For those of you who have not read my testimony, go to the search engine called
"Scoping Out This MIND" and type in "witness", then look at the top of the page; there you should see "Can I Get A Witness". In order to keep all of this in context, it would be good to read that first before you proceed to read this, a sequel of sorts to that first entry.
To reiterate one point, when I recall having understood that Jesus, the pure and holy Son of God, the WORD of God (God Himself) made flesh took upon Himself the sins of the entire human race, all several billions of us, including mine, I was so taken aback by this revelation, so nearly shocked and offended, that I had to ask: Why would You do such a thing?
Why would you mar Your own righteous soul, and taint Your holiness by wrapping Yourself with the ugly, wretched, slimy-stinking offensive sins of the whole world?! To me that was far, far worse than, lets say, seeing a landscape of pure, untrodden snow in pristine beauty and stark whiteness suddenly polluted with a splattering explosion of a barn full of horse manure.
It isn't fair! You shouldn't have had to do this! You were undeserving of such a horrendous experience as this! WHY WOULD YOU DO IT?!
His simple answer was that He loved me enough to take my place, and suffer the holy judgment and wrath from a Just God for the sins I committed!
Indeed, its as the Word says,
Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
Do you know that someone had changed the wording of that beloved hymn?
Rather than leaving it the way it was, they slightly altered the wording from what you see written above.
They put it like this: "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved someone like me."
It sort of takes the hard edge of truth out of it, doesn't it? It makes grace somewhat less amazing. I won't go there however; I know what I was, and what I still am, apart from God's redeeming grace: a hopeless wretch with not a chance of gaining God's approval or a rightful claim to heaven.
But thanks be to God, for He has delivered me from my sin. from the curse of death (which now is nothing more than a temporary "sleep" from which I will "awake[n] in His likeness", and has delivered me from the torment of the second death, and will usher me into the eternal glory of Heaven above. AWESOME GOD!
So, if you would indulge me, I shall continue where I left off in that previous testimony.
It was, I've been told, a rather unique testimony; most every one has had the experience of some one witnessing and presenting the gospel to them, a Christian on the job, a believer in Jesus who's a neighbor, a friend, even a family member.
I've never been witnessed to, nor was there any flesh and blood person who presented the gospel to me. It was a direct revelation from the LORD to myself.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that I'm someone extraordinary, that the LORD Himself would choose to bring Me His saving knowledge and grace via His Word.
In reality, its always GOD who brings this salvation to any who is a Christian, whether He uses one of His children to do so, or if He instead chooses to do so directly.
It just so happens, that for reasons of His own, He decided to take me in Hand, Personally.
The entire day after that glorious morning of receiving Jesus as my LORD, I was almost floating on air. I felt different; my heart felt fresh, vibrant, unburdened, throbbing with jubilant joy and profound peace. Neither of my parents were at home at the time, and I began to ponder how I could ever share with them what happened, when I wasn't entirely sure myself!
When I did try to share with them, I got blank stares, and slightly uncertain nods of approval. I grappled with trying to make myself clear and kept stumbling over my own tongue.
Yet my parents witnessed a change in me; my Bible seldom left my hand. I brought it every where with me. To restaurants, to the dentists (in the waiting room), to Mass at St. Rose of Lima church, the Roman Catholic church I kept attending for nearly a year after I got saved.
When I prayed, my eyes refused to stay dry. The LORD had tenderized my heart to such a degree, that people recognized this transformation immediately. I tried sharing the gospel with one of my few, genuine friends down the street from where I lived, whom I had known since we were small children.
He was uncomfortable hearing these strange words from me, and told me he couldn't change as he had committed himself to the Roman Catholic church, and there he would stay, not crossing his parents who raised him in that faith.
My sister meanwhile was on a search of her own at this time; she was likewise Roman Catholic, and was undergoing some emotional trials and bouts of depression. She sought out the comforts and guidance of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She had a Christian friend who was instrumental in eventually leading her into the Truth of God's Word.
