PRE-CONVERSION. I was born in Arlington Heights, IL into a nominally Catholic family. We went to services, called Mass, but there was no real practice of piety in daily life. My parents were good American citizens; it was a decent way of living; a middle class home. Both of my parents were of a conservative political, mainly Republican persuasion. They were decent, clean-cut, athletic, financially responsible citizens, who had successfully achieved the American Dream, my dad having a career as a mechanical engineer. We moved to Lexington, KY where my dad’s Presbyterian brother convinced him to leave Catholicism and where my parents agreed to attend United Methodist services; then we moved to West Bend, WI and to Raleigh, NC because of needed job transfers. Incidentally, my view of God was deistic; I believed in God, but not that He intervened personally into peoples lives.
CONVERSION. When I was 14 years old, the summer of 1999, I was buddies with a friend who was prone to get into trouble for fun. The idea came up that we should break into my Middle School at night time, because I lived so close to it. We thought it would be really fun to have the whole school to ourselves at night, when nobody was there. We really had nothing more than some “harmless” fun in mind, playing a sort of spy game. When we broke in, it was fun. It was such a rush. I had unlatched the window of one of my classes on the first floor. So, by the time of our little adventure, we simply opened up the window, and crawled inside. We ran all over the school halls in our sock feet, goofing around. It was then that I saw a little red light flashing over one of the doorways; and a feeling of fear came over me. I realized we had triggered some kind of motion sensor. Perhaps someone knew we were in the school; perhaps it was like an ADT system for burglars. (And that’s exactly what it was.) Not really fully sure what the light was, the fear remained in me, as I urged my friend and I to get out of the building; my friend was slow to get out, and was not at all worried, but I was. After slowly making our way down to the window from which we entered, and crawling out:–we had a snack of granola bars. As we were eating in the darkness, a group of men came around the corner with flashlights. At first I thought it was a bunch of young guys like us, but rough, and up to no good. I thought they were gangsters or something. “Hey! You! Stop!” And they ran after us. Were they gangsters looking for trouble? We split up and hid under some classroom trailers nearby. They were a group of police; the silent alarm in the school had alerted them. Eventually, they found us and put us in the back of a police car. We waited until our dads came to pick us up. It was so embarrassing and humiliating.
Shortly after this, a clerk of the Wake County Courthouse in Raleigh, NC gave me the option of going before a judge, and possibly going to Juvenile Hall; or doing 24 hours of community service. I chose community service as a janitor’s assistant at Lake Lynn Community Center.
After this, a different friend invited me to “Hellfighter”:–its full name was Hellfighter Youth Church, a youth ministry of Living Word Family Church in Wake Forest, NC. I didn’t really know that though. I was under the impression it was a secular “youth club” or something for grunge culture, skaters, and “freaks” (which it was). But it was still a youth ministry. Still under the weight of my guilt from my foolish and dangerous action with the school, the word “Hell” was pressing on my mind, and my heart was soft to hear what I believe was the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time. Up until then, I went to Catholic and United Methodist church services on Sundays with my family, but I had never heard the Gospel as a message of repentant faith in the cross that saves from Hell. Nobody had ever told me that; and it was perfect timing that I heard that message when I did. It was a short and to-the-point altar call at the end of the youth sermon. I raised my head at the pastor’s request to confess my commitment to live my life for Jesus as Lord, so my sins could be forgiven, and I would not have to go to Hell. It was at that moment of faith, that my life was changed; and I was born again to a new life of faith and growth in holiness (obedience to God’s Word; living by the Bible).
FILLING OF THE SPIRIT. Both Hellfighter Youth Church and Lamb’s Christian Center (which is where one of my new friends’ dad was pastor; and where I would choose to go to church freely) were nondenominational Charismatic churches. I remember one time when my new friend Luke and I were at a prayer meeting in Living Word Family Church (next to Hellfighter), and I saw Luke praying with fervency and emotion, his eyes closed, his hands raised in a kind of ecstasy, swaying back and forth, having some kind of deep experience of God. I didn’t understand it, but I knew I wanted it. I saw that he was making a strange sound with his mouth as he was praying. I had never heard anything like it. Eventually I came to understand this as the spiritual gift of tongues. Following his example, I just made this my regular way of worshiping. As I continued to seek God’s face, I discovered He had given me the gift as well. Closing my eyes, focusing on the Lord, raising my hands, swaying, dancing, as I felt led, and praising and worshiping God with all my heart to English worship songs, and with the sounds. Another phenomenon happened as I worshiped and prayed with the sounds; although it didn’t always happen, but gradually more and more, when I worshiped this way, focusing on the Lord and speaking in tongues:–I would feel a tangible manifest presence of the Holy Spirit surround me and comfort me with holy reverence and adoration of our great God and King. This feeling of the Spirit in worship I understand is called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And I believe I can be re-baptized in the Spirit with fresh fillings every time I choose to worship God in this manner. (However, I believe godly behavior, visions, dreams, prophecy, and healing are also signs of Spirit-baptism; though, I prefer speaking in tongues.)
