Friday, August 10, 2007

My Spiritual Life’s History

I grew up and was baptized as an infant in a Lutheran church where I attended both church and Sunday School every Sunday, was an Acolyte, was confirmed and was fully involved in the Luther League, which was the youth program. Beginning in the 5th or 6th grade, I read my KJV Bible daily at home on my own, as well as saying my prayers every night. By the time I finished High School, I had read the entire Bible from cover-to-cover, several times, in different versions (KJV, The Living Bible, Good News Bible, etc.)

Nevertheless, I never heard a gospel message. I believed in the Bible, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, that Jesus was the Son of God, etc. However, though I did have faith, it was mainly an intellectual belief…I had never experienced the new birth (i.e., being born again; regeneration; being saved)…kind of like those in Acts 8:14-17 who had been baptized, but who had never experienced the new birth; or Apollos in Acts 18:24-25 who had a thorough knowledge of the Bible, and even taught about Jesus (comparable to a Sunday School teacher), but who had never been born again; or those in Acts 19:1-6 who had repented of their sins and had been baptized (by John the Baptist’s baptism), but who had never been regenerated (made into new creatures) though having the Holy Spirit indwell them.

In the beginning of 1979, at 19 years of age, I was attending a Commercial Art class at what was then called Miami-Dade Community College South Campus. A black guy who was Pentecostal took me outside every day during breaks for a couple weeks or so, and explained to me the gospel of salvation. He told me that, because of the power of God in his life, he was not afraid of anyone. Being shy to the point of being almost paranoid of people, this appealed to me, so I went home and asked God to give me what that guy had.

Around that same time, I found some Jack Chick gospel tracts lying on the table in the Parsonage library (which sometimes served as a meeting place for the Youth) at my church. I read one or two at the church, and I took a third one home. While my mom was outside hanging up clothes on the clothesline, I read one of the Chick tracts, using my mom's ironing board as a table, and, leaning against that ironing board and folding my hands, I prayed the prayer in the back of one of the tracts, and asked Christ Jesus to come into my heart, forgive all my sins, and take over my life. It was then that I was born again.

I then began to notice that the church I had attended all my young life was a dead church, and not at all like the church in the book of Acts. What was preached there was a ‘social gospel,’ rather than the gospel of salvation.

Nevertheless, I was twice blessed with the opportunity to preach in the pulpit while the Pastor was on vacation. In one of those sermons, I talked about the joy of the Lord. Afterward, I overheard one person commenting, “It’s pretty bad when someone in the church can preach better than the Pastor can,” which was really a demonstration of how spiritually dead our church actually was.

There was one couple at that church who were born-again Christians, and who I considered to be my ‘spiritual parents,’ because they helped me in my early years as a baby Christian. They were also the leaders of our church’s Clown Ministry, which I joined, and which was an excellent experience for me, and was a lot of fun.

Not long after, I began to attend a basic Bible Study course, meeting at someone’s home (who later left for Africa as a missionary) through Campus Crusade for Christ. This was my discipleship period in which I learned the basics of following Christ as Lord and Savior, and I am greatly indebted to Campus Crusade for Christ for discipling me as a baby Christian.

Shortly before leaving that church, I attended Men’s Sonshine Cursillo #23, now called Via de Cristo, which was then the spiritual highpoint of my life, outside my salvation experience.

I then left that church to try to find a church that was more like what I saw in the book of Acts. I began attending an Evangelical/Charismatic Lutheran church, where I was introduced to speaking in tongues, which began my struggle with trying to find out whether the Charismatic gifts were for today or not…a struggle that lasted for many years.

I then went away to another city to live with my Aunt while attending college at the University of North Florida. While there, I attended a couple of different Baptist churches with my cousins, who were all Baptist. I attended a youth service, which helped me in my spiritual growth. At one of those churches I decided I wanted to be baptized as an adult by immersion, because I believed that baptism was for believers, and was a picture of us being buried (i.e., dying to self; dying to the world system and to living for this world; the ‘old nature’ being put to death) and rising again as new creatures created in Christ Jesus, to live for Him and Him alone. I also did this in obedience to Christ’s command (Matt. 28:19) as well as a public testimony of my decision to follow Christ.

I later joined an Independent Baptist Church, which, though they were quite legalistic, they were also the most helpful to me of any church up to that point, as far as teaching me how to evangelize. I went door-to-door with them on a weekly basis, telling people about Jesus. I also went around the city with an older gentleman, named Mr. Keller, who was very zealous for the Lord, and who had a burden for souls to be saved from Hell. He and I would go door-to-door, or talk to people on the street, and even went to the city jail a couple times to preach, give out Bibles, and to tell prisoners about Jesus.

I also worked for 1 year at their Christian Elementary School, teaching P.E. In the afternoons, I would drive several miles to their combined Middle School and High School, to watch over the Study Hall (something I did not enjoy). During two summers, I was a Camp Counselor at their Youth Ranch, which was fun.

At the prompting of some people at the Independent Baptist Church, I attended Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC, for 2 years. The school helped me tremendously in every way except one: my spiritual life. Without going into long, tedious detail, I’ll just say that my zeal for the Lord was destroyed there. I went into deep rebellion against God and experienced the blackest, darkest days of my entire life. For years afterward, I even had nightmares about the school.

After that, still suffering from rebellion and recovering from my loss of zeal for God, I casually visited different churches of different denominations: Lutheran, Presbyterian, Charismatic, etc.

I then joined a Lutheran Evangelical church, which my family had joined a couple years before. They had just gotten a new Pastor who slowly introduced more and more Charismatic practices into the church. I was a member of this church for several years, in which time I taught 1st and 2nd Grade Children’s Sunday School, and began a Clown Ministry there, using children, teens and adults, performing not only for the church, but for schools, nursing homes and hospitals as well.

