A Tale of Two Conversions: Hardened


I grew up in a small western Oklahoma rural community with little to no religious convictions. I suppose that’s not the norm for a lad raised smack dab in the middle of the bible belt, but nobody has ever accused me of being normal. Oh, I remember attending a Sunday School class as a 5-year-old at a local Baptist church. I recall lots of coloring – and growing bean sprouts in a cup. I remember nothing else about it at all. After that stimulating experience I did not darken a church door again (weddings and funerals excluded) until I was well into my teenage years.

I’ve always believed in God. I suppose my parents ingrained that in me, though I can’t recall any specific instruction. I conceived Him as the ever watchful eye in the sky, who loved and protected me. The first traumatic moment of my early years came one July 4th evening as we went to a stadium to watch a fireworks display. It was an impressive exhibition of pyrotechnics. The crowd oohed and aaahed at every burst of light and color. However, I wasn’t impressed; I fretted through the entire show. With brow furrowed I tugged at my mother’s hand and whispered, “Are those fireworks hurting God?” My 5-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend an omnipresent God that transcends the material creation. Obviously I didn’t grasp his omnipotence either, else I wouldn’t have been concerned for his well-being in the wake of a few heavenward explosions.

So there you have it, perhaps my one and only childhood contemplation of God. I have no other memory I can recall that invoked God into the forefront of my conscience. I simply assumed God’s love, protection and providence. I had other, more important stuff to think and daydream about – with a heavy emphasis on daydreaming. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Conversions – Introduction


And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”    (Matthew 13:3-9 ESV)

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23; ESV)

The Hardened Sinner

This parable of Jesus demonstrates the reality of how sinners respond to the message of the gospel of salvation. First, the seeds scattered along the path represent a hardened sinner, who will hear the gospel but doesn’t fully comprehend it, nor does he respond to the message in any kind of receptive manner. This could be manifested in one of two ways. First, Hardened could react with impassive indifference. The message may seem foreign or totally unrelated to his situation. He doesn’t feel convictions of guilt over sin. This sadly results in a callous heart unaffected by the mercy and compassion of a loving God.

The other opposite reaction is passionate hostility. Hardened may indeed be pierced by a conviction of sin, yet the desired effect is not contrite sorrow but self-righteous rage. The idea that he may be guilty of high treason against the Lord of all creation is more than a prideful soul can bear. What does Hardened do? Scripture explains that he will suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness. (Rom 1:18) The soil of Hardened’s heart is impenetrable. The seeds of the scripture bounce harmlessly off the sun-baked surface, unable to find a place to take root and are quickly taken away. Continue reading

Why I Am A Calvinist – Part 5


During my years as a Pentecostal/Arminian Christian I focused my theological studies on an array of supposedly sound biblical topics. I studied Dispensational Theology (though at the time I had no idea what it was called), learning the different epochs of time Earth’s history had been neatly packaged into. I dabbled with spiritual warfare, waging battle against all principalities and powers of darkness. I learned how to defend my family against the wiles of the devil. I read many kooky books that inspired me to take up the armor of God and stand firmly against the devil’s fiery darts in ways that now make me cringe with chagrin. I danced as King David did (except fully clothed) and anointed everything with olive oil (or Crisco if the former was not conveniently available). I claimed enough territories for Christ during those years that I could have established a whole other country. I scoured the scriptures, scrapping together verses in an effort to discern the times, and determine the signs of Christ’s Second Coming.  I agreed with both Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey that the temple in Jerusalem would soon be rebuilt and the secret rapture of the church would whisk us away while the world would suffer beneath the iron heel of the Antichrist’s reign of terror.  I spent hours pleading and wrestling with God at the altar, in the desperate hope that he would grant me an authentic, earth-shattering spiritual experience akin to the ones enjoyed by my brethren, who appeared to get a ‘dose of the Ghost’ on a weekly basis. Continue reading

Why I Am A Calvinist – Part 4


Precisely nine years ago I embraced the doctrines of Grace (also called 5-point Calvinism). It was a chaotic time, where both the tearing down of my old theology and the construction of this new theology were taking place simultaneously in my mind and spirit. To complicate matters, an old friend, who had faithfully attended my weekly bible study for college students, came to my office one day and begged me to start up a new study group. She had come to a difficult point in her life and had a deep hunger for someone to bring her the Word. I had sympathy for her, but didn’t feel I was in any position to teach.

First, I could no longer teach much of what I had in the past. Many of those doctrines, like a house built on shifting sand, laid in a collapsed heap. I was in the process of bulldozing those aberrant beliefs right off my intellectual property. Second, I still did not know enough about Calvinism to be confident enough to teach it. Third, I still had not resolved all the points of Calvinism in my heart and mind yet. I readily accepted the T, the U, and the I but I wasn’t so sure about the L and the P. Odd, I know, if the U then the P should follow, right? I’ve never said I was the sharpest knife in the drawer!

