This is the story of when I became a Christian followed by the journey of spending several years learning and exploring until I finally found a denomination and church that I felt matched most of my beliefs.
I have wanted to write this story so many times. It's always so hard to put such a big part of your life into words to explain to others. I was atheist until I was 17. I had been to church 3 or 4 times as a child with family members, then as a teenager a couple of times with friends. It's not that my parents didn't believe in God. I just didn't. I thought it was weird to believe in what you can't see. I thought it was too good to be true that there's this Jesus guy that loves you and some place called heaven after you die. I thought there must be one true religion out there because everybody can't be right when they say different things, but how can Christianity be the one true religion when Christians themselves can't even agree on God (denominations)? But above everything I didn't want to be Christian because of Christians. It wasn't that I was opposed to the Christ. It was the Christians that bothered me. They were mean. They teased me relentlessly in school for not believing in God. Church people told me I was going to hell. I even had really religious people call me satanic. I constantly had their religion shoved down my throat. That was their agenda. Make so and so a believer. The end. But I wasn't seeking church friends. I was seeking truth. Is there a God? Who is he? Does he want anything to do with me? My whole life people either ignored my beliefs or lack thereof, criticized them, or outcasted me for not being like them.
Then in 2005 someone had a different approach. She was Christian, but she was okay with me just being me. She treated me with kindness despite our religious differences. There was no judgment there. There was no criticism coming from her end so I wasn't putting a wall up to this Christian. We were friends. And eventually the subject of religion came up. She would ask me what I believed instead of just telling me her beliefs and being done with her speech like so many Christians go about it. We talked openly and comfortably. I was able to ask questions I could never ask anyone else before. We spent weeks talking, her patiently explaining the most basics of basics. I knew there was a guy named Jesus that died on a cross. There were 10 commandments and a guy named Noah who had a big boat with animals commonly found in baby nursery decor. That was pretty much all I knew. I became a believer in November 2005. Ultimately, what won me over was feeling God's presence when I went seeking for him. I found it very interesting to learn about the history of Jesus and the way prophecy has been revealed through the bible. It was undeniable that this historical figure existed. The question is - - - Is Jesus really God? I'm convinced that he is.
Keep reading if you'd like to hear a little on my ups and downs choosing a denomination.
I remember when I first believed. I was a shaky, crying 17 year old kneeling before this God who loved me trying to pray, but not knowing how. I made some immediate changes in lifestyle and started to grow in knowledge of God, but that tapered off after a few months. I had decided before that night I first believed that if I were to be Christian I would be Catholic. I felt like I had to choose a denomination. I thought there could only be one true denomination and the Roman Catholic church was the oldest or so I thought. It was also really organized which went well with my OCD type A personality. I didn't go to church for the first time until a year after I became a believer. Catholic church was extremely boring, but I felt obligated to go so I went occasionally. Over the next few years, I didn't really grow. I was just kind of.... Christian. I believed in God. I tried to do right and not to do wrong. I felt like I didn't know God very well.
In 2009 things changed. God started tugging at my heart to go to a Southern Baptist church, and on March 15th I did. I was afraid I would be criticized for being different. I was so nervous. But I remember that day. I sat in the very back and looked around. It was a cute little church. I had so many questions, but I didn't know who to ask or if it was even okay to ask. While Pastor Rick preached, I felt God's presence for the first time in a church service and I couldn't help but cry. I came in a couple days later to ask questions. Rick sat and talked to me for 3 hours. I realized the lies of Roman Catholicism. I also realized it's not about denomination. It's about Jesus. It's about the bible. It's about living for God and sharing the gospel. My soul was on fire for God.
