The Truth About My Childhood and Adolescence
I was born at Akron General Hospital in Akron, Ohio on June 10, 1957. I lived in Akron with my family until I was eight years old, and then our family moved to Stow, Ohio. Church attendance was part of my earliest memories, though I do not remember anyone ever sharing with me how to receive eternal life for myself. There are some indications that I may have been identified as gifted before I went to school, but I do not know that for certain. I do know that my academic performance was lukewarm until I found a teacher in the third grade that gave me the kind of encouragement to achieve that I needed.
My childhood and adolescence were not exactly ‘normal,’ and that has a lot to do with my being not exactly ‘normal’ but rather ‘GT.’ During my junior high and high school years, I had several very good teachers who gave me quality instruction in mathematics, Latin and English. The trombone was also quite ‘instrumental’ in my life during these years.
The Truth About the Ultimate Turning Point in My Life
During my high school years, like many people, I found myself looking for love and acceptance and guidance for my life in an unloving and uncertain world. I was a good student and a good musician, but nothing good that I ever did ever assured me that I ever had the love and acceptance of anyone. The more I sought to find love and acceptance from others, the more I found that other people could not fill the void in my soul. They could not, since other broken and hurting people cannot fill the brokenness and hurt of others in any real and lasting sense. The result was that I found myself rejected by a girl whom I idolized. In addition, I found deep ridicule, scorn and rejection from my classmates at school because of an ugly rumor spread about me by a previous rival for the affections of another girl. Moreover, I started seeking guidance for my life from the stars and seeking contact with supernatural beings, whom I supposed were wise and benevolent departed spirits. I found that the more that I sought guidance in this manner, though, the more it simply brought me into more fear and uncertainty. I started awakening at night quaking in fear, and started seeing evil faces outside the windows of my room. The only way that I could get back to sleep was if I grasped a Bible in my hands. In retrospect, I believe now that the occult practices which I was following had led me into demonic oppression.
At 11:45 PM on August 27, 1974, the crisis in my soul brought me to the point of decision. I felt such pain from the rejection that I had experienced that I began seriously to contemplate suicide. It was the night before I was due to return for the first day of my senior year of high school, and I did not want to go back to face the kind of rejection that I had been facing. But I had had two Christian relatives die during the previous spring and summer, and I had heard the gospel at their funerals. That’s the only way that I can think of, besides the sheer intervening grace of God himself through his Son Jesus Christ, that I can explain how I came to do what I did next. Somehow, with bitter tears in my eyes, I prayed, "Jesus, I’ve messed up my life. You take it and use it the way that you want."
At that moment I had an experience which I cannot and do not try to explain. I saw myself kneeling before the Lord Jesus as in a vision. I was crying my eyes out, and he reached down, lifted me to my feet, and held me close to himself. I don’t remember anything more from that night, except a command to be baptized. I do not know why this happened, but I can only suggest that he provided that experience to keep me alive and give me the awareness of his love and reality. This did not happen to me because I am any more special than anyone else, because the Bible does indicate that this is a realistic picture of how he receives everyone who comes to him in repentance and faith.
The next morning at breakfast I remembered what had happened to me that night. I can remember praying on the way to and from school to the Lord that if he was serious about having me that I was serious about following him for my part. It is one of the wonderful discoveries that I have made about him that this is one of the things that he takes extremely seriously, and which he is more than willing to do everything that he has promised to us, and that he desires our love and companionship very, very much. And since that night over thirty years ago, I have not had any serious thought of suicide, but now consider it a horrible tragedy that I would not wish upon anyone.
Some years later there seems to have developed a false impression that I had been converted later, during my college years. Some of my fellow pastors seem to have picked this up from an unknown third party. The truth is that I had come to saving faith in just the way that I have described, and began my walk with him at that time. I stumbled in spiritual immaturity and ignorance during these early days as everyone does, most certainly, but then began my most heartfelt and unshakeable conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for my sins and the sins of the whole world on the cross, that he rose from the dead and is Lord of all, and that my faith is him as my Lord and Savior forever.
The Truth About Following a New Direction
The day after I came to Christ I found my Bible and began to read it. I did not understand much at first, but my understanding grew during those first days and has continued over the years. Reading gave way to study over the years — but more on that later.
My first fellowship with other believers as a new believer in Christ came about in this way. I found myself praying shortly after my conversion about whether there were any others like me. In the next day or so, I ran into someone in the hall at school who had invited me to a Bible study the year before. He said hello to me, and I replied, "Maranatha, John." He gave me a puzzled look, but the next day I found my fellow students who sat around me in math class inviting me again to the same Bible study! I had been surrounded by others who knew Christ in the same way that I did, and did not even recognize it at the time.
The students who were the leaders in this Bible study were regular attendees at Stow Alliance Fellowship and Chapel Hill Christian and Missionary Alliance churches. Both of these churches would come to have an influence in my life also. One of the student took the Home Bible Study course at Stow Alliance Fellowship, and soon began to apply what he had learned. There were a number of other students that came to Christ through that Bible study, and it was the first Biblically centered fellowship that I had with other believers.
