Testimony – Coming to Faith in Jesus Christ

Over the summer of 2010 I became a Christian handing my life over to Jesus Christ, my savior, and Lord. It was not an overnight conversion by any means and as a mathematician and a devout atheist it took a considerable amount of research and help from others to accept what I ultimately knew to be true. In the following I’ll address how I came to question my faith, how I searched out those answers, and in the end accepting Christ into my life.

You can look at my youthful life as a step function. During each level or stage I intensely focused on one facet of my life.  Upon exhausting my focus on a particular area I would naturally jump to the next one in an attempt to fill the growing void no longer satisfied by the last. In hindsight, there have been numerous times where I have come close to accepting God into my life typically during the transition from one step to another.  However, when you’re an Atheist it is relatively simple to swat away such a thing!

I was raised in upstate New York in a split family void of any form of religion. My father was a lay-Roman Catholic who’s greatest testament to his faith can be summed by his statement “I had all my share of religion back at [Roman Catholic] high school!” It is rather sad, that many would-be believers stumble as a result of great disappointment in a church, but I digress. My mother was Pagan and to this day is a High Priestess in a Wiccan coven. It is a metaphysical and very spiritual religion but tends to be quite flawed as a result of its intrinsic view of the greater world providing little explanation to broader questions to the external. Much to the chagrin of my mother I identified as an Atheist at the age of 14. As a result I found little desire to search out any questions or correct any misconceptions or stereotypes about Christianity, God, or Jesus Christ. I merely pitted all religions together as a tool to better oneself in society. I found little solace in it for myself and packed it away as nonsense.

My wife, Rebecca and I shared polarizing views on God and Christianity. Rebecca was raised Roman Catholic and although was not active, never questioned her belief in God or Jesus Christ. We were married in a Catholic church in 2004. This was possible through the completion of the Roman Catholic Initiation for Adults (RCIA), a program that offers a fast-track to receiving the sacraments. For me it accomplished little other than 1) allowing myself to identify as a Roman Catholic and 2) affirming the works attitude toward salvation.

To my folly I had greatly misunderstood the saving power of Jesus Christ and his ministry classifying it as religion. Let me make this clear before I go on. There is religion and there is the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Do not confuse yourself into thinking they are the same. If you feel there is no difference then this is due significant lack of understanding of Jesus Christ’s saving grace and sacrifice.

It was during the last year of employment at TriSports.com that I felt a downward spiral happening. The bitterness, anger, and frustration were beginning to spool over effecting my professional life and friendships. I put stock in that this was a result of missing the academic life where I could freely research science and teach mathematics. In part, this was true. I craved a change and accepted a visiting professor position at the University of Arizona for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Around that time I had my first experience around a Christian friend, Webster. We had many, somewhat heated (at least on my end!) conversations about the existence of God. It was the first time where I was confronted with the actuality of defending my atheistic point of views to a well-educated Christian. As ‘open-minded’ as I claimed to be, I was not very receptive of anything contradictory to what I had come to believe in. Just as many nonbelievers I rather detested any Christian who set out to ‘convert’ someone. In that we are great hypocrites! Should it be acceptable to talk about the nonexistence of God and promote my sinful nature? No matter which way you look at it I was always trying to convert the believer into a nonbeliever. This is not a phenomenon. As humans, we desire people to have like-minded opinions, anything else seems unnatural.

By the beginning of 2010 I identified as Agnostic, in so far that a God existed simply to create the ‘material’ required to start the Big Bang. It is a well-known fact that the age of the universe is finite. This is quite important as everything you see around you from the heavens to the ground is a result of an extreme compactification of matter some 4.5 billion years or so ago. So compact, you could fit it on the palm of your hand! But where did this come from? Nothing outside of the existence of a God closes this argument. I should mention this is not a new reason for the existence of God and is mentioned in Thomas Aquinas‘s five ways. In addition, this conclusion does not identify God as the Christian God or show that He is actively working in any of our lives.

