My Repentance (Part II)
It was only a year ago that I sat down and wrote Part I of this essay (My Repentance). I still have plenty of things on my mind I would like to write about. My younger friends tell me that short newsletters, Twitter-like, are better. Others tell me they simply do not have time to read longer articles. There seems to be a consensus that talking about my experience in knowing God would be helpful to some of my special friends.
Back in the Fall of 1962 when I became a Christian I was in a state of existential despair, having come to the conclusion that life was meaningless and there were no absolutes to reply upon. Furthermore I had turned 30 a few months earlier and surely the best years were lost and gone; all that remained was old age and oblivion.
Jesus Christ was represented to me as the answer to everything. Apparently, Jesus is surrounded by a backdrop of eternal bliss. He evidently has plenty of clout. When I gave Jesus Christ permission to be Lord of my life I had no idea what to expect, so I was amazed when everything in my consciousness changed in a split second. Jesus was suddenly very real. A great weight of shame and guilt was gone. I had not expected God to be Personal and Interactive. He is.
I got involved in a good many church activities immediately, I dumped a bunch of old friends (bad idea) and set out to be a zealot of the old school.
I noticed that the older members of my church read the Bible through at least once a year (the results could usually been seen in their lives). So I soaked in the Bible morning, noon, and night. My church had a mid-week prayer meeting which I immediately assumed was required attendance. So I attended and learned how to pray among the best. I discovered that all-church retreats were a great way to meet one's fellow spiritual travelers. Them, a bit later, I doscovered that teaching Sunday School classes was the fastest way to learn. Looking back 49 years ago now these are the pluses I remember about my early Christian years.
I still urge new Christians to be part of a small group, to seek out mature Christians to hang out with, to become familiar with the whole Bible, and to walk closely with the Lord Jesus Christ: Jesus is a very personal God and a Christian's forever best Friend. It takes a lifetime to begin to appreciate that amazing truth.
A half-century is a long time to be a Christian. Looking back I can see the old paradox makes sense, "When you become a Christian, everything changes; but on the other hand nothing changes." The richness and quality of the past 49 years far exceeds the lasting content and value of the first thirty. "My Search" was printed many years ago by Stonecroft Ministries—it is the simple story of my conversion. The audio version is more recent. The true and expanded story of my life has turned out far, far more complex and dynamic than I ever imagined. I'm not dead yet and I've been told that the important thing about being a Christian is "enduring" to the end.
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
I won't pretend that the path today is as easy as it was those long years ago. God's dealings with us, it turns out are tailoring exactly for our needs.
Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: “For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." (Hebrews 10:35-39)
One of the pivotal decisions I made a few years into my Christian life came the realization that I was probably not being called to marry. Well-intentioned friends at church kept calling my attention to the available not-too-old women who were available. My entire life, until I came to know Jesus, had been dominated by "My Search." That search for the "purpose and meaning of life" began when I was about five years old. I converted our old chicken coup into my meditation chapel where I would go to contemplate the meaning of life. By the age of five, I knew I should head in the general direction of science and I was fairly certain that "religion" was for old ladies and the intellectually naive.
I knew that for me a successful married life would be a lot of hard work. It was amazing to me to realize how lost I had been for 30 years all the time searching, searching, searching in vain. Now that I had the only real answer in life that works, should I not make the rest of my life available to Jesus? After all the Apostle Paul had said, "But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord--how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world--how he may please his wife." (1 Corinthians 7:29-33)
Now many years later I can say I do not regret staying single. There are unique perils to staying single, not the least of which is learning to be celibate and chaste and abstinent and pure and celibate. In my present later years I probably would not be doing well alone were it not for a bevy of friends who come and go and sleep on my living room floor and want to talk the Bible and theology by the hour. A more important lesson about knowing God is that Jesus is the Supply for every need, the Answer to every question, the Solution to every conundrum. Please see John Piper's fine essay, "Single in Christ: A Name Better Than Sons and Daughters."
A few years into the Christian faith my godly pastor, Dr. Ralph Kraft, told me (he was obviously irritated) that I should stop taking "pot shots at the church." Sure enough I was already a committed iconoclast. God began to show me the big picture about the church and the false, about the special place of Israel in the plan of God, the danger of false teachers in every generation. Against Dr. Kraft's advice I drove across town one Sunday to hear a new upstart, Ray C. Stedman. Ray did not sound quite like other teachers. His messages were always packed with new insights into the Bible. Speaking in an ordinary voice in perfectly clear ordinary English, his words open vistas into the invisible realm which is called "the heavenly places." I soon discovered most Christians defaulted to living by the Old Covenant.
