Dr. Stephen Phinney | Sept. 23, 2020 |
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the victor’s crown, the life God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
I cannot tell you how much my soul fought this verse through the years! First of all, the word “trial” was something I worked throughout my entire life to avoid. Secondly, I have had a fear of being “tested” since I was old enough to understand exactly what testing meant. Finally, the “victor’s crown” was a term that described a life that I believed I would never be able to attain here on earth – at least until I discovered what it truly meant to have the indwelling Life of Christ.
When I was 16 years of age, my life was a trainwreck. I was at the moment in history where my life was in a grave crisis. I was on a collision course to the Creator. I was daily pushing the self-destruction button – spiritually, psychologically, and physically. I was unraveling at every turn. I was faced with the horrific truth of “Woe unto them who call evil good and good evil.” Living in an ungodly and unchurched home that not only denied the inward Life of Christ but refused to acknowledge His presence. At which time, each family member viewed me as a liar and the boy who cried wolf.
Since my father was the son of a progressive preacher and church reformer and suffered from being a “preacher’s kid,” he decided at a very early age to walk away from Christ, the church, and all those who were a part of it. This attitude and determination were embedded into our family life. I saw defilement in our household that stretched from witchcraft to immorality – with no talk of Christ and Christianity. I didn’t know who Jesus Christ was, let alone His existence. However, I was familiar with His name as a swear-word. The results of this demise, the redeeming value of Christ's Life was absent.
Out of a family of six children, I was the youngest born son – with two sisters following. For whatever reason, God chooses me to be the first to inherit salvation. Looking back, I can see His reasons. He was about to start the process of restoring our family’s Biblical lineage through the weakest link.
One cool summer day, I was asked to stay with my aunt and uncle for a week. My uncle, who managed a local popcorn stand – a little 6 x 20 building on the corner of a busy downtown street, needed a long-awaited vacation. So, I was selected as his relief.
On the second day of my newly assigned adventure, something very unusual happened. At 3:05 in the afternoon, a young man knocked on the window. Treating him as a normal customer, I asked him what he wanted to order. With that, he said, “did you know that Jesus Christ loves you?” As respectfully as possible, I dismissed him and closed the window. The following day at 3:05, there was a knock at the window. Not recognizing him, I asked for his order. With that, he said, “did you know that Jesus Christ loves you?” This time being put off by his request, I told him to get lost and don’t come back.
That night when I got back to my aunt and uncle's home, I asked my aunt (my father’s sister) who this Jesus was. She explained who He was in such a way that it left no mark on my conscious. Later, when I slipped off to bed, I began to be oppressed with a darkness that no words could describe. I was pinned to the bed, couldn’t move or even speak. Somehow in this dark place, I managed to get the name of this Jesus to roll off my tongue. I repeated this name over and over. After several hours of this torturous experience, the oppression lifted.
After arriving at work the next day, I eagerly awaited for 3:05 – hoping this young man would return. And sure enough, he did! When he knocked on the window, I opened the door and said, “get you’re a** in here.” I grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him into the stand, sat him in the chair, and asked him, “who is this Jesus?” His reply was, “I was sent to tell you He loves you.” With those words, he got up and left. I never saw him again.
Within the hour, I noticed a basement Christian Bookstore across the street from the stand, which I hadn’t noticed before. I closed the stand, walked across the street, walked into this store, while standing in the doorway, I shouted out, “Is there anyone here who can tell me who this Jesus is?” With that request, the worker went to get the manager. I repeated the question, and he gave me a free book on prayer and then went back to his office. It was a shame, though – I didn’t know how to read. However, many years later, the author of this book became a dear friend. He now tells this story.
After finishing my responsibilities for my uncle that week, I drove back home. I was eager to ask my mother, “who is this Jesus?” In which she replied, “Oh h*** I don’t know, go ask the preacher in town.” So, I got in my car, drove up to the preacher’s house, knocked on the door, and while the pastor was standing there, I asked, “Can you tell me who Jesus is?” He grabbed his Bible, and off we went to the church. He walked me to the front of the church. He asked me to get on my knees. He clearly explained who Jesus was and what He did for me. With clarity only known to the Spirit, he led me in a salvation prayer that was real, honest, and straight from the heart of God. I became immediately overwhelmed by a feeling of this Jesus indwelling my soul and spirit. This man not only became my pastor but was one of the pastors who married my wife and I years later. He told this story for years to come.
