| This is a witness I wrote for a Men's
Retreat I attended here in Cincinnati some years ago, with tweaks
(C) 1996-2003, Andrew Bartmess|
My name is Andy Bartmess. I'm an American Baptist by trade, and a Christian by faith.
I'd like to share with you concerning My New Life in Christ and how it has renovated me.
Before hand, though, I'd like to share a song with you:
The way to my Father's house
When I was just a boy
Lay through fields of Innocence
By springs of bubbling Joy
And when I lay me down to sleep
I prayed the Lord my soul to keep
The road was never very steep
On the way to my Father's house.
The way to my Father's house
When I turned seventeen
Wound through inviting hills
Beside a tumbling stream
Sometimes in prayer upon my knees
I would hear a distant breeze
The road was winding now through trees
On the way to my Father's house
The way to my Father's house
At the age of twenty-nine
Was over a mountain
That I would seldom climb
except in times of great despair
When I'd be searching everywhere
And then one morning He was there
On the way to my Father's house
And Glory, what a refreshing story,
I was so blind, before He
Opened my eyes restoring me to...
The way to my Father's house
At the age of Thirty-One
Was a ride on a rainbow
My new life had begun
And every evening I could look
Through the pages of His book
And recognize the paths I took
On the way...
On the way...
I go to my Father's house
In these troubled days
The spirit is moving
In mysterious ways
Reminded, when old doubts appear
That perfect love casts out all fear
In thanks, I tend the garden here
On the way...
On the way...
On the way to my Father's house.
The way to my Father's house is much easier for me today. I spent much of my life as the Hebrews of Christ's time did...broken under the weight of the Law. And that weight, that brokenness, makes the absolute Joy of Christ's Grace such a miraculous thing to me that at times I feel my heart will simply not contain the Love. Let me share "My Life Under the Law."
I once was a shame-based person. I went through most of my life convinced I was a failure and unworthy of being loved. I hated to hear stories of my youth primarily because I was ashamed of every mistake, every error, and almost everything I had ever done. Not that I was a horrible person by most standards...but by MY OWN standards, the unspoken ones I learned from my family, I was a failure. (Or what as worse, a "disappointment.") Before I truly came to know Christ as savior, "Toxic Shame" was destroying my life.
I suspect we all live with Guilt over our failings. "Guilt" is healthy, it says "I made a mistake, and I can learn to do better." Contrast this with my "Shame"; Shame says "I AM a mistake, there is no hope, I am without worth."
I was physically very well provided for as a child. I never went hungry for food, always had a roof over my head, and more than enough toys to play with...but the open love that Christ shows to us never seemed to reach me from my parents. Many have had far worse homes...I was never beaten or physically misused. But I felt raised in an "emotional void." I don't ever recall having any positive feedback on my abilities, and as such, I always doubted my judgment on everything. While a very creative youth, talented in many ways...I grew up feeling worthless. My parents were luke-warm Presbyterians, and we quit going to Church when I was about ten. I often joke with friends that all I remember from Sunday School was that Moses floated down river in a basket. How I wish today that someone would have told me of Christ's personal love for me. How many of our teens this very day are "longing for belonging", to know how special they are to Jesus Christ?
So, I grew up in a home where a thin veneer of "Christianity" simulated the real thing. A wise man once said that "going to Church does not make you a Christian anymore than going to a garage makes you an automobile." The love in my family, I feel, was a "conditional love." Nothing was said, but it was implied that if I wanted to earn my parents love and approval, I had to perform. I better get good grades. I'd better mow the grass, I'd better shape up
right now. I failed the mark in about a billion ways, and I'd better improve! There were a thousand unwritten rules I had to meet before I felt I "qualified" to have value.
It is said you spend time with what you love, and it's very true. If anything, I felt the great god "Sports" came first in our house. Even today, If I want to invite my parents over for dinner or invite them to hear me sing at a church show, I know that the answer may well be "Sorry Honey, but the Bengals are playing that night." The message I got was that I was less important than who won "the Big Game" that night.
Today, from the Recovery work I have done, I can see that the children
in my family bear many of the marks common to dysfunctional homes.
