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EPISODE 56: Never Too Far Gone

Mark Goodnight

 

Former atheist Mark Goodnight rejected God because of tragic life circumstances. After years of self-destructive living, he became convinced God was real through a series of unexpected events.

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Transcript


Hello, and thanks for joining in. I'm Jana Harmon, and you're listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic, but who became a Christian against all odds. You can hear more of these stories at our Side B Stories website at sidebstories.com Also, if you're a skeptic or atheist and you would like to connect with a former atheist with questions, please contact us on our Side B Stories website, and we'll get you connected. 

It's often thought that religious people are religious because that's how they were raised. It is the context in which their beliefs were formed. The same can be true of atheists, who may have absorbed their beliefs on the back of their home or culture, or on the back of their life experience. Context sets the stage towards belief or disbelief in God. While context does not determine the truth of the belief, it can and does bear influence on the acceptance of a belief, upon its plausibility, on what seems true or what seems attractive, whether it is worth considering in the first place. 

It's not surprising then, that someone rejects God because of bad things that happen in life, especially as a child. When life is difficult, it becomes hard to see how a good or caring God exists. If He did exist, why did He allow such horrible things to happen? Couldn't He have prevented it? Why didn't He? It's also been proposed that atheism is born from a childhood experience of a physically or emotionally absent or abusive father, that it would be incredibly difficult to believe in a loving God when your own father is far from that. That could be the case for some, but certainly not for all atheists. That is, there seems to be a correlation between bad experience with a parent and rejection in belief in God. In my research with fifty former atheists, one out of every eight expressed that troubled or absent relationships with their mothers contributed to their atheism. And approximately one out of every four, about 28%, reported that a difficult or absent relationship with their father created resistance to belief. 

In today's story, former atheist Mark Goodnight strongly rejected the existence of God from an early age, embracing everything that was opposite of a healthy life, moving into some very, very dark realities. Now he lives and speaks as a bold and vibrant ambassador for Christ. What happened that changed Mark's mind about God and changed his entire direction in life? I hope you'll come along to find out. Welcome to Side B Stories, Mark. It's so great to have you. 

Thank you for having me.

Wonderful! As we're getting started, to let the listeners know a little bit about you now, can you give us an idea of perhaps where you live, what you do as work or your ministry or whatever you want to tell us? 

Yeah, I currently live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Actually, I’ve lived here most of my life, and I work in IT for a company out of DC, so I work remotely, and I’ve been happily married for 13 years now.

I'm currently a Reasonable Faith chapter director, and I help answer some of the questions of the week and recently changed churches, so I'm getting involved in a new church.

So you grew up in the Midwest of the United States. Tell me about your early life there. I know Oklahoma. It's not the Bible Belt, but certainly there's a strong Christian influence in that area of the country. 

Yeah. We jokingly call it the buckle of the Bible Belt. I grew up with an older sister and a younger brother, and my mom and dad. We grew up in a mobile home park out in the middle of nowhere.

So as you were growing up with your family, was there God or religion or faith? Was that any part of your upbringing at home? 

Yeah. So my grandma on my mom's side was very devout and religious, and my uncle, my mom's brother, was a deacon in Episcopalian Church, and mom took us to church. I probably embraced it at a young age. Probably around the age of seven, I asked to be baptized and got somewhat involved at a younger age but started questioning it by the time I was twelve.

Okay, so you did have what you would consider a real faith as a child, or a childlike faith, where you went to church, you believed in God. I presume you prayed to God, believed he was real, but then you started questioning that. So why don't you tell us a little bit about that? 

Yeah. So while my mom did her best to raise us in a religious family, my dad, he wasn't totally against it, but my dad was both an alcoholic and a workaholic, so he was rarely home, and when he was home, he was drunk. But I started noticing that we were all going to church and he wasn't going to church on Sundays, and it was like, “Well, if he doesn't have to go to church, I don't have to go to church.” So I sort of started stepping away when I was twelve, and looking back on it, I think I did turn my back on the church at the age of twelve, which kind of started the downhill slide. By the time I was 14 or 15, I rejected God and actually asked Satan into my life.

Okay. That’s a pretty strong turn. 

Yeah.

So it makes me feel or think that there's something more to the story than just that your father didn't go, so you didn't want to go. 

Right.

Talk us through some more of that. 

