Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The man I am and the man I used to be

[Sorry this took a while. Shortly after updating the previous post, we gave up the computer for a while and I didn't remember to come back to this after we got it back.]

Someone came to me with a question a while ago:

"How does one go from being a liberal to being the complete polar opposite?"

The answer to that question is going to take a bit to answer. Might as well start from the beginning.

I was born into a Christian family. Both my parents were devoted Christians who made sure their kids went to church. They changed church affiliations a few times in their lives due to problems with doctrinal issues. Eventually they settled in a Baptist church - the one I am a full-fledged member of now, in fact. I attended this church and their Wednesday night youth groups for a while before graduating from high school. But even during that time, the foundations for my life apart from God and the conservative values that I was raised on were being built.

In high school (the late 1980s), I was first introduced to and became friends with people who were atheists. Their influence on me was subtle, but effective. I eventually came to doubt and then reject my belief in God. Along with that went all the conservative values I had. I came to accept evolution as fact, and see things like abortion as "a woman's right" and homosexuality as "harmless" and "normal." Additionally, my view of conservatives and Christians became quite negative. A lot of the statements I see made against them now were statements I would've made and probably did make during that time.

During this time, I first formulated my political standings. I voted for Bill Clinton twice and ridiculed people like Rush Limbaugh. I supported the modern atheist idea of what "separation of church and state" means (i.e. "keep it in your homes and churches where it belongs") and opposed things like Ten Commandments monuments and publicly-funded memorial crosses.

I also became addicted to pornography during this time. I will admit that. I bought many magazines and videos. It's something I am now deeply ashamed of and it still affects me. It's like a drug or alcohol addiction. I got a "high" from it and that has been difficult to shake completely.

This all lasted for most of the '90s. During this time, I witnessed what I now know in retrospect was God's hand at work in my life and the lives on my family. My dad got very sick and was brought to the local hospital, then transfered down to a larger and better equipped hospital in the Twin Cities many miles away. The diagnosis was cancer. He spent many months in that hospital and needed major surgery to remove a large portion of his digestive tract including much of his stomach. It was a very, very difficult time for my mother and after returning home from the hospital one day, she broke down right in front of me and cried hysterically. I didn't have the slightest clue what to do. I tried to comfort and console her, but I didn't know how. Emotionally (and I know now spiritually, too) I was lost. Right then - and I mean right then my older brother, who lives down in the Cities, arrived. My brother is a very faithful Christian and he was able to calm her and reassure her while I stood by feeling quite helpless. That event has stayed with me a long time. Looking back, I now find it impossible to accept that his arrival right at that time was a coincidence.

My dad eventually got better and was able to return home. He returned to work and retired not long after. He was the director of a company that did lots of social work in the community and county. It was work he did very well and of which he was very proud. I'm sure he felt he was doing the Lord's work.

The relief we felt at his recovery didn't last long, though. He ended up having a serious relapse of his cancer. He decided not to fight it this time. The last battle just took too much out of him - literally and figuratively. He didn't make this decision lightly. It wasn't, "I'm giving up." It was, "I'm being called home."

So, with the help of the local Hospice program, he was able to live out his last days at home. It was a slow process. He lost more and more weight as the days passed. It should've been very painful for him, but through what only could have been the grace of God, he did not suffer much. He only took about half of the dosage of pain medication he was prescribed.

My dad had a deep faith in Christ and it shined like never before during his final days. He never faltered in that faith, though he had every reason to do so. He knew that in Christ, his sins were forgiven and a new life free of pain and sadness awaited him.

Early one February morning, as he lay near death and in a coma, my mom went to moisten his dry lips. When she had finished, he smiled and was gone. I don't doubt that it was no coincidence that he died at that moment. My mom was always by his side during their marriage, during his illnesses, and it fit that she would be right at his side when he died. He could've died while she was resting or off in another room, but no. God called him home at the right time.

His memorial service drew hundreds of people from all over. The church was packed to capacity and thensome! It was simply one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed in my life. I felt like I was at some famous celebrity's or world leader's memorial service. Here was my father, a man who just was this regular joe, or seemed to be, and his death resulted is this immense outpouring from people. I was the first of his children to speak at the memorial and my first word was simply, "Wow." It's a memory I still marvel at.

So why did this happen? Why did so many people - some from very far away - come to pay their final respects to my dad? What made him so special? The answer was obvious. He was greatly loved because he loved greatly. He respected people and treated them with kindness and never really lost his temper. In my heart and mind, my dad epitomized 1 John 4:7-21:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Although I didn't realize it at the time, all of this started to change me. I started becoming more open to the Gospel. I started reading more and more apologetical writings and seeing the logic and truths they contained. I found that everything that I had learned about the Bible being full of contradictions and errors was wrong and based on misconceptions, half-truths and outright lies. I rededicated my life to the Lord, began going to church again and eventually decided to get baptized. By that time, my entire worldview had changed radically to a conservative view. I now think - among other things - that abortion is murder and homosexuality is a sin. More importantly - MOST importantly! - I've seen God's hand at work in my life not only now, but in the past as well. I realized that even when I rejected Him, He never left me.

So who am I now? I am a man who loves God. Contrary to what some would have you believe, that does not make me hateful, bigotted, prejudiced, homophobic, "holier-than-thou," or any other negative condemnation that is typically leveled at conservative Christians simply because they are conservative Christians. I have opinions and am not afraid to call a spade a spade. I am not perfect and I have faults like everyone else. I will not deny that. I admit that I often can be impulsive, cynical and sarcastic, but these are not borne out of hatred. I'm trying to soften my personality through prayer, practice and thinking about things more before I say or write them. I'm sure it will be a lifelong process and I will face many trials, but I trust that the Lord will give me the strength to get through it all. At my Dad's memorial, we chose to have a friend sing "the Anchor Holds." The song just epitomizes my Dad's life. Through joy and suffering, his faith in and his love for Jesus held as firm as an anchor. His life brought glory to God and I want my life to do the same.

Finally, here is my life verse again:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."

--Titus 3:3-7