15 February 2007

February 11: the most pivotal day in my life (part two)

by Dan Phillips

My problems
So, as I explained, I had two problems. The minor problem was Jesus, the major problem was me.

How can I say Jesus was a "minor" problem? As I explained, I had this nagging awareness that his teaching wasn't really quite what my cult made it out to be. But in itself, that wasn't huge. Jesus was one religious teacher among many. A really impressive one, true; but just one. Knowing that He disagreed with me was not, in itself, shattering.

But when conjoined to the major problem, it took on a different significance. See, I had realized that I basically was the founder of my religion. I was my authority, my judgment and character were the basis. And I'd come to see that this foundation was irredeemably corrupt.

Praying, but not "through"
So I actually prayed, which was new. We Religious Scientists (like Christian Scientists) did not pray. To speak to God implied separation from God, and we believed we were one with Divine Mind. So we meditated, we affirmed. We didn't pray.

But now I did, as I became increasingly gripped with a desire to know God, and be saved—though I'd not have used the word—from the wretched heap of my internal life.

I remember praying once, in my darkened room, "Father--" I got no further. It was as if a voice came back: "Who said I was your Father?"

I had to admit, "I did." And that was the problem.

So I prayed that God would lead me to know Himself on His own terms, as He really was, whether he was such as I wished Him to be, or wholly other. I was willing to do anything, be anything. "Even if it means becoming a Jesus Freak," I said, because that was the worst thing I could think of.


God's mole
Meanwhile, as they say in the movies, I had been befriended by this Christian named Greg. He'd seen me walking home from school and offered me a ride. We went to the same high school, but I hardly knew him. Still, it was nice of him, and became a daily thing.

I asked Greg early on what his religion was, and he told me he was a Christian. "If you ever want to know why, or have any questions, just let me know," he added.

"You bet," I replied. That was never going to happen.

Fast-forward a few months of this agonizing process I've described, and that all changed. I had shared with Greg about some of the garbage—though this was not my exact term—that I was finding within. Greg sympathized and commiserated. He was a very real person, not like most sloganeering, plastic Jesus people I had known.

Greg gave me a gospel of John in some modern translation, which I read. He also gave me C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. I liked to think I was smart, but most of it was well over my head. Except one part. You know the part.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
I remember reading this with a sinking heart. Lewis was talking about me. I was always insisting that Jesus was a great teacher, the greatest—yet I had kept running into things that this "great teacher" taught, that I did not believe, did not want to believe.

And what of that? I'd already established that I, and my judgment, were no fit foundation for life and thought. But what of Jesus? Here was someone we held to be the greatest teacher, the greatest example, the greatest mystic. His life was a life of integrity. The unparalleled symphony of miracles in his life, with the crescendo of the Resurrection, made perfect harmony with the claims He made for Himself. It all fit. If I was no fit foundation, was He?

So somewhere here I surely shocked my friend Greg by telling him I wanted to talk. And talk we did. For hours, and hours. First, at my parents' house. Then the next day, a rainy Saturday, after I'd been at a meeting for the Religious Science church youth group (I was a co-leader; also, I'd taken two of the four-year ministerial training course).

I threw every question I had at Greg, and he kept telling me about Jesus and what the Bible said.

At the end of our second talk, Greg said, "Why don't you just ask God? Ask God if He wants you to believe in Jesus, in order to know Him. What would you be out?"

Made perfect sense to me. So ask I did.

...and the roof didn't cave in
The next day, I went to church with Greg. It was Van Nuys Baptist church, pastored by Harold Fickett. I remember that Fickett preached like a lawyer building an airtight case. I felt myself to be the defendant, and guilty as... well, as sin. I wish I could tell you what he preached. I can't. But I can tell you it was as if Fickett had read my journal. He absolutely nailed me to the pew. And as it all fell apart, it all fell together.

At the end, Fickett gave an invitation. If you wanted to find out how to know Christ as Savior, come up front, someone would help you. Greg said he'd come with me if I wanted. I did want. So up we went. They may have been singing "Just As I Am," which would have expressed my longing exactly.

The man who talked with me used the Four Spiritual Laws. I remember with crystal clarity when the counselor talked about how my sin separated me from God. This described and made sense of exactly what I'd been coming to see within myself.

Then he showed how Jesus was the sole mediator between God and man, and this made sense of the unbridgeable gap I'd come to see between God and me. It also connected so well with that stubborn text, John 14:6, which had so bothered me (as I mentioned in the first part, and discussed more fully elsewhere). Jesus was the way, none could come to the Father but through Him. Including me.

