… a Journey to Redemption (my testimony)
...a Simple Man
I've always been a simple man. For most of my life I haven't been a "joiner" ; nor have I been a "leader of men ". I don't care much for change and I hate loose ends. I've chosen to stay close to home rather than travel, and by my own definition am a restless soul looking for a place to land. My road to redemption has been somewhat rocky and troubled at times, caused mainly by poor decisions on my part and a somewhat warped understanding of the character of God. The latter would be the cause of many horrendous train wrecks in both my mind and spirit. It is not my intention to air my dirty laundry but rather to share the hope I found with someone who may be facing the same demons that I faced. It is about my journey to Grace.
From the beginning ,God did everything possible to make it easy for me. I was born and raised by Godly parents who taught my sister and me about unconditional love by example. One question that was never asked on Wednesdays and Sundays at our house was “Are we going to church?” That was because if the doors to the church were opened, we were going to be there. As a kid, I was never really crazy about going to church… especially revivals! Inevitably they were usually five days of Hell Fire and Brimstone. To this very day I carry the spiritual scars from those intense sermons. Despite the evangelical good intentions, I was left with a negative opinion of a “gottcha God” .This view of God would haunt me well into my adult life! I’m ashamed to say it, but like Pinocchio when I got that first deep breath of freedom, I went completely wild. With age came maturity; however the years did nothing to change my unhealthy opinion of God. My spiritual life was one based solely on performance. If I could just be good enough and do all the right things then maybe I could keep God from being angry with me ...then maybe just maybe I would be able to avoid Hell. Over time, there remained the nagging question which I was afraid to ask out loud…how could anyone really love a God who would sentence His kids to eternal torture in a place like Hell? Little did I suspect that there was yet to come a time in my life when things were to get worse. I was destined to experience what Paul Young in his book the Shack referred to as the “Great Sadness”.
...the Great Sadness
For me the “Great Sadness” would come on November 7,1993. …It was on this cold, bleak winters day that my only son Jason would be killed by a drunk driver while on his way back to Mississippi State University. Only those reading this, who have had this experience, will understand the feeling of loss and utter hopelessness that I felt. As hard as I tried not to, I couldn’t help but feel that somewhere in this enormous mystery with its haunting questions, somehow God had betrayed me. Without warning, my spiritual journey would suddenly become harder and a lot more difficult.
… loose ends and unanswered questions
My biggest pet peeves by far are loose ends and unanswered questions! They tend to drive me insane. As you can imagine, the trial which I found myself in was extremely overcrowded with both. One of the demons who showed up the most regular… was undoubtedly in charge of questions pertaining to Heaven, Hell and Salvation. His favorite question by far was…How do you know that your son Jason went to Heaven? Along with my hang-ups about God and eternal torture, this question alone would cost me many a nights sleep. You know, pain comes in many shapes and sizes. It adapts easily to both mental, physical and spiritual situations alike. It tends to reduce a human to the very core of their existence. Extreme pain will make you beg and plead for relief as it drives you to your knees. The bigger the hurt ,the bigger and deeper the scar. Unfortunately the scars never really go away. They simply continue to mature and change your life in ways you never dreamed possible.
…Suicide is painless
“That suicide is painless... It brings on many changes ...And I can take or leave it if I please”
Suicide is Painless (theme from the movie M*A*S*H) written by J.Mandel and M.Altman
I’ve often said…show me someone who hasn’t at least contemplated committing suicide and I’ll show you someone who just hasn’t come to the right mountain yet. Early on the thought entered my mind on more than one occasion. It wasn’t that I wanted to die so much as it was that I didn’t want to have to stay here and face my demons. I wasn’t afraid to die. I felt like I was going to Heaven, at least I hoped so ! I don’t know why I never followed through on the suicide thoughts. Maybe I was too chicken, maybe it’s because I didn’t want to hurt my family …or maybe, just maybe it was because of Jesus. Earlier in my life as a scared "shitless" ten year old boy, I had made the choice to accept Jesus as my redeemer. I hoped that He would then make peace with His angry Father for me. It was this warped mindset that would keep me in a state of continuous doubt for most of my life. The problem was that I hadn’t for whatever reasons, been able to get the true gospel from my thick head to my heart. Looking back I feel like there were three things which stood in my way…my personality, religion and the “eternal torturer” doctrine.
