1 Jan 2003

Where did you start thinking on grace like this?

Submitted by theshovel
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Hey Jim, Once before I asked you where you started thinking like this. I know it occurs over time but, I am interested in the process. Phil

Hi Phil, Yes, you are right, it does occur over time, little by little. And to tell you the truth it has been the little things that have meant the most in the long run. Sure, there have been some big things that played an important role, but more times than not the little experiences WERE big to me. Actually, I have mentioned many of these things all throughout my posts and writings, though I would venture that most of those things seem too small to take into account. For example, in my earlier post I told you something about my musical endeavors.

This, to me, played a HUGE role in the shaping of my perceptions. I have written literally hundreds of songs since I picked up my first guitar in 1972, and this one thing put me into so many different places and positions and expectations ... but the most important of all is that it provided a refuge for me to simply hang out with myself and my thoughts and my feelings and my dreams and my failures - for hours on end. As I got past the initial learning stages I found that I began to be taken seriously by some here and there.

You see, until that time, I had lived as an introvert and had rarely ever - and I mean RARELY EVER - expressed my thoughts, concerns, desires, dreams, feelings, etc. with others. I just didn't do it. Oh, I had some opinions, mind you, but I had never been a person of much conviction. I was too easily intimidated by life, by others, by fear in general.

But after my family moved from northern Virginia to south Florida my sister pushed me to try out a local Christian coffeehouse in the little city of Delray Beach, Florida. We almost missed finding the place but were seen by a couple of girls who had spotted us and called us over. From that moment - that almost insignificant event - my life took a radical turn. For we were accepted immediately as part of their group, and I, for the first time in my life began to feel important to somebody other than my immediate family. By the way, I was 19 at this time.

It was in this group that I first started playing the guitar and singing, and was even accepted by them in this form after I had been nabbed by a couple others to join them in their musical venture. When they asked ME about doing one of MY songs as a group I was absolutely thrilled, as it seemed a dream come true. We would play together for another couple years, and during that time I became the most prolific songwriter between the three (or sometimes more) of us, which meant that we were mostly playing the songs I wrote. But an introvert discovered that he had merely been a subdued and fearful extrovert. :) How did this affect my thinking? It stuck me out there as having something others wanted to hear. Now, I'm not sure I had a whole bunch worth saying, but I sure began to do a lot of thinking and reflecting as I played for hours as I wrote my next new song. It's very revealing to read those lyrics back and to discover where my screwed-up thoughts had been taking me!!

I enrolled in (a now-defunct) Florida Bible college in 1973. This was right after attending one of their sponsored Christmas Youth Retreats in Asheville, NC. My parents went berserk and both went off on me when I tried to convince them about salvation by grace through faith alone. My parents had brought me up Lutheran and my mom took the lead in the attack. Of course, I was implying that we had learned everything wrong which only added more fuel to the fire, and she simply bowled me over with her non-stop tirade. I eventually retreated to the bathroom and closed the door!! My dad came to the door and asked, "But what about the unforgivable sin?" I didn't say anything as I really didn't know what to say, but I had lost all my desire to say anything more anyway. My mother's verbal abuse was mostly her defense of her own self-righteousness (as I have seen big time since then), while my dad's was more out of a deep fear. My mom was, has been, and still is bent in her religious rut. My dad, on the other hand, may have come to see something of Christ over the years.

At the Bible college I was a prime candidate for a good brain-washing! Even though there were many worthwhile things taught and experienced, I bought it all hook, line, and sinker. I viewed the Bible college - not Christ - as the prime repository of TRUTH. It was a school that stood upon what Christ had done as the only way to heaven, and that we could KNOW that we had eternal life. Unfortunately, this life we knew we had, and could not lose, was seen as something that came into play upon physical death, and really only touched upon our lives as the REASON we should live a good testimony before the world. In other words, because we knew we were going to heaven we should perform good works so that others would be encouraged to trust Christ as their personal Savior (and there are a few verses that can be used to support that lifeless concept).

But somehow, through all this the musical side of me was never recognized at any official Bible college function, only among a few of my friends there, but especially back home (an hour away) at the youth group I had taken over and traveled back to every Tuesday evening. I think this may have kept me from becoming too attached to the college in a very real way.

You know what I discovered at this witnessing Bible college? I wasn't very good at it. Oh, I had the verses memorized, and had a gospel-based visual called the hand gesture down pat, but doggoned if I could get very many people to buy it. And while I hear everyday from those with large ministries of 200 - 400 or more kids, my own youth group was always small. Mostly a few nerdy guys ... like me, I guess, and rarely more than 10-20 kids except at a few specially planned events. Geez, it was a lot of work!! And we usually drove around to pick them up and take them home. And that was only because the couple who opened their home purchased a van by which we could do this, and they did a good portion of the driving. Really sweet people.

Don't miss the contrast here. I enrolled in a growing Bible college in which I was one of almost 1,200 freshmen, and though I was totally sold out I wasn't producing very much fruit at all!! I remember one of the 2 or 3 youth trips to the Florida Keys for a weekend where I literally began observing myself in action. It was a depressing weekend that's for sure, as I saw what a failure I was at the #1 ministry of my entire life. NO ONE believed the gospel that I preached to them ... no one. I kept hoping my luck would change, but it didn't. No matter who I talked to, or how clearly I presented the message I simply couldn't connect with anyone for quite a long time. And all this time I was going to the chapel service every day where many people were reporting their successes in witnessing.

