I WAS AFRAID OF GOD

b7d8f979aa62bdc6d88f0611422eda3e“It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:31NASB). 

At a very young age God seemed distant and I was deathly afraid of him. I saw God through the eyes of a Roman Catholic who attended Immaculate Conception on Staten Island, NY.  It’s all I knew. I am not placing the blame on anyone or any group. I had kind, loving priests who I saw as angelic. They were masculine, old school priests who were gentle and godly. The only time I talked to them was when I used to go confession and wait my turn to go into the booth. I watched the light turn from red to green and it was my turn. I talked to them through the screen. Why did they do that? I did not know. Maybe they did not want to know who was talking to them. I could smell Father McGinn’s Aqua Velva™ and I knew it was him. I would confess my sins.

After I exited, they would have me pray prayers that would make up for my dirty deeds and sad I did not know them all. I knew the “Hail Mary” and the “Our Father”  but the “Glory to the Father” always got me. I did not want to look like I was dumb or maybe I was afraid to ask how to pray it. So I just repeated the phrase over and over. So I could only hope I did the right thing. But I did not feel forgiven. I did not know what it was to be forgiven. I just did it because I thought you could not take communion on Sunday. For me that was church, sit, stand, kneel and go up front and the priest would say, “Body of Christ.” and I  would say, “Amen.” I did not know what that meant. But I would take communion and go home.

I did not know the nuns at all except for when I had “released time” from P.S. 14. I liked learning about God. I remember climbing up the altar at church slowly because I thought God was up there and I wanted to see. But the nuns told me to get back down. They thought I was fooling around but I was not. My heart was empty. I could cry at the fact that no one knew. I thought I loved God but I was afraid of him. It was a strange contradiction. No one helped me with that dread. I lived with terrible guilt. My parents loved me, provided for me and even sent me to church. But church was a scary place and I was always doing something wrong. I was always getting in trouble. I was setting fires or fighting with my brother. I grasped the total truth that I was a sinner-I knew it for sure then and I felt at any moment God would kill me for my crimes against him. I wrote about it even in poetry. I would write and ask God, “Please don’t kill me.”

I would lay awake in my room at night and see things. My imagination would run wild. I was afraid of the angels on the wallpaper I thought they were alive. So I used to sing myself to sleep. I would make up some song (my twin brother Mike would do the same thing) and go “La, La, La” and my mother would hear us but she knew we were singing. But I never called out when to my parents when I was afraid, I don’t know why.

I was alone. I had no gospel. I had no Bible. I was lost.

I used to steal books. I loved books and I love reading them. My parents would have bought them for me but I was a quiet kid and a thief. One time I stole a children’s Bible out of a library. I did not have a library card and I did not ask how I could get one. I loved the pictures in it and I wanted to read it. I guess when I hear people who get their Bible’s stolen, it may be someone like me, it’s OK, let them have it.

I began to see artists rendition of prophets whose name I could not pronounce but I could say names like Abraham, Moses and Micah. But it was when I read Jeremiah that something happened to me.

That is for the next time. This is the first article in this series.

©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due.

You see this picture?

DV0103You see this picture? Its from John 8. The woman caught in sin.

You and I were caught. No, it is not a scandal in the news perhaps but the shame and fear of consequences does something to our entire being.

Your mind and heart has a race and you cannot catch your breath. God catches people doing everything from stupid to evil things, everyday, all the time.

See the frowns of the religious, even so-called church people and the tenderness of Jesus?

Yes he is looking at you. he stands in between you and them.

The jury of the religious are powerless to hurt you despite your sins.

This is the day Jesus says with a smile of love, “I don’t condemn you, go and sin no more.”

Today, is the day Jesus showed you forgiveness of sin and freedom from sin.

He shows you mercy despite your crimes.

You did not ask, he just does it. Your spirit comes alive and your desires now have changed.

Jesus Christ shows you justice as well.

The justice of the cross.

He died in your place. He was glad to do it. He loved you as he did it. He loves you gladly now.

All the LAW and its law-men could do was justly bludgeon you with stones.

You see that smile? Jesus has spoken in his justice and righteousness and all is well.

You will never be condemned. The consequence and power of sin has been broken by Christ the Almighty Savior. 