Then the counselor showed the picture of the chaos of the self-ruled life, and this described me to a "T." I hadn't indulged in some of the particular vices of my generation. But had I loved God above all? Never. Had I taken His name in vain? Constantly and with gusto. Had I dishonored my father and mother? Since I could talk. On and on it went.

And then we prayed together, and I implored Jesus Christ in His fullness to be my Lord and my Savior, to make me His own, and to forgive me of all my sins.

Was it an emotional experience? The emotion I remember feeling first was relief, in the sense that I had come to rest on a real and true foundation in Jesus Christ. "Rock of Ages" was very meaningful to me, as was "How Firm a Foundation." That I now could know God, on His terms, and be forgiven my sins. The next I remember was how new everything was to me—God, me, my world, the Bible.

Almost especially the Bible. It was as if someone had come and stolen that dusty, depressing, dead, irrelevant history-book, and replaced it with something that was electric, something that was alive. I could not get enough of it. On my knees, reading and reading, delving, diving, exploring, trying to absorb the whole of it. It was God! Talking to me!

And my, how I needed Him to talk to me. Everything had to be re-thought, re-learned: the meaning of God, of things, of people, of self; how to think and decide; how to pray; how to live. I was conscious that I had had it all wrong, and needed to get it right. Because it mattered now.

Everything changed for me on that day, and since that day: February 11, 1973. Thirty-four years, and counting. The progress has had ups and downs, lags and leaps, "many dangers, toils, and snares." But the Christ I prayed to that day became my Lord that day, and by His grace He remains my Lord, and by His grace and covenant will so remain.


But some of that was done "wrong," wasn't it? Altar call? C. S. Lewis? A "voice"? Four spiritual laws?

Some thoughts on that, and more, next time.

UPDATE: see here for part one; see here for part three.

Dan Phillips's signature


FX Turk said...

I love this stuff.

I do have something to add.

Hey reader: the Jesus that Dan is talking about has tasked us -- the Pyros, the other actual Christians reading this blog -- to be messengers to you from Him about this stuff. We're Christ's representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to admit their problem in sin and enter into God's work of making things right between them. We're speaking for Christ himself now: be reconciled to God - in Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.

God did this for Dan, and for me, and for Phil, and (we think) for Pecadillo. He is calling you right now to the same forgiveness.

Do something about it.

Carla Rolfe said...

I love this stuff too. Thank you for this, Dan.

Lee Shelton said...

But some of that was done "wrong," wasn't it? Altar call? C. S. Lewis? A "voice"? Four spiritual laws?

Wrong? Perhaps. Let's just say it was still part of God's sovereign plan!

FX Turk said...

What?! An avatar of Carla smiling?!

I don't believe it. She must not be a Calvinist anymore.

DJP said...

She explained it on her blog. It's February 15.


Anonymous said...

I am curious about the "voice." And what you think it was. Wait...it couldn't have been God talking to you, could it!? :-)

DJP said...

(The bait wiggles. Janelle bites.)

Next time.


Anonymous said...

Lol. Couldn't help it! :-)

Robert said...

Dan, thank you for telling us this.

Now, is there anyone y'all other Pyromaniacs can convince Centuri0n to tell his story? I understand he used to be an Atheist.

donsands said...

Great to read how you became a new creation in Christ. Thanks.

I also had a hunger for the Bible, when Christ sought me out, and changed my heart.

Would it be safe to say, that this is an essential evidence of one's rebirth?
Or can one not become hungry for the Word, and be a Christian?
Or can someone be hungry, and not be a Christian?

Probably too many questions here.

FX Turk said...

This is the testominoy I gave on my blog about 18 months ago. You can read that while you're waiting for something else.

FX Turk said...

Or testimony. This is my story. this is my song.

FX Turk said...

Don: tune in tomorrow, when I give you part 2 of 2 of my post from yesterday.

Phil Johnson said...

DJP: "But some of that was done "wrong," wasn't it? Altar call? C. S. Lewis? A "voice"? Four spiritual laws?"

So much for the rigid inviolability of the vaunted "What-you-win-them-with-is-what-you-win-them-to Rule," huh?

Did I ever mention that the Bible I was reading when I first encountered the claims of Christ on my life was an RSV? And the Bible I read for weeks afterward was "Good News for Modern Men"? And the first preacher I ever heard explain the gospel was Jack van Impe, whom I wouldn't walk across the street to hear nowadays?

