Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Testimony After the Testimony

Yesterday I began a story that continues to this day.  Today I want continue what I wrote about yesterday.  For many, the testimony that follows their testimony is just as amazing, if not even more amazing, then their salvation story.  I do not think mine is so amazing.  Basically, I was a run-of-the-mill wretch who realized he was a run-of-the-mill wretch.  I know some have very profound testimonies, and they are wonderful accounts of how our God works. For the rest of us, there is just that realization that we need a savior.  It is no less miraculous, just less dramatic.  Either way, I hope that it serves as an encouragement to those who think that they need to see the heavens open and the Lord smiling down upon them or some other great and miraculous sign to know they are saved.  For most, that is not the case at all.  For most, the miracle is their salvation and we need to rejoice in that.  So, today we will pick up where we left off yesterday.  The verse I want to keep in mind today is this:
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing [I do], forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV
I say that because walking with God needs to be ever-forward.  Sometimes we stumble and sometimes we move at a slower pace, but we must always remain moving.  I made many mistakes in my walk with God and continue to make mistakes today.  I may sin less than I once did, but there is always room for growth.  Anyone who thinks that they have the whole thing figured out and perfected should be reminded that pride is also a sin.  The fact is that our walk is a forward-moving walk that ends in heaven.  It is not until we receive our glorified bodies and are finally free from this flesh that we will be free of any sin in our lives.  God has dispensed with those sins on the cross and perpetually regretting them adds nothing to that.  What we need to do is learn from our failures and move on in the knowledge that the Lord has forgiven us our sin.  That said, this is not going to be a trip through my failures or triumphs, but a couple of the problems the Lord worked me through as I grew in the Lord. 

So let us get back to my story.  I was a new babe in Christ and attending Calvary Chapel Old Bridge.  I knew I was saved by grace, but I still had a burning desire to please God.  I was no longer trying to earn God's favor, but desiring to please Him out of what He had done for me.  I had no real knowledge or ability to truly be involved in any kind of ministry, but I had that desire right from the start.  I read my Bible every day, of course using some sort of a system (anyone who knows me might get a chuckle out of that), and I was reading 1-2 books every week.  I could not learn enough fast enough.  I had no real discernment of what I read, but the Lord really did protect me.  The Holy Spirit steered me away from many wrong beliefs taught in some of the books that I read.  As I grew in the Lord, my knowledge was beginning to match my zeal. 

One main problem I had in the beginning of my walk was that my walk was centered around a person and not Jesus Christ.  I think this is one of the things that can happen when a saved person dates an unsaved person if that unsaved person is saved in spite of the wrong actions of the believer.  What happens is that instead of having a relationship premised on Jesus Christ, you sort of just add Jesus to the relationship.  The relationship still remains the center of your life and Jesus is sort of smooshed into sharing that space.  That is where I was.  Everything in my life, including plans for moving to Tennessee, was not premised on what God wanted for me but asking God to give me what I wanted.  I should have known by all the problems and complications that there was moving down there that it was not of God, but I pressed on anyway.  Even my time down there was full of problems and in just a couple of months I was on my way back home.  That relationship struggled on for a few months longer and one more visit for her birthday before that fateful Christmas trip happened.  God was ready to take claim to the throne of my heart. After that trip, I came home and she went to England.  When she came back from England, she told me that she had decided to date someone else.  The relationship that was the center of my life was no longer and I had nowhere else to turn but to God. 

It seems a little odd to say something like that so flippantly as it was by no means an easy experience.  God had a plan, though.  You see, the night this all happened I was in midweek Bible study and I heard a message on rejoicing through trials.  It was a great message and in my mind I was ready for anything.  In fact, I may have even said that to God. Side note: Do not challenge God to test you unless you really mean it.  I think my comment later that night was "God, I meant anything but that."  It was a week after that when I finally got it.  I cried out to God telling Him that if He wants me to rejoice, He has to show me how or just do it for me because it was a command that I was unable to obey.  That was the point.  That is a great lesson for all of us.  There are many things that God asks us to do that we struggle in our own strength trying to do yet miserably failing.  The point is that we are not supposed to do things in our own strength and that is exactly what I was doing with my whole life.  It was all about me and what I wanted and what I could do.  It was all about a relationship that I wanted to be in.  It was all about me.  It needed to be about God and it took God taking that idol out my life away to finally see that.  It is an experience I would not ever want to go through again, but an experience that I needed to have.  I needed to learn that lesson and make God number one in my life.  God needed to be my foundation and He showed me that by ripping what was the foundation right from under me. 

