by Mike Ratliff
For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:4-10 ESV)
If you have read very much of what God has had me post here then you know how much I admire John Bunyan and his fantastic allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan understood what real Christianity was all about. He was surrounded by the empty religiosity of the state church of his time and its leaders tried to silence him through intimidation and imprisonment for refusing to stop preaching the Gospel. The real Church has always had to contend with false prophets and false forms. One of the things that Bunyan taught in his allegory was that the true form of Christianity was lived out by those who walked daily down a very narrow path sealed by God’s absolute truth. There are many ways off the path. Many believe they can make their own path. There are many detours and intersections requiring godly wisdom by the pilgrim in order to remain on the narrow path. Only the genuine Christian is alive in Christ and they are the only ones who complete the journey, the pilgrimage, to meet their Saviour in glory at the end. All other paths lead only to death and destruction.
As I grew up, my family was in church nearly every Sunday. I was in Sunday school in our denomination until I left to go to college in the Fall of 1969. My concept of Christianity was that it was all about being in a Church building every Sunday doing religious things. The confusing thing for me, however, was that when I did read the Bible, those people I read about were all about living out their faith not simply being religious. Jesus taught about how to live and interact with others. He did not seem too concerned with religiosity being what sets people apart in God’s eyes. No, His focus was more about His disciples having a righteousness that surpassed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). Therefore, I became disillusioned with “doing church.” I stopped going when I was old enough to make my own way. Did this make me happy? Was I more spiritually in-tune with God because I was no longer “active in church?” No, in fact, I became more and more miserable every year as I tried to be fulfilled with what the world has to offer. I look back on that time of my life, the late 1960’s through 1984 or so, as a dark, empty time in my life. If I had been born about 20-30 years later, I am sure I would have been a perfect fit for the Emergent form of Christianity. However, God had other plans.
I knew a lot about the Bible, but I really did not know God through it. I could have probably done well on the Jeopardy game show in a category dealing with the Bible. However, that is as far as it went. I met my wife in 1981. We married and started a family. It was great. We were both around 30 and were pretty good parents. I loved it. However, when I had my parents’ religiosity cast up before me and had pressure put on me that we should have our kids in Church at least, I rebelled. I let my mother take them to church with her, but my wife and I never went. God has his perfect ways my brethren. The bank I worked for got into financial problems because of it being a key player in the Penn Square banking scandal. A bank in Tulsa bought us out. They moved my job from OKC to Tulsa and we moved from Edmond, Oklahoma to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in 1984. By then, my son was becoming a hand full. He is very intelligent and strong willed. I love him, but back then we could see that what we needed for him was beyond what we had to offer. Therefore, we started going to a nearby church in Tulsa that happened to be pastored by a friend with whom I had graduated from High School in 1969.
The first year or so were about what I expected. I found my enthusiasm for church dwindling continually. I found it both a great boor and very convicting at times when religiosity was held out as a marker for Christian authenticity. I knew that I certainly had not lived in such a way that I could claim that. However, our kids loved it and my parents thought it was great that we were “back at church.” I continued this charade for their sake, but I saw little point in it. Everything changed at the end of 1985 and the beginning of 1986. I have shared this before, in other posts, but I cannot help it my brethren. That day is still a huge mystery to me. Over the last several months of 1985 we were under a great deal of financial pressure due to paying rent on our house where we lived and a mortgage on our house back in Edmond. It drew me to seek God’s solution, but I did not know how to get it except to become even more religious.