SUBSEQUENT GROWTH UP TO THE PRESENT. From 1999 to 2005, I grew in Bible knowledge by reading the NIV from Genesis to Revelation; and then studying the NASB Ryrie Study Bible. These formative years, I practiced very legalistically, not knowing much of Reformation theology, or the doctrines of salvation, and the dynamics of Law and Gospel. My execution of the moral law in daily life was very conscientious, but my fear of Hell, unbalanced by a weak view of grace:–drove me to evangelize my family, friends, etc. as zealously and as strictly as possible. I had experienced a genuine conversion, but my mind was intellectually legalistic in its daily Christian application. When I sinned, I repented and asked for forgiveness by faith in the cross of Jesus, and I kept on trying to live holy; but I did not see why other people in my family who went to church did not try to live holy as well; and I tried very hard to show them that in God’s Book, the message is “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). God has given us rules in the Bible, moral principles, that He commands all Christians to obey; and I was very forceful about many things during these years. Partly out of fighting to preserve my own purity of mind from the ungodly pressures of others; partly out of a strong love for family and friends, to not want them to die without salvation. I strongly felt this way; but others did not have the strong consciousness of Hell that I did. I kept on hearing, “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1) over and over; I was told that being non-judgmental was the spiritual, Christ-like thing to do. That Jesus never judged anybody, and so I should not either; the only thing I should do is show tolerance and love everyone the way they are, and not try to change them. If they are in sin, then God will judge them one day. Most of the time this pitch just sounded like a sinner’s excuse; and had no power over my conscience to steer me away from my divine mandate to warn the world of God’s commands to obey His Law! (Misguided, and graceless zeal that it was, I was an evangelist at heart.) Although I had the Holy Spirit in me, empowering me to fulfill many of His commandments in daily life, on an intellectual level, I was probably a Pelagian (a do-it-yourselfer Christian); and just couldn’t see why so many other “Christians” were not doing what the Bible plainly says to do. (Looking back, I think many of those people never had a genuine experience of the Holy Spirit during those times, which would have rendered them incapable of hearing or obeying the Word of God. But I didn’t know about things such as “regeneration” and “sanctification”; I just saw two categories: the obedient and the disobedient.) Eventually, I became exhausted by a kind of Romans 7 flesh war. I prayed, “Lord! I can’t be a Christian anymore! It’s just too hard; there are too many rules in the Bible to obey! I want to be a Christian; I don’t want to go to Hell; oh! Please help me God!” And I heard a still, small voice immediately reply, “That’s why I died on the cross.” And I began to understand that the death of Christ was necessary, because it is impossible for man to keep the Law perfectly.
2006 was a very prophetic year for me; I was in the middle of my Philosophy and Religion program at UNC Pembroke; it’s when my views of salvation gradually started to develop; and when I started to receive divine dreams, and experience more signs and wonders. I kept a journal called “Supernatural Experiences” and had it in 4 hardback journal volumes, which are now gone. I learned about sermonindex.net and listened to many audio sermons by Leonard Ravenhill, David Wilkerson, and A. W. Tozer. I practiced contemplative prayer a lot; and was excited to experience direct revelations from God through dreams, visions, voices, impressions, and signs. The whole revelatory dimension of the Spirit was opening up to me; and it was so amazing; miracles of physical rain would happen on occasion in answer to faith-filled prayer, as God was building up my inner man! I wanted to experience the amazing things of God that the prophets in the Bible did; I didn’t think there was anything arrogant in this, I just thought, as a Charismatic, this is what God has to offer the body of Christ! I read James Goll and Julia Loren’s Shifting Shadows of Supernatural Experiences (2007), which my dad bought for me one Christmas; and it really confirmed in my heart that all these things I was experiencing were for real! I also learned that the devil is in the details, when you open yourself up to these realms, and you have to practice Biblical discernment in order to sort out God’s voice from the devil’s; and especially be on guard against New Age deceptions and teachings.
In the Summer of 2007, when I was working as a camp counselor at Hickory Cove Bible Camp in Taylorsville, NC, I read several Christian books that helped me to grow tremendously. The following is one of my journal entries, from August 2, 2007:
After reading a series of books during this summer, I noticed that they all magnified the topic of divine love. These books were Leonard Ravenhill’s Why Revival Tarries (1959), John Wesley’s A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1777), Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (1875), Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water (2001), and finally Os Guinness’ The Call (2003), and when I reached page 14 of this last book—I came to conclude that divine love is the highest good. After coming to this conclusion through a revelatory impression, I chose to sit still and meditate on it. As I sat still with my earmuffs meditating on the common teaching of divine love in this succession of books, I heard a quiet mental voice say, “There is nothing more important than love.”
