Above, we see one of the many charts that highlight Willow Creek's understanding of the Gospel and how it drives their approach to mission and feeding their flock. Scripture undoubtedly talks about the process of sanctification whereby the true believer is brought closer to the likeness of Christ through obedience to God's Word and enablement by the Holy Spirit. But the idea of this sliding scale of people (some of whom are unbelievers) who are "exploring" (or seeking), and getting closer to Christ is without biblical basis.
The unregenerate man is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) and dead men can't move in any direction. Dead men must be born again - they need resurrection life! This requires more than making the "narrow gate" into a wide one. It requires a miraculous transforming work of God Himself - the God Who asked Ezekiel if those dead bones could live! RC Sproul had this to say:
Evangelicals today have unconverted sinners who are dead in trespasses and sin bringing themselves to life by choosing to be born again. Christ made it clear that dead people cannot choose anything, that the flesh counts for nothing, and that we must be born of the Spirit before we can see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it. The failure of modern evangelicalism is the failure to understand the holiness of God. If that one point were grasped, there would be no more talk of mortal enemies of Christ coming to Jesus by their own power (The Holiness of God p182-183).
Getting the Gospel wrong at this level leads only to an exponential unfolding of further disaster where we end up housing large groups of goats and try to coach them to act like sheep. I recently heard a visiting missionary say that "people are getting saved, but there are also miracles happening" as he proceeded to spend the whole hour talking about supernatural healing. Emergents like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren often disdainfully remark that is the Gospel only about salvation or is there more? These attitudes reveal a complete failure to recognize the miracle of conversion. As long as it remains, in there eyes, as something that happens when people pray recited prayers, or just decide to live like Jesus then they will persevere with this perverted view of what happens when God regenerates a man who is dead in sin.
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (II Corinthians 5:17).
Preach that which is "unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness. But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (I Corinthians 1:23-24). Let people leave the meeting convicted, converted, or angry . . .
Do you hear your voice among the mockers? Such were some of us! The depth of the Father's love is best understood in the light of our wretchedness . . . making a wretch His treasure! How glorious is the Gospel.
So Willow Creek got it wrong!! But to all those countless churches who benchmark everything they do off the Willow Creek blueprint - don't worry, they're doing another survey! That's a relief . . .
How about the church growth strategy found in the book of Acts? The disciples preached the Gospel and God grew the Church. But why repent in sackcloth and ashes when you can merchandize the data instead . . . the saga concludes on Tuesday.
The "church growth" or seeker sensitive movement has carried the pre-eminent clout in mainstream evangelicalism for several decades now. That is quite staggering when you consider that it's foundations were built upon a false premises. The idea that lost people seek after God is foreign and contrary to Scripture. Paul tells us in Romans chapter 3 that noone seeks after God. Jesus elaborated on the "why" of this in the verses that followed His most famous:
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved (John 3:17-20)
People don't seek God because they love darkness and hate the light and the light will expose their evil deeds. And such were we! Before God graciously saved me I was:
dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3).
As Ray Comfort so eloquently paraphrased: "lost people can't find God for the same reason that a thief can never find a policeman". Paul Washer also states that while we do need to be seeker sensitive, we need to understand that there is only one Seeker! Men don't seek God, Who was it who cam to seek and save that which was lost? Unregenerate men cannot come to God unless God draws them (John 6:44) There is a lot more that could be said about this and there is certainly no shortage of people much sharper than myself that can provide a more in depth analysis. It would seem only natural that the first false premise would give birth to others . . . and so it has!
The man made idea that unregenerate men seek after God has led to the faulty premise that there is some sort of "sliding scale" of Christianity. This scale is bordered by the extremities of complete pagan and fully committed follower of Christ. Everyone, according to this idea, lands somewhere between these two poles. It would seem that they have confused sanctification with an imaginary process of salvation. But Scripture is clear that there are only those who are dead in sin, and those who are new creatures in Christ. You are either an heir to the King of kings or an outcast awaiting damnation. Christianity doesn't have a middle class.