Anyone who knows me very well will describe me as more or less “flat line” The word stoic also comes to mind.. I rarely, if ever get extremely emotional about things, especially sad things. I don’t cry easily which leaves me feeling like I’m hardhearted …which in turn leaves me feeling guilty! I don’t want to be a crybaby; however I really do want to be more like Jesus which means being more empathetic and sympathetic towards people who are hurting. I’ve been taught to not trust your feelings because they are fickle. This tends to make it extremely difficult when dealing with matters of the heart. I wanted so badly to "feel" saved. To make matters worse I am a “visual” person. This means that I do better with visual instruction than written or verbal instruction. You can understand how not knowing what Jesus looks like would be a bit harder for me. Last but not least perhaps like some of you ,I suffer from CAADHD ( Christian Adult attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) LOL !I laugh but it’s really not funny ! If indeed this was a real mental disorder, it would be defined as the inability to stay focused on God and spiritual matters for very long periods of time, without being distracted. I suffer badly from this condition.
This is probably going to sound really bad to my fellow Christians but I hate religion! Let me begin this section by saying that religion is man made and therefore in many cases is corrupt and flawed. Satan has been able to use the different religions around the world, down through the years as a weapon against God. Religion has started wars, and divided countries not to mention families. It never ceases to amaze me how you can take a group of preachers from different denominations and religions, give them the same verse from the same bible and ask them for an interpretation .Without a doubt the interpretations will for the most part be different…then they will argue over which one is right! If I can borrow a line from Stephen Stills song For what it's Worth ..."if nobody's right then everybody's wrong" LOL Meanwhile the unbeliever is looking on and saying "Hey I’m no worse than these guys!" They get turned off before we ever get the chance to tell them about Jesus and the wonderful place waiting on us. To sum up religion …religion leads to denomination which leads for the most part to division, which leads to disputes which leads to more division and on and on and on. Most people have chosen religion and doctrine over a relationship with Jesus. I want to close this section by reminding you that while on earth that Jesus worst enemies and adversaries were the Jewish religious leaders…the Sadducees and Pharisees, the pious and self-righteous. I spent several years confusing religion and relationship. I was so determined not to look like the religious hypocrites that I was failing to emulate Jesus good in my life at the same time. To be blunt, I was a "religious prisoner"
…the eternal torturer
I personally feel that assigning the trait of eternal torturer to our loving God is a horrific insult to Him and borders on heresy. When asked to justify this belief the average response is that God gave each of a free will or the right to make a choice. Now keep in mind that we’re talking about humans. These are the same creatures who choose hate over love, jealousy, gossip, murder, wars, rape and etc. These are also the same creatures that forget their passwords and lose their car keys. Remember that I said earlier, that I had an extremely difficult time reconciling a loving God with an eternal burning Hell where non-believers would end up. Well, God would eventually give me peace, but not without a tremendous amount of study on the subject of Hell . I've on more than one occasion thought about leaving the views on Hell out but have always decided to keep it in. You can choose for yourself which you think is the right view for you.
Three Views of Hell
Let me begin by saying that some people believe that there is no such place as Hell. I wish I could say that I believe that this is true…but I just can’t. Below I have given a brief synopsis of the 3 most commonly adhered to beliefs concerning Hell.
1. TRADITIONAL • Some people (perhaps even a majority of the human race) will not be saved. Each person is judged once and for all at death and given either eternal life or eternal condemnation. • Hell is a place of endless, conscious punishment for sin. This punishment is sometimes interpreted literally (physical torment) and sometimes metaphorically (a state of being, spiritual suffering, separation from God). • Once a person is in hell, there is no exit. • Some versions of this view argue that there are variations in punishment depending upon the severity of a person’s sins. • Some (Calvinist) versions emphasize God’s sovereignty in punishing those whom he chooses to punish, while other versions emphasize the freedom of human choice. • The Roman Catholic view distinguishes between hell and purgatory, a place of temporary purification for those who are destined for heaven.
