What we think we know
Jesus eventually told me that, like with Saul of Tarsus, He knew that I had to try my absolute hardest for a long period of time to gain and maintain His approval by things I did, so that I would eventually “break,” “come to my senses,” and confess (agree with Him) that what I was doing wasn’t working…and ask Him to do it instead of me continually trying to do the same religious things over and over and hoping for different results (they call that insanity).
His teaching involved showing me His true nature; how He is for me; His unconditional love; His amazing grace; what He did in His Finished Work at the Cross for me and everyone; and who I am as a result. He showed me that I am already as right with Him as I can possibly be, because he made me so—now He wants me to learn who I really am and live from that. He taught me that I can’t disappoint Him – He’s already taken care of all my sin, doesn’t keep a list of my wrongs, and I’m His Friend.
Now my motivation for life, living and relationships has totally changed. Rather than wanting myself (and for others) to have knowledge about God and “correct” doctrine (which of the 40,000+ denominations should I pick?), I want to know the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit deeper and deeper and more and more intimately and continually experience and enjoy their life as they reveal to me personally more and more of their goodness and love for everyone. Every day is now filled with joy with Them!
At the beginning of my journey, Jesus led me to words like these, written by someone with whom I’ve now become friends:
“One of the greatest barriers preventing many people from enjoying a life in grace is what they think they know. They are firmly entrenched in a paradigm of spiritual reality that to them is self-evident, however imaginary it may actually be. Without divine intervention, the religionist will never experience grace to its fullest extent. Why? Because a religionist is a person who depends on his or her own practices and efforts to gain acceptance with God. Recipients of grace must have a heart and mind that is open toward God—and nothing so decidedly shuts down one’s capacity to receive as does empty religion.
“Many think they understand the truth about grace, yet they have never even begun to comprehend the reality of its beauty in full bloom. Would you be willing to consider for a moment that some of the ideas about the Christian life that you have held as truth may not be grounded in reality? As you continue to grow in your understanding of God’s grace, you will see that it is so much bigger and better than you could even imagine. Open yourself to learn, and the Great Teacher who lives in you will show you greater things about Himself than you have ever known.” (Steve McVey)
Philippians 3:10 from the Amplified Bible became a real-life, real-time quest for me: “My determined purpose is that I may know Jesus (that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly), and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection which it exerts over believers, and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed in spirit into His likeness even to His death.”
Jesus started to show me that “knowing Him” had very little to do with studying doctrines and systematic theology that people and religious systems and organizations have developed. All of that is “knowing what someone else thinks about Him.” He started showing me that He, Himself, is the Word of God and He speaks to me constantly and He is my Teacher.
Some months ago the Holy Spirit spoke the following words to me: “Oh Paul, this openness you accepted from Me is what opened the floodgates of heaven for Me to start pouring out wave after wave of revelations of My love and grace and finished work at the cross for you and everyone!” I love it when He gives me personal confirmations like that!
As I have started to know Jesus, The Father and the Holy Spirit better and better, things have really changed! Since they have changed my life drastically and totally (not saying I’m perfect or that I never revert back to my old unbecoming ways), and since I have seen them do this with an ever expanding group of people both in my network of friends, and over the world, and since I so ache for my loved ones who appear to still be struggling with things that used to debilitate me, I am compelled to proclaim Them and Their love to everyone. I can’t go back to something that didn’t work. Christ’s love compels me to proclaim what He has shown me, what He has delivered me (and many others) from, and what I know will help my loved ones and everyone!
So with the above in mind, I have taken the things Jesus has been consolidating in my mind and spirit as I’ve been thinking and praying about how to help others come to really know that God is for them, and begun to include them in www.godisforme.org.
As the blind man whom Jesus healed said “all I know is that I was blind and now I see.” Similarly, “all I know is that what I believed before didn’t produce life, but what He is doing in me, as me and through me is producing His life not only in me, but in others!”
I hope that through the articles and messages and recommendations you see on www.godisforme.org, you will come to know beyond a shadow of doubt that God is for you!!!
~ Paul Gray
That “Anger” Thing
You ever struggle with something you just can’t overcome? Yeah, me too.
