Saturday, August 19, 2006

CAN I GET A WITNESS?

"Everyone turns to someone at some point in their lives: a brother, a father, a god, and asks: why am I here? for what purpose have I been created?"

Spock, from Star Trek: The Motion Picture



"They say the owl was the baker's daughter. M'Lord, we know what we are, but not what we may be!"

Ophelia to the King of Denmark, Hamlet


"Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit."
King Solomon, from the book of Ecclesiastes 2: 17

The following is my own personal testimony:

I was born on August 27th, 1962. I was supposed to be born sometime in October, but there were complications in birth, and my mother had me early. I was nearly 2 months premature, with a host of problems which might have meant my death, as well as that of my mother. Years after the fact she told me that she never felt the presence of God more than at that time in the delivery room (even though she was not yet a Christian).

There were some surgeries performed on me for various things. I had a hare lip that required sewing, and later there was some exploratory surgery done to my right ear to see if they could remedy a problem concerning an 80% deficiency of hearing. They couldn't.

Due to some spinal difficulties I required intensive physical therapy to strengthen my back, so that I wouldn't require crutches or a wheel chair. Still I had painful back issues through much of my life.

Growing up in the love of my parents and family invested in me a happy childhood and I was a very happy child, unaware of my physical deformities as being anything abnormal. When the time came for me to start attending school my mother had no small amount of anxiety, for the school I required was for special needs children, and was clear across town. She fretted that I would be scared, make a fuss, cry and plead with them to not leave me alone in that huge strange building, known as Percy Hughes School.

On my first day, they drove me there, and when we parked, I climbed out of the back seat, slammed the car door, and marched up the steps of that place, far ahead of my parents, even opening doors for them, and strutted down the corridors as if I owned the place!

Because all of the children there were special needs, I didn't stand out, and I made friends readily. One of my best friends name was Scott: he had one leg that was shorter than the other, and was slightly afflicted with palsy. Robin was the name of my first girlfriend: she required hearing aids and a brace on her right leg. We all got along very well, and helped each other with our various disabilities, never daring to make any one feel uncomfortable or 'different'.

I attended Percy Hughes for the first 3 yrs. of my schooling. By the time I was ready to enter 3rd grade, it was determined that I was ready for 'normal' school. It was then that my very private hell began.

I was shocked and stunned, and deeply hurt that kids would maliciously point out my deformities and mock and laugh at me. Because of my mild temperament and a very willing disposition to make friends, I tried to overcome their tendencies by sharing things, and being overly friendly.

They willingly took what I shared, but when the cookies or whatever were gone, so was their friendship. The ridiculing persisted with every passing day, and done with the finesse and intricacy of a dance, so as to carefully avoid being caught by any of the teachers.

I was never a fighter, so when I was bombarded with these tribulations, I simply withdrew into a shell. Where there were kids willing to be my friend, these were ostracized and excluded from the others. Eventually many of them turned cold towards me, not wanting to be so isolated. There were those precious few that remained faithful however, and if not for them, the entire experience would have been intolerable.

Its difficult to articulate why I didn't simply complain to my parents. They certainly would have done something about it had I spoke up; I just didn't. Having it pointed out to me that I was ugly, I was afraid to draw attention to this fact to my parents: somehow I felt this would dishonor and embarrass them.Its amazing how children will do things out of a desire to protect their parents.

Because of this incessant ordeal, I didn't excel scholastically, being a very average C student. I was good in Art class however and I did have a passion for reading. My father wasn't the most communicative parent, and I think he wasn't sure how to nurture any of his children (probably because he didn't receive much from his own father?); and my mother was an alcoholic. Thus both parents merely told me to do my best in school and that was that. C average all the way.

I also took an interest in church: we were Roman Catholic in my family, and I remember the very first Mass I attended. I couldn't have been more than six years old: my parents dressed me in my finest and my father and two brothers left for church (my mother stayed home).

The entire experience with the candles and incense and robe draped clergy and boys, ringing bells and Latin expressions fascinated and mystified me. There was a priest that looked like he was eight feet tall who read out of a book and when he concluded, he declared: "This is the Word of God."

I sat there with my mouth gaping. The small child that I was wondered: "How did they get Him to write that!?!" When I got home I told my mother that I heard the Word of God read today! And she said we had the same book in the house. I acquired this family Bible that was easily almost half my size, and settled it on my lap, poring over its pages. I asked my mother what the words in red meant, and she told me those were the very words of Jesus. My tiny fingers gently swept over those words in a reverent awe only a child could express...

Sometime between childhood and teenage years I caught a life-threatening case of pneumonia that landed me in an oxygen tent in the hospital; and as at birth, I was miraculously spared from dying. I remember my mother telling me that God allowed me to live for a reason!