However, it did seem to me that God was working in my life. There just seemed to be too many coincidences in my social, family, and professional life.  Consider my professional life as an example. My academic position at the University of Arizona was fixed for one year. As a result I sought employment for the coming 2010/11 academic year and beyond. It was an exciting and somewhat stressful time, but my wife Rebecca and I looked forward to the opportunity to start fresh in a new location. I was extremely fortunate in my search, and more surprisingly that my number one choice came back with an offer! I accepted a 3-year appointment at Baylor University as a postdoctoral associate in their mathematics department. Baylor is a world-renown Christian university that is exemplary in its teaching and rising in its research credentials. It also provides our college youth with a three-fold education, committed to educating a person academically, socially, and spiritually. They understand the need for all three in order to develop the best human being.

This would appear at opposition to my internal beliefs. This was not the case then or now. In high school I always achieved the highest marks, that was never an issue. I craved mathematics and science, often working any and all problems I would find in a book. However, I acted out, sometimes violently, to other students. It was only when by a mere ‘coincidence’ that I came to attending Saratoga Springs Spa Catholic High School as a sophomore.  I have found their well-rounded approach to education is unsurpassed and has been influential in shaping my life. Finding an institution that places the same emphasis on identical core values was and is important to me.

Rebecca and I also felt it was important for our children to be raised within our strong community that put stock in family values and teaching quality morals. Regardless of my convictions I did not want our children growing up with such doubt and so lost as I had felt. It was with that in my heart that shortly after moving to Waco I Googled “Churches, Waco, Texas”. I selected Highland Baptist Church for two reasons. First, I could contact them through email, although deciding to use an active email was a different question! Second, I recognized it as a church another person had recently mentioned to me. In the email I asked to tour the facility, mainly to get an idea of the programs they had for children.

The next day we had a couple of emails from Doug Hankins and Mark Wible. We came for a visit at Highland a few days later. Near the end of our tour Mark asked about our own testimonies. Thankfully, Rebecca interceded talking about her upbringing and that gesture allowed me to deflect the question back to them. Mark came to accept Christ at an early age. Doug was an Atheist and had become a believer in his teens. This revelation shook me as I had never met a Christian that was not raised in the church. I am not insinuating this is a bad thing rather I was baffled that someone as Doug could come to faith in Christ on his own accord that greatly contradicted his prior beliefs.

We came to our first service on July 28, 2010. The service was dedicated to the fantastic missionary work that its members were a part of. I was taken aback by the entire experience. First, it was incredibly relaxed but yet full of real, raw, and unexplainable emotion. The members of the church were quite in contrast of what I had expected.  All shapes and sizes, old and young, dressed up, dressed down, arms raised, modern music, etc.! There were teenage kids on the stage, singing, praising God, and sharing their experiences that had during their missions. It was remarkable. One of my biggest complaints about my past experiences in any church was that it felt devoid of any emotion. The followers seemed to be there out of obligation not of experiencing the Lord.  This was in stark contrast to what I saw during my first service! On that Sunday their In Motion ministry group performed the Lifehouse Skit:

This skit still brings me to tears. I remember during it thinking what is happening to me? I truly felt something and looking around at the congregation made me realize that everything that I knew prior to this was fake, a mere substitute. This story holds true in arguably all of our lives, accurately describing the pull of God I had been feeling all along. In the beginning we are all very much aware of God’s presence, but over time we stray away. However it never means that He has abandoned us. It is the exact opposite. He stands there waiting, planting seeds, guiding, helping us through sometimes many layers of self-built barriers. There are no coincidences.

I emailed Doug that night asking to meet with him. When we met I didn’t pull any punches explaining my view, inquiring more about his testimony, and asking many questions that were blockades to accepting Christ into my life. Namely, how can there be a God that allows such great suffering, world wars, the Holocaust? How can a scientist believing in the big bang find any salt in the book of Genesis? What proof do we have of Jesus Christ existing? For that matter, why should we believe the Bible at all? What is the purpose of Christ’s death? How can Christians claim to be the only way, stating every other religion is wrong? What is prayer?

