A Pilgrim's Story
Dedicated to spiritual mavericks, misunderstood misfits, and lovers of the truth
From Is. 42:16 (as unseen at the time): "And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them."
A brief background
I was brought up in a dysfunctional family from Scottish parents who had immigrated to New Zealand ("the Land of Plenty") during the early 50's due to 'British post-war disillusionment' and my Father's continued unsettled disposition. Our existence at the time was unusual, as family environments were usually stable and secure during that era. My Father's alcohol and gambling problem also fuelled the volatile 'pressure cooker' atmosphere of our home as well as keeping us pretty broke. Apart from this, my parents brought us up in the best way they could, for the situation they were in, and the past they had come from.
I should also point out here (added since my Father passed away recently - August 2011) how my Father (a disturbed alcoholic) had been sexually and violently abused by his superiors at the age of 15, after joining the Royal Navy at an illegal 4' 11" in height, being the major factor of all my family's woes.
Looking back (though we children were generally left to our own devices) I am grateful I was never physically abused, nor were we ever deprived of any of the basic necessities of life.
A major blow came to my life when I had just turned 14, when my mother suddenly died at the age of 44. I was not prepared, and the biggest tragedy of all was the fact that I had lost my chance to say sorry for the disrespectful way I had treated her. This was our first night back in New Zealand, after spending an eighteen month stint back in "Pomeland" (the UK). In addition, to top it all off, I had been sea sick for virtually the whole six weeks at sea (can you imagine it?), looking like a survivor out of a POW camp at the end of the voyage after just entering puberty. I guess, this had to be about the lowest part of my whole life.
Going back to when I was aged six, my best mate, my Brother aged fifteen, left home for Australia. He'd never hit it off with his Dad. And because he was the oldest, he got the full brunt of our fathers drinking and disturbed, and abusive and (at times) violent behaviour. The bottom of my world fell out. Things would never be the same again, even to the day of his death at age 46. Now my Mother had departed, forever. I was devastated.
I also left home at the age of 15 (what was left of it), and dropped outta school one year later. My teenager years were generally a real struggle, until I helped form a three piece heavy rock band at the age of nineteen, where for the first time in my life, I experienced some sort of partial success. (Sorry to disappoint some, as this will not be a "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" testimony!)
Yes, looking back, my life from the inside out, was a mess. I had been carrying bottled-up bitterness, disappointment and dissolution, with anger, all my life. On top of all this, I was extremely insecure and confused, with little communicating skills to fall back on. This compounded my social problems even further (updating this in 2001 - I have only come to terms with a major problem in my life, being diagnosed with an unusual form of dyslexias).
Seek and ye shall find
For some reason, despite myself being an ardent evolutionist, I kept in my possession a Gideons (KJ) Bible (wonder where that came from?). On more than a couple of occasions, I had tried to read it, hoping it would add some clue to my life. I could not understand how such a book could have so much prominence in the world, yet to me personally, be the driest book I had ever laid my hands on, even though I usually had very little concentration power to read, no doubt, mainly due to the sequencing disorder I just mentioned.
A "backslidden" friend of mine (whose parents were 'Bible believing' Pentecostal Christians) came around one day and shared with me how he had been at a seance the night before, and how the initials of a girl he was predicted to take out, were spelt out. Even though he was sceptical at what had taken place, he did end up taking a girl out who matched those three initials. Moreover, this is where events started to take shape: For it was only a short time of space later, when once again, I found myself at home scanning this "cryptic/esoteric" book, called the Holy Bible (still looking for some sort of reference point to my life), something like a revelation occured. Here, popping out before my very eyes, came a portion of scripture I could finally relate to in a practical way, having partially dabbled into the occult myself (Deu. 18: 10-11):
"There shall not be found among you anyone that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire (fire walking), or that useth divination (fortune telling), or an observer of times (astrology), or an enchanter (spell casting), or a witch (using psyche power to control/influence circumstances or people), or a charmer (wearing good luck charms, pendulum swinging, water divining etc.), or a consulter with familiar spirits (medium to contact spirits at a seance), or a wizard (man of magic), or a necromancer (someone speaking to the dead). For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord."
To be honest, this was the first time anything in this Book had made some sort of sense to me. I couldn't wait until I saw my mate so that I could genuinely warn him about seances, while also getting it right for once, about the Book his family seemed to know so much about. However, to my disappointment, my friend would not have a bar of it. Yet later, the Lord would still use his parents to pray and help win me to the cross.
Number two came nearly two years later (and I think revelation would be the right word to use here again) when I lent our band's guitarist and my friend, the fourth album by Led Zeppelin, which included "Stairway to Heaven". When he took it home he found himself discussing the words and theme of this song with his sister and father, who happened to be professing 'born again' (Baptist) Christians. I was hooked on this band who I had seen live, and was blown away with, in Auckland. However, my friend conveyed back to me from his family how the lyrics were wrong, as they were trying (like many other bands) to cash in on there being many paths in life to choose, as long as they were convenient, and got you there in the end. My friend (even though he wasn't walking with the Lord) spoke with affirmation about there only being ONE true way in life.
