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Testimony

It happened about 30 years ago.  It was a Saturday and I was planning my suicide the following Monday.  The only way it would work, I decided, would be if I stabbed myself in front of the altar.  While I died, I would beg God for forgiveness.

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St. Peter Claver Church was the church my family attended and where I planned to commit suicide. Above the altar is a giant cross, and it was to this that I planned to beg mercy from.

What drove me to this moment was the pursuit of peace.  I craved it but couldn’t find it.  Everything was meaningless to me from a very early age.  I could not sense hope in life and I longed for death.  I tried to find peace in many places: mindset, pithy quotes, being perfect, relationships, drinking, pleasures, friends-and although those could lift my spirits for a moment, I always found myself crashing into a well of despair.

My road to suicide was accelerated by a hallucination I had three times my 15th summer.   Each time it started as a bad high.  Demons in my head taunted and screamed at me, sucking me down into an unknown spiral and I tried to claw myself out of their grasp.  At the moment I was being pulled under and the fight was over, the entire hallucination would break up, literally end, and there before me, in my mind’s eye was Jesus.  He stood there with a dignified power I couldn’t understand but which I welcomed amidst the chaos.   With His hands open to me and in an authoritative yet loving voice, He said,   “Child, in me you will find peace.”  Each time He said it three times and then vanished from my ‘sight’. Like I said, I had that same (almost identical) experience three times that summer.

This altered the way I had been thinking.  I had looked for the key I was missing but I did not think the missing key was God.  I went to church.  I believed in God.  I could not understand how God could be missing.    I believed He was big, powerful and perfect.  I also admitted I was not, and hindered by sin.  I understood sin.  I suffered from guilt continuously.  Painfully perfectionist, I felt every perceived failure intensely.  Due to the hallucinations, I thought the key was to live life as Jesus wanted me to, sin free.  I set out to do exactly that.

I failed miserably.  I could not live failure-free.  Despite being sensitive to anything that could upset my peace (failure of any sort), I couldn’t help myself.  I kept doing things that heaped guilt on me and pushed peace far away.

That is how I came to plan my suicide.  I rationalized it this way:  ‘Jesus died because of sin so that must mean I have to die because of sin.  If I die confessing every foul thing in me, perhaps He will forgive me and free me, and let me exist in peace.’  It was a gamble, but at this point in my life, I was desperate enough to roll the dice.

Well, you know that something happened because I am not dead.  When I went to school that Monday morning I was called into a room and within an hour I was put into a drug and alcohol rehab program.  I owe that to my best friend at the time.  She saved my life and probably still does not know that.

Getting substance-free, I thought would be my salvation as it was a major contributor to what I recognized as sin.  For two more years I tried to live sin free.  I tried to be perfect.  I tried to be anything but miserable.  Despite my efforts, hopelessness and lack of meaning once again had me fantasizing my death.  This time it was even more severe.  The reason I used substances was to escape the realities I sensed.  Now I was trying to live with my escape hatch closed and the realities I wanted to hide from still remained alive and active.

I went to college and my first semester I ran into a new Christian.  He had written and hand-drawn tracts and distributed them to a row of mailboxes.  To make a long story short, (and skip telling a wonderful miracle), I received one of them and we became friends.  He gave me my first Bible.

I read it carefully and continually.  I always had it with me. I even slept with it.  I believed as I read and the gates were flung open.  I don’t know how else to explain it except to say that something finally clicked.  An incredible, indescribable peace washed over me and KEPT washing over me, every single day.  I could see.  All of a sudden, I could see.  Jesus paid the penalty of my sin so that I could live in peace with Him.   My peace was not dependent on the perfection or meaning I could create but on the perfection He is and the meaning He gives.  The missing key, that life is found in God, not in a good life that merely acknowledged Him, was found.   The call on my heart was strong not to only assent to the fact that He died and rose again on my behalf to make peace possible, but to follow Him and give up everything to do so.

I wish that I could keep your attention long enough to tell you of all the ways I have experienced God step into my reality and lift me out of it , experiences I have had that leave no shadow of doubt in my mind that He is real and active and powerful…and relevant.  I will forego that now but leave you with this.

Since I became a Christian I, like every other human being, have had many painful things to endure.  There have been defeats, failures and dreams dashed.   Horrible life events, crushing disappointments and fierce battles with loneliness and confusion that are simply not fun to walk through.  But I can attest to this.  The peace He promised me never left me.  It has remained even while I walk through fog, pain or sorrow.  It has remained when the mundane and average life I lead whispers hopelessness and meaningless in my ear.  My peace is not based on my circumstances anymore, nor my success or popularity.  It is rooted in my life with God.

