by I Q Cameron
(This is probably not the caption I want beneath my photo, but it was true, nonetheless )
I was an out-and-out heathen as a young man.
My mum had done her best with limited knowledge (but a strong faith) to tell her four sons about God and Jesus – that God loved us all, and that he was all-powerful. Mum instilled in us an innate respect for God, and therefore, for Jesus, though I think it’s fair to say that none of us ever truly understood Jesus’ role in God’s plan to save us until we sought out the answers for ourselves as adults.
Certainly I’ve never doubted that my mum was saved. She told us of her decision to trust Jesus when she was very young, and I recall through all the hard days of my childhood how she stuck to a regimen of prayer and frequent mention of both God and his son, Jesus Christ. I suspect that my mum’s understanding of what God had done for us through Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross was basic at best, but her faith was real enough for sure. And I’ve since learned, that is all that matters.
My mum also, of course, mentioned the need to be ‘saved’ (whatever that meant), and the promise of ‘Heaven’ after this life, though as I recall, these were less than well-explained terms.
That last part particularly appealed to me at the time. I was a typically selfish young man; self-serving, shamefully crude, largely uncaring, and as long as I stayed out of trouble with the law, perhaps more things seemed like fair game than should have. I drank to excess at times, and basically lived for myself. Oh, and did I mention that I was utterly selfish? Of all the foolish things I did, I think that part is what I find most regretful – the selfishness.
And so, the promise of Heaven when I died seemed like a very good thing – a totally undeserved and surely impossible thing – especially to a self-confessed selfish person with a very limited understanding of who Jesus was (and is), and what he did for us on the cross. I might not have known much in those early, ugly days, but I knew for certain that I didn’t deserve Heaven! That much was obvious, especially to me. But I also knew that I sure wanted it, because the other option, though no doubt well deserved and unavoidable, was particularly terrifying.
Indeed, even as an out-and-out heathen, I can remember very clearly standing at the front door of the home of one of my brother’s friends, discussing with that young man and his mother that none of us was likely to get into ‘Heaven’ – whatever that was. An odd conversation for crude, rude young men (and one very down-to-earth mum) to engage in, but it happened, nonetheless.
Even with a mother of my own who had spent all of her sons’ young years doing her best to tell us about Jesus, the Son of God, and of God’s great love for us, I just couldn’t join the dots. None of my brothers or I could at that time. About the only thing we knew for certain was that we were sinners and we didn’t deserve Heaven.
My mum’s rudimentary teaching had awakened my conscience to that much, among other truths.
When two of my brothers moved to a small country town, they met some committed Christians there (normal people with a sense of humour, I mean ), and took up the interest that our mum had planted in us as small children. You see, the odd part is that even though we had all wandered into the typical worldly lifestyles of most young people our age at that time, we each still retained an ever-present… respect for God. A reverence, if you like.
It was not long before two of my brothers put their faith in Jesus, and a short while later so did I, all of us in fairly quick succession. Of course as new Christians, we were pretty rough around the edges to say the least. I recall hiding rubber cockroaches in sandwiches and sugar bowls during the church lunch after the Sunday service, something that proved to be a true test of Christian grace for some of the older members of the congregation. There were other unsavoury things as well, but may I say that those church folk handled everything we did with utter grace and patience. Though perhaps with a few shocked looks.
Those kinds of jokes were a vibrant part of everything we did, all of us working in often-rough and worldly environments in those days. Indeed, I don’t think I have to tell you that the pranks we pulled at church were at the very innocuous end of the rough-and-crude scale of our potential at that time. Indeed, those old ladies were actually spared an awful lot!
At this point I suppose I should confess, some thirty-five odd years later that putting Glad Wrap (cling wrap, Saran Wrap) over the toilets at the church camp was probably going a bit far. At least I can admit that nowadays…
(It was all my brother’s idea.)