I believe a seed was sown in my life at this point in time. This simple one-liner "ONE WAY" (also adopted and stressed by the Jesus Movement at the time) registered somewhere down in my gut as rock-solid-truth: "If there was such a thing as right, there would be no other alternatives!" was really my conviction at the time. Even though it may have taken less than a few months for it all to tie together, so that I could actually say outright that Jesus was the only true path to God.
The bubble bursts
Some weeks later, as our band was breaking up, my friend called around with his girlfriend one Sunday afternoon, in the manner he usually did. However, this particular afternoon, instead of being armed with a whole lot of LPs to listen to, he brought a whole bundle of these little Jack Chick comics I had never set eyes on before, and threw them on the carpet in front of me. As I picked them up to squizz over, both he and his girlfriend gave me a quick summary of what they were about: The coming world dictator, the mark of the Beast, the counterfeit Super Church, the flood of homosexuality coming upon the earth, etc. Plus the Bible being a trust worthy and up-to-date book.
I was blown away! I'd never heard any of these things before, even though I had some exposure to Sunday School and Gospel Hour when I was a toddler. Was it really true? Were these things really going to happen? Moreover, was the Bible more than just another book after all?
Then there were the little comics about evolution. I could see that the author was intelligent and up with the play; so logic told me he was going to confirm and reinforce my evolution theories. However, it was not to be! Quite the opposite in fact! For as I read these hard-and-fast facts for the first time in my life, my whole theorized life began to crumble. It was like someone had taken a wet rolled up towel and gone whoosh in my face. I was stunned and utterly mortified. As well as being totally astonished to why I was not told these things before.
My friend let me hang onto the tracks for a few days before he returned them to his Christian sister. There was always good news at the end of each one of these scary and disturbing little tracts ... like Jesus coming back and purging the earth of evil! The Rapture! The great marriage supper! The coming thousand years of peace and prosperity! The eternal new heaven and earth! And so forth!
However, the hard part for me was going to be, coming to terms with all this stuff, humbling myself, admitting I was wrong and forsaking my opinion, before I could honestly proceed (and did I really want to?) on this new journey.
It was now 1974. A new year and a new band to play in. This time I found myself resident in a tavern with experienced fellow musicians who were nearly a decade older than me, all married and stable at the time. One was a Roman Catholic. The second one, I guess you would call him a New Ager today. Then thirdly, a devout, highly respected religious person, who was genuinely seeking God (a year later he would be saved). Lastly, at the age of 20 ... long haired, rebellious, withdrawn, introverted ... Me!
During our refreshment breaks, sipping on free lemon squash provided (as a band we never really drank alcohol beverages) we usually found ourselves in great discussion about religion and the answers to life. Nothing else seemed to satisfy my inner thirst. So a few weeks later when I was sick, living alone, and still depressed after a failed relationship, I called out to the Lord from my bed one night . Not much seemed to happen. Nothing dramatic anyway. However, from now on I was pliable before God, and became more committed in trying to follow the teachings of Jesus. Even witnessing from hereon. Then, under the company of my ex-guitarist and his girlfriend, I started to check out some of the churches around town, hungering to know more.
One little Pentecostal fellowship (about twenty five members) impressed me the most. because of their open friendliness and less 'stiff and starchy' approach, compared to the other 'straight laced' mainline churches I had visited. This is why I decided to go back the following week, under my own steam this time, and found myself going up the front (about my third church "altar call" attempt) at the end of the message, to make an all out public stand for Jesus. The pastor, for some reason, asked me to turn around and tell everyone present what I had just done. I can't remember a word I said, but I do know something was cemented in my life, where things were never the same from hereon.
Doors begin to open
It was May 1974 and winter came early that year. Less than a week after my public confession, and just completing my four and a half years apprenticeship, I headed for Christchurch with no job or accommodation to go to (at this stage I had not read 1 Cor. 7:20), except a qualified letter of recommendation for band work from my dear friend the late, geriatric, well known, "Bang on Harry" Tootle, known in band circles as the "oldest" teenager in Australasia.
I arrived late in the chilly afternoon, and sat in an upstairs cafe overlooking Cathedral Square, while it turned dark and cold outside. For the first time in my life I observed and studied all the various people outside meddling down in the Square, and was happy (not bitter for once) about seeing other people enjoying themselves. At the time, I now believe, I was actually looking for the community of God's people, to relate to, share with, and enjoy and be encouraged by their fellowship ... untwined from organization.
Having had a lot of time to fill in before I was to deliver my letter to a night club after midnight, and after countless cups of tea, I made it back to my panel-van where I sat trying to figure out what else I could do to fill in the evening. Suddenly there was a tap on the window. To my surprise, while I was winding the window down I heard ... "Gidday!! Are you a Christian?"
John Stickings was his name. He had taken a (now called) downsyndrome teenager out for a birthday treat in the city centre, and for some reason decided to go for a wander down to the square. On the way down he saw me sitting in the van and as he passed he looked back and saw my "Try Jesus" bumper sticker, which I had only displayed a few days earlier.
He thought to the Lord (he told me a year or two later), "If this man is still there when I return, I'll speak to him!"
