My testimony starts like many others. It is not an incredible one to anyone other than me. It’s probably really boring. It ends very differently than most however. You may get part way through and stop as soon as it starts to change for what I believe is the better half. I don’t know what my writing it will accomplish yet, but somehow, I hope it will reach you anyway.
I was raised in a Christian home. Raising their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord was a job my parents took seriously. This means that obedience was important and a lack of obedience was always dealt with very firmly. Dad and Mom never failed to explain to us how our disobedience made God sad. He did not want us to injure ourselves by behaving in such a way. The spanking was to help us to remember the lesson next time we were tempted. It worked most of the time.
I remember though, when I was five years old, being in trouble for lying. I knew I would get a paddle but the talk always came first. During the talk Mom told me about Jesus dying on a cross so that liars and other sinners would not have to face the punishment for their sins. That was the day I verbally asked Jesus to be a part of my life.
I didn’t feel different. My life was the same. Jesus had always been there since the time I was born. But now I was called a Christian. I was told this meant I was going to heaven when I died. That was fine with me. I certainly didn’t want to go to hell. I had heard things about hell. It was a place you went to after you died and you just burned and burned and burned but never burned up. And Satan was there. Satan hated me. I knew that. He wanted to steal me, kill me, and destroy me. So I didn’t want to go to hell. In fact, I didn’t want anybody to go to hell. So I quickly told my friends about Jesus and got them to say the little prayer I said so that they could go to heaven when they died.
Church was also a part of my life from the beginning. Church was cool. There was music – I liked music. Pastor Sam was like a grandpa to me. The other older people there were also really nice. Plus, it was about God… and I wasn’t allowed to NOT go, so it must have been a sin…to not go to church. I quickly tried to bring my friends to church with me.
Learning to obey and serve God was saturated into my daily life. My life as a child, my boundaries, my homeschooling, my church, my whole universe was centered around God’s existence and his law. It wasn’t something I resented. It wasn’t something I even thought about. It just was.
I was 4 years old when I was given my first Bible. That was a big deal. You got a Bible when you learned to read, it was a Christmas present. I was so excited about my Bible. It had my name engraved in it, and I knew I was supposed to read that thing every day. It was the biggest book I owned. I had no clue how I was gonna get through it. First I started in Genesis, then I decided I would start in Matthew and just read the New Testament, but it was probably 2-3 years before I even finished Genesis. I remember treasuring my Bible like it was a precious jewel. Not reading it so much as holding it and looking at the gold edged pages.
I was probably eleven or twelve before I started pursing a relationship with Jesus for myself. I remember doubting if I was really saved. So I would say the sinner’s prayer again, just in case. I love to read and had read a lot of stories about people who “got saved”. They always felt so different after. Like it was some life changing experience. I always prayed the prayer again after reading those, hoping I would feel the difference they described. I was afraid that since I didn’t feel the difference it didn’t work. But I was too embarrassed to admit that to anybody. Everybody knew you didn’t just lose your salvation. I had prayed when I was five. I had the ticket. I was good to go!
My older siblings were very diligent in their pursuit of a godly life and they encouraged me to do the same. I read my bible more and more as I got older, partly because I knew that was what I was supposed to do, partly because all my friends did, and partly because it felt good when an older brother or sister would commend me if they caught me reading my Bible. The day I turned twelve I challenged myself to read all the way through the Bible. I wanted to complete it in a year but if I remember correctly, it took me much longer. There was so much boring stuff in there!
I couldn’t really say much of what my prayer life was like. I know I prayed more often by then. I was a talkative kid but I was terrified of letting out my deepest secrets so I probably prayed about those things. But honestly, it was all just part of the natural flow of life for me. God was always part of my life. Praying. Reading my Bible. Going to Church. It was just part of life.
I had seen kids who I thought were Christians denounce God. I began to fear that for myself. There was a husband who said that his wife was getting in the way of his ministry, so he divorced her. I knew that was evil. I could never imagine such a thing like that actually happening to a true Christian. And then I had these friends. They were so perfect! They always obeyed and respected their mom. They were kind and polite to all their friends. They would have Bible Studies as a family before they made big decisions. I was so in awe of them! I remember suggesting to them that they never got spanked and being shocked to learn that in-fact, they did. No way! They were so good. If David was a man after God’s own heart, this family was right next to David. They even prayed before they drove anywhere, and they memorized the biggest portions of Scripture.
