So much is said about the American Christian Church today. What is the church experience really supposed to be like? How is this benefiting me? Do I really believe everything this man (pastor) is saying? What about God? Is he really who he says he is? These are questions that I have wrestled with, in my past; many of them have led to where I am today. I will not pretend that I know all the answers, does anyone know all them anyhow, but many of the questions that I have had brought me to a deeper understanding of who God is and to the unshakable faith that I now have.
First a little back story, I grew up in the church my entire life. I am now thirty-two years old, so that is a long time to be a believer. Although, I didn’t always physically attend a church per-say, I counted myself a member of the body of Christ for all this time. The first quarter of my faith, if you will, I was brought up Baptist. This would be the beginning of my journey. I have had wonderful experiences in this church that I will always cherish, learning the basics of my faith to a deeper knowledge of the bible. I had a few supernatural experiences of God during this time that brought me to believe that God is real and that he is for me.
I had gone to a Baptist convention once with my youth pastor at the time. On our way home something went wrong with the car my youth pastor was driving. She pulled over and we got out quickly as the car started bursting into flames. The timing of this could not have been more perfect for we had just crossed over an exit off the highway and were able to get to a phone; as cell phones were not yet that common, gasp! We said a quick prayer and ran towards a restaurant to use their phone. By the time we arrived, the fire department and the police were on the scene; they picked us up from the restaurant and took us back to the car. The car was completely destroyed, it had exploded! The fact that none of us were harmed in the fire was a miracle, the fact of the timing was a miracle and the fact of the proximity to the restaurant was a miracle. You can see Gods hand in every detail of that situation but there was one more miracle that God had done that proved himself to me.
I had a bible with me in the car and when we got back, the fire had been extinguished, and the fire department allowed us to get any belongings out of the smoking heap of scrap metal that we could. Nearly everything was destroyed, burned or soaking wet from the fire. As we pulled anything out that was worth saving I noticed that my bible was still on the seat where I was sitting before the fire. I picked it up and thumbed through it and it was left untouched! It was not damaged at all! No burned pages, not even wet from the fire hose! God’s word remained unharmed throughout the whole ordeal of the fire. Just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego while they were in the fiery furnace.
Another experience I encountered with God, I heard his voice. I like to call this my burning bush incident. My brothers and I grew up very close, sometimes too close; we often got on each others nerves. Even though we loved each other and would do anything for one another, occasionally we could break out into fights, as brothers do. One particular fight and I cannot remember any details of what we fought about, but what I do remember is becoming very angry at my younger brother. After I was finished, I was exhausted. I went to my room to lie down. I’m sure most of you have had the feeling when you’re in a state of half awake and half asleep, I was there, I was asleep but lucid. I had a stereo in my room and I noticed that it was glowing. I thought to myself that’s weird, I got up and made sure it was turned off. I went back to sleep and a little while later I awoke to the stereo glowing again. Okay, my mind is playing tricks on me; it can’t be glowing that’s impossible. I got out of bed again to check this out and seen that even though it was shut off there was still a red light that remained on to signal the power. I was probably seeing this and in my sleep, my mind exaggerated the red light to make it appear as if the stereo was glowing, which seemed logical. I unplugged the stereo from the electrical outlet, seen the little red light go out, satisfied, I went back to sleep. A few moments later, I awoke again to the stereo glowing, this time brighter than before. With no electricity what so ever powering the stereo, I started to get a little scared. Okay, you have my attention. I sat up from the bed and I heard a voice plain as day speak to me. The voice said, “Bryce, turn to Galatians 6:1.” That was it, nothing else, the stereo stopped glowing and I grabbed my bible and turned to Galatians chapter 6. When I read that verse I immediately became overwhelmed and convicted. I realized that I just physically heard the voice of God. Not only hearing him with my own ears but he also spoke to me through his word.
Brothers, if a man is overtaken in any trespass (sin),
You who are spiritual should restore that
Person GENTLY, but watch yourselves for you
May be tempted as well. Galatians 6:1 emphasis added.
The very first word in that scripture is Brothers, which hit me hard. God you diffidently have my attention now. It goes on to read that those who are wronged in any way, we who are spiritual (i.e. Christians), should restore the wrong-doer gently. Don’t react in anger as I did, but rather, forgive and treat them with respect. Other wise we would be sinning as well.
I don’t know why God chose to speak to me that day. I like to think that he has some amazing plan for me; I’m still trying to figure that one out, maybe he needed to intervene and get my attention. I will probably never know at least not until I make it to heaven and can ask him. The important thing is that I know that God has called me to be in the ministry of saving souls and I desperately needed the correction on how to handle my own faults.
