I smoked a lot of weed. I didn’t really drink much, but I did sometimes. The whole time I was active in some sort of church thing. I hid it very well. My really close friends in that time knew how I really got down, but didn’t know all the church/faith stuff. I wasn’t exactly raised in a Christian home, but my Mom always showed Christ to me in her tender care for me.
God really hit me hard a couple of times in those days. The first real party I went to as a Junior, I was lighting up in a friend’s back yard, and this dude I didn’t even know walked up to me and said “Hey aren’t you that preacher guy?”.. Talk about awkward, embarrassing and shameful. I played it off, said “Yeah, kind of.” He asked me (and he was hammered, very hammered) “What are you doing getting stoned?” I replied with complete irreverence of God saying “God wants His kids to have fun!” I didn’t even believe that at the time, I just said it to save face, a weakness I’ve always had. Anyways, there was that time, after that I sort of stayed out of that particular public scene but kept on doing my dirt. Still did church stuff, leading up to a time where I was allowed to speak during a contemporary church service, there was maybe 40 people there. I spoke on “In the beginning”. That’s all I remember, but people told me they liked it. Shortly after that service I went to a friend’s house where myself and 6 other people each rolled up a blunt to smoke to the head (for those who don’t know what that means, it’s weed rolled up in a cigar wrap, and “smoke to the head” means we each had one for ourselves, no sharing). That night I had a very scary experience. It was only after about 5 minutes of smoking, we were standing in a drive-way, I was leaning against a friend’s car, a bright white light flashed. I woke up about 30 minutes later (so they told me) sitting in the driver’s seat of my “friends” car at the time, they didn’t care to take me to a hospital or call 911. Anyways, the picture was clear to me. I just taught God’s people the Bible, then I just mocked God by denying him with my actions shortly after. Boom, knocked out. Weed never did that to me, not even the strongest I’d had. No doubt, it could have been the weed itself, but I can certainly see that as a means that God nudged me with. I still didn’t stop living the lie. I kept on with it, tried to be a cool kid, learned a lot of scripture at the time too. I was so deluded to believe that smoking weed and reading the Bible would actually enhance my spiritual understanding. It didn’t. Anyways, life went on, I graduated from High School by the skin of my teeth and the fake charm I showed to the teachers and counselors. At the time I just lived by every moment, I didn’t think deeply about the big picture of life. That today may be the last day I live, and it may not be. When you put life in that perspective, you see (I hope) that no matter how spiritual you are, you aren’t doing life right. Maybe we never feel that assurance, but I have something close to it.
On with the story:
I graduated High School, got an apartment at 18 years of age. Many of you remember those times. I had some parties, lots of friends crashing there and smoking a lot of weed, eating mushrooms, drinking a little. This was probably the time that I see as the darkest in my life. I was happy in a sense that I had friends, people who would take a bullet for me, all that. But what good is that really? Security provides a little bit of comfort, but the fact that we have that need for security shows that we are incapable within ourselves to achieve total independence. Anyways, after two room-mates (who are still my good friends now) came in and out of my apartment, I was left alone. I couldn’t keep a job for the life of me. I tried construction (basically the only job in my hometown) and I nearly killed my boss, seriously. I almost dropped a gigantic ladder on him. Needless to say, that didn’t work out. I started selling weed, not much, but a little here and there. This gave me some pride to think that people were dependent on something that I could provide that could in turn make them happy. Basically, I gave some weed to some guys (who were also ecstasy addicts) and they got busted with it, and ratted me out. So, this is where it all gets interesting. I had about 1/2 lb of weed with me that I had to sell. I get a call asking for that same amount, so naturally (and idiotically) I accepted the offer. Four random guys show up at my house, not the guy that I had planned the deal with. Their car backed into the parking spot, they came in weighed out the bag, broke some out of the brick, and said we could have a smoke, as I started to roll it up, they were out the door, speeding off.
They robbed me. At the time I was so furious about it. Right now I am extremely grateful to God for letting it happen. It was God’s providence that it happened. It was in God’s pursuit of me that He allowed me to see where my path was heading, in a real way.
Remember me mentioning that these guys ratted me out to the cops? Well, the whole setup was supposed to be a sting operation. They come in, make the transaction, leave, cops show up, cart me off to jail, and that’s it. In their minds, if they rob me, they’ll get the weed, and won’t have to worry about my retaliation. Which was something to worry about considering the people that I supplied, and the network of friends I had. There has been no other time in my life when I have seen exactly how pathetic I was. On top of the world, have a gang of friends, but completely pathetic, and prideful in the midst of it. To end this part of the story, ultimately nothing ever came of the sting operation, other than that the guys who robbed me went to jail for a while shortly after the whole thing happened. I can’t disclose how I know about the whole issue of me about to get arrested. I have a completely clean record, and the justice that I deserved to fall right on me did not happen.