HELP IS ON THE WAY!

Help is on the way! What a sigh of relief that gives the Christian who can bodly say, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” (Heb 13:6). I think this is good news-don’t you? I know these are difficult times, you look at the mess you are in and all you feel is alone,  bewildered or perplexed constantly thinking, “Where did I go wrong?”  There is guilt for past sins and bad decisions and you feel alone or like you are being punished.  There are some reading this article that are staring at some insurmountable problem that is testing the very heart of their faith in God. Others have to deal with the perfunctory day-to-day issues eating away at their souls. But God who does not sleep or slumber will preserve your soul from evil and you go about your daily life.  Your,  “help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.” (Ps 121:2).

What is worse is other people you trusted and depended on are not there. “My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away.” (Ps 38:11NIV). Some people just become cold and aloof to others who have issues. You were there for them, prayed for them and wept with them but now they are nowhere to be found. People do not know what to say, they do not know what to do for you, so they stay away.

Sometimes people become vicious toward us. “They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul.” (Ps 35:12). It is pretty sick the way we human beings treat each other especially when people pay others back with evil instead of good. There are people who are just envious and miserable and they love company. They are jaded, thinking everyone has some hidden hypocrisy and when bad things happen they see it as God’s disfavor.  Notice what the scripture says, “they do it to the spoiling of our souls.”  They seem to rob our faith and plunder our victory, maliciously waiting to see your failure. This is not paranoia, but it seems since they can’t attack God they use you for target practice. David has people saying about him,  “There is no help for him in God.” (Ps. 3:2).   They look and say, “Wow they have really blown it this time, even their God will not rescue them out of this mess.”  The deep dark trials that some Christians have endured have made others think God has left them. In the time of trial, weakness our brothers and sisters need help not condemnation and accusation. But help is on the way!!!

Your God has always proved to be “a very present help in time of trouble.” (Ps. 46:1).  A very present help.  The word “very” here means above average, out of the ordinary, exceeding and in the extreme. Trouble is a problem in the extreme. You need an extreme God and an  incredible Savior.  Life is no longer ordinary it has taken a dangerous turn. You profess a faith that sees God in control every day as the one by who things all things consist, who makes everything stable, everything nominal. But the speed of life can be dizzying  and out of control, so this is why you need to see God as the Lord over problems no matter how extreme. You will see that your difficulty is no match for your Savior God Almighty! He is nearer than the trouble. Notice he does not just send you a letter or a check, He will come himself. He will help you, run at the first cry of distress.  William Gurnall in his classic The Christian in Complete Armor writes: 

“How much more will God, who is the Father of such dispositions in his creature, stir up his whole strength to defend his children?  ‘He said, They are my people, so he became their Saviour,’ Isa. 63:8.  As if God had said, Shall I sit still with my hand in my bosom, while my own people are thus misused before my face?  I cannot bear it.  The mother as she sits in her house hears one shriek, and knowing the voice, cries out, ‘O it is my child.’  Away she throws all, and runs to him.  Thus God takes the alarm of his children’s cry: ‘I heard Ephraim bemoaning himself, saith the Lord;’ his cry pierced his ear, and his ear affected his bowels, and his bowels called up his power to the rescue of him.” He is more present than the difficulty, closer than the pain of a broken heart and  nearer to the one who is distressed and wounded. Help is on the way!

When will God help his church? “God will help her right early.” (Ps. 46:5). He will be the early! What a promise! “Make no tarrying Oh my God.” (Ps 40:7).  You may lie down with tears on your face but the sun will open your eyes with joy. He has heard your cry, “Help me LORD! I am needy, broken and hurting!”  Yes, help us Lord early! We need your help!  “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up! (Ps 5:3). This darkness will pass and morning will break with glorious light!  Like Spurgeon says,  “As soon as the first ray of light proclaims the coming day, at the turning of the morning God’s right arm shall be outstretched for his people.” Amen and amen. This is the day that the Lord has made and in a time of salvation he is helping you! Notice a time of trouble is seen as a time of salvation in the scriptures. It is trials savings time! Like the first light of the dawn rushes over the horizon may the Spirit of God help us. Help is on the way!

