From practising pagan to devout Christian!
I have not always been a Christian. In fact, for most of my life I was strongly opposed to Christianity, even arguing against it at one stage. I was even writing a ThD thesis paper using the Bible to argue against God and Christ! But then God found me!
The following is a testimony I wrote in October 2011 and that was printed in the “Australian Congregationalist”, Issue 4, 2011. Following this testiomny there is more of my story, so please keep reading for the full story. I read this to my church on 30 October 2011.
30 October 2011
Almost 12 months ago now I was saved! I confessed my sins, and asked the Lord for His help to find my way to the right path. Back in March one of my longest friends rang to wish me a happy birthday, but just a short time into the phone call I was asked if I had been drinking. Not because I was sounding drunk, but because I was sounding happier than she had heard me sound for a very long time! This is the story of why I was feeling so happy, and how it came about.
My mother and grandmother were English, so I grew up in a ‘Church of England’ household, but not one that went to church regularly, so although I was raised to know there was a God, I was never really taught what Christianity was and what it meant.
The result was a very confused, non-religious adolescent. Just like many other teenagers I sinned, and I well and truly turned my back on God. I laughed at the Christians I met, and I scoffed at their “born again stories”.
Then, several years ago I got involved in the pagan beliefs, and I helped start a pagan “church”. I was very active in the pagan world; I spoke out against Christian groups; I promoted pagan views; and I petitioned to have paganism accepted as a valid religion.
This wasn’t just “in the background” paganism; I even had a pentacle tattooed on my forearm, so I could show the world what I believed. But life just wasn’t going in the right direction, and eventually I started to realise that maybe I was heading down the wrong path. But what could I do? I had opposed God for so long, I was certain He wouldn’t accept me. How wrong I was!
With doubts in my mind, in late 2010, I read a book on basic theology (actually called “Basic Theology”), and suddenly for the first time in my entire life the words had meaning, and I started to understand the message being told and the true religion behind Jesus. This wasn’t the first time I had read Christian theology; I had studied it many times, even written thesis papers opposing it, but this was the first time the words had a deeper meaning. I started to feel the truth in the words I read, and I wanted to know more. So, after reading about 3/4 of the book I sat on my lounge one day and I prayed to God, the same God that in the past years I had argued against. I prayed and said sorry for my sins, I asked for forgiveness, and I asked Him to help me find the right path.
What happened next I can hardly believe, and can only explain like someone had lit a flame inside me, and it was gently warming me from the inside. I started to feel comfort and peace like I had never felt before, and I found myself praying every day. It was early days still, but I knew from that moment that I was headed down the right track, and I knew that I had to accept Christ into my life.
At Christmas (2010) I decided that I was going to visit the little church up the road, the West Cessnock Congregational Church. On Boxing Day morning I nervously walked up to the church, and to the front doors. I had no idea what to expect, but I trusted God and so I arrived and met Eddie. To my surprise he, and everyone else I met that Sunday morning, were very friendly, and they welcomed me into their church. They talked to me, and they made me feel like I belonged there, and so at that moment I decided that this is where God wanted me to be, this is the church God planned for me to attend.
So, still finding my way after spending quite a few months doubting old beliefs and finding new beliefs, I attended my first church service, and it felt GREAT! I was encouraged to continue on my path, and I felt an acceptance by everyone in the church that day. Even though they knew of my past, and of what I had done while following pagan beliefs, they still welcomed me with open arms, not judging me for what I had done.
To help reinforce that this was the right path, those first few weeks coming to church, I would sit astonished when the subject of the sermon touched exactly on things that had been happening in my life during the week. The Holy Spirit was at work to make sure I knew that this was where God wanted me to be, and having the Holy Spirit in my life made me feel incredible. I had heard many Christians talk about their born-again experiences, and I had always thought they were stretching the truth just a little, but here I was facing the exact same feelings myself, and I couldn’t deny they were real. What’s more, at the start of my journey when I first asked for God’s forgiveness and help, there was no third person involved, it was just myself and God. There was nobody there to influence what I felt or thought, and I had absolutely no expectations. Remember I had opposed the very existence of this God for years, so I was far from expecting to feel how I felt that day, and since then.
When I started going to church my dear partner said “I hope you don’t expect me to go too”. In fact, on that first Boxing Day morning while I was getting dressed, she looked up and asked me where I was going. When I said “to church” she simply said “have fun with that!”. Then, when I came home she was stunned to learn that the church didn’t condemn her for not coming, but rather said that it was her choice. So, as I grew in my faith I prayed for her too, and sure enough God drew her closer to Him. Kerry started asking questions, and eventually she came along to church too. With the help of God and Steve (our Pastor), Kerry prayed her prayer of repentance and asked Jesus to help her, and as with my prayer, He was quick to respond.
