The Carnal Christian Years
From “Myselfianity” to Christianity
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. – 1 Cor 3:1 NASB
In 2012, long before my divorce trial was finalized, God asked me to begin the work of telling the story of what He had done in my life through the story you may have already watched on YouTube called “Trusting God in the Storm.” Ironically, but not surprisingly, He asked me to do this before that amazing and victorious ending had come. I simply did it by faith in His words to me. Walking in faith is always risky, but this is the only way to please God. He has to see our faith in action and many times He asks us to move forward on something, or to stop doing something long before we can see the result, or in the face of circumstances which contradict what He is asking of us. This is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.
John 11:38-41 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. (39) "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." (40) Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (41) So they took away the stone.
And we know the rest of this story don’t we. Indeed, in response to their faith to roll that stone away, they saw the glory of God in spite of something that was absolutely humanly impossible. Lazarus came walking out in his grave clothes. How incredible!
Incidentally, at the very moment I am editing this part of the story, there are very difficult circumstances arising which could seriously contradict one of the stories which Father has asked me to share in this book. Just like my divorce story, if Father does not act, it will be a tragic failure and embarrassment for me to have included that part of the story. If I was still being led by sight and my circumstances, I should indeed not include this part of the story in the book, but I know better now. I have seen Father do this now, many, many times and He has established a track record of faithfulness with me. He has already given me a promise to remove the obstacles that are standing in my way and He has asked me to keep moving forward on this project in faith. So, as you can see, even as I write this story about faith, I am indeed walking by faith despite the storm I see coming at me. I will share what happened at the end of the book, but since you are reading this you can know God once again came through for me in answer to my faith in His direction and promise.
After a few “false starts” with “Trusting God in the Storm”, I put it on YouTube permanently in November of 2015. It highlighted my difficult childhood and how I eventually achieved the so called “good life” only to then lose it twice, once to a catastrophic business failure and the second time through a terrible betrayal by the wife of my youth.
The story ended with a dramatic fulfillment of a promise from God, to deliver me in divorce court after He told me to risk everything by firing my attorney and to trust Him alone for my defense. But at the beginning of that story I posed a question that I never actually answered. It was the question of “Why did this happen and what was the purpose of all this suffering in my life?” With Father’s help, I came to see and understand His hand in all my afflictions and to see the very good purposes for them.
For 19 years, I had been calling myself a follower of Jesus Christ, yet it was a powerless shell of the walk I have with God today. All those years, I certainly had a sincere love for God and I held my Christian beliefs with great zeal, but in daily living and action, I was the true ruler of my life not God. I was the boss and I was calling the shots. I was the master. I was the king of my life. Looking back on it, I see it would have been more appropriate to describe my religion as, “MySelfianity” rather than “Christianity”. I was actually following myself, but doing it all in the name of Jesus Christ.
After all those years of zealous effort, the results I ended up with were spiritual bondage and failure. I loved God and I wanted to live like Jesus Christ, but I remained in bondage to my pride, the opinions of men, earning money, idolatry, worldly success and pleasures, and ignorance. As Paul describes in Galatians 4, I was growing up in the house of the slave woman (Hagar), not the free woman (Sarah).
I didn’t have eyes to see it yet, but I wasn’t living in full submission to God, or under the New Covenant blessing. I was living as if I was under the Old Covenant where everything in my relationship with Christ and my righteousness before God was largely dependent on me. This powerless “Myselfianity” was the result of trying to live righteous before God according to my own designs and by the strength of my flesh, exactly like the Israelites in the Old Covenant. I avoided the obvious evils and I was zealous for God, but I was living without that righteousness in my heart, which is the only place righteousness counts in the New Covenant.
Mat 5:20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
In the place of fullness in Christ, and spiritual power from the Holy Spirit to live like Jesus Christ, I settled for the watered down hyper-grace gospel. Rather than actually living like Christ and taking up my cross in obedience unto death, instead I was using my “Christianity” and the cross of Christ, like spiritual good luck charms to hang on all of my plans, my ambitions, and my problems. My hopes were that by doing so God would make my plans successful and then I would give him credit, and thus we all would be happy. I was foolishly trying to use spirituality and Biblical principles to build and improve my temporary earthly life, rather than using my temporary earthly life to build and improve my eternal spiritual life.
John 6:27 Do not work for food which spoils, but for food which endures to eternal life.
2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
God mercifully intervened in my ignorance, thoroughly frustrated and crushed my self-life, and then graciously made Himself and His true ways known to me. And finally, He brought me into the life of fullness in Christ, such that even after losing everything in this world I was soon able to say, “I am now among the richest people I know.” I am shocked to see how much these next two sentences in the Bible seem to have been written specifically for me.
