I was born, christened, and baptized as an infant in the Roman Catholic Church. Until I was nine my family and I attended Catholic church services. I remember watching the priests carry the golden Holy Bible in a procession every Sunday service, waving smoking censers of incense. I remember watching the altar boys light the candles, and the deacons serve communion to the church members. I remember sometimes seeing brother monks in their brown habits and rope belts–and I had the impression that they were very holy. I also remember the holy water at the door and the Stations of the Cross hanging on the walls. Finally, I remember going through my classes on Catholic communion at the age of nine.
Shortly after I took the Eucharist in the Catholic church, my parents had an argument over the worship of Mary, works righteousness, and other un-Biblical beliefs in Roman Catholicism. This was because of the influence that by dad’s brother had on him. Both my dad and his brother were raised in a liberal mainline denomination called the Presbyterian Church (USA). My dad didn’t take Christianity very seriously, until his brother talked to him about faith in Christ, about the time my parents had this debate in 1994. This was when I was nine years old. By this time, my dad’s brother had joined a conservative Evangelical denomination called the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Once my dad got in touch with his rekindled Protestant faith, our family underwent our own little “Protestant Reformation.”
My mom was raised Catholic, so my parents eventually agreed to join the United Methodist Church, because their church services were similar to those of the Catholic church. I attended United Methodist services with my family from the time I was nine until I had a conversion experience when I was fourteen. Up until I was fourteen, the Roman Catholic and United Methodist church services did not have a profound impact on my spiritual life. I don’t recall ever once hearing the Gospel message of salvation in all those years we attended those churches. At one point when I was eight, sitting in a Catholic service, I thought to myself, “When I grow up, I am never going to church!” This was because it was all meaningless to me, and thus boring. All our family did to express our faith was go to church services, pray a little during dinner time, and pray “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” at bed time. We never read the Bible; and we didn’t know anything about spiritual experiences or modern day miracles. When I was thirteen I was confirmed in the United Methodist Church. Just like when I was taking Eucharist in the Catholic church at age nine–both of these rituals were meaningless, religious, and because my parents expected them of me. However, I did believe in the Christian idea of God ever since childhood: the Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit. I also had somewhat of an understanding of good and evil, but my spirit was not trained in Biblical ethics–because I had never read Scripture.
When I was fourteen, I became friends with a troublemaker, and one night we broke into our middle school for fun. The police caught us, and that was the end of that. I was greatly humiliated and broken by this experience, and was given 24 hours of community service. Shortly after this, another friend of mine invited me to come to Hellfighter Youth Church. It was a youth ministry of an independent Charismatic church. At that youth service, I heard the Gospel for the first time in my life. It was short and to the point: “Everybody is a sinner and deserves to go to Hell when they die, but Jesus died on the cross for your sins. If you will change your ways, and ask for God’s forgiveness of your sins in Jesus’ Name, and make Him the Lord of your life–that means He’s the Boss–you will be saved and go to Heaven. Don’t leave here tonight without Jesus. He could come back tonight. You could die on the way home in a car wreck or die unexpectedly at some other time. Don’t put it off; make Jesus the Lord of your life right now.” At the preacher’s request several of us young people raised our heads up to him in a silent confession of repentance and faith. I had become a born again Christian; and made the decision to live for God the rest of my life. This was my “conversion experience.”
For the next four years, until I turned 18 in 2003, I attended Hellfighter services on Saturday nights and my other friends’ Charismatic church on Sunday mornings. His dad was the pastor. I had two Charismatic friends that went to both of these services with me and helped me to grow in the Lord. Eventually we stopped attending the Hellfighter services, because of some drastic changes in the services, and the way they were approaching youth ministry–it had lost a lot of its grit and cutting edge. During these four years at this new Charismatic church, I learned to worship God in the Spirit (with concentration and spontaneous tongues), feeling God’s presence, and hearing sermons on the mark of the beast and the end times. However, I never got to know anybody in that church except for my two friends. And some of the church members were carnally minded. Nevertheless, now that I had resolved to live for God, I was genuinely interested in what the preacher had to say in his sermons. And when my new found zeal for Christ was noticed by my dad, he suggested that I read the Bible. So I read the NIV Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
As I read the Bible, and all of its moral commandments, I tried to live by the Bible–which resulted in legalism and judgmentalism. I judged my family all the time, telling them to live by the Bible–for they were churchgoers. And because so few people I knew were living by the Bible, people couldn’t persuade me to show grace to others and “judge not lest I be judged.” The way I saw it–if you go to church, then you need to live by the Bible. I didn’t want my family to go to Hell. I lost friends because of this too. It was very hard for me to show grace to churchgoers who were knowingly not living by the Bible, and actually got angry when I said they were not behaving or believing in a certain Biblical way–though I was always sure to tell them what to do. But this still made them angry–even though they were faithful churchgoers. Ironically, it was at this time that people starting telling me that I’m being called to “the ministry.” And I began to believe them. The reason why I liked to talk about the Bible all the time, they said, is because God is calling me to be a preacher. For 2 years I carried this same spirit of judgmentalism into college. Occasionally when I visited home, I attended my friends’ Charismatic church.
