The Unlikely Christian

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Let me just start out by saying that my story is nothing exciting and when I say nothing exciting, I mean I didn’t have a Damascus Road experience, God didn’t save me from driving off a bridge or get me off drugs or anything exciting like that.  But He did rescue me, and if you knew me before, you’d think it just as miraculous.  I know I do.  #SoGrateful

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Okay, now on to my story.

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I’d like to start off with a blog entry I wrote years ago on another site.   It pretty much summed up the empty feeling I’ve always had in my life.

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Just thinking…..

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So do you ever feel like something is missing in your life?  Something you can’t quite put your finger on but know it’s there nonetheless?  I do.  It has nothing to do with my family, I’m very happy with my family life.  And it’s not middle age crazy or a mid-life crisis because I’ve been wrestling with the feeling for most of my adult life.  It has to do with something else.  What am I supposed to do in life?

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I can’t shake the thought that I was meant to do more, that I have some kind of higher or other purpose that is within me.  Now don’t get me wrong, it might not be anything spectacular.  I don’t have visions of grandeur.  I don’t think I’m supposed to cure cancer, solve the problems in the Middle East, stop global warming or come up with the answers to the meaning of life.  And I’m not a religious man so it has nothing to do with God.  So what is it? I don’t know.  I just know that I’m meant to do something other than what I’m doing now which I know I’m not supposed to be doing. Does that make sense?

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I have a good job that pays the bills and has allowed my wife to be a stay at home mom (which according to her is what she was meant to do).  My job gives me a lot of freedom and pays a good wage as long as I’m working hard. I don’t hate-hate my job.  I really don’t like being a salesman but as far as jobs go, I guess I’ve got a pretty good one.  And maybe my purpose has nothing to do with a different career path.  I do tend to focus on that aspect of my life because it’s the one part that doesn’t seem right but I may be looking in the total wrong direction.  Besides at this point in my life I wouldn’t even consider a career change unless the purpose light bulb appeared over my head and it all became clear.  I can’t afford to.

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I have searched inward for the answer but I haven’t really come up with anything definitive and truth be told it’s hard to search for the answer when you don’t even know where to look.  I don’t know if it’s something that’s just going to come to me one day or if I’ll gradually figure it out on my own.  At this point I don’t know if I’ll ever know and that sucks.

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It’s not something that bothers me on a daily basis even though the feeling is always there.  Sometimes I catch it eating away at me a little but it’s not like it’s consuming my life or getting in the way of things. It’s just aggravating.  So I felt like blogging about it. Who knows, maybe somebody out there in blogland has the answer or maybe it’s just gas.

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The below is a comment left by my sister:

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Maybe you’re just supposed to have more important experiences.  You haven’t visited much of the U.S. Maybe you’ll start trying new foods.  Maybe there are doors that are going to open and then you’ll figure it out.  Maybe God has a plan for you even though you don’t acknowledge it.  You’re a good person, maybe you’re meant to spread the good around a little more.  Think of things you’d like to do and do them.  Experience life!  Dance with your wife like nobody’s watching!

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“Maybe God has a plan for you even though you don’t acknowledge it.”

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So here’s my story:

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I’ve never been a church guy.  In fact, I could have easily been the poster boy for any Non-Church Guy organizations out there.

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My early experiences with various churches were all negative.  My mother forced me to go, thinking it was the right thing to do.  And in her defense, if any kid needed God, it was certainly me.  And then there was my dad.  He didn’t go to church, he went fishing.  So guess what I wanted to do?  Forcibly attend church with mom or go fishing with dad?  Well unfortunately for me, I was never given the choice between the two and as a result I’m still a lousy fisherman to this day.