Yeah. So, with my dad being an alcoholic, alcohol was sort of an issue with me from an early age. There were tales of…. I mean, there's pictures of me drinking beer at six months, and they would put beer in my bottle to get me to go to sleep or calm down, or even to get me calm down enough to give me a haircut when I was a baby. By the time I was four, I was drinking his scotch. Not like full drinks, but I'd walk up and take a drink, and he'd laugh and be like, “Take another one.” But when I was five, I was sexually abused by a babysitter. And even at that age, I tried to kill myself and told my mom I wanted to die at the age of five. So me turning to God at the early age…. I already knew something was wrong with me, and I was trying to find peace. I guess that's the only way I can think of it from that age. I was just trying to find an answer to things.

I will say that the entire time that I was seeking God at that early age, I didn't have any issues. But once I started turning my back on the church, and then my parents separated when I was 14, so around the time that I asked Satan into my life, I also emptied out my mom's medicine cabinet and put myself in the hospital for a week. And then they sent me to a dozen psychiatrists through junior high and high school years to try and find out what was wrong with me.

And by the time I graduated high school, I was classified as a level five neurotic by the state of Oklahoma. And then in college, it got worse. In high school and college, I started dabbling in the occult. And then in college, I got into drugs, which really put me over the edge psychologically.

Right. So again, walk me through. There's one sense in which someone stops believing in God, in a sense. There's another sense in which… when you say you asked Satan into your life, that's full-fledged rejection and really running in the opposite direction. 

Yes, it is.

With almost a contemptuousness or a defiance. When you're asking Satan into your life and then move towards occult things, that can move into a very dark place. Obviously you had experienced a lot of darkness as a child, so I don't want to presume. Why did you move towards asking Satan into your life and move towards the occult? 

So when my parents separated, it really hit me hard. Like, I was just starting to get to know my dad, and my mum kicked my dad out of the house. And I didn't even talk to my mom for like two weeks. I wouldn't even be in the same room with her. The whole time leading up to it and afterwards, I would do a lot of praying. Like, “God, I want you to save my parents’ marriage,” you know, and as a kid, you don't understand that people have free will. You can pray for things, but people have free will, and people can do… they're going to do what they're going to do sometimes. And that’s not saying that God doesn't step in and do miracles, but there has to be that repentant heart and seeking towards God in that relationship. So me praying for my parents was… I didn't see anything, and it was like, “Well, then. Screw you, God.”

Okay. 

And then in the occult, it was more dabbling, just playing around. It wasn't like serious or anything. I definitely saw a bunch of things in high school and college, but it wasn't like… I guess in some ways I say it wasn't like devoting my life to it. But then in college, I did automatic writing with my “guardian spirit” for a year and a half and had books full of things this spirit would say to me.

So there was some sense in which you believed in a spiritual realm, right? So you believed in a dark spiritual realm, but not necessarily in God or the devil. 

I knew the devil was real. I knew demons were real. I knew the supernatural existed. Just never thought that God actually cared enough to interact in our lives like that.

Okay. So then you were saying that you were in college, you were pursuing, just dabbling in the occult, but also in drugs, and that you were still walking in a bit of a dark place. Take us from there. 

Yes. So I ended up dropping out of college and just like going almost full fledged into drugs. There were probably three, four years that there wasn't a waking moment that I was not chemically altered in one way or another. And by the end of it, I would tell people, “Drugs are my God. Drugs are the only thing that care about me.”

So I ended up in Dallas and was getting heavily involved in coke, cocaine, and had dabbled with crack and everything. And I knew that things were getting bad, like really bad in my life. And I ended up calling my sister one night, at 3:30 in the morning. And the whole reason I was in Dallas was because I've been kicked out of the house and had no place to go and had a friend set me up in Dallas. So I called my sister at 3:30 in the morning and kind of told her everything that was going on. And I was like, “Look, things are looking bad. Things are going to get worse.” And she told me, “Hold on!” She said she was going to call mom first thing in the morning, and then she was going to reach back out to me, and she told me, “Just stay strong, hold on, and I'll call you in the morning.” And I got off the phone, and I said the first prayer I'd said in years. And the prayer was basically…. It started with, “God, if you are real….” Like, I didn't even know if God was real. I didn't know if I believed in God or anything like that. But I was just like, “God, if you're real, I need help.”

And at 7:30 in the morning, my sister calls me back. And she was like, “Okay, I spoke to mom. You can come home. I don't know how we're going to get you home yet, but I'm working on it. Stay strong, and I'll call you back.” And I put the phone down. And this is like, to this day, it's freaky because I put the phone down, and no sooner…. This was back before cell phones. This is ‘91, ‘92. So I put the phone down on the cradle, and as soon as it hit the cradle, it rang again. So I was like, “Okay.” So I answered the phone.

