How I Became a Christian – Part 4


The Road to Emmaus

Image by jimforest via Flickr

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. I’ve taken the pains of doing four posts (Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3)  and not condensing it down to one because this was very much a process. There are some who just hear the gospel once and believe it, but I don’t think that’s the way it works for most.  I also didn’t have anyone to answer my questions. I didn’t darken the doors of a church and Al Gore’s internet hadn’t made its way into my house yet. It was just me reading the bible.

One weekend afternoon, some church people handed me a tract written by Billy Graham while I was working the drive-thru at Taco Bell. It came in a plastic baggy with some Reese’s peanut butter cups, for which I was thankful, because I just was about to go on break. I read the tract, put it in the pocket my refried bean-stained Dickeys and went on my way. This was probably the first time I had a clear presentation of the gospel. It didn’t convince me, but I kept it.

Here I was, a stoner kid who had finally come to grips with theism, and I had now come to terms with the fact that Jesus very well could have risen from the dead. I couldn’t just explain away such an odd movement that had it’s start in a such a tumultuous, monotheistic nation and survive, let alone thrive. Nor could I understand how it spread across the Roman empire like wildfire in the midst of such opposition. The Christian message was an offense to both Jew and Gentile. It was especially hard to conceive its success considering that it came through the lives of a few backwater hicks and a skeptical terrorist-turned-evangelist named Paul. Natural explanations and others – hallucinations, delusions, Jesus’ faking his own death, etc. – didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

My problem was that though such beliefs seemed plausible, I didn’t like where they led. I prized my autonomy.  And my idea who Christians were came from Ned Flanders,  the church-going hypocrites across the street (whose kids had all kinds of problems), wild-eyed televangelists, and the dorks in my school that wore Jesus t-shirts. I did not want to be like any of them. I also did not want to be ostracized from my friends.

On the other hand, for some reason I became increasingly dissatisfied with the things I once considered to be important. Life didn’t look better when I considered what else the world around me offered – education, security, family, success. Those things are not wrong in themselves, but what was the point, really? I had begun to read Ecclesiastes, and the Preacher’s words resonated with me.

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity….All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing

The writer later describes the meaningless of self-indulgence, seeking wisdom, wealth and honor. In the end, “All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”

I honestly could hardly believe these words were in the bible! Solomon’s conclusion was to “fear God and keep his commandments” because we are going to have to give an account of our lives to God. But how could I account for my life, when it was altogether wrong? It seemed like I couldn’t keep God’s commandments for over 30 minutes at a time.  I didn’t find the Preacher’s conclusion very reassuring.

Around this time, I also began to ponder the question of death and if there was a life after. You see, my mother had just survived breast cancer, two kids in my school were killed by fallen power lines while working on a farm, and one person committed suicide. We also had a student take a class hostage at gunpoint (no one was hurt, thankfully). It was a weird school-year.

I was really into 2Pac back then  (like any good white, suburban gangsta) and I kept coming back to “So Many Tears“. The lyrics were profoundly meaningful compared to most of the stuff I listened to, and proved tragically to be prophetic in his own life:

There was no mercy on the streets, I couldn’t rest
I’m barely standin, bout to go to pieces, screamin peace
And though my soul was deleted, I couldn’t see it
I had my mind full of demons tryin to break free
They planted seeds and they hatched, sparkin the flame
inside my brain like a match, such a dirty game
No memories, just a misery
Paintin a picture of my enemies killin me, in my sleep
Will I survive til the mo’nin, to see the sun
Please Lord forgive me for my sins, cause here I come

Before I ever heard of C.S. Lewis, his ideas were popping in my head. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Maybe there was another world beyond our own world of tragedy and pain.

