rough draft writingIt’s been almost a year since the church that I have been helping to build up was birthed by way of an unfortunate at the church that I had been attending for ten years prior. Just now, we’re taking steps to have membership, and as I don’t count myself exempt for special treatment, I have filled out my application as well.

You might be wondering why I’m mentioning this. Well, on the back of it, it has one page with three questions pertaining to my personal testimony on how I became a Christian, and what that means and whatnot. One page, three sections with a short few lines to fill in.

Of course, as I have this storyteller’s streak in me as a writer, I looked at those brief sections and, after I got done chuckling, decided to just add an attachment of the testimony, and just get out what I have to say without fear of running out of room. Or atrocious handwriting. You get the idea. It came out to four pages. Single spaced. Standard 12-point Times New Roman font.

I’ve decided, then, to post those Testimonial Questions here on my bligity-blog, and share with everyone my answers, to not only show off my scribblins, but also give some of the more curious as to my back story as a Christian, how it came to be and where I went from there and all. That, and I needed something to post to prove I was still alive, here…you’re welcome…

1) PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR LIFE BEFORE YOU CAME TO KNOW JESUS:
Thinking back, I guess you would say that the majority of my “Before Christ” period was rather unremarkable. I spent the first nine years of my life the son of a Navy Seabee and a Nurse, both of them having been raised by farming families. We were always traveling to wherever Uncle Sam had my father stationed at for as long as I could start remembering things. Thinking back as I write this, I have to emphasis that I was very much blessed with not only parents but the entire family on both sides being completely loving and caring. I was never abused, I never felt scared, and even when I had to be disciplined both Mom and Dad would explain why it was happening, and were always quick to forgive and such. Even after they divorced when I was 9, both refused to use me and my sister as leverage against the other one; to the contrary, I remember my mother chastising me more than once if she heard me say anything derogatory about my Father, regardless of what she was emotionally going through (I can’t even begin to fathom what that was like for her). Even the man that would become my stepfather, while having a, shall we say, old school philosophy when it came to child raising, never abused his position of parental figure…regardless of how hard headed I could be. Believe me, i would have smacked me a few times for my attitude, if you want to come right down to it.

I needed to get all of that out of the way, because I wished to highlight the fact that, for everything that transpired for three or so years before I became a Christian, I’m not blaming my family, my upbringing, the society I grew up in, and especially not the mental condition that began manifesting when I was 9. My actions, my attitudes and especially my decisions were because I chose to do them and be that way.

That said: As I mentioned, at the age of 9, I began manifesting the symptoms of an odd neurological disorder the name of which I’m not going to share, due to the pop culture media typifying it as something it’s really not, and would rather not be met with a chorus of “Oh! The swearing disease!” (if that didn’t already tip off what that is). Of course, it wasn’t properly diagnosed as such until I was 13 (I had one psychiatrist convinced I had schizophrenia at one point…that was a fun time, let me tell you); so up until then, I was experiencing sudden depression and anxiety at an age where I should have been more concerned about playing and doing other kid-like activities. Instead, I was making fast headway to being That Weird Kid that carried over into Junior High and High School. I started getting suicidal thoughts at a rather young age, and was finally checked into a psychiatric ward at a hospital in Omaha for observation and treatment when I was 12. That’s how I spent my summer vacation that year. Later that year, I was put back in after an actual suicide attempt. I would eventually go back to that ward three more times between then and my Freshman year in High School. It was like I could feel myself mentally disintegrating, and I was helpless to do anything. The nurses were starting to take bets as to how long before I was back in the ward. I wish I was making that last bit up.

So, there’s the context. 15 years old, and already been in the psychiatric ward five times in three years. Not to mention having quite the legend going around school as to that nutcase James. Let’s move on with the story, shall we…

2) PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW YOU CAME TO KNOW JESUS AND WHAT YOU NOW BELIEVE ABOUT WHO HE IS AND WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR YOU:
A couple of years ago, Pastor John asked me if I remember exactly when I became a Christian. I told him “Yes, kind of”. It was about a week or two before my Sophomore year in High School, about a week or so after my final stint in the hospital, which puts it around mid-August, 1989. I was 15. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here…

As is part of the cliche that is Midwest rural folk, church was an active part of our lives, even if only nominally. My father was raised Methodist, and my mother was raised United Church of Christ, which I half-jokingly refer to as “Methodist Lite”. You get all the Wesleyan religion with some coffee and pastries in the basement afterwards. Maybe a potluck every other month. Those were the best. Point is, we were church goers. Every Sunday, we were there. When I hit 8th Grade, I got involved with the Pilgrim Fellowship (which is what they called the youth group there), helped out the pastor when needed, and participated in the choir and got confirmed. I knew about Jesus: He was the guy who was born in late December, then died a few months later as a grown man (he got better, though). You get the idea. The classic “I go to church and I’m a good person’ kind of setup, where my only encounter with the word “Gospel” was when I landed on the starting page of the first four books of the New Testament while flipping through in boredom during the sermon. It really did become more of an enforced obligation, come to think about it.