Try telling that to a child sometime, and it will definitely leave an impression! I was quite eager to discover what this reason was!

There isn't a teenager on the planet that isn't self-conscious and feeling inept, clumsy or inadequate at some time during their development. I was more so due to my appearance. I was labeled with "Franky" (Frankenstein) and "Rocky" obviously a reference to his condition AFTER one of Balboa's boxing matches. That hurt almost as much as seeing the boys and girls get paired up, holding hands, giggling, cuddling and looking so happy together.

I distinctly remember one student saying this to me in Jr. High: "Fire, if I were you, I'd do myself and the world a favor and kill myself." By this time I had built up a pretty tough exterior and thought I could withstand the jibes and taunts. 
I guess I was wrong.

I hated school, I hated life, I hated this body and this face I was given. I hated everyone who was so mean spirited that they seemed to go out of their way, just to take a verbal stab at me.

There was a day when I was at the library and I noticed a section of considerable size under the heading of "Occult literature". Having an interest in the spiritual, I looked into some of these books. There was also a Mail Order Book Club in English class where I could purchase other books on occult materials, books on ESP, spiritualism, etc. I voraciously devoured everything I could get my hands on. Because I had a loathing for my physical being, there was a deep yearning in me for things spiritual in nature.

I quickly found myself immersed in witchcraft of the Babylonian tradition. I had an understanding that all spiritual beliefs and secret knowledge began at the tower of Babel, so by going to the source I would acquire the deepest of knowledge. It was a fast and deep spiral downward! 

I had such experiences that convinced me of the reality of the spiritual realm, and because I knew it to be real, I falsely assumed that it must therefore be the truth. I could use such abilities to bring harm to any that tried to hurt me. As a solitary witch (those who didn't associate with others in the Craft in a coven) I felt that I didn't need any one, nor that I wanted any one. 

Most people were beneath me, banal and stupid, and unwise in the world of spiritual power. In denying my need for others, convincing myself that I was better off without them, I became a hard, embittered, vengeful person. I realized the futility of life, as every life inevitably ends in the grave. Whether I acquire all my dreams, obtain riches in money, material possessions, family and friends, or I end up homeless on the streets: either case ends up at the same place at the end. "All that lives, must die." as Gertrude said in Hamlet.

I also experimented with some drugs (as any witch will tell you, they play an integral part in much of the occultic world). After dabbling in such things for a period of a few years, one day I had a very bad reaction to some drugs that was obviously laced with some dangerous substances. Not long after I had this terrifying dream:

Making a longer story somewhat shorter, the dream was me getting sliced in half by a tank-sized hearse with a razor bumper in the front and a demonic chauffeur behind the wheel. When I woke from this dream/vision I truly believed I was dead until I snapped out of it. Instinctively I knew that this dream was linked to my involvement with the occult: that if I continued down this path, it would mean my death.

Frustrated with life, getting no answers, and certainly seeing no reason at all why God should allow me to live, I started on a tirade, blaspheming God and angrily accusing Him of maliciousness.

"Why did You make me like this? Why didn't you just let me die at birth? Why put me through all this (censor)? What am I some sort of cosmic joke to provide You with some laughs?? What is it You want from me? What is this big (censor) reason for me being alive??"

A still small voice was heard in my heart that simply said "Turn around." I did and saw that old Catholic family Bible. I rejected any impulse to pick it up, dismissing religion as a childhood thing that was no longer relevant to me. I went to my room instead and stayed there until bed time. 

Next morning, I got a bowl of cereal, and grabbed that Bible after another prompting from that still small voice, and began thumbing through it in my room. I thought I remembered hearing that if you wanted to start reading the Bible it was always good to start with the Gospels, so that's what I did; I started with Matthew.

I grabbed a notebook and began jotting down thoughts related to what I was reading, and in a couple hours I had devoured several chapters. Time flew by until my mother came home from work. She popped into my room and asked what I was doing. She was slightly taken aback from my sudden interest but seemed pleased as well.

My parents noticed that my Bible reading didn't wane with the passage of time, rather it seemed to grow: so much of it I didn't understand, but the parts that I did (or thought I did) provoked me onward, trying to unravel its more mysterious elements. It was that Christmas, back in '79 that my parents gave me my own personal Bible called The Way, A Living Bible Paraphrase Roman Catholic Edition. I know some of you may be cringing right now at the mention of a 'paraphrase edition' of the scriptures, and I'm cringing right along with you, understanding that paraphrase editions are not credible for accurate Bible reading and study. At that time however, it was easy reading so the LORD used it for my sake. Today I only study from the King James (referring to other translations in select cases): All I knew was that the Bible was presented to me in language that I could readily understand.