As a result of our conversation I found myself a short time later in the warmth of a Christian cafe. I would also have to admit that up to this point in my life, I had never experienced such a genuine warmth and acceptance from people. No one was jumping on me anxious to talk me into joining their "sect" or "group", but were only taking a genuine interest in me. Before the evening was out, I had a bed and place to go to. The next morning I would be gathering with hundreds more, in a large hired out hall. Christchurch's 'Horticulture Hall' to be precise. The following day I would be attending a successful job interview. Thanks to John, who must have been hearing from God, plus one or two others at this stage.
It would never have been my choice to have ended up committed to their programmes the way I did. However, I did allow myself to be talked into attending their weekly 'first principles' Bible foundation classes. This I did with mixed feelings, as I had a hunger to learn more, coupled with an inner questioning whether it was really God's will for me to become institutionalized like this.
Yes, there was eagerness and enthusiasm expressed by others in general, plus a wee bit of pressure applied, to make sure I attended these classes. Plus a couple of young converts (saved out of the drug culture), who I befriended, who were always keen to make sure I did not miss an evening. Or any other programmed event that was happening somewhere, within or without the church's umbrella.
Overall, as well as meeting and making friends with some good people, I caved to the constant persuasiveness and rationalization, that I needed the exposure and input to these weekly meetings, plus assembly twice on Sundays. In those days (still prevalent in many circles today), anyone who showed any reluctance to comply to the system, or question the whole shooting box, was viewed as either having a rebellious spirit or going off the rails.
While all this running around, doing "outreaches", and "getting involved" was taking place (at the appropriate times), my existence consisted of living in a budget motor camp surrounded by drop-outs and make-do people in transit, well over half an hours drive from Christchurch in the countryside. The winter was bleak (it rained nearly all the time I was there), my hut was cold and damp, while I had to skip through the puddles night after night to get to the loo or shower. Even though this camp was owned by Christians, I still had a lot of time to myself, among the transits and derelicts. There was nothing to do but read my Bible and a heap of Christian books I had just purchased, as I hungered after the words of my new found Saviour.
This is where I began to hear from Him, His way, to learn how to give thanks in all situations, and to worship the Lord where I was at. Nothing really mattered any more, as long as I would keep my eyes on Him. Where, through my weaknesses, I found His strength becoming a reality in my life. In other words, without Him I was nothing and could do nothing. Over all, I actually became excited about these prospects, realizing they were the key to releasing myself to His grace and experiencing His power.
During these times, of what they referred to as Charismatic Movement (a very general term of interdenominational cooperation towards "spiritual renewal"), much was said in regards to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. However, now looking back, I realize the Lord was always trying to show me, that it was only when I was empty, I could really be filled with Him. This I found to be a real struggle. The condition: Matt. 5:6 ... "which do hunger and thirst after righteousness." How could weak and frail me measure up or accomplish this? Especially when the emphasis from these churches was being filled with this "dunamis power" and orientated on "finding your ministry"!
However, these were the real 'first principles' I was learning, which were essential, and were to become a spring-board for any successes in my future pilgrimage. Problems would arise later when I would allow myself to be diverted from them, by not being strong in the scriptures but compliant to man. Now looking back, and putting everything in a nutshell ... this was the essence of me going into this new religious counterfeit, instead of embracing what I was really called to. It's true ... "The fear of man bringeth a snare"! And obligation to a system brings extra bonds.
My heart was back in my town Blenheim. I thought about how much freer and effective I could be at the tiny casual fellowship I had come from. Where I could come and go, be with my friends, and not be obligated to so many meetings and seminars. With a lot less emphasis on attending (informally compulsive - "you can't afford to miss") programmes arranged for seasoned guests speakers, who were bringing "God's goods" "for the hour". To get the pastor's "permission" to go home and spend a little time with my unsaved folks on the very odd weekend, seemed a little on the nose. However, I had to be very careful I was not "straying" outside God's "protective covering." Also, I was continually reminded of guarding myself from developing a "rebellious spirit", by keeping a right attitude of compliance towards the Church/Ministry I was apparently committed to! Whatever that meant?
The day finally came though, when feeling like a salesman, or a religious greaseball, I was able to approach and convince the pastor (with all good sound reasoning) why I should be back in Blenheim.
"No one in the Ministry has a witness about this!" my Outreach Leader said to me very rather sternly. Yes,they were very reluctant to let me go: "I was vital!" "Irreplaceable!" Apparently so!
They needed a drummer in the outreach band. Possessing youthful enthusiasm and zeal. Plus, owning a reliable van to run the gear around the South Island, plus providing two extra seats. But a "suppose so" reply from the pastor was all I needed to disarm my opposition and plan my move back home. Of course, I also had the pastor on my side back in my town. He was looking for all the the youthful injection of life he could muster. Especially new blood coming-in, not poached from other churches this time, but fresh from the modern, non religious world, adding a new dimension to "church life" and "outreach" ventures.
This was quite strange, I thought. We were told to obey our pastors (after all, they were viewed as God's direct mouth pieces), while here were two pastors with conflicting thoughts on the direction I should take. One of them, no doubt, was in line to the will of God. Therefore, God had to be behind at least one of them, I assumed. By making a decision based on what suited me best for the time (phew, a convenient antidote!), I made the transition from one 'head' to another 'head', and from one (Pentecostal) denomination to another. While not realizing or questioning at the time (the latter being the more accurate), that God's church was supposed to be every, single, born again person in town, functioning as His people. Irrespective of the slot they have been gently manipulated or pressganged into.
