If you think you already have all the answers you need in life, then don’t read the rest of this message. This is the story of someone who thought he knew it all before he found out he was wrong. My name is Andrew Tallman, and I used to think I was the smartest person in the world. I was raised to think for myself and taught that I should always ask questions when people said things that didn’t make sense. If their answers didn’t make sense to me, then I was told I should reject what they were telling me. My parents trained me to be an excellent critical thinker.
Unfortunately, they also wanted me to be a Methodist, like they were. My mom was always singing or helping around the church, and my dad was the preacher. Like a good little preacher’s kid, I went to church until high school and did all the things I was supposed to do. After I went through confirmation, I obeyed the instructions of my pastor and asked Jesus to come into my life and be my Lord. But nothing happened. No lights. No fireworks. No passing out from spiritual ecstasy. No parting of the heavens or singing of the angels. Nothing. Because I didn’t get what I was expecting, I began to doubt that God was real and ask questions just like I had been raised to do.
Questions like, “How can the Bible be reliable since men wrote it? How can Genesis be true when evolution is proven science? How can God send people to hell who never hear about Jesus? If God is powerful and just, how come good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people? How can you know you are right when other people believe different things, even about what the Bible says? If God is real, why can’t I see Him?” After all, if He really wanted me to believe in Him, why didn’t He do anything when I asked Him to reveal Himself to me?
Well, to say the least, my parents weren’t very happy about me asking these questions…mostly because they didn’t have good answers for them. Then I went off to college at the University of Illinois and began to study philosophy. The more I studied, the more I realized that Christians really were a bunch of stupid people, and they really had to deny clear rational thinking in order to believe in their big myth of a God who loves them and would reward them for being good. My teachers there finished the job that my original doubts had started. They gave me all kinds of intellectual artillery to defend my belief that God was just something people dreamed up to make them feel better. I wondered why no one seemed to grasp that this was just a bigger version of Santa Claus. “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better be good, I’m telling you why…Jesus Christ is coming back real soon.”
In fact, to me Christianity seemed like the biggest escape hatch ever invented. I thought it was just an emotional crutch for people too weak to handle the fact that life is temporary and any purpose of life is just a lie we tell ourselves to feel good about what we do every day. Christians want so bad to believe in something that they let this emotion overcome the obvious proofs and arguments which show that God does not exist. Besides, the whole idea of a personal Being who I could have a relationship with just seemed so unbelievable. The idea of “The Force” from Star Wars made a whole lot more sense to me, but that was beyond proof too.
But I had a problem. The problem was that I was miserable. I not only felt sorry for the stupid Christians, but I hated them because they looked so happy believing their little fairy tale called the Bible. You see, I had been given a tremendous ability to think and understand things, and it seemed like a curse because I could always see both sides to everything but I could never actually arrive at any answers to any of life’s important questions.
“What’s morality except for something that weak-minded people believe in that strong-minded people make up to keep them in line? Why is it wrong to have sex, drink alcohol, try drugs, and have as much fun as possible? After all, we die soon anyway, might as well enjoy life while we have it. My philosophy was basically, “Eat dessert first, since you might die before the end of the meal.” I was far too smart to be a Christian. And yet it kept bothering me because what good was this tremendous brain if it never gave me any answers?
Then one day I looked around and noticed that the people I was following were not going where I wanted to go. I was working on getting a doctorate degree in philosophy at the University of Illinois, and yet my professors were all not who I wanted to be. I remembered that as a child I believed I would one day be rich, have a great marriage, be happy, and be successful. But the people I was following were broke, had terrible family lives, weren’t happy, and weren’t successful. All this in spite of claiming to know all the deep truths of the universe. So I realized that if I continued to do what they had done, I would one day wind up where they were at.
At that point I began looking around for someone else to listen to. I found a group of people who introduced me to a whole new world. These people were happy, financially well off, positive, and had great marriages and children. They were also really smart…oh, yeah, and they all happened to be Christians who took the Bible seriously. Since it was obvious to me that these people had better lives than my philosophy instructors, I thought I would pay attention to them more. As I listened to them, I found out that not only did they think differently than my philosophy instructors, but the things they said made more sense, and obviously they had the results in their lives to back it up. So I began to get some of my questions about God answered. But not all of them.
