By Paul Miles
I was saved as a youngster when I put my faith in Jesus Christ and received eternal life- a gift that could never be lost no matter how awful a person I could become later in life. I was raised in a church environment and became involved with all sorts of ministries as a teenager. The problem with church, though, is that while we serve a perfect God, we are imperfect men. I made the foolish mistake of allowing men to take the place of God, and as church is full of sinners, including myself, I was burned by the hypocrisy around me. I twisted off the path that God intends us to walk and found myself following the crazy world around me.
After High School, I joined the army and searched for a new religion that would make sense of the chaos in this world. I thought that I found the answers in a religion called Satanism. Now, when I say 'Satanism,' people automatically assume that means I'd run around the forest, dancing around campfires, playing the violin and making deals with the devil. My branch of Satanism was much less Hollywood. Satanism basically teaches that we are all animals, and that our main purpose in life is to seek whatever pleasure we can while we're still alive. To no surprise, even Satanism can't offer an answer for all the evil in the world. My life in the army did, however, seem to offer something that I didn't have in church: genuine fellowship with others. I eventually deployed to Iraq, where I walked even further from the Lord.
Upon returning to America, I found it hard to adjust back to society. I started growing marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms in my closet. Missing the adrenaline of the Iraq life, some friends and I built a pipe-bomb and strapped it to a statue of Mary at a local Roman Catholic Church. We continued making little bombs like that, just for kicks, and it was pretty obvious who it was that vandalized the statue. We had agreed not to tell anyone, though, so I felt pretty safe. That all fell apart one night when my friend who was involved told the police everything. I was arrested immediately and charged with a stack of felonies that could have landed me 30 years of state prison had the feds not picked me up instead.
After my arrest, I felt so betrayed. I got to see the interviews that the feds had done with people I thought were my friends. Not only did many of them reveal stories that we agreed to keep silent, but many of them even told lies about me to make me look worse than I really was. The whole reason I left Christianity was the betrayal and hypocrisy, and now as a Satanist I was faced with even more severe betrayal and hypocrisy than anything I had ever experienced before. This did nothing to prove that Christians were any better off, but the whole situation was pretty messed up. As far as I could tell, Christians were bad, but so was everyone else.
That all changed, though, when a man named Dare Westmoreland came out to visit me. Dare is a Christian who goes to the church that I was involved with earlier in life. He showed me love at a time when I wasn't certain that love for another person could even exist. Well, this made me reconsider the path I had chosen. Obviously, something was wrong with the religion that justified my decisions over the past year, so I was due for a change in philosophy. I started thinking that the whole reason I rejected Christianity in the first place was because Christians are jerks, but Dare just disproved that presupposition. With this act of coming to encourage me while I was down, Dare's love covered up all of my hate for Christianity that I had felt for years. So, I decided to give Christianity an examination.
I had time on my hands, so I started looking into whether or not the Bible was legit. If the Bible was legit, then I'd go with it, if not, then I'd find something else. First, I had to ask if the Bibles we have today accurately render what the original authors wrote. They do! In fact, the Bible is the most reliable document of antiquity. I looked into the most audacious claim that the Bible makes: that Christ died and rose again. He did! There are several reasons we know this, but my favorite is that nobody would die for a lie. Now, I had seen Muslim extremists die for their beliefs, but they have never met Mohammad. They have been deceived, unfortunately, by his writings. The apostles, on the other hand, saw Christ while He lived, while He was tortured and executed, and even in His glorified body after He resurrected, and there was nothing that could be done to convince them otherwise. They would rather die than renounce this fact, and many of them did die terrible deaths that could have been avoided if they just would have just renounced Christianity. I know a lot of men in prison today that are serving long sentences for conspiracy. The story is usually the same, that a lot of guys were involved in drugs or whatever, then one got caught and snitched on the others to reduce his sentence. If this resurrection had been a conspiracy, one of these first-hand witnesses would have snitched to avoid the death sentence. And so, since the Bible is reliable in its transmission and its content, the only logical conclusion is that serving God is the way to go. I started following Christ again.
Now, I was saved this whole time that I was going through this period of doubt. I was saved the moment I put my faith in Christ when I was younger and nothing could have taken that away, even if I was to have died in my sins in Iraq. But, now things were different. Now, Christ was the center of my life. I still had sin issues, as I still do and I always will until I go to be with Him. But now, I could understand the dark world around me through the light of the Word. I ended up with 30 months in federal prison which is a real blessing. My family pulled together to help fight the case and reduce the sentence, and it made us all stronger. As a Christian, I was able to be a positive member of my family even though I was behind bars. I spent my time in prison studying. If you read the Bible for 15 minutes a day, you can read it all the way through in a year. I had much more than 15 minutes a day, so I read the Bible several times while I was locked up. I also read some great books about theology by some influential theologians that really helped me develop my understanding of the Bible. I decided that when I got out I wanted to continue studying. I also decided that I would like to serve God overseas.
When I was released from prison, I used my G.I. Bill to get a degree in Russian, and then went on to get a masters degree in seminary. When I finished my supervised release, I moved to Ukraine to continue my studies and eventually start a ministry. God blessed me even further in Ukraine, where I met a wonderful, God-loving woman named Lena, who eventually married me. She truly is an amazing blessing that I do not deserve. Since our wedding, I have begun work on a Doctorate of Ministry through Tyndale Theological Seminary—and have started—Bold Grace Eastern Europe, a writing and translation ministry that seeks to share God's grace with Eastern Europeans. Life is truly better for me now than it ever has been before. There are still various troubles that pop up, as I am still a sinner living among sinners, but now God is central to my thinking and so long as everything is focused on Him, it's all good.