More stuff happened in between that, in short, me hiding from people who busted in my house (guys who really wanted to hurt me). Also, me coming up with an escape plan. Escaping that town, where I had left a trail of bones. Friends, girls, Christians, I was just evil. They probably don’t think so now, I was always a pretty nice guy (I think) but in retrospect, it was all a game in order for me to get what I wanted.
So, off to Asheville I went. This was something new, going somewhere that I don’t know anybody, don’t have a job, but in a safe, and really cool place. This time was peaceful, I remember that. Although my demons followed me, I eventually found a source for some weed, and even traveled back to my home town to get some if I had to. My real friends kept in touch during this time, but we had all grown apart. We all had our own issues going on, maybe that’s just what happens after High School with people. I’ve noticed some people just stay in the same place, and do the same stuff they did in High School after High School. I admire a lot of those folks, but I’m just not one of them. I even think that some of them don’t want to be that, but they’re afraid to step out and move for various reasons. So, as a side note, if you’re one of those folks. Leave, but leave in a smart way, make plans. I was basically forced to go for a job by my loving Mom who I was living with at the time. This landed me at a grocery store, third shift stocking. What a crappy job. This too, was God’s grace flooding me. I got to working there and I met the person who is now one of my best friends, Michael Moody.
Me and Mike:
So, here I was, this little wannabe hip hop kid who just came from a world of self-deception which was fostered by his lifestyle, working 3rd shift at his first real job (that he could do, unlike construction). To describe my spirituality at the time, I really thought that I was above the religious stuff since I’d read the Bible, and knew it pretty well. I’d argued against those of other faiths. For some reason that led me to think I just had it all under control. I was 19, haha. I called myself a Christian, but there wasn’t even a bite of fruit in my life. So, this tattooed guy Mike who I worked with was a brand spanking new Christian. He may not remember this part, but I do. One of his friends from school had just died (we are the same age). He talked to me about Christ that night, but he was basically asking questions, and I found myself being able to basically answer them, or at least explore them in some fashion. This was pivotal for me, I all the sudden woke up and realized that I actually learned some things, and speaking about scripture felt natural to me. I asked myself… am I actually answering questions about Christianity? How could I do such a thing with the life I just came from?! Anyways, I had made a friend (he’s easy to become friends with, I’m going to tag him in this note, you should add him). He said I could go to church with him, and boy, talk about a journey.
We land at a very charismatic church. Some of you don’t know what I mean when I say “charismatic church”, basically it’s a church who believes in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, which is stuff like speaking in tongues, prophecy, stuff like that. When I got there, I really let loose. I raised my hands in the service, and I felt this pull in me saying “submit to Christ”. At the time, it was just another piece of security for me. I did feel free, I do think I had some spiritual experiences, but I wasn’t whole. After 3 hours of church, we went to another church in downtown Asheville, where all the hippie Christians were. It was pretty cool, intense too. The church was meeting in Pritchard Park, during the service a man practicing voodoo walked through with incense and speaking curses on the fellowship, everyone just stared at him, didn’t react. The congregation showed amazing patience. The man was gone, and it just kept on going! What security! Then, after that, Mike dragged me to ANOTHER church! Well, this wasn’t considered a church, but it was a sanctuary for about 30 hippie kids and myself for a few years. This fellowship was something very unique. They too believed in the charismatic gifts, and the group was small, so I had a little more up close and personal experiences with the use of the gifts (to this particular group). Worship was different, guitar, and bongo drums. Everybody there loved the scripture. There were people there (very hippie’d out people) who could recite long passages of scripture from memory. I was amazed, this is something I wanted. Again, to shorten this story, I met some awesome folks who told me about a ministry in California called Prodigal Project. This ministry was primarily to the New Age kids in San Francisco and at Rainbow Gatherings. If you aren’t familiar with New Age or Rainbow Gatherings, search it out on the internet to find out about it.
