Who am I to say…
And why am I doing this?
16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles-to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ – Acts 26:16-18
Everything we do, we do for a reason. Something drives us to every single thing from our first breath to our dying day. Because of physical need we eat, drink and breathe. Parents make us eat properly, bathe regularly, go to school. Society compels us to dress or act a certain way, whether to try to fit in or to stand out. And, once we figure out what we like or want, we pursue and engage it. If we’re lucky we find something that makes us happy, which is the overall goal for each of us. Happy. A simple word which encompasses the entirety of our lifelong ambitions. We reach out for whatever we think will make us happy, or at least less unhappy.
I have been remarkably successful at making myself happy even though I have not always had the best of things happen to me or made the best decisions. I don’t take that for granted, because I’ve been in utter misery and it is all its cracked up to be. I have done this mostly by living in the moment. I try not to hold on to the past and I’m an optimist. My list of long term ambitions and pursuits is fairly short, but with the exception of failed marriages my record was pretty good. Then it all changed.
My story is not special, and not worthy of particular interest to anyone as an example of extreme success or failure. I only share it here to present the why’s and how’s that brought me to take on a commitment to encourage people to explore their faith and develop their relationship with God.
There have been several key points in my journey, some the influence of other people, some internal reflection, and some the direct work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, all brought together for my betterment, despite my best efforts.
My spiritual biography starts with some of my earliest memories. I never questioned the thought of an “afterlife” at that point. It was in my mind a fact, dying was a thing and took us out of this world and on to a blissful heaven or torturous hell. While I can’t recall all the specifics that brought me to this understanding, it was something I thought about and dreamed about, even as a very small child.
The first big impact on my spiritual perspective came at the New Testament Baptist Church during an alter call. The preacher was asking for anyone who had not taken Jesus as their savior to come to the front to be prayed with and to ask Jesus into our hearts. My grandma asked me if I believed in Jesus and I said yes, she said, then you need to go to the front to be saved. I was terrified. I didn’t want to go, but she uncharacteristically and quite literally dragged me to the front. She knelt down with me in front of the front pew and helped me through the act of asking Jesus to come in to my heart. It was not a mindless mimicking of what she said, it was not something I fully wanted to do, I was very afraid and it was very real. A picture in my mind appeared in an instant of Christ knocking at my heart as though it had a door, it opening, and him coming through. I was no longer afraid. Jesus was still quite mysterious but I was confident that he was with me. I didn’t go to church much growing up, but I had a white pocket size King James Bible which I would attempt to read from occasionally. I certainly got no great depth from what I was reading, but the act of engaging with it helped me to feel closer to God.
In my early teens I went to the Church of the Nazarene for a few months. I really started being critical of the church myself. I hadn’t really questioned my belief in Christ at this point but the church was seriously suspect in my mind. I saw judgement, hypocrisy, and ridiculous rules laid out and propagated by those the world were supposed to look to for an example of God’s goodness and love.I would often contemplate spirituality, but my thoughts were more an abstract questioning of the legitimacy of God.
A few years after I had kids I began to pray I would be a good father, beyond that, to be at peace with whatever was His will. My exploration expanded greatly as I spent more time investigating religion on a layman’s level. I read the Bible, the Urantia Papers, pieces of the Karan, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and about many other religions. Spiritually I was still wandering, I believed in God, but I was only pretty sure I believed in Jesus Christ. I had much doubt. Then I began dreaming, it was a progressing, reoccurring dream, the only one I’d had before or since other then a couple reoccurring nightmares as a child. It was of a magnificent old mansion of a house. It looked abandoned and neglected, but even though I wasn’t in the market for a house and even in it’s condition it was way out of my league, I had to check it out.
Over the course of a few months, I found my dreams of this house stuck
with me, though I otherwise seldom remember dreams and then usually
only for a few minutes. Each one was like a next step in investigating this
house that seemed to get bigger and bigger with more rooms and deep
mysteries. It was full, like a rich hoarder had built and lived in it for a
hundred years. Amazing variety with each room more eclectic and
cluttered than the last. It also had junk. Trash that had been brought in
by squatters and cheap trappings that simply looked out of place.
Eventually this house, this mansion was somehow mine but not mine alone. I belonged there but still hadn’t even explored it all, every discovery led to another. I never encountered anyone else but knew they were there. Suddenly it was overshadowed. This dream I had been immersed in was suddenly a running background behind a face, the face of Christ. Nothing was said, simply this face who I knew in my own heart and mind to be the face of Christ. I woke with a start and immediately found a pencil and sketch pad and drew the face. It looked as if a
practiced artist had done it, but I can scarcely draw a stick figure. Though I was in a bit of shock, I could no longer question the truth that Jesus was real, and until then I believed in God but thought he didn’t get directly involved anymore, then I knew he does.
I was the best man at my lifelong friend’s destination wedding in Panama. During the
wedding, a long formal Catholic ceremony, I was in deep internal prayer, not something I did often and then only when I was alone, asking God to guide me, to take the reigns in my life. I had a moving experience like I had experienced only three times before, when I asked Christ into my heart, when I prayed for peace and guidance with my children and when he appeared in my dream.
Spiritually I was growing intensely. I had gone from years of exploring to
truly engaging. Again I was praying for guidance. For the first time in my life, after sampling many churches over the years, I found one that appealed to me. A Bible preaching, layman teaching church with regular theology classes available to anyone who cared to join.
Then it came, the moment that changed everything. I was awakened very early by an overwhelming, even terrifying feeling. Then a peace washed over me, I heard a voice clearly say “sing my song”. Though no longer afraid I was still completely overwhelmed. My mind was racing, was I losing my mind? “No.” Was the answer. What about all the things I’ve been researching and studying about faith and religion? “Knowledge has been shared many times.” Then I questioned, do I tell people about this? “Of course.” Then the overwhelming power that held me face down lifted and I was able to get up.
I didn’t know where to start or what to do. I had been given a charge for which I was completely unqualified. For the most part I have always figured I could do anything I
set my mind to do, but this was different. It was too much and I knew too little. I started writing to try to put my beliefs and doubts into perspective. But God wasn’t counting on me, and he wasn’t asking. So I prayed and I studied, as my understanding of the Bible grew, so did my desire to “sing his song”.
I volunteered for a prison outreach ministry. When the course was over I felt compelled to continue and started a weekly Bible study with the inmates. Things really seemed to be coming into focus. I didn’t know where it was leading but at least felt I
was on the path.
Then the rug came out from under me. Cancer, stage 4. It was the hardest
physical thing I could imagine. I would have been dead were it not for God. The mental, emotional, and spiritual journey was the most revealing thing. My faith in God never wavered, though I certainly questioned his motives. I felt tested, I got no reassurance. I knew God could speak to me and he didn’t. I felt his presence in my deepest suffering, but continued to suffer. I prayed. I praised him, I thanked him for a world full of love and glory and questioned him for all the pain and suffering. I never doubted him.
That’s it. I’m still alive and I have not been relieved from my charge. Since my dedication to Christ began I’ve had my entire life changed. I continue to study and pray. I still don’t know what I’m doing but I must sing his song.