30 July 2009

February 11: the most pivotal day in my life (part one [requested classic re-post] )

by Dan Phillips
[Revisions of the manuscript, in the light of some excellent input I've gotten, continues. In this thread, I solicited suggestions for posts that readers thought worth another go. The greatest surprise to me was that (A) anyone, let alone (B) so many, really wanted to see my three-part testimony again. So now we reach back to February 13, 2007 for that (lightly-edited) word of praise to God for His grace, and encouragement for those speaking to hard-hearted, seemingly hopeless-case mockers.]
Can you name dates on which your life literally turned around, forever?

Significant dates. Pardon my duh, but the most obvious is one's birthday. That's rather a sine qua non, on a personal level. We'll just stipulate that we've all had one, and move on.

For those to whom it applies, another has to be one's wedding anniversary, and I'd certainly second that as mine [March 19] approaches. Though a lot led up to that date, for a Christian, the date itself signals changes that affect virtually every region of one's world. No longer can one think in terms of one; one must think in terms of two in finances, socializing, use of idle time, everything.

Then I'd list the day I enrolled in my first pastoral training course, the day I started learning Greek, ditto for Hebrew; the day I enrolled in Talbot, the day I graduated, the day I took my first senior pastorate (and the day I left it). A host of dates argue for inclusion.

My most important date: in pre-history.

But granted the foreordained necessity of my existence, my first pivotal date is itself undatable. It takes place in eternity past, in the counsels of the Trinity. It is that moment when the Father saw my helpless and hopeless estate, "knew" me, set His eternal love on me, and gave me to the Son for the securing of my salvation (John 17:6; Ephesians 1:4-11; 2 Timothy 1:9, etc.). At that moment, the course of my life forever was assured (Romans 8:29-30), as on the Cross it was secured (Matthew 20:28; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 9:12).

How this played out in my life is of no great global significance, though its impact in my life is literally incalculable.

Caveat: please read through to the end, or don't bother to read at all, and no hard feelings. The incomplete story will be the wrong story.

Back-story
I was born to dear, devoted parents who professed no Christian faith as I grew up. For my father, that profession had been left in his youth; for my mother, it lay in her future. (I have reason to hope that Dad literally made a deathbed return to the faith in Christ he once professed; a story for another day, perhaps.)

But I was raised without Christian witness at home. In keeping with my culture and the media I developed a growing and deepening contempt for Christianity in general, and Christians in particular. I passed through a very young atheist phase, to agnosticism, then at the start of the '70's to a pre-new-age cult known as Religious Science (or Science of Mind) in my early teens.

My cult. The message of Religious Science, founded in 1927 by Ernest Holmes, was what I wanted to hear. God was in all of us, expressed itself as all of us, demanded nothing, gave everything. There was no sin per se, and any harm we did to others, they brought on themselves by their state of mind. There was no Hell nor sin to be saved from, so no salvation to be sought, nor any Savior to be chained to nor obeyed.

"Deeper sense." Jesus was the perfect embodiment of this divine principle, but any human being could be the same as He. Christians, idiots that they always have been, hopelessly muddled the Bible in general and Jesus' teachings in particular. (Anticipating the Emergents by a good thirty years — as they were anticipated in every vaunted "innovation" — we sneered at [Biblical] Christianity as hopelessly "Western.)

We Religious Scientists reclaimed those real teachings of Jesus by seeking and finding the "deeper sense" in His words, a deeper sense — which often turned out to be the opposite of their plain sense. But that wasn't surprising. Jesus was a mystic, and men have always botched the teachings of mystics.

All of this held great theoretical promise and relief for me. I really was the center of the universe, as I'd always suspected; and my desires really were paramount. I was blamable for nothing, beholden to no one, and could have everything merely by developing my consciousness of the divine I AM within me. My own heart held the key to all; to find myself was to find God, to delve within myself was to be one with Him/Her/It.

There were only two catches in my journey.

