I said that, regardless of how we respond to the call, we will never be the same after we hear it. If we decide to ignore the Lord, or if, after having begun to try to follow Him, we decide to stop and quit, questions like the following will haunt us for the rest of our days:
“What might have happened had I kept going? Where would I be now and what would I have learned, and become, and experienced, had I chosen to spend all of my days serving as the Lord’s faithful Covenant friend?
Many actually are in that unenviable position. For one reason or another, they turned away and decided to try to live out their allotted time on Earth apart from Him. So now, day by day, they follow their own whims, desires and opinions instead… trying to convince themselves that they’re doing fine and everything is okay. But deep in their heart of hearts, they know… it’s not okay!
And, as for those that do follow Him, at least to all outward appearances, there is a fact you will have to contend with: the whole world, even people that deny God’s existence and hate everything you say you stand for, and who hold God and His Word in contempt, will be watching you. You will be scrutinized and severely tested and cross-examined. And the living testimony you give to the world by the way you operate and the results you leave behind, will be examined and critically scrutinized. So the message you give through your personal life will, in one way or the other, directly impact the reputation and Name of our Lord. Therefore, you who do endeavor to follow the Lord will also never be the same after you’ve heard His call.
Many of those who are part of the Sin-corrupted, demon-possessed world that is all around us desperately hope that we’ll prove to be phonies that are not to be taken seriously. In that case, they will feel vindicated and justified for how they live and what they stand for. But there will be others that hope against hope that we will prove to be ‘the real deal.’ I say that especially about those who are still young and still in the process of being formed and personally developed. They are desperately searching for ‘truth’ and seeking legitimate ‘answers’ that will enable them to make critical decisions and choices concerning their future course. So they really need to arrive at some sense of truth and reality and a reliable sense of direction. They are seriously looking for what is real, and discarding anything that proves to be false. And many are being dreadfully disappointed and disillusioned because the world in which they live is riddled with falsehoods and even much of what purports to be ‘spiritual’ or, ‘religious’, is riddled with phony people and deceptive schemes and glitzy glittery noise and external glamour that, in reality, is totally devoid of true substance.
Unfortunately, people looking for answers amid the bazaar-like offerings that are offered in Judaism and in the ‘Christian Buffet’ with its mind-boggling array of ‘entrees’ from which people can ‘shop’ and ‘pick and choose’ and gratify their personal expectations, sensibilities, whims and comfort zones are also disappointed. Perhaps it’s because of their own unreal ideas and expectations; and perhaps it’s because what they examine is truly without merit. And, if our soaring suicide rate is a true indication, many people who become disillusioned feel so empty, devastated and hopeless, that they despair of ever finding something that would be real, substantial and lasting. Thus they seek to end their hopeless misery by killing themselves.
Study of Scripture Brings Truth
Beloved friends, this is a vitally important subject to all of us! And it’s very important to me. I care very deeply about it because in my early years, I was sure that I had ‘heard the Lord’s Call.’ So, I tried to respond to it in the only way I knew how to do it. At thirteen years of age, I left home for the first time and went to a preparatory seminary in another state to study to become a priest. But sadly, after thirteen years, I became disillusioned and had to turn away because what I experienced did not satisfy my need for ‘truth’ and ‘reality.’ I finally had to admit to myself that what I was doing was untrue and lacked substance. So I know how that level of disappointment and disillusionment feels. I also know what it is to feel despair and indulge in suicidal thoughts.
From childhood, I’d been bred and programmed to expect Reality and Truth to be found within the organized religion of my forefathers. But just before my classmates and I were to be ordained as priests and just as we were beginning our twelfth year of training… for the very first time, we were exposed to the study of Scripture – the Bible! But by then, I was already in my mid 20’s! And after about a year of delving into God’s written Word, I began to slip into a deep state of confusion and total bewilderment. I began to see an enormous discrepancy between what I saw and had in my personal life, and what I saw and sensed was embedded within the written Word of God! What was written was not at all like what I felt going on within me and all around me! So an enormous sense of shock and deep dissatisfaction and fear came over me. It was so overwhelming that I completely ran out of motivational fuel!
So I told my superiors about my miserable state and asked them to help me acquire the necessary dispensations from our religion’s top authority that would have returned me to the state of being a layman. But instead of helping me, my major superior told me that he was rejecting my request and refused to help me. Instead he pointed his finger at me and said that I was a ‘Judas.’
