[10.3.16 These are my original journal entries from the Spring of 2004, a few months after my family and I made final exit from the cult group we had been involved with. I am putting it here because it belongs here, probably, being as how this web log is supposed to chronicle the process of recovery from mind control, among other things.]
I am trying to understand what the lies are, and who is lying to me, and what is God and what is the enemy. The lines are not clear. Of course, real Christianity is an ongoing communication and interaction between God and the born again believer on a personal, intimate level, and all impressions and communications between individuals must, by axiomatic spiritual law, be validated by what God has already and currently is revealing to the Christian. Somewhere along the line, that got messed up for me.
Some of what my leadership was telling me, or rather the whole spirit of it, seemed to clash somehow with some of what I already knew God had put in my heart when I was born again, but it was in harmony with just enough of it for me to go along with everything for fear of being found to fight against God. I chose to trust a man whom I felt must be hearing from God better than I was and in so doing I now believe I made an idol out of a ministry. The gospel I learned there was a different gospel from the one that I had been following, the one that led me to deliverance from drug addiction, depression, lust, self pity, and so many other things. I had seen a lot of fruit in my own life and in the lives of others as a result of obeying from the heart the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I chose to heed the opinions and convictions of another man because the way it was presented to me was like this: “God put you here, so you’d better get with it and just submit to what I have to teach you. If you don’t go along with what’s happening here, you are going to miss it and end up in hell. God put you here so that wouldn’t happen, so don’t miss it!” All of this was said without being said (NOTE – 7/11/06 Just exactly WHY was it said without being said?) (NOTE – 10/15/07 It was actually said on one occasion that I can directly recall, one morning while I was still living with Brad: we were each standing in our bedroom doorways upstairs in the townhouse in Crystal. I remember he was telling me that I had better learn how to “take the reins” of the relationship with Jessi, and that he wasn’t very confident that I would ever find another person to whom I could hold myself accountable besides him who would be faithful (or ballsy) enough to address that issue decisively. I specifically remember the words, “or maybe you’ll just go around and around again with it and never figure it out, and end up in hell.” It was said basically without saying on a regular basis, though.) but it was communicated to me nonetheless. I was taught, first of all, that the “American Church” had it all wrong from top to bottom, so the sooner I flushed everything I thought I knew about God down the toilet, the better. This point was repeatedly stressed more often than it needed to be; the rest of the group of kids and I were so awed by this powerful preacher (for that’s essentially what he was, a very powerful and convincing speaker, completely apart from the Spirit of God, although perhaps not completely apart from the assistance of other lesser entities) that we needed little coercing to abandon the established church for all its faults. I learned instead of a Jesus who was eternally, unquenchably, and insanely angry with sin in all its forms, and with its practitioners at all levels, and that anyone who claimed the name of Christ and had a single speck of sin in their life was a hard-hearted hypocrite, the worst form of sinner, who would earn citizenship in the lowest circle of Hell. Once you became a Christian, all sin ceased then and there. Any struggle that yet continued merely reflected our own hatred for God and confirmed the fact that we were yet children of the devil and were merely delusional about any perceived experience with the Lord. Furthermore, the Christian life was not one of joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment, but one of endless toil, labor, agony, fear, apprehension, and uncertainty. Once you gave your life to Christ, your life was destined to be one traumatic struggle after another to prove yourself until you finally crawled your way, broken and bleeding, to the gates of Heaven. (NOTE – I feel that, were one of my old compatriots to read this, they might perceive my descriptions as being a caricature, distorting the actual facts, but were I to be completely honest with myself before God, I could not but state that these were the actual things that were communicated to me and to the others, regardless of how they were dressed up or disclaimed at times (for such caustic statements need some apology from time to time, which Brad would very tactfully present when necessary), and of this I am quite sure.) That was the long and short of it, and anyone claiming that the Christian life was a life of joy and peace was said to be presenting “another gospel” or “another Jesus”, as the Bible says false teachers will do. Anyone claiming to know that they were saved was more or less ridiculed or intimidated into feeling that they were somehow a heretic to true Biblical Christianity, and I forget the exact scriptural reasoning for this, but you weren’t supposed to know you were saved. To say you did was just pride. What was acceptable was to say that you knew for certain that God had a call on your life and that you were obeying it, and that it was His decision where you ended up but that you would gladly give your life in His service even if you were going to go to hell at the end of the road. I saw a great deal of hypocrisy (the biggest thing was that Brad was a swindler and a freeloader. He habitually and as a general rule used everyone around him to get whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. He started out just calling people up randomly and telling them to come over, “asking” them to grab him this or that on the way over. He was never refused or even reasoned with, but was unconditionally obeyed. Within a year he had gotten used to living completely and totally off our working for him, “collecting money to help kids.” The longer things went on, the bigger this got.) but rarely said anything about for fear my speaking up should be interpreted as “coming against the ministry,” which was everyone’s ultimate fear. Regardless of whether it was ever clearly spoken or not, everyone received the distinct impression from the preaching of this ministry that anyone who ever disagreed or found fault on any level was basically a reprobate no good Judas, and God was simply raising him up to harden his heart like Pharaoh’s and show Himself strong when He destroyed Him. (OMG. He said that so that anyone who took note of anything he did that was wrong would feel guilty about it and be unable to have faith to communicate with God because of this guilt and shame. THAT WOULD, OF NECESSITY, CAUSE A PERSON TO FALL, AND THEREBY “PROVE” THAT HE HAD BEEN RIGHT. This stuff is way too smart for Brad to have thought up on his own.) Secular music was, of course, bad, and if you listened to it you were definitely not really a Christian, but we could play it during band practice, and that was okay…just us, though. If anyone else did it, they were definitely not really Christians. Outbursts of anger and violence obviously disqualified others from their inheritance in the kingdom, but I personally witnessed the leader of this ministry get into violent confrontations and threaten to do great bodily harm on a number of occasions (that time out in front of e-rock’s house, “you’re in north Minneapolis, dude, you’re messing with the wrong guys!” and we were in Robbinsdale.) To top that one off, he once almost beat the crap out of me while swearing a blue streak that would make a longshoreman blush. I heard time and again about how other ministers who didn’t answer their own phones, or didn’t return their calls, or showed some other lack of integrity in phone etiquette, were hypocrites, the lot of them, and ought not be in ministry, yet from the very man who made these accusations I noticed that you really had to have something special or something to offer, or some money, to get a call back on the great majority of occasions. Probably a lot of ministers could tell that there was something wrong with Brad and wouldn’t give him the time of day on purpose, and so he was just badmouthing those people in a roundabout way. In general, I noticed that a lot of the things that were preached against (indeed, it seemed a great majority of the preaching I sat under at that time merely expounded on the problems, and rarely even hinted at possible solutions) were practiced right in our midst, and as long as it was practiced by the leader, and in some instances, leaders, it was just dandy. I listened countless times as prosperity preachers who begged for money and then spent it on personal needs and luxuries were described as the most fiendish of liars, yet I found myself one of usually three to five teams daily being sent out to collect donations at tables all around the metro, the proceeds of which total easily in excess of half a million dollars a year (by what I calculated in December 2003), and though I knew that probably around half of this money was being pocketed and used to unofficially pay ministry team members, and the great majority of the rest of it used to take care of the miscellaneous uncontrollable expenses of the Ministry itself such as building rent, bills, and the like, I was to say that 100 percent of the money was going to “help kids.” We were collecting money from people whom we were personally assuring from our own lips that their donations were being used solely for the high school assembly programs we were telling them about, and then sitting down that very night and eating dinner at a Japanese steakhouse where we would use some of that very money to pay for 25 dollar plates of food. We told these people that what little money the schools were able to come up with rarely came anywhere close to covering even a fraction of the costs, and that the money we were raising was to compensate for the deficit, and that the reason we raised money was because we would never turn a school down for financial reasons, and would finance the whole production ourselves if need be, but these were only half truths. Many schools were turned down for financial reasons, even though if the money we had been raising at the fundraisers were really going towards the said deficit, we never would have had to turn down a single one. Though we did do some schools for free, the leader of the ministry would often make sure it was audibly repeated a number of times that this had taken place, as if to seek praise or accolade from somewhere. He would also often complain, when we financed an assembly, that the school had “treated it like it was free,” and this was then almost used like it “counted as one more time that paying for the assembly ourselves made it not turn out good,” and it kind of seemed to add to the likelihood of us not doing that again. But the pitch at the fundraisers never changed; we still were “collecting money primarily to finance assemblies for schools that could not afford the program.” This seriously bothered me, and one time I said something about it to one of the lower ranking ministry team members. He totally talked around the issue I was getting at, and acted like I was “coming against the ministry.” So I shut my mouth. I also noticed that while we were endlessly being exhorted to a life of constant effort, vigilance, and servitude, and while virtually everyone in the lower echelon of the ministry was hurting seriously in the pocketbook, our leaders never seemed short on cash, and in fact would take fairly regular trips to Florida or Hawaii to just hang out and relax for a week. All of this, and many many other things, added up until I deeply resented my leaders for all of it. I resented them not because they did things that I thought were wrong, but because they maintained an air of aloof superiority and would not receive any correction for anything ever from anyone, and certainly not from me, a mere peon in the kingdom from their lofty perspective. (I to this day maintain in my heart of hearts before God that this was not a prideful thing, because I know what pride feels like and its selfish; this was a spiritual anger against injustice and hypocrisy.) My resentment grew to bitterness, bitterness to anger, anger to malice, and malice to rage. I concealed all of this, though, for fear of being shunned and thus damned, telling myself that somehow God would change me so that I would see that they were right after all. It seems like all I really ever wanted was to know in my heart that they were right in doing things the way they did them and that I was wrong to question it, but I could never get that assurance no matter how I struggled, prayed, fasted, studied, or screamed to God all alone in a closet in tears, bawling my eyes out like a scared baby because that’s all I was inside. Finally, my inward rage showed through ever so slightly one day, and in so doing I officially demoted myself from the midway point I had climbed to in the ministry all the way down to the lowest piss ant on the totem pole. (NOTE – This consciousness of rank is disturbing to me… I had not known that that was something I was ever conscious of FURTHER NOTE >8.26.12 Reading over this again, and this struck me as disturbing once more, that I should have been apparently at some level in pursuit of competitive achievement. This is something that contact with Brad would have instilled, though, as were other of the vices that emerged in my heart during those years.) Knowing what it would mean to stay there, that I would be the “example” to be preached against and that I would have to sit under it for four hours at a time while the leadership ran off at the mouth in not so many words about the endless flaws and vices of such wretched, volatile refuse as myself, the public humiliation, the lofty, disdainful glances, the belittling comments that drive into your heart like tiny ice cold pins, no… after 6 years of witnessing such abuse and on occasion being so treated, I couldn’t do it. Regardless, I had been praying that God would gracefully remove me from that ministry and plant me somewhere else, somewhere He could use me, and I could learn, and not be stuck in the same circle, so rather than come crawling back apologizing for something I had done that wasn’t even wrong, I sat still and waited to see what would happen.