So dear reader, if you do not know peace, I offer to you what I have found.  The Prince of Peace.  Repent and Believe…..and He will give you peace.

For those who know this God already, I pray my story further confirms in your heart how marvelous He is.

 

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Posted by on May 20, 2014 in What I believe

 

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Removing God from Psalm 23

In order for Psalm 23 to mean anything to someone they must be thinking Biblically.  When our thinking becomes skewed, Psalm 23 makes no sense.   The following is an attempt to show how the history of Western thought would have translated Psalm 23.

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The Lord is my Shepherd…

(Early Church and revived in the Reformation)

God created the universe and man.  By making man and woman in His image He gave them meaning.  As creator, He determined what is right and wrong and it is society’s responsibility to live within those bounds.  That is the universal base.  There is a foundation for law, rights and freedom.  God, as understood through the Bible, is the final authority.

But suppose I do not want to be completely under God.  I would like some ‘freedom’ to think for myself.   What will be my new universal principle?

The Lord is my Shepherd, but I help him guide me.

(Medieval times largely influenced by Aquinas who leaned heavily on the secular thought of Aristotle.)

Why restrict ourselves to only what God has to say?  The Bible is lowered and man is raised higher.  The Bible becomes a guideline that can be veered from and the church is raised to become its equal.  Salvation is by grace but begins to increasingly include the works of man because man is viewed as capable of doing it.  Secular thinking starts to trump the Biblical base and distorts truth.  People start believing and acting independent of the final authority.

I am my shepherd.

(Humanism comes to fruition in Renaissance and is maintained through the modern era.)

Man is autonomous and independent of any supernatural force outside of himself.  Absolutes are impossible to define because there is nothing to give them and therefore man is unsure of how to live.  Optimistically, thinkers set out to find the way.   Truth begins with man, not God.  There is no final authority over man so man seeks how to guide himself.

I am left with the difficult question of what the purpose of life is and how I (and others) are to live.    I trust my mind will lead me to the right answers.

Sheep are my shepherd.

(Beginning with Voltaire, the enlightenment awakens the god of reason and ultimately leads to man being seen as part of a closed system, where he is no longer outside of nature but is merely a part of it.)

Reason falters as it repeatedly runs into unacceptable conclusions.  Opinions seem to be legion, but really there are only a few truly novel thoughts…but no one seems to know what to trust so I look for something outside of man, some natural principle that guides the world.  I look to nature and find it both cruel and non-cruel.  I believe I am only a small part of it, just a mass of atoms.  I become nothing more than a cog in the machine.

Everything is my shepherd.

(Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard struggle to leave room for man amidst determinism and its other varied forms, trying to find meaning by looking at freedom from restraint, history, emotion and what is ‘natural’ (Romanticism).  They are left with only rhetoric and the conclusion that reason leads only to pessimism.)

Now I must let go of reason because it leads me only to a pessimistic outlook.  Reason tells me that without a god I am only part of the machine of the universe, devoid of meaning.  I can say those words but I can not live by them.  History has exhausted its ideas and come up wanting.  If one begins with man, nothing gives meaning. My ‘innards’ tell me that there must be a purpose somewhere in all of this.  But where is it?

So I let go of reason and let the unreasonable give me meaning.  My experiences will hopefully be powerful enough to give me a sense of fulfillment.  (Embrace of Hinduism or Buddhism for some in the Western world may enter here, under the pursuit of experience.)  My personal goals of peace and affluence will guide my decisions.  What is right in one situation may not be right in another.  Each act is based on circumstances and is thus arbitrary to the person and the situation.  What is right will be determined by what I want the goal to be and there is nothing to tell me that my goal is wrong.  What is must be what is right.  My pleasures rule.

Nothing is my shepherd.

(Existential philosophy abandons reason and leaps “upstairs” to find meaning and value without reason.  Nietzsche declares that not only is God dead, but also all (he) supported, mainly meaning.  His conclusions (I believe) likely led him to his insanity-not venereal disease.)