Well… that may have been true, but I knew in my heart of hearts that even though I believed I had heard the Lord’s call, I was a total misfit in the environment that presently surrounded me. That’s why I no longer had the heart or the will to continue with what I was doing. So I stopped dead in my tracks… less than a year after I had been ordained to the priesthood! Very soon after I reached the goal I had been striving to attain since boyhood, my exposure to the Scriptures tore my life (as I knew it at that time) to shreds. Nothing I was doing seemed to be real any more. Suddenly everything seemed warped, twisted and crazy. And the floor caved in beneath me… and I was forced to leave what I had waited for and pursued for so long… in total disgrace.
According to many people that I knew at the time, I was one of those traitors who walked away from the Lord. And they were right, I did walk away. I walked away from the ‘Jesus’ that I knew at that time. And it was such a painful experience, that for the next fifteen years, I did everything I could to make myself forget about Him and anything that would even remotely remind me of Him, and of the call I knew I had heard. And, dear friends, that experience turned out to be fifteen years of ‘living hell!’ I’ll never be able to adequately describe what that was like. I was haunted and tortured by the dismal realization that, instead of being the Lord’s faithful friend, I had turned out to be His treacherous enemy, just like Judas! And the pain and desolation I felt drove me to distraction. I began to do whatever I dared try, to anesthetize my soul and stop feeling what I really felt. But no matter how hard I tried to forget Him, I couldn’t. I simply could not erase the mark… that ‘brand of ownership’ that His call had permanently burned into my soul.
Total Frustration Outside of How God Created Us to Live
How I managed to get by during that time, I will never know. It was only by the grace of God. All I know is that during that time, I wasn’t really alive. I was like a zombie, one of the ‘living dead.’ I was sure that I would never be able to occupy my true God-given identity and place and purpose and destiny in this world, or the next. I would never be and do what Almighty God had designed, created, and equipped me to be and to do from that point onward. So, as long as I believed that, I lived in total frustration and had no hope of ever achieving any sense of satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment, in this world or in the world to come.
If God and His Word made flesh were not actually as real, alive and more powerfully present than a sudden bolt of lightning, I probably would not have survived. There was nothing in me or around me that could have stopped my ‘free fall.’ But the free fall eventually did stop… suddenly… and spectacularly, because He actually intervened! The Lord revealed to me that He actually is real and present… and it’s only because He intervened that I’m still moving forward into an inconceivably awesome future today… with Him! I wasn’t able to do anything about my state and condition. But He did what was necessary to rescue me from the human scrap heap.
So that’s why I believe that those who really do hear His call, and reject it, will feel pangs of misery and a sense of being misplaced. In theology, they call that the difference between being in God’s permissive will, as opposed to being in His perfect will. So what happened to me punched a gaping hole in my spiritual ‘gas tank,’ causing all of my motivational fuel to leak out. And even the idea of trying to go back to have another go at what I had just left was, to me, overwhelmingly repugnant and impossible. And, because I had been taught to believe that was the only way I could truly follow the call to the Lord’s service, it was psychologically impossible to even consider trying to ask the Lord for forgiveness and reconciliation. So, in my mind and heart, I was hopelessly lost. That’s why I played around with the idea of suicide.
But then, miracle of miracles, after somehow surviving those fifteen years of living in that hell, the Lord suddenly invaded my space! He appeared one afternoon without warning! Immediately I knew I was in His awesome blazing Presence, and it was so utterly overwhelming that it threw me to the ground, face first! And as soon as I realized that He was there with me, I couldn’t help myself. I blurted out what I had been trying to freeze and numb away and drive out of my mind for fifteen years…
“Lord… if there’s anything about this mess that I have become that You might still want… would You PLEASE take me back? If You do take me back, You can do whatever You want to me and with me. If You take me back, I’ll do anything You say!”
And He immediately responded to the cry of my heart! Suddenly it was as if I was standing beneath Victoria Falls, receiving a massive, cosmic ‘power wash’ of Acceptance and Grace. For the first time, I knew beyond the shadow of any doubt, that He is REAL, and RISEN FROM THE DEAD, and ELECTRIFYINGLY PRESENT! And He gave me His total acceptance and restored me to His fellowship and personal affectionate interaction. He embraced and enfolded me within His Perfect Presence, and I experienced first hand… what the Gospel of the God who is Love, truly is, and what it really means to the likes of us Sin-corrupted children of Adam, to be saved by His Grace through our feeble little attempt to ‘believe.’
