FAR OUT IN AN UNCHARTED BACKWATER…
My testimony starts like a lot that I have heard…
I was raised in a Christian home, by Christian parents who did, as far as I could tell, everything right.
When I was 4 years old they accepted the call to Christian service and took up the posts of managers in a Christian hotel in Minehead, England. This meant that summer after summer I was surrounded by the people of different church groups that came to our hotel for a vacation of Christian fellowship. The company mum & dad worked for was called Baptist Holiday Fellowship, BHF.
So outwardly I was a good Christian boy, and was well thought of by the pastors and families that visited with us.
However I was always bothered by the fact that there was a God in Heaven, he knew everything, and my life as a Christian was thus mapped out for me and I could not deviate from the path.
I wanted to deviate, I wanted to figure out how I could be a sinner and get away with it. I bided my time.
THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION
I’m not sure when I first heard about the theory of evolution, maybe 12 or 13, but I knew that this was the answer. I was surprised at first, and I thought it was rather audacious that someone would suggest that there was an origin of humankind that did not have a God, but I was quite delighted and began to pursue it.
I gravitated towards the biological sciences in school and then in college. I knew I would be going out on a limb to throw in my lot with evolution so I wanted to be sure, and I familiarized myself with the entire rationale behind the theory of godless existence. I also was becoming more and more involved with alcohol and drugs, specifically Cannabis.
I came to the USA as an exchange student in 1988 and then added immorality to my list of sins.
In 1990 I entered graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill and shortly found myself studying Paleobotany. I quickly mastered the rationale behind the geological timescale, and I studied plant specimens attributed to the Devonian period, about 350 million years ago.
I should point out that I was an arrogant elitist brat and I really thought that I was smarter than everybody else. I imagined myself as on a par with the likes of Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan. I was obnoxious and rude. I did myself no favors at all, even when it was obvious that I was floundering badly in my studies. To make matters worse, I made the mistake of exposing a major weakness in the experimental method. To make a long story short, I showed that your experimental result is entirely dependent on your experimental design: garbage in, garbage out. This means that scientists can not help but produce biased results, because the supposedly impartial experiments are themselves constructed by the theoretical paradigm that you are in.
I was married and things were not going well. I was forced to leave the Ph.D. Program at Carolina with a Master’s degree, but I convinced myself that this was not failure. I continued in the scientific field as an independent contractor, but over time this morphed into a landscape gardening business.
I had a variety of setbacks in the professional science world. I haven’t written this yet.
THE DOORMAN AT HELL
In September 1996 Hurricane Fran came to town and then I became a guy with a pickup truck and a chainsaw. By Christmas of that year my marriage was over and I was homeless, separated, and we had a 2-year-old child to look after.
My substance abuse problems were at their worst and my head was in a fog most of the time.
Anyone who claims that pot smoking pot can’t hurt you is either lying or doesn’t know better, because it caused me to become psychotically ill, suffering from what was probably paranoid schizophrenia.
The paranoia was compounded by the way that I had meticulously crafted a world view of life without God. Of course, I had tried to prove to myself that there was no God so that I could sin without guilt, but it didn’t matter how well I understood the theory of evolution, the guilt was still there. It was a nightmarish existence where all of my waking thoughts were haunted by the notion that our sole reason to exist is to have offspring. Evolution can only function if our offspring are better than we are, more adapted, ant then we die. Then what waits for us after life is over?
The problem with being paranoid is that you can’t stop thinking that the inconsequential things that happen to you on a daily basis are somehow coordinated by some great power that is observing our every action. Big Brother. Then you wonder how on earth this power could understand the full extent of your life well enough to cause an apparently chance encounter with something that is an intimate secret. When you’re high as a kite on dope and your mind can’t let these things go it doesn’t take long to realize that this has to be a power that is above even Government, and then if that is the case then it could only be the work of Satan himself, and if Satan exists then God is not far behind, and death is not the sweet nonexistence of becoming worm food that the evolutionist prays for, but the reality of burning in hell for eternity.
