Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 9/16/03
"For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"" (Gal. 5:14, RSV).
In spite of Jesus' admonition to love your neighbor as yourself, it seems to me that of all the rules Christians have made about how to serve God, the one they fail to keep most often, is loving themselves. It came to me years ago that if you do not love yourself, you can forget about loving your neighbor. Religion has taught us to deny ourselves; that if we meet our own needs, we're being selfish and not Christ like. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Taking care of others at the expense of your own needs is codependency, NOT Christ likeness. People who cared for elderly parents or disabled patients used to be called "care takers," which when you think about it, reveals the payoff in it for those doing the caring. If you have nothing to give, then you are taking from the person you are supposedly helping. Now, we speak of "care givers," which is far more appropriate. Everything flows from God, including everything we do for others.
Some have inferred that I teach that there is nothing we can do for God; but what I have said is what Jesus said, that without God flowing through us, we can do nothing (John 5:19; 8:28). All our works are as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6), but when He flows through us, the kingdom has come and heaven and earth are moved because He is flowing out from us. It is the same with love. We cannot love anyone or forgive ourselves or anyone else until we first have felt HIS love and forgiveness for us. About that, the Apostle John said, "Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit" (I John 4:11-13). We can only love and forgive each other and ourselves because God lives in us, and He has given us of His Spirit, who does the loving and the forgiving in us.
We've been taking an in-depth look at forgiveness. In "Forgiving Each Other" (See link at end), we observed that failure to forgive others makes it impossible for us to receive God's forgiveness, NOT that He hasn't already forgiven us, but that our heart is clogged up with hate and enmity for another, or for ourselves. In "Forgiving God" (Link at end), we explored the importance of being real with our feelings, including anger for Him. We cannot do that if we're still of the Fundamentalist view point that God is angry with us, just waiting to punish us for our sins. The only way to move past that is by seeing that He is our Father, our heavenly Daddy, the one who will never leave us nor forsake us, the one who died that we might live.
A dear friend whom I've quoted before wrote an excellent explanation of why her Fundamentalist background has kept her from expressing her anger for God: "All previous teaching and understanding pointed to us as the blame for all that was undesirably consequential in our lives. God was "supposed" to be our salvation and our blessedness IF only we heartily believed and completely obeyed. If we failed to experience the joy of His salvation and His blessed life in Christ then, of course, it was because we fell short of perfect obedience and hadn't "really" believed." End Quote. She has expressed the essence of religion: God is ONLY available to those who obey Him perfectly and who truly believe. Everyone else is outside the camp. That is law, not life in the Spirit.
There's a psychological truth that homicide is rage turned outward and suicide is rage turned inward. Anger toward another or toward ones self may fall short of actually killing the person, but unvented rage kills the soul, blights the spirit, and plunges the person afflicted with it into a cauldron of confusion, doubt, and fear. Our friend wrote about this as well, and I am including her remarks because my observation is that many Christians have similar feelings but are too afraid of God's wrath and eternal damnation to express them.
She observed, "I guess some of my anger turned inward is the best I can do to express my anger at God. It just doesn't make sense how destructive I've been towards His creation called "me," other than "me" is the closest thing to God that I have despite its inherent defectiveness. The inherent defectiveness and my inability to correct this defectiveness while still feeling responsible for at least curtailing the expressions of the defective "me" is what angers me most. Knowing that "it's God's fault" (Romans 11:32) brings much relief yet the relief is tempered by knowing that included in God's plan is refinement through fire. Ouch! There is no way of escaping this fire, His consuming fire. The timing is what is often not known. It's nice to know that the Father wants and WILL correct these defects but is there another way to accomplish this? Like Christ asked...can this cup pass from me?" End Quote.
She has captured the essence of the Fundamentalist fear of God, in light of what she calls the "inherent defectiveness" of human nature. She's well on her way out of the pit, however, because she can acknowledge the truth of Romans 11:32, "For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all." As she said, we were taught that the problem with the world was OUR sin, OUR failure to obey God, OUR rebellious attitudes, and as a result, we were going to go to hell for all eternity if we didn't repent, obey, and obey and obey. But notice that part of her concern is that God's plan includes refinement through fire. Those of us who grew up on a steady diet of hell fire and damnation became terrified of fire, traumatized by sin, because unconfessed sin, even inadvertent sin, could cost us our salvation.
The brother I quoted last week who said he hated himself and hated God went on to complain that this cleansing by fire, this purging process takes too long, which is why he calls it "The Bad News." I can see why he thinks that, and why this sister asks if this cup can pass from her, but my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will open the veil into the Father's heart and show us the value of the cleansing fire of God.
"Our God IS a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). That's who He is and what He does. He burns off the dross. Looking at the horrific pictures of the wildfires which raged across Southern California recently, burning three quarters of a million acres and destroying thousands of homes, it is hard to find any good thing about fire. The media is mainly into sensationalism, and very rarely publishes something that edifies the soul, but if you could sit and interview all the people who lost homes and lives and possessions, you would find amidst the rubble, glimmers of hope, testimonies of grace, and great faith under fire, no pun intended.
Scientists tell us that fire does not really destroy matter, but only changes its form. This is exactly what the fire of God does. It does not destroy our lives, and it is not meant to torture us, as the Fundamentalist descriptions of hell proclaim. The Fire of God transforms us from sons of the flesh into sons of the Most High, as He conforms us to the image of His Son, who is the first born among many brethren (Rom. 8:29). It is a PROMISE, not a threat that, "he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16).