After graduation from Stow High School in June 1975, I went to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in the fall of 1975. I entered as a music education major, but I felt myself being drawn more and more to preaching and teaching the Word of God in the pastorate. After about six weeks as a music major, I felt that I could not continue down that course any more. After consultation with the pastor who served us students very conscientiously and lovingly during those years, I decided to change my major to one that would eventually prepare me for seminary and the pastorate. God had something else for me immediately, though. On January 22, 1976, I was struck with the realization that I needed to be baptized by immersion in obedience to the command of Jesus. I called the pastor with whom I had spoken, and explained that. The next day I went with him and several of my friends to a local church and was baptized. At that time, though I had been saved and following Christ for over a year, I surrendered my life entirely to him as Lord. My immediate and subsequent experience was that I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I did not speak with tongues, but I did experience a new depth of joy, a new power for witness and for overcoming sin and following the will of God, and a new sense of the closeness and companionship of the Lord Jesus.
During the fall of 1976, my sophomore year, as a part of preparation for seminary, I started first year Greek. The majority of my classmates were also students who had sensed the call to ministry and were taking Greek as a preparation for seminary. My major was changed to Classics, and I also took classes from Dr. Edwin Yamauchi during all my four years. His breadth and depth of knowledge and sound and reasonable insight into the Bible and its entire ancient context, as well as his sound commitment to Christ, set me an example for which I will be forever grateful.
During the summer of 1977 I began a full time job as a telephone prayer counselor with the Rex Humbard ministry. It was a tremendous experience to be paid for praying with people from all over the USA, Canada and the world. Many people who called also had never received Christ as Lord and Savior, and those of us who worked there had the privilege of leading many of them to Christ. In addition, there was time in between calls to read the Bible and other Christian books and discuss spiritual and Biblical things with fellow believers. The preparation for the pastoral ministry from this job was tremendous, and I returned to it again for the summer of 1978, and from May 1979 to August 1980.
The Truth About My Ministry and Career
In the fall of 1980 I began to attend Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York, as preparation for the pastorate and/or lifetime missionary service. My pastoral internship then was in the Salem (Oregon) Alliance Church from the fall of 1982 to the spring of 1983. My graduation took place in 1984. Then my career as a vocational pastor lasted from February 1985 to January 1993. During that time I served four churches as a pastor. The churches that I served were primarily small and declining. Nevertheless, there were a number of things that I learned during this period. Here are some:
Preaching and teaching the Word of God are still and always will be the cornerstone of effective pastoral ministry. The ministry of the Son of God himself, as well as his apostles, was preaching the gospel and teaching the Word of God (Mark 1:14-15, Acts 2:42), and his church is built up and sanctified primarily through the Word through the Spirit (Ephesians 5:26). The church that relies upon anything else for growth and prosperity is departing from the scriptural pattern.
The foundation of preaching and teaching the Word of God is spending time in prayerful Bible study and Biblically centered prayer.
A loving church fellowship of conscientious disciples can be one of the greatest witnesses to the reality of Christ and the truth of his gospel.
A declining church may find one time visitors and others on the fringe of the church receiving greater blessings from the preaching, teaching, prayer and evangelistic ministry of the church. The longtime attendees seem to become hardened to God doing something new in their lives and in the life of the church. They become set in their routines and do not take joy even when someone does come to Christ or receives a greater blessing. The result is evangelical churchianity.
Discipleship and disciplemaking are too little emphasized in many churches, and especially in declining and dying churches. It may well be said that this is one of the root causes as to why they are declining and dying. The leaders of the church may then pin their hopes for church growth on a pastor and programs when the root of the problem is that there are deep sins and lukewarmness among those who are in regular attendance and even in positions of leadership.
Scriptural standards of leadership are too little emphasized in declining and dying churches. Often personal ambition drives some very unspiritual people to try to campaign for positions of church leadership. The office of treasurer seems to be especially appealing since it seems to be a place where control can attained through manipulating the church finances and even the salary of the pastor.
Dysfunctional families often produce church troublemakers. Church troublemakers can in turn bring down the life of an entire church. In turn, church troublemakers often are inwardly troubled about their own conduct, and unsure of their own salvation.
Many treat the church and its ministries as an outlet for their personal and social ambitions. A focus on the glory of God and the edification of the church in a manner of Christlike servanthood are often sadly lacking.
Personal problems are too often a source of gossip and backbiting rather than prayer, compassionate counsel and godly rebuke in a declining and dying church. The result is that the problems fester and often become worse, and even the source of significant scandals which deface the witness of a church within a community.
Several strange ideas were circulated about me from the time that I began to pursue the ministry. I am pretty much aware of the individuals who originated these ideas, and have corrected them as much as I found within my ability. Nevertheless, these things were shared with others and I believe that there are some who still promote these things about me behind my back as if they were the unvarnished truth, and not unnecessary misunderstandings and misperceptions. I do not share these things as a matter of human defensiveness but as countering falsehood with truth, and calling for an end to some falsehoods which have been at the root of considerable personal heartbreak and unnecessary grudges from others.