I find it interesting that when I reflect back on these two encounters with God, that both involved fire; the first one a literal fire and the second one a metaphorical fire. God always seems to reveal himself through fire! He revealed himself through a burning bush; a pillar and a furnace just to name a few, not to mention he would baptize us with fire later on with the new birth experience.
There was one more experience that I had during this time that revealed Gods plan for my life in a big way. I know you are asking yourself, “Is this guy serious, how many times will it take to get through to him?” Unlike the first two encounters where God demonstrated his awesome power, this moment he laid down the foundation of his plan for my life.
Every summer, for one week, I would go to a small church camp in Westport, Indiana. I will reveal the significance of this town a little later on in the blog. I looked forward to this camp every year. When I was 14 I got to go music camp, this was for older kids and we worked on a musical the entire week and then preformed it for our parents at the end of camp. On Wednesday we had a mid-week Chapel service, it was pretty much church at camp. Now Baptist’s usually don’t get too worked up during worship services, this service though, reminded you of the old-time tent revivals. I don’t remember who the preacher was, he must have been Pentecostal because he was on fire. The presence of God filled that little building and we had ourselves some church. This is where it gets interesting though, I got this weird gut feeling in the pit of my stomach and this lingering notion that I was supposed to become a preacher. I just shook it off and went about listening to the sermon. The more the preacher progressed however, the more I had this feeling. I simply couldn’t shake it off, so I’m going to become a preacher I thought, God was calling me, wait a minute, God’s calling me!!! Then the most extraordinary thing happened, the sermon stopped, I’m not sure why, it could have been time for the altar call. But the sermon came to screeching halt. The preacher bowed his head down and looked like he was praying. He then grabbed the microphone and asked, “Is there anyone here who wants to dedicate their life to the full-time service of God.”
Whoa! My heart immediately leapt into my throat and I sunk deep down into my seat, hoping he didn’t see me. I was scared. Surely he’s not asking me, well I know I just had that feeling, but did God have to know my answer right then and now? And dedicate my whole life to him, well, that was asking a lot. I didn’t move. The preacher asked again, as he began pacing back and forth along the front of the stage eager to bring anyone over to his side as if he were picking players for dodge ball. I sank even lower as my heart was rounding turn four at the Indy 500. My heart, felt like it could at any moment leap out of my chest. I calmed down a little when someone finally raised their hand and the preacher asked him to come forward.
Good, I thought, maybe this will all be over soon and I can get back to normal. The preacher then brought the mic close to his face and looked out among the crowd. He wasn’t satisfied. He asked once more, this time though, he reached his hand up and pointed out to the crowd. I looked up and he was pointing directly at me. “I know there is someone here wrestling with the thought about dedicating their life to fulltime service, but they are afraid to come up, now is the time to come forward declare in front of this congregation and God that you will standup and dedicate yourself to furthering his kingdom,” he demanded.
Next thing I know I stood up and moved forward, accepting God’s call on my life to become a preacher dedicated to his work for fulltime ministry.
Needless to say, God was with me. However, I needed more. I needed to get to know this God, who he really was. Not just what people tell me, not just the things that have happened to me, but I needed to know him on a personal basis. I thought I could do this by getting more involved in church. I felt the burden to go into the ministry; I would go to college then off to seminary get my degrees and get to work furthering God’s kingdom. I had it all planned out.
About this time my family ran into some major financial trouble. We had to move to a new town. Uprooting me from my high school, my friends, my home even my church. I had to start completely over. Without going into a lot of details, I became depressed. My new school was different in a lot of ways. Everything had flipped upside down in my life. My studies started to decline, I was barely doing enough to get by. I didn’t get into any criminally bad behavior, academically though, I was in trouble. This is something that I regret to this day. My life took a major detour, in fact a 17 year detour. I did not go to college to study theology and I did not go to seminary to become a pastor. All the plans that I made for myself simply did not happen.
The problem is, they were my plans and they were not necessarily Gods plans that he had for me. I believe he can take bad circumstances and bad situations and turn them around for the better. It took me a long time to realize this for myself and I’m still learning as I continue on my journey.
During this 17 year detour of my life, my wilderness period, I met my wife, got a good job, moved up in the company, went back to school to better my career advancements, even started to take Bible College courses online to one day go into the ministry. I’ve grown into a man and turned a desperate situation into an opportunity. God was slowly, in my mind, bringing me closer to him and to what his plan is for my life.