Just as purgatory was the invention of Catholicism, so too is the "nearly there" and "carnal Christians" of the modern seeker sensitive mega church. The mother ship of this phenomenon would have to be Willow Creek pastored by church growth guru Bill Hybels. It would seem that after almost 30 years of trying to lure pagans into church through entertainment and programs, they have finally found themselves painted into a corner of what to do next. Eventually, the well of innovations and new concepts runs dry and the reality of the difference between goats and sheep becomes too obvious to ignore. The analysts at Willow Creek heard the alarm bells but didn't go to Scripture for a remedy - instead they surveyed their congregations - AGAIN!.
Here, Todd Friel gives some excellent critique of the "Reveal Survey" at Willow Creek . . .
This is a wonderful song so awesomely biblical! Steve Camp wrote this around 1990 and was no doubt heavily influenced by John Macarthur's book "The Gospel According to Jesus".
Consider the Cost by Steve Camp
To obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams for what will a man give for his own life houses or money or land there's a way that seems right to you but in the end it leads only to death but come unto Him all ye weary come and find your rest
Consider the cost of building a tower it's a narrow way that you must come for to do the will of the Father is to follow the Son to love Him more than father or mother to love Him more than your own flesh to give all that you are, for all that He is this is the gospel according to Jesus
Many will say, "Lord, Lord" on that day look what we've done in Your name "We've prophesied and performed many miracles and Lord, even demons obeyed"
Then the Lord will declare unto them the most terriifying words of truth "depart from me ye workers of iniquity for I have never known you!"
Oh foolish man, how you built on the sand trusting in your goodness to save! for when the rain falls, and the flood breaks the walls you will be swept away!
But blessed is he who builds on the Rock who takes Jesus as Lord to save! for when the rain falls, he will endure it all standing firm in His grace!
My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, "You are my sister," and call insight your intimate friend (Proverbs 7:1-4)
There are preachers who study Christian magazines or rehash their favorite TV preacher and then there are those like John Piper. This man is a weapon - he's worth the whole 47 minutes!
In my previous post Mark Driscoll came under the microscope . . . or maybe it was a macroscope. Whatever it was, Driscoll certainly cuts an enigmatic figure on the church landscape of America. Classical reformed theology coupled with culture savvy hipness, a conservative Calvinist who labors hard at assimilating with his surrounding culture. Conservatives shudder when he talks about sex, emergents choke on their lattes when he brands them heretics. The jury is out on just where he fits but he has certainly struck a chord with the large unchurched youth sub-culture in Seattle. And they don’t get no sissy boy preaching when it comes to the Gospel – it’s just that Driscoll seems to charge into every subject with candor and fervor including subjects more likely to feature on Jerry Springer than in a local church.
And then John Macarthur weighed into the debate commending Mark for his theology and chastising him for crossing the line on pulpit decency. Initially I thought that maybe Macarthur was being a bit too uptight. But as I became more aware of the trends among young conservative preachers it certainly set off an alarm bell. It seems that if Driscoll takes an inch (some would contend a very big inch) there are others who’ll take a mile. There is definitely a growing trend of cussing, coarse jesting, and x-rated material emanating from pulpits.
I can recall an old pastor of mine once warning me about what he called “carnality poker”. You know the situation, guys sharing jokes try to outdo each other leading to a downward spiral in decency that spins out of control leaving everyone with little or no grasp of where the boundaries lie. I have fallen prey to this myself at times and can recall sessions that began with good natured joking and rapidly escalated into a clear breach of Ephesians 5:4 (Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.) When you are in the midst of the stupor, all discernment can go out the window. I think this may be what is playing a large part in this escalation of “potty mouth” pastors. Macarthur’s initial warnings had a lot more substance than I initially thought.
When I started to take a closer look at this controversy one of my first ports of call was reading the many various quotes by Driscoll that have ruffled feathers. I must confess that I am absolutely shocked at some of the stuff he has spoken, very freely I might add, about. He has not only crossed the boundaries of decency, he has ventured a long way into that territory. I am simply at a loss as to why such a fine preacher like Mark Driscoll would even want to discuss a lot of this stuff. Why Mark why??? Please listen to wise shepherds like John Macarthur who have your interests and the wider body of Christ at heart. Their length and quality of labor in the church demands your audience. There is a truth war that needs to be fought over the Gospel and we don’t need to be distracted by this skirmish.