Things were changing fast when I arrived back in my town. The past wee fellowship I left nearly one year previously, was now growing numerically (mostly from poached mainstream church goers - looking for that new zest of life no doubt) and becoming very "official" and "structured". Pastor had now a title (or was now his title) and was going away to conferences and learning much from the city church settings and international visiting speakers, I had unintentionally just escaped from.
I became very busy again, doing things more from obligation than conviction. I was part of a youth leadership team, trying to drum-up the 'latest and the greatest' fun activities, so that our pampered teenagers wouldn't fly apart and leave "church life". You know ... in order to match the lure of the (hip) world, we somehow had to catch-up or be as competitive as the changing world. These were days of slogging and striving. The verse that kept coming to mind, while we were trying to nut and slog things out, twas: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord."
In the way
The Lord had spoken again, so I had to act:
During our weekly youth leadership meetings we all had to share, one at a time, by going round the gathered circle, our latest brain wave, with answers to solve some of the difficulties we always seemed to come back to, and try and work our way through again. When it came to my turn this particular evening, I felt totally empty and inadequate as usual, apart from one line I could not hold back on, which seemed to be the only relevant answer ...
"We need the Holy Spirit!!" I said a little hesitantly.
"What do you mean by that?" I was asked by their inquiring minds.
"I don't really know! Maybe we have to shut-up camp for awhile and go home and ask the Lord," was my reply.
Of course, that was far too radical ... we had deadlines to meet and a programme to run. Plus the ministry was depending on us.
I never turned up again for any of those meetings. That was back in 1977 ... my first "courageous" step-out in denying religious "responsibility" and unsriptural compulsion. The following year I was to marry. A short time later ... walk away from conventional church. Here, many events were going to turn for the better. Through many (personal) trails and tribulations. The promise (sustaining me as usual) ... Is. 43:19:
"Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert."
Whatta wonderful, assured, guarantee!
Leaving the boat (or our story - aftermath of denominational marriage)
They say it took guts, but here I was in fear and trepidation, with a letter of resignation to the pastor of our (progressing, reinvented) denomination (now redefined, officially, as a - national - movement). To make things worse ... near bumping into a fellow member in front of the main Post Office just before I was about to post the letter, and having to explain the whole thing to him after he asked what I was up to. Then straight after posting the letter, finding myself walking into another person whom I knew, belonging to an "off-beat" sect this time.
She heard my story and saw me as a potential candidate for her deceased Prophet, and used the occasion to sell the "new revelation" to me. I had other ideas and told her so ... !! No longer was it going to be JESUS plus New Life Centre, or Elim, or Derek Prince, or Bob Mumford, or Jack Hayford, this time. Nor was it going to be JESUS plus Witness Lee, or Moses David, or Ellen White, or Willie Branham, for that matter. It was going to be JESUS, and just JESUS plus nothing! Period (as they say in the States)!
I found myself, asking myself this shortly after ...
"Were these two casual meetings just a coincidence? Or were they a test, an allegory even (meaning symbolic), of my new position/stand ... caught between the mainstream and the off-limits fringe."
As echoes of "indoctrination", I had been bombarded with over the last few years, kept haunting my mind:
"There'll be no guarantee if you come out from God's covering!" "There's no protection outside the church!" "You must be under authority!" "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft!" "A tiny, isolated ember will burn out, unless it's kept where the fire is!" "You'll go into deception!! ... DECEPTION!! ... DECEPTION!! ... DECEPTION!!
"No one I know has successfully done this before," I kept reminding myself. "The only ones that have left have been backsliders, weirdos, and spoilt brats; who haven't got their way, and looked elsewhere for spiritual platform and recognition."
However, it was time for denominational witchcraft to be broken in all forms of false devotion and misguided obligation; "If God be for me, who can be against me," I thought to myself." God or nothing!!"
The question some would ask; "What would make a married bloke, with such pastoral potential (a nice wee hook, anyway), go-for-broke like this? No one had done this before! Against all sound teaching too! From such credible and well trained men! They just need time-out to revaluate and see how much they need and will miss church! They'll be back!!"
Come out from among them
It was 1977 when my "hallelujahs" had long gone dry, and "lifting my hands" had become a wearisome "just going through the motions" scenario. Questioning anything was put down to "bringing a false report!" Where out of the blue one day, through the mail, came this little crude, uncouth, cheeky, gutsy magazine, called "Small Cords". It was written by some folk who had gone through the whole religious scene ... from childhood to adulthood, from manse to "charismania", and had found God was still alive and well, after being left out in the cold after a major church split.
This wee (impious) magazine was blunt and honest, and was written out of a mixture of concern and excitement, of telling others trapped by 'the system' the good news ...
Message: "Don't try and change or reform 'the system', it wont work, it never has ... just walk away!!"
Although not entirely convinced at first (or too bloom'n scared to be convinced ... you should have seen the reaction, particularly from the top hierarchy - after the usual, nice, patient gestures had failed to work). But at least (and very importantly) had shaken me out of my religious trance and got me thinking for myself. And think I did ... !