And that day, He did something else. He imparted instantaneous freedom, freedom from the prior Darkness that had engulfed my soul for so long. The soul-numbing addiction cycles I had developed in my attempts to ‘medicate’ my tortured soul over the years were instantly broken and taken away! And from that moment forward, I never again experienced the recurring ‘You are a Judas’ nightmare that I had been experiencing several times a week since my former superior had branded that name into my brain. The Lord took it away and set me free. And it has never returned since that day.
There was nothing natural or explainable about that awesome liberation! I’m not saying that I no longer have human passions and sinful desires. They’re still there. But the power that those old addictions to sinful, self-destructive behavior had over me in the past, was completely broken on that awesome day! I had the freedom to choose once again. It was freedom to say, ‘No,’ to Sin, and ‘Yes’ to my Lord and Master! And that realization of the freedom that the Lord imparted to me by His Grace, overwhelmed me with an undeniable assurance that He never had regarded me as a Judas; nor had He ever forgotten me or changed His mind about me. His mindset and will were just as they had been when I first heard His call decades before! He hadn’t changed His mind; and that encounter was no delusion, or hallucination, or mirage. I really and truly did encounter The Ultimate Oasis! It wasn’t a place or state of mind. It was a Person… the Living Word of the Living God! And now, I am free once again to follow Him and respond wholeheartedly to His call, and do my best to keep up, as He continues to lead me into the Great Unknown.
“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of Living Water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive…”
And so beloved, that’s some of what I mean when I say that when you decide to answer His call, one way or the other, whether you do or do not follow Him, the fact remains that you will never be the same again!
“For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” (Emphasis added.)
The Lord instantly and wholeheartedly accepted me, even though I was a total mess! But even so, I later realized that there was nothing magical that happened in the non spiritual parts of my being. I was instantly regenerated in my spirit, but my soul and nervous system and human flesh were still desperately in need of a complete ‘do over.’ But I didn’t realize that at first. I had no idea of how desperately I needed to enter and go through some sort of basic boot camp disciple training. In my American religious experience, I had never been taught to think or live in terms of being a disciple in the Biblical sense. Instead of being taught to live and interact with my risen Lord, in person! I had been taught to ‘go to church’ and to study books and listen to men give endless lectures and sermons ‘about God’, and to slavishly repeat ritualistic prayers and liturgical ceremonies. So I assumed that education and organized, man-directed religiosity and ‘asking Jesus into your heart’, was all that was possible, and all that God required.
That’s because I had never even seen anyone who was truly a Spirit-led New Covenant disciple of Israel’s Messiah, in the true Biblical sense of the term. Disciples actually live and interact with their Master, day and night, as part of His personal family household! They know him intimately because their job is, eventually, to become his image and likeness! But all I knew about Him was to try to accommodate myself to the requirements put forth by the organized man-made religious system atmosphere in which my family had bred me. I knew nothing about what it means to be a disciple that would truly be worthy to bear that title. I knew nothing about the intimate, abiding “Vine and branch” kind of oneness and intimacy that the Lord actually has in mind when He tells us to follow Him.
Before the Lord came after me I was not aware of the fact that every human being needs God to regenerate his or her Sin-murdered spirit and restore them to spiritual aliveness and the ability to know and interact with the Living God. According to Scripture, that is absolutely necessary! (See John 3 for example.) None of my teachers had ever made me aware of the fact that God has to fuse our dead spirits together with His own Holy Spirit… not just theologically, but in real actual spiritual Reality and living color! Nor did I have any idea about how this could be, because even after receiving a new regenerated spirit, and being ‘in uniform’ under the full Authority of my Supreme Lord and Commander from that moment forward, my poor brain and soul would still be wired and programmed with the patterns and habits of a full blown ‘Sin-loving, worldly, self-adoring duty-exempt civilian!’ My habitual thought patterns of ‘thinking magically’ locked me into the commonly held delusional assumption that…
‘Now that the Lord has accepted me… I’m fully saved and am now ready to begin doing great things FOR God!’
I had no clue about how much still had to be done to rewire and retrain my brain and replace the habitual thought patterns and programming of my formerly radically independent humanistic soul. So I knew nothing about what it takes to ‘repent’ at the depth that would be needed to bring me into a total realignment of mind and will, so that my soul and brain would match the new Resurrection Life of God’s Word that God had recently begun to impart to my new spirit!