2. CONDITIONAL IMMORTALITY OR ANNIHILATIONISM Some people will not be saved. • The human soul is not naturally immortal. MATTHEW 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Eternal existence is a gift of God to the redeemed. • The unrepentant will be punished, but this period of conscious punishment will be temporary. • At the final resurrection, the unrepentant will be destroyed and cease to exist. The biblical “fire” of hell is a consuming, rather than tormenting, fire. •God tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death not eternal torture .Some people in this group believe that after death a person will receive a second chance to accept or reject Jesus; however (that's not what scripture teaches)
3. RESTORATIONISM OR UNIVERSALISM All people will eventually be saved, and God will restore His creation to perfect harmony. • Eternal punishment contradicts the love of God, since God wills the salvation of all and has the power to overcome sin and evil. God’s love is stronger than human resistance. • If there is a hell, it is not eternal. Punishment is temporary and remedial, leading the sinner towards repentance and union with God. • Some theologians throughout history have maintained a more cautious “hopeful universalist” stance. I cannot say dogmatically that all will be saved, but neither can I deny the possibility. I line up most easily with group 2 .What do you think ? Your view will play a large part in how you view God. The bottom line truth for each and every one of us, is that Eternal Salvation can only come to an individual when and only when they accept the awesome gift of eternal salvation that Jesus died and rose again to give us. You don't have to understand the mysteries just decide to bet your now and your forever on Jesus !Why wait !
... God isn't mad at us
To have a relationship with Jesus, you have to want to be like Him and to see things like He does. In order to achieve this, sometimes you have to experience pain and difficulties in your own life, in order to know the feelings of pain, hopelessness and depression that others are feeling. Then and only then, can you begin to ever slightly see and understand what Jesus feels. Jesus said that our days on planet Earth would be few and troubled; however He promised that if we would only trust Him that He would see us through them. He frequently has to remind me that He and the Father both love me unconditionally and that they aren't angry with me. I'm learning to trust Them but I frequently have to remind myself that God is always good, despite how really bad things in my life and the lives of others might appear to be on the surface.
For those of you who are angry with God because of some horrific tragedy, or disappointment in your life, let me say that I fully understand. Let me remind you that Jesus in his time on Earth suffered things that you and I can only imagine...in other words God played by His own rules. One more thing and I'm just about done. I want to use a line from the song The Dance written by Tony Arata and originally recorded by Garth Brooks..."I could have missed the pain, but I'd of had to miss the Dance". No matter what your situation or difficulties are ,you've been blessed to be put on this planet. Why ? ...because God's got a "Dance" being planned on the other side for all of His kids, that you can't even begin to imagine !...the good news is that YOU have been invited to attend!! No unforgiven sin will be allowed. That's Jesus' department ! He's in charge of all forgiveness. All you have to do is ask ! Time as we know it is linear but not to God.
…the Ragamuffin Gospel
As I said earlier, I’ve always been a restless spirit…a Ragamuffin Christian at best. I believe that Jesus told me what to write and somehow that there’s going to be someone reading this who struggles in the same areas that I do. I want them to know, that I sincerely understand their pain and that they’re not alone . Humans are flawed and broken for the most part. No matter how imperfect we are ,He promised to make us whole. He’s got some pretty awesome things lined up and waiting on the other side for all of His children. He really does want us to trust Him and be His friend. He said that He would never leave us or forsake us. I really hope you will find some comfort in what I’ve written. You don’t have to understand the supernatural or miracles or how or why, an awesome God does the things he does .Our journey here is to learn to trust Him no matter what because He is good all the time. He wants us to not spend so much time beating ourselves up with our flawed religious rules, trying to please Him; but rather to trust Him to always be a God that is good. That’s what childlike faith and trust are all about. One more thing I want you to keep in mind along your journey. Satan is your enemy and Jesus is your friend and redeemer !Once you choose Jesus ,Satan's hate for you will multiply...but remember you can rebuke him in Jesus name. The fight will sometimes seem unbearable but you chose the right side. Hang in there . I promise it's gonna be worth it . Human history is almost over and the last chapter of the "Book" says that our side wins!
Hoping to see you on the other side, Ken