Never Walk Alone
Vernon Baldwin - Australia
I have been walking with the Lord now for over 20 years and for most of that time I have walked alone. Well, alone as in not connected to any major church or denomination. Even though I see the positive side of being connected as a young Christian to a fellowship, I have always felt that I never fit in.
When the Lord took hold of me I was under very extreme circumstances, in prison for violent offences. From the moment I realised what had happened, I got on my face and cried out for forgiveness. I started to read the Bible daily and even though it was difficult to understand, every now and then a Scripture would jump off the page at me so I would underline it and go back over those Scriptures time and time again. The Lord is a pretty good teacher. Well, the best.
We had a Chaplain for some time that made many enemies and turned many away from the Lord, telling seekers not to bother because the Lord would not forgive us. This was quite difficult for me to overcome as I struggled with guilt and was trying in my heart to forgive myself.
I have always had this resolve that when man told me I couldn't, I would search the Scriptures to see why. And so, by rejecting me, this man actually drove me deeper into the Word, where I discovered that there is only one unforgivable sin. The Lord showed me clearly that if we confess our sins, repent and turn from them, then we will be forgiven.
The enemy tried very hard to snatch away the seed that had been planted in my heart, but I stayed in the Word and in prayer on a daily basis while the Lord continued to lead me through the deeper processes that needed to occur in my life. I found I could forgive people that had wronged and yet struggled to find forgiveness in my own heart for myself.
For the following 4 years I read and prayed, trying hard to find a sense of forgiveness, but I struggled with another sin in my life: I had a bad case of 'foot in mouth' which got me in trouble for speaking up for others or myself when I felt that justice had not been done. One of these incidents landed me in the High Security unit where I was totally segregated from other inmates. I continued to read my Bible while in there and it became my only companion.
In 9 months of segregation I was visited twice by another Chaplain from Prison Fellowship, and it was very helpful. However, I started to get really frustrated as I could see no change in myself despite my reading of the Bible and my daily prayers. I had a desire, a need, to feel forgiven, to have the peace of the Lord, as well as the joy, the fruits of the Spirit, and all the things I could see were in the Bible and which I believed should have been in my life. Over many years, slowly, I came to the place of forgiving myself, and of realising that the Lord had forgiven me.
With this sense of being unforgiven and agonizing over it all for 6 months in segregation, one evening after my meal I opened the Bible at Jeremiah chapter 6 vs 16 and read: "Stand in the ways and see and ask for the old paths, where the good way is and walk in it. Then you will find rest for your soul." This verse jumped out and struck something inside of me, and I began to have the deeply impacting experience I will now share.
As I pondered on this Scripture, my eyes fell on the last sentence of the verse: "But they said: We will not walk in it." The moment I read that, a very deep conviction came over me and I started to cry out:
-I want to walk in the good way! I want to find the old paths and find rest for my soul!
At that very moment the whole atmosphere changed, and the environment I found myself standing in was an open field, the colour of which was grey -grey sky, grey ground, and it seemed to stretch for miles. I thought I had gone mad and stood there astonished questioning myself what was going on, when this strong voice spoke to me.
-Turn around! I heard. Then again, -Turn around!
I cautiously spoke and said:-I don't understand. I don't understand what's going on at the moment.
-Do you understand '360 degrees'?
-Yes, I replied.
-Then turn 180 degrees!
I looked at my feet, and sure enough, instead of sitting on the chair where I had been reading my Bible, I was standing on this field; so I turned to face the direction I was called to look. When I did that, I saw before me a horrid demonic stuff; contorted faces, screaming at me, gnashing teeth, and I could feel guilt, shame, anger, sorrow, all these different emotions as if magnified 1000 times. I turned away from this stuff, but somehow knowing that it would not be able to touch me, I looked at it again very quickly and blurted: -What's that?
-That's you! And that's the way you have been living!
-No! I am for sure not that ugly! I protested.
-That's you and the way you have been living, and if you continue living the same way this is all you are ever going to know!
I wanted to protest again. Thoughts like: "Hang on, I have been reading the Bible, and praying, and I even led a few guys through the sinner's prayer", but the words seemed like they didn't want to be spoken. They were useless. My righteousness was nothing.
So I said: -I still don't know what to do; I don't really understand what is going on here.