Revelation 3:17 –18 (Jesus speaking) You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Indeed, I too was wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Just as Jesus warned those in the Church of Laodicea, I realize that if I would have continued living in what I was calling “Christianity”, I would have never made it into the Promised Land I am now enjoying in God’s kingdom, or into heaven when I died. I was among the fruitless, immature, half-hearted, lukewarm, weighed down, professing “Christians” who are taking up valuable soil and in danger of being cut off. (See Matthew 3:10, Luke 8:13-15, 13:7, 14:34-35, 21:34, John 15:2, 6, Hebrews 6:7-8)
I now know that at the end of my life, my train would be found running right off the cliff and into the abyss. But God, in His indescribable mercy, came after me and never gave up on me. He watched me hijack His name for all those years while running all the hills as an untamed, unbroken, unsubmissive, wild horse. It was going to take many years, but Father had a plan to one day finally and fully break me. He was going to take me on the only path to spiritual abundance which is in the following Psalm.
Psa 66:10-12 For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. (11) You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. (12) You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.
At the age of 43, I can look back on my life so far and see that even from childhood, next to love and acceptance, freedom was always the greatest desire of my heart.
I grew up in a very small but very famous beachside town called Cape Canaveral, FL, where my best friend Joel Reinhart and I were allowed to explore nearly every square foot of the city, unsupervised. We played on every street, every empty lot, and every patch of woods on the river and on the beachside. I loved the freedom of being able to go anywhere, even to run miles down the beach, all by ourselves with no restrictions and no fear of harm.
Until the age of nine, with only a few exceptions, I enjoyed a safe and comfortable life. I was free and I felt very loved by all of my family. Then came the day my childhood dream life was turned upside down. It was the day my parents sat me down and told me they didn’t love each other anymore and that mommy and daddy were getting something called a divorce. Within days, all my freedom and comfort was replaced by a prison of fear and uncertainty.
Throughout the next decade I experienced some very difficult things beyond just my parent’s divorce. There was being lied to about moving away from my Dad, being abandoned by one grandfather and rejected by the other, sexual abuses by both sexes, being terrorized and chased home by bullies for about three years, being held under water one time till I almost drowned, being beat to a bloody mess by the bullies in front of my mother, finding her one day on the verge of suicide, saving one of my best friends from suicide only to have him later succeed, being chased around the house and tormented by my cocaine addicted step-mother, being falsely accused and kicked out the house by my father, my mother and I both being emotionally abused and kicked out of our home twice by my step-father, having to drop out of college because of two physical injuries, then at age 20 being told my father wasn’t actually my father, then being rejected by my blood father twice, almost dying in a collision with an 18-wheeler, getting thrown in jail for running from a police officer on my motorcycle, etc.
Even though no one in my family knew Christ, by His mercy, I became a believer in Jesus in the 10th grade. I was riding home from school one day with my friend Matthew Eldridge who had been telling me and my mother about Jesus for several weeks. I had been resistant to his evangelism, thinking Christianity was only for weak people. But that day I stepped out of his car and onto a piece of paper that read, "If you died in a car accident today, would you go to heaven or hell?" I became afraid because I couldn't answer the question and I started reading the Bible voraciously for the next week or so. Unfortunately, I can't remember much of it because I have many black spots in my memory where I simply cannot remember things that happened. For the writing of this book, I had to look back on journal entries and through thousands of emails to recall many of the details I have included.
Unlike many, I don't remember the exact day I became a believer but I remember it happened in my bedroom. I don't remember saying the "sinners prayer" or recall having any special experience, but I do remember I became so excited and amazed by what I read about Jesus in the Gospels all alone in my bedroom for hours. I became a believer and was hungry to read the Bible but the Word of God was quickly choked off by the worries of my life and the pursuit of other things. Within just a few months of my becoming a believer in Christ, my mother and I were kicked out of my alcoholic step-father's house a second time. This time it was permanent and they divorced. My mom and I moved to a very small country town called Grant, AL, where my grandparents, my mom's mom and step-father, Jerry and Bonnie Smith lived. My mother and I attended the small Baptist church in town a few times, just long enough for both of us to get baptized. After that my mom quit taking us because she thought that was all we needed to do to be good with God and go to heaven.
From the time I graduated high-school in 1991, through my late thirties, my life can best be described as a series of self-made desperate attempts to regain the lost comfort and freedom I had known as a child. Because of an experience I had years earlier, I was driven to find my freedom through money.
