Sunday, October 31, 2010

(October 31) What Faith in Christ can do in a world without answers

Its hard to explain to people who are not “born again” what it means for someone who walks with God what its like, when they ask me things like “has it been hard since your wife died or you miss your wife now but time is the great healer?” The answer for those of you like myself that are “born again” the answer is both yes & no. As believers God doesn’t spare us the feeling of loss or grief but in fact uses these opportunities on our behalf to demonstrate the great power and strength of Gods grace in our greatest moments of suffering and weakness. Its like nothing the world can offer and is truly felt and supernatural, like spiritual rain that passes right into our souls. St Paul wrote about it in the scriptures while a prisoner of the Romans…

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I Paul will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

From the world’s perspective and those that don’t know God what Paul is saying sounds harsh only because the world cannot see Gods purpose and will for man, they only feel and are focused on their personal loss in this life, never truly considering that there is an existence far greater. For born again believers the whole aspect of death, loss and grieving is overshadowed by the spiritual reality of what happens here on earth cannot be compared to what we know awaits us in heaven. This becomes crystal clear for believers who have faith and believe God, who in turn gives birth to our spirit which was dead and reveals to us the truth about Gods love for all man kind and His eternal plan, a plan of salvation and everlasting life for us and anyone else who joins with Him through faith in His son Jesus the Christ. As our relationship with God grows He opens our blind spiritual eyes for the first time to the truth and meaning of His living word, giving us glimpses of the spiritual world through visions, dreams, miracles, and direct spiritual access to the throne of God and direct communication with God himself . You see before being born again of the spirit you are spiritually dead and will die in your sins along with your body if you simply chose to be apathetic about this "good news" or "The Way" as early Christians called it. But if we take that step of faith and believe God, acknowledge his son Jesus Christ as Lord and savior of our life, we are spiritually born again and the Holy Spirit takes up residence inside of us and we have access to God, and we perceive and understand that heaven is all around us and receive a great peace that passes all understanding.

When Jesus was asked when the kingdom of God would come, He replied to them by saying, The kingdom of God does not come with signs to be observed or with visible display, Nor will people say, Look! Here it is! or, See, it is there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you in your hearts and among you surrounding you.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, God declares, that I will pour out of My Spirit upon all mankind, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy telling forth the divine counsels and your young men shall see visions, divinely granted appearances, and your old men shall dream, divinely suggested dreams. Yes, and on My menservants also and on My maidservants in those days I will pour out of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy telling forth the divine counsels and predicting future events pertaining especially to God's kingdom. (Luke 17: 20-24; Acts 2: 17-18)

So you see there is a very real and tangible spiritual world that belongs to God, separate and yet all around us that most cannot see or feel. As born again Christians we have access to that world and even the throne of God. Up until my wife’s death I though I had experienced as many visions awake and asleep
spiritually a person could hope for in this lifetime.

I witnessed my own miraculous healing when I was 6 years old in a hospital room dieing from double pneumonia when the presence of a kind figure appeared and stood one night at my crib-side and who’s silhouette I could only see in the dark against the children's ward hospital window which was lit up from the street lights below. I remember he called me to come and stand from under my oxygen tent at the head of my crib and when I did he kindly asked me if I wanted go and I said yes with my mother. So he told me to lay back down and the next morning I woke up very early feeling fine and was playing with my toys at the end of my crib standing, and when the nurse walked in the ward and turned on the lights she took a look at me standing in my crib and started leaving and calling for the doctor. Everyone was amazed but mostly my mother as I recall was emotional about the whole thing. At that time no one knew who the man was I described only that he was kind and I was not afraid.

