Monday, October 24, 2011

My Testimony

I was raised in church all of my life. My family attended church so many times in one week, that if the Janitor left the door open while he/she was cleaning, we sat in the pews and watched. (well, not really, but you get the idea! LOL)
I believed that you went to church because that was what you were supposed to do. The other days my family read the bible and had devotionals each morning with breakfast.
I learned about all of the people in the bible, and all of the things that happened long ago. I would sit there saying to myself, "Well, that's nice." I looked at it the same way as I looked at learning history in school. I was sure I would need to know it at some point, and if not, it was possible useful trivia for down the road.
NO ONE explained that the events could still happen today. NO ONE explained that I could put to use in my daily life the lessons learned. Salvation was just that. Being saved from burning in Hell for eternity. Once saved, I just needed to attend church and act my part, and everything would be fine.

What started out as being a way of life for me became how I didn’t want to live my life. I started working in the cotton mill when I was 16, cleaning the air units for the different floors, and turning pic clocks on Sundays. Mom insisted that I take the job, and after I found out that I would be working on Sunday mornings, I didn’t argue. Finally, a break from having to listen to the same things I had been taught all my life. Or had I? If I had been taught, then wouldn’t I have a better understanding of what Christianity meant? Some would say yes. I probably would agree, especially now that I have thought more closely about it.
For 2 years I enjoyed having at least one service that I didn’t have to attend. Besides, Sunday nights were usually more casual, and I didn’t have to dress up to go then. Nevertheless, I was still expected to attend every service when I wasn’t working. I lived with my mom and grandparents, and as long as I lived under their roof, that would be the way that it was.
I couldn’t wait to escape to the next level: not having to attend at all.
When I was a senior in high school, the pastor talked me into taking a day off from work near graduation, and participating in “Youth Day” at the church. The youth of the church would take over all of the responsibilities for a Sunday, and usually a senior would be the one to deliver the sermon. Guess who was picked? 3 Guesses and the first 4 don’t count!
After the service, the preacher walked up to me and said, “You’ve found your calling. You’ll make a fine preacher one day.”
“Oh my gosh, get me outta here,” was all I could think. Church people … Jesus Freaks … Stuff Shirt Preachers … HELP!
I graduated from High School, and turned down a scholarship and went in the Army. I wanted to be as far away from home as I could be. I succeeded. West Germany would be my home for the next 2 years. I was happy, with very little complaints.
I moved up in rank as I became eligible, but I was injured while on maneuvers, and so I was discharged on an Honorable, Service Connected Disability discharge.
The back injury brought a lot of pain, but it posed no problem, as I knew how to deal with the pain. Alcohol was cheap; Drugs were easily obtained while I was in service. When I got out, I found out that the same was true in civilian life. People who sat beside me in church were the same ones sitting beside me now that I was back home getting drunk, stoned or a raucous combination. And we wonder why the “outside” people view us as hypocrite’s?
I came home, traveled around the states for a while, and then settled down on one spot. However, my life was not settled. A beer put me to sleep, and a beer woke me up so that I could go to work. Or school. Yep, I had signed up for college, using my service benefits. I figured that it might not hurt to find another line of work that paid better (security pays minimum), plus at a college there was always a chance of meeting some hot chick and hopefully getting laid at least on the weekends.
I think God has a sense of humor. I met a girl. Not a specifically hot chick. But a girl. We had a lot in common, except that she had been married twice, and I hadn’t made it to the altar once. She had two wonderful daughters, who would later become my stepchildren.
Anyway, I should have had a warning on our first date. Well, 2nd date. First one was to take everyone to McD’s. We won’t count that one. Second one went like this. Picked her up, we dropped the 2 girls off at her mom’s house to babysit, announcing that we’re going out to eat and then go bowling. (Bowling has always been in my blood, and it always will!
A great time was had by both of us, and we arrived back at her mom’s house at 9:30 that evening. As we were walking up to the door, her mom met us, bible in hand. I thought to myself, “Oh crap, this can not be good.”
After having railed on us for 10 minutes, I finally found a way to exit, and exit stage “I’m Outta Here” is exactly what I did. If I were smart, I would have kept running. However, I didn’t.
We wound up getting married a year later, and our mom’s kept harping on us that we needed to get in church. “The children need to be brought up in church.”
Been there. Done that. We both had.
Finally we gave in. I didn’t want to go back to my old church. (didn’t want those little bitties to run their mouth about me walking in to their sanctimonious place. Another story, another day.)
Therefore, I agreed to go to my wife’s old church. I had only been to a Baptist church. The order of worship was the way that I thought it was supposed to be. WRONG.
‘Assembly of God’ is what it said on the sign out front. I silently wondered to myself if God ever assembled in this or any church. But I was determined to find out.
Hmmmmm… just what I expected. Stuff shirts. Haughty Taughty women with enough makeup to paint the Sistine Chapel painting by Michelangelo again. Nothing new here.