I'd be interested in how many Pyro readers were brought to Christ through less-than-orthodox means.

Such things intrigue me. Not that my conversion or Dan's would justify the deficiencies of bad gospel presentations. But it definitely illustrates the sovereignty of God.

And for those who are intimidated about witnessing because they are terrified of getting one jot or tittle wrong, it ought to encourage them to do their best anyway, knowing that God often uses weak things so that no man can glory in men.


James Scott Bell said...

Hey Dan, I first learned about Christianity at...Van Nuys Baptist! In the high school group. This was after my conversion experience from watching Billy Graham on TV. I'd watched him before, because I liked his speaking and I wanted to be a speaker. Only this night the Holy Spirit did the work, man, and I said Yes at the invitation. There was much to learn, of course, and a high school friend brought me to VNB...this was when Jess Moody was there. Much more to the story, but per Phil's invite and your experience, thought you'd like to know.

DJP said...

Small world, JSB. I wonder whether any of our readers ever heard, or heard what became of, Fickett?

donsands said...

I be tuning in. Same Pyro blog, same Pyro time.

Connie said...

Phil: regarding, "I'd be interested in how many Pyro readers were brought to Christ through less-than-orthodox means."

The Lord saved me during college in 1981 through the testimony and witness of a sorority sister. She promptly guided me into the charismatic, health & wealth movement--and I eagerly followed!

My Bibles of choice at the time were my RSV and Living Bible (and basically anything else that had "bible" on the cover). My mentors/teachers of choice (via t.v., conference, or tapes) were, Kenneth and GLORIA Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Fred Price, Paul and Jan Crouch, Pat Robertson, James Robison, etc. I applied to attend Rhema Bible School (Hagin ministries), as well as made plans for graduate school (in theology) at Oral Roberts University in preparation for MY PREACHING ministry.

That lasted for about two years as God slowly brought Biblically grounded Xians into my life. God did most definitely use those years to teach me the need to be discerning, and has left me with a compassion for others who are or have been misguided and confused. To God be the glory!

Travis said...


I've really enjoyed these last two posts. Not that I haven't enjoyed your prior posts, but these have really resonanted with me. I look forward to reading about the "afterthought" stuff.

I also want to praise God for Greg. I'm sure that most of us have had "Gregs" who intersected our lives and influenced us for Christ.

Good stuff!

Tom Gee said...

Unusual means? After much exposure to the truths of the gospel, God used the silly "altar call" at the back of a Spire Christian Comic book to bring me to faith. If you had a problem with Francis Chan, wait 'til you encounter Archie and Jughead!

(My most embarassing evangelizing moment was, at the age of 12, when I invited a friend to the Awana meeting at my Brethren church. After what I thought was a stirring message, I needed to confront my friend with gospel. So I turned to him and, in my best KJV English, asked him "Dennis, have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb?"

Poor Dennis. I hope someone else has since had a chance to tell him the Good News.)

Kim said...

Phil said:

Such things intrigue me. Not that my conversion or Dan's would justify the deficiencies of bad gospel presentations. But it definitely illustrates the sovereignty of God.

When I was a teenager and trying to understand who God was and how I got to Him, I had many people, including the Church of Rome, give me advice. After a six month stint during which time I was a model Mormon, I reached a conclusion: whoever God was, the only way I was going to get to know Him was through the Scriptures. That is the one thing I came to understand during my time as an almost-Mormon. After that experience, any seeking I did included Scripture, leading up to my salvation at the age of twenty.

The Mormons preached a false gospel to me, but I left them knowing one thing for certain, and that was that whatever course I chose next, the Scriptures would have to be part of it.

Sharon said...

Unusual means by which God saves? How about "evangelistic dating"? High school boyfriend brought me to the church where I found Christ. Prior to my re-birthday, I attended First Baptist Van Nuys because so many high school friends attended there. We just missed each other, Dan (1971)!

By the way, I believe Dr. Fickett passed away a few years ago. Jess Moody . . . well, let me put it this way. When he had a church-wide party to celebrate his automobile's birthday, I knew the church would not last long. And it didn't--it was sold to a charismatic church and turned into a "satellite campus" of Church on the Way (Hayford's outfit). Pity, that.

DJP said...

When he had a church-wide party to celebrate his automobile's birthday, I knew the church would not last long


Anonymous said...

