Life Changing Experiences (part VI)

On reflection, what are some of the things experience has taught me!

 

1) My introduction to the Christian faith was evangelically orthodox, but not biblically sound, making the early years more difficult than necessary, creating unreasonable expectations that could never be fulfilled.
My first step to the Christian life came through reciting “the sinner’s prayer”, asking Jesus into my heart, a non-biblical practice that could give to some a false assurance of salvation. However, if done sincerely, it can become a first step to a greater, more legitimate discovery of discipleship.

A traveller doesn’t arrive in London by taking a flight to Tokyo but the desired destination can be reached later with amended directions and travel arrangements.

 

2) A Christian’s understanding of “spiritual” often isn’t very spiritual at all. Consider what motivated me to drop out of my first Personnel Management course, described in part iii of this series.

Also, for a short time after rediscovering my faith, I had regrets about my University study when I began to wish I’d gone to Bible College instead of spending three years studying writing and literature.

I gradually began to realise that those literary studies were far more beneficial than being taught what a particular church or theological group believed about the Bible. My university studies equipped me to understand the nature of communication, and how messages can be manipulated to create a desired outcome.

For someone who was very prone to assuming the unbiased integrity of people presenting a message (especially Christians), that was a very important lesson to learn. I’m now much more diligent about checking things out for myself instead of accepting things at face value. I also double check myself – am I REALLY remembering a part of scripture correctly and in accordance with its intended context? A lot of the time I find I’m not – and need to correct assumptions I’ve made.

Too often what we “remember” from scripture relates more to the context of teaching we’ve heard than its actual BIBLICAL context. At one time I had an impressive arsenal of memorised proof texts to back up my beliefs. Later I realised that MOST of them had been picked up from recorded sermons and my understanding was influenced by the context of the sermon instead of its intended context in scripture.

 

3) Inadequate, ill-considered or insincere teaching creates vulnerability that can lead someone to accept false teaching. If a teacher is careless with the content and method of teaching, their students will be equally careless.

Teachers need to take extreme care. James cautions that teachers will receive a stricter judgement and the gospels warn of the consequences of leading people astray.

However, false teachers don’t exist in isolation. They are sustained by willing followers. Paul writes of people who aren’t interested in sound doctrine who collect and surround themselves with teachers who say what they like to hear.

Regarding both teaching and being taught we need to be sure of our personal standing.

 

4) It is essential to test all things – accept nothing at face value, no matter what its source.

Even the bible can be used to support a variety of false beliefs, that’s why so many contradictory doctrines can have an alleged scriptural foundation. We will be held accountable for the things we believe and the things we pass on to others – so we need to be sure of their truth, as well as being sure of the truth and integrity of those who pass things onto us.

When the bible is used to support a  belief or teaching, is the bible actually saying and meaning what is being claimed?

 

5) Be honest.

Don’t bend the truth in thought word or deed.

Always act and speak with integrity.

Always think and reason with integrity.

 

Always demand integrity from your chosen teachers.

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Life Changing Experiences (part V)

When everything you knew seems wrong (mostly)

Middle-age.

Back on track – but not the same one.

I thought the fifteen years of spiritual crisis had rid me of the effects of appealing but dangerous teachings, but I was to find out that persistent diligence is required. That complacency is a dangerous attitude to adopt.

I re-entered the Christian world thinking I could pick up where I’d left off. Even though I quickly found that I could no longer accept teachings I’d so avidly followed in the past. Some things weren’t easy to put aside because they’d been such an integral part of what I “knew” to be Christian normality, but later were found to be the effects of questionable religious tradition.

The most recent phase includes a lot of ground I’ve gone over before on this blog, so I won’t go through it all again. But it includes experience in vastly different churches where Gloria and I saw extremes ranging between charismania (where the pastor boasted of an appearance of gold dust in the church) and a devoted adherence to Calvinism.

The journey over the past 15 years hasn’t been easy, but it’s been enlightening, giving me insight into the corrosive effects that traditions of various types from various eras have had on the church. The lessons I’ve learned present me with two significant options 1) to push aside any concerns and go with the flow: basically what I did in my younger Christian days, or 2) take those concerns seriously and try to address them no matter what the personal cost. As sanctimonious as that may sound, I’ve learned that the cost of going with the flow can be far worse in the long run.

Life Changing Experiences (part IV)

When there are more years behind than ahead.

Beginnings of Middle-age.

1) Faith regained! Family tragedy can have its positive points. My sister in law had terminal Leukaemia, and the impending heartbreak gave the opportunity for the gospel to enter.

My mother in law spoke to Gloria, her daughter, my wife, about the need for faith in Jesus. Gloria had grown up in a Lutheran family and had the nominal Christian identity that had once been quite common. Her mum’s words hit her hard, and through ongoing conversations the dying embers of my own faith were fanned and reignited.