About a year had gone and I was now married to Yvonne. Tithing was the biggest issue. Like all religious issues, based around fear. You see, after budgeting for our two mortgages each pay day, plus an HP and our general expenses (without any spare pocket money to even buy the odd ice cream), we could only pay our obliged 10% to 'the system', from our net income only. Not gross. Problem!! ... the teaching was 10% of your gross income or you faced the dreaded curse of Malachi 3:9.
It was time to act on my gut feeling (the still quiet voice within) ...
Conclusion: "Tithing was Old Covenant, and absolutely nothing to do with the lively oracles of Acts 7:38." "But EVERYTHING to do with money!"
So we chucked out tithing and wow ... the release!! Also, things fell into place rather promptly: I started a new job with a larger pay. Plus overtime. Yvonne went back onto a 'five working days' week, and in no time we had our second mortgage paid off much sooner than anticipated, freeing up our finances. A few months later the value of our house doubled by the biggest real estate hike any one can remember.
"The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it," must be appropriate here!
Of course all this was just preparation for the biggie ... the question of "going to church", supporting a "church" (really a denomination), and all that mumbo jumbo.
You see, I'd been around long enough, and read heaps (researched that is), to see things in 'churchie circles' were amiss. Like tithing f'instance was preached as a New Covenant requirement over the pulpit, but in the privacy of the pastor's office was admitted to be Old Covenant (without an exaggeration or bending a quote). Being unequally yoked for Bloke and Blokesses made a great sermon on Sunday, whereas the pastors were (unofficially) unequally yoked with unregenerated modernist and liberal ministers at Ministers Fraternal. The odd 'once in a blue moon' preacher would come into town ruffling a few feathers and (sort of) preach against ecumenicalism ("but what the heck, as long as people were being saved!" ... was the hierarchies notion). However, Dear Pastor would be aiding ecumenicalism by fraternizing with ministers who taught universal salvation, placed tradition on an equal basis or above scripture, corrected or explained away large portions of the Bible, gave the Roman Catholics the greenlight to be embraced as fellow brethren, and were often opposed to water immersion etc. The list could go on!
This, my friend is called spiritual harlotry (I can now understand why these men have since been handed over to carnal immorality). It is called being a Daughter of the Whore mentioned in Revelation ... part and parcel with Babylon the Great. The so-called Church fathers and non-conformists of old, who were elevated from the pulpits as our past heroes, ironically taught against and exposed this sort of thing. I could see why pastors weren't preaching against it anymore, because they were getting sucked in by it. Unity at any cost ... if it meant they could maintain their comfortable lifestyles. And unity at the price of truth ... even if it meant selling their congregation down the gurgler. They appeared not to mind so much ... as long as they could keep their little sub empires intact and hold their positions.
Their flocks were being fed in the dark like mushrooms. The preservation of the church's name was somehow more important than the preservation of the Lord's name. Was I to remain passive when the word of God was so clear?:
... what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness (saying one thing and doing the other)?
... what communion hath light with darkness (secret agendas and mushroom grooming)?
... what part hath he that believeth with an infidel (having modernists, idolaters, apostates, liberals, Judaizers, and New Agers, as spiritual associates)?
... what agreement hath the temple of God with idols (fellowshipping with those who pray to Mary and the saints)?
Very clear and precise I say:
"Wherefore come out from among them , and be ye separate, saith the Lord!"
It was time to split and leave camp!
How could I do it ... leave the church that is? I was too weak and frail character wise (easy to admit now)! Additionally, how could I be right and everyone wrong? Then there was another major hurdle ... telling my wife.
The doubts were tormenting, and hassled me all day at work. But then again, I would be the biggest phoney around if I went along listening to man instead of God. Now Pastor had just had a vision ... to build an expensive, elaborate, exuberant, building complex ... the pride of town at the time. He called it "The Ship", would you believe? This was his vision. A vision of his ship the Lord had provided. He stated you were either for him or against him. Either "go with the flow, or go!" This was the precise words and condition he gave to me as my ultimatum. Everyone got fully behind him. There was no alternative left for me ... it was time to abandon ship and say goodbye to its captain and crew. And passengers:
First, I laid all my cards on the table before my wife. "I'm quitting church," I said. "There's too much rubbish there and I don't' believe the Lord wants us mixed up in it ."
"That's fine by me," she said. "If you really believe it to be the Lord," was her reply.
I could not believe it. She had been "going to church" all her life ... Brethren, Baptist, then Pentecostal. Plus here parents before her. It was all she knew. What about her family, our friends, the tidal wave of reaction?
But the Lord had been preparing her heart. Despite little being mentioned or discussed between the two of us.
Next, that most dreaded letter to the pastor. I mustered up enough strength, then penned the letter and sealed it in the envelope. We drove off in our car with the letter to post. On the way my wife briefly called into her friends place to drop something off. There was just me left in the car with this letter and my Bible. Plus a few minutes on my side:
"Lord I can't do this without your strength?!" I cried under my breath. " I'm all alone in this, and need a word for confirmation and encouragement. And if it is your will ... !?"