Not fun. It was a waking nightmare of looming darkness and a painful and traumatic death. By now I was working as a bouncer in a nightclub. It was called Hell, so I was literally the doorman of Hell.
My dad visited me in the summer of 1997. and I think his and my mom’s fervent prayers allowed a small ray of light into my troubled mind.
My daughter was still very small but she was very intelligent, and one day as we were driving around in my old pickup truck she began to be very upset and I remember her crying out, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.” Thinking of a way to console her I told her that, if she believed in Jesus Christ, she would never die. Then I knew what a vile traitor I was.
So in July 1997, all alone in an old farmhouse in the country, I fell down on my knees and begged Jesus to save me, and I expected a lightening bolt to come through the ceiling and fry me on the spot – it was what I deserved.
But it didn’t, and there I was, all alone, saved,
I was alone, separated from my wife, my career as a Scientist was in ruins, I was thousands of miles away from my family, no church, and just a rag-tag bunch of alcoholics and drugs addicts as my “support” network.
I didn’t really understand what had happened, but I was definitely saved.
I met a woman who was as messed up as I was and who had a head full of new-age psycho-social mumbo jumbo, and we started to pick our way through it. Yet I had no clue what to do next and all my friends were the same alcoholics, pot smokers and crack heads. It took a while but I read the Bible, and then I started going to church – in that order. This was the beginning of a very rocky relationship as I tried to find someone, anyone, who believed the Bible. I spent time with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Judea Reform, Southern Baptists, and didn’t find what I was looking for.
In September 1999, thinking I was called to Christian service I took a job as custodian of a large Presbyterian church. More disappointment as I met more and more people who knew nothing about the Bible, just how to play church.
In my 2nd week the Pastoral staff decided to clean out the library. They filled up large trash can liners of books they didn’t want and asked me to get rid of them. I filled the bed of a full-size pickup truck with the books they discarded. I took them away, but I didn’t get rid of them. I spent 6 months combing through the collection. For the most part I was in shock to see the disappointment and betrayal that was represented in those volumes. Biblical criticism, psychology, unbelief. Pure vanity heaped upon vanity as human minds attempted to rationalize God out of the Bible and out of existence.There were a couple of gems that I saved and kept until now. An interlinear Genesis and Exodus, and an Analytical Lexicon of Hebrew. These I have used to great effect in the work of Matty’s Paradigm.
Emptying trash cans first thing in the morning in this big modern church meant I got a great opportunity to study the book shelves in the pastoral offices – horrifying. As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word, but here I only found poison.
I did find a few gems that have been with me ever since: an Interlinear Genesis/Exodus, and Hebrew/Chaldee lexicon
My girlfriend and I split up, and I spent 6 months homeless, living in my pick up truck down by the lake. I loved life and the Lord and had a very blessed experience. I saved up to buy a 4 volume set of the ISBE, even though I was homeless and was making 2 child support payments. And even though she and I did not live together very long I was to her like a brother and looked after her through some very difficult times in her life. She has a testimony of being born again.
In September of 2000 I then moved on to be Facilities Manager at a very large Episcopal Parrish (no luck there either). By now I had begun to think that Christianity had gone completely cold and that there was barely even a remnant of faith left on earth.
September 11, 2001 will live in infamy. Islamic extremists attacked the USA and destroyed the World Trade Center buildings, among other things. That was a Thursday. The following Sunday I decided to give church one last try and I walked into an Independent Fundamental Baptist church. You cannot imaging my joy at hearing the Bible preached and people actually talking seriously about hellfire and damnation…. This was the beginning of my education, as they taught me hermeneutics, eschatology and I read the Bible 5 more times in 5 years.
I was on fire for the Lord at this time, church 3 times a week, sang in the choir, never missed a work day or an opportunity to go out doing door-to-door evangelism.
Here I learned how to study the Bible for real. Soon after they offered to let me live in their parsonage in exchange for grounds keeping, so I accepted readily believing that this was full-time service. I was single, with two kids, two ex-wives and this was a source of discomfort to the fundamentalists. To make matters worse, I wrote a lot of work on the physics of creation and this became a source of contention between me and the Pastor.
