Warning: The following discusses some mature topics. Skip to the next entry if you’re easily offended or young.
I was recently asked several questions about what I believe about Jesus. The short and sweet version is that I believe Jesus is God, that he died to pay for my sins, which are the highest possible crimes against God: treason and rebellion. The more interesting question, however, is how I came to believe this, and what else I believe.
I feel a bit of conflict about how to tell my story. I have been advised in the past to not mention specific denominations of churches when discussing personal experiences. On the other hand, I think it is quite relevant. So, I will say this as I start: I will be talking about specific churches, specific pastors, etc. However, I think that there is a chance that some people may read what I have to say and recognize that there is a possibility for improvement.
I was raised from a small child in an Episcopal church. I don’t remember a lot about growing up. What I do recall was that the services were the same every week. Literally. They’re in the Book of Common Prayer. As a child, this quickly became boring, especially when most of the service was memorized. Unfortunately, I cannot recall learning what it was that made us Christians. I knew Jesus had died and been resurrected, but I didn’t know why. By around age 13, I was not sure God even existed.
At around this time, my parents also got divorced. I started going to church less often. I got exposed to Tarot cards, numerology (silly), and I Ching. Tarot was fascinating to me. Soon, I didn’t go to church at all, but instead was going to college. I majored in math, and minored in philosophy. In other words, I majored in logical thinking with a minor in logical thinking. In my third year, I started investigating religion again. I was fascinated by Native American totem worship. It seemed fascinating.
My first girl friend, in my second year of college, was into using “power” for combat. She was into the occult. Some variation on paganism. I started playing with it some, but couldn’t tell whether it was in my head or real. I didn’t have a way to test it.
Later, I also got involved with BDSM and got a new girl-friend. In the course of masochistic play, I experienced some animalistic thoughts/reactions. Pain will do that to you. It occurred to me to wonder if this was some sort of spirit. After a while, I was conversing with this “panther spirit”. Yes, “WingedPanther” is partially a result of that. At this time, I started seeing auras. The were related to health, and could be manipulated. I conducted some experiments with my girlfriend and was able to confirm that the manipulations did affect her. Moving pain around, relieving it, things like that. From there, I explored further. By the time I graduated, I was hanging out with self-proclaimed pagans and wiccans. We talked slightly differently, but were all doing the same things.
Being in the occult is a heady thing. You feel like you have this special power that most people don’t have. It makes you feel special, knowing that you can do things no one else can. At the same time, I was getting my monthly torture session to deal with how rotten I felt about myself. Power didn’t make me feel happy. At this point, I believed I was channeling a totem spirit, dueling imps, and generally “big man on campus” in the spiritual realm.
As I moved into grad school, I started to realize that I wasn’t in control of the spirit I was dealing with. By November of that year, I felt trapped and wanted to have no more dealings with that spirit. It wouldn’t leave. I couldn’t force it away. I didn’t have any power. On night, when I tried to make it go away, and failed, something else drove it away. I had the impression of a white light. I concluded it was God.
A friend lead me through the sinner’s prayer and told me I was saved around Christmas. It sounds great. There was a problem, though. I didn’t believe in Jesus, just some abstract God. On the following Palm Sunday, I felt prompted to go to the church across the street. They did a special drama about the sacrificial love of God. I wanted that love and came to the front of the church during the altar call. Again, I was told I was now saved. Again, I didn’t believe in Jesus, just a God that could love me.
During the year I was in that church, which was affiliated with the Assemblies of God, I was praised for what an inspiration I was and the remarkable growth I had shown. I got baptized after a year, and eventually came to accept that Jesus was real, and was the son of God. I left that church because I could not bring myself to witness during a witnessing campaign on campus. You see, I still wasn’t a Christian, and I couldn’t bring myself to witness.
Instead, I went back to the Episcopal church. I learned that whether the church is flashy with speaking in tongues, or reserved with ceremony, a church could feed its flock. I got my masters and moved. Things didn’t go well and I quit going to church. I got back into BDSM. I got angry at God. I wanted to get into the occult again, but knew that was a bad idea. Instead, I started running into Christians in weird places. At work, in BDSM chatrooms, just about anywhere. Don’t ask why they were in these places, but they were.
Meanwhile, my personal life was getting worse. I was broke. Someone I thought was my friend was extorting money from me. My food budget was $10-$20 dollars a week. Finally, I cried out to God for help. There was no doubt in my mind that He was real. This time, a Christian I met in a BDSM chat room lead me to Jesus and made sure I knew what I was praying. This was in early spring of 1999.
At this point, most people’s testimonies end. Mine doesn’t. I moved from Minnesota to South Carolina to start a new life. I floated between a few churches, all variations on Baptists. I also started reading like crazy. Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Kingdom of the Cults, and The Bible. I spent the next few years studying, learning as much as I could about Christianity.
I had faith, but I was in a form of Christianity that is not very appealing. What did I get? I got to go to church every Sunday morning. The only real advantage, from my perspective, was that there was teaching. I was learning about the groundwork of Christianity. One thing that I didn’t really learn about was the activities of the Holy Spirit.
That changed when I married my wife. She was raised in a Pentacostal church. She was used to seeing people get healed, speaking in tongues, etc. I had never seen anything more impressive than what sounded to me like babbling. Not long after we got married, our church fell apart. It’s still there, but the church got ripped in half with internal strife.
We spent a lot of time trying to find a new church. Methodist, Baptist, anything that looked vaguely sane. Finally, we saw a taped preaching and went to that church. It was similar to Pentacostal, and the teaching was sound. We went there for a few months. It was a church where anyone could walk in and be welcomed. We got revitalized and reminded that the Holy Spirit is real. Then we got invited to a Vineyard church. There, we found a strange church. The preaching was similar to a Southern Baptist church, but the expectation was that the Holy Spirit could and would act.
At the Vineyard, we learned more. We learned, and experienced, God acting in supernatural ways. I have had the honor of praying for my wife and friends and seeing them experience healing. Nothing major, but more than I would have every believed. I have heard God tell me things that I could not know, and show me visions of the future that I could not of predicted.
If someone were to ask me, how do you know Christianity is true, I could not point to anything but personal experience. However, when I read the book of Acts I see things described that correspond with my experiences. There are a lot of books on explaining why Christianity is true, and they are worth reading. I am a Christian because God called me. He called me for years. I studied the reasons to become a Christian AFTER I got saved.
There are intelligent men and women who know all the reasons to believe in God and Jesus, and manage not to. There are people who are firm believers, and could never begin to explain a rational reason to believe. When I was an atheist, I didn’t want to believe, but knew the Bible was special. I couldn’t read it, though. I saw arrogance and anger in it. Now I read peace and love.
If you believe there may be a God, pray to him and listen. Investigate, ask questions. If you are convinced there is no God, keep your eyes open for weird stuff.