Dear Dan:
If it be any encouragement to you, your story brought me to my knees to worship our Lord and Savior. He is so worthy of our praise and your story caused me to praise Him.

How I pray that my family could find a church home that proclaims and teaches the way all of you do at Pyro. If you have even a moment to write and let me know if there is a sound pastor in the Kansas City area, I would be deeply in your debt.

A postmodern church refugee,

Kaffinator said...

Awesome story Dan. Growing up LDS, my story sounds a lot like yours, except you were a keener student of Scripture than I was. But like you I bumped into the same kind of, "wait a minute, this whole thing depends on me discerning God, and I don't know that me is quite up to the task".

I wish I could fulfill Phil's bill and say my conversion into the Christian faith was less than orthodox in some way. But basically, I heard the Word preached with faith in a local church, started reading the Bible with the crazy notion in my head that it just ... might ... be true, and found very quickly that I personally didn't measure up to God's standards at all, and I wasn't about to get there on my own.

To this day I maintain that talking Jesus into someone's ear isn't going to do any good until the hearer knows he needs a Savior. Getting to that point can take years. I'm so glad to hear of people like Dan's discerning friend Gregg who seems to have understood this.

James Scott Bell said...

Sharon, the Van Nuys Baptist property was sold to Church on the Way, and Moody moved his congregation to a new plot of land in Porter Ranch. Then the church merged with another church, and is now Shepherd of the Hills, a congregation of about 10,000 or so, pastored by a man named Dudley Rutherford. I don't recall much of his teaching, as I was mainly in the youth group there. I do remember one speaker coming in and blowing me away. His name was Hal Lindsey. I thought, Man, this guy knows EVERYTHING.


debbiewimmers said...

Hi Dan,

your wife and my cousin lisa resemble each other a lot. I was wondering if you might know Lisa Welchel btw. She was blair on the Facts of Life. Now she is a writer. (Creative Correction) and her husband is a worship leader.
Lifeway recently turned her book into a Sunday School curriculum.

debbiewimmers said...

Never mind, I see you did have her picture. That's too weird.

DJP said...

Debbie, I never knew her, and only got the picture off her site. (If you click it, her site will come up.)

Morris Brooks said...

After growing up in the church, but not knowing Christ, I read an interview of Tom Landry in a Guidepost magazine at a doctor's office. In the interview Tom made the statement, which I can still see in my mind, about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and I thought how can you have a relationship with someone who has been dead for 2,000 years. Well, I wrestled with that for 2 years until I reached a point where I finally saw myself for the sinner I was. Yes, I had still been going to church, even teaching the 3 year old Sunday School. The Word opened up and I still can not get enough of it.

Stephen Dunning said...

But some of that was done "wrong," wasn't it? Altar call? C. S. Lewis? A "voice"? Four spiritual laws?

Isn't it wonderful that salvation is by grace, not by our techniques? If a person's salvation depended on how I did it, I think I would despair.

This isn't to excuse sloppy or unbiblical evangelism, but it does show that God uses flawed human beings. Just like Samson..

Al said...

But some of that was done "wrong," wasn't it? Altar call? C. S. Lewis? A "voice"? Four spiritual laws?

hmmm, no doubt Phil will know exactly where & when, but I seem to recall a Spurgeon quote along the lines of "I was saved as all men are, an Arminian". And look how he turned out!

Can't wait for the next episode DJP.


Aaron said...

But some of that was done "wrong," wasn't it? Altar call? C. S. Lewis? A "voice"? Four spiritual laws?

Stephen Dunning:
Isn't it wonderful that salvation is by grace, not by our techniques? If a person's salvation depended on how I did it, I think I would despair.

This isn't to excuse sloppy or unbiblical evangelism, but it does show that God uses flawed human beings

Good, yet simple balance, Stephen. I was trying to think of how to express the same thought.

I wouldn't dare use the methods that were used on me by that dear, aisle-pacing, invitation- stretching, red-in-the-face, Arminian preacher who always requested "every head bowed and every eye closed...nobody looking around...do you know that you know that you know?!"

BUT, praise be to God - I'm glad he did. ;o)

Terry Rayburn said...

Phil: "I'd be interested in how many Pyro readers were brought to Christ through less-than-orthodox means."

I, too, was given a copy of Mere Christianity in 1973.

I was most struck by Lewis' logic that we can't even keep our *own* standards, let alone God's, and how would that fare on judgment day?

