Thursday, March 1, 2012

The testimony of yours truly

Before I post anymore posts (and I have many in mind), I do believe it's more credible to know who the speaker is than to simply take the words of the speaker to heart (so many dangers can happen that way).
So, onward I go to explain who I am and how I came to believe what I believe.
I was born in in the county seat of Muskingum County, Ohio- Zanesville, a rather large place, but not quite big enough to be considered a major city (it doesn't have any major skyscrapers, just plenty of  landmass). I was born to two different kinds of people-the religiously devout and the spiritual skeptic-and had a lot of pain growing up, mainly through my father (who turned me off from swearing, so if you met me and I hate cussing, it's not solely from my beliefs, it was from my father). My mother tried raising my brother and me in church, though it felt more like a religious obligation than out of goodwill or out of the heart. In other words, my brother felt like we were being forced into church. Personally, I wanted a way to get away from the pain.
At 11 years old, I found that way through my mom's boyfriend (Mom and Dad divorced in the late 80's, when I was just a toddler) who told me about being a Christian and asked me if I had ever been "saved". Funny thing is, even at that age, when no one had told me about the process, I knew deep inside how it worked, I hadn't heard about the concept of sin, yet maybe the pain had something to do with my already knowing something about it. So, instead of getting saved in a church, like most of the world would expect, I was saved in my mom's boyfriend's apartment in New Philadelphia, Ohio. Saved...
Or so I thought.
There were other concepts I hadn't heard of or would know for a while that I needed to know about- including false faith (psychosomasis, you could say), religiousity, being Pharisaic, etc.
For a full ten years, things would seem to happen that, logically were impossible- including times and incidents where I just knew-knew-that I shouldn't have lived through. At least three of such an event happening, yet I did live anyway. And other bizarre events that should have been impossible if life were as boring and expendable as I've heard in public school (yep, I was raised in a battle for the mind between creationism and evolution) had left me to believe.
Even though I hadn't read the Bible as much as it felt required to read (you know, at least some daily), I did know bits and pieces and when certain people would challenge me about what the Bible said (okay, it was just one person who had a degree that called him "Reverend") about homosexuality, I told him, "You're the reverend, you tell me." Really, I was onyl familiar with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and their widely-known acts of perversion, not solely homosexuality, but also gang rape, pedophilia, etc. Yet, from the things that I did read, I decided to take a hint from King Solomon and do a prayer I had never heard anyone else do at that point- pray for wisdom over riches.
And I would get it in college, through the help of a great friend, Gerhard Esterhuizen. The leader of Marshall University CRU, he explained the many finer points of Christianity without sounding like a know-it-all theologian, he brought the Truth of the Scripture to us in a down-to-earth style that was easy to comprehend without watering it down (like I'd seen so many televangelists do, which disgusted me), including one MAJOR thing I was guilty of-legalism. I'd judged people in my mind for the slightest of things, even if they did those things by accident.
I hated and judged gays.
I hated science.
I hated. This. That. These. Those.
I was the epitome of what people hate Christians for without ever realizing it.
That year in college, I gradually changed. Then, at 21, when I moved to live in Huntington, WV (ever since the first time I saw it back in my Upward Bound days in high school, I knew I wanted to live there irregardless of how), it happened.
I picked up a copy of Christian Apologetics author Lee Strobel's new book, The Case for the Real Jesus, without knowing he was a Christian, just knowing a vague thing about him yet not remembering if he was a Christian or not. The moment before I opened the flap to read it, I knew and felt something- my mind was opening.
When I say felt, I don't mean in a metaphorical way, I mean literal- feeling something like a temperature shift in a specific area of my brain.
The moment before I opened that book, I thought this thought:
There will be one of four things that will happen when I'm done reading: I will either be an atheist, an agnostic (again, I was one for half a week, most depressing time in my life, and I was chronically depressed as a teen), or a Jew (thinking of believing in God, but not Jesus), or be a stronger Christian.
I would find out later that I had only "thought" I was a Christian. I had finally learned of false faith, and it was when I read an article in my Apologetics Bible titled "How can I really know?" that it finally clicked what I should do- stop being a fake and become a real deal for people.
I already had edgy Christian shirts, a decent selection of Christian books, knew (some) Scripture, always praying before meals, etc. Thing was, I realized I was being religious, which was never prescribed by Jesus to do. I was going by the rules more than anything.
I knew that it was, by far, time to change. So, right after reading that article, while keeping something in my that Gerhard had said ("when I gave my heart to God and Jesus, I didn't pray, I didn't say amen, I simply confessed and accepted him in my heart") and remembered how much of a strong, faithful Christian he was, I didn't put the "madatory" amen at the end of what I thought- I simply mentally confessed and accepted, and did feel something else- that burden Christians talk about? It felt like my body had a few pounds lifted, something like a spiritual Slim-Fast, essentially put.
Since then, I've come to learn much, oh so very much. Especially that there is an area where all those degrading stereotypes about Christians are true- at least in certain churches and areas. In fact, I'm living in such an area- the "Belt Buckle" of the Bible Belt, Oklahoma. And it's been a test of my faith to see such a terrible thing that some churches simply do not know how to operate spiritually (at all) while others are down-to-earth, Scriptually sound (and never watering it down), and get ripped left and right by the world. One such church I've been to operates as a coffee shop in OKC, called Valley Brook Vineyard Community Church, or Joe's Addiction Coffee Shop.
So, if anyone tries to offend me about being a Christian and get shocked that I can offend back, I just say this, "The world's been trying to offend me all my life- it's my turn now."

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