"The words he spoke cut me like a knife and I will never forget them:
'Daddy, I try to be a good boy, but I can't be good like you.' "
Many times I have considered writing to you and never done it. I'm going to start it now although based on my past experiences with so called brothers and sisters in Christ, I'm reluctant to share anything. It's been amen, amen, amen, amen when I shared something that they agreed with, but shouts of heathen and anathema when I upset the apple cart.
A little background; During my youth and teen years I was friends with people in both the Baptist and Pentecostal churches. I came to know the Lord during those years, although the confusion brought about through the pentecostal/non-pentecostal vicious theological rivalry haunted me for years. The peace of God slowly left me as I tried in vain to comprehend the schizophrenic two-headed monster god that the churches were teaching me. I was taught that although salvation was a free gift, only a remnant would actually be saved and the majority of mankind would suffer utter torment, fear and burning without end. Some taught that most were simply destined for this horrible end because they were not chosen by God for salvation. Others taught that the gift of salvation was free, but most would not persevere long enough to "prove" they truly were saved in the first place. Either way, the final picture was pretty grim for most people.
I used to listen to this confusing and depressing message about how God really really loved everyone, but had no choice but to torture them because they deserved it by rejecting his Son. Questions about how a loving God could create someone that he knew would suffer forever were not allowed to be asked, or were shrugged off with a "Just have faith. Believe God is all loving and kind and can still do/allow those horrible things to happen to his creatures. Or, "Who are we to question God?"
About 8 years ago, the fear teachings really got to me and I figured I better confess all the sins and indiscretions I had done in the previous years and "get right with God." Within a short period of time, I became one heck of a Pharisee. Boy, was I good! Church three times a week, Bible studies, prayer meetings and I became obsessed with the "end times" teachings. I used to read 3 or 4 books a week on end times prophecies and also on new age teachings. Before long, every article I read in a paper or saw on television "proved" that we were in the end times and behind every rock I saw a new age teaching, a demon, or the Antichrist. I traveled far to "End Times" conferences featuring speakers such as Hal Lindsay, Peter Lalonde and Texe Marrs, and even taught what I had learned about the impending coming of the Antichrist to youth groups. A favorite topic was the mark that everyone would be forced to wear on their foreheads if they didn't repent of their sin before the impending rapture. Heck, I even had a lst of all the deceived "evil" Christian musicians that were really tools of the devil, and numerous cassette tapes featuring "backward messages" that supposedly were glorifying the devil. If you turned your head just the right way, and used your imagination, you could almost hear them too! I'd burned all my records, and by golly, I was making sure that everyone else burned their's too!
At one conference, a prominent speaker said, "Mother Theresa might be good, but that still only makes her a good witch," on which hundreds of "believers" cheered him loudly. I find it nauseating when I look back on it.
I remember phoning home to say hello to my family while at a conference in Myrtle Beach. The news was very troubling. Our pastor's wife had gone to my sister's house with a couple of other prayer warriors to pray for my 2 year old nephew who apparently had a bad case of the terrible two's. These ladies told my sister that her little boy was possessed by a demon. Their prayers did not work and they said they could not help any further, leaving my sister and the rest of the family at the end of their ropes. I mean, "Gee, your kid's got a demon or two in him, but well, they won't come out, and it is our supper time so goodbye," can be a bit of a downer. It is a very good thing that I was 3000 miles away because it gave me lots of time to cool down before dealing with these "prayer warriors".
Thank God this madness only lasted four years. My wife confided in me recently that if it had kept up, she would have left me. I owned a real estate company, and because I was totally CONVINCED that there could not possibly be much time left for this earth, I did not manage it prudently. I am still attempting to recover financially from this. I was worried that if I didn't spend all my time studying prophecy, praying, scaring the hell out of sinners etc., God would not be pleased with me. A friend and myself even organized an "end times" speaker from New Zealand, Barry Smith, to come to our small city and put on a seminar. We had the conference room in the local hotel full, the church elders steaming mad, and half our city scared half to death about the microchip and how it would lead to their endless torment. Lots of "conversions" that week let me tell you.
The following week was a turning point for the better, although it was quite painful at the time. I went to an evening service at the other Pentecostal church in town. The speaker was a professor from a big Bible college in Vancouver, B.C. Although I had not heard anything about this man and the pre-sermon worship was going very well, I had this very strange feeling that something was wrong. I tried to shake it off, but inside I knew something was happening. The speaker started his sermon by saying, "I have heard there was a man speaking about prophecy in Fort McMurray last week. Let me assure you he is a wolf in sheep's' clothing who is trying to deceive the flock. That was the nicest thing he said about Barry Smith all night! It was an aggressive attack littered with phrases such as "tool of the devil." Barry's crime; he was considered to be a mid-tribulation teacher whereas this "man of God" was a pre-tribulation teacher. I left the church that night in tears.
"Who can possibly figure this mess out?" was my cry. Why were some of the most vicious, mean-spirited and self-righteous people I knew those from the churches? How could God allow such a mess? With such a confusing array of teachers and teachings, all claiming to be right, how could anyone be sure of the truth? There were times when I could almost see through the clouds of confusion and feel the love of God I had felt as a boy. But my heart told me that I could neither truly love nor respect a God that had so lost control that He could not even save all those He had created.