God had made it clear to me that obedience to the moral commandments of God is to love God and man: that “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law” (Romans 13:10). That “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).
2008 is when I got married; and times were tough for several reasons. The recession had just hit; and although I had graduated, it was hard for many graduates to find a decent job. Both of our families did not want us to get married, because of our economic situation, and for other personal family issues going on. Rebekah and I had come to accept “house church” teachings from one of her professors, who got her converted, but had also taught her to distrust the organized church. He was influenced by the Jesus Movement; and since the 1980s was involved in the House Church Movement, heavily influenced by Watchman Nee, Gene Edwards, and Frank Viola’s teachings. There was some Biblical purity in the teachings; the main idea was to focus on developing Christian friendships, and not get lost in the “bigness” of the institutional church. Yet there were many other anti-clerical ideas he taught us. Over time, God showed us that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6); and that whether it is in the institutional church or in a house church, it doesn’t matter. I also struggled with my call to the ministry; and denominational guidance. I had seen a “prosperity gospel” being pushed in certain Pentecostal churches that I did not want any part of; and I just did not know where to go. This went on for 5 years; so I found work as a security guard until 2012. God was really testing my heart and my motives for ministry at this time; and I believe it was a necessary, prophetically-led purification process.
On July 14, 2011, I had a dream that revolutionized my spiritual life. Being a firm believer that God speaks through dreams (Acts 2:17), I dreamed that my wife and I were at a Methodist summer camp I worked at for several summers. I had my NIV Study Bible and Steve Harper’s The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley (2003). As I came out of the car in the dream (at night), I saw the camp director and someone else looking out the office window at me. (In real life, this camp director was eventually fired for misusing the camp’s money to start his own private sports camp.) I felt the dream meant the body of Christ is desperately in need of hearing the Gospel that Wesley and the Puritan reformers preached during the Great Awakening. Eventually I studied a series of Wesleyan books on soteriology, and developed a good understanding of repentance, faith, justification, regeneration, judgment, eternal punishment:–and generally the “order of salvation.” I also went street preaching in Raleigh, NC whenever I could. As I embarked on my evangelistic quest, I got connected with another street preacher whom I will call George. He leaned more to the Calvinist (George Whitefield) view; and I more to the Arminian (John Wesley) view; but we balanced each other out by mid-2012; and decided that predestination is a doctrine that can be set aside for the common cause of evangelism. God made it clear to us that repentant faith in the cross saves from Hell and empowers holy living; and on this Gospel we could agree. Influenced by “New Calvinists” like John MacArthur, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll; and his passion for apologetics, eventually George balanced me out, and enabled me to develop a respect for aspects of Reformed and Puritan theology. But I am still very Arminian; and he’s not a “card-carrying Calvinist”; and we give each other brotherly gibes; and still joke about it on occasion.
George also balanced me out about ecclesiology. He had tried the house church thing too; and concluded it was not the will of God, because it lacked consistent fellowship, and led too often to isolation with family on Sunday mornings. He started attending an Elim Fellowship church in Garner, NC regularly; and started exhorting me to find a local body too. Our Bible studies in his house were no replacement for being plugged in to a local church. This was his stance; and since I had felt dissatisfied with the results of the house church approach, felt called to ministry, and that in this new light, and with these new evangelistic views, and that God had prophetically led me to meet George, I felt that he was speaking from the Holy Spirit. I felt that I should read the newly released book: Mack Tomlinson’s In Light of Eternity: The Life of Leonard Ravenhill (2010), because I was trying to perfect myself as a street preacher, and was just looking for spiritual guidance. This book answered a lot of my questions. One of which was, “What denominations did Ravenhill respect enough to associate with?” One that stood out to me was the Christian & Missionary Alliance, because of his friendship with A. W. Tozer. We were living in Durham, NC at the time; and I felt settled for us to attend a C&MA church; this restored my faith in the efficacy of the organized church and the organized ministry, when it is done the right way. However, we couldn’t stay there for long, because my security job was making my schedule erratic; eventually we felt the Lord give us permission to quit that job and move to Dunn, NC closer to my wife’s family. After finding a job and getting settled in Dunn, we received an e-mail from the old pastor that said he missed us, but knew a Pastor _____ at a nearby C&MA church, very close to where we ended up moving! And God has been knitting me together with Pastor _____ recently, teaching me various things about shepherding. I feel I have a “new hope” to pursue a godly ministry calling at last!