And it was my cousin. Now, my cousin lived in Kansas City. I'm in Dallas. And he said that he had driven to Dallas for a few days and wanted to hook up. And it was like, “Oh, my God! You’re my way home,” because he had to drive through Tulsa to go back home.

That's right. 

And it was just like, “Holy cow! Wait a minute. God, You’re real.”

Wow. 

And I'm a very stubborn and slow person, so it was still a couple of years before I surrendered to Christ. But I mean, at that point there, I believed that God was real.

Okay. Because He had shown up. The God who didn't seem to show up actually showed up when you said this feeble little prayer. 

Right.

He heard it. 

Right. He heard it, and He answered it in a way that I couldn't shake and I couldn't deny. And I get back to Tulsa, and of course, I'm still doing drugs, and mom isn't having it, so she kicks me out of the house again, and I go live with my sister. And I'm still doing drugs the whole time, and I jump from one job to another because I'm doing drugs, and I end up moving to Tulsa with a friend of mine, and things are going bad. And during this time, I'm still dealing with all the depression and suicidal tendencies that have plagued me from the age of five. And obviously, drugs are not helping. But when you're doing drugs, you can't tell that.

Because I'd been to see psychiatrists throughout my life, and I tried religion, I thought, as a kid, and dabbled in the occult and done drugs, illegal drugs, legal drugs, and none of it was helping. It was like, “Well, screw it. I gotta help myself.” And I buy this book at Waldenbooks called How to Cope with Depression. And I had psychology classes in high school and college, and the book didn't teach me a single thing that I didn't already know, but there was something that stuck out to me in the appendix, and it said 90% of depressives turn to religion for help. It's like, “Well, okay. What else have I got to lose? Because I desperately need help.” So I asked my mom for a Bible, which I know had to really shock her.

Oh, I’m sure. 

So I got a Bible, and I started reading it, and I’m living here in Tulsa. It's like three of us in a two bedroom apartment, and I'm working graveyard. And when you're working graveyard, it's very easy to lose track of what day it is, just because everything's at night. And I had a habit of getting off work, coming home, getting high, and reading the Bible, which is… I don't recommend that, but that's where I was at at that time. And it's Sunday morning. Or I'd get high and watch cartoons or whatever. And it's Sunday morning, and I don't realize it's Sunday, and I had a really rough night, and so I'm getting high, and I'm flipping through channels, and there's no cartoons on, and there’s some old dude talking. I'm like, “Okay, well, let's hear what this dude has to say.” And before I realize it, it's Oral Roberts.

I was not a fan of TV evangelists, and Oral Roberts was at the top of my case of the ones I was not a fan of, but by the time I realized it was Oral Roberts, I was hooked on what he was saying. And so he turns to the TV, and he does his altar call and then turns to the TV and says, “All you all that want to ask Jesus into your life, get on your knees and lift your hands up in the air,” and I'm like putting my drug paraphernalia down and getting on my knees and lifting my hands in the air and repeating this prayer after him. And I felt something.

I would tell people, “I saw something come out of the ceiling.” Whether it was a drug thing or whatever, I felt something, and it invigorated me. And the very next night, I was partying with my friends, and I told them. I was like, “You’ll never guess what I did! I think I asked Jesus into my life,” which was ironic because not six months before, I was telling my friends, “If I ever become a Christian, take a gun and blow my brains out and put me out of my misery.” And that's a direct quote. So they started challenging me about stuff, which is kind of funny and ironic. All I've got is I'm reading the Bible. I picked up Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, which I still read to this day. Fantastic book.

And so for the next nine months, I'm getting high every day, I'm reading the Bible, and I'd read something in the Bible, and it’s like, “Oh, I should probably change this in my life.” And just making baby steps, basically.

Right. So you weren't going to church at this point. You weren't with any other Christians at this point. 

No.

Obviously, you had a real disdain for Christians, right? You didn't want to be one, and then you found yourself believing. Just as a side note, why the disdain for Christians? Why the hatred towards them? 

It was a number of things. At its core, I knew I would have to change my life.

Okay. 

Some of the disdain was because, and if you have any Christians that listen to your podcast, let them take this as a lesson, but some of the disdain was I was working in the restaurant industry, and churches would come over Wednesday night as they let out, like 15 minutes before we closed, or Sunday night as they let out, and they were the worst people we had.

Oh, my. 