I believe it was the age of 7 when I witnessed two powerful demons who repeatedly visited my bedside while taking a daytime nap in my oldest sisters room. At the time I didn’t know they were demons only that they were two gray powerful figures that had the power to paralyze and had faces and a body shaped like a human but they looked nothing like a humans. One was tall and thin and seemed to be the one doing everything, the other figure was short and stumpy and seemed to just assist. They did not touch or do anything to me physically but they did paralyze me from screaming or calling out as the tall gray figure whispered something over me and the words seemed to affect me inside like I my body was slowly being taken over. Just about that time my mother crossed the hallway as the room door was left open and I could see her but could not call out but was trying to scream. She looked down the hall at me and asked me a question as she could see my eyes open wide but I could not answer. She called again and finally came beside from where the two figures had suddenly vanished. At this point my mother had raise her voice but I could not even look in her direction and her voice sounded far off. She then grabbed me sat me up , looked me right in the face and shook me yelling. Then suddenly whatever was paralyzing me broke as if I had been given control again and I started crying. This episode started a whole series of repeated incidents at night and I was terrified to sleep alone or be alone and my was mother totally unreceptive or at odds with what to do, I believed even took me to a few doctors. I recall it was my oldest sister who later I found out had experienced a similar episode in that same room who taught me how to pray told me to pray if it happens again. So one night alone in my room that I shared with my other sister 4 yeas older then I, and who was still up in another room, the two gray figures appeared and started moving toward me whispering something and I began to become paralyzed and the room started to distort like looking through a bent mirror. I remember what my sister said and immediately started to pray and suddenly I heard a gentle but clear voice that was very much like the voice of the gentle silhouette man in the hospital when I was sick. During the time the gentle clear voice spoke, everything was clam in the room, no distortions, no feeling of being paralyzed, no figures whispering, just a very calm quiet moment in which time seemed to stand still as the voice spoke and said “At the end of your prayer to me you must count until you fall asleep and they will not visit you again”. I was still to nervous to answer and the presence of the voice was gone and the room was normal but I started praying the lords prayer followed by counting starting from 1 and I can only remember counting as far as about 30 and fell asleep. From that night on I never experienced the two figures again.

I remember when I first got saved ironically it happened while I was going to catholic school training one day a week at the age of 12 to make my confirmation. I never paid attention in class and wasn’t interested in any of the rituals and catholicism training I was supposed to learn and in fact till this day cant remember any of it only that I stood in line with everyone else to kiss the bishops ring. What did have meaning was a paperback book I was given to read called “Good News for Modern Man” which was basically a modern translation of the new testament bible. For some reason I decided to look at the illustrations and then started reading the Gospels. I had never finished reading much of anything in my life up until then except for my favorite comic books and Mad-magazine. But there in my room all alone as I started to read the Jesus's “sermon on the mount” something incredible started to happened, and the only way I can describe it was that the words of Christ actually came alive and it was as if his words just penetrated the core of my being down to my soul and I felt so wounded as if love could cause the most beautiful pain imaginable and my tears just couldn’t stop flowing even though I wasn’t crying or sobbing. That night I read all the gospels and the book of Acts. That night I prayed to God and asked forgiveness because I never knew I could experienced or understand the bible this way and Jesus Christ had actually done for me on the cross, but still didn’t understand completely why what I read was so alive and active in my hart. Then I heard the familiar gentle voice I had heard before say to me “because it is the truth and the truth has set you free." I felt so alive like I never have in my life, so confident, unafraid and so tuned in to what life was really all about as if for the first time I could see things in a whole and complete different light, and I wanted to share it with everyone, even though almost no one I knew understood. Long story short my mother made an appointment for me to see the catholic priest at our church because I was wanting to attend a evangelical church. To my surprise the Father was very kind and asked me to explain what had happened to me and what I believed and why, and to my surprise without interrupting me he aloud me to enthusiastically explained everything that had happened and what the bible truly meant and how I felt. After I finished speaking the priest just patted me on the shoulder and said “OK son, come with me” and he took me to my mother and said “there is nothing wrong with the boy or what he believes, and if he wants to attend a different church let him,” and the priest just walked away without saying another word. My mother was speechless for a moment and shaking her head drove me home asking me “what did the priest say?“ nothing I said, so then reluctantly gave me permission to attend a local evangelical baptist church. But I knew from that day on that no matter what I did or where I went Christ would always be real to me, go before me, and be there with me just like an infallible best friend that could never fail me because incredibly he was and is and always would be the creator, my best friend. Somehow I not only understood this in human terms but it was factually imprinted on my soul and could not be erased or forgotten, because the creator himself had visited me and led me to supernatural path to of "holy living waters" or in other words the Holy Spirit and I knew that I would never actually die spiritually. Almost no one that I knew in my circle of family and friends had ever heard or such experiences as this and explaining it using the bible was not received well. That is what it is like having your spirit born again by God, I was spiritually brought to life and could see, feel and experience the difference and for the first time the spiritual world and spiritual truth around me. That is about as close as I can come to explaining it in terms for those that don’t know what its like to have the creator of all things, Jesus Christ as your personal, closest, and best friend.

