Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Didn't Know That

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. " 2 Peter 3:18

The year - 1943. The occasion - first grade and the first day of school. The unhappy look - my picture was being taken. I was not dressed up for a picture; but parents see things like that differently. We were living in the small Gulf coast community of Velasco Heights. It consisted of two roads, some houses and one or two small stores. Our community was bounded on one side by acres of salt grass and rattlesnakes (the forbidden zone) and on the other side by Dow Chemical. The house we lived in had two rooms - a small kitchen and a large bedroom/living room. Two of my uncles built the house for us. My dad built my bed. It was a square box that fit under the large bed and was designed to slide out when I needed it for a bed. One day we got a couch that was supposed to open into a bed; but it never did as I recall. I am not sure I slept on the couch. I guess I thought it would fold up on me.

My memories of the first day of school consist of this scene and the walk home. The bus let us out on the highway and then we had to walk. Fights would break out. That would be a common occurrence. We had a lot of dirt clod fights. I still have a scar on my head from a flying clod. Miraculously we all survived. When I look at this picture, I am reminded that this was the beginning of getting to learn alot of new things. I had my "Big Chief" notebook and I was ready. The title for this posting reminded me of this picture and that day. In the years that followed, I could say, "I didn't know that" about a lot of things. At this point in my life, I am thankful that I can say "I didn't know that" because it means I am still learning and that I want to learn. I have believed for a long time that the moment I ever thought I knew everything or enough, that would be the moment I stopped learning.

It is interesting, when you allow God to examine your life, what He will use to remind you of issues in your life. For me it was this little phrase - "I didn't know that." In the last few years of my Dad's life when he would discover something new, he would often say, "I didn't know that" . Now anytime Betty or I learn or hear of something new, we find ourselves saying, "I didn't know that." That causes us to smile because it brings back fond memories. Recently those words have brought into focus some things that I wish had not been descriptive of my walk with God. In returning to the place where I started that walk, I have had to look closely at the direction my life and what defined my life over the years. I struggled in my walk with God. In the early years it stemmed directly from what I didn't know. I later gained knowledge through studying God's Word; but, as I have mentioned before, much of that never got beyond my mind to my heart. There were moments when it did or I wouldn't be writing this journal or longing for a deeper walk with God and a greater passion for Jesus.

In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul said, "For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." I know this happened to me. I wish I had discovered this verse and others like it sooner in my life. Sadly, though, it would be years before that happened. It wasn't just this truth either. "I didn't know that" covered a large part of my life when it came to my relationship and fellowship with God. Over the years, I did gain knowledge from the study of God's Word; but at the level of my heart, "I didn't know that" remained true about a lot of things.

What I didn't know has caused much of my walk with God to be more man-centered than God-centered. My life consisted a great deal in what I did for God or what I should be doing for God. I could sum up the early years of my Christian life with a check list found on church offering envelopes - "attending church; studying the lesson; bringing my Bible to church; giving and staying for the preaching service." As I grew older the list included work in the church. I also felt that I needed to develop certain rules consisting of things I could do and things I shouldn't do. None of these things were necessarily bad. The problem - they were not meant to define the eternal life promised in verses like John 3:16. God had allowed the light to shine out of darkness in my life for basically one thing - to magnify His glory and His presence in the face of Jesus Christ. That should have been the direction of my life and the defining, motivating principle of my life.

So here I am, at age 71, trying to properly define my life in Christ and my purpose for living. What I am seeing is that over the years I did get some things right but I got a lot wrong. In this process, familiar verses have taken on new meaning. In Luke 11:2 Jesus expressed the answer in terms of our prayer life - "Father, hallowed be your name." Everything in our life should have God as its focus and direction - even our prayers. 1 Peter 3:18 says, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit..." As believers all that we are and do should point to God and should bring us to God in our daily experiences. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says "In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." At one time we could not see the "light of the good news of the glory of Christ." Now, as believers, we can and not just at the moment of salvation. That truth should always be working to define who we are and what we say and do. This is the key to real living. It is the key to being transformed, as expressed in 2 Corinthians 3:18, "and we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." Because I didn't know that and did not realize the tremendous role of the Holy Spirit, not only for salvation but for living, guilt became a constant enemy. Growing in joy and peace was a struggle. I experienced guilt because I repeatedly failed, in my mind, to measure up to what I thought God expected of me. To overcome guilt, I would determine to try harder. From time to time I would rededicate my life. That would help for awhile; but it brought only temporary relief. I eventually stopped doing that. Because of what I didn't know, I struggled often with my acceptance by God. The truth of election and calling would become nightmares rather than points of comfort. This struggle goes back to having to say "I didn't know that" about the great truths of justification, sanctification and mortification. My answer to this insufficiency of knowledge was to strive harder to feel good about myself and my relationship with God. That brought more frustration. Living in that state of not knowing caused a lot of scars and scar tissue to build over time. It has been a constant battle to keep the face of Jesus from growing dim. Keeping the flame burning brightly has been a wearisome task at times. It has been a battle to keep from feeling like I was on the outside looking in to the feast that others were enjoying. I could still sing about Jesus. I could still speak words of praise to Him. I could still pray, study and teach. I could do all those things and countless other; but there was often something missing. Job 22:25 describes the missing aspect of real living this way, "then the Almighty will be your gold and your precious silver." I wanted that but because of what I didn't know, it was like chasing a dream or looking for the illusive pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Sometimes I just got tired.

When God caused the light to shine in my heart that day as a nine year old boy, I was like a blind person who had been given sight. In the years that followed I wish this could have been said of my life, "and immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God"(Luke 18:43). Now after all these years I am thankful that, because of God's grace, this can still be a reality for my life.

I didn't know for a long time that I had been called to an impossible task. When I finally reached that conclusion, I still did not fully realize that God already knew of this impossibility. In fact He said so in Mark 10:27. With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” And because I didn't know that God knew this and had made provisions for that impossibility, I struggled through much of my life as a Christian. I knew that I needed Jesus to be my salvation. What I didn't realize, as fully as I should have, was that I needed Him to be my life, my purpose, my joy and my peace. What I didn't realize either was the means by which this could happen. I kept going down roads that brought a lot of struggle. In my own strength I could not stay on the true road - the one that Jesus travels. So at this point of my life and by God's help, I am making the words of Psalm 16:2, 5 my affirmation. "I say to the Lord, You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you...The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot."

I saw this truth in the life of my Mother and Daddy. They loved the Lord. He was the treasure of their life. So was His Word. Many things proved that, like the worn pages of their Bibles. I am not sure where I would be here today had it not been for them demonstrating that devotion to Jesus. What a legacy. I want to finish the course as they did. I want to leave the kind of legacy they did. I pray that every day will be a "I didn't know that" day of discovery as God opens up His Word to me. There will always be more to learn so that our hearts might continue to respond, our lives might continue to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ and that we might be led continually closer to God. I have my "Big Chief" notebook and I am ready.

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”


Nat Pat said...

We really enjoyed visiting with you guys tonight. Hope we can do it again soon. And way to go getting your playlist set up!

Nat Pat said...

Great post, Mr. Monte. Your desire to constantly learn and grow is an inspiration and encouragement to Josh and me.