There wasn't a day that didn't pass that I didn't pray for my family, for the LORD to bring them all to salvation, especially my parents. My Mom was still drinking with greater frequency, my Dad was absorbed in the television (and no doubt frustrated and angry at my mother's drunkenness). I knew that it was vitally important that I not give up praying for them, not for an instant!
One day, I remember feeling a bit frustrated myself. I had entered into the kingdom of God as a saved person; by biblical definition, I became a 'saint' and while I read the Word daily, prayed, attended Mass (and still felt compelled to become a priest) I felt that there was something I was missing. There I was pacing back and forth in the living room, my Mom watching me from the couch, as I ranted and mumbled:
"There has to be more than this; I need to do something about all this. Jesus didn't save me just so that I could keep all this to myself; I have to get together with some others who know Jesus. I have a lot to learn and I can't do this all by myself!"
My mother asked me, "Jim (my family still calls me Jim, out here in AZ, I'm known as James) there's something that I don't understand . . . you've changed somehow, but does that mean you're not Catholic any more? Did you become a Protestant?"
Exasperated with her lack of understanding, as well as my own inability to explain what I've experienced, I only shook my head 'no' and continued to pace the floor. It struck me then, what I had to do: call the church and see if there were others I could get together with.
I called the rectory and prepared to ask for help, but when the secretary answered, the words I blurted out surprised even me!
"Is there a bible study in the parish I could attend?" I had no idea of asking to join in a bible study, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that that was exactly what I needed!
I was directed to call a couple known as the Beckman's, and when I dialed the number, a very bubbly, effervescent voice answered. Her name was Dana, and when I asked if it was possible for me to attend their home bible study, her answer was, "Sure! The more the merrier!"
I was elated! So that next Tuesday morning, I hoofed it over to their house (about a 20 minute walk) and discovered about a half dozen Roman Catholics that seemed to have the same heart as I did. They all had their Bibles with them, we all prayed prayers from the heart (not the form prayers from the missals we used in the church). The study was centered around the history of the gospels and the new testament, and I learned a lot, but couldn't help feeling there was still something missing . . .
I attended that study for the duration of the summer months until September, at which time I was scheduled to take some courses at a community college (Onondaga C.C.) in the Humanities (I would sharpen my scholastic skills in preparation for LeMoyne College, and go from there to a seminary to eventually get ordained as a priest). I had my plans to revolutionize the Roman Catholic church single-handedly!
I discovered that there were all sorts of Christian college students! One of the first Christians I met was a brother named John Lourin; when he asked me if I was saved, I answered a bit awkwardly "Uh, yes, right! Yes I believe in that! (I felt like an idiot, lol)."
What I didn't appreciate at the time was that not all 'Christians' were in fact, Christian. I met one young man named Ken Smith, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I thought, WOW! What an awesome name for a church!
We were all gathered together in a class during free period to have Bible study, and once it was all over, and Ken had left, I was informed of what his church (the Mormons) believed.
I was stunned! Surely they didn't believe all that?! Later, while on a city bus that took us off campus and brought us down town, I asked Ken about it, and he confirmed all of it! I insisted that what he believed was wrong because it was not in the Bible; he insisted right back and said it was the truth because it was in the Book of Mormon.
We went at it, and while I pointed out scripture after scripture to him, another student (John Lourin) who attended the studies, was sitting nearby, and I noticed he faced away, towards the window, and he seemed to be chuckling silently to himself.
When I later asked John what was so funny, he said, "It was just the way you went after him; the LORD has given you the boldness of a lion!"
I shrugged and smiled; all I knew was that I wanted to show Ken the truth of God's Word. Ken didn't talk to me much after that day.
I started attending The Living Word church, the fellowship where John worshipped, and it was very different from St. Rose which I still visited for Mass. It was a Pentecostal church. Upon entering the sanctuary, I saw people standing with their arms raised up in worship. Others were kneeling, their face in the carpet. Some were actually dancing right out in the aisles! There were those who were speaking in some foreign languages I didn't understand, and left me wondering what country they were from (is that laughter I hear from one of you readers?).