I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name...
(John 15:13-16)

Look! I stand at the door of your hart and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Holy Spirit and understand what he is saying… (Revelation 3:20-22)

Later in my life I joined the US Navy and I was disappointed not getting to be a dental technician when I was told I would be a weapons technician because God had a different path for me I wouldn't see until later. After barely passing 6 months of condensed Electronics, hydraulics, and gunnery school I met my closest Christian brother Sam Lamkin from Texas also slated to be a gunners mate. Sam was 6 foot 4 inches tall naturally muscular with arms like trees and with a beard which made him look like Samson out of the bible. Sam and I spent all of gunnery School together, went home to my parents home for leave together and reported aboard our first ship together, the Aircraft Carrier USS Midway CV41. I thought I had a close relationship with God, but Sam Lamkin walked hand in hand with Christ and as long as I knew him as a born again Christian I never saw him place himself in a compromising position with his faith and temptations of the world. Myself on the other hand, I was weak and had repeatedly had to go to Christ and repent for my occasional wayward desires I gave into at many an overseas port. But God was always faithful to forgive me when I repented, but Sam who never judged me and treated me like his closest brother walked with God in every port helping build orphanages and taking collection from the other brothers aboard ship to give to the poor. Sam would even ask me to give the envelope packed donations because he did not like to get the attention or thanks for doing something that was only his minimum duty to God. When it came time for promotion Sam actually turn it down because he felt God had a different calling for him after his 4 year tour. Later when Sam got out of the service and I had rejoined Sam on the way home from Yokosuka Japan stopped to pay my parents a visit to find my mother in the middle of a divorce and living alone, Sam stayed for a few weeks to re-roof our house free that was leaking water, an experience that brought my mom closer to giving her life to Christ which she did later in the evangelical church I attended with her when I returned home on leave. Sam told me his story about being led to Christ directly by the Holy Spirit when had an encounter and vision with a complete stranger while shopping, the stranger was dressed like and looked like a men but was an angel that told him his own name and everything about his own life and how it was time for him to follow Christ. Same told me the encounter was much more then just words and the fact that this person who he never met or spoke a word to knew everything about him, and that he could also feel the an extreme wonderful loving presence, a presence he would later learn was the Holy Spirit and like a veil lifted from his eyes and conscious, he gave his life to Christ, was born again, and was never the same.

As I continued my navel service in Yokosuka Japan without Sam I started attending the US Christian Serviceman’s Center in Yokohama Japan which was a bicycle ride of 18 miles each way which I made every day after getting off work at 4pm and started out back to base at 5am about an hours and a half ride each way. The difficult commute made me the most physically fit I had ever been in my life. The commute was worth it as those years living at the Christian Serviceman’s Center we simply called "The Home", a place that remolded many of my learned bad attributes by missionaries who truly knew Christ and gave their loving patience and direct truthful counseling on every problem without judment. The missionaries were Mom & Pop Sturgeon and were in their 60’s when they retired, left the USA and let by the Holy Spirit opened "The Home" with practically nothing. The Servicemen’s Home was actually run voluntarily by Christian servicemen who were willing to self-serve the center, sort of like an open kitchen policy for the whole center while Mom & pop took care of the logistics which included Christian daily devotional readings, prayers and songs, bible studies, and Sunday services. It was like heaven on earth as the love was just incredible.

