The Story of How I Came to Church Part 2 - Wandering in the Wilderness
I knew no other Christians that befriended me as Joe and Charlie did. I spent many hours with Joe talking about the Bible and learning doctrine. Joe proved to be quite different than anyone I have ever met before or since. He was a Christian “Maverick.” He used to tell me, “All these churches around here are apostate.” He did not go to church and encouraged me that such an endeavor would be a dead end road as there were no true churches left in this day and age. “There really aren’t many real true believers left in the world.” When I would meet a Christian here or there I would be so excited to tell him about it and soon he would “show me” by pointing out something this “Christian” said or did that proved they were not the real McCoy; they were “pretenders” or "lukewarm believers." He said that God was done with the church as we know it and that the “church” was not in these buildings... it was invisible. He totally neglected the doctrine of the local church as he said that God was going to the “highways and byways” to call out a “rag-tag army” made up of small pockets of people all over the world.
Over the next five years I remained in the “grip” of this man. When I recount this time it is very hard to do. I knew almost no other Christians. I was so lonely. I wanted to go to church. I was not a very outgoing person and could not imagine how I could possibly go into any church by myself, if there were any “true” churches out there. It was beyond what my constitution at the time seemed capable of. In the latter end of this period, I and a few of the others that had become saved through Joe’s witnessing and some who had latched onto him, began to meet for Bible Study on Sunday afternoons with Joe as the teacher. There were about 7 or 8 people - a very odd lot. None of these went to church or seemed to want to go to church either. This was our “church.” It was almost cult-like as I look back at it. None of the doctrine per se was cultish (we used JV McGee’s guides), but the practice of being so isolated was.
I was terribly lonely. Sometimes I would go to that bookstore where I bought my first Bible just to see Don and Buelah, the elderly couple, so that I would have someone to talk to other than the “group.” They were a wonderful couple who went to Emmanuel Baptist Church. They never invited me to church. This could have been because Buelah had bursitis and they did not always get to the Sunday Morning service. Still, knowing them would end up being what God used to bring my “salvation” from the situation I was in.
It seemed to be an impossible situation and at times I was utterly frustrated and forlorn.
Joe was full of cynicism about other people, whether they were unbelievers or Christians. Looking back, I can say with certainty that Joe did not like people. He really was very hateful toward many people and to this day it amazes me that God could and would use him to bring the message of salvation to me and several others that I know of.
Joe often said some very terrible things about the people that came to the Bible study when they were not around. He just had such disdain for others. His son was a part of the study and he would talk terribly about him behind his back. He often would question whether his son was saved or not because of some of the lifestyle. He spoke rudely of his other family members.
Even innocent bystanders in restaurants would get the “once over” by Joe from a distance as he criticized them and looked on them with such suspicion. He would comment on old ladies with their “blue hair” and say things like “I know how they are…” about various demographic groups. It wasn’t long before, although I appreciated what Joe had done for me in leading me to the Lord, I could see that this was not spiritually healthy. I somehow seemed to be immune from it, personally, though: I had no sense that he was talking about me in this way. I imagined that I held some loyalty from him, that I was immune to his cynicism, as I had never directly felt the sting of it.
On the other hand, he was a very charismatic person – he could win people’s ears very easily and had a great gift for passionately sharing Christ and teaching the Bible. But he didn’t love them. He knew he came across as unloving because he would often say, “Loving people is telling them the truth!” and then would proceed to express what errant and egregious people they were.. this was the “truth.”
He was not a very easy person to confront (-->I articulate that as an extreme understatement). If I tried to express an issue with some of his attitude or such, he would 'respond'… and within five minutes of having begun speaking, his voice would be at an extremely elevated volume... and after 30 minutes of tirade, no one would want to “correct” him again. I quickly learned to keep these kinds of thoughts to myself, of which I had many: feelings, opinions and a growing understanding of truth from Scripture about what I was witnessing. Still, I did not know how to break away and out of this “fellowship.”
I endured five years of this “wandering in the wilderness”...as I call it. I lived at home with my Catholic mother the entire time as I finished my BA, found my first job in the graphics field and sought more meaningful employment. I had zero dates and met no other Christians with which I had any lasting involvement except for the small group of isolationalist friends from “the Bible Study.” I grew a lot in wisdom and knowledge and I believe God used that time to prepare me for something, the likes of which I am still not sure of, even today.
Labels: stories for my book