Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Testimony and a Prescription for Success

I was raised a Catholic by a mama’s boy with little religious imagination and by his wife—my mother—an ethnic and social Jew only (who morphed along in a chameleon-like fashion to be in compliance with the dominant religious bent of my dad—as articulated strongest by his Irish Catholic mother).  My religious roots were thus most solidified in my dad’s mom, our granny “B,” as she affectionately became known to us grandchildren.  Deeply religious and ethnically Irish, she practiced her religion with a determination, dedication, and fervor that was only sometimes overbearing.   She married a strong and hard-working German immigrant, and together they raised their six children in a rigid and staunchly Catholic way.  My dad, being the youngest of the six, was both doted upon by his mother and older sisters and preyed upon by a domineering dad who bullied and indelibly subjugated my dad to the narrow and singular view of his own twisted thinking.  I would later bear the brunt of my father’s cowardice and weaknesses he repressed concerning his dysfunctional relationship with his father.
To me, my parents seemed programmed like robots; they did many things right, efficient, but mechanically.  Having come of age in the sterile 1950s, both my parents were reflexively compliant.   Both born during the years of our Great Depression and raised by poor and hard working immigrants, they obeyed the social norms taught them without questioning.  I, however, was raised in the rebellious atmosphere of the 1960’s; I was filled with introspection, questions, complaints, etc.   A visceral “WHY?” question about the meaning of life was formed at the very center of my being even before I could hardly know of anything else to think of; I could never understand servile compliance and questions without answers.  Both my parents were and are intelligent people, but so narrow and superficial in their thinking scope, that their lives never help answer anything ultimate or transcendent; in fact, their lives are part of what is behind much of the burning pain behind my question “why.”  Nevertheless, once I became a teenager—having altogether dismissed my mother as being able to potentially answer any questions about life—my alcoholic father, Catholicism, Plato, Aristotle, and all the other great thinkers I had read (and I had read tons of heady stuff)—were summarily, and in order, dismissed, each in turn, as I turned the pages of their writings, actions or merits.  Because I was young, and to eat, drink and be merry held out at least a shallow but pleasurable hope, true nihilism had not yet been reached. 
I guess some of my parent’s ways must have reached me because only a servile compliance bent could have kept me in High School until graduation day in June, 1979; I was out the door of my parent’s home, hearts, and away from their arbitrary and nonsensical rules the very next day.  I traveled south to Virginia Beach, Virginia, rented a room not three blocks from the ocean, got a job as a maintenance man’s assistance at one of the many beautiful motels dotting the beach, and proceeded—like the prodigal son—to carry out the eat, drink, and be merry lifestyle.  Before I could hardly taste or digest this large and lethal bite of the apple, however, God arrested me in my tracks.
My parents brought me up in the Catholic faith, and I had seasons of religious longings (sometimes contemplating becoming a priest); I deduced that God existed, and concluded he must be real.  But until he interjected himself  into my story (as he was about to soon) he was more like a mirage and a hope than a tangible reality; once having come, however, I never again doubted—not only his existence—but his benevolent existence.  Nevertheless, like young Samuel of old, before he knew God and his voice, he had no reference point; if Eli had not intervened and instructed him, Samuel might never have discerned the word of the Lord.  Either way, for me, my ancient door had its seal broken, and the crypt that held me in darkness and death became overwhelmed with the light of Christ as he swiftly entered in and thoroughly transformed my habitation.  But I am getting a little bit ahead of myself, because before God came inside, the devil nearly did.
One evening, after my maintenance man assistance duties were done, I was invited by one of the night desk clerks, who lived in one of the motel rooms as some sort of compensation for his work, into his room for some drinks and partying with both him and his girlfriend.  As the night wore on and we began to converse more and more freely, his girlfriend began to speak of transcendental meditation, astral projection, Edgar Cayce, and other pseudo-spiritual new age philosophies and phenomenon.  For the first time in my young life “I felt something;” I knew it was real, spiritually real, but not necessarily righteous.  There was something ominous and sinister about it, but the realness of it, the power behind it was compelling and it began to woo me.  It was in this state of contemplation—while drinking plenty of beer one warm summer evening out on the porch of my beach home—that I wandered off to the street to greet a new roommate who had just finished walking his dog.   The combination of liquid courage and the spooky dark powers of persuasion met at my core and freshly evoked that visceral “why?” which yet haunted my mind and soul; my ancient door began to creak open, and I was ready to invite whatever seemed real and powerful within.  In this vulnerable and vacant state—and space at the very core of my being—the devil attempted to squeeze; he kicked his hoof and tried to knock the spiritual wind out of me.  But this simple guy, this new roommate, with his little dog, preached a message about Jesus Christ that provoked me to the core.  Just when the door of opportunity was about to degenerate into the gate of hell, a gracious God sent his witness and allowed me to “feel” a different spiritual atmosphere (as a contrast to the “ominous and sinister” counterpart atmosphere I was feeling).  Before the devil could steal my heart and soul, before he finished kicking my ancient door in, Jesus Christ came in such power and conviction as to sweep away the devil’s refuge of lies.
