Steve's Story: Early Retirement and a Move
Excerpt from Rescued from Hell, Chapter 6: Back on Planet Earth
I could never find any humor in my testimony. Every time I tried to share about those "lost" years, all of the hurt and anguish would come surging to the surface. I had lost so much! In my mind I had not been alive for the whole decade of my twenties, the birth of our kids, or my life with June. I had been robbed by an enemy who had hated me without cause (Lamentations 3:52). I hated myself as well - hated that I had "ruined" my life; hated that I had so much damage left to work through; hated that I still felt so weird and un-human. Al-though my new life of faith was genuine, this feeling of not "being human" was very troubling. It persisted even through seminary and well into my years as a parish priest. I didn't dare speak about it to anyone except June. She could always be counted on to love me, even when she couldn't understand me; still, my deep darkness troubled her, so I locked most of it away.
The testimony I shared was edited for public consumption, but it was very rawboned nevertheless; I tried to keep everything about my life in the past tense. Most Christians seemed to like hearing about what I had gone through - it was an encouragement to them. However, I quickly discovered that if you unwisely open your still raw and bleeding wounds you can get stuck in them and have a hard time finding a graceful way (translate that to "face-saving" way) back out. My experiences also proved useful as an aid for evangelizing the lost. Even though I didn't put all of my story out there, it certainly helped me emotionally to get as much as I could out in the open, and find the God-graced wonder of acceptance. I really loved being able to testify to the goodness of the Lord and the terrible reality of the dark powers. But I had no testimony of victory over the emotional wreckage hell left in its wake - and I knew it.
The more I shared my story, therefore, the more I felt alienated from any sense of common humanity. I became concerned that I might end up on some kind of church "testimony circuit." My story is unique, even bizarre with plenty of high drama; this began to make me sought after. I knew, however, that I didn't have anywhere near sufficient healing to walk under the pressure and scrutiny of a public ministry. I could barely live my daily life as it was! It would take me days of interior labor just to get my insides ready for one hour of public time. So, I began to shift the focus of my teaching style from me and what I had gone through in my past to Jesus and what the Word could teach us all about how to move forward into His future. This is what I now call the 80/20 principle of balanced teaching: 80 percent truths about God and 20 percent stories about you. People love to hear about our exploits, but when they experience trials themselves, it will be God's truth - not our testimonies - that will come to their rescue.
What I have seen of other ministers falling from grace, whose un-mended interior made them prey to the enemy, has since convinced me that I made the right decision to lead a more quiet life and allow time for growth. Working over the years with many men in addiction recovery I have learned that there is a tremendous difference between the testimony of an initial deliverance by Jesus and the testimony of an enduring victory. I knew I needed a much better track record of enduring victories before drawing any focus back on myself. We are stewards of our own testimonies. There is a time to pour the wine, which I did, and there is a time to let it mature in the cask. I chose to quietly retire my testimony. I hope I moved with the proper seasons.
Speaking of moving, June and I went back and forth about where to attend church. Going to two churches, with one being twenty miles away in another town, can make life with young children very hectic. It was difficult not to lose our religion before arriving at the church doors on Sunday morning! So we prayed and sought the Lord, and we thought we heard from Him. June's charismatic fellowship won hands down over the charismatic Episcopal church Eddy had pointed me towards. In retrospect that decision was heavily one-sided since the informal, free-form ways of her fellowship were totally in keeping with our hippie values and background. It was a very comfortable fit. However, I had told the Lord that I didn't care which denomination He might place us in - I was in it for service to Him, not self-service. He took me up on my word; He has a way of doing that.
No sooner than we had announced our decision to all our friends at both churches did the Lord reverse it. Peter Marshall Jr., son of the famous Scottish preacher and heir to his mother Catherine's writing abilities, came to the Episcopal Church on a preaching mission we attended. At one point he said he believed that the Lord was going to be gathering the scattered members of the charismatic movement back into the old Protestant mainlines. I understood what he meant too well - most of our friends at the charismatic assembly had been given the "left foot of fellowship" by their Protestant churches when they came into the baptism in the Spirit and didn't keep a lid on it. It's hard to keep quiet about something this good! Naturally you want everyone to know what is available to them. Turns out, however, not everyone wants to know.
As if to emphasize Peter's message the Lord gave me a vision. I saw that our charismatic fellowship was like a Leer jet - small, lightweight, maneuverable, able to rise fast and streak through the heights, but easily blown about by the winds of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). The Episcopal Church, on the other hand, appeared as an old freight train with a good set of tracks that had weathered satanic attacks for centuries. It didn't have much of a head of steam, but if ever powered up, it would be able to haul a great load. I have probably offended people on both sides with that image, but it spoke to me at the time. We sensed that we needed the structure and stability that the Episcopal Church could and did provide. So, we became Episcopalians, but our heart for worship and for supernatural ministry forever remained charismatic.
The Lord gave one other vision to me through Peter Marshall's ministry that fall. I had been struggling in a way not at all uncommon for new Christians. I was trying to clean up my sinful interior once and for all. Peter counseled and prayed with me. That night I saw it plainly for the first time - the thoughts and wrong desires of the flesh were like "a river of filth" running through me. It could never be "cleaned up." The only thing to do was to avoid walking in it by yielding to the Lord and walking in His Spirit instead. I told Peter about my vision the next day. He was so taken with the image that he made it a part of his message, which both delighted and embarrassed me at the same time. I mean, how would you like all of your friends to know that there is a river of filth inside you? Of course they have one of their own to deal with. We all do. Why deny it? The Lord has "told all" in His Word. Even so, it is very liberating to realize that God sees our interior "sewer" too and far from holding it against us, He helps us avoid falling into it and cleanses us when we do. What He doesn't do is remove it, at least not in this life. He leaves it in us for our own good: It keeps us humble.
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