In 1995, I moved from San Rafael, CA to Memphis, TN in order to continue working as a correspondence counselor for Love In Action (an ex-gay ministry that now uses the name Restoration Path). In order to join in the ministry’s relocation, I willingly became a resident in a Memphis nursing home.
When I first encountered the frustrations and indignities of living in an institution, I philosophically reasoned that the suffering would prepare me for end time persecution. To my shame, I failed to maintain such an attitude. Very quickly, my self-centerdness reared its head, and my behavior greatly, and regularly, dishonored the very Lord I supposedly came to Memphis to serve. In 1997, I could no longer tolerate nursing home life, so I resigned my 12-year job (which I’d loved) and moved back to my mom’s home in San Rafael.
My moral failures in Memphis haunted me for years. They caused me to worry that I might deny Christ when real persecution came to the United States. I’d seen my cowardice and selfishness all too vividly in the nursing home, and I knew how easily I could collapse into self-preservation when circumstances threatened my comfort. I secretly hoped persecution would hold off until I could die peacefully in my own bed, so that I wouldn’t run the risk of being unfaithful to the Lord.
In recent months, however, the Lord has changed my perspective by helping me see that I’d been focusing on my unfaithfulness rather than on His faithfulness. Left to my own devices, of course I’ll fail Him. Guess what–so will you! In and of ourselves, the whole lot of us will succumb to pressure, just as surely as Peter did in the courtyard of the Sanhedrin (see Mark 14:66-72).
The Holy Spirit has used Paul’s closing remarks in his first letter to the Thessalonians to help me shift my gaze from myself to the Lord.
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. ~~1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (ESV)
The whole point of the Gospel is that the Lord does in us what we can never hope to do for ourselves. Once He saves us, He doesn’t want us to assume responsibility for maintaining our salvation. The entire letter to the Galatians, in fact, refutes the heresy that we must look to our own efforts in order to complete our salvation.
I failed in Memphis because I trusted in the wrong person: myself. But, as American Christians now face persecution, and consequently suffering far more intense than anything I went through in the nursing home, I now cling to Christ. He will not let me ultimately deny Him because, unlike me, He is faithful!