Speaking of relationships, another lesson God had to share with me later in my walk was that even though He was my foundation, what needed to be most important was our relationship and not just me doing for Him.  I was very involved in ministry and quite honestly I was not attending church services.  I was involved in youth, inner city outreach to youth, ministry at two prisons, a crisis hotline, and a food bank.  I was doing so much but I stopped taking the time of just enjoying and growing my relationship with Him.  I was Martha when I needed to be Mary.  I was distracted with much serving that I never took the time to just spend time with Jesus.  I once had a dream that ended up being rather prophetic for my life. I am not calling it a vision or anything, just a dream but its appropriate to mention here.  It was me and a few of the apostles coming off a train and meeting Jesus in a desert.  I remember how amazing it felt to be in the presence of Jesus where no matter how hot and dusty and dry it was and no matter how long the journey was that I was just on, all I could think was that I was in the presence of Jesus.  It was impossible to not just feel joy around Him.  Fast forward to dusk and we were getting ready to start a campfire and while the apostles say around the campfire spending time with Jesus, I was out getting wood, then getting more wood, and when I was done getting more wood still.  I know the apostles and train and firewood in the desert make no sense.  That is why I call it a dream and not a vision.  Not only that, but I also had long hair and wore a robe.  Irregardless of the those silly details, that dream was a perfect picture of my life at that time.  I needed to just spend time with Jesus and I was not doing it.  I just felt that doing was just as good as spending time with Him.  I spent less and less time in service or just reading my Bible and more time doing and doing and ultimately my walk suffered.  I began to have wrong priorities and I began to have disputes with other people in church.  I am not talking about angry disputes or even necessarily sinful ones, but they were enough as to where serving there was no longer possible.  Eventually, I left that church altogether (and not on bad terms) and began to attend a smaller Calvary Chapel church.  At that point, I had no doing and all I had was relationship.

That is where I have been the past few years.  I have been focusing on my relationship to Jesus.  What is hard for me now is beginning to serve again.  I still feel such a strong calling and I feel that I am called to so much more than what I do now.  I do not just feel called to be a layperson blogger, but when that calling will actualize I do not know.  I do not know for sure if it ever will and I am fine with that.  I need to be.  I need to be able to say "whatever you desire Lord so long as I have you."  My prayer is that I will begin to serve again but make sure I never lose focus on my relationship.  During this time, I have been a part of an amazing church family who I love dearly and I met my amazing wife.  The difference now is that I my relationship to her is firmly centered on Jesus Christ and we do nothing without praying about it first.  The difference in church is that it is about my relationship with Jesus.  It is about doing what I feel He is calling me to do and not just filling myself up with service to feel like I am doing for the Lord.  What I need to do now is move forward.  It is hard to start again in ministry mostly because I have no idea where to begin.  I did start this blog, though, and whenever I get discouraged, someone who I never even knew ever read it will tell me that it has been a blessing to them.  Any blessing or any effect for Jesus that I can have in my writing makes me a profitable servant to God.  That is what I desire to be.  Not to earn His favor but because I love Him so much.  And that is where I am now, sitting at the feet of the Lord who loved me so much that He died for me and loving Him enough to give my life to Him to do with whatsoever He may desire, and loving and cherishing the relationship we share.  I sure do have my more growing to do, but I know the Lord will continues His work in this life until its completion in the next. 
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which [is] from the law, but that which [is] through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Philippians 3:8-12 NKJV

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