The year I turned twelve was the same year that this family denounced God in their lives. I was young and I didn’t know better, so I never reached out, I only watched from a distance as their efforts to follow every letter of Scripture led them to believe that God had little concern for them here on earth and then eventually to believe that God didn’t exist at all.
I knew they were wrong. But I had to wonder. Were they ever really Christians in the first place? They couldn’t have been if you can’t lose your salvation and I believed you couldn’t. I mourned the loss of their friendship for a while, but when I came to conclusion that they never were saved in the first place, I wrote them off. Oh well. They couldn’t be now. They hated God. Oh well.
Puberty was hitting me pretty hard by age 12. I had fits of jealousy, anger, bouts of self-pity, and had myself swimming in a pool of insecurities. If my anger actually affected anyone it was wrong, but otherwise I just let it all go. I damaged a lot of friendships that year. I was so possessive and needy that I made myself unpleasant to be around and not a very likely person to approach. At the same time, my desire to “be one of the bigger kids” was so strong that I took myself for an adult by age 13 and promptly threw out the joys of being young. I couldn’t get rid of all the immaturity as easily though, especially since I was in denial about the majority of its existence.
During this time I struggled with wanting to be a better person but not really knowing how to change. I was controlled by my selfishness and selfish desires but I didn’t know that. I spent a lot of time spilling out my pent up frustrations to God. By this time I would say I had a pretty definite relationship with him. Almost like that of a brat, insolent kid and a mentor who just wont stop being there for her.
Our church had changed dramatically over the years. When I was little, it was all old people. Now it was filled with old people and a bunch of homeschool families who were our friends. I never imagined I would see the day when our church was so full. Sundays became something I looked forward to. It was possibly my biggest social event of the week. Dad was doing a lot of the preaching by then as our pastor had retired. We were also living on the church property now, because it had been the target of vandalism and needed a resident.
Life was alright. Or so I thought. I was still selfish and needy and extremely insecure. I didn’t have any good solid friendships with anyone and I had little to no relationships with my Mom’s side of the family, but life was certainly not bad.
And then the bomb dropped.
I could not name the day or the time. I couldn’t even tell you the particulars. All I know is he had been sitting on it for twenty years. For twenty years my Dad had been pondering a thought presented to him. It had something to do with the word “forever” in the Bible not actually meaning forever. You see, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew and the New Testament was translated from Greek. It’s rather difficult to deny that things get lost in translation…unless you’re a Christian and we’re talking about the King James Bible.
Anyway, after 20 years of pondering it my had Dad decided to really dig in and see what this was all about. What he found was beginning to transform his life, and it was about to change his and our world.
There’s a lot to be considered when you want to challenge the King James Bible. And even then, it might not be worth it. I’d just like to say though that humans will always be humans and therefore prone to error, King James not excepted.
When you’ve been standing on a surface for all of your life, your parents and grandparents stood on it too, in fact, for centuries this surface has been the foundation on which you and your ancestors have stood, and then all of a sudden this surface begins to crack and pull apart and make room for the one underneath that has been there all the time. Well, even if you DID know the one underneath was the real foundation holding you up, you might be tempted to state right off the bat that it isn’t. You might say that yours is the real one because it has been for centuries. You might say that.
What my Dad discovered was that the Greek word for “forever” didn’t actually mean without end, but that it pertained to an age. In fact, he found other scriptures that used the same Greek word, but in context with a time that came to an end. You may wonder what all of this has to do with the rest of the story and if you haven’t caught on yet, I’ll tell you. According to this find, the word used to describe hell as a never ending torment now actually describes hell as an ending torment.
If you’re a Christian, you can imagine what would happen if the pastor shared such a thing from the pulpit. If you go to a mega church or one that has people who hire and fire the pastor, well, the pastor would probably just be fired. But if you go to our church where the pastor runs a construction company that provides for his family and a lot of times the church too, well…the people might all just leave.
And leave they did. Some immediately. Some labeling us as heretics on their way. Some never to be seen again. Some without even saying why. A few did stay for a couple of years. Pretty soon the church was down to about 3 families.
