Go ahead and talk about him because he makes you doubt
Because he has denied himself the things you can't live without
Laugh at him behind his back just like the others do
Remind him of what he used to be when he comes walking through.
He's the property of Jesus
Resent him to the bone
You got something better
You got a heart of stone
– Bob Dylan
– Bob Dylan
The Pressure Cooker
The world hates us and we’re instructed to hate the world. Jesus even said:
"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” - Luke 14:26.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him”. - 1John 2:15
"If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” - John 15:19
Of course, Jesus didn’t mean to despise anyone, He was dramatically saying that our love for God trumps all other relationships.
However, the opposite is often the case. Relatives will indeed despise their family member who is sold out for Jesus. Once a person becomes a child of God, all earthly relationships immediately change --sometimes for the good, when their testimony touches the heart of their kin, but sadly it is more common for loved ones to turn against the new convert.
The Epistle of James says, “Friendship with the world is enmity to God.” It isn’t referring to planet earth, but to the world system that is under the power of the god of this age: the devil. Jesus said, “If you’re not for Me, you’re against Me.” You can’t use His name as a cuss word today and then expect Him to accept your praise come Sunday morning.
New believers in the LORD Jesus Christ have been captured by their newfound love for Him. They are so excited and optimistic; it can be seen in their faces and their smiles. They just can’t shut up about Him. This is especially true if they were not raised in the church and do not have much Bible knowledge. They’re on Cloud 9, so to speak, and are just starting out on their pilgrimage to the Celestial City. They feel invincible.
When the first fiery trial comes along, they do not see it coming – like a bolt out of the blue. This is played out in a poignant way in Pilgrim’s Progress when Pliable, from Christian’s hometown of the City of Destruction, decides to go along with him. This is the famous scene when they both fall into the Slough of Despond. This trouble comes to a surprise to both of them, but they respond differently.
After struggling to extricate himself from the Slough, Pliable leaves the way in a huff saying, “Is this the happiness you have told me of all the while? If we have such ill speed at our first setting out, what may we expect betwixt this and our journey's end? May I get out again with my life; you shall possess the brave country alone!”
Christian was rescued by a man named “Help.” He got to the other side of the Slough, while Pliable turned tail for home. Along the way more trials and tribulations confront our protagonist. About half-way through the journey, as many others were running back to the comfort of their towns, Christian assured himself: “I must venture. To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life-everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward. “
This is reminiscent of a Bible passage in the Gospel of John. As many men who had been following the Master walked away because they could not understand His hard sayings, He turned to Peter and asked him if he was going to go too.
“But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” John 6:68
New converts to the faith are not always born-again believers. They may be quite sincere about their decision to become a Christian, but have not come into the Kingdom through the door of repentance. They might have simply responded to an emotional message to “try Jesus.” Or, they might have learned about the Bible growing up and see it as the “good book” and a valuable guide during troubled times. The church is just a building in the community where people are married and buried, some think.
Jesus’ parable of the Sower of the Seed gives the big picture. The seed represents the Word of God that is sown into hearts. The soil is the condition of the heart into which it is sown. The outcome of the crop depends on the fertility of the ground. In summary, Jesus said:
"The sower sows the word. And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts. These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word's sake, immediately they stumble. Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred." – Mark 4:14-20
This installment focuses on just one of the reasons people backslide and do not go to the end of the journey. The thorny ground “Christians” are just temporary ones. This is probably the most common kind of pew sitter there is – we used to call them “carnal Christians.” And sadly, today’s most popular mega-churches cater to them. It is said of them, “they have just tacked Jesus onto their worldly pursuits.”
Jesus said, “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matt 24:13) That does not mean that they can lose their salvation – it just means that they were not truly born-again in the first place. To those who miss the mark and say, “Lord, Lord, did we not do many good things in your name?” Jesus tells them, “I never knew you.”
These converts did not count the cost. They did not put self on the altar and put Jesus on the throne of their lives. They never turned the reins over to Him. They called their own shots. There was no major change in their lives after their supposed conversion. They merely gave lip-service to Jesus and found a church community center to attend where they could get an uplifting shot in the arm every Sunday.
These words from Romans, the epistle of grace, didn’t quite penetrate:
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” – Rom. 8:13-14
No Longer Cool
The first big surprise that awaits a new convert, regardless of their soil, is the reaction from family and friends when they tell them they’ve become a Christian. A typical response from these scallywags is “You’re not a Christian. I know you. You’re just going through a phase. You’ll get over it.” And an assortment of other colorful metaphors spouts from their lips.
The true saint will strive with them for a while, sharing their testimony and giving them an answer for the hope they now have in their heart. S/he might even get through to some, although some friends like Pliable will only go so far.
But the enemy of our souls will not delay in striking back, using those closest to them to inflict the most damage. He will inspire the convert’s associates to remind him/her of who they used to be. If that doesn’t work, friends will invite them to events where they are sure to get the new believer doing the things they used to do – drinking, carousing, doing drugs – whatever the old habit happens to be.
