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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Which Gospel Is My Master?

***WARNING***
First, this is a long post.
Second, it is a personal post.
Third, my purpose is to tell a part of my story to help - no one in particular, but in humble worship of Christ, everyone in general.
Fourth, to some it will read as a typical conversion to Jesus story. I confess it has some of those elements, but that is why I am telling the story - because there is so much more to it! If you choose to read to the end I am confident you will understand.
Fifth, you must promise me you will read the corresponding link I show at the end of this post.
Sixth, enough with the disclosures...

Thirteen years ago, about this time of year, I was desperate. I had a plan for my life but things were so messed up. I was messed up. Even at age 24 I felt I needed to be so much more in control of my life than I was - but all these bad things kept happening to me (I reasoned). Drinking and doing drugs was the only activity that kept my dreams alive. When I drank I could "see" my grand future and my problems did not seem so insurmountable. When I drank I really was the person I wanted to be and I accessed an illusionary power inside of me that convinced me I could "make it all happen"! In the bar, as the drunken haze warmed my tongue and dulled my fear, I'd tell myself that tomorrow I'd start working on what I really wanted in life. I'd go after what's been missing all these years (I was 24).

But I had a problem thirteen years ago. The power of vision I got from drinking was turning on me. I started to see a gap between my dreams and real life. I started to notice that I was getting no where with my plan. Even though drinking was still fun I began to see it had much more power on me than I thought. Drinking was keeping me from my plan. Drinking became my enemy. I killed the intense drinking-to-get-drunk almost immediately. How? I turned to Jesus to help me. Instead of the grandiose visions produced by drinking, I saw now how belief in Jesus would not only straighten me up, but He would help me achieve my goals. I heard from others how my life would be much better if I had Jesus. I accepted that and took on a new attitude toward my goals. I never let my goals go. I still had a wonderful plan for my life and Jesus was going to help me.

For the next eight years I soaked it all up, responded to the calls of right living through Christianity, and fashioned a belief of how God works. Life was remarkably different for sure! Life was better. I no longer had problems outside of myself. I was saved! But, soon enough though I could see my attempts to achieve my life goals were still falling short. The harder I tried the more elusive were my goals. I became aware of a crisis! My whole live I've been characterized as melancholy but this crisis pinned me down into some very dark corners for roughly three years. I wrestled with despair realizing that Jesus was not helping me with my life goals. I struggled yes, but to cut to the chase, in the end I wanted to die and suicide was a logical option at the time. I faced the reality that from a young age I thought death would be better than life. Sometime, early on in my life, I committed myself to whatever it took to save myself from myself. I had remedies to my biggest problem. I thought my biggest problem was that life wasn't working the way I thought it should - there should be only happiness, achievement, and easy fixes for suffering and pain.

Another crisis entered my life. I did sincerely believe I was a Christian, chosen by God for life. But I could not act on my desire to die as there would be dire consequences. I began to realize I've always held an Ace card in the hole. If things ever got bad enough I could quit life. With this card I still retained control of my life. Oh, I've since ripped the card up and so it has no ultimate power. I still carry the card but only to keep tearing it into smaller pieces.

For the last five years I've been rethinking this gospel of Jesus - the gospel I had put together with the support of emotionally charged evangelicalism. It is a therapeutic gospel. Have I been believing the wrong gospel? Do people I know believe in the wrong gospel? NO. This is not a matter of who is really saved and who is lost (ultimately I suppose it is, but my aim is not the enter that debate with this post.) It all comes down to the matter of which gospel will master me! The therapeutic gospel can bring someone to see their need for Jesus but it has no real power to change a person's heart. The real Gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives by changing all the inclinations of the heart so that Christ is sufficient and THAT is what I am after in my life and yours.

P.S. For more understanding of the therapeutic gospel please read this article by David Powlison. Let me encourage you...you must read it and wrestle with it!

8 comments:

Coffeegirl said...

Wow...I need to print this off and chew some more. My first initial reaction is..Amen....I used to think that if I was obedient, then I'd receive a blessing. And, in my mind, blessing meant comfort, ease and health. When much of this was stripped from me (or perceived to be stripped from me), I was disillusioned. I thought suffering for a time..and suffering faithfully would mean a type of vacation of sorts from hardship. I've come to learn that God's greatest blessings are more of Him. And that's enough. (Barney's playing in the backround, so I'm a little fuzzy..)