Road to leaving for Prodigal Project:
So, remember, Mike and I worked 3rd shift at a grocery store, the job was getting a little better, I was still smoking a little weed (much less than I used to). Mike and I were entertaining the idea of going to check out Prodigal Project. We sold some of his stuff, I used my last paycheck to buy a Greyhound Bus ticket from Asheville, NC to Leggett, Ca where Prodigal Project was located. Mike couldn’t come yet, had to set some things up before he could come. Maybe he’ll write out his part of the story, that’d be cool.
There I was, boarding a bus with more bags than I could carry, I had books, clothes, a bag of oranges, some drinks. Preparing for a 2 day road trip with every kind of person you could imagine. Smelly homeless people, gang members (real ones, not wannabes), met some skinheads, you name it, it was on the Greyhound. That trip was just exhausting every moment of it, I was loaded with bags to carry, and we stopped at so many sketchy stations, I didn’t use the bathroom the whole time because I had so many bags I couldn’t lug them around with me. I couldn’t go buy any food either for the same reason. I literally remember saying “Jesus, prove that you can keep me from dying on this trip.” There was even some young girls I met on the ride who I talked to, they got off in St. Louis, they were on their way to somewhere else, they never showed up to the bus (after a 5 hour layover). I still wonder what happened to them. Well, I arrived in Leggett, CA, the bus stop was right in the middle of the Redwoods, at a little gas station. I had some change, I was supposed to call Prodigal Project and they would pick me up. The first thing I did was set all of those bags down, I felt like I was on a cloud, I laid down on a picnic table and fell asleep for about an hour. I got up and called, and called, and called, no answer! Then I remembered that the ministry was within walking distance of the gas station. That could mean anything, 10 miles, 5 miles, 100 yards, who knows, but it was getting dark. I walked left down the 101 for about 30 minutes. That was the wrong way. So I turned around, got back to the gas station (it was closed) then laid down again for a bit, grabbed my stuff, turned right out of the parking lot, then this young hippie girl (who I expect was maybe stoned out of her mind?) walked out of the woods to the road. I recognized her from the Greyhound, I didn’t know she got off at my stop. Anyways, I asked her if she knew about Prodigal Project, she said that’s where she was going, and went on to tell me about how she ran away from there and stuff. So, we arrive at the ministry after walking a while (can’t really remember how far, probably less than a mile). I met some of the staff there, and it was so funny, they were just like me personality-wise saying “yeah we heard the phone, but we didn’t want to answer it” haha. It was funny to me at the time, and plus I was delirious and sleepy too. So they set me up in a cabin with some other guys who were there, and there I was, on the other side of America, in a very different place, with mega-huge trees.
The land of big trees:
I was finally at Prodigal Project. It was dark outside. I was laying on a top bunk in a tiny cabin with 3 other guys snoring in other bunks. I laid there thinking about what was going to happen next, trying to get a grip on the reality that I was hundreds of miles away from home. No family here, no friends here, nothing that I was really familiar with, but Jesus was there. To be honest, I didn’t know if I was joining some cult, or if I was with a bunch of loony tunes who claim Jesus. I had a little cash and an escape plan just in case. After thinking for a while, I remembered that I hadn’t slept in nearly 3 days, other than on a picnic table for a little while. So I slept like I never had before.
I woke up the next day, maybe around lunch-time. I walked out of the cabin and was really amazed at how gigantic all of the trees were around me, and the beauty of the land in general. I saw some little kids running around and playing, there was a small pond with a bridge and cabins all laid around in a circle with a small gravel walkway. I didn’t really know where everybody congregated, I didn’t know anything about the place. So I walked up to the porch where I first sat and laid my bags at. I saw the door on the side and knocked on it. Somebody came and opened it, I told them “yeah, I’m new here, where is everybody?” I was let in and told that the building I was at was called “The Big House”. This is where we had classes, times of prayer and worship, and the general “kick it” place. As a newbie there, the main assignment was to read 3 chapters of the New Testament every day and write a paragraph (or more) about what I thought about it. I wasn’t asked to exegete the passages, I was just asked to write what I thought, maybe how it made me feel, very relative to each day. I liked that, even though I didn’t really do it as much as I should have. The coming months that I would be there were the most influential time in my Christian walk and life. I had huge struggles there, and experienced God more than I ever had prior to getting there.