I flipped open my Bible and started reading the first portion that meet my eye. Being disappointed at first, for it just happened to open at the same dry portion of scripture (book marked) I had been reading that morning, without a drop of inspiration. The portion of scripture was Matthew 14: 24- 31. Even though the Bible I was ignorantly reading from at the time, back then, was the NASB, God was now speaking direct:
"But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"
Because this time was different however, as each word I was reading was being firmly and warmly reinforced within, especially when I came to verse 27:
Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid
Providentially set-up, this verse brought the inward strength and encouragement needed as I was granted the enablement to post the letter. Yes, the Lord had spoken direct. The rest of these scriptures just naturally fell into place, amazing me at the way they fitted my position at the time:
The ship represented the man-made structure I was leaving (yes, it looked like the pastor's vision was manmade). I was going to Jesus without the camp, found in the wilderness. Even though the wind was contrary (EPH 4:14 - speaking of the many forms of doctrine being flung at me over the years). If I kept my eyes on Him, I would be safe, even though others thought it was another spirit (ever heard of that one before?). This was why I was to ignore the storm and the waves, the many voices (both the doctrines of men, and the accusations, fears and doubts from the devil). It was completely by faith not sight (circumstances). Nor looking to the right hand or to the left for direction. But looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.
Confirmation and encouragement
It must have been a few weeks later, when I was recovering in hospital after an operation, that a brother (whom I didn't have much to do with) came to visit and cautioned why I quit "going to church". When I shared the above word I received from the Lord with him, he shared how interesting it was. He also went onto say how he had seen a vision of us at our wedding service, at the beginning of the year. Also, he shared how he had been sitting on it until now. In this vision he mentioned how he had seen both my wife and I leaving the boat together, going out to meet Jesus in the storm.
Another blessing came not long after, when another brother came around to our house with an old Brethren book he offered to lend to me called "The Pilgrim Church". This book turned out to be a written history and record of the various non-conformist individuals and groups, that had existed and thrived. Right down from the early beginnings of the book of Acts, through to the Dark ages, then the Reformation, and right into the 20th Century. Although many of these groups weren't perfect by a long shot, having downright heretical leanings at times, generally these were fellow saints. This is largely due ti them believing in Jesus solely for salvation, as well as choosing to follow the Lord and Him only, without the assistance (only opposition) of the corrupt religious institutions, down through the centuries to the present.
My wife and I spent our first holiday away camping (about the anniversary time of our wedding), as I read this (non trendy) book from cover to cover. Confirming we were not the first, nor the last brethren, to be 'without the camp'. Reminding me of Elias of old, who when he thought he was alone and solo for God, was unaware that there was another 7,000 out there, who had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.
Now that we were on our own (or thought we were on our own) ... what next?
Making disciples (more confirmation)
God gave me another promise ... Isaiah 51:2:
"Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you (just the two of them): for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him."
We were challenged by many ... "now that you have left, what now??"
The uncanny thing was with these questions ... we had no answers. You cannot explain the call of God. It is a very lonely place. Hid with Christ until His appearing. But it is a very rewarding and rich place to be (the Lord had promised to make a way through the wilderness), which can't be taught only experienced.
I also questioned myself. But I knew the answer. Coz it was a matter of putting it to the test ... God had not called us to eternal isolation but to be His family on earth, reaching out to the stranger. However, who was the stranger? It became obvious it was anyone who was outside His family and was willing to come.
The initial crunch was the feeling of being cut-off from all previous contacts, except one other family who had been hurt by 'the system' (my wife's cousin & co, in fact). Even though we had not much to do with them, apart from the odd meal around home, they still responded to our company for some reason. Therefore, we kept contact on a purely non spiritual friendship basis ... Until the evening around at their place when 'the Mis'izz' opened up to us. We left her with one parting suggestion, while she saw us off through their entrance way. It was a one liner that was basically word for word to this:
"Why not after we leave, in the privacy of your bedroom, call out to God and tell Him how you really feel, and ask Him to fill you with Himself."
Nearly three weeks had passed and we had not heard from them. They lived and worked out in the country and had no phone. Nor did we know their car (there only form of transport and link to the outside world at the time) had broken down. So we thought we would pay them a visit. We had only just arrived when they cheerfully came out to greet us saying, "Haven't you heard the good news, we've called out to the Lord and much has happened since we last saw you!"
'The Mis'izz' had followed up on what we encouraged her to do, and had meet God. That was okay with Hubby, but there was still no change in him. For the first few days anyway ... Until 'the Mis'izz' prayed for his back one evening before going to bed. 'Hubby' thought something had happened, so he leapt out of bed and tried every exercise that use to cause him pain and hindrance. No longer was spinal surgery necessary, plus a long spell in traction, as apart from being healed that night, Christ had come into his life and filled him with His Spirit. Bed was put on-hold for a few hours (after midnight in fact), as he danced around the house with excitement and jubilation, pain free, with no discomfort, sharing together with his wife, their new found faith in Christ.
By the time we arrived over a week later, they were already into the scriptures and hungering after the Lord.
Next, within days, due to a shaky engagement, another (related) couple were introduced to the Lord through our two friends. About the same time, another couple we knew, crossed our path as we were about to leave a supermarket, eager to find out what we were up to and why we dropped out of "church". Due to an arranged meeting up later, they befriended us on a more personal level, as they too wanted to find God in a more intimate way, without the hassle of religious red-tape.