And they didn't tip. They treated our staff like crap. And it's like, “You guys are Christians? I don't want to be one.”For me, it's like any time I go to restaurant, I tip. Always try and be nice, and if they get your food wrong, you can say, “Hey, my food is wrong,” in a nice way. You don't have to be a jerk about it, because if you're going to pray and bless your food, they're going to see it, and they're going to know you're a Christian. Whether you witness to them or not, they're going to know it. So people just have to think about that, right?

Right. So again, you're still on drugs, reading your Bible. 

Right.

Right. That's an interesting combination. Keep going. 

Yeah. But God has grace for us, and it's like… He accepts us the way we are, but He doesn't leave us the way we are. And sometimes it's like a radical transformation, and sometimes it's a slow one. So I asked Jesus into my life in September of ‘94, and by this time at work, I was working as a stocker overnight, graveyard at a grocery store, and I had somehow become the crew chief, which is like, “How did that happen?” But we had a Christian come in to work under us, and he was going to Bible college, and he was like studying during his lunch break. And I was being nice to him and everything, and he was like, “You want to go to church sometime?” And I'm like, “Yeah, sure. Whatever.” And there was a Sunday in February, and I couldn't tell you when it was. Like I said, I was high all the time. But he showed up at my house or at my apartment right after I had just got done getting high, knocking on my door, and he's like, “You want to go to church?” And I'm like, “Did I say I'd go to church?” He's like, “Yes.” “Okay, when?” “Now.” “Okay.”

So I ended up getting dragged to this church like higher than a kite. And I sit in the back in the bleachers, and the pastor’s giving this message, and it's like, “That’s kind of cool,” and he does his altar call, and he's like, “Everybody bow your head, and close your eyes, and anyone who wants to answer the altar call, ask Jesus into their lives, put your hands up in the air,” and I'm kind of like feebly putting my hands up, and I look up, and he's looking the other way. So I put my hand down, and some dude starts tapping me on the back saying, “Hey, it’s all right. You can do it,” and I was so furious, and I was so high. It was everything in me not to just turn around and start beating the crap out of this guy, because I didn't have an aspect of social graces. So me kind of controlling myself was actually a grace in itself.

But anyway, so I leave there and I'm like, “I'm never going back to church.” And I don't even remember this a couple of months later. Like I said, I was so high. And Easter of that year, Easter is coming up, and I'm like, “Hey, Easter is like a Christian holiday. If I'm a Christian, I should go to church.” So I call up my sister, and we find a church, and it’s like this Southern Baptist country church. And I actually, for the first time in a couple of years, I don't even get high when I first wake up. I at least waited till after I got out of church. So I went to church sober and in a straight mind, which was completely radical for me at that time.

Right. It was a step forward for sure. 

Yeah. And I liked it so much that it was like, “Okay, I want to go back.” So the next Sunday, I go back with my sister. And the very next night, one of my friend’s girlfriends heard that I was getting into church, and she was like, “Hey, you want to go to church?” I was like, “Sure, yeah, I'll check it out. What have you got?” Because I've been twice, so I’m like, “This is kind of cool.” So she took me to this church called Guts.

It's called Guts? 

It's called Guts. Yeah.

Is there a reason for that? 

It takes a lot of guts to stand for Jesus, is what the pastor always said.

Okay. 

And it wasn't even the regular pastor. It was a guest speaker. But he did an altar call, and I'm like immediately one of the first people down there on the altar call, and he prays for people who are addicted to drugs. And I'm like, “Yeah, that's me.” So he laid his hands on me and prayed for me. And any desire for drugs just left me.

Immediately. 

Immediately. Like, I went home and threw away hundreds of dollars worth of paraphernalia and didn't have any problem.

That's astonishing!  

Yeah. And then I'm like, “We got to go back to this church. This church is cool.” Because it was like a rock and roll church. And like, I listened to heavy metal, so it's like you're more in my vein than like a Southern Baptist church. And so, for the next three weeks, every service, I'm there Wednesday and Sunday. And every service, I'm just in tears and I'm answering the altar call because I am a despicable human being and I need Jesus. And if I’ve got to answer that alter call numerous times, I'm going to do it. And about three weeks later, I was still dealing with the depression and suicidal tendencies that had plagued me since the age of five. And so I answered the altar call, and at the time, they were taking everybody in the back room, and they'd have ministry people pray with you. And I made sure I was the last person to leave the room. And I copped the associate pastor, and I told him a lot of what I've told you here right now, as far as the depression and suicidal tendencies. And he prayed for me and laid his hands on me, and I felt better than I ever felt. I felt like I was high, but I wasn't on drugs, right?