I thought back to my early years as a child in England, and pictured my Grandfather. I only really knew him for a few years, but I remember him as a lovely and kind old man. I was seven years old when we moved to Canada, and there was many a night that I cried myself to sleep because I missed him. My mother told me that he had a "death bed" conversion, but she didn't really know. Anyway, if he wasn't in the flames, somebody else's Grandfather was, and that thought was repugnant to me. I felt anger towards God as I raised my fist towards the air, and shouted "Why? "
About that time I was introduced to a series of cassette tapes by a speaker named Mike Williams. I was extremely reluctant to hear anymore teachings by anyone but decided to give it one last chance. Mike speaks mainly on the grace of God. For the first time in many years, I felt the peace of God start to come back. My peace and joy really leaped when I began to understand the plan of God for the salvation of all of mankind.
Of course when I shared that with my church family, the lid really blew! They wanted me to go back to the hell fire / God-is-coming- back-to-punish sermons I used to preach. Some church members even warned our friends not to associate or even speak with our family again because we were deceivers who would lead them down the path to hell. Cults aren't the only groups proficient in "shunning." Pentecostals can be pretty good too! The "let's go for coffee calls" that my wife used to get from the other women in the church suddenly stopped. Our church membership was revoked for a technicality, that we missed three membership meetings, although I don't recall the rule being enforced on anyone else.
We went back to the Baptist church of my youth for a few months. The pastor whom ALL the congregation loved was asked to leave by the elders because they had "heard from God" that they needed to be more evangelical and they felt the pastor was not aggressive enough in this area. The members called an emergency meeting. Virtually the whole congregation came, and to the very last person, voted to keep the pastor. Nevertheless, the church board asked the pastor to leave anyway. Most in the church were sickened.
I decided that from that point on, I would not subject my children, my wife or myself to the foolish teachings and ways of the church any more. The results: Our family is much happier, much closer and more honest. My marriage is far better, and our kids, who were considered to be learning disabled and actually had to repeat a year of school, are now good students and often make the honor role for their high marks.
I thoroughly enjoy going down to the local pub occasionally and sing the old songs. We've found considerably more friends there than we had remaining in the church family, and much more acceptance. I'm not being critical, rather truthful. Although we don't condone excessive drinking, I'd rather sit with a drunk than a Pharisee. I think Jesus would have too.
We're still digging ourselves out of the financial hole (we gave oodles of tithes in our days, even if we didn't pay all of the bills!) but finally have a peace that God doesn't mind if you don't give it all. I have a new trade. (I'm a Webmaster for a large corporation's intranet.) I had to quit real estate, the job I held during my church years. It seems that all my old "church brothers and sisters" didn't want to do business with a heretic. Also, most of the non-church clientele I had were scared off when I sent them the brochure describing how they were going to have a microchip implanted in their right hand or foreheads and wouldn't be able to buy or sell unless they did. Unfortunately, I signed these letters/invitations and most of them figured that I probably wasn't the person they should be trusting when it comes to buying or selling their largest asset, their home. I was nearly as interested in marketing their properties as I was in scaring the hell out of potential buyers with tales of earthquakes,gigantic scorpions and rather unpleasant plagues.
Here's a typical exchange:
Potential Buyer; How many years would you recommend we amortize the mortgage over? Me; Doesn't really matter..... The coming earthquakes will destroy it first anyhow........ By the way, would you like to hear about how much God loves you?
Let me close on this, the most defining moment in my spiritual life. We were having serious problems with our oldest son, who was about 9 years old at the time. He had been held back at school and was almost uncontrollable at times. We had taught him in "the ways of God." We had disciplined him as the church taught us. He was often very fearful. I couldn't understand why........I mean I had read all the books about casting out demons that were ever written.......He'd spent half his week in the church seeing the "power of God" (churchese for people convulsing and dropping on the ground commonly known as slain in the spirit) and he knew how much God loved him (although he also knew that many of his friends and relatives were likely to be tortured vigorously for all eternity). One evening, at the end of my rope I insisted he tell me exactly what was going on in his head because I could not stand to live with this turmoil any more.
The words he spoke cut me like a knife and I will never forget them:
"Daddy, I try to be a good boy, but I can't be good like you. The devil is going to take me down to hell with him and I'll never see you and mommy any more."
He believed in his heart that if some people weren't going to make it, it could be him. I had already started studying about the love of God and the salvation of all mankind just previous to this, but had not yet shared it with my son. That night I shared the true Gospel with him and swore I would never go back to a life of false teaching and fear. That night I allowed my little boy to be a child again, and allowed myself to have the faith of a little child also.
NO church will ever take that away from us.
P.S. Gary, Please keep up the good work. People need to know not only how much God loves them, but how deep and far-reaching His love is. There's a horrible television commercial about underarm deodorant (Right Guard, I believe) where the main actor puts on the deodorant and says, "Anything less would be uncivilized."
That statement could well be said about the salvation of all of mankind and the redemption of all of God's creation: Anything less would be uncivilized."