I have refrained from quoting in these last two posts for two reasons: 1. I love all the people mentioned dearly and do not want to delve into the verbal sparring. 2. Some of the quotes I simply cannot repeat in all good conscience.
This controversy looms large on the evangelical landscape. Phil Johnson deemed it necessary to devote a whole one hour sermon addressing it at the recent Shepherd’s Conference. This sermon is well worth the listen because it is quite likely to be an issue that many of us will encounter in the near future. This sermon also caused plenty of controversy and not everyone in the audience was a “happy camper”. But Johnson lays it all out very clearly – where the boundaries are, what the repercussions are, and what is at stake.
One of the red hot debates - and I mean RED HOT - among those in the conservative reformed camp, centres around Seattle preacher Mark Driscoll. The blogosphere seems to be raging in debate. Volleys of "friendly fire" are hurtling back and forth as a wide variety of sound biblical thinkers take sides and stances.
The subject of the debate concerns the boundaries of decency and appropriateness when speaking from the pulpit as well as the legitimacy of contextualization as an integral part of mission endeavor (I'll be expanding on these tomorrow). The issues at stake here extend well beyond Driscoll but he has certainly become the poster boy/villain at the centre of the storm.
From the outset I want to say how much I love much of Mark Driscoll's preaching/teaching ministry. One of my favorite sermons (it is on my website) was preached by Mark at the Desiring God conference in 2006. But his raw and racy preaching have landed him a reputation as "the potty mouth preacher". This has probably been misleading for many as there is a wide perception out there that Driscoll is a preacher who regularly cusses. Though I haven't heard every sermon by Mark I have never heard the use of expletives in his material. The potty mouth label is actually more directed at his willingness to tackle what some might call x-rated subject matter.
I must confess that this subject matter and occasional locker room humor can make me nervous when listening to Driscoll and does give me great cause for concern. Here is a sample of the rollercoaster emotional experience I can go through when listening to a Mark Driscoll sermon:
"Amen preach it brother . . . wow that was profound exposition . . . ohh he got a bit irreverent with that comment, oh well . . . yeeeahhh stomp on the head of that heretic, way to go Mark . . . did he just say what I thought he said??? Naaah couldn't have possibly meant . . . man this guy is funny! . . . should I be laughing at this? . . . no Mark, don't do it, don't go there, please leave it alone, no don't, arrgghh! why did he talk about that . . . where's my medication? . . . great, he's back on the text, bloodpressure lowering, feeling better, will give Mark Driscoll the benefit of the doubt, amen brother Mark . . . hang on just a second did he just make a joke out of that . . . but he's so orthodox and what about that reformed theology . . . I get the feeling he's watching a bit too much Simpsons and South Park . . . but he's on our side . . . no Mark no, please don't do it, just throw that Song of Solomon sermon series in the shredder and nobody gets hurt and we can all go home"!
Mark lives in Seattle which is one of the most unchurched cities in America - certainly not Bible belt. Undoubtedly this presents challenges that a pastor in Dallas may not face (at least on the same scale). We're talking about a lot of young people with no biblical literacy or Christian heritage. Staring at this scenario Driscoll has taken it upon himself to become very culture savvy whilst remaining with a very tight grip on biblical orthodoxy and delivering thumping sermons loaded with reformed theology.
He looks like a night club security guy (you know, the guy with big biceps and the optional neck . . . but he didn't take the option). Mark is acutely aware of the surrounding pop culture and loads up his sermons with a wide variety of illustrations based on what is current and hip - he calls it contextualization but his critics call it worldliness. What sets him apart from the myriad of cool wannabe seeker sensitive pastors with mullets, soul patches, and untucked shirts is that he is very sharp and uncompromising when it comes to biblical doctrine and not afraid to label a heretic. He is certainly no sissy boy - a manly man if you like - and would not look out of place beating up Rob Bell for his lunch money.
When it comes to church eldership Mark says hasta la vista ladies - men only! He certainly isn't backward coming forward on this issue as Bill Hybels and the gender neutral folk at Willow Creek found out. When approached about making a church planting video for their annual conference at Willow Creek, Mark obliged in true Driscoll style. To say that people got offended would be an understatement. This is the video and it is definitely worth the look because it really encapsulates the Mark Driscoll persona.