I understood in my mind, at least mostly, what they were trying to do and the methods by which they were trying to do it, but in my heart something never felt right. I would try to convince my heart that what my mind “knew” was the Truth, which I must, of course, conform to, and that my heart was wrong, sometimes with success, but as soon as something would happen again that I knew was bad enough to be dangerous in ministry, or something that hurt me personally in a way that I knew in my heart God would not intend, my mind’s convictions would be threatened again by those of my heart. Jesus lives in the heart, not the mind, right?
Brad used to make very cynical and condemning innuendoes, many of which often still come back to frustrate and paralyze me to this day. Once I was upstairs in his house reading the Word, and I was very impressed by the scripture that says that Christians will one day judge the angels. I called out to him and told him what I’d just read. “Isn’t that crazy?” I exclaimed. After a pause, he replied, “He just told me you’re not going to be judging them,” in a somber tone. Now I had not, at this point, been convicted that there was anything wrong with my walk or my obedience, or with the condition of my heart before God, so this confused and frightened me, as here was a man whom I had (I believed –ed.) seen give accurate prophecy basically telling me that the Lord had just told him that not only was I not saved, even though I felt I was, but that I wouldn’t be saved at all, in the final analysis. [Additional edit 9.23.20 It occurs to me, re-reading this now, that Brad contradicted himself sharply on this point, years later, during a meeting at Old Paths — our storefront church in downtown Robbinsdale, at the time — when he described a vision he had in which he said to me, “I see Him crowning you on that day” in reference to the final judgment.] From that day forward, for a long time, though, many times when I would be at a high place in the spirit and feel very much encouraged, I would remember that moment in conversation and it would knock me back down into discouragement, because I would think, “Regardless of what things appear to be now, Brad prophesied I wouldn’t make it, in the long run.” Another time was a couple of years later. Jessi had just had Abby, so we had been at the hospital for a couple days. As it so happened, the timing had been such that we had to miss two assemblies. Now, just F.Y.I., in the ministry, the number of assemblies you don’t make it to can always, without fail and regardless of circumstance, be used as a kind of gauge to measure how far outside of the will of God you were. In other words, the more assemblies you miss, the more you’re missing it. This is not addressed directly, though, i.e. no one comes up to you and said, “Listen, bro, you didn’t go to this last assembly, and I really feel that it’s an indicator that you’re kind of missing it.” Instead, it was simply obvious from the way people looked at you and the way you were treated that someone had said this very thing to everyone BUT you. So, it was the day after everyone had gotten back from the assemblies, and we were all meeting at the office. We sat down at the table, and the first thing Brad said was, “Well, I guess if we’re learning anything, we’re learning that you can make things happen, but it’s not always God’s timing and it’s not always God’s people,” then leaning over the table and looking directly at me with that kind of not-really-a-smile-but-not-really-not-a-smile said, “Right, Papa?” The inference was, of course, “You married the wrong person and now you’re screwed, and I kind of don’t care and think it’s funny because you did it to yourself and you deserve it.” This was far from an isolated incident. A few months earlier, when Jessi was still pregnant, he and Andy and I were riding in the truck, when the subject came up that here was Ben, a promising young man with much potential for God, who had gotten himself into this marriage with a now-pregnant girl who, though gifted in the spirit, was incurably lazy and disobedient and sure to hold him back from his ministry. (Jessi was seemingly always in the doghouse for some indefinable yet enormous failure to utilize what she’d been given by God. She was always excruciatingly miserable, frightened, and depressed, because though she constantly swore up and down that she honestly had no idea as to what she was doing wrong, or what she was supposed to be doing but wasn’t, Brad never believed this and was always adamant that she actually did know, and that all her desperation, fear, and uncertainty was simply a façade. I used to believe him, and this was the thing that frustrated me to the point that I began emotionally, verbally, and physically abusing Jessi. Prior to this I had never even had the thought enter into my mind to abuse a girlfriend, let alone my wife, in any way whatsoever. I had always been the exact opposite, the guy who let his partner have the run of the relationship and do whatever she wanted. Anyway, this subject came up, and Brad said, “well, there’s not a lot that can be done now, I mean, I guess everyone around you tried to warn you, but you made the decision for yourself.” (The marriage). In fact, this was an out and out lie. Not only had Brad been the one who had hooked us up (to the point of neither of us had agreed that we should be together, but not only did he prophesy that it was meant to be over and over, but he literally sat us down and talked us into it) but before the marriage, I had been the only one who was uncertain and afraid I was doing the wrong thing. I had actually felt so sure I was making a mistake in pursuing her that on several occasions I cut the relationship off and told Jessi that we couldn’t talk anymore. On each of these occasions, it had been Brad who had acted like I was making a mistake in so doing and had talked me into calling her back up. Once, during one of these break up episodes, I was standing at the front of the church with Brad and Taggs, and Jessi was talking to some people about 20 yards away. Taggs said to me something to the effect of, “When are you gonna pop the question, man?” and Brad said, “Dude, he could have a million bucks sitting in front of him and he wouldn’t know what to do with it.” But regardless of all this, after the marriage, Brad began to feel that it had been a mistake and then he shifted the tone of everything so that all references to the recent past indicated that it had been me who had been so adamant on pursuing the relationship and everyone else had been there trying to “warn me.” So after we exited the vehicle, we were standing there still talking about it, and I asked him what I was supposed to do now. He replied, “Well, you’re kind of stuck. I mean, you can divorce the girl but you can’t divorce the baby…” I have held that against him to this day that he would lie like that, not just an isolated single subject lie, but an elaborate fabrication and alteration of an entire history of events, all to slide out from any and all responsibility for anything negative that might result from the marriage. For all of this and much much more, I have never been able to bring myself anywhere close to forgiving this man because not only has he never once said he was sorry for any of this or anything else he did to me or my family, but on a number of occasions he has brought up the subject of how things went wrong between us and attempted to make statements by way of resolving things somewhat, but in the proccess never failed to excuse himself from any direct or intentional responsibility for any negative occurrence. The tone of these conversations has always been one of, “Well, things kind of turned sour there in the past, and it’s my desire to move past all that and move on, and I hope it’s yours as well…I mean, you may have blamed me for things and held me responsible for the way it all went down, but I’m willing to forgive and forget now.” The very essence of the atmosphere about everything he does is one of arrogance and superiority, never with a hint of humility or accepting you as an equal or a fellow Chirstian. Everything was always conducted with the pretense of I’m Up Here, You’re Down There.
I am used to thinking of everything in terms of debt, of working off what I owe and expecting back what I’ve earned from the Lord. But the Bible says that to him that works, the reward isn’t reckoned of grace, but of debt, and that is the consistent theme of the New Testament, the foundational scriptures of the covenant of which I have become a partaker. What I am learning is to think that way, instead of thinking, “well, have I done enough where I should be able to expect to call on the name of the Lord and He respond,” or, “am I within my rights to expect the Lord to call me by His name, or have I not performed consistently enough, or wholeheartedly enough, those duties to which I know I am called, whatever they be, at whatever particular moment?” To instead of this, think, “This covenant is not founded and based upon what I have done, but what Christ has done for me, not on my obedience, but on His love, not on my righteousness, merits, or faithfulness, but His. This is not to make the Gospel a covenant of shirking one’s duties and then expecting full payment, but rather to call it that is to misunderstand the entire matter from the very core, like comparing apples and oranges. The true covenant of grace, when presented to an unregenerate, unrepentant human, really does sound like a license to sin, but that is why Christ said not to cast pearls before swine. The idea is not that some people are swine and some are not, but that all are nothing better than swine before being brought to a knowledge of their sinfulness and of God’s holiness, and only those whose hearts have been prepared to receive grace will not trample the Son of God underfoot and count His blood an unholy thing. Something else I am learning is that Christ died for everyone, not just a small select group of people; rather, only a small select group of people are benefiting from and appropriating the gift he provided for us in His atonement. The veil was rent, so anyone can simply stroll into the Holy of Holies and come boldly before the throne of grace, but unbelief convinces men that none of it is really true enough to be taken that seriously, and legalistic religion convinces men that there is still something wanting on their part to earn the favor and salvation of God, that somehow the sacrifice was not complete, but must somehow be mingled with their own works in order to yield something producing true salvation. It is one thing for me to give intellectual assent to these things, but God, you will have to implant them into my heart, for “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”
Since my relapse, I have often, almost always, been apprehensive about going to church, and when I’m there I often feel uncomfortable. It has just been revealed to me now, though, that the reason for this is because I am superimposing the basic atmosphere of our old church onto this one, the judging, the looking down the nose at, the I’m up here and you’re down there, and so on, even though none of that is here. In fact, it has honestly not been truly shown to me until just now that the people in this church really do just want what God wants for us and they’re not caught up in a bunch of ambition and power tripping, and they understand that Christianity is not something that is appropriated by personal effort or merit, but something that is given freely, and then acted upon based on what the individual already possesses. At our old church, how everyone treated you was based on “how you were doing,” or how much you were performing, or rather, how successfully you were performing. Actually, it wasn’t even that. Every time we got together for church or whatever, our leader would inevitably start addressing everyone personally, and if he thought something was lacking with you, he would rail on you pretty bad. Then everyone would treat you like you were dirty until the next time he gave you a “good word.” I understand now that, while much of this man;s discernment was based in spirit and in truth, it was tainted by man’s methods, opinions, and by worldly wisdom and knowledge, and also was immature, and thus often inaccurate, and so rendered the end result of simply taking everyone’s focus off their relationship with God and placing it on a man and a ministry. In fact, many times I would be in the middle of doing extremely well and experiencing a great ammount of peace and success in my walk with God, I would begin to receive the “bad words” for some mysterious, elusive transgression somewhere in my life that I was not conscious of, and so from that, I would again come under much condemnation and turmoil, in the midst of which I would abandon the walk with God which I had been growing in, or at least place it on a back burner, and turn wholeheartedly to the teachings and doctrines of this man which were unique to this particular ministry. In other words, you could be making signifigant spiritual progress, but if you weren’t in the mentality of works, and if you weren’t focusing on the law and on raw physical performance, you would not make it in the ministry (NOTE 7/11/06 – I see now that this was because Brad believed that if you were actually facing in the right direction and walking in it, you would be making visible strides in the improvement of the ministry we were in; any pretensions to be wholeheartedly obeying the truth which were not accompanied by, or consisting primarily of A) thinking up new things for the ministry to do and B) thinking up new ways for the ministry to make money to do these things and to pay Brad’s rent and bills, were simply preposterous to him. I see now that this was because he really honestly believed that there could be no other purpose for other born again Christians who were lovingly serving their Lord to be in his life other than for them to be called into ministry with him. He made this perfectly clear every time me said pointedly to us, “You know why you guys are around? ‘Cause you want to obey,” a statement which clearly says, “You guys are the only other people I know who really are active Christians,” which then, in turn clearly says, “You guys are obviously supposed to be called into my ministry because I can’t find anybody else who it could possibly be, and I’m obviously supposed to have a ministry team under me at this point. I mean look at me, I’m so mature I verbally abuse everyone around me, whether in jest, or in idleness, or in wrath, 24-7. It’s an integral part of all I know. I have GOT to impart this to PEOPLE!” He actually more than did this with at least me on one specific occasion that I remember. He sat me down on his couch and gave me a serious talk. The words I remember with absolute clarity are, “If there’s a ministry coming out of this thing, it’s your ministry.” )I am severely getting off on a bunny trail, though. So, since I have, in the recent past, not been performing as well as I believe I should in some of the areas of my life, I have been walking around expecting that stinging blow any moment; first the railing and the condemnation, then the rejection by everyone else, then the fearfully scrambling to get things right again. In expectance of this, I have adopted an air of holding everyone and everything at church at arm’s length, and having absolutely no intention of ever again taking that kind of treatment from anyone, much less submitting to it, ever again, I have been crouching back inside, in a defensive stance against any who would approach me with such an M. O. This, I now see is wrong, it is all in my head. The church God has led us to now, or at least God Himself in any event, is not that way! My fears are groundless, my defensiveness neurotic, and my apprehension of being at church and being with other believers in general is merely the soreness of a wound which these people not only did not cause, but are equipped to heal. This is all from the enemy to keep me away from the healing God has provided for me. Father, keep my eyes open this way and keep that foul beast far away from me from now on. Let me see people the way you intend me to see them. Let me not superimpose faults and traits of my past leaders onto my present ones. I pray that you would bless my past leaders with the knowledge and discernment to know what they did wrong with me so that they will never harm anyone else like they harmed me.