Right. It was a spiritual high. 

Yeah, absolutely! Absolutely! I didn't know that at the time, but it was just like, “This is crazy!” And I get up the very next morning, and that depression and suicidal hurt hits me like a ton of bricks. And I was standing in the bathroom with a razor to my wrist, which wasn't anything new. I mean, I would carve them. At the height of my drugs, I would carve on myself with knives. So I've still got scars on myself from stuff that I did to myself.

Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah. 

Well, I mean, God's a good God. I'll just say that. And so I'm standing in the bathroom with a razor to my wrist, and these words come out of my mouth, and it was so foreign to me, but these words came out of my mouth. “I can't be about these things anymore. My life is not my own now. I belong to God.” And as soon as I said those words, and I was like, “Where is this coming from in my mind?” But as soon as I said those words, that depression and suicidal tendencies left me like that.

Amazing!

And I can tell you. That was ‘95. It's 2022 now, and I haven't had any issues like that. There is natural depression, a loved one dying. When my mom passed away or my dad passed away or my sister passed away. There is a natural, healthy sadness that hits you. If you haven't dealt with depression or suicidal tendencies or anything like that, you can't imagine, because those are like the tip of the iceberg to what you would feel with the kind of depression that I had. And yeah, I mean, like I said, ‘95. It's now 2022, and I haven't had any issues. And I've even had atheists tell me, “You got to watch yourself because you're going to fall back.” It’s like, “Yeah, okay. Well, it's been 27 years now. When’s that fallback going to happen?” Because it ain't.

Right, right. Wow. That’s extraordinary, to be suddenly released. I mean, first of all from your drug addiction and then from your depression, I mean serious, serious depression, on the back of a prayer. Someone praying over you. I imagine, whatever power you saw in your earlier life in the occult dabbling that you did, this power, whatever this power was that came upon you, to release you or free you from these oppressions in your life and addictions and depressions. I mean, obviously, the God who answered your prayer in 1991, He kept showing up for you in these incredibly personal and powerful ways. 

Yeah. And that kind of healing, it’s like, “Okay, I'm in. Wherever this goes, I'm in.” It didn't stop, because a couple months later, like I started smoking cigarettes when I was twelve, and by the time I hit college, it was a pack a day. Through my drug years, it could be up to two packs a day, and that's a serious addiction unto itself. And I realized, it’s like, “Okay, I should probably try and quit smoking.” And I quit for like two weeks. And in two weeks I was just a nervous wreck. I mean, I would meet people and say, “Hi, I'm Mark. I’m trying to quit smoking. Don’t piss me off.”

Okay. Fair warning. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that lasted about two weeks, and I was immediately back to a pack a day. And I was still working at that grocery store, but now I was no longer on graveyard, and I was head over like shipping and receiving, and so I'd be in the back, and I could be by myself sometimes. And so I'm sitting in the back room waiting on a delivery, and I'm smoking a cigarette, and I think it was like my second or third of the day or whatever, and I heard a voice. And it said, the voice I heard said, “Put your cigarette out, throw your pack away, and rely on Me for your strength and endurance.” And I literally got up and looked around like, “Who said that?” And I mean, I'm the only one in the back. I'm like, “What the heck? I must have imagined it.” So I sit back down. I hear the exact same voice, exact same tone, exact same words, everything. And I'm like, “Okay, I may not be the smartest chip on the block, but I think God is trying to talk to me,” so I sat there for a couple of minutes just really thinking about it. And so I did. I put the cigarette out. I went over to the trash can and took the pack of cigarettes out of my pocket, and I held it over the trash can and I was like, “All right, God. I think you're speaking to me, but I don't know if this is You or not. So if it's you, I'm going to need You to be my strength and endurance because I already tried this, and I can't do this myself.” And I threw the pack away, and I was delivered like that. Again.

Wow. That’s truly, truly extraordinary. These immediate deliverances from these very, very strong addictions. Physical addictions. 

Yeah. And it's been 27 years, and I'm still a Christian. I still read my Bible every single day.

Well, even in your own life, it was a slow process, and it took a long time for you to even come to the point where you were even willing to say, “God, if you're real….” You yourself, you weren't pushed there. You had to reach that point yourself, where you were willing to even consider it. And everyone is on their own time, right? 

Exactly.