Soon we were dropping in on one another, and having regular Bible studies, as each couple in turn were introducing people to Christ, without the camp. Potluck teas, midnight dunkings in the river (usually when there was snow on the mountains), and weekend family outings, became ongoing events. And did you know, looking back over those two or three decades, I can only remember three people (who knows, we've lost contact with them) backsliding. The rest of us, by the grace of God, are bringing another generation of young people into a saving knowledge of Christ, with the odd dunking occurring from time to time, down at the river, or in someone's pool. This can happen where we or others don't have any knowledge of the event till after the word gets out (updating - 12 years later - this still is happing as a quite regularly event, with no so many of our grown up children, plus their friends, now hungry for God). Proves the Holy Ghost is in control and not a "head serang".
It's true!! God can use unpolished, unsophisticated, amateurs like ourselves.
Casting out the Bondwoman - Or ... dealing with the enemy within
However, it was not enough leaving Babylon behind. The city, along with its effects, had been engrafted into us, especially me. So it had to be literally driven out of our lives and marriage. Gal. 4: 22,31:
"For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid (religious works), the other by a freewoman (the promise) ... we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free."
So leaving 'the system' behind can be very difficult. For it is not just enough to leave 'the system', but to get 'the system' out of yourself. Meaning, it is not just enough to walk away from religion, but to kick the habit within your own life. There will be withdrawal symptoms. Old habits die hard. Old wine after all, is easier to go back to. Coz as a sedative, it is intoxicating and addictive, and inoculates one against reality. Also, by walking away, makes one more vulnerable and prone to spiritual attacks.
After three years of being in the wilderness, and knowing God was still with us, I fell into a trap (or had I ever really left it?). Yes, it was a great relief being free from the suffocating structure of religious institutions, and thrilling seeing others making-it-with-God. However, as time passed on, it became evident that I was still carrying much of the baggage from the old city I had given myself over to. Meaning, I was still, somehow caught up in the rigamarole of looking for results and ignorantly trying to re-make things happen myself. Like charismatically trying to duplicate Sunday all over again, within our meetings. Only this time, being on a smaller scale, in the confinements of our lounge at home. While subconsciously playing "pastor" at the same time. Quite a task, when you are trying to disciple a group of hurting drop-outs. Until the day the Lord says they are His disciples, and it is high time to back off.
How was I going to tell them? That I was cutting them-off, as in trying to form a family myself! However, once again in the hour of need, the Lord proved to be gracious, and gave me a whole chapter this time, verse for verse. Along with the grace to deliver it to the house group:
Look at Jeremiah chapter thirty five! That's the whole chapter, I repeat!
As someone reminded me from Matthew 14:32 that Peter went back into the boat with Jesus, I was challenged to go back to the boat I had left, without compromising (this would prove I was free - to go one way or the other), knowing Jesus was with me. I dropped this on the house group after expounding on the whole chapter, and told them they were spiritually on their own from now on, with the promise the Lord was making provision for us all (v. 18-19).
The prophetic word the Lord had brought forth started to unfold, as it fitted the scenario perfectly:
The structured fellowship my wife and I had left had increased (the boat had now become a ship, conventionally speaking). The new super building complex (despite the overwhelming debt and overdraft it had incurred) was attracting many. Especially with its spiced-up orchestra and boisterous singing. However, the attraction to us at the time was the strong mature eldership that had taken shape, especially with the two (word based) internationally renown evangelists (Barry Smith and Jack Lloyd), who had moved in with their families, whom I respected.
We were to enter Jerusalem again (metaphorically speaking v.11). This time not as clones but as spiritual Rechabites. Meaning, we were not allowed to drink their wine (swallow their religious doctrine), neither build anything ourselves (v.7,8). We were still wilderness people after all. Pilgrims passing through (v.10). And the Lord had a message from the 'rough around the edge' outcasts, to the polished religionists, backing up some straight previous prophetic messages that had been spoken (v.12-17) in their midst. Unfortunately for them, the message was contrary to the City where they had made their inhabitant, along with serious consequences if God's word was not heeded.
So here was this slick trendy edifice. A show piece of affluence. An adornment for the town,. Made up largely of two groups with opposing nick names given from both sides ... "clones" (the ones that followed Senior Pastor) and "dissidents" (the Rechabites standing with their friends - some even part of the eldership). What an awkward situation to be in! If God was not in the picture, that is! A recipe for disaster? Or a recipe for God to do something?
It wasn't long before new housegroup meetings were flourishing in the dissidents' homes. Our home group had to split twice in a short time because of numbers. Moreover, as the gap between the clones and the dissidents widened (due to popularity being placed above scripture), the more the hidden pyramid system became evident (with Senior and Assistant Pastor at the top - who are now both out of the ministry due to immorality and re marriage by the way - with eldership at another level, and so on).
They had a vision (the pastors and their pedigrees that is). The vision was a ship representing their church. Anyone not manning the ship the way they expected you to, like maintaining its mechanisms (supporting its cultivated para organizations), or getting involved with its bureaucracy some way or another (supporting its politics and gamesmanship), and not questioning the Captain (the Senior Pastor), were "going against the will of God". And were going "off the rails" spiritually.
While all this was taking place, the ship was gently sailing into the waters of New Age fables and ecumenical compromise. Some folk had already enough. With some folk abandoning ship already. Little did we know during this period (the mid eighties), this phenomenon was actually occurring all over New Zealand, as well as around the world. People were jumping ship in droves!