I accepted Christ as my Savior that day but was not told the full truth. I clearly understood that Jesus died on the Cross for me but was not told that I died with Him. This slip of Truth turned me into a Christian who played-god to survive life.
It was a "radical" conversion and transformation, and, because of it, I was rejected severely by my father and siblings. I was labeled a "Jesus Freak" and considered to be on drugs. These rejections ultimately lead to my father committing to "never" acknowledging my conversion or service unto the Lord until shortly before his death.
Because of my conversion, God began to use my "zealous" heart to minister to those around me. Salvation followed in the lives of many who the Lord put in front of me and yes, ultimately, my father several years before his death.
After a couple of years, due to the lack of personal discipleship, I began to slip back into my fleshly patterns of self-destruction. Finding myself in a position of no job, friends, or family support, I became hopelessly despairing.
Even though I received the indwelling Life of Christ at 16 years of age (salvation), I did not understand exactly what that meant to my daily living until many years later. Since the day of my salvation, I had a heart-hunger for the Word but was not able to embrace the Spirit of Truth/Word until the Lord took me on a journey that revealed the intimate details of advancing the Life of Christ.
The blessing of not being able to read.
I might have been born again without knowing much of the Word if any, but I certainly understood that to grow, I must be bathed in the Word and the Spirit of Truth. But how could I do this – for I was functionally illiterate and could not read until my mid 20’s? Little did I realize at the time, this would become one of my greatest blessings in life.
Since I was unable to read, my early growth as a believer completely hinged upon the indwelling Life of Christ, being forced to be a student of the Spirit of Life.
Early on in my faith, I did not know the difference between “Christian” and being an indwelt Christian. I got caught up in the classic thinking that being a Christ-follower was my only way to be progressive in obtaining victory as a Christian. Therefore, I began by attempting to meet God’s standard/laws through following instead of releasing Christ from within, which would have met those standards. If someone would have told me that to advance spiritually, I had to discover who I was in the indwelling Life of Christ. Life would have been different. It would have saved me the troubles of trying to become who the Bible says I am. Regardless, that never happened. Instead, I reached for such a goal through earnest self-effort. The irony was, I was striving for something I already had.
I can still remember how I felt when I heard for the first time that upon the day of my salvation, my old nature was crucified with Christ and that I was dead to the power of sin, buried with Him, resurrected, and then placed at the right hand of the Father. Without a doubt, these were the most freeing truths I had ever heard.
For all indwelt believers, there should come a time when we say, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.” It doesn’t matter what God decides to bring our way. We must be brought to the experiential reality of this truth. Early on, my experience was, the more rejection suffered, the longer and more difficult it is to embrace such profound truth. However, the reality is, Christ is always seeking to make Himself known in us. But, the reality is, until we have been detached from all earthly pleasures and are ready to look inward to Him, we perpetually advance the self-life. For those of us who do experience a long delay of such a Life, we must understand that there is no delay on His part. The hard-core Truth is, our waiting to discover such freedom is the fault of our flesh – not Christ.
I learned early on that going to Him by way of an inward experience is not a hard task. The real task at hand is in not yielding to the sin that remains in me, that is not me. This is the toughest task! The fact remains, it takes Christ in me to master this task. Once I learned that it takes my mind yielding to the mind of Christ within me – the task of “not I, but Christ” became as easy as the yoke He carries, which is lite. It was a stirring reality to know that I typically carry around more burdens than Christ, who is God. The test, in my testimony, became this adventure.
Due to my rejection patterns, I continue to find “resting in Christ” a huge challenge. For rest requires of me not to look at, think about, or worry over circumstances, my surroundings, my thoughts, and experiences. Breaking free from viewing Life through my five senses has been the greatest obstacle in my life as a believer. Whereas looking through the eyes of Christ from within has become my daily process of working out my salvation amid this harsh reality that surrounds me. Today I find myself looking at how Christ views these circumstances through me. How did I get here? That is what my "Tell All Blog" & autobiography is all about.
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