So, even after that stupendous reconciliation took place, those flesh-derived parts of my nervous system and soul remained just as they had always been – rebellious and radically independent, and ‘unsaved.’ My mind, will, viewpoints, affections, opinions, urges and desires remained those of someone who was still a completely self-absorbed, ‘exempt civilian!’ I was still worldly-minded and totally self-centered! And for that reason, although I was externally ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual sounding,’ I was completely unprepared for combat with the powers of Darkness because I was not yet at all equipped with the internal reconfiguration needed to truly and authentically stand and hold my God-given Ground, and reflect and embody my risen Lord and Master amid this world’s demonic Darkness!
In my ignorance, I began to try to fashion a new and improved version of the same old me on the outside… but the same old identity and habits and thought and reaction patterns I developed in the past were now hiding behind a disguise of religiosity. The same old me was still alive and kicking on the inside! So I was a disciple and friend of God in name only. The Reality in my spirit still had to be sown into my soul and brain, and I did not know it. Nevertheless, because I had asked the Lord to take me back, He knew what had to be done, and very soon, He began to do it. First, the ground into which the ‘new seed’ would be sown had to be cleared of preexisting ‘mental concrete’ and its hard underlying crust, and any rocks and weeds and alien things that still lurked beneath the surface.
In the fairy tale world of TV, movies and short stories, all of the major catastrophes, challenges and setbacks that the protagonists have to deal with are completely settled within a predictably short span of one to three hours. And in that time, there’s always that absolutely perfect ‘they lived happily ever after’ ending that takes place. But that is not how it is in real disciple life! For disciples, there is no ‘quick fix,’ no short, sweet story that is quickly and fully resolved between the commercials.
All I knew after the Lord came back to reclaim me, was that He truly had taken me back. I KNEW I was completely forgiven and reinstated in His fellowship and service. So, because my spirit was now fully alive and cleansed and restored to God’s Grace, I, like many others, assumed that this was all there was to it. I assumed that I had finally ‘arrived.’ But I could not have been more wrong. I wasn’t finished… I HADN’T EVEN BEGUN TO KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A DISCIPLE OF GOD’S LIVING WORD MADE FLESH!
I’m reminded at this point of the corrective measures the Lord had to take with His apostle-in-training, Peter. Peter had been truly chosen and summoned by the Lord to His service. And Peter and his brother Andrew had immediately obeyed and began to live with the Lord and His other disciples, day and night. They accompanied Him wherever the Holy Spirit took them. But then I ask you to try to get a gut feel for the kind of intense training and correction the Lord had to begin to give to Peter, and all the others, by pondering this incident:
“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s!”
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.”
Can you imagine what was going on in Peter’s gut and emotions as that incident was unfolding? And what sort of chilling impact it had on all the others that were present? Beloved, THAT was a great example of their boot camp training! The same kind of thing is what had to begin to happen to me… and it will happen to anyone who hears His call and dares to drop everything immediately and begins to follow wherever He will lead! When we begin to follow Him, He knows how ignorant and clueless we are. He knows that we have not begun to know ourselves and our true state as it really is. And that is why He loses no time in beginning to strip away our delusions, errors, false fronts, and clever disguises.
Another reason why I made so many naive false assumptions in those early days was because of what happened shortly after that awesome moment when my reinstatement took place. The Lord uprooted me from the work I had been doing as a small business owner. That path suddenly closed in front of me. And a new, completely unexpected path leading in a new direction, suddenly opened up before me. I was approached by the leader of a well-known local branch of an international ministry to consider becoming a member of his staff! That, to me, was totally unexpected and apparently miraculous! So, I did the obvious. I assumed the Lord was ‘promoting’ and honoring and elevating me to an exalted status and promotion in rank. But I wasn’t being promoted and elevated to a higher rank! People around me assumed that was the case. They assumed it the beginning of my era of ‘full time ministry.’ But nothing could have been further from the Truth! It was the beginning of the era in which the Lord had to rub my nose in the reality of what I really was made of, and what my personal agendas actually were… beneath the surface of my new religious costume!
The stretch of time that followed turned out to be was the beginning of the most severe testing and reprogramming time imaginable! When a raw recruit enlists for military service, he or she does not receive an immediate promotion and high level of ranking! They are dragged into a strange and extremely disturbing alien environment called Boot Camp and ground down to nothing but potential raw material! And that’s what happened to me. Very soon after the Lord invaded my space on that glorious day of reconciliation, He led me into utterly strange new territory. Emotionally speaking, I suddenly found myself in a wild, desolate desert-like place. And instead of experiencing glory and fulfillment, I felt as if I was being dragged kicking and screaming into a very harsh, stark, ‘Wilderness Weaning Pen!’ It was like being thrust into the middle of a roaring blast furnace smelter. And I began to experience the harshest, most relentless emotional ‘meltdown’ imaginable.