Anyway, intrigued by this Lord Jesus, I took the next logical step [grin] and bought a ticket to the stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Enthralled even more by this Jesus, I promptly went downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan to the Catholic Information Center, and took the required courses from Father Joachim Lally, and became a baptized Roman Catholic "so I could learn more about Jesus".

Still empty, I plunged back into "the Search"...from the New Testament to the Bhghavad Gita, to the Old Testament to Gibran's The Prophet, to the latest Billy Graham book to Ram Dass' Be Here Now and Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Still as lost as could be, mind swirling with "the Search", relaxation therapy and self-hypnosis techniques no longer staving off the stomach aches, I ended up at a doctor's office.

"Doc, what's wrong? My stomach aches all the time, I'm uptight and restless...what's wrong?" "Nothing, Mr. Rayburn. You're perfectly healthy."

Meanwhile, God brought many people out of the woodwork to witness to me of Jesus Christ. (Several used The Four Spiritual Laws).

Finally, in 1976, I went to my office at 11 p.m. (that in itself was odd). My sister had given me a plaque with a quote from Jonathan Livingston Seagull which went something like,

"It's good to be a seeker, but sooner or later you have to be a finder. And then it is well to give what you have found, a gift into the world for whoever will accept it."

I read the plaque for the 100th time that night, and woefully asked no one in particular, "Yeah, sure, but be a finder of WHAT?"

And the answer came to my heart, "It's that Jesus that everybody's been telling you about. It's not a WHAT, it's a WHO. It's Him."

And God opened my heart right there, and I believed in Him. And all the Eastern Mysticism, and all the Romanism, and all "the Search" ended at once. I kid you not.

Within a week I was in a Bible-teaching church, and within a year I was in a Bible Institute. By 1978 I had read A.W. Pink's The Sovereignty of God and believed in the absolute sovereign Grace of God in salvation. I have never looked back.

Jesus Christ became my all in all, and I love Him, and I always will

Pastor Michael said...

You wanna hear unorthodox? The person who “led me to Christ” had been talking about his newfound faith to me with no seeming affect, when he challenged me to pray, “God if you can prove you are real, I will give my life to you.” Seeing no downside to the wager, I agreed. When we said amen, I got up from the table, walked to the fridge and popped a beer. At the time, I had absolutely no sense that anything was wrong with my (looking back) incredibly destructive, substance abusing, hippy lifestyle, but was willing to humor my really nice friend.

Late that night the phone rang, calling me in to work the midnight shift at the truck stop where I was a manager. That night happened to be a warm one, so I sat out on the fuel islands waiting for trucks to fuel, when all of a sudden I began to be washed over with intense waves of pleasurable feelings. At first I thought I was having a drug flashback, but after thinking about it, realized no drug had ever made me feel so “right”. So I looked up into the night sky and asked, “Does this have something to do with that prayer I prayed?” Similar to Dan’s experience, a seeming voice in my head asked back, “What do you think?” Now I knew what I thought, so I pondered where that question could be coming from. Sometime during the night I came to the conclusion that God was indeed answering the prayer I had earlier prayed.

I’m still not sure how to explain this part, but by sunrise I just “knew” I was a Christian. I went and bought a Bible, and again like Dan, it came alive when I read it. I never got my nose out of it and twenty-nine years later find myself a pastor. (And lest you worry about the unorthodoxy of the beginning, I’m a Calvidispiebaptogelical pastor.)

One thing in particular about my story goes against the grain of those troubled by the Chan video—at the time of my conversion, I had zero sense of a need for repentance. It came quickly, but it was certainly after. I bring this up, because I don’t think my conversion was invalid, and I don’t think I’m alone among those who came to faith mostly because they were surprised by joy.

debbiewimmers said...

Dan, it's still wierd you happen to have her picture up.

Kate said...

What a beautiful description of God's unending mercy to you. Thank you so much for sharing that. It was truly an honor to read how he worked in your life so profoundly. God is a God of grace!


opinion-minion said...

I can definitely second the Bible becoming electric, alive. For years, I could skim over the Bible, try to study it, but I didn't really "get it" I didn't care, because I had no sense that it was for me, it was talking about me. After my conversion in November, everything changed.

Sometimes, I simply stop, and wonder, you know, as in wondrous, I wonder, it's like I heard, but never heard, read, but never read the Bible before. It is "real" if I can use an overused phrase, to me.

Thanks for the post, it was amazing to read it and think "Hey, yes, that's exactly how it was--before."

Phil Johnson said...