Anyway, against my better judgment, I plunged ahead with the study and presented my understanding of sovereign salvation to that small audience. It all worked out for the good, though. The class constantly presented challenges that helped to sharpen me. In the end though, only one person from the group came to believe in the doctrines of Grace. She came to visit me in my office one afternoon last year and I asked her pointedly, “have you become convinced that Calvinism is true?” My friend gave me an unforgettable reply. In a humble and almost broken-hearted tone, she said, “Yes it has to be true, because I know my own heart.” Continue reading

Why I Am A Calvinist – Part 3


A great mystery once surrounded the circumstances of my salvation experience that for a decade confounded all my attempts to unveil its secrets.

Let me start at the beginning. In the summer of 1993 I found a job at the recycling center of a local non-profit agency. They provided a training environment for people with developmental disabilities. The job humbled me, but I did enjoy working with the people. My supervisor lived his Christian faith openly, and stood boldly for his convictions. To make a long story short, he preached the gospel to me for a solid year-and-a-half, slowly chipping away at my granite hard heart. One day he quoted a scripture that flew like a steel-tipped arrow, breaching my great wall of enmity.

Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world’s rulers, of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph 6:11-12)

I remember getting into my car at the end of the day with that verse blazing through my mind. I paused in the parking lot as illumination fell on me from above. I realized at that moment good and evil were struggling for my very soul. I could not remain neutral in this war. I had to take sides. I either had to stand with God against all the powers of darkness or cast my lot with the devil and his angels. Another, more sobering thought then dawned on me. I had already spent my entire life aiding and abetting the commander-in-chief of the armies of darkness.

I stewed over those thoughts for several months. One day in late January, 1995 as I prepared to leave for the day, my boss stopped me. He launched into one of his passionate discourses on the goodness and faithfulness of God in his life. At one point he started pounding his desk speaking of the zeal he had for God, quoting from scripture. At that very moment the Spirit of God came upon me with a such a mighty rush that I could sense it in a tangible manner. A great tingling warmth spread from the top of my head to the heels of my feet. I gasped audibly, not quite understanding what had just happened. My boss did not notice my reaction, so I politely acknowledged my appreciation for his word of encouragement and drove home. Continue reading

Why I Am A Calvinist – Part 2


Surprisingly, my conversion from free-will theology to Calvinism came rather swiftly. It’s shocking really, if only you could understand the depths of hatred I once held toward those doctrines.

I resisted initially, desperately hopeful that some sensible compromise existed between these diametrically opposed belief systems. I figured the Semi-Pelagian flavor of Arminianism fell into one ditch while Calvinism veered clear over to the other side of the road. I searched in vain for the imaginary highway that ran through the middle of both views, but I never found any signs to point the way. After wrangling with Calvinism for about 4 months, I finally beheld its beauty with a clarity only the Holy Spirit could grant.

The ditch I had plowed into, turns out, is really an off-ramp exiting the pothole plagued ‘Free Will’ service road. It flows into a smoothly paved four-lane interstate winding a clear path to the Celestial City. The road first runs through the firmly established townships of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura and finally Soli Deo Gloria, which lies at the very gates of the streets of gold.

You may have already deduced the obvious. My diligent search through the scriptures utterly convinced me of the truth of the Doctrines of Grace.

So, the first and foremost reason I became a Calvinist is the overwhelming evidence contained in the scriptures declaring God’s unquestionable sovereignty over every person, place and event in all of history. Continue reading

Why I Am a Calvinist – Part 1


Almost a decade ago I was involved in a titanic spiritual battle between two opposing theological views. I could feel the once rock solid doctrines of free will slipping through my fingers like fine sand. I begged and beseeched the Lord to deliver me from the relentless reasonings and scriptural bombshells ripping the house I had built on the shifting dunes of man-centered doctrines. My pride and self-respect were on the line.

See, for the first decade of my born-again life I embraced a form of Arminianism that many call Semi-Pelagianism. Simply put, I believed that man’s free will is the deciding factor in salvation. Calvinism, which is the belief that God is sovereign over all things, including man’s salvation, had recently started making sense to me and I was drawn to it. (While at the same time being repulsed by it).

Calvinism was a dirty word in my old church. I considered it to be on equal footing with cultic beliefs.

I used to say such things as:

“Calvinism is a doctrine of demons!”

Or worse yet:

“If God is like how the Calvinists describe him, I would never serve such a cruel, heartless dictator who arbitrarily chooses who will and will not be saved!” Continue reading