ADULT SUNDAY SCHOOL SERIES THIS WEEK (June 24th & July 1st): We will continue our series on the practical life lessons that can be gleaned from the kings of Israel and Judah. Solomon's idolatry led to the consequences of God dividing Israel
The day I decided, “THERE IS NO GOD!”
Written by Pastor John Mele
I remember it well because of the reaction my devoutly Catholic grandmother had. It was a typical Sunday morning turning quickly to noon. Growing up in an Italian home meant certain very Italian customs. One of those was pasta and salad every single Sunday at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I was about 16 years old, probably a junior in High School. Grandma had mentioned something or other about going to church (mass). In front of her, my Dad, and maybe my brothers, I authoritatively announced, “There is no God! I think God is just a crutch that people use to get through this life!” My grandma let out a shriek of terror as I remorselessly cast off God and all things associated with “it”. I guess I had officially become an atheist. The Original Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary’s definition reads as follows: “Atheist: One who disbelieves the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being.”
Though my father tried to rebuke me and therefore revoke my statement of faithlessness, it was the new fact of my life. But why? It had been not long before that moment that I would lay awake in the nighttime crying and asking God to bring some happiness into my life. But by that Sunday’s lunch at Grandma’s house, I was resolved to drop the mantle of my religion and the idea of God forever. Religion and God had done nothing for me and my family. We played church on big holidays and lived absolutely oblivious to the Lord the rest of the weeks or months that passed by. The only Bible that I knew existed in either of my parents’ homes was a Children’s Pictorial Bible given to me when I received my First Communion.
So what made me so unhappy? When I was eight years old, my Mom and Dad got divorced. For the next ten years, I lived with my Mom and visited Dad on the weekends. Though the legal proceeding had taken place when I was only a third grader, the fighting and quarreling went on and on. My parents fought over anything and everything during that time. The two parents that loved their three sons deeply had an equally strong hatred for each other. As I saw it, their hatred and fighting defied any reasonable idea of God and religion actually working for them. Though they both considered themselves religious, they lived completely separate from such a philosophy in front of my brothers and I. We never gathered together in the Living Room and prayed as a family. We never read the Bible. My brothers and I never heard either of my parents bring God’s Word into anything going on in our world. We played hockey. Or we traveled. Or we watched ballgames on TV. I decided, “Religion is baloney!” Church-going was boring! Every time we went, it was a ‘have-to’. I didn’t love or know most of the priests. I could only name extended family members that went to our Catholic church where I grew up. By the time I was in middle school, there was no effort made to know God in my home. There was no God in my life. I needed Him, but I didn’t have Him.
My statement that day at Grandma’s house was the conclusion that I had spent about eight years coming to. I remember when I asked God to bring my Mom and Dad back together. When I accepted that that wasn’t going happen, I asked Him to simply make them get along. When that didn’t happen, I asked for some worldly happiness to replace the painful family divorce. And when nothing I asked for truly happened, I blamed God for all of my problems and heartaches. The truth is that bad religion, almost no teaching about God, and a destroyed home made me an atheist. God didn’t start, continue, or end my heartache. Religiosity that was unable to bring my parents to Jesus Christ had led to the marital failure. Religiosity and rituals that brought no peace, no answers, and no satisfaction failed me and my family. With no God in my life during those years, the hole in my heart had become very large and empty on that godless day at my Grandmother’s house.
A ROOMMATE AND A BIBLE STUDY
About three years later, I was 19 and attending the University of Arizona to become an architect. Some time and distance had hardened over my pain and I wasn’t so angry anymore. I was a sophomore focused completely on my life and its future. It was there in Arizona that the Lord brought the first major person into my life along the journey towards Him. It was my college roommate, named Chris, who had quickly become my best friend. Due to a number of circumstances, Chris began returning to his Lord, Jesus Christ. As he returned to his Christian faith, my roommate became increasingly concerned for my godless soul.
On more than a couple of occasions, he would overhear me arguing or “mediating” between Mom and Dad on the phone. I was constantly dragged back into the “divorce world” to settle issues at home that they wouldn’t resolve like grown-ups themselves. I would finish those conversations worked up, depressed, and angry. I quickly bandaged the infected wounds in my heart and re-focused on my studies, or hung out with friends, or went jogging to bury the frustration of the never-ending divorce. I enjoyed no relationship with Jesus Christ, so who could I really turn to? Atheism was turning out to be a very lonely philosophy. And Chris knew that I had no God to turn to. One night, it was late and Chris and I were taking a study break and just talking. He asked, “John, do you know whether you have a home in Heaven with Jesus?”
I was directly confronted on the subject of God for the first time in several years. I answered him, “I don’t really know.”
For the next several minutes, my roommate began to lay out the Biblical record on Jesus, God the Father, myself, and eternity. I was a willing listener although still a skeptical one. That night, there was no epiphany or “come-to-Jesus” moment. But I was once again asking questions about God.
Chris invited me to a Bible Study he had helped his pastor organize in our college dormitory. I decided that going to this Bible study would be interesting. The truth is, I thought it a bit odd that I didn’t know any Bible having been raised “a Christian”! The Pastor, named John, began teaching that first night out of Luke 8, which includes a parable about seeds that fell on four kinds of ground. During that Bible study, the Lord began to stir in my heart. I had never felt conviction and dread for my soul as I did during that Bible study. I had never faced or anticipated such a terrible end for my life as what was ahead for me according to the Scriptures. I thought that being a generally good person, compared to others, would get me in. Even as an atheist, I was never completely resolved to believe that my life would just end “six feet under” some day. But the Bible told an altogether different story about my future. There was a real God that was very unhappy with my personal living.