You get the point. There were a myriad of less-than-suave moments and plenty of downright godless moments, but we were genuinely saved (trusting in Jesus to save us from hell and from ourselves), nonetheless. Diamonds in the rough, I’ve heard it said. (Just like our mum, when I think about it.) Hmm… maybe us boys were more ‘lumps of clay’ than diamonds…
Indeed, I can recall with clarity one of my brothers and me telling everyone after the Sunday church service about a movie that was coming on the TV that night. We had both seen it a few years before (in our somewhat rougher days), and had thought it was hilarious at the time. So naturally, when we read the TV guide (and you have to understand that there were very limited choices in those days), we just had to tell everyone not to miss this hilarious movie.
Good move, right?
I can also recall with vivid clarity, cringing in front of our TV as we watched that same movie that evening. It was funny, for sure, and while I won’t reveal the name of this movie, let me just say that the fact that Robin Williams was among the cast should give you an indication of just how funny it really was. Need I say more?
It was indeed… hilarious… in parts… especially to a worldly audience. But my brother and I had suggested to everyone who would listen at our church that very morning that they should all enjoy it that night. Oh… How quickly we had forgotten a few of the less-than-finer (and couth) moments in that film. Ooo. It was crude and crass and very worldly… and… genuinely… funny.
No wonder we had recommended it.
But oh, how shocked we were when we watched it again that night. I can still remember laughing about it with one of my brothers. As us Aussies would politely put it, it was a bit of a Barry Crocker (rhyming slang for a shocker)! Barry was a brilliant singer in my younger days. Sorry, Barry...
And we had half the church watching this thing!
I suppose it was a lesson not only on how quickly we can forget the ‘finer’ moments in something, but perhaps too, that whether we realise it or not, God is at work in us, changing us all the time once we put our faith in his son, Jesus Christ.
Nowadays I cringe when I look back on many of the things I did. But I still laugh at that one.
And yes, I cringe at the Glad Wrap thing too. (Sorry, ladies…) Oh, that’s right, I got the fellas (men) too!
Even though God changes us in a moment when we become followers of Jesus, we don’t just lose our crude and selfish habits in that moment, or at least this is my experience and what I have observed in others.
Looking back, some things may be funny and done in innocence, but again, if I was to truly regret anything from those early days of trusting Jesus to save me, it would just be the continuing (though slowly changing) deeply ingrained selfishness that had engulfed me at that time. And perhaps some of the foolishness and crudeness too.
Please understand me without ambiguity; I don’t think we will ever fully outgrow our faults in this lifetime. Hey, I’m living proof, right? Jesus’ (God’s) Spirit within us – teaching and leading us – will help us to always be changing for the better (to make us more like Jesus), but really, we will never be fully changed until we see him face to face in the next life.
After I go to be with Jesus, it will be entirely his job to make me as he wants me to be for eternity. That should be obvious. But what may not be so obvious is that now is no different! My wisdom and changing character are entirely his job; I just have the choice whether or not to be part of what he is doing. But, imperfect as I am (and we all are) in this life, I am thankful that God started the process of changing me for the better – something he has been doing for a period of almost forty years now.
Wow, God sure took on a big job trying to change me…
So, why do I tell you all this?
For the better part of those forty years, I knew very well that I was ‘saved by Jesus’, but when it came to life itself, really I still felt largely lost. Saved by Jesus, yes, but in many ways just wandering in the wilderness. (I think there just might be something Biblical in that…). Of course I am speaking figuratively, but I think it is a fair analogy.
As a young man I wandered from town to town and back again with no real direction in life. I have loved God through all of that lost period, which I think it is fair to say only began after I asked Jesus to save me, and more specifically, to change me. He was dealing with me, you see, and I knew this very well right from the very first day he started in earnest. And so I felt... lost. Not to God’s anger or punishment, but to what was happening in life itself.
Remember all that selfishness I mentioned? That, among many other foolish traits that a young man might pick up along the rough path of a godless life, were things that God had to deal with in me after I trusted Jesus. That’s what God does; he loves us and accepts us just as we are, but in no way is he happy for us to remain the way we were when he ‘saved’ us. There is a refining process (thankfully), and really, it never ends.
