My Testimony

It’s odd, sometimes, how an off-hand comment made by someone can make you think. And eventually change your life!

Many years ago a friend made a strange comment to me when we were sitting near the top of the Mule Ear Diatreme in San Juan County, Utah.

My friend’s kind comment got me started on a quest that eventually led to an investigation of topics and issues that I had previously dismissed as being of no concern of mine.

I was a small town gal from Eastern Ontario. My companion was a graduate of Oxford University who at that time was writing his doctoral thesis at the University of Ottawa where I was working as a lab technician.

Sitting close to the top of that spectacular fin, my friend discerned that I appeared to be somewhat troubled. He asked me what was on my mind. I told him that I was thinking about my engagement and upcoming wedding. I told my companion that although I loved my fiancé, I knew in my heart I could not marry him, and that was what was troubling me.

I knew I could not marry him because of our religious differences. However, I hadn’t figured out a way to tell him. Our wedding date had been set and plans were already underway.

The problem was, my fiancé was a devout Roman Catholic. I was devoutly nothing.

Although I had been raised in a church-going family and had attended Sunday School and church as a child; as a young adult I professed no belief in any religious system or thought.

However, in order to marry a Catholic, in those days I was required to sign a paper promising to raise any children born into that marriage in the Catholic church. I would not do that. I would have refused to sign anything that had the authority or potential to restrict the freedom of choice for myself or for any child born into that marriage.

That paper was given to me two days before I was to leave on the field trip. I had no previous knowledge of this requirement. Nor did I have a chance to discuss it with my finance, the United Church minister or the Priest.

My friend was sensitive to my dilemma and he said to me as gently as possible: “I will pray for you, Val.”

That was the odd, unexpected comment that shook me to the depths of my being.

When someone offers to pray for you, you assume they are praying to God, or some higher power than themselves. I thought it rather odd that an Oxford scholar would believe in God, and more so, that he believed his prayer would be answered.

That Oxford Scholar DID believe in God. And one day God DID answer his prayer.

That kind, gentle comment changed my life. The change was not instantaneous. Or easy.

Shortly after returning to Ottawa from the field trip I found the courage to call my fiancé and tell him, as gently as possible, that I could not go through with our wedding. What a difficult time that was for both of us and for our families and friends!

Despite the pain that my decision caused for all concerned, I would not be coaxed or cajoled into changing my mind. I was twenty five years old when I broke my engagement, well past the marrying age for my generation. I felt totally alone and scared. My fiancé felt gob-smacked. Simply because he had been gobsmacked. By me!

Starting life over at twenty five years of age was not an easy task for either of us. Especially since most of our friends were married, building new homes, having cuddly babies and settling nicely into careers and domestic life. (I was working at two jobs just to make ends meet.)

As time went on, my friend’s offer to pray for me gradually sparked a hunger for learning more about the teachings of different faiths and world religions. I wanted to know why my friend believed in God or even if the God he believed in existed!

I started by examining the Christian religion. My new friend was obviously a Christian. He definitely had something that I didn’t have; something I desperately wanted.

Although I had been raised in a Christian home, as a young adult I turned my back on my religious heritage.

However, since my return from the field trip and the breaking of my engagement, I started reading and asking questions. At the same time, I did my level best to discredit anything and everything about the so-called ‘Christian’ religion that I was trying to figure out. I discredited everything I could simply because didn’t want to change. Yet I knew that I would have to if I started believing ‘religious’ teachings of any sort.

However, there was something about my geologist friend that had touched my heart. That ‘something’ set me off on a quest to try to discover what that something was.

Since I had been raised in the Christian religion, I started there.

I was doing quite nicely until I got to the “born again” business. I had no idea what that meant.

However, I quickly discovered that being “born again” is a contentious topic. It was a contentious topic in Biblical times; it remains a contentious topic to this day.

It is a topic that divides those who claim to be born again from those who do not. It divides those who take the words of Jesus as being the truth, from those who do not. It divides those who profess to believe that the Bible is the word of God, but deny that they need to be “born again” from those who do.

However, the Bible clearly states that Jesus said: Except a man be born again he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.

When I first encountered those words I became angry. Very angry!

I was angry because I knew that I was certainly NOT born again. Nor did I want to be. Nor did I think I had to be. Nor did I even know how to be!

My first reaction to hearing that Jesus was the guy who said that you had to be born again was to say: The nerve! Who does this Jesus guy think that he is and what gives him the right to tell me that I need to be born again. At this point, I only knew Jesus as a teacher; not as saviour and Lord!

