Friday, January 1, 2016

My Christian Testimony

Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?  When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.  ~Acts 11:17&18~

I was born, the ninth of ten children, into a loving family.  My father was very ingenious and he worked hard to provide a good life for us. My mother was wonderful, very selfless and caring.  I have no doubt that had they chosen to have a small family, they would have been much better off financially, but I didn’t mind.  I absolutely loved growing up in a large family and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  My brothers and sisters were and are so very good to me.  Yes, we had our problems, but this is not about those difficulties. This is the story of my conversion to Christ.

My parents were strict Roman Catholics and sending their children to Catholic school was a priority.  Although, I do have one brother who likes to boast that he only attended Catholic school for one, single year.  I, myself, spent eight years there, and am very thankful for it.  The education was excellent.  However, at the time I didn’t appreciate having home-work when all my public school friends in the neighborhood had none.  Now, I don’t see how I could have home-schooled my own children without the superior foundation in academics that I received.  Also, I am thankful to have learned the official Catholic doctrine.   I have many, many warm and happy memories of friends, teachers and experiences at St. Mary Magdalene School, and I am very thankful for the financial sacrifice that my parents made to send me there.

Sometime when I was in early grade school my older sister Rita, who had already moved away from home, came to Christ.  Naturally, she began telling me of the Savior and of His holy word.  She would encourage me and my little brother to memorize Bible verses.  I remember one occasion, a Catholic school field trip to a colonial village.  We all dressed in period costume.  It was a lot of fun.  We visited an old time school house and the museum guide explained to our class how important the Bible was for education in our country’s early years.  She asked if any of us could recite a Bible verse.  I was the only child in my entire class who could!

2nd Grade
My sister also told me many things about the Bible, some of which directly contradicted Roman Catholic teaching.  This confused me.  I loved and believed my sister, but I also loved and believed my Mom and my Catholic faith.  I wasn’t really troubled by this, but it was puzzling.  It just didn’t make any sense to me. 

I tried talking about it with my best friend, Jenny Piccolo (not her real name), when we were about thirteen years old.  It didn’t go well.  She became very upset and said, “Stop!  You’re making me feel like I’m some kind of sinner and I’m NOT.  I don’t want to talk about it anymore!”  Jenny’s reaction really surprised me.  I was just trying to figure out this whole thing for myself.   I was asking for her help, not trying to accuse her of anything.  We ended the conversation on that note and I never spoke to her of it again.

Most of the time these questions didn’t even cross my mind, but then there were times when I wondered about them.  Not pray to Mary and the saints, how bizarre!  I began to pray for a sign.  God, give me a sign.  Show me if it is okay to pray to Mary.  If it is not okay to pray to Mary, please direct my prayers to You, instead.  I had not yet learned the Scriptures, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;” (1 Timothy 2:5).  And, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.  …” (Mathew 16:4)

In the Roman Catholic tradition there is a ceremony called, May Crowning or May Procession, and in Catholic school this is a big deal.  It is an entire church service to honor “holy Mary, mother of God, ever virgin,” and crown her “Queen of Heaven.”  The 8th grade graduating class takes a huge part in the procession.  The girls all wear long gowns and the guys all wear suits.  One girl is chosen to be May Queen and two others are chosen to be her attendants.  The May Queen will place a crown on a life size statue of Mary and will lead the entire congregation in prayers and worship of Mary (full disclosure: the R.C. denies it is worship).  The 8th grade students each carry a long stemmed flower and place them in tall vases before the image of Mary. All the girls really want to be May Queen. She will wear a long white gown that will set her apart from the other young ladies and will have a crown of flowers herself.  It is quite an honor.

There are different ways of selecting May Queen.  In our school the 8th grade class used to vote for her.  However, the school or the church changed it, because they felt that maybe it wasn’t right that the most popular girl was always picked. So instead of voting, at one of our class’ masses, all the girls names were put on a plate and the priest, “guided by the Holy Spirit,” would pick one name for May Queen and two more for her attendants.

The priest picked me to be May Queen!  I was thrilled and scared.  I couldn’t wait to go shopping for my dress.  Not only that, but I believed God had answered my prayer and given me a sign that it was okay to pray to Mary.  I could go on in my Catholic faith without any worries.  My sister was mistaken.  All was well.