For a long time I was bitter with God over this refining process, even though I sincerely loved him, and even acknowledged my need of ‘refining’.
Weird, you might think – like being in a love-hate relationship (though there was never any actual hate – only anger, misunderstanding and impatience on my part). But through it all God loved, taught and changed me, despite my misunderstandings, defensiveness and sometimes bitterness.
There is enormous comfort to be taken by reading about some of the Biblical heroes of the Old Testament. For the newcomer, the Bible is separated into two parts – those things that happened before Jesus Christ came in the flesh (the Old Testament) and those things that happened during his life in the flesh and after his death on the cross (the New Testament). Stories about those who endured discipline and difficulty – even for decades – and still came out loving God and wonderfully refined by God can really help if you are feeling like life has dealt you a bad hand.
There are many I could list, but personally I find the story of Joseph (Genesis Ch37 – Ch50) to be unendingly buoying and helpful. Taking in the lessons that Joseph learned, and realising that all the while God had that young man exactly where he needed to be to ultimately be promoted and honoured can really lift a tired and even bitter spirit to see God’s wisdom in his or her own life. As Joseph went through his long, unfair and arduous trials it must have looked as if God had deserted that young man, but the reality could not have been more different! God was working in and for Joseph all the while! And indeed, it seems that Joseph knew that all along.
And in the end, Joseph was directly responsible (used by God) for saving his entire nation, just as God had always planned.
Then there is Jacob, a rather selfish young man who was crafty and cunning and… well, you need to read about him for yourself (Genesis 25:21 – Genesis Ch50). God led him through all manner of highs and lows and amazing miracles, proof that God never leaves his children’s lives to chance. God never abandons us.
Friend, I can guarantee you that there will be times in you life when you will desperately need to read about God’s dealings and love for his wayward children, and how in the end, he lifts them up. And rest assured, there is a story and a Biblical character to match each and every one of us and our less-than-suave traits and arduous trials.
Indeed, as much as God was training and refining me, I much prefer to think of it as a resetting process – at least in those early days. Those who work with computers will understand that analogy: Sometimes you just have to hit the reset button to make the troublesome thing work as it should! So with me. And with many of us.
Perhaps I should point out that, looking back, I’m certain beyond any doubt that God tried to let me do it all the ‘easy way’ – to learn basic lessons about selflessness and caring for others without my getting hurt by the process. But I was hardheaded and selfish, and so I gave God no choice but to give me some of those very same hard lessons he had tried to let me forgo. And yes, I am very certain of this; God and I have talked it through many times, and I came to see very clearly how he had tried to spare me hard lessons. (But I sure showed him, right! )
At the very least, for those reading this who feel that they too are rather lost in life, or being disciplined by God, trained or even fully reset, I eventually found that there was a great, amazing and beneficial purpose to all of God’s dealings with me. Strangely, he had always assured me that there would be, but when we are suffering, it’s often very hard to believe such promises. They can sound so… blasé. Let’s be honest here: promises of good outcomes can sound completely trite, and be nothing short of angering if we are tired or in the wrong frame of mind.
But truly, there was and is a good ending to the story and the suffering, and thus, great hope throughout the entire process, even when we find it difficult to see hope. Sadly, sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and know that you trust God is in control and that he loves you – even if you can’t feel even a hint of hope anymore!
But really, isn’t that what faith is? If it wasn’t an almost impossible task to remain faithful to God’s plan for your life, even when all seems lost or going wrong or both, then quite frankly, there is no test of faith. The test is when it’s hard. Anyone can function normally in easy times. But it’s the hard times that test our faith, and if you give the process time, you will see that your growth as a Christian happens when times are hard.
If you have your doubts, please just allow God to work on you and in you. In time you will see his love behind all the difficult times and hard things you go through. His goal is not your terrible pain, which by the way, is absolutely real! No. His goal is your good, and an outcome that is utterly beneficial to you. It’s just hard to see this when you’re still in the storm.
But hang in there. Every storm ends.
And the most beautiful days of all follow storms.
