Kathi: So … this may sound like a silly question … and I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to ask so bear with me. I'm challenged … because I am very different from what I imagine the average "new Christian" is (I guess someone who just wasn't particularly spiritual) …. How, exactly, does one "convert" …. does that make sense at all? LOL
Rich: :-) No, that makes sense. I understand. Hmm … When you went to church these last two weeks, did you make any public decisions, like raising your hand for prayer, or to say that you wanted to make a public decision to proclaim faith in Jesus Christ, or anything like that?
Kathi: Nothing like that … I really have been wavering … It's like this: I know that I have received a Call … and that I'd better obey ;-) At first it was a matter of wanting to.
Rich: Okay, do you have specific questions?
Kathi: I have faithfully worshipped my gods for years and never, ever, ever expected anything like this to ever, ever happen.
Rich: I can understand,. I think.
Kathi: It's like giving up my family … only so much more so ….
Rich: I can imagine, at least.
Kathi: I know that most people don't ever consider multiplicity of deity … so I understand you not understanding.
Rich: Well, we Trinitarians are accused of worshipping multiple deities all the time! :-) (God: the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.) Well, here's what I do know ….
Kathi: LOL Yes … in fact, the Egyptian view of Deity as One-but-Many is not totally dissimilar.
Rich: Many today — especially folks I've talked to from pagan backgrounds like yours — assert that essentially any faith/religion will do. That the important thing is to worship whatever you find in your heart you should worship. That Buddhism is as valid a religion as worshipping the Sumerian Bull God, or whatever. And that all are as valid as Christianity. The hardest conversion for anyone to make, I believe, is not from an agnostic position (where you say, "I believe there's a God, I'm just undecided as to what he requires and how to worship him."), but from a totally different world view and religion. Your road will not be easy. But, you're having what I would call a "Saul on the road to Damascus" experience. I'm sure you haven't heard the story, but I can relate it. It's from the New Testament. You with me, so far …. ? ( Let me know when you're ready for more. )
Kathi: got called away from my desk for a sec … back now … sorry
Rich: Figured … no problem. I'll wait for you to get caught up.
Kathi: No, I don't know that story …
Rich: Okay, in the Book of Acts, which is in the New Testament, in chapter 9, there's a story about Saul of Tarsus. Saul was an early enemy of the Church. Not long after Jesus Christ had been crucified and resurrected, Saul went on a tour of the land. His plan was to visit local Jewish synagogues, searching for people who were disciples of Jesus. If he found any he'd arrest them and throw them into Jail in Jerusalem.
Kathi: ok, with you so far …
Rich: And Saul was a tough guy. He wasn't above killing in the name of his own religion. Acts 9:1 says "Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples." The irony is that Saul was a very devout Jew. He worshipped God faithfully — but as a Jew, and he wasn't going to condone Christianity at all, and was doing everything in his power to thwart it. But, fortunately, he had a supernatural experience while on this journey one day.
Kathi: What happened?
Rich: The account, in Acts, says that as he got closer to Damascus (a town) he saw a bright light, and he fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice. It said: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Saul wanted to know who was talking. The reply was: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." Apparently, Saul's travelling companions heard the voice, but couldn't see anything. And when Saul stood up, he was blind. So, he went into Damascus, found a place to stay and didn't eat or drink anything for the next three days. Finally, God spoke to another Christian in Damascus, a fellow named Ananias, and God told him (in a vision) to go to a particular address, and to look for Saul. By this time, Saul was in fervent prayer. And God had already given Saul a vision of Ananians coming to him in his prayers. But Ananias was afraid because of Saul's violent and rough reputation. But Ananias went anyhow, found Saul, and laid hands on Saul, praying.
Kathi: with you so far ….
Rich: The record in Acts records that event: "Brother Saul, the Lord — Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here — has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. So, that's the story that comes to mind when I think of this.
Kathi: hmmmmm …. .he went blind, I went deaf?
Rich: And Saul was healed upon conversion. That doesn't mean that you will also be healed, but who knows? Why not have faith?
Kathi: I doubt that the hearing will improve … in fact, my dream, where He signed to me, seemed to indicate that I would indeed go deaf.