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Another by-product of the above is that I became extremely resentful of church, in fact I downright hated it.  I gladly expressed that fact to my mother every Sunday morning before church and every Sunday afternoon after church.  Her answer to that was, “Well then we’ll just have to try a different church next Sunday.”  I don’t know how many different churches / religions we tried over the years.  There were plenty to be sure but none of them had the desired effect my mom was shooting for.  It kind of had the opposite effect.  I hated church and consequently I now hated religion as well.  And that’s how I’ve felt pretty much all of my life.  I’d like to say that I hold no ill will against my mother and her decisions on how I spent my Sundays.  As I’ve come to find out, parenting is an inexact science.  There are no instructions manuals, flowcharts or remote controls that come with your kids.  One size does not fit all. Sometimes all a parent can do is make what they think are the best decisions at the time.  Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t but as long as the intent was good then it’s hard to find fault.

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So growing up not only did I not like church, I didn’t like Christians.  I couldn’t relate to Christian kids at all.  They were the goody goody kids that dressed nice, made good grades and got along much too well with teachers.  I always saw them as sadly naïve, sheltered and weird, far, far away from anything I wanted to be.  Christians weren’t hell raisers and they certainly didn’t have any fun.  They went to Vacation Bible School and Christian camp over the summer for crying out loud!  I on the other hand skipped school, went to Ozzy Osbourne concerts and partied like a rock star, well as much as I could on a teenager’s budget.  I was simply too cool to be a Christian.  Those guys were dorks.

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And then there were the Christian adults.  As far as I was concerned all adult Christians fell into one of the below 3 categories, each of which I loathed:

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1. The Self Righteous – All high and mighty in their polyester Sunday school clothes, looking down their nose at you.  Hassling you about that devil rock music.

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2. The Creepy – Overly interested and nice in such a creepy way.  I always felt super uncomfortable around these guys. 

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3. The Fake – They get all dressed up for church on Sunday, all smiles, shaking everybody’s hand, putting their best foot forward, seemed like genuinely nice people but later that same afternoon they are cussing at me because I’m riding my bike too close to their truck.  Their truck that’s illegally parked in the street.  Their truck that has all the empty beer cans in the back.  Their truck with the Baptist fish symbol on the tailgate.

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Not only did I not like Christians.  My relationship with God was non-existent.

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There were times when I wasn’t really sure that there was a God.  How could there be with all of the terrible things that were going on?  I certainly wasn’t going to give up my Sunday morning sleep-in to worship somebody that just sits idle while horrible injustices are going on all over the world.  I also found it almost humorously ironic that churches weren’t spared when it came to natural disasters?  Why would God not protect the houses of the holy?  I remember watching the news and seeing reports of churches that had been burned to the ground or destroyed by a tornado.  Then they’d interview people in the congregation who would not be deterred.  “We will be holding services here in the parking lot this Sunday, so be sure and bring some lawn chairs.”  Why? God let your church get destroyed.  Doesn’t that tell you something?  Like maybe there is no God or if there is then He obviously doesn’t care so why bother with Him?

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And not to mention all of the deaths throughout history in the name of religion.  That is a whole book within itself.  What happened to Thou shalt not kill?

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And what’s with all the different religions?  Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, Jewish, Amish, Mormon etc…… And each of those religions have their little spin off sects.  I had serious questions as to how there could be that many.  Isn’t there only one God, one Bible, one message?  Or is the Bible that ambiguous that it can be interpreted that many different ways?  And then there’s Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism etc….. Aren’t those completely different as well?  And what about the “crazy” religions like The Moonies, Hare Krishnas, Branch Davidians etc….. They certainly weren’t of any help in pushing me towards finding God.  Since nobody seemed to be on the same page, that just made me believe that maybe it’s all just a scam.

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Then there was The Bible.  Now I’ll fully admit that I was ignorant when it came to The Bible but that didn’t keep me from being opinionated about it.  First of all I thought The New Testament was a re-writing of The Old Testament.  I thought it was the new and improved version of The Bible which seemed to me like a contradiction.  Then there were all of the ridiculous stories.  A guy gets eaten by a fish and lives inside him for days, Noah’s ark, turning sticks into snakes, some guy thrown in a lion’s den who doesn‘t get mauled, a burning bush talking to Moses, some guy who’s strength is tied to the length of his hair, people living 900 years etc…. It sounded like a fantasy to me.  Couldn’t we just as easily be worshipping Zeus or Apollo or one of those other colorful characters of the mythological world?  Were they not just as believable?  They definitely had cooler names.