As we read through the story, I quickly identified which ground I was. I saw that the seed, which is the Word of God, was being choked out of my life due to the “cares” (divorce’s pain) in this life. In Luke 8:14 Jesus says, “And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, an are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” I was allowing cares and pleasures, and dreaming of riches, to fill that hole in my life that was meant for Christ. I realized that there would be no mature fruit in my relationship with God Almighty if something didn’t change. I needed a change!
The study concluded with prayer. I shook hands and quickly ran back up to my room. In a feverish and overly aggressive fashion, I wrote my mother and brothers back home. I told them that I had seen and heard the real Truth. I saw where not only I was headed, but also, my beloved family! Though I did not make a profession of faith in Christ that night, I did experience a quickening towards the things of God. I began regularly attending Bible studies and even going to church again. I bought a Bible of my own and began reading it. I even began memorizing some verses. There was a new, genuine, zeal for God in my heart. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, was becoming real to me!
For the next three years at college, I faithfully attended one of two churches in Tucson, Arizona. But I still was not a Christian. I first attended a non-denominational church before moving on to a Southern Baptist Church. In both, I learned more about the Bible and the merciful, loving, and just God that is Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, I was not a Christian.
FINDING A CHURCH, THEN MY SAVIOR
When I moved to the Chicago-land area in 1994, I found myself wandering and lonely again. I had no family there, no friends there, and no joy despite starting my career in architecture. That I was beginning to do what I dreamed of doing for a living was not enough. Life had to be more than work. I realized that I was getting less interested in God. I wasn’t going to church. I wasn’t reading the Bible. And I wasn’t happy with life. Finally, one Sunday, as I sat in my big, almost empty apartment, and broke down weeping. I had been out of the church house for two months. I decided I was going to go church hunting the next week. When that next Sunday came, I dressed up and headed out looking for a church. But at every place I stopped, I never got out of my car! Each church seemed wrong. Some were too small. Some were the wrong denomination. One even looked like an Illinois version of the cultist, “Branch Davidian Compound”. I went back home after a couple of hours of not going to church anywhere and wondered, “Was I ever going to go to church again?”
The following week came and I decided to go to a shopping mall, take the telephone book out of the pay phone stand, and look up a church for the next Sunday morning. I wanted a “Bible” church and a “Baptist” church. I liked the Bible! And I also enjoyed the music and style of speaking that the Baptists employed in their services. I settled on a church named the “Northwest Bible Baptist Church”. I figured out the directions and headed to the church…
What I experienced that morning changed my life!
I had heard several good speakers in three years. I had experienced good teaching too. But the pastor at the Northwest Bible Baptist Church preached! I was elevated to another level during that service. I thought his sermon, though tough, was just what I needed to hear. The Holy Spirit was taking this former Catholic and atheist towards true salvation. In a matter of five months, I could no longer hold on to a former baptism, periods of regular church attendance, some good works, and Bible reading as the reasons I thought I was going to go to Heaven. I was being cut down to the bone every service as that Preacher was used of God to show me guiltiness before Him. I saw my need for Christ’s mercy and forgiveness.
Ironically, it was not at the church where I became a true Christian. It was a cold, December night between Christmas and New Year’s while alone in my apartment. I thought, “If I die here tonight, I will spend forever in Hell because I am definitely living in sin.” I slithered out of my bed onto the floor to kneel and pray. I asked Jesus to forgive my sins, become my Savior, and take me to Heaven when I die some day. I felt the weight of my sinful past lifted off of my shoulders. I found Him after so many years of searching for a religion-god. There is a God, and not a religion to know! I am on my way to Heaven someday because Jesus Christ has redeemed me by His grace and through His personal sacrifice on the Cross nearly 2000 years ago!
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Are you one of those people that questions, or even rejects Christ? Is it because of the way somebody around you burned your concept of God with ungodly living, hypocrisy, or fighting and divorce? These are very real reasons why people reject the Lord. But they are not going to be sufficient excuses when you stand before Him someday. In Philippians 2:10-11 God promises, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and the things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” I bowed to Him in December of 1994.
About thirty years ago, I said, “There is no God!” I am truly grateful that God gave me another opportunity to repent and come to know that there is a very real, wonderful Lord and Savior! His name is Jesus Christ. I can assure you that He wants a relationship with you! Don’t let other people or circumstances stand between you and a relationship with Christ. He has not hurt you. Sinfulness in the lives of the people around you, including your own, has hurt you. I also have been able to genuinely forgive those that hurt me deeply in the past. I was on my way to harboring an anger and merciless resentment towards my parents because of those difficult years after their divorce. I’m thankful that the Lord saved my soul and helped me to heal and forgive as well. Don’t let your life be ruined in bitterness because of those past trials. God wants to help you in so many ways. Let him!
Please consider coming to hear the Bible preaching and teaching that we do at Hope Baptist Church. Every week we strive to glorify and lift up the name of Jesus Christ. This preacher is a sinner that should be on his way to Hell for presumptuously rejecting Christ. Instead, my personal divorce-related pain has turned into a divinely appointed purpose and testimony to help others. I hope to meet you soon!
If you would like to contact Pastor John Mele, please text or call (612)260-2626.