Rich: It's possible. Saul, who later changed his name to Paul, wrote many of the letters that became the core of the New Testament. In one of those letters, the epistle to the Romans, Paul wrote that God has revealed himself to everyone, to one degreee or another. He said: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
Kathi: I never persecuted … I was always of the opinion that religion, if it came, was a personal thing, and you followed …. whoever ….
Rich: Yes, that's a very common point of view. But it's far more likely that all religions are false than that all are true.
Kathi: why do you say that?
Rich: Most religions claim exclusivity for themselves.. If all religions are true then no religion should have the right to make that claim. And if all religions were valid there'd be greater harmony between then. them. Yet, if you accept the presupposition that this world and universe were brought into existence by a diety, then certain other presuppositions follow.
Kathi: Many Pagan traditions hold that "all gods are one god, there are just many approaches". Goodness, then what about the Baptists? (my mother in law is a Southern Baptist. Other in-laws are variously primitive, missionary, or independent. You should hear them fight!)
Rich: Yeah, the in-fighting between sects in Christianity is silly. I don't do it. Here at Christianity Today I work side-by-side with Baptists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and more. And we don't fight.
Kathi: I see nothing wrong with an "agree to disagree" philosophy on things.
Rich: Baptists, Assemblies of God, Lutherans, Methodists …. these are all just minor divisions under the big umbrella of Christianity. I agree with you. Most of the arguments are on relatively minor differences of doctrine. What can I say? People just like to argue. I don't see much point in it myself.
Kathi: So … my problem is that coming from a background of multiplicity to this … is very daunting. Choosing Jesus over my gods causes me to break vows that I made … it's like leaving my family … my entire Self is intertwined with Them …
Rich: What I don't understand, though, is the syncretistic philosophy is self-defeating. If all gods are one god, but many approaches, then why not just become a Christian and be assured that you're doing the right thing — whether you're a pagan or not? Yes, you are right, and you're probably going to have some very tough times ahead of you. Think of it like a marriage.
Kathi: I said "many" … not me. Although not exclusive, I believe that certain deities call to certain people ….
Rich: Some people are promiscuous before marriage. But once they choose a marriage partner, it's an exclusive relationship.
Kathi: interesting analogy
Rich: Yet if someone had many partners before, narrowing one's fidelity down to only one partner will be very challenging. And the previous partners from the former life may still come calling, and may still be attractive. In a real sense the relationship between the Christian and our Creator is like a marriage. In fact, our Scriptures actually use that language. We were created for fellowship with him, but God desires us to enter into that relationship of our own free will … (phone call)
Kathi: mmmmm deep stuff, but it's making sense.
Rich: Okay, I can give you 15 more minutes … (Got a meeting … )
Kathi: I appreciate you talking with me …
Rich: It's my pleasure! Okay, back to my analogy, God wants to have fellowshp with us, but only of our own free will. He calls us to him, like a suitor wooing his Bride, and we can choose him. But he demands that our relationship to him become exclusive. To the exclusion of all other deities and powers. Now, if the Christian God is truly the Creator of the universe, and if Man was created for the sole purpose of fellowship with God, then it makes a certain kind of sense that to achieve our greatest potential (self actualization) we should enter into relationship with our Creator. The ultimate "Be what you are."
Kathi: :::nodding::: this is making sense.
Rich: Now here's another analogy … If there is a singular entity powerful enough to set every molecule in the universe in motion, and omniscient enough to understand it all, and everpresent enough to oversee it all, then can you imagine how far beyond our meager human conception this Deity would have to be? We can't even comprehend how much money a trillion dollars is. How can we truly understand and fellowship with a Dieity this large? Now the analogy: I heard a story about a farmer who saw a shivering bird out in the snow once. He would go out into the blizzard to rescue the birdie, but every time his big boots crunched in the snow near the bird, the bird hopped away.
Kathi: k …
Rich: And the farmer thought "He's scared of me …. if I could only appear to him like another bird, he wouldn't be scared and might follow me inside, where it's warm." In a very real sense this is what Christ did when God sent him to Earth to minister, die on the Cross, and be resurrected. Christ was a mystery: fully God — yet fully man. But he embodied the message of God so that he could deliver that message to mankind.