Is it wrong that I find myself cheering? I really want to like Mark. I rejoice that he preaches the Gospel. On the issue of contextualization I can see both sides of the argument and perhaps we can all extend some grace. But has Mark Driscoll crossed the line of decency with some of his subject matter. Unfortunately, I think he has, and tomorrow I'll tell you why!
Teaching on the "end times" or eschatology is one of those theological areas where good scholars will often have disagreements. Many of the points of contention are interpretation technicalities such as the rapture, tribulation, and millenial reign. It is one of those areas where I try to extend a lot of grace rather than be combative.
But several friends of mine who all attend the same church have recently approached me concerning a particular sermon that was preached there and how it troubled them. It was a message focussed on interpreting end time events. It is important to point out that I have not heard this particular sermon but based upon the consistency of eyewitness accounts I want to respond to some disturbing themes that emerged from this sermon (at least in the ears of those who heard it). Regardless of the preachers intended meaning, which I cannot state with certainty, I know that these ideas are out there in the market place of modern Christian ideas. They are interpretations that have serious ramifications on the Gospel and mission.
Those interpretive views I wish to respond to are as follows:
1. That the apocalyptic events foretold by Jesus in the gospels were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
2. That we don't need to fear or worry about future tribulation as end time events approach.
3. That we should be comforted and delivered of fear because of this understanding.
In response I do not wish to delve into deep theological debate or contend for my eschatological views. I also concede that some of the events Jesus foretold were specifically concerning the Roman attack on Jerusalem in 70AD. I do, however, wish to state three clear facts from Scripture that refute the dangerous tendencies of teaching the above mentioned views.
1. The book of Revelation was written after 70AD.
Revelation is a book loaded with horrific details of oncoming tribulation. I highly doubt that the tribulation and wrath that God sends in the book of Revelation are prophetic insights into something that happened twenty years earlier.
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Revelation 19:11-15).
So how terrifying is the wrath of Jesus Christ when He returns to make war with His enemies?
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:15-16)
2. Because of this we should fearfully examine our own salvation:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)
And fear for the fate of unbelievers:
And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
And burn to testify the Gospel to these unbelievers:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" (Romans 10:14-15)
Since all unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire to be tormented forever then it should follow that: a) any non-Christian should be very fearful about this. b) Christians should be fearful for the fate of these unbelievers. c) Christians should be energized to preach the Gospel, not lie down in relief because all the bad stuff already happened in 70AD.
3. Our comfort should not be in circumstance but in the Savior.
The New Testament continually reminds us that the Christian walk is one of trials, tribulation, and persecution.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Corinthians 12:10)
Our comfort and refuge should be in Christ for He is a strong tower that can withstand the storms of this earthly life.
For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:5)
Enough said - God's Word speaks well on His behalf.
On this day, the Lord's day, stop and meditate on the wonderful Savior Jesus Christ. Who, while we were sinners demonstrated his great love in dying as a penal substitute making reconciliation possible with God. This is a wonderful song worth absorbing, embracing, and applying!
Great News - IT'S A GIRL. My darling wife gave birth to a healthy gorgeous little girl at 2:34 am Wednesday 27th May (Danish time). This is the reason why I haven't been personally posting over the last week. It has been "all hands on deck" on the home front. Nonetheless I have been thrilled to have my "brother from another mother", Shaun Little, post his powerful and God glorifying testimony over seven installments. As we sift through the wreckage on the landscape of modern evangelicalism it is a breath of fresh air to hear a story of God's transforming work on the most unlikely of candidates. But transformation is not God's only forte. He is also called the Creator and it is a wonder to behold the creative work he set in motion nine months ago as we held our beautiful baby daughter for the first time in the early hours of that wednesday (27th May).
All of our children have entered the world during the "graveyard shift" (between midnight and 6am). We even thought changing timezones might fix that which was the main reason for our move from Australia to Denmark but to no avail. All our children seem to be determined to enter this world at a time when we should be sleeping. But we have nothing to complain about and we give praise to God for dealing so graciously with us. We recognise that she is a precious gift on loan from the Lord, and we as parents are entrusted with the task to raise her in the reverence and awe of the Lord, that she may worship, love, obey, and serve Him all her days.