But I'm also intrigued by your story in the sense that you made the comment, and I think it's often heard, but I think your life really shows us is that you come as you are, that God accepts you as you are, but He doesn't leave you there. It's a process of change over time, and maybe some who are listening are going, “Well, he didn't act like a Christian when he first accepted Christ, but that was-

I definitely didn’t!

No. But it took a while, right? It was a journey for you of transformation that was, again, kind of a slow burn, but you were making steps forward. It just took a lot of time. I'm sure that there were some people, some of your friends who perhaps would say, “Oh, yeah, he says he's a Christian, but look at him.” But it takes time, right? It takes time and patience. God is so patient with us. 

Yeah. Thank goodness, too.

He's so very patient. But, anyway, since that time, obviously that was back in the nineties. And here we are in 2022. Talk about the transformation in your life that has occurred. Obviously, there's been a great deal of maturity and transformation that has occurred even since then.

Wow. In 2020, I celebrated being a Christian for half my life. I'm a lot more loving and accepting of people. I understand that some people can get just changed overnight, and some people are born saints, God bless them, but there's other of us that we're like a kicking and screaming baby that has to be dragged. But God can still work on people, and you can never give up hope on someone because you never know what's going to happen with them. I mean, in my own life, from those days, I committed to reading the Bible every single day. And you find so much in the word if you just… For me, I read it cover to cover, just because I'm analytical like that. But I've been through some discipleship training. I've been through some internship that was like a total God thing. Being an intern for a year in the mid 2000s was as radical a change in my life is getting saved was.

In what way? 

Well, getting saved, obviously, I changed from hating Christians to saying, “Hey, now I am a Christian,” and getting delivered from drugs and getting delivered from depression, suicidal tendencies, and getting delivered from smoking. So the change in my life from the internship was getting more confident, understanding that I can actually get up in front of people and give a message. I've taught a couple of classes on apologetics now, which is like, “How did I get here?” But that's like the story of my life for the last 27 years is, “How did I get here?”

Right, right. 

And I always look at it as like, “Hey, I'm just in God's hands, along for the ride. Wherever He takes me is where I'm going.”

That's good. Obviously, you've gotten married. Incredibly, you’re obviously sober in body, but sober in mind, and you've accomplished a lot of things since that time. One more question before we go to the advice. I'm just thinking of someone's listening, and they're thinking to themselves, “You just got saved. I mean, like, you just called out to Jesus. What is that? What do you mean saved? That just sounds like Christian lingo.” Obviously, in many ways it sounds like a full surrender of your life to God, but how does that work? What do you mean by, “I got saved?” 

I think you know that it's a surrender to God through His Son. I mean it's seeking God through Jesus. I mean, Jesus says in John 14:6, “I'm the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through Me.” And Romans 10:9-10 says that if you confess with your heart, if you believe in your heart that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead three days later, and if you confess with your mouth, you will be saved. And I mean, that's what it means. It means that, “God, I believe that You’re real. God, I believe that Your Son truly existed and died on the cross, that the stories and the gospels are true.” And you don't have to be like, every word is true. It's the context of the message, the resurrection, that He did this to help redeem us, so that we could have that relationship with God, so that we could be washed from our sins, because every one of us sins. I mean, I've been a Christian for 27 years. I still sin every day. My sins may have changed, and they're not as bad as they were, but we all sin, and we all need that healing. We all need to be cleansed from our sins, and there's nothing that can wash away our sins. It's like that old hymn, “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

Yeah. I’m sure that there are many atheists that you've encountered that kind of rebuff your story or just don’t believe it. I can't imagine that they would just accept these sudden deliverances. But you are a walking testimony of the reality of God and the power in His life to free you and to heal you, in a sense, and move you from brokenness to wholeness. You are a beautiful, embodied example of that. Your life alone is an amazing testimony, and I love the words that you're putting to it as you're walking us through it. If there's a curious skeptic who's listening to your story and is kind of on their heels in disbelief going, “I just….” 

Right.

But in some way, like you say, we all know there's something wrong with us. We're all craving for things to be right and good and to have that internal joy and that wholeness that you're speaking of. And they might be willing to say, “Hey, God, if you're real….” What would you say to someone who actually perhaps has just that moment of willingness, to say, “Hey, God, if you're real….” 