I remember comparing my situation to Jake’s, and thinking, “well if it worked for him, it will work for me. God is no respecter of persons.” To be brief, after getting the boot from the Ministry a number of years back, Jake had been living in New Ulm, and doing ministry there, when he began coming back up to the church on Thursdays, where Brad began to pressure him to move back up. Nothing else, just move back up. He wouldn’t bring it up like it was something he knew God wanted Jake to do, he would simply say to him Every time he was getting ready to drive back down with his friends, Brad would reach over and kind of make a gesture and serenely say, “Hey, you guys ever think about just moving up here?” Of course, such a pleasantry from Brad ultimately means, to anyone who sits under that covering, that whatever is clued or hinted at, however casually or innocently, is, in fact, what God Wants You To Do. So Jake did. It didn’t make any sense, but he did. He ended up paying two rents for awhile, and somehow survived working long hours for the ministry and getting paid barely anything. Eventually, after he’d “pressed through,” “things opened up” for Jake, and now he is really flowing in what he is doing. He’s making quite a bit of money, and he is being accepted into the upper echelon of the ministry (I see what happened here, too. What Brad needed at that point in time, was exactly what Jake was good at, making money. Jake made money out of thin air because that is one of his natural talents. It wasn’t something he pressed into, it was salesmanship that he learned with B—end note, skip to vol. 3) (basically Brad and Wayne and their wives). In short, God apparently blessed Jake in his efforts, and even though what he was doing in New Ulm was very profitable and definitely being used of the Lord, it turned out that it was God’s will for him to be with the Ministry after all. Then, while Jessi and I were living in Michigan doing ministry there, Brad began suggesting the same thing to us. Nothing else, just move back up. Not feeling the Lord’s leading in it at all, and definitely feeling it in what we were doing in Michigan, I would always politely decline whenever it came up, until one time when we were visiting, Brad called me up and offered me a lot of money and a secure position in the church leadership. He more or less tried to say that he’d been wrong in the way he’d done things in the past (though he made certain to add that he didn’t believe his heart’s intent had ever been wrong), and said that this was my family and this was my home, and everybody agreed, and that we needed to move back so we could all grow up together. We accepted. Brad offered us 1000 dollars to help us move and then 700 dollars a week to run things at the church with Wayne. I said that we could do fundraisers, too, but he said, “no, you’ll be running the church.” Then a couple weeks before we moved, Wayne called me up and said, “Hey we’re glad you’re coming back and everything, and we’re really glad to have ya, brotha, but just wanted to let ya know, that when ya come back, none of the old Ben and Jessi is comin’ back with ya.” That was almost I believe the exact words he used, and just ended his sentence like that and waited for my response. It was really like a jab in the ribs accompanied by a cold bucket of water over the head in contrast with the was things had been presented to me by Brad earlier, but I responded as honestly as I could that I knew I had done wrong in the past, and that I was moving forward now, and that, like anyone, I may still have some things to deal with, but I sincerely desired to do God’s will. He accepted this and let me go. I felt like something was wrong, somehow inconsistent, and that was the beginning of my new doubts as to the true intentions of my leaders. These doubts were previously defeated foes, but this conversation reignited those old fires of mistrust and suspicion….For the entire month before we moved I kept trying to call Brad just to confirm that everything was still sitting where we left it, and also because we needed the money to move with, but he never answered his phone or returned my calls, and whenever I called someone else’s cell to talk to him, he wouldn’t talk to me; the person I called had to be my go between, and I didn’t want to mention the money to anyone else because I didn’t know if anyone else was supposed to know. To make a long story short, Jessi and I moved back October 1st, and Jessi did fundraisers all day every day while I watched the kids until about two weeks later when the crew came back from the road (The leadership had been gone the entire time). Up until this point, we had not received any money. We had forfeited a 700 dollar security deposit and spent close to 2000 dollars of our own money on the move, which we had to raise at the last minute because I couldn’t get a call back about it, and it was never sent, but had yet not received any of the money Brad had mentioned. The night they got back, Brad called me to the office and gave me the 1000 dollars and said, “We’ll pick up on paying you next week, that cool?” He was treating me funny, holding me at arms length. I was just happy to get the 1000 dollars, as we were now almost completely broke and it was the middle of the month, so I said that that was fair, and not until later did I reflect on it and realize that he hadn’t actually given us the money to move, but merely given us 1000 dollars after we’d already been moved for 2 weeks and helping with the fundraisers. Then we both got put on permanent fundraiser duty, 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week, while our kids stayed at the office with Jake’s kid. About 3 days into this, Wayne called me in the middle of the day, and said, “hey dude, just wanted to let you know that you and Jessi are going to have to find someone to watch your kids during the day, because it’s a full time thing.” This is really hard to write about because all the feelings of betrayal, injustice, and manipulation are coming back. I couldn’t believe this. What were we supposed to do, put them in daycare? It wasn’t the Ministry’s problem, it was my problem, Wayne maintained. “Everyone knows full well that the only people who we know well enough to watch our kids 12 hours a day are already involved so much with the ministry that they’d never have time, and besides, the office has a nursery and that’s where Jake’s kid stays all day every day, what’s up with this all of a sudden? You know the only thing we could do to make it work would be daycare, and you know we aren’t ever going to do that to our kids. You guys knew we had 2 kids when you arranged for us to move back; if we were going to need to find such extensive childcare, why didn’t you say something about it before we came back up?” was my basic reply, once I regained my composure. Well, the next day, Wayne sat down with me and explained that the way we’d be able to work things out was that Jessi would be staying home 3 days a week with the kids, and then we’d only have the other 3 days a week to find some to watch them the 12 hours. But we’d be taking a substantial cut in our “gifts” (pay), almost half. This seemed all too deceitful to me. Why was none of this discussed prior to us moving down? Actually come to think of it, it hadn’t been talked about prior, because this wasn’t what I was told would be happening, so I saw no need to address the issue. I was specifically told we would be working at the church, so the kids of course could stay in the nursery and be maintained by us while we were there during the day. It wasn’t that I minded doing the fundraisers, but I had been directly told by Brad that we wouldn’t be doing them, that we’d be running the church. This whole deal put me under a lot of pressure. One needs to understand that the Ministry isn’t a normal environment communication wise. The leadership maintain a discernable arms length emotional and interactive distance from everyone else at all times, and you feel this atmosphere of “I can’t ask questions or express any kind of uncertainty about anything whatsoever, it’s just not safe.” You try to talk to people and the way they interact with you, you get the impression that you’re dirty somehow, or you’re infected with some kind of communicable disease and they’re shielding their mouth or something, except not physically. You always had the distinct feeling that you were being monitored, observed, like a bug in a jar, and that your validity as a human being with a voice and a share to contribute was being held in a balance and found wanting. You were constantly exhorted to contribute something by people when they were talking, but the irony was these same people were utterly unapproachable when they weren’t talking, utterly closed off to you in most respects, and you simply got the feeling that no matter what you could think of to do or help, it wouldn’t be good enough. I used to do things for Brad and then have him rail on me and mock me in front of the group because of how piddly and worthless and pointless the things I did were. I mean, I used to go into the bathroom and bawl my eyes out after church because of the humiliation, and how worthless and helpless I felt. So back to our story, here I was in this vacuum environment where I could approach no one, confide in no one, reason with no one, and I felt like I’d been swindled, like I was being had, like everyone who had been my “friends” for 5 years was just trying to push me far enough to see if I could take it or if I’d blow. I understand that ministry presents many trials and tribulations, and it’s necessary to know a man’s mettle before you give him substantial responsibilities over things you are accountable to God for, but to purposefully put someone into situations that would make anyone feel cheated, lied to, and backstabbed, and then to limit communications on the issue so it was not permissible for him to discuss it, to observe his reactions from a distance and see how he deals with it, I mean, that’s mafia stuff not kingdom of God stuff, and you’re not supposed to get hit by those you trust, and especially those you’re accountable to, but by the world and those who resist the Gospel and persecute you for it. The upper echelon of the ministry all conducted themselves with a very distanced air towards me during this time, almost as though they were expecting me to fail any moment, to simply collapse. It was as though they were all thinking, “Ben’s just not going to be cut out for this, we just have to be ready for when he cracks.” What kept swimming through my head this whole time was “Why did Brad ask me to move back here and take this if he wasn’t sure I was ready for it? If I wasn’t, then I would be completely screwed when it didn’t work out and he has to know it, so why would he take the chance?” Brad especially went to greater than usual lengths to avoid me and mentally distance himself from me during this time, and this served only to make him all that much more unapproachable so that I couldn’t bring up what I felt like with him and discuss it. Besides, what I was going through would only have been seen as a vastly infantile and shameful waste of time to discuss, I should just man up and take it. I know that this was the mentality as sure as I know that I am sitting here, because it was all confirmed in the things Brad said to me on the phone after I left the Ministry. He said, “You know, I really haven’s taken the time to deal with you since you’ve been back, and I guess it’s because I really just ain’t got time for it anymore.” This with the atmosphere of me being a little problem kid that’s been held back for 3 years in the same grade and just doesn’t seem to be capable of improvement, and for whom the teachers and the principal have simply no sympathies or resources left to expend. Ben the failure. Ben who just doesn’t get it. Ben who questions the things he has no business questioning. Ben who doesn’t trust us fully when we give him good reason not to trust us, regardless of the fact that he should simply overlook any such reasons and simply submit to authority. I now, from where I sit and from what I have learned since leaving that place, honestly and sincerely believe it would be the right thing for the police or some kind of authority to be involved in what goes on there. People are being abused, and it just seems like there ought