May Crowning ~ 1978
I entered high school and still occasionally read my Bible.  My sister was still encouraging me in the Scriptures whenever I would see her, and something amazing was revealed to me.  I read in Matthew, “Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.”  And also, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren,* James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?  And his sisters, are they not all with us?  Whence then hath this man all these things?”  Wonder of wonders … Mary was not a virgin all of her life!  Not only did she and Joseph have sex after Jesus was born, they had children, too!  This was quite shocking for me.  All along in Catholic school it was stressed that Mary was a virgin for her entire life and Jesus was her only child.  Oh my!  If the Catholic church is wrong on something so simple as this, where else are they incorrect?  Certainly on their belief that the Pope cannot be wrong concerning church doctrine.  Now all of their teaching was suspect.

I remember sitting in our beautiful church.  The parish was affluent and the congregation was well dressed, respectable, hard working and friendly people.  I sat there thinking, Are all these nice people going to hell?  More confusion.  The Catholic Church was wrong and more than about praying to Mary.  Its way of salvation was based on faith plus works, and if you weren’t good enough, there was always purgatory to prepare you for heaven, to purge you of your sins.  Living people’s prayers could help release souls early from purgatory.  Donations to the church on behalf of the deceased could also help, but what about the poor soul who had no one to pray for him or give money on his behalf?  Must he suffer longer based on others’ inaction?  This troubled me, and from a very young age I often prayed for the departed suffering in purgatory who had no one to pray for them.  I began to feel guilty about going to Catholic Church.  It was wrong, because they were teaching lies, but on the other hand, my parents insisted that we went to church every Sunday and every holy day.  I could never tell them my struggle.  It would be much worse than with Jenny Piccolo.  They were strict Catholics, and to disagree or even question the Catholic Church was unthinkable.  It was “the one, true church” without the possibility of error concerning church doctrine.

I quenched my concern for the most part.  Sometimes I would drive to church by myself and sit in the parking lot and read the Bible for the 45 minutes.  This way I could tell my mother that I “went” to church if she asked.  Sometimes I would go in with the hope of seeing and meeting up with a particular guy that I liked after the service.  It’s easy to see where my heart was on those days.  Plus, reading the Bible brought me face to face with my sin.  The older I got, the more advanced my sin became.  At times I would resist and at times I was very week or wouldn’t even try.

High School Senior
I went on a Catholic weekend retreat with a bunch of my friends.  It was a lot of fun and very touchy, feely.  Not much doctrine, if any, was taught, but a lot of singing (some hymns, but mostly secular songs) and hugging and feel-good emotion.  For one assignment we wrote notes to each other, complimenting one another, saying what we liked and admired about that person.  On the way home I was in a big sedan with a group of kids piled in when suddenly the driver had to slam on the brakes.  Our adrenaline rose and for a second we were all scared to death.  The next we were all laughing our heads off until one girl said, very solemnly, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to die right after a retreat?”  I remember thinking, We’d all go straight to hell.  But of course I didn’t say that.  That would have been really weird!

College did nothing to help me spiritually.  My heart was broken, and sadly, I did the same to someone else.  I was miserable and gained weight.  My parents really wanted me to get a four year degree, but I just couldn’t go on there and I felt much better after I left and was working full time and slim again.

My sister invited me to a Christmas Eve service at her church.  At the time I was living about an hour and a half away from her family.  She was married with three, small children.  I agreed to meet her at her house and then I would follow her to church and then head straight home from there.  Her husband was a doctor and he was working that night, so he didn’t go with us.  It would be nice to see Rita and her children, and after all it was just a Christmas Eve service, not very threatening.

It was a bitter cold, icy, windy night in Pennsylvania.  I have to wonder if I had not agreed to go, if my sister would have ventured out on such a winter night with little ones.  As a matter of fact, I’m not sure how she would have made it into the church building without my help.  We had to fight hard against the freezing wind, each of us carrying a child.

Inside was warm and cozy.  I’ve always been fond of Christmas hymns and this was no exception.  Then came the sermon.  Never had I heard such preaching.  The pastor laid out from the Scriptures three reasons how Jesus proved to be the Christ.  It was all so rational and reasonable.  It reminded me of a college lecture, completely logical, completely factual.  I was convinced.  Jesus is the Son of God.  It’s all true.  Then came the alter call.  I felt too unworthy to go forward, but I felt compelled to step into the isle and fall on my face and sink below the floor.  I had this extremely strong desire to plunge, completely prostrate at the mercy of God, but then came the thought, you can’t lay down on the floor in front of these people!  I have to say here that this was NOT a Pentecostal church.  No one was falling on the floor or raising their hands.  I don’t even think anyone went forward to the alter call, and this was a conservative, little Christian church.  More confusion.  What is wrong with me?  Why do I care what other people think?  Why can’t I trust Christ?