Kathi: :::nodding::: yes … this is making sense.
Rich: The message that God loves us, and wants to enter into relationship with us. And that his power makes it possible for us to respond to him. Of course, we killed him. But, here's another mystery, our act of killing Jesus enabled him to bear in his own death all the penalty of all our sins throughout all time. The gift of Christ is that if we accept what he offers, we can enjoy an eternal relationship with the Creator simply because Christ paid the price for our sin in his death, and offers us his grace so that we can never fear the awesome power of God.
Kathi: that's a difficult concept for me … "sin" and "forgiveness"
Rich: It is for most. If you accept evolutionary theory as a premise, there is no such thing as sin. What did somebody say, "Nature condemns nothing." There are only mutually beneficial agreements that prevent the extinction of a species. But, back to the analogy of a marriage.
Kathi: I understand right and wrong … and my (I guess I should start calling it "my past") tradition certainly had rules and punishment … but more as a "take responsibility and fix it, if you mess it up" than "forgiveness"
Rich: Okay. There's still responsibility in the Christian faith. But there are a couple extra things besides: Grace and forgiveness. Sin, of course, is behavior that goes against the nature of who were were creaated to be, and against the nature of God. Kathi signed off at 3:10:49 PM.
Rich: You back? I just dropped off for a second … I don't know what you saw or didn't see?
Kathi: I also have a real bad time with the whole concept of "live one life and go to heaven" … absolutely a reincarnationist. There's still responsibility in the Christian faith. But there are a couple extra things besides: Grace and forgiveness.
Rich: You back? was the last you typed to me. Oke. Well, we'll deal with forgiveness first …. The Christian Creator is like a jealous husband who demands absolute fidelity in marriage. He says "There shall be no other husbands but me." Or "You shall never lie to me." But if you're an easily distraced spouse you may find yourself lieing to your husband because of an attraction to some dude at the mall. Well, if your very jealous husband were only just and not merciful, he'd just divorce you right then and there and leave you to rot on the beach at the Hamptons. The good news for us is that God is not only just, but he is merciful. And in his mercy he says, "If you ask me to forgive you, I will." But it goes beyond merely asking for forgiveness.
Rich: I should have written "If you ask me to forgive you, and turn away from your behavior, I will forgive you." And then you can enjoy all the benefits of a loving jealous (and very attentive) husband. Forgiveness doesn't absolve you of responsibility. But it does remove the judgement. There are still consequences to breaking the jealous husbands law, but he won't hold grudges against you because he forgave you.
Kathi: I think I understand … more than I did before, anyways … this is progress :-)
Rich: The scriptures say that when God forgives he forgets about the sin, and the sin is as far from God's mind as "the east is from the west." Great! :-) If you've ever made your husband angry and asked for his forgiveness, or if you ever made your daddy angry and asked for his forgiveness, then you can understand what this picture is about. Okay, I've got to go to a meeting now … but we can talk some more another time. I'll have to get to work today, though! :-)
Kathi: Thank you, Rich …
Rich: My pleasure.
Kathi: will you ask your people to pray for me?
Rich: I already have
Kathi: Thank you; … that means so much to me.
Kathi: have a good meeting :-)
Rich: I hope to! Okay, now to answer your earlier question of « How, exactly, does one "convert" ».
Kathi: that was a short meeting!
Rich: Hey, I'm quick. Remember Saul that we talked about?
Kathi: I want to come work for you … our meetings are rarely less than an hour and a half :/ Many chiefs LOL Yes …
Rich: Oh … whe have long meetings! LOL! This was was more of an ad hoc consultation.
Kathi: Ahhhhh. We go thru the day with those, here
Rich: :-) Saul (who later became Paul), wrote: "There is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him … " (That should resonate with you …. )
Kathi: What's a Gentile?
Rich: And he goes on, "for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" For Paul, and to Paul's audience, anyone who wasn't a Jew by birth was a Gentile. Actually, there's more to that passage than I originally showed you ….
Kathi: I'm going to look it up, when I get home tonight, and read it … and show my husband.
Rich: … If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Okay. If you want to look up Paul's conversion experience, look up Acts chapter 9 and read from the top. If you want to read the passage I just quoted, look up Romans chapter 10, verses 8-14.