Minor catch: Jesus. The minor "catch" in my seamless picture was Jesus. When I was about 16, I actually wrote a play based on the four Gospels, from the Religious Science perspective. I found that I kept having to "help" Jesus out, because He expressed Himself (to my mind) so poorly. Let me explain.

Jesus meant to say what we Religious Scientists said, but He kept saying it so badly!! He meant to say that Hell was unreal, not a place of God's wrath, just a phase of consciousness; and that we could save ourselves from that consciousness at any time. But He kept speaking of it as if it were an objective place of immense and eternal torment (Matthew 5;22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:33; Mark 9:43, 43, 47). He even spoke of fearing God for His ability to throw us into this Hell (Luke 12:5). He really needed our help to clear up these muddy bits.

And Jesus seemingly kept harping on Himself, making Himself the issue, when He should have been making it clear that we're all the same, all equally manifestations of God. Jesus kept saying things such as that He would give himself as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), pouring out His blood to secure forgiveness of their sins (Matthew 26:28). This was all wrong, to us—both the implication that sin was an objective reality, and that His death would do anything about it. He kept teaching that knowledge of the Father was dependent on personal knowledge of Him—Jesus—and calling men to Himself (Matthew 11:25-30).

John's Gospel in particular was full of such wrongheaded teaching. The worst of it, to me, was John 14:6"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." I knew it couldn't mean what it seemed to mean... but it sure was obnoxious. Particularly because those idiot Jesus Freaks kept harping on it.

Most of us in the Science of Mind tried to "help" Jesus by explaining what He really meant when He said all these things, bringing out the "deeper meaning" of His words. I knew that the words couldn't mean what they seemed to mean. That was my story, and I stuck to it.

Until I tripped on the major catch.

Major catch: me. So (we believed) God is within all of us, and to know God, we must go within. Well, I did that. With great gusto, determination, absorption, and confidence. It was a great theory.

The problem was that what I found within was nothing like anything I'd ever want to call "God."

For the first years, I diligently applied the rationalizations explanations of Religious Science to what I found. These dissonant thoughts and attitudes were capable of many explanations. And I tried them all.

But I finally did a rigorous, unblinking, warts-and-all inventory of myself. What I found appalled me. Everything circled around me. Every relationship, every endeavor was sheerly selfish. Friends, family, things, all arrayed on a hierarchy of utility to me.

And what of that me, at the center? Selfish, bitter, moody, avaricious, lazy, arrogant, loveless. Lustful, but loveless. Dumb as a dung-beetle, on the large scale of things. Dumber.

And God? In my universe, God existed to serve me. Concocted to fulfill my demands, and customized to my desires. Created in my own image.

So, my religion was designed by me, to serve me, and rested upon me. It was from me, though me, and unto me, world without end, amen. I just found a "church" that agreed with me, confirmed my opinions, told me what I wanted to hear. But I was the foundation.

And what a foundation!

Crash. I was seventeen, and the impact of these realizations was devastating. I was undone. I was plagued by a sharp yet foglike sense of guilt, detachment, and dread. The foundation and authority for what I believed was destroyed. I was rocked to the core of my being.

What happened then?

Next time, Lord willing, I'll talk about how the minor became the major, and everything changed.

[This way to Part Two]

Dan Phillips's signature

18 comments:

Caleb Kolstad said...

Praise the Lord!

stratagem said...

Wonderful testimony, so far. And I was relieved to realize that you hadn't determined that the day time began in eternity past was February 11. Glad I read it carefully the second time!

DJ said...

Great testimony. It left me biting at the bit for part two. It's good to read a testimony that's not so anticlimatic.

"I used to party and do drugs and..blah blah blah. But I found Jesus and now I don't."

You really give a truthful glimpse into the unregenerate heart. Good stuff man.

DJP said...

Stratagem - lol. "I can't tell you exactly when it happened, in the vast ages of eternity... but I'm pretty sure it was a February 11."

olan strickland said...

Dan,

There are those who would say that during your days of Religious Science that you were "seeking" God. You however have done an excellent job of showing that you were in fact suppressing the truth about God: "I just found a "church" that agreed with me, confirmed my opinions, told me what I wanted to hear."