I look back now and I am stunned at just how different I feel. When I do feel under the weather or sick, I pray and I trust in God, and He always gets me through. I can now stand up and admit when I have sinned, I can admit it was my fault and not someone else’s fault, and I know through Christ I can be forgiven. I do my very best to live my life according to God’s will, and I thank Him every day for everything He has ever done for us and everything He will ever do, because now I can see that God has had His hand in my life from the day I was born, even if I couldn’t see that until now, and no matter what happens, no matter how desperate we think things are, God always provides for our needs, we just need to trust in Him. I can now see that God has been directing my life all along, even when I refused to believe He even existed, He was still there guiding me to this point. As I will tell anyone who asks, God found me, I wasn’t even looking for Him, yet He still found me.
I still have the tattoo on my arm, and yes sometimes I feel ashamed of it and try to cover it up, but in the end it is my battle scar, so to speak, a reminder that I have gone down the wrong path and realised that it was wrong, and now I am back where I should be, walking in the light of Jesus and enjoying the immense love of God, love that moves me to tears sometimes as I listen to the Word of God, or sing praise to God.
Over the past 11 months I have learnt much from my family here at this church. With the encouragement of Steve and Rick I have started studying the Certificate of Theology through Moore College, and next week I will stand here, before God and my church family, to marry the woman I have been engaged to for 15 years. Until we came to the Lord getting married didn’t seem like an important priority, just a piece of paper that made no difference to how we viewed each other. But now it is very important for us to be married, not just for ourselves but because that is what God requires, that is what God has planned for us, and if anyone ever needed to be convinced that this is God’s Will, they only need to look at what we have managed to plan with the help of people we’ve only known for 11 months.
So, no matter how far you may have strayed, no matter how many times you have turned your back to God, and no matter how unworthy you think you are, I’m standing here to testify that the love of God is never ending, and that His mighty hand can reach down into the deepest of pits and lift you up, and all you have to do is to ask!
Follow Up to Testimony
After I gave my testimony to our church I was stunned to learn that one of the church members had seen the message I had placed in our local newspaper some years ago looking for likeminded people to start a pagan church, and at that time he had prayed that I would come to know the Lord, and now here I was doing just that! But that wasn’t the end, I later learned that the former Pastor of that church had also prayed for me; apparently he would always have the doctor’s appointment immediately before or after me, so he would see me in the waiting room and he would pray for me each time. Without knowing any of these people I had been guided to the very church that had prayed about my salvation years before. God had indeed had his hand on my life!
But the story doesn’t end here. After I gave my testimony something else happened. The following story was printed in the “Australian Congregationalist”, issue 1, 2012.
Grace Abounding!In the last issue, we printed the testimony of Martin Howells from Cessnock Congregational Church. He wrote to the editor “to tell you about the wonderful people in our local Congregational Church (Cessnock Congregational Church) and also our wonderful new Pastor, Steve Wood.”
The following tells of the wedding that took place on Saturday 5 November, 2011, as Martin’s testimony “is not the end of the story.”
At the time my partner and I came to the Lord we were not married, even though we had been together 15 years. At one stage, before we were saved, we had a pagan celebrant offer to conduct the service free, but it just never happened, and I can see now that God intervened to make sure we didn’t take that path; He had other plans for us, plans that we wouldn’t realise for another 18 months.
Then, in early 2011, not long after we had both committed ourselves to the Lord, while meeting weekly with our new pastor, Steve, we told Steve that the only thing stopping us from being married was the cost. We have since found out that the week before we raised the subject of marriage with Steve, he had considered raising the subject with us but had decided he would leave it to the Lord to place that on our hearts, and sure enough the Lord did just that! Steve quickly told us that money wouldn’t be an issue, that if we were serious about getting married before God then he would be happy to perform the ceremony at no cost, so once again we were able to seriously consider getting married.
Little did we realise that this was the start of a much larger plan that God was to implement. The Lord placed the subject of marriage in our hearts and we both knew that we had to take that step in order to be “right” with God, so we started talking to Steve about a small ceremony in early November, roughly coinciding with the anniversary of 15 years since we met. At that stage, we had a very small ceremony in mind, something in our back yard with half-a-dozen family and close friends, with both of us returning to our daily lives afterward. Little did we realise that we were soon to see for ourselves that nothing is impossible with God!
Without our knowledge, the entire church started organising things for our wedding and honeymoon. The women from the mid-week Bible Study took on decorations and catering for an afternoon-tea-type reception, and some of the men started planning a honeymoon for us. In the weeks leading up to the wedding I was aware that “something” was being planned, but I wasn’t sure what or by whom. I had asked Eddie to be my best man, because he was the first person I met when I first attended the church on Boxing Day, 2010, and Eddie took his role very seriously indeed. On the Sunday before the wedding I gave my testimony in front of our whole church for the first time, and when I had finished, Steve called Kerry to the front to stand alongside me, although at the time I had no idea why. We were soon to learn exactly what the church members had been planning without our knowledge, and again it was a testimony to God’s plan working through the hearts of our church members.
Not only were we having a full church wedding and a fully-catered afternoon-tea reception, we were also being sent to Horizons Golf Resort at Salamander Bay for six nights with $1000 spending money! Additionally, as we didn’t have a car, one of the church members also loaned us her car so we could get there and travel around during the stay.