Kathi: will do both. That AOG mailing list … is it high-traffic? Should I sub as digest?
Rich: You might want to. It's been known to generate up to 50-100 posts a day when they get really lathered about something.
Kathi: ok … my mailbox would get flooded if not for digests. Deaf and hard of hearing folks are prolific writers and I'm on three mailing lists …
Rich: LOL Those talk most who can't hear themselves talk? I have another interesting conversion story from the Bible you and your husband might want to read and reflect on. Want it?
Kathi: It's the primary method of communication at all for many of us … telephones don't get along well with hearing aids, if one can hear well enough in the first place. Absolutely. I'm finding that the more I hear, the more I want to hear … and the better I feel.
Rich: Groovy! :-) From Acts chapter 8 verses 26-39: Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road — the desert road — that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it." Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth." The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.
Kathi: powerful stuff.
Rich: Yes! I like the part where the eunuch says "How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?" When you decide it's time for you to convert, it's easy. It's a matter of deciding you're going to enter into that relationship with God that he's calling you to. After all, weren't his words simply, "Follow me?" Paul says simply "Call on the name of the Lord"
Kathi: The decision's already been made.
Kathi: I could no more refuse this Call, than the sun could refuse to rise and set. It's that powerful, Rich …
Kathi: my isn't "if", but "how" …. getting my mind to wrap itself around concepts I never understood … which is what led me to Paganism in the first place, years ago.
Rich: Then all that remains is Paul's nifty formula: … If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Kathi: I got thrown out of church as a child, for asking too many questions. Did I tell you that? :-) (I bet it's not hard for you to imagine, having talked to me most all day) Most of them are the same ones I asked of you, today. I've waited 20+ years for answers. I confess … and I believe … but it can't possibly be that simple.
Rich: Then all that remains for you to do is to follow through with your decision and make what we often call a "public profession of faith." That doesn't save you as much as "complete" your decision. If it helps you make the switch in your mind and heart you can pray the "Sinner's Prayer," a variations of which you can hear repeated in thousands of churches across the country each week. This is a "scripted" prayer to God asking forgiveness and surrendering to his leadership.
Kathi: The Lord's Prayer? "Our Father, who art in heaven …. " ???
Rich: Not, really, but that's not a bad model prayer to follow.
Kathi: what are you referring to? the sinner's prayer?
Rich: Okay … Hang on a moment …
Kathi: sure …
Rich: Okay, after you've attended church a while you'll probably hear preachers ask the audience members to make faith decisions. To convert, if you will. Usually, you'll hear the preacher ask "While all eyes are closed, and heads are bowed, if you'd like to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, please raise your hand."
Kathi: ok …
Rich: Then he'll say something like this "If you just raised your hand, please pray this prayer with me, and by praying this prayer, sincerely and with all your heart, you will be saved." And then the preacher often asks the entire congregation to repeat the prayer after him (in the manner of a marriage vow, or reader-response). And the prayer might go something like this: Dear God, I admit that I am a sinner And I admit that I cannot become righteous, or earn eternal life on my own. I need you to save me. Please forgive me for my sin. Please forgive me for rejecting you all my life. Please give me your grace so that I might not sin against you again. Please help me repent when I do sin. Help me follow you. I believe your Son Jesus Christ died for me on the Cross I believe he rose from the grave. Please, come into my life, mind, and heart. Please become the Lord of my life. I am your servant. Help me to serve you. Help me to love you. Amen.
Kathi: I guess the church I grew up in was differerent, they never did anything like that, that I remember …
Rich: This is only one version of a typical conversion prayer. Here are the critical ingredients: 1. Admit your need (I am a sinner). 2. Be willing to turn from your sins (repent). 3. Believe that Jesus Christ died for you on the Cross and rose from the grave. 4. Through prayer, invite Jesus Christ to come in and control your life through the Holy Spirit. (Receive Him as Lord and Savior.)
Kathi: I recall something similar from when I visited a Baptist church as a teenager, though.
Rich: Yeah, this is a common tradition among Baptists. I grew up Baptist, myself. You have RealAudio?