I begged and pleaded with God to help me fix my problem, my inability, my weakness ... but to no avail. Somehow, through the silence, I slowly began to recognize some simple, yet miraculous, workings of God in ways I hadn't considered. I began to reconsider so many things that had been building up over the years.

I can remember a day at Bible college where one of the Big 3 teachers had been teaching on a totally different viewpoint on the rapture than what I had heard from the president of the college from whom I had initially taken his Daniel and Revelation class in my first year. To me, it was a major difference that was totally unsettling me because I had assumed that the school had formulated the correct understanding of the major doctrines. And here I was hearing a DIFFERENT view from the teacher I had been observing to have a more contextual Biblical approach than the usual hit or miss style. Now, at this same time something else happened. Just as this teacher was making his connections, which was causing my head to spin, THE POWER WENT OUT IN THE AUDITORIUM. I was filled with total confusion ... and this darkness only reinforced it. It was a major blow to me ... but it was only the beginning of sorrows (sounds pretty Biblical, huh?) :)

One day we were hit with the news that Joe, a former graduate, pastor, and regular speaker at college functions, simply took off, leaving his family behind. No one knew where he was, nor where he was going. It had us all wondering and questioning how someone who was so on fire for God could do such a thing. Our theories were rather pathetic attempts to explain that same deep-rooted fear we all worried about: what if I stop serving the Lord? Though we fully held to the doctrine of eternal security we still had plenty to worry about because even though we knew we would go to heaven we didn't want to live in the low-rent district for all of eternity. Yep, that's pretty much how we saw it. Joe's sudden insanity left many of us doubting our own steadfastness as he had been one of our big examples. How could I be sure that I would keep on keeping on?

But that was minor compared to what came next. I will never forget the day the Bible college began to disintegrate. At our daily chapel meeting everybody was becoming aware that the Bible college president was not there and that instead the board of trustees (or something of that nature) began filing into the seats behind the pulpit. A sense of heaviness was upon them and it quickly passed through the crowded auditorium. We were informed that Dr. Stanford would no longer be with us, and they wanted him to explain his absence in his own words via an audio message. His story absolutely crushed me as he told of unfaithfulness to his wife, to the Lord, and to us as well. He ended in tears, barely able to speak, as he warned us all against sexual impurity and fornication. The tape stopped, and the same teacher who shook me with his differing view on the Rapture - Dr. Seymour - got up and read something about God's faithfulness from the Psalms. That impacted me more than I would have imagined in later years.

I was asked to continue this story, being told it was a cliffhanger. After having read it again I realize I did indeed leave it hanging. So, here's a bit more. So John, this is for you. :)

I borrowed a copy of that fateful cassette tape and listened to it repeatedly - especially the impassioned pleas for sexual purity - in order to motivate my own message. The whole situation created a heartache within me on behalf of the kids in my group who I knew would be facing sexual temptation on a daily basis. I so desperately wanted to strengthen and encourage them in the Lord to remain pure. I spent hours listening, praying, crying and preparing what I assumed to be a powerful message of deliverance from the heart of God. After all, I was a prime candidate myself for this message. I found emotional strength in the constant repetition, not only from listening to the tape but from hearing my own words as I got myself ready.

You know, I find it quite interesting how I interpreted by own sexual temptations while in the midst of it all. But then again, it made a peculiar sense within the framework of the experiences and stories I participated in on a regular basis at my Bible college, my Church, and my youth group.

We had it all figured out that the reason those who were being tempted by sexual sin was due to the constant pressure from the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Oh, there's no doubt the barrage of sexual messages from the world in part led many to dance to its tune, but my own experience only highlighted a more powerful factor. I rarely listened to the radio, watched TV, nor went to movies. I didn't go to parties nor did I drink alcohol or take drugs or hang with loose girls. I was going to Bible College, teaching and preaching Biblical messages to youth groups, practicing personal evangelism. I had determined to stay pure. I think you get the picture. Yeah, I was becoming a radical Jesus freak. Only I was too conservative to name myself one of those. :)

Now, you may be wondering why I'm telling you all this, but I do so for a specific purpose. You see, during the whole time I was being less and less influenced by the world and taking a more proactive stance against it, I was being more and more tempted toward sexual impurity. Interesting, huh? I would listen to that fateful, impassioned recording about the effects of sexual impurity and assume that by doing so I was being somehow protected, even though that time of my life was the closest I ever came to having pre-marital sex. I would listen to that tape on my way to pick up my girlfriend (who was also a very moral young lady), but it didn't keep us from making out before going to the Bible study. And if I'm remembering correctly we also stopped to make out on the way to the youth group meeting when I preached the message on sexual purity.

I have to wonder how many others from my Bible college were as affected as I was by the message we heard. I have to wonder how many I similarly affected by what I preached to them ... especially as they wondered how I rationalized my own behavior. For I am sure they were smart enough to figure out that something was going on with their teacher, a teacher who preached that they needed to be careful ... just like the teacher who preached the same thing to me. We thought we were doing the godly thing by telling them to stay on the straight and narrow and yet were blinded to the real message we passed on.

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