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So because of all the afore mentioned reasons, I always saw Christians as being weak minded.  Putting their trust in something that can’t been seen.  Something that there is no proof ever existed unless you believe a bunch of wild stories in a big book.  Something so many people refute.  Something that on the surface doesn’t seem to get you anywhere.  How can an intelligent person buy that stock?  I basically thought of Christians as a type of cult, a nice cult but a cult nonetheless.  While I am a little fascinated by cults I am not looking to join one.  I can think for myself thank you very much.

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And looking back on the well known Jesus peddlers of my life.  With the exception of Billy Graham the others weren’t very good cover models.  The televangelists confirmed my feelings.  Jim Bakker – Sex scandal, mail fraud etc….  Benny Hinn – Entertaining but ridiculous.  How about Jim Jones? Robert Tilton? Jerry Falwell?  I know Jerry meant well but come on, he actually insinuated that one of the teletubbies was homosexual.  I enjoyed watching these train wrecks fall from grace.  They wrongly showed me what I already suspected religion to be, big business.  “Send us your money and God will answer your prayers.”  I think on a small scale that is what religion is to some, a business.  I read somewhere that Jim Bakker’s PTL Ministries was bringing in approximately $1Million a week from viewers of his programs.  Think of all the good he could have done with that kind of cash.  Instead his legacy will be marrying the over crying, too much mascara wearing Tammy Faye and paying his mistress, Jessica Hahn $280K in hush money.

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Religion?  I’ll pass.

Church?  Ummm, no thanks.

God?  Not today thank you.

Can I ask you about your relationship with Jesus?  Ummm sure if you’d liked to get socked in the stomach.

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So that was me.  That’s how I lived my life.  Far removed from the constraints of church and religion.  Yep that was me……….. It was me anyway.

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My wife, yes I did get married, in a church and to a Christian no less, go figure but I still didn’t go to church and had no interest in it whatsoever.  My Christian bride knew how I felt about it and knew that unless she wanted to get into a verbal spar that religion was not a topic for discussion, ever.  Anyway, my wife started a friendship with a lady down the street.   Our kids were the same age and so they got together to let the kids play.  Turns out her husband was a pastor.  Great. I knew the time was coming when I’d have to meet said pastor and pretend to like him.  Obviously I wasn’t going to like him because no doubt he’d be typical Mr. Christian a.k.a. the kind of guy I despise.

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My wife had been wanting us to all get together so when I found out that he was a hockey fan we invited them over to watch a Stanley Cup playoff game.  At least that way I’d be able to watch hockey and not have to engage in meaningless conversation about why I don’t go to church etc…..  I even took things a step further.  I invited over one of my overly religious customers.  I felt like if he came over and saw that I had a minister over, then it could net me some more business from him.  If nothing else at least maybe those two could keep each other company talking about Jesus while I watched Dallas whip Buffalo.

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That night changed my perspective to a certain extent.  It turns out that the pastor was just a guy.  He didn’t mention church, God, The Bible, Moses….any of that stuff.  In fact in the whole time I’ve known him, he’s never urged me to go to church, find God, read The Bible or anything.  Maybe he knew a lost cause when he saw one or maybe he just liked having a friend outside of church.  Or maybe he knew that one day I’d come around and that just by being my friend it would have a small but no less significant role in moving me towards God.

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We got along really well that night and turned out to be good friends.  My friendship with him pretty much blew my weak minded theory right out of the water because that dude is smart.

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FAST FORWARD

10 years later I’m attending church every Sunday, attending Men’s Bible Studies, reading The Bible regularly as well as books by Max Lucado, Rick Warren, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, Andy Stanley, John Ortberg etc…..

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So with all of that baggage how in the world did I ever get to where I am today?