Kathi: My husband did … which was the primary reason for him not having gone back to church in years. Yes …
Rich: Here's the prayer that Billy Graham leads new converts in at his crusades: Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and need Your forgiveness. I believe that You died for my sins. I want to turn from my sins. I now invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as Lord and Savior. In Jesus' name. Amen. http://www.billygraham.org/spiritualhelp/media/stepspray28.ram
Kathi: I've discovered that the speakers on my computer at work are superior even the the stereo I paid $500 for that I have at home <sigh> So with the headphones, I can turn them up really loud, and hear wonderfully.
Rich: <grin> This is the ISDN version: http://www.billygraham.org/spiritualhelp/media/stepsprayisdn.ram
Kathi: listening now … Hey …. is the mailing list you have on your personal site active? (I'm nosy, I tracked you down <grin>)
Rich: (grin) Not much traffic (none during the last two months!) but, it's alive.
Kathi: If you don't mind, I'm going to subscribe to that, too …
Rich: That's perfectly fine! I do have a few subscribers, you can ask questions there and we can see who bites.
Kathi: Kathi is my personal email.
Rich: What's "alyssia" from?
Kathi: Jalyssia is a name that was given to me … from nowhere … from the universe … from my gods? I never knew from where. It simply appeared in my head one day. I've used it for almost ten years now.
Rich: Interesting … You know how Saul changed his name to Paul after conversion? (grin … )
Kathi: yes …
Rich: Just something to think about. I'm wondering … Be open to God leading you to have a new name.
Kathi: Something that is interesting about that … and a little freaky, too … I have spelled my name "Kathi" since I was about 14. I grew up with it being "Kathy". Since last Thursday, the first occurrence of the dream, I have been spelling it "Kathy" off and on, unless I actually think about it. I'd had that thought … that perhaps "jalyssia" would no longer be appropriate … but we'll see where He leads on that one.
Rich: Well, sometimes God asks that kind of a visible change of us to make a break with our past traditions. Yes, just ask God prayerfully to lead you to whatever decisions he needs you to make. Well, it's nearly time to head home for me ….
Kathi: By the time I get done making visible changes I'll be unrecognizable <grin>
Kathi: It is for me too … I'm waiting on my husband to pick me up. I kinda figure that I'll have to give up the name … my email account was cancelled yesterday … for no "reason" … I kinda took that as a hint. When I get back from vacation and can deal with the internet company, we'll see what happens.
Rich: LOL When's vacation?
Kathi: I leave Friday at two for the beach. May the Lord protect me from the sharks, seaweed, jellyfish, and undertow … :-) I'm gone until Monday the 7th.
Kathi: I can't wait. <grin>
Rich: Are you much of a reader?
Kathi: I read all the time … much preferable to most of the rubbish on tv these days.
Rich: True. Too true.
Kathi: although I confess to being a "law and order" addict. One of my vices ;>
Rich: We watch a lot of ER and "Whose line is it?" If you can find a book by C. S. Lewis called Mere Christianity, it will help answer many of your questions.
Kathi: I watch ER once in a while. I'm sure Borders must carry it?
Kathi: I'll see if I can findit.
Rich: You can find it on Amazon.com.
Kathi: k … Does it usually take a while for the christianemailservice thing to work? to sub to your list ….
Rich: Someone else told me they had problems. Shouldn't.
Kathi: I keep getting the message "Your new subscription is nearly ready … " but nothing happens. It created an account for me, but says I'm not subscribed to anything.
Kathi: Maybe it'll take after a while. If not, I'll try it again tomorrow. there it went!
Kathi: with faith all things are possible, even finicky listservs? :-)
Rich: "Take that Lyris!"
Kathi: I will get that thing to work … I refuse to accept failure. I finally this afternoon think I got the parent/child staff mailing lists working so that people who are on multiple lists only get one copy. Took me almost all day.
Kathi: My husband just arrived … so I'm going to leave you be <grin> Thank you so much for talking with me (almost all day)
Rich: My pleasure! Have fun. Hear from you later.
Kathi: k …. I'll be online tomorrow, if you want to/have time to talk.
Kathi: God Bless :-)
Rich: You too! Healant
Kathi signed off at 4:39:35 PM.