Peace at last!
Growing up in a minister's home, I remember sitting in church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night listening wide-eyed as the message of Christ, and the price He paid on the cross for our salvation, was presented with great emotion and fervor. I believed every word that came out of the pulpit. I remember hearing about how badly Jesus was treated and how He suffered and died for our transgressions, to pay the price for our sins. I also learned about hell and eternal damnation for sinners.
Man, what a frightening thought for a little kid that visualized and imagined every word with great detail! It seemed as though the world was my enemy. I couldn't believe that anyone would choose to be a sinner! I also just assumed that everyone knew about Christ and it was just a matter of whether one believed in Him or not. If they did believe and still sinned, they were worse than ones that didn't believe at all. How awful hell was going to be for them!
As I grew older, I recall coming to a point in my life that I was sure I probably needed to go down to the alter to be saved. I was told that the Spirit of the Lord would not always linger with man, so I should do it while I was under conviction. I may never have another chance. But I didn't want to commit for a couple of reasons:
1) I had found that being a Christian meant that I couldn't lie, cheat, smoke, drink etc. I wasn't sure that I could make it. After all, I was young and had a lot of living to do. I knew I would be worse off had I asked for forgiveness and then fell away, because backsliders were in the worst condition of all.
2) I had come to find out that most of the folks in the church seemed to be a little hypocritical. Well, I really didn't know what that word meant at the time, but I knew that they talked about the awful sinner, but seemed to be sort of standoffish and a bit mean-spirited.
So, I would put off the alter call for a few years until I could have some fun, then I was sure to make my commitment one day and everything would be OK.
As the years passed, I began drinking quite a bit and smoking "pot" daily. I was one of the later hippies (early-mid 70's) that found rebelling against the establishment a difficult thing to do as I felt I was also rebelling against God. There was an incredible conflict going on inside of me. I knew, however, that one-day I would make things right.
At the age of 20, I decided it was time to throw away the drugs and rock-and-roll albums and make the commitment that I had put off for so long. I gave away all my records and joined the local Pentecostal church. In this particular denomination they taught that if you didn't speak in tongues, you really weren't saved. There was a 3 tiered system to "getting right with God":
1) You had to be saved.
2) You had to be sanctified.
3) You had to be filled with the Holy Ghost, with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
At the time, it was just taught that way. You didn't question it. To question anything was to open your mind to the Devil! Years later, I wondered what the point of the first step was, for you really weren't saved unless you did all three, according to the church doctrine. But that's for another day.
Anyway, I agonized for years over trying to speak in tongues. I prayed and prayed. I fasted. I read all the books. I tried to say the words but they wouldn't come. I had, however, asked God to only give me the Truth. I didn't want anything that wasn't straight from Him, so I guess I did myself in from the very beginning!
When I didn't get the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" by speaking in tongues, I just assumed that God didn't love me enough. I had probably been too bad, or I probably had some hidden sin that I needed to get rid of before He would allow me to have the gift. Since I wasn't good enough for God's forgiveness, I figured that I might as well go back into the world and chuck the whole thing.
I had another conflict going on as well. My father never taught many of these things and was put on trial by the denomination leaders for not complying with all their doctrine. This helped me later on in my life as I started to understand that he was also struggling with the same problems as I. But it still became engraved in my mind early on by church literature, evangelists and Sunday school teachers.
I found myself in a miserable condition for years. I would "get right" with God occasionally, but it wouldn't last for long because there were scriptures that insinuated that I had lost my salvation forever. I remember sitting in church one day at the age of 24, trying feverishly to find scriptures that related to sinning. I came across Hebrews 10:26 and was devastated. I thought, "Why had they not told me about this?" The church did teach that you could recover from backsliding, but had they overlooked this one? The horror was indescribable. I truly believed that I was going to hell and there was no hope! Hearing the old evangelical sermons ringing in my ears, I descended into a spiritual nightmare that has lasted most of the last 2 decades.