to be some kind of entity to contact about it, whose job it is to deal with such things. I suppose that’s why we’re all supposed to be accountable to other parts of the body, and that’s the problem when a ministry or a church is not, that there’s really no branch of authority, secular or otherwise that deals in such matters. I can’t write about this. I just cannot relive this for as long as it takes to describe it in written words. To make a long story short, we were held at an icy arms length and treated like strangers until finally one day I lost my temper with Jake and hung up on him while he was chewing me out for something that, Before God, was not my fault. (We had been between a rock and a hard place in finding someone to watch the kids for a fundraiser, and we called someone who had been ostracized from the ministry to do it. Jake maintained that Bethany could have done it, and we should have asked her, but she had been sitting right next to Jessi, not doing anything at all, for 3 hours in the bus while Jessi frantically tried calling everyone she knew to do it, and never offered once. Jessi therefore assumed that everyone on the bus, who could all hear clearly what she was trying to do, must have been otherwise engaged. There was always the appearance maintained that everyone in the minstry, especially those over us, were always insanely busy with extremely important things, and they always treated those of us on the lower rungs of the ladder like we were simply clueless as to how busy they really were, and how basic and easy what we did really was, and so you were kind of subtly intimidated against ever asking for anything of a favor from any of them, anyway.) He called me back and told me to go home, not to do the fundraiser, so I was like, “No, I’m doing the fundraiser.” Then Jake says in this “big” voice, “GO HOME, BEN.” So I said, “You’re pretty brave on the phone, Jake.” So then Jake starts pissing his pants and Wayne has to take the phone and take over for him, which, in the state I was in mentally really made no difference whatsoever. I ended up just going home, and then calling Jessi and telling her to come home, too. Jake called me and asked me what I thought I was doing pulling Jessi from the fundraiser, and I basically said she was my wife, and if I was going home she was too. She didn’t leave because she thought that was wrong. I forget what happened over the next couple of days exactly, but I remember Wayne calling me trying to reason with me, and I knew he was sincere, but it wasn’t him. His heart wasn’t in the way he was treating me, he only thought it was. He said I would have to go out and find a job, and Jessi could still do fundraisers if she wanted, and they would even still give her a little money for it, but at this point I couldn’t be under that authority for another second. It’s like what happens when you beat a dog too many times; it runs away and never comes back. And I never went back. I couldn’t take it anymore. There was no communication, and there were no allowances made for any, and it left all the doors wide open for all kinds of misunderstandings, and hurtful interpretations of things. Brad called me later and said that if I could turn my back that quick on everything that the Lord was doing, just to let him know, because if so he’d just as soon not have anything to do with me anymore. Looking back, I think he was less upset that I left than he was that he was simply one more guy shorthanded to do the fundraisers. Man, this doesn’t feel like it’s helping. I feel like I’m right back in the middle of it. (EDITED AND APPENDED 5-24-04)
Last Thursday night meeting, my homework was to begin to interact with my wife only on the basis of Christ in me doing everything, not myself. It has been such an incredible revelation to me ever since that I can hardly contain myself…it’s like I’m two people, and while I’m trying to act out of the Christ in me, the Ben in me keeps getting in the way. The absolutely incredible thing is that I am suddenly acutely and undeniably aware of the pure and simple fact that Christ IS IN ME. He is actually there, and He has been since I asked Him to come in. I know this sounds simple and basic, but understand that I NEVER REALLY KNEW IT UNTIL NOW. It’s like for the last 6 years I have been screaming and crying out to God in my heart for assurance and peace and an understanding of what the Gospel really is, and I never had that this whole time and I was not only utterly miserable without it, but I was totally helpless as well, or at least compared to how I feel now. It’s like God has been trying to tell me something that I desperately needed to know, and I heard thousands of different versions from thousands of different people, but none of it came together and made total sense until now. I always thought, “Okay, these people are talking about believing, and acting on what God has already done, and having an assurance of salvation, and life and peace and spiritual riches, and all things given to us pertaining to salvation, and so on and so forth, but that’s not where the rubber meets the road. People don’t need to know that, they need to know that there’s something they need to do to make it work! They need to know that it’s a walk they need to stick to and a call they need to obey or they’ll miss it!” But I was the one who was missing it. I always thought, “Okay, there’s the grace side of things, and then there’s the faith without works is dead side of things, and there’s a balance of it all, and that’s where God’s really at,” But it’s not so. All those “perspectives” and “sides of the coin” things are carnal in the level of understanding they represent. The crucial thing to understand before anything else can be done that is pleasing to God, or before the Christian can even truly begin to enter into the fulfillment of his or her call, is that Jesus Christ is living inside of the believer, and His nature, power, mind, and everything about Him is freely given. It is at the disposal of the Christian. Not only the pure and simple fact that eternal salvation is a free gift, not earnable, but receivable to anyone who from a sincere heart simply asks for it, but also the understanding that obedience to the Gospel cannot even truly begin until the believer realizes this all and begins to place no value in their own efforts, only in Christ in them and in what they yield over to…You cannot obey Gospel commands with a legal spirit! I don’t just mean you can’t do it in a way that is pleasing to God, I MEAN YOU CANNOT DO IT AT ALL!!! In order to obey Christ’s commands, you have to believe that He is in you and that your salvation was already wrought through His works alone, and then live out of His life inside of you. You cannot obey them out of debt, only out of LOVE. ONLY OUT OF LOVE. Anything else just doesn’t work, you will feel the frustration and the confusion and the condemnation, and not be getting anywhere or accomplishing anything that will last, regardless of what the situation looks like. It also seems like 99 percent of what I have studied and read and heard others teach is only bits and pieces of different carnal perspectives of this simple, wonderful, unspeakably precious spiritual gift. For the first time in my life, I feel no neccessity to be accepted or get anything from anyone else. I feel I have so much I can give, and have no need to receive from anyone else’s labor any longer. This is not to say I don’t have anything more to learn, or that there is no place for Godly authority in my life, but rather that I no longer feel like there is something missing that I need to get from someone else, a missing puzzle piece, a need to perform for others. There is still an awful lot of me that needs to die, and I feel as though I’ve scarcely begun the job of mortifying my members and reckoning the old man dead, but without this cornerstone of it all, which is Christ, which I feel like I have just received, none of that was ever even possible to begin with. I still have a long way to go, but the million pound weight that was strapped to my back has rolled off, just as Pilgrim’s did, and now I am free to make the journey!
Father, please don’t allow the old things back. The Lord rebuke thee, Satan. Father, let my heart be free from the old offenses and let it not entangle me again in them to write about them. Let me stand fast in this liberty wherewith you have now set me free. It is you, the only wise God, who are able to keep me from falling.
It’s like everything I believed before was not only a wrong, immature perspective, it was genuinely twisted in a dangerous way. To ever doubt for a single second that The Holy Spirit of the Living God Himself is dwelling inside of me, loving me and accepting me, and first and foremost before anything else, simply yearning to commune with me and wash me and heal me and hold me…I mean, to live in unbelief of that is, in fact, the most dangerous thing you can possibly do as a Christian. To relate to God on the basis of your personal performance, on the basis of how holy I am, of how “Good I Have Been Doing,” and to see God in the image of a discontented, impatient, unsatisfied magistrate who yearns for nothing more than His loyal subjects to live ever more fully in observance of His decrees, and His enemies, those who refuse to subject themselves to His authority, to either turn from their forwardness or simply hurry up and go to Hell…These are distorted images of God, like those you see of yourself in fun house mirrors. To focus on the negative, on “This needs to get right, and I’ve got to stop doing this, and I’ve got to perform this duty more consistently, or more wholeheartedly,” is to completely miss it. If you simply live in consciousness of the presence of Christ in you, recognizing the reality of what has taken place in your Spirit, that it is no longer you living there anymore, but Christ living in you, and that the only way to realize this is by the faith of the Son of God, which has been given to you as a free gift and is simply awaiting your acknowledgement and heart’s assent to be utilized, when this is being done, those blemishes simply dissolve away, and those duties that “must be performed,” turn into privileges that we cannot wait to take advantage of. “Thou shalt not,” graven in stones, is transformed into “I can’t contain the love I have for God because He first loved me, and whatever He wants is just fine and dandy with me, because I’m just so satisfied, basking in the Glory of His Presence and soaking up every drop of Him that I don’t need anything else to make me content ever again.” It’s like when Jesus told the Samaritan woman that whoever drinks of the water He gives them will never thirst again, and then again when He said that whoever believes in Him, out of their belly would flow rivers of living water. It’s all true, and it’s all exactly as He said, not some twisted, “well, if you do this, then I’ll do that,” bargain.
It wasn’t so much that I suddenly understood or could intellectually process something that I had been trying to understand for years. In fact, it wasn’t that at all. It was literally that God Himself suddenly gave me the understanding that I had been praying and agonizing for, for years. It happened first as I was reading a commentary on Romans. I was at the end of chapter 7, and as soon as I read verse 1 of chapter 8, I suddenly realized that it was a truth in my life. Jesus Christ had died for my sins, and paid the penalty that I deserved. I could go free because of what He did, and anything that tried to convince me otherwise, that Christ died for some, but not for me, or that Christ died for me, but I hadn’t proven myself worthy of His sacrifice…all these were lies. Not from God. It was that simple. I suddenly understood, after 5 years of trying to earn my salvation, of crying out to a God I felt would never give ear to me, of feeling condemned and unworthy and used up, that it was only my unbelief that had stood between me and salvation. I now could understand that while we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. That’s all of us. I could go through the Law of God and prove it to you that every one of us is a sinner, but I think most of us can raise our hand and admit that deep down inside, regardless of how hardened our consciences are, we really do know that God is perfectly holy, and we are totally NOT.
