I just wanted to take a minute or two and write down my journey so far. . . .
I was raised in the Oneness Pentecostal movement until I was twelve years old. My mother was more devout, and my dad had stopped attending church by the time I was around six or seven. The Oneness Pentecostals are a very, very strict sect of the Pentecostal churches. I remember when we had no television in the house, we couldn’t wear short-sleeved shirts, no make-up for the women, long-hair for the women, and a myriad of other rules applicable to every facet of life. I was baptised in “Jesus’ name,” for the Oneness churches do not believe in the Trinity. I remember looking down on the poor Trinitarians. So deluded. So lost.
I spoke in tongues. I’ll never forget the night this happened. I so wanted it. Without it I was lost. With it I had power. A crowd of people, hands all over me, shouts of encouragement and pleading to God. And then these sounds came from me. Nothing like a language I’d ever known. But those around me broke out in joyous celebration. I had been filled. I was around nine. My memory is hazy on a lot of things, but I do know that I doubted about much of what happened. I was always questioning, but never disrespectfully. I truly wanted to know God and have all that He had for me.
When I was six, we got new neighbors. An Assembly of God pastor and his family moved next door. A kid my age! A kid my brother’s age! We were in heaven. But they were Trinitarians. I remember those days of adolescent theological discussions. “You believe in three Gods!” I would say. When I was around twelve, and the neighbor and I best friends, my mother had a falling out with the leadership at the Oneness church. We went to visit the Assembly of God church. It was a turning point.
I had never experienced the love of God. The Oneness church was all about ‘the letter’. Here was ‘the spirit’. We immediately fell in love with the people. Unfortunately this earned us the pity of our former church’s membership. Many never spoke to us again. Yet we had found ‘home’, and in many ways that church is still my home. I met my wife there, we got married there. We still attend.
I embraced the trinitarian doctrine, as best as a twelve-year old can. I was re-baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I ‘truly’ was baptized in the Holy Ghost and ‘truly’ spoke in tongues – though, in truth, there was little difference in experience. The sounds were gibberish, and bore little resemblance to ‘language’ in my opinion. Over the next few years, I would struggle, as all teenagers do, with lukewarm religion – followed by periods of revival. These ‘high’ periods usually coincided with the annual Church youth camp. Oh, those were so fun. Free from the influences of the ‘the world’, hundreds of kids would gather to seek after God. If we found a girlfriend during the week, that was an added bonus.
When I was fifteen, it was at one of these camps that entered my most fervent period. I ‘felt the call to preach’, though I kept it to myself. I was scared. When I got home, I would spend long periods of time praying in my closet. I was taking God’s word seriously. I read the whole Bible through for the first time. I would wonder the woods surrounding my house, praying, crying out to God, preaching to the trees. Honestly. It was during this time that I sought God for a sign that my baptism in the Holy Ghost was not simply me producing gibberish. I wanted what came out of my lips to sound like something ‘real’. While in the woods one day, I found my new prayer language.
I began to have very intense, almost vision-like, experiences. I even thought that one such vision came true. Our youth meetings had become bone dry. In prayer one day I ’saw’ the Spirit take control of the youth meeting. A message in tongues was given out. People were changed. It wasn’t long afterward that something very similar happened. I felt like God was using me. A few weeks after the fulfillment of my ‘vision’, I too gave a message out in tongues in our youth meeting. It was interpreted. I can’t remember what it was about.
This period of intensity lasted for quite some time. But the fervor faded eventually. And I found myself struggling with myself. I couldn’t understand the ups and downs. I didn’t comprehend how I could be so duplicitous. So, I entered into more of the same. Hot. Then cold. Up. Then down. I felt like I was on a rollercoaster. I either wanted off or I wanted it to level out. By the time I graduated high school, I was living a double life. The good church kid at church, the know-it-all blossoming delinquent outside its walls.
When I started college, God was on the periphery. However, once again, youth camp brought me to a ‘closer walk’. I resolved this time to announce to everyone that I was ‘called to preach.’ So, I did. That was the way it was in the churches I grew up in. My pastor offered to let me preach on a Wednesday night. I took my text from Isaiah. I’ll never forget how I took an hour’s worth of material, and in my nervousness, spewed it out in fifteen minutes. But it was over. And I had ‘done well’. More opportunities arose. So, I started helping out in Sunday School. In college I joined the BSU (the token Pentecostal), and soon was the director of evangelism on the Executive Council. I was actually preaching in more Baptist churches than Pentecostal.