HOW ARE THE PARENTS - My wife is my hero. She has an amazing tolerance of pain, and made a very quick delivery (inside 3 hours labor) with a few small groans of pain right at the point of delivery. There were some drugs administered during the delivery but that was for the father who can be a real sissy when it comes to blood and needles. I may need to hand in my "man card".
SIZE - she is 3.3 kg, and 52 cm long. That's 7lb 8oz and 17 inches long for our friends in the Obamanation and for our Amish friends with secret e-mail accounts, 3 Ephahs 8 drams in weight and 1.7436 cubits in length.
NAME - Of course I wanted to give her a Bible name. But Mrs Buettel thought that "King James Version" was a bit too long and not very feminine. So we settled on the very feminine name our eldest daughter suggested because it means . . . . well we don't know what it means but it's the name of her favorite doll and we really like it.
Thankyou for your prayers and you are most welcome to send wellwishes here or to my e-mail email@example.com
Part 7 _______ "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." - Galatians 2:20
There were many more bouts to be had with my sin and addiction but in this struggle between light and darkness, the sin I once clung to became increasingly more difficult to commit. I recall times I had fallen into my old ways and the wickedness of my sin caused me to become literally sick within my spirit because I could feel the grief I was causing the Spirit of God. I could not bear the thought of taking for granted the gift which was given and the price which was paid for me. I could not bear the thought of denying so great a salvation. I was broken over my sin. The avenger of blood was close on my heals and in Christ was given to me an irresistible refuge. The attributes of God’s grace began to prevail in my heart and influence my inner most thoughts. Through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, the sin I had once loved, I was made to hate, and the God I had once despised, in Him I now found hope and peace.
There are many details which I desire to address but having not the space I want conclude by declaring that by God's grace, I have now been clean and sober since January 1st of 2007. In a short time, through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, much has happened. I have traveled to Mexico with a small group from my church to an inner city church in Guadalajara. I shared with them my story and preached a message on the power of God's word. Having never preached before, this was absolutely terrifying for me, but in the end I was reminded that it is not my performance but His Spirit which holds the power to save. I have been growing in grace and in the knowledge of Him by the work of His hand. As His grace works to decrease my own self, bringing me into deeper repentance and surrender to His will, He ever increases in triumph and reigns victoriously in my heart. Although I am still quite young and feeble in many ways, I am ever amazed at His provision in my lack and this continual power to work repentance within me and deliver me from myself.
By His grace, I have been made the pastor of a very small youth group and have hopes of going into fulltime ministry. I abhor the idea of ending this testimony on myself as if any of this has somehow been my own doing. Such a thought causes me to look unto the Son of God upon the cross and say, as did Luther, "This is God for me!" I could not know grace had I not known of the necessity of it, and I would not know the necessity of it if I had not been made to see myself as dead, lost, and without hope. For to be crucified with Him is to find Christ formed within me, so that if all that I am is nailed upon that tree, then all that He is abides within me. It is in this I find love, and in this I am made able to love as He loves me. Such a love is beyond all words and brings all knowledge to nothing. I am and will always be in awe of such a love. For the love of God is like no other.
I thank those of you who read this through, but most of all I thank the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, who in His eternal mercy and longsuffering put up with me, and was able to bring me out of Egypt and deliver me into the land of promise.
I pray this word comforts and establishes your hearts and all the glory that be, be His alone, through Christ I pray, Amen
Part 6 ____________ "An evil man seeks only rebellion; Therefore a cruel messenger will be sent against him." - Proverbs 17:11
In the book of Exodus, Moses was sent to Pharaoh to free Israel from the tyranny and oppression of Egypt. Through many terrible displays of the power of God, the Israelites were finally released and thus began the great Exodus. As I look at this wonderful story of deliverance, I see within this physical historical event, the very express image of what began in my heart on that glorious night that Christ first reached down into my dark existence. I was once in the death grip of Satan just as Israel was in bonds in Egypt. As I look back on my experience that night I see the beginning of my Exodus and the first steps into what I had come to refer to as my wilderness experience. Being given an initial touch of God, I was given great assurance of His being just as Israel was given as they were shown many great wonders and signs. Yet like Israel, in spite of the display of God's power and grace, my neck was still stiff, and my heart was still so desperately wicked that it was God's perfect will that I must be led into and tried in the desert. I was quite arrogant for a homeless meth cook and in my heart I clung to my own lofty and self-serving desires which I was not so willing to part with. There were certain things I expected from God which were contrary to His will, and so I initially set out to follow Him out of pretence to fulfill my own wicked desires.
