I seem to be getting a couple folks riled up, and this is NOT my
intention nor my wish.
The following may help; I send it out with some trepidation to my
brothers and sisters in Christ, in particular to those who may be upset
My personal testimony
I have my heart ìon my sleeve,î in this essay. I'll try hard to be
(2) accurate & truthful
(3) comprehensive as to significant things and
(4) not boring.
I may not achieve these goals, but they are what I will strive for.
I begin with where I am today on my spiritual journey. I am a member of
the Presbyterian Church (USA). My beloved brother Paul is a long time
Lutheran (ELCA) pastor, my esteemed second son Samuel is a Southern
Baptist minister and Carol, my cherished wife of 45 years, is an Inquirer
for ordination in the PCUSA in her third year of pursuing the MDiv degree
at the Iliff School of Theology.
I was reading the PCUSA Book of Order today (the husband of a seminary
student sometimes has unconventional reading material) and came on the
section where nine questions are put to candidates for ordination. The
first two of these are:
1. Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledging him Lord of
and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, father, Son
and Holy Spirit?
2. Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New testaments to be, by
Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the
Church universal, and Godís Word to you?
Questions 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 pertain to the specific office of ministry.
Question 6 asks:
6. Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love
your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?
I became a Christian in 1962, in one of the six epiphanies I can identify
in my life. I have enthusiastically said ìyesî to question #1 ever since
that time. It is my stance today; it is my intent that it be my stance
for the rest of my life.
When I became a Christian, I knew little about scripture, so my answer to
#2 is necessarily derivative. My answer is, today, ìyes,î and I see no
reasons that should ever change. I would probably add the terms
ìapplicable for faith and practiceî were I to reword it. Carol and I hold
scripture in reverence, reading aloud from it each morning.
My answer to #3 is also ìyes.î But I need to say more.
When I became a Christian, three precepts seemed to be paramount in
accepting this new worldview. The first two were self-related, being in
worship every Sunday and observing the biblical notion of the tithe. The
third, inspired probably by the book of James, was to be involved in
service (servanthood) to others. Other precepts have come along, but
these three remain very important. Observing the first two is, of course,
just being supportive to the faith community in which I am involved; the
third one requires more thought. Over the years there have been many
servanthood opportunities; some I have taken, some I have not. Besides
serving in the church as youth leaders, SS teachers, occasional fill-ins
for the preacher, etc. Carol and I were together active in the Civil
movement of the early to mid 60s. We wanted to ìchange the world,î and so
we did that, not the whole world for everybody, of course, but the whole
world for three persons, as we adopted and raised to adulthood three
orphans from Korea, along with our other five children. That phase of our
being over, we have looked for other ways to serve, mission trips to
Panama and Mexico, anti-racism committees, serving meals in a soup
political posts, urban ministries, etc. Currently, my chosen
outlet is Habitat for Humanity; I work in construction twice
weekly and, as I age, may phase over into some less physical part of the
ministry. I hope that will not be for a few years. Why Habitat for
Humanity? Frederick Buechner once wrote: ìThe place God calls you to be
is the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need.ì (A
SEEKERí ABC, 1993, page 119). For me, H4H is that place.
I spoke of ìsix epiphanies.î For those who do not accept the concept of
ìprevienient grace,î perhaps there were only three, for the first three
happened to me before I became a Christian and had to do with (1) my
intellectual direction, (2) my career choice and (3) my life mate. I
will pass over these.
Raised in the Lutheran (ELCA) church, and confirmed at age 12, by the
time I left High School I was an atheist. I know I broke my motherís
heart when I was a college student. She asked if I were reading the
church magazine she was faithfully sending; I replied that I was not and
that she might as well save her energy. In all my college years I
remember darkening the church doorway exactly twice. When my dad was very
ill and thought to be about gone, I remember a conversation with the
minister at the hospital. It was not my finest hour.
At age 26, after two years as a physicist developing war machines for
the government, I was married to my childhood sweetheart and was well on
my way to a successful career with IBM. Son #1 came along in the second
year and suddenly Carol was leaving me on Sunday mornings (with our son)
for worship. This bugged me, but no more than that. Then one night she
confided in me that I was not the #1 love of her life ñ Jesus Christ was.
