A Life with a Purpose
Recently, I was going down in an elevator after dropping off a demo tape at an ad agency, when I overheard a conversation between three other people who were headed out for lunch together. With incredible irony in his attempt at small talk, one of the two men asked the woman in their company a question. "Well Christine…what is our purpose in this life?" She shrugged, and they all laughed at the presumption that anyone could possibly have any idea of the answer.
As I thought about it, it seemed at least part of the answer to what my life could be about was to determine what kind of a man I would be. I know what kind of a man I have been; I hate the kind of man I have been. The man I have been allowed Satan to express his desires through me. The man I am now is allowing Christ to express His desires through me. This sounds even more presumptuous than attempting to answer the questions in the elevator, but it is the assumption of faith.
In what follows, I hope to show you how I became a Christian, then how I tried to be a Christian in my own strength, how I rebelled against God, and finally, how I learned that only Christ can be a Christian through me.
Even as a small child, I knew that God existed, but I never understood much about Him until I started to deal with Him on His terms, not my terms. He is God, I am not God. It was not until my adult years that I began to agree with God about my situation. In fact, I was already becoming increasingly fearful about my life and where it was going. Even though I hated the idea that there was a Hell, I somehow knew I was headed there, and I knew I deserved to be there. I was using a lot of drugs. I was sexually immoral. I was dishonest and manipulative, proud and selfish, and I was a user and a taker. I wasted time, money and energy on the dissipation of myself and others with my sin.
I knew I needed God. The other religions I tried seemed only to divert my moods with meditation techniques, or intrigue me with intellectual puzzles, or puff up my pride with special knowledge.
I knew I needed a loving God who would forgive me, and give me something from heaven that would make me different. I knew that the solution to what was wrong with me lay outside me. I needed to receive the Spirit of God, even though I didn’t know what that really meant at the time. Eventually, God led me to a church with good teaching, that increased my awareness of my own sin, as well as how wonderful God really is. I knew I had to make a choice to surrender myself to God and be born again.
How could I become this Christoperated man? When I confessed my sins and asked that the blood of Jesus cleanse me, and that the Spirit of God come inside me, my life began to change. I knew I was clean inside and starting my life from that moment on. I was hungry for the Bible and went to various churches at night like some people go to the movies. Over the next few years, I let God renew my mind with foundational teaching, Bible study and theology classes. The church my wife and I belonged to was drawing heavily from the student body of the University of Minnesota and surrounding smaller colleges. We were taught that baby Christians grew up to become missionaries.
I believed that the time to go abroad was coming soon. In 1974, my wife Sandra and I were part of a summer ministry team in Amsterdam. For two months our group helped staff a coffee house on the edge of Vondle Park that was run by Youth With A Mission. In 1974 hallucinogenic drugs, Eastern religions and cults were very big. Hundreds of young people, who were part of a huge hippie subculture migrating from Europe to India, were allowed to sleep and hang out in the park doing whatever they wanted without any annoying intrusions of the police. Most of the Dutch population had long since abandoned the reality of Jesus Christ and His righteousness. Since they had no standard for themselves, they prided themselves on being permissive and tolerant of all the "moral crimes." They adopted a policy of "vice zones" and let it go at that. They were like a nation of bad parents who, because they cannot say no to themselves, cannot say no to their children.
My mettle was tested day after day as we walked up to total strangers and tried to turn the conversation towards their need for Jesus. We sang hymns on street corners and most people thought we were nuts. I lost an argument over scripture with someone almost every day, and returned to study in our room each night so I would have an answer next time.
An opportunity arose to return to Amsterdam the following winter, and I was asked to lead a team of four to establish a permanent base there. We sold most of what we had of value before we left and stayed two years. We returned home exhausted, angry and disillusioned. The church was in deep trouble, as well. Many workers in the mission offices had quit, leaving big holes in the operation. There was financial trouble as well. Those returning from abroad were reassigned to new positions with all hands to the pump in what was to be a temporary emergency. The emergency never ended. For the next year, I worked long hours at the church for low pay; I also worked as a caretaker in our sixteen unit apartment building to make ends meet, I taught theology at our training school two nights a week, had a home Bible fellowship group on Wednesdays, and attended church 11 am and 7 pm on Sundays. I thought I could do it all, I thought I should do it all, and have a happy family too. Wasn’t I doing what God wanted?
There was big trouble at home too. There was very little money, and very little time for anything but arguing. I know I began with wanting to serve God, but I also know I wanted to get away from the criticism at home. There were two camps emerging within the staff: the husbands who were always gone and the wives who hated it. I also know I wanted to be a big success in spiritual things as my father was in the business world. My dad never respected my dedication or understood my zeal. My dad was always gone at night on business, and my mother complained sometimes, but always backed him in the demands of his growing successes. I thought Sandra should be as supportive of what I was trying to do as my mother had been of my dad. I transferred the need I thought I had for my dad’s approval to my pastor. I did everything he asked of me because we had the same goals, and he made me feel valuable. We were all in the same boat with our wives too. I also had a growing resentment for Sandra because she was not doing what I wanted.
