Monday, August 5, 2013

dreams waking up (a.k.a. my conversion story)

My journey back to the Catholic Church started in mid-2008, although I had no idea at the time that the Catholic Church is where my journey would lead me. That isn't to say there weren't seeds planted before then, but the seeds began to take root when a popular flamboyant preacher named Todd Bentley gained popularity within the Pentecostal faith traditions. This tattooed preacher was seen as a fresh breath of air, with his unconventional and theatrical style. He was asked to lead the Lakeland, Florida Revival for one week. The revival became a phenomenon that lasted much longer than one week, and Pentecostal Christians all over the country were buzzing about the rock-star style revival meetings. The meetings aired on GOD TV, and there were numerous healings claimed by the evangelist.

Some Pentecostals we knew were head over heels excited about what God was doing through Todd Bentley. Others were cautiously optimistic and dove into their Bibles to verify what was happening on the TV screens wasn't in conflict with the Word of God. Generally, my experience was that those who dove into their Bibles to check the revival came to the same conclusion - this guy doesn't jive with Scripture.

Still others that we frequently talked to and greatly respected couldn't stop talking about how everything that was happening at the Lakeland Revival was amazing. So we were sort of left scratching our heads. My husband watched several of the revival meetings on TV to see for himself. He prayed and watched. His report to me, his feelings toward what he had witnessed - this cannot be of God. It's a fraud.

We waited and watched. In August 2008 it came out that Todd Bentley had an affair on his wife, his marriage was ended in divorce. The Lakeland Revival meetings ended and when the truth came out, guess what? It was all about money the whole. The whole thing was a sham.

My husband and I were greatly bothered by the stark disagreements of the two camps of people we talked to - those who were "all in" on the goings on at the Lakeland Revival - even after the thing came to a screetching halt - and those who saw the Lakeland Revivals and Todd Bentley for what is was - a wolf in sheep's clothing. Or in this case a rock-star's clothing.

God, this can't be what you have for your church. There must be truth out there somewhere that doesn't contradict itself from one day to another.

We prayed together, "Lord show us your will for your church. We are open to anything outside of our current experiences. We just want something real."

We asked ourselves - why do we believe what we believe? Because of what we were taught growing up? What if those over us while we were growing up were wrong? There are many different denominations that we've never looked into; what if one of those denominations were more accurately teaching truth and we never knew it just because we were taught that our denomination - or lack of denomination as sometimes had been the case in our lives - was the correct one? What if the people teaching us that our denomination was correct...were wrong? What if Methodists interpreted the Bible more accurately and we just never knew it because we were never taught what the Methodist faith taught? Or Baptist? Or Church of Christ? Or something else?

We were attending a wonderful small Assemblies of God church with wonderful people. I mean wonderful in the kind of authentic Christ-like mercy-giving loving kind of people that we never wanted to think about leaving. But what if the Assemblies of God church wasn't what God wanted His church to be? Which church should we look at first? I mean, as we would soon find out in one History Channel program, there are 8,000 Protestant denominations. I don't have the ability to research 8,000 different sets of beliefs. My mind was spinning.

My husband had an idea. To find out what God wanted for His church, my husband would look back at the beginning...before Jesus was born, died and resurrected...he would study Judaism to find out what the earliest church would have been like. But it had to be Orthodox Judaism, as Reform and Conservative Judaism seemed to be evolutions of the Judaism that would have been on Earth 2,000 years ago. 

I wasn't quite convinced my husband's idea would work, but I didn't have any plan at all as to how I would look into 8,000 different Protestant faiths, so going back to the beginning - way before 8,000 Protestant denominations came about - sounded like an acceptable plan. I went through a kind of burned out period where - although I loved Jesus - I was feeling disillusioned by all of the divisions within Christianity. God, isn't your Truth out there somewhere?

So my husband turned started attending Orthodox Jewish services. It turns out an Orthodox Jewish service is about 3 hours long. I was pregnant with our third son, and a three-hour long service did not sound like the kind of research I was up for. So he went alone. He loved it. He soaked it in. He was excited about everything he learned. He started going to daily morning prayer services whenever he could find time in his schedule. People thought he was crazy, but we were OK with it. We knew the unsettled feeling we were dealing with, and we were OK with crazy for a while if it meant finding God's true desire for His church.

