Dear friends, this article is the testimony of my life and things I have learned over the last 55 years of pursuing God in my life, but most of it has been Him pursuing me! So please bear with me if it is a bit long. I pray that some of the things I share here speak to that longing deep within your hearts placed there by our heavenly Father. My body and eyes are starting to fail, but the eyes of my heart that is in Christ are brighter than ever.
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, unto a land that I will show you: And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing: (Gen 12:1-2, KJ2000 – emphasis added)
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14, KJ2000)
When God puts His call on our lives, like Abram [Abraham], we are called on a journey away from all that the world has used to hold us captive and unto everything God has for us as His sons and daughters. Oh, what a grip that loyalty to country and family traditions can have on us and it gets in the way of obeying His still small voice at every turn. Like Peter said to the Sanhedrin, “Where it is better to obey God or obey man, you be the judge.” As we obey Him even the wills of our close family members will seek preeminence over His will for us.
God uses many things in our lives to teach us and keep us moving on the path He has set before us. For many years I was oblivious to the fact that He was moving in my life or was even interested in me as a person. I figured He was much too busy with more important things to spend time thinking about me. I saw religion as a fixed institution and God was “fixed” in it as well. I was born into Catholicism, spent years in Catholic schools, became an altar boy while in grade school, and got more attention from nuns and priests than I wanted.
My Father came home from WW2 with his lower left leg missing because he stepped on a land mine. He was a Sargent in the army in France and he ran the house like a military boot camp. Showing emotion was not acceptable; my mom was an emotional wreck and so was one of my sisters. Children were to be seen and not heard and his belt was always at the ready. Positive affirmations from him were rare.
I never fit in well with most of my classmates and was often singled out for rejection and even mocked from time to time by my teachers. Does any of this sound familiar? I left home as soon as I graduated from high school (dropping out before I got my diploma was NOT acceptable since my dad was a school teacher). After high school ended I spent four years in the US Navy. I was put on the first aircraft carrier heading to the South China Sea right after “The Gulf of Tonkin Incident” in 1964, the real beginning of the war against North Vietnam though we had a military presence there years before that. I did a record three cruises in the next three years when most men I knew only had one or two. I was totally burned-out by the end from working numerous shifts around the clock because of a lack of people with the technical skills I was trained for. Like many Vietnam War vets, I came home totally disillusioned with the US government and my country as a whole.
Photo of the USS Hancock CVA-19, my home for many months off of North Vietnam
Between cruises I met my dear wife, Dorothy. We figured out that we had three months together in our first year of marriage, and those were interrupted by many separations by the dictates of my service. This is not a good way to start a marriage. When I joined the navy I was all “God and country,” but by the time I got out I was angry at the way that war was being mishandled by politicians back home, bitter about all the misuse of power, and disillusioned with American society at almost every level.
It was in this state of mind that God started to draw me so that I would eventually come to know Him as my Father and Jesus as my Savior. Soon the Holy Spirit was after me like the “Hound of Heaven” that He has often been called. I found out after I surrendered that my wife, her mother and my paternal grandparents were all praying I would come to Christ. I got pretty miserable until I finally released control of my life to God and surrendered to Jesus as my Lord. He just let me stew in my own juices until I was sick and tired of being ME! A year and a half after I got out of the navy, I invited the pastor of a small Bible church in the neighborhood to come over and he explained what the scriptures say about salvation and our status as sinners until we repent and say “the sinner’s prayer.”
He did all that, but it didn’t take because I was still holding back for myself those things in my life that I saw as “good.” I remember telling him I didn’t want to end up in a stew pot on a mission field and I wasn’t sure I could trust God with control of my life, but I prayed with him anyway. During the next 26 months things went from bad to worse. I later found out that God is not satisfied with a partial surrender because He knows that HIS will for us is perfect. During this time I didn’t make life easy for my wife and kids while I “kicked against the goad” of God. He was not about to be bought-off with a half way surrender from me. As my brother George Davis has said many times, “Our heavenly Father has this problem–He thinks HE is God!” Like most war vets, I came home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yet, God was using all these events in my life to get me to let go and to grow me up into one of His sons.