For a long time I was not able to control anger. That and other “control” issues landed me in the hospital emergency room on more than one occasion and was disastrous for relationships. From my own hellish experiences and from similar situations that scores of people have related to me during my 25 years of pastoring and counseling, I have come to realize that “control” is at the root of most of my struggles and that I still am not able to “control” anger, etc.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that God didn’t wire me up to “control” my anger…or anything else, for that matter!
I can’t. But He can…and He wants to! Fortunately…otherwise I would have no hope…the Holy Spirit of Christ who lives in me wants to also live His life through me. When I let Him, He does what I am unable to do by my own human efforts.
Prior to what He has done, I found that I simply could not overcome anger and couldn’t control my mind and emotions. I couldn’t stop judging and wanting to be in control. I tried and tried and tried. I did everything Christian mentors told me to do. I read and studied my Bible hours every day. I faithfully prayed and tried to “change my behavior,” “be more like Christ” and be a “more productive Christian.”
There was outward change, but inwardly I was wound up tight and anger would erupt at the most inappropriate times. I was simply taking the human talents and abilities God had given me and now applying them to religious things rather than business, army and music. I was an accident waiting to happen. I would be pleased when I could go a length of time without blowing up and hurting people (of course that quickly turned into pride and telling others “how I did it”), but when anger would erupt again, I would spiral down to almost inconsolable depths.
At first I went to counseling. That reinforced how bad I was. I was always told, in so many words “there’s something wrong with you…but you can fix it.” I was always given things to work on and told “you can change.” Didn’t help. Then I would go to my mentor for help. He would tell me how bad anger was (I knew that). He would show me Bible verses that talked about anger, tell me to memorize them, and then quote them when I started to get angry. That seemed to make things worse.
Even worse for me was the fact that hardly anyone else whom I knew was achieving lasting victory in the areas in which they struggled. Christians just could not seem to overcome things. They might quit drinking for a while, maybe appear to have given up pornography, stop doing drugs or quit cheating on their spouse, but there would always be something else come up…along with great condemnation, shame, doubts, anger and some degree of depression.
Somewhere I heard or read the question “How’s your theology working for you?” I could give the party line answer to that… “Fine, praise the Lord!” But the next question devastated me: “How do your wife, your friends, and your kids think your theology is working for you?” I knew what I was doing just wasn’t working…for me, or really for most others.
I started having major doubts about whether or not God was really good…whether or not He really loved me—or others.
My prayer time consisted mainly of me asking God to help me with things I struggled with…praying the same for other people, and, of course, for people to get jobs, get healed, change their behavior, sell their house, not be persecuted, etc. I would “talk at God” for at least an hour a day (most days two hours) and maybe listen to Him for a minute…on a “good day.” I did hear from God…when I would quiet myself and listen to Him. But it was mostly about me.
I studied my Bible a minimum of an hour a day…but rarely with an attitude of “show me what You want me to know about You.” I talked a lot about having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” but in reality my life was about me spending time doing things that other people had told me I needed to do to gain and maintain a right relationship with God: to keep Him pleased; to earn His blessings; to persuade Him to answer prayers and help me and others. I worked as hard as I possibly could to “be successful for God.” I equated “personal relationship” with “trying to do good,” spending time at ‘spiritual things,’ and reading or listening to teachers who believed the same things I did. I felt like I was strong in my doctrinal beliefs…therefore if I worked hard at doing the right things…God should make things go well for me.
Eventually Jesus brought a few people into my life who were considerably different than most everyone else. Some people who were genuinely happy, who seemed free, who really seemed to know Jesus and talk to Him and hear from Him and who didn’t seem to struggle with the same things I did…and, maybe even more importantly, didn’t seem to go down the tubes when they did mess up. They weren’t uptight. They were much more easy going with their kids than I was. They had come out of some religious systems that I thought produced pretty good churches, but my new friends…without disparaging others…starting teaching me about grace, resting in Christ, trusting in His Finished Work at the cross for everything in my relationship with Him, about hearing from the Holy Spirit consistently and being obedient to what He asked me to do at any given moment rather than trying to keep a list of rules that I and others had come up with.
I would go to my new friends with my problems, they’d listen, then always ask me what Jesus was saying to me. At first I got really upset because I hadn’t asked Jesus at all…I just wanted them to tell me what to do and I thought whatever it was, I was a hard worker and I could do it. Rarely would they tell me specifics about what to do or not do. They always led me to seek Jesus and listen to what He wanted me to do. The fact that they had way more scripture memorized than I did and were super well-read and very insightful…but yet resisted telling me what to do, was very compelling.