Though I disagreed with a number of the things the church taught, I stayed silent, figuring I would never find a perfect church. However, the breaking point came when a woman speaker visited one day and tried to loudly and aggressively force me, along with several others, to begin speaking in tongues, in front of the entire congregation. I saw clearly that false doctrine and unscriptural practices were occurring at that church, so I left the church. About a year later, that church split, when it was discovered that the Pastor was an alcoholic and would drink from the church’s Communion wine all day long during the week; yet he and his wife both refused to admit it, even when the church elders, and later, representatives from the Lutheran board were brought in to address the issue.

After that, I again began to inconsistently visit various churches.

Then, after a period of several weeks spent in a ‘Creation vs. Evolution’ online debate; while at the same time, participating in another online debate with a Catholic, addressing the issue of faith plus works vs. salvation by faith alone, the Lord used this to show me that I needed the fellowship and encouragement of other Christians. Then I saw an article in the newspaper that gave a summary of all the local churches and synagogues, including quotes from each Pastor, Priest or Rabbi from each church or synagogue. I noticed a Christian and Missionary Alliance church, which, although I had read of them as being a missionary organization, I had not realized they had also become a denomination. Because of the respect I had gained for them from reading biographies of their missionaries, and because I liked what that Pastor had said in his quote, I visited and later joined that church, which turned out to be the best church I had ever attended up to that point. During the several years I was a member there, I experienced some of the most incredible and awesome interventions and miracles from the Lord, at my workplace, that I have ever experienced. In fact, I even refer to the last year there as my ‘Year of Miracles,’ because God worked such incredible and unbelievable miracles in my life during that time.

While a member of that church, I participated in a study of Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God,” meeting at someone’s house, which was an excellent study, as well as an enjoyable time of fellowship. Immediately after that ended, I began attending BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), which was absolutely the best and most intensive Bible study that I had ever participated in. I learned and gained more from those studies than from any previous Bible study. Beginning with my 3rd year in BSF, I was chosen to be a Discussion Leader.

Around that time, I also attended a Promise Keepers meeting in Tampa, which was good, though it could not match my Cursillo weekend years before.

I had strongly disliked Miami for many years, and felt like a foreigner and a minority in my own country. So, when my family, who had already moved to Central Florida, kept pressing me to move up there with them, I finally gave in. I moved, along with my brother who lived only 15 minutes from me, to Central Florida. I moved in with my parents in Dunnellon (which was a bit of a miracle in itself, since I had previously sworn that I would live under a bridge before I ever lived with my parents again), and my brother moved in with my other brother and his wife, in Ocala. Even though I was living with my parents, I refer to this time as my ‘Year of Blessings,’ because living in Dunnellon was light years more enjoyable and tolerable than living in Miami. In addition, I bought the first sporty-looking car I had ever owned. Though I had owned numerous cars before, I had always wanted a sports car, but had never had one. Though a Pontiac Sunfire was not technically a sports car, it was close enough for me.

I first began attending a local Charismatic church with my family, but I didn't feel comfortable there. I had determined, before moving from Miami, that I would try to find another Christian Missionary and Alliance church. God answered my prayer, and I found one that was only 3 minutes from where I was living! I attended there for the rest of the time I lived with my parents.

I also wanted to find a BSF class, which I did, and began attending there. However, it was not nearly the same as the one I had attended in Miami. I strongly sensed a binding spirit of legalism, which I felt was a hindrance to Christian growth, so I stopped going.

My brother shortly got a job and moved into his own apartment. After 1 ½ years living with my parents, I too moved into an apartment in Ocala. I bought a PS2, which was exciting, because it was the first time I had ever bought a gaming system.

After moving to the apartment in Ocala, which I lived in for 3 years, I attended several different churches, though I didn't find one that I really wanted to join. At one Baptist church I attended, I participated in a study of Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” meeting at someone’s house. It was OK, but nowhere near as enjoyable or profitable as the study of Blackaby’s “Experiencing God.”

At one point, I had been praying for God to bring someone that could be a Christian friend to my workplace. I had also been praying to become involved in a Bible study, as well as praying that God would lead me to a really good Christian church.

Well, God answered my prayers. A Christian brother named Anthony started working at the company where I was working. He invited me to his Calvary Chapel church, which I attended for a while, and which I enjoyed. I noticed that he had a copy of a book by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, who are hosts of “The Way of the Master” TV program as well as a web site ( and several books. I told him I was reading the same book. Shortly after that, Anthony saw someone witnessing to a group of people in the local Mall, and introduced himself. The person's name doing the witnessing was Byron, who was using evangelism techniques he had learned from “The Way of the Master” videos and books. This led to Byron and Anthony organizing a “Way of the Master” weekly class, which Anthony invited me to attend. We went through a series of videos and handouts over the next several weeks. After that, we set out to begin witnessing in teams at the local Mall, at the Movie Theater, and later, at events like UF Football Games and local Festivals. Thus began what I refer to as my ‘Year of Evangelism.’ I had not been so active in witnessing to people since the times I used to go witnessing with Mr. Keller years ago. Though I have been very nervous at times, telling people about the gospel of Jesus Christ has been a great blessing and a great challenge. I believe this is the most important work we can do.

Byron decided that he wanted to find a church that was more on fire for the Lord, and more on fire for evangelism, than the church he was then attending. Part of the reason was that he would go witnessing door-to-door every Saturday, and practically no one from his church would ever join him. I went with him to visit a couple different churches that he had found online, and the second one we visited, we both decided we liked. He became a member of the church immediately, and I became a member several months later. I am currently attending that church, and I consider it to be possibly the best church I have ever attended. I praise God for once again answering my prayers and desires.

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