Trying to be a “good Christian” without the Holy Spirit only brought more failure in my life. In the spring of 1970 I came home from work mad, as was normal for me. Each night I sat alone in the living room and stared at the wall as I moldered over what my life had become. One night after I ate alone, Dorothy came in and said, “Michael, I don’t know how much longer I can live with you like this. This hate inside you is killing me and killing the kids.” That got me feeling totally hopeless and helpless. The following three months were the closest I came to committing suicide as the devil whispered in my ear, “Why don’t you do your family and the whole world a favor and just end it!” I wanted to change, but how? Hadn’t I already given God a chance by being a Catholic and trying Protestantism? I tried different things of this world and nothing brought any lasting happiness. God was what I was still missing.
Romans chapter eight says, “If any man has not the Spirit of God he is none of His.” That old pastor that took me through the salvation passages in the New Testament but forgot to tell me that my initial salvation wouldn’t be complete until I was filled with the Spirit of God. We all know John 3:16 but we often miss its meaning for before this Jesus said to Nicodemus,
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”(John 3:5&6, KJ2000)
Trying to keep the laws in the Bible and do everything required to be a good church member without the Holy Spirit was futile and so was trying to be a good husband and father! This was no different than when I was trying to be “good Catholic!” It was like running around in my car on an empty tank, never knowing when my car would fail me. But I soon found out that life in the Spirit is like a car with the tank topped off every day. He is the power in our life of salvation (see Acts 1:8 and1 Peter 1:5). Before Jesus was only my “co-pilot.” Now HE is the Driver and His Spirit is like the GPS app on our smart phone giving the directions. This way we can rest in what they are doing and be along for the ride. This is what it means to enter into God’s rest. Yes, we are given certain things to do as obedient His servants and even these are to be done as we rest in Him. Like Jesus told the disciples, “The flesh (that which comes from our minds, self wills and emotions) profits nothing.”
The Law and sin consciousness have their place in the plan of God for our lives, but things change after we are born of the Spirit of God. Paul wrote,
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture has consigned all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Therefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:21-26, KJ2000)
I can now see that all the things in my life, both good and evil, were there to bring me to faith in Jesus Christ and no longer depend on my ability to run it without His leading.
Copenhagen Denmark with its many church steeples – Unsplash
Once I gave Jesus authority to lead me, my search for what pleases Him began in earnest. I attended many different churches and Christian groups in that search, always looking for true fellowship with other believers. It’s not that any of them were lacking in what God was trying to teach me during that time, but they could each only go so far. Each of them became a steppingstone along the way on the path into the Kingdom of God. Many of the exits I had to make were not cordial. Institutions don’t like it when you leave. They all like to think that everything you need is under their roof in their system, so people that you once thought were your friends cut you off when you move on. Sad to say, shunning seems to be one of “sacraments” of Christendom.
After many years in this process, I cried out, “God! I don’t fit! I just don’t FIT!” He replied “YOU aren’t supposed to fit!” I then said, “But God, am I not a Christian?” and He assured me that I was. I then said, “Then what are all these people that I’ve had to leave behind?” SILENCE. The following passage kind of explains the answer to my question. Jesus was talking to Peter about the call of Christ in his life when He said,
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, When you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you would: but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall dress you, and carry you where you would not.” This spoke he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said unto him, “Follow me.” Then Peter, turning about, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved [the apostle John] following… Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” Jesus said unto him, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you? you follow me.” (John 21:18-22, KJ2000)
Jesus is our Shepherd and HE leads us. As He told Peter in the above passage, there are places and circumstances in our lives we wouldn’t have chosen on our own. When we were young we made our own choices. But we learn that even our best laid plans can blow up in our faces. He lets this happen to get us to the place where we no longer trust our choices without Him leading. He even binds up our natural strengths and abilities so that His Spirit can take us to places in life we would never have gone. This happened to Peter when he saw a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven with all manner of non-kosher animals on it. He heard God say, “Kill and eat,” but He answered “Not so, Lord.” This conflict was because of his Jewish idea of what God would never ask Him to do, but God wanted him to lead a Gentile to Christ and even eat with him! Sooner or later, God will do the same with us if our preconceived religious ideas get in the way. The question is, will we be like the Jews and make the commands of God in our lives of no effect by the keeping of our traditional religious ideas? If we walk by the Spirit, we are no longer under the law. Peter was known even later for “fleeing the very appearance of evil” when it came to eating with the Gentile believes and Paul had to rebuke him to his face, but he finally caught on.