To me, having to be ‘born again’ smacked of religious fundamentalism. If I didn’t believe certain things, do certain things or obey certain rules I was thereby excluded from joining the goody-two-shoes club; the ‘Bible Thumpers’ church.

Having to be born again reeked of an exclusive, narrow-minded view which meant that the God of the Bible was a God of wrath and judgement rather than a God of love and mercy.

He is both, as I subsequently discovered. But at that time I couldn’t have cared less. I was only interested in the love and mercy part!

Since this “born again” business had me riled and would not leave me alone, I knew that I had to come to terms with Jesus’s strange and unsettling dictum.

If you had asked me who I thought Jesus was, I would have said that I believed he was a religious leader from way-back times; a Jewish priest who did a lot of good and who lived and died so long ago that what he said or did was of no concern to me or for the world today.

I did not believe the Bible was the word of God, nor did I believe that Jesus was God incarnate. I certainly did not believe everything Jesus said; not that I knew much of anything that he actually did or did not say.

I believed that all religions led to God and that I was at liberty to pick and choose whatever I wanted to believe, or not believe, from any of them.

I most certainly believed that if God was a loving, caring God, he would never punish anyone, especially not me. After all, I didn’t sin; I just made mistakes!

However, I remained puzzled, and oddly enough, concerned about this ‘born-again’ business. I was determined to find out more, mainly because I wanted to put this nonsense to rest once and for all.

Thus began my intellectual quest to discover more about Jesus, God and the Bible.

Because I can only answer for myself, I’m sharing this story of how I came to my understanding and personal experience of who Jesus is and what it means to be born again.

I started with the statement that had upset me.

That statement was made by Jesus when he answered Nicodemus in reply to the question Nicodemus had just asked him, which was:

How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?

Jesus answered Nicodemus by saying:

Truthfully I say to you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.

Jesus completed his answer to Nicodemus by saying: That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

I had thus far in my 25 years of living managed to conclude that I had indeed been born of the flesh.

But born of the spirit?

Aren’t we born of the spirit at the same time we are born in the flesh? What did it mean to be ‘born of the spirit’ anyway?

Before I ever started thinking about believing in Jesus or being born of the spirit, I realized that I had to come to grips with what the Bible said about Jesus, his death and his resurrection.

In fact, I had to come to grips with the Bible itself, a book I had designated as simply an archaic, boring and bloody book of which I definitely wanted no part.

The first thing I discovered was that the Bible is not one book. It is a compilation of sixty six books covering 2000+ years of history, law, poetry, songs, letters, prophesy and more.

I then discovered that the Bible and (other historical books from that era) had documented almost identical stories about the life, crucifixion, death and purported resurrection of Jesus. That discovery made it difficult to discredit the Biblical account of this event!

If this story and the historical records are true, then the resurrection of Jesus is what gives him the authority to state that one must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God.

Surprisingly, I discovered that the Bible states that if Jesus were not raised from the dead then Christians believe a lie and are of all people to be most pitied.

I am referring to an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he says: Now if Jesus is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus is not risen.

If Jesus is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. We are found to be false witnesses of God because we have testified of God that He raised up Jesus, whom He did not raise up, if in fact, the dead do not rise.

Having celebrated Easter in my early years with the arrival of the Easter Bunny and in my later years, as a much-welcomed long weekend; as an adult, I hated being reminded of what happened to a seemingly nice guy so long ago. I had no idea as to why that event was still being celebrated, or what was the meaning, if any, of this horrific saga and ridiculous claim that Jesus was raised from the dead after being buried for three days and three nights in a sealed tomb.

Moving right along I then discovered that the Bible tells me that I am a sinner.

Oddly enough, that didn’t upset me as much as the born again or resurrection business. I knew that I had done lots of things in my life that weren’t exactly nice.

The statement: “. . . for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” is pretty straight forward. I didn’t have a problem with that. All I had to do was look at myself in the mirror to see that this statement was right on the money.

Then I got to the part that said: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Not wanting to deceive myself, I grudgingly admitted that I knew I had sinned. I had sinned against many people including my parents, my family and my friends. And God. I did and said things that I knew were wrong and still went ahead and did them anyway. And enjoyed myself in the process.

I had been taken to court and found guilty. And that by my own admission!

Having included myself in the “all” as in “all have sinned…,” I was not too happy with the recompense I was destined to receive.

The Bible states quite clearly that the wages of sin is death. (Wages: A fitting return; a recompense.)

I asked: How could a loving and kind God condemn anyone to death, especially me? Especially for the ‘little’ sins that I had committed. That’s not love; that’s spite!

Then I discovered that God doesn’t condemn me to death.

Sin does.