My wife and I were in a large church in New Jersey looking at a giant mural of Peter and Christ in the famous walking on the water story. In fact, the caption under the picture said, “Come and walk on the water with me.” But both my wife and I saw it differently. We remembered what the scripture said of Peter said, at that moment when he yelled, “Lord save me!”  Oh dear christian although he invites you to walk on the water, it is safe to say, you may not do it perfectly. There are times you will feel the water coming upon you up to your face and all you can do is cry for help! Yes you must have faith that  His help can uphold you, but on the other hand if you falter you shall not drown either.  THIS IS THE LORD WE ARE TALKING ABOUT!  The mighty Savior, the God of the armies of the heavens. This is the One who, “gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment…” (Prov 8:29).  He will help! You will not drown. You have one of his exceeding great and precious promises: Thus says the Lord in Isaiah 43:2: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee…”  Help is on the way!

Don’t be afraid, I know your anxiety beats your heart like a drum in your ears, your brow is furrowed with confusion and your body trembles with fear, but can you even at this moment feel the strength of the nail scarred hand of Christ grab your hand and as you “look and live” you will see the most tender loving eyes of Jesus ask you, “Wherefore didst thou doubt?” Don’t feel condemned. He must ask this question. Your doubts will melt away as he shows you how ridiculous your fears were as the Lord Jesus escorts you through the raging sea of trouble. See how big, how wonderful, how powerful Jesus our Master really is! He is not bringing you back to safety for HE is your safety as much on the water as in the boat or on the shore. The sinewy arm of the carpenter of Nazareth is no other than the  Lord who has made bare his arm in the sight of all the nations and he will save. Your help in his righteousness not your own! “Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters.” (Ps 69: 14). Help is on the way!

He saves you as though you and he were on dry ground. The water, “under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone.” (Ex 24:10). What once almost drowned you becomes a place that you walk on. People will be amazed and some even ashamed because of the invisible power of Christ upholds you.  

It becomes like a precious jewel.  The time of trial is like refining gold in fire (1 Pet 1:7) and becomes a priceless time of learning and sparkles with God’s glory and presence. Heavenly Jerusalem’s streets are, “pure gold, as it were transparent glass.” (Rev 21:21).   What should have made you sink now is a firm foundation beneath your feet. 

It should also be noted that it is “paved with love.” (Song 3:10).  You will find that what you thought were bitter steps was actually God was leading you in his love closer to him! Every step you took in the trial was ordered by the Lord and lined with his affection for you.  What people saw as God’s abandonment has now made a major turn around. Do not doubt. Do not be afraid! Help is on the way!

We must note finally that man was in extreme sin, radically depraved. “How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water.” (Job 15:16). Men and women are described as the wicked who are like “the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. ” (Isa 57:20).   All people are “without strength” (Rom. 5:6) and the sinner is helpless to save himself. The Bible says, “God was in Christ” and he became his people’s very present, extreme help!  There he stepped out in front of Pilate’s ” judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.” (John 19:13).  Before Golgotha there was Gabbatha. There in the ocean of man’s criminal acts and God’s wrath against sinners,  he stepped out on the waters and walked God’s justice like no other could all the way to Calvary. There his steps were paved with an everlasting love and there on the Cross with a superhuman strength he stretched out those same arms that saved Peter and gathered his elect people in salvation to himself.  Through the gospel he calls them from death to life. There he says I will “uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee!” (Isa. 41:10, 13). Only God by his grace can help us. He  is he only One who can rescue us from the danger of dying in our sins.  

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me, now safe am I…Souls in danger look above, Jesus completely saves, He will lift you by His love, out of the angry waves. He’s the Master of the sea, billows His will obey, He your Savior wants to be, be saved today. Love lifted me! Love lifted me! When nothing else could help Love lifted me!

Help is on the way!

Tales From the Furnace Part 1

furnace“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy…for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14).

 

We are saved by God’s sovereign grace alone, through faith alone by Christ alone for God’s glory alone. But we will go through a process of sanctification and be comformed to his image. What I am attempting to say is not email, voice mail or snail mail it is heart mail. I only know that in order to change and change I must, that the furnace can not be side stepped. Only when you grow sick and tired of your self and you will, then you of your own free will enter the furnace. You will cry for purging of your sin nature rather than pardon for your sins. The children of Israel were told, “But the LORD hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day. (Deut 4:20).