My eldest brother is a Martyr/Over-Achiever...working twenty-six hours a day to have the perfect family, and job and children. Both of his kids do ballet and violin and a thousand other scholarly things...I fear that one day they'll wake up and find they never were children. My middle brother is a recovering alcoholic and Lost Child...a hermit, locked in his house with two VCRs and an expensive stereo, all remote controlled so they do what you tell them to do. And I became the Class-clown of the group...humorous, clever and witty...but inside, wounded and bitter. It would take many years and the free gift of Jesus Christ to repair the wounds Satan left on my youth. Back then, I only knew God as the Judgmental Heavenly Father, so like my earthly one. I felt that I failed every test, that I could never "qualify" to earn the love of my parents, or by extension, my God. To me, God's love was a thing that could be earned, lost, gained, counted, erased, or taken away. Every day was just another chance to fall short of the level of perfection I felt God required
BEFORE he would love me.
In my high school years I proved to be a creative witty person, pulling down B's without even trying. I did school plays, sang in the Choir, did a dozen different hobbies to keep busy. But this compulsive,
gerbil-like activity never really earned me the praise I sought from my parents. I looked forward to college, sure that moving out of my parents house would "fix" whatever problems I had.
My entire life before college, I was a compulsive food addict, a problem I still fight today. Food was my friend, it didn't ask anything of me, it loved unconditionally. I was also a voracious reader, primarily because on far-off alien worlds, I could be somebody else, somebody who mattered. In college I also discovered alcohol, and began a twelve-year love affair with drinking. When I was drinking, I could sit quietly by myself and watch the world wobble by. Video games were another seductive love...not to mention video games and drinking¦, another winning combination. I did all of these things to avoid my pain. This is the basis of all addictions really...I was able to get "out of myself" and away from the self-loathing I carried with me. Picture my fears and pains as Marley's chains in "Christmas Carol": they grew, year by year, link by link, and every time I ran from myself, I added to
them. I simply could not stand to feel my emotions, because the pain was too great. By consequence, I built sturdy walls about me, and would let no one really reach into who I was, not even me.
In college I also discovered Dungeons & Dragons, and in that seductive role-playing game, I could be a hero...brave, true, glorious, and everything I wanted to be but wasn't. Add to this the social environment...the people I played with liked me for me...I didn't have to fake being somebody else. They all accepted me as I was. Once a week, for six glorious hours, the mask came off! I could be me, flaws and all, and got to role-play a hero! What could be better? The only problem was that when "the high wore off" and I had to return to the real world, I had the same feeling of emptiness. My own personal chains, the weight of the Law that I could never satisfy, was crushing my soul. (To show that God can "shoot straight with a crooked stick," I later discovered a game called DragonRaid, similar to Dungeons & Dragons, which is Christ-centered and "Scripturally Correct." Whenever God pulls the weeds in my life, he plants good fruit to take it's place.)
Anyway, during Junior year at Bowling Green State University, I discovered that I had completely bolloxed my life. I had no idea where I was going, in fact, I was really going nowhere, and I was terrified of leaving college. Through Karen, my wife, and some close friends, I began to understand and know Jesus Christ.
Jesus answered, "I am telling you the truth; no man can see the Kingdom of God unless he is
"How can a man be born again?" Nicodemus asked. "He certainly cannot enter his mother's
womb and be born a second time!"
"I am telling you the truth," replied Jesus, "that no one can enter the Kingdom of God
unless he is born of water and the Spirit. A person is born physically of human parents,
but he is born spiritually of the Spirit. Do not be surprised because I tell you that you all must
be born again. The wind blows wherever it wishes; you all hear the sound that it makses,
but you don onto know hwere is comes from or where it is going. It is like taht with
everyone who is born of the Spirit."
I sang with the Men's Chorus at my university, surely at God's will, because it so often presented faithful music to work on my heart. In
1982 the choir was singing at a church in Akron, Ohio, doing a beautiful piece based on the Prodigal Son. I felt touched deeply by that work...I had wandered, certainly, and was ready to be made one with God's family. As it went, "In my Father's house are many mansions, I will arise and go to my Father." When we finished that tour, I decided to be baptized. I wish I could say that decision was a cure-all, that my life became perfect there and then. Well, as I tell my friends, if being a Christian gave us a perfect life, everyone would want to do it. At that point, my life became SURVIVABLE. In college, I knew Christ as you might know George Washington..."He was a great man, he went here and there, and did this and that." A REAL relationship, a personal one with Christ, came later. Jesus Christ forgave me all of my sins in 1982 when I came up from the water. It has taken me additional years to learn to apply what Christ taught, and learn to forgive myself.