Just as I was grasping the differences between the Old and New Covenants (see http://ldolphin.org/authentic.html), I was overtaken by devastating sin. Suffice it to say I very nearly died. For seven years I wandered back in my pre-Christian, thoroughly pagan life style. There are a number of reasons for this disaster but one contributing factor was probably my decision to simply put my old life on hold for later rehabilitation perhaps (?) What I finally discovered is that the Christian life involves a very close and intimate relationship with Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount closes with the solemn words of Jesus (Matthew 7:13-29) to the effect that bystanders sitting on the sidelines of life will be shut out of His kingdom. Jesus offers love—self-giving love to all of us. We are required to respond to that love. We will be changed until we are able and willing to follow Jesus anywhere and to love others as He loves. But we must die to self in order to be able to receive from Jesus the Life and Truth He gives to us to distribute.
The dark side of life has to do with discovering how self-centered we all are. Looking at the world around us, that ought to be obvious, but we are masters of denial. Or at least I am.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
"But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away." (Isaiah 64:6)
So Jesus said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:18-23)
Very often the Bible portrays as "already solved" a whole host of horrific problems we find still resident in us. Thus, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold all things have become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
We live in a fallen world which is ruled over by the most evil of all of the fallen angels. Our bodies (i.e. "the flesh") are the seat of countless lusts and cravings that seek to lure us away from Jesus, and back to "the pleasures of sin for a season."
All sin can be forgiven. Sin, once forgiven, can never be charged against us. But all sin has consequences—see "The Consequence Engine." The Christian life is a spiritual journey in which we each work out our own salvation as if everything is coming from us, and nothing coming from God. In reality claiming the prize Jesus has already obtained for us requires our day to day obedience and response to Jesus in a life of faith. "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 3:16)
Full circle: The goal of following Jesus Christ is not for us to end up in our own personal paradise with endless delight and bliss. The goal is holiness. Holiness in a sense means "well-roundedness," or "wholeness." The one attribute of God, which ties all the rest together, is holiness. None of us knows the appointed time God has set for each of us to go the see the Lord Jesus person. A very-soon Rapture seems to be impending even as I write this. Next Chapter: How to attain to a holy life one day at a time.
Stumbling Blocks on the Road to Wholeness, http://ldolphin.org/stumbling.html
Sexuality and Wholeness, by Ray C. Stedman, http://ldolphin.org/sexrcs.html
Finding the Will of God, by Ray C. Stedman, http://ldolphin.org/will.html
Jesus is our Sabbath Rest, http://ldolphin.org/sabbathrest.html
Finances: If you are able to invest in my ministry, I'd be most grateful. My last paying job with a regular monthly paycheck was actually back in the Fall of 1988. In many amazing ways God has provided ever since, with perfect fidelity. I have Social Security Income, and a small retirement fund check. Basic expenses living in Silicon Valley, California have always been extra high. They are now higher still. I still owe a sizeable balance on last year's income tax. My income the past three months has been down by nearly $2000 per month! You may send contributions directly to my PayPal account. which are tax free to me, though not to you.
Change: The Blue Letter Bible ministry has graciously provided a better channel for tax-deductible donations. If you would like a tax receipt, mail your check to Blue Letter Bible ATTN: Lambert Dolphin Ministries (LDM), 29 Rancho Circle, Lake Forest, CA 92630 (Please make your check out to "Blue Letter Bible" and mark "LDM" in the memo field of your check). Thank you very much!
Health: Though I was very, very ill last year, our God has been restoring my health a lot this year. Eating healthy foods and exercising have made a big difference. I am actually very thankful for the times of reduced health—they helped me to focus more on the Lord Jesus than ever. I told several friends that I have learned more about God in the last two years than in the previous 47.
Contacting me: Email: email@example.com, Website: http://ldolphin.org, Apologetics and Q&A:, http://paracleteforum.org; Previous newsletters, http://ldolphin.org/news. While I try to answer all my email, I am not very good at returning phone calls.
Book: My colleague Ron Graf and I hope you will obtain copies of our brand new book on Bible Prophecy, Connecting the Dots... http://bible-prophecy.com/connecting
“For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38-39)
October 1, 2011