Early in January 1986, we went to church on a cold Sunday. I took our son to his class while my wife took our daughter to hers. We met in the choir room, which served as our Sunday school classroom. I sat as far from the teacher as I could get. We sat down and everything changed. Just as the seat of my pants hit that seat, I came under very severe conviction of my lostness. I knew that I was bound for Hell. I knew it! I knew that I was not right with God. I did not know what to do about it, but I was being torn apart on the inside. I do not remember what happened in class or in church afterwards. I remember going home and then later that evening as we drove back to church, as I stopped at the traffic light that was at the end of our street, I asked God to save me. I remember telling Him that I believed Jesus was my Saviour and Lord and then as I turned onto the main road that led to our church, I was rejoicing because I was a new creation. I could not wait for church to end that night so I could make it public. When the invitation started, I was down there to the front in seconds. I told my Sunday school teacher, who was a counselor, what had happened. He listened to me pray from the depths of a very grateful heart for the fact that Jesus had died for my sins and had saved me. That was good enough for him I suppose because he told the pastor that I was a candidate for baptism.
My spiritual growth since then has not been a straight, smooth, constantly rising line. I have gone through ups and downs since then. I have become very religious only to have God draw me out of it more than a few times. Wherever we lived, I became a church leader of some kind. I was a deacon and Bible teacher in several churches. I preached a few sermons. However, every time that became the focus for me, God would remove me from it. We ended up in the Kansas City area in 2001. We joined a small SBC church in our area. I became a deacon there about a year later. I became a Bible teacher there as well. However, this time was very different. I became very close to several young people the same age as my own children. My wife and I became their spiritual leaders I suppose. In any case, in 2003 I knew that God was preparing me for something else. At the end of the year, I felt like I was just going through the motions. I was not growing spiritually. I was just being religious again. Then I was asked to start a new class for these younger Christians. This drew me to prayer. From early 2004 through the beginning of August, God drew me closer and closer to Him as I gave Him more and more of my time in prayer, worship, Bible Study, devotions, et cetera. I just could not get enough of Him.
In the first part of August, everything came to a head. By then, there was not a time of day, except while sleeping I suppose, that I was not worshipping God, doing Bible Study, or something involved with elevating or magnifying Him in my heart. This is very humbling my brethren. I remember this like it was yesterday. I woke up one Saturday morning after spending the previous evening in drawing near unto God and the first words out of my mouth as I stumbled into the bathroom was praise and it was then that I realized that God had changed everything “again.” My entire value system had changed. I could not look at any circumstance or situation outside of the parameters of God’s Kingdom. It was very humbling. Possessing the Treasure sprung from this root. It took about another year and a half for God to finish growing me up in discernment (that is still going on) and I could see the utter uselessness of man-made religiosity. I talked with my pastor and few of the other deacons about it and they just did not get it. They were all about Churchianity and religiosity and all I wanted to pursue was getting our people to walk close with their Saviour daily, to obey Him in all things, and to never leave the narrow path. Somehow, the church stuff did not seem to be contributing anything to this, especially since the pastor was in the midst of trying to institute the Purpose Driven Church model there. I resisted that and that was the impetus that God used to move us out of there. They simply would not listen to me.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:6-15 ESV)
This passage is key to what God has done in my heart through all of this. In fact, this passage is like a summary of exactly what God has done for me thus far in saving, growing, and maturing me in Christ. I have heard so many who were saved and their claim is that there were instantly brought to this level of maturity in Christ. That is most certainly not how it has been for me. I was around 34 when God saved me and I will turn 59 later this year. In that time, God has done major reconstruction in this heart. I pray for wisdom, discernment, direction, and vision every day and God is answering that prayer. I can now listen to or read the work of a professing Christian and can almost instantly tell if that person is focused on God and His glory and the edification of the Body of Christ for God’s glory or if all they are about is just more religiosity and taking people captive by philosophy and empty deceit according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. This is where God has this ministry and me now.
My heart cry for you reading this is that you walk in Christ Jesus the Lord, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, abounding in thanksgiving. I pray that God will preserve you and keep you from being impacted by the deceitful spirits in this world bent on confusion and false doctrine and empty religiosity as means of attacking the Body of Christ. I pray that you will not be a victim of this as I was early in my walk. I pray for your maturity in Christ and that you will walk by faith, not by sight as you seek Him and not empty religion.
Soli Deo Gloria!