One day a few of us were alone at the Christian servicemen center while mom & pop Sturgeon were out of town visiting other missionaries. There was a standing rule that when mom & pop were not home that no one was to go beyond the hallway curtain which completely covered the doorway that led to mom & pops large bedroom and that also doubled as an overflow pantry for mom or pop to fetch additional food supplies when the kitchen pantry ran out. The rule was if anything was lacking in the kitchen when mom & pop were not home, it was to be bought at the store and would be reimbursed. But for me being the 1st one up that early Japanese winter morning at 5am with no milk for cereal, I thought surly 1 gallon of milk from mom’s pantry refrigerator beyond the curtain would not be missed by anyone so I entered beyond the curtain and as I scanned the room and saw the mom’s refrigerator 20 feet away, my peripheral vision caught a figure to my far left and before I could turn my head to see who it was, an audible strong deep voice with great presence, and yet with a great benevolence said “You are not supposed to be here”. At that instant I had a great feeling of commanding presence and yet I felt no fear and no threat and I wasn’t startled which later I realized was not normal. As I looked to me left standing 8 feet away was as tall as the ceiling and larger then any doorway a beautiful man with a sword at his side not in his hands dressed in what appeared to be some sort of soldier’s armor. His face very stoic having an expression of performing a duty somehow I knew without a doubt it was a guardian angel. His next words were just “Leave now” and then I had a deep sense of urgency to leave the room and I did quite quickly only to pause back on the other side of the curtain with a great feeling of respectful aw and thankful excitement that I had actually witnessed the Lords servant telling everyone that morning what had happened. When mom & pop returned I couldn’t wait to tell them explaining that what I had to share with them was so fantastic I had to admit I had broken a major rule to explain it. Mom & pop could see my excitement and just listened and to my surprise mom and pop had no look of surprise at all and all she did was turn and point a finger at pop who was seated at the kitchen table and said “ you see! I told you God had placed an angel to watch over that open room so quite worrying about it”. To me mom just smiled and said “well George did you learn your lesson?” Oh mom I said, it was more like a blessing. I think I was floating for 2 days from that experience I could only share with my Christian brothers aboard ship about 16 of us in all who would regularly attend ship services and bible study out of 4000 men aboard the Aircraft Carrier Midway.

Since that day 34 years ago even though I had continued to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s friendship, it wasn’t until I saw the manifestation of my wife’s spirit a week after her death that I had experienced and witnessed another heavenly being presence. My wife being the most interacting, longest experienced and having the most impact on my life in a deep and positive way. But there was also a great amount of concern on her part and I believe sort of warning for me and our children's salvation, being still a choice that required both belief and faith throughout the remainder of our lives if we ever expected to be reunited (running the race & keeping the faith). Being allowed by God to see and speak to my wife left absolutely no doubt in my mind that Carol had achieved salvation by her faithful act of accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. She made it clear to me that she had experiencing the beauty and love of heaven, but also had a great unanswered concern about me and our children salvation, as if it was the only thing left to be concerned over as far as she was concerned, her tears on my shoulder confirming what I had been saying
about Christ all those years were true. Her concern for which I gave her no answer other then to tell her that our relationship with Jesus Christ and resulting salvation was our own responsibility, and that she needed return with Christ and have the promise of her tears and concerns wiped from her eyes forever. At which point she just looked at me as if she I had confirmed something she had already been told but needed to hear it from me, and then she just vanished. From that day on I never had another restless night or daytime concern over her and in fact had a great sense of peace that she was being cared and enjoying everlasting life in the most excellent way. I must admit I was even a bit envious that my wife had finished the race God had given her before me. For the first time I finally understood the story or parable that Jesus told of the "vineyard workers", becasue Carol is the perfect example of the servant who was last and became first, and myself being first so long ago am last.
Parable of the Vineyard Workers:
“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work. “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’ “The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’ “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’ “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16)

This is what St Paul meant at the end of his life when he knew he was about to die he spoke about having finished the race for the crown of salvation.

The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to Christ appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

But there was a time before St Paul was saved when he did not run the race, then known as Saul of Tarsus he was known as having persecuted, imprisoned and executed whole Christian families. But God chose Paul as an example of how God can change even the worst sinners when prayer is offered for spiritual reasons. There were allot of Christians praying for deliverance from Saul the persecutor, and God answered prayer in a way that no one had expected, which is exactly how God works.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I Paul am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him (trusts in, clings to, relies on) and receive eternal life. All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen (1 Timothy 1:15-17).

So for some the race is short like my Wife Carol who I admit I envied having spent such a short time believing, yet knowing my wife who was a confessed atheist, the act of requesting salvation and praying the prayer of salvation through Jesus Christ, took a great amount of faith. Of course just like with St Paul I have no doubt that the Holey Spirit played a tremendous role in drawing my wife to Christ at the precise moment God had intended. God was faithful not just to my prayers but so many who were praying primarily for Carol’s salvation for such a long time, and to prove it God allowed Carol to appear to me and show proof of His loving kindness in acting upon that faith. That’s what Faith can do!

Let me just close this entry by say that through all of my "born again" spiritual life Christ has proven to me that he will always be there for those that believe and that his promise of salvation is real if we continue to abide in him, finish the race, and keep the faith.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Christ will always be there for you and will keep his promise...