Then the service was over and my sister asked me what I thought.  I told her I didn’t understand.  I didn’t understand why I couldn’t give up certain things, things I knew were sinful.  I believed what the pastor said in his sermon, but I was also confused.  She told me to pray for faith.  Read my Bible and pray for faith.  I drove home that night and did a lot of thinking.  I imagined telling everyone Christmas morning that God had saved me.  That would ruin everyone’s Christmas.  I said nothing.  At home I got into bed and I prayed like I’d never prayed before.  Oh God, I don’t want any faith, but I want to want faith.  Please, give me faith.  I don’t want to give up my sins.  I want them terribly.  I can’t even imagine giving them up, but I want to want to give them up.  Please God, give me faith.  I don’t want it, but please give it to me.  I don’t want faith, but I want to want faith.  God, help me.

I set out to read two chapters in my Bible and pray for faith every night before I went to sleep.  This worked for a couple of nights, but it was so very tedious reading.  I decided to cut back to one chapter a night, but it was very dull.  So, I shortened to one page a night, but it was such a chore.  I cut back again to one column a night, but it didn’t get any easier.  One evening I came across these words,  “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.  And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast if from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”  I thought about this and I knew I couldn’t do it.  I could never bring myself to pluck out my eye or cut off my hand.  It was hopeless.  I couldn’t do it.  I could not do this Bible thing or this Christian thing.  I shut my Bible with a feeling of finality and put it on the shelf.  Later, when I moved across the country, I didn’t even pack my Bible.  I had given up on Christ.

I moved to San Diego, southern California of all places.  My brother and his wife lived there and they let me stay with them till I found a place of my own.  It was what I wanted, what I was chasing, the glamour life.  One night I met a friend at The Earthquake CafĂ© for dinner and then we walked over to a hot spot, night club called, Confetti.  I wore a short, black skirt and a pretty green blouse, and I knew I looked good.  I almost wore my black, patent leather, high heels that night, but when I looked in the mirror I thought,  No … Wear the black flats.  You’ll look sexy without looking like you’re trying to look sexy.  Such was my mentality when I met the bouncer at the door.  He carded me, and of all things, he asked if I was a Christian!  I was shocked.  This is crazy!  It was the last thing that I expected to hear in a bar.  I replied that I was a Christian and it was not a deliberate lie.  I did not want to give up my sins, but I did not deny that Jesus was God, … and … I wanted to go out with this guy. 

Betty had mentioned earlier at dinner that she was ready to start dating again after her divorce, and this time she was not going to be celibate.   Ugh!  Not me, I replied.  In this case Betty had someone she wanted to introduce me to.  I was not thrilled.  I did not want any blind date.  They were never good looking, but when I met Jeff I was surprised at how handsome he was!  I remember thinking that he must be safe.  He couldn’t be what I thought of as a radical Christian, because after all, he was working in a bar.  Radical Christians didn’t do that.  What I didn’t know was that Jeff was recently saved.  It didn’t occur to him that he should not be working in a bar, and he was witnessing to anyone who would listen.

We began dating and we were hooked, twitterpated, you might say.  He quit the bar a short while later when he heard a sermon and became convicted that a bar was no place for a Christian.  I told him he couldn’t quit without giving two weeks’ notice.  It was unethical.  Nope, he wasn’t moved.  The Lord told him he needed to get out and get out right away.  He went in and explained truthfully to his boss the reason why he must quit.

Jeff had beautiful, blond, curly hair at the time, 80s style. Think George Michael.  One day I was shocked to see he had cut it all off and had a very short, military style.  He had heard a sermon on 1 Corinthians 11 and decided his hair was too long.  Oh, good grief!

We spent most of our waking time, outside of sleep and work, together.  We were young and beautiful.  Well, he was … tall, blond, very muscular and tan!  It was sunny, southern California and we would be-bop around the city or the coast on his Honda 750.