I remember putting those unfinished beers aside, laying on my face and praying from my knees, weeping days and nights on end as his glory washed over me again and again.  The heavy, even metallic-like “WHY?” that was embedded at the core of my person was miraculously dislodged and dissolved, especially after God himself took me to the Scriptures for the first time.  Many are instructed (and I have instructed many new converts likewise) to read the gospel of John, but God delighted my soul and answered much when he guided me first to the book of Ecclesiastes.  My parents were right to fear God and obey his commandments, and Solomon ended his torture and his most magnificent book concluding likewise; but the increasing knowledge that brings increasing pain he spoke of, is for some of us (those like me), a necessary increase of all that comes with it.  I was a mentally tortured soul from childhood into early adulthood and even through most of my middle years; on December 28th past (2010), however, I achieved my fiftieth year upon this earth.  This year of my jubilee—I believe—is going to be one of the best years of my life, released from many chains, weights, sins, etc.  God promised me that if I bore the yoke in my youth, that my mature days would be brighter and brighter until my departure; by the Spirit of the Lord, he recently reminded me of this promise and affirmed to me that I had done my part (and would therefore be rewarded).
I was a sexual as well as an experience virgin when the Lord so graciously saved me way back in that summer of 1979.  Though I had begun to embark upon a wanton and wasted life, God came and redirected me before too much damage could occur.  The wine, women, and song that I had purposed to live for were immediately replaced with a passion for Jesus Christ.  For three years, I served the Lord with passion and dedication born of love; then he broke my heart by withdrawing from me (at least in a manifest presence way I had grown accustomed to).  However, he lulled me to sleep with a lullaby as he faded away: the softening melody accompanying Lamentations 3:22-23 (then he instructed me from verses 24-38).  I was called to be a prophet, but I needed much tempering; I was called to be wise and discerning, but I needed much aging.  The Lord told me: “It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth;” then he departed and left me in the wilderness (Lamentations 3:27, NASB).  I would like to say that I passed all of my tests quickly and excellently, but the truth is that I rarely got anything right.  In fact, I was perpetually wrong in both attitude and point; I came to feel (genuinely)—like the Apostle Paul—to be the chiefest of all sinners.  As I studied to show myself approved unto God—a workman who need not be ashamed—the darker and darker I saw myself, but the lighter and lighter God began to shine in contradistinction.
In conclusion, the Lord has been faithful to me throughout the years of my life.  He never left me, nor forsook me; but he did correct me, established me, and made me into a genuine man of God.  It has only been in the last few years of my life that I have—almost miraculously—evolved into a teacher; the black and white and harsh view of the prophet has mollified with age and wisdom.  I know it is the Lord’s doing, because I refuse to take anything on of my own volition; plus, I cannot get Scriptural statements like: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” out of my head (James 3:1, NASB).  James went on to explain that “we all stumble in many ways;” James had also said that sweet and bitter waters ought not to flow through the same spigot, but alas!—Oh wretched man that I am!  I am profoundly amazed at God’s handiwork with me; I was wrong for so long that the days when God began to demonstrate his corrective work in me, I could hardly be convinced.  I remember sitting in a home church meeting where the prophetic word was rich one evening and having a visceral-from-the-gut thought that had not even entered my brain yet.  With the innocence of a child, a thought flashed through my being that said: “I must be too difficult for God.”  I cannot explain it, except to say it somehow was not my grownup head speaking, but the scared little child inside me—at my pit.  Well, a prophetess sitting beside me simply turned and said exactly: “You are not too difficult for God.”  Needless to say, of all the prophetic words I have ever received in my life, none was—to me—more precious than this exact and penetrating word.  Of course, theologically, I knew better than to think I could be too much for an Almighty God, but to have one’s person reassured to the core goes way beyond something theologically ascertained.  Yes, I am loved by God theologically, but even more so—really. 