The first misperception and misunderstanding is that I was not really called to the pastorate but to be a teacher in a Bible college or seminary. The truth is that I very briefly prayed about getting a PhD in Greek in the fall of 1978 and going on to teaching in a secular university as a vocational witness to Christ. I shared this briefly with a person in the fall of 1979 who had some misgivings about whether I was called to the pastorate, from what source I do not know, and I will not share my speculations on the matter. From continuing conversations, I believed that we had settled his misgivings. Later, I found out that he had told some others that he believed that I was called to teach Greek in a Bible college, and he asked me to pray about it. I did make this a matter of definite prayer, and I sensed that it was a matter of definite refusal from the Lord. But this misunderstanding persisted through unnecessary repetition for some years. I believe that I have settled things with the person who said these things, but there are some who have heard it who seem to be circulating it still.
Along with the above misunderstanding is the misperception that I am a great teacher with the gift of teaching. While I do believe that God has blessed me at times when I have taught his Word in Sunday School, my own perception is that this was more due to taking the time to learn the Word in depth and pray about the lesson. It’s been my experience that too often if a believer does anything well, that others are too ready to point to that and tell that person that that activity is his or her gift and/or ministry. My belief is that this is the way that many believers may get trapped into positions and ministries for which they do not feel called or equipped for the long run. The truth is that God may well bless a conscientious disciple who serves in a ministry for a short time without that being a long-term call or spiritual gift. Tracing this back through my memories of times when I have actually participated in a teaching ministry, I think that the source of this was a church leader who sat in on a Bible study which I taught in the fall of 1979. I felt then as I do now, that his praise was exaggerated and that this experience was insufficient to establish a spiritual gift, let along a lifetime call to any kind of ministry.
The third misperception that developed is that I had any kind of skill, ability or calling to work with senior citizens. Again, this was a case where a senior citizens ministry was the only one that was available, and I pursued it with prayer and enthusiasm. I’m grateful for the people that I was able to meet and have fellowship with at the time, but that was never intended to set a pattern or precedent for future ministry, and I think that it was very unwarranted for anyone to have drawn that conclusion.
It’s sorrowful for me to write this, but these misperceptions didn’t come from people who really understood and cared for me, but from those who did not really understand and care for me enough in the way of Christlike love to speak to me about these things privately in a scriptural manner. My prayer is that for each and every one that Christ would deal with them so that no one else would have the same kind of dealing with them, and that they would all find the truth and deal with their own hearts and behavior before they come to see Christ face to face and answer for all that they have ever done (II Corinthians 5:10).
Unfortunately my experience is that there are some believers and even those in positions of leadership who canonize their own perceptions of people and situations and hold onto these ideas long after they have been proven wrong. Unfortunately, these perceptions when mistaken become misperceptions, misunderstandings and longstanding falsehoods if a person clings to them long after they have been shown to be mistaken. And equally as unfortunately, they often show the shallowness, prejudices and personal grudges of those who spread them. This kind of conduct is nothing but playing into the hands of the father of lies (John 8:44). To them and all others like them I say: Let your perceptions be mistaken if they are. Hold strongly to the truth in every situation. It takes a bigger person to admit a mistake and deal with the situation as it really is than to persist in a vicious falsehood and to keep on trying to force others into the misshapen mold of their misperceptions through guilt manipulation and emotional abuse.
During the fall of 1992, I sensed and prayed strongly about a leading to leave the vocational pastorate for secular work. I resigned my position in January 1993, and returned to Ohio in April 1993. After praying for God to give me the ‘power to create wealth’ which I saw mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:18, I found myself entering the field of Information Technology after automating several manual processes in a department which was being managed by a friend. So Information Technology is where I’ve been since then, and the vast majority of the time I’ve been a programmer. Over the years I’ve progressed in software development to senior developer/architect qualifications and experience. In my time away from secular work, I’ve been the pastor in the pew, I’ve done supply preaching, teaching in Sunday school classes, and participated in various musical and worship ministries of the churches where I’ve attended.
There’s Got to Be a Lesson Here Somewhere . . .
God loves you even if you are different, and God will accept you through Jesus Christ even if other people reject you.This is the primary lesson I draw from the experience of my own conversion.
God welcomes your companionship with him through Jesus Christ every day. This has been the lesson of my experience with Christ for the past thirty years.
God provides the power through Jesus Christ for you to become what none of us can become in ourselves.
This is the lesson that I find from my experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit at the time of my baptism. It was the classic experience of being filled with power for love and service. No speaking with tongues was associated with it, but a definite enduement of power for ministry, much like happened to Jesus at the time of his own baptism (Luke 3:21-23).
God through Jesus Christ is involved in and knows what is happening in his churches.
The Lord who walked among the churches (Revelation 1:13) and who is the head and fullness of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23) is still the same Lord today. One of the signs of a growing lukewarmness and unbelief is, I believe, a growing blindness to his presence and will in the fellowship of his church. Ultimately, he will not tolerate being shut out, neglected and ignored for human traditions and agendas. The first step for many churches to experience new life is to recognize this and come back to his Lordship over all the aspects of their fellowship.