So don’t mistake me: it was hard and I was lonely for many years – especially as a new Christian. And even when my lovely wife, Christine, came along (by God’s kind mercy to me) to help me and give me some direction, I still remained largely lost. Indeed, I felt lost for the better part of thirty-five years, questioning God as to why so many of my plans had not come to fruition, and why so much of what I tried had simply… failed…
I want to confess that over those decades, I still remained harsh in many ways, even though I have known Jesus as a friend and saviour all that time. At the time I would have said I was simply resolute and committed, but the reality was (I can see very clearly now) that I was rather harsh in my views. And often my harshness was with the best of motives, and almost without exception, without me realising I was being harsh!
Hmm... Harsh with the best of motives. There's a humbling thought...
Not only was I often too ‘firm’ in my attitudes and opinions, but of late God has been showing me that very often I was simply wrong, or at the very least, misled or misguided. So, all of this is to explain that God may have finally gotten through to my slow-witted mind, despite all of my strong views and harshness throughout the years.
And so I hope to encourage as many as I can - to look further at the life and teachings of Jesus, or at the very least, to give yourself food for thought.
Perhaps best of all, I think that what I’ve learned is a vitally important and moving message for both the follower of Christ, and the non-adherent alike (the Christian and non-Christian). I know that what God has shown me has the power to liberate both myself and my fellow Christian believers, as well as those who do not yet know Jesus as the one who truly loves us all and saves us from our sins and ourselves.
If you would like to be saved from your sins (and yourself), please read on. I have no more interest in useless religious practices or meaningless sayings than you do. In fact, it is my experience that those things do far more harm than good. At best they can keep a genuine seeker of Jesus Christ (of God, because Jesus is God’s Son) from ever going on to find the true, deep and saving love of God.
God wants a real and face-to-face loving relationship with you!
With me! With us all!
And religion will never achieve that! Indeed, it repels it and very often destroys it!
My experience is that the people of the world-at-large have a very limited view as to who Jesus is and what he really did on that cross – out of absolute LOVE for us. And I only know this because I lived knowing just part of the truth for decades myself, even though I was convinced at the time that I ‘knew it all’.
But I was misled. And if you will allow me, I'd like to help you find your way home to God too.
Even though I’ve already hinted at it, allow me to say something that may come as a shock to some. People of ‘the world’ are not the only ones who don’t know what Jesus really did for us when he died on the cross.
Many Christians only live out their faith with half the message too! What kind of a horrendous tragedy is that!!! Oh, we speak of God's grace towards us, and we very often quote the scriptures pertaining to love, forgiveness and grace, but in reality, so many of us have largely missed it! Sadly, many genuinely devoted and loving Christians live on with secret fears that paralyse the spirit and sap our joy, and make it almost impossible to spread a joy and freedom that we ourselves don't even own!
What I am referring to being missing is, of course, the deep, deep love of God for ALL men and women!!! And the absolute conviction that we are forgiven for all sin for all time - yesterday, now, tomorrow and forever!
We speak reassuring words about God's love and forgiveness to the ‘unsaved’ (those who have not yet sought out Jesus Christ as their personal saviour – and that is usually because they haven’t yet seen the real Jesus! So sad, but so true…) We tell those ‘outside the church’ that God truly loves them, and that Jesus died for them! And this is absolutely true! But so very sadly, it seems that so often that once a person decides to put their faith in Jesus for salvation from their sins, that is about the last time they will hear of God's love and grace.
After that, sadly and so often, come the rules...
Oh yes, we still use the words of grace (oh, how often we recite these words and principles to each other), but the reality of ‘becoming part of the church’ can be a very different thing. The ‘love of God’ we are told to seek out so relentlessly is so often mired in busyness, rules, ‘study’ meetings, being ‘accountable’ to each other, being accountable by being present at… well, everything… Perhaps those who do attend a church and are reading this right now can relate, even if you don’t agree with where you think this atricle might be going.