In my bible reading I had become frustrated with Paul. He spoke over my head. Even Peter acknowledged that Paul wrote things that hard to understand, and I could relate. I decided to give 1st John a try.  First I read him describing himself seeing and handling Jesus, which knocked out the last faulty idea in my head that Jesus’ disciples witnessed a “spiritually resurrected Jesus”.  Then I got to the 2nd chapter and read that Jesus died for the sins of the world. And then I stopped when these words seemingly leaped off the page:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever…No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

It’s really hard to put into words my experience from reading this passage. It was almost like someone was in the room with me reading these passages, there was such an unmistakable presence in the room.  The words carried a weight, with strong conviction I finally saw there was a dichotomy to the whole game of life – the world, and the kingdom of God; and that it was the person who lived for the Father God would be the one who gained, not the person who lived for self-gratification of any sort. And for me to live for the Father, I had to stop playing games and acknowledge His Son.

The next thing I know, I found myself on my knees, praying. It was awkward because this wasn’t something I had done in a very long time. I don’t remember what I said, but I know I accepted Jesus for who He really was and is, and I came from that place like the weight of the world had just rolled off of my shoulders. I felt unbelievably clean, a feeling of acceptance and almost oddly hilarious assurance of my existence after this life. The peace I felt was so thick you could cut it with a knife, it was beyond my own understanding.

The next day when I went to school, and it was like the world was made new. I remember stepping outside in the early morning and looking at the clouds, hearing the birds and smelling the air and just feeling a sense of wonder. My Father God had created all of this, and He loves me!  I also felt a new sense of mercy and love towards people that used to annoy me or even those who disliked me. The bible says that His Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God. (Romans 8:16) This Spirit was now opening the words of the Bible to me. It’s words were not as difficult to understand, as it was before.  There was clarity and understanding. The bible was telling me who I was and how to live, and now there was a power to live it in a way I didn’t think was possible. And there was an assurance of forgiveness when I failed.

It wasn’t about me trying to change or me becoming someone who I wasn’t. It was God changing me from the inside out. My hatred, envy, bad habits and selfishness started to shed off of me. My whole worldview was changing as well. I didn’t at all mind being ostracized by my friends, even though it came at the expense of much ridicule and even threats of physical violence.

Being born-again isn’t just some catch-phrase, it’s a spiritual reality. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

So there was a rational side and an existential side, and both have anchored me over the years. I find it silly when atheists get frustrated when they can’t talk a Christian out of their faith, even when that Christian is less than adept at explaining the rational side. It’s because Christianity is an experience with a Person, the Holy Spirit, who reveals truth, helps us overcome our weakness and comforts us when we fail, amongst other things.

It’s the whole “a person with an experience is never at the mercy of the person with an argument” adage. It’s hard to tell the man swimming in the pool that there’s no such thing as water. It’s especially clear when you meet hundreds of others who have had extremely similar experiences which have led to extraordinary transformations. Even in the absence of having good arguments for my beliefs earlier in life, it was virtually impossible to doubt the witness I had inside my heart.

So therefore I encourage everyone reading this to let go of your presuppositions of Christianity and if you are willing, approach it with an open mind and heart. You might just find that the truth you seek has been expecting you with outstretched arms.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “How I Became a Christian – Part 4

  1. Hey, it’s zoomzoom from VEB. I’ve read some of your stuff on how you became a Christian. Interesting, but I think some of what you’ve gone through happens to everyone (running into the wrong crowd, parents having drug issues, etc). For me, having cerebral palsy and being a surviving identical twin have been the rough times.

    I went to church just like most people. I got really into it when I was 8, but that didn’t last long. When I was 10, I started realizing people were judging me and such, and turned my back on God because of it. I was that way for about four years. I’ve also had troubles with my church.

    My church has had four different pastors in the last 10 years. The second pastor tore the church apart pretty much, hiring an education person that no one respected and a music director that didn’t fit from the start. The most recent one is (and I’m not trying to be racist here) the only black person in the church. Her energy doesn’t fit because of our congregation being on the older side, and while I tried going back, I had my last straw with it because I didn’t feel God’s spirit after her sermons.

    I’m now going to a Christian college, which has helped my faith quite a bit. That’s part of the reason I went there – I wanted to, and needed to, rebuild my faith. I’m trying to realize that what’s happened in my past is a part of God’s plan, something I struggled with a few years ago (and still struggle with occasionally today).