Well, I mean, to the skeptic I would say, “Hey, I was there.” I mean, I went through this stuff. You just heard my story. And as I was going through it, I was like, “This can't be real.” But it is. To the person that is at that moment, reach out, have that moment of faith, just give God a chance and see if He’ll show up, because there's tale after tale of people who have had that moment of God showing up and rescuing them from something. But we have to be sincere about it. It can't be just, “Oh, God, I want to see your laser light show.” I mean, to me, when I prayed that prayer, it was like end of my rope desperation, because I honestly knew I'd be dead in a month or two if I didn't get out of that situation. And I don't know why… As a Christian, I know that God loves us enough. Isaiah 43:4 says that God calls us precious in His sight, which I had a revelation of how much God loves me through that verse that I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me for two days from Isaiah 43:4. So I know that He cherishes every one of us. I mean, there's countless scriptures about how much God loves us. Jesus says that He knows the very number of hairs on our head, or not hair on my head, but He provides sustenance for the birds, and aren't we not worth more than that? The Bible says that we're the apple of His eye. I mean, He truly loves us, each one of us, individually, and we have to be willing to receive Him.

The years I was resisting God, and sometimes giving Him the middle finger, He wasn't acting in my life because I didn't want Him to act in my life. C.S. Lewis put it great, as far as there are those that say to God, Your will be done, and there are those that God says to them, “Okay, your will be done.” He loves us enough to allow us free will to accept Him or reject Him, and Him accepting you, to me it's an adventure. I mean, you don't know what's going to happen because God shows up. I don't know. He has for me continually. Even this year. I mean, there's tale after tale. I'm telling the big ones that got me started on this journey, but I could go on, almost every year, sometimes multiple times a year, just God continually showing up and being faithful. And I think it's in 1 Timothy or 2 Timothy that Paul writes that God is faithful even when we're faithless.

Right. 

That's very good. Obviously, too, Mark, you have a very deep and abiding love for the Bible, or what we call God's word, and you invest in it, and you read it, and it's obviously coming out of you. Now, when you were very first…. From the very beginning, you got a Bible from your mother, and you started reading it. So it's been a practice for you, even in those early, early days when you may not have known what was going on. If a skeptic is willing to pick up a Bible, maybe for the first time, it can be a little bit intimidating and not knowing where to begin. 

Yes, it can! And my biggest advice is do not start in Genesis.

Okay. 

Start in the New Testament.

Okay. So just start with the stories or the biographies of Jesus? 

Yeah.

Maybe Matthew or Mark? Or do you have a favorite book or letter? 

Well, my favorite book is actually Psalms, but for someone who's just getting into it: So Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, they're each written to a different audience. And I really think of it like, okay, are you like, just give me the facts person, and you want just the action, then read Mark, because it's short and sweet and to the point. And it's also what I was named after. And usually I'm short and sweet and to the point.

And then Matthew is sort of written to the religious minded. And Luke is written to the intellectual. And John is written to all the rest, I guess, is the best way, because he was the last one, anyways. But read them. And there's a great book, probably one of my favorite books out there is The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. And even if the Bible isn't true in every word, which, I mean, I believe it is, don't get me wrong.

No, I understand. 

But if you just approach the Bible as a historic document, the core facts of it show that Jesus existed, that He died on the cross, that three days later His tomb was found empty, that His disciples had experiences, that they believed that they saw Jesus from the dead. That Paul, a persecutor of the church, suddenly became a believer. That James, the brother of Jesus, who didn't believe in Jesus before He died on the cross, became a believer and became a head of the church. And you've got to address theories that try and explain those, and only the resurrection covers all of them without being ad hoc or multiple theories, which just makes your theory even worse. And it's a great book that just covers those five facts and the historical reliability of just those five facts.

I mean I know that there are some Christian theologians that don't like the minimal facts theory or the minimal facts argument. But for me, as a former skeptic, it just rings true with me. It's like, if someone would have told me that, given me that argument while I was a skeptic, I may not have accepted it immediately, but it would have planted a seed in me, where it was like, “I can't stop thinking about that,” type of thing.

Yeah. That’s really wonderful evidence. If someone is willing to look at the evidence from a historical point of view, from even skeptical historians can't deny those facts. 

Right.

So it's very, very powerful. Thank you for raising that. And for the Christian who's listening, I know you had kind of given some advice to us Christians in terms of engaging, like when you were talking about your brother. What would you say to the Christian who really does… they have a skeptic in their life or that they love and they want to see come to Christ? How would you-

Never give up.

Okay. 