On Easter 2009 I went to Sunday school for the first time as a believer and that day God walked me up to the altar at the invitation. I was shaking, but I felt God walking right next to me like there wasn't even anyone else in the room. Pastor Rick gave me a book called The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren and a book called Evidence That Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell. In The Purpose Driven Life I read that if you read the bible 15 minutes a day you can read it in a whole year. I had tried several times to read the bible before. I love to read and I've always been a fast reader. I was trying to read the bible like a novel and it was just confusing me. I couldn't stand the Old English in King James. I have a King James bible my Mom got me when I was little. It's sentimental to me and I will always keep it and take good care of it because my Mom gave it to me, but I hate Old English. I was given a New International Version bible as a high school graduation present and that made a world of difference. I could understand the English which helps a lot when you're trying to understand the Scriptures. So in May of 2009 I started reading the bible every day. Words can't do justice to how much I grew. I fell in love with the bible. I would pour over it for hours fascinated with its truth and the stories in it. I thought about it all the time. I was reading the bible daily, going to church and Sunday school every Sunday. I was talking to people about God. I had believed in Jesus for a few years and was trying to follow him, but it was in 2009 that I fell in love with Jesus. Things were going good. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
Then there was an interesting turn of events. In August 2009 I had a cousin who was starting to ask some religious questions and wanted to visit different churches. She was too young to drive and I thought it sounded fun to visit some churches because I had never experienced that. I started researching denominations and I made a list of local churches. She didn't go. Then I started questioning things. Did I really belong in the Southern Baptist church? I felt like I was nondenominational. It's about Jesus for me, not church member paperwork. I felt God tugging at me to go do this church visiting schedule. He bugged me about it day and night. I refused because I liked my church and didn't want to visit a bunch of other churches by myself. I just really felt like it was something God wanted me to do so I started it. I had this huge list of churches of different denominations to visit. From December 2009 to June 2010 (over a period of 6 months in a total of 16 weekends) I went to 40 church services at 30some different churches of 20some different denominations and 4 or 5 nondenominational churches. It was AWESOME! People were so critical of it. They wanted to know what I was searching for. I went alone to most of the churches which people seemed to think was odd that the visitor is by herself. I learned so much from 'the project' I could go on and on. What I learned will be a blog for another day. It was one of the coolest things I've ever done. And God did eventually tell me why he wanted me to do that. He called me to evangelism (through my writing not my speaking - see the book I published The Subject of Salvation). So I did this awesome church visiting project and I knew I wasn't done forever, but went back to going to my Southern Baptist church all the time. I was just in this really great place spiritually. I had learned so much. I had grown so much. I had a passionate fire in my heart for evangelism and loving the lost.
Then in summer of 2010 before I even knew what happened I had lost my grip. Some call it backsliding. I was still going to church regularly, but I wasn't acting very Christian outside of church. I hated where I was and for a while didn't even understand how I had gotten there. I tried to get back on the right track, but couldn't pick myself up. I spent a few weeks in September praying that God would send me somebody to get me back on my feet and get me on the right path. He answered that prayer. In October 2010 I got a new coworker. I remember the night I met him thinking I can see the Holy Spirit in his eyes and being baffled as to why I felt that way and why I didn't know anybody in my church that had that. He had something godly about him and I wanted it desperately. He was so quiet, but I felt so safe being around him. I could feel God just working next to this guy that I could barely get a word out of. I started asking religious questions. I wondered what he thought of me. This 'Christian' with a mouth like a sailor who smoked and drank, but went to church. I felt like I was a hypocrite, but he never judged me.