Then, after a couple of days of going through the Word and seeing, to my amazement, that it all confirmed what I was learning, and that for so long I had been reading it through a filtered, deceived understanding, and not by the aid of the Holy Ghost, I had another revelation that seemed so magnanimous that it absolutely dwarfed the first. I was born again. My spirit was completely and utterly pure, one with God’s Spirit, and He was radiating out from the inside of me, ministering to my soul, and simply by looking inward, into His Spirit with the eyes of my heart, I could commune with Him and learn from Him. Now, in order to appreciate that this was an absolutely supernatural sovereign act of God Himself, you would have to know and understand my understanding of God over the course of the past 5 years. To make a long story short, I did not really believe in a loving God. I believed in a holy, righteous, and vengeful God, and that was all. I believed in a God who only loved those who were absolutely devoted to His service, and hated the rest of humanity. I believed in a God that crucified His Son merely out of obligation to give us every chance to see how much He hated sin so that we would turn from it and live perfect, holy lives before it was too late for us. I believed that the Gospel, instead of being preached as a demonstration of God’s love for humanity and as the free gift of a supreme and omnipotent benefactor, was to be preached as a “last chance for you to see how wretched you really are and how much God would love nothing more than to torture you and your kind for all eternity unless you repent and grovel before Him and never screw up ever, ever again on pain of eternal damnation.” Now I may be exercising some melodrama here, and I hope you will forgive me for that, but you see my point: I was an utterly miserable wretch of a man, afraid to even witness for my faith, because I thought, “Look how miserable what I have believed has made me. Far from being too good to be true as the Greek word Gospel implies, my Gospel is too horrible to be believed. Who would want what I’ve got?” Feeling as such, I would witness in a Gestapo like manner. “You there, do you know that you’re going to Hell? I’ll prove it to you,” I would say, at which point I would take them through the Ten Commandments, asking them if they’d kept each one perfectly. “That’s only God’s standard in the Old Testament,” I would then proudly exclaim, “The New Testament makes it much more difficult. What the modern church calls “Grace” isn’t really grace at all. True Grace is nothing more than an empowerment to live an utterly flawless life. If you say you believe in Christ, and don’t live a flawless life, you are deceived. You are STILL going to hell, and until you repent and utilize the power to live perfectly holy that was made available to you through Christ, that is where you will be headed.” With a message like that, is it any wonder I loathed witnessing?
Now I understand though, not with my mind or my intellect, but with my heart and soul, that any reliance on anything other than Christ’s sacrifice for my right standing with God is putting my faith in my own works for salvation. I understand now that when I come to Him, He is not a distant, angry tyrant, eyeing my every flaw and scrutinizing my every shortcoming, and only giving me the level of acceptance with Him that these merit, but He is a loving, benevolent Father who, having made every provision for every member of the human race to come before Him freely and lovingly and simply serve Him out of pure love, yearns for nothing more than us to simply believe this that we might appropriate the gift of salvation and redemption to His favor.
And do you know what? Now that I see Him this way, I have been set free FROM MY SIN!!! What does that mean? It means I DON’T WANT TO SIN ANYMORE. Whereas before my flesh was stronger than my spirit, and shied away from holiness while pulling me towards sin and making sin seem appealing, now my Spirit man is infinitely stronger than my flesh, and perpetually draws me into the presence of God, away from the sinfulness of the world. Contrary to what I was taught and believed for so long, it was a revelation of God’s love that set me free from sin, not the revelation of His righteousness, judgement, and holiness that I had understood already and was trying to use to free me from it. This is because the strength of sin is the Law. A clear, thorough examination of the book of Romans will show that the Law of God served, not to free us from sin, but to show us how desperate our case really is without the Savior. Matthew 1:21 says that JESUS came to free us from our sins.
With this newfound security, I have been emboldened to begin studying the Word again, straight up (I have only been reading it with commentaries attached for the past month, and before that, not at all for about 2 months). Much of my old understanding of things still overshadows my interpretation of Scripture, so it’s like I feel like I really shouldn’t study a lot of the Old Testament stuff that I used to be really strong in until I’m more thoroughly grounded in my understanding of the New Testament again. Even with a lot of the New, I have to really bring it before the Lord and ask Him to give me a new understanding of it, because everything I was taught before was based on solid scripture; the interpretation was skewed, was all. That’s actually a lot worse than having been into another religion, I guess. At least in a lot of ways. I’ve been really fighting to keep my heart fixed on what Jesus has been showing me over the past week. At first there was no fight at all, but for some reason, after being kind of reminded of the “old vibe” by a couple of guys who said a few words in church last Monday, some of the former things (religion, condemnation, fear) have been trying to whisper to me again. Now, however, the way I fight is entirely different from the way I used to fight. I used to struggle to seek a God from whom I felt the affliction was coming in the first place, and not by faith either, but by my works. I would pray, fast, read, and just press in, in general, and all in complete and total unbelief. It was like I knew what Jesus had done and everything, the sacrifice He had made, what He has provided for us, but I felt that irregardless of what anyone in the Church at large thought, these gifts (salvation, communion with God, spiritual gifts) could only be appropriated by individuals through the infinitely arduous death to self that must, of necessity, encompass every waking moment of such persons’ lives. Any deviation from this path, any growing weary in well doing, and consequent spiritual regression of any kind, meant that the individual could quite easily lose everything they had earned thus far, and be set back to the first rung on the ladder (note that, while these principles may coincide with some truths of the faith, In my theology they were applicable first and foremost to the earning of salvation: obviously a damnable heresy). Since these things have most recently been seeking re-entrance, however, my method of combating them is, though infinitely more simple, so much more insanely powerful as to be inexplicable any other way except in the admission that it must be the Truth, what I am learning now. It is simply most accurately described the way I’ve heard Darren refer to it, as a looking inward. It’s simply a remembering of the pure and simple fact that I know Christ is in me. I just know that I know that I know. And if I know this, then it must be true that I am a child of God, because His Spirit is bearing witness with my spirit (Rom. 8:16), and if this is so, then It is a scriptural truth that in Christ, He has promised never to leave me nor forsake me (Josh 1, Heb 13:5), and Christ Himself said even while in the flesh that he that comes to Him, He will in no wise cast out (John 6:37). So the image of a God that casts us out, leaving and forsaking us when we do not meet what we feel are the necessary criteria, is a false one, since by all scriptural evidences, it is us who are required to reject Him in order to lose salvation, this only even being possible to those who have attained the highest levels of communion and fellowship with Him themselves (Heb 6:4), and who not only consciously choose sin over Christ, but who also consider the blood of Christ worthy to be trodden upon, and counted it an “unholy thing” and knowingly tell the Spirit of God to leave them alone. This is a level of blashphemy which no new or even intermediate believer is even capable of, the same way a small child, or an adolescent, is incapable of legally declaring emancipation from their parents, filing an injunction, and removing himself from under their guardianship. Only someone who has come of legal age and is competent of what they are doing is capable of this. It’s not something we have to worry about doing on accident, or by sinning too many times, etc. Now when these monsters from my past desire to come back, I am able to wrap my arms around the Savior Himself, because I know He is with me (John 14:23, 6:29), and His presence is much more than enough to protect me from anything I seek refuge from. I have this confidence in Him because I have heard Him call me no more a servant, but a friend (John 15:15), and, any time I so desire, and gradually becoming all the time, as I learn to do it continuously, I am capable of simply shifting out of the natural realm and out of all consciousness of self and of sin and of unworthiness, and of my enemy, and of my problems, and of everything that would hinder me from enjoying the sweet solace of His embrace, and into the Spirit, where the consciousness of His presence, and of His love, and of His power, and of His provision, and of His mercy, and of His grace overshadow and drown it all out until I am no longer even aware that anything could be considered “wrong” with anything, because I see it all perfected in Him in the fullness of time, and I know that it is no longer a duty that I dread, but a privilege I covet, and am unspeakably, inexpressibly grateful for, to be able to participate in bringing it all to pass through the mighty power that works in us, the children of God (Eph. 3:20).
The fight that we fight, the good fight of faith, is not the perpetual struggling to achieve something that we feel we must either accomplish or die, as I thought it was, but the perpetual battling with the world, the flesh, and the devil to maintain our consciousness of who Christ is, what He has done, and who we are in Him. It is the struggle to maintain an awareness of something that already is true. Only when in this place of awareness where Christ is recognized for Who He is, and we for who we are in him, do the works of righteousness and faith manifest themselves. Much of what we accomplish for God outside of this overflow is constructed not from Who He is, but from what we are, and that largely apart from Him, and is thus tainted. It is like giving someone a glass of water with strychnine in it. It may take a lot of strychnine to be fatal, but it is certainly unhealthy in any amount, and regardless of how beneficial the water is for the body, any such toxins being present in it will do more harm than the water will do good. So it is with fleshly counsel; we are either steered toward the path of diligently accomplishing the work of our own salvation, or toward the path of simply giving mental assent to the truths of the Gospel, and then relaxing into a false peace and false security. Neither of these are true Gospel teachings, and both will lead an unregenerate man to hell, though a Christian may indeed fall into such deception for a long season and then be recovered, if even at the last moment, into the arms of the Savior. Both of these avenues are fleshly, because they both focus on the self. The one focuses on how sinful and unworthy we are, and how truly steadfast and pure a person must be to enter in at the straight gate. The other focuses on nothing above the things that please us in our Adamic state, and assures us that everything is okay now, that sin can be enjoyed and nurtured while we float off to heaven on flowery beds of ease. These are both false pictures of what the Gospel is. The one keeps us from freedom in that it denies us the consciousness of anything but our unworthiness, our wretchedness, our sinfulness, and convinces us that, because God is holy and we are so sinful, we can do nothing as He would have us do, and be nothing to Him save a rebel and an enemy, until we are cleansed fully from our sinful nature and exist wholly pure and faultless in the divine nature being manifested in our mortal flesh. In fact, both of these are excellent ideas for Satan to use to deceive mankind and keep them from the truth of the Gospel as it truly is, which is neither of the two, nor could it be compared against either, as they are of the flesh, and the Words that Christ speaks are spirit and life. The gospel is a ministry of life, of reconciliation. Christ is a Mediator between God and man. He came to save us from our sins. He came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He does not call down fire from heaven to consume the enemies of God, as did Elijah, a man of God under the old covenant, but rebukes those who think to do so and who would portray God in this manner. To those who approach him humbly and willingly, to learn of Him, he does not reiterate the old cannon of commandments, reminding them endlessly of what they must do and what they must not do, but declares that all the Law is summed up in the command to love. His covenant is new, and not fashioned after the old covenant which God made with the children of Israel in the day that he took them out of Egypt. It flows from its source in a new manner, like rivers of living water flow from the bellies of those who partake in it. Whenever we have to say “but” while preaching on the grace of God, therein lies our hidden doubt that this salvation is actually free, paid for by another. The word “but” comes after we speak of the Law, because it is the Law that is made obsolete by the gospel. It is the gospel that God intended man to have relation to Him through even from the foundation of the world. The Bible says that the prophets understood the Gospel, and looked diligently for information regarding it, knowing that it was coming after their time, for us in these times. (Pet 1:10-12 Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.)