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There is no one word or simple answer to that question.  Well, yes there is – “God” but I didn’t know it at the time.  The only way I can describe it is, it was a Perfect Storm.  A combination of many elements which started coming together around the time I wrote that blog entry you read earlier.  Thoughts of God/Religion had always been there in my mind but it was buried very deep and it was quashed every time it tried to come up for air.  But then my sister went and left that comment on my blog and one sentence stuck with me, Maybe God has a plan for you even though you don’t acknowledge it.  The fact that that sentence spoke to me and stuck with me bothered me.  For some reason I couldn’t easily dismiss it this time like I could all the other times.  I tried to.  I remember my sarcastic response to her comment read something like this, “As far as God goes, I’ll be watching for his sign.  I’ll check my breakfast waffles daily for the image of the Virgin Mary.  If she shows up then I’ll sell it on e-bay and become rich and quit caring about my purpose….…

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If there was one defining moment in my turn around, that one sentence in the comment from my sister was it.  The door I could usually slam tightly shut stayed open.  It stayed open just a crack but even a crack is enough to let a little bit of light into a dark room.  For me that was the first of many nudges in the right direction.

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My wife and kids have always attended church without me.  The only time my wife ever asked me to go was one night a year, family night at VBS, to watch the kids perform.  So I went for them but going always brought back all of those feelings of “Yuck!”

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My family started going to a new church in April 2006 and told me it was different.  My wife, who’s never pressured me, said that if I ever wanted to try church again that this would be the place for me.  Me try church again?  Not likely.  I know how it would all go down.  The instant I walk in the door I would be sprayed with some type of odorless spray that only other church members could see that would tell everybody that I was a NEW GUY or VISITOR.  Which means be nice to him, we need his money.  Then much like a receiving line at a wedding reception, everybody would line up, shake my hand and be creepy nice to me.  No thanks. I’m not signing up for that.  For one thing I like to be left alone.  Not really interested in fellowshipping in the fellowship hall of the fellowship church.    

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Somehow she did talk me into coming to a church cookout, I’m a sucker for a free burger, and much to my surprise I noticed it was different.  It didn’t have that “Yuck Factor”.  I met the Pastor, he seemed perfectly normal and didn’t ask me questions or try to convert me on the spot, which has happened to me.  The people there seemed real, they weren’t dressed up or pretending to be something they weren’t.  It just felt like a regular cookout with regular people.  I came a few more times for special events and found the same thing.  And the church didn’t have that ‘churchy feel’ that I’d come to despise (I know, I’m telling you I had issues).  Looking back this was no doubt another one of the many nudges in the right direction.

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Bottom line is the tide was starting to turn for me and it was now impossible to ignore.  Even though it went against all I’d felt for 30+ years I decided to have another look.  So I checked out some books/audio books, surfed the web and listened to some of the pastor’s sermons on iTunes.  I visited the church website many times learning about what their beliefs were etc… Then I mulled things over and contemplated for awhile because that’s what I do.   I let it all marinate in my head for a few months and then on Sunday November 4th, 2007 I dropped the bomb on my wife and told her I was coming to church.  I think she thought it was a cruel joke until I actually walked in with her. 

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From there it’s gone pretty fast.  In December 2007 I received salvation in the parking lot of Home Depot and in February 2008 I was Baptized.  I’m a 38 year old newborn Christian.

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It has been a wonderful and life changing experience for me.  But it’s also been a little weird just because of who I was for so many years.  That guy was so against everything I’ve become that sometimes I almost feel like a hypocrite.  How is it that I’ve become what I used to loathe?  How is it that I’ve gone from night to day in such a short time span?  How is it that I so quickly pushed all my chips to the center of the table and said, “Jesus, I’m all-in.?”  Well the answer is pretty simple, I finally found what I was looking for.  It’s real. I know it.  I can feel it. I love it! 

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My wife asked me one day if I ever thought I’d be here.  I never in a million years thought I’d be here, partly because of who I was but mainly because I never knew here existed.

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Let me tell you, here is a nice place.

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And here is open to EVERYONE.

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“For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”Matthew 7:8 NLT

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