For the bulk of my adult years I have had the habit of daily rising and reading/studying the Scriptures for approximately 2-3 hours in the early mornings before I went to work or started my day.  Ever since I was saved (July 1979) I have had an enormous hunger for God’s Word; I do my part, and pray God does his by sending the Holy Spirit to illuminate its contents and unfold its meaning.  Of course, I am constantly praying and seeking his face above everything else, but the reading and studying functions take up most of the time while I am thus engaged each morning.  I cannot begin to adequately express the magnitude in which this has impacted my life.  Because it took years of reading/studying, weeping and praying to change me, and specifically to heal my faithlessness, I would sometimes get impatient, worldly, and temporarily lose motivation; I would consequently depart from these habits and exercises and devotion to wander out into the world and wilderness.  I was extremely faithful to these types of demands as a disciple when my heart was alive and doing well, but, unfortunately, I would, like a dog returning to its vomit, occasionally rebel and wantonly divorce myself from the love of God and his embrace.  I played the harlot for as long as several years straight on a few occasions, and whored about for a month or two on other occasions, but eventually God wrought a miracle for me of Biblical proportions.
The primary reason I love the Scriptures lies in their applicability.  God has a way of telling us sweeping stories of various characters, some like us, and some not, but all human enough and real enough to relate to on certain levels; and truth be told, the depth of those levels might go further than we imagine when God decides to teach us things about these characters from his Holy Word.  Gomer, the harlot in the book of Hosea, is one of these characters; as I was poring over the incredible details of her story I became increasingly moved and wet with tears.  I know that she is me; God is not exaggerating when he identified Israel with her, nor is he exaggerating when he does the same with me.  My nature is unstable, like water; I am unfaithful to the core.  It is a deep and tremendously sorrowful revelation, this revelation that I am an intrinsically faithless individual; “without faith it is impossible to please Him” and the combination of knowing this and being powerless to change it only compounded the sadness which overwhelmed me (Hebrews 11:6, partial, NASB).  But something wonderful happened as I read about Gomer those many years ago; God began to be tender towards her, and I came to believe he might also become tender towards me.  When I read: “I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely,” referring to the Nation of Israel as represented by Gomer, a hope began to spring eternal that God would do the same for me—that he was going to fix and restore me someday (Hosea 14:4, partial, Amplified Bible).  Sure enough, God is faithful (even when we are not) and the day came when he healed my faithlessness.  My Christian track record had been sketchy at best; I’d serve him for a season or two, then fall away.  When I was a young man and a baby Christian, however, God promised to heal that unfaithful way in me; it took years of wandering and perpetual failure and constant sorrow, but the day came when he whispered into my spirit a reminder of his promise to me those many years ago.  It has been about five years now since God healed me of a wandering and wanton heart; though I am still capable of waffling a bit, I am essentially centered—no derailing or walking away now.

When I was young in the Lord, motivated to please him in every way, undisciplined, youthful, full of superfluous energies, and idealism, I came to a conclusion about how to best serve God.  I knew I had to discipline myself and regiment certain duties whereby I might fit all of my charges within the scope of my responsibilities and within a prescribed timetable.  I concluded that all of my Christian duty fell neatly under four basic categories: prayer, Bible reading/study, witnessing/evangelism, and fellowship with other believers.  If I gave the proper attention to each of these things, I concluded, I would be able to walk with the Lord unashamed.  Thus I began to formulate a daily schedule around the responsibility I was placing upon myself to perform certain tasks that each category suggested.  Scripture commands us to pray without ceasing, thus I spread many pockets of time throughout the day and night in which to pray.  I adjusted the outline many different times throughout the years because of work schedules and life changes, but essentially and mostly, it became my habit to rise at 5AM for coffee and prayer.  At 6AM I began to read/study/meditate upon the Scriptures (I usually did this till 8AM).  If I performed these two aspects well, I came to realize that I did not have to formalize periods of time to witness/evangelize and fellowship; because they naturally flow from a lively Christianity (that prayer and Bible study ensures) they were getting accomplished without being formally scheduled.  Thus, I kept it simple and I grew tremendously during the many years I adhered to this schedule and these disciplines.