Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Story

I was christened in the Anglican church at the instigation of my nominal Anglican mother and my agnostic father. In the early years of my childhood I was “encouraged” to attend Sunday School, but didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I was a bit of a troublemaker.

As quickly as I could, I got out of the church scene and by the time my High School years arrived was a committed atheist. My early years in the church had provided me with just enough information to challenge those who held Christian views. The worst example of this very bad behaviour on my part was my sister. She had made a Christian commitment through her school Christian club and was confirmed in the Anglican Church. Unfortunately a combination of my ridicule, an overly enthusiastic Pentecostal teacher and the bad influence of friends resulted in her falling away. I still feel bad about that!

At high school, I achieved well academically and above averagely on the sporting field. I made the top rugby team at school in my second to last year – this was a defining moment – until then I had been a “good boy”! I was still pretty much a good boy, but became a pretty heavily drinking good boy! The rugby culture was to go out and get smashed after every game (I suspect in an effort to attract women!) I bought into this with my friends and it became a regular activity…

When I left school, I went to University and enrolled for a mixed arts/law degree. In that first year my school friendships seemed to become increasingly distant. I began to tire of the mindless drinking. This did not go down to well with my friends.

In the meantime, University had reunited me with an old friend – well we were going to the same educational institution again – we had remained friends, but the immediacy of my school friends had taken over to some extent. Gary was a Christian and he often invited me to various events that his youth group were running. I went along to mainly social events from time to time. I couldn’t question how genuinely nice many of these people were. They impressed me as human beings but generally puzzled me as misguided, religious fanatics...

My dissatisfaction with my previous patterns and exposure to this new group of people collided. In my private moments I admitted to myself that I wanted something more from life…I even named it as being what these people had…but realised that for me God was not in the equation.

Gary continued to persist and invited me to attend a Youth Camp – Summer Harvest (funny how I never realised that the name was referring to me!) This camp was held in the beautiful Bay of Islands in the north of NZ. Gary had sold it to me – all I had to was attend the morning meetings and I could spend the rest of the day on the private surf beach. He also dropped in that there were 1,500 people attending…a quick bit of maths and I decided the odds were appealing – 1,500 divided by 2 = !!!!!!

In the days leading up to the camp my own questions continued to surface. Until one day, the atheist prayed to the God he didn’t believe in and gave him one week to make himself known. It seemed like a very tall order so I felt pretty safe.

The camp proceeded and it was all I had hoped for…sun, sea, surf and senoritas! Problem was these nice Christian girls seemed friendly to a point, but beyond that the shutters went up…I went to the meetings and one night responded to an invitation that went something like this:

“If you want to become a Christian, stand up”

This fitted me perfectly. I wanted to become a Christian. I was attracted to the lifestyle, the sense of purpose, the focus beyond myself. But, I still didn’t believe in God. The speaker had a reputation as a bit of a Holy Spirit merchant so I hoped God would zap me. He didn’t, so I sat down. God still doesn’t perform on my command.

I was disappointed. I realised my quest was at an end. I had tried to reason my way into belief in God. I had tried to befriend my way into his Kingdom. I had tried to match my social conscience with His. And at the last I had even tried to show faith, albeit that I had none.

I ended up talking with one of the older guys that night. I recognised that the only barrier stopping me becoming a Christian was my lack of belief in God. Some barrier! I realised that all my efforts were not going to be enough. That was just the way it was.

I went to bed with a degree of peace. I had been struggling a bit with the whole thing and it had wound me up more than I realised.

I awoke the next morning. And realised I believed in God.

That morning in the meeting, I committed my life to Jesus Christ – no counsellors, no altar call – just me and Him. I told Gary whose reaction betrayed his surprise. Almost immediately another non-Christian friend who Gary had also dragged along came up to me and asked me what I thought of all this stuff. My first opportunity to witness. I said, “I guess I believe it!” His reaction displayed his surprise as well and not a little hurt at being left in the madman’s den on his own!

The day was fantastic. Everything seemed that little bit sharper. The wonder of a creation that had a Creator. I won the surf flags race at the beach. I don’t think God helped me, but the victory was all the sweeter for doing it in Him. I still treasure that moment of achievement.

I returned home and began visiting churches. Early on a wise pastor advised me to find a home church and settle down. I had 2 choices – go to Gary’s church a successful, spirit-filled Baptist church that is now the second biggest church in our area or go to the run down Methodist church with the newly appointed Youth Worker. I chose the second. I became a Youth leader very (too?) early in my walk. I grew a relationship with God.

And later this Church would become the place in which my ministry developed and after the church split, the community in which my call to full time ministry would be confirmed.

God had his reasons I guess for doing things this way. There is a verse that echoes this for me:

1 Corinthians 2

4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.

I know that all I am as a person is a result of his power, not my own wisdom. As a competent, relatively intelligent individual this is an absolute starting point for me. Everything that is now me is dependent on Him first providing a way for me to know and love Him. And now that He has, my life is His.


Rhett said...

Good post! I always love reading this kind of stuff. And I never knew you had such a close brush with the One True Faith.

...If you had ended up at that church, you could have been my parents pastor! ...oh...wait...

Dale Campbell said...

enjoyed that, sir :)

I've always like the saying that it's not that unbelievers can't, believe, but ultimately that they don't want to believe. And I mean that not in some trite, simplistic sense, but in the sense that I think it well expresses simplicity on the far side of complexity :) At the end of the (quite long/complex) day, that's pretty true.

Fey family said...

Love the testimony brother. I really enjoyed reading the story.

BJ said...

Rhett - yeah, it was a close call...I guess I was just lucky...

Dale - Funny thing it was a long time before I reflected intellectually on what happened. Was I brainwashed? Am I mentally ill? (more likely) Was it some kind of hallucination? These were not questions I was asking myself but more options that I wanted to discount that others might suggest. In the end the MOST rational explanation is: God.

Martin - funny how things turn out!

Jim said...

You a trouble maker...

Steve Goble said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this too. Great post!