Now, my husband wasn't interested in denying Christ at all, so he took the knowledge he found to look for something similar in Christianity. Maybe it was the Messianic Judaism movement? We went to a couple of Messianic Judaism services. They were...long. And too many things just didn't add up to me. It just seemed like another Protestant division denomination to me. I couldn't see how something that started as a movement 30 years ago could be anything remotely similar to what God's church was like 2,000 years ago. Plus, in the Messianic Judaism services we went to, we never met anyone who had actually been to a Jewish synagogue. It was almost like they were making it up as they went and trying to base things on what someone told them happens in a Jewish synagogue service. 

All this time my husband would go and spend three hours every Saturday morning at the only Orthodox Jewish synagogue in our area. He begged me and begged me to go. In December 2008 I finally agreed to endure the three-hour long service with him one Saturday. I dragged my month-and-a-half-away-from-delivery butt over to the synagogue to please my husband. I didn't think anything would come out of it except maybe getting the best wife in the world medal for a day.

What I experienced made my palms sweaty and and heart race. What I saw was very...Catholic...except without Jesus. From the prayer book to the tabernacle to the chanting to the singing of the Psalms even to what the leader of the service was wearing and the way he kept bowing at the altar and the way the leader and the others read written prayers - it was more like what I remembered from my childhood days in a Catholic Church than any Protestant church I had ever been in.

No. Not the Catholic Church. I'm sure truth couldn't possibly be in the...but what if...

No. I was sure that's not what God is showing me. I started to look into what the Catholic Church taught. And it made sense. A lot of it was difficult for me to understand right away. I had to mentally chew on it. And I would get these moments of repulsion at the very thought of considering that the Catholic Church most accurately contained the truth that God wanted for His people. (I had, after all, very thorough and deep training in anti-Catholicism since becoming Protestant at age 15. And we were still fresh in the news of the priest sex scandals.) I even looked into the Lutheran church, since it was a direct shoot off of the Catholic Church and was very similar in liturgy and doctrine. So if it were a directly branch off of the Catholic Church, I thought, then it would be most like the original thing - sort of like a copy from an original is less contaminated than a copy from a copy from a copy from a copy...

I had a dream one night. I can't remember any of the dream except this - a Bible opened up in front of me, and there was such an amazing light and the most wonderful colors that you could ever imagine beaming out of the pages of the Bible. And there was such a joy and peace that only comes from knowing God and His holy Word. I knew during the dream that God was trying to tell me that there is more in His Word than we will ever be able to comprehend with our natural minds. That's what the incredible colors beaming out of the pages represented - all that God has for us in the Bible that we cannot fathom.

It's funny when you have a dream like that. There was such a joy and excitement in my heart and I tried to tell a few people about the dream only to get a nice smile from them and a, "that's nice, dear" response. But I knew the dream was a promise from God that He had more for me. More for us.

I kid you not - becoming Catholic has made that dream of Biblical awesomeness come alive to me. I never even knew the Catholic Church believed in the Bible. It's true! I thought the Catholic Church didn't want its laity reading the Bible. It was a lie told to me years ago and I believed it. The Bible brought me home to the Catholic Church. Apostolic succession, the papacy, their view of marriage (it's deeper than any Protestant has ever been able to explain to me) as a sacrament, confession (yes - confession!), visible unity of believers (a.k.a. the Jesus' church being ONE as opposed to 8,000 divisions), and the Eucharist (this is where I give a big shout out to John 6 - why had I never seen that whole chapter before?!), oh the Eucharist! It turns out 

(And have I mentioned - the Catholic Church doesn't teach that a person can go to Heaven by works!)

I'm not Catholic because of RELIGION!
I'm not Catholic because of old family ties.
I'm not Catholic because I went through a difficult time and "lost my faith" along the way.
I'm Catholic because God's grace touched my heart and opened the Bible up in a way that had never happened before.
I'm Catholic because of the Bible.
(Just in case anyone had to stand on their head backwards to not read that last statement I'll say it again.)
I'm Catholic because of the Bible!

I often imagine what people think of my conversion. I know the mindset I was in before. I would've thought someone who converted to Catholicism just didn't understand the love God had for them and the freedom from religion that His love provided. "Religion" had become a dirty word in our faith circles. It implied a faith void of any relationship with God, only rules and rituals. Mostly the word "religion" referred to Catholicism when I thought of it in a negative sense. But that's not at all what has happened to me. My relationship with Jesus has amplified since becoming Catholic. I know this is such an oxymoron to many.

I guess I can be thankful that Todd Bentley ignited a fire within me for my faith. I have been through a revival of my spirit through the washing of the Word. And I will never be the same again.

To God be the glory!