I had mentioned in a previous post that Angela would play a key role in upcoming posts. Let’s talk a little about Angela. She was Max’s girlfriend’s older sister. She seemed to take her faith a bit more seriously that some of the others in the group at that time. She was also interesting to me because she was very transparent about who she was. She didn’t really appear overtly rebellious like Max was when I first met him, but she also didn’t try to pretend that she didn’t have flaws either.
I remember one Sunday afternoon when a bunch of us were out in Max’s parents’ backyard. I was completely committed to this new path and my newfound relationship with God, but there were still so many things that I had questions about. While I had thrown a good many questions at Mark, we were always hindered by trying to engage in conversation while also trying to do our jobs and wait on customers. That afternoon, while a bunch of the other guys were playing basketball, I found myself engaged in one-on-one conversation with Angela.
Our conversation that afternoon centered around some of the things that I had seen happen during the services at New Promise. These things, at once, confirmed to me that there was something genuine going on there beyond my understanding while also weirding me out a little. Angela told me to follow her inside. She found a Bible, and she and I stretched out across Marc’s bed. Slowly and patiently, she went through scripture by scripture showing me the verses that dealt with speaking in tongues, raising hands in praise, and even dancing before the Lord. Seeing these verses on the page myself solidified for me more and more that I was on the right path.
Angela encouraged me to read more which I was already feeling compelled to do anyway. I just wasn’t sure how to go about it systematically. I had already begun trying to read my Bible from the beginning, starting with Genesis. Genesis and Exodus were pretty cool. It was very intriguing to me to read these stories that I had at least heard about as a child, but beyond those first two books of the Bible, it was a bit of a struggle. Angela told me to begin reading in the New Testament with the Gospel of John and then read 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John. Then, she told me that, once I had finished those books, I should go back and read the entire New Testament starting at the beginning with Matthew. She said that would give me a good solid understanding of who God was before going back and tackling the Old Testament. Armed with a plan, I dove in and began reading.
I would go to either Angela or Mark as I had questions. Reading the gospels, one of my first questions was about fasting. The members of New Promise were asked to fast every Wednesday. Mark explained to me that the emphasis was to focus on feeding yourself spiritually rather than physically. He told me that I should take the time that I would normally spending eating that day and make a conscious effort to either read my Bible, pray, or both during that time. I loved that. I would never conceive of not feeding my body. I’d die. Of course, I would suffer spiritually if I neglected that part of myself. He brought in one of those Gideons New Testaments that they hand out to keep in the office at work. That way he and I could read on our breaks and discuss.
When I got to the book of Acts and began reading about people dropping dead because they withheld money from God, I became very concerned about tithing. I began asking a number of people for their perspectives on this one, and I was quickly exposed to a multitude of answers. Some said that should tithe on your gross income. Others said it should be based on what you actually receive. Then there was debate about whether or not you should tithe on your tax refund if you receive one. Pastor Rob finally told me that tithing should be done based on your gross. In his mind when Jesus says that we should “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s,” since Caesar’s portion, or our taxes, are calculated on the gross, God’s portion should be calculated on the gross as well. And, since that means that I would have tithed on the gross all year, when I received my tax refund, it was mine, but he also reminded me that tithing, giving one tenth of my income, was the least that God expected of me.
|This is the actual Bible that I read from during that time.|
Another question that would trip me up and lead to a conversation with Angela was to topic of predestination. I had no idea what to do with that one. The scripture that prompted that question was Exodus 9:12 in which the text tells us that “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” To me, that sounded like God had just decided that Pharaoh was going to stand in opposition to Moses and God. This is also a church where a lot of emphasis was placed on being ready for the second coming of Christ and the rapture and the tribulation that would follow and the rise of the Anti-Christ. In the same vein as Pharaoh, I also wondered how fair it was that one person would be born and be ordained to be the Anti-Christ. At least Pharaoh got to choose his path up to a point, but this poor soul would be damned from the get-go. No one, of course, could give me an answer for that one. Angela pointed me towards scriptures such as, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25) and “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8). I just had to trust that God had a plan and a way of making things work that was fair and beyond my understanding.
Please feel free to send me an e-mail or comment below. I’d be interested to hear from you whether your first encounters with religion were very much the same or very different. I think we all benefit more when we engage in the conversation and share our experiences. Also, if you’re interested in reading more of my story that came before this point, please see the navigation panel, Table of Contents, to the right. Start with ‘Setting the Stage’ and then move on to ‘Act One.’ Thank you so much for reading. I hope you continue to find it interesting and keep coming back to read more.
© Joshua Culbertson 2014