The solid saint will resist these temptations. The Holy Spirit dwelling within them will make them uncomfortable in those old familiar haunts, and they will be forced to leave. If they slip up, they’ll repent, cry out to God for strength, and keep on going. Scripture reading will help them on a daily basis as they take in the manna of His Word. They know they can run to the pages of scripture for direction. They may stumble across this one that will really speak to them:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Cor 6:9-11
The Old Me
After entering the Kingdom at the ripe old age of 28, I was in for a rude awakening. My story is not unlike so many others whose born-again experience changed them instantly – overnight even.
I was raised in the Catholic Church, but rebelled from it as a teenager. I was a child of the 60s, ran off from my home in Los Angeles County to the Bay Area. I bought the whole package: free love, drugs, and rock n’roll. I dabbled in the occult; the Ouija board was my idea of a good time. I thought I was making contact with dead people from the other side.
I excelled in the art of lying. I could come up with a humdinger of a story to extricate myself from a previous lie. I learned this early in life from sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night as a teenager. When I got caught, I had to come up with a darn good story. When caught in a lie, I just lied a little better to get out of it.
My youth was cut short when I came home pregnant and my hippy boyfriend became scarce. I had only been away for a few months and was only 17. I had to go to a home for unwed mothers to give birth to my baby girl and gave her up for adoption as a newborn.
I blocked that emotional upheaval, working all week to live it up on the weekends. I could out-cuss any sailor and was a bit of a clown – I collected dirty jokes and loved to one-up the next guy in my delivery of them. Cocaine became my recreational drug of choice in my 20s. I never did like the taste of alcohol, so I’d take a vial of coke to the nightclubs I frequented with my girlfriends. Dancing and partying was all I lived for, but deep down inside it was not a very satisfying lifestyle. I needed something to fill the spiritual void inside.
At that time, my friends would have thought me to be the least likely person to ever “turn to religion,” as they would put it. But it wasn’t religion that I was looking for. In fact, I wasn’t even thinking that deeply; I was on auto-pilot.
Everything changed when I received a book in the mail from the Book of the Month Club. I was a voracious reader – but only of fiction. In fact, horror stories and murder mysteries were my favorite genre. Real life stuff just wasn’t my bag. The book I received was called Michelle Remembers. It arrived right after reading a novel called The Entity that had left me feeling creeped out. It was a novel supposedly based on a true story about a woman living in L.A. who was being haunted nightly by a demon known as an Incubus. But Michelle Remembers was different because it was not a novel, but an eye-witness account of a young woman who was recalling, under hypnosis, her horrifying experience of being used by Satanists in their diabolical ceremonies when she was just a child.
What really got to me were the photos of her in the book. The shrink administering the hypnosis testified that whenever his client would recall those awful memories, big ugly red welts would appear upon her skin in the shape of a pitchfork or a devil’s tail – reminiscent of the character seen on the Red Devil Fireworks booths that would spring up everywhere before the Fourth of July.
In hindsight, it was not a very credible testimony – especially since the memories only came out of hypnotic induction. But that didn’t matter to me at the time. Both books convinced me of the existence of the devil – and I reasoned that there had to be a God because if there wasn’t then we’re all in deep you-know-what.
I fell back on my religious upbringing and ran out to the local Catholic bookstore and bought myself a St. Joseph’s Bible. I began reading the Psalms – they really spoke to me. I steered away from the gospels and epistles because I thought I knew what was in them from my years of growing up and them being read at the Catholic mass.
I had a practice of attending midnight mass every Christmas-Eve – a tradition I kept up with even in my unbelief. Baby Jesus in the manger had always appealed to me that time of year. But that Christmas of 1980, I did something different. I visited Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa instead. I had been somewhat familiar with It since a couple of my friends had attended at one time years before when they met in a tent. I was totally blown away by Pastor Chuck Smith’s message about Christmas. He talked about the pagan origin of December 25th and the pagan feast of Saturnalia. His candor about that was refreshing. I had never heard a sermon that admitted to any possible flaw in the system. No Catholic priest would dream of being that forthright!
I left without responding to the altar call. I held onto the bulletin though and put it in my Catholic Bible in my nightstand next to my bed. I didn’t know it then, but it would sure come in handy some seven months later at 3 am on the Fourth of July, 1981.
From Death to Life
That New Year’s Eve was rather depressing. I spent it alone due to an absent boyfriend with whom I was having an affair who kept promising he would leave his wife for me. He just couldn’t seem to get up the nerve. So he would string me along, living with me during the week and going home to her on the weekend. Looking back it must have been a fine arrangement for…let’s call him ‘Frank.’
Frank was one of my supervisors at work. At some point in time during this tainted relationship, I got pregnant. He insisted that I have an abortion but I didn’t want to. He prevailed and talked me into it – he even dropped me off at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
I was mad at him, but totally oblivious to what I had just done to my unborn baby. The personnel at the death center convinced me that I was merely wiping away a little tissue and there was as yet no form to speak of. They called it a “potential baby.”
I saw myself as the victim, and would look to the book of Psalms for comfort as I lay in bed at night feeling sorry for myself. I would run to “the book” every time some horrible self-inflicted disaster would befall me. I believed in God and thought He was on my side.