I was angry. I was angry at my dad. Didn’t he see what this did? It was obviously not of God because it caused so much division! I was so angry, I failed to see how hurt Dad was. This had caused division even in our own family. My older siblings argued against it. My Grandpa called my dad a heretic and said he was going to hell for believing it. But Dad held firm to his belief.
Dad never told anybody they had to believe it. In fact, all of my life Dad encouraged me to find out for myself what was true. I remember him telling the church, “You can’t believe this just because I say it’s true. You’ve got to find out for yourself.” In my anger I said it was impossible. I read my Bible and I didn’t see it. And I wasn’t about to start learning Greek. Dad suggested books that talked about it but I said no. If I couldn’t find it in the Bible, I wasn’t going to read books to find it.
I hated all the arguing. I hated that my friends could just walk away so easily. I hated the loneliness. It was easy to blame Dad. He started it all.
I still read my Bible though. And I still went to church and listened. I had no reason to stop. Dad still preached from the Bible. He still preached that Jesus came to save us. Only now he preached that Jesus came to save all of us. I started to learn the history behind the belief of a never ending hell. Not on purpose. It couldn’t be helped. And then I started to see it. All throughout my Bible it was there. I already believed God was real, that he was love and that he was all powerful. And so I believed it when he said that his will was that none should perish but that all should come to everlasting life. And I believed it when he said that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but came so that through him the world would be saved. I believed it when he said that Jesus came to do the will of the Father. And I believed it when Jesus hung on the cross and stated, “It is finished.”
My anger toward Dad didn’t go away immediately however. I had lost my friends because of him. And I still hated the arguing in the family. It took me a while to realize that Dad never sent anyone away. They walked away. And as for all the arguing, Dad was so excited to learn that God’s love was something that ended well for everybody that he would try to share it with anyone who would bring it up. Even if they only brought it up to prove him wrong. You see, very few of the people who left our church were willing to even discuss with him the possibility that he could be right.
It’s amazing how quickly news travels. It was not long before people on the other side of the country had heard about it and were avoiding us in their travels. The saddest part was, a lot of them misunderstood. There were rumors that Dad was throwing out the whole Bible and other false rumors. I hid behind my dad as I began to embrace the belief of God’s universal reconciliation. I began to refer to it as “My Dad’s belief” because I was afraid to admit that I believed it too. I had seen what that did.
Some of the friends who left our church still came around, along with others who could only know the rumors, but our relationships became very stilted and distant. Nobody was willing to talk about it, so except for an occasional alluding to it we pretended like nothing happened. Some friends acted very strangely when they were around us now. It was almost like they were afraid to be alone with us and afraid to be seen with us. It felt like they had to go to confession every time they were around us. We couldn’t tell for sure, so we acted like nothing was wrong.
I began to soak up what I was learning. Dad was excited because he saw strangers through a whole new perspective. He said that knowing they were going to be in heaven with him made them appear in a whole new light. I thought that was cool, but I didn’t totally embrace it. I spent a lot of time praying that if I was so wrong, God would convince me otherwise.
Our family actually grew closer through all of this. We had very few close friends anymore so we made the most of our time with each other. Speaking about our EUR beliefs became taboo except among those of us who believed it, so we kept it all under wraps. My comfort zone slowly shrunk as what God was doing became a bigger and bigger part of my life and I got more and more tired of discussing empty and shallow subjects.
It’s very difficult for me to hide what I really feel and so every once in a while I would attempt to talk about “my Dad’s beliefs”. Except for a very few times, I would be immediately shut down either by mockery or the biggest lack of consideration I had ever experienced in my young life. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
I worked a children’s conference shortly after I had begun to think differently where I had the opportunity to lead a small team of children as we learned about the principles of God’s law. The leaders over me would teach during assemblies and then the teams would break up and do a more direct focus on the lesson. I cringed as the leaders, in a poor attempt to get as many “sinner’s prayers” out of the group as possible, literally attempted to scare the hell out of the kids through darkness and frightening stories. In my small group I wanted –no, needed so badly to comfort these frightened children with the love of God. I remember having to be very careful so that my assistant didn’t rat on me and get me kicked out. It was a horrible week and I never wanted to go back. I’ve been reluctant to participate in such ministries ever since. My beliefs were absolutely against promoting fear.