For from his [Jesus’] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16-17, ESV2011)
Discipleship in the “school of Christ” is not like a cheap ball cap where “one size fits all.” We all have our own walk designed by our Father who knows exactly what we need and what He requires of us. In Romans we read,
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom 14:4, ESV2011)
Stage Light CGI Lighting Equipment – Unsplash
I had a dream that foretold what God was doing in my life without me always knowing what it was. He never gives us the full picture ahead of time because we are called to walk by faith not knowledge. This way we have to depend on Him and not run out ahead of Him to try and make it happen in our own strength. In this dream I found myself alone on a darkened stage. Suddenly a spotlight came on and lit up a spot on the floor in front of me. So, not knowing what else to do, I stepped into the light. Then the light went out and it was totally dark again. In a few moments another spot lit up in front of me, so I stepped into it. This went on time and again until I had gone all over ending with me at the back corner of the stage where there was a short flight of stairs down to a big exit door. I pushed on the panic bar that was across the door and it opened to the outside where there was a beautiful golden field of wheat that glowed in the sun and stretched off into the distance as far as I could see. That is where the dream ended.
Faith requires obedience to God and it requires us to follow by taking one step at at a time. There is no “fast track” to becoming His mature sons and daughters. What is He really after? In John chapter 17 we can read Jesus’ final “will and testament” before He laid down His life on the cross. While with the disciples that final night He prayed:
And now come I to you [Father]; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified [set apart from the world] through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also who shall believe on [Grk. eis – into] me through their word; That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them, as you have loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me: for you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known you: but I have known you, and these have known that you have sent me. And I have declared unto them your name, and will declare it: that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:13-26, KJ2000 – emphasis added)
Jesus wants us to be where He was then and always IS, in perfect unity with our Father in heaven, so we can enjoy the fellowship He has with our Father. In so doing, we can also have perfect fellowship with others, all of us living as one body in harmony with Christ as its Head.
Which name of God did Jesus give us? “FATHER.” He referred to God as His and our Father constantly! This kind of familiarity with God is rarely found in the Old Testament. Jesus told us to pray, “Our Father…” just as He did while with them. God is His Father and in Christ, He is ours. We are His offspring (see Acts 17:28), and that happens when His Spirit comes into us. The scriptures say that Jesus is the Firstborn of many sons and daughters who are called forth into His glory.
It is in this unity with the Father and the Son that the world can see that Jesus Christ is the Messiah sent down from God to lead the way. We are called into this unity with the Father and the Son as the Holy Spirit draws us out of the world and teaches and everything we need to know for our complete salvation (see John 16-13). We are saved from ourselves and from subjection to the evil in this world. God is not through with that process until we are shining lights in this spiritually dark world as His sons and daughters. We are not called to be candles hiding under a basket, but to me set in strategic places in the house to be lights for all men to see. Without that divine Light in us, no matter how much doctrine and Bible we preach and teach, we are still darkness. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” And He said, “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness — how deep is that darkness!” (Matt 6:23, HCSB). John wrote, “In Him was Life and the Life was the light of men.” And so it is with us as His lights.