This is not to say that no one tried to share the Gospel with me, in whatever form. It’s just that, they were afraid to. There was a High School Bible study that was going on at the time I knew nothing about, where I was told one night the kids were asked to name the last person you would ever expect to become a Christian, and I was named almost unanimously. To say I was “weird” and a “misfit” would be like saying “Van Gogh had an interest in painting”. Being a long-time psycho ward alumni notwithstanding, I developed into quite the antisocial freak, mostly by accident. I liked hard rock and metal, I was always off by myself reading some kind of dark fantasy or science fiction novel, and I was never seen without my denim jacket with the customized band logo on the back. So, obviously I worshiped Satan. That’s rural High School in the late 1980s for you. But, the truth was, I was alone and pretty much resigned to that fate. I can understand how the thought of coming up to someone like myself at that time was fear-educing, but had an upperclassmen came to me and just said something that wasn’t derogatory…I was starved for that. Would I have been open to receiving the Gospel from them? Maybe. We’ll never know, because they never did.

The one thing that preached the Gospel to me and let me to respond to Jesus’ gift of salvation and grace? Metal. Specifically, it was a copy of an album entitled To Hell With The Devil by Stryper. You may have heard of them. I got it when I was 14, and I listened to it all the time, nearly wearing out the tape in a year. Admittedly, I did get it because it had the words “Hell” and “Devil” in the title, but this album was…different. The lyrics were not like the songs that the other bands in my collection were singing about; they were talking openly about Jesus, being “The Way”, we were “Free” to believe in Him, His victory over the devil, so forth and so on. It was the final song, though: “More Than A Man”, when I first heard Jesus referred to something other than just Jesus; they referred to Him as God. I’ve never had anyone tell me that Jesus was more than just a guy who lived long ago who said a bunch of interesting things and did a bunch of mind-blowing miracles somehow. I began thinking about that concept. Then I began thinking maybe the song was true about this. Then, months later, in that mid-August evening, late at night, I was laying in bed, thinking about how dark the previous year had been, and not seeing any light at the end of this current tunnel. So, I asked Jesus to save me. I believe the exact words were, “Jesus, save me.” That was it. No flowery speech, no reciting of a specific pre-written prayer, just a simple “Jesus, save me.” That very moment, I felt a very tangible sense of relief and release wash over me. That was it. Simple, yet genuine, and Jesus did.

As to what I now believe about who He is and what He has done for me, well…simply put, He is not only my Saviour, but also Lord. He is God, the Son of the Trinity. The more I study the Bible, the more clear I begin to see how everything in the Old Testament pointed us to understand the plan for Him to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins that we inherited from Adam’s fall. Not only that, but because He was resurrected, He broke the power of sin and death. Think about that…Jesus conquered sin and death. Tell me of anyone who has even come close to doing that. His righteousness has been imparted to me, I have been reconciled to God because of this, and I have hope in the resurrection one day, and of Jesus’ promise to return. Until then, I am his humble servant. His grace and mercy abounds.

I sincerely hope you’re still awake. Again, my apologies. If you’ve made it this far, I applaud your tenacity. Moving along…

3) PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW YOUR LIFE IS DIFFERENT NOW THAT YOU KNOW JESUS AS LORD AND SAVIOUR AND HOW YOU ARE GROWING IN YOUR FAITH, OBEDIENCE AND SERVICE FOR HIS GLORY:
The summer after I graduated High School in 1992, I went to a youth retreat in Colorado with a couple of other guys in my graduating class who have had the (dis)pleasure of knowing me in my days before I became a Christian. We got to talking about when we became Christians with each other, and after I mentioned my story, both of them said they could sense something was different with me when the tenth grade year started. This was the first time they said anything about that. Granted, it wasn’t until my Senior year in High School when I first began to actually realize and explore what truly being a Christian meant, but before that I could very much sense a difference that I couldn’t really put my finger on. It was business as usual, but there was more of a clarity, like a light switched on. After graduating High School, I believe God started putting me through the refining process, as not only did I develop a strong desire to read the Bible and study it, but there were people placed in my life that very patiently instructed me in my growth.

I wrestle with my faith continuously. I am not perfect, but it is the Holy Spirit that is constantly sanctifying me, instructing me, encouraging me, and convicting me. It’s been almost 27 years as I type this since I gave my life to Christ, and not only have the most interesting parts of my testimonies, my story have come after I became a servant of Christ, but I get the nagging feeling I’m not done here by a long shot. I still struggle with my mental condition, and while I have more than once begged God to take this away, I do believe that I’m square how Paul was with a certain thorn not being removed. His grace is sufficient. I am weak, but He is strong. That, and also there are the teens from the youth group I helped out with that have told me that they probably wouldn’t have paid attention to my preaching the Gospel during the lessons, had I not been openly candid about my condition and how it pertains to my faith. There are many other stories, too, but we’ll leave them for other times. You’re welcome.

As I said, I’m not perfect. I suppose at one time I fancied myself Mr. Super Christian, but you know what they say about pride coming before a fall. I’ve had plenty of those. All I can say is, throughout this journey, I’m not the same as I was back in my 20s. Or my 30s. Or even five years ago. The only constant has been God’s faithfulness. I am compelled to continue serving Him in whatever capacity. That’s all I can really say.

May the God of peace soon crush Satan under your feet. Cheers, all…

::END TRANSMISSION::

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