I graduated from college with a Public Relations degree I did not choose to use, did three years in sales with Radio Shack, and returned to college for a two-year degree in printing. In the years that followed, my self-hatred continued to carve at me. I lost two jobs because I could not grow into any responsibility. I had such a bad opinion of myself I lived every day in utter terror, afraid to try anything new for fear of failing at it. I was sure that one day, the world would see behind the cool, capable mask I had created and see the twisted failure I knew myself as. I guess I always tried to use my "perfect" eldest brother as a yardstick. He seemed to live life effortlessly...all things came easy (or so it seemed.) If I made or created anything, I would have to point out the flaws to other people myself, so that they could not find them and shame me with them. Everybody would tell me how wonderful and talented I was...all I could see was the flaws.
As I have said, I worked hard at putting up the "perfect mask." I lived with two "selfs"; a "public self" and a "private self". My public self has always been one of being a capable, fun-loving jokester, free-wheeling and friendly; that's the mask we show to the outside. My private self was my own personal Hell...I felt worthless, that I could not do anything right. That everyone else in the world was a billion times more 'together' than I. What if anyone saw me fail at something? Then they'd know my lie. I had to be perfect." And the greater the distance between my public and private selves, the more tension I had in my life. While I was working in printing, everyday I worked at "damage control"...not only could I not allow myself to make a mistake, I went through elaborate efforts to cover up any error. (This allowed me the supreme joy of failing, hiding it, and worrying about people finding out I hid the failure.) I would wake up in cold sweats, remember my errors in the dead of night, and punish myself for my worthlessness. I was so worried about anyone finding out my secret, I could not do anything but cower in fear. No one could know that I was imperfect.
I am a firm believer that Satan is a real, moving force in this world; all you have to do is look at the despair the Dark One's sown in so many lives to see his work. And for every Human spirit he can haul down with him into Darkness, Satan laughs. The world tells us in a million subtle lies that heaven is a question of being "good enough." If that were the case, nobody, not even the apostles, would get in! Satan certainly had his hooks in me; everyday he reminded me I fell short of what the World and my Family demanded of me.
To escape, I lost myself in stuff...I became what some describe as "a Human Do-ing", rather than a human being...I would take on any task that allowed me to avoid having to spend time with ME.
Thus, I was still stuck in this world. I went to church because I felt I should...it was the proper thing to do. Christ was calling at my heart, and although I had read the Bible several times, I was not hearing
His voice. For the Grace I knew on paper was about to become the true, amazing, wonderful Grace that would heal my pain. In 1990, Christ stopped being a historical figure and became my blessed healer.
At that time, my wife Karen began attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA), a support group for children of practicing and recovering alcoholics. Her father has been "dry" for 15+ years, but something was still haunting Karen. She was never physically hurt or beaten, like so many kids, but her dad, in her words "just wasn't there." She got no support, no "nice going, good girl!", no nothing.
Karen had carried her own "inner worthlessness" as well, and really enjoyed the ACoA meetings when she attended. My wife had been going for about six months when she brought a sheet listing the characteristics of adults raised in dysfunctional home.
I was working at my second printing job at the time, and just beginning to feel the stress. On the outside I was Mr. Perfect, on the inside I was collapsing. I took one look at the sheet and began checking off my pains one by one. Yep...Yep...Yep, Yep, Yep-YepYepYepYep. The first step in the door was the hardest part, because, I think, we were raised on a strict "fix yourself" attitude, making it hard to accept help, no matter how loving. But I went...
I attended one meeting and began to see some life-changing things.
Part was that my food, alcohol and excitement addictions are simply the top of an iceberg. Beneath the surface they are driven by my shame and feelings of worthlessness. No cure that fixed only the symptoms would heal me. I had an addictive personality. You might picture it as a hole in my heart, shaped to fit the love of Christ. I could try to fill the hole with food, alcohol, gaming, money, excitement...any of the distractions of this world. But the hole never filled, and the next day always demanded more. Across the years, Christ's words about the Prodigal Son spoke to me, and made me whole.
Jesus went on to say, "There was once a man who had two sons.
The younger one said to him, 'Father, give me my share of the property now.'
So the man divided his property between his two sons. After a few days
the younger son sold his part of the property, and left home with the money.
He went to a country far away, where he wasted his money in reckless living. He spent everything he had.
Then a severe famine spread over that country, and he was oleft without a thing. So he went to work for one
of the citizens of that country, who sent him out to his farm to take care of the pigs. He wished he could fill
himself with the bean pods the pigs ate, but no one game him anything to eat. At last, he came to his senses
and said, ‘All my father’s hired workers have more than they can heat, and here I am about to starve! I will
get up and go to my father, and say, “Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer fit to
be called your son; treat me as one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and started back to his father.