Lenny wrote a piece several years ago called, "Send in the flames." (See link at end). In it, he talks about the purity of God, and how nothing impure or unholy can stand in His presence. This is the purpose of the flames, burning off the dross, so that, "the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames" (I Cor. 3:12-15). In the next verses, Paul says that WE are the temple of God, in which His Spirit dwells! (Vs. 16-17). That Temple must be pure. It is not our job to make it so, not even if thousands of preachers rant and rave about that for thousands of years, as in fact, they have. We cannot purify our temple, anymore than we can save ourselves.
We're back again to my misunderstood statement that we can do nothing in and of ourselves. It is up to God, the author and finisher of our faith to present us faultless before the throne (Jude 24). It is up to Christ Jesus the Lord "to present her (the church, all of us) to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Eph. 5:27). I pray that if you get nothing else from this writing, you get the truth of this verse, that your purity, your holiness, your right standing with God is NOT up to you to accomplish; therefore, you can forgive yourself for failing to do so. If it were up to you, you might as cash in your chips right now. You could never succeed. That's what the Law taught us, for as perfect as God's law is, we cannot keep it on our own.
The words, "Moses, go tell Him we'll do whatever He wants," hadn't been out of the mouths of the children of Israel for very long, when they were tossing in their earrings and other gold jewelry for Aaron to make a golden calf. Thinking we can obey God in our own strength always produces an idol. When Moses demanded to know what had happened, his brother, the High Priest elect of Israel said, "Well, I just threw their gold into the fire, and out came this calf" (Ex. 32:22-24). Yeah, right. But in fact, many Christians have made a "golden calf" out of prayer, the bible, the church, the pastor, the communion, POSITIVE CONFESSIONS of faith, or whatever else they believe gives them right standing with God and/or will get their prayers answered in the affirmative.
In order to get off the treadmill of works and self recrimination for failure to do them adequately, we must see who is in charge. Some of you may be thinking, "Give it a rest, Jan, you've said that a zillion times." Yes, I have, and I may say it a zillion more times until God pulls the plug on my computer, but only HE is in charge. I've been walking with the Lord intimately for a long, long time, and I have found Him to be patient, long suffering, full of grace, mercy, and often, humor. Once when I was ranting and raging about something that was driving me nuts, seeking to act in an advisory capacity to Him, He said softly, "Jan, there's only room for one of us on the throne." I put a cork in it immediately, but I'm glad He let me get it off my chest before He hit the "Pause" button. Only HE knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10); only He can work all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11); only He can call the things that are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17).
If you hate yourself, and act in self destructive ways, my prayer is that He'll show you that He has called what you consider garbage, a "son of God." Don't worry about your flesh. Paul said about it: "For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it" (Rom. 7:18, RSV). If you could whip the flesh into shape by main strength and self determination, then Christ would not have had to die, but because "GOD consigned all men to disobedience" (Rom. 11:32), He alone could bring us all out of the pits of sin and despair. The way He did that was to allow us to nail Him to a cross for what we perceived as His failures toward us. In that act of humility and shame, Christ drank the dregs of sin and perversity that had run unchecked through our veins since Adam and Eve fell. He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, for "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6, RSV).
I can only give you my testimony of what helped me forgive myself of my many shortcomings. The Spirit will lead you into what will break down the barriers you still may have between you and the Father. For me, it was realizing that God was the one who is responsible for everything, the good, the bad, the unrighteousness, the sin. God does not sin, please know that, but He CREATED ALL things. "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things" (Isa. 45:7, KJV). And He is RESPONSIBLE for ALL things: "'See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand" (Deut. 32:39, RSV).
So how do you reconcile the goodness and mercy of God with the fact that scripture affirms He is responsible for everything, good and bad? Remember that Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). The cross was in the heart of God, before the creation, before man ever walked the earth, before you were born. Paul said that we were chosen in Christ BEFORE the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). That being the case, how can you be responsible for anything at all? Impossible. Seeing that helped me to ease up on myself, for I was brought up to believe that I am responsible for everything that goes wrong in my life, and when it does, then I'm going to be punished. That may have kept me on the straight and narrow as a child, but it didn't do anything for my self esteem or self confidence as an adult living in an imperfect world.
I have made mistakes in my life, big ones, having sinned grievously, judging by sermons I grew up with, which weighed heavily on my conscience UNTIL I saw that God is ultimately responsible, and because He is, He works all things (even our sin) together for good. Once the Spirit worked that into my psyche and bathed my soul with this glorious truth, I was set free, delivered from the guilt and shame of my own imperfections. He set my feet on Mount Zion where I understood with all the Saints who have gone before, the length and breadth, the height and depth of the love of God for all mankind, including Jan.
Father, I pray the truth of Your beautiful plan for the ages be revealed in this hour to all who suffer the pangs of unforgiven sin, the heartbreak of shame and guilt, and the ache of separation from You. Restore us again, Father, by manifesting in our lives the great love You have for each of us. You have wiped the slate clean and written our names in the Lamb's Book of Life, where no man can blot it out. We did not choose You; You chose us before the world began. Thank You and praise You for the inestimable gift of Your Love and for holding our hand as we walk along The Glory Road back to You. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Forgiving each other"
"Send in the flames" by Lenny
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 11/13/03
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/28/08.