I really don't know. Certainly, I recognized the irony, having spent perhaps seven years on these blogs and forums as a member of the ad hoc Atheist Sanhedrin, interrogating and challenging the Christians. I hope that I was a kinder inquisitor than some of the examples whom I've seen since, but I fear that I probably was not.
At first, in my vanity, I imagined that perhaps God planned to use me to assist some of my former WCG brethren whose minds had similarly shut down towards Him as a result of the false teachings to which we've all been exposed, but I've since realized that there is nothing I personally can say or do, either logically or by example that will re-open peoples' minds. Only God can prove that he exists, and only God can open a human mind.
I tried to dissect and deconstruct the process by which I was brought back from my prodigal condition. I remember an Australian lady, who somehow in the course of a forum discussion got me to open, and read a few passages from an old Bible which I'd inherited from my Grandmother. I hadn't cracked the cover of a Bible in over twenty-five years at that point. I also recall the enthusiasm and determination displayed by a Christian lady from Texas, in spite of horrible persecution on the forums, and some severe trials in her life. She was very knowledgeable and was of great help to me. I remember overhearing a bowling friend in a supermarket when he didn't know that I was listening in. He was consoling a friend who was undergoing a cluster of severe problems, and he suggested to her, "Ask God to walk with you!" Over the coming months, I thought many times of the beauty and simplicity of that short statement. Nonoffensive. Unintrusive. But, also, very powerful. I remember my neighbor Chris asking me to go down to the mall with him to jumpstart his wife's car. While I was hooking it up, he asked me if anyone had ever talked to me about "the Lord". It irritated me at the time that someone would be evangelizing me, but later as I watched how his family always seemed to have guidance and blessings in the face of trials, unemployment, and problems their children got into, I became convinced that something special was going on there.
The pastor at our church (non-ACOG, non-GCI!) has told us many times that witnessing to people does not arouse their interest in God. Changed lives, however, are very effective in this. I had two incorrigible people in my life whom I loved more than life itself. One was my son, and the other was a very special lady. I had rescued both of them from some particularly bad circumstances. I had tried to set a good secular example of stability and balance for them, and to help them make a few minor but very positive changes in their lives. It ended up being a hopeless exercise, and I found myself being very deeply enmeshed in two codependent relationships. As a matter of fact, I could very easily have ended up either bankrupt, or in jail. Sadly, although I put much effort into my relationship with both of them, there was nothing I could do as a human being to help them. I finally and gut-wrenchingly, walked away from both of them. Shortly after I did this, God came into both of their lives. He changed them, whereas I could do nothing. With my then agnostic mindset, in the beginning stages, I thought, "Well, that's just great! They're both OK now, but I still lost them. It's just that I lost them to Jesus!" That turned out not to be altogether true of my son. We have a better relationship now than we ever did in his entire life. As for the lady, she ended up happily married to a Christian gentleman, and just knowing that she's happy and with the stability that I always wanted for her is enough for me. I had left WCG in 1975 because I could find no evidence that the Holy Spirit was working through it. I had by that time witnessed so much blatant fakery that, religiously or spiritually speaking, I was toast at that point. But, decades later, as I got to have a front row seat, watching the Holy Spirit very powerfully transform two formerly incorrigible people, I immediately knew exactly what was happening. These two made no secret of the source of their help! It is no accident that the Holy Spirit is likened to the wind. You do not see him/it, but you can surely see the work that has been done!
One of my first fears was, what if these people who seem to have been placed in front of me as an example are drawn to the Armstrong doctrines? Believe me, I watched very carefully for all of the signs. But, it never happened, and that became part of the lesson. In fact, I am more convinced today than ever that HWA was very superficial in his understanding of the Bible. There is an incredible understanding, and deep Biblical foundation to classic or mainstream Christianity, the type that was spawned by the Protestant Reformation. The core of this is taught by many of the Baptists and Evangelicals. That is the vehicle through which all of the help became available to my son and ex-girlfriend. What is true, is that most of us who entered Armstrongism were not firmly rooted in the Bible, or basic study and research techniques, making us easy targets for the many cultic fringe doctrinal approaches, as well as HWA's personal theories.