But Sandra’s emotional health was an issue I had to deal with and I eventually resigned, first from the mission business, and later from the church. The way we were living was awful, and I hated it too, but it was convenient for my selfish ambitions to dismiss her point of view because of her hysterical behavior. I can see now how much this annihilated her and made her feel abandoned. Sandra eventually had a severe nervous breakdown, and the church we all died to build, died a flaming death in scandal.
It was during this time that my believing took a very serious turn for the worse. I know it started with giving in to resentments against my pastor and wife. I had two idols here. My pastor had not only taken the place of my dad, but of God; and pleasing him was more important than listening to my own conscience. The payoff from that idol was the sense that I was doing something GREAT that allowed me to set aside all the daily responsibilities of my life. I was also able to enjoy the blissful simplicity of letting someone else do my thinking for me. I baptized this idol in the work of the church!
The other idol was that of a dream wife, who was supposed to participate in the fantasy above by being devoted to me. She was supposed to understand and be totally supportive of my CAUSE. The payoff for this one was that someone else covered the practical details, and became my reward at the end of a tough day. I did not realize that what I was saying to her was that she was always supposed to be there for me, but I was for her only when I had the time.
Neither of these idols were delivering the goods! Back then I would have denied I even had those kinds of expectations out of life, but it was true. I would have protested that I was doing all this for the glory of God, but for some unknown reason, the blessings of God were not forthcoming. I was arrogant, selfish, angry, and I wanted something to happen that was going to take away all this pain and frustration. I thought to myself, God owed me a better life than this. If He is not going to make me feel better, I’m going to have to find a way to do it myself.
I remember the day a magazine in a drugstore display caught my eye. There was a picture of a beautiful woman on the cover of the magazine. I was driven by lust to buy it because I knew there would be many more revealing pictures of this woman on the inside of the magazine. The day I bought that magazine I gave up what I had left of my confidence that I was a righteous man.
It was a free choice, weighed and measured. I did not just fall into it, even though it was the beginning of a ten year downfall. I knew the magazine was poison, but I chose it anyway. I had to go out of my way to break my boundary. Shaking with fear and lust, I went back to the store to buy it, but they were all sold out. I had to drive to three stores to find a copy. I felt God’s loving restraint, but did it anyway. Once the boundary was broken, it was trampled to dust. I told myself the boundary was a wall that kept me from what I wanted, but it was a wall meant to keep Satan out. Satan came in and heartily embraced my unbelief.
At first I offered resistance to what was happening because I knew I was wrong. I threw it away the next day. But after a while, I bought it again. I think I bought that same issue and threw it away five times, and God knows how many other magazines over the years that followed. I told myself I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself. It was a price I was at first willing to pay in exchange for that dream person who never argued, and was totally devoted to me.
But it was costing me much more than I was willing to see. During this same time period, I was working to build up a commercial art studio. I joined a group of freelance artists to share space and work together on larger projects. We later incorporated and had several employees. We had plans to get in on the big shift from large dedicated computer graphic systems, to smaller and cheaper PCs that could do the same quality work. By 1985, the company ran out of money and we crashed. I cannot speak for my partners, but I can now say for myself that my judgement was seriously impaired at the time.
In order to make good decisions, you have to be able to see the options and details of a situation accurately, especially the negative information. You have to be able to see what is really there, and not just see what you want to see. If you can see the real problem, then you will see the real solution. Because I was acting out, huge amounts of valuable pain that could have prompted me to make wiser decisions were numbed out by a false sense of well being and magical thinking. I was moving myself, my family and my partners into greater and greater danger, while at the same time acting out more and more to push away more and more pain.
So I lost the business and about $20,000, and went through a stretch of unemployment until I got a sales job. A year after my business failed, I threw out a disc in my back while working on the house. That meant another lost job, traction, surgery and a two and one half month recovery on the living room floor. Instead of repentance, I hardened my heart towards God for cursing me with so many calamities after I had worked so hard for Him. I was jealous of my extended family because they were successful and I was not. I was angry at my wife because she rejected me. I was angry at myself for not being able to get what I wanted out of life. I was helpless and hopeless but still did not give in.
The truth was that God was not cursing me or betraying me. I had betrayed and used Him. My curses were my own consequences, but God had not given up on me. The compassion and charity my family had given me were God’s help when I had no means to support my wife and son. I was embarrassed about how my life must have looked to my parents, brother and other relations, because I was the one who had "forsaken all to follow God." But my addiction had made my testimony ridiculous. My addict was testifying against God to them, through me. (The addict is really Sin in my members doing his lusting through me. 2 Timothy 3:26). Satan, my addict, was giving the same testimony against the faithfulness of God to my wife and son, through me!