My Bible reading sky rocketed. Having left behind the occult and drugs, I sought then to return to the 'strait and narrow'. I became a Minister of the Eucharist at the Mass, and I volunteered to help around at the church, and as some of the priests saw that I had some artistic ability, I would make up banners, drawings, paintings for various functions. I tried to help any I could, and present myself as a pleasing servant of the LORD. Between the Bible reading, and prayers (formal sort) and my services, I began to feel a tugging at my heart and believed that I was being called to the priesthood.

And yet no matter how hard I applied myself, no matter how diligent a study of God's Word, no matter how fervent my prayers and service, there was still a gaping vacuum in my heart, and an overwhelming conviction of inadequacy. Basically, no matter how I tried to be good, I was convinced that I was bad: nothing I did could approve me to God, earn His praise or guarantee me a place in heaven when I died. When I tried to prove myself a selfless servant, the Spirit of the LORD (though I didn't realize this was His doing at that time) would convict my heart and enlighten my understanding: 

'You only helped that person out to try and make yourself look good, to earn points for what you believe will gain approval with the LORD!'

I was miserable. I felt as though I hit another road block in life; trying so hard to gain spiritual truth and discover my 'purpose in life' only to come to a grinding halt. Winter turned to Spring and Summer quickly approached. It was 1980 now and I graduated high school with hopes of going to a community college in the fall, and build myself up scholastically (having only been a C student for my entire schooling). After sharpening myself educationally I would seek to go on to University and then on to seminary to become a priest.

School was finished, summer vacation began, and I was no closer to getting my answers than at any time before, or so it seemed. It was on a particular morning, the 20th of June, that I picked up my Bible that lay on the floor next to my bed, and continued to read from St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, ch 4.



ROMANS 4:1
"Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What were his experiences concerning this question of being saved by faith? Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him?"

This passage leaped off the page at me: the very thing I was attempting to do myself! I eagerly read on:

ROMANS 4:2-5
"If so, then he would have something to boast about. But from God's point of view Abraham had no basis for pride at all. For the scriptures tell us that Abraham believed God, and that is why God cancelled his sins and declared him "not guilty. But didn't he earn his right to heaven by all the good things he did? No, for being saved is a gift; if a person could earn it by being good, then it wouldn't be free--but it is! It is given to those who do not work for it. For God declares sinners to be good in His sight if they have faith in Christ to save them from God's wrath." 


Did you ever read something that you didn't understand at all? So you simply re-read it, believing that understanding will come, right? I did that, a few times, and each time it became more and more mystifying to me. How could heaven be free? You have to earn your way there! God isn't just going to give such a glorious reward away without it being paid for!

But then the LORD brought to mind all of the pertinent verses I had read up to this point in my Bible reading. Each one seemed to supplement what I was pondering in this chapter of Romans. It was then that the Holy Spirit turned on the light, and it came to me very much like that: with the instantaneous flicking of a light switch, I suddenly understood. I remember physically gasping with the shock of this realization:

Jesus hung on the cross, not just for the sins of mankind in general, in some ambiguous deed for all of us: He died specifically for my sins. The very condemnation that God was to pronounce over all mankind for our sins and transgressions was laid upon Him. He suffered the wrath of God's Holy Judgment against sins committed by us individually. Because our sins were washed away by His blood, He then was able to dwell in us, grant to us eternal life, empower us with the ability to live before Him in righteousness, with His promise to bring us to heaven when we die, there to bask in His glorious presence with infinite joy and peace and love!

I was so thoroughly humbled by this startling revelation, that I could scarcely believe it! 'Who am I that You should do this for someone like me, Lord?' I remember asking. That still small voice came to me once again:


"Because I love you, Jim." Those soft words, that almost palpable embrace of warming love shattered my hard, vindictive heart. I burst out sobbing, and instinctively raised my hands in the air and said this simple prayer:
"Lord, if this is the reason for my life, my purpose which You have for me, then take me, I'm yours!"


Some people receive the LORD and its a quiet, but quite real conversion. Like a softly glowing candle lit to flickering life; others get fireworks and fanfare. I got the latter, lol! 
It was like a bolt of lightening consisting of utterly potent love and joy and ecstasy. Gone was my black, moody disposition; gone was the guilt and the shame; gone was the fear of death and judgment; gone was the sorrow and turmoil! In their place was joy, freedom, confidence towards God, peace and contentment, love from the LORD Who was now my heavenly Father! And here was the Lord Jesus: My new Lord, Savior, Friend! FRIEND! I couldn't imagine having a friend like this! In the poverty of friendship throughout my young life, this One Friend tipped the scales so dramatically as to shatter the scales themselves!