Without a universal base tying everything together with meaning I am only a part of this machine, devoid of purpose or direction.  Nothing leads me anywhere.  I can’t help but become apathetic.  To keep from despairing I create schemes to keep my mind away from the impossible questions.  In place of meaning I take up causes, like ending world poverty, or cleaning up the food system, or keeping the earth from getting too warm, or shaving a 1/2 minute off of my 8 minute mile.  I exist and if you push me to tell you why I won’t know what to say.

All is bankrupt.  Without a shepherd outside of myself my mind tells me I am no more than matter.  Nature, experience and pleasure can not infuse me with any type of meaning or tell me what to value.  Without an ultimate universal base society is left to the chaos of hedonism (pleasure rules) or the tyranny of authoritarianism by the élite to maintain peace.  I have lost my freedom.  I have lost my meaning.  I have lost my bearings.   I am empty.

I need my Psalm 23 shepherd back.

(Please note:  this post leans heavily on the work of Francis A. Schaeffer in “How Should We Then Live?”  This is my current understanding of the progression of Western thought.  If you are looking for a resource to reference, I suggest you go back to the inspiration behind this post.)
 
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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in History Clips, Sin, Uncategorized

 

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Moving into Oblivion

Our family is preparing to move from a place we love for one that we like not so much.  There is nothing about this move that excites me, even on my most optimistic days.

One of the most difficult things to leave are our friends.  Despite many promises of “we’ll keep in touch” or “so and so is not that far away”….I know better.  Once we leave, within two weeks most will rarely think about us again.   The people I laugh with today will largely forget me within a matter of weeks.

Alexander Pushkin said it well, ‘oblivion is the natural lot of anyone not present.  It’s horrible, but true.’

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On my dresser is an urn holding my baby boy.  He is the third child I had that died in utero.  Our family named him “Irish”, which I probably would have never named him had he lived to see the sun, but still, Irish caused me great agony.  He was my heart’s desire, one of our last attempts at another child and he was placed in my hands lifeless.  The despair over his death lasted close to a year for me.  Yet, even he, has slipped into oblivion.

Oblivion: the condition or state of being forgotten.

From the first song in The Phantom of the Opera, “Think of Me,”

Think of me, think of me fondly, when we’ve said goodbye.
Remember me once in a while, please promise me you’ll try.

Am I comfortable with being forgotten?  There is a natural tendency to want to claw our way into being remembered.  To insist on doing something that will leave a mark on humanity.  To leave a wake of our essence behind us.   To do or be something so exceptional as to defy this natural law of “out of sight, out of mind”.  We hope that our measly lives amount to something worth being remembered, for if we live and die and the memory of our existence disappears, the point to our life seems to vanish too.

Total absence never made my heart grow fonder, it made my heart forget.

To not be forgotten, you have to either live with the person, be in constant communication with that person or be that person.

And so, I face my reality.  The world will most assuredly forget me.  Even my children will come to a point where they think of me infrequently.  My spouse, well, he’s stuck with me til’ one of us dies, but after that, I know that whoever is left standing will slowly begin the process of forgetting the other.  I might as well not fight it, I won’t be remembered by people.

Could God forget me too?  Might He?

If man and God should forget you how terrible!  But if man forget you and yet God does not, what have you lost?  And if man should remember you but God does not, what have you gained?  For even the man who might remember you will himself, someday be forgotten.

I wonder sometimes if God will forget those cast into hell.  I suppose He might for they are permanently removed from His presence.  I can’t think of a Scripture that speaks to Him forgetting them at the moment, I don’t believe there is one (forgetting meaning not deletion of memory, but indifference).  Even if God dismisses those, I feel confident He will remember me solely on my standing in Christ.  In Christ, the presence of God is always with me through the Spirit, communication with Him has freely opened and mystery of mysteries, I am somehow IN Him.  No, He won’t forget me.

I’m okay with moving into oblivion.  Truthfully, it is sometimes painful because people are important to me, but I don’t see it as fatal because when all is said and done, it is a minor oblivion. The real oblivion that I fear is an impossibility, so long as I am found in Christ.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Spiritual Growth

 

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Up in Smoke: James 4:14 in Pictures

What started out just as a photography exercise for me has turned into this post.  When I sorted through these images I was surprised to see so many pictures inside the pictures.   I was mesmerized by how the smoke from a snuffed out flame captured the thought of this verse:

“Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” James 4:14

Not all is gloom and doom.  At the end of the slideshow I included some that I thought expressed these verses:

Let my prayer be set forth as incense before thee; The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Psalm 141:2

“And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.” Revelation 8:4

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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Photography: Truth in Images

 

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