They didn't much care for my Catholic Bible, or for the fact that I still attended a Catholic church, but nonetheless, they still tolerated me, and eventually realized that I was in fact, truly saved. This taught me a valuable lesson however, to not go into 'attack-mode' when I saw someone who was different than myself in their religious convictions, even if what they believed was unbiblical (as was the case with Ken). I was not their judge.
At the same time, I wouldn't want to compromise the Truth, and say nothing to those who were in error; the Bible is the exclusive source of the Truth, and its the very yardstick by which all spiritual experiences and doctrinal beliefs is to be measured. If it didn't line up with God's Word of Truth, it was an error, a lie, a false way.
I had to learn the fine balance of "speaking the truth in love". I'm still learning to this day.
It was some time during this time that my sister gave me a brand new Bible; my very first King James Version (up til then I was reading from The WAY, A Paraphrase-The Living Bible). That KJV was beautiful, it fit snugly in my hand, was small, compact, but THICK. The print was just right, but King James English??
I asked her what the occassion for this was, and she answered it was for my birthday (but that wasn't for a few months yet); she explained she wanted to give it to me now, in case the rapture happened soon (prophetically, things were really heating up at that time, and we thought it might really be soon). This was over 20 yrs. ago, and it still hasn't happened - no worries: in God's time!
Painstakingly I underlined all the old English words and looked them up in a dictionary, and wrote down the definitions in the margins. Between this, and some prayer, in time, I became comfortable with King James lingo!
Summer turned to autumn, and I could no longer attend the Beckman's Bible study due to a conflict in my schooling. I was saddened by this until Dana told me that there is another Bible study she knew of, one held in the evening, and it was even closer to my house than hers.
It was then that she brought me over to meet, for the first time, Tom and Rosie.
Their study was a simple one: they had guitars and led worship for a small band of just under a dozen attendees, and then they played a cassette tape on which they had recorded a Bible study from off the radio.
Now let me make it clear that the studies at the Beckman's was a blessing, and so were the studies at the college bible study groups, and so were the teachings at The Living Word (though later I learned that many of their teachings were extra-biblical), but it wasn't until I heard the message on that tape that I knew I had found that 'something missing' element in bible study.
The tape was by pastor Chuck Smith from The Word For Today radio program, and he was teaching from Matthew's gospel, ch. 5 on the Sermon On the Mount. I was not merely learning facts about the Bible, nor information about Jesus; these teachings were giving me Jesus! I was learning of Him, of His nature of Love, of His plans and purposes for my life (yes, there's far more to the Christian life than getting saved alone).
It was awesome! It was like being incredibly thirsty, and up to that point being given small cups of water, to suddenly finding myself standing before an oasis of lush greenness and water gushing up with absolute, refreshing abundance! Here I understood what it meant by being "fed the Word of God."
At its conclusion I was overflowing with questions, which Rosie answered with a deftness and a satisfaction I'd never experienced before. This was a lady who knew the Word!
An incident occurred that night which will no doubt amuse many of you, and I will relate this event later in part two of this testimony.
I asked her if I might borrow the tape and bring it home to listen to again; she brought me upstairs to her 'Copy room' and made me a copy of it. When I saw the enormous volumes of cassette teaching tapes covering the walls (they were inserted in holding cartridges that were mounted on the walls) I thought I had 'died and gone to heaven'! She showed me her filing cabinets that were also stuffed full of tapes!
I asked if I could take some of these as well, and she generously provided me with a handful! I brought these home and listened to each one 2 or 3 times, and returned them in a few days, and took 5 or more others. I voraciously devoured these, and became more and more grounded in the scriptures.
I was full of questions when I returned to Tom and Rosie's house, and almost always found that they had an answer for me, directing me in the Word.
It was about that time my mother, who had been watching me carefully, and realized that this wasn't just some passing fad, that what I had was a life changing experience, and that she wanted it!
She came to me and told me that she was tired of the alcohol, and tired of life, and that she needed what I had. I led her in the prayer for salvation, and the LORD liberated her radically! It was immediately after we got up off our knees that she raided the refrigerator and took every bottle of beer and dumped them all down the sink. Through eight years of struggling, she eventually became grounded in the love and the grace of God.
