Thanks for the opportunity to share my experience.
When I was 20, the Lord converted me over a period of 3 days. I began telling people that I didn't know what was going on but I think Christ is real and he is dealing with me.
The joy of the Holy Spirit and God's love had become real and excited me. And I didn’t want it to stop but feared that it might. On the evening of the 3rd day my happiness turned into remorse. God convicted me of sins I didn't even know existed. I began praying, sobbing and asking his forgiveness.
I also asked Jesus into my heart. I heard you are supposed to do this, probably as a child in Sunday school. I fell asleep exhausted in tears only to awake the next day absolutely convinced Christ had saved me.
I had never been so excited about anything. I began telling friends and others. I saw a whole string of conversions in and around people I knew. They believed me and wanted in on it too. None of us were churched, so we began experimenting with going to church. We and our girls rattled a few churches with our enthusiasm.
I gave up my career as a bar room musician and began living the sermon on the mount. Seeking first the kingdom of God as a career. To make a horribly long story short, I began washing dishes as unto the Lord and retired early out of my own pocket, never missing a day's work through recessions and job closings. The Lord is faithful.
I've studied theology on my own over the years. But have no church or denominational affiliation.
I grew up in a strong Godly home. My mother was probably always a few steps ahead of my father--she was the more academic sort, but both were deep in spiritual faith, authentic in practice, and both trained my siblings and me to know and love God. My ancestors as far back as I know were mostly dedicated believers. A few more recent relatives have flown the coop.
My parents' teaching and example along with a small church congregation enjoying some sunny golden years introduced me to God. However, I had personal issues. I was a sinner. A pretty bad one. I always loved God, knew who Jesus was as a child, and when I was 12, I clearly heard God call me personally--I was walking down the stairs of our log home at the time. I accepted God--whoever He was.
But I was born a skeptic, born with a "show me" personality. I wanted to know the TRUTH, not just what someone, even my honorable parents or respectable pastors said. So I sneaked to the library. Pored endless hours over encyclopedias and studied anything, everything I could find about God or religion. To my parents' grave alarm, I began to "try on" religions including some really iffy stuff. Just about everything but idol worship, I tried. While other kids were out smoking (pot) and drinking and carousing, I was hunkered of philosophy books and religion books. A quiet, weird kid. My Mother went so far as to confiscate and burn some of my books. Most people saw me as a good kid and had no idea what I was messing with. I reached a point where I knew I believed in God intellectually, felt Him experientially, but didn't really know HIM--if such a thing was possible. I decided to commit my life to God--acknowledging He was greater than me, I was a sinner and I needed to be saved. Back then I saw Christianity as a means to that end, though not necessarily the only means. The New Age was being born in those heady California days and I loved to surf new ideas.
Finally I gave it all up, deciding that even though I believed in God and trusted Him and believed he would save me, there was no way I could really know Him personally. So for a couple of years, I lived the Bohemian life. I was never happy, never satisfied. My car went fast, my friends partied hard, but I was grieving God and I decided life was too difficult. At 17 years old, I had tried it all to no avail. I would end my life. But planning how to do so, I was struck with the terror of hell. I think at that moment I realized in my heart, that I truly did believe in God and at the moment I fully surrendered to Him. Something "clicked" in my heart and I understood what Jesus had done for me. It was like the whole picture snapped into clearer focus and my heart melted. I was desperate, terrified of my sin, and cried out for God to save me. And He did. I chose to be baptized at that time.
I pondered "joining a church." "Joining Church" was the vocabulary of our tradition then, and I was OK with that, although the stringent rules and evident hypocrisy and notable levels of legalism alarmed me--but then I was still a teenager. I went through the clear thought process of knowing I did not have to belong to a denomination or church before I could get consent of my mind that I could be, If I "had to be," then I knew it was wrong--this deal was between me and God--not between me and man's rules. Keep in mind this was the tail end of the Hippy era, but the tail was still wagging.
My faith and experience with God grew rapidly. I saw God work in wonderful ways. There were various stages of my life where I had a deepening awareness of my sin, and God's goodness, sovereignty, and glory. For me, awareness of my salvation was not an event, but a journey--a journey I am still walking.
My background has been variegated. I was raised in Brethren tradition, think conservative Anabaptist. I prefer not to specifically name the group here. I grew up with black hats, beards, bonnets and buggies (actually, we had a car--but some of my relatives found even the Amish too liberal). Although our group was very conservative and far too legalistic in many ways, I do have to say, our congregation and nearby similar congregations at that time were overall healthy, vibrant, effective and very real in faith and love for God and really knew Jesus and experienced His power in their lives. Sadly, that was not at all true for many such groups other places.
That brings a little different flavor to the forum table here.
Unlike most of "our people," I pursued higher education to study medicine, before choosing not to be a doctor after all (which my second son is doing). I helped start a couple Christian schools and then became a missionary.
Most of these very conservative groups--quite a wide range--see us as a part of them. We belong to them, even if we do some things a little differently. We see ourselves as a part of them too.
Over the years we became involved in Independent Baptist Churches--which was a stretch for us at first. But we fit in and loved each other and served together well. We were best friends with many of the pastors around. They see us as a part of them--if a bit of an oddity (well-meaning newcomers still come up to us to be sure we know we are really saved--to the embarrassment of people who know us. And that is OK.I appreciate that.). As my children grew up, we had a family ministry singing, sharing the Gospel, very active, full-time, doing all kinds of outreach, and we were invited and liked by all kinds of groups--mostly Baptist flavor, some with charismatic leanings, and a lot of home-groups. We were in Alaska at that time. Most of those people see us as part of them--we belong to them, even if we do some things a little differently. We see ourselves as a part of them too.
In our kid's older teens, we began full-time mission work in many countries overseas. We worked side by side with people from every denomination on earth, I think. We belong to them and they belong to us. We now belong to Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Charismatics, Catholics (Yes, Catholics), Anglicans, (and about everything else) and we are a part of them as well. 99%+ of our work is with home churches--people who belong to no denomination and mostly who don't even know what denominations are. More than anything they see us a belonging to them (with a couple of unfortunate exceptions), and we feel we are completely a part of them.
Presently I identify distantly as sort of Brethren/Anabaptist, that is how I was born, although I have not lived among such people for well over 20 years. We belong to or have membership at several "churches," of different denominations or no denomination. I like that. Some groups don't like that, but in our case they tolerate it. We have several "sending churches," they all know about each other, but they all want to send us--bless their hearts! Because of our recent decades of work, I neither object to denominations nor feel contained by them. My paradigm is that those who call authentically on the Name of the Lord belong to God, those who hear His voice and obey Him--they are the called out, the Assembly of Believers. I belong to them. My ministry is not to judge others, but to glorify God, strengthen believers and to spread the Gospel.
Some Sundays I am with any and all of the groups above--on a regular basis. As often as possible, I may be in a jungle hut, or a concrete apartment, or open air on a beach or a typical Baptist church, steeple and all--anywhere people will assemble--there I will preach and worship.
Lord, have mercy where I have failed, strengthen the fruits that belong to you and may Your Name be glorified forever!
Thanks for sharing. I think in my case, remaining separate from churches enables me to hold views independently of them without fear of losing a job. Although I have shared with several over the years, mainly letting people know there are alternative views to some of their leanings. I believe many ministers resist, being trapped by their paychecks and denominational dogmatics.
I remember one church, After I attended for a few months we began hearing sermons about "God did not create automatons". ...