For clarity, allow me to make it very clear that I do not question anyone’s salvation! Not only is that Jesus’ job, not mine, but I would never dare to make such a statement. Only God knows the heart of each of us, and we all do well to remember that (even those branding me as some kind of rebel or worse right at this moment for daring to venture an opinion thought out under God’s clear direction over a very long period of time).
Neither do I in any way condemn ‘the church’. Churches have been responsible for continuing to get the message of Jesus out ever since he died on the cross for us, and ‘the church’ is pictured in the New Testament as the bride for whom Jesus is coming back. My questions merely relate to ‘what the church is?’ and perhaps, ‘what the church has become?’ Or perhaps, how have we been misled – not by an outright lie, mind you, but by the remarkably well-disguised cunning of the enemy – so as to be distracted from what God has said that we, the church, should be doing?
I always heard that the best lies are planted with on seed of truth. But perhaps this is not correct. Satan may not have used false ‘words’ to actually lie in the garden when he misled Adam and Eve, but his insinuation – the planting of the seeds of doubt in God’s children’s minds – certainly poses nothing short of a devious and cunning lie.
Hence, perhaps twisted words that are intended to coax a person to draw the wrong conclusion are surely the most devious lie of all!
And so my question is not whether the church is lying or even being lied to, per se, but whether the best of intentions by honest, committed Christians have led us to forgo believing what God said was the best way to live, to opt for a well-disguised lie!
And all with the very best of intentions!
Because of that I think it pertinent to pass on what God has been showing me over such a long period, through his love and immense kindnesses to me. And I sincerely ask that you read on, as this missing and vital part of our faith is rather well hidden and hard to explain.
But soooooo well worth the look!
For those of us who grew up in what I like to think of as ‘the conservative church’ (my term only), we still have much to learn. With an emphases on acknowledging that all scripture is given by God, and therefore reliable (2 Timothy 3:16), our emphasis was inherently to believe ‘the word of God’. Now, please hear me; this is good thing! And more importantly, the word of God is entirely reliable, even if often misinterpreted by mankind.
However, if our well-educated 21st Century minds misunderstand even a small part of the very God-given scripture we tout as being so important, then we are suddenly at risk of preaching something that may be either inaccurate at best, or at worst downright misleading – at the tops of our voices!
And while we are doing that, rest assured that we will be wondering why the rest of the ‘churches’ and even the very society we have been instructed by God to love, are not doing the same things we are! Perhaps this is one of the traps of academia! We so often seek to increase our knowledge about Biblical, historical and spiritual matters at the cost of the traits Jesus said were most important: love, faith, hope, kindness, grace...
As I hope to show (from my own experiences and from what I’ve learned), in emphasising some important parts of our Christian faith, we Christians may have ‘strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel’, as Jesus put it (Matthew 23:23,24 NIV). If you think not, then please read on. And if you are tempted to agree because of a lack-lustre faith-experience, then please definitely read on!
Indeed, I would go as far as to say that we (Christians) have been largely misled about the full salvation that Jesus provides us when we place our trust in him. And if we aren’t aware of the full story, then how can we become beacons on a hill or a light for the lost?
If we’re going to let our light shine before men, best we make sure it’s fully lit first, right?
God has always been at work to save his creation – to save you and me. And largely, the world does not understand the Christian message, because we – so many in the church, have not understood it completely either!
I hope to share with you through a series of articles just what I mean about what has been missing in our Christian faith. I believe that finding what has been lost will remove the stigma from trying to 'force youself' to witness for Jesus to others - because it will become just so natural. It will remove feelings of animosity toward God, and answer nagging questions. Indeed, if I hadn't already found these simple, yet so-long-ignored and vital parts of our faith to be absolutely and completely revolutionary, I would not take the time to write these articles.
So, perhaps now, after almost forty years of wandering in the wilderness and learning quietly and (very) slowly (with the help of others, may I point out), you will allow me the kindness of explaining what I have learned. And like I said, this I do very humbly.
God bless you, my friends.
And I will endeavour not to put any more rubber cockroaches in the sugar bowl at your church. Okay?
Read any or all of my articles from the top right of the page.