Then one day…after a few months of “doing well” and not getting angry, it all came out at a most inopportune time and I really hurt my wife emotionally and scared her. It scared me so much that I had to go & lock myself in another room and cry. I absolutely knew I could not overcome anger. Or depression. Or doubts…not really. I just broke. I told Jesus that I knew I could not keep from getting angry, I said “I tried everything and nothing works. There must be something wrong with me. Jesus, if I’m ever going to change, it’s going to have to be You that does it.”
He spoke to me right away, gently & lovingly: “Paul, that’s what I’ve been waiting for. There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s Something right with you…you just don’t know it. Let Me live My life through you. I’ll show you how. Get to know Me.” I started really listening to Him and writing down what He said. He started teaching me about “Christ in me, the hope of glory” and showing me that I – as well as all humans – are incapable of living like Christ – He’s the only One who can. It’s a setup for failure to try to do what only He can do. He would impress on me over and over that He was for me…really for me! And He started teaching me how to let Him live as me and through me.
To be continued ~ Paul Gray
Why put together a website titled godisforme.org? Because I and countless others have suffered immensely from incorrectly thinking “If there is a God, he certainly can’t be good, He doesn’t seem to be for me, and I don’t really want to be around him because I don’t think he likes me. And if he doesn’t like me, what does he think about those people who are really bad?”
Oh, I believed there was a god from my earliest memories. And when questioned, I would have said he’s good. But my experience didn’t seem to bear that out. If – as I had been taught – he was flat out against certain groups of people and certain individuals – and if he wasn’t all that pleased with me…he couldn’t really be good…could he?
At Sunday school, when I was a child, I was taught that God liked some people, but he hated others and did horrific things to them…both in this life and in the life after. I was taught that even though there were some people he did like, if they didn’t do every little thing he wanted just right, they were in trouble too. In short, I learned that God was CONDITIONALLY for me. I was told how good he was because I didn’t deserve for him to be for me at all, and just the fact that he was even CONDITIONALLY for me meant that he was somehow really GOOD. I could never reconcile that…but I eventually became very good at reciting trite, party-line phrases that supposedly justified his fickleness. By the time I’d been a pastor several years, I became a master (so I thought) at defending an un-defendable position.
My friends and I came to the conclusion that those who didn’t want to have anything to do with god or the church, just didn’t want to believe the truth about god. We had a lot of time, energy, money & emotional capital invested in the church, and we didn’t want to admit that we might be wrong. After all, none of the other people at church were questioning whether or not god was really good…or talking about wondering if he was really for us.
Those weren’t wasted years by any means. I did have a relationship with God. I did hear from Him. My life did change in many ways for the better. He helped many other people in many ways through the ministries I was involved in. But there was always this “elephant in the room.”
Even at best, I believed that God did love me, but because I and others had broken His arbitrary rules, He was angry beyond belief, full of wrath, and SOMEBODY had to pay. So…because of His love for me, instead He poured out His wrath on His own innocent Son and tortured Him in my place. But it didn’t count unless I sincerely believed, was genuinely remorseful, admitted all my sins, confessed them often, and said and did certain things. There were CONDITIONS to his love.
Of course, I knew most people hadn’t done those things…at least not sincerely…so even though God poured out all His wrath on Jesus, He somehow replenished that in a big way and had plenty more and those other people were still gonna get it. I was grateful for my being ok…but it still didn’t pass the smell test. Jesus…I liked, loved, and was very grateful for. But, God the Father…truth be told, I really didn’t want to be around Him.
I lived under that cloud for decades.
Then…I started learning The Truth, and Jesus set me free. I learned that much of what I had been taught and believed about God…was a lie. I learned God was for me…and you…and everyone, after all! I learned that God does love me…UNCONDITIONALLY – WITH…OUT…CONDITIONS!!!
That’s the reason behind www.godisforme.org – so you and others can be set free as well!
Jesus said “You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.” Jesus is The Truth…and He’s for you…and He wants to set you free! I hope you’ll join me in learning about the freedom He has already provided for you because He loves you and is for you, and His love is UNCONDITIONAL!!!
To be continued ~ Paul Gray