We were also going to his church together.  It was a Plymouth Brethren, Gospel Hall.  They met every Monday, Thursday and twice on Sunday, not to mention special meetings and conferences.  I was under Gospel preaching.  That and discussions with Jeff brought back my concern and confusion.  I insisted that I was saved, because I believed the truth, but he insisted I was not saved, because of my actions and my way of thinking.  The church leadership was encouraging Jeff away from me, because they feared I was a bad influence.  I found out later that my own sister Rita had her whole church praying for Jeff.  I had told her about him and she was also concerned.  They were praying the Lord would lead Jeff away from me also.

Jeff had given me a Bible and I was reading again and asking God to show me the truth, to show me if I was saved.  On a rare evening I was home alone cleaning my apartment when Jeff called and invited me to go church with him that night.  I turned him down.  Absolutely not!  I was a mess and I needed to finish my chores.  As I knelt on the floor, scrubbing my bathtub, I paused and thought, Can I do this?  Can I go to church this often?  Every week? All the time? Can I sit through all those sermons? I … don’t … think … I … can.  Something came over me and I thought,  Ya know, I could finish and get cleaned up and changed and still make it to the meeting on time.  And I did.

Everyone at the Gospel Hall was very nice to me.  They all seemed very non-judgmental, even the elders who wanted Jeff to break up with me.  Several of the people took a special interest in us.  Jeff had been saved on his first visit there.  A man from the church, Mr. Don Cummings, had been going door to door passing out gospel tracts and inviting people to the meeting.  Jeff went one Sunday night and that evening the gospel became real to him.  He was a changed man.

June 4, 1988
The preaching was not always so kind to me.  I became convicted of my sin again.  I was praying for the Lord to show me the truth.  Am I saved? Am I on my way to Hell? God help me. I was also reading my Bible that Jeff had given me.  One Sunday morning service at the closing prayer, God granted me repentance unto life.  I turned from everything I was holding onto and turned to Christ. I only wanted Him and His will.  I didn’t care what I had to give up.  The Scriptures were opened to me and I began to devour them.  No longer tedious reading, I loved it.  I understood things.  I was thrilled to grasp the meaning of the “Lamb of God.”  I get it!  He is the sacrifice for my sins!  He died in my place.  For many years in Catholic Church I had said, “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us” without ever understanding it.  It was one of many “eureka” moments to follow.  The Lord also gave me a love to hear the preaching of His word and for the fellowship of His saints.  Jeff and I were both baptized on the same night a couple of months later and we were married in June that same year. 

The Bible commands us, “repent ye and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:15) “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel …  how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:” (1 Corinthians 15)  Looking back I think I believed certain truths of the gospel for quite some time, but I had not repented.  I loved my sin more than I loved Christ, which means I didn’t love Him at all.  If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  (John 14:15)  Also, it is important to note, the devils believe and yet are not saved.  “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”  (James 2:19) 

Celebrating our 27th Anniversary
Our Precious Children & Grandchildren
The Lord has blessed me with a wonderful, Christian husband and six, precious children, who are all young adults now.  Our oldest son is married to a lovely young lady and we have two, beautiful grandchildren.  The Lord has been so good to us.  Yes, there have been trials and tribulations, much joy and much sorrow, but I have never regretted coming to Christ.  My only regret is what I have not done for Him.  Yes, I have failed him many times, but He is faithful.  The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.  He hath done all things well.  He is altogether lovely.

*brethren ~ The Roman Catholic Church makes the claim that this word is referring to Jesus' cousins and not brothers.  I believe this is incorrect for 4 reasons.

1. While it is true that this word can be translated "cousins," the word "sisters" is never translated "cousins." So, even if you were to translate brothers as cousins, Jesus still had sisters.

2. The official Catholic Bible translates the word as "brothers." " Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?  Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?” (Matthew 13:55&56, NABRE)

3. The context of the passage is mother and carpenter's son, brothers and sisters; not aunt, uncle, and cousins.

4. There is Scripture that supports that Jesus was likely to have brothers and sisters. "And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus." (Matthew 1:25) This verse directly contradicts the Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary was "ever virgin."  

Post Note:  For those who are interested in the validity or reliability of the Bible, I believe the following is a good resource.

Voddie Baucham - Why I Choose to Believe the Bible

“I choose to believe the Bible because it is a reliable collection of historical documents, written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies, and they claim to be divine rather than human in origin.”  (see 2 Peter 1:16-21)  ~Voddie Baucham~