Like many other people, I have spent much time in abject pain brought on by those who claimed to love me. Usually what I have discovered is that their view of “love” is more like “make me be like them.” The problem there, of course, is that I am not them. I am me. Another version of this is “make me be acceptable to society.” This, of course, becomes a problem when that society is not acceptable to God.
The society that is acceptable to God is the society that accepts what God accepts, condemns what God condemns, loves what God loves, despises what God despises, walks where God walks, avoids what God says to avoid, and forgives as God forgives.
So, what society is that? Well, I’m not sure that I can point you to a particular society on this planet earth as an example of what society it is, but I can tell you what society it is not. It is not the “go-to-church-ianity” of the United States of America. It is not the “go-with-the-flow-ianity” of the western world at large. It is not the Chamberlain-esque “peace-in-our-time-ianity” of the cowards at the political helm. It is not the “do-as-we-say-or-else-ianity” of the ones who think they hold the financial puppet strings firmly in their own grasp. It is not the “my-way-or-the-highway-ianity” of those who have not the heart to see beyond their own selfish noses. It is not the “blind-your-eyes-to-pain-ianity” of those going through life without a soul. These are from Hell.
Christianity is not some easy, Bobby McFerrin spawned dreamland of “I’m OK, you’re OK, just leave me alone to sin as profligately as I want to, nicey-nicey, don’t ever speak Truth to anybody” perversion of reality. Such a thing is not Christianity.
Christianity is hard. It is facing the reality of what you are as God sees it, then repenting in an effort to be more and more like He really is. This is not easy. No one can see themselves that way without fail. We are all perverted sheep who have abandoned the ways of God to follow our own course, to live our own lives, and to wantonly pursue whatever it is that our perverse little hearts crave after. We are forever self-justifying whatever we want to pursue. The reasoning goes like this: “God will understand because He knows that I’m too weak to resist this. God must approve since He doesn’t stop me. Since God never approves sin, this cannot possibly be sin.”
Can you see the insidious nature of this reasoning? Not once have you actually asked God! Very likely, you also have never asked anyone else. This is what we call accountability, and—especially for someone like me, who has suffered as I have—it is far from easy. Accountability involves real trust on a level that one such as I can hardly imagine. Too much pain, too much betrayal; the smoke of many burned bridges to this day haunts the very nostrils of my spirit. Many, many times I have trusted, been betrayed, and the guilty party has refused to even acknowledge the existence of an offense, much less come back to me to display repentance for what they did. Bridges burned. Smoke arising. Too many times. Too many times.1
And yet, what is at the very core of Christianity if not trust? Do you see the difficulty? If you cannot trust those you can see and know, how, then, do you propose to trust God, whom you have never once laid open eyes upon, whom you can never fully know, and who is not at all like you?2
I love to see miracles because they show me the power of God, and every rare so often, I get to see one attached to my own life. There is a friend of mine who has been going through a very hard time regarding their faith, and has given me permission to tell the story of that struggle. I have anonymized and condensed it somewhat, but, largely, the words are their own:
I know that God must work through trials because I am too stupid and stubborn to learn any other way.3 Haven’t I heard my whole life about how awful and destructive sin is?
John Owen made the quote, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” It’s so very true. I’ve heard it often, but never taken it to heart like now.
I was writing to another friend of mine, trying to explain that I have been having a rough time spiritually since the beginning of the year. I started thinking about that. See, if I think hard about it (which I hadn’t up to that point) I can remember when I began to disconnect from fellowship and feel distant in prayer. It was the week I went on a missions trip. I wasn’t really in it because I was not serving God at that time.
If I think about it even more—I can remember the very hour. On the trip there I was reading a book that talks about being spotless before God. Part of becoming spotless was getting rid of past sins committed. It suggested writing them all down, offenses against God and other people, and one by one taking care of them, confessing them to God and the people they were committed against (my emphasis). Effectively, “killing” sin.4 There was one past sin that stood out to me, a wrong I had done a relative of mine. And I refused to deal with it. I had been trying to forget it for some time. My relative didn’t know about it. I told myself that no one had to know. I wouldn’t do it again. It always made me feel kind of sick when I thought about it.
Can you believe that a few months later I would be doubting the very existence of God?
It wasn’t worth it. None of it was worth it. While I had forgotten about that moment completely, I wasn’t the same.
I have confessed this sin to my relative since then, though only in a letter. We haven’t sat down and talked about it yet. I still feel wrong. I feel like there must be more. I’m praying that the Lord will show me my sin so I can kill it and be more and more useful to Him.
Though I do not feel very much at fellowship with God, I have surges of encouragement and hope that keep me going. And right in time for my next trip! I plan on bringing that book with me again and actually finishing it instead of setting it aside uncomfortably.
I am very blessed to have a friend who urges me to do the hard and difficult things. It is refreshing and convicting. Somehow you can tell me to do painful things while still reminding me that you love me. That’s wonderful. It really is.5
I realized last night that though I had told my relative, I hadn’t actually asked God for forgiveness for that sin, and it was like a burden was lifting. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” A confession once and for all that I was wrong. One reason it took me so long to deal with that sin is because I tried to believe that it wasn’t a sin. But having said it all, I was wrong. I was in sin, it was sinful, and I need forgiveness. It’s such a relief. I will be looking for opportunity to talk with my relative again, but I feel so much better. I feel restored. I feel whole. And I want to grow more.
And if they keep to that course, they will. As I wrote earlier, Christianity is not easy. You have to trust. You have to take the risk of laying your heart open, bare, and unguarded—with someone. That is so hard, for someone like me, and I ask your prayers that I will grow more in this respect. I do have something of an accountability partner, and they do love me and care very deeply about me, but they are at a distance, over the Internet, and I have not had to face them eye to eye.
Just this morning, in fact, I sent them something that was a real struggle for me to send: the most recent volume of my personal journal, so that they may more fully know my struggles, how to pray, and, if need be, how to confront.
It still stuns me that someone that I care so deeply for and hold so dearly, also loves me—and trusts me so much so that they would allow me to share their story as I have done here—publicly—in a newsletter available worldwide. I find that to be such a testimony, such an encouragement, and such a lesson for me. At the beginning of the year (God had earlier, in the spirit, asked me if I would accept or reject His gift), I had, quite nervously, placed that gift back on the altar, begging with all my spirit that what I thought the gift was would be returned to my hands. I do not yet know the answer to that, but I know this: it is all a matter of trust.
1Very largely, the perpetrators, here, have been from The Covenant Presbyterian Church in west St. Louis County, and, as yet not a single one—not one—has ever shown me an effort at repentance, the leadership also playing a role in the grievous sins wantonly committed against me.
21 John 4:20
3NOTE: while they might be a bit stubborn (and just who am I to judge?) they are far, far from stupid. Trust me on this.