The first steps of my recovery were very slow in coming. I started looking at the teachings of the denomination and recognized that they really didn't make sense. I began reading any book I could get my hands on that talked about Grace and Eternal Security. The message offered some peace, but I noticed that certain scriptures were completely avoided or the explanation of them illogical. It still felt as though they were trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole! I just couldn't be sure that I was saved. I believed in Christ, but some of the fruits I was supposed to be bearing just weren't present. The "out" for this condition, as explained by the leaders, was that I probably had not been saved to begin with. "Well", I thought, "here we go again!"
To fast forward a bit, just in the last year at the age of 40, I have been talking with God honestly, holding nothing back. I began telling Him that I just couldn't do it anymore! When I gave up and went back to drugs and alcohol for relief, my life was slowly being destroyed. However, when I turned to the Lord, as I knew Him, I was also a miserable soul! I always came back to the same incredibly torturous condition of having to wonder whether, or not I was truly saved. I had to tell God that I just refused to live this way anymore. The torment was without description!
I found myself looking back at what I really believed in my gut. I had problems with many things that have been done in God's name and I couldn't reconcile them in my heart. I also had to admit that it was no longer the words of men that was troubling me. My real problem was in the scriptures. How could He write us off so easily? I remember telling him that I found myself in a paradox, begging Him to help me to please Him! What a conflict! Did He not want me to have a relationship with Him? Could He not understand that I wanted to know Him? Could He still send me to hell for sinning when I really didn't want to sin against Him at all?
Some things started to come to me in my honesty with God. I had been very sick as a child and the church had prayed for my healing and recovery. I, indeed, did recover. But it seemed illogical that God would heal an innocent child, that would have gone to Heaven, to be allowed, even "blessed", to live so that he may fall into sin that would send him to hell. I also started contemplating the fact that I really wanted to know Him, but I had been deceived about His character. This being the case, I wondered how others that were similarly deceived could also be rejected. What about the little innocent soul that was born, not of his/her own free will, into a Jewish family, or a Muslim family. How could God send them to eternal punishment? That didn't seem right either, even by man's standards. And what about those that turned on the T.V. and were told to send a certain sum of money to the "ministry", "plant the seed" as it were, and they would find eternal life and even financial blessings? If they were disappointed and rejected this "christ", what would be the their lot for eternity. And worse, those that saw through the "snake oil" message? How would God punish them eternally when His son was misrepresented and therefore rejected?
The questions started answering themselves! I began realizing that the rebellion in my spirit was not at all against God. It was against the nature of God, as I understood it. It was against the message I was hearing! That old prayer that I had laid before Him years ago to only let me know that truth about Him was finally being answered! His silence in letting me wander without assurance was actually Him speaking to me after all!
This led me to start expressing the questions to others. I was even willing to let go of Christ and find another in my journey to understand God's nature and character, to find the TRUE God. I was, however, led back to Christ. As I began voicing my questions, I was led to Tentmaker and a couple of other web sites that revealed scriptures in a way that I had not seen them before. They were there all the time, but so easily overlooked. When they were read in church, they were quickly passed over the get to the "hellfire and brimstone" part of the scripture that was misinterpreted to begin with.
I cannot tell you what freedom this has brought to me! I am talking differently with my children. I am not living in such frustration, and the dark cloud that hung over my life is slowly being replaced with the light of a loving and caring God. It has permeated every part of my being. I can love Him now! That is something I thought I would never be able to do. I can understand and look forward to judgements that are meant to purify me. I can trust Him!
There is a next step, however. I have to fully forgive and let go of the bitterness that I have had against the church that caused me so much pain. I am coming to realize that if so many are deceived in the world, aren't those in the church organization also deceived? Some may well be in the "ministry" with ulterior motives, but others are probably not. I have to believe that many in the church are also truly trying to please God. I was! That is a real eye-opener, when you realize that your spirit truly wanted to embrace and love everyone, but you thought you were going to displease God by doing so. When you are taught that God hates sinners, you believe that you obligated to do the same. Now, I have to forgive those that did me harm. In my life, they have been the enemy!
I hope that this testimony bears witness to someone that reads it. It would take more space than is allowed to tell the whole story of the effects that the teachings of eternal damnation have had on my life and the lives of others that I care for. But, if there is only one tormented soul that finds comfort in knowing they are not alone in this struggle and I may help another find the truth of Gods love and character, as well as, the strength now to face the enemy, then it was worth it all!
God Bless and Keep you always,