I was living the words Paul spoke of in Romans 7:15-20. "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells, within me." (RSV)
Sandra was more and more afraid of life with me. We couldn’t pay all our bills; we had nothing. I was angry and depressed and she did not want to be with me intimately any more. I slept on the couch. I don’t blame her any more. But at that time, I did. I blamed her for not being what I wanted and what I needed. I justified my acting out, but by now I knew I could not stop. But I was not the victim here, I was rejecting Sandra. I thought everything would get better if I had a more supportive wife, so I began to look for one. Though I never physically consummated any relationships, I did have a series of emotional affairs that further removed my heart from God and home. In my heart I was adulterous, and it had the same affect on Sandra and Jonathan and me and the quality of our life together. My shame became so great, I could no longer go to the new church we had been attending. Sandra soon followed. That meant no more Sunday School, fellowship or Bible study for Jonathan either.
If you are still reading this, you might be thinking a happy ending to this story would be me in Hell and Sandra marrying a millionaire and living happily ever after. I couldn’t blame you for seeing the justice in that. But when the time was right, God sent an old friend named Scott. I hadn’t seen him in years, not since our days together in the missionary church. He asked me how I was doing, and I said my sanctification doctrine was broken. He said his was starting to work again and we should do lunch. I thought we were going to discuss theology, but we did more than that. Scott took a big chance and told me his story about sex addictions and the consequences. He warned me that I was on the verge of even greater disasters. He said one of these days I was going to follow through and get a girlfriend on the side. This would not only be expensive, but would pull me to pieces emotionally. Eventually I would have to choose between my girlfriend and my wife, if she hadn’t already found out, and that would be an extremely painful lose/lose situation. If I survived that and did not change, I would become completely dead inside and just live for scoring.
He urged me to join him in coming to a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting that week. I wore sunglasses to hide till I got inside. I knew right away I belonged, and in another week, I told Sandra what I was and she seemed to show some relief in knowing. SAA helped me to avoid another affair, but it took more than a year to get sober. What really started to make a difference was when Scott started to urge me to believe that what Christianity really meant was that I was Christ in my form. It was Satan who wanted to do the evil I was doing, not me. He said I let Satan act out his evil through me because I was in unbelief. Jesus Christ being born in me meant I was a whole new person, not just a forgiven one. (He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit with Him. I Cor. 6:17). My new nature was not like my old nature, I didn’t even want to do what I thought was my desire to do.
I wanted to believe, but I was argumentative. Anyone with eyes to see could see nothing of Christ in me any more. It seemed blasphemous and crazy, but way down inside I hoped it could still be true. Scott enlisted the help of two friends from the Zerubbabel fellowship. With the perseverance of Christ, they all helped me to get through believing.
While I rejoice that I am now able to be clean and sober, living from the life of Christ, I have had to deal with many consequences. Not all the damage I caused by letting Satan live out through me can be repaired. The greatest casualty is my marriage. My recovery came too late for Sandra. In fact, because of the abuse she suffered from me in the name of Jesus in the past, she no longer has any trust in me as a Christian for the future.
I thank God that Jonathan lives with me and has become a Christian. He is beginning to live from who he is too, but it kills me to know I am the reason he doesn’t have a mom at home any more.
To remain in faith, and to keep my profession of being Christ in my form from ever being a mockery again, I have found it very helpful to be accountable to other believers, and to work the twelve steps to get at my character defects. It has also been very important to face the negatives of my past for what they really were, so I can have a future without the same consequences, because Jesus Christ is the kind of man I want to be.
As you may well imagine, condemnation about my past can eat me alive. Paul says in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Believe it or not, I have had to learn humility to believe that. I shudder with shame when I remember what I have done. If I linger in the shame and condemnation, I will fall into despair. If I remain in despair, I will fall into hopelessness. If I remain in hopelessness, I will eventually turn to my old destructive ways to make myself feel better. This becomes the pride of self effort, taking my life back into my own hands.
The humility is remembering that I was never designed to be a self-operating-self. The humility is also remembering that Satan will step right in on my self-effort, and do more of the same evil through me again, if I go back to living my own way. Satan is evil and death as a person, and he wants to express himself through my vessel. Even though the truth is that evil did not originate with me, I am responsible for who I choose to express through me.
Christ is love, righteousness and life. Because I am His and He is mine, the expression of Jesus Christ through me is the real me. There is no such thing as a John Shank who can do anything like this himself.
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 10 No 2
- Questions & Answers
- To All Believers…It’s As Simple As This
- Editor’s Note
- Excerpt from The Intercession of Rees Howells
- No Grey For God
- The Nature of Faith
- Moments with Meryl
- A Look at a Book
- Word of Faith
- Just Say the Word
- A Life with a Purpose
- Reflections on the Twelve Steps
- The Mailbox
- Words to Live By
- Christianity’s Lost Chord