Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Valley of Decision

Several years ago, as I was just beginning to understand what it means to live in grace, I had a decision to make. I was part of a church in which there was quite a bit of legalism. I wouldn't say that these people were the "dogs," or the "mutilators of the flesh" that Paul talked about in Philippians. I believe that most of these people were sincerely trying to live the Christian life as best they could from the understanding of the Bible that they had. But as I was beginning to grow in grace, my mindset, my heart and my understanding of the gospel were all changing, and I often felt that I was being pulled down and away from the things I was learning. It was very difficult at times.

I prayed a lot. I knew there was this church across town that taught a gospel of pure grace. I wanted to leave my church and go to that church, but I had two issues to deal with. One was my wife (actually, she was my fiancée at the time). She'd been part of our church for much longer than I had and I knew it would be hard for her to leave. Secondly, and mainly, what did God want me to do? Should I stay or should I go?

I remember pulling up to the house where I lived at the time. A song came on the radio that I had heard many times, but had never really clicked with me. However, God spoke to me at that particular time, through that particular song, regarding that particular situation. The song was probably actually a culmination of a lot of things He had been showing me at the time.

The song was "Valley of Decision" by a 'Christian' reggae band Christafari (a song from the same album as "Modern Day Pharisee"). The lyrics "whether I should stay or whether I should flee" were exactly what I was dealing with, and God spoke to me through the words, "This is no game, people have to die in His name, valley of decision," and also, "People all around me seem to be so sad. I see them cry, I see them bawl, I see them back against the wall, I wish I could wipe away those tears."

I began bawling myself, and I made the decision to stay, based upon what I truly believe was God's word to me at that particular time. People are hurting due to legalism, and I want to be there to give them words of life. I knew it would be hard and uncomfortable. Not only would I have to hear the legalism being preached, but I also knew that my own words would not be accepted by some, if not many people. But even in those early days, God was showing me how love superseded everything else. And... I knew I would have to keep myself encouraged in the grace of God through books and tapes, and through fellowship with one friend in particular. If I wouldn't have had all that, I couldn't have done it.

Well, after we got married, my wife and I began to lead a College and Career group there, and it was pretty exciting for me as a leader to be sharing grace and truth with these young people (who were really only a little younger than us at the time). Some of them really weren't receptive, and they spoke up, but it never got heated. Some of them were just there for the "fellowship." But I do think that some of them also grew in their understanding of God's unconditional love and grace. AND... I grew a lot during that time as well!

The point I'm making here is different than in the "Beware of Dogs" series. "Those dogs, those mutilators of the flesh," are to be kept as far away from us as possible, I believe. Jesus didn't try to convert the Pharisees, as far as what I can tell. He called them bad names and He stood up for those who were under their so-called "authority." But yet we find Jesus having a conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, giving him words of life. We find him being there to comfort those who had been under the heavy burden of legalism. And He spent three years with 12 men who sometimes seemed thick in the head when it came to understanding God's love and grace, but He didn't run from them. He embraced them. That's what I'm talking about here.

The most important thing here is prayer. What God did with me is what God did with me. He may do the same with you or He may do something completely different. But I encourage you to pray, to seek God and to listen as He speaks to your heart in regards to the situations in your life in which you deal with legalistic people. He may tell you to flee as far away as you can, or He may have other plans. Just as we look beyond the evil deeds of "sinners" so that we can lead them to Jesus, I believe that there are cases, when we are Spirit-led, in which He'll have us embrace those who we don't see eye to eye with. And all too often it's for our own growth.

After much continued prayer, my wife and I did eventually leave that church, and we began attending that other church in which we heard solid grace teaching for three solid years! I was very sad when our group dispersed, but yet I took it as an opportunity to take this message of love and grace wherever I went. I've had many "valley of decision" times since then. Sometimes I've stayed and sometimes I've fleeeeeeeeed! Thank God that He doesn't have us doing this thing on our own. :)


  1. It was the perfect time for me to read this. Thank you Joel for sharing your experience in the "valley of decision." That's been a difficult one for me too.


  2. Hi Sheryl,

    Being able to share all this has been very encouraging for me. I look back on my life, and according to my "senses," I have NO CLUE how I got through some of those times! But I know that He has been the Lord my God, my Solid Rock, through it all, and He's always faithful to see us through all things in life. I know you've been through a lot, and I'm continuing to pray for you!