She started attending the Bible study at Rosies as well; my sister was soon to follow, however I believe at that time, due to the witnessing of her friend, she was already a Christian. My Mom invited her sister, and her husband, and soon I found my Uncle and my Aunt sitting in Tom and Rosie's house, listening to the teachings of Chuck Smith. I remember that my Aunt said, "I'll go to this study, but no one had better change my religion!"
My Aunt, Uncle, and my Gramma (who came not long after) all accepted the LORD and were born again.
While attending Bible study at Tom and Rosies, I had heard stories from them about other kids who came from a Roman Catholic background, who, upon sharing Jesus with their family, were thrown out of the house for leaving the "one true religion".
That left me wondering about my father, and how my own situation would resolve once he learned of my spiritual alteration.
On that day, my father came into my room and told me he had a question for me. And I thought to myself, here it comes! Then he asked if I changed my religion and I told him with dry mouth and half muttered words: "No, Dad, its not like that at all. I don't have religion any more; I just accepted Jesus into my life, and He changed me, and washed my sins away. Now I know I'm going to heaven, but its only because of Him, and nothing that I've done or ever will do."
I wondered where I would be sleeping that night, as I waited for my Dad to explode. He said, "OK, well I just wanted to know," and promptly left the room!
I nearly fell out of my chair!
I started visiting the church that Tom and Rosie attended, and I would go there every week day Bible study (Wednesday I think it was) and attend Mass on Sundays. It was on November 12th of 1980 (five months after I became a Christian) that I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and I discovered what speaking in tongues was all about.
The LORD was working in much of my family, and in-laws and cousins and members from all around started coming to the study.
It was not quite one year after I became a Christian, that the LORD prompted me to leave the Roman Catholic church. This conviction followed quickly after a confrontation with Rosie when she learned that I still had plans on becoming a priest, and would proclaim the salvation of Jesus, through the born again experience as found in scripture and taught by the LORD Himself (both in the OT and and taught and realized in the NT).
She boldly told me, "You can't put new wine into old skins, the Roman Catholic church would never change its dogma's and adhere to scriptural truth alone. It's the Whore of Babylon!"
I left her and found myself in a very agitated, heated mood, but by the time I returned home, I realized she was right!
I arranged a meeting with the parish pastor, Father John, and asked him pointed questions about Roman Catholic dogma, and his answers were extra-biblical (answers not derived from scripture, but from an outside source; in this case, Roman Catholic tradition).
Then I asked him questions about certain passages in the Bible, and I inwardly found his answers entirely unsatisfactory.
He accused me of speaking to some fundamentalists, and while I admitted that I had, most of the questions I had, derived from my own reading and studying of the Bible.
Upon the meetings conclusion he told me he hoped he clarified the issues at hand well enough, and I told him that he had. He then asked if he would see me at Mass, and I said that he would not. I wanted and needed to attend a church that stayed strictly with the Bible, and didn't adhere to traditions and dogmas.
So I left the Roman Catholic church for good, and abandoned any ambition for the priesthood. Later I was to learn that I was already a priest in Christ Jesus!
1 PETER 2:9
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
Unknown to me at that time, the LORD had impressed on my sister the same conviction (she attended a different RC church than I and my parents).
I started going to Tom and Rosie's fellowship, Maranatha Chapel ('maranatha' means "Even so come quickly Lord" or "the LORD draws near"), and my Mom, Uncle and Aunt, Gramma came as well. When my sister showed up, I was stunned! "What are you doing here?" I asked, to which she smiled and answered, "The same thing you are!"
It was during this time, my father attended Mass all alone; and that rocked him to the core, realizing that his family had left the church he grew up in. My mother and I tried to share the gospel with him, but he would have nothing to do with it. He told me, "I was baptized Catholic, raised Catholic, and I will live and die as a Catholic, and there is nothing you can do to change me!"
