person said, "May God have mercy on you!" I'm sure that this was meant as a condemning statement. But God DOES have mercy! THAT is the most basic of truths: that He is a merciful, forgiving God; that when I am faithful to confess my sin, He is faithful and just to forgive me. How do I think of justice? I think of getting even. But His ways are higher than mine, much much higher. His justice is not against me. His justice is against the power that caused me to sin in the first place. I would not have sinned if I had not been deceived about His truth. I was made by Him--made to know Him and to be wrapped up in His truth! My natural state was meant to be a life acquainted with His truth and living in deep fellowship with Him, not lived apart from Him and seeking after my own desires!
I have been a slave to my own desires since very early in my life--really since infancy. Desire is all that a baby knows: hunger, thirst, sleep, physical affection... These aren't evil desires in and of themselves, but the baby has to learn to look toward God. The baby is not born into the natural state of looking toward God. It's no wonder that children learn very quickly to seek after their own desires. I was no exception--my preschool report, written just after my fourth birthday, already states that in a child care setting I was vying with other children to be the center of attention. These are the same things I was struggling with at age 12 in the back seat of that car when God met me where I was and confronted me with my sin, the actions that separated me from Him. Yet here I am, 21 years later, still focusing on me and my life, wondering what I get out of this experience, wondering who's going to pay attention to ME, wondering when God will finally bless ME. I'm still a slave to my human nature, my old self which I should have put away so long ago!
Repentance, in this light, is the act of turning to God as the authority over our feelings, emotions, and reasoning. We as humans can be deceived in any and every part of our souls - mind, emotion, and will. But God cannot.
Luke 10:27 tells us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind."
In other words, we are called to submit all that is within us to the loving authority of our Father. We must choose to refer to and depend on God over all other things. True repentance and submission brings us under Spiritual authority - authority that protects and guards us. And it is here that we are TRANSFORMED into His image. Not only was this God's original plan for His creation, but it is the heritage of His children today as well. (The Foundation Stones, p. 50)
this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:1,2)
All three of these heart attributes - broken, contrite, and humble - point to repentance. When we are painfully aware of our condition apart from God, our hearts will be broken, we will feel deeply sorry for our sins (contrite), and we will be humble before the God who washes us clean of all unrighteousness. When we can live in the light of these truths - understanding the ramifications of them more each day - then our hearts will be pleasing to God. (The Foundation Stones, p. 53)
But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?"" Genesis 3:9
Now it seems like a silly question coming from the Omnipresent God. Of course He knew where Adam was hiding. He was really asking, "Where are you in relationship with me?" God came to Adam immediately in His mercy to make him aware of his separation from Life. And He comes to us in the same way whenever we are hiding in our sin.
The Bible tells us that we are reconciled to the same choice that Adam and Eve had by the blood of Jesus. We are indeed born into sin and death, but we have been given the privilege to receive God's Life instead. It is our natural tendency to embrace fear, anxiety, anger, condemnation, guilt, pride, etc. (all from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). The moment we do, however, we begin to experience death - separation from God. (The Foundation Stones, p. 59)
I'm not entirely sure what happened to thwart my growth last fall. In any case, I'm back at the point where God is asking, "Where are you?" I don't feel much like I'm repenting from dead works right now--I haven't been doing many works at all lately. I think I covered the dead works part and now I'm covering the sins I committed in the darkness part. That's not in the book, but it's part of what I need to deal with before I can go on to the next section, which deals with faith toward God. When I moved back to Anderson in September, I joined two Bible study groups. Each was doing a Beth Moore study. One was doing A Heart Like His, and the other was doing Believing God. I felt that these studies were very timely and the fact that I had moved away just as we finished the section on dead works was an indicator that all three studies were intersecting at a key point in my life. But I got very far behind in the studies, and I think that is part of what discouraged me. Eventually I just stopped doing them at all.
I need to try again. That's something I feel very strongly about. Something jumped out from last year's journal that is still true:
You have called me to the ministry, and I cannot afford to hold on to anything that hinders that ministry. I want to follow you. I want to serve You completely. I want to serve only You. In my spirit I want this. But my flesh is weak, Father. In my flesh I am hurting, empty.
Forgive me for walking away from You, for not answering Your call all these years. I want to answer it now, and I know that my physical desire can be a stumbling block. I know You know my heart. I don't know how to yield it to You actively, but I do ask You to take it and be Lord of my desires.
I repent from my anxiousness. I choose to have my hopes in You; for nothing is impossible with You.
I then wrote down a verse:
Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. (2 Samuel 14:14)
Christ came to set me free, and I whom the Son sets free am free indeed! I may not know how to live as a free person, but that does not change my status--or my calling! So my task now is to learn how to live as a free person and spread the news of that freedom and help other people learn to live as the free people they are! Some doors have been opened for me during the last year, and I keep feeling that I am standing at more doors that are ready to open if I would only knock. I can't afford to delay because I am procrastinating and living in shame. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1) If I believe this, then I need to walk by faith and do the things given me to do, even if and when I don't feel that I have "repended enough."