In January 2011 I started church visiting again. I went back to a Pentecostal church I had been to in 'the project'. There was something about that Pentecostal church. There was a passion, a fire, a presence of God that the other churches I had been to didn't have. I knew I wasn't meant to stay there and it was loud for my liking anyway, but I got excited about the worship there. It was so genuine and heartfelt. Most churches I had been to most of the people seemed bored or barely awake. It was January 2011 during the song 'Our God is Greater' that I felt the presence of God's Spirit stronger than I ever had before (to that point in my walk with the Lord). My knees were shaking. I got a taste of the Lord's presence and I craved it afterwards. My coworker invited me to visit his church sometime. I gladly accepted the invitation. I was really looking forward to seeing what kind of church could produce such a godly man. I was expecting to just visit his church. I really liked my Southern Baptist church despite the fact that I felt nondenominational and I didn't want to leave First Baptist. I went to Billy's church (my coworker), on January 30th, 2011. It was the most amazing church service I had ever been to. I had never experienced anything like it. I loved it immediately. I couldn't wait to come back. I ended up leaving First Baptist, but I felt like God wanted me at this new church. I also lost every desire to visit other churches. 2 1/2 years later I still have no desire to visit a bunch of churches.
So me being the inquisitive person that I am I question things because I want to understand them and I had hundreds of questions. Billy offered to do a bible study with me. I loved going to church more than I had ever loved church before. It was the most welcoming, friendly church I had ever been to. I would get so excited for every church service. It fit like a glove. I wasn't sure about what I believed anymore. I began to question everything. I also decided that it's a good thing to question your beliefs every now and again. If you can't question your own beliefs, then your faith isn't very strong. If you question your beliefs and come to the same conclusion, then your conviction is deep. I studied the bible more deeply and with more of an open, seeking heart than I had ever done before. A lot of my beliefs stayed the same, but a lot of my core doctrines changed. Things made sense like they had never made sense before. My new church is an Apostolic Pentecostal church. I had never even heard of Apostolics before I met Billy. I decided the Trinity didn't make sense. It had never really made sense to me. I considered Oneness theology and prayed about it. I feel it is accurate. Read my blog on that here. We studied salvation in our bible study. I had never studied salvation before. I was filled with the Holy Spirit on March 14th, 2011 (and yes I spoke in tongues). I was baptized in Jesus' name on May 29th, 2011. Somewhere in between those two events I started organizing all the verses on salvation which grew into my book, The Subject of Salvation. That bible study changed my life. It changed my eternity.
I used to think I wouldn't identify myself with a denomination. There are things I disagree with the church's teaching on. I was and am open to anything the church teaches. There is so much wisdom in that church even I couldn't write enough books to share it all. I considered everything the church taught. I studied the bible on those subjects and prayed about it repeatedly. Then months later did it again. I continue to try to read the bible every day with fresh eyes. I think a lot of people read the bible through the lenses of preconceived interpretations. I don't want man's opinion in my head when I'm reading God's word. I just want God's truth and the wisdom he has given people. Even though there are things I disagree with I still feel that the Apostolic church (ALJC) is the truest church. Mainly where I differ is with holiness 'standards'. I cut my hair. I keep it long, but I trim the ends. I wear jewelry. I don't see anything wrong with makeup. I don't see any bible verses teaching against piercings. The bible doesn't say anything against dancing or mixed swimming. Also I disagree that people should obey the pastor. I follow Jesus and Jesus alone. I'm not an employee. I go where I please when I please and I think for myself. Sometimes those differences make me feel like I don't fit in, but honestly I love my church and I feel loved at my church. There are people in every denomination and congregation that don't agree with every single thing 100% of the time.
It's all about Jesus. It's about the bible. It's about following Jesus and living for God. Let Jesus be the center of your faith. I know I've gone on for a long time here, and if you're still reading this thank you. I just wanted to tell my story. If you don't know if God is real or not, all I can say is when you seek him you will find him. You feel his presence. It's like love. We all know love exists. We can't see it. We can't bottle it up and scientifically examine it or prove it. You just feel it and you just know. That's what it's like to know God is real. If you're looking for a church, don't be afraid to visit churches and don't stop until you find where you belong. God doesn't intend for us to be alone. He wants you to have a church. There is no such thing as a perfect church and there is no congregation out there that is right for everybody, but there is a church for you. Pray that God will teach you truth through the studying of his word and that he will lead you where he wants you to be. God bless. And thanks for reading my journey :)