The Bible clearly states: The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let me get this straight! The wages of sin is death. But God wants to give me the gift of eternal life instead of death?

Hello. What’s going on here anyway?

Finding out that I deserved the death penalty for what I thought of as petty offences was not exactly a joyful experience. In fact, I was downright angry! Very, very angry at God for being so harsh. Where’s the love, the kindness, the forgiveness in all of this?

At this point I still had quite a limited concept of God—the God of the Bible whom I was earnestly seeking to understand.

Or to completely discredit!

My concept of God was that if he even existed, then he was something akin to an invisible old megalomaniac lurking unseen somewhere in outer space watching everything we humans did; a guy who gave blessings and gifts to his followers and lumps of coal to his enemies before throwing them into the flaming pit of everlasting fire.

I had no concept of his holiness, (or even what holiness was) his perfection, his justice, his mercy or even his love. Neither could I conceive of his wrath.

Scripture has a lot to say about the wrath of God, which I found quite surprising.

God abhors all things evil, ugly, unrighteous and dishonourable. In other words, sin.

He hates sin because sin is what separates us from Him.

It is sin (and the perpetrators of sin) against which God’s wrath is directed. God hates sin because of the consequences it inflicts on others.

Sin is the opposite of righteousness.

I was beginning to understand. I was beginning to comprehend that God is a just God.

Justice demands retribution.

A just, loving God must punish sin. It would not be fair to the victims who are wronged by sin if he did not.

The God of the Bible, as I was finding out, is also merciful.

He does not want any precious person he created to be separated from Him because of the contamination of sin.

That is why Jesus, God the Son, could pay for mankind’s sin because he alone was sinless.

Was Jesus Really Sinless?

That is the first part of God’s provision for our sin. The second part is that he raised Jesus from the dead.

The Resurrection; The Heart of Christianity

God’s promise is that to all who will come to him seeking to be cleansed from sin, may freely come.

God is patient. He gives each of us time. How we use that time is our choice.

God is love. God so once loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that who-so-ever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Each of us has the privilege to search for God; to respond to God’s call and to obey him and come to Him on His terms, or to do what we want on Our terms.

Man, made in the image of God, is not free unless he has the freedom of choice. As the old saying goes: A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still!

God gave our first parents and all of their descendants that freedom of choice.

Our choice is to accept or reject that someone has voluntarily paid the price for our first parent’s disobedience.

That someone is Jesus.

One day my friend asked me if I wanted to go to church with him. The church he was attending at that time was the French Baptist Church on King Edward Avenue near the University of Ottawa.

I very cautiously accepted. (I was being cautious because I was not about to let myself get converted or ‘dunked’ by any Baptist preacher!)

Getting Dunked Explained.

Even though I had been baptized as a baby, as an adult that event meant nothing to me. Especially since I couldn’t even remember it!

However, once I finally understood that Jesus, who was himself without sin, had paid the price for my sin (and for the sin of all mankind), I openly confessed my sin, asked his forgiveness and invited him to come into my heart as my Lord and Saviour, I was very eager ‘to get dunked’ and happily did so with a small group of other believers. What a joyful experience that was! We were all so blessed and to this day I am thankful for that wonderful privilege and blessing!

A gentle but firm pastor guided me through my long journey from scepticism to understanding; from understanding to belief and from belief to faith.

One day while visiting with the Pastor, at his invitation I answered Jesus’ gentle but persistent knock on the door of my heart and humbly asked him for forgiveness and invited him to come in to my heart as my Lord and Saviour.

And as he promised he would, Jesus came into my heart. Not only that, he sealed my heart with his Holy Spirit for the coming day of redemption and for all eternity.

That is how I was born again.

My quest to discover the ‘something’ that my friend had turned out to be a ‘someone.’

That someone is Jesus!

Being born again was, and ever will be, the most joyful experience of my life!

All these many years later I am still learning the implications of what all of this means! The process is called ‘sanctification.’ That process will never end as long as I walk this earth.

It will end when Jesus has put all enemies under his feet.

The last enemy is Death!

Amen! So let it be.

– – – – – – – – – !

I was baptized by immersion with a group of friends at the French Baptist Church on King Edward Avenue in Lower Town, Ottawa in 1976. Rev. Denis Pape was our Pastor.

I’m the one on the far right. My diatreme friend is on the far left. All of us looked quite apprehensive. Pastor Dennis was the only one smiling confidently! You should have seen us afterwards. What a joyful celebration we had!

There is so much more I could add to my testimony.

Suffice to say, through all the trials, tribulations, joys and sorrows life brings in due time to each of us, Jesus remains constant. He will never leave us or forsake us. Thank you, Jesus!