 

Those are ominous words at first reading. Peter tells those persecuted Christians thousands of years ago that trials are fiery. This verse can say easily, “Don’t be amazed by the burning!”  I am amazed that this could happen to me. My present suffering is agony on fire and a trial by fire. It burns. It injures. It hurts so badly. My tears are like the crackling of the flames. When I am dumb with silence I just feel the steady heat, I have a steady glow as all the moisture in me is turned into a drought (Psalm 32:4). I am dehydrated. I thirst! My soul is a dry and thirsty land where there is no water and I thirst for God (Psalm 63:1-3)! Of course it burns, scorching fire is involved. If by chance you hear or read these words and you are experiencing pain, you are not unspiritual, it does not mean you are carnal because you are in pain.

 

There is dignity in this time even when you feel all your self-respect has been stripped away. People will accuse you or worse counsel you during this time. This is a matter of intimacy. Man’s opinion or man pleasing is the heart of all lethal religion. Of the Pharisees who refused the fire of Christ’s words it says, “All their works they do for to be seen of men!” (Mt. 23:5). Do you and I feel absolved from this sort of criminal act? The Message version says, “Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next.” Man’s opinion of you must become fuel for the furnace or you will never benefit from this trial. You will be useless for the Master’s work. When you come to the realization of how many things you have done to be seen of men instead of God, it will break your heart!

 

You and I feel disfigured on the way to be transfigured. What you were, what you know does not matter at all in these flames. Self esteem and confidence-what are they in this furnace that incinerates all things?

 

A healthy view of self is not against scripture and impish false humility is loathsome to God but self hatred has its place as well. But everything is an issue to the flames including your identity and titles. Your history and good works are but dung if you would win Christ! (Phil 3:8). Nothing can douse the inferno. Man centered theology cannot help you. Don’t speak to me of psychology. Leave me and my Beloved alone. You cannot know. Only he can. What you and I know about God is tested and if it is worthless it is reduced to ashes as the fire licks at our mind and soul and removes it to where we have more questions than answers! 

 

If you are suffering, you are suffering like Christ did. To be like Jesus is the prayer of any child of God who has a sane understanding of what it is to be a Christian. I am stunned as I read that people “did not accept deliverance that they might obtain a better resurrection!” (Heb 11:35). What kind of mindset is that compared to what we hear preached in the pop theology of the emergent, church growth cults of today?

 

But could you look at him in the face, touch his nail scarred hands, the wound that was from a lance thrust in his side and look down art his nail pierced feet never having endured suffering and trial? Is Jesus in his suffering so disfigured in your eyes that you do not see the beauty he has? Paul prayed for “the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings!” (Phil 3:10). The Murdock translation says, “That I might know Jesus, and the efficacy of his resurrection; and might participate in his sufferings, and be assimilated to his death.” The effectiveness of his resurrection life can only be appreciated when you are personally involved with a suffering for Christ and are absorbed into his death! Is this suffering Jesus someone you avoid? It is a fellowship and companionship. Those who associate with him do suffer. But we suffer with him that we might reign with him. (2 Tim 3:12).

 

As hard as it is to accept, a radiance and splendor of his presence is going to be seen in you like never before. You are being integrated into all that Jesus is, in this furnace. The spirit of glory and of God will rest on you.

 

This trial is familiar yet unique. It is a test. Why now? Either things were going so well, or things are bad enough! Now a test comes! It is not a pop quiz, it is like a pop SAT. Trials are not strange. It is not an accident. This is not THE trial with no obstacles afterward. There are many ordeals in this life (James 1:2-3). God says “Don’t be confused. It is on purpose. You must be tested and proven.”  God is not after you he is after something in you. Like a dangerous glaucoma of pride, or the cancer of bitterness, any soul damning desires that lurk like a cancer that pretends to be benign when it actually can turn terminal in an instant.

 

But no matter despite what Peter our brother in Christ wrote to us, my first reaction to life’s complications is that they are strange and I am confused. I have been here before but it is a different scene.