It should be noted I hold no hatred for my parents...they did the best they knew how to in raising me, they did the best they knew how. (And in the years since beginning my walk, I've grown to really love them again for what they tried to do...and have learned what mistakes I don't want to repeat with my kids.) But my parents still lack a full understanding of Christ's love, as to them the Father in Christ's tail is cruel and unfair! But seen through Christ's love, how powerful the truth of His word, and how glorious his "Unconditional Love" as shown in this parable! God's love for me is a living, growing thing. Far from the selfish love the world would teach us, consider our Heavenly Father as drawn in this tale:
”He was still a long way from home when his father saw him; his heart was filled with pity, and
he ran, threw his arms around his son, and kissed him. ‘Father,’ the son said, ‘I have sinned against God and
against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son.’ But the father called to his servants. ‘Hurry!’ he said.
‘Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Then go and get the prize
calf and kill it, and let us celebrate with a feast! For this son of mine was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost,
but now he has been found.’ And the feasting began.
”In the meantime, the older son was out in the field. On his way back, when he came copse
to the house, he heard the music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him, ‘what’s going on?’
‘Your brother has come back home, ‘ the servant answered, ‘and your father has killed the prize calf, because he got
him back safe and sound.’ The older brother was so angry that he would not go into the house; so his father came
out and begged him to come in. But he spoke back to his father, ‘look, all thee years I have worked for you like a
slave, and I have never disobeyed your orders. What have you given me? Not even a goat for me to have a feast
with my friends! But this so of yours wasted all your property on prostitutes, and when he comes back home, you
kill the prize calf for him! ‘My Son,’ the father answered, ‘you are always here with me, and everything I have is
yours. But we had to celebrate and be happy, because your brother was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost,
but now he has been found.’”
- To "put shoes on his feet" implies a FULL return to the home, as slaves were not given shoes.
- To "put the ring on his finger" denotes a signet ring, the mark of the household, the full legal honor of membership.
- To Hebrew custom of that time, it would be undignified for a man of substance to be seen running...and yet here the Father is so overcome by joy that all propriety, all false dignity and hardness, is tossed away.
What Grace! Jesus Christ has this kind of personal, total love for me, you and any who come to Him! No longer an IMPERSONAL savior, by my choice and His grace, He is now a PERSONAL ONE. No longer does God see us, as the song says, "from a distance", but He truly lives in my heart, as a force that cares for me, molds me to do better, and helps me seek His forgiveness when I fail, as humans often do. I have worked to give up control of my life, to truly let "THY will be done"; and Christ has done wonderful things with it.
Jesus, as part of the God who designed the cosmos, knows ALL about me...even the failures I've never told anyone about. He knows every mistake I've ever made, in my past and in my future, right up the timeline. He knows how I have failed myself, and how I have failed others. Christ knew all of this at the moment he went to the cross...and he still underwent the pain of death to make me clean with God. He died and rose again, defeating death for me even though he knew my every flaw better than I do! When I was incapable of loving myself, Christ was there to do it for me. When I could not accept myself, He did.
Time and again in the New Testament of the Bible Christ called those
who followed Him "God's Children." But the Hebrew words He spoke to the crowds had a
different meaning to his followers...they translate as "adopted children." And
in the Hebrew tradition, someone who was adopted into a family had a choice...to
make it legal, the adopted person had to formally accept being a member of the family.
That is the way it stands today. Everyone of us is invited to be a member of God's
family...he wants us all to be in his Spirit, a new creation made clean. But we must
accept his call. It is so simple, and yet many will walk away from Him because they can't
1) Accept that we are all sinners. Everyone of us, no matter how we try, falls short of the
perfection God requires of us.
2) Acknowledge that Jesus is the only full payment for us. Christ said, "I am
the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the Father except by me."
He is the only payment, the only answer.
3) Pray for God's forgiveness through Christ's love. We are new creatures everytime
we ask for his forgiveness. Ask Christ to come into your heart, and to remake you anew.
4) Go and show His fruit in our lives. Try again to be more like Jesus, remembering
to come back in prayer when we stumble.
The Greeks had many words that today we translate as love. For Carnal Love, the physical love, they used Eros. For brotherly love,
love of kindred, they used Philos. But for the love of God that flows through Jesus Christ, they used a special word, Agape. This is the singular, incredible love of Grace, the love God has for us...so special, it needed a word of it's own. It is an "unconditional love" spoken of in Corinthians...it values us for who we are...children of God...and is always there for us...even when WE walk away from it into the wicked world. It is a love that we can only understand "through a glass, dimly", but the merest touch of it can change our lives.