Where does Jesus lead us after we initially receive Him? The Letter to the Hebrews was written to Jews who believed in Jesus and claimed Him as their Messiah. They had started their journey following Him, but they became stagnate in their faith. They were falling back under Sabbath and law keeping instead of the freedom purchased for them on the cross. The common theme throughout this letter that they should keep going on into a greater spiritual maturity in Christ and so it is with us. Consider these verses:
Let us therefore fear, lest, although a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. (Heb 4:1, KJ2000)
Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief [Law keeping instead of depending totally on the righteousness of Christ who abides in us is not abiding in God’s rest called “faith”] (Heb 4:11, KJ2000)
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. [We are saved by His grace, not our works] (Heb 4:16, KJ2000)
Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto maturity; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, (Heb 6:1, KJ2000 – emphasis added)
And having a high priest [Jesus] over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…(Heb 10:21-22, KJ2000)
Therefore seeing we also are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily ensnare us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith… (Heb 12:1-2, KJ2000)
Let us go forth therefore unto him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. (Heb 13:13-14, KJ2000)
These all are exhortations to keep moving toward that perfect will that God has for us! We are to keep pressing in, following Jesus wherever His Spirit is leading us! It speaks of this oneness in the Book of Revelation. “…These are they who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb.”(Rev 14:4, KJ2000). This can’t happen unless we allow God to pour us out from one “vessel” to another until all that dead yeast we collect along the way is removed. Jesus said, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees…” This is what the Feast of the Unleavened Bread is all about! The Jews were instructed to search the whole house and make sure no yeast was to be found.
Dear saints, let us beware of becoming like ancient Moab in our Christian complacency. I know many Christians that are content with being “in the right denomination” instead of all that God has for them.
“Moab has been at ease from his youth and has settled on his dregs [that sludge at the bottom of bottle of cheap wine much of which is dead yeast]; he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile; so his taste remains in him, and his scent is not changed. “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I shall send to him pourers who will pour him, and empty his vessels and break his jars in pieces.” (Jer 48:11-12, ESV2011)
Winery workers treading red wine – Unsplash
After the yeast has done its job on the grape juice and converted the sugars into alcohol the wine maker lets the wine settle out so that the dead yeast and impurities settle to the bottom of the container. Then he pours the clear wine off into another container. This is done two or three times until he can see clearly through it. God does this with us if we are content to “settle on our dregs.” If we refuse to be poured from vessel to vessel, God will brake our old containers that we might get on track again with Him.
What a journey we who believe in Jesus are on! As the saying goes, “The sky is the limit!” We are called to the very throne of God to rule and reign with Christ. Yes, it is an uphill battle. The Spirit keeps drawing us forth in our spirits, showing us the next step in our journey toward full son-ship IN Christ. Like the tribes of Rubin and Gad, the flesh in us wants to settle down, camp and be happy with what is still on the east side of the Jordan, the world and all it has to offer. But we must cross over the Jordan in full flood stage with the help of God to possess all that Father has for us. HE will make a way for that happen if only we obey.
Lot and his family leaving Sodom
Jesus said, “As it was in the days of Lot, so shall it be in the coming of the Son of Man.” Some of us are like Lot and want to turn aside to that little city on our way out of Sodom as the fire falls on our old lifestyle. We escape the judgment, but never go on to that higher ground that Abraham chose as he looked for that city that has its foundations in heaven, whose Builder and Maker is God. It is so sad to see Christians sell God short in their lives. But this is the nature of the “on high calling” in the lives of so many. “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.”
If Satan can’t keep us from taking the first step in our calling to forsake this world system in which he rules, then he tries to get us to settle on some other step along the way instead of going on as Jesus leads. He wants us to “fall short of the glory of God” and in the economy of God this is called sin (see Romans 3:23). Our salvation is not complete until we share in the glory of God as His spiritual sons and daughters IN Christ. Yes, the place we are now may have been given us by God, but not to be our permanent dwelling place. It is only a step along the way in the eyes of our Father. If we decide to camp and build ourselves a new habitation around a doctrine or teaching or experience, we still have fallen short of the glory of the Father that is ours IN Jesus Christ. Like Moab our taste will remain in us instead of the taste of our Savior.