Jer 31:31-34 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. God is speaking here of the New Testament covenant that He will open up for all who desire to partake in it. He expresses here how this covenant will be fundamentally different from the old one. In the old covenant, the law was written on stones and gave them external conditions to obey, a set of rules to be followed for fear of the consequences. In the new covenant, He says the same conditions still reflect upon His personal character, but the fact that they have in the past been written on stones and enforced on pain of death are now put aside for something better, something that not partially, but fully reveals the character of God, the essence of His person, which is love (1 John 4:16). He says that these laws will be written on our heart. It needs to be understood, it is absolutely crucial to understand that the writing of these laws on the heart constitutes and symbolizes a covenant that is fundamentally different from the first. It doesn’t mean that everything is the same except for where the laws are written. The new Testament is not, contrary to what used to be my belief, simply a re-publication of the Old Testament in different wording and under different circumstances. If it were, God would not have specified that this covenant would be “Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers…” This is not, of course, to say that whereas before there were consequences for sin, now we can sin and get away with it. God’s Word makes it very clear that sin is still sin, and He still hates it no matter who practices it, but one of the differences between the old covenant and the new is that under the new, all of our sins have already been paid for. God already called everyone’s debt in through the One Mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ. New Testament believers are therefore not condemned for sin. They are chastised for it and put through the fire to purify them from it, and they still must often live with its physical and emotional consequences, but God cannot, in all justice, condemn them to eternal damnation for it, as this would be double jeopardy. What I want to talk about today is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Jesus said in John 17:3 that eternal life is to know God. That word “know” in the Greek is like the most intimate kind of “know” you can possibly have with another living entity. It is the same word they used for intercourse between a man and a woman. I struggled for a long, long time with condemnation, not being able to believe that God would accept me because of my sin. I had been sitting under a teaching of which the basic premise was that “grace” was not a cover up for sin, but am empowerment to resist sin, and it only saved us if we used it, i.e. successfully resisted sin through grace. Now that’s basically an Old Testament covenant cloaked in New Testament language. If that is the way God deals with us under the New covenant, then the whole life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was extremely redundant. In brief, these conclusions are something that would be drawn by someone reading the Word without faith (Hebrews 4:2 says, For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.) In context, this verse is talking about the children of Israel who believed the bad report and did not enter into the promised land because they did not believe that God was actually with them. Now in New Testament context, the promised land is our salvation, our freedom, our favor with God. I was taught that the promised land symbolized physical outward evidence of the fruition of our ministry, but this is putting the cart before the horse. You can’t give what you ain’t got. You cannot communicate the grace, love and forgiveness of Christ to others if you do not believe that you have it yourself, yet that was what I had been trying to do for so long. Then it came to me all at once one day a few weeks ago as I was studying a commentary on Romans 7 and 8. The word ‘therefore’ in the first verse of chapter 8 directly indicates that there is no condemnation to those in Christ, even though they probably feel like there is when they are going through struggles like the one described in chapter 7. That meant there was no condemnation to me, either. Suddenly all this came alive and real to me, and I realized that I was not condemned with the world, but redeemed by Christ, accepted in the beloved, and adopted by God. I had always thought that Romans 7 was speaking of a pre conversion experience, but in the beginning of the chapter, Paul says that he delights in the Law of God after the inward man, right before he begins describing all his struggles to do what he knows is pleasing to God even though his flesh desires to sjn. Anyone can testify quite honestly from personal experience that we do not delight in the law of God after the inward man before we are born again. When I was in the world, I saw God’s laws, what little I understood about them, as being nothing more than someone’s attempt to restrain that which was natural for the human being. I thought, why should there be a law in place to restrain me from doing such and such a thing if it is primarily in doing that very thing that I experience some of the fullest and most gratifying moments in life? It didn’t make sense to me, because I was under the pure and simple impression that I was little more than a highly evolved animal, whose fulfillment of purpose and deepest sense of meaning was derivable in its highest form from the indulging of the sensual appetites, and the simple enjoyment of pleasure in any of its numerous forms. Only after I became born again did I begin to possess even an inkling of a sense that perhaps I was built to operate differently than I had always thought. Only when the light of God’s Spirit invaded my inner man did my inner man begin to have an innate knowledge that I was a created being, that I had been created by God, and that He had created me not to delight in sin but in holiness. It is only the regenerate man, the born again man whose Spirit is constructed of the same substance as God’s, that feels obligated by nature to live apart from sin and fleshly appetites, and to pursue the holiness of God, because it is this very holiness that makes up the core of his or her being. Ironically, the grand arguments in my mind against being saved simply by faith, the arguments that imply that indeed some action was required on my part in order to make my salvation effectual, came straight from the Words of Christ Himself. Many of the things He said, when interpreted by the carnal mind, can appear to be laying forth some of the most stringent requirements of appropriating salvation ever laid down in scripture, certainly surpassing in difficulty the ordinances found in the law.
The discourse on how “The Law says this, but I say that” in Matthew 5
Luke 9:23-25 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?
Mark 9:43-48 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
The Mormon Church, an extremely works based religion, loves to quote Matthew 5:48 where Jesus says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
The thing about this though is, these verses only demand works of righteousness when they are read and preached from a carnal understanding of the things of God. The Bible says that the carnal man receives not the things of the Spirit, neither can He know them. The Word of God is spiritually discerned, not with the mind, and especially not with a mind that has not been renewed.
It is also critical to note that in the kingdom of God, many things operate backwards from the way we are used to them working. For example, we expect that since we are born young and naïve and grow old and shred that this is the way things will operate in Christianity, but in the middle of a crowd, Jesus pulled a small child up to everyone’s attention, and said that unless you become converted and become as a little child, there is no way you will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3) This must, by the way, be something God wants us to really use in our understanding of the gospel, because three or four verses are spend discussing this, and the event where the group of children come up to Jesus, and His disciples are upset and try to keep them away, and Jesus rebukes them for it, is recorded in two of the other Gospels. In both of those instances, Jesus says that if one does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not be able to enter into it. Now this is a real clue that the Gospel isn’t a message of works in exchange for salvation, because little children, these ones were probably no more than toddlers, aren’t capable of doing very much at all. Ask me, I’ve got a couple of them. Also, Jesus said that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and stuff like that, which basically says “You’re used to things working like this, but a lot of the stuff I’ve got going on is contrary to that, it works in reverse according to your thinking.” The Bible also says that the “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Heb 4:12 And this analogy is used a second time in Ephesians 6:17 where the armor of God that the Christian is given to be equipped with is listed. Paul calls it the “Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Now, at the time of Paul’s writing this, the sword was basically the most effective weapon for close range combat in existence, so if we really wanted to have a modern english version of this verse, instead of a sword, we would be talking about a sawed off shotgun. Can you imagine Jesus telling His disciples in Luke 22:36, “He that hath no sawed off shotgun, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” That’s a different sermon, though. Anyway, The Word of God is a powerful, powerful thing, likened to a sword, and we are, as Christians, entrusted to use it properly. Now this would be very similar to a surgeon being entrusted with a scalpel to do surgery and save people’s lives. Remember the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them, Luke 9:56, and that verse in context is exactly exactly what I’m talking about here. (Maybe read?) So imagine if a surgeon took his scalpel and said, “You know what? This patient is suffering from a disease that was brought on by his own negligence and irresponsibility. He needs to be taught a lesson.” And with that, he starts slashing up this guy’s face and arms and chest. He’s gonna teach this guy a lesson, so he will never get sick again. Or imagine a police officer who sees someone come up to him and call him a pig, so he just takes out his gun and blows him away. That’s not why these men were given these instruments, the surgeon has his scalpel so that he can skillfully and wisely use it to cut only when it is necessary, and for the benefit of the patient. Whenever the Word of God, especially the New Testament, is used as an instrument to destroy men’s lives rather than to save them, it is being misused, and the misuser knows not what spirit he is of, just as I didn’t know what spirit I was of. I thought I was doing the will of God by being hostile and vindictive and aggressive with people and, then when they were scared into submission ministering grace, but God’s not bipolar. The Old covenant was then, and the New Covenant is now. It’s not, ‘Then we only had the Old Covenant, and now we can use both the Old and the New together, because that’s how God intended it’ That’s how I thought it was. I thought you stayed under the law until perfection came, not until faith came, so I wasn’t seeking faith, or rather, I wasn’t exercising faith, I was seeking perfection. But once faith comes, the heart is made perfect in Christ anyway, and it’s the heart God looks at, not the outward appearance.