DJP said...

Excellent clarification and point, Olan. I'd say I was seeking something I could call "God" to serve my purposes.

Which is what most mean when they say they're searching for God. They're searching for "God." Not searching for God.

Michelle said...

You describe so well the hopeless self-centredness of the unregenerate heart. We set ourselves up in the place of God and the people and things around us ultimately served as instruments towards our own glorificaton and gratification.

How precious is that devastating realization of guilt and dread that first brought us to our Saviour! So contrary to the sinless, bloodless "genie gospel" designed to pander to the sinner's self-centredness - choose Jesus and He'll cater to all your earthly needs. Aaargh.

Mike Riccardi said...

So, having come around Pyromaniacs about a month after you posted this the first time, it was the first time I'd read it.

I couldn't wait for parts two and three, so I read them in the archives.

Really great to read, Dan. Praise God for all He did and continues to do.

Mesa Mike said...

Hmmm. I'm looking at the Beliefs section on the Wikipedia page, and I'm having trouble seeing how Science of Mind is qualitatively different from the Health-and-Wealth Charismatic bunch.

DJP said...

Funny you should say that.

Within a few years of my conversion, I watched in horror as a local charismatic TV station (LA area) interviewed a big Charismatic name who spoke in those special Charismatic tones about how the Holy Spirit was moving within the Church of Religious Science.

To which, young Christian though I was, I thought something along the lines of "Only insofar as he's moving them out of that cult and to Jesus!"

Eric Kaminsky said...

I have a similar story. Being saved from the Cosmic Consciousness to at least a Judeo-Christian mold in AA and then unto Christ himself.

DJP said...

Did God use the "inventory" step to convict you of sin?

Rabbit said...

But I finally did a rigorous, unblinking, warts-and-all inventory of myself. What I found appalled me. Everything circled around me. Every relationship, every endeavor was sheerly selfish. Friends, family, things, all arrayed on a hierarchy of utility to me.

Dan, I have read your testimony before, but this part still just wrenches and rips me apart. It is a good day when God lets us glimpse our real selves. When He shows us how loathsome our self-centeredness is - not that we can see ourselves as He does, but He gives us that partial view.

And yet He sent Jesus for us. It bows me low before Him. This is what sharing testimony should do: cause us to evaluate ourselves in the light of the Gospel, and give every bit of praise to Him.

Gisela said...

!!! YES !!!

!!! YOU REPOSTED THIS !!!



This Conversion Story Is Such a Leap-for-Joy BLESSING!!!

Praise the Lord,

and,

Thank you! RIGHT ON! YES!

Eric Kaminsky said...

Sorry for responding so late Dan.

The 3rd step in AA as it is written in Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) is the reason I'm a Calvinist. There is statement that even at our best moments we are selfish and self centered, even when we do perceiveably good things. The inventory step reinforced my belief in my Total Depravity, and therefore I always struggled with Arminianism. God was drawing me and put it on my heart to not be satisfied with anything but the truth about him.
The inventory step is still something I use, but I've modified it significantly to search for things in my nature that are sinful. I populated my lists from Romans 1, 2Tim 3, and 1Peter2.

The real problem with AA is the lack of Jesus Christ or a true call for repentance, or more accurately putting to death sexual immorality and other gross sins. That language is replaced with the term spiritual progress not perfection, and while true that we are a work in progress, it was often a cop out for me to continue in my behavior. Thanks be to God and my Lord Jesus Christ that he saved me.

Rashawna said...

yeah so part two now please. I dont like suspense, it makes me moody.

DJP said...

Aigh; it's going to be a moody few days until Tuesday!

(This is Phil's day. Right? Or Frank's. Not-Dan's, at any rate.)

Mike Riccardi said...

Phil usually does Mondays and Fridays, but has been on vacation. If he's not planning on posting, you could always get permission to link to some of your favorite posts/blogs elsewhere in the blogosphere.

;o) ;o)