I must admit, it was very difficult to pray again after nearly thirty years. The first prayer was the most difficult. But, soon, it became very natural and actually a pleasure to which I look forward. As a WCG member, I had always done this from a sense of duty, and in the ways that were taught by the church. Perhaps that's why it had always seemed so dry and mechanical, and caused me to wonder if it was going beyond the ceiling. Also, some of the changes in my attidudes were pretty scary. I had always had a kind of a hard edge, an extreme survival mentality, and was afraid that in becoming kinder and more forgiving, I was becoming weak. I worried, too, about losing friends, but in reality have not lost any friends who were real ones to start with. If anything, I now have more friends, and they are not all Christian. That's another potential pitfall which concerned me. I didn't want to become cloistered, and only capable of hanging out with what I used to call the "Bible Thumpers".
I had just enough of a hangover from my WCG intoxication experience that I became worried about some sort of special calling or purpose. The reality is that there are so many more people, and with greater knowledge, understanding, and articulateness than I, that I really need not have worried about this at all. I'd heard of some people from old WCG who immediately came into the forefront of the mainstream New Covenant churches that they found when "the new" WCG became not a very attractive alternative. But, that's just not me. Probably my best value is in quietly doing little things behind the scenes, and below the radar to help and comfort others. Still, one must put God first, and if there is some sort of special calling, one should be willing to do whatever He would have us do for Him.
About a year into the Christian experience, I came upon a very interesting book that described a transformation experience that had many parallels with my own. Stephen Baldwin, the youngest of the acting Baldwin brothers, was perhaps the brother to whom I related the most. He played confident tough guy roles on the screen, and created some characters to whom I could really strongly relate. Through the influence of one of their maids, his wife had become a Christian, and spent a number of hours praying for him. I honestly wonder if someone had been doing the same thing for me, without my knowing. At any rate, Stephen, or Stevie B as he calls himself, soon found his entire life changing. He likens his adventure with God to being dropped from an airplane, every morning, without parachute, from an altitude of about 50,000 feet. He's written a very remarkable and inspiring book, titled "The Unusual Suspect" If any one is even remotely interested in taking another look at the Christian walk, I'd highly recommend it!
Just in case some people are wondering what kind of life I have lead, it is probably important to also share that when I left WCG in 1975, I pursued my passions to the full. In my professional life, I was always a hard worker. I met a lot of people, and sold and repaired quite a bit of machinery over the decades. This provided opportunities to travel, to stay in nice accomodations, and to indulge in business related partying. In my free hours, there are and were a number of hobbies and activities that I was passionate about. I built and raced (on the street!) an endless string of hotrods and motorcycles. My wives and girlfriends, who were amongst the most beautiful women on the face of the earth, and I rode the motorcycles everywhere! We went to the mountains, the beaches, the deserts, you name it. Having also been a lifelong fitness nut, I spent many hours running, bicycling, weight training, and learning karate. This lead to gigs as a body guard and bouncer at the race tracks and in the performing arts community, with opportunities to meet a number of celebrities. There were also legendary Saturday nights, dancing to live music at the blues bars, and more arena style rock, country, and blues concerts than I can remember. I've been to hundreds of professional NHRA drag races, and hundreds of dirt track sprintcar races. Skiing, parasailing, bungee jumping, deep sea fishing, rafting and tubing down rivers, hours of body surfing at the California beaches, hiking and mountain climbing, I and whoever was with me lead life to the full. As I remember and describe all of this, it's difficult for even me to believe that one person could have done all of these things. And, lest anyone feels that I might be exaggerating for the purpose of dramatizing, I'm not. I've deliberately held back on the X-rated, and occasional recreational/illegal stuff. The problem is, that in the end, none of it ever filled a deep void which I had always felt inside. Ultimately, I was left with a decidedly Ecclesiastes point of view.
Anyhoo, this is one of the things which I've been asked to share. I'd been told that people wondered what made me a believer again. There were no visions, no burning bushes, no talking asses, and no psychotic breaks or addictive breakdowns. Just an unlocked mind, and ensuing unexpected transformation, one for which I am just so grateful every waking hour. It would be naive and presumptuous of me to believe that my words are going to touch everyones hearts. I know better. But, if just one person gets a little encouragement, a gentle assist in life, or perhaps just a temporary boost for the day, it will have been worthwhile sharing.