By this time I knew that the sinner’s prayer was practically pointless. It did not mean a free ticket to heaven. All I knew was that there was a whole lot more to this heaven business than just a prayer. I was pretty confused but I was becoming more and more firm about what I did NOT believe.
My Dad told me once that we study our Bibles so that we can learn more about the character of God. In all my growing up, I didn’t really understand that. Sure, parts of the Bible talked about God’s character, but I knew we were supposed to get more out of it. It wasn’t until this time that I began to learn about God’s character through the historical accounting of Scripture. I learned that he was grieved over sin. That the hardships he sent people through were for learning. That his mercy always comes. Sure, I still don’t understand all of it. There are lots of times I pour over my Bible and ask, “Why God?? Were you truly honored by this? It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Something I was beginning to know for sure was that while the fear of God is certainly the beginning of wisdom, He is never pleased by those who serve him simply because they’re scared of him. To pledge your life to him because you’re terrified of hell, to obey him because you’re terrified of his wrath. That cannot honor him. He desires us, our hearts, our love. He says that perfect love CASTS OUT fear. He wants us to WANT to serve him, to WANT to love him, because he loves us and he is so good! I was getting just the tip of the iceberg, but I was so excited to learn about this. It freed me! The law — Paul said we were no longer under the law. What did that mean? Well, I do know this, I don’t keep the law out of fear anymore. I keep the law because it’s based off of love and I do love God. I love God and so I don’t want to break the law. To break it would mean to hurt my neighbor and therefore hurt God.
And heaven? Eternity? If Eternity didn’t mean never ending, what DID it mean? Well, here’s an idea: John 17:3 puts it pretty plainly, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” The word eternity comes from the word Aion or Aionios which means “age” or “age -pertaining to”. I can’t remember where I read it, but someone once laid it out pretty well, eternity is life pertaining to God. It is an essence of life. Some might say they’re living the poor life or the rich life, in the same way I would say that I am living the eternal life. It’s a life that truly doesn’t make sense if you don’t know God and Jesus Christ whom He sent. It’s something you enter into TODAY and TOMORROW and every day! It’s a life that brings joy when the world is telling you to be sad. It brings peace when it feels like the world is falling apart. It’s a life that trusts in God’s plan enough to run into what should hurt me and instead of feeling hurt, I experience Him upholding me with his strong hand. And it’s a life that brings love for people who we otherwise could not love.
I never had the desire to evangelize before. It was always distasteful to me for some reason and I felt guilty that it was so. Now I wanted to share like never before. But not because I felt God would be displeased if I didn’t, and not because I was worried that people would go to hell if I didn’t. I just really wanted everyone to know the wonderful God I knew! And I still do. I see so many hurting people every day and I have what can heal their hurt; can comfort them; can give them the same eternal life! But there has been so much damage done. So many false reports painting my God as a treacherous tyrant. I hoped that my actions alone would show a difference. What can you say to the unbeliever who has heard “everything”? The beauty to the answer is, nothing. I can say nothing, but I can sure as heck BE Jesus to them, and that means love them, care about them, show compassion toward them, do not condemn them. I know my Jesus. And when others know my Jesus, they will not reject him. No, they will embrace him! They will worship him! Just like it says in his word.
I did question it once. Someone told me that I would have no chance of marrying unless I renounced my belief and my Dad. Others showed me that we could not be friends unless I believed otherwise. I thought, what if I did renounce it. What if we all renounced it and got all that back? Would it be worth it?
My answer: Never. If I didn’t have any friends, if I never marry, if I am lonely all my life, I will cling to his love. I have never had my heart change so positively for the better, I have never been so filled with love for others, and I have never been so close to Jesus as I am since I entered into eternal life. I want to enter every single day, and I want to help others to enter and be saved from their present darkness today.
This is who I am now. This is my belief. This is my Jesus. I will not hide any longer. I will not shrink from those who have treated me strangely. I will love. I will love those who have persecuted me for it and I will love those who will mock me for it. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love is the foundation on which the law hangs. Love is the greatest over faith and hope. Love never fails. And Love is God.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
This is my testimony. This is where my faith lies. This is the story of how I came to know Jesus. It was not with a simple prayer. It was not out of fear of hell. It was because he loved me and drew me to him. He surrounded me by those who sought him, he encouraged me through the examples of others. And in the end, he dragged me to his feet and opened my eyes until I finally saw Him.