On the night before the Independence Day holiday, I was again resentful for being left alone. So I accepted a date with one of Frank’s fellow supervisors and went out drinking, dancing, and snorting coke with him. I only accepted the date, hoping to get Frank jealous. The whole thing backfired – the guy got weird on me after he got high and violently forced himself on me. I felt lucky to get home alive that night.
So at 2 a.m., after soaking in a hot tub, I reached for the Bible for comfort. As I read it, I didn’t feel comfort, I felt dirty, unclean. I blamed myself for the events of the night, knowing I brought that upon myself for trying to get back at Frank. As that thought came to me, another thought hit me between the eyes – my relationship with Frank was a sin. That hadn’t occurred to me before. Where’d that come from?
From that realization, my entire life of sin began streaming across my mind – the lies, the partying, the drugs, the hurts I caused others, the adultery, the fornication, and on and on. I sat there alone crying and sobbing over all the awful things I had done. During all those years of debauchery I had never once stopped to think about the guilt or fault that was upon me. But now, the guilt was overwhelming me.
I desperately wanted to tell God I was sorry and beg for His forgiveness. I wanted to pray, but I just didn’t know how to. I had memorized prayers as a Catholic – the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be – but none of those prayers of rote could help me now.
I found that old Calvary Chapel bulletin, almost by miracle, there was a 24-hour prayer line phone number in it. I grabbed the phone and called. A man answered and the first words out of my mouth were, “I don’t know how to pray. I want to pray, but I don’t know how. Can you help me?”
There was silence on the other end for what seemed like an eternal minute. I think the guy was stunned and was gathering his thoughts – or else I had woken him up – it was 3 in the morning. He led me to the 6th chapter of John’s gospel and told me that the so-called Lord’s prayer was not given to recite, but given to instruct us how to petition God in our own words. He ministered to me, explaining to me the free gift of salvation and led me in a sinner’s prayer. I thanked him, and as I hung up the phone, I felt the weight of all the guilt lift right off me. It was tangible! And I immediately just knew how to pray. I had a heart-to-heart talk with Jesus and my words flowed with praise and thanksgiving and I promised Him I would always follow Him and learn to please Him. My entire life had just made a 180 degree turn. The Bible I had been reading on and off for seven months, now came alive. One revelation after another jumped off the pages as I read it with new understanding. It changed from an interesting book to the living words of Almighty God, my Savior!
Commencement of Hostilities
The first person I called the next day was my mom. At first she was delighted to hear that I had found Jesus. She thought that meant I would return to the Catholic Church. When she realized that was not the case, she expressed her disappointment. My dad, who was a convert to Catholicism, wanted to discuss our differences, but those discussions usually turned into heated arguments. Others in the family began to resent me because I was disturbing the peace when we would all come together for family gatherings.
Things weren’t much better in my circle of friends. We used to get together at Gilbert’s house every weekend to play board games and laugh and act stupid together. My best friend Liz was a psychology major and she was the Risk champion. The next time we all got together after my born-again experience, I was shocked at Gilbert’s hostility to me. The first words out of his mouth were, “so you’ve taken sides with the enemy.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Christianity is against me; the Bible teaches that I’m going to hell for being a homosexual.” I told him I didn’t know that. He kept shouting one threatening question after another in my face, but I didn’t know the Bible well enough to answer them. Then he stormed out of the living room and walked back in and tossed me a book. “Read this,” he said. “You can take it home.” The book was called, “Contradictions in the Bible.” I put it down and said, “Gilbert, I’m not going to read this. I just started to read the Bible and I know that it is true. This book will only confuse me.” At that, I was asked to leave and not come back.
Liz tried to be more open to me and we continued to visit each other. We loved getting together just to play Scrabble and feast on munchies over at her house. She did not want me talking about it – just acted as if she was not offended, but just not interested. Liz loved dancing and nightclubbing. She was quite the lush. I would no longer go with her to clubs, so our friendship sorta soured. The last time I saw her, I got her to go with me to hear the late Walter Martin speak at Melodyland in Anaheim. He spoke against secular humanism and she was most offended. She told me that she was a humanist and he was wrong in criticizing it. I told her that maybe he meant something different by the term – to which she rolled her eyes and almost screamed at me, “No he did not.” That ended our friendship – and it had been a close one.
Of course, one of my first calls to action after committing my life to Christ was to tell Frank to stop calling me. I told him how Jesus had saved me and I was going to follow Him and I was shocked at his harsh reaction. I so much wanted him to receive the Gospel, and I gave it to him in the best way I knew how. His response? “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” The tragedy in Jonestown was still fresh in the public eye. Frank wasn’t the only person to make that wisecrack to me.
What followed at work was similar. I won’t go into the long story here. But it didn’t take long for me to wind up at the Unemployment office. Coming to Jesus had cost me my family relations, my friends, my job, and then my condo – out of work, I could no longer make the mortgage payments. I was forced to sell my house. I was literally stripped of every area of my life and had to start over from scratch. I did not know a single Christian nearby that I could run to for solace.
The struggle to hold onto my newfound faith was only just beginning. I had lost it all – but I hung on to Jesus for dear life!