Although I was judgmental, I had also undergone a great reformation in my personal morals and ethical behavior by the year 2005. It was during the summer of 2005, that a friend at a Christian summer camp introduced me to the idea of prophetic visions. He also let me read from his new copy of Kris Vallotton’s Basic Training for the Prophetic Ministry. So it was these two books: the Bible and Vallotton’s book that shaped me in the direction of Evangelical mysticism that I follow today. But there were still more developments to come. After summer was over, I went to college and began to research about visions on Google, Wikipedia, the online Catholic Encyclopedia, and other Internet sites. When I began to do this in late 2005, it opened up the world of Christian mysticism to me. A whole new world. In 2006, I had an “open Heaven”–or a season of prophetic experiences. Dreams, visions, voices, and coincidences were abounding (thanks be to God). I had meticulously recorded them in a journal called Supernatural Experiences. I did this to increase my faith. Whenever I would have doubt, I would look back in my prophetic journal, and my faith would increase. Both divine and demonic experiences were recorded. I began to practice contemplation in order hear God’s still small voice and to see visions in my imagination with my eyes closed. I would concentrate on Jesus or God for 30 minutes or more in quiet stillness, and wait for a voice or vision from God.
In about a year or two later, I became more and more aware of Bible-believing Evangelicals criticizing me of “New Age” practices and beliefs. What were they even talking about? They kept on using phrases like “Eastern meditation” when they spoke against this new practice of contemplative prayer that I had discovered. I didn’t know where they were coming from. All I knew is that I was seeking God’s face and I wanted Him to speak to me. In early 2009, I read Jim Goll’s Wasted on Jesus which discusses contemplation, but only says that contemplative prayer is not “New Age.” “What is this ‘New Age’ phrase that keeps popping up?” I thought. Eventually, in late 2009 I met with two Evangelical books about this “New Age” topic. Dave Hunt and T. A. McMahon’s The Seduction of Christianity and Douglas Groothuis’ Confronting the New Age. Through these books, I received the revelation that there is an occultic movement called the New Age movement. It mixes all faiths and religions together, and is essentially Hindu, and promotes reincarnation. The New Age gospel is one of Transcendental Meditation, Yoga, and Zen–in other words “Eastern meditation.” This is how one attains “nirvana” or pagan ecstasy, and is assured of breaking the cycle of reincarnation. Now I knew for sure that what I was practicing was NOT NEW AGE! New Agers contemplate a completely different god and have a different belief system. I also became extremely sensitive to New Age Christianity as expressed in liberal Christian mystic writers like Morton Kelsey, Agnes Sanford, Thomas Merton, William James, and Evelyn Underhill. These are New Age Christian mystics, but I didn’t fall into their category. I believed in Evangelical Christianity, and that Jesus is the only Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6). I didn’t agree with these New Age Christians speaking about borrowing meditation techniques from Hindu gurus and Buddhist monks.
So I began to refine an understanding of my version of Christian spirituality. It was Evangelical, Charismatic, AND Contemplative (mystical). Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water explains these three Christian traditions very well. I made my own simple statement of faith, looking first to the statement of the National Association of Evangelicals. And then incorporating the practice of contemplation, and the experiences of dreams, visions, voices, impressions, and divine coincidences into my new experiential theology. In 2010, I compiled what I have learned thus far in my book called How to Experience God. It deals with contemplation, spiritual experiences, spiritual discernment, rejection of New Age spirituality, and material on defending contemplative prayer against those who accuse it as a New Age meditation technique. Now I can positively identify myself as an “Evangelical mystic”–and find that I belong to a historical stream of others who have been called by this name. The Quakers, the Methodists, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, Pentecostals, Charismatics, and others.