  2. Erik–

    Thanks again for posting this. I’ve enjoyed following your thought process and your willingness to debate has been admirable to say the least.

    Unfortunately, you’ve lost me. The tone of this section seems quite preachy, which is sad given that you’d avoided being preachy until now. I know I’m not the target audience for this piece–I lack both the ability and the desire to suspend my disbelief or have a spiritual experience the sort of which you describe. At the core, I think we come from very different foundations of our thoughts and beliefs. It’s funny, since the “what’s the point?” mentality is what starts us both off, but we veer in opposite directions. I don’t think there is a point, I don’t think there needs to be one, and I genuinely cannot see why that idea is so anathema to the common person. It’s simple–these lovely “meanings” that we attribute to things (including life itself, and existence) are simply that: attributed.

    You go the opposite direction and start suspending your disbelief and searching for a point. And if you look for meaning in something, you’re sure as hell going to find it.

    Not a big fan of the “experience/argument” dichotomy you seem to be presenting. I don’t buy that your utterly unjustifiable personal “experience” with faith is any more legitimate than my rationale.

    I find it silly how there’s a certain moral superiority associated with Christians, and yet they feel like they need the impetus of an almighty to make them good, instead of trying to be better people on their own.

    I cannot get away from that Lewis quote, it seems. It bothers me. A lot. Because it’s a silly quote, and yet every theist I try and talk to brings it up at some point. The idea of or desire for something does not in any way even imply its existence.

    It appears you’ve edited it out of the post, because it was in the email I received but isn’t here now, so I’m hoping you realized how offensive “there can be no successful spiritual lone-rangers. Every Christian needs a pastor and a church. I can’t emphasize that enough.” That’s just condescending and ridiculous. I’m not spiritual, but I respect people who are. Not so for those who peddle organized religion as the one true way. Why is it that the ideas pushed by the pastor or church are any more correct than those formed on one’s own?

    I have very few presuppositions about Christianity. My problems with it are formed from analysis of Christian doctrines and communications I’ve had with Christians, not my prejudices. And it’s not for me. I resent the implication that I’m looking for a “truth”, that suspending my rational thought is the way to get to it, and that any human religion could ever tell me jack about it even if there was truth to tell about. If I accepted Christianity with open arms, I’d get exactly the same thing I’d get from ANY other faith–a way to calm myself by making all the scary philosophical dilemmas go away.

    -D

    P.S.: I just re-read my post, and it’s quite caustic. I apologize. I’m tired and some of the things you said have been said to be so many times by theists–I’m sorta sick of it. Sorry for being so rude when this isn’t even addressed to me.

    • Thanks for dropping by, I appreciate your honesty. I didn’t know how any of this would be received, and I know I’m opening myself to criticism, as would anyone who is sharing their “faith position”, be that monism, dualism, Islam, Judaism, deism, atheism, etc.

      In this part of the story, it’s hard not to get preachy, but I’d advise you to not give up on this blog and please continue to be part of the discussion as often as you’d like. I’m going to get back into the rational arguments for God, this is more of an experiential side of my story, which I’m sort of surprised that you find it offensive, but that’s OK. Remember, this is my personal story.

      You told me earlier that our sense data and logical deduction are inherently flawed, and that you make a series of assumptions in the world you experience. I have just come to a much different conclusion than yours. My deduction, in a nutshell, and I plan to elaborate on these in future posts, that –

      1. God makes sense of the origin of the universe.

      2. God makes sense of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.

      3. God makes sense of objective moral values in the world.

      4. God makes sense of the life, death, and yes, resurrection of Jesus.

      5. Therefore God can be immediately known and experienced.

      I know you would disagree with all of that, and that’s OK. You feel that there doesn’t need to be a reason for anything we experience. To me that’s sort of a cop out, it stops reason. You believe you’ve come to these conclusions for different reasons, but I believe we have subjective experience – intellect, will, memory, sensation, etc. – because we have souls, created by God. We are creatures of spirit, soul, and matter, and man cannot be understood except as a spirit-soul-matter composites. We are not just highly complex matter. This is why man hungers to know the answers to these questions.

