Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Gospel Experience

Honestly, I could spend a lifetime attempting to explain what did NOT convince me to trust in the promise of Christ. And that is primarily my frustration in talking to so many about about our understanding of salvation. There are many similar stories and testimonies, but no one is exactly the same. In each case, however, it does seem to be a deeply personal interaction with God mediated through the budding knowledge of Christ.

I think I can solidly agree that one cannot simply believe God sent someone to fulfill his promise - as you can decide that anyone could be that someone. It must be Jesus; THE Jesus of the Bible. And I can certainly agree that to believe, there are some fundamental facts about Jesus that set him apart that must be known to establish that belief. The debate seems to be regarding what absolutely must be known about him to claim to believe in the correct Jesus. And maybe that is not exactly correct. The debate isn't as much about WHAT as WHEN. Must these things be fully disclosed before salvation is granted - or simply accepted as they become known?

Again, I can only draw from my own experience. I do have doubts about many things, oh so many things, but that I know the source of my salvation I am absolute. That knowledge is not something I can even attempt to explain or even expect that you would understand. I just know.

In early September, 2000, I was fit to burst with my third child. The doctors said I was due the first week of October, but I knew (with absolutely no evidence) that I was due no later than the 23rd of September. I was more than 4 months pregnant before we discovered this hidden life, as I was still nursing a six month old! It was a strange and exhausting year. Essentially pregnant for the last 20 months, I was working full time while my husband was getting his degree and bar tending at nights. I had been sick for a month, and we could not afford groceries. For the first time in my life I had to ask a family member for grocery money. Running late, I picked my two kids up from daycare and stopped at grocery store on the way home. I had to make what I borrowed stretch as far as I could. The store was unfamiliar to me as it was far from my neighborhood. Both kids were tired and fussy, my back hurt and my heart ached for rest - not just sleep, but peace. I remember thinking, as I walked down the aisles trying to compare costs through the tears, "God, can you help me here?" I repeatedly met another woman, a few years older with 2 kids, coming the opposite direction on each aisle. After the 4th or 5th intersection of our baskets, she stopped and said, "I know you might think this is crazy, but I feel God begging me to talk to you." I laughed nervously. She proceeded to invite me to join her later that week to a Bible Study. I walked away thinking I should absolutely study the Bible, but knew I probably wouldn't.

But the day before, I decided I would do it. Then, I ended up in the hospital with false labor on that day. We rescheduled, and on that new date, the 21st, I was once again in the hospital welcoming my third child into the world. I lost the number and forgot all about her. But studying the Bible was a thought that kept returning.

We had christened our other two children in the same Catholic church we were married in. My husband was raised Catholic, and I thought it was sweet tradition. But we both were independently questioning what it meant to have faith, and had also independently came to the conclusion that we weren't sure about infant baptism - so we avoided the discussion, never realizing we were thinking the same thing.

I had an old family Bible - almost 70 years old and the spine was still stiff and new. The translation was difficult to understand and the size was inconvenient, so I mentioned to my mother-in-law that I would like a new Bible for Christmas. Christmas Day, while opening gifts, she laughed and told us we were being awfully religious for parents who had forgotten to christen their child. We quickly realized she had given both of us Bibles - we had both asked. We spent the next 2 weeks trying to read and discuss our thoughts, finally throwing our hands up. We both agreed that we needed to join a study group or class at a church.

Two days later, a group of people came through our neighborhood to invite others to a Bible Study they were having in one of their homes. We just laughed and agreed to join them. We had been discussing where to look for a study group when they knocked on the door!

The day of that study, I was pretty sure these people would be crazy - you know that way religious people can be kinda crazy. As the time approached, I felt a little tug at my heart that maybe I was already shutting out their words before I even heard them. I'm a professional know-it-all (really!); this was an unusual reaction for me. I stopped to pray. It was awkward, but I asked God to help me be open-minded.

I had read the Bible multiple times in my youth. The first time was at eight when a Sunday school teacher (they bused us in) told me my father was going to hell. Obviously it made no sense to me, and when I continued to ask questions that made the teacher uncomfortable, I was "expelled" from Sunday school. The second and third attempts were within a few years of that, and both of those occasions were purposed to prove "religious" people wrong. I did not want this rebellious let-me-show-you attitude taking over again. It was a phenomenal study. I walked away challenged, but hopeful. The second study, I asked lots of questions - probably to test if they would kick me out, too. We began to study daily at that point bringing in various other members of their church who could help me search out scriptural answers. It was apparent they were following some guided studies with me, but they were loosely structured so we could go with the flow.

First, we talked about their beliefs that the Bible as the word of God, the double-edged sword, the breathe of God. Okay, I could go with that, but obviously almost ALL of the Bible was allegorical.

Then, we talked about what the Bible had to say about sin and how it keeps us spiritually distant from God. This made sense and most of it fully supported my allegorical theory.

We talked about the Cross and why it was necessary to reconcile me to God.

I was not an easy sale. Each time I had an emotional response, I withdrew it as quickly as I could. I would not be manipulated. I must come to a rational faith in this or have no faith at all. So far everything we had studied could be labeled endearing, but not very real or practical.

About this time, they had a weekend couples retreat at a nearby campsite. We attended, excited to spend more time with these new friends. Late into one evening, we did the only study we had ever done together - men and women, my husband and I. I could barely stay awake. It was all about prophesy and how Jesus fulfills it. More allegory and symbolic guessing. I was a lit major in college and was a little prepared to scoff their attempts at this, but really I was mostly tired and prepared to be bored. Let me also mention I was a drop-out, so I wasn't as good as I thought I was.

Now, I still am not in 100% agreement with what was discussed that night, but as we flipped back and forth between the OT and NT, the words became alive. There was a clarity I felt, nearer to understanding than anything I had ever experienced. My heart was very heavy with a treasure as I began to know that Jesus was the Christ, the promise fulfilled. I stopped hearing the words that were spoken and saw the words written acted out in my mind. It is very difficult to describe. I walked out that night, very quiet and spent. Something felt very different, and I knew I would never be the same. I was terrified to voice what I had just experienced to my husband. It just was not rational. But I also could not contain myself. To my joy, he was feeling exactly the same way. We had stopped the arguing and the debating, and we just believed.

But they wouldn't baptize us until the next weekend. Our change of heart confounded them. Oh, I was so angry. The fruits of the spirit had not yet begun to grow. :) I did do something truly out of character, though. I stopped arguing with them after a couple of days about their belief that the Holy Spirit was granted at the moment of water baptism. I knew the Holy Spirit was already a part of me, but I just could not convince them. So I chose the way of peace. I have never regretted that.

The church we began to attend with them was about 250 members strong in Fort Worth, TX. Not a large church by any means for that area. After several months in attendance, I finally got to meet some of the parents who had been teaching the Sunday School classes after a changing of the guards. Remember that women from the grocery store? She was a member of the same church!

There is no reason to listen if I cannot hear.
Just Another Voice,


Only Look said...

>We had stopped the arguing and the debating, and we just believed.<

Amen. Great testimony.

Another Voice said...

Thanks, Brian.