I used to be constantly worried, no, terrified that I was going to miss it. I was constantly feeling that everything to do with the Ministry was going to just keep getting bigger and bigger, and the bigger it got, the more I would be unable to be a part because I was working for a job to support myself and couldn’t ask for time off too frequently, or for too long at a stretch. Everyone who has ever been a part of the Ministry will attest to the fact that scarcely a meeting went by where Brad didn’t begin going off on a tangent about how the Ministry was just going to blow up bigger and bigger and those who were going to get on board were going to get on board, but some people weren’t, and he didn’t care if it got whittled down to he and Stephanie, if they ended up being the only ones who actually were willing to lose their lives. This was always said with the innuendo of, “Anyone here is here for a reason, and that reason is because you are supposed to be helping us in this Ministry. If you really believed God, you would leave your job and [do something, it was always very unclear what you were supposed to do, but there was always a full time place available for you in ministry while Brad was preaching, regardless of how irrelevant and peripheral your contributions actually when the rubber met the road]. Basically, everyone always got the distinct impression that they were somehow doing something wrong if their source of income required them to do anything that would in any manner hinder their assisting in each and every single activity, function, and recreational pursuit that the Ministry team performed together. You had to be completely on call 24-7-365, and this was not optional. This was especially true in the very beginning. Brad would always delegate someone to call everyone else that we were meeting at such and such a time at his house, usually no more than a few hours in advance. We usually had a regular weekly meeting time, but there was always at least on surprise meeting sometime during the week. If you couldn’t go, or if you had to leave for work before it was done, you automatically went down a rung on the ladder. (usually, Brad really preached for a long time, and you felt like if you got up and left, even if it was because you had to be to work, God would strike you dead. I remember being 15 minutes to an hour late to work quite a few times because of this. If you did leave for this reason, Brad would be very obviously angry about it, which meant that he would be absolutely furious, as he was never preaching and not already angry at the same time in those days.) Anyway, everyone had work, of course, and I know as surely as I know that God is real, that every single one of us felt that same condemnation because we didn’t just hang out all day and think of cool things to do in ministry, and get money from some mysterious source that no one ever knew about. Actually, what happened was, Brad had a lawn business and was making a year’s income in 6 months. Then, he sold it to Jake for $15,000 because the Lord told him to, and he just lived on that money for a few months, but no one knew he had that money, and he didn’t tell anyone, and neither did Jake (I found out years later). He always acted, though, as if he were simply living by faith because the Lord had told him to step out, and the Lord was providing because the Lord was faithful. Well, the first summer of this whole thing, (as soon as that 15 grand wore out) we started doing car washes every Saturday, making at least 500, often 1000 dollars, under the premise of raising money for the High School Assemblies, but the fact is we only ever did 1 assembly the first year, a handful the second year, and two handfuls the third, and we got paid pretty well for most of them. No one ever got to see any kind of financial statement of course, but I am basically 100 percent positive that the money was just being pocketed. When the car washes didn’t go well, Brad got angry (rarely ranting angry, usually that smug, smirky, ‘you guys are missing it, not me’ angry) and there wasn’t anything we were doing as a ministry that would cost money except going out to eat, really. So, you see, Brad wasn’t really living by faith at all. He was figuring things out, and working out ways to make money to supply his needs, and using all of us to do it, while at the same time pressuring all of us to quit our jobs and just go balls to the wall with what the ministry was doing. This is really all irrelevant to the point I started out writing this entry to make, and I feel now that I am simply authoring a cheap rant on the injustice of it all. I must expedite. Now, as the years wore on, Brad got less outwardly angry and eccentric, but the innuendo’s and the elitist attitude remained. He was always way way up there, those whom he trusted most were just way up there, and the rest of the team was simply up there, while the remainder of the world was down there. This subtle, unspoken pressure to forsake all known financial income and rely upon God to pay your bills was what got me to work for him the first time. It was a nightmare. I couldn’t think of anything really profound or groundbreaking to do. I set up fundraisers and did them, I called churches and tried to set up speaking engagements. I did numerous piddly little writing assignments and ended up trying to author a short book of early American word definitions that were more full flavored than their modern counterparts, but I never felt inspired whatsoever in the midst of any of it, only driven and driven and driven…To top it all off, I was married and had just had a kid, and Brad was only giving me 1000 dollars a month, knowing that that was our only possible source of income, and that it didn’t even cover our bills, so the financial stress of having less than negative nothing and a family to take care of was absolutely insane. This was when the abuse with Jessi began. Brad basically sentenced her to be ostracized from the Ministry until she was obedient to God in some mysterious way that he swore up and down she was fully aware of and was just pulling a scam in saying she didn’t. She used to lay at home and cry about it though, and be absolutely miserable all the time in a way that all but convinced me that she honestly didn’t know what in the heck she was doing wrong or wasn’t doing right. The only thing that kept me from believing her was the pure and simple fact that I was brainwashed. Completely brainwashed. If Brad had started preaching that the earth was flat and there was some kind of conspiracy to make us all think it was round, I would have believed him and looked down my nose at anyone who didn’t. It all ended up crashing down on me, though, climaxing in the confrontation at Brad’s house. I went to his house to pick up my check one Friday, and He wrote it for $485, because I had gone over 15 dollars on my cell phone bill (which was only used for ministry purposes). We had previously agreed on this, and if he’d simply said in a cool way, ‘look, this is what we agreed on, and we’re gonna stick to it,’ I wouldn’t have cared at all, but the way he was treating me that day was extremely condescending, like it was the biggest and most frustrating waste of time in the universe for him to have to deal with me in any form, and especially the ‘how do ya like them apples,’ tone of voice he was talking (half to me half to himself ) in as he wrote out the check, got under my skin a little bit, and though I didn’t do or say anything, I started emanating a little indignation. He looked up at me halfway through writing the check, with a cool, calm, ‘do you have some kind of problem’ look, and basically asked me why in the world I thought I had a right of any kind to be upset in the slightest about anything. I replied hesitantly, “Well, you’re trying to make me mad, dude!” At this, his eyes narrowed and he pointed his finger down the stairs and said, “Get your shit and get out of my house.” I took the attitude of, No we can work this out. He’s lost his temper, but I’m going to reconcile this, and we’re going to work this out. I said again, more softly and emphatically, “Dude…you’re trying to make me mad.”
At this he really raised his voice and started yelling for me to get out. I resigned myself and went down the stairs, and he turned his attention from me to begin yelling at Stephanie about how worthless I was and how he stubborn and simple and unusable. As I got to the bottom he started going off about how I had such an attitude problem all the time, and basically insinuated that I had just tried to start something with him, at which point I turned again and repeated as I had before, in a calm, soft, but desparate tone, “Dude! You are trying to provoke me. I didn’t start anything, you’re the one who’s trying to make me mad!” At this, he bolted down the stairs after me, eyes wide with rage, and blurting out in an incredulous tone, “I told you to get out! Get out!” The way he was coming at me was the way you come at someone when you’re going to punch them as soon as you get within arm’s length, and I then purposed to leave the house at once, but when he got to me, I was moving too slow to suit him, and he started kind of walking forward into me, shoving me with his belly. I was getting my shoes on, and I told him so, but he only became more violent and started trying to grab me by something to throw me out. I didn’t let him get his hands on me, and this pissed him off even more, if that were possible, and he reached under and grabbed my collar, straightened me up and shoved me against the wall, still grasping my collar as he cocked his fist back and screamed, “Do you fucking want one? Huh? Ya want one? I’ll bust your fucking nose, you fucking want one?” While I worked to hold my left arm in a position that would not allow his arm to land the blow, and my right to steady myself against the wall, staring at him, eyes wide with disbelief. I swear before all of heaven and earth and to God almighty, that this is the truth as accurately as I remember it, and I would swear to it in a court of law any day of the week. Stephanie was standing at the foot of the stairs screaming for us to stop it, and I think that was the only thing that kept Brad from trying to kill me. He eventually relaxed his grip and I put my shoes on and walked out the door. I will never forget him saying “Punk” at my back as I walked through the doorway, as if to say that I wouldn’t fight him because I was scared or because I knew I couldn’t beat him. I have only ever backed down from one fight in my entire life, and it was because I was 14 and weighed 135 pounds and was being confronted by a 35 year old bully who was at least 3 feet taller than me, and I didn’t have a weapon. Him saying that to me has made me wish to this very day that I would have stopped as he said it, mule kicked behind me, either breaking or seriously bruising one of his legs, and quickly turned while raising my arm and folding it to bring down hard, breaking his spine with my elbow as he fell forward (I thought of doing this the instant the first sound left his lips, but it was only doable in those few split seconds, which were almost immediately lost forever), but maybe I don’t quite wish that so fervently anymore. That probably would have killed him, had I connected everything perfectly. At any rate, it still haunts me, because I was called a punk and a nerd my whole young life, and that was always why I fought. I never backed down from anyone, except that one time, and I didn’t consider this situation backing down at all, due to the circumstances, but his saying that to me showed that he did, and I walked away from it. I drove home and sat in my truck for 3 hours. When I finally got home, Jessi was really worried, but I went straight to the bathroom and locked myself in. I just wanted Jessi to stay worried, because I felt like if someone was worried about me then I was worth something. Somehow she was talking to Brad on the phone, and kept saying he wanted to talk to me. Later I found that one way or another during this conversation, she had mentioned to Stephanie that she was scared, and when asked what she was scared of, she had somehow let it slip that I had been physically abusive with her. Their immediate reaction was to urge her to call the police. So then later when I had cooled off, and settled down somewhat, and come out of the bathroom, Brad called me. He had that cool, refreshed, ‘God’s confirmed to me that I’m just fine, So I really don’t care about too much else, especially what you think of me’ tone of voice, and he calmly informed me that Jessi had told them what had been going on, and that I just wasn’t going to be able to come around the ministry, at least until we got things straightened out. No mention of the fight. No apology. Not even a reference to what had just happened. He was acting like we hadn’t even seen each other yet that day, and he was just calling to tell me that we were officially cut off until we got everything straight. Jessi’s dad came over some time later, and I told him about what had happened. He called Brad, and asked in a very nice, gentle tone of voice, “Say, Brad…did you put your hands on Ben when you two had this disagreement?” Then he just sort of sat there, brow furrowed in thought, saying “uh huh…..mmm…..mm hmm….” Intermittently for about 3 to 5 minutes. He couldn’t get a word in edgewise for the entire rest of the conversation, which wasn’t much longer than 10 minutes, if that. After hanging up the phone, I asked him, “What did he say?” “Well…it sounds like he’s defending himself,” He replied after a moment of thought. Most likely, Brad had told him that he had a lawyer and that he knew somehow some kind of law that said he was justified in doing what he did, and that I was probably lying because that was basically the kind of person I was and he ought to know…or some such stuff. Two weeks later, we went to the first You Can Run camp, and hung out there for the weekend. I was quite obviously depressed, though I tried to cover it up. The day after it was over, I went to the office for a ministry meeting. Note that as soon as I had left, Brad had hired Andy to do what I had been doing. Brad was preaching, and he started just absolutely raving about how everything Andy put his had to just turned to gold, and how sometimes we try to make things work and people just throw away and piss all over their opportunities, without mentioning my name of course, though everyone knew who he was talking about. I started getting red in the face, and Brad corrospondingly began railing and railing and railing on me about how I was basically an attitude problem with feet, and how if I wanted to be pissed off at him, that was fine, I could go be pissed off at him, and that was all the fruit my ministry would ever bear was me being pissed off at him. As soon as the meeting was over, I left in a hurry and didn’t come back for a year.
I need to remember who I am. I have the mind of Christ. I am a son of God, and behold what manner of love is bestowed upon us that He calls us by such a privileged title! My relation to God is not based on what I have done, but on His love. His only begotten Son, Jesus, sacrificed Himself and received all the full punishment of God for the sins of the world in their entirety. He did this for every man, woman and child that had ever lived, and for every one of them yet to be born. That includes me. I am not exempt from God’s created human race. Jesus paid for my sins, too, and that means that, since I believe it, I am no longer under any condemnation whatsoever for any sin, past present or future, for when God looks upon me, He sees not Ben Wolf, but Jesus Christ of Nazareth, His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased. I have the full power of God at my disposal to minister to the world and to the Church as Christ did, because Christ is in me, the hope of Glory. I feel Him radiating from the inside out of me, and washing away every spot and blemish, conforming me to His likeness, perfect and sinless. I therefore harbor nothing ill towards anyone. I am not like the servant who, being forgiven a great debt, proceeds to throttle his brother who owes him a penny. I see others as Christ sees them, as someone whose potential is so incredible that they are worth dying the most intense and horrifying death to save. It is not my will that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of everlasting life, because this is the will of God who lives inside of me. Thank You, God, for this unspeakable gift. Thank You.