In my mind I still thought I had gone mad, that the stress had finally taken its toll.
This voice spoke,
-You have time to choose. Choose which way you want to live. You can continue living the way you have been living or this very time you can choose which way you want to go. For too long you have been nibbling around the edges, never really fully yielding and so tonight it's time for you to choose.
I asked,-What choice do I have?
The scene then changed again and this time I was standing on a crossroads.
I looked at the road to the right and as I did, the sun came out and made that road look very appealing. "-You are free to go down there, but I can't tell you what awaits you." I looked to the left and the same thing happened; although this time He showed me that next to the main road there was another path and said, "-You are free to go down this way, but I cannot tell you what awaits you. As you can see, it would be easy to drift onto this other path and then you would be lost; but you are free to go that way if you choose."
Then I looked straight ahead and asked:
-What happens if I go straight ahead?
Instantly a cloud burst out in front of me. It was grey, but had like lightning flashing through it and as it burst out in front of me a wonderful peace washed all over me -and I heard Him saying: -If you come this way you come to Me and you will find rest for your soul.
-Who are you? I asked.
-I am the Life, the Truth and the Way, and if you come to Me,
I knew from reading the Word and from this lovely peace that came over me that this was Jesus; I burst into tears, and sobbing I said:
-I thought I was walking after You Lord, but I'm obviously wrong. I'm so sorry for what I have done in my life. I want to walk after You but now I see that I don't know how. I want to walk after You Lord, -please, help me to walk after You!
-All you have to do is take the first step, He replied, and I will carry you the rest of the way.
That action seemed to take every bit of strength out of me; I lifted one leg up to take a step, and as my foot came down, I was back in my cell.
Crying like I had never cried before and bathed in a peace and a love like I had never known, I cried and cried and repented and cried until I cried myself to sleep. When I woke up the next day I was different; the beautiful peace was still with me, my mind felt clear, I knew I was forgiven, and I lay there for a time wondering what I was going to do with my life now. I was still stuck in prison, but for the first time in my life -I was truly free! Glory to God!
That was the real beginning of my walk with the Lord, and that was twenty years ago. Since then I have been released from prison, finished my parole and I try to live for the Lord every moment of every day. I still have my struggles as we all do, but the Lord is my constant Companion, my ever present Help in times of trouble.
I still don't seem to fit in when it comes to churches and organised religion, and that can make life pretty lonely at times. All through the years people have been telling me that I need to get my roots down and I have attempted it, but it never seems to work; at least it has not worked up to this point.
We have all been let down. Broken promises, offers of things that seemingly don't exist, ruined expectations, and the belief that I would go and sit still for 12 months while they check me out. Even though these things happen I am not bitter and I certainly don't hold any un-forgiveness toward any one. I realise we are not perfect; only One is, and that is Jesus.
I remain deeply in love with Jesus, fully submitted to Him and fully trusting Him to lead and guide me in all things. I do keep in contact with brothers and sisters in the Lord so as to be accountable and answerable for any faults and I appreciate when I can talk openly and honestly about my walk.
I believe and know that there are many like me throughout the world that have been judged, mocked, ridiculed, back stabbed and run out of churches because they chose the will of the Lord over the will of man, and I want to encourage you all -to keep going!
Stand strong in the Lord and the power of His might, stay in the Word, worship whenever and however you can and pray like there will be no tomorrow, because -who knows if there will be?
It's never been about what man thinks, but about what Jesus thinks. It's never been about what man says, but about what Jesus says. There are many not in churches that are doing the will of the Lord, serving, helping, praying, reading, worshipping and leading people to Him. And on the other hand there are many in the churches that submit to man, but don't read the Word, worship only when others are looking, are not submitted to the Head who is Christ but are submitted in un-holy alliances to the Pastor.
We really need to stop looking at the speck in our brother's eye to start removing the plank from our own.
Pastor, if you know someone is doing miracles in the name of the Lord but he does not come to your church, don't speak against him, lest you be found to be speaking against the Spirit of God, and you would not want to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.
All of the gifts are freely given by grace and to dismiss one is like dismissing them all. To those that understand this lonely walk, God bless you. Stand strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Look up as the Day draws nearer than when we first believed.
Vernon Baldwin - Australia