      Now to address some of my tone – For length and the purposes of this blog post, I did edit out the part about every christian needs a pastor and a church, but I stand by that comment 100%. Would you say that every human does not need interaction, or instruction, or education? Of course not. Church is where Christians interact with one another, and receive education and instruction. There are bad churches, and there are good churches, there are pastors who teach the truth more or less accurately. I’m not saying that one should suspend their ability to think critically, but everyone, if they want to learn more about something, should place themselves in a position to be mentored. I don’t agree with everything my pastor says, but in finding a church I used my thinking to find the place that most accurately represents my deduction of what the true christian faith teaches and lives out.

      As for the impetus of the Almighty needing me to make me good, well, what is good? what is bad? where do you get this meaning? If it’s all subjective, then sometimes adultery, stealing, or murder can be good. When you accept morality as objective than it becomes more clear how none of us are truly good. I find it ironic that you don’t agree to objective morality, but then make moral judgments about the conclusions I make, saying they are condescending and ridiculous. Would it not be more accurate to just say that you don’t like what I’m saying?

      Christianity isn’t about making scary philosophical dilemmas go away. Compare the other worldviews side by side, and the Christian faith makes the most sense of the intrinsic worth of human beings, why pain and injustice exist in the world, why transcendent moral truths exist, where free will came from, how human consciousness came into being, how life originated, and how the universe came into being. It is also an extremely livable worldview. It is not without it’s unanswered questions, but nor does it just shrug it’s shoulders and say “meaningless!” and go on. Nor does Christianity say you have to throw out rationale. You are misrepresenting what I’ve been saying, I think.

      Finally, am I to rule out my personal spiritual experience and that of others? I know that rattles materialism, but there are compelling reasons for considering at least some religious experiences to point to and validate spiritual realities that exist in a way that transcends any material manifestations. In classical theism in general, God endows humans to perceive, albeit imperfectly because of our own inherit limitations, spiritual experiences. The bible points specifically to many such experiences.

      I can give you one very significant one my own life. I was in prayer one morning when I perceived that my mother’s life was in danger. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I prayed further. I believe I received a revelation, if you will, that she was going to get into a car wreck. I asked God to help her “be delayed” somehow, to where she would be late to work in order to miss the car wreck. The next time I visited her, I related the experience to her. (She was not generally receptive to my faith) She told me that she did end up leaving quite late, and when she came to a section of highway there was quite a big accident involving several cars. Of course for me to have knowledge of such a thing while I’m in Tulsa and she in St. Louis came as quite a shock to her.

      How does naturalism explain that?

      I can give several other examples from my own life and the lives of others. This is why I feel I can speak as boldly as I do.

      Anyway, I am again grateful for your feedback and appreciate you stopping by. I understand your skepticism and am not offended by anything you said, I understand these things can spur an emotional reaction.

  3. thank you for sharing erik. this is great stuff. i don’t have a good story like yours, i was raised in the church & it’s all i really know. sure my faith hasn’t been as strong as it should have & i haven’t lived life the way i should have been for a long time. but i never stopped believing. as i now try to get back to living like the Christian man i always should have been, reading your story has been a huge help. so thank you again for sharing it.

    • Thanks, GDM. I’m touched by your comments, and am encouraged by them to keep sharing. Growing up in right in the church is certainly no less of a testimony, in fact in some ways it can be greater. To think that you didn’t have to deal with some of the hardships others have faced.

      Sure, maybe you haven’t done everything right. I know I haven’t either, and for a while I got pretty lukewarm, even for a period after I got out of bible school and knew better! But it’s comforting to know that it’s God who has made us right with him based on Jesus’s rightness and not our own.

      I’d really encourage you to find a good church with a pastor that teaches the bible plainly and get connected if you haven’t already. For me, once I got settled in a church and got involved helping, I felt like I had a family to back me up and it was extremely beneficial to have a pastor to sit under and encourage me and help me straighten out my thinking. It sometimes takes some looking to find a good church, but I believe God can definitely help lead you in that area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s