In truth, grace was still far from me because I had not been brought to terms with the necessity of it. I considered my own righteousness as a leg worth standing on. As I had said, I attempted to reform my actions. I also tried to manipulate God to fulfill my desires. This of course failed and grave fear would settle upon me from time to time. I often would cry in my self-pity when I was made to see the futility of my own strength and inability to deliver myself. When I now read of Israel with all of her grumblings, complaints, stubbornness and rebellion, I see quite clearly the wicked man I was. As conviction set in (as it often did), I would again and again mount up in my own strength to deliver myself not knowing every attempt was an act of rebellion and the very fruit of my unbelief. So a cruel messenger was sent to me whom God had providentially allowed to torment me that I would come to the end of myself. Along with this messenger would come the weight of the law, a burden I could not lift and a tall order I could not fill. Back and forth I'd go and in every attempt to reform myself came forth the fruit of my bitter rebellion. In frustration I would dig out my lab equipment again and turn back to my addiction and my sins hoping to suppress the truth with my wickedness. As I did so the relief I received became shorter lived, and I would have to consume larger and larger amounts of meth to drown out my increasingly accusative conscience.
An amazing thing is that I often carried the scriptures in my backpack. There were many times after reading God's word sheer terror would seize me. This fear became progressive, growing ever more urgent, demanding my surrender. Within my heart would rise questions: "How much farther can I go before it's too late? Have I already gone too far?" Yet throughout all of this there was also given me an unseen hope and an assurance of something more; though I knew it not.
Just as Israel's name implies, I too wrestled with God. I fought in the wilderness with God until I was finally brought to terms with what I am: A wretch and a sinner. In all my struggling to deliver myself, I was in truth fighting God. When I came to see myself in light of God's law, and when the actualization was birthed within me that I could in no way uphold His law, this truth caused my knees to buckle, and in due season, I fell dead at His feet; for no flesh shall glory in His sight. Although it took a few laps around the mountain, I eventually found myself slain in the desert. Having experienced that death, I was then made able for the first time to turn away from myself, and as I looked I saw His hand outstretched to embrace mine.... It was at that point I was granted true repentance, and it was then I received His grace. Behold old things have passed away; all things have become new.
Part 5 ________ "As a dog returns to his own vomit, So a fool repeats his folly." - Proverbs 26:11
Wouldn't it be great if that was it, I got saved, threw out my meth lab, went to church and joined the choir. Ha, I could say that, but then I'd have to repent for being a liar.
The experience was short lived. Within fifteen or twenty minutes my thoughts soon returned to my own estate; the weight of my circumstances and of my sin came back upon me. Not to say that this encounter had no effect on me at all, quite the contrary. Having received God's word in power, I received in my earthen vessel the seed of faith, but this was a small seed planted in the vast expanse of dirt in my own heart. I was greatly convinced of God and was immediately convicted.
I did attempt to throw out my equipment and supplies, and I made an effort to reform my actions. But having little knowledge of sin and of my own sinfulness, I quickly took up my pride and my pretences and made strength my arm, and in so doing I denied God's ownership of me and Christ as my salvation. A week after throwing it all in the trash, I would dig it back out. And this happened on multiple occasions. I had not yet been made to understand that it was within my own heart that the major problem lay. In spite of what should have been obvious to me, I thought that to some degree I was good and to some degree that I was just and/or righteous. I had not come to terms with the wickedness and deceitfulness which was at the core of my own heart.
As I endeavored to reform, I was confounded. As I read God's word, I was convicted. And under that conviction, I would only try harder to break my own bonds, but to no avail. At times fear would set upon me so strongly I would cry, sometimes for awhile, not knowing what was wrong with me. As tough as it was, it was necessary for me to be put under a harsh school master; one which would minister the death to my flesh which was needful for my spirit to live. So the Holy Spirit allowed my own efforts and the ministry of God's law to work death in me. I had to first be broken and made to know my impotence to save myself before a holy God.