Yes, I had been accepted as a Teen Challenge staff member. And yes, almost immediately I was overwhelmed by an endless stream of people who were suddenly coming to me and looking to me to help them deal with a vast array of serious personal problems. BUT, I had received no prior education and training for such a responsibility. So everything that followed had to be learned and done the hard way… by trial and error. It was like an Exodus from a long cherished comfort zone to suddenly finding oneself in the midst of wild, completely alien territory I could never have imagined. In my naive way of thinking, I had assumed the Lord had entrusted this enormous responsibility to me because He knew I was ready and able to handle it. But the Truth was just the opposite. He used this overwhelming experience that lasted sixteen years, to strip me of all delusional assumptions and pretenses and misconceptions about myself and where and what I really was. He didn’t bless me with true leadership responsibility and honor and status… He dragged me into the crucible of the most painful and taxing personal stripping down type of training imaginable! And… if you carefully read the Gospel accounts and what happened to His disciples in the Gospels and in the book of Acts… you’ll see the same thing continually happening to them! They had to be weaned and broken of depending on created things, especially themselves, and retrained completely to depend on God’s Living Word made flesh, and on Him alone!
“But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
Anyone who hears His call, and decides to drop everything on the spot, is thus free to BEGIN to follow Him. But the beginning of that Journey is not the Destination – far from it! And having begun, we are not suddenly showered with honors, awards and high praises. On the contrary, the disciples are subjected to the most intense humbling inner purification and refining process imaginable! I really mean it when I say that disciples will experience much of what young calves experience when they’re unceremoniously caught with a rope and dragged into a weaning pen by the farmer or rancher that owns them! That gut-wrenching ‘weaning process’ is like total death to the calves. But in actuality, it isn’t death to the calf… it’s death to everything the calf ‘thinks’ he is, and to what he thinks he knows, and what he’s convinced that he has to have!
The calf has no idea about what is actually going on… it just assumes that the worst thing possible is happening to him. But he’s not being abused or harmed! His false sense of ego is being removed! He’s being trained and prepared for moving into a period of maturation and preparation that will lead him into true, full spiritual adulthood. He’s making an exodus… from ‘calfdom’, and is transforming into a full-blown adult bull! The owner is getting his calf ready for adult independence and freedom from the infancy perspectives and levels of his experience. He’s being forced to move into the highest levels adult maturity that he’s really destined to occupy! If his ‘childish’ calf perspectives and deeply engrained habits are not broken, he’ll never be free to develop the new perspectives and habits that will set him free to move into the new unexplored territory of his full growth and development of adulthood!
And that is very similar to what the Lord has to do to deal effectively with the Self-life of any child of Adam that He calls and invites into His Service. He removes whatever prevents us from serving as His true image and likeness. Self-life is alien to all of that and so the Lord takes great pains to crucify it and remove it completely from the picture. So He will not lead His own into luxury spas to be pampered and coddled and soothed. He won’t take them into resort areas so they can laze around and bask in the sun. He’ll lead them into that barren desolate wilderness that works just like an unrelenting weaning pen! He’ll subject them to the most trying and demanding level of gut-wrenching discipline and training and preparation imaginable. He doesn’t please or pamper their sensibilities or be ‘politically correct’ and ‘user friendly.’ Instead, He’ll attack and strip away the Self-life wiring of the onboard computers of His newly called disciples. He executes whatever they used to think and desire and strive for… before they heard His call! The truth is that before true infilling of the Spirit of God can take place in us, we must first be thoroughly and permanently emptied out and delivered from OURSELVES!
Disciples-in-training will no longer be allowed to keep trying to please and gratify their sensibilities. It’s just the opposite! The Holy Spirit will destroy their egos and personal self-constructed ‘empires’ until they become completely ‘Yeshua-minded.’ God’s Word made flesh lived to please and obey His Heavenly Father, 24/7! And we are being trained to become His image and likeness! So study the life of Paul and what happened to him from the moment he heard the Lord’s call. Try to grasp how much repenting he was forced to undergo in the years following his call! Notrice how much ‘rewiring’ and ‘reprogramming’ his brain and soul had to endure before he was truly ready to stop living as a Gentile-shunning Pharisee of Pharisees, and and was finally able to begin to function freely and powerfully as God’s New Covenant ‘Apostle to the Gentiles!’
“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; IN ORDER THAT I MAY ATTAIN TO THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD!” (Emphasis added.)