Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thirty-seven years

I originally wrote and posted this testimony on November 6, 2006, six years ago today, under the title Born again? When? In the intervening years a lot has happened in my life, up and down, but the same Lord who called me at the beginning of my Christian life has faithfully preserved and carried me to this day—blessed be His name! I just want to honor Him today and, like the Gadarene who Christ delivered from ‘legion,’ go and tell others ‘what the Lord has done’ for me (Mark 5:19). In rereading what I wrote, I am embarrassed by some of the language I used, sometimes betraying wrong attitudes I’ve since (God helping!) outgrown. I ask in advance anyone who is offended by any word in this testimony, to forgive me.
‘I’m just a stupid man.’

I had a feeling there was something special about this date, something I should remember… Yes, it started coming clear tonight. November 6th was the day when I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and the biblical Orthodox faith back in 1975, at the ripe old age of 24!

After being brought up in church until I was 8 years old, when my parents stopped going because we moved too far from our original church and we just couldn’t get grafted into the one in our new neighborhood (although there were other excuses), I was left to fend for myself for the rest of my childhood. Dad seemed indifferent, but now that we’ve talked as adults, I know that he was just too real to waste his time on meaningless ceremonies. In later life he became a Baptist and is a deacon in that church. Mom was a ‘house Catholic,’ that is, she wanted to be a good Christian, but the church was too corrupt and hocus-pocus for her, too. She had a passionately religious mindset, but also realistic, no worthless devotions or rosary type stuff… she just stayed up all night worrying, plucking her eyebrows so she could paint them back in with eyebrow pencil, and praying that all of us kids would somehow make it through childhood without getting into drugs or getting killed. It was Mom who made me and my younger brother promise we’d ‘never do dope.’

So, I never did dope, but… worse things, really. After imitating my Mom as a fervently ignorant house Catholic elitist, in college I lapsed into the New Age religions. I was especially drawn to Hinduism because of a fascination with the god Krishna. As a young teenager, I had picked up and read a novel my folks had left lying around, some book club thing, that was about a teenage girl growing up in India, and there was a chapter entitled, ‘Krishna the Joyous.’ It captivated my imagination, and launched me into the great unknown. Krishna was joyous, but Christ was the ‘man of sorrows.’ Come now, people, who would you have turned to as a confused adolescent wrestling with the hormones?

College years found me orbiting the fringes of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, scorning the hopelessly dull and unimaginative male members (all with one-track minds…Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!), and dating and being patronized by cute but dumb Christian girls (but girls are supposed to be dumb, right? so who cares, they were cute!). Forgive me for this last sentence. I was a dolt. But here’s a testimony for those girls, and maybe even for some of the guys… somehow I knew they were right, even when I was making fun of them. But I also knew that it was Who stood behind them that mattered, not they themselves or whatever churches or doctrines they believed in. At that time, I had a rock-solid belief in the divinity of Jesus that I took in, I guess, with the baby formula (Mom didn’t breast feed). I just didn’t quite understand why Krishna, and Buddha, and Swami Satchidananda, and… yeah, even me… couldn’t also be God somehow. I was beginning to read the bible again, now that I knew there were other versions besides the KJV. And I found verses like, ‘Is it not written in your Law: I said, you are gods’ (John 10:34). ‘So,’ I thought, ‘maybe there are other ways to understand the bible than what’s taught in church!’ (I had yet to discover the Church fathers, particularly the Desert Fathers.)

Moving right along, after emigrating to Canada in 1972 to join a New Age commune that flopped after only about 6 months, I found myself married to a gal that had been born again and was trying to be a Christian. I wouldn’t let her go to church (that is, I wouldn’t go with her, and she wouldn’t go alone), because ‘Christians are just so dumb!’ That's what I thought until we moved back to the States, to Corvallis, Oregon.

While living in Oregon, I could see firsthand what the fruits of the neo-pagan mindset are… ‘depravity, rottenness, greed and malice, addiction to envy, murder, wrangling, treachery and spite…’ (the rest of the list is in Romans 1:29-31). Not that the people out here were all ‘irrational and given over to monstrous behavior’ but that a kind of deathly hedonism, decadence and hypocritical irreverence prevailed among the very people I was trying to fit in with, the New Age folks. Some were almost harmless ‘flower children,’ but others were on the fringes of lunacy, dabbling in witchcraft and magic. Ugh! Seeing all this around me forced me to take a stand, either to continue down the path of hopeless wandering, like ‘a shooting star bound for an eternity of black darkness’ (Jude 1:13), or to repent, like Job, and say, ‘I am the man who obscured Your designs with my empty-headed words… I have been holding forth on matters I cannot understand… I knew You then only by hearsay; but now, having seen You with my own eyes, I retract all I have said, and in dust and ashes I repent’ (Job 42:3-6)

I chose the second option. Out of His love for me, He opened the door to His Kingdom, and I walked through it, on November 6th, 1975.

I was at work. I was a sawyer at the Veal & Son Furniture factory in Albany, Oregon. It was about 10 o’clock in the morning. I just heard His voice, and I knew it was Him. He questioned me. I hurriedly shooed my assistant off on an errand… ‘Go, empty the wood box into the boiler’ (that would take him at least 15 minutes). He questioned me, like He questioned Job, ‘Who is this obscuring My designs with his empty-headed words? Brace yourself like a fighter; now it is My turn to ask questions and yours to inform Me.’ (Job 38:2-3) …No, of course I didn’t hear these exact words, but what He said to me was like them, and when I later read these words in the book of Job, I bracketed them as rhímata, ‘living words.’

After His questioning, the Lord brought me to the point where I could surrender myself to Him, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there were physical and emotional ‘events’ occurring in me as this took place. Yes, I first felt my body to be on fire, as I struggled against the Truth that spoke Himself to me. Then, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I surrendered ‘all that I am and all that I have’ into His hands, and I felt ice cold water falling on me, as if I were standing under a cold waterfall. I honestly even felt wet. Then, I realised, I was crying. After He washed me in His precious Blood, He left me without departing, and gave me the one gift that I have never lost, though it’s hard to describe… to see Him everywhere I look. I just have to get quiet, and He’s there, more certain and real to me than I am to myself.

So, was this being ‘born again’? Did it happen to me when I was baptised without my knowing as an infant? Did it happen when I heard His voice in the wood shop? I cannot pretend to know the when or the why of this being born ‘from above’ as Jesus describes it to Nicodemus, in the dead of the night. But Someone from beyond the world’s end called me, when I was heedless of Him, and opened a door for me to walk through. ‘Will your body finally be the door to let me in?’ I once wrote in a song. Nai, Kyrie! Yes, Lord! Even while I sometimes cry out for love of You whom I can always see by faith yet not always touch, I know that You care for me. I only ask the question again, not to doubt Your promise, but so that I can hear Your voice again, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you.’ (Isaiah 41:10)

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