My conscience worked overtime, excusing and accusing. Although I had not focused on reading the law as it is written in the Torah, I had some knowledge of it. I also found plenty of verses in the New Testament which worked to bring judgment upon my sin and death upon the works of my flesh. Also my defiled conscience became violent at times and was the most cruel of all as it would constantly barrage me with accusations. With all this I was made to see my lustful thoughts and my pride were wicked in God's eyes. I was made to see all my addictions and vices as idolatrous, both lustful and adulterous. Here I was made to know the necessity of God's law and the full counsel of His word.
Part 4 ________ "...But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him." - Luke 15:20b
Towards the end of that summer that I spent at Devil's Elbow, my teacher dismissed me. Having no where to go, I managed to gain the sympathy of my earthly father, and he allowed me to move back to his place. I had a friend help sneak my lab equipment near my dad’s place. I separated it into three parts and stashed them in various places near my father’s house. Shortly after I moved in to my Dad's home, it became apparent that something was very wrong with my behavior. Not long after moving there, my step-mother happened upon a small stash of my supplies in the garage while investigating my behavior. I was immediately kicked out and told not to come back.
Being homeless for sometime, I finally got my mother to sneak me into my grandma’s basement where she was staying at the time. I had to sneak around because if the man my grandmother was living with found out I was there he would call the sheriff and have me arrested. I moved my lab and supplies into the field a few hundred meters behind the farmhouse and hid them in a blackberry bush. During the day I would put on my backpack and head to town to gather supplies, and at night while everyone slept I would quietly cook a batch of meth on the back porch. One night, for whatever reason, I picked up my mother's bible and began to read. I read Revelation at first and was captivated. If you can imagine a half-crazy and sleep-deprived meth addict reading revelation then I think you can draw a general conclusion of what was going through my head. It was profound and powerful, and I was troubled by a number of verses, especially one in particular: "I come quickly". There was an unbeknownst fear those words brought to my heart, and being as skittish as a squirrel on coffee beans, I began to be terrified by words that I read.... Yet I could not stop reading.
One special night in particular I opened up to the book of Ephesians and I read through its entirety. As I read, the power of the Holy Spirit descended upon me and through Paul's letter God spoke directly into my heart. When I had finished I was overcome with this uncontrollable joy, which was bizarre because if I were to take a look around at my surroundings and even worse, at my own self, you'd think I would burst into tears of grief or perhaps vomit on the floor. Instead His wonderful presence came upon me which caused me to rejoice in a way that was unknown to me. I lept up from the floor where I was reading, I had no one in the room to celebrate with but my mothers dog, a hairy black chow-chow named Sasha. I lifted her up and twirled about with her in my arms like some dramatic romance scene you'd see in an old film. Setting her down, I ran out of the room to find my mother. When I found her, I tried to tell her what Christ had done and how wonderful He is, but she looked at me strangely and perhaps a bit afraid. So I ran back to the room, and fell on my face praising the name of Jesus Christ and giving glory to God.
This was far more than a mere experience, it was His very presence. For that short time I was lifted out of myself. As I recall this, I am reminded of the words of David Brainerd as he explained an unforgettable encounter he had with God in which he had said: "I had no thought (as I remember) at first, about my own salvation, and scarce reflected there was such a creature as I. Thus God, I trust, brought me to a hearty disposition to exalt Him and set Him on the throne, and principally and ultimately to aim at His honor and glory, as King of the universe." (The Life and Diary of David Brainerd – Jonathan Edwards)
In a sense I was lifted out of myself, and into His arms. I was made to know that He is above all and that He is God! I cannot help but to think of the prodigal son who while he was "yet far off", the father came with great compassion, fell upon him, and kissed him, just as God fell upon me with power and made me to behold the riches of His grace and His unspeakable love. The joy was unspeakable, and the closest I can ever come to express it is to describe the joy and wonder I experienced as a young child as I played in my grandmothers gardens, which I have often referred to as my own little Eden. Yet this comparison is impotent and feeble in expressing what happened that night, and I fear it is even an afront to God's incomparable grace which was poured out on me that night. For even as a babe in my grandmother's garden my heart had known sin, but as I was made to behold His glory I saw perfect light. I believe I was given a foretaste of and the very seal of the promise "recieving the end of my faith -- the salvation of my soul." -1 Peter1:9