This hit me between the eyes. But I could live with that; after all she
was just in love with an ideal.
Something that obviously meant a lot to Carol, however, had to be taken
seriously. I had been career-oriented for so many years, I had never
thought much about ultimate questions. So I determined to do what I
always did (and still do) in such circumstances, study the issues. And
study can be a dangerous thing to a brash young atheist. By 1960 I had
become a deist. At least thatís one possible definition. I did not know
then, but I was following the same path CS Lewis had followed 32 years
Having determined that the God-concept was more rational than atheism, I
was not altogether pleased, for I thought the world could have been made
a lot nicer! But, of course, I had not been asked about this! < G >
The person of Jesus Christ was the next hurdle. Like Lewis, I began
attending worship (and even SS classes). At one time Carol and I attended
a series of classes at a nearby Lutheran church (Missouri synod). I'm a
good student; I aced the classes. The pastor assumed I'd then join the
church; I told him that understanding the material was in no way the same
as thinking it true. He urged me to join anyway, and nearly lost me to
the faith altogether, for if I joined I'd have to assent to that in which
I did not believe. If this was Christianity, a pox upon it.
About that time I began to have discussions with the God I doubted could
(would) hear me. Usually, these took place when I drove my treasured 1946
Jaguar drophead coupe to work. I remember telling him that I did not
believe in this Jesus, and that I saw no rational way in which I might
believe, and that if he was as powerful as the preachers told me, he'd
have to do the job. I was at that point willing to believe, but still an
Telling God you are willing is also risky business for a young deist. The
epiphany came to me one evening as I sat on our sofa, conversing with a
visiting pastor. It was so unexpected that to this day it amazes me. At
one point in the conversation he asked me what I thought of Jesus Christ.
Much to my amazement, my mind and mouth both assented to the classical
Christian proposition that he was the very Son of God, and was, indeed,
my savior. It has been 41 years since that event; I can still hold it in
my mind clearly. It parallels in almost every respect CS Lewisís epiphany
on September 28, 1931, while riding in his brother's motorcycle sidecar
to Whipsnade zoo. When Lewis set out, he writes, he was not a Christian.
When he arrived, he was. When I sat down that evening, I was not a
Christian. When I arose, I was.
Since 1962, we have been blessed, because of frequent career moves, to be
part of many faith communities. Each of these has taught us new facets of
the Christian life. We began as members of a rural Evangelical United
Brethren (now merged with the Methodists) congregation. It was there I
discovered the truth of I John 3:14, which reads (Berkeley):
We know that we have passed from death into life,
because we love the brothers.î
I looked around that small sanctuary one Sunday morning and was suddenly
struck by the undeniable fact that I LOVED these country folks, where
heretofore I did not do so. Where did this ìunnaturalî care for their
well-being and happiness come from? Not an epiphany, but certainly (to
me) a confirmation that my embracing Christianity had to be on the right
In our travels, we were always looking for ìThe church of Holy
Proximity,î for whatever denomination we were at the time was never
available to us at the new location. We have been with the Quakers, Ohio
Yearly Meeting of Friends, two independent churches, Orthodox
Presbyterian, Evangelical Covenant (Swedish), Church of God Anderson,
Southern Baptist, Nazarene and four different PCUSA fellowships. We have
learned much from each of these. Each has their specific strengths and
weaknesses. In my view, there is not a dimeís worth of difference between
any of them when it comes to faith essentials.
While I John 3:14 has always been ìmyî verse, there is a second one that
appeals very much; one I have spoken on many times. This is John 14:21;
in the Berkeley version it reads:
He who has my orders, and observes them, loves me.
And he who loves me, will be loved by my father,
I, too, shall love him, and show [manifestation] myself to him.
On my web site, www.burgy.50megs.com, there is a story about one of these
manifestations, one of my epiphanies. I have never written about the last
epiphany; someday, perhaps, I will. But it is very personal. And very
very real. I can compare it only to that of Blaise Pascal, and his
experience during the evening of Nov 23, 1654.
To God be the glory.
Thank you for reading this.
John Burgeson (Burgy)
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