My next struggle was..so this is it? My dad serves faithfully, gets to the end of a six year conflict in his church, finally a reprieve, retirement in his sights...more time with his children and grandchildren...and he gets cancer. This is the thanks he gets? This is the reward we all get?

In the end...my only choice is to believe. What else is there? It's either more of God Himself, or a fruitless search for more comfort and ease. Comfort and ease are far from my reach. So, I grasp for more of God because nothing else satisfies.

When Bethany was diagnosed with autism, I tried to "center" myself with the thought..at least it's not cancer. I should be thankful.

Then cancer entered the picture. And I'm leaping, crawling, grasping for a sense of stability. Where are you God?

I found that he's in the middle of cancer. And the only only only choice that there is...is to cry out to God to fill the empty places. Nothing else satisfies. So, I'm sickened at my sin, the darkness that I keep finding in the many corners of my heart. And I cry out to Jesus to shine his light and change my wicked heart.

And the new fresh realization that we are not made for this world, is renewed. We were made for eternity. So, as I spend the remaining few years here...how am I going to spend it?

Random thoughts from my heart. Thanks, Pat. This is so good to chew on......

Now...to turn off the purple dinosaur.

Pat Stream said...

coffeegirl,

Thank you! I see gospel clarity in your thought, nothing random.

I read of a sister who glorifies God in her suffering and one who repents at her own attempts to satisfy the ache that we are not truly home yet. Again, thank you for this comment! Thank you!

I've read your comment several times today - it is so quotable. My favorite is "I thought suffering for a time..and suffering faithfully would mean a type of vacation of sorts from hardship. I've come to learn that God's greatest blessings are more of Him. And that's enough." That quote is the essence of I tried to express in this post.

Carla Stream said...

Hi Pat. Hi Sheri.
This is just such good Godly stuff. I do believe that suffering brings us closer to God. That pain is redeemed and I can embrace grief with His help. There is purpose in pain. No suffering is ever wasted as I cling to him with my pinky toenails. I have tried to let go of my desire for a trouble free life.

Coffeegirl said...

It really is the heart of the gospel. And it will take all of our might to fight the battle to stay here. To keep our focus just on God and not the things falling apart around us. Actually, the things falling apart around me, make me want more of Him. (that is, when I let go of the chocolate and grasp my praise music instead..but that's a whole 'nother issue.)

Thanks for starting this, Pat. I needed these thoughts today. Very rich post indeed.

ron said...

This is blogging at its finest.

To me the main point of this is: Suffering in this life is all about what we will experience in the life to come.

Too many American churches lead people to believe that faith is all about alleviating suffering in this life. Wrong.

It is true that some people have comparatively little suffering. For that each person should be on their knees thanking God every day. But, we have to confront the teachings of Scripture which tell us that we are to have joy in our sufferings, which are sure to come in one degree or another.

Coffegirl, you are right on when you conclude that God is absent from nothing. Not cancer, depression, autism, and on and on. That is essential for any believer to understand how it can be so that we would have joy during suffering. As people try to fill in the void, if they do not fill it with God they are positioning themselves for trouble that is worse than suffering itself, which is weakened trust in God's promises.

Pat, and Coffegirl, I think that when we see each other in heaven, when I see you I will see a certain glory in your face for the suffering you experienced, and the trust you place in Jesus during that suffering.

All we can say is Maranatha! And may we endure faithfully until we are called home, or until Jesus comes knowing God is in all of it, all the time.

Pat Stream said...

ron,

Yes, one of the ideas of this post is wrongly focused thinking on suffering.

The driving thought as I wrote this post was on incorrect thinking on suffering that is supported by an incorrect understanding of the Christian gospel. Suffering doesn't make any sense at all outside of the Christian gospel.

Timotheos said...

Pat, my brother, with this post, and even better with the life that inspired it, my heart is very happy. I boast in the Lord because of this post. The depth of my joy I cannot express in a comment. But please know that I see more and more in you that I have not labored in vain, for this I rejoice. Continue to persevere, for as Paul says in Ephesians, we are to comprehend the incomprehensible love of God in Christ Jesus.

Pat Stream said...

timotheos - thanks brother. God's movement in my life through your fellowship is one of the greatest blessings in my life.

Now...its time to work my way through Chalmers' "The Expulsive Power of a new Affection"