Have you ever wondered why, after finding a fellowship or church that God uses to teach and grow you closer to Him, for a season there’s suddenly a “church split” or the people become disillusioned with the leadership that is taken captive by some sin? We have had it happened time and again over the last fifty years. Or have you thought you found the right place for you, only to discover that you have matured beyond those leading and teaching the same old stuff that you experienced long ago (see Hebrews 6:1-3)? Dear saints, we are not called to be “happy campers!” We are called to be pilgrims and sojourners like Abraham, who we call “the father of faith.”
In that great “faith chapter,” Hebrews chapter eleven we read this:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Heb 11:13-16, ESV2011)
It’s a heavenly city and throne we are called to, “the city of the great King,” not those made by the hands of religious men.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb 11:8-10, ESV2011)
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Heb 13:12-14, ESV2011)
If you keep following Jesus, don’t be surprised that you become a reproach, just as Jesus was to those who presided over that Jewish system 2000 years ago. Jesus was a reproach to the leaders of the Jews because He didn’t point to them and their system as having “arrived.” In fact He said that one stone would not be left upon another until it was all torn down! Instead He said, “You Follow Me!” The Old Covenant of Moses had its purpose. All the writings of Moses and the prophets pointed to Jesus as their coming Messiah, the spotless Lamb of God that would be offered up to take away the sins of the world so that they might trust in Him when that day came. In the economy of God “when that which is perfect has come, that which is imperfect is done away with.” The New and lasting Covenant has taken the place of the Old Covenant, because all things required in the law are fulfilled in Christ (read Hebrews chapter eight).
Jesus spent most of His earthly ministry outside the city of Jerusalem in obedience to the Father, healing and ministering to the people. He went to those who were counted unworthy to worship in that temple hierarchic system. He was a friend of harlots, sinners and the tax collectors and, horror of horrors, He actually went into their homes and ate with them! This was totally forbidden under the Jewish law. Judaism had ceased to be a shining light. That city on a hill that had once been called to be a light to the Gentile world and the temple, God’s house of prayer, had become a den of thieves. The week before He was killed, Jesus went into the temple and turned over the tables of those who sold doves and livestock and those who changed Roman coins for the temple currency so it could be put in their “holy coffers.” He rebuked all of them before the people and this was the last straw! He had to go, so they plotted to have Him killed. As Jesus said, those who love Mammon cannot serve God. All this led up to Jesus’ trial and execution which Jesus foretold in the following parable.
And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not! ”But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? (Luke 20:9-17, ESV2011)
Religious men can be very treacherous, especially when they take possession of God’s vineyard as if it is their own. Jesus said that as these religious zealots did to Him, so they would do to those who followed in His footsteps.
Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:20, ESV2011)
What it comes down to is, “who are we making our shepherd?” David, who was surrounded by temple priests and often conversed with the high priest and God’s prophets, said, “The LORD is my Shepherd.” He got it! He prophesied about Jesus over and over in the Psalms he wrote, showing that He knew Jesus as His Shepherd. Never forget that Jesus is your Shepherd and the rest of them who preach for a living are only hirelings at best. He does allow men to be His “under-shepherds” when we are so spiritually weak that we can’t hear His voice, but the good ones soon teach themselves out of any need for their services as they strengthen the flock of God. As John the Baptist said,
“He must increase, but I must decrease. [He must grow more prominent; I must grow less so.]” (John 3:30, AMP)
Dear saints, LET US GO ON! Let us follow Jesus, even outside the camp if need be to that City whose Builder and Maker is God and its only Foundation is Jesus Christ. Amen
Therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a Stone, a tested Stone, a precious Cornerstone of sure foundation; he who believes (trusts in, relies on, and adheres to that Stone) will not be ashamed or give way… (Isa 28:16, AMP)
In His love for you all,