“Okay, just sit and be quiet for an hour. Make everyone happy. I can do this.”
When I climbed back onto the pew from the floor beneath it, I wondered if I would ever escape from the “Hotel Didn’t I Warn Ya” that I had found myself in.
Have you ever seen the video by Ray Stevens “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival” that was popular a long time ago? Women are shouting, hands are raised in the air (along with other items) and a general commotion has struck the congregation of this poor little church.
Well, this church wasn’t little. People were shouting, hands were raised in the air (along with some other items that I won’t mention here) and I was sure that there was a squirrel somewhere nearby. And to top it off, I don’t think he spoke any English, because they were all hollering in some language that I had never heard of before.
So I sat back down among all of the hulla-balub and watched for the squirrel to pass by. My grandfather had taught me to love to eat wild squirrels, and if no one else was going to help themselves to him, I figured I would.
Hmph, it seems that there was no squirrel. Things sure were squirrelly all right. Mom-in-law was turning red and bouncing up and down, Wifey looked like she was a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car, and the girls were cringing and eyes darting, looking for a route of escape. Of the 3 options, I had just about decided that the last one was my recourse too. However, it settled down, and the preacher got up and started preaching. He kept thanking and welcoming the “Holy Ghost.” I kept looking around, trying to figure out how Halloween had got here so fast. I thought that Easter was still a few weeks away.
Holy Ghost. Wait a minute. We used to sing something about the Holy Ghost. Oh yeah, I remember now. Okay, I guess this is just a different version of our Holy Ghost song, “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” All right, back to listening to the message. Yada, Yada, Yada. Same poop, different church. Finally, we get to leave.
“Run Forrest Run” is what would have been in my head if the Gump movie had been out then. Instead, something intrigued me. At least these people didn’t sit stone faced for an hour. All of that jumping and hollering surely meant that someone was going to get hurt (and I hoped it wasn’t me), but at least it made it interesting to watch.
So from time to time, especially on holidays (don’t you know, it is mandatory in the south to show up at church on Easter and Christmas, whether you really wanted to or not… at least the wife can show off all of the new clothes that she picked out for her family.)
So, our Check In/Check Out was pretty easy, except for the time that Daylight Savings Time started and we arrived at the service for Easter as it was ending. Embarrassing.
My life had changed somewhat. I didn’t party as much anymore. I still drank on the weekends, although not until I had gone to church and come back home on Sundays. Now that I was sober most of the time, I started wanting more. Our mom’s never quit harping on us to attend church, and finally, a radio show convinced me that maybe I should.
“Welcome to the Sound of Light, with Brett Dillard” came a voice on my radio as I scanned through the channels. Taking college courses at a rate of 18 cu each semester left little time for a regular job, so I started delivering pizzas for a national chain. My Pontiac T-1000 (another version of Chevy’s Chevette) was a basic car, and contained only an AM/FM radio. Rock 101, WCKN, Your Classic Rock Station was playing some music from the 60’s that I didn’t want to listen to. So I hit the “seek” button on the Radio, and this is what came out of the speakers in just a few pushes. Rock music started blaring, so I settled in to listen to their tunes. He said the first band was called “Petra.” Some pretty kick-butt music, so I continued to listen. Ten minutes later, Brett cuts in and mentions Jesus. Oh man, you had to go and ruin some good music. (I discovered later that if I had been listening to the words, and not just head banging to the music, I probably would have realized what “light” that this “sound” was directed at.)
Quick, try 101 again. Crap, same stupid music. Okay, music was still rocking on the new station, “I’ll just ignore the words and turn it back to the other station.” I left it there the whole evening, listening to it as I rode around town trying to make bucks from stoned guys who had the munchies, and drunks who knew they shouldn’t be anywhere near a steering wheel or a stove.
The next Saturday, 7 o’clock in the evening, I turned the radio back over to that station. I had tried it out earlier that week, but the music put me to sleep. Bam-a-lamma Ding-Dong. There was that jamming music again. These guys could really rock the house. Of course, there were a few chick songs that tried to make people teary-eyed. Thank goodness, they seemed to occur that night when I was either knocking on someone’s door, or in the shop setting up my next run.
I repeated this several weekends, and then they announced that one of the groups that they played on the radio was going to be at a local church. And not just any church. An Assembly of God church. Hmmmm… okay, I know how they operate. If they are cool enough to have this group come perform, I want to check this church out. The concert was not for a few months, but I went ahead and started attending anyway. Wow, this church seemed different. The pastor seemed different. The music seemed different. Granted, there was still a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, and a few people flopping on the floors like almost dead fish, but I decided I could overlook that. Little did I know that the enemy is often on the home front.
Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you quit trying. Sometimes you quit trying to lose. Maybe that was what I was doing. Trying to lose. I certainly wasn’t trying to win. My wife was not supportive of my actions with me going to church. She didn’t do church, and she couldn’t understand why I wanted to. Especially at another AOG church, of all things.
We only had one car for quite some time, and she would have it to drive to work. I drove the work truck home (I worked for Allied Van Lines at the time) when I could, but I couldn’t go parking a moving van in the church parking lot. That would have probably put too many people over the edge.
Several times people would give me a ride home while I was walking, and even offer to come pick me up. But my schedule was hectic, especially on Wednesday’s, and I never knew from one week to the next if I would be home or not.
Eventually the weather turned bad, and I found too many excuses to go. I still listened to the radio show every Saturday night. I counted myself as a good person. I wasn’t out raping, killing or stealing from anyone. Sure, I indulged in the ‘spirits’ occasionally, especially Crown Royal or Bacardi. But I wasn’t a drunk anymore. I could remember what happened before and after I started drinking now. So I couldn’t be a bad person. RIGHT?!? NOT!
I still wasn’t really saved. I had bought the fire insurance when I was 8 years old. But that was still all it was to me. Fire Insurance.
Then we moved back to the home county where I grew up. Walked in a Baptist church, and this is no lie, a lady recognized me, grabbed her kid, and said, “Don’t go anywhere near that man. He’s trouble.”
I never went back. If that woman ever reads this, be glad that I came to my senses; otherwise, you would have a rough day at the throne down the road.
My girls had started listening to the music too, and they wanted to get active in church. We found a church, and they had an awesome drummer. We quickly became friends and started up a Christian Rock Band. (Heads up, I still wasn’t living that life that I sang about). For 2 years we had a blast. I eventually became the choir director for the church. Then tragedy struck.
(1)        Stroke
(2)        Multiple Sclerosis
Wheelchair bound. The pastor came to see me a couple of times. But no one else ever did. It wasn’t long before I never heard from him again. See there. Just what I thought. Christians only care about you when you’re in a position to help them. “To serve God.”
Still in a wheelchair, I started playing for another group, and before long, I was out of the wheelchair and now found myself serving as choir director at another local church. Methodist Denomination.
But after surviving much gnashing and wailing, this was a change. In addition, I fell in love (platonically/spiritually!) with the pastor. She helped me to see that Christianity was so much more. I even started to understand some of the words that they had been playing and talking on the radio, and how the bible could apply to my life.
Several different churches later, I wound up serving in another Methodist church. This time I found out about a program called, “Lay Speaking.”
Nope, it doesn’t mean to recline while you’re preaching, although I think I may try that sometime and see what the church reaction is. It means that ordinary people could be trained to help in different areas of the church and its worship services. I went to the “Basic” class out of curiosity, and I was hooked. I bought every “line” and weighed every “sinker.”
One thing led to another, and I wound up in Seminary, and eventually to my own church. Methodist, in case you were wondering. A small country church. I had learned a lot while serving in the ministry, but being a pastor was quite a revelation.
People can be cruel, weird, supportive and just down right strange. I’ve had people call me or stop me before I left church and tell me that they really got something from my message. They also told me how appreciative they were that I had given them something that they could apply in their daily lives.
I’ve had people call me to the side and bless me out. “How dare you talk about me like that? I didn’t think my wife would go through with her threat to tell you what I did!” (I’m scratching my head trying to figure out what they are talking about. Evidently, they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar.) I just preached what I felt was laid on my heart, and I said what needed to be said. Truth was, most of the women told me nothing, and supplied me with lots of treats and goodies to eat when I came to visit.
Have you ever noticed that people come to church to socialize? I’ve had people tell me that I needed to bust up someone’s “clic,” while theirs was truthfully causing more harm than the aforementioned one. However, since it was their clic that was okay. Everyone wants to meet all of the other “important” people who attend, desperately hoping to gain their favor and “get ahead” in life. Somehow, no one ever shows up expecting to meet the one person who matters the most! ME! No…. just kidding….
Do you know whom I’m talking about? Whom do you go to church to meet? The lawyer who you heard is hiring, and your son is about to graduate and hopefully will give him a job when he passes the bar? The contractor who has broad shoulders, tanned lines, and a chest you could sink your face into. The girl from the grocery store. You know, the one who always wears low cut tops, and when she bends over to bag your groceries, her “ample wares” are displayed for your viewing pleasure?
GOD…. 3 Letters… Count them G  O  D. He is always there, waiting on us to come and worship Him. Not just sing “I Love You Lord” in a praise song and go back home and exclaim GD the first five minutes that you’re in the house.
Worship God, the one who can deliver you from the load that has you tilted at a 45-degree angle. 

Come back Wednesday for Part Two: Where I'm At Now

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