Needless to say, we were “blown away” by what we were given. These people did not know us just 12 months ago, but they not only accepted us both and helped us grow in our faith and walk with the Lord, they treated us like family and gave us something we could never have hoped to afford by ourselves.
As I have said to many people, if anyone doubts that this wedding was the will of God they only have to look at how two pensioners with no money, managed to have a full church wedding, photographs, catered afternoon-tea, decorated church, and a fully-funded six night honeymoon. The week before the wedding, we also learned that we would be allowed to have photographs taken at the well-known Hunter Valley Gardens at no charge; just another thing that fell into place at the right time! God also smiled upon us during the honeymoon - my wife had never been on a boat before, so when we decided to go on a whale-watch cruise she was very nervous, but God provided us with a beautiful day and the best display by common ocean dolphins that even the crew had seen in a long time. This calmed her, and as we didn’t see many whales that trip we decided to go again the following day. This time, God allowed us to see one of the best displays by whales that the crew had seen this season, including a whale calf, and this was surprising as this was at end of the whale season.
I know God was at work in the hearts of everyone that helped provide us with such a wonderful and memorable time, but I still feel that this church, its pastor, deacons and members deserve recognition for their willingness to follow God’s will. Today, all too often, you see bad publicity about churches and church leaders, but you hardly ever see publicity when a church does something good. Our non-Christian friends and family commented on how amazed they were with everything the church had done, and I believe that they went away with a better understanding of what it means to be a Christian. After being lost for so many years, we feel so blessed to have these people in our lives, sharing our walk with the Lord and showing us love like we have never seen or felt before.
At Steve’s suggestion, I am now putting our journey to marriage into words so I can add it to my testimony. If this will help one person realise just how much God loves us, and that they, too, can experience this love, then it will have been worthwhile writing and telling people.
In my early days I also sent an apology to Rev. Fred Nile for the many things I had said against him in the past, and I was encouraged to get a reply from him back then. My hope is that others that still speak against Rev. Nile and Christianity will one day find the Lord and, like me, feel the amazing love that God has for us, if only we accept Him and His plan.
Since the wedding Kerry and I have continued in our walk with the Lord. In April 2012 we were both baptised in a small ceremony in the pool of one of the church members. It was an opportunity for us to publicly show that we accepted Jesus in our lives. Since accepting Christ there have been too many things happen that can’t be explained by simple chance. When we were at the very end of our pay fortnight with no food and no money, God always provides in some way. And, more recently, two specialists that I need to see for health issues decided to waive their normal fee so I could see them.
The first was a Cardiologist that was supposed to cost me $170, money we simply don’t have, but after learning of our financial situation he decided to bulk-bill Medicare and be happy with what Medicare paid, not even wanting me to pay the “gap” (the difference between what Medicare pays and what the Cardiologist charges, around $44). The second was an Ophthalmologist I had to see for cataract surgery. It was to cost me $200 just to have the eye measured for the correct size intraocular lens implant, with only $35 claimable back from Medicare. After learning of my financial difficulties this specialist decided he would not charge me at all. As you may appreciate, it is not usual for specialists to decide they will see you for free, so for two specialists to decide they will see me without having to pay them is something that not many people can say has ever happened! Certainly in my 44 years this is the only time I can say that a specialist has waived his normal fee, let alone two at once, so I have little option but to believe that God has once again provided for my needs.
Now I know how many non-Christians think, after all I was one of the strongest anti-God non-Christians you could find, but the changes and differences in our lives since accepting Jesus is something that I simply can’t explain away without acknowledging God. Just the changes in the way we live and our whole conduct is clear to everyone that knows us, and there has been more than one person comment about how Kerry and I have both changed and seem happier.
But wait, there’s more!
One of the Christian leaders that I really persecuted as a pagan leader was the Reverend Fred Nile. Rev. Nile would be the recipient of a great deal of my anti-Christian sentiment, and the focus of many articles and Press Releases. So, imagine my surprise when I (eventually) discovered that the church that God had directed me to was part of the fellowship that Rev. Nile was the president of! Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humour!
So, early in my journey I sent a written apology to Rev. Nile, saying sorry for all I had said and done against him and his beliefs. I was pleased to receive a friendly reply back from him, but I was even more pleased to get the opportunity to meet him in person and make my apology. On 22 September 2012 I attended the FCC Annual Assembly and met Fred Nile. The man I had argued against so many times was friendly and even referred to me as his “brother” after one of those present announced that I had once been his enemy. Absolutely incredible!
After moving to a new church in late 2015, in 2016 I commenced study in the “Diploma of Leadership (Church Work)” through Alphacrucis College. Although this started as a VET course, in 2017 I changed to the Higher Education version “Diploma of Leadership” which I completed at the end of 2017 (graduation April 2018). I am now engaged in the Bachelor of Ministry (major in Pastoral Ministry) which started in March 2018. God has certainly brought me a long way since the days when I argued He didn’t exist!