I am from Fort Wayne originally. When I was 9 years old my parents divorced, my dad left the house, my mom went off to work, and my brother and sister went to college. I went from having a fairly normal family life to being all alone. I remember just feeling completely abandoned, ashamed, and depressed. I really felt there was something wrong with me or why would God let this happen? Deep down, I was angry at God. To sum up, I felt rejected. Rejection is good word to describe most all hardships whether it is abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. The rejection I felt was subconscious, so it was not something I could verbalize. Throughout my childhood and teen years I just felt like I did not belong. I often felt depressed – like I was an outsider.
I went to school at Indiana University in Bloomington where I became a Christian while reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I had always thought Christians were naive and just wishful thinkers who lacked intellect. Lewis, though, was anything but naive and dumb, and his arguments in my thinking were irrefutable. At some point while reading his discussion of the Moral Law of the universe the Holy Spirit just overwhelmed me. It was as if God revealed directly to me I was a sinner, Christ paid the price of my sins, the devil had been blinding me, and most of all – that God LOVED and ACCEPTED me! The perfect cure for the feelings of rejection I had felt all my life! I was filled love, joy, peace, etc. To put it in spiritual geographical terms I went from Egypt (unsaved), through the Red Sea (salvation) through the Wilderness (fleshly Christianity), through the Jordan (identification with Christ) and straight into Canaan (Spirit-filled Christianity) in one fell swoop! I was on such a high – morphine had nothing on me!
After about three months, though, I experienced rejection in a relationship with a woman, got my eyes off the Lord, and crossed back over the Jordan into the Wilderness. I had had enough teaching about salvation, however, that I knew I was secure, but I couldn’t figure out how to back to Canaan (Spirit-filled life). I once again felt rejected by God and others. I didn’t know what happened or even what questions to ask.
For the most part over the next 26 years I wandered in the Wilderness. It’s not as bad as 40 years, but it still stinks! I had tasted the fruits of Canaan, though, and nothing could dissuade me from pursuing the Lord. I always read and memorized Scripture, prayed, went to Church, went to conferences, etc. My biggest problem was I got caught up with what I believe is a huge problem in the Church – legalism, i.e. DOING in order to BE instead of BEING in order to DO. I kept TRYING to live the Christian life in my own strength (the flesh) and failing. I believe the problem was (and is) that there is so little teaching of–and so much ignorance about–the Cross and identification with Christ.
When I got married, the one thing I knew I would never do was to get a divorce. I didn’t care what else happened, I wanted desperately to spare my children (and myself) the pain I felt when my parents divorced. I then experienced the ultimate rejection. Eight years ago my wife ran off with another man and left me with 5 children aged 11,9,7,5 and 1. I was really angry now, but it was subconscious. I am a Christian. How could I accuse God? After all, He can’t be wrong!
I now understand why my wife left. It is not much fun living with a Wilderness Christian. Like Israel in the desert, I became angry or depressed (depression is inward anger – like a temper tantrum) when rejection (trials) would come from her or others. Like Israel, I then would run in fear to sin to get my emotional needs met. The result would be guilt and shame, for which I would confess and receive cleansing. However, also like Israel, I could not enter Canaan living that way.
About three years ago I started reading a book by Francis Schaeffer titled ‘True Spirituality.’ I had never read anything like it before. I had read most of Schaeffer’s other books, and respected him greatly. This was the only book, though, he wrote on the Christian walk. No kidding, I read it seven times! In his chapter entitled ‘The Centrality of Death’ Schaeffer wrote, ” As Christ’s rejection and death are the first steps in the order of redemption, so our rejection and death to things and self are the first steps in the order of true and growing spirituality. As there could be no next step in the order of Christ’s redemption until the step of death was taken, so in the Christian there can be no further step until these first two steps are faced – not in theory only, but at least in some practical practice. Rejected, slain.” God was opening my eyes at least intellectually to the Cross, but I still was missing something. I then read several other books along the same lines by Jerry Bridges, Steve McVey, Bill Gillham, and Charles Solomon. I read and reread them. More light was coming in, but I just couldn’t get back to Canaan!
A friend then shared something that really helped. He said I had all the knowledge, but lacked having a “shared emotional state” with others. This, he said, is how the Lord matures us. The Holy Spirit used that to open my eyes to the fact that I needed to have a shared emotional state with God through the Holy Spirit which basically means my spirit communing with God’s Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14). By spending extended time in the Word, prayer, and study, God began to speak to and strengthen my spirit (inner man). I began to comprehend in my mind and spirit the “love of Christ which passeth knowledge” (Eph. 3:16-19) The Holy Spirit revealed to me why all the rejection had come. It was because of His love! I knew this intellectually, but now God confirmed it in my mind through His Spirit.
Our culture basically says that you should do anything to avoid pain. It wasn’t much different with Israel in the desert. Israel could not enter the promised land because they were afraid of suffering and death because of their of unbelief (Heb. 4:6) It was the same for me. The fear of suffering and death was due to my lack of faith and is what kept me in the Wilderness for so long. I had believed the lie that because of the rejection I had faced God didn’t really care about me. I didn’t believe God would “resurrect” me if I gave up my life. However, the revelation of the Holy Spirit enabled me to move beyond mere intellectual understanding, and I was ready to go to the Cross and enter Canaan.
More than anything else, God used two books by Charles Solomon to set me free from my flesh (self-life) that I was experiencing in the Wilderness: ‘Handbook to Happiness’ and ‘The Ins and Out of Rejection.’ Positionally, all believers are dead in Christ and are risen in Him. The “flesh” remains alive, but the old man is dead (Rom. 6:1-11). Basically, what I learned is that I could not experience the reality of the new life in Christ until I experienced the reality of the death of my “old man” in Adam. In order to overcome the flesh I needed to experience the sufferings (rejection) God brought my way: “he that has suffered (to death) in the flesh has ceased from sin, so that he should no longer live the rest of his time in the flesh to the will of man but to the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1). The good news is there is joy on the other side of the Cross: “For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Instead of being resentful of trials, I learned I should submit to them and share in His sufferings so that I can share in the power of His resurrection. The Apostle Paul said his greatest goal was to “know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (Phil 3:10). I now understand why Scripture says to rejoice in trials! (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:2-4). Experiencing the new life in Christ has filled my soul with a deep understanding of God’s love and acceptance.
Part 2 (of 2) will be sent next week. To read it sooner, see GraceNotebook.com/ testimonies. You can contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org.