Things went badly wrong when I challenged the pastor on something he preached on. He said “Scientists have surmised…” while preaching to which I took an exception. The interaction spiraled out of control until I was voted out of the church.
The problem now was that I thought I knew so much about the Bible, especially about the creation, that I decided to explain it to the pastor. This did not go down very well, and the exchange degenerated so badly that I was subjected to church discipline, according to the process outlined in Matthew Ch. 18. I was voted out of the church.
I out-fundamentaled the fundamentalists. I think that this must have been round about spring 2007. I visited Hillsong for the first time at this time but I soon fell into a lazy lifestyle of not going to church anywhere.
ON THE SHELF
I had to move out, so I moved to an apartment community where there were a large number of Burmese Karen refugees, a group with which I had strong ties because of working with them at the University of North Carolina.
This was about 2007. I got stuck on my 8th time reading the Bible and floundered such that I restarted a couple of times but couldn’t seem to stick with it.
I was feeling pretty washed up at this point. I had been a single parent for 8 years, and under the strict oversight of the fundamentalist church this was not a problem, but now that I was out on my own there was nothing to stop me from getting involved with, and marrying one of the Karen. Here also I took a job 80 miles away in Winston-Salem, believing that my wife would get a job there and we would move the family.
The good that came out of this was that I became involved with the church again and did everything I could to help the Burmese Karen community. But they didn’t need my help.
We had a child and very soon after got separated, then back together, then separated, then back together, then separated again.
And so this is where I found myself. 3 children, 3 ex-wives, commuting 160 miles everyday to work the night shift. Sometimes it felt like I was barely existing, just going through this difficult slog every week.
I spent a good bit of time with the Christian Karen Burmese refugee community, but since I didn’t understand the language I wasn’t able to really appreciate it very much.
So the thing that has been on my mind is this: The parable of the sower:
He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)
I believe that Jesus is speaking to born again believers here, for several reasons, especially the “becometh unfruitful.” So obviously the potential was there for the seed to bear fruit.
And then there is the passage in 1 Corinthians:
Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
So my thoughts have been on this ridiculous mess I have made, and seem still capable of making it worse, coupled with the great riches that have been given me. What have I got to show for it? Just a bunch of angry people and a complicated, busy life. What at this point can I possibly contribute?
Which brings me to Romans:
I beseech you brethren, by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1)
And so about 2011 I found my way to Hillsong Church, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was idling along in my life, no real clue what to do. Except for the fact that I knew exactly what to do I just didn’t know how to do it. My ears tingles when our Pastor announced an opportunity to travel on a mission trip to Kombolcha, Ethiopia. I am a very experienced traveler, and if there is one thing I know I can do it is to make a bunch of plane rides and get myself to somewhere. I decided that, for the moment at least, this was my calling and I was going to go to Ethiopia to figure things out. I had a deeply rooted feeling that a trip of this kind would get everything sorted out for me, and put me back on track.
I decided to travel alone because I wanted to save money on the fare, so I arrived a day earlier than the rest of the team and I got the opportunity to go to church at Beza International. I was swept up in the newness and excitement of being in a foreign country for the first time again, but I was amazed at the preaching that I heard. There was a wonderful spirit in the big crouded church, but the message was perfect for me. I remember clearly hearing the preacher say that everyone of us has a particular calling, and though there is nothing new about that, he specifically said that “there is a book inside of you that only you can write.”
I knew what he meant. I had the book inside me. More than one really. I took this to mean that I should put my effort into finishing Biblio’s Blood, but I knew that what it really meant was what is now becoming Matty’s Paradigm. Out trip leader encouraged us to write a letter to ourselves capturing how we felt and where we were spiritually so that we would be able to look back at it later and see if we had made progress. I wrote this letter to myself on the road to Kombolcha.
The trip to Kombolcha, Ethiopia, as a way to attempt to contribute something to Christian life. It was, quite simply, life changing. On the bus trip back from Kombolcha I spent the majority of the journey explaining all this to Rob, the pastor. We discussed it in a way that didn’t involve anyone having to take sides and argue about it.
OPEN DOOR BAPTIST CHURCH
More to come…