I grew up in a family that went to church on Sunday’s but somehow I never learned to carry my faith over to Monday or even beyond 11 AM when Church was over. When I was about 8 years old (I can’t remember the date – dates have seldom been important to me; but I can remember the circumstance.) I was laying in a bed which my dad had built. And I was terrified. I seem vaguely to remember that I must have been to church that day and the lesson must have been on hell. As I lay there I was filled with fear because I “knew”, as every child “knows”, that there were two monsters in my closet and they were about to jump out and devour me. My fear quickly deepened as I realized that when they were done shredding me apart with their teeth I would descend immediately into the bowels of hell and begin an eternity of greater -and endless- torment. Filled with a sense of justice in God’s righteous judgment I also recalled a Sunday School teacher telling me that Jesus alone could save me.
I laid there then, with tears running down the sides of my face and into my ears as I prayed with earnest to Jesus. I asked him to come into my heart and save me from hell. I also begged him to save me from the monsters in my closet — that night He did both.
Despite my conversion to Christ however and even despite my baptism a brief time later I lacked the same thing that most modern Christians in America lack: Intentional Discipleship. Going to church is NOT enough to train a convert into an effective Christian (2 Peter 1:5-9). I quickly became a carnal Christian. Growing into my teen years I rebelled against my faith, my parents, and my own common sense.
With my newfound friends and an increasing love for heavy-metal music, especially music which glorified death, and Satan, I began to walk farther and farther away from God. I became a thief, stealing – not because I needed something but because it made me feel something I can’t describe. I also began to drink and even to smoke cigarettes – though I am allergic to Cigarette smoke (Still can’t figure out that stupidity). Eventually I began to dabble in the occult first by consulting a Ouija board; toying with occult symbolism and listening to increasingly harder heavy metal music with a particularly satanic bent. Finally one Halloween night at midnight I found myself worshiping Satan through the lyrics of a Satanic Musician.
Even in the heavy metal music and the Ouija boards, I always felt loathing and fear, there were dozens if not hundreds of indiscriminate lines I wouldn’t cross. I believe to this day that the Holy Spirit was desperately laboring to keep me from crossing a line of final judgment. I was a carnal Christian. I still would have entered heaven upon my death – but I would have been severely roasted on the way in (1 Cor 3:15). I don’t say that to encourage Christians to sin. Romans 6 is a resounding condemnation of the idea that “I can go ahead and sin because Jesus will forgive me.” That’s a severe distortion of the gospel whose proponents deserve condemnation. God will judge a wayward believer, but when they are judged they are disciplined so that they won’t be condemned (1 Corinthians 11:32). It is however an encouragement to those who think they have gone too far and sinned too much for God to ever forgive them.
In the midst of my rebellion, when I was 15 I managed to land a job. I met the woman who would one day become my wife while working there. After four years, Theresa and I married. Soon I discovered she was pregnant with my first child – I was overwhelmed with fear of the responsibility. It was during that year that God began to open my eyes to His marvelous power in the created world around me; itself a small miracle because I had devolved into an evolutionist by this point.
The critical turning point came as I looked out at the world through the window in our apartment and my wife challenged my rotten attitude that day by asking me in a very exasperated tone, “what’s the matter with you.” Turning around I spoke words that I did not intend to speak, and I still believe to this very day that God’s Merciful Holy Spirit put the words that I spoke into my mouth.
“I’m looking at the world out there and now I’m convinced that it’s not some cosmic accident, there has to be a God – and he is powerful but what does he want from me?”
Theresa was taken aback and simply muttered here dismissal with a disgusted, “Read your Bible.” From that day, I began to read the Bible every night out loud to my wife and our unborn child.
God used the reading of his word from Genesis forward to transform my way of thinking (Romans 12:2). As I read through the prophets I repented of all my sins for it seemed that each prophet was busily cataloging my life. As I entered the gospels I fell weeping at God’s feet offering myself to Him for whatever he wanted me to do (Rom 12:1). As I finished the letters and moved to Revelation I knew that God had called me to be a pastor. In the early summer of 1992 I sent my application for Pastoral Studies to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and was miraculously accepted to start attending that same fall semester.
Along the way my wife and now three of my four children have accepted Christ. The story easily gets longer but that will suffice for now. God is still at work in my life and I thank Him for giving me grace where sin was increased.