It no longer mattered to me what people thought of me, what they would say to me, how they would try to mock and shame me. It was irrelevant now because of my new Friend Who would always be with me, always be faithful, would always love me, and be on hand whenever I was in need; this One who would share in my joys and sorrows, and walk with me in my triumphs and tragedies!

I remember springing to my feet and shouting, "I'm saved!" Which must have scared the berjeebers out of the postman who walked by my window just then! I remember laughing with fulsome joy, then weeping with humble gratitude, then laughing again, and weeping. It was a rather emotional scene, that!

Looking over the 26 years of my salvation, I can see many times when I failed the LORD, and as I've often said, if I ever failed in anything (job, hobby, etc) as often as I failed in my Christian walk, I would have given up whatever it was a long time ago. Today however, I am still a Christian, despite my failures, despite my unfaithfulness, despite my outright disobedience at times: I am a Christian still only because of the LORD's faithfulness to me! All to His glory!
Let me close this with one of my life verses, from Philippians...

PHIL 1:6
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

I pray that this testimony has been a blessing and an encouragement to you! Please feel free to share this with any one you know who might like to read it. And may the LORD Jesus Christ bless you all WAY TOO MUCH!To read the continuation of this testimony please click on the following link:

can i get another witness? part one

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Another Smoke Signal: QUESTIONS

We all know about questions; we ask them because we lack information, we seek counsel, we want to hear the sort of answers that will reassure us, comfort us, strengthen our security, and for a host of other reasons.
We ask questions because answers don't come readily in life and all too often it seems the universe gives them up grudgingly.
There are some who have grown so tired of asking questions, for want of significant and fulfilling answers, that they boldly declare that "there are no answers!"

Has it ever occurred to you, that nothing has ever occurred to God? God is THE one and only, original "KNOW IT ALL" and to such a Person, questions are superfluous.

Yet God has asked questions in the BIBLE.

He asked Adam, "Where art thou?"

He asked the two angels who accompanied Him on the way to Sodom and Gommorha mm or ha: "Shall I hide from my friend, Abraham that thing which I do?"

He asked Moses at the burning bush, "What is it that you have in your hand?"
He asked one of His disciples where they could get enough bread to feed the multitudes.
Later, He asked Saul why it was that he persecuted Him.
Yet God needn't have asked such questions of these men, and the many questions He did ask others in the scriptures, was for the purpose of drawing attention to something, to lead a person towards a certain point that God wanted them to consider.

Yet the questions that we ask, particularly of people whom we respect spiritually, such as our pastors, elders, and those who have known the LORD for many more years than we have, we ask because we are mystified concerning God and His ways. Indeed, doesn't the WORD itself say that His ways "are past finding out"? For as the heavens are above the earth, so are His thoughts above our own.

He is infinite, and we are finite. He exists outside of space and time while we dwell within these restraints and have done so ever since our conception. And while we are in this world, we see things spiritual as in a glass darkly, but once we "shuck off this mortal coil" as Hamlet said, we step out of finite time and space, and shall see our LORD face to face; on that Day we shall know (the LORD) even as we are known (by Him). See 1 Cor. 13:12.

Once we are with Him, in the fullness of the glory of God's kingdom, all questions will vanish away like smoke in a gale force wind, they shall be consumed like paper in an inferno, they shall melt like snow on a furnace.

Basking in the very presence of God we will no longer have the itch, or sometimes the torture, of unanswered questions.

And yet while on this earth, during this life, questions arise, and it is right that they do so! For it is not only important to ask questions, but also to know the reason why we ask them; in order to obtain the right answers we must ask the right questions.

I'm so well reminded of my own personal encounter with the LORD, my spiritual experience of being born again in Christ. My testimony is on this BLOG for any to read who care to do so (entitled, "CAN I GET A WITNESS").

It was during this time in my 'B.C.' days, that I asked many questions that none had answers (to my satisfaction) to. Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? What significance will there be to my life? What will happen to me after I die? What is the plan that God has for me? How can I be assured that when I face Him, I will be granted access to heaven, and His Divine approval? And the big whammy of a question: How can I become righteous in the eyes of God??

Do you have someone that you know who is not yet saved? Do they shun and even ridicule the answers that you seek to provide for them? It behooves the saint to pray, and ask the LORD to 'plague' the minds of the lost with QUESTIONS. For its in these that the Holy Spirit can begin to do His work. Yet as an effective beginning as this may be, the primary school master that teaches the sinner of their need of a Savior has been, and always will be the Law of God.

Questions have answers, and its in answers that we discover truth, and those of us who know the LORD Jesus Christ, know in fact that He is the Living Embodiment of Truth, He is Truth made flesh.
Ultimately any question worth asking regarding this life will inevitably find its answer in the Person of Jesus Christ, the LORD of all.