In Money I Trust
When I was fifteen years old, my wealthy grandfather, who had just been through his fourth divorce, took me with him to the post office to pick up all his cashed out mutual funds. I think I probably opened checks by myself totaling over a million dollars in just a few minutes. The sight of that much money, after all the trouble I had seen in my young life, gave me feelings of hope and euphoria.
When I was 19, I dropped out of George Wallace State Community college just short of an associate’s degree due to an injury. My major was mechanical and architectural drafting and I broke my drawing finger in an accident. That prevented me from taking enough credit hours for my scholarship to kick in over the summer quarter, plus I could no longer work at my job with UPS, United Parcel Service loading the trucks early in the morning. Then, when I tried to come back to school after Summer, I took a construction job and had all the bones in my right foot crushed under the bucket of a front-end loader. They paid my medical bills but because they were paying me cash, I had no way of getting workers compensation, so I ended up losing that job as well.
I could no longer afford to keep going to school, so I decided to drop out and move back home with my mother. Soon after, I found a job selling Filter Queen vacuum cleaners door to door in Huntsville, AL. I set a first week sales record and earned $2,700 in commission in just a few days. I remember thinking that $9/hr loading UPS trucks was great money and now I was consistently earning about $1200 a week and maintaining my own schedule! The was a large amount of money for me at the time and it gave me a sense of power and freedom from all the troubles and people that had afflicted me through my childhood. Those are the days I started subconsciously making money my god.
In my own eyes and in the eyes of the world, I wouldn’t have been seen as an evil person. I was guilty of pre-marital sex with girlfriends in my teens, but I wasn’t out drinking and drugging or trying to hurt others for my own gain. I had no idea that people doing those kinds of things were better off than me because people won’t encourage you to stay in those obvious sins, but people, even professing Christians, were going to encourage me for many years to pursue and earn lots of money to find my life and happiness.
Heb 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
Learning to Trust in Myself
Most of the freedom I had lost in my early life was at the hands of those around me who were supposed to love me. Now, like a wild horse that had been free at one time, later taken into captivity, and then freed again, I wasn’t about to let anyone put me back into the fence. I didn’t want anyone to tell me what to do or control me, not even employers.
In 1993, at 19 years old, I was earning enough money selling the vacuums that I was only working 3 weeks a month and I was going back down to FL every month on vacation. The owner had hired me as an independent contractor but the more money I earned, the more he wanted to throw the ropes on me. I was not going back inside the fence, so I rebelled against him and soon lost my job.
This pattern continued in like manner for the next decade. I always resisted being controlled by someone and I always found a way to deliver myself from the troubles I was in. It was easy for me to win other people over and to make things happen in my life. Of all the people in the Bible this part of me is most like Jacob. The more I succeeded the better I got, and over the years I developed a very high self-confidence and a strong faith in myself.
Pro 28:26 He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.
Habakkuk 1:11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on— guilty men, whose own strength is their god."
Resisting God’s Brokenness
I had a good heart, and Father knew it, but I was filled with the fear of being controlled and losing my freedom. Like a wild stallion I just kept running so no one could ever throw the ropes on me again or fence me in. But, because I was in need and because I was naïve and without wisdom to discern the good or evil in people, I stopped running a few times and trusted others who appeared to be sincere about helping me, only to be betrayed or badly taken advantage of.
Father tried using many difficult people and employers like that to break me along the way, but I just wouldn’t be broken. I was too strong and too stiff necked so I would simply manipulate the situations, rebel, or run away. I even had one boss who changed my pay plan ten times, exactly like Laban did to Jacob. My life circumstances were broken many times, but my heart always remained obstinate and unbroken. All I seemed to learn was to distrust others and instead to trust in myself even more.
Psalm 32:9 “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”
In my haste, I was missing His way (Pro 19:2). As a loving Father who disciplines his true children, he had almost a twenty-year plan to tie me up, enslave me, oppress me, and one day to completely break me and tear down everything I had built. In his loving foresight he had an iron cage waiting for me that I was never going to get out of until He got me out. This was the only way I was ever going to recognize my own limitations and humble myself enough to see and admit my deep need for Him and His deliverance.
It’s the same principle behind why God allowed the Israelites to be enslaved and brutally treated by the Pharaoh, and it’s the same reason he allows us to be enslaved by sins or by other people. Most of us have to be broken from our own self-will and self-sufficiency, and we all have to have a reason for deliverance before we can humbly cry out for the Deliverer.
Rom 11:32 “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
It was going to take many years and lots of trials and pain and suffering, but one day I was going to know Him, not just as God Almighty who holds the stars in hands, but as my loving Father who holds my very life in His hands.
Gen 15:13-14 Then the LORD said to Abraham, "Know for certain that your descendants will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years…and afterward they will come out with great possessions.