Then one day I was walking past a little chapel in the woods by a lakefront resort in Missouri’s lake of the Ozarks and I decided to go inside. There was nothing there but some chairs and a stained-glass picture of Jesus holding a lamb in His hands. I got on my knees and said to God, “I wish I could really believe in You, but I need proof. If You want me to accept You, show me something I can believe in.”
Instead of some big miracle, I had a thought come into my head. It said, “It’s okay to believe something you want even if you don’t have proof.” At that instant, I realized I had been making myself out to be a god. In fact, not only was I making myself the ultimate standard for truth (since if it didn’t make sense to me, I would reject it), but I had been a prisoner of my own thinking. I HAD to believe whatever my mind had the best reasons for, and I had also accepted the belief that only things which could be proved should be believed. I suddenly realized that I had free will to accept something I thought might be true even if I didn’t have proof. I later understood that this what faith means.
We all have our reasons for rejecting God. Maybe a relative died we loved very much, or maybe we don’t understand why the world is full of suffering if God is so good. These are genuine questions, and difficult ones, but they all flow from the same error of mental arrogance that if something doesn’t make perfect sense to me then it’s not true. I had made my own thinking into a god I worshipped.
So in that moment, when I realized what was going on, I simply made a decision that I would trust Jesus to be my Lord and my Savior and I said it to Him. Not because I had proof, but because I wanted to believe it and it was plausible. I started crying because as soon as I said that little prayer, I instantly knew that God was real and that He had answered my prayer by promising to never leave me even after I died. But that certainty only came after I was willing to step out on faith and decide to accept Him without proof. I was so happy I almost couldn’t stand it.
But the hard part was coming. Now I had to tell my new friends who had been trying to help me to make this decision. I was really embarrassed because I had spent a very long time believing and arguing that God didn’t exist and that Christians were all fools. I thought they would laugh at me and say, “I told you so,” when I told them what I had done. But instead, they just gave me a hug and sort of cried too and acted like they were so happy for me, and glad to know I was going to heaven with them. Later I realized that the most enjoyable experience in life after being born again is knowing that you have helped someone else accept Jesus Christ and be born again too.
Well, this obviously meant there were going to be some changes in my life. I was living with my girlfriend, drinking anytime I wanted, swearing, lying, and doing all kinds of things I sort of already knew were wrong. I had been living a totally frivolous life. But God was really patient with me. He didn’t demand that I change everything in my life all at once.
Ever since then, I have gradually been making my life more and more in line with His will for me. I received Him on November 9, 1996, and if there is one thing I have learned since then, it is that being a Christian is definitely not the “easy way out” I thought it was. It was a lot easier for me to date around, try drugs, watch pornography, lie, and believe that I was the most wise person in the world.
Becoming more and more like Christ has been the most frustrating and difficult thing ever. But somehow it’s also been the most enjoyable frustration imaginable. I’m not perfect yet, and I never will be in this life, since the closer I get to God, the more messed up I realize I am. But I also know I am always making progress, and He is so patient with me it blows my mind some times. I guess I sort of thought that every problem in my life would be solved when I became a Christian, but I have learned that it’s a long, slow process.
In any case, many things have changed since I was born again from saying that simple little prayer. That big, smart brain which I used to think was a curse has become a great blessing because now I have a foundation of Truth to build on instead of emptiness. I have answers, and there are always more answers to be found. In fact, what I found out was that my ability to think was a gift from God, but the biggest frustration we have as humans is when we try to use God’s gifts for something other than His purposes. That’s why people who are rich and famous often aren’t very happy. They have been using God’s gifts only for themselves.
Although I do understand many things and think well, I have to be careful not to let my love of the Truth get come before my love of God. After all, He makes Truth, so to worship Truth is just like worshipping the Sun, which is just a creation. But life has definitely become fun again. There’s always worthwhile things to be done, and although I haven’t yet reached all of my goals, I am much better off in every area of my life than I was. I have a great marriage, three beautiful sons, and plenty of close friends, but the real difference is that I know I have the love and friendship of God in my life.