The really hard part is to remain in a state of concentration on who I am in Christ and continue to consciously act out of that place in the midst of a real trial. I need to get a job. Jessi has been working solo for the past month and a half, providing for the family, and I am feeling a lot of condemnation about it, because I am the man, and I am supposed to be the one doing that. But, I also am scared that if I get a job, I won’t be able to be flexible enough with my time to be doing stuff at church as much as I have, and far worse than this are the flashbacks I keep having of when I was in the Ministry, and working for a job, and kept feeling condemned because there would always be a lot of preaching about how things in the Ministry were just getting bigger and bigger, and those whose hearts were God’s were going to step out and those whose hearts were their own were going to stay walking in the natural, in Egypt, as it was called if you were employed anywhere except the Ministry. This wasn’t as overtly admitted as I make it sound here, but there is not a person who has been close with the Ministry for any amount of time who, if they are completely honest, will tell you that they never received this distinct impression. And some things have been coming up in church recently that really remind me of the way I felt in the Ministry, sort of an uncertain, uneasy feeling that something big was going to happen, or gradually happen, and I just wasn’t going to make it. Especially now that I’ve twice now been burned by stepping out in faith and trusting God for our finances. I feel like what’s going to happen if I get a job is I’m going to end up running around like a chicken with my head cut off, not being able to make it to church as much as I would like, and end up missing it. I feel like if I don’t get a job though, it’s just…well, a disgrace. I know the cliché Christian thing to do is just ‘bring it before the Lord’ and see what He says, but I’ve never been able to do that with anything. Whenever I’ve asked the Lord what I’m supposed to do in any situation that I have any amount of stress or anxiety over, I’ve never gotten an answer or even any kind of impression at all. It’s like I can’t see through my own thoughts to discern what He’s saying when it’s something that there’s a lot of stress or concern over, and how my family is going to be provided for is definitely an area of huge concern for me.
Recently I’ve been getting knocked around quite a bit in my mind. It’s like things are trying to make me question what I’m discovering now about Christ in me, the terms of the new Covenant, the purpose of the old one, and so on and so forth. I heard a Christian radio talk guy parroting Ray’s teaching about the purpose of the Law in evangelism yesterday and hearing the old scriptural basis for it argued again kind of threw me for a loop…Writing about all this stuff that happened in the past, how things used to be back in the Ministry…So anyways, I’ve really noticed that whereas before when doubts and fears would buffet me like this, it would be a fairly simple feat for the enemy to capsize me and leave me floundering amidst waves of fear and shame, but now it’s like, even though the winds and waves still disturb and even torment me, that anchor of the soul, the hope and faith in Jesus Christ which is sure and steadfast, doesn’t permit me to be removed from the place I have discovered that I have in Him, and from the things I’m learning about Him. The picture I got of it was of a buoy being tossed by waves in the ocean. Though the winds of doctrine may toss and turn the Christian who is beginning to mature in his faith, he realizes that he is rooted and grounded by that anchor, which is more than sufficient to keep his soul from being lost. When he was a child, the turbulence disturbed and vexed him and even deceived him for times and seasons, so that he was unsure whether he was still in the right place on the water, whether his soul was safe or no, and indeed for long periods he believed himself to be lost, that the winds and the waves had certainly gotten the best of him. But as he, through the providence and grace of God, was given to learn more about the nature of his situation, he began to understand that the thing which kept him in place, in the favor and salvation of God, was not his own ability to master the anger of the sea upon which he was sailing, but the anchor that fastened him firmly in place and allowed him to travel no further than permitted by its own weight. It is Jesus Christ who keeps my soul from falling, it is He who decides whether I live or die, not my own intelligence or stupidity. The bottom line of what I am learning is that salvation is a gift. It is free. It cannot be purchased at any price, but only distributed without charge to as many as believe. We cannot hold onto it by our works, but only by that which it took to gain it in the first place, our belief. It is not even so much my belief as I understand it that obtains this gift, as it is my belief which is required to become and remain conscious of the fact that God has bestowed me with this gift. I asked for it, He gave it to me, now the most crucial battle for me is not to maintain ownership of this gift, but to maintain my faith and trust in the Giver, to rely upon Him to fulfill those promises which He has made to me. To doubt the honesty of so gracious and magnificent a benefactor is truly the only crime I need truly fear the results of. I maintain holiness out of gratitude and pure exhilaration, not out of debt and drudgery. I love God because He first loved me, not because I am anyone special or possess more merit than anyone else. To him that worketh, it is no more of grace but of works; therefore I choose not to frustrate the grace of God by placing credit for one smidgen of my salvation with my own accomplishments, faithfulness, holiness, efficiency, or any other attribute which may, in a carnal mindset, make me more pleasing to God and useful to His purposes. I choose to lay my trust completely in Christ, not on any piece of myself or what I have done or can do or make ready to do.
I can only imagine that these are attacks of the enemy on my soul, sent to knock me off course and doubt what God is showing me now. It seems that everywhere I look, even the Word, I find what appear to my natural mind to be exhortation to secure eternal salvation by works of righteousness, and not by relying upon the finished work of the cross. I am also persuaded by these same exhortations to believe that my salvation is not secure unless I am walking in righteousness, that sin will cause Christ’s redemptive work in my soul to be made of no effect. This is in line with the teachings that led me to the brink of madness, not with what the Spirit of God is renewing my mind with these days. Either salvation is by my works, or it is by Christ’s. If salvation by my own works were possible, Christ’s death would not have needed to take place. It would have been the greatest waste of time in history. But it did take place, and not needlessly. I am rather persuaded, by God’s Spirit which testifies with my spirit, that I am justified by the grace of God, through the sacrifice of Jesus, and that the righteousness of my Spirit has nothing at all to do with my works, but that it has everything to do with the righteousness of Christ, the pure holiness of God, accounted to it by faith, as it says in Romans 3, the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ.
God, I am nothing without You. You picked me out of the world, a hardened sinner who did not even believe in You. You have indeed performed an indescribable miracle even in where You have brought me from. I had absolutely not one speck of anything righteous or holy or even admirable in the slightest to offer in the service of any earthly authority, let alone supreme Divine Authority, yet You, in Your infinitely vast and unimaginable mercy, deliberately chose to call me into Your Kingdom. You had no reason, save pity, to do this. Well, Lord, you called me when I was nothing, and here I am again, as nothing once more. I confess before You this moment that I am absolutely nothing more than I was when you called me. All my accomplishments, ministry, study of your Word, and feats of holiness have added up to make me less than I was to begin with, in that I trusted in them to provide me with merit that could earn from You that which can only be received from You as a free gift. Lord, I know what You have begun in me now though, and it is a work of true grace. You are teaching me to rely on You and You alone for that which matters first and foremost; my communion with You. You have taught me straight from Your Spirit of the things regarding the mystery of faith, and if I could have one thing from You, Lord, I ask that You allow me to be fully steadfast in this understanding, that You would not allow me to be driven with the wind and tossed by the buffeting of these foul temptations. Lord, let me be strong in the faith of Your Son, Jesus Christ, and let me enjoy the Presence of Your Spirit ever with me, communing with my soul every second of every minute of every day. Lord, I would say, “I’ll do anything,” but I know better than to boast of a dedication that comes only by Your grace, and regardless of this, my acts of holiness and righteousness are as filthy rags in Your sight, certainly no worthy price for such a prize of limitless value as that which I ask. Lord, only let me have unbroken communion with You and I will be eternally content, and ever at Your service with joy and thanksgiving. And now I hear You clearly tell me that what I ask is ever free for the taking, and that any man may have as much of it as he wants. You wish me to have it worse than I wish to possess it, and my asking for it is absurdly foolish, as it is that very gift which Your Word exhorts every man living to count as the most priceless treasure in all the universe, and to ‘sell all’ to gain freely. I understand now that this speaks not on the wise of physical and emotional debasement, and an actual sacrificing of all as an act of holiness with which to procure Your gift, but that it merely speaks to the heart of a man, that if anything be of greater value to the soul than the Lord Jesus Christ, and what He has provided for it, then that thing must be got over, and got through, by any means, and the affections and the desire, and most importantly, most importantly, the trust must be placed wholly in and on that blessed Provision, for only then will the light of the Truth break through and illuminate the mind and the senses as to what has been done, and only with this realization can anything be accomplished for the soul itself, and by extension, for those whom that soul is called to minister to.
The more I continue in this new understanding, the more I am becoming convinced that my standing with God is not in any way secured by my own performance, or lost by my lack thereof, but is secured solely by the sacrifice of Christ, and procured to my understanding by my acknowledging and accepting this with my whole heart. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to put my finger on exactly what it is necessary for me, on my part, to do in order to be saved. There seems to be a good deal of residual doctrine in my mind from the old covenant understanding I used to have, and it’s like I keep trying to understand those places in the New Testament where believers are, according to my old understanding of things, exhorted to holy living for the pure and simple reason that if they do not live in such a way, they will not be saved; but that’s works, and does not harmonize with the understanding the Lord has given me. But the context in which these exhortations are given seems to imply some greater consequence for failure to observe them than merely giving the devil authority over areas of your life. This may, however, simply be my interpretation of them, and this due to the to my past. So, then, why are we exhorted to obey God in such a threatening manner, if our salvation is not made a reality by obedience, but by the obedience of Another, which obedience has already been accomplished? The way I would reconcile this grace versus works juggling in my mind, in the past, was to reason that the true believer no longer desires to disobey, and so obeys because it is the natural thing to do. This does not work, though, in context with Paul’s statements in Romans, where he three times addresses the question that he feels it must be necessary to address, of why we should not live in sin, since we are not justified by holiness or damned by disobedience under the conditions of the covenant of grace. The way it seems to me, it is like the believer, once he has escaped the corruption of the world and the damnation of his soul through faith in Christ, is incapable of being damned, save through the deliberate, and continuous rejection of this very grace. But it then follows that the only way to reject grace is not through the practicing of sin, as grace is, by nature, the pardoning of sin and accepting the sinner, or as the Bible states it, ‘Christ who justifies the ungodly,’ but through the rejecting free grace as the means of our righteousness, strength, and favor with God, and going about to procure these things by our own works of holiness. But this may be too intellectualized, and not simple enough to make Bible sense. Lord, please untie this knot in my mind.