I've gone to conventional protestant churches off and on throughout my life, but only in snippets, followed by long periods of ... well, nothing much to do with the church. Or faith. If you pushed me, I'd say I believed,, sort-of, but I also had a lot of skepticism that - coupled with a lack of a real understanding of or familiarity with Scripture - was skepticism based on ignorance.
The story begins:
And I can't say that I had any faith to speak of. It just didn't matter all that much. I wanted to believe that there was a purpose for my son John David's accidental death at age 17 ten years ago, and for his mother's (my wife's) suicide seven years later when she couldn't face one more anniversary of John's death. And I wanted to believe that they lived on in heaven, embraced by a loving God - but that didn't keep me awake nights. I guess I just wasn't engaged in life-after-life - I had enough problems living in the here and now.
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For a long time before last August (2010), I had felt a growing emptiness inside, one that wasn't physical but one I could nonetheless feel. And for years, I'd been driving by this modernistic-looking mega-church in suburban Las Vegas - it fronted on the Interstate, and looked more like a high school than any church I'd ever attended or seen. But for years, it had intrigued me, for reasons I couldn't fathom.
In August, I noticed a billboard in front of the church, Central Christian (www.centralonline.com), announcing that actor Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, was going to be at an upcoming service. Even better, it was on a Saturday evening, and wouldn't interfere with our sleep-in-Sunday. I mentioned this to my wife of nearly three years, Lynn - because I knew she valued that film highly. It turned out she had received a postcard about the appearance, and was interested, so we agreed to go.
This experience was all new to me. There was a loud rock band playing music I didn't recognize - and people stood for the songs, a seemingly-interminable time. After a few brief messages and the obligatory offering (I gave a dollar, I believe) Jim was interviewed by the pastor; both in blue jeans, very informal, in an auditorium, not a sanctuary. Totally unlike anything I'd experienced (but not, as it turned out, particularly unfamiliar to Lynn). Part of Caviezel's appearance was spontaneous and moving - part of his presentation was obvious rehearsed, but no less moving.
Afterwards, we agreed that this wasn't a "typical" service, but we also agreed to give it another chance. Turns out the senior pastor, Jud Wilhite, had written a book about the articles of faith followed by the church. This was important to me - if I was going to get involved with a church that was so different from what I'd known, I wanted to know what they believed. The book, Uncensored Truth, was compelling, funny and confirmed to me that I could accept the church's teachings - in spades.
Something had happened. I wanted to go to church the next Sunday. And I wanted to start in their "First Steps" class designed to help interested individuals learn more, and decide, to join the church. You had to complete the course and be baptized to join - I liked that; most churches make it so easy to join that there's little skin in the game. This one expected you to make a real, informed, commitment.
I'm not sure how it happened, but I knew that I wanted to take the plunge (literally and figuratively), and to become a member. Not just of a church, but a member of the group of people who are Christ followers, who see this as important and life-altering and altogether necessary for them in their lives. I guess I was finding something to fill that hole inside me.
But this wasn't a pentacostal moment for me - no rushing winds, no tongues of flame, no divine certainty. I've had to work on my faith, rather than having it handed to me on a silver platter. I felt some light touches that I am sure are divine in nature - I'll explain them as I go along - and I've felt both compelled and eager to change my ways in some important cases and issues. I've seen a few important prayers answered ... not always as I expected ... but I've also had some earnest prayers go (so far) unanswered.
Join me on my journey if you will. And follow me on Twitter: @nedfaithjourney
That's what this new blog is about.