Now, of course I still need to change in a thousand ways. Every day, I fall short of what God would have me become...ever more loving,
giving, joyful. But Christ accepted me where I was, as a starting place. I did not have to qualify for His love. How different from my own rearing! And every time I fall short, I can be forgiven again! Amazing Grace! Today, my parent's still take the Prodigal Son as a tale of an earthly father's unfairness...for me, it is a tale of the unbounded heavenly forgiveness that has brought me to Christ. It's a truism that children learn what they live, and until I truly knew Jesus Christ, I based my knowledge of Love on the "love" the world showed me, I was a bitter, selfish fool. I was emotionally needy, incapable of truly loving, always 100 percent based on what I would receive from others. I "thought as a child." Once Christ entered into my heart, once I truly accepted Him, and through Him, myself, I learned Agape. How glorious that I can know Christ's unconditional love, and make that my inspiration for loving others. I have two beautiful daughters, Bethany Jewell and Catherine Marie, and they see the Love of Christ as their model of Love, and how I love them and them is their model for understanding God the Father. That's a responsibility!
Really, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ has changed me entirely. I am no longer
caged by my past, for the loving Grace of Christ today pushes out all of my self-hatred.
How can I value myself as unimportant when Christ died for my sins? How can I embrace
the Love God has extended me, and not value the special abilities He has given me?
Indeed, how could I once call myself a Christian, when I did not SHOW the world his
Agape in my personal relationships. Jesus Christ taught me that when we are to "Love our
Neighbor as ourselves", the first step must be to Love Myself...as deeply and as
truly as He loves me...and you.
So far as the Law is concerned, however, I am dead--killed by the Law
itself--in order that I might live for God. I have been put to death with Christ on the
Cross, so it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. This life
that I live now, his life for me. Galatians 2:19-20
Every bit of love or joy any see in me flows from Jesus Christ, as a poor reflection of the love He has for all of us. And I now want to do what is right, not because "I have to be good enough to get into heaven" but because "Jesus, you died for me, how can I return the gift out of love?" I now actually like myself...I no longer have to be perfect. It used to be I'd look at my eldest brother, and feel like I was comparing a sow's ear to a silk purse; I was ruptured, broken, incapable of being "normal", whatever that is. Today, I feel more like a beautiful song as compared to a fine painting. God gave me wonderful talents and abilities...just not the same ones as other people. I no longer have to point out the flaws in what I do...it's OK that they are there...that's what people do.
Some one once told me, "What you are is God's Gift to you...what you become is Your Gift to God." Every day, I find I must CHOOSE Joy, Choose to pass on Christ's Agape to others. One last scripture...
After they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do?"
Going to the original Greek, Christ first asks, "Peter, do you Agape me more than these others", do you love me with the Full, unconditional Love of God? Peter responds, "Lord, You know I philos you, Love you like a brother." This same exchange repeats...Christ's Agape to Peter's Philos. Lastly, Christ relents and asks "Peter, do you Philos me," to which Peter responds alike. Even a disciple, one who walked with Christ, felt uncomfortable with giving, or accepting, the full Agape of God's love. To love others with the that love is a powerful task, and the starting point is to love yourself like God loves you.
"Yes, Lord," he answered, "You know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Take care of my lambs." A second time Jesus said to him, "Simon,
son of John, do you love me?"
"Yes, Lord," he answered, "You know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Take care of my sheep." A third time Jesus said, "Simon, son of John,
do you love me?"
Peter became sad because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" and so he
said to him, "Lord, you know everytthing; you know that I love you!"
Jesus said to him, "Take care of my sheep. I am telling you the truth: when you were
young, yhou used to get readcy and go anywhere you wanted to; but when you are older,
you will stretch out your hands and some one else will tie you up and take you
where you don't want to go." (In saying this, Jesus was indicating the way in which
Peter would die and bring glory to God.) Then Jesus said, "Follow me!" John
Every day, Jesus Christ asks my heart, "do you Agape me?" Will you take up the Cross and Love me enough to show My Love to others?
Beloved, that is a powerful question! For the Gift of Grace is so great, and so freely given, I must pass it along in His name. Not of my power...I couldn't Love like that. It flows as a Gift of the Spirit. His Love is so vast. He knows all about his Children, every detail, and still he went to the Cross. The Glory goes to Him, for he has healed me. Like Blind Bartimaus, he has given me sight, and the first thing that reached my eyes was the glory of His outstretched arms.
Through his love, am free to be me...and the flaws we'll work on