I grew up in a fundamental missionary baptist church. The King James Only debate was practically a Thanksgiving family ritual. All things charismatic were ignored or feared. Tongues were demonic. I attended a Baptist College and ruled the classroom getting my bachelors in six years. My favorite professor was the late Dr. Ron Mitchell, who on more than a few occasions, had his job threatened because of teaching Reformed Soteriology. In that time I remember reading my first R.C. Sproul book, “Chosen By God”. There was also a Chosen By God video (VHS) in the school library that I remember checking out and watching in the back room of the library. In the quietness of that room, I wept and wept after watching that. It was absolutely life changing. That whole transition from whatever I was to the reformed doctrines of grace was heavy yet like a re-birth.
My roots dug deeper over the next several years into Reformed Theology. My library got bigger and stronger–John Macarthur sermons and books, John Piper books, and many others. But unfortunately, so did my enslavement to pornography, wine, and women. Post college through my twenties could be described as continually increasing in knowledge and in slavery. Oh I was fighting…my journal entries in that time are shot through with a form of desperation.
What I had was this weird thing going on: I was passionate about my views on TULIP, Lordship Salvation, the market driven church etc.; and as a Macarthurite, I felt like it was important and necessary to challenge people who differed, but on the inside was a battle that would rage longer than I ever expected, eventually leading me to conclude that in my case, repentance may be impossible. I was powerless to defeat pornography (among other things) but felt “powerful” when it came to protecting and preaching what I thought was the truth. So while I devoured those Macarthur tapes on discernment over and over, I was still being devoured by my own lusts.
And I was not a charming Macarthurite. On one occasion when I was waiting tables in Central Arkansas, a local pastor of now the largest church there, came in with his wife and another couple and sat in my section. Because I’d been discussing the seeker sensitive style of this church/the watered down gospel/the lack of sound teaching etc. (all that stuff) and telling my friend and co-worker why she shouldn’t be going to this church, I felt like in order for me not to do this behind this pastors back, I needed to say these things directly to his face.
I know. It gets worse. But he’s sitting in my section, what more providence could I ask for, right?
After introducing myself to everyone at the table, I mentioned I’d been to visit his church but that now I was going elsewhere; that I was actually a part of a church in close connection to John Macarthur’s church out in California. Polite and rather agreeable he said something like, “Oh yeah I know of John Macarthur…he’s a bit controversial, but I definitely respect his ministry.” Without hesitation I responded with, “Well, you do know that he wouldn’t respect your ministry.” Quietly they all stared at one another…and then a mild argument ensued. I think I made him a little uncomfortable. From there I mentioned Macarthur’s Ashamed of the Gospel which he said he’d read, and then he mentioned Warren’s Purpose Driven Church which I owned but hadn’t read entirely. I told him I’d read it and he agreed to come in later to discuss it, but not debate it. They tipped me four dollars.
Over the next few years, things got much worse. I was deeply confused. My persistent reading and reformed paradigm combined with growing addictions and my inability to repent or prove fruits of repentance had devastating implications on my assurance of salvation. I had a category for unmerited conditional grace but because of my lack of repentance I found myself applying it to justification–which literally drove me insane. That’s for another conversation. In short, I was crying out to God the best way I knew how, but still no change was evident, no deliverance. Just despair. Real despair. I was powerless.
I remember a conversation I had with a charismatic pastor during this time…interestingly enough, he was asking me to explain the TULIP acronym to him just before we transitioned to talking about my enslavement to porn. I explained it to him. And then I remember him saying, “You know, Burke, that porn addiction would shrivel up if you just got in the presence of God.” At the time, that made no sense.
It would be a few years after that conversation, though still in my sin, that I would encounter the presence of God in a way that would change me forever. I had moved to Dallas to be a part of the Village Church redeeming recovery program…hoping that I’d find some healing in that gospel community. While I’d never want to minimize the fruitfulness of that ministry, the STEPS studies wasn’t what eventually dealt the blow to my enslavement to sin.
A friend of mine gave me a book called “A Scandalous Freedom” by Steve Brown. Steve’s a practical theology professor at Reformed Theological Seminary I think. After reading it, it was like a shot of hope in to my heart. I began to take long prayer walks and talk with God without correcting myself. I began to cry out to God even more.
At around the same time I asked one of the Village Pastors if he knew of any man that I could meet with that would be considered more Spirit-filled and that wouldn’t want to just go through a Piper book with me. He did.
Ted was a Spirit-filled ex-marine mans man that sought the Lord specifically for our time together. We met once a week on Tuesday’s for three months at a Starbucks. Tuesday’s with Teddy. I was uncomfortable most of the time. He definitely wasn’t impressed with what I thought I knew. He was and is more charismatic than I am now. But our time together was very powerful.
Around this time, I was driving in my truck one morning after the Men’s bible study when I believe the Holy Spirit led me (though up to that point I’d never used that kind of language) to begin singing. I began singing out in my truck, this song:
The presence of the Lord filled my truck as I began to sing and weep over the beautiful words that so clearly describe the gospel. For the first time I had a deep awareness of God’s love/affections for me that I’d never had before. It’s not easy to explain. I wept for the next hour. I distinctly remember asking Him not to leave, and in a still small voice (not audible) I thought I heard Him say, “this is forever.” I knew at that moment, that I would never again wonder if I was His. And to this day, I know that I am a son and that He is my heavenly Father. And He is so much better than I ever thought He was. My addictions took a huge blow and lost their grip. That was the beginning of genuine healing in my life. As I wrote on another blog:
The godly sorrow and repentance I cried out for years for God to grant me, that change of heart, that freedom from the enslaving power of sin, that deliverance from the strange mixture of self-righteousness and gross immorality, that overwhelming assurance that I’m a son of God, finally came. God showed up. God heard my cries and overwhelmed me with His love and presence. I experienced Him powerfully and intimately. I heard His still small voice assure me that our relationship would be forever. God became real. And let me tell you…He showed me that He is so much better than I have ever dreamed. I never thought I’d be that vulnerable man to share a more experiential and divinely romantic testimony…but when God steals your heart and makes it plain to you that you are His…it’s beautiful.
I know now just one word from Him can change you forever. I went from thinking repentance was impossible, to knowing that I’m a son; From thinking I was nothing but a faithful source of disappointment to God, to dancing with Him unafraid of my steps; from thinking I knew a lot of truth , to knowing The Truth and being known by Him.
Ted and I continued to meet, and if I could sum up what I took away from our time together, it would be Identity as a son and Intimacy with God. In fact, those two things have become for me the foundation for ministry with the gifts.
Soon after Ted and I stopped meeting, another pastor from the Village recommended Jack Deere’s books to me. I read them, and loved them for the most part. From there, as I’ve already talked about in another post, I became a part of a small group where Jack was teaching which is where I first started experiencing the healing and revelatory ministry of the Holy Spirit build up the body.
But it wasn’t easy. You can ask my wife who had to see my swings back to the “discerning” Macarthurite. There were things (which I’ll mention in the next answer maybe), especially at first, that made me want to pull back in to what I like to call my self-protective skepticism…or my “heart helmet”.
But the heart helmet is coming out less and less these days. I think I’m learning to replace it with real discernment.