Another thing I have learned from developing a relationship with God and studying the Bible is that God and His Word don’t always make sense to me. At first I thought this meant that there was something wrong with Him or His Book, but then I realized that the thoughts of a perfect, all-powerful God won’t make sense to imperfect, sinful people. This doesn’t reflect on the flaws of God, but on the flaws of us readers. I’ve also found out that a lot of things about God don’t make sense until after I take them on faith and act as if they are true. Then I learn from experience that they are right.
For example, it didn’t make sense to me how God could love people and still send them to hell for refusing to accept His Son as Lord. But then I learned that God is not only perfectly loving, but He is also perfectly just. So, because His standards are so high, He cannot allow us to come into His presence in heaven unless we are totally cleansed from every sin by the free gift of someone who never sinned and was unjustly executed: Jesus. I found out that it isn’t what you know or what you do that matters to God, but Who you know, and whether you obey what He tells you to do after you accept Him as your Lord.
There are only three kinds of people who read this letter. Those who already know this story for themselves, those who will want this story to be about them after they have read it, and those who still aren’t ready. If that’s you, it’s alright. God is very patient. It took several years for Him to reach me. But if you are ready now and you want this story to be about you, then all you need to do is apologize to God for doing so many things wrong in your life (the Bible calls this repenting) and ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.
Then, go tell someone what has happened to you and find a place where other people who believe in Jesus and the Bible get together to worship God. They’ll want you to get baptized because this is the next step of obedience to God. Any church which teaches that the Bible is the Word of God and where the people love Him is a good place to start. Don’t expect them to be perfect. They’re human just like you are. One of the reasons I had rejected God was because the people He used were so messed up, but then I realized that the reason we need Him is precisely because we are so messed up.
So don’t hold it against God that He chooses to love and use such imperfect people as us to reach others. Although you won’t find a perfect church, be sure to find one where you can build some close relationships and where you can find someone to mentor you in your growth toward God. And the church you start with may not be the one you stay with for the rest of your life. Just find one for right now.
The decision is yours, I pray you have already made it so you can tell me your story when we see each other in heaven. May God bless you, and may the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ transform your life.
If you already have this same story to tell, then I would encourage you to write it out and start sharing it with people. They need to hear your testimony because mine won’t relate to everyone. You can also feel free to make copies of this one if you want to use it as well. Just please don’t change anything if you do. Each person needs to tell his testimony in his own way.
If this story has affected your life and you want to return the favor to me, then please email me at andrewtallman at kpxq1360.com to let me know about it. Thanks for reading.
Writing your own story
If you’re willing to do it, I really recommend you write your own story. Here’s how:
1. Sit down in a quiet place with a pen and paper and some time. An hour or so is realistic.
2. Pray that God will help you be an effective witness.
3. Brainstorm and write down all the main elements you want to write about.
a. Describe what life was like before you were a Christian.
b. Include a thorough description of the process you went through in becoming one.
c. List some of the differences in your life now or things God has done in your life.
d. Note any particularly significant lessons or principles you have learned that you would like to share.
4. Organize your notes in the order you'd like to say things.
5. Write it out as if you are talking to someone across the table from you. Tell your story in your own words using your normal way of speaking.
6. Put it away in a safe place (print a copy if you used a computer) and go reward yourself for taking a big first step.
7. Wait at least 2 days. The problem with editing your work soon is you tend to read it with what you meant to say in mind rather than reading it for how it will sound new to someone else.
8. When editing, read it out loud exactly as you have written it. Make changes as you go when things sound awkward.
9. Give a copy of your middle draft to a couple of close friends to edit and make suggestions so it will read as easily as possible. In fact, the best way to do all this is to get 3-4 people together on the project to do it all as a group.
10. Complete the final version, and print a few copies and email one to me in the text of the email to andrewtallman at kpxq1360.com
11. Give a copy to people when it seems appropriate to you.
12. Always feel free to add to and update your testimony. It's okay if what you write isn't perfect in your eyes. Remember, an imperfectly told story is always better than a perfect, untold story.