Whoa, this is spiritual!:
One thing about the group of folks who were at this ministry, everybody was very different. Most of the folks were very charismatic. Meaning they believe that the more miraculous gifts in the Bible were still going on today. Healings, speaking in heavenly languages, prophecy, all that is what they believed, and that they were a normal part of the Christian life. At the time I believed that also, but I didn’t have as much exposure to that movement as many of them did. Many of them started their Christian walk in those sorts of churches, so I had a lot to learn. I heard countless testimonies of people receiving prophecies, falling down speaking in tongues, hearing the audible voice of God, hearing that they had seen demons cast out of people. I spent hours listening to those sorts of testimonies during my time there. I was completely gung-ho about that kind of stuff. The church we attended had a “prophecy team” who would get up in our service and prophecy over different people in the church. It became something that I longed for, for somebody to prophecy over me, basically so I could hear that God had some sort of big thing for me in my life, and in retrospect, so I could hear that I was doing well in God’s eyes. It was pretty selfish of me, but at the time I didn’t know any better. I think it’s a big danger I see in the movement, but I don’t believe every person who believes this way is like me, as many solid churches believe that these gifts are still around, but they have a central focus on the Gospel itself, not just signs and wonders. But that’s another conversation.
Traveling with the brothers and sisters:
The first weekend since I arrived they had a trip to Santa Cruz (I think it was in Santa Cruz at least…) planned. I was really excited about this as I got to see more of California and have some adventures traveling with this band of believers. The group was so eclectic, I loved it. Many were total hippies, very “green” and had seen a lot of things in their life. They were all amazing testimonies of God’s grace. Saved out of very deep spiritual oppression from the New Age spirituality that goes with most of the hippy culture. We all crammed into a large RV and made our way down Highway 101 towards Santa Cruz. Along the way we stopped to meet up with the folks from the ministry who were living on Haight Street in San Francisco. This was really cool, I remember not even knowing what to do while I was there. We parked in the McDonalds parking lot right across from Golden Gate park. We were just chilling in the parking lot, talking to people who were walking through, asking them what they thought about Jesus while we waited for folks to come and load up for the trip. This is where the first (of the many) strange things I saw happen in California happened.
The man whose followers call him Jesus:
While in the parking lot we met a guy (who seemed to be drunk, or on drugs, or both) was wearing a really dirty suit with spray paint on it, and somebody asked him “Do you know Jesus?” to which he replied “Yes, he’s right down the street.” We all kind of laughed, but soon realized he said it very seriously. He emphasized that he was serious, and he’d bring him over to meet us. We all thought that he was just messing with us, and he wouldn’t come back. Sure enough about 20 minutes later he returns with a small African-American man and about 7 or 8 other people. He said “Here he is, here is Jesus, he’s God”. At this point I just stepped back a little, and let the men who were familiar with this kind of thing talk to him. I, coming from small-town NC didn’t even know this kind of thing existed! A man from our group told the man that he was not Jesus, and he needs to fall on his knees and pray to the real Jesus for forgiveness, and receive new life. The man had very large eyes, and looked “off”? The man didn’t say a word to us, but he did see this large basket of tomatoes we had and pointed at it. So one of the guys handed the whole thing to him, and he walked away with his head down. The outspoken guy who told us about him just said “thanks guys!” and ran off with him. The other people who were with this “Jesus” were others who “followed” him. Talk about strange.
Camping with new friends:
The drive to Santa Cruz seemed long, but it was really fun. We were all crammed into this RV, some of us having to stand the whole way, but just having a good time, playing cards, talking about the Bible, just having a good time. We arrived at where we were going to camp, I believe it was a National Park, but I’m not sure. If anything, the place was beautiful. It was covered in massive trees, soft ground, and a couple out-houses. I didn’t really know where I fit in with the bunch, as my background was the complete opposite of theirs. I couldn’t play a bongo drum, didn’t really know how to strike up a conversation. I only knew who some of the leaders were, and most everybody’s names. I kept to myself most of the time, and tried to connect with folks as much as I could. When it got dark we started a fire and had a little gathering, where we all just had our Bibles, played and sang worship songs, screamed loud proclamations, danced around. This was a very cool experience, I felt freedom there, and it was really strange. To be with a group of people who lived in their certainty that Christ is the only one they want to impress. I saw a lot more of how everybody got along, witnessed some arguments and squabbles, that was helpful, I felt vulnerable, and realized that I liked being vulnerable and open.
Back to Northern California:
We had gotten back to “The Land” from our camping trip and that’s when I got to really get more into the community there and see it’s every day functions. In the morning a staff member would clang a bell and everyone would go to breakfast within the next 30 minutes (well, supposed to be 30 minutes, it usually ended up being the next hour). Our food variety was really funny. The food we got was from the San Francisco food bank, and whatever we as individuals could afford from the grocery store we went to every Sunday after church. There was practically no milk (other than powdered milk) no meat, and no butter. Myself, being from NC was used to only eating the things that we typically didn’t have. So that made things interesting, and I was nearly forced to become a vegetarian! I’d never eaten Lentils, quinua, sprouts, none of it! Thankfully, my mom put money on my debit card so I could walk down the road to the local pizza place.