I mean, don't give up. Don't stop praying for them. You never know what's going on in their life. No matter how close you are to them, you never know. Because I didn't, like, tell all my friends that I got a Bible and started reading it. And like you pointed out, for me, I didn't have people witnessing to me. I didn't have a church or anything. I just was seeking God on my own and got a Bible and had a random encounter watching TV. And it was nine months after I asked Jesus into my life that I started going to church. And then the radical changes started. But you never know what's going to happen with someone. Like I said, not a year before I asked Jesus into my life, I was so hostile to Christians. I mean, if I found out you were a Christian… I can remember being at a party, and this is, you know, during my drug use, and there was one girl that said, “I went to church this morning,” and I went off on her so bad, even my friends were like, “Dude, chill out!” It's like, “No, I will not tolerate this.” And I become a Christian a couple of years later. I mean, you never know what someone is going through.

You have to understand that… so someone who is hostile to Christianity, witnessing to them is just going to push them away. Just love on them and be there for them. J. Warner Wallace has a great book, Forensic Faith, that talks about dealing with people in general. That book there is making the case for making the case for Christianity, and there's some good lessons in there, as far as how he talks about breaking up… He sees people in four different categories. You got category one, someone who's going to believe, agree with you no matter what. And then category two, that someone's going to agree with you but would be open to listening to the other side. And then category three is someone who disagrees with you but is open to hearing your point of view. And then category four is someone who disagrees with you and is not open to hearing your point of view. And he says, category four, he doesn't even try having conversations with them. And he still prays for them, and he still believes for them, but until they move into that category three, it's going to be a pointless or a fruitless conversation, generally speaking. And again, going back to what Greg Koukl said, there are those times that it's like a Spirit of God, like the Spirit is leading and you have to follow it because something radical is fixing to happen. But generally speaking, we've got to use wisdom. We got to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

Yes, that's excellent advice.

For the Christian that has skeptics in their life, read books by William Lane Craig. Read books by J. Warner Wallace. Read books by C.S. Lewis. Get your mind thinking about some of those arguments that you could just bring up in a conversation. I remember a conversation we had with my brother, and we were having breakfast before an event, and we got on the topic of morality, and it just naturally came into the whole moral argument for the existence of God. It wasn't forced or anything like that, and it was just one of those things, where even he was like, “Yeah, I'm a hypocrite. I'll have to think about that.”

Yeah. You put a stone in his shoe, right? 

Exactly. And Tactics by Greg Koukl is probably one of the best books to read, because it's about how to have that conversation.

That's really excellent advice. Anything else that we may have forgotten or that you wanted to add in this conversation? Or are we good? 

I think we covered the gamut on this one.

Okay. Good. No. That’s great. 

I appreciate you having me on here. This has been a pleasure.

It's a total pleasure to really bring your story forward, Mark. It's remarkable in so many ways. I think you have said it many times through our conversation is that you just can't give up. You never know. No matter how far someone may seem and how far someone [may seem and may are 1:07:56] may be from God, you never know that they may be turning in the direction of God, and you just don't give up hope or give up prayer. And you're a living example of that. 

No. The other thing that's just coming immediately to mind right now is, I mean, it may even be a last-minute thing. Look at the two thieves on the cross. They both were, according to the gospels, they both were ridiculing Jesus. And then one of them was like, “Wait a minute. He doesn't deserve to be here.” And he turns to Jesus and he says, “Remember me when you get there.” And Jesus turns to him and says, “I give you my word. Tonight you will be with me in paradise.” I mean, that was like the gospel right there. He didn't have time to show fruits of righteousness, but he was still accepted. And according to those words, the way I read it, he was saved right there.

Right, right. Yeah. No. We should never give up. God never gives up on us. 

Right. Absolutely.

But, thank you, Mark, so much for coming on. You have an extraordinary story, and it's been such a privilege to hear such a dramatic transformation in life. I know, just for our listeners, there is a blog that you write. Is there a way that they can follow you on social media? Can you tell us- 

Yeah. So I'm on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll probably get spammed with a bunch of memes.

But I also do have a blog. It's called Cyber Penance, and I've sent you the link to it, so you can link it below. And, yeah, I should update that blog more often, but I've been having a lot of time just spending my morning devotions reading some great books and getting carried away with that and not working on the blog as often as I should.

That's not such a bad thing either. 

No. But it has truly, truly been a pleasure having this conversation, and thank you so much for your time and having me on.

Yeah. This is terrific, Mark. Thank you again. 

You can find out more about Mark and where you can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Cyber Penance blog in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our website at sidebstories.com. If you enjoyed it, I hope you'll follow, rate, review, and share this podcast with your friends and social network. Again, we welcome your thoughts about this episode and our podcast on our Side B Stories Facebook page. In the meantime, we'll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we'll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life. 


 

 

 

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