When I got alone with the LORD and prayed tearfully over this rejection by my Dad, I felt the LORD's still, small voice, "Your father is right, there is nothing you can do. But don't worry, you just leave it to Me, I'll see to it!" And I felt His assurance and love.
One of the tapes I had borrowed from Rosie was a testimony by Bob Vernon, a former Lt. Chief of Police for L.A. and how he became a Christian. I intended on returning it to Rosie after listening to it, but inadvertently left it on the living room coffee table when I left the house. My father picked it up and as he loves anything to do with cops (his brother is a retired police officer), he listened to it, and received Jesus at the invitation at the end of the tape!!
In time we left Maranatha Chapel for various reasons; we (that is, Tom and Rosie, all of my family which thus far were saved, and some others) left seeking another church.
In short order we came across a church, River of Life chapel, in September of '81; we discovered that the pastor there was routinely fleecing the flock, rather than feeding the flock. We ended up leaving in Jan. of '82.
When we left, a few others joined us. This left Tom and Rosie in a quandry: as the spiritually mature saints of this rag-tag bunch, what were they to do? In the city of Syracuse NY, there was a kind of spiritual desert. Most churches didn't teach through the Word, as we became accustomed to, listening to Chuck Smith's teachings (in what is known as 'expositional teaching' that is, going from verse to verse, chapter to chapter, book by book, until all the Word of God is studied).
Then they traveled to Rochester (NY) to seek counsel from a Calvary Chapel pastor there. He informed them that we didn't need to seek a church, we already were one! They just needed some good teaching, and volunteered to make the trip (almost a 90 min. drive) and teach us every Friday night.
For about half a year, pastor Bil taught us and it was glorious! Others started coming around and soon Tom and Rosie's basement was full of saints, worshipping and learning God's Word. That included my sister's husband (and all of their girls professed the faith). My two brothers had not yet come to know the LORD, nor did their families; that was for a later time.
Let me say, that during this time, I had learned a very valuable lesson: that it didn't matter that we didn't have a church building with all that that entails. It didn't matter that we didn't have a resident pastor. What mattered was that we were learning, and applying God's Word to our lives, that we had a love (that which is born of God) for one another that the world knew nothing of.
It was a time of finding green pastures in the wilderness. Those of you who were there, know what I'm talking about: the fellowship, the companionship, the oneness of heart and soul, the love and joy and simplicity in Christ Jesus.
It was an experience that I will always be grateful for, and one I believe that has prepared those of us who were there for the days ahead, in which we may have to resort once again to 'home fellowships' and decline from attending corporate church which is increasingly becoming politically correct, and biblically unsound.
Eventually that home fellowship developed into a church fellowship; pastor Bil spoke with a pastor down in Florida and proposed that he travel north, and become a pastor in Syracuse.
In July of 1982, Agape (meaning "God's unconditional love") Fellowship was born and in about a year and a half the pastor decided that this was not where the LORD wanted him, and so this fellowship was disbanded.
For a long time we resolved to home study groups, and making the trip to Rochester (specifically the Canadaigua area) and attend Sunday morning service. This went on for several years until another bible study started up with a sunday school pastor (From C.C. Fingerlakes) and this eventually developed into a church, but this didn't last long either.
We attended a church in Syracuse called Shiloh Bible Church and eventually left due to (long story short) doctrinal differences.
Another C.C. church was attempted, and this one remains to this day; however by this time, most of those who were the original group in Tom and Rosie's basement Bible fellowship had dispersed and went their seperate ways.
For myself, in the year of 1991, in the month of October, I had the opportunity to travel with my parents to Arizona, to visit my mother's sister (my aunt) and her husband in Tucson. This would prove to be a turning point in my life and in the lives of two brethren that I came to know.
That will be presented in the second half of this testimony, as well as highlights of in-between events that occured in this first half, and where I am today!
As always I earnestly pray that the LORD Jesus bless all of you . . . WAY TOO MUCH!!!
Nikao Aionios A.V.R.A.S.!
To read the concluding segment of this testimony, please click on the following link:
Can I Get Another Witness? Part Two