2) Rebuilding begins with false starts and wrong directions. My first response was to turn the clock back, looking to my former days for guidance and a direction to take. That meant a revisiting of Kenneth Copeland ministries, subscribing to their magazine, searching out the TV show and ordering a set of CD sermons.
But those old reservations also resurfaced and I wasn’t happy with the kind of things I was reading and hearing. I’d had a fifteen year break and it had done me good, seemingly helping to scour my life of some of the doctrinal rubbish I’d accumulated in my younger days.

So where to next?

I started to contact churches in my local area, and arranged meetings with their pastors. I wanted to join a fellowship again, but wanted to make sure it was the right one for us. But every attempt seemed to hit a dead end,

The closest came with an Assemblies of God church. The pastor and his family lived just around the corner and the possibility of a developing friendship made that particular church seem appealing. We attended several midweek fellowship meetings, but soon found it had a particular obsession: church growth, increasing the numbers almost at any cost. Definitely at the cost of relationships; all contact with members of the church was focused on meetings. Going to meetings and inviting others to go to meetings…

3) The steep learning curve. Change came when I discovered internet forums, in particular one called Revival School. I joined it only a few days after it was set up and stayed around until it was finally closed. I then became involved with a few spin-off forums from former RS members.

Through Revival School I was made aware of how insular my understanding of “Christianity” was. I had basically thought that most churches believed the same things, with only minor variations, but RS had members from all kinds of backgrounds, from churches devoted to all kinds of different doctrinal viewpoints. I soon learned how little I knew, how little I understood, and how confused and contrary the church as a whole could be.

Where did I fit into it.

Life Changing Experiences (part III)

Post-Church “Life Changing Experiences”:

Mid- Adulthood.

1) My dissatisfaction spread. My spiritual unrest led to dissatisfaction in other aspects of my life. No longer having the sense of meaning and purpose I’d had as a Christian in church, I became more aware of how unhappy I was at work.

I realised how much I’d sold myself short by remaining in relatively mundane office jobs in the decade or so since leaving school.

I’d tried to change career direction a few years before by starting, but not finishing, a Personnel Management course but after a successful first year I got “all spiritual” and dropped out because classes clashed with Wednesday evening church services.

My first post-church thought after deciding for a second time that I needed to change career direction was to restart the same evening course. I did even better the second time around, but after only half a year, I dropped out again.
However there was a big difference. It wasn’t so much an abandoning of study, I’d decided to go full time, and instead of Personnel Management at a Technical College, I was going to study Creative Writing at University.

2) I became a fulltime University student.

During the first week I was officially studying for a Bachelor of Creative Arts, majoring in writing. But some of the requirements of that course weren’t to my taste. It involved elements of performance where scripts needed to be learned, and experience had shown me that memorising large chunks of text wasn’t one of my strong points.
In week two I switched to a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English literature and was still able to do all of the creative writing classes I wanted to do.

3) I graduated with a Distinction- High Distinction average. After graduation I started looking for a job, but this time I wanted something different to the admin/clerical work I’d done previously. Ultimately I wanted to be a novelist. The only ongoing ambition I could recall having, from childhood onwards, was to be a writer – hence the reason for my study path. But a living still needed to be made. A means of paying bills obtained. I sent out over a hundred applications for work with newspapers, magazines, publishers – anywhere that had something to do with writing. And I also doorknocked relevant companies after reading a recommended book about finding the ideal career.

No success. I even had one potential employer advising me to apply for work in heavy industry/manufacturing because that’s where my previous experience lay.

I eventually found work as a casual stock hand at a city department store. From there I was able to get a job with a publisher but in their accounts department. And later I found myself back in the same kind of jobs I’d left prior to going to university

Life Changing Experiences (part II)

Continuing my account of Life Changing Experiences I move on to:

Early Adulthood.

1) Became disillusioned. There seemed to be a wide gap between the Christian life I and fellow church goers were living, and what the church taught and I could see in the Bible.
I wanted more! I wanted reality not theological theory.

2) Made the leader of the youth group and given opportunities to preach at weekly church services. On reflection I didn’t preach very well, and I also managed to reduce youth fellowship numbers by around 75%. However I was able to help close the division between “competing” youth groups in the local area, increasing inter-church fellowship meetings.

3) I was introduced to Kenneth Copeland and WOF teaching. A group of friends from church had come across recorded sermons from a Kenneth Copeland conference and were sharing them around. I wasn’t impressed by the teaching they were trying to push onto me and spent many hours in vigorous discussion, until they broke through my barriers. I then became an avid follower of Copeland’s teaching, because for the first time I had a tangible understanding of faith that made it much more than the substance-less, wishful thinking it had appeared to be previously.

In addition to local church involvement I became involved with ministries in Sydney, going with Teen Challenge to preach on the streets of the red-light district, and attending events organised by Vision Ministries.