After breakfast we’d all congregate in the Big House to read and go through scripture, or other sorts of topics like that. These were always cool, and even pretty different from teacher to teacher. This also brought up something that I was going through, and God really made me face it.
Tearing down the Trinity:
At the time I didn’t really know the severity that some doctrines have. My Father is a member of “The Berean Christadelphians”. Which denies that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh. During this time, I was pretty convinced of this also. After one of the Bible studies, I thought more about this and realized that everybody I was with, and the ministry itself believed in the doctrine of the Trinity. If my Father’s group is right about this, then I’m living with anti-Christs. That didn’t sit well with me, and I had to face it. This would lead me to more Bible study than I’d probably done in my life leading up to this point. For a while I only talked about it with a couple people in the group, I convinced them that the Trinity was a made up doctrine, and that Christ wasn’t really God, merely a creation of God to be the Messiah. We visited another church that wasn’t the usual one we went to, and after the service I went up to the Pastor and asked him about the Trinity, and he explained a little to me, and I just laid into him the memorized verses I had that I believed demonstrated that Christ wasn’t God in the flesh, and he didn’t respond to me. I felt victorious. Every time I would hear somebody pray to Jesus I would mock them in my head and make fun of them.
Then one day our director was teaching us about the book of Hebrews, where this verse is:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. ` Hebrews 4:15
We had discussions about what we had read, and when we came to this I openly said that Jesus couldn’t have been tempted in every way like we are. I also showed that this verse shows that Jesus wasn’t God at all, because God could not be tempted to sin.
Things got really real at this point, and our director showed me my folly, but I didn’t accept it, and walked out and went to my cabin (I had a room by myself at this point). I refused to go to any more classes, go get food, or anything until I hammered this whole issue out. Over those couple of days I went all over the Old Testament, and New Testament, got out my papers that my dad had sent me about the Trinity and did what I can to see if they lined up with scripture. During this time I nearly rejected the New Testament altogether, and thought about just becoming a Jew, or anything but a Christan. I was depressed, angry, and flat out confused. This time lead to a lot of self-reflection, and in that I realized I didn’t know God at all. Everything of the Bible that I knew was just so I could spout out some verses here and there, and fit in with the crowd.
At this point the director had come to visit me and talk to me about stuff. He was so humble about the whole deal. He told me that he respected me for really trying to understand it and study the scriptures. He handed me a set of tapes by Steve Gregg (who I now disagree with on some things, but still love him). The tape series was called something like “The Authority of the Scriptures” or “Knowing God” I can’t remember, but there were some tapes on the Trinity. I listened to them, paused them to think about what he said, debated him in my head while listening. I came to accept that the Bible does teach that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. It became inescapable to me. Also that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all called God in the Bible (Philippians 1:2/John 1:1,14/Acts 5:3.4) and that God is one (2nd Samuel 22:32). It all began to come together for me and spiritually it was all different. My prayer life became one of dependence on God, not just telling God how awesome I am like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. This is the point where I felt like I had really been saved by God. I felt His mercy, and all the sudden Hebrews 4:15 (the verse I quoted earlier) became a life-line for me. A little while after this we went back to San Francisco for a prayer conference that was 10 days long, and we were going to stay there and live in the church for 10 days straight! This time was absolutely amazing, they had worship bands playing 24/7 for 10 days. On the first day that I was there, a complete stranger walked up to me and said “welcome to the fold, Christ is King, God Himself”. I just cried, the guy thought I was crazy, but who cares. He was gracious, I told him my story and he praised God for it, and really showed a ton of outward joy for me and literally sort of jumped around about me coming to Christ. He then asked me if I had been baptized.
I had been baptized before into a Baptist church at the age of 15. Though it was a baptism into a Christian church, I honestly became to not accept it as real. I wasn’t taught a lick of doctrine, especially on who God is! If I was, perhaps I would have never fallen into the heresy of anti-trinitarianism. So I went to my mentors in the ministry and expressed to them my case for being baptized. That summed up was “I just got saved out of heresy”. They accepted, and I was baptized in the Eel River shortly after. It was a glorious time.