With each question I realized what I knew of the Christian faith was greatly misconstrued and misunderstood. It was inspiring to learn theologians had different views on the interpretation of Genesis. For instance, since God can do anything it is not troubling to create the Earth to appear old. Similarly, it would not be troubling for Him to create the Earth old and set everything in motion including evolution and/or other biochemical mechanisms that would create life.  This was a secondary issue that was placed higher than implications of Jesus Christ on my life.

Doug directed me to John’s Gospel giving me my first ESV study bible. He also gave me  “Reason for God“, a book by Timothy Keller. This book systematically went through many of my questions, breaking down stereotypes, helping me identify my own faith, and ultimately helping me come to belief in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I left that meeting and immediately prayed to God asking Him to come into my life, forgive for my sins and transgressions. I thanked Him for already coming into my life and asked him for clarity and discernment as I learned about Him. When I ended the prayer nothing incredible happened, no lights flickered or something of that nature. It was the next day on my regular bicycle ride that I began telling a story to a friend and all of a sudden felt dirty, unclean of the language that I was about to use. I just stopped and when my friend asked if that was it, I responded with “Yeah, that’s about it.”

I continued reading John’s Gospel in addition to studying Philippians in Sunday school. I continued to pray to the Lord for His continued help in my journey to Him and clarity in learning of Him.  I often quoted Philippians 1:6. Throughout those weeks I felt a greater sense of peace and calm over my entire life, my angry bursts subsided, and indeed I was becoming a better parent and husband. Presently, there has not been an area in my life not touched by this change. In no way am I perfect, but my hope is to live my life worthy of God’s grace seeking all things that are good at their core.

I have continued to explore many of the questions that I once I had. In each circumstance I am amazed at the overwhelming evidence in support of the Christian view.  It is a fact that Jesus’s life is documented in all of the major world religions, even His naysayers still have documented His miracles in addition to His teaching.  This gives great credence to the validity of these events.  I sought out to calculate the probability of that Jesus Christ was simply a man, P(Man).  Hence, the probability that Jesus Christ was not a man and is God is 1 – P(Man).  A quick calculation yields the upper bound which is on the order of 10^{-12}.  To give you an idea of the how small this number is 10^{-12} meters or 1 picometer is roughly the diameter of a Helium atom. By discrediting Jesus Christ’s own claims to deity is clearly a risky alternative, but this was a bet I was taking!  When you add more precision to the calculation you find yourself at a number closer to 4.9 x 10^{-54}.  This number is ten orders of magnitude smaller than Planck Time, which is the time it takes for the speed of light to travel roughly 10^{-35} m in a vacuum!  These staggering numbers were startling to me.  I calculated these numbers the same night when I read John 3:16-21 and 6:44-51.  The reality of both verses shook my foundation, realizing that only through Jesus Christ’s saving grace would I be saved and not condemned.  I realized that God was already working in my life, changing myself from the inside.  I had always feared of accepting God or coming to Christ would change me and now it was undeniable it already had.  However to my fortune, it exemplified the good while greatly attenuating the bad in me.

Each one of us have a certain set of standards.  However, I would be hard-pressed to meet a single individual that actually lives up to their own standards all of the time.  God’s standards are even higher and it is only through the saving grace of Jesus Christ dying for us on the cross that we have the possibility of having a relationship with Him.  There is no amount of works to garner that relationship without accepting Christ as our savior.  It is a gift.  In that I am humbled. In that I am accountable and guilty of everything mentioned in the Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  Only a just God would come to that conclusion.  Praise God for sending Jesus Christ so that we may enter the kingdom and have eternal life!

It all boils down to 2 questions. First, do you believe in God? If so, then do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Then, if you answered yes to both, you have to unpack what this truly means and the implications it has on your life. Everything else is a secondary issue. Everything.