4) Difficulties arise with church leadership over WOF teaching. A growing friction with my church pastor coincided with invitations for me to preach elsewhere. Before long the door opened to move to a different church, closer to home, where I was appointed to eldership.

“Deliverance ministry” started to become a focus of my new fellowship and I was regularly called upon to assist the pastor when demons start making an appearance during counselling sessions. I witnessed some very unusual things that for a time strengthened my faith – I was finally (partly) experiencing a kind of Christian ministry that seemed more related to the biblical example than anything I’d seen before.

However the WOF situation started to cause problems again.

5) Then something happened. I’m not sure what. But suddenly nothing seemed to make sense anymore. Around that time I came across The Seduction of Christianity by Hunt and MacMahon. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I didn’t know how or why it affected the way I thought and believed, but it seemed to work on small areas of doubt I had with WOF. Those little areas that didn’t add up, but I’d been willing to ignore. [Surely one of the most dangerous things to do no matter how good the rest may seem to be, those little niggling warnings when something isn’t quite right should NOT be pushed aside].

I was thrown into confusion, stopped attending my regular church and started “shopping around”, coming across a diverse mixture of church styles and teachings that ultimately led to nothing.

6) I entered a 15 year period I now refer to as my spiritual crisis.

Life Changing Experiences (part I )

All of us are shaped by life experience, sometimes that shaping can be beneficial, other times destructive and occasionally a combination of the two.
Often the outcome we get from those experiences depends on how we choose to respond to them. Are there lessons to be learned, and are we willing to apply them?

My next posts will look at a small selection of good, bad and ugly “life changing events” that shaped me into the person I am.

Childhood and teen years.

1) Being sent to Sunday School as a child.
While the quality of teaching and activities didn’t really make me aware of the gospel, it did help give me a general belief in God, and taught me a few basic bible stories, preparing the ground for my future.

2) Being told by a friend that merely believing in the existence of God wasn’t enough. The friend had recently responded to the gospel and had started to attend a local Pentecostal church. His zeal for Jesus sowed the first gospel seeds into my life. I said “the sinner’s prayer”, but had little understanding of Christian discipleship. For a few weeks I attended a youth home fellowship but drifted away when they stopped meeting over the Christmas break.

3) Being convicted of sin. After finishing my last year of High School I visited my girlfriend whose family had earlier relocated to the other side of Australia. She took me along to a Sunday night church service and the preacher seemed to be speaking directly to me, convicting me about the sin in my life.

I was supposed to spend a whole week and a half with my girlfriend before flying home to start my first job, but on my first day she had to immediately take work she was offered out of the blue. I was therefore left alone during the daytimes in a strange city. I bought myself a bible and spent some of that time walking through riverside parks reading it. On the last day of my stay with her she lost the job.

4) Joining a church. I returned home, found a local church to attend and threw myself into every meeting they had: two Sunday services, A Monday night prayer meeting, the Wednesday evening service, Friday youth group, as well as volunteering at their outreach coffee shop on other nights. On the first night I attended I was baptised in the Holy Spirit and a couple of weeks later, baptised in water.

Ambition

I can only remember having two ambitions when I was growing up. The first was to become a Beatle.
The group’s early hit “She Loves You” was a big favourite of mine as a six year old.

The second was to be a script writer.
In the latter years of primary school I regularly wrote short scripts to be acted in class, most of which were rewritings of TV shows or films I’d recently seen. Thanks to a visiting student teacher, some of them even made it the “stage” in front of the class.

Neither of those career ambitions was fulfilled.

Sadly John, Paul George and Ringo split up before they could add me as a fifth member of their group, and my writing ambition got lost somewhere on the road of practicality.
I suppose my upbringing didn’t prepare me to take the risks that would have been needed to become a writer. I could only see a similar path as the one taken by my parents: get a secure job, get married, have a family. A writing career wouldn’t easily fit into that scenario, and more importantly, I was never disciplined enough to make it fit.

From my early 20s onwards, another complication came into my life: committed church involvement.
I even gave up a Personnel Management course at college because it clashed with mid-week church meetings
That effectively killed a career direction I could have had, but sparked a desire to be a professional minister.

While I knew I didn’t have the temperament to be a pastor, the idea of being a “professional” preacher was very appealing. Despite a long standing fear of public speaking, I loved having occasional opportunities to preach and for the first time I felt comfortable speaking to a large group.

Thankfully God pulled the rug from under my misplaced feet, with the resulting shakeup eventually leading me to recognise the gulf between my experience within the church system and a biblically compatible life of discipleship.

Now isn’t THAT is an ambition we should all have?
To live a biblically compatible life of discipleship!

When I look at what that REALLY means, it seems like the Beatles and scriptwriter paths might have been easier options – but then I need to remind myself that it’s not an ambition I, or any of us, need to face alone.
HE works WITH us.

“…work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.”

(We work out and He will work in).