With our friends, whom we had taken refuge in this City, and under the new strong, word based (but short lived) eldership, it did not take long until we experienced the onslaught of the spiritual the Babylonians (v.11) we had encountered. We had made a stand without bringing disruption. Now it was time to move on again. Virtually all the dissidents' had left by now, but as a family, we were still there. Good in some ways, because then we couldn't be accused of leading any one out. Nor could we be accused of poaching or 'sheep stealing'.
Incidentally, undertaking all this, there was still a spiritual tie in my life that had not been dealt with as mentioned before. A spiritual web that had been knitted over my life, brought about over the years since my conversion, by haphazardly giving myself over to the 'laying on of hands', off- key prophecies, and allowing myself to be indoctrinated and manipulated by man, which I had to take full responsibility for. Basically, many of these things had never been broken in my life. Reiterating ... "it is the fear of man that bringeth a snare." Moreover, I am convinced now (with the backing of scripture) that this is the main reason I went back to 'the system'. The spiritual tie had not been severed completely, in other words. Yet, God in His grace, still made provision and accommodated my decisions through the word.
Following one Sunday morning service (the odd one we still went to), after routinely sitting under much more unscriptural rigmarole (a Mothers Day service in this case), and after observing the majority who where soaking it up, I had to seriously question myself again ... "What am I doing here?" It was 'now' or 'never' that I needed to make a complete heart stand. Therefore, for the first time, I took decisive steps in shaking off the bondwoman, with every connections to her, and walked out never to return as a regular visitor nor regular participator. The spell of charismatic witchcraft had finally been broken over my life. I was a free man! Free to be who I was in Christ, any time or any place, without the fear of thinking I was failing God or not pleasing man.
Counterfeit Cell Groups
It was now a matter of meeting with like-minded believers, and getting on with the Lord's business. So we had profitable times and unprofitable times, eventful times and uneventful times. Part of the growing curb.
One evening we were invited to a house meeting on a grand scale, where an overseas renown 'cell group' promoter came into town, to seemingly encourage the homechurch scene. Now was everyone's big chance to prove we could get-it-together without the camp! Because we'd all just left 'the system' en masse, here was our great moment of truth or "justification" time, in other words!
The large lounge was bursting at the seams and spilling into the adjacent room, with everybody arriving with anticipation. However, to our disappointment, it turned out to be just another "church" presentation, without any inter-exchanging, or room for questioning. The speaker held the platform and emphasized life above the scripture, along with promoting the Spirit more than Jesus. In fact, the scriptures were played down, the Authorized Bible rubbished, and the modern versions pushed, along with his books he was selling at the meeting. Ring-a-bell!?
I went away putting a question to others I came across, who happened to be at the meeting too:
"What was the whole point of leaving the church if we were just taking the church with us, to repeat its liturgy all over again in our homes, tailor-made just to suit our own environment we had created for ourselves?"
It was a matter of getting the church out of us! The Charismatic Movement was alive and well 'without the camp', and even in some circles encouraged. Satan was always ready to place a counterfeit wherever the truth was found. As we discovered later, even the best of house groups could be hi-jacked by a dominant personality or a "spiritual" charmer. If there was no discernment through the word, then a simple home-meeting could be a walkover, even by a visiting novice who was doing things out of ignorance and religious habit. It was our responsibility to be on guard constantly, weighing up everything with the word, and not wasting time with "spiritual" tyrekickers, religious opportunists, or unteachable dogmatists. Or egotistical brats, for that matter.
That was 1984 to 1985 (wow, that's 25 years ago - during this update)! Since then much water has passed under the bridge. A whole new generation of believers world-wide are meeting the Lord, direct, without mumbo jumbo or fuss.
What's happening at present in our town? Some folk are making their families first priority. They are working things out from 'there', as they 'take up, where they last left off', whether it was days, weeks, or months ago, they last rubbed shoulders one with another. Other folk are sporadically gathering each week with groups of believers, who don't belong to, or support any name other than His name. It is usually not in the same persons home for more than two weeks in a row, allowing wives and others fellowship they might usually miss out on. This way, it isn't run by anyone. They only gather around the word. Whether it's a crowd, or two or three turn up, it doesn't really matter. Some (not most) even read from modern translations (tut tut!! - I'll give them space - for awhile that is), because there is no pressure to conform or perform. Others even gather with other churches on a Sunday (grrrr!!). They say for fellowship, but we know (in most cases) religion is a lie, and they go because ingrained tradition is dictating for them. However, why interfere. God is in control and working everything out!
Yes, if there is a travelling ministry in town, a well known personality, they are also free to come along. However, they will only be treated as an equal (revelation wise that is - if they want the floor, it can be jacked up for them for another occasion). After all (after eating the humble pie and biting the bit) ... we're all brethren, as people are free to disagree and slog things out, and where stirrers are not welcome. The brethren can handle it. There's maturity without the camp (from ex pastors to experienced elders). Makes it interesting, as discussions can end up